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Listen With Mother (And Dad, Sister, Son, Daughter, Pet, The Massed Choirs of Albion Etc Etc)

Starring


Emma Anderson, Iraina Mancini, JIM, JP Incorporated, Mutual Benefit, Stornoway, Strange Gravity,


The Front Runners


Pearlies : Emma Anderson


This lovely, mellow record from the co-founder of Lush remains true to her musical roots while being very much her own sound.


If we ignore Lush’s foray into chart bound Britpop and concentrate on their time as part of the 4AD stable, you’ll be in the right space to appreciate this album. It’s a grown up form of pop for people who appreciate details. Just one example is the quiet interplay between Emma’s lead and backing vocals on ‘The Presence’.


And this album is full of presence. It has vulnerability and substance, like a ship made out of balsa wood. The songs float above you, supported by a controlled and efficient energy. It’s sedate, but stately, luxurious and lovely. It sounds like the Cocteau Twins for people who think that the original is too much, or Vashti Bunyan with added self-confidence.


‘Tonight Is Mine’ is the strongest reminder of 4AD Lush on the album. Perhaps it’s telling that she has proclaimed this as her favourite track. This is very much her album, not one where credit is taken by producers or others.


You can imagine Emma playing out her ideas in the studio, considering carefully which fit and which can be left on the floor. They’re evident in the coos and quiet yelps of the attractive ‘I Was Miles Away’, in the musical doodling that is prevented from running away with itself and becomes a work of art in its own right.  They’re evident in the understated but swelling melodies of the singles ‘Bend The Round’ and ‘Clusters’ and in the pastoral feel running through the album and found, especially, on ‘Willow and Mallow’.


This is a truly lovely record, one that wraps its arms around you and leads you out gently and calmly to face the world.


Taster Track : Bend The Round



Growing At The Edges : Mutual Benefit



This gorgeous, layered and thoughtful album comes from American multi-instrumentalist, Jordan Lee.


It’s a quiet, introspective album, never showy or drawing attention to itself, but it’s an album that is composed in pastel colours. He adds a touch of jazz styling to ‘Wasteland Companions’ and stirs a splash of chamber folk into ‘Season Of Flame’. He washes ‘Growing At The Edges’ with a pop melody drawn from the deep well of song standards and he’s discreetly experimental with the fragments he places between songs.


What he achieves in the opening track ‘Growing At The Edges’ is quite special. It’s gentle and melodic, comforting and familiar, magically timeless. It’s not just the strong resemblance, vocally, to Villagers’ Conor O’Brien. Neither is it just the dues paid to the great 70s singer songwriters. It’s the echoes of the great American songbook, particularly ‘Ole Man River’ that floods through with the opening line “If time is a river…” It’s a ‘catch your breath’ moment that sets you up beautifully for the rest of the album.


This works because Lee is an excellent traditional songwriter at heart. He can borrow from genres and performers because he's earned the right to. He crafts his songs in tiny stitches that grow into a rich tapestry without over embroidering them so that they seem busy and fussy.


These are songs that allow time to stand still and take a break. That’s a precious talent.


Taster Track : Growing At The Edges



Dig The Mountain : Stornoway


Stornoway return after seven years with a revitalised marriage of their folk and pop blend. It’s very good to have them back.


Stornoway are special. There’s nothing like them for transporting you to a different place, a place where it’s the village summer fayre all day long. The sun is warm, the atmosphere welcoming and friendly and all is right with the world. This is pop with an unbreakable spine of happiness at its core. 


That happiness is found in the carnival brass break of ‘Dig The Mountain’. It’s in the childhood innocence of ‘Anwen’ as she’s “twirling and twisting as she dances in the kitchen.”. And it’s in the wide eyed wonder in ‘Trouble with The Green’ that leads you to a wonderful chorus.


Is it folk or is it pop? It doesn’t really matter. It has the unselfconscious abandon of morris dancers. Their love and appreciation of nature oozes out of every song. Nice traditional folk touches are woven into songs, as in the opening to ‘Bag In The Wind’. But all this is painted in a coating of gentle but delicious pop, full of the melodies and choruses that stick in your brain for a long while.


The seven year break has done them good. This is a consistently strong set of songs, each of which hits the gold standard.


If Thomas Hardy wrote pop songs, he may not have turned into such a depressive author, and they may have sounded like this!


Taster Track : Trouble With The Green



The Chasing Pack


Undo The Blue : Iraina Mancini


This is a joyful slab of dancefloor excess that combines the best elements of Northern Soul, disco and Hacienda style club sounds.


The album bursts into the room, setting out its stall with ‘Deep End’ It certainly makes a splash, a noisy pop fuelled sweaty mess of a song skirting greatness. It’s a sign of things to come, a collection filled with three minute signature tunes.


It’s as much a tropical fiesta as a club disco. I guess the clue is in the garland in her hair on the cover. This is music from the heart of a crowded marketplace, a visitation from outlying areas to the centre of what’s going on. They’re set piece numbers of the kind that explode on screen in films like ‘Fame’.


The spirit of the 60s glam girls- Lulu, The Supremes - infuses every song, but this is emphatically not a sixties record. You’ll pick up vibes like Primal Scream at their euphoric clubbiest from a song like ‘Do It (You Stole The Rhythm)’


The production is deliberately muddy. There’s a lot going on, most of it brash and loud. Usually it works, but you’ll need the gentler respite of ‘Undo The Blue’ like a reluctant decision to give a song a miss so that you can freshen up with a drink from the bar, wondering all the while what you’re missing and if others are having more fun than you. The breathier vocals of ‘Shotgun’ provide another breathing space.


This record wins you over because, ultimately, it's a lot of fun. She’s enjoying herself, purring her way through songs in an ‘I knew you’d like that’ kind of way.


Surrender to the blast of this record and you’ll end up with a good time.


Taster Track : Do It (You Stole The Rhythm)



Love Makes Magic : JIM


Founding member of Crazy P, Jim Baron, has made an album that has more in common with the sound of 70s AOR rock. It’s a surprise but inot a nasty one.


What it does need is a commitment to give it a chance. This is an album that grows on you. Opening track ‘ Across The Street’ sounds and feels indulgent with its drawn out, leisurely paced 70s style. That doesn’t for one moment make it a bad song, but it does have you feeling that you’re not where you thought you were when you plopped the needle on the record. It’s certainly not a Crazy P soul disco sound. 


The cello on ‘A Life Inbetween’ takes a further mournful step away from Crazy P. Yet, it’s hard to dislike the sound of the cello and it’s a marker of quality.


Initially, listening to this leaves me with the same emotions I feel when listening to those late 60s, early 70s bands before punk and disco arrived to move them on. With ‘When The Leaves Are Falling’ I’m getting earnest sensitivity. What I’m missing is a joyful melody.


And yet… it slowly dawns on me that there’s more to this than meets the ear. It certainly deserves praise for being a brave change of direction. In the persistent but quiet funk rock riffs of ‘Across The Street’ and ‘Oxygen’ we’re not a million miles away from the structures of electronic dance music. The piano serves the same purpose on ‘Still River Flow’ but updates the sound to that of chilled 00s classic. The instrumental ‘The Ballad of San Marino’ brings together several phases of 70s rock. When you’re attuned to the approach you notice more easily the melody that creeps in under ‘Phoenix’. And, good Heavens, is that a musical smile coming through with the parping brass of ‘Then We go Again’?


As a whole it’s a sometimes weighty experience that doesn’t quite break free to soar but I enjoyed this album and it held my attention.


Taster Track : Still River Flow



Massage & Spa : JP Incorporated


This gives exactly what it offers on the tin. Scratch the surface though and there’s something quite strange going on.


It’s a strange one. JP Incorporated is JP Hasson, an American musical comedian. I’d not heard of him so, before listening, I checked his Spotify Radio playlist to see who he was like. The playlist is a mix of children’s songs and acts with names that include Big Farts In The Poop Poop Room Fart Orchestra and The F**king Sh*t Eaters. All I can say is that his regular fans may have been wrongfooted by this calming set of new age ambient pieces for the upmarket massage and spa experience. 


That’s diversification for you, and it doesn’t seem to be delivered with irony.


This is a musical accompaniment to a guided tour through an hour-long session with a masseuse. The titles make that clear - ‘Wet Pebbles In A Bowl’, ‘Warmed Towels’ ‘Shoulders’, ‘Sterilized Headrest’ and more. This is music FOR a massage at a spa, not inspired BY the feelings provided by a spa session.


And what is that music? It’s completely beat free and rhythmless. There’s precious little conventional melody too. A few tracks in and I decided to test out the experience as it might be intended to be received. And this is definitely music to listen to horizontally. Before long I was drifting in and out of a relaxed torpor, barely summoning the energy to make notes or sip from a glass of water. This is music for not getting up to.


Trickling water, birdsong, wind chimes and ambient electronic noodling. That’s what you get from a track such as ‘Wet Pebbles In A Bowl’. In ‘Warmed Towels’ you’re enticed to give in and relax by siren songs. ‘Hair and Scalp’ is built around four extended notes, and it works. I was disappointed when it finished.


It’s not just one neverending piece. Each tune is different and individual. For all its relaxing airs it seems to be a reminder that outside your spa haven, things are a little more tempestuous. You receive that sense from the later tracks - the more ominous bass sounds of ‘Privacy’, the louder, more insistent bubbling water of ‘Sterilized Headrest’ and the stormy tones of ‘Hot Stones’


I end this experience feeling like a new man! At a time when named storm follows named storm, this may be just what you need if the road to the spa is blocked by fallen trees!


Taster Track : Hair and Scalp



Music for The Metaverse : Strange Gravity


A strange, by no means unpleasant, collection of momentous synth songs provides something quite different.


Strange Gravity’s origins lie in a time when the world was a different place. They are producer / musician Grant Strang and writer / performer William Vincent. They started out as a project to showcase the synths at Silver Shark during the 2020 Covid lockdown. That explains the sound (an enjoyable showcase for synths), the tone (melancholic and epic) and the concept (an interest in different worlds and universes).


If this was a film you’d be hooked from the word go. It’s big screen music even, or perhaps especially, in its quieter moments. For an album rooted in big ideas, the songs are surprisingly but pleasingly restrained and held in check. In places, such as ‘The Second Last Day’ they feel almost like lullabies.Throbbing, occasionally skittering, synths predominate, but they’re lightened by some sweet but understated melodies.


They’re sung as if by community elders, filled with the wisdom and disappointment of experience. The lyrics are quite portentous, for example in the prog conceit of ‘This Moment’ or throughout ‘Heart of the Sun’. Try this from ‘This Moment’ - it’s typical.


“I watch as time decays”


There are echoes of Pink Floyd here and, on ‘Strange Days, U2’s ‘Passengers’ project. In its sense of another world, it’s the musical equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons or a re-enactment game. It’s a different world that you can enter and leave at will.


This is an album that snags your attention and holds you in place. It’s no hardship to be there.


Taster Track : This Moment



Playlists


As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page.


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