Crowded House, Deb Never, Ducks Ltd, Jack Hues, Jon Hopkins, Lone, Lorde, Sam Wilkes, The Utopiates, Wyndow,
Album Cover of the Week
Deb Never claims this week's 'Album of the Week' title. It's the writing that does it for me. Often you can be hunting to see the album title as the artist's image is seen to be of paramount importance. There's no mistaking the performer image here, and it's a fair reflection of the music within. But it's the writing that draws the attention. It looks different, perhaps because album covers on a plain white background are still unusual.
This Week's Music
It felt a little as if this week was biased towards music as a source of self improvement with academic, therapy, project based, environmentally aware and self referential meta titles taking centre stage. End of term exams will be taking place in these subjects before Christmas.
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. The link to the Youtube playlist is https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh_sy55y6i18Qj7w_Z3CQft
The Shadowplay playlists are at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/01iU7Jy80SMvJO5QBF7Oux?si=00d9d1fb8b2f4baa and https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7EjsaT8idWnNv42LqIGEGSmH&feature=share
Dreamers Are Waiting : Crowded House
Crowded House return for their second comeback. It’s their hallmark sound and it’s a triumph.
Back at the beginning of the 80s I saw Crowded House main man, Neil Finn, in concert as part of Split Enz. He made an immediate impact with his ability to create a rapport with the audience, even intervening with security on behalf of an over exuberant member of the audience. “He’s my cousin” he shouted. The friendly concern for others, and the determination that everyone is going to have a good time have marked out his career before and since.
Crowded House were always seen as a safe bet, a solid pair of hands. But listen again to the first two albums and you can hear that they were more than a generic sound done well. There are moments of haunting sentiment and beauty littered across them, and always a sense that they were in touch with Australia’s aboriginal past. There’s an undercurrent of mysticism, gently done in a way that is also reminiscent of The Beatles’ softer taker on psychedelia.
Two things you need to know about ‘Dreamers Are Waiting’. First, despite Finn’s secondment to Fleetwood Mac, Crowded House haven’t gone all west coast on us. Secondly, this is the most consistent and even Crowded House record since…...ever, and they’ve set the bar high. It is much better than the albums released in their first comeback at the start of the 2010s.
A big part of that is that they feel like a proper band, rather than an inadvertent backing act for Finn. It’s hardly surprising really as, despite not appearing in this incarnation before, they have a strong history together. Nick Seymour was a founding member of the band. Mitchell Froom was their first producer. Liam and Elroy Finn know him quite well too as they are his sons. The closeness that creates benefits the record. They instinctively know how best to support each other.
From the opening notes of ‘Bad Times Good’ we can hear that their gentle, comforting sound is undiminished, even when singing of dark matters such as separation and death. Finn’s voice is in better form than ever. His trademark soaring vocals are perfectly pitched and timed, lifting the songs.
The collective gift for gorgeous melodies is undimmed too. ‘To The Island’ is a masterclass in melodic songwriting, and other touches such as the brass flourishes on ‘Playing With Fire’ lift songs from nicely ok to quite special. As I listened I was suffused with warmth, returning to a safe place after a night out in a freezing storm.
Possibly too soft for some tastes, this is Crowded House at their very best.
Taster Track : To The Island
Wyndow : Wyndow
This is a gorgeous album of angelic and beautiful songs, and that’s all thanks to the perfect harmony between the voices.
Wyndow are a collaboration between Lavinia Blackwall, a member of indie folk rock group Trembling Bells, and Laura J Martin, a multi instrumentalist whose talents extend to the flute, piano, mandolin, ukulele, harmonium and a great voice.
I dipped quickly into their earlier work. It sounds worthy, but does not prepare you for the transformation achieved when they come together. This is an album that is much more than the sum of its parts.
Though I’m learning to trust the reviews that nudge me towards new music, I’m still sometimes daunted by the thought of folk. There are many touches here that mark this out as a folk album. Titles such as ‘When Winter Comes Shadowing In’, the wonderful freedom given to the flute in ‘Take My Picture’ and the lyrical content featuring ghosts and mysterious, unplanned visitors. As you listen though, it comes through that this is an album drawn from and about folklore. There is something folky about this, but it’s a dreamy folk of things remembered. It’s a little blurry like the cover, and that softens it.
A better description of these songs is that they’re madrigals. I know that they don’t strictly qualify for that because they’re not unaccompanied. Madrigals though began life as music sang for private pleasure and delight, and it’s delight that flows from every pore of this album.
‘Never Alone’ serves as a lovely introduction to the album as a whole. The interplay between the voices is considered and absolutely gorgeous. The backing vocals, particularly, allow the songs to soar, but the vocals throughout are light, floating, swirling and mingling like thermal currents on a soft breeze. And the melodies drip enough sweetness and honey to keep a hive of bees busy all year.
All that would be more than enough to recommend this album, but there’s more.
Lyrically these songs are excellent too. They pick up ordinary details in extraordinary circumstances to create something magical. It’s a Mary Poppins effect. There’s a love of words, and music and singing that shines though. ‘Free Will And Testament’ demonstrates this beautifully. Who, on earth, can fit ‘arachnophobia’ so perfectly into a song as they do here?
“What kind of spider understands arachnophobia?”
And we rarely hear wordplay such as this any more.
“I have my senses and my sense of having senses.”
I make no apology for gushing about this album. It sounds like a match made in Heaven and I’m still tingling at the sound.
Taster Track : Free Will And Testament
And The Rest
Where Have All The Flowers Gone? : Deb Never
Mainstream pop done well. Full stop.
Deb Never is making a fair stab of carving out a leading role in the current pop world. She’s not even made a full length album yet, but she’s already worked with stellar names such as the rapper Slow Thai. The Premiership attraction The 1975 have also invited her personally to open for them. This EP shows why that attention is deserved.
Looking at the title, you might expect some end of the 60s lament for the loss of the Summer of Love. You’d be disappointed. The world’s moved on since then and Deb Never is nothing if not bang up to date.
She’s honest, bruised and vulnerable and that comes through in the songs. Her talent is to produce accessible pop about sad personal circumstances. Mainly it’s pop with a glaze of beats and whisper of RnB. ‘Stupid’ builds from sparse guitar to the sound of a full band and string accompaniment letting rip. ‘Sorry’ and ‘Someone Else’ are genuine highlights, adopting a synth and electro feel.
The chart pop mould fits her like a glove. She’s diving right in, and is comfortable in a big, crowded pool
Taster Track : Someone Else
Modern Fiction : Ducks Ltd
Ducks Ltd’s take on jangle pop is to keep it brisk, to the point and full of melody. It’s a pleasure to listen to it.
Ducks Ltd are Tom McGreevy and Evan Lewis from Toronto. Their record company says:
“Ducks Ltd. understand that dancing through misery is healthier than dancing around it. Their brand of lilting, throwback jangle-pop makes that seem like the easiest thing in the world to do.”
Actually, I wouldn’t disagree with that.
It’s an odd little genre, jangle pop. To jangle, according to Google, is to make or cause to make a ringing, metallic sound, typically a discordant one. There’s nothing discordant in this music. I always think of The Byrds ‘Hey Mr Tambourine Man’ as one of the earliest anthems of jangle pop. It’s a song that highlights the need for the music and the vocals to work together in perfect harmony.