Music Appreciation : (Pay Attention At The Back)

Starring


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


Highly Recommended


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.


Ducks Ltd get that. Their sound is bright and shiny, filled with the sound of chiming and tumbling guitars. The initial melody that hits you comes from the vocals. That’s great - give the listeners something to hum along to or join in with and you have them hooked. Further listens reveal more melodies in the music .


It’s timeless stuff, knowing no shame in raiding pop’s archives for gems that are used to build something charming and fresh. There’s the drum breaks and string accompaniments from the 60s, the bass lines from new wave and post punk (suitably softened) and there’s the slightly hyped up grunge sound of all the instruments rushing relentlessly to a conclusion.


It’s a short album, under 30 minutes. Brevity isn’t always an asset, but here it prevents the bright shiny surfaces from wearing thin. We don’t want the songs to be bright like the glare of winter sun on a wet motorway. We want the songs to herald sunshine and a future that, as the saying goes, is so bright you have to wear shades.


Ducks Ltd deliver with no exceptions.


Taster Track : Under The Rolling Electro : Acoustic Works 20:20 : Jack Hues


This is a thoughtful and, in places, compelling album that reveals an almost reverential respect for music making.


Jack Hues is a clever pseudonym for Jeremy Ryder, a founder member of Wang Chung the underrated 80s synth pop band responsible for ‘Dance Hall Days’. It’s clever because it’s a pun on J’Accuse and that sums up the temper of his songs.



Understandably we’ve seen a number of lockdown albums in recent months. This may be the first to concentrate on the wider pandemic, the emotions it triggered and the changes it’s brought. It captures the sense of life falling apart and the recognition of threats to counter in the nick of time. It sounds like an angry record, but also a forgiving and ultimately optimistic one. The drama of the situation trumps the music in places but to good effect.


It’s a mix of contrasting styles and genres. There’s the brassy, soulful blues of the opener ‘We Gotta work Together’ and its reprise, the late night jazz of ‘Slow Gyrs’ and the prog exposition of ‘Inyenga Parts 1,2 and 3’. It’s made with deliberate care, composed as much as written.


I think too that there is another sense in which J’Accuse is an appropriate tag for this album. It’s directed at anyone who is hooked on specific genres to the exclusion of others. To understand and truly appreciate this record you have to accept music from outside your comfort zone. It advocates tolerance - tolerance in musical taste, and tolerance as key to the way forward out of the pandemic.


It’s an enjoyable and relevant record.


Taster Track : We Gotta Work Together


Music For Psychedelic Therapy : Jon Hopkins


This is a serious album, but an album with the potential to support mental healing with its relaxing beauty.


Jon Hopkins is an artist I came to years ago. His brand of ambient electronica is relaxing but occasionally, if I’m honest, a little dull. There’s always the chance though that it will transport you to a quiet place that allows you to meditate or simply quieten the mind.


He’s taken things a step further on this album by linking it explicitly to psychedelic therapy. I’ll confess that I thought that was a clever title, keeping his ambient creations well within the musical sphere but I found through Wikipedia that it is a genuine thing. To oversimplify in brief, it’s a model that calls for two psychotherapy sessions bookending an extended session with hallucinogenic drugs that take the client back to the depths of their mind. The surrounding sessions prepare you for the experience and help you to evaluate what you’ve learned.


Two things. First it doesn’t sound cheap. Secondly, I’d like to reassure you that no hallucinogenic drugs were taken during the writing of this review.


The music works in isolation. You can never argue with a physical sensation arising from the music you listen to. During ‘Tayos Caves, Ecuador i’ I felt a hollowing of the chest that comes from anticipating something new and good, but out of your comfort zone. I also relaxed into the album dropping down a layer to focus on my thoughts rather than my surroundings.


The music is partly inspired by the experience of visiting caves in Ecuador. Caves are natural cathedrals, triggering awe and providing perspective. I don’t want to get into ruminating on the psychotherapeutic symbolism of caves. I’m happy in my home and don’t feel the need to relocate to the womb!


The tracks are more musical than music as such. The sounds are soft and relaxing, incorporating sea, wind and birdsong. They allow space for silence. It pulses, comes in rising and falling waves and lulls you into a relaxed state. It works at a slow pace and it's a seamless and beautiful musical experience.


I’m sceptical of this as a model for psychotherapy, but there’s no doubt that music can be a healing experience. This album is an excellent demonstration of that.


Taster Track : Tayos Caves, Ecuador i


Always Inside Your Head : Lone


Lone’s collection of chilled beats would be completely at home on Cafe Del Mar compilations at any point over the last 20 years or so. (For those unfamiliar with the label, it bills itself as the home of Ibizan chill. Don’t worry about it. No, really, chillax!)


I’ve always had a soft spot for chillout, but it has its critics. They say that it is easy electronica, indolent and lacking in energy. I don’t disagree, but it’s good music to help you overcome a bad night’s sleep even if it won’t fire you up for the day ahead.


Lone’s album is full of music that relaxes you as it washes over, floats around and wafts past you. It sounds like the echoes of music that has travelled through space becoming a little scrambled and distorted by its travels, not quite tuned in. That’s a little like the experience of a tourist to Ibiza travelling by the most budget airline.


The music itself is a little shapeless, like a half built snowman before the carrot nose and charcoal eyes are in place. The opening track ‘Hidden By Horizons’ includes Morgane Diet’s vocals which help to orientate you into the record. They anchor the meandering electronica, wrapping themselves around you reassuringly. Even though she’s from Brighton they're quite Scandinavian in their way, the sound of the Northern Lights.


Elsewhere, the music gently soothes you with its ghostly pan pipes and gently skittering beats. It simultaneously disconnects you from the world around you and immerses you in the sounds it creates. ‘Tree For Tree’ wanders you back into the club but the feel is of watching the clubbers within, rather than joining in. ‘Inlove2’ also picks up the momentum but these are fleeting moments where you might stir yourself from the sun lounger to stretch your legs.


It’s an undemanding listen but a collection that is consistently strong and even throughout.


Taster Track : Hidden By Horizons


Solar Power : Lorde


Lone’s collection of chilled beats would be completely at home on Cafe Del Mar compilations at any point over the last 20 years or so. (For those unfamiliar with the label, it bills itself as the home of Ibizan chill. Don’t worry about it. No, really, chillax!)


I’ve always had a soft spot for chillout, but it has its critics. They say that it is easy electronica, indolent and lacking in energy. I don’t disagree, but it’s good music to help you overcome a bad night’s sleep even if it won’t fire you up for the day ahead.


Lone’s album is full of music that relaxes you as it washes over, floats around and wafts past you. It sounds like the echoes of music that has travelled through space becoming a little scrambled and distorted by its travels, not quite tuned in. That’s a little like the experience of a tourist to Ibiza travelling by the most budget airline.


The music itself is a little shapeless, like a half built snowman before the carrot nose and charcoal eyes are in place. The opening track ‘Hidden By Horizons’ includes Morgane Diet’s vocals which help to orientate you into the record. They anchor the meandering electronica, wrapping themselves around you reassuringly. Even though she’s from Brighton they're quite Scandinavian in their way, the sound of the Northern Lights.


Elsewhere, the music gently soothes you with its ghostly pan pipes and gently skittering beats. It simultaneously disconnects you from the world around you and immerses you in the sounds it creates. ‘Tree For Tree’ wanders you back into the club but the feel is of watching the clubbers within, rather than joining in. ‘Inlove2’ also picks up the momentum but these are fleeting moments where you might stir yourself from the sun lounger to stretch your legs.


It’s an undemanding listen but a collection that is consistently strong and even throughout.


Taster Track : Hidden By Horizons


Anywhere But Here : The Utopiates


This band is brand new, only forming last year. They’re more than just a great band name because as this EP shows, they know their stuff. They say on their website :


The Utopiates are a London based indie rock n roll group formed under the dark clouds of 2020. We aim to bring the masses the kind of groovy but hard-hitting rock songs not heard for a long time.


Bold words.


They deliver good, solid post Britpop rock. Musically there’s a confidence, a groove and an ability to blend together that belies their short history. This is a band playing for each other, not a collection of individual egos.


Musically they’ve nailed it. Lyrically a little more inspiration to stand out from the masses wouldn’t go amiss. Singing of a ‘Love Salvation’ sounds like a bit of a cliche, the subject matter they feel they should be singing about rather than the important things they want to or could sing about.


Their touchstones are the likes of Oasis in their Champagne Supernova guise, The Verve when they strip back the songs, even The Charlatans when it all comes gloriously together.


There’s bags of promise here and if a full album is on the cards I’ll be listening out for it.


Taster Track : The Getaway


One Theme & Subsequent Improvisation : Sam Wilkes


I’m not sure where to begin with this. How about, from jazz beginnings album pushes the boundaries of what I might consider music. It’s a bewildering and elusive listening experience.


Sam Wilkes is an American jazz bassist. He’s had his toe in the waters of pop through roles as a Musical Director for various artists. That experience isn’t audible here.


It’s a foreboding title for an album. It reeks of a grand project. The sense of foreboding isn’t eased when the five key words I’ve seen used to describe this are : improvised, spaced out, experimental jazz. We’re talking degree level jazz here, not early evening jazz club.


Improvisation, like jamming, sounds wasteful. How do you choose the parts of any improvisation that make sense? A listening party would help to guide you through what you’re hearing, but a) it’s not available and b) it seems likely to suck any spontaneous enjoyment out of the experience.


Returning to my golden rule for listening to jazz - if in doubt just let it wash over you until you latch on to something you like - I can say that I quite liked the white noise cymbals that occur in ‘One Theme’. This also contains the simple six note melody that is the foundation for the imminent improvisation. It fades away during the track though never to return. It is bookended by the closing track ‘The 3rd’ which sounds like emerging from the storm, changed but undefeated. The tracks in between are a jumble, and it’s hard to hear how they develop the initial theme.


I looked for a more understanding review on Google but could not find any one, understanding or not. I’m left with the opinion that just as a roomful of monkeys let loose on typewriters may eventually produce a line of Shakespeare, so might a room full of experimental jazz improvisers eventually produce a tune. It hasn’t happened here.


I’m sorry Sam. It’s me not you.


Taster Track : One Theme






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