Bill Frissell, CVC, Emiliana Torrini And the Colorist Orchestra, Free Love, High Season, Home Front, Skytone
The Front Runners
Four : Bill Frisell
This jazz quartet of Bill Frisell (guitar), Gregory Tardy (saxophone), Jonathan Blake (drums) and Gerald Clayton (piano) achieve something intense and remarkable on this album. They’ve captured the essence of sadness.
It’s clearly been a tough time for Frisell. Three of these pieces are explicitly linked to individual deaths. Hal Wilner died of Covid complications at 64. Claude Uttley, an artist died at 66 following a long illness. Alan Woodard, a childhood friend, died at the same age as Frisell.These losses dictate the tone and emotions on this record.
I came to this album as I always come to a jazz album, hoping to be swept up by energy and melody but wondering if it will be beyond my powers of appreciation. I noted that the short opener, ‘Dear Old Friend (For AlanWoodard)’ was sweet and reminiscent of American standard ‘Home On The Range’. I was pleased that this seemed to be jazz freed from ego, recognising that the important things in life are vested in people. I rejoiced in the pure loveliness of ‘The Pioneers’, relieved that the undoubted skills and techniques of the musicians were unable to swamp the melody. And I even reflected that if Paul Simon was a jazz musician, this might be what he sounded like.
But gradually something changed. It wasn’t the music, it was how I responded to it. This is not an album to approach as jazz. It’s an album that you approach as a study in sadness, and it works by transcending genre. Listening to ‘Four’ I began to feel the fear and pain of losing someone close.
When we talk of an aching sadness, this music is what we feel. It’s an unsettling emotion that you might want to wriggle away from. But it’s a pure, palpable response to the music, and for Frisell and his band to trigger this marks out the album as something very special.
The emotion is there all the time. It’s a different emotion from feeling maudlin, depressed or self pitying. ‘Good Dog, Happy Man’ feels like a necessary but temporary relief. It has the jaunty energy of a cockapoo puppy but it’s a distraction, not a healing. The sadness remains, even when you’re smiling.
This is an album that may trigger an unexpected emotional and physical response in you. It will remind you of the beauty of being human in all its aspects.
Taster Track : The Pioneers
Get Real : CVC
There is a lot to love in this warm and hummable collection of cosmic pop.
There’s a revival underway of pre-punk 70s music. The unfashionable is becoming fashionable, and this album is one of the reasons why. This is an album full of classic, retro sounding songs that swirl their way into your brain. It picks up on the blues, Isley Brothers funk and rock and roll concerns that go back to the days of Eddie Cochrane and his ‘Summertime Blues’. The time warp is so pronounced that they sing about Vietnam rather than Ukraine.
CVC have achieved something special, an album that sounds as if they’re having a lot of fun and not taking it too seriously, while hitting the mark with every bridge, every key change and every hook.
Above all, this is an album that’s relaxed, warm, mellow and friendly. They have a warmly stoned hippy sound and vibe. They’re having fun, gently teasing ‘Sophie’ for not joining in. The songs are like a homemade suit, turned from a collection of rags and snippets into something that is the opposite of Emperor's New Clothes - all substance and style.
I suspect they’d have loosely convened gatherings rather than shows and could be tempted into extended wah wah jams that hold interest and attention until the very end. They're a band made for sunny festivals rather than underlit basements on rainy evenings.
The reason you’ll love this band as much as I do is their hummable, singalong songs. Take ‘Docking The Pay’ as an example, but every song has something to latch onto and remember with a smile.
This is a band that sings, plays, lives and loves in perfect harmony. You need them in your life.
Taster Track : Music Stuff (but any of them could do.)
Adrift : Skytone
This Canadian duo performs a blend of jangle and synth pop. That’s what they do. They describe it as sunshine pop. That’s how it makes you feel.
Opening with ‘Here And Now’, this is music that captures the sense of good times drawing inevitably to a close. Perhaps it’s your uni experience. Perhaps, as they suggest later in the album. It’s the end of Summer. For now it conjures up a sweet and intense nostalgia for something that is still there. In later years it captures those golden moments that will become your defining memories.
These songs are never going to fill arenas. That’s not their style and they’re not that kind of band. Instead, these are happily minor, but gorgeous with it. These are songs to be played to maybe a couple of hundred people outdoors by a waterside cafe on the shores of the Great Lakes. One day, perhaps in the 2050s, they will feature on a compilation of lost treasures curated by the mid century Gary Crowley.
Their magic is in the sound of their guitars - reverberating, distorted and utterly beguiling. They roll inevitably and comfortably from each perfectly pitched note to its successor, melting in waves from song to song, blending melodies and harmonies into one sweet whole. Even the titles call to mind fond memories of past songs. Try ‘Dreaming’, ‘Without You’ and ‘Heat Wave’, all new songs formed out of pop’s legacies.
These songs are actual or remembered happiness in musical form.
Taster Track : Here And Now
The Chasing Pack
Race The Storm : Emiliana Torrini and the Colorist Orchestra
Emiliana Torrini’s delicate and vulnerable songs are allowed to bloom in her second collaboration with The Colorist Orchestra.
No one could rival the old Emiliana Torrinini for songs that were deliciously fragile, tugging at your heartstrings until you crumbled. The sadness of ‘Today Has Been OK’ was your call to resilience; the hopeful optimism of ‘Sunny Road’ was your permission to feel happy.
She’s never been the most prolific artist and hasn’t released an album of all new songs since 2013. In 2008 she embarked on a world tour for her then current album ‘Me and Armini’. In 2010 she became a parent. Both these events have influenced her songwriting. ‘Race The Storm’ is the first album where this is fully apparent.
Her music has travelled from Iceland to South America. Several of the songs rest on a feel for dance. ‘The Illusion Curse’ feels a little more exotic as a result. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if castanets and sombreros made an appearance. ‘Hilton’ could fit well into a club, maybe the come down room rather than the dancefloor but a club nonetheless.
Torrini has the air of a calf leaving its mother, unsteady on its feet but increasingly sure of its bearings and its place in the world. Luckily that’s where the resemblance ends!
She sings with greater confidence and assurance. In a way that’s a shame. The aching vulnerability of her earlier songs were a big part of her appeal. But she also sounds happier and more fulfilled now with songs celebrating marriage (‘Wedding Song’) and family love (‘Right Here’) and her unhurried seriousness remains appealing.
Some of this change is down to The Colorist Orchestra. They add colour and substance to the songs, allowing them to break free of the restrictions of a subdued acoustic guitar. If anything they’ve helped to move her towards Kate Bush territory. Vocally that’s true too. You can also hear Icelandic compatriot Bjork in the songs, thankfully shorn of the fingernails scratching down a blackboard effect.
There’s a quiet and understated magic at play. Its impact isn’t immediate but across the album and with repeated listens it grows into something that is still special. The album ends with a short drum pattern that suggests the story is to be continued.
That’s a good thing.
Taster Track : Hilton
Inside : Free Love
Free Love’s collection of electronica strikes the ideal balance between accessible and challenging.
Put the needle on the record or, as I did, click the mouse on the play symbol and you’re hit with futuristic electronica, irresistible synth lines and seductive French vocals. That's not bad from a Scottish duo. You’re likely to be well and truly hooked and that sets you up nicely for the rest of the album.
‘Inside’ is aptly named. It’s what’s going underneath the lid of the vocals that helps this album to stand out. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with vocals. They’re a touch light maybe but they float appealingly across the music which is where the true delights of these songs can be found. It’s an electronic Heaven with bleeps, squelches, different textures and laser sounds all vying amiably for your attention. It’s a record that would not be diminished if it was released as a set of instrumentals.
Did you have an exercise at school called “taking your pencil for a walk”? You’d scribble loops and doodle curves on paper and then colour in the spaces. That’s where Free Love have fun with their music. It wanders loosely through your headphones and flashes of musical colour snag your attention every few seconds.
‘Fight Or Flight’ bubbles along like a jacuzzi of electronic sound. ‘Golden Goose’ has an angrier buzz akin to disturbing a wasp in his nest. ‘Dans Le Noir’ gives you a hefty nudge towards the dance floor. On ‘I Become’ they let their music range freely allowing it a life of its own. The whole album is a form of electronic broowsing. They show you what they can do and if it’s not quite to your taste they show you something new that may be more to your liking. Nine times out of ten they succeed.
This is an alternative exploration of electronic music, where experimentation orbits a pop anchor. Spotify has a playlist in their name - Muscle Memories - which features deep dives into acts you’ve never heard of, but with a healthy sprinkling of acts such as Heaven 17, Sparks, and Hall & Oates. It captures the echoes and influences here.
If you like slightly woozy, off kilter music that nevertheless has a strong but scrambled grip on the essentials of pop, this is for you.
Taster Track : Le Mirage
The Call : High Season
High Season are Ben Shemie of the oddly spelled Suuns and DJ Chloe Thevenin. Together they have made something different with The Call. It’s electronic dance music for the head.
This is dance music that shares just one thing in common with the uplifting electro acid house of S’Express. That comes from the opening lines of their ‘Theme For S’Express’ where they tell us to “enjoy this trip. And it is a trip”. This is a journey into electronic sound, something to experience rather than to listen to. And, as we’re encouraged in the opening snippet ‘Mono’, make sure to pack your headphones!
You can easily find yourself drowning in this music. Headphones on. Eyes closed. Muscles twitching. It’s a sensory overload in a world that is at once familiar but unknown. Like wandering into the City of London on a Sunday morning it’s surprisingly strange and disorienting
This is a world that’s bent out of shape. Sounds are biased towards bass notes. Vocals are blurred and indistinct, fading in and out allowing you to tune out and be consumed by the beats.
It’s a clever concept. Spoken interludes disrupt the music, but are intriguing and helpful. Shemie and Thevenin are the white rabbits to our Alice. ‘Summercamp’ is a guide through itself. They talk you through the song better than I could except that they build expectations that are not met. You’ll find your head spinning at various points. It could be irritating but it’s surprisingly addictive.
Strange though it may be, tracks such as ‘Hseas’, ‘Paris Texas’ and ‘Way Far’ keep it accessible. ‘Way Far’ is all hypnotic throbbing and thrumming bass and beats, broken by shards and flashes of lighter but brilliant notes. ‘Compact’ is a cacophony of beats and stuttering notes, rescued from chaos by the rhythm of the vocals.
It’s a curious but enjoyable trip that avoids the well lit mainstream without falling into the dark side.
Taster Track : Way Far
Games Of Power : Home Front
Home Front provide Canadian post punk punk - that's not a misprint - that is both a blast from the past and a shake up for the present.
This is what punk would have sounded like if it had grown out of synth pop rather than emerging as a reaction against prog, rock and disco. It’s punk with added complexity and even sophistication, a place where The Ruts and The Damned play happily with Joy Division and early Simple Minds.
There’s something authentically and appealingly DIY about this. On tracks such as ‘Games Of Power’ they aim to recreate big studio effects on bedroom technology. That’s punk. They stare unsmilingly from PR photos and contort themselves into suffering poses in shots from their live shows. That’s punk. If ‘Crisis’ and others show that what they’re doing may more accurately be described as post punk, the vocal energy and their attitudes confirm that they also have one foot in the original punk camp.
Their music is by no means a tuneless thrash. The angry melodies of, say, ‘Overtime’ are a definite strength. They treat their guitars like weapons, abusing them in the name of their music. From the opening song, ‘Faded State’ they show that they are punks who know how to pound a beat, and on ‘Quiet Water’ they show a sense of rhythm that would make them easy to dance to rather than simply pogo.
It’s early days for Home Front. This is their debut album. Future hard core fans will want the bragging rights that come from following the band right from the start. Don’t miss out.
Taster Track : Faded State
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