Updated: Jan 21
There's something about the post Christmas period that feels like an anti climax. All the effort that goes into making Christmas special leaves many of us exhausted but hopefully in good spirits. Once we've finished the Christmas lunch in our house we tend to vegetate collectively in front of the Queen's speech and fail to stir until someone offers to make tea or bring out the pudding. That's a good time to put on some music.
Thank you for all the kind words about the Pop In the Real World Christmas Crackers and Party Poppers playlist. It seems a lot of you enjoyed it. I'll update it and bring it back for Christmas 2021. Now, I'll be honest but in a way that many reviewers might not be. If, like me, you've listened to it a lot this month you'll now be heartily sick of it. It's time to put it away and listen to something fresh. Fortunately, there's a bit of variety in the reviews below from 70s forgotten records (Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood) to spiky post punk (The Nightingales) to a record that is possibly the best way to see out the plague year that was 2020 (Late Night Final_. I hope you find something to enjoy in the mix.
Here's a quick reminder about how I categorise the albums here, together with some temporary festive headings based on reactions to gifts.
The 'Album of the Week' or as it's called this week 'OMG That's Amazing' is usually, but not always, the record I've enjoyed the most. Occasionally it's a record that had me thinking most or wanting to talk about it. And it's probably made it onto my list of records to look out for next time I'm on line or in the shops.
The 'Commended' category (Oh Wow! That's Great) is for records that I've particularly enjoyed during the week and would like to share.
'Good Job' (Just What I Wanted) contains any record that met reasonable expectations. It's consistent throughout and will be one to return to, if not on a daily basis. It's quite possible that others will rate it higher than me.
The albums in 'Promising Underachievers' (Just What I Needed) all have something going for them, perhaps in individual tracks, but it's not sustained across the whole album. It may not succeed on the terms it seems to set itself, or it may be a disappointment because I feel that the artist could and should have done better.
And 'I'll Pass. Thanks' (You Shouldn't Have. No. Really. You Shouldn't Have!) is for those albums that simply didn't work for me. I may have picked up on them from a review that I misunderstood or was a touch misleading, or I've taken a punt on something that didn't pay off. I won't be returning to it. That doesn't mean it's a 'bad' album. If there are never albums in this category it might mean that I'm playing safe.
Each week I'll include the taster tracks in the Pop In the Real World Taster Tracks Spotify playlist. This will eventually include all the taster tracks for the previous four weeks. I hope that by listening to this you can form a view if I'm reflecting your thoughts or if we have very different tastes.
The playlist can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. I'm looking how to make the playlist more accessible to non Spotify users too. Watch this space.
OMG!! That's Amazing!
A Wonderful Hope : Late Night Final
The title says it all, but you need a little time and patience with this record to appreciate that fact. This album is from one half of Public Service Broadcasting, who you may know from their compelling and evocative soundtracks to human moments in history including WW2, the space race and the devastation of Welsh mining in the 20th century.
He's on a different mission here, using hypnotic, quiet and immersive synths that build to a rush of hope and optimism. It's the story of 2020, ending on a positive note.
'Thank You' is perfectly paced from the kind of quiet opening that used to confuse John Peel into thinking he'd not lowered the stylus onto the record, to a buoyant, almost celebratory ending. 'A Wonderful Hope' ends with a celebratory simulation of choral bells. 'The Human Touch' has a strong, chilled Balearic feel with all the euphoric warmth that comes from that.
If you've suffered in 2020, if you've found lockdown hard to take, or if you've shed tears for tiers then dive into this record. There's every chance you'll feel better for it.
Taster Track : The Human Touch
Oh Wow! That's Great
Return : Katy J Pearson
I have in my hand - not literally, that would mean tyoing with one finger only - Gary Crowley's 'Lost 80s' compilation. Record One includes acts such as Haircut 100, Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout, The Suede Crocodiles and Friends Again. (If you remember more than 3 of those you had a very good 80s!) Katy J Pearson would fit effortlessly into that company. Now I know I shouldn't describe records by comparison with acts that are even less well known, but that was a time, a style and an approach that perfectly captures what Katy J Pearson brings to the party.
Take 'Tonight' which builds surprisingly from a quiet, strummed beginning to a pop crescendo complete with bouncy brass. There are stronger singers around, but there always were in the Golden Age of Indie. She has an enjoyable way with a straightforward pop song ('Something Real'),and it's the little touches - the brass, the squeaky Hammond organ ('Fix Me Up') that make a big difference.
Towards the end of the record she identifies a need to 'Take Back the Radio'. I wish she could.
Taster Track : Take Back The Radio
Lucifer Is A Flower : Black Devil Disco Club
Do you remember in the days before discos became clubs, you'd be out having a wild evening and to keep it going you'd have one last drink to keep it going? A drink that you didn't need and was the root cause of how you would feel the next day? This is the soundtrack to what happened next.
This is chock full of larger than life disco beats and ear worms. It's Giorgio Moroder (dubbed the 'Father of Disco') with a sprinkling of sleaze. It's the sound of Soft Cell doing disco. You listen to this for the thrill of the music, not for the lyrics. Yelps, squeaks and squelchy notes abound. You might regret it the next day, but you'll love it in the moment.
And in case you're wondering about its musical class and pedigree, it was number 18 in Electronic Sound's 2020 Year End chart.
Taster Track : Berliner Atoll
The Current - Hundreds
Hundreds also deal in synthesised beats and melodies, but they're the sensible older brother to Black Devil Disco Club's wild child.
This is melodic in the German tradition of electronic music, clear and clean but not sterile, not at all. Neither is it sparse or stark though there are no organic instruments in evidence. This is synthesiser music that is both detached and yearning, especially in 'In The Air' The prevailing, smooth mood is shaken up by the more jittery energy of 'You're The Storm'. The vocals suit the music and are muted but not passionate. The dual voices on 'Vessels In the Sky' are particularly effective. As a whole, the record has depth, while remaining easy on the ear.
Finally, if you're a little concerned after reading this that the Hundreds experience may be cold and emotionless, I noticed that the merchandise page on their website includes Hundreds socks. That's human. That's cosy.
Taster Track : Vessel In the Sky
Just What I Wanted
Four Against Fate : The Nightingales
OK. Let's be clear from the outset. Despite the name this band do not sing with the sweetness of nightingales. In their original incarnation they were in the vanguard of post punk. They had the third most sessions of the John Peel show, behind The Fall and Half Man Half Biscuit. The current incarnation has a lot in common with both bands.
The album cover is a chaotic mess but, helpfully, points the way to what you can expect within. It contains elements of beauty and humour, just like the music within.
They start as they mean to go on with the abrasive title, forced singing and abrupt time changes of 'Thicko Rides Again'. It sounds like a statement track, nailing their musical colours to the mast with all its elements. 'Neverender' chops and change its way to a catchy chorus and - bonus point here given the season - wishes the listener a Happy Christmas at the end!
You might thing that they are defiantly their own beast but two tracks highlight their links to a long musical tradition. 'Devil's Due' enlists a regular Booket T type riff. It's a traditional approach but it's where the Nightingales take it that counts. 'The Other Side' brings forth a Glam Rock stomp. Don't dismiss it. In his autobiography, 'Renegade', Mark E Smith acknowledges the influence of Glam on the sound of The Fall.
Ultimately the rhythm of the tracks is more important than the melody. It's not the easiest listen in the world but it might just be something that changes how you think about music.
Taster Track : Devil's Due
Be True To Yourself : Joey Molland
Joey Molland doesn't so much wear his influences on his sleeve as have them permanently tattooed on every inch of his skin. He was a member of 70s group Badfinger ('Come And Get It' and 'No Matter What') who were picked up by the Beatles on their Apple label. Can you guess what their influences are yet?
That's right. It's the Beatles with an added dash of Beatles influenced ELO thrown in for good measure. These songs are so loyal to their time that it's like being wrapped in a cheese cloth comfort blanket of sound. 'I Don't Want To Be Done With You' replicates the choppy guitar of 'Drive My Car'. It's hard to avoid hearing John Lennon's vocals on 'Be True To Yourself', or the impact of George Harrison's later solo work on 'Better Tomorrow'. 'Rainy Day Man' is ELO doing the Beatles and even Ringo's influence can be heard on 'This Time'.
In the end it's less a Joey Molland solo album and more a Beatles pastiche. It's a bit obvious and a little cheesy but it's highly enjoyable and its 41 minutes running time flies by.
Taster Track : I Don't Wanna Be Done With You
Did You Ever : Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood
Prompted by a few random print sightings of both Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood in recent weeks, and by the chance stumbling across this in a charity shop for a pound, I thought I'd give it a go.
I won't call it a revelation, but for a record from the early 70s it certainly held a few surprises. Somehow the flirty chemistry between the two (which works well except on the slightly irritating 'Did You Ever') doesn't disguise a path that could eventually lead to Nick Cave ('Paris Summer') and It's Immaterial ('Down From Dover'). 'Big Red Balloon' has a nice touch of call and response and 'Friendship Train' is a fine example of cinematic country.
The songs are delivered with style throughout, and are arranged nicely. It's a good, listenable example of its time
Taster Track : Big Red Balloon
Harmony With Nature : Matthew Halsall
Round 2 of my battle to get to grips with contemporary jazz did not fare well at first. Owing to an undetected sound glitch on my tablet, the initial listen was pretty much shorn of bass and ambient features, leaving the impression of an intensely avant garde approach with staccato trumpet blasts and periods of extended quiet. That was a little disappointing as I has held high hopes for this based on the fact that Matthew Halsall's record company host a number of the jazz outfits that I do like.
Based on my initial mishearing I'd come up with some quite perceptive thoughts that are now completely redundant. What became apparent on re-listening to this is just how much bass and ambient sound is contributing to the overall effect. The bass, particularly, grounds the music allowing the trumpet to soar, no more so than on 'Salute To The Sun' which also includes a good use of the harp. 'Joyful Spirits of the Universe' has a good loping rhythm, making it another highlight.
The record feels a little trippy in places but the more I hear of this the more I like its relaxed and soothing sounds.
Taster Track : Salute To The Sun
Just What I Needed
Freya Ridings : Freya Ridings
Two friends recommended Freya Riding's song 'Lost Without You' with a passion, commending her striking vocals as a 'must hear' feature. Based on that I decided to give the whole album a go.
Let's start with the song. It's piano laden, all the better to show off those striking vocals. She can certainly sing but I found them a little overwrought to be honest, although I can hear how their emoting could strike a powerful chord.
What about the album as a whole? Well, it's a bigger, more dramatic sound suited to the big emotional scenes of , say, Game of Thrones. The lyrics are strong on female empowerment. As the album proceeds I was reminded most strongly of Florence without her Machine. It needs livening up sometimes and whoops and handclaps on 'Holy Water' make a good stab at that. 'Castles' is overdramatic but a solid pop song at heart. Sadly though, en masse it's a little bit tiresome and by the time I got to 'Still Have You' I'd given up caring.
Taster Track : Castles
You Shouldn't Have. No. Really. You Shouldn't Have.
You didn't. Phew!