Babeheaven, Hackedepicciotto, Haike Salut, Honne, Lo Moon, Tears For Fears, Yumi Zouma
Album Cover of the Week
Hackedepicciotto's 'The Silver Threshold' is this week's Album Cover Of The Week. It's the most intriguing by a long chalk, asking questions about what lies inside. What's he looking at so intently? Why is she in crucifixion pose? What do the swirls mean? I'm not saying the answers are forthcoming, but the sense of nightmarish hidden meanings is certainly delivered by the music.
This Week's Music
It was a remarkably chilled week this week, with the exception of one album which was, none the less, admirable.
With no further ado, here are the reviews.
Sink Into Me : Babeheaven
Indie pop meets RnB to beguiling effect on Babeheaven’s second album.
I wouldn’t normally comment on a band’s appearance but I’m making an exception here because it adds something to my appreciation and enjoyment of the music. Babeheaven sings in the spirit of Swing Out Sister, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even Madonna in her sultry lounge guise. But they look like you, me, everyman and everywoman. That’s brilliant because it’s the music of their dreams and their dreams could are the same as ours.
The key is in the way Nancy Andersen sings. Although she sings in a completely different style she calls to mind Alison Moyet, Amy Winehouse, even Self Esteem. They’re singers whose image in songs is completely different from their image for the camera. Nancy, and Babeheaven, are not what you expect and that means you hear the music differently. You pick up a yearning that simply isn’t present when the image is manufactured.
The music is great. It’s seductive and stylish pop, the sound of a thousand sophisticated dinner party playlists. Each track comes with a groove that’s not quite well worn and so is capable of surprises. It worms its way into your consciousness in a way that their first album didn’t quite succeed in doing.
It’s difficult to dislike when‘4 Days’ is a less dark Massive Attack and ‘Fading’ slinks along on its bassline. ‘Make Me Wanna’ was a single and you can hear why, but it’s ‘The Hours’ that captures their strengths and qualities best.
It’s a relaxing and very enjoyable listen.
Taster Track : The Hours
A Modern Life : Lo Moon
You can hear this record as a direct descendant of mid 80s synth pop at its finest. How you feel about that will determine how you feel about this. I loved it.
That connection to the 80s isn’t surprising when you learn that Sam Shepherd in the band is the son of Eurythmics’ Dave Stuart and Bananarama’s Siobhan Fahey. The bigger surprise would have been if it sounded very different.
Lo Moon aren’t the most prolific band. This is only their second album, their debut coming in 2018. There are 9 tracks on this album, and if you exclude the 35 second ‘Intro’ and the connecting track ‘Deficit Of Wonder’ you’re left with 7 tracks of pristine synth pop. They’re all excellent. Any album that contains such a high percentage of palpable hits must be welcomed. In the past ‘Carried Away’, ‘Dream Never Dies’ and ‘Digging Up The Dead’ would have been sure fire top 10 singles.
This is the opposite of experimental music. It’s refined to perfection, an assured sound that can be lush but never pompous. There’s no quest for ‘epic' here. Drums are there to provide momentum, not to herald the end of the world.
For some, that may be its weakness. It’s smooth, commercial, lacking grit and depth perhaps and possibly too radio friendly. At times it approaches the boundary between synth pop and yacht rock, more Cutting Crew than cutting edge.
There are still shades of Talk Talk in the vocals, Simple Minds at the time of ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ and Yazoo at their most accessible. They’re in danger of becoming a guilty pleasure, but if so one that’s already got me hooked.
Taster Track : Digging Up The Dead
Present Tense : Yumi Zouma
Yumi Zouma are one of those bands that consistently release records of high quality indie pop but remain under the radar. ‘Present Tense ‘ is no exception.
Their music flows and winds freely like water tumbling over rocks while remaining true to paths that have been gently carved into rock over the years. It may be understated and unobtrusive but it’s comforting and memorable nonetheless.
It’s restorative music, the kind you want to access at 03:00 when you can’t sleep or have been abruptly awakened by a sudden noise or bad dream. There’s something in Christie Simpson’s vocals that brings reassurance and pushes you safely towards dawn.
In its way it’s a remarkable achievement because the themes the record explores can be dark. Unhappy relationships and loss are writ large. But there’s still comfort to be drawn from listening to them explored in a way that is not overwrought. ‘Haunt’ is an example that works particularly well, its unsettling subject covered calmly.
This is one of those records that calls to mind past songs that can’t quite be grasped, songs that are familiar and new at the same time. It was starting to bug me until I twigged that one of the key influences is Coldplay’s first album ‘Parachutes’, and Chris Martin’s style of singing. Compare that to their later, more synthetic albums and you can hear what they’ve lost - lost or handed to Yumi Zouma for safe keeping.
The gentler side of indie-pop stirred with melody enhanced by strong choruses and dusted with understated emotion - that’s the recipe for Yumi Zouma, and a very good album.
Taster Track : Haunt
...And The Rest
The Silver Threshold : Hackedepicciotto
This set of experimental electronica is dramatic, atmospheric and more than capable of filling you with the jitters. Hackedepicciotto are long time partners Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto. He plays Krautrock, she’s in interdisciplinary Arts.
Here’s a question to consider as you enter the weekend. Could this be how the world ends? I only ask because this is an album that bristles with urgency, foreboding and threat.
I latched onto this through Rough Trade’s weekly reviews. They said:
The record features 10 hypnotic, grandiose tracks that will lift your spirit and drive you forward
The record features 10 hypnotic, grandiose tracks that will scare the bejesus from you and drive you to hide behind the sofa.
This is a record that’s brimful of threat, a brave new world of picnics in minefields or the preparations for war in Game Of Thrones.
Take ‘Babel’ as an example. It’s a well known bible story but to experience it first hand, to lose the ability to comprehend and to feel abruptly cut off from those close to you would and should terrify anyone. That’s captured here.
The singing, if that’s the right word, is straight out of Macbeth’s three witches. Their chants turn something like ‘Evermore’ into a nightmare fairytale. The synthetic sound of strangled and screeching bagpipes on ‘Trebbus’ keeps you on edge. There are some fleeting moments of tranquility. Make the most of the birdsong that opens ‘Ouverture’. It’s about to turn into a horror film soundtrack.
The true question to consider is how well this record succeeds on its own terms, and the answer is that it succeeds very well, consistent in tone and ambition. This is a fully realised sonic world that you need to immerse yourself into fully, but it’s not one in which I would wish to stay.
For an alternative view see Chaind.L.K. The Silver Threshold Review. They specialise in electronic, industrial, ambient, dark, experimental and new music. I hope it doesn’t keep them awake at night.
Taster Track : Evermore
The Hill, The Light, The Ghost : Haiku Salut
This album is hard to describe. It works through impressions. My first impressions are of an album that is well worth listening to, and likely to have an enduring appeal.
I should be clear that I liked what I heard. It’s just that I can’t put it into words without floundering.
It’s an album that has been intricately assembled and its workings can only be fully appreciated by the artist. It’s a customised and bespoke piece of work, and only the band themselves know why certain choices were made and decisions taken. It’s an aural vision.
This is a very layered and textured album, combining electronica, ambient sound and nu classical. The different strands rub up against each other. You can almost feel them on tracks such as ‘How The Day Starts’. The album isn’t a collage or a mosaic, but effects have been gathered from the bottom of the sound toolbox. The different layers remain separated out like layers on a cliff face. Rough edges abutt smooth ambience.
How am I doing so far?
Birdsong is a good way to start an album that you listen to, as I did, in the very early morning. The murmured chatter of people on ‘Entering’ is comforting in the same way. It’s not overly abstract. The melodies aren’t buried in the music but on the surface, giving you something to cling to as you dive beneath the surface.
Most tracks are slow and contemplative though some, such as ‘All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace’ and ‘All Clear’ build into something more expansive. It’s an atmospheric experience.
Although it’s difficult to explain, it’s not a difficult listen. It’s like water. If you let it loose it will find a way through. You don’t always know where it’s come from though.
Taster Track : Entering
Let’s Just Say The World Ended A Week From Now, What Would You Do? : Honne
Honne’s latest record captures the optimism and euphoria and the pain and unhappiness of real relationships. Their tender and catchy electropop songs are not quite like anything else..
The songs are addictive, like being sucked into a soap opera. That’s not to say that they lack sincerity and authenticity. They don’t, They ooze bucketfuls of both. That’s not such a surprise when you know that their name translates from the Japanese for ‘true feelings’.
Their songs are about messy experiences of real love, not love seen through rose tinted lenses or accompanied by implausibly heavy rain storms. This is love dissected in song, line by line. Unexpectedly that brings out an inherent decency - grief at causing hurt and compromise to allow a partner what they need. It’s a small scale sound, not one carried away on sweeping synths and soaring strings. It’s love at pavement level, not running through Alpine fields.
The songs sound as if they’ve been stripped back to their core level, decluttered and rebuilt using only those elements that are necessary to make a good song. Their simplicity makes for something tender and sweet.
Vocally Andy Clutterbuck still sounds a little hoarse and scratched, more suited to singing about pain than joy. It’s one more surprise that he sounds as heartfelt as he does here. It’s less of an acquired taste than before, or maybe I’ve just acquired it, but in any event the effect is softened by a number of gentler sounding collaborators, including Niki, Sofia Valdes, Kalid and Griff. As a side thought, they’re all good representatives of their polished brand of radio friendly, chart placed pop.
In their early days Honne’s style was described by the Daily Telegraph as "futuristic soul destined to reinvent baby making music” I don’t know about that. I do know that they have as much in common with the bedroom indie sound of say, Get Cape. Wear Cape Fly or Badly Drawn Boy albeit with a different electronic approach.
It’s an approach that is all their own, and one that becomes more enjoyable with every album.
Taster Track : Now I’m Alone
The Tipping Point : Tears For Fears
Tears For Fears return after 18 years with an album that stands up well against their earlier work while containing a couple of surprises.
The first is quite startling. Tears For Fears’ history of synth pop past doesn’t prepare you for the folky singer songwriter guitar of ‘No Small Thing’. It’s a good tune and a statement that they’re not as they were, and certainly not a heritage act in thrall to recreating past glories.
They were always a serious band who kept their poppy side for singles and their albums for weightier songs. Times have changed and the concept of a singles band doesn’t exist any more. As a result this is more in the mould of ‘I Believe’ off the ‘Songs From The Big Chair Album’ than ‘Sowing The Seeds Of Love’. On this album only ‘My Demons’ approaches the out and out pop sound of old.
Occasionally it sounds a little self conscious. They know that anyone coming to this album will have expectations and there is a sense of pulling on a persona to fit those. They’re donning Dumbledore’s robes to bring their experience of life and music wisdom to the fore.
There’s a whiff of mysticism and natural forces running through the album though never swamping it. After visiting HMV they may well be popping into the new age store next door for incense and Aztec remedies. Their lyrics are dense, containing images such as “If you lay among the graves, you may see other ghosts.” (You may catch a chill too - just saying!)
At its heart though, this is an album of songs with big but simple melodies and a nice balance between synth pomp and classic songwriting. If it falls short of providing a truly magical ride, you’re still in for an enjoyable 40 minutes or so.
Taster Track : Long, Long, Long, Time
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