So, after the chaos of 2020, at least 2021 has to be calmer. Right? Cue a new national lockdown, Sainsburys stocking Spar branded products due to Brexit complications and complete mayhem in Washington DC. That's not bad for the first week!
Thank Heavens for music. I hope you find something to enjoy from the selection below.
I've also published a new blog looking back at 2020 which you can find headed up '2020: The Soundtrack to the Year' - complete with a 'Best of 2020' Spotify playlist.
Here's a quick reminder about how I categorise the albums here, together. I thought we'd go all Beatles this week with the headings.
'Got To Get You Into My Life' is 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 'Good Day Sunshine' category (is for records that I've particularly enjoyed during the week and would like to share.
'Getting Better) 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 'A Hard Day's Night' 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 'Hello Goodbye' 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.
Got To Get You Into My Life
Sadly, no New Year holiday romance this year.
Good Day, Sunshine
Yarmouth : David Boulter
Jonathan Ross once told a story about being backstage at Wembley Stadium for a gig (remember those?) Shortly before show time he spotted a grandmother figure to one side. As he watched the grandmother changed before his eyes into Tina Turner and she took the stage. I'm telling you this because, initially, that's how I felt this record was portraying Yarmouth. This seemed to be the 'undressed up' version of Yarmouth or at least a picture of Yarmouth drawn early in the morning.
The penny didn't drop with this album until a few tracks in. It's not actually about Yarmouth the place. It's about the act of remembering Yarmouth, all misty memories and ambient seagulls and waves. On this level the album is a triumph.
This instrumental record sounds more like a soundtrack than a collection of tunes. As befitting a solo album from a member of Tindersticks, it's a hushed affair. It's highly personal, serious, introspective music, but a surprisingly engaging and moving mood piece.
Only two of the tracks ('Milk Bar' and 'Roller Skates / The Tower Ballroom) are set inside, and these are the tracks that engage more with a scene. The bulk of the tracks are like an Impressionist painting. But if you want to find the warmth in this album, look no further than 'See-Saw' which is the sound of a smile.
Thank you for reading. You can find me in Pseuds Corner from tomorrow.
Taster Track : The Milk Bar
Hobby Jingo : Keiron Phelan + Peace Signs
I'll confess to a sinking heart at the outset of this record. Immediate first impressions were of a lo fi singer songwriter making a brave stab at commercial appeal but sounding a bit forced. Around 35 seconds in though the piano joins in and lifts the sound and the quality a good few notches. Later, the pedal guitar achieves the same effect.
It's interesting. This isn't music from a particular genre, it's the sound of an era and a particular set of moments from that era. The era is the sound of chart pop between the end of the 60s and the onset of glam rock. The moment is the moment on early Saturday evening light entertainment TV when the musical guest take centre stage. This is music to be danced to by the Young Generation or accompanied by the Cliff Adams Singers.
Burt Bacharach is an undoubted influence. There's a love of wordplay in the lyrics. 'How Are You Getting Home, Imogen' rhymes Imogen with cinnamon and silicon. (Badly when written down; effectively when sung!) 'The Man Who Sang Eurovision' brings the 70s cocktail lounge to the sound of elevator music. On one level it's the easiest of easy listening but what rescues it is the knowing way that it is delivered. All the songs are impeccably done with great charm.
Taster Track : Hobby Jingo
Home For Now : Babeheaven
Don't have your expectations for this record influenced by the fact that the band name sounds as if it was conjured up in a 'Loaded' or FHM editorial from the 90s. There is a link to the 90s here, but it's drawn from the musical influences.
This is an appealing, seductive mix of down tempo electronica that rocked the clubs (to sleep!) through records by the likes of Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Portishead and, whisper it quietly, Dido.
It's as if a soulful singer has ditched the jazz club route and set sail for the world of synth pop. Melodies emerge gently during the song, and the phrasing in the vocals is nicely done. She sings it like she means it. Occasionally it doesn't work. For me 'June 4th' is just flat and leads nowhere. There are many more highlights than duds though, and the highlights include 'Until The End', 'In My Arms', 'Craziest Things' and 'Jalisco.'
Taster Track : Jalisco
Candid : Whitney
The problem with releasing a covers album is that it's a bit like reading a book without knowing it's a translation
The best known song is 'Take Me Home Country Roads'. It's also the flattest song here. The remaining songs are nicely done, covered in an attractive sheen of vulnerability. The distinctive falsetto vocals may not be to everyone's taste, occasionally sounding a tad strained but where they work well they are a perfect fit for the material as with 'Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying'.
Two tracks stand out. I was surprised to learn that 'A.M AM' was a Damien Jurado song. (Even more surprised to discover that I have the original!) Whitney have really put their stamp on this. 'Strange Overtones' is a David Byrne song. It turns out that I have this song too, but what gave it away was the fact that they have added their sound but retained David Byrne's distinctive phrasing.
All told, this is an enjoyable collection. The mark of its success though may not be to point me towards the rest of Whitney's recorded output, but that it has sent me scurrying back to rediscover the originals!
Taster Track : A.M. AM
Freeze, Melt : Cut Copy
Cut Copy have been around for a surprisingly long time, nearly 20 years. They started out as a club act with dance beats at the heart of what they did. Over time they've softened to become more of a straightforward synth act.
I hope it's not damning with faint praise to say that this is a pleasant listen, no more and no less. It feels as if they are holding back on the hooks. A little bit of club energy wouldn't go amiss. In fact it sounds like the moment that a top swimmer makes the turn at the end of the pool. For a couple of seconds after they've pushed away there's a calm, a loss of propulsive energy. On this album Cut Copy are operating in that space.
It's sitting down music from a band that used to fill the dance floor. When played live, you may hear people chattering away in the background. But is is very pleasant!
Taster Track : Stop, Horizon
Decision Time : Charles Webster
Charles Webster has been described as providing chilled deep house music. I'm not sure about that. It's less deep house and more music for the bunker. It's less chilled and more chilling.
This music is insistent, deep and booming. Even a song such as 'Music' with celebratory lyrics sounds dark and down beat.
Once you adjust your expectations, they are fulfilled well. 'This Is Real' is menacing and repetitive but makes good use of soulful vocals. "I Wonder Why" is compelling mainly due to the muffled spoken vocals which set an interview to music. I felt that to a large extent this album bore the same relation to music as performance art does to music.
Did I like it? Hmm, maybe. Is it good at what it does on its own terms? Hmm, probably.
Taster Track : I Wonder Why
Snapshot : Juanita Stein
This is well worth a listen for its careful structure in providing a direct response to the loss of a father. There's a run of songs from 'Snapshot' to 'From Peace' that forms an emotional core to the album. Juanita Stein is Australian and the title track 'Snapshot' sounds almost aboriginal particularly in its chanted whoops that occur throughout. 'Hey Mama' is a dreamy elegiac reflection on memory and loss.
Before this sequence the songs, whilst generally quiet, are laced with anger. '1,2,3,4,5,6' is punctuated by angry, squalling guitars.
This may hint at the record being a difficult listen. It's not. There's a beauty in the treatment and what could have been a harsh record is softened by the backing strings and vocals throughout.
Taster Track : Snapshot
Luna Park ! : Tankus The Henge
I have a soft spot for Tankus The Henge who have a connection to Maidenhead. They regularly appear live at our Arts Centre. The main man Jaz Delorean has worked for Carter's Steam Fair, a travelling institution that in pre-Covid days visited Maidenhead at least twice a year. There's an element of the funfair about this album too. It's great fun, but it can get out of hand.
In truth, this contains everything you've found in music - Rock, blues, soul, funk, prog, New Orleans jazz and cabaret - thrown in the blender to come out the other side in a form you're not expecting, portraying an exotic other world. They like their literary references. 'Fayaway' is named after a character in a lesser known Herman Melville novel. So here's a literary reference for them. This is a more developed Frankenstein's Monster. 'God, Oil, Money' sums this up nicely, the song stomping and lumbering its way like a slightly scary and out of control half man beast.
This album shows that Tankus are less of a one man show based around Jaz Delorean than they used to be. There's a full band given its head here. The songs are busy and loud. By the time you get to the end you've had an experience and you need a rest. Final track, 'Staying On This Side of the Dirt' plays out nicely. The circus has moved on.
Taster Track : God, Oil, Money
A Hard Day's Night
Move along please. Nothing to see here this week. Move along now.
Les Disques Du Crepuscule - From Brussels With Love : Various
I should caveat this by saying that I listened to the original collection from 1980, not the deluxe 40th anniversary edition with twice the number of tracks. Lucky me.This was a disappointment but I suppose anything from Brussels after Brexit was finally done was likely to be a disappointment!
This was simply underwhelming, too avant garde and too experimental for my taste. There are acts here (John Foxx, Durutti Column) that I like a lot, but there are much better ways into them than through tis compilation. From the lesser known acts you do get a sense of music that was pioneering, but the very nature of pioneers is that they fall by the wayside before the promised land is reached.
The taster track comes from The Names but I swear that if you listened to this track blind you'd believe you were listening to The Cure from around the same time.
I was interrupted while listening to this and did not feel the urge to return to it.
Taster Track : Cat - The Names