Foxton and Hastings, Kokoroko, Lissie, Little Simz, Lou Turner, Patrick Watson, S Carey, Tahiti 80
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Point and Kill (feat. Obongjayar)
This comes from Little Simz' album 'Sometimes I Might Be Introvert' which won the Mercury Prize a few weeks ago. The album is an impressive torrent of rap, interspersed with and reinforced by some amazing musical imagination. 'Point and Kill' is, perhaps, the most accessible track on the album with added interest from featuring Nigerian singer Obongjayar. I've chosen it just so you can see what you think of what will be , in many people's ears, this years No 1 album.
The Butterfly Effect : Foxton and Hastings
Going against the expectations raised by being two thirds of From The Jam, this is an album filled with sunshine, 60s influenced pop, and no weak tracks.
Bruce Foxton needs no introduction. Russell Hastings is the Paul Weller figure of From The Jam. I’ve felt for Foxton over the years. He stands in Paul Weller’s shadow and has not always received recognition for his contribution to The Jam. He wrote ‘News Of The World’ and ‘Smithers Jones’ amongst others and took lead vocals on songs like ‘David Watts’. Arguably he’s not even the frontman of From The Jam - the tribute to his own band in which he still takes a back seat.
Some may want to hear this as an extension of the Jam, and the closest we have to a new Jam album, 40 years after they split. They may be disappointed. It's true that In places it could be the Jam grown older - a softer, fainter echo of the past or a faded audio photograph, not quite as bright as the original.
Those echoes of Paul Weller and The Jam can be heard in ‘Circles’ where the bass line is reminiscent of ‘Set The House Ablaze’ from the Sound Affects album. ‘Feet Off The Ground’ has the funk feel of ‘Precious’ and ‘Time On Your Side’ sounds like The Style Council at their most relaxed.
Hear it as a pop album in its own right though, and it’s full of pleasant surprises.
Foxton and Hastings have a flair for timeless, effortless sounding pop. ‘Electronic Lover’ has something of The Beatles ‘Come Together’ about it. ‘She Said’ channels their inner Ronnie Lane / Small Faces vibe. But it’s the classic pop of ‘Lula’, ‘Time On Your Side’ and ‘Walking With Me’ that make this album a treat. If they give up on music there’s always a role waiting as mentors to bands like The Rifles and Blossoms to fill their time.
With this album, and not forgetting the contribution of Russell Hastings, Bruce Foxton has stepped out from the shadows and into the sunshine.
Taster Track : Lula
Here With You : Tahiti 80
Tahiti 80 combine English lyrics and French style, in their latest collection of carefree indie pop.
‘Lost In The Sound’, which opens this album, gives us the magic secret of pop music. It’s the effect it has the morning after a great night out - the lingering happiness, the short cut to specific moments and memories even if you can’t remember the specific song that you were listening to at the time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly that sums up the effect of Tahiti 80. Individually the songs are pleasant, enjoyable and charming but may also seem slight and disposable. Taken together though they provide a more than satisfying soundtrack to your best days.
This is simply great pop music doing what great pop music has always done. In under three minutes it crams in complementary acoustic guitars, light synths and persistent beats and rhythms. It takes timeless boy meets girl lyrics and coats them in addictive sugar coat melodies. It’s indie pop that’s not ashamed of what it is, taken from the same drawer that contains Haircut 100, China Crisis, Wang Chung and Fairground Attraction.
As the temperatures drop, and heavy grey rain clouds gather, this is music that warms the soul.
Taster Track : Let’s Get Started ( but any of the tracks would serve just as well)
....And The Rest
Could We Be More : Kokoroko
Kokoroko are an eight piece, London based band playing a fusion of jazz and afrobeat that will warm your heart and soothe your soul.
This is an album that it would be wrong to describe as smooth because it has energy, life and rhythm in abundance. It is, however, easy on the ear. It’s like a strong, warm breeze outside on a Summer evening when the day’s work is done. Where there are vocals, on ‘Home’ and ‘Dide O’ they caress and nurture. This music promotes good times in good company before fading into the background to let you enjoy the evening.
That’s their strength. They don’t want you just to lose yourself in their music. They want you to lose yourself in life. As an eight piece band they form a community in miniature, working together and acting spontaneously. Check the brief ‘Outro’ for the handclaps happiness and laughter that are the flavour of the whole album. As well as jazz and afrobeat this is soul music - music for the soul.
There’s a pulse to all these tunes and it comes from all the instruments. In ‘Tojo’ it’s led by the horns. In ‘War Dance’ - the exception on the album in its passion and forcefulness - it’s the rhythm. This isn’t music that encourages you to dance, but it is music that helps you to move gracefully through the day.
The feel I take from a song like ‘Age Of Ascent’ is the feel I take from Zero 7’s first album. It lifts me above the cares of the day. It’s not so much chilled as stress free music.
There’s not much more you can ask from music than that it sets you up for the day. Kokoroko are giving out good moods for free.
Taster Track : Tojo
Carving Canyons : Lissie
Lissie’s collection of country tinged pop is her Covid record. It’s full of strong songs that are well made, but a little more light and optimism would be welcome.
Surely someone, somewhere is writing a book about the impact of Covid on making music. Writing songs apart, an inability to tour and the effects of isolation-damaged mental health on the songs you write, changed the tone, nature and content of albums released now. I guess we all brooded on dark times, the irretrievable damage to relationships and loss of friends and company.
Lissie has made an album out of those thoughts and her songs will speak to anyone who has been unable to move on from that time. It’s an album of deep thought and reflection wrapped up in a decent country pop coat. As she sings in ‘Carving Canyons’
If I hadn’t broken open
There’s be nothing to see.”
The weakness in this album is that there would be nothing to hear either. Just look at some of the song titles - ‘Unravel’, ‘Sad’, ‘I Hate This’, ‘Unlock The Chains’, ‘Lonesome Wine’.
Don’t get me wrong. These are good, radio friendly adult pop songs. They deal with relationship issues and relationship breakdowns. There are thousands, maybe millions of people around the world who will turn to these songs and draw comfort and reassurance that they are not alone. They’ll wave along at concerts in a spectacular display of mobile phone torches and feel connections with other people.
Lissie is a 21st century Stevie Nicks. Her husky, choked vocals carry emotion but over a whole album that emotion steers close to self pity. The songs are catchy in a slightly depressing kind of way with strong choruses and a nice use of backing vocals. They’re well produced and combine quietly inventive touches with tried and tested techniques., such as the descending three note refrain in ‘Lonesome Wine’. At times they sound like modern day power ballads.
There’s a little part of me, the part that wants everything to have a happy fairy tale ending, that would have liked the brooding to be tempered by some sense of moving on - wiser, a bit sadder maybe, and stronger. Life doesn’t work that way though and these songs reflect that.
Taster Track : Lonesome Wine
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert : Little Simz
Little Simz’s 2022 Mercury Prize winning rap album is, by any standards, a work of great creative imagination.
This is tricky. Can I, a white, home counties based grandfather connect with the inner thoughts of a twenty something black woman with an inner city upbringing? If so, will the connection be strong enough to write a meaningful review? The honest answer is, maybe not. If Little Simz were ever to read this she’d have strong grounds to scold me for misrepresenting and misunderstanding her situation. I’ll make my apologies upfront to her and you but persevere with some thoughts that came to me while I listened to this.
And, of course, there’s the added fact that you can count the number of rap albums I’ve heard from start to finish on the finger of one hand.
A couple of things help. First, Little Simz has said openly this album is an attempt to make sense of the war raging in her mind between her personal self and her professional self, her yin and her yang. She’s taking a pause to try and work out how she arrived at where she is. That’s a universal conflict regardless of background. My twenties were the fastest changing decade of my life and set the course of everything that followed. I’ve had my fair share of ‘What if..’ and ‘How did that happen?’ moments, and that’s a link with Little Simz.
Secondly, Little Simz is honest that for all her skill with imagery and words she finds it hard to articulate how she feels. That’s definitely something I can connect to. It’s part of the opening song, ‘Introvert’.
“One day I’m wordless, next day I’m a wordsmith.”
Rap is all about words, and Little Simz gives us a waterfall of emotions and expressions in every song. Everything is crammed in. In some songs she’s making sense of her feelings. In others the words are a jumble and she hasn’t worked out what she feels. Sharing the process is one of the ways she reaches out to others. It’s an exhilarating mix. Nothing is off limits lyrically or musically.
As a non rapper, the rush of lyrics is typical of the genre - moving, energetic, angry but essentially tied to type. Musically though, you can hear her creativity all over the place. There’s the high ‘Lord of the Rings’ musical drama of ‘Introvert’.The interludes, clearly marked, are a defining part of this album. They’re the third party voice in her head, a cinematic mix of The Sound of Music and the Yellow Brick Road, a voice from beyond the pearly gates providing the kind of advice that may make sense but isn’t what you want to follow. That’s how ‘Gems-Interlude’ felt to me anyway.
There’s a case for Little Simz and other rappers to be the People’s historians of the future, but in the here and now there need to be decent songs that can gather the fan’s attention. Fortunately, Little Simz can deliver on that score too. ‘Speed’ is built around a dance floor friendly electronic riff and strings. The aggressively titled ‘Point And Kill’ hides one of the gentler sounding tracks - a collaboration with Nigerian singer Obongjayar that encourages you to sway.
In the wider world, this was recently announced as the winner of the 2022 Mercury Prize. I can see why. It’s a powerhouse of a record fizzing and hissing with energy. I’d need to lose the shock of the new before I could love it, but as a starting point it’s easy to admire.
Taster Track : Point And Kill
Microcosmos : Lou Turner
Lou Turner is an American country folk singer songwriter with a gift for downbeat low energy songs. Frustratingly, they're not allowed to blossom and glow as they could.
There’s a community out there which has its origins in literary fiction but has brought together like minded musicians. It’s called New Weird South and it’s kind of just there, with no clear explanation of what it means or sounds like. Lou Turner is a member of that community. It’s a little strange, as is the music on this album.
It’s not strange in the sense of foreign, experimental or exotic. It’s strange in the sense that it doesn’t make the most of its strengths. These songs are lo-fi, low energy and low volume. They’re slow and deliberate ruminations that blend folk and country, acoustic and slide guitars.
We’re used to a concept such as garage rock, which strips songs back to basics. This is garage country folk, stripping back what is often a stripped back format in the first place. Taking the garage idea further, these are songs that need their spark plugs to be fine tuned so that they can purr and glide like top of the range performance cars.
There are melodies everywhere on this record but they don’t always surface. They’re like a fish keeping close to the sea bed when they could be dolphins leaping through the surface. They’re a peacock whose closed tail feathers reveal that beauty is within, but they are never allowed to display their finery fully and reveal how gorgeous they are.
Taken on her own terms, Lou Turner shares similarities with Americana’s finest performers such as Lambchop and Bill Callahan or with singer songwriters such as Ron Sexsmith in his early days.. But for the casual listener, in a world filled with more new music than you can listen to, there needs to be a bigger hook to draw you back.
Taster Track : Microcosmos
Better In The Shade : Patrick Watson
More experimental than most of his albums, this new EP from Patrick Watson still showcases his unbeatable ability to create the most haunting songs.
Watson is one of those artists who has never received the widespread acclaim his songs deserve. He’s responsible for one of the most jaw droppingly gorgeous songs of recent years with ‘Look At You’. And if you’ve already discovered him, you’ll hug him to your chest with delight and give thanks for having him in your musical life. I’m a bit of a fan as you may have guessed.
What makes him so special? His songs capture that moment in a black and white film when a soldier in the trenches remembers the parties of his youth. They’re heard as if through a dream, or observed unseen from a distance. Something about his songs always calls to mind the era of Brideshead Revisited. It’s in the repressed emotion, the suggestion of unbearable emotion threatening to break through tightly pursed lips.
He has a voice that defines aching longing and vulnerability. On ‘Blue’ he gives you double the hit, accompanying himself with falsetto above his usual register. His songs are drenched in echo and reverb, capturing the effects of memory in sound.
Even his abbreviated, some might say throwaway, tracks such as ‘Ode To Vivian’ and ‘La La La La La’ are worth a listen. They capture his ability to create a musical mood in microcosm.
If I had read Proust, rather than occasionally read about Proust, I’d call his music Proustian in its ability to nail an intensely emotional moment. (If I wasn’t occasionally pretentious I’d resist the temptation to do that!)
Patrick Watson is a special artist. This EP may not be the best entry point to his songs but if you’d like to explore his work further, and understand why it can send me weak at the knees and having to remind myself to breathe, try his 2019 album ‘Wave’ first.
Taster Track : Better In The Shade
Break Me Open : S Carey
It was Halloween this week, so a hauntingly beautiful record of deeply personal songs from the appropriately named S. Carey is just what the witch doctor ordered.
Carey is Bon Iver’s drummer and his solo album shares some of the emphasis on tone that you find on Bon Iver’s records. Carey is more accessible though, his pocketful of memorable melodies making his songs easier to like.
These songs go deep into personal feelings. ‘Starless’ has the slow throbbing beauty of sleep in the dead of night when your brain makes sense of the waking world, fostering understanding even where that’s not always welcome. These are songs that bring you to truths that are certain, leaving you wiser and stronger but also sadder.
The album balances words and music nicely. The lyrics are concise and poignant. I particularly liked these lines from ‘Island’.
“And I know that you’ll be strong
If I teach you how to love.”
There’s a threat of future failure in these words loaded into the word ’If’.The repeated refrain of “Not all for naught” that brings ‘Crestfallen’ to a close gently drives home the song’s message. The “oohs” in the backing vocals add the quality of hymns to the songs. The music provides interludes for reflection. For a drummer he’s certainly not reliant on beats. ‘Break Me Open’ acts as a jolt for bringing them in.
It’s a good title for the album, ‘Break Me Open’. It’s a fortune cookie of a record, gently revealing its insights.
Taster Track : Island
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