The 1975, Bazooka, Calexico, Say She She, Shelleyan Orphan, Sub Couple, Thee Sacred Souls
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Then You Might See by Calexico
Calexico brim with life on what may be their finest album. There's an energy that is not always present. Here, Spanish and mariachi trumpets meet the Spaghetti Western and generate great tunes like this one.
Kapou Allou : Bazooka
This is psych punk, self described by the band as the Beach Boys writing songs for Iggy Pop and the Stooges. It’s a new release from Inner Ear Records in Greece and it’s great.
I’ll admit that part of me quailed at the thought of Greek psych punk. I mean, there’s niche and then there's wilfully obscure. This is an album though that is as listenable as a voice reading out next week’s winning lottery numbers. Ignore that it's sung in Greek. Not being able to understand the lyrics never harmed The skids’ ‘Into The Valley’!
For me this is second generation punk, without the angry spit and desire to shock of the vanguard but with the tunefulness of those that came along 12-18 months later. It’s full of ear catching riffs, melodic guitar lines, infectious beats and bubbling bass lines. This is the Sex Pistols of ‘Pretty Vacant’, the new wave of Ian Dury, Joe Jackson, the Undertones , Eddie and the Hot Rods and The Pretenders. In places the guitar reminds me strongly of The Pretenders’ James Honeyman Scott.
The tone is et from the off. Far from being a Ramones type 60 second three chord blast, this is a simple, single acoustic guitar backing a welcome melody. The good tunes continue through ‘Krifto’ and through the whole album. ‘Kapou Allou’ is so perfectly pitched it made me smile.
The ‘psych’ tribute is interesting. Most of the songs are 3-4 minute new wave classics. ‘Pano Apo Ti Gi’ comes in at nearly six minutes and feels a little too long to be immediate. On the other hand ‘Jazooka’ at nearly seven minutes isn’t a second too long as it collapses gloriously into a very non punk wig out.
This is the kind of music championed in Gary Crowley’s lost 70s and 80s compilations. It reminds me of the songs, energy and tunes that helped me to fall in love with pop 50 years ago.
What a great record. Play on repeat.
Taster Track : Kapou Allou
Thee Sacred Souls : Thee Sacred Souls
Thee Sacred Souls take you back to the sound of classic 60s and 70s Philadelphia, Motown and Stax soul. It’s an uncanny reminder and a nostalgic joy..
You know that point, early in a relationship, when you’re so overcome by feelings of love for another person that all you can do is burst into song? Me neither. That’s why we need Thee Sacred Souls.
This is soul music overflowing with innocence and joy. It’s the sound of walking and laughing in the park, surrounded by sheepskin coats and bubbly afros and shot in soft focus. It captures the style of the early 70s. They look like three buddies from a 70s cop film and they sound like Curtis Mayfield, Gladys and her Pips or an early girl group such as The Shirelles
It’s its innocence that saves it from becoming a pastiche. This is a genuine outbreak of quiet euphoria. It shies away from the loverman soul of seduction, although it takes a tantalising peek through that door on ‘Future Lover’. Usually it avoids bitter experiences too. Only ‘Sorrow For Tomorrow’ and ‘For Now’ detail difficulties that can kill a relationship. In the words of Arthur Conley, this is “sweet soul music”.
It’s pitch perfect, almost but not quite to the point of seeming calculated. There’s the old fashioned falsetto, the spoken interlude on ‘Sorrow For Tomorrow’ and the smooth sound that comes from sticking to soul pop rather than venturing into soul funk. Thee Sacred Souls want you to feel, savour and enjoy the emotions, not distract yourself with moving feet. ‘Trade Of Hearts’ with its swaying feel captures their approach.
This is an album where every track holds out the potential for perfection, for being a flawless gem. It left me smiling and feeling warm inside.
Taster Track : Easier Said Than Done
....And The Rest
Being Funny In A Foreign Language : The 1975
There’s much to get used to in the 1975’s approach to music, but much to like once you do.
The 1975 have been close to a phenomenon over the past few years. Every album has made it to No 1. They’ve gathered critical plaudits and commercial success. They’ve reached millions and millions more through streaming listens and YouTube views. There’s big and there’s 1975 big.
Until this evening I hadn’t consciously heard a single note they’d ever played.
FOMO played a part in listening to them, as did a recommendation from my brother in law. So, five albums in this is a time to form first impressions. It’s an album too, where early reviews suggested they were playing things relatively safe.
First impressions were mixed. They struck me as an albums based band with a singles band profile, a band that was not a band but a collection of talented musicians and lyricists trying to be too clever at the expense of their songs. Breaking the fourth wall as they do in ‘All I Need To Know’ is a distraction from one of the more genuine and sincere songs.
On the self titled opener ‘The 1975’ - really? - vocalist Matt Healy sounds uncannily like Dominic Phillips, vocalist with the lesser known but utterly wonderful Bell X1. I began to long for some of Bell X1’s simplicity to seep into The 1975 to shape their creativity into song form.
There’s a shift though over the course of the album. It starts with ‘Oh. Caroline’ and its chorus that tethers the songs allowing the verses to meander away and return. The album evolves into song out of pleasant experimental pieces. It’s like throwing a pebble into a pond and watching a picture come into focus under water as the splash ripples settle down.
Take ‘About You’ as an example. It wraps itself around your core, layered with a reverb wall of sound, sax in the mid distance and a tune that sustains the song like a modern day Phil Spector. And ‘Wintering’, their take on a Christmas song, is refreshing. It’s no ‘Merry Xmas Everybody. There are no sleigh bells or children’s choirs to be heard but it’s closer to many people’s real life experience of Christmas these days.
Over the course of its 43 minutes, The 1975 and ‘Being Funny In A Foreign Language' won me over.
Taster Track : About You
El Mirador : Calexico
With this album, Calexico capture the sounds of life in a modern frontier town better than ever before.
Few bands have ever created a sense of place so consistently and thoroughly as Calexico. They’re a small town band that has flourished without moving away. It’s a world of dusty, cacti seeded main streets, one where the Magnificent 7 could ride into town at any moment. A large part of that is due to the mariachi trumpets, but it’s also the mix of English and Spanish vocals and the twang of Spaghetti Western guitars.
It’s not their intention to make world music. It’s not traditional enough for that. They’re a rock band first and foremost. They may create the sound of a dusty street but they’re concerned with matters of the dusty heart. Neither is it their intention to make music that is firmly set in the past. The future has broken through but nothing really changes.
If there’s been a criticism to level at Calexico in the past it’s that they can err on the side of subdued. That’s not the case here. Opening track ‘El Mirador’ shatters the usual quiet with blasting trumpets. There’s an atmosphere of bandits exploring a mansion’s corridors, swaggering confidence tempered by a need to creep just in case. It’s a glorious mess of all Calexico’s calling cards.
This is a pacier version of Calexico and better for it. They’ve moved on from siesta to fiesta, the messy dregs of a fiesta anyway. ‘The El Burro Song’ captures their essence. The one instrumental ‘Turquoise’ sets out their sound. It’s a blend of trumpets that squeal like saxophones at their limit, guitars that flow, melodies that lift the songs and drums that pound like subdued thunder.
Calexico brim with life on this album. It’s one of their finest.
Taster Track : Then You Might See
Prism : Say She She
She She get up and get back down to the glory days of disco, adding a little soul to the mix as well.
They wear their influences openly, taking their name from Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ and wearing it with pride. This is an enjoyably retro sound, with just a hint of occasional flute based psychedelia.
Acknowledging Chic as your glitterball is a risky business. You invite comparisons and are likely to fall short. Say She She offer chic (and Chic) basslines, but the music on top of them is thinner and lightweight. There’s a sense I can’t escape that they are not yet ready for the front rank. It’s as if Love Unlimited had stepped out of the shadows of being Barry White’s backing singers and found themselves working with the studio house band. It’s competent and it’s fun but, enjoyable though it is, it’s not Premier League.
Chic could be guaranteed to have you dancing every time. Say She She are more Sunday morning disco than Saturday Night good times. Rather than providing floor filling bangers, they offer smoochers for standalone loved up couples.
‘Prism’ lights the way with a track that swings. ‘Same Things’ and ‘Fortune Teller’ are also first rate. Elsewhere, the songs are disco for listening rather than dancing.
I like the idea behind this album and if it doesn’t quite deliver what’s needed here it promises well for the future.
Taster Track : Prism
We Have Everything We Need : Shelleyan Orphan
This album, from 2008, was the final work of a band that had some recognition for their orchestral,and pastoral take on pop. It’s a fitting end to their career and leaves them with a strong reputation.
The album cover may call to mind ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ but it’s Romantic poetry that sets the tone. Caroline Crawley and Jemaur Tayle formed Shelleyan Orphan after bonding over Shelley’s poetry. Their music is swept along on strings that are the hallmark of great romantic soundtracks. And coming to the album 14 years after it was released we know that, like Keats, Shelley, De Quincey, Chatterton, Byron and others Caroline Crawley was taken far too soon.
Shelleyan Orphan capture some of Kate Bush’s essence, less distinctive perhaps but equally as intense. Its pop is taken from the margins, not the mainstream in the same way that Prefab Sprout’s later albums were. This is serious music, not a light listen by any means but one with rewards and interest folded within it. It’s no surprise that in the past they’d been part of the 4AD stable.
Their songs are complex, layered and lavish. Listening to them is like walking into a revolving building or a magic Faraway tree, knowing that leaving by the same door will land you in a different place from where you started. Songs mutate and the hooks that drew you in - the bass line to ‘Bodysighs’ or the rhythms of ‘I’m Glad You Didn’t Jump Out Of The Car That Day’ - slowly disappear having guided you into their musical universe.
The closest they get to a pop song is ‘Something Pulled Me’, a slowed down version of pop. ‘Everything We Need’ is a sweet and positive instrumental end to the album. Elsewhere, with the exception of the electric turbocharge of ‘Bosom’, plucked string and brass and woodwind accompaniments take centre stage.
There’s much to enjoy here if you’re patient. It’s music to stumble across in a hidden glade, dappled by sunshine after the rain.
Taster Track : Bodysighs
Div I Der : Sub Couple
Sub Couple’s bleak and uncomfortable rock is hard to classify (post rock? dystopia rock? end of the world as we know it and I’m not feeling fine rock?) but is a powerful listening experience.
In the end, the music we value is music that affects us in some way. Its impact lingers after the record stops. Sub Couple absolutely succeed on those terms. This is music from survivors of a dirty war or a dangerous, flawed experiment. If it were a film it would be set in a post apocalyptic drug den. It’s a vision that is comprehensively realised with unwavering integrity.
There’s undeniably aggression and even malevolence in the tone but deep within the beast there’s beauty too. That’s due, in the main, to the guitar which cuts through the noise and distortion like a soothing balm on an otherwise uncontrollable itch.
The vocals are a kind of distorted Frank Black of the Pixies, punctuated by slogans, exhortations and commands. The joyfully snarled “We’re related” at the start of ‘Incontinental’ is unwelcome information.
To get the best from this album you need to listen to it as you would, say, Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’. It’s a challenging listen but undeniably thrilling and stirring. This is as much about what you feel from the music as it is about what you hear in it. The music works best as a soundtrack to the worn, weary and worrying vocals. ‘Too Complicated’ is the clearest, spoken word example of what they do well.
I wouldn’t want to live in their world, but to experience it in song is an ear opener.
Taster Track : Too Complicated
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