Anna Leone, Dave Gahan and Soulsavers, Ezra Collective, FUR, Gaspard Auge, Idles, Yann Tiersen
Album Cover of the Week
If you're making your album cover a band picture. you should follow Ezra Collective's lead. Use a picture that captures your personality and warms up the listener to the music inside. Their expressions convey happy exhaustion, a sign of the joy and energy you'll find within.
Don't do as Dave Gahan & Soulsavers did, and use a photo blurred by a bright light behind the subject.
Don't do as FUR did, and randomly pose the band in a field.
Don't do as Anna Leone did, and use the photo where she's turned her back on the camera!
And even if you're not using the band don't, ever, do as Idles did and use the building photo that's been photobombed by an astronaut.
This Week's Music
In an exciting week, we have a potential saviour of British jazz. We have a potential saviour of direct and simple 'not folk' songwriting. And we have not one but two potential saviours of rock and roll.
We also have a saviour of the covers album, a saviour of instrumental piano music and a runaway steamroller of a synth album that threatens to crush anything in its path.
What's not to like?
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
I've Felt All These Things : Anna Leone
This is a collection of simple and tuneful songs that seek to make sense of matters that cannot be understood. It makes for a lovely album.
Anna Leone is a Swedish singer-songwriter, mislabelled as folk in the absence of a genre marked ‘Soul bearing, honest and heart pouring sad songs’ There’s nothing particularly folky about this album except for people who instinctively link folk with the acoustic guitar. She’s much more than that. Her embellishments are understated but highly effective - the electronic wash on ‘Intro - I’ve Waited’ for example.
I can see why the folk community might like to claim this album though because it’s very good. The songs are simple and repetitive but brimful of good tunes. Her voice is beyond crying, faintly husky but retaining a pure tone.
The record is not so much downcast as exhausted. There’s a pleading for understanding, a desire to escape from paralysing emotions. In its way it’s quite Shakespearean, takiing the highly personal and making it into something universal. If Hamlet had spent his time listening to Simon and Garfunkel rather than hanging around with actors, his soliloquies might have sounded like this. Alternatively, this is the point Ophelia may have reached before her descent into madness. The songs are full of the pain of being unable to act.
It’s a rare gift to conjure up empathy through your songs but that’s the strength of this album.
Taster Track : Still I Wait
When You Walk Away : FUR
At last! A new guitar band that captures the fizzing joy of the finest pop.
New guitar bands are a bit of an endangered species now that new acts can create their musical world on a laptop in their bedroom. The irony that FUR came to notice by going viral on line after a gig hasn’t escaped my notice.
Back in the late 70s, church halls and converted attics exploded to the sound of bands rehearsing, loudly! Radio 1 between the end of Diddy David Hamilton and the beginning of John Peel championed new guitar bands left, right and centre. FUR would have been at home on their playlists. Most importantly, shops (whether they were record shops, junk shops, department stores and corner shops ) sold records and when they no longer sold they offered them at 15 pence a go in remainder bins. FUR would have starred in those remainder bins.
Now I’m aware that doesn’t sound like a great compliment, but it is. More than that, it’s a badge of honour. Back in the day, and all things being equal, these bands would have wiped the floor with 80% of the soft and polished sounds that made it into the charts. It’s from the remainder bins that I picked up such classics as ‘Jealousy’ by Wasted Youth, ‘Tango In Mono’ by The Expressos, ‘All About You’ by The Scars, ‘Saturday Night Beneath The Plastic Palm Trees’ by The Leighton Buzzards and ‘Boys Cry’ by The Original Mirrors. It’s a fair indication of their current standing that only the Wasted Youth single is available on Spotify, although the magnificent ‘Saturday Night…..’ lives on as the title of a couple of playlists featuring music from that time.
I’ve digressed, badly. But that’s part of the joy of a record such as FUR’s. It transports you out of your current world , good though that might be, and back to a time when fun was top of the agenda; a time when, in the words of Self Esteem, you prioritised pleasure.
These are simply great tunes mainly clocking in at 3-4 minutes each and not letting up the pace. They deal with the eternal subjects of longing, boy meeting the current love of his life and wondering if they’ll stay, and falling for someone with all the excited scampering of a puppy.
They feature infectious verses and exhilarating singalong choruses, It’s music with character and it bursts out of the speakers. The production is a little muddy, in a good Wall of Sound sort of way. It’s in the same ball park as today’s top pop bands such as Teenage Fanclub and The Coral.
Singer William Murray has an attractively strained voice that sounds as if he’s been gargling with honey all night long. It’s closest equivalent is The Undertone’s Feargal Sharkey.
This album is a blast of fresh air. I hope it’s the start of something big, not just for the band but for the genre.
Taster Track : The Fine Line Of A Quiet Life
Crawler : Idles
You wouldn’t expect anything less than thrilling from Idles and their new direction in this loose concept album does not disappoint.
New direction? Don’t worry, Idles haven’t tried to go the synth pop or power ballad route. This is as brutal as ever with dark, brooding menace replacing furious passion. This represents a growing up. It’s a howl of desperation at the threats of addiction, and less a listeners harangue. It has violence at its core as the album is built around a serious car crash.
Before, Idles assaulted your senses. They were a force of nature repelling criticism as an unbreachable fortress repels infantry. Now, they aim to draw you in, to generate (whisper it softly) empathy and understanding. I’m not sure though that you would truly like to be a part of their nightmare. What they’ve achieved is not an easy trick to pull off. They’ve taken something completely brutal and rendered it listenable.
The album opens with ‘MTT420RR’. It threatens to deceive, being quieter than any track on their preceding album ‘Ultra Mono’. The lyrics punch like a swinging sledgehammer though
“I can see my spinal cord rip high.
Hey hey hey
It’s raining glass like a fever storm”
And they keep this up across the whole album.
This being a tale of enthralment to addiction, the record also records the highs. The beat of ‘The Wheel’ and ‘The New Sensation’ move close to being party stompers, until you register the lyrics and their manic desperation. And for all the new direction, tracks such as ‘Crawl’ continue their relentless and reckless ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude.
Let’s not lose sight either that, musically, this is a very strong rock album. Call it punk, post punk, whatever. With power and tunes this exhilarating Idles justify their position at the very top of the music tree. This is their hour. Ignore them at your peril.
Taster Track : The New Sensation
And The Rest...
Imposter : Dave Gahan and Soulsavers
These covers range from established standards to less well known songs. They add up to a powerful personal statement. Just don’t expect them to cheer you up.
Dave Gahan is the singer with Depeche Mode. He’s had a troubled life marked by three marriages, heroin addiction and enough troubles with alcohol to merit recognition for ten years of sobriety. Soulsavers are a duo who have been around for about 20 years and are renowned for their downtempo electronica and remix work.
Collections of covers often seem to be a ploy to cover up a loss of creativity and imagination. This feels different. They’ve been open about the fact that they tell a version of Dave Gahan’s life, in the song choices and track sequencing. It’s been a deliberate and considered exercise.
In a way it’s an education, but the Three ‘R’s here stand for Regret, Recrimination and, tentatively, Redemption. The first two are evident in the song choices and the artists covered. Jeff Buckley, Cat Power, PJ Harvey - none of them renowned for feelgood songs. The redemption is drawn from the sound of soft gospel choirs floating through the songs.
Initially, as on opener ‘Dark End Of The Street’, it’s a surprisingly classic rock feel for two acts better known for their electronic approach. Some songs are pared back effectively. ‘Lilac Wine’ and ‘Always On My Mind’ rein in the slightly hysterical feel found in better known versions. That’s good. The version of ‘Smile’ does a very good turn at demonstrating just why it is one of the saddest songs ever recorded. Elsewhere, as on ‘Metal Head’ and ‘I Held My Baby Last Night’ they show that when they let rip, they can take it to 11. That makes for a little unevenness to be honest.
This is a record that proves good to listen to, as well as providing Gahan with an opportunity to record his deepest feelings.
Taster Track : Smile
You Can't Steal My Joy : Ezra Collective
This is unmistakably feel good jazz, played with verve and spirit.
The Ezra Collective is a group of young jazz musicians consisting of a drummer, keyboards, bass guitar, trumpet and tenor saxophone. They describe themselves as “pioneering the new wave of UK jazz music.” On the evidence here it’s a wave well worth catching.
Google describes them as a hip hop group. What tosh! There’s one track out of thirteen, ‘What Am I To Do’, that has a hip hop vocal, pushing the jazz into the background. It’s an OK track but out of place here. The other collaboration on the album, with Jorja Smith on ’Reason In Disguise’, is much more successful as the Sia-like vocals support and enhance the jazz feel.
This is jazz with no agenda. It’s not seeking to represent anything. It’s intended to bring happiness first and foremost, rather than show off technical mastery or abstract concepts. It’s a relaxed group work, with a bass lead groove. The one solo piece ‘Philosopher ll’ highlights this. It’s a little noodly without the full band sound.
I’ve written about my jazz journey before and I feel that, at last, I’m starting to understand how it relates to a range of music. It only took a year or so! I’m beginning to hear connections, as with ‘Red Whine’ and the first stirrings of sax that drifted from the middle of the road via 2 Tone, Lora Logic and the rest of the first punk and new wave movement.
It’s a tonic. If they are indeed pioneering the new wave of UK jazz music, with this album they are surfing on the crest.
Taster Track : Red Whine
Escapades : Gaspard Auge
Gaspard Auge welcomes us into a parallel musical universe where crashing, dramatic synths rule the airwaves and sensitive singer songwriters and four piece guitar groups head for the hills.
Auge is half of electronic duo Justice, and the tracks are credited jointly to him as a solo performer and to the duo. You might ask why it’s not simply a Justice record then. Justice released their own record this year and I suspect (hope, even) that this music is uniquely individual and neither party wanted to share the credit for it.
This is counterfactual music which is a clever clogs way of saying that it offers a different musical climate where Punk, New Romantics, Grunge, Brit Pop, Hip Hop and any other genre of the last 45 years failed to make a lasting impression.
It’s retro future prog disco. If you’ve never heard of that before, don’t worry. I made it up because it seems to be the only classification that does justice to the sound of this record. It’s where the likes of Jean Michel Jarre might have taken us if he'd been left in charge, or what would have happened if Jeff Wayne’s ‘War Of the Worlds’ had crushed all opposition that stumbled across its path.
Don’t be seduced by the gentle, short introduction. This is a record of relentless crashing keyboard riffs above a lightly funky bass groove. It’s impressive, in the same way as an explosion in a fireworks factory is impressive, but it’s also too much. It gives a sense of puffing urgency and melodrama that goes nowhere. In the end, it all sounds a little too incidental and easy to ignore. The standout track is ‘Captain’ because it dials the bombast down a notch or two, allowing a melody to make itself heard and felt.
This album’s saving grace is that I don’t think it takes itself too seriously and it doesn’t expect us to either. It’s so over the top and so out of its time that you can’t help but smile at the unwavering and defiant commitment to the sound. It’s as if they took an idea and thought they might as well be hung for a sheep farm as much as for a single lamb.
It’s a breathless mix of cliche, cheese and bombast that might leave you reeling but also feeling that for 40 minutes or so you sneakily quite enjoyed it. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Taster Track : Captain
Kerber : Yann Tiersen
Kerber : Yann Tiersen
This collection of instrumentals, multi textured but piano led is lovely, but also a little unsatisfying.
Yann Tiersen is often mistaken for a specialist in film soundtracks. He isn't, but the confusion is understandable given that he made his name providing music for the soundtrack to ‘Amelie’. The music was not written for that film but fitted what was needed.
He’s a man who welcomes solitude, living on the tiny Brittany island of Ushant. There’s wind, sea, rock and nature, and a sea or plane trip back to the mainland. He’s a man hidden away, making music without reference to anything else. It’s the perfect setting for composing music that accompanies daydreaming and reveries.
The trouble is, it’s too successful. Within a couple of tracks I’m away with my thoughts. I’m wondering what the fixation is with the letter ‘K’ in the track titles. I’m imagining what it must be like living in isolation and how you manage Amazon deliveries. I’m looking at the shapes cast by the dawn light falling through the gaps in the curtains. I’m trying to work out if ‘downlifting’ is a word that means the opposite of ‘uplifting’ because the melancholy sound of the piano is having that effect. What I’m not doing is listening to the music attentively.
And that’s a shame, because despite or because of the melancholy tone, what I do hear is lovely. Although you could categorise it as Nu-classical in the vein of Nils Frahm or Olafur Arnalds, it’s more melodic than either.The piano is embedded in texture too, electronic burblings, faint throbs, hints of static and whispered conversations.
It’s unusual too in that several of the tunes build to a peak in the middle before fading away. There’s a feeling that, whatever the music is trying to convey, it lacks resolution. It makes for a strangely unsatisfactory experience, as if we’ve interrupted ruminations before they’re ready to be shared.
Despite the reservations I liked this album. It’s one I may return to in the hope of unlocking its secrets a little more each time.
Taster Track : ‘Ar Maner Kozh’