Bayonne, The Chills, Japanese Breakfast, Le Superhomard and Maxwell Farrington
This Week's Music
It's a somewhat briefer selection for you this week due to taking a long weekend away in Weymouth. Growing up there as a teenager, it was hardly the rock and roll capital of the civilised world. We relied on WH Smith, Woolworths and Austen's Souvenir Shop on the front for new music. There was a shop in St Alban's Street that sold ex jukebox singles for 25 pence, and local bands that played in pubs you couldn't get into at 15. The first 'name' band I saw was the Hotshots who had hit No 4 in 1973 with 'Snoopy Versus The Red Baron' Where did it all go wrong?
The shortage in quantity this week does not reflect a shortage in quality though, as I hope you'll agree.
As ever this week's playlist 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
Recommended Sharing Platters
Drastic Measures : Bayonne
An unexpected treat from a couple of years ago, this uplifting American synth pop album is melodic, carefree and addictive music.
Why specify American? Because offhand I can’t think of many other American acts that are so joyously driven by synth pop. There are lots of records that use the synth of course, but not to the extent it appears here. The UK had the glory years of the early 80s. Europe has the Gallic charm of Air and any number of acts, or the industrial and clinical sounds of Krautrock. But America? Synth pop is at odds with the idea of the big American hero - Bruce Springsteen, Gangsta rappers or the country or blues singer rooted to the land or the hard life.
Bayonne is different. His take on music is an attractive proposition. He makes happy, gurgling tunes that flow into each other. There’s no threatening bass, pounding beats or gloomy vocals. It could be the soundtrack to your happy place, providing blissed out tunes for a worn down generation. It feels like a giddy trip with the giggling dizziness of a spinning child, or the euphoric cheerfulness of the helium soaked children’s entertainer.
I don’t blame you if that sounds just a little weird. Its synthetic programming starts to feel like music to control the people in a brave, new world. I had an image of grown up Teletubbies dancing to this as their music of choice. If you’re looking for grit and passion in your songs, you will have to find it elsewhere.
These are tunes that move relentlessly on while remaining gentle and tuneful on the surface. They rely on a melodic rush to make their impact felt, and leave you craving your next hit.
Listen to this if you like carefree music providing temporary relief from the cares of your world. It will leave you wanting more of the same.
Taster Track : Kind
Jubilee : Japanese Breakfast
This collection of sugar coated pop nevertheless takes you to some pretty dark places - although not as dark as her previous albums.
Opening track, ‘Paprika’ is one of the best openings to an album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s nothing dramatic, simply perfectly structured so that, at 30 seconds in, we have a “Yes! We’ve arrived at a ‘something special’ moment.” I loved it. On top of that, there are 3-4 pop hooks driving this song forward. The strings on ‘Kokomo, IN’ and the guitar melody overlaid on those, are the stuff of pop magic. ‘Be Sweet’ is a disco infused confection as refreshing as the obligatory serving of Japanese tea with every meal. I’ve sometimes felt that to be taken seriously as a female singer songwriter, you need to appear serious, even gloomy. Michelle Zauner who fronts Japanese Breakfast is smiling in her publicity photos and that comes through in her music.
It may be a smile though that covers up a multitude of dark complexities and sadnesses. Songs take a darker tone round about ‘Posing In Bondage’ and ‘Sit’. This is where the sweet sound works hardest, keeping you engrossed in what unfolds before your ears. ‘Tactics’ has a melody straight from the Carpenters songbook, but a lyric that speaks of a troubled life.
Miniaturisation is one of the defining features of Japanese technology, and it’s one of the strengths of these songs. Big emotions are contained within small frames. The exception is ‘Posing For Cars’ which builds from 0 - 11 in its quest for an epic conclusion. It doesn’t work as well, and seems to come from a different album.
The overwhelming sound of this album though is upbeat and joyful. It’s not a jubilee in name only.
Taster Track : Paprika
Scatterbrain : The Chills
The Chills’ blend of New Zealand folk and indie pop takes on a mystical dimension with Scatterbrain.
The Chills are a band I’ve tried to like a couple of times over the years, but they’ve always struck me as a band that tries too hard to carve out their niche at the expense of good tunes. They’ve not lingered long in my memory. On this album they’ve cracked that conundrum with a set of songs that is simultaneously individual and gloriously accessible. This is folk infused indie pop that positively encourages singalongs.
It’s as if magical spells of mystery and wonder at the world are being sung to an audience of children. The Chills position themselves as a guardian of secrets they’re happy to share. If Yoda came down from Star Wars to be a popstar, this is what he would sound like, right down to the slightly forced lyric constructions. Far from being irritating, it’s where its appeal lies. It’s a relationship between singer and audience that’s unlike any other I've heard.
The songs sound deliberately brisk. They’re offered for your delight, but pay attention because they won’t hang around for long to outstay their welcome. There’s a confidence here that’s self assured but not brash, and it makes for an appealing listen.
There isn’t a weak track on the album, and it may be time to revisit their back catalogue. Reasons for liking The Chills? They’re multiplying.
Taster Track : Hourglass
And The Rest........
Once : Maxwell Farrington and Le Superhomard
This sounds a little different. The combination of discreet French pop and Australian baritone is an interesting musical marriage, and one that takes some getting used to.
There’s something very 60s happening in the mix. It calls to mind the sound and style of Scott Walker once the sun stopped shining for him. It’s heard most obviously in the clear enunciation of all the lyrics, and the deep guitar flourishes that decorate the backing tracks, for example on ‘North Pole’. But most of all it’s in the baritone which you rarely hear in all its purity these days. It’s not in the production, which is thoroughly 21st century.
It’s an acquired taste, a taste that is interesting but it’s too much across a full album. It’s as if a top chef has included licorice and peppermint in a single recipe. Individually they’re OK but here they’re too busy fighting for control.
There’s something about the baritone in particular that pushes the songs beyond pop music. Hearing Maxwell Farrington singing unironically about shaking your hips as he does on ’Hips’ just sounds wrong.
Le Superhomard’s musical backing is appealing like the very best test card music. It’s not intending to hog the attention but to provide a pleasant enough way of whiling away the time.before the main event.
I did like the sense created in these songs of soundtracking the big country - it’s the sound of wide open spaces and wagon trains crossing endless prairies. The fact that it’s provided by a Frenchman and an Australian is another example of how the album wrong foots expectations without completely delivering its replacement for them.
It’s an album that flummoxed me. It’s trying too hard to be art rather than pop. There are nevertheless some nice touches throughout.
Taster Track : Lights And Seasons