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Singing In The New Year

Starring


Chocolate Hills and The Orb, Dub Shepherds, Georgia, Jessy Lanza, Luke Sanger, Okonski, SunYears, Tom Sanders,


The Front Runners


Shared System Research Project : Luke Sanger


Electronic music isn’t often as intriguing and gently surprising as this collection from like Sanger.


For Christmas I received what can best be described as an astrologer's lamp. It’s a paperweight sized glass orb, lit from below. Contained within it are representations of the planets of our solar system, surrounded by the stars of our galaxy. It gives out a soft light that reaches out to dimly illuminate the whole room. It’s a thing of beauty and intrigue. It’s also the perfect image and accompaniment for Luke Sanger’s new album.


He’s come a very long way from his techno origins to make music that isn’t at all formless, but spreads away from recognisable shapes. It’s music that opens a constellation of possibilities, a universe of new sounds and a real sense of musical exploration hunting for new frontiers. It’s music heard from an observatory under controlled conditions, a bevy of repetition, oscillation and changing frequencies.


If there is a link between music and maths, and many people think there is, this is what you get when the scientists take over. It’s a pleasant surprise. Each piece of music is a self contained experiment, that is neither improvised nor experimental. Although programmed, it’s neither clinical nor sterile but warm and soft. In his head he’s mapped out where he wants to go, but though his path is winding it allows for no detours.


‘Morf’ is the ideal introductory track, setting the scene for music that, ahem, morphs continuously. ‘Shoe Ghost’ and ‘Simple Spring’ have repetitive cores that hypnotise and induces trances as they weave through their sonic embellishments. ‘Whistler’ takes a different approach. It’s pretty embellishments stripped from their core. This is serious music but it leaves room for playfulness in both the titles (‘Shifty Boo’ and ‘’Monday Misfit’ for example) and the catchy melody of ‘Gee Flat’.


If you were ever impressed by an experiment in a science lesson, if you’ve ever marvelled at the scope and wonders of the universe you’ll enjoy this album.


Taster Track : Gee Flat




Come Fetch My Soul : SunYears


A sweeter, more uplifting set of songs you won’t find in end of the year lists this year.


SunYears is the new venture from Peter Moren. He was the Peter in Peter, Bjorn and John, whose infectious ‘Young Folks’ was inescapable in 2006. He’s working with a number of collaborators, including Ron Sexsmith, Ren Hervieu. Kathryn Williams and Fruit Bats. What links them is that they have all built strong reputations without breaking through into the critical or commercial big time. They’re great singer songwriters and they all command a loyal following. SunYears fit nicely into this company.


This is an album of sweet, thankful and anti-celebrity music. It celebrates the important things in life, the things that make life special. There are shadows of sadness in ‘Granddad’s Song’ and ‘A Dog’s Life’. Both the granddad and the dog have passed on, but the sadness is tempered by the warmth of the memories.


In a mix of folk and pop, SunYears turn their attention to growing up (‘Day To Day Life’) and to the simple beauty and pleasure all around them (the instrumental ‘Two Birds, Mid-Flight’) ‘Slipping Away’ jangles its way through a song founded on anxiety and an appreciation that the good things in life are fragile.‘Wordy’ is a waterfall of separate thoughts and smart sayings, including the line that sums up the feeling captured in this album.


“Being alive is all I ask.”


Lyrically it’s heartwarming. Musically it’s spot on. This is simply a lovely album. Listen to it, and then give your nearest loved one a big hug.


Taster Track : Wordy



Almost Magic : Tom Sanders


Here’s a special album, an album of stripped back Covid affected songs that is both moving and uplifting.


This landed with me like a Christmas present you weren’t expecting but immediately treasure. It was early in the morning, too early some would say. Blearily I picked this album out for reviewing. I couldn’t remember what had attracted me to it, or any reviews that suggested it would be for me. I pressed play and a few seconds later the realisation hit me like a sugar fuelled adrenaline rush. This is the solo debut from the singer of Teleman, and it’s distillation and essence of everything that makes them wonderful.


It came out in 2020, and sounds like an album made at the height of Covid, while it was still something to fear rather than endure. This album takes you back, not just to the vulnerability and anxiety of those times but to the flickers of hope and the love that kept everyone together.


This is music for that time of your last waking thoughts before falling into a deep and restorative sleep. It’s a special magical time as you surrender to the forces that will make everything OK.


Sometimes less is a whole lot more. From the bare bones of songs like ‘Tom Quixote’ comes something personal, powerful and moving. These songs are demo like. Their fragility would be ruined by over production. Their fragility is what makes this album special.


Stripped back to its core, a song like ‘Lonesome High, makes you listen. The simple, memorable melodies of ‘Touch Down’, ‘Most of the Time’ or ‘Spanish Flat’ achieve something remarkable and human. Some stripped back albums become too much. Not this one, it feels like a link back to something important.


There’s no need to be excited by this album. It’s ‘Only Magic’.


Taster Track : Lonesome High



The Chasing Pack


Yarns From The Chocolate Triangle : Chocolate Hills and The Orb


A strange but beguiling album from Chocolate Hills and The Orb turns into a great way to come down from the Christmas and New Year celebrations.


Sometimes it’s difficult to analyse an album. It’s an album that gives off impressions and the best thing to do is to let it wash over you and sink into it. Otherwise it’s like trying to describe a lava lamp as a work of art. This is one of those albums.


Perhaps triggered by the album title, and the song ‘Centre of the Triangle, this feels like a venture into a Bermuda Triangle of music. It’s music coming from forces you can’t fully understand. Is that a random cow at the end of ‘Centre of the Triangle’? Why?


This is music that disconcerts in the same way that Twin Peaks once did on TV. It’s recognisably of our world, but it doesn’t make complete sense. It’s music that’s less heard and more overheard. It’s absorbed from a hiding place. Like Man Friday spying on Robinson Crusoe you’re not sure what’s going on. A tune such as ‘Ace’ is soothing but it could turn threatening quite quickly.


It’s not quite like anything else. There are throbbing bass pulses, attractive bur subdued keyboard shifts and runs, snippets of spoken word that are never quite full conversations. Despite the Orb’s origin in club culture, ‘Home (The First of the Last)’ is the only piece you could conceivably dance to.


None of that really matters. This is an album that works best simply wafting around you. The trick of magic is that you never know how the trick has been performed. And on that level this is a magical album.


Taster Track : Ace



Night and Day : Dub Shepherds


French dub reggae - it works better than you’d think.


Reggae is traditionally  a music for the warm, sunny outdoors, played in the sunshine preferably outside a beach rum bar. This feels more suited to a locked in cellar drinking den in a shady part of town.


There’s a glimpse of menace running through the early tracks, such as ‘Dirty Sound of Town’ with the chilled vibe competing with a wailing child. It’s compounded by the performing name of the collaborator - JollyJoseph. She’s a suspected serial killer in India. Cyanide poisoning is allegedly her speciality. 


Fortunately the dub doesn’t overwhelm the tune, making them songs to listen to rather than songs to be subjected to. This is an album that might start in a heavy, heavy way but, if you allow yourself to relax into it, the lighter and happier feel of Jamaican reggae seeps through. ‘Soulful Music’ is a joy. The horns of an ‘Afternoon In The Park’ capture that carefree lazing around, doing nothing very much vibe, while also calling to mind Groove Armada’s ‘At The River’. If you’ve ever wondered what Madness might sound like if they played dub reggae, try ‘’Water Your Seeds’. All the relaxation finally makes its mark on the band if the Jane Birkinesque sounds behind ‘Palm Beach Blues’ are anything to go by.


At its heart, this is a French chillout album using dub reggae techniques. It has style. It has a knowing way about it. It’s an album to keep you warm during the approaching winter months.


Taster Track : Soulful Music



Euphoric : Georgia


Here’s a dance pop record for the current Radio 1 generation that has its moments but doesn’t quite deliver what it promises on the tin.


We can all use a little euphoria and that’s what you get here, a little euphoria, Just a little. Not a lot. 


It comes through most strongly on ‘Keep On’. It’s the kind of song that you sing to your BFF while waving your arms in the air. Elsewhere, the most powerful force is one of restraint. I wanted the songs to break free but, like a bungee jumper losing their nerve at the last moment and returning to ground level via the stairs, they miss their chance. Take ‘All Night’ - it ends abruptly, but the emergence of a big bass beat would have done wonders for the song.


This is a likeable album in a generic Radio 1 pop kind of way. It's been decades since I could class myself a Radio 1 listener. At times I felt like an unobtrusive Dad keeping an eye on his daughter’s 18th birthday party. I shouldn’t be there but while I was, I was quiety enjoying myself.


It’s an album that sounds great. The production team should be winning bucketfuls of awards. Perhaps that’s not surprising. Georgia’s dad is Neil Barnes who co-founded Leftfield.


The tracks that worked best for me were those that carried an indie pop sensibility beneath the club happy surface. That’s tracks like ‘Give It Up For Love’ and ‘The Dream’. If I was to be denied euphoria I could at least appreciate the indie gestures.


Euphoric - it’s music for the sixth form disco, a safe alternative to the club.


Taster Track : Give It Up For Love



Love Hallucination : Jessy Lanza


Jessy Lanza launches an infuriating record, aimed squarely at the club and simultaneously quite good and quite bad.


Jessy Lanza is a Canadian DJ. She knows her stuff. Her deconstructed club music is full of skitterish, glitchy, fractured beats. She has a good voice, probably capable of more, and excelling on the “oohs”, “ohs” and “whoahs” that simulate having a good time.


She credits so many influences on Wikipedia ( Liz Fraser, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, Melba Moore, Yellow Magic Orchestra and the work of their individual highs ) that they almost serve as search engine tags.


Her music aims for and succeeds in creating music for a multi-speaker environment. She’d love to hear her music pouring out of a Surroundsound system in a cavernous club or, failing that, echoing around in your head.


The challenge is to find her music engaging. I didn’t do too well on that. This is full of DJ effects rather than the melodies of great songwriting or the euphoric build of the best Club music. All those DJ effects are interesting and well done but, ultimately they leave me feeling that I’m trawling through charity shop record collections with low expectations that are usually justified..


There are some exceptions. ‘Casino Niagra’ stirs itself to build quietly, steadily and inevitably. ‘Limbo’ does credit to her influences with a nice 80s club feel. ‘I Hate Myself shouldn’t work on paper. It’s eight lines of “I hate myself”  followed by two of “You’re so cool” and then repeat. It seems to capture something of a sterile existence but it does so to a more engaging backing. The words and music fit together like they’re supposed to.


This is undeniably clever. If that’s enough, you’ll enjoy this album. Here’s a 7.9 Pitchfork review for balance Jessy Lanza Love Hallucination Review


Taster Track : I Hate Myself



Magnolia : Okonski


Okonski delivers an album of quietly enjoyable pieces, led by jazz piano that doesn’t stray too far from the world of intuitive pop. 


It’s funny, but this music doesn’t sound like jazz until the bass and drums come in. Until then it’s like stumbling across a pianist in an otherwise empty studio, working out his pieces as he improvises melodies that are pleasing on the ear. Like an ‘Old Friend’ you don’t have to put in a lot of effort to enjoy this.


It sounds serious but accessible, an intelligent conversation with someone you know well and with whom you can be honest. It’s a quiet, measured album, with no unnecessary frills and just the right number of notes! 


It stretches time too. The songs sound and feel longer, fuller and richer than their running time might allow.


Delve beneath the surface seriousness though and there’s something more playful going on, like an English teacher lecturing on Shakespere with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Song For My Sister’s Son’, with its thoughtful eye for alliterative titles and ‘Runner Up’ are cases in point. They’re like the whispers of an unfound quiz night echoing around the cloisters of a monastery or convent.


Apparently, magnolia has become the UK’s most hated paint colour. This aural version is much easier to like.


Taster Track : Runner Up



Playlists


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.






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