The Coral, Domenique Dumont, Firestations, Garbage, Lambchop, The Moons, Morcheeba, Sorbet,
This Week's Music
In the slightly misnamed Euro 2020 there are a number of reassuring certainties to keep us on track in a world still spinning precariously on the edge. There will be a team of doughty warriors who will fight to the end without getting their just desserts. Scotland anyone? There are the continental flash kids who hope no one notices when they trip over flat on their face. (Portugal? France?). Then there's England - underwhelming in the group stage, play like Champions in the round of 16 and then exit stage left in the Q/F via a penalty shoot out. And the long standing giants will come good by the end - a Germany v Italy final anyone? Finally there's an army of smart alecs to predict the outcomes and hope that no one notices when Germany and Italy crash out in the round of sixteen and Scotland thrash England in the final. You heard it here first.
There's a lot of pure, top quality pop music out there at the moment, and this week's records capture some of the best - in my opinion anyway. There is also plenty that's a little different in absorbing and interesting ways. There's a couple of those too.
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
There's a new regular playlist from this week - Pop In The Real World Shadowplay. It's a collection of songs brought to mind by what I've heard this week - similar acts, older songs, albums I've listened to but not reviewed and individual songs that have struck a cord. It's likely to be more accessible as it won't replicate the ambient jazz throat gargling choirs that seemed like a good idea at the time!
I'll roll them over on the same frequency as the Taster Track playlist to keep it manageable, but update them day by day rather than weekly. The Spotify version is at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/01iU7Jy80SMvJO5QBF7Oux?si=00d9d1fb8b2f4baa and the YouTube version is at https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7EjsaT8idWnNv42LqIGEGSmH&feature=share
Recommended Sharing Platters
Coral Island : The Coral
The Coral’s ‘Coral Island’ is a concept album that is a love letter to past seaside entertainment, and full of great pop songs.
Concept albums can prove to be a tricky bag. There’s a danger that songs will be forced to fit the concept rather than a life of their own. A bad concept album calls to mind the apocryphal approach of an ex rugby international who tried to build a career in corporate motivational speaking . He begins each presentation with the words “You may be wondering what life in a scrum with the All Blacks can teach you about selling …....” The audience were often still wondering at the end of the talk. Even The Who scrapped plans for their ‘Lifehouse’ rock opera when the band realised that not even the writer, Pete Townshend, could explain the concept.
It’s to The Coral’s immense credit that they have pulled off their concept superbly well. There’s a palpable sense of relief when the first real song. Love Undiscovered, kicks in. It’s a strong, self contained song and it sounds great.
Their trick is to link the songs with spoken verses that set the tone beautifully. Memory plays a big part - memories of stories, incidents, smells and sounds. As you listen to the album it’s as if you’re passing further back into time. It’s like an echo from the past, or an aural reflection in a mirror. The further from the mirror you stand, the further back your reflection seems to be. The poetry and songs take us from 60s youth, to a 50s jukebox, to the end of the pier light variety entertainment of The Great Lafayette from 40s music hall. The record is completely immersed in its concept.
The album brings to life a fuzzy, sepia tinted sense of summer. There’s a slightly dreamy, lost in thought feel to songs such as ‘The Game She Plays’ and ‘Faceless Angel’. In the past The Coral have delved deep into psychedelia but on their last album they opted for more conventional songwriting and it worked its magic triumphantly. They've opted for the same approach here.
These are gentle, warm songs of immense charm, and they make for an excellent album.
Taster Track : Love Undiscovered
And The Rest........
People On Sunday : Domenique Dumont
This seamless and flowing collection of French synth tunes makes for a perfect and relaxed start to the day.
Imagine waking early on holiday in a sun soaked coastal resort where it’s always 23 degrees. This is your soundtrack, preferably accompanied by the coffee of your choice or a freshly squeezed fruit juice. It’s aspirational lifestyle music to an extent but it’s also a lovely way to start the day.
There are no cares or worries in this music, just gentle awakenings. The titles tell you that much - ‘Gone For A Wander’, ‘Sunshine In 1929’, ‘Falling Asleep Under Pine Trees’, ‘Watching Boats Go By’ - you can feel calm just reading them. The tunes - they are all instrumentals - go quietly about their business without overstaying their welcome.
Inconsequential, insubstantial and unobtrusive maybe, but these are satisfying tunes nonetheless. They don’t compel attention. It’s a little noodly in places, true, but that doesn’t really matter here. They’re short lived impressions as much as tunes.
The tunes are simple and repetitive, but subtle variations on a theme keep it interesting. ‘We Almost Got Lost’ is typical. It overlays a core underpinning rhythm and melody with small improvisations. Different sounds are used to create similar effects - ‘People On Sunday’ incorporates an oriental feel. The record actually sounds like a continuous 40 minute piece that just happens to comprise of 13 different segments.
In its consistency and its refusal to stand out it sounds truly original.
Taster Track : Sunshine In 1929
The Year Dot : Firestations
On their second album, Firestations deliver more of the dreamy, swirling guitar and intelligent lyrics that brought them to attention in the first place.
Having only recently stumbled across Firestations through their ‘Melted Medium’ EP, I felt almost resentful that the Pop In The Real World music selector algorithm had drawn them out of the music box again. That’s grossly unfair of me, for with this earlier release they have consolidated their position as one of my new favourite bands.
I love their attitude. On their website they describe themselves thus.
“We are a band. We write alt pop songs and then mess them up.”
They’re definitely a band. There’s no sense of ego at play in their music, no competition for the spotlight. They’re like one of those mysterious cubes that can only be assembled or unlocked in one way.
The second part could be a modest statement that they get their songs wrong. Absolutely not. These songs are close to perfect. Secondly, it could mean that they write pristine guitar based songs and then add grit and fuzziness for extra character. Perhaps there’s a bit of that here. This is the sound of music in the immediate aftermath of a big bang. All its beauty and tunefulness is in place, but it's fuzzy and rumbly around the edges as if the echo of the explosion that brought it forth lingers just below the surface.
These songs are a little more bassy than the sound on ‘Melted Medium’. If that means the songs don’t quite soar to the same extent, it’s still measured music that is a source of comfort and beauty. ‘Build A Building’ and ‘Far Future Morning’ are my favourites on the album. The ‘plink, plink, plink’ of ‘Build A building’ is infectious and holds the song together. And there’s a lovely introduction to the sound of the flugelhorn on ‘Make your Own Mind Up’. There’s an instrument that doesn’t feature a lot in the typical rock band!
It’s a great feeling to come across a band that you loved on first hearing, who are not a one off flash in the pan. Firestations are one of those bands.
Taster Track : Build A Building
No Gods No Masters : Garbage
This electro pop collection shows Garbage at their most furious and unrelenting.
Garbage have never truly gone away since their 90s heyday. The lottery jackpot question is: Are they simply recycling past glories or are they still relevant today?
The good news is that, on both counts, they’re in a good place. This is an album that is both influenced by the times and for the times. It’s an angry album that’s more than hot air and bluster. There’s a sincerity to tracks such as ‘Waiting For God’ which means you pay attention - or else!
The cover angel doesn’t look like the guardian who waits at the end of your bed, keeping you safe through the night. This is an angel of destruction, judging what they see. That’s the sound of this album too. It’s thrilling, like a Marvel film when the chips are down for the heroes, and all looks lost.
This is recognisably Garbage playing to their strengths. The spiky attitude is still there, the lighter touch to their first album perhaps less so. The songs have strong electro riffs although these can sound a tad relentless when there’s a lack of variation within the songs.
I listened to the standard version of this record which is the 11 tracks down to ‘This City Will Kill You.’ The deluxe version on Spotify has an additional 8 tracks, including a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ which is nicely done.
Garbage are in their 50, 60s and 70s now. It’s good that they can channel their rages into music that sounds both vital and enjoyable.
Taster Track : No Gods No Masters
Showtunes : Lambchop
Lambchop’s music is dark, vulnerable and difficult to categorise. It’s also absorbing and intriguing, promising great beauty.
Kurt Wagner, the man behind Lambchop, is one of the good guys. He took care of his band during lockdown with a collection of covers. He steadfastly refuses to conform to expectations and current fashions. Live, he’s a contender for the least visible front man ever, remaining still on stage, his face obscured by a baseball cap. He’s been around for 35 years or so, only threatening to break through with his 2000 album ‘Nixon’. It’s an album that contained two songs (‘Grumpus’ and ‘Up With People’) that were so perfect, I’ve followed Lambchop ever since in the hope of experiencing something similar.
And that’s what makes following Lambchop akin to a religious experience. Despite the evidence of recent albums, you need faith that there’s a song such as ‘Grumpus’ still to come. Lambchop’s music here has mutated. Like the cover, it’s dark and hard to make out. There’s a track, ‘Fuku’ that’s appropriately named for anyone expecting a collection of conventional songs - although it may not be pronounced that way and so mean something completely different.
Anyone expecting a collection of show stopping showtunes from this album will be severely disappointed. The thing about this album is that the songs constantly build up to a moment where the music could explode into something glorious, but they never quite reach it. ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone Journalist’ (great title) sounds like an overture. ‘Drop C’ sounds like a prelude, aiming to kick start a production that doesn’t arrive.
So why persevere with an act that doesn’t seem to deliver on its promise? Well, why buy a lottery ticket that’s unlikely to win? These are songs that recognise that it is sometimes better to travel hopefully than to arrive and that the appeal of making music is in the thrill of the chase. They’re an intriguing listen, difficult to categorise. Although there are definite jazz noir touches throughout, they come nowhere near swamping the album. They’re absorbing too. ‘Fuku’ never feels like seven minutes long despite being a fragmentary, stuttering collection of words, sounds and effects.
This is music that sounds emotionally broken. You have to dig deep for the melody in ‘A Chef’s Kiss’ but it’s there - a heavenly expression wrapped in his customary, aching vulnerability.
There is nothing like a dame, they say. There’s certainly nothing quite like Lambchop.
Taster Track : A Chef's Kiss
Pocket Melodies : The Moons
This appealing set of 60s influenced songs provides exactly what it says on the tin. It’s undemanding listening of the enjoyable kind.
Back in the 60s, allegedly, you were either for the Rolling Stones or for the Beatles, and if you were for The Beatles, you were either for John Lennon or Paul McCrtney. The Moons are descendents of the Paul McCartney branch, with liberal doses of The Kinks, Manfred Mann and other suburban acts thrown in. The Moons don’t exactly exceed the sum of those parts, but when the parts are that good that’s not really a problem.
Once, we thought all pop would sound like this and the charts would overflow with warm, melodic, unthreatening songs. This album celebrates the way music used to be and used to sound. It’s as if they’ve stumbled across a lost treasure trove of songs from the mid sixties, where bands were past the first flush of the moon in June but before they lost their innocence and aimed for a heavier approach consistent with meaningfulness. The origin stories for this record can be found in the Beatles run of ‘Rubber Soul’, ‘Revolver’ to ‘Sergeant Pepper’.
There’s not a bad song here. It’s completely consistent in sound and quality, but that has the slight disadvantage that nothing stands out. The album is full of ‘boy next door’ love songs. It’s not a criticism to call this undemanding easy listening. As I’ve said before there’s a place for that in anyone’s listening history.
The production is perfect for the material. They’re not striving for authenticity. It’s clean, balanced and sharp where it needs to be. The songs don’t sound dated as a result. Mainly it’s the typical four piece band set up with nicely overlaid strings and occasional splashes of 60s colour such as the Hammond organ on ‘The Old Brigade’ or the closing grunts and yelps on ‘Far Away’ taken straight from ‘I Am The Walrus’ or Mungo Jerry.
It can’t help but sound summery and nostalgic in its harmonies and sweet naivety. It’s simple but effective, and an amiable way to pass the time.
Taster Track : Far Away
Blackest Blue : Morcheeba
We may not be ready for a full blown 90s trip pop revival just yet, but Morcheeba’s latest record is a welcome reminder of its good points.
It’s 25 years since Morcheeba’s debut, and over that time they’ve drifted in and out of being, and on and off our radios. They’ve grown up too. In fact this album is a bit like meeting old friends you’ve lost touch with for a few years. They sound as if they have had hard times but deep down you can still hear who they were. ‘Killed Our Love’ and ‘Say It’s Over’ sound like grown up statements.
It’s not the soundtrack to a Saturday night seduction. They’ve come over all sad rather than chilled which is an odd tone to strike, but which works well. ‘Killed Our Love’ is built around a sinister rather than a sultry riff. ‘Sulphur Soul’, an instrumental, captures their former flavour best.
It’s a great sounding record, clear and clean. The electronica still washes attractively over every track. Skye’s vocals still sound gorgeous, slinky and velvety but with added weariness. The lyrics are direct and have the flavour of street poetry. The tone is more personal. It’s more Sade than Massive Attack now.
It’s a good record. Melodic, consistent in tone, a little downbeat but nice sounding with it.
Taster Track : Oh Oh Yeah
This Was Paradise : Sorbet
This is an album with a message. The music is a mix of jazz inflected electronica and the ominous classical sounds of a string ensemble. It’s not a comfortable listen, but it’s safe to say that’s its intention.
The message is climate change. Spoiler alert: Sorbet doesn’t think this is a good thing. He’s worried and angry about it and he thinks we should be too. He’s not using this album to prompt action. We’ve missed the boat on that. The apocalyptic nightmare has arrived and we’re already immersed in it. This is not a reflective feel good album to set you up nicely for the day ahead.
After that warning, I should acknowledge that this is a brooding and compelling work, but it’s one filled with horror and foreboding. In terms of fulfilling its vision, it’s a resounding success. Listening to it bleary eyed, it conjured images of deserted underground wastelands populated by unseen mutant animals that are gathering to eat the lone survivors of the apocalypse alive. A sample lyrical fragment is “Her belly bloats with sickness”. That should give you a sense of the tone.
And this is definitely an album where the tone trumps the music. Tracks switch between genres - dark jazz, dystopian electronica and sinister strings - but the tone remains the unifying force. There’s little hope in the sound, little relief from the horror. It’s Apocalypse Now in musical form, and the emphasis is firmly on ‘now’. As an example, ‘Kettle Boil (Disobedience)’ takes an everyday noise and distorts it into a squalling riot of white noise. It’s clever. The collaborators are mainly spoken word and they add a sense of furious and hopeless acceptance to the album.
This is bold and ambitious, focused on delivering its message. It sounds like a work of art more than a typical album. It won’t be cheering you up any time soon but it could give you a too little, too late pause for thought.
Taster Track : Only For The Young