Updated: Aug 23
Deer Tick, Fever Ray, Fred Again, Stargaze, Sun's Signature, Waajeep
The Front Runners
Sun’s Signature : Sun’s Signature
This 27 minute EP takes you to an enchanted kingdom, one where folk, fairy tales and the unique sounds of Elizabeth Fraser’s voice intermingle.
Sun’s Signature are Elizabeth Fraser, ethereal vocalist for the Cocteau Twins and her musical / life partner, percussionist Damon Reece who has played with Massive Attack, Spiritualized and Echo and the Bunnymen.
The first thing to note is that, despite the presence of Damon Reece, there is relatively little percussion in these songs. Where it’s heard - in parts of ‘Underwater’ and throughout ‘Bluedusk’ it tethers the songs to Earth, like a hidden cave in a verdant forest.
On three of the five tracks on this EP, there is no percussion at all. That means the focus is increasingly on Fraser’s voice. And what a strange but beguiling thing that is. Part Mary Poppins, part fluttering bird, part White Witch and part away with the fairies, it gives the record its overwhelming sense of enchantment.
Toorquerry, Tilalo, Pucong”
These are taken from ‘Apples’, a magic spell that wraps itself around you and holds you close in a garden of musical delights. Or it could be nonsense and doggerel. You’ll have to decide.
Musically this is the equivalent of a well stocked, well ordered vintage and curio shop. You can lose yourself in its details for hours. The guitar line of ‘Underwater’, the woodwind of ‘Bluedusk’, even the compounding of a made up, poetic word are examples of these.
The songs swirl like a Cocteau Twins record but, quite possibly, they sound like nothing you’ve heard before.
Taster Track : Bluedusk
The Chasing Pack
Emotional Contracts : Deer Tick
This album is a reminder of what lies at the heart of American rock.
It’s a mix of blues, pop, nasal vocals and guitars that snap and growl like a tethered dog. The band emphatically reject any element of country saying that there is no twang in their vocals. It is the sound of bar room rock from a small town in the middle of nowhere, the one guarantee of a rollicking good time on a Saturday night.
There’s a difference between those bands that draw on the 70s for influence, and those, like Deer Tick, that recreate the sound and period as fully as they can. In ‘Forgiving Ties’ they accommodate the sound of synth pop drumming into the intro but remain essentially the same. Compare that with the Rolling Stones who recognised the rock and roll roots of punk in ‘Respectable’, disco in ‘Miss You’ and synth pop in ‘Emotional Rescue’. Each time they moved on. Deer Tick return to base.
In their case, base isn’t a bad place to be. They have great, big, singalong choruses. ‘Disgrace’ is just one example of this. They have simple and sincere ballads such as ‘My Ship’ to cleanse the palate between rockers. It’s the Bob Seger template, with a dusting of Warren Zevon (‘A Light May Go Out In Your Heart’) and they work it well. Essentially, for all its brash, loud presence, this is comfort rock.
Inevitably it ends with an epic nine minute wonder in ‘The Real Thing’. It’s the summit of the album, nine minutes of music and an effects laden and embalmed testimony to over the top rock full of hoarse anguish. Live, they can probably extend it to something that lasts as long as they need it to or want.
It's as useless to resist this as it is to resist the hearty slaps of a drunk drinking companion at the end of the evening. And by the end you’ll agree you’ve had a great time.
Taster Track : Forgiving Ties
Radical Romantics : Fever Ray
Fever Ray’s stark collection of electronic music sounds feral. One thing’s clear. It may be radical but it’s not romantic.
I tried this album because I read a review that described it as more accessible than their early work. I now know that ease of access does not mean that something is likeable. This feels as if it’s coming from a sick world, a hard world devoid of tenderness and a word that offends sensibilities.
It’s a harsh image, but this is something that’s as romantic as flies buzzing around a pool of vomit. At times it’s wilfully unpleasant and disturbing. There’s the feel of a demented child to ‘Carbon Monoxide’. The violence of ‘Even It Out’ is played out like a slasher movie. I suspect that such a strong, visceral reaction would appeal to them, even if it is not quite what they intended.
If you can step away from the surface images, catch your breath for a moment and then revisit it for the music alone it’s possible to hear why it may still be a contender for some people’s end of the year best album lists. Strip these tracks back to the instrumental backing and they are more interesting and listenable. Change your mindset to one that is expecting something like Bjork at her most dangerous, and you can listen to this without false expectations. Persevere to the end, and the closing track ‘Bottom of the Ocean’ provides a quieter, more reflective take on what has passed. Peace. At last!
As a work of art, it’s a difficult listen but one that is admirably consistent on its own terms. Give it a second chance and it may reveal more and provide a glimmer of understanding. That may prove akin tough to asking a child to approach a savage dog that has already taken a bite out of its leg.
The music review and interview site, Pitchfork, would disagree. They awarded this album 8.4 out of 10. For them, that’s a very high score and their review is at
Taster Track : Even It Out (It’s relatively quick!)
Secret Life : Fred Again (with Brian Eno)
Make ready to take sides. This collaboration between producer Fred Again and Brian Eno of deep ambient electronica will polarise opinions.
Two friends had pointed me towards Fred Again. On the back of his wonderful set at Glastonbury this year, one was wondering how he had missed Fred Again until now. Another friend selected the excellent Covid inspired ‘Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing)’ as one of the songs of 2022. Neither of those experiences prepare you for ‘Secret Life’.
If you can’t engage with this record, you will find it slow, held back and too damn quiet. It will drag. There are no half measures here, no sudden release into beats and melody. Listening to this can be a deadening experience. It’s a record that you may find you have to endure.
If you can engage with this record, you will find it dark, atmospherically haunting and spellbinding. You will be struck by how different the opening track ‘I Saw You’ is. It’s pretty much sung as a monotone, and played as a mono note. It’s clever and it’s effective.
These are songs from deep inside Fred Again’s head, an effect strengthened by the liberal use of barely heard ambient voices beneath many of the tracks. There is desperation here. It’s in the pleading of ‘Come On Home’. It’s music that sounds as if it has been made to accompany the breakdown of society’s fabric and infrastructure. Perhaps it has. The stuttering, distorted almost verbal vocals of ‘Cmon’ give that impression. They’re different and genuinely interesting.
This is a record that, once started, it’s better to hear it through to the end. Whether it’s deliberate sequencing, or a sign of the time it takes to get your head around the sound of the record, the three strongest songs are kept to last. ‘Trying’ works well. ‘Chest’ has much more of a melody, as does the desperate and broken ‘Come On Home’. Conceivably, this last track could join Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ on the soundtrack of wrenched guts and broken hearts.
It’s a hard listen, but it’s also achieved something quite different. For some, that will be more than enough.
Taster Track : Come On Home
ONE : Stargaze
This classical collective are described as taking a new approach to music incorporating anything and everything from pop to punk and back again. I didn’t hear any of that.
Given the description of pop to punk and back again, my accidental foray into classical through the opening track ‘Metaphor’ was a little like bursting into a pub, realising quickly that you don’t belong but being unable to find an escape route. My disappointed expectations left me feeling like a class of 8 year olds being promised a trip to a Disney film and being taken to see ‘Fantasia’.
None of this is the fault of the music or the performers who are, as you’d expect, at the top of their game playing with verve and sympathy for the music. It’s not at all unpleasant but it doesn’t flow like pop, or stir you out of lethargy like punk.
I’m not sure that was ever its purpose. These are new classical pieces that I’ve now seen billed as ‘New Music’. I find that label difficult to accept. If it refers to to the approach taken of recording remotely, well, there have been countless duets in pop where the different elements have been recorded on different continents. If it refers to the sound, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra have led the way in melding classical and pop to build a quirky and more appealing classical / pop hybrid.
I’ll say it again, none of this is the fault of the music or the performers but due to a misleading or misreading of a review. There are occasional moments that pricked up my ears. The staccato strings in ‘Voicecream’ and the insistent pulse of ‘Recollection Pulse #3’ before it’s submerged beneath the orchestra both piqued my interest.
It’s interesting that the only freely accessible review I could find online to provide an alternative view was in The Quietus. This site caters for a more intellectual, academic and erudite audience than I pretend to be. You can find it at The Quietus Stargaze Review.
Stargaze ‘ONE” - pop for PhD Philosophy students.
Taster Track : Voicecream
Memoirs of Hi-Tech Jazz : Waajeed
This is electronic music, with undeniable jazz influences, that succeeds in being part of a much bigger manifesto.
Reading Waajeed’s bio online, it’s clear that you can’t detach this from the struggles and conditions faced by America’s black population. This is much more though than an album that proclaims how bad things are. This is the soundtrack to a dozen Emmy winning crime shows set in the 70s, but it’s happening in real life. Like a bugle call it’s a summons to activism and making a change. Black Lives matter. On this occasion, more than ever, black music matters too.
The album is a combination of electronica with a strong jazz feel and brief interconnecting pieces that keep your ears firmly on the wider agenda.That’s its strength and it runs like a single 50 minute continuous experience. It’s ambitious and hard edged. If jazz rapped, it would sound like this.
It’s also a record that has one foot placed firmly on the dancefloor. If the sax on ‘Right Now’ leads back to jazz, its beats lead purposefully to the club. The crazy thought it me that if you could connect Waajeed to Stevie Wonder in his jazz influenced period you’d have something very special indeed.
Despite its passion, it’s a highly controlled record. The beats successfully carry the tunes, whether they’re meaty or clicky. It drew me in, hook after hook and beat after beat.
It’s a fresh, powerful statement, one that signals music as a force for change.
Taster Track : Right Now
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