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Summer Rain, And The Puddles Of Perfect Pop

Starring


Andy White and Tim Finn, Crowded House, David Boulter, Juliana Hatfield, Salt Cathedral, Sour Ops, Stumbleine, Tiny Ruins


The Show Horse


Evangeline : Sour Ops


Sour Ops are a Nashville band who understand the value of straightforward, riff based melodic indie rock with great choruses,


There’s so much music out there trying to carve out a different niche, wanting to demonstrate a unique selling point. I wouldn’t be without it, but Sour Ops remind me why it’s important not to lose touch with the kind of music you already love. Self improvement is admirable, but indulging in what you love is where undiluted pleasure lies.


This is a record that contains the vital components of all great indie pub rock. It has a simplicity unspoiled by unnecessary production touches. It’s the sound of a proper band, each contributing to the mix. The songs are built around solid riffs, and they have massive, catchy choruses. It’s garage roots rock without the scuzziness.


They are keen not to be painted as wimpy. Well there’s not much chance of that. These songs may jangle with the best of the C86 generation but they also rock with the power of an AC/DC. Think of the melody of 90s Teenage Fanclub, wrapped up in the rock and roll energy of Eddie and the Hot Rods and nestling up to the glam rock of Kiss. Vocally there’s also a splash of Tom Petty in the stew. They’re a band that succeed in their mission to put the power into power pop.


Stand out tracks include “Evangeline’, ‘Don’t Make Me Go Down There’ and ‘How Rock and Roll You Are’. They share something special - a love of great music alchemised into pure listening pleasure.


Sour Ops provide great Friday night rock and roll, or even Saturday morning music to shake away the hungover cobwebs. 


Taster Track : Evangeline


PS : Evangeline is available from 12th July 2024. YouTube track not available for now but will be added at the end of the week


The Front Runners


St Ann’s : David Boulter


This is special. It’s David Boulter’s collection of personal memories of the Nottingham council estate where he spent his childhood, enshrined in a collection of beautiful instrumentals.


That setting for the album may sound unpromising. Why would you want to spend 45 minutes listening to someone’s impressions of their childhood in a place you probably don’t know? Because, he types confidently, from the moment you hear the playground singing that opens ‘Plantagenet Street In The Morning’ you’ll be given the gift of time and space to pursue your own memories. 


These pieces capture those rare moments where a sight, sound or scent takes you back to your past. Time pauses and you hold your breath because the memories you summon up are precious and you don’t want to let them slip from your grasp. 


The trigger may be the church bells  of ‘Along The Saint Ann’s Wall Road’ or the traffic and birdsong of ‘Pebble Dash and Green Grass’. Perhaps it comes from the echo on the keyboard, the atmosphere from the background drone or the slow, simple guitar melody of ‘Plantagenet Street In The Morning’. It could be the way the strings surge emotionally through the album. Maybe it’s simply in the way he picks up the pace slightly in ‘A New St Anns’ as if bringing you back to the present day. 


It’s therapeutic, calm and haunting, an album full of quiet beauty distilled into a mesmerising musical form.


Taster Track : Plantagenet Street In The Morning




Before It’s Gone : Salt Cathedral


Salt Cathedral offer something appealingly different in their blend of light touch electronica and sensitivity to rhythms. 


They’re a duo, Colombian born and raised in New York - Juliana Ronderos upfront and Nicolas Losada taking care of the backroom. That mix of the exotic and the exciting fuels the music here. That’s exciting as in being in the presence of new possibilities, not in the sense of Indiana Jones battling snakes and Nazis.


This is music with its own character, serious but a little off the beaten track too. It’s an intriguing and different listen, gently individual like Lavender Diamond and carefully planned to be that way like Kate Bush. It’s a delight to hear something that is inventive and creative without seeming to try too hard and falling back on alienating experimentation. They sound as much at home in the world of indie pop as they would be standing in front of a microphone to sing acapella.


The strength of these songs comes from their feel for rhythm. It’s as if all the world’s music has been dipped into, and stirred into something new. It’s an electronic record that doesn’t sound like one. Everything about this album is discreet, restrained and a perfect distillation of their approach to music.


There’s something of the quality of birds in song to ‘Cellphone’. There’s a sense in ‘Strong Emotions’ that if she wanted to, Ronderos could be a giantess of dance. There’s a subtlety at play that allows them to achieve impact without being too much in your face. ‘Thinking (‘Bout You, ‘Bout Me)’ makes you want to dance, It doesn’t bludgeon you out to the dance floor.


This is a record and a sound that suits Summer. Don’t let it pass you by.


Taster Track : Off The Walls




Deleted Scene : Stumbleine


In a few words - gorgeous, haunting electronica with an enigma at its core.


Who is the woman on the cover? She sums up the album’s atmosphere perfectly. She’s hazily presented, as if dimly remembered. She seems to be staring out to sea but whether she’s watching a loved one leave or searching fruitlessly for a loved one to return. 


I had assumed that the foremost vocals on the album are from that woman. However, Stumbleaine is Bristolian producer Peter Cooper and, without the benefit of a press release, I believe it’s his electronically treated voice that you hear throughout. If that’s the case, he duets with himself on some tracks, including ‘Ursa Minor Sleeps Forever’.


That’s significant because the vocals are key to this album. Without them we have a Moby-esque feel from his ‘Play’ period, extremely listenable but ultimately safe and unstirring. With the vocals, as on ‘Rose Tinted Smile’, you’re transported to another place through the sound of someone calling you through light static from another galaxy with memories you thought had been left behind.

This isn’t an album for daytime or social listening but for solitary reflection. It’s electronica that ebbs and flows to create something beautifully atmospheric. Its beats may be described as fractured but it’s a little more than that. They’re stumbling, battling to get through. Songs like ‘I Can Stop Anytime I Like’, ‘Cinderhaze’, ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ and ‘Somnia’ have a quality that lingers.


Deleted Scene is a lovely, unhurried, ethereal album that somehow soothes and saddens at the same time.


Taster Track : Cinderhaze




The Chasing Pack


AT : Andy White, Tim Finn


A collaboration between Andy White, Irish songwriter and one time artist on Stiff’s roster and Tim Finn, New Zealand pop supremo with Split Enz and Crowded House as well as a long history as a solo performer and collaborator. If you think that means good songwriting is on the way, you won’t be wrong.


This is a good album from start to finish. It’s fair to say that it’s unlikely to set the world alight. It doesn’t need to. The glossy, high performance corporate megaliths will tell you that’s what they are there for. This, though, is an album that will make your world a warmer place.


It’s an album that has a pace that is as steady as it goes. They’re the kind of songs that never grow old but, equally, are never truly in fashion either. They’re for people who aren’t obsessed with the next big thing but who appreciate songs like ‘Bundle of Their Dreams’ that draw you into a story


Maybe it’s a 60 something thing, but many of these songs have an emotional core of sadness. Or maybe it was listening to this in a hotel garden in a Salzburg storm sufficiently loud for the rumbling thunder to penetrate my noise reduction headphones  and add a resonance that won’t be available to all.


White and Finn fit together well. Tim Finn sounds older but that means that the songs take on a father / grown up son aspect. Finn’s well worn voice and White’s vocals that are still in their pure prime make an attractive combination. 


‘The Sea Holds The Memory’ has classic singer songwriter melodies washing all over you. There are echoes of a tempered and restrained Split Enz on ‘Warrior of Love’, but the louder echoes are of the storytelling tradition that goes back centuries.


It’s an easy album to like, but it’s the magic in the voices and melodies that will tempt you back.


Taster Track : Bundle of Their Dreams




Gravity Stairs : Crowded House.


This is a Crowded House album, so you know what to expect, right? You won’t be disappointed.


We all need comfort listening, the kind of melodic pop that’s easy on the ear but with enough to hold interest. Well, it’s here. You can safely anticipate not a note to dislike, not a moment that disturbs. 


The issue for Crowded House is that they’re too easy to like to be cool. That’s a sad refection on people like me. It makes them a guilty pleasure and they deserve more than that. I suspect it won’t be changing any time soon and, more to the point, I suspect that they are content with that.


They’re some of the nicest guys in rock and pop. I remember Neil Finn at Cardiff Top Rank with Split Enz in 1980 / 1981, pleading with the bouncers not to eject an over boisterous member of the audience, claiming him as a cousin to try to prevent the inevitable. Now they’re playing at the O2 and won’t even be able to notice disturbances in the crowd. 


And that’s the root of my only issue with this. They’ve lost the smallness that kept them special in the UK, that made them a delicious secret that passed most people by. It hit home that Neil Finn has been playing with Fleetwood Mac, thinking bigger and becoming smoother. These songs feel like ones that have been written while he needed to wind down after their shows. That’s not a bad thing, but they’re smoother and rock less.


‘I Can’t Keep Up With You’ hints at the kind of song that could whip up an audience, but it stands alone. ‘Some Greater Plan (for Claire)’ is truly lovely and it rocks, but like a cradle rocks to a lullaby.


This is for people at parties who seek out the quiet room in a crowded house.


Taster Track : Some Greater Plan (For Claire)




Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO - Juliana Hatfield


If ever there was an album that delivered what it said on the cover, this is it. Well, not the entire catalogue of ELO obviously but a selection of their songs sung and played with warmth and affection.


Juliana Hatfield is an American alternative power pop musician. It’s a truism that good songs can survive fairly rough treatments. A host of Friday night local bands and karaoke parties are testimony to that.  Part of the appeal here is how one lo-fi, sharp, almost abrasive sound gives way to the lush sounds of Jeff Lynne’s heavily orchestrated songs. It works well.


This isn’t a new idea. Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet built an extensive catalogue diving into the songs of the 60s and 70s. Hatfield herself has recorded tributes to Olivia Newton John and The Police. There will be some who see this as a lazy way to get an album out there. I prefer to see it as a charming acknowledgement that pure pop deserves to be celebrated.


It helps that there are some less obvious choices here to attract listeners who only know ELO through their Greatest Hits packages. The covers show that at the core of their sound was some good, old-fashioned rock and roll - ‘Sweet Is The Night’, ‘Ordinary Dream’ and ‘From The End Of The World’ for example. 


Despite the need for completely different arrangements, the songs remain true to the originals. That’s both the fun of this album and its weakness. It’s more likely to push you back to ELO rather than encourage you to explore Juliana’s wider work. You could commend its selflessness for that! 


I liked the way on ‘Strange Magic’ that her backing vocals take the part of Jeff Lynne’s strings. It’s a nice touch, a friendly make do approach. Vocally she sounds a lot like Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles and that’s the best touchstone I can offer you.


This is a nice, safe collection of songs, the work of someone who has never lost her first love for the pop of her youth. Perhaps it is a little self-indulgent but, if so, it’s self indulgence with popular appeal. 


Taster Track : Strange Magic




Ceremony : Tiny Ruins


This gentle and unassuming record oozes calm loveliness. It’s a record that few will dislike and many could love.


It didn’t take long for me to classify this in the Joni Mitchell / Laurel Canyon category, even though Tiny Ruins come from New Zealand. That impression hit me even though I haven’t listened to much of either camp. It simply felt right.


The cover looks Mitchellesque but it’s more than that. It’s quietly strummed but full of touches that fill out the sound. Is that a farfisa organ you can hear towards the end of ‘Dogs Dreaming’? 


They describe themselves as an ensemble, not a band. You can hear that subtle difference in their music. It’s polished and cultured, floating gently through like dandelion spores on a warm and gentle breeze.


This is an album that calms you. It’s music for hushed, respectful audiences that value song structures and prettiness above singalong melodies. Don’t expect to see their fans with mobile phone torches alight and swaying in the air at their shows, They'll have been switched off and consigned to pockets or handbags before the show starts in the knowledge that these songs will reward their full attention.


In songs like ‘Out of Phase’ melodies grow into being. By the end you’ll know you’ve been listening to a good song. ‘Dear Annie’ sounds introspective. It’s not improvised exactly but sung almost to herself. Her voice is both understanding and wise in the ways of her world.


All this is good. And yet my personal response holds me back from raving about the album, just as I hold back from loving Joni Mitchell. For all its undoubted merits it remains just a little too close to background music for me.


Taster Track : In Light Of Everything



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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