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Sunset Rising


James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg, John Bramwell, John Douglas, Lime Garden, Oppenheimer Mk II, Swim Deep, Thomas Walsh,

The Show Horse

There’s A Big Star Outside : Swim Deep

Swim Deep’s collection of luxurious pop has real substance and feels destined to hang around for a while.

Surprisingly it takes some confidence to style yourself a pop band. Somehow that label comes with greater expectations than any of pop’s sub-genres. It's like competing in the London Marathon rather than your town’s annual cross country event. Swim Deep may not be a contender for first place, but they’re certainly in the elite runners group.

From the off, Swim Deep show they have all the melodies and song writing skills that combine lightness and depth and mark out the perfect pop song. You might expect a quintet to make more noise. They don’t need to. Swim Deep make songs to hold an audience in rapt attention as they sway gently and, perhaps, hold hands.

There is a sadness at the core of this album from this early couplet in ‘How Many Love Songs Have Died In Vegas?’

“There's some times I wouldn't want back

And others I would like”

Or consider the quietly epic vulnerability that closes the album on ‘Fire Surrounds’ with the constantly repeated refrain of  “Just don’t break my heart”. 

As a very good pop band, Swim Deep carry the echoes of pop’s past. Those echoes may be faint but they’re strong enough to locate the band in the realm of all that’s been good about pop over the decades. 

Austin Williams’ vocals sound like the younger brother of Greg Gonzalez from Cigarettes After Sex, heartfelt and clinging on to love and relationships. At one point I found myself wondering if this is what it would sound like if Phil Spector had written shoegaze ballads.

Pop’s a broad church and Swim Deep show us that it doesn’t have to be frothy and insubstantial but something you can return to over and over again.

Taster Track : Fire Surrounds

The Front Runners

All Gist : James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg

This is a collaboration between two excellent classical / roots guitarists that works brilliantly.

There have been times recently when I’ve listened to something that simply hasn’t worked first thing in the morning. It doesn’t happen very often, but this album is payback for those times. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.

It's a gentle study in traditional guitar music, with very few additions, that at times floats into ambient music. That’s certainly the case with ‘Long In The Tooth Again’. The album is almost one seamless piece of music. It’s an album where the consistency of tone is its great strength. Sit down and enjoy the gentle ride for as long as it takes.

As you listen, close your eyes and let your thoughts wander freely where they will, even to places you’ve never visited. I was transported to a Canadian porch, in the first warmth of Spring. It’s music to fill companionable silences on a weekend daytime with nothing much to do.

The collaboration works beautifully. Elkington and Salsburg’s guitars  fingerpick their way around each other like electrons circling protons in perfectly balanced attraction. There’s a real sense on tracks like ‘All Gist Could Be Yours’ that they’re playing for their own pleasure as well as ours. The album is almost one seamless piece of music, what you might hear if Radio 3 started to play pop.

The tunes are a mix of originals and covers, but it’s hard to tell them apart. The best known cover is Neneh Cherry’s ‘Buffalo Stance’ but it’s beautifully deconstructed into something that carries echoes of the song only, like happy memories only half grasped.

Often it seems that without stand out melodies, an album such as this becomes a study in technique, and excludes those unable to appreciate its skill. That trap is avoided here. It’s a highly inclusive album welcoming everyone who wants to stray into its orbit.

Find a quiet time and space and treat yourselves. You won’t regret it.

Taster Track : Long In The Tooth Again

The Light Fantastic : John Bramwell

Those of you who know John Bramwell from his cynical and brooding days of I Am Kloot or his more recent solo work are in for a surprise. Whisper it quietly, but he’s come over all cheerful!

We hear the John Bramwell of old in just one song and that’s ‘Illegalised’. Four lines setting a defeated context followed by a continuing refrain of the title. Even here though he’s accompanied by a female backing vocalist and the whole tone is less intense than of oldl. It’s also reassuring that it’s one of the best songs on the album. We wouldn’t want the old Bramwell to be discarded as having headed down the wrong path for 25 years or so!

You’ll be struck by a surprising 60s feel that’s replaced the grittier tone of old. The image flashed through my mind of a packed field at an outdoor Summer Festival where everyone’s wearing bright floral shirts. It’s disconcerting, like realising you’ve met someone special for the first time. I don’t have a detailed knowledge of that era’s singer songwriter stars, but I reckon that if you like Traffic, Love or Paul Simon’s early solo work you won’t be disappointed by this.

Lyrically he’s not lost his ability to skewer a scene with the perfect phrase. “Corporate penguins,”, “Allelujah angels” - he’s worth listening to for the images alone. And I loved the line in ‘Leave No Traces’ “A slow train to nowhere fast”.

This is an album where he’s shuffled off the sense of being alone in a dark place. The presence of others is evident in the four piece harmonies that litter the album. Strings are everywhere doing what they do best, lightening the songs and helping them to soar. Both guitar and vocals seem to be in a higher register than before. The guitar is less stark, more embellished.

‘It’s Just You’ is a straightforward love song. ‘I Feel Me’ trips along in a happy blend of rhythms and ideas. The pauses and effects on ‘Days Go By’ are the sound of someone enjoying the freedom of making music in a different way. It’s acapella too. Yes, you read that right.

All told, this is a quiet revelation of a record and one to have on repeat.

Taster Track : Illegalised

John Douglas : John Douglas

John Douglas is a founding member of Trashcan Sinatras and the husband of Eddi Reader. He’s drawn inspiration and ideas from both those sources in this stripped back and intimate acoustic set.

We read from time to time about the shock of the new. This album is more about the shock of the old in its traditional approach to writing and recording music. These songs were recorded in a single four hour session with no overdubs. As a result, as soon as you hear the opening track ‘Lost’ you feel directly connected to its emotions, thoughts and feelings. It’s music on the brink of tears that drives the world away. In this album, less is more and much more powerful.

This is a small, quiet album. His guitar playing is absorbing, easy for him and us to lose ourselves in. His voice is mellow and mature with just a hint of smokiness. On tour you’d expect to find him playing these songs in small art centres to an appreciative crowd. Listening at home it’s easy to imagine he’s playing directly and only to you.

Inevitably there’s a folk influence at play. Eddi Reader is a staunch folkie and one of Douglas’ day jobs is as the guitarist for her backing band. It’s heard in the choice of some of the songs, particularly ‘Maid of the Loch’ and ‘The Sleeping Policeman’. But let’s face it, any man with just an acoustic guitar is going to be nudged into the folk bracket but when the songs are performed with the sensitivity and genuine love for music as they are here, genre ceases to be relevant. 

This is a personal album. The interpretation of covers such as Prefab Sprout’s ‘We Let The Stars Go’ allows him to make the songs his own. My all time favourite song is the Trashcan Sinatras ‘Weightlifting’. Almost inconceivably, his version does it complete justice. The last song ‘Always’ is a touching love song, sung directly to his wife. If I had 1% of his honest ability to express his love and feelings in words, Valentines Day messages would never again be a problem!

Above all this album is an opportunity to switch off from bustle and revel in the stripped back purity that captures the emotional heart of songs.

Taster Track : Lost

The Rest Is History : Thomas Walsh

Just what the weatherman ordered - an album full of sunshine pop full of melody, harmonising and as easy on the ear as the offer of a chilled beer.

This is the kind of album that provides a taste of summer, even if the weather lets you down. Its biggest influence is the music of the 60s and pre-punk 70s on the west coast of America. It’s a nostalgic version of an idealised past - how we want to remember it rather than how it actually was. It’s underpinned by a warm longing too - California as longed for from the wet west coast of Ireland.

It’s a feast of swooning melodies and dreamy harmonies, impossible to dislike. Yes, there are some light psychedelic overtones to songs such as ‘All This Hurt’ and ‘Everyone Back In The Water’ but they don’t swamp the album.

The cover captures the feel of the album. It’s full of bright, smiling people, the picture of how music can bring people together and create a community of song.

Back in the day you would have had no hesitation in describing this as radio friendly pop. Sadly, I’m not sure where you would find a station playing this kind of thing nowadays except, of course, on Royal Borough Radio on Sunday evenings 18:00 to 20:00. (Shameless plug!). The songs have an ease to them that makes for perfect entry level pop  but also enough sophistication to tempt more discerning listeners.

There used to be a record label called ‘Music For Pleasure’. In name, it’s made for these songs.

Taster Track : Love In A Circumstance

The Chasing Pack

One More Thing : Lime Garden

Lime Garden are one of the buzz bands at the moment. This album helps to show why.

Each musical generation stakes its claim to a music of its own. Often it’s a reaction to what’s around it, just as post punk came to off-set the poppier new wave and Britpop played alongside a harsher, rockier alter ego. Lime Garden have consciously set off down a road that leads away from glossy chart pop to reflect real life in all its complicated and messy entirety. This is music for a generation, and of a generation too.

The band describe what they do as wonky pop. I hear that , but it’s a version without much sunshine and lightness of spirit. It’s a slowed down version, either a pause for thought or reflecting a struggle with life. 

I wouldn’t describe this as gritty. We’re not in food bank or extreme poverty territory here. This is driven by existential concerns and the anxiety and stress of modern living for a generation trying to make its own way.

It’s a serious and complicated business and that’s reflected in the music. It’s full of downbeat melodies. Songs feel as if they have been designed and constructed , but they’ve become modernist buildings rather than quaint, picture box cottages.

Musical lines weave and wind through each other thoughtfully in ‘I Want To Be You’.‘Love Song’ is a satisfying slow build of alternative pop. The closest they come to classic pop’s toolbox is the vocoder on ‘Floor'. They use it well and it makes for a song that doesn’t compromise their sound but adds to it.

It’s an album with a substance that belies its 30 minute running time. Lime Garden are here to stay.

Taster Track : Floor

The Presence of the Abnormal : Oppenheimer Mk 11

Synthpop from 2013 that wishes it was back in a sixth form from the 1980s.

I wanted to like this so much. 1980s synthpop. That’s my era. Update it to include the added dance influences from the 90s and later, and build in the added quality and technical developments a few years into a new millennium and you’re surely in for a treat.

So why is this 52 minute opus so flat?

Immediate impressions are of a less industrial Depeche Mode, but one that could benefit from some industrial best practice to be less clunky. What should be a thing of excitement and joy, even beauty, is like a swan straining to achieve flight velocity and take off.

Lyrically it’s the embryonic musings of a 17 year old misfit struggling with the first glimmerings of self-absorbed self awareness. Maybe I’m being harsh, but judge for yourself with these typical lines from ‘Be A Star’.

“When I met you

I just knew

That you’d be a star

And now you are.”

He’s a poet and he does not know it! Unintentionally these songs verge towards the style of ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ parodies.

Vocally it’s a strange mish mash of alienated and barely functioning youth. Lyrics are intoned as if they’re not quite sure where they fit in the line, and the singer is having to concentrate hard to make sure they fit in the right place. Unfortunately the songs drag as a result.

Musically, it’s in a better space. It’s pretty consistent from track to track and there’s not much light and shade in evidence but there are the occasional trips and flourishes to adorn a basic rhythm track and musical spine. There are definite shades of early Human League, but back in their day the sound was new and original. It was less so in 2013. You can hear the Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell in places too, but shorn of their arch humour.

All in all these sound like the first faltering steps of a sound that others will come to execute much better, and that is 35 years late for the party.

Taster Track : Action Man


As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at or via the Spotify link on the Home Page.


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