Updated: Mar 27
Civic, Dean Honer and Kevin Pearce, Immersion,James Clarke Five, The Murder Capital, Revelators Sound System, Roge
The Front Runners
Underneath The Lemon Tree - James Clarke Five
No. This is not a jazz record but one of the best slices of gentle indie pop I’ve heard for some time.
James Clarke is quiet, modest and self effacing, a leading light in the beta male songwriting stakes. I love his music. Don’t be taken in by the lightweight lounge style. This is a record with teeth wrapped in velvet, just as the lounge style was for The Specials.
Clarke looks, thinks and writes songs as if the 80s were still with us. In a track such as ‘I’m On My Way’ he sounds like an upgrade to Haircut 101 or if he’s patenting the west coast sound of the Mersey River.
His songs are laced with all that’s good about pop. There’s not particularly anything jangly about it, although he’s lazily categorised as jangle pop. Songs such as ‘Not Near Enough’ and ‘Looking For Parque Tom Jobin’ are perfect nuggets of uncomplicated pop. The tone is one of (Kardomah) cafe society - one for connoisseurs of his back story - redolent of hums of conversation and politely chinked crockery and glassware. He fits right in but, beware the smiling assassin in smart casuals. He’s out to puncture complacency, and does so wonderfully with the anti Brexit song ‘Taking Back Control (In The Middle Of Nowhere’)
Yes, there's some acidity running through ‘Wives and Lovers’ with its refrain of “I hope you die, yes, I hope you die.” and an impressive grasp of increasingly inventive ways that might happen. You know though that he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
And there’s wit too in the gentle, whimsical musical joke of ‘Mr Henry’s In Rude Health’. (Probably shouldn’t dissect the humour if I don’t want to kill it, but it plays on the double meanings of ‘rude’ as in rude health / rude boy).
The record sets such a high bar for composition and arranging, never falling short of its own standards. It’s helped by the lovely production sound which is clear, warm and balanced.
This is a record to play again and again and it fills me with gratitude for life and music.
Taster Track : Taking Back Control (In The Middle Of Nowhere)
Nanocluster, Vol 1 : Immersion
Collaborative, chilled electronica. Everyone on this album adds something special to the mix.
Less an integrated album, this brings together four three track EPs made in collaboration between Immersion and Tarwater, Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab. Ulrich Schnauss ( formerly found dreaming in tangerine) and Scanner. You could call it Krautrock as in Krautrocking the cradle gently.
Immersion are a duo grown from experimental and post punk roots to show us where the best kind of chill music has brought us. It washes over you as it did when Air and Roksopp were at their peak. None of these tracks push at you or pester you to like them. They flow past, taking you with them.
Tarwater are another duo, and they meld with Immersion perfectly. ‘Ripples’ is the kind of music a musically kind company would use as their switchboard hold music. You wouldn’t mind waiting as long as it took with this music. ‘Mrs Wood’ is eerier but addictive with vocals from a man seemingly approaching you in deep sleep and beckoning you to follow him who knows where. ‘All You Cat Lovers’ is beguiling with its “ooh, ooh, ooh” backing and the surprisingly moving synthesised horn.
The best passage of the album is in the tracks featuring Laetitia Sadier. Her voice is light, tripping across a selection of electronica absolutely buzzing and shining with positivity. Take the refrain from ‘Riding The Wave’:
“Thinking, hoping, wishing, dreaming
Things have a way of working out.
Rising, falling, waking, feeling
Things have a way of working out.”
The music is as warm and comforting as the lyrics.
Ulrich Schnauss was around at the peak of chill, sending out wave after wave of Ibizan beats and melody. He does the same here and although his contribution perhaps fades more into the background, he makes it a highly pleasant place to be.
On paper the collaboration with Scanner, a German power metal band, is a meeting of opposed forces. It works though as it takes the album into darker tones ofa brooding atmosphere.
This is feel good electronica at its best. It feels like an album sharing the best of all partners involved in making it. It’s an album you’ll want to share too.
Taster Track : Riding The Wave
The Chasing Pack
Taken By Force : Civic
High speed Australian punk doesn’t come much better than this.
Civic’s second album doubles down on the strengths of the first. It’s filled with insouciant swagger and attitude, with a nonchalance that’s free from concerns, worries and guilt. Take them as they are. They don’t care if you don’t but they’re not looking to change. It’s the sound of a band relishing their position and making the most of it.
It’s not often that an album cover is able to capture the feel of the music within so exactly. ‘Taken By Force’ shows a surfer on a mountainous sea, cresting a surging swell of noise. The surfer is poised to pounce, his fierce, manic unblinking eyes suggesting forces within that are barely within his control.
It’s an album in a hurry. If you ignore the lumbering ‘Trick of the Light’ that clocks in at over five minutes, and the oddly likeable but strangely throbbing three minutes of breaking waves that closes the album in ‘Dusk’ you’re left with nine songs in 22 minutes. This is a throwback to the days of 1977 when a headlining band was on stage and off in around 35 minutes. In coffee terms it’s a Macchiato as far from a milky Latte as you can get.
The album places you on high alert from the off, with the sirens and military drumming of ‘Dawn’ leaving you in no doubt about what to expect. ‘Fly Song’ is typical, lasting just as long as it needs to and not a note longer. The songs feel cliched in a good way with titles such as ‘End of the Line’, ‘Born In the Heat’ and ‘Blood Rushes’ fully delivering the adrenaline rush of the best two and a half minute punk. The playing throughout is as tight as an overstretched hamstring.
Civic have avoided the curse of second album syndrome. If you look back at some of the great third punk albums - The Jam ‘All Mod Cons’ and The Clash ‘London Calling’ to name just two - the omens are good for their future.
Taster Track : Blood Rushes
The Sound of Science : Dean Honer and Kevin Pearce
This is a truly bizarre merger of science and synth pop that is, nevertheless, a lot of fun.
This album is a forty minute science lesson you can’t escape, fronted by a mad but amiable professor. In twelve tracks you’ll be bombarded with facts about photosynthesis, global warming, gravity, the solar system and the elemements, sorry the elements. It’s a GCSE science syllabus condensed into just one period before lunch. It’s a science lesson you can’t escape, strapped in your seat and bombarded with facts and sound.
Make the most of the opening minute or so. It’s as musical as it comes concentrating on early Depeche Mode synths rather than effects, a swirl of music plinking its way into being. From there on, it’s as if the stopper has been dislodged from the bottle and a genie is running riot with the effects switches, hyper charging the music with unstoppable force.
Showing myself to be an attentive listener, it takes almost four hours for light to reach us from Neptune. It takes no more than four minutes to realise that Homer and Pearce are trying and succeeding with a number of different things on this album. They’re providing facts at a rate exceeded only by the Encyclopedia Britannica. They’re capturing the wonder of scientific understanding and discovery. In the list of elements in ‘These Are The Elemements’ and the enunciation of the alternative forms of sustainable energy in ‘Global Warning 04:22 they are infecting us with their love of scientific language. And, of course, they’re making music.
That music is epic, almost operatic, full of choirs of disciples and children doing full justice to science. The beats and rhythms are urgent, the voices are evangelical and the synth riff melodies are earworms designed to stick like atoms around a nucleus. It is also highly accessible while maxing its manic energy up to 11.
Intensive learning has never been this much fun. Synth pop has never been this full of hyper excitement.
Taster Track : Black Hole Sagittarius A*
Gigi’s Recovery : The Murder Capital
The Murder Capital follows the path trod by Fontaines DC and others. This time it’s personal.
You can’t fault the intensity of these songs, nor the effort invested in making them stand out from the crowd. It’s a brave collection, not seeking to please. It offers strong medicine without a spoonful of sugar to help it go down.
Songs like these are the anti matter of pop. The vocals are deadening, the music is complex. It lacks the passion of their peers and as a result the magic touches that would broaden its appeal.
A song like ‘Crying’ is an undeniably thrilling accumulation of noise but it’s defiantly focused on impact and textures rather than melody and tunes. ‘Ethel’ is sung in a raging stream of consciousness against a musical squall. It’s more finessed than punk but in ‘The Stars Will Have Their Stage’ there’s something of an artier construction too.
These introspective, personal songs bring poetry out of dark matter. In their wilful avoidance of commercial tricks and techniques then, like Radiohead, they’re reliant on fan loyalty to bring their music to a wider audience. Even in the quieter moments of, say, ‘Belonging’, there’s a palpable sense of menace.
So, if The Murder Capital’s intransigence in shunning easy melodies and choruses makes them more Radiohead than radio friendly, they are a Radiohead stripped of any glistening moments of almost unbearable beauty. That makes them hard to ignore but difficult to like.
Taster Track : Exist
Revelators : Revelators Sound System
There’s lots to take in with this album of free flowing jazz. Some of it is quite good.
Revelator Sound System describe their music as “woozy avant funk, spiritual jazz, spacy minimalism and dubwise ambience.” There’s a complicated explanation of avant funk on Wikipedia linking it back to the days of post punkers turning to the dance floor. The equivalent page for spiritual jazz begins by saying that it’s difficult to explain this musically. Enter ‘spacy minimalism’ into Google and you’re faced with articles and images for all things architectural. As for ‘dubwise ambience’ they may have made that one up.
Pitchfork’s 7/10 review alerts you that this record “drifts between moments of tranquility and cosmic dissonance” A few minutes into the opening track ‘Grieving’ and a spot of that tranquility sounded quite welcome. (The full Pitchfork review is Revelators Sound System)
The album arrives busily and at speed, like Formula One cars navigating the opening bend at a Grand Prix. It’s not allowing you to settle, moving steadily to mayhem and chaos before an abrupt gear shift midway through as if lining up behind the safety car.
A more plausible description may be that the track traces the grieving cycle and the external busyness and internal reflections acting on you in times of grief.
This is one of those albums with squelchy effects and fading transitions that sound great through headphones, but if you were listening to it live you may not know when to start clapping.
The throb that opens ‘Bury The Bell’ is at one with the reminders from my throbbing head of not enough sleep the night before. Notes bend and stretch avoiding direct contact with melody. To misquote Grandmaster Flash, it’s like a jumble in there and makes me wonder how I keep from going under. Ultimately it’s music that creates an atmosphere rather than taking you on a journey.
Final track ‘George The Revelator’ finally settles down, its musical squiggles hypnotically relaxing and refreshing the spirit as it progresses.
These are tracks that feel like extended jams and contain phrases and brief passages that are intriguing. It’s not quite enough.
Taster Track : George The Revelator
Curyman : Roge
Billed as the sound of modern Braziliana, this is a record to warm the heart and wash away your cares.
I listened to this record on International Day of Happiness. It’s a suitable soundtrack. It transports you to a sunny beach picnic around a small fire with friends. There’s sand in the food but it doesn’t matter. You’re wrapped in the sound of acoustic guitars, pipes and makeshift percussion and beats.
On some tracks, strings are upfront, darting and soaring like small birds from the land. ‘Retumbar Do Meu Tambar’ conjures up the sounds of animals at rest and play in the rain forests. They’re not a threat though. You’re safe and you’re happy.
The album is sung in Portugese. The romance of foreign tongues is seductive. Calling a song ‘Retumbar Do Meu Tambar’ has a resonance lacking from the indigestion suggesting English translation - ‘Rumble of My Drum’. ‘Se Eu For Falar de Amor’ just sounds better than ‘If I Talk About Love’.
The album gets off to a false start with ‘Pra Vida’. It’s 20 seconds of classical jazz and flamenco guitar before it trips into three minutes of perfect beach pop. ‘Eu Gosto Dela’ (“I Like Her’ - honestly, no comparison!) bounces along with a smile on its face. Even the quieter moments feel like eavesdropping on a late night conversation sharing private thoughts and celebrating the day just gone.
Roge is described in his Spotify bio as the artist taking classic Brazilian music into the future. That’s as may be, but his songs are nevertheless timeless. He doesn’t play the bossa nova or the samba of the dancefloor, but a grainier version rooted in communities. His songs haven’t been smoothed out in the studio. They’re like pointillist paintings - see the cover for an example - with the different elements like tiny dots with warm colouring.
This is an album that’s as at home with the authentic, early version of the Gipsy Kings as it is with the chilled waterfront vibe of an Ibizan cafe. As we enter Spring, use it to get ready for Summer.
Taster Track : Eu Gosto Dela
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