Updated: Oct 16, 2022
Alabaster DePlume, Bonobo, The Comet Is Coming, Nightlands, Onsloow, Parekh and Singh, Pye Corner Audio
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Warmth Of The Sun : Pye Corner Audio
This is the climax of 'Let's Emerge'. It's the track that brings Pye Corner Audio out of himelf a little, with help from Ride's Andy Bell. This is the kind of blissed up electronica that Hot Chip do so well, or that Underworld nail in their quieter less beat driven moments.
Let’s Emerge : Pye Corner Audio
Pye Corner Audio’s new album, made partly in collaboration with Ride / Glok’s Andy Bell, is a gorgeous, calming collection of pure electronica.
This is an album for settling and grounding yourself. It came as a surprise then, to learn that Pye Corner Audio, have supported Mogwai on tour. On the face of it, their quiet, warm and caressing music is a million miles from the distorted noise of Mogwai, even allowing for their calmer melodic interludes.
But think about this more deeply and you can hear the connection. Both acts use sound, mood, atmosphere and texture as their driving forces and both acts need you to give yourself up fully to them. Listening to Pye Corner Audio Is like immersing yourself in a remote, naturally heated Alpine pool, a combination of comfort in being alone and the sense of being part of something bigger. It’s music for a cathedral, whether man made or natural.
I was surprised how emotional the music of Pye Corner Audio proved to be. The opening track, ‘De-Hibernate’ is built around a two note bass line, the gap between the notes deliberately unevenly spaced. The music grows and flourishes above it but when the two notes disappear five minutes in, you feel bereft as if the heartbeat of the song has stopped.
In the past I’ve found Pye Corner Audio to be a noodly outfit. Here, the music is totally accessible, fully formed, and continually and unhurriedly shape shifting. Tracks mesmerise like the sight of a flashing lighthouse across a clear, calm sea.
There’s more energy in ‘Warmth Of The Sun’ which closes the album with a sonic footprint that captures the spirit of the album as a whole. Whilst not typical of the earlier tracks, it comes across as a blissed out Underworld. This may be the influence of Andy Bell. If so, he’s served Pye Corner Audio well.
This is a special album that restores and delights in equal measure.
Taster Track : De-Hibernate
....And The Rest
Gold : Alabaster DePlume
Alabaster DePlume is a one off. He’s a jazz saxophonist who’s also a poet and he combines both talents here to happy effect.
It’s probably my stuff, but I sense that many who read this will not regard themselves as jazz fans. I suspect too that adding poetry to the mix is not going to persuade them to listen. That’s a shame because this is an album that’s full of surprises and positivity. It’s not unique, but it’s not a sound that I’ve experienced often in the past.
Jazz and poetry are well suited bedfellows. DePlume has an unusual approach to bringing them together. He brings together musicians at short notice and prefers them to improvise through responding to each other rather than by rehearsing themselves into fixed positions. He doesn’t mind working with completely different musicians on each track either. The result is a sonic landscape you can immerse yourself in, without knowing what might be just around the corner. The rhythms of his poetry match the collective rhythms of his jazz. The music punctuates the verse adding its own commentary.
DePlume has a powerful spirit. It’s a mixture of passion and compassion, eccentricity and encouragement. He knows about human weaknesses (‘I’m Good At Not Crying’) and he believes in the strength of individuals (‘Don’t Forget You’re Precious’) Reading the titles on this album gives you a flavour of what he’s like but they can’t do justice to the richness of his words and the empathy of his sentiments.
It’s true that his delivery is a little heavy on the style but you get used to it. It’s also true that the jazz here is more challenging and less melodic than it can be. If you hear it as a soundtrack to the poems it makes more sense. It may be improvised, but it’s certainly not noodly. It’s jazz that is fully and carefully assembled.
‘A Gente Acaba (Vente En Rosa)’ is a beautifully structured piece, carried along by backing vocals that could be the sirens of classical mythology. They rise to a mild crescendo before fading away, all the while supporting DePlume’s reassuring sax on top. His sax is breathy rather than smooth but it’s just as fluid as it needs to be.
This isn’t an album to listen to every day. It doesn’t have tunes that stick in your brain, but it has words that should lodge in your heart. I listened to this and felt that the world was a better place for having such voices in it.
Taster Track : Don’t Forget You’re Precious
Fragments - Bonobo
For once, an album title is misleading. Bonobo’s latest album isn’t made up of fragments but is a fully realised and strong collection of the chilled electronica that made his name. We can, however, judge this album by its cover. Its colour, light and swelling fluidity describes the music well.
Bonobo is Simon Green, a musician, producer and DJ who grew out of Trip Hop into something more distinct. He features on a Spotify playlist called 4AM Chillout. It’s the perfect home for him, and if you want to hear more of this kind of music it’s 4AM Chillout.
His music swirls and wraps itself around you. It builds and evolves across five minutes or so, never travelling the same path twice. It’s never formless. It’s more like being up close to a huge pastel coloured painting that fills your vision so you can’t see (or hear!) beyond it. The album works best as a whole. Individual tracks can only provide a flavour rather than convey the whole in miniature.
This is soothing music and a little melancholic. A song like ‘Tides’ holds you reassuringly from feeling sadder and sinking further, without lifting you up. It differs from the melancholic chilled music of, say, Royksopp because it’s more reliant on beats. I call them ‘beats’. It may be more accurate to describe them as skittering taps. The bass on ‘Elysian’ reminds us that Bonobo has a jauntier, poppier side too. It’s kept in check here, but that means there's more unity of tone and that’s a good thing.
It’s gently exotic too. It feels as if it could come from a community of monks, living in an isolated Incan temple on top of an inaccessible mountain top rising out of the jungle. Perhaps Bonobo has spent time writing his music on top of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Machu Picchu - as seen on TV
(That makes me sound like a knowledgeable, well travelled person. I saw it on the telly.) Several of the tracks, including ‘Otomo' and ‘Age Of Phase’, are carried along on the back of chants. It’s that Incan vibe coming through again.
It may be my memory, but vocals seem to feature more prominently on this album than before. Bonobo’s vocals add much to the tone. They’re pleading with you to believe in his sincerity, a last chance to convince you of something important and heartfelt. It’s heard to excellent effect on ‘Shadows’. Most of his collaborators achieve a similar effect. The exception is ‘From You’ with vocals from Joji. His voice is completely different, and so immersed are you in the overarching tone that they jar just a little, seeming to come from another album. In another context they’d work, but not here.
That slight stumble apart, this album shows Bonobo at his best. It’s intriguing, soothing and a fully conceived thing of beauty.
Taster Track : Shadows
Hyper Dimensional Expansion Beam : The Comet Is Coming
It’s rare to come across an album that is so much in a world of its own that it renders genre irrelevant. The Comet Is Coming’s exhilarating onslaught of drums, saxophone and keyboards has to be heard and felt to be fully appreciated, not read about in a review.
The Comet Is Coming are King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutching) on saxophone, Danalogue (Dan Leavers) on keyboards and Betamax (Max Hallett) on drums. King Shabaka comes from the jazz world; Danalogue and Betamax from the world of rock and clubs. Bringing these three elements together is akin to adding vinegar to bicarbonate of soda. Hear it fizz to the point of exploding.
They’re a band of three strong individuals released to do their own thing free of restraint. If you like they’re Thor, The Hulk and Iron Man without the restraining influence of Captain America. It’s astonishing that all this energy comes from just three people. They must have a fitness regime to prepare for this. I was breathless simply listening to it.
Danalogue provides the keyboard pulse that anchors the tunes and propels tracks such as ‘Frequency Of Feeling Expansion’. Betamax thrashes his drums on ‘Angel Of Darkness’ and elsewhere with the force and range of a giant killer octopus. King Shabaka plays his sax like a lethal weapon. He stabs his way through each track, with ‘Code’ being a prime example.
What they’re doing may be quite experimental. On first sitting it’s hard to get a grip on the music to explore this as it hurtles past. This is music that has the urgency and panic that suggests the comet is not just coming, it’s visible in the sky. It has the energy of an imploding black hole. With its brutal menace It’s the soundtrack to a thousand conspiracy theorists, music that continually sounds as if it’s on the verge of breaking down.
More than any other act I can think of, this is music as a force. There’s little in any genre that can overwhelm you into submission quite like this. It’s an experience that’s akin to the loudest, most intense moments in a club, a climax that can be barely contained within its walls. There’s no let up. Once you join the ride you’re there until it stops.
Did I like this album? It’s an overwhelming experience I wouldn’t have missed.
Taster Track : Code
Moonshine : Nightlands
And now for something completely different. You might think you have an idea of what to expect from this solo debut by The War On Drugs bassist, Dave Hartley, but the chances are you’d be wrong. This heavily synthesised collection is rather sweet and couldn’t be further from the expansive blues rock of his day job.
From the opening track ‘Looking Up’ this album sounds both clever and full of surprises. Whether it’s the treated vocals, the looped sound of dogs barking and birdsong (‘Down Here’) or any number of tracks that sound and feel like a next step in synthesised music this is an album that catches you unawares. It’s a genuinely different sound.
It’s so heavily synthesised that it feels removed from our world and as if it’s come straight from inside his head and out of our speakers. The music emphasises loneliness. It conjures up a choir of supportive imaginary friends. It’s a shield, marshalling pretend forces while disguising Hartley’s true voice.
The synths are comforting, warm and friendly. There’s a lazy groove at play throughout, perhaps drawn from yacht rock or a thinly populated woozy cocktail lounge. At their heart these are good songs that would succeed without the gimmicks and effects. If you need a hook to draw you in you could start with The Beatles’ ‘Because’ from Abbey Road and marry it to the giddy psychedelia of Villagers’ last album.
It’s clever but it’s not difficult, startling but not threatening and creative but not forced. It’s well worth half an hour or so of your time.
Taster Track : Looking Up
S/T : Onsloow
Onsloow’s Nordic power pop combines crunchy and energetic guitars with memorable choruses.
Onsloow are the recommendation of a friend of a friend. It’s great that someone sitting in Trondheim, Norway can reach out to share music about a favourite band and end up influencing a complete stranger’s listening for the day. Just like that, as Tommy Cooper used to say.
The band describe themselves on Bandcamp as providing “rousing and dreamy power pop, with an undercurrent of pop punk.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s like describing a sun rise as when the earth rotates sufficiently for the sun to appear over the horizon. It misses the magic of the event.
The magic here is that of a new band, releasing what appears to be their first album and standing on the brink of something that might prove to be something rather special. It’s an invisible and undefinable optimism that affects both the listener and the performance, There are simultaneously no expectations and limitless possibilities. It’s confident and purposeful, undaunted by fear of failure.
They’ve nothing to fear in this review. It’s a good album. Once upon a time, power pop lost its gift for melody and focused on power. Onsloow don’t fall into that trap. The balance between the two is well struck. ‘A Good Day To Forget’ serves as their template. Verses climb on crunchy guitars before swooping into intoxicating choruses. There’s a sprinkling of just enough alternative touches to be individual.
It’s Johanne Rimul’s vocals that snag the attention. They’re light and airy above the music, the meringue at the top of a key lime pie. It’s unfair to single her out though because, above all, this is the sound of a band delivering their musical vision with flair and style.
You can pick out the influences from your own listening history but for me they suggest The Cardigans and The Wannadies popping round to Panic! At The Disco’s house to make music.
This is a good power pop album that knows what it’s doing. But it’s real pleasure comes from capturing a special moment in Onsloow’s time that can’t be repeated.
Taster Track : A Good Day To Forget
The Night Is Clear : Parekh & Singh
They describe this as Indian dream pop on Wikipedia, but there’s not a hint of Bollywood in the mix and gentle, fey dream pop would describe it just as well.
Listening to this early in the morning before the brain has had to fully switch on, may be the best time of day to appreciate this record. ‘Sleepyhead’ which opens the album is a 3 minute slice of gentle and twee indie pop, music from the friendly but delicate kid in the playground inhabiting their own world.
It’s looser than the structured verse, verse, chorus, middle eight, verse, chorus fade structure of much classic pop. That’s an appealing strength but also its slight weakness. It’s music that drifts by as you drift along, as harmless as dandelion seeds and about as substantial.The duo originate from Kalkota and they’ve created something here to help you escape from the noise, bustle and chaos of the city.
This is a reassuring collection, the kind of music that accompanies a pleasant dream. I had an image I couldn't shake of it being the soundtrack to your induction into a happy afterlife. The individual elements to each song are familiar - quiet guitar, soaring strings, gentle and catchy rhythms - but they’re assembled in a slightly different way.
On its own terms ‘The Night Is Clear’ succeeds with style. In the broader scheme of things it’s another album that’s hard to dislike but may be easy to forget.
CCC : Parekh & Singh
STOP PRESS :
All my reviews are based on first impressions. If they’re good I’m likely to listen to it again. I don’t leave it there though. I add most albums to a playlist of the month’s listening and listen to it on shuffle while completing chores. That’s what I did with Parekh and Singh and, I have to say, that the songs I’ve heard a second time sound fresher, more appealing and increasingly addictive. Just thought i’d add that!
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