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The Art Of Listening Patiently.

Starring


Alison Eales, DJ Shadow, Keel Her, Midori Takada, Nico Paulo, Pejzaz, White China


The Front Runners


Mox Nox : Alison Eales


I’m going to describe this collection of lovely songs as calm pastoral synthpop. It doesn’t fully do it justice, but it's a start.


If this album reminds you of one thing, it’s that you should never judge a book by its cover. Appearances can be deceptive, and I wouldn’t normally comment on them. It’s what you do that counts, not who you are or what you look like.


Alison Eales looks like someone’s Mum, calm and reliable, competent and safe. This album is like that moment in the film 'Hot Fuzz' where the village shop Granny suddenly produces a machine gun and joins the fight. It turns out she’s a lot better at making alternative pop music that carves out its own furrow than an army of trendy synthsters and wannabe poster boys and girls.


The album opens with the striking ‘Rapunzel’, striking because it’s completely unexpected. The song rolls along on gently burbling synths, showcasing her pure vocals. ‘Ever Forward’ switches tack. It’s a scintillating gem of chamber pop. It’s these two styles that characterise the album.


But don’t get too settled just yet. ‘The Broken Song’ mixes everything up. The song is broken like a teapot, knocked from the table and hastily reassembled. It’s filled with attractive parts that sound familiar but aren’t quite where you would expect to hear them. It’s intriguing in all the right ways.


Alison is an artist with a knack of taking the familiar and making it her own. There’s nothing radical at work here. You’re not going to stumble into an interference of drones. Songs like ‘Shadow Blister’, ‘Come Home With Me’ and ‘Through Hoops’ are filled with unexpected touches that give you pause to think what a good idea that was. ‘Mox Nox’ is quiet and reflective, a tone that the album adopts more as it progresses.


This is gentle music floating to you like dandelion seeds on a warm Spring day. It gives you hope that there is something in this world that can make your day.


Taster Track : Through Hoops



MSCTY X V&A Dundee : Midori Takada


Hundreds of thousands of people will already have heard some of the ambient percussion on this album. Most won’t even know it.


Midori Takada is a Japanese percussionist credited with being a leading light in the world’s ambient percussive movement. The V&A in Dundee commissioned her to submit an architectural soundtrack. I’ll hand you over to the V&A in Dundee to explain what’s going on.


“Japanese composer and percussionist Midori Takada has created a soundtrack to the inside of the museum, inspired by natural materials chosen by Kengo Kuma and focusing on the wooden panels surrounding visitors when they enter V&A Dundee’s main Locke Hall. This is her first commission in Scotland.”


(The full article is worth a read. It’s Midori Takada Dundee V&A.)


That’s a wonderful idea, beautifully executed. It raises a couple of questions though in listening to it at home in the early hours.


In situ, there will be ambient chatter and noise all around. The music is unlikely to be heard all the way through because people quickly progress deeper into the museum and away from the entry point. And the music has to compete with the frantic searching for lost tickets, the urgent scanning of the hall for the toilets and the potential need for a caffeine hit if you’ve travelled some way to get there. I haven’t attempted to recreate any of that here, although the caffeine point is starting to loom large. So what I’m hearing is pure and unadulterated.


There are three pieces here. The least successful, though by no means a failure, is ‘Whales Dreaming of the Hill’. It may be because after 25 minutes or so of ambient percussion, I’d had my fill. But it’s also the case that it’s a less organic piece, more composed than naturally evolving.


The opening piece, ‘KI - Ki - KI’ is an exquisite 13 minute quiet epic of marimba playing. It’s pretty, calming and conducive to relaxed thought and appreciation. It’s possibly the most ambient piece you’ll ever hear that features real instruments rather than electronic drones. It’s music with a subliminal impact.


‘The Memory of Water’ is remarkable. Takada manages to create the sound of water inside a building using just her hands and percussion. I wonder how many times museum staff were caught wondering if there was a leak about to threaten the exhibits! Her control of tempo and force, with micro changes required to each as the piece progresses, is jaw dropping, a magic trick that you can’t fathom.


This is a form of music that enforces patience. It breaks through the boundaries of music’s usual purpose and it does so in a soothing and relaxing way. We should cherish it as we would a new species of butterfly emerging from a chrysalis.


Taster Track : The Memory of Water



List 1 : Pejzaz


Music that soothes is always welcome. Music that numbs is sometimes necessary. Pejazz’s take on electronica covers both bases in a chilled style.


Pejzaz is a Polish producer who is hailed in Poland as returning to the best moments of Polish pop from the 60s to the 00s. If, like me, you’re unfamiliar with those moments, you’re in for a treat.


This is an albumin two parts. The first eight tracks capture some of the most relaxed sounds you’ll hear all year. It has all the depth of top quality music, all the appeal of commercial pop and all the gentle presence of the best library music. Think Alan Parsons from the 80s.


‘Szepty’ is perfect. The title translates as “mysterious whispers coming from a distance leave a feeling of uncertainty”. It sounds more like a crossword clue to me, but it does describe the music well. It’s haunting and ghostly, as is ‘Microkosmos’.


These pieces bring you gently nagging refrains, awash in ambient electronica. On ‘Czwarty Wymiar’ it’s a marriage of guitar and synthesiser that’s hard to beat. ‘Fata Morgaria’ is where Eastern vibes and Baltic beats meet, and they get along very well.


If, at times, it sounds like music made for the hi fi listening pod in an expensive audio systems store that’s not a problem. You’d like to hear this in every room of your home as you wander freed from the day’s concerns.


The suite of songs that brings the album to a close - ‘Barwa l’ through to ‘Barwa V’ - is different. It’s drenched in synthesised strings. It’s heavier music as if Phil Spector’s production techniques were heard from behind a velvet drape, or beneath a smothering duvet. ‘Barwa ll’ is music as sedation. It’s comforting because it numbs any pain, enabling you, temporarily, to forget and cede control to a benign force.


It’s a slightly awkward attachment as if an EP and a separate album have been bonded together, but that doesn’t diminish the effects of the individual tracks.


Everyone needs a little Pejzaz in their life.


Taster Track : Szepty



The Chasing Pack


Action Adventure : DJ Shadow


Some would proclaim him, with good cause, as the King of DJs. This collection of big beats and sampled treasures lends strength yo that view.


It’s your choice if you join his sonic universe. Like a Brick Lane restaurant with no greeters on the pavement to encourage you in, you make the choice to enter. There are no real melodies to beguile you across the threshold. At times that makes it empty at its core, like a half built house before it becomes a home. There’s still pleasure to be had though from understanding how it comes together.


This is eyes closed music, not soothing but to be listened to free from distractions. Each track stands like a piece of installation art, separate from everything around it. It’s always interesting, often entertaining but requires effort on your part to appreciate it fully.


‘Ozone Scraper’ is an urgent Superhero soundtrack, more Watchmen than Marvel, with big beats and striking effects. ‘Time and Space’ is music for an alternative, virtual reality. ‘Craig, Inglis and Wrightson’ meanders around various nooks and crannies before returning to the main path. Like a piece of sticky tape that you cannot dislodge from your finger, ‘Witches vs Warlocks’ clings to you as it buzzes around, music from the melting pot of big beats and surfers rock and roll. And when it comes to it, ‘Forever Changed’ offers a gentler example of his art.


DJ Shadow will not compromise his DJ integrity. Nothing here sounds like a hit. All of it sounds like intelligent and thoughtful music making.


Taster Track : Forever Changed




With Kindness : Keel Her


These 17 brief songs of lo-fi bedroom indie in just over 40 minutes are enjoyable but find it hard to say goodbye.


There’s something a little strange about this collection, as if prepared by a white witch homoeopath. You want to understand how it works, but you might not bring it back to try it at home!


It has charm, and the kind of naivety in its songwriting and production associated with the term ‘bedroom indie’. The songs aren’t sparse, but thin in places, as a thin crust pizza sits alongside a deep filled Rustica one. Your preference for one over the others is merely a matter of taste.


This came out in 2019 and even in the four years since then technology has moved on. Nowadays, you don’t have to go down the stripped back route. Unlike people living in tents, it’s a lifestyle choice.


When all the tracks are in miniature, they pass by as if part of a speeded up film. The issue is that there are 17 tracks to get through and that occasionally feels like more of the same and too much of a good thing. It flashed though my mind that the surfeit of music may have been faced by the Victorians and Edwardians at their post supper gatherings around the piano. It’s lovely to support the talent, but does anyone know when we next have a comfort break?


‘The Astral Plane’ was the first tune that let me prick up my ears. That’s ironic, considering that it’s quite a close relative to library music, and you’d expect it to remain unobtrusive. ‘Complain Train’ manages to haul some post punk stylings into the mix. ‘Not The First’ is snippety. That’s not in the sense of sniping at someone as you pass but in the sense of building fragments into longer pieces. There’s a mosaic attitude at play with any snippets being as important to the whole as extended passages.


It’s an interesting album that is committed to its vision. File under ‘one-off’.


Taster Track : The Astral Plane



Nico Paulo : Nico Paulo


Nico Paulo is a Portugese Canadian singer songwriter. Her songs take Portuguese folk roots and nourishes them into something pretty and elaborate.


She writes the kind of songs that a record company must love - as simple songs, almost demos, that are easy and inexpensive to record. They’re not getting off that lightly though. Nico has plans for them. Big plans.


As the songs progress they reveal their simple beginnings to be merely a supporting framework for layers and embellishments that enhance every track. They grow from one woman and her guitar into slightly woozy, increasingly elaborate, delicately constructed slices of mildly psychedelic pop.

She fills a place between the traditional singer songwriter sounds of Mary Chapin Carpenter and the more pastoral feel of Lavender Diamond, but it’s a song rather than an artist that gives the best idea of her work. That song is ‘The Windmills of My Mind.”. It’s there in the kind of melody and the overall feel of the song.


The backing vocals and arrangements on this album are excellent. They’re like a sea of arms raising up the songs. The songs may be firmly based in pop but the backing vocals sound orchestrated, as if a small chamber choir has been added to the performance. They’re sparingly used but add mightily to the effect.


She covers a lot of ground with her vocals too, from the cooing, airy sounds of ‘Intro, Dream’ and ‘Time’, through the strain of natural folk that characterises ‘Read My Mind’ to the mature, huskier sounds of ‘The Master’ and ‘Now Or Never’. It’s an impressive feat.


It all comes together in the wonderful ‘Time’ with its Portuguese influences, lovely shifting rhythms, acoustic flurries and trilling flutes.


Settle down to this album as you would to a film by your favourite director. You know you’re in for a treat and you won’t be disappointed.


Taster Track : Time



Hang Up The Lights : White China


White China has a wide range of wonderfully memorable songs that are hard to categorise but so easy to enjoy.


It’s a while since I heard an artist so bubbling with potential and possibility, an artist who brings new music to the table that is not just a rehash of some familiar past. He’s set the bar high and if, occasionally, he falls short that’s OK. You might as well criticise a Champions League debutant for only making the semi-finals..


‘Come Into The Light’ sounds like a man trying too hard rather than letting the song come in its own sweet time. ‘Some Kind Of Dream’ doesn’t quite work because he’s written for someone else’s idea of what music in a dream sounds like whereas everywhere else he creates a White China version of the world.


It’s a rich and nicely spiced world too. White China is a potpourri of sweet smelling influences. He moves from the sounds of Cigarettes After Sex on ‘Hang Up The Lights’ and ‘Desire, Momentum’ to the pared back sound of Elliott Smith on ‘Sleeping Through It All’. The latter song is a lo-fi demonstration of his skills - gently strummed guitar, patted beats and unadorned vocals - and evidence that beneath the dazzling effects there are excellent songs at the core.


I couldn’t shake the shadow of Ian Dury from my feelings about this record. Where Dury is a lyrical firework, White China achieves a similar effect vocally. Listen to the layered, rhythmic vocals of ‘Purple Candy Glow’ to hear what I mean. They’re glorious fun and timelssly quirky. In ‘Hex’ he throws in different vocal tones and rhythms as a club DJ might throw around beats.


What emerges in these songs are solid foundations of snappy rhythms, bent notes and varied beats. On ‘Pressure’ and elsewhere it’s as if he has broken his music down into its individual components and reassembled them in as catchy a form as they could possibly be.


This is a pop album so rich in invention that it leaves you buzzing.


Taster Track : Hang Up The Lights



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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