Augenwasser, The Bad Ends, Ian McNabb, Kit Grill, Macie Stewart, Mokadelic, Wingmen
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
This comes from an album filled with glorious slices of euphoric EDM. It's the logical next step for 12" megamixes and should appeal to anyone who's ever bought or enjoyed an extended mix.
Nabby Road : Ian McNabb
Ian McNabb gives the impression that he doesn’t know how to make bad records. This collection may be a little softer around the edges but keeps that trend going strong.
For those who don’t know him, McNabb came to notice with the Icicle Works (‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour)’. They temporarily broke up in 1991 allowing McNabb to build a solo career. Although The Icicle Works reformed in 2006 he’s kept this going, never attracting the attention or commercial success that his songs deserve. He’s a nearly man who’s stayed true to his musical beliefs.
Ian McNabb doesn’t give a fuck what you think of him. He’s doing what he does, how he likes and if you want to come along for the ride, that’s fine. If not, find something else to do and let him get on with it.
This album is the sound of an old punk retaining his passion while making just a few allowances to growing older. You can hear these in the more reflective moments (‘Sausalito’), in the pleasure taken at past exploits (‘Guest List’) and in the infrequent but evident influences of classic songwriters of the 70s and 80s (Bozz Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby).
In his youth he would have been the leader of the pack - confident, pushy and inspiring hero worship from younger associates. He’d have been a Tony from West Side Story, hiding any doubts and insecurities beneath acts of bravado. It's only now that he’s letting these feelings out in his songs. He’s not overtaking on blind bends quite as often and occasionally he’s even slowing down.
There’s something about his music that has always been loud, even in his quieter moments. I suspect it’s in the production levels but it emphasises his passion, pushes his songs up close and demands that you hear them.
It comes as a shock then, that this album opens with the unexpectedly lovely ‘Sausalito’, an instrumental featuring waves lapping gently on the beach that’s led by piano but incorporates a guitar solo straight from 1974. It’s one of the tracks that calls to mind Hornby and Scaggs, alongside ‘Gentlemen Dress For Dinner’ and the sax at the end of ‘Film Noir Star’. In ‘The Sun Came Out At Night’ he shows us the depth of his way with intimate, personal and poetic songs.
He’s not lost all his fire by any means. His loud, driving and rabble rousing rock is heard gloriously in ‘Steal Away’ and ‘Holy’. He’s a rock and roller at heart and, on ‘Guest List’ he channels his inner Chris Difford to remember and smile at the affront of past experiences.
Some of our strongest musical connections come when they grow old with us. Ian McNabb is doing just that and this new album is one to relish, savour and enjoy.
Taster Track : Film Noir Star
Fragile : Kit Grill
This retro collection of electronic dance music, or EDM as genre-ologists will put it, is a highly enjoyable burst of instrumentals with ear worms aplenty.
‘Fragile’ is a record that has been on the stocks for some time. It featured in Electronic Sound’s albums of the year for 2021 but, in truth, it could have been waiting since the 1980s. It’s as exhilarating as a 96th minute equaliser for your favourite football team.
The best way to describe this is as the musical inserts that turn an 80s 7” synth disco song into a special edition 12” floorfiller. Now there’s a new niche genre for you! If the 80s are too far back to you, it also brings back the repetition and refrains of House.
This is inevitably a producer’s album, calling to mind someone like Martin Rushent who transformed the Human League into the League Orchestra Unlimited or Tom Moulton who started the whole extended, 12” megamix thing. In some tracks there’s no real progression. What you hear at the start is pretty much what you hear at the end, but it’s still addictive, accessible and occasionally cheesy.
‘Another Time’ is a euphoric opening, more than capable of being the climax of most other albums. It has energy and melody but almost no beginning or end. It’s a headlong tumble of a song that begs the question of the crowd “How long can you keep this going?”. It’s typical of most of the tracks here particularly ‘Cherry’ and ‘Carousel’.
There are a couple of more considered moments. ‘Wandering Sky’ is a chain gang’s working rhythm set to music.’Romance’ captures the heady realisation that a new relationship is going to work ( before hangover fuelled reality dawns the morning after!)
Music with the slow build and long fades cut away from the song. Well, it works here!
Taster Track : Romance
....And The Rest
The Big Swim : Augenwasser
Augenwasser’s baritone vocals over an intricate electronic backing makes for an enjoyable, slightly dislocated listening experience.
This is music that sounds as if it was discovered from a remote place, a slightly distorted echo perhaps bouncing off the Swiss mountains of Augenwasser’s homeland. The components are almost but not quite in their natural position. The sounds and music are resisting the chaotic breakdown all around.
Above it all, Augenwasser’s quiet baritone provides a reassuring presence, a still point in this mutating world. His baritone stands out, rich and conversational . It’s a duvet of a voice, evening out the spikes and scratches that are its background. Beneath it, synths and bass lace a groove between them, the one scattering shards of musical light and the other knotting it all together. It’s intricate and full of inventive touches like the possible fabricated guitar that appears in ‘Here To Go’.
These songs contain ear worms and hooks as memorable as the 1960s Radio Luxembourg call sign. (If you’ve ever heard it, even if it was 50 years ago, you’ll be hearing it again now!). ‘Bouts of Doubt’ is simply held together by its three repeated notes sounding out slowly and unhurriedly.
Augenwasser makes beautiful, textured music that will stick in your mind for some time. That’s all you need to know.
Taster Track : Speak Your Mind
The Power and the Glory : The Bad Ends
The Bad Ends formed around the drummer of the band from Athens Georgia that were once the biggest band in the world to play classic bar room rock with splashes of Americana and Goth. You have just a couple of seconds to recall the name of that band before the big reveal.
Supergroups are few and far between but that’s how the Bad Ends style themselves. Cream are widely regarded as the first, but funnily enough the biggest were possibly The Travelling Wilburys (Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne). The Bad Ends aren’t quite in that league. They’re made up of Bill Berry of REM, three musicians from other bands in Athens (Five Eight, Josh Joplin Group and The Christian Lopez Band) and the owner of a guitar shop. I hadn’t heard of four of these either.
No matter, they sound less like a supergroup of out of control egos and more like a group of friends who are enjoying themselves. It helps that they have a lot of experience between them. They don’t waste it by trying something new or operating outside their comfort zone.
If they were included on a compilation of like minded bands, other acts would include Nick Cave (particularly in the wide eyed horror of their song (‘The Ballad of Satan’s Bride’)) REM in the vocals, and The Hold Steady in their welcome of classic bar room storytelling rock. There would be a bit of The Pixies in there too. These are influences that recommend the band. They’re also very late 90s and early 21st century, a period that is currently too long in the tooth to be fashionable and too recent to be nostalgic and retro.
For want of a better phrase it sounds like a very American record. No holds are barred from delivering the rock punch, Backing vocals add a rising sense of drama throughout. The slide guitar on ‘Little Black Cloud’ brings an Americana feel to the album. If the slower numbers such as ‘Left To Be Found’ drag a little they also serve to add breathing space. These guys know what they’re doing.
This is an album that sounds good but it impresses without thrilling or moving the listener. Bill Berry is the draw, but it’s the rest of the band who pull out the stops to justify the price of the ticket.
Taster Track : Mile Marker 29
Mouth Full Of Glass : Macie Stewart
From a singer songwriter who stands out from the crowd, this is an album that beguiles and unsettles in equal measure.
This is an album full of mixed up messages. Starting with her image on Google, she’s part best friend next door and part unapproachable screen goddess. It’s not completely clear how to take the image on the cover either. At first glance it’s an exotic plant. On closer inspection it’s mainly an arm cloaked in a carefully decorated cellophane sleeve.
This is another of those albums that is both strangely beautiful and beautifully strange. It comes to you from a lovely dream where reality has been turned upside down and inside out. She even starts with a track called ‘Finally’. ’Mouthful of Glass’ rolls, ebbs and flows like music for the deafening rush of consciousness departing as you go under a general anaesthetic. It turns you inside out.
Songs seem unsure of themselves.’Garter Snake’ has lovely melody, and gorgeous other world backing vocals that have to fend off the sound of a high pitched whine of interference. ‘Finally’ has the feel of an intimate confessional swollen with cinematic strings. This is a record that feels simultaneously lo-fi and lavish. In the end its contradictions are what win you over.
It’s also a record that lives and dies on its melodies. They’re exquisite on ‘Garter Snake’ and ‘What Will I Do’. When they’re lost, as they are on ‘Golden (For Mark)’ the song is diminished.
What Macie Stewart has given us is a different but fully realised musical world, making the kind of songs that Dorothy might have made twenty years after leaving Oz.
It’s a short album of under 30 minutes and it will leave you wanting more.
Taster Track : Garter Snake.
This soundtrack to an Italian drama series sounds gorgeous, but as an album to listen to it feels fragmentary and disconnected.
Soundtrack albums fall into two camps. There’s the Hollywood blockbuster approach of taking songs from as many name acts as possible and forcing them into a context. Then there’s the artistic approach of commissioning original material to reinforce what the film is about. Mokadelic specialise in the second approach. There are no marketing lead promotional singles here.
Here’s the thing
Listening….soundtracks….the…is….trying….read….half….words….! Or to put it another way, Listening to soundtracks is like trying to read with half the words missing. You can probably catch the gist, but you’re losing a lot of the impact. At the risk of being contentious, without the pictures, you are left with something that is almost ambient.
The music here is all atmosphere and impressions. ‘Costanza e Libera’ is a good example. It’s a swelling piece, dark, dramatic and smouldering. There’s a consistent tone throughout, created by a reliance on echoey keyboards awash in electronic effects. Each track aims for and hits a similar tone so that what you actually have is an accompaniment to intense scene after intense scene. There’s no light and shade, just a collection of fragments that aren’t able, or intended to build to a satisfying climax.
Not having seen the series, you draw your own conclusions from what you’re hearing. I suppose that in a funny sort of way that makes the music personal to every individual. For me, it has an unhappy sound yet filled with tense anticipation as if the action is a series of reckonings and roads not taken.
This is a collection of music, not tunes. There are similarities to the classical crossover works of Arvo Part and Ludovico Einaudi, and that will stir and resonate with many.
There are two tracks that buck the overall tone. ‘Non Posso Fermarmi’ has more energy about it if it doesn’t quite set the pulse racing. ‘Amicis’ has a lighter tone that suggests whatever dark deeds have been endured in the story, it’s ended happily for at least one character.
None of these drawbacks are the fault of Mokadelic. They’ve produced a strong album in response to a specific commission and it’s a job well done. For the rest of us, I guess we’ll never know how the story ends!
Taster Track : Amicis
Wingmen : Wingmen
If you market yourself as a kind of classic punk supergroup (drawn from The Stranglers, The Damned, Ruts DC and Johnny Moped) then expectations are going to be sky high. Wingmen make a fair stab of meeting them.
When we talk about punk bands from the past we have to remember that many of them mutated into new wave pop, conscious of needing to adopt an 80s sheen. It may have diverged from hardcore punk but it made for some of the best pop the UK has ever produced. Wingmen are harking back to that era..
(Not the album cover)
Looking at their photo on Google, it looks as if they have each paid their dues and are now looking to have fun. Gone are the days when you could pick up a guitar you couldn’t play. They take their music seriously but are happy to send themselves up with pussycat snarls, a break into the Batman Theme in ‘Oh, What A Carry On’ and the extended spoken outro to ‘Backstage At The Opera’.
‘Starting Blocks’, appropriately, opens the album. It’s an immensely likeable if familiar mix, complete with a crowd stirring group of “Hey”s at the end. ‘The Last Cigarette’ is as close to mid 60’s The Who as it is to punk, reminding us that punk, for all its desire to cut links with the past, had its feet firmly planted in rock and roll.
It may be more accurate to regard this as pub rock more than punk. That’s still a compliment. The album is a catchy affair but it’s the catchiness of The Stranglers ‘Go Buddy Go’, Ruts DC’s ‘West One (Shine On Me)’ or The Damned’s version of ‘Eloise’. To be real punks their songs would have to be louder, angrier, faster and shorter.
Deep down you sense that they’re missing the good times. There’s a regret at the loss of how it used to be and a genuine fondness for their music.
Wingmen may not be the main men any more but they would guarantee you a good night out.
Taster Track : I Would If I Could
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