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The Colour of Sound. The Echo of the Rainbow.

Starring


Acid Drones, Bethany Cosentino, Bitw, Hannah Georgas, Le Couleur, Spencer Segelov and Great Paintings, Sun June, Union Starr


The Front Runners


Acid Drones : Acid Drones


Well, I wasn’t expecting this - minimal and ambient electronica that creeps into your head like a virus. It’s great.


There’s nothing much to see on the cover of this album, and there’s not a lot happening in the music either, but both are startlingly effective. This is music for drifting away from a deep space station, music that circulates around you without ever engaging directly but drawing you into its orbit gently but irrevocably.


Music that transports you to somewhere new in your head should always be valued, regardless of how it sounds. Don’t be put off by the band or album title. This isn’t acidic in the slightest. Although it may have elements of drone, they’re comforting, not industrial.


This is a highly musical album, one full of small changes with big impacts. Take ‘Acid Drone 4’. The slightest shift of its dial brings you from chilled to apprehensive without being able to put your finger on the reason for that. ‘Acid Drone 7’ pulses urgently. It’s not beat that drives the tune but a form of metre and it makes for something insistently exciting. ‘Acid Drone 3’ is massively addictive. Its muffled beat off-sets a chilled Orbital / Orb / Chemical Brothers style of comedown music. ‘Acid Drones 1’ seeps quiet;ly into your head without melody, beat or chords. It brings you up short as you approach the end and you’ll hit repeat as you wonder how it works its still powers of enchantment.


I loved this album and wanted to cling to every last note and tone. What a way to end 2023 and set the mark for 2024.


Taster Track : Acid Drones 3



You’re A Lighthouse, I’m At Sea - Spencer Segelov & Great Paintings


This album feels as if it has been lost in the clutter of time for 40 years and has only now emerged to delight fans of 60s influenced, 80s flavoured bedsit indie.


First a word about how I stumbled across this. There’s a man called Wally and he runs what can best be described as an online community record label. It’s  labour of love aimed at sharing music he loves and promoting deserving bands He has an excellent ear for warmhearted indie and he rarely misses. You can find him at https://thebeautifulmusic.com/  


How good is Wally? This is taken from his web page.


Anyone who knows us already knows that we love giving things away free and so here we are doing it again. Great music deserves to be heard and we think that we have released some of the greatest music you will ever hear, on our tiny imaginary label. If we had our way we would just give away all our albums for free but that doesn’t help recoup some of the costs for the bands so we only ask that if you enjoy some of these tunes, then please support some of these artists, whether it is attending their shows or purchasing a few more of their songs or just telling all your friends about them or about this free sampler.


Back to the music. This is a delightful set, with an innocence in both its content and delivery. ‘Don’t You Know’ could be a lost track from The Beatles Red album circa 1963. Thereafter the album zooms forward 20 years to be the kind of music that sustained Radio 1 between the drivetime show and John Peel. If you remember The VIPs, The Farmers Boys or The first Housemartins LP with fondness, you’re going to love this.


Current single ‘There’s A Disco In Your Heart’ sums up the feeling generated by this album. It’s an indie disco and it’s playing all night. Songs surround you like the warmth of a shower returning after someone has fiddled with the taps elsewhere and turned the water cold.


There’s heartwarming ambition too, in the slower pace of ‘Call It Sympathy’ and the horn embellishments to ‘The Agony of Nothing To Say’. ‘Couples Therapy’ has a soft jaggedness to it like a pair of pinking shears wrapped in felt.


Sadly this is not bound for great commercial success. It’s too guileless and well meaning for that. But this music has survived over the years and has been more influential and enjoyable than much of the chart music over that time.


More importantly you’ll feel your enthusiasm for music all over again. I’d love to listen to Spencer Segelov’s record collection!


Taster Track : Through Joke



Falling Apart Together : Union Starr


This lovely collection of indie gems doesn’t put a foot wrong, yet it was unable to make an impact on release in 2012.


First, a declaration of interest. I have a friend, Neil McCurley, who’s been the keyboard player in a number of bands over the years. He was in Bennett when their Mum went to Iceland, and just last year he was playing festivals as a member of  classic rock band Stormchild. Union Starr is the band he’s most proud of, and rightly so.


I can guarantee that no one reading this (except Neil) will have heard of Union Starr. At the time they released this, the music world was dominated by big beats, angry rap and high gloss product. They didn’t really stand a chance without the kind of support that John Peel invested in bands he liked. But discovering this album is like finding a vinyl treasure while crate digging in a ramshackle vintage shop. It’s one of the things that makes music such a pleasure.


The John Peel reference above may be a little misleading. This is poppier stuff than he usually played. Badfinger and Semisonic came to mind as I listened. Union Starr’s radio playlist on Spotify links them in with the likes of The Thrills, Travis, Teenage Fanclub and the Super Furry Animals. In truth they operate at the sweet spot where so many influences merge into one. It’s as if a child has mixed together all the paints in the paint box, but instead of creating a messy, ugly splurge they’ve invented a new, bright and beautiful colour.


Songs such as ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ with its knowing links back to the Beach Boys, ‘I Know About Art’, with its sly humour and the likes of ‘Everything We Say’, ‘I Can Feel It’ and ‘A Real Fool’ are easy tunes, brimful of personality and ideas. These were and remain rare qualities.


Ten songs. No misfires. 10/10


Taster Track : Everything We Say




The Chasing Pack


Natural Disaster : Bethany Cosentino


Bethany Cosentino’s debut album is polished pop but it’s also bland and forgettable.


I’ll confess upfront. I’m the wrong person to review this album. My pet hate is a kind of corporate writing by numbers that’s too geared towards stadium audiences. I’m all for a good singalong night but I also want to feel moved, thrilled or inspired. That doesn’t happen here at all. We’re as mismatched as bacon and Easter eggs.


Cosentino is one half of Best Coast, an American surf rock duo. I can imagine that what attracted me to the album at all was references to her past,  mentions of hook laden pop songs and an impression of good, sunshine vibes. And, yes, they’re there but in a way that is, at best forgettable background and at worst irritating.


She sings on ‘Easy’ that


“I hate to sound cliche and cheesy.”


Don’t do it then. The swoop of ‘fine’ in ‘It’s Fine’ is all cheese and cliche, a turn of the millennium twist on the ‘Day Oh’ call and response turn of the Banana Boat song. ‘Outta Time’ is catchy but formulaic and no more satisfying than candy floss.


There are a couple of glimmers of a less constructed form of pop. There’s a perky bubblegum feel to ‘Calling On Angels’. ‘Real Life’ rises significantly above the bar set for the rest of the album and has a decent melody about it.


Elsewhere, what you get at the start of the song is what you’re left with at the end. And that’s not nearly enough.


A gentler, kinder review of this album appeared in The Guardian and it’s here. Bethany Cosentino Review


Taster Track : Real Life



Rehearse : Bitw


Welsh pop has its own unique flavour and Bitw captures it well with this collection of smooth and occasionally surprising pop songs.


Welsh pop is a little like a welsh cake. It may look dry and overcooked but take a chance and you can taste a surprising fresh sweetness. It’s found in the sound of Gruff Rhys, Carwyn Ellis, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Sweet Baboo. Bitw fits nicely in that group.


Like any classic Welsh singer he has a smooth and musical voice like the cold water of a Valley’s stream. It beguiles you into the music which is a kaleidoscope of pop, meandering its way to the end along unexpected but very acceptable routes.


Bitw makes excellent pop, but he must sometimes find himself asking what a Welsh musician needs to do to be heard. One road, trod by many, is to start singing in English. It’s understandable but a shame when that happens. Something undefinable is lost and, here, that seems to cause Bitw some frustration. 


Sometimes the novelty sounds forced and distracts from the song. In ‘Head For A Hometown’ he switches tone unexpectedly between the slinky electropop of the verse and the breezy tone of the chorus. I wanted the bass groove to connect the two. ‘Age of Anomaly’ ends abruptly as if he’d had enough of the idea behind the song. The clattering drum that interrupts the quiet introduction to ‘Why Are We Dancing?’ disrupts the song.


Quite often though, the surprises bring pleasure. It’s when he stays closest to his roots that the undefinable magic is strongest. That’s the case with ‘The Rust’. Its recorder riff is one of those magic touches that makes the song one to keep. It’s also behind the most Welsh of the songs here, ‘Old Hands’. It was probably recorded in a state of the art studio but it sounds as if it’s a duet set in a shepherd’s cottage with a traditional approach to music.


Welsh pop is one of the hidden secrets of today’s music. This is a good, strong album but I'd hate him to lose the Welsh part of his story.


Taster Track : The Rust




I’d Be Lying If I Said I Didn’t Care : Hannah Georgas


Wikipedia lists a large number of female, Canadian singer songwriters. With this album, Hannah Georgas shows that she sits at the top of the list.


These are songs that will strike a chord with people that are caught between youth and early middle age. They’re songs you write for people when you’ve quietly roused yourself ridiculously early, having lain awake brooding on insoluble life problems for some time. Action is better than words, but words can also make a difference when they are as good as these.


There’s a real sense that Georgas embraces her music and how it allows her to communicate depths of feeling and begin to make sense of life. The songs are full of basic insights, the building blocks needed to move forward. Take this from ‘Fake Happy’.


“I don’t want to be sad, but I can’t be fake happy.”


They’re not words that solve a problem, but they are words that serve as a starting point for fixing it.


Her songs are generally gentle and meditative, conversational and reflective. Check ‘What I Don’t Want’ and ‘Beautiful View’ for evidence of that. ‘Scratch is an ideal mix of sparse guitar softening as it’s washed by gentle electronica. She draws you in with a sweet, slightly sad voice, and melodies that wrap themselves around you. You pay attention.


The first half is stronger, lovely in the way that it conveys the feelings of someone lost, but not broken. If the second half doesn’t quite match the standard of the early songs, they’re still good and strong. The shift of tone that brings frustration and anger to ‘This Too Shall Pass’ and the acid ideas in ‘Money Makes You Cool’ keep you interested.


Hannah Georgas is the friend you need as life tails aways from your early hopes and expectations. She has the songs to make a difference.


Taster Track : Scratch



Comme Dans Un Penthouse : Le Couleur


Bright and shiny, this is synth pop disco aimed at the nouveau riche.


This is a deluxe, high end version of synth pop. It won’t be soundtracking life in the slums of suburbs but the elite and impossible to get into clubs. It soundtracks the people, their noisy chatter and their need to be seen.


Strip away the gloss of a song such as ‘A la Rencontre de Barbara’ though and I’m not sure what’s left, like a model defined by their creative make up. This is music with a hollow core wearing style, not substance on its surface. That’s not in itself a bad thing. We all have lifestyle accessories that bring us pleasure but are inessential. The trouble is, if that’s all you have it makes for something that is ultimately unsatisfactory.


There are things about this to like. ‘Autobahn’ - not a Kraftwerk cover -  is enjoyably excitable. The combination of French and synthpop is always hard to resist. The combination of easy disco rhythms and French vocals and styling is easy on the ear. ‘Pourquoi Pas’ is just one example of a song that, if it lacks the honeyed melodies of the best synth pop disco, has all the rhythms and flourishes that you need to pretend you’re having a good time.


Perhaps it’s the time of year, but this is an album that is trying to spark into life one last party. It makes a fair stab at it, but in the end falls short.


Taster Track : Autobahn



Bad Dream Jaguar : Sun June


This is a quiet and intense album with considerable beauty but it’s also the stuff of waking from a bad dream.


Imagine waking suddenly from a dream where you’ve been hunted by a jaguar with red, bloodstained teeth. Your heart is pounding and, as you try to make sense of how you feel, you find it hard to articulate it to others as you sink back into drowsiness. This is the soundtrack to those moments.


They call it regret pop - not a genre that seems to be widely recognised. It’s languid but pretty. This is music that comes at you through thick smoke or dense fog. It’s music that tiptoes through the house at night not wanting to disturb those who sleep. It’s almost too much effort to break away from it.


And that’s the tension at the heart of the album. These are gorgeous songs about things you’d rather not remember. As well as the imaginary threatening jaguar, there are emotions here that want to burst through in a howl of rage. Just listen to the end of ‘Texas’ to hear that.


‘Bad Dream Jaguar’ is a cleverly constructed album. Beneath the somewhat smothering surface are lovely quiet harmonies (‘Mixed Bag’) and backing vocals that add unexpected layers to the song (‘Washington Square’). ‘Sage’ is a mix of slide and shoegaze guitar. ‘Ambition’ is full of little touches fluttering away in the background, like an exotic bird overlooked as you gaze at a spectacular view.


Everything from Texas tries to outdo anything from anywhere else. Take a mix of Cigarettes After Sex, Khruangbin and The Delines, feed it steroids and you have Sun June.


It can be a little too much, a little too wearying, but its moments of clever beauty make it a record with much to offer.


Taster Track : Washington Square



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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