top of page

The Man Who Sold His Vinyl To Buy CDs (And His CDs To Buy Back Vinyl!)

Starring


Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres, Avalon Emerson, East Forest, Lana Del Rey, The Last Dinner Party, Zzzahara


The Front Runners


& The Charm : Avalon Emerson


Here’s an album of quietly impressive, dance influenced synth pop that has, overnight, turned Avalon Emerson from someone I’d never heard of into an act I’ll be following closely.


She’s built her reputation as a rave DJ earning plaudits, awards and festival appearances. This album may be where she’s taken a well earned breather from the chaotic euphoria of the club to reflect on life and issues big and small.


It’s a breath of fresh air that creates an immediate impact with opener ‘Sandrail Silhouette’. “I like this.” I can’t pinpoint if it’s in the rich sound of her synthesised strings- cello particularly - or the constant depth brought by the reverb, or the little hooks introduced through the song. It’s perfect. Ridiculously it sounds like pop hasn’t sounded before. It’s pop’s cousin from far away, family but unknown.


I’ll confess that this music falls within my comfort zone but it still has to hit the target. This succeeds on all fronts, and in a particularly lovely way. It feels like an upgrade on electronic instrumentals, bringing all the melody, rhythm and effects of the best of them and adding in equally good vocals. It’s like going to your favourite coffee shop, buying their best coffee and then being offered a free cake as you’re about to leave.


She sings about troubled times in ‘A Vision’ and ‘ Astrology Poisoning’ in a matter of fact way, as if gaining a perspective while floating dreamily through the cosmos. But she can write about the sweetly personal too. ‘The Stone’ is an excellent example of this. I’m gushing now, but even her song titles capture her style. ‘Dreamliner’ sounds like the perfect title that no one has ever used but captures her essence precisely. ‘Karaoke Song’ is gentle, yet deep - a mountain lake of a song nestling undisturbed like a hidden mountain lake surrounded by peaks.


Emerson uses her DJ / rave experiences to good effect, especially in the closing song ‘A Dam Will Always Divide’. It’s a closer that feels like a presence leaving, a quietly desperate farewell before you lose contact as it breaks up. 


And that’s a good place to end, feeling bereft at the loss of something special.


Taste Track : Sandrail Silouette



Music for the Deck of the Titanic : East Forest





Listen to this for its moments of bliss amidst tunes that offer you the space for meditative reflections.


Ignore the title. This isn’t a concept album for the legendary band that played on while the Titanic sank. It’s very much for the present day, for escaping the pace and pressures of everyday life.


Ignore too, if you can, the jarring tones of ‘So What’. It’s an odd couple of a tune. American comedian Duncan Trussell riffs his way through reasonably offensive meditations on life, over East Village’s chilled and  jazz tinged backing. If, after more than nine minutes, they arrive at a similar point where love and kindness triumphs over all, it's been an uncomfortable journey to get there.


Savour the majority of the trucks that are serious in tone but not sombre. They’re more the product of deep reflections from a still point in the turning world. The cello of ‘Clay Steps’ captures the tone. It’s unhurried and heading towards mournful before it’s lifted by the string ensemble around it. There’s an updated Peter Gabriel feel in the simplicity of songs. Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds are in the mix too. It’s music for listening to alone, lost in your thoughts


Fall in love with the slightly pacier tracks, a marriage from Heaven best described as when Balearic met Nu-classical. The lighter hook of ‘Birds Eye’ is one to fall for. Tracks like ‘Legacy’ and ‘Comeback’ engage more easily. They’re a respite from the intensely personal tunes of reflection, as if someone who cares for you has just checked in to see if you’re OK.


But above all, listen to the opening track ‘Cosmic Dance’. It’s a seductive and gorgeous melange of graceful, free flowing, meditative melody featuring Marienne. It whisked my heart away, and the rational part of my mind made a mental note to keep an ear open for Marienne in future.


This may be an album that turns out to be bigger on atmosphere than easy melody, but it’s also substantial, soothing and utterly lovely throughout. And, finally, remind yourself that when writing the preceding sentence nothing counts except for what comes after the ‘but’!


Taster Track : Cosmic Dance



Prelude To Ecstasy : The Last Dinner Party


Wow! If this is indeed the soundtrack to the last dinner party it’s a suitably epic way to go out.


The Last Dinner Party is the BBC Sound of 2024. That means that they have had a massive boost to their prospects. All they have to do is justify the hype. Well they don’t go far wrong.


Critics and fans have already attached labels to them. The new Queen. The next Kate Bush, The heirs of Roxy Music. You can understand why. They’re rediscovered a path that hasn’t been travelled much of late. Along the way they’ve picked up shades of Cruella deVille and Morticia Adams. You could also describe them as worthy recipients of the baton from Florence and the Machine, Wolf Alice and even Rufus Wainwright.


What works strongly in their favour is that their tunes are excellent. Their verses are laced with devil may care loucheness. Their choruses are addictive, like one last hit from a sickly and dangerous punch bowl. It’s those choruses that nail the songs to the best pop rock I’ve heard for a while.


‘Caesar On a TV Screen’, ‘The Feminist Urge’ and ‘Portrait of a Dead Girl’ are examples of epic theatricality. Heaven knows how they will find a stage performance to match the imagery of tearing of hands and ripping out throats (‘Portrait of a Dead Girl’) or of red liver on the rocks. (‘The Feminist Urge’). There is a cruelly ecstatic passion that runs through these songs, a religion that still includes bloody sacrifices. ‘Caesar On A TV Screen’ is full of it, with an ambience of the worst excesses culled from Evelyn Waugh.


The vocals are a cross between the trilling notes of Kate Bush and a rockier version of Bonnie Tyler, shorn of her husky tones. The backing vocals of, say, ‘Sinner’ are as important and satisfying to the band as they were to Queen.


The Last Dinner Party hold nothing back. It gloriously lives up to the hype.


Taster Track : Sinner




The Chasing Pack


Play Echoes : Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres


This combination of classical and electronica works well, creating a musical world to lose yourself in and emerge refreshed.


On the face of it, this is an uncommon departure for Pop In The Real World. The clue’s in the name. We do pop, not the classical stuff. It’s been ingrained in us that classical music is long, stuffy and boring. That’s a long way from the truth of this album. 


It almost certainly helps that Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres has an extensive CV of film compositions. In other words she has a track record in engaging a common audience. There’s a good chance that as I welcome Hamilton-Ayres into the pop world, there will be some classical purists sniffing at the sound of something like ‘Channel’. They’ll be the Classic FM listeners. I recall years ago a Radio 3 programme ‘The Blue Room’ that straddled the border of electronica and classical to enduring and endearing effect. Coming up to date. Mary Anne Hobbs, who presents on Radio 6, is a big fan of Hamilton-Ayres 


Any reservations about this are eased by the opening track ‘Olympia’. It’s heavenly. The overheard ambient conversation captures a moment of happy togetherness. I’ll admit to a preference for the more electronic tracks here. To take one example, the ensemble piece ‘Stair Echoes’ is pretty and soothing but it doesn’t affect me like ‘Olympia’.It’s luxurious and rich but I begin to feel that I’m in a concert hall, enjoying myself but still wondering how much longer there is to go. This is music that’s good for me but it’s not what I think I want.


Thankfully the strings may come from the classical world but the rhythms are taken straight from pop. ‘Grenadine’ is a tune that ebbs and flows beautifully. ‘Unbound’ creeps into being like the start of something spectacular.


Unlike me, you will probably find it easier to lay your unfounded prejudices to one side. In the end, even I am won over. This is a record to succumb to, an accompaniment to reflection and a chance to reboot and take stock.


Taster Track : Olympia




Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd? : Lana Del Rey


Only Lana Del Rey could get away with an album of such lavish songs. It needs a big star to carry off these songs successfully, and Del Rey is nothing if not a big star.


She’s the musical equivalent of a 1950s screen goddess, glamorous, unknowable and untouchable - or at least that’s her carefully constructed song character. On this album she has the tragic star quality that legend has it was the experience of Judy Garland or Elizabeth Taylor. She’s up there with Bowie and Madonna in terms of shaping her character to each new record but you feel that the arc of her character carries across albums.


This is lavishly orchestrated pop, carried by perfectly pitched and impeccably arranged strings. It requires stamina to listen to it. Sixteen songs spread across 77 minutes, densely packed with no filler. Her duet with Father John Misty (‘Let The Light In’) has a more buoyant touch, a respite from the intensity across the rest of the album.


This is a dark, obsessive and passionate album, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ or ‘A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’ committed to song. Vocally she may be an Ice Queen, but profanities slip through as she shares her innermost thoughts suggesting that there is a past to her character that is not so glossy. Her restrained use of falsetto throws vulnerability into the mix too.


That’s what strikes you as its biggest quality. This is a performance. Occasionally, as on the two interludes featuring Judah Smith and Jon Batiste it moves across into performance art


Approach this album as you would a 3 hour Hollywood blockbuster. Be prepared to be amazed at the production values, engrossed with the revelations and just a little fatigued in the end by the endurance required to survive the experience.


Taster Track : The Grants




Tender : Zzzahara


This is a record for the ages, noisy, restless and providing a short, sharp shock.


From the sample of Zzzahara I’d heard on a playlist while holidaying in Seville I had expected something dreamier. If this is a dream it’s a fever dream, not quite a nightmare but certainly one you’d like to escape from.There’s no respite as it builds at pace to the crescendo of the final track ‘Hey Familiar Face’


It’s a maelstrom of modern living in all its confusion, incomprehension and impenetrable noise. These are songs that come at you in a short burst. They rush by in a whirlpool of sound and emotion, barely giving you pause for breath. It wreaks of an older adolescent struggling  to stay afloat and make sense of the world, doing everything under protest but hoping for something to cling to. Musically it sounds like a personal world that’s imploding.


This is a tuneful selection despite pulling a few tricks to appear tuneless - the slightly out of kilter tuning of ‘I’d Like You To Leave’ and the sluggish vocals of ‘Kensington’ are examples. 


Its strength is that this isn’t an album wallowing in its own concerns. There’s an energy at the heart of ‘IDK How To Love’ and ‘Tender’ and others that is prepared to kick back like a protestor putting up a struggle against being thrown into the back of police van.


There aren’t many records that can throw you off guard as you listen to them, but this is one of them.


Taster Track : Girls On SSRIs Don’t Cry




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.





Comments


bottom of page