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The Pitter Patter Sounds of Spring


Alev and Jas, Allie X, Beatowls, James Elkington, Stellarays

The Front Runners

Marma : Beatowls

Liverpool’s Beatowls’ debut is a startling achievement, a mature work of darkness and menace that is nevertheless highly accessible.

Look at their name. Think of the city they come from. There’s a similarity and a difference. With this album, Beatowls are rewriting a twisted version of Liverpool’s musical heritage. (That’s OK. They’re not denying the past, but they are showing that there is much more to the Liverpool scene than the Fab Four.)

This is a film noir treatment, an album for our times telling a dark, edgy narrative. It’s the sound in your head when you think you’ve half seen a figure in the shadows staring up at your lit window.

‘Marma’ serves as an overture, with brooding electronica that builds and changes like London smog, luring you in deeper. ‘I Pray’ brings the sound of desperation, searching for an intervention that is resolutely out of reach. It’s muted but still catchy in its various refrains. ‘(Do You Want To Be) Loved’ dances in your face and imposes itself in your space. It’s an uncomfortable, powerful sensation, hypnotic, unavoidable and challenging in its intent.

Beatowls have thought carefully about the mood, and the details needed to reinforce it. The three instrumental pieces - ‘Marma’, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Cinders’ - are not incidental. They nudge you deeper into danger and are the mood links connecting the songs. You can hear them in the clattering beats that transform ‘Twilight’ and the sudden beating pulse that ends ‘Nobody Knows Me’.

‘All I See Is Trouble’ is one track that makes it clear that they carry on the line that goes back to Massive Attack, Portishead and Faithless in their social concern guise. That’s hugely impressive.

As debuts go, this is a very strong statement.

Taster Track : I Pray

The Chasing Pack

Bring Your Friends : Alev and Jas

Singer songwriter Alev Lenz and Simian Mobile Disco’s Jas Shaw, have combined to make a short but lovely EP of music to accompany your deepest dreams.

It’s music that feels like the odd acquaintances in your life have somehow joined together to whisper to you during deep sleep, and they’re telling you that everything is going to be OK. It’s reassuringly strange and hard to pin down but it’s also gentle and, in its own way, quite wonderful.

‘A World Beyond’ is a quiet, meandering start going nowhere fast but prettily drifting around. It’s a delicate construction but insistent and difficult to dismiss as if coaxing you awake to give you happy news.

It’s an ethereal experience, incorporating the near ambience of ‘Between Two Breaths’, the folk tones of ‘Dandelion’ when fully formed vocals emerge, and a kind of stripped back, acoustic Cocteau Twins feel throughout.

This is the music of deep sleep, and about as substantial. Without something concrete to latch onto and remember, there’s still a lovely musical sensibility at play. 

At five tracks over nineteen minutes, this doesn’t outstay its welcome. It will leave its mark though, strongly enough for you to take another listen before too long.

Taster Track : A World Beyond

The Girl With No Face : Allie X

Allie X is a face of modern chart pop. Her sound is glossy and retro. It’s good, but I can’t hear it enduring for the next 50-60 years.

I’ve loved pop for too long to give up on it after just one disappointment. I must confess though that my experience of listening to Muna made me wary as I approached Allie X. She has much more personality to bring into her songs. 

‘Weird World’ is a strong start, simply good electropop with character and chart appeal. It’s not long before ‘Off With Her Tits’ ruffles the feathers with its rougher edges. Aside from the swearing, it’s as radio friendly as songs come. There’s a Gothic feel to this song in particular, but it’s still catchy in a slightly hysterical way.

There’s a formula at work here. Chugging rhythms are coloured in with electronic gimmicks. There’s a feeling of the simplicity of early synthpop at its heart. Beneath the surface gloss I kept thinking of Cyndi Lauper as an influence or predecessor.

There’s also a slight sense that these songs are like doodles that have grown slightly out of control. They could be pared back and better for it. As the album progresses it loses some of its bounce and melody, but there are enough moments to come, for example ‘Staying Power’ to prove that she has, well, staying power.

What marks this out most strongly from an act like Muna, is the recognition that these songs are very much her own voice. Three albums in, and with the power of significant sales from her earlier albums, she can call the shots and has the confidence to do so.

This is an album that tells us there's still hope for mainstream pop.

Taster Track : Weird World

Me Neither (LP1) : James Elkington

James Elkington is an American folk acoustic guitarist. He’s the real deal, a man to be listened to with respect and admiration.

Like me, you’ve probably never heard of him. He’s not one to take centre stage, more a shadowy background figure to add class to more rock and roll records. He conveys a real sense of quiet passion in his craft and that is part of his appeal. There’s always pleasure to be taken in watching or listening to a master practitioner.

It’s true that showcasing his skill as a guitarist trumps melody.You can almost hear the awe struck hushed breath of an audience. ‘A Round, A Bout’ allows fleeting moments of pop melody to peek through and suggest that there’s something gorgeous beneath the surface that could appeal to pop lovers as much as guitarists.

It’s a nicely paced mix. The hurried ‘The Permeable Realm’ leading into the fog bound ‘Section 2’. If they don’t sound like compliments, they are because they add texture to the music and the album as a whole. The same can be said of the understated ambient accompaniments. You can lose yourself in the playing and suddenly ask yourself, where did that second instrument come from?

The album was originally issued in two parts. I listened to part one which provides 14 pieces in less that 28 minutes. If you listen to the full work, you receive 29 pieces in little more than an hour. Unusually though for an album of short pieces, it never feels fragmentary. The tunes are fully formed. It does, however, feel like an interlude, a break from your usual listening fare. But it’s an interlude like a pause in a long journey that provides a welcome opportunity to stretch your legs.

You may feel that this is an album more suited to the soundtrack of a leisurely and thoughtful documentary. I’d agree with you, and I’d join you in watching it.

Taster Track : A Round, A Bout

Winter Resort Music : Stellarays

This is strange. It’s electronic, modern art music that manages to create a musical vision that is ultimately convincing, but estranges you at the same time.

I’m not sure what to make of it, if I’m honest. I was intrigued by the review I read, seduced into expecting something relaxed and melodic. On those terms I was disappointed. This is not a warm and unwinding record. 

There’s nothing here for fans of Air or Lemon Jelly. This is music that so drained of personality to the extent that its very absence becomes its personality. If this is lounge pop, it’s for descendants of the Midwich Cuckoos. If it’s elevator music, it’s elevator music for when you’re trapped between floors. And if it’s ambient music, it’s of the kind typified by ice cream vans or young children’s computer games.

At times it’s numbingly blank. It’s as if everything is in place for a collection of cheesy classics, yet Stellaray deliberately pick a way through the elements that avoids conventional pop.

Here we have noodles, not melodies, call signs not tunes. Just listen to the bass line of ‘Dejeuner Palpitant Avec Le Moniteur’. ‘Teleski Solaire’ is the closest to a conventional tune. Vocals change nothing, as VHS Avalanche Crew’ demonstrates.

And yet, it is hypnotic in a brainwashing, mind control kind of way. It’s strangely addictive but unsatisfying at the same time, like dining out on popcorn. It’s built on nothing, and that’s its lasting impression, but there’s a part of me that wants to revisit it.

Maybe that’s it. They’ve made an album that can become your synthetic drug of choice. Or maybe, just as modern art isn’t always understood, the joke’s on us.

Taster Track : Dejeuner Palpitant Avec Le Moniteur


As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at or via the Spotify link on the Home Page.


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