Broken Bells, Caitlin Rose, DC Gore, Howard Jones, Loup Garoux, Lucid Express
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Aquarium by Lucid Express
First, it's a pleasure to showcase music from different parts of the world. Lucid Express are from Hong Kong, and the signs from this are that there is a music scene there that is alive and kicking.
'Aquarium' is a gorgeous slice of shoegazing dream pop. That it emerges from the rumbles of cataclysmic change and something in the tracks that approaches white noise simply helps to make it more special.
Dialogue : Howard Jones
Here’s a welcome surprise - new music from Howard Jones that reins in the New Age mysticism and concentrates on making great synth pop.
There are few artists left from the 80s who have had to carry as much baggage as Howard Jones. He’s a Buddhist who wasn’t afraid to overload his songs with his beliefs. The media were never on his side but that didn’t bother him even as it led to lukewarm reviews. Gradually he moved into a less chart oriented sound, and became a very serious artist. You’d be tempted to say to him “Cheer up, it may never happen.” The trouble was, either it already had if it was bad or it was receding quickly into the past if it was good. I saw him as the second headliner at a Rock The Moor festival. He misjudged the mood and played new songs untroubled by decent tunes. There were two benefits to that. He helped OMD who headlined sound even better, and he provided an opportunity for the crowd to slip their bags and hampers back to the car without fear of missing out.
But guess what? With this album he’s remembered that he was a part of the synth pop revolution in the early 80s. He’s recaptured the heady joy that came with being part of something that felt genuinely new. He’s still in life coach mode with titles straight from the life coach’s manual - ‘Celebrate It Together’, ‘Be The Hero’, ‘Who You Really Want To Be’, ‘I Believe In You’. You feel better just for reading them and as part of life’s medicine they’re now wrapped in sugary sherbert.
He’s a master of restraint this time around. There’s no more wallowing in slowed down over emoting. He’s comfortable with his voice and it sounds less strained. In a strange way, it sounds as if he’s rediscovered what the synth can do. He’s playing with its effects, and that element of playfulness is carried over into the songs. They’re a lighter listen now. His synth playing (or programming) is clean and rhythmic. It makes a big difference to songs like ‘You Are The Peacemaker’, ‘To Feel Love’ and, especially, in the funk undertones of ‘I Believe In You’.
The changes are heard best in ‘Formed By The Stars’. It floats, has a good chorus and attractively tinkly synth. ‘Celebrate It Together’ has Howard venturing into the 80s club. In the memory, that would have been like finding Billy Connolly in church. It could happen but it would be unexpected and turn heads.
Forty years on, and Howard Jones has finally arrived at the party. He’s turned out to be a pretty nice guy too.
Taster Track : Formed By The Stars
Lucid Express : Lucid Express
Pop In The Real World travels to Hong Kong this week (not literally, musically) for a gorgeous slice of shoe gazing dream pop.
Does it matter if you know where a band comes from? Maybe not, but it can help you to make connections that might otherwise slip by unnoticed. Lucid Express formed in 2014, around the time of the Hong Kong Umbrella revolution. That was a time of civil disruption and protest. It’s not fanciful to hear that in the music of Lucid Express.
Their songs are a combination of something like white noise allied to heavy reverb that sounds like the moments immediately after cataclysmic explosions, a “what just happened” effect. It’s softened by pristine guitar lines and heavenly vocals. It doesn’t matter that you can’t make out what they’re singing, even with the help of a lyric sheet. They're angelic, coming through the noise of the city from far away, raising beauty from the ashes of what was there before.
This album has a lovely texture, mixing everything together to make something special. It’s like one of those paint mixing machines that takes just enough of each colour to make something new, bright and hopeful. It carries you along on a tidal wave of sound while coming at you as if heard while plunged underwater in a warm bath. It calls to mind the early 80s sound of The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees too.
In themselves the elements aren’t new but they’re exceptionally well done. It’s music that deserves a place in every collection.
Taster Track : Aquarium
....And The Rest
Into The Bells : Broken Bells
Broken Bells are hip hop producer Danger Mouse and the vocalist and guitarist from American indie band The Shins, James Mercer. This is towards the indie end of that spectrum. It’s good, but just a little unsatisfactory.
They have a song on the album that sums up the problem. It’s ‘We’re Not In Orbit Yet…’. Something is keeping the songs tethered to Earth, preventing them from soaring. It’s a good well produced sound but, like an unnaturally tidy house, everything is fixed in its place. It’s rock music recast as a formal dance, adhering rigidly to unwritten rules. Songs measure out their progress sedately. If they’re truly in ‘The Chase’ - another title from the album - it’s a half hearted, lacklustre one.
They’ve captured structure, but not beauty. As a result they are too slow to rock and too coldhearted to warm the soul.
On the plus side, Danger Mouse isn’t afraid to dip his hand into pop’s great melting pot. ‘Into The Blue’ is a missing John Lennon track from The White Album. Lyrically it’s as opaque as anything John and Yoko might have written. ‘Love On The Run’ has a more soulful vibe, complete with horns and strings, and has a memorable melody too. ‘One Night’ has shades of 80s disco. That’s another part of the problem. It’s easier to like the tracks that remind you of something else.
Note by note, I like this album but song by song it falls a little flat.
Taster Track : Love On The Run
CAZIMI : Caitlin Rose
Caitlin Rose’s first album for nine years is a refreshing blast of classic songwriting filled with confidence and optimism.
Cazimi represents good luck and opportunity in astrology. You sense that Rose is aware of these gifts in her life, and she’s not about to look them in the mouth. The album is filled with a sense of enjoyment flowing from this great and positive start.
Cazimi is also an astrological term for when the sun and another planet are perfectly conjoined. That’s true of this record too. It has a sunny disposition in the music. The songs are instantly likeable, free from bitterness and cynicism and, as she told The Guardian, trauma dumping.
It also means that where there are contradictions beneath the surface of these songs they don’t strike a false note. She looks and sounds like the girl next door, but she has a pure rock core running through her. The confidence and certainty in her songs sometimes disguises that she feels confused, as on ‘How Far Away’. She’s not going to let it get her down though.
She grew up in Nashville and you can hear the Nashville sound in her quieter songs and in the steel guitar that pedals through the songs. Equally, though there are songs that have a rock and roll side to them - ‘Getting It Right’ and ‘Lil’ Vespa’ for example. Her voice may come from country, but her guitars come from the Rolling Stones and others.
Whether it’s the alignment of the stars and planets, or a natural gift for talented songwriting it’s easy to warm to this album .
Taster Track : How Far Away
All These Things : DC Gore
This blend of club rhythms and Pet Shop Boys suburban pop is stronger than the sum of its parts. It’s by no means flawless but it is enjoyable.
DC Gore appears brimful of confidence. Some might call it over confidence. Others might hear his music as a willingness to seize opportunities before he’s ready in the hope that he grows to fill them. In that sense he’s the Jack Grealish of rock, outstanding at a smaller football club but struggling to make an impact when he’s mixed in with the big players. He needs time to deliver and be ready
He’s trying too hard. He is more convincing on personal matters than on social commentary. It’s songs like ‘Need You Tonight’ and ‘I Like You’ that show his strengths best. As it happens, I think that some of the Pet Shop Boys’ finest moments come in their quieter songs and if they’re the template for these then that’s a good idea.
There are some good moments in the livelier songs too. House and techno lift ‘California’, bringing dance beats into a proper song. There aren’t many explosions into euphoria though, so songs such as ‘Sisyphus’ flirt with an earth bound grubbiness.
I want to unleash my inner Craig Revel Horwood for a moment. (For those more concerned with gritty TV Nordic dramas than prime time entertainment, he’s a judge on Strictly Come Dancing - the mean one!) Running through these songs is a quirk of stressing words in the wrong places. Take ‘Millennium People’. He sings “And domestic man took a stand” stressing ‘dom’ not ‘mes’. On ‘Nietzsche On The Beach’ he sings “the fascist weekender” emphasising the last syllable ‘der’ rather than the natural syllable, ‘end’. It’s a clumsy distraction and not a welcome one. DC is described as a disrupter. He’s certainly disrupting his own songs with this habit.
The album is a bit hit and miss, but he’s in all the right spaces to make a killer record one day. And if the music isn’t as good as it might be, it’s still pretty good.
Taster Track : I Like You
Strangerlands : Loup Garoux
Prepare to be shaken and stirred by Loup Garoux whose planet sized rock takes no prisoners in an exhilarating album.
Loup Garoux are Mercury Prize nominated Ed Harcourt, Richard Jones from The Feeling and Cass Browne from Gorillaz. They’re Brits one and all, in the mould of hellraisers throughout history. Think of this album as a rockier direct descendent of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and ‘Run For The Hills’.
On the face of it the three members are strange bedfellows, but it works. Ed Harcourt brings dark intensity. Richard Jones provides the pop touches that make the mix lighter and more accessible, and Cass Browne contributes the imagination and understanding that this album needs to be a performance. It’s rare to hear such whole hearted, uncompromising commitment to an idea.
This is music to accompany the danger of a Gothic storm - a storm with dark, driving rain,refugees sheltering hopelessly under gnarled trees while lightning rips the skies and plagues of bats swoop down over the moors. It’s a world of ‘Strange Angels’ alright, direct from Doctor Who’s scariest moments.
It’s also a proper, undiluted rock album full of squalling guitars, crashing drums and high drama Halloween keyboards. It’s a no holds barred powerhouse of a record shot through with the bright colourful sounds of pop with its near operatic backing vocals, hook laden keyboard trills and melodic rollercoaster, guitar lines. You could call it Heavy Rainbow music. Well I could anyway!
This is an album that's a one off. If you need a fix of classic over the top rock that leaves you smiling at its relentless audacity, this is for you.
Taster Track : Velvet And Gold
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