Adam Camm, Cosmo Sheldrake, The 18th Parallel, Lael Neale, Modern Cosmology, Murray A Lightburn
The Front Runners
Mirror, Mirror : Adam Camm
Here’s an album that borrows successfully from our psychedelic and glam past to create something vibrant and fresh.
Disclosure time - a friend asked me if I’d review this. It’s always an awkward moment as you weigh up the risk of upsetting a friendship against the possibly that you're about to listen to their maiden aunt and cat dueting through the collected works of Radiohead. As it turns out there was no need to worry. He was the one doing me a favour.
This isn’t perfect but as full debuts by new artists go, it’s a decidedly strong album. It sounds great. If songs start a little uncertainly on occasion, trying too hard to make an impact too quickly they soon settle into their groove like a pilot locking into his descent path while approaching a tricky landing. That’s the case on ‘Wonder In The Morning After’, which grows into one of the best songs here.
Camm’s learned a thing or two from Jagger’s satanic majesty, Jim Morrison’s infernal energy, Bowie’s pre Ziggy strangeness and Kula Shaker’s magpie borrowings, but he has the personality to wear and own his musical suits comfortably and convincingly.
If, as he tells us, there’s devil in the detail then the devil is all over this album. He’s in the handclaps of ‘Please Sincerely Mr Jones’, the swagger of ‘Feel The Fuzz’ and the Doors keyboards that adorn the songs throughout. And the psychedelic ‘Feel The Fuzz’, and the glorious good time chants and stomps of ‘Feel It’ show that the devil still has all the best tunes.
At heart this is a very good pop album that manages to sound both timeless and fresh.
Taster Track : Feel It
Once Upon A Time In Montreal : Murray A Lightburn
If you mourned the passing of Burt Bacharach earlier this year, fear not. His spirit is alive and kicking in Murray A Lightburn’s new solo album.
Sometimes a picture paints a thousand words but minimises the most important element. It’s like Bruegel showing a boy falling out of the sky in his painting ‘The Fall Of Icarus’ while a ploughman occupies the foreground, lost in his work and failing to notice the tragedy unfolding before him.
Lightburn stands in the cover of ‘Once Upon A Time In Montreal’, the city behind him, hands in pockets, lost in thought but still assertive and taking up space. He looks for all the world like a leftover from the Rat Pack. The brash font looks like it belongs to a poster for a gangland thriller. What’s more he’s been called the ‘Black Morrissey’, a man famous for his self-centred histrionics. His band, The Dears, make a thrilling but bombastic noise.
Look again. The element that is hidden in plain view is the black tie. Lightburn is grieving the loss of his father. That’s what the album is about. It’s an elegy written in a corporate courtyard rather than a country churchyard.
It manages to sound deeply personal, and empathically universal at the same time. Misdirected by the title ‘No New Deaths Today’ you may think, as I did, that this is a memorial to those lost to Covid and it can serve as such.
Running through each song is a heartbreaking sense of being too late. As he sings on ‘Reaching Out For Love’ it’s about the “tragedies of unreconciled relationships”. It’s a compelling window into the innermost emotions triggered by the death of someone close.
I’m guessing that the album was written before Burt Bacharach died earlier this year. It adds to the impact though that it is his spirit that runs through these songs. It’s in the stripped back simplicity of ‘The Only One I Want To Hear’ and the emotional restraint of ‘Dumpster Gold’ and ‘No New Deaths Today’. ‘Once Upon A Time In Montreal’ is how Sinatra would sound if he was singing today at the top of his game.
Your heart will go out to this record.
Taster Track : No New Deaths Today
The Chasing Pack
The Much Much How How And I : Cosmo Sheldrake
You’re unlikely to have heard anything quite like this melting blend of folk orchestra, lavish musical and the tiniest seasoning of psychedelic John Lennon Beatles before.. It’s an acquired taste, but a likeable one.
Its influences are easy to spot, but they’re not from the music world. This is the soundtrack to any children’s literature that has within it a knowing nod to the grown ups. It’s music for Wonderland as heard through the looking glass or Workers Playtime for the oompa loompas working in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. And it’s certainly influenced by the nonsense poems of Edward Lear. ‘Come Along’ borrows directly from his ‘Jabberwocky’ poem.
“March with me and the borogroves
Come with me and the slithy toves.”
It’s a one off imaginative epic that happens to be musical. This is nonsense set to music, a strange fish that values sound over meaning. A good word to describe these compositions is ‘arrangement’. They’re formally structured according to rules we may not understand. In that sense it’s as distant from our usual listening as opera.
The songs are based around an orchestra full of guitars, woodwind, strings and splurging sound effects. That John Lennon seasoning I mentioned earlier is the kind found in ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite’ on Sergeant Pepper. Each song is driven by a tumbling sense of rhythm. ‘Egg and Soldiers’ will show you what I mean, as will ‘Linger Longer’ which sounds like an overture to the whole work.
This is an album that is warm and baffling, strange but welcoming, formal but breaking boundaries. It’s eccentric, a tottering tower of tones and tunes that topples over in the closing track ‘Hocking’
This is music that is inspired by a mischievous sense of fun. That’s a high enough motive to make the enterprise worthwhile and to encourage listeners to give it a go.
Taster Track : Linger A While
Downtown Sessions : The 18th Parallel
This is roots reggae pure and simple. It’s loving and political, bass driven and repetitive. It will draw you in or repel you at its door.
Roots reggae. More than any other form of popular music, even jazz, it can deter you from listening before you’ve heard a note. The slow, deep bass lines. The spacey and echoey flourishes that seem to come from another place. The proudly proclaimed links to Jamaica and Rastafarians. It’s music for the topics of conversation that haven’t featured in polite society since forever.
There’s no hiding from the fact that how you feel about the songs here will be directly influenced by how you instinctively feel about reggae. This isn’t softened or undiluted. This is like wandering into a Latin mass and not knowing if you’re in at the start, halfway through or near the end.
Venture in through the door though and you’ll find something strangely soothing and even trance like. These are the hymns of rastafarians, containing the grandfatherly wisdom of lessons learned over generations. These are songs, lyrics and rhythms that stretch back through the past and will reach out to future generations, unchanging. Its repetitiveness over time - and in individual songs too - is what makes it special. It works well that this is a collaboration with the Jamaican elders of the reggae community. It enhances that sense of continuity through time.
When you listen to it carefully, you’re swayed by the incantatory rhythms of ‘Ride On’, lifted by the optimistic spiritualism of ‘Lovely Feeling’ and soothed by the childish lullaby of ‘Just Like The Rainbow.’ The bass lines may be deep, but the soulful choirboy singing of Hopeton James on ‘It’s Just A Wonder’ will lift your spirits.
Pop music is a broad church. Allow a little reggae into your musical life.
Taster Track : Just Like The Rainbow
Star Eaters Delight : Lael Neale
On Lael Neale’s new album some of the best possessed post punk songs meet a bewildering production decision.
Let me explain that opening statement. ‘I Am The River’ is a pounding slice of driven rock to rank with the finest work of Doves. It’s spoiled though by the thin, strained vocals that sound scratchy and tinny as if the recording channel had not been switched on. This is a collection of strong songs, laid low. It’s a crying shame, a weird production decision and I’m not a fan.
An alternative, kinder approach is to regard this as a startling beginning to a record that is trying to make an individual mark in an overcrowded field. They come to you from far away, but they hold so much addictive promise that I want them close by me. It’s true that you adjust to the sound but it means that the album is bedevilled by the question “How good could these songs have been?”
Moving on, there’s a brooding menace to the music which stands at the edge of a Gothic horror story. It’s an album that sounds like it is haunted or has been possessed. The insistent pulse to the songs and the repetitive vocals conjure a sense of being watched on cold rainy nights from dark alleyways, or sensing a hostile, unseen presence stalking you from the far side of an isolated farm. ‘Return To Me Now’ is like a wide screen film composed, recorded and transposed to a 6’ by 4’ cell.
Where the production is less obvious, as on the album’s centrepiece ‘In Verona’ the songs improve. ‘No Holds Barred’ is typical of the melodic lo fi sound. The church organ folk of ‘If I Had No Wings’ is something creative and different.
Perhaps this album is a grower but, for now, it’s an album with much promise that is screaming out for a different treatment but failing to be heard.
Taster Track : I Am The River
What Will You Grow Now ? : Modern Cosmology
‘What Will You Grow Now’ is a record best described as interesting. That’s ‘interesting‘ in both the good and not so good sense but on the whole it makes for a satisfying album.
Modern Cosmology is a collaboration between Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and genre bending Brazilian rock group Mojobo. They've cultivated something that is neither hypnotic French electronica, nor beach ready Brazilian rhythms but a cross pollination of the two.
You could describe this as experimental and even avant garde, but it’s neither off putting nor difficult. It’s the kind of music that might be grown in the laboratory by white coated lab assistants searching for a new, genetically modified form of music.
The search for any new form of life may be bedevilled by false starts and overreaching. That happens here a little. Songs aren’t quite ready to reach out and engage . They’re a little detached and wrapped up in their own endeavours. They’re like a hard to find radio station that is continually slipping from its frequency to something less clear and more uncertain of itself. ‘Consent For Life’ is a doodle that suddenly passes the ideal point for a scribbled work of art to become something overly complicated and messy.
But there is also much that is good. Dig deep and you will find something to treasure. ‘Making Something’ proceeds at a steady pace, ploughing its own furrow before transforming into an unexpected and unexplained musical crop circle. The bass lines are consistently interesting. Try ‘What Will You Grow Now’ to hear how the bass holds a song together like a silk worm’s thread. The end to ‘Trauma Release Makes Fire’ is as Brazilian pop as you’ll find anywhere.
This is music as it evolves, an ongoing experience, and it’s a privilege to hear it taking shape. The closing track ,‘A Time To Blossom’, is a resolution to the album as a whole with an extended, harmonised fade out that suggests the search for something new may be nearly over.
Bear with me on this but in the history of chocolate bars, the Flake appeared almost by accident, an opportunity to reuse the shards of chocolate that would otherwise be wasted in the manufacturing process. The Wispa was consciously developed to appeal to consumers with its taste, shape, size and texture. Both bars are tasty, but this is a Wispa of an album.
Taster Track : A Time To Blossom
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