Altin Gun, Deanna Petcoff, Rosie Carney, Scary Pockets, The Sherlocks, Wolfgang Flur
If You Listen To One Thing This Week....
Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves : Aretha Franklin and Eurythmics
It's a personal choice this week, occasioned by my eldest (not elder) sister Frances celebrating a milestone birthday. It had me reflecting on sisters generally. Frances, and my two other sisters Susan and Sarah are three very different, strong characters united in part by having an irritating elder brother.
I'm not sure we share much in the way of musical likes, but music has played a big part in all our lives. Two of them learned to play the piano much better than I did. At least two of them sing much better than I do.
None of them, as far as I know, read this blog
This is for them. It seemed an appropriate way to recognise both the milestone birthday and their sisterliness.
Yol : Altin Gun
Altin Gun’s catchy and addictive mix of eastern vocals and western synth pop is a treat for the ears and something that is genuinely different.
In the never ending search for the next new trend you’d get long odds on it coming from a Turkish band, based in the Netherlands, who don’t sing in English. Unlikely though it may sound, this is the very opposite of niche music. It’s like a small door opening out into a wide open musical space.
If, like me, you look up band biographies before listening to an album you may find this described as Turkish prog. If that entices you, great. Carry on. If it puts you off, pause a minute. This is not pretentious and overblown. It’s found a magic combination of sounds that have always been there without being heard. It’s recognisable but fresh and new because music like this doesn’t break through the musical divides to delight our musical palate very often. It could be a horrible culture clash, but it works well.
Musically, it’s a kind of synth pop with vocals that are as flavoured with the East as Turkish Delight. It works well on the slower numbers such as ‘Esmerim Guzelin’ or ‘Ordunun Dereleri’ but overall this is music for moving to. The propulsive throb under ‘Arda Boylan’, the infectious funk groove of ‘Hey Nari’ or the easy disco vibe of ‘Macka Yollan’ are hard to resist, even if the movement they prompt is of the unconscious toe tapping kind.
‘Bulunur Mu’ is what you should listen to if you want something that takes itself seriously, even to the point of possessing gravitas, while remaining infernaly catchy.
Perhaps their greatest achievement is to be a band that it is cool to namedrop without being a chore to listen to.
Taster Track : Bulunur Mu
To Hell With You, I Love You : Deanna Petcoff
Deanna Petcoff’s debut album is a magpie collection of influences drawn from pop history that succeeds to exciting effect.
She stands in a direct line of succession from Chrissie Hynde. It’s the same punk attitude conveyed through less spiky music. It’s in the range of her emotions too. Just as Hynde has ‘Kid’ nestling next to ‘Tattooed Love Boys’ on the Pretenders debut, so Petcoff balances the intense rowing of ‘Failing Upwards’ with the quieter gentleness of ‘I Don’t Wanna Wake Up’. It’s a winning, but slightly scary combination. You don’t know which Deanna you’ll be encountering next!
This is an intense album that is always listenable. It sounds like music approaching the end of its tether, capturing the feeling of the point in a row where words fail and all that’s left is to scream. Except that Petcoff is as articulate about this as anything else. Lines such as “I turned you to anecdote” work a treat.
Petcoff covers everything from the explosive storm to the settling dust of a relationship. She craves rather than simply wants or needs. But because there’s real passion at play, there’s no wallowing in self pity.
At heart, irrespective of style, they’re strong songs united by a common world view. Rock nestles next to ballads, punk and girl power become acquainted and the whole calls to mind the best of new wave pop.
Taster Track : Failing Upwards
I Wanna Feel Happy : Rosie Carney
This is an album of songs that are indebted to Radiohead whilst containing a melodic and atmospheric loveliness that is all her own.
Rosie Carney’s last album was a track by track cover of Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ where she drew out the most gorgeous melodies from harsh, experimental music. She takes that a step further with this album of highly accessible and melodious songs that still have Radiohead's influence running through every track. To provide just two examples, ‘time waits for no waiting room’ and ‘sugar’ - the lack of capitalisation is deliberate - could be Radiohead songs in all but name.
This is more than a mere pop album. Carney can create an edgy, threatening atmosphere through voice and lyrics alone as ‘dad’ demonstrates. If these songs are autobiographical she’s a complex character, encompassing everything from the sweetness of ‘tidal wave’ to the suppressed threat of ‘sugar.
There’s a spacey vibe to tracks such as ‘chihiro’ and ‘ceiling’ which helps the album to stand apart. It contributes a cold, emotional distance that chills and seduces in equal measure.
Rosie Carney has one of the most gorgeous voices in pop today. If there’s a quibble with this album it’s the use of vocoder on the opening track ‘i hate sundays’. It brings atmosphere but as the rest of the album shows, there is atmosphere in abundance without resorting to thin tricks of the trade. Her voice is a dream so why disguise it?
This album invites and encourages you to float away with it like an astronaut tethered to a rocket ship while space walking. Don’t be afraid. Sit back and enjoy the experience.
Taster Track : break the ground
...And The Rest
Frisky Business : Scary Pockets
This covers album from LA band Scary Pockets is enjoyable enough but fails to convince that it’s necessary.
If you stumbled across Scary Pockets in a popular bar, or happened to catch them at a high class wedding you’d be blown away. Even in a bigger setting they’d be welcome - the ideal warm up act on a three band bill. Their brand of rhythmic funk is perfect for getting the party started.
The trouble is, when you set aside time to listen to them at home your expectations and standards are different. You expect something original, something that breaks free of the mass of music that’s out there and gives you a reason to listen to them rather than to someone else. Scary Pockets don’t give you that reason.
This is the sound of pro musicians who need exposure to be called up as session musicians or house bands. It’s the 21st century equivalent of those cheap TOTP compilations featuring glamorous cover girls and replicated cover songs. They stand or fall on the strength of their arrangements. Pop Idol contenders would kill for some of these as they would showcase their vocal range and import some manufactured personality to the act. They don’t, however, reveal anything new about the songs. They ride on the coat tails of something familiar.
Don’t get me wrong. These guys can play. Their collaborators can sing. They have good musical taste in their choice of songs.
With cover albums, how you feel about the cover is determined by how you feel about the original. The combination of ‘Under Pressure’ with a song I didn’t know, ‘All Eyes On Me’ works well. ‘The Power Of Love’ adds an interesting electro backing to Huey Lewis’ original, but the vocal melody is so strong and familiar that it takes you back to the original.‘Jealous Guy’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘God Only Knows’ are victims of murder on the dancefloor.
We listen in a playlist culture and there are countless mood and cover playlists on Spotify to save you investing in one band’s idea of what you should listen to. It’s not even a new concept. Pomplamoose, who feature as collaborators here, do this kind of thing with more wit and invention, and the Nouvelle Vague are the masters of this particular universe.
Ultimately this is music that is amiable enough but does not reward attentive listening and fails to show why it is anything like a necessary listen.
Taster Track : The Power Of Love
World I Understand : The Sherlocks
This collection of post Britpop rock is likeable, but I can understand too why the band have split opinions over the years.
The Sherlocks are a young band from Sheffield destined, as all such bands are, to play in the shadow of the Arctic Monkeys. There’s a bit of the Stereophonics about them too. They have a confident approach to music, full of busy guitars and big choruses. They fit a big sound into short three and a half minute songs and sometimes overfill the songs when a little more space to let them breathe would be welcome.
They’re definitely in a hurry. Their tactics seem to be to get in quick, punch out the songs, hold on for the ride and move on. It’s a breathless affair that brings energy and melody to the fore. It’s a default mode they stick to successfully.
It seems though that they have their critics. Some promotional stunts have backfired. They were good at bigging themselves up before they had the songs to support their claims. They’re retreading ground that many mid league bands have trod before.
It’s true that they may have tried to run before they could walk. There’s a sense that their songs are a painting by numbers sheet that is yet to be fully coloured in. It may not have the full range of colours, but there’s enough there to suggest that the fully developed picture will be a good one.
For now, they are vulnerable to the complaint that over the course of an album they don’t offer much variety. Like a pushy car salesman they always have another option, but it’s pretty much the same. And like a three card huckster, bamboozling you with the speed of their hands there’s always a risk that there’s never anything there.
Three albums in, and a 50% turnover of personnel and The Sherlocks are still one to watch rather than established favourites.
Taster Track : Falling
Magazine 1 : Wolfgang Flur
Wolfgang Flur was a member of Kraftwerk during their genius years of the 1970s. This album recalls that magic, but the vocals take the songs spiralling into new, but not necessarily elcome directions.
There’s a sense coming through that, because he was a member of Kraftwerk, we should take it as read that this is a great album. He’s a little bit like Ronaldo in that respect. If he tries something new, and it doesn’t come off, it’s still the work of a great footballer. Maybe that’s true, but will it lodge in the memory or be hard to recall when the match is over?
Flur’s contribution to the field of synthesiser music is a given. It’s the vocals here that clash and are out of step. Perhaps that’s art, but Flur’s own vocals are as close to irritating as they are to interesting. They’re often recited rather than sung, a mannerism he expects of his collaborating vocalists such as Propaganda’s Claudia Brucken and Ultravox’s Midge Ure. The vocals on ‘Best Buy’ are more than a little creepy
‘Magazine’ which opens the album jumps around jerkily, less robotic rock and more puppet pop. It’s full of clever rhythms and special effects, as is the album as a whole, but it’s also a bit hyper and manic. It’s as if he’s discovered a new chemical element, converted to dance and electronic music, that he hasn’t managed to fully stabilise and bring under control. ’Das Beat’ is the closest thing to a single on the album, and it’s a single vested in the style of Eurovision.
Gradually the music settles down and, once you move beyond the vocals, it’s a powerful reminder of how good the early days of synthesiser music were. It highlights too, how unfashionable the music of the time has become. Its reputation seems to rest more on its influences on later acts, and the platform it has provided them for further development.
I was about to write this off as a misstep, but it all comes together wonderfully well on the towering final track ‘Say No’. This is an 8+ minute message song in the vein of Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’. It’s the one track where the vocals add something special to the song, the variations in tone adding sincerity to the mix. The album was released in March 2022, and this may be the first song that sets out our personal responsibilities for responding to the war in Ukraine. It’s timely and it’s powerful.
Maybe this is a work of ‘mad scientist’ genius. Or maybe it’s an album that would work better as a collection of instrumentals and ‘Say No’.
Taster Track : Say No
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