Alice Jemima, Black Stone Cherry, Cerys Matthews / The Hidden Orchestra, Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Gospelbeach, Louis Philippe and the Night Mail, Philip Glass / Gerard Cousins, Sault,
It's been a week of mixed emotions for Donald Trump, an American currently looking for a fresh challenge. He may have lost the American Presidency but as one door closes, another opens.
Pop In the Real World has been pleased to offer him an unpaid position to oversee our archiving and housekeeping functions. His delight and appreciation for the offer shines through in his photograph.
The aim for Pop In the Real World is to stimulate, inspire and motivate interest in all things related to modern pop. There may be more to do in some markets if this non verbal feedback from America on how we're doing is to be believed.
This week's music was, on the whole, a serious affair. As ever his playlist can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. From this week I'll be building the Pop In the Real World Taster Tracks on You Tube too, to allow you to pick the platform you prefer. The link to the Youtube playlist is https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh_sy55y6i18Qj7w_Z3CQft (It has fewer tracks than the Spotify version for the first month!)
It's snowing as I type this, so we'll let snow influence the review headings this week.
I'm sorry, they've just melted away this week!
(Black Is) : Sault
OK, cards on the table. I don't feel in the least qualified to comment on race issues. And I have a strong tendency to worry about causing offence unintentionally, or offending sensitivities usually by trying to be funny. It's crass and if it happens I feel I should know better. I'm embarrassed to confess that whilst I have downloaded a couple of books on race issues I've never found the time to read them. (It's the same with climate change I'm afraid. And self improvement.) But I do want to do better and that's why this album seems important as a way of building some awareness about what it is to be black, and the threat that continued failure to find equality and respect will pose. I've used the word 'threat' after some consideration. It's the word that best describes a song such as 'Hard Times' although perhaps 'fair warning' would be a better description.
That said, notwithstanding the clenched fist on the cover, this is a much about raising awareness through descriptions of the black experience and self image, as it is about resistance and defiance. It seems clear eyed and even dispassionate as tracks such as 'Out The Lies' and 'Hard Life' make clear. The spoken parts of 'Out The Lies' and 'Black Is' are almost poetic in their impact and all the more powerful for it. As well as simmering anger, there's a soulful sadness in songs such as 'Sorry Ain't Enough'.
The strength of this album though is that it is also very good on a musical level. It's a melting pot of musical styles associated with black communities. (See? I'm getting tied up in knots. Why not say 'black musical styles?) Throughout this album there are elements of funk, chants, soul, gospel and trip hop. There's even a memory of reggae in the mix. The music is speaking through music for all black communities. In the days when the single was king, 'Wildfires' would be a cert for chart success. The finger clicks and hand claps add a Tamla Motown feel - another predominantly black music form. It's an excellent compilation of styles.
This is a convincing record and is shaped to become an important social document for future race historians. As with climate change it's up to us and to Governments if we act on its messages. There has to be value in sharing experiences honestly.
It will take more than one record to bring about change. And this record can, first and foremost, be enjoyed in musical terms. But in the 60s, the protest movement showed that one way to change public attitudes was through song. If Sault represent part of the vanguard for that, it's an encouraging step forward for building respect and understanding.
Taster Track : Out The Lies
Deep and Crisp and Even
Thunderclouds : Louis Philippe and the Night Mail
I'd describe this as musical olives. It's warm and sunny sounding but an unusual taste that may not be to everyone's liking.
It's an extremely pretty sound, perhaps too pretty for its own good. It's polite too, and smooth in the extreme - definitely the polar opposite of last week's Sleaford Mods. It's all very nicely done, a soundtrack for a bygone age of cafe society, It's not background music because it's far too stylised for that, but it is unobtrusive. It's a jazzy, crooner approach. To make a little more sense I'll have to name drop. These songs come across as a less hysterical Scott Walker, or a less theatrical, more mellow Marc Almond.
The musical arrangements are lovely. It's the lyrics and the vocals that transform the songs into something that might fall into an unfashionable operetta from the 50s. Highlights include 'Rio Grande', 'Love Is the Only Light' (one of the few songs here with a recognisable chorus!), 'Alphaville' and 'When London Burns'.
It's unusual but, in the end, it won me over with its quiet style.
Taster Track : When London Burns
Everything Changes : Alice Jemima
I loved Alice Jemima's self titled debut. It was quirky in its sparse, danceable synth songs. 'Cocoa Liquor' was unlike anything else around at the time. I've been waiting for a follow up for some time.
The good news is that 'Everything Changes' is a strong collection of gently disco driven songs with lots to listen to as well. It's a fuller sound than before with a suggestion that she has been listening, and paying attention to the disco giants of the late 70s and 80s without going in the slightest bit disco diva on us. She's kept a sense of mischievous fun. The Icarus chant in 'Icarus' shows that. The breathy vocals are still a treat. 'Dancing In Love', 'Everything Changing', 'Devil On My Shoulder' and 'Tiger' are highlights.
The slightly disappointing news is that in moving more toward the mainstream, she's diluted some of her USP. On this record she's more of a wine spritzer than a neat vintage wine. But, if not quite as special, it's still a highly enjoyable, relaxed listen.
Taster Track : Dancing In Love.
The Human Condition : Black Stone Cherry
At last, a classic rock album that is full of muscular drumming and riffs, but shies away from anything overblown. This is fuelled less by self aggrandising posing and more by genuine belief in their material.
This is a leaner, supercharged Bruce Springsteen. There are solos galore, and strong singalong choruses ('Ringin' In My Head', 'Again'). The songs don't out stay their welcome mainly clocking in at between 3 and 4.5 minutes. They state the premise for each song forcefully. 'Some Stories' deals with fake news and conspiracy theories. Throughout, the album is underpinned by good, even traditional, songwriting skills. 'If My Heart Had Wings' is best characterised as hard pop, but you can imagine it being covered in a number of softer styles in years to come.
My two favourite tracks are, whisper it quietly, the least typical of a hard rock collection. 'Keep On Keepin' On' adopts a sentimental approach to positivity. You'll hear it in the emotional climax to any number of films about defying the odds. And if 'Don't Bring Me Down' sounds like a familiar title, this is their cover of the ELO song. It works.
Taster Track : Don't Bring Me down
Hold Tight : Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly
Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly is one of my go to acts, not least because I think his chosen name is pretty much perfect. He's been around for 15 years and he's still not 35. (Well, not until this weekend anyway.)
This EP is a welcome release. It feels like a lockdown album, stripped back to the basics and all the better for it. It's an introspective record dwelling in tracks such as 'Go Figure' on the struggles of lockdown. 'Some Regrets' suggests a crisis is being worked through. Importantly though, he's never lost his way with a good tune so this is, above all, a listenable record even when the material is tough.
The way he tackles personal, raw, issues reminded me of another songsmith who deals in a similar way with the political environment. Perhaps he's a personal Billy Bragg with bedsit soul.
Taster Track : 40
We Come From The Sun : Cerys Matthews / Hidden Orchestra
Maybe it's just me, but if you buy salt and vinegar crisps, you expect them to contain salt and vinegar, not cheese and vinegar. If you want to see Ant and Dec, you don't expect to see Bruno and Dec. So, if you listen to a Cerys Matthews / Hidden Orchestra record, the minimum you expect is to hear Cerys Matthews as well as the Hidden Orchestra. You don't. Ms Matthews is silent throughout.
I'm not sure what her role is in this intriguing, arty record. Maybe she curated it, maybe she arranged, conducted and signed off the music, maybe she simply lends her name to the collection.
That aside, this is a commendable effort to bring poetry to a wider audience, featuring a dozen poets reciting their poems to an increasingly ambient backing provided by the Hidden Orchestra. (Or Cerys Matthews. It might be, of course, that it was the Hidden Orchestra that remained hidden throughout this recording. We don't know, and police searches have so far failed to turn up either of the missing persons.) There are jazz and folk accents too.
How you feel about this depends on how you feel about poetry recitations in general and these poets' poems in particular. I did enjoy Anthony Anaxagorou's contribution and Flame Lily by MA.MOYO works best with its music. So, a specialised and acquired taste but not by any means an unpleasant one.
(If you still need a Cerys Matthews fix after this, I can recommend 'Tir', her 2010 collection of Welsh folk songs, sung in Welsh. It's much better than that description makes it sound with real sonic beauty in some of the songs.)
Taster Track : Once I Had An Acceptance Speech - Anthony Anaxagorou
Escape : Philip Glass / Gerard Cousins
So, my method of choosing the day's album came up trumps with this one. I'd slept very badly the night before, and needed something gentle to guide me into full wakefulness. I'll admit I was dreading the prospect of AC/DC or Idles, both of which are on the 'to be played' list. Up popped Philip Glass, interpreted through Gerard Cousins' solo guitar. I'm not over familiar with Philip Glass but the one word I have seen regularly attached to him is 'minimalis't. Now, I don't know if that's fair or not but the one thing I'm fairly sure of is that minimalism is unlikely to take a form of skull splitting noise. Phew!
As it happens, with this record, I seem to have stumbled away from minimalist electronica into more classical areas. It's certainly no 1812 Overture complete with blasting cannons though which was good.
What we have here is pretty, lulling and undoubtedly accomplished. Whilst the music soothes, it doesn't always flow evenly. 'Metamorphosis No 5, for example, builds and ebbs almost coming to a stop as if it has reached its peak and is being pulled back to earth. 'Einstein On the Beach' ups the pace and changes the style. It's drawn from a Philip Glass opera and a brief look at the synopsis for that suggests that it's best not to think about this too deeply, just go with the flow. Take the same approach with this track.
Did I genuinely like it? Yes I did and I'll listen to a more representative work from Philip Glass in the future.
Finally, the album closes with a lovely track called 'Truman Sleeps'. Lucky sod!
Taster Track : Escape
Fortunately the gritters were out quickly this week. There's no slush to be found.
Once Upon A Time In London - Gospelbeach
This is a live album from a venue that doesn't sound full. That's either a tick for the wisdom of crowds, or a warning sign. Spoiler alert - I think the crowds were right on this one.
It's a very American, small town, country rock record and it hasn't travelled well. It has a very unfashionable 70s album feel. It's acoustic which is often a good thing, but it sounds unpolished and not endearingly so. The lead vocals sound a bit whiney, although the harmonising is well intentioned and competently performed. It's a worthy but dull production.
Unusually there are a few glaring mis-steps both in content and performance. They're clearly grieving a friend and former accomplice. Neal Casal is his name. The tribute via a song he wrote - 'Freeway To The Canyon' - is a sincere touch but the track 'Get It Back' hangs heavy over the album's atmosphere. And there's a puzzling sequence to the running order. 'California Steamer' jollies things up with a bit of southern country "yee haw" but it's evidently a closing number even though it appears as track 4 in the running order. No band earns 8 encores, and Gospelbeach certainly haven't.
Purely as a record of a live show it ticks some of the boxes, particularly in the engaging interaction with the crowd but it also feels overdone and almost disrespectful, desperate to please a thin sounding audience to the point of seeming to take the mick.
Taster Track : Strange Days