Brad Mehldau, Connie Constance, David Holmes, GNAC, King Tuff, Ladytron
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
There's nothing quite like the quirky and unusual sound of GNAC. He should be much better known but, in all truth, if he were, his select group of fans would feel slightly disappointed. He's a secret to treasure, a delight to hold close. Listen to this if you want warm music that leaves you feeling very happy.
Miss Power : Connie Constance
Connie Constance is a singer songwriter who has carved out her own identity in song. This album could help you to fall in love with her and with music all over again.
It’s rare for personality to influence an album so strongly. Connie Constance is who she is and what she is needs no excuses. She’s free from doubt and uncertainty and is brimful of self belief, attitude and confidence. Her personality blazes through each of these songs giving the whole album fire and passion. It’s also what gives her the right to call herself ‘Miss Power’. She’s playful too, calling one song ‘Mood Hoover’ and breaking up a few lines in to say that she’s just playing.
These are songs that reclaim the singer songwriter for the twenty somethings who are out there living life rather than reaching for unattainable dreams and moping in shabby bedsits. They are songs that tell us what she wants to say, not what she thinks we want to hear. Lyrically and musically they make their moves with everything worked out, with Constance completely in control.
The album opens and closes on a high. ‘Till The World’s Awake’ is a celebratory love song about all that’s right in her relationship. There’s a positive energy at play that carries her through the album. The closing track ‘Red Flag’ may be about all the reasons not to follow a relationship but it surges to a conclusion with strength and defiance.
The most appealing part of this album though is the way that the music becomes her. She’s not tribal in her influences and ignores genre boundaries to create someone and something unique. Her personality can accommodate and subsume Lily Allen, Polly Styrene, Joan Armatrading, The Streets, punk, dance pop and rock. What we’re hearing is her musical DNA. It’s magpie music of the best kind and it fits her like a bulletproof vest.
Connie Constance is a musician to celebrate and a force to be reckoned with.
Taster Track : Till The World’s Awake
Continental Balcony Twilight Part 1 and Part 2 : Gnac
This lovely compilation of early instrumentals from Gnac (pronounced like the last syllable of Cognac) left me feeling warm, grateful and happy.
There’s no escaping the fact that Gnac is not widely known. Christened Mark Tranmer, his fans clutch him to their hearts as a joyful secret, a true love that for whatever reason can’t be publicly acknowledged. His fans include Bob Stanley from Saint Etienne, Tim Burgess from The Charlatans and authors Pete Paphides and Jonathan Coe. He keeps good company.
This two volume collection of early material is, inevitably, one the fans will snap up but newcomers will have to stumble across in some lucky accident. Part 1 is a collection of early pieces from the 90s. Part 2 is a collection of tunes sourced from cassette, minidisc and Digital Audio Tape (DAT). It’s fitting that these overlooked, under used and near obsolete media provide the source material because the music itself seems to come from a forgotten age, perhaps the age when silent movies gave way to talkies leaving stars stranded in the past.
There’s something of the 1930s seaside murder mystery to the early tunes such as ‘The Moustache’. They could be the theme tunes to a mid afternoon crime series. They have a music box innocence and stylised charm. It’s exceptionally calming and sweetly melodic.
The music is both immersive and detached, like people watching from a roadside cafe. It’s less dream pop and more daydream pop.
Listening to this you feel like an unnoticed observer, an escapee from your stresses and strains. This is music that allows you to lose yourself in your thoughts, triggering flights of imagination. It provokes a different way of seeing life, something akin to cinema’s Monsieur Hulot, Chance the gardener from ‘Being There’ or even Mr Bean in a quieter, private moment.
The earlier pieces are less rich and fleshed out than his later work, but they are more distinctive too. He achieves a simplicity that is harder than it looks. You’ll sometimes hear three melodies at once, each enhancing the others and all sounding gorgeous. In a strange way, they’re quite formal, mapped out from start to finish like an elaborate dance or a well rehearsed and choreographed drill manoeuvre.
Usually if I have a couple of albums lined up for an artist I listen to them separately. Not here. I couldn't wait to move from Part 1 straight to Part 2.
Part 2 steps up the pace a little from gentle amble to a steady jog. There’s more confidence and purpose in the tunes, evident in the marching rhythm of ‘Our Distance’. The pieces are a little more hypnotic too, almost trance like in the style of the softer side to Durutti Column.
I loved these collections. They’re what the world needs right now - a musical balm of gentle kindness for everyday life.
Taster Tracks : VES 004 (from Part 1) and ‘Eyelash’ (from Part 2)
....And The Rest
Your Mother Should Know : Brad Mehldau
American jazz pianist Brad Mehldau plays the Beatles (and one song by David Bowie). It’s smooth.
When a celebrated artist covers The Beatles it could be because they’ve run out of ideas. It can turn into a sickly affair complete with swooping synthetic strings and more additional notes than you will ever need. The words ‘sell’ and ‘out’ are also often heard. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. It is easy to listen to without being part of that maligned genre ‘easy listening’.
The album cover contains a mosaic of zebra crossings. It takes a while to realise what they are and a few seconds longer to make the connection to ‘Abbey Road’. The same thing happens with these tunes. Recognition rests on the tip of your tongue and once identified you can appreciate the technique that has gone into the recording. The Beatles’ original trips alongside the newer version, always remaining on nodding terms.
On ‘Abbey Road’ the original version of ‘Golden Slumbers’ clocks in at just over 90 seconds. Here, Mehldau extends it to eight minutes and a few seconds - long enough to take you out of REM sleep and into deep unconsciousness. That’s a lot of added material to work with. Essentially the original becomes a sample that Mehldau expands without losing the melody. It works well. ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ pulls off a similar trick. In a way it glorifies the original.
It’s an interesting selection songs. Lesser played songs such as ‘Your Mother Should Know’, ‘Baby’s In Black’ and ‘She Said, She Said’ predominate. ‘Yesterday’ is left to the likes of Richard Clayderman! Jools Holland will envy the boogie woogie pizazz invested in ‘I Saw Her Standing There’.
The recording is respectful of the originals. It’s played sensitively and allows space for the originals to morph into something new. It was made, live, in front of an intimate audience. Perhaps next time the engineers can edit out the persistent cougher!
This album is an enjoyable, safe dipping of the toes into jazz. It’s also inspiration for any musicians wanting to express their individuality in familiar songs.
By the by, there’s an interesting blog at Slate.com on Jazzing The Beatles which explains why these records should not necessarily be regarded as a sell out.
Taster Track : Your Mother Should Know
This England : David Holmes
David Holmes’ soundtrack to our recent past is an atmospheric reminder of a frightening time. Within its narrow confines, it’s an unmitigated success.
‘This England’ is the soundtrack to the Sky TV series of the same name. It’s an uncomfortable start to Valentines Day to have Boris Johnson staring out at me from the cover!
This is the ultimate Covid record, both a record about Covid and a record of Covid. It’s our personal history. It serves three purposes. First it’s a soundtrack to specific pictures in the TV series. Secondly it has to be judged as music in its own right. Thirdly it’s a soundtrack to your own experiences.
It’s this last purpose that makes listening to this so powerful. Few records stir up emotions quite like this does. It soundtracks the fear of the time and prods the anger that comes from that. As you can imagine, with these emotions to the fore it’s not a light and comfortable listen.
There are 17 tracks in 39 minutes. They’re full of foreboding. The pattering beats and rhythms sound like a dangerous animal roaming your home at night. The nasty animal images persist. In ‘Jobs For The Boys’ you can’t help but visualise jackals and hyenas scavenging through the pickings on offer.
Many of the pieces are strong enough to stand on their own merits, ‘Why?Why?, Why?’, ‘Astrazeneca’, ‘No Morality’ and ‘Human Too Human’ among them. The dark electronica and throbbing pulse akin to quickened breathing and accelerated heartbeats match the times perfectly.
If there’s a criticism it’s only that this is perhaps just a step towards the perfect Covid record. Overlaying news extracts, politicians’ speeches and the public’s experiences on top of the music, in the style of Public Service Broadcasting would be more intense and harder to ignore. It would be public service broadcasting indeed.
Perhaps there’s a fourth purpose served by this emotional soundtrack. It won’t let us forget that time and help us to hold leaders to account.
Taster Track : Why? Why? Why?
Smalltown Stardust : King Tuff
Whatever makes up smalltown stardust, it’s worked its magic on King Tuff. This is the sound of garage rocking bluesmen on their day off - retro and relaxed. It’s good.
It takes a while to tune in to what’s happening here, but when it clicks it feels right. For a while you might feel as if you’re looking at a 3D picture without the right spectacles. It's undoubtedly an enjoyable and attractive sound but it sounds as if there’s a loose wire in the mix, or as if it’s coming from a radio signal that isn’t quite in focus.
From the picture on the front, you could expect to hear a bluesman of the woods, except that there’s a strange being next to him. Look at the track listing and as well as wood sprites on fountains, there are love letters to plants, bandits stealing the atmosphere and stardust, lots of stardust.
This isn’t an album that’s come from a hard drinking hellraiser. This is from a man who loves his music in the manner of a happy drunk or contented stoner. There’s a lazy, unhurried bluesy feel to a song such as ‘How I Love’.
It’s not an album that pushes itself forward. It’s happy to be on the margins, like a newcomer to the gang who’s accepted but not yet essential. The songs have found a place in the world that’s a little different, a little to one side but a safe place free from cynicism and cruelty.
The songs are immediately familiar because of touchstones such as the rolling American rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival on ‘Rock River’, Beach Boys harmonies and the thin seaside organ carrying ‘Love Letters To Plants’. They link both to 70s rock and gentle 60s psychedelia. It’s a comfortable, welcoming place to be.
This is a heartwarming album that is the sound of old rockers gently relaxing. King Tuff? King Teddy Bear more like!
Taster Track : How I Love
Time’s Arrow : Ladytron
Ladytron perform classic synth pop, connected directly to the pleasure part of your brain. You can’t ask for more than that.
In recent years no one has made better synth pop singles than the three songs that open this album -‘City of Angels’, ‘Faces’ and ‘Misery Remember Me’. They’re all unimprovable songs that could be used to teach aliens the meaning of pop. The first two are catchy, melodic, dramatic and bubbly, swirling joyfully into your head. ‘Misery Remember Me’ is a little slower but builds inexorably into a giant wave that never falters. It has echoes of the Cocteau Twins.
That opening is like a headlong rush from the beach into the sea. Listening to the album in full is like carefree swimming once you’ve adjusted to the initial impact of the water. It slows down a little as you tire and grow a little cold, and has you looking with increasing desire at your towels on a warm beach. There’s a faint sense by the time you reach ‘Times Arrow’ that batteries are running out and everything has slowed down just a tad.
‘Times Arrow’ is a good image for the album. It’s an arrow that starts in the past but still shoots through the airwaves to sound like the future. Lyrically these songs seem to be unveiling hidden truths, but their voice is submerged by synths in tracks such as ‘California’ and ‘Sargasso Sea’. It’s an Indiana Jones of a record, not in the swashbuckling sense but in the sense that in tampering with the past you’re in danger of unleashing future troubles.
Ladytron have been around too long to be willing apprentices to their art. They’re grandmasters now. If that means that you lose the sense of new possibilities as you listen to them, it also means that you’re hearing synth pop that is done as well as it can be done.
Above all, this is pure pop. Treasure it for that alone.
Taster Track : City of Angels
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