Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Chelsea Carmichael, Jarvis Cocker, Lady Blackbird, Lionlimb, Mike Cooper, RW Hedges, Spearmint
Album Cover of the Week
It was hard to choose a winner this week. Jarvis hardly needs the publicity of highlighting his portrait, but it felt as if this captured both the essence of the man and of the music within. I quite liked the jacket and shirt combo too, though that's not strictly relevant.
This Week's Music
This week's title, 'Winter Time Is A Razor Blade' comes from Lady Blackbird's song 'Collage', written by Joe Walsh and Pat Currie. Having walked out in biting temperatures, deiced car windscreens, and stood out in the open at a January funeral the words felt very appropriate.
Musically it's been a good week this week, if bewildering and baffling in one case. One of my 'Highly Recommended' choices this week may be a little controversial, but I can't conceive of that style of singing being done better.
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
Chansons d’Ennui : Jarvis Cocker
Jarvis Cocker. French cover versions. In French. Really? Yes, and the surprise is that it’s rather good.
You may have seen the film The French Dispatch towards the end of last year. It’s a stylised, occasionally bewildering set of four fil
med stories to which Jarvis contributed a song - ‘Aline’, included here - for the soundtrack. This is billed as a companion album to the film. In my humble opinion, it captures the joie de vivre of Paris in the 60s better.
This could have been awful, a hammed up exaggerated French mickey take. It’s not, and that’s because Jarvis plays it completely straight. He buys into the style and persona completely, going the whole hog as they don’t say on the Parisien Left Bank. He becomes French.
You could translate the songs as you go along, but it’s the sound of French that’s important, not the actual lyrics. In that way it reminds me of A Fish Called Wanda in which the John Cleese character woos the Jamie Lee Curtis character by reciting Russian. What’s said is not important. It’s the effect on the listener that counts and, on this album, the effect is to transport you to a happier, stylish version of France.
This is a gem of a record, delightfully produced. Despite the title, these are not songs of boredom. There’s a lot of attention to detail to make sure it sounds just so. It’s the poppiest album Jarvis has released since ‘Different Class, and his best too.
Taster Track : Aline
Black Acid Soul : Lady Blackbird
The Guardian lauded this recently as one of the great unheard albums of 2021. It’s brilliantly done jazz blues in the style of Billie Holiday but, be warned, it’s not a barrel of laughs and high spirits.
These songs could be heard as the soundtrack to the cruel PR campaign that is Blue Monday. They’re also the last songs you need to hear if you allow Blue Monday to take hold of you. These are songs that take the slow road to despair via loneliness. They’re bleak songs, filled with pain.
Some singers mimic the style to show they can sing. Here, Lady Blackbird is defined by her songs. If these are the songs you feel compelled to sing, it’s hard to imagine them being sung any better than they are here. Her voice is cracked and raw. Her heart is not so much broken as minced. They’re siren songs that lead to a bad place, so be sure you have a stiff coffee on hand to help you recover and stay away from the demon drink!
This is an album that is all mood. Every note, whether sung or played, is designed to reinforce it. I’ll stress again that it’s brilliantly done, but it’s also too much. The bass is inexorably paced. The piano provides flickers of light, but they’re the flickers of a light being extinguished, not of light bursting back into life.
The lightest track on the album is ‘Collage’ and even that contains lines such as:
“ Winter time is a razor blade
That the Devil made
As the price we paid
For the Summer time.”
There’s some respite too in ‘Beware The Stranger’ with its melodramatic recollections providing distance from the suffering.
It’s a remarkable album that demands to be heard once, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting a good time will listen to it twice.
Taster Track : Blackbird
...And The Rest
The River Doesn't Like Strangers : Chelsea Carmichael
Chelsea Carmichael takes some of the very best musical influences of the last 40 years or so and turns them into an album that can be enjoyed by jazz and non jazz fans alike.
There’s an exciting young jazz scene growing in the UK, and Chelsea Carmichael is well and truly immersed in it. Band hopping seems a common trait in jazz, and always has been, strengthening rather than diluting the sounds we hear. Her website contains links to her curated Spotify playlists, one of which is dedicated to music she loves regardless of genre. Understandably it’s jazz heavy but it also includes rap, RnB, dance and rock. ‘The River Doesn’t Like Strangers’ is similarly broad in its sound and influences.
Saying someone plays jazz is like saying someone is a cook. It introduces them, but provides nothing of the flavour of what you are about to receive. You can be truly grateful for it though. This album is a melting pot, mixing dub, post punk, South American, rock and African music. Oh yes, and it remains first and foremost an exciting jazz album.
She’s not just borrowing and repeating influences. She’s making something new out of them. ‘All We Know’ is a hybrid best described as dub jazz, her saxophone riff resting above a vaguely Eastern bass line. ‘Bone And Soil’ has a post punk attitude with a good tune over interesting rhythms.
This is jazz that means business as it energises. Aside from the closing track ‘Hiaro / Hadali’ it’s not jazz to relax into. It’s jazz to kickstart the party, as much about rhythm and pulse as it is about technical proficiency. The saxophone is always in control but it only adopts a freer, squalling approach on ‘Myriad’.
Forget this is jazz. At heart it’s simply very good music.
Spiral Groove : Lionlimb
This album is an enjoyable, relaxed and welcome listen, but it highlights the difficulty of standing out from the crowd.
I enjoyed this record. It’s as if they’d reached into a box marked ‘good musical influences’ and came up with a missing playlist of Gary Crowley’s ‘Lost 80s’ records, or had somehow discovered the secret of eternal good pop whether you call it alternative dance, dream Britpop or electro synthpop, or had created confectionary by mixing a bar of Caramac with a Mars bar to create something undeniably new but familiar.
They’re a band to inspire proprietorial interest in those that discover them. Although this isn’t a long album (31 minutes) I love the way that they allow a track like ‘Everyday’ the space to play out. A little more passion and emotion wouldn’t go amiss at times, but they lay down a catchy tune such as ‘Lifespan’ with no trouble at all.
It’s a touch anonymous. They remind me of everyone and no one. There are no surprises here. The notes are all played well and in the right order. Listening to this is enjoyable, like chatting to a stranger at a party that you know you’ll never meet again. They’re just missing that magic ingredient that will prompt the breakthrough. I hope they find it.
Taster Track : Everyday
Oceans Of Milk And Treacle : Mike Cooper
This is a collection of ambient, experimental soundscapes with occasional conventional musical interludes. It baffled and defeated me.
I’m a firm believer that you can see the good in, and even grow to appreciate, most things. It just takes a lot of effort sometimes. With ‘Oceans Of Milk And Treacle’ though I’m left with the feeling that this is a musical child that only its parents could understand and love.
It's a strange collection of random sounds and intermittent bursts of saxophone, percussion or guitar. To these ears, the guitar is particularly well disguised which, for a guitarist, is odd. It’s an album of snippets joined together into four or five minute tracks. They emerge from the sounds - not noise, and that feels important - as a pattern temporarily emerges from coffee grounds tipped into the sink before being washed down the plughole.
That’s not a problem if the overall effect is to transport you somewhere new in your mind, to allow you to spend time in a different time, location or mood. It didn’t do that for me.
‘Boogie Boards and Beach Rubbish’ opens with 90 seconds of ambience before breaking abruptly into something that is at least recognisable as jazz, and begins to capture the feel of a warm and carefree day at the beach, Hawaiian style. In ‘Towards Great Piles Of Masonry’ there’s a few seconds of rock and roll guitar. I clutched at it like a drowning man in the middle of an ocean clutches at a drifting body board. It’s not enough but these two sections the closest we get to a recognisable tune.
I sometimes listen to a record and ask myself “Why?” With ‘Oceans Of Milk And Treacle’ I can’t even frame the right question. I can’t remember feeling this flummoxed since going to see Captain Beefheart as a student. I wasn’t prepared for that experience and the same is true here.
I came across this record through Uncut magazine’s review section. They awarded the album 8/10 and called it a “strangely compelling artefact” and described Cooper’s guitar as “quietly magnificent”. There’s another review at Fluid Radio Oceans of Milk and Treacle. In a far more articulate way, their reviewer, Dan, explains the album but, I suspect, also struggled to describe the music.
Taster Track : Boogie Boards and Beach Rubbish
Year after Year : RW Hedges
RW Hedges - or as I shall call him ‘RW’ - sums up the spirit of The Beatles and their multitude of apostles and acolytes around the time of Rubber Soul. It’s an undeniably good listen.
It takes some skill to set out your stall, and deliver a musical manifesto in the course of just 23 minutes. RW succeeds with one of the prettiest, most charming albums of recent times. The songs seem to spill forth effortlessly, adopting a mid 60s sound as it flows into the Summer Of Love. There are so many easy melodies here, so many reminders of a time nearly 60 years ago when the world seemed a happier place.
It’s the kind of music that can travel light. It fits together perfectly on record but will sound as good if performed live by just one man and his guitar. It’s an empty wasps’ nest of a record - intricate, light, crafted, fully formed, safe and lacking any sting.
This is a record that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It makes its point and moves on to make its point again, leaving you wanting more, much more
Taster Track : Ice In August
Holland Park : Spearmint
They were late to the Britpop party, but they’ve proved to have the staying power lacking in most of their peers, and thank Heavens for that.
These songs wander around the sound of Britpop like a student returning to old haunts after graduating. One view is that Spearmint arrived as Britpop entered its final stages. They’re second generation Britpoppers, and this album is an attempt to make sense of where they came from. And with any luck, when Britpop escapes its unfashionable status and is ripe for a revival, Spearmint will be one of the bands leading the way.
When you’re a late arrival there’s a temptation to pack more in to stand out. Spearmint occasionally fall prey to this, allowing the songs to become too complicated, forcing changes to something grander, more epic. It’s unnecessary. Their strength is their ability to write a memorable, simpler song. It means that in the first half of the album there’s much to enjoy but little to blow you away.
Then comes ‘Holland Park. It’s a game changer, a 12 minute biographical mainly spoken word opera set in the music biz. It’s musically clever, and lyrically (if that’s the word) poignant. It’s a truly engaging piece, and the tracks that follow are a more mature reflection on pop, its sound, its variety and, ultimately, its affirming power.
Spearmint may just turn out to be curators and custodians of the Britpop years.
Taster Track : The Street Of Harlesden