albums - january 2017
This happens less often than I think it should. Forty years on from 1977, and I get to begin the 2017 reviews with music from a quite real survivor of those now sepia-tinged days of pins and glue. Formerly of the Prefects, who recorded two Peel sessions and broke up in 1979, you could forgive any of their members still able to pick up a guitar for mellowing into folksy musings, writing concept albums about mantelpiece ornaments, or really not doing very much at all but not so. Robert Lloyd and current band lineup are knocking it out with a renewed vigour like it actually is the late 70s and it's their third Peel session, or abrasive noise to that startling effect. I did hear their 2015 "Mind Over Matter" album and that rattled along more than convincingly, but "Become Not Becoming" seems like the work of a different band, an altogether more virulent, chaotic collection of tracks.
Perhaps some of the ideas that were developing on "Mind Over
Matter" are presented here in a complete form. Fully researching
the Nightingales/Prefects back catalogue for clues as to the band's
current songwriting direction could take quite a while, and the presence
of several Krautrock luminaries only muddles things further. Loud,
frenetic and utilising stop/start timings for no other reason than
to confuse the listener, this is, I realised, how punk rock actually
sounded forty years ago, and not exactly as it is remembered now.
Perhaps six tracks is as much as Robert Lloyd thinks we can handle
of this sort of stuff, and he may be right. Whatever their purpose,
the 2017 incarnation of the Nightingales are making music that seems
as compelling and challenging as anything they've ever done.
Really, I get albums like this from musicians like Richard Pinhas and am suddenly made aware of my quite genuine lack of knowledge about music I ought to know a lot more about. Practically unknown in this country but with a considerable reputation in his native France, Richard Pinhas' musical career stretches back to the 1970s, to his work with avant-prog band Heldon, and his continuing solo work has gained much critical appreciation. Perhaps the most accurate comparison would see Pinhas a member of King Crimson, and as an avowed interpreter of some of Robert Fripp's guitar experiments, or 'Frippertronics' as some of us know them. This might give an impression that the music on "Reverse" is a difficult listen, and the four tracks are all relatively lengthy ones with the shortest. "Dronz 2" just over seven and a half minutes, but each of the tracks are mostly quite easy on the ear, regardless of their experimental origins. A combination of guitar drones and percussion, with swirling electronics providing a backdrop, the music on "Reverse" is more ambient than avant-noise.
One thing about music like this is that it lends itself to comparison
more readily than if the tracks were all about four minutes and had
verses, choruses and indeed vocals, the point being that a lot of
people know of one or two bands that make improvisational, free form
music of this type and while the entire album seems like an extended
jam session involving members of Tangerine Dream, Gong and The Orb
(this may have actually happened in the early 90s) the album that
"Reverse" is really reminding me of is "Metanoia"
by the Porcupine Tree, a band which could include members of Japan,
the Cure and John Foxx amongst its participants, and I happen to like
that album quite a bit. Let's just say that if you already know anything
much about Richard Pinhas then "Reverse" is a definite must
have for your own music collection.
Making his own music since 2006, Ben Seal is a well regarded folk music producer, which could explain his ongoing collaboration with Eliza Carthy, whom even this confirmed townie has heard of. As such, you could expect his own music to be possessed of certain qualities and "Tell Me The Place" is exactly the sort of album that can cross over from the folk to the indie music worlds. With all that production experience, and with some finely crafted songs to share with us, Urban Farm Hand's first complete album has quite a lot going for it, and not just on paper. Opening track "We Must Stop Meeting Like This" is almost entirely electronic, a tale of whisky fuelled misadventures set to a backing redolent of balmy summer evenings, the sort of song that could easily translate into a brass and woodwind composition. It's also the kind of intro that can give the rest of the album something to follow.
Interestingly, the next ten tracks on "Tell Me The Place"
take a differing route from the first song, their instrumentation
relying more on acoustic guitars, double bass, accordion and with
the synths relegated to the background. Ben Seal may have considered
that with so many talented acquaintances in his phone list that making
an electronica album would have seemed like very bad manners and the
main part of "Tell Me The Place" is very far from dull,
taking in jazz and klezmer, traditional folk and singer-songwriter
influences at random intervals. Holding it all together is a that
laid back summery ambience that appears to be Urban Farm Hand's trademark
band sound, and I expect I'll be listening to all eleven tracks of
the album again later this year.
A fifteen track compilation of (it says here) almost entirely new music from the now decade old Platform label, which began life in 2007 and has assisted the careers of numerous bands and musicians since then, it shouldn't need saying that labels such as Platform are the actual lifeblood of what is still referred to as the Indie scene, even in today's download era. Of course when Platform started out the internet was still a bit of a new thing, emails were the main form of communication and your mp3 player had about 2gig of space if you were lucky. I and many others were still using cassettes a decade ago, try finding anyone doing that nowadays ... anyhow, the compilers of "This Is Not A Game" do say that the album is all about the present and future of Platform records and not about any form of nostalgia, so I'll forget about my long lost tape collection and instead, give the fifteen compilation tracks a listen.
Of course on an album such as this not every track is going to be
a work of pure and unalloyed genius but there isn't really what you
could describe as a dull moment on its fifty or so minutes, what with
the eloquent electronic balladry of the Voodoo Rays ("Wider Sea"),
the flamenco infused romanticism of Bobo & The Demeraras ("She"),
the old school angularities of James Blames ("The Bad Old Days
Are Back"), the swirling guitar histrionics of The Buddha Pests
("Tanker"), the thoughtfully phrased songwriting of George
Diaz ("Can't Say") and the sophisticated loungepop of Warm
Winters ("Prehistoric Skies") and these particular mentions
only include slightly more than a third of the entire album so, if
you're looking for a properly eclectic music mix then "This Is
Not A Game" is recommended, the best and most varied compilation
album I've had for review since the one I got from Fierce Panda records
The entire shoegaze thing has been threatening to get a bit stale (or just muddy) recently, and I have often wondered why there aren't slightly more musicians in that genre that are prepared to step away from what are the accepted norms of that style. From Minneapolis, and with what looks like an entire guitar store at his disposal, Andrew Larson brings us his vision of (his phrase) Rural Psychedelia, and in a scene littered with Cocteau Twins and MBV soundalikes, the music on "Loss Molecules" avoids the clichés almost entirely. Certainly, other musicians and bands have combined densely structured instrumentation with effect pedal inflected drones and lyrics that you need to listen closely to decipher. It just so happens that Magnetic Ghost are really good at it.
Opening track "Vanished/Vanishing" is an object lesson
in exactly what a musician can achieve with some above average songwriting
and a protools station, and some atmospherically played repetition
would have done alright but then at around the song's mid section
Larson's guitar plays a solo passage that's as nerve janglingly effective
as it's unexpected, exactly the sort of moment that music like this
sometimes needs and, as I continued to listen what really persuaded
me about "Loss Molecules is that it's the sort of album which
would work just as well if the songs were played acoustically, and
the production was a bit less wall-of-reverb. The track that puts
this idea forward is "Grand Canyon", beginning with a strummed
guitar riff - and Andrew Larson is the sort of guitarist that can
give even the least complicated chord sequence an added gravitas -
the song builds gradually into a Spector-ish epic that's redolent
of both Mercury Rev and whatever it is Anton Newcombe is calling his
band nowadays. Last track, the instrumental "Total Eclipse Of
The Sun" is a laid back summery vibe with darker undercurrents,
and it sounds exactly as music like this should. Released through
the reassuringly obscure Silber record label, "Loss Molecules"
is an album that anyone with an interest in psyche rock, alt.folk,
or anything else will definitely appreciate.
January and to a lesser extent February are when the folk festivals tend to happen, a time for traditional enjoyments designed to welcome in the new year properly and at least attempt to banish those early spring blues. This is often when bands that do a line in folk roots and crossover make their presences known and, perhaps not entirely by chance, from west Canada (I couldn't find exactly where) are Samson's Delilah, and their tightly played mix of alt.folk, reggae tinged funk and country bluegrass, which is more or less exactly what any half decent roots festival needs to fill the dancefloor on a dark winter's evening.
Doubtlessly veterans of the gig circuits of Vancouver and Edmonton,
and the sort of band that leaves the stage with about twice as many
members as the show began with, Samson's Delilah make a raucous, energetic
noise and play their assorted instruments with large amounts of skill,
and despite having made a quality album Samson's Delilah don't appear
to be about to make themselves colossally well known, with their CD
only available in one or two places and their actual existence slightly
mysterious, away from their gigs and that, I am thinking, isn't good
enough for a band as practised and downright enjoyable to hear as
Samson's Delilah are, so I am recommending that you (yes, you) buy
their CD or download and appreciate one of the better folk rots acts
that I've heard recently.