Here's a question: Have you ever felt let down by James? No? Thought not. Through the vagaries of public opinion, through the changes from indie to Madchester to pop messiahs to elder statesmen, one thing has remained consistent. James are quality. This year is no different to any other as Manchester's artiest band return with their first full length album in six years. 'La Petite Mort' was recorded in the wake of Tim Booth losing both his mother and best friend in quick succession but (from this sample at least) refuses to dwell in sadness. The fact that La Petite Mort is - if I recall correctly and don't ask me how I know these things - la term Francais for orgasm may have something to do with this joyous edge. The album was recorded with a producer known for his work with Killers, Muse and White Lies but once Tim's unmistakeable vocals kick in it could really be nobody but James. Quality as always.
"If there's a movement then I'm going to sway - get a piece of the action."
Ocean Colour Scene's self titled 1992 debut is a much neglected, often ignored, almost forgotten by the public at large, flawed gem.
Re-mastered and recently re-released (in conjunction with the band themselves) alongside their more notable third 'Marchin' Already', OCS (as we'll call it for the sake of brevity) suffers somewhat for the era that saw it's release. The product of three different producers after initial choice Jimmy Miller (and what a choice that would have been) withdrew, the album is patchy but points to what is to come.
Baggy beats and the au current vaguely neo psychedelic wah guitars hold sway (Sway? See what I did there? Title of the 'big' single from the album? No? Please yourselves) but are coloured here and there with backwards lead guitar, phased drums and fine harmony vocals. The result, at it's best, is a dreamy take on the nineties meet the sixties with an interestingly Floydian feel to it.
The promise is present but it needs time to grow. They could be early Blur or they could be The Real People, they're not quite themselves yet. 'Sway' is still utterly majestic though.
'Marchin' Already' is much more the Ocean Colour Scene that spring to mind at the mention of their name. The follow up to the successful (and career defining Mosely Shoals) it was their first Number One album and big enough to depose Oasis' 'Be Here Now' from that position.
Reputedly Liam Gallagher sent the band a plaque to acknowledge this achievement with the inscription 'To The Second Best Band In Britain'. Guitarist Steve Cradock's supposed response? "It's an honour to be described as Britain's second best band, ahead of Oasis but behind the Beatles".
The album itself deserves that acclaim - endlessly inventive, filled with creativity - the band's influences colour their work throughout; a touch of Small Faces, some Motown basslines, a slice of Traffic, Kinksian social commentary and some Beatles ambition add up to a work that quite notably actually sounds more impressive now than at the time of its success.
The propulsion of 'Hundred Mile High City' (better riff than 'Riverboat Song'? I'm saying so) and melancholy of 'Better Day' set the tone for the work as a whole, while 'Traveller's Tune' revisited from its original B-Side status pulls in a guest appearance from the legendary P.P. Arnold. We're three tracks in at this point. All show up the sheer, incredible level of fretwork that Cradock contributes to the album while Simon Fowler channels his inner Marriot throughout.
Both albums come with the excellent array of extras that you would expect from a deluxe rerelease; B-Sides, radio sessions, alternate versions - OCS gets the original version of 'Sway' and the unreleased single version of 'One Of THose Days'
Marchin' Already is served in a super deluxe version with a live DVD of August 1998's Stirling Castle gig and a set from earlier that year at Manchester Apollo that takes the production techniques away from the work, focusses on a muscular live act in full flight at the peak of their powers and ends on a fine version of The Small Faces' 'Song of A Baker'
"Don't you want a piece of the action?"
Now this, this is frankly marvellous. Sean Cook's past as a member of Spiritualized (and their later offshoot, the damn fine Lupine Howl) seeps through this, the first single from The Flies forthcoming second album. Lush, romantic strings surf atop a 'Be My Baby' backbeat to wonderfully heartbroken Spector-esque effect. Utterly beautiful.
Do you actually remember Eric Benet? Fanous in..what, the late nineties? Married to Halle Berry for a while. A bit 'nu-soul' back when that was a thing, a bit clean, a bit polished. Pleasant enough but just designed for other people really. No real edge.
Well he's not exactly gone all glitch techno on the world but he has taken the chance to update his sound more than a little (in fairness, he's not actually been away - last album in 2010 - it's just that most of us weren't paying attention) with his new work
Runnin' - the first track from his new album due in April - sees the first fruit of his work with The Afropeans and has picked up more than a little dup step on the waywith a little James Blake influence in the backing vocals.
Still fairly smooth but pretty interesting with it.
Here's something just a little bit special for you:
Streaming their new EP in full on the link below before actual physical release on 24th Feb are Southend's Velvet Morning (the EP come close to being self titled but hits the opposite end of the day to the band's name)
Clear late 60s Psych influences abound here but with an underlying groove running throughout. There's a sway that reminds one of Spiritualized, a rhythmic base that feels like prime 'Can', a dreaminess, a drowsiness that sits well with The Velvet Underground's slower moments, eastern percussion, droning guitars, there's a gorgeous sleepiness topped with reverb soaked vocals that fans of The Mary Chain, Brian Jonestown Massacre and early Psychedelic Furs will fall for immediately.
When I grow up I want to be in Velvet Morning.
Be nice - go talk to the lads here:
Tell them ei8htball sent you.
Sometimes the audio and the visual are almost impossible to separate.
Such is the situation with Will Varley's 'Weddings & Wars'. Standing alone the folksinger's latest single is a pleasant acoustic and fiddle based sway working it's way through an entire socio-political history of mankind like a less frantic version of the 'Big Bang Theory' theme; with the video though it becomes something else.
The video is self created, an 8 bit narrative with the feel of an early Nintendo platform game (perhaps that's all life really is)
The problem then becomes this: can the song truly stand alone? The visuals are so strong, so defining that they can overwhelm.
Here's your challenge then: experience the two together in order to appreciate Will's effort and invention in the creation of this game-like illustration of the lyrics then close your eyes and repeat the exercise to appreciate the lyrics and realise how small we are when he points out that "if all of the past was played as a song then our lives are a beat of the drum."
Sometimes it's not the words that make the song. Sometimes its the 'ooh -ooh's that catch you. Sometimes it's the pure repetitition of a hook laden chorus leaping into an insistent guitar line. Sometimes it's that indefinable something.
El Born know this.
Si Connelly and Hils (the duo that make up El Born) recorded their debut album with Chris Potter (The Verve's Urban Hymns) and Dom Morley (Amy Winehouse's Back To Black). For free. Chris and Dom gave their services gratis as Si was 'so broke that he was living out of his car'.
*That* is belief.
Justified belief if the Kangaroo EP is evidence of what's to come. I'm hearing early Starsailor (a good thing) and the mighty Long Ryders on the title track and Jeff Buckley on the pain wracked, distraught 'Catch The Sun' and the upbeat'1982'.
That's your reccomendation right there and here's the music:
Here's an interesting one for you; Edwin Pope, a Liverpool lad calling himself Mutant Vinyl who appears intent on crossing the boundaries between credibility and mainstream. How else does one explain support slots with Mystery Jets, Tricky and Rita Ora (not often Tricky Kid and Rita appear in the same sentence)?
'Through the smoke and sin she was dressed in Lavender' - there's a nice, oddly wonky eighties feel here with a touch of Prince, a saxophone that makes far more sense than it has any right to and vocals that are reminiscent of somebody or something that you can't quite put your finger on.
It's got something this. I'm not sure what that something is but it's definitely something
Well here you go; you know where you are with Reverend and the Makers - resolutely upbeat pop overflowing with hooks.
Their new single (due on the 10th of March with lengthy tour to accompany) continues the trend, sounding thoroughly positive despite tackling the subject of jealousy - replete with apt Elvis quote - and the terrible truth that it gets no easier with age.
A damn fine 80's styled video (touch of the Robert Palmers) directed by photographer Roger Sargent - credits include NME, Mojo and Rolling Stone - simply serves to enhance the air of carefree insouciance contrasting nicely with the paranoid neediness of the lyrics.
Their finest single since Heavyweight Champion..? We're saying so.
Obviously we're all aware of the importance of ska to the mod movement but how do we feel about the concept of 'future ska'?
Lazy Talk, a five piece formed 'in a crypt close to Kings Cross' have the rhythms, the Fred Perrys, the stylings but add a dash of Plan B/Streets style 'spitting' on top of it. There's a touch of 'Ordinary Boys' sitting here, some good guitar work, a dash of two tone sax and a fine breakdown in the last verse. The lads have supported Babyshambles on tour so the pedigree's good but the question is; what do you think?
Answers below or on twitter please.
There's always space for debate at ei8htball