March 25, 2014

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Sumner - Shadow Park

You know when a vocalist reminds you of somebody very specific but you can't quite put your finger on exactly who? It's not Nancy Sinatra though there's a definite echo of her impeccable late 60s work with Lee Hazlewood. There's an American flavour to Sumner's 'Shadow Park' which may be attributed to Kristina Sarkisova (for such is the true identity of Sumner)'s time studying Music Business - that's the BUSINESS side of things not the art itself - at NYU. Business may have lost somebody, we've certainly gained. The haunting nature of her vocals may owe something to her Spanish/Russian heritage - there's definitely a touch of the exotic here. The backing is sparse - guitar, bass, drums and very little else - the result is bewitching. But I still don't know who she reminds me of. There are Laura Marling comparisons but this is far more interesting. I can feel a touch of Chris Isaak at his very best. Which is very odd as Sumner quite definitely doesn't sound like a bloke. If you figure this out, give us a yell.
March 19, 2014

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The Flies - Ruby Tuesday

Yes. THAT Ruby Tuesday. Obviously that Ruby Tuesday, you're hardly likely to accidentally call a track that and claim to be unaware of the original are you? You may recall that I raved about The Flies new single 'One Day My Baby Will Leave You' a couple of weeks ago - if you don't then feel free to scroll down, it's wonderful, you'll thank me for it. The single's out next Monday and just to jog your mind on it, here's the band performing their take on The Stones' classic single. It's a brave act that attempts something so iconic and feel that they can bring something new to the tune. The Flies are obviously that act. Hushed, slow, reverent, heartbroken. Fusing The Stones' melody with the feel of The Velvet Underground's self titled third album; Ladies and Gentlemen we have a very special act on our hands.
March 14, 2014

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Secret Affair - My World

Sometimes, when the new stuff isn't coming through, your only choice is to look to the past for your entertainment. When the public at large thinks of the late 70s/early 80s Mod revival they tend toward The Jam, The Specials, Madness, The Beat: the BIG acts. There's very rarely conversation about Secret Affair, time seems to have left them behind. This may be due to the fact that they didn't play the part of pop stars very well, rumour at the time accused vocalist Ian Page of arrogance, of being difficult to work with, of being opinionated. This never seems to harm others and there's no knowing the real truth behind 35 year old rumours but one thing is certain; Secret Affair deserve to be remembered. Glory Boys is a magnificent album and in Time For Action and My World they had two stone cold classic pop singles. Here's the latter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq31LxmypjM
March 08, 2014

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The Beaches - Little Pieces

You know all that fuss that certain parts of the media made about Haim? You know the way that you saw them live on stage playing guitars and bought the album and found this 'thing' that didn't resemble the promise at all? The guitars and basses and live drums replaced by artificial sounds that would have been as at home on a Justin Bieber album? The way that you got the album home played it once, went 'meh' and didn't bother again? Here's the antidote. A 16-19 years old four piece, two of whom are sisters, the 'Haim' comparisons are as obvious as they are inaccurate as they are unfounded. The Beaches are what you thought Haim would sound like. The guitars are dirty, the edge is present, there's a PJ Harvey influence in places that their more widely recognised peers appear to have missed altogether. This is the sound that you thought  you were looking for. https://soundcloud.com/thebeachesband
March 08, 2014

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Beverley Martyn - Levee Breaks

The classicists amongst you are going to recognise a couple of things here: First, the artist; Beverley Martyn, ex-wife of John Martyn (and if you haven't actually listened to John then dig out 'Solid Air' the second you finish listening to the link below), friend of Nick Drake and a major talent in her own right. In April Beverley releases her first new album in 14 years,  'The Phoenix and The Turtle'. The first fruit of this is the second thing that you'll recognise. 'Levee Breaks' is obviously the song that Led Zeppelin made famous as 'When The Levee Breaks' (original by Kansa Joe McCoy and Moaning Minnie from 1929),  Beverley has taken the forceful terror in Zep's version and replaced it with a terrible, calm, sense of dread. The guitar work by producer Mark Pavey is stunning and Beverley's vocals truly haunting. https://soundcloud.com/mark-pavey/levee-breaks-by-beverley
March 06, 2014

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Nine Below Zero - Don't Point Your Finger/third degree

Sharp suits, energy, R&B styled riffs (proper R&B not that new fangled poppy stuff) and blazing 'gob iron' fills. The Stypes in 2013/14? Nine Below Zero in 1982 pop pickers. These, their first two studio albums (following their 'Live At The Marquee' debut) are re-released in double disc versions - two different takes on third degree and a live album with 'Don't Point..' To cover the two backwards (and there's good reason for this): third degree has the advantage in both it's incarnations of kicking in with 11+11, the tune that found itself highlighted as the musical focal point of the first ever episode of The Young Ones:

Thereafter though the album loses a little focus; a layer of eighties power pop falls across some tunes, reggae is attempted (somewhat unsuccessfully) and tunes falter - Dennis 'The Menace' Greaves' chirpy cockney vocals can be an acquired taste although at their best (east street se17) they sit as though Billy Bragg were fronting The Beat. The second disc 'Glyn Johns Alternative Production' - originally rejected by the label - takes some of the eighties feel away, leaving a grittier, dirtier, nastier sound but still the songs don't quite catch fire. With two utterly glorious exceptions. The original release closes with two tracks genuinely the equal of anything that came from the mod revival; 'You Don't Love Me' is a Motown floorstomper that happily sits alongside Secret Affair's 'My World' in the pop stakes (and notably doesn't appear on the Johns version) while 'You Can't Say Yes and You Can't Say No' is simply magnificently furious.

There's half a good album here but by God it would have been a cracker. It's predecessor 'Don't Point Your Finger' benefits from Glyn Johns being in sole control and not attempting to pay any lip service to current trends; there are no extraneous keyboard fills, no attempts at ska, purely a gritty R&B four piece in the mould of Dr Feelgood playing straight ahead, no nonsense rock'n'roll. It's far the more successful of the two in terms of material and approach, the fact that it was backwards looking at the time manages to make it much less dated in it's sound than its companion piece.

Full disclosure for review purposes - I listened to 'third degree' first and very nearly didn't make it to the end, such is the dip in the middle. Do yourselves a favour, start with 'Don't Point..' like you're supposed to. Give them the listen that they deserve.

 
March 06, 2014

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Mark Morris - Space Cadet

Here's a blast from the past for you. The mid nineties Britpop boom to be precise. History may recall that period as a time of Blur Vs Oasis and very little else but then history can be very selective sometimes. It's easy to forget just how big The Bluetones were. To forget just how damned good they were. Dig out their greatest hits and remember. But before you do, click play on the animated Space Invaders style video below and realise that Mark Morris is still eminently capable of sparkling sunshine soaked sounds. Chiming, twanging guitars, a suitably spacy Moog and Mark's 'haven't aged a day in twenty years' vocals. Lovely sixties-ish summery pop for a dank March evening. Suddenly we're all young again. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3AvKapSas8
March 06, 2014

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James - Frozen Britain

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.
March 01, 2014

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Ocean Colour Scene - Revisited

"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?"
February 26, 2014

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The Flies - One Day My Baby Will Leave You

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.