Category: music reviews

largeHe doesn’t do things by halves does that Mr Lawton. Whilst most other musicians are using the current restrictions to add half-baked covers of songs I never really liked in the first place to the ubiquitous flotsam and jetsam that is modern, on-line music, he has  contributed something truly original, truly necessary and perhaps more importantly, totally beautiful! And perhaps it is the last quality which is the most important of all.

The concept is simple. He has taken powerful and poignant pieces of spoken word prose and poetry and wrapped gorgeous, meditative sounds around them using lilting and eloquent piano, and occasionally the chiming exotic sounds of the hang drum. Though, upon reflection, the concept is cleverer than it at first seems and in many ways it speaks of these difficult times in volumes directly inverse to the gentle understatements of the music itself. It speaks about finding archipelagos of tranquility in these mad moments, it speaks about what we have lost as well as what we have found in our new situations. It talks of the beauty that can be found in isolation and the price of freedom, it underlines our new found appreciation in simple pleasures and asks us to reflect on things that we may have taken for granted. It provides refuges of calm in a mad world, peace in the eye of a storm.

When this is over and we are all taking about how we used our lockdown, many can rightly claim that they used their time wisely, started new creative projects, caught up on reading, perhaps found the time to return to a passion from their formative years. Some may only have binge watched boxed sets and grown a beard. Few will be able to say that they created something of intoxicating beauty, something that hopefully helped those around him find a moment of retreat, to recharge and return to the fight refreshed. I know one man who will be able to say that he did something that worthy.

a1075299197_10The man himself describes this little side-project from his usual musical activities, using the wonderfully self-deprecating words, “ mid-life crisis.” If it is, he should have more. Many more. And before you all get up in arms defending his long and admirable back catalogue and dedication to the ska-wars and the ongoing reggae rebellion, I’m taking nothing away from any of that, niche scenes need their heroes and he has always been that to the music he loves and champions. Maybe it is because I am less knowledgable about the genre but that I did grow up with the two-tone movement as part of my formative years. Maybe it is because I don’t really like music which sticks to the rules too much but favour the things which happen where demarcations blur, where sounds meet, where genres gene-splice with each other. Maybe it is just that, for whatever reason there is something in the more drifting and hazy sounds found here, a sort of reggae yet otherworldly vibe, that appeals to my sensibilities. Maybe I should just stop trying to analyse the reasons and just revel in the music.

And it is an album full of revelatory music indeed. And it is perhaps the least typical track that I am drawn to most, (Like a Reflection on) The Liffey is both an unusual title, more in keeping with a Dublin pub lock-in, folk-jam band, traditional classic than an upbeat, yet hazy slice of dream-ska (more of which later.) I think I used a similar term when talking about Subject A  which perhaps shows where my tastes lie. Imagine A. R. Kane or The Veldt getting their reggae groove on and you’ll get an idea of the sort of thing that I am talking about. If not, just play the album.

Name on a Page is a gorgeous piece of nostalgic reflection where again the styles spill-over to embrace each other, reggae and indie, pop and dance all swirling around into the most wonderful of sound clashes, a place where genres collide and new sounds are born.

But the album also wanders some more familiar territory too and Windrush is both a powerful piece of reggae, one armed with easy pop sensibilities and a glorious swagger, and a poignant piece of lyrical documentary, not least through its beguiling spoken word play-out. There is also some wonderful reappropriating going on too, Bridge of Tears and That London Winter being originally songs penned by Eddie McLachlan for a folk album but proving that not only that a good song is a good song no matter which genre or style it takes as its musical vehicle but also reminding us how much music has its roots in the movement of people in search of a new life.

Interval is a great album, one which knows very much where it comes from but which seems even more interested in where it is going. It’s all very well giving people what they want, but that will only get you so far and only keep the listener’s interest for so long. Here Erin does that most clever of things and gives the listener what they didn’t realise they wanted and does so in such a unique way that they it is difficult to think that anyone will ever tire of this wonderful hybrid of sounds.

a4252499987_10(When you get to know about a dream-pop band in Tel Aviv because you chatted to the singer in a Philly based garage band, you know the world is a wonderfully small place, at least culturally and creatively speaking.)

I guess the art of making music which falls into the loose and broad realms of dream-pop is getting the balance between blissful transience and an engaging structure just right. Wander too far one way and you are into formless ambience, head towards the other extreme and you end up making washy dance music. It’s about tethering the music just enough so that you have a structure which serves as a place to hang all of your other sonic ideas from. And that is exactly what Screens 4 Eyes manage to do on this latest single.

For the majority of the song a confident yet spacious beat and a grumbling bass line act as the musical spine grounding it and providing a central flame for all of the other sonic moths to flit and flap around. Around this central pulse they weave hazy, half-heard vocals, shimmering synth washes and chiming musical motifs. The result is a song which drives hard when it needs to and floats and fades when the mood takes it.

Screens 4 Eyes has a wonderful track record of walking this middle ground, this place where indie cool and cinematic ambience, free floating musical forms and almost dance inspired background grooves all collide. The band may occasionally wander around the sonic playgrounds once inhabited by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dead Can Dance and The Cocteau Twins but rather than revel in past glories it prefers to paint a picture of the musical future. Or one particular possible version of it at least. And that future looks…well, hazy! Wonderfully so.

It has always been impossible to pigeon-hole Fassine, not that we really need to but for the purposes of a review it does help if you can introduce a few shortcuts to speed the process along and give the reader something to form their thoughts around. They employ dancey grooves, but I wouldn’t exactly call it dance, there is a strange, hazy ethereality to it without it being dream-pop as such and there is a cold-edged vibe at times but it has more substance than your average chill wave sound. Alt-pop? Who knows? Actually, who cares? Fassine are one of those bands which just show up the limitations of genres and labels.

There are some songs within which are pure pop, such as the gorgeous and graceful Magpie, though it is certainly pop which dances to the beat of the band’s own particular drum, and does so seductively. At the other extreme tracks such as Migraine are more like ambient film scores. Max is a beguiling blend of primal sonics, tumbling beats and half heard voices, siting somewhere between celestial choirs and brooding demonic and Bloom sees them at their most dynamic blending searing guitars and industrial shards of music with understated lulls switching between the two abruptly and almost randomly as the mood seems to take them.

As the sharp end of a back catalogue of album and single releases which both raise the benchmark and widen the sonic palette with each outing, Forge both kicks arse and cuts the mustard. So go ahead, join the smart set, be a better you, start listening to Fassine today, a new life awaits you…or something. I think I may have pushed that line of hyperbole to breaking point. Sorry.

Trepanation opens the album with its most drifting and non-corporeal sounds before A Tribute to Victims hems in those hazy sonic forms with a clinical beat and chiming, minimalist piano lines. And it is such a transition from one to the other which seems to show the processes at work, the use of sonic structures to encompass the space and understatement, a use of music to create mere demarkation between the sound of the natural world and those of the studio. The purposefully created music creates an addictive platform but hat lies between, the rolling atmospherics, the fading notes, the growing anticipations are the real gold here.

From here Underneath Your Skin adds vocals, a rare thing in the Mr Dog The Bear world, affected, disembodied and futuristic, Sunshine is built on drama and dynamic between brooding back beats to soaring crescendos and the curiously name Engineer is a slow burning salvo of post-rock. Things end where they began in the slow, ambient electronica of The Diderot Effect, a slice of Vangelisian cinematics…subtle, filmic, beguiling and gorgeous.

As always Mr Dog the Bear makes music for the sake of it. There is no full band that I know of, no live shows, no genre to stick too, no hidden agenda and seemingly no long term plan. But if these or other tracks from this shadowy outfit ever turned up on the end credits of a cult film or driving the action of a Hollywood blockbuster then far from being surprised by such a turn of events, I for one would be thinking why did that take so long to happen?

But I digress…Stay Lunar are one of those bands who seem to carry a bit of a torch for the decade, but everything is cyclical, the cultural wheel seems to turn on a 30 year or so cycle, so it is only to be expected that the lush synths waves and perky pop-ness of that era are doing the rounds again. But Stay Lunar are certainly a band of their own time too, weaving cool modernity and soulful indie grooves through the musical landscape that they create. There is a glossiness to their music, not only from proper production but through the way they wield their instruments. The guitar sticks to its melodic brief allowing keys to wash through creating a lush, shimmering sheen whilst the rhythm section make deft and understated choices and just serve the song.

They are also a wonderfully literate band, in a down to earth and slightly romantic sort of way, and the result is a bit like if The Lilac Time had been hot on dance remixes or perhaps St Etienne had favoured guitars a bit more. Dreaming That I’m Not In Love is just another great rung up the ladder for the band and shows their ability to mix underground cool with mainstream poise. And that, is the perfect place to be if you ask me. And as you have read this far, you kind of did.

a1398383177_16Sometimes an artist’s vibe, their defining quality, their unique selling point, is less about the face value sound of their music but what is going on below the surface of the sonics. Paul Lappin seems to support this theory of mine. If previous single Life Was Good motored along on an ever building, energetic indie groove, this time out things take a more considered, more understated route. And whilst it is easy to use such catch-all terms as pop or indie to describe what is going on here, what actually connects these two songs has more to do with their less obvious, less tangible qualities.

Somewhere between the clever production, which allows the myriad textures of the musical layers to exist in their own space and complement each other, and the positivity inherent in the writing, you find the real heart of what is going on here. If Life Was Good described a passing of the baton between perhaps father and son, a plea to get out there and really explore life and the world around you, After The Rain is a more personal reminder that the day is there to be filled with wondrous things, no matter how small.

And it is this spirit which shines through Paul Lappin’s music, a love of life, a need to see what is over the horizon or just savour the small things and encourage others to do the same. Musically it bridges a gap between the sweeter sounds of the pre-Britpop era and today’s indie creations. After the Rain chimes and charms in equal measure, the song sits on a lush network of instruments which are woven together to create a fantastic platform for the vocals to dance on and which are given freedom to throw in additional motifs and subtle inclusions, concise musical breaks and clever, one-time-only musical flashes of inspiration.

Not all music has to break boundaries or fuse together genres like mad sonic scientists feverishly working away in midnight laboratories. Sometimes it is all about taking familiar sounds, tried and tested ways of making music and using those building blocks to build something which just gets on with the task at hand. The task being as simple as making cool, charming, addictive and gorgeous music. This is certainly one of those times and it is fair to say that the task has been performed to perfection.


January’s Musical Musings

73320216_3227727390587092_1165816366524006400_nIt’s odd writing a What’s On guide for January this in early December (such is the nature of the deadlines and stuff) but I guess it is the closest I will ever get to time travel. So by the time you read this the floor will be covered in Christmas Tree needles, there will only be a quart of turkey curry still to get through and we will have already had to endure enough jokes about 2020 vision and the like from tabloid headline writers to last a lunchtime.You can always distract yourself from such niggles by checking out some live music, which is, understandably, a bit thin on the ground but what there is is certainly worth the effort.

It may be a new decade but some things never change and if you head to The Rolleston on 11th for a slice of Hamsters From Hell there are plenty of guarantees. On the one hand there will be blue humour, swearing, toilet references and the sort of raw R&B that can strip wall paper. On the other hand there will be a surprisingly fine plethora of musicians (looks are deceiving) a wonderfully raucous night out to be had and …well, the sort of raw R&B that can strip wall paper.

At the same venue on 17th Innes Sibun will be delivering his trademark blend of searing rock and roll and soulful blues. There is a reason why none other than Classic Rock magazine dubbed him “The best kept secret in British blues, “ pop along and find out why.

Rock is also on tap at the Victoria on 23rd as Scarlet Rebels and Revival Black bring their Rising Tour to town. They may sound like a couple of pints from the more expensive end of a craft ale bar but the former infuse Therapy? style punch with the suppleness of Muse and the latter have one foot firmly in the classic 70’s rock sound…which is why they get to call none other than Whitesnake tour buddies!

On 23rd The Tuppenny gets back in business with a wonderful double header. Both Phil Cooper and Jamie R. Hawkins (pictured) channel classic acoustic sounds, from James Taylor to Crowded House. Whilst they are often found on stage with Tamsin Quin, this is a chance to remind yourself what fantastic players and songwriters each of them is in his own right.

If something more weighty is to your taste then Bots at The Victoria on the very same evening offer some jaunty indie tempered with some solid rock riffs. A newish local band, so go along and support your scene why don’t you?

And moving along into February, Still Marillion return to Level III on the first of the month. Okay, I don’t normally talk about tributes in this column but I spent my formative years watching the real deal and still have a soft spot for their proggy ways.

Finally on 6th Feb head along to The Tuppenny for a stripped back take on Raze*Rebuild’s usually soaring punky Americana. They say that the true test of whether a  song is any good is if it sounds okay on an acoustic guitar. Let’s find out shall we? Support comes from the ubiquitous Charlie Miles and a musical cohort who go by the name of New Bedlam Asylum…which sounds perfectly ambient and reserved…dontcha think?

60602588_340086049894894_5875542229027651584_oThere can’t be many musical genres which cling tighter to the nostalgic sounds of their own past than rock ’n’roll. Punk perhaps, but there is something about the golden age of rock’n’roll’s, admittedly massively influential sound, which its devotees seem to wish to protect from the ravages of time and influences of the modern age. And although it provided the shock treatment which allowed the modern musical era to be ushered in, surely it shouldn’t be required to exist in a crepe-shoed, pre-pubescent, nostalgia bubble. Evolution not revolution and all that sort of thing!

And if that be the case then Devil’s Music is the sound of evolution. For this is music with all the hallmarks of the original sound, those bluesy grooves, country licks, natural swing and rock and roll energy but it is also the sound of gentle transition. Rather than a mere plagiarising and plundering of past glories, Devil’s Music is the sound of the next chapter being written, one that continues the story into a logical next chapter. 

Opening sonic salvo Preacher lays the ground work, country-rock fifties style, hypnotic guitar grooves and a melodic bass line, one which works a bit harder than you might expect but after all this isn’t three chord rockabilly, this is something altogether more deftly wrought and dutifully delivered. The title track is full of swing and swagger, No Fury takes simple musical lines and makes them sound busier than they are, that’s what’s called doing a lot with a little, and Mama Don’t is a bundle of pent up energy which explodes, though perhaps not as dramatically as I might have hoped, into an early rock and roll groover.

And if I had any criticism I would have to say that the drums seem to be playing catch up, following the groove of the songs, rather than driving them, which means that they have missed a few opportunities to really kick the point home sonically, to awe when they instead ahh! If you know what I mean. But as a first outing it gets the job done, the songs are a neat call back whilst simultaneously proffering a new, made over take on early rock and roll. A history lesson if you like, but a history lesson that you are going to feel the urge to dance too. Music lessons were never this much fun in my day!

51femxkgujl._aa256_As opening salvo Homesick Blues punches its way out of the speakers you realise that, if there was even any doubt, True Strays have lost none of their energy. Always great at putting the rock and the swing into old school blues styles, right from the off they remind us that there are few bands who can match them for the sheer power that they inject into the music. (Metallers take note, there is much more to impact than volume and playing every note in the book.)

The blues moves and ragged Americana sounds that they play with are as authentic as ever but it takes a modern band to be able to pack it with this amount of sonic TNT. If you are as bored as the rest of us of ex-rock band rhythm guitarists reinventing themselves as bluesmen just because they have a working knowledge of the basic scales and progressions, and because they could do a passable version of what everJohn Lee Hooker tune made it to a jeans commercial, then True Strays are just what you need.

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