Category: single review


image.pngIt feels almost like getting the full set. I’ve recently had music in from both Tamsin Quin and Phil Cooper and as this little pop-folk triptych seem to swirl around in various matched and mixed combinations popping up on each others records or playing in each others bands, it seem entirely right that I have something in from Jamie too.

It’s always hard to make heartfelt music sound sincere, many artists, presumably with the best intentions, fail because they end up resorting to cliche or schmaltz or just suffer from not having a deft enough step to navigate such difficult territory. Jamie has always wandered such pathways with ease. A combination of clean-limbed but clever guitar work and a masterful choice of words deliver the perfect tones of raw honesty that such songs require,  and Thank You, Friend, like many of his songs, drips with exactly the right sentiment. You can fake many things in music, and indeed life, but sincerity is not one of them.

Blending pop accessibility with folk earnestness, intimacy with a universally relatable message, a hint of retreating darkness in a brightening future, a clever mix of dexterous playing with resonant weight,  Thank You, Friend is Jamie doing what he seems to do so  honestly, so exquisitely well, so charmingly and somehow, so effortlessly.

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11133786_10153234946553064_9116099339198896169_n-1Even though it is demonstrably not true, I have been tarred with a reputation for hating covers of songs and those who make them. But I will say that if you are going to attempt a song already in the popular canon, especially one as well known as this, then you need to be either breathing new life into it, giving it a new sonic space to exist in, new musical pastures to frolic in, or you need to be understanding of what makes the song live, its essence and pay tribute to that. And this rather masterful rendition of Crowded House’s most elegant opus (forget all that Weather With You nonsense, this is the real deal) is very much the latter, a tribute.

And who better to take on such a task? Phil always shared certain sonic DNA with Neil Finn, and Neil Finn sits at the right hand of Our Lord Mike Scott so already there is a certain pedigree at work here. I used to book both Phil, and Jamie R Hawkins who is the second vocal which you can hear adding some wonderful harmonic grace to the proceedings, and so even before things kick off the very notion of what is going on here is pretty exciting.

As I said, this is a very faithful rendition, but then again to me, and probably to Phil too, this is hallowed ground so why subvert it when you can pay tribute to it, and pay tribute it does. There is the same elegant dexterity to the guitar work and even without trying to sound like the great man himself, you notice that Phil has exactly the right voice for the job plus Jamie’s  added vocal weight is perfect. Succinct, spacious, eloquent, charming, just like the original.

Not many cover versions live up to the standards set by the original, how could they, but I would say that when you set this next to that glorious single, there isn’t a lot of light shining through the gap and how could you ask for more than that? Okay, a Neil Finn house show, but until that happens…

 

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a1436536964_16.jpgLife. It’s a funny old business. One minute you are sat in the south of France drinking wine, sketching the surroundings, writing songs and soaking up the sun, the next you are in a Swindon recording studio putting down one of those songs, surrounded by some of the best musicians the region has to offer. Having submitted a song, this song in fact, to a competition called For The Song, things moved at quite a pace. The song was selected as the winner, then there have been recording sessions, live shows in two countries and now work on a full album is on the cards. All in just over a year. Tempus does indeed fugit!

And if Paul started the competition with a good song, he came out of the studio with a great track.  Like the story behind it, there is a natural momentum to the way it builds, from a spacious, acoustic indie-folk vibe to a roots pop-rock final destination, but does so by adding supple sonic layers and subtle musical textures almost without you noticing. And unusually for a song which starts in such understated territory there is an addictive beat right from the start, a beat that drives things on to their natural conclusion, infectious and energetic, allowing the instrumentation to deftly and quietly join the party, a guitar motif here, some extra percussion there, building vocal harmonies and shimmering peripheral sounds. Why be big when you can be clever?

It also paints some wonderful images lyrically, a reflective and poetic tale of living your life to the full, embracing what the world has to offer and filling your “eyes with amazing things.” And whilst the lyrics might be urging you to give new things a chance, nothing underlines the rewards of just saying yes to new things better than this songs back story.

68605259_1745210538955896_7744477048650858496_nIt’s always fascinating to track an artist’s evolution over a number of years and Tamsin Quin is someone who has followed a wonderful path as a musician, artist and performer. To be honest, it’s always been in her, even in the early days a certain charm and charisma, humour and confidence was obvious and the songs where always there, but like any journey it takes a while to bed in, get comfortable and develop that meaningful stride. Scandal is the sound of Tamsin Quin being…well, just more Tamsin Quin and its glorious.

Her songs have always featured the universal subjects of relationships, of love, loss and longing but have also always done so in a very mature way. Not for her the histrionics and drama that the pop world is filled with nor the cliche and bravado of the rock world, for though her music is best described as roots pop, it is the roots element which she leans toward lyrically. The music is accessible, pop aware and easy on the ear but lyrically she taps into older, more mature ways of discussing those subjects and Scandal is the perfect example of this old folk-wise head on young pop shoulders.

Just the sweet and spacious acoustic guitar to rest her voice on, her vocals are both soothing and   alluring in equal measure, like a whisper in the ear from someone close, reassurance with just the right amount of excitement. And even the language she choses takes her a step above a lot of the competition, mythologising the everyday world into a place filled with outlaws, tyrants and villains, vagabonds and scoundrels. But it is the spaciousness that really seals the deal, those gaps where the notes are allowed to fade away into the distance, the breathing spaces between the words all building atmosphere and anticipation. Perhaps if, as they say,  less is more, then more less should make for much more more…or something, I’m not great with adages.

57311697_10156480013124387_9210045779832471552_nThere is no shortage of bands who deserve the moniker “funky.” Equally, blues bands are in no short supply, slide players are still easy to find and infectious music is two-a-penny. And you can’t throw a mandolin these days without it hitting a band revelling in descriptions such as roots or Americana. What is harder to find these days is a band which is able to mix all those qualities into one hypnotic, happening and hip (‘scuse the pun)  tune. Hard, but not impossible, as the latest sonic slice from Hip Route deftly shows.

The band have made quite a name for themselves by cleverly blending these often mutually exclusive musical traits into wonderfully energetic, easily accessible, sassy and sultry tunes. It is also a testament to their treatment of the subject matter that when you break the music down it seems built up of pieces of long lost classic blues but the end result is something new, shiny and perfectly packaged for the modern pop picker, better still, it arrives without anything in the way of compromise or cash in, or any deference made to fad or fashion. 

Rather than try to repackage the past they just act to remind us that such fervently funky grooves, such deft delta vibes, gorgeously growled vocals, pulsing bass lines and sumptuous sonics have never gone away, they just need a bit of a polish from time to time. Sinking Down is the sound of those past sounds being polished to a point of perfection

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56157865_261311031482248_7217821986947334144_nBefore you even find yourself engaging with the song itself, what really grabs you about Brainshake is the over arching sound that the band cloak themselves in. There is something wonderfully ethereal and slightly hazy woven into the sonic DNA, something that you expect from explorers of a more dream-pop or cosmic Americana sound but which is wholly unexpected considering the confident strides and punchy attack at the core of the song are essentially a young, British, indie-pop sound.

But pop, rock, indie…call it what you will, genres are largely a thing of the past any way…has to evolve to stay relevant and this is the sound of that process in action. The clever thing is that Stay Lunar have remained true to all the essential pop ingredients, infectiousness and accessibility, as well as rocks groove and drive, all the while hopping generic demarcations to plunder from other genres to build this new take.

And it is that blend of the familiar and the forward-thinking, of short, sharp and to the point songwriting mixed with an expansion of what mainstream music can be that enables them to play both cultish and commercial cards. The underground tastemakers and scene setters will be all over this but so too will the massed ranks of pop-pickers and indie kids. The best of both worlds! How cool is that?

unnamedA wise man once said, “Fashions and fads are for fools and freeloaders.” Okay, it wasn’t a wise man, it was me, just now, I just made it up. But I stand by the sentiment. If you are a young band looking to make a name for yourself you can either take the obvious route and follow the pack and hope that somehow you manage to stand out in a sea of conformity or you can look for inspiration elsewhere. Elsewhere, in the case of The Licks, is back into a bluesier, rockier and sleazier, era, a time when music seemed to be made by sonic shamans, was tribal, even primal in essence, when gods named Morrison and Hendrix still walked amongst us.

White Monster is a sultry and slowly grooving tune, it struts where others rock, it slinks when less well crafted songs stomp, it links 60s free festivals with 90’s blues revivals and West Coast vibes with Ladbroke Grove squat gigs. It oozes riffs and pulses bass lines to voodoo beats. Twin Peaks therefore comes as a real change of pace, initially sitting between a pastoral piano ballad and spaced out experimental indie before strapping on the blues guitars and firing off Floyd-esque salvos into the night.

One Trick Pony is the sprint finish, and whilst many will chose old school references such as Cream or their modern offspring Royal Blood  to try to pin The Licks sound on this one, I find the rhythm, drive and the straight down the line blues progression put me in mind of the oft-overlooked Burning Tree. (Check out their debut album, its awesome)

The Licks are a breath of fresh air. Whilst many bands taking such a nostalgic route forward, most are exploring the same bluesy sonics and seem to miss the point, play it too straight, too clean. Now its possible that the rawness and garage rock vibe I’m loving here is as a result of available budget but I implore The Licks to never loose that edge. There is nothing worse than a band who, having being able to afford to get into a decent studio, proceeds to polish their sound beyond recognition. The Blues needs to be rough, raw, lived in, ragged and most of all sexy. As a wise man once said, “Why be smart when you can be sexy?”

Yes, that was one of mine again. Sorry.

27858290_1987478481505007_4204404359649383129_nIt’s been great watching The Harlers evolve and grow, from a basic two-piece of drums and guitar, through various sound enhancing, multi-amp, sonic manoeuvring to finally settle on the classic three-piece line up that they have now become. And whilst the bands delivery may have been subject to a few changes, the music that they deliver has stayed very much on focus – in your face, incendiary, blues-infused, garage rock.

Like many bands in the broad alt-rock genre that is today’s rock’n’roll weapon of choice The Harlers reference some classic bands, everything from modern purveyors such as Royal Blood, through such obscurities as Burning Tree and iconic outfits such as Cream, and a whole host of scuzzy, outsider guitar slingers from the golden age. Heart of Gold sees them ploughing the same rock furrow, not every band has to break down barriers or explore new sonic playgrounds but neither is this merely re-inventing the wheel either. The Harlers are torch bearers, the sound of classic rock and roll being carried through to a modern audience, and it is safe to say that they do it better than most.