Flames, Doorways, Grass and Time –  Grasslands (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a4021061656_16Mercurial, that’s the word! Well, that’s one word at least. It seems that many words and descriptions come and go through the listeners, and indeed the reviewers, mind as Grasslands’ music slips through the brain. The same thing happens if you try to pigeon-hole it, depending on which thread you pull at different genres spill out of the musical mass. Tug at the underlying acoustic guitarwork and you find folk textures, but as you pull they slowly reveal themselves to be cacooned in warped industrial grit. Similarly harmless pop melodies are found to be swathed in angular edges and smooth synths warp out to spacey ambience or turn in on themselves to become intense and claustraphobic bundles of pent up energy. I don’t know where you begin, I really don’t. The only guidelines I have from the main man himself is that he was aiming for “digitally corrupted folk music through a broken radio” I reckon that is a fair description.

But let’s at least start on the safer ground of some indesputable facts. The album apparently began as a series of sound experiments used as incidental effects and a score to a production of 1984, many were initiated quickly and some are fully live recordings. So I guess this album is less about writing songs with the main consideration being the live show, this is sound statements taken to their logical, and sometimes illogical, conclusions through studio playfulness and experimentation, a sonically suck it and see scenario, worry about how you re-produce them live later. Just how it should be.

The result is a manic, genre-bluring collection of retro-futuristic songs, in that it sounds like what the 21st centuary might sound like in the imagination of an early eighties post-punker, one who had grown bored with blues-based, three chord guitar possibilities and had rewired some broken keyboards and bent them to their will.

I’m not really helping paint a clear picture, but the album is such a collection of sonic wonderment and strange folktronic experimentation, blending progressive structures with brilliant pop aware melodies and some wonderful avant-gardening, that it is difficult to put into words, ones which I haven’t made up for vague dramatic affect anyway.

At this point I would normally resort to lazy journalism and throw in a few comparisons, such as…..errr, no…sorry, nothing. I guess Flames, Doorways, Grass and Time is just impervious to journalistic disection. Still the man behind it can’t really complain, people who live in grass houses and all that….

So my advice to you is, just buy it, buy it today, after all there is no thyme like the present and it is always good to end on a couple of puns.

Pre-order and further info HERE

To see the live version, head along to The Victoria Swindon this Thursday

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Sounds Around Town : 25th – 31st January

23915811_1391658700943276_7420597230954476500_nWe live in polarising times, the world seems a very divided place, walls are replacing bridges and there seems to be an increasingly entrenched view of creed and culture moving across the world. Thankfully music has always had the ability to cross borders, whether real or metaphorical, to cross-pollinate with existing forms and to evolve into new ones. Tonight you will find two acts that are the perfect example of this global village creativity.

Firstly at The Victoria tonight you will find local stalwarts Mr Love and Justice who have a wonderful way of weaving timeless folk music and regional narratives together with a more acid laced 60’s pop vibe. Songs of love and Haight in a musical landscape  that stretches from West Kennett to the West Coast of California.

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Sounds Around Town : 11th – 17th January

So with all of the Christmas cheer and New Year’s shenanigans finally behind us we can now concentrate on the job at hand, namely grooving your socks off and watching live music. Obviously by now you have probably have heard the terrible news that The Rolleston and Level III are to close before the month is out. Obviously we have been hear before and hopefully a solution will be worked out that keeps it as a music venue, but it does just under line what a tough time music venues and pubs in general are having, I know it is a cliche but the adage “use it or lose it” has never seemed more apt. No matter how arty and forward thinking the music might be, how cutting edge the promoters ethos, how trail blazing the venue, gigs only happen because the venue sells booze, its as simple as that. But buy a CD on the way out as well!

And talking of cutting edge, The Victoria has a something which can only be described as weird and wonderful, and I mean that in the best of ways. Now, I’ve been writing about avant-garde and original music for half a lifetime but even I don’t know what to expect from a band who describe themselves as sounding like “Mercury Rev fighting with Neil Young. Intrigued? Well check out the headliners High Climbers. Flour Babies use swirly synths and choppy guitars to reference glorious post-punkery and opening the night is the mercurial and fairly tale music of Indoor Goblin.

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Two Paths (Greatest Hits & Rare Cuts 2012 -2015)  –  The Illustrations (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

0012107889_10In a bigger story The Illustrations would be that mythical band that everyone pretends they were into and trades anecdotes about in a real “Pistols play The Lesser Free Trade Hall sort of way.” If either of its main protagonists make it big, it could still happen. But for now the band are a wonderful piece of local musical history, the sound of young men learning their musical trade and creating some bedroom band, lo-fi gems along the way. I remember being impressed with the song 18th Century Romantic Poets when it was sent out into the wide world, possibly as much for the wonderfully pretentious title as anything else. I’m a big fan of knowing pretension, when done right it can be a lot of fun, not that there is anything pretentious about the music, except perhaps the tongue in cheek nod and wink of the use of the words greatest hits in the title.

I saw the band play a couple of times but sadly all the things that make this collection of songs so great seemed to be drenched in walls of indie guitar and musical trend, everything that this record is not. So it seems that the best way to experience The Illustrations and what they could have been is to listen to Two Parts. Great music normally reminds you of other music you like and the threads that spin out of The Illustrations are more about things other than music. There is a wonderfully collection of attitudes at work, the effortless, lo-fi cool of Nikki Sudden, the avant gardening of Neutral Milk Hotel, another band whose legend was much more than the sum of their actual career parts and any number of 80’s new wave/new pop explorers.

It’s great to imagine what might have become of the band had these songs found live traction but the music industry is littered with such stories, it’s a world of what ifs and maybes, that is what makes it so exciting. It could be that on the success of subsequent musical vehicles that either Sam or Matt are involved in people will look back and claim retrospective ownership, its the way of the world, but for now the songs remain our wonderful little secret.

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Sounds Around Town : 4th – 10th January

24273539_1528535153898237_8100364659371404232_o.jpgJust like Home and Away girl turned Rom-Com go to supporting actress Isla Fisher, this week’s column will be short and sweet. There is always a lull at the start of January as people move from days spent in their pyjamas watching re-runs of Love Actually to hours crying at their desk as the reality that it is all over for another year finally gains acceptance in their egg-nog addled brains. Add to that a couple of venues seem to be in flux at the moment, or at least taking a breather from music (or of course just not advertising their gigs very effectively) and there is very little to report on. But what I have been able to garner is as follows.

Skipping right over Thursday’s lack of activities, Friday sees an acoustic set from The Sulks. Normally a band swathed in swirling psychedelic pop, post-punk resonance and well crafted shoegazery, it will be interesting to see just how their music strips down to a less dressy musical affair. Joining them are The Harlers, now a three-piece but still trading in blues infused, epic garage rock, The Basement Club whose sound is one of groovesome and accessible indie and opening the night is Josh Wolfsohn.

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Great Western Reggae Soundclash – Erin Bardwell Collective vs. Friends, Guests and Studio Stars (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22886264_10155118286401045_5987135782505495696_nCertain genres of music are, quite stereotypically, associated with certain themes. Punk and reggae with political issues, rock with escapist high drama, folk with history and traditions and ska, and its UK offspring two-tone, often with social commentary, civil rights and unity. So gathering the great and good of ska, rocksteady and reggae to record a series of songs with a thread of local history and trains at its heart does seem like a unique step.

But Swindon, this is Swindon as they say, and the town’s industrial past and railway history pervades every back street and building, park bench and street name, its legacy hangs in the air, so it is only natural that it should find its way into an album driven by local stalwarts The Erin Bardwell Collective. I don’t want to give the impression that this is some sort of trainspotters paradise, it is cleverer than that, much more wide-ranging and covers myriad subjects but the local connection is strong. Songs such as Night Bus to Highworth and Edith New, about the town’s suffragette hero, make obvious connections, but woven deeper into the album are threads which work in local history, the age-old perceived battle between the pre-industrial Old Town and the more recent downtown, plus personal memories and other regional connections, all of which give the album a solid sense of place.

As always the music is a subtle and supple blend of light and accessible rocksteady grooves and jaunty ska vibes, reggae resonances and retro echoes, 60’s infused music made over for a modern audience. It also features an impressive cast of musicians from not only the grassroots reggae and ska scene but also some top names such as The Selecter’s Neol Davis and Pat Powell from the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, a whole host of Pop-A-Top label’s go to players, a handful of Skansters and a host of other top musicians.

There is plenty to love about this album, even if the local references pass you by, the songs more than stand on their own two feet without that being the main feature, of course they do, look at who is involved. You also have to admire the man at the heart of the album, Erin Bardwell, someone who for years now has just got on with quietly and brilliantly creating, playing and via the aforementioned label, releasing wholly original music infused with the past sounds he has always loved. But this is anything but a rose-tinted nostalgia fest, this is the sound of a torch being carried forward into a bright future. On the strength of this wonderful collection, not to mention the string of previous releases, the genre is in very safe hands indeed.

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Sounds Around Town : 21st – 27th December

16797264_10155794267854056_5740058919034121743_oAnd here we are, the run up to Christmas, a week when “twas” and “tis” become an accepted part of the language for the first time since the seventeenth century, gaudy jumpers, or these days possibly onesies, replace having an actual personality, people talk about how A Wonderful Life is the best film ever made (the correct answer is The Fisher King!) and Mariah Carey is every other song on the radio or jukebox. (What’s wrong with Joni Michell’s River and maybe all of the bands who normally cover The Killers’ Mr Brightside could instead learn their iconic/ironic A Great Big Sled, the original of which featured the lovely Toni Halliday?) And yes, if you cut me in half you will see the words Bah Humbug scrolling through my core!

However, if you do love all the seasonal silliness and traditions then you may just like to head along to The Tuppenny tonight for Slim Ditty does Christmas! Crooner, comedian, music hall maestro and vaudevillian, he promises a swinging singalong, fun and frivolity. Also best and worst Christmas jumpers will be awarded prizes.

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