record reviews30-5-19

CHARMING DISASTER

Spells + Rituals (Self-released)

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A Brooklyn goth-folk duo comprising Ellia Bisker (vocals, ukulele, piano) and Jeff Morris (vocals, guitar, piano), fleshed out with bass, drums, trombone, percussion, violin, cello and harmonium, the album draws on such influences as Tim Burton, Raymond Chandler, the murder ballad tradition, cabaret and writer/illustrator Edward Gorey. Indeed, the opening track, Blacksnake references Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

With its plinkety piano, Wishing Well throws up the cabaret colours (to which they return on Belladonna Melodrama) while galloping drums and twangy drive along Baba Yaga, transposing the Russian myth to a cowboy musical setting, and Devil May Care offers up a Mexican desert swayalong. There’s a playful touch throughout, evident on the poison shuffle Blue Bottle Blues, the garage-soul voodoobilly seduction Be My Bride of Frankenstein (surely haunted by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett) and the poppy 60s go go closing bounce Soft Apocalypse on which they tell us “the end of the world is not as bad as you’ve heard”. Cast an ear. Mike Davies


THE CATENARY WIRES

Til The Morning (Tapete)

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Previously members of indie outfits Talulah Gosh and Heavenly, Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey came together in their current more acoustic incarnation in 2014, the name referring to the chain of curves made by the overhead cables seen suspended from pylons or above electric trains, this being their second album.

Channelling the likes of Nancy and Lee, Serge and Brigitte Bardot, they’re accompanied by cello, mellotron, organ, brass, piano, bells and the Kent countryside, the sound suitably sparse but equally complex.

They kick off with the echoey sung swoonpop of Dream Town. Moving into the bass throbbed Hollywood with its lines about beauty and truth, before a chugging guitar riff drives along Sixteen Again with Fletcher on lead. Pursey up front, the mood switches once more for the organ drone Dark Brown Eyes with its shifting visions of a relationship’s future before the sound pf waves lapping on the shore introduces the pulsing, cello throbbed folksy Back on Hastings Pier.

Frayed and lost relationships hover around several numbers, floating through Love On The Screen, the dramatic flourishes of Half-Written’s musings on what might have been, the loping call and response Tie Me To The Rails and the claustrophobia of the breathily sung highlight Quiet In This Home with its opening domestic samples.

The jangling flurry of I’ll Light Your Way Back, Fletcher’s spoken vocals and Pursey’s singing meshing over the urgent instrumentation, leads into the final stretch, ‘Til The Morning a piano-backed swirl with their voices joining together waking up to a bright new day” and, finally, the harmonica shaded, chamber carousel pop waltzing Dancing that for some perverse reason reminds me of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme’s I Just Want To Stay Here and Love You. They don’t have the world’s best voices, but when they work together it’s hard not to feel yourself somewhat beguiled.

Mike Davies


SAD GIRL

Water (Suicide Squeeze)

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The press release describes the LA trio, headed up by Misha Lindes, as making summery hazy pop, the album pieced together from two years’ worth of recordings and touching on yesteryear influences. Well indeed, and these can be generally pinned down to either the doo wop shades of slow swayers Chlorine and Breakfast For 2 or the frequent Lennonisms, most notably to be heard on Miss Me or Little Queenie with its Jealous Guy undertones. The vocal numbers, on which Lindes is drenched with echo are interspersed with three instrumentals, of which Mulholland nuzzles up to Lynchian noir, Avalon basks in the surf and the vibrato-soaked Hazelnut Coffee lounges along the summer boardwalk.

Opening in The Ocean and ending on the sparse acoustic, bluesy title track, there’s several H2O references but ultimately it all just washes over you and, as the tide recedes, leaves little last impression.

Mike Davies


MARK MULCAHY

The Gus (Mezzotint)

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Mulcahy, as you may know, used to front Miracle Legion, the late 80s Connecticut college rock band best known for their classic single The Backyard, a song about childhood and Mulcahy’s brother, who died in a car accident, as well as a rather fine seasonal version of Little Drummer Boy. Through a variety of line ups, but always fronted by Mulcahy, they released five albums, of which 1989’s Me and Mr. Ray is probably their best, before calling it quits and Mulcahy going on to a solo career, this being his sixth full length album.

A largely reflective affair with an emphasis on storytelling, it opens with the wearily sung sparse, five-minute plus Wicked World featuring Rain Phoenix providing one of the character voices. The jangling cascades and organ frills of Daisy Marie (“wants to kill her love”) provide one of the album’s catchiest hooks while Taking Baby Steps layers a metallic guitar over a Velvetish number about “letting a long lost friend off the hook” as it pulses to a climax.

Elsewhere, accompanied by waltzing piano the slow march Mr. Bell looks at the world from the eyes of one of the Trump fan club (“you’ve got it all, and they don’t even have a pot to piss in”), Later For The Box chugs along in a kind of Barenaked Ladies walking beat while I Won’t Tell Anyone But You throws in the line “the water that you led your horse to won’t do nothing but make wish he’d be born a fish” before the arrival of some droning guitar.

Hints of dark traditional folk haunt the spooked carousel feel of A Long Time Ago before J Mascis lends his distinctive guitar to the closing What If I Go Off With Bob? the track suddenly erupting into a decided Velvets riff. It won’t do anything to lift him beyond his cult status, but when the fan club includes the likes of Thom Yorke, Frank Black, Michael Stipe and Juliana Hatfield, it’s clear he’s doing something right.

Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2019