The Long And Short Of It (XtraMile)
Cranked up punky rock with a social conscience and a Brighton accent, the band’s second album blends together such influences as Frank Turner and The Gaslight Anthem to produce punchy, guitar driven crowd rousing anthems with rampaging riffs and raise the roof choruses.
Service Station Blues gets the ball rolling and while All In The Delivery fumbles the ball slightly with an all too generic sound, they quickly regain form on the call and response folk-punk A Common Enemy (which includes a quick burst of When The Saints Go Marching In), the swaggeringly muscular Enabler, a fiery Casey Jones, Union Scab and, by way of a change of pace, the acoustic Rebel Without A Cause. However, the stand-out, if only on account of its title, has to be The trials and tribulations of a talent show contestant “Tonight Matthew I’m going to murder someone else’s song and pretend that it was the kindest thing to do” which is hard, noisy, fast and at times pretty heavy in a way that will bring a tear of nostalgia to the eye of Turner’s old outfit, A Million Dead.
The End of the Pier (Gear)
Four years on, the Brighton outfit’s third album of twisted seaside pop opens with the instrumental Mondo Surf, a track that delivers exactly the lounge twang the label implies. But when track two, This Road Is Hers, rolls along the immediate comparison that springs to mind is The Kinks, one that also sits relatively comfortably on Bluebell Line, the acoustic Over The Fence (albeit with a touch of the medievals too), the plinkety music hall strolling Calm Waters and Farfisa driven carnivalesque album closer The show At The End of The Pier.
Then again Rose Marie clearly has a thing for Nuggets area psychedelic garage rock while, another instrumental, The Crawling Man conjures thoughts of European set 60s movies, usually involving a pretty French lass and a spy and a six minute Tourist Trap recalls the pastoral psychedelia of Syd-era Floyd just as acid rock instrumental Mondo Space might not have been out of place on UmmaGumma. Resolutely retro rooted, the Dials are enjoyably set to the lysergic 60s and should most definitely not be tweaked.
JC BROOKS & THE UPTOWN SOUND
Operating out of Chicago, Brooks and his band have spent several years exploring many different shades of soul and R&B and this, their third album, is ripe with the choppy funk and Hayes grooves of the early Shaft 70s, most evidently so on things like Before You Die, Security, the hot buttered Married For A Week and a wah wahing Ordinary.
Elsewhere, River channels Sam Cooke and Otis Redding balladry, Howl has a Motown meets Jackie Wilson with a pop vibe, at least until its freak out final seconds, and Rouse Yourself nods to Al Green while, just to keep you on your toes, Not Alone is a straightahead rolling along indie piano ballad soul pop song that might easily have been done by Graham Parker, Cold a sparse stabbing piano ballad with Brooks at his most naked and Control all stoner guitar, insistent bassline and an echo of 80s new wave. As comes with the territory, the songs are pretty much all about the pangs and pain of emotional rejection and desire with the closing These Things a gathering the wisdom it all brings. Soul as it was meant to be, you can almost hear the bleeding.
Weird Sister (Fortuna Pop)
The noisepop five piece from Cardiff have one of the best names in years, though what Joanna Newsom makes remains a matter of conjecture. Musically it’s a little less inventive, sticking cheerfully to a three minute in and out flurry of spiky riffs, fuzzy guitars, feedback and punk drumming that often sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mazzy Star mating then speeded up to 78. Featuring Alanna McArdle on vocals, even if they didn’t have a track titled Lemonade Grrrl it would be hard not to spot the Riot Grrrl influences, though it must be said they stay the poppier side of the fence. As befits a rather playful musical attitude, they also have fun with the titles, splattering out numbers like Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers, Wussy Void, Sugarcrush and, opening with a rare moment of calm, Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still In Love With Me? They do actually have a ballad, although they keep it for last, showing their shoe gaze colours with the reflective, chiming Satan, though even that eventually erupts in a feedback squall. Frequently slapped with swearing, the songs themselves aren’t ever going to win any Novellos (even if they do parade literary influences by namedropping things like Ghost World), but they’re taken at such a frantic pace and over so soon, you don’t really have time to build any active dislike.
MICHAEL MEEKING & THE LOST SOULS
Ride On (At The Helm)
Australian Americana, Meeking reformed his band on returning to Melbourne after six years living in London. The result’s eleven tracks of soulful alt country roots rock with ringing, chiming guitars, strong upbeat melodies and big choruses. Listening to Happy (Sometime Today), yearning ballad Angel, the twangy swagger of What is Lost Can Be Found with its keening pedal steel and circling riff rocker Ride On, it’s clear Tom Petty and Neil Young both feed into the DNA. But equally, featuring guest vocals from Kylie Audlist from the Bamboos, Gentle is a swaying southern soul burn, Murder a goodtime bluegrassy gospel, and Miss Me Tonight a slow dance heartacher. The songs aren’t strong enough to push Meeking into the bigger Americana leagues, but there’ll always be a place and a crowd on the barroom circuit.
Crown Electric (One Little Indian)
The title a reference to a line in Gave It Away, referring to Elvis’ pre-fame truck driving job and a song contrasting his stardom and that of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston with the life of a jobbing songwriter, Williams’ latest sees her returning to familiar soft, breathy brushed pastoral pop after her excursion into electronics and trip hop as part of The Pond. Recorded live over the space of three days, her eighth solo album (and tenth in total) is a dreamy, summery and often lushly orchestrated, musically pretty affair that, on songs like Underground, Picture Book and the surprised by self Arwen (which features James Yorkston), is often almost so light it might be blown away and apart by the slightest breeze.
Now a mother, there’s no surprise that the constraints and demands of time emerge as a running theme alongside that of balancing life and work, notably so on such numbers as the airy Monday Morning’s wish the week hadn’t begun again, Out Of Time’s reflection on the years passing without you noticing and the jazzy naggingly hypnotic march beat of Count (as in I’ve got to make it all..) where the strings suggest a less bombastic Jeff Lynne.
Relationships naturally play a part too, effectively so on Heart Shaped Stone, a Neill MacColl co-write that contrasts romantic dreams with everyday reality, and piano ballad Darkness Light’s autobiographical nod to making a marriage work.
Ed Harcourt’s also aboard for two co-writes, the trad shaded Morning Twilight, inspired by the painting of the same name by Victorian artist Charles Conder, and, with Harcourt tinkling the piano, the lovely Sequins, a jazz waltzing number about a coma victim apparently suggested by his image of a woman wanting sequins on her eyes after her death and featuring the marvelous line “If I walked the afterlife with no make-up on, I’d be frightening the angels for good”. The album closes on something of a new venture in as much as the spare keyboard accompanied The Known finds her in political mood championing human values over materialism
Asserting her late discovery of self-confidence and self-worth (doubtless part of becoming a mother), on Tequila she sings "be brave enough to be yourself." This then is a hugely courageous album.
THE PURE CONJECTURE
Yet another Brighton outfit, fronted by Matt Eaton, who apparently makes award-winning wines when not clutching a microphone, this lot boast a line up with a considerable combined pedigree that includes British Sea Power (Martin Noble), Brakes (Alex White, Marc Beatty) and The Hazey Janes (Andrew Mitchell).
Rolled together, swiftly following up last year’s debut they favour the chiming guitar, roots-tinted indie rock that kicks the game off with Roadworks On Memory Lane, a track that can’t but help evoke Robyn Hitchcock, while surf legend Dick Dale’s spirit is all over Surfin’ Sunset. Mixing it up, Mr Tong is all lounge samba (is Raw Sex one of their musical influences, perhaps), and I Just Want You To Love Me a skipalong jog that curiously suggests a meeting between Syd Barrett and the Teletubbies while Midnight Dancing nods to Northern soul.
Eaton’s rather thin vocals are the weak spot of the band and you get the feeling the band exists more to enjoy the creative freedom than to actually build an audience, which makes it an interesting rather than a memorable listen.
Diamond Valley (Static Caravan)
Fronted by Totnes-based Drift Collective founder Rupert Morrison and featuring David Hart on guitars/drums and Sarah Morrison on bass, the trio hail from Devon but their soul clearly dwells in 70s Laurel Canyon, their album a melancholic journey through low fi alt country that frequently invites comparisons to the softer side of Neil Young or perhaps Elliott Smith.
With JW Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt as the sleeve and disc image, Morrison says it was written as a concept album, moving through purgatory on Earth and dealing with themes of dissolution, loneliness and redemption. So no sunshine and laughs here, then.
Sarah takes lead on the acoustically sparse Poor Cow, but otherwise its Rupert’s weariedly vocal show, opening with the title track’s languorously hushed six minutes only briefly punctuated by a storm of electric guitar, the mood sustained for the softly soulful Save A Little Fear with its sorrowful guitar before Sweetheart takes off on a near seven minute musically skeletal journey of rumbling desert echo drums and Morrison’s soaring falsetto. If you’ve not fallen under the spell at this point, you may as well give up because there’s very little tonal shift, however, one of the lyrically relatively lighter moments, White Church will send shivers down the spine of Handsome Family devotees, Love Saved The Nineties is a languid slow dance round an empty ballroom and Slumber a near seven minute circling forlorn guitar phrase that suddenly erupts into a welter of noise and Morrison’s throat-shredding (as it turned out) howl.
The album draws to a close with the muted, ripples of The Sun and the aptly named Weary, a finger picked ballad sung in almost a whisper as through the weight of the universe is bearing down on Morrison’s shoulders. One for the quiet, reflective hours when the spirit ebbs, it’s a hauntingly compelling work.
Arrows Of Desire (Frostbyte)
A big name in Canada in the 90s, as
much for his political activism as his music, Good’s rather less known over
here but this collection of chugging guitar rock should go some way to changing
that. The title track unfurls the flag in anthemic, stadium friendly style,
keeping it flying high with the equally dynamic surge of Via Dolorosa with its
crowd rousing punch the sky chorus, the chugging Had It Coming where talk-sing verses give way to bursts of title
line chorus chant, We’re Long Gone makes to attempt to hide its Springsteen
affiliations and So Close does that quiet loud 90s rock thing.
The album’s mood and tempo shifts with the darker, more musically intense Garden Of Knives and its steamrollering rhythm, synths and feedback climax, keeping it on the heavy side with the bluesy Mutineering before Hey, Hell Heaven provides the album’s singalong stadium ballad, and Guns Of Carolina offers a brooding, thoughtful alt-country streaked run up to the breathtaking seven minute finale of Letters from Wartime building from a scratchy, echoey intro into the sort of two fisted climax Neil Young first patented.
For those sufficiently intrigued to explore further, the UK release comes with a bonus second disc featuring nine acoustic (and two live) versions of songs from across his back catalogue, of which North American For Life and Advertising On Police Cars make potent arguments for checking out the original recordings.