MICKY & THE MOTORCARS
Hearts From Above (Blue Rose)
A Texan five piece with trademark drawl, twangy guitars, riffs and choruses, this marks a solid return after a three year hiatus and line-up changes, lead singer Micky Braun is on fine form, as is his co-vocalist and guitarist brother Gary (their other brothers, Willy and Cody, front Reckless Kelly and both guest here) while the mid-tempo stomp Hurt Again features swirling Hammond organ from Bukka Allen
Opening with the title track, it doesn’t push any envelopes or break new ground, but terms of textbook Texas country rock you could do fare worse than the likes of the fiddle led across-the-tracks love story Destined To Fall, acoustic ballad From Where The Sun Now Stands (a song which, guessingly alludes to The Alamo), up-tempo fiddle backed love song Once In A Lifetime Girl and a cover of the Escovedo/Prophet penned Sister Lost Soul. However, the final cut alone makes this worth the price, Tonight We Ride a riff propelled, self-affirming slice of anthemic country rock that burns with the fire of vintage Bob Seger.
THE BARR BROTHERS
Sleeping Operator (Secret City)
Hailing from Montreal, this is a somewhat unusual quartet in that, in addition to the usual guitars, bass, drums, and piano they feature classical harp, flute, ngoni and cardboardium. It’s harp that announces the album, courtesy of Sarah Pagé, with the shimmering instrumental Static Orphans before moving on to, first, the more expansive, cinematic Love Ain’t Enough and then the acoustic mid-tempo Wolves with its Velvets echoes. The scurrying fingerpicked Even The Darkness Has Arms with its theme of the open road conjures thoughts of such early 60s folk icons Paxton and Guthrie, but then Come In The Water is clearly built using the same chorus template as The Beatles’ Don’t Let Me Down while Little Lover is a swampy boogie, Half Crazy a delta blues barroom groove and Bring Me Your Love sounds like what might be described as a cosmic funeral march slow shuffle designed by Pink Floyd.
While it’s all pretty good, two numbers stand out for these ears; Valhallas, a lilting sunshining Gracelands-esque shuffle featuring harp and ngoni, and England, a rousing, slow march, slowly building setting of Yeats’ England 1916 that most assuredly raises the Barrs.
Fall Together Again (Play It Again Sam)
For his fourth solo album, coming in the wake of his BAFTA nominated soundtrack for The Snowman and the Snowdog, the former Razorlight drummer has plunged deep into classic pop waters, opening with the piano based, string-laden classically inspired instrumental Derwen before stepping out into a beats-driven, moodily sung As Good As Gone that signposts the McCartney influences that permeate the album. The title from that pops up in the opening line of City To Coast, a breezy, melodic number that has vague echoes of Gerry Rafferty, while the rest of the album cleaves very much to the same FM rock pattern, the likes of All This I’ve Heard Before, soft chiming mid tempo ballad You Won’t Find Love and the dreamy Don’t Be Gone Too Long the sort of thing you might have heard alongside Andrew Gold and the like back in the 70s while piano backed When Your Ship Comes In conjures Billy Joe and Who Are You Now? has the sheen of New Romantics Spandau. Rock has now clearly taken a backseat, but middle aged Radio 2 and Classic FM listeners will be enraptured.
Acid Rain & Sugar Cane (Spunk)
Knowing Henry Wagons is from Australia and the album’s produced by Mick Harvey may give you an idea of what’s in store. And, indeed, Wagons shares that dark throaty growl and a propensity for theatrical menace-infused musical dramatics (no more so than on Why Do You Always Cry) with Nick Cave, as is patently evident from the outset with the slow steamrollering and echoey vocals of Hold On Caroline, resurfacing on the swaggering rockabilly of Chase the Eclipse and the swampy prowl of Summer Liquor.
That said, you’ll also hear elements of Springsteen’s moody balladry on Search The Streets while Hundred Years and the slow born splendour of Dust In The Hall marries Cave with the parched border desert spirit of Johnny Cash, there’s hints of Captain Beefheart to Talk To Her and both Never Going To Leave and Dust In The Hall are haunted by the ghost of Lee Hazelwood. The UK release comes with the added bonus of Alison Mosshart from The Kills playing a demonic Nancy to his Lee. At the end of the day, it’s a little too close to the comparisons to forge its own identity among those familiar with the templates, but if you’re coming to this without associated knowledge then these Wagons will roll you away.
KOOL STUFF KATIE
Kool Stuff Katie (Self Released)
Based out of probably a dozen Portland garages, Shane Blem and Saren Oliver play fuzzed up garage rock with both feet on the distortion pedals and the drums kept to the basic beats. The reference points aren’t hard to identify, the Ramones on Hard Girl To Know and the juddery Just A Thing, the Beatles (and some Cheap Trick) on the power pop bounce of Cars and I Can’t See and the 60s Spector meets CBGBs girl group pop of Show Me and the slow swaying, organ backed What Do You Say. Simple could have come from one of the Nuggets collections of psychedelic fuzz rock while Obscene nods to the early Who before some Jesus and Mary Chain honey drips across the acoustic closer Rewind. As the Raveonettes will tell you, it’s a limited, but crowded market, but KSK have the songs and the vibrancy to stand out from the herd.
Inspiral Carpets (Cherry Red)
Their first album in 20 years, and, with the post-reunion departure of Tom Hingley, the first to feature original singer Stephen Holt since 1989’s Trainsurfing EP, this is pretty much a return to Year Zero in terms of sound, Clint Boon’s organ swirling across their psychedelic alt rock combining Echo and the Bunnymen with The Doors. Opening track Monochrome is vintage, heady driving stuff with Spitfire, You’re So Good To Me and Flying Like A Bird all likely to induce swoons among those who’ve worshipped at the shrine of Life.
The ghosts of Joe Meek and Doug Sahm hover over A To Z Of My Heart which nods to the early rock n roll days of The Beatles while elsewhere Flying Like A Bird provides the sole melancholic ballad with an arm-swaying wordless refrain and the six minute Human Shield has Eastern sway influences and psychedelic organ effects before the tinkling musical box motif takes it to a glorious climax. Punk poet John Cooper Clarke joins them for the equally lengthy Bunnymenish Let You Down, but they don’t need ‘celebrity’ cameos to gain attention. There’s a track here titled Our Time, and it just may well be again.
Barbarisms (Control Freak Kitten)
Born in the States and now based in Stockholm via Paris, Nicholas Farone plies the sort of fuzzy, lo-fi Americana patented by the likes of Guided By Voices, Smog, J. Mascis and Built To Spill, a scratchy, drained vocal drawling wearily over equally enervated guitar lines, the soundtrack to some endless road trip across a sprawling America of deserted shopping malls and abandoned towns. Easier All The Time makes for an impressive, intoxicating opening statement, one quickly reinforced by the subtly melodic Backwards Falconer #2 with its hints of Neil Young (an influence also to be heard on the slurred shrug of Gaudy Falsetto) and Macaulay Culkin On Pizza, a strum about electric cigarettes and the Home Alone star’s band that sneaks playful xylophone and a Duran Duran reference into the mix without making much lyrical sense.
Indeed, the lyrics seem at times to be random musings, with toothbrushes in the jangling A Wash Of Teeth And Eyes, but somehow, as with Explorer, Pail of Water and the gently rippling Katherine Anne Porter, the images they strike resonances you find hard to explain, but which often have the same disarming effect of the early Jonathan Richman. If this is the new brutalist movement, you may want to apply for membership.
Tide (Butterfly Collectors)
A six track fusion of classical chamber music, trip hop and folk, this sextet build on frameworks of piano, strings, trumpet, guitars and drums, weaving atmospheric soundscapes that will evoke thoughts of Talk Talk, Sigur Ros, Andrew Bird and Portishead.
December opens the album on a suitably frosty note with harmonised vocals over a flowing backdrop of mournful violin, trumpet, icicle dripping piano notes and rolling drums before Vicenarian starts out as a simple folksy jaunt with its ‘life is simple, life is sweet’ refrain before drums and violins take hold and the circling piano pattern becomes a nervy trill. Violin introduces the midway point of Time, gradually becoming a pulsing presence over the underpinning piano and washes of warm harmonies as it builds to a euphoric choral finale on the back of lines line ‘it’s better to die, amongst the living, than to live amongst the dead’.
Waiting maintains the delicate tone, again constructed around repeated piano riff with plucked violin and cello complementing the sense of tension awaiting release. Then, the shortest of the tracks, Noah foregrounds Jess Diggins’ violin and Alex Carson’s classical piano with Milly Hirst’s pure aching voice complemented by Diggins’ harmonies. The final track, False Start, first appeared on last year’s eponymous debut EP and remains a delicate, graceful dreamy sway with its subdued piano chords and aching violin as, on a roll of drums, it gradually builds to warm, trumpet-kissed climax that leaves you feeling irradiated in its glow.