Internal Sounds (Yep Roc)
Considerably rockier than on their last outing on which they teamed with Joe Doe for a collection of country covers, this finds the Canadian duo more in familiar Neil Young territory, opening with the rowdy The First 5 Minutes with its circling electric guitar riff and thumping drums. That’s very much the mood throughout with a 60s psychedelic feel (even the lyrics talk about the children of the sun) to The Very Beginning, The Very Ending, Starting All Over Again, Another yesterday Again, and Another Tomorrow Again, at times even calling to mind names like Jefferson Airplane.
There’s a couple of numbers where the country comes through, the mandolin-backed country ballad So Much Blood and the jaunty Leave This World Again (the melody of which occasionally hints at John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads, but that retro West Coast psychedelic air is still present even in the relatively quieter, slower moments of the gradually swelling Story 19 and the psych-folk We Are Circling where Buffy Sainte-Marie takes over vocals for an appropriately Indian tribal chant feel.
1945 (Own Label)
Listening to the opening bluesy slow rolling, vocally frazzled Thousands Drums and the punchy train rhythm Rooftop, the Nashville based, Portland bred singer-songwriter sits comfortably in the choppier ranks of Americana, but then along comes the folksy sounds of Love Is For Gamblers, the banjo driven Feeling Like America and the harmonica coloured Seein’ Ghosts with their hints of early Dylan. However, pigeonholing’s baffled again with the arrival of Future’s Going To Be The Past which gradually introduces elements of Floyd and The Beatles. The latter, Harrison especially, are also evident on Gonna Be Fine, Shiny Toy (Lonely Boy) and the very Lennon-like Lonesome Feeling, all of which highlight his 60s British influence.
The title track itself is firmly anchored on British soil as, opening and interspersed with Churchill’s V.E. day announcement, it recounts how his grandparents met in England after the end of World War II. The album closes on the stripped back, acoustic ballad Late Nights & Gunfights, Mackeson’s echoey vocals offering dusty world-weariness complemented by yearning steel. Not an album for overnight fame, but certainly one that provides a solid building block for a substantial career.
Nightingale Floors (Vagrant)
After a commercially disastrous flirtation with dance pop on 2010’s Permalight, the Oakland outfit’s debut for their new label finds them retrenching with the jangly 60s sheened indie pop rock’s that earned them their reputation in the mid 2000s. With its acoustic guitars, major chords and Zach Shwartz’s softly bruised vocals, the chimingly pretty College, a tumbling McCartneyish Figured It Out, the dreamy shoe-gaze of The Closer I get and naked folk-pop strum Without Pain, it’s attractive summery listening, even if the noisier eruptions of Siren’s Song, Used To It and Everyone Wants To Be You’s ill-advised six minute gradual swell to psychedelic freak out do rather come across as rainy storm clouds.
TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND
Made Up Mind (Masterworks)
Fronted by husband and wife Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks (also an ongoing member of the Allman Brothers and Clapton’s band), their shared roots and her Bonnie Raitt-like voice pretty much tell you what’s in store here. So, 70s Southern blues rock with strong R&B, soul and funk ingredients rears its head on such numbers as the slow sway Do I Look Worried, the chunky Misunderstood, the title track boogie and retro blues soul All That I Need. As an eleven piece outfit, there’s naturally plenty of musical muscle and, as such, occasionally it veers into the self-indulgency to which the genre can be prone. However, for the most part this is planted firmly at the top of the ladder with things like the folksy, flute-flavoured Idle Wind, the down and dirty Whiskey Legs, a 60s Motown influenced joyous Part Of Me (where Tedeschi shares vocals with trombonist Saunders Sermons) and the late night gospel hymn groove of It’s So Heavy particular highlights.
WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY
Ghost Republic (Loose)
Stripped down to just David Michael Curry and Robert Fisher and relocated to the California desert, the basic ingredients remain the same with Fisher’s arid, wearied baritone and melancholic, mournful violin, but if anything they’re more spare and drier than ever.
Working with the minimum of musical tools, the duo use songs and instrumentals to etch a portrait of an abandoned town with an elegiac air that builds its atmosphere from a marriage of reflective calm and squally unrest, the oppositions finely illustrated on the instrumental The Early Hour with its combination of meditative guitar and scraping violin. The album opens with another instrumental, Above The Treeline, a sprinkling of skeletal piano notes setting the haunted tone that pervades, to be followed by Perry Wallis, its tale of a man breathing his last breath setting the tone for what ensues with the likes of The Only Child, Rattle And Hiss, Good Morning Wadlow, and the brooding pulse of Incident At Mono Lake where piano again injects its sombre tones.
The Curry-penned Piece Of Pie offers a brief flash of hope and humanity with lines like ‘we’ll get it right’ and ‘I will know my way’, but the album ultimately brings it back to bleak with the brief scouring electronic storm of New Year’s Eve followed by the resigned circular guitar pattern of Oh We Wait. Leaving listeners with the repeated line ‘the tears will come’ and Curry’s viola lament.
As It is On Earth (Own Label)
It’s been twelve years since the New York outfit released their third and final album, The Hogyssey before calling it quits. Now brothers Royston and Antony Langdon return, their Bowie, Bolan, Beatles and Queen influences intact and firmly in evidence on the likes of glam stomper Gluttony, swelling orchestral scaled ballad Cool Water , finger-clicking strut Love Is A Curious Thing (a touch of Kinks here too), the Mercury rising sound of Bonnie & Clyde and seven minute thin white duke echoes of Deceit.
Oh Dinosaur offers a departure from the overall retro sound by with the skittering skwelchy beats intro and twangy guitar, but that too quickly settles down into the familiar shapes also evidenced by the space rock Try To Remember and the rampant Queen finale that is the loping gospel-tinged swayalong Glad To Know, complete with full on female backing choir. Envelope pushing it’s not, but as a journey through the past they still manage to find some pathways worth exploring.
Tales of Us (Mute)
Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory’s sixth album is, save for the patina of marching beats and electronica to the drum led Thea, a stripped back, minimal pastoral folk affair, at times with an almost classical air, her whispery, breathy vocals variously tender and spooked, at times conjuring thought of a dark woods Kate Bush. All the tracks (save for the lushly arranged, softly pulsing, all-embracing Stranger which you could hear Shirley Bassey doing. Albeit with more gusto) bear a character’s name, all tell a tale, the content ranging from romance to psychological horror. Thus Annabel is about a boy trapped in a girl’s body, Simone concerns a girl having an affair with her mother’s lover, the moving Clay is inspired by a soldier’s letter to his late gay fellow soldier lover, the threat of murder hanging over Laurel’s portrait of a prostitute. Some, like the rippling Drew, suggest rather than state, but are no less effective in raising emotional shivers though, weirdly, Ulla sounds a lot like White Horses, the 60s hit by Jacky from the TV series of the same name.
There’s a slight problem in that there’s so little variation in tone that the effect is sometimes more soporific than narcotic, but there’s disturbing beauty here in spades.