record reviews october 2018

BODINROCKER

Eye To Eye (Bearman)

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Pretty much summed up in having a track titled That Old Twelve-Bar, the Swedish rock outfit fronted by Anders Bodin veers vetween basic riff and ready head-nodding and swagger stuff  in the tradition of AC/DC and the pop-infected boogie of  Vacation and Rollercoaster Ride are clearly pitched at Nordic Quo fans,. Bodin has a somewhat thin, reedy vocal sound that feels a bit lightweight in contrast to the guitars and drums, but they know their way round a catchy melody and the likes of Brown Bear, the Who-inflected Life’s Not Fair and  Got No Time with its echoes of the late 60s Brit poprock of The Move are all very listenable. MD


ACE OF CUPS

Ace of Cups (High Moon)

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Back in the late 60s of San Francisco, Mary Gannon, Maria Hunt, Denise Kaufman, Mary Ellen Simpson and Diane Vitalich were the only all female rock band, a distinction that brought them a solid following and gigs with the likes of the Grateful Dead, The Band and Buddy Miles, but which, because the business  didn’t know how to market such an act,  also meant they never gota. Deal and never made a record. Eventually they fell apart and went their separate ways, but always keeping one foot in music, whether on an individual or collective basis.

Now, half a century or so later, thanks to label boss George Baer Wallace, although Hunt is absent, they’ve finally made their studio debut, one littered with such luminaries as Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bob Weir,  and Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. Issued as a double CD, it features 37 tracks, albeit six are spoken snatches from early live shows or brief interludes and one is transistor radio surfing.

A mix of old and new material it gets underway with the organ backed Feel Good and, while the music may be retro, if you didn’t know the background you’d think this was a bunch of late teens/early 20s girls not four  women in their late 60s.  A mix of psychedelic shaped rock such as Circles and Pretty Boy and folksier pop colours like Fantasy 1&4 and the slower tempo We Can’t Go Back Again, there’s much here to appeal to fans of the era, whether they experienced it or not.

In yerms of celebrity contributions, Weir sings on the banjo backed mid-tempo The Well which harks to vintage Dead, Taj Mahal appears on two tracks, the slow blues gospel handclap stomp Life In Your Hands and the brief interlude Daydreamin’ while Sainte-Marie steps up for the Clapping Song rhythm-styled Pepper In The Pot and Coyote

Ranging from the rocky Circles and the psychedelic blues jam Stones to the Eastern-coloured Macushla, the pastoral crystal streams Indian Summer and the nine minute progfolk stylistic tapestry shifting (shades of Led Zep perhaps) Medley of The Hermit/The Flame Still Burns/Gold and Green/Living In The Country and ending on a capella harmonies and handclaps with the gospel influenced Music, this  comes up trumps. MD

 

BLANCMANGE

Wanderlust (Blank Check)

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Having reformed in 2011, only for illness to lead to the departure of co-founder Stephen Luscombe after the comeback album, Neil Arthur keeps things rolling, this is the fifth album since the resurrection and his second of the year following his collaboration with electronics artist Jez Bernholz as Near Future. As ever its dark-laced bubbling synth pop, pursuing theme about technological discontent as the real world becomes subsumed by a virtual one, opening with the Moroder moog groove of Distant Storm.

The duo never really got the appreciation they deserved for the ability to pen catchy dance tunes, forever in the shadow of more successful acts like the Human League and Pet Shop Boys. Indeed you can hear their echoes in numbers such as the propulsive In Your Room and  I Smashed Your Phone Last Night with its reference to Arthur C. Clarke as it details the trivial personal world shattering moment, though, that said, the ominous Talking To Machines suggests Lennon had he lived into the Alexa generation.

Hinting at Visage but with the deeper voiced Bowie haunting the vocals, Gravel Drive Syndrome turns its eye on social climbing while, featuring Hannah Peel, Not A Priority concerns those unseen occupying the hinterlands and fringes of society in a  call to self-belief. TV Debate addresses politics and celebrity shows, unsure where the distinctions lie while the sparse, pulsing and atmospheric Leaves has a certain Roger Waters feel to it. It ends on two tracks seeking new beginnings, White Circle, Black Hole and, featuring sampled spoken words,  the slow gathering title track about the inherent melancholy of change but the need to let go and move on. MD


SHE MAKES WAR

Brace For Impact (SRD)

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Much impressed by seeing her perform solo at the Hare & Hounds while nursing a broken foot and wearing a knee crutch, I’m no less taken by her studio work, this being Laura Kidd’s fourth album and another powerful collection of punk-infused raucous guitars, throbbing, spooked basslines and thumping drums against which she sets her sinuous deceptively sweet vocals.

Devastate Me opens the batting with a scathing ambivalent swipe at living your life online and how your profile remains as a ghost once you die, moving into the slightly ominous shapes of London Bites and the swirling sense of disorientation on the waltzing Strong Enough.

Undone is a particularly ferocious number of distorted squally guitars but even here she contrasts musical textures, weaving folk and the American indie of the likes of Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly, while, as the title suggests, And Then The Quiet Came reins it in for a more intimate sound. For all the sonic bluster that sometimes envelopes the music, she clearly has a strong melodic sensibility, as well evidenced in the more musically naked Dear Heart and the dreamy Fortify. Let battle commence. MD

 

HANDSOME JACK

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Alive)

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Hailing from New York with an album sleeve design that’s pure 70s (using the same graphic style as Three Dog Night and Barefoot Jerry), the trio confidently move around the Southern barroom bluesy soul rock genre clichés, even including a  song with a lyrics about moving it down the line and such titles as Got It Bad, Baby Be Cool and Do You Dig It? Rolling Stones has likened them to 70s British outfits like Audience and Humble Pie, and especially acts from the Harvest label, but, fronted by the raspy vocals of Jamison Passuite,  you’re more likely to hear Skynyrd and Crowes as they work their way through the likes of City Girls, Keep On, prowling blues Holding Out and Hey Mama (Put Your Red Dress On). Reasonable enough of its kind if you hang out in bars where they sell the whiskey brand knock-offs rather than the real thing.  MD

 

CHRISTINE & THE QUEENS

Chris (Because)

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The first French act to enjoy global success since Air,  Héloïse Letissier follows up her 2016 Chaleur Humaine debut, shortening her self-projecting character’s name for title to emblemise her new strength and confidence. Moving from teenage years to an adult queer female, it embraces themes of sex, female desire, otherness and the complexity all this brings, drawing thematically and musically on Madonna and Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope for inspiration.  Hence, variously sung in French, English and Spanish,  the 80s funk groove that permeates things like the Michael Jackson-esque Feel So Good, Girlfriend, synth shaped pop swagger Comme Si and the percussive snap of Don’t Matter.

Make Some Sense slows it down for some elegant vocally soaring R&B balladeering that might have a hint of Midge Ure about it while 5 Dollars is infectious cascading chords pop while The Stranger is awash with harpsichords and the brooding What’s Her Face cuts closest to the raw memories of playground traumas as, in many ways, is the best thing here. She may not be reinventing the genre, but she’s certainly bending it to her own purposes. MD

 

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