THE MIKE DAVIES COLUMN23-3-2019

JAWS

Their third album, JAWS singer Connor Schofield describes The Ceiling as “generally about feeling a bit lost” and needing to take time to “stand still for a bit sometimes and actually breathe.” Not that opening track and lead single, Driving At Night, is exactly a blissed out cruise through the dream-pop ether. A song born from missing Birmingham, it motors along at an, er, driving rhythm, the road paved with jangling layered fuzzy guitars, Schofield’s vocals typically sounding as if they were recorded from behind a waterfall.

Likewise, Do You Remember with its punchy bass line and circular drum pattern, a number echoing his admiration for The Cure, is (like the progressive-tinged indie of End of the World) all urgent musical tension although, inevitably, the comparison that again comes most to mind as the album unfolds is the Stone Roses.

Fear is another atmospheric, chilled but muscular number that reaches out into now sonic territories, while Please Be Kind chimes with a poppy cadence and infectious chorus, Feel has a funky 80s dance edge and Patience unfolds on synths, otherworldly echoes and electronica.

Their most chilled, breathe slowly moment comes with the closing January with its echoey watery, acoustic guitar, distant vocals and tambourine, although the title track also taps directly into that out of body euphoria Schofield is talking about.

With four of the numbers clocking in at over five minutes and only two below the four minute mark, there’s plenty of space to get lost and escape the rush, the standout probably being Looking/Passing, arguably the most Stone(d) of the tracks with its (naggingly familiar) cascading chorus line hook as, backed by a drum fusillade, Schofield sings “I want to dance like I don’t care” but finds himself held back by social anxiety (“I’d enjoy myself if I didn’t care …but everybody’s watching”), a theme shared with the title song.

A development rather than shift from their established sound, they might still not musically fully inhabit their own skin but The Ceiling is certainly an upwards trajectory.

boat

Although the new album, Rivers That Flow In Circles, is still currently mired in Pledge Music funding delays, BOAT TO ROW offer a second taster with On Your Own, further indication of their journeying into new, unexplored territories. A gorgeous, summery sound with breezy guitars and brass flourishes, as well as backing vocals from Katherine Priddy, it conjures the heady days of 70s Laurel Canyon and the SoCal sounds of Joni, James, CS&N and Seals & Crofts.

matthew ed

A follow up to 2017’s Folklore, MATTHEW EDWARDS & THE UNFORTUNATES release The Birmingham Poets on French label December Square, Edwards describing the titular word minstrels as “amusing but unexpected guests who eventually ruin your dinner party” who “graffiti the walls with romance languages.”

Again sparking thoughts of Bowie, Brel and Robyn Hitchock in his pastoral baroque cabaret conjurations, there’s also a decided ex-pat Gallic pop flavour to the moody, claustrophobic opening self-absorbed Besides Myself (on which wife Jennifer gets to sing some pointed lyrics about her other half), that shifts from the previous album’s occasional echoes of Berlin to a bohemian Paris and is perhaps more early Steve Harley filtered through Roy Harper than thin white duke. Bad Design is a choppier pop riff with some circling 70s psychedelic guitar touches and Dagmar Krauss on vocals while the album heads into a decaying fairground in search of musical textures to unfold the tape of Anthony Bold (“he likes to pretend he’s as bold as brass with the hoi polloi or the underclass, quoting Marx in council flats”), Danielle Cawdell and Kirsty Griffith providing what Edwards calls his Greek chorus backing vocals.

Desire Is A Witch is, perhaps, the most akin to early Bowie although if you listen closely you might hear some hints of REM in there too mixing with the tumbling folk rock chords and chorus. Karl gets another nod with the seven minute, intimately and emotively sung dream state socialist childhood memoir Sons of Marxist Fathers (“at the cathedral in the back streets, mom handed out her pamphlets”) erupting at the four minute mark into a brooding slab of Floydian industrial guitar from Craigus Barry, the vocals disappearing distantly behind the squalling leviathan.

Sailing over the rooftops in to Birmingham to bring broadsides and protest songs, the rather lovely Our Boldest Daughter strikes an airy, folksy love song note where The Lilac Time trade photographs with Vinny Peculiar and David Roberton sets the theramin shimmering before a false ending leads to the instrumental playout with Chris Cundy on bass clarinet.

The slowly loping title track arrives on Davey Graham guitar notes, namechecking local writer Charlie Hill (though strictly a novelist rather than a poet), Lonny Montem duetting on vocals on a song that again refers to his relocating from San Francisco back to his hometown. Which, by way of no particular coincidence takes us to the scat, theramin and bass intro to the glorious swayalong cascading chords summer and cynicism pop of California Can You Wait? complete with its fluttering electric guitar and ba da ba backing refrain.

Dagmar Krauss gets to duet on the last two numbers, first up ululating “I was never there” on The Rag Trade, another number that shares a striking musical kinship with the melancholically romantic kitchen sink reveries of Vinny Peculiar, himself with strong links to Birmingham, as well as sharing the crease with Roy Harper’s Old Cricketer. And finally, We Think The World Of You, a loving memory of his father that, aside from the opening verse, comprises Edwards and a female chorus simply repeating the title line to a strummed guitar and mellotron. One of the finest albums you’ll hear this year, bard none. They can wreck my dinner party anytime.

roots-and-branches.com 2018