First up, a correction. A couple of columns ago, when talking about the reunion of former Mood Elevator members Jenny Jones and David Ditchfield for a new project known as LIFE, I gave the wrong website link to hear the excellent new material. The correct one is http://www.lifesounds.co.uk/. So check it out and be prepared to have the spine tingled.
Having played together in informal settings since they were thirteen, at the start of this year Eddie Barber (guitar/vocals), Rohan Simmons (bass/backing vocals) and Tom Naqvi (drums) christened themselves MILLBROOK and, under the guiding hand of Highbury Studios producer Rob Peters, recorded one of the finest debut albums I’ve heard in many a long year and, quite easily, up there with the very best of 2015. Self-titled, it slots into retro country-blues Americana that’s likely to evoke various thoughts of Neil Young, Skynryd, REM and Buffalo Springfield as well as recalling (largely through Eddie’s keening, sepia-stained vocals) late lamented local heroes Onionhead.
The 10-track set kicks off in uptempo, rocky form with the chords-descending Wandering, an almost 70s punkish parping sax embellishing the circling guitars, then it on to the softly brushed beauty of a harmony-soaked, five and a half minute We Are Bold as Barber sings “The road is worn, tired, torn, and bleeding” over the gently tumbling melody, guitars taking off into a Byrdsian reverie around the two minute mark.
He turns on the fuzz pedal for the intro to Where The Rhythm Winds, a tempo and texture shifting number that flows between choppy, electric 70s psych country and softer passages that evoke the early days of Matthews Southern Comfort in Eddie’s voice. The reverb’s there on the wide open vistas of The Sweet Divine, its choppy guitar Southern rock riff summoning Skynryd to mind as well as Neil Young before the mood’s taken down a notch on the plaintive, folk-rock infused mid-tempo Nothing To Sing, lonesome harmonica making an entrance as the track reaches its close. It’s there again too, blowing across the jangly ‘ from my room’ bruised ache of Eastbound, which, in parts, blissfully suggests a countrified version of Love. Another cascading chord melody with a driving drum beat, the uptempo Real Time is the closest call to REM (the line “have you seen the mailman? ‘Cause he ain't been round for days” sounds like pure Stipe to me), though you can also hear hints of McGuinn.
By way of contrast, the underpinning funky guitar riff of Something Strange has definite shades of The Doobie Brothers, building towards a psychedelic soul guitar storm before a soft dying fade, while the penultimate ballad, When The Sun Hangs Around, features just Barber’s voice and acoustic fret-fingered guitar (I’d lay odds there’s an influence from the folk side of OCS’s Simon Fowler in there too) before the album ends with the lengthy quiet-loud reverb and euphoric feedback drenched slow-waltzing yearning of Voyager, Barber singing “the ship will go down without a sound and you’re dreaming” before it builds to a squalling guitar climax. In terms of both musical proficiency and songwriting abilities, it’s a breathtakingly accomplished debut and one that suggest they are going to be a very significant name on both the UK and the international Americana scene in the years to come.
Erstwhile Brum-based sons, EDITORS return with their first self-produced album In Dream (Play It Again Sam), suggesting they may have spent some time going through their old Ultravox collection. Certainly, opening number, No Harm, shares that same pulsing, puttering rain-washed alien streets synth line feel of Vienna, although the track remains content with the foreplay and never climaxes in the way Midge Ure did.
As well as their first time on production duties (although they left Alan Moulder to mix it as he saw fit), it’s also the first to feature duets, the honour going to Slowdive’s Rachel Gosell who appears on three tracks, first up being Ocean Of Night, which, grounded by Tom Smith’s piano, has its sights firmly set on stadium anthem status with its tumbling, soaring chorus line. Then comes the deliberate steamroller paced Forgiveness with its short, snatched verses and, perhaps, a hint of Peter Gabriel, before pulsing strings introduce Salvation, the strobe-swept rhythm exploding into an epic chorus shaped like a tribal chant across a march stomp.
It’s back to moody Ultravox synthpop for the melodically sweeping Life Is Fear, Smith shading his Ian Curtis darkness with falsetto swoops, then Goswell gets to do more than provide background vocals, her breathy softness offsetting Smith’s deeper timbre duet on The Law, a brooding trip hop number built around a single persistent synth note and regular hollow clanks and rumbles before its enveloped in shimmering clouds.
By way of contrast, Our Love is another 80s catchy synth-pop tune with unmistakable shades of Bronski Beat as Smith slips into falsetto mode, the radio-friendly approach maintained on the fairly loose limbed All The Kings, a track that would seem to have rock n roll dna twisted around a subtle dance double helix with synthesised strings and horns.
It’s all change again for the spare, churchy organ feel of At All Cost, Smith giving it an emotion-laden wearied croon to complement the somewhat choral ambience. And then, finally, the shutters come down with the near eight magnificent minutes of slow building, uplifting previous single Marching Orders swelling to stadium-vaulting heights as Smith channels his inner Neil Diamond on a journey into the light, holding the flickering torch aloft in the darkness and rain as the track heads to its cathartic crescendo. Awesome.
Although it’ll have been and gone in chart terms by the time this appears (their new home at Warners not having send out info or a review copy), DURAN DURAN continue their comeback streak with Paper Gods, the album kicking off with the title track, a collaboration with Birmingham’s Mr Hudson that runs for some seven minutes, beginning with a sort of Gregorian chant before opening out into a catchy, driving synth-pop rhythm. Dance shapes are evident throughout, delivering a funky groove with Janelle Monae and Nile Rodgers on Pressure Off, a track that recalls their classic Notorious glam-disco era, keeping the disco blood stomping on Last Night In The City with Hideaway singer Kiesza while other collaborations see them joined by Jona on Change The skyline, Janelle on Pressure Off and erstwhile Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante etching his signature across soaring strings-soaked ballad What Are The Chances? Taking a cue from Madonna, there’s even a voiceover from Lindsay Lohan on the techno-pop bubble of Danceophobia.
Old school Duran surfaces on Face For Today, You Kill Me With Silence (which would have made a far getter Bond theme than Sam Smith’s knock off), the Nile Rodgers influence strut of Butterfly Girl and, with its tinkling intro, the epic The Universe Alone which, in another word, you could easily hear being sung by Shirley Bassey.
A veteran of these columns from his days as Penelope’s Web, now based in London, Dominic Silvani and his distinctive baritone currently trades as THE AVON GUARD alongside guitarist Andy Mitty with whom he released Forget, a dark folk pop track with a military beat, Joy Division undercurrent and hints of Nick Cave back in May. With a debut album due later this year, they pave the way with a remix of the single by Modernphase from Gameboyz, on Jonestown Records, available as a free download from https://soundcloud.com/modernphase/avon-guard-forget-modernphase-remix-free-download
With the still as yet untitled new album possibly due before Christmas, now down to a trio after the departure of bassist Jake Cooper, JAWS release taster single What We Haven’t Got Yet (Rattlepop), a watery reverb drenched, guitar ringing, jittery percussion track that filters grunge influences through the band’s melodic pop sensibilities. Meanwhile, fellow B-town outfit SWIM DEEP release Mothers (Chess Club), a sophomore album swathed in 90s psychedelic synth dance and shades of 70s prog with nods to the Madchester baggy era on swirling, echo-heavy album opener One Great Song And I Could Change The World. There’s a definite druggy s spacey feel on several tracks, To My Brother, Heavenly Moment, Is There Anybody Out There, the cosmic ocean sailing of Imagination and the falsetto sung Forever Spaceman which surely owes some sort of debt to Bowie. For the most part synths have supplanted the indie guitars, though the sort of ballad Green Conduit does initially promise to break the pattern with its acoustic intro and mellotron like whirble, but it can’t resist twiddling the knobs as the track develops.
With its solid drum backbone, Namaste has an air of Motown about it filtered through 80s technopop, Grand Affection and its sequencer bass line hanging around the same clubs hoping to catch a glimpse of Depeche Mode or Dead or Alive. By way of a stylistic swerve, penultimate track, Laniakea is a pretty if somewhat throwaway shambly pop tune with a lightly galumphing melody that sounds like the band have spent a lot of time watching pre-school CBeebies. They go out on a manic high with the eight minute Fuelho Boogie, a title inspired by the recent reap of the laws that banned dancing in Japan’s clubs and a number that hurtles along on a express train krautrock track, erupts into cascades and is ultimately carried off in an acid house, DnB whirlwind. Dubbing it "psychedelic sex music", their description of the album as an acid house mash up of Rumours and Kanye West's Yeezus seems a bit wide of the mark, but they’re certainly making an impressive splash in new waters.