record reviews august 2017


WHITEHORSE

Panther in the Dollhouse (Thirty Tigers)

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The latest release by the collaborative project between husband and wife duo Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland is a moodily atmospheric affair, heavily laced with staccato bass, reverb guitar, echoey vocals and dry, sharp guitars, evoking cinematic Western vistas albeit often landscaped with skittering beats.

From the opening Epitaph In Tongues with its electronic sheens, there’s an edginess, but one often balanced with smooth melodies and dreamy harmonies in the service of songs about sexual freedom and lives teetering on the precipice, Boys Like You finding McClelland intoning about some "handsome drunk sad bastard" who "lives with his mother, forever, and ever, and ever!". On the minimal drone backed Die Alone she breathily sings “damned if I’ll die alone” as a lonely guitar punctuates proceedings with its fuzzed psychedelic reverb while things get beat box funky as Doucet speaks of impending break up of I Can’t Take You with Me (Charlene’s Theme) and the punky Pink Kimono turns to Glitter Band glam for a sleazy confession of things I want to do to you” and fantasies of “ living a dirty dream with you.”

There’s further shades of feral glam as McClelland prowls through the bluesy Trophy Wife like a tigerish Joan Jett dominatrix while Nighthawks is another sensually seductive number as she pleads “let me in, let me underneath your skin although it’ll break my little heart” as synths pulse, drums throb and desert haunted guitars skirts the poppier borders of the chorus. One of the stand-outs, Gracie is a particularly dreamy spaced-out hushed ballad, the melody sweetening the dark lyrics about the sniffles (“is it cocaine or heartbreak”) behind the bathroom door. Its hypnotic qualities lure you in, but, be warned, there’ll be blood before it lets you go.

Mike Davies

WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR

Proud Disturber of the Peace (Loose)

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Born in Scotland based in Cornwall, Ruarri Jospeh released four albums of Americana rooted troubadour folk stirring together elements of Newton Faulkner, Martyn Joseph and Martin Stephenson and delivering his predominantly acoustic guitar and piano based songs with a relaxed style and malted burr of a voice. Critical response was good, sales less so. So he’s decided to reinvent himself, teaming up with Harry Harding and Naomi Holmes for a bluesier, rockier sound drawing on grunge and indie influences drawn from the likes of Kings of Leon, The Doors and Ryan Adams. At times, however, the result is more like a paler Clapton or Rea.

In My Dreams opens up with a strummed acoustic shuffle traintime rhythm before the twang arrives, suggesting a touch less enervated JJ Cale. It’s a good start but then Tend To The Thorns arrives and, despite being a good number it’s hard to listen to without trying to place where they’ve lifted that thrumming circling guitar sound from (I’m currently favouring Coldplay’s Clocks). Unfortunately. Did You Wrong then sinks into plodding blues that feels like a Clapton reject veined with some Hendrix and, while Pedestals sports the memorable line “Don`t build me up you can`t knock me down”, the song itself is just a run of the mellow mill acoustic blues.

And that’s pretty much the pattern throughout. The slow, wearied harmonica laced, country inflected Sunny Is The Style is pleasant enough, The Many Faces of God’s Truth is a late night blues groove and the title track roughs things up with some resonating slide work towards the end where it sounds as though the disc’s stuck, while Manawatu plays the album out on a mid tempo drifting rhythm. But, ultimately, it all tends to slip into the background and, other than those aforementioned niggling guitar hooks, nothing lingers once it’s over. It’s an agreeable incursion into new territories, but there’s no substantial Norman conquests here. I’m afraid.

Mike Davies

THE DOCTORS OF MADNESS

Perfect Past (Cherry Red)

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Formed in 1974 by Richard ‘Kid’ Strange, with violinist/guitarist Urban Blitz, bassist Stoner and Peter DiLemma on drums, between 1976 and 1978 they released three album on Polydor, Late Night Movies – All Night Brainstorms, Figments of Emancipation (which featured the superb Suicide City) and Sons of Survival, exploring themes of urban culture neurosis and systems of control, something Strange would develop further in his two subsequent solo political allegory concept album 80s projects The Live/Phenomenal Rise of Richard Strange (“the greatest concept album ever according to AllMusic). Although they never charted, are now regarded as having a huge influence on the, as then, nascent punk movement. Indeed, at one point the Sex Pistols played support and Johnny Rotten gets referenced in one of their songs.

Described as the missing link between Bowie and the Pistols, the played ferocious, urgent and at times cacophonic music which, with numbers that could stretch out to six, seven, eight or, in the case of Mainlines, over 15 minutes also drew on the progressive and psychedelic movements. Indeed, listening to the structure and delivery of some of these epics, it is not too fanciful to suppose that, in addition to punk, the Doctors might also have been an influence on Roger Waters.

Despite the noisiness and the wild shifts of tempo and mood, often within songs, they were also strongly melodic with catchy hooks and riffs, the band proving particularly effective with their swerves into disarming often acoustic based ballads such as Afterglow, I Think We’re Alone, Billy Watch Out, the gospel tinged Perfect Past and the stripped down resignation streaked Kiss Goodbye Tomorrow of their final album. This is the first definitive collection of their work, featuring all three albums in facsimiles of the original sleeves along with previously unreleased bonus tracks, among them a rehearsal version of Dylan’s Ballad of a Thing Man, an acoustic demo of Triple Vision for the final album, Don’t Panic England featuring Dave Vanian and three live numbers from their last ever show in October 78. It comes with booklet giving a detailed and comprehensive band history. Forty years on, the music remains powerful while Strange’s concerns and lyrics seem even more relevant. Now, if Cherry Red could be prevailed upon to assemble a similar anthology of Strange’s solo work and his releases with The Engine Room….

Mike Davies

THE TRAVELLING BAND

Sails (Sideways Saloon)

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Pivoting around Jo Dudderidge and Adam Gorman with Nick Vaal providing the backbone drums and now featuring new arrivals Sam Quinn on bass with Harry Fausig Smith providing sax, clarinet an violin, the Manchester outfit follow up 2014’s The Big Defreeze with another solid but never quite spectacular collection of indie Americana and BritPop echoes. It ranges from the lush grunge of Wasted Eyes and the piano and strings led poppy spark of Mopping Forwards to the hushed vocals and Satie-like piano backed melancholic slow waltz of Loser and the McCartney and alt-country flavours of the midtempo closer Leftover Lines. The jaunty Last Night (I Dreamt of Killing You) and the acoustic filigrees of the cosmic swelling Into The Water repay repeated listens and Failure is A Bastard is a lament of regret etched out on a ricketty saloon piano that reinforces that they have it in them to create that important breakthrough album. This takes them closer, but they need to fill out the sails for a final push.

Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2017