record reviews october 2017

LOST HARBOURS

Towers of Silence (Liminal Noise Tapes)

Lost Harbours Towers Of Silence

Released only on cassette and vinyl, this features singer-guitarist Richard Thompson (not that one) and Emma Reed on flute, clarinet and guitar with Diana Collier and Sabine Moore contributing additional vocals. Based between Riga, Latvia and Southend-on-Sea, they’re an experimental free folk collective, the album featuring original material and traditional numbers with a mingling of English and European influences.

Two traditional tracks bookend the album, the opener being the sparse, seven-minute Black Is The Colour with the sound of a chill wind blowing throughout the funereally paced lament, sung almost in a monastic style. The closer is the even longer Idumea, the Charles Wesley Sacred Harp hymn sung by Collier and Moore and again given an ambient, ghostly arrangement.

Inspired by the Selkie myths, intoned by Thompson in the same Gregorian mode, Lake is the first of the originals, a suitably watery and haunting work evocative of its source, followed by the brief Two Suns with its echoes of early Incredible String Band. The two remaining numbers are fair epics. The atmospheric ten-minute Waking and the fourteen-minute Elegy both inspired by the lines of pylons stretching between towns, the calls of nightjars, the behaviour of shrikes and the old rituals of Essex displaced by “the encroaching slurry of concrete rolling over fields and woods.”

Featuring Reed’s woodwinds, the former builds slowly on a crackling backdrop of natural (or possibly synthesised) sound before introducing a medieval sounding drone, while the latter extends the sonic tapestry, embracing skeletal, meditative acoustic guitar, flute and that pervasive drone building to a threatening dark pulse of noise before ebbing away into a calm fade like distant thunder after a storm. Not one for the regular folk clubs, I suspect, but highly effective listening on those dark evenings.

Mike Davies


SUGARMEN

Local Freaks (Sire)

sugarmen

AC, the opening track on the debut album by this Liverpool four piece, immediately summons thoughts of Pulp, both musically and in singer Luke Fenion’s Jarvis-like vocals while, bizarrely, the urgent Sold barrels along on a flurry of drums and guitars that suggests what The Monkees might have been like had they emerged as part of the 80s indie scene.

Indeed, there’s a wide range of influences at work here, ranging rom the funky riffs of Our Gallows to the Franz Ferdinand feel of Push Button Age and the 60s psychedelic colours of the part spoken Rabbit Hole which throws in Electric Prunes, Arthur Brown and 13th Floor Elevators.

Consistently melodic with a string accessible pop sensibility, there’s energy aplenty swirling around here, Golden One a frantic surge that sounds like they might even levitate live while Save The Feeling clearly nods to mid-period Bowie and both the beach-pop Kool Aid and the jerky rhythm title track are further highlights. It’s an invigorating opening statement and, while they might not immediately capture the imagination back home, they should b welcomes with open arms in the New York clubs.

Mike Davies


CATHOLIC ACTION

Catholic Action (Modern Sky)

catholic

Hailing from Glasgow, the quartet clearly have an affinity with the glam rock urgency of Bolan and the Glitter Band, at least evidenced on album opener L.U.V. and New Year, while Propaganda is an energetic bounce through guitar and synth pop built, like Say Nothing, around a persistent bassline. A little more variety might not have gone amiss, although they do slow it down for Breakfast which seems to suggest some heavy and blues rock influences in there too, while The Shallows is a steady-paced ballad and the brass-flecked The Real World has a definite jaunty summery air. Closing with the five-minute chiming electric strum and 70s keyboards of Stars and Stripes, they’re definitely ones worth keeping an ear one. Mike Davies


LORD YOUTH

Gray Gardens (BB*Island)

LordYouth GrayGardens

A vehicle for New York’s Micah Blaichman, this debut album bears equal testament to his love of old calypso music and Lou Reed, both combined in the opening Gray Gardens. It’s a moody, intimate and at times ghostly sounding affair, Blaichman slurring his spoken way through Blue Yodel #156, nodding to voodoobilly with Someone Was Singing Hi Ho Silver and stripping down to raw garage mechanics with the abrasive Moonbelly. By contrast, The Room is On Fire is so skeletal as to be almost not there, the wearied vocals sounding like they may not make it to the end of the song.

With rumbling drums underpinning the slow march, Everybody’s Listening To The Fire is a standout, almost like some American Civil War anthem, robed in aching noir, while, accompanied by a lonely musical box organ, I Built A Castle at 4am is beautifully cracked and broken. Not everything is going to click with everyone, but there’s more than enough going on here to captivate those willing to experiment with their aural pleasures. Mike Davies


THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART

The Echo of Pleasure (Painbow)

POBPAH

Following the birth of his first child, as you might imagine Kip Berman’s fourth album is fairly euphoric pop affair with big synth rushes and waterfalls of shimmering hooks. It sets the mood with the tumbling glory of My Only and proceeds through the sparkling sherbet cascades of Anymore, the early REM feel of the staccato rhythm The Garett and the fizzing jauntiness of When I Dance With You with its soaring harmonies. An iridescent marriage of Echo and the Bunnymen and Jesus and Mary Chain bathed in a sugar rush of syth pop, it not, as the title has it, a Cure For Death, but it certainly makes you feel glad to be alive.

Mike Davies


MO KENNEY

The Details (Self-Released)

mo k

Tagged as Canada’s answer to Lorde or Lana Del Ray, Kenney delivers a concept album that journeys from a recent bout of depression, self-destructive alienation and oblivion to confrontation and redemption. It starts off with Cats Not A Cake, a short sparse number about contemplating the end of a relationship and what happens to the shared cat. Then things crank up as it launches into On The Roof, a barrage of angular indie riffery that suggests a less intense and experimental Throwing Muses or Belly filtered through nuts and bolts garage. Following the title track one of three tracks clocking in under 60 seconds, June 3rd slows it down for an Elliott Smith influenced track build on a bedrock of keyboards as she faces up to her behaviour ("I'm such a liar, I'm such a cheat”), Maybe I Am shifting to a dreamier sound, albeit till with those snappy electric guitar riffs, while Out Of The Window is a floaty, ethereal ballad, a distinct contrast to the following feral mid-tempo rock of If You’re Not Dead where she kicks some unwanted lover out of her bed.

Having sung “I can't wait to get out of my head" on the metronomic guitar chug of the feedback shrouded, it ends on the upbeat, simple chimed notes of Feelin Good, the darkness banished as she emerges on the other side. It’s not always a comfortable trip, but she makes the travelling worth it.

Mike Davies


JESSE TERRY

Stargazer (Jackson Beach)

stargazer-600x600

A singer-songwriter from New England, Terry wears his influences openly. Indeed, perhaps too openly. The title track, the first on the album, is essentially Coldplay’s The Scientist with different words while throughout it’s hard to avoid thinking of Lennon (Kaleidoscope), ELO (Stay Low), McCartney (Dance In Our Old Shoes), Paul Simon (Dear Amsterdam) or Tom Petty (Woken The Wildflowers. Dangerous Times). The opening of the anthemic Runaway Town also conjures Springsteen.

The good news is that he has an attractive, clear voice and, while the songs may evoke comparisons, they are also sufficiently big on hooks, riffs and memorable melodies and choruses to rise above the references. Given the airplay – and he seems a perfect fit for Radio 2, there’s no reason why he can’t be huge.

Mike Davies


BLANCMANGE

Unfinished Rooms (Blanc Check)

Blancmange

Having reformed in 2011, but now just Neil Arthur, with Stephen Luscombe having being forced to leave for health reasons, this is their fourth studio album and serves to underline why they fully deserve to be regarded in the same league as their 80s electro-pop peers, Yazoo, Human League, Soft Cell and the like.

Opening with the title track , a brooding, pulsing song about the search for something always out of reach, Arthur weaves a hypnotic and often dark mood, but always with one eye on a catchy melody, such as the steady marching rhythm of We Are The Chemicals, a song about chemical spillage that clearly works as an allegory, and the elegant Bowie-esque ache of an welcome but awkward reunion that is Wiping The Chair.

What’s The Time? is a spoken word piece, bits random conversations, over a persistent krautrock groove, Share It Out a floaty waft of out of body psychedelia, Anna Dine a steady Cure-like march beat that again conjures ominous images of rooms and dead flies on the garden table, while Old Friends has a lush but oppressive orchestral sheen and, joined by David Rhodes on guitar and Benge on Moog Modular, Gratitude is an edgy, paranoid affair.

Long time fan John Grant provides sombre piano and backing vocals for the closing eight-minute Don’t Get Me Wrong, the lyrics pulling together threads and images from previous tracks, in an early hours, nerves-stretched, introspective finale that underscores the pervasive melancholia. In terms of mood, this is a long way from the early ebullient days of Blind Vision, Living On The Ceiling and their playful cover of ABBA’s The Day Before You Came, but the proof of the pudding is definitely in the eating.

Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2017