record reviews april 2015


Twin Idols (Picture in My Ear)


A mix of shoegaze and psychedelia, fronted by Jason Adams, the Oregon outfit’s debut album features contributions from from Peter Holmstrom of the Dandy Warhols and Collin Hegna who’s served time with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, so that should give a good idea of what to expect. It kicks off in a heady euphoric rush with the ringing Sounds Like Anaesthesia recalling the early days of The Church as does the moodier psych territory on And I Love Her while the distortions of Spacement evoke, perhaps not unsurprisingly given the title, Spacemen 3. It’s all intoxicating stuff, swathed in guitar pedal effects, with the early Floyd-like Queen of the Gas Station and the pulsing eight minute title cut particular stand outs. However, opening track aside, perhaps the best moment is their fabulous Jesus & Mary Chain-styled revamp of Four Seasons hit Dawn. Derivative, maybe, but still entrancing stuff.

Mike Davies


A Gathering Storm (Billberg Entertainment)


Founded by singer/ guitarist Danny Warwick, brother of 90s electro-pop hitmaker Sarah Washington, the London-based quintet deliver solid radio friendly pop rock of a classic nature, the album a mix of heartfelt balladering like Wednesday’s Child and the acoustic-based arms-waving anthmic Show Your Love To Me (a definite touch of Take That) and more uptempo, rockier numbers like A Million Stars, Secret Eyes, Who Will Save Me tonight and the punchy power pop of Gabrielle. Musically, they’re not doing anything that hundreds of similar outfits haven’t done, but, as something like the soaring 5AM shows, they have the melodies and the songs to rise above the crowd.

Mike Davies


Dismantling Paradise (High Plains)

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A former sideman for Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and The Gourds, Johnson steps into the solo spotlight with an affable collection of alt-country influenced numbers that, while unlikely to bring him sort of acclaim enjoyed by his past paymasters, should find a receptive audience for things like the country pop Out All Night, the slide and pedal steel guitar ringing Coloradoasis and the old school, steel-streaked, pop-influenced Nashville feel of Lonely You. Although there’s nothing you’d ring up someone half way round the world and tell them they had to listen to, the twangy title track, a fingerpicked, bluegrassy How The Might Do Despair and the summery George Harrison-ish vibe of Rolling Over would certainly warrant getting the neighbours round for.

Mike Davies


Celestial Gold (Gargleblast)

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Whatever the real name of the Scot behind the moniker may be, K-F J makes music that may not, as the bio has it, come on like a Celtic Johnny Cash, but does recall the headier days of The Beta Band with its swirling synths and acoustic guitars on the likes of Tomorrow Shines and The Death of Penny Lane while Occupy has echoes of The Human League, and Dirty Cop conjures Robyn Hitchock and, inspired by David Icke, Baby Lizard Eating People could be a poppier Depeche Mode. A mix of alt-folk (Fence Collective style) and electronics with a combination of catchy hooks and vivid lyrics that wander from the heartache of Friends To The End to the autobiographical Vegetable Man which came from a year spent in Taiwan, crippled and on crutches, it may not be gold but it’s certainly on its mettle.

Mike Davies


Wire & Wood (Battered Hat)


Born in Devon, Mackay earned a British Blues Awards nomination for his debut album,Out Along The Wire, as well as comparisons to John Mayer and Jeff Buckley. Three years later, he returns with (as the title, a bluesy ode to his guitar, suggest) a stripped back acoustic set, albeit featuring organ contributions by Don Airey and Ricky Peterson, that showcases his soulful, husked tenor and the songs. Clapton is clearly an influence (the album’s last softly sung ballad is even called Lullaby For Layla) with If I Told You cast in the same mould as Wonderful Tonight, though A Kind Of Blue suggests the bluesier side of Paul Simon while You Win Again underpins those Buckley references and the soft shuffle A Kind Of Blue edges into jazzier territory with its brushed drums and guitar work.

After releasing his debut album, Mackay founds himself back having to busk for a living before the word got out. He shouldn’t have any worries about being back on the streets this time round.

Mike Davies


Shedding Skin (Play It Again Sam)


Moving out of the vaguely hip hop arena of his former material, Obaro Ejimwe expands his musical horizons with an album that features contributions from Maximo Park’s Paul Smith, Nadine Shah and Lucy Rose and plenty of guitars, synths and strings. He still sings in a semi-spoken style, but the emphasis is more on warm melodies, even if the lyrics don’t always mirror the mood. These range from the breakups of the slurred, slouching rapped That Ring Down The Drain Feeling with Shah on backups and the skittering percussive beats of Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me featuring Rose to his duet with Wretch 32’s Etta Bond on the spooked noirish domestic violence themed Yes, I Helped You Pack and the brooding, dark-coated title track’s forage through the undergrowth of mental illness and homelessness, the latter also the subject of the rapped, itchy Off Peak Dreams.

There are moments when things are a little less overcast, Be Right Back, Moving House, for example, where, channelling Lou Reed, he says how “love will remain throughout the pain and strain over the years" while, in similar style, adorned with piano and strings, Nothing In The Way closes things out with a wistful , optimistic note that while we all fall down, when we get up “nothing in the world can stop us.” Some might say the same of Ejimwe.

Mike Davies


Poverty (Talitres)


While Putin seems determined to push the world into another Cold War, this bunch of Russians want you all to get together on the indie dance floor, their third album extending the frequent New Order comparisons (check out the Joy Division shades to Similar Way )with a pulsing stream of motorik rhythms, Dispersed Energy particularly evoking Kraftwerk, alongside the perky electropop bounce of Red Drop and the tumbling guitar riffing and express train percussive beats that drive along Poverty itself. It would have been better if the vocals weren’t quite so buried in the mix and there were more variety in the sound of the material, but they weave an intoxicating web.

Mike Davies


Denim Days (Trademark Ent)


Their fan club (Adam Duritz, Stephen Stills, Benmont Tench, The Wallflowers) is probably better known that they are, but, having been knocking round LA for around a decade, they’ve earned a comfortable niche. This, their third album, and the first in almost seven years, is solid classic California pop-rock that has seen them likened to Dan Reed Network, Steely Dan and Jellyfish, the latter notably so on the ballad The Single. The songs range from a celebration of the band’s friendship on the jittery title cut to the usual topics of the heart and relationships that bubble through the likes of Quality Problems, the R&B and funky rock influences of The Girl With The Denim Eyes and No Hard Feelings, a song written about and for singer Morty Coyle’s ex-wife. Numbers like the summery Crossword Puzzle and Listening To The Liars have the sort of laid back slickness that only comes with real musicianship, something these boys clearly have by the bucket.

Mike Davies


Fast Food (Apollo)


Just two years from her Love Your Dum and Mad debut, the Anglo-Norwegian-Pakistani songstress returns for a second helping of her dark swirly indie with its chugging guitar riffs, sparse, brooding keyboards and percussion that, as with Matador and twangy guitar, metallic clanging opener Fast Food, draws on the Urdu rhythms of her father’s background. However, the sometimes its icy fingered and splintered soundscapes of the debut have been largely supplanted by still terse but now warmer textures, a progression evidenced on the soulful, tenderly aching Divided where her voice takes on a torch quality, almost operatic as it soars, and the bass riff driven The Gin One where those Siouxie Sioux comparisons rear their head over the throbbing guitar. Indeed, Nothing Else To Do is positively dreamily lush, burnished further by horns. Even Fool, where the ice caves do make their presence felt in the buzzing single note guitar and echoey vocals, breaks into a velvety chorus melody.

It retains a spiky edge on the dissonant riffs and angular shapes of Washed Up and the drone backdrop to Stealing Cars, but it’s a definite stride into more widely accessible musical terriroty and, beneath and behind all this, in years to come Shah may well have the makings of a Diana Krall to her.

Mike Davies


You Are The One (Elefant)


An odd one this. Queseda is Spanish, but her feathery little girl whispery voice sounds more like some Gallic 60s pop chanteuse while she not only sings in Spanish (the 60s flavoured Ya No Puedo Mas), but also French (the light and soft disco technopop Faut-Il-Que Je T’Aime, originally by France Gall), Portuguese (the bossa nova flavours of Cante, a revamp of ABBA’s Dance), Italian (the samba swaying Cielo) and even Japanese (an orchestral soul pop rework of Agnes Chan’s 1972 hit Hinageshi No Han). And, of course English. It’s an interesting mix of covers that also includes the ukulele accompanied Just For Fun by Alpaca Sports, the cotton candy My Favourite Boyfriend, a gender rechristening of a song by labelmates Milkyway, a plinkety Hawaiian coloured bontempi pop version of Pineapple Princess, a song immortalised by 60s beach movies queen Annette Funicello, and, opening proceedings, a terrific, strings-laced reinterpretation of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey that makes a point of underlining the Be My Baby similarities. There’s also a couple of self-penned tunes, the summery handclappy 60s pop When I’m An Aeroplane and the album closing title track, an almost festive waltzer that tips the hat to Burt Bacharach. As I say, an oddity, but a disarmingly enjoyable one. Mike Davies


The Vicar St. Sessions Vol 1 (Proper)


Back in 2001, Brady did a series of 23 shows at the Dublin venue of the title, each night inviting along a special guest who had sung one of his songs over the years to duet or take lead. As such, finally seeing the light of day, the recording are a celebrity-studded affair, even if, on this, the first of three volumes, the better known songs aren’t actually Brady numbers at all but written by the guest in question. As such, Van Morrison features on a brass-embellished Irish Heartbeat, Don’t Go Far has Curtis Stigers (who co-wrote it with Beth Neilsen Chapman) duetting on a simple guitar and piano arrangement, In This Heart is a stunning unaccompanied duet with Sinead O’Connor and Eleanor McEvoy stops by to take lead on a piano backed version of her haunting Last Seen October 9th. Sadly Dylan wasn't around to join in on album closer Forever Young, but I guess the vocal contributions of Mary Black, Moya Brennan and Maura O’Connell are fair compensation.

Of Brady’s own songs, Baloney Again features Mark Knopfler, Nobody Knows welcomes along Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer, Ronan Keating steps up for The Long Goodbye (though it’s fair to say, his is the least memorable appearance) and the great Bonnie Raitt not only features on Not The Only One, but, clearly having enjoyed the experience, was back the next night for the bluesy boogie The World Is What You Make It, this time bringing along her slide guitar and joined by Brian Kennedy on back ups.

There’s also a three numbers without any famous faces that puts Brady himself in the spotlight (one being Carole King co-write Believe In Me), although the shuffling blues The Soul Commotion does feature some particularly molten trombone from Annie Whitehead. Given the glittering array of names that have covered his songs, among them Cher, Tina Turner, Cliff Richard and Art Garfunkel, the next two volumes are most eagerly anticipated.

Mike Davies


Vamala (Play It Again Sam)


It’s not just over a year since Isle of Wight sibling duo David and Michael Champion, released their debut album, redolent with echoes of the Flaming Lips, REM, Fleet Foxes, the Beach Boys and, most particularly, Robin Gibb. And it’s the early Bee Gees echoes that reverberate strongest this time round (though there’s also a hint of Bronski Beat to opening number Desire) on a collection that twins synthpop with more folksy acoustic flavours. The former can be heard to good effect on Running, the dancey 3000 Miles and the anthemic tones of Blood and the title track (a number that conjures thoughts of the Gibbs’ Odessa album), but it’s the simpler numbers that shine bets, allowing Michael’s quivering vocals full prominence on such soaring ballads as the piano accompanied The Balfron Tower and the magnificent Carnival Of Light while the deeper, croakier voiced David takes over for the fingerpicked acoustic Roll Me Out and the brothers join harmony forces for the simple but spellbinding Forever Be Upstanding At The Door where they evoke memories of vintage Simon and Garfunkel. Tremendous.

Mike Davies


Dungeon Golds (Yep Roc)

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For a band that is essentially a floating collective headed up by Scott McCaughey, this is amazingly their tenth album. A collection of numbers recorded at various times when opportunities and inspiration arose, some of them reworked from the Record Store Day limited edition vinyl box set Scott The Hoople In The Dungeon of Horror. As such, there’s not a wholly cohesive musical through line, embracing as it does thoughts of Smiley Smile era Beach Boys on It’s Beautiful Here, fuzzy garage rock with My Generation, 60s psychedelia for It’s Magenta, Man, Remain In The Lifeboat and The History You Hate, accordion coloured protest folk on Adios Half Soldier featuring Jeff Tweedy on guitar solos and the pedal steel laced alt-country of The Unforeseen.

There are, though, a clutch of tracks that bask in the jangling sunlight of The Byrds, several of them featuring Peter Buck on 12 string, with Chinese Saucer Magnolia, Hold Down The Fort and In The Ground evocative of the very best of McGuinn and co, the latter, about being dead and buried, rather ironically featuring the late Ian McLagan. An odds and sods affair rather than a structured album, but there’s enough gems here to satisfy devotees of the genre.

Mike Davies 2020