record reviews june 2018


Steven Adams-

Virtue Signals (Hudson Records)

Formerly lead singer with critically acclaimed but commercially underachieving indie folk outfit the Broken Family Band, Adams continues to chart a solo course, is being the latest musical identity. Opening with Bad Apples, a vaguely Ziggy-era Bowie-esque swipe at right wing patriotism, it follows a similar lyrically downbeat path through the likes of  the plangent piano underpinned Last Century’s Man, another echo of those early 70s influences, the recriminations of the jitteringly propulsive Ex-Future and the bruised heart melancholia of Paul.

It hops between a variety of styles, Free Will a bass driven excursion into Kraut Rock while, in contrast Wolves In The Echo Chamber leans towards the anthemic chorus stadium balladry of Snow Patrol and guitar and keyboards shaped album closer Desire Lines, the slow, moody musical tones couching a reminder that, in the darkness, “all we have are these moments of joy”. The signs are good. Mike Davies


Oracles (Gearbox)

Ana Silvera Oracles

To reword a familiar cliche, if Kate Bush didn’t exist you’d have to invent here. And doing so, you’d likely end up with Silvera. Written as a seasons-themed, seven-part song-cycle for an open-ended Roundhouse commission designed to involve the in-house choir, it drew on her grief following the deaths of her mother and brother to create a sense of catharsis as it explored loss, love, salvation and acceptance. It made its debut in 2011 and was performed again the following year on the venue’s main stage. The album is subsequent live recording featuring Silvera as soloist backed by the choir and a collection of guest performers from the worlds of obscure indie and experimental music.

It follows the arc of a classical or mythological quest, starting with the first steps in a search for a tangible goal and ending in finding the way back home, the album opening with Tears of Oak, Fist of Willow (The Sorrow), a song inspired by druidic lore involving the trees as symbols of endurance and healing, an instrumental prologue etched out on skeletal piano and strings setting the initial wintery mood before the choral vocals arrive preceding Silvera’s Tori Amos-esque piano accompanied ballad about enduring and transcending sorrow, exorcising the sense of loss as she sings of standing on the bridge on the eve of her brother’s birthday watching the snows drift.

An Inuit rebirth myth informs the more energised and jittery Skeleton Song (The Awakening), based on the story of how the bones of a murdered woman are recovered by a fisherman and they gradually regrow flesh as she returns to life as a result of his compassion. Switching the male character for a female one in reflecting those who helped her through, the metaphor needs little explanation. Borrowing its title from Carson McCullers’ book, When The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (The Search) is underpinned by the musical pulse of double bassist Jasper Hřiby and percussionist Jacob Smedegaard in and around which strings and piano weave and chase, the seasons heading into spring as the character seeks for peace as they tentatively step back into the world.

Fuelled by a handclap rhythm and itchy, tribal motif, the six-minute Circle of Chalk (The Test) draws on ritual magic imagery and the fairy-tale concept of the testing choice, Silvera’s vocal undulate as the instrumentation expands to involve the entire band, strings especially to the fore. This is followed by the otherworldly spare piano intro of Pearls and Thieves (The Rapture) which, drawing on a Ravel-inspired arpeggio and sung in operatic tones basks in the heady warmth of love and rebirth as the light floods in.

From summer swells, it turns to more autumnal reflectiveness with the childhood memories of I Grew Up In A Room, Small As A Penny (The Returning), written in C major with a persistent returning musical motif, arguably the most Kate number of all, poignantly closing with the hymnal refrain she hummed to her dying mother. Written around Bonfire Night, ends with Catherine Wheels (The Acceptance), the title catching the idea of coming full circle but also of their long lasting golden light rather than a brief glorious explosion, is another piano-based number that, as it builds to peak, ultimately offers an instrumental epilogue of violin and cello mirroring the album’s opening. To be experienced in one sitting letting the emotions and theatricality gather you up, it’s a stunning piece of work.

Mike Davies


Feels Like Air (FrenchKiss)


A London four piece lining up as Rollo Doherty (vocals, guitar), James Wolfe (bass), Jack Raeder (guitar), and Toby Richards (drums), with their reverb guitars, echoey melodies and soaring atmospherics they essentially sound like a dreamy U2. Opening with the cascading guitar lines and emotional surrender of former single Ride, it variously addresses themes of self-doubt, change and faith in a search of connections, encompassed in the likes of Try with its heartbeat drum pulse and fluttering guitar lines, the pizzicato rhythm of the passionately delivered The Day I Die, the title-track’s early hours, bass drone love song and the anthemic-aspiring Moth where he sings “I’m talkin’ to God, but I don’t think He heard.”

Although the tempo does quicken here and there, it never quite erupts as you might hope, but hitting a high point on the six-minute heartburst of We Can Go Anywhere and ending on the wistful, simple acoustic finger-picking of Lilyflower, it’s a hugely accomplished, often musically variegated affair that makes them a band to watch with interest as they develop further. Mike Davies


Back To Hell (Neon Tetra/Blokshock)


Comprising Martin Metcalfe, Fin Wilson and Derek Kelly who were the core members of underappreciated Edinburgh outfit Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, best known for The Rattler. Metcalfe’s voice still has the distinctive nasal rasp, but here it’s more in service to bluesy swaggers and groove than the pop-shaded guitar folk of yore. Album opener, Come On Home Case, is a case in point as is the woozy delirium evoked by Who Are You? with the vocals rising up from some dank sewer on the back of a voodoobilly bass riff that Jack the Ripper might have adopted as a theme had he swapped London’s backstreets for the stairwells of Edinburgh.

There’s a strong cabaret-noir feel to several of the tracks that recalls Nick Cave or, more pertinently, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, most notably the threatening edgy blues of Mother’s Got A Knife, a sort of  syphilitic shanty with lines like “father’s lying on the floor, the dog is in the whorehouse. Licking up the bathroom floor…” and the claustrophobic and cinematic bluesy organ stalker riffs of Carlos The Jackal.

While the band may be a three-piece, substantial moments of the album owe their power to the evocative strings of Susannah Clark who brings an ominous ambience and Eastern colours to The Ghost of Rab McVie which, in tandem with the harmonium drone concerns the gentrification of parts of area and the resulting dispersal of the original communities. Her fiddle is even fierier on the title track, the most obvious node to Cave but also conjuring thoughts of David Eugene Edwards from 16 Horsepower and Woven Hand, the song’s intensity and imagery sounding all very Peaky Blinders.

Leper Town is a drum pounding number that summons the brooding ghost of Goodbye Mr MacKenzie, especially in its stirring fiddle swathed chorus, leaving Take It to complete the set in a more subdued manner with dampened drums, swirling melody, strings and piano radiating Joy Division influences had Atmosphere had a more positive outlook. They may not be a name much known outside of Scotland, but this makes a convincing argument for a place in the year’s best of lists. Mike Davies


Adventure Lit Their Star (Pomona Sounds)


Featuring five vocalists and some 30 plus musicians, this ‘collective’ project was out together by journalist/author/publisher Mark Hodkinson, who handles most of the production and all of the writing, albeit in collaboration with or sampling the likes of Aidan O’Rourke, Bill Nelson, Steve Swindells and Adrian Shaw. And, on the opening Love Is Love, Charlie Chaplin’s anti-fascism speech from The Great Dictator (1940), the chorus from Nada Surf’s Blonde On Blonde, Kellie While providing the dreamy vocals.

While also sings on four further tracks, among them Even Worse and the poppy All Fall Down while John Matthews, singer with re-formed Manchester outfit The High, handles the bulk of the male vocals. It’s an eclectic, often experimental and avant-rock affair with extensive use of spoken narration, such as on the reflective WWII-themed piano-accompanied Americans In England, though the Arabic percussive musical textures rather belie the title, the cosmic ambience of The Girlfriend Self-Help Book and the closing cover of Hawkwind founder Robert Calvert’s This Is Your Captain Speaking: Your Captain Is Alive.

Breathily sung by Matthews, the baggy If I Could Be Where You Are borrows the bass line from Roxy’s Love Is The Drug, The Right Stuff provides a suitably psyched out treatment on another of Calvert’s spacerock number while there’s seagulls squawking over the mesmerising groove of How Do The Dead Come Back, Mother? that comes with its own Vincent Price-like spoken moment.

Along with the early Blue Oster Cult shades of Nurture The Heart (You Say) you also get Joyrider which has a brassy and bluesy jazzy funk groove that nods to 70s psychedelic soul, the Matthews sung Madchester soul title track  and the memorably titled doomy, metronomic trance and Gregorian chant vibe of Why Are Churches Shaped Like Rockets? Unpredictable and, at times, slightly hard to digest, but if you’re willing to embark on the sonic adventure then the journey has some interesting destinations.


Sweet Georgina (Critical Discs)


Channeling Ray Davies in his vocal style, Times and Rolling Stone columnist David Sinclair is another musician with a magpie sensibility, the album opening with the semi-spoken bands on the road title track, guided, according to the sleeve notes, the muse of a 60s flower child from the south of England, and subsequently mining Neil Young dirge for the lyrically playful Bob Dylan’s Wake, strutting a Stonesy swagger on My Blue Suede Shoes and nodding to both cowboy classic theme tune Rawhide and Hendrix guitar on the eco-themed The Rolling People.

The rhythmically tick-tocking (We Got A) Loose Connection and Little Rock & Roll both reinforce the Davis comparisons, while the instrumental Southern State heads more into Allmans and Doobie’s territory. It ends with him duetting with Becci Wallace, who intones the bracketed refrain of the slow, soulful Americana of December 31 (I Will Be Gone) complete with a Memphis guitar solo. Five albums in, it’s not going to hugely broaden his niche audience, but there’s plenty to snare the casual listener who might wander past the window while it’s playing. 

Mike Davies

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