record reviews may 2016


On Dead Waves (Mute)


A collaboration between James Chapman aka Mercury Prize nominee Maps and label-mate Polly Scattergood, one birthed when the pair recorded a version of In the Bleak Midwinter for Christmas 2014. Having gone the electro-pop route for her 2013 album, Arrows, this sees her back in the hushed ethereal dark folk mood of her debut, which chimes well with Chapman’s moody shoegaze inclinations.

It opens quietly with the shadowy mood of Blackbird, Scattergoods whispered tones joined by an equally whispery Chapman on a track that conjures the notion of Nancy and Lee recording for a David Lynch soundtrack, turning to a military beat for the no less hushed secrecy and menace of Never Over before things lighten slightly on the more uptempo circling guitar lines of California. However, save for Blue Inside, a track which suggests a shoegaze New Order, and the gathering slow rush of Jupiter, it’s the slower, more curled numbers that dominate, at its best on the breathily fractured melancholy of the minimal Alice and the chilled, sombre Dead Balloons. Very much in a similar vein to Dean and Britta of Galaxie 500 and Luna fame, this is beguiling listening.

Mike Davies


Solid States (LoJinx)


Formed by Jon Auer and sometime REM member Ken Stringfellow back in 1987, they had their guitars driven power pop saw early success in the 90s with the Dear 23 and Frosting On The Beater albums before their star began to fade, at least in America, with the release of Amazing Disgrace. Fragmenting towards the end of the 90s, they surfaced intermittently throughout the next decade, finally releasing a new album in 2010, the same year the pair joined the reformed Big Star until Alex Chilton’s death in March.

Fast forward to this their eighth album, again with Auer and Stringfellow as the core for what is a solid, if never especially inspired collection of what they do best with its harmonies and major/minor chord changes. We R Power serves as an opening statement, but it never quite cranks up all the way and while the Badfinger meets Weezer Squirrel vs. Snake, the catchy synth backed walking beat Unlikely Places and the tumbling Titanic sparkle, most slips past pleasantly, but unmemorably.

Mike Davies


Ocean By Ocean (Amplify)


Their last album, Promises, what packed with big, swirling driving anthemic numbers, such as the glorious Diamonds, a soaring Fragile and the jubilant Always. This finds them in more dreamier and hushed mood, the stall set out from the start with the falsetto sung Weapon washing along on pulsing waves, a mood partly reinforced by Big Ideas although it does take off into U2 fluttering guitars territory midway through, the comparison resurfacing on the euphoric slow build five minute stadium ballad You Can Love Me.

Elsewhere, Redemption brings on the acoustic strummed guitar, again gradually building the momentum around a wash of keyboards, the melancholic Pull Yourself Together gloriously showcasing Nathan Nicholson’s soaring falsetto over a military snare beat in a way that inevitably summons up Radiohead references while Firework ignites the blue touch paper and explodes into a cascade of sparkling stars. It’s not as immediate as its predecessor and, sadly, is unlikely to bring them the mass audience they’ve long deserved, but really, things don’t get much better than this. Mike Davies


Songs of Our Years


A former member of the Red Clay Halo trio who recorded three albums with Emily Barker, Sandell’s also a recording artist in her own right, this being her third solo album, following on from last year’s collaboration with Chris T-T. As with her contributions there, it’s a low key, delicate and breathily sung affair although, with instrumentation that includes organ, flute, brass, double bass and violin and cello courtesy of RCH colleagues Anna Jenkins and Jo Silverston, the sound is fuller than her previous releases.

Built around a journey through loss or, she puts it on the simple, understated fingerpicked Cotton On The Kite, “The ebb and flow of letting go”. As such, it’s an often fragile and tender affair, opening with the gradual swell of Walk On Low as the strings join her spare guitar playing, sliding into the piano-accompanied and flute brushed Silva and on to the bass and syncopated pulse of the Hammer On Wood.

It never breaks into a sweat, the mood consistently low key, controlled and contained, but there’s power in the hush, and, as on My Heart Sat Down, the flourishes of trumpet and trombone serve as burnished complements to her soft tones. The Other Side of Green, which perhaps most obviously underlines the theme of loss, is, paradoxically, more musically frisky with its skittering guitars, shuffling drums and horn arrangement.

Having become accustomed to her gentle, almost gossamer vocals, it’s a bit of a shock to hear here belt out the opening note of What To Weep Is, the track proceeding on an equally more muscular slow waltz before the calm returns for the sonorous piano-backed Become Of Us, only for the tranquillity to be broken again with the brass and strings stabs of Fruits of the Season, one of several numbers littered with nature imagery. Trumpeter Paul Jordaneous takes to the spotlight for the instrumental penultimate track, Mosaic, the album ending with the brushed drums and bowed cello couched, slow, dusk-paled sway The Fading Hours. On Become of Us she sings, “ringing and rolling easily, floating the sorrows through beauty blue”. It seems a perfect description of the album.

Mike Davies 2020