Matt Winkworth and The Winkworthers Originals – And Now For Something Completely Brillig (vaudevillian melodrama)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 11m 43s
£0 to stream only
It takes a musical education to do what Matt Winkworth does, and it takes some skills to keep up with him as The Winkworthers Originals do (their grandfathers’ delicious butter candy notwithstanding). It’s a jazz-operatic, literary, nonsensical, funny, serious, harmonically sophisticated, melodramatic oom-pah sort of a thing, delivered with lashings of vaudevillian relish. As you may have inferred from the cover art and the use of ‘brillig’ in the title, one of the songs is a setting of a certain Mr. Dodgson’s famous poem ‘Jabberwocky’: the text is well served by Winkworth’s expressive variations in tempo and dynamics. He has a young, light voice, which does what he tells it, but never conveys an overwrought sense of contrived soulfulness.
His piano sits at the centre of the intelligent arrangements, aided and abetted most ably by drums, electric bass and some strings and brass, mostly employed in a contrapuntal, rather than a sectional, manner; the piano does not grandstand, and nor do the accompanimental voices attempt to outshine the central thrust of the music. Nothing is ever unmediated, and the overall style of this music is relatively mannered, yet the performers manage to give the impression of quite transparently channelling their materials. Winkworth is not trying to be clever: he doesn’t need to try, because he simply is, and it makes a refreshing change to come across some music as witty and entertaining as this which makes no concessions to fashion or convention. ‘Anti-indie’ is one of the terms by which he describes his own music: ironic really, because it’s some of the most independently minded music I’ve heard in some time, while most stuff called ‘indie’ is slavishly derivative.
And Now For Something Completely Brillig is a superb EP, and Matt Winkworth and The Winkworthers Originals are an indisputably class act. There is an album of piano and voice stuff available, but so far, this is the extent of the full band arrangements available in recorded form. When there’s a whole album of this I’ll need to go and find some new superlatives, but for now this will have to do. If you like truly original music that is as intelligent as it is good fun, get this.
Tara Busch – The Rocket Wife EP (retro-futurism)
Bob Moog Foundation, 2011, DD EP, 11m 44s
$4.99 or more
Tara Busch is a major analogue synthesizer geek. A major geek, as in she owns them, knows about them, writes a blog about them, and most importantly, knows how to use them to make beautiful music. Synthesizer geeks tend to focus on making particular kinds of music, but she doesn’t; that is, she does make a particular kind of music, but it’s not what you would expect from a synth geek. Busch is unusual in knowing about technology, but also understanding chords and melody, and how they interact; consequently, she writes songs that are all about the songs, and it would be easy to miss that she has carefully tweaked and crafted a variety of bespoke sounds for each arrangement (which is just as it should be).
So this music is not in a self-consciously cool style, such as rawk, or phunk, or Krung-Thep psy-trance, but draws its most obvious inspiration from the squarer forms of commercial pop from the 60s and 70s, although there are some torch-song-ish elements in the melodies. I don’t know whether this is a choice born simply out of preference, or because of the freedoms it allows: Busch sings with a breathy, dramatic, and extremely expressive delivery, and her songs are carefully shaped so that lyrical sense, harmonic content and dynamic level move together in a unity of mutual emphasis, something that would be difficult in a style with a restricted harmonic palette, or an excessive dependence on repetition.
It should be obvious by now that I have a fairly large supply of admiration for the musicianship displayed on The Rocket Wife EP. The title suggests a balance between retro-futuristic exotica and homely domesticity which perfectly conveys the tenor of the work, and represents an idiosyncratic, even unique position for a creative musician to occupy. Tara Busch is one of the major talents among the musicians whose careers I am currently observing, and this perfectly formed EP is a superior piece of work.
20 Days In – 2010 Demo (post-hardcore)
self released, 2010, DD EP, 18m 6s
20 Days In are a product of the great stylistic mincing machine that churned out all those identical sounding bands usually gathered together under the rubric of ‘post-hardcore’, which can most charitably be taken to mean any of the various modern styles influenced by the gorgeously obscene noise known to the wise as hardcore punk. (It’s always safest to specify what kind of hardcore you want, in case your granny is looking over your shoulder, or a Dutch raver is within earshot). The majority of post-hardcore bands sound something like nu-metal stripped of its hip-hoppery, with vocals performed by adolescent kids who are really pissed off that their mothers have made them stay in and tidy their rooms. Luckily 20 Days In are not like the majority of post-hardcore bands. In fact there are only occasional moments when they sound like that sort of a band at all, and then it’s for all the right reasons (thunderously tight unison riffs, for example).
For the most part I’d call this alternative rock: this is a band with a taste for melody, and a gift for texture that sees them covering territory that spans ‘The Big Music’ of the 1980s and grunge, with nary a trace of the hardcore which they might be expected to be post. It’s powerful, hard-edged stuff, but highly accessible and appealing to the ear: some fine writing and musicianship allow them to produce something that sounds like it has commercial potential, without sounding generic or overly slick. In other words, it’s good. Give it a listen.
Dead Stars – The Wasted EP (roots rock/ indie)
Weird Tree Records, 2011, DD EP, 22m 4s
The Wasted EP contains material that is essentially roots rock, which means (because I say it does) rock that is influenced by Americana, and bears relatively little trace (melodically at least) of the styles that have successively transformed rock over the four decades that I’ve been alive. It is delivered with some edifying guitar raunchiness and a vocal approach that nods in the general direction of post-punk’s more melodic leanings (presumably via that vast, ill-defined miasma inexplicably known as indie).
These are warm engaging songs, that never outstay their welcome, and have a great deal to offer in terms of energy and enthusiasm. I didn’t find myself re-assessing the existential grounds for my life choices, but on the other hand, the lyrics did make me think a bit, and while I haven’t had to reconsider the meaning the rock, I hardly think that was meant to be the point. This is entertainment that makes an effort to be stimulating, without beating its listeners upside their skulls with its undeniable intelligence. Solid, unpretentious, and very enjoyable music.