£7.49 DD £15.77 CD
Mark Harrison and his very capable band (whose members include the extremely talented duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker) play a curiously English take on American roots music. Their stylistic materials mine the cracks between country blues and old time country music, continuing a UK tradition that began with skiffle and was nourished by the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and the pop-jug-band sounds of Canned Heat. There’s a sense when listening to American performers in such styles, particularly the older ones, that they are singing from beneath a heavy encrustation of experience and cultural difference, but Mark Harrison is much lighter in his vocal delivery, which is characterised by careful diction and clarity of enunciation, bringing a British folk-revival aesthetic to a rather more gnarled set of stylistic traditions. To some it may seem a little straight or tame, but to me it sounds like an effective fusion, essentially abstracting its communitarian stylistic materials to the purpose of supporting Harrison’s practice as an individual author of original songs. Really deep feels, beautiful playing, and a lovely sound.
£5+ DD £5.99+ CD
Chris McConville is a pretty erudite and versatile bloke: I first encountered him as the drummer with The Bishops, but he plays everything else on this album too (other players are credited as well). The album is a collection of his original songs, a couple of them collaborations, but mostly credited to him alone; the style incorporates elements of acoustic rock, 1960s guitar pop, and the more greasy, earthy end of rock music. The recordings have a solid, consistent feel, with playing that is both technically precise and emotionally committed. The material evinces a good understanding of its stylistic sources, a knowledge ‘from the inside’ that precludes any sense of pastiche, although McConville is not rocking the boat stylistically, and there’s very little in his creative practice that would have sounded novel any time in the last thirty years. However, he just gets everything right, from lyrics to production, he puts himself on the line emotionally, and the result is an engaging, likeable record.
$8+ DD $10 CD
This is acoustic euro-gypsy-vodka-punk from the Rocky Mountains, infused with romantic fin-de-siècle decadence. It’s not literally faithful to any one specific musical tradition, but it sounds completely authentic nevertheless; She Lost Her Head contains nine original and two traditional songs, performed with total commitment and a real sense that the band is living the life its music represents. There is a distinctly central European vibe to the music, both in its insistent off-beat rhythms and in the deep joyful melancholy expressed by its modalities and its soulful delivery. This is music to share vodka (or absinthe) to, to dance to in a big, happy, drunken crowd, to sing along with while tears stream down your face, a soundtrack for the sunrise at the end of a long night of half-remembered revelry. Juana Ghani are a beautiful band, playing right from the heart with inspiring intensity; this is communal, inclusive, life and death music.
This band purvey a pleasing mixture of the high- and beetle-browed. There’s a well-informed and critically aware sensibility informing the lyrics, and a humorous aspect to the vocal delivery, all delivered in a repeated punch to the guts of solid, locked-in blues rock, with a distinctly garage vibe. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been heard before, but you’ve never heard it quite like this, if only because the creative, sincere, intelligent and historically conscious thinking of bandleader David Stephenson comes through clearly in every moment of the music. There’s no nonsense here, just meat and potatoes, but the meat comes from a hog raised out back of a sharecropper’s shack in the 1930s somewhere around Coahoma County; the potatoes are King Edwards, about as English as they come, and the fusion is handled without pretensions, spiced with a powerful dose of wit and good humour.
Lojinx LJX085 £7 DD £8 CD £15 LP
And the award for most beautiful album cover in this round-up clearly goes to The Other Person Is You, which features El May with her hair braided into that of five other redheads, looking like a Kenne Grégoire painting. A pleasing but not too obvious aesthetic is also a feature of her music; most of these songs are arranged with a strong, upbeat rhythmic structure, supporting a rather floaty, dreamy set of atmospheres, evoked by warm vocal harmonies and open-ended phrasing. This is catchy, witty pop music, not setting out to challenge the listener, but written and recorded with enough intelligence and sincerity to offer some proper substance (only the closer has the poor taste to get anthemic on us). The songs are superbly arranged, and the album is superbly produced, but there’s no getting away from the fundamental quality of the material. El May’s vocal delivery is cool and light, making her seem both amused and detached, but not in a superior way. On the contrary, she seems quite willing to share the joke, and the album has an inviting quality. It’s a very polished piece of work, and a treat for the ears.
HΩΩPMUSIC £7.99 DD £10.99 CD
Well turned songs are married here to spacious, powerful arrangements and productions, all displaying a solid, wide-ranging knowledge of sound and its various effects. Tom The Lion’s voice is an expressive tool, with a penetrating, lachrymose quality, often sounding on the edge of breaking down. There’s a lot of imagination in the arrangements, none of them resorting to the obvious strategies of a strummy acoustic and a stock groove, although they are built from a recognisable kit of parts. Sleep is not an album that will be remembered for breaking new ground, but it is a genuinely individual take on the vicissitudes of human existence, and an enjoyable, involving listen.
The first of these pieces features the kind of assonance that emerges as an orchestra tunes up, which combines with the large resonant spaces in which the music is framed to suggest an aleatory origin for its sounds, yet it is articulated in a strict rhythmic framework, metronomic pulses propelling the whole forward insistently. The listener is forced to seek meaning in the succession of sounds, to ascribe some syntax to their combination despite their seeming rejection of a recognisable tonal system. This is, in fact, quite accessible as experimental music goes, its sounds bound by a logic that can be discerned immediately, and that can be resolved into a language that suggests a whole world of music beyond the specifics of these five compositions. Although not every piece is overtly rhythmic, all offer a firm handle, a window through which the listener is invited to witness their musical meanings, whether it is the coherent tonal drone of the half hour ‘Duerme… así no sepas si despertarás’ or the subterranean pulsations and gradual acceleration of the even longer ‘El momento en que la bala atravesó su cabeza’. In these carefully realised compositions Joaquín Mendoza Sebastián shapes the passage of time as artfully as any musician in the tonal/ metronomic mainstreams of received stylistic dialect; and if you are willing to take his sounds on his terms, he can affect you as profoundly.
Killamari Records £5+ DD £5 CD
An artist that knows exactly what it is they want to say does not need to take a great deal of time over saying it, or to be over-elaborate in their means. So it is with Samuel Otis, who with this, as far as I know the first full album released under his sole name, makes it perfectly clear what his interests are and exactly how capable he is of expressing them. He raps with a loose-limbed swagger that seems to spring directly from his Bristolian vowels, but this is not, as he points out, music that can be defined by its proud regionalism. The beats are funky boom-bap, the emphasis on groove rather than sonic experiment, and the grooves are deep. Some of these tracks have already appeared on mixtapes, including the signature dish ‘Shocked As Hell’ which has also been released as a single; therein lies my sole criticism, because when someone produces such consistently high quality work as Samuel Otis I have an appetite to hear more than half an hour of it, and the more new tracks the better. The allied North-East scene is in evidence, with guest spots from Rick Fury and Samuel’s Three King’s High bandmate Chattabox, both of whom are about as good as emcees get; Samuel’s own skills are undeniable, as funky as chitlins and as sharp as a razor when he double-times it. The album is a profuse outpouring of wit and pure, dance-inducing entertainment from start to finish. As he points out on ‘The Crew That Gets You Through’, all he offers is his ‘personal version of true hip-hoppery’; what more could anyone need?
Devouter Records £0+ DD £8+ CD £12+ LP
In the absence of vocals, for most audiences, (unless you’re playing drone) rock music needs some pretty arresting content to keep up the interest level. Telepathy provide this in the form of a constant stream of rhythmic and textural ideas, informing and transforming a sturm und drang onslaught of power and drama. Rich crunchy riffs turn unexpected rhythmic corners; steep dynamic slopes leave you gasping for breath; screaming, melodic chords grab hold of you and sling you across the room (or out of the window). That’s what’s so good about 12 Areas, it’s clever, but it’s not about being clever. It’s about making you feel stuff, and all of its cleverness is deployed to that end, pulling out the rug any time you start to think you might be able to predict its next manoeuvre. All the stops are out, and the full blast of this music will whip your hair out straight behind you. It’s an immersive and involving experience, as accessible as it is inventive, and a real creative high point for a band that has improved with every release. Top whack malarkey.
Swaggering rock-noir that seeks out the seam of self-harming, death-trip paranoia submerged beneath the entertaining surface of rock ‘n’ roll and drags it struggling and squirming into the light. Not that Romantic Music For Perverts isn’t an entertaining record, and it’s neither as dark or as gothy as that description might seem to imply, but the bullshit typical of rock has been expunged, and replaced as a defence against the awful nature of the truth (whatever that may be) with a sour, sneering sense of humour. The sounds are those of hard rock, moving with a deliberate, ponderous heft, shot through with an acidly accessible feeling for melody. The songs are written with a sophisticated understanding of what makes a rock song work, extended in some direction or other to a logical extreme, performed with a measured insouciance and a gritty melancholy. Black Hay’s debut album is, despite everything I’ve just said, a lot of fun, a darkly humorous and musically powerful take on sex, death and all of that rock ’n’ roll psychodrama malarkey. For me there’s a spin on this material, a critical edge in the way its presented, that lifts it from the entertainingly stylish to the surpassingly excellent.
Earlier Luminous Monsters releases may have been relatively easy to categorise as some species of drone music, but On Rubied Talons is a little more various in its methodologies, despite a continued emphasis on continuities and long tones. There is something of an ‘ethnic’ flavour to ‘Tears of the Shoggoth’ (despite its Lovecraftian title), and ‘The Kundalini Engine’ is a spatial ambient piece full of gentle tuned percussion sounds. With the third track, ‘Coils of the Doxic Host’ (yes, I like these track titles enough to want to put all of them into my review), we are certainly listening to drone, but the sound source is obscure, and the texture is some distance from the thick layering of sustained, distorted guitar that has characterised some earlier Luminous Monsters releases, unfolding its ongoing transformations in a fairly low key manner. The album as a whole is an absorbing cosmic fantasia, too measured to be called a trip, more a sequence of relatively static atmospheres, whose emotional narratives unfold in very gradual, linear evolution. There is a seam of references to some mythical version of the orient throughout, a world of monks, martial arts and dramatically gestural music, but it is subtle, manifesting in some of the sounds, in the project’s historical album covers, in some of its titles… it’s a good strategy to inject some identifiable pop-culture and humour into what can be a very serious minded area of musical practice; and in a way, that wry concession to accessibility enhances the immersive quality of these carefully (brilliantly) crafted sounds.
This is an album of instrumental rock music, whose primary creative focus is invested in the musicianship of its authors, primarily that of Dusan Jevtovic. It’s all about guitar playing. This is a recipe that can lead to both grinding tedium and terrible lapses of taste (Steve Vai? Yngwie Malmsteen?); rock is, after all, a language to which everyone has been over-exposed, and when you take the singing out of the songs, what’s left except a heap of blues-derived licks and phallic posing? Well, in Jevtovic’s case there’s a highly developed sense of melody, a deft touch at arranging for maximum drama and emotional impact, and a riotously anarchic taste for dissonance, the last of which puts back much of what mainstream hard rock lost when it plundered the blues. The album represents a sincere attempt to cover new territory without completely reinventing the language of rock (although it’s not above throwing in some vocabulary from blues and jazz); it is compositionally creative, and realised with the kind of musicianship that is a joy to experience in its own right, but which becomes most apparent in the effectiveness with which the music’s meanings are communicated. The leader is a great player, his cohorts are great players, the arrangements are inventive, the production is perfect, and the album sounds exceptionally stirring from start to finish. Fantastic stuff.