Various Artists – Album Roundup

It has been a long while since I reviewed any music: my life became rather full of obligations, which reduced my output and eventually halted it altogether. Between then and now I have had the chance to reflect on what had become a somewhat procedural activity, and I have reached a few decisions. From now on, I will write about only one record at a time, and I will write about only those submissions that I feel are particularly interesting objects for discussion, rather than prioritising by quality, by aesthetic preference, or by the receipt of a physical submission. However, at the point at which I realised I couldn’t possibly…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This album, originally released in 1989, was for a long time the definitive answer to the question ‘what do Thinking Plague sound like?’ It was ten years before In Extremis presented a new line-up and a changing sound to the record-buying public (sans legendary founder-member Bob Drake) – and let’s face it, bands as daring and un-commercial as this tend to communicate with their audience more by the medium of recordings than by live performance. Cuneiform Records, with whom Thinking Plague have been since that follow-up, characterise this album as the band’s ‘stylistic coming of age’, and that certainly seems a fair …

Karen Grace – Bitter Sweet (avant-folk)

I’m sure that Karen Grace thinks she’s just writing songs about the things that matter to her, and recording them in the way that suits them best. There’s a whole world of acoustic singer-songwriters out there, all doing that, and a frightening number of them do it really well. Doing it really well is not enough to make it outstanding however, or even, unless you happen to have a personal connection to the artist, worth listening to at all – because however particular it is in detail, in almost all cases that particularity is paradoxically generic. So what is worth your time in this brave new world of saturated exposure, of …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

The Stringers are a four-piece from Ontario, that plays rock music of the old school – which doesn’t mean that it’s ‘old-fashioned’, but that it’s pop music, god dammit! This is entertainment, with no pretensions to any kind of creative territory beyond that compass; all too often that can imply some kind of highly manufactured, overly polished and self-consciously vapid ‘product’, but this is all about melodies, grooves and the raw sound of musicians making it happen together. Crisp, tight performances are represented in an immediate, close-quarters production, through arrangements that evince a good understanding …

Adrian May – The Comedy of Masculinity (poetry/ singer-songwriter)

This is a review of a CD and a book, although there’s no particular reason to stop there. Adrian May is a performer, and although it says ‘songs and poems’ on the cover of his book, it’s pretty hard to draw a hard and fast distinction between them; poetry, music and performance in both modes seem all to be more or less equally important aspects of his creative practice. I’ve seen him perform, and I’ve made public some words on the subject, but the oddly arbitrary context to which I restrict myself here confines my attentions to the particular objects I have before me. Ordinarily this would be a CD, with a more or less …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Golden Diskó Ship drop the listener immediately into a vast reverberant space, in which percussion thuds like a carpenter’s mallet and sweet vocal melodies drift tentatively into scene… Thus begins ‘These thoughts will never take shape’, and indeed there is barely time for the music’s forms to register in the ear before they shift into something else: we are presented with a kind of deconstructed pop song, in which elements are presented serially, in isolation… Until, eventually, around halfway through, after an upper register surf-guitar figure has been presented on the song’s conveyer belt, they come together…

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour (folk)

I come late to most notable artists, since I’m not the sort of person that avidly follows the latest developments, or that cares much one way or the other about currency. It’s pure chance that I came across this most accomplished duo on the cusp of their currently burgeoning notoriety. I was lucky enough to share the bill with them on one occasion, and their performance was the undisputed highlight of my evening; shortly thereafter I received a review submission from Mark Harrison, in whose band they both play; and Josienne Clarke was sufficiently appreciative of that review to contact me regarding this …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Idiom, style and musical history are important to all of the releases in this roundup, but to none more than to Gorgeous. To Ben Walker the question of style is one to be asked in respect of every song, in the same way as key and tempo, and one that should be answered with the same technical accuracy. There is a very sophisticated and erudite use of idiom at the centre of his creative practice, and his songs are crafted in thorough, rigorous detail, but they are nevertheless expressive rather than rhetorical. There is a refusal of any attempt to ‘persuade’ the listener, letting each song sink or …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This is a selection of records that I’d like to review, but for one reason or another, it’s not going to happen. Some (in fact most) of them just didn’t quite make the cut, in light of the extremely high standard and preponderance of physical submissions I get now (these were all received as digital submissions). Others have just been sitting in the queue for too long for a review to be meaningful now, with their release dates receding behind us into historical time… All of them are well worth listening to however, although I do appreciate that most people reading this won’t have tastes quite …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Wayne Myers, singer, songwriter and principal instrumental culprit, sent me this mini-album in early February according to my records, but it somehow slipped through the net and never got reviewed. Well, better late than never. Sleeping Beauty is pure poetry. I intend that as a value judgement, but also a literal description; Myers is a poet who works in the medium of song. Now I’d think of it as a species of insult to say that this was an EP of poems set to music, but that’s not what I mean: these are songs, written as such, and the musical materials they incorporate are neither a commentary …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

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 …

Kevin Pearce – Matthew Hopkins And The Wormhole (indie)

There’s a lot of quality songwriters out there, ones that write sincere and sophisticated songs, and that, without necessarily straying too far from the kinds of musical materials that audiences find digestible, manage to say something particular and illuminating. Trouble is, they all sound the same. I mean, however good the material is, and however great the performances, there are an awful lot of relatively similar voices clamouring for the listener’s ear. Although what usually happens is that audiences gravitate to artists who resonate with them for reasons extraneous …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

My first exposure to Olds Sleeper was startling, and he’s yet to disappoint me, across four albums of his own and one collaboration with the beguiling Heidi Harris (not to mention the cigar-box guitar stuff he puts out as Jellyspine Jenkins). Using lo-fi production as a device to emphasise the pure materiality of his music-making, Olds Sleeper’s songwriting achieves a form of sincerity that can’t be contrived or dissembled; he gives voice to a particular form of American street-level experience, in a musical language precisely cognate with its cultural dialects. His songs speak from the soul of the alienated, hard- …