Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Twelve minutes is a respectable length for an EP, but with eight tunes on this disc they’re still pretty much crammed in, none of them clocking in closer to two minutes than one-and-a-half. If you think that makes this sound like a sampler, you’d be very wrong: although these bands clearly have much more to say than can be heard here, these eight songs are perfectly concise and self-contained distillations of energy, political rage, atavistic catharsis, humorous aural vandalism or whatever the appropriate term may be (and I’m sure it’s different for each song). What the eight bands collected on Without Kibou …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

When we get to the fourth track, ‘Womb’, we learn that Cthulhu Detonator is capable of changing tack. There is still noise, in the sense of forcefully stochastic elements within the timbre of the music, but the principal sound is tonal, sonorous and enveloping. ‘Blinding White Light’ takes a similar approach, as does the mid-section of ‘Transmit.Disintegrate’, but most of the rest of the record consists of much harsher noise based compositions, with an avant-gardist structural approach that eschews any easy aesthetic options. It’s hard going, demanding listening, but it’s very creative stuff, and well worth the effort.

Brooke Sharkey – One Dress (folk)

It can be quite hard to find your place as a singer-songwriter; it’s an idiom whose audience mainly appreciates acoustic music, and mainly doesn’t appreciate anything too weird. Its audience also has a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for frankly indistinguishable assemblages of strummed steel-string guitar and predictable vocal melodies; it’s asking an awful lot of vocal timbre and lyrical conceit to make them the sole repositories of individuality and personality, and it is conversely very easy to go with the flow, knowing that if you can spin your simple songs out with enough polish in the delivery there is probably an audience out there for you, one that will be in awe of your talent simply because you’re able to get through a song without …

Straw Bear – Black Bank (folk-pop-rock)

Songwriters are faced with a number of choices, regarding the weighting of significance towards the different parts of their practice. Many or most of those that might be described as singer-songwriters signal their emphasis on writing rather than performance, or on non-verbal aspects of composition, by ensuring that the ‘music’ doesn’t draw attention to itself. Leaving on one side the issue that the music can’t be effectively separated from the lyrics (at least not when speaking of anything that makes effective use of the conventions of songwriting), this usually entails staying well within the bounds of a stylistic safety zone; one wide enough to encompass the generic tropes of country, folk, blues, rock, swing, the tamer regions of punk …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

As far as I know Dialect are no longer an active collective, although its members continue to release razor sharp and uncompromisingly independent hip-hop on their own account; they have released a lot of great music, and are clearly a mainstay of hip-hop in the Northeast, and this is the second album of unreleased tracks to appear on emcee Joe Eden’s Killamari Records imprint. You don’t expect a bunch of disparate tracks like this, recorded at different times for different reasons, to sound like an album as such when they’re bundled together for release, but there is a certain coherence to this music, a consistent aesthetic that makes it clear it’s a Dialect album, not a bunch of tracks by the crew’s various members. The rhymes speak …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

If you describe Tamara Parsons-Baker’s practice as a formula, it doesn’t inspire much excitement: simple, mainly diatonic guitar strums; emotive vocals; songs about unsuccessful love affairs; we have heard these elements before. However, the five songs on Lover proceed from a somewhat more warped perspective than this formula might suggest, lurking with mischief aforethought behind the placid surface of a nice friendly singer-songwriter. The opening songs on the EP require close attention to the lyrics to reveal their disturbing character, but when we get to ‘I Stuck It Out’ Parsons-Baker’s full weirdness emerges, in a frighteningly witchy evocation of a relationship haunted by madness and murder

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

This sophomore EP from The Light That Kills is less granular, more directionally narrative than the debut A Day That We Drift And Fall. This is not to say that it consists of conventional musical phrases arranged according to a nice, accessible formal grammar; that really would be weird, given Scott Crocker’s established experimental proclivities, but there is a far less atemporal approach to the succession of events, and there is a discernible dramatic arc to most of these pieces. There is also a more extended use of recognisable sonic sources, including some protracted free-rock improvisation in ‘Woken By Bells’, ‘Letting Go The Gods’ and particularly, most successfully, ‘New Eden’.

Chris T-T, She Makes War, Paul Goodwin and Sophie Jamieson at The Portland Arms, Cambridge

I should come clean at the outset: I knew about this gig because She Makes War, of whose music I’ve been a fan for some time, put it on her website, and as it’s in my old stamping ground, it seemed an ideal opportunity to finally find out what she does live. It was only the day before the gig that I discovered Chris T-T was headlining, and I would guess that he’s just slightly too famous for me to have heard of him, with my warped and inverted approach to cultural discovery… I had no idea there was anyone else on the bill until I got there, but as it turned out, all four acts were well worth hearing.

Adrian May at The Open Road Bookshop, Stoke-by-Nayland (poetry/ acoustic song)

As I seem to be writing about live events again, and I just happen to have been to one in my very own village, at my very good friend Dave Charleston’s bookshop, it would seem churlishly remiss of me to ignore it — not to mention hypocritical, given my vocal public stance on localism… Since The Open Road opened it’s been host to some splendid events, and I really should have been doing my bit to big up my homey Dave before; still, no time like the present. Adrian May’s been doing what he does for a goodly while, but this was the first I’d heard of it; such a lack of international notoriety shouldn’t be taken to correlate in any way with a performer’s quality however…

She Makes War – Little Battles (gloom-pop)

I’ve been waiting with some considerable bating of breath for this album to come along. The first She Makes War full-length was a real revelation for me: accessible, guitar-based music, founded on traditional songwriting virtues, that hits the sweet spot aspired to by writers of prose fiction, and articulates characters whose experiences chime with the listener’s (or my own at least) memory and understanding. Artistic truth, in other words, and in art, truth is beauty. Laura Kidd, whose project SMW is, has thought through the requirements of promoting her own music with a great deal of clarity, and so her work is beautifully packaged …

Creature Breath – I Am Creature Breath (avant-folk)

There’s a simple poetry to this album, an economy of orchestration, of ornament and of lyrical statement. Given that the lyrical themes are of an overtly devotional nature, expressing a sense of rootedness and connection to the ‘Mother’, to the natural world conceived as a person, I find that economy something of a relief. Not that there is any particular reason why Shawn Marie Westendorf, sole author of I Am Creature Breath, should conform to my prejudices on this, but my experience of ‘neo-pagan’ art is that it tends toward the trite and sentimental, the uncritical valorization of the ‘old’, ‘natural’ and ‘traditional’, and in song lyrics towards the obvious and redundant. Fortunately, Westendorf’s writing is neither sentimental nor obvious.

Neil Cousin – Bonfire (folksong/ roots rock)

Specifics are important. Little details are the warp and weft of life. Neil Cousin knows this: he knows that a hole in a jumper, a night-time swim in the sea, a man with painted toenails and hair worn in plaits are all important. Not important as in important to someone, or important in respect of something, but important because this is the stuff the universe is made of. All those fleeting glimpses and experiences make up the lives we lead, and it’s the holes in jumpers, with their own particular ragged edges, that make them specifically our fleeting glimpses, not somebody else’s. His songs are full of those detailed specificities, observations that, although made generic the moment they are put into words, locate his meanings in this experience, on this day…

Pam Shaffer – As We Are (popular song)

‘Literary’ is an adjective customarily applied to works of popular music when their lyrics use words of more than two syllables, or when they attempt to convey meanings more sophisticated than ‘I like your tits, lets dance.’ Sometimes it’s warranted, when the music adopts discursive strategies that bear some similarity to those more often found in poetry or prose fiction, or when its meanings are primarily located in its lyrical text (although I tend to argue that the very act of setting words to music supersedes the determining force of their denotational value). Only rarely are either or both of these justifications combined with a concern for literature itself, or, as in As We Are, for a literary figure.

Paul Littlewood – Butterfly House (singer songwriter)

Paul Littlewood has a signature arrangement style, a way of doing songs. Simple, syncopated guitar parts are layered with glitchy electronic percussion, combinations of short repeated phrases accumulating into complex textures. There are dynamic variations, but over a limited range, for the most part, textural density is proportional to emotional intensity, and that’s about it. No fancy tricks, no strings, no choirs, no clever harmonic substitutions, no production wizardry: just subtly changing low-key textures and a voice.