An absolutely packed column this week, which looks at new albums from James, The Horrors, Plaid and Spearmint. As well as those, brand new music from The Phantom Band, Public Service Broadcasting, Metamono, Towns, P.J. Philipson, Dan Lyth, Morrissey, Jurassic 5, Cherry Ghost, Royal Blood, The Sunshine Underground and Savages. Plus the first part of my musical memories from 1996…
‘La Petite Mort’ is the 11th full-length effort from Manchester indie legends James, and their first new material in four years. It was written after frontman Tim Booth had to come to terms with the deaths of both his mother and one of his closest friends, experiences that have shaped and influenced the themes and tones of this elevating new record. “They were two very opposite experiences,” says Booth, “my mother died in my arms at the age of 90. It was a quite beautiful experience, euphoric; it felt like a birth. And then my friend went. She had kept her cancer from me, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I was devastated.”
Overwhelming emotions can bring something out from the soul, leading to rich flows of inspiration that can translate into powerful artistic expression. But ‘La Petite Mort’ never sounds morbid, and although it’s sometimes dark, sad and thought provoking, it’s actually an inspiring, uplifting and euphoric piece of work that (amongst other things) looks at the idea that death may not be the end. A definite rejuvenation also coincides with the group all recording together again, following two mini albums from 2010 which involved the band members sending each other their individual ideas to work on. As a result of reconnecting with each other, this is a set of songs that succeeds in capturing their seismic live energy. Over 30 years into their career, and James are making some of their best music.
It comes alive immediately with the sensational ‘Walk Like You”s dramatic keyboard intro and moodily defiant atmosphere. Although it’s largely based around a few easy chords, it’s Booth’s bewitching vocal lines and the band’s way of interpreting melodies that make it what it is. It builds in captivating fashion over the course of its glorious seven minutes, rising up to a storming crescendo lit up by Andy Diagram‘s joyous trumpet and Saul Davis‘s urgent, red hot fiddle that truly set the senses alight. A James classic.
The mechanical beats and trance synths provide a tantalising backdrop to Booth’s lyrics on ‘Curse Curse’, effortlessly demonstrating his wonderful way with words, and setting out the scene imaginatively to another fine melody. The astonishing ‘Moving On’ deals with loss in a most beautiful and deeply affecting way, while also approaching death itself as a beginning of another chapter, including the possibility of meeting loved ones again in another life. A line as poignant as “never said “I love you”, hope you knew” is delivered with a beautifully expressive vocal in a way that proves impossible not to be moved by. The more you hear it, the more it chokes you up.
On the album’s magnificent centrepiece ‘Interrogation’ tortured, yearning emotions and self accusations of hypocrisy are put to a tension building pulse, building in atmosphere and strength throughout while displaying more immaculate songwriting instincts. Again there’s that voice, heavenly calming one second, then making the spine shiver by rising into sheer power. Rounding things off perfectly, the sensual, mysteriously haunting qualities meet with progressive growth and powerful emotions again on the stunning closer ‘All I’m Saying’, an immersive, thought provoking goodbye.
‘Luminous’ is the fourth studio album from The Horrors, their first since 2011’s universally acclaimed ‘Skying’.
While they have been part of the recent psychedelic revival, they are a band who still exist in their own musical world. ‘Luminous’ sees them take things to truly stratospheric levels: “It has a goal, which is to take a listener on an ascent in some ways,” says Rhys Webb. “For us, if a DJ is to play a set, his role is to elevate. We were inspired by how we could incorporate that into our music – we like the idea of elevation and euphoria and how our sound can make you feel.”
And they sure know how to begin an album. After a beautifully out of this world intro, the soaring opener ‘Chasing Shadows’ lays down solid melodic foundations before exploding into a blockbuster chorus. And the whole thing sounds HUGE. It takes a while to sink in, but when it does, it can really bury itself into the conscious and repeated plays become very hard to resist. That’s pretty much the case with all of ‘Luminous’: every song has its own quality, and as a whole it is quite simply magnificent. Especially when the shimmering cosmic disco of the astonishing ‘In And Out Of Sight’ arrives and immerses the senses from the outset. I wonder if The Horrors know that they’ve penned a classic?
The second half begins with the masterfully constructed ‘Falling Star’, a superb piece of songwriting where melancholy meets sheer melodic power, revelling in the heavy psych-out that emerges towards the end. There are little things that can make such a difference to a song, one such case being the strung out sincerity of Faris Badwan‘s vocal on ‘Change Your Mind’, a reflective moment of cool romance complete with a mammoth singalong chorus.
In what is proving to be an enjoyably fruitful time for left field electronic music, Plaid return with their tenth album ‘Reachy Prints’. It marks a decade since the London-based duo consisting of Andy Turner and Ed Handley signed to Warp Records, and 20 years since the two men have been making music together.
The superb ‘Matin Lunaire’ is the most instantly accessible thing here, pulsing with a dancefloor friendly groove and pushing infectious hooks to marvellous effect. The roboid techno and shadowy vibes of ‘Tether’ provide another major highlight, gradually building its way into an acidy delight, while the creeping, bass heavy beats of ‘Ropen’ initially establish an intensity that gives way to something more ambient in nature.
Some bands grow more complacent and more mellow with age. Cult indie heroes Spearmint have been active for nearly twenty years, yet here they are with a surprising socially, politically and environmentally concerned new album that lyrically ventures into what is sometimes soapbox territory. ‘News From Nowhere’ is their first album in eight years, and as frontman Shirley Lee explains: “as the years pass, you either let go of the convictions you held in your youth, or your principles grow stronger and you become more fervent about your beliefs. Either way a gap opens between you and your younger self. This, more than anything, is what this album is about.”
Moody resignation, superb guitar hooks and shuffling beats characterise the impressive opener ‘It’s Not As Far To Fall’, while ‘The Gleaners’ serves up bright indie pop that understands the importance of being resourceful, inspired by an 1857 painting of the same name that depicts peasants making a simple living from the land. The excellent ‘Tony Wright‘ is a song that seems to be about indie kids from the 90s growing old, and presumably named after the lead singer of Terrorvision. Either that or it’s actually about Lee himself growing old and could very well be about a different Tony Wright. But the first one makes more sense to me. With one of the album’s most memorable melodies and a heartwinning sense of fond reflection, it’s classic Spearmint.
The brilliant, addictively tuneful, Northern Soul-tinged ‘My Anger’ charms and intrigues in effortless fashion, providing the album’s finest moment. The title track is another pleasing moment, influenced by a book of the same name in which (as quoted inside the album) “the hero falls asleep in Hammersmith and wakes up the next morning to discover he is living in a socialist utopia one hundred years later”. It’s melodic indie pop music with a conscience, adding a refreshingly direct sense of confrontation and a sense of experienced wisdom to the sort of infectious tunes Spearmint have always excelled at. Read my full 6.2/10 review HERE.
Go HERE to listen to album track ‘Punctuation’
OK, I know this originally came out in October of last year, but it’s too good not to feature. Late in 2013, the brilliant duo Public Service Broadcasting released two specially-written tracks for Explore the North Festival in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. They’re both about the Elfstedentocht, or Eleven Cities Tour, the world’s biggest ice-skating marathon. An explosion of driving rhythm and gutsy guitars followed by a spell of glowing ambience, this two part treasure carries on from where their superb ‘Inform-Educate-Entertain’ LP left off. Read a review of that album HERE.
They released a limited edition 7” of ‘Elfstedentocht’ Parts One And Two for Record Store Day 2014, and after a few queries from fans either a) unable to obtain a copy, and / or b) surprised to find that it had no download code, the two tracks have been released as FREE downloads! “We’ve run some formulae here at PSB Towers and have come up with a + b = x, where x is a free download. It’s partly to say sorry to those who missed out, and partly as a bonus for those who didn’t…”
OK, I am aware that this was released at the tail end of last year. Have I run out of new things to include? Don’t be stupid! I have LOADS of excellent new sounds lined up, but to ignore this excellent new video from analogue electro wizards Metamono would be insanity. After a series of mightily impressive EPs, the London based three piece released their magnificent debut ‘With The Compliments Of Nuclear Physics’ In late 2013, prompting a great deal of praise from those lucky enough to hear it. Metamono create music using only old analogue instruments, and have completely abolished digital recording and production as a rule. In fact they work around an innovative manifesto, which can be seen HERE at their website. From it, the stunning ‘Construct’ is a floating, ticking space ballad, eerie yet harmoniously graceful and in places reminiscent of Bowie‘s ‘Low’.
The trio feature Irmin Schmidt (Can) collaborator Jono Podmore, who has also released some fantastic records as Kumo. RW/FF spoke exclusively to Jono about the video and the superb track it accompanies. “This is video is put together from footage of the launch party for our album ‘With the Compliments of Nuclear Physics’ released October 2013 (buy a copy HERE). We held the party in Bambino – a vintage emporium in London’s Crystal Palace which we transform in to a venue once in a while to create special metamono events. Always sold out and always on the verge of hysteria this party was no exception. Film maker Noreen Meehan is making a documentary about metamono and brought in a proper film crew to record this event from the bleary eyed morning to the dilated pupils of the night. The footage is of such high quality I was able to simply layer up 3 nice shots, stretch them to the length of the track and blend them in different ways to follow the music. As is so often the case in music and film, when the basic material is of high quality, the edits and mix are easy, once you have the idea.”
“The music itself is a track from the album, one of only 2 tracks that have videos, the other being ‘Tripnotism’ by Kate Shipp (watch HERE). ‘Construc’t appears on side 2 of the album, and as each of the 4 sides has a distinct character this is one of our more down tempo, gentle, ruminative tracks. As stipulated by the metamono manifesto (HERE) we compose and mix simultaneously, and the final version of this track is edited together from a 20 min live recording exploring all the material in the basic sequence. Technically, it’s quite unique in our output in that it involves some unsequenced live tuning of the oscillators on the Arp 2600 to create new harmonies and melodies on the fly. Not something to be attempted live and risky even in the confines of your own home….”
Here’s something absolutely perfect for a relaxing warm summer’s evening. I first heard this on Gideon Coe‘s wonderful show on BBC 6Music a few weeks ago and it took me away to an utterly tranquil place. It’s taken from an album entitled ‘Peaks’, which was released earlier this week (May 12) via the newly-launched Little Crackd Rabbit Records (yes, it’s spelt without an ‘e’). A press release announces this beautiful track as “Solo stereo delay guitar recorded entirely live one summer night in a Manchester church. Melodic, rhythmic, inventive and spacious, P.J. Philipson‘s playing takes its cue from innovators like Robert Fripp, Vini Reilly, Robin Guthrie, Michael Rother and Richard Skelton, but has a fully-realised concept unique to itself. Each track on this, Philipson’s solo debut, is titled and based around locations in England’s Peak District, creating a strong sense of place and emotional attachment.” P.J. Philipson is a guitarist and producer who also plays in Starless And Bible Black (Locust Music) and The Woodbine And Ivy Band.
In an age when pretty much anyone can make an album in their bedroom, Dan Lyth takes a different and most refreshing approach, exploring the far-reaching possibilities of field recording. Lyrically picking up on topics such as technology and human interaction, the eight tracks on the reflective ‘Benthic Lines’ seem to fit together as a place-to-place journey, appropriate for an album recorded entirely outdoors in various locations, from Lyth’s native Scotland to Morocco, Australia, Turkey and Uganda. The standout ‘Four Creatures’ darkly appealing mood is enhanced by its imaginative arrangements, Lyth even turning it to industrial territory towards the end and finishing with a terrific bit of brass.
After years of false starts, scrapped material and struggles to find a record deal, Morrissey is finally ready to release his new album. ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’ will arrive on July 14, and will mark the beginning of a new worldwide record deal with Universal Music’s US-based Harvest Records. All 12 tracks on the former Smiths legend’s 10th studio album were produced by Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, The Killers) in France. The album’s magnificent title track is available to download immediately for those who pre-order the record.
Rather than a conventional music video, Moz donned a tuxedo and filmed an odd spoken word video to accompany the single, which also features Nancy Sinatra. Luckily the one you can watch below DOES feature the actual song itself… Hardcore fans may want to pre-order the limited edition ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’ box set, which includes the vinyl album, CD album, album lithograph and 12 lyric sheets. These ‘Super Deluxe’ and ‘Uber Deluxe’ bundles also include the deluxe digital album, an exclusive t-shirt, and a poster featuring YOUR and other fans’ names. The ‘Ultimate’ Deluxe version of the bundle includes an autographed copy of Morrissey’s Autobiography, but after clicking on the link to buy one myself, it seems that all those are now sold out. Pre-order your copy of the album now at http://smarturl.it/morrisseyd2c
Royal Blood are a band that I first heard about when they featured as part of this year’s NME Awards Tour. When they kicked into their set, I was most impressed with the sheer volume produced by these two men… “If you didn’t have a good view of the stage, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a five piece band. Singer and bassist Mike Kerr dishes out meaty riffs while Ben Thatcher provides strength and fat rhythms from behind the drumkit. With a sound laying somewhere between Queens Of The Stone Age, Rage Against The Machine and The Black Keys, they provide British rock with a much needed new ray of hope.”
Jurassic 5 are without a doubt one of the finest hip hop acts of the last couple of decades, reconnecting with old skool values during a time when the genre was otherwise being diluted, homogenised and tediously gangsta-fied. After releasing four top quality albums, the group went their separate ways in 2007 following a series of disagreements between the members, but announced their reunion last year in 2013.
A couple of weeks ago on May 6, post-punk combo Savages released a 12″ single featuring a cover of Suicide‘s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ on one side, and this sinister blast of intensity on the A side. ‘Fuckers’ is a 10 minute epic that carries on from where the brilliant debut LP ‘Silence Yourself’ left off, and is accompanied by a dark, cinematic video directed by Giorgio Testi, which captures the raw energy of the band’s live performances.
‘Fuckers’/’Dream Baby Dream’ is available via Matador Records, and you can buy your copy HERE from Rough Trade and from good independent record shops.
I can’t remember the last time that so many great albums have been released at the same time. As well as new offerings from Plaid, Lay Llamas and Coldplay, last week also saw the launch of Cherry Ghost‘s third album ‘Herd Runners’. Elegant sighs of strings, tenderly rich vocals and beaming rays of hope shine from the gorgeous opener ‘Clear Skies Ever Closer’, a definite highlight of what is their most romantic and introspective record yet. According to the people at Heavenly Recordings, “Herd Runners is a sublime collection, a reminder of Aldred’s singular skill as a composer; a skill that can twist bitter loss into teary optimism (and back) in less time than it takes to toss a coin.” Frontman and songwriter Simon Aldred says: “These songs aren’t as dark as those on previous records. This time round I thought it was important to keep a real empathy for the people I’m writing about.”
If 1995 was the year that Britpop invaded the charts and took me by the hand, then 1996 was the year that I became truly immersed in the music. It was the year that the British guitar movement reached a peak and the year that Britpop itself spread out into wider territories. It had become inescapable and was pretty much running the show.
However the mid 90s exhibited plenty of diversity in the charts, since the limited amount of music that shops could stock had to cater for different tastes. Same with radio, since there were just a few stations back then, and because one size had to fit all, there had to be something for everyone. So even though Britpop was the most omnipresent scene that caused the most excitement and received the most attention, the top ten in January of that year included high new entries from 3T (a boyband made up of three of Michael Jackson‘s nephews), Cher, Coolio (whose wretched ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ was still lingering in the Top 20 like a bad stink), and Goldbug, who had a sole hit with a terrible cover of ‘Whole Lotta Love’. Add to these George Michael‘s dreary ‘Jesus To A Child’, which spent most of the month at number one before being knocked by Babylon Zoo‘s opinion dividing ‘Spaceman’. It was one of the first records I bought from a local DJ who I met at a school car boot sale. He sold promo copies of things that he was sent, even coming round to the house every couple of weeks with a box of the latest 12″s. The ‘not for resale’ label on the things I purchased from him means that he shall remain nameless here, but one or two people close to me will know exactly who I’m talking about, and so will he, if he is reading. Hopefully he will be, since I saw him at a boot sale only last week and told him to check the site out. He doesn’t sell records anymore, since changing times mean that he only gets sent downloads, but I did buy a Stylophone off him a couple of years ago. Great bloke. The version of ‘Spaceman’ that was on the 12″ I owned was the Arthur Baker mix, which sped up and simplified the entire song, while the familar version contains verses and a chorus.
I digress. Also in the charts that month (but further down) were Q Club, Billie Ray Martin (whose music I admired whenever I got the chance to hear it), Tori Amos, LL Cool J, Upside Down (another shite boyband as I recall), Sting Featuring Pato Banton (quite glad I can’t remember that one), Ace Of Base, Meatloaf and Culture Beat.
The fact that these songs could all co-exist on the radio with indie bands meant that you had a good balance. Things would have become quite tedious if it was all just dance and pop. I’m not sure I would have appreciated dance music as much if it wasn’t balanced out by all the guitar music around. I had an equal amount of exposure to both. Dance music for my DJ sets, guitar music for when I was at home. Sometimes each would cross over, as nights at Bentleys would warm up and wind down with indie hits of the time, and club mix compilations would find their way onto the living room stereo on the rare occasions that I didn’t feel like indulging in more Britpop. Those occasions were VERY rare.
Things that appealed to me on the dance side included Baby D‘s ‘So Pure’ (which followed their massive ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’) and ‘Got Myself Together’ by The Bucketheads, which sampled ‘Moving’ by Brass Construction. After seeing them on The ITV Chart Show I became very keen on Shed Seven‘s ‘Getting Better’, and soon the group would prove to be one of my favourite singles acts of the era. It was also the time when I discovered Dubstar with their brilliant ‘Not So Manic Now’ (which about 18 years later I found out was a cover version), Dreadzone (whose ‘Little Britain’ became a Top 40 single). I didn’t find out about them until the summer, but Gene‘s stunning ‘For The Dead’ gave them a number 14 hit. Lush‘s ‘Single Girl’, ‘Weak’ by Skunk Anansie, and ‘Loops Of Fury’ by The Chemical Brothers were three other things that I found out about a few months later… It took me a little time to appreciate it, but ‘Lump’ by Presidents Of The United States Of America was something I became keen on. Cast‘s electrifying ‘Sandstorm’ was a top ten hit that I can remember hearing first on The ITV Chart Show and rushing out to purchase a cassette copy that same day. That became a bit of a ritual: checking out that show like some sort of menu, then going out in the afternoon to buy my favoured sounds…
More to come…