Archive | July, 2021

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Yes’ ‘The Ice Bridge’; Brachmond’s ‘Teufelsdanz’; Brainsqueezed’s ‘My Fears in the Night’

23 Jul

There was a time when Yes defined their own musical shapes, and did it incredibly well. You can quibble about their otherworldly detachment and high pitching, their grandiose poly-stylistic gestures, their lasers, harps and ’70s frocks; but behind all of that detailed prime-prog fantasia was a furious collective musicality in which virtuosity served the music rather than vice versa. These days (minus their original core of creative-spark singer Jon Anderson and recently-passed choral bassist Chris Squire), an ageing Yes seem content to graze, like cosmic cows, on their own long-established tropes. While the band do still revisit some of their former intensity in their concert catalogue, current studio recordings have shown the acrobatic flights of the old Yes replaced by a cruising argosy of pomp as long-term members age, fade and lose focus.

That said, ‘The Ice Bridge’ is a near-heroic attempt by current Yes singer (and de facto songwriter) Jon Davison to pull his lumbering bandmates back uphill. Co-written with keyboard player Geoff Downes – whose fantasy-soundtrack synths and trumpeting analogue leads provide the song with most of its pomp – it’s an attempt at linking our current precarious position of climate threat to the Paleo-American crossing of the Beringian steppe, over sixteen thousand years ago. A survival song, in blurred terms. “With fear of extinction, / we’re pushed to the edge of the ice. / Instinctive direction, / a drive to survive.” 

It’s never precisely clear what Davison’s “Snowflower Elder”, leading his people across the mammoth steppe to Alaska, has to do with our current, floundering status as twenty-first century blitzoid man; but lyrical exactitude has always been rare with Yes. Still, ‘The Ice Bridge’ is a typically Yes-ian melange of ancient wisdom, the past-as-future, and fanfares for spiritual unity. While the music remains as earthbound as a pilgrim caravan, it’s expansive; and after a decade of creative disappointment, it’s good to hear something which echoes at least some of the Yes strengths of old.

While Squire’s soaring Anglican harmonies are much missed, his replacement Billy Sherwood recaptures some of the ex-bassman’s grinding instrumental swing. Rather than winding his guitars into the heart of the music, Steve Howe now flies in stern flaring pronouncements like an occasional god on a cloud. But it’s Davison’s show this time, tumbling harmony cadences against the rolling rhythm, persistently pushing his saga of hope and determination, and ensuring that all of the proggy pennants are backed up with heart – and at least Yes now sound like a version of themselves again, rather than a shadow of themselves.

Mediaevalism has, on occasion, been an ingredient in the Yes stew; for other bands, it’s a raison d’etre. German “mediaeval rockers” Brachmond embrace it ardently, entwining bagpipe, flute, violin and flights of campfire harmonies into their twin-guitar heavy metal punch. Although they’re a product of re-enactment meets and contemporary folk fayres, their old-tyme enthusiasms seem more akin to a heavy sauce-dousing than a faithful immersion. Thanks to extra guitar roar and some surprisingly punky drumming, they’re considerably closer to Iron Maiden than they are to, say, Gryphon, Ougenweide or even fellow fayrists like Schandmaul. Nonetheless, their irreverent gusto overcomes any purist qualms.

Mining the Brothers Grimm and the dark-fantasy TV series ‘Grimm’ (more or less equally), ‘Teufelsdanz’ does what a lot of the more hectic and rebellious folk music does: linking the supernatural with wilder human hungers, and with stuff that goes on behind God’s back and out of sight of the church spire. Passing the pellmell folk-metal guitars, strings and pipes and unravelling the German lyrics reveals some zesty infernality – a Godfather Death playing a song on old bones; an irresistible dance which fires your blood and charges your loins; a hidden and seductive Devil who offers you knowledge and compels your willing surrender, but gifts you back with spontaneity.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that many European folk tales present the Devil almost as one of us – an adversary who must be outwitted and denied but whom it’s ultimately fun to spar with, and who seems closer to actual human feelings than do Christ and the saints. Brachmond understand this and take a full-hearted run at it, while singer Stefanie Schmid’s gutsy vocals and knowing glances make her the perfect cheerleader for a bout of witty wickedness

Drawing on Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, ‘Metropolis’ and Mary Shelley, themes of willingly-mechanised men (or robots with human hearts) have wended their way through futurist prog for ages; from Rush and Buggles to The Mars Volta, steampunk rock and Tom Slatter. In that respect, Franco-Australian prog-pop act Brainsqueezed‘s upcoming album (dealing with a robot attempting to transcend its programming, and to discover a soul beyond its AI) taps into a well-established tradition. But in spite of its ‘Blade Runner’-meets-Asimov video – with its iconic android at work on human tasks, running with the animals, or undergoing significantly cryptic events in Virtualworld or the forests – the lead single is much less story-specific than that.

Rather than directly wading into mechanical-man angst or changeling dread, ‘My Fears in the Night’ concentrates on habits of terror and of self-intimidation; of how childhood nightmares lay the ground for adult insecurities and hangups. Presumably it’s a drawbridge song – a straightforward pathway to lure more resistant people into the looming Big Concept. Since Brainsqueezed’s Sébastien Laloue has a basic, if slick and industrious, idea of creating progressive rock or pop (you take an straightforward song, polish it up with some alternative or electronic rock vinegar, and then escalate the choruses and bridges with layers and layers of guitars, extra instrumentation and guest vocals) this might well work for him.

Still, as with Yes’ Paleo-American, it’s difficult to see quite how the concept ties together yet; and in this case, what separates ‘My Fears in the Night’ from being yet another well-machined bit of 2D sadness-rock. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to find out.

Yes: ‘The Ice Bridge’
InsideOut Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, YouTube, Tidal, Spotify, Amazon Music,

Yes online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, HD Tracks   

 

Brachmond: ‘Teufelsdanz’
Hicktown Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Brachmond online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music    

Brainsqueezed: ‘My Fears in the Night’
DOWEET (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
23rd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, (other platforms t.b.c.)

Brainsqueezed online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music  

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Sug Daniels’ ‘Kintsugi’; Jesse D’Kora’s ‘Far from Home’; No Thee No Ess’ ‘Chorus’

16 Jul

“I get broken, I get mended by my love for you.” Yes, things can be fixed, but if what was broken was and is something that runs deep, you need a memory of that fracture. You have to have it that way in order not to get fooled again, or to ensure that justice is highlighted, or perhaps simply to know yourself.

Under her light, knowing blues-y vocal, Sug Daniels‘ ‘Kintsugi’ has gently bouncing ukelele, soft bops of bass and gentle burbling punctuations of Leslie-fied electric piano. It’s also got a name taken from Japanese art. Kintsugi is the practise of picking up a broken piece of pottery and repairing it, but not with transparent glue and the deception that nothing happened.  Instead, the repairs are done with lacquer blended with precious metals – gold, silver, platinum – making burnished veins and patches for the points of damage and the former fractures. Fixed, but highlighted. Mended but remembered.

For Sug, kintsugi serves as a personal metaphor for “the botched relationship between America and a black woman coming into her own.” It’s also a perfect metaphor to build a bruised-yet-hopeful love song around. Here, she does both; and you can read ‘Kintsugi’ as either thing. Sug doesn’t dig too deeply into the hurts, exploitations and callousness doled out, but ensures that you know that they happened and that she’s unbowed. “When you need me, / know I’ll be there, / ‘cos I grew up poor-tough, darlin’, / and I ain’t never, never scared… / When you gonna do right by me? / Glad I’m on this side of history. / I just want a fighting chance, you see. / Don’t leave me here in misery.”

It’s unfooled, it’s mindful and it’s tinted with the lightest shade of blues; but it’s upbeat and choosing a hopeful mutual path. “I‘m willin’ to try, I’m even willin’ to die. / Got nothin better to do, ‘cept I want to do it with you.” Some might quibble at the shortage of killer lines, or that there are jabs left unlanded; but Sug seems to take all such matters as known and read. Instead, this is a low-key plea – and manifesto – for a step away from bullying, from neglect and bad treatment, perhaps from mutual destruction. It’s all there, reading between the cracks. 

Emerging just as Covid-19 takes its third bite out of British life, Manchester singer-songwriter Jesse D’Kora makes his debut appearance via a softly melancholic song about long-distance relationships and break-ups. Topical. However, it’s not Covid-driven capsule pop: not enhanced by quarantine, anomie and angst; not languishing over forced separations. ‘Far from Home’ comes from an earlier, more innocent age – one in which distance was something regularly travelled, even to the point where it became a daily irritation.

“If only you had moved closer to me,” sing-sighs Jesse, as if that had been the straw that broke the camel’s back; and perhaps it was. Love does, after all, founder on mild, cumulative delays; on small over-stretchings; on gradually worn-down patience that can’t be patched. Jesse is soft-voiced, kind-toned, but he’s clearly slipped past the point where he has enough willpower to keep things going. “I’m going home, I need to find another way – / ‘cos I’ve been with you too long now, / and I can’t erase the words that stained us yesterday.”

In terms of tone, ‘Far from Home’ could have emerged at any time in the past twenty years – at any point in which someone felt like blending upbeat jangle-pop with a Milky Way dream-pop swoosh (or imagining what might have happened had Chris Bell foisted a more galactic production style on The Go-Betweens). Gently propulsive narcotism and solipsism turn alienation and numbness into heavy-lidded grace, letting life puff away into car-wakes and distant flame-ups. “I’m driving through a valley just to be with you, / and I’m falling asleep now at the wheel,” Jesse laments over the jangling yearn of his own guitars, a light-bodied baby Glenn Campbell lost in the Pennines. “And I crash and burn like there’s any other way. / Cracks in the windscreen lead me back to home. / It’s where I go and where I’m coming from. / It’s where I feel that I belong. / It’s liberating now you’re gone – / now it’s time that I moved on.”

Perhaps he’s a gentle romantic turning back to his roots; perhaps he’s a plausibly soulful bastard worming his doe-eyed way out of a commitment. Either way, he’s made a good first impression. 

More psychedelic factors bleed into ‘Chorus’, by No Thee No Ess,  although in this case it’s more like eructation than decoration. The Cardiff psychedelicists have recently upped their game by collaborating with onetime μ-Ziq and Rocketgoldstar guy Frank Naughton, who gleefully brings his own toys to the game. Consequently, ‘Chorus’ sounds like a series of dogged mid-air collisions – first Hawkwind smacking into a cluster of seagulls, with the resulting airborne contusion then clipping a seaside amusement arcade, and finally the whole mass exploding through the kind of rootless, genderless ’90s post-rock consciousness you’d get from A.R. Kane. 

No Thee No Ess have put out some driving weirdness before (punctuating and puncturing the clarity of their usual acid folk/acid pop explorations) but never anything quite so gleefully liberated from gravity or from containment. If the history of British psychedelia was a set of sequential smoke rings, ‘Chorus’ would also be the charged and speeding particle stunting its way through all of them. Swamp-bubbling synth bass, white-noise scurf, and little piled-up analogue-electronic foldings all play their part alongside the guttural guitar chug, but what really puts the cherry on the cake is the singing, in which falsetto vocals are bricolaged with carolling voicetone samples in an undulating cable of studded sound. It sounds as if someone’s waylaid and spiked a minor angel, who’s now hurtling through the skies on its own, singing in tongues, blurting out an incomprehensible paean.

I’ve tried to pick out the lyrics and failed twice; first practically and then philosophically, feeling that trying to comb this glorious voice-stream into straightforward sentences would somehow undo its spell. As a phalanx of synthesizers swing into place and then joyously fragment, like Cian Ciran and Tim Blake in a happily turbulent wrangle with a young Vangelis), I decide not to pin anything down any further than that. Sometimes you’ve just got to let things sing away, and be blown ahead of them.

Shug Daniels: ‘Kintsugi’
Weird Sister Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
12th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music

Shug Daniels online:
Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music 

Jesse D’Kora: ‘Far from Home’
doink (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
16th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify

Jesse D’Kora online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Instagram  

No Thee No Ess: ‘Chorus’
Surk Recordings (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
16th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, Amazon Music

No Thee No Ess online:
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music  

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Lizard Brain’s ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’; Vi. & sam’s ‘Pressure’; Parnell March’s ‘Therapy’

9 Jul

A little parable about bigotry from politically-inclined Cambridge pop brain Lizard Brain lays out the nonsense of segregation, and of Jim Crow racism. ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’ draws heavily on the educational thought experiments of Jane Elliott, in which school classes were divided up purely on the basis of eye colour and then made to act out rules of discrimination, of social caste and of restricted association based on that distinction.

Via archive samples, Jane’s crisp voice punctuates the retro-synth-pop bounce, buzz and beat in which Lizard Brain have chosen to sheath the song; almost in duet with on/off Lizard Brain vocalist Tony Jenkins as she delivers her satirical edicts. “Brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people… You blue-eyed people are not to play with the brown-eyed people at any time.” Meanwhile Tony, dreamy and gentle, provides the emotional content, the empathy which soothes the sense of outrage. “Young girl she cries, / tears crystallize… / Can’t understand / the heavy hand / “look at the things they do, / because my eyes are blue”…”

There’s never any question of where Lizard Brain’s own sympathies lie, regarding Jane and her lessons –“She can see the people we should be / and what we all should do.” This is essentially an adjunct to the original experiment, a pop reduction for a classroom singalong. It even ends with a quick sample of Jane proposing the idea of discrimination as fair to her classful of children, and with them resoundingly rejecting it. Unambiguous in its stance – a spelled-out whiteboard lesson rather than a philosophical trick-bag – this might not be exactly what you or I need as adults; but in its ethical straightforwardness it might be exactly what our kids need (assuming that they’ve not already learnt their civics, and they’re not already way ahead of us).

In contrast, ‘Pressure’ – the latest from Swedish production duo Vi. – deals with the problems in being straightforward. Housed in a softly melancholic deep house pop frame, and helmed by singer sam, it dramatizes the feelings of someone wanting to vent deep emotions but being terrified of judgement. Right from the start, it’s rooted in imminent panic (“blurry vision, voices in my mind – wish I could flow the world around me,”) and building angst ( “I got way too many hours on my own, / and I’m not that good at being all alone.”) While sam sings with the abstract tenderness of many a deep-houser, his words ripple with introversion (“searching for a sign / I never really made an effort, / falling back to square one all the time,”) and slip into a chorus like a soft-shoe landslide – “I don’t want to talk about it, it won’t work. / Can’t you see that I have tried it – it gets worse. / Gets better if I keep my feelings to myself. / I shouldn’t bother someone else. / Keep it all to myself, just talk about something else.”

The soundcrafting does what it can to capture this, too. While Vi. have shaped ‘Pressure’ to be a smooth, gently tear-jerking slice of contemporary dance pop (and while they’ve succeeded in this), small production details and club mix tricks give it an edge of subliminal hysteria. The instrumental hook is a glorious yet tissue-thin synth billow, tentatively overwhelming but pulled back. Other parts sometimes come lurching violently out of the mix only to be yanked back immediately. The effect is one of brittle poise being wrecked by rippling tells – one which breaks down into a silky middle eight of impending collapse. “Please don’t do this right now – I don’t wanna see ya. / I’ve been doing all right, / now I’m gonna leave ya – / tryna find a place where I don’t have to hide.”

All of which should lead neatly into Parnell March‘s ‘Therapy’, a rolling spread of analogue EDM in classic Germanic/post-Boards of Canada style; a serenely ecstatic micro-weir of tumbling electronic tones and melody-pulses. But while there’s a voice is there, it’s tweaked beyond recognition by vocoder into an unintelligible but comforting burble. If there’s a message, it’s muffled and medicated; sunny but slimmed; a minimal, murmuring beehive.

In the accompanying video, meanwhile, a sweet little ginger-haired lad grows gradually more disturbed by online imagery and body anxiety, seeking out the services of a series of slick but shallow counsellors before deciding to take matters into his own hands. A thin film of quizzical irony covers the bright, mundane vistas. Therapists nod along sympathetically while covertly buying stock in anti-depressants; there are cameo appearances from a Joe Rogan video and a Jordan Petersen paperback; and even after he tosses his pills down the toilet and hits the road there’s no clear conclusion as to where our boy ends up. For the moment, Parnell seems content to soundtrack the ambiguous anomie of these states of mind – the strange, shallow elations, the papery calm; the gentle manic high and the buried rumble; the vacant reverb behind the day-to-day noise.

Lizard Brain: ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music

Lizard Brain online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music,    

Vi. & sam: ‘Pressure’
ART:ERY Music Group
(no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Vi. online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music   

sam online:
Deezer, Spotify  


Parnell March: ‘Therapy’
Uncle Herb Recordings (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify

Parnell March online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify   

July 2021- single & track reviews – 2 Lost Souls’ ‘Qanon’; E Rodes’ ‘Isolation’; Pearl & The Oysters’ ‘Soft Science’

7 Jul

Still rabbiting, joke-ranting and stretching his argumental monologues as if they were chewing gum stuck to his fingers, Ian Moss turns his attention to conspiracy theorising with ‘Qanon’.

Not backing them up, of course. His sense of the absurd is far too amiable, far too easily amused to inhabit those angry warrens. Instead, as 2 Lost Souls turn out a growling, churning, tooting synth-funk groove in the P-Funk tradition, Ian capers across the top like the kid’s-party clown version of Mark E. Smith, Manc-rapping sarcastically about shapeshifter lizards, melting ice-caps, Trump, moonshine and doomsday plots. “…’Ere’s armageddon, that’s a fact. / We deal in truth and won’t retract; / but the day, it gets pushed back, / falls off the edge of the earth, that is flat.” 

He sounds like he’s having a laugh, at least; a cackling veteran who hasn’t let age get the better of his critical faculties, or his mither-detector. It’s sometimes a little disappointing – conspiracists seen merely as a deluded flock, worth little more than a dusting of observational comedy and an eye-roll synced with a tongue-wobble, rather than a phenomenon to be taken apart properly; but if light-hearted fun is all we’re going to get, then so be it.

It’s not as if some of the lines aren’t enjoyable in their custard-pie fashion. Maybe we should be content, for the moment, to see some of these idiots off with a bit of screw-you, laugh-at-you dancing while Ian conducts the singing with a bog-brush. “The living Agent Orange is the golden one… / Is all that I believe a con / but your wisdom I can count upon?… / Are you part of that joyless throng, / or are you going to a fancy-dress party?”

It’s arrived a little later than planned, but here’s E Rodes‘ early-July offering. Over the past year, he’s proved himself to be one of the most reliable generators of psychedelic-tinged guitar pop in Britain. ‘Isolation’ continues to build on that. Built around a ravishing fingerpicked guitar part and a decidedly country-ish rhythm as it sprints down the road, it’s sweetly disrupted by pounces of mad panning and exultant sonic smearing. It’s also got one of his most winning melodies so far; beyond the country, there’s also tinges of classic Glaswegian literary indie (Lloyd Cole, Edwyn Collins, Postcard Records) and of Prefab Sprout. 

Musically, it’s delightful enough that you could just enjoy the play of sounds and ignore the lyrics, which would be a pity. Étienne’s worked out a little personal spiritual conundrum, but he wants to express it in Enlightenment terms: maths, geometry and the self. “Raise a finger, point it to the stars, / and the non-Euclidean plane of the night sky / show two lines meet always, not sometimes. / Show your working out, end it with a clear-eyed summation / so one knows it emerged in isolation. / I’ve found myself, I was right there all along, / just round the corner from a certain nowhere. / It has been years and miles / of near-misses and solitary trials in oscillations.” It’s an agile bit of wordery, smuggling its cerebral play across under the guise of tunefulness.

Call me a smartarse, call me effete, but I like it when that happens. I like it even more when that kind of cleverness merges seamlessly with emotion, with humanity; where there’s no awkward edge. That’s what Étienne manages here, skimming like a brinksman round the curb, choosing not to stay in the conundrum. “Just know it emerges in isolation. / We owe it all to chance and isolation, / orphan idioms and isolation. / And though I may have gone too far with isolation, / I’ve reasoned myself out from isolation. / So take me home.” While still keeping up that light-footed groove, the bridge falls deliberately out of time for a few measures, tossing up some turbulence, ripping some wild guitar fragments and pasting them into a swirl: a bit of welcome, manic joy to counter the reasoning. 

If you feel as if you’re being cheated of a carefree summer (whether its by fires, quarantines, or just holes in your wallet), the latest Pearl & The Oysters single might feel like some kind of compensation, possibly also involving a touch of time travel. Luscious and carefree, ‘Soft Science’ is a loving contemporary cop of any number of 1970s quiet storm sprinklings (think Minnie Riperton, Stuff, even the softer Flora Purim end of Return to Forever) and space age pop.

In essence, it’s three minutes of loving tug-of-war and soft banter, dusted with Rhodes pianos, Omnichord and little psychedelic meteorites. Juliette Pearl’s restless summer-baby coaxes a boyfriend (played with gently agreeable charm by Kuo-Hung Tseng from Taiwanese synth-poppers Sunset Rollercoaster) away from his studies and out to the beach. There’s not much more to it than that. Affectionate worrying from her (in both senses of the word), and polite reluctance from him (“I really should work” / “You’ve studied all night long”… / “Love…” / “I told you I can’t.” / “The sun is hot.” / “I don’t want to know.” / “You shouldn’t stay inside.” / “I’m not nearly done”) until he packs it in. (“Well, I guess I could / close my books for now.”)

The rest is drops of sunshine, all of it welcome.

2 Lost Souls: ‘Qanon’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
7th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Spotify

2 Lost Souls online:
Homepage, Bandcamp, Spotify   

 

E Rodes: ‘Isolation’
Don’t Tempt Me Frodddo (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
6th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify

E Rodes online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Instagram, Spotify

Pearl & The Oysters: ‘Soft Science’
Feeltrip Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
7th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Pearl & The Oysters online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music    

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Franz Yusef vs. David Peel & Friends’ ‘How Lucky We Are’; Fatum Aeternum’s ‘Spiders’; The Academy of Sun’s ‘It is Finished When It’s Destroyed/Ghost Foxes’

3 Jul

Had he lived, Tim Smith would have been sixty years old this week;  but with a wealth of Cardiacs-inspired music still riffling up from the underground like a crop of wheat, it’s almost as if he was still here.

Celebrating Tim’s birthday, Franz Yusef vs. David Peel & Friends are an assortment of his fans – principally Israeli odd-rock maverick Franz Yuzef and half-hidden Liverpudlian talent David John Peel (who’s had stints in The Farm and with a pre-Space Tommy Scott, amongst others), but also Eric Kearns, Johnee Beegood and Bobby Bilsborough and Pocket Gods’ Noel Storey. ‘How Lucky We Are’ is an unabashed tribute, full of open sentiment, but with the words attempting to recapture some of those peculiar, endearing Smith sensibilities – the touch of the maritime, the open and unashamedly awkward emotionalism, the sense of gleeful rampage, and the strange public mixture of schooling and punk idiot savant. “How lucky we are / to have known that man, / to have heard his mind / trample kindly through our own, / tickling through the tar. / How lucky we are.”

It could have been winsome, it could have been embarrassing. It could have been a coy cop of Smith-y sound. In fact (although it’s a close-run thing sometimes) it’s actually none of these. It’s more of an inhabiting; a realisation that Smithworld isn’t something which you should pastiche, but a sensibility which you can slip into. Franz sets up a web of awkwardly-related synth and organ chords over a rattling-door haunted-house rhythm and then turns them all into family, venturing out on a strange, stretched-out harmonic limb that always feels a second away from breaking apart. The feel constantly flickers between mediaeval to the dark recesses of Victoriana to this week’s inspiration; there are fake reeds and a Mellotron, and a sort of sonic flickering, like a swamp at the deepening of the dusk.    

Meanwhile, Franz clambers from point to point on this web, dotting down David’s words as a theatrical incantation and a thanksgiving, replete with that slightly arcane and macabre Cardiacs touch; that fractured grammar; and, for the fully committed, glancing references to Smith lyrics. “How lucky we were to be a part of miracle fun, / to sing the score of heaven, / to hear the brave son, shine on. / To swim the waters there. / How lucky we were…. / How lucky we shall be / to shout the crowns of majesty, / to bring our children to the sea / and hold their heads beneath the waves / of glory not unfound and see / how lucky they shall be… / We are better / for having known him.”

Israeli multi-genre rockers Fatum Aeturnum are playful and theatrical, as were Cardiacs, but they don’t quite swim in the same peculiar seas. They’re a more self-consciously artful proposition – flashy, stagey board-stompers whose avid raiding of heavy metal, jazz, Paganini violin heroics, Goth rock, gypsy dance and even little dollops of Shakespeare turn them into a obvious, omnivorous circus act. But they do what they do with heart, humour and lip-smacking gusto (especially not that they’re lightening up a little); and ‘Spiders’ is heaps of fun.

It starts with swing hi-hat, big-band saxophone riffs and diving violin, only to have them blown up by burly metallic bass and by guitar riffs tossed in like precision cherry bombs. While this is noisy enough to punch out the flap of a cabaret tent, everything that’s been blown up falls slap-bang back into place. Sonically, it could be early King Crimson (the blood-red crunchy big-band jazz sandwich of ’21st Century Schizoid Man’) meeting Iron Maiden, with kooky Muppet Show vocals sprinkled on top: you can toss in the straighter end of Mr Bungle and the weirder end of The Stranglers if you want to. Away from the geeky comparisons, you get a carefully controlled set of romps and explosions. Stunts, but no chaos. Bits of it may wriggle like eels, on cue; but (as ever in the circus) nothing’s left to chance.

It might be ironic, then, that the lyrical targets of ‘Spider’ are those who make a religion out of regulation – and vice versa (“We expect you to be good people / since we erect our holy steeple. / Pay your taxes, live on the edge,/  buy affordable, conquer your rage. / Watch TV, drink some Coke, / give away your life as a joke.”). Fatum Aeturnum’s real target, of course, is structured consumerism; and as I imagine them prancing around in their satirucal marketeer’s masks, I’m reminded of some of the more fantastical Brechtian clowning which popped up at one end of British psychedelia during the ’90s – Sleepy People, Poisoned Electrick Head. Plus, of course, somewhere in counter-culture heaven, Daevid Allen must be grinning a little. “Keep on running, with your blinkers – / we don’t appreciate the thinkers.”

Traces of the Tim Smith spirit also seem to have found their way into The Academy of Sun‘s ‘It is Finished When It’s Destroyed/Ghost Foxes’ single (a limited-edition double-sider cut by Graham Duff’s boutique label Heaven’s Lathe). If so, they’re wrestling with a rabble of Nick Hudson’s other influences – on this occasion, dark British psychedelia, Cramps-y psychobilly, Goth rock and rattling lysergic American garage rock.

It’s typically diverse Academy of Sun in that it’s volatile, ready to shift. At any moment the light could polarise. ‘It is Finished…’ opens with warnings of tainted help, of murder and dysfunction, sailing along as a mystic-urban incantation with a spider-strewn Goth riff before lapsing into an unexpected silence, changing gear, then coming back with a prog boost and a doubled-down sense of doom. (“Lie down, lie down, they all lie down – / the walls are falling in this town.”) It sounds like nothing so much as a fateful, biblical-apocalyptic meeting between the Bad Seeds and long-gone ’90s Britpsych comets Levitation

‘Ghost Foxes’ showcases another side to The Academy of Sun. Gnarling along on a 13th Floor Elevators/Seeds tip, and kicking off on a stop-start guitar slam, it reminds us that there’s more than one meaning to acid wit.  “If I had a book of unhealthy stuff, I’d like to let you read it / but gazing at your fevered eyes, I don’t know if you need it… / If you don’t think my love is true, maybe magic doesn’t believe in you. / If you feel you’re being ignored, maybe change the batteries on your ouija board.” It seems to be bringing a prank perspective into a relationship, although where it’s therapy or some kind of weaving, elusive kiss-off is difficult to see as it ducks and dives behind its off-beat witticisms and peculiar maxims. “Used to be a part of me, / but all that’s left is electricity. / Ghost foxes are best on the periphery.”

Throughout, though, it crackles with verve and interest. “What a curious time to be alive!” interjects Nick, partway through, and apropos of nothing. You feel that it’s that which propels Academy of Sun onwards, through apocalypse and squabbles and failed understandings. A keenness of curiosity.

Franz Yusef vs. David Peel & Friends: ‘How Lucky We Are’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud

Franz Yusef online:
Facebook, Bandcamp    

David Peel online:
Facebook  


Fatum Aeternum: ‘Spiders’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Fatum Aeturnum online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music, VK


The Academy of Sun: ‘It Is Finished When It’s Destroyed/Ghost Foxes’
Heaven’s Lathe (no catalogue number or barcode)
7″ vinyl-only single (100-copy limited edition)
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Heaven’s Lathe (vinyl), Soundcloud (stream)

The Academy of Sun online:
Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Colin Moulding’s ‘The Hardest Battle’; ZOLA’s ‘Glitter and the Gold’; Filed Fangs’ ‘Conduit’

2 Jul

Inspired by an e.e. cummings line about the struggle for selfhood, Colin Moulding‘s new solo single turns out to be a song about solidarity. Sort of. While XTC’s impish streak means that they were wilful and rarely that straightforward – and while their former bassist and part-time hitmaker was a big part of this – he was also the warmer side of the partnership. Much of this comes through in ‘The Hardest Battle’: an encouragement to personal integrity, sheathing warnings and assertions in a gently pounding cream-tea arrangement of English brass and Beatles piano. “The hardest battle you can fight / is just to be yourself – / face the dragon on a hilltop shelf. / But you’ll see – /  yeah. that’s a lonely place to be.”

The lyrics might be English underdog poetry writ cosy (there’s a touch of children’s story to Colin’s choices of maxim and metaphor) but the music belies it. This is a confident summery thumpalong, like a march to a rural fete, anchored firmly back in the Ray Davies Anglo-pop tradition but with lashings of organ and doo-wop overdubs, and confident shifts of rhythm and arrangement. It’s pretty trad, pretty veteran in its tradition and indeed much of its execution, but it also gives the feeling of shaking out fine old linen and finding it as good as new.

Ultimately it’s a reassurance, and a heartening one in every respects. A little conservative, perhaps, at a time when that concept’s being tied ever more closely to intolerance and narrow-mindedness; but in this case never reductive, never exclusive, and flipping underdoggery away from sourness. “My guardian angel said to me, / ‘whether a magpie or whether a crow, / whether your plumage might spoil the show – / but you’ll do. / Yeah, there’s room in the world for you… / To thine own self be true, / so let’s stick like glue to our true colours now.”

There are plenty of differences between ‘The Hardest Battle’ and ZOLA‘s ‘Glitter and the Gold’. In contrast to the former’s brassy, ’60s-pop strut and bounce, the latter’s R&B beats cradle gently tinkling arrangements in a slow-dreaming groove (as if ZOLA were lazily rolling a set of jingle toys across the floor) and chopscrews a stray vocal phrase into a muted jazz trumpet line. There’s also a considerable gap between Colin’s endearing, avuncular bloke-singing and ZOLA’s own cautious, conversational soul-girl tones; and while Colin keeps his subject matter wrapped up in a package of universal maxims, ZOLA’s are more explicitly tied to one field, one situation. Nonetheless, this is another integrity piece.  

Colin’s a multi-decade veteran of pop music, but ZOLA’s a relatively fresh starter, still preoccupied with its behind-the-scenes demands and its public masks, still fending off dubious wheedlings from starry-eyed friends and potential managers. “If I don’t move to southern California, / smoke weed on your couch or write a song for Coca-Cola, / if I’m not there when you have people over, / will I miss something big?” she asks, “I asked you what you thought about the words I sew together. / You say I missed the chance to meet this famous rapper…” Swimming uneasily through the glad-handing and the game-playing, she’s unsure of whether resisting it will stunt her (“if I remain somewhere that fits my nature / will there be inwards and upgrowth?”) or whether she just doesn’t have it in her to make the compromises. (“Sometimes I’m not social and I’m shy… / and I don’t like being asked to talk about myself. / Some might think that’s humble but you might think it’s weak. / If I want to make it somewhere, gotta learn to sell my art – / but my art is me…”)

In spite of her trepidations and her skepticism, there’s enough spine in ZOLA to resist; there’s enough perspective for her to establish where her music needs to fall into place; and she can find the right words to describe her own value. “You follow me on Instagram and comment on my pictures,” she comments, pointedly, “but you’ve never seen me spill my heart to a room full of strangers. / Maybe, just to start, we can have a conversation?” By the end, she’s cut it down to the core  – “so maybe, maybe get to know me?” – and corralled the key point of singing, of communicating, of being original enough in yourself to be worth listening to in the first place 

Taking an altogether more abrasive approach, Filed Fangs return with ‘Conduit’. Their glassy squall of post-punk guitar and their dance culture tussles of blipping sequencer and romantic synth are now applied to cognitive behavioural therapy and with routes out of disillusionment. “I was once an enthusiast – it didn’t last,” Paul Morley observes, tartly, over the colourfully melancholy motorik riffs and the drum-machine whack.  

This is a Covid lockdown anthem, of sorts. It’s also another solidarity piece, this one aimed at those whose mental health has swayed or bent during the quarantines (or whose existing problems have been exacerbated). Bits of programmatic psychological jargon are buried, violently echoing, within the mix, but Paul and Boz seem keen to bring out something hopeful. Offering a childlike freshening to (or a highlighted road map out of) trouble, the conduit they’re talking about leads “back to the electricity that is denied us… depression extinguishes that spark.”

For a song connected to the talking cure, however, it’s surprisingly short of words. Paul’s vocal skims intermittently over the top of the instrumental drive, or diffuses into barely comprehensible splinters. Very Manchester, in a way: there are clear echoes and contemporary reworkings of the city’s post-industrial post-punk and its chattering Madchester vocal licks in what Filed Fangs are doing. Certainly any mushy sentiment is barred from the song, pared back to guarded understatement.

The empathy, the message isn’t in the words; it’s in the instrumental cadences and tones, the glinting light bouncing off the top of those freeze-dried guitars, the rippling ascendance of the electronic sequences, the assertive slam of a riff that’s caught artfully between weightlessness and buttressing strength. The rouse-yourself dance imperative, beside which the blips of laconic Mancunian speech are just seasoning, understatements; a refusal to submit to sentiment when there’s proper work to do. With ‘Conduit’, Filed Fangs have honed the understated pick-me-up to a fine point.

Colin Moulding: ‘The Hardest Battle’
Burning Shed, CMCD01 (5060164400530)
CD-only single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Burning Shed, YouTube

Colin Moulding online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music    


ZOLA: ‘Glitter and the Gold’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify

ZOLA online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music 


Filed Fangs: ‘Conduit’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon Music

Filed Fangs online
Homepage, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music 

 

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