Album Reviews

If you like to listen to jangly pop music you’re in for a treat with this selection of tunes. Former Bullies are not a band I was previously familiar with and was surprised to read they are from Manchester rather than somewhere in the USA. With their new album Stranger, they give us eleven songs to lift your spirits and generally make you feel good.

Since coalescing around singer Nick Ainsworth in 2003, Former Bullies have been a regular presence in Greater Manchester’s pop underground, becoming spiritual godfathers to more recently emerged gems such as Kiran Leonard, Irma Vep, and Pins. Though prolific performers, this new release “Stranger” is only their fourth long-player in all that time.

As soon as I heard the opening chords of the opening track, Oh World Of Love, I immediately had thoughts of 60’s pop/surf music and times past. And as the songs continued I was happily sucked into feeling this more and more.

The 60’s feel continues all through this album. Listening to the individual tracks, you get the feeling you’ve heard these songs before, now happily rediscovered from what were previously lost and forgotten. The second track 'Rose Of Destiny' has a slightly more haunting sound and feel, but then continues to bounce along. 'Little Tear' is where we start to hear the Former Bullies singer Nick Ainsworth sounding like a younger Michael Stripe. It’s easy to imagine REM playing these tunes in their formative years, and before they became just a little too polished and clever. 'Little Tear' has some slower but very good guitar going on which might be initially overlooked by the Michael Stripe type vocals. Well worth repeated listening.

The next track 'They Were Waiting', starts off with a great and catchy rocking and jangling guitar ...”Shining like a star that you are” There are no long songs or guitar solos on this album. You could easily listen to any of the individual tracks fully during the ad breaks of your favourite TV programs. But it’s much more worthwhile to listen to the entire album at once and catch up on your TV viewing later!!

All eleven tracks stand up on their own merits and at times made me wonder what the Yardbirds or Them might have done, without the rough edges or blues and with cleaner recording. The Former Bullies sound much more mature and if they are rebels they don’t seem mind not having a cause.

The Former Bullies have an excellent and very tight sound all the way through this album. Although it’s a short set of tunes there so much to go back to time and time again. 'She' is a great track that has a good kick along that could easily be extended and rock out more. The Former Bullies manage to resist this as a temptation and I can only assume this is a deliberate. Same goes for the next couple of tracks, 'Under Your Nose', and the title track 'Stranger'. The closing track 'Head & Shoulders'..”Come for your soul tomorrow”....

Clever catchy songs, well played and sounding fab. I will put this on my Ipod and when the songs come up on random play, I won’t be pressing the skip button.

Alan
8/11

Bandcamp

Catching Mark Eitzel at St. Pancras Old Church last year, just him and acoustic guitar, running through songs old and new, I much expected the new album to be just that, the man and his guitar.

The ten songs on 'Hey Mr Ferryman', are full band, orchestra and backing singers mode. It’s an absolute gem. A wordsmith for now quite a few generations (if they listen), these are songs of love, relationships and the pain and anguish that goes with all that, as you would expect.

Side A starts with ‘The Last Ten Years’ with it’s uptempo rhythms and a soaring Bernard Butler guitar solo “The Ferryman who takes me to my rest, don’t give a damm who’s cursed or blessed”. The wordsmith is on song!

‘An Answer’ “I Can’t leave you behind, makes me want to stick around and find, if there’s an answer". Soaring vocals and strings.

Mark’s trademark rich vocals, like coated sugar just pull you in. A rainy day outside just enhances the warmth of the record and the pain and darkness of the lyrics enclose you. ‘Nothing and Everything’ is a wonderfully prime example.

There are many stories to soak up in the songs, so give the album your concentration and the rewards come. The record was recorded in London, I guess at the time of our church gig and was produced by Bernard Butler.

Side B starts with ‘In My Role As Professional Singer And Ham’, a despairing view “in the faded glory USA” “ When you look at me, I look away”.

Second track ‘Mr Humphries’ is epic both musically and lyrically. By this time your eyes are closed and you are drifting into the sound of the album, then arrives the rocker, ‘La llorona’ which concludes “Love was all she ever found, the faggot, the junkie, the runaround” plus a scorching guitar solo that ends too soon.

Then it’s back to the heartbreak on ‘Just Because’ “Just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean you can treat them bad

The gentle acoustic ‘Sleep from my Eyes’ concludes this fine album. With so many musical souls being lost these days, the next in line can really fill the void as really, they always have.

Pete
10/11

From being an original member of the “manufactured pop” Brighton based group The Pipettes to part of Mark Ronson's recording and touring band Rose Elinor Dougall brings over a decade of experience of the indie end of pop to her second solo album 'Stellular'.

First track 'Colour of Water' opens with jangling guitars which morph into a shoegazzy-pop delight wrapping itself around Rose's distinctive chiming vocals. The minimalistic drum beats and jangling, angular guitars combine in the danceable 'Strange Warnings' and the title track, the chorus of which reminds me of St. Etienne at their most danceable. The majority of tracks were co-written and played by Rose and Oli Bayston of Boxed In and this collaboration adds a dance element to the alt-pop of the first four tracks.

The pace slows for the sophisticated pop of standout track 'Take Yourself With You' with its beautiful melody and breathy vocals. 'All at Once' contains OMD/ Human League-esque keyboards and more breathy vocals in the chorus “Everything at Once, Everything Tonight, Everything Tomorrow , Everything at Once, All at Once” and was written in collaboration with Sean Nicholas Savage.

Rose spoke to Rough Trade about working in collaborations “I've always looked for a partner in crime when it comes to recording my music, and I wanted to try and write a slightly less insular album this time around.”

The lovely chorus of 'Space To Be', “I want a love to lift me up high, To wreak havoc on this heart of mine, Tear me limb from limb until I find, Some kind of space to be free.”, will be ear-worming around your brain long after the album has finished.

The final track 'The Wanderer' which starts with a simple piano part and Rose's lush vocals, she has described as one of her favourite moments, “.... I feel there's a simplicity to it that gets somewhere near to the essential, things I was looking for while making the album.”

In the same interview with Rough Trade Rose gave her thoughts about the album “ .. it's a reflection of the instability of my life at the time, emotionally and otherwise, and then beyond that, what I was witnessing amongst the people I knew and the life of the city....... the harshness of living in a unforgiving city like London...... Although this sounds rather bleak, I tried to a inject a bit of hopefulness and expansiveness to it.”

If you need an album to serve as an antidote to the bleak wintery weather and life in an unforgiving, cold city I prescribe a shot of the sophisticated pop of 'Stellular'.

9/11

Alisdair Whyte

'Stellular' is Rough Trade's album of the month for January 2017

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I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of the Norwegian music scene is not that great, but a little research reveals that Thom Hell is a long established Norwegian singer-songwriter, a three times winner of the Norwegian version of the Grammys (who knew, apart from the Norwegians), who has released multiple albums ('Happy Rabbit' is his eighth) and is much in demand as a producer.

The first track on 'Happy Rabbit' is the instrumental 'Grow Up' with its pulsing synths and string flourishes, the pulsing synth continues into the intro of the lovely pop melodies of '1985'. Thom's vocal style reminds you of a warmer, more organic version of C Duncan particularly on the lilting melodies of 'Blues In A'.

Throughout the whole album there's a strong use of well written melodies often built into layers of lush instrumentation, in fact Thom has said about the album that “ Most of the songs were made instantly as played, with me, continuously, laying overdubs on bass, guitars, piano and vocals, not having a clear thought or structure or what the end product would sound like.”. There's certainly strong elements of The Beatles, ELO, John Grant and Midlake (many of whom are mentioned in a long 'Thanks To' list in the album credits) you can pick out in many of these tracks. The multi-tracked vocals so characteristic of Queen are used in the first part of 'The Voyage Home'.

Thom has said that the style of song-writing and recording used on 'Happy Rabbit' has “..resulted in a lot of the songs getting a sort of naïve expression both lyrically and musically”, which is most obviously heard in the repeating piano pattern and sound of children in the instrumental 'Play' and 'When I Was A Child' which starts with a lovely melody about simple pleasures in life with children and then bursts into an unexpected squealing guitar solo.

So not subtle as Thom and the band throw everything and the kitchen sink at many of these tracks, but an hour spent in the company of the sweet melodies of Thom Hell's 'Happy Rabbit' is certainly a long way from hell.

9/11
Alisdair Whyte

So here it is ! At last ,The Blue Aeroplanes hit us with their new studio album Welcome, Stranger!, a mere six years since previous album 'Anti Gravity'. 'Welcome, Stranger!' is album number 12 for the Bristol art rock heroes, and never more keenly anticipated by their fiercely loyal fans.

Over the years, the Aeroplanes have been somewhat a revolving door band, think The Fall or The Wedding present for ex members, and the list of alumni even inspired a t-shirt, however things have changed recently with their most stable line up ever actually. Always centred around chief pilot Gerard Langley, the band boasts 3 talented and energetic guitarists in Bec Jevons, Mike Youe and Gerard Starkie. The rhythm section co-pilots are drummer John Langley bassist Chris Sharp, and of course, on dance, the inimitable Wojtek Dmochowski.

The album opens with what has already become a live favourite over the last year or so 'Looking For X’s On A Map'. A portentous opening, all drums and chiming guitars, makes way after a minute for the cue to go nuts in front of the stage. Aeroplanes albums have always been a mixture of guitar driven chorus singalong, and sublime poetry spoken/sung over a backing track. This opener falls into the former category and is the perfect start to the 40 odd minutes.

Another song in the same category and surely to become another firm live favourite is 'Dead Tree! Dead Tree!', with chant-along chorus and typically enigmatic lyrics.

'Standing on the cusp of getting it right', it probably won’t work out, but it might” If there was ever a more pertinent or indeed typical Aeroplanes rhyming cuplet, then I’ve yet to hear it, and this welcomes in the wonderful Nothing Will Ever Happen in the Future, with its gorgeous surprise of added strings into the mix.

Bec gets her own song three quarters of the way through the album, the more straightforward rocker 'Skin' (Rodney Allen’s Fun is the obvious comparison), and it acts as a pallet cleanser for the final two tracks.

The sublime 'Here Is The Heart of All Wild Things' is the penultimate track, and the song that has got under my skin the most since absorbing the album. Based around a warm and muted guitar riff, the mid paced track descends into a full on rock out of slaying guitars.

Finally, 'Cat-Scan Hist’ry' has now got a rival for best Aeroplanes album closer in the beautiful 'Poetland'. Yes, its Gerard reciting a poem over the band with added piano - another lovely surprise. And what is Poetland ? Well, its like Poundland...only weirder.

It’s easy to be nostalgic with the Aeroplanes, especially during the heady years of the mid 90’s, but its now time to talk about the present and the surely bright future of the band. This is a magnificent album, closest in tone to 'Beatsongs', yet quietly evolving their sound and direction too. Its fresh, its dynamic, its layered and most of all, it’s a new Blue Aeroplanes album. Everyone rejoice.

10/11

@kjsmith4082

 You can pre-order the album via PledgeMusic HERE