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.
You can pre-order the album via PledgeMusic HERE
'Broken Jagged Edges' consists of 4 tracks, the first of which is the earth shattering (if you turn up the volume) ‘Tadpole’. The EP has a slight ‘Rush’ feel particularly on the next song, ‘Champion Of The Universe’.
The EP was recorded, mixed and mastered by Kyle Martin at The Garage Studios in South Shields. Elephant Memoirs are made up of John Aspinall (Guitar & Vocals), Barry Drew (Drums) and Carl Aspinall (Bass), proving yet again that, mighty sounds come from power trios.
Third track ‘Dirt’ echoes Marillion in places and has a widescreen sound, whist the final track, ‘Focus/Release’ featuring some sonic guitar play rounds off a very solid EP indeed.
The EP is available to download or listen to via the band's Bandcamp page and is also available on Soundcloud, itunes and Spotify.
This is not just a record, not just a piece of music or, a literary monologue. Then comes the question, when do you play it?, when you are happy? No not really. When you are sad? It could tip you over the edge. When you are ready for a challenge, enlightenment or a plain ‘hairs standing up on the back of your neck’ moment, then that’s the time to place this record on your turntable.
The album starts with ‘Ritual Awakening’; “I clutch my phone with my sweaty palm in my hand. I clutch my heart, and the coffin for my heart, in my hand. It’s so loud, and I get so afraid, so I start speaking”. That all happens in the first 1 min 44 seconds of side 1.
Jenny herself says;
“Blood Bitch is an investigation of blood. Blood that is shed naturally. The purest and most powerful, yet most trivial, and most terrifying blood: Menstruation. The white and red toilet roll chain which ties together the virgins, the whores, the mothers, the witches, the dreamers, and the lovers.
Blood Bitch is also a fictitious story, fed by characters and images from horror and exploitation films of the '70s. With that language, rather than smart, modern social commentary, I found I could tell a different story about myself and my own time: a poetic diary of modern transience and transcendence.
There is a character in this story that is a vampire Orlando, traveling through time and space. But there is also a story here of a 35-year old artist stuck in a touring loop, and wearing a black wig. She is always up at night, jet lagged, playing late night shows - and by day she is quietly resting over an Arp Odyssey synthesizer while a black van drives her around Europe and America.
So this is my most fictional and most personal album. It’s also the first album where I’ve started reconnecting with the goth and metal scene I started out playing in many years ago, by remembering the drony qualities of Norwegian Black Metal. It’s an album of vampires, lunar cycles, sticky choruses, and the smell of warm leaves and winter.”
Jenny’s voice throughout goes from dreamy cloud gazing on a cold bright autumn day to the dark narration of a gritty honest truthfulness, that is a wonder to behold. The record is mainly electronic musically which as a consequence, opens up the listening experience to a whole flowing stream of sounds and sights, in the mind’s eye.
‘Period Piece’ brings in a raft of sharp instrumentation and oh, those lyrics again, “Dreaming was too lonely. I chose keeping it together and its IKEA white walls of my post-war Nordic silence, but only desire is real. I must find some kind of art form where I can call my tongue back from the underground.”
As a new record, it’s a fascinating achievement, and grows Jenny's catalogue in fine style, just how hard it will be to follow up in eighteen months times, will be interesting to follow.
A real star in the making, following in the footsteps of other Scandinavian artists who bring thoughtful music into our lives.
Four track debut EP from Leeds-based four piece Huw Eddy & The Carnival.
First track 'Island Of Grey Skies' crashes in with a mix of jingle-jangle acoustic guitars and a bouncing rhythm section and the first thing which strikes is the vocals of Huw Edward Thomas, which I can best describe as a bluesy-reggae style unique to himself. The chorus has a wicked hook which you'll find yourself humming along to when you least expect it. The pace slows a little for 'Rum Song' which utilises Huw's vocal style fully and adds a little boogie-woogie piano and some brass to fill the sound out. Best track is 'Shake It' which reverts back to the more up-tempo style; the bouncing rhythm section fighting along with Hammond organ stabs driving the song along.
They describe themselves as “Slap ya hands and stomp your feet Indie Folk with a punch of rock and roll”, which is not a bad description and I could easily imagine a great night in a boozy, sweaty venue stomping and slapping along with The Carnival.
If you fancy a bit of up-tempo, jingly-jangly, early Mumfords with a slightly punky attitude then Huw Eddy & The Carnival might be for you.
Reasons to be cheerful: What a nice surprise when among albums you are to review there is a real find: A band that is right up your street and you wonder how it can be that you did not know about them already. This is what happened when I listened to Shovels & Rope.
This husband and wife duo from South Carolina were new to me, but 'Little Seeds' is in fact their fifth album and they have won two AMA Awards. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent also had an award-winning documentary made about them, entitled 'The Ballad of Shovels and Rope'.
Their songwriting is top notch. The subject matter is serious yet the album sounds upbeat. The songs are varied, stretching from country to folk and blues and it is all catchy as hell. Listen to the lyrics however and you realise that tough things have been happening in the couple's life.
'Invisible Man' is about Alzheimer's, which Michael's father has. Disguised as a singalong White Stripes rocker, it is a perfect matter-of-fact description of the effects of the disease from the point of view of the patient: “I don't know why, wait, I do know why, I figured it out, but it's gone again before I can open my mouth. When I open my mouth I got something to say, it's the same conversation I had yesterday...” The songs acknowledges the frustration, yet anger and indignation are intelligently absent.
'This Ride' is dedicated to a friend of the couple who died in an accident. First a lady with a charming accent (the friend's mother?) talks about her son being born in a police car. The song then describes life with all its ups and downs. A beautiful synth line plays under the simple melody and the lady returns, stating that she does not want to be sad all the time, after which the song ends with quiet handclaps.
Cary Ann and Michael live in Charleston and the song “BWYR' (“Black lives, white lives, yellow lives, red”) deals with the 2015 church shooting that took place there. The song addresses hate crimes, racism, gun violence and fear. All we hear are echo-y vocals and very little guitar. The song is all the more impressive for it.
If singles were still a thing every song on this album could be one. 'Buffalo Nickel' again brings the White Stripes to mind and is loud, gothic and swampy. 'Johnny Come Outside' is bluesier and is an earworm about a boy who is never happy and never sad; the effects of too much medication.
'San Andreas Fault Line Blues' describes the earthquake-prone zone in California. All the songs describe without judging. The underlying message is very much that life is wonderful despite the difficulties one encounters.
My favourite song on the album is the most country-tinged track, 'St Anne's Parade'. Cary Ann sounds like Tammy Wynette on this one. It is a travelogue, again focussing on the wonders of life: “Don't seem to freeze too much down in New Orleans, but the rain can sure wash out the streets. We crossed the snowline, man it was just in time. They're digging them out everywhere North of the Chesapeake”. To me this is Townes Van Zandt-like simplicity and brilliance.
This brilliant album makes me want to delve further into Shovels & Rope's back catalogue (check out their cover of Bruce Springsteen's 'Johnny 99'!). I will definitely go and see them live when the opportunity comes up. The band will play concerts in the U.K. during February 2017.