Album Reviews

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

'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.

Pete

8/11

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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.

Pete
9/11

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