- Album Reviews
Back with their first record in four years, is Austin based Psych-Rockers, The Black Angels. ‘Death Song’ will be released through Partisan Records on 21st April, with a special edition version following on Record Store Day, the day after.
The band, now with a substantial back catalogue behind them will headline this year’s Liverpool Psych Fest in September, with a sound from the new album that will bounce off the walls of the festival firing psychedelic bullets into your senses.
‘Currency’ a single and the early lead song kicks off the album with a sonic abrasiveness to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, this then gets surpassed with the powerful “I’d Kill for Her’ with its screaming guitars. ‘Half Believing’ is menacing and is followed by ‘Comanche Moon’ tackling the United States' history of genocide against Native Americans. Dark topics indeed.
The Black Angels are back and in fine form, Produced by Phil Ek who has worked with the likes of Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes, and the The Shins, ‘Death Song’ is a totally different sphere sound wise, it’s turned out to be a really dynamic record.
We would never expect The Black Angels to change direction to give us a album of ballads or pop songs, so it must be a challenge to always create something new but, on this album there is such a fresh fuzzed landscape that it could easily become one of the band’s best records.
‘I Dreamt’ delivers a ‘Moon Duo’ daze and is just a dream track to shut your eyes to, then comes the onslaught that is ‘medicine’ and it eyes wide open, jumping around the room again.
The album closes with 'Life Song', six and a half minutes of Floyd influenced psych and a fitting conclusion.
As mentioned, on 22nd April 22nd, a special limited edition release of ‘Death Song’ will be made available for Record Store Day, including the new album on two glow-in-the-dark vinyl LPs and packaging printed entirely in blacklight-reactive ink. There’s another one for the shopping list!
- Album Reviews
‘Day Fever’ was released back in February on City Slang Records and is songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil's first release in four years. Just under 40 minutes in length this is a beautiful record. Cherilyn has a voice somewhere between Kate Bush, Fiona Apple and Agnes Obel; in other words, delightful.
Opener, ‘Oh, the Sky’ is a wondrous start and you would think music that represents a South African sky. “Oh the sky is an ocean” is the Fiona Apple like lament. Cherilyn is a South African based in Berlin. The album itself was recorded in John Vanderslice’s San Francisco studio.
John Vanderslice has made a name for himself in analog recording, something Cherilyn hadn’t explored prior to the decision to record with him. “On tape, digitally correcting small mistakes during production wasn’t an option: they’d keep a track or erase it - all of it - and start again”.
‘Tie me to the Ground” is a widescreen song, sweet, with an underlying terror of life on the street. Each song on the album is the result of just one, or a maximum of two, studio performances., like listening to an album recorded live. Each song paints a picture in your mind. ‘So petty, so pathetic’ is an equally enjoyable tune with gritty lyrics “You scumbags go to hell” yet with Cherilyn’s voice it is a dream like song.
In “Placate Her,” we wonder why we can’t just be nice to ourselves. “Mean Well” is a tragic look at vulnerability and anxiety. This is a beautiful record, full of twists and turns with the backing choir keeping it on an angelic level .
‘Nothing Melodious’, mainly acoustic guitar and vocals is a delight and brings another style to the record. ‘Then Not Now’ brings in an organ that gives a dark backing to the song. The album concludes with ‘The Run’ , a bright breezy conclusion.
This is a real find, ‘Dear Reader’ is new to me, let's hope there are some live shows soon
- Album Reviews
London alternative indie 3 piece Happyness release their sophomore album 'Write In' on 7th April, following on from 2014’s well received 'Weird Little Birthday'.
Clearly the band have evolved and matured over the 3 year gap, as where the debut was a fuzzy, hazy pop release, this follow up is strikingly more confident and not afraid of a melody along with the fuzz.
Opening track Falling Down sets the scene with it’s confident guitar loop, and deliciously takes its time to get going and build into the gorgeous start to the album it is. Originally the 2 minute guitar opening was going to be at the end of the song, but a change of heart resulted in this grand statement of a song.
Piano leads the listener into next track, the curiously titled The Reel Starts Again (Man As Ostrich), and again what grabs you is the melody and layered approach to the song.
Anytime is a real driving, propulsive track which will go down well live, especially at a summer festival with a few pints on board.
Jon EE’s vocals remain an almost whisper/singing affair, reminiscent of Neil Halstead, but it would be difficult to imagine this music accompanied by anything different.
The beautiful 6 minute Tunnel Vision On Your Part closes the album - stylistically, somewhere between Slowdive and Mojave 3, and leaves me wanting to put the whole album on again, which I’ve done many times.
Whilst it’s common for a review to pick out individual tracks, this could also have been easier to say that this is an album that genuinely benefits from listening as a whole, from start to finish, on good headphones or stereo.
Letting the songs wash over you, it’s difficult to not be affected by the lovely melodies and kinetic energy of each track, and the result is genuinely uplifting. The band are touring extensively this Summer, and I can only imagine what they will do with the songs live. Don’t miss them.
- Album Reviews
Oh Susanna is Canadian singer/songwriter Suzie Ungerleider, who has been releasing music since 1997, has won a Genie Award (Canadian Oscar) for her song 'River Blue' and has several Juno nominations to her name. 'A Girl In Teen City' is her seventh full length album.
This is a concept album of sorts. Encouraged by her friend and producer Jim Bryson, Suzie wrote about her teenage self, growing up in 80's Vancouver. Listening to these songs you get into her world, learn about the people she hung out with, the times she had her heart broken, the mischief they got up to and the bands they listened to. It is very much a looking back album, comparable perhaps to Patti Scialfa's '23rd Street Lullaby', though that contained memories of a woman in her thirties.
This brings me to 'A Girl In Teen City's limitations. The subject matter is very specific and after a while the very detailed descriptions of clothes and hairstyles in particular become wearisome. They do provide some good lines (the "made to measure skin tight leather Mexican pants" in 'My Boyfriend' being particularly catchy), but towards the end of the album the nostalgia got a bit saccharine for me and I longed to escape to the present.
Suzie has a strong and clear voice, which is the standout ingredient of this album. On 'Puget Sound' especially she sounds exactly like Nanci Griffith, which is not a bad thing at all. For me this is the best song on the album, alongside 'Walked All The Way Home', which has a very lovely melody. The instrumentation has been kept very mellow, even on the more up tempo songs. The vibe is folk (one reviewer used the term Canadiana) and this illustrates that Suzie has been on quite a journey, as the songs list the teenage girl's favourites: The Clash and D.O.A. In 'My Old Vancouver' she describes "the Ballroom above the arcade, where X and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys played" (nice!).
There are mentions of Gastown, Chinatown, Hastings and Main, trips to America - mostly fond memories. There is also a little bit of trouble with the police, some troublesome boys and lots of ripped up jeans, spiked up hair, a jacket with the sleeves cut away - many clothes references. The difficulty with a concept album is that it is almost inevitable that the subject matter becomes quite samey after a while. Yet it equally interesting to get a look into this teenage girl's life and to realize that she has come a long way. She is now a wife and mother, a cancer survivor and a musician with a loyal following, enabling to make this her second Kickstarter-funded album.
'A Girl In Teen City' was my first introduction to Oh Susanna. I like her voice and her melodies and am therefore curious to seek out some of her earlier albums now.
Oh Susanna will be touring the Netherlands from 6 to 16 April, followed by a UK tour starting 19 April (some dates co-headlining with Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage).
Full details on her website
- Album Reviews
It is a testament to this great band that after 40 years since they formed, they can still produced a fire of creativity in their new music. 'Silver/Lead' is the 15th studio album from Wire and it’s about as far from nostalgia as you could get.
Ten songs on a record that couldn’t be more alive and vibrant. The musicianship is first class. Opener ‘Playing Harp For The Fishes’ is dark as are Graham Lewis’s menacing lyrics.
“A mute undertaker had something to tell
I stand at the threshold; I’m ringing the bell
I was hoping for heaven, I’d settle for hell”
it’s a stunning opener.
‘Short Elevated Period’ is an danceable jump around the room rocker whilst ‘’ Diamonds in Cups' changes the pace again with a cinemascope widescreen song. ‘Sonic Lens’ is a brilliantly crafted jagged song,
"Compass, phones, and gps
have all produced, the same address
Tomorrow is another day
We place our goodness on display"
This is just a selection of the enthralling songs and lyrics on this record.
The band put the hours in touring as well as playing at and curating the Drill Festival around the world. LA this weekend, Leeds, Berlin and Brussels are imminent.
All the way through to the tenth and title track, this record holds your focus through it’s 36 minutes..... Long may this band continue to reign over their kingdom!
30th -1st April LOS ANGELES (USA) DRILL : LA
3rd SAN FRANCISCO (USA) Slims
7th VANCOUVER (CANADA) Imperial Theatre
8th SEATTLE (USA) Crocodile
21-22nd LEEDS (UK) DRILL : LEEDS
4th LONDON (UK) The Garage
5th LONDON (UK) The Garage
7th BERLIN (DE) DRILL : BERLIN
9th COPENHAGEN (DK) Loppen
11th UTRECHT (NL) De Helling
12th PARIS (F) La Moroquinerie
13th BRUSSELS (B) DRILL: BXL
- Album Reviews
William Hut is a Norwegian indie/rock musician , formerly lead vocalist of Norwegian Grammy award winning Poor Rich Ones and solo since 2001.His most successful solo album was 2007's Nightfall which included the single Take It Easy. William released his most recent album Hafnir Games at the end of 2016 recorded in Norway and Iceland ; a little research reveals that Hafnir is a small village and the location of the earliest evidence of settlement in Iceland.
First track 'Two Different Ways' has a bright guitar melody and William's distinctive vocals which are reminiscent of Avi Buffalo or Death Cab's Ben Gibbard. The relaxed groove and big choruses continue through the first half of the album, special mention must go to 'Bliss' with it's ear-worm chorus “Show me where the wind will blow, The water flow and the crops will grow.”
The album's mood changes halfway through on 'What If I', with its simple stripped- back guitar, percussion and vocals. There's another abrupt mood change in the more electronic dash of 80's drums sounds of 'The Racetrack'. William delivers a credible impression of Michael Stipe on my personal favourite 'Balcony View' which would sit comfortably on any of the good late period REM albums.
An album of lovely, relaxed grooves for a perfect lazy Sunday morning listening treat.
- Album Reviews
I don’t suppose many of us have a great amount of Norwegian rock music in our collections - maybe A-Ha or Kings of Convenience ? Well, I’m pleased therefore to introduce you to Torgeir Waldemar who is to release his second album called 'No Offending Borders' on 17th March.
The eponymous debut album dropped in 2014, and was labeled an acoustic masterpiece on it’s release, however the press release promises a more diverse sound on the follow up.
This doesn’t seem quite true when track one starts - a gorgeous acoustic little number with added harmonica called 'Falling Rain' (Link Wray), and thoughts turn to a Norwegian Bob Dylan.
Track two however, is where the first surprise hits, the eight minute rocker called 'Summer in Toulouse', channelling Neil Young with it’s crunching guitars and pounding rhythm section. This is the definition of exhilarating, and the song is up there with one of my tracks of the year so far.
Waldemar states that "the album exists as a statement of the seriousness we meet in our everyday lives, from relationships breaking down to the global refugee crisis, and all points in between", so it’s fair to expect this to be a solemn album, but despite the subject matter, this is a deeply musical and dynamic album, beautifully produced and highly resonant.
'Island Bliss' and 'Souls On A String' are further delicate, acoustic folk songs that sit comfortably between the rock and roll, and just add to the albums appeal.
Album highlight is 'Sylvia (Southern People)', in which Waldemar again leans on classic Neil Young for style and rhythm, but who cares when this is the result. Stunning track.
Vocally, Waldemar is reminiscent of Father John Misty, his electric guitar playing is Neil Young like, and there are moments of Bob Dylan on his quieter acoustic moments, yet the sound is all his own. I’ve played this album (loud) indoors, on headphones, and whilst driving, and it seems to fit all occasions, it’s that good.
I hope this proves to be a breakout album for Waldemar, and he becomes recognised beyond his native Norway because this is a serious talent that deserves the kind of audience the aforementioned artists get.
- Album Reviews
Well I don’t know much about Lyle Christine, he comes from Glasgow (good start). ‘Duff Steer’ seems to be his eighth album and he is a great guitarist.
‘Duff Steer’ out on 20th March and is a straight between the eyes grunge rocker. I would imagine a power trio swamped in the influences of Rory Gallagher, Nivana and a touch of Thin Lizzy. Just under forty minutes, there is no lapse in the power throughout. The guitar riffs and solos are sonic heaven!
Lyle’s own press sheet claim’s “this is his strongest album to date despite the fact there are two sh*t songs on it". On listening I can’t find those particular two songs, for an aging rocker like myself it’s just best to stick this album on and turn up the the volume!
We also had a quick chat with Lyle to fill in the gaps;
Hi Lyle, how’s Glasgow treating you today?
It’s a bit drizzly, it’s a bit dreary, but we’re all still out in the streets, holding hands and wishing for a brighter tomorrow.
The BBC 6 music festival is coming to town shortly, does that help local musicians in anyway?
I think so, it should be good for venues, good for bands – I like 6 Music, Shaun Keaveny wakes me up each morning (my radio alarm clock, not him in person), so I’d be more attracted to a festival supported by that station, certainly more than a tour supported by the likes of Radio 1. Being a Southsider in Glasgow, it’s nice to see venues such as Glad Café and Rum Shack included in the festivities.
New Album ‘Duff Steer’, who is in the band and where/when was the album recorded?
The band is.... only me, all on my lonesome. I’ve been a solo recording musician for almost 10 years now, although it’s entirely possible I’ll get back with a full group at some point in the future. Duff Steer was recorded over 2016/2017, backing tracks laid down in my home studio, vocals recorded at Dixon Street studios in Glasgow.
This looks to be your eighth album and your first was 2007? Has your sound changed over the years and how do you feel you have grown as a musician in that time?
So, my first solo record in 2007 was Why Doesn’t My Album Sounds As Loud As Everyone Else’s?, and back then I wanted to try out a fairly heavy-digital sound, with layered drum machines, distorted synths, and guitars overdriven with digital clipping. But really, that was more a one-off experiment – at heart, I’m a guy who likes good guitar sounds, good guitar songs – for example, I really like the style and production of Kurt Vile’s album B'lieve I'm Goin Down... (2015), the opening track Pretty Pimpin sounds amazing. The thing is, when you’re a recording musician who is also your own engineer/producer, it’s really tempting to throw on synths, or techno drum beats, or 5 track guitar solos. And I like that freedom to experiment, but it costs time and doesn’t always work. The one consistent thing about my albums is, each record usually has a couple of songs that don’t work, but I leave them on – good, bad or indifferent, publish and be damned. Then move on to the next one.
Any live dates planned to promote the new record?
Only press promotion for the new record at the moment, mainly to satisfy my ego without having to go outside.
Is music full time for you or is there a day job as well?
Well, let’s put it this way – my income from Spotify royalties for December 2016 was 5p. That’s right, five pence. Read it and weep, wage slaves.
What was the first album you bought and where from?
It was To the Extreme by Vanilla Ice, 1990. I was 10 years old. My sister also took me to see Vanilla Ice that year in Edinburgh. After the show, she looked ill and said “I have never seen so many pelvic thrusts in my whole life”. My next purchase, one year later, was Nevermind along with ACDC’s For Those About To Rock. You can hear all three of those influences in everything I’ve ever done.
One piece of advice for new guitarists just starting out today?
Trade in those guitars for shovels.
Duff Steer will be available here:
- Album Reviews
Writing a review of a bands’ debut album can go two ways - the first is that there has been loads of hype and press and you can’t help to be influenced by what you read and hear, and secondly, and in this case, you know nothing about the band and personnel and start with a clean slate.
Even their own website gives little away regarding the band - who are they ? Where are they from ? And more importantly, what does the album sound like ?
The seven track (mini) album clocks in at only thirty nine minutes, and according to the press release, takes it’s influences from just about everywhere - college rock, brit pop and shoegaze, and builds on them to create something new. Produced by James Bragg, who has also worked with Gengahr, it’s true that there are influences all over this album, whilst also sounding fresh and original at the same time.
Closing track, the nearly eight minute 'Where Wild Flowers Grow Fondly', is an almost prog rock opus to new beginnings, featuring a Supper’s Ready style , hypnotic couple of minute drum section, while synth bleeps and squiggles ebb and flow over it. Stunning. It’s the drumming on this album that actually stands out for me, and none more so that on I Take The River, very reminiscent of the National on About Today, driving the song in just the right direction.
The really rather lovely 'Ohio' appears to have been the spark around which the album was written and started life as an acoustic demo. The version that made the album however is a very different beast - a sweeping, widescreen epic of a song, again underpinned with emphatic drums, my only disappointment being that it finishes far too abruptly.
The seven minute 'Show Me Magic' starts in a very relaxed manner, and could have come off any of Mark Knopfler’s recent solo albums, before those drums again propel the song along to a very different beat.
This is an enigmatic album which reveals more on each listen, and even after double figure listens, I still haven’t got a proper grip of it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, there are influences everywhere, and virtually every one of the seven tracks reminds me of other bands, but the whole adds up to more of the sum of it’s parts. I really like this album and I really like this band. It’s left me hungry to hear more from them, and find out more about them, especially that drummer.
- Album Reviews
The Hold Steady front man releases 3rd solo effort We All Want The Same Things on Partisan Records, following on from 2015’s Faith In the Future. Named after a line from the song God In Chicago, the title refers to the basic human needs that remain constant however turbulent or changeable the world gets. Never more so than the current climate.
Finn is a very literary songwriter, very much in the same mould as Willy Vlautin, and this his 3rd solo album, has done that rare thing; combining compelling storytelling with strong melodic tunes - are you listening Mark Kozelek.....?
These are stories about everyday folk, doing everyday things and just living their lives - nothing extraordinary or indeed ordinary about them, but Finn has the ability to make everything sound fascinating.
The aforementioned, beautiful, God In Chicago is Finn talking over plaintive piano before being joined on vocals by a female voice as the 2 of them are on a road trip to Chicago.
The poppy Preludes acts as first single from the song collection, and is the most autobiographical detailing his return from college and trying to figure out his own place in the world and his future - very much fitting in with the rest of the character studies on the album.
Best song title on the album must go to Birds Trapped in the Airport, and is a jaunty little number and again Finn is joined on vocals by the female voice.
It Hits When It Hits, is a contemplative, brooding track with the title referring to the fact that you can’t ever plan for love...
Finn has created an expansive world view, and a vision of the States that draws you into the minutae of everyday life, with even the final words on the last song imploring us to take care of ourselves. Every song is a wordy story, each of which could be expanded into a novel, but most importantly, the songs can be listened to without having to hang on every word, as the melodies are strong enough to stand up on their own.
The world is a better place with songwriters like Craig Finn, and this might just be his best album yet.
- Album Reviews
A sweet third album from The Little Kicks. A dreamy indie soundtrack as we start to come out of winter and think of the summer sun
Ten tracks that flow nicely, the opening ‘Theme’ is wide screen reverb guitars. ‘Sing About Something Real’ that follows, has punchy indie guitar and keyboard and flows beautifully,
‘Don’t Get Mad, Get Even’ goes into Keane/Coldplay territory, a sweet song and just like ‘Let’s Get Lost Together’ festival fields this summer could do worse than ring out to this band. At the moment their website does not show any dates outside of Scotland .... So festival promoters, look up these guys!
The band hail from Aberdeen but wrote the songs for this album in a lodge by Loch Ness then recorded in Edinburgh and then mastered at Abbey Road.
Lead singer Steven Milne said “This new album is a collection of songs that means a lot to me and I feel it reflects a massive increase in both my own and the band’s confidence and abilities. There have been ups and downs personally since we last released music but I’m happy to say that on the whole we have grown to be more proud of what we do and to be less reticent to shout about it and our music. The themes of the record would be a feeling of happiness, gratitude and to be thankful with what you have and not take things for granted”.
The record is a joy, it is a pure, no worries, indie joy to be precise. A roof down on the car type of record.
- Album Reviews
There are some bands that can just maintain a high level of quality output, lyrically and musicianship wise even with, lengthly gaps between albums. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are one of these bands with vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Alec Ounsworth as the lynchpin of the band, they have released their fifth album, 'The Tourist'.
Alec was apparently doing a lot of soul-searching as the songs came together for the album. “The album was a type of purge,” he says. “A purge of certain emotional confusion that manifested itself in the last several years. It was not an easy album to make, by virtue of the fact that it was an emotional time for me.”
It’s an album that sinks into you consciousness quickly, like a Steely Dan album, you know it is going to be a superb and quality listen all the way through.
Alec spent about a week recording The Tourist at Dr. Dog’s Philadelphia studio with a drummer and bassist. After that, he and engineer Nick Krill spent a few months “tidying things up” and recording additional material, backup vocals, keyboards, guitars and more percussion.
‘The Pilot’ opens the record, with a dreamy rhythm and sharp vocals. ‘A Chance to Cure’ follows within a hair’s width of the finish of the opener and, you find yourself surrendered to the rhythm of this album at the end of just the second song.
Alec prides himself on honesty across all aspects of the band, from live performances to the studio. “I am a relatively solitary person and seem to work best alone,” he says. “I do count on others to help the project as the process of making and releasing an album moves forward, but if it doesn’t match what I have in mind, it’s hard for me to really be there for it. I guess this is one reason why the project has been independent all this time. Trust me, I understand that thinking this way is both an asset and a liability.”
Live the band play lengthy shows and the addition of songs from the Tourist will make the upcoming live gigs something not to be missed. The songs are well paced, ‘Down (is where I want to be) picks out a funky pace, ‘Unfolding Above Celibate Moon’ is a song about life in LA. It's a record full of variations.
Ten songs, great musicianship and Alec’s trembling voice adds another fine album to the CYHSY collection.
1. The Pilot
2. A Chance To Cure
3. Down (is Where I Want To Be)
4. Unfolding Above Celibate Moon (Los Angeles Nursery Rhyme)
5. Better Off
7. The Vanity Of Trying
8. Loose Ends
9. Ambulance Chaser
10. Visiting Hours