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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard with Mild High Club – Sketches of Brunswick East

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard with Mild High Club – Sketches of Brunswick East

Posted on 24 August 2017 by Joe

One of the hardest working bands in music – Australia’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard  – are now over the half way mark in their hectic schedule of releasing five albums this year.

Exponents of psychedelia, rock, pop, jazz, you name it, this third outing of 2017 sees them team up with mellow 70s nostalgist Alex Brettin, aka Mild High Club.

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The result is part jam session, sounding improvised at times as they seek to capture studio spontaneity. But it is also a seriously well constructed blend of all their styles. What emerges is the best, and possibly only, eclectic psychedelic lounge album you will hear all year.

For example, on D-Day, one of many short instrumentals across the album, King Gizzard and Brettin move seemlessly from funk to a Marrakech bazaar backdrop. This almost demands the invention of a time machine to provide a ready made soundtrack to an early 1970s Bond film.

There’s also early hours club sounds aplenty on the rampant A Journey to (S)hell.

In addition, there is lashings of pop too – with the radio-friendly The Spider And Me and Countdown particularly standing out.

Brettin has done a fine job honing the 1970s sounds across this album and this is clearly a collaboration borne from mutual respect and one that will hopefully continue with further releases.

For those who have only heard King Gizzard’s heavier rock albums this may jar. But by now most who are familiar with the band should know that they can’t be so easily pigeon holed and are always willing to surprise their listener.

As well as being one of the hardest working bands around King Gizzard continue to be among the most interesting recording acts. This album, with Brettin bringing extra class to proceedings, is no exception.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Girl Ray – Earl Grey

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Girl Ray – Earl Grey

Posted on 19 August 2017 by Dorian

One of my favourite records is Vampire Can Mating Oven by Camper Van Beethoven. Other than great songs it also has a title that looks like an anagram of the band’s name, but clearly isn’t. Earl Grey by Girl Ray does the same thing, and that appeals to me (probably more than it should). Thankfully this debut release is a fantastic album, one of the best I’ve heard this year, and I don’t need to appreciate it on the strength of the title alone.

Girl Ray - Earl Grey

‘Just Like That’ is one of those great album openers. It starts pleasantly enough before drilling itself into your brain with every melodic twist and turn. On the first few listens to the album I skipped back to this track multiple times before continuing, putting a full listen in jeopardy.

As a regular 6 Music listener I’d heard a number of the tracks before, but in the context of the album they sound even better. There is a real subtlety to the music, and that makes the quirks of the arrangements and the musical flourishes that much more surprising and pleasing. The vocals, in particular, are deceptive. On first listen they are distinctive, despite their lack of showiness, but the more you listen the more the harmonies and inflexions impress.

The most obvious counter-point musically is Gorkys, and that almost-pastoral edge is a cornerstone of the sound here. There is much more on show though, with the (welcome in this case) spectre of prog rearing its head. On the wonderful ‘Cutting Shapes’ we get Pink Floyd drums, Brian Auger keyboards and even some squealing guitar making an appearance. Other unexpected musical influences unfold on the album, a direct musical reference to Todd Rundgren’s ‘I Saw The Light’ (on the intro to ‘Stupid Things’)  being my personal favourite.

One of the things I love about this band is that they are producing quiet, subtle songs and through this low-key approach they have the room to demonstrate a real dynamic range. This is best demonstrated on the title track ‘Earl Grey (Stuck In A Groove)’ which  builds, grows and moves across 13 minutes of playing time. A gorgeous vocal central section giving way to increasing instrumentation that builds to (what can only be called) a free jazz odyssey before drawing back to the vocals again.

My one (small) criticism of the album is the song sequence, something that seems a quaint concern on the age of the playlist. The aforementioned title track is such an epic song that it makes the following songs (as good as they are) seem a bit ordinary in comparison. I’d have personally preferred this track as the album closer, it is so good that it should be the last thing in the listener’s memory. It makes more sense on vinyl, however, with this song opening side 2, and on that basis I’ve already talked myself out of this (already small) criticism.

I’d be surprised if I’ve heard many (or any) better debuts before the year is out, and it would be an exceptionally good year if this didn’t make my personal top 10. So it is still to be decided where this will figure in the best of 2017 chart, but it is a dead cert for the album title of the year award at least.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Co-pilgrim – Moon Lagoon

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Co-pilgrim – Moon Lagoon

Posted on 14 July 2017 by Joe

Aaaahhhhhhhh! So begins my annual scream at the world to listen to a new album by Mike Gale’s Hampshire and Oxfordshire based band Co-pilgrim.

Gale is a purveyor of fine songs. Sometimes uplifting, sometimes melancholy, often with an alternative country twang but always with a strong sense of melody. His releases have oodles of pop sensibility and annually I despair that he is not being listened to in every home.

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Each year he produces a strong album. This is his fourth in as many years, and it is another exceptional collection. However, there is one key difference here to previous releases. That scream of frustration you heard earlier from me is something that is perhaps boiling up inside Gale too.

Here he’s dusted off his distortion pedal for two belting 90s US college rock openers, Turn It Around and the excellently titled You’ll Look Pretty As A Picture….When The Acid Rain Hits Ya.

The gain has been cranked up – Mike means business.

He then rifles down the back of his sofa for the Sigor Ros manual of main stage festival performances for  the stadium sized epic Cynlidrical Fire Escapes.

Best of all is the title track. Sandwiched in the middle of this eight track album (or at the end of side one if you are of a vinyl disposition) and sounding like Velvet Underground and Nico with a sense of humour. There are some great backing vocals here from Claire Bennett too.

Speaking of Bennett, she is a star on this album with her Kim Deal-esque vocals enlivening Cynlidrical Fire Escapes in particular.

Over on the last half of the album it’s a quieter affair. Gale has unloaded his troubles through the four fuzzed up earlier tracks. It’s time now to sit by the piano, perhaps  in a smoking jacket and explore some new musical directions.

On this second half there is some sumptuous chamber pop on Thank My Stars. There’s familiar alt-county melancholy on I’m Not A Wallflower, I’m The Wall. He then travels back to the late 1970s for a Wings-like ‘slowie’ called Digging Holes In The Whites Of Your Eyes.

Proceedings end with the upbeat horn section and calypso vibe of Wouldn’t You Like To Dance.

An album of two halves? Definitely. But they both work well together, showing a broad range of styles all brought together by the recurring search for a mythical utopia called the ‘moon lagoon’.

We learn from the press release that this is an album borne from loss, the death of a parent for Gale. We also discover he suffers from a debilitating agoraphobia. Often his albums show an uplifting sense of optimism out of such adversity and in this regard Moon Lagoon is a very typical Co-pilgrim album albeit with a far keener sense of ambition than its predecessors, which for this reviewer makes it Gale’s best yet.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about Co-pilgrim including details about Moon Lagoon visit their website here.

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Arthur In Colour – Nocturnalium

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Arthur In Colour – Nocturnalium

Posted on 04 July 2017 by Joe

Five years ago we introduced London based quintet Arthur In Colour to our pages after they sent us a copy of their debut EP Malatrophy.

We loved the Magnetic Fields style vocal combination of band leader Arthur Sharpe and Lizzie Owens, as well as the quirky, psychedelic pop of its five tracks.

Nocturnalium by Arthur In Colour Digital Cover

Its been a long wait but finally we have a debut album to listen to, Nocturnalium, which thankfully offers that same strong vocal blend and pop sensibility.

There’s a lovely, feel good vibe to their tracks, which were partly recorded using broken instruments and equipment they found in the studio. They also used what was at hand for further home recording experimentation – including playing guitars with spoons and distorting glockenspiels.

Among many highlights are the Owens and Sharpe duets on the elder romantic number Dating in Old People’s Homes and Mariella, which they have wisely made a quirky video for to promote the album. Lover’s Digest is also strong, an instant indie-pop classic.

The Belle and Sebastian sounding I Love You Because You’ll Do is another excellent track and closes an album that’s been well worth waiting for.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Ralegh Long – Upwards of Summer

Ralegh Long – Upwards of Summer

Posted on 29 June 2017 by Joe

On his second album singer-songwriter UK based Ralegh Long has looked to his early inspirations of 80s/90s college indie rock to produce a decidedly more upbeat affair than his debut Hoverance.

Gone are the pastoral folk subtleties of that first album to be replaced by jangly guitars, smart pop hooks and euphoric choruses.

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REM, 10,000 Maniacs and the DBs are among the bands listed as key influences but I can also hear Prefab Sprout in places too. In short, this is pop, pure and simple pop.

Take Your Mind Back opens proceedings with crunching guitars and one of the best choruses on the album and on second track Sleeping On My Dreams he’s frontloaded this album well with another chart threatening tune.

It’s not just a 80s/90s retro throwback though, with former Hefner man Jack Hayter on board with his beautiful pedal steel, there’s a modern, country feel throughout.

Jack Hayter does pop well on Sleeping On My Dreams, but its perhaps on the more laid back title track   and Take It where he shines brightest.

This consistent album from Ralegh Long progresses with an REM-like mandolin on Big August and a fuller sounding version of The Combine, from his EP We Are The Fields, is among further highlights.

Second album’s can be tricky for those like Long that have a strong debut under their belt. Most acts tend to play safe and stick to the template. He could have done that and produced another pastoral selection but he’s decided to take a risk, and it has proved one well worth taking.

Being a late 80s/90s college radio pop star suits him. I’d like to hear more of this sound on future albums but judging by his current rate of progression Ralegh Long may have moved on to pastures new by then.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about Ralegh Long click here.

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Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark

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Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark

Posted on 22 June 2017 by Sarah Robertson

After an agonising three-year wait, Royal Blood’s second album How did we get so dark has finally launched with pundits predicting it will grab the number one spot in the official album charts this Friday.

It was August 2014 when the Brighton duo exploded onto the UK music scene with their self-titled debut album also topping the charts, the fastest selling rock album for three years.

And how long the agony but how great the ecstasy of reassurance that this band is at the mere dawn of their (hopefully) extremely well-deserved long career.

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This ten track 35-minute album blasts off with the shattering power of an intergalactic rocket. A series of stripped-down anthems move swiftly into a suite of catchy melodic tracks, reminding us that Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher are masters of the instruments that normally sit towards the back of the stage – drums and bass.

It’s impossible to identify stand-out tracks on such a stand-out album. The more commercially appealing riffs such as How did we get so dark, Lights out and I only lie when I love you have been stacked at the beginning, but there’s no filler material here with the rest of the album combining erupting crescendos and gritty thrash, with lyrics characterised by romantic chagrin.

Royal Blood have stuck to formula with this album, which continues along similar lines to their debut and there’s clearly more than enough creative talent between these two men to carry that off with aplomb. How did we get so dark relies on quality writing and presentation alone, there’s no fancy technical studio intervention trying to make it something it isn’t. Kerr and Thatcher are a phenomenal complement to the UK-music scene and I just hope I don’t have to wait three more years for the next instalment.

Royal Blood plays the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury on Friday at 5.45pm.

By Sarah Robertson

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The Southern Tenant – The Horror of the Right

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The Southern Tenant – The Horror of the Right

Posted on 16 June 2017 by Joe

Those pesky left wing kids may have put the brakes on a Conservative landslide in this month’s general election but the forces of right-wing evil are not beaten yet.

Over in the US Donald Trump continues his crusade against the left, the media, Muslims and the Constitution itself.

Back in the UK the left’s party poppers are also on hold, as they await details of an arrangement being brokered between the minority Tory government and the UK’s very own Republic of Gilead – Northern Ireland’s DUP.

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With abortion laws, gay rights still at risk The Horror of the Right, an early 1980s style synth sci-fi/horror soundtrack version of Scottish folk/bluegrass act Southern Tenant Folk Union’s The Chuck Norris Project, still captures the zeitgeist well.

Before delving into the bleeps and squelches of this release let’s backtrack a little to that previous movie star theme 2015 album. Its central premise was to take the titles of right wing action star Norris’ movies to tackle issues such as the emerging alt-right, US gun laws and racism. It worked and treat and so too does this.

Since Trump was elected I’ve found myself drawn increasingly to early 1980s punk music, with that era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher encapsulated by the likes of the Dead Kennedys. This album, which evokes the gloriously ominous soundtracks of John Carpenter, can now be added to that list of retro themed reactions to the new, emerging right.

Even the title, The Horror of the Right, is a nod to that era, based on a 1981 b-movie set in the year 2020 about a world dominated by an evil business corporation intent on crippling the working classes for good.

Among highlights are the versions of The President’s Men and Delta Force, which both conjure up particularly frightening visions of a right wing takeover.

Called Southern Tenant, this synth off shoot of comprises STFU’s Pat McGarvey, along with Steve Ironside, to create a genuine sounding 1980s horror soundtrack as well as a musical backing of our current, still troubled times.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about The Horror of the Right visit here.

To hear a stream of the album visit here.

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Darren Hayman  – Thankful Villages Volume 2

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Darren Hayman – Thankful Villages Volume 2

Posted on 12 June 2017 by Joe

Darren Hayman ’s love letter to English rural life continues with a second volume of his Thankful Villages series.

As a reminder, a thankful village is one where all residents those who went off to fight in the First World War incredibly came back alive. There are around 50 UK wide and former Hefner man Darren Hayman has set himself the task of visiting and dedicating a track to them all.

Darren Hayman - Thankful Villages Vol 2

Some are spoken word, with the villagers themselves telling tales of war and village life. Some are instrumentals, some with a full band feel. There’s electronica, folk, pop and sometimes just the sound of creaking trees, gates bashing in the wind and birds singing.

While the first volume stuck more rigidly to the original theme of war through a focus on village churches, this second outing takes on themes of rivers, ageing and death, meaning events other than the Great War take precedence. This includes the tragedy of a 1974 factory explosion, that killed all the workers inside but miraculously no one in the local village of Flixborough. The first hand account of survivors Derek and his son is extremely powerful.

There’s also an interview with a grave recorder in Maplebeck, who has a lovely exchange with Darren Hayman where they both struggle to decipher one particularly eroded gravestone to ensure whoever lies beneath is not forgotten.

There’s a bloke doing something eccentric with vegetables on Colwinston and the shifting importance of the river to those living in Cromwell seems like a vital oral history tale demanding to be preserved.

Combined the tracks have a radio documentary feel to it rather than an album, but there’s still some decent pop here too, most notably the Ray Davies inspired ode to village life, Woodend. In addition Fairport Convention’s Judy Dyble drops by to sing on Upper Slaughter.

As a village dweller and in particular one in Somerset, which appears to be the most thankful county judging by its presence across the two volumes, this latest volume offers, in the main a faithful depiction of our life.

The keen sense of environment, of community, of religion and the changing economy over time, is all there, nestled among the churchyards and fields.

However, it can feel a little too picture postcard-like in places and comes across exclusively as a history project rather than its intended focus of using rural settings to inspire Hayman in music and other art forms.

This is particularly the case on this volume, which with a focus on ageing is understandably dominated by the voices of the elderly and discussion of the past.

Prior to an update and intervention from Darren Hayman, this review had lamented the lack of young voices so far in this Arts Council funded series.

Turns out this is all in hand with volume three set for release in 2018 and with a focus on village schools and the young.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about Darren Hayman  – Thankful Villages Volume 2 click here.

UPDATE: This review has been updated to ensure we clarify that this volume is themed around death, ageing and rivers and that the young get their turn on volume three. Happy to clarify that.

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Amber Arcades – Cannonball

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Amber Arcades – Cannonball

Posted on 02 June 2017 by Joe

Following on from last year’s album Fading Lines, Annelotte De Graaf (aka Amber Arcades ) has released this excellent five track EP, which we were fortunate to see showcased during her support set for Grandaddy in Bristol in March.

The main draw is second track, the pop savvy It Changes, which has deservedly garnered plenty of radio play.

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But there’s plenty more to like here, in particular the opener, a cover of Nick Drake’s Which Will, from his 1972 album Pink Moon. Here it’s given an electric guitar indiepop twist, with a smart drum backing added for good measure.

While these are the two standouts the remaining three tracks, Can’t Say That We Tried, the title track and Wouldn’t Even Know are far above mere filler status, especially the latter,  a duet with ex- The Coral man Bill Ryder-Jones.

What first drew u to De Graaf is her combination of familiar sounds, with her laid back vocals reminding me of The Concrete’s Victoria Bergsman, while the music mixes aspects of The National and a raft of shoegaze acts from the early 1990s. Put them all together though and she sounds completely unique.

Already Amber Arcades is being filed under ‘critical acclaim’ status, it won’t be long before this Heavenly Recording’s artist makes the move from support to headline slots.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

 

For more information visit Amber Arcades website.

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The Mountain Goats – Goths

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The Mountain Goats – Goths

Posted on 19 May 2017 by Joe

The Mountain Goats driving force John Darnielle has forged a critically acclaimed song-writing career on his ability to convey the emotions of society’s outsiders.

As a result there is an inevitability about Goths getting The Mountain Goats treatment.

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From the addicts on All Eternals Deck (2011) and We Shall All Be Healed (2004), to the small town wrestlers on last year’s Beat the Champ, Darnielle is a story teller who perfectly encapsulates the tragedies and triumphs of life.

This even extends to himself, as a music loving teen escaping into alcohol from an abusive homelife, on The Sunset Tree (2005).

He has also introduced us to characters like Jeff and Cyrus, the tragic young bandmates of All Hail West Texas (2002)’s The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of Denton.

To some extent Goths is the continuation of Jeff and Cyrus’ story, of teens finding identity through music. Except here they have grown up and are looking back at their younger selves through older eyes.

Second track Andre Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds encapsulates this. Here the protagonist is drawn back to his past after moving from this provincial goth hot spot in Yorkshire to London and back again.

Other older and former goths question their youthful obsession with darkness and death. Unicorn Tolerance is particularly good at conveying the soft vulnerability underneath those who look odd, morbid and even dangerous to those around them.

The narratives move across the world, from the UK, Berlin, Portugal to the US, which is the main focus We Do It Differently on the West Coast, where an older goth still closely follows the scene.

Goth performers are also featured. There’s a jaded former singer lamenting the changing music industry and his fading star on Shelved. Here he wistfully remembers riding the stage hydraulics and being tethered to a cross with the sad knowledge that such excitement is behind him.

As with All Eternals Deck there are also tales of real life celebrities, such as on Abandoned Flesh where Gene Loves Jezebel’s footnote in music history is the focus.

In terms of musical arrangement the Mountain Goats are on top form here.  Many of the tracks having a lounge, jazz feel, where the older current and former goths are cast as piano singers reminiscing about the good old days.

The use of woodwind, arranged and played by Matt Douglas throughout and a Fender Rhodes keyboard rather than guitar, help too as does the drumming of Jon Wurster.  Bassist Peter Hughes is also a highlight across the album. He even gets to do a traditional goth bass solo on Shelved.

One of the best is opener Rain in Soho, where drama is added by a 16-strong contingent from the Nashville Symphony choir who dropped by from a nearby Mahler rehearsal in Nashville, where this album was recorded.

As with all Darnielle’s subject matter he offers an understanding and poignant interpretation of their highs and lows. This album is particularly effective as Hughes points out, because they themselves are older, former goths.

“While John writes the songs, as he always has, it feels more than ever like he’s speaking for all of us in the band, erstwhile goths (raises hand) or otherwise,” says Hughes.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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