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Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

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Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain

Posted on 24 May 2018 by Joe

In the Rainbow Rain is Okkervil River at their best.

This ninth album from group features some of the strongest personal song writing from leader Will Sheff, something which made other career high points like The Stage Names (2008) so effective.

The band’s 1980s influences, as used so well on The Silver Gymnasium (2013), are also deployed perfectly here once again.

And it feels like a band, rather than just Sheff and some others. That’s because he used the same close knit group that were with him two years ago on tour to promote their Away album.

“It was my favorite touring experience in many years… I felt like a kid again. I realized how phenomenally lucky I am that I’ve been able to play music for this long,” says Sheff.

OkkervilRainbow

The results are uplifting and even spiritual in places, which is perhaps no surprise as Sheff’s recent visits to Quaker meetings are clearly a huge influence on his life currently.

Opener Famous Tracheotomies is superb. Here Sheff recalls the time of his own windpipe incision as well recounting the variety of celebrities to have also had this procedure.

It’s a track Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle would have been proud of. There’s something so bizarrely life affirming about hearing about the medical records of the likes of Ray Davies, Gary Coleman and Motown star Mary Wells put to a laid back 80s pop funk soundtrack.

There’s some great melodies here too. The Dream the Light is superb enough with its gospel choir and cheesy synths, but is elevated further by its strong chorus.

okkervil-river

I had to check that Love Somebody wasn’t a cover of an 80s chart ballad. It sounds so familiar, like I’ve been listening to this on radio for years. Turns out that its definitely Okkervil River, written by Sheff, bassist Benjamin Lazaar Davis and guitarist Will Graefe.

It’s not all 80s FM pop though.

Don’t Move Back to LA with its acoustic guitar picking is a timeless addition to the Okkervil River collection. Just beautiful.

The list of fine tracks goes on across an album of all killer, no filler and one I’d recommend to any Okkervil newbie as a great place to start. That’s not something you can often say about an act that has been around for 20 years.

9/10

By Joe Lepper

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Tigercats – Pig City

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Tigercats – Pig City

Posted on 18 May 2018 by Joe

Tigercats are back, bigger, brassier and they’ve brought the party with them.

The London act have moved from their usual taglines of either merely “indie-pop” or the slightly more adventurous “Afro-beat pop” into the far more impressive press release description of being a “Kalimba-led psychedelic pop septet”.

Tigercats

Tigercats

The kalimba, refers to the traditional African thumb piano that has replaced a Fender Jaguar as frontman Duncan Barrett’s musical weapon of choice.

The septet refers to a brass section added to the mix and the psychedelic, well, not sure about that, but why not chuck that in as well?

The results of this heady mix on their third album Pig City are exceptional, taking the band back to the ethos of their stunning debut, of a group of young Londoners against the world, well more specifically bankers and hipsters.

Here the gang is back, albeit one with trumpets and saxophone, and still careering around the capital, and later on the album they even venture into nearby Thanet.

The sound is great, like Still Flyin’ for those familiar with the San Francisco act, with Perfect Fried Chicken the pinnacle of this new direction.

I thought the Go-Team had cornered the upbeat party indie pop market with their remarkable album of earlier this year Semi-circle, but this Tigercats’ track gives the Brighton act a real run for their money.

Planet Thanet, where they pop off to the often maligned North Kent district is another highpoint, with the horn section coming to the fore.

While their previous album Mysteries hinted at this new direction, with Gallon Drink’s Terry Edwards providing saxophone, here the Tigercats are far more ambitious. And while Mysteries impressed on first listen, its been rarely played since, something I cannot say about their debut. It is still on regular rotation, and I suspect Pig City will be too over the coming years.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Steven Adams and the French Drops – Virtue Signals

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Steven Adams and the French Drops – Virtue Signals

Posted on 04 May 2018 by Joe

One of my favourite aspects of former Broken Family Band frontman Steven Adams’ new band is that their keyboardist Michael Wood ignored the turn-ups memo for their photo shoot.

Steven Adams and the French Drops

Steven Adams and the French Drops

Wood’s stand against this middle-aged fashion faux-pas is arguably the only radical departure made by Adams’ new venture, Steven Adams and the French Drops. But that’s no bad thing. If it aint’ broke… and all that.

Here Adams once again produces a collection of pleasant, well crafted songs supplemented with razor sharp witty lyrics, that rally against the injustices of the world, both big and small.

Post-Brexit vote malaise is a key concern here, with opener Bad Apples aimed squarely at the sort of patriotism that drove that surprise vote to leave Europe. Lyrics such as “lashing out” and “poisoning the well” on Wolves add further rage.

Musically, there’s less of the Broken Family Band’s country twang and as with his Singing Adams output this sounds decidedly urban, especially the smart keyboards from turn-ups maverick Wood on Free Will.

But there’s still time for melancholy and romance. Second track Paul is lovely and  as near as this the album gets to that aforementioned Broken Family Band twang. The use of this first name in the title also makes it sound much more personal and will please fans of Adams’ 2005 solo track, St Thomas, which was one of our highlights when we saw Singing Adams in Bristol back in 2012.

Imprinted is another strong love song with lyrics like “I could spend my whole life with you next to me” delivered with welcome sincerity.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

Steven Adams and The French Drops are touring during May. More details here.

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Josh Rouse – Love in the Modern Age

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Josh Rouse – Love in the Modern Age

Posted on 19 April 2018 by Joe

There’s usually something so reassuringly comforting in hearing a new album by Nebraskan singer songwriter Josh Rouse.

The songs are often packed full of melody and heart. Sometimes they even seem to speak direct to the listener.

For my own move from urban to rural life around a decade ago Rouse was there for me with Nice To Fit In on Country Mouse City House, which focused of his own move to Europe and sense of identity.

Every Josh Rouse fan will have their own song, where he was there for them with just the right lyric and tone.

Josh-Rouse

All of that heart is still evident on Love In the Modern Age, but Rouse’s switch from acoustic guitar folk-pop to synths and delay effect guitar is still taking a while to sink in, even after a good few weeks of listening.

In short – Josh Rouse has gone a bit 1980s and I’m not sure I like it.

Sometimes this new direction works, as on Ordinary People, Ordinary Lives, where his voice and lyrics are given the chance to shine.

Other times it jars too much, with the melody lost in the 1980s production.

The sexy saxes on the title track just sound too un-Rouse to be credible for me. This track also has some truly awful lyrics, such as the repeated line “this one’s for the lovers” and worst of all it features some Cher-esque vocoder. Shudder.

Businessman fares little better with some heavy synth chords and cowbells making it sound like a Spandau Ballet B-side.

It’s not until around the half way point with Women and the Wind where the album comes to life. It goes lighter on the synths, the focus is on the voice and it has the catchiest melody on the album. This is beautiful pop.

Hugs and Kisses too is another high point, the electronica is used just right – to compliment the main attraction – Rouse and his lovely voice.

This album is certainly not among the best of Rouse’s output, with only really one or two songs that linger in the head.

But having said that his desire to do things a little different – to focus on a different sound – has to be applauded even if it doesn’t always work.

6/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about Josh Rouse visit his website here.

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Jack White – Boarding House Reach

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Jack White – Boarding House Reach

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Sarah Robertson

Unlike its two predecessors, this third solo album by industry heavyweight Jack White failed to reach number one in the UK’s official album chart.

Having hit number five before sliding to 35, Boarding House Reach is a shift in style and its chart performance an indicator of appetite for it.

In the four years since Jack White launched Lazaretto, and six since his solo debut Blunderbuss, he has reached out to new sounds. While staying loyal to gospel-infused backing vocals, strong funk harmonies and lively guitar-lead melodies, he here injects a touch of the uber-eccentric.

white-house

The synth heavy introductory track initially makes the chat about this album being his most experimental ring immediately true.

Those opening heavy chords spring straight out of a horror film, handing me a momentary sense of intrepidation as I ask myself if he’s gone too far. It’s a brave opening for someone famous for the aforementioned characteristics. However, we soon move into similar White territory as he chucks in a minor chord harmony and we move away from something that sounds like the soundtrack to the 1978-slasher film Halloween.

Proceeding tracks takes us safely back into the secure zone, with Corporation (track three) being one of a handful of phenomenal pieces designed to take your breath away. This particularly powerful funk rock ballad is supported by layers of strong keyboard and guitar riffs that roll through a funky bongo-tinged journey, refusing to follow typical rock-track format, showing White at his strongest.

Other tracks,  including Over and Over and Over and Hypermisophoniac, are guaranteed to please traditional White fans and reconfirm his position as a master of suspense, crescendo and powerful alternative rock.

But even dedicated fans will struggle with the bulky new layer of surrealism on this album.

White has always been eccentric and here he repackages his eccentricities and represents them in a way that is not always entirely convincing.

When my ipod started playing Everything you’ve ever learned I was convinced it had shuffled onto the audio book of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I persevered through the confusing start and was duly rewarded as it unfolded with layers of sound and power that matched Led Zeppelin-level skill, but many will be put off more easily by this and the other few unnecessarily odd songs.

Jack White has operated independently for so long it’s not his first chance to pretend be totally odd, but at times, this is how it sounds.

Parts of this album speak to me with the quality I expect from Jack White, but I am left asking how much is this the pursuit of an image he wants to create as much as the music he wants to make?

The answer, I leave to you.

7/10

by Sarah Robertson

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Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

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Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness

Posted on 06 April 2018 by Joe

One of the best aspects of running a music blog is receiving a fantastic album in the post.

But 0ne of the most frustrating aspects is to see such a release fail to get the publicity it deserves from the wider music media.

This has happened many times over the years with acts such as the wonderfully inventive Free Swim and the beautiful Co-Pilgrim, both bands that dazzle time after time as exponents of great English pop.

We do our bit. We promote such acts via social media and write reviews, however, we are just a small fish in a gigantic pond.

Alex Highton

With this in mind we were delighted to receive the third album from another English pop dazzler, Alex Highton, ahead of its March 30th release. But have been also frustrated to discover, via a hasty Google search, that so few reviews have been published since then.

Let’s at least get this review out there and hope more follow. Alex Highton and his great music deserves it.

But before we wade into this latest release here’s a quick recap of Alex Highton’s recent career. He first appeared on our radar in 2012 with the release of his debut album Wooditton Wives Club. This focuses on his own move from city to rural life and features some marvelously savvy pastoral folk-pop. Song for Someone on this is a particular highpoint, and was later covered expertly by John Howard.

Two years later 2014 album number two, Nobody Knows Anything, was released. This saw his palette become far broader, with electronica and a few nods to 1960s psychedelia added to the mix. It garnered a 9/10 score from us.

With this third album Liverpudlian Alex Highton has turned up the synths with 1980s and 1990s influences coming more to the fore. This is particular notable on opener Benny Is a Heartbreaker, an Ultravox-esque thriller of a song.

There’s a Part to Everyone That You Can(‘t) Love is also a great pop song, complete with woodwind section, oddly placed brackets and clapping.

Another highlight is Getting Fucked Up (It’s all you ever do), which somehow manages to blend Beck’s back catalogue with George Harrison’s Beatles epic Within You Without You. This is not the first time the Fab Four’s influence has become apparent across Alex Highton’s albums.  Although previously he appeared to be more of a Macca man, particularly on some of his more whimsical numbers.

Across the ten tracks there a range of different styles. All are hinged together by an inventiveness and desire to do more with the notion of the three minute pop song.

So here we have a great album, one that will appeal to a wide range of people, with a varied array of tastes. The production value is strong. The tunes are excellent.

It is demanding to be reviewed, listened to and even cherished.

What are you waiting for?

9/10

By Joe Lepper

For more information about Alex Highton – Welcome to Happiness visit here.

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Guided By Voices – Space Gun

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Guided By Voices – Space Gun

Posted on 23 March 2018 by Dorian

2018 is proving to be a pretty excellent year for the 1990s. The Breeders released All Nerve with the classic Last Splash line-up (easily my favourite album of the year so far), Yo La Tengo came back with their best since And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (a 2000 release, but recorded in 1999) and Superchunk sound younger than ever on What A Time To Be Alive.

So, it would be odd (given the band’s insane release schedule) if Guided By Voices didn’t have an album out this year as well, one that continues to celebrate the sound that Robert Pollard and his rotating support cast have been endorsing since Same Place The Fly Got Smashed first marked them out as a band to watch back in 1990. The album, Space Gun, is the third by the current line-up and might be the best thing he’s recorded under the GBV moniker since he resurrected the band back in 2012.

Space Gun

It opens with the title track, a song that has a real timeless quality and could have been on any GBV album in the last 30 years. It is pretty great and would sound amazing as the set-opener at a live show, sadly something we are unlikely to see in this country soon (if ever).

From there on in it is a flow of uncharacteristically consistent songs, there is little in the way of filler here and none of half-formed snippets that can frustrate the casual listener. The hit rate is high here and there are half a dozen potential singles scattered across the album’s 39 minute run time. The title track and ‘See My Field’ have already been released as singles but ‘Colonel Paper’, ‘Grey Spat Matters’, ‘Flight Advantage’, ‘Daily Get Ups’ and ‘I Love Kangaroos’ would all sound great on the 6 Music playlist (don’t hold your breath). Of these the latter is one of the  most surprising songs, 3 minutes of soft guitar pop that remind me what a huge REM fan Robert Pollard was when he started the band.

I know the obstacles that this band presents to new listeners, dozens of albums and some fairly challenging listens amongst them. I’ve not reviewed one of their records for a few years, it seemed a rather fruitless exercise that was unlikely to tempt new listeners. Please Be Honest was a test to even the most ardent fan and August By Cake (despite being pretty brilliant) was sprawling and scattershot. How Do You Spell Heaven last year was much more focused and consistent, and Space Gun is perhaps the culmination of that journey back to “classic album” status.

This is a very listenable record by a band at the top of their powers, well worth less than 40 minutes of your time. Play loud.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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You Want Fox – Reverse the Curse

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You Want Fox – Reverse the Curse

Posted on 21 March 2018 by John Haylock

The annals of rock ‘n’ roll are littered with Foxes. Foxey Lady, Fleet Foxes, Samantha Fox and now You Want Fox.

Comprising of Colette Elton  (drums and gin) and Natalie Caulton (bass and gin) they sound more like a five-piece band than a mere duo and have more song hooks than a hook based shop in Hooksvilleshire.

you want fox

Their’s is a joyous, and dare I say it, harmonious sound. Their combined vocals are so catchy you’d have to be a right mardy-arse not to revel in them.

Natalie’s Fender Jazz bass sounds like a full on rifferama lead guitar, all fuzzy and lovely, and Colett’es drumming is precision perfect rather like her higher pitched vocals.

There’s so much to enjoy on this this second album featuring eleven tracks of nursery rhyme grunge.  From full on opener Tooth for a Tooth to the brooding Dirty Little Damsel, every damn song is a little earworm.

Black Heart sounds like The Ronettes backed by The Ramones and is as tremendous as that sounds.

You Want Fox’s latest single Liar Liar ought to be number one on all major continents, again it all comes down to airplay. DJs get your fucking act together. Stop playing Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and bang on some You Want Fox.

If you’ve seen them live you will be gagging to hear all this in a sweaty bar and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. They are one of the best Nottingham bands in years and their audiences always vociferous will lap this up, as will I.

You Want Fox tell me they have a prestigious London gig in November as part of Loud Women Present, at the legendary Hope and Anchor in that, there London-town, so all you hipster bods can get your fix of Fox.

Currently unsigned, these girls are getting fed up waiting for Sony to make the call,  so if you’ve got a record label, shitloads of money and a roster that needs improving then I suggest you check ’em out.

Get cursed!

by John Haylock

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Jack Hayter – Abbey Wood

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Jack Hayter – Abbey Wood

Posted on 27 February 2018 by Joe

Abbey Wood, the latest album by Jack Hayter nails it.

It’s got the quality songs, in particular the melancholic opener The Mulberry Tree. There’s perfect vocal delivery, with Hayter’s wise old vocals bringing life to the tales throughout.

And then there’s a great back story, of an album created while the former Hefner man was living in what he describes as a “leaky and abandoned” derelict children’s home in London.

abbey wood

Among this home’s four kitchens and six bathrooms, none of which worked, these 12 folk songs were crafted. It is these echoes of the young and vulnerable former residents,  floating around him as he slept on old pallets, that are key to the success of this album. This is particularly the case on But I Don’t Know About Frankie and I am John’s Care Home.

But there are also some other characters from the capital to add into the mix. For this is an album about London as well, with some staple urban folk fodder of shipwreck victims and tragic petty criminals joining in.

The shipwreck one, Arandora Star, is particular effective. This recounts how around 850 German and Italian internees and prisoners or war died after being hit by a German U-boat while being transported to Canada. The awful irony, that some had fought the fascists in 1936’s battle of Cable Street before being sent needlessly out to sea as target practice for the German navy, is not lost on Hayter.

Fanny on the Hill, about a thief on the run from the constables and in need of a drink is another folk standard topic elevated by Hayter’s voice and the ghosts of those who lived in his derelict muse.

There’s some guests here to help Hayter conjure up this collection, including Suzanne Rhatigan’s vocals on the aforementioned Arandora Star and the excellent Bigger Than The Storm.

Ralegh Long, whose own recordings are enriched by Hayter’s pedal steel, also drops by to provide piano on The Stranger Fair.

With the back story to go with it and the earthy grit of Hayter’s vocals this is not only one of the best folk albums of the year, but is a strong contender for our end of year best of list too.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Jack Hayter- Abbey Wood is released on Gare Du Nord on March 23. For more information see here.

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John Howard – Songs From The Morning

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John Howard – Songs From The Morning

Posted on 05 February 2018 by Joe

In the year he becomes a pensioner John Howard continues his prolific renaissance with another of his regular EPs that pays tribute to those who have influenced him.

Previous collections have introduced us to some real gems. From the likes of Randy Newman and Laura Nyro to some a welcome revisiting of the music of lesser known artists, such as Alex Highton’s beautiful A Song For Someone.

John Howard

John Howard

Here, as John Howard marks his 65th year, he is focusing on his folk roots with some tender versions of well known and rare songs from the 1960s and 1970s by Sandy Denny, Tom Springfield, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and the Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron.

Among the most passionate is his take on Nick Drake’s From the Morning, which closes the tragic singer songwriter’s final album Pink Moon (1972). As John Howard says in his accompanying press release “it’s astonishing that he could write such an upliftingly beautiful song, celebrating nature and his delight at the changing of day into night” when he was falling to an abyss of mental illness that claimed his life. Here Howard gives it an even more uplifting feel, with accordion and piano creating a wall of sound for the splendor of life that Drake describes.

John Howard’s take on Denny’s The Lady and Buckley’s Morning Glory are two further high points. The simplicity of the production on these is particular strong, focusing on Howard’s two key strengths – his wonderfully preserved pop vocals and piano playing.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information on John Howard please visit his Facebook page.

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