Archive | March, 2016

Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

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Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

Posted on 18 March 2016 by Joe

Bob Mould is in the prime of his career. And brace yourself Husker Du fans, his current band of Jon Wurster on drums and Jason Narducy on bass, is perhaps his best yet.

Patch the Sky is the third in a trio of albums released on Merge Records with this line up and comes at a time when Mould has long since embraced middle age and his sexuality. It’s a far cry from his younger, Husker Du days when his awkward frame struggled to fit into publicity photos. Now he looks like a man at ease with himself, bearded, bald and a darn fine looking chap.

mould-500x500

This stability shows in his music too,  with Silver Age in 2012 and Beauty and Ruin from 2014 showcasing two excellent sets of post punk, indie rock at its finest. Live as well the trio are superb, Mould bouncing around stage, stopping only to turn his amp up even louder.

Patch the Sky fits well into this trio’s ethos of presenting fast, powerful and above all catchy songs. There’s a twist though. He’s only human and in recent years he’s endured the all too common heartbreaks of life.

Mould explains

“I withdrew from everyday life. I wrote alone for six months. I love people, but I needed my solitude. The search for my own truth kept me alive. These songs are my salvation.

I’ve had a solid stretch of hard emotional times, and thanks for the condolences in advance. I don’t want to go into the details—more death, relationships ending, life getting shorter—because they’re already in the songs. Just listen and see if you can fit yourself into my stories. The words make you remember. The music makes you forget.”

Voices in My Head is a perfect example of this, with its lyrics of psychological angst coupled with a joyous melody,  especially on the guitar solo. This is among his best compositions in a career that is now in its fourth decade. Then on break up song The End of Things, the sombre subject matter is conveyed with a mosh pit inducing riff and a smart, catchy chorus. “It’s the end of things, the end of everything,” never sounded such fun.

There’s plenty more great melodies. You Say You rolls back the years to those days of Sugar and his later Husker Du work. Another is Hands are Tied, a minute and a half of great grunge-pop.

There are variances on the theme though. Losing Sleep has a little nod to Mould’s dalliance with dance music in recent years and final track Monument, the album’s slowie, is reminiscent of his early solo work such as Black Sheets of Rain and Workbook.

Given Mould has moved from punk to pop, from DJing to producing wrestling shows (yes, really!) his career has rarely been this stable. With tracks like Monument and Losing Sleep there are signs that the indie rock trio days of these three Merge Records releases may be moving on, but I hope not. On this evidence there’s plenty more to come from Mould and his most settled, and perhaps best, band to date.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Bob Mould – Patch the Sky is released on March 25 on Merge Records.

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Ellie Goulding – Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham (March 13, 2016)

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Ellie Goulding – Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham (March 13, 2016)

Posted on 14 March 2016 by John Haylock

Move over Madonna Louise Ciccone, there’s a new Queen of perfect pop ready to take your shaky crown.

Yes Madge you can now put your pointy bras away and put your headscarf on and go and collect your bus pass, the tremendous Ellie Goulding is your rightful heir.

Her Majesty appears on a raised pedestal from behind swathes of gold curtains to tumultuous applause and screams. She looked like a blonde angel in big, black safety boots, and her trademark black designer hotpants. Lights, action, hysteria!

To kick off the gig there’s bunch of frenetic new numbers from the latest album Delerium, Aftertaste, Holding for Life and Goodness Gracious, all sounding totally fabbo and looking great with a nice, restrained light show of geometric lines.

Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding

The first of many highlights comes with a strident and irresistible Outside; her voice proving every equal of her contemporaries such as Paloma and Beyonce.

Things take a turn for the quieter with a lovely ballad called Devotion in which she accompanies herself on acoustic guitar (it must be said, she is a very good guitar player, at quite a few junctures in the set she straps on a black Gibson and gives it some serious punishment).

She enters the crowd via an extended walkway and delivers a beautiful version of The Waterboys’ How Long Will I Love You. Much to the delight of many there’s even time for some dance routines from her troupe of tireless and under dressed male dancers.

She dedicates the new single Army to her best friend, it sounds rather limp on record but live it sparkles, she then covers Elton John’s Your Song with great aplomb and displays some amazing vocal gymnastics.

As we approach the final fences the hits come thick and fast, little girls in tiaras sing along like tiny cloned pop divas, twenty something single girls get all screamy, middle aged people dance in that way that you think is hilarious but you are probably doing as well, long suffering boyfriends grin and bare it in the hope that they’ll get a snog on the way home. The whole arena goes middle class ballistic for Burn, Got You On My Mind, a blinding Anything Could Happen, I Need Your Love and finally Love Me Like You Do.

Sometimes we lose sight of what ‘pop’ should be as if it’s not hip to like stuff that’s popular, infused with vibrant energy and entertainment that is enjoyed by the masses. As we get old, serious and cynical we are supposed to like miserable buggers in kagoules singing about death and how life is shit ( guilty as charged ). But every now and again it is so refreshing to come up for a breath of sweet pop air and wallow in its heady perfume. All rise for Ellie Goulding the new Pop Queen, long may she reign o’er us.

*A quick mention of the two support acts. You’ve probably not heard of Lany, but you will do, a trio of chaps, the lead singer has lots of lovely hair, is stick thin and would have appeared in alot of the girls dreams when they got home after the gig. They have a single out called ILYSB. You read it here first, they’re going to be massive. John Newman on the other hand is relatively well known, wears ill fitting white trousers and sweats a lot. He won me over, or wore me down, not sure which.

Words and pictures by John Haylock

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Therapy? – The Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (March 12, 2016)

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Therapy? – The Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (March 12, 2016)

Posted on 14 March 2016 by John Haylock

What an extraordinary evening this was. First of all it was great to see tonight’s support act  The Membranes still going strong after a seemingly infinite time spent on the coalface of abrasive in-yer-face off-kilter rock. With the apparently indestructible John Robb at the helm they plough on regardless of trends and fashions. Long may they rock subversively.

Yet who could have predicted the longevity of Therapy? Formed in 1989 by mainman Andy Cairns they hit the music scene like the blast of an oxyacetylene torch in the early 1990s with great albums like Troublegum (1994). As tonight’s lengthy masterclass in sonic-riffola testify they are still very much alive and kicking.

Therapy?

Therapy?

This was the last gig on the current tour and, man, they were still as vibrant and joyous as back in the day. This was no mere going through the motions, give us the cheque now go home scenario.

As I wobble dangerously near the front and at one point fall over like an old man in a  post office queue, it occurs to me that if Therapy? had been signed to Sub Pop, were American and hung around with Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan they would be lauded and idolised in equal measure. More grunge than Nirvana, more riffs than Black Sabbath, more energy expanded than a malfunctioning nuclear reactor.

Tonight saw the spotlight fall on their second album  on a major label, Infernal love from 1995, and it was all going swimmingly, we were enjoying a cover of the Husker Du classic  ‘Diane’ at about the forty minutes mark in, and suddenly Andy had to bring a halt to the proceedings, the band lurched to a stuttering stop, the crowd curious, necks craning,

Apparently an over enthusiastic punter had fallen badly at the front, it looked very serious, medics were called and the band went off and it looked like the evening was over. After about half an hour an ambulance crew  arrived and stretchered the poor guy out.

Andy came back on and announced that under the circumstances the venue had agreed to lift the curfew and they could play out way past the designated finish time. As one we cheered and got down to some serious moshing.

If your idea of fun is singing at the top of your voice ‘James Joyce is Fucking my Sister’ (from Potato Junkie) like a lunatic with a glass of Southern Comfort in one hand and an air guitar in the other (I know I do) then  you would have loved it. At one point they dedicated the next song to Lemmy, next thing you know they were doing just the greatest version of Ace of spades I have ever heard in my life. Mr Kilminster would have smiled down and raised a pint I’m sure. Teethgrindingly brilliant.

Words and Picture – John Haylock

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Woodpigeon – TROUBLE

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Woodpigeon – TROUBLE

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Joe

Last time we saw Mark Andrew Hamilton, aka Woodpigeon, he was supporting Mark Eitzel at the Fleece in Bristol. It was just him, his beard, a heavy knit jumper, a guitar and his beautiful vocals. It was a solid set by a support act but no more than that.

Unknown to the audience at the time this was no ordinary tour of the UK for this Canadian singer songwriter. His relationship was ending and he was left fragile and distraught. What followed was an extended break from music as he took on the role of traveller, moving across the globe on a journey of both introspection and enthusiasm for the world, both good and bad.

Woodpigeon at The Fleece, Bristol (Mar 3, 2013)

Woodpigeon at The Fleece, Bristol (Mar 3, 2013) – pic by Joe Lepper

Travelling for two years across Europe, Canada and South America he experienced rioting in Istanbul and the longest break he’d had from music since he began writing in 2005. Given so many of his previous songs had been about the joy of love, to go through this messy break up effectively cut off his inspiration for much of this period.

This is the album that emerged from that time. It is not only the best he has made but arguably a contender for album of the year. Quite simply, it’s got the lot, in particular the crushingly sad backstory of a break up that became a new inspiration for Hamilton. Anyone who has heard Bjork’s epic Vulnicura will know how the loss of love can transform a songwriter.

It’s also got great production. It’s subtle with much made of the rhythm section of Colin Edward Cowan on bass and Daniel Gaucher on percussion. As with The Mountain Goats’ drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Peter Hughes the combination of Gaucher and Cowan also give a quality songwriter’s songs added emotion. The bullet like snare on Whole Body Shakes and funky but doom-laden bass bring to mind both the plastic bullets firing across the streets of Istanbul and the messy break up that sent him on this journey.

woodpigeon

The press release gives us a “less is more” cliché about the production, but in this case it is true. This focus on rhythm backed by sweet electric guitar picking with the occasional cello or piano accompaniment gives more power to these songs than any orchestra could rustle up.

The songs themselves are also beautiful, full of that introspective heartbreak that Sufjan Stevens does so well. It also leaves questions unanswered, such as on Faithful. Is it him or his former partner that was unfaithful? Perhaps both, perhaps neither? Meanwhile, on Canada there’s a genuine pop song here. This is uplifting and while positioned at track four could easily be the last track as the songwriter finally finds peace in his new home, which at the time of writing was in Vancouver.

Three years ago seems such a long time ago when looking at how far Hamilton has come both emotionally and as an artist in a journey that has transformed him from a solid support act for Mark Eitzel, to conjuring up an album to rival the quality of the former American Music Club man himself.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

Woodpigeon – TROUBLE is released on April 1. More details here.

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Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are

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Robert Pollard – Of Course You Are

Posted on 07 March 2016 by Dorian

2016 is already proving to be a slightly confusing year for followers of Robert Pollard. He recently announced that Guided By Voices were reforming with a largely new line-up, only drummer Kevin March having been in a previous incarnation. That announcement was accompanied by news that the new Guided By Voices album would be a totally solo affair by Pollard. He then springs a new solo album upon us that is the first for over a decade to not be recorded with Todd Tobias on instrument and production duties. In his place, handling all instruments and the recording desk, is Nick Mitchell, his Ricked Wicky side-man  and newly announced guitarist in the live GBV line-up.

Robert-Pollard-Of-Course-You-Are

As typically muddled as this may be it is good news. Mitchell has proved to be a great foil for Pollard on the Ricked Wicky albums and is clearly a first-rate guitarist. It is also true that a degree of saminess had crept in to the albums that Pollard and Tobias were producing – these were good records but you knew largely what they would sound like.

What Mitchell immediately brings to the party is a harder rock edge, and this is immediately brought out on the opening track ‘My Daughter Yes She Knows’ which is riff heavy and unafraid of classic rock cliché. He brings more to the album than guitars though and the arrangements on this album are as adventurous as anything Pollard has produced with strings, horns and keyboards having a noticeable presence on a number of tracks.

Pollard has always been at his best when working with a like-minded instrumentalist and much like Tobin Sprout, Doug Gillard and Chris Slusarenko it looks like Mitchell is bringing the best out of Pollard’s song-writing as well as offering up his guitar skills. The songs on the album are all of a surprisingly high standard for someone who releases so many and there is a good mixture of styles on show across the 12 tracks. There is a slight bias towards the more rocking guitar songs but there is time for some sweet ballads and hook filled pop tunes as well.

The real thing that makes this album work so well though is the variety of arrangement, not just between but within the songs. Listen to the horns on ‘Little Pigs’ or the Love-esque horns/strings/guitar burst in ‘I Can Illustrate’ and you can imagine how much fun was had bringing these songs together.

Best of all is the album closer, and title track, which demonstrates Pollard’s unmistakable gift for crafting tunes that could have been recorded any time in the last five decades.

This is Pollard’s 22nd solo album and he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Expect number 23 to be announced any day.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Steven James Adams – Old Magick

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Steven James Adams – Old Magick

Posted on 01 March 2016 by Joe

Late last year Darren Hayman posted on Facebook that Fortuna POP!’s white middle aged men roster, which he is proudly part of, was in fine form, with imminent releases from Pete Astor, formerly of 1980s band The Weather Prophets, and Steven Adams, ex-The Broken Family Band.

SJA-OLD-MAGICK

On reading this it was the first time I’d even considered that Adams actually middle aged given the youthful twinkle in his eyes. Even his cynicism, displayed lyrically and with his sardonic wit on stage, is often that of a cheeky teen rather than a depressed old man.

Here, on what is perhaps his first ‘middle-aged’ release, he casts his eye over his and his fans’ advancing years but still with a youthful twinkle. For example on Togetherness, about the appalling way too many British people treat those from other countries, the delivery is far from preachy or serious, instead its cheekily accompanied with one of the album’s most upbeat melodies.

And on Ideas, another standout track, the self-deprecating tone of a middle aged man desperately trying to save a relationship with ideas that have not yet formed could easily apply to a teen. Perhaps it could also be about the performer Adams, urging his audience to stay with him as well.

This tongue in cheek look at aging is perhaps best shown on The Back of the Bus as the young care free teens shouting from the back of a bus are transported into middle-age where “now, it’s just massage music”.

Musically, this is a more low key sound than his full band Singing Adams indie pop project of recent years but more slickly produced than his last solo outing, 2013’s House Music, which was recorded in his living room. With studio production from Dan Michaelson this feels very much like a solo album that allows the lyrics to shine and is perhaps his best release since his Broken Family Band days.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

To buy Steven James Adams – Old Magick click here.

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Swampgrass – One Eye Open

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Swampgrass – One Eye Open

Posted on 01 March 2016 by Joe

Somerset gig audiences like to dance. It’s a bit of a sweeping generalisation, but there does seem to be more of a foot stomping feel to gigs in the small venues spread out across its levels and small towns than in many other parts of the country.

swampgrass-one-eye-open-album-cover

Granted a chin-strokingly-good acoustic set will go down well at a Glastonbury or Frome open mic set or at a small tent at the Godney Gathering festival. But the ability to help an audience discover their dancing feet gets the real plaudits around here.

It is therefore no surprise to hear that the brand of blues from Somerset based Swampgrass is not the slow mooching melancholy of a tortured soul but instead is of the fast paced, balls out, dirty rock blues variety.

Here on their debut they aim to recreate as much as possible their live persona and bring that festival set to record and in Sharon Honeywell they have one hell of a brassy lead singer, with Etta James and Aretha Franklin among her influences. From opener Roadside Soul she takes control and her vocals are especially good on the album’s standouts Hell No and Heart Attack.

For those in the Glastonbury area on March 5 Swampgrass will be performing tracks from One Eye Open at Glastonbury URC. Doors 7pm.

By Joe Lepper

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