Thursday, 27 July 2017

Another year, another masterpiece from Public Service Broadcasting.....

Again we have a concept album in the shape of Every Valley about the mining industry in South Wales. What I love about this band is while the sound is recognisable each album has it's own feel - The War Room was all about defiance, The Race for Space dealt in the euphoria of discovering the new and Every Valley is all resigned melancholy

As ever, the samples are perfectly thought out and fit the tracks seamlessly. Its no gimmick just another way to add words to a song. The difference this time around is the use of real vocalist which adds another layer to sound.

In Turn no More, we have James Dean Bradfield giving his usual passion to lyrics from a welsh poem and Haiku Salut repeat the trick of the Smoke Fairies from the last album

There are a couple of surprises.... The anger of All Out is a bit off a shock, as is hearing the first vocals of J Willgoose himself on You + Me - an odd track which is a duet with Lisa Jen Brown who sing in Welsh and no samples. It's rather twee but the faltering vocal of the PSB main man give it an endearing quality.

The album fittingly ends with a Welsh male voice choir on Take Me Home.

The Race for Space is still the better album because it has the highs of discovery alongside the lows of the disasters rather than Every Valley which is more consistent in mood but this is still going to be one of the albums of the year.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Ah, Roger Waters – apparently a Prog God. Which is ironic because since The Wall he hasn’t progressed musically one iota.

Still railing against authority, decrying the futility of war and generally shouting at the world.

What is slightly sadder is that everything he was ranting against 40 years ago is still relevant now.

As to the new album, Is this the life we really want?, most people will know what to expect before the even hear it...
The second track is called Déjà vu. It starts off with the chords straight off Fearless from the Echoes album, has samples of breaking glass and planes (a la The Wall) and yet the irony of the title has probably completely passed Roger by

The use of samples on the Last Refugee are probably now best left to Public Service Broadcasting who now do that sort of thing much better.

There’s a nice modern production (courtesy of Radiohead's producer) and there are tracks good enough to have been on the Final Cut or Amused to Death

The cynicism is relentless and we all know the whole thing would benefit from a healthy dose of Gilmour but if you like Roger Waters then this is a really good album but if you didn’t already this is never going to convert you  

Seemingly out of nowhere brand new recordings from Rose McDowall have appeared…

OK. It’s only a 3 track EP but it’s a start.

The title track, Twisted Love starts slowly (over 3 and a half mins) of just harmonium chords and occasional guitar flourishes over a story of betrayed love.

Things then pick up with some strident cello reminiscent of ELO and some additional tambourine but while it seems to be building to a climax it never happens and it’s soon back to the minimal instrumentation. The vocals are almost painful to listen to as even the ‘doo, doo’s’ sung over the coda suggest this is a woman who has had her heart shattered.

This Calling is closer to the sound of Strawberry Switchblade, all tambourines and strings with some of the lyrics spoken and others sung. (I honestly did expect her to start singing “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” though….)   

The final track is a slightly sinister cover of Make It Easy on Yourself – A basic vocal and piano song is given some disturbing occasional background electronic noises.

It’s great to her Rose’s voice again but this is a very depressing set and not recommended to anyone suffering from a recent breakup

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

For the first time in many years I sat through the whole Eurovision song contest and it just doesn’t get any better…. Whilst in some respects it’s refreshing to hear something other sanitised soulless American rap and r’n’b, it’s also depressing that this was the best 26 countries could come up with.

There were some interesting songs – Armenia came up with something that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dead Can Dance album and it was rather good.

Belgium tried their luck with something resembling Lorde. Unfortunately whilst she had an attention grabbing voice she was also only 17 and looked absolutely petrified all the way through the track.

Azerbaijan bought a chilly goth feel to their performance including long duster coats, heavy silver makeup and a man wearing a horse head standing on a ladder. It was the one song I wanted to hear again not just because of the staging but because it was a rather intriguing song.

 There was also some out and out lunacy especially from some of the Eastern Europeans. Croatia went with a singer who went from high camp to opera and back again repeatedly throughout the song. Ukraine clearly didn’t want to win again so went for a sub Rammstein metal option. Romania stole the show in terms of out of the box thinking but going for a rap / yodelling crossover which was utterly bizarre.

At least these countries show some imagination even if the results aren’t always great. The best the UK could put forward was a dull ballad sung by a woman who couldn’t even win the X-Factor. We all know we are never going to win so why can’t we take a risk and try something slightly left field?

The winning song was a curious affair. While most countries went with big light shows, pyrotechnics and gimmicks (treadmills anyone?), Portugal just had their entry sing the song without any effects. He did a lot of hand wringing and along with his beard this made him look rather like Fagin from the Oliver Twist film but it appeared this lack of showbiz appealed to both judges and the public and he won by a big margin.  

I sure this won’t be the last time I’ll promise never to watch Eurovision again and sadly I’m also sure it won’t be the last time I do watch it……

Friday, 28 April 2017

It’s always really difficult to review an Ulver album as the group refuse to stick to one genre or style…. From the blackest metal, to psychedelic 60’s covers to orchestral chamber music to improvised post rock, it’s impossible to predict what an album will sound like.

So to latest the Ulver offering, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, and immediately we’ve taken another left turn as this must be their dance album!

Now this isn’t dance in the form of the lumpen dross pumped out of Heart FM but more prime time Depeche Mode. There’s a lot of electronic beats and throbbing bass lines but topped off with some quite cheerless lyrics ranging from Romans using Christians as human torches to the death of Princess Diana

The second track Rolling Stone is a fascinating example of where this album sits. For the first 6 minutes this is a pulsing dark dance floor filler reminiscent of the Human League with the females backing singers on the chorus and then for the final 3 minutes is veers wildly into anarchy - It now sounds like a group of chimps being let loose in Jean Michel Jarre’s storage room and they are all playing random synthesisers. Then to add to the chaos, Nik Turner of Hawkind is added to the mix with his own 'unique' saxophone playing. Utterly disturbing.

The album struggle to maintain interest on the second half before ending with a storming track, Coming Home. All spoken word and pure Violator era sound.

Seriously though it will take many listens before you can make any judgement as to where this album stands in what is now a very impressive back catalogue     

Friday, 14 April 2017

Brian Pern was a rock god. Admittedly he didn’t actually exist and was just a creation of comedy genius that is Simon Day but we all mourn his imaginary demise…..
His last recording have just been released on an EP and it is a true delight. The songs are such a lovingly reverential (and funny) caricature that this is up there with the best of Spinal Tap

Heaven Calling is a wickedly accurate parody of Bowie and his final songs, though the grand dame never sang that “sugar is the enemy….”

Strangely there is nothing funny about the second track which is an instrumental that could easily have been an outtake of Floyd’s the Endless River apart from the pun laden title of the Honeycomb is Over.
Keep Trying which was a originally a mickey take of the Gabriel/Bush duet is now taken a step further and reimagined as a Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse cover
However the best is left to last where you get a 30 minute audio of the last ever Brian Pern interview, complete with guests.  In this you learn what Thotch were eating when they heard of Brian’s death and how he planned a co headlining tour of Africa with Adele (she’s not well known over there) in which it was hoped she would duet on the classic Worm Equinox.

So farewell to Brian Pern – He changed the face of music. Forever.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

So here is the first new review of the year and weirdly it's not new music....

From 1982 comes the only known recordings by a 4 piece Strawberry Switchblade. These are obvious demo's but do show an insight into the band. There are only 3 tracks and nothing over 3 and a half minutes so it's not a long review

The first track, Spanish Song (Don't Go), is totally unreleased and its the most unusual. The verse is a breathlessly word heavy and in complete contrast to the vocals you expect. The chorus though has the first hints of that famous vocal harmony and there is a very odd flamenco section tacked on the end

Go Away was later rerecorded for the debut album but here it's built on bass and drums and not much else. Trees & Flowers was also rerecorded as a duo and this version whilst different does show that woozy slow vocal style you come to expect.

Clearly this band were in awe of the Orange Juice or Aztec Camera sound of the time and were no virtuoso's but it's worth the release

I got the songs on a clear 7" vinyl with download and 16 page booklet of history and grainy black and white photo's showing the whole polka dot idea was already fully formed - Value for money all round

Monday, 13 February 2017

Well this sucks.... 6 weeks into 2017 and there hasn't been a single new release I'm interested I'm. The end of year list may have to be reduced to a top 5.

I think 2016 spoilt us with too many amazing albums

Anyway, not a new release but the cover of Nights in White Satin by the Texan band Oceans of Slumber from last year is bloody fantastic.....

Monday, 16 January 2017

It’s a funny old start to the year… I suppose the big headline is: - “Prog is dead, long live Prog”

It was shocking news to hear of the magazine’s demise just before Christmas. As my main source of discovering new music it would have been a massive loss. The radio means nothing to me and the internet is too vast to properly explore so here was a magazine full of writers whose judgement I trust.  

Hearing that it had been saved a few weeks later was a relief and hopefully new owners won’t mean changes to the standards we’ve become accustomed to.

As such, this year it’s Jerry Ewing who for the first time matched the most albums with me in the Prog writers end of years lists with his list including Swallow the SunEnslaved and Marillion at number 1.

So what do we expect in 2017? There should be the final ever Fish album towards the end of the year and the Eden House are preparing a new release for March but apart from that it’s probably all speculation from the usual suspects – Andrew Eldritch promised new music if Trump was elected, Julianne Regan is ‘still’ working on that solo album and after releasing a single last year there is still time this century for Carl McCoy to finally come up with something more substantial.
(All of which are less likely Heart FM adding Nine Inch Nails to their daytime playlist)

Finally a tip for the New Year, just because a band releases a fantastic album it doesn’t follow that they will write a fantastic soundtrack. I made this mistake with buying Riverhead by Ulver. It really is just background noise that does nothing for the listener if you haven’t got any visuals..........