Category Archives: Music

Psychic Lemon : Freak Mammal, LP released 8th November 2019

An excellent new long-player from Cambridge experimenters Psychic Lemon arrives on the back of their coruscating live album released in May this year.

Dedicated to the late Stephen Hawking,‘Freak Mammal’ is five tracks of force-field intensity, beginning with the statement of intent that is ‘Dark Matter’ – astronomers say that this is the stuff that makes up most of the Universe and much of that substance seems to be present in this enormous track.
It all seems so calm at first as a soothing electro-keyboard repeats over the steadily building drums until the arrival of a sky-soaring guitar. One of the great attributes of an electric guitar is that it can be made to sound like anything but a guitar and this track proves that, especially at high volume.
Seven and a half minutes in and the music starts to dismantle itself into component parts; the drum pattern breaks into a rush of cymbals underneath a guitar solo of improbably sustained notes until the whole mighty machine crashes in again for the rest of the song.

The slower ‘Seeds Of Tranquility’ is a more contemplative thirteen minutes, driven by the bass octave stretching and muted complex percussion. Perhaps inspired by the unchanging melancholy of the lunar surface it feels timeless and far away.
Then ‘Afrotropic Bomb’ steps back up a gear, this time a distorted keyboard and bass riff is the musical chassis that the song is built on (a song without words; like all of this and their last LP Psychic Lemon have dispensed with the vocals and evolved the psychedelic experience into its purest form).

The ambiguously titled ‘Free Electron Collective’ is a relentless drum pattern workout, in some ways the most immediate track on the album and would certainly be a highlight of their live show.

The Velvet Underground reference in the title of ‘White Light’ gives a clue to the hammerhead pounding of this finale but I don’t know if the VU ever quite mustered this energy level on their recorded instrumental digressions. Previewed on Psychic Lemon’s ‘Live at the Smokehouse’ album this track shows how adept the Cambridge three-piece are at recreating not just the sound but the whole all-consuming onslaught of their live performances.

http://psychiclemon.co.uk/

Derecho : Beneath A Stained Glass Sky, LP released November 2019

A track by track review of the new album ‘Beneath A Stained Glass Sky’ from four-piece rock band Derecho (a tornado that moves in a straight line)….

1. You Stole My Heart Starting with an accelerating drum call this opening salvo is a classic rocker. Singer and composer Jo Ash makes her presence felt with a powerful vocal, as the guitar slices in with organ backing and the big chorus is never too far away.

2. Red Ivy A gentle piano verse gives way to the surprising and dynamic chorus and it is all a bit dark (‘…so seduce me with your poison…’). I particularly like the instrumental interludes where the band have their chances to shine but Jo’s soaring voice is the centrepiece of the track.

3. Numb To Shame A bold statement of intent in the first few bars turns into a taut, twisting, mid-paced three minutes.

4. Fight or Flight Conjuring up the atmosphere of 80s metalpop classic ‘Run To The Hills’, this one moves quickly to its killer chorus. A waterfall of keyboard provides a brief soothing interlude.

5. Blue Heart An effective swampy blues re-working of a piano waltz from Jo Ash’s solo album (reviewed at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/10/14/jo-ash-constellations-lp-released-october-2018/)

6. Pushing Me Away The band really go for it on this one; a mixture of stealthy verse framed by sinister, echoing keys and building up into a soaring refrain as the drums steal the show.

7. Oxygen A dark lyric ‘…suffocate my mind…strip my lungs of air…‘ contrasts with a backing that rolls along deceptively uptempo and optimistic.

8. Nowhere Land (Into The Black Hole) Inspired by the film Interstellar this is one of the longest tracks on the album, a slow-burning, anthemic piece. Jo’s clear voice sails along in the upper registers as the music veers into prog-rock stylings, with a marching synthesised string section eventually unleashing the dark hordes of Mordor.

9. Lunar Light
The lyric combines poetic imagery with the idea that the Moon can influence a personality ‘….under the light, lunar light…….is this really you? madden my senses, make me pretend I’m safe….’ This song has a retro 70s glam-rock feel to it, the combination of piano/guitar riff with the theatricality of the words works a treat.

10. Mountains A bold, broad finishing track, giving plenty of time to set the mood with a recurring figure dominated by the bass end of the piano. Jo’s voice goes through a range of distortion, to an emotive chorus and back again.
Another showcase too for the other band members and the production; making key contributions to this excellent rock album.

(Album launch show is at the Blue Moon, Cambridge on Saturday 16th November…)

http://www.derecho.band/#home-1-section

Robyn Hitchcock, Storey’s Field Centre, Cambridge, 26 October 2019

Storey’s Field Centre in the new Cambridge community of Eddington is continuing to host quality music; the room may lack a distinctive atmosphere but with the very high ceiling and versatile design features the acoustics are excellent for the two solo performers tonight.

First onstage was Emma Tricca, playing thoughtful acoustic pieces, many drawn from her 2018 album ‘St. Peter’. Using a fluid, gentle guitar style as a platform for her voice to summon and float a complementary jazz-folk melody, songs like the opener ‘Winter, My Dear’ are full of appeal.’The Servant’s Room’ reflects how cities change as time passes based on observations from a café window while ‘November At My Door’ is as captivating as the title promises.
It was a delicate and enticing beginning to a much anticipated show.

Robyn Hitchcock started his set with two songs from his Cambridge days with The Soft Boys – the darkly-catchy ‘Tonight’ and surreal treat ‘Queen Of Eyes’. You never know what is coming next from his vast back catalogue of solo work and collaborations; ‘Madonna Of The Wasps’ was from his time with The Egyptians, then the fast country-blues ‘I Pray When I’m Drunk’ was the first of four tracks from his self-titled 2017 long player.
Communications between songs this evening ranged from flights of fancy about the 1976 heat wave and speculating on what was underneath us before Eddington existed, but most frequently it was improbable banter with the sound desk about his fictitious requirements. He extends the range of his acoustic guitar with effects and adventurous playing excursions at the end of ‘The Lizard’ and final song ‘I’m Only You’ (for which he wanted sound settings that made his voice like ‘…a bundle of asparagus full of Art Garfunkels…?‘). A harmonica appears for two songs too.

Often it is the quieter moments that really hit home; ‘Stranded In The Future’, ‘Full Moon In My Soul’ and especially the requested encore ‘The Speed Of Things’ ‘…..You held my hand when I was crying…you were allergic to bee stings…I threw some earth onto your coffin…and thought about the speed of things…’; traditional-sounding folk transposed into a psychedelic masterpiece.

Robyn tours a lot and continues to record, most recently an EP with Andy Partridge from XTC. He also played latest single ‘Sunday Never Comes’, a melancholic and melodic anthem that has had its profile raised by a version featuring in last year’s movie ‘Juliet, Naked’.

It is an ongoing mystery why he isn’t a hugely popular performer playing giant auditoriums but to the faithful gathering in the church-like venue tonight he is unsurpassed in the musical firmament.

https://www.robynhitchcock.com/
https://www.emmatricca.com/

Snapped Ankles, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 16 October 2019

An evening of three artists pushing musical boundaries at the Portland.
Adrena Adrena are a performing duo using laptop-generated and manipulated sounds with live drumming and visuals to match. In two long-form pieces the electronic washes and pulses flow and morph unpredictably, while the giant globe screen looms like the guardian balloon in ‘The Prisoner’ and shows projected abstract images; from the beauty of ice crystals forming to bass drums on fire and rolling down waterfalls.
In true psychedelic avant-garde style it was definitely a musical ‘happening’.

While I am still processing the experience of Adrena Adrena, Nuha Ruby Ra arrives on stage – then she is soon down into the audience with her striking vocals and electro-industrial backing. Usually playing live with a band as an extra focal point, it is a challenging task to engage the polite and generally static Cambridge crowd by direct interaction, but by the second track with its repeated ‘…Rise!…’ she had succeeded in establishing a rapport.
She has created a futuristic inter-genre musical persona which fits in perfectly with the performance art atmosphere of the whole evening.

This show had been sold-out for a while – a reflection of the substantial cult-following for headliners Snapped Ankles. Taking the stage with their identity-disguising headwear (though they are not that secretive, it didn’t seem to be in place in the bar earlier!) and the keyboard player wearing antlers and a bike-light (to connect with the local crowd?) it takes a while to engage fully with their world. On the surface they produce a conventional rock band sound, interwoven with beats activated by hitting synthesiser tree branches and a build-up of doomy tones. But when ‘Let’s Revel’ goes into overdrive, followed by the B-52s dance flavour of ‘Tailpipe’ and the audience starts to move, their appeal becomes obvious. ‘Drink And Glide’ continues in this vein then the social commentary of ‘Pestisound (Moving Out’) is sparser and percussion led.

There were many forays into the audience by the lead singer during the set, including a trip to the bar for hydration, it must get hot under the headgear. ‘Letter from Hampi Mountain’ is a strange, hypnotic groove, while ‘Rechargeable’ speeds up and pushes all before it. All the tracks have some facet that drives in an unpredictable direction, but even when the band enter relentless Fall-type instrumental poundings there is still something interesting going on in the mix, including some excellent drum fills and brilliant bass sound.

It was an hour of unsettling but satisfying weirdness to bring this top-quality show to an end.

https://www.snappedankles.com/
https://www.facebook.com/nuharubyra/
https://www.adrenaadrena.com/

Diving Station : Honey Bees, single released October 2019

‘Honey Bees’ is the new single from indie-experimenters Diving Station and is the latest in a string of high-quality releases.

Earlier this year ‘Film’ was a soundscape of scenes and movements; drawn together by a repeating descending vocal figure underscored by a shifting texture of instrumentations, from loud fuzzy guitar to semi-classical acoustic and of course the signature sound of the Celtic harp (or ‘clarsach’).

Starting with a pulsing bass riff, ‘Honey Bees’ takes the sound of the Manchester four-piece in a different direction. On this excellent new track the percussion of electronic sounding handclaps sounds tense and trying to speed up, but the pace is reigned in by the interweaving bass.

The overall dissonant but dreamlike emotion of the song is mainly caused by the imagery of the lyrics, with the literal or metaphorical appearance of the ‘honey bees’ ‘… my grandma used to put them in a jar, those honey bees……they can smell your fear, those honey bees….’ Even the innocuous ‘…the sweetness at the bottom of the cup….’ sounds sinister in the context of these words.

The cryptic ‘….she was a rose, handled by those….’ is a recurring chorus interlude accompanied by harp mini-waves played by singer Anna McLuckie. Guitar effects float in and out and a synthetic(?) string section drifts on the air in this immaculately crafted single, every element contributing to the whole.

Remember, ‘…..you should warn your friends….about honey bees….’

https://www.facebook.com/divingstationmusic/

Chris Fox : From The Shadows, LP released November 2019

A track by track review of ‘From The Shadows’, the third album from Cambridge contemporary folkster Chris Fox.

1. Bird Of Paradise A likeable and catchy song that Chris has been performing live for a while, a relaxing bluegrassy piece featuring contrasting backing vocals and a subtly cool acoustic ensemble driven by upright bass.

2. Tinseltown This current single is a darkly humerous murder ballad about how a US summer job went awry, ending with the consequences from ‘….paid me a couple of grand to bury a body in the sand…the coyote howled and the owl did screech….’. The narrative motors along smoothly, always returning to the inevitable chorus line ‘….now I’m running from the law…I’m running like I never run before…’ . It is a morality tale to relish.

3. You Helped me through A looser, free-form song with just a gently percussive acoustic guitar and a confiding, emotive vocal reminiscent of the late John Martyn. Excellent.

4. Little Brown Sparrow Inspired by an encounter with a homeless woman, pondering the future and the choices involved on both sides. A sparse guitar figure weaves its spell in the background.

5. Annabelle A song of love and loss, with a strong tune and the words cleverly blending multiple exes into the title character, also deconstructing aspects of the creative process into the lyric and featuring some neat couplets ‘…I wrote a hundred songs about you…did you write one about me?…’.The bass stretches and yearn across the words, as it does on the next track too.

6. I’m in Love with you A highlight of the album, with smooth rhythm from the brushed drums and a violin with a counter-melody giving depth to this lovelorn coffee-themed tale. The harmony vocal from Zoe Wren is just right and the atmosphere created reminds me of the whispering folk/blues of J.J. Cale.

7. The Motivator Blues A change to electric guitar (played by album producer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Wilde) for this 12-bar blues, a burst of positivity and statement of intent.

8. Castaway With the 2000 movie as the inspiration for this gently scored acoustic piece, it extends the metaphor into deeper reflections, with fine voice work from Chris and Zoe.

9. Just a Fool From a slow thoughtful start this expands into a folk anthem as the acoustic chords continue to build. With the topic of unrequited love the lyrics are sombre ‘…I’m just a fool left out in the rain, still I pine for you…‘, but there is still an element of moving on despite this.

10. Who Really Loves you Timely pondering of the genuineness of friends and supporters and who really counts. It is built around a catchy hookline and leaves you thinking as it drifts away through the ether accompanied by a sharp guitar solo.

With 42 shows so far in 2019, Chris Fox is a consummate live performer, either as a solo guitarist or with like-minded musicians. This is a collection of songs that deserve an even wider audience…

https://www.chrisfoxmusic.org/

Penguin Cafe, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 30 September 2019

Rising from the ashes of the late Simon Jeffes’ pioneering ensemble Penguin Cafe Orchestra his son Arthur has now built on the legacy with his own compositions and re-imagined versions of earlier pieces performing as Penguin Cafe. The first half of the show featured the new LP ‘Handfuls of Night’, based on Arthur’s Greenpeace trip to Antarctica, embracing the mysticism of the landscape on tracks like ‘Winter Sun’ as well as the characteristics of four of the penguin species to be found there.

With a rock band lightshow and flanked on stage by two watching Emperor penguin head sculptures, this seven-piece incarnation of the band is a string quartet with added percussion, bass (electric and upright), harmonium and of course those rippling piano figures that drive many of the pieces. ‘Chapter’ is a perfect example of this, a lengthy meditation likened by Arthur to a 70s TV cop show theme (he carefully introduced each of the tracks played) whereas ‘Pythagoras On The Line Again’ is an experiment using beat frequencies, octave resonance and dialling tones.
My favourite is ‘At the Top of the Hill, They Stood’ with gorgeous impressionistic chord changes and a gradually building sound.

The second half was a trip through the Penguin back catalogue, with the familiar ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ and ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ being very popular with the audience. A cover of Simian Mobile Disco’s ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ was an unexpected excursion and the show ended with the evocative ‘Rescue’, a soundtrack for a film yet to be made.
The Cafe in full flight is an immersive experience but perhaps the most affecting moment in the show was near the end when Arthur Jeffes played ‘Harry Piers’, a solo piano piece simply described as being ‘…written for my Dad…‘. This musical innovator died in 1997 (aged 48) but his musical inspiration is certainly living on.

https://www.penguincafe.com/