Tag Archives: album

Love Ssega : Celebration, LP released June 2020

A track by track review of the new album ‘Celebration’ by singer/songwriter Love Ssega. I saw him play live in 2017 (see review below), it was a stripped back performance with just jazzy guitar accompaniment but immediately connecting strongly with the audience.

1. Celebration (No Bad News). A polyrhythmic and funky groove with a dissonant edgy backing and a wide-ranging vocal performance. A bold, unrelenting introduction to the collection.

2. Bring the Water. Raising the tempo for this sharply constructed song with the voice jousting and weaving against a neat jumpy bass pattern and intricate percussion.

3. Find Another Way. Mellow marimba and an insistent drum figure provides a smooth platform for a emotive lyric, always leading back into the title line chorus. A great pop song and definitely one of the many highlights on this LP.

4. Rich Forever.
Not the most immediate track on the album but definitely a grower, instruments and extra voices drift in out and through the mix underneath the vivid and strong central vocal performance.

5. Solutions. As the staccato electronica backing oscillates between pairs of chords the narrator ‘…wants solutions…’ but the track builds up and it seems that this of course is left unresolved…

6. Automation. More electronic keyboard pulses and rhythms with the biggest and catchiest hookline on the LP, as the lyric reflects on dehumanisation and the future, ‘…tell your people you love them, not technology….’. I think an early version of this was in the set when I saw him back in 2017, it is a powerful song and sentiment and probably my favourite track on the album.

7. Save Me. Another track where the adept playing and production enhance and fully realise the musical and lyrical ideas. Driven by bass and drums and an excellent vocal the soulful groove is a satisfying end to album.

https://www.lovessega.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/09/05/mary-epworth-norwich-arts-centre-2-september-2017/
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Kirsty Merryn : Our Bright Night, LP released April 2020

A track by track review of the new LP from singer/songwriter/pianist Kirsty Merryn, an ambient-folk concept album of snapshots and musings from dusk till dawn.

1. Twilight. A distant piano, freed of time constraints drifts and sustains as a bookend to the songs. When the voice and other acoustic instruments arrive the scene is set.

2. The Banks of the Sweet Primroses (feat Phil Beer). Straight into this traditional tune, Kirsty’s pure voice tells a tale of a dark ambiguous encounter, nicely tempered by a subtle violin.

3. Constantine (feat Alex Alex). The piano is back at the forefront for this gentle and unhurried duet of love and longing ‘…hold me in your arms…only you can keep me safe…’

4. Mary. Stepping the tempo up, Kirsty delivers a winning vocal with variations on ‘…Mary…say you’ll come walking with me…’ in this concisely structured folkpop track.

5. Our Bright Night.
Over an atmospheric drone from a shruti box, the vocal takes on an extra sparkling clarity in this timeless reflection.

6. The Deep | The Wild | The Torrent. Probably my favourite track on the collection, one to lose yourself in like some island landscape. The graceful waltzing chord sequence is laced through with many instrumental contributions that embrace the voice and lyric to perfection.

7. Outlandish Knight. A version of another traditional tale, steamy and sinister with mysterious and mythical overtones, augmented by the tension in the music.

8. Little Fox. Sparse and concise, a sweet melody with an undercurrent of the dark woods.

9. Shanklin Chine (feat Sam Kelly). The tree-lined gorge in the Isle of Wight is the evocative backdrop to the duo’s contrasting vocals and some neat twists in the melody. The sombre story doesn’t end well ‘….at Shanklin Chine the jagged rocks would be her only marriage bed…’

10. Thieves of Whitehall. A contemporary comment set to a melody and backing that could be from an older tradition.

11. The Wake. A return to the purity of simple piano and voice, this is another favourite track for me, packed with poetic imagery ‘….or the freezing air should take a hold in June…….and the grass that grows will remind me of our parting…and the grass grows long…’ Gorgeous.

12. Dawn. The final instrumental, as the excellent musical vignettes of the night fade but linger in the memory…

https://www.kirstymerryn.com/

Various Artists : Now That’s What I Call The Portland, LP released May 2020

A compilation of tracks by Cambridge-based bands old and new, curated by Ian Perry of Aaahh!!! Real Records, the aim being to help financially support much-loved pub and music venue The Portland Arms through these difficult times (see link below!).

1. The Portland Brothers – Invisible Love. Poignant, acoustic country-folk from a band named and formed after a meeting in the venue.

2. The Judge Reinholds – Stars and Satellites. Distant musings take their time to erupt into an impressive onslaught of spectacular noise.

3. Grieving – Bow and Arrow. Continuing the noisy theme and capturing their distinctive live sound, this restless rocker is punctuated by more contemplative interludes.

4. The Baby Seals – Vibrator. Contributing one of their supreme tracks, the mighty trio deliver a concise and singalong powerpop single.

5. Old Man Boom – No Longer Alone. As a contrasting backing to the affecting vocal, the waltzing banjo takes on a life of its own before the whole band crashes in.

6. Model Village – Eulogy. A wistful new track from the much-loved Cambridge collective. As always the voices, acoustic and electric instrumentation are an irresistible combination.

7. B-Sydes – Good Times. With a committed vocal performance pushed on by pure band energy, the track continues to build the momentum to the end.

8. Goldblume – Husk [Live]. One of the rock trio’s best tracks; complex, edgy and rewarding as it twists unpredictably.

9. Beverley Kills – Walk With Me. Blistering introduction, razor sharp sound, machine-gun drumming, strange abrupt middle eight and a vocal soaring above all. Unbeatable.

10. Freedom Faction – What’s it All About? According to their bio the band ‘… inject liquid punk directly into your brain via your earways…’ Agreed.

11. Heartwork – The Used. Roving softer-rock track, the complexity of the musical structure and a passionate vocal gradually pulls the listener in.

12. DoYouThinkHeSaurus? – Lipstick Teeth. Experimental punkish brooding guitar keeps you guessing until the chorus hits home.

13. Mammoth Penguins – Dick Move. Taken from their brilliant 2019 album, the trio deliver a short, precise slice of emotional angst. Powerful, catchy and possibly my favourite on this collection.

14. Just Tom & Pete – Sweet Ass Voice. A gentle meandering with spoken word, acoustic guitar and a winning emotional intimacy from this unassuming duo.

15. The Pony Collaboration – Close Enough. Last seen in Cambridge supporting The Wave Pictures, this easy-going ensemble were a real treat to hear, with tracks that roll along like this pop-perfect meditation.

16. The Travis Waltons – Year of the Snake. With a third album due out soon, the trio remind us how well they can structure a single as the distorted guitar riff and the emotional disappointment in the voice drive towards a chorus line that will stick in your brain.

17. The Grey – Silent Man. Dense layers of guitar and drums introduce this rock epic, the trio make no compromises and take their time delivering this doom-laden but thoughtful anthemic finale.

https://theportlandarms.bandcamp.com/album/now-thats-what-i-call-the-portland
http://www.theportlandarms.co.uk

The New Fools : Mershmellow, LP released April 2020

The second album from Cambridge-based band The New Fools; again it is a mixture of styles, textures and well-crafted song writing.

1. London ’66.
A melancholy waltz to open the collection, swirling acoustic guitar and plaintive piano for a biting lyric ‘….winter ’66, a cold London street disturbed from its dream by the sound of a woman’s scream…’

2. The House of (Having) Fun. A Northern Soul stomper, the lyric celebrating nothing specific ‘…and I feel like a mystical man selling dreams from the back of a van….’ but acting as the glue for a perfect pop song structure.

3. Summer Rain. The pace of the band drives this mini road movie along, the meditative recollections of the vocals drifting above the rhythm guitar, organ and spirited drumming. ‘…autumn leaves fall from the trees…settling around my feet…sweet memories…’

4. The Story 0f Me.
40 years of biography in three and a half minutes, the waltzing carousel sound given extra emotional resonance by guest folk-infused violin, a brilliant counter to the disappointment expressed in the words, ‘…now I’m 50 years old I can hardly breathe for the weight of the guilt and the shame that surrounds me…move on will you please there’s nothing to see….’

5. Model Village. This could be a diversion for the character in track 4, spending many hours building a model village as a metaphor for escape. It solves nothing, after all ‘…what you gonna do when the rain comes…what you gonna do if it pours….pick up the pieces and start all over again…’. The band don’t let up in their intensity until a sombre coda that fades into birdsong.

6. Something About Jane. Suspicions about the breakdown of a relationship infuses the pounding rock momentum with a paranoia from the narrator. Another viewpoint is presented in a surprising reggae section, before the doubts re-establish.

7. John Candy Talking. A strident punchy anthem that musically unlocks a bit of REM and glam rock in memory of a largely forgotten cult actor as a metaphor for emotional confusion ‘….I’m going round in circles without you…I can’t help the way I’m feeling….the modern world is not forgiving…’. This track was pre-released as a single earlier in the year.

8. I Got on a Train. I’m not sure that the railway ticketing system allows for the random sense of escape that this track inspires ‘….I got on a train don’t know where it’s heading…anywhere is fine…I got nowhere to run but I’ve a ticket to ride…’ but it is a thoughtful and well-judged finale to this richly creative album.

https://www.thenewfools.co.uk/

Charmpit : Cause a Stir, LP released April 2020

After single releases and sparkling live shows since 2017, ‘Cause a Stir’, the long awaited album from London-based indiepop quartet Charmpit finally arrives.

Celebratory and self-referential band formation song ‘Do It Together (First Timers)’ opens the collection, the calm intro soon noises-up then it is straight into excellent prereleased track ‘Bridges Go Burn’ with its tangled relationship descriptions.

The four-piece adeptly change time, tone and tempo and the double vocals overlap and interplay on ‘Jimnastics’ and the multi-sectioned ‘Sophomore Year’. The subtle and lovingly direct ‘Kissing You’ is an attractively sweet concoction and a highlight for all of its one minute twenty. ‘Wild Wild Westfield’ ambiguously salutes the shopping mall with a classic pop structure and a guitar line and chorus that drives the song along. ‘Muffy Plays Poker’ is compact yet anthemic and features a surprise lead guitar solo.

And much, much more, including the ominous sixties sounding chords that introduce the hairdressing as metaphor homage ‘Dyed and Gone to Hairven’ and the gently jazzy final track ‘Baby Needs a Breeze’, another gorgeous summery sound with the lingering images ‘….you’re a diamond, you’re a pearl…’.

The musical and lyrical ideas flow addictively and unstoppably on this succinctly brilliant set of songs…

https://www.facebook.com/charmpit
https://specialistsubjectrecords.co.uk/

Bouquet Of Dead Crows : Hemispheres Part 1 – Celestial, EP released April 2020

The new album ‘Hemispheres’ (a homage to the classic Rush LP?) from Cambridge “Sci-fi Alt Rock band” Bouquet Of Dead Crows is to be issued in two parts; ‘Celestial’ now then ‘Cerebral’ to follow….

1. Terraformer Scary doom-laden introduction, a barren planetary landscape of distant guitar effects…

2. Before The Storm I think the storm has already arrived at the start of this track, then it goes a bit jazz-influenced interspersed with the heaviness through a packed two and a half minutes.

3. Caged The clear and strong vocal rides over a synthesiser guitar backing, duelling with the threatening purity of the full-on rock sound, suddenly unleashed towards the end of the track.

4. Left To Rot Featuring one of the most dynamic introductions I have heard for ages, this previously released song pushes all before it, with the explosives that this band can unleash with ease. I don’t know how anyone can play the drums that fast. It pauses occasionally with a 70s prog rock interlude.

5. Kaiju Hijinks With the listener exhausted from track 4 this new single maintains the pace and energy. The title refers to the Japanese film genre and the accompanying video stars Godzilla and the unfeasibly powerful Mothra. As the super-deep bass drives the sound the drums and guitar take on the monsters.

6. Hemispheres Martial drumming sits beneath some deceptively gentle verses and noisy prescient chorus ‘….it’s not the end of the world…this time…‘ Trading the rockier conventions for a more anthemic sound, with each of the instruments and voice given a chance to individually shine this is a multi-sectioned complex and rewarding track.

https://www.bodc.live/

Pet Crow : Take the Edge Off, LP released February 2020

Derby based four-piece Pet Crow release a follow up to their 2017 debut long-player ‘A Simple Guide to Small and Medium Pond Life’ and the punching intro to opener ‘Limbo’ is a clear statement of intent. As on all of their tracks the band seem to extract depth and endless variety from the conventional bass/guitar/drums line-up as Danielle’s vocals soar and echo above.
Favourite track of mine and forthcoming single, the lively ‘Insomnia’ is B-52’s in full garage mode, with some of the busiest drumming on the album. ‘NOCD’ is a relentless groove with atmospheric guitar adornments and bass way up in the mix. ‘What We Doin’?’ maintains the power output level with an insistent chorus and unpredictable changes of pace.

‘One Whole Summer’ is a celebratory and creative three minutes with the drum kit flayed until it sounds like it is being thrown down the stairs and features the haunting refrain ‘….we can stay up all night…and the next day is a mess…’. ‘Controlling’ has some sparser passages and strange effects with a playful vocal driving the song. Title cut ‘Take The Edge Off’ is a sub two minute punk burst mainly built around the title phrase and still there are three more tracks to discover (including a surprise appearance of a frantic saxophone on ‘Scars’).

The album features excellent production, successfully capturing a ‘live’ sound – I was lucky enough to see them performing last year when they played a memorable standout set at the Leicester Indiepop half-dayer.

https://www.facebook.com/petcrowband/
https://nosleeprecords.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/06/14/pet-crow-a-simple-guide-to-small-and-medium-pond-life-lp-released-march-2017/

The Just Joans : The Private Memoirs and Confessions of the Just Joans, LP released January 2020

A welcome and wistful mix of melancholy and fun on the new album from Glasgow indie song-crafters The Just Joans, maintaining the high standard since their formation in 2005. Before you even listen to the songs the titles tell a story…

1. Hey Ho, Let’s Not Go
A burst of brass is used to counteract the ennui as we become more reluctant to make the effort to have a night out when ‘…I’d rather get a takeaway…I’d rather get an early night….’. There is still a regret in the playout, ‘…when we were young we took the bus to town…’

2. Who Does Susan Think She Is? This one rolls along nicely and as in many of the tracks it is a wistful tale of life moving on and the inevitable leavings behind. Great piano solo!

3. Wee Guys (Bobby’s Got A Punctured Lung) A pre-released single; an instrumentally upbeat and succinct commentary on some of the probable mundane reasons for knife crime.

4. Dear Diary, I Died Again Today Katie Pope delivers a touching vocal performance, backed by a string quartet and featuring the memorable couplet ‘…a comment so inept, Frank Spencer would have wept…’

5. My Undying Love For You Is Beginning To Die Definitely one of many highlight of the album, lo-fi synth and percussion for David Pope’s sad reminiscence ‘….once upon a time long gone you held me in your thrall…but now I find I’m less inclined to bother much at all….’. It sort of resolves with the twist of ‘…perhaps that’s why you left two years ago with your new beau…’

6. When Nietzsche Calls A sombre mood pervades this one, but the affecting vocal and distant strings still wins you over.

7. The Older I Get, The More I Don’t Know Opening with ‘…the past has passed me…..the future’s ghastly….’ the song sounds more optimistic than it should be as the driving rhythm section pushes it along.

8. The One I Loathe The Least Lyrically, musically and in the vocal performances this is another big highlight. All together now! ‘….when everyone’s subhuman scum…it’s hard to find some peace…thank heavens I found you…the one I loathe the least…’

9. Another Doomed Relationship
Sounding like an early poppy Depeche Mode single the synths are back for this mini-masterpiece, the narrator knowing that even as ‘…we dream of true love…but the outcome’s the same…..’ that still ‘…. we cling on by our fingertips…’ and ultimately ‘…it’s the hope that kills you…’

10. Holiday Acknowledging the musical influence of Blur in the lyric for this song, this one really hits the sad reality ‘…two weeks in the sun but then you come back and it’s all the same…and you’ve got twelve months to count down again…’

11. People I Once Knew
The strange compulsion to retread the past that started with website ‘FriendsReunited’ set to a sinister clock ticking beat ‘….I’m quite content with my life and how it went…so, why do they call to me? that strange menagerie…’

12. Like Yesterday Again A dark coda to the album; lyrically sparse with lush but lo-fi orchestration ‘…in this room there’s no view…all there is are memories of you…’. A thoughtful ending to a brilliant album.

https://www.thejustjoans.co.uk/
http://www.fikarecordings.com
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2016/01/25/just-lovely-split-ep-released-january-2016/

Short Cuts : Three albums from 2019 that deserve another listen….

The Paranoyds – Carnage Bargain, LP released September 2019

The long awaited new LP from Los Angeles four-piece The Paranoyds kicks off with the emergency siren guitar of single ‘Face First’; a dual chord relentless roaring beneath the careless yearning of the vocal. Straight into the super-deep bass of ‘Carnage Bargain’ – with the voice alternating each phrase with an instrumental line and big chorus it is a near-perfect pop song.
‘Girlfriend Degree’ builds on the riff from the Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night with an excellent empowered anthem. My current favourite track is the blast of ‘Egg Salad’; it could be a tuneful song by The Fall. High praise indeed.
After that incredible four track opening the longer ‘Bear’ wanders a bit but ‘Hungry Sam’ restores the tautness and edge, also raising the organ in the mix to great effect, especially in the playout. ‘Courtney’ is a change in direction, a surreal swirling carousel of psych-pop with harmony vocals.
‘Laundry ‘ lasts just over a minute with the literal B-52s ish chorus ‘…I’m doing laundry…’ , leading into the similar ‘Heather Doubtfire’, a strident and noisy many-sectioned opus, with extra energy drumming and a spooky keyboard/guitar outro.
Another favourite for me is finale track ‘Ratboy’, it has the frenzy and psychedelic atmosphere of the faster Doors songs but I could be being hypnotised by the prevalent keys, including an ominously building solo at the end…
The quartet describe their sound as a ‘…sonic balance of jubilant energy and foreboding undercurrents….’ which is a good way of reflecting in the music their explanation of the band name ‘….What isn’t there to be paranoyd about?….’.

https://theparanoyds.bandcamp.com

 

Jade Imagine – Basic Love, LP released August 2019

After a tantalising three preview singles Jade Imagine finally release their new album, featuring the thoughtful world-view from Melbourne based singer/songwriter Jade McInally.
Basic Love is a varied collection of styles and ideas brought to life by two guitarists, drums and bass with some synthesiser textures; all analogue instruments for a sensation of warmth and authenticity. This is very evident in opening standout track ‘Gonna Do Nothing’, a meditation on drifting and boredom in a personal and existential sense, always leading to the concluding resignation of the title phrase. The dreamy production casts a sheen over an insistent guitar groove with the bass and drums threatening to overtake all in the end.
The triumphant trio of singles follow; ‘The News’ is as good a summation of our current political and media turmoil that you could expect to hear, ‘Big Old House’ is a seemingly effortless piece of pop built around a simple and very effective drum pattern, and ‘Remote Control’ invites some 80s synth to the party. All good so far, those four would be a top quality EP but this is a proper album with much more to come.
‘I’ll Take You There’ is an expansive and evocative six minutes of atmosphere, with that simultaneous closeness and distance from the listener that The War On Drugs achieve on their best tracks.
‘The Weekend’ is a dark inverse-celebration of time away from work, weaved through with melancholy and realism. A plaintive guitar solo line duels with the vocal at the end. ‘Cut Me Off’ is also delving into dark feelings, with the band in a blurry Cure mode while I particularly like the barely-there guitar lines, bass pedals and sparse drum interjections underneath the soulful vocal in ‘Past Life’.
The final two songs have a mellow, late-night feel (including a saxaphone appearing from nowhere!) memorably concluding this many-layered and rewarding album.

https://www.jadeimagine.com/

Tacocat – This Mess Is a Place, LP released May 2019

Tacocat release their 4th album ‘This Mess Is A Place’, their first since 2016’s ‘Lost Time’. The LP opens with single ‘Hologram’, a winning and reassuring combination of outsider observations and spiky guitar slices, metronomic drumming and a killer chorus with the reminder ‘….how small are you?…’ when considering the bigger issues of relationships, space and time…
‘New World’ has a great bass driven riff as the drums let loose and a wryly optimistic lyric brings a smile ‘…new world, new shining planet, confetti raining from the sky….’. There is the surreal touch and sentiment of some of Talking Heads later songs to be found here.
‘Grains Of Salt’ was another taster single release for this collection, a funkier groove with a sparkling chorus delivered with style by vocalist Emily Nokes. The wall-of-sound verses of ‘The Joke Of Life’ smoothly drop into a sixties chart-pop chorus as you realise that lyrically there is so much to process and absorb on these superbly structured songs. ‘Little Friend’ jangles along sweetly until hijacked by a suprisingly heavy chorus and slightly sinister middle eight.
And there is much , much more; there are many choruses to be uplifted by and neat words to spot and ponder like ‘…. I saw you in a crystal ball and you were upside down….’. The band are on top form, brilliantly showcased by an energetic, sharp production quality and I can imagine many tracks such as the sparse economy of ‘The Problem’ being a blast of energy on stage.
The final track is the anthemic waltz of ‘Miles And Miles’, a haunting melody and hypnotic swirl of sound which brings this excellent collection to a distinctive end.

https://www.facebook.com/tacocatband

 

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/