Tag Archives: album

BansheeVa : debut album, released February 2019

The debut long player from BansheeVa, one of Cambridge’s premier live psychedelic bands finally arrives. The album starts with the pacey fire of ‘F.O.Y.C’, a short burst of instrumental power built around staccato drums and a stop-start guitar figure. Clocking in at less than two minutes ‘Woman From Mars’ is more of a retro piece with full-on late 60s sound. It is ‘Space Invaders’ when the trio go into controlled power-drive with a full band propulsive riff and the welcome appearance of some indecipherable shouted vocals blended into the mix.

‘Janus’ is the god with two faces, looking into the future and back into the past and so represents a perfect manifesto for the psychedelic genre; on this track the core musical idea is a repeated single note but adorned with complex drums, a manic guitar solo and ultimately bludgeoning the listener into submission. In a good way.

Every Cambridge band that inhabits this musical territory is going to be aware of the ghost of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd and I have seen BansheeVa play ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ as a feature of their live set. I sense that the languid ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ is a spot-on tribute to mid-period Floyd with its laid-back instrumental colours, distant vocal and loose but always interesting guitar touches.

The final fourteen minute track is a widescreen, cinematic epic – the solo guitar arpeggios introducing the piece are gradually blended with a stately bass then the thunderous laying down of solid metal chords builds an effective platform for some more otherworldly vocals. Over this first third we get a guitar solo and dive-bombing synchronised with the bass. The track does not let up; the doom-laden bassline sounds like a portent to Armageddon and a deceptively quiet section allows some contemplation before it all kicks off again.

This is a loud and louder unrestrained debut, well worth the wait.

https://www.facebook.com/BansheeVa

Advertisements

The Twilight Sad : It Won’t Be Like This All The Time, LP released January 2019

The fifth album from The Twilight Sad, prime exponents of big sweeping soundscapes and playing out of emotional traumas. Describing themselves as a ‘…Scottish band who enjoy making miserable music…’ they share some musical territory with the Cure, including support slots on their tours and a Robert Smith vocal cover on one of the Sad’s best songs ‘There’s A Girl In The Corner’.

Everything is in place on this new collection; illustrated perfectly in the first song (10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs) from the opening line ‘…we’re hanging on by a thread and you keep bowing your head…’ to the big glorious sound when the full band kicks in. There are many cryptic titles along the way such as ‘Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting’ with one of the heaviest introductions to a percussion driven piece. ‘The Arbor’ is dark and thoughtful, with a repeating guitar triplet figure and super deep bass. ‘VTr’ was a trail single for this album; an uptempo almost optimistic sounding song with one of the best vocal performances on this album.

‘Sunday Day13’ is a slower impassioned track ‘…will you always be mine?…please don’t ever change your mind…’, heart wrenching lines over mixed keyboard backing.
The echoing piano drifts away to herald another previous single ‘I’m Not Here (Missing Face)’, an epic, unrelenting pulsing rhythm, sustained guitar notes and a catchy but pessimistic hookline with various versions of ‘…I can’t stand to be around you any more….’. The sentiment continues in ‘Auge/Maschine’ ‘…I can’t believe you’re happy…’, a brilliant song powered by huge skysaw guitar. ‘Keep It All To Myself’ is a lighter, quick waltz and probably the most immediate song on the LP.

And there are three more excellent tracks too; it is a superb collection, an intense, demanding listen in one go but unearthing treasures and extra depth as you accept it into your consciousness.

http://thetwilightsad.com/

Lizard Brain : Stray, LP released 18th January 2019

The third album from Cambridge band Lizard Brain is a refreshing cornucopia of a dozen tracks where each one is completely different in style and substance; lovingly crafted in their studio by the perfectionist quartet.

Opening with an electronic sequencer pattern ‘Lost In Sound’ is a poppy song drenched in effects and frequently returning to the hookline of the title, referencing Bowie’s Space Oddity along the way. ‘Gannets’ is a guitar driven rocker with a neat descending chord sequence. Then to surprise the listener we have the loping reggae of ‘Am I Just A Name Now?’, with a lyric of resignation regarding the digital world ‘…I’ve got more friends now…than I’m ever gonna need…’.

‘My Thing And Your Thing’ is a cryptic folk-rock prog piece, needing extra listens to untangle it. ‘Red Dress’ is a standout. As deep industrial electronic slabs of sound drift in and out the surreal words are darkly comic. It is an excellent song; a hybrid of Robyn Hitchcock meeting mid-period Depeche Mode.

‘Nothing To Say’ rocks along solidly then a tight 80s jazz-funk feeling pervades the next two tracks; ‘Should I Tell You?’ is a catchy pop single then ‘Never Felt So Good’ is nearly seven minutes of laid back goodness featuring flute, saxophone, bar chimes, synthesiser, languid vocals and some of the instrumental unpredictability of later Steely Dan.

My current favourite is the unexpected blast of Northern Soul of ‘Back To You’, a perfectly formed confection of upbeat lyric, blaring horn and Hammond organ sounds, pounding drums and bass and the biggest hookline chorus on the album. Brilliant!

‘Are Your Hands Any Warmer Yet My Dear?’ is a medieval psychedelic waltz with beautifully played classical guitar, recorders, crickets and a gothically sinister lyric about a strange relationship featuring imagery such as ‘….I buy a guitar cut out from cardboard…see I drew on some strings…’. This is a track to treasure; unusual and satisfying.

Finally we hear the insistent pulsing patterns of ‘Freedom (Summertime)’, a gradually building anthem of escape and optimism. As the album reaches the end you realise that you have never heard anything quite like this celebratory and stylistic collection of excellent songs.

https://www.facebook.com/LizardBrainBand/

Fightmilk : Not With That Attitude, LP released November 2018

Following on from two tasty EPs recently collected with bonus tracks onto the compilation ‘Both Types Of Hay Fever’, feisty London four-piece Fightmilk deliver their first full album of guitar power pop…..

1. How You Move On A recent single to preview this new album, the teasing guitar intro heralds a big band crash-in and a tale of relationship failure where the dominant legacy is an ill-judged tattoo. The clever and surprising lyrical trick here is that the inked ‘stupid tree’ design becomes the complete theme of the song, with a fade out of ‘…lasers are painful but I think you need it…’

2. Get A Grip Neat twisty bass work on this companion piece to an arrogant character in an earlier song (‘Jesse’). I greatly enjoy the stop-start middle eight (‘…you’re Twitter famous…whatever that means..’)

3. Lucy Driven by a sustained riff à la ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ this is the shortest track; a compact blast with belting chorus and melody, one of Lily’s best vocal performances.

4. Summer Crush It’s that bass again, jumping around under plenty of guitar tricks in this summery anthem with a bittersweet lyrical undertone ‘….a six week sugar rush….‘ that implies it is not all good.

5. Dream Phone ‘… I fell in love at the dial tone…’; beginning with that evocative sound, yes, I probably have fallen in love with this track already, recalling Blondie Hanging on the Telephone and ELO(!) on their Telephone Line. The third of the trilogy of pre-release singles this is a real grower, with pacey backing, great hookline and a strange dreamy atmosphere due to some adventurous electronic drum patterns and echoing guitar.

6. Not Going Anywhere With a superb descending chord sequence, this seems to be an irony-free evocation of childhood insecurities and family life. As on many of these tracks the guitars do so many nuanced but loud twists and turns to make this a great listening experience.

7. Four Star Hotel Trying to rescue a relationship by holidaying in Amsterdam is turned into a tale of regret and paranoia ‘….and all the cyclists were staring…’ (should have come to Cambridge, the cyclists are too polite and reserved to stare…). The nihilistic sentiment is set to a rollicking tune with excellent drumming. This also features another trademark of the band’s vocals, the ‘Greek Chorus’ call and response at the end for emphasis.

8. Over An anthemic love song, straight into ‘…I’m gonna fall for you, over and over…‘ with dense layers of backing, a bit of guitar solo and enormous drums. The repeated overlapping hookline makes the meaning very clear.

9. Solving Crimes In Sweden With acoustic guitar and piano, it is a bit of a contrast on this imaginatively themed opus. Cold climate ‘…five hours of sun a day, we stay in anyway…‘ and escaping into neverending detective work make this scandi-drama sound like an attractive date;‘….this time I’m not coming home, I want to see the snow…’

10. Your Girlfriend Previously released but re-worked for this new album, this musical tour de force is a superb song, stealthy and sinister with minimal verses giving way to a singalong chorus. Dissonant guitar, caustic lyrics in a turmoil of mixed emotion and another fine middle eight, ‘..I don’t have a pencil case but if I did I’d write our names…’. The band are on top form for this epic with another great vocal too.

Currently touring with these excellent new songs (and some oldies too!) the band are a formidable live attraction…

https://www.facebook.com/fightmilkisaband/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/06/01/fightmilk-both-types-of-hayfever-ep-collection-released-may-2018/

Jo Ash : Constellations, LP released October 2018

Jo Ash is a singer and keyboard player from Ely, releasing her first LP of self-penned compositions. It is an album of introspection, intensity, imagination and above all of confident, well-structured song writing.

The first two tracks have a broad cosmological theme as referred to in the album title, with ‘Otherworldly’ a strong opener to the collection with its orchestral introduction before the acoustic piano and voice drive the song and lift its haunting chorus. Jo’s piano style is rich and compelling on many of these tracks, on ‘4D Journey’ it adorns a stealthy synthesiser bass pulse and another arresting chorus.
If the album generally tends towards slower tempos, in contrast the spirited ‘Story Behind Your Smile’ dances along briskly, ably supported by guesting guitar, bass and drums.

‘Adrift’ and ‘I See You’ are stately ballads where Jo gives full range to her clear, pure voice. ‘Her Eternity’ is a waltz led by some darker piano textures and tempo changes. ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is a progrockish concoction with marching orchestra, spiky strings and a complex many-section arrangement.

‘Embers’ is a favourite of mine; with minimal piano and backing voices it still achieves a lush, emotive sound and it features one of Jo’s best vocals. ‘Blue Heart’ uses the repeating waltz rhythm of the echoing piano to great effect to counterpoint the abstract sentiments of the words.

For the final song a foreboding drum beat underpins a dark lyric musing on the inevitability of time passing and the idea that we only have ‘30,000 Days’ of life? The sombre chorus drives the song, ‘…here I am walking this Earth….’.
It is an unusual and haunting end to an impressive debut album.

http://joashmusic.com/

Ember Rev : Premonition And Ruin, LP released Summer 2018

Cambridge four-piece Ember Rev are currently finalising their third LP, but this excellent previous release from early summer this year is well worth considering first. It is a concept album inspired by the state of the nation, with a feel of reflective and thoughtful protest.

1. Bring It Right Down Based on overheard conversations during train journeys by band leader Dan Ecclestone he has distilled the sentiments and current attitudes to political developments into a disruptive, edgy opus of powerful and personal imagery. The instrumental spikes are partly tempered by the rocking accordion of Chris Peckham and Dan’s vocals remind me of Tom Robinson at his protesting finest.

2. The Fear Another track where you can’t quite pin down the time signature this one broods into a descending guitar figure and hookline of paranoia and warning. There is a good featured voice contribution from Romy Gensale too.

3. Something Almost Imperceptible Relaxing acoustic instrumental passage with guitar arpeggios, glockenspiel and piano but with a sense of foreboding threading through. It is like something from an early gothic/pastoral Genesis album (eg Trespass)

4. Papillon The title is a reference to a quotation from Alexander Pope;’Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?’ and famously referenced when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were given a prison sentence in 1967. Mix those allusions in with a stately strolling accordion rhythm, loping bass, spacious drumming then suddenly a huge chorus crashes in. The pensive, questioning lyrics lead the song to its downbeat conclusion.

5. My Sentiments Exactly
The polyrhythmic undercurrents of much of the album are given free range here, with complex drumming driving the jazzy feel of the tune and another excellent vocal performance from Dan Ecclestone.

6. England’s Finest Hour The finale of the album unifies many of the musical styles we have heard previously. The forthright lyric links a historical context to the present day with the resigned multi-lingual words expressing solidarity with the European continent.

https://www.facebook.com/EmberRev

Elma : Dreamland, LP released September 2018

Retro duo Elma revive and re-interpret many aspects of sixties pop genres on their long awaited debut long-player ‘Dreamland’.
The title track sets the agenda with its sparse instrumentation, a leisurely waltz time, smooth melody and of course a lyric of regret and longing sung by the golden voice of Ellie Gillett. It conjures up the russet shades and faded grandeur of the deserted fairground and art-deco cinema on the album sleeve. Some of the tracks have been released before as inviting aperitifs to this full collection; the glorious stomp of ‘California’ and their four-track EP including the heartbreaking ballad ‘Butterfingers’.
(as reviewed on this site previously at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/07/01/elma-california-single-released-june-2018/ and https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/11/05/elma-slo-mo-ep-released-october-2017/)

Mark Ellis orchestrates a full band sound with plenty of brass for anthem of independence ‘On My Way’ (featuring another fine middle eight and instrumental break).
‘The Game’ is a beauty, the atmospheric introductory waltz creating an image of a rainy London street in the 1960s or a black and white TV detective series theme, then the jazzy vocal takes control and lifts it to another level, with a big chorus suddenly appearing.

Then the album ends with two excellent and contrasting tracks; ‘All I Want’ is an appealing and effortless lounge-music vignette, the voice floating above lighter-than-air electric guitar work, bass and brushed drums, with a piano solo too.
Finally, if ‘Butterfingers’ left the listener in emotional turmoil, then ‘Late To The Party’ has surpassed it with lines like ‘….you did all that you could boy, you wrote our names in the clouds, too bad that I wasn’t looking up…..’. Over simple and effective acoustic guitar chords, Ellie delivers a show-stopping vocal performance of nuance and emotion, worthy of this superb song.

Elma are launching the LP with live dates featuring a full band, including a show at The Portland Arms in Cambridge on 27th September….

https://www.facebook.com/elmaband/