Originally a low-key release last year, the third LP from US trio The Crystal Furs now gets a wider vinyl distribution in the UK.
From the opening tones of the Farfisa organ on ‘Comeback Girls’ the lo-fi indiepop shines through, with jangly guitars, unassuming instrumental breaks and a naturalistic production that puts the Furs right there in the room with you. The band sound is also encapsulated in the minor epic of ‘Expo 67’, opening with the strangely inviting line ‘…we built a home of concrete bones…’, full of melancholy in the verses before the catchy chorus. Lead vocalist Steph Buchanan keeps herself carefully placed in the mix, making the band sound as one cohesive entity.
‘Too Kind To Be Cruel’ is a compact pop song with a yearning melody and some well-honed rhymes ‘…write the things you’ll say to me …engaging in so much hyperbole…‘, while ‘Burn Us Down’ rocks hard; ‘….you wanna cure me, you wanna fix me I wanna kick you to the curb…’ and is probably my favourite on the album.
Over the twelve tracks (and an extra set of mono remixes on the digital album!) The Crystal Furs clearly sound like they are having fun in their music, as summarised in the final track ‘Second Time Around’, ‘…..join a band and play guitar… and play it loud it isn’t hard…‘ This is a lyrically dense album too, full of themes, ideas, reflections and social comment and not afraid to give these carefully crafted songs the time to breathe and develop.
With their first LP since ‘Healing Centre’ in 2015, Model Village storm the citadel of sharp but polite pop on this ten song collection.
The distinctive guitar introduction of opener ‘Insufferable’ and immediate lyrical touchstones, ‘….drinking Pinot Noir….embracing failure….what will we do?…’ show that the Village are back with a bang. Lead singer Lily sounds optimistic yet full of regret while the rest of the band add harmonies and a complex musical backing. ‘Oslo’ is a likeable up-tempo jaunt that transposes the action of a relationship to Scandinavia to add to the feeling of uncertainty ‘…..if I dare to speak the language I’d be lost in translation… ‘. It creates an atmosphere a bit like an arthouse film where not much happens, but there is still a winning resolution in the final reel ‘….you know I’ll be coming back for you today…’.
‘Roll It Over’ is driven by the strong melody to give another pacey song with many musical nuances and a dominant vocal performance. A surprise middle-eight makes a welcome appearance near the end. The momentum continues with ‘Otters’, a light, jazzy and summery confection featuring an enigmatic title, imagery and trademark retro electric piano.
A highlight for me is ‘Roles’ – I am very partial to this type of slow blues track and this is a fine example. Over the six minutes there is loads of time to develop the lyrical ideas, ‘….are you smoking to impress me cause that would just depress me my dear…’. Instrumentally the band have a great time, with plenty going on around the guitar arpeggios including a demented solo, roving basslines and the drums only just staying restrained. I like the way that extra syllables are pushed into the main melody to keep up an atmosphere of doubt ‘….its not that easy to throw yourself into a role that you don’t believe in…’.
The band continue to move through different genres and styles; on ‘Sunburn’ a long experimental introduction evolves into a pensive and thoughtful song, ‘Popular Band’ is a wry self-referential resume of the band’s 12 year career while the hypnotic ‘Variety Box’ is another take on the blues and showcases the best vocal performance on the album.
The album closes with the big ballad ‘Miseryguts’, as the strong melody is boosted by extravagant 70s Carpenters style backing vocals. There is more too, on a very satisfying mix of timeless indie-pop from this artful Cambridge-based collective.
The debut long-player from London four-piece The Other Ones is a riot of noise and craftily crafted punk, with a few quiet sections slipping effectively under the radar of fuzz. There have been some pre-release singles to whet the appetite but surprisingly not the brilliant opening track ‘Drown You’. This song has it all; a killer introduction that springs from nowhere, a punk riff from heaven/hell, harmony vocal lines and spellbinding chorus ‘…all I ever really wanted to do is drown you…’. The drums and guitars drench the listener in distorted sound and it is pure pleasure.
‘On Top Of Me’ has a chord sequence that seems to be catching up on itself and demented guitar lines that underpin the energy of the vocal. ‘Forever Young’ is a perennial pop single, then within the field of energy of ‘Money’ there is lyrical acerbity and absurdity to get to the truth, ‘….we never kiss…..we never touch….. we only talk about money…’. It is not until track six when we have some calm respite with the acoustic ‘I Wish I Was Your Boyfriend’ with the biting ‘…your always in my mind but whose on yours…are you only with me because you’re bored?…’.
‘Better Off Alone Again’ strays into full-on rock territory while ‘Wasted Youth’ is a glorious drum extravaganza. Title track ‘The Other Ones’ is almost frightening in its intensity and serves as an effective manifesto for the band. Closing with the ethereal acoustic lines of ‘I Think Too Much’ is an unexpected departure but seems to work perfectly well to bookend this dynamic collection.
The new LP from Texas-based singer/songwriter Katy Kirby is refreshing, lyrically challenging and hints of summers to come in its music.
The short and sparse ‘Eyelids’ sets the dreamlike tone for the collection; acoustic guitar and piano complementing the beguiling vocal. With music and words that seem not quite aligned but very much in a good way ‘Juniper’ has one of those chord sequences that sounds like it is constantly catching up with itself and instantly lodges in your brain. A relaxed voice effortlessly flows above the uncluttered backing, sometimes giving way to just a lone guitar. The imagery of the lyrics ‘…you don’t need a gardener to know…which way the blossoms going to float….’ meshes seamlessly with the instrumentation, with extra nuances through the two and a half minutes running time. According to Katy “This is a song about motherhood, mostly...’.
The jumpier rhythm and hesitations of ‘Peppermint’ is followed by the delicate and playfully addictive ‘Traffic!’. Previously released as a single this gorgeous dancing melody is a winner, with a hook to immerse yourself in. A guitar solo, heavenly choir and electronic voice treatments all add to the mix.
The LP is packed full of treats, including the quiet piano ballad of ‘Portals’ and probably best of all the leisurely musings, big chorus and grand finale of title track ‘Cool Dry Place’ followed by the enigmatic low-key bookend of ‘Fireman’.
At the intersection of indie pop, lo-fi folk and perfectly crafted song writing this is a gorgeous debut album.
Kammahav are Christian Gustafsson from Forshaga in Sweden and Tony Jenkins from Cambridge, composers and performers of this new double CD.
It is a rewarding and dense mix from the start; emerging from a collage of sound effects is the grandiose pop of ‘Stitches’, referencing the assassination of Swedish politician Olof Palme in 1986. With distant vocals and fuzzy guitars like mid-period Neil Young it is a standout track. ‘Carrying On’ showcases the acoustic pop of the duo then the orchestration richly fills out the sound to impressive effect. ‘It’s Not Me…It’s You’ picks up the pace in a cinematic relationship song which the title line succinctly describes.
There are depressing political reflections on ‘The 52’ and in comparison the list of possible fates for the singer ‘….I could drown …I could suffocate…I could be stranded beneath the ice…’ sounds strangely uplifting. A strength of the duo is when they meld together the Scandi-noir soundscape of melting guitars and strings with the personal but disconnected words, evidenced on the slow-burning ‘Hea’.
And there is much, much more including the compact pop burst of ‘Seaside Ghost Town’ and the mellow play out of ‘…To The Sea’, as well as a whole disc of bonus tracks, remixes and alternative takes, showing the endless inventiveness of this creative pairing.
Straight in with the blistering ‘Count Your Blessings’, Leeds three-piece Nervous Twitch deliver a collection of roughly-cut pop diamonds on their excellent fourth album. Definitely a formidable live band; their recordings distil the essence of the energy from a stage performance.
I especially like the casual indifference of ‘Tongue Tied’, ‘….I’ve always got so much to say but I can’t always use it….’, tempered by the classic punk chorus. ‘A Bag For Life’ builds a chanting song around single line bass and guitar (reminding me of the spiky dance sounds of Shopping), then ‘Not Everyone’s Out To Get Me’ is a fuzzy and effervescent anthem.
A tasty synth riff joins the party for previously released ‘Keeping Faith In Something’, featuring one of Erin’s best vocals and ‘Alright Lads’ is a compact and sharply structured Ramones homage, readily acknowledged by the trio as a great influence. The calculated lyrical dismissal of ‘Boredom and Dissatisfaction’ hangs around a reassuring set of chord changes as does the darker anti-vocal of ‘The Way That I Feel’.
‘Fickle You’ ends the LP with a garage tune that is the constant in an ever changing musical battleground, demonstrating perfectly how after four albums Erin, Jay and Ashley have honed their addictive sound to cut this fine set of twelve tracks.
On this debut album from Canadian singer/songwriter Madisyn Whajne the first track ‘Summer Love ‘ is a supreme slice of dreampop with an edge, as a hypnotic drum pattern is a platform for a sublime voice and all over hypnotic effect.
Then ‘Killing Desire’ maintains the momentum as a seventies style glam rock piano figure drives a minimally chorded epic into pure pop heaven.
‘One Shot’ is in rockier territory, where the band battles with the vocal to great effect. Madisyn drives the vocal straight through the middle of the musical mayhem.
This opening triumphant triumvirate of tracks is followed by the duet ‘So In Love’, where Madisyn and James Grey deliver a neat ballad, before the chiming vocal glories of ‘Sweet Talk’ and the punchy pulses and descending scale of ‘Don’t Walk Away’. ‘When Morning Comes’ echoes the ambience of dreamy pop titans Alvvays and ‘Never Give In’ is reflective and relaxed.
The last two tracks showcase the contrasting sides of Madisyn Whajne; the up tempo airiness of ‘Fire’ and the looser, bleaker threads of the title track finale bring this superb collection to an end.
A solo debut release for singer/songwriter Dan Ecclestone, last heard as part of Ember Rev on their 2019 album (see review here).
1.Half of All We See Are Shadows. The opener sets the pace and palette for the collection; acoustic instruments enhance the piano as Dan’s voice conjures up lost days, recollections and connections. The imagery is beguiling ‘….watch the lights flicker down there….as there in the shallows tiny minnows dance as if flames in a fire…’ before a soaring chorus ‘…..all the world was watching us that day….’. Unrestrained by too firm a structure the song ebbs and flows, allowing atmosphere and expression to come through.
2. Cri Du Coeur. This starts by showing how effective a simple piano/vocal structure can be then the track sends the listener into a different direction as the strings and drums create an expansive soundscape.
3. Approaching Silence. A wistful musing on regret and the passing of time, built around the opening line ‘…as I approach the age my father died…’, with minimalist keyboard before a sudden stop to this thoughtful minute and a half.
4. King of Lands of Skies and Sea. The musical centrepiece of the album, a calming opus springing from the evocative title. The unhurried verses evolve into the grand chorus with the chamber orchestra at full stretch then dying away to beautiful effect.
5. This Uphill River. Recalling the edgy polyrhythms of Ember Rev this track increases the pace of the collection, pushed on by a spiking drum pattern battling with soothing strings and brass. Dan’s restless vocal drives and binds all the elements of the song together.
6. I Forever Dream of Home. With just piano and voice the finale is a jazzy, late night meditation, tinged with melancholy but there is an undercurrent of hope. The recurring line ‘…….will you still be there when I get home…..’ lingers in the memory as this excellent album concludes.
A compilation of cover versions of James Bond film themes, with all the artists connected in some way to punk-pop legends The Wedding Present, raising money for charityThe Campaign Against Living Miserably (see link below).
1. James Bond Theme – The Sleazoids. Amiable workout of that most recognizable entry theme for a film character, a flute adds to the feedback and fuzz before the distinctive final chord.
2. You Only Live Twice – The Wedding Present. One of the finest melodies, interweaved with that distinctive John Barry counterpoint figure. David Gedge delivers the words with relaxed gravitas.
3. Goldfinger – Simone White. The bombast of the original is stripped away for a beguiling vocal over a guitar that emphasises all the beauty of the jazzy chords.
4. Goldeneye – Follow The Moths. A lesser theme to start with but full of sinister intrigue building up to the big chorus.
5. The Man With The Golden Gun – Jetstream Pony. One of my favourites of the collection, pacy and punchy with time for a dreamy interlude in the two minutes.
6. Live And Let Die – The Donalds. The highly regarded multi-sectioned source material is treated with fun and reverence, the semi-spoken vocal imbues some tongue in cheek drama.
7. The World Is Not Enough – Maria Scaroni. This torch song lends itself to the 1920s Berlin nightclub atmosphere and the piano and sensuous voice sound like they are in the room with you.
8. Diamonds Are Forever – Cinerama. Full of atmosphere, emphasising the stealthy smooth melodic allure.
9. Tomorrow Never Dies – Danielle Wadey & Charles Layton. Another favourite of mine, with the descending echoing piano intro and arpeggios, full Spector-ish chorus and soaring but vulnerable vocal. Sensational.
10. All Time High – Minitel. Experimental electronica which builds layers of complexity, the song is in there somewhere (but at the time it was never the most memorable?)
11. Nobody Does It Better – Samuel Beer-Pearce. Slowed down version with sliding acapella harmonies turn this into a late night interlude.
12. For Your Eyes Only – Klee. Developing the 80s synth tones of the original, this is a sensuous, immersive electronic journey driven by a strong vocal performance.
13. Thunderball – The Legendary Len Liggins. Spiky guitar and super deep bass underpins this summation of the Bond character before Len deconstructs the myth in a surprise spoken passage…
14. Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Sleeper featuring David Lewis Gedge. The proposed theme for Thunderball but then instead used in the film soundtrack, it is full of energy with great lines ‘…like a shark he looks for trouble ..that’s why the zeroes double…’
15. From Russia With Love – Graeme Ramsay. Languorous and echoing, dark and sinister, this is another melodic highlight from the Bond canon.
16. View To A Kill – Terry de Castro. Sixties retro vibe with lounge music overtones gives subtle drama to one of the most commercially successful themes.
17. Die Another Day – The Ukrainians. The band are supreme masters of unexpected covers and as usual this one has all of their excellent musical trademarks. And it speeds up halfway through too….
18. Skyfall – Such Small Hands. The award winning original is turned inside out with hypnotic electronics, percussion and keys and a brilliant, haunting vocal.
19. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Shaun Charman. John Barry’s descending bass sequence sounds as foreboding as ever, with a classy guitar solo over the top in this cinematic instrumental.
20. We Have All The Time In The World – David Lewis Gedge. As in the film, appearing at the finale and here sounding especially poignant with an unadorned classical piano accompaniment. A fitting end to this rich mix.
This may be the perfect antidote to the maelstrom of uncertainty and contradiction of current everything; London four-piece Tugboat Captain have fashioned a complex and upbeat compendium of rewarding sounds.
Like many of the tracks opener ‘Check Ur Health’ draws on a range of sixties sources with a touch of prog-folk detachment in the lyrical delivery and the unpredictable instrumentation. There are later Beatles influences too, emphasised by the band’s insistence that the disc was recorded secretly at Abbey Road when there was spare time available.
The prescient ‘No Plans (For This Year)’ was finished a while ago, bringing in brass and strings to add emphasis to the vocal lines, driven by a neat piano break. ‘C’mon! Haribo?’ is frenetic fun while ‘Downward Slope’ is a punchy minute and a half. ‘Come Dig Me Out’ lopes along with extra acoustic guitar flourishes before diverting into many different sections and a steadily building entourage of extra instruments and voices (the LP credits 35+ players, singers and helpers…).
And there is much much more to hear as the later tracks open up the studio opportunities with brass, strings, woodwind and ever-changing musical dynamics.
It is an album of depth and colour, every track immaculately constructed but still retaining an underlying anarchy and looseness that create welcome undulations in the polished veneer.
This debut long-player is summed up by Tugboat Captain themselves, ‘….the band have now pushed on, beyond being solely a DIY indie-pop band, leaving lo-fi behind in search of transcendence through pure pop…..’