A new EP from Cambridge quartet Bouquet Of Dead Crows, following on from Part 1 ‘Celestial’, released back in April 2020 (see review below)……
1.Idle Thoughts : Don’t be fooled by the quiet intro, the deep dark guitar and bass soon steers the track into raw rock territory, as the vocal calls across the wasteland in this ever-changing epic.
2.Standing At The Precipice : Faster work-out for the band, especially the fireworks drumming, but full of surprises with time signature and dynamics changes all packed into two minutes thirty.
3.One More Sunrise : Straight into the soulful tones of a thoughtful ballad structure which alternates with some of the heaviest rock on the collection.
4.The Longest Road : The Crows are adept at creating longer conceptually rich pieces; this elegantly brooding anthem has the time and space to deliver the full emotional impact.
5.Somewhere In The Static : Built around the most satisfying bass and guitar riff at the start the vocal builds over the descending chord pattern to a false finish part way through. This song has many moods; weaving together the finesse of some of the prog rock directions of the band with sections of sledgehammer power to make it a fitting end to the double EP.
A track by track review of the debut LP from singer/songwriter Chloe Foy….
1.Where Shall We Begin. Setting the tone for the collection, an acoustic dreampop delight where the guitar shadows the vocal line. Gorgeous.
2.Deserve. A slow and longer meditation, peppered with restrained electric guitar, layers of vocal lines and gradual build up of atmosphere.
3.Work of Art. More tightly structured than some of the tracks, this compact pop song is driven by the insistent melody line; grounded by the bass, drums and empathetic guitar.
4.Evangeline. A definite favourite of mine, the musical triplets are joined by an endless selection of musical combinations as the stately melody serenely soars above with the sensual lyrics ‘…Evangeline…you are my queen I promise that I’ll keep you warm…’
5.Asylum. A prime example of the haunting-folk genre that Chloe inhabits, where the sonic textures of strings and harp complement the vocals perfectly, carefully arranged and produced by album collaborator Harry Fausing Smith.
6.Bones. Adrift on a becalmed sea, the rich vocal from Chloe is adorned by a dark and moody instrumental mix.
7.Shining Star. Uptempo, hypnotic and mysterious ‘…fears untold and false absolve be true to who you are…faster now, you’re dancing now…you’ll be my shining star…’
8.Left-Centred Weight. Previously released as a single this is a showcase for the smooth and mellow tones of Chloe’s voice as the languid strings emerge over the horizon and create a semi-orchestral extravaganza.
9.And It Goes. The longest track on the album, a free form late night jazzy-folk reverie with contrasting sections, unpredictable diversions and finally drifting off into the cosmos.
10.Square Face. Possibly saving the best till last, this is a timeless and traditional sounding folk melody over a reassuring background of strings and a waltzing piano. The unaccompanied vocal towards the end lingers long in the memory as an emotional representation of this superb album.
A new EP from London quartet Bitch Hunt, following on from their split EP with adults in 2020, featuring the incisive ’23’ and the lo-fi high-concept pop art of ‘Spaceman’ (complete with fun video!)
Opener ‘Out of Eden’ is built around a descending chord sequence that arrives as if from a distant horizon before the arresting lyric sets the sombre tone ‘….under the apple tree…is where I was when he found me…’. The full four-piece sound is dissonant and disturbing to go with the implied subject matter but the music is punctuated with gentler interludes. ‘Identity Clinic’ is a punkier track and shows off the ability of the band to mix up the musical styles from distorted funk guitar under the catchy chorus to a sprawling instrumental workout at the end.
‘Eau Claire’ was previously released as a single and the companionship and water themes seem to carry an undercurrent of darkness, ‘…two died in the river that year…dull water…filled with parasites…’. It could be a companion track to cult classic ‘Next of Kin’ by indie dreamers Alvvays.
‘Shapeshifter’ is probably my favourite, a plaintively sung lyric, ‘….nice to meet you… sometimes I wish I could be you …sometimes I could eat you…’ as the guitar and bass lines quietly jump around. The drums and vocal harmonies control the dynamics of the song, until a short jazz influenced coda. Bonus track ‘I Wanna Be Un/Happy’ pulls many aspects of the band’s music together for a brooding and echoing finale, raising the noise level when the chorus kicks in.
This is a satisfying, energetic and thoughtful EP full of wit, warmth and wisdom.
Frequently reviewed on this site, roisterous London powerpunks Fightmilk release their sparkling new album….
Lucky Coin : After a brief linking introduction this track means business, as the mix melds the band together into a sharp backing for a post break-up tale of uncertainty ‘….yes I’m building something new…..and I’m a lucky coin, I just flip myself back over…’
Hey Annabelle! : An underused name in pop songs, this was a pre-released single and another energetic burst of pop delight with an edge ‘….Annabelle if you see her, can you check if anybody is there….please don’t make it too obvious because I definitely don’t care…’
I’m Starting to Think You Don’t Ever Want To Go Into Space : full review here
The Absolute State Of Me : A lyric of self-doubt inhabits the 1970s sounding production of this gleaming pop gem, which could be my favourite track on the LP. Savour the middle eight ‘….you’d look just like your picture…I wouldn’t be so useless…’ and the lively instrumental playout.
Girls Don’t Want to Have Fun : This is the more pensive side of Fightmilk, with the addition of strings, keys and drum machine sounds to create a platform for some surreal imagery in Lily’s vocal ‘…..when we talk about dying it feels like a pipe dream…. I can be your guinea pig baby…. I can make you like me….’
Cool Cool Girl : Recalling the quartet’s early EPs this is a mighty powerpop explosion with a wittily acerbic lyric delivered with conviction, great answering vocal backing from the band and a killer chorus.
Banger #4 : Drum driven spectacular, with full-on adventurous bass lines and molten guitar lines duelling with a big vocal, all adding up to the accurate description of the title.
You Are Not the Universe : Another character dissection, gradually building in lyrical complexity until the pay-off of ‘…the plays unread…the script is unrehearsed….but you’ve made your bed and you are not the universe…’
Maybe : With some instrumental link sections as brief respite this album does not lose forward momentum, even after the calmer acoustic introduction this track becomes another punchy anthem with a playful but lingering short phrase melody line that flawlessly hits the spot.
Overbite : This is a classy pre-released single, complete with animated video and distilling many of the elements of the band into the perfect blend. Over the dynamite bass line the lyric weaves a clever obsessional spell summed up in the chorus ‘….I think you’re cool….I like your overbite…’.
Long awaited and anticipated, Fightmilk have delivered another excellent collection of noisy pop gold.
A re-imagining of the Such Small Hands (singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Melanie Howard) release from September last year, now featuring just voice and guitar. Packaged as a limited CD edition of 150, each in a unique hand-painted sleeve to hold the precious cargo of these ethereal songs.
The original versions had the extra dimensions of changing keyboard and vocal treatments but on this new album the guitar sets a distinctive tone for each track. There are the gently strummed chords for the unhurried opening meditation of ‘Lonely Is The Rain’, followed by the hypnotic triplets throughout ‘Do I Belong Here?’ and the fast walking urgency of the steps in ‘Drifter’.
In all of the tracks it is Melanie’s voice that is the key; listen to the vocal performance on the timeless waltz of ‘O Patient One’, it is like the gentle unwinding of a silk thread. Sometimes extra harmonies augment the raw recording – used to great effect on the counterpoint chorus of ‘Electric Touch’ and the waterfall of music and voices of ‘Why Am I Like This?’.
Title track ‘Carousel’ retains the otherworldly atmosphere of the original in this sparsely layered version while ‘Anhedonia’ is starkly beautiful. Bonus track ‘Ghost’ sinuously brings the gorgeous collection to a graceful end.
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.
A track by track review of the new album from Bob Dylan, his first collection of original material since 2012.
1. I Contain Multitudes. Pre-released as a single, over an almost ambient acoustic backing this time spanning meditation places the narrator in the midst of cultural icons and emotional experiences. It would be a central track on a lesser album; here it is one of many major highlights. The line ‘…I play Beethoven sonatas Chopin’s preludes…I contain multitudes…’ could only be rhymed and delivered by Dylan.
2. False Prophet. The tracks on this LP are long, even this loud languid loose but edgy blues clocks in at six minutes. Its like a cut up script for a mythical western, packed with restless one-liners ‘…don’t care what I drink – don’t care what I eat…I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet..’
3. My Own Version of You. Gothic and comic, the descending chord sequence cascades calmly as a tale of creating an ideal being is laced with name checking, ‘…..I’m gonna make you play the piano like Leon Russell… like Liberace…like St. John the Apostle….’ then encompassing a circle of history and philosophy. An excellent track on first listen then it gets better.
4. I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You. Set to a stately but subtle classical waltz theme this is an unassumingly gorgeous love song. For fans of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ from 1997’s ‘Time Out Of Mind’.
5. Black Rider. A gentle but dark interlude; a jazz guitar chord rolls across the start of each bar as Dylan sings homage, fear and redemption to the title character.
6. Goodbye Jimmy Reed. A bar-room brawl twelve-bar celebrating the influential bluesman (1925-76). Good to hear some harmonica in there too.
7. Mother of Muses. Stately and thoughtful, describing mythology and music history as the narrator draws multiple inspirations before the poignant ending ‘… got a mind to ramble – got a mind to roam….I’m travelin’ light and I’m slow coming home….’
8. Crossing the Rubicon. Like the opening line of a novel, Dylan pulls the listener in with ‘….I crossed the Rubicon on the 14th day of the most dangerous month of the year….at the worst time at the worst place…’ followed by seven minutes of searing guitar-led but still mellow backing and every verse ending with the title phrase. It is an effective lyrical device, echoing the classic ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’.
9. Key West (Philosopher Pirate). Another lengthy musing, a cryptic travelogue featuring a sleepy accordion and some of the most evocative descriptions on the album, ‘….people tell me that I’m truly blessed…bougainvillea bloomin’ in the summer and spring…winter here is an unknown thing….’
10. Murder Most Foul. This too was pre-released as a single(!) and it is granted a whole extra CD on the album release.
The track is a detailed news description of the assassination of JFK ‘…Zapruder’s film, I’ve seen that before…seen it thirty three times, maybe more…it’s vile and deceitful – it’s cruel and it’s mean…ugliest thing that you ever have seen…they killed him once, they killed him twice…killed him like a human sacrifice..’ weaved through with a celebrity cast, cultural touchstones and influences of the 60s and beyond.
It is a towering achievement; the dense tapestry of words and ideas needs to be savoured at length to be fully appreciated.
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.
Subtitled ‘An Everlasting Compilation’, here is a selection of artists from the Cambridge-based record label…
1. The Jims – The A to Z of You and Me A leisurely instrumental bookend, featuring acoustic guitar, bass and xylophone with a hint of percussion. A dissonant piano interrupts creatively towards the end. 2. Victorian Tin – Silver and Perfume This one is strangely addictive, with shades of 80s cult popsters Japan as it features roving bass slidings and a world-weary vocal. 3. Bug Teeth – Emily A double note on acoustic guitar provides the rhythym and melodic structure of the song as the ethereal vocals enchant for this heavenly two minutes. 4. Karalinga – The Old Man Laid-back semi-psychedelia driven along by an amiable saxophone line. 5. Ivan Campo – Magic A short pastoral interlude. Woodwind and acoustics weave a spell featuring shows and shamen with sinister undertones. 6. Lizard Brain – Am I Just A Dub I haven’t heard one of these for a while, an echong, sparse percussion and bass infused remix of an existing track – this one from the band’s cornucopia album ‘Stray’. 7. A J Jackson – World In A Wheel This is a wandering, speculative track that always returns to the strong hookline. The relaxed vocal delivery and circularity of the song reminds me of 80s pop minor-masterpiece ‘Kiss Me’ by Stephen Duffy. 8. Stenbit – Vanished From Earth Electronic meanderings certainly conjure up a cosmic journey. Meteoric pulsing interjections and a distant phone ringing(?) make it all a bit unsettling. 9. The New Fools – Oh Steven, Why? A fine waltzing Smiths-style song carries a coruscating lyric that acknowledges the impact made by the band before describing the fall from grace of their lead singer. 10. Smoothy – Bad Television A chiming, lingering riff gives shape to the plaintive vocal and sentiments in this thoughtful piece. The bass burrows around under the stately beat as the guitar gradually takes over. 11. Ollie Jackson – Let’s Be Clear One of my favourite tracks on the compilation, a rolling acoustic guitar beguiles under a quietly despairing vocal and affecting melody. 12. Kammahav – I’m Hers, She’s Gone Lovelorn and a bit confused about the loss of a relationship, the narrator sums up the ambiguity over a reassuring acoustic rock background. 13. Captain Crylaugh (featuring Bug Teeth) – We Two Boys Together Clinging Acoustic and electronic loops merge into rewarding strata as Bug Teeth adds the spectral vocal magic again. 14. Schaum – This Film There is plenty of time for the ideas in this carefully constructed track to develop. It could accompany a long aerial view of a city at night in a dystopian black and white movie.
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.