The follow-up to the acclaimed ‘The Race For Space’, the new Public Service Broadcasting album debuts in the album charts at Number 4, not bad for a concept album about the decline of the coal mining industry in South Wales. Given those perhaps limited parameters this is a superb result, it is more introspective and less immediate than its predecessors but repeated listens brings overall reward and many glistening nuggets like that which no doubt were sometimes found in the coal seams (…enough for another 400 years…).
The narrative starts with the perceived and semi-romanticised nobility of the miners in the opening title track with of course spot-on sampled voices including a too-short snippet of the legendary Richard Burton (which made me want to re-listen to his voicing of The War Of The Worlds!). ‘The Pit’ tells us what it was really like, the 80 degree heat of the tunnels …three feet six inches high from floor to roof… (for further reading see Orwell’s Road To Wigan Pier…).
There are lots of acoustic instruments on these opening tracks, using local strings players and recording in their purpose-built studio in Ebbw Vale. The wryly titled ‘People Will Always Need Coal’ is a favourite of mine, the band using a more familiar electronic-based sound underneath the subtle ironies of a recruitment campaign film ‘….you’ll discover the excitement of going underground, there will always be something new…’. It builds up well, I can imagine it as a future live favourite. ‘Progress’ follows in a similar vein, with the vocal hook added by Traceyanne Campbell.
Then this optimism begins to crumble; the closures, strikes and strife reflected in the angry rock guitar of ‘All Out’, PSB’s noisiest track since car crash opus ‘Signal 30’ on their debut album. The rest of the album deals with the aftermath and how local communities were affected. Guest vocalists (James Dean Bradfield, Haiku Salut, Lisa Jên Brown) contribute effectively but it is those real-voice clips that really hit home.
And if listening to the gradual mellowing of the music towards the end of the album doesn’t leave you spiritually part of the landscape and its uncertain future, the final emotional heft of the male voice choir singing ‘Take Me Home’ is a glorious coda to an affecting musical journey.
I missed this when it first came out but having liked the idea of a domesticated corvid and seen the striking sleeve it just had to be looked into further…
Pet Crow are a four piece from Derby, confidently managing to extract a distinctive sound from the conventional guitar/bass/drums line-up. The as-live sound is spot on with the echoing vocals appearing over the distant hills to slice through some aggressive drums and bass.
Opener ‘Harold And Maude’ (named after a 1971 dark comedy drama) has an introduction reminiscent of old standard ‘Can’t Get Used To Losing You’ but don’t be fooled, when the band crash in there is no easy listen as the vocals carve their own path on top. ‘She’s back’ is driven by a busy bass line and guitar fireworks, ‘Bazwatch’ name checks David Hasselhoff (of course) and is all over in a minute and a half.
‘Pressure Sores’ is my favourite, with the plaintive vocal (…why can’t I just be me?…) never resolved over the restless instrumentation. Heavy. ‘Let Your Hair Down’ is superb too, with twin vocals, dissonant guitar and a bass and drum middle eight as anything but light relief. The longer track finale ‘Absorbed’ incorporates many of the musical ideas from the rest of this short and loud but perfectly realised album.
Dan Mayfield is a songwriter and folk-influenced violin player; after many years playing for other musicians he is now releasing a collection of his own compositions with a five-piece incarnation of his band Enderby’s Room. Mr Enderby is the name of a character from the pen of Anthony Burgess, of ‘Clockwork Orange’ fame and I must highlight the sleeve artwork, drawn by artist Jonny Voss in one continuous pen line.
This is a gorgeous album with the guitar, double bass and other acoustic instruments blending perfectly, often underpinned by a pedal harmonium to add a different tone. The opening track ‘Lakeside’ showcases the dual harmony lead vocals as those waves of sound roll onto the shore. Likewise ‘Stars’, these are evocative pieces with no need for over-embellishment, the sentiment and music flow together.
‘Birds’ is a delicate fragment, the ornithological observations are followed by a chorus that could easily be used over again but the song is just left hanging there. Also around the 2 minute mark and leaving the listener wanting more is ‘Grey Stones’. Delicate ukulele introduces ‘My Old Friend’ an up tempo track which reminds me a bit of the late-lamented thoughtful indiepopsters Allo Darlin’. ‘Tiptoe’ has a strong hookline and ‘I’ll Find You’ (‘..dance with me to our love songs…’) is an emotion-filled finale.
The musical arrangement is minimalist but sounds lush and full, like an antique watch you don’t need to take it apart to realise its beauty and intricate workings…
This EP from Broadway Danny Rose is called ‘Passive Aggressive Post-Its’ and according to the band is the distillation from 14 hours of music; that sounds like plenty to choose from, which is not surprising given the range and scope of the music made by Joe Bell and his cohorts.
‘Rabbit Foot’ is an out-and-out rocker, it sounds like Wilko Johnson has temporarily joined the band to play along with the riff for a tale of gambling, debt and low-life deals. Worth the price of the EP on its own, it is a great opener.
We then go over to ‘Jeffrey’s Place’, a strange concoction of loud loping bass and driving guitar; also it includes the lyric ‘….For Jeffrey knows what’s wrong, haunted by mistakes… Rupert Brooke’s can charm but the sentiment’s misplaced….’ and other cryptic delights.
‘Organised Sport’ is a short blast of punk pop energy, with an opaque cut-up lyric where it is the sound of the words that count. I am lucky to own an early acoustic version of ‘Carrie Simmons’, on this release it is now filled out to form a swirling mini-movie murder ballad,‘….There’s something about the way you use that knife….Together in death as in life…’. Disturbing stuff; this is also a track of musical contrasts and shows the impressive versatility of the band.
I look forward to the album….
A new compilation of tracks representing the diversity of the Cambridge music scene, curated by Dave Hammond from his highly-regarded alternative radio show on Cambridge 105.
1. Trick Bird – Window Catchy opener from DIY popster, an up-beat tune carrying a lyric with dark undertones.
2. All We Earthlings – Berlin Plenty going on in this rock-prog epic with a story to tell over some powerful instrumentation.
3. Broadway Danny Rose – Find It/Hide It I really like this, Joe Bell effortlessly whisks you away into shadowy territory, a troublesome serenade sounding like it was recorded in the middle of the American desert…
4. I Strip For Couples – An Introduction Orchestral rap, killer guitar, crowd noise, fireworks? It is like a whole album condensed into one track.
5. Black Buttercups – 209 Sinister blues, hotel room 209 (and 208) sounds the place to be, before a buzz-saw guitar solo explodes into the mix.
6. The Seven Twenty – (Can’t Find No Love In This) City – Alt. Mix Evocative, thoughtful song, musically restless with violin roving in and out to great effect.
7. Garuda – Theta This one rocks, relentless drums and unusual guitar effects combine hypnotically.
8. Motor Tapes – Count To Ten Experimenters play electronic slabs over solid drums and bass pedals. Great vocals too, but I still can’t decipher the distant voices over the end fade…
9. Keltrix – Butter A martial drum approaching over the horizon heralds the arrival of a folk pomp-rock ode, the spirited vocal underlined by a violin sounding like medieval pipes. Complex and rewarding.
10. 3 Screaming Popes – Great Day A memorable name for the band and a laid-back, gently rocking track, taking its time and delivering a strong hookline.
11. Bouquet of Dead Crows – Drownout Heaviest track on the album, crackling from the speakers and capturing the high quality of their live performances.
12. Eil Marchini – Come and Go Introspective, intense and very melodic acoustic musings.
13. Datum Plane – Lighthouse Optimistic gospelly ballad with a timeless feel.
14. Pete Newman Clarinet Project – Cheap Black Plastic Cool jazz interlude from clarinet/sax virtuoso. Nice!
15. Lizard Brain – Bring The Curtain Down This is the longest track on the collection, atmospheric alt-rock with rolling percussion and warm vocal performance.
16. The Scissors – Haunted Mirror Prominent Hammond organ gives sixties vibe to a short groove from one of the city’s premier live bands.
17. Model Village – Don’t This is a folky-rock grower from one of my favourite bands. Do!
18. Umbrella Assassins – Chicken Crazy lyric of bird species over an addictive tabla/sitar type drone. Are all their songs like this? I hope so…
19. Gavin Chappell Bates – Follow The Light Live-looping troubadour gives the full band treatment to an impassioned anthem from his debut album.
Great stuff. There is such a rich seam of musical talent to be mined, there is enough for a Volume 2 already…
https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-vol-1 (Proceeds going to the Arthur Rank Hospice)
Nearly an hour of new music from Van Morrison, what a treat!
The opening song ‘Let It Rhyme’ sets the tone; gorgeous strings, Hammond organ, harmonica break and of course the timeless voice of Van The Man, which shows no decline over the years. The thirteen tracks here are all original songs apart from a cover of ‘Share Your Love With Me’ and the a co-writing credit with Don Black for the striking ‘Every Time I See A River’.
The first four tracks follow the laid-back loose jazz/blues feeling, immaculately arranged and produced. ‘Memory Lane’ is nostalgic; “It’s autumn time, going on November, I view the leaves in all their splendour, is it déjà vu, I just can’t remember..”, this is a recurring theme in the Van canon, but he manages to give it a new twist. ‘Holy Guardian Angel’ recalls some of the spiritual atmosphere of two of my favourite albums ‘Avalon Sunset’ and ‘Enlightenment’, as does much of this new collection.
‘Look Behind The Hill’ is short and sweet, then Van teases us with the twelve-bar blues of ‘Going Down To Bangor’ (“…bring me my bucket and spade..”) and plenty of place-name checks. Whereas the crowd pleasing live track from 1999 told us “…precious time is slipping away…” the penultimate track on this album says it’s ‘Too Late’, maybe so, but it is a great pop song.
‘Caledonian Swing’ is the closing instrumental, a celebratory groove showcasing much of the musical talent on this album.
Following on from the excellent ‘Duets’ from last year, this is a fine and welcome addition to the living legend’s catalogue.
I was intrigued by the review of the new Paul Goodwin album that read “A great album if you want to wallow in his or your misery” and so I went to hear him at the newly refurbished Corner House pub and venue. With just acoustic guitar accompaniment he weaves impressive and heartfelt tales of loss and love.
The songs are measured and immaculately crafted with each phrase carefully in place, perhaps explaining the long gap between the newly released ‘The Northern Lights In The Neon Tube’ and his last mini-album in 2011. The most affecting songs are the sparsest; ‘Muscle Memory’, ‘Black Coffee and Bromide’, ‘Heat Death’ (a bit of a show-stopper, in the context of a small but rapt audience in the venue and despite a loud mobile-phone conversation at the bar…).
The song titles give clues to the general downbeat mood but like the canon of alleged arch-miserabilist Morrissey, it’s fine by me.
The set ended with ‘Watertight’, a confessional (“..but the scars have just become part of my skin…”) , emotional (and possibly optimistic?) finale and much appreciated by the crowd.
Paul Goodwin plays at the Portland Arms on October 17th, with a full band. See you there…