Tag Archives: CD

Derecho : Beneath A Stained Glass Sky, LP released November 2019

A track by track review of the new album ‘Beneath A Stained Glass Sky’ from four-piece rock band Derecho (a tornado that moves in a straight line)….

1. You Stole My Heart Starting with an accelerating drum call this opening salvo is a classic rocker. Singer and composer Jo Ash makes her presence felt with a powerful vocal, as the guitar slices in with organ backing and the big chorus is never too far away.

2. Red Ivy A gentle piano verse gives way to the surprising and dynamic chorus and it is all a bit dark (‘…so seduce me with your poison…’). I particularly like the instrumental interludes where the band have their chances to shine but Jo’s soaring voice is the centrepiece of the track.

3. Numb To Shame A bold statement of intent in the first few bars turns into a taut, twisting, mid-paced three minutes.

4. Fight or Flight Conjuring up the atmosphere of 80s metalpop classic ‘Run To The Hills’, this one moves quickly to its killer chorus. A waterfall of keyboard provides a brief soothing interlude.

5. Blue Heart An effective swampy blues re-working of a piano waltz from Jo Ash’s solo album (reviewed at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/10/14/jo-ash-constellations-lp-released-october-2018/)

6. Pushing Me Away The band really go for it on this one; a mixture of stealthy verse framed by sinister, echoing keys and building up into a soaring refrain as the drums steal the show.

7. Oxygen A dark lyric ‘…suffocate my mind…strip my lungs of air…‘ contrasts with a backing that rolls along deceptively uptempo and optimistic.

8. Nowhere Land (Into The Black Hole) Inspired by the film Interstellar this is one of the longest tracks on the album, a slow-burning, anthemic piece. Jo’s clear voice sails along in the upper registers as the music veers into prog-rock stylings, with a marching synthesised string section eventually unleashing the dark hordes of Mordor.

9. Lunar Light
The lyric combines poetic imagery with the idea that the Moon can influence a personality ‘….under the light, lunar light…….is this really you? madden my senses, make me pretend I’m safe….’ This song has a retro 70s glam-rock feel to it, the combination of piano/guitar riff with the theatricality of the words works a treat.

10. Mountains A bold, broad finishing track, giving plenty of time to set the mood with a recurring figure dominated by the bass end of the piano. Jo’s voice goes through a range of distortion, to an emotive chorus and back again.
Another showcase too for the other band members and the production; making key contributions to this excellent rock album.

(Album launch show is at the Blue Moon, Cambridge on Saturday 16th November…)

http://www.derecho.band/#home-1-section

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/

Psychic Lemon : Live at the Smokehouse, LP released May 2019

Recorded at The Smokehouse, Ipswich’s venue for the discerning listener and pursuer of truth and authenticity in music, here is a new live album from Cambridge-based Psychic Lemon.
This consists of three tracks from their second album ‘Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay’ (see review below) and two new tunes. The band have dispensed with vocals on this live performance, distilling their psychedelic onslaught into its purest form.
This is clear from the opening ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’; as the guitar effects go crazy in the first minute like an ending to the track instead of the beginning, but fear not! the drums and bass lay down their groove and propel the sound along at a mighty pace for all of its ten minutes.

Straight into ‘Satori Disko’, a more mellow-ish, languid offering with a looping guitar figure and some extravagant cymbal smashes as the bass spans the octaves. There is a conventional guitar solo too to tempt the palate. Favourite track of mine ‘Hey Droog’ is driven by a pounding drum pattern with some dark choral sounds adding an atmosphere of doom. Like all of their live performances, the music seems to take on a life of its own, the band merely servants of the greater cause.

New track ‘Jonny Marvel at the Milky Way’ is a pastoral interlude, like an instrumental from mid-period Pink Floyd the keyboard provides the texture for grand guitar experimentation over an unhurried rhythm backing. As the atmospheric colours fade away, the finale bursts in; ‘White Light’ is a frenetic work-out – a high energy end to an immersive and impressive performance with the music firmly embedded in the walls of this excellent venue.

http://www.psychiclemon.co.uk/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/01/01/psychic-lemon-frequency-rhythm-distortion-delay-cd-released-january-2018/

Jeremy Tuplin : Pink Mirror, LP released 5 April 2019

A track by track review of the excellent new album from Jeremy Tuplin, the follow-up to his debut ‘I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut’ from 2017. With his distinctive voice and gift for words he has produced a heady concoction of attractive music and rewarding and complex lyrics.

1. Can We Be Strangers On this scene-setting opening track a gentle guitar welcomes you into his inverted lyrical world, ‘….secret, don’t tell me your secret, the purpose of a secret is that it is meant to remain a secret…’. Gradually the semi-orchestral sounds threaten to overwhelm the words.

2. Bad Lover Brilliant poppy up-tempo groove, driven by an addictive guitar figure, this was the preview single for this collection. Definitely a highlight, watch the video too with the band artfully succumbing to boredom during the mimed performance.

3. Just Cos Ur Handsome Another jaunty song, full of regret and wordplay, ‘…Too easily confused is the state…Of two hearts that are bound forever….In leather clad daydreams what do you even mean…’. The rhymes and assonance go across and through the lyric lines, as the guitar sparkles over the sympathetic rhythm track.

4. Gaia A paean of praise to planet Earth despite human shortcomings; featuring a series of great rhymes with the goddess’s name ‘…Gaia, D’you ever wish that cosmic rock had just slipped by ya….Guess it’s a risk of being the world’s most frequent flyer…’
The goddess herself makes a vocal appearance part way through. Divine!

5. Pandora’s Box An epic personalisation of the Ancient Greek myth, mixed in with nightmarish imagery and relationship paranoia. The central musical freeform section is unlike anything else on this collection before order and hope is restored. (although of course ‘…they say it’s the hope that kills you…’)

6. Pink Mirror Thoughtful but inscrutable lyrics on this one as the melody and instrumentation carry it along optimistically.

7. The Machine A bluesy, late night reflection powered by a compulsive bass beat and razor sharp drums. Personal social commentary ‘…Then I think of everything I do, think, feel or see…It barely contributes to the economy…’ as the narrator becomes lost in modern stresses.

8. Love’s Penitentiary This twisted love song opens with the winning couplet ‘….There goes my baby out the door again…She’s carrying my heart in a handbag made of my own skin…’ pulling you in to a lo-fi masterpiece, one of my favourites on the album.

9. Frankenstein Dark and moody, this slow burner features a ringing, roaming guitar and haunting words ‘…You’re like the internet personified but kept under wraps….Concealing the monsters you create ….’

10. Break Up
Neat and sparse musically with honest and touching words. ‘…This is it we’ve reached the final threshold….Robotic people with smart telephones….’. The imagery of modern relationships is convincingly tinged with disappointment.

11. Humans This brilliant cinematic song is the centrepiece of the album for me; a winner as it is a ‘list song’ featuring a random cast of people to support the key theme ‘….Humans, I love you….Despite my seemingly best intentions not to….’ The leisurely six minutes is bookended by gentle acoustic guitar and the names range in prominence from ‘…Buddha, Blondie, Dostoevsky…’ to footballer Peter Crouch and the surprising pairing of ‘…George Bush, Kate Bush…’. Impressive indeed.

12. The Beast A quiet end to the LP; an ode to escape and realisation ‘…I’ve been lying to myself, living through a telephone…For once I’m gonna listen to my mother and wear that warm coat she bought me…..’ With just guitar arpeggios it is one of the loveliest melodies on the album reminiscent of a hidden gem on an Edwyn Collins solo disc.

http://www.jeremytuplin.com/
http://www.trappedanimal.com/

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/

Faeland : All My Swim, LP released January 2018

This is a very impressive debut from Bristol contemporary folk band Faeland, an acoustic collective led by songwriting duo Rebecca Nelson and Jacob Morrison.

Opener ‘Too Much’ starts quietly before a distinctly celtic instrumentation broods mysteriously underneath Rebecca’s vocal stylings, her voice being one of the huge strengths of this disc. Released as a single, ‘We’re Just A Love Song’ is a sprightly but sad tale about the destiny of a relationship, ‘Prayer Song’ is layered vocals and atmosphere with a clarinet adding to the texture.

A shimmering harp sound on ‘All My Swim’ makes this transformative track even better, as the narrator becomes one with the flowing river. ‘Chantress’ is a more traditional folk sound, with accordion joining in too. And there is much much more, including my personal favourites ‘Strings’, with beautiful voice and elegant acoustic guitar figures and the sparse strumming and lyrical nostalgia of ‘To The Green – Live’.

Highly recommended, fifty minutes of gentle, carefully-crafted quality sounds. It is an album to escape into and become part of; somehow it seems removed from the normal time stream….

http://faeland.co.uk/

Psychic Lemon : Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay, CD released January 2018

Psychic Lemon continue to challenge the senses with this new long-player; their sound has moved on substantially from their first album which now seems almost light and song-based in comparison.
It is an accurate recording of their live sound; as when I saw them perform this album at the Portland in Cambridge last year, comfortably holding their own against headliners Scandanavian psych behemoths Flowers Must Die. In December they were enthralling a freezing crowd once again at Cambridge’s Mill Road Winter Fair, and now here at last is the new album release.

‘Exit To The Death Lane’ begins with moody ritual drums then the layers of guitar and bass creep stealthily in, including some incomprehensible vocal chants. A jarring guitar solo ensures the vibe does not become complacent and at eight and a half minutes there is time for the groove to be fully explored.
The establishment of the rhythmic shape of ‘Hey Droog!’ (the slang term for friend in cult novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’) is pile-driving drum and riff, a distant choir fills in the texture and the effect-laden guitar does the rest before ending the piece in a solo riot of feedback.

‘You’re No Good’ is definitely not the early sixties hit for the Swinging Blue Jeans, but it does have a more sprightly pop touch than what has come before, also with the bonus of a manic saxophone and a bit of singing at the end; this is the nearest they get to their debut album sound. The last two tracks are nine minutes plus; the band have been opening their live sets recently with the paradoxically named ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’, the fuzz of this celestial object being the guitar effect inextricably pulling the listener towards its gravitational centre. Some impressive bass playing on this track too.
The final track is ‘Satori Disko’, a reference to a state of spiritual awakening, in this case waking to the sound of a hypnotic undulating drum pattern, rock solid bass and a guitarist ripping up the effects pedals and reassembling them randomly.

Overall, listening to this is a unique sensory experience, a combination of you feeling like you are weaving amongst the buildings in a flying car as part of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or being plugged into the endless pulse of primal signals emitted by distant galactic objects…

Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay Space Rock Power!

http://psychiclemon.co.uk/

12 Highlights from 2017 : A Sampler of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums and shows of 2017…

1. False Hearts: Cynical Love
Belting rock song, takes your breath (and ears) away

2. Luna Falls: Falling To Pieces
Three part harmonies, acoustic guitars and a gorgeous descending chord sequence chorus. Sounds great live too.

3. Tom Robinson Band: Man You Never Saw
Age does not weary the societal condemnation of the ‘Power In The Darkness’ LP, Tom is still loud and proud live.

4. Elma: Butterfingers
Heart-stretching ballad, just perfect.

5. Goldblume: Wisconsin
Live or recorded, Jethro and the boys put on a great rockshow.

6. Hannah Peel: All That Matters
Hypnotic, ethereal gig and plenty of experiment on a multi-layered album.

7. Seán McGowan: No Show
Sterling live support and heir to Billy Bragg, the minutiae and poetry of a zero hours contract in this ode to the minimum wage.

8. Dos Floris: On The Road
Stunning voice and electronic complexity working very well in a live forum.

9. Baby Arms: Eviscerator
The semi-underground DIY scene is home to this gem of a single.

10. Peaness: Oh George
Chester trio turn the mention of an ex-politician into poptastic gold.

11. Dream Nails: Tourist
Scarily good live band, getting their message across in short punk bursts.

12. Public Service Broadcasting: Progress
Surprising choice of theme for the new album, look forward to seeing it all in concert next year.

All tracks featured on…..

Various Artists : ‘200’ A Compilation from German Shepherd Records

A compilation from the ever-questing independent Manchester record label to celebrate their 200th release, with proceeds going to the Coffee4Craig homelessness charity…

1. The Get – When The Oil Runs Out Veteran minimalist punksters sum up this burning issue (‘….will we get KFC?…will my solar panels power me?….’) They are a great live band too.

2. JD Meatyard – Ubu@Erics I saw him supporting Half Man Half Biscuit and he seems to have picked up on their surrealistic lyrics but added something of his own intensity. I saw (Pere)Ubu@Junction in Cambridge but it doesn’t scan quite so well.

3. The Screaming Love Collective – Come On A pleasant groove, a bit reminiscent of T.Rex ‘Get It On’ but that is no bad thing. All over too quickly.

4. M.T. Scott – The Auctioneer Piano dominated strange ballad, haunting and thoughtful. A neglected subject in popular music, I will never view Bargain Hunt in the same way again.

5. Issac Navaro – Swam Oceans To Drown In Concrete Ambient delights for 11 minutes. Good to hear the acoustic piano over the top of the electronics.

6. Moff Skellington – The Clegg Twins As well as drawing the artwork for this album(see below) Moff Skellington contributes characteristic fantastical prose over an uncomfortable backing. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the picture of two Nick Cleggs out of my mind but perhaps that was the strength of the track.

7. The Junta – MCR Bassy electronic instrumental, it needs to be loud.

8. Space Museum – Esoteric Another instrumental, drift off into the cosmos with this one.

9. House Mouse and Space Museum – Bigger Than The Beatles The title tells how it could have been; with spoken word over electronic backing, it is like a history of pop music from the last 40 years (‘…with more hits than Simply Red…make Bob Dylan eat his words…’)

10. Toska Wilde – The Death And Life Of A Dreamgirl Minimalist and graphic tale of woe, reminds me a bit of the late lamented Kevin Coyne, high praise indeed.

11. Keltrix – Alibi (Acoustic Version) A bit of timeless folk-rock from Cambridge stalwarts Keltrix, good to hear the violin and the colour-filled vocal.

12. Pearl Divers – Angel in New York Rocky waltz-time epic, the band claim they feature ‘…strong melodies anywhere from Happy Mondays style to Bond themes…’.. I happily listen to that combination…

13. Night Operations – When Night Fell Smooth ambience, the gentle beat underpins slight variations at each cycle, keep listening…

14. The Electric Cheese – 20 Years of Hate Probably the best band name on the album, sounding a bit like the Wave Pictures in their noisier moments, great as-live sound with reassuring up-front guitar.

15. Bouquet of Dead Crows – Without You (Scotch Bonnet Remix) Scarily different remix of one of my favourite Cambridge band’s best tracks, it has gone reggae instead of rocking out, but don’t be fooled.

16. PrunX – Devils Cookbook PrunX are from Berlin, describing themselves as ‘triple p rock, psychedelic – progressive – political’ It carves its way nicely through two of those three genres I think.

17. Dominic Carlton Jones – Cat’s Front Door A sort of acoustical Oasis anthem, DCJ sounds like he has really lived it – hold up the lighters and celebrate the end of a great compilation!

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/200

Public Service Broadcasting: Every Valley, released July 2017

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.

https://www.publicservicebroadcasting.net/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/04/26/public-service-broadcasting-corn-exchange-cambridge-25-april-2015/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/03/01/public-service-broadcasting-the-race-for-space-released-february-2015/