So, I got busy. I got behind. At some point, the sheer volume of music people who’ve read things I’ve written or who I’ve been in touch with has become huge. What’s astounded me most of all is that the absolute vast majority of it is absolutely brilliant. However, the sad and honest fact is that I just can’t write about it all, much as I’d love to. And so, I’m returning to the original premise of this series of posts. If I hear something which I think is fantastic, and necessary listening, I will write about it. I hope that whoever reads this will grow to trust me that I don’t knowingly or willingly listen to stuff that is no good. I hope you’ll also trust me that if I hear something and don’t write about it, it’s because I either don’t get it (this happens!) or I just didn’t love it enough to write the kind of positive review I think is the only kind worth writing.
And so, with that said, let’s do something of a mopping up job.
Rival State – Gutter Mouth EP
Watch the video for ‘Keepsake’ below
This is a musically fine EP of crunchy radio rock. In places it reminds me of the long-mourned (by me, at least) Leeds band The Glitterati. At others, The New Regime come to mind. As you’ll see (and hear) from the video above, there is plenty of musical intelligence to go alongside the aggression and lyrical aggro. That said, having initially glossed over the record, on the grounds of finding the lyrical bombast somewhat cliched and tiresome, I have thoroughly enjoyed it having returned to it. The band start a UK tour next week. I’d recommend checking them out. I hope someone cheers them up somewhere along the way too.
Sharon Van Etten – I Don’t Want To Let You Down EP
Sharon Van Etten has a fantastic voice. She writes powerful songs in which she, it seems, revels in laying herself entirely bare. This brief five track EP begins with the groove-driven title track which, at first sight, appears to be a jaunty little number, until she starts singing that is. ‘Just Like Blood’ slows things down, featuring the kind of piano riff that Thom Yorke would be proud of. Van Etten’s layered vocal close harmonies and occasional dabbles with alternative melodic choices are really to the fore here. ‘I Always Fall Apart’ is in a major key, a major key! And yet, as the title suggests, she always falls apart. If only she could be happy, just once.
Flippancy aside, Sharon Van Etten is a fabulous singer-songwriter and still criminally underrated. She’s playing Glastonbury next week. If you’re lucky enough to be there, do make a point of seeing her. Hopefully there’ll be a new full-length album from her before too long.
Outblinker – Pink/Blue EP
Watch the video for the Radio Edit of ‘Pink’ below
And now for something completely different. This is the debut release from Scottish instrumental post-rock/punk/funk/electronica/unclassifiable four-piece Outblinker, and damn fine it is too. Comprising two tracks, but weighing in at a hefty and concentration-requiring 23.02, this is punishing stuff, in just the right way. The fusion of acoustic and electronic instrumentation feels just right, as ‘Pink’ builds in it’s first 6.45, followed by a breakdown propelled on bleeping synths and competing melodies. It is wonderful, hypnotic and yet at the same time there is so much going on that you find your mind being drawn to different places in the mix. One minute a drum fill holds the attention, the next there’s a new synth layer to wrap your mind around. It truly is stupefying stuff.
Double A-sided with ‘Blue’, a much more menacing slow burner of a track which, again, draws you in to an unexpected degree, this is an exciting debut release from a band who have arrived fully formed. Here’s hoping for more, and soon.
Urvanovic – Amateurs
Another great new discovery from Edinburgh, Urvanovic, whose name sounds like a Yugoslav player from Italia 90 (or is that just me?), offer a delightful take on music hall pop. It’d be lazy to cite Belle and Sebastien as an influence, but this seven-piece are certainly in that ballpark on “Amateurs”. Thankfully though, tracks such as ‘Bubblewrap’ and ‘The Mine’ have enough drive and punch about them to elevate Urvanovic above any potential criticisms for being ‘pastoral’ (pop music’s answer to beige) or twee. This is beautifully constructed, multi-layered pop music for the discerning listener. Another band who must be an incredible live proposition.
Superpoze – Opening
Listen to an exclusive mix by Superpoze below
We’re dotting right along the genre gamut today! Next up is the debut album from French DJ Superoze. I have to admit to not being an electronica aficionado, as I think I have done on these pages before, but this album has a beautiful hue. I don’t know if it is meant to be, but as the record carries me along, it is a soothing listen. Superpoze has collaborated with a heap of people. I’ve heard of none of them. What I do know is that ‘North’, ‘Time Travel’ and ‘Ten Lakes’ are brilliant expositions of relatively minimalist techno. I’ve been writing this post for ages now. I’m inventing genres. The mixes are spacious rather than attacking your senses. Time drifts by as you become more and more involved in the slowly-developing musical landscapes.
Do you like electronica? You will find this sates your thirst. Do you dislike electronica? Try this. Do you have no idea what electronica is? Try this for starters. With apologies to Superpoze for my lack of understanding!
J Fernandez – Many Levels of Laughter
Stream the album below
And on we go again. This time we find ourselves in the realm of woozy, folky psychedelia. ‘Between the Channels’ pulses along on a bed of Rhodes and off-kilter guitars, building a backdrop for J Fernandez’s sweet vocals. “Communication is a waste of time between the channels” he tells us. Preach. There’s a lovely use of strings here, along with some lovely chord progressions which take things in a 70s prog direction (honestly). This first taste of J Fernandez indicates how well his music fits on the roster of the wonderful Joyful Noise! (Son Lux, Thee Oh Sees) on which this album is released. If you’re a fan of that roster, this’ll fit beautifully in amongst your collection. You’ll be able to tell right from the get go.
From this beautiful introduction, we’re taken on quite a journey. ‘Read My Mind’ weaves and winds, once again combining synth and guitar layers to good effect, never getting in the way of J’s compelling vocal delivery. Once again, a lovely tag section is a highlight, and there’s a choppy funk guitar solo thrown in for good measure. Elsewhere, ‘Holy Hesitation’ has more urgency, with an elastic bass line delivering us into a daringly scored chorus. ‘Apophis’ grows from an organ-driven beginning, the album’s most relaxed moment, while closer ‘Melting Down’, to all intents and purposes, puts its title to music, as everything progressively comes apart over the course of six and a half minutes.
An album for the summer, this is a fine place to start with the singular talent of J Fernandez.
Birth of Joy – Live at Ubu
Watch the video for How it Goes from the album below
And now to an album so good it basically defies description. If you like prog or psychedelic music, this is one for you. If you think the Hammond B3 is the greatest of all musical instruments, this is an album for you. If you like slow burning progressive epics, this is an album for you. If you like anarchic romps, this is an album for you. If you want to gain a snapshot of why Birth of Joy are one of the best live bands in Europe, this is the album for you.
Recorded over two nights at the prestigious Ubu in Rennes, France, this is a dizzying document of the live prowess of a fine band. I first came across Birth of Joy through my love of Motorpsycho, Spidergawd, and a lot of other European bands who straddle the edge of ‘normal’. To my shame, previous album, “Prisoner” was one I never quite gave enough time to. Having digested this amazing effort, that’s a mistake I will have to rectify forthwith. If I were to write about individual tracks I’d be here all day. Suffice to say, this is a raw, ridiculously high-energy double album you don’t want to miss.