I’m quite behind on these posts at the moment, so apologies to the PR people who are probably chomping at the bit to hear what I have to say about their releases. This is meant to be fun for me 🙂
There’s some really interesting and diverse stuff in this post, so without further ado or waffle, I’ll get on with it!
Eska – Eska
Watch the video for the fantastic ‘Rock of Ages’ below
10 tracks of completely sublimely soulful and spiritually-charged jazz-pop is what’s on offer here. Eska has an incredible instrument of a voice. There’s not a track here which doesn’t feature her vocal as its main focus, but the glory of the vocal performances are that they are never overpowering or overbearing. This is an album of pop songs, but the kind of pop songs which are not spoon-fed or given to you on a plate. It took me several listens to digest the record and work out that tracks such as ‘This is How a Garden Grows’, the spine-tingling ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘To Be Remembered’ were fantastically constructed songs with much to admire compositionally. Melodically and harmonically, these songs go in directions you wouldn’t expect but which feel just right. You’ll be grooving along before you know it. As a lot of her press has attested, Eska is the best singer you’ve never heard of. There’s a sweet tone and timbre to her voice, with just enough grit to separate her from the crowd of soul singers in the marketplace just now. She could be the missing link between Laura Mvula and Lianne La Havas, but to pigeon-hole her thus would be to diminish the strength of this fine album.
Crazy P – Walk Talk Dance Sing
Watch the video for ‘Witch Doctor’ below
This is apparently the seventh album from Crazy P, a band who split themselves between Manchester and Nottingham. My initiation in to the ways of Crazy P, “Walk Talk Dance Sing” is probably an album that does exactly what it says on the tin. It will make you do all this (if possible for you) and more. It’s an unrelentingly fun-sounding piece of work, in spite of some darker lyrical matter, right from the moment the solid groove of ‘Like a Fool’ kicks in. The groove continues right to the closing track, ‘Witch Doctor’ (you will have seen the video above, and in between Crazy P take us on a joyously funky ride. Previous single ‘Cruel Mistresses’ is a prime example. A chorus to die for, soaring atop a synths and choppy funky guitars which are at once familiar and exhilaratingly fresh. Crazy P aren’t changing the world, but if you want a fun album chock-full of intelligent pop music for grown ups, you won’t get much better than ‘Walk Talk Dance Sing’ in 2015.
Charlie Barnes – More Stately Mansions
Watch the video for ‘Sing to God’ below
Charlie Barnes is a fiendishly talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He is a collaborator of Mancunian rock heroes Amplifier. His debut album is produced by Steve Durose of who has worked with both Amplifier and Oceansize. So what you might expect is that it is an unremittingly heavy album, short on subtlety and high on technical musicianship, to the detriment of song craft. Well, you’d be wrong. This is not a record to be cast neatly in to any kind of genre label or box. Barnes has something of the Jeff Buckley or the Freddie Mercury about his vocal delivery, but apes neither to the point of parody or pastiche. Instead, whilst giving a nod to both, his performances, aided by the diverse yet effective collection of songs on “More Stately Mansions”, show that he is, in fact, a singular talent. Whether it’s on the ambitiously almost symphonic title track, the writhing ‘Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth’, which is a beautifully composed epic giving rise to Muse comparisons from when they were, you know, good, to the more restrained ‘Dresden’, (which, it has to be said, builds to a truly spectacular and pyrotechnic conclusion) this an album which defies categorisation, yet is successful at every step. Barnes and his band can rock hard, as on ‘Sing to God’ (see above) but there is much artful subtlety on show here too. A man who knows his way round a fully-realised piece of music, Charlie Barnes is a name to watch in the months and years to come. I can only imagine that his live show is something special. This is a brave and vital album.
Crocodiles – Boys
Watch the fun video for ‘Foolin’ Around’ below
It would be all too easy to dismiss Crocodiles as just another psych-rock band on the treadmill of that genre’s seemingly never-ending revival. That would be to do them a great disservice, however. “Boys” is a many-headed best of an album. From the off, with ‘Crybaby Demon’ which is a driven by a sumptuous salsa beat underneath its swathes of organ and guitars and a chorus that lodges itself in your brain never to leave, this record is a cut above. ‘Do the Void’ has a bass line in its intro which comes perilously close to ‘Billie Jean’ but settles in to a jaunty tune the likes of Dandy Warhols have been yearning unsuccessfully for for years. ‘Hard’ is, as you might imagine, a pretty uncompromising listen as the guitars are sharpened. The distortion added to the bass is a nice touch. This song is a more effective and straight-ahead take on the formula popularised in recent times by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club than that band themselves have managed recently. Somehow or other, ‘Transylvania’ reminds me of ‘Buddy Holly’ era Weezer. I imagine it’s not supposed to, but there we go. I have quirky ears. It also sounds like it features an off-kilter saxophone solo. Not your average psych workout.
As you’ll have gathered, this is an album that runs the gamut of what is possible within the realm of contemporary psych rock. Without falling into the trap of trapping us in their swamp thing, Crocodiles have made a fine return. One might even say it’s a fun album, but I’d probably be shot for that, so let’s pretend I didn’t say that, ok?
Pfarmers – Gunnera
With a pedigree as good as that of Danny Seim (Menomena, Lackthereof), Bryan Devendorf (The National) and Dave Nelson (David Byrne and St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens), it’s no surprise that “Gunnera” is an arresting prospect of a debut album from this new collaboration. According to Seim, According to Seim, “The record is about a dream I had where I’m reluctantly accepting a fear of drowning by focusing on being reincarnated as a giant Gunnera plant, which thrive on the banks of rivers (specifically the Jordan River i.e. the Biblical promised land) after I paint myself gold and sink to the bottom like the El Dorado of South American folklore.” I can definitively report that this is the best record about a fear of drowning anyone reading this will have heard.
Not just that, it’s a musical wonderland. Opening with the almost competitive synth and brass of ‘Benthos’, you’d be forgiven for wondering what alternate world you’d stepped in to, but all fears are assuaged, and rendered meaningless by the pulsing synth pop of ‘You Shall Know the Spirit’ which really reminds me not just of The National, but of some of the best work by David Bazan, as well as his synth project, Headphones. “When the spirit moves inside of me, you’ll know, cos I’ll stop breathing’ goes the lyric as a dark opening is drawn out in to a mid-section replete with a cavorting horn melody. Indeed. ‘Work For Me’, with it’s concoction of synths and processed drums, asks the question “how will I know when there’s love in the room?” Again, indeed. ‘El Dorado’ is a plain great pop song with a fantastic hook. ‘The Ol’ River Gang’ has an urgent drive to it that would make it a post-punk classic (and indeed it still might be) were the synth and horn parts supplied instead by guitars attacked in an overwrought fashion. So, yes, it’s a modern classic take on the synth-driven post-punk genre. You can keep your opinions on whether the hyphens are misplaced.
And on it goes. ‘How To Build a Tube’ could be an offcut from Sufjan’s “The Age of Adz” album with its amalgam of pop nous with synth sheen. Closer ‘Promised Land’ perhaps the destination in Seim’s journey of conquering fear is another track which begins with a fog of swirling synths, with ever more layers being added throughout the song’s first two minutes. As a percussive chordal pattern emerges from around the 2.10 mark, the sense that the song is arriving at its first stop becomes apparent. At 3.07, the first vocal: ‘Picked my suit up from the dry cleaners now I’m going bak to the Promised Land’ which is repeated amidst a swirl of horns before an invasive drum part and grooving bass part take the song home. A fine ending to a truly enticing debut offering from Pfarmers. Don’t miss this one, whether you are a fan of the members’ other projects or not. The mix of instrumentation and honest spiritual searching is fantastic.
Flying Colours – ROYGBIV EP
Watch the video for ‘Not Today’ below
It seems like no post in this series is complete without a review of a release from a band in the thick of the shoegaze revival, and this one is no exception. Australia’s Flying Colours (not to be confused with the American prog supergroup of the same name) have recently released their debut EP on the ever-fantastic Club AC30, as well as laying waste to the UK on tour with Russia’s finest Pinkshinyultrablast. The fact that this is on Club AC30 should give you the nod that this is a release worth investigating, as should giving a few minutes of your time to the video above. If that’s not enough, let me tell you that these 5 tracks exhibit the best elements of My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver, and give the recent releases from both bands a more than decent run from their money.
‘I Don’t Want To Let You Down’ rolls along on a convulsive rhythm with some beautifully squally guitars floating above a seismic bass riff. The song has a fantastic singalong pop chorus which should, no, must make it a shoe-in for 6Music airplay. All the elements are in place. This is just one of those moments, when a band aligns all of its best elements in one short burst of song craft. Fantastic. ‘Running Late’ jingles and jangles more, showing another side of the band, whilst ‘Not Today’ (video above) is a straight-ahead driving rock song par excellence. ‘In the End’ is a short, sharp blast of punky energy, showing yet another side of this versatile band. Closer ‘Leaks’ survives the ignominy of stealing a Kula Shaker riff to end things on a cacophonously energetic note.
The end of the experience leaves two thoughts:
1. An album from these guys will be a thing of wonder
2. I sorely regret not being well enough to attend the recent Pinkshinyultrablast/Flying Colours show in Leicester. I will do all I can to ensure such silliness does not occur again.