Music Reviews

Tracey Thorn: Record album review

TRACEY THORNTracey Record.jpg
RECORD
UNMADE ROAD/CAROLINE INTERNATIONAL
Electro-pop return for Thorn
8/10

Tracey Thorn’s first album of entirely new material for seven years, finds her in electro-pop mood and feminist defiance. Opener Queen is a great dance song, driven by Thorn’s vocals which are a mixture of bitter been there done that and the sweetness of yearning and hope. Air – with its 80s groove – is about finding a place as a woman where she can breathe. On Guitar, Thorn remembers kissing the cool kid with the guitar, before realising she could get a guitar and be cool herself. Face is a beautiful song about the restrictions of moving on when you can endlessly view your ex’s social media page. The centrepiece, Sister, is a nine-minute disco jam dub; a bellicose, no surrender of a song. Thorn shines a distinctive light on society, whilst never forgetting a great dance beat.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 14, Feb/March 2018

 

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Music Reviews

Cocteau Twins: Head Over Heels/Treasure re-issue albums reviewed.

COCTEAU TWINScocteau
HEAD OVER HEELS/TREASURE
4AD
Vinyl re-issues of classic Cocteau.
9/10, 10/10

Head Over Heels was released in 1983 and saw the Cocteau Twins reduced to Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie. This album saw them moving towards the sound that would haunt ears for the decade to come. Sugar Hiccup is timeless, transporting you to another world, whilst Musette And Drums is still utterly compelling and staggering in its beauty. On Treasure, which came out in 1984, they were joined by Simon Raymonde on guitar and they made possibly their greatest record. There is the wintry evocation of Beatrix and the stunning Pandora, which seeps through your very pores until your whole body throbs to the rhythm of a vestigial memory. The Cocteau Twins managed to create ethereal, timeless music, capturing the sound of the sub-conscious leaking into the real world. Fraser’s words ululate, soften, rise passionately, create images without using the normal form of lyrics. There are no love songs here, but there is love. There is no shouting rebellion, but there is revolution in the form. They created a musical legacy that will be enjoyed hundreds of years in the future and there aren’t many pop bands that can say that. It is hard to believe that such music was created by a band barely out of its teens; but maybe only the brashness of youth could have created such radical musical textures. This is music of mystery and beauty that should be enjoyed forever.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 14, Feb/March 2018

Music Reviews

The Monochrome Set: Maisieworld album review

THE MONOCHROME SETMaisieworld-300x300
MAISIEWORLD
TAPETE RECORDS
TMS celebrate 40 years with new release
8/10

In a 40-year career The Monochrome Set have released more great records than the Carry On team have smutted double entendres. Maisieworld, a bigger sounding album than of late, with horns and female backing vocals, doesn’t disappoint. The bass is upfront and the keyboards drip with psychedelic soul. TMS mix intellectualism with an adolescent delight in the puerile. It’s Nietzsche popping up in a Carry On movie declaring that god had it infamy. It’s a saucy seaside postcard seasoned with surrealistic imagery and cutting satire. Give Me Your Youth takes plastic surgery to a new level. Cyber Son has a hard-rocking riff, whilst Shallow has a folk vibe. I’m Going To Be In Your Dreams Tonight is perfect TMS – taking a love song and turning into a creepy garage rocker. TMS, gawd bless ‘em!

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 14, Feb/March 2018

Music Reviews

Various Artists: Bloodshot Records’ 13 Days Of Xmas – Album review

Various Artists13days_lpcover_1500 (2)

Bloodshot Records’ 13 Days Of Xmas (Bloodshot Records)

CD/LP/DL

Released: 17 November, 2017

08/10

Bloodshot Records get into the festive spirit. Is it humbug or a sack full of goodies? 

Christmas and popular music have a rocky history; sometimes sublime, sometimes ridiculous, often vomit inducing. Once upon a time having a Christmas number one was a very big deal but, as interest in the charts has declined, so the kudos of a festive number one has diminished like the wine come Boxing Day. Record companies also used to get in on the act, using the season to be jolly as an excuse to issue a compilation of their artists slaughtering Christmas tunes. The most famous example is probably the now classic A Christmas Gift From Phil Spector. Now, Bloodshot Records have revived the tradition with their 13 Days Of Christmas collection.

Chicago based Bloodshot have an enviable roster of artists on their label and have built up the reputation of a company that actually cares more about the music than the dollar bottom line. So, here we have their first Christmas album, and it is bursting with sleigh bells, whistles, snow, heartbreak, joy, tragedy and great tunes, both covers and originals. All the joy and tragedy of Christmas are covered here. It opens with Murder By Death’s beautiful, straight, rendition of O Holy Night, which is a great scene setter and makes your feet tingle with the promise of a full sack. There is the rock ‘n’ roll Christmas of Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, Papa Barrences’s Christmas (this is a Santa with soul), the Nick Cave-esque ballad of Jon Langford and His Men Of Gwent’s Christmas Carol, Christmas Ray (which has great lines like: for those in peril on the settee), the folk of James Elkington’s Christmas Is Now Drawing Near At Hand (which has the sound of a cold, brittle winter morning), the contemporary rock of Ha Ha Tonka’s The List (which has whistling. Every Christmas album has to have whistling), Devil in a Woodpile’s, The Pagans Had It Right, is a banjo jug band delight and then there’s the happy trails sounding version of White Christmas by Ron Gallo, that evokes the image of a cowboy making his way home across the prairie for Christmas. Enter the dark rockabilly of Dex Romweber Duo’s Dark Christmas that isn’t so much a Riders On The Storm as Santa’s Sleigh on the Storm. It’s a crazed drive through a stormy night. The Yawpers provide their more laidback rockabilly with their Xmas In Oblivion.

But the bleaker side of Christmas, the flip side that is heartbreak and loneliness, is well represented too. Ruby Boots’ I Slept Through Christmas is a classic rendition in the pop form of that first Christmas without the lover blues. Blue Snowfall by Kelly Hogan opens with an echoing piano like snowfall falling down. She has a beautiful voice, expressing the melancholy of a lonely Christmas. You can imagine her singing this in some Holiday Inn with the guests sipping martini, an open fire crackling and the band all in tuxedos and the singer singing softly at the mic that she barely holds with her fingers. The country of Zach Schmidt’s I’m Drunk Again This Christmas, skilfully brings to mind the need to get drunk in order to spend time with family at Christmas. And How To Make Gravy by All Our Exes Live In Texas, is the classic prison Christmas song that would bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened law enforcement officer.

The grooves of this record are cut from snow and tinsel and the CD version is made from the wishes of orphans, mixed with a ho ho ho and the tears of the lonely. It’s a record for life, not just for Christmas!

Thus review first appeared on Louder Than War

Music Reviews

Penny Rimbaud: What Passing Bells, Album Review

PENNY RIMBAUD packshot-pennyrimbaud-hires
WHAT PASSING BELLS
ONE LITTLE INDIAN RECORDS
Ex-Crass founder reads Wilfred Owen
9/10

With the recent centenary memorials for WW1, Rimbaud was moved to offer a different voice to the jingoism that so often accompanies such anniversaries. The voice he chose was the poetry of Wilfred Owen. Rimbaud brings an evocative, vibrant timbre to the words and is backed by the discordant rhythm of jazz cello and piano, that make a jarring counterpoint to the horror, beauty and dark comedy of the words. It is an elegiac album that introduces, or re-acquaints, you to Owen’s poetry, and should be required listening for anybody who believes there is glory in war. Rimbaud brings his humanity to the work, exposing, as Owen wished, the utter pity of war. Owen was dead at 25, and what future poetry was lost in those bloody French fields, we can only imagine.

This review first appeared in Louder Than War magazine, issue 13, Dec-Jan 2018

Music Reviews

Lydia Loveless: Boy Crazy and Single(s) – Album review

Lydia Loveless lydia_cover-295x300

Boy Crazy and Single(s) (Bloodshot Records)

CD/LP/DL

Released: 13 October, 2017

08/10

A new collection of Lydia Loveless’s summery 5-song EP Boy Crazy plus six non-album singles and B-Sides released for autumn.

Lydia Loveless is making a name for herself in the States with a mix of country, punk and alternative Southern rock and lyrics of scorching self-awareness. Boy Crazy was originally a 5 strong EP released in the summer and is now given a full album release with 6 songs added that have been recorded over the period 2012-2015 (which includes covers of Kesha, Prince and Elvis Costello). If you haven’t heard Loveless yet, then this is a great place to start, showing off her song writing skills and a voice that conveys emotion straight to the heart or gut. She sings about yearning, loss and desire with a voice strong enough to convey every word, every breath with the gravitas of meaning and emotion.

The album takes us on a journey through the various stages of love. The good and the bad. Loveless sings about that all-consuming desire that lust or love can have over you. All I Know, a great raw-pop sound, describes that feeling of knowing you are being a fool but unable to break free. On All The Time we feel the yearning and the pain of that moment of admitting that she can’t have him and to move on. And the dreadful hurting of knowing that it will never happen, but that it’s the first step towards recovery. Lover’s Spat describes the feeling of actually enjoying, and thinking it’s normal, to be in an abusive relationship. Boy Crazy is a great pop punk sounding song about that teenage feeling of desire and love that consumes a teenager’s hours. Water is a more mature song with a slower back-beat and Loveless’s voice so full of emotion that it settles into your brain and sends shivers down your backbone. It’s a genuine singer exploring genuine emotions; a true voice drifting over the music to places where we cannot escape the emotion of memories, the auto suggestion of sad songs, until, we feel, like Loveless, that ‘it all comes back like we’re losing them again’.

Mile High raises the mood with the exuberance of a new relationship when everything is fresh and exciting. Of just enjoying the desire and the time spending it with someone who drives you crazy. Blind is a great cover of Kesha’s song, describing that moment in a bad relationship when you just can’t take any more and the realisation that they are worse off without you than you are without them. Loveless turns a cold electronic pop song into a beautiful alternative country song. She makes it her own. Come Over describes the affair and the awful dichotomy between what the body wants and what the mind knows it should do. But it has great humour, as Loveless sings: I don’t wanna wreck your home, but could she have an accident? I mean something small, to get her out of the way. Just a little one? Falling Out Of Love is a great country song about suffering at the hands of a lover who treats her bad. She knows he’s bad for her but can’t let go, and the voice breaks with emotion because she knows she never will be free.

The album ends with two great covers. I Would Die 4 U is a stripped-down version of Prince’s Purple Rain era song, and reminds us how much the man is missed. Alison is the Elvis Costello song from his first album. I’ve always considered it a stone-cold classic so it was with some trepidation that I listened to this. But Loveless does it supreme justice, just a guitar and her voice, making the song sound fresh and infusing it with raw feeling. There were tears in my eyes by the end of it.

Lydia Loveless is an emerging talent who has found her own voice and isn’t afraid to lay herself bare. Backed by great musicians and great tunes, she’s a talent to watch.

 

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You can find Lydia Loveless is online here, and is on Facebook and Twitter.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War.

Music Reviews

The Jazz Butcher: The Wasted Years – Album review

The Jazz Butcher The-Jazz-Butcher-The-Wasted-Years-COVER-final-350x350

The Wasted Years (Fire Records)

CD/DL

Released: 20 October, 2017

08/10

4CD retrospective from those witty purveyors of indie rock, The Jazz Butcher. 

The Jazz Butcher were one of those undervalued indie bands that proliferated in the 80s. Fronted by Pat Fish, with a perfect guitar foil in Max Eider, and joined for a while by a Bauhaus, they sounded like a Monochrome Set/Smiths/Everything But The Girl mash up. Between 1983 and 1986 the Butcher released four albums and a string of 45s for Glass Records. The four albums, long out of print, have been released in a deluxe box set by Fire Records. It feels long over-due, like welcoming back a much loved eccentric uncle who you last saw popping out for some ready rub twenty years ago.

Bath of Bacon, their first album for Glass, has the feel of a confident band knocking off songs inspired by long drunken nights and parties involving too many illegal substances. It feels like a band not quite fully formed. But there are great songs here. There’s the happy hour in the abattoir of the Jazz Butcher Theme, the wonderful mellow guitar and clever lyrics of Party Time, the rockabilly vibes of Bigfoot Motel, the dangers of Zombie Love, and the wonderful Girls Who Keep Goldfish, which is about…er…girls who keep goldfish.

For their next album, A Scandal In Bohemia, the Butcher are joined by David J. of Bauhaus, and it hits the ground running and never lets up. I hadn’t listened to the album in many years and had forgotten just how bloody good it was. This is a band on top form, with a great mixture of clever, quirky, moving songs that once heard, always remain in the mind. It opens with the glorious smooth pop of Southern Mark Smith; a song that in any other universe would have been a smash hit. Maybe it still is. Real Men is a cutting indictment of the male sex. When Fish sings: ‘They ask punk rockers if they’re queer’ and ‘Real men beat up blacks and faggots’, you can’t help but wonder if anything has changed since this classic was first cut. Soul Happy Hour is possibly the greatest song written about drinking ever. Marnie is a stupendous song, falling down like heavy snow on the steppes of mother Russia. A big band back beat to a song about Marnie who is going a little crazy. Alternative songs of the 80s were replete with slightly off kilter, if not crazy, women. Will the snows never cease? Marnie wants to keep wild cats in her room. And why not? Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Party is a hard rocking, heavy sounding pummelling of the brain with some crazy man rumbling, mumbling ‘Esther’, whilst Fish propounds on ‘big’ things. It’s a song made entirely from the skin of dead Jim Morrisons. Mind Like A Playgroup is a perfectly reasonable philosophy, which features Danny Hopkins, of post-punk band Isolation, on rubber duck. Girlfriend is another perfectly crafted little pop song, with a tune that raises you up and drops you down. It’s moments of teenage love perfectly recounted.

 

 

Sex and Travel, their third album, continues in much the same vein, but with a sense of the songs being better constructed and more thought being put into the actual process of writing and recording. It’s a mesmerising mix of sophisti-pop and indie, with a dash of cynicism, weirdness, and a cutting sense of humour. The Human Jungle is sultry, clever pop. Big Saturday is a cross between Everything But The Girl and the Monochrome Set, with lush arrangement and production by John A. Rivers. The typewriter driven rhythm of Holiday recounts the adventures of an Englishman abroad, whilst Only A Rumour is a stunningly beautiful song about how to cope, or not, around other people after a break-up. Walk With The Devil has an excellent opening and build up, until you can almost feel the winter weather in your face and the coldness of your heart. A bitter, beautiful break-up song. The guitar line is as brutal and clear as the vocalist’s brush-off. The album ends with Down The Drain. It’s a quirky little number about drinking, which is funny, and then devastating.

The final album in this set is Distressed Gentlefolk. Here we find the Butcher producing more polished pop songs that pillage the decades to try and create an instant classic. It’s not quite that, but it’s still a forgotten beauty. It opens with the country rock of Falling In Love. Still In The Kitchen has a melancholic, psychedelic sound akin to the Velvet Underground. There’s the jaunty rockabilly of Hungarian Love Song, and the jazzy late night feel of The New World. Domestic Animals muses on those pets who don’t get sex in the spring like their wild cousins. Nothing Special is a lively pop song about doing nothing special. The album is closed by Angels, a melancholic song that sounds like the morning after the night before when something really bad happened.

The Jazz Butcher existed in that part of our lives which was always student digs, disappointing parties and long nights wondering about the meaning of it all with a wry, quirky sense of humour. The songs are full of nervous love affairs in elevators going nowhere and parties of the mind where everything slips into chaotic reality. They are a band well worth re-visiting or discovering for the first time. A release very much recommended.

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You can find The Jazz Butcher on line here, and are on Facebook.

This review first appeared on Louder Than War