Hello and welcome to the seaside. I’ve been down in sunny Brighton enjoying the new music at The Great Escape festival but, alongside my shades and bikini, I packed this week’s releases to deliver Sunday’s Albums Round Up to you as usual.
My Album of the Week is from Boats. Don’t be put off by the opening to A Fairway Full of Miners: theintroductory track, ‘The Noodle Mountains’, is a weird pointless buzz lasting 7 seconds. Thankfully the first real song on the album ‘Animated GIFS’ soon kicks in with its rimshots and quirky vocals of Mat Klachefsky, and the collection comes alive. Alongside the synths and upper register voice are flashes of glockenspiel and brass that broaden the musical palette with great dexterity. ‘Great Skulls’ has buzzy bass synths and peppy beats forging a pop backdrop for harmoniously chiming guitars. It’s a great little indie anthem, full of quirk: tambourines, brass, a hooky bass, an “ooh, ooh, ooh” singalong part, and a fine guitar solo all appear before the final question pitches a sense of unease beneath the sunshine: “why did we end up here?”. ‘Advice on Bears’ marries bass and twiddly guitars with aplomb. ‘Sad Legs’ has laser gun synths firing off; but the vocal harmonies, relentless tambourine and upbeat bass drive it towards a danceable pop song for all its kooky spaceyness. ‘We Got Pillow and Blankets’ has the appeal of simple guitar lines combined with hi hat and a melodica until butch male voices kick in near the end as if they’ve stumbled out of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Go West’ and into a cutesy quirky teenage dream. Closer ‘The Salteen Coast’ reflects on when “we… made out on the beach” but it’s no indulgent reminiscence. After that line is uttered (towards the end of the track) minimalist shifts of tone bring the album to a quiet and reflective close. It’s quite a moving and poignant final moment, particularly after it opened up with hints of feedback and chiming synths, smacky beats and bass strings. Whilst Klachefsky’s voice is not to everyone’s taste, A Fairway Full of Miners is an intelligent and unique album that will engage and surprise. Highly recommended.
My Wildcard of the Week is from Just Handshakes, whojust Say It tomorrow. The Leeds band open up their indie debut with plenty of jangly guitar sounds and a sweet vocal on ‘London Bound’. The production promotes the band’s arrangement over the vocal slightly so the collection has a classic C86 feel. The title track has a poppy riff set against the bittersweet jaded lyrics: “when will you find something to believe in?”. ‘Dead and Alive’ has layers of synthesizers and a catchy chorus – and choruses are what the band does particularly well. In ‘Shadows’ the upbeat track moves towards an anthemic singalong with “let’s find a bar and forget who we really are; won’t you come out tonight?”. The skillful synthpop of ‘Balmoral’ closes the album convincingly. Say It is an engaging collection of charming indiepop songs. Recommended.
Majical Cloudz releases Impersonator this week. Montreal’s Devon Welsh focuses on internal processes such as desire and grief to create intricate and expressive electronica. With collaborator Matthew Otto, Welsh creates minimalist, distilled portraits using loops, static, modulated synthesized sounds and carefully chosen beats. ‘This is Magic’ has a warm tone to it – simple chords and clear vocal about the strength of acknowledging one’s weakness. The opening title track warps the sighing vocal on loop until Welsh adds the lyrical line over the top, with a sense of yearning: “I want to feel like somebody’s darling”. The following wordless hook “dahhhh, dah dah dah dah, dum dum” gives the impression of being carefree but the precise arrangement gives a subtext of false lightness. Closing track ‘Notebook’ has some moving sustained vocal notes placed over the backdrop of slightly buzzy keys. Impersonator is a minimalist and intense sonic experience about human emotions we all share.
Middle Class Rut want to Pick Up Your Head tomorrow. Zack Lopez and Sean Stockham may be a duo but their collective energy and musicianship is to the power of ten. Sotckham’s drumming is all rapid volleys, and Lopez’s guitar is reverbed to the max whilst his vocals are purposeful statements of intent. ‘Born Too Late’ opens the album with all guns blazing, from Stockham’s heavy hits to Lopez’s impassioned shout. ‘Leech’ brings the addition of bass to the fore for the first time and its effect is insouciantly sexy, whilst ‘No More’ has some ear-catching sliding guitar. There are experiments with instrumentation that dare to mix up the duo’s approach. ‘Cut the Line’ has crashy, trashy drums, whilst the title track has a complex percussive line that startles the listener. ‘Police Man’ has a slow-burn guitar solo that transcends into a harmonic layer of sound that then turns chaotic. Pick Up Your Head takes the Middle Class Rut template and tears at the edges, giving even more raw vibrancy to the band’s sound.
London boys Tribes return this week with Wish To Scream. Despite the title of the collection the songs have an upbeat feel, with ‘Get Some Healing’ providing a rousing chorus in a piano and guitar-led number: “gotta laugh harder, gotta find each other”. ‘Sons and Daughters’ has a catchy bass part and plenty of riffs, whilst ‘Englishman on Sunset Boulevard’ adds a gospel choir to give the track some anthemic power alongside its rock and roll roots. Wish To Scream is another confident release from the English quartet.
Delta Mainline is Oh! Enlightened this week. This debut collection from the Scottish band is playfully experimental in style, from the woozy dreampop introductory track ‘Tus Nua’ to the fuzzed up guitars and stompy drums of rock and roller ‘Misinformation’, and the all-out attack of rock anthem ‘Stop this Feeling’. Singer David McLachlan spans the range of emotions in ‘The Church is up for Sale’, from the darkness of the lyrics through uplifting melodic shifts of the brass section. ‘Dead Beat Blues’ is a laidback number, whilst ‘Fixing to Die’ travels in the opposite direction, reaching a mighty climax mid-way through. ‘Dark Energy’ is a slow burner with piano and guitar gently beginning the song before it takes a variety of twists and turns which ultimately reach a dizzying level of squally feedback. Oh! Enlightened is a bold first record from the Edinburgh septet.
And that’s it for this week. I’ll see you next week in London, posting next week’s column whilst I nurse my Field Day hangover. Until then I better take it easy – who’s for a stroll along the pier?
Words and thoughts of Amanda Penlington