Welcome to this week’s Albums Round Up. 13 might be unlucky for some but that’s the number of new releases I’m covering for your listening pleasure this week. So don’t worry about superstitions, sit back, pour yourself a nice long drink and relax.
My Album of the Week is Spectrals’ Sob Story. Working with producer Chet White, Louis Jones has created a classic pop album, imbued with retro sounding elements that showcase his accomplished songwriting. The rumbling twangs that open the collection continue to wrongfoot the listener for nearly a minute on ‘Let Me Cave In’ before a bit of reverb introduces the vocal. ‘Milky Way’ begins with a football clap rhythm on the snare but it meanders melodically into a crooned number with plenty of soul. ‘A Heartbeat Behind’ is another jewel, a shining upbeat number with military snare rolls and twanging 60s guitars concealing an element of regret in the lyrics: “I’ve been a heartbeat behind most of my life”. ‘Keep Your Magic Out Of My House’ has glam chugging guitars, whilst the meditative title track is dominated by the mournful slides of a steel guitar. Sob Story is a charming and articulate collection of delightful melodies, delivered with aplomb by Jones. Highly recommended.
My Wildcard of the Week is Quickbeam’s self-titled record. It’s an atmospheric affair, and the Scottish band’s approach to songwriting is founded on allowing layers of music to build, wander and transform. Monica Gromeck’s voice is engaging and warm. The violins on ‘Seven Hundred Birds’ are full of yearning, with the harmonium creating additional emotional impact. The piano on ‘Immersed’ brings gravity to the soaring strings, whilst ‘Matter’ is such a slow burner that each element is eagerly anticipated by the listener. ‘Grace’ closes the folky collection with some bright guitar strings and gentle breathy male and female vocals to create a hymnal feel. Piano and strings are added to create a magical and tender track. When the cymbals kick in the scope of the drama becomes expansive. Quickbeam is a moving and sophisticated record that balances musical subtleties with an understanding of epic soundscapes. Highly recommended.
Ralfe Band advises Son Be Wise. Opener ‘Ox’ and ‘Come On Go Wild’ are upbeat, joyful songs that counter the occasional accusation that folk is a dour genre. ‘Barricades’ is a powerful anthemic number, a real contrast to the closing track ‘Boy With an Old Tin Drum’, which is a thoughtful tune in waltz time. Oly Ralfe’s deeply resonant voice and piano chart their way through the collection, joined by Alessi Laurent-Marke and Piney Gir on a variety of songs. Guitar and accordion are accompanied by mandolin, a bit of lap steel and saxophone to create a richly-textured sound. A charming and articulate album.
Mayors of Miyazaki releases Holy Cop this week. Math/punk rock crossover is a bit of an oxymoronic genre but MoM inhabit it with aplomb. Frenetic vocals, sung and shouted, are an ongoing element throughout, colliding with big chords and taut riffs on ‘Start After One’. Singing takes the lead on the immersive ‘Dry Palm’, with ‘Mortise + Tenon’ closing the collection with impressive riffs and an engaging melodic journey. Holy Cop is a lightning bolt of an album – with unrelenting power from start to finish.
A retrospective of legend Scott Walker is out this week with The Collection 1967-1970. It’s almost impossible to cover such an iconic collection of material (over 60 songs) in a short review. Walker’s first 5 solo releases are re-mastered here and feature his own compositions alongside covers of other writers’ work (such as Brel’s ‘Mathilde’ on the first disc and ‘Jackie’ on the second). Walker’s rich tone is in evidence throughout with arrangements ranging from the subtle to the full-on orchestral sweeps that have become a trademark. The lush arrangement of ‘Plastic People’ is a great juxtaposition to some of Walker’s most esoteric lyrics, whilst the strings on ‘It’s Raining Today’ are charismatic alongside Walker’s rounded bass voice. The emotive power of ‘If You Go Away’ is unquestionable. ‘Epilogue’ plays with soundscape: doors shutting and children’s voices, proving Walker to be a true innovator as well as a renowned songwriter and singer.
Big Deal face the June Gloom but this time the sound is bigger than before. A full band sound enriches the formula on ‘In Your Car’, with Alice Costelloe showcasing her thoughtful vocals. ‘Dream Machines’ has some heavy percussion driving it forward. ‘Pristine’ puts Kacey Underwood on vocal duties (Costelloe is the prominent voice elsewhere) and it’s a yearning number with Costelloe giving backing “ooh”s that enrich the tender feel. ‘Close Your Eyes’ brings the album to a close with more lovelorn lyrics about the failure of a relationship and a killer guitar riff. An expansive new sound from the indie duo.
Wax Idols have both Discipline & Desire. A gritty darkness runs throughout the collection, with the lyrics of ‘Sound Of A Void’ asking for focus in a world of noise. Somewhat ironically, the track itself has a richly textured arrangement with a hooky guitar part and punchy drums. ‘Stare Back’ opens things up with a noisy soup before a dominant bass emerges and multi-tracked vocals weave their spell amidst a wall of guitar sounds. Hether Fortune coolly delivers tales of murder and suicide in the dark ‘Cartoonist’, and suicide (again) in ‘AD RE IAN’ (about Ian Curtis and Adrian Borland). Dicipline & Desire is an affecting album, gothic and haunting but always daring.
Sleeping With Sirens know how they Feel on their latest release. The post-hardcore outfit cut their own cloth on this release, with a combination of gusto-filled bangers and interesting collaborations. ‘Here We Go’ is full of verve, matched by ‘Low’, whose aggressive energy is at full tilt. The idea of a collaboration with rapper MGK seems odd but the resulting song is surprisingly engaging and it could see the band attract new fans. ‘I’ll Take You There’ with Shayley Bourget is a heavy-hitter in terms of its modern rock production. ‘Congratulations’ with Memphis May Fire’s Matty Mullins is a bit of a bizarre feature, with Mullins and Kellin Quinn espousing their own merits backed by some metal riffing. Feel is an ambitious record that will intrigue punk fans.
Dave McPherson’s latest album is Dreamoirs. The frontman of InMe allows his vocal talents to come the fore on this second solo record. Opener ‘Snowball’ showcases how sweet McPherson can be at the upper end of his register, backed by guitar and gentle drums. ‘Lady Luck’ is catchier with a pop edge. ‘Kingdom’ moves from a simple vocals and guitar arrangement to a richer sound across its 6 minutes, with McPherson’s voice transforming from intimate delivery to full-throated roar. ‘Relics of Don Quixote’ showcases McPherson’s acoustic playing with its uptempo pace. Closing on the more peaceful number ‘Mortals’, McPherson proves himself throughout to be an accomplished solo artist.
From The Hills Below The City is the debut from Houndmouth. The Indiana quartet creates bluesy rock with vocal duties shared between Matt Myers and Kate Toupin. Typical Americana folk stories, like the story of the criminal in ‘Penitentiary’, weave their way through the album. ‘On The Road’ demonstrates the intention to go on a journey to forge a new life: “I’m going down where nobody knows me”. The combination of voices here has great energy and character. Tupin takes the lead to fine effect on ‘Casino (Bad Things)’ against the soundscape of some fine blues riffs. From The Hills Below The City is a bold debut from a band steeped in the American tradition, the accomplished musicianship and world weary narratives belie their years. Americana fans will find much to enjoy here.
Grim Tower feels the Anarchic Breezes this week. ‘Soft Seance’ opens up the album with some warping noises running through the slightly spaced-out folkish sound. Electric and acoustic guitars collide with tambourines and deeply intoned vocals. ‘Orpheus Light’ is a cleaner sounding affair, with only a hint of fuzz roughing up the 60s vibe. The title track begins with a fog of feedback and lightly wobbing synths for a minute and a half before the clean strings of an acoustic guitar shine brightly and cut through the chaos. ‘Let Death become Your Comfort’ is a hazy psychedelic swirl. Anarchic Breezes is a sprawling experiment in doomy folk.
City and Colour unleashes The Hurry And The Harm. Also known for Alexisonfire, Dallas Green experiments with his musical approach on his latest record, preferring a full band line up to the moody stripped back approach he has used previously. The title track opens the collection with the sidestep of a murky keyboard chord before Green’s soft, breathy falsetto accompanies a strummed guitar backed by some punchy percussion and electric chords. ‘Harder Than Stone’ makes the transition from acoustic opening refrain to expansive folk rock with a big pop chorus. ‘Commenters’ is an ambling delight, with an easy melody and brushed percussion. ‘Thirst’ is a surprise with its fuzzed up guitar hook and sharp drums. The Hurry And The Harm is a pleasant collection of songs, delivered earnestly, which could see City and Colour achieving mainstream recognition.
Scanners believes that Love Is Symmetry. The title track opens the album with handclaps accompanying a variety of percussive sounds, creating an urgent backdrop for Sarah Daly’s vocal. Synths and cymbals power in to create a big chorus that is then transformed by the addition of a sitar line. ‘When They Put Me Back Together They Forgot to Turn Me On’ is dreamy 50s cinema with angelic voices and piano but its electronic rhythms sizzle and simmer, creating a disarming effect. ‘Today Is The Tomorrow That They Promised Yesterday’ has echoing trash can percussion and fuzzy korg bass as well as laser whelps and multi-tracked vocals. In total contrast ‘Mexico’ hints at folk with its acoustic guitar but its reverberating vocal has a rock n roll edge. Love Is Symmetry defies notions of genre, with Scanners’ sound being far from cohesive. Nevertheless, its boldness is its strength. If you hate predictability Scanners’ music is for you.
And that’s it for this week’s column. I’ll be back soon for next week’s Round Up. Until then I’ll have another, with ice and a slice.
Words and thoughts of Amanda Penlington