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Born By The Sea

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Born By The Sea

Never Mind

Gullaksen & Øien

It’s hard to believe that these boys are from the remote wilderness of Norway rather than the drier climate of Nashville, such is their authenticity when applying their trade to country music. Despite the relative distance between the two countries, the duo of Roald Gullaksen (vocals/guitars) and Morten Øien (keyboards) remain determined in their efforts by holding aspirations of their own as latest album ‘Born By The Sea’ cranes its neck out over the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to transmit its signal to its distant neighbours stateside. With an album’s worth of original material, Never Mind ease in to their sound with the appropriate ‘The American Dream’, only this is a tale of hardships as it tips its Stetson to the ongoing financial struggles in various towns of America. The accompanying country sound is typically robust, with Roald Gullaksen’s guitar containing a little grit but remaining nicely understated without ever straying. ‘Mayflower’ allows for optimism as it opens up with violin strings and a jaunty rhythm once the guitar and keyboards catch a ride. The skill and expertise displayed by Never Mind is of the highest order, and something which has evolved from the live circuit on home shores considering their impressive résumé having performed alongside such luminaries as Hellbillies, Stage Dolls, Postgirobygget, Steinar Engelbrektson band to name but a small sample. Such experience lends itself to the soul-searching expressed throughout the impressive ‘The Father’, with some clever touches involving samples from an anonymous space mission in contrast to the mission taking place down below on planet Earth. The title track of this latest album is the only giveaway as to the ancestry of this duo in relation to their music, as ‘Born By The Sea’ contains elements of Norwegian folk music that also spreads to the vocal. By catering for a balance between the everyday emotions of the infectious melody of ‘Home By Dawn’, and slower tempo of the melancholic ‘Memories From The Past’, Never Mind pass somewhere between a world consisting of Brad Paisley, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, and that’s not bad company to be associated with! ‘Born By The Sea’ is but one reason to suggest that a voyage overseas to the homeland of country music is futile when hearing the faithful rendition stemming from Never Mind, which is a quality to be greatly admired considering the distance separating these two lands.


The Fox, The Hunter & Hello Saferide

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The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide

Hello Saferide

Sony Music Norway

Hello Saferide is the alias Annika Norlin prefers to use when the creative thought processes demand an English interpretation rather than her mother tongue of Swedish. Interesting as the inner workings of these creative thought processes might be as to why Hello Saferide lends itself to English text is one for Annika Norlin alone. Once the opening bars of ‘I Forgot About Songs’ starts up, nearly introducing OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, all such thoughts are instantly forgotten. It’s the static, droning sound and fragile vocal of this opening song that is instantaneous in its appeal, as it slowly edges itself away from the brink by revealing the things in life that matter, but somehow became lost in translation. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is understated in its execution by utilising the barest of instrumentation, applied with the lightest of brushstrokes and providing a lo-fi feel overall. The songs themselves appear to be reflecting a (personal) journey, and one that is looking back (‘Dad Told Me’), beautifully relayed through bouts of happiness and deep regret during the sublime ‘Berlin’ and cascading tears of the equally moving ‘Raspberry Lips’. The pitter-patter rhythm of ‘Hey Ho’ picks up a gradual momentum of subtle electronics and ever so faint distorted guitar that gives the impression of a lengthy sigh such is its apparent regret of opportunities missed. ‘Rocky’ reveals a pent up and misunderstood narrative that is dressed up in a folk arrangement, before ‘This Body’ paves the way for a choir of vocals which strikes a chord deep within. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is a lo-fi masterpiece reflecting on the various interactions of personal relationships that should find a safe refuge with all those having undergone similar experiences. Miss this album at your peril!


Creation

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Creation

The Pierces

Polydor

Following up their breakthrough album ‘You & I’ in 2011 after several years of trying, the sisterly duo of Allison and Catherine Pierce, otherwise known as The Pierces, make a return with new long player ‘Creation’. The fresh outlook of this new album began after an initial trip to Peru where, under the supervision of a local shaman, The Pierces underwent an experimental trip to reach inside their innermost selves in order to induce positive changes by means of the hallucinogenic compound Ayahuasca. The results certainly had the desired effects as the sisters set about their song writing duties with much vigour after a lacklustre period as the previous held fears soon began to evaporate. While ‘Creation’ is not a great departure in sound from its successful predecessor (if it’s not broken…), the rediscovered confidence can be heard in the more subtle touches throughout the album suggesting that patience is key here, as repeat listens will prove an enriching experience. The title song is one of the strongest indicators of this renewed confidence judging by the radiant nature of its chorus. This self-assurance is reinforced with the persuasive power of ‘Kings’ with its realisation, “If we want to, we could do what kings do” as drums rumble in the distance and the influence of Fleetwood Mac is not too far away. Similar references apply to the opening segment of ‘Believe In Me’ until the song pulls away and The Pierces pursue their own route by opening up to the possibilities of love as depicted by the song’s shimmering chorus. The softened approach to ‘I Can Feel’ works wonders, building the song gradually before hitting a glorious chorus of harmonious vocals and a combination of synths and flecks of guitar that is never overstated. Just as The Pierces have taken their time to rediscover the creative formula that was such a success in 2011, but this time with an open approach to all possibilities available at their disposal, ‘Creation’ is the album to continue their success story providing the songs are given time to become associated with due to the various subtleties held deep within.


Endless Optimism

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Endless Optimism

Elsa & Emilie

Sony Music Norway

Just as the obsession has been with female vocalists in the UK from the music industry and those willingly lapping this up, the same pattern seems to be happening in Scandinavia or, more to the point, Norway where to be female and possessing a beautiful and ethereal vocal backed by an assortment of electronic pulses that have a habit of sweeping and soaring has become an obsession. The latest in an increasingly lengthening line regarding such comparisons is Elsa & Emilie who, through no fault of their own, churn out an album’s worth of all too familiar sounding material that could be any number of female artists to have graced the scene during the past few years. There is undoubtable talent present and the majority of songs are fine, with the solid opener ‘Endless Optimism’ and haunting beauty of ‘Run’ being two particular highlights, but overall, where this album would have benefitted most is a change in the creative process in order to set it apart from what has gone before rather than adhering to an overused formula. Take for example the meandering pleasantness of ‘All Our Money’ and saccharine ‘Firemaker’ as two prime candidates performing adequately at surface level, but after deeper exploratory fail to offer much in the way of substance. ‘Young and Beautiful’ patches up some of the deficiencies with more character in the vocals and complimented by the lone piano giving a source of inspiration for the duo’s next creative venture. Despite all of its professionalism, ‘Endless Optimism’ contains too much familiarity due to the current saturation of the market with similar sounding artists. On this occasion, Elsa & Emilie would do best to follow their own advice, “This could be anything, let’s find a place to start” because they need to find their own identity, which is more than viable considering the glimpses of talent evident here, and with time definitely on their side.


Siren Charms

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Siren Charms

In Flames

Sony

With the clamour for metal band In Flames to lead the way for a ‘mark two’ version of one of their previous, and extremely well-received albums from their longstanding supporters, latest release ‘Siren Charms’ sees no signs of adhering to such demands just yet. Top marks however, as In Flames stick to an agenda that sees them following a creative path that provides a slight digression from the heavier sounds of yore. That is not to say that In Flames has ditched their metal roots and trademark heavy riffs as there is enough here to hopefully satisfy older fans, as well as appeal to potential new fans. It’s more that the harder edges find themselves intermingling with the fresher approaches consisting of slower songs and ballad-esque numbers that are definitely to be welcomed. The alteration in sound owes some debt to the shift in working conditions that saw the band record for the first time outside of Gothenburg and set up base in Berlin at the legendary Hansa Tonstudio. With the likes of Bowie, U2 and Killing Joke having recorded at the same location, it seems plausible that In Flames were inspired by such artists, considering the more melodic touches mixed with the larger riffs and synthesisers. If it’s direct correlations you’re looking for, however, then think Avenged Sevenfold, Deftones, Sisters of Mercy and Zeromancer and you’re somewhere close to understanding In Flames progression, as depicted by the magnificent trio of  ‘In Plain View’, ‘Paralyzed’ and ‘Through Oblivion’. ‘Siren Charms’ might not appeal to the previously mentioned longstanding legions of supporters, but it is an album to be commended for its daring to go against the grain and drum up a different beat with almost radio friendly propositions (‘Dead Eyes’) mixing with harsher elements (‘When The World Explodes’) which takes some doing if your name is In Flames.


Hjertebank

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Hjertebank

Frk. Fryd

Sony Music Norway

A long time in the waiting, Stavanger-based Frk. Fryd is finally ready with their first long player ‘Hjertebank’. Eleven tracks of punk-rock inspired energy that accelerates from the start with the rifftastic ‘Svart Sol’ and immediately followed by the shorter and sharper shock of electricity that is ‘Skyene’, which has a fine line in knitting together its vocals in wonderfully harmonious fashion (listen to those near howls blowing down the tunnels!). The influence of grunge and its associated big sister that was riot grrrl during the early nineties are additional reference points but not something overly obsessive here, as the tunes remain focused and a lot tighter with definitely less aggression when it comes to the vocals. Occasionally, this lack of ‘bite’ becomes irksome as there are periods where Frk. Fryd should be snarling at their prey rather than sounding a tad cute ['Tok Meg Med']. Normal service is resumed, however, with the grit of ‘Tyvens Dans’ serving up its remedy with a coarser set of vocal chords, which is then shared with the melodically tight and rockin’ ‘Blod og Honning’. The rawness of ‘Blikket Ditt’ adds a more natural edge and is possibly the closest indication of this all-female group’s live sound. Topping that, however, is the layered instrumentation of ‘Virvelvind’ with its memorable high step in the vocals during the chorus. While there is a lack of variation on one or two occasions, the overall feel of ‘Hjertebank’ is positive considering it’s the first major step for Frk. Fryd to a long and illustrious career if they desire it.


New Third Lanark

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New Third Lanark

Craig Ward

Jezus Factory Records

After working with a diverse range of musical projects including dEUS, The Frames, The Summer of Mars and, more recently, A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen, as well as a wonderful acoustic-folk collaboration with Mark Mulholland, the seemingly restless soul that is Craig Ward pops up on the creative radar again with a solo album under the moniker ‘New Third Lanark’. This time the music emitting from Craig Ward is purely instrumental, with five ambient compositions that barely rise above a few decibels in sound. Having recorded this largely improvised effort with use of electric guitar and an assortment of electronic devices, the atmospheric pieces of sound shimmer and glide through a number of spaces, beginning with the flickering of light ‘Tropic of Bennett’ and ending with the warped and ethereal sounding ‘Lemo’. The beauty of ‘New Third Lanark’ is that if this makes it to a live setting, then the room for further exploration is boundless and one that causes much intrigue when considering the darker veil of noise covering ‘Blazes As In Dixon’ and the previously mentioned ‘Lemo’ that is already nagging to be explored further such is its lengthy duration. It would seem Craig Ward has unlocked yet another creative component in his mind as ‘New Third Lanark’ reveals an artist not willing to remain still in the moment as the shifting tone of these ambient sounds clearly indicates.


Wilderwolves

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Wilderwolves

Wilderwolves

Jezus Factory Records

Having grown up on a musical diet consisting of American underground indie stalwarts Palace Music and Smog before soaking up the sounds of Howe Gelb, Matt Ward and Jeff Tweedy at a slightly later date, Rob Eelen considered it time to scribble a few musical compositions of his own and set sail for the life of a singer-songwriter. Forsaking his own moniker for the more appealing Wilderwolves – no doubt a ploy to avoid any association with the aforementioned singer-songwriter category despite this being a predominantly one musician affair – this debut album reveals an array of honest emotions, often steeped in plaintive lyrics with an intensely raw sound. With assistance coming from producer Geert Van Bever, Wilderwolves greets the listener with the bare minimum of acoustic guitar and a vocal claiming, “There’s no way back, I got stuck on you” and immediately you get an idea of where this album is coming from. There are other instruments added to the overall recording, with Eelen introducing piano during the somewhat subdued yet trying its hardest to sound upbeat of ‘Disco Dance’, which remains a masterstroke in song writing such is its dalliance with pop music combined with an overall sober side. The distant sounding opening of ‘Great Days’ assumes a brave face when inside there is nothing but ruin, which extends to the tragic relationship of ‘Danger Close’ that possesses a country edge as depicted by the shooting stars of steel strings illuminating the night sky momentarily, with the song drifting slowly towards its conclusion. A more robust and melodic sound lifts ‘Song For Now People’, which seems to spur the following ‘To Deploy’ into action with its choppy rhythm greatly exemplified by the fuzzy bass, staccato electric guitar and thumping drum beats. With there being a strong feeling of clinging to the past, the memories echoed throughout ‘Wilderwolves’ is something to revel in when they are presented in such an absorbing and intelligent manner that sets out this debut album as one to seriously treasure.


Rock N Roll Guitar Greats

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Rock ‘N’ Roll Guitar Greats

Various Artists

Union Square Music

An interesting compilation from Union Square Music featuring a whole host of ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Guitar Greats’ nicely packaged and one that is set at an affordable price. Starting things off with more than an air of familiarity about it due to Quentin Tarantino’s inclusion of Dick Dale’s surf-rock masterpiece ‘Miserlou’ in his film Pulp Fiction, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Guitar Greats’ maintains the consistency with Duane Eddy’s guitar twanging ‘Shazam’, instrumental smash ‘Rumble’ from Link Wary, and other guitar greats from Scotty Moore ‘Have Guitar, Will Travel’; The Shadows superb ‘F.B.I.’ and The Ventures classic ‘Walk, Don’t Run’. Where this compilation would have served itself better, however, is if it had adhered to a strictly instrumental collection of rock ‘n’ roll guitar hits from the 50s and 60s and not included the overused names of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent to cite but two examples. While such names are rock ‘n’ roll legends in their own right, and with several of them more than adept when it comes to guitar playing, their inclusion sounds out of place due to this album being a predominantly instrumental affair. Small gripes for sure, but when you have the likes of Link Wray tearing up the house on more than one occasion; The Fireballs western ramble through ‘Vaquero’, and the dreamy ‘Sleepwalk’ provided by Santo and Johnny, the idea of a straight, guitar only instrumental really makes sense overall.


Up To Scratch!

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Up To Scratch!

Alleycats

APM

The real reason why we are here is for the music, and rightly so, as it seems unlikely that the UK’s Alleycats will be strutting their wares up on the catwalk any time soon. By combing a mixture of covers with original material, ‘Up To Scratch!’ is a qualified title as these wise rockin’ cats show how it’s done with vocals revealing faint resemblances to Jackie Brenston, and a sound that brings together rock ‘n’ roll with rhythm and blues. Having found a safe haven to record the album in two stints at Roundel Studios in Kent that stretched over a vast chasm of seven years, it’s not difficult to comprehend why such a lengthy gestation period took place as the end results are beaming like a Cheshire cat, such is their overall quality. The lynchpin holding all of this together appears to be longstanding member Drew Spikes, who not only produced ‘Up To Scratch!’ but knows how to pen a tune or two considering the wealth of original songs littering its contents. First of an impressive bunch is the up-tempo swing of ‘Daffy’ that opens a door to some fine guitar by way of Mick Murphy. The change in lifestyle from the remote countryside to the bright city lights is communicated compellingly by the impressively named Johnny Valentino during the contagious rhythm of ‘Born & Raised In Hicksville’. Elsewhere ’88 Keys’ drives at some pace with top-notch piano from former Matchbox member Rusty Lupton as the song conveys its frustration with the memorable line, “I got 88 keys but I can’t unlock your heart”.  As a collective, the Alleycats really pull together as each and every song provides more or less equal billing as far as the instrumentation is concerned. With Butch Evarts (sax) and Jerry Bart (drums) completing the six-piece line-up, such a demonstration of this equal billing is displayed during an imposing rendition of Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s ‘Roberta’ and a rockin’ ‘I Ain’t The Marrying Kind’. Stretching out their creative boundaries further is the slight country twang of ‘In The Doghouse Again’ that is peppered with some wonderful sax and possesses a lyrical content of a cryptic nature regarding the ‘hero’ at the centre of this song. There’s no tomfoolery as far as Alleycats is concerned as ‘Up To Scratch!’ is a qualified success that is jam-packed full of goodness.


Bahamas Is Afie

Released 1 September

 

Bahamas Is Afie

Bahamas

Brushfire Records / Universal Music

Canadian singer-songwriter Bahamas, otherwise known as Afie Jurvanen, sets out a new long player on Brushfire Records/Universal Music. Taking in to account the title of the record – ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ – as well as assuming the role of producer and multi-instrumentalist, one can safely suggest that this third album, after ‘Pink Strat’ (2009) and ‘Barchords’ (2012), is very much one that is close to Bahamas’ heart. The opening ‘Waves’ gives way to such ideas with the impression that a great deal of contemplation took place (“I held the bath inside my lungs for days…”) before committing these latest creative endeavours to tape. The time has been seriously well spent as it’s the lure of the gentle acoustic guitar that tingles the senses and gradual introduction of further instruments, along with Bahamas’ hushed vocal – nicely complimented with some dreamy backing –  from the aforementioned song that sets out ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ on this personal journey. The details of this particular voyage become more apparent with the folk roots of ‘Can’t Take You With Me’ that sees a parting of the ways of a relationship. Where this album excels is the manner in which Bahamas can transform those ‘Bitter Memories’ into something sweet sounding and wonderfully infectious with a simple melody, yet still retaining much food for thought inside a song’s brief tenure. In addition to the quieter acoustic folk introspection, there are moments where Bahamas experiments with the volume control by allowing for the mid-tempo country rock of ‘Stronger Than That’ and high-pitched vocals that also extends to the guitars during ‘All The Time’, providing an engaging twist to the overall feel of the album. ‘Little Record Girl’ adds to this tally with yet more country but this time with a brisk twang and an affectionate lyric that is just as much about a passion for music as it is regarding the opposite sex. By closing out on the slowly fading memories of ‘All I’ve Ever Known’ that is aching from the inside out, such is its emotional pull that’s not too dissimilar to the likes of the Blue Nile, ‘Bahamas Is Afie’ is a stunningly good album reflecting on former troubled times which, ironically, have led to the riches lining this latest effort.


Over The Sea

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Over The Sea (single)

Frøder

Sony Music Norway

Bergen-based artist Frøder throws her hat into the ring once more after the debut release that was ‘Speed of Sound’. Having received some glowing praise regarding the former single, Frøder continues where this song left off with a combination of indie infused electronic pop. Comparisons have been drawn with Florence + the Machine and quite understandable when hearing the sweeping and often dramatic rhythm of ‘Over The Sea’, complete with a commanding vocal presence that soars as high as the music as well dealing with its lower echelons. Having gained invaluable experience from her CLMD collaboration, The Stockholm Syndrome, and with Fender Heist’s ‘Fighter’, Frøder appears to be taking the right approach by steadily carving out a niche that is built on solid foundations that should see a few more followers jumping on board once a full album is ready.  By revealing such strong character of voice and with two worthy single releases this early into her career, the future looks bright for this Norwegian singer.



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