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White Smoke And Pines

Ellen Sundberg

Rootsy

With this being her second album at the still relatively tender age of twenty-one, Swedish singer-songwriter Ellen Sundberg remains close to her roots by continuing to reside in the small village of Bjärme, Sweden, where she sets out her creative ideas. The latest instalment is ‘White Smoke And Pines’; ten songs influenced by alt. country and folk music and performed in English, with the exception of one song title scribbled in her native language and being the musically bright, ‘Vägen är lång (The Road Is Long)’. This sophomore effort has the head of an experienced character, but it is one that is still struggling with the complexities of life as evidenced by the reflective tempo and narrative of ‘What Is Life’. With this opening track hinting at a darker core in relation to this album, such suggestions become fully realised with the intensely personal duo of ‘Hollow’ and ‘Maze of Shadows’, both set to the barest of instrumentation. With such examples penetrating deep beneath the skin, Sundberg spins a broader yarn with the inbound train journey breathing out a combination of her own personal thoughts that cease at various interludes to reflect on the variety of characters also on board, which makes for enthralling listening. No doubt the intimate feel of the majority of songs assembled for ‘White Smoke And Pines’ will translate even more acutely during Sundberg’s current live tour, where there will be room for improvisation if the mood takes her there considering the rolling narratives. As its press release accurately sums up: ‘It’s not always the most comfortable place to be, but very rewarding’ because albums don’t come much more confessional than Ellen Sundberg’s ‘White Smoke And Pines’.


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The Centennial Collection

Billie Holiday

Sony Music CMG

Celebrating one hundred years in the life of Billie Holiday who was born 7th April 1915 and died 17th July 1959 ‘The Centennial Collection’ released on Sony Music CMG is a collection of twenty songs representing some of her well-known vocal performances between the years 1935 to 1945. Nicknamed Lady Day by friend and fellow American musician Lester Young, Billie Holiday proved an inspiring and influential figure on the jazz scene for her distinct vocal delivery that changed both the manner in which the songs were interpreted as well as altering customary rhythmic patterns of the standards Holiday performed. Such a unique and personal singing style has also seeped into areas of pop and soul music showing how far-reaching Billie Holiday’s appeal actually was and still remains to this present day. ‘The Centennial Collection’ begins with the vibrant tempo and optimistic vocal of ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’ supported by Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra who flip this chipper number over to the melancholic ‘Gloomy Sunday’  and determined emotions of ‘I Must Have That Man’. The bulk of the songs are performed by Billie Holiday’s own orchestra with such well-known compositions as ‘God Bless The Child’, ‘Summertime’ and ‘The Very Thought of You’ selected for this compilation. The most haunting composition is reserved until nearing the end of ‘The Centennial Collection’ with a masterful choice of words reflecting racial discrimination and, in particular, the lynching of African Americans in the South by way of ‘Strange Fruit’. Serving as a compelling reminder of the greatness of Billie ‘Lady Day’ Holiday, as well as acting as a perfect introduction to the songs she once performed, The Centennial Collection’ is a worthy celebration.


Released 10 April

 

Anesthesia

Strong Addiction

Inverse Records

Atmospheric and emotive are two adjectives that help to provide a brief summary of the ten-track debut album from Finnish alternative rockers, Strong Addiction. Having pledged their allegiance to Inverse Records with this first offering, the truth is that this five-piece band has been in operation a bit longer, having previously released the single, ‘Empire of Lies’ (2008), and then followed by the EP, ‘Suspicious Reality’ (2010). Therefore, with recording experience on their side and a number of years performing live, Strong Addiction has built up a solid reputation in their native Finland and one that is not difficult to comprehend once the contents of ‘Anesthesia’ start to unfold. Beginning with ‘Fix Me’, Strong Addiction pour out their frustrations which, by the time of its chorus, one can sense that lead vocalist, Sebastian Ulmanen, is equal parts emotionally raw as he is completely jaded due to life’s lack of genuine opportunities. After such a strong opening, the rest of ‘Anesthesia’ does not disappoint with ‘Losing It All’ stretching out its rhythm and, in the process, almost its innards as it reminds of early Jane’s Addiction and, to a far greater extent, American industrial rockers Filter. The ensuing ‘Red Sun’ builds up an impressive wall of sound with the guitars of Anssi Lausmaa and Heikki Virolainen really driving the song, only to be usurped by the epic qualities of ‘Empire of Lies’. Variation is given to the rather superb ‘Sense And Sensibility’, transmitted in the main by Sebastian Ulmanen’s vocal revealing its strength in depth, before reverting to type and providing a fine impression of Richard Patrick (see Filter above) during the blistering ‘Horns’. The ethereal moments of the album’s title track reveals another facet to Strong Addiction, but it’s the manner in which the band force these more fragile sounds through the industrial grinder of noise, where sparks are flying from the guitars and the vocals are close to breaking that exposes the dexterity of musicianship at the core of this unit. If only all debut albums could match the emotional intensity and genuine greatness of ‘Anesthesia’, then the world would truly be in a much healthier state.


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Tikamp

Bertine Zetlitz

Sony Music Norway

After many years as a recording artist and the proud recipient of four Norwegian Grammys, Bertine Zetlitz reached a crossroads in her life whether to continue this musical journey or call time on an otherwise successful career. The former decision was made, but based on a strict criterion of adding fresh ingredients to a musical formula which had passed its sell-by date. The result of this new found impetus is ‘Tikamp’; a ten-track album performed in her mother tongue and consisting of acoustic-based songs with added electronica, as well as a few electro-pop numbers as a means of not entirely alienating Zetlitz from her longstanding fan base. This newfound approach works instantaneously with recent single, and duet with Prepple Houmb from Norway’s Dum Dum Boys, ‘Sett At Vi Sier Det Sånn’ opening Zetlitz’ account admirably, with vocals combining in a gentle manner and complementing the hushed musical tone that eventually lets its guard down by way of its lead guitar steering this opening song to its conclusion. Familiar territory is revisited with the intriguingly named ’48 Hunder’ and fitting title of ‘Fort’ as both songs are steeped in electronica but with varying tempos. Such tactics work, however, as ‘Tikamp’ trims the use of modern technology yet combines what is left to great effect with the stringed instrumentation, which is best served during ‘Smil’ and the lavish sounding ‘Ingenting’. The fadeout track, ‘På Kanten’ offers the clearest example of where Zetlitz should ply her trade if the desire remains to continue her music career as its pared back style and honest vocals truly shine. Bertine Zetlitz has conquered any lingering doubts regarding her future with ‘Tikamp’, as it is a staggeringly good comeback and one that should not be overlooked.


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Strangers To Ourselves

Modest Mouse

Columbia

It’s been a while since Modest Mouse made an appearance, eight years in fact, but back they are and with a new album under their wing by the name of ‘Strangers To Ourselves’. Conventional they are most certainly not as Modest Mouse flitter between a variety of moods and sounds that can be filed under the indie banner yet remain difficult to define even when placed under duress. An example of this diversity can be detected from the start where the fragile and bruised ‘Strangers To Ourselves’ gives way to the murky yet gripping sentiments of ‘Shit In Your Cut’, that leads to another spanner being thrown in the works with the distorted disco and satirical look at American serial killer Andrew Cunanan during ‘Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)’. Uncertainty is never far away whether in words or music judging by the light and shade expressed throughout ‘Ansel’ via steel drums and kick of the guitar, that really lets fly once the driving rhythm of ‘The Ground Walks With Time In A Box’ gets underway. Despite the lengthy wait for ‘Strangers To Ourselves’ being a frustrating one, all is forgiven when Modest Mouse can whip up such treats as ‘Coyotes’ next to fascinating oddities as ‘The Tortoise And The Tourist’ that gives real credence to the term independent as Modest Mouse continue to avoid the de rigueur of the music industry.


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Starting Over Again

Ida Jenshus

Universal Music Norway

‘Starting Over Again’ is the name of the record and where Norwegian artist Ida Jenshus currently finds herself. With a great desire to change her working habits after three successful albums and winner of three Spellemannpriser (Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy) for her creative endeavours, Ida Jenshus set out on a path of new discovery. Retaining the services of producer Kåre Vestrheim was the only remainder of her past, as Ida Jenshus set to task the songs for ‘Starting Over Again’. The precursor to this latest long player from Ida Jenshus was last year’s ‘Let It Go’ EP that contained the audacious ‘Shallow River’ as it played out over three segments. With this latest album, Ida Jenshus continues where the former EP left off, with songs stretching over the six minute mark, barring a couple of exceptions, and packed with great details. Take for example the title track with its Joni Mitchell inspired vocals set to a delicate rhythm that gradually adds more flesh to its bones as the song progresses via harmonica and atmospheric sounding guitars. ‘Set Us Free’ is blessed with more fine vocals and takes a more direct approach musically, compared to the drawn out nature of quite lengthy ‘Changes / What Is Time?’ for example. Never an easy task the process of reinvention, but Ida Jenshus appears to have cracked it with her latest album ‘Starting Over Again’.


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Still The One – Live From Vegas

Shania Twain

Mercury Nashville

Five-time Grammy winner Shania Twain made the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas her home for two years, having performed over one hundred shows to supporters from all over the world. With her signature of melding country with pop music, Shania Twain added a thirteen-piece band and a number of other features such as dancers and a flying motorcycle to not only put on a show, but one that was fitting of the glitzy traditions associated with Vegas. Such was the overwhelming success of these Vegas performances that the decision was made to release a live album as a memento for those fans who attended, but also for those who were unfortunate to not witness this live extravaganza. ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ is the documented evidence of Shania Twain’s residency in Vegas available as a live CD on Mercury Nashville as well as DVD and Blu-ray from Eagle Rock. With the album containing her well-known hit singles ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ and ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ that many no doubt were waiting to hear, ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ is finely tuned with a sample of Shania Twain’s earlier work with the more country than pop ‘No One Needs To Know’ and ‘Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?’ to name two such examples. With this album being produced by Shania Twain herself, the hands on approach and dedication to her song writing is evident throughout as ‘Still The One – Live From Vegas’ serves as a perfect reminder for those who witnessed one of these live performances.


Released 10 April

 

Her Foreign Language

Matthau Mikojan

Inverse Records

The cover notes that accompanied debut solo release from Finland’s Matthau Mikojan left an interesting trail and one that requires further investigation. Having seen the demise of his previous band and without a record deal, the decision to set up shop and write and record the latest set of songs formulating in his mind was a no brainer really. The difficulty came when, despite a wealth of experience behind him as a musician, the realisation dawned that there was a dearth of experience when it came to the actual recording process. Rather than let panic ensue, Matthau Mikojan set the wheels in motion by means of studying every available textbook, trawling the internet for any appropriate advice, and observing studio engineers at work in order to learn the ropes as far as recording goes. Fast forward to the present and the end result is ‘Her Foreign Language’; thirteen songs that have received the closest attention to detail after many hours of hard graft and without much daylight to speak of. The clues can loosely be deciphered in some of the song titles regarding the painstaking recording process Matthau Mikojan has undergone, whether it’s ‘Hours Overdue’, ‘Good Nights, Bad Mornings’ or ‘Gold & Silver’. While strong comparisons with Bowie can be heard throughout ‘Her Foreign Language’, there are also traces of the Rolling Stones bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with ‘No Preference’ and ‘Hours Overdue’ being two obvious candidates. The amps are turned down during the reflective and largely acoustic ‘You’, which leads to greater self-examination once the gothic tones of ‘Presence’ makes itself known via an enthralling vocal and skeletal guitar sound. While there is a preference for the slight outer space oddities of ‘Wrapped’, for example, over the more straight bluesy rock which seems to outnumber the former, ‘Her Foreign Language’ is to be exalted for its courage to follow its own convictions and come out the other side with a more than palatable album.


Released 10 April

 

Demons Los Divas

Velvet Six

Inverse Records

There is a real sense of drama unfolding with the return of Velvet Six and their second studio album ‘Demons Los Divas’. Having reformed the band’s line-up, Velvet Six waste no time in terms of reintroducing themselves with a sweeping wave of synth orchestrated strings, robust guitars and supportive bass that drives introductory number ‘Twist’ straight to the senses and leaves an indelible mark such is its immediate impact. It is this high delivery of sound  that fuels the drama and sense of the theatrical, which is heightened further by lead vocalist Olle Wallenius’ engaging way with words (“Will my little Snow White get her medicine”) and strong presence throughout. The album’s title track reveals that Velvet Six is no fluke when it comes to writing a memorable ditty as ‘Demons Los Divas’ is dominated by its guitars and bass that combine to create an infectious melody. The aforementioned drama opens up once more with the overstated delivery of ‘Something Evil’, which has a habit of sounding like a number of different songs with various parts lifted and bolted together yet remains annoyingly difficult to pin down. There is no doubting the strength at the heart of this band being its ability to consistently construct engaging melodic songs with a definite hard edge that serve as a conveyor belt of quality controlled delights, with ‘Back To Back’, ‘Blood Rain’ and ‘Loves Like’ particularly indicative of such a description. The wait has certainly been worthwhile as Velvet Six has overcome any suggestion of difficult second album syndrome by turning in a compelling collection of songs that will suitably appeal to current fans as well as entice a number of new supporters.


Released 10 April

 

Dream Brother

Dream Brother

Inverse Records

The Dream Brother project has finally become a reality with the release of the band’s self-titled debut album. What began in 2008 has come to fruition in 2015 with a ten-track long player of predominantly American inspired alternative rock songs. There’s a definite pinch of Nirvana added to the rather excellent opener ‘Lost Yourself’, which is abrasive one moment and smooth the next once the melodic pop of its chorus sets in. A fine start that simply builds further with the tight and driving rhythm of ‘Black Leaves’, that can be compartmentalised as a close relation of Jimmy Eat World and ditto the acoustic indie rock of ‘Halfway’ with singer Samuel Sjöman trying his hardest to convince himself that there might be a spark left in a recent relationship breakup, “I still believe in you, I still believe, But we don’t care anymore because we don’t speak anymore” and it makes for compelling listening. There is a sense of claustrophobia given to ‘The Way Out’ via its lyrics, but also the manner in which the song builds on various layers only to find itself returning to the start . The sense of frustration boils over into the pared back sound and confessional ‘LoveHateLove’ that climaxes nicely with a bout of tub-thumping, handclaps and group vocals. Despite ‘Dream Brother’, being a tad derivative in places – the granular yet catchy indie pop of ‘The One’ being such an example – one can only gaze in admiration for a vision fully realised and one that contains enough reasons to return to this debut album for some considerable time yet.


Released Out now

 

Cause of You…Two Cats

Rockin' Bonnie & The Mighty Ropers + The Starliters

El Toro

Released separately as two vinyl EPs, Rockin’ Bonnie & The Mighty Ropers + The Starliters is given the double treatment here as both EPs have also been issued as a singular CD album showcasing both releases. By combining both sets of vinyl works seamlessly as the western swing and country bop peppered lightly with elements of rockabilly and honky tonk blends appropriately and giving this an overall sense of one band performing throughout. With The Starliters kicking things off in fine style with their ‘Two Cats’ and followed up with the catchy hook of its chorus and near spoken word delivery of ‘Stuck On This Gal And Spin That Bottle’, it’s hoped that this four-piece band do not leave it another thirteen years before committing their creative ideas to a follow-up EP. The contributions from Rockin’ Bonnie and the Mighty Ropers make this EP a stalemate, if you’re concerned with such things, as the quality of songs is equally impressive. From the lazy, hazy feel of ‘Cause Of You’ given real credence by way of a laidback piano and lap steel guitar setting the mood accordingly. There is a great version of Hank Snow’s ‘Movin’ On’ that’s given a boost via a beefed up guitar, only to be edged out by the western swing influenced ‘I’ve Done Gone Hot Wild’. With this album being a generous offer of two for the price of one, coupled with the fact that both EPs are consistent in their song writing, ‘Cause Of You…Two Cats’ is one record that is going to be difficult to ignore.


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The King of Cape

Alfred Hall

Sony Music Norway

It’s been a couple of years since Alfred Hall’s ‘Wilderness’, but with latest single ‘The King of Cape’ it’s like the duo haven’t been away. Picking up where their debut album left off, the song writing partnership of Bjørn Tveit (vocals/guitar) and Thomas Klær (guitar) reintroduce themselves with their distinctive sound of hushed vocals backed with an uplifting melody as ‘The King of Cape’ is the equivalent of daylight slowly revealing itself of a morning before making its full entrance and setting the day in motion. Having developed their profile that now extends outside of their native Norway, primarily as a result of the EP ‘Alfred Hall’ being released in 2014 internationally, as well as productive campaigns with Netflix and Cerveza Pacifico Clara respectively, the next step for Alfred Hall is an intriguing one because while ‘The King of Cape’ is a delightful reminder of the glorious sounds of their debut album, the real challenge will be to see if the duo can develop their sound to the next level rather than simply reduplicating their previous long player. It is sincerely hoped that the boys from Drammen manage to pull off the former option.



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