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Producers Politics Passion

Martin Hagfors

Me Records

The name Martin Hagfors is one associated in Norway with a prolific work rate that has resulted in eighteen albums and a long line of song writing contributions for the likes of Askil Holm, Big Bang, Ida Jenshus, Motorpsycho, The National Bank et al. Hagfors latest release entitled ‘Producers Politics Passion’, minus the punctuation, is a match made in heaven for those who have a soft spot for indie pop music with a definite left-field approach. Having enlisted a whole host of guest musicians including such names as Anne Lise Frøkedal, Jenny Hval, Erlend Mokkelbost, Anders Tjore to name but a few, ‘Producers Politics Passion’ is as much about the ‘passions’ of these talented musicians as it is the man in the hot seat, Martin Hagfors. Beginning in fine fashion with the suggestive ‘Kinky Lovers’, due to being a likely example of a composition that a certain Brian Wilson conjures up in his dreams with its lovely warped qualities of mild electronics and vocal delivery. The following, ‘Leaning To The Left’ is open to interpretation (“I might sound out of date…”) but most likely the ‘Politics’ segment and contains some fine musicianship. The dreamlike ‘You’ve Been Replaced’ again contains many different facets when considering its overall meaning, but one clear revelation is that it is a supremely clever ditty that manages to incorporate elements of ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)’ as a means to emphasise its overall message considering the redundancy in the title. There are moments of playing it straight with the easily distracted by how infectious this seductive mellow pop is with ‘Easily Distracted By Love’, until the distant chill of ‘Earl Is Gone’ brings the mood back down, but compellingly so, via some delicious vocal harmonising. ‘Producers Politics Passion’ is a ‘gammeldags’ recipe consisting of intelligent and insightful pop music with a few quirky edges, the kind of which used to be more frequently accepted by the mainstream. As it stands, Martin Hagfors and his musical associates have just produced a winning formula that demands a follow-up if ever the desire exists.


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Half Tux

Haraball

Fysisk Format

Scrolling down the track listing for Haraball’s ‘Half Tux’ provides nearly a dozen reasons for not wanting to leave the house in the morning. Whether this is due to a serious condition involving paranoia and delusional episodes, or that one is slightly more cantankerous than their fellow neighbour, both reasons appear plausible once hearing the various firecrackers igniting from this second album. A distorted opening groan of guitars arouse the senses before launching into a pummelling assault of post-punk and hardcore that is ‘The House That Builds Itself’. Following on from the guitar solo that brought the former song abruptly to its knees, the rolling tumble of ‘Crazy Tram’ is equally frenetic as its opening predecessor, only allowing for a tad more air to breeze between the blistering rhythm. ‘Manchild’ offers the first inkling of a composition not willing to be constrained by any particular pattern as it has a tendency to kneejerk occasionally in different directions that allows for a little restraint and usher in some grunge to the melee. Such a description can be applied to the intriguingly titled and mischievous tendencies of ‘Sack Of Onions’ and equally curious ‘Mallcop Dungeon’; the latter song building in a crescendo of guitars and pounding drumbeats that escalates into glimpses of searing feedback before regaining its previous momentum. Despite offering a full shot of adrenalin to the system by way of ‘Half Tux’, underneath the raging emotions and often chaotic noise there exist enough subtleties to suggest that Haraball is steadily evolving into a force to be reckoned with.


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To Where We Reside

Alida

Sony Music Norway

Alida’s former single ‘Next Plane’ managed to cause a wave of enthusiasm on various radio playlists throughout Norway due to its alluring vocal and mild, atmospheric electronica that played out to a narrative full of unrequited love. The next destination for Alida is right here and now with a full-length offering, of sorts, by way of a mini-album. Arriving in two parts, which makes for a refreshing change, ‘To Where We Reside’ is the first instalment before the next chapter arrives with an equal number of tracks that will complete this concept. The previously mentioned ‘Next Plane’ is included here, and greatly complimented with the transcendent qualities of ‘Tell Me’, that provides an explanation to the visual imagery of the cover art, and perfectly constructed indie-pop of ‘Feathers’. By offering a condensed version in terms of ‘To Where We Reside’, the songs making up this mini-release should receive the care and attention they deserve, considering the exquisite and piano-led ‘I Get Lonely’ and pop dynamics of ‘Hunger’; the latter of which is the appropriate description when waiting for the next segment of this two-part series.


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Mystery Girl (Deluxe)

Roy Orbison

Sony Music CMG

As with the recent Johnny Cash discovery, another of the original Sun Records’ artists, Roy Orbison resurfaces by way of a deluxe edition of a former release with ‘Mystery Girl’. Marking its 25th anniversary in style, this new edition of ‘Mystery Girl’ includes all of the original ten tracks, but also nine previously unreleased studio works and demos. The accompanying DVD features a full-length documentary, in addition to a number of music videos that truly adds much weight to the overall quality of this reissue. Having received much critical recognition on its first outing, ‘Mystery Girl’ will no doubt revive fond memories for many Roy Orbison supporters, especially with the hit single ‘You Got It’ that has lost none of its vigour. Another facet to the appeal of Roy Orbison was the enigmatic and almost operatic delivery of his vocal that suited his often balladry style with songs such as ‘In The Real World’ and ‘A Love So Beautiful’. A welcome re-release with superb bonus material, ‘Mystery Girl’ has definitely stood the test of time and one that is still worthy of its former praise.


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The Other Side Of Bakersfield, Vol. 2

Various Artists

Bear Family

The evolution of rockabilly and rockin’ sounds continues by way of Bakersfield with Bear Family’s second chapter titled, ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’. With in-depth liner notes and super rare photos regarding these particular artists of the 1950s and 60s and the record labels involved,  the usual care and attention from Bear Family is applied to the entire package as volume two of the Boppers and Rockers from Nashville West is on equal par with its predecessor. For example, the same quality and breadth of creativity is found throughout ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield Vol. 2’, but where this differs slightly is the evolving sound of the musicians involved, edging closer to a fuller-sounding rockabilly description, to cite one example, that is beefed up and tighter in its execution. Particular delights of this second instalment include the ever reliable Ferlin Husky with ‘I Feel Better All Over’; the ballad-esque ‘Teenage Tears’ from Cliff Crofford; the wonderful off-kilter delivery and in line with its narrative of Corky Jones’ (Buck Owens) ‘Rhythm and Booze’ and George Weston’s rockin’ ‘Hey Little Car Hop’. Special mention goes to the sublime ‘Can’t Go On’ with a vocal to melt the sternest of hearts that leaves one to ponder why the name Dallas Frazier was not exalted to greater heights despite achieving success as a songwriter for a host of artists. A superb second volume, ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’ is worthy of high praise indeed.


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The Other Side Of Bakersfield, Vol. 1

Various Artists

Bear Family

Nothing but a safe pair of hands, Bear Family Records bring sweet, pleasurable relief with a new two-part series that focuses on ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’. The first volume of Boppers and Rockers from Nashville West details a succession of artists from the 1950s and 60s from the city of Bakersfield eager to experiment with the wilder sound that was emerging at a quickening pace with rockabilly and later rock ‘n’ roll. With an abundance of independent record labels able to provide (temporary) homes for those deemed worthy enough, the more familiar names of Buck Owens (aka Corky Jones on one particular number), Tommy Collins, Merle Haggard et al are present, but also much sought after originals with the endearingly named Custer Bottoms, for example, with his ‘Stood Up Blues’ that possesses a wonderful natural quality mainly expressed through Custer’s ‘hick’ delivery  rendering the abject misery of the central figure via the opposite sex utterly convincing. Cliff Crofford’s prospects appear equally bleak with ‘There Ain’t Nothin’ Happenin To Me’ that sounds like it’s made up of a very primitive rock ‘n’ roll rhythm. Johnny Taylor certainly adopts a similar methodology with his more up-tempo version of the (still) primitive rockin’ beats by way of the superb ‘Mixed Up Rhythm & Blues’, only for Jimmy Thomason (‘Now Hear This’) and Glen Ayres – Red Simpson (‘Sweet Love’) to shake things up further with some rhythm and blues and then followed by a concoction of teen rock and boogie. The sheer breadth of styles is astounding not to mention the abundance of creativity – Joe Hall & The Corvettes ‘Bongo Beating Beatnik’ a prime example – that makes this first volume ‘The Other Side Of Bakersfield’ a must have item.


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Rockabilly Roads 4

Various Artists

Playground Music

Fourth instalment in the Rockabilly Roads series that sees no let-up in terms of quality control with a plethora of modern-day rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll artists touting their own creative writings rather than adding a fresh spin on an old cover. The ‘jungle’ theme given to this fourth Rockabilly Roads volume is more about the red-hot electricity coursing through more or less each and every track rather than anything specific coming out of the wilderness. First indication of such a scorching atmosphere comes by way of Mike Barbwire & The Blue Ocean Orchestra with their ‘El Sótano Calling (S.O.S ROCKN’ ROLL), which is an instrumental with a Latin flavour coupled with a stinging guitar, monstrous sax and surprising turn of events with a brief yet wondrous string section midway that sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the competition to follow. After such a magnificent start, Swedish rockers and regulars to the Rockabilly Roads series, John Lindberg Trio do not let the side down by way of their usual high standards of consistently good rock ‘n’ roll with knowing pop sensibilities that is ‘Hit Me’. Where John Lindberg Trio add a modern gloss to the rockin’ revival, Ruby Ann’s ‘You Gotta Pay’ and subsequent Honeyboy Slim & the Bad Habits ‘Screamin’ Mimi Jeanie’ really drum up a sense of nostalgia with authentic takes on a 50s sound; the former a mid-tempo setter that is commanded by Ms Ann’s compelling vocal, whereas the latter is a full-blooded rocker and reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis. It remains this very balancing act between replicating an inch perfect rockin’ 50s period sound, and one that stems from the same origins but with various additional elements providing a more up-to-date feel (20th Flight Rockers, The Caezars, Reverend Horton Heat), which is why this rockabilly series truly works.


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Fire Dance With Me

Charlotte Qvale

Stella Music / Sony Music Norway

The name Charlotte Qvale has been making great strides after recognition from several Norwegian radio stations that saw Qvale’s hit song ‘The Fire’ a longstanding feature when it came to radio playlists. Fast forward to the present and Charlotte Qvale is now ready for her full-length debut entrance with ‘Fire Dance With Me’. The impact of this first offering is immediate with vigorous backing beats and Qvale’s calm vocal detailing the differences that finally proved too much for one particular relationship during ‘The Beginning Of The End’. Comparisons will no doubt feature Florence + the Machine considering the influence of indie, folk and dance music running throughout, especially upon hearing the lovely rising arc of ‘Love You Out Loud’ and breezy ‘Kiss The Girls’. There is a slight quirky edge to the rather engaging ‘City Lights’ that brings together a bristling rhythm full of acoustic guitar and stabs of brass instrumentation and reminiscent of Susanne Vega and a closer to home, Ephemera. While such associations are to be welcomed considering the undoubtable talent and confidence evident here, the next outing for Charlotte Qvale makes for an interesting prospect because it will be one that requires a slight deviation due to an overall feeling of familiarity with ‘Fire Dance With Me’.


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Shake The Curse

This Sect

Sect Appeal Records / Diger

Reviving a musical passage confined to the history books by dragging it into the present, This Sect possess an undisputable post-punk and indie influence with a definite whiff of the eighties when it comes to their sound, but one that is given a slightly modern edge considering the grooving rhythm of former single ‘Bookburner’. The giveaway, however, to such references can be heard in the shimmering and echoing effects of the guitars that is reminiscent of such 80s innovators The Chameleons and Bauhaus, as well as paying their respects to such record labels as Dischord with the aforementioned post-punk sound. With this being a debut album and one that has taken considerable time to fully realise, the benefits of such a lengthy gestation period are revealed in the tight musicianship which creates moments of genuine tension as well as providing a sense of holding the ship together. For lead vocalist Gøran Karlsvik, the title of This Sect’s debut long player seems to literally plague his very being, with his vocal giving the impression of pulling the songs along but with considerable suffering involved due to the immense weight of the lyrical contents contained within. Such indications can be identified from the layered guitars and melodic bursts of ‘Lines On A Trail’ where there appears no exit from troubled times, to the (some might say) actions of a philistine with the tortured ‘Bookburner’ and major clue that is ‘Detox The Soul’. As brief as ‘Shake The Curse’ stands, This Sect manage to cram a succession of deeply intense emotions that are often cryptic in nature, with an equally forceful brew of raucous guitars and additional synth that harks back to a period in music that is sadly missed and thus rendering ‘Shake The Curse’ utterly essential.


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American Football

American Football

Polyvinyl

When confronted with song titles such as ‘But The Regrets Are Killing Me’, the likelihood of a joyful conclusion to American Football’s eponymously titled reissue is highly unlikely. Whether such regrets permeate the thoughts of the now ex-band members regarding their decision to call time on this particular musical venture only they will know. What is clear, however, is that the decision to dust down and re-release ‘American Football’ as a limited edition set to 2000 copies in various formats was the right decision considering the honesty of the songs on offer, but also the dexterity of the musicianship that conjures up various intriguing and complex melodies throughout. Most notably, however, is the iconic status this record still holds considering the various layers interwoven into the songs that can be heard to varying degrees in a host of bands currently peddling the emo label, but also for the use of brass instrumentation and sometimes jazz references that still set this album head and shoulders above. Look no further than the accessible sounding yet full of intricate details of ‘Never Meant’, to the fragility of ‘The Summer Ends’, played out effectively with a singular horn and bringing to mind The Mutton Birds ‘The Falls’, to understand why this album is an important landmark and one that is still relevant today.


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Into The Fray

Montée

Sony Music Norway

Upping the ante further with album number three by adding the production skills of British producer Eliot James (Two Door Cinema Club, The Futureheads, Kaiser Chiefs) and enrolling fellow Brit Simon Walker to help out with lyrics, Montée is willing to take chances in order to broaden their sound but also their appeal when it comes to reaching new audiences. The results appear to be a winning success judging from the fuller sounding and more consistent quality of the songs making up ‘Into The Fray’. The eighties influence blended with modern pop-disco tendencies remain and clearly evident from the off with ‘Saviour’ that receives extra plaudits for its decision to include backing vocals that take this ditty to another level. ‘Icarus’ has a sense of familiarity about it, which is a compliment, with its gliding rhythm that almost suggests a smoky jazz texture when really it’s a reflective synth number that has lead vocalist Anders Tjore sounding rather like Bowie on occasions with a desire to remain detached from society, and it really is that good. The infectious melodies continue their charge with ‘Animal Traits’ and ‘The Beast In Their Nature’, before ‘Picture Paradise’ offers a different perspective with its colder rhythm and more measured pace. For fans of Human League, Heaven 17 and more recently Van She and Empire of the Sun, ‘Into The Fray’ should see Montée victorious judging by the overall quality and consistency of their latest album.


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Unanchored

Silya

Sony Music Norway

Ending up as last year’s singing sensation after a gruelling number of weeks on NRK’s Stjernekamp contest, Silya resurfaces with the shrewdly titled ‘Unanchored’. Despite the triumphant success on national television, Silya remains close to her roots by continuing her musical association with The Sailors, as well as her personal taste in music dating anywhere between the 40s to the 70s where elements of rock, pop, jazz, big band and ska have a habit of connecting as well as operating on their own terms. Opening up in some style with trademark vocal and a singular electric guitar for company is the confessionary tug-of-war ‘Change My Mind’ with its one line homage to The Clash but also respect for the two cities in her life which, unfortunately, have presented something of a dilemma as far as future directions go. With the album being recorded in Degraw Sound in Brooklyn, the decision to commit to a live recording certainly pays dividends as the retro feel of the aforementioned ‘Change My Mind’ comes complete with added hiss behind its exterior, but more importantly the raw honesty of Silya’s vocal is captured and highlighted with the ballad ‘Become My Dream’ and gutsy rocker ‘Trailblazer’. Treading the past also extends to a reworked version of a former song ‘No Use In Runnin’, only this time the slick dance beats are replaced with a rock – ska version that is punctuated throughout with some wonderful brass and given a real boot in its rear with an immense vocal during its climax. Rather than being resigned to a mere background effect, the use of brass instrumentation throughout is equally essential to the compositions on offer, as the various horns breathe added personality to the narratives being expressed and evidenced by ‘Loverman Stick Up’ and the rock ‘n’ roll, jump blues of the quite stupendous ‘Chick Habit’. The noirish feel of ‘When Your Girlfriend Sleeps’ finds Silya in her element under the dim lights of a swanky NYC supper club, before swinging home on a finale with recent single ‘Sucka’ that contains a rich ska influence that eventually amalgamates with a big band sound and Silya singing from the rooftops. Looks like Ol’ golden tonsils is back and here to stay this time, as ‘Unanchored’ is the perfect blend of everything that is Silya and a showcase for the wonderful talent that has been striving to make its mark all these years.



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