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Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sturgill Simpson

Loose Music

Pulling a draw faster than Billy the Kid himself, Kentucky-raised Sturgill Simpson, who now happens to be a resident of Nashville, makes a swift return with second album ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’. Where debut offering ‘High Top Mountain’ excelled in tailing a steady line to the traditions of country music, as well as offering heartfelt emotions regarding family members or various frustrations concerning life’s career choices or lack of them, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ pursues more or less the same path, only the emotions expressed are those scraping the bottommost depths of despair. With songs alluding to such periods of hopelessness, often the result of experimenting with life’s darker side as well as suffering from depression (‘Life of Sin’, ‘Voices’, ‘Long White Line’), there are also moments of hope with ‘A Little Light Within’. However, far from being a miserable experience, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is nothing but an enthralling ride of traditional country, with some nice touches of additional strings during lead track ‘Turtles All The Way Down’, but also one that benefits from a rawer edge in the guitar department and best experienced from ‘Life of Sin’ and ‘Living The Dream’. The wildness truly reveals itself, however, when the appropriately named ‘It Ain’t All Flowers’ sets its reverse course with guitars sucked through a vortex amidst fevered howls as the comedown digs its claws in. The nostalgic trip down memory lane of ‘Pan Bowl’ is the perfect conclusion, considering all that has gone before, and further reason why ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’ is an extremely important record not only due to its inventive side, but for its honesty when chronicling life’s mistakes.


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Chaophonies

Frankétienne & Mark Mulholland

Jezus Factory Records

It’s not every day that a Haitian poet, painter, novelist, playwright and actor decides to collaborate with an inspirational musician hailing from Scotland, but that’s exactly what Frankétienne and Mark Mulholland decided to do with the album ‘Chaophonies’. The duo’s combined efforts is an 11-track album of literary readings set to music consisting of (creole) folk, indie, blues and with a slight Celtic influence in places. Reading excerpts from his ‘Rapjazz, Journal d’un Paria’, Frankétienne creates a number of guises for the poetic tales of ‘Chaophonies’ that are delivered in an enthralling manner and accompanied by Mark Mulholland’s musical expertise. ‘Chaophonies’ reveals its class from the very start as ‘Mots et réves’ rises like steam from the cobbled streets of a remote village somewhere in the French wilderness during the peak of summer with an impassioned vocal and understated musical accompaniment largely comprising of accordion and acoustic guitar. The strings are wonderfully sombre during the atmospheric and almost western feel of ‘Ville Schizophonique’, which lends itself nicely to the old steam west portrayal of ‘Le petit train’ that sees Frankétienne powering this little number by nearly his lungs alone. Hopefully, the various tales throughout ‘Chaophonies’ are not consigned to a one-off deal, as clearly the Frankétienne – Mulholland partnership is one that has considerable mileage given the sheer quality and inventiveness of this combined effort.


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Supernova

Ray LaMontagne

RCA

Latest album from singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne sees a departure from his more straight folk roots sound as ‘Supernova’ lends itself to the psychedelic pop and country-rock sounds prominent during a late 60s and early 70s San Francisco. Producer Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) services were called upon to help with the sonic layers of ‘Supernova’ that is certainly a lot brighter as introductory song ‘Lavender’ indicates with its summery hazy feel created by use of reverb on the  vocal, gentle strumming of acoustic guitar and use of Mellotron. The opening bars of ‘Pick Up A Gun’ blooms into a kaleidoscope of sounds and sees LaMontagne taking several steps further into less familiar territory and one full of psychedelics as there is a real sense of wanting to forget. In keeping with the dreamlike qualities of several of the songs on offer here, the lyrics offer little by way of clues to their overall meanings as LaMontagne has suggested: “Some songs are like riddles, or puzzles, an unknown begging to be figured out,” only this may take some time. Whether ‘Supernova’ is the way forward for Ray LaMontagne only time will tell, as there will be those who lament this change of direction whereas others will undoubtedly welcome this fresh approach and openness to greater experimentation.


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Aelita

Mando Diao

Musica de la Santa / Sony Music

Swedish band Mando Diao stump up album number seven with a perfect representation of 80s synth and guitar sounds that is ‘Aelita’. Being hailed as a new ‘dimension’ for the band, ‘Aelita’ is not without its reference points as it pulls on several influences from predominantly the early part of the aforementioned decade with its unmistaken Flock of Seagulls inspired entrance of first single ‘Black Saturday’. The measured pace of ‘Rooftop’ is wonderfully encapsulated by a slight soul-funk edge and violin (electronic or otherwise) that compliments the giddy emotions at the heart of this song. Unfortunately, the lurid ‘Sweet Wet Dreams’ is mid-eighties stodge and quite possibly meant as tongue-in-cheek considering its recalling of Belinda Carlisle’s ‘La Luna’ and characteristic of the period overblown vocal. In stark contrast, the cold machinery and loneliness of ‘If I Don’t Have You’, to the sleekness of synth-driven ‘Money Doesn’t Make You A Man’ and sullen beats of ‘Romeo’ represents the overall strengths and qualities of Mando Diao’s new and preferred direction that is reviving a particular period in history.

 


Released 12 May

 

Do Tell

Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson

Manhaton Records

A now husband and wife duo, Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson resurface with new album ‘Do Tell’ on Manhaton Records. Having been produced by legendary blues artist Jeff Lang, ‘Do Tell’ is an American roots album with a strong regard for the blues, and one that likes to reside in the past due to its ‘old-timey’ qualities but also retain two feet in the present considering the up-to-date feel of the shuffling beat fuelling such examples as ‘Stray Hat’. It is this very song that also showcases the compelling approach of one half of the duo – Hat Fitz who delivers his lines in a deep husky manner and sounding more a resident of New Orleans rather than his native Australia. In stark contrast, Cara Robison offers a sweeter sounding vocal but one that is also far-reaching considering the soulful belter that is ‘Gotta Love’, wonderfully aided by some dextrous blues guitar playing. Not content, however, to let her man steal all of the limelight, Cara Robinson has added various strings musically to her bow by taking up the sticks in addition to flute, tin whistle and, integral to every skiffle band, the washboard. A beautiful and beguiling combination musically and visually, Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson are fast shaping up to be the next creative duo with a strong roots flavour that will be on the lips of many people, especially when packing such quirky tales of lead song ‘Do Tell’  and tender beauties as ‘Long Dark Cloud’.


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Undertow

Up River

Holy Roar Records

Coming up trumps once more, Holy Roar Records play their winning hand with relative newcomers Up River. Holding a sound that is best described as post-hardcore with smatterings of melodic indie rock (it’s in the guitars) and possessing a front figure who passes a slight resemblance to Ian Curtis judging by the engaging video accompanying lead track ‘Confide’, leaving all bets postponed as to one likely source of inspiration being Joy Division, Up River is likely to please fans of More Than Life and Touché Amore as they are of those in tune with various melancholic and equally passionate indie bands. Comparisons aside, Up River deliver a debut album that is concise in its decisions as the impact of their creativity is immediate as demonstrated by the desolate-sounding chords slowly prising open the contents of first song, ‘Youth’. The robust assault of ‘Withdrawal’ follows with equal fervour before chiming itself out on a singular guitar and falling into the net of ‘Growing Pains’ that is portrayed compellingly with a vocal that is fatigued and fighting for its survival. ‘Cipher’ and its successor ‘The Weight’ provide two short, sharp jabs to the senses of raw emotion with guitars and drums rumbling and colliding. The previously mentioned ‘Confide’ allows for a brief respite, tilting back and forth on its heels at various intervals as if steadying itself before the next push which reveals further variation with the instrumental ‘Respite’. On this evidence, Up River will bypass with ease any incoming tides such is the authority and depth of debut album ‘Undertow’.


Released Out now

 

River Mirrors

Infinity Broke

Come To The Darkside Luke

After three well received solo albums, Jamie Hutchings breaks ranks and returns to the fold with new outfit Infinity Broke. Comprising of members Reuben Wills (bass), Jared Harrison (drums) and Hutching’s brother Scott also providing drums and percussive duties in addition to his creative eye for the band’s photography, the resulting process is an eight-track album conceived in a disused shearing shed in the middle of the NSW Australian outback. While this new line up presents a fresh challenge for Jamie Hutchings, the outlook of ‘River Mirrors’ throws up a few reminders of his former band Bluebottle Kiss, with influences plucked from a variety of sources ranging from Afghan Whigs, Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Captain Beefheart et al. In fact, it’s the excellent and drawn-out ‘Monsoon’ that really pricks at the senses first, as it harks back (surprisingly) to his former band’s first album ‘Higher Up The Firetrails’ with its near freefall into oblivion of guitar experimentation midway through before finally reappearing the other side and regaining its composure. The doom-laden feel of former single ‘Swing A Kitten’ is expertly handled with its faster, faster, faster approach in the hopeful event that an escape plan will reveal itself before this dream becomes a reality. The pots and pans entry and subsequent rhythm of ‘Gallows Queue’ offers a quieter tone and possibly an offshoot from Hutching’s solo pursuits, only a return to former grounds resurfaces during a brief tetchy moment via the guitar. The final nod to the past is the reinterpretation of ‘Let The Termites Eat Our Riches’ now reduced to ‘Termites’ but making up for it in sound as it takes in a variety of moods of sonic experimentation; swinging from irritable guitar bursts, pounding repetitive drum patterns and fleeting high-pitched vocals. Worryingly, the realisation dawns that ‘River Mirrors’ could be the final chapter in the career of Jamie Hutchings because there are several clues between the layers that point to such a fate. Any such decision would be a great injustice as ‘River Mirrors’ is a stirring return to former glories, and one that equally matches in terms of consistency but also keeps a tighter rein on the experimental endeavours that only experience can bring.


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Idiot’s Hill

Basko Believes

Rootsy

Basko Believes, real name Johan Örjansson, is a Swedish singer-songwriter who took it upon himself to tap into his lifesavings and head out to Denton, Texas in order to record latest album ‘Idiot’s Hill’. With musicians willing to offer their services from the likes of The Polyphonic Spree, Israel Nash Gripka and Midlake, Basko Believes has created an album that nestles in the category marked Americana but at the same time allows for other influences consisting of soul, pop and indie guitar rock. Take the epic qualities of the inch perfect ‘The Waiting’; a song that steadily builds and seemingly grabbing an extra instrument along the way to add to the layers of narrative that is full of nostalgia and convincingly told by Basko Believes, who is a mixture of Van Morrison and Ray LaMontagne. There is a great tenderness at the centre of this latest album, but it is one that also draws on various anxieties as depicted by the song ‘Wolves’. While the majority of this album delights in a variety of ways it is the shimmering guitar beauty of ‘Lift Me Up’ and the letter of regret posted to one’s former dwelling rather than the act of physically travelling during ‘Going Home’ with its delicate rhythm of guitars and strings that sets up Basko Believes as a force to be reckoned with.


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Desperate Rock N Roll Volume Three

Various Artists

Flame

It might be time for the delinquents gracing the front cover of ‘Desperate ‘Rock N Roll Volume Three’ to feel nothing but shame for their collective misdemeanours, but there is no sense of shame when it comes to the magnificent array of rock ‘n’ roll obscurities and near misses gracing the contents of this latest compilation on the Flame imprint. From the outset, the third instalment in the ‘Desperate R N R’ series reveals a series of winning songs, the equivalent in musical terms to a winning lottery ticket with more than a few bonus balls, that should appease even the harshest of critics. Evidence of such lofty praise is instantaneous with Baby Huey & the Baby Sitters ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ which accelerates at considerable speed on the back of splendid vocals and thrusting guitars that brings together rhythm & blues with more than a hint of garage rock. Such intensity is maintained with Steve Alaimo & the Red Coats’ ‘She’s My Baby’ only it’s more of a deep brooding number with Alaimo’s vocal sinking considerable depths and adding to the song’s forceful appeal. There are a few primitive numbers scattered throughout with Clyde Arnold & the Sharps ‘I’ve Got A Baby’ sounding as if put together on a real shoestring budget and a reminder of the still evolving rock ‘n’ roll genre whereas the Floyd Dakil Combo’s ‘Dance, Franny, Dance’ is more the complete package due to arriving later and clearly to its advantage, as it is a sheer delight with its recognisable mid-60s tone complete with handclaps. The country twang that accompanies Willie .B. and his ‘Bad Mouthin’ slows the tempo but equally remains infectious and a worthy inclusion, as are the two rockabilly numbers from Don Feger who, according to the enclosed booklet, remains something of an enigma due to a dearth of information. If you like frantic rock ‘n’ roll with more than its fair share of obscurities spanning from the 50s to the 60s, then ‘Desperate Rock N Roll Volume Three’ is a must have compilation.


Released Out now

 

Pocketknife

Mr Little Jeans

Sony Music Norway

Dreaming of a life in the limelight has finally become a reality for the wry smirk of a title that is Mr Little Jeans aka Monica Birkenes. The former drama student managed to combine her time between stints in London and Los Angeles in order to pursue her dream of a full-length album by way of producer Peter Moren (Peter Bjorn and John). The end results for this Norwegian artist is an album full of assured indie pop songs and sounding as if constructed of the barest ingredients consisting primarily of synthesisers and Birkenes ethereal vocal. Take for example the alluring yet glacial sheen of ‘Mercy’ that manages to really get under your skin as well as managing to  maintain a considerable distance, as does the 80s moody electronica of ‘Runaway’. There is a measure of eccentricity from top to bottom of ‘Oh Sailor’ complete with chiming clocks and youth choir that is reminiscent of another 80s trick but unfortunately completely evades the memory bank at the crucial hour. There are moments where ‘Pocketknife’ will require some patience when listening with the late blossoming of blissful noise during ‘Don’t Run’ for example, as well as others that remain somewhat directionless with the plodding ‘Suburbs’ being a prime candidate. Such discrepancies, however, are minimal as ‘Pocketknife’ contains enough intrigue to warrant repeat visits that will be duly rewarded guaranteed.


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MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs (EP)

Pretend Happy

Untitled

Barnstaple is home for indie grunge and punk trio Pretend Happy and the likely source responsible for the majority of songs making up current EP ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’, due to reflecting a plethora of emotions that are all too common when it comes to residing in such a sheltered environment. In spite of this, there is a feeling of transition regarding the entire EP, in both title and sound, as the six songs represented here are a collection of the band’s first two EPs, offering something of a mixed bag ranging from the energetic ‘Innocence’ with its insightful observations, “Another fault of mine, I’ve fallen further behind, my innocence still lives inside of me…” to a more ponderous ‘I Remember’ that despite its honesty, especially by way of a couple of expletives, pales in comparison. ‘Stability’ brings order once more with its taut rhythm, and nicely complimented by the crushed emotions of ‘Torture’ only to fall back on old habits with the generic ‘Purity’.  While ‘MMXIII: A Collection Of Old Songs’ possesses one or two shortcomings, there is more than enough material here to suggest a positive outcome regarding future endeavours for Pretend Happy.


Released Out now

 

Poison (single)

Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen

Untitled

Hailing from Bristol in Tennessee, USA, Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen is an eight piece ensemble with a multitude of instruments at their disposal that includes a knockout blow by way of leading Lady Kat Rush’s magnificent vocals. It is rather fitting that such a wealth of talent should desire a “don’t fence us in” attitude when attempting to apply a label to the music emanating from the Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen’s stable as there is a real melange of genres including aspects of rhythm and blues, swing, jazz and a fleeting drop of rockabilly that is reflected to a greater degree by the stylish appearance of Kat Rush. With a debut album currently a work in progress, first single ‘Poison’ is a strong concoction of seductive vocals and forceful brass that will have you smitten from the off and giddy with delight once under the intoxicating spell of the central narrative. Whether this is a safe haven only time will tell, but for now Barlow Gin & the Hatchetmen have just created a winning formula as far as first singles go as there is no bitter edge to the ‘Poison’ they are peddling.



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