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Open Letter To The Blues

The Country Side of Harmonica Sam

El Toro

It’s rather ironic that a lot of the current European artists are outdoing their American counterparts when it comes to reproducing a sincere country sound. A fine example of this transition is The Country Side of Harmonica Sam and their current album ‘Open Letter To The Blues’, because it doesn’t come much more authentic than this when replicating country music from the late 50s and early 60s. With the countries of origin for this new long player stemming from Sweden and the UK, this latest guise for Harmonica Sam (real name Chris Wilkinson) is one that fits splendidly as the honky tonk sound of the aforementioned periods in history is resuscitated and delivered inch perfectly as if it never went away! Together with band members Peter Andersson (steel guitar), Johan Bandling Melin (lead guitar), Ulrik Jansson (upright bass) and Patrik Malmros (drums), Harmonica Sam sings with a genuine authority that makes these covers sound like his own compositions whether coming from Faron Young, Skeets McDonald or Ray Price, not to mention the band’s own song writing which can be found here as well. Setting the time period from the off is the excellent ‘A Double Shot of Heartache’ with compelling steel guitar and added fiddle from additional musician Johan Malmberg. The heartache really begins though, during ‘Forbidden Wine’, where you will hear a real sense of yearning at the centre of this song and one that makes those George Jones comparisons believable. The mood is lifted somewhat with ‘It’s Such A Pretty World Today’ as it’s a lovely mellow tune, with the steel guitar providing that extra tonic and allowing for a bit of sunshine to seep through the cracks between the blinds. Such a cheerful disposition doesn’t last long, however, as the blues return with a vengeance and finds Harmonica Sam soon drowning as suggested by the line, “Just because I’m smiling, it doesn’t mean I’m fine” and you instantly know where you are in terms of the context of this particular song (‘I Regret It Every Day’). From such compelling traits so often found in country music, with its melancholic song titles and habit of finding a rhythm that is more lively than it should be considering the misery involved, The Country Side of Harmonica Sam more than masters such feats. In fact, the song delivery is so convincing that it is likely to have any listener reaching for their copy of this record to see exactly when it was produced, because ‘Open Letter To The Blues’ is definitely not from the present era, that’s for sure!


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Diamond Light (Single)

The Cheaters

Artwood Records

Former Spellemann’s winners, The Cheaters, return to the fray armed with a new single, ‘Diamond Light’, which is taken from the band’s soon-to-be released album, ‘Hooked!’. With the title of The Cheaters’ single being borrowed from the same name for the Diamond Light Source science facility located in Oxfordshire (UK), the energy required to source one of the laser beams in question appears to have transmitted to this three-piece band as the single, ‘Diamond Light’, rattles along at some pace with a pounding backbeat and roaring guitars. Surprisingly, the song never derails considering its anxious energy, but this is the skill at the centre of the band as The Cheaters weave all of the components tightly together and, in the process, give off a memorable indie pop melody. From this corner, the release date for The Cheaters’ ‘Hooked!’ can’t arrive soon enough considering the initial excitement this latest single has generated. Now, to address those Interpol comparisons…


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Beach Buns (Single)

Cloroform

Kaada Recordings

Having spent the best part of six years in hibernation, Norwegian three-piece, Cloroform, show that they’re ready for the next phase in their recording career with brand new single ‘Beach Buns’. The truth is that all three band members – comprising of John Erik Kaada, Børge Fjordheim and Øyvind Storesund – have been busy with other activities involving solo projects, film compositions and moonlighting for other artists including the likes of Kaisers Orchestra, Morten Abel and Sivert Høyem. Kick-starting 2016 off with the cheekily named and out-of-season single, ‘Beach Buns’, the first offering from their upcoming long player, Cloroform show that they have lost none of their eccentricity and unpredictability when it comes to their creative output as ‘Beach Buns’ is a somewhat slippery character to define. The closest indication, however, is the presence of QOTSA entwined in the driving (stoner) rhythm underpinning the song, whereas the rest is open to numerous interpretations as small fragments of electronica, handclapping and interchanging vocals add their contributions, making this an intriguing appetizer until the main course later this spring.


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North

Jonathan Kawchuk

Eilean Records

Finding new ways of expressing himself through different sounds is all in a day’s work for instrumentalist, Jonathan Kawchuk. Hailing from Canada, this architect of sound has explored various parts of the globe in order to achieve a broad source of sounds, whether from individual movement or the natural elements playing their part. Having worked previously on albums for artists Nico Muhly and Ben Frost, as well as serving as an assistant sound technician for the Philip Glass Ensemble, Kawchuk has more than served his apprenticeship by acquiring enough experience to produce an album that is entirely his own work. Such a time has arrived as ‘North’ offers a palette of different sound textures, captured (interestingly) in the Norwegian forests and various other places in Canada, Iceland, Israel, Portugal and the UK. With the album being recorded between 2013 – 2014, and mixing and mastering handled by Paul Evans, ‘North’ represents Kawchuk’s vision, retold through fragments of sound patched together. From the quivering and often fleeting drafts of noise where use of cello and, more frequently, piano dictate during the opening ‘Right Into You’, the mood throughout ‘North’ is often changeable, and therefore reflective of its natural surrounds. Such varying tones can be heard in the darker shades of the tracks ‘Aware’ and ‘Overhang’, with the latter piece possessing an edgy backdrop via a distant yet noticeable recurring beat (quite possibly the ‘actual heartbeats’ described by the album’s liner notes). A compelling experience made with care and the closest attention to detail, ‘North’ is the perfect start for Jonathan Kawchuk as he embarks on his solo recording career.


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Different Paths (Single)

Matchstick Men

Holier Than Thou Records

With Matchstick Men’s new single arriving at Famous last Words (FLW) recently, and knowing next to nothing about this band from Liverpool, the immediate feeling before hearing a single note of ‘Different Paths’ was of 90s era baggy and Britpop. The truth of the matter is far from such a prediction, as Matchstick Men forge a sound that is far closer to American (alternative) rock than anything resembling a Merseyside influence when considering what has gone before. Country of origin aside, Matchstick Men deliver the goods in fine style with the ballad-esque ‘Different Paths’. With this new single acting as a precursor to the band’s forthcoming sophomore long player, ‘From Our Own Ashes’, it certainly bodes well for what’s to come as lead vocalist, Lewis Wright, offers a reason for one to confront their fears by way of a compelling voice, that is enhanced via Iain Forsyth’s backing vocal and tight musicianship from the band in general. More Goo Goo Dolls than anything resembling CAST for example, Matchstick Men is certainly taking a different route, but one that serves the contents of ‘Different Paths’ perfectly.


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Leave Everything Move Out

Craig Ward

Wardism

The highly productive Craig Ward returns for a second solo jaunt with latest album, ‘Leave Everything Move Out’. After dropping in and out of this current project, the former dEUS guitarist finally found the appetite to complete the task by writing and recording the five instrumentals on offer here. With the barebones of this record having started as far back as 2009, when Craig Ward was in the middle of a sabbatical year in North America, the creative drive to recover a previous attempt at recording ‘Leave Everything Move Out’ managed to find its way back to this artist. To aid this newly found impetus, Craig Ward enlisted friend and producer, David Odlum, as well as being fortunate to receive Lottery funding from Creative Scotland to help pay the bills. After such a lengthy duration to get to the point where ‘Leave Everything Move Out’ finally gets to air it contents in the public sphere is no doubt of great relief to Craig Ward, and all those who caught wind of the initial foundations of this project and therefore waiting in anticipation for its release. You will not be disappointed as the five compositions of ‘Leave Everything Move Out’ are built of sturdy materials, with their architect patiently applying the layers whether beginning with synths or guitar and drums. ‘New Haven’ is one such example where the faintest waft of electronica gives way to a repetitive piano pattern and a glistening guitar sound that is trademark Explosions in the Sky, only for Craig Ward to develop it further by adding a slight Celtic influence accompanied by a semi-military procession beat. From such a strong opening ‘Addict’ applies considerable weight by looping a firm guitar and solid drum sound that becomes increasingly raw nearing its end. The closing ‘Trinity’ contains aspects of the former ‘New Haven’, but where that song appeared to take its time, ‘Trinity’ is more direct with the guitar(s) forceful and on the verge of breaking into a melodic sound. ‘Leave Everything Move Out’ is an accomplished achievement, and one that was wisely resumed by Craig Ward after nearly discarding it altogether.


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Until The Morning Comes

Richard Ginns

Eilean Records

Beautifully packaged, with artwork by Cameron Robbins and mastering handled by Fletcher McDermott, is the latest album, ‘Until The Morning Comes’, by musician Richard Ginns. What sounds like an attempt to capture the smallest of sounds, Ginns proves a master of his craft where the vibrations of the acoustic guitar strings can be heard once plucked, for example, down to the fizzing static of background atmospherics that surround all of us. By opening with ‘Threads Of Light And The Quiet Hum’ the intimacy created by capturing numerous sounds, such as the faint trickle of water and the creaking of furniture, produces a sense of wonder as it does unease in the listener because it generates of feeling of prying on the privacy of this particular individual or household. This of course does not detract Ginns, who continues to weave an instrumental spell that attempts to capture any nuances of human behaviour, as well as the environment, through varying degrees of sounds that are often the thinnest of threads and where, for example, (sun)light is breaking through the darkest and coldest of winters (other descriptions available such is this record’s ability to generate different moods). It’s an expertly controlled lo-fi record that offers much beauty as it does melancholy in its sonic textures, rendering ‘Until The Morning Comes’ a worthy addition to Ginns’ recorded output.


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Santa Is Real (Single)

Alexander Lindbäck

Safe & Sound Recordings

Alexander Lindbäck embarks on a solo jaunt with his first recording ‘Santa Is Real’. Taking inspiration from The Louvin’ Brothers’ classic ‘Satan Is Real’, Lindbäck spins a yarn on a darker Christmas tale that is more about taking rather than giving. Without wishing to put a dampener on the Christmas festivities with its more serious tone involving murder, drug misuse, prison and the lack of any real gifts being exchanged, ‘Santa Is Real’ possesses a sense of mischief and definite black humour in between the serious drama, especially considering  mum’s unfortunate fate via some gingerbread dough! With the song coming wrapped in a country styling that contains some lovely mandolin, pedal steel and piano, Christmas with Alexander Lindbäck is definitely one to savour for a number of different reasons, but most notably for his refreshing take on the traditional festive song that really brings to life ‘Santa Is Real’.


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Two Years No Basement

Vicky Speedboat

Huber & Lindsay Music

After a hefty bout of travelling and considerable soul searching along the way, the duo of Sean Huber (Modern Baseball) and Will Lindsay (W.C. Lindsay) came to a decision that a once talked about creative pairing between the two should actually become a reality. The two years spent trawling through several foreign lands, and meeting countless strangers, provided the impetus to set the creative wheels in motion, and thus Vicky Speedboat was born. The results of this decision to combine their creative efforts is ‘Two Years No Basement’; a six-track EP containing a mixture of melodic and raw indie punk rock, and a trading of vocals between the two central musicians of Huber and Lindsay that makes for an engaging listen. Recorded in 2015 at Kennedy Studios in Burlington, MA, by Steve Aliperta and Chris LaRoque (The Colour and Sound), ‘Two Years No Basement’ leaves you wondering why the pairing of Huber and Lindsay left it so long because it’s an impressive start for Vicky Speedboat. Evidence of the quality of the songs on offer here can be heard from the energetic intro, ‘Philadelphia Contact High’, and then followed by the far grittier and passionate vocals of ‘Roman Candle Fires’. By naming one of your songs ‘Passing Through Wales’ is enough to spark intrigue here, but it’s also the speed of its delivery via some punk-pop and sharp lyrics about issues concerning a midlife crisis for example. As its chant of, “I’m not going to be alone any more” rings out, the chance of that continuing is highly unlikely because ‘Two Years No Basement’ is a record that will acquire friends quickly and deservedly so.


Released 14 December

 

Southern FM

Rob Williams

Evertone Records

Rob Williams has taken the long route to finding his feet in the world of music. Having established a career in education, a long held passion for music eventually persuaded Williams to enter the ring of song writing, which saw the release of his debut solo album, ‘A Place In The Sun’, in 2013. Since that time, Williams continued his role within academia, but the lure of song writing proved too strong once more, and a decision was made to record a follow-up album. ‘Southern FM’ is that record which saw Williams relocate from the comfy surrounds of his hometown and head for pastures new. This deliberate action resulted in Williams setting up camp in Dallas with producer Salim Nourallah (Rhett Miller, Old 97’s) in order to bring to life Williams’ love for a Southern acoustic sound that blends traditional and contemporary Americana. What the listener receives, as a result of this process, are a number of confessionary tales concerning relationships, that are sometimes interlaced with hardships à la ‘Henry and Maria’ for example. Such storytelling reaches its zenith during the gospel feel of ‘Best I Can Do’; a clever song, full of wisdom, reflecting on those in life who are less satisfied with their lot; “Some people climbing ladders have no idea what they’re even after, They hope someday to be on track.” There’s a breezy feel to the rhythm of ‘Where You Hang Your Heart’ with Rob Williams letting in a definite Bob Dylan influence, whereas ‘Sometimes It’s A Song’ casts a more downbeat shadow that creatively mixes references to the forces of nature with the struggles found in relationships. Elsewhere, ‘Sun Gone Down’ reveals another facet to Williams’ song writing with a touch of humour and slight eccentricity in both the lyrics and music, with the latter sounding more pop and rock influenced. For the majority of its contents ‘Southern FM’ is an inspired body of work, and one that is not afraid to break from the conformities of a musical genre by adding a variety of personal touches that provides that extra flavour. It looks like the radio frequency is going to be set to a ‘Southern FM’ sound for the foreseeable future.


Released 11 December

 

Seed EP

Glue Foot

Crust Baby Records

Grunge is alive and well and residing in the South West of England and South Wales. With a sound that is more akin to the cities of Boston and Seattle rather than the cities of Bristol and near neighbour Cardiff, relatively new trio, Glue Foot, is ready to unleash their noise for a second time with the forthcoming ‘Seed’ EP. With a loyal following having been steadily built through a number of gigs but, more interestingly, by opting for a different environment of performing at multiple house shows with a variety of their contemporaries, Glue Foot reveal a strong identity that is fiercely independent and backed up by a robust sound. Such qualities can be heard in the band’s ‘Seed’ EP where opening song ‘Guilt Milk Mix’ begins in a low-key, hazy acoustic strum that eventually gives way to a barrage of noise where drums crash and tumble, and the guitars sound gigantic. The ensuing ‘Silk’ is built of a slightly different consistency that is very bruised and sore around its edges as emphasised by its rugged bass and detached sounding vocal, before it develops into a fuller sound that is quite seething by the time it runs out. The high quality continues with the loose pop strands attached to a predominant grunge sound of ‘Grangetown’ where kicking one’s heels in frustration, due to a small-town existence, is definitely the main emotion expressed. With the final song, ‘Floating Like A Leaf’, splintering in two, with its second act offering a few poetic words, Glue Foot is delivering their own message, with a small amount of assistance from 90s era grunge that is definitely ripe for a revival.


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Perdition (Single)

Kolektiv

Kolektiv Music

Having arrived on the FLW desk recently with the briefest of paragraphs confessing a great attraction to the practices of DIY when it comes to creativity, very little is known about this indie band who go by the name of Kolektiv. Apart from Belgium being the country of origin, the only other known fact is that ‘Perdition’ and ‘Potemkin’ are the two nominated songs making up the current single by Kolektiv. With this being a digital download only release, coupled with a lack of information to go by, any notion regarding promotion in relation to this single release is definitely not at the top of the agenda here. The idea of burying as far underground as feasibly possible regarding one’s creative ideas and processes is more in line with the sounds of Kolektiv. Lead track, ‘Perdition’ certainly takes its time by weaving a drum and guitar pattern with atmospheric vocals, that sets a gradual rhythm and ends up sounding rather scorched around the edges as it reaches its conclusion. The flipside, ‘Potemkin’, introduces a short flurry of electronic pulses and then proceeds to build in similar manner to ‘Perdition’ only for segments of its rhythmic pattern sounding slightly more complex by giving the impression of playing out in reverse. Whether it’s post-grunge, math rock or quite simply alternative rock, Kolektiv is certainly building towards something rather intriguing, especially considering the scant information given. It’s definitely a case of let the music speak for itself when it comes to Kolektiv.



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