Back on more familiar ground, the Band of Holy Joy have a new album, "Paramour". Some of these songs have been taking shape since last year's "Troubled Sleep" shows at Shunt & elsewhere. Its fascinating hearing how the music's evolved in that time. Musically, the group are in the classic "Big Music" zone - think Van Morrison c. "Veedon Fleece", the Triffids, Television - with a freedom to make sounds as big or small as they want, able to soar with beautiful violin textures one minute, or float on electro soundscape the next.Versatile guitarist Andy Astle seems able to play whatever's required (& then some) on each song, whether its a staccato riff or jangling fills. There's some really nice mandolin picking too. Paul O'Donnell on bass & Bill Lewington on drums make up an archetypal British Feelgoods-style rhythm section, but Paul's dubby less-is-more style gives them a real lightness of touch too. Meanwhile Chris Brierley weaves his violin magic over, under & all round the music with some great playing - like Andy, adapting his music to the needs of the songs. Inga Tillere's electronics further enhance & expand the sound, & blend seamlessly with Holy Joy's timeless music.
And then there's singer/writer/performer Johny Brown - Johny acts the songs as much as sings them. The lyrics - whether sung or semi-spoken - continue the themes of isolation, dependency & redemption explored in the group's other recent projects. The songs inhabit a demi-monde where its always five in the morning, the drink & drugs have long run out, a time where emotions are fragile & intensified, and the sun's just starting to shine thru tattered grimy curtains. Take a listen to tracks like "I Dreamt that the City was on Fire", "I Propose" & "Somehow I Made it through the Night", & you'll see why many people feel that the Band of Holy Joy are one of the best-kept secrets on the UK music scene. As with BItter Springs' glorious single, "My Life as a Dog", this is music that demands our attention & should be much better known.
In some ways you could liken the Coral to Holy Joy & Bitter Springs, in that they continue to make great music that deserves a much bigger audience. It feels like there's a core loyal following, like me, who buy whatever they put out, but its hard to see them ever breaking out into the wide world beyond. Both the new tracks - download single "1000 Years" & website freebie "The Butterfly House" typify everything the group are good at - well-crafted songs, strong lyrics & playing, & some great harmonies. Musically, although both songs - especially the slow & spacy "Butterfly House" - evoke West Coast psych pioneers like Spirit, there's always an unmistakable Coral feel to the music.
There are new singles too from Delphic - "Counterpoint" - & Ellie Goulding - "Guns & Horses". The Delphic single's pretty representative of what they do, if not their best track. I've really liked what I've heard - live & on record - of Ellie Goulding, but it sounds like something weird's been done to her voice here - auto-tuned or sped up? - to make it uncomfortably high-pitched. The less said about the other singles I've had recently the better! Save to say that Alphabeat's "Hey Mr DJ!" is undoubtedly the worst record I've heard this year, every bit as brainlessly unoriginal as the title suggests.
I was so deranged after my morning trying to review these singles that suddenly some Norwegian shoe-gazing seemed very attractive. Following from Mojo's review I decided to take a chance, especially once I saw its on the great 4AD label. Although this label has never had the kudos (or desire for self-publicity) of, say, Factory Records, its been responsible for so much fantastic non-mainstream music in the last 20 years. There were times in the 90's when just about everything I bought was either 4AD or Creation. Anyway, this looks like its Serena Maneesh's third album. Underpinned by some rumbling beats, capable of flying off into distortion heaven, this is rather like a musical collision between My Bloody Valentine & the Cocteau twins at Sigur Ros' house. Coming more up to date, this is in the same kind of blissed/tripped out territory as people like Ariel Pink, Animal Collective or recent Besnard Lakes. Opening track "Ayisha Abyss" pounds & whooshes along to great effect, sounding like Hawkwind might if they were starting out today rather than 40 years ago. With a female voice in the mix, there's elements of the calm control of St Etienne or Mazzy Star alongside all the riffs & breakdowns. "Blow Your brains Out in the Mourning Rain" does just what it says in the tin & "D.I.W.S.W.T.T.D." (no, I haven't got a clue either, answers on a postcard) are equally outstanding. In a strange way this isn't that different to"Fleshtone" - it delivers a really focussed, totally absorbing sound & atmosphere, never straying off course - & I think that maybe Will.i.am might find a mutated beat or two here to his liking!
Mondkopf "Galaxy of Nowhere" - Anyone reckon a Jean-Michel Jarre revival would be a good idea? No, thought not.
Den Browne 28/05/10