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There is something in the air, whiff of electronic cheese which as an aficionado of fromage, in more than one sense, I quite like, though this month has been rather over run by its ripe, pungent odour. I don’t know whether inclement weather and warm bedrooms or Ibiza sun has developed this rash of electronica, from full on tans to sun kissed but rather like the Emperor’s new clothes, such an ethereal wrap, in the wrong hands can attenuate inadequacies rather than subtly enhance. So we go from the sublime to the ridiculous or vice versa depending on your inclination before free falling through hyperspace to land with a bang on more solid musical ground, where snow white tans are de rigueur. Spanning as they do a plethora of genres and styles, this month’s offerings have left me feeling woefully inadequate, so I apologise for evident musical and general ignorance but hope you will share my utter enjoyment in discovering new delights, amongst this extraordinary band of talent.

Death in Vegas- ‘Your Loft’, first single from new album ‘Trans Love Energies’

I have to admit an unfair prejudice when it comes to this band, I adore them. Though I am a dilettante when it comes to music, toying with classical, pop, rock, acoustic, jazz, Latin and all sub genres in between, it was dance music which opened my Pandora’s Box, having always been obsessed with electronica, twiddling oscillator knobs when supposedly critiquing Bach, dance music was my tempest, the dark eyed rebel, which swept me off my feet and carried away my heart, decks and software my instruments of choice. Despite best efforts, most of my friends refuse to engage with this obsession, which age has not disengaged. Though passing years have curbed effusive, physical expression on dance floors and decks of legendary 3-Beat record store, flame of love burns bright within and cannot be doused by cold water friends.

So, I revisit the much missed bass line of ‘Aladdin’s Story’ before throwing inhibition to the wind and plunging into ‘Dirge’, to dance; , a truly remarkable tune, crashing Portishead with high energy, grungy, bass heavy, electronic progressive dance, one of my favourites.  Though I am sure to be shot down in flames, this is just what music needs now, jolt of maximum wattage, non energy saving electricity, eco friendly friends prepare to be electrified, petrified, I am reawakened. All of which takes me wide eyed and legless to this new single, Death in Vegas’s first studio release since 2004, a long time to wait.

Your Loft’ wallows, slowly lowers its diving bell into green, murky, hyper space Sargasso Sea of electronica ,before jumping, skipping several radar beats , hand claps bouncing analogue game boy explorer into primordial soup of spacey seduction, wistful whisperings from another dimension , disembodied creatures reawakened  ‘.. I can feel..’ sucked swirling through warped space time continuums, recombining, evolving new musical creatures, disembodied Donna Summer disco choir wafts, merges with Ultravox, weaves a new siren dance, enticing game boy to analogue ecstasy wrapped in ethereal digital arms, heart beating out of his chest, warped eighties lothario synth fuelling ardour, until sucked dry, he wanders off dishevelled and disorientated. I love this dancey, trancey, trippy, dippy, slice of electronic space cheese, begging to be sliced into many a remix, melted into fondue and cannot wait to hear the new album, yet feel frowns gathering fast as I say, this is why I worship dance music, mongrel fusing present and past, begging, borrowing , coming up with something new, why I believe electronic technology can be instruments of melodic expression, augmenting more traditionally accepted means, why purveyors of electronic dance music might be considered musicians. I realise I have no sway, my outpourings on such matters usually carried away on wings of disapproval but hope that Gabriel Prokofiev’s ‘Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra’, performed at this year’s Proms, heralds winds of change, a new aesthetic, after all, who can disagree with the descendent of such a legend, if he says decks are an instrument, they certainly are. I look forward to a time when I can proudly wave my glow stick, dance in the aisles, whilst listening to the Liverpool Phil, without fear of being dragged off by security.

Monarchy- ‘Maybe I’m Crazy’, new single

Will never forget the moment when first I heard ‘Deepest Blue, though unable to swim, I plunged into its azure ocean of love with utter abandon. Possessed of a temperament predisposed to maudlin, this unexpected, totally uncharacteristic ardour for sunlit chill, heart captivated by plunging bass, engulfed, captured, disarmed me completely. Taken by surprise, I struggled to comprehend myself but this was no infatuation, it was pure, unquestioning amour, sadly only a shooting star, that burnt briefly bright in my firmament before fading into stratosphere, still I trail its tail, hopelessly long for return and ‘Monarchy’ bears traces of its shining visage.

‘Maybe I’m Crazy’, shimmers in, heavy pounding heart plucking courage before sliding, diving deep into sunny chill, piano prickling in anticipation of hedonistic pleasure “…I’d rather be crazy… then share you with somebody else…can’t let you go…” transported, wantonly dancing barefoot on Ibiza sand, bathed in its golden glow, Summer dance anthem for sure. Maybe I am crazy, maybe memories I just can’t let go and though not quite up there with ‘Deepest Blue’, I guess you never forget the first, I do love this song and its various remixes, such as Michael Woods spacey, laid back version which breaks into deeper, heavier, eminently danceable mix and faster, more techno, Azari and III take, with its driving bass interludes, grungy space age sounds and twisted vocal interjections.

Alpines- ‘Cocoon’, new single

Having read glowing citations, I came to this ears and heart on fire, in eager anticipation, to join the “…excited struggle to make comparisons… to Cocteau Twins, Massive Attack, …Portishead…” favourite bands whom I bow to in utmost respect and admiration, little realising the press release caveat “…but the truth is that the music is unfamiliar…” is actually more literal than intended. When I read of the girl/boy duo of voice, keyboard and guitars “…Alpines speak of their music being a mix of the organic and the electronic …” my head tentatively added another favourite, ‘Everything but the Girl’.

I have listened and listened to this tune doubting my own judgement, blaming idolisation of Cocteaus, Massive, Portishead for blinding me to its full merits, for ears that remain convinced references to those artistes are completely spurious. Though the pair do step out into dance music territory, here again I am fighting an unkind snobbery, despite electronic wizardry and passionately soaring vocals, “…I was blinded by you… wrapped in this cocoon… now I can see through…” this comes nowhere close to the likes of Delerium’s ‘Silence’. I really wanted ‘Alpines’ to be my new messiah, perhaps those wiser than me can listen beyond preconception and teach me how to hear again. Despite my irrational caveats,’ Cocoon’ is a hugely commercial, very beautiful song, touched by sincerity and belief, lean clear vocals meld Tori Amos with  Sarah McLachlan, washed by shades of  Kate Bush and hint of Elizabeth Fraser, empathetic keyboard, intriguing atmospheric electronica and sampling , sparse yet apposite. On paper my fire should be burning yet cool draft of style seems to have extinguished emotion from a one track mind, stuck in an anguished love groove. However, bearing in mind the number of YouTube hits, I must be a particularly cold fish and something about this tune begged further exploration, an almost irresistible urge to remix it into something really special, dirty it up, which led me to its alter ego, the Nocturnal Sunshine Remix, deep grungy bass and sexy effects endeavour to enrapture and ensnare but the breath of their hot ardour fails to defrost, de-ice the voice, beautiful monotony, devoid of emotional diversity. So, I tried another song, ‘Ice and Arrows’ and its various remixes, another strikingly simple, yet lovely, catchy song which, despite its title, has a slightly warmer vocal and then I realised what was wrong, it was my own perversity, jaded as I am, craving deviance from surfeit of vocal and visual beauty.

I wanted ‘Alpines’ to be what it is not, rather than accepting it for itself, stunning, stylised diva, airbrushed with electronica, selfless enough to mutate into whatever you want it to be, music to be taken apart, recycled, reassembled to suit your mood, take me I’m yours, what more could anyone ask for?

TOYC- ‘Loophole’, EP

‘Joompa’, ‘Loophole’ and ‘Think Again’, three amusing, minimal, electronic drum and bass/ dubstep  ditties, off beats and conflicting tempos dance and skip along, pinged by bouncy electronica, punctuated with snippets of percussive voice, grounded by grungy bass, rotating round short clipped samples, layering loops, rising and falling.

‘Loophole’ adds a maudlin descending bass sigh sample and watery warbling percussive bleeps while ‘Think Again’ is the liveliest of the three, jumping, shrill, three note arpeggio rapid fire pushed along by hand claps, hi hat and drums.

Refreshingly stripped back electronica. Though not my usual choice of dance music, so forgive my ignorance, mishearing and mislabelling, I am floundering, totally out of my depth but I can say, my feet are jumping.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich- ‘Atlas Hands’

Acoustic Version: Poignantly lisping, whiskey and cigarette stained voice, gently duetted by its female equivalent, supported by sweetly picked, twinkling guitar, smokily sings this clear, sweet, short but perfectly formed love song, beautiful, will make you smile. “…I… will remember your face… I am still in love with that place… when the stars are the only things we share…will you be there?... I’ve got a plan… I’ve got an atlas in my hands…”

Remixed by Mike Skinner: Unlike ‘Alpines’ this song does not demand to be dishevelled and sullied by remix, however, Mike Skinner’s stands up as a clever, interesting piece of electronica, full of spine tingling effects and sounds. For me, at first hearing, it seemed problematically pugilistic and unsympathetic, Science Fiction effects, heavy footed bass and startlingly intrusive, sampled female vocal somewhat incongruous, malaprop, maladroit in this context, conspiring to annihilate emotion, more Star Wars than love amongst the stars but intrigued to listen again, another facet carved from the same stone, a different sort of beauty, emerged glowing. 

Madam- ‘Someone in Love’, new single from album ‘Gone Before Morning’

Dark singer/songstress Sukie Smith is the core of ‘Madam’, baby voiced Cyndi Lauper tinged with menace, flecked with Goldfrapp honeyed tones, washed byTori Amos breathiness, spiked with touch of PJ Harvey temperament. Sukie Smith’s is a beautiful, flexible voice with edge, weaving confessional tales of human frailty and degradation in Nick cave and the Bad Seeds, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ style. Though her voice and musical bent do bear comparison to likes of Goldfrapp and PJ Harvey with narrative nods to Patti Smith, her style is less defined, more rambling, less sharply poetic. Like Goldfrapp, she builds on traditions of folksong, in this case gothic, macabre, layered with modern instrumentation, synthesisers, throbbing bass lines and electronica creating highly descriptive, introspective moodscapes, though not quite the impact of songs such as ‘Lovely Head’, nor as anguished as, for example, PJ Harvey’s ‘Come on Billy’, there is attitude, illuminating murky recesses of the mind where others might fear to tread.

However, leaving such comparisons aside Sukie’s songs are hugely atmospheric, beautifully produced, cleanly and creatively illustrated with evocative sounds and her, at times disturbing, emotionally charged whisper definitely caught my imagination, tingled my spine, plunging depths of desire, temptation, deceit, depravity and angst. Unlike the nursery rhyme Sukie, think this one will boil her brew for a long time yet. ‘Someone in Love’ is actually about the lie of love, misdemeanour's in love’s name, pretence preserving illusion, denial of mutation until everything unravels.  Softly menacing , crystal clear enunciation  cuts through creeping, vibrating, plucked  bass, to ring the bell of revelation, guitar sliding slyly into malice aforethought, premeditated  lie of love  “…did I say forever?.... well I was lying….like someone in love…”, fatally wounded  “ …not big enough for bruises…one way or another… hello to tomorrow…when it’s over…you’ll be sorry...” until mounting static electrocutes love “… little house builder what did you expect...” cold wind blowing through the wreckage. This song chillingly captures love turned to icy hate, illustrating perfectly Sukie’s musicality and command of her medium. Exploring further on Soundcloud, ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ also captured me, with layers of twisted emotion wrung with anguish “…I’m in trouble baby…I’m out every night…call you to save me…escape my mind…when it gets dark I think of you….”, torments of dark and violent love bravely expressed, inspiring me to keep an ear out for this lady.

Nerina Pallot- ‘Turn Me On Again’, single from album ‘Year of the Wolf’

Nicely constructed, tease of pretty pop froth, an art in itself, skips cheekily along pondering the power of physical desire, antithesis of Gaga in expressing that emotion but no less honest, we all tingle at the feeling, why deny it?  “…Close enough so I can breathe you..’ close enough to make me nervous …Love is hate… love is fire… fill my head with dumb desire… turn me on again…  creature chemistry… the same old enemy… inescapable… more than physical…”  The voice, sweetly nondescript, with touch of the Kylie’s in rhythm, turn of phrase and cleverly constructed lyrics which trip easily, if tritely, tongue in cheek, culminating in unabashed grunt of desire, unashamed purr of leashed Chrissie Hyde. Referring again to Alpine’s review, by pure coincidence Nerina sang lead vocals on Delerium’s ‘Truly’ and any girl who can trance is alright in my ears.

Kate Havnevik- ‘Show Me Love’

Chained, tamed, heavily sedated Bjork dressed as Alice, wandering dazed and confused, skipping along in saccharine sweet, electronic Disney pop wonderland, sparkling cartoon colours gathering ramshackle, sauntering, gambolling orchestra of toy trumpets, keyboards, jingles, whoops, whistles and strings before winding down like a clockwork toy. “… want to send a rocket to the sky….make angels cry… show me love…show me everything I need to know…please tell me what it’s about….” Please tell me too, because I am in deep doubt, not sure whether I want to send this on a rocket deep into irretrievable space, throw up or dance. However, Kate’s collaborations with impressive and admired impresarios of electronic dance led me to listen to more of this lady’s output, including an earlier, more grown up version of this song on YouTube, where her electronic credentials shine bright , transporting this song to another, more intriguing and in my ears, appealing dimension. Further explorations reveal an undisputed talent for melodic composition and gorgeous voice, steeped in relentless sentimentality which, to my eternal shame made me slightly nauseous, my loss I am sure, as her music has been picked up by the likes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, providing perfect filmic backdrops for emotional distress, which seems to have become her forte.

Emeli Sandé - ‘Heaven’

Classic, dramatic , driving anthem with crystal, soaring vocal ,supported by choir of soul sisters, immaculately produced and mastered, full string section interloped by fast beating, precisely perfect rhythm and bass, torn by horn, washed in crashing, caressing synth sea, battered by bass rumble, fabulously luxurious backdrop for Emeli’s stunning diva-esque voice which reaches for Oleta Adams, ‘Woman in Chains’, stretching but not yet wrenching the raw emotion nor emotive coloration of that master. Nonetheless a well presented talent, maybe slightly anodyne and lyrics such as “…will you recognise me when I’m lying on my back… something’s gone inside me and I can’t get it back...” do nothing to dispel that notion, though open to many an amusing misinterpretation. 

Nick Fisher-‘Regression and Progression’, 3-track demo

Three quietly introspective, home-made, stream of consciousness numbers from singer/songwriter Nick Fisher, all in one way or another about escaping, hailing from Milton Keynes it would be rude to assume this is understandable, though potentially trapped in its revolutionary grid system designed to create semi-autonomous communities, this same system ensures its citizens are always within walking distance of a bus stop, which should facilitate escape, unless of course, they are recycled endlessly by roundabouts placed at each intersection, trapped in the grid. However, in true singer/songwriter tradition these songs ponder more than physical entrapment, though ‘Burning Tyres’ has “…enough of this superficial stuff…burn these bridges…run… while we still have time…stuck in this town…”, ‘This Song Will Sound Better When You’re Drunk’ , by which I guess he means the song of life, “…can’t handle today…wait ‘til it goes away…” while ‘Fear and Falling Away’ brings hope in love’s strength, “…you inspire me…together we can achieve anything…short life…but…could live forever in those arms…let the wind blow everything away…finding our way out of here…together fears are falling away…”

Nothing really new, eternal topics which occupy each and every life, well constructed melodic songs, accompanied competently on guitar, there is a touch of Age of Aquarius, Summer of Love, Jethro Tull unplugged  tinged with Steve Hillage, especially on ‘Burning Tyres’ with its echoed tabla but what captured my interest is the way these recordings are produced, not techniques themselves, which Nick admits are Lo-fi and there are plenty of loosely wavering ends but how home recording has set musicians free of previous restraints, enabling fears to fall away, as a metaphor for means of escape these are powerful tools and in resisting temptation to wield the whole panoply in frenzied bid for freedom, Nick has used them well. Let us look forward to the release of many other trapped souls to fly free in musical ether.  Free download:

City of Glass- ‘The Diving Bell’ EP

Hailing from Vancouver, sometimes referred to as ‘City of Glass’, this band has a glass like quality, clear yet brittle, a neat, precise, defined sound, oxygen of space between notes draw unhurried breath, defined by crystal clarity of guitar and synthesiser, radar bleeps guiding diving bell, gently buffeted by hollow, underwater, fastidiously judicious drums, light sympathetic touches careful not to overwhelm, nor capsize, supportive, tenderly pushing the craft along its journey through a sea of echo. Though The Cure and Radiohead are quoted as influences, there are only very brief and passing references, certain guitar phrases, chaotic synthesiser scribbles and jumbles, less than a nod, though comparison to Foals does seem to hold water, both in instrumentation and musical temperament, slivers and shards of ‘Spanish Sahara’ on guitars and synth and similar moody drums, perhaps lacking their pinprick quirkiness and smudge of grunge, which I guess would be unwelcome in a glass environment.

I cannot deny, these are well constructed, melodic songs, beautiful sounds expressed by consummate musicians and flexible emotive voice, diving deeper into oceans of melancholy than your average pop or rock song but, for me, do not wring angst dry, dragged screaming from tortured souls, they lack Radiohead’s fearless tread, do not dare to creep through dark forests, exploring deep, twisted recesses of broken minds, seeking The Cure. Whilst not an advocate of vandalism, in this case the crack of broken glass would not go amiss. Each song on this EP obviously employs a different scheme of notes, however they all seem to be more or less variations on a common theme and key. Together with reliance on similar, very individual, arresting, admittedly gorgeous sounds, universally despondent tone and straitened vocal timbre merges them into one long tale, which gets a bit headachy by the end, a touch too much sugar for one as bitter as me, niggled by faintest , probably imagined, whiff of rock ballad, however, small concentrated doses should avoid the need for medication.

‘Sticks and stones’, fairy tale bells mutate into piercing, warped, flanged, shiny guitar, sharp pin, pricking skin, pinching, needling, “eating through your bones”, drums and hi hat worry, trail guitar pacing back and forth , panic stalking, startled into realisation  by  shouted ”hey!” to race higgledy-piggledy  from big bad wolf, craving to consume souls, barbed words,  “… sticks and stones…far from home…”, seeking, searching for elusive “….trail of breadcrumbs…” to a childhood place of safety, long gone, turning to face darkness, which forever lurks within. I have always been terrified by ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and this song perfectly captures that inner terror, niggling fear of losing the path home to safety. The nursery tale hook spontaneously regurgitates and maddens with its resemblance to a song which is at the tip of my tongue but refuses to trip.

‘Tourist’, an emotive, atmospheric tune that sounds like it has been around forever. Lush, piercing, vibrant guitar ,smooth, flexible, contemplative vocal, ride wraithlike shimmer, punctuated by well tempered, bouncing drum throb and bass pulse, rudely crashed, annihilated by bully boy synth, pierced by sword of silver guitar, battered by punch of drum, diving into bass, collapsing into  marshmallow puddle of sound ,vaporised glittering, to follow Pied Piper squiggle. ‘Little Shadows’ and ‘Control’, both these songs, in fact all four songs on this EP feature similar, piercing, bell like guitar introductions and musical themes, shuffling ,spinning the same few notes in various orders, at different tempos, unifying but also enervating. ‘Little Shadow’ despite a consistently maudlin tone, provides a bit of relief, tripping along  slightly more light footed into jazz territory, while ‘Control’ plunges back into introspection “…remove this knife…” muffled military drums, wading through an increasingly impenetrable smokescreen of echo, into shadowy mists.

The Rubys- ‘The Fear’

Ominous, menacing drums, “…fear crawling in….” pricking, stabbing guitars jab, niggle at bruises, cut small sharp slashes to skin, “….bruises heal… scars stay longer…a lifetime....”, wander locked in turbulent turmoil, unbearable sorrow, eternal grief, voice turned inwards, desperate, tortured. This song captures perfectly devastating, soul destroying, hurt of human cruelty, marks which remain for life, however deeply buried. Its subdued, introverted, pensive instrumentation at first seems rambling, losing its way in a twilight world, never managing to escape into sunlight but then the difficult story it tells is so disturbing, such unsettling arrangements are entirely appropriate. The single is released on 17 September at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge with all profits going to the domestic abuse charity Refuge.

On a lighter note two other tracks to be featured on the EP are ‘Jesus Girl’ and ‘The Best of Me’ both of which highlight the band’s uniquely their own, yet familiar sound, drawing on melodic acoustic folk, spiked with rock and roll blues, tightly, cleanly, sensitively played and vocalised. Though ‘Fear’ is hugely emotional in topic, ‘The Best of Me’ is most emotive of the three, weeping guitar of a love song “… I wiped the water from your eyes…crying shame…you….get the best of me….could walk a thousand miles in your smile… break down walls… in your eyes…” Listening again to all three songs and despite my best intentions, I cannot dispel a trace of self indulgence, the odd rambling musical phrase, here and there a vocal drifts asunder, yet, this is honest , deeply felt , clearly expressed music, which can only get better and deserves celebration. 

The Jar Family- ‘Poolie Strut’ (Radio Edit)’, debut single

This fresh, vibrant ditty caught me out with an inadvertent smile and wiggle of the bottom, a proper old fashioned, sing along, catchy little number with novelty gift, its own tailored dance move, shake and rattle that tush. Until I watched the hugely amusing video, I was arrogant enough to assume ‘Poolie Strut’ referred to my adopted Liverpool’s distinctive locomotive style, ignorant of swaggering competition from Hartlepool, spawning ground for this disparate  band of at least five possibly mutating to eight, connected by a musical umbilical, which makes them undeniably one great, lively, grinning whole. Something about Jar Family stirs memories of bands favoured by the inimitable Geoff Davis for his legendary, independent Liverpool label, ProbePlus, wandering minstrel scavengers, new wave rockabilly, punked up folk with wit, pith, irreverent sense of fun, no pretentions and unexpected added extra edge, wrapped up in a package of fantastic, tightly bound yet musically free musicians who stand and deliver,  huskily accented, full on, rhythmic Weller chant, fiercely strummed Dylan, tortured Chris Isaak guitars, bouncing bass and drums, plethora of sounds and effects shaken and stirred, broken staccato, sampled shuffles and struts which delight, entrance, entice dancing feet to follow:  “…first time that me and you locked eyes… you said it’s just the start of  something new… gripped me… gripped you too… she said…I love the way you talk like muck… love the way you walk like you don’t give a… just my Poolie strut…take your time… my love won’t end…nothing wrong with the way I walk…” I certainly like the way this band walks and will be practicing the ‘Poolie Strut’ in the sure knowledge I won’t be alone. 

Screaming Daisies- ‘September’s Ghost’, debut single

Guitar steps straight into barrage of sound, band as one huge tight instrument out of which emerges Gavin contemplating our times, driven on by drums into wall of weaving, sliding, screaming guitar wielded as weapon, entwined with pleading vocal, barely tethered by solid drums and bass, which occasionally wanders off on musical exploration of its own before all fades into static. Though not revolutionary, an honest, accomplished, high energy rock angst anthem with more than a hint of the Manics both in instrumentation and tone of Gavin’s voice, like Bradfield’s, slightly strained edges, vocal chords stretched not broken. Four impassioned, accomplished musicians playing their hearts out which always endears me and their words actually mean something “…we read about it…feel...hear…see…like moths…it seems it’s no longer tragic…daily panic…automatic…we breath in the static…” In this world, bombarded with communication in all its forms it is easy to become uncomfortably numb, let it wash over like static, so in my book, the raw vehemence of bands such as Screaming Daisies is always welcome, punching a hole through complacency, breath of fresh air in jaded world, who can resist the wail of guitar in hands as expert as these. 

The Calimocho Club-'Whoa Whoa, Hey Hey', debut EP

Though I have not had the good fortune to imbibe this libation, if noise is anything to go by then, like their namesake cocktail, half cola, half cheap red wine, these two are more than the sum of their parts and certainly look more tasty than such a concoction would suggest.

With a repertoire seemingly built almost entirely round Led Zeppelin licks and riffs and bearing whiff of resemblance to a favourite Liverpool band Xander and the Peace Pirates, I cannot deny this duo, though not in the league of either fore mentioned, made me smile with their good old fashioned, energetic, bluesy, grungy rock and roll of the oooooh baby, baby, ummmm, aaaaah, yeeeah, woman brings trouble but how we love those contrary creatures, variety. Sultrily, rhythmically, artlessly interspersed elastically stretched vocals reach to emulate Plant, snapping short but manful in trying while hanging onto coattails of wailing, writhing guitar. No Bonham, drummer holds steady beat and purveys an interesting line in cow bells. An EP of five, some rather abrupt, though tightly played songs, fully fuelled with sexual innuendo, somewhat lacking in variety but fun just the same on the eternally fascinating topic of allure and bedding the bird.

Think the words say it all, “…let her roll in her own sweet time…” (‘She Told Me’), “…Oh ya think she's so serene…this girl just a war machine…” (‘War Machine’), “…Baby's got your nerves frayed…baby wanna hear ya moan...” (‘Baby Got A Switchblade’), “…Scuse me, you look so pretty…can I get a light?...” (‘Smoking Area Blues’), “…she's as cold as ice…tastes of paradise…crawl like a king snake…she wanna see you shake…” (‘Roll the Dice’). Will not linger too lengthily on what she might want to see shake nor on king snake but this certainly is rattle and roll. 

Baby Scream- ‘Hit and Run’, new single from album ‘Secret Place’

This Argentinean band under the leadership of Juan Pablo Mazzola are staging a peaceful mini revolution in their own right, The Mapuche of Argentina have no word for music, though they do distinguish between their own and European. Baby Scream are not one to be constrained by such distinction, marauding across country and musical borders, wielding their weapon of choice, laid back, ‘70/’80’s style, guitar based soft rock, covers and originals. Though not a coup d’état they are experts in artistic assimilation, an amalgam of cultures and borrowed musical phrases, triumph of pastiche, sweetly sung in charmingly accented voice, innocence, devotion ,love and musicianship overcoming obstacles of prejudice. ‘Hit and Run’ sounds immediately familiar, in an Eagles sort of way, twanging steel guitar suffused with lazy Sunday afternoon vocals, lulled by soporific wash of soft rock sea, where Latinised Elvis dips a toe, so laid back it could be vertical. In normal circumstances, the broken English lyrics could be considered twee at best but here, expressed with such gentle conviction, they raise an un cynical  smile, “…love is here and Hell is gone… we don’t want another hit and run…we don’t need to hide anymore….less is more…this I’ve learnt…love is you….you’re my world…” I have to admit my instinct says run but my heart says stay, seduced by Latin charm.

Sadly, the B-side, cover of Bolan’s 20th Century Baby, is less beguiling, though both vocalists possess distinctive accents, to these jaded ears that is the only thing which tenuously unites them. Though a very musically competent rendition, Baby Scream’s somnolent style takes ‘cool’ too literally, sucking life from this gentle ballad rendering it comatose, neutralised. Side by side with the original, Bolan’s version springs to life imbued with charisma beyond the reach of an admittedly alluring Juan, not quite Bolan’s “... diamond eyes…” despite the shine. 

Pajama Club- ‘Tell Me What You Want’, first single from debut album

Laid back arty tickle with panoply of restrained yet intriguing moog like sounds, grungy bass, steady drum tramp and rather appropriately soporific, repetitive, nursery tale vocals, “…turn on the switch…itch I can’t scratch…tell me what you want…show me how to do it….”

It would be tempting to say, never itch a spot, switch the light off and go to sleep but, as age advances I am apt to throw caution and judgement to the wind in admiration of those who dare to deny cocoa and pyjamas as twilight years loom over the horizon, to release suppressed passion, running naked and free. These two, Sharon and Neil (Split Enz/ Crowded House) Finn do so with quiet, understated dignity, duties of parenthood selflessly fulfilled, revisiting their own dreams, to find themselves in thoughtful, stripped back musical expression, maybe a bit neat and tidy, pressed pyjamas waiting to be creased before (hopefully) entirely dispensed with. 

Lil Jim’s Big Squeeze- ‘Cheatin’ n Creepin’, debut single

Rather disturbing, macabre, film noire number, Hicksville Hill Billy in Ska clothing, shaking Reggae roots, rock and rolls merrily along, cowbell banging, feet stomping, lustily, expertly squeezing accordion’s artificial respiration,  in contemplation of who is squeezing his missing squeeze of a missus “…she ain’t come home… is she cheatin’…creepin’… left me here… all alone… with only my accordion….she didn’t come back…” ,  mood turns, briefly melancholic  “…there had been an accident …she’d been hit by a transit van..”,  returning with barely a  blink ,careering carelessly along,  “….isn’t cheatin’…wasn’t breathin’…”  before final callous twist of steel,  “… I’ll get over it…” Can only assume this is meant to be tongue in cheek but left a bitter taste, strangely unnerving. Thankfully the rest of their oeuvre seems to bowl along more merrily, tightly played accordion, washboard blues, Ska swagger touched with Reggae sun. 

Water Tower Bucket Boys- ‘Where The Crow Don’t Fly’, EP

Sheltered from many of the cultural influences shaping American music, Oregon allegedly did not play a significant role in the growth of popular music based on African American blues and gospel but developed a strong indie music scene, drawing on many genres of music, particularly in Portland, from where this band hails. This might partly explain why Water Tower Bucket Boys, ostensibly labelled ‘Bluegrass’, certainly have blue feet but also quite happily wander into other territory. The mixture of traditional instruments, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, harmonica and double bass, augmented by drums and keyboard sparkle with a refreshing, light, clean touch which together with candid references to genres other than traditional and youthfully flexible vocals, untainted by tobacco chew,  distinguishes them from a plethora of more dyed- in- the- wool practitioners and whilst sticking to a folk tale tradition, stories told by the Bucket Boys sometimes have a sting in the tail, an unexpected twist bound up in clever lyrics. Such inventiveness has its ups and downs on this gathering of five songs, especially when composed by different band members, a certain disparity which could be unsettling but, largely, musicality overcomes schizophrenia.

‘Meet Me Where The Crow Don’t Fly’ starts off like a traditional folk song, lolloping along on  fiddle’s repeated refrain, pricked and joined by jaunty gait of plucked mandolin (or is it banjo?)  and double bass’s bouncing feet before vocals steer and veer this travelling band into new territory, unravelling old wool as it goes, recycling more modern garb. The style of this song powerfully reminds me of an ex Liverpool band, Peter and the Wolf, who similarly spun modern tales from fabric of folk, black and white re mastered in full Technicolor. ‘Meet Me Where The Crow Don’t Fly’ and its catchy little melody found me dancing along, despite having no clue what the lyrics mean, “… take me by the hand… reach into the plants…that make us fly… step onto the boat…so  I can reach into your throat and make you dry….”

‘Walkin’ The Road’ follows a more traditional, foot tapping, bluegrass route down love’s lost road, “…if what she said to me was true…that you need me….I need you….why must we go our separate ways…..”

“Easy Way Out” though tinged with mournful chagrin and hint of psychedelia, similarly seems to follow a well trodden blues, hillbilly folk path, drums and vocals take brief detours down twisting side lanes but generally sunny  ‘how do you do’ thigh slapping hoe down seems to belie what appear to be rather serious lyrics, “…  had a friend…chose the easy way out…  never to return again… she left no doubt  in my head… got to avoid the easy way out… not so simple once you’re in… going to get you in the end…  don’t go too far…” 

 ‘Pilgrim Song’, beautifully lilting banjo and mandolin duet an Irish theme with similarly swaying vocal, joined by deep southern, wild west, mouth organ and softly stepping double bass, banjo and mandolin take turns, pondering off into remarkably enticing, twinkling, virtuosic almost solos, with waft of gentle guitar support. Lovely, modern take on traditional melody and theme, “… I am the pilgrim…not wanted here…haul a heavy burden…just don’t seem to care….left the shore behind me….soul heaven bound….”

‘R Song’ ends the EP ,slow, languidly poignant guitar and voice touched by icy vibraphone breath , conjures winter’s tale, the passing of time, life’s short summer fading to autumn to grey  “…you and me and the devil makes three…sleep for a bit… you know that’s it …winter sounds too cold here… boo of a ghost… leaves sound like toast…… a couple of minutes in a few hours…all went past so fast dear …don’t forget to move slow…dear…”

I must admit, the label ‘Bluegrass’ did predispose me to nonchalance towards this band which would have remained had I parked up at ‘Walkin’ The Road’ but am grateful for whatever drove me further down the freeway, a band I enjoyed much more than anticipated. 

ReVerbed- ‘Burn’

Tame, uninspired teen rock, this Kids from ‘Fame’ adolescent outbreak doesn’t smell so much of ‘Teen Spirit’ as reek of Clearasil, zits still popping, hormonal teenage angst requiring patina of life to develop a vocabulary beyond stock chord progressions and lyrics such as “… say say say that you want me… that you need me…love me…hate me…you run down everything…”, this barely broken, nasal rendition still has a long way to go to find its true voice, fit in its skin. 


Reviews by Miss Chumki Banerje

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