Friday, August 22, 2014

REVIEW: Laura Jean - Laura Jean

On her self-titled fifth album, Melbourne-based Laura Jean supports her formidable vocal instrument with a notably sharp set of songs.  With a couple of exceptions, including the delightful "Don't Marry The One You Love", the arrangements are sparse, allowing full attention to be drawn to Laura Jean's performance, the quality of the material, and the delightfully backing vocals from Norway's Jenny Hval.  The material leans to the intimate, but is decidedly not claustrophobic.  The effect is that of a close friend reading aloud from her journals, and thereby sharing her observations, memories, insecurities, and short stories, as well as dispensing advice.  In addition to a satisfying thematic range, the artist varies her delivery along a broad range in these ten tracks.  "Don't Marry The One You Love", which is one of my favorites of the set, reveals excellent pop chops to deliver a rather unexpected message regarding romantic attachments.  On two other standout tracks, "Here Comes the Miner" and When I First Brought Him Home", Laura Jean displays old English folk stylings and a touch of southern Gothic, respectively.

Lead-off track "June" walks the line between pop and folk, with an upbeat melody but a haunting vibe, and contains some of the best vocal interplay between Laura Jean and Hval on the album.  "How Will I Know When I'm Home" is a moody, dreamy track with simple piano accompaniment.  The lovely "First Love Song" understandably was chosen as one of the single released in advance of the album.  Stream it below and experience the exquisite phrasing and quite emotional weight of that track and the following "Sister All I Have Are My Arms".  A songwriter this good, deserves a top flight vocalist, and a vocalist this good deserves first class material.  Fortunately, Laura Jean has found herself.

I recommend this album for late at night with your headphones on.  Be warned that the headphones may have formed dents in your head by the time you remove them.

Laura Jean was recorded in Bristol, UK, by long-time PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish.  It is available in digital, vinyl and compact disc formats via Chapter Music.

Chapter Music

Rolling Stones Friday: Honky Tonk Women

We're on vacation this week and not much time to write. So let's go with a sure fire winner that needs little explanation.

"Honky Tonk Women" did not appear on a studio album, but was released as a single in 1969.  Mick Taylor had just joined the band and transformed the song, magically I would say, from its earlier acoustic hoedown version "Country Honk" that appeared on Let It Bleed.

The first 15 seconds here are one of my favorite song openings ever - first cowbell, then drums, then Taylor's nasty guitar lick:

Keith Richards had this to say about "Honky Tonk Women", one of the band's signature songs and biggest hit singles: "It was a groove, no doubt about it, and it's one of those tracks that you knew was a Number One before you'd finished the motherfucker."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

REVIEW: The Hobbes Fanclub - Up At Lagrange

Someone must have been under the impression that I had a landmark birthday on the close horizon (I'm still 29 and holding firm, thank you).  How else to explain finding in my inbox Up At Lagrange from The Hobbes Fanclub?  This is an album that seems to be an ingenious distillation of three of my favorite groups: The Close Lobsters; Teenage Fanclub; and The Jesus and Mary Chain, with a good bit of Ride for good measure.  The album has feedback, jangle, reverb, big hooks and soaring choruses.  It sounds like 1,000 guitars all energetically on task.

It begins with the "Into the Night", a perfect shoegaze song for driving under the stars with the windows down and the summer breeze blowing your hair -- you know, hazy vocals and jangling guitar.  The following "Stay Gold" (stream below) is a jaunty song with upbeat riffs bracketing a simple chorus.  "Your Doubting Heart", one of my favorites, perfectly marries shoegaze and college rock in fine Close Lobsters style.  Track four, "The Boy From Outer Space" is a soaring Teenage Fanclub-meets-Ride tune, with affecting oohhs and aahhs, and  "I Knew You'd Understand" could be its birth twin.  "Run Into The Sea" hits TJ&MC territory with pulsing percussion, and loud and jangling guitars with a touch of feedback.  There are echos of early Ride in "How Could You Leave Me Like This".  Track 8, "Outside Myself" is another standout track that that recalls the The Close Lobsters hits that I still regularly find time to play.

Is this cutting edge music?  No, of course not.  But the game here was never to invent, but to thrill.  And thrill it does.  If I did things like make year end lists of top albums, I would include this one.  And because I do make such lists (and publish them), I assure you that Up At Lagrange already has a spot.

The Hobbes Fanclub is Leon (guitar/vocals), Louise (bass/vocals), and Adam (drums), and they reside in Bradford, UK.  Up At Lagrange is available via Shelflife Records in vinyl, digital and CD formats.

Shelflife Records page for album

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

REVIEW: The Holy Ghost Electric Show - The Great American Holy Ghost Electric Show

The Holy Ghost Electric Show have one of those sounds.  The kind of sound that if you hear it while walking through the grounds of a music festival, you stop at their stage and listen until they are done.  The kind of sound that makes you stay on a radio station when spinning the dial.  The kind of sound that makes you click "like" on an online curated playlist from Songza and then open a browser to find out more about the band.  The kind of sound that when it comes on the speakers in a party you realize that you gradually have stopped listening to the conversation and are paying attention to the songs.

The band is from Corinth in the Mississippi hill country.  The members are Cody Rogers (songwriter, lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Jake Rogers (guitar and banjo), Will Shirley (guitar), Conner Wroten (bass), Austin Wheeler (drums) and Jesse James (trombone and keys).  The Rogers brothers, sons of a southern preacher, and their mates assembled the band in the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, and created a musical collage from rock, folk, country, soul and California pop influences.  The band performs with professional competence and flair, but often just on the edge of the raggedy, ramshackle territory that reminds you of musician friends deciding to go to their car in the parking lot, bring in their instruments and jam until closing in the local tavern.  But there is something more as well  -- a current of almost unsettling emotion, a nearly desperate need to touch the listener.  While musically satisfying, this ain't good time background music.

The boys have packaged twelve tracks of their southern Gothic brew in The Great American Holy Ghost Electric Show, which is out now via Atlanta label This Is American Music.  As hard as it is to choose tracks (or more precisely, to eliminate tracks) to use to illustrate the album, the first three tracks and the seventh will provide an excellent snapshot of the range and power of The Holy Ghost Electric Show.  But you don't have to live just with my choices.  The Website link below will allow you to stream the entire album.  Put on your earphones and listen tonight under the stars.  If not sooner, by the time you hit "Kerosene Heater Blues" and "Elizabeth", you will be hauled in hook, line and sinker.

This Is American Music

"There's A Girl In The Corner" from The Twilight Sad

If I were to propose making three statements about Scotland's The Twilight Sad and challenge you to to determine which of the statements was false, could you do it?  The statements are (1) The band will release a new album in October, (2) the band will tour the UK and North America this fall with We Were Promised Jetpacks, and (3) The Twilight Sad have decided to make frivolous, happy music.  Do you have an answer in mind?

Statement number one is correct, as Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave will be released on FatCat Records on October 29.  That means either two or three is incorrect.  Your hint can be found in the following titles from the upcoming album: "I Could Give You All That You Don't Want", "Drown So I Can Watch", and "Pills I Swallow".  Those sad titles mean, happily, that number two is correct.  Moreover, they will cover North America pretty extensively.  And the good news is that when it comes to sad songs, The Twilight Sad does them very, very well, with rich sound textures and palpable emotion.  And to remind you of all that, here is the first song from the album, "There's A Girl In The Corner".

Fat Cat Records

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

REVIEW: Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards - Distance

With his gravelly baritone, Dan Michaelson may remind a listeners of Leonard Cohen or, perhaps, Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening.  It is a commanding instrument, but also, I think, a dangerous one.  A voice like that can become monotonous over the course of an album if the delivery isn't right and the songs don't have enough innate sparkle.  Fortunately, on Distance, both Dan and the songs are more than up to the task.

For this album, crafted in the aftermath of his divorce, Dan is exploring loss, heartache and related issues of physical and emotional distance.  There are emotional pleas such as "come on home I want you, come on home I need you" in "Bones", swathed in minor keys.  But hope, resilience and, most refreshingly, an absence of self-pity ultimately make this album a triumph of the spirit rather than a funereal dirge.  And while Dan and the Coastguards (I love that name) are in fine form musically, the real stars are Dan's unaffected delivery and the quality of his lyrics.  Happily, the production allows both to shine.  In eight tracks over thirty minutes, the first glance could suggest that this album is quiet and slight.  But my take is that Distance is proof that the true measure of a set of songs isn't in the decibels or running time, but rather in the power of the words and the conviction of the performance.

Here is the more upbeat showcase track "Burning Hearts" --

In addition to Dan, Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards are Laurie Earle, Horse, Henry Spenner, Gabriel Stebbing, Romeo Stodart and Johnny Flynn.  Distance is out now via London label The State51 Conspiracy.

The State51 Conspiracy

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Dream Happening" from Sea Pinks

Belfast's Sea Pinks doesn't put a wrong foot forward, in my opinion, so I regard it as very good news that they will be releasing an album on September 29 via CF Records.  Regular readers here know what I'm talking about, as I've featured the band a few times.  Those of you who missed it can enter the band's name in this site's search box, or simply check out the Bandcamp link below.  But before you do that, enjoy "Dream Happening", which is the first song to be released from the album Dreaming Tracks.

Sea Pinks is Neil Brogan, who also has been drummer for Belfast's Girls Names.  His Girls Names mates have helped with previous Sea Pinks releases, but I don't know whether they are involved in this album.

CF Records

Sunday, August 17, 2014

REVIEW: Toco - Memoria

Tomaz di Cunto performs under the name Toco, which could be a diminutive or short form of his full name, but is also Portuguese for ‘"play’". He is a vocalist, guitarist and composer of breathtaking talent and has a rare ability to combine the best parts of two great genres - Brazilian samba and European jazz. Toco has been making records in Milan for the Italian Schema label but hails from Brazil. Working with the Milanese acid jazz producer Stefano Tirone, (aka S-Tone), Toco'’s reputation has been steadily building. If you watched the film Silver Linings Playbook, you heard “Guarapiranga”, a track from one of his previous albums.

The title of the album, Memoria, refers specifically to the regions of Minas Gerais and the Brazilian northeast, its hot climate, the religiousness of the people and its faith in miracles, calling to mind images of mysterious and surreal popular tales, where time flows slowly in an intimate dimension.

“Minas”, a poetic homage to Minas Gerais, opens the album:

In his youth, Toco met Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and that influence shows in the more "bossa" numbers, such as "Manè":

Toco's collaborators include Brazilian artists such as Robert and Eduardo Taufic, Mauro Martins, Edu Hebling, Marquinho Baboo, Ligiana Costa and Selton. Nina Miranda, already known to the public for her collaboration with Smoke City and Da Lata, joined this cast of amazing artists.

This is the third album that Toco and Tirone have produced together. The previous collaborations were “Instalaçao Do Samba” (Schema, 2004) and “Outro Lugar” (Schema, 2007). Their collaboration results in some absolutely breathtaking music - bearing out some obviously ambitious artistic concepts, certainly... but free-flowing and full of the joy of life. This is a beautiful record - one of the best I have heard so far this year.

Memoria is available now via Schema Records.