Blue Rose Code at Stroud Sub Rooms

BRCSomething in Ross Wilson’s music touches me quite deeply, and often when that sort of thing happens, it’s hard to put your finger quite on the reason why – is the musicianship? the deftly written songs of loss and longing? the melancholia that runs through even the most positive of his songs? the beguiling and effortless voice? All of these and yet something else. Maybe for me the call to my Caledonian roots, a nostalgia for a scarce remembered past. But more than all of this, the honesty, the lack of guile with no quarter given to fad or fashion… the integrity of a man and his music.

Enough high falutin musings. Live, Ross is the most absorbing of artists, better yet than his recordings. A Blue Rose Code show is always an uplifting affair and tonight’s Burns Night show in our local Sub Rooms in Stroud had him at his most relaxed and comfortable, being a new Dad clearly agrees with him. His voice was as good as I have ever heard and there was a lightness to the set, a sense of enjoyment and he felt #grateful indeed. His partner in crime on stage, Wild Lyle Watt,  provided the most sensitive and enriching guitar work throughout.

a2852999418_16The new album, The Water of Leith, is a delight and its tracks were woven through the set as you would expect, and along the way reminders of gems from other albums – Grateful, Pokesdown Waltz (unfortunately I seemed to get something in my eye for this one… ) and the wonderful Edina, to name a few. The hour and a half slipped away; he was there and then he was gone, and the mark of a good gig is that it is still with me as I plod though dull work stuff, and Bluebell is the dogged ear-worm of the day.

It would have been remiss for a Burns Night to get away without due respect, and the group of Burns songs mid-set were flawless and memorable, as was the Auld Lang Syne we all stood for, throwing caution to the wind for our bad pronunciation which would have doubtless been better for a dram or two.

Live music  as good as this is a treasure, local venues have a frequently unrecognised importance and memories from nights like this are a joy forever. How  can you not love a man like Ross and his music when it is so heartfelt and so full of heart?


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Ten Drones on Cassette – A Lily


James Vella came into my consciousness, oh some many years ago, with his band Yndi Halda for whom I have long held a rather sustained affection, with their prog leanings and willfully arcane influences.

James himself trades also as A Lily and Ten Drones on Cassette, is his third full length outing and released as his first as a new addition on the sparklingly wonderful Sound in Silence roster.

Initially a project to produce a series of ten drone based pieces each on its own cassette (someone will someday help me understand this odd return to the cassette…) whose edited versions now form part of a very limited physical CDr release (hurry, only 30 left when I looked last) which itself comes with links to the longer versions, running between 35’ish and 50’ish minutes apiece.

More erudite people than I will no doubt have better informed histories about drones, but from my limited knowledge they can be found across many cultures and many epochs. Celtic music abounds with them as does the sacred music from the Indian sub continent. They are found too in that deep and elemental southern United States music whose contemporary exponents include the wonderful Daniel Bachman for one, channeling Jack Rose before him. Many current ambient soundscapes use them as well and Sound in Silence would be a good place to discover new musicians of this ilk.

The drone for me though takes me swiftly to cathedral spaces, choral work and timeless sacred chants. The work that Vella has created here is both locked together in its similarity whilst each piece remains distinctly its own. Even the edited versions are immersive and enveloping, capable of placing you in that indistinct but comfortable ‘fog’ that Brian Eno’s work sometimes does.

Last year by accident I saw a post on (shiver) Facebook when Vella referenced his close listening to the Dylan Henner edit of the Josquin de Prez choral work, La Deploration de Johannes Ockenghem. Henners piece is a mesmeric and soaring edit which was a genuine treasure to find. I hear the echoes of that approach through much of Vella’s drones here as he creates a shimmering collection of music, deeply human but ethereal, uplifting and spiritual, the musical equivalent of motes of dust spinning and dancing through shafts of sunlight as they catch the softest of currents.

Really Mr Vella, this is a thing of magic and wonder, not perhaps in truth music for every day or every place, but there are times and places where these would unquestionably be the ideal sounds to get lost to.

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17 of ’17

17Each on this list is simply offered with the briefest of notes, and listed according to alphabetti spaghetti rules.

Each in their own ways has brought a sparkle to my year at some point(s) this last year.

Each have reminded me of the wonder that is music and the seemingly endless ability to create new and brilliant things from the same few notes.



Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder. Back from a hiatus, the perennially wonderful BSS provide shards of their brilliance


Alice Coltrane – World Spirituality Classics Vol 1. Transcendent music to take you to a higher place


Fleet Foxes – Crack Up. Familiar sublime songs and harmonies with new added challenge and purposefulness


Perfume Genius – No Shape. Lush and gorgeous and sadly uplifting


Giulio Fagiolini – Dietro a un Vetro. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest but most rewarding


Good Weather for an Airstrike – Little Steps. Better with each release, ambient shakes its ass


Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins. When your favourite band delivers against the odds


Gunn-Truscinski Duo – Bay Head. A revelation of music without compromise


Hogni – Two Trains. The shock of the new and the delight that it brings


Tom McRae – Ah! The World Oh! The World. The man who speaks the despair and frustration we feel and yet you still want to hug him (typically, the only official clip I can find is a ‘secret’ one from the latest album …)


Memory Drawings – The Nearest Exit. Mesmeric and enveloping


The National – Sleep Well Beast. I worried they were lost to stadium shows and a proven formula but they voice the madness of the current times


Lucas Oswald – Whet. An album that’s like a warm hug from a new friend


Erki Parnoja – Effterglow. An Estonian delight that came from nowhere


Public Service Broadcasting – Every Valley. Welsh mining history shouldn’t make a great album but with PSB it does


Slowdive – Slowdive. You know how Slowdive used to make you feel? Well its like that only better

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Population – Crown Larks

a1760991922_10I really have no idea why it has taken quite so long to get around to making some jottings on this latest offering from Chicago based Crown Larks, they have diligently and politely been poking me from afar for long enough. It has so many elements that are right up my Strasse – lots of changing rhythms, bits of overblown brass, a dash of flute here and there, some backward tape, a swirl of fuzzy keys and a general air of early Gong hits Rip Rig and Panic (oh so head of their time).

Maybe I have been head-down into neo-classical, folky-dude and generally too many five part harmony type stuff of late.

But I am back, unscathed and hungry for something that is a more demanding listen. Not to say Population is ‘difficult’, urgh that grisly euphemism, but it does demand listening, tugging at your ragged sleeve for attention.

Figuring in the lauded list of psych-rock albums of the year by The Quietus, it has obviously been tweaking a few earlobes since it dropped. For me psych-rock is an altogether more wah-was laden, 11 minutes early Floyd sort of thing, and all the better for that. But Crown Larks strike an altogether more jazz inflected note, a little more punk, albeit with overtones of Curved Air nostalgia.

Really this a very good set (and available in the UK via the lovely Norman Records), and I enjoy it more and more with each fresh listen; the fact that it doesn’t settle too quickly or too obviously into a pigeon hole makes it more appealing but simultaneously requiring of longer to get beneath the skin of.

If I was a younger-fella-my-lad and with any noticeable musical ability and able to play something, this feels like the sort of place I could so easily dig into and get a huge amount of playing satisfaction. But that’s not to be and so I must squeeze my vicarious pleasure out of the gift from others.

A real joy and a perfect anecdote to too much bearded, hand on ear, hipster folk rock. Go find, go listen, enjoy!

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Little Steps – Good Weather for an Airstrike

a1075150067_16It feels like an age that I have been a fan of Tom Honey in his guise as Good Weather for an Airstrike, but it seems that it is only since 2011 and the advent of A Summer, if my library is to be believed. But in that time his music has grown and deepened, become richer and more nuanced.

I have been waiting for the long flight that I am currently on to indulge myself in his latest offering, Little Steps, hoarding something new in the anticipation of delight. A risky thing, delayed gratification, sometimes it’s a mistake to wait and sometimes, like now, not at all, waiting for a good moment, the right moment makes it all the better.

In part Little Steps is so recognisable from his previous work; opener Hello, Darling feels comfortingly familiar, but from here on in it all becomes a little different, gloriously fresh and uplifting. The more prominent rhythms and instrumental threads add greater light and shade, a musical colour palette that is even more rewarding than before. The ten tracks are distinct but roll effortlessly into each other, a sprinkling of field recordings add sparkles of embroidery at the edges, but the thing I appreciate the most is the greater evidence of ‘real’ instruments, and especially the guitar sound redolent of Vini Reilly that creeps in only to disappear again like a long lost friend.

I have honestly loved everything Tom has put out but for me this is by some way the best thing he has yet done and Little Steps is out via Sunseasky Productions or Norman Records in the UK, or via the Bandcamp site. The scant thirty seven minutes are truly a delight, he creates a blissful space, uplifting and hopeful, serene and enveloping, in these days when I follow Morrissey’s advice to avoid the news, Little Steps is a place of solace and warm positivity. Thank you Tom!


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Ah The World! Oh The World! – Tom McRae

20170825_111021-300x300Music matters. It matters to many of us in ways we find hard to express. In these days of perma-music spat out by faceless ‘artists’, dribbling from every lift, eatery, bank and other public place, it is easy to develop musical indigestion, a gut full of insubstantial and confected ‘product’. It’s easy to slide into that lazy assumption that music isn’t what it used to be, to shrug and accept that mid-tempo, mid-range and middle-of-the-road is all we should expect. But for anyone with an ounce (or should than be ‘gram’) of interest and energy, music is still oddly alive and well, uplifting, absorbing, challenging, enriching and beguiling.

Tom McRae has been producing music of the highest order for longer than he is likely keen to admit to. Personal, oft painful, pissed off and dissatisfied. For those of us without the gift, gumption or grace to produce our own music to vent our spleen or express our love, we look to the likes of Mr McRae to satisfy this need for us.

The new album Ah The World! Oh The World! is an especially fine suite of songs. An album to be listened to as such (preferably not on Spotify), listened to and heard, listened to and thought about. Written and recorded during these last (and still) troubling times where much that many hold dear seems under threat or question, this is an album that echoes the times we are living through.

The initial run sees the album enrobed in a little red book of notes, diary entries, drawings and photos that add depth, insight and understanding for the music it contains. This is music that does matter, it matters whether or not you like it (you would have to be a hard hearted dolt not to like it though, in my opinion), it matters that it is here, that someone has taken the care to record it, it matters that someone gives enough of a f*ck to produce it in such a beautiful edition. It matters because it is unsettling and in many ways it is a triumph of despair over hope (albeit with a coda that suggests a less desolate chap).

In the little red book Mr McRae ponders as to whether or not he will  record another album, let’s hope that he does and that he pays a little more attention to the good reviews and a little less to those he feels are less good. Go buy a copy of this fine bundle whilst it lasts, and check the dates to see the old curmudgeon as he does put on a fine old show! Cheer up you old bugger (but not too much!)


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Dietro a un vetro – Giulio Fagiolini


a0997660413_16Increasingly I find myself taking refuge in music that gives me access to that zen-like space that I find when swimming or running, a space for clarity and focus. There are, I admit, times when I embrace the fuzzy, buzzy and the disruptively energising, but Giulio Fagiolini’s (debut?) album Dietro a un vetro (Behind a Glass, if my limited Italian is anywhere near right) runs over me  like the waters of the Dart on a summer day.

Ian Hawgood (who did the mastering here), from the altogether splendid Home Normal label, reminds us all that there is a welter of piano based music nowadays, and unfortunately not all of it escapes that insipid and unsatisfying category of people jumping on a trend.

Fagiolini doesn’t fall into that trap, and this (short) suite of tracks, whose simplicity belies their depth, is a sparkling example of how wondrous a solo piano can be. The spaces between the notes are full of intent, the playing light and assured, the melodies fresh but somehow familiar, I have played this countless times now and each time I am wrapped up in its charms.

Really there is little more I can say apart from go listen, and do listen, it repays attention and time, be ‘present’ with it and let it weave its magic… oh and go buy a copy too, we all need music of integrity, the young Tuscan pianist and the label would be happy people!

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