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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Apart For So Long – Hail Taxi

 

haiul-taxinIts one of my great joys, receiving an email introducing some new music or artist. But often sadly its a short lived joy, finding the content not to my personal liking. But then sometimes, boom, you hit the jackpot and there is something that makes the hairs on your arms lift just a bit.

So it was when I finally got around to following the links in the email to Hail Taxi‘s new EP, Apart For So Long. Hail Taxi is the latest nom de guerre for Nathaniel Sutton, who calls Edmonton, Alberta home and who has released material under his own name in the past; it seems that Hail Taxi is his return to the fray after a few years away.

0008621646_10The all too brief five tracks manage to feel related but different – the opening track that hooks you almost immediately, the fine acoustic instrumental, the slightly poppy, the melancholic, and the closing instrumental that takes me straight to Vini Reilly. But their golden threads are the vocal; be it in the breathy mode,  or the Elliot Smith echo, and the guitar work; picked, resonant and reverb-y  – both of them mixed pleasingly high and clear.

There is a disarming simplicity to all the tracks which manages not to be simplistic but just direct. Produced with a lovely openness, a space for the sounds to move around, inviting you in to be snared by the hooks and melodies.

I don’t know if Mr Sutton appreciates it, but this little gem of an EP is delivered with the confidence of someone who is comfortable with what he is delivering, not feeling the need to over-extend or complicate, that’s why I find it so compelling, that’s why it rewards and deserves frequent visits. I wonder what a full albums-worth would be like?

 

 

 

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Talk Baby – Matt Elleray

a0375860579_16A short little email announced Talk Baby, a ‘new’ish’ track according to the message from Matt Elleray. The picture of an apparently dissolute young feller-my-lad might lead to you to expect some God-awful white urban gangsta tosh, but not a bit of it.

An enticing combination of late night/early morning desperation, guitar that bleeds seamlessly from Vini Reilly to funked up whah whah smooch and a voice that surely belies his tender years.

Mentions of  Lake Windermere and reference to Silverdale  on his Bandcamp page made me wonder about what must be an inevitable connection with the wonderful Sun Drift aka Zac Barfoot – Silverdale can’t be home to these two chaps without them knowing each other.

Well, whatever, Talk Baby, and the accompanying Not In Love are shiny nuggets of goodness and I for one would like to hear some more – deceptively simple, dark but enveloping. Thanks for getting in touch, enigmatic Mr Elleray.

 

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Daniel Bachman at the Lantern, Bristol

Bachman 2It has been a long time coming, waiting to see Daniel Bachman play in flesh, so to speak. A musician of rare and remarkable talents he popped up at the Lantern in Bristol this weekend. Apparently this was his third visit to Bristol; the first some tiny basement somewhere, the second with the wonderful Ryley Walker at the Cube (both of which I missed).

I have long been enamoured of his quite astonishing music, from my first listen courtesy of Hands in the Dark Records in 2011 who alerted me to Apparitions at the Kenmore Plantation, then later Oh Be Joyful the following year and most recently the superb album, River out on the ever-excellent Three Lobed Recordings on whose Bandcamp page you can stream (and buy!) the album.

Bachman1I am always enthralled by an artist who can take the stage and hold an audience by making the most head-filling sounds from a guitar. Simultaneously old and contemporary, this is the sound of the American South from perhaps the best American primitive guitar player of our day, edged with bits of blues, psychedelia and a healthy dose of experimentalism. It’s a music that feels instinctively familiar but none the less weaves its own way, growing, changing, unfolding and improvising without any sense of self-absorption and without losing its way.

The technique is as flawless as the casual lack of pretension. Few people would open  up for a largely unknowing audience with a fifteen minute track like Wont You cross Over To That Other Shore, the lead off track from River, and keep them rapt and absorbed.

The all-too brief set of course had material from River but also some wonderful lap steel playing from a new release set for the autumn, also on Three Lobed. The man told me he is due to come  back to these shores next year, perhaps with a couple of pals on their own drone instruments for a set of them  together and Bachman playing solo – as and when they set the dates, you would be a fool not to strike out and see him and his captivating playing. Matt Roberts at The Convent, I hope you are listening and find this fine chap a slot in your schedule – its hard to think of a finer pairing than this exultant music in that most remarkable of settings.

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