Zones – Good Weather for an Airstrike

gwfaaIt really does feel like I need this sort of music right now when the world seems to be losing its marbles. Tom Honey has, as Good Weather for an Airstrike,  been producing some of the most thoughtful and absorbing music for some while, and each time he kindly shares some with me, it is a real pleasure. This latest set of five related tracks only clocks in at 18 minutes, but together they make a short sweet/suite that fully makes sense both as individual tracks and as a collective.

The tracks relate to the specific oceanic depth zones (who knew there was such a thing?), starting at the zone closest to the surface and going ever deeper down; sunlight , twilight midnight, abyss and trenches. Accordingly the music becomes more shadowing and enveloping as it progresses, breathy and ethereal, electronic echoes of deep water animals, rising and falling with the underwater currents.

The effects are hypnotic and calming (I need a bit of that!) and as it plays around me whilst I work on something or other, it has a similar effect to that induced by Max Richters epic Sleep work. Zones feels like another step forward for GWFAA, but then again each thing he releases feels like a step forward, building an ever growing catalogue of music with a character all of its own. GWFAA are out and about for a wee tour shortly (dates can be found on the Bandcamp site) so roll along to see what this sounds like in the ‘flesh’.

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The Morning Star – Daniel Bachman

a4119895710_16I am tired and irritated by what feels like constant exhortations from people who patently don’t know or care about me trying to wring the last drop of something from me, emails with headers like, ‘Hey Robert, can we please reconnect?’ No, no we can’t, I don’t know you and never will. More communications channels often just mean more disappointment.

But there are however softer voices, ones I do want to hear and connect with. Voices that aren’t benefits-led, audience-driven marketing schtick, just voices saying or doing what they really feel, throwing it out there for people to accept if they wish. Daniel’s music came to me some seven years ago via Hands in the Dark Records when they had a micro release of Apparitions at the Kenmore Plantation, and he has been a constant revelation with each new release.

When I was a kid, after lunch on a Sunday I would go to my room and lay in the sun (it was always sunny back then) and listen to my big old Russian-made radio. I would dial the knob across the AM frequencies, picking up random stations, some foreign and unintelligible, others nearer and familiar; scrolling across a world of airwaves, glancing blows with the exotic and mundane, the weird and the wonderful , the comforting and the homely. The Morning Star takes me back to that feeling, one I had long forgotten, a feeling that is itself warm and reassuring in these often bleak and unsettling times.

To be producing such music at such a relatively tender age is an amazing thing, this suite of music is not a ‘difficult’ listen but it certainly is one that demands your attention, it is an album that you need to approach with ears and heart wide open. Be prepared to embrace a collection of intimate and profound playing, field recordings, passing vehicles, and unexpected sounds, be prepared to be immersed, enveloped and held by this music that seems to reach much deeper than just your ears.

More complex than previous work, it is set of astonishingly confident and accomplished composing and playing. Echoes and snippets of music and themes from around the globe combine with a heart that is so unmistakably of that deep American folk tradition and together they produce something at once modern and of today but with a golden thread back to the musical founding masters.

The Morning Star demands repeated listening for without it only a fraction of its wonder will be revealed. Available through the ever-wonderful Three Lobed Recordings Bandcamp site, or in the UK via the equally wonderful Norman Records, Daniel Bachman has produced undoubtedly one of the most significant and remarkable records of the year.daniel_bachman_by_greta_svalberg-1170x650

Photo Credit: Greta Svalberg

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Say Goodbye – Ehrnman/Pearson

Say GoodbyeThis popped into view today, a day of some silent sadness, when Say Goodbye is a very appropriate thing to say.

Ehrnman/Pearson are a Kansas City based duo with this (debut ) two-tuner surfacing via the wonderful Russian Winter Records.  Nathanial Ehrnman has baritone guitar duties and his partner in crime Erik Pearson provides vocal and guitar.

There is a rawness and lack of affectation here that quite hits the spot today. Qualities that I suspect the (now, tragically) late Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit would have appreciated. There are many who would have wished the chance to Say Goodbye to Scott before he decided to leave us.


The lead song here is backed with the rather lovely, if too brief, instrumental Juniper Breaks with its picked guitar and echoes of the southern guitar tradition a la John Fahey. Indeed there is unmistakable and welcome scent of Mr Fahey across both tracks here. I have been back listening to the incomparable Daniel Bachman of late, and so Messrs Ehrnman and Pearson fall right into my current listening choices. I look forward to hearing more from them, two tracks is too brief and tantalising!


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The Great Untold – Scott Matthews

ScottScotts music has been a thread woven through my last eleven years or so, since I first heard him at the end of 2006 and played the first album to pieces over a summer in France. His remarkable voice, his playing and the quality of his songwriting have remained a music refuge, a haven in these uncertain times.

I have jotted words here on many occasions and one of my earliest posts was about a hometown gig for him in Wolvo. It’s true that over the years there, for me at least, been an odd stutter with some albums, but the live shows never cease to be a joy and the ideal way to enjoy this rarest of talents.

Another successful PledgeMusic campaign led to the release of this latest album, The Great Untold. Surely a sign simultaneously of the enduring affection in which his fans hold him, and the wretched state of the music ‘industry’ which looks for the latest sugar-rush of a one off track here or there and an apparent disinterest in nurturing and sustaining talent for the long term.

This album, as promised back when Scott first proposed it, is a more stripped back affair, predominantly voice and guitar and redolent of much of his live work. Its a suite of calm intensity, with a warmth of heart, introspective without being maudlin, hopeful echoes from a man pausing before the next great adventure or parent-hood.

Despite its immediate appeal, especially hunkered down here on this wet and cold April day, it reveals added layers and nuance with each listen, the care and attention of the recording and production drifting out to meet you as you give it more attention and relax into its sound.

Shimmering and sumptuous, I couldn’t be happier that this album is as good as it is, its  like an old mate hitting his stride again and I look forward to hearing it live in the next few weeks.

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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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