Album Review: Ardentjohn

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Ardentjohn -’Waiting For The Season.’ (self-released)

Following on from their debut album On The Wire which came out in 2010, Ardentjohn, the band who began with a fistfight on the Isle of Bute are back.

And if you heard their debut, and quite reasonably fell for its gentle charms, then guess what? The same gentle charms are here again. Yes, they are folky, but panic not, they sound nothing like Mumford & Sons. This is perfect Sunday morning listening, and as with their debut, there is a gentle Scottish pastoralism that runs through the album, with those gorgeous harmonies.

Ardentjohn never set out to rewrite the rule book or challenge sonic conventions. What they do set out to do is to write and play music that is lovely, and the more people that hear this album and take it to their hearts…well that can only make the world better place, at least for a time.

****

Waiting For The Season is out now

Album Review: Draw Me Stories

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Draw Me Stories -’Cocoon Machina’ (Glasstone Records)

At this point in history, record that come under the banner of ‘indie debuts’ far too frequently seem to be a rehash of ideas that many of us in our mid-thirties have heard too many times before being served up as the next big thing.

It is a delight, therefore, to be able to report that the debut from the Anglo-French band Tell Me Stories seems to have very few precedents. Whilst the stories of the DFA’s James Murphy yelling at bands ‘I’ve got that record too!’ are probably apocryphal, I think it would be too much of a challenge for anyone to do that with this record And if they did, they’re losing out on the joy of this.

I’ve listened to this record nowseveral times now, and even on the opener ‘Birdsong’ I’m still struck by how percussive the record is without coming under the heading of ‘dance’. The single ‘Animals’ reminds us that once in a while ‘gothic’ is not the same as ‘goth rock’- and it’s an intriguing confection.

So, this may not be getting disected and fawned over/ripped to shreds in certain quarters. That’s other people’s loss -don’t let it be yours.

****

Cocoon Machina is out now on Glasstone Records

Album Review: Mogwai

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Mogwai -’Les Revenants.’ (Rock Action)

There is a school of thought -not one I subscribe to, by the way – that doesn’t quite see band’s albums that are soundtracks being, well, proper albums. In nearly 20 years of making music, this is Mogwai’s second soundtrack -following on from 2006′s Zidane – A 21st Century Portrait -and as with that album, it holds its’ own with the rest of the Mogwai back catalogue. In this case it’s a French TV series.

The definition of post-rock -which Mogwai are lumped in with – could be the subject of an entire PhD rather than a review of a few hundred words, and I won’t go into it now. But I’ve always felt that a lot of music released under that heading often feels like classical music (and no, not because it’s often instrumental), and this album encapsulates that a great deal.

And there’s still surprises from Mogwai. They’ve taken minimalism to great lengths (‘Mogwai Fear Satan’), nodded to dance music (‘The Sun Smells Too Loud’), covered Black Sabbath (‘Sweet Leaf’) and demonstrated that they can make an entire audience jump out of their skins (‘Like Herod’). This time, there are, in fact, no loud mental bits at all. And yet the end result doesn’t feel that Mogwai have ‘sold out’ or compromised. I know next to nothing about the TV series, but these fourteen tracks are one very impressive whole, from the opening ‘Hungry Face’ to the closing ‘Wizard Motor’ which opened the Les Revenants EP which preceeded this release.

Finally, the penultimate track ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?’ features that rarest of things on a Mogwai record: singing. It’s a cover of a song originally written by Charles Albert Tindley (who is also credited by some with being the man who originated the basis of the US Civil Rights Anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’) and as the sleevenotes is inspired by the version performed by Washington Philips. Mogwai geeks will realise that this is not the first time that the band have performed a song based on a religious motif – see the 2001 single ‘My Father, My King’ which is an old Jewish hymn – but this time the end result is a faithful reading, and yet somehow still Mogwai’s own. I’m not planning on checking out any time soon, but right now, I’m planning on having this at my funeral…

****1/2

Les Revenants is released on Rock Action on February 25.

Album Review: Palma Violets

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Palma Violets -’180.’ (Rough Trade)

So, one of the most anticipated debuts of 2013 is with us. The Palma Violets garnered lots of praise for their debut single ‘Best of Friends’ and with people being desperate for a four-piece indie band to ‘save us’ (umm, from what, exactly?) the torch has been passed to them.

Having enjoyed the single, I was looking forward to the album, and hoping that the band could deliver on the promise, with an indication of where they might develop. After several listens, my conclusion is that there are some good songs on here, and that as well as the singles, tracks like ‘Chicken Dippers’ give an indication that they are prepared, not necessarily to experiment -yet- but to vary the template a little. This isn’t a classic debut, though.

That’s not to say it’s a bad record – it certainly isn’t. It’s fun, and the band need time to develop to reach their potential. It would be nice to think they could do this in their own time, without having to constantly watch for the backstabbers who will see ever chart position and sale as something to be analysed and offered up as evidence that they haven’t cracked it.

***1/2

Presenting…Girl Called Johnny

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First up, she isn’t called Johnny. And secondly, the reference is Rowland S. Howard, not The Waterboys.

Her name is Karen Anne, and under her moniker Girl called Johnny, she will shortly (April 1) release her debut single ‘Heaven Knows’ which is taken from her debut album, which should appear later in the year.

There’s no other music I can hear at the moment, but as a debut single, this does what one should – it sets out her stall, suggests what her manifesto is (classic-sounding pop) and leaves you wanting more.

Give it a listen -if I could go and buy it now, I would.

‘Heaven Knows’ is released on Bullitt Records on April 1.

…and as ever, please let me know what you think!

Album Review: Foals

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Foals -’Holy Fire’ ( Transgressive)

So, six weeks into 2013, there’s every sign that this is going to be a phenomenal year for music, right? And one of the most anticipated albums of the year was Foals’ third album, Holy Fire. This album is already out, it’s debuted at no.2 in the proper album chart- so is there any point in me writing about it?

Well…yes. Because the reality is that Foals have made their best album yet, and if I can persuade anyone else out there that they ought to check them out, then it will be worth it. There will be those who still file Foals under the ‘just another indie band’ but Foals have never been just another landfill guitar group. Their debut Antidotes showed them to be more indebted to acts like Shellac and Four Tet than say Oasis and The Libertines.

And on Holy Fire, Foals show that they can do anthemic, but entirely on their own terms. the album is bookended by ‘Prelude’ and ‘Moon’ and inbetween, the band are pretty much firing on all cylinders. The singles ‘Inhaler’ and ‘My Number’ give an idea of what you might expect, but this is more than an album just cobbled together to support a couple of tracks.

This is an album that hopefully will take the band to a new level of recognition, whilst still remaining true to themselves.

****

Holy Fire is out now on Transgressive

Happy Birthday, Yoko Ono

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One of the most misrepresented artists ever.

Happy 80th Birthday, Yoko -this is an excellent track that everyone should hear. Moody, sad and very beautiful video from 1981. ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ was a song she and John Lennon finished the night of his assassination:

…and this track, ‘Listen, The Snow Is Falling’ from 1968, was later covered by Galaxie 500.

Presenting…Chaos Chaos

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Ten years ago, sisters Asy and Chloe weren’t even teenagers – but as Smoosh, they were recording their debut album She Like Electric. Over the next few years they would get to tour with some of the hippest names out of leftfield, including the Go! Team, Sleater Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie and Bloc Party.

Last year, three albums down the line, the sisters decided to go for a change and formed Chaos Chaos. They put out a five track EP called S, (****) which features an opening track ‘Winner’ recorded with Bloc Party’s Matt Tong, and four others with producer Nathan Rosenberg.

Does it sound like a grown-up Smoosh? There’s more it than that. This is great music, synth pop with more of an edge than their older stuff.

Check it out and see what you think. The EP’s out in the UK next month, and there are promises of a debut album this autumn…

Hear their cover of Tegan & Sara’s ‘Closer.’

Two specials for Valentine’s Day

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Yup, it’s Valentine’s Day (in case you had forgotten) and here are two special things for you.

Flutes take on Haddaway’s 1993 cheese-fest and manage to turn it into something profound and lovely:

Meanwhile, the significance of this track from Viv Albertine to Valentine’s Day is that it one of eight new tracks taken from the vinyl version of The Vermilion Border, to be released in March 2013. It will apparently only be available for one day (this stream, rather than the vinyl), so act quickly:

News just in: Viv Albertine will play Glasgow’s Poetry Club on March 9.

Meanwhile, I have been involved in bringing Flutes to play at Penicuik library on April 20, a free show at 3PM…