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Music fan by instinct

Album Review – Viet Cong

Viet Cong album cover

Viet Cong -’Viet Cong.’ (Jagjaguwar)

Before the release of this album, there were two tracks doing the rounds, and one of them was ‘Silhouettes.’ I bring this up as it’s a great track if not necessarily typical of the album as a whole.

Canadian band Viet Cong has been described as being post-punk, which they are in spirit, but it should be noted that their spiritual forebears are the uncompromising likes of Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle and PIL (without so much of the dub reggae of the latter). It is a very good album, and doesn’t take any prisoners. Right from the off, it grabs your attention with ‘Newspaper Spoons’ and holds your ears in its vice-like to the closing moments of ‘Death,’ which clocks in at over eleven minutes.

Post-punk was about exploring possibilities beyond what was perceived as the ultimate limitations of punk. It’s perhaps a mixed blessing that it’s utterly conceivable that this record could have come out in 1979, but the ultimate thumbs-up is that it would be a challenging but rewarding listen in ’79 or 2015.

***1/2.

Viet Cong is out now on Jagjaguwar.

Album Review – Belle and Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian 2014

One of my most anticipated albums of 2015 is the latest album from Belle and Sebastian Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance. The album has now arrived, and it is the best album I have heard so far this year, out of about fifteen or sixteen.

You can read my review over at Is This Music?, a Scottish online music magazine I have contributed to for many years.

‘Nobody’s Empire’ may be the best track they have done in a decade…

Album Review – The Waterboys

Waterboys

The Waterboys -’Modern Blues.’ (Harlequin and Clown)

Right from the very beginning, the Waterboys have mixed folk and rock, with varying emphasis on one or the other on various albums. But what makes their new album so exciting and shows a willingness to try something different in their fourth decade is the fact that not only was this recorded in America, it sees Mike Scott and long-term violinist Steve Wickham collaborating with American musicians to produce a rock record respectfully paying homage to American sounds, as distinct from trying to make a record for the American market.

The album opener ‘Destinies Entwined’ sets out the stall for the album. In some ways, it reminds me of the album opener of 2000′s ‘Let It Happen’ from A Rock In The Weary Land. Yet this time, rather than weary, Mike Scott seems invigorated here, and dare I Say, at peace. And added to the usual mix of folk and rock, over the course of the album – recorded in Nashville – we hear Country, soul and blues enter the mixture. There’s nothing to be gained by speculating what Mr. Scott may or may not have been listening to whilst making this album, but I hear him doff his songwriting cap to the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Marvin Gaye and of course, Elvis.

There’s always been a spiritual quest in Mike Scott’s work, as well as meditations on life and love. ‘I’m still here…I’m still a freak…I’m still ahead – and I’m doing fine’ he tells us on ‘Still A Freak.’ It’s the sound of him having fun and being content, still exploring what the definition of ‘The Big Music’ may be.

Lang may his lum reek, as we say in Scotland.

****

Modern Blues is released by Harlequin and Clown on January 19.

Album Review – The Decemberists

Decemberists

The Decemberists -’What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World.’ (Rough Trade)

The Decemberists are one of those bands that I’ve always been aware of, and liked what I’ve heard without being particularly blown away. However, their seventh album is one of the first great albums of 2015, and it’s one of those albums that not only do you want to go back and listen to it all over again when it’s finished, but you also want to go and check out their back catalogue.

All though derided in certain corners as being a hipster band, what it comes down to on this record is simply the songs. And whilst the album starts off with the pretty good ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’ but there’s three absolutely brilliant tracks on the album which are worth the price of admission alone -’Cavalry Captain,’ ‘Philomena’ and ‘Lake Song.’

And in a funny way, though it sounds nothing like it, it’s rather like the warm, fuzzy feeling you got listening to Vampire Weekend, that of a great collection of songs. Sure it may soundtrack campuses, but the last time I checked, that wasn’t a hanging offence.

And it’s also worth noting, that it was on their seventh album, Out Of Time, that REM truly went massive, Just saying, likes…

What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is released by Rough Trade on January 19.

Presenting…Purity Ring

Purity Ring

Having really enjoyed Purity Ring’s debut album Shrines, I’ve no idea why I appear not to have featured them on the blog before. So time to put that right.

The Canadian duo, Megan James and Corin Roddick, are shortly to release their sophomore album, another eternity (lower case intentional, I think) on March 2, from which the rather lovely ‘begin again’ comes:

The album tracklisting for another eternity (released through 4AD) is as follows:

1. heartsigh
2. bodyache
3. push pull
4. repetition
5. stranger than earth
6. begin again
7. dust hymn
8. flood on the floor
9. sea castle
10. stillness in woe

…and it would, as ever, be great to know what you think about it!

The return of the Go! Team

thegoteam_light1

It’s funny to think it’s over a decade since the Go! Team arrived with their debut album Thunder, Lightning, Strike and attendant singles ‘Ladyflash’ and ‘The Power Is On.’

They’re shortly to release their new album, The Scene Between on Memphis Industries on March 23.

The title track is streaming now, and it’s one of the best things I have heard in ages:

The album tracklisting is as follows:

What D’You Say?
The Scene Between
Waking The Jetstream
Rolodex The Seasons
Blowtorch
Did You Know?
Gaffa Tape Bikini
Catch Me On The Rebound
The Floating Felt Tip
Her Last Wave
The Art of Getting By (Song For Heaven’s Gate)
Reason Left to Destroy

Album Review – Diagrams

chromatics-ideo01

Diagrams -’Chromatics.’ (Full Time Hobby)

Diagrams is the work of one Sam Genders, formerly a member of folktronica group Tunng. Chromatics is his second album, and it makes for a very enjoyable listen.

Folktronica has become a much-derided term, but if we’re going to try and leave that behind, the fact remains that this album is equal parts 60s folk and gentle electronica. This may not be a groundbreaking combination in 2015, but this album reaches through like a gentle hug, utterly necessary in this cold British weather. Second track ‘Gentle Morning Song’ is exactly what you think it might sound like, in a good way. There’s folky pop songs here, but the balance of electronic sounds mean that it’s – thankfully – not just another bloody singer-songwriter album (God knows there’s way too many of those around).

And whilst this isn’t a life-changing record, it’s one that like all good albums should manages to reveal a little more of itself with each listen. Repeated listening brings rewards and whether it’s the excellent opener ‘Phantom Power’ or the hauntingly beautiful title track, this is like a ray of sunshine through all the rain.

***1/2

Album Review – Jo Bartlett

Jo Bartlett

Jo Bartlett -’9×7.’ (Strike Back Records)

Jo Bartlett was the Jo in It’s Jo and Danny, and amongst her other achievements over the past fifteen years is that of founding the Green Man Festival in Wales. She now unveils her latest solo album and the feeling is…it’s alright, but this could have been so much more.

It’s not to say it’s a bad album. It’s not unpleasant and over the course of thirty-three minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The issue with it is simply that while it’s pleasant enough as background music, there’s nothing here to make you sit up and consider this as something special.

It starts off with recent single ‘Dying Kiss’ which is acceptable, but the problem is that the nine tracks here just potter along, without anything to particularly recommend them, and sadly, at the end of the album, it seems to have just melted away. It’s her album, but I can’t help feeling that the album would have benefited from either being more stripped down, or alternatively investigating her more adventurous impulses; instead of the end result which just feels like there’s nothing to separate it from so many other albums.

**1/2

9×7 is out on Strike Back Records on January 12.

Presenting…The Grubby Mitts

GRUBBY MITTS JUMP PHOTO (Press)_medium

There’s no shortage of bands who seem to have taken years to follow-up albums – the Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie are just some of the names that spring to mind. But The Grubby Mitts have taken eight years to complete their debut.

That debut, What The World Needs Now Is The Grubby Mitts is released on March 9. The Bedford band are lead by artist Andy Holden alongside his friends and long-term collaborators Johnny Parry, Roger Illingworth, James MacDowell and John Blamey. Now in their early thirties, the five of them have been playing together in various line-ups since the age of twelve.

They released their debut single ‘The Way To A Friend’s House Is Never Long’ and its follow-up ‘Standard’ to support from DJs like Steve Lamacq and Tom Ravenscroft, and even found time to collaborate with the legendary Damo Suzuki (once of Can), and it’s refreshing to hear a band who actually are producing music that is hard to categorize. This is indie music as the spirit intended – independent and following its own path. Their mitts may be grubby but this is a tonic for the ears and the soul.

Presenting…Viet Cong

Viet Cong

Despite their name, Viet Cong are actually Canadian. (Much like Berlin were, in fact from LA, and Kim Wilde had never been to Cambodia.) The Calgary, Alberta band will release their self-titled debut on January 19. Vocalist and bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace, formerly of Women, who joined forces with guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen to make a rightly acclaimed post-punk sound.

Their hotly tipped debut includes the following two excellent tracks:

The tracklisting for the album (released through Jagjaguwar outside of Canada) is as follows:

1. Newspaper Spoons
2. Pointless Experience
3. March Of Progress
4. Bunker Buster
5. Continental Shelf
6. Silhouettes
7. Death

The band will also be playing a handful of dates in Scotland and England in February:
February 4 Oslo, London
February 5 Deaf Institute, Manchester
February 6 Broadcast, Glasgow
February 7 Brudenell Social, Leeds
February 8 Green Door Store, Brighton