Album Review – Pale Honey

Pale Honey album cover

Pale Honey -’Pale Honey’ (Bolero)

When the debut single from Pale Honey ‘Youth’ arrived a few months ago, it was clear that the Swedish duo of Tuva Lodmark (vocals and guitar) and Nelly Daltry (drums) might well be something special. Acclaimed by much of the media, in a just world this would have translated into chart hits and front covers (this is not a just world). Their debut EP Fiction came out last year and had already shown much promise. So now arrives their debut album and eyes and ears are upon them to see if it can deliver upon the promise.

It does. In Spades. The aforementioned ‘Youth’ and ‘Fiction’ and ‘Fish’ from the EP are here along with seven new tracks. Much has been made in term of positive comparisons to who Pale Honey sound like, and there’s no need to do that again here. What you do get is a duo who can deliver sparseness and switch quickly to the sound of noise that bands with many more members would envy being able to deliver.

From the opening attitude of ‘Over Your Head’ to the brooding magnificence of album closer ‘Sleep’ which brings the pace down with serious style, this is a debut that is genuinely fresh and exciting. Don’t let this just be a critically acclaimed album, spread the word!

****

Pale Honey is released by Bolero on May 4.

Album Review – Jacco Gardner

Jacco Gardner

Jacco Gardner -’Hypnophobia.’ (Full Time Hobby)

This album from the Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner is little short of fantastic. Over the course of these ten songs and forty minutes he presents us with an amazing piece of work that is a wonderful exercise in what might best be described as pastoral psychedelia.

It’s a record that evokes Love’s seminal Forever Changes album with Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and a touch of Nick Drake about the guitar playing. But it’s not just the feel of the record, it’s the fact that he’s got the songs to go with it, and the voice to deliver them, too.

There’s a timeless quality about these songs, like the opener ‘Another You’ and the epic ‘Before The Dawn’ and what makes it all the more impressive is that it does not feel like an exercise in borrowed nostalgia but one that seems to be looking to the future as much as to the past. An album that reveals more and more with every lesson.

One of the best albums so far this year.

****1/2

Hypnophobia is out on May 4 on Full Time Hobby.

A Song For Today #9

Radio On

It may seem lazy, but I’m going to be open and admit that I have cut and pasted the press release because it says exactly what needs to be said:

“Drawing their name from the Christopher Petit 70s road movie of the same name, Radio On have fittingly spanned some distance themselves since childhoods collectively spent working part-time shifts in pubs and supermarkets whilst rattling round towns in Scotland and the North of England. Growing up- prophetically enough- in the sleepy town whose train station played host to cinematic benchmark Brief Encounter, frontman Sam Hayward formed school friendships with Adam Hartley and Alex Deery, with the band’s line up latterly completed when Adam met James Johnston whilst studying for a Theology degree down in London.

A burgeoning interest in the European art house movies of Petit and his peers was kick-started by the band’s discovery of Radio On- a film which resonated with the four friends as much in tone and style, as via the new wave stars (Bowie, Kraftwerk, Devo) its soundtrack boasted. For Sam, it was this re-appropriation and re-purposing of the road movie genre from its distinctly American origins which particularly struck him; ‘These European film-makers took this American genre, and they played with it, to put their own spin on it- creating a new sub-genre with real emotional depth & artistic merit’. This idea of rewiring the familiar into a new context chimes with Radio On’s own primary musical touchstones- Blood Orange and Robyn, particularly- both names unabashedly referencing their classic pop forbears to an effect that’s still thoroughly contemporary.

Whilst Petit’s troubling narrative traces a radio DJ’s road journey through late 70s Britain in the wake of his brother’s suicide, ‘You’re Always Right’ itself takes origin from a visit made by Sam to an exhibit of work by David Hockney, depicting the numerous Yorkshire towns in which the artist had lived, prior to relocating to the vaster environs of London & Los Angeles. Struck by what he’d seen, Sam embarked on a road trip of his own, re-tracing Hockney’s own journeys through his former hometowns. ‘All the paintings had a road running through them’ remembers Sam, ‘and it struck me that maybe he wasn’t just depicting a place so much as a time in his life, one he was moving through. It was that idea of movement that interested me; there’s a bittersweet positivity to it.’ As such, ‘You’re Always Right’ feels indicative of a wanderlust that pulls at odds with the London day jobs in schools, warehouses (the kitchen of which covertly doubles as an out of hours band rehearsal space) and supermarkets that the band still clock on for. Punctuating Sam’s characteristically wry vocals with fizzy stabs of synths, the track finds Radio On alloying a poppy immediacy with this transient sense of contentment, to vivid effect.”

The video can, and indeed, must be streamed below:

…and if you like this, check out their earlier song ‘Don’t Wait.’

Album Review – Recorded At The Automat: The Best Of Rough Trade Records

Rough Trade at the automat

Various Artists -’Recorded At The Automat: The Best Of Rough Trade Records’ (Rough Trade Shops)

The legendary Rough Trade record shops in London have been putting together awesome compilations for well over a decade now – and it was surely only a matter of time before they came up with one that focused on the label that grew out of the original shop (though shop and label have been separate for many years now).

The band that took Rough Trade into the bigtime were, of course, The Smiths. It’s quite telling that the Smiths’ contribution here is a b-side, ‘London,’ which shows how shop and label tended to think out of the box and of course, just how wonderful The SMiths were during their brief four year run of making records.

There’s some wonderful records that may have passed many of us by (Rainy Day’s take on ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’), and records that are well-known (Scritti Politti, The Strokes and Pete Doherty is represented by both the Libertines and Babyshambles). There’s a nod to a number of the great Scottish artists that have been on the label over the years – Belle & Sebastian, Life Without Buildings, The Prats and Motorcycle Boy, though it’s criminal that Aberfeldy are missing. There are tracks from the lies of Antony and the Johnsons, The Fall and The Pop Group which show (amongst many others) how Rough Trade understood that indie music was -and still is, to those of us of a certain age – about being independent in your approach to making music as much as how it was released.

I could list numerous artists who’ve been on the label – but that might end up serving as more of a criticism than I intend this to be. The reality is that this is a very comprehensive overview of a wonderful label that over nearly forty years has helped discover unknown and original talent and help them reach a wider audience. Sure, you’d hope any label would do this, but they’ve managed to do it with style and panache. Mostly!

****1/2

Recorded At The Automat: The Best Of Rough Trade Records is out now on Rough Trade Shops

Album Review – Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes -’Sound & Color’ (Rough Trade)

Three years on from their debut album Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes are back with an excellent follow-up in Sound & Color. Three years between your debut and sophomore album is hardly unusual these days (once it would have lead to ‘where are they now-type articles!) but it’s clear that the time has been well-spent.

What Brittany Howard and the boys have managed to do is to produce an album that follows on from their debut record, but delves into more areas, so it is obvious from the off that this is not merely Boys & Girls Mk 2. It has been described elsewhere as being a more kaleidoscopic record, and that’s something I’d agree with. It’s got a lot of influences that draw from what us Brits might see as music from the American south – soul, funk, blues and gospel, played witha garage attitude and with a touch of Prince.

Whilst their debut’s opening track ‘Hold On’ came on like an anthem (and there’s fewer anthems on this album), it’s more the case here that the album’s opening title track is more of a mission statement for this record. And from there to ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’ right through to the final two tracks, the six and a half minute ‘Gemini’ and the closing ballad ‘Over My Head’ this is an album that shows the band continuing to grow and set their horizons ever wider, their sights ever higher.

****

Sound & Color is out now on Rough Trade.

Album Review – Alan Vega & Revolutionary Corps Of Teenage Jesus (re-issue)

Alan Vega & Revolutionary Corps Of Teenage Jesus -’Righteous Lite’ (re-issue) (Creeping Bent)

Originally released in 1999, this collaboration between Suicide frontman Vega and Stephen Lironi (originally of Altered Images, later Creeping Bent’s in house remixer) is reissued to celebrate the label’s 20th anniversary. The collaboration happened after a RCTJ remix of Suicide’s legendary and not a little unsettling ‘Frankie Teardrop.’

Suicide’s self-titled debut album in 1977 was so out-there and so confrontational that it out-punked the punks (check out the legendary ’23 Minutes Over Brussels’ for a gig that ended in a riot) and it still sounds way ahead of it’s time all these years later. It’s impossible to listen to this album without being reminded of it, because Vega’s vocals sound the same and the music is underpinned by the same basso continuo ultra-minimal keyboards and drum machines – but also into the mix come rather nineties dance influences which have dated rather less well, and interesting samples of what sound like religious rallies. It’s as if the Suicide debut, My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts and Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point had mutated.

While it probably doesn’t sound as radical as it would have done at the time of its’ release, tracks like ‘Money Day’ and ‘Pay The Wreck, Mr. Music Man’ give an insight into a project that has much to recommend it, particularly for fans of both acts.

***1/2

Righteous Lite is out now on Creeping Bent

Presenting…Astrid’s Tea Party

Astrid's Tea Party

Astrid’s Tea Party are a four-piece from Brighton, led by Astrid (and who seems reluctant to reveal who the rest of the band are!) They are shortly (May 18) to release their second single ‘Black Swan’ which is a fantastically dark electro number:

Their previous single was the equally good (though rather more upbeat) dance number ‘What’s In It For Me?’

Comparisons have been made with Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira…see what you think and let me know!

Presenting…Gengahr

Gengahr

London four-piece Gengahr are Felix Bushe (vocals and guitar), Hugh Schulte bass), John Victor (guitar), and Danny Ward (drums and vocals). Signed to Transgressive Records they are shortly to release their debut album A Dream Outside on June 15. On the evidence of what their soundcloud reveals, they are more than just another four-piece indie guitar band indebted to nineties acts.

This is their current single ‘Heroine’:

The artwork for the album can be seen below, along with the tracklisting for the album
Gengahr album

1. Dizzy Ghosts
2. She’s A Witch
3. Heroine
4. Bathed In Light
5. Where I Lie
6. Dark Star
7. Embers
8. Powder
9. Fill My Gums With Blood.
10. Lonely As A Shark
11. Trampoline

You can hear some of the other tracks from their debut album below:

For details of live dates please see the Transgressive website

Interview – Zohara

Zohara

Zohara takes time out to answer the 17 Seconds’ questionnaire

Where are you and what’s the weather like?

I’m in Tel-Aviv and it is spring now. The best weather you can imagine, the sun is out and there’s a cool breeze. It seems like everyone is even more desperate to fall in love.

What’s your favourite record in the charts?
Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper and Vulnicura of Bjork.

What are your favourite films?

The Grand Budapest Hotel- Wes Anderson , Dogville – Lars von Trier, A woman is a Woman – Godard, North by Northwest- Hitchcock, Chaos- Coline Serreau and many many others..

What are your favourite books?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being- Milan Kondera, Crime and Punishment- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, History: A Novel- Elsa Morante.

What are your favourite TV programmes?

To be honest, my favorite series are Israeli, too bad you can’t watch them :) But of course I’m a fan of Girls and Breaking Bad, MadMen I love Skin as well.. but I’m trying not to watch too many of them cause it’s addictive and there are not enough hours per day..

What was the first record you bought and where did you buy it from?

The Bends, Radiohead, it was during a trip with friends in south Israel.

What is your least favourite record that you have made, and why?

It’s my first album, so too soon to tell :)

Do you believe in God?

No.

Which football team do you support?

I’m really not into football sorry… :/

Do you have any pets?

Yes, I have a brilliant dog named Charlie.

Who would you want to play you in the film of your life?

Audrey Tautou

Vinyl, CD, Download or stream?

Download, but pay for it!

When was the last time you cried?

I cry very often, so apparently it was last night when I read an article my little sister wrote about sexual harassment.

What’s the best cover version you have ever heard?

James Blake- Limit to your love, without thinking twice.

What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened at one of your own gigs?

It wasn’t my own gig though, but when I was serving in the army I was a lead singer in a military band, and in one of the shows in front of tens of soldier, commanders and members of the Israeli parlament, while singing the national anthem, I burst out with laughter. I’m a bit proud of it anyway..

Have you ever been starstruck?

Not really…

What is your culinary speciality?

Unfortunately I’m a very bad cook and a vegan also, so I mostly just put some vegetables in the oven and that’s pretty much the best I can do.

The Royal Family: should they stay or should they go?

They should go!!! How come people still buy this bullshit??

If you weren’t doing this, what would you like to be?

I guess an acupuncturist.

What were you like at school?

Sometimes very friendly and open but then also long periods of withdrawn in myself and confused..

If you could change one law, what would it be?

I think birth control pills should be illegal.

Which decade would you have most liked to have lived in?

In the 20s, when people could really live from their art, and everything was more naive and romantic.

‘Bass and Drum’ is out now via Zohara’s bandcamp

Album Review – Villagers

villagers

Villagers -’Darling Arithmetic.’ (Domino)

The third album from Villagers, Darling Arithmetic, is once, again, a gorgeous, well-crafted affair. Following on from Becoming A Jackal and Awayland, Conor O’Brien has come up with another, quieter triumph. Though live Villagers perform as a band, the album was written, recorded, produced and mixed by O’Brien at his home in Malahide, north of Dublin (and where The Edge of U2 once lived, fact fans).

For many artists, starting an album with a song as gentle as ‘Courage’ might be a risky proposition, but in the hands of Conor O’Brien, it comes off well, for what is an intimate, but by no means soft ride. O’Brien has started talking more openly about being gay, and as much of this album is about love, it’s also about learning to love yourself. On Courage he tells us ‘It took a little time to get where I wanted, It took a little time to get free / It took a little time to be honest,It took a little time to be me.’ And for anyone growing up -regardless of age, class, gender, sexuality etc.. and trying to figure out who and what they are in the world -these words surely ring true.

He takes on the homophobes on ‘Hot Scary Summer’ and with titles like ‘Little Arithmetic’ and ‘So Naive’ you might wonder if this is going to end up getting to be an uneasy ride. But the talent of O’Brien’s songwriting, lyrics and music, is that this is a world that is open to all. It’s been great to see Villagers’ profile continue to rise over the past five years and I see no reason why this shouldn’t continue on the strength of this album.

****

Darling Arithmetic is out now on Domino