Album Review – Divine Comedy

Divine Comedy – Office Politics (Divine Comedy Records)

Ever wondered why the Divine Comedy are so adored? Office Politics probably has the answers.

It flows – mixing songs together that are so different on paper that in other hands they would be a mess. Witness the way that the glam influenced ‘Infernal Machines’ is followed by the South American jazz of ‘You’ll Never Work In This Town Again.’ If you ever thought that Neil Hannon and co. simply just aped Noel Coward then think again.

There’s so much here that’s up with his best work – the single ‘Norman and Norma’ is one of his story songs, about the couple whose marriage seems to stagnate after their three daughters leave home, until it’s surprisingly rekindled by getting involved in Battle re-enactments. I’m really not sure of any other artists who would come up with a song on such a theme – and make it so catchy. Or ‘Philip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company’ – the imagined theme for a TV show about minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich running a furniture removal company in 1960s New York City. What’s so impressive about this is how it really does sound like Messrs Glass and Reich… yet unmistakably the Divine Comedy. Go figure.

At sixteen tracks (thirty-one on the deluxe edition, with its demos of Hannon’s stage adaptation of Swallows and Amazons) there’s a lot to take in, and it’s not an album to simply put on in the background. Do yourself and the album justice by paying proper attention. Mr. Hannon continues to amaze, and some of those hits they are best known for are now a couple of decades ago…

This may well be the only time that Office Politics has been something to submerge yourself in rather than stay out of.

****1/2

Office Politics is out now on Divine Comedy Records

Forthcoming from the Divine Comedy

There’s many curious other alternative worlds, one of which is the one where the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon remained obsessed with shoegazing music, and didn’t explore the wonderful world of the last twenty-five years. We do truly live in the best of all possible worlds.

Their new album Office Politics is out this Friday, perhaps the first time that anyone will say that office politics are best avoided, and the latest single to be released is ‘Norman and Norma’ of which Mr. Hannon says: ‘”At some point I wrote the words Norman And Norma in my notebook. I don’t know why. I suppose I just liked the sound of the words. I’ve always been interested in the Normans (the conquest people). Perhaps that had something to do with it. Then I remember getting out of bed one morning singing something like the chorus. It’s always scary when you write an opening line like – Norman and Norma got married in Cromer, April 1983 – and you realise you’re going to have tell their whole story.”

It’s gorgeous, as is the video, which you can see below.

The album tracklisting is as follows:

1. Queuejumper
2. Office Politics
3. Norman And Norma
4. Absolutely Obsolete
5. Infernal Machines
6. You’ll Never Work In This Town Again
7. Psychological Evaluation
8. The Synthesiser Service Centre Super Summer Sale
9. The Life and Soul Of The Party
10. A Feather In Your Cap
11. I’m A Stranger Here
12. Dark Days Are Here Again
13. Philip And Steve’s Furniture Removal Company
14. ‘Opportunity’ Knox
15. After The Lord Mayor’s Show
16. When The Working Day Is Done

The video for ‘Queuejumper’ was released in April:

There will also be a tour of the British Isles in October 2019:

Sun 6th Dublin, Bord Gais Energy Theatre
Mon 7th Belfast, Ulster Hall
Tue 8th Cork, Opera House
Thu 10th Glasgow, Old Fruitmarket
Fri 11th Birmingham, O2 Institute
Sat 12th Oxford, O2 Academy 1 (sold out)
Mon 14th Bristol, O2 Academy
Tue 15th Leeds, Metropolitan University (Leeds Beckett University)
Wed 16th Brighton, Dome
Thu 17th London, Eventim Apollo
Fri 18th Manchester, Albert Hall (sold out)

The return of…Playing House

Hooray! I’ve been championing previous Playing House releases back in 2016 and 2017, and it’s great to finally have some new music from them.

‘Not Good’ is a change of direction from those first two EPs, with more of an electronic flavour, but as always, the urge to listen to the track again before it has even finished playing is there once again. When Mel Patman sings ‘tell me where you been hiding?’ the urge to yell ‘well, I’ve been waiting for you, too!’

Playing House openly identify as queer, feminist, body positive and readily support such causes, playing at queer spaces and charity events. (That’s the PR man talking, but he’s absolutely spot on!) Through their music conform and express ideas of love, identity , politics, as well as growing up and living outside of the heteronormative. Given the politics of the US and the UK at the moment, this is needed more than ever.

In the words of Mel herself ‘“Not Good is a surrealist look at the absurdity of the ambivalence to all things not good. “It’s a song that could only be written in the surreal reality that we’re living in right now, in the middle of the destruction of the planet, consumerism, inequalities, sexism, increased anxiety and depression. The song takes a pop at ambivalence, watching everything go wrong and doing nothing. It’s also about how those abuses take place in relationships. It was written following a really damaging relationship where there was gaslighting and manipulation but I couldn’t leave. Sometimes the safest thing is ambivalence when you are not permitted the power by people or society to change things. I wanted to write something that is both truthful and empowering.”

I’ve long been convinced that Playing House deserve to be playing massive venues, and hopefully this single will make that one step closer. Welcome back!

Album Review – Rev Magnetic

Rev Magnetic – ‘Versus Universe’ (Rock Action)

Rev Magnetic is the new band lead by the legendary Luke Sutherland, Scottish writer and musician. Versus Universe has been on my to do pile for reviews for sometime now, and I’ve put off writing it so far not because it isn’t a good record – it is – but because the 48 minutes within are so intense and otherworldly (not quite Trout Mask Replica, but not so far off in terms of being way out, if not musically) that I’ve been trying to get my head round it.

It is what would have once been described as a headphones album – the music within requires your attention, and there’s no point having it on in the background whilst getting on with the drudgery of day to day life. That way it starts to let you get a handle on it. Because, make no mistake, it is a beautiful record. Sutherland has been a frequent collaborator with Mogwai – it comes out on their Rock Action label – and that makes sense, too. Amongst others, the press release mentions Abba (I guess for the sublime pop within), Vaughan Williams (for the pastoral bits) and Stravinsky (for the utterly mental bits). While the phrase ‘our music is actually really hard to categorize’ is press releases is enough to drive most writers mad, this is an occasion when it’s hard to disagree.

This record was trailed by ‘Yonder’ and ‘The Gloaming’, both of which are very different tracks and yet give a good starting point for getting into this record. This record will take a lot of time to live with – and that may put it out of the reach of many – but those who do will find it rewarding down the line.

****

Versus Universe is out now on Rock Action

Presenting…PHOTØS

This arrived in my inbox just a couple of hours ago. PHOTØS is the work of Gabriel Benjamin, a singer/songwriter from Agoura Hills, California. He’s spent most of his songwriting career writing songs for other artists like Avicii, Camelphat, and Au/Ra – but is now releasing his own material.

Having dealt with anxiety and depression for most of his life, 2019 sees PHOTØS proactively addressing his mental health issues and in doing so finding his artistic voice. “In Too Deep” is a cautiously optimistic love letter in which he lays out the minefield of potential hazards he brings into relationships, and one I found myself playing several times since waking up. It’s straightforward, and rather lovely.

Enjoy…

Presenting…Half Formed Things

Sometimes, over what has been very nearly thirteen years of blogging, I have forgotten just how much it can be a thrill to still discover new stuff. In amongst the 100+ emails that arrive each day (the amount of stuff that I will never get around to listening to is really absurdly high), once in a while there will be something that reminds me ‘this is why I’m still doing it.’

Tonight’s offering comes from Edinburgh band Half Formed Things. They are Matthew Bakewell (guitar and voice), Morgan Hosking (piano and voice), Nici Hosking (percussion and voice) and Edwin McLachlan (drums). They’re about to release their debut album To Live In The Flicker. Despite the name, there’s nothing half-formed about these guys and gals at all, in fact they specialise in a gorgeous cinematic kind of rock, informed by the likes of 17 Seconds favourites Kate Bush, the National and Talk Talk.

They release their debut single ‘February’/’April’ last year and followed it up with ‘the Apostate’ this year – all three tracks can be found on To Live In The Flicker. That title, by the way, is loosely informed by writer Joseph Conrad (Heart Of Darkness, The Secret Agent), each peering briefly into people’s lives. They’re playing at the Wee Red Bar at Edinburgh College Of Art this Saturday (May 25), and a tour is planned for later this year.

One to treasure, I think.

You can order their album over at their bandcamp

Album Review – The National

The National – ‘I Am Easy To Find’ (4AD)

The National could have quite easily titled this, their eighth album, I Am Easy To Love, and they would have been absolutely right. Over the course of sixteen tracks, this is 62 minutes you’ll want to listen to again and again. Right from the digitally manipulated guitar line that starts off album opener ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ to the beautifully sad closer ‘Light Years’ this is an album that gently brings you in, and you don’t want to let go.

Perhaps the thing that regular listeners to the National will notice is the use of female voices throughout the record. I keep changing my mind about what is the best track here, but the Gail Ann Dorsey- assisted ‘Roman Holiday’ is one of them. Other vocalists who appear throughout the record include Sharon Van Etten and Lisa Hannigan. Their contribution is far more than mere backing vocals; think of the way that Gram Parsons would bring in Emmylou Harris, or Leonard Cohen worked with a long list female vocalists. It’s that kind of special effect.

Yet at the basis, it’s the songs, dammit. Too many highlights to list individually, but they make up one hell of a collection of songs. While the National may be seen as being a critics and bloggers sort of band, the reality is the deserve their ever-growing fanbase. It’s a very unique kind of melancholy from a very special band. Make sure you spend time with this record.

****1/2

I Am Easy To Find is released on May 17 on 4AD.


Album Review – Cranberries

Cranberries – ‘In The End.’ (BMG)

I must confess to feeling a little guilty. Around the time of their first two albums, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We and No Need To Argue, the Cranberries were never far from the tape deck. Yet somehow, I’d stopped paying attention around the time of the third album.

I have to say, though, that the release of their eighth, and sadly, final album, appropriately entitled In The End, is a fantastic record that reminds me of why I really loved them all those years ago, and shames me into going to investigate the years I missed out on them.

Lead singer Dolores O’Riordan sadly died last year. The Limerick band decided to finish the album, which in many ways seems to have been heading full circle back to how they had sounded when they had started, over twenty-five years ago. What that means is that there’s a soft-sung voice, music that runs from the folk sound of their native country meeting the US grunge sound. ‘Wake Me When It’s Over,’ for example, evokes the 1994 single ‘Zombie’ but cleaner in its sound. There’s the anger within, meeting the gentle, which made this band so winning to start with.

Too many artists will have their final work poured over for signs of premonitions that they were making their last record. It’s not healthy; instead focus on what they have achieved and how they had come together to make a record that should bring old and new fans into the fold. This is the sound of a band who sound reawakened. The title track is melancholy, and reflective, and a fitting end.

Remember Dolores – and the band – this way.

****

In The End is out now on BMG

I’m back…actually I never went away

Indeed. A couple of weeks ago, just as I was attempting to write a link to my review of Craig Finn’s excellent new album, I Need A New War, there appeared to be difficulties with actually posting anything on the blog. This was followed with problems trying to find out who and how to get it sorted.

So here I am, and finally, here is the link to said review over at God Is In The TV:

Craig Finn – I Need A New War

Just to whet your appetite:

Album Review – Carrie Tree

carrie tree

Carrie Tree -‘The Canoe’ (Wild Cedar Records)

Over the years of writing this blog (and to anyone still reading, it may come as a surprise to you to learn that it’s coming up for thirteen), I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with singer-songwriters. But cutting to the chase, whilst Carrie Tree had been unknown to me until the release of this, her third album, it’s an album that has grown on this listener, and become an album that’s a pleasure to listen to, rather than one simply to be reviewed.

There’s a beauty within this album that bewitches and entices. The songs are beautifully scored, and actually command your attention. Rather than just being about the singer and her songs, they are delivered and presented in a way that suggests magic is at work here. It’s really not just another pop-folk record like…too many to list, really. Mostly recorded in the UK and Iceland, with a whole host of international musicians

While the record is perhaps still finding its feet over the first two tracks, the power within kicks in on the title track, the third one on the running order. Particularly poignant is ‘Human Kindness.’ In well-intentioned but less skilled hands, this song about a refugee fleeing a war-torn country could have been worthy but dull. Sung with her twin brother Mark, the lines about ‘I’ve slept in the rubble/screaming at the bombs this is not in my name’ have both poignancy and humanity.

The minimal approach to scoring the record is reminiscent at times of later-period Talk Talk, particularly on ‘Deep as We Dare,’ a beautifully autumnal song. It’s effective, and never once does it get syrupy over the album. In fact, it’s a mark of strength that not only do individual songs start to stand out over repeated listens, but that what the best track is changes.

There’s no doubt that most singer-songwriters write from the heart, Carrie Tree has the ability to deliver upon the promise within. Those who aspire to tread this well-worn path would be advised to take note. What they may struggle to emulate is the voice, simultaneously fragile and smoky…

The Canoe is released on April 26 on wild Cedar Records