Twenty Twenty …everyone feel the new!
We enter our second year as a new records emporium and good vibes hub in Market Street, Faversham and look forward to the next 12 months. 12 Months of discovering our new favourite bands, reconnecting with our lost loves and stumbling upon that band, that artist, that we’ve known about and never really listened to… and then suddenly, out of nowhere, realise …omigosh…they’re bloody brilliant. (Yes, I’m looking at you Bombay Bicycle Club). So, let’s start the year with a few reviews of new and upcoming releases.
Whyte Horses- Hardtimes.
I came to this LP blind, with no prior knowledge, expectations or prejudices about Whyte Horses…It came in a pre-release bland CD cover , so I didn’t even get to clock the beautifully silly psychedelic image that now adorns the album, like a Sgt Pepper homage gone bonkers and cheerfully astray.
I remember distractedly enjoying the first three tracks, a brightly chiming sitar-like guitar, a slightly VU -ish rhythm guitar sound and some delicious modern pop hooks. A fabulously groovy title track, with grimy horns and dancy synths laying a funky bed that John Grant makes with silky sheets, borrowed from the Barry’s, White and Adamson, and then…and then… Oh lordy! …What’s that…really? No …they haven’t…. have they? Wow…Yes, they really have…They have covered the joyous free-spirited euro road trip which was Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca’ Plane Pour Moi “(Well I know what I will be playing at 11: 00pm on 31st January to drown out the sound of Big Bens Sad Bongs!). I challenge anyone not to smile and bop. Fuck Politics Let’s Dance…to misquote those post-punks from 40 years ago.
This album is packed full of wonderful songs, sounds and grooves. It really is the soundtrack for our Hardtimes, but unlike some, e.g. the superb Kate Tempest or dogged Damon Alburn, Whyte Horses are not holding a mirror to our fractured society, they are finding hope and optimism in the sounds which they grew up with and shaped their world. This is perfectly evidenced on the gloriously silly glam song Tocyn. (sung like a manic Welsh Mott the Hoople by the Super Furry Gruff Rhys). It’s plain to those Welsh speakers amongst you, that you don’t need no ticket to ride this train, you just get on board. Seems ridiculous to say in early January that Hardtimes is a fighting contender for Record of the Year 2020, but you know, this is a very high bar.
Bombay Bicycle Club- Everything Else has Gone Wrong
A List to contemplate…
- What a great arch knowing title for a comeback album after the various members had engaged in solo projects.
- I came to this album with a shed load of prior knowledge, low expectations or prejudices. I had always placed Bombay Bicycle Club (oh, and I’m not doing the BBC thing, sorry) as Faceless, soulless Indie landfill. On the evidence placed before this court I was very wrong. I apologise without reservation.
- The band took their name from a chain of North London Indian restaurants. This was a bad move to begin with, all right thinking and discerning folk went to either the Bengal Lancer in Kentish Town or Anglo-Asian Spice in Stoke Newington.
- This album opens with a figure that is beautifully reminiscent of the Penguin Café Orchestra, well done sirs! That track, Get Up, then ascends into a wonderful maelstrom of thumping bass, baying harmonies, distorted guitar and a myriad of drum fills. It’s a fantastic calling card for what follows.
- The ‘Club” restate our theme du jour…encouraging people to “Keep the Stereo On” because, as they rightly say, “Everything Else has gone Wrong”. It’s a message for our times.
- Some songs on this album have a distinctly Smashing Pumpkins feel, this band wear their reverences and references well.
- The singer Jack Steadman has a lovely, slightly emotionally strained, vocal style which works in harmony with the arrangements and instrumentation, but when its placed on a bed of synthesized strings at the end of “Do You Feel Loved”…you can almost see the future revellers of a summer festival bathed in early evening dusk holding their hands up in the air with tears streaming down their youthful cheeks.
- The Harmonium on the song Racing Stripes is haunting and creates an ambience which is meant to break your heart. And it will, until the vocal harmonies, which lean heavily on the Pet Sounds of Brian Wilson, offer a transcendent redemption. I hope this album is a new beginning, rather than just a coda, for Bombay Bicycle Club as they have a lot to offer, the songs, arrangements and willingness to experiment in sounds that reach beyond the traditional indie four piece, speaks of nothing but good vibes and their maturity.
Nicolas Godin – Concrete and Glass
As the founder of the French electro chill merchants Air, Godin is top of the form in terms of electronica, space /ambient pop. For 25 years Air of been purveyors of smooth chill out music, and Nicolas Godin’s new solo album doesn’t attempt to tread any new ground, but rather hone is already fine skills and bring greater focus to a style which to most would already deem perfect.
Concrete and Glass is an onomatopoeic title which perfectly captures the crisp minimalism of these soundscapes/songs. You can imagine these tunes being used to advertise to those who aspire to live in one of those insanely clutter free modern Grand Designs type houses or the Tesla electronic car crowd. Distant drum machines, vocoder vocals over lopping beats deliver a shiny synth and sensibility for the hi end of hi fi.
The lazy amongst us can describe this as background music, and yeah…go there if you want something interesting, but not too disturbing, for your cheese and wine soiree…and we’ve all been there…but to be honest you are missing trick.
This record rewards repeated listening. Godin’s music will envelop you and in a totally meditative and empowering way set you free. ‘Take me to the Border’ is breathless repeated phrase in one song, its thematic request to find a point of departure, but this album is not evocation of sullied dehumanising passport line at an international but rather an emotion crossing to salvation and mindfulness. Godin wants us to transcend the messy complicated pain of our daily lives and transcend to a high plane. I don’t know about you, but I’m in!
The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do
This is a tricky little album from The Big Moon. The rawness of their Mercury nominated debut has been polished and the edges smoothed. Full of breezy, breathy vocals which swoop and sway against some insistent tight modern pop. This feels like a record with its eyes on greater prizes. It’s mainstream. It’s now. It’s young. It’s fun. And yet….
Underneath the pristine sheen of some exquisite pop production you can still feel the dirty piece of coal they’ve turned into a diamond. And that’s what makes this record special. Juliette Jackson and her wonderful group of musicians are working at number of levels. This collection of songs resonates with the feelings of confusion, distraction and despair which has coloured so many artists work in the UK over the past 3 years or so, but The Big Moon on this album feel if they have the seeds of redemption within their reach.
Like Kate Tempest before them, the message here is that what will survive through the trauma and social fragmentation is love. Take strength and solace from the connections that you make, tend and release. Simultaneously embracing our hidden strength and our studied vulnerability.
Walking Like We Do isn’t purely a self-help manual for existing in a broken society, it’s assortment of catchy songs; pop tunes (‘choons’ if you must) that have unrelenting earworm DNA, melodies and hooks you will softly notice yourself humming, feeling inside your brain as you go to sleep and as you wake. This band is going places, on the basis of this album you might want to get on board early, because if they continue to grow and develop at this rate, very soon everyone will be going to The Big Moon.
Waspjuice- Private View
The duality in the title of this album is very much our entry to the witty, wordy world of Chris Blunkell and his band, Waspjuice. A private view is the description of those sort of events, full of cheap sparkling wine, canapés and inane chatter in room full of art and opinion. Friends and family dutifully on hand. Most artists I’ve ever known face these events with a mutual sense of dread and release. Conversely, many of these songs feel like gently stepping into the semi clandestine thoughts of the middle-aged flawed man who has travelled the gravelled road of true love and true life.
Chris shares his ‘private views’ in a plaintive voice which reflects the experience of the passing years, set against a confident, unflashy arrangement and production. Acoustic guitars, brushed drums, humming organ and a meandering piano serve the songs with distinction. Supplemented by the occasional flourish of a harmonica and memorably on “Waiting for Annie Hall” trumpet. The musicianship on these songs is confident and understated. Brian Barnett’s exquisite guitar work is pitch perfect for these songs.
Chris’s lyrics, like arty European films of the sixties and seventies, settle into a language colloquial domesticity, the everyday objects and events which are the dull flotsam and jetsam of our lives, seemingly unimportant, insignificant, and yet at the core of our memories and our being. Chris has a turn of phrase which creates evocative images, such as a “Crayola held loose between finger and thumb” “waiting for Spurs to score” both generic and yet intensely personal, sung with a melancholy which accompanies those Proustian rushes and mean more now than they did back then.
Released on the new and exciting label ‘At Swim Music’ based in Whitstable, Private View is a special collection of songs from a self-assured and entertaining band, having fun. It is grown up music, songs which resonate with warmth, humour and a contented, settled ennui. Highly recommend.
Ben Watt – Storm Damage
It was in 1982 I was first captivated by a song from Ben Watt, with a title borrowed from a Phillip Larkin Book “A Girl in Winter” the vocals, the reverbed guitar and the ghostly piano seemed to come from another place. Not something I knew was out there, but which instantly spoke to my heart. Bens voice seemed imperfect, fragile, always on the edge of breaking. Yet the emotions conveyed cut like a knife. The first solo album, North Marine Drive is a constant friend to which I return to regularly and find solace and comfort. Ben was my Zen master.
Had a long wait until the next solo Ben Watt album as he concentrated on other things, some wonderful and musical, some real life and scary, but when Hendra was released in 2014 the tone and sensitivity of his voice at the front of songs was like putting on confrontable shoes.
Storm Damage, his fourth solo outing and his third in the last 5 years, finds Ben in fine fettle. The songs are novelistic in their structure, they tell stories of love, loss and life lessons. Ben Watts narrative voice has a slightly weary observational tone “You’ve been hurt before but who but hasn’t/ You feel insecure but who doesn’t” This isn’t self-help or a cheerful rom -com on ITV4 this is the real world. Messy and uncertain.
The music and arrangements are tight and follows the classic guitar, bass, drums and keyboard combo. The pianos and guitars are no longer drenched in reverb but they now they give each other, and consequently the songs, space in which to gently stretch and grow. New dynamics appear clear with repeated listens.
This collection songs feels as complete and consistent as any in his career. Storm Damage is a very mature record which will rightly harvest and deserve every inch of positive attention. Ben Watt is an exceptional song writer and artist who should be celebrated.