record reviews february 2019

BLOOD RED SHOES

Get Tragic

blood

Sick and tired of the sight of each other after constant touring and four albums, Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell went their acrimonious separate ways at the end of 2014. For years later, breakdowns survived, emotions vented and perspectives regained, they’ve recoupled for a comeback album that places far more emphasis on electronic textures (partly fuelled by the fact Carter broke her arm and couldn’t play guitar), the album opening with Eye To Eye, a clearly autobiographical number about the split.

It’s a muscular, dark-hued album, Mexican Dress (about Carter’s LA experiences) driving on a focused riff and distorted guitar while, sung by Ansell, Bangsar mixes scratchy pulsing electronics with angry guitars, Nearer is all distorted psychedelic blues, Beverly a synth pulsing strobe rhythm while Howl opens with a keyboard riff reminiscent of The Who’s Baba O’Riley before pulling in Occidental hints.

The Ansell-sung, bass droning Anxiety spins a mood that perfectly echoes its title before they close out with Vertigo, another narrowed eyes-focused cloud of neurosis and menace, and, saving best to last, Elijah (““I hear you fucked up again, Elijah, one day you’re up then you’re down”) the Ultravox-ish synth hissing intro giving way to glowering, oppressive guitars and stalking drumbeat that builds to an inevitable crescendo.

A defiant, prickly return, it would indeed be tragic if their audience had moved on to newer footwear in the intervening years.

Mike Davies


ATTIC LIGHTS

Love In The Time of Shark Attacks (Elefant)

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Their first album in six tears finds the Glasgow quarter in fine ringing guitar mode, immediately conjuring thoughts of Big Star, Teenage Fanclub , The Lemonheads and The Byrds with the opening number Never By Myself evoking The Hollies, a song inspired by singer Colin McArdle finding himself left behind when the tour bus too off for the next city, having to spend the night spending the night on a bench by Loch Ness.

Ruby’s Song (which, like Louise, celebrates the arrival of two daughters into the band’s family) is more of a chugging boogie riff track that calls to mind the Stones while, inspired by Sterling Morrison’s guitar style, the lysergic Come Back To Me floats in a Velvet Underground fog and the state of the world clarion call People Come On harks to late jangling 60s psychedelic pop.

Staying in the same era, Fables is more inclined to simple acoustic coffee bar folk pop while, by contrast, I Found A Girl takes The Kinks dancing with the Burritos Brothers, the band heading down the saloon to hang around the piano for the drunk-hazed lament of Palace of Losers before, the opening guitar line evoking Waterloo Sunset, the riff chugging Kings of Whatever is another Big Star progeny before they close up on late night piano with the reflective, melancholic but warm reassuring comforts of Back Rub. McArdle doesn’t have the strongest voice, but he knows how to put a song across, while the rest of the band ensure he has a solid support network, more than enough, as the song says, to make you smile without warning.

Mike Davies


FRANCES CONE

Late Riser (Thirty Tigers)

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A classically trained pianist whose band is named for her father and great-grandfather, Nashville-based Christina Cone trades in languidly melancholic dreampop, arranged by partner Andrew Doherty. Her latest album draws on the tensions between creative growth and the worries that things are moving too fast, treating on themes of impermanence.

Largely built around piano, acoustic guitar and bass, while favouring the swirling ambience to be heard on things like the ethereal Wide Awake, Unravelling, Over Now and Easy Love, the band does embrace more energised tracks, most notably on the swelling pop of Failure with its driving drum beat and chiming melody line, the anchoring electric guitar work of Arizona, a song about her filmmaker brother and their religious background, and the slowly building dramatic title track that clearly has stadium powerballad in its DNA. Closing on the brief, All Along, a celestial, almost trace-like song about her mother featuring strings and distorted choir, it won’t move mountains, but it might induce a few musical tremors.

Mike Davies


CALVA LOUISE

Rhinoceros (Modern Sky)

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A London indie trio fronted by spiky Maori singer Alizon Taho, reminiscent in places of a punkier Clare Grogan of Altered Images fame, backed up by Venezuelan Jess Allanic and homegrown Ben Parker, they name their debut after the play by theatre of the absurd writer Eugene Ionesco, a work about the rise of European fascism in the 30s and which mirrors their themes of outsiders looking to fit in and the acceptance or rejection by others. Musically, it’s predominantly urgent pop-punk, the charge led by I Heard A Cry and subsequently taken up by, among others, I’m Gonna Do Well, the throbbing bassline-driven Outrageous and Cruel Girl. They do, however, balance these with, if not musically complex, then at least more textured material such as Tug Of War, the psychedelic pop of No Hey with its whistling solo, the 60s flavoured Getting Closer, the chamber pop feel of Wondertale and the Sgt Pepper echoes of Down The Stream. Whether they turn into Blondie or Pink Floyd remains to be seen.

Mike Davies



MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD

Stay Human Vol. II (Thirty Tigers)

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Not specifically a sequel to 2001s’ Stay Human, a concept album built around an anti-death penalty message, nonetheless this, the reggae fusion outfit’s tenth album, retains their social concerns, opening with the infections semi-spoken Little Things and its optimistic belief in global togetherness.

It’s a highly summery pop-oriented collection with catchy, upbeat melodies to mirror the general lyrical tenor, Just To Say I Love You, Enjoy Every Second (featuring reggae rap singer AGodess), the anthemic shuffle Nobody Cries Alone (where he co-opts Marley’s “every little thing’s gonna be all right’) and the cosmic dance floor pulsing Extraordinary all taken from the same hymn book. And, just by way of musical variety, You’re Number One has 70s funk guitars colouring the rap and poppy singalong chorus while When the Sun Begins to Shine is a rattling slide guitar blues.

It’s an album founded on hope, or as the track puts it, This World Is So Fucked Up (But I Ain’t Ever giving Up On It), the sentiments of Flower In The Gun, a duet with Victoria Canal, speaks of need for healing with its nod to the Pulse mass shootings in Orlando, its message echoed in the penultimate slow soul burn Show Me Your Peace Sign.

On Stay Human 2, against a muted drum beat and soaring anthemic dance floor swell, he sings "One love, one life. Throw your hands up high, cause all I'm trying to do is stay human with you" while the chugging guitar riff driven Take Me Alive ends the album with a declaration to "love out loud and live without permission and walk in the light.” You’ll want to walk alongside him.

Mike Davies

roots-and-branches.com 2019