Taking cues from The Pixies and The Fall, YOUTH MAN are a raucous trio lining up as Marcus Perks and Adam Haitof providing the jazz influenced rhythm section with Kaila Whyte on guitar and urgent speak-sing vocals. Their Bandcamp tags include afropunk, riotgrrl, and noise rock, which seems a fair assessment of their self-released Youth EP which features propulsive, jagged and jerky clattering numbers Patterns, Pretty Little Idiot, The Word and Youth Man with Cold a narcotic psychedelic fog that shows they can control the tension as well as just let it explode.
It’s a case of bid farewell to Betty & The Id, quite literally as the band have split and guitarists Allan R Murphy and Jim Smith have joined forces with Rob Peters (who sometimes seems to be behind the drum kit of half of the bands in Birmingham) to become BID.
Going by their self-titled debut EP, acid folk has been elbowed aside but the Stranglers throbbing bassline influence remains, as does the metal, prog and space rock. Making their entrance into the world, the instrumental Oh! No! conjures a sort of Hawkwind acid jig before Remaindered echoes past marriages of The Fall and Barrett-era Floyd, Insides Out offers a hefty gloom metal dirge instrumental introduced by a sample of Malcolm McDowell doing his ‘I have existed from the morning of the world..’ speech from the opening credits to Caligula, and Hypno winds it up with a driving psychedelic prog juggernaut.
Also flying the flag for Birmingham experimental alt-rock, Glenn Smyth and David McCabe return as electro duo EVIL ALIEN whose debut EP, Factotum, is released next month. It includes the ‘poppy’ Anxiety Attack, a paranoid-driven, dark swirly affair with a marching rhythm and nagging chorus hook, the hollow drum driven post industrial sound of Life In A Fishbowl recalling the more brutalist work of Cabaret Voltaire, and doomily claustrophobic ballad Out Of Love. All are previously released (twice in the case of the latter), but there’s also two previously unavailable tracks, TV Gameshow, a gathering squall underpinned by a looping repetitive percussive beat, and Walking With You (In My Mind), which, in their world, probably passes for a ballad with its Lynchian lushness and distorted crooned vocals against the electronic hiss. A full album’s due later in the year, hopefully this time featuring all new material.
Joining Dexys Midnight Runners in time to feature on Geno and the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels album, ANDY LEEK quit just before the single hit #1, subsequently teaming with fellow former Dexy’s man Kevin Archer to form the short lived Blue Ox Babes. Pursuing a solo career throughout the 80s, as singer, songwriter and actor, he released two singles as Andde Leeke (one a Tony Visconti produced cover of Dancing Queen) and, in 1988, recruited George Martin to produce his solo debut album, Say Something.
Since which time, he’s recorded two further albums, Eternity Beckons and the still unissued Sacrifice and Bliss, and a couple of singles and spent most of his working time fronting party band The Blue Angels. However. In 2008 he was diagnosed with an incurable and potentially terminal condition that understandably left him devastated and brought everything grinding to a halt. But, refusing to just give up, he changed his lifestyle, took stock, recharged the batteries, kicked some personal demons out of doors and began writing again. The result of which now emerges as Waking Up The World (Matchbox), a 16 track album of new material he regards as the true follow-up to his debut.
Featuring brass, Spanish guitar (courtesy Ian Price), strings and organ, it tackles themes of youthful dreams, love, spiritual healing and corrupt society, variously conjuring thoughts of Mick Hucknall, Chris De Burgh, McCartney and Dylan. It opens with the Latin flavoured soulful title cut (a hint of Curtis Mayfield here, perhaps) as it points the finger at those (bankers, etc) behind today’s ills, before moving on to Here In Our Youth’s brass-driven 60s soul-pop nostalgic celebration of youthful idealism and, in complete contrast, She Is A Doorway To Love with its De Burgh-like ballad dramatics and an intro borrowing from The Beatles Because.
On then to a Natalie, a keyboard backed number that mingles 60s psychedelic folk and blues with some tasty underplayed electric guitar, and Here Comes The Night, not the Morrison classic, but an upbeat, breathily-sung slice of organ grounded soul-pop before you arrive at one of the album’s centre pieces, Love Is Your Soul. Gliding through the octaves to the accompaniment of a simple strings enriched piano backing as it builds to a climax and gradual fall, it’s the track he regards as the greatest song he’s ever written and, built from a healing instrumental, the album’s thematic lynchpin.
Together takes things back to classic Beatles-influenced pop filtered through a prism of Northern soul while elsewhere further highlights would have to include Maybe, the reaching out love song he wrote after learning of the diagnosis, the Spanish guitar accompanied Magdalene, Don’t Ask with its salsa percussion, searing bluesy guitar solo and Dylanesque vitriol, and Forgive Me, a harmonica introed and organ backed soul groove that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside the very best of Simply Red.
But, truth to tell, there’s not a weak number throughout and, if you buy the CD online, you also get a link to download 12 further new numbers. I once called him the greatest undiscovered talent in pop. With the release of this album, hopefully that won’t be the case for much longer.
SWIM DEEP gear up for July’s debut album, Where The Heaven Are We, with the release of new single, She Changes The Weather (Chess Club). Like previous single, the laid back druggy The Sea, it continues the band’s shift away from the Kaiser Chiefs tinged King City towards a more dreampop sensibility and sound, the vocals not even entering until almost the two minute mark, the mood building on a repetitive keyboard pattern and the gradual appearance of shuffling drums and shimmering synth swirls before Austin Williams’ honeyed voice arrives to evoke thoughts of the Stones Roses at their most Waterfall blissed. It’s a truly gorgeous number and bodes well for the album which Williams says they want to be “really bright and sunny, feelgood, funky and just real cool” and which will feature the four singles to date alongside new numbers Francisco, Colour Your Ways, Make My Sun Shine, Red Lips I Know, Soul Trippin’ and Stray.
Those who only remember Birmingham’s KELLI ALI as the singer with trip hop outfit Sneaker Pimps might have a hard time recognizing her today. Since leaving the band, she’s been on quite a musical and spiritual journey, exploring folk, rock and electronic soul and working with Waltz With Bashir composer Max Richter, investing in string and woodwind dominated instrumentation and, on her last album, collaborating with composer and pianist Christophe Terrettaz, aka Ozymandias, on A Paradise Occupied By Devils, a contemporary classical minimalist piano and vocal album inspired by the short stories of Mary Shelley.
Working with several producers and co-writers, Band Of Angels, her latest, self-released Pledge-funded album, is a more mainstream and accessible affair built around dreamy melodies and frequent skittering dance beats and electronic pulses.
Backward tapes and a lurching percussive beat introduces The Art Of Love, a trippy Arabic tinted drone with whispery vocals and operatic-sounding backing that induces a similar trance-like feel to that of early Massive Attack. On the more jittery The Hunter, her voice conjures the young Kate Bush, especially in the soaring chorus while, as the title hints, Silent Requiem has dreamy elements of the gothic building to a glistening majestic climax at once choral and electronic.
Urgency’s the name of the game for Kiss Me Cleopatra, the album’s most club dance oriented number with its echoes of 80s Depeche Mode, its motorik heart also beating on In The House Of Love, a track as cold and icy as anything off the early Ultravox albums while Ali’s voice offers a contrastive sweetness.
When Darkness Falls is another number that evokes the same European gothic mood, but personally, I prefer her more atmospheric numbers, the narcotic lullaby of Falling, the hypnotic, soul-shiveringly beautiful Fear My Shepherd, a hymnal number featuring just her pure voice and a simple keyboard melody and the title track itself, another emotionally intense supplicant’s prayer, again set to sombre piano with those Bush colours to her delivery.
The album closes with its longest track, the eight minute Eternity which, opening with cinematic string arrangement, takes a sensual, intoxicating journey across mysterious Eastern landscapes and star-rimmed skies, a breathtaking end to her most ambitious and richest work yet. That she has a following out there is demonstrated by the response to the Pledge funding process, but she deserves to reach a far wider audience than those already committed to her music. Hopefully, the angels will enfold many more inside their wings.