Free Music (Wild Serape)
Grammy-nominated songwriter Taura Stinson and Los Angeles street performer Chrissy DePauw fuse folk, soul, pop, R&B and electronica to mixed effect on this debut album. There’s several highs, the most immediate being opening numbers Airplay and Hi:), both of which evoke Suzanne Vega, and piano-backed ballad closer Wanted Alive, while those more inclined to the R&B meets Broadway moods of Alicia Keys should probably swoon over Heaven Down Here’s collaboration with Raphael Saadiq. The snappy, swaggering 70s tinged pop-funk of Son Of A Gun is pretty sharp too, suggesting what might have happened had The Bangles and Prince connection had gone further than Manic Monday.
The other tracks aren’t poor by any means, but they don’t quite rise to the same level and some, such as Fairy Garden, La La Land and the heavily electronic Feel Your Mind feel a little too generic and not overly different from a lot of other stuff of a similar persuasion. That said, their voices work together very well and they patently have the knack for writing catchy, radio friendly melodies that should serve them well as the collaboration cements.
Postcards From Jeff (Alien Boutique)
Clearly drawing as much on neighbouring Liverpool as their Manchester heritage, the quintet’s debut opens with resounding echoes of New Order in the chiming guitars and steady bassline of Suburban Girl with its talk of smalltown ‘rough diamonds’, a comparison that isn’t exactly dispelled by the subsequent Japanese Man O’War, although come A House, Goddess Of The Sun and the reverb-drenched Samaritans and they’ve moved over to their Echo & The Bunnymen collection.
Other than the dreary Lay Low and the fact that singer Joss Worthington’s voice isn’t strong enough to stand apart from the layered production, it’s not a bad album by any means, indeed Awake closes thing on a redemptive anthemic note of glockenspiel and guitar chimes, but, even down to the lyrics about bruised losers seeking their day in the sun ("I won't back down tonight. This town is not the end of my life"), it’s a bit like being caught in a time-warp. Worthington sings “I think I get the message. Talk about a new perspective”, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t.
Heartache City (Self Released)
Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady specialise in twisted and warped pop music, adopting wind up toys, spidery melodies and Bianca’s spoken delivery of songs that sound as though they might form part of some campfire repertoire in A Nightmare Before Christmas’s Halloween Town. The album sets out its stall with six minute opener Forget Me Not, a melancholic song of lost love that shows they know how to weave a dreamy pop sensibility into their more offkilter textures.
This is followed by the skeletal disco of Un Beso with its Latin shuffles and lines about “Finger fucking the fireflies, spying on the masturbating snails” and the woodwind accompanied spoken word Lost Girls about “little Lolitas who want to be held in large hands” and “witches confused by their own magic”, underscoring their talk about the album’s southern gothic poetry approach.
Rather like stumbling into a surreal cabaret where they serve mescal popcorn, it’s an eerie, creepy and at times downright disturbing (Big & Black’s sax backed white trash Sunday account of racial murder) show that mines a seam of loss and pain (“Excuse me mister, have you seen my daughter? I’m her only mother” – Tower of Pisa), but one from which you may find impossible to tear yourself.
Wring The Moisture From The Surf (Marshall Teller)
Going only by their first initial and surnames and individually based and recorded in Manchester, London and elsewhere, according to the blurb this five-piece follows in the path of those who blur the lines between soundscape and structure, with “dense, layered atmospheres that fill the record like a moorland mist”, “distorting the lines between structure and ambience, vocals and silence and phrase and melodic antipathy.”
Translate that into seven tracks built around synths, drums and guitars and you emerge the other end with an album that variously summons thoughts of Cohen, Interpol, Joy Division and Lou Reed. Dispense with the intellectual explanations, and what you have is a collection of richly melodic songs with the ability to resonate in the blood and soul as well as getting the feet tapping.
The bookends, Old Satellites and I Am Here And I Am Cold In The Water, are the most striking Joy Division-like numbers, while To The Loveliest Ocean suggests Leonard Cohen recast in an electronic mould. With its distorted electronic percussion hissing piston-rhythm, the title track comes over like a shanty work song from Metropolis whereas, by contrast, In Our Wake (another Cohen nod, this time more organic) is a strummed guitar acoustic 3/4 time waltzer. Reading about them might well dampen the interest of casual browsers, but give them a listen and you’ll certainly want to wade in the water.
When The Storms Would Come (Wonderlick)
Built around falsetto-voiced Brisbane frontman Timothy Carroll and Melbourne guitarist Oscar Dawson, the Australian quartet’s debut album has already reaped a mountain of glowing reviews back home for its cocktail of Neil Young, Springsteen, CS&N, Midlake and Pink Floyd. From which description, you’ll probably guess they’re big on massive melodies, solid drumming and soaring harmonies. Indeed, opening track, Sentimental and Monday almost sounds as though there was a wind machine behind Carroll as he sang,
It’s tightly produced, old school, classic 70s-influenced rock, A Heroine and the reverb guitar soaked Holy Gin (the title inspired by Ginsberg) even suggesting a touch of Led Zep with the acoustic-based Pretty Strays For Hopeless Lovers erupting into a full on Crazy Horse workout and stadium-swayer power ballad Wanderer, one of the album’s highlights, making its exit with a nod to Walk On The Wild Side.
It’s been heavily produced, but not to the extent of smoothing out the essential punch they display on the rock drive of You Cannot Call For Love Like A Dog or bonus track House of Cards (where a Dire Straits influence rears its head), and, while they may not be part of the musical zeitgeist, they should be like a gift from heaven for those who wish they still made music like they used to.
Wild Bells (Self Released)
The Portland-based outfit have clearly been around the block, but that just means they know how to play like veterans and what makes for a song that you want to blast out from the car radio. Although the line up has changed since the album was recorded, it features singer Ellen Louise (now replaced by Rachel Coddington) with Craig Stahr (now replaced by Jeff Porter) and Pete Ficht on guitars, bassist Sean Tichenor, drummer Scott Pettitt and with Sean Farrell (now departed) on keyboards, it’s a solid pop sensibility rock album with its feet in the late 60s, 70s and early 80s and influences that include Fleetwood Mac, Blondie and Matthew Sweet.
There’s no overnight sensation making numbers, but the likes of the jangling Never Can Learn, dreamy strummed lullaby Golden Boy, twangy stomper The Light, the Banglesish Precious Time and powerpop chugger Lunchbox would certainly enliven any bar in which they played.