record reviews may 2017


Imagined Hymns & Chaingang Mantras (Carbon Moon)


Formed around the West Yorkshire born androgynous voiced John Elliot who also plays guitars and piano with Mariya Brachkova on Moog bass, Tim Heymeringer on percussion, and violinist Alison D'Souza, this is the London-based outfit’s fifth album, but the first as an actual band. Produced by Graeme Stewart whose film score background brings a cinematic feel, it’s a beguiling piece of work that hovers between electronic, folk and orchestral pop, it was born from Elliott’s experience of and recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder, a search for meaning in the darkness, which goes a long way to explaining the swirling and at times brooding atmospheres that permeate.

Imagined Hymn, the first half of the album title, opens proceedings with airy vocals couched in fingerpicked guitar and strings suggesting a gossamer web Tim Buckley as the music ebbs and flows, giving way to the fragile, reflective Tumbling Snow and the glissando electronic and strings of Melt Down The Moon, the song gradually gathering musical body, Brachkova on backing vocals weaving an almost Clanaad-like feel.

Get On The Other Side Of That Door is a more jittery number, reflecting its concern with the contemporary urban life while, despite lyrics about love laced with endings, sinister songs and smiling skulls, the strings-laden Dig is actually about recovery and how “Everyday I wake into this miracle I find. Your accident of cells somehow exploding next to mine. … We've got to dig the happiness from our own landfill lives.”

Part two of the title, Chaingang Mantra has, as it suggests, a spiritual quality as it probes a series of questions (“Are you free? Are you lonely?…Are you who you thought you might be?) against skittering nerve-frayed percussion before the hushed, fingerpicked Let Desire Back In introduces a moody Spanish tone in another number about clawing back out of the darkness.

Built around heartbeat percussion and a curtain of strings, Symptomatic is the most direct number about PTSD (“ You woke up all the monsters and brought them out to play”) and is immediately followed by the recovery-themed Wreck & Reset, conjuring thoughts of Roger Waters as it swells on a slow march beat and waves of keyboards. It all ends with the Day is Golden, a spare redemptive piano ballad about the determination to not surrender to the demons as he poignantly sings "I have no home, but the day is golden, The sun is up but I have seldom felt colder. It's fine being alive some days.....I am hanging by a thread, my friend, today. "The Little Unsaid speak volumes."

Mike Davies


Super Natural (Hound Gawd!)


Given Jones’ track history with Thee Hypnotics, Black Moses and, more recently his Revue. You’ll not be expecting any resurrections as a ballad crooning poster for his latest project. The growly, throaty vocals remain a snarly, savage beast, the throbbing riffs as moody and intense as ever, everything cloaked in an end of days miasma, here accentuated by new keyboards recruit Matt Millership whose icy spooked ivories send shivers through the slow prowl of Shallow Grace.

Opening the onslaught of Dream as it explodes into a battering ram of heavy Sabbathy guitars and grinding boogie and proceeding to the swampy stomp of Base Is Loaded, by the time it gets to the soaring Something’s Gonna Get Its Hands On You you’ll be quite prepared to expect some rock n roll bogey man to kick down your door and carry you off to a sonic netherworld.

Things remain pretty much on the same level throughout, Boil Yer Blood a feral Hendrix with psychedelic keyboard swoops and Till It’s All Gone a drums clattering flurry, but the album actually ends on an unexpected subdued note, the near six-minute Everyone But Me finding Jones in almost ballad mode, albeit a very mutant ballad, its flesh puckered with boils.

Mike Davies


UNPLGGED ALBUM (Cooking Vinyl)


Having previously released a couple of acoustic EPs, the Chingford quintet, one of the more interesting of the recent indie crop, now go the whole hog with a full album’s worth of stripped down arrangements, albeit, as on The General and The Great Escape, with a decent set of strings to go with the guitars. With the exception of the bucolic Oasis-like ballad In Key, all the material has been reworked from their past albums, although Motorway, a virtual clone of Aztec Camera’s Somewhere In My Heart, is only representative of last year’s Big Life.

The thing with unplugged alums is that it not only focuses attention on the lyrics (and the band don’t fall short here) but also exposes the influences more obviously. As such, Jam-era Paul Weller is very much in evidence, Local Boy a particularly close neighbour of Going Underground. Even so, the new versions are not diminished by showing their roots and there’s a genuine fresh feel to these interpretations. In addition to the studio re-recordings, there’s also three live tracks at the, Coming Home, Romeo & Juliet and Under & Over all featuring the Rifles Choir and some brass notes for a ramshackle but highly enjoyable listening experience.

Mike Davies


Blue Ceilings (I Tried)


An alt-folk outfit from Montreal, this is the band’s second album, essentially a showcase for writer-singer John Matte’s slightly tremulous vocals and alt folk songwriting style deeply rooted in the 80s, perhaps even hinting at touch of Phil Collins. Working largely with a guitar, drums, bass and piano template, it’s a melodic, at times melancholic, affair that embraces soul and country influences in a cool and airy vibe that may never work up too much of a sweat (Save Yourself and the closing Can I Get It Back are as uptempo as it gets) but never sinks into snooze-inducing mellowness either.

Opener I Know The Feeling pretty much sets the tone, sounding like a less impassioned Hozier, a comparison that also springs to mind on Burning Flame, with Someone Just Like You nodding to 80s synth pop and All Along seeing Matte’s falsetto working a further pop seam. Walk With You provides the mid-album piano ballad and then it proceeds to largely repeat the menu for what remains. There’s not a great degree of variation, but it’s pleasant enough for those whose musical tastes incline that way without ever likely to create much of global ripple.

Mike Davies 2020