record reviews january 2014


The Stillness of The Sea (Airside)


Manchester bred psych-folk electronic, the blurb describes the trio’s second album like ‘eavesdropping on a dream rehearsal with Brian Eno, Grizzly Bear and Boards of Canada’ which is fair enough but the fact that they include a cover of Little Neutrino by 70s Canadian psychedelic rock outfit Klaatu ( a band once thought to be a pseudonym for The Beatles) more accurately nails the sound here, though you might also detect a touch of Polyphonic Spree and XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphere project in the air too.

Built around pulsing synths, keyboards and choral harmony vocals with (as on When Sunday Comes) occasional acoustic guitars, it’s a lush, fizzy affair, the sound of multi-coloured air bubbles popping in the sun. Conifer Drive has a jittery synth pulse and Guns And Gadgets takes on a clumping march beat rhythm but otherwise this is a shimmery, oscillating affair laced with catchy folk pop hooks that conjure the late 60s and early 70s; Beauty In Numbers sounds like something Simon & Garfunkel might have done while Stormy Waters evokes an electronic Left Banke. There’s much loveliness here in which to soak, but special joys are to be found in the opening Maps, its descending scales giving way to a riot of orchestral bliss and quite possibly a melodic nick from Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart, the Tangerine Dreamscape of Deep Water Horizon and the wintry pizzicato tone of The Stillness of the Sea which suggests they may quite well be fans of Danny Elfman.

Mike Davies


Sherman Baker (Self Released)


A Sacramento singer-songwriter who declares Elliott Smith to be his Dylan and cites the Beatles, Wilco, Hank Williams and Jeff Buckley among his influences, as both vocalist and writer Sherman actually more recalls Al Stewart. It’s a comparison underscored by elements of 60s and 70s progressive folk that permeate numbers such as the acoustic guitar driven The Knave (which could easily have come from Stewart’s Past, Present and Future), Ducks In A Row and Born To Ride although saying that We Grow Old distinctly nods to Lennon while at various times Sean and the arpeggiated guitar work of Highway Prayer suggest Love’s Forever Changes. The album dips slightly in its second half (Hometown Trash could have benefitted from losing the distortion) but there’s more than enough here to make you want to keep a keen eye on his progress.

Mike Davies


Flesh & Blood (Because)

john butler

Although the album opens with the fingerpicked acoustic shuffling Spring To Come, the Australian singer-songwriter’s reputation more solidly on his jam blues sound with its distortion pedals and his lap steel prowess. As such the second cut, the chunky funk shrugging Livin’ In The City, is more representative of his customary sound, one that also makes its presence felt on the handclapping gospel blues Devil Woman, the slow burn Blame It On Me and the spooked desert moods of You’re Free. That said, it’s the quieter, more restrained numbers that push this to the front of the pile, the lazy rippling Bullet Girl, the slurred undulations of Young And Wild and the mellow Paul Simonesque rhythms of Only One all highlights.

Mike Davies


Long Night Moon (Blue Rose)


Idaho-born singer Willy Braun’s Austin twang, both vocally and on guitar, firmly make their stamp on his band’s sound and here, on their tenth album, their blue collar alt-country roots n roll is as potent as ever, delivering plenty of hooks and riffs wrapped up in foot tapping melodies and songs of leaving, loving, longing and holding on.

The usual mix of rowdy, uptempo, beer slamming tracks and drawled balladry, it’s the sort of bar band country music that makes you want to break out a case of Buds and slip on a pair of leather boots. Opening with the moodily atmospheric title track (which gets a brief instrumental reprise towards the end of the album), Real Cool Hand, Every Step Of The Way, I Can’t Stand It, Be My Friend (In Real Life), a dig at social networking, and UK bonus cut Any Direction From Her provide the cranked up stompers while a waltzing Irish Goodbye, a harmonica laced Didn’t Mean To Break Your Heart and Idaho’s poignant acoustic ode to Braun’s home state wave the more reflective flag, mid tempo numbers The Girl I Knew and The Last Goodbye providing the more down the middle country quota. Nothing ground-breaking perhaps, but this is solid Texas Americana and proud of it.

Mike Davies


Fifth (Yep Roc)


The fifth album by multi-instrumentalist Wilco members Patrick Sansone and John Stirratt finds them recording with members of their touring band for the first time, enlisting James Haggerty on bass, drummer Greg Wieczoreck and John Pirrucello on electric guitar, the result, as might be expected, is a fuller band sound while remaining true to their Beatles-influenced (listen to This thing That I’ve Found) rootsy pop rock. Things like I Want You Back, Can’t Love Anyone Else and None Of This Will Matter are appropriately lush and melodious, layered with the duo’s harmonies, while they get even more mellow on August Song (which has a lazy groove evocative of The Young Rascals’ Groovin’) and Why Don’t We, the latter injecting a touch of Latin into the mix. Considerably removed from the day job and strongly retro in mood, but well worth investigating.

Mike Davies


Softly, Softly (Fierce Panda)


A bit of a swerve for a label normally associated with the indier side of indie, this smartly suited Sheffield five piece are much more in the world of The Overtones in that their debut album is a love affair with swoonsome wall of sound 50s and 60s melancholically euphoric pop. Their credibility is bolstered, however, by the fact that two of the tracks were produced by Richard Hawley from whom it is but a short step to Roy Orbison whose In Dreams gets a faithful rendition here and whose spirit clearly inhabits The One. Everything else is self-penned, but listening to the likes of Would You Be Blue, Give Your Love To Her, Where The Cold Wind Blows and the 100 seconds of splendour that is Show Me The Way and you’ll find yourself searching for those Spector, Pitney, Mann and Weill credits. In an era of identikit processed dance pop, they may struggle to find a substantial audience, but this is truly glorious stuff.

Mike Davies


Red Sands (Electone)

red sands

A Glaswegian six piece formerly trading as power pop outfit Figure 5, they’ve found themselves a time warp back to the heady days of acid drenched West Coast psychedelia with the likes of the prog folk tinged Lady Of Spring, the guitar filigrees of the patently Love-influenced Too Short A Season and the kaleidoscopic colours of Births, Deaths & Marriages which summons the ghosts of such home-grown 60s psych outfits as Jason Crest and Tomorrow.

Naturally no homage to the era would be complete without some Eastern flavours, here dutifully supplied by the sitars of the instrumental Widow’s Walk while bluesy chug So Is The Sun Final provides the equally obligatory nod to George Harrison’s Within You, Without You. A more unexpected influence, however, would seem to be early Bee Gees, both The Lighthouse and Mrs Cosgrove recalling the quivering folk-shaded balladry of the Gibb brothers circa 1st and Horizontal. I doubt it’ll do them any favours, but if you can imagine marrying the folksier side of Ocean Colour Scene with Steve Cradock’s solo psychedelic albums, then you’ll be thinking along the right lines.

Mike Davies 2014