NOVEMBER: Wallflower by Jordan Rakei

Ah, blue-eyed soul. A double-edged term that come across as much as insult as praise. It implies a lack of depth, a lack of the heritage of the music, not just racially but in terms of authenticity. Maybe this isn’t quite blue-eyed soul, but it’s certainly made by an artist who’s steeped deeply both in the history of the music and current trends. It’s also not quite accurate to say he’s a white guy singing a historically black genre. To be specific, he’s a Kiwi of Pacific Islander heritage who now lives in London and signed to Ninja Tune. How fantastically 21st Century.

So where did this come from? That was what I thought when I first heard ‘Goodbyes’. It was one of those times I immediately Googled the artist, found he’d made a whole album, and then just sat opened-mouthed when I sat down and listened to it. The opening number, ‘Eye to Eye’ starts like a soul ballad, and then when it kicks in, you know you’re going somewhere really interesting. That edgy, nervous arrangement, almost jazz-sounding at at times, is such a great counterpoint to his sweet voice.

This is such a tough genre to excel in. I mean, I think I’d call this a soul record, but it’s a post-dance era soul record, I suppose in the same way that Sampha is. There’s also a touch of those downbeat artists like James Blake in there too. But where some of this genre can be a little hit-and-miss – for example, I LOVE the highlights of the Sampha album, but there’s some filler on there, I really love the whole of this. It’s so fully-formed, it’s so rich, it’s so delicious to listen to. It’s beautifully produced too – those strings remind me of Craig Armstrong’s work on Massive Attack’s finest albums. In fact, Massive Attack are a real cornerstone, influence wise. Time for a trip hop revival, anyone? ūüėČ

There are two stages to your relationship to an album, I find. The first is: do I keep playing it when I first get into it? This has been a huge yes – I’ve had to start rationing myself because I’ve listened so many times. The second stage is: Will I come back to this, year after year – has it become a permanent part of my musical landscape. Well, of course, I won’t know that yet. But if you’re asking me to guess right now, I’m pretty certain it will be. I like it that much.

Highlights: opener Eye to Eye, the straight-up soul of Nerve, funky, melancholic single Goodbyes, Massive Attack-esque Hiding Place. But honestly, I love the whole thing!

Thoughts, brothers?

OCTOBER: Alvvays – Antisocialites

It’s “at last” in more ways than one (with profuse apologies for the incredible tardiness of this review) – last in that this is my final contribution as being one of the Brothers on this rather wonderful blog. ¬†Opening those windows and throwing them open wide to the music I’ve been exposed to for the last… eighteen months or so…? has been a joy and I’m thankful to my fellow the Brothers for bringing me into the fold. ¬†At last, as well, to Alvvays in bringing which seems to have been a long time coming, ie that elusively consistent indie album. ¬†Such things tend to be a rarity, as we know. ¬†There are, more often than not, dips and on repeated listens, those tracks which we just skip by in search of the one that grabs us. ¬†That’s not to say that Antisocialites is perfect all the way through – but the skip point for me doesn’t appear until Already Gone, track eight from ten, and even then that’s the only one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself somewhat; Alvvays grabbed my attention with 2014’s release of the achingly glorious and sweepingly sublime¬†Archie, Marry Me, about as classic as modern alternative music can get and stands Up There with the greats. ¬†Forward then, pinging on three years and we have the second long player from the Toronto quintet. ¬†They’ve not moved on a bunch in terms of their sound, so there’s no gear change progression in their approach. ¬†Indeed, they road tested much of what ended up on Antisocialites when on tour through 2015 and 16, so they’ve stuck with their “jangly pop” (the band’s own description for their brand of music) which fits in with their existing catalogue. ¬†Still, reinventing the wheel isn’t always essential and their craft is honed splendidly here. ¬†Melody remains at the heart of their art; it’s the hooks that grab and won’t let go – the trainer-pogo Plimsoll Punks evokes memories of bouncing indie discos featuring stupidly wide grins as That Guitar Riff makes you jump that little bit higher.

There’s a lot to appreciate with Alvvays’ occasionally etherial electronica where they exude an other-worldliness distance which bleeds through time and again; Forget About Life¬†is pure romance and the sweetest proposition to simply hang out, be faithful to your own being and spend time with someone who means the world. ¬†It’s enough to make a middle aged reviewer sit back, smile and sigh in reflection that sometimes, things aren’t that bad and, indeed, can be pretty good. ¬†But looking back in the collection, Forget About Life was quite neatly foreshadowed earlier by the album’s second single, Dreams Tonite¬†and it’s worth following the link as it’s a time capsule video, capturing Alvvays’ vintage but modern look and feel. ¬†Look out for the hat tip to MuchFACT, the Canadian music fund towards the end of the short.

Antisocialites ticks the indie kid box and appeals to the electronica side of my tastes and if those two loves can be catered for, that’s usually a win for me and that’s what we’ve got here.