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.
It’s a tie between Big Thief and Cigarettes After Sex as my favourite tunesmiths of the moment. This is so laid back that it’s almost horizontal and has that effortless cool feel, no more so than in the chorus.
Summer’s here and the time is right for a gorgeous bit of disco from Joe Hot Chip. This is just a lovely throwback tune that I can’t get enough of right now.
Beth’s back and it’s a corker full of attitude and bluesy deep south grind. Ace video as well.
I know I’m not that bothered about hip-hop but this is excellent.
So, we come to April’s Album of the Month. There aren’t many bands which start life as songs on a concept album but that’s what we have here. Sheffield’s Eccentronic Research Council released Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan in 2015 which slipped in an introduction to a fictional outfit called The Moonlandingz. Fronted by Johnny Rocket (aka Lias Saoudi from Fat White Family), the story of the band’s rise and a fan’s obsession with the lead singer was narrated throughout by none other than Maxine Peake. From there, the The Moonlandingz project gathered pace as Sean Lennon got on board to take care of production duties (this was post-Lennon witnessing a Fat White Family show at South by South-West in 2014, from which he bestowed the six piece with the accolade of their being one of the best live bands he’d ever seen). Describing themselves as a semi-fictional outsider Ouija pop group, singles spawned: Sweet Saturn Mine which had already appeared on the Johnny Rocket album (promotional video starring the aforementioned Maxine Peake) and a precursor to the album collection at the back end of 2016 Black Hanz.
But it was to be the utterly gorgeous, swooping, majestic single, The Strangle of Anna, which piqued my interest. I’m a sucker for wall of sound era ballideering and there’s something magnetic and beguiling about this most sumptuous of serenades that just drew me in and made me pick this album for this month. I’m a fan of the criminally underrated Slow Club as well, and lead singer Rebecca Taylor contributes beautifully here. Elsewhere, the album itself is a peculiar beast and it’s never what you expect although there is a glam rock, dark and dirty core which The Strangle of Anna aside, it doesn’t tend to veer particularly from. There’s political commentary in the form of I.D.S. but I’ll be honest, the clever hook concerning forty-thousand years of Job Club could and should have been expanded on. It feels like a smart idea not taken any further which, given the times we’re in at the moment, is guilty of being an open goal missed.
It’s a consistent record which doesn’t have many down points for me. I love a bit of filth and up pops Randy Jones from the Village People to star in a twisted T-Rex tale which neatly summarises that pretty much every man from Stevie Wonder to the Sleaford Mods has a “Glory Hole”. It’s a lipstick smeared, grubby tribute to the back passage and is basically a celebratory four minutes of nasty camp brilliance which you need a shower after enjoying that little bit too much.
A a footnote, not even an appearance at the end by categorically the worst singer I have ever witnessed in real life could tarnish my enjoyment of this album. The warblings of Sean Lennon’s mum are unmistakable on This Cities Undone and she doesn’t manage to wreck proceedings (unlike the infamous live performance of Memphis Tennessee with Chuck Berry and husband John). I would love to be one of the people who didn’t slate Yoko Ono but she was horrific at The Park at Glastonbury in 2014. I thought I’d pop along to make my own mind up (because, y’know, there’s not much worse than an uninformed opinion) but she screamed and caterwauled through a 40 minute set, leaving with a mildly threatening “I love you…” as she wandered off at the end. So I wasn’t expecting much when I heard she would be making a contribution here and at least they left it to its conclusion where she couldn’t do much damage to this relatively short but interesting collection.
Well, this has absolutely knocked my socks off. Towering, swooping and utterly gorgeous. If this is anything to go by, this’ll be my next AOTM pick. But this beautiful tune features Rebecca Taylor from Slow Club and I can’t stop listening.
For my November album of the month review it was a toss-up between Jagwar Ma’s Every Now and Then and the second album from Birmingham, Alabama’s eight piece soul outfit, St Paul and the Broken Bones. The reason this lot were even on my radar was due to an outstanding Worthy Farm Other Stage afternoon slot last June which was a performance of the highest quality and they were so sock-knocking-off brilliant that I simply had to catch them again if they played near me. When tickets went on sale a few months ago I jumped at the chance, doubly so as they were booked for the excellent Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. That soon sold out and so the gig was moved to the Leeds Irish Centre, a working men’s club straight out of Life On Mars, complete with the decor – it’s exactly what you’d imagine it to be and I’d been there once before. One of Damon Albarn’s many side projects played, The Good, The Bad and The Queen rocked up there in January 2007 complete with with The Clash’s Paul Simenon armed with his machine gun guitar.
Back again then, and down the front a couple of nights back. Where this band have it above so many I’ve seen in recent times is the charismatic Paul Janeway, who has the moves, the poses and the energy but above all, possesses The. Voice. Man, this guy has pipes. The performance is pure James Brown theatrics (he turns up in a leopard print suit and star-spangled diamond shoes) and he’s there to take us with him on his tour of pleadings to the woman who done him wrong, the heartfelt apologies for fucking things up… and a trip through the audience where he climbs the walls using the passion of the blues, railing against his broken bones and pocket change. This was an hour and half which went by in a fraction of the time, driven by horns and a lead singer of boundless energy and love for his craft and audience and it was time very much well spent.
A mention as well has to go to a fine selection of supporting band. Rarely do you seem to get a decent warm up (we’ve all seen bewildering choices over the years I’m sure) but the splendidly named The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer were really something else. Check this out – Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To. This is awesome. A singer with a harmonica and soundbox, guitarist playing drums with his feet and a gorgeous diva thrown in to boot. Simply joyous.
Father John Misty comes back with a frankly magnificent piece of work… and the video’s really something, too.
So here’s November’s offering and I confess to be coming into this review from a fairly biased starting position. I love what Jagwar Ma do and have done since seeing them in the John Peel tent on a Saturday lunchtime at 2013’s Glastonbury with my other half and the blog’s Guy Hornsby. To sum any band up is tricky: they’re original but they steal. They have their own sound but it’s interspersed with little nuggets taken from elsewhere. They’re the embodiment of an oxymoron but boy does it work. Consequently, they’re incredibly easy to connect with, especially if you’re someone who’s easily swayed by a band shamelessly throwing back to mid-90s baggy psych one minute (Man I Need) and bringing trance-era vibes the next (Four).. Gabriel Winterfield and Jono Ma are consummate musical magpies, all about the loops and repetition, like so much electronic music that it’s wonderful to disappear into… so with much of that 2013 set it felt almost illegal to be having that much fun on a Saturday afternoon.
That brings us to Every Now and Then which, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really want to review because I’d be buying this album anyway and sometimes it’s tricky to be objective with something you’ve been looking forward to for so long. But here we are and I’ve had this album for about a month or so now (having caught them live again at the Brudenell Social Club in the meantime). Again, where Jagwar Ma just do it so well is they’re amazing with taking tropes and little hooks of other sometimes timeless tunes and textures and weaving them into their own songs. In Say What You Feel, it’s pure Beach Boys harmony and melody thrown in but it’s not immediately obvious that’s what they’re doing as it’s swirling around gorgeous twists of reverse track and backing vocals. They’re taking what they kicked off with the debut Howlin’ and expanding it, making the soundscapes wider and richer (I know many albums are but it’s one hell of a headphone listen).
The album’s first single, OB1 is pretty much a stepping stone between the debut and this new collection of songs but it’s one where it almost feels like they’re plagiarising themselves it’s so close to The Throw in feel, for instance. But with them being who they are, it’s a head nod, an acknowledgement and then straight into an immediately accessible belt-out chorus. I can’t help thinking that if they were a guitar band as opposed to synth dance they’d be quite at home doing the arena tour circuit with refrains like that in their locker.
It took me a few listens to put my finger on it but there’s a moment in Loose Ends which is pure Beetlebum by Blur and another example of where they’re the magpies I’ve been pointing towards. The song where the album’s title comes from is beautifully crafted, layered and produced; it’s as good as anything the band have done and is so wonderfully hypnotic.
Every Now and Then is a fine example of a band having found their niche and are now exploring the sound that they’ve created. They’re evolving at a steady pace and they continue to be not only a fine live act (you really should try to catch them if they’re playing near you). This second album is the sound of a band stretching their legs and hitting their stride.