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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Nikki and the Dove - Mother's Protect (Goldroom Remix)

Pick of the Week 54 – Nikki and the Dove

Scandinavian action with indie meets electro combo Nikki and the Dove. They hail from Stockholm in Sweden and this is an infectious slice of vocal electronic music with slightly astringent vocals, but an overall intense feel good factor. They have released one album ‘Instinct’ that I will be checking out at some point this year. Not sure what the dove brings to the table as there's a distinct lack of cooing in evidence on the song.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Rokia Traore – Beautiful Africa

A quality album form Mali’s premier songstress. She’s strong, statuesque and possesses a voice so distinctive and powerful it has a timbre and frequency that can turn eggnog into Theakston’s Old Peculiar and change cloves into Opal Fruits. It’s a beautiful, rich and balanced sound that combines seamlessly with the mellow guitars on this album and lends itself perfectly to the afro-french atmosphere of this collection of songs.

Rokia has everything going for her. For starters her voice is nothing short of miraculous and she could put most western singers in their place if she felt the need to. She looks like a typical Amazonian woman, tall, proud and majestic. And she’s got a great name, she’s a multi-instrumentalist and she produces astonishing pieces of music. What’s not to like?

‘Beautiful Africa’ is a guitar soaked, chilled experience, possibly best enjoyed somewhere exotic with a cocktail, but works just as well in your back garden in Barnsley with a can of beer. All the tracks are crackers but worthy of special mentions are the pulsing ‘Sikey’, the passion of ‘Beautiful Africa,’ and the rolling waves of comfort that is ‘Lalla’. The outstanding track is the trance inducing calm of ‘Ka Moun Ke’ which comes as near to sing-a-long territory as the gulf in talent between myself and Rokia will allow.

A true global superstar and infinitely superior to all those singers we are led to believe are ‘great’ in the Western world. Robbie Williams springs to mind for some reason. A great album from a great performer.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Austra – Feel it Break

Another big disappointment.

Austra produced one of the favourite tracks on my Youtube playlist in the latter half of last year in the shape of ‘Beat and the Pulse.’ It’s a soaring synth driven classic with the added bonus of a live performance resplendent with a show stealing dancer at the front of the audience. They should get him in the band sharpish. The singer Katie Stelmanis is beautiful, charismatic and sings like a cross between Florence and the Machine and Emily Haines, which can only be a good thing. It sounds like a recipe for greatness, however…

There’s only a couple of decent tracks on the whole (double) album and none come anywhere near ‘Beat and the Pulse’. I wanted to like it so much and I gave it far longer to grow on me than most CD’s, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me. It ended up sounding not unlike a high pitched Florence or a low pitched Grimes and definitely not in a good way.

 There’s a lot of promise however in some of these songs and I honestly believe there’s a great album in this outfit. Hopefully it will be Olympia as I’ve purchased it already, but if not I’ll follow them until it arrives. There has to be a place for Canadian synthpop in this world.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Gareth Emery featuring Christina Novelli – Concrete Angel

Pick of the Week 53 – Gareth Emery featuring Christina Novelli

Hardly obscure, with 18million+ views on YouTube, but Christina is one of my favourite trance vocalists. Here she showcases her mellow tones and soaring tonsil gymnastics in this tantalisingly commercial euphoric trance floorfiller. It’s well worth checking out some of her other vocals, some obscure and others monsters, but she always delivers.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Celldweller – Soundtrack for Voices in my Head

I hate soundtracks and this one doesn’t change my opinion any. After his stunning debut at number one in last year’s festive fifty, I had high hopes for this offering from space rock pioneer, Celldweller. Sadly however, the whole thing falls flat on its face. It’s basically one song from the last album ‘Voices in my Head’ which is great, but I’d heard it before. And then loads and loads of chugging guitar based instrumentals.

It’s like listening to the soundtrack of some mildly engaging video game, but without actually playing the game! I’m guessing it’s a soundtrack for a mythical game that exists somewhere inside Celldweller’s head. It’s not offensive but it really doesn’t work for me.

Buy the song ‘Voices in my Head’ instead and you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

In a nutshell EMCD 'from Norway and Beyond' Compilation

Another high quality Songlines compilation focusing on music from Norway, and more circumspectly, beyond Norway. Lovers of Scandinavian music will find no surprises in the Norwegian selections. They’re stark, fiddle driven ditties that could just as easily been sung by an attractive Scandinavian witch in a hut with turf for its roof or by a snaggle toothed sailor on the bow of a Viking longship. I think being ginger gives me a predisposition to like this kind of stuff, it’s a genetic throwback.

Sadly this is a game of two halves, as the ‘beyond’ Norway selections are much weaker and break the flow and atmosphere of the CD. But that’s a small criticism as there’s so much to enjoy here.

My personal favourites are the timeless ‘L’Autre Jorne’ by Five Men in a Boat, the ultra stark ‘Stev’ by Gunhild Tommeras, and the eerie ‘Tankens Runer’ by Bodil Haug. Best of all is the nasal sea shanty from Jon Anders Halvasen ‘Skomakarvisa’.

It’s another low key, slow burning Scandinavian gem from Songlines and well worth hunting down from  

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Ladytron – Witching Hour 2005

After buying their first album ‘604’ in 2001 I never returned to Ladytron until now, which is strange as I’ve always had a soft spot for them. For some reason I’ve gone out of sequence and bought 2005’s ‘Witching Hour’, but I’m so glad I did. This is a return to simpler more innocent times when a decent indie tune and a melodious voice was all I needed to be away with the fairies. It’s solid, but gorgeous unspectacular indie tinged with flecks of electronica and it’s like a breath of fresh air in 2014.

It’s an uncomplicated album, unfazed by fashion or expectations. Guitars, base and drums intertwine with subtle synth rhythms and the girls’ voices lash the whole thing together ribbons of pure digital clarity. There’s a nod to the old Russian influences on 604 but by and large this is indie music at its simplest and most organic.

‘High Rise’ will take most of the plaudits with its robust soundtrack complete with delicate vocal like a more accessible and direct version of My Bloody Valentine. It sets the tone for the rest of the album with its uncompromising beauty. ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’, ‘International Dateline’ and ‘AMTV’ are all worthy of a mention, but every track is a winner.

A great album from a great band rediscovered. Now to search out one of their other albums for next year. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Euzen - Judged By

Pick of the Week 52 – Euzen

On the face of it, another one for the Race with the Devil soundtrack, but this song has more potential than the standard accompaniment to sacrificing a chicken. Undeniably gothic but simultaneously likeable and engaging, they straddle a nether world between Mordor and South Yorkshire with their semi-catchy ditties and the beautiful voice of singer Maria Franz (who has the look of a ginger vampire which can only be a good thing). Clearly they’re Scandinavian, so it’s all very stripped down and stark which I always love, but they’re definitely a group to watch in the future. Welcome to the Euzeniverse…

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Shins – Port of Morrow

Anyone fearing that James Mercer’s busman’s holiday with Danger Mouse in Broken Bells may have jolted him into new and adventurous regions of music needn’t have worried. James returns to the familiar Shins territory and song structures like a duck to water, with the only slight deviation that some of the lyrics and musical twists sound more Morrissey-esque than usual, but that’s no bad thing. This is a consistent, high quality and enjoyable album that’s up there with his best.

Opinion seems to be split on Port of Morrow, but I’m definitely for this comfortable return to form, with James happily ploughing his own furrow as usual. If anything it’s a bigger, more epic and expansive sound than previous Shins albums, but it’s nonetheless as introverted and personal as its predecessors. It’s possibly going to get filed as one of those vastly under-rated albums akin to ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’, but history will prove this is one of Mercer’s finest moments.

The standout tracks are the philosophical charms of ‘Simple Song’, the downbeat melancholy of ‘September’ and the anthemic but intimate ‘Port of Morrow’. Best of all is the classic ‘It’s only life’; a stirring homage to Morrissey, but obviously sung in the style of the Shins. And let’s be honest we all spend a little time going down the rabbit hole don’t we? ‘Bait and Switch’ is also cracker.

So a another polished album from an original and unique artist, but one question remains unanswered… What exactly is that thing sitting on top of the mountain on the front cover? A rabbit? A shamen? A cactus? The little helper fellow from Crash Bandicoot? The pupil of an eye? Is it even a mountain? Who knows?  

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Beginner’s Guide to Eastern Europe

There are three disks in this comprehensive, sprawling three CD compilation and they have been helpfully divided up into three distinct flavours of Eastern European goodness; Balkan Club, Balkan Brass/Gypsy Greats and Eastern Bloc Rock and Fusion. It sounds great, but in practice they all sound very similar. It’s hard to know where the gyspy greatness ends, the rock starts or where the Balkan Club music mooches in. It’s possibly best reviewed as one massive homogenous Eastern European festival.

The idea of Balkan club music really interested me and after listening to the more dance oriented tracks on the album I’ve started to wonder if there are nightclubs out there in some far flung corner of Bosnia that actually play this kind of music? If so can I be a member? The kind of club that would play DelaDap’s ‘Goldregan’ is as far away from a British night club as I can imagine, not that I’ve been to one for 25 years. The mental picture evoked by the track is of swirling gypsy frocks, dervish dancing, vodka swilling, backslapping friendly folk all singing along, and maybe a tasty hog roast cooking away in the corner and lashings of ice cold creamy milk from Balkan cows to cool everyone down. I doubt this exists, but don’t ruin the fantasy.

The pick of the tracks on show are the afore mentioned ‘Goldregan’ which has more feel good factor in one second than the entire output of Red Bull UK in a year. It’s fun, frolicsome and infectious with a smattering of gypsy rhythm and Balkan brass. Adir Adrim’s ‘Balkan Beat Box’ is similarly engaging with a chugging guitar rhythm combined with vocals that sound like an Eastern version of the Frank Chickens, in a good way of course. Best of all is the wailing, powerful splendour of the fantastic Esma Redzepova. It’s all in the voice and Esma belts it out with a ferocity and intensity rarely seen in Western Europe. It’s a classic, catchy slice of traditional folk music from the renowned Macedonian-Romani vocalist and humanitarian.

All in all it’s a fantastic selection of Eastern European gems and is great value for money with every track a winner. The Beginner’s Guide series is one of the best world music compilation packages and the Eastern Europe version is one of the best so far. Next on the Beginner’s Guide menu is Bhangra!