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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Sound of South East Asia - Songlines Compillation

It's not often you hear something completely different. Everything is a mixture or a rehash of music past and present. The Sound of South East Asia is a compilation of tracks from three Asian music festivals at the Southbank Centre and it's like nothing you've ever heard before. It's strange, exotic, alien, but at the same time it's addictive and thoroughly enjoyable.

Susheela Raman's 'Daga Daga' is a great example. Is it rap? is it bhangra? It's definitely frenetic chanting which I only wish I could understand. Aruna Sairam's contribution is an equally complex mesh of rhythms, tempos and beats which I could listen to again and again it's so hypnotic. Megastar Raghu Dixit also chips in with 'Gudugudiya Sed Nodo' which almost dips into Eurovision territory with its sing-a-long catchy chorus. There's too many high points to mention, but each and every song has something to offer.

It sounds totally unappealing, but if you can find a copy it's well worth a listen. South East Asian music is as obscure as you can get, but it's a hidden treasure if you're prepared to give it a go.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Royksopp - The Understanding

I like Royksopp. I'm not sure why and I'm not sure anyone else likes them. The Norwegian down-tempo duo make music that is distinctly Scandinavian and has the unique Royksopp sound. When you hear one of their tracks you know with certainty that it's them. 'The Understanding' is their second album and it carries on from where Melody AM left us, and sadly it's going to be one of those reviews where if you like Roysopp, you'll like this album. It basically does what it says on the tin.

Roysopp are like a more rounded and commercial version of Trentmoller, but with a smooth, mellow version of Morten Harket on lead vocals. It's a brain cleansing, refreshing experience and leaves you feeling like you've been floating in a relaxation tank of creamy luxurious mashed potato. Not Smash either, the real stuff with Lurpack and the cream off the top of the milk. The only criticism is all that soft, honey sweetness is just a touch too sickly, but check out the Trentmoller remix of 'What else is there?' for a bit of 'devilled' Royksopp with some edginess thrown in to spice up the sugery fun.

All the tracks are quality offerings but if pressed I'd go for the Beloved-esque 'Only this Moment', the Boards of Canada-esque 'Sombre Detune' and the uniquely Royksopp-esque 'Circuit Breaker'. As I stated earlier if you like some Royskopp flavouring sprinkled on your chilled dance music then 'The Understanding' will be right up your street. If you don't like them, this isn't going to change your mind.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Ume - The Conductor

Pick of the Week 19 - Ume

Ume come to us straight out of Austin, Texas and are as straightforward as they come, combining guitar, drums and base in a back-to-basics three-piece. Their direct, no-nonsense approach to music making harks back to simpler times and produces a sound akin to a hybrid creature cloned from The Jam, Nirvana and The Primitives. There's no messing about or pretension here, it's just full on indie rock with a tasteful green frock thrown in for good measure. Maybe the two guys should work on their fashion sense a little though; they look more like a couple of computer technicians than rock stars to me.


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bob Mould - Life and Times

I'd got my music all planned out for two weeks in Menorca. I thought the Cafe Cuba compilation would fit the atmosphere perfectly, Pendulum to liven things up and Top of the World 81 as a safe back up plan. As it happens it was one of the albums I'd popped on my godforsaken Blackberry because I'd been avoiding listening to it that ended up encapsulating the holiday experience. The unlikely hero was Bob Mould with 'Life and Times'.

I liked Husker Du, but really struggled with Bob's early solo albums especially the depressing dirge classic 'Black Sheets of Rain' and I never bothered with any of his later offerings. With hindsight that may have been a mistake, because even though 'Life and Times' is hardly a chuckle a minute, it still has some moments of magic hidden away in that dark atmosphere. It's a more open, stripped back affair with non of the breathlessness of 'Land Speed Record', but possibly just as much passion. I listened to it most mornings in the baking heat of the Balearic summer and somehow it fitted the bill perfectly.

There are no real stormers, but the album is greater than the sum of its parts. 'Life and Times' is a folky, introspective opener, 'MM17' harks back to Husker Du and chugs along quite pleasantly, and 'Bad Blood Better' again dips into the dark recesses of Mould's mind, but still provides some elements of hope. My favourite is the subtle, grown up sing-a-long of 'The Beach', closely followed by the fun dirge-fest of 'Lifetime'.

All in all it's a great album and I'm glad I gave him a second chance. I'm not sure if I like the sound of some of his 'dance' inspired albums, but a bit of something different is usually a good thing. If you like bald, beardy, middle aged popsters with a hint of dark depression then this is the album for you.


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Missy Higgins - Where I Stood

Pick of the Week 18 - Missy Higgins

She looks a little like children's TV favourite Emma Forbes, has an endearing chin dimple, a nice wooly hat and scarf combo and supports all manner of good causes from Animal Rights to Mental Health charities. Surprisingly she's also a talented singer/songwriter at the non-quirky end of the female singer/writer spectrum, with 'Where I Stood' showcasing her folky, country-tinged charms beautifully. Not for the first time it's Australia dominating another Pick of the Week selection and Down Under is fast becoming a home from home for Into the Valley. Sadly the video looks like it was shot in Wakefield Kirkgate station: cheer up love, it might never happen!


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Songlines - Top of the World 81

I've just renewed my subscription to Songlines Magazine so I better get cracking listening to and reviewing my existing stock of their free CD's before the deluge starts every month as each episode arrives. Top of the World 81 is different in that the main body of the compilation is relatively standard issue. The first ten tracks are usually excellent, but in this case they're jolly enough but hardly sparkling. The Pine Leaf Boys camp it up Cajun style with 'Whiskey C'est Mon Ami', Caci Vorba adds some lovely atmospheric fiddling on 'Me Pacav' and Lepisto and Lehti up the anti with the fantastically minimal 'Ravdanselka'. Ultimately though the first ten tracks are all a little low key.

Step forward Jonathan Dimbleby, guest picker extraordinaire to liven things up. Forget Danny Rampling and Pete Tong, they should get Dimbleby on Radio 1 immediately. Of his picks 'Concepcien' by Sukay is a joyous festival of South American pan pipes, 'Varga Varga' by Chico Trujillo has horns a-plenty in an instrumental master class, and best of all is Samuel Yirga's 'Ambassel In Box Revisited'; a solemn but beautiful piece of piano.

Roll on the next batch. The only thing you can be sure of with the Songlines CD's is that they will be interesting, different and challenge your musical thinking. Not the best of the Top of the World collection but fun nonetheless.


Monday, 8 October 2012

Those Dancing Days - In Our Space Hero Suits

I thought I'd like this more than I do, but I have to be in the mood to really enjoy it. That's not to say that it's a bad album, just that there's a certain element of magic missing from proceedings. It all sounded so good in theory; the jangle pop backing, the youthful Scandinavian enthusiasm and the unique voice of Linnea Jönsson. Somehow they manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory however, and the LP has reverse synergy and is less than its constituent parts.

Maybe that's harsh, because at times, I've enjoyed the odd song and sometimes two or three songs on the trot. The band produce tight, functional little indie songs with distinctive and often beautiful vocals. Unfortunately, the voice and music don't quite gel, and although both are great in isolation, there's something odd about how they sound together. On the plus side I love the quirky openers to the songs, the bass consistently assaults my reptilian brain in a pleasurable way and there's a definite joyous feel to the album.

I feel like I've been overly negative as there are some fantastic songs on show. The standout track is the nearly anthemic 'Run Run', but 'Falling in Fall', 'Duet Under Waters' and 'Spaceherosuits' all have their merits. The main problem is they're all a little 'samey' and formulaic. Take quirky keyboard, add infectious baseline, complete with semi-anthemic song sung in northern soulish style and Bob's yer Uncle; you've got the eleven similar tracks on the album.

There's a lot of promise here however, and I'm really looking forward to listening to their current album next year at some point. It's about half way up the pile so I should get to it by March or April 2013. I'm loving this video! It makes the song sound so much better. Perhaps they're a better live band? Maybe 'Daydreams and Nightmares' will have that spark of magic to turn them into true superstars.


Saturday, 6 October 2012

Evans the Death - I'm so Unclean

Pick of the Week 17 - Evans the Death

This is a bit of jangley, post Morrissey fun. Enough said really, but add to that a video that showcases five sallow and lacklustre teenagers wandering aimlessly through a field of oil seed rape and you've got something special on your hands. There's not the hint of a smile in any of them and you get the feeling that if they laughed their faces might crack, but I guess they must be 'cool'. Best of all they have a fully fledged, out of the closet ginger member in the band and that can never be a bad thing. To be honest whatever they sounded like I'd say they were great just because of the ginger factor, but this is actually a cracking track that evokes memories of early Smiths sessions and doesn't out-stay its welcome. Go ferret out more of their songs and you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Dutch Delta Sounds - Songlines Compilation

Of all the Songlines compilations over the past year, Dutch Delta Sounds was the one I was looking forward to least. Maybe it was the hurdy-gurdy imagery of the sleeve design, the frightening thought of traditional Dutch music or the hint of Germanic style oompa-oompa shenanigans. I needn't have worried, the Dutch area around the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt estuaries is a veritable melting pot of diverse influences that permeate the music like some enchanting global marinade.

Basically, every style and genre of world music is combined, twisted and blended to form a whole new variety of music. My personal favourites are the seductive, laid back smooth-fest of the Barana Trio, the gipsy jig of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band and the African rythms of Mdungu. Best of all is the slinky folk meets Arabic wailing vocals meets Van Morrison of No Blues with 'Wayack', which is an absolute triumph in anybody's terms.

So slap Dutch Delta Sounds on the CD player, cut yourself a slice of Edam and gaze longingly at your clog boat collection. Life doesn't get much better than that!

None of the songs on the CD are uploaded to YouTube so here's another choice offering from the Amsterdam Klemzer Band...

Monday, 1 October 2012

Joolz - Hex

This is so evocative of the dark and dreary eighties indie underworld that you can almost smell the musty scent of second hand vinyl sleeves, cheap perfume and snake-bite. If you like the sound of a woman with a Yorkshire accent reciting menacing poetry with a New Model Army backing track, (and let's face it who doesn't?) then Joolz will definitely not disappoint. I remember listening to one Joolz track over and over in the eighties and this brings back all those memories, although sadly that song is not on the album.

Her poems are northern kitchen sink dramas each touched with the realisation that love is not a fairytale, but a harsh and enduring torture. They range from the annoying to the awe inspiring, but I guess that is generally the case with all poetry. Her delivery however, is surprisingly lovely, with an intelligence, passion and strength evident in every line. If you're expecting the gravel tonsilled, nicotine breath delivery of a South Yorkshire dinner lady, then this is an altogether more enticing and wholesome portrait of northern woman. You get the feeling that Joolz would be a great person to know; a wise and nurturing older sister who would probably be quite handy in a punch up.

There's too many duffers for this to be a great album, but it's definitely a strong good. The music is equally patchy, but adds an aroma of sweaty clog to every track, sometimes in a positive way and sometimes not so positive. 'Protection' races along in rabble rousing style, 'Legend' is a beautiful semi-religious experience with wordsmith skills to rank with 'proper' poets, and 'Storm' is a gothic tale of savagery and nocturnal fun. Best of all is the stunning 'Ambition' which sounds like an ethereal version of Billy Bragg if that's possible; it would have been out of place in any decade but it stands the test of time as a classic, awe inspiring piece of pop poetry.

If you're unaware of her work then this is as good a place to start as any. History seems to have forgotten her and she has no genre to sit comfortably inside, but she is one of our more unusual and cerebral artistes, producing a music that challenges as much as it pleases the ears. Check her out on YouTube then go and hunt down an album; you won't be disappointed.