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Monday, 28 April 2014

Evlkeith's Disco Recomendations

In the interests of trying to get a new genre of music into this year's Festive 50, I purchased a premium quality disco compilation. Actually it's not that premium, but I was hoping that the fact that it didn't contain many big hitters ('We Are Family' or 'I Will Survive' are definitely not included, for instance) would mean that it may well have a few disco obscurities that turn out to be quite good.

My crafty plan worked. There are indeed a few little gems that I hadn't heard before. Here are my top five from the hundred on offer:

I Was Tired Of Being Alone - Patrice Rushen

Getaway - The Salsoul Orchestra

It Looks Like Love - Goody Goody

Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Inner Life

                            Weekend - Phreek

The last two tracks are obviously available as different versions, but these disco themed ditties are both incredibly worthwhile. I actually like the original Phreek 'Weekend' better than the housed up version that I'd heard previously (not sure who that one's by, but I can't say that I'm that keen on it).

I've tended to listen to these disco classics in the car on the way to work and despite the weather being dull and overcast I've felt the need to put on my sunglasses. The overall campness has got to me too, and I've even bought a Hello Kitty doll to ride shotgun with me as I groove along to some outta sight tunes.

I've enjoyed the disco experience so much I think I may be delving into some groups' back catalogues in a bit more depth. So expect more than one disco hit in this year's Festive 50.


Monday, 21 April 2014

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Another Christmas present from last year and the least instantly accessible of the CD’s I received that people thought I’d like. Sharon Van Etten is folky singer songwriter based in Brooklyn, New York and makes musical ditties in a similar vein to PJ Harvey and Feist. As such it scores highly on the dirge continuum and suffers from a lack of originality, positivity or any ‘get up a go’, but this is a more subtle album than mere standard dirge.

There are some signs of real song writing talent hidden deep within some of the songs. The lyrics are emotive and universal, there are occasional glimpses of hum-ability and the whole thing sounds more subtly intelligent than it does enjoyable. The chugging pace doesn't
help matters and Sharon may be better advised to throw in the odd upbeat number and a couple of Scandinavian style stark slowies to alleviate the monotony.

The songs are much of a muchness but ‘Serpents’ is the most upbeat and passionate and illustrates Sharon’s potential to go beyond the standard female singer/songwriter template. ‘Warsaw’ is likewise fairly agreeable, but after that I’m struggling to swim through the gallons of dirge. Why is there this obsession to sound like the Queen of Dirge, Polly Jean? There are so many great female folk singers to use as inspiration why go for the most annoying?

I know lots of people rate her, but Sharon’s definitely not doing it for me. She needs to up the tempo, add some positivity and develop a sense of humour if I’m going to purchase another album. Shame on you PJ Harvey! You have lured another one to the dark, dirgy side.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Kirsty Hawkshaw – Meta-Message

This was a pleasant surprise. A compilation of singles and collaborations form the almost forgotten singer with the once almost-famous group Opus III is not sounding that earth shattering, but I can assure you it is. This is a polished, pumping piece of pure pleasure from possibly the most under-rated vocalist of her generation, which showcases her talents when working with a range of top dance music producers.

Now let’s get this out of the way straight away. Kirsty is virtually as old as me but looks at least two hundred and fifty times better. She looks the picture of health and vitality and begs the question; was rave culture really that bad for you? I’ve been eating porridge, swigging grapefruit juice and cranking out lengths of the swimming pool for years and I look twice as old as our Kirsty. Maybe she’s discovered the fountain of youth, but I’d be releasing a health and beauty DVD and my own range of life enhancing cereal bars if I was her.

Anyway back to the music, which is almost as lovely as Kirsty. It’s that voice that does it. It ranges from the high octane squeak of a mouse sucking on a helium balloon to the husky rasp of my electric sander grinding away at a teak treasure chest. ‘Walking on Clouds’ combines both vocal extremes with more mellow, honey coated tonsils in a progressive trance stormer, ‘Just Be Me’ is a slicker, smooth and silky take on life affirming lyrics and best of all is ‘All I want’; a pulsating mix of trance beats, velvety vocals on and an infectious chorus with noodle-doodly bits thrown in for good measure.

There’s something for all dance music fans and this is an excellent package well worth tracking down. I’d be interested to hear an album of Kirsty’s own work as she is both a musician and a producer in her own right and based on this collection I’d definitely buy it. Surely there’s a record label out there that would take a chance? Kirsty Hawkshaw we salute you!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Aria – Your Underling

Pick of the Week 51 – ARIA

Dismiss them as unassuming Paramore wannabes if you like, but Aria are a bit special and much better than the standard female vocalist fronted rock ensemble. This song worms its way into your mind and refused to be flushed out. It’s no nonsense rocky indie with a twist of something different and as they are so keen to keep telling us on the X-Factor ‘they’ve definitely got the likeability factor!’ It’s fun throwaway pop music and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Monday, 7 April 2014

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Woodsy, campfire smoked folk music sung with sumptuous harmonies by two beautiful Scandinavian sisters. Sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s actually an accurate description of the gorgeous sound produced by the Soderberg sisters. Their first album ‘The Big Black and the Blue’ was a stalwart on the Into the Valley office stereo last year. So is the Lion’s Roar a suitable successor?

It’s more commercial, it’s sounds like there are greater production values and it flows with a slickness and confidence that has grown out of their blossoming talent. However the songs are weaker than on the previous album and although that lovely folksy, woodsy, countryside vibe lifts even their more mediocre offerings to a higher level, the fact remains that there are only three really memorable songs on the album.

The title track ‘The Lion’s Roar’ is the pick of the bunch with its trademark oozing harmonies and unashamed singalongability. ‘Emmylou’ is a country tinged classic that was forged in Nashville but sounds even better with the Swedish twang of Johanna and Klara’s voices and the pungent aroma of Scandinavian wood smoke in your nostrils. For once the bonus track on an album is actually a bonus, with ‘Wolf’ conjuring images of native Americans, the Jungle Book and North European forests, all wrapped up in silky intermingling vocal harmonies. Throw in the rest of the tracks that all have similar atmospheres, if not the song writing quality, and you’re onto a winner.

The Soderberg sisters show so much promise and ability that maybe we expect too much from them. By any other artist this would be a great album, but First Aid Kit are capable of more. Like Viking queens the sisters can invade the hearts of Europe and possibly discover America in the process and here’s hoping for another chapter in their saga in 2014.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

VV Brown – Samson and Delilah

It must be tough to be a soul singer from the cobbling capital of Great Britain, Northampton. And that’s in no way a derogatory view of the medium sized midlands town, as I’ve been to the Sixfields Stadium on several occasions and found the locals both friendly and enthusiastic. It’s just difficult to imagine Minnie Ripperton, Marie Wells or Aretha Franklin hailing from anywhere quite so unglamorous. Because of this, Vanessa  must have had to work even harder to become a moderately well known singer, record producer and model, and as such she’s not averse to taking the odd risk or two.

Samson and Delilah is certainly a risk. An album that harks back to eighties electronica and inspired by the likes of Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet and Erasure sounds great on paper but is so easy to get wrong. So was it a risk worth taking? Well at least partially it works.

If anything Vanessa leans to the Annie Lennox flavour of the eighties vibe when she would have been better advised to go for the more Yazoo flavoured vintage. Having said that a couple of the songs are absolute belters and worth the price of the LP on their own, and the rest are acceptable at worst. It sounds like feint praise, but the overall atmosphere and production of the album deserves better than that.

The two standout tracks are the pulsing, sophisticated Moyet-esque groove of ‘The Apple’, which incidentally sounded even better performed live on Jules Holland, and the rhythmic insistency of the Grace Jones inspired ‘Igneous’ and there’s even a cute little rap towards the end that I really enjoyed. The best of the rest is possibly the stark electro of ‘I can give you more’ but there’s not much between any of the also-rans.

It’s fun, different and classy. Possibly the best thing to come out of Northampton since Adebayo Akinfenwa, (although slightly more lightweight.)