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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!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

We Caught the Castle - That Poor Boy

Pick of the Week 52 – We Caught the Castle

Fresh and fun hardcore from a band showing great promise at the moment. This is a surging, hi-octane stormer that sits somewhere between accessible screamo and emotional hardcore of the Husker Du variety. And what a voice the singer possesses! They should wrap her in cotton wool, feed her on a diet of honey and Lurpak, then get her tonsils insured for about £5 million. Destined for great things and remember you heard it here first. I like it a lot!