Taking the basic shape and outline of their debut album ‘Down Like Gold‘ but removing the somewhat unnecessary nods to modern pop, Champs‘ ‘Vamala” instead puts its faith in simple and pure songwriting.
It is a truly economic record with twelve tracks formed seemingly out of the most ethereal of ideas. These are wistful ideas, faint reminisces and almost dream-like infusions built from seemingly nothing.
‘Vamala’ is a beautiful record, seemingly without ever trying to be. The Champion brothers have written a set of songs that fulfill their vision; continuing on from their wondrous debut, these tracks merely sharpen their sound to its true pinnacle. Mixing a number of styles and influences that are somehow disparate, yet fitting, they flit from Dylan-esque musings to some kind of angelic Pet Shop Boys hybrid.
This is not an album trying to make an impact, it is instead a comforting cushion, a place to rest your head.
Impromptu gigs in Marks & Spencer bakery aisles and a severance of their contract with Colombia Records due to desire for greater musical integrity set the tone for Little Comets as a band making music for all the right reasons.
The release of third LP ‘Hope Is Just a State of Mind‘, following a teasing trickle of EP releases throughout 2014, gives further credence to the notion that there is an engaging depth of subject matter underpinning the grimy indie disco sensibilities of frantic percussion and complex guitar runs on early tracks such as ‘One Night In October’ and ‘Dancing Song’, from 2011 debut ‘In Search Of Elusive Little Comets‘.
Opener ‘My Boy William‘ begins with light acoustic strumming backing singer Robert Coles’ wistfully intensifying vocal cries of, “The right to dream of my boy William”, leading into a mood shifting swell of guitar and drums as harmonising backing vocals from Michael Coles and Matt Hall develop a sauntering deliverance in a plea of endurance when all seems lost.
Noel Gallagher likes having his destiny in his own hands.
Go back to the earliest days of Oasis and it was a single-handed drive for super stardom, when a masterplan jotted down in notebooks carefully sketched out three years of a life to be transformed, driving the man from the dead-end alleys of Thatcher’s Britain to the champagne halls of Tony Blair’s Downing Street.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and the beginning of a solo career started to put Gallagher firmly back in control, although 2011’s ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ was a study in classic, if unspectacular British songwriting.
Owing more to The Kinks than Oasis ever did to The Beatles, basic, user-friendly anthems were almost immediately filling arenas even if the LP itself felt somehow unfulfilled. The blame for this unquenched mood should be left at least partly at the door of Dave Sardy, a producer with which Gallagher has enjoyed a long, and no less bemusing, creative relationship since Oasis’ 2005 album ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’.
In Sardy’s hands the magic of songs long before devoured on YouTube were lost. ‘If I Had a Gun’, haunting and painfully emotional in its embryonic live form, was Sardied into a predictable dirge where everything – acoustics, electrics, drums, you name it – was thrown at the mix in one immediate lump. Disappointing too was the final version of ‘(I Want To Live In a Dream) In My Record Machine‘; discussed for years and packing a punch in demo form, on record taken up a key and inexplicably narrated by the soundtrack of children let loose in a playground. Where spice should have been the ingredient of choice, all the pair could find was sugar.
And so we’ve started already. With Noel Gallagher it’s difficult not to look back, to compare and contrast with history, and the title of his second solo album certainly lends itself to such nostalgia. ‘Chasing Yesterday’ might have been a split-second decision immediately regretted, but it’ll inspire a thousand writers to conclude their thoughts in a style which this review is heading unashamedly towards too. (We’re being post-modern, go with it.).
But there is a deeper point to this, as looking back seems to offer up reasons for the most apparent steps forward to be found on Gallagher’s second solo outing. Chief of those being that, by luck or design, the production was his own responsibility – and therefore so too was his destiny. Swap the walls of a British Gas warehouse for the walls of a London studio, and he could almost have been 25 again, going it alone, shaping and sculpting ten tracks on purely personal terms.
“Oh I am bold as brass posing as gold” seems a fitting line for Marika Hackman to open her debut album, for beneath the gentle timbre of her mellifluous whisper lies a maturity and depth, subtly veiled by the beauty and richness of her music.
Having already released four EPs since 2012, ‘We Slept At Last’ finally cements Hackman’s status and reveals, through its many layers, a polished writer and performer of a new form of folk.
While the immediate parallels drawn to Laura Marling made by many commentators may seem obvious, they are purely surface level comparisons as Hackman’s style and delivery are unique, belonging to a genre all their own.
It’s usually pretty easy to describe Elbow, live or even on record, it’s just a case of throwing around words like grandiose, anthemic, uplifting and so on and so on.
This isn’t meant to denigrate what they do, in fact it’s a signal of just how consistently impressive they are. To have such words of accolade showered on them, so often, that they almost begin to sound humdrum really does say everything there is to say about Elbow.
So the expectation is for good things. Couple this with the fact that Manchester is effectively a hometown gig for Garvey and the boys, it’s expectation city.
What they deliver is impressive; it is also grandiose, anthemic uplifting and so on and so on. Or in simple terms, it is quite brilliant. Hitting the stage, and then the crowd, with a sublime double whammy of the lilting beauty. First ‘This Blue World‘, followed by ‘Any Day Now‘. It’s game over for any naysayers. Two songs in, crowd captivated, job done.
But, in reality this is merely just the start of the party.
Duke Garwood’s stripped back blues have been haunting listeners for a decade, and now the London-based guitar virtuoso returns with his fifth solo album ‘Heavy Love‘.
Cinematic and unified in concept, it is an effective mood piece that is a product of dark weary nights, and provides an even better soundtrack for them.
The album was partly recorded in Josh Homme’s Pink Duck studio in Los Angeles, while Garwood enlisted Alain Johannes (QOTSA) to aid in instrumentation and engineering, and previous collaborator Mark Lanegan was brought in to mix the album. The small team’s subtle approach magnifies Garwood’s strengths – his unique guitar playing and his earthy voice, both have never sounded as rich as they do here.
When Live4ever first saw the Kaiser Chiefs it was 2004 at a packed and sweaty (and now closed) Leeds Cockpit.
The effect was like watching a wind-up toy that had been in the hands of a naughty kid; an assortment of flailing limbs and exothermic energy all lashed to a set of pop songs in the grand tradition. Putting aside the warm glow of local lads apparently doing good, it felt objectively like this formula might be enough to get them through a couple of albums, then just maybe splurt the likely lads around Europe in the back of a van once or twice (if they were lucky).
Ten and a bit years later the quintet – minus Nick Hodgson, now replaced by Vijay Mistry – are grinning joyously back at a sold out arena crowd – proof positive that their ability to connect has gone far beyond persuading hard bitten Yorkshiremen to part with their even harder earned brass.
If Birmingham quartet Peace’s supremely promising 2013 debut LP ‘In Love‘ channelled post-punk Cure style vocals and hazy psychedelic gems such ‘Bloodshake’, follow-up ‘Happy People‘ aims to heighten the influence of modern pop jauntiness which has drawn comparison to sonically floating contemporaries such as The Maccabees and Foals.
‘Happy People’ as an optimism laden title is a striking juxtaposition which masks the stark lyrical desperation seen throughout the album, representing a divergent theme of this multi-layered grower of a second record which unveils its expressive dexterity upon repeat listening.
Luke Branch – Vocals and guitar.
Jazz Miell – Guitar.
Michael Webster – Bass.
Henry Tyler – Drums.
The Unthanks return with their first album proper since 2011’s beautiful ‘Last’, which showcased not only the beauty of their sound, but a wonderful way of taking real life and making it seem somehow ethereal.
The band have a way of writing music that feels timeless and fascinating. Many of their songs cull ideas, styles and sounds from almost every era of music, hints of everything from historic folk and regional traditional music to the beauty of classic rock. Their palette is full of so many colours.
But it is not these colours which are the most fascinating thing about The Unthanks, but the pictures that they paint with them. Not satisfied with merely picking their way through a number of genres, and trying out the sounds in some hideous amalgam of ideas, they instead create something totally cohesive and immersive.
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