See what I did there? No? Me neither. After rejecting several tortured puns on ‘March’ and then several more about the fact there are six of these, I thought I’d go literal. Never mind, eh? As per last month, here are my six published reviews of records released this month. Obviously, it would be nice if you went out and spent actual money on the ever-so-shiny Clash Magazine, but should that be unlikely to happen, I can assuage my vanity by publishing them all here. And so it begins…
LAURA MARLING – ‘I Speak Because I Can’ (VIRGIN)
Laura Marling’s debut set the bar high and this eagerly anticipated follow up confidently dispels any concerns about quality control. Her second album is an enchanting collection of beautifully raw songs, the faint trace of tape-hiss in the quieter moments combined with the rootsy feel of songs like ‘Alpha Shallows’ and ‘Devil’s Spoke’, making for a more laid-back affair than her debut. Marling’s songwriting has taken great strides forward; recent single ‘Goodbye England’ is a lullaby about the English countryside while ‘What He Wrote’ tells the haunting tale of separated lovers, belying the fact that its author only recently turned twenty. A remarkable record; you’ll want to play little else. 9/10
Last week’s New Music Monday has rather more about this album, should you need further info. It really is as good as this suggests. Having continued to play it solidly for a further month or so, I only love it more.
THE KISSAWAY TRAIL – ‘Sleep Mountain’ (BELLA UNION)
Some records are so bursting with ambition and invention that it’s impossible to not be charmed by them. Boasting a wealth of grandiose, uplifting and downright epic tunes, all accompanied by an ethereal yelp pitched somewhere between Wayne Coyne and Jonathan Donahue, ‘Sleep Mountain’ is one such record. At the risk of drowning in comparisons, it’s only fair to flag up the Arcade Fire debt. For those who felt let down by ‘Neon Bible’, ‘Sleep Mountain’ will give you a big hug and reassure you that it’s all going to be ok. ‘Don’t Wake Up’, the most transparent offender, is a fine piece of work. 7/10
A good, but not great, record. Plenty to enjoy but not exactly one that I reach for regularly. I suspect it may click with me at a later date and it has continued to slowly unfurl its charms.
BABYBIRD – ‘Ex-Maniac’ (UNISON MUSIC)
Fourteen years on, it’s time to forgive Stephen Jones for ‘that’ bloody song. If one track can ever stain your reputation for more than a decade, ensuring you are written off as a novelty act, then that track is ‘You’re Gorgeous’. It was never a fair representation of what Babybird’s music can be and, thankfully, still is. He’s still prone to the odd clunker; ‘Drug Time’ lumbers along with clichéd drug metaphors aplenty. But, despite these minor niggles, Jones is still capable of some genuinely engaging storytelling and ‘Bastard’ and ‘Black Flowers’ cover both ends of the Babybird spectrum: chaotic fast one and dramatic slow one. Both are excellent. 6/10
Ok, so those of us who are fond of a bit of Babybird will likely end up enjoying it slightly more than a 6/10 suggests, but in the sense of people coming to this fresh it’s, well, ok. It does similar things to lots of his records and has some moments of wonder and then some lazy lyrics and lumpen tunes.
KRIS DREVER – ‘Mark The Hard Earth’ (NAVIGATOR)
Sometimes you encounter a voice that has that indefinable something: it conveys emotion, commands attention and sounds unapologetically lived in. Kris Drever is not only the owner of one of these voices, but he’s also one of folk music’s great hopes. He is rightly lauded for his impassioned moulding of traditional sounds into contemporary songs that have the capacity to melt the heart. With a more complex sonic palette than his debut, ‘Mark The Hard Earth’ contains a number of absolute gems. The highlight, ‘The Crown Of London’, features a truly beautiful cascading guitar part that you’ll not be able to forget in a hurry. 7/10
Think this one might have climbed up to an 8 in the intervening time period. Recent FUTUREMUSIC coverage made my appreciation of Drever clear for all to see. He really is worth investigating and genuinely something ‘different’ to listen to.
NORTHERN PORTRAIT – ‘Criminal Art Lovers’ (MATINEE RECORDINGS)
I don’t think it would be too far-fetched to suggest that this lot own a few Smiths albums. In fact, some of the vocal affectations and extravagantly jangly guitars on this record would suggest that the band name is a gentle and affectionate nod to their Mancunian forefathers to acknowledge their not inconsiderable influence. This is, let’s be clear, a very good thing. ‘New Favourite Moment’ is glorious indie pop with a crowd pleasing chorus while ‘When Goodness Falls’ features the lyric, “I’m so glad to disappoint you”, making you wonder if there’s a punctured bicycle somewhere nearby, on a hillside, desolate. 8/10
As I pointed out when this lot came up in FUTUREMUSIC, I took a few liberties with this piece, overdoing the Smiths references so as to encourage as many people as possible to give them a listen. In a similar way to how Neil Hannon claims to have only really discovered Scott Walker after people kept telling him how much he sounded like him, Northern Portrait are fairly recent converts to The Smiths, for similar reasons. Oh well, point made, I think.
LOU RHODES – ‘One Good Thing’ (MOTION AUDIO)
Staring out at rain-soaked countryside through train-carriage windows heavy with condensation, the sparse beauty of Lou Rhodes’ voice is absolutely charming but, once everyday life cuts in, it becomes a little bit forgettable. This collection of minimalist acoustic numbers is a soothing and gentle listen but it never quite establishes itself as an album deserving of regular listens. Nice is such a bland word that it veers close to being an insult but there’s no better way of describing this album. ‘It All’ and ‘Baby’ are particularly charming, but unfortunately it suffers from the perennial problem of all blending together and, while it certainly won’t disappoint, it won’t excite either. 6/10
Oh. I’d actually forgotten that I’d reviewed this one. That probably says it all, really.