New Music Roundup – First Aid Kit, Simone Felice, Andrew Bird, And The Giraffe, Eric Chenaux

It’s a gorgeous, wintery Sunday where I am and, as I gaze out of the window, I find myself drawn to the gently lulling atmospherics of And The Giraffe. A new young band from Florida, they’re currently offering a six-track mini-album via Bandcamp for as much or as little as you wish to offer them. Here’s the rather lovely ‘Welshrats‘:

And here’s a rather charming video they’ve just released for album opener, ‘Underground Love‘:

Reveal Records, the label which emerged from the late, great Derby-based shop of the same name, continue to wow and impress with their roster, having nabbed the forthcoming solo effort from Simone Felice. Fans of both The Felice Brothers and the criminally overlooked The Duke and The King should look lively. These two tracks are fine primers for what is a really rather lovely album. Tom McRae fans might also want to click below. First up, ‘New York Times‘:

And, if that’s not enough, here’s a cracking acoustic rendering of ‘Hey Bobby Ray‘, the album’s opening track:

Andrew Bird returns in March with the album ‘Break It Yourself‘ on the ever-impressive Bella Union. ‘Eyeoneye‘ has ensured that the sense of expectation continues to build. I’ve not heard the whole thing yet but this is well worth four minutes of your time:

Constellation Records have been quietly going about their business for some time now, releasing beautiful pressings of Tindersticks albums for North America (as well as last year’s fabulous Claire Denis soundtracks box set) and many fine artists besides. Eric Chenaux first came to my attention via Rich who used to run the main floor of Tempest Records in Birmingham and now trades under the name Ignite Records in the Oasis market just across the road. My infrequent visits always resulted in me buying a reasonable pile of vinyl and, like any good indie retailer, he’d gamble that if he recommended me something else, I’d add it to the pile rather than substituting it for something else. Chenaux was one such recommendation and I remain very grateful for it. The promotional gumph describes it thus:

“the recording features only his playing and singing; no guest or supporting musicians, minimal overdubs, and a rigorous structure that alternates back and forth between longform lyrical vocal-based songs and shorter, cacophonously harmonious bowed-guitar instrumentals.” 

His new album, ‘Guitar & Voice‘, is out in March and you can sample a track from it – ‘Amazing Backgrounds‘ – below:

And finally, because I’ve been banging on about it all week on the @JustPlayed twitter page, First Aid Kit‘s album ‘The Lion’s Roar’ is the first stone cold classic of 2012. There’s not a weak track on it and there are several heart in mouth melodies to improve your week. Be sure to listen to both of these, beginning with the album’s title track:

And, to finish as perfectly as I can imagine right now, here’s a live performance of album highlight ‘Emmylou‘.

Trwbador – Exclusive New Track ‘Deffro Ar Y Llawr’

Describing themselves as Avant Pop and capable of some truly gorgeous melodies, it is with some delight that Welsh duo Trwbador launch Just Played’s attempt at streaming suitably splendid tunes in your direction. Having set up their own label, Owlet Music, the pair unveiled their debut EP last summer, ‘Sun In The Winter‘, which can still be purchased here. With some fortuitous timing, I believe the good ship Radcliffe and Maconie gave the band a play on 6Music only today, so nice to know that people are hearing their wonderful music. Chief amongst their supporters, and the man to whom I should doff my cap for the steer on this fine new tune, is Adam Walton. The squire of all things new, Welsh and musical, his genuinely delightful Radio Wales show has just been relocated to Saturday nights at 10pm (after the equally ace Bethan Elfyn) and is always worth three hours of your time.

Anyway, this delightful track, ‘Deffro Ar Y Llawr‘ has been played on Radio Wales and performed live for the lovely Huw Stephens and the good folk at Green Man. I think, and keep in mind that my Welsh is terrible, that it means ‘Wake Up On The Floor’. Don’t quote me on that. Trwbador aren’t sure exactly when this will be out there for you to buy but, for now, you can keep coming back here to listen to it. Spread the word:

January Reviews: Trailer Trash Tracys, Boy & Bear, Hundreds, Craig Finn, Nada Surf

In amongst the excitement of counting down all of the wonderful albums which were released last year, I’ve been a little slack in posting up my monthly reviews which continue to appear in the pages of fine music and style bible Clash. February is a genuine avalanche of goodness, so be warned, and it goes some way to making up for some of the slightly mediocre stuff which has come my way of late. Way to make you read on, eh? I’ll endeavour to post up my more substantial musings on the forthcoming albums from Tindersticks and Mark Lanegan in the near future but, for now, here are January’s reviews, with December’s uninspiring pairing tacked on the end.

Jan 12

BOY AND BEAR – ‘Moonfire‘ (V2 RECORDS)

For a band wanting their fans to “expect the unexpected on each record,” this is awfully pedestrian fare. The polished, even bland, sound here is largely shorn of the character they showed when supporting Laura Marling on her UK tour back in 2010. Having conquered their homeland of Australia off the back of such sterling live work, the record falls flat. The songs are pleasant – ‘Part Time Believer’ the best with a chugging rhythm and a good bit of folk whistling – but imagine that somebody asked you to imagine what a not-as-good Fleet Foxes might sound like. Why bother, you may ask? Well, quite.

It’s alright. I would hope that the above text conveys a mildly withering sense of ambivalence. Any yet, without really tweaking the words, it appeared in print with an amended score of 7/10, raised two from my intended 5. Quite how those words might suggest that number is beyond me but, rest assured, forget it and just buy something else.

CRAIG FINN Clear Heart Full Eyes (FULL TIME HOBBY)

Beloved of those fond of denim, Finn’s home band, The Hold Steady, plough the old American rock furrow, merrily offering new takes on old sounds. Having crafted a set of songs which didn’t fit with his day job – “a little quieter and perhaps more narrative” – Finn decided to go it alone. His gruff, often spoken, singing style is not the easiest voice to warm to and the general lack of pace fails to excite. There are several lovely moments, despite this, not least ‘New Friend Jesus’: a bouncy singalong with plucked guitar and a chorus to die, if not be reborn, for. Worth judicious sifting.

I know a certain type of music fan is quite fond of The Hold Steady but they’ve never done much for me. They conjure images of Uncut editor Allan Jones in lots of denim.*Gags*This is a slightly different beast but it didn’t really excite me much, beyond the odd song. Although, from the moment I thought of the weak Second Coming themed conclusion, I was in my own little world of smug reverie.

TRAILER TRASH TRACYS –Ester’ (DOUBLE SIX)

This London four-piece arrive as members of the dependably decent Domino Records offshoot, Double Six, and certainly don’t let the side down. Distortion, fuzz and more than a little Kevin Shields homage are where things are headed here, with a rather delicate twee-pop sound chiming away beneath all of the, admittedly fantastic, production effects: think The xx after a few drinks. Having released a critically lauded single in 2009 – ‘Candy Girl’, presented today in more muscular form – the band have taken their time to get from there to here and, while they still don’t quite seem to be the finished article, there’s plenty of promise.

It’s good this. One of the first releases of 2012 worthy of note and, predictably, it comes from one of the dependable indie staples – Domino. Veronica Falls, Cults and Cat’s Eyes fans should make a beeline for this. Despite the name and artwork, that is.

Jan 12 2

HUNDREDS –Hundreds’ (MURI RECORDS)

A German brother and sister electronic double act who sing in English so as “to be international; we wanted to travel,” you’ll likely have no idea who Hundreds are. You might want to set about changing that, as this self-titled debut outing is a gorgeous collection of gently pulsing electro-pop. The influences of Moloko and Lamb are discernable here and there; quirky percussion, euphoric piano riffs and synth stabs are all over this album, accompanied by Eva Milner’s razor sharp vocals. Think Our Broken Garden crossed with Little Boots and you’ll be somewhere close to the sound on this massively uplifting and hugely compelling record.

Released on vinyl before Christmas and appearing on CD any day now, this is a fine listen for the (possibly, who the fuck knows anymore) cold months ahead. In print, the Little Boots reference was tweaked to qualify it as “the better bits of Little Boots” or some such. The indier-than-thou police obviously out in force for that one.

NADA SURF –The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy’ (CITY SLANG)

We’ll just let the title go, yeah? After almost twenty years of pop-rock riffery, New Yorkers Nada Surf have hit form again. Excellent third album, 2002’s ‘Let Go’ – containing career-highlight ‘Hi-Speed Soul’ which you’ll be wanting to hear – was their last to really soar. A change to the way they work, trying to capture the urgency of live performance or the first rehearsal, has reinvigorated the band. Matthew Caws has one of those gorgeous indie voices – think Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard – which stretches but doesn’t quite break. Coupled to joyous tunes like ‘Looking Through’, recorded in one take, it’s hard to resist.

Nice to have them back. I find it hard to imagine that they’re anybody’s favourite band, but they have a fine knack for melodic indie and this is an intermittently cracking set of songs which demonstrate that. Nice artwork but, as I said, a woeful title.

PAPER DOLLHOUSE –A Box Painted Black’ (BIRD)

An off-shoot label from the largely excellent Finders Keepers – curators of the curious – is very much the logical home for this unusual record. With a stage name based on cult horror film ‘Paperhouse‘ and apparently inspired by the primitive electronic noodlers of the 1960s, Astrud Steehouder possesses a bewitching voice. Lo-fi, distorted recordings seem a wilfully contrary way to present what is often quite special material. That said, anyone who lists “bewildering post-nuclear landscapes, bleak fields, forests, thunderstorms and archaic industrial objects in the middle of nowhere” as their influences is always at risk of taking themselves a little too seriously. Worth a patient cherry-pick.

My thanks to tramadol and paracetamol for their assistance in completing this and the next review, both of which were in the December issue and were due within days of me opting to feng shui my ankle. Short of putting it back on now, I can’t really remember much about it and, for that reason alone, I’m not going to put it back on to check. I’d move on.

JACASZEK – ‘Glimmer’ (GHOSTLY INTERNATIONAL)

Never is the reviewer’s list of trusted clichés more likely to figure than when reviewing ambient records. However else I may try to dress it up, Polish modern classical musician Michal Jacaszek makes music which really is cinematic and ominous. It broods thunderously and it loiters claustrophobically and it successfully draws you in, avoiding being cast aside as simple background fodder. The press release describes it as “sonically challenging”, which I suppose it might be if you’re used to a diet of over-produced three minute pop songs, but ‘Glimmer’ actually covers little new ground even though Jacaszek continues to do what he does rather well.

Seriously, ambient records are a pain in the arse to describe, even if they are often lovely to listen to. Which this kind of is, in parts. Well done for lasting seven of my reviews, by the way. I should probably buy you a pint if I ever meet you.

Turntable Tales: Curiosity – Hang On In There Baby

I seem to find myself talking more and more about vinyl these days, either with visitors to the house or as part of music discussions on Twitter. When this site first began, it was called ‘Vinyl Junkies‘ on the basis that my enthusiasm for the format had recently returned. Despite the name change, the passion has remained and intensified and so it seems only right to focus on the superior format a little more on here. And so begins Turntable Tales, for which I will pluck titles from the shelves of several Ikea Expedits and pass comment, be it memories from the release or purchase of the item or a more conventional review of the music and sound quality. This first one is wilfully uncool, but kind of captures the point of this perfectly.

Curiosity Sleeve

Having previously been known as Curiosity Killed The Cat, this was an attempt at a Nineties rebirth with a tweak of the sound and a clearout of three words. I had absolutely no idea about their past other than the little box which appeared on screen during The Chart Show to tell me the information which I have already imparted. I thought it was great, drawn in by a cracking chorus and neat pop-soul production. Having been a top three hit for Johnny Bristol back in the Seventies, it repeated the trick for a band seeking to re-establish themselves in a different decade to that which had initially brought them success. Amusingly, I’ve just found out that Gary Barlow covered it for his debut solo album, and we all know how well that turned out.

The 7″ pictured above came from the Woolies singles bargain bin in Chepstow, way back in 1992. The massive singles wall used to have slots for CD singles, tapes and sevens, even as you sensed the now-deceased high street chain trying to push out the old format. The increasingly high turnover of the chart in that decade, as the trend for entering at Number One took off having hitherto been a tricky feat to manage, meant that the amount of stuff hitting the reductions bin picked up wonderfully. It was a game of chicken, all about holding your nerve. If you were feeling cavalier with your limited pennies than 49p might be your entry point, after a brief period at 99p if it had been retailing at full price, but I was always to be found holding out for the 10p markdown. The moment of triumph when you realised your wait had not been in vain was magical, as a good few would have escaped at the earlier stages. However, as I recall, I would spoil all of my good work by then buying several 10p titles of variable quality and then ending up with less bang for my buck than I thought. ‘Good Vibrations‘ by Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, anyone? And it skipped. Although that meant there was technically less of it, so not all bad.

Curiosity Disc

Curiosity’s delightful ‘Hang On In There Baby‘ was one of my 10p triumphs and, rather annoyingly, it’s one of only a few of my early singles I’ve still got. Even more disturbingly, this is very nearly 20 years old – how can anything from the Nineties be twenty years old? There’s a little crackle as the stylus settles in the groove, but otherwise it still sounds as endearing today as it did back then. I played the b-side, ‘Meaning Of Dreaming’, earlier as I had no memory of it. It is, predictably, gloopy swing-pop schlock of that era and interminably shite. Oddly enough, Curiosity’s rebirth didn’t make it past the rusks stage in the end.