BEST OF 2014: 27. Tom Williams & The Boat – Easy Fantastic

I had a moment recently when, revisiting various records to consider the finer points of assembling this year’s list, I realised just how tremendous Tom Williams‘ voice is. This sounds slightly ridiculous with both of his previous albums having registered in their respective end of year countdowns and my not exactly minimal enthusing about the band since I first featured them on here back in the summer of 2009. However, you know how sometimes something just catches you off guard and everything stops, leaving you focusing on nothing else? Well, such was the case with ‘Satellite‘, the fourth track on ‘Easy Fantastic‘. Williams’ delivery can seem laid back, even slightly reluctant at times, but that is to miss the point. His voice is a wonderfully emotive instrument, conveying so much with the tiniest upward inflection, elongated vowel or gentle shift in emphasis. That song in particular feels like a master at work, letting out his feelings with meticulous control. It’s a quite remarkable song and as good a point as any for you to begin with the band’s third album.

27 TW&TB

That Tom Williams & The Boat are students of, if you’ll forgive the hoary old cliché, ‘the golden age of rock’ is blindingly obvious, but the deployment of such influences is gently endearing rather than wearingly predictable. The fondness for Springsteen and Bowie is in there, but their sound is far broader than that. The standout (theoretically, at least) chart-friendly vintage rock of ‘All Day’, replete with falsetto backups, may have grabbed plenty of the attention to date, but it’s Williams’ often painfully blunt lyrics that make ‘Easy Fantastic’ worthy of multiple visits. Take ‘25’, the album’s most claustrophobically malevolent track, which hinges on the curiously fatigued line “25 and still alive and I ain’t finished yet.” The vivid narratives are the band’s great strength, but the melodies are increasingly up to the challenge.

Despite their second outing, ‘Teenage Blood‘, also, entirely coincidentally, making 27th spot in my 2012 countdown, this is their finest release to date. Having built a strong relationship with their fans and leading the way in terms of how to harness the power of PledgeMusic to put your music out there, The Boat have carved out their little corner of the world. And yet, I can’t help wondering if they’re just one fortuitous break away from being huge. The knack for a dazzling chorus, distinctive vocals and consistent ability to build a genuinely captivating mood across a record strike me as qualities that plenty of people should be finding attractive. I’ll be writing about far more obscure records in this list and some that are households names, but ‘Easy Fantastic‘ is right up there on the list of albums I hope people give a chance and end up falling in love with. Do let me know if such a fairytale unfurls.

BEST OF 2014: 28. Linda Perhacs – The Soul Of All Natural Things

Forty-four years on from her debut, American dental hygenist Linda Perhacs returned to the racks, reinvigorated by a slow but steady rise in interest in that 1970 release, ‘Parallelograms‘. The record’s psychedelic folk found a new audience in the everything-anytime 21st century web culture, and it had a lavish vinyl reissue to accompany this new set. Now in her seventies, but still capable of making timeless music, her second release is a pretty magical listen.

28 Perhacs

At times, ‘The Soul Of All Natural Things‘ sounds like it’s being beamed in from the same sessions that produced ‘Parallelograms‘, a certain gentleness emitted from simple, beautiful songs. But there is plenty more going on here, not least on ‘Immunity‘ which builds into a crisp, near electro-folk belter. The guitar could be Radiohead, the drums wouldn’t be out of place on the latest Wildbirds and Peacedrums and the layers of vocals call to mind Julia Holter. This last comparison is not especially surprising as not only is she a huge fan of Perhacs’ tiny catalogue but she also collaborates with her on this record. ‘River Of God‘ opens in a way that wouldn’t be out of place on Holter’s sublime 2013 offering ‘Loud City Song‘ and if that record tickled you as much as it tickled me, then this is another one to add to your collection.

Having released no music in over four decades, these songs seem to traverse the tastes, styles and sounds of those missed years. For all the frantic modernity of ‘Immunity‘ and the similarly fizzy ‘Intensity‘, there are moments like ‘When Things Are True Again‘ which evoke a sense of early Eighties drum machine-assisted ethereal ballads and album closer ‘Song Of The Planets‘, which sounds like soothing balm for blissed out early 90s ravers, all ambient tones and looped vocals before a spoken word conclusion by artist and producer Chris Price hypnotically concludes proceedings. It’s a heady mix which rewards repeat visits.

On the surface, starting with the cover, ‘The Soul Of All Natural Things‘, appears to possess an almost innocent charm, backed up by a feel-good story. However, to belittle it with banal good will and a few background listens would be criminal. Perhaps as a result of the enormous enthusiasm and reverence of those working with her, perhaps simply as a continuation of the remarkable talent shown on that debut, this album sustains a very high sense of quality control. The melodies, with their occasional sideways twists, bed in and linger. Perhacs’ voice carries like the hopeful glint of light through brooding skies. It’s a curious, but fascinating album that deserves to be noticed.