BEST OF 2017: 21. Laura Marling ‘Semper Femina’

It seems impossible that Laura Marling could already be on her sixth album. More striking, perhaps, is the sonic development over the nine years since the relative simplicity of 2008’s ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’. That said, there is more than a touch of the composed, intense brevity of ‘I Speak Because I Can’ about ‘Semper Femina’, a record that considers female identity and relationships between women.  ‘Wild Fire’, which reflects on how Marling appears in a friend’s diary, is a beautifully executed piece of Laurel Canyon soul, while ‘The Valley’ attempts to understand another woman’s palpable sense of loss assisted by a captivatingly measured string arrangement.


Lead track ‘Soothing’ is a striking way to commence proceedings, the rhythm section’s simmering malevolence reinforcing the message “I banish you with love” as intimacy ends and the subject is told “you don’t live here anymore.” ‘Next Time’ reflects on regret, initially in delicately acoustic surroundings before a manic, fuzzy string break suggests that it might not be so easy to put the ghosts to bed. Having not enjoyed the act of self-producing 2015’s ‘Short Movie’, Marling recruited fellow guitarist Blake Mills to take control. His fondness for pushing familiar sounds beyond their natural confines has a subtle but defining impact upon these nine songs. ‘Semper Femina’ concludes with the melodic crunch of ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’, a hasty spoken-sung vocal almost pulling the band with it towards a swooning chorus before an abrupt end announced with footsteps, a closed door and birdsong.

Initial copies of the impressive vinyl release included a bonus disc featuring a live take on the whole album recorded in Chicago, which has since reappeared as the ‘Deluxe Edition’. It’s well worth seeking out still, as the set captures the loose, spiky magic that is often present in Marling’s early performances of new material and is more than just a means of peddling this unsurprisingly wonderful record. It’s no surprise for Marling to feature in one of my end of year lists and I’m conscious of the fact that she seems to be slightly lower down the list each time. I’m not sure if there’s a risk that I’m simply taking her brilliance for granted after such a consistent run of albums here, as this is right up there with the rest. Whatever the number next to it, ‘Semper Femina‘ is a captivating delight.

BEST OF 2015: 14. Laura Marling ‘Short Movie’

There is a tension in the air on ‘Short Movie’ that hasn’t been present since 2010’s transitional ‘I Speak Because I Can’, when Laura Marling sought to quickly escape the rather jovial indie-folk scene and find a “stepping stone” to other musical climes. It added a sharply affecting air of world-weary melancholy and an acerbic imagery that has mutated over the past five years. That 2011’s ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ and 2013’s ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ were both such supremely accomplished and often beautiful records, made it rather likely that the artist had found her furrow and would conceivably plough it successfully for many decades hence.


One suspects that this realisation also dawned on Marling, prompting a transatlantic relocation and several years spent living in Los Angeles remembering how to be young, confused and wide-eyed. 2014 began with the writing of an album inspired by this shift and concluded with a return to London, where these songs were recorded. The itch that sent her out there is present throughout these jittery fifty minutes, most noticeably captured by the preference for an electric guitar over the acoustic.

By her own admission, Marling plays both instruments in largely the same fashion, but there is a fidgety energy in the way she launches into tracks like ‘False Hope’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Bring You Down’ that is confirmation that the ‘more of the same’ predictions were wide of the mark. Opting to self-produce after three records with Ethan Johns at the helm, there is a certain loss of polish but with that come some risks. Most noteworthy is a decision to record several string parts with almost no direction for the players beyond the key and chord progression, creating a background bustle behind the more conventional renderings which were then placed in the foreground of the mix. Opener ‘Warrior’ slowly emerges out of a reverb-heavy soundscape, the unsettling swirl ever-present throughout. When first single ‘False Hope’ initially does something not dissimilar, it’s tempting to think that the sonic palette for ‘Short Movie’ has been set, but one of the album’s most significant shifts occurs on the minute mark. As Marling sings “a storm hits the city and the lights go out before I can prepare”, the band suddenly take flight, mid-line, and pounding drums accompany a malevolent guitar part as the weather pens the singer in. Before long the tempest has twisted into a claustrophobic concern about the future, only to come to an abrupt halt.

While the rumbling heft of certain songs is justifiably proving a substantial talking point for this album, several of the more subdued moments are no less stirring. ‘Walk Alone’ finds Marling rebutting a claim that she can’t love, stating that “I can’t walk alone”, before imploring “I just need a little more time” in a fractured, strained falsetto that warrants multiple replays. As if reeling from such openness, it is followed by the playfully snarky ‘Strange’ which charges along with an unashamedly affected vocal informing the listener of the many lies told by dubious lovers.

Other words are borrowed for ‘Gurdjieff’s Daughter’, with much of the lyric built around a story told by Alejandro Jodorowsky about an encounter with the daughter of spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff. During an intimate entanglement in a hotel room, she proffered forth a list of rules by which society should live, many of which have now been appropriated by Marling. For someone reconsidering their place in the general scheme of things, it’s not difficult to see the temptation of the words “Never give orders, just to be obeyed / Never consider yourself or others, without knowing that you’ll change.” Already bedecked with a beautiful chorus and perhaps the album’s finest realisation of her more energised electric sound, it has one final surprise to deliver, suddenly fading with a jangling rapidity that will have fans of The Smiths in raptures.

The title track hinges on the world view of an ageing hippy she encountered in California, planting his “it’s a short fucking movie, man’ at its centre, while ‘How Can I’ seizes the initiative and seems to pave the way for the return home, reinvigorated and restored, though not without concerns. ‘Short Movie’ is a record by an artist shaking her life up, spending a little more time peering at the stars and resisting the lure of the familiar. It is, as a result, a commanding and sincerely fascinating listen that stands tall in a catalogue a regue already awash with magic. While the live shows supporting it were a curiously mixed bag, held in a moment, these songs are a delight.

BEST OF 2013: 21. Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

It was pretty much a given that a new Laura Marling album would be excellent, after her three records to date, and so it proved. All the talk prior to its arrival was off the four-song suite that opens proceedings, which certainly withstood the amount of expectation put upon it, tipping us off that she had moved on again. This is, by far, her most complex release and it oozes the confidence that anyone who saw her on the tour to promote her first album knows was sorely lacking at the start. The sublime but slight instrumental ‘Interlude’, which seems to mark a shift in the record’s momentum, has come to be one of my favourite moments on ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, perhaps because it represents the scope of this set.

This is no longer somebody finding their sound, something which, arguably, ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ put to bed. Instead, it is the wielding of a phenomenal talent with masterfully dextrous control of the tiller. Marling’s key facilitator and musical foil, Ethan Johns, plays his part once again, as well as a range instruments where required. While the result may be quite something to behold, the process was brief, understated and organic. The way Marling tears into songs is a delight, building on the bite and ebullience of 2011’s ‘The Muse’ and ‘The Beast’. ‘Master Hunter’, appended to the aforementioned opening suite and very much of a piece, may be the best thing she has ever done, weaving in and out of itself in a fashion not dissimilar to the whole album, which truly has a sense of coming full circle by the time of its conclusion.

The pace drops in its final third as several, more melancholy characters are explored before rolling to a halt at the feet of album closer ‘Saved These Words’. It seems to simmer and shudder like a kettle on its way to boiling point, the percussion growing in intensity and volume while Marling’s vocal is half-sung half-spoken in a fashion that seems somewhat alien to her, building to the killer lines “thank you naivety for failing me again, he was my next verse”. It seems a fine point to stop and a neat summation of the considerable ground covered across the album’s duration. In many ways, it seems odd to be placing this album outside the twenty, let alone ten, best of this year and it may be down to her own incredibly high standards. Marling’s considerable and truly unique talent is such that we’ve come to expect such remarkable records from her.

BEST OF 2011: 4. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know

I wasn’t sure what to expect from album number three. ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ was an utterly irresistible debut, blessed with a little naivety and some grand tunes. Then ‘I Speak Because I Can’ arrived, with Marling seeming to have aged fifteen years since its predecessor and taking far bolder steps and inhabiting characters far from what we’d come to expect from her. Largely no bad thing but slightly easier to admire than truly love. With talk of a second album of new material only months behind it fading quickly, it was still a relatively swift turnaround from the early 2010 release of that record and the September 2011 unveiling of ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’. My review copy arrived just as we were knee deep in house hunting for a cross-country relocation. As a consequence, it soundtrack a lot of car journeys and several quiet evenings in unfamiliar locations. It didn’t take long for it to become a comforting friend.


However, certain aspects of this album have prompted dissent, most peculiarly the album’s excellent opening track. The jazzy whirl of ‘The Muse’, sounding, at times, like a more forceful and jagged ‘Poor Boy’ by Nick Drake, is a stunning statement of intent and the most relaxed start to a Marling album to date. The sense of an artist no longer feeling the need to prove herself runs throughout these ten songs, and it is clear that the transition to songwriter of note begun on ‘I Speak Because I Can‘ is now complete. The fact that it doesn’t sound like anything she’s previously done struck me as a good thing and quite why it garnered accusations of smoothing out her sound or even trying to sound like Norah Jones is baffling. Listen to the thing. Then do it again. It’s not got easy listening pop smash written all over it, has it?

Beginning delicately, ‘I Was Just A Card’ unfurls magically, with Marling shaping and pushing her voice in new directions. The vintage Joni Mitchell comparison point is, by now, utterly undeniable but it’s a source of inspiration rather than a simple sense of imitation. Lyrically, her ability to inhabit a song and deliver a story remains beautifully intact, the line “my mother, she’s the saviour of six-foot of bad behaviour”, in ‘Salinas’, curls magically around the melody. This bluesy number builds to a crescendo which then seems to abate with the quiet start to ‘The Beast’, only for it to explode into the most malevolent sounding thing Marling has ever released. ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ really feels like an album, rather than a collection of songs, and an album of two halves at that. That Marling has been increasing her vinyl collection of late at a rate of knots is perhaps no coincidence. There is a real focus on how things sound together, be it the tremendous force at the conclusion of ‘The Beast’ to end side one or the wonderful way in ‘Don’t Ask Me Why’ changes pace so as to descend smoothly straight into the beginning of ‘Salinas’. Ironic, then, that the picture disc vinyl included in the deluxe edition of this album sounds so indefensibly shite.

Gorgeous single ‘Sophia’ is elevated to greatness by the introduction of her band at its midpoint, another of those magical moments in songs that I so like banging on about, while ‘Night By Night’, one of the rare solo moments on the album, is a wonderfully balanced, emotionally loaded commentary on love. The album ends on the upbeat sing-song ‘All My Rage’, one of the tracks with which she seemed most satisfied during her recent cathedral tour.

A third wonderful album, then, and a sign that Marling has transcended the “nu-folk” tags, not to mention associations with Mumford & The Doom Sons, and carved her own magnificent identity. Where she goes next, I’ve no idea, although she recently declared that she’s entering her “electric phase” so expect something different again. One thing I can say for certain now is that a vast catalogue of wonderful music lies ahead, as Marling has asserted herself as singer-songwriter of rare talent. Here’s to that.

September Reviews–Laura Marling, Bjork and A Winged Victory For The Sullen

Sorry about the wait. Moved house, you see. I’m typing this from the floor of the third bedroom, surrounded by boxes still full of CDs as yet unboxed. Not that you really need to know that. Anyway, here’s this month’s Clash pieces. Two amazing albums and one I suspect I’ll grow to like more.

LAURA MARLING – ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ (VIRGIN)


With two Mercury Music Prize nominations and a BRIT award in the bag, you might expect Laura Marling to capitalise on the exposure and tweak her sound in a push for the big time. Fear not, folk folks. The jazzy whirl of opener ‘The Muse’, sounding, at times, like a more forceful and jagged ‘Poor Boy’ by Nick Drake, is a stunning statement of intent and the most relaxed start to a Marling album to date. The sense of an artist no longer feeling the need to prove herself runs throughout these ten songs, and it is clear that the transition to songwriting great begun on ‘I Speak Because I Can‘ is now complete.

Continue reading “September Reviews–Laura Marling, Bjork and A Winged Victory For The Sullen”

12. Laura Marling–I Speak Because I Can

Best of 2010How do you follow a debut record of such quality, such depth and such beguiling songwriting that nobody was able to believe you were still in your teens when you made it? With relative ease, it would seem. At the risk of getting repetitive, it’s hard to believe she made this record whilst still in her teens too.

laura marling i speak

I Speak Because I Can’ was largely recorded live to tape, Laura Marling and her assembled band rattling through these tunes in one room under the guidance of the esteemed Ethan Johns. It should be noted that there’s a little less jangle than on the debut and this is a rather more intense affair. Opener ‘Devil’s Spoke’ is an all out folk assault, before the quieter textures of ‘Made By Maid’ and ‘Blackberry Stone’ move into view, the latter a rather more fulsome rendering than the b-side incarnation which previously accompanied ‘Cross Your Fingers’. Between these two sits the first of the album’s true gems, ‘Rambling Man’. A fine example of how to build a song slowly but surely, with no need for epic strings or ludicrous guitar breaks, it is also home to one of Marling’s best vocal performances to date. She languidly curls her larynx around the opening verse, gathering in intensity as the band come shambling in and yet still holding back until the final renderings of the chorus. This transcendent vocal flourish follows a quite startling breakdown in proceedings in which, with almost eerie conviction, Marling tells us that, “it’s funny how the first chords that you come to are the minor notes that come to serenade you. It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire, as someone you don’t want to be.” The song seems to suggest that the character in the song, be it autobiographical or otherwise, is happy to not fit in, provided they be accepted for who they truly are. The almost euphoric chorus, reminiscent of ‘Blue’-era Joni, belies the rather more complex undercurrent.

‘Alpha Shallows’ appears in a more concise and haunting fashion than its previous outing on the ‘Night Terror’ single quite managed, while last year’s Christmas single ‘Goodbye England’ is not hindered by its festive associations and the refrain about never loving England more "than when covered in snow" seems more than a little prescient at this end of 2010. ‘Hope In The Air’ continues the moody and intense celtic folk tones first established by album opener, ‘Devil’s Spoke’. ‘What He Wrote’, on the other hand, tells the haunting tale of separated lovers over a sparse acoustic backdrop. ‘The waves came and stole him and took him to her’, sings Marling, and by God she sounds every bit the wronged wife. It is this subtle but quite magnificent vocal dexterity that sets ‘I Speak Because I Can’ apart from ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’, in the same way that that debut was a subtle, but notable, shift on from the sound of her early demos and EP. Progression is obvious, but in a fashion that I can only imagine will win favour with devotees of that stunning initial outing.

‘Darkness Descends’, replete with beautiful, double-tracked vocal, has a levity of touch that is welcome after the intensity of ‘What He Wrote’. The galloping drums are back on what is perhaps the most obvious indication of the album having been recorded with the whole troupe playing together in the same place. There’s a gentle, rough-around-the-edges feel to the arrival of some of the backing vocals and the halting of bits of percussion that is utterly, utterly charming. You’re probably smiling by this point. Album closer, ‘I Speak Because I Can’ quickly puts paid to that, opening with the line, “my husband left me last night, left me a poor and lonely wife.” The title track builds to a suitably wrought conclusion before simply stopping and bring the album to an atmospheric, anticipatory and downright amazing conclusion.

‘I Speak Because I Can’ is a less immediate record than ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ and it is a step on from that record’s sound also, but it is a superb second offering and of a consistently high standard. While it doesn’t scream instant classic at you, after a dozen or so listens you’ll feel like there was never a time you hadn’t heard it. And that will make you feel good.

Mercury Music Prize 2010 shortlist – Just Played Verdict


I know that convention dictates that I start off with a sizeable rant about the MASSIVE WANKERS who decide on the Mercury shortlist and moan about how safe and, largely, shit the choice of albums is. I whine about how there are so many more deserving titles out there and wonder why they even bother doing this. Well, fuck convention.

It’s not a bad shortlist really. Could be a hell of a lot worse and there are some rather good albums on it. Yes, you can tell that almost nobody on that judging panel is medically allowed to let their blood pressure rise too dramatically and that ‘a nice glass of red’ probably accompanies all of these records rather effectively, but that doesn’t immediately make them all crap records. Just Biffy Clyro, and that was crap long before it got this nomination. Indeed, it has been crap since the hellish day that the group birthed it through the band’s collective arsehole; the result of a blessed constipation that finally subsided only to gift our ears with this limp, fetid dross.

I wasn’t exactly enraptured by the Foals album either, but it certainly has its moments. The vocals are a lot less ‘toddler with a foot stuck in a door’ and a bit more ‘artsy indie band with ridiculous hair’. The sound is a massive leap on from the frankly infuriating debut which started badly with the atrocious cover and didn’t improve much thereafter. This one is bold, adventurous and, at times at least, rather good. Also in the ‘no need to get the bunting out’ category is Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘The Sea’. This particular record received such astonishingly positive press that it seemed like we were about to witness the second coming, albeit it at No.17 in the Asda album chart. It is quite nice. She’s stopped banging on about putting records on and is now singing about sad things because of the, admittedly tragic, loss of her husband. Musically it’s much less annoying than her MOR stylings of old but, for the life of me, I couldn’t really tell what it was that I was meant to be so overwhelmed by.

Then there’s the folk-pop boy band in waiting, Mumford And Sons. They are, as far as I’m concerned, traitorous bastards for wooing us with lovely limited 10” single releases only to then not put the album out on vinyl. Add into that the fact that they are now so ubiquitous they’re like flying ants or pollen and it’s hard to retain the early love. The songs are undeniably great and Marcus Mumford has a cracking voice. But, the production is oh-so-very polished and somewhere along the line it seemed to lose its soul a little. I’m by no means trying to be all snobby about this record; I still quite like it, but from the very first play it didn’t sound as raw it could have and should have and that’s a great shame. That said, I’m not sure it would be on this list if they’d gone down that route.

Dizzee Rascal, love him or hate him (or just laugh at him for being a bit of a cock), has produced some belting pop songs of late and such a consistent run of hits deserves recognition. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t really offer anything else to match those glorious singles and only serves to confirm that he is best in small doses. When in a good mood. And not especially bothered about what you’re listening to. A plausible choice, a maker of top pop but not an album to yearn for or fall in love with.

I’m genuinely delighted to see the marvellous I Am Kloot on the list with the recently released splendour of ‘Sky At Night’. I recently explained just why this record is deserving of a place in your collection and it is as good an album as the band have released to date. The vocals are quite beautiful and Guy Garvey’s string arrangements are superbly measured and precisely executed. As good a straight indie record as you’ll hear this year. Which briefly brings me to ‘Golden’ by Kit Downes Trio, which is potentially as good a jazz record as I haven’t heard this year. Is that the sound of a token being laid down I hear? Solitary nod to the ‘other’, I hear you cry. Well, yes. It’s not on Spotify, so I’ve not yet had the pleasure but, as I did with The Invisible last year, I’ll endeavour to have a listen. Find out what I end up thinking by following the Just Played Twitter here.

Wild Beasts’ ‘Two Dancers’ feels too old to be on this list, released as it was at the arse end of last summer but, it’s a wonderfully confident listen. By now, I’m sure you’ll know about Hayden Thorpe’s distinctive yelp, like a randy panda after a quick listen to ‘Grace’. It’s quite a voice and, while it might initially irritate, stick at it for there is much to love about ‘Two Dancers’. It took me a while to really get it, hence its absence from last year’s best of list. Unlike ‘xx’ by The xx, which rocketed up to second place in almost no time at all. It’s become a quite popular activity to criticise The xx for being trendy art-school types as a result of all of the hype they’ve received. Now, let’s briefly pause to consider why that is such a fuckwitted brainfart of an approach to this delicately grand music. They didn’t ask for the hype, it just gathered around them and, admittedly not always but sometimes, it happens for a reason. This time it was because of how good they are. The album is perfectly measured, charmingly executed and it offered something a little different towards the end of 2009, sounding quite unlike everything else released at the time. See here for my ‘40 From The Noughties’ piece about this one.

Old man Weller keeps on churning them out and, deep breath, he’s actually managed two great solo records in row. Indeed, I actually rather liked ‘As Is Now’ too, so that’s at least two and a half really. ‘Wake Up The Nation’ has been lauded as his best solo record in some quarters and has had fifty-something blokes in denim pogoing around like they don’t have mortgages, with their stomachs following soon behind. It is good, mind, and I have enjoyed great chunks of it. Initial plays felt a little like being able to hear a migraine, it was so phenomenally busy, but once you’ve adjusted to the frenetic pace of the thing, it actually shines through as a bloody decent set of songs. It firstly tells us that he has a cracking record collection, featuring plenty of southern and northern soul, and secondly that he has decided that prancing around in the street pissed with a near child on your arm and having one of the world’s shittest haircuts on your bonce doesn’t stop you from reminding people you were in The Jam. Fair play to him, I say.

Which leaves us with two. One of which, ‘Becoming A Jackal’ by Villagers, was recommended by Martin Rossiter (ex-Gene and thoroughly spiffing bloke) on Twitter a while back and I was won over almost instantly. I somehow missed the Later… performance that, apparently, turned most people in this record’s direction. I can see where the Rufus Wainwright comparisons come from, stylistically if not vocally, along with faint echoes of Simon and Garfunkel. It’s clever, melodic, sometimes melancholy singer-songwriter indie and it is executed to perfection. It’s a grower, a charmer and a winner. Though probably not of the Mercury Music Prize.

Not that I actually think that the quite divine Miss Marling will carry off the crown. I can’t help wondering if it will actually go the way of The xx or Mumford in the end, but that doesn’t stop this remarkable record being something to celebrate, shout about and buy in copious quantities for loved ones and friends. I’ve previously explored just what makes this such a mature and beguiling collection of songs, but suffice to say my opinion hasn’t changed, save to like it just a little bit more still. ‘Rambling Man’ is Joni, and Mazzy Star and Laura Veirs and oh so many other magical musicians rolled into one and yet still topped by a unique and stirring voice. She is a rare, rare talent and someone to be truly treasured.

Personally, I’m in a three way split with I Am Kloot, The xx and Laura Marling but, were I required to dish it out myself right now, I’d hand it to Laura. However, when the near paralytic Jools Holland steps up to the microphone in September, don’t be surprised if he utters the words, “and the winner is… The xx.”

2010 inverted

March Reviews

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…

march jp 1

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.


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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.

2010 on the record

Mixtape…blah, blah, nostalgia, blah…

I was about to start with a profound and incisive statement, but that new Bloc Party single really is fucking dreadful, isn’t it?

I’ve spent a thoroughly enjoyable day rearranging bits of the record collection and ripping assorted tracks to the computer in order to refresh the content of my mp3 player and contruct a decent mp3 CD for a long car journey that’s coming up. It’s wonderful just browsing through the tunes that have, at various times in the last few years, meant rather a lot to me. I did the slightly embarrassing, but hugely popular, swivelling-a-little-bit-in-a-computer-chair dance to Stardust‘s Music Sounds Better With You‘ earlier and it was hugely satisfying. And what about ‘Forever J’ by Terry Hall? A beautiful, beautiful song which was sampled on ‘Life In Mono’ by Mono, which I’ve also ended up digging out. However, whilst finding out more about it I stumbled upon the Emma Bunton cover version. Eugh. Now, I actually really liked that soul-pastiche album she did a few years back. The one with pink cover. But this is not good. At all. The original is, however, and it would seem you can still buy it via the iTunes empire.

The mp3 player will soon be receiving a number of albums that I can’t believe I haven’t felt the need to put back on there since reformatting it a few months back. Most of Supergrass‘ back catalogue is still absent, as are the first two Portishead albums and Thom Yorke‘s ‘The Eraser’. Not for much longer. Also going on will be Madness‘ wonderful track, ‘NW5‘ that came out as a one-off single a little while back, but which will feature on their forthcoming concept album, ‘The Liberty Of Norton Folgate’. If you’ve not heard it, I would put it up there with pretty much anything else they’ve ever done. It’s great.

And with that cunning link (that’s great and so is this) I should probably say a few words about the Jamie Lidell record I was on about the other day. Gilles Peterson has started offering a splendid service via TellJack that allows you to hear albums, in full, before deciding whether or not to purchase. You don’t download anything, it’s all done via high quality streams, but it’s splendid. That’s how I got to hear ‘Jim‘, by Jamie Lidell. I keep calling it ‘Son of Stevie’ because it sounds like that sort of record Stevie Wonder would be making now if he was a) younger and b) as good as he used to be. To me, this album slots in quite neatly alongside ‘Innervisions‘ and ‘Talking Book’. High praise, I know, but it really is the best soul album I’ve heard in yonks. And, I’ve heard Sharon Jones and the new Al Green. Anyway, there’s a track on the newly updated Mux (click on the tape in the right-hand column) along with a chance to hear the Terry Hall track ‘Forever J’ and the Mono track that sampled it. Plus other stuff. Stuff you’ll like, I’d imagine.

I remember now what it was that I was going to talk about when I was going on about mp3 compilations. I was listening to Jeremy Vine‘s show on Radio 2 yesterday (the outraged voice of middle class Britain©) as he discussed the possible charges for broadband customers in the UK. Apparently, devious downloaders will be receiving angry letters in the near future, explaining that what they’re up to is illegal. Assuming, of course, that they are downloading illegally, that is. They wouldn’t make any mistakes, would they? Judging by some of the calls to the programme, mistakes have already been made and there will be more on the way. Predictably, one of the ‘I ain’t paying for it, why should I? I’ve ten CDs over the last twenty years and they were, like, £16 each, so why should I pay now?’ brigade got on air. I’ve never really had a strong opinion about it one way or another, but with the number of independent record stores dying on their arses and bands failing to keep hold of their record contracts, you do have to wonder. Ok, so it’s a symptom of a jaded industry, rather than the cause, but surely nobody who loves their tunes thinks it’s a long-term approach? Weirdly, I’ve just noticed that the good folks at Norman Records are having a similar debate on their blog.

And finally, the nominations for the Mercury Music Prize came out t’other day and I was amazed by just how many I’ve actually heard and liked. The list is as follows:

Adele – ‘19
British Sea Power‘Do You Like Rock Music?
Burial – ‘Untrue
Elbow‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
Estelle – ‘Shine
Laura Marling‘Alas I Cannot Swim’
Neon Neon‘Stainless Style’
Portico Quartet‘Knee-Deep In The North Sea’
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset‘The Bairns’
Radiohead‘In Rainbows’
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss‘Raising Sand’
The Last Shadow Puppets‘The Age Of The Understatement’

It’s only Portico Quartet that I need to do any real research for – and I will, I’m sure. I can’t think of a time when I’ve been so in line with the Mercury choices. It could just be that I’ve bought far too many records recently, and therefore whatever they’d gone for I’d have been in this position, but I’d like to think not. From my perspective, it’s got to be between Elbow, Laura Marling and Radiohead. Radiohead are getting a bit of negativity thrown their way regarding this because of how established they are, but ‘In Rainbows’ really is one of their best albums and definitely one of the best albums of the last twelve months. Laura Marling is someone that I’ve raved about on here for almost a year now and I certainly don’t intend on stopping. ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ will be in my end of the year list and it’s a near-perfect folk-pop album. It’s an exercise in measured understatement, and it’s all the more beautiful because of that. However, I think it should probably go to Elbow. They went off, not in possession of a record deal, and did it all themselves; recording a record that they would want to listen to. It’s a wonderful, wonderful collection of songs and ‘One Day Like This’ could well end up as one of my all time favourite songs.

Any thoughts? Perhaps the blog will get spammed again by the vinyl collectors of Idaho. (See comments for previous post) I’m with Neil Hannon on Idaho.

Like I said, have a listen to the Muxtape.

Wonders of the web

Just found this and figured the discerning folk that frequent this here corner of the interweb would enjoy it. That’s you, by the way. If you still don’t have Laura Marling‘s album, ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ then improve your weekend immediately by doing so now.