BEST OF 2015: 29. Peter Broderick – Colours Of The Night

It seems impossible that American multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick can be only 28 years old. There are already more than a dozen albums that bear his name, either as sole creator or key collaborator, and his frequent tendency to flit between modern classical and singer-songwriter modes ensures that this is a not inconsiderable body of work. It was, perhaps, the emotional heft required for such an achievement that left Broderick with a stress-related illness a little less than three years ago. After some much-needed recuperation time back home in Oregon, he found himself on the receiving end of the peculiarly tempting offer of a ‘recording residency’ in Lucerne, a small town in Switzerland. Having charmed its residents during previous visits, the proposal was to record an album in collaboration with a group comprised of local musicians and produced by Timo Keller, a leading light in the Swiss hip-hop scene.


The result is a genuine delight, serving to highlight Broderick’s emotive, intimate vocals whilst pushing his music in endearingly different directions. The low-level ambient noise and brushed drums on opener ‘Red Earth’ appear to establish the record as a fragile, simplistic beauty, only for ‘The Reconnection’ to swerve off in a completely contrary manner. Its quirkily jaunty pop sensibility is perhaps best captured during the second verse when the whole band join in on one line that couldn’t sound more like Talking Heads if it tried. It’s one of those alchemical moments that music throws up from time to time that makes me smile on every occasion that I hear it.

Despite this curious genre-hopping agenda, ‘Colours Of The Night’ is Broderick’s most complete and satisfying release to date. By putting his trust in other musicians and letting them influence how his writing came to life, he has delivered ten songs that are imbued with a natural, joyous hue that is rather at odds with the obsessively meticulous approach on his previous singer-songwriter work.

That’s not to say there aren’t some typically breath-taking moments within ‘Colours Of The Night’; ‘If I Sinned’ is awash with over thirty tracks of Broderick’s voice ebbing and flowing behind his main vocal, like somebody tickling your soul. A deliciously crisp take on Stina Nordenstam’s ‘Get On With Your Life’ is one of the record’s highpoints, alongside the enormous ‘Our Best’, which gradually ascends dizzyingly to a guitar solo that leaves glorious contrails across a majestic wall of sound.

There’s Afrobeat, vintage pop, country touches and even a touch of the great rock ballad across this quite remarkable record. A curious confluence of circumstances may have brought it into being, but it’s hard to see how even the most precise planning could have resulted in anything more powerful than ‘Colours Of The Night‘ can offer.

The Just Played Verdict: John Grant – ‘Pale Green Ghosts’

More than one nagging earworm that just won’t let go. Lyrics that provoke a genuine emotional reaction every time you hear them. A variety of styles deployed with unflinching belief in their impact. All of the above represent a small sample of the thoughts I’ve had about this remarkable album since I first heard it. ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ entered my world on January 1st and seemed a fitting palette cleanser for a year to come, but it had first demonstrated its power over me during John Grant’s performance at Swn Festival in Cardiff last October. Half a dozen new tracks were given a sparse rendering before a rapt audience in the beautiful Reardon Theatre.


On the several occasions I have seen Grant perform, he has always cut an awkward and intense figure onstage, but one with a brutal knack for self-deprecating connections with an audience. A select number of artists have a genuine pull of their own, a force that draws you in and lays siege to your soul. You root for them, smile at the sight of them, find yourself savouring every second of their songs, hanging on the last waves of reverb emanating from a final note before unleashing applause. In short, you spend ninety minutes grinning like a twat and never once wonder what the time is or consider how tired you are.

Grant is, for me at least, one of those artists and I approached ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ with a little trepidation, worried about the impact of my own expectations after the remarkable solo debut, ‘Queen Of Denmark’, which had proved to be my album of 2010. Having been teased publically via its title track, it was clear that this wouldn’t simply be more of the same. The bubbling six minutes of minimalist electronica and synth trumpets were a defiant way to follow up a record lauded for its Seventies-inspired singer-songwriter chops. Naturally, the always rational and considered internet community sprung into action and the album was written off in some corners before it had even had a chance to be illegally leaked for a little voyeuristic backlash porn. That uncertainty and unease which seems to have been prompted by the varied sounds of this release is easily allayed after a few listens and I now find myself, three months down the line, increasingly of the opinion that ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ is superior to that remarkable debut. A wildly different and yet reassuringly familiar beast, it possesses some truly wondrous lyrics and a sizeable portion of melody.

The lingering presence of lost love TC, who had more than his fair share of influence on the debut’s lyrical content, is noticeable across the album, although the mood seems rather more sour, not least on the gloriously venomous ‘Black Belt’. This track also neatly demonstrates the melding of his previous sound and the electronic music of which Grant has always been a fan. After some unexpectedly productive collaboration with Biggi Veira from electronic act Gus Gus, he was compelled to record the entire album in Veira’s native Iceland, despite having been planning to resume proceedings with Midlake back in Denton, Texas. It’s hard to imagine how a track like ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’ might have worked in such circumstances, having ended up sounding like a gloriously sardonic LCD Soundsystem.

When I wrote my sizeable justification for ‘Queen Of Denmark’ topping my 2010 list, I quoted the entire lyric to its title track as evidence of the quite stunning grasp of language Grant possesses and the way in which he can balance the rawest of emotions with the most knowing of smirks. It wouldn’t be difficult to pull a similar stunt in relation to this record and over recent weeks I have found myself unable to shake lyrics from several of the album’s highpoints. Most recently, and this will only serve to extend its run, it has been this measured but explosive chorus from ‘Vietnam’:


“Your silence is a weapon,

it’s like a nuclear bomb.

It’s like the Agent Orange

they used to use in Vietnam,

and it’s accompanied by an apathy

which is deafening to the ears.

You know it is complete and perfect

and you wield it without fear”

Add in the raw majesty of ‘I Hate This Town’, ‘Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore’ and ‘Glacier’ and you’ll feel like sobbing for him. Except you don’t. There is a strange euphoria at the heart of ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ which is intrinsically linked to Grant’s humility and humour. The wry and biting lyrical content is capable of rendering you occasionally speechless in delight at exactly what he’s just pulled off, and such a knack for communication and ruthless honesty resulted in him telling the crowd at a Hercules & Love Affair gig, where he was guesting last summer, that he is HIV positive. ‘Ernest Borgnine’ tackles this topic exactly as you might imagine he would: “Doc ain’t lookin’ at me, he says I got the disease. Now what did you expect, you spent your life on your knees.” Although this diagnosis has received column inches for pretty much all of the promotion of the album, it has a relatively small impact upon the songs. Indeed, it’s those two other initials which still seem more determined recipients of Grant’s venom.

The release of ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ has been accompanied by both a remix disc and an EP of stripped down piano versions of some of the material. Each has its own merits and I would imagine the simplified takes will likely appeal to those initially struggling with the shift in sound, but both serve to underline the quality of the songwriting on show here. Whether it’s the grandiose crescendo present on the EP version of ‘Glacier’ or the simple but effective way in which the ‘No Ceremony RMX’ of the album’s title track suddenly makes you realise just how gorgeously brooding those plastic horn stabs really are, the overriding sense is of being in possession of something truly special.

2013 has already shown itself to be a pretty impressive year for music and there’s a hell of a lot more to come, but it’s hard to imagine ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ doing anything other than growing in stature. In an age of shuffle, online streams and endless choice, this is a bold and innovative suite fully deserving of your sustained and repeated attention. Twelve weeks in and dozens of listens later, I’m just starting to realise what I think about this album. I am genuinely excited to see what its impact will be another twelve weeks or months down the line.

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‘.

October Reviews – Wilco, Still Corners, Veronica Falls & Youth Lagoon

My, how time flies. Does the ‘I moved house two months ago’ line still cut it? No? Oh well, that’s all I’ve got. Today, I have arranged the ‘office’, set up the new computer and filed a large chunk of the previously mentioned (and previously unboxed and ignored) CDs.


WILCO – The Whole Love’ (dBpm / ANTI)


Having mellowed in recent years, this eighth studio outing represents something of a rebirth. Inhabiting a world somewhere between the emphatic organ-chug of prime Costello and the more delicate moments of ‘The White Album‘, classic hooks and sing-song choruses are prominent, with two exceptions. Album opener ‘Art Of Almost’ emerges from a squall of static into something urgent and convulsing, whilst the twelve-minute ‘One Sunday Morning’ is a lolling, meditative conclusion unlike anything the band has previously recorded. The ten tracks which lie between are effortless and nimble and Jeff Tweedy seems to be a lyricist no longer at war with himself. An excellent return.

A fine return and the noodling moments are most welcome. I was one of those who found ‘Wilco (The Album)’ a little light on excitement and normal service is very much resumed here. The art of the jangly American classic is still the main focus for Tweedy and his men and there’s a wonderful double vinyl pressing, with free CD, which I would recommend seeking out. If they’ve never meant anything to you previously, this won’t suddenly clear the mists, but I can’t imagine many fans being disappointed.

Continue reading “October Reviews – Wilco, Still Corners, Veronica Falls & Youth Lagoon”

August Reviews – Jonathan Wilson, Bombay Bicycle Club and Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell

It’s all picking up again now, after the dreaded summer lull. The beefy September releases are popping up and there’s plenty to like about August too. In addition to these, there’s the mighty fine debut from I Break Horses forthcoming on Bella Union and I can tell you now that both The Rapture and Laura Marling have fine albums on the way in September, Marling in particular having taken another massive leap between albums. Anyway, let’s do these three splendid releases, shall we?



Warm, fuzzy and unashamedly long, this gloriously languid debut solo outing puffs into view seemingly all the way from the late Sixties, with little interest in breaking new ground. Wilson has learnt his craft impeccably, having previously played for Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis and Jackson Browne amongst others, and ‘Gentle Spirit’ serves to unleash his own voice, even if it is a slightly stoned whisper. Recorded sporadically over a long period of time, and very audibly unhurried, the title and pace of the album suggest that we could all do with taking stock once in a while, hazy guitar lines lulling the listener into a state of serene bliss. ‘Can We Really Party Today?‘ aches beautifully over almost seven minutes, gently sashaying through the verses, before shifting down several gears for the sombre chorus.

While the lyrics may be a little platitudinous at times – "When it’s all said and done, we are just dust on the horizon" from ‘Natural Rhapsody’ – on occasion a little simplicity and sincerity is all we need. Recorded to analogue tape, the sound is warm and earthy, Wilson professing that he envisages it as a double album designed for vinyl. As he suggests on album closer ‘Valley Of The Silver Moon’, his music is out of step with current trends. All of which is not to say that ‘Gentle Spirit’ is diluted pastiche; everything here is gorgeously sung and this woozy, gently uplifting collection of songs is pretty close to perfect.

Continue reading “August Reviews – Jonathan Wilson, Bombay Bicycle Club and Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell”

The Just Played Verdict: Cashier No.9–’To The Death Of Fun’

The lackadaisical indie dawdle which was at the heart of some of Shack‘s finer moments is a rare and splendid thing, its deftly constructed artifice of effortlessness a fine balance so infrequently achieved by others. The marvellously titled ‘To The Death Of Fun’ is an album which can take up its position in this select group, thanks in no small part to some wonderful production at the hands of David Holmes, not that his specific influence is especially obvious for the most part.

Cashier No9

Recent single ‘Goldstar‘ leaps around unashamedly, blessed with a harmonica solo to die for. That’s a phrase I honestly never thought I’d ever write. I mean, let’s face it, harmonicas are largely a shitty little blight on the world of music, aren’t they? Not here. ‘Make You Feel Better‘, a member of the army of almost whispered indie tunes, has a gloriously wafting backdrop, evoking that summer smash that never was: ‘A Very English Summer’ by Future Loop Foundation.

Continue reading “The Just Played Verdict: Cashier No.9–’To The Death Of Fun’”

April Releases – Reviews round up

Well, that was quite a month. I’ll be posting up soon an in-depth account of what became ‘Record Store Week’ for me, kicking off with the big day at the supreme Rise in Bristol. However, sorting out the feature, which appeared in a slightly rejigged form over on Drowned In Sound, about the shops’ view of the big day meant that the monthly posting of my reviews got lost somewhere. So, unsurprisingly after that last sentence, here they are.

April Reviews 1


A bewitching stage presence and an angelic vocal make Alessi’s Ark very easy to love. Finely crafted folk is elevated towards greatness by the stunning voice of Alessi Laurent-Marke. ‘Maybe I Know’ tells the tale of a cheated upon partner realising that the gossip is all about her and will break your heart. It’s the standout moment on an album which rarely dips below excellent and the old school songwriting and airy, summery production will leave you utterly spellbound.

Now, the publication of this rankled with me a little. I hate giving scores in the first place but I understand why it’s sometimes necessary. However, when your score of 9 is subbed down to only 7, it’s a little misrepresentative of what I actually think of the record. I’m keen to write more about it but it always seems a bit odd to essentially review an album twice, even though this was such a brief piece. However, I’ve done it with Gorillaz (sort of – see below) so maybe I will. Either way, rest assured that this is one of the most perfect, summery records I’ve heard this year so far and that it will charm the pants of anybody who loves melodic, beautifully sung and delicately produced music. Get it.

Continue reading “April Releases – Reviews round up”

The Just Played Verdict: The Low Anthem ‘Smart Flesh’

The power of music is hard to quantify. How many of us are constantly on the lookout for something revelatory, something distinctive, something special? No matter how many favourite records you have, it’s a reassuring delight to think that there will be further additions to that list for as long as you keep on exploring. Sometimes they ride in on the crest of a wave of media hype, often they just appear quietly, without fanfare, and ransack your ears. For a lucky group of listeners, 2009’s ‘Oh My God Charlie Darwin‘ was one such record and its capacity to wow remains undiminished. Picked up by the remarkably consistent Bella Union, after being self-released in small numbers in 2008, The Low Anthem‘s third album became beloved of discerning listeners and bearded music monthlies alike. This time around, there is a sense of anticipation surrounding a new release by the band and ‘Smart Flesh’ has a lot to live up to.

Low Anthem Smart

Largely favouring plaintive, spacious vintage folk, proceedings are occasionally interrupted by Waitsian, muddied, junkyard rock and roll. While the more raucous moments are few and far between, the hypnotic qualities of the slower material are more than enough for this band to merit a place in your collection. Much of the album was recorded in a disused pasta sauce factory with microphones dotted across the floor space and the sound of ‘Smart Flesh’ is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Listen carefully to ‘Golden Cattle’ and it’s quite clear that lead vocalist Ben Knox Miller’s affecting performance is being picked up from afar; emptiness never sounded so good. ‘Love And Altar’ has a similarly airy feel, the attention to detail in creating this distinctive, raw sound utterly staggering. Miller sounds as if his vocal is being left somewhere in the past, the other voices in the band harmonising beautifully around him. It’s impressive through speakers but a listen via headphones left me more than a little choked up. Continue reading “The Just Played Verdict: The Low Anthem ‘Smart Flesh’”

1. John Grant–Queen Of Denmark

Best of 2010At the start of the year, the big story about ‘Queen Of Denmark’ was that Midlake were the backing band. By December, the fuss is all about the remarkable voice, presence and charisma of John Grant. Battered, bruised, disaffected and dissatisfied after years as the frontman of one of rock’s great secret pleasures, The Czars, Grant had retreated from the world of music to wait tables and make use of some of the many languages in which he is well versed.


Queen Of Denmark’, the slow-burning masterpiece of 2010, is the result of Denton, Texas’ finest coercing Grant back into the studio. When asked to review this album in the early months of the year, I gave it a solid seven. By the time it was released, and I was revisiting my text for publication here, I commented that it should have been an eight. If your experience begins in a similar vein, stick with it because it is now, unquestionably, a ten.

Musically, it is a triumph, exuding an early Seventies style warmth which curls out of the speakers rather than ambushing you with any unnecessary punch. The slinky unravelling of opening track ‘TC And Honeybear’ gives a pretty clear indication of the musical terrain which lies ahead, ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ a sweeping mid-paced delight from start to finish. I originally described ‘Chicken Bones’ as like the Scissor Sisters at half-speed and I’m not trying to distance myself from that remark just now, although it is considerably better than anything said band have released to date. The lyric, “I got out of my bed this morning and I noticed that it didn’t have a right side,” is one of many, many brilliant lines on this remarkable album because it is one of those rare triumphs: a musical delight matched by exquisitely great lyrics. Obviously, I don’t own any copyright or the like on this, but I reproduce below the entire lyric from the album’s title and closing track, ‘Queen Of Denmark’. While Lucky Soul may have claimed the line of the year previously, the complete lyric of 2010 has to be this deliciously vitriolic expulsion:

I wanted to change the world,
but I could not even change my underwear.
And when the shit got really, really out of hand,
I had it all the way up to my hairline
which keeps receding like my self-confidence,
as if I ever had any of that stuff anyway.
I hope I didn’t destroy your celebration
or your Bar Mitzvah, birthday party or your Christmas.
You put me in this cage and threw away the key.
It was this ‘us and them’ shit that did me in.
You tell me that my life is based upon a lie;
I casually mention that I pissed in your coffee.
I hope you know that all I want from you is sex,
to be with someone who looks smashing in athletic wear,
and if your haircut isn’t right you’ll be dismissed.
Get your walking papers and you can leave now.

Don’t know what to want from this world,
I really don’t know what to want from this world.
I don’t know what it is you want to want from me,
you really have no right to want anything from me at all.
Why don’t you take it out on somebody else?
Why don’t you bore the shit out of somebody else?
Why don’t you tell somebody else that they’re selfish?
Weepy coward and pathetic…

Who’s gonna be the one to save me from myself?
You’d better bring a stun gun and perhaps a crowbar,
you’d better pack a lunch and get up really early
and you should probably get down on your knees and pray.
It’s really fun to look embarrassed all the time
like you could never cut the mustard with the big boys.
I really don’t know who the fuck you think you are;
can I please see your license and your registration?

So Jesus hasn’t come in here to pick you up.
You’ll still be sitting right here ten years from now.
You’re just a sucker but we’ll see who gets the last laugh –
who knows, maybe you’ll get to be the next Queen of Denmark.

And breathe. Staggering stuff, and ten times as good when you hear him actually singing it. The moment when the track explodes, as he cries out “Why don’t you take it out on somebody else?” is utterly perfect, the demented thrust mirroring perfectly the emotions at the heart of the song. There are many moments on the album where Grant settles prior scores and offers a quite mesmerisingly honest insight into his life, but this is its zenith.

At the risk of making every other post in this list about the Green Man Festival, watching Grant perform on a drizzly Friday night was one of those moments that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. A small band of those in the know had assembled, safe in the knowledge that a real treat was forthcoming, and the crowd grew considerably as his spellbinding baritone rose over the soggy fields and seduced the damp from all directions. Recent interviews have found Grant expressing genuine surprise at the reception to ‘Queen Of Denmark’ and it was clear that night that these songs continue to hold the baggage so openly displayed in their words. An a cappella version of ‘Chicken Bones’, as his stripped down stage setup didn’t allow for a full performance, lingers long in the mind and it served to highlight the staggering depth of a truly amazing voice.

Bella Union released an almost suspicious number of brilliant records in 2010, but none were more special than this unique burst of a man laying bare his emotional no man’s land. There is a remarkable double vinyl version available which is as good a pressing as any I own and which is the ultimate way to hear this sensational album. Hyperbole be damned, this is an absolute masterpiece.