Sirens Playlist

In honour of International Women’s Day, here is a playlist dedicated to inspirational female musicians:

Live Review: Field Music and Emma Pollock, Nottingham Rescue Rooms, 21st February 2020

Perhaps it’s an age thing but I’m now at the stage of my life when my thirst for live music is much greater than it was, whereas the number of albums I buy or listen to each year has reduced significantly. There is certainly a concern that the acts I want to see are likely to be retired (or worse) if I don’t take the chance to see them this time. At around the 40 mark, Field Music’s core members David and Peter Brewis are relative spring chickens compared to Bauhaus, Level 42 or The Stranglers; other bands I intend to see perform live by the end of the year. So when it was announced that the Sunderland outfit’s latest tour schedule included Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms, it was a no-brainer for me to attend. Well, unless Lincoln City were playing at home that night, that is (they weren’t but they did have a home game on the following day).

fieldmusic

The songs for their seventh proper album ‘Making a New World’ were inspired by research David and Peter Brewis conducted about stories, events, and technological advances that occurred during and after World War I, as part of a project commissioned for the Imperial War Museum. So the brothers have used what they have learned to construct a concept album. Bear with me here. Field Music have occasionally been accused of being too clever for their own good and this is a trap they could fall into here but they have still gathered up the usual deserved critical acclaim from most quarters. The question is, can they relay the message effectively to a live audience?

Founder member of The Delgados, Emma Pollock, took to the stage first, accompanied by cellist Pete Harvey. After the first song she announced that the duo were actually meant to be a trio but bassist/keyboard player Graeme Smillie was unable to attend due to the floods in Perth. Nevertheless, the performance of the twosome displayed a raw intensity; Pollock’s slightly nervy between-song banter belied by a strong, confident delivery, with ‘Cannot Keep A Secret’ and ‘Parks And Recreation’ two of the standouts of a bold set. Indeed, as I said to Pollock after the gig, if she hadn’t mentioned that they were a band member short, I would have been oblivious to this not being a deliberate move, rather than one enforced by circumstances. After three well-received albums since going solo, Pollock seems stronger than ever.

So onto the main act. Performing a concept album in its entirety may seem brave, somewhat foolhardy even, and this Nottingham show was the first time it had been aired in full after some shorter gigs earlier in the year. A protesting audience member shouted “It’s Friday night!” but it was a lone voice and with the record only just over forty minutes in length and plenty of the Brewis brothers’ familiar hooky songwriting on show, there was no need to worry. Well, not much, anyway. After two, brief, scene-setting instrumentals, listening to ‘Coffee And Wine’ is the first sign of reassurance, with boxes duly ticked for warm vocals, stabbing keyboard motifs and angular guitars. ‘Do You Read Me?’ and ‘Money Is A Memory’, with their singalong choruses, were perhaps the best received but there was so much more to the show, with a video backdrop displaying the stories behind each song, whether the subject was the invention of sanitary towels (for the unashamedly 80’s funk of ‘Only In A Man’s World’) or advances in gender alignment (the subtle ‘A Change Of Heir’). ‘A Shot To The Arm’ is a typical Field Music song in many ways, where a piano intro best described as “awkward” is juxtaposed with a lovely, melancholic guitar refrain. Very few bands get away with this trick mid-song and Field Music are one of this select few. Another highlight, ‘Nikon Pt. 1’, is full of dreamy melodies and Peter’s tender, longing vocals. The album was played from start to finish without time to pause for the customary clapping and whooping between songs but the experiment received warm applause from a knowledgeable audience.

Field Music then delivered the “hits” they suggested at the start of the show. A chipper track such as ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’ was a good way to start the second part of the gig and the brilliantly infectious, Hall and Oates-influenced ‘Disappointed’ was an equally good way to end the pre-encore. In between there was a highlight of David’s anti-Donald Trump solo album (‘Nobody Knows’) and the surprise of the evening was ‘Just Like Everyone Else’, sung by touring performer Liz Corney. It’s one of the most sensitive, heart-tugging songs written by the Brewis brothers with Corney’s delivery on the night providing a poignant counterpoint to the brothers’ often angular and spikier numbers. The brothers also exchanged plenty of mid-song banter once the shackles were off from playing the new material.

Seven albums in and Field Music have consolidated their reputation as one of the UK’s most enduring acts. There’s no doubt the “hits” were more warmly received than the album but that’s usually the case when a band performs something new that is unfamiliar to much of the audience. I, for one, very much look forward to album number eight, however odd and contrary it might be.

Field Music Official Site
Emma Pollock Official Site

Listen to the album on Spotify:

Christmas Playlist

Greetings, here’s my Obligatory Christmas Playlist on Spotify. A mixture of the popular and not so popular, I think it’s fair to say.

Leonard’s Lair is now on Spotify

I may post reviews once every 2 years these days but I have recently discovered the delights of Spotify.

This is my first attempt at a playlist, including some real wonderful obscurities which I probably wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t started writing music reviews. The Playlist is entitled ‘Chimes Of Britain’¬† so expect lots of chiming guitars and a very British feel (even though a few may be recorded by artists outside of Britain). Feel free to follow me on Spotify and I welcome your comments, of course.

All the best,

Jon

 

Review: epic45 – Through Broken Summer

I have followed the career of epic45 pretty closely after first hearing them on an Earworm Records compilation from 2001. I noted in my review at the time that their contribution, ‘The Motorway Journey Of Hope’, was my favourite and my ears have always been receptive to their music ever since. Across almost two decades, this journey continued from the pretty instrumental textures of ‘Reckless Engineers’ to their most recent, slightly uneven and collaboration-heavy ‘Weathering’. Their records have always concentrated on very admirable characteristics such as musicianship, melody, melancholy, experimental production and lost childhood. It was music made by sensitive souls for sensitive souls.

All of their albums have been received positively, but if there was one thing they did lack it would be power and confidence or the willingness to step out from the minor label shadows. My main criticism of ‘Weathering’ at the time was that after a bold start they were a little tentative thereafter; retreating into their shells once more. Since then, core members Ben Holton and Rob Glover went on an indefinite hiatus as a songwriting partnership but have each used the time wisely; the former with My Autumn Empire and the latter with Field Harmonics, both of which embraced a distinct love of pop music from the 1970’s and 1980’s. After a slight return with 2014’s ‘Monument EP’ (which tellingly features a Tears For Fears cover), ‘Through Broken Summer’ sees them emerge from a nostalgic haze into their most ambitious offering yet.

v600_Through_Broken_Summer_-_Cover

‘Remember The Future’ is a bold yet haunting opening, mixing the band’s love of the pastoral with a confident production. It almost sounds like a satisfying end to an emotionally exhausting album as the last lights of summer slowly fade out. ‘The Lanes Don’t Change’ may not scream “indie hit” as much as their unheralded classic ‘Ghosts On Tape’ (surely one of the most beautiful songs of his Century) but the combination of Holton’s distinctive whispering tones, the repeated guitar hook and shuddering percussion is just as dreamy and intoxicating. By the time of the fourth track, the wonderfully warm melancholy of ‘Sun Memory’, there’s a definite sense that this will be the best album I’ve heard for several years. Songs are segued by unusual snatches of samples and ambient music, reminiscent of Boards Of Canada and emerging into a fully-formed experiment for the mysterious ‘Cornfields And Classrooms’. Single ‘Outside’ is another statement of intent, where brash slabs of vintage electronica blast from the speakers but there’s so much more going on in the multiple layers underneath to set this apart from a cheap electro-pop revival.

‘Hillside #6’ arrives at the midpoint and is a collaboration with regular touring partner Antony Harding of July Skies fame. It’s another serene moment and possibly the most practical way for a Brit to enjoy summer without needing to venture abroad. Yet this is a very British sounding album, made by a group brought up on a diet of Children’s Film Foundation and living in a Staffordshire village. This track signals a slight shift in tone as the music drifts into a gentler vibe, characterised by the hazily hypnotic melody to ‘New Silence’ and the hushed harmonies of ‘From Quiet Houses’ and ‘Cloud Phantoms’. Then just as things seem to be settling down towards a peaceful slumber, another stunning moment arrives. ‘Life Fades Whilst It’s Still Yours’ embodies magnificence as soon as the flute sounds, satisfyingly crisp drums a la late period Talk Talk and another compelling guitar hook kick in. It takes a glorious two minutes for Holton’s vocals to creep in; forming another beautiful layer and creating what Martine McCutcheon was probably talking about when she spoke of a ‘Perfect Moment’. On the title track, there is rain on the horizon, or rather the rainy day rock perfected by Epic 45’s old touring mates, Hood (circa the turn of the Century) but by the end of the track, they have worked their way up (or down) from a drizzle to a storm of their very own making. By the final plaintive, glistening notes of the last song, ‘We Don’t Love Here Anymore’, it’s clear that we have witnessed something special.

‘Through Broken Summer’ is a brilliant album and a perfect statement in how to appeal to a broader audience without compromising what made the artists so special and unique in the first place. Perhaps the “epic” part of the name was a prediction of what they would eventually become.

Web Sites:

epic45 Official Site
Wayside and Woodland Label and Shop Site
Video of epic45 – Outside

Further Listening:

July Skies, My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics, Bark Psychosis, Talk Talk, Hood, Radiohead, Boards Of Canada

Review: Sumner – That Ladybird Summer

This is the first album in what seems like aeons from Southport’s Paul Sumner. In fact it’s his first album since the solo debut, ‘A World Of Horses’, from 2006; a record which was described here as being “strong on heart-on-sleeve sentiment”. Much like that record and many artists from the North West of England, themes of melody, innocence and nostalgia are writ large over ‘That Ladybird Summer’.

sumner

There are tunes here that a milkman would whistle. In fact, the first song, ‘Our Milkman Is The Morning’, is just that, complete with children’s chorus. Similarly, ‘Let’s Go And Play’ and ‘Picture Book’ are happy, singalong songs which wouldn’t sound out of place on Mark Wirtz’s ‘Teenage Opera’ soundtrack. ‘Pauline Curry Swore’ and ‘News At Ten’ bask in dreamy atmospheres whilst Sumner’s soothing tones fit in remarkably smoothly; it’s at this stage where the album seems to be growing up, both in subject matter and the mature, less child-friendly arrangements.

Perhaps the most poignant lyric arrives on ‘Remember Village Life?’ where the songwriter intones “There’s something pure and honest there. I can feel it in my bones”. It’s a really comfy slipper moment on a record which has warmth in abundance and it sums up the album in a couple of sentences too.

The excellent ‘Soul Love’ will draw inevitable comparisons with The Lotus Eaters, thanks to the glistening, chiming guitar refrain and Sumner’s falsetto. Then comes the twelve-minute finale, ‘The Battle For Barney’s Farm’, an ambitious suite, if you will, and one which finds the right balance between emotion, guitar solos and the inevitable big psych finish and fade-out.

Those familiar with XTC’s similarly whimsical album ‘Skylarking’ will appreciate ‘That Ladybird Summer’ and it’s surely no coincidence that XTC man Dave Gregory features on a couple of the songs. Yet it’s Sumner himself who is the real star here and his Utopian vision based on growing up in an English village has resulted in a really charming and colourful album.

Web Sites:

https://churchtownrecords.bandcamp.com/

Further Listening:

Mark Wirtz, XTC

Review: The Foreign Resort – New Frontiers

Copenhagen trio The Foreign Resort have been touted as the most exciting act from Denmark since The Raveonettes. Praise indeed but connections with their compatriots are few beyond their nationality as these particular Danes create epic, synth and guitar based indie rock with crossover appeal to goth, shoegaze and Europop fans.

Foreign Resort Album Cover

Beginning in arresting fashion, ‘Dead End Roads’ is propelled aloft by icy synths and muscular rhythms. The song screams with¬†urgency but tempered by a cool European flair. Mikkel B. Jakobsen’s vocals embody tension, panic, frustration and possibly a little sweatiness too. The next song, ‘Breaking Apart’, chugs and swirls along aggressively too but the guitars chime prettily for ‘Alone’ and the frontman’s teary-eyed tones evoke a sense of tenderness and romance for the first time. It’s an idea which is expanded on by the A-ha-like ‘Quiet Again’.

Later on, the chilling gothic shapes of ‘New Frontiers’ are reminiscent of Modern English. Yet attention will doubtless be cast towards ‘Flushed’, at least initially; the band simulating a wind tunnel arrangement hurtling towards Jakobsen’s desperate cries. It’s an instantly attractive track which deserves the honour of being lead single but the swooning, “Ultravox on steroids” effects of ‘Landslide’ offer a similar drive and intensity and the instrumental coda to last track ‘Dark White’ is immense.

Although the album is like a guessing game of “spot the influence”, overall this is a very strong album and one which befits the promise of an “aural rollercoaster of emotional intensity”. It’s definitely a thrilling ride which demands repeated visits, that’s for sure.

Web Sites:
The Foreign Resort Official Site
The Foreign Resort Bandcamp

Further Listening: kIM NOVAk, Wolfsheim, Modern English, A-ha. Ultravox


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