Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Review: Cormac O’Caoimh – Swim Crawl Walk Run

One of the main pleasures of reviewing music is seeing how an artist evolves and finds his/her voice. Certainly, O’Caoimh’s voice (and what an appealing, smooth instrument it is) and songwriting skills have discovered a rich vein of form on his last few albums, whereas the first few offerings as The Citadels and his first solo album were a little patchy. Regular collaborator and backing vocalist Aoife Regan is here again as is Martin Leahy who seems to be credited with playing just about every instrument as well as taking care of production.


‘You Won’t Break Me’ is a light and bright way to introduce the new record but better more deeply satisfying songs follow. ‘When My Kids Grow Too Old To Hold Hands’ is one such example; the simplicity of arrangements, guitar strums and O’Caoimh’s always intimate vocals is a winning formula and later on the song bursts into a lovely sequence of strings. ‘Desire Lines’ is another highlight; some countrified guitar and brushed percussion giving the melody plenty of space to breathe and sink its hooks into the listener. As the album enters its mid-point, a self-effacing ‘Pocketful Of Doodling’ leans towards a jazzier direction and is a delight, especially when Regan joins in, whilst the equally excellent ‘When Did I Get So Cold?’ is another track which evokes the charm of rainy day afternoons (for the record, the singer’s voice has possibly never sounded warmer). These more melancholic affairs contrast neatly with the uptempo likes of ‘Swim Crawl Walk Run Ride Drive Fly’ and the quiet-loud dynamics of ‘Untitled’. Credit to for ‘Slow Love’, where the experimental staccato rhythms offer a somewhat unexpected (given the title) injection of pace.

‘Swim Crawl Walk Run’ is a delightful and cohesive album; showcasing one of the most engaging voices in modern pop/folk today. For fans of Kings Of Convenience in particular, this record is worth thirty eight minutes of anyone’s isolation time.

Cormac O’Caoimh Official Site

Further Listening:
Kings Of Convenience, Prefab Sprout


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).


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:

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.


‘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’.


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:

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

Review: Last Harbour – Caul

Manchester’s Last Harbour have been offloading their doom-laden rock to angst lovers for over a decade now and it is to be expected that their new album ‘Caul’ will reveal no sign of them lightening the mood. Yet there’s shafts of light here which indicate there is hope after all these years.

Last Harbour Album Cover

‘Caul’ opens like a finale with mournful drones and strings and a sedate piano melody emulating the last paragraph of a tragic novel. After this brief instrumental comes the first song, ‘Fracture Fragment’, where K. Craig’s lugubrious tones set the scene for more familiar territory. It’s a weighty number which lurches all the way from bleakness to misery, yet elegantly so.

Then come the surprises. ‘Guitar Neck’ benefits from a shift in momentum, as guitars and rhythms picking up the urgency and intensity; resembling the missing link between Piano Magic and The Stranglers. ‘Before The Ritual’ veers even more towards rock and there’s even a playful keyboard motif thrown in for good measure.

Further about turns arrive via ‘Horse Without A Rider’, where they move into the warmth of country music before unleashing a post-rock storm. ‘The Deal’ starts like the main event; beginning so ominously with sinister string segments and then relentless percussion. The only disappointment is that it doesn’t build into the towering epic that it promises and merely broods. As the album draws towards its conclusion, ‘The Pressure’ is as weary as the title suggests and final song ‘The Promise’ is a beautifully-arranged suite; seguing from its forlorn beginning to an uplifting middle section and then reverting to a valedictory, peaceful end.

‘Caul’ offers unexpected shifts in pace and style without disappointing fans of their previous work. So their glass is still half empty but Last Harbour offer comfort and solace at the end of the voyage.

Web Sites:
Last Harbour Official Site
Gizeh Records Label Site
Last Harbour – Caul on SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Piano Magic, Tomorrow We Sail, Her Name Is Calla

Review: Arc Waves – Arc Waves EP

Having first written about Brooklyn’s Elaine Lachica some thirteen years ago, it’s fascinating to gain an insight into the development of a musician. As a solo artist, Lachica immediately stood out with her impressive vocal range and inventive way with song creation but she did seem like a talent who needed a bit more focus, even if her most recent solo album 2009’s ‘I Think I Can See The Ocean’ was a gem. Arc Waves are a new band based fronted by the vocal talents of Lachica and – like her solo records – they’re not content to stick to one genre either.

Arc Waves EP Cover

For opener ‘Half Dome’, Lachica’s ululations are kept in check by shoegaze-indebted guitars and nagging indie pop basslines. She is more controlled for a gentler but ‘Look Straight At Me’, which heads for the territory of dream pop heaven.
On the strength of these first two tracks alone, Arc Waves are clearly a good match for each other; complimenting vocal originality with tight musicianship.

For the straighter-edged reverb-heavy rock of ‘Cascades’, however, the band sound less interesting, with Lachica’s style somewhat at odds with the Interpol-like production. By the time of the final offering, ‘Galaxies’ the group have moved into ambient rock circles and it’s no exaggeration to say the group seem to be attempting a more danceable version of latter-day Cocteau Twins on this song and with some success too.

This is an interesting move for Lachica after her somewhat wayward displays on previous albums. Perhaps the unity of working in a band gives her the solid structures she has been craving but importantly her individual talents are not compromised here either, even if sometimes the genre choice seems like an awkward fit. Minor quibbles aside then, all of this promises much for the debut album.

Web Sites:
Arc Waves Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Attic Ends, Elaine Lachica, Cocteau Twins

Review: Surfacing – Surfacing

Nottingham’s Surfacing aim to give voice to (amongst other things) the horrors that society tries to suppress. Yet anyone who likes their experimental music embellished by post-punk yet curious about the terrors of the night club will find an album worth pursuing here.

Surfacing Album Cover

Thanks to its tribal drums, whispered vocals and dystopian, industrial atmosphere, ‘Surfacing (Susanna’s Song)’ builds up as if it’s going to turn into an alternative dance anthem. In fact, to be perfectly frank, there are strong undercurrents of¬†Underworld here. ‘Hypocalypse’ also has roots in the club scene but the edgy spoken word and sense of claustrophobia suggest an affinity with angry post-punk obscurities such as The Royal Family And The Poor too.

As the record reaches its halfway point, ‘Amaurot’ mesmerises with its mix of chants, Eastern rhythms and modern beats; the overall effect sounding like the lost cries of forgotten prisoners as they rattle their cages. It’s a stunning moment. ‘Melancholy Of Fulfilment’ cuts the production layers back further still with vocals now represented by dislocated echoes. This excellent mini album then ends in dramatic fashion with ‘Her Smoke Rose Up Forever’; where the beats, bleeps and rhythms merge into one another to form the thinking man’s floor filler Surfacing had been threatening from the start.

Within each track there is music of stark beauty which haunts the listener with every ghostly step. Experimental music very rarely sounds as vital and as invigorating as this.

Web Sites:
Surfacing Tumblr
Surfacing Bandcamp
Records On Ribs Label

Further Listening:
The Royal Family And The Poor, A.R. Kane, Underworld, Ultramarine

Review: Lukas Creswell-Rost Go Dream

Back in 2011, the Berlin-based The Pattern Theory released their excellent self-titled post-rock album; which found that all-important middle ground between sonic invention and a strong emotive pull. A few years on and it’s time for former member Lukas Creswell-Rost to release his latest album. It has more in common with the likes of Destroyer’s ‘Kaputt’ than the kings of post-rock but undoubtedly possesses similar levels of creativity and emotions.

Lukas Creswell-Rost Album Cover

Creswell-Rost is a fine vocalist with his gentle, breathy tones bearing favourable comparisons with Green Gartside. His song structures are even more distinctive and even if this means some of the risks don’t pay off (the sax solo on ‘Week Of Warmth’ for instance), he generally hits the mark with some clever melodies. Added to this, the lyrical matter is based on rarely-covered subjects such as Yngwie Malmsteen’s air rage, Badfinger and Seinfeld.

‘Foreign Movies’ is busy with squelching beats, seaside samples and smooth synths and the song’s pattern is all over the place but Creswell-Rost has clearly put in the hours; turning incongruous elements into a rambling, warm and intriguing opener and it’s a good indicator of what’s to come. ‘Time Waster’ features a relatively sparse production which gradually develops in intensity and is a definite stand-out but even lighter, less complex material such as ‘Stolen Thunder’ bears the hallmarks of classic songwriting.

A hook-laden vocal and languid Sea And Cake-like rhythms ensures that ‘Own Night Out’ perfectly encapsulates Creswell-Rost’s charm. Yet the album reaches glorious peak as it nears its conclusion. ‘Patient Pilot’ possesses a breezy elegance whilst the stunning title track begins like a beat-hungry Durutti Column and then morphs into a fabulously epic ambient rock piece.

Although it obviously bears influences, ‘Go Dream’ signifies its creator as a true original; creating oddly-structured songs and turning them into multi-layered, dreamy, wonderful tunes.

Web Sites:
Plain Sailing Records
Lukas Creswell-Rost – Go Dream on Bandcamp
Video for Lukas Creswell-Rost – Time Waster

Further Listening:
Destroyer, Scritti Politti, Michael Flynn, The Pattern Theory

Review: Kemper Norton – Loor

Not traditionally known as a hotbed for exciting original music, Cornwall is now doing its bit to improve matters, at least where Kemper Norton is concerned. ‘Loor’ is the Cornish word for moon and you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s where it was recorded.

Loor Album Cover

‘Howsled’ is certainly a bold way to start the album and – with its fragmented melodies, found sounds and unearthly atmosphere – it is more than likely to send experimental music novices running for the hills. Those who persist, however, will find much to sink their teeth into.

It is the vocal-led tracks which are the most rewarding initially. ‘Ostiasz’ frames what appears to a traditional folk song in a shroud of dark ambience and click-clack beats; the song gradually adding in new layers as it mutates into increasingly abstract territory. ‘All Through The Night’ applies a similar formula (not that this music is ever formulaic) but to even more chilling effect. With subsequent listens, the instrumental pieces begin to grow in stature. ‘Cravendale Round’ takes on an enigmatic shimmering beauty whilst ‘Cityport Of Traps’ embraces the joy of repetition with a hypnotic combination of looped vocals and bell rings.

Seven minutes of pulsing rhythms and drones on ‘Helston 91’ may be a tad too long but the album very rarely loses its ability to mesmerise. All told it’s another sterling, original release from the always inventive Front & Follow label.

Web Sites:
Kemper Norton Blog
Kemper Norton – Loor on Bandcamp
Front & Follow Label and Shop Site

Further Listening: