Invisible Volatiles

Quality popular music is still out there. You may have to go to the other side of the world and another hemisphere to find it, but it’s there. Don’t believe all the hype you get fed by the pluggers and promo people, there are better things than the Oasis wannabees that are relentlessly paraded before you. There are young folk producing good music but you should not forget those of more mature years who still have the chops and attitude to produce quality content.

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A case in point is David McClymont with a new release called “Invisible Volatiles” which you can access as Pay What You Want via Bandcamp. McClymont of course came to notice as part of Orange Juice but his CV demonstrates a much wider and impressive career with The Moodists, Blancmange, Paul Haig, Mick Harvey, and a couple of fascinating  releases with Nick Currie (Momus). Of late he has had a run of solo/duo releases, from 2014 onwards, which have been consistently excellent with this latest offering being the best of the collection so far, although you should also check out his album with Rick Morris from last year.

There must be something in the water in Melbourne that ensures that the bulk of the musical material emerging from the city demonstrates quality and a commitment to push the boundaries. This collection of songs journeys between quality popular music, with a subtle hints of David Bowie, through near but not quite country rock, to more acerbic (but only slightly) tunes all written with attention to detail, specifically melody.

I commend it to you without reservation.

 

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Welcome To Our Village

A psycho geographical journey across the hills of North Manchester (they are from Bury Man!) sees Adventures of Salvador reach new heights with their sophomore waxing “Welcome To Our Village”. Equal parts surf, punk, and rock with an Urban patina this is the sound of men growing old disgracefully.

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Honing their already unique blend of influences and instrumentation the quartet have delivered eight excellent tunes. There is no padding or filler on this album, it is top to tail high quality material.

Subject matters varies between the grotesque, picaresque, and humorous with cultural references aplenty,  this is rock music couched in a grand guignol cabaret. Finally some one has written a rock song to honour the cultural icon King Kong that matches Frank Zappa’s efforts from the late 60s. Finally someone has managed to capture the mystery of Walt Disney’s life and give him a good verbal drubbing. Finally someone has transferred the absurd world view of Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Harold Pinter into a rock song with “Welcome to My Village” a harrowing tale of village life. With catchy riffs derived from the back of Lux and Ivy’s motor home and the Partch like interventions of Loop-Aznavour’s theremin, and the “what shouldn’t fit but does” use of a mellotron you have what is one of the best albums of 2019.

Adventures of Salvador are

Nigel Beck – booming bass/vox
Mark Berry – Genie of the Gretsch
Dave aka Loop-aznavour – vox/keyboard/theremin
Mike “Complicated” Smith – DRUMS!

Produced by Tony Long
Mastered by Mike Tucci
Artwork by Jack Jerz

Recorded at Big City Jacks Recording Studio in Bury, Greater Manchester

Available now from German Shepherd Records in digital, CD and Vinyl formats.

Office Politics

By my reckoning we now have  the fifth Monkeys In Love full length after “Death Jeans”, “Will Pet and Cuddle You”, “Take The Biscuit”, and “Live in Stoke Newington”. It’s called “Monkeys In Love Are Ready For The Mountain”.  First thing to say is that, as usual, it’s excellent, and, as usual, it’s markedly different from what went before, a hallmark of the “Monkeys” approach.

The difference this time around is that the melodic hooks are not so overt. They are constructed to work seamlessly within the whole of a song rather than being a defined part that implies a change within the construct of a piece. There are trademark Monkey earworms in play but they take their time to sink in and lodge in your mind on the second or third listen. Musically there is some continuity across the ten songs giving an overall conceptual mood to the album as Steve narrates the story. The groups love of library and advertisement music is perhaps more palpable in these songs. In considering this release in the body of work as a whole, and specifically the preceding album, a comparison would be the difference between “Selling England by the Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, or, “The Who Sell Out” and “Tommy”, in that there is a more theatrical feel to this album than its predecessors.

The band introduce the album as follows:

The album features ten new songs that trace the nervous breakdown and eventual quasi-spiritual rebirth of a beleaguered office worker. Musically speaking, there’s a kind of mid-80s college rock thing going on in our sound this time round and although we’d love to say it was a deliberate artistic choice owing to the alarmingly mid-80s political climate of late, we can’t honestly remember if it was a conscious choice or not.

The band admit that production/recording is  “ever so slightly slicker on this album. It’s still pretty lo-fi, but a lot less lo-fi than previous releases“. The lyrics also follow up on a couple of songs from the previous album ‘Monkeys In Love Live In New Stoke Newington’, but the listener is left to work out which those songs are and how they relate to this album.

The line up for this release is

Danielle McCullough: guitar, flute, recorder and melodica
Eamonn Murphy: guitar, bass and FX
Laura Simms-Luddington: singing
Steve Simms-Luddington: singing, keys, programming and FX

The plan is to re-release the whole back catalogue so comparisons can be made with previous material for those jumping on at this stage. Steve promised me an out-takes/rarities album for German Shepherd a couple of years back – still looking forward to that!

Any how – quality stuff, wrap your ears around it.

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LIVE at L’Ubu

In 2015, The Apartments released the album No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal in Europe and influential French Music magazine Magic made it the Number 1 Album of The Year, a feat never before been achieved by an Australian artist. This was not surprising given the huge popularity of the band in France, and also the excellent quality of said release.

To support the release of No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal, The Apartments toured France in September 2015 with a full band. Their show at Rennes’ legendary L’Ubu Club was recorded, resulting in this double album, LIVE at L’Ubu.

The live recording captures the dynamic line-up of a combination of Australian, French and English players in a seven-piece band. This format allows Peter Milton Walsh to, for the first time, drop the guitar and masterfully sing and perform a set of songs from the extant album along with others from The Apartments impressive back catalogue.

In the parallel universe that exists somewhere at the back of my subconscious Walsh is huge and Ed Sheeran doesn’t exist. His bitter sweet songs are the stuff of magic and he is someone that gets the “Grant McLennan” moment every time he constructs a tune. This collection of songs transcends criticism, it’s everything that popular music should be. Legitimate, honest and full of emotion. He has the tone and content of David McComb at his best. He is a master craftsman.

If you have not come across The Apartments before then start with this album and you’ll soon be reaching for the back catalogue. If you don’t like this music then I fear for your eternal soul. Personally I’d play this music to children at nursery school so they can get an early education on what good music is.

Available digitally and as a very limited double vinyl. Hopefully a CD version will emerge at some point for those of us who still like these things.

Full Upon Her Burning Lips

2019 seems to be a year where rock rears it’s head again and gains some ascendancy in a busy musical landscape.

The masters of sensuous guitar led music are back, and, with their latest album “Full Upon Her Burning Lips”, Earth forego the additional instrumentation that embellished some of their previous records and reduce the team to the core duo of Dylan Carlson on guitar and bass and Adrienne Davies on drums and percussion.

Matters commence with  “Datura’s Crimson Veils”, a twelve-minute opus that reflects Earth’s new approach with Carlson’s sepia-toned Bakersfield Sound guitars lurching across a barren landscape while Davies punctuates the melodies with intent and a particularly effective cymbal roll adds an alien sound to the mix. Indeed her cymbal work throughout the album is exemplary.

The approach on this release in some part looks back to the riff-constructed approach of their “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light” albums, but stripped of their ornateness….

“It was definitely a very organically developed record,” Carlson says of the process. “I limited the number of effects I used. I always like the limiting of materials to force oneself to employ them more creatively. Previous Earth records were quite lush sounding, and I wanted a more upfront and drier sound, using very few studio effects.”

The stripped down approach had another advantage. “I really wanted the drums to be present,” Carlson says. “I felt with previous Earth records that other instrumentation took up so much of the sonic space that the drums were kind of pushed to the side.”

This methodology highlights Davies’ ability to elevate the drum kit beyond its rhythmic functions and allows it to serve as an expressive, nuanced, and tonally rich component to Earth’s sound without reverting to bombast.

Less is more.

 “In the past I’ve usually had a strong framework for an album,” Carlson says. “This one developed over the course of writing and recording. It just felt like ‘Earth’—like just the two players doing their best work at playing, serving the music.”

The absence of a pre-existing narrative guiding the compositions results in songs were more open and intuitive, often resulting in musical vignettes like “Exaltation of Larks” or  “Maidens Catafalque”.

“I wanted this to be a ‘sexy’ record, a record acknowledging the ‘witchy’ and ‘sensual’ aspects in the music… sort of a ‘witch’s garden’ kind of theme, with references to mind altering plants and animals that people have always held superstitious beliefs towards. A conjuror or root doctor’s herbarium of songs, as it were.”

The ten tracks on Full Upon Her Burning Lips came together in bits and pieces. Songs like “Cats on the Briar” and “Mandrake’s Hymn” emerged from a handful of musical phrases and repeating patterns concocted in moments of downtime during their 2017 tour schedule. The delightful “Descending Belladonna” came from a live soundtrack project. Other songs came from rehearsals in the months leading up to recording or in moments of inspiration in the studio.

The record was engineered, mixed, and mastered by longtime associate Mell Dettmer at Studio Soli. Knowing their process and their sound, Dettmer helped harness, shape, and document the songs in a manner that highlights the depth of Earth’s sparse components. For the patient listener, the cyclical nature of the songs “She Rides an Air of Malevolence” or “An Unnatural Carousel” reveal new elements with repeated listens, with the subtle variations between passes creating a kaleidoscope of sounds.

“I feel like this is the fullest expression and purest distillation of what Earth does since I re-started the band,” Carlson says in reflection of Full Upon Her Burning Lips.

As a long time Earth fan I found the new approach refreshing, there is a tendency in some rock circles to “over-egg the mix” in the search of something memorable, whereas this band manage to achieve that goal by simplifying their approach. Both restrained and adventurous in equal measure, this is instrumental music of the highest quality and a primer for how to use the guitar without fret worrying shredding, and the drums as more than mere percussion. I have to agree with Carlson, this is their best work to date and it immediately goes on the albums of the year list for 2019.

Sargent House releases the album to the world on May 24th, 2019 on 2xLP / CD / digital formats.

Payola

Attempts to finally get to see the reformed Vee VV this year have failed miserably. A combination of factors including guitarists with poorly hands and other matters have left me wondering what they could be like live after all this time. Never mind  I can console myself with the remastered CD collection/compilation of their work called “Payola” released by Edils Recording in a marvellously eco friendly digipac (cork and paper). 19 tracks from across their career involves four different line-ups.

The bulk of their recordings are included and the collection provides a rich history of post punk North West UK in the 1980s. Bass and riff driven in the most part with a combination of that early 80s guitar tremor/flange/phase/jangle and incisive vocals with politically astute words. The music provides an impressive bridge between what bands like The Fall and The Moodists were doing at this time, and the emerging pre-goth epic sound that would start with The Birthday Party, get captured by Bauhaus and Killing Joke, and then get lost in it’s own eyeliner. Comparisons with Gang of Four have been made elsewhere, I guess there’s some read over but Vee VV feel less mannered and more organic. There’s a relentless hypnotic feel to the music.  It wipes the floor with most of the current insipid indie crap that gets forced into my in-box on a daily basis.

You get 67 minutes of marvellous music – if you want to know what was happening on the Fylde coast in the 80s this is a good place to go, if you want a primer in exciting music creation then this is the one to check. With contemporaries The Membranes about to release a remarkable album this feels like a good time for the Blackpool sound to be back and challenging the music scene to up its game.

I’ll be featuring tracks on the Aural Delights show during May and June. I hope I get to see them soon.

A Gaze Among Them

The two year gap between the last three BIG | BRAVE albums is profoundly frustrating. Their music is compelling and there needs to be more of it, and more often. The latest, “A Gaze Among Them”, is released on Southern Lord on May 10th.

Since their formation in 2012, BIG|BRAVE have explored varying aspects of experimental rock with a focus on repetition, an epic sound, and an unrelenting delivery. Those elements are in full effect on this new album, released on Southern Lord.

The band includes Robin Wattie (vocals, electric guitar, guitar amp, bass amp), Mathieu Ball (electric guitar, guitar amps) and Loel Campbell (drums) with guest album appearances from Thierry Amar (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt Zion) on Contrabass and Seth Manchester’s synth overdubs. The album was recorded with Seth Manchester at Machine with Magnets in Pawtucket Rhode Island.

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With the exception of the relatively short “The Deafening Verity” the remaining four tracks vary between 7 and 10 minutes in length allowing enough space to develop a sound palette in which Wattie’s feral/anguished vocals persist over intense riffing and churning atmospherics. There is little modulation as the band pursue one note or one chord to create a hypnotic drone of noise rock.  An almost ecstatic and cathartic wall of sound emerges as guitars are brutalised and percussion creates a supporting bed  . Elements of religious and middle eastern music hover at the edge of the sound evoking a range of emotional responses not usually associated with this genre.

This is their fourth full length and their best work to date.

The album will be featured on Aural Delights Show 336 on May 9th.

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