Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Album Reviews #1

In a slightly extended edition here are ten albums we've heard recently for your reading and listening pleasure!

Alun Parry – Freedom Rider (Album)

‘Freedom Rider’ is a collection of sing-a-long folk hits from the Liverpudlian artist, bouncing along nicely from one upbeat and foot-tapping tune to another, in particular the singable ‘Keep it Simple’ with its fun chorus and the twangy-guitar of the titular track. ‘Too Scared’ slows things down to a pedestrian swagger before ‘On This Old Guitar’ slips back to the jaunty folk-hefty pace we’ve been used to. Throwing in the catchy hooks on songs such as ‘Climb’ that must sound even better live, ‘Freedom Rider’ is definitely an enjoyably cheerful collection of tracks though some numbers like ‘Jack Jones’ and ‘The Odd Couple’, with its repetitive banjo, feel like they go on for too long with little purpose, though the harmonica break down in the dying moments of the latter is better. But overall it’s an album worth listening to thanks to the perky music, politically-charged lyrics and crisp production and it finishes well with the folk-anthemic and spirit lifting ‘We Are Not Alone’. (7/10)

Black Needle Noise – Before the Tears Came (Album)

‘Before the Tears Came’ is a collection of eleven tracks each with a guest appearance. Opener ‘Wild Stone’, featuring lyrics from Zia, is a Jamiroquai-esque piece, like the more laid-back cousin of ‘Deeper Underground’, with the vocals complimenting the backline. The Jarboe featuring ‘Vexation’ has another surprisingly fun choral hook within its slow, almost ponderous tempo, even if the production does feel a little overpowering on the vocals. ‘3 Steps Backwards’ with its hissy vocals and free structure does nothing for me whilst the electric throb of ‘Mourning Morning’ is equally as weird and unsettling. ‘Queen of Dust’, with its hints at metal and growling vocals, fails to pick up the pace whilst ‘Human’ sees Jarboe’s vocals drowned under the production, and the album pretty much continues in the same vain with obscure production, breathy vocals and a struggle to lift up the pace. Only ‘Behind the 4th Door’ gives something that suggests energy with the Kylie-esque vocals of Elena Alice Fossi at least sounding a little interested, even if she does get buried once more in the music and poor structure. I’d suggest sticking with the first two tracks and ditch the rest. (4/10)

Drum the World – Drum the World (LP)

With seven tracks and a brief mid-album interlude this self-titled album from ‘Drum the World’ is a fun, naturally drum-based album, with the centrepiece the bouncy, summery ‘Come on Everybody’ which is the radio-friendly heart of the record which triggers off a second half that’s more commercial than the opening half which mixes up the feel of samba and reggae on tracks like ‘Whether’ and ‘No Land’. Track six, ‘Imagination’, continues the shift to something more fun with its rap and rnb influenced vocal line that injects some much needed energy into things, continuing the album’s eagerness to mix and mash-up different genres, and proves to be the best on the release. Penultimate track ‘Nadji’ brings a more Afro-Asian style to the fore making this another shift into something to keep your interest, and it works. The LP wraps up with a skill showcase in the form of a drum duet, creating a low-key but clever end to the piece. ‘Drum the World’ is an intriguing cultural exploration of music from across the globe, wrapped up in a varied and charming little package. (7/10)

Hackney Colliery Band – Live (Album)

A collection of seventeen live instrumentals performed by the high-energy band of the title, this live album is a punchy, brassy, enthusiastic collection of jazzy numbers adapted from their albums but much of your love for them will depend on your enjoyment of colliery band music and familiarity with their material. If, like me, you’re not as familiar with their original material, you’ll get more enjoyment out of four of the final batch of tracks that sees them cover Nirvana, Toto and Blackstreet alongside a medley of Prodigy tracks including ‘Jericho’ and ‘Out of Space’ which benefit from introducing some lyrics into the mix. The live album is a fun record full of energy and power but at times it gets a little bit too much in its layering and the lack of familiarity with the music for non fans takes its impact. Perhaps it’s something that’s better live on stage rather than captured on CD. (6/10)

Low Roar – Once In A Long, Long While (Album)

Collecting together 13 tracks, this LP from Low Roar is a delightfully relaxing set of chill-out songs mixing up stripped-back and developing backings with the cool vocals of the lead singer, occasionally matched like on Bones with complimentary vocals, like on that track from Jófriður. opening with the poppier ‘Don’t Be So Serious’ the album is a pleasing flow of tracks, many blending across track boundaries, including the brass-tinged ‘St. Eriksplan’ and the delightfully peaceful ‘Gosia’. Covering the instrumental style of ‘Crawl Back’ and ’12 13’ to the soaring and smooth sounding ‘Poznań’ the album is a laid back, gentle ride that won’t win you over with any bombastic surprising moments but is delightfully chilled out and refreshing when you need that break. Even track ‘Miserably’ somehow comes across as more joyful than the title would suggest. (7/10)

Ministry – Trax! Rareties (Album)

This four-side LP collection is a mish-mash of songs from the early 80s in various flavours. The first set are four live tracks from 1982, in particular hooky opener Never Asked For Nothing and follow-up ‘Love Change’ but final of the quarter ‘America’ is sonically too much for me in its repetitive and over-powering delivery. The five demos that make up the second set are more interesting musically, starting with the electronic Depeche Mode sound of ‘Same Old Madness’ with its catchy synthesizer bleeps-and-bloops though six minutes is perhaps a little testing even for the biggest fan. ‘Game Is Over’ is less exciting with few peaks and troughs to keep me enticed, but the return to electronic with ‘Let’s Be Happy’ is more welcome but again plateaus off. ‘Same Old Scene’ is a lo-fi and by-numbers cover of the Roxy Music classic which adds a bit of familiarity into proceedings for the non-fan. Final electro-indie demo ‘Wait’ is good as well, offering a bit more in style to the others wrapping up this side well. Part three is another mixed bag from the hefty instrumental (mostly) of ‘I See Red’ which is a bit too quirky and experimental for my tastes, sounding like Frankie Goes To Hollywood is Holly Johnson had lost the lyrics to the song and his sense of music. ‘Self Annoyed’ is dark and backed with the sound of someone having a mental breakdown in an abandoned factory. We then get a couple of tracks by the delightfully monikered ‘Revolting Cocks’. ‘Fish in Cold Water’ is another song difficult to like, whilst ‘(Let’s Get) Physical’ declares itself to be the banned version, perhaps because it’s awful. PTP and ‘Show Me Your Spine’ is just as difficult a listen, and that’s a feeling I share with the remaining three tracks of the piece, which is a shame as the LP started off so promisingly. Something mainly for the fans methinks. (4.5/10)

Neville Staple – Return of Judge Roughneck (Album)

A founding member of the Specials, Neville Staple releases this collection of 12 new songs, re-imagined Jamaican classics and some classic cuts from his catalogue, as well as a bonus disc of dubs. The album is what you’d imagine a ska album to be like from a veteran in the field: sunny, catchy and joyful. Opening with the titular track that sets the tone, we get various highlights including the brilliantly hook-filled ‘Lunatics’, the politically-charged swagger of ‘Politician Man’ complete with a cool brass breakdown; and the fun ‘Bangarang’. Though you couldn’t accuse the album of breaking new ground – it sticks to very familiar ska territory – the joy in the music of songs like ‘Maga Dog’ and ‘Run’ can’t be dismissed. Only ‘Sweet Sensation’, the penultimate track with its irritating spoken verses, feels like a skippable track. Thankfully the new live-feeling ragtime lounge version of classic song ‘Enjoy Yourself’, with Jessy Greene on vocals, has a fresh feel to it even if it’s slower pace doesn’t quite live up to the chirpier original.

The collection of dub mixes are a little more eclectic. ‘Maga Dub’, though as fun as other tracks in style, it sounds like an instrumental that’s been handed to someone with too many sound effect trigger buttons and DJ effects, and little self-control. Elsewhere the dubs prove to be similar but with varying levels of styles and are there for the serious fan, otherwise I’d stick with the main album (7/10)

Orchestra BaoBab – Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (Album)

This album is a collection of ten summery songs firmly in the territory of Cuban music, with hints of maybe more West Asian influences. Sounding a little like the sort of inoffensive soundtrack you’d get in the corridors of Nandos, it’s a fun distracting listen full of accomplished music and styles, but with the Spanish lyrics and similar style of each song it’s not something that fully held my attention much after the fourth song, but it was pleasing enough to hear. Good background music made by great musicians, best for a chill-out session really. (6/10)

Someday – This Doesn’t Exist (Album)

With echoes of a more subdued Franz Ferdinand with more European hints to the lead vocals, Someday’s album starts off positively with the catchy guitar riff and laid back vocals of ‘Clean Couch’ though slips down quite considerably onto the gruff, overpowering ‘Forgotten’ that eschews the crisp catchiness of the opening to something muddily produced. Thankfully ‘Last Lesson’ is a much more enjoyable listening experience, coming across as a quiet indie track but one that holds its pace well, a similar experience that is given by subsequent tracks ‘Shelters’ and ‘Waitings’, though the latter has less of a focus on a memorable structure. It’s a shame that the album, which started off with a corker of an opener, descends into dark and muddy identikit guitar tracks like ‘Picture’ and ‘Maurizio (Little Star)’. Sadly it never recovers through the maudlin ‘Little Choices’ and ‘Jokes’ whilst the more swaggery opening of ‘Gliding’ at least offers a glimpse of redemption in its slight change in musical direction. A promising start, squandered. (4/10)

SPC ECO – Anomalies (Album)

‘Anomalies’ is a 9-track album of laid-back electronic-infused numbers overlaid with the most casual vocals since Moby dropped ‘Play’. Opener ‘Out of my System’ is a pleasing introduction to the record, offering subtle hooks in its easy-to-build structure, though it’s a style you become familiar with through enjoyable, but cookie-cutter tracks like ‘Incomplete’ and ‘Your Own Way’. Track three ‘Born To Lie’ balances breathy, dramatic vocals with louder electronic moments in quite an addictive package but like most of the tracks never wrestles away from being dramatic backing tracks to whatever else you’re doing. ‘Revived’, with its keytar-style riff, feels a little different in its heft and structure, with some hints of a somnambulant Chvrches tribute, and ‘All In Time’ feels a little chunkier with its synthesized bleeps and bloops.

‘Anomalies’ is definitely worth a spin if you want something relaxing and non-committal to put on in the background but don’t expect it to do anything interesting over its time or something different. (6/10)

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