Wednesday, June 21, 2006

JANE TAYLOR: Montpelier

JANE TAYLOR: Montpelier (Bicycle Records, 2006)

It is good to see that, amongst the constant flow of dull pseudo-folk (eat your heart out James Bland!), there are some truly inspired records coming out, albeit on tiny imprints operating well below the radar of money-grabbing majors. This is the case of Jane Taylor’s superb Montpelier (Bicycle Records), which was recorded ‘on less than a shoestring’ according to the booklet accompanying the album.

Montpelier, named after the suburb of Bristol, not the southern French city, might have been recorded in no time in a barn somewhere in the West Country, but it certainly comes from the heart, and feels utterly human, real and earthy. At times reminiscent of The Sundays, this album collects eleven beautifully crafted songs with often very little more than an acoustic guitar and a piano to colour Taylor’s sweet-and-sour voice.

Hailing from Bristol, Taylor has spent the last couple of years playing in her native city as well as around the country and even performed at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe two years in a row. The legend has it that, on the day she walked in the studio to record her first single, she bumped into Angelo Bruschini, who has been seen playing guitar with Massive Attack, and who instantly offered to play with her too.

The album features eleven songs, all written and performed by Taylor, with the helping hands of a multitude of friends. The recording is intimate, giving the listener the impression to experience the music first hand. A rampant melancholy inhabit each and every song here, yet the mood is somewhat uplifting and heart-warming.

BBC Radio 2 DJ Johnnie Walker played Fall On Me, the opening track of the album, on his drive time radio show recently and received countless phone calls and emails requesting more information on the singer, and it is all to the credit of Taylor’s song writing. Songs such as My Street, 16 Points, Mirror Mirror, Blowing This Candle Out, Landslide or Brother are further proof of her musical and lyric maturity. What makes Montpelier such a remarkable record though is the restraint and control with which Taylor and her band interpret these songs, always emphasizing voice, melody and words above.

Montpelier is simply essential.

Jane Taylor (standing) and her band


Norwegian duo Susanna & The Magical Orchestra will be releasing the follow up to their wonderful List Of Lights And Buoys, released over two years ago already. The album, entitled Melody Mountain, will be released on Rune Grammofon on 14 August.

Susanna & The Magical Orchestra

While List Of Lights And Buoys opened with covers of Leonard Bernstein’s Who Am I and Dolly Parton’s Jolene, the album comprised mostly the band’s own songs. For this second effort, Susanna Wallumrød and Morten Qvenild have chosen to record their very own versions of well-known songs by Prince, AC/DC, Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen to name but a few, and they are offering a taster on MySpace with their rather nice interpretation of Love Will Tear Us Apart.


After 42 years, the BBC is pulling the plug on Top Of The Pops. It is probably fair to say that the program hasn’t been as great or influential in the last few years as it was in its heyday (in fact, since the last couple of rebranding exercises, TOTP has become shockingly dull) but, after the demise of Smash Hits, it is one further proof that major record companies have finally killed anything that was good about popular music by inflicting all sorts of pre-fabricated, odourless and flavourless boybands a la Westlife, hollow pop ‘babes’ à la Rachel Stevens, Teflon-coated ‘serious’ artists a la James Blunt, pseudo American punk a la Green Day and X-Factor nafness. Well done guys!

Today, the music died.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

EL PERRO DEL MAR: El Perro Del Mar

EL PERRO DEL MAR: El Perro Del Mar (Memphis Industries, 2006)

"Come on over baby, there's a party going on"

Sometimes, a record feels just right. Right place, right time, right mood… right everything really.

I picked up this album from El Perro Del Mar at work recently, simply because it was released on Memphis Industries, and it has been on my desk ever since… I decided to play it this morning, and what a bright idea that was!

El Perro Del Mar is the project of Swedish singer songwriter Sarah Assbring. The name, which translates as 'The Dog Of The Sea', is, according to Assbring’s biography, a reference to the time she spent on a Spanish island, when she kept seeing a dog everyday on the beach. This apparently got her writing the songs that she’d been dreaming of for years.

This eponymous collection of sun-drenched songs is rather deceptive. Although the mood is laidback and the sixties-infused melodies are reminiscent of the sugarcoated pop of Siesta Records, there is something sombre lurking in the background, a gentle melancholy which lingers all the way through. The orchestration is more than often understated, with delicate swathes of strings drawing subtle shapes in the background while acoustic guitars provide the main backbone for Assbring’s breezy vocals. The melodies are deceptively simple and elegant; the voice is fragile and acidulated, sounding like a cross between Françoise Hardy, Sarah Cracknell and fellow Swede Nina Persson of The Cardigans, and the mood keeps on drawing on images of sunsets and holiday on the Riviera.

Sarah Assbring

Everything here is perfect. Each melody is crafted to the hilt and presented in a wonderfully evocative form. Each word, each note, each handclap is utterly essential. There is a certain element of desperation in there, as if life itself depended on whether these songs worked or not. This is the kind of records I could play 20 times in a row and still gag for more; the kind of albums you instantly fall in love and always keep close to your heart. The kinf of albums that makes you which everything sounded this mighty fine.

Highlights: God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get), Party, Dog, This Loneliness, Here Comes That Feeling.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Trish Keenan, lead singer with Broadcast

The wonderful Broadcast, by far one of the most underrated UK acts, will be releasing a compilation of rarities and EP tracks on 21 August on Warp Records. The album, which will be available on CD and limited edition double LP, is entitled The Future Crayon and will feature eighteen tracks, as follow:

Illumination, Still Feels Like Tears, Small Song IV, Where Youth And Laughter Go, One Hour Empire, Distant Call, Poem Of A Dead Song, Hammer Without A Master, Locusts, Chord Simple, Daves Dream, DDL, Test Area, Unchanging Window / Chord Simple, A Man For Atlantis, Minus Two, Violent Playground, Belly Dance.

The band will also play a handful of dates throughout the UK in July. So far, dates confirmed are:

Bristol (19/07), Manchester (20/07, TBC), London (21/07) and Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival (22/07).

It was also recently announced on the band's forum that work is continuing on the follow-up to Tender Button, with a provisional release date of early 2007.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Raymond Devos as he will be remember, on stage.

I have just learnt of the death of comedian Raymond Devos at 83. born in Belgium, he spent all his life in France and made a career as a stand up comedian, and an especially talented one at that. His incredible command of the French language allowed him to build extremely intricate stories. .His work was built around extremely clever and pertinent play-on-words around which wonderfully absurd, funny and often emotional stories would take shape.

I have always be in total awe of his talent and how, in his mouth, the French language could become so malleable, unpredictable and hillarious. He was like a cross between Tony Cooper and Ronnie Barker, and certainly shared with him a love for finely crafted texts.

‘Etaignez les lumières puisque le clown est mort’ (Turn off the lights since the clown is dead).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

CALIKA: The Bright Spot

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CALIKA: The Bright Spot (Benbecula, 2006)

The excellent Benbecula imprint, home of Christ., Prhizzm and Reverbaphon to name but a few, has been putting out some rather interesting ultra-limited CDRs in its Mineral Series. Now in its second batch of releases, the Mineral Series came out of a desire from the label to get back to its roots and publish homemade records.

Joining the ranks is Calika’s Simon Kealoha, who was recently spotted on Audiobulb with his excellent debut album, Small Talk Kills Me, and alongside former Seefeel mastermind Mark Clifford on Running Taper (Polyfusia). The Bright Spot continues where Small Talk Kills Me left off, as Kealoha combines acoustic and electric instrumentation with sharp electronic treatment, yet this new offering also sees the man exploring a wider musical scope. Clearly digging into his love of jazz and hip-hop, Kealoha shows here a more direct approach to both sonic and melodic structures and engages in more accessible, yet equally genre-bending, experiments.

The opening track, Enriched By Sea Minerals, is a fine example of how the Calika sound is exposed on here in its raw form. Here, Simon Kealoha begins by applying a thin layer of electronics before injecting processed live drums and softening the blow with an acoustic guitar, creating very compartmented atmospheric sections within which he develops micro-melodies. Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Not Quite Here is very similar in concept, with elements of folk finding their way through the assemblage of found sounds, statics and glitches before the whole thing eventually collapses as a muffled piano traces a captivating melody over a lingering sonic haze in the background.

On You Little Brute and Max And Louie, Kealoha opts for more accessible templates, first by crafting a slightly psychedelic melody and applying some heavy hue to it, then by switching to a rather infectious pop/folk tune wrapped up around delicate guitar arabesques, earthy hip-hop infused beat and gentle glitches.

Elsewhere, Kealoha explores vaporous ambient formations, applies delicate processed found sounds and develops wonderfully evocative melodies to build on the overall atmospheric nature of this album. Compositions such as Four Dummies, with its slow-morphing tones stretching over its nine minutes, the quirky Of Places With 6 Floors or the aerial Salt Mists all offer a different facet to Calika, yet remain so close to Kealoha’s core sound that it never affects the gentle flow of the album as a whole. The Bright Spot is a superb follow up to Calika’s debut and a welcome addition to Benbecula’s Mineral Series.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I’ve been indulging on some Pet Shop Boys back catalogue once again in recent weeks and made up a little compilation of some of my favourite songs on theirs on Virgin Digital the other day which looked like this:

Woody suggested to add Miserablism, The Truck Driver And His Mate and It Must Be Obvious, and I also wanted to have Yesterday When I Was Mad and Dreaming Of The Queen (another suggestion from Woody) somewhere in there, although for some reason, Very is not on the service… Still, it is a bloody good little compilation, and it comes complete with Dusty’s In Private!

LEAFCUTTER JOHN: The Forest And The Sea

With the shenanigans in the house and me going off on holiday for a couple of weeks, this blog has gone rather quiet, but this doesn’t mean that I haven’t played or received any music. Amongst the albums I have received recently is the latest effort from London-based John Burton, AKA Leafcutter John.

LEAFCUTTER JOHN The Forest And The Sea (Staubgold, 2006)

The Forest And The Sea is John Burton’s third album under his Leafcutter John guise, his first for Berlin-based Staubgold. With his two previous albums, Microcontact (2001) and The Housebound Spirit (2003), both published on Mike Paradinas’s Planet-Mu imprint, and a handful of compilation appearances, Burton showcased an interesting approach to sound and music in the tradition of musique concrete and electro-acoustic movements of the second half of the twentieth century. Yet, he also hinted at a more accessible and straightforward approach on The Housebound Spirit, and found himself in completely uncharted territory on House Of A Soul where he ventured into singing for the first time.

This third album makes good use of both experimentations and fully formed songs and offers a wide array of contrasted sonic landscapes where a delicate acoustic guitar is often set on a collision course with far more elaborate and intricate processed found sound collages. If this is arguably not a groundbreaking approach, Burton manages to maintain the balance between both elements of the work with incredible pertinence. The Forest And The Sea is a very captivating piece, which, despite constant changes of focus, remains very coherent. The mood is generally toned down and introspective, with delicate poetic touches applied with great care.

The Forest And The Sea is also a concept album that tells the story of two people lost in a forest at night. Burton uses the story as a thread throughout the album rather than making it the primary focus. This allows for breathing spaces and time for the listener to enjoy his pastoral sonic constructions. While Burton creates abstract sound formations on Dream II or on the introductions to Maria In The Forest or In The Morning, he inject some cinematic moments with blissful melodies and delicate arrangements on Let It Begin, Go Back, Seba or Now.

While The Forest And The Sea represents a departure for Leafcutter John and showcases a more accessible side to his talent, it actually still clearly belongs with its predecessors. Beautifully crafted and cleverly assembled, this album is Burton’s most impressive and coherent release to date.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

SINNER DC: Mount Age

SINNER DC: Mount Age (AI Records, 2006)

Switzerland’s contribution to music in general, and electronic music in particular, remains anecdotal, yet, Geneva-based trio Sinner DC have been forging an increasingly solid reputation for impeccable tunes and sweeping electronic sounds for themselves over the years. The band first appeared toward the end of the nineties with a series of albums released on various labels, but it is with last year’s superb Arkle Sparkle Avenue, released on Tritone Records, that the trio appeared to tighten up their grip on their format. Formed of bassist Julien Amey, drummer Steve Ammie and guitarist and vocalist Manuel Bravo, Sinner DC manipulate the Krautrock template to suit their infectious pop-tinted sound.

If Arkle Parkle Avenue was shimmering with airy arrangements, Mount Age sounds more introvert, hazy and melancholic. There is an incredible unity of sound all throughout the record as the band apply gentle sonic touches to dress each melody to perfection. Swathes of treated electric guitars and processed electronics, at times augmented with Bravo’s breathy vocals, create a captivating backdrop of earthy tones and textures and allows for the band to build on the natural evocative range of their previous releases. Sinner DC craft very effective pop songs and atmospheric instrumentals and manage to maintain a near-perfect balance between straightforward moments and more complex and challenging compositions. While the music can appear cold and calculated at first, Sinner DC show great dexterity at building perfect little melodies (Everything Is Sand, They Never Stay, Lady March, Mont-De-Marsan) and inject regular emotional probes throughout Mount Age, revealing a pleasingly accessible electro-pop side to their work. If this was already apparent in previous release, it takes here a much more obvious and sustained form.

A welcomed addition to the AI Records roster, Sinner DC have been linked with the excellent London-based imprint before, yet Mount Age is the first proper release from the band on the label. Here, the trio refine their sound and tighten up their musical frame to produce one of the most thoroughly enjoyable record of the year yet.