2017 Quarterly Roundup 1 ::: Spring, Stars Float Along The Void

We’re going to try and a bit speedier with our quarterly roundups this year. Partly because we’re doing full reviews of more albums anyway at the moment. And partly because I drank too much ale last night. I just want to be honest with you dear readers.

First of all, Bonobo’s ‘Migration’. Perhaps the term ‘intelligent dance music’ or IDM is one that is overused. Perhaps it’s also time we got over the fact that very clever people make electronic music. Sam Shepherd (AKA Elaenia) is a neuroscientist for crying out loud. Anyway…after stating all this, Bonobo’s latest offering does come across as pretty err intelligent. Loving the African influences on ‘Bambo Koyo Ganda’ (featuring Innov Gnawa). If this isn’t your usual genre of music and you’re looking for a way in, this is a very good option and arguably Bonobo’s most accessible outing to date.

It’s time for another Flaming Lips album. Great. ‘Oczy Mlody’ sees the group continue to explore the darker psychedelic fringes of their already sizable output rather than revert back to the type of earworm songwriting that saw them winning over a broad spectrum of music fans in the past. It’s a bit ploddy at times but not in a completely unappealing way, particularly if you’re listening on your headphones and catching some relaxation time.

Foxygen, ‘Hang’. Often seeming like a hotchpotch of various acts from the 60s and 70s, think Donovan meets Jagger meets Bowie meets well whomever they feel like meeting, Foxygen have always surfed the retro tide in a bit of a quirky and tongue-in-cheek way. With this record that strand running through their output is still very much in evidence, but a progression has been made to a smoother, more studio-crafted sound where arrangements have been nailed down hard. Suddenly Foxygen seem to have gone from japery to serious contenders who might just be sticking around for some time yet. We’ll see.

Japandroids are a lot of fun if you’re in the mood. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear some unabashed rock blasting out your speakers. If that’s your bag then you’ll probably enjoy ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ though is it just me or has this album been smashed a bit too hard during the mastering process? Personally I think the final product doesn’t quite let the songs, which are catchy and fun, breathe enough. Come on music industry, I thought we were over this loudness war bullshit. That aside I bet these tunes would be great at a gig. Any plans to visit Zhejiang lads?

Quite appropriately, now we’re on the subject of loudness wars, Elbow are a group who have strived to not play that game and their music really does quite obviously benefit from a more softly, softly approach. This is again apparent on their new album ‘Little Fictions’ which is a really moving listen right from the off. This is a group reinvigorated perhaps by matters close to the heart (is love in the air?) but also perhaps by fresh approaches and angles to making music which gives this LP a light, airy and bouncy feel whilst still somehow remaining classic Elbow. Try it.

If Elbow’s record sounds like a man falling in love then Ryan Adams’ latest offering ‘Prisoner’ is an audio testament to a relationship breaking down. Adams in his more recent offerings has given in to his more AOR (MOR even?) leanings but, weirdly, although I at times questioned whether listening to his 2014 album ‘Ryan Adams’ was something of a guilty pleasure, music often works best when an artist is simply being true to themselves, whatever type of tag we try and place on them. If this release doesn’t quite catch fire in the same way as the 2014 release does then that doesn’t mean it’s not still a thoroughly engulfing listen. I’m enjoying it and you might too, especially if you’re a Springsteen type of person of which there’s more than a hint of here, most notably with the title and vibe of the song ‘Outbound Train’.

Sampha’s ‘Process’ is an album which had me all excited when I read reviews of it. The opening track is a belter and early on this record showcases one heck of a talent. But, for me anyway, it gets a bit lost and muddled along the way and never quite builds on its early promise. You can do a lot worse than check it out though – certainly an artist to keep an eye on.

Surfer Blood had a hellish time of it with the loss of member Thomas Fekete from a rare form of cancer. If you haven’t already, check out Fekete’s album ‘Burner’. It’s fantastic. For Surfer Blood to return from this tragedy with the amazing ‘Snowdonia’ is nothing short of a massive triumph. This is a fun, guitars chugging along pleasingly, melodic, little pearl of an album, which somehow reminds me of Swedish group Bob Hund. Is that just me?

It’s probably about time we mentioned some hip-hop. Thanks for helping us out Oddisee with your new album ‘The Iceberg’. Yes. We’re liking this. A friend once told me hip-hop is the new blues because it tells the stories of ordinary people, from the fun to the deadly serious, provides social commentary, and at times a social conscious. Well with evidence such as this who can disagree? Just as we argued with the Tribe release last year, this is the type of hip-hop the world needs right now. Loving the live feel to the tracks too. Check it out.

Pissed Jeans ‘Why Love Now’. It’s loud, thick and crunchy. If that sounds like audio granola then perhaps that’s because it is. In that it’s good for you and very tasty. If you like rock music rough and raucous then I think this is the band and the album for you. On ‘The Bar is Low’ the vocals sound distinctly Lemmy which can only be a good thing surely. Thanks yet again Sub Pop.

For those wishing to challenge themselves we’d urge you to listen to ‘World Eater’ by Blanck Mass. You might know of Benjamin John Power from Fuck Buttons. You might not. But either way, when it comes to pushing the boundaries with noise, for want of a better description, he’s way out there on the boundaries – a veritable pioneer. If you’re after something prettier, then the aforementioned Bonobo might be for you, but for those into the heavy or industrial side of rock music – if you’re looking to flirt with something more electronic then this could be the one.

Grandaddy is/are back with ‘Last Place’. Much like The Shins being back it’s difficult for such bands to compete with their classics. Whilst those who are unaware of Grandaddy might be best trying out The Sophtware Slump to see what the fuss is about, those who do dig the output of Jason Lytle should be perfectly happy with this record. And that very much includes me.

Laura Marling is an artist I’ve witnessed perform live and I have to say I was completely blown away. Despite this, and despite her recorded output being perfectly credible in that it’s well recorded and showcases great songwriting and musicianship, for some reason it’s always generally left me slightly cold. Up to this point my favourite record of Marling’s is probably ‘I Speak Because I Can’ but her new release ‘Semper Femina’ has definitely started to win me over. Give it a spin.

You might remember we covered Conor Oberst’s ‘Ruminations’ in our previous roundup? Well now he’s let us down by re-arranging that record and performing it with a full band. Ha. Only kidding. OK, it’s true we did like the stripped down and honest way in which the initial album was presented and it might feel like this new release, ‘Salutations’ undermines that somewhat, in fact some critics have apparently argued as much. Notwithstanding we find it interesting to hear the songs done in a different way and if that’s what he wants to do well it’s jolly well up to him isn’t it? Alright? Great. Glad you agree.

There’s something very British about British Sea Power and it’s not just the name. Perhaps it’s because they give off an air of a particular type of eccentricity? Maybe it’s the fact geographically they started in Kendal, Cumbria but ended up in Brighton, Sussex? Whatever it is, they’ve a new album out called ‘Let the Dancers Inherit the Party’ and we’ve not had the chance to really give it a good going over yet BUT what we’ve heard so far sounds ruddy marvelous so looking forward to more.

I hope you’ve found this useful. We’re not seeking to give you in depth descriptions at this juncture. Just to give you a heads up on some of the great stuff we’ve stumbled across that you might wish to fall into as well. In addition we have covered the likes of Ty Segall, Vagabon, Alasdair Roberts, Kelly Dance, Menace Beach, Tongue (舌头乐队), Real Estate and The Shins in recent weeks/months so if you want something with more detail PLEASE do check these fantabulous artists out. Cheers. Bye.

 

Album Review ::: The Shins ‘Heartworms’

There’s SO MUCH music around these days. If there wasn’t then surely I’d listen to The Shins every damn day. As winning streaks go, for this reviewer’s unadulterated audio enjoyment anyway, ‘Oh, Inverted World’ followed by ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ followed by ‘Wincing the Night Away’ is one most groups would surely kill for. Whilst, perhaps, expecting ‘Port of Morrow’ to compete with what preceded it was asking too much, it’s still a more than respectable record.

the-shins

2017 sees new release ‘Heartworms’ added to the band’s impressive discography. The Shins though – are they actually a band at all? Well generally it has appeared not, particularly in terms of where the ultimate responsibility for the crafting of the recorded musical output lies. The new album takes this trend to its natural conclusion with James Mercer named as sole producer (aside from ‘So Now What’ produced by former band member Richard Swift).

Mercer himself has apparently stated it was the experience of Swift taking over the helm for that one aforementioned song which made him fully realize he wanted to do the rest of the album himself, and, apparently, this involved investing in his own equipment such as compressors and microphones and trying to educate himself more on the engineering side of things. So how did he do?

Well it might be this knowledge that has shaped the idea in my mind this record seems rooted in the midrange and a tiny bit on the muddy side. That asserted, would I have characterized this more as ‘warm-sounding’, had I not known that Mercer supposedly regards himself as something of a novice? I’d probably not have thought about it at all in fact – perception is a strange old thing. I’m sure most musicians would give their right or left strumming arms to be at the level of Mercer.

Audophile wankery aside – what are the tunes like? Well, I guess, a bit like the record before it, this is not The Shins of the 2000-2010 era so don’t be hoping for a return to the good old days. If you are managing your expectations wisely though, this is a fine LP. If you don’t see The Shins as a guitar band you’ll fare even better. Despite the buoyant guitar vibe of first track ‘Name for You’, by the time you reach track two ‘Painting a Hole’ things are sounding distinctly deep, down and dirty, whilst ‘Cherry Hearts’ has a fun little synth opening that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Yeasayer tune.

Lyrically the maturity is striking on ‘Heartworms’ from the reality of parenthood to reflections on the author’s own childhood. This doesn’t make for self-indulgence though or cheesy sentimentality, this is simply a songwriter dealing with the now, both in terms of context, be it the necessity which dictates Mercer must be able to switch from doing the school run to early morning music sessions, and also in terms of the means of production, i.e. getting down these ideas onto a home computer rather than spending a fortune in a studio with a band, big name producer, the right engineer and perhaps even having the record label overcharge for the privilege.

Conjecture aside, this appears to be a modern man making a modern record in more ways than one then. A standout track is ‘Mildenhall’, touching in its content and delivery, whilst it is ‘Dead Alive’ which maybe best conjures the classic Shins sound many might associate Mercer with. Closer, ‘The Fear’, contains a very pleasing rhythm track and is a definite sign this is a fellow more than able to hold his own in the production/engineering stakes for years to come. Mission accomplished.

https://theshins.com/

https://www.facebook.com/theshins

 

Gig Review ::: 舌头乐队 (Tongue) at Mao Livehouse, Hangzhou 17.03.2017

Xinjiang rock group 舌头乐队 (she tou yue dui) aka ‘Tongue’ erupted on Hangzhou‘s recently opened Mao Livehouse this March, with a live show well deserving of the audience in attendance. With a musical background stemming from their roots in the Muslim Uighur capital of Urumqi (in west China – a predominantly Islamic culture), they have become one of China’s most prominent rock acts in recent years to sign with Beijing label Modern Sky.

band-shetouyuedui-mask9

At a packed Mao Livehouse, ‘Tongue’ supply formidable, metal-riffing hard rock crossed with Islamic sounds from the bands roots in Urumqi; and come as a welcome remedy from the unblemished pop mannequins you’ll find plastered on practically every bus stop nationwide. These guys are an independently functioning rock band with exceptional technical wizardry that fuses elements of traditional rock lineage with experimental/abstract sounds both in texture and as an homage to their Western Chinese origins.

Singer Wu Tun is a big presence on stage and his often hunched form delivers a menacing growl at peak moments in the set; while during instrumentals he disappears from view altogether for up to fifteen of the full eighty minute set. He nevertheless comes across as a much liked and respected figure even as he stops the band, brings up the house lights, and then proceeds to spend a good five minutes explaining to the audience about the dangers of not stage-diving correctly; to which the audience revels in his humourous anecdotes and concern for their safety, along with a young local boy (7) whose dream comes true when his Dad helps him on stage to briefly sing with Wu Tun and then join in the stage-diving antics.

band-shetouyuedui-p1-mask9

Drummer Li Dan grasps our attention as he pummels intensely over the kit with masterful technique and an impressive ability to change the frequency of the toms mid song. During instrumentals he has centre spotlight and is no less of a showman that Wu Tun in connecting with the audience; where at times the music seemingly becomes overly abstract for a few fellow gig-goers, but they have a change of heart and opt to stay as sirens and wailing textures pulsate with the visual backdrop mid-set. Wu JunDe brings a gorgeous sounding bass that anchors the rhythm sections and adds melody and volume to the synth/keys section provided by Guo DaGang; which for my taste were probably the weaker moments in the set but certainly made up for it during the Pink Floyd-esque instrumentals with drummer Li Dan.

Head-banging lead guitarist, Li Hongjun is a powerhouse of metal riffs, with mind-blowing accuracy and attention to detail. With elements of 80/90’s Chinese leather wielding hair metal bands like ‘TangDynasty (唐朝乐队)‘ and ‘Yaksa (夜叉乐队)‘, he looks like something from the cover of Nirvana’s debut album, ‘Bleach’ for most of the performance. The animated visual backgrounds invoke images of protruding knives; moody and brooding with red hues streaked with Wu Tun‘s lyrics. At one point in the set however, the intense reds expose a strangely out of context hippie looking fractal rainbow as the band transforms momentarily into a parody of itself. The audience goes wild.

If you can get out to see these guys, then do! You’ll be blown away by what’s actually going on in China’s musical subculture, with something undeniably special a-brewing.

http://www.shuhtou.com/

https://site.douban.com/tongue/

Album Review ::: Real Estate ‘In Mind’

With ‘In Mind’ Real Estate are back to their jingly-jangly best. I first became aware of the group when a friend told me to listen to their second studio album ‘Days’. Has there been a better penned pop song in the 2000s than third track ‘It’s Real’? Certainly not one under three minutes I’d argue. The problem with creating such a classic tune, of course, is the challenge that then presents itself in equaling or bettering it. That is not to say ‘Days’ isn’t a solid album throughout, I certainly wasn’t skipping any of the tracks, but it did mean by the time their third LP ‘Atlas’ came out I was, in a sense, waiting and anticipating a standout moment which perhaps never quite came. That’s not to casually dismiss the record – it’s still well worth your time. It just didn’t quite scale the dreamy heights of ‘Days’ for me personally. With some time away from Real Estate, ‘In Mind‘ has now breezed its way into my daily music listening and I’m in no way pining for ‘Days’.

realestate

If you’ve heard the band you’ll know their distinctively warm, clean and measured approach to songs and this record is, generally speaking, no different in that respect. The opening synth of ‘Darling’ might fool you for a second but, sure enough, in comes a guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by The Byrds. However, without ever blowing up into a full on, mind-melting trip, Real Estate have always, for me, teetered pleasingly on the brink of the psychedelic and this is perhaps more evident than ever on this new record, where occasional left-turns furnish your ears with some delectably gratifying audio treasure. Does that sound a bit over the top? Sorry. As Zappa, amongst others, is crediting as having stated, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ But listen and you’ll hopefully know what I’m driving at.

And what’s this after two and a half minutes of the appropriately titled ‘Serve The Song’? Is that the gain being turned up? Careful lads or we’ll be in Grateful Dead jamming territory before too long. With ‘Two Arrows’ heading towards seven minutes in length, again we have further evidence of a straying into more distorted and trippy surroundings, which proves most welcome, but ‘Diamond Eyes’ is nevertheless fleeting proof that this is a group that won’t be abandoning short, sharp songs just yet.  ‘Same Sun’ contains within it what seems a beautiful exercise in tape-saturated melancholy, be it real or digital, just hear the wow/flutter on that guitar part, with the backing vocals really making this tune soar.

Finally, the intro to final track ‘Saturday’, all woozy, reverb-laden piano, leaves the lasting impression Real Estate, whilst still serving up the somewhat reliable sound they’re known for, cleverly avoiding leaving ardent fans shortchanged whether they consciously made this a priority or not, are in fact an outfit more than capable of surprising as well. This is an album full of off-kilter charm. Take it as medicine.

http://www.realestatetheband.com

https://m.facebook.com/realestateband/

Introducing ::: Menace Beach

As someone who was weaned on grunge, whether we like that particular word or not, there is always going to be a significant part of me that is likely to warm to an outfit such as Menace Beach. When it came to fuzzed up rock music the stuff I was into always carried a catchy hook or melody. This came from being raised on The Beatles I guess – something Cobain himself in part grew up on. So, of course, I was a big Nirvana fan, the album ‘Bleach’ included, but their debut was perhaps as far as I was willing to stray when it came to heavy territory.

For example, when friends started listening to bands including Metallica, Pantera and Korn, that got a little too much for me, particularly all in one sitting. I guess I’m a three chord trick, pop song nestling within, type of music consumer. So, naturally, from the opening chords of Menace Beach’s debut ‘Ratworld’ I was immediately enamored.

It’s that trick of pulling off a rough around edges rendition of a, nevertheless, very polished earworm – it’s a contradiction that’s just really enticing to me. So, first of all, I would strongly urge you to check out this aforementioned LP from 2015. You don’t have to be a hipster gig attendee to want to bop your heart out to ‘Elastic’ (though it maybe, probably helps) whilst you’d have to be practically musically brain dead not to enjoy the obvious craft that flows into songs such as ‘Tastes Like Medicine’ and the hilariously titled ‘Infinite Donut’.

However, it’s now 2017 and that album is two whole years out of date. Enter ‘Lemon Memory’. If this is the difficult second album then it sure as heck doesn’t sound like it. Right from the off it feels like the tunes are reaching out and grabbing you by the throat, opener ‘Give Blood’ giving way to the thudding drive of ‘Maybe We’ll Drown’ and immediately rendering you a willing captive audience.

Menace Beach haven’t reinvented the wheel with this follow-up, more they have cannily built on the strengths of their first offering. But don’t presume this makes for a cautious approach, if anything what is being delivered is done so more recklessly than before. Perhaps this is down to an increased confidence that if you’re choosing to listen then it’s because they already have your attention, affording them the opportunity to take more severe left turns, occasionally, and deconstruct.

If there is a criticism to be made perhaps it could be asserted the songs are at their most appealing when they’re straight to the point, best encapsulated by ‘Sentimental’ whilst for some listeners a song such as ‘Owl’ might start to outstay its welcome at around 5 minutes by the time you’ve reached track 8 of the album. Not for me I’d hasten to add, I’m from the listen to and get immersed in an album generation NOT part of the make a Spotify compilation of the easiest listening you can find crowd – I’m just scraping the LP barrel desperately looking for some advice Menace Beach obviously in no way need. So, to sum up. Get both Menace Beach albums and listen to them. Now.

https://menacebeach.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/menacingbeaches/

menace beach

 

Album Review ::: Kelly Dance – ‘Wild Grass’

From the outset, Hong Kong-based Australian artist Kelly Dance’s 2017 release ‘Wild Grass’ is a gorgeously crafted set of cohesive songs all unified by the strength of layered instrumentation and breathy vocals; both at times meandering on dreamy paths that add to the introspective and contemplative tones of the album. Interwoven stories of her Asian travels, exploration and demystification are among themes explored lyrically, while carefully constructed arrangements sublimely emphasise the emotional highs and lows. From the guitar-oriented spine of the songs, the intermittent swells of brass and string sections, illusive tubular bells, decorative flutes, and pounding drums all add to the vibrancy of colour across the soundscape of ‘Wild Grass’.

Kelly Dance Wild Grass.jpg

The optimistically titled, ‘Infinite Possibilities’ kicks things off with twanging guitars and shuffling drums that effortlessly lay the tarmac for KD’s lines, ‘What’s real in my head are the visions that shape my reality’; immediately setting this album aside as introspective, demure and highly self-aware. High-pitched synth arrangements flow smoothly, then dip and ascend to reveal lyrics that are surreal, and dreamy while there is a harmony to the lethargic vocal style, equally smooth and stylistic in delivery.

‘All That Seems’, is chilling as it opens with a minimal lonely guitar (sounding alot like a traditional Chinese guzheng) and breathy vocal like a polished poltergeist wailing in the distance. One-minute in, the full band kick in to reveal a joyous gospel tune whose chorus is layered with backing vocals that swell and continually builds til the organ and distorted guitars growl to a fade.

The 2016 Ep title track ‘All That’s Gained’ is nothing short of ingenious with the gorgeously mystifying tubular bells. They continue deep into the song as vocals as well as other instruments build and entwine around the pivot point. Lyrical surrealism continues in the lines, ‘This shiny city is built from dirt/ Money courses through her veins/ She’s got a tiger’s head with a snake’s tail/ She’s all or nothing either way.’ The song apexes with juxtaposing false-starting guitar stabs with a sublime brass arrangement. Sitting next to the experimental but furiously catchy tune ‘Socotra’, Dance delivers a song so mercilessly cool that you can’t help bopping your head, while simultaneously listening out for all the intricate details in the composition – check out those background bass vocal hums! Brilliant stuff!

Socotra Reprise is an intimate piano lead song, decorated with washes of distorted cymbals, percussion and an assortment of abstract sounds that tremor and agitate. Airstrike is laced with nightmarish imagery of a military airstrike with lovely use of lyrical metaphor, placed alongside the chirpy and playful calls of the flute and brass sections, with touches of piano highlights. Definitely among the best moments of the album with hints of Bonnie Prince Billy, and Bill Callahan.

With a lovely studio sound,‘Birdman’ is distinct as an acoustic ballad. Broken Stone label mate Aidan Roberts (Maple Trail), gives the song an additional element of flavour with his baritone vocals succinct and methodical in his choice of refrain, ‘ Don’t leave me high’. Yes, very cool! While drums shuffle underneath, brass intensifies the mood and lovely piano flourishes convey a sombre meaning to the song. Plucking acoustic guitars on ‘Lost Good Hell’ call and reply on each other while sounding much like an Irish harp. The chorus is a swell of orchestral strings and timpani as Dance sings sweetly, ‘You’re too nostalgic for our lost good hell’.

‘Dangerous Visions’, which also appeared on 2016’s ‘All That’s Gained’ EP is equally one of the highs on ‘Wild Grass’. It is a melody-fueled mirror up to a humanity that currently seems to be on a one way road to self-destruction. Check the lyrics, ‘The Gun club meet to talk this thing called peace/ Our artillery is destined for obscurity/Our chance is now to liberate the people’ With a beautifully delivered oxymoron, there is an undertone of political and personal uncertainty throughout the song, not least inspired by the artist’s current environment. Century Sleep is another fine example of Dance and Robert’s collaboration, with a highly infectious chorus and melody throughout as they interchange the lead vocal line without once disturbing the weighty emotional inflections of this song.

kelly-dance-800x520

‘Remember Me’ takes a step back in terms of arrangement, and comes as a melodious and dulcet change of pace from the rest of the album; yet no less gorgeous than it’s musical siblings. ‘The Track’ is a heavenly piece of storytelling about a jockey who has fallen from her horse and is down on the track, but the artist choice of words and unwavering optimism plays out so well as the punter in this story looks on. The lyrical counterpoint shifts and he says,’Baby/ it makes me feel so alive/ And it’s a perfect day/ Because the favourite is giving way’.

The title track ‘Wild Grass’ brings closure to the the album, surmising sounds and textures along with Dance’s commanding and distinctive breathy lament. One last musical crescendo swells with drums and crashing cymbals, brass, guitars and reverberating vocal effects all at once over, ending a highly impressive album of unlikely inspiration in Chinese Science-Fiction stories; written as a tribute to living, loving and coming of age in Modern China.

We at ‘The Sound Of Fighting Dogs’ have purchased this record, and suggest you do too.

https://kellydance.bandcamp.com/album/wild-grass

https://www.facebook.com/kellydancemusic

http://brokenstonerecords.com/

 

 

 

Album Review ::: Alasdair Roberts ‘Pangs’

Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts, previously of indie folk rock band Appendix Out, has released his new album ‘Pangs’ with Drag City. Among his arable discography of traditional Celtic muscle, myths and fables Roberts’ new album ‘Pangs’ is tightly packed with a wealth of creative arrangements, all threaded with impeccable detail. From the harmonic droning of synths and strings to the melodic bass. The playful blare of punctuating whistles, dynamic drums that gallop and then amble expressively. Pangs showcases a host of songwriting talent that is surely one of the peaks of the folk genre in recent years.

‘Pangs’ title song, is Celtic and medieval in it’s enunciation. Lyrically, Roberts’ plays with themes of mythological stories but there is a tangible sense of realism in the imagery throughout. At the same time, percussion and drums assault the song tunefully with a wayward sense that connects perfectly with the guitar melodies and arrangements.

‘No Dawn Song’ is equally creative with additional flourishes of piano layered gently under the song, as an underlying poignant tone is dispersed with a lightly spoken and melodic brogue. ‘An Altar In The Glade’ is curious and unabashed with it’s spirited barks and lovely cymbal work that never disconnects music from story. A listening treat that sparks memories of the work of the celebrated 17th century Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan.

Alasdair Roberts Pangs

The Breach is no less out of touch with tradition as the vocals contrast with the violin and string sections in a gorgeous call and response; all built on an immense double-bass whose grainy drones are monstrous. Brass sections also add highlights and glimmers of light instrumental phrases that swell over the refrain, ‘You’re always gonna find me’. Brilliant tune!

The Angry Laughing God is the poppiest moment among the track listing, with a catchy  head-bopping guitar riff playing while the band is in full swing. I find this song reminiscent of elements of traditional song ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ previously recorded by The Dubliners; while a mischievous slide whistle cheekily streaks across, as the drums continue with their dynamic and snappy rhythmic changes, cowbell, shuffling rolls and hi-hats a-plenty.

Wormwood and Gall is beautifully arranged with violins, flutes and vocal harmonies while quirky percussion (a musical saw?) dips into the arrangement with rippling oddity for the chorus. Piano and guitars carry the song and the sublime character of the song comes to life among these strangely flirty sounds. The Downward Road is the most experimental on Pangs. Vocal echoes and tremolo effects not usually associated with Celtic folk music take progressive turns and digress from the rule book ever so slightly but are delightfully palatable, and colourful.

Scarce of Fishing is a charming ballad that is plucked with skill and tenacity. It is emotional and lyrical, as a flute carries the musical melody. Lyrical detail is visual and laments a family and love separated by their work at sea. Vespers Chime is a prayer, where instrumentation is full as strings and guitars match each other. Musically it reminds me quite alot of Bonnie Prince Billy, but I find the local patois gives alot more vibrancy and realism to Alasdair Roberts, rather than a make-believe character or version of himself. He is organic, pure and natural.

Song of the Marvels brings this album to an end with similar creative musical brilliance. It summarises the album, and goes one step further in key changes, droning and expression. Synths add to a burning texture that is gravelly and ear-piercing all at once providing a respite and further affirming the ingenious creativity of ‘Pangs’. While songs are sung in typical folk like stories, musically Alasdair Roberts veers away from anything close to linear songwriting and instrumentation. Every phrase is a source of invention, playfulness, and deviceful harmony, organic and tuneful.

We at TSOFD have purchased this album, and very much recommend that you do too!

https://alasdairroberts.bandcamp.com/album/pangs

http://www.alasdairroberts.com/

http://www.dragcity.com/artists/alasdair-roberts