Future Islands cover art MC

Breaking with our own protocol of sorts, this week’s music review is delivered by our man on the Bosphorus, the inimitable scholar of ill repute, dubious musician and debatable cultural critic Sean BW Parker.

 

Sean is enamoured with both Future Islands Singles – their first LP since recently moving to the 4AD label in 2013 – and The Histrionics , but verbally garrotting, in fine petulant form, Simone Felice and Barb Junger’s disappointing albums.

 

Future Islands  ‘Singles’  (4AD)   24th March 2014

Baltimore’s Future Islands 4AD debut starts all Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’, and ends having thoroughly convinced through the integrity of synth. You’ve got to love a band who say, ‘this is a synthesizer, and we are not ashamed to have it sound like a synthesizer’.

Album highlights are future worldwide hit – CSS-style – ‘Doves’ – it’s irresistible Kraftwerk funk moving the most jaded of listeners, singer Samuel T. Herring emoting raspingly over the synthetic grooves, coming over all Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples in a Belgian strip club; and at the other end of the rainbow ‘A Song For Our Grandfathers’, Future Islands teaching the magnificent Elbow a lesson or two about the concept of the electronic epic: stately emotion wrung from single notes, through proud wires.

Neu!, Portecho and Zachery Allan Starkey are all useful reference points, added to Future Islands DIY aesthetic, reflecting a more conventional indie/post punk approach. Chvrches and Pet Shop Boys, sit up and pay attention: everyone else, put on ‘Doves’ at full volume, get in your nearest means of transport (preferably ship), and let the city or the nature flow from Future Islands straight to you.

histrionics LP cover S BW Parker

The Histionics   ‘The Canon’   Available Now

I first witnessed The Histrionics unstoppable, irrepressible front man John Goodrich in a backstreet bar venue in Istanbul named Barista. Just the dark curly-haired singer and an acoustic guitar whooping and yelling his way through a selection of his own joyful songs with a smattering of covers (testament to his talent that I remember the original spirit more than the names of the covers – or testament to my drunkenness that night, hard to be sure).

Goodrich had told me about his long term, Canadian-based project The Histrionics, and after returning to his homeland after a long stint in Istanbul, the band finally released their five years in the making opus The Canon on the first of January 2014.

Upbeat, precise, tuneful, catchy, acerbic, witty, tight, energised North American indie rock and roll it is, too. The Canon has three major high points; at the very beginning (the insistently compulsive ‘Bitter Pills’), middle (‘Living In The ‘Bul’, about Goodrich’s bittersweet time in Istanbul; pensive, powerful and comparatively freewheeling), and the closer ‘Nothing To Be Said’, a sophisticated, nearly neo-prog tour de force.

The Canon’s relentless insistence and near-OCD precision may sometimes leave the listener rather out of breath and spunk-coated in sherbet – but hey, lots of people like that kind of thing. If you dig pre-psyche Beach Boys, any-mood Weezer, or maybe a more commercially inclined Pavement, I recommend taking your best girl, a six-pack and The Histrionics out for a grand drive.

 

 

Simone Felice   ‘Strangers’  (Team Love Records)  Available Now

A story goes that a few years ago, US rapper Kanye West was in a life threatening accident that left his jaw wired shut for months. Whilst it is bad form to poke fun at misfortune – not to mention bad karma – one might have wished that the accident hadn’t happened purely by dint of not having to interminably endure his so-happy-to-be-alive-that-I-will-not-stop-under-any-circumstances ego-guff. The wired-shut jaw bit was merely a temporary reprieve.

When The Flaming Lips’ front man Wayne Coyne’s father died of cancer at the close of the last century, the salt-n-peppered visionary channeled his bleak new feelings into a psychedelic tour de force of an album – The (sublime) Soft Bulletin. Catskills singer-songwriter Simone Felice (yes I was expecting a lady, too) also came through serious illness in 2010 – his website calls him a visionary – but adversity does not excuse tedium.

His album Strangers sadly features none of the gritty wit and late-night-charisma of its Ed Harcourt created namesake of a few years back. This album of ten songs represents everything that is wrong with the music ‘industry’ in 2014 – emperor’s new clothes don’t even start to describe the none-more-beige triteness of what’s on offer. There is absolutely nothing wrong, or right, on this album, so idea-free is it.

In every area of creativity, mistakes are good. They contain the intriguing charm of effort, spontaneity and ‘lastability’ completely lacking here. To this extent, this is not really Felice’s fault – there are legions of singer-songwriters out there, signed or not – some creating the kind of mystifying success (Mumford & Sons, James Blunt) that allows people like Felice to continue making. The music business has become TOTALLY averse to risk – and we know what happens when culture stops taking risks. It dies.

‘Strangers’ might be useful for people so strung out they can’t quite handle the more avant-garde experiments of Adele on a wet Wednesday evening, and whilst we should empathise with anyone who comes through any risky operation, why expect the long-suffering listener to also suffer? Try something new; say something different, or stop. In one thought of encouragement; at least Simone Felice sings in his own accent (looking at you, Marcus Mumford).

Barb J

Barb Jungr   ‘Hard Rain’  (Kristalyn Records)  24th March 2014

Have you ever heard of the British name Jungr? Me neither, but apparently this chanteuse is thus. While her full appellage brings to mind images of exotic mid-twentieth century prisoner of war camps, her mind is planted firmly in the mid-sixties, judging by Hard Rain.

As it says on the tin, these are indeed a selection of Robert Zimmerman and laughing Leonard Cohen’s biggest and apparently most political/consciously-minded songs. All very pleasant in an inside on a Sunday evening by a roaring fire with a glass of red wine kind of way, whilst dimly musing the fate of Syria or Venezuela (or Ukraine! Ed.).

Here be an hour or so of very tasteful, immaculately played and sung smooth jazz versions of songs which were once penned from the edge of rage and depression. I’ve listened to it loads of times – but not because it has any cultural value – just because I need some anaesthetising these days. Which is nice.

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