NEW MUSIC REVUE ROUND UP
Back with another June instalment of our popular new music round, this cornucopia (among, if not the most, varied mix of genres on the net) features a big country panoramic imbued album from the Heartless Bastards; an inspired covers collection from one-man pastoral eccentric English pop and psych cottage industry Ian Button (under the moniker of Papernut Cambridge); a three-way exploration of the Steinway grand piano by kosmiche pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius’ Qluster; and the latest sci-fi paperback inspired jazz peregrination from The Greg Foat Group. Plus a retrospective of the Afro-Cuban music legend Amara Touré, an EP from Newcastle’s heavy rocking Gothic Kobadelta and a new single from Austin psychedelic group Casual Strangers to pique your eclectic interests.
Heartless Bastards ‘Restless Ones’ (Partisan Records)
LP released 15th June 2016.
Out in the big country, recorded within the shadows of the great Rio Grande, those “restless souls” the Heartless Bastards are back with another cerebral western imbued rock album. Continuing musically and ascetically with the country themes, this there first album since the buffalo collage adorned Arrow in 2012, is a panoramic collection of songs that relish in stretching the group’s richly distinctively voiced singer Erika Wennerstrom to new heights and depths.Taking on some of their most physically demanding and expansive blues-y rock and roll mid-West anthems yet, and with the Grammy award-winning producer John Congleton (St.Vincent, Angel Olsen,Swans) adding vigour and edge to the band’s sound, Restless Ones is an impressive album. It’s rather unfortunate then that it loses sight of the ambitious landscape after such a roaring start, and lapses into commercial whimsy and balladry during the mid section. But it does make a full recovery later on.
The broad horizons of past and present, reflected in the LP’s artwork that depicts a Native Indian Chief and his warriors looking out over a modern valley of demarcated agricultural abundant fields, above them a flipped upside down image of a more snow covered Ohio street, are transduced through the speakers on the band’s most imaginative, experimental song and finale, ‘Tristessa’. More a sustained guitar sculpting soundscape than an actual tune, Wennerstrom delivers a fluctuating emotional array of raw vocals, howling and cooing from the twilight hour New Mexico desert.
Always informed by that prairie trail inspired ‘bury my heart at wounded knee’ spirit of reflection, and historical account of the real old American frontiers, the album’s finest moments are when the band strikes out with something more original and experimental. Though their Lone Justice meets The Black Keys (Ohio bedfellows who originally handed The Heartless Bastards demo onto the label Fat Possum in 2004) variant of alternative country pop can also, at times, shine.
Anyone who knows and has faith in the Heartless Bastards mission statement of “never making the same album twice” can feel reassured with the Restless Ones. Not only have they found more inventive, newer horizons to investigate, they’ve also daringly honed their faithful brand of rock’n’roll and country blues. With sophisticated aplomb they improve with age and maturity, the opening duo of ‘Wind Up Bird’ and ‘Gates of Dawn’ among the album’s best offerings, both showcasing the relaxed but anthemic quality of energy and knowing that has now propelled the band into making their, arguably, best LP yet.
Amara Touré ‘1973 – 1980’ (Analog Africa)
LP released 22nd June 2015
Still foraging through the rare and untouched corners of the South American and African continent, the latest musical survey from the faithful and ever-dependable Analog Africa label showcases the shortest of retrospectives from the Afro-Cuban enigma Amara Touré. With only ten recorded tracks to his name, all produced during a eight year window between 1973 and 1980, the percussionist and vocalist from Guinea-Conakry became a phenomenon when he alighted to the Senegal capital of Dakar to ply his trade; a city energised by the feverish and sensually sultry grooves brewing up around the legendary Miami nightclub, it would prove to be the hub of a merger between the Caribbean sound brought over to the continent by Cuban sailors in the early 40s, and Senegal’s own indigenous folklore.
Interpreting and bending the Latin sound to his own whim, Touré fashioned a unique fusion of lilting, sultry dance grooves; tempered to the Senegal climate. Joining the Le Star Band de Dakar in 1958 for a successful and highly influential tenure, he set the country’s nightspots and ballrooms on fire with the most sauntering, hip-swaying rhythms and reverberating, evocative vocals before hotfooting to Cameroon to form his very own formidable Black And White ensemble. Still, it would take a further five years before the band committed any of their Latin hybrids to wax, finally releasing a series of singles between 1973 and 1976, all six of which make up the first half of this collection. If you love your floating Cuban music exotic, then ‘Temedy’, ‘Lamento’ and ‘N’ga Digne M’be’ will send you into a spin.
Ennui setting in, another move in the late 70s saw Touré move to the Gabon, where he joined the Orchestra Massako. An “aficionados” classic, this celebrated union produced a solid gold album of slinky, languid blaring trumpeted songs in 1980 (though following a distinctive trajectory in a different part of the continent, over in the Congo, you can hear some common Cuban traits in last year’s Analog Africa L’Verckys et L’Orchestre Vévé compilation). Those songs are featured here in the collection’s final quartet of showcase Touré treasures.
Qluster ‘Tasten’ (Bureau B)
LP released 10th July 2015
Now onto its third incarnation, the kosmiche group that first saw light as a trio in 1969, their inaugural work released by the publishing house and classical music label Schwann (also know for its venerated organ music), Qluster are back with another chapter in neo-classicism.
The moniker has changed and adapted throughout the decades since that inception, from pioneering early electronica to travelling full circle and once again adopting the classical piano sound. Changing the first letter each time, the initial conspirators of a new German sound were the infamous and celebrated Zodiak Free Arts Lab instigators Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler, and Dieter Moebius. As Kluster they reinterpreted the industrial landscape via the Gothic cathedrals of their homeland, three albums later they both lost the “K” and Schnitzler but gained the Teutonic titan of experimental production Conny Plank. The most popular and noted version of this lineage, whose only consistent would be and still is Roedelius, Cluster became one of the “Krautrock” legends, their sound a rich mix of crystalline elegance, avant-garde pop and peregrination rich electronica. Attracted to the strange alchemy at work in the backwoods of Forst, where both Roedelius and Moebius built their magical studio, convert and acolyte (Neu! co-founder) Michael Rother turned the duo’s head enough to record two albums under the Harmonia tag. A move to Hamburg’s Sky label in the second half of the 70s would coincide with Cluster’s most prolific period for releases, two of which would stem from collaborative sessions with Brian Eno.
Reuniting occasionally during the next two decades before disbanding in 2010, the duo would go on to work on various collaborative projects and release numerous solo projects, until the Cluster brand was incarnated once again as the intergenerational Qluster, with Roedelius (an octogenarian, now approaching his mid eighties) joined by the spritely (at only half his age) sound installation artist and keyboardist Onnen Bock on a quartet of live, extemporized albums in the late noughties. In 2013 the ‘neu’ duo became a trio once again when bass player virtuoso Armin Metz was congruously asked to swell the ranks.
The second album to be released from that line up, the pianist soundscapes Tasten (Grope!), is a further exploration in neo-classicism; a journey that began with Roedelius’ solo piano experiment Like The Whispering Of The Wind; a precursor to a reinvented style of classical music that dates back a century to Erik Satie. Following on from their last grand piano heavy suite Antworten but stripping away all other instruments and sounds, the trio caress, “grope”, and extract the most attentive descriptive pieces from a trio of Steinways.
The meeting of minds go to work on their respective muses, plucking, stretching and cranking open the piano’s lid to make every kind of lushly administered sound, including percussion.
Whether the titles came first or last, each instrumental reflects on an emotion, location or trace of human interaction. With the minimalist of adroit musicianship they evoke just the right Mediterranean atmosphere and chimes of an ‘Über den Dächern’ (Italian Bell Tower), and the, at first, becalming tidal waves that turn into a tempestuous sea movement, on ‘Brandung’ (Surf). And later on, the most obvious of their meditations follows the motion of a fairground Karussell (‘Carousel’); a Brecht like light and tipsy composition that quickens until reaching a whirling crescendo that eventually breaks down.
Nuanced notes and informed lyrical flourishes harmonically interlock, the triumvirate of Steinways creating many layers of resonance and depth. Yet despite the expletory nature of this album, every touch seems purposefully well rehearsed – a result no doubt, of the trio’s ability to read each other’s thoughts and second-guess the next move. Barely lifting its mood from an informed melodic series of pronounced, sophisticated dreamy reflections, Tasten can however seem a little tiring.
A self-regarded ‘neo-classical’ chapter in the Qluster/Cluster/Kluster oeuvre, the progressive spirit has been put on pause for something grandiose, quivering and magisterially aching with quality: a soundtrack score for the Steinway’s less obvious characteristics.
Papernut Cambridge ‘Nutlets 1967-80’ (Gare du Nord)
LP released 29th June 2015
Building from scratch with his regular rabble of contributors a pastoral and glam imbued pop music scene in the coastal provinces of Kent, one-time Death In Vegas and The Thrashing Doves guitarist Ian Button perfectly encapsulates the very idea of a cottage industry. Producing (numerous records, including the recently featured Extradition Order JFK concept LP), recording and running his own label (Gare Du Nord) Button is at the center of a maelstrom of productivity.
His most recent super group of maverick compatriots Papernut Cambridge have already delivered two critically applauded albums of English psych and beat group magnificence, imbued by the sort of lost treasure you find on the various I Can See For Miles, Rubble and Circus Days compilations from the 80s/90s. With its analogy to personal and geographical loneness, the last release, the There’s No Underground eulogy-tribute-lament to life just outside the temptress bright lights of the UK’s capitol, London, continued to indulge and explore the nostalgia of Button’s youth. And though it was almost wholly engineered to evoke those influences, it was devoid of any covers. Now, with his very own Pin Ups nod to the sounds emanating from the airwaves and TV during his childhood, the Nutlets goes all out to encapsulate the halcyon memories that continue to motivate or inspire Button.
Not just any old obvious filler of show-off or clichéd covers, this eclectic collection features the odd – Lynsey De Paul’s saccharine-coated ‘Sugar Me’, made more creepy and Worldly by Button here-, the glam era’s most resigned – a plaintive, sober rendition of T Rex’s ‘Broken Hearted Blues’ from the Tanx LP – and most beautiful examples of pop gold – Edison Lighthouse’s pitched perfect hit ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’. Button joined here by his ever-faithful court of artisan musicians, including serial offender Darren Hayman alongside Mary Epworth, Hélène Bradley, Robert Rotifer, Ralegh Long, Robert Halcrow and emailing his piano parts in from Spain, John Howard, makes some dubious choices sound remarkably credible; turning in some subtle versions of Alvin Stardust’s ‘Jealous Minds’, Hot Chocolate’s ‘I Believe In Love’ and Paul Jones’ ‘I’ve Been A Bad Boy’. But from the teenage lovesick balladry and pop of the early to mid 70s, the album finishes on the cusp of a new decade with the celebrated reggae artist and King Tubby collaborator Mikey Dread and his jaunty but cooler-than-thou ‘Rocker’s Delight’: an inspiration to so many artists in the dying embers of punk’s demise, looking to find a more exotic and rebellious sound to regroup around.
Neither a mockery nor a homage, the Nutlets is very complimentary to its source material without losing sight of the Button production sound that makes it so unique. He’s even managed to breathe life into some of those dusty long forgotten hits, so beloved of the Jackie annual brigade, without succumbing to dewy-eyed romanticism and pastiche. And for that he should be thanked.
A footnote: If I were Cockney Rebel’s Steve Herley or Tony Burrows of Edison Lighthouse I’d be worried by the omnipresent curse that has seen off Alvin Stardust, Lynsey De Paul, the famous inventor of the no nonsense premier WEM speakers and amps, Charlie Watkins (his gear utilized to full effect on these very recordings), and Hot Chocolate’s inimitable Errol Brown both during and in the aftermath of the recording of this record. This nostalgic celebration has suddenly become a memorial!
Kobadelta ‘Open Visions’
EP and video available now
After a busy year that saw the group’s vocalist Dom Noble plucked from a Gateshead crowd to duet impromptu style with Nick Cave, the Gothic cloaked beasts of hemlock serving pub rock and Byzantium psych, Newcastle hardliners’ Kobadelta, have recently dredged the esoteric abysses and run freely through the Fields Of The Nephilim to produce the new requiem Open Visions.
Pitched somewhere in the shadowy ruins of daemonic ritualistic drone and funeral pyre Black Sabbath, the band seem to have relaxed into their stride with a more sophisticated, and at times even groovier, follow up to last year’s Repetition. Still channeling a drawling mix of Ian MuCulloch and the Lizard King Jim Morrison, this extended showcase indulges in black magik references; slipping the beat from metal to a Kasabian meets the Stone Roses on the road to Damascus shuffle.
Indulging in their influences with a relish but played with serious intent, Kobadelta’s cryptic lovelorn analogies roam a landscape dominated by Greek tragedy, imposing stoner constructions, burning effigies and Russian camouflaged metaphors. Musically extended to incorporate a whole myriad of styles, there’s even room for Hawkwind – the vaporous take off of England’s most infamous space rock cadets can be heard on ‘Watch What You’re Doing’ – and The Mission. Big, better, deeper and gloomier, Open Visions goes much further in pushing Kobadelta to more extreme adventures in heavy stoned rock.
From that very same EP, the band have just released a video for the downer apocalyptic rock blast ‘Blame It All On Me’.
Casual Strangers ‘Kangarang’
Single track available now
Though hailing from a state with more than enough of its own mythical deserts, the Austen, Texas psychedelic rock and pop band the Casual Strangers have chosen to absorb the mystical transcendental climes of the Outback on their latest single.
An extemporize performance that amorphously blossomed from experimental sessions, ‘Kangarang’ is a misspent night connecting to the cosmos and Earth mother on liberal helpings of peyote in the Australian wilds; a cosmic trip of synth modulations, backward guitars and esoteric country psych twangs that will act as a comforter to those waiting for the follow-up album to their 2014 self-titled debut – currently being crated as we speak.
The Greg Foat Group ‘The Dancers At The Edge Of Time’ (Jazzman) LP released 15th June 2015.
After years of hard graft, peddling his wares in some of the most unlikely of places, and misspending his youth with both various celebrated artists and miscreants, jazz pianist of increasing repute Greg Foat has wasted little time as bandleader of his own group. With four albums now in less than five years, each one arguably a potential future classic of the jazz peregrination bent, under his belt he is one of contemporary jazz music’s most prolific artists.
Still soaring, still looking beyond Earthly realms, Foat ventures both outwards and inwards on the Michael Moorcock borrowed The Dancers At The End Of Time entitled suite. Still channeling the Sci-fi paperbacks and brave new Architecture periodical influences of his first moiety of albums, the composer/pianist has a far more expansive feel and set of influences with which to play with on this conceptual soundtrack.
As a source from which to be inspired, you could do a lot worse than the esoteric worlds and visions that spawned forth during the 60s/70s from the mind of space rock’s choice author. Essentially the “last love story in human history”, Moorcock’s original Dancers series of books and stories envisage a baffling ‘mindfuck’ of a universe, systematically collapsing yet at a stasis, with its supposed-immortal inhabitants able to time travel at will, and where natural biologically created humans are in a small minority and morality is pushed to the limits. At the center of these visionary tales, are the lovelorn characters of Mrs. Amelia Underwood, a time-traveller from Victoriana complete with all the morals and religious undertones of that period, and end time futurist Jherek Carnelian, who’s morals and sexual predilections seemed to cross every Rubicon boundary of what is tolerated and deemed unlawful.
Foat’s inspired musical accompaniment seems to reflect both sides of this strange love story; going as far as to record the LP within the sacrosanct confines of a church in his adopted home-from-home of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. Both for the purpose of exploring acoustics and mood but as a venerable statement too, the group performed around the church’s “centuries-old” organ, inviting a string quartet and woodwind section to build another layer of both diaphanous and sweeping majestic inspiration to the hallowed mix; a suitable musical representation of the atavistic, spiritual and arguably the theme tune to the character of the 19th century time traveller, Mrs. Underwood. Setting the scene with the self-titled opener, the sustained elegance of the church organ lays down a suffused atmosphere of Venusian porn film meets sophisticated carnal desires; the Moorcock stories transduced into one salacious, woozy jazz trip.
Moorcock’s omnipresent inspiration aside, a majority of the record pays homage to either Greg’s adopted Isle of Wight coastal retreat or further interesting space theological book titles. The Greek Goddess of health and nominal patron saint of Ventnor and Bonchurch ‘Hygieia’ is paid a tribune – possibly a gesture of good luck, hoping she’ll watch over proceedings with approval – by the lightened beauty of the woodwind section, and as a closing meditation, ‘Rocken End’ plays out the end of time perfectly, the protagonists looking out over a never-ending sea from a fossil rich coastal retreat of nearby Niton (part of the Ventnor coastline); the tide lapping for infinitum – or for ten minutes at least.
Dancers At The End Of Time is Foat’s most mature and sophisticated work to date, and the centrepiece piano playing truly exceptional, full of space, depth and nuanced interplay. And though countless influences lie only inches away at anytime, it is pure escapist jazz of the highest order and unmistakably a Greg Foat Group masterpiece.
Words: Dominic Valvona