Friday, 13 April 2018

Baker Island - Always, 1995 (Philophobia)

There's always something about the sound of Baker Island that manages to combine the new and familiar, which I suppose is the chief reason why they stand out from the many outfits working in an indie pop idiom.  The new EP works off that premise to give us 'Always, 1995' - the triumphant final track from last year's Restless Legs album - alongside three previously unreleased tunes
What makes this Newcastle band a consistent delight is their ability to take a central indie pop motif into interesting new places and the three new tracks here are no exception.   The screeching, rusty nail on metal opening to 'Badly Assembled Focus Group' is the gateway into a majestic piece of guitar pop.  It's followed by the brief, chiming 'Stretch Model' before the EP's finale 'Low Cost Locust' offers a straight fist-fight between pop melody and discordant noise.  Despite that, they somehow work off a template that appears to owe very little to early JAMC or MBV while still crafting something wonderful.
Although it's been around for some time, it's the title track that I've chosen to feature in my Dandelion Radio show this month, purely for the reason I usually select tracks for the show: it's so good and it worries me that people might not get to hear it.  If you missed it first time around, consider it also a reminder that you should also get round to checking out Restless Legs while you're about it.
It's available in cassette form from Wakefield's Philophobia label, though last time I checked there weren't many of those left.  You can also download it from all the usual places, including the label's bandcamp site, where you can also find a digital copy of the album

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Sir Robert Orange Peel - Snapchat (Metal Postcard)

The once radical act of cutting up and putting together a bunch of sampled voices has, like most activities carried out in the name of popular music, become generally horribly stale and predictable.   The genre, if it can be called that, desperately needs someone to raise it above its sterile condition, to recognise that the relative simplicity of the practice isn't an excuse simply to toss out any old junk and stick it on Soundcloud.
Sir Robert Orange Peel may well be that person.  His second album, which follows with almost impertinent haste on the heels of his previous collection, is a triumph of wit and audacity that works so well fundamentally because, hidden beneath the sampled voices and intoxicating rhythms that have an appealing ring of The Normal or Fad Gadget about them, is a shrewdly deployed obsession.
If this is sometimes veiled by arch references and cultural in-jokes, then that just adds a further layer to a highly enjoyable listening process.  You don't have to be familiar with The Fall to understand where the title of 'Europeans in Australia' comes from and you don't have to know anything about The Lovely Eggs to get the reference in 'Get your mince pies off my lovely eggs!' - a version of which first appeared in session in my Dandelion Radio show in January - and there's certainly a deep mine of enjoyment to be ploughed even among the uninitiated.
It's not all about celebratory references though.  If the potential AI issues brought forth in 'Alexa' have received significant coverage elsewhere lately, then the title track 'Snapchat' - which you can hear in my show this month - is perhaps still more disconcerting.  A world where mobile phones and social media don't merely become an aid to communication but the very focus of it is articulated by a female voice that relates to us, in a perfectly matter of fact tone, how she 'literally cries' when her phone is out of data.  
Meanwhile, 'I write in love and desperation', has chilling undertones of its own, offering another warning that, in a world where social bonds have become the very focus of existence, casualties are many and often lurk behind a façade of lucid ordinariness, demonstrated here by a narrator whose articulate words convey horrors that are both dark and all-too plausible.
None of this is to underplay the level of playfulness  that is always present in the work of Sir Robert, but this new collection has a depth to it that is an evolving feature of that work and allows 'Snapchat' to become far more than merely a one-off novelty listen.  It also hints of great possibilities to come.
Get 'Snapchat' as a digital download here


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Jack Hayter - Abbey Wood (Gare Du Nord)

The title of Jack Hayter's wonderful new album comes from the road in which he lived four years ago but the symbol that lies at the heart of the album's first track 'The Mulberry Tree at Abbey Wood' - which I played in my Dandelion Radio show last month - is loaded with far great depth
In particular the tree - 'you know the one, there's only one' as its lyrics tell us - stand as a metaphor that's explored throughout the collection.  It's a collection that's rich with feelings of solitude, yet it's a resilient solitude, loaded with a defiant spirit that manages to survive despite hostile surroundings.
On the surface, it's an album about places, but really it's about the people who give those places their character, characters like 'Fanny On The Hill', who serves up a liquid dinner with 'whisky for pudding'
Or the narrator of 'I Sent My Love To Bendigo', who fights his war in the farmyard, in attempt to stop the army from taking his beloved horse to war.  His brother goes to war in order to end the fighting with his girlfriend over the issue, only to return, broken, to hang himself at Christmas.  Under its original title of 'Horsemeat For Dogs', we featured an early version of the track on an Unwashed Territories compilation.  Its redolence has not diminished in the year since.
Similarly 'The Arandora Star', the tale of the ship loaded with British-based Italian and German civilians that was sunk during World War II, offers much poignancy against a backdrop of the sad xenophobia of these times.    As with Woody Guthrie's 'Deportees', the power lies in the evocation of individual lives behind the tragedy - the Italian women who'd helped to build bombers in north Manchester among them - leaving again a sense of real people devoured by circumstances they had no role in instigating.   I'm playing the track in my show this month.
it's a powerful collection, but it's also infused with a gentle, kind spirit.  A celebration of people and places, no less who, like the Mulberry Tree, still stand defiant despite it all.  Among them, unquestionably, stands Hayter himself.