It isn't unusual for a label to celebrate five years of existence with a release of some of their best artists playing some of the best songs released on the imprint over that five years. Samplers are great, and the five year anniversary is as good of a reason is publish a sampler as any. But leave it to Helsinki's Soliti Music to put an interesting twist on things. Yes, My Brain Hurts includes some of the label - and Finland's - best artists, and some of those wonderful songs. But the twist is that each of the featured band's has contributed a cover of a song by another Soliti artist rather than one of their own compositions. The result is fresh interpretations of great tunes, and a collection that doesn't replicate your current version of the song even if you are a collector of Soliti Music releases (which, of course, you should be). So, we have dream pop band Delay Trees covering "Our Old Centre Back" from Cats on Fire's latest LP. The New Tigers offer a stunning take on Black Twig's "Pastel Blue". Black Twig returns the favor and covers "World's Greatest Actor" by The New Tigers. In a flurry of genre-crossing, Cats of Transnistria cover Black Lizard, while Black Lizard cover Cats of Transnistria. Astrid Swan sings in Finnish to cover Puunhalaaja's "Härkä ja Paimen", and Love Sport reinterpret's Astrid Swan's "Rabbit Catcher". A great collection of songs heard in a new way, just in time for your holiday shopping!
Adult Contemporaries is the kid of intelligent, well crafted pop that deserves our appreciation. The product of twin brothers Christoph and Anton Hochheim, working as Ablebody, it offers eleven shimmering songs with loads of hooks. These songs are certified, Grade A sun-kissed and dreamy, with an underlying backbone of rhythms that likely will inspire to to take a drive by the beach or, failing that opportunity, dance around the family room. No gimmicks, no frills, but plenty of well chosen detail. You may detect similarities to the pop heyday of the '80s, but while Brothers Hochheim retain the romanticism of that era, they have a modern take on the sound that seems more much more fresh and organic. And by the way, Anton, some of that percussion reminds me of Steely Dan, and that's no bad thing at all.
Adult Contemporaries is out now via Lolipop Records in CD, vinyl and digital formats (cassettes are sold out).
Followers of Scottish pop have been hoping for the resurgence of Meursault, the Edinburgh-based project of Neil Pennycook. Meursault released a well-received EP in 2012, and an award-nominated album in 2014. Neil tried expanding the project to a full band, then shelved it. Now recording again, he has just released the Simple Is Good EP via Song By Toad Records, to be followed by a full album titled I Will Kill You Again in 2017.
For Simple Is Good, Meursault is again Neil plus collaborators. In this case, Robyn Dawson, Fraser Hughes, Sam Mallalieu, Reuben F. Taylor, Sophie Dodds and Bart Owl. The songs are varied, with powerful emotions expressed acoustically via tracks such as stunning opener "Simple Is Good" and the gorgeous but heartbreaking "A Kind Of A Cure", soaring dramatic pop as in "By Gaslight", alt folk as in "A Killer Chorus", and full on rocking intensity on tracks such as "The Fix Is In". As would be expected, the stars of the show are Pennycook's voice, and his songwriting. With respect to the latter, his approach is poetic, but direct and often dark and angry. It is an economical and highly effective approach not only because he is a gifted songwriter, but also because a vocal instrument such as the one possessed by Pennycook can sell any message. The atmospheric arrangements provide rich support for the compositions, but never overshadow them. This EP is an elegant and polished gem, perfect for the winter months. It is available in CD and digital formats.
Sam Russell & The Harborrats are back, and that makes us very happy. Call this gang garage doo wop, Americana soul or whatever, but they deliver stirring performances highlighted by Russell's superb vocals. The Wisconsin Polka, the band's first studio album in four years, is due soon. Your first taste is the single "Born To Hurt" / "Make Me Lose Control", consisting of the high energy "Born To Hurt", and a cover of the 1988 ballad by Eric Carmen. The single is a digital download at the Bandcamp link below. We will share more details regarding The Wisconsin Polka as they are available.
Most of us are adept at processing joy and happiness, contentment and peace. And if we lose our way a bit in that regard some holiday TV special or the feel-good movie of the season will give us a helping hand. But the real challenge is how we process the darker elements of life. I'm not speaking about wide scope tragedies such as terrorist bombings, floods and famine. My focus is on more personal devastation, such as death, old age helplessness, a crumbling marriage, loss of children and giving up in the face of overwhelming troubles. Do we ignore it as long as we are able, even while others around us see us crushed? Do we panic? Or do we crumple in a heap, utterly unable to continue? OK, good questions, Scott -- what is the answer?
Well, there may be no single answer, but Scotland's Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers have an answer. According to JY&TPGLP, sometimes you have to dance in the gutter, troll through the graveyard, share copious tears and contemplate degradation and mortality to know that you are alive and feel good about your life. And their motivation for you to do so is their darkly addictive dark soul, doom wop, and gutter Gospel. A few years ago we covered Luck, the band's smashing debut LP. They are back now with Goths!!!, seven songs that overall are a bit slower in tempo and quieter in volume, but packed with dark emotion. The album opens with "The Tigris", a simple piano-driven arrangement in which the protagonist tells of life and loss, ending with a decision to drown himself in the titular river. Showcase tune "The Gospel According To The Selfish Gene" follows with a glorious slice of roadhouse R&B. It is so good I've provided it twice below, one a stream of the test pressing, the other a portion of Jacob's live performance of the song. One of the best tracks is the following "Grace of God", in which Jacob tells of a man who has lost his job, home, family, and eventually his life. "Winter In My Heart" is a jazzy, nocturnal meditation that you'd expect to hear as the last patron on the club while the barman cleans up and the roadies pack the amps (Jackson Browne, eat your heart out). Next is the dub dominated "Care Home", which addresses the grim life in a home for the aged. Even at seven and a half minutes, it could run longer with no complaint from me. The album closes with the dark tales "Bits of Glass" and "The Heart". The later is one of my favorites on the album, and is my preferred tune for a late night whisky before bed.
The arrangements are spare, but spot on throughout. Jacob's bluesy vocals, ably backed by Cassie Exeji of Golden Teacher sell the message, and the package from London's VAVA Records is first class. Wallow in the darkness with us -- it is surprisingly fun!
For Goths!!!, Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers are main man Jacob Lovatt, with Jamie Bolland, Richard Holmes, Michael Bleazard, Christopher Haddow, Niall Dobbie, Cassie Exeji, Stuart Evans, Emily MacLaren. The album was recorded at Glasgow's Green Door
Our recent feature (link) for the latest album from Martin Newell's Cleaners From Venus project proved quite popular, so we are pleased to alert you to a new album titled Cleaned Up Collectables. Consisting of thirteen songs Martin recorded as demos in 1987 for the album Town and Country, which have been digitalized and otherwise cleaned up for your listening pleasure, it is a fine addition to your collection of Martin's brand of jangling, idiosyncratically English songcraft. Take "Denmark Street" and "Cardboard Town" for a test drive, and if they pleasure your ears, you can stream the entire collection. It is available as a digital download at the Bandcamp link below.
Sometimes I just want someone to sing to me in French. The words could even be rude insults directed towards me -- as I don't speak French I wouln't know the difference. It just makes me feel good to hear French pop. And on the last day of November, I need something to help me feel good. To the rescue, is Flagstaff, Arizona's Emotional Response Records. They have released a delightful, self-titled album by an international collective named Croque Madame. Many of you may know a croque madame as a version of the croque monsieur sandwich with a fried egg on top. That may sound silly. It may sound delicious. It may sound silly and delicious. And that is just right, because Croque Madame is packed with silly and delicious pop. Go ahead, feel good. You deserve it.
Croque Madame features vocalist Florence Raynaud, with Rob Storey and Dave Perlis. The album is available at the links below.