It’s certainly an interesting prospect, a debut album from Canadian college room-mates and childhood school friends that’s been ten years in the making and has finally come to fruition. To be honest, this album came as a complete surprise to me, and that’s as someone who has been obsessively listening to the main singer-songwriter, Andy Shauf’s last two solo albums, The Party and The Bearer Of Bad News. Searching for news of new material I found an interview with Shauf in the Toronto Star, where he talked about making The Party. He abandoned initial sessions with a band to start afresh, playing all the instruments himself. Shauf said he’d realised, “It doesn’t work for me to work with other people”, so it was strange to discover he’s had this project on the back-burner the whole time.
12 Stone Toddler continued on their steadily upward trajectory with a sold-out show at The Haunt, Brighton, to launch third album, IDIOLALIA, released on local indie label Freshly Squeezed. They set the scene with a wonderful opening performance from Tankus The Henge singer, Jaz Deloreon. Jaz performed solo, accompanying himself on piano whilst standing askance, cutting a bit of a Buster Keaton-like figure in a three-piece check suit, as he led the crowd into a series of sing-a-longs. His set climaxed with a rendition of ‘Henge song, ‘You Can Do Anything’, sung back at him as he left the stage by the growing crowd. It takes some skill to get a room full of people singing a song many had never heard before, a feat Deloreon pulled off with ease, expertly warming the crowd and stripping them of any lingering inhibitions.
Last year, after an unfathomably long hiatus, legendary Brighton rock band 12 Stone Toddler dusted off the nappy and unveiled their latest incarnation to eager crowds. Celebrating ten years from the release of their stunning debut album, Does It Scare You?, the band wowed us all with a sold-out tour-de-force at Brighton’s Green Door Store. Then they took the show on the road, showcasing at several prominent UK festivals, including Glastonbury, before they quietly slipped once more from view.
It’s immediately apparent from the atmospheric instrumental opener ‘Whitewater’, which features some quality distorted cello playing from Jenny, that Let’s Eat Grandma’s second record, I’m All Ears, is a significant step up from their debut, at least in production terms. That first record, I, Gemini, was written and recorded when Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth were precocious young teens: the two girls met when they were four and began making music together at 13. It was surprisingly cohesive, considering their youth, and their naive, unusual perspective turned up surprising depth and a unique sense of humour within pop. This follow-up strips away a lot of the musical idiosyncrasies, which, to some, will have come across as inconsistency, but to many were a massive part of the charm.
Happy Endings begins with an odd, exasperated count-in, before the bombastic sound of an old school rhythm and blues band style intro: pulsating drums overwritten with piano flourishes, before hitting into the trumpet and synth-pad dominated verse of ‘Rescue Mission’. These drums may come as an auditory surprise for anyone’s who’s been following Crayola Lectern’s live show in recent years, where normally the trio of chaps we see on the inner sleeve are sat surrounded by keyboards and an array of percussive devices. Hailing from just along the coast in Worthing, Crayola Lectern is the brainchild of psychedelic family man Chris Anderson, backed by a number of musical friends. Alistair Strachan and Damo Waters, from the live show are bolstered on record with a few extra pairs of hands, notably including a couple of ex-Cardiacs in drummer Bob Leith and multi-instrumentalist Jon Poole. Anderson’s mastery of the keys has been further distilled in this weird and whimsical collection of songs, which lose nothing through being a little more focussed and succinct than on the debut album.
In a surprisingly rapid follow-up to Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman has thrust out a record that’s arguably his most concise to date. Leaving the outward looking meta-analysis behind, he moved into a hotel for six weeks to gaze deeply inward at his struggling marriage while binging on drink and drugs. The results are a wild ride, sure, but still melodic as hell.
Putting on Sparkle Hard for the first time last week I felt this strange sense of comforting familiarity. As someone who was unabashedly obsessed with Pavement’s last album Terror Twilight at the tail-end of the 90s, checking out Stephen Malkmus in 2018 makes me feel like the prodigal son, welcomed home and treated to a smorgasbord of goodies that I really don’t deserve. This album is phenomenal in its scope, it seems a crystallisation of everything that was great about Malkmus’ idiosyncratic writing in Pavement, but taken to transcendent soaring heights. Just listen to those strings on ‘Solid Silk’, alongside the soft retro synth-flute tones – it’s an album that sounds like it could have been made during a different era within the music industry; when interesting progressive rock bands decamped to posh studios for months on end, labouring over their overdubs and drafting in session musicians of every sort to turn their acid-fuelled bonkers ideas into wide-screen epics of Sgt. Pepper proportions.
Charles Watson departs from Slow Club’s indie-pop sound on his self-produced debut solo album. Presenting us instead with sophisticated retro pop that borrows sonic chops from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and a bit of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, whilst also looking further back to 70s folk and Americana for inspiration. Its mostly mellow and melancholic vibes are well suited to a lazy summer’s afternoon, shading from the sun.
I must admit to having a little trepidation when I put my name forward to review this show. I was worried that I might have ended up on the back foot, as someone who never really got into Fugazi. The proposition, as I understood it before attending, was that Deerhoof and the Stargaze orchestral collective were going to pay tribute to Fugazi’s breakthrough album In On the Kill Taker, with new arrangements written for the ensemble. I was relieved when Greg Saunier, who drums in Deerhoof, besides being a composer and producer, introduced the show and immediately dispelled my fears. “I have never listened to Fugazi”, Greg began, before explaining that this musical cross-pollination came to him as something of a challenge from the Stargaze camp. He was commissioned to arrange the Fugazi material as solo performances for nine members of the collective.
The ego has landed! Arctic Monkeys have finally delivered their long-anticipated sixth studio album, and it could be their most ambitious to date. A concept album, of pure retro futurism, set in a luxury hotel on the moon for the rich, the famous and even Jesus himself. This collection of loungey piano ballads seems a major departure from the big riffs of AM, presenting something of a challenge to those fans who’ve waited five long years for another hit record from the quartet. The album begins with ‘Star Treatment’ and the change of sound is immediately apparent, as Alex Turner croons over this lush new setting, smooth jazz chords pass by like elevator music from the 60s. The muted, staccato bass guitar and percussive wood block initially recalls sonics from The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, but the vibe is more akin to the music you’d expect to hear in an extremely glamorous retro game show, played while the rotunda turns to reveal a gleaming sports car.