Sundowners (or is it The Sundowners) return with a follow-up to their eponymous 2015 debut, with a fantastic collection of neo-psyche tunes, on Cut The Master. It’s strange that I’ve found information a little thin on the ground for this slightly delayed follow-up, compared to the first album, leading me to wonder if this album had been a struggle the group were hoping would pass under the radar. Opening track ‘Before The Store’ builds up tension for the album expertly and lays to rest any such fears that this might be a sub-par offering. In fact it’s anything but, for Sundowners sound full of bold confidence and cohesion on this album, lovingly produced by James Skelly & Rich Turvey at Parr Street Studios with “special musical features by Andy Votel”. I’m assuming these ‘special musical features’ might be the sound affects used to beautifully weave together each track, with sci-fi sound effects and bubbling psychedelic synth noises. These work extremely well throughout the collection, making sitting and listening to the whole album a wonderfully satisfying experience.
Pure Comedy – what can we say about Pure Comedy? The opening lines put us right there: “the comedy of man starts like this/ Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips.” The pain of human birth leading to the need for a family unit, creating childhood, a time where most of us find, later in life, we all got a little bit messed up. Basically, Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, has made a concept album about the absurdity of human existence and it's pretty damned good. As he travels swiftly from the difficulties of childbirth to the invention of religion and all the problems that has caused, it would be easy to write an essay about the song on its own. In fact Tillman released his own pseudo-intellectual rant-come-essay as a companion to the album, and it’s quite an irritating read, he’s deviously telling you what to think and taking the piss out of you at the same time. So when the Americana ballads spill out of the speakers it may come as a surprise if your only primer for the album is Tillman’s essay, or one of his incendiary interviews – he’s been upsetting a lot of people – so it’s worth considering a little of the background leading up to this release.
I discovered Grandaddy in Borders in 1997. I used to pop into the shop to smell the coffee, peruse the books and check out the random selection of CDs chosen to stick on the listening posts: multiple sets of headphones on every aisle. Maybe the strange puppet in headphones on the cover of Under The Western Freeway reminded me of myself, or maybe I was instantly sucked in by the odd collection of high-contrast sounds surrounding Jason Lytle's mournful falsetto. When I bought the CD, on a whim, I certainly don't think I was expecting to be jumping up and down to my favourite track from the album, 'A.M. 180', 20 years later. You see, Grandaddy were never that big of a deal, back in the day. There were certainly a lot more people championing The Sophtware Slump a couple of years down the line but, for a long time, I was the only person I knew who knew their début, and I listened to it a lot.
About a year ago I started hearing people talk about a new band called Fukushima Dolphin. It's rare, when you live in a town where half of your friends are musicians, to hear people raving about a new act. But there I found myself, in a friend’s kitchen, while he excitedly dug out shaky mobile phone footage of a band performing raucously on the Albert stage, posted to YouTube. That was my first encounter with Fukushima Dolphin, with friends geeking out about the chords and vibe of this mysterious new band. I finally got to see them live, supporting Bloom at their Latest Music Bar album launch, and was suitably impressed. Main man, Josh, cuts an interesting figure in a floppy hat and dungarees, but makes an even more interesting sound on the guitar: running a battered old acoustic through a plethora of guitar pedals to create a psychedelic lead tone that really cuts through. I was intrigued by this band that sounded to me like a cross between The Flaming Lips and MGMT with a healthy dose of foot-stopping cowboy folk, which I could not place!
Salutations is, according to Wikipedia, Conor Oberst's 11th solo studio album. Would that it were so simple! I did a quick headcount across all the other projects in which he's a key player (Bright Eyes, Commander Venus, Monsers Of Folk, to mention a few…) and came out with a figure closer to 28 records – a staggering body of work for a 37-year-old to have produced. Presumably he never sleeps, or does so with a guitar in his hands and a four-track set to record. This latest release is being presented as a companion piece to last year's Ruminations album, which is probably the most solo of his solo albums – mostly songs built with just voice and guitar or piano. Conor recorded Ruminations while snowbound in his native Nebraska and were demo versions of a new set of songs intended for an album with a full band. The feedback from his circle about these stripped-back, emotionally-raw recordings was so positive he took their advice and released it as it was last year. That didn't stop him progressing with his original plans though, so a mere five months later we have Salutations, containing full-band versions of the songs on Ruminations in addition to another seven songs he must have written in the time it took to assemble a suitable group of players and book a studio. I told you: he never sleeps.
My Mum is a Meilyr Jones fan. I think she first heard him on Cerys Matthews radioshow and since then has become obsessed with his début album 2013, playing it whenever she gets the chance and to whomever will listen. It's refreshing to have your Mum still turning you on to great music long after Mums are supposed to have grown out of rock and pop in favour of whatever it is Mums are supposed to be listening to. I wouldn't know, my Mum listens to cool music and Morrissey. Lots and lots of Morrissey – but that's another story for another day. In a great twist of fortune Meilyr Jones was coming to Brighton on his UK tour, within days of Mum's birthday. So I grabbed some tickets and down we went.
We were a little late for the support band, Sam Jordan and The Dead Buoys (formerly The Dead Boys until some old defunct US punk band's fans got their knickers in a twist and social media pressured them into shoving an innocuous 'u' into their name). We walked into the closing refrain of 'Sister', which turned out to be the closing moment of their set, Sam smirking into the light, centre stage, wearing a brightly coloured Hawaiian shirt that belies the darkness in their music. I’m sure I will see them perform again.
I replaced our scheduled writer for the Toothless show somewhat at the last minute, so I felt a little unprepared going in. I had listened to the début album, The Pace Of The Passing during the day. Released in January, this new solo project from Bombay Bicycle Club's bass-player Ed Nash, was an intriguing listen. There seemed to be two main contrasting but not irreconcilable approaches: folky melancholia and melodic pop with danceable grooves. I found myself wondering, as well, how the various collaborations on the album would be recreated live – vocal contributions from the likes of Marika Hackman, The Staves, Tom Fleming and Liz Lawrence pepper the album. When I arrived early to the show Liz Lawrence was up on the stage doing a solo show, and answering my question. For every night of the tour Lawrence has been opening up with a solo set before joining Ed Nash on stage for the Toothless set to close. Lawrence played a set of soulful electronic tracks, switching between her guitar and some sort of micro synth. She's a very talented woman and I found the tail-end of her set a fantastic opening to the night. The abrupt ending of her final song seemed to rob her of the uproarious applause I felt she was due, but she seemed ego-free and unperturbed as she made way for the local support.
Jesca Hoop's latest album is a breathtaking triumph: as starkly sparse as it is bravely bold. For the last ten years Hoop has been releasing solo albums under the guidance of industry guru Tony Berg and his Zeitgeist Studios, but here, for the first time, she has stepped away from that shadow to meticulously craft a fine batch of songs alongside her long-time co-producer Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Fiona Apple). At live shows Hoop appears with her voice and guitar, backed only by a second guitarist and occasionally some backing singers. The sound of Memories Are Now sticks close to that sound, stripped back to just the bare essentials, with sparse layers of percussion and the results are haunting. Title track 'Memories Are Now' is primarily Hoop's multi-layered vocal, soaked in reverb, backed by a hi-hat marking time and a lone guitar, fiercely plucking out a minimal chord sequence that's almost all bassline. It's an intense piece, vocals right in your face, leaving you no room to escape their direct melodies. The backing vocals float off in the background, pulling wisps of atmosphere along in their wake. And that guitar rises and falls in intensity, you can hear the grit and grain building up in its tone as the plucking becomes more forceful. It's a wonderfully powerful piece of music that does so much with so little, setting the scene perfectly for what's to come.
Elbow's seventh album has arrived and, despite losing their drummer, it appears to be business as usual. It's an album of slow-burners which fits snugly into a slow-burning career. Elbow are one of those parts of the British music scene that you know will be reliably plugging away in the background, whether you’re paying close attention or not. Guy Garvey and his band produce an album every two or three years and, though they're not going to blow your mind with a major change of pace any time soon, they are consistent and their profile rises a notch with every fresh release. I'm not a huge fan myself, which I think it's best to be up front about. I think for a person to fall in love with a group they have to fall for the singer's voice and, unfortunately, Garvey has never quite won me over. I'm almost annoyed at myself for it! I do tend to warm to regional accents that come across in song, as opposed to the typical trans-Atlantic tone many of the UK's singers unwittingly find themselves recreating. Garvey's voice sounds like home, but I find it recalls something older, something traditional. I can easily imagine a medieval poet delivering his verse in similar lilting melodies. Perhaps it's the safeness of his singing that doesn't quite sell it for me, for I've always liked a bit of danger to my rock music and danger is not in Elbow’s repertoire (or I've yet to discover it therein).
Ty Segall’s latest album, and his second eponymous solo album, is pure, unrestrained fuzzy joy from start to close. I have to confess, although I knew who he was I have, until now, avoided all of Segall’s albums. I don’t know what I was expecting to find, but it wasn’t this. Falling in love with Ty Segall on his tenth solo album is actually a great place to be. It’s like discovering a TV series that you’ve really been looking forward to has just been released in its entirety, providing the opportunity to close the curtains, lock the doors, pull up the duvet and binge for an entire weekend. That’s my plan for the weekend anyway, except instead of Daredevil Season 3 (or whatever) it will be Ty Segall’s solo albums, side-projects and collaborations that I’ll be working my way through.