Big Balloon thumps and thuds, flexes and stretches. Dutch Uncles have clearly made a conscious effort to produce a hard hitting guitar record that packs a punch and boasts a singular identity. Whilst there are many great moments, Big Balloon ultimately lacks the charm and imagination of previous releases. If this was a debut or sophomore release, it would be hugely impressive, but it’s not unfair to expect more from a band who are now five albums into a ten year career. Surely this is the point to take bold new steps?
Manu Delago’s 3rd solo album is, in some ways, a return to his roots for the celebrated hang player, retreating from the prominent techno influences of 2015’s Silver Kobalt – for the first half of the album, at least. Delago zones in instead on technical experimentation with playing techniques, more often positioning his hang drum alone, or with sparse accompaniment. At the same time, the album conspicuously charts a course from the rural to the urban, a conceptual change which his songs mirror, stylistically: starting from a minimal base, Delago reinforces and expands the repertoire of instruments and production throughout the album, moving from natural to more contrived sounds.
Stellular is Rose Elinor Dougall’s second solo album, although you’d be forgiven if this is the first release you’ve heard from her. Her introspective debut, Without Why, came out seven long years ago in 2010, two years after her split with The Pipettes: that noughties experiment to create the ultimate indie girl pop group. The Pipettes were a clearly defined concept – their matching polka dot dresses, vocal harmonies and synchronised dance routines were lifted straight from Phil Spector’s 60s pop model. The group were led by singer-songwriter Bobby Barry in his attempt to follow Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty(better known as The KLF)’s The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way) to the letter! It must have been an odd place to find yourself beginning a career in music. A component of another person’s experiment, one that I’m not sure was ever expected to become such a monster, or such a success depending on how you look at it. If 2010’s Without Why, was Rose’s attempt to make something outside of such clearly defined parameters, you could read Stellular as the results of time spent trying to discover what clearly defined parameters she would like to set herself. That’s not all she’s been up to for the last seven years, of course. A long stint playing to enormous crowds as part of Mark Ronson’s touring band has taken a decent chunk of that time and has doubtlessly played a part in shaping where Rose would go with this collection of songs.
There have been some great duet acts in the past: Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, Sonny and Cher, Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston. Well, please add a new combo to the list – in Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, Flo Morrissey and Matthew E White have created an album that sounds contemporary, original and cohesive, encased in a lovely warm bubble wrap of vintage sounds.
It’s a diverse collection of songs spanning several decades and styles, from the Bee Gees to Feist, Leonard Cohen to Frank Ocean. Morrissey and White have managed to make the covers sound both instantly recognisable yet creatively reimagined. There’s only really Roy Ayers’ ‘Everyone Loves The Sunshine’ that sticks too close to the original. However, it is done with so much love and attention to detail that there’s a very strong argument for keeping it on the record – the bottom line is that it sounds ruddy great.
Matthew E White’s influence is very apparent – fans of his work and the Spacebomb Records output will be familiar with the impeccable retro production and soulful musicianship which makes the good songs great and the great songs very special indeed. This is evident on album opener, Feist’s ‘Look At What The Light Did Now’ which could easily be mistaken for a Jackson Five classic, especially with Morrissey’s high pitched vocal passing nicely for a young Michael.
This feels like a record for all seasons – I can imagine that everyone will have a different favourite, or even that people’s favourites will shift depending on mood. I am certainly hard pressed to choose one, yet bizarrely can name one that doesn’t work for me – Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’, reimagined as a far more energetic, brasher number, much more in the vain of ‘Waiting For The Man’. Actually, come to think of it, this is pretty damned good too!
I’m sure that Frank Ocean and James Blake will be quietly chuffed with the treatment their songs receive. ‘Thinking Bout You’ is a guitar orchard of fruity licks and White and Morrissey’s vocal turns are some of the strongest on the album – it’s an exciting moment. ‘The Colour In Anything’ is another star vocal turn by Morrissey, noticeably bringing the song’s sad lyric to sharp focus and some Brothers-In-Arms-era Mark Knopfler guitar adds hugely to a sense of mourning and regret.
Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ provides a moment in the spotlight for White as his whispery baritone sits menacingly over stark instrumentation. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’ is another one to receive darker production; eeriness permeates the song as it both manages to sound cutting edge and 1960s – a trick that White and Morrissey manage to pull off consistently throughout.
Some collaborations work to a degree; there will be some real highs when things fall into place, but there are invariably low points when artists clash for whatever reason. There’s not even a hint of that on Gentlewoman, Ruby Man – it’s packed with joy, imagination and talent, delivered by two artists in tune with each other. ‘Grease’ is a perfect example of this as White and Morrissey’s vocals at points take turns and at others combine to create magical layers that the Bee Gees would have killed for.
This really is a fine record to kick off the New Year.
It’s quite rare that you meet a group who hail from the pebbled shores of Brighton without at first relocating here. Grymm fracture that rule somewhat having met at the local secondary school, Dorothy Stringer. The band have now released a smattering of singles, each one delicately demonstrating different fragments to the musical kaleidoscope that is Grymm. Some songs such as ‘OCD’ at times show a tenderness, others such as ‘Jurassic’ put forth a cathartic explosion.
The group have been making waves throughout Brighton’s flamboyant underground scene of late. With notable comparisons to the likes of Blaenavan and locals, Tigercub and The Wytches, they are picking the best of the recent fruits to incorporate into their own sound. I caught up with Morgan and Andrew of Grymm to discuss where they are at right now and what lies in-store for 2017.
It’s easy to forget the state of the British ‘popular’ music scene at the time that Primal Scream exploded from the underground into wider consciousness with their 1990 hit ‘Loaded’. Acid house acts such as Guru Josh may have been starting to become more mainstream, but the UK Top 20 Chart was still dominated by the likes of Shakin’ Stevens, Cliff Richard, Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton in the week that ‘Loaded’ landed. Its parent album Screamadelica arrived the following year and changed music forever, to the point where it is still nigh-on impossible to review a Primal Scream show or album without referencing it 25 years later. However, unlike other bands of their age, they still remain relevant and keep pushing forward with every release.
So we’ve made it through the second half of 2016 and the time has come for the second instalment of our half yearly round-up. Back in June I was saying it felt like we’d already been through most of a year, but famous deaths and shocking news stories have turned into a constant theme. It’s almost like a meme has been established and the world’s journalists have simply been searching for more stories that fit the trope. Yes, 2016, you’ve really been trolling us with all of these bizarre twists: Trump, Brexit, the train strikes, the rising celebrity death-count and of course the shock ending of Brangelina! Of course all this is merely the support band and music itself is the big star for us here at Brightonsfinest.com. We’ve asked our writers to pick out their favourite album and show of 2016, as well as an album we missed for review when it was released. Read on to see what we loved from the last six months…
Best of July – December 2016
Emmy the Great lives up to her name
Emma-Lee Moss, AKA Emmy the Great, has had a great year. She’s released her strongest, and most immediate, album to date, Second Love. She’s also quite possibly pulled off the double, by releasing ‘Go Far’, a very strong contender for single of the year. To mark 2016 as a fine vintage, Moss has embarked on a little tour. Stopping off in Brighton, I made sure I was there to witness this very special performer in what is a very intimate space.
Matthew & Me’s new EP Startpoint is a hotbed of soaring instrumentation and epic soundscapes that take you on an explorative journey. After perfecting their craft for over half a decade, the songwriting pair of Mattew Board and Lucy Fawcett were signed by innovative record label Beatnik this year and have just completed a short UK tour to support the recent release. I caught the band after their headline show at the Rialto Theatre.
Seven years after his solo debut album Grace/Wastelands Pete Doherty is back, releasing his latest creation Hamburg Demonstrations on the 2nd of December 2016. The Babyshambles/Libertines frontman’s debut was generally well received by music critics in 2009, with The Observer stating the album said “goodbye to Pete Libertine the Rehab King, and say hello to Peter Doherty, outstanding singer-songwriter and charismatic poet-vagabond. It's a pleasure finally to meet him." With this in mind, Hamburg Demonstrations looks set to be a hit with fans, embodying political and social comments into his famous simplistic poetry and slacker melodies.
Produced, recorded and mixed by Johann Scheerer, Doherty traveled to Hamburg to create the album, after turning up ‘unannounced’ at the Clouds Hill Recordings studio and moving to the German city for six months. The album certainly reflects the mindset of Doherty, a relaxed and comfortable feel encompasses all the tracks regardless of content, suggesting the artist enjoyed this endeavour and his time in Europe.
The single off the album; ‘I Don’t Love Anyone (But You’re Not Just Anyone)’ is a far more tranquil affair than the ferocity of the Libertines and Babyshambles. It opens with a quiet and ambient guitar solo, characteristic of Doherty’s music, and is a fine, melodic example of Doherty’s ability to rely on his lyricism rather than scuzzy guitars and percussion. The single, released in September, is full of poetic charm and undoubtedly excited fans about the direction of the full album.
Doherty follows through with the rest of Hamburg Demonstrations. One of the most anticipated tracks from the December release is a new recording of the Amy Winehouse tribute ‘Flags of The Old Regime’ (now called ‘Flags From The Old Regime’). The track is endlessly haunting, evoking Doherty’s sensitivity around the subject of Winehouse so well that it is hard not to empathise with the emotions conveyed in his lyrics. The track is wholesome, raw and beautifully sincere. Doherty maintains a quietness in his voice throughout the entire track that is soulful and fragile, demonstrating the lost friendship following Winehouse’s passing in 2011.
The depth of this album typified by Doherty’s track ‘Hell to Pay at the Gates of Heaven’, written after the Paris attacks last November. Doherty’s lyrics lament the idea that young people are now choosing guns over guitars: “Come on boys, choose your weapon, J-45 or AK-47.” Despite the topic of the track being somewhat sensitive, Doherty displays his frustration with the violence of young people in an upbeat and slightly mocking tone. The track has a trivial feel to it, that weaves perfectly in and out of Doherty’s well crafted poetry that critiques the attacks, while encouraging young people to pursue music as a means of expression.
‘Kolley Kibbler’, the opening track of the album is equally poetically charming inspired by Kolley Kibbler, the newspaper man who meets a sticky end at the beginning of Brighton Rock. The track introduces the entire album as a fresh release from Doherty that is entirely recognisable, but also fun and a world away from the drug fuelled lyricism that dominated his Libertines years. The track is youthful, playful and a fantastic choice as the album opener.
Hamburg Demonstrations is, all in all, a coherent and beautifully simple album that was well worth the seven year wait since Grace/Wastelands. Doherty manages to pour his heart and soul into every track while displaying a calmness that reflects his current mindset gracefully. The album will undoubtedly be a hit with old fans and anyone willing to give Doherty another chance.