The Staves – If I Was

Enough to make grown men cry, Watford's Stavely-Taylors are three English roses; fair skinned, long flowing hair and, above all, beautiful voices. It's a lethal combo, certainly for those who don't need much in the way of grunge in their lives, and not surprisingly they have resonated with music lovers, as they continue on their fantastic journey.

This, their crucial second album, apparently came about more by accident (followed by stealth) than anything pre-planned. After touring with Bon Iver a couple of times, they bonded to such an extent that Justin Vernon (main man of the American cult-indie heroes) invited them to his studio, in the wilds of Wisconsin, sensing that they needed some time out and to hang free and play some music. Whether or not this was a long game plan, we might never know, but sure enough after a few visits back and forth, and with The Staves record label also apparently having no knowledge of their initial secret dalliance, Vernon (apparently, again…) popped the question, something along the lines of: 'looks like we're making a record?'

There is something romantic about this notion; two sets of artists getting it together, without a plan or strategic vision. The girls were ready to get away from it all, just chill out, drink some booze and play some music, something that they hadn't been able to do much at all in the intervening three years after the release of their debut album 'Dead & Born & Grown'. And they hadn't written much either, so these visits turned into full blown writing sessions, the sisters sometimes writing alone, or in collaboration with each other. But while the 'Mexico and Motherlode' EPs, along with the debut album, were basically just them and a guitar or ukulele, 'If I Was' is, in effect, The Staves with backing band, albeit a backing band that includes Justin Vernon, who produced the album, and various Bon Iver members who more than make their mark, musically, and personality-wise. More than meets the eye, this is a collaborative album that has helped The Staves to explore new dimensions and new sounds.

The key though, to any musical success, are the songs and this is ultimately the reason why we should celebrate The Staves. Voices don't mean very much without good songs to sing, and all three have an intuitive ear for melody, and a mature grasp of the craft of songwriting. Much of the inspiration for these songs comes from their recent experiences of changing relationships, not only between themselves, but also with their respective boyfriends, friends and family. "What does a relationship mean if you're not ever there, not together? How can you be friends with someone when you are missing every landmark occasion in their life and they have no idea about your day-to-day life? How can you stay close and honest with these people when you are so tired? I don't know. So many detours…" Emily has said of the overriding theme of the album. 'If I Was' has allowed them let some of that pent up emotion out, Vernon's studio and it's relatively isolated environs inviting them to digest and comprehend their actions, and their new found place in the world, essentially as on-the-road full-time musicians. As almost every rock documentary of life on the road will tell you, this can potentially be a recipe for madness. The Staves, to use a truly horrible pun, are seeking to stave that potential off.. 

Recorded over five trips across the Atlantic, at Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and produced by Justin Vernon, If I Was takes The Staves’ original blueprint of sublimely harmonised British indie-folk and gives it an injection of muscle and a much-heightened ambition. This new direction, and their new sonic template is borne out by opening track, the epic Born I Bled, not only do you hear the different voices at different times, as you usually do, you hear them utterly soar together, the end result being many shades of light and dark, something they can seemingly do at will. And the music is a huge upgrade from their previous works; after the initial folksy ukulele and voice beginning, Vernon and band come out of the traps, a glorious romp through the English countryside (for this is the vision presented in front of me!), horns, strings'n'all. 'Come the quickening feet that fall, come the gathering rain, suffering as I suffer you, hearing you speak of pain,' they sing. The following track Steady, is also a relatively complex and composite piece, the joining together of two songs written by Jessica and Camilla. There's a Fleetwood Mac fluidity to it, with similar vocal dynamics, and again Vernon and pals embellishing with decisive muscularity, but tastefully done, never overwhelming. The band also particularly make their mark on the the somewhat atypical Black & White, a mildly bruising, bluesy west coast rocker a la Crosby, Still, Nash & Young circa 'Deja Vu'.

The new eclecticism of The Staves comes through further on the dreamily electro-hymnal Damn It All, led by the fragile voice of Jessica, before the song segues into what is in effect an entirely new song, simply strummed, but rawly acoustic, building and building, the voices big and strong, inducing that all-too-rare spine-tingling sensation in me. The sentiments of 'Even though I love you I want you go to' suddenly morphs into 'Throw it all into the wind, well damn it all/ I don't want it all, think I need a drink', suggestive of the battling forces perseverance over resignation. And with The Shining (a somewhat throwaway reference to the fact this Stephen King/Stanley Kubrick horror classic was being watched in the studio's control room during one of their visits – spooky, when you remember that that film was largely set in an isolated and snow bound hotel in Colorado, a bit like at times, snow bound studio in Wisconsin), you get a faintly Stereolabesque 60s/lounge groove, and a wonderfully buzzing guitar solo. 

They haven't entirely forsaken their stripped back acoustic roots though. On No Me, No You, No More, The Staves are largely unadorned, save for some gentle droning and sparse keys, on this heartbreakingly honest song about relationships. Segueing into the equally emotive and stripped back Let Me Down, the girls are, by the end, singing their big hearts out. It's explosive and glorious. Furthermore,  the downbeat You Don't Call Me Anymore is filled with both regret and longing: 'I may have made a few mistakes, I wish could make them again/ I wish we were friends.'

Amidst all this relative gloom and inner-questioning, the girls can also be playful, such as on White Teeth, based on a fine melody, with country-rock overtones, and Let It Be period Beatles guitar. And, the final two tracks, Make It Holy and Sadness Don't Own Me, are defiant in the face of their essentially melancholic bearing, providing some hope, made the more emotive with the inclusion of the only male backing vocals on the whole album, as if all present at Eau Claire felt just the same as each other. 'I could  make you want me, make you need me, make you mine/I could make you holy, make it special, make it right'  Gently yearning yet resigned, sad and yet hopeful… the military style parade drums pointing to the onward march of life and it's ongoing trills and tribulations.

They had set the standard with their debut album. Now the bar has been raised even higher.
Jeff Hemmings

Matthew E White – Fresh Blood

This tall 32 year old from Virginia, USA looks like he should be chopping wood rather than playing rock music. His long brown locks and bushy beard should not fool you, as in reality he is a musical maverick. Matthew is the founder of Spacebomb Records, a label and studio with a house band that is based around the traditional mould that made Stax, Studio One and Motown Records so great. Their first album release was Matthew’s debut, Big Inner, which catapulted Spacebomb into the limelight and made him one of the most acclaimed newcomers to arrive in 2012. I don’t think anyone saw it coming, but his unique take on extremely well-crafted soulful music marked down as an instant classic by everyone. On his second album, Fresh Blood, Matthew wanted to use much of the same credentials as his previous, not wanting the sound to be different but just for it to be better.
‘Take Care My Baby’ continues the familiar soul grooves and beautiful production making this love song sound as if you have just started the bonus CD of Big Inner. ‘Rock & Roll Is Cold’ is the first single off the album and definitely the most radio-friendly song. Its clever playful lyrics are held together by a rolling 12-bar piano, make it extremely catchy and one of my favourites. A rather immediate and cluttered start to ‘Fruit Trees’ is taken down tempo as Mathew’s deep voice and a lush strings gives it a seductive and sensual feel, but things get a little more serious for the chorus and coda where the horns section take over and make it a more dramatic affair. ‘Holy Moly’ builds with rage into an exasperated coda. Emotive lyrics, “What’s wrong with you?”, questions the church’s constant contradicting ways – as does the downbeat ‘Circle ‘Round The Sun’’, which has a cleverly constructed tune around the lyrics.
‘Feeling Good Is Good Enough’ tells the story of a couple rekindling their relationship. It has a sing along quality to it, erupting in jubilation with a ‘Hey Jude’ esque la-la-la-la-la on the ending coda. A mysterious cinematic feel comes across in ‘Tranquiliy’, changing tone midway through the track. Matthew gives an eloquent meaning to this tribute to Phillip Seymour Hoffmann on his Tumblr. In ‘Golden Robes’, Matthew’s soft whispering voice prevails in a sleepy soul ballad that is reminiscent to Lee Fields or Curtis Mayfield’s more mellow tracks, as does the penultimate track, ‘Vision’, which has ELO’s uplifting strings accompanying it. The layers of horns, guitar and strings in the closing track, ‘Love Is Deep’, tells of a hopeless reflection on love and lust that can end without a forewarning, as does the song.
Fresh Blood starts with a love song, and then finishes questioning love itself. It continued in the same vain as Big Inner – being soulful, full of lush instrumentation, lots of little added sounds that complete a song, and brilliant fitting lyrics. Is Fresh Blood better than Big Inner? If it was released before his debut, it would have probably produced the exact same reaction due to Matthew’s refreshing sound and his knack for putting together an outstanding song assemble. I would say it is not better, but just as great.
Iain Lauder

Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin

I first saw Ghostpoet (aka Obaro Ejimiwe) playing on the 2011 Mercury Prize awards show, doing a tremendous version of his debut single ‘Cash & Carry Me Home’. Unfortunately for him 2011 was an exceptionally strong year for albums, losing out to Let England Shake by PJ Harvey, but it did put me onto his distinctively urban sound and persuaded me to buy his first album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam. Ghostpoet’s second album, ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’ (2013), was just as well received being a more of an electronic affair. Shedding Skin is his third album and it continues with themes of relationships, ageing, identity, society and disillusion, with a helpful input from an assortment of guest vocalists.



Alex G – Green Door Store – 1st March 2015

The audience got in early to make sure they had a good spot to see Krill in a room that was fuller than when the headline act was on stage. The Boston three piece have embarked on their first tour outside North America serving up a raw batch of surf-like grunge rock, and have been starting to gain a sizable following after the release of their third album A Distant Fist Unclenching (February 2015). I can imagine a fair proportion of the crowd decided to take a punt with this band after hearing the tremendous session they did on BBC 6Music, as they definitely have a sound that is an acquired taste. If you weren’t prepared for their emo guitars (the good emo from the early 90s) and gloomy vocals with a distinctive effect atop you might have been disappointed. For me this is what’s great about a band that could be likened to The Pixies, another love or hate band. Although Krill looked a little tired from travel and barely chatted to the audience, their quality still prevailed with personal highlights (‘Torturer’ and ‘Tiger’) coming from the new album.


8:58 – 8:58

House and dance music has been bedevilled by an extraordinary amount of blandness, mediocrity and unmusicality since it reared it's otherworldly head in the machine-obsessed 80s. Only a handful of acts have stood the test of time, mainly those who could combine a purposeful musicality with a higher grasp of production, and via words and/or imagery, propel the music beyond the bland 'raise your hands in the air' or the four-to-the-floor brain sapping monotony of your average meat and two veg dance. Orbital were one of those who took dance music to a higher realm; from the groundbreaking Chime to the epic to the poignant story-based Halcyon, the Hartnoll's music has always been much more than just about losing yourself on the dancefloor, although it does rather agreeably lend itself to that kind of behaviour, as the best rock'n'roll always does.
Hartnoll has claimed to be always interested in the concept and ideas of 'time', and his new solo project (essentially Orbital but without his brother Phil) is based on a doodle he first drew as a teenager, a clock face with the time frozen at 8:58. "8:58 am is that moment when you've got to make up your mind," he says about the day ahead. For Paul, it was decision time, to forge ahead with Orbital, or to strike out on his own, a decision that was only formally announced last autumn.
'How we live by time, how we live by the watch, the clock, brought up to respect the clock', intones the menacing voice of Irish actor Cillian Murphy (Inception, Peaky Blinders et al) before stabbing and symphonic synths and sound effects gradually build into an euphoric soundscape on the opening track, which also, rather confusingly, carries the name 8.58. It's classic Orbital, progressive EDM that is multifaceted, never predictable, clear as a bell, strong, rich and dynamic, and with several discernible melodies within.
An album highlight, Please, is a re-tread of the 2007 original, released on Hartnoll's one and only previous solo album, and is a more straightforward, albeit still out-there, banging house stomper, Lianne Hall's mangled voice and the four-to-the-floor beats a prelude to some more synth strings, before Robert Smith's distinctive and deceptively languid vocal adds a certain playfulness to the proceedings, with Lianne's yearning voice providing the neat female counterpoint. Although it is a bit cheeky to haul back an old song, it's a great tune, Hartnoll has given it a new mix, and the original was somewhat lost when originally released, the old school house flavours remaining timeless.
The Past Now is also a composite piece, beginning with the ethereal vocals of folk singer Lisa Knapp, complimenting the haunting ambient atmospherics, before a complex and inviting melody welds gothic 80s synth-dance with dark motorik rhythms, that are both propulsive and dreamy. Meanwhile singer songwriter Ed Harcourt delivers a powerful and passionate vocal performance on Villain, again a song that vaguely recalls the 80s thanks to the one note synth melodies and textures, and drum pad rhythms, within the generally foreboding atmosphere.
Cilian Murphy returns for The Clock, a reprise of lead track 8.58, but this time accompanied by some acid-inflected industrial hard house beats and bleeps, to be interrupted by the sound of a digital alarm going off as Murphy says: 'brace yourself for freedom.. now….', a call to let go as it were, in mind and in body, the deep and squelchy bass groove inviting you to resist if you can…
The Cure's A Forest then appears as a bit of a surprise, because we already know this song well, a tune that was in Hartnoll's head (and is part of his formative years) when he came up with the idea of approaching Northumbria's songbirds The Unthanks to lend their breathy and beguiling voices, which they obliged at their studio in their home. Building and building, The Unthanks repeating the songs 'again and again and again' refrain, as big Leftfield-type drums close it out.
Instrumental numbers Broken Up is a more ambient number, sparse old school hip hop drum machine beats underpinning the multilayered synths, swelling textures and techno bleeps, while Nearly There, appropriately enough the penultimate track, is propulsive, fast, and also technoesque, with echoes of Underworld's Cowgirl a signpost, as Hartnoll re-lives those early days of searching for the next rave; a soundtrack to nowhere, and yet everywhere, fast and furious.
Final track Cemetery features Fable, a relatively unknown singer, but with a bright future ahead, her powerful and soulful voice sounding well beyond her young years, lending this euphoric and melodic banger the required bite as the grooves ebb and flow in best dance floor action
Rewarding several listens, there is, as always with Hartnoll, loads going on, the very thoughtful melodies, textures, sounds and effects constructed with mechanical precision, but with a fluidity that transforms the outwardly digitalised soundscape into an organic and warm record. It's a difficult trick to pull off, but Hartnoll's liberal use of vocals, electronicalised real instrumentation, and field sound recordings have helped to transform 8.58 into something magical, and yet human, with the underlying theme a wake up call to shrug off a possible dystopian future.
Jeff Hemmings

Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space

"We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance," famously spoke John F Kennedy in 1962. "We choose to go to the moon!" And so have, in a manner of speaking, Public Service Broadcasting, the unlikely looking pair of dance and pop geeks, who have forged a relatively unique concept, the artful juxtaposition of speech and audio from the past, with the sounds of now, both electronic and analogue. Of course, many acts from the past (for instance, Big Audio Dynamite on E=Mc2) have incorporated found speech into musical recordings, and Steinski & Mass Media in particular utilised this approach as their modus operandi. But PSB are perhaps the only act to have built an entire album around found speech and audio, without overt political motive.


Champs – Vamala

Released just 364 days after their debut album, the brothers Champion have a new album, looking to accelerate the matter in hand (ie, get themselves out there as much as possible), and capitalise on the current zeitgeist for harmony singing a la Fleet Foxes and The Staves, just two acts who have helped re-introduce the idea of voices, pure and simple, and raw and packed with natural emotion. By fusing the harmonics of the aforementioned Fleet Foxes with a haunting, and sparser Bicycle Bombay Club and Hot Chip aesthetic, both musically and vocally, Michael Champion's lead voice reminiscent of both Jack Steadman and Alexis Taylor. .    
While Down Like Gold was little more than a well put together demo, a mix of heartbreak balladry and spirited folk-pop, this time around they've recruited the services of French producer Dimitri Tikovoï, in fashioning a better produced record, helped by the consistently high quality songs. But the spareness within the debut remains, some songs often feature just acoustic guitar and/or keys. And the heartbreak continues… It's a sound and feeling that could perhaps only come from a place such as the Isle of Wight, where the brothers were born and raised, an island many-a-time portrayed and parodied as being a little bit behind the times, helped immeasurably by the fact you can still only get there by boat…  
"It definitely is a bit behind the times," says younger brother David. "If you look at some of the seaside places like Shanklin or Sandown they look the same as they did 50 years ago when they were in the heyday, maybe in need of a lick of paint. But it's quite charming in a way, it's quite evocative… it's a different pace to life, people are a bit out of it to be honest, cruising around not knowing what's really going on, which is nice…"
"It started with explosions, the sounds of bombs in your heart," begins Desire, the most chart friendly song on the album, as Michael Champion's wistful and angelic voice imparts that feeling of initial, explosive love, before fading ("echoing") as love almost invariably does. The voices are what marks out Champs, what draws you into their unique world, but Desire also has a terrific mid-tempo groove underlying the strong vocal melody, while following track Sophia marries the two Johns, Grant and Lennon, in its piano based simplicity, the melodic vocal transforming the easy-going beat into an elegant love song.
The Champs eclectic approach is further highlighted by the pleasantly underplayed staccato African flavoured guitar on The Gentle Running, underpinned by a simple synthetic beat, while the gorgeous old school acoustic finger picking guitar flavours of Forever recalls early Simon & Garfunkel, heightened by the fact that the song features New York within the narrative.

There’s also a terrific tune in Send Me Down as Michael lowers his voice, taking on a late 60s Bob Dylan hue, while the chorus once again features the brothers in unison, accompanied by simple rhythm guitar and sparse piano. 3000 Miles again shows their pop pedigree, albeit still wrapped in subtle melancholy, as does the mini-euphoria of Blood, a song about ties and roots: "I could stay here 'til I'm dead, here my blood runs clear/ It's bittersweet, it's bittersweet, I wouldn't change a thing." Vocally, Roll Me Out also sounds uncannily like it could have been recorded in the 60s, such is the raw and organic warmth emanating from the production.

The title track, Vamala ("He thought it was a Croatian girl's name, but found out it wasn't, so he's not really sure where it came from!" says David, of his brother) again features a strong vocal melody and performance with understated staccato acoustic guitar and moody organ. Not surprisingly, the subject matter revolves around reaching out to someone. Perhaps a Croatian girl…?

The Champs could have decided to multiply the textures and instrumentation on Vamala, and it's to their credit that they have decided to largely keep things simple, concentrating on the vocals and the melodies, their trump cards, with the overall effect one of mildly desolate sadness that is maturely articulated.

Indeed, Champs' eclectic brew of hymnal atmospherics, old timey folk and pop flavours is champion!
Jeff Hemmings

The Sundowners – Sticky Mikes Frog Bar 2015-02-16

I arrived at Sticky Mike's in time to catch the last two songs of local support Of Empires. It was the first time I'd caught the band live but it wasn't really much to go on, their spirited performance didn't seem to get much response from a small, pretty lacklustre audience and I started to wonder if The Sundowners would manage to lift this rainy Monday evening malaise. The next act on stage were She Drew The Gun, who surprised me as I was anticipating that the headliners would follow, but Sticky Mike's doesn't stick to The Haunt's tight curfew, everything finishes a bit later allowing  time for this plaintive electric guitar duo. They seemed to be friends of The Sundowners and have been accompanying them throughout the tour. Whilst their music was charming the vibe couldn't help but take things down a notch. They have some lovely tunes, the sort of thing I would gladly listen to at home but tonight, at this juncture, I could have done with something a bit more upbeat. I'll certainly be looking them up again though, as Louisa Roach is an excellent guitar player, with a great voice and her songs are really quite compelling.


The Sundowners – Sundowners

The Sundowners have had an excellent start in the last 12 months, from touring with the likes of Kasabian and Cats Eyes to festival appearances at Glastonbury and All Tomorrow's Parties, the band have clearly gone the right way about things for the sort of record they wanted to produce: they've honed that live sound in front of crowds and paired those arrangements down into little pop slices that will leave you begging for more. Once things were really starting to kick live the Wirral-based quintet holed up in Liverpool's Parr Studios for a mere two weeks to put down the tracks for this, their first full-length album, which has been expertly produced by Liverpudlian indie-pop aristocracy James & Ian Skelly (from The Coral) and Richard Turvey.
The album opens with the curiously arranged 'Wild As The Season' which begins with twenty seconds of ambience (that wouldn't sound out of place on a Sigur Ros album) before a bass line comes in that for some strange reason reminds me of The Bad Touch by Bloodhound Gang. This is soon reinforced by purring, tremolo soaked guitar blasts and pumping drums that briefly subside to allow a verse that is pure Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac before returning for the sole repeating chorus, carried up and over our heads by that lush FM vocal sound… and then it's over, in just over two minutes: a short blast and perfectly distilled sample of what's in store for us.
'Back To You' wastes no time in establishing a pumping drum and bass groove that's almost motorik/kraut-rock accompanied by vintage-sounding guitar licks which peek their heads proudly over a wall of modulation and tremolo effects. The vocals are laid back and dreamy, assisted by whooshing vintage synth sounds. A daydream pulled along by the songs pumping, driving pace – it's a confident slab of psychedelic pop. Next up 'Into The Light' loses none of the established momentum and none of the dreamyness. There's a keyboard and guitar motif that sounds vaguely Bond-ish – or perhaps it's his jauntier, more flower-power cousin Austin Powers. There's a lightness and a dedication to retro sounds (and parts) that comes almost close to kitsch but when those guitar sounds are really fizzing with what sounds like vintage valve-based tone and those floaty vocals sing of colours and sunlight there's something very infectious and authentic to it that cannot be denied.  
'Who We Are' gives us a change of pace, it's not so fast and driving but it begins with a great tough and insistent drum pattern, backed by organs that sets us up for a change of mood. We've more of the close harmony dual vocals and a spidery walking bass line, there's even a genius reverse guitar solo which makes me wonder if they used tape or flipped it in pro-tools. The song certainly has it's moments but I wouldn't say it was the strongest song presented here. 'End Of The Game' is another track that gets me thinking of Fleetwood Mac straight from the start. It's not just the strong female vocals; the hard rock-steady drums and bass, which are fleetingly reminiscent of 'Dreams' from the Rumours album, create that sort of vibe and those sweet slide-guitar licks that cut through the reverb-saturation are the icing on the cake.
'If Wishes Were Horses' is clearly the bass players moment to really shine. The track opens with a great ascending-descending bass line which carries the song throughout. There seem to be two main approaches to the vocals on the album, those direct up-front voices working off each other and on this track like 'Back To You' and 'Into The Light' both voices are joined together as one in a floaty, phasey, effects-soaked falsetto – both are effective in different ways and it's good to have the variety. When the track breaks down to allow that hypnotic bass to jump to the fore again it's pure ear-candy and the resulting break-down outro section is a touch of class as the drums go half time and the producers get to have some real fun with percussion effects and a wiggly guitar solo.
'I Dreamed' feels like a slight change of pace, it's got a cowboys on the prairie feel to it, maybe that's Ennio Morricone's fault? There's certainly an atmospheric sense of driving adventure to the verses and the broken down choruses have this slight hint of a Motown ballad about them. Weirdly I find myself imagining how, with completely different production, this song would sound reminiscent of Muse's 'Knights of Cydonia' – right down to the guitar solo which sounds great with some weird high-pitched octave effects and, of course, plenty of fuzz. This track actually seems a little short to me as I feel such an atmospheric track could be allowed to breath a little more but suddenly it's over and the band waste no time driving head first into 'Hummingbird' which is a great psychedelic pop number, with possibly the catchiest melodic hooks yet. There's something nagging at me as I listen through it the first time, those jingly jangly guitars have the slightest hint of Johnny Marr to them, or perhaps it's Liverpudlian pioneers The La's that I'm reminiscing about? Either way that West-Coast pop-psychedelia the band are so fond of seems to have a habit of coming out sounding like it's been filtered through classic British song-writing minds every time. Again it's a very succinct arrangement that fades away after only two and a half minutes but there's a hint that there's more to be had as tremolo strummed guitars tease at a great psychedelic wig-out that the band may well be treating live audiences to.
'Desert Rose' at first appears a little throw-away to me but then as I listen through I keep hearing little moments that pique my interest – there are some twiddles and fuzzy guitar licks that could have come from another of our great British guitarists: Graham Coxon from Blur. 'Soul Responding' has a tremendous amount of fuzz on the guitar and probably the bass too – it's quite an amazing sound – right up front in the mix it dominates the whole track and keeps things interesting with plenty of tremolo arm wobbling. This track adopts that full bodied vocal as opposed to the ethereal falsetto they have at their disposal and it's a great match – really powerful, bluesy delivery. In fact the whole track feels like a full-bodied soul, rock and Motown group who've been hijacked with a madman on fuzz guitar. If you think this sounds like a bad idea you're completely wrong. Again 'Medicine' has powerful soulful vocals, great powerful stabs of fuzzy guitar and driving, clashing drums. It's also got these great moments of tremolo organ or guitar (or maybe both together) that create ambient counter-point sections that wouldn't sound out of place sampled for a Chemical Brothers psychedelic indie-dance number. They use this to good effect on the outro, which fades out.
The Sundowners have delivered a really great début album, which ticks a lot of boxes for me. It has a very clearly defined identity and style, brilliantly represented in the production – all the songs sound like they're coming from the same well-stream without sounding samey or repetitive. I find sometimes when a band distils their sound down to key elements so well they run the risk of repeating themselves or boring us. As an album Sundowners carves out a wide enough territory for the band to roam comfortably about in – perhaps a sign there is more than one song-writing force in the band?
The album also has a great sense of pace to it, it doesn't drag its feet or dawdle, it gets you from one idea to the next and keeps you swept up in its momentum. Clocking in at around 35 minutes I quite happily listened to this album twice back to back, which is ideal for a début and there's plenty to hint at the bands potential to write more expansive numbers in the future. I think the live band at the heart of this album is what creates that restless pace and gives a dynamic presence to this collection of songs that you won't find on the equally retro-psychedelic output of Tame Impala or Connan Mockasin, for example. Tame Impala tread a similar sonic path without bothering a studio with a real band and I think this makes The Sundowners sound more focussed and less given to the meandering psychedlia and experimentalism that, whilst being popular underground tends to keep bands like these one step too far out of the mainstream. Some of the songs here, like 'Hummingbird' and 'If Wishes Were Horses' really stand out amongst the crowd but overall, for all its strengths, I feel the album needs a few more ear-worm choruses before it can ever be called a classic. Perhaps the high-quality consistency of the album is making me push my expectations beyond the reasonable, nonetheless it is a fantastic starting point for a fantastic new band, I hope they get the attention they deserve and I'm looking forward to seeing the band live.
Adam Kidd

The Unthanks – Mount The Air

The extraordinary rise of The Unthanks could not have been easily predicted. Now known for their amalgamation of traditional folk music with a contemporary sound, the sisters Rachel and Becky (who originally went out under the name Rachel Unthank and the Winterset) were at the outset an almost purely traditional folk outfit, re-arranging and covering songs written by persons unknowns, and largely steeped in the history of Northumbria. Their debut album Cruel Sister displayed their tremendous abilities and passion and was eventually awarded Folk Album of the Year by Mojo.