Ultimate Painting – 2015

Ultimate Painting is James Hoare of Veronica Falls and Jack Cooper of Mazes. They delve into their shared influences, to create a loose, natural and confident sound. They released their self titled debut in October 2014, on Chicago’s Trouble In Mind label, receiving great accolade. I first came across their track ‘Ultimate Painting’ just before Christmas and it made my ears melt. On their website it read, “Ultimate Painting is a band from the earth”. Spot on – their music sounds like is has been dormant since the beginning of time, and they have just unearthed it.  Their smart lyrics and intricate guitar interplay, creates a truly infectious sound. I caught up with the band before their fantastic performance at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar when they supported White Fence.


The Waterboys – Modern Blues

The Waterboys - Modern Blues
Back in 1983 The Waterboys released a single called The Big Music, which was quickly adopted by journalists to describe the band's sound, and which at the time was a claustrophobic sweep of U2esque new wave, literary romanticism, and subtle celtic folk and rock dynamics. But it wasn't until the the follow up album, This Is The Sea, that Mike Scott (the only constant member of the band) managed to fine-tune The Big Music into something approaching sublime grandeur and panoramic euphoria, reaching the creative heights with 1988's Fisherman's Blues.
Fast forward to 2015, and The Big Music has become the Modern Blues; still grand, still euphoric, and still containing some of the key elements that turned heads when The Waterboys first made their mark. Scott's voice remains clear and strong, and forever speaking about, in his own words, 'perceiving spirit in the world, about being touched by a sense of the sacred'. On Modern Blues, there's plenty of thoughts on love and relationships, while the literary foundations of much of Scott's work remain intact, albeit much less so than his previous album, a work based on the writings of one Ireland's giants of poetry, WB Yeats. However, The Modern Blues also represents a marked detour towards classic American rock.
Lead track Destinies Entwined is perhaps a summation of Modern Blues, the spiritual quest folding and unfolding via the evolving journey that Scott continues to wholeheartedly embrace, both emotionally and intellectually. And the fact that the album was made in Nashville, with a number of top session players involved, means that here, as most elsewhere, there is a strong American musical palette, with Destinies Entwined coming through as a faintly Mariachi-meets-chugging rocker; organ and guitars to the fore, while Scott practically spits out the words. "Her point of view was radical, more than just a change of plan/she told me her proposal, which I didn't understand/she said the secret's in the road, I tried to decode the signs".
Meanwhile, The Steely Dan vibes of November Tale is an extension of Destinies Entwined, although told through a particular case study, rather than any general philosophising. It's an uplifting and engaging story about the attempted rekindling of a long-lost relationship, a theme that Scott visits more than once on Modern Blues, whether it be the women in his life, or a rose-tinted trip down memory lane.
The pub-rock, glam-boogie of Still A Freak, points to a direction that veers perilously close to MOR throughout the album, but the fantastic playing, and sophisticated lyricism – as most everywhere else – raises the bar substantially. In the case of Still A Freak, the electrifying, crazed, guitar solo helps to counterbalance the orthodoxy of the rhythm, while the lyrics continue to exude a deeper complexity than the musical foundations might imply: "I'm still a freak, I never went straight/I kept my appointment with fate/and like every human being that was born, I'm unique".
Album highlight I Can See Elvis explores Scott's continuing love of music and literature, and name checks some of the greats he has obviously been inspired by, and continues to be inspired by: Parker, Marley, Hendrix, Moon, Lennon, Gaye, Crazy Horse, Plato, Shakespeare et al.
The Girl Who Slept for Scotland is a little bit off the beaten track for Scott, in sound and style, although his storytelling ability shines through once again, while Rosalind (You Married The Wrong Guy) and Beautiful Now both showcase the americanisation of Scott and band, although not particularly  successfully in the case of Roasalind. Beautiful Now works better though, the tasteful Tom Petty mid-tempo rocking grooves underlaying a relatively straight forward love song.
Penultimate track, the rootsy nostalgia of Nearest Thing To Hip revisits his formative years, bemoaning the loss of bohemian culture vis-a-vis coffee shops, book and record stores (he should come to Brighton!). Conversely, Long Straight Golden Road signifies the past, present and future, as Scott details his on-going journey down the highways and byways of counterculture, signposted by a snippet of Jack Kerouac reading from his Beat-lit classic, On The Road, before the players again purloin the long worn highways of classically chugging American rock, like a revved up Dylan, the band riding that particular musical road with aplomb, enthusiastically encouraged by their band leader.
A significant departure from the conceptual, and firmly Irish-rooted An Appointment with Mr Yeats, Scott largely eschews celtic folk-rock in favour of borrowing from America's rich rock'n'roll tapestry, whilst mixing up beat poetry, love songs and spiritual discovery. In title, Modern Blues may imply a downbeat collection of woe and heartache, but as always, Scott's music has an irresistible and strong beating heart, full of searching optimism and meaningful contemplation, both on the humanistic and spiritual planes. "Men were digging, men were building, men were killing time/I took a spade and volunteered, a pioneer, our destinies entwined".
Jeff Hemmings

The Charlatans – Modern Nature

The Charlatans have now had 12 album releases. The band formed in the West Midlands in 1989 and quickly became associated with the Madchester scene. They are a band that have outlived other prolific bands in a career spanning 26 years. Two UK number one albums with the 1990 debut Friendly and their self titled 1995 album are well earned highs, but then the death of Rob Collins in 1996 and the recent loss of founding member Jon Brooks in 2013 made for some tragic lows.
Admittedly, although I know of The Charlatans, I don’t have a great knowledge of their back catalogue. This release, Modern Nature, is an extremely pleasant listen and has been getting some outstanding reviews. Tim Burgess has said the band wanted this to be an uplifting record, and I think they have done just that. It never necessarily sticks to one style, but it always fits together perfectly.
The album starts off with ‘Talking In Tones’ – a very understated first song which does grow on you after each listen. ‘So Oh’ is the next and the first stand out track. It already feels like a timeless classic that will grace the alternative radio airwaves for years to come. ‘Come Home Baby’ continues in the same fashion. Again a very mellow pop single, that builds up momentum erupting in gospel like vocals in the ending phase. This truly is a great beginning to the album, as ‘Keep Moving’ is another top draw tune. With the soulful guitar and lush stings holding the song together, it is another contender for my favourite track on the album.
‘In the Tall Grass’ starts with an organ, picking up bongos and a whispering guitar before Tim Burgess’ voice prevails, letting loose a moody chorus, “Feel free in the tall grass. Letting go of the past”. The song is full of delicious scapes and a funky little jam midway. The light and flowery ‘Emily’ comes next which is then followed by their ode to disco, ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’. Maybe the first song that doesn’t really fit in with the album, although it is still great in its own right and I’m sure it will be a fantastic live.
‘I Need To Know’ introduces dark and complex vibes onto the album. The dramatic strings in the background are bewildering. Smoothly back to the norm starting with some unconventional guitar chords in ‘Lean In’. You could just imagine this would be an outstanding song if the track was covered in swirling reverb. The penultimate track, ‘Trouble Understanding’, is an intriguing listen led by a melodramatic piano. It is also my least favourite on the album, but it does nicely wind the listener down in time for the dreamy psych sounding ‘Lot To Say’. It’s a beautiful final song that makes you long for more.
Modern Nature is an immensely strong album that is full of warmth and fresh energy, showcasing the maturity in the band’s sound. The only criticism is that the overall sound feels too polished. It lacks the feel of a band that has created these songs naturally, but that shouldn’t be something to put you off this majestic album.
Iain Lauder

Jungfrau – Nacht

Jungfrau is one of the summits of the Bernese Alps. They are also a fantastic Brighton band with a brilliant new album: 'Nacht' – which is out on February 16th.
There's an ongoing debate in the BrightonsFinest office about what should constitute an album or an EP. I'm a nineties kid, raised on Brit-pop, so I tend to be the one who expects twelve tracks or more and half that for an EP, although I may well be alone in this! So I was initially (perhaps naively) surprised to find only 6-tracks on Jungfrau's debut long-player on Head of Crom Records. However 'Nacht' at 37 minutes certainly qualifies, after listening through I can happily say it sounds like a fully-fledged body of work and a great opening statement from this Brighton band. Jungfrau describe themselves as psyche-kraut, which is about as accurate as it comes: a fresh breed of psychedelic Krautrock driven by solid staccato bass-lines, atmospheric drumming, dark moody playing from the keys and guitar with a very distinctive powerful female vocal that is much more PJ Harvey than Florence Welch. The overall effect is very convincing, like a modern Jefferson Airplane with an obsession for the macabre. It also reminds me more than a little of Esben & The Witch without sounding derivative – they would work well on a tour together.
The album starts with a new version of 'Age Well' – whereas the single version, currently downloadable from the bands Bandcamp page, sounds like it could have been recorded by a single mic in the corner of a noisy venue, here we are introduced to the sonic breadth of the record. A clear steady bass guitar tone and well-articulated drumming supported by long-ringing guitar chords and synths. It's one of those songs that sounds like an ever-repeating, constantly building intro – it builds and builds around the same hypnotic bass riff until a lead guitar motif emerges from the sludge at around the three minute mark. It's when the guitar backs off again about a minute and a half later that it really starts to affect me, as the song settles down and Hanna Grasskamp's insistent, declarative vocal begins to smoulder and soothe a little.
The song slowly descends back into the primordial ooze it emerged from and then 'Cardboard Girls' follows, with open guitar chords and a distant, distorted vocal. Track two is an epic ten minute sprawl with a beat that sounds like it could have come fresh from Mogwai's 'Come On Die Young'. As you might imagine it's a slow build, with the guitar taking centre stage at first, backed by a more subdued bass and guided by those vocals: a Valkyrie wailing in the distance. After three minutes there's a long snare roll to break the tension, it isn't quite as confident and steady as it needs to be but that's soon forgotten as it unleashes a storm of powerfully distorted guitars – a full on moment which then breaks things back down with some surprising major notes and unexpected blue notes. The song continues in it's downbeat mode, with flourishes of atonal, experimental guitar playing soaked in long delays. It's a real slow burn, I had been anticipating a song in parts with such a long length but this piece just slowly, menacingly grinds to a close.
'Red Wine Head Slammer', ending side one of the LP, seems like a musical interpretation of a vicious hangover. There's an insistent rock steady, repetitive disjointed groove from the bass and drums while saw tooth guitars and vocals wail expansively. After two and a half minutes the bass part doubles frequency and things pick up a gear before tumbling to a close on a last hint of the original motif. It's vicious and possibly my favourite piece on the album.
'Pink Towers' begins side two with some creepy synthesised sounds and deep dark fuzz bass. It's a very atmospheric number, those muggy tones are contrasted by clicking rim-shots, tight snare and distant, haunted vocals. 'Straight But Pale' comes in next with a bang and a wallop after the slow fade, hitting you right in your face on a motorik groove that wouldn't have seemed too out of place on the recent Dark Horses album. I love that big, fuzzy repetitive bass. 'We Hiked' is the last number on the album, beginning with rolling cymbals, staccato bass and a guitar riff full of dark mysticism. This time the drums hold back letting the guitar and bass fill the space whilst the vocal soars above. This one never really ascends out of the mire, preferring instead to stroke us with ringing percussion and atmospheric reversed guitars.
'Nacht' is a solid début album and should be a big hit for fans of dark, mesmeric psychedelia. Turn it up loud to soundtrack your next dark night of the soul! I'm looking forward to seeking out the next Jungfrau live appearance as I reckon this sort of atmospheric, intensity will really come to life on stage. Ooh and for all you vinyl fans they've got clear green vinyl 12” LP's in Resident Records available now – nice.
Adam Kidd

The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

Four years is a long time to keep fans waiting for an album, especially if the last thing you left them with was as good as ‘The King Is Dead’. The last album from The Decemberists was a fine slice of Americana that drew great reviews and found its way to the coveted Number One spot in the US charts. Whether this somewhat unexpected commercial success weighed on Colin Meloy and his band, causing them to deliberate over The King’s follow up, is anyone’s guess. But one thing is clear: at 14 songs and a running time of around 50 minutes, they didn’t want to short-change anyone.

On first listen, it’s apparent that there’s more emphasis on pop on ‘What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World’ – and no small amount of craft and fine tuning involved in its creation. The majority of its songs come as lean, mean, well-considered three minute pop constructions.

That is not to say that everything on offer appears in radio-ready bite-sized chunks. The album is expertly bookended by two of its longer tracks, kicking off with ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’ – a slow builder which sees the band accelerate to full tilt towards its climax, counterpointed with staccato slabs of stabbing strings. ‘A Beginning Song’ is a wonderful note to go out on, a fascinating examination of self-doubt, “I am waiting, should I be waiting? I am wanting, should I be wanting?” that gives way to a celebration of all the positives in Meloy’s life:

“When all around me… is the sunlight, is the shadows, is the quiet, is the work, is the beating heart, is the ocean, is the boys, is you, my sweet love, oh my love. And the light, the bright light is all around me.”

It’s powerful, moving and honest writing – the above section providing a wonderful coming together of the song’s lyrical thread and the band’s performance.

The album’s flow in the main is excellent – in fact, the order from track seven, ‘The Wrong Year’, through to the very end is nigh on faultless. There’s a lovely rhythm, evolving of styles and cohesion that is only marginally disrupted by ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’, which feels a bit incongruent with its obvious nod to The Doors’ ‘People Are Strange’. It’s a cool song, though, with articulate, playful lyrics, and it sits neatly between ‘Anti-Summersong’ and ‘Mistral’, so maybe I’m being overly picky.

A special mention must go to ‘12/17/12’ – a song written after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings – comparing that horror with Meloy’s own peachy life, “Oh my God, What a world you have made here. What a terrible world, what a wonderful world. What a world you have made here.” It captures the conflict of emotion, his feelings about the twisting, turning and forever spinning world so concisely. To say so much in so few words is a rare skill.

There is an openness to much of the writing, with less fanciful and fantastical story-telling than previous efforts. Instead, we are offered windows on self-reflection and conflict (as touched on above), as well as wistful nostalgia (‘Philomena’ and ‘Lake Song’) and awareness of responsibilities (‘Better Not Wake The Baby’). Whilst some of it is tongue-in-cheek fun, (‘Philomena’ springs to mind) the properly good stuff feels very tangible and real.

Still, it’s not all roses. The middle of the album sags – despite its gypsy jazz touches, ‘Till the Water’s All Long Gone’ is quite dull, and ‘Lake Song’ is just plain poor – such an obvious rip-off of Nick Drake’s classic, ‘Pink Moon’ is disappointing. Thankfully, there aren’t too many negatives aside from this – Boo Radleys fans will like Cavalry Captain, others might find it a bit lightweight, although it still has some great moments (such as the call and response bridges).

There’s certainly a lot more that works here than doesn’t. ‘Make You Better’ and ‘The Wrong Year’ feel like indie classics and are amongst the most instant songs on the album. There is a wealth of expertly written material which subtly spans a range of styles as the record unfolds: ‘Carolina Low’ (Traditional Folk), ‘Anti-Summersong’ (Indie Folk), ‘Mistral’ (Americana)… the list goes on. This album sees harmonica taking over from lap steel’s prominence on ‘The King Is Dead’, making a telling appearance in ‘12/17/12’, and stealing the show with a colourful solo in ‘Anti-Summersong’. To top it all off is the combination of voices, and well-conceived and executed backing vocals that in turn lift songs, provide texture or counterpoints and most of all, moments of real splendour and beauty.

It’s fair to say that The Decemberists have delivered with ‘What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World’ – a mature album (which we should expect from a band with so much experience) that’s made with real song-writing knowhow. Its last three tracks provide such a strong finish that it gives great grounds for optimism for future recordings, or in my case, a real sense of excitement and anticipation of seeing them live at the Brighton Dome on the 20th February (which I’ll also be reviewing). I truly hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next release.
Adam Atkins

Website: decemberists.com
Facebook: facebook.com/thedecemberists
Twitter: twitter.com/TheDecemberists


Marika Hackman – We Slept at Last

Finally, her debut album. A work that does not feature any of her previous output, and yet remains unmistakably hers, such are the icy textures of her distinctive voice, and a largely moody sound that largely favours the flavours of timeless folk, modern electronics, and choral symphonics.


Pond – Man, It Feels Like Space Again

Man, It Feels Like Space Again, is the sixth album by Aussie rockers Pond. The band from Perth share three members of Tame Impala and started out in 2008 originally as a collaborative project, where they could get anyone they wanted to play with them. I first came across them early 2013 at Melbourne’s Laneway Festival. This was a “Eureka!” moment, a true modern-day rock’n’roll band with all the right attributes – they were immensely cool, a staggering lead singer who looked like he was one step away from rehab, a phenomenal guitarist playing incredible solos, and tracks which were unbelievably satisfying. Next day I sought out their then latest album, ‘Beard, Wives, Denim’, and it instantly became one of my all-time favourites, not having a track out of place. A good contender for the greatest rock album in recent memory I would say. After the sky-rocketing success of that 2012 album, Pond recorded Hobo Rocket which never really had the same powerful impact. Too many ideas were fighting for a top spot, making it feel a bit all over the place. Although ‘Giant Tortoise’ is still an epic track by any means, along with the dreamy sounding ‘O Dharma’.
Man, It Feels Like Space Again was written before, and then recorded the month after, Hobo Rocket had been finished. Throughout, you can hear little resemblances that show where their mind set was at the time. The first thing you notice about this album is its bright cover, which depicts each song as a psychedelic cartoon. A forewarning of the splendour that is to come.
Soft synths and Nick’s vocals begin a brilliant opener, ‘Waiting Around For Grace’, before the song opens up with guitars and harmonies. The layers of reverb confirm that this is indeed still the psychedelic rock band Pond. A rocket ship of distortion takes off to start ‘Elvis’ Flaming Star’ which is met with a punchy bassline and a driving drum line. Then a short melodic verse before crescendo, and bliss erupts into a super cool chorus. Nothing short of what you would expect from Pond. In ‘Holding Out For You’, Flaming Lips are definite influences in this laid back groove. Kevin Parker produced this album and you can hear similarities with downbeat songs of his Tame Impala. The wonky electro pop of ‘Zond’ could be likened to Klaxons or Does It Offend You Yeah!, but in a far more rock’n’roll psychedelic way. It takes the listener through bizarre celestial soundscapes that live beneath the track, towards the out of reach of Zond and into the never ending parts of space. The most accessible and danceable track of the album.
‘Heroic Shart’ is perhaps the least likeable song off the album. It is full of reverb and distortion that lives up to the psychedelic ideas that Pond live by, but it lacks the imagination and musical merit that the other songs have. It does however make the next song, ‘Sitting Up On Our Crane’, all the better. A slow “anxiety power ballad” that sends you into an enticing daydream of swirling synths and shimmering guitars. Apparently we are supposed to take the meaning of the lyrics literally, as it is about how they used to sit on tall machinery and look at the horizon. This is one of my favourites off the album. ‘Outside Is The Right Side’ is another favourite. Its mind tripping ideas and funkadelic bassline becomes an elated triumph at each chorus, still retaining its rock characteristics.
‘Medicine Hat’ starts as an acoustic Bob Dylan esque blues tribute, before the rest of the band come in making it a bit more of a Beatles esque tribute. A strange addition to the album, but midway through the psychedelic guitars are slowly layered on and it is nearly back to normal. A slow and heartfelt song that’s also beautiful. A mix of influences burst out of the final title track. Flaming Lips start it off, Pink Floyd come along next, with dashes of Beatles and smatterings of MGMT all around. There is some extremely debatable mixing at the 1:56 point, where it tries to combine two obviously separate song ideas (of which there are at least five in this track). It is very strange to think that they were happy to keep this in. I would have liked to see what they could have done with these track ideas, instead of trying to mix them into one. The last 2:30 is a glorious melancholic phase that could have been a stand out song on its own, instead, it is just an amazing finish to the album.
Pond continue their prolific nature of pushing psychedelia past the modern day and into the future, with an album that is just short of ground breaking. It does miss the timelessness and the raw uncut intensity that was so apparent in Beard, Wives, Denim – more of a slap around the head, than a kick in the balls – although it does show that they are pushing forward their musical ideas instead of trying to emulate what has worked in the past. After listening to this album more than 6 times today, I’m still not bored of it. In fact, I’m liking it more and more with each listen
Iain Launder


Rob-Luis – Tru Thoughts

We are a record label (Tru Thoughts) and a publishing company (Full Thought Publishing), and we do the
majority of marketing from our office, too. So, a big part of our week is planning and actually releasing the music,
and publishing and licensing music to TV, film and adverts.


Gaz Coombes – Matador

For someone responsible for the indie anthems Alright, Caught By The Fuzz, Sun Hits The Sky and Grace, to the casual listener Supergrass seemed to epitomise sunny youthful optimism. To such a degree, in fact, that Stephen Spielberg once invited the band to become a 90s version of the interminably wacky The Monkees. But, dig a little deeper, you'll find that Coombes and Supergrass weren't always that insatiably upbeat. For instance, one of the biggest hits, Moving, articulates feelings of desperation and desolation. There was always a lot more to the band than which immediately met the eye…