This week a new record shop in Bath enjoys a successful opening day, and I get acquainted with the new Depeche Mode album, as well as the latest one from The Leisure Society. Plus I catch up with a brilliant two month old edition of MOJO magazine and recent LPs from Black Reindeer and Low. Also: Metamono, Olympian, Travis, the Transplants, The Flaming Lips and British Sea Power.
Luckily my hometown of Melksham isn’t far away from both Frome and Warminster, locations of two excellent independent record shops by the name of Raves From The Grave. Over 16 years after opening the original shop in Frome, they have now expanded to a third shop in the city of Bath. The new store originally opened as a pop-up shop last year, which proved a success: “What an amazing 5 months trial! The positivity and good purchases has meant we are now able to open full time. Thank you music lovers.”
Not so long ago this city played host to a number of music chains and smaller retailers, including my favourite shop Replay, the place where I used to go in the late 90′s to find the singles I couldn’t get anywhere else. But except for the (hanging on a thread and not entirely a music retailer) HMV, all have since disappeared.
So the opening of Raves From The Grave in Bath comes as a massive boost to the city’s music lovers, and once again I feel excitement every time I go shopping in Bath. Since Replay closed, every visit to the city has made me sense a huge void. But now I can go there knowing that once again there’s somewhere to buy records and CDs. I went there on opening day and was pleased to hear that their first day in the new shop had been a roaring success. It’s a small space, and they are sharing the room with MeeshMash, a company specialising in vintage clothing, and Widcombe Homebrew, which sells equipment for the budding home brewer. And it’s more than possible to spend a long time browsing. New release albums on vinyl and CD, box sets, as well as a range of LPs from many genres, singles, second hand CDs and lots more.
With a huge range of vinyl and CDs spread across their other two shops, it’s likely that the Bath shop’s stock will change regularly, so you may come across something different every time you visit. If you go in for a browse, you’re bound to find something that arouses your curiosity. Read my full article on the shop HERE.
I've spent a lot of this week getting my ears around the new Depeche Mode album 'Delta Machine'. Usually when a band has been around for over 30 years, it can sometimes be a struggle for them to sound up to date. However the modern sound of today is something that Depeche Mode have been making for many years, and all they've really had to do is add the tooled-up production. It doesn't imitate their imitators, in fact during its stronger moments it's more a case of the masters offering another lesson to their students. They may not be teaching them anything new, just giving them an updated example of what has been taught before.
'Welcome To My World' creeps into the listener's memory with sparse instrumentation composed of warped throbs of bass, a brooding pulse and the rising of euphoric melody. Lyrically it's a bit dodgy, but musically it sets the tone well for the careful spacious arrangements that characterise the effortlessly contemporary sound throughout the record. The humming bass and thick beats of 'Angel' show that they are still masters when it comes to this kind of brutal and sleazy electro blues. It might take a while to burn itself into your mind, but 'Heaven' is a classic pop ballad with resonating piano chords, a hint of trip hop and a large helping of yearning, tortured melodrama. It's the soulful sound of a sinner finding redemption, and the familiar themes of lust, death, religion and salvation are still there throughout the course of this LP.
'My Little Universe' plays with glitchy electro percussion before the entry of striking synth stabs and buzzes of frazzled machine noise carries it to another level of brilliance, while the bleakly reflective 'Broken' revisits the mysterious atmospherics of 'Enjoy The Silence', but also comes very close to sounding like that other hugely influential 80's outfit New Order. 'Soft Touch/Raw Nerve' hints at their less complicated beginnings of the early 80's, built on driving energy and kitsch synths, all set to the most naggingly infectious melody. 'Soothe My Soul' is another cracker, like some sort of deep southern road song set to a stomping rhythm and masterful electronic colours. This blues influence is at its most prominent on the moody bluegrass closer 'Goodbye', where the electronics make brief, decorational appearances and Dave Gahan's voice is at its most commanding.
It may contain some of their best tracks in many years, but like their other releases of the last decade it's bogged down by inconsistency. 'Secret to the End' comes up with some great sounds particularly during its final minute, but perhaps falls short of being that great musically, a moody break-up song hampered by an unimaginative chorus, while 'Slow' wanders off track and doesn't make much of an impact. 'Should Be Higher''s slow industrial pulse and unsettling keys aren't matched by the rather average song itself, while the disciplined urgency of 'Alone' fares better. They've not crafted a classic album in a long time, but a large percentage of 'Delta Machine' delivers some vintage material that's more than worthy of inclusion on a Best Of album. It's just a few tracks too long, that's all. I'm giving it 3.5 out of 5.
The Leisure Society are a group I discovered a couple of years ago, and their previous album was something I played a lot during 2011. Their third LP 'Alone Aboard The Ark' is another collection of bright folk pop songs coloured by dazzling arrangements, and it's their most accessible work yet. The band's instruments seem to be pushed a bit further, and they've expanded their horizons, making for a slightly more eclectic record.
'Another Sunday Psalm' is a beautifully low key opener that carries a simple and effective charm, bright with touches of poignancy. Then there's the jaunty pop of the single 'Fight For Everyone', where subtle electronics and uplifting brass augment the sunny melodies in a joyous fashion, almost recalling Belle And Sebastian at times. Elsewhere there's a romantic Orbison-esque pop ballad in the shape of 'A Softer Voice Takes Longer Hearing', the sweetly soulful 'All I Have Seen', and the Beatles-like 'One Man And His Fug'. But there are two songs that stand above the rest, as has been the case on previous LPs. 'Forever Shall We Wait' is easily as good as anything they've done, more urgent and theatrical, a truly infectious tune embellished with Spanish horns. Following it is the elegantly touching melancholy of 'We Go Together', a gentle waltz that glows with a captivating warmth. This bittersweet ode to undying love is simply magnificent.
It all wears a little bit thin over the course of the whole album, but the standout moments are truly wonderful pieces of work and The Leisure Society continue to grow. Overall I'll give 'Alone Aboard The Ark' 3.5 out of 5. You can listen to the LP HERE via Spotify.
It may have happened weeks ago, but I still find myself playing catch-up after the technical mishap that wiped out a lot of unfinished reviews and articles that I had written. So while trying to stay up to date with the latest releases, I'm also gradually rewriting some of the pieces that were lost. I had half a review written for the new Low album 'The Invisible Way', but I'll just explain a brief bit about it and direct you towards a couple of stand out tracks from it.
It's their seventh album of moody, understated and largely acoustic melancholy, complete with soothing harmonies and slow building atmosphere. Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, it hints at a more countryfied approach, based around piano and acoustic guitar. Mimi Parker's vocals enjoy more of a presence than on previous records, although Alan Sparhawk provides the lead voice on one of two clear highlights 'Clarence White' It's quite unlike anything else here, in fact it could be the closest Low come to being anthemic, as the infectious melody and intense handclaps almost carry it into a place that's not too far from Elbow territory. However just as it threatens to peak, it ends instead, and yet it doesn't sound at all incomplete.
The beautifully ethereal 'Holy Ghost' is the high point, a magnificently composed example of their warm, organic sound with brushed drums, soaring melody and a hushed hymnal quality that reaches the heart. Listen to 'Holy Ghost' HERE, and go HERE to listen to the album. I'll give the LP a 3 out of 5.
British Sea Power have a new album out this week. It's called 'Machineries Of Joy' and I've listened to it a few times. I've found all BSP records take a while to make an impact on me, and this one is no exception. Still a bit too early to pass judgement on it yet, so I shall talk about it when I've familiarised myself with it a bit more. The Flaming Lips also have a new one out, and I've also yet to hear that too. A review from God Is In The TV's Dominic Valvona on 'The Terror' can be found HERE.
During the 2000's I was deeply immersed in the punk scene, and was a huge fan of Californian legends Rancid. Their frontman Tim Armstrong is known for a whole range of other projects, and last year collaborated with Jimmy Cliff on his 'Rebirth' album. Along with hardcore-influenced rapper Skinhead Rob and Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, Armstrong is also a member of punk hip hop outfit the Transplants. Their 2003 debut spawned a smash hit with the excellent 'Diamonds And Guns', while the 2005 follow up 'Haunted Cities' received a mixed response. After a break of nearly 8 years they return with a new album 'In A Warzone', which is out in May. The band have released the title track from the LP as a free download, which can be found HERE.
New issues of MOJO magazine seem to appear on shelves more and more frequently these days. Maybe the months just go by fast. I ended up missing the March issue, which actually came out in January. Before I had the chance to buy it, the next month's issue was out. But thanks to Raves From The Grave, I now have a copy of that March issue complete with its top class covermount CD.
It's a compilation of "neo-psychedelica" from groups such as Tame Impala, Moon Duo, Teeth Of The Sea and many more. While all threaded together by that far-out vibe, the tracks range from lo-fi to techno and combine to make one of the finest compilations I've heard for a long time. I'll be investigating more music from the bands featured on the CD over the coming weeks.
I've also bought a copy of the latest May edition. So now I've got to try and get hold of April's. I own every other edition from the last two years, so I can't leave the collection incomplete. It's the finest music publication around in my opinion. And although there's more of a focus on rock's past, there are often features on some excellent new groups as well as plenty of new stuff to read about in the reviews section. At only £4.50 a month, it's also fine value. In fact, it's often worth that just for the free CDs.
Another thing I'm trying to catch up with is the accelerating output of Stephen Jones, best known to most people as the genius behind Babybird. His latest project Black Reindeer has so far spawned three albums this year, with two more released towards the end of 2012. There will probably be more this year too. The latest is titled 'All Is Good', an instrumental collection of largely piano, sample and loop based pieces that seem to deal with apathy in the modern world, the children's storybook illustration on the front cover adding to the theme of existing in ignorant bliss.
We're living in a world crippled by death, disease, debt, famine and war. But rather than deal with the reality, people block it all out by distracting their minds with the smiling faces of celebrities, desirable products and TV shows depicting unobtainable lifestyles. The twinkle of the music box on a few tracks is recognisable as a sound that lulls babies into a state of contented peace, but here it's used to suggest that adults are subjected to the same treatment by the media. A nice warm blanket to protect you from the world's troubles. 'All Is Good' doesn't ignore the bleak reality, and you can hear it in the despair evoked by the music. It can be heard in full and purchased from Jones's Bandcamp page HERE, where you can also find the four previous Black Reindeer albums and a selection of rare Babybird material.
From a cult hero to a former household name, as Scottish foursome Travis return with a new single. They've completed work on their seventh LP, and have released 'Another Guy' as a free download HERE. There's a bit of a lo-fi influence in the guitars, while the downbeat sound is noticeably more subtle than previous work. It's quite an appealing sound actually. However it's impossible to be overawed by it due to the unimaginative songwriting that renders it rather unremarkable. I'm interested to see how the new album will sound.
I discovered Metamono after their excellent roboid cover of Bowie's 'Warszawa' was featured on the God Is In The TV compilation 'Ashes To Ashes'. They also featured in the latest edition Dominic Valvona's regular 'Tickling My Fancy Revue' round-up which you can check out HERE. They've been around since 2009 and approach music-making in their own unique way. They have a mainfesto. It reads: "All sound is now available to all musicians everywhere. Music has become a flaccid shadow of the social power it once was. METAMONO will restrict and limit the sound sources and techniques available to us in order TO LIBERATE the imagination and TO ECHO the struggle society endures... Our restraints will be our liberties. Our limitations will be our aesthetic. We will kick against the pricks" Interesting stuff. So how do they limit their sound sources?
"METAMONO WILL NEVER use a microphone, use digital sound generation or sampling, use mechanical sound generation, use digital sound processing, make overdubs, be afraid of mono, or remix.
METAMONO WILL ONLY use analogue electronic sound generation, use analogue electronic sound processing, use digital recording and basic editing when no alternative is available, compose and mix simultaneously and build their own or play used instruments."
They are led by electronic wizard Jono Podmore, also known as Kumo, who has worked with members of Can, as well as putting together the band's awesome 'The Lost Tapes' with Irmin Schmidt. As part of our Record Store Month, Podmore has contributed an exclusive article on his record shopping experiences and his thoughts on the future of music retail. You can read that HERE. Listen to the excellent 'Shafty', the B side of the 'Warszawa' 7" HERE.
Due to the amount of new stuff I'm catching up with AND a general lack of time, this is the first RW/FF that doesn't feature my usual "rewind". The journey through my musical memories will continue next week...