Category Archives: Records

The Crowman – Ladies And Gentlemen… The Crowband

The Crowman - Ladies and Gentlemen The Crowband CD coverThe last few years has seen Mark Le Gallez, the man who fronted The Risk in the 1980s, The Sacred Hearts in the 1990s and Thee Jenerators since the 2000s (amongst other bands), find a new angle on his music in the form of steampunk-folk alter-ego The Crowman.

This has led to two previous albums, Songs From The Three Eyed Crow and The Resurrection Of Blind Jack Lazarus, as well as highlights around Guernsey, at several Sark Folk Festivals and steampunk events in the UK.

Now his third album, as the title suggests introduces us to ‘The Crowband’ filling out his lo-fi sound with a range of extra instrumentation.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 25th March and you can read it below:

Crowman album review 25/03/17

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Ginger Wildheart – Ghost In The Tanglewood

Ginger Wildheart

Ginger Wildheart

Having heard his brief journeys into the world of folk and country music in the past with the likes of Georgie In Wonderland and Sky Chaser High (and, somewhat differently, the alter-ego album World of Filth) I was intrigued what a complete album in this genre from Ginger Wildheart might sound like. Ghost In The Tanglewood then (released via Pledgemusic) had me interested from the off and, for the most part, it is one of the most consistent and enjoyable of Ginger’s albums in sometime.

Daylight Hotel picks things up in many ways where recent single Fuck You Brain left off but obviously in a rather different style and the opening pair of tracks feel very much like acoustic versions of standard Ginger tracks, but with added folk and country-style instrumentation.

From there though it really delves into the kind of folk of the north of England that make it feel something like a cousin of the music being made by O’Hooley & Tidow, with Golden Tears being a particular folky highlight.

Throughout the sounds on the album are impressive combining, to various degrees, folk, country and Ginger’s usual pop-rock sensibilities with big hooks and a kind of vocal style that almost gives it a family band feel with some great harmony work and a real honesty only helped by Ginger’s natural accent coming to the fore even more than on past releases (taking what he started on Valor Del Corazon to a natural conclusion).

Ghost In The Tanglewood - Ginger Wildheart coverPhantom Memories takes things in a sonically darker direction and gives us the album’s title, before Remains continues the themes of living with depression that run through the album in one of the most honest and real ways I’ve heard. In general Ginger’s writing here does this very well not overdramatising or underplaying anything but making it feel real with highs, lows and the ‘mundane’ in-betweens all getting included like few others manage.

My Old Friend The Blues (a cover of a Steve Earle song) gives the record its most totally country moment before it closes on possibly the most tender song in Ginger’s back catalogue, Don’t Say Goodbye, with the songwriter addressing his young son about having to be away on the road (or elsewhere), but without a lot of the cliché that it probably sounds like that might have.

While the song writing and arrangements on Ghost In The Tanglewood don’t have the breadth and expanse of most of Ginger’s other solo material in many ways this is what makes it. These are more simple songs (though still excellently produced and arranged) and with that are more easily digestible and allow the honesty and warmth of Ginger to shine through which, in the worlds of folk and country, are an important aspect.

While the question of genre is one that has been raised, not least by the artist himself, after a couple of listens this drifts away as, while it undeniably mixes things up as Ginger is renowned for, what it leaves is the fact that this is a great album. It might be something of an aside to the likes of 555% and Albion, rather like the Mutation and Hey!Hello! records, but if this is the direction Ginger chose to take for his music going forward, based on this, I certainly wouldn’t be complaining.

I always like to include a video with my album reviews but there isn’t one yet for Ghost In The Tanglewood so here is one from Ginger’s Year Of The Fanclub that gives an idea of him in a more country/folk kind of mode:

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Blink-182 – California

Blink-182 - California album coverIn summer 2016 two of the biggest bands in the world of pop punk released records that had something of a comeback feel to them. I’ve already taken a look at Green Day’s effort, Revolution Radio, so now I’ve had a listen to Blink-182’s California.

Originally forming in the wake of the pop-punk explosion caused by the likes of Green Day back in 1995, Blink-182 became arguably the biggest band of the following wave of American pop-punk with their 1999 album Enema of the State and 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

Since then something of a direction on their self-titled 2003 album was followed by a lengthy hiatus and then a change of personnel before California with Alkaline Trio leader Matt Skiba joining in place of founding guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge.

So to California. As the name suggests this is a partial concept record about the band’s home state, particularly the southern part of it – Blink originally formed in and around San Diego – and it is the three tracks that most obviously provide this theme that are three of the highlights. Los Angeles, San Diego and the title track all present different aspects of the band at their most mature and inventive sounding.

Blink-182 circa 2016

Blink-182 – Hoppus, Barker and Skiba

This is balanced with the kind of songs that made the bands reputation with pop hooks, singalongs and catchy choruses aplenty, that had me singing along after only a couple of listens. Particularly in this group are She’s Out Of Her Mind and Kings of the Weekend.

On top of this Built This Pool and Brohemian Rhapsody show the band still have their juvenile streak with these two 30 second skit-songs very reminiscent of several from their back catalogue.

What sets California apart from Blink’s past efforts is, I think, something that Skiba brings to the table. Alkaline Trio are known for adding gothic elements to their pop-punk and dealing with darker themes and that sneaks through here. Sober is a song that while upbeat and still has the Blink thing going on suggests something deeper as do the Californian tryptic.

Admittedly Blink have headed in these directions in the past as well with the likes of Stay Together For The Kids and Adam’s Song but Skiba’s presence adds an extra level to it as well as making for a more digestible sound than DeLonge ever managed.

Blink-182 playing live

The band playing live

With a lot of variety for a pop-punk record California still falls together like a complete package of an album including some moments of the more modern style of pop-punk with heavier guitar tones along with the upbeat feel.

It’s not just Skiba who’s on top form either, but founder member Mark Hoppus (bass and vocals) and long time drummer Travis Barker are both clearly at the top of their game as well, and as ever the drums are a big part of what elevates Blink-182 above the rest of the pop-punk pack and California certainly shows this longstanding band can still be a cut above the rest.

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Chris Catalyst – Life is Often Brilliant

Chris Catalyst - Life is Often BrilliantFrom the much maligned Robochrist to Eureka Machines and with side detours in The Ginger Wildheart Band and Sisters Of Mercy amongst many others, Chris Catalyst has been a familiar face in the British rock scene throughout the last two decades.

Now, via Pledgemusic, he has released a solo album adding a more personal angle to his usual musical endeavours.

As a whole Life Is Often Brilliant mixes up everything that Catalyst has become known for throughout his career with jagged metal guitars standing alongside 90s style psychedelia a good dose of pop-rock (of the best kind) and even a hint of prog.

With these styles coming together its understandable that the album feels like a bit of a mishmash, but its one that always leads to pleasant surprises. While it starts with high gain guitars on the youthful rock ’n’ roll cliché baiting No Regrets but the end of Able Seaman it’s all soaring psyche.

What holds it all together is Catalyst’s voice that is packed with the kind of warmth one often encounters coming out of the more reasonable quarters of the north of England combined with something of Dave Grohl’s knack for rock that’s not too much for a pop audience and all with a bit of nod and wink behind it.

Chris Catalyst

Chris Catalyst

Most of the album takes a more personal view of things than his other output.

Cracking Up is the most overtly political I can recall hearing from Catalyst as he shares his views on England in the era of Brexit, but without getting too divisive.

Then How Do You Sleep takes a swipe at someone (or someones) he’s encountered in the music industry but this a rare moment of less positive stuff amongst the bouncy tones.

As it goes on Distance Over Time brings some Pink Floyd-ish prog to proceedings while Sticks And Stones and You Die At The End up the psychedelia some more with both 90’s ‘Madchester’ and 60’s elements coming out before Able Seamen rounds it off on a slightly low-key but still nice note.

In the end, like all solo albums of this sort, there are a few moments that verge on the self-indulgent but as a fan, as I would imagine most listeners will be, that’s kind of what these things are all about. As the rest sounds a bit like The Beatles, Suede, The Stone Roses and Foo Fighters are having a big old jam its safe to say there’s a lot to like, so Life Is Often Brilliant is often very good.

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Green Day – Revolution Radio

Green Day - Revolution Radio album coverBack in 2004 Bay Area punk trio Green Day reached something of a milestone moment in their career with the release of their George W. Bush baiting concept opus American Idiot.

While that launched them into being one of the most commercially successful punk rock bands of all time (despite causing something a rift amongst long time fans) with arena tours and festival headline slots aplenty, they have since struggled to live up to the impassioned, firebrand strength on record.

Follow up album, 21st Century Breakdown, tried to relive the glory of its forerunner while a trio of albums in 2012 (Uno, Dos and Tre) seemed to slip out somewhat under the radar with less of the hype, but still sold well.

Following that Revolution Radio then looks and sounds like another attempt at returning to the American Idiot idealism, but, despite being written and recorded during the rise of now-President Trump, it doesn’t seem to have such a targeted focus.

While Bang, Bang and the title track are serviceable numbers with some good upbeat sounds the first half of the album feels somewhat too clean and over overproduced, demonstrating their arena rock credentials but losing much of the band’s spirit.

Green Day

Green Day

From the sixth track, Bouncing Off The Wall, onwards though this seems to change with a far more straight forward punk rock feel to things – faster, harder and more based around the core trio.

While it’s still not the focussed assault it sounds as if it should be there’s a lot to like and here Green Day sound like a band refreshed before closer Ordinary World takes it back to the start a little too much.

As a whole Revolution Radio is a mixed bag but shows there’s still life in Green Day yet, even if they are now very firmly more an arena rock outfit than the young punks who came out of 924 Gilman Street in the early 1990s and I can but hope they return more emphatically to their more political leanings now there is something worth shouting about again.

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WaterColour Matchbox – Fragments, Artefacts and Ruins

WaterColour Matchbox - Fragments, Artefacts & RuinsWaterColour Matchbox released their debut album, Fragments, Artefacts & Ruins, in the first week of 2017 having been working in the studio in the prior months and making their live debut only a few weeks previously.

Though they are a four piece band live, this album grew from lead duo Mikey Ferbrache (past producer for Tantale, Wondergeist and others) and Peter Mitchell (also of Wondergeist and Burning At Both Ends) who originally began as an acoustic duo before deciding to embrace their prog and metal interests and develop WaterColour Matchbox into a full band.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 5th February 2017 and the album is available digitally through iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and others.

Watercolour Matchbox album review 04/02/17

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: January 2017 – Nessi Gomes and Robert J. Hunter

Nessi Gomes on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Nessi Gomes on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Click here to listen to the show

As BBC Introducing enters its tenth year I started off 2017 with a special live session from Nessi Gomes, a look at Robert J. Hunter‘s new album and a selection of brand new music from around the islands.

Following the release of her debut album, Diamonds & Demons, last autumn Nessi Gomes returned to Guernsey in January 2017 for a show at The Fermain Tavern, while she was in the island she joined me in the studio to record a solo acoustic session featuring tracks from the album and two brand new songs.

Having released three albums in the past two years I caught up with Robert J. Hunter and spoke to him about his latest release, Where I’m From, and what its been like making his mark on the blues scene in the UK since he left the islands.

As well as this there was new music from WaterColour MatchboxBurning At Both EndsElliot Falla and more.

You can listen to the show on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here or with the BBC iPlayer Radio App.

Tracklist

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Nessi Gomes – Diamonds and Demons

Nessi Gomes - Diamonds & Demons album artHaving first made her presence known playing highly regarded sets of acoustic cover versions around Guernsey over the last decade, 2016 saw Nessi Gomes refocus her attention to her own music and, following a wildly successful crowd funding campaign through IndieGoGo, release her first collection of original music, Diamonds & Demons.

While Gomes’ live performances have generally focussed on her solo vocal and guitar work, such as in her mesmerising set at the 2016 Sark Folk Festival, on record that sound is expanded with a host of guest musicians and the work of producer and arranger Duncan Bridgeman.

This expansion gives the album a strangely electronic feel, combined with a development of the folk and world elements of Gomes’ original writing. We are introduced to this through the oddly hypnotic Into The Earth that drifts its way from the speakers to become firmly lodged in the listeners head.

From there the record meanders from the slightly more commercial likes of These Walls through songs in Gomes’ native Portuguese to moments reminiscent of Sigur Ros’ vast soundscapes.

Nessi Gomes at Sark Folk Festival

Nessi Gomes at Sark Folk Festival

While all the production serves to develop the songs very well the strongest feature of the whole album remains the core of Gomes’ singing and playing. This has something of the style of many current female vocalists but Gomes adds to that an extra soulfulness combined with a strong streak of thoughtfulness and meaning in the lyrics all of which is captured here.

The highlight of all of this is the title track, Diamonds & Demons, that combines everything that makes the album what it is with the addition of Mercury Music Prize nominee Sam Lee on extra vocals, contrasting and complimenting Gomes’ voice excellently.

Though it is a more developed sound than I’ve heard from Nessi Gomes in the past what Diamonds & Demons does as an album is capture the essence of her work and develop it to create something that washes over the listener in the same way as her live performances, but with many extras that could only come from the studio all in a highly enjoyable package.

This review was also posted in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 14th January 2017:

Nessi Gomes - Diamonds and Demons review scan

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David Bowie – Blackstar

David Bowie - Blackstar album coverA little over a year the world lost a musician who had an unarguably massive effect on popular culture in the last third of the 20th century, David Robert Jones, far better known as David Bowie. Two days before his death, on his 69th birthday, he released his 25th full length album, Blackstar.

Following comparatively hot on the heels of the far poppier The Next Day (released three years previously following a hiatus of a decade) even a year later its hard to escape the sense of farewell and eulogy that runs through Blackstar.

I’ll freely admit that my favourite Bowie period is his far more accessible early 1970s material when he morphed from the dress wearing ‘hippie’ of Hunky Dory into the hyper sexualised alien glam rock god Ziggy Stardust, though other moments throughout his long career have also stood out and if I’m honest even then his work could be exploratory, experimental and against the grain of majority of pop.

Blackstar then is something of a shift of tone as it weaves it way through a dark and rhythmic set of art heavy pop-rock containing hints of jazz and industrial along with surprisingly danceable rhythms and a strong electronic side in the arrangement and production (on which Bowie worked with long time collaborator Tony Visconti).

David Bowie

David Bowie

The title track of the album kicks things off in the style of an epic sci-fi funeral ritual that, over its length, segues into a kind of eulogy then a mortal self-justification and this sets the tone for the album as a whole.

Tis Pity She’s A Whore shows Bowie’s sense of sexuality hasn’t vanished but has changed and his sense of vaudevillian archness that marked his early work (and arguably his whole career) remains strongly intact before Lazarus brings back the autobiographical and prophetic feel.

For me the album’s most enjoyable track comes with the wilful nonsense and linguistic overtones of A Clockwork Orange on Girl Loves Me.

We then get a closing duo that feels like its referencing the past with Dollar Days’ acoustic guitars and saxophones going back to that 70s populist heyday before I Can’t Give Everything Away closes the surprisingly brief record on something of an intentionally incomplete note as it slips away into silence.

David Bowie in BlackstarAs a whole Blackstar is not an album that will be blasting from speakers on a regular basis like Bowie’s more pop oriented material but it is regardless an impressive work of art that I got the feeling was formed exactly as Bowie intended.

All of this, combined with the aforementioned knowledge that Bowie knew this would be his final record, gives Blackstar an odd atmosphere. This combined with a hypnotic quality makes it linger in the back of the mind rather than stand boldly at the forefront, but I can’t help but feel this was exactly the point as like Bowie himself I get the feeling this will never leave my consciousness.

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Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct

Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct cover artWhen Metallica released Hardwired, the lead single from their 10th studio album, things were looking good. That track felt like a reenergised band, harking back to their prime but with a newly rediscovered power and intensity.

Now the album itself, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct has been released on the world, it appears things aren’t quite as straightforward.

Once you’ve got past the album cover which looks like it may have had a good idea behind it, even if the execution doesn’t quite live up to that, the double album (going by the CD version) starts well with the aforementioned titular single and the inventively heavy Atlas Rise!

Now That We’re Dead and Moth Into The Flame aren’t too bad either with some nice groovy passages reminiscent of the band’s mid-90s era, but it is around here that a few problems start to present themselves.

Other than Hardwired every track clocks in at over five minutes and, while this has been a trademark of the band throughout their career, that trademark used to include an inventiveness that saw the songs evolve and transition.

Metallica 2016This was most notably heard on …And Justice For All, but here they just seem to repeat the same passages without development making it feel like many of these songs could be cut in half and remain just as, if not more, effective.

In the same way as Ride The Lightning & Master of Puppets in the mid 1980s and Load & Reload in the mid 1990s, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct very much feels like a partner to Metallica’s last studio album Death Magnetic.

Unfortunately while Ride and Master were the band hitting their creative peak and Load and Reload saw them trying something new, what this pair of albums seems to do is hark back to the past, particularly that mid-80s heyday, which unfortunately demonstrates a once highly innovative band treading water and, potentially, falling foul of too high a level of fan service than really is required.

The second disc of the album continues this largely forgettable feeling that sadly, while not actually bad, simply isn’t very good either. For a band as historically divisive as Metallica this is a real shame – in many ways I’d rather hate this record than simply feel largely ambivalent to it.

Metallica live in 2016

Metallica live in 2016

A highlight of a sort of the second disc is Murder One, a tribute to long time friend of the band Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, but even this feels a bit too forced and passionless in its rendering here.

In the end then Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is, for the most part, an overlong set of songs that feel like Metallica are repeating themselves and stuck in some kind of loop of searching to relive past glories and keep fans happy while essentially failing to do either – at least St. Anger got people talking…

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