17 June 2018

Gaz Coombes - World's Strongest Man

Quick story before I start the review.  Before I started this writing up this review, I put up a post about my thoughts on Facebook.  Within two minutes, one of my friends replied with the age-old "I want to say it's Alright".  I'm going to assume that everyone is getting the Supergrass connection, if you didn't know that Gaz Coombes was the frontman of Supergrass, I'll assume you were not here when they were originally around.  The thing about the expected joke though, it sorts of sums up how some of the public feel towards Gaz Coombes and his new music. There is a general misconception that his musical career ended with their first album. 

World's Strongest Man is the third solo album that Mr Coombes has released since Supergrass ended after six studio albums together.  His last solo album, the fantastic Matador (our review cleverly linked here) was one of my end of year list for 2015, it was such a surprise to this blogger.  You could obviously tell it was the same writer, but there was a maturity to the man, a subtle difference that stopped me dead in my tracks.  This marked a change in my attitude to Gaz Coombes in my mind.  He moved from the frontman of Supergrass to Mr Gaz Coombes, the artist.

World's Strongest Man feels as if it was written in a different era when the world was a different place as if it's been in a sealed vault and released in accordance with a last will & testament.  This is a clever album, a minimalist record which combines the art of Talking Heads, the subtle Art Pop noise that takes a lifetime to master.  This is as far away from Supergrass as you can get from the same artist. 

Highlights for me on World's Strongest Man include the fierce "Vanishing Act", the bass-heavy "Walk the Walk" and the divine "Wounded Ego".  To be honest, I could list every song on this album, each of them is a quirky piece of art.  But I'll be honest when they are separated from the pack, they lose a little bit of the charm.  This is an album where the flow of the record is more important than the individual tracks, the collective is more important than the singular song.  This means this is an album to be listened to in its entirety and not an album brimming with singles.  I love this, but as well as being it's biggest strength, it's also its biggest weakness.  Due to the nature of the record, it might be hard for the great unwashed to embrace (shame on them).

This is also an album which you must invest time into, a record where an instant reaction is not going to be forthcoming.  Hence why I'm reviewing it so late after its original release.  My first reaction - Well, that's different once again.  However, as the weeks have gone by, I've discovered little subtleties embedded into this album.  It's not an instant classic, it's a slow burner in the classic sense.  Songs like "The Oaks" take time to get under your skin, they cannot be rushed.  World's Strongest Man is a hidden gem in 2018, one that will take people by surprise.  I reckon that Gaz Coombes is onto a world beater here, but one that might not be for the masses.  If you're looking for something slightly off the beaten path of the mainstream, this could be the album for you.

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost......

Top track - Wounded Ego

You can purchase World's Strongest Man on Amazon here.

You can visit the Gaz Coombes website here.

You can follow the activities of Gaz Coombes on Facebook here.

You can stream World's Strongest Man on Spotify here.

You can stream World's Strongest Man on Deezer here.

You can stream World's Strongest Man on Tidal here.

16 June 2018

Ash - Islands

For people who are around my age, Ash will forever be that young band from the Northern end of the Emerald Isle with a Star Wars obsession.  It’s hard to think of them as grown men, but that is the situation that we find ourselves in.  Over the years, Ash have released some great records and a plethora of hit singles.  But for me, I was never truly bowled over by their album output.  As good as they were, they were never ground-breaking for me.  That was until Kabalamo in 2015 (you can read our review here), which was one of the best power pop albums in recent years.  For me, it was the perfect combination of all their styles and it will forever be that way.  Now we come to their latest release, Islands.  Released on Infectious Recordings, who released the first five albums by Ash.  The title and cover are also (once again) a nod towards Star Wars.  The cover is of one of the islands of Skellig Michael, an Island off the South West coast of Ireland, which was used as a location on Star Wars Episode VII & VII.  So, a Star Wars referenced album, back after a previously stunning release, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, upon the first listen, quite a lot.  After the unbridled joy of Kabalamo, Islands is an initial let down as they seem to scale back their sound.  “True Story” is a plodding opening track, a decent song that doesn’t leave a lasting impression.  “Annabel” which was released as the first single is a lot better, with a trademark solo and a driven delivery.  But they still sound as if they’re holding back.  Then comes “Buzzkill” and there is the smallest spark of that band I love.  It’s followed by the silly “Confessions in the Pool”, a song which I could not stand upon first listen and then it seemed to fall apart again.  I was just not getting into this album, it just felt like a step backwards to me and I was prepared to write it off.

But then I went back to some of their earlier works, mostly in a huff if I’m honest.  But as I listened to 1979 and Nu-Clear Sounds, I found myself making connections with Islands.  It was subtle, but I could hear things in that were being reflected on Islands.  Because of this, I decided to give it another shot to see if my gut reaction was wrong.  On reflection, I will admit my initial reaction was not 100% correct.  Ash still have that knack of writing a quality tune, such as the mournful “Don’t Need Your Love” or the slower burner “All That I Have Left” are great examples of this.  When they’re on top of their game on this record here, they still sound good.  Yet there is still a but………

And that's the issue of the album for me, the nitty gritty of my thoughts.  Islands is a slow album which feels like someone has had their heart broken, so the world must know.  Song titles such as “It’s A Trap”, “Don’t Need Your Love” and the aforementioned “All That I Have Left” don't so much hint at this, but lay it out straight.  Now, a top quality heartbreak album can be a phoenix to rise of the flame of love, Islands is not that majestic.  It plods in places, never really getting out of second or third gear.  This makes Islands an uneasy experience, one which tries to mix their brand of power pop and heartbreak, but untimely pleases nobody.  Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m too jaded, maybe I was spoilt by Kabalamo.  But at the end of the day, Islands is an average album from a band that is capable of greatness. Having "Buzzkill" as my favourite song of the album seems apt.

6 out of ten – Now, I see where you’re going with this, but it’s not quite there.

Top track - Buzzkill

You can purchase Islands on Amazon here.

You can visit the Ash website here.

You can follow the activities of Ash on Facebook here.

You can stream Islands on Spotify here.

You can stream Islands on Deezer here. 

You can stream Islands on Tidal here. 

The Winter Hill Transmission - The Winter Hill Transmission

They say that good things come to those who wait.  If you’ve been a fan of The Winter Hill Transmission, then you might question how long you have to wait.  The Winter Hill Transmission has been together for at least eight years, maybe longer.  I can only guess when they started, mainly because their FB page and website does not supply a date when they formed.  However, the first post on Facebook is from 2010 and I know that I saw them supporting Thomas Truax at the Tyneside Cinema that year as well.  They’ve regularly played shows in the UK, performing their brilliant music and yet there has never been an album.  Until now that is, as they finally released their self-titled debut record! 

The artwork was created by Jim Edwards, it’s a painting called ‘Yellow Fields and Pylons’.  If you want to check out some of his other artwork, there will be a link below the review.  Now, let’s get back to the album.  When you think about the length of time between forming and releasing their debut self-titled record, it’s been quite a long time.  They even give a nod towards this, acknowledging this on the thank you section on their website.  They state the existence of this record is proof that they do something on Wednesday nights.  If I’m being honest, no matter how long the wait.  It's such a relief to actually see them release something.  They have been classed as one of the best-kept secrets of the North East music scene for many years.  But because they’ve taken so long to release their debut, have they waited too long?  Well, thankfully not too long.

The Winter Hill Transmission is an album that contains ten indie folk tales, with the lyrics written by Rhythm Guitarist and Vocalist Ben Holland.  The rest of the band is formed with Pete Moffat on Lead Guitar/Backing Vocals, Neil Reynolds on Bass and Andy Lofthouse on Keyboards/Backing Vocals.  The album featured drummer Tom Bacon, but he’s not mentioned on the TWHT Facebook page, so I’ve no idea if he’s still in the band.  However, what I can comment on is the music.  Over the ten songs, TWHT create a series of little worlds for you to explore.  Each one is as gentle as a breeze, as strong as an Ox and completely memorable.  Opening with the beautiful “Jupiter”, TWHT eases you in gently to their world.  The video for this song is about an amateur spaceman trying to leave the planet.  It’s a beautiful video and a brilliant song, one which gently introduces the band.  “Satellites” for me is one of their best song, a little stomping number that works its way under your skin and stays in your mind for hours after it’s finished.  “How Could We Ever Know” is another song which lingers long after it’s completed but in a good way.  It captures the uncertainty of love and trying to find something is fleeting is beautiful, it melts the heart and it also sounds fantastic.  By the time you reach "Matador", you know you've been through a beautiful journey that stays with you long after it's finished.

Much like the sound of the North West being eternally linked to Joy Division, the sound of The Winter Hill Transmission could not have originated anywhere else in the world apart from the North East of England.  It’s hard to explain, but when you listen to this album, you’ll hear the sound of the area where I grew up.  So, for me, this is a special album.  It’s a gentle record, one that contains hidden depths to immerse yourself in.  Are there any issues?  Nope, this is a mighty fine album.  I wish it was a tad longer, but after so many years of waiting, I think that this is a natural reaction.  The Winter Hill Transmission is a brilliant (and long overdue) debut album, one that will fit perfectly in the collection of any music fan.  The sooner you get yourself a copy, the happier your life will be.  However, given their track record, I’ll be expecting a follow up sometime in the next decade……...

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost.....

Top track - How Could We Ever Know

 You can purchase The Winter Hill Transmission at The Winter Hill Transmission Bandcamp page here.

You can purchase The Winter Hill Transmission on Amazon here. 

You can follow the activities of The Winter Hill Transmission on Facebook here.

You can stream The Winter Hill Transmission on Spotify here.

You can stream The Winter Hill Transmission on Deezer here.

You can stream The Winter Hill Transmission on Tidal here.

You can find out more about Jim Edwards on his website here. 

15 June 2018

Fatoumata Diawara - Fenfo (Something To Say)

Fatoumata Diawara is a Malian singer, who is currently based in France.  She has appeared in various films and on stage, as well as pursuing a music career.  Her appearances on various soundtracks and collaborations with the likes of Disclosure have given her lots of attention.  Fenfo (Something to Say) is her third album which was released on Shanachie Records.  Now, after this, I'll be honest that Fatoumata Diawara is not an artist I'm overly familiar with, also this is not a genre I have an extensive knowledge about.  But I'm more than willing to give any genre or artist a listen.  The cover is a vibrant image, with Ms Diawara on a beach, which contrasts with the red of her dress and the material in the wind.  It's a striking image to grab the casual listener's attention, which worlds really well.  But, what about the music, how has this turned out?

Fenfo (Something to Say)
is a beautifully crafted album, with passionate performances from the musicians involved.  From the energetic "Kokoro" to the beautiful "Mama", Ms Diawara sings with a passion and restraint that some artists could learn from.  Her vocals never sound stretched or feel as if she is screeching.  In other words, she has a natural and fluid voice that does not sound as if she is doing harm to her vocal chords.  This gives the music a chill-out vibe, a relaxing atmosphere that acts as another musician on this record.  There are some beautiful moments such as "Takamba", a song that could make any pensive soul relax and find solace. 

There's a fascinating blending of style on this record. You have Ms Diawara's native Malian's influences being mixed in with a Mediterranian feeling.  This combination of sounds is best represented on "Nterini", which has a Euro-Cinema quality, it's a beautiful song which stays with you long after it's finished.  Now, here is the rub for me.  As I have previously stated, this is a genre which I am not overly familiar with.  However, it's also one which I like to invest in every once in a while.  Fatoumata Diawara is now an artist I would actively look for, as this album is probably going to be my chill out hit of the year.  The music might not be my usual style, but I appreciate and respect the craftsmanship that has been put into this album and it's deserves high praise.  Fenfo (Something to Say) might have been an album that I missed, but I'm glad it was brought to my attention.  If you're wanting to try something a little different, you sound try this.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

Top track - Nterini

You can purchase Fenfo (Something to Say) on Amazon here.

You can visit the Fatoumata Diawara website here.

You can follow the activities of Fatoumata Diawara on Facebook here.

You can stream Fenfo (Something to Say) on Spotify here.

You can stream Fenfo (Something to Say) on Deezer here.

You can stream Fenfo (Something to Say) on Tidal here.

8 June 2018

Old Man Wizard - Blame It All On Sorcery

Sometimes, things come into your life by accident.  When you're doing a blog in the style of your humble writer (poorly), you sometimes end up with PR companies blindly sending you invites.  To be honest, some of the things that come through the inbox are not my thing.  Sometimes I get a nice surprise and sometimes, I get a curve ball.  One such speculative email I received over the last few months was from San Deigo Rockers (with a capital R, very important), Old Man Wizard.  Now, I've heard of these guys before, played them on my radio show and I've always enjoyed the style and passion of the band.  When I last played them on my show (Attention Please on NE1FM), it was after Childish Gambino.  This might not seem like an obvious pairing, but it's one that makes sense in my mind. 

Old Man Wizard formed in 2011 and their second album Blame It All On Sorcery was released on 11th May 2018.  This is their second release, following up to their 2013 release, Unfavorable.  I would like to talk about the cover of Blame It All On Sorcery before I begin looking at the music.  This is a very simplistic and haunting image, the burning of an unfortunate soul on a pyre, a mass of hooded figures gathered to watch their demise and the skies turning grey.  It might not be as complex as an Iron Maiden cover, but it's still a striking and thought-provoking image. Especially when you think of the political witch hunts of the modern era, but it could just be that the band liked the image.  Anyway, enough about that, how does the album sound?

The first word that comes to mind is vintage, closely followed by retro.  This is an old school heavy rock album, with a new take on that old school sound.  Songs like "Cosmo", the galloping "The Blind Prince" and the frantic "Innocent Hands" are all throwbacks to a different era.  But they are not exact copies of existing songs, they are freshly formed ideas that sound fantastic.  They have taken a look at sounds which inspire them, given it a twist and released it upon the world!  They also bring out the acoustic guitars when required, such as on "Somehow", but it's not a ballad to melt the heart.  The music just requires that sound, it might not work as well with an electric sound.  I like that, it shows that the band have given thought to their craft and they've not just kept their musical pallet to one style.

Over the course of the ten tracks that make up Blame It All On Sorcery, Old Man Wizard keep things basic.   Nothing is over complicated or OTT, even when the songs have a fantasy edge to them.  This works for me, rock music is not something that should always be a complex beast, sometimes it's best to leave it basic, natural and untainted by modern tech.  For example, the fuzzy sound to the production of the final track "The Long-Nosed-Wiseman" is spot on.  It adds a sinister feeling to the song, it would have sounded shite with an 80's polish.  There is also a spaghetti western atmosphere to some of the tracks, but that is just something that automatically comes to mind when you band photo looks like this:

I love it when albums arrive in my inbox such as this.  It's been a long time since a classic rock album has caught me by surprise.  Not a huge surprise, they said they were a Rock band, the cover scream Rock band - rock 101.  However, Blame It All On Sorcery is a Rock album that will please both old school and modern rock fans in equal measure.  Old Man Wizard have not gone out to re-write the rulebook, they are out to make some memorable music and they have certainly achieved that.  If you're at all interest in Rock music, get this record!

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my time, money and heart

Top track - Innocent Hands

You can purchase Blame It All On Sorcery on the Old Man Wizard Bandcamp page here.

You can purchase Blame It All On Sorcery on Amazon here.

You can follow the activities of Old Man Wizard on Facebook here. 

 You can stream Blame It All On Sorcery on Spotify here.

You can stream Blame It All On Sorcery on Deezer here.

You can stream Blame It All On Sorcery on Tidal here.

3 June 2018

Father John Misty - God's Favorite Customer

Father John Misty - Man, Myth, Enigma, a subject of ridicule and praise in equal measure.  Since the release of his last album, the brilliant Pure Comedy, I've been trying to figure out the man. The more I read about the former Fleet Fox, the less I seem to know.  The only thing that seems to make sense when you're talking about Father John Misty, is that fact & fiction are fluid.  The former Josh Tillman/Fleet Fox drummer is a man who courts controversies as a poet follows a muse for inspiration.  With his new album, it seems as if he's managed to piss off the Gods themselves.  God's Favorite Customer (American spelling, as he is from across the pond) AKA Mr Tillman's Wild Ride was released on 1st June 2018.  It's received a mixture of praise and the gnashing of teeth as well.  It was also accidentally leaked on April 18th by iTunes, leading him to release to this meme......

This shows that at the very least, he has a sense of humour (I have a feeling he was probably biblically pissed off at the same time, but still with a sense of perspective).  So, how has God's Favorite Customer turned out?

God's Favorite Customer is an album that has a timeless and vintage feeling.  Not to blow smoke up FJM's ass, but this album could have been released in any year since the late sixties to the present day.  And you know what, it would have fitted into that year perfectly.  Musically, it's steeped in old-school musicianship.  The craftsmanship behind the music and lyrics is on par with Elton John's 70's output, the music is dripping with sarcasm and self-deprecation humour.  The paranoia of "Mr Tilman" for example, this is great storytelling about experiences in a hotel whilst the party is running wild.  It's a satirical number, one that some people thought went too far, but it's just a brilliant song.  "The Palace" is another number that has an instant impact, but this one is so gentle.  Musically, the piano is played mournfully.  Lyrically though, well that is another story.  This song once again documents his time in a hotel, with hints towards paranoia and marital disputes.  Whilst the full backstory could be fiction, you cannot deny the talent of Father John Misty.

Each of these numbers on God's Favorite Customer is a gem, each of them would be a crown jewel in other albums.  Take "The Songwriter" for instance, a song that places Mr Tillman as the muse and his wife as the songwriter.  It shows that everything in a song should not always be taken at face value. FJM is letting people know that behind his works, as he shows that the grain of truth might be incredibly small.  However, my favourite (UK spelling, sorry FJM) song is "Just Dumb Enough to Try".  This song is an open admission of a lack of understanding, especially when it comes to love.  He might come across as a ladies man, a man with great social prowess, but he knows when he's also out of his depth.  The music matches those words like a heart beating in your chest, the vulnerability is interesting to see from a man who's known to be so confident.  Thus making it my favourite song of the album.

I think that I'm a little in love with God's Favorite Customer, mainly because it has a sense of irony that is missing in a lot of music.  Is it a bit too knowing?  Well, that depends on how much you like being in on the joke.  For me, I think it's a great follow up to Pure Comedy, which is still going up my all-time list almost weekly.  One day, people might want something different from FJM, maybe one day this will turn out to be his best record.  However, I think that God's Favorite Customer is going to be an album that will continue to divide people's opinion of Father John Misty.  And long may it continue...... I love the sarcasm that Father John Misty brings to the table, just as well his songs are brilliant as well.

8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my time, money and heart.

Top track - Just Dumb Enough to Try

You can purchase God's Favorite Customer on Amazon here.

You can visit the Father John Misty website here.

You can follow the activities of Father John Misty on Facebook here.

You can stream God's Favorite Customer on Spotify here.

You can stream God's Favorite Customer on Deezer here.

You can stream God's Favorite Customer on Tidal here.

Turnstile - Time & Space

Turnstile is an American Hardcore Punk band, Time & Space is their second studio album which was released through Roadrunner Records in February 2018. They hail from Baltimore, Maryland in the USA.  Formed in 2010, they have also released three EP's, toured an awful lot and been causing mayhem everywhere they've gone.  To be honest, I've not got much more knowledge outside of that, because this is the first time that Turnstile have crossed my path. I've been meaning to complete this review for a long time, but I'll not dwell on that.  What I'll do it get on with my review of this record.

Time & Space is a frantic record, one that brings Hardcore music up to date.  You can hear Bad Brains, you can feel a groove being torn in every mosh-pit they'll be creating.  It's also an incredibly short album, thirteen songs which are all done in just over twenty-five minutes.  Twenty-five short minutes which are gone in the blink of an eye.  When some records have felt too long this year, Time & Space is an album that is bucking that trend.

As with all Hardcore Punk, you're either going to love it or hate it.  There will not be a casual Turnstile fan, there will not be a person who played Time & Space to relax.  So, is it any good?  Well, personally I think it's one of the most exciting Hardcore Punk albums I've heard in years.  I love the brutality of the music, the aggressive tone of their sound and the uncompromising attitude of Time & Space.  Much like the album, this review is short & sweet.  If you're a fan of Hardcore, get this album!

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my time, money and heart.

Top track - Generator

You can purchase Time & Space on Amazon here.

You can visit the Turnstile website here.

You can follow the activities of Turnstile on Facebook here.

You can stream Time & Space on Spotify here.

You can stream Time & Space on Deezer here.

You can stream Time & Space on Tidal here.

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