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Best of 2015: Part 2 - Folk/Cabaret/Avant pop/Orchestral

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Welcome to Part 2 of my Best of 2015 review.

If you're a regular listener to the show, you'll know that folk music in all its forms is a staple of the playlists. And that's where we pick up here with another 22 great tunes. And as usual, it's fascinating to watch and hear what other strands make their way in - lounge, orchestral, whatever.

Once again enjoy, and see you all on the other side in 2016.

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1. Alela Diane & Ryan Francesconi – Shapeless (from the album Cold moon, Believe Recordings)
A glorious winter entry to start, a collaboration between two fascinating artists in their own right.

Like many in this list, it takes folk music and stretches it out until it’s transparent. In this case, classical, choral and tribal music are just a few of the ancestors visible behind Francesconi’s riveting fingerpicked guitar and Diane’s wonderfully pure and clear-eye…

Best of 2015: Part 1 - Kosmische/Instrumental/Soundtrack/Jazz/Dance

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That time of year again when we take stock. It's good to take stock, be thankful for what you have, mourn what you miss, make plans for the future, rekindle memories.

Musical memories are obviously pretty specific, conjuring up a place, a time, the people you were with, or maybe just how the music made you feel. It can even seem like music transports us back to a more innocent time. Last January really does seem like a long time ago and some of this list dates back that far. Musical memories are always personal and often completely private.

This list is the first part of a four-part (probably) series. I'm a bit of a hoarder so lists tend to be long. But everything here is treasured by me. I'm calling it Kosmische/Instrumental/Soundtrack/Jazz/Dance. As usual, tags are somewhat arbitrary but let's go with those. And the tunes are in no particular order. I'm aiming for the second part of the review sometime between Christmas and New Year's if you're a di…

Patrick Freeman – Butterfly

Of the numerous delights on the debut album by Patrick Freeman, Cherry blossom fall, there is one that jumps out from the crowd.

‘Butterfly’ catches a current of some of Brian Wilson’s South Seas experiments courtesy of a sublime steel guitar turn from David Murphy (John Blek & The Rats, The Lost Brothers).

In another context, this would be the upper echelons of country music. Here, with a cavernous reverb and flanked by a pitter patter drum machine and glorious vibe synths, it approaches the realms of vintage exotica, your Eden Ahbez for example, dipping and diving into some intriguing psychedelic side roads.

The song is perfectly reined in, letting the production do the work. The album was recorded with Brendan Fennessy of O Emperor at their Big Skin studio and it constitutes another impressive addition to that studio’s growing discography.

Beguiling is a word.

Cherry Blossom Fall by Patrick Freeman

Playlist 382 - Dec 15 2015

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The last show of the year and a bit of a mixum gatherum. Some musical highlights of 2015 sprinkled throughout, a few pieces of winter music and a few new releases.

The winter music was Lost Idol, a wonderful mix of medieval choral and 21st century beats. And Jóhann Jóhannsson, the soundtrack to his own film End of summer about a trip to the Arctic, a suitably glacial and haunting piece.

Best of 2015 included JR Green rollicking away fabulously, Low simmering magnificently, Alela Diane & Ryan Francesconi meditating compellingly, Deerhunter psyching beautifully, Julia Holter well she's just brilliantly daft as a brush.

New music from TEEN, new album coming from them in the spring, and Tess Parks, uncompromising psych pop.

Two more great cuts from the Creation Records Box Set out on Cherry Red, The Loft & Primal Scream from 1985, great to hear those.

More on the Best of 2015 coming on the blog over the next few weeks. The next show is Jan 5th.

Happy Holidays …

Lee Hazlewood – The very special world of Lee Hazlewood (reissue, Light in the Attic)

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The wonderful Light in the Attic Records has been pursuing a raft of Lee Hazlewood reissues in recent years and what a beautiful thing that is.

This winter saw the reissue of his three MGM records from the mid 1960s. In the wake of ‘These boots are made for walkin’’, the smash hit in early 1966 written by Lee for Nancy Sinatra, LH was given the run of the studio with his pick of the cream of session talent. This was what came to be known as the ‘Wrecking Crew’ and the personnel on these albums includes such greats as Glen Campbell, Chuck Berghofer, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Al Casey and Larry Knechtel.

There’s a whole bunch of treasures on all three albums (Its cause and cure and Something special are the others) but I would have to say that LH hit a particularly rich seam on the first one, The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood. In fact, the first half of the album alone contains at least four all time classics in the genre LH invented, that strain of world weary, sumptuous ba…

Anderson – Patterns (Anderson Songs)

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A Dubliner with a great line in Nilsson-esque songwriting (there’s a lot of that going around this month) and winning melodies.

One of the most appealing things about this album is the lyrics, full of sincerity but thankfully without that dreaded earnestness and just as thankfully without any tiresome obliqueness. An opening line of “I get up in the morning, try to feel some sense of worth” could be a recipe for disaster in other hands. Here on the title track it’s paired with a lovely sprightly arrangement of upbeat acoustic guitar, twinkling piano and chirping strings for a genuinely touching effect. By the time he gets to “every song’s a souvenir for somebody to take”, if you’re anything like me you’ll be totally won over.

He follows up with the wonderful ‘Things we have in common’, another lyric of self-doubt pulled up by its bootstraps by swirling strings and a chugging bassline. Plus self-doubt is all well and good but it’s given great dimension with songwriting (and ana…

Steve Warner – Steve Warner (reissue, Earth Records)

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Another lovely reissue by Earth, this time from the Melbourne 1970s folk artist Steve Warner.

That name didn’t make much of a mark this side of the world at the time. However, this is an album that would sit comfortably alongside such classic singer songwriters as Harry Nilsson or Randy Newman.

Warner uses a variety of styles but the most successful one based on this album is the lush piano ballad.

The opener ‘Summer’ has a lovely winsome quality, the sweet piano arpeggios augmented by slightly kooky mellotron synth and a searching lyric with perfectly plaintive delivery.

‘Rainfall’ is an instrumental beauty with a bit of a prog rock feel – there’s even a film music style intro – plangent piano chords giving way to a descending guitar riff (soft distortion and all) and synth choir.

‘We’ll go on’ has a hint of that 70s crooner Peter Skellern, although deeper and a little stranger, plaintive and pleading with a magnificent, twisting chord sequence, not sure whether it…

Playlist 381 - Dec 8 2015

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A few wonky Christmas numbers at the top of the show this week. Tex Ritter giving Santa a bit of western swing, The Three Suns bringing some excellent cheese (thank you Trunk Records) and Astrocolour taking a more laid back, Air-ish approach to some classics of the season.

Then a bunch of stuff that will be featuring in my Best of 2015 -
The Drink, glorious twisting guitar shapes
Field Music, horns on top of superior prog pop
The Chills, heartlifting jangle pop
Lee Hazlewood, a reissue but an absolute treasue of this year
Robert Forster, elegaic, poetic, playful, wonderful.

And Anderson (below), an Irish singer songwriter of substance and class. I like the way his jacket fits.

More on these pages.

Dec 8 2015 w Xmas Tunes, Field Music, The Drink, The Chills, Polar Bear, Anderson, Robert Forster++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed


www.theundergroundofhappiness.blogspot.com
www.facebook.com/theundergroundof…

Mikael Tariverdiev – Film Music (Earth Records)

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A wonderful discovery courtesy of Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld and Earth Records.

Mikael Tariverdiev is a household name in Russia, thanks to his prolific output as a classical composer in general, but also for his work in tv and film. However, I’m guessing even the most conscientious cinephile from this part of the world might not have heard of him (and of course that’s what curators and labels are for).

This handsome triple album collection compiles his film work, in particular three main soundtracks from the 1960s – Goodbye Boys, Snow Over Leningrad and I am a tree.

Jazz predominates, a lovely smoky Russian take on the form – a spectrum from slow blues piano to ragtime tunes to furious jams with wailing sax solos. There’s also a hint of the French jazz style, and chanson here and there – that giveaway dampened guitar strumming and brushed snare. The brilliant ‘Waltz from The Last Thief’ uses accordion and marimba, to intoxicating effect. There are shades (a for…

Playlist 380 - Dec 1 2015

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Just the way it fell but a bit of a 1980s theme this week. The new Creation Records box set is out on Cherry Red and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy (thanks Ricky). It covers 1983 and 1984, the first two years of the label, and how great it is to hear gems like The Pastels & The Loft. Cardiacs are also being reissued, from 1984, and The Go Betweens from the same year, well we don't need an excuse.

Also some winter themes -
Laura Cannell, arresting
Laura Cannell remixed by Lutine, haunting
C Duncan, fantastic misty dream pop
Jóhann Jóhannsson, slow moving grandeur
Slow Moving Clouds, stringed majesty.

And Mikael Tariverdiev, wonderful Russian film music from the 1960s.

More on these pages.

Dec 1 2015 w Sea Pinks,The Drink,Laura Cannell,Jóhann Jóhannnsson,Go Betweens,Cardiacs++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed


www.theundergroundofhappiness.blogspot.com
www.facebook.com/theundergroundof…

Chloe March – Old tree, mon coeur (from the Under the day EP, Hidden Shoal)

And speaking of winter music...something about this dreamy beauty makes me think of the kind of swirly feeling that comes at the end of the year (often brought on hot whiskey).

It’s a song inspired by the oldest tree in Kew Gardens. The combination of harpsichord-alike arpeggios, a thick ambient fog and March’s marvellous drifting vocal creates a suitably ageless effect.

A stunning evocation of the vastness of the universe and the microscopic human heartbeat running through it.

Under The Day by Chloë March

Alela Diane & Ryan Francesconi – Cold moon (Believe Recordings)

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Sublime pastoral meditations from the two Portland-based artists.

Francesconi’s timeless open tuned guitar - Balkan music is his area of specialty and there is that feel to the tunes - makes a great backdrop for Diane’s wonderfully clear vocals. The latter aren’t cold in the usual sense but there is an icy tone, something crystal, semi-classical in delivery, a plaintive but dignified air and utterly compelling. As pointed out elsewhere, it feels distinctly like winter music overall, as the title would suggest.

While his playing and her singing would be enough to sustain the songs on their own (opener ‘Quiet corner’, for example, has a magnificent dynamic to it, almost like a symphony with its movements, and no other decoration except for an ingenious falsetto vocal harmony), the album reaches another level of brilliance with the few choice arrangement flourishes. Even at that, flourishes is the wrong word. These are perfectly sympathetic shadings, restrained and underplayed.…

Slow Moving Clouds - Os

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A beautful record finding the common ground between Irish and Finnish traditional music. In fact, that overlap takes in all kinds of other tangents – classical, ambient, folk drones among others.

I had the pleasure of seeing the band play live a few weeks ago in Cork. The tone of the album could be taken as sober, reflective but live there’s great gameyness and humour to the music. Aki, the Finnish connection, did the introductions – Danny Diamond on too many fiddles (there were several), Kevin Murphy on grown-up fiddle (cello) and himself on crippled fiddle (nyckelharpa).



The music that night showed something like the ambient drift of Sigur Ros in places, the cello heaving and swelling like a proper bellows. The full dynamics of the instruments were heard too, with scrapes, slides and harmonics all used. At times, there was a strident string quartet feel (trio I know but the nyckelharpa is like two instruments in one), other times it came across as some wonderful mutant strai…

The Kinks – Autumn almanac

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It actually felt like autumn there for a week or two. Winter now for sure in this northern hemisphere. Once the Christmas lights arrive, autumn knows it’s not welcome any more. Those high street window displays give it the right bum’s rush.

There are very few songs paying tribute to autumn, have you noticed*. Plenty for spring, summer and winter but autumn seems to hold no glamour for songwriters. Just a stopping off point between the warm and cold rushes of July and December. A gloomy counterpoint to the growth and renewal and libido of spring. Maybe it’s a reflection of the discomfort we in the west feel about death. It’s more of a season for poetry, apparently, mists and mellow fruitfulness and all the rest. And poetry seems to fit better with musings of mortality than pop music.

*Although this link does a good job of making a case –

Autumn is in the Air by Buiochas on Mixcloud

I suppose ‘California dreamin’ would be one (even though it’s a winter’s day, all the leaves …

Playlist 379 - Nov 24 2015

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During this week's show, someone suggested there was a bit of a "hunkering down for winter" feel to the playlist. There could be something in that, although more on my mind at the time was the classic style of 60s/70s singer-songwriters.

So Harry Nilsson, an underrated (by some anyway) genius.
Steve Warner, a sumptuous songwriter, from 1979, reissued now by Earth.
Anderson, a Dublin artist somewhat following in their vaunted footsteps with his fine debut album.
Bacharach & David, via Jackie De Shannon, fit into this pattern somehow.
Julia Holter, imagine her singing Burt & Hal, I'd love that, gauzy and all.
Glen Campbell singing one of the many to die for Jimmy Webb songs he recorded.
New High Llamas, 70s AM radio refashioning.
Owensie, great hushed folk drones.

And Lee Hazlewood, the master of country lounge music (let's call it), from one of the great new Light in the Attic 1960s reissues.

More on these pages.

Nov 24 2015 w/ Nilsson,Anderson,Hazlew…

ORK Records - New York, New York (Numero Group)

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A great record compiling the diverse strands which made up the ORK Records activity of the late 1970s.

This was the label launched by Terry Collins, aka Terry Ork, a sometime Warhol acolyte and film nut who ran a movie memorabilia shop, Cinemabilia, in Greenwich Village. Out of these humble surroundings, a seed grew through mail orders, small ads in the Village Voice, free labour from willing rock n roll interns (Richard Hell, later of Television, was one of the first of these) and of course live shows at the likes of CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. There are only thirteen 45s to report from the ORK back catalogue therefore the majority of this release features demo sessions, outtakes and various other recordings that did not make it on to actual vinyl at the time.

These range from the well known – the first Television single ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ and Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ ‘Blank Generation’, providing the future templates for post-punk and punk respectively. (By t…

Playlist 378 - Nov 17 2015

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A class of an electronic 1st half to the show this week, brought on by a couple of new releases -

Noveller, back with a new album, more delicious ambient guitar washes
Phantom Horse, a Hamburg duo, keeping bleeping minimalist German kosmische alive
SlowPlaceLikeHome, lovely drifting ambient electronica from Donegal, of all places.

Around which was added -
Some classic Cluster from 1974
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, one of the best albums of 2015 for me, beautiful kosmische tones
Groundbreaking wigged out Moog boogie from Bruce Haack 1970
Seminal psychtronica from Silver Apples 1968
Moondog making gorgeous canons a child would appreciate.

Great film music in the 2nd half from -
Mikael Tariverdiev, Russian, not heard in the West before (by many anyway), revived by Stephen Coates via Earth Recordings
Martial Solal, from A bout de souffle, jazz in the service of the Nouvelle Vague.

Plus Steve Warner, another great Earth reissue, lush piano, sumptuous vocals.

More on the blog.

Nov 17 2…

Pure Bathing Culture – Pray for rain (from the album Pray for rain, Memphis Industries)

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This song is a particularly lovely dose of deceptively dreamy dream pop, featuring the bell clear vocal tones of Sarah Versprille and the very tasty and hard to pin down arpeggio guitar lines of Daniel Hindman.

Things are nice and swirly until this lyric cuts to the heart of the matter - “are you cut in two, cut all the way through” – and the melody is likely to do just that to you as well.

It’s one of those memorable pop meta-moments, when you realise a song is describing your emotional reaction to it.

From the album, try also the irresistible electro pop of ‘Palest pearl’ and the wonderful circling tune of ‘Darling, save us’. And don’t stop there. There’s also the sweltering ballad ‘Singer’, a loping rhythm that pulls you right in. And more pop gold in the shape of ‘She shakes’, another tune you can’t escape and a great lightness of touch and a swing to it.

It’s an album that grows with every listen and gets its hooks in you while you thought you were being wrapped up …