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Showing posts from February, 2015

Cat Palace – This delight (self-released)

Every now and again a voice catches your ear. I don’t mean a voice in the sense of someone with something to say. I mean an actual voice. The tonal quality of it. The resonance. Maybe the intent of the words too.

David Blaney has a voice. The kind you’re unlikely to hear on The Voice.

First of all it’s deep. Very deep. It reaches down into you and rattles the furniture.

Then, as in this song, it’s used in a measured way. It could be a dirge yet it’s strangely uplifting. There are plain guitar chords and later a drumbeat but it’s all about the voice.

And there’s an ingenious twist to the arrangement. Blaney’s voice is double tracked, the deep lower register with a higher mid-range octave. The latter is way down in the mix to begin, then mixed further up as the song progresses. Finally, it is replaced by a falsetto octave harmony for the final act. It’s such a simple manoeuvre but so devastating in its effect.

Which is to suggest the gathering of the spirits featured in…

Skelocrats – Lyin eyes (Popical Island)

Another very tasty line in progressive pop from the Popical Island crew.

This one has a lovely loping country rock jangle going on and crucially a sublime soulful female lead vocal from Bronwyn Murphy-White to go with the insinuating melody.

For Beatles fans there’s even a perfectly appointed half-beat bridge complete with an exit consisting of a rising figure you miss once it’s over.

Until the glorious vocal falsetto in the final chorus.

I’m not even sure what the song is about – deception, mal intent loosely, providing a satisfying antidote to the sweet musical arrangement.

But it’s all about the songwriting which is sharp and succinct and gives me a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

Rozi Plain – Actually (Lost Map Records)

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Another beautiful semi-folk cut from the Winchester native ahead of her third album due out in May.

Firstly, a giant bass drone rumbles along like some kind of oversized sidewinder, shuffling clicking percussion at arm’s length.

The first enigmatic lines – “It will be reported to be a difficult year, a tumultuous year.”

Then the gorgeous high tone punctuation of a singalong vintage synth line, eyes fixed on the stars.

Each lyric line has this cosmic release, the groove rolling along underneath as the plot (something concerning familes, relatives, something ancient, possibly archetypal) works through.

Until a crescendo – “Don’t get over it, this is actually it” - the vocal rising in harmonies into a higher register for extra emphasis.

Then it fizzes out in just 3 minutes, short and snappy as a pop song. It has more in common with kosmische than pop or even folk. You might feel the urge to dance to it although maybe slower than you’re used to.

An exultation ami…

Playlist 345 - Feb 24 2015

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Started with a bit of a soul run this week. Superior country soul boogie from Durham NC from Hiss Golden Messenger, then up the road to Richmond VA for delicate orchestrated soul pleadings from Natalie Prass. And classic Minnie Riperton from 1970, more of a cosmic soul variety.

Rozi Plain - new music, fascinating folk/kosmische drones; Colleen - new album is all about the dub/reverb, she plays Cork in May.

Some great Elliot Smith from 1997 and Jessica Pratt from 2015, channelling part him, part English folk, part who knows what but I love it.

And a great new (to me anyway) voice in the shape of Cat Palace, deep boneshaking gospel tones.

Feb 24 2015 w/ HGM,Natalie Prass,Minnie Riperton,W&P,Rozi Plain,Colleen,Jessica Pratt++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

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Playlist 345
Tues Feb 24 20…

Marker Starling – Husbands (Tin Angel Records)

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There’s an automatic association for Steely Dan, I think, a kind of signature sound. It’s electric piano and of course Donald Fagen’s creamy and nasal vocal tones.

These are also the key touchstones in this intoxicating single from Chris Cummings of Toronto who goes under Marker Starling (he previously used Mantler). He’s been a stalwart of the underground Toronto scene for quite a few years but I think this is the first music of his I’ve heard.

Sombre electric piano chords and a fine lived-in croon (somewhat reminscient of Donald Fagen) introduce a song that seems at first to be about a semi-absurd encounter with a stag group on an airplane. However, over the course of a few short verses the focus shifts onto the protagonist himself, prompting a kind of philosophical meditation.

There’s a delicious jazz-pop key change midway through with meandering vibes solo and the woodwind/reed backing rising to the fore which is followed by a distinct deviation in lyrical tone.

“Did …

Playlist 344 - Feb 17 2015

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We started this week with a riff on a kosmische theme. Villalog are an Austrian duo on the Faust label Bureau B. They have plenty of motorik rhythms too but this tune has a beautiful ambient drift to it. And Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith making transcendant electronic music which manages to have a playful undercurrent, which is great.

More from Noveller, Sarah Lipstate, creating epic instrumentals with one guitar. Grasscut, a kind of chamber pop with a pastoral tone.

A treasure from The Go Betweens from 1984's Spring Hill Fair album (which by the way is cruelly underrated, even by Go Betweens' standards), sounding a little like Orange Juice who of course the band were friends with at the time.

New Bjork, break up analysis with heartwrenching orchestrations. New This is the Kit, serene folk music with timeless drones.

Two male-female duos, one Swedish, one Australian. More from Death & Vanilla (great reverb-drenched psych pop) and new from Elstow (lovely hazy dream pop…

Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass (Spacebomb)

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This is an album that has got a lot of love from the music press lately and there’s plenty to love about it. I think it might be a bit of an acquired taste though for the general listening public. And it’d be a pity if it didn’t stick with people because its charms tend to grow and grow once they take hold.

The main feature of the album that might take some acquiring is Prass’ voice. It’s an up close, late night instrument, not much above a whisper, mostly in a high register. To say the very least it’s intimate - as befits songs addressed to and about lovers and dealing with emotional turmoil - delicate, fragile even, certainly vulnerable. You might even go so far as to say self-doubting. Suffice to say it does not have the belt it out confidence seemingly beloved of audiences these days.

There’s also a kink in her delivery, a sharp intake of breath just before the start of a line, which, given she is generally very close to the mike, becomes amplified beyond mere background n…

Playlist 343 - Feb 10 2015

A few new releases from Fire Records this week, all great. Death & Vanilla are a Swedish duo with many strings to their bow, one of which is gorgeous haunted psych pop songs, bathed in reverb. Noveller makes epic instrumentals with one guitar. And Surf City are a sunny upbeat psych outfit from Auckland. Get into it.

I'm also in love with Marker Starling this week, giving out about husbands on tour misbehaving, AM rock faintly reminiscient of Steely Dan but with beautiful reed and wind backing. There's Natalie Prass given full baroque orchestral treatment.

New music from The Great Balloon Race, great shifting prog pop, their 2nd album is due out soon. Myles Manley, someone pay him what he's worth ffs (but ironically if he was paid what he's worth, he might not produce killer tunes like this). Cat Palace, what a wonderful singing voice that man has.

And The Drink musing on narcolepsy - "a petit maaaaaaaaaaaaaal".

More on the blog.

Feb 10 2015 …

Stephen Steinbrink – Synesthetic ephemera (from the album Arranged waves, Melodic Records)

American singer songwriter I somehow missed in the rush last year when this album was released. He seems at first to be operating out of a folk idiom, except...

...except for the delicately thrusting arrangements, often built around insistent picked electric guitar patterns, pulsing pitter patter bass and generally featuring swooning pop soul vocals.

There is a shade of Paul Simon about Steinbrink’s hushed near-falsetto but Steinbrink’s songwriting has an intriguing philosophical air to it, meditating on the absurdity of the human condition and the certain destruction of the planet, among other serious shit. Let’s just say that song titles like ‘A simple armature of your ideal world’ are unlikely to crop up in a Josh Ritter set. (His Twitter subtitle reads “attempting to use traditional pop forms as a backdrop to sing about technological isolation, identity, love, repressed memories, and Arizona Politics” which gives another indication of how unusual a singer songwriter Steinbri…

Playlist 342 - Feb 3 2015

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We started last week's show with 'Los Angeles' by Gene Clark. This week two contemporary LA-based artists, Jessica Pratt & Ariel Pink, the latter someone described recently by the former as one of the leading lights of the LA underground of weirdos. Nice.

New single from Tune-Yards, with a memory from Talking Heads from 1979. Syn-cop-a-tions.

A new band on me called Barringtone, reminding me a bit of classic rushing XTC - so they're paired with some classic rushing XTC from 1978.

Three new instrumental pieces in the middle - The Notwist (cinematic), Troyka (ambient drift), Sam Prekop (euphoric).

The Altered Hours play the Quarter Block Party in Cork this weekend, St Vincent plays three Irish dates in July.

And some new essential folk cuts from Elephant Micah, Steve Gunn & The Black Twig Pickers & Alasdair Roberts.

More on these pages.

Feb 3 2015 w/ Jessica Pratt,Ariel Pink,Altered Hours,Alasdair Roberts,Notwist,Troyka++ by The Underground …