Music Picks for February 2011

Spring is here
The grass is ris
I wonder where the birdies is...

Governments are falling like skittles this weather. As usual, pop music has its own soundtrack to world events. Try turning down the volume of your favourite news channel and turning up some of this UOH playlist instead. It might just turn your world upside-down.
*All albums below, unless otherwise stated.

John Stammers - John Stammers (Wonderful Sound)
Gorgeous folk-blues hybrid from the Manchester native, built around fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a smoky, unassuming voice. For fans of Nick Drake or (especially) Bert Jansch. As usual, the beauty is in the detail - the keening cello of Idle I'm, muted trumpet set against mournful pedal steel on Here again, the one-note violin chorus of The fridge. Plaintiff and heartfelt, a beautiful addition to the canon of modern English folk music.

A Lazarus Soul - Through a window in the sunshine room (Intent to Supply Records)
Authentically downbeat album of electro-pop from Dublin band. The single We start fires, in particular, sits comfortably among recent Irish releases by David Turpin, for example, and Patrick Kelleher. Shades of late Talk Talk, but given a social realist make-over. Recommended.

Liam Singer - The brief encounter (Hidden Shoal, single)
Sublime cut from last year's great Dislocatia album. A rushing, tacked piano opens like silent film accompaniment, then a ghost story with a spectral female backing vocal (Wendy Allen of labelmates Boxharp) carries the plot, finishing with a flourish of violins, riding above a children's choir coda. One of many compelling mini-symphonies on Singer's current, classy album.

Free download:

Interview with Liam from Oct 2010 (phone):

Thomas Truax - January egg race dream/February what ya doin to me (Psychoteddy/SL Records)
First instalments in the mad American genius' monthly journal project. "Psychobilly" doesn't come close, really. All available through Thomas' website here:

Interview with Thomas from May 2009:

Gablé - Cute horse cut (LoAf)
French band make cut-and-paste, domestic pop classic with tunes you can hum, about trees where birds live and going to parties. The audacity of it. Laugh out loud at the dog barks in WHo TeLLS you (yes, those capitals are intentional), tap your foot to the garage rock of Day (is that a bicycle wheel in the background?), listen to a vacuum cleaner become an organ on 0000. THe SToNe aND THe WoLF pictures a scenario where an orchestra's instruments are broken, using samples that sound like just that, followed by a beautiful interlude with piano and cello, before changing direction to stage what sounds like a piece of spoken-word audio art undertaken by Samuel Beckett and John Cale. Too FaT To FaRT To FiGHT has an unpromising title but features a sublime melody to die for. These are just some of the pleasures to be had in one of the most pleasurable 38 minutes I've spent since the last album by The Chap. Get this now.

 some previous Gablé goings on

If By Yes feat. David Byrne - Eliza (Chimera Music, from the album Salt on sea glass)
Blissful melody from the latest project of Petra Haden and Yuka Honda of Cibo Matto, with added duetting skills from the former Talking Head. A Thomas Newman-esque opening gathers sparkles of percussion and eastern orchestration. Will sit well with Cornelius fans, and two members of that band are also involved here. As with Cornelius and Haden's previous a capella projects, combines the rush of pop music with the experimentation of the avant-garde.
*Credit to Songs to Learn and Sing for the nod on this.

Treefight for Sunlight - What became of you and I (Bella Union, from the album A collection of vibrations for your skull)
Copenhagen 4-piece who come across like the carefree kissing cousins of compatriots Oh No Ono. This tune opens with the kind of irrespressible piano pattern Elton John can only dream of. Soaring male falsettos banish any lingering doubt in the chorus, smiling through the heartbtreak. There's even room for a Sgt Pepper-style wonky fairground breakdown. Good to hear the Danes are still taking their surreal pop pills.

The Unthanks - Last (Rabblerouser Music/EMI)
The Northumberland sisters and friends return with more plaintiff re-workings of English folk songs. Piano-led songs like Gan to the kye and Gallowgate lad are authentically foreboding and grim-up-North-ish but the unexpected twists in the arrangements throughout give everything a fresh feel. Like the beautiful brass drone in Queen of hearts, the orchestral string flutters of Last, the cinematic swells of No one knows I'm gone. (The presence of King Crimson - the sublime Starless with a distinct Morricone feel to it - and Tom Waits covers alone tells you this is not a standard folk album.) The recording is superb (a local village hall was involved) and the piano playing and arrangements of Adrian McNally are never less than excellent. In the end, this plainly beautiful music is as much chamber pop as anything. A triumph in my book.

Lucky Gilchrist on Later with Jools Holland from 2009

Playing School of Music, Cork, April 10th, and other dates

Tune Yards - bizness (4AD, from the upcoming album whokill)
Picking up where Merrill Garbus left off with her wonderful debut Bird Brains but with a less ramshackle feel (recorded in a studio as opposed to on a dictaphone). Fantastic, gymnastic vocal loops get things going, before a west African-style groove of staccato bass and a matrix of guitars locks in, with a bank of horns as the cherry on the cake. Wonderful foretaste of her upcoming new album.

Interview with Merrill from Feb 2010:

Playing Whelan's, Dublin, June 17

Grinderman - Palaces of Montezuma (Barry Adamson remix) (Mute)
Stripped back version of the stand-out song from Grinderman 2 by the ex-Bad Seed, with the addition of swirling, siren-like backing vocals. The effect is to remove the flippant undertone of the original, replacing it with first a sinister, then an uplifting, air. Also shows that Nick Cave backed with nothing but a tambourine works great.

Playing The Marquee, Cork, June 20 / Vicar Street, Dublin, June 18+19 / ATP's I'll be your mirror, Alexandra Palace, London, July 23-24

The Scaramanga Six - Autopsy of the mind (Wrath Records, single)
Top drawer power pop from the Ben Folds school by this Leeds 4-piece. A reflective piano intro gives way to a thudding backbeat, culminating in an acerbic chorus adorned by soaring backing vocals (they also make room to pay "fake brass" homage to Chicago's If you leave me now in the mid-section, a stand-out moment). Catchy as hell and they're giving it away for free.
Free download here: 

The Luyas - Too beautiful to work (Dead Oceans)
A puzzle of shifting rhythm and melody, a maze of electric piano and high hat, the title track of the Montreal band's new album. Restless and invigorating, and basically the berries, as we say around here.

Some great Take-Away Shows here:,5349

Gang Gang Dance - Glass jar (4AD, from the album Eye contact)
Brilliant, expansive, drifting 11 minute opus by the New Yorkers, which by the end still manages to make you want to shake your body around with a two-step workout. Innovative use of steel drum samples also stands out. A world music for the future.

Listen here:

Playing ATP Festival, Minehead, May 13-15;


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