Monday, 31 December 2012

Pollens - Brighten & Break

Lashed and Lulled

Both chaotic and celestial [perhaps my alliterative urge exaggerates a little on the second tag], this is a wholly engaging album from the energetic Seattle band who merge disjointed rhythms, simple handclaps/other percussion, wind instruments and/or strings, and vocal repetitions with some glorious female harmony, the latter which could best be characterised as Manhattan Transfer crossed/cloned with Stereolab. I was cautious at first when listening to the vocal clever-clogs of opener Helping Hand, but after this the ride becomes genuinely exciting. The musical mix constantly surprises in its discordant dips and then glorious melody. It is like reading a book that shifts between complex prose and the most rhythmically soothing poetry. Completely refreshing, but you might not call it relaxing – until lulled by a swathe of lush aural accord.

Crushed Out - Want to Give


Hell, this is simple and good. Male/female, guitar/drums duo that obviously invokes The White Stripes but to me sounds more like The Fiery Furnaces a la Gallowbird's Bark, and certainly Crushed Out's vocalist Moselle Spiller sounding like FF's Eleanor Friedberger.  It's garage rock with that modern tinge which doesn't really alter the template all that much: quick bursts of fuzzed and some slide from Frank Hoier with Spiller's thumping beats. A little rock'n'roll too as on Black & Purple. Anything more would just complicate. Play loud, obviously.

Jessica Pratt - Jessica Pratt

Guitar Noise and Other Realities

Continuing the folk skew from previous review of Natalie Royal, Missouri born and San Francisco based Jessica Pratt’s eponymous debut album is more ostensibly rooted to a 60s folk lineage, and with the singular use of acoustic guitar and singular overt production in the multi-tracked vocal, this is a rawer folk offering. In continuing the ‘purity’ theme, this adheres more closely to a basic folk ethos in its overall simplicity, including the unpolished string twangs, screeches and fret-flattenings of Pratt’s finger plucking; the vocal, however, is not as beautifully pure as Royal’s, and it is a cross of many from the female folk line, including the occasional warble of Buffy St Marie as well as a light touch but never full grip of Joanna Newsom’s piercings. The raw recording ethic is exemplified in the hiss and click-starts between tracks – which can seem fresh and obviously live – but this is overstated, for example, in the plain guitar work on sixth track Casper where the instrument is surely slightly out of tune. I’m not convinced by this as being unadorned – it is more unacceptably naff. To counter this, next track Midnight Wheels gets its genuine strength from that same simplicity [but the guitar is in tune] and Pratt’s vocal is absolutely clear and confidently in control, reminding me very much of Beverly Martyn. Similar can be said of ninth track Mother Big River and this illustrates both the increasing appeal as the album progresses as well as how exercising care does not compromise authenticity. Indeed, these three and next two tracks Streets of Mine and Titles Under Pressure, form an impressive core to the ideal of keeping it real, especially with the ceasing of multi-tracked vocals, and emulating folk roots from the past. Final track Dreams is a live offering, so not that different from much else on the album, apart from an accompanying male vocal.  

Natalie Royal - Savor


Natalie Royal’s debut album Savor is pretty and sweet sounding – a genuine compliment – with a vocal that is pure and folk-aged in the precursor 60s/70s popular folk sense: another compliment. She is a confident songwriter - Black Swan was written after seeing the film of the same name, and what could have been twee and overwrought is instead mature and musically complex enough to demonstrate a true creative impulse. The album is not swelled with memorable melodies but it is filled with the strength of Royal’s voice and fine arrangements throughout, including beautiful harmonies, for example on the opening to Regret, and the tight work sustained on the beautiful, simply guitar-plucked Fight To Keep Me. Royal’s vocal is at its most distinct – and again supported by gorgeous harmony – on the slow and meditative Deluge.  The album ends on title track Savor, an emotive tribute to her father who died of a heart attack at an early age.

There is a free download of her album I.O.U. - A Collection of Covers & Originals here:

This is a thank you to fans who have supported her work. It highlights well Royal’s pure skills, for example the excellent cover of Paul Simon’s The Only Living Boy In New YorkThe voice delights over a strummed ukulele on original San Antonio Line

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Christmas At Peacehaven, 2012

The sky appears to clear but another layer of grey
moves in to fill its gap, a tease of blue and
upliftings – though only thermals for the birds.
Herring gulls arrive from inland rather than the sea,
seeming tourists like me, and they dive at the dark others,
being bigger and envious of their similar or surer hovers.

It is then a full shroud of grey, so sudden the surprise
has missed its chance for that brief buzz, and now
in another quick shift I am baking behind bungalow glass,
sitting in sun knowing this should be the narrative and
theme yet driven by mood and preoccupation like the
Christmas wind's wild control of cloud formations this
stormy winter in Peacehaven. In town, the Murder House
was also someone else's home before the dark rolled in.

I actually had a great Christmas week at Peacehaven this year. With a house on the cliffs overlooking the sea, the wild weather was something exciting to observe. But it was wet and windy and grey and the poem above captures a moment of reflection and then exaggerates that - it is the narrative ruse; the dramatisation for effect. The empty Murder House in Peacehaven has its appellation and other messages painted in bright red letters all along its walls and front and you can find details about the story online. Just in case anyone is interested in the process.

Rental in row to left, and view on the one fine, beautiful day.

More Gigs I Didn't Attend, But.....

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Some Awe's Top Twenty Albums - 2012

Most of the albums in my top twenty, but not all, have been reviewed in this blog. If you place the cursor over each title, it will be clear if there is a link as it will be highlighted. If so, click on this and you will be redirected to the review:
 This will be a clear choice for many - because it’s the Boss - and because it is a great album. I think it is an important album for 2012, reflecting as it does on the global economy and, naturally, on the impact in America. Ry Cooder, and others, made politically-charged musical commentaries on the financial and political culprits, but Springsteen always has the instinct for conceptualising such realities as human stories, and traditionally blue-collar, everyman narratives. Memorable anthems.
 Some choices, like this one, are to do with affinity for a particular artist, and this album reflects the brilliance of Smither’s songwriting and guitar playing which I have enjoyed so much for some time, though arriving relatively late to his music [and I have reviewed his earliest work on this blog which has become a genuine all-time favourite]. I also had the great pleasure of seeing Chris this year and playing some of the tracks from this album.
 I know some of the tracks on this album are re-workings of older songs, and that there has been a judicious use of autotuning on the vocals. I don’t care. This is a sublime collection in the way it so brilliantly represents the classic Beach Boys sound. Also, the final three tracks form the most powerful melancholic, and musically gorgeous lament for growing old. The lyrics present an honest truth wonderfully at odds with the ludicrous deceit of earlier songs’ old-men claims for youthful preoccupations: a lyrical awkwardness akin to the worst dad-dancing. Fun and reflection.
 Retro rock fully occupying the moment. An album of some complexity that can also simply ram it home.
 Another excellent album from one of the finest guitarists and songwriters out there.
 A brilliant selection of great artists showcasing the even greater brilliance of Clark’s songwriting.
 Perhaps the finest, consistent and prolific gifted guitarist today. Maturing vocal and superb songwriting.  
 Like Smither, Miller will always be a favourite. This partnership with Lauderdale is infectious traditional country, with two classic plaintive harmony tracks as well.
 A reminder of greatness.
 A beautiful album in its own right, with one outstanding Dylan cover. This is special also because it has introduced me to an artist whose work is genuinely excellent and distinctive, and has been for the many years I have been shamefully ignorant of its existence.
 Reminds us that sweet soul lives on, and can be developed.
 Nothing complex here. Down and dirty and delightful.
 Making jazz vocal as cool as it always has been [and I could just as easily have put Kurt Elling’s latest here...].

Iris DeMent - Sing the Delta
 Such poignant and honest storytelling inside simple but beautiful melodies.
 A cheat, but the two albums are so much the mirror of each other, and that in itself the perfect reflection of a 60s/70s sound.

Father John Misty – Fear Fun
 Fleet Foxes drummer demonstrating where the gorgeous melodies continue.
 Ambitious guitar-driven rock to challenge the past.
 Mad guitar rock. Far out.
 Great songwriter, and here devoting sustained skill to its singular theme.
 For its freshness, the raw power of performance, and its suggestion of such strength to follow. My ‘surprise’ find of the year, though I am clearly not alone. And my review of their album was appreciated and that gives me great pleasure too.