Saturday 22 December 2012

The Herbert Bail Orchestra - The Future's In The Past

Following last year's EP release, LA-based collective The Herbert Bail Orchestra have now provided us with their debut album 'The Future's In The Past': eight tracks of courageous and imaginatively-orchestrated americana.

Opener 'Holy Smokes' begins the album with a series of fun broken chords of vocal "bom bom"s that are soon superseded by some livening accordion. Trying not to - at the very least - tap your feet to the rhythm is seemingly impossible, and anyone who dares try will surely give in when the vocals begin their wonderfully loud and guttural ascent.

Quick to provide juxtaposition, second track 'The Big Sound' is a much more sombre affair, though some defiance and strength remains in the way the lyrics are thrown out at us, at times somewhat reminiscent of early David Bowie.

This peak and trough of beats-per-minute continues throughout the album and lets each tune stand solid and separate from the others whenever they wish, yet they all share common themes that hold them together: change, the learning of life's lessons, and acceptance.

'Epic Diva' takes us towards the final track with a short musical parable of damsels and demons, accompanied by steady guitar strums, head-nodding accordion, and clatters on the cowbell. Although perhaps the simplest and briefest of the album's offerings, its story keeps it interested and amused.

"And these fair ladies are like wild animals,
Try and take them home and they'll scratch your eyeballs out.
And this kind of gallantry is gonna kill me.
The next time you see a diva drowning, brotha',
Let her be."

The album fittingly ends with cries of "woah woah woah" on the danceable title track; yet again managing to couple a sense of despair with some rock n'rolling instrumentation.

Whilst their initial EP may have given us a glimpse at The Herbert Bail Orchestra's skills, it is this album that truly gives the group a time to shine. 'The Future's In The Past' is a narrative-filled journey with poetic lyrics towed by some gloriously danceable melodies.


"Go ahead and play the blues if it'll make you happy" - Dan Castallenata as Homer Simpson

Monday 17 December 2012

Goto80 - Last Christmas (Hot Digi Remix)

It's that time of year and, once again, there is a definite slew of Christmas-themed records vying for our attention from all the latest and greatest singers and bands out there.

With that in mind I've ignored the whole lot of them and gone back almost a decade to enjoy 2003's release from Goto80 - a Swedish chiptune musician who works primarily with the Commodore 64 computer (my own personal favourite). Although listed as a 2005 release in his discography, Goto80's cover of Wham!'s 'Last Christmas' was included on the 2003 compilation 'The 8bits of Christmas' from 8bitpeoples, a collection of eight Christmas songs created by artists on a variety of different classic machines (NES, GameBoy, Spectrum, VIC20, etc.).

I've chosen to highlight Goto80's song because it not only gets my nostalgic juices flowing for the Commodore 64, and I also happen to quite like the Wham! original anyway, but because it's a pretty good cover version within the chosen medium. Naturally - considering the limitations of the equipment used - there are no vocals, but the tune progresses nicely from a relatively simple interpretation of the chorus before introducing different elements to vary and fill out the sound. The verses are mostly ignored, but I think that was the right decision to take in this case where voice cannot be included.

All in all, this is an enjoyable and festive song from a highly regarded composer within the chiptune scene and well worth a listen by anyone with a hankering for something a little retro.


"Pop music is aspirin and the blues are vitamins" - Peter Tork

Monday 10 December 2012

Phosphorescent - Song For Zula

The sheer volume of music produced and published every day is both a blessing and a curse. It means that, statistically, even scratching the surface of what's out there is impossible. But it also means that you might hear the latest song from an artist you'd never heard of before, then go on to investigate who this chap is, and suddenly discover a decade's worth of back-catalogue. At which point you naively ask yourself, "How have I managed to miss this for so long?".

Which is exactly what has just happened with the new song from Phosphorescent; the recording name of Alabama-born and Brooklyn-based musician Matthew Houck.

Taken from his seventh album 'Muchacho' (the fourth LP with label Dead Oceans) due for release in March next year, this first single hints at a departure from previous album 'Here's To Taking It Easy's more traditional folk/country sound. A simple but echoing bass and drum line gradually guide the song along its course, helped in no small part by a soaring violin that takes centre stage whenever Matthew's vocals take a moment of silence. Speaking of which, his delivery (often compared to the likes of Springsteen, Waits, Oldham and Petty) is pleasingly gravelly and relaxed while still focussed with every honest word. And it's this obvious openness of his lyrics, combined with the majestic instrumentation, that gives 'Song For Zula' a welcome hold on its listener... and is therefore responsible for me hitting the 'replay' button more times that I can possibly count.

"See, honey, I am not some broken thing
I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee
No my heart is gold. My feet are light
And I am racing out on the desert plains all night"
(full lyrics:

"I don't have to compete in the charts. I can just be myself as a musician, a songwriter and play with the musicians that I really love." - Elton John

Sunday 9 December 2012

Nick Williams - Anniversaries EP

Folk musician Nick Williams has a habit of taking his songs on a route that you weren't quite expecting. But it's a welcome habit: sudden syncopation cleverly diverts from the beat you were anticipating, that high note you were waiting for is avoided in favour of one that gently shakes you, and sometimes even the song ends at a point that might be deemed unconventional. And with a band that covers violin, mandolin, double bass, piano, drums and guitar as well as providing beautiful vocal harmonies, it sounds as though Brighton-based Nick has everything he needs to express himself however he desires.

He describes his Anniversaries EP as a "study in the poetically fragile", and it was recorded in the Summer during a time of family tragedy. As a result, the theme of loss unavoidably predominates the music, and - as is the folk tradition - it glimmers with sincerity and the self-acceptance of emotion, backed up by Nick's sympathetically restrained falsetto voice.

Although the four tracks explore grief and death in different ways, the record does not leave you with overriding feelings of sadness or morbidness. 'Anniversaries' talks of nostalgia and inadvertent distance. 'Birthday Letters' speaks of acceptance and satisfaction of a life that may be reaching its end, but was filled with love. 'Ghosts on the Water', although the most lyrically sparse, feels like the most emotionally complicated song. The line "you never stayed when we're sleeping" hints at a sad memory of disconnection, yet the departed one persists in surrounding the singer. Finally, the aptly-named closing track, 'Closing Time', seems to carry the thoughts of someone that stands blinking at how joy and heartache can coexist.

As the piano strikes the final chord you are forced to marvel at how Nick Williams and the band have delicately created such a tight collection of thought-provoking songs; and they've done so whilst steering clear of producing the kind of contrived tearjerkers that many others attempt.

More... please!


"I'm just a very primate, infantile folk singer." - Robert Wyatt

Saturday 8 December 2012

Zelliack - Noir Tone EP

Texas duo Zelliack are striving to inject a little soul into our downtrodden lives. Their name might be a little unoriginal and cliched in its source (a portmanteau of the pair's forenames: Zack Ordway and Elliot Coleman) but their music takes jazz's relaxed approach to structure and combines it with a unique concoction of smooth guitar grooves, melodic acrobatics, and vocal playfulness to ensure that what we hear is anything but hackneyed.

There's always a worry that anything experimental might just push our boundaries a little too much; but whilst Zelliack definitely seem to enjoy writing themselves out of any genre-defining pigeon-holes (soul? r&b? progressive rock? jazz?... they cover a lot of ground), they are also very careful to ensure that no second on their EP is superfluous.

Zack's work with the instruments is hard to fault. Whether we are being beautifully sedated in some of the quieter moments or pumped up during the busiest sections, every strum and slap seems to have been chosen with a cunning precision. This guy knows what he's doing, and he's doing it well.

Equally, Elliot shows off his vocal range to glorious effect and does so with no arrogance: it's satisfying to hear him belt out several higher-pitched lines on one song, and then flow flawlessly through his lower range. In fact, some of the key points on the EP are those that push and pull us through pitch and tempo - a flurry of words and beats here, a focussed pause there.

Lyrically there is a charming lack of brevity in Zelliack's words that, importantly, steers well clear of pretentiousness. It seems that they want to say as much as possible in each song and - whilst metaphor and imagery isn't used particularly often - their directness gives the music an honesty which fits perfectly.

This debut EP is full and gratifying, with Zack and Elliot complementing each other in a way that resembles the best moments of Tears For Fear's Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, and with a smooth style that's been profoundly absent until now.

Since the release of Noir Tone in February this year, Zelliack have kept us interested with the release of a further track ("Smoove") as well as covering Michael Jackson's "Baby Be Mine". I hope to hear a great deal more from them in 2013.

"The best songwriting comes from being as creative as you can and editing it down to the good bits, essentially" - Alex Kapranos

Friday 7 December 2012

The Bold Type - Welcome Back

Massachusetts quartet The Bold Type (Travis Richard, Ben Dicke, Antonia Navarro, Schuyler Whelden) have been working on their debut album for much of this year, funded in part by eager backers on Kickstarter, and it is now available for digital download as well as CD. Describing themselves as playing within the broad genre of rock'n'roll, their ten tracks show some pleasing diversity whilst avoiding disparity.

Album title and opening track 'Welcome Back' throws us some soulful vocals and little hints of Motown-esque melody, then 'Don't Be A Stranger' surprises us with a combination of rock guitar and gently harmonising "ooh"s and "aah"s. And just in case we still feel like we know what to expect, third track 'Love Is Meant To Last' goes all jazzy and signals that we should just go with the flow and throw all our musical assumptions aside for the next seven tracks.

Other highlights include 'I Won't Follow You' where a female lead vocal from Antonia shakes things up a little in a bluesy ballad; and the super-strummed shout-out 'Mind Your Business' with its amusingly nonchalant middle section with whistles, deep breaths, and a muttered urge to "keep cool" that comes just moments before it all kicks off again.

The beauty of The Bold Type's album is that it's able to show off an array of styles and sounds whilst still retaining a sense of its own theme, and the band members clearly play to their strengths throughout their music. They are confident, cool, and (it had to be said) bold.

"Performing is the easiest part of what I do, and songwriting is the hardest" - Neil Diamond