Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Music - Part 46 - Latin Noir

I’ll be honest, a compilation album of Latin music didn’t really appeal to me, but, then I spotted this line in the press release – “If you are looking for hip shakin’, hands-in-the-air party music...this album is not for you.  Latin Noir .....pays a gloomy homage to a new generation of the wretched of the earth.... redemption, despair and hope.”  How could I resist?
Opening with Latin Grammy nominated Chango Spasiuk, Tierra Colorada is an accordion based instrumental.  Slow paced, speeding then slowing again, it’s a lovely piece depicting the search for redemption.  I’m hooked. Hopefully, the vocalist on Todo Eso by Sequidores Del Son isn’t a 20 year old Adonis, because he sounds like an aging, strained old man with a grating voice making the track very unique and listenable.  African and Spanish cultures combine in a track that oozes emotion and pain.

As with many ‘minority’ music album compilations nowadays, there are plenty of surprises as I found out when I reviewed The Rough Guide To The Music Of Ethiopia.  The third track on Latin Noir is no exception.  Rumba Para Los Olu Bata was more of what I’d expected from Latin and pretty laid back with an interesting trumpet and/or horn in the background.  What I loved was when it speeded up into and almost ska fashion with full brass accompaniment.  Very melodious, frenetic percussion and freestyle instrumentation towards the end.  It’s a corker of a tune and even has a DJ’s nightmare false ending before kicking off again.  Squeaking sax shoe-horned in for good measure.  Over seven minutes of wonderfulness.

Following the madness there comes the sublime.  A duet with Ana Cristina Pozo and Omar Perez fronting a quite beautiful acoustic guitar.  Almost operatic voices soar, and, even though I have no idea what is being said, it sounds gorgeous.  I hope it’s a sad lament as a happy lyric would be such a waste!

The opening split second on Commandante Che Guevara rings true of Peter Gabriels Solsbury Hill.  A live recording full of lament, distress and hurt regales the revolution of promise and t-shirt iconism.  There are hints of jazz within these grooves.  Ska, reggae, Cuban and African.  An inspiring trip around, evidently, a misrepresented musical genre.  There’s a nod towards Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White on Runidera where Son Del Mayabeque gives us a truly emotional representation of sadness.  Who wants happy-clappy dance when you can have stuff like this?!

I asked Twitter to help me remember what piece of classical music Alturas De Simpson reminded me of.  I even uploaded a pathetic attempt to Soundcloud to try and replicate it.  Nobody could help.  One night I’ll jump up in bed after remembering.  It also had a vague similarity to the bassline of Abba’s Money Money Money.  Either way, it’s a live instrumental track performed by Piquete Tipico and it’s rather nice.  Possibly an old recording – hints of Mississippi steamboat? 

There’s a near yodel and an almost nearer reggae feel to La Distancia.  Quite a jolly track, really ‘up and at it’!  There’s an incredibly high pitched note towards the end which rivalled Morten Harket on A-ha’s Summer Move On.  Well done to Alfredo Gutierrez!

Following more brilliant Latin woe from Grupo El Organo Pinareno there’s probably the highlight of the album.  Almost entirely percussion with the odd (odd) wind instrument, Por Una Tigresa Que Mira Na Estrella keeps us chugging along for almost eight minutes.  Far from a Latin sound, almost African in origin, it’s sparse yet brilliant.

The album ends with the first female vocal of the album and the rather wonderful Watcha Clan.  I’ve liked this lot since reviewing their We Are One single.  A modern twist to the album, nice echoes and guitar riff whilst Sista K sings a lament of the Africa/Europe boat refugees.  With a ‘skiffle ish’ backing very similar to Depeche Mode’s Dream On, it’s a great track from my current favourite Marseille based collective.  A little splash of dub thrown in too towards the end.

Despite my reservations, Latin Noir turned out to be quite an eye opener.  A great album, well compiled and immensely enjoyable.  Piranha Records come up trumps yet again.

You can stream the album here 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

An Open Letter To Depeche Mode (And Their Tour Promoters)

Now I don’t claim to be Depeche Mode’s biggest fan, but they have been my favourite group for over 30 years now.

I remember being with my mate Darren in Woolworths and buying the Just Can’t Get Enough 12” single (by the way, the Schizo Mix still sounds fantastic!), and, then buying every 7” and 12” and cd single and album.  As far as I’m concerned they’re untouchable.

I have to admit that after Playing The Angel, quite possibly their finest album, Sounds Of The Universe was disappointing – in fact, I still haven’t bought it.  It was patchy, had some poor songs and even poorer production.  That said, my love of DM clearly rubbed off on my Autistic son who became a lover too.  He adores the Remixes albums and constantly plays them on his Media Player.  I made a pledge to him that the next time they toured, I’d take him to see them.  Yes, I know it’s a ‘risk’ taking him along to a loud, light flashing show, but even if he only lasted at the gig for five minutes, he would talk about it (seemingly) forever!

We both got even more excitable when news of their new album was announced at a Paris Press Conference in October, and, when I heard a preview of the track Angel Of Love I was pretty damned impressed.  For me, it sounds fantastic, and if the rest of the album is as good as that, then it promises to be superb and a return to form.

The tour was announced, and, the UK leg confirmed – one date in London.  Living near Manchester, travelling to a night gig, midweek with an 11 year old isn’t particularly plausible, so I waited for confirmation of more dates. 

October 26 2012 – more UK dates have been announced!  One more London date.  Yes, but there will be more right?  Manchester? Birmingham? Edinburgh? Not yet.  To date, I’m gutted. 

Alright, I’m being completely selfish, but, two dates at one end of the country, their home country, this isn’t right.  Heaven knows how any Scottish fans might feel. 

Come on lads, think about this one.  In case you hadn’t noticed, money is tight and a trip to London (probably requiring an overnight stay) isn’t even an option.

Music - Part 45 - Watcha Clan

Last year, Watch Clan released the rather wonderful We Are One, the first in a series of three EPs from the highly acclaimed album, Radio Babel.  And, with the second, they’ve only gone and made another cracker containing two tracks with three remixes of each.

First track, Hasnaduro, opens with the Shazalakazoo Remix (I kid you not), and, from the opening chaos ensues a high powered drum and bass track with overtones of Dutch House wrapped around lyrics of cultural convergence.  The Kosta Kostov Remix concentrates on the guitar riff from the track making it a lot harder and rockier without losing its original feel.  There are bits of aciiiiid in here too.  When Watcha Clan released We Are One, they managed to put out five versions of the same song which were so different to style that there was no feeling of repetitiveness in sight; they’ve done it again here. 

The third version of Hasnaduro is by Dr Cat and starts with a slow, stomp beat.  Again, very different to the previous two versions, driven by an electronic bassline and plenty of looped vocals excerpts.  Main vocalist Sista K is moved out of the mix with Nassim Kouti drafted in.  A powerful mix with the instant chorus really embedding in your head.  With such a catchy song, maybe the multiple mixes are there to engrain themselves in you – a clever marketing ploy?  Possibly, but it works.  Loads of extra sounds and effect thrown in for good measure.  Wonderful stuff.

With band members from France, Corsica and Algeria and drawing influences from urban electronic and the folklore of North Africa, Israel, Turkey and the Balkans, you get some idea of how diverse their sound can be, and, I was rather excited to find versions of the lovely 17th Century Hebrew poem Im Nin’Alu on the EP.  Made famous by Israeli Ofra Haza it’s compelling listening comparing the divide between rich and poor.  If you’ve never heard her version, you really should look it up (or, click here!)

The versions of Im Nin’Alu here are a great tribute to Haza, bringing the beautiful song back to life, she would be overjoyed to hear such superb versions had she still be with us today.  The Dr Das Remix plods along with a ‘stomp’ drum.  Lovely vocals from Sista K, reaching out into a phat bass melody.  The Maba Bo Remix has a reggae dub effect and continues to engage you.  There are some great echo effects and additional instrumental thrown in, a wonderful galloping drum after a minute and a half.  A very different version to the previous mix and thoroughly entertaining. 

The final version starts with a sexy, swirling wind instrument (I have no idea what it is!)  Again a very different version, more slinky and embedding itself into your head.  You will be singing the melody to this all day long, I guarantee it!

In summary, Watcha Clan come up with the goods again.  Remixes that differ so much that you really have no sense of repetitiveness at all.  I love this lot!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Music - Part 44 - The Breadwinners

This album does exactly what it says on the cover.  Dubs Unlimited.  And not in an artificial way either.  This album is made the ‘good old fashioned way’, the way Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry would have done, on equipment he would quite likely have used, on quarter inch 6-track tape and mixed on to quarter inch stereo.  It’s analogue folks – Google it!

The Breadwinners is one man, one very talented man, Alan Redfern is from Rochdale (once a town in Lancashire but stolen by Manchester), is barely in his mid 30’s and is quite simply a traditional dub genius.

An album like Dubs Unlimited is actually quite hard to review, not because it’s difficult to listen to, not because it isn’t very good, quite the opposite. It’s an album of superb quality both in terms of musicianship (Redfern plays almost everything on the album, with the exception of the trumpet which is played by his wife, KT), and, remarkable love and respect for the legends of the likes of Studio One, The Wailers, Pablo and even the Radics.  The melodies of the tracks and dubbing is simple and wonderous.  The (few) vocals are well-timed and well-placed.  There are tremendous flute and sax skills from the wonderful Stally, and, even Big Youth (yes, ‘him’) lends his dulcet tones to Joy – which is included on the cd and download.


From the opening The Breadwinner, this album is something special.  Through the genius of Hold I Version and When It A Go Dub, to the sublime KT’s Ital Stew and Kawai Dub, it’s all you need for a modern day traditional dub album.

Last month, Alan and King Spinna were guests on BBC Radio Lancashire’s ‘On The Wire’ programme for well over half of the show presented by dub and reggae guru Steve Barker – honour indeed.  In fact, Al has also been approached by, and, received the approval of, none other than Sly & Robbie for his recent, as yet unreleased, remixes of some of Gregory Isaacs’ final recordings. 


With hundreds of tracks over the last five or six years whittled down to the ones on this collection, we have an album so easy to listen to that it’s untrue.  The vision of King Spinna must also be credited for having the confidence to back a young, white, man from the North of England and entrust him to meet the exceptionally high standards he has done with Dubs Unlimited.  With the re-sequencing and mastering performed by Kevin Metcalfe at The Soundmasters, this album is one not to miss on two counts – 1) if you’re a fan of dub, and, 2) if you’re appreciative of good music.

There’s only one downside I can see to this album, and, it’s reason not to get too keen to issue your albums of the year list.  This should, without any shadow of doubt be in the best of 2012.


Follow The Breadwinners on Twitter here and do the Facebook thing here.
Buy the album from King Spinna here and follow them on Twitter here.

Music - Part 43 - Kirsty Almeida & The Troubadours

Alright, so Xmas is SOOO last year, but, let’s not be silly about a name.  We don’t only listen to love songs around February 14th do we?  And, we don’t only play reggae in the Sun do we?  There, that’s the difficult bit over with – always a bit of a weirdo me.

If you’re from Manchester or the North West chances are you’ve heard of Kirsty Almeida.  Last year she was the subject of the Inside Out TV programme on local BBC TV.  After releasing her first album on Decca, she became disillusioned and left to set up her own label and have full creative control.  She performs intimate gigs to small audiences (often at ‘secret’ locations) who arrive in splendid dress, she’s a dress maker, an interior designer, and, she’s even been known to hand craft her own record/cd sleeves.  In fact, if you ordered Winter Songs prior to Xmas, she even gift wrapped it for you!

Winter Songs is a collection of covers and original whacky Almeida compositions.  From the opening Merry Christmas (Let’s Have Fun) this is a fun album and welcomes you to the kooky world of Kirsty –complete with bells, children singing, a tuba (?), and references to the madness of shopping.  From there we’re straight into a cover of Mariah Carey’s awful All I Want For Christmas Is You, but, this version is very palatable with its soulful acoustic guitar and lone voice.  It actually sounds very good and knocks the spots off the version by the aforementioned American screacher. 

Track three is a lovely warming version of Joni Mitchell’s River.  It’s a quite simply stunning cover.  Kirsty’s voice is beautiful, and Joni should be very honoured to have such a tribute.  Words can’t really begin to describe the song – just listen to it.  January Man, written by Ian Reynolds, has a simple, almost jazz cafe feel – acoustic guitars, hi-hats and cymbals, organ – and is so, so relaxing.  Counting in with the ticks of a clock, Tick Tock Tick says goodbye to the outgoing year and welcomes in the new.  A little of the Almeida madness with a bizarre few seconds of silly trumpet and her own countdown to ‘Happy New Year’.

Abandonment is the subject of the superbly titled Just Cancel Christmas.  Left alone in the alleged season of goodwill.  A tale of loneliness.  “Tell Santa to stay at the Pole, tie the reindeer up tonight”.  Shoo-be-do-wap Genius.  It’s always a delight to hear an artist put their own stamp on an old standard, and, Winter Wonderland is just one of those.  Cold Lonely Blue is another self –penned track, and, a great one at that.  The arrangements on this album are just perfect – this particular track sending ice-cold shivers up your spine, and, an icy tear to your eye.

To end the album, there’s a remix of one of Kirsty’s live favourites, Shine All Your Light.  An uplifting track with lovely accompaniment and a quite eerie whispered voice behind the main vocals.  Anything but a Winter song, and, anything but ordinary.  Then finally, we have White Christmas.  Yes, unfortunately it is ‘that’ song.  Represented here by a short and sweet rendition.  If I’m not mistaken Kirsty’s own voice played over in the background created a layered effect.  Complete with the odd bells and tambourines.  What else?

If you’ve never heard of Kirsty, or her very accomplished band, The Troubadours, then this is a good place to get acquainted.  Forget that there are some Xmas songs on this album and enjoy a very underrated and very talented performer.

Find out more about the wonderland world of Kirsty Almeida and buy Winter Songs here 
Follow Kirsty in Twitter here and do whatever you do with Facebook here

Published on Louder Than War 7/01/13

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Music - Part 42 - Rites Wild

I was a little unsure what to make of this album at first, but you know, it’s grown on me.  I’ve heard quite a few instrumental albums this year , (I say ‘instrumental’, this one has some voices but not what I’d called singing per se – any vocals are way down in the mix and create a wonderful sense of intrigue), and have been pretty impressed.   This album is no exception.

An artist I knew nothing about, Rites Wild is the brainchild of Australian Stacey Wilson, Ways Of Being the debut long player after a string of several self-released EPs.  It’s a relaxing almost meditative affair, very calming, stress free, and, well, quite lovely. 

So, what do we have here?  Plenty of minimal lo-fi synth sounds for a start, drum machines lurking in the darkness and some nice reverb and dub effects.  In a lot of ways, not unlike Peaking Lights – that as far as I’m concerned, is a huge compliment.  It’s been said that the songs sound as though they are being ‘beamed in from beyond the black rainbow’, and I’ll go along with that.  A partially doomy, transcendental, primitive sound that flirts with you and entices you in. 

The album strongpoint is actually its simplicity.  There are clear 80s electronic influences here – the looped drumsound of the opening, title track tips its hat in the general direction of early A Flock Of Seagulls.  It has a simple hook, basic to the point of almost nothingness, atmospheric (a word I want to use a lot), indistinguishable voice ‘sounds’.  If the aim to have the vocals almost decipherable, but not quite, is intentional, then the mix is genius.  Imagine lying in a hot, placid, bubble-bath surrounding by steam and candles and this is the perfect soundtrack.

As a teenager of the New-Romantic era, I’m also spotting a little Ultravox (Vienna) on Ill Health, and, possibly even some Visage?  Remember Enigma and their chanting?  Well, there are hints of that here too.  Sublime Gregorian, chant sounding, angelesque mutterings, in the dark distance.

On the face of it, it’s basic stuff, but it’s layered so beautifully.  Rites Wild Theme and Thieves are a joy in their simple melodies and echoes.  Minimal Where has some exquisite dubs.

Where there is any percussion of note, its eeriness is addictive.  Detached Living fades in and contains a ghost-like marching drum sound.  Signs has some notable effects and more ‘chanting’.

The thing with this album is that if you like one of the tracks, you’ll like all of them – that’s because, in a nice way, they all sound the same.  Not boring, quite the opposite, they’re interesting and relaxing.  If I had one criticism, I’d like to see the tracks merged into longer compositions. I’d even go as far as encouraging a prog style album featuring all the tracks as one, for the vinyl purist, two.

In summary, a bit of a gem actually.  A grower, and one that will warrant several more listens in quick succession. Keep an eye on Rites Wild, I have a feeling this isn't the last we’ve heard of Stacey Wilson.

Music - Part 41 - Scott Walker

Yoko Ono, Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson – barmy or genius?  Or both?   Whatever, Scott Walker fits into the same category.  My opinion?  A free thinker, a lone spirit, a true original.

I was born after the Walker Brothers had called it a day, but, somehow somewhere I latched onto them.  As a teenager I loved the obvious tracks like Make It Easy and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine, but, I also adored Lights Of Cincinnati and Montague Terrace.  I also came across Scott Walker again when my appreciation of Marc Almond and Marc & The Mambas brought Jacques Brel to my attention, an artist that Scott had also covered several times.

So what of Bish Bosch?   There have been many many reviews citing its genius – some of them disappearing up their own arses with their over zealous, long worded drivel.  The bottom line is – is it any good?  Well, that’s a subjective question.  My answer would be that if you’re open-minded about music, and love music, and long for originality, and accept it for what it is, then the answer is a resounding  ‘Yes’.

How does Scott Walker sleep at night?  He clearly doesn’t.  From the opening looped percussive repetitiveness of first track See You Don’t Bump His Head you know this is an album that your Mother wouldn’t file next to No Regrets.  “While plucking feathers from a swan song” is the line that’s frequently recited.  The drum beat continues and continues up until the final beat when it almost distorts in its own loudness.  Marvellous.

Corps De Blah seems to comprise of multiple tracks.  It’s absolutely wild.  The sound of a sampled dog or a sampled chimp or a finger running down a steamy window?  Hissing.  Breaking glass.  Possibly even a fart.  This is awesome stuff.  Is it music, a collection of sounds, or, recorded insanity?  I don’t really care.  This is stretching music to the extreme and is enthralling and amazing.  At times I’m not sure I can decipher everything Walker says in his nightmare.  Sweeping violins.  The trademark voice.  Sometimes a random jumble of phrases and words, or poetry?  There are as many questions posed as there are answered.  I arrived at work as the track finished.  I sneezed.  It could have been included on the track. 

A sweeping machete, Sioux Indians – I can see how people would find this album difficult to listen to, but, remain open-minded, and, take the album for what it is then this is an artist who is incredibly original and recording everything he is hearing and feeling and experiencing.  If you can do that, you’ll enjoy the album.

The bizarrely titled SDSS14+13 (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitting) has a couple of lines of note – “If shit were music, you’d be a brass band”, and, “If brains were rain, you’d surely be a desert”.  You can’t argue with lyrics like that!  I find it quite difficult to believe that a track of almost 22 minutes, and, with as many different moments can be planned or recorded in one take.  I’m thinking this was recorded and improvised as multiple tracks and then pieced and layered together afterwards.  Co-producer Peter Walsh has had his hands full and deserves a medal.  Is it fair to describe Bish Bosch as a modern day reply to Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral for its originality?

Epizootics! has fanfares and jazz overtones and is very cleverly put together.  A racing bassline gels the track and I’m sure there’s a very deep meaningful story to the lyrics, but, I’d rather just immerse myself in the uniqueness of the track.

Never in a long time have I enjoyed an album quite so much as Bish Bosch.  Truely original, and inventive.  Possibly recorded by a genius, possibly recorded by a man on the edge.  Possibly both.

As the final line of Dimple exclaims – “There but for the grace of God goes God”.  I rest my case.