Matthew Halsall and the Gondwana Orchestra

When The World Was One
Gondwana Records

Matthew Halsall is an exceptional artist. People say of Frank Zappa that he would sit and write parts for his extensively qualified band straight from imagination. Without doing an injustice to the amount of time Halsall and others may have put into the creation of this latest release, When The World Was One, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was written in the same way. Released on Gondwana Records, there’s a nice current to this contemporary jazz offering as its songs flow into existence. Championed by the likes of Gilles Peterson and Mr Scruff, Halsall is causing a certain stir and his collaboration here with the Gondwana Orchestra is the latest hint as to why.

The opening title track is structured around a building piano melody and snare-heavy drumming, with saxophone, harp and flute weaving between the spaces. ‘Sagano Bamboo Forest’ reprises much of the melodic character of earlier song ‘Patterns’, carrying the theme towards the album’s close, where concluding track ‘Tribute To Alice Coltrane’ provides a great, dusky, bassheavy denouement. The album’s theme seems to relate to the natural world, with songs like ‘A Far Away Place’, ‘Falling Water’ and the album title itself. Some jazz instruments reflect the theme better than others – the harp sounds more akin to a natural ambiance than the startling trumpet, for example.

It’s a great album though, with ‘Kiyomizu-Dera’ a highlight. The song interplays harp and piano with the exotic phrasing of the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, to make a real standout track. Jazz in Japan has historically been criticised for being an imitation of US styles. Matthew Halsall and the Gondwana Orchestra have leaned more heavily on the Japanese style, imported it to the West, and it works brilliantly. If Halsall’s next project is a record expanding on this, it will be one to look out for.

Mark Hattersley

Douga

The Silent Well
Do Make Merge Records

Manchester band Douga’s debut LP, The Silent Well, rides high on the new wave of dreamy psychedelia resurgent in British music. The album’s sensuous sonic landscape is decorated with hypnotic rhythms and melodies, which are countered by heavier, psychedelic grunge sections. Johnny Winbolt-Lewis’s vocals illuminate the lush backdrop, sounding not unlike a young Richard Ashcroft at times. As Winbolt-Lewis chants “TV Believers and rabid receivers” on ‘Accidents’, he could be Kasabian’s Tom Meighan minus the bravado. Douga are versed in musical history, with 60s and 70s krautrock influences prevalent, but this LP is more homage than carbon copy.

Standout tracks include ‘Still Waters’, which takes a more upbeat turn, reminiscent of hazy summer evenings as intricate guitars intertwine amongst fuzzy rhythms. The insistent chorus of “I’m not a yes man” is a refreshing assertion that Douga is a band with something to say. ‘Chains’ is a song draped in repeating rhythms, not shy of making a statement: “Does it seem real to you that the world has laws / Which wrestle down all except corporate whores”. ‘Albatross’ is more melancholy and clever sampling adds to its emotive sense of nostalgia. Neither shares much with the similarly named Fleetwood Mac songs. The single, ‘Blue Is Nothing’, drifts along over lush strings, driven by an insistent beat and introspective vocals.

This is a complex and musically mature album, with contemplative, clever lyrics; not just a great sound but also an important anti-corporate message for modern times. Their stance against “jumping through hoops” (‘Beat Konductor’) is almost Radiohead-esque at times, and they touch on everything from pollution to corrupt governments. This first full-length album is a triumph, showcasing how they have refined their experimental early sounds into a complete and captivating record.

Liz Hird

Manchester Standards

Sides Three and Four
Only Joking Records

The Manchester Standards series represents a scene treading its own path away from the city’s musical past. This second instalment of a vinyl trilogy compiles 15 tracks as testament to the diversity bands can achieve if they steer away from trends. Split vaguely into two camps, Side Three is an enthralling display of DIY belligerence led by Mistoa Poltsa and Salford Media City, whilst Side Four contains more polished recordings of bands already established outside Manchester, including Young British Artists, Egyptian Hip Hop and others from the impressive SWAYS roster. Humour, irreverence and great songs no longer seem integral to a business model that picks the next big thing from a conveyor belt, so this record is a convincing riposte to those who overlook these traits. Manchester Standards captures an eclectic scene thriving under the upturned noses of the old guard. Scratch the underbelly and take a sniff.

Nathan McIlroy

Neko Neko

BETWEEN TWO CITIES, PT 1
My First Moth Records

Neko Neko’s latest single ‘Where’ introduces the first part in his Between Two Cities series. Opening with fluctuating harp samples and breaking down gradually through an array of contrasting tempos and rhythms, this crafty original mix takes on the form of a chilled instrumental house tune that has been expertly intertwined with a systematic arrangement of layered percussion.

Set up for a remix, the next track has an altogether different vibe executed by French producer Fulgeance. The initial sample of the celestial sounding harp has been fragmented over stronger beats and synths, coupled with the input of some rough and dirty vocals. Working under his alias Claude for a further remix track, Fulgeance produces this mix further, adopting an accelerated tempo and an unexpected underlay of piano and synth, metamorphosing the initial version of ‘Where’ onto new levels which will certify its success as the sound of the summer.

Daisy Kidd

Kirk McElhinney

WORLD GONE BLIND
Limefield Records

Rochdale presents its latest musical son in singer Kirk McElhinney. World Gone Blind, an album recorded at Manchester’s Limefield Studios, received the official launch treatment at Band On The Wall back in January. With all songs written by the man himself, bar a cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’, McElhinney flexes his songwriting muscles, showing both variety and diversity. From the picked opening of ‘Circle’, which gives the first nod to guitarist Bert Jansch who McElhinney considers his guru, to the likes of ‘Price You Pay’, the album epitomises the laidback cool of John Martyn and the pastoral feel of Nick Drake, particularly on the gorgeous ‘Where I Belong’. There are contemporary Weller grooves on ‘Answer To Our Prayers’ and the title track reflects on balance in the world, inspired by encountering poverty during a visit to India. With sophisticated production, it’s an album of stylish quality.

Mike Ainscoe

Plank

Hivemind
Akoustik Anarkhy Recordings

The synth patterns on this album recall pioneers such as Mother Mallard, a group who worked in the Moog factory with Bob himself. This is prog revivalism that goes right back to the original source for its raw material. ‘Waterboatman’ begins with the kind of Korg fuzz that raises hairs and ‘Cricket’ is Another Green World-era Brian Eno. When it’s moving languorously, Hivemind is a joy, but where it stretches the patience occasionally is in the extended, angular guitar riffing. It recalls 80s King Crimson, but Dutch Uncles have rescued that sound in a much more creative way by placing it firmly back in pop. ‘Swarm Behaviour’ is a faux- Chapman Stick take-off, but the destination remains obscure. The more motorik-influenced sounds here are great. Take the expanding gravure patterns of ‘Aphidelity’ or the percussive build of ‘Metamorphosis’. If this was remixed by, say, Theo Parrish or Moritz von Oswald, that would be something.

Steve Hanson