Damien O'Kane

Avenging & Bright

When I interviewed Kate Rusby in last month's Now Then, she described the second album by her husband and bandmate Damien O'Kane as the most exciting album to come out of the folk scene in a very long time. I'm no authority on folk, but it's clear from the first few seconds of drum machine pulse on opener 'Boston City' that O'Kane's use of electronics on Avenging & Bright sets him apart from his contemporaries.

This is frictionless folk that rejects a rough-round-the-edges mentality in favour of lush production and digital flourishes, such as the skittering beats on 'Poor Stranger'. Sonically, the album is not dissimilar to the most recent work of American songwriter John Grant.

For the most part this approach teases new life out of old songs, though O'Kane's take on Seán McBride's 'The Homes Of Donegal' is slightly too syrupy for my liking. He's on firmer ground with his delicate cover of 'Lately', with Rusby, the song's writer, providing rich backing vocals. O'Kane's is an unembellished voice, which is just as well because it leaves the electronics to do the work of interpreting the songs for a new audience, while O'Kane sings them straight.

'Many's The Night' is a bright reworking of a north Derry tune, while instrumental 'Castle Kellys' sees some funky guitar picking from O'Kane turn an Irish standard into a spooky stomper, with Eno-esque synth pads that bloom and fold behind the band. ‘Dancing In Puddles’, the second instrumental, closes the record and is dedicated to his two daughters. It’s an O'Kane original which sees the studio wizardry stripped back for an affecting tune that unfolds with a deft lightness of touch.

Sam Gregory

Jim Ghedi

A Hymn For Ancient Land

Every time I listen to the music of Jim Ghedi, I picture John Constable dragging his canvas, brushes and pencils into the Dedham Vale. Half-dead from exhaustion, he would sit and sketch, with his broken and heavy brushstrokes emulating the light of the overcast English panorama.

Just like Constable observed and recorded the weather through paint, so Ghedi captures the splendid vistas that surround us. Rapturous tracks like ‘Cwm Elan’ and ‘Fortingall Yew’ evoke feelings of nostalgia and yearning, with delicate, breezy arrangements that sound ever so crisp. But A Hymn For Ancient Land is not only a tribute to the evergreen. The industrial past of England, whether steel or coal, returns to us, heralded by the nuanced brass of ‘Sloade Lane’, while ‘Phoenix Works’ manages to encompass a historic site in a warm song that smoulders through the coldest of nights.

No matter what we build, it will pale in comparison to the natural features that adorn our planet. The music of Jim Ghedi flies over a world which nature has reclaimed from industry. Whether it’s that old, broken lane near Mam Tor, the winding roads in Mexico’s Sierra Madre or an industrial site near the River Rivelin, nature always wins in the end. Perhaps this is the realisation that comes from losing yourself in the painting that A Hymn For Ancient Land portrays.

Sam J. Valdés López

Django Django

Marble Skies

Marble Skies, the third album from art rock outfit Django Django, sees the band returning to a style that fans will find reminiscent of their debut. While their second album, Born Under Saturn, saw the band honing their craft towards a more conventional sound, refining it into something sleeker and more confident, now they return to the wonderfully hectic ‘copy and paste’ aesthetic of their DIY roots.

Needless to say then, Marble Skies is all over the place, but in this instance that phrase is a compliment to the musicians’ ability to create a kind of harmony through organised chaos and constant rhythmic assault. Minimalist it is not.

Take for example the first single, 'Tic Tac Toe'. From the opening seconds, we're faced with a chaotic arrangement of rising and falling, genre-defying melodies that are physically impossible not to tap your foot to, which is what we’ve come to expect from the band. But there are intelligent and introspective lyrics too, which in conjunction with tracks like 'Tic Tac Toe' produce that rare thing – an album which is both energetic good fun, but also genuinely cerebral. It's this interplay of elements which constantly draws the band’s work away from the purely escapist, separating them from their contemporaries.

Despite all that's positive, fresh and exciting about this gutsy melding of indie rock and high-energy tempos, my only problem (perhaps entirely subjective) is one regarding context: when's the appropriate time to play this album? Is it not too effervescent and stimulating for a night in alone with your feelings? But then, would a lot of the intensity and feeling of the lyrics not be lost, or drowned out, at a club or house party?

Liam Casey

The Go! Team

Five albums in 14 years is hardly a high output, but when Brighton-based The Go! Team release an LP it’s well worth the wait.

There’s always been something wildly innocent and different about The Go! Team. In an age of bland and tasteless pop they are a welcome addition to the audio landscape. Their latest album, Semicircle, may not see the group progress wildly from their first foray in 2004 with Thunder, Lightning, Strike, but then again, why should they? They have a formula that works and a sound which is pretty unique to them. When you hear the melting pot of block party hip hop and classic indie rock, mixed with countless other influences, it's guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

All the above does not mean they are stuck in one sound, as head honcho Ian Parton’s ability to collaborate with just about anyone means more gets thrown into The Go! Team cauldron. The standout on this latest outing is the calypso-tinged, huge grin moment that is ‘If There’s One Thing You Should Know’, while ‘She’s Got Guns’ is classic chanting, cheerleader-infused funky hip hop that will no doubt sound amazing live.

Semicircle is as good as any previous release, so if you like The Go! Team then you will love this. We do not know what 2018 holds for us all, but this is a soundtrack to bust away those post-Christmas blues and keep a grin fixed on your face that will last well into the summer.

Andy Tattersall