Nancy Elizabeth.

Dancing.
The Leaf Label.

REVIEWER – IAN PENNINGTON.

The year is 2009. The month is October. Mumford and Sons have just released their debut album of offensively inoffensive pop songs to mixed reviews; lapped up by CD-buying middle England and glossy magazinesponsored award ceremonies, but chastised by chin stroking musos. On the very same day, Nancy Elizabeth’s second LP, Wrought Iron, is released. Reception-wise, she has pretty much the opposite effect. In the intervening years, Nancy Elizabeth dived for cover to take stock after an intense period of touring, while Mumford and Sons landed on the nation’s coffee tables and TVs, prompting an assiduous and unrelenting wave of twee backing tracks to the corporate guff emanating from your widescreen.

There’s no real reason for pointing out this temporal coincidence, unless you’d like to create your own.

I suppose it conveniently depicts the divergent paths of modern folkies. It’s a lament, of sorts, much like Nancy’s lyrical content. Having been seamlessly compared with critical hyperbole magnet and harpist Joanna Newsom following past records, perhaps she has unwittingly chosen the right time to step back into more fertile ground with Dancing. Now she is surrounded by other female folkies who are best suited in venues like churches, which she has previously commanded, and her songs bear comparisons. Certainly, ‘Indelible Day’ and ‘Shimmering Song’ have all the hallmarks recently rubber stamped by Laura J Martin.

On the topic of her chromosome contemporaries – Stealing Sheep, Literature Thieves and the like – the main similarity is vocally. All opt for the pitches of Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell and their 1960s folky counterparts, but it’s not a pastoral frolic around in daisy chains, cheesecloth shirts and flares. Not by any stretch.

Perhaps influenced by her diversely assembled label mates – Murcof, Efterklang and Polar Bear among them – Nancy finds herself drawn to non-conformism. ‘All Mouth’ is a layered vocal loop evoking the polychoral Julianna Barwick and sharing ground with musique concrète. ‘Early Sleep’ is backed by the mechanical clamour of a Caribou soaring into the ‘Sun’, relenting into solemn chorals atop a softened background hubbub. ‘Mexico’ is an unsettling haunter aided by piano arrangements akin to John Carpenter, and ‘Debt’ bursts into pounding processed beats.

Fortunately, this is the antithesis of Mumford and Sons’ brand of folk, even if not illustrated by synchronous record release dates this time around.

London Posse.

Gangster Chronicle: The Definitive Collection.
Tru Thoughts.

Reviewer – Joe Baker.

Going into the studio “without knowing what the fuck we were doing,” London Posse created arguably one of the most influential UK hip-hop records ever made with 1990’s Gangster Chronicle. One of the first groups from our shores to rhyme how they spoke, in a broad cockneypatois hybrid, they were also pioneers of reggae-influenced hip-hop, with singles like the classic ‘Money Mad’ as relevant today as it was 23 years ago. British MCs have a lot to thank Rodney P and Bionic for, and it’s thanks to Tru Thoughts that this material gets the thoroughly deserved reissue treatment alongside a second CD of unreleased material and new remixes.

Unashamedly British, brash and blunted, the back and forths, comedy one-liners and classic 90s production set a trend for truly representing your area, telling stories of 90s London, tours in the States and tonguein- cheek sexual conquests.

For anyone who’s familiar with Gangster Chronicle, it’s the second CD that will provoke most interest. ‘Future No. 1’, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, ‘London Massive’ & ‘Roughnecks’ are lost gems. Nothing groundbreaking, just fresh, 90s hip hop, with that golden age sound. On ‘London Massive’ though, Bionic raps in a style way ahead of its time, a precursor to grime, garage and all the other offshoots of hip hop that have emerged since.

As someone who takes drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep remixes of hip hop tracks with a healthy dose of scepticism, I wasn’t overly excited at the prospect and in truth I think it would have been a better idea to include more older material, but if it introduces London Posse to a new generation then that’s no bad thing. Personally I would’ve preferred some more B-sides. The remixes do very little for me and I had to skip a couple.

Gangster Chronicle is an important album and hasn’t aged badly at all. As Tru Thoughts A&R Robert Luis puts it, “The slang may have changed, but the stories are about a day-to-day life that many people still experience.”

Gold Panda.

Half Of Where You Live.
Notown.

Reviewer – Jack Scourfield.

Writing this review on the day a certain helmet-wearing French duo have finally made their much-hyped new album available for public listening, it’s hard to shake the feeling that, through various bells, whistles, teasers and Nile Rodgers BBC4 retrospectives, ‘The Album: The Piece of Music’ is often usurped by ‘The Album: The Media Event’. To clarify, the helmeted Frenchmen of the opening line are Daft Punk, not some of the more musically-minded infantrymen of La Grande Armée returning with the follow-up to their popular 1813 breakthrough, ‘Versailles: The Limit’.

This year has seen both Daft Punk and Boards of Canada succeed where SARS failed, going truly viral across the globe courtesy of well-engineered PR campaigns. While I’ve only given the former a cursory listen and am yet to hear the latter, I’d be willing to bet that, despite the comparative lack of bluster and fanfare, Gold Panda’s follow-up record, Half Of Where You Live, is better than the both of them. Now please excuse me while I relocate to a cowering position as a mob of militant Boards of Canada die-hards firebomb my living room.

That previous statement may very well, of course, be nowhere near the shocking, anarchistic bombshell I secretly hoped it would be. Anyone who laid ears on the Berlin-via-Essex producer’s 2010 debut Lucky Shiner will be more than aware of the impeccable song construction skills he possesses, so it should come as little surprise that, in the three years since, his work has only become more refined. Opening track ‘Junk City II’ bursts out as if an M25 rave has parked up in the garden of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, punching out electric piano stabs with such a distinctly Oriental twist that it’s only the accompanying haze of kicks and snares that will keep you from thinking you’ve accidentally wandered in to a Japanese boxercise class.

Removing the opening indefinite article from the title of ‘An English House’ gives you a better idea of the song in question, much more closely aligned with the euphoric underground sound of the nation’s dancefloors than the neatened hedgerows of a semi-detached in Woking. ‘Brazil’ and ‘Community’ are nonchalantly captivating, ‘My Father In Hong Kong 1961’ and ‘S950’ seek solace in a room that seems to contain little but chimes, a sun-lit freshwater pool and a bucketful of tape hiss (also splashed liberally over the rest of the album), before ‘Reprise’ brings a suitably contemplative close to the record’s ambient-leaning latter half.

“We’re up all night ‘til the sun! We’re up all night to get some! We’re up all night for good fun! We’re up all night to get…” well nothing, actually, because pandas are notoriously sex averse, and this summer we’re fully on team GP, so bin the helmets and cue the bamboo at Edinburgh Zoo.

The Mother Folkers.

Spinning Yarns.
Ideas on a Postcard.

Reviewer – Nick Kilby.

Local six-piece The Mother Folkers are a self described rootsy folk band, a description which somewhat underestimates the variance and eclectic feel of their first full-length album Spinning Yarns, the first release on new Sheffield-based label Ideas on a Postcard. True, the band holds a classic folk line-up, with guitar, bass and drums joined by accordion, flute and violin, but the way this instrumentation is used certainly denotes a wider listening base and interests for the individual members.

There are some classic folk pieces present, with opening track ‘Reckless’ setting a great foot-stomping tone, harking back to tales of the working poor without taking itself too seriously. A similar thread can also be found in ‘Real Jig’, which as its title suggests is an authentic accompaniment for any drunken revelry. Gypsy folk is also catered for with the poppy ‘Stella’, injecting the intonation of the sub-genre with some of the biggest production seen on the album. Sophia Pettit's vocals shine throughout, with her versatility acting as a game changer from track to track, the Anglicised American accent complementing the journey and politic of the album. Ben Dorey's lead vocals are also a well served element on ‘Contact’.

Unlike many of their predecessors and contemporaries, The Mother Folkers use groove and more modern dynamics on tracks like ‘Too Much Time’ and ‘Ill Nino’, changing the pace of the album and avoiding it becoming homogeneous. The key to the band lies in this gift for self-discipline and sublime production, with the laid-back and riotous lying only a few bars apart.

Spinning Yarns can be seen as a general review of the folk landscape, with the name of the album showing that the band want to uphold traditions carried forward within the wide spectrum of the genre. It somehow manages to act as a tribute to their musical influences while delivering an uncynical joie de vivre that is befitting, authentic and original.

Ideas On A Postcard

Flamingo Love Parade.

Flamingo Love Parade.
Self-released.

Reviewer – Ben Eckersley.

The last time Flamingo Love Parade were mentioned in these hallowed pages, it didn’t go well. It wasn’t so much a slating as a merciless fourparagraph annihilation. The reviewer even begrudged their right to an association with that most glorious of birds. I won’t deny that FLP are certainly too crazy to be everyone’s cup of tea, and the aforementioned reviewer is of course entitled to his opinion, but I do wish to redress one thing. He accused them repeatedly of being dull. Flamingo Love Parade are many things – extravagant, camp, anarchic, provocative, divisive – but never, ever dull.

FLP took it on the chin. The opening track of their eponymous debut shares its title with the “jazz style lift music” that they found themselves accused of, though it’s not an entirely accurate description. They do have a classic jazz four-piece line up – guitar, bass, sax and drums – but their sound takes strong cues from Zappa and Beefheart, blended with plenty of prog, alongside a splash of lounge, and their open-ended tracks lead off in a variety of unpredictable and exciting directions.

At one of their famously flamboyant live performances, you’ll find them – impressively, considering they’ll have biked there, lugging amps and drums behind them – dressing up and flinging themselves around the stage like madmen. It’s quite a visual experience, but I did wonder whether without this spectacle the music could survive the transition. Happily it did, and this record exhibits their abundant variety of harmonies and rhythms, the irregularity of their riffs, and the capriciousness of their structures and dynamics to excellent effect. Little surprises like the brilliant afrobeat guitar riff in ‘JJ Goes to Kenya’ and James Pannell’s brilliant 8-bar rap in a reworked ‘The Arrival of Gaston’ keep up the kitsch appeal.

Surprisingly too, despite these wide-ranging extrovert tendencies, the album works very well as a whole. There are many thematic threads that run through the album, as well as absolutely seamless transitions from one track to the next. This unexpected coherence, along with the very high skill level of the musicians involved, is what helps elevate this project from a silly student joke to an undertaking of real substance and virtue.

The Weird & The Wonderful.

NudeIn.
UN! Recordings.

Reviewer – Tim Wilson.

The Weird & The Wonderful posit a homage to the rich, exploratory music of 1970s Germany, a time and place which has been recently and frequently extolled by many convincing practitioners. Geoff Barrow’s Beak> for one have elicited the motorik mesmerism of Neu, drawing on the strange compound of the unprecedented, wildly breakneck, yet somehow anchored propulsion that Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother generated. In the case of The W&W, it's the momentous synth composites of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze which are evoked, along with a more visceral percussive injection rooted in an industrial sound which often extends to something more dance-orientated.

Opener ‘TEOT-Hybrid’ channels these influences with a preference for fluted, mystic mellotron whistlings, underpinned by thick hums and swells of effects. On the back of this magnitude and flourish of frequency comes ‘Beat Destructions I-V’, which begins with promising disorientations; fans, whirs and occasional torrents of streaming static which open up to industrial impacts. Unfortunately, then comes a rudimentary kind of schlock-horror foreground which disappoints. Based on the refinement of the production you sense The W&W can do something much less maladroit. These destructions recover somewhat with a phase of gentle, shimmering bell tolls, but overall they bear mixed results as their ending features more trite gestures of tame menace. ‘The Random Eloquence of Beauty’ equals its ponderous title, with a fricative expression and an organic addition in the form of sparse Latin strums. Wholly compensatory.

With the second half comes a vehicular surge in the form of ‘Glasjam’, which abruptly brakes before standout ‘Geisterhaft’, a Cluster-like oddity with an atonal, subtle clangour for an introductory interlude. This sets up a longer phase of offbeat, enclosed rumbling, steady drips of liquid and mournful groans. Combined as they are these sounds conjure an uninhabitable subturranea. Wunderbar.

The form continues on ‘Year of the Android’ with an automated constancy and more mellotron, which this time sounds closer to strings, though dusty and faded like some forgotten artifact of utopian propaganda. Sporadic grindings and quietly dissonant rings creep and interject once again, replacing that prior optimism with unease.

Nudeln is by no means a perfect emulation of its source of affections – that would be an unfairly lofty expectation – but it is a worthy adjunct to an experimental and innovative lineage. Occasionally off the mark, but as a whole a convincing interpretation by a project in relative infancy.

Mu-Ziq.

Chewed Corners.
Planet Mu.

Reviewer – Ben Dorey.

Planet Mu head honcho Mike Paradinas has spent the last 20 years performing and producing under his µ-Ziq pseudonym, and this new record see him sounding as original and unique as ever. His discography was begun with acid techno powerhouse Rephlex in 1993 with the beautiful and brooding surreality of Tango N’Vectif, which carefully balanced the prevailing acid sounds with an individual delicacy often lacking from his contemporaries’ music at the time. But it was his amicable split with Rephlex in 2003 that seemed to really let him fly, with Bilius Paths, his debut on his own label, displaying his multifaceted brilliance.

Chewed Corners sees him exploring his imagination again in a similar vein, with bizarre melodic arrangements and intricate rhythms offset by the distinctively analogue sound palette that draws all his releases together. Opener ‘Taikon’ is a case in point, its luscious and rich synths poised somewhere between relaxing ambience and impending doom, falling subtly in and out of tune before a wave of electronic choral lines sweep another gloss over the affair. There are similarities with Autechre’s Oversteps here and they continue throughout the record, but not in any negative sense; these are just artists of a similar era exploring how far their amassed production knowledge can take them.

This inevitably results in some variance between tracks, though a lot of this is going to be down to personal taste. Personally I think ‘Wipe’ feels a little directionless, especially when followed by as exquisite an arrangement as ‘Monyth’. ‘Houzz 10’ stands out as a slightly more dancefloor-friendly number which still exhibits definite µ-Ziq DNA, and while ‘Hug’ shows a lack of inventiveness as a soft number, this is more than compensated for by the gentle closing beauty ‘Weakling Paradinas’.

All top quality by the standards of 95% of people releasing electronic music. Dim the lights and have a good listen.

Queens of the Stone Age.

…Like Clockwork.
Matador.

Reviewer – Jim Rangeley.

From the very first moment, ...Like Clockwork is awesome, and listen after listen it grows. From the unpredictability of its musical progression to the size of its production, there is always something more to hear.

The album, recorded in frontman Josh Homme’s studio, Pink Duck in California, has the undulating pace we have come to expect from Queens of the Stone Age, a mix of soulful meandering interspersed with speedy aggression.

Opener ‘Keep your Eyes Peeled’ is true to form in so far as it is a dissonant and progressive yet listless track, with the trademark tone of Homme’s lead guitar ever-apparent.

QOTSA are renowned for their guest artists and this album is no different. Dave Grohl, everyone’s favourite guest drummer, performs on most of the album due to the departure of long-time drummer and man mountain Joey Castillo.

It showcases not only the Foo Fighters drummer, but also Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Brody Dalle of The Distillers. Alongside these names, Sheffield’s own Alex Turner lays down vocals for ‘If I Had A Tail.’ While his appearance is only subtle, becoming more apparent towards the end of the track, this is quite the accolade for the chap from High Green. On the subject of the recording, Homme explains, “One day you’re parting ways with your drummer of ten years—the next day, Elton John shows up.”

‘My God Is The Sun’ is the quickest and most upbeat track on the album, even though it is one of the shortest at 3:56. The riffs roll continuously throughout the track, blasting their way through. ‘I Appear Missing’ concludes the record alongside the haunting ‘Kalopsia’, and both quietly scream a heart-achingly beautiful sense of disjointedness. They are the kind of pieces that spiral and crescendo intricately toward an unseen place.

This is one of the greatest QOTSA albums of recent times. Holding nothing back, it embraces the pandemonium that has surrounded the band, summed up neatly by Homme himself: “People usually try and run from chaos. But this time, wherever it was most uncomfortable, that’s where I decided to go.”

Tunng.

Turbines.
Full Time Hobby.

Reviewer – Paul Robson.

“It’s our sci-fi folk rock album” is what vocalist and guitarist Mike Lindsay calls Turbines, Tunng's latest album. It’s hard to disagree with this assessment as their latest release gently floats around the listener's head space. For their fifth studio album, Tunng have delivered an eclectic mix of styles that encompasses folk, pop, trip hop and electronica. They have woven together a rich tapestry of sounds that never seem self-indulgent.

Turbines opens with 'Once', a song that exhibits Tunng's trademark vocal style in which their voices barely rise above a whisper. Mike Lindsay's deep timbre blends beautifully with Becky Jacob's sweet tones accompanied by a piano and a light guitar melody. The record drifts into 'Trip Trap' and 'So Far From Here', showing the band’s fondness for offbeat electronic sounds. These elements are created by the band members Phil Winter and Ben Edwards and bring to mind artists like Four Tet and Caribou. For the majority of Turbines, the speed rarely changes from mid-tempo, but the fusion of simple melodies, subdued vocals and washes of electronica keep the music engrossing. 'By This' is a good example as it shows how a repetitive guitar line with the right accompaniment can become hypnotic and spellbinding.

A noticeable difference with Turbines, compared to previous releases Mother's Daughter and Other Songs and Comments of the Inner Chorus, is that there is a new consistency and maturity. Their past work, although memorable, was often loose and raw. Lindsay mentions that “a lot [has] happened in this band in the last couple of years,” and this is evidenced by the band’s progression. Tunng have always had a gift for fusing pastoral folk with otherworldly sounds, but on Turbines they have honed their craft. This new-found maturity means that Tunng have created a sci-fi rock album that isn't epic or grand, but emotive and intimate.