Friday, 5 November 2010

Odds and Sods: Round-up October 2010

I pondered for sometime this week over which of a number of new releases that I'd listened to I would write about. Having failed to make a decision I've decided to write briefly about each of them. Given that I have readers who like a whole range of genres I hope there is something here for everyone...

First up, the latest from the constantly excellent Fruits De Mer records - a label that specialises in psyched up modern versions of classic tunes. For release 15 they've focused on the tunes of Eddie Cochran with covers from Baking Research Station, Head South by Weaving and label faves Vibravoid. All three tracks are instrumentals and sound way more from 1969 than 1959 e.g. very psychedelic and strung out (in a very good way) All Fruits De Mer releases are vinyl only and limited edition so get in there quick from

Next up, off the back of my bemoaning the lack of decent guitar music recently I decided to check out the latest by current media darlings Arcade Fire. To be honest, this left me a bit cold, the subtleties of their debut Funeral seem to have given way to a slightly bombastic U2-esque anthems - there is material to enjoy here but one can't help but speculate that this is ultimately music for sports jocks in stadiums. Far more enjoyable in my opinion is the new release from perennial stoner scousers The Coral. Butterfly House is retro for sure but it manages to zip between the late 50's, the late 60's and onwards to 70's California to provide an enjoyable romp through rock history and never loses an ear for a good tune.

Another genre I've moaned about in recent months is hip hop. One release that certainly is worth checking out is the third album by East Coast rapper Homeboy Sandman The Good Sun. Homeboy's rhymes bring to mind a young Eminem and the production throughout is inventive and fluid. This one hasn't really been picked up by the music press but if you like your hip hop and want to hear something new you could do a lot worse than this.

I want to like Joanna Newsom in theory but I find her work a bit too baroque and  labour intensive over a whole album. I much prefer a release from earlier this year by Manchester based Jane Weaver. Her longplayer The Fallen by Watch Word is a great psych-folk concept album that manages to be ethereal without being twee and combinines a traditional folk sound with more proggy guitar tracks. Weaver is the partner of DJ legend Andy Votel and he's produced an excellent mix combining Weaver's songs with 70's folk rock classics.

I must take this opportunity to mention Robert Wyatt. I've always been firmly of the view that the one song that should never be covered is Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. The original is so utterly moving with Armstrong's beautifully gravelly voice offsetting the sickly sweet strings. Wyatt (along with colleagues Ros Stephen and Gilad Atzman) has bravely taken the song on as part of a new album of jazz standards (he also covers In a Sentimental Mood and Round Midnight and At Last I am Free by Chic) and somehow he manages to carry it off. Wyatt has a sad, aged, tone to his voice which is at once full of beauty and of regret. Wyatt is still producing work of great invention (often using break beats as well as more conventional instrumentation) well into his 70's and he is a true one off. This album might not appeal to jazz purists (these are fairly conventional covers of jazz standards at first listen) but he carries the whole thing off through sheer force of personality and the emotion of that voice.

Finally - saving the best for last! I completely overlooked Hidden by Southend's These New Puritans early this year - dismissing it as indie nonsense. I should have known not to be so judgemental for this is undoubtedly one of the albums of the year. Managing to draw together classical instruments (oboe, trumpet, bassoon etc) with digital sounds and indie vocals this is a thrilling contradiction of classical and modern, indie and electronic, angry and sweet. For some reason it remonds me of Elbow's Seldom Seen Kid (as well as post Kid A Radiohead). Not because it particularly sounds like it (this is far more abstract) but it has that warmth of emotion so lacking in most modern british guitar music. I hesitate to call this guitar music as there is barely a guitar to be heard - you'll detect by now I'm struggling to describe it which is a very good thing - do yourself a favour and check it out - its very good indeed.

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