Worst summer ever! I’m sitting here with rain sheeting down the window, thunder crashing and lightning flashing, wondering what the hell happened to the great British summer. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s England—we’re supposed to avoid extreme weather. Summers are pleasant and the winters are mild. Sure, the national obsession is bleating on about it, but that’s because it’s unreliable rather than life threatening. This year, it’s been nothing but flood warnings, electric storms and small villages getting washed away. It’s depressing - if it weren’t for music, and the new Sopranos, I’d be seriously contemplating partial catatonic shutdown, or moving to France, or both. Bloody weather!
The Spaces In Between (Cooking Vinyl)
An album that has cheered me up, and warmed my cockles this miserable season has been Ben Christopher’s The Spaces In Between (Cooking Vinyl). His third album oozes classy, touching, sporadically abstract songs and sweet,Ben Christophr welcoming melodies in equal helpings, and is a shade more urgent than previous outings. Perhaps he’s come to the conclusion that with a couple of great albums under his belt and all the critical acclaim the best PR money can buy, it’s now or never. I don’t know, but The Spaces In Between certainly deserves a mass audience rather than a mere cult following, and it’s definitely the masses’ loss if they can’t connect with this most eloquent of singer-songwriters. The album begins with the open-handed lament, “Flowers Drink Upon The Ground”, which inexplicably reminds me of those slow, stark moments that were occasionally thrown up on Jefferson Airplane albums - oblique references to bees, books and UFOs add to the sensation. “Good Day For The Hopeless” is an upbeat, classic pop song that would have graced the radio in more tasteful times, and “Devil To Kill” lopes along spectacularly, like a drugged up lounge singer who’s just discovered the blues.
Tree Of Loving Soul (Lovely Aichan Records),
From Devon, The Akibas are a female fronted, folk-rock outfit, with the slightest of country twang tucked away in the mix. Their second album, Tree Of Loving Soul (Lovely Aichan Records), was recorded in East London’s legendary Toerag studios, and is a thoroughly engaging hybrid of chug-a-long rock and pristine female vocals. The latter come courtesy of Melodie Jones, who possesses a voice which exemplifies the blemished purity that we’ve come to expect from our roots divas, though their presence has hardly been fashionable or even noticeable since their 70s heyday; Sandy Denny dead, Linda Thompson, apart from her recent comeback, struck silent and Anne Briggs, long retired and still hating the sound of her own voice. Not that The Akibas share a whole lot of common ground with those hallowed folkies. The band, led by Huw Akiba-Jones - he contributes songs and production, but doesn’t play or sing - appear to owe more to the basic rock ‘n roll urges of the Velvet Underground than the delicate cut ‘n‚ thrust of classic English folk-rockers like early Fairport Convention or the more traditional, though slightly naff, Steeleye Span. It’s also worth noting that throughout the 11 songs on Tree Of Loving Soul, they consistently combine accessible tunes with songs that lodge in the brain for longer than is technically healthy. Works for me, and although they’re seriously difficult to pigeonhole, well worth tracking down.
Strange Little Creature (Googlie Mooglie Records)
CatDesigners are the result of an English musical and cultural legacy which embraces Ray Davies, David Bowie and, equally, a decent cup of tea. Strange Little Creature (Googlie Mooglie Records) is their second album, a glammy indie-pop effort which wears its history boldly on its sleeve like a badge of honour. They positively wallow in their Englishness, clasping onto their heritage and reshaping it whenever possible. Occasionally they remind me just a little too much of other bands: "Strange Gods" is early, post-John Foxx Ultravox, done with taste, fronted by by someone worthy, rather than moustachioed twerp, Midge Ure. "Heaven's On Your Side" wouldn't have sounded out of place on the first Suede album, but for the most part they shun imitation and forge ahead on their own quirky course. Difficult second albums aren‚t supposed to be this good, but this one is, and should therefore be lauded without reservation. CatDesigners, consider yourself lauded.
Sequel (Dead Frog Records),
Sweden’s got a fantastic reputation for power pop, and a number of top bands. One of them is Paste(Swe), and their latest album is Sequel (Dead Frog Records), a Posies, Hollies, early Byrds-inspired collection of marvelous jangly tunes. I’ve got a theory about Swedes and pop music, and it’s to do with the long days of summer and endless winter nights - the former provides a double dose of inspiration, a chance to take in those extra warm vibes and wallow in the sunshine. The latter affords plenty of time to immerse themselves in rehearsal rooms and recording studios to perfect those George Harrison licks, and delicious vocal harmonies. Well, however they’re doing it, they’re doing it right. Sequel is jam-packed with literate songs, great vocal harmonies from core duo Mikael Frithiof and Thomas Johansson, and hooks big enough to put the frighteners on Moby Dick. My one concern is that occasionally, on their more keyboard / synth inspired tracks - "Hello!" instantly springs to mind - the first band that I think of is A-ha. It’s probably just me and I’m getting over it, I’m sure others will, too.
Behind Our Masks We Are Perfectly Ordinary People (Sidewinder Records)
While we’re having fun in Scandinavia, meet the Superheroes who call a small village just outside the northern Danish town of Skive home. Their UK debut Behind Our Masks We Are Perfectly Ordinary People (Sidewinder Records) takes tracks from all three of their domestic album releases, plus a couple of hard to find EPs, and the result is a compilation that feels like a seamless, proper album. Their sound can best be described as electro pop, but with a genuine early 80s buzz to it. In fact, when it comes to influences, one track in particular, “New Romantic Sounds”, pretty much gives the game away. They mix up the styles of all those English bands that drove the world’s guitar players mad two decades ago, so you’ll recognise bits of Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Flock Of Seagulls, Thompson Twins, and either you’ll embrace them with open arms or flee screaming into the hills. Personally, I like them. It might be a nostalgic reaction to the popular music of my youth, or simply an instinctive response to catchy tunes and choruses—I’m not sure. I do know they count Beck among their fans, so they‚re doing something right.