Saturday, April 18, 2015

New : Lonelady - 'Hinterland'

Feels like things are getting organic again in Manchester. Never a city too shy to boast about its musical pedigree, the Northern powerhouse hasn’t actually given us a right lot to get excited about over recent years with a string of supposedly flagship acts amounting to little more than short-lived hype and directionless noodling (Wu Lyf, Money, Everything Everything, take a bow lads!). A lot of my mates back home seemed psyched about those bands but for me there was never anything to hang your hat on, nothing to really get you dancing – in fact, now that I think about it there was nothing that showed any real understanding of the city’s musical heartbeat, the soul and attitude that has bolstered the best art the Greater Manchester area has given the world. Take it back through Britpop, Baggy, C86 Indie and Post Punk right back to the fallout from that infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Free Trade Hall in 1976 and there’s been a swagger, a strut that’s pushed the music forward, feeling the beat from the ground up and taking it to the crowd with confidence and class. Morrissey might have sneered at disco back in the day but Johnny Marr’s guitar lines still got you out of your seat and up on the dancefloor pretty damn quick – you’ve gotta feel it see, stop scrutinising and act on impulse for once.

Whilst her peers were too busy navel-gazing to grab the ‘Next Big Thing’ ball and run with it, Lonelady’s Julie Ann Campbell looks like she might just be ready to catch a wave and break from the pack with her stonking second LP ‘Hinterland’ that landed last month. It’s not that she resonates star quality or anything, the girl just gets it. Having soaked up the city’s musical culture at art college she banged out some 4 tracks that got her signed to Warp in the late noughties and released her highly danceable debut ‘Nerve Up’ in 2010, ironically when the British press were busy getting their panties in a knot over the bunch of no-hopers mentioned earlier. Now the path’s been cleared she should get some of the attention she deserves with this flawless newbie that draws on the dancefloor friendly post-punk of oft-overlooked civic peers like A Certain Ratio and The Durutti Column for a heady mix of tremulous basslines, skittering drum patterns and tightly wound riffs that’ll go straight to your hips and still leave a little leftover for your brain to ponder. The five year gap between records suggested she’s accustomed to taking her time and that notion is born out over the tracks here, songs frequently edging the six minute mark but it’s never wasted time – the tracks build up slowly like classic House whilst retaining their humanity, kinda like the way Warpaint manage to do danceable while keeping the individual instruments distinctly recognisable in the mix. And hey, those gals left a hefty pause between first and second records so maybe that’s the secret? There’s shades of Talking Heads on the title track in the way they fuse funk with arthouse post-punk without sounding like a bunch of honky plagiarists and the aptly-titled ‘Groove It Out’ manages to achieve subtly what Friendly Fires seem to overshoot with most of their material – you know what the secret is boys? LESS COWBELL!! Don’t wear it out ferchrissakes! You’d think they were fucking sponsored by some music store to cram in as much shitty sounding percussion into their tunes like they’re emptying a truckfull of timps and tambourines into a landfill….but I digress. What I like about this chick is that she knows when to take her foot off the pedal, letting the ingredients breathe and find their place in the mix without shoving them to the forefront in case we don’t notice. ‘Silvering’ sounds like early Bloc Party kicking into gear while ‘Red Scrap’ whisks gracefully by with the poise and precision of fellow Mancs Dutch Uncles (who are worth checking out too while I’m at it) and she kicks it up a notch on the scrambling punk torrent ‘(I Can See) Landscapes’, each time showing those hours poring over yesterday’s records have paid off as she crafts something potently fresh with the results. Lead single ‘Bunkerpop’ is possibly the pick of a very fine bunch, everything gradually falling into place over five and a half stealthily-handled minutes as she serves up a fresh product drawing on the finest early 80s funk pop to leave the listener with a big old grin on their face. Picking a favourite is tough as it’s wall to wall quality here and, though it’s way too early to start banging on about record of the year and all that, this is waaaay ahead of the pack right now. She’s surely one break away from superstardom but why wait for overkill when you can enjoy it in private right now? For those of you in Paris the tour comes to La Maroquinerie on May 16th – as I write tickets are still going at 12 Euros a pop so get on that quickety quick to catch this gal before she’s packing bigger venues in a few months time. ‘Hinterland’ is solid proof that Manchester’s still got soul, Britain’s still got talent and that 2015 is shaping up to be a classic.

Check out : ‘Bunkerpop’ – this year’s ‘Undertow’? You go ahead and prove me wrong.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

New : The Charlatans - 'Modern Nature' / Noel Gallagher - 'Chasing Yesterday'

In many ways there’s never been a better time to be a 45-year musician. The decline in sales of new music coupled with festival promotors' overreliance  on established/reformed acts of yesteryear has swung things in favour of artists pitching it to the married with children bracket - seeing as everyone else is skint these days - whilst pattern baldness indie acts like Elbow and The National have steadily galumphed forward into the new decade to increasing levels of success. You don’t have to be a bog tedious real ale type to cut it in your 40s though - the runaway success of Sleaford Mods in last year’s indie press showed that advancing years are no barrier to critical praise whilst wise old elders like Paul Weller and Johnny Marr stepped back into the ring with fresh new licks to prove there’s still plenty of life in British indie. What they have in common is that trademark swagger, the brash R’n’R attitude that runs through virtually all of the decent guitar music that has burst forth from these isles over the years – a pouty, overconfident strut inherited from those that came before them that brings the music to life and makes you want to get up and throw some shapes. We all bemoan the over-gentrification of British indie in these harsh, mercenary times so it’s important that we treasure what still makes it great, a portal for working class youth to blow off some steam and reach out to touch folk across the globe, not just with clever bugger lyrics and a catchy synth line but with a sense of GROOVE. All the hagiography and rose-tinted nostalgia shouldn’t blind us to the fact that during the heydays of Madchester and Britpop most of the punters weren’t sat there deconstructing the music to within an inch of its life, they were too busy dancing their arses off and having a good time to think too hard about what was happening. This isn’t to say that the music didn’t have an intelligence to it, it’s just that the message was one that didn’t need to be articulated in a nice well-spoken accent – it was all about the feeling. You either got it or you didn’t. And even if it mellows with age, it never truly dies.

Those who keep on keepin’ on were hit with a double whammy earlier this year with return to form gems from two of England’s greatest. Madchester Rasputins The Charlatans bounced back from their SECOND death in the band with the gloriously resurgent ‘Modern Nature’ in late January whilst Noel Gallagher reminded us that there was more to him than a string of hilarious press quotes with ‘Chasing Yesterday’, a second release under the High Flying Birds moniker that dropped in early March. Neither act has made the mistake of thinking that they’re still 19 but crucially both seem to remember how they felt when they were – the pace has steadied but the power’s still right there where it should be and we can count ourselves fortunate that both acts are still knocking out decent records after all this time. Indeed, if you’ve ever taken The Charlatans for granted then news that they’d be carrying on following the death of drummer Jon Brookes should have brought things back into stark focus and made you realise how much you’d miss them if they weren’t around. The evergreen indie veterans are pretty much the only band to have charted a course through every movement in British music since the rave era without ever falling off the map or fading into irrelevance – their central role to both Madchester and Britpop may have been supplanted by a more backseat presence in the post millennial landscape of British guitar music but they’ve always been there when you needed them, surfacing every few years with another foray into indie’s more danceable territory. ‘Modern Nature’ tracks back to the early 70s for an almost implausibly upbeat listen, siphoning off the optimistic groove of classic era Stevie Wonder/Curtis Mayfield along with a generous dose of sun-soaked country rock to craft a buoyant, heady mix that hints at a band in love with the world around them rather than grieving over the loss of a key member. They hit a balance between confidence and subtlety that runs through the best of Ian Brown’s solo stuff – see ‘Music Of The Spheres’ for a good example – but their approach sounds like more of a band effort, the four sides of the square closing ranks and moving forward unperturbed by the void behind the drumkit. They can still knock out catchy singles without breaking sweat and the dub-infused lead track ‘Talking In Tones’ keeps up the strike rate nicely whilst the irrepressibly catchy ‘Come Home Baby’ and the sweet AOR flick of ‘Emilie’ set things up nicely for sunnier days of lagered-up revelry. They’re perhaps at their most impressive when they lock into a groove and run with it, ‘So Oh’ turning circles around a delicious acoustic riff while ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ glides through seven minutes of skytouching funk getting happier by the second. You’d think tragedy would have at least soured their mood if not knocked them off their perch completely but these lads have been here before - the earlier loss of keyboardist Rob Collins hit them at their commercial and critical peak in the mid 90s but did nothing to derail the runaway success of the ‘Tellin Stories’ LP that emerged in his wake and in an ideal world ‘Modern Nature’ would provide similar reward for their tenacity in the face of loss, teeing up a dormant UK indie scene for a summer of love once these tunes have gained a foothold on stereos across the land. As things stand it’s perhaps more realistic to hope for a reappraisal of their oeuvre in view of the chilling prospect of losing them for good – with that in mind get your filthy mitts on this without further ado and then take a trip through everything from ‘Wonderland’ onwards and remind yourself why these guys are at vital as they’ve ever been.

As for Noel, he’s gotten used to taking his time. Having become the indie scene’s go-to figure for a decent quote he doesn’t need to worry about disappearing from the spotlight and the penury of cocky guitar rock at present leaves the road open before him for a comeback anytime he feels like it. ‘Chasing Yesterday’ picks up where his 2011 solo debut left off, combing through his established musical influences to deliver another run of steady-handed compositions tailor made for the calm before the sort of storm he’d have whipped up in his younger days. There’s a consistency of attitude that links his newer material to the cocksure sneer of early Oasis but the end product is a calmer, more focused beast – his urge to put noses out of joint now safely channelled through his reliably entertaining press contributions, he’s now free to flesh out his musical fantasies into sentient form on his own terms and in his own time. His first solo offering took a few by surprise with its leaning towards pastoral pop at the expense of his trademark guitar rock and that’s a balance he redresses at times here, opener ‘Riverman’ seeing him bust out the axe for a rewarding bout of melodic soloing and the fist in the air anthems you know he’s capable of writing come through when needed, ‘Lock All The Doors’ cruising gracefully by like prime-era Britpop whilst ‘You Know You Can’t Go Back’ packs a chorus with a feelgood factor up there with his finest ‘Morning Glory’ bangers. Freed from the anchor of Liam’s provocative pouting his brother is able to simply kick back and unleash slow-release gems that stand up to repeated listens without grating – he’s taken his time writing these tunes and clearly expects us to do the same listening to them. The gentler side of post-millennial Oasis returns on ‘The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes’ and he manages to roll out the same old lyrical tropes (catching the sun, needing more time etc) without sounding trite, even moving into moderately soulful territory with the calculated gamble ‘The Right Stuff’ which hints that his music collection isn’t as pasty white as you might think. If there’s a parallel from his youth then it’s perhaps Paul Weller’s return to the fray as Britpop gathered speed, the strength of his legacy bolstered by his ability to swim along with the tide of musical fashion allowing him to emerge as an authority figure for the new age, capable of dispensing advice but also of taking the stage and leading by example. Consider this Noel’s own ‘Wild Wood’ then, the sound of a man evolving from his angrier roots to embrace a gentler frequency – there’s no apology for his past, musically or otherwise, just a confidence in the path that led him to where he is now and a strident faith in his ability to choose the correct next step. Flanked by journeyman peers such as Weller himself and a revitalised Johnny Marr plus a younger troupe of suitors – Miles Kane, Kasabian et al – Noel’s poised to lead his own movement through the decade as he sees fit, impervious to the caution that has taken hold of today’s UK indie scene and harbouring an understanding of that big ole rock ‘n’ roll heart that pumps the blood through the best of past and present. Back to back these two LPs are more Sunday afternoon than Saturday night but it’ll still take a lot to budge ‘Modern Nature’ and ‘Chasing Yesterday’ from the stereo as the weather warms up and those blue skies and sunshine pints scream out for an adequate soundtrack – 2015 is feeling better by the second.

Check out : ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ from the Charlies and Noel’s ‘You Know We Can’t Go Back’.