Thursday, 11 February 2016

Recommended music: 'The Gambler' by Nonkeen

the gamble cover art

The first couple of listens to this (on the train, with headphones) left me a bit ambivalent about it. But then the vinyl arrived and something clicked with me. Listening to the record seemed to open up the analogue warmth of the original tape recordings. Recorded over many, many years by 3 lifelong friends (of which the most famous is Nils Frahm) the final product is the result of hours of material using primitive equipment and single-take sessions. These were sometimes processed and over-dubbed, and at others left raw and original.

The album flits from trip-hop ('Saddest Continent On Earth') to Krautrock ('Ceramic People') and on into ambient territory, all the time retaining an organic feel and flow that enables you to really drift away with it. Although sonically it might be quite removed from Frahm's usual solo work I'm sure it will apeal to lovers of his previous material. For me he can do no wrong and it's good to hear him in this group environment - I imagine these tracks will develop further when they play them live as a band in the forthcoming months.

It's worth mention that if you get the vinyl you get an extra track (which takes up the whole of side D). The record comes with a download code for the digital version of the album as well, so it's worth the investment in a physical copy.

'The Gamble' is out now on R & S Records - you can stream and and follow the purchase link below.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Recommended music: 'Curve of the Earth' by Mystery Jets

Curve Of The Earth

I must admit that I was ready to write off Mystery Jets as a spent force. A few minor hits a few years ago, then doomed forever to play mid-afternoon festival slots and gradually decreasing venues. Boy was I wrong! This is their magnum opus and one which should put to bed any notions of them being a trivial, lightweight band.

Not wishing to pigeonhole the music, I won't use words like 'psychedelia', 'prog', or even 'adult rock'. Suffice to say that this is a mature, polished, classic sounding record, whatever genre you think if fits. The band have talked of feeling like 'a gang again', like when they first formed, and the music certainly feels like it's been made by a group that are fully aware of and comfortable with each other. You feel that any of the tracks could go off into an improvisation and however loose it got they'd never lose control.

There's a depth and breadth to these tunes that really fits the expansiveness of the album's title. Take 'Midnight's Mirror', one of the stand-out tracks for me, which over the course of 6 minutes fits a couple of different choruses, a bridge, some twinkling acoustic guitar and some jangly electric, a synth bass and all sorts of drum rhythms into a song that could go on twice as long and I still wouldn't be bored with it. It's followed immediately by '1985', which isn't a prologue to anything Taylor Swift might have written, but is instead a piano-led ballad about the planets aligning with human emotions that explodes halfway through with a Coldplay-esque (in a good way) guitar riff. Meanwhile the next track 'Blood Red Balloon' has a vocal not dissimilar to 'Echoes' by Pink Floyd, a guitar riff that reminds me of Genesis, and all sorts of other stuff going on.

Although I've listened to this album loads of times since it came out a couple of weeks ago I get the feeling that it's still got a lot more to give and that I won't be removing it from my headphones any time soon. An essential purchase.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Recommended music: 'Global Underground #41: James Lavelle presents UNKLE Sounds - Naples'

Global Underground #41: James Lavelle Presents Unkle Sounds - Naples

I must confess to being more than a bit disappointed with this when I first got it last year. This was mainly because, having paid £35 to buy the deluxe edition direct from Global Underground, I discovered that only got you the 2 full length mixes on the cd, and not the full individual tracks as well (I'm sure that wasn't what it said when I ordered it, and I'll come on to why I wanted them a bit later). And to be honest, the mixing on it isn't even all that great - there are some rather clunky transitions, the track ordering is a bit jarring in places, and overall I don't think it really works all that well as a DJ mix. So all that being said - why am I recommending it?

The truth is, you have to come at this from a different angle. It may not be a great mix cd, but what it is instead is a great document of James Lavelle, the records he's made, his collaborators and his remixes. At the start of this year I caved in and bought the download from Amazon, where for £9.99 you get 32 full length tracks and the 2 mixes. Even without the mixes that's 3 hours and 42 minutes of music, most of which Lavelle has at least a finger in, if not a whole hand. There are hard to find remixes, in particular 2 from the last Queens of the Stone Age album. There are tracks recorded live at UNKLE's Redux show at the Southbank in 2014. And there's a whole raft of UNKLE classics (which of course I've already got but are great to hear again). If you think you're not familiar with Lavelle's band then give this a listen and you'll realise that you know more than a few tracks. It's the closest thing there's been to an UNKLE greatest hits.

So ditch the deluxe edition, download the digital, and take a trip with UNKLE Sounds.

Recommended music: 'Infinite Summer' by NZCA Lines

Infinite Summer

The first essential album of the summer is here - and it's still only January! (I'm sure there must me some kind of marketing reason for releasing a summery-named and sounding album in the middle of winter, but it certainly escapes me.). Ostensibly the solo project of Michael Lovett, who's joined on this release by Sarah Jones (Hot Chip) and Charlotte Hatherley (Ash), the record melds sci-fi concepts with European electronica, resulting in a gloriously bright and warm sound. Themed around a vision of a future earth threatened with extinction by a sun that's expanded to a red dwarf. While one half of the Earth is embracing the destruction the other half is trying to build something new, but generally they're all having a good time because of the warmth of the sun - essentially they're partying like it's 1999, a track that's clearly been some inspiration for Lovett.

Musically it sounds a bit like Hot Chip, and a lot like Metronomy ('Dark Horizon' has a synth line like a slowed-down version of the one in 'The Look'), while the likes of Daft Punk and Ratatat can also be felt in the background.

My favourite thing on the record is the dual guitars of 'Persephone' which are an aural delight and something that deserves to be preserved in a time capsule for all eternity should the end of the world actually come upon us.

Anyone who's booking a summer festival should be putting NZCA Lines on the top of their booking list - I can just imagine how great this would sound in the sunshine at Glastonbury. If you're feeling the winter chill then buy this record, it'll warm your soul.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Snow storm song of the day: 'In-Between' by Chet Faker

For a song made in the middle of the biggest blizzard in living memory this is a remarkably upbeat, almost tropical-sounding track. Kicking off with some great drums, it mixes some Balearic-type guitar and bass with the voice of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio giving his speech about the emergency situation in New York. You can grab the track for free below.

Track of the Day: 'Pilgrim (feat. Brolin)' by Saturday, Monday

The unmistakeable vocal of Brolin are heavily featured on this track, which he co-wrote with Swedish producer Saturday, Monday. Undercutting the smooth vocals are stabs of dark electronica, glitchy strings and a ticking beat. Somehow the whole things gels to become a slick if slightly disconcerting modern r'n'b track, one that hints at the dark corners and forgotten encounters of the night club.

The track of out now on Playground Music.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Surprising cover version of the day - The Hackney Colliery Band do David Bowie

There'll probably be a lot of Bowie cover versions over the coming months. This week alone Greg Dulli has released his version of 'Modern Love' (you can get that here) and rumours have emerged of a certain Mr K West planning an album's worth of covers (which could be genius). But you'll have to go a long way to find one that celebrates the life of the former David Jones with as much fun and enjoyment as this. Ironically they were planning to put this out to celebrate the release of 'Blackstar', but instead it's become a way to celebrate his whole life. This would've sounded great at that street parade Arcade Fire arranged in New York for Bowie this week.

Anyway, play it & download it - it's free in return for a donation to Cancer Research UK or Macmillan Cancer Support.