thu 30/05/2024

theartsdesk on Vinyl 83: Deep Purple, Annie Anxiety, Ghetts, WHAM!, Kaiser Chiefs, Butthole Surfers and more | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk on Vinyl 83: Deep Purple, Annie Anxiety, Ghetts, WHAM!, Kaiser Chiefs, Butthole Surfers and more

theartsdesk on Vinyl 83: Deep Purple, Annie Anxiety, Ghetts, WHAM!, Kaiser Chiefs, Butthole Surfers and more

The most wide-ranging regular record reviews in this galaxy

Put the needle, put the needle, put the needle on the record© Eric Murray

VINYL OF THE MONTH

London Afrobeat Collective Esengo (Canopy)

afroThe weather has not been kind to the UK lately, pelting it daily with endless drizzle and gloom. So wrap your ears around this, a mini-album that will infuse any room with blazing sunshine as soon as the needle hits the plastic. Esengo was supposed to be reviewed last month but one listen and, instead of being held back for review, as it should have been, it bullet-shot straight into the record box for DJing (where it more than proved its worth). The band are a loose-limbed outfit, nine-strong and consisting of members from England, Democratic Republic of the Congo, New Zealand, Italy, France and Argentina. They demonstrate on “Take Me to the Sea” that they can deal in soulful, softer songs but their true remit, over the rest of the album, is to put feet on the dancefloor with a global music gumbo that funks hard, with tunes and choruses present and correct, Afrobeat and Latin flavours to the fore, and singer Juanita Euka’s vocals the centrepiece. Just six tracks but they shine bright.

VINYL REVIEWS

Frank From Blue Velvet Frank From Blue Velvet (Property of the Lost) + X-Ray Trio Live at the Jenny (Live at the Jenny)

frankOne of the shiniest diamonds in the crown of Hastings label Property of the Lost is the blues-Americana outfit Frank From Blue Velvet (named after Dennis Hopper’s mesmerically deranged gas-snorting psychopath from the David Lynch film). Their debut album has been out a while but finally arrives on vinyl. And what a pleasure it is (their new one is due in the autumn). Frontman Andrew J Davies’s songwriting sits somewhere between Alabama 3 and Gallon Drunk, but with a heavy dose of southern gothic burlesque, poetic songs that take a droll poke at the territory they inhabit (such as “Church of Prosperity”’s skewering of salvation-for-cash US evangelism). The whole is ably abetted by vocals from the four women in the band. xComes in a tarot card art inner sleeve on coloured vinyl that looks like cherry blossom hailing from a spring sky. Property of the Lost Records put on regular night’s at Hastings’ Jenny Lind pub, including an annual weekender. The climax of last year’s event saw a set by Yorkshire garage-psyche cats X-Ray Trio which now appears via a new joint label with the pub. In the spirit of The Hope and Anchor’s 1978 Front Row Festival album, Live at the Jenny captures the sweaty small-room sound of a crowd and a band guitar/drums/double bass – surf-punk bouncin’ about, music coiled tight, energy caught in a rockabilly-tinted sonic snapshot. Comes on transparent vinyl.

Rotem Geffen The Night is the Night (Thanatosis Productions)

rotemSwedish-Israeli musician Nelly Klayman-Cohen, who records as Rotem Geffen, confirms with her second album that her talent is no flash-in-the-pan. Singing in German, English and Hebrew, often around a piano that provides the central tune, with strings and ambient reverb effects enclosing the whole in its own intimate world. These songs are delicate but sturdy, fragile chamber pop touched with a modern classical seriousness that, happily, doesn’t stifle their easy flightiness. There’s something of PJ Harvey in what’s going on, but The Night is the Night feels more steadfastly European, utterly un-rock’n’roll yet quietly vital and engaging.

Butthole Surfers Live PCPPEP + Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac + Rembrandt Pussyhorse (Matador)

buttholesThree early releases from one of the greatest, most demented bands that ever existed (once referred to in a prudish Times newspaper review, decades ago, as The Buttonhole Surfers). “Acid rock” is a term used to refer to multitudes of music, but these Texan loons truly dived down the LSD well, pushing the envelope in ways that still sound deranged (and sometimes disturbing – these are not albums for the “trigger warning” generation!). This trio of albums track Butthole Surfers from the live album Live PCPPEP and debut proper album, Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac, both from late 1984, through to their second album, 1986’s Rembrandt Pussyhorse. The first two albums have one toe in riff-rock but tweak it via avant-garde noise, novelty effects, and goof-surreal ridiculousness, led by frontman Gibby Haynes’ addiction to distorting his voice in any manner possible, from the silly to the terrifying. Kurt Cobain loved this band and it’s possible to hear intimations of grunge, but diseased and warped before it was even born, notably in cuts such as “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave” (“There's a time for drugs and a time to be sane/Jimi Hendrix makes love to Marilyn's remains”), the Mark E Smith-goes-scatalogical “Lady Sniff”, and the sheer galloping groove of “Dum Dum”. By the time of Rembrandt Pussyhorse, though, they’ve wandered off-piste into the weeds of weirdness, the nearest reference point being the no-wave country’n’western-flavoured oddness of Arizona’s Meat Puppets. There are songs but also pieces such as “Strangers Die Every Day”, a sinister instrumental collage of distorted found sounds, bubbling and mournful church organ tones. They are now out on their own, out on the frontiers that would lead them, eventually, to their 1987 masterpiece, Locust Abortion Technician. But that’s another story. It’s so good to have these three back on plastic.

Amelia Coburn Between The Moon and The Milkman (Quiet Crown/Shoebox) +Babitha Brighter Side of Blue (Impressed) + Corb Lund El Viejo (New West)

ameliaThree albums of roots music that each break beyond niche genre fare to grab the ears. Middlesbrough folk singer Amelia Coburn has a lovely clear, understatedly emotive voice, her native accent adding extra richness. Her debut album, Between The Moon and The Milkman, is built around simply strummed ukulele, whether unadorned on songs such as the elegiac “Please Go Gently” or accompanied by full hoedown band on “Sleepy Town”. She can write songs too, lyrically chewy and with hooks. The whole package gives the sense of real talent on the rise. Comes in lyric inner sleeve. Over on the other side of the world, in New South Wales, Imogen Grist – AKA Babitha – has been honing her own hazed-out version of country for debut album Brighter Side of Blue, which aptly arrives on powder blue vinyl. Also enclosed is a small blue booklet containing an appreciation of Babitha by Esquire Australia’s Amy Campbell. The music has a dreamy, smeared quality which matches Grist’s laidback voice. There’s something David Lynch-y going on, nothing overstated, a bluesy guitar babithatwang heard through hypnogogic mists, and a smidgeon of Lana del Rey in there too for good measure. Eight years ago I saw Canadian country Corb Lund playing to about eight people above a pub in Brighton. He was great. Unlike peers such as Colter Wall, however, he has not gathered even a cult following in Europe. This is a grand shame as his unreconstituted but wryly witty cowboy/trailer park songs are a treat. He’s released umpteen albums but a new one is always a pleasure and such is the case with El Viejo, which contains such treats as “Redneck Rehab”, the jazz-licked “When the Game Gets Hot”, and the mandolin-picked maudlin of “That Old Familiar Drunken Feeling”. Comes in a limited edition of 1000 in gatefold on black’n’white splatter-explosion vinyl.

Orbital Chime (Remastered) (London) + Orbital Omen (London) + Mr Scruff Ninja Tuna (Ninja Tune) + I Monster Neveroddoreven (Dharma)

orbitalFour reissues deriving from the world of club music and electronica. Orbital were giants of 1990s dance music who, as the Hartnoll brothers finally put their internecine difficulties behind them, are slowly reclaiming their rightful reputation as a key act of the era (assisted by releasing the greatest single of last year, “Dirty Rat” with Sleaford Mods). Their current focus is around the reissue of their eponymous debut album, commonly known as The Green Album. From it they’ve fired out limited edition 12”s including one containing their most famous riff, their debut and rave-era Top 20 hit, “Chime”, with its original B-side “Deeper”. There's also “Omen”, their second single, back on 12", with its prophetic ABC sample, “I’ve seen the future, I can’t afford it”. The latter release appears with its original B-scruffsides “2 Deep” and the hardcore ravey “Open Mind”, but also contemporaneous “Omen” remixes, of which “Omen – The Fool” is theartsdesk on Vinyl’s pick of the bunch. As well as the usual formats, DJ-producer Mr Scruff’s fifth album, Ninja Tuna, originally came as an eye-pleasing USB stick in the shape of the fish in the cover art. 15 years later theartsdesk on Vinyl still has this, in it’s packaging, peering from the wall as these reviews are written. This anniversary reissue come as a triple set, well mastered and pressed to vinyl, as is label Ninja Tune’s way. It is arguably the most rounded and musically resolved of Mr Scruff’s output (his album releasing dried up a decade ago), a steady, jazz-inflected set of cheerful, breakbeat-led grooves featuring guests such as Alice Russell, Roots Manuva and Quantic. It speaks of its era, the Nineties hangover, the smell of Kruder & Dormeister still in the air, but retains its maker's unpretentious charm. I Monster achieved their highest profile with their Top 20 hit “Daydream in Blue” in 2001, a nouveau-easy imonsterclassic that’s present and correct on their second album, 2003’s Neveroddoreven. At the time I couldn't understand why the album wasn’t bigger. It was my own Album of the Year. So it’s great to have it back on double vinyl in info gatefold with all kinds of extras and odds’n’ends. The Sheffield duo of Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling released two versions of the album in quick succession, which gives them plenty to choose from, and there are also remixes and rarities, such as “I Spider” and “Electralove”. It remains a lush pleasure, jammed with dreamy tunes, actual songs rather than the “chill-out” wallpaper popular at the time, but also unique because tonally somewhere between Warp Records-ish oddball electronica, TV theme kitsch and easy listening exotica. I prefer the original skull cover art but this is a minor quibble about a delicious album. Comes on in vinyl the colours of a flecked and dying buttercup.

Flux of Pink Indians Neu Smell EP (Crass) + Annie Anxiety Barbed Wire Halo (Crass)

crassWhen people think of Crass Records, they likely think of cacophonous agit-core punk raging. And this is, indeed, what Hertfordshire’s Flux of Pink Indians serve up on songs from this 1981 EP. On the likes of “Tube Disaster” and “Background of Malfunction”, the bass-led repetitive music also has hints, as their EP’s title may suggest, of German kosmische’s noisier outliers (albeit with rough-poetic Sleaford Mods-ish shouting). The songs tastily combine gruff anger with wiry songmaking. There’s more going on than an initial listen suggests. Comes inside a large info/art poster. Crass also facilitated more experimental fare, such as the debut single by Annie Anxiety. Transplanted from New York, Annie Bandez’ opening musical two-header has more in common with the cut-up experiments of her native city’s Steinski than, say, The Exploited. Also released in 1981, the A-side is “Barbed Wire Halo”, performance poetry thrown about by jagged chopped chunks of radio white noise, snippets of voices and musical clippings. It’s interesting but the more prophetic (and lively) cut is “Cyanide Tears”, which prefigures sampling electronica, an almost danceable production line groove with politico-beatnik intent which hints at what Anxiety would do with Adrian Sherwood and On U Sound. Comes with a 12” x24” dark-art poster.

WHAM! Fantastic (Sony)

wham!For those of my generation, WHAM !, with their gay chic and shuttlecocks-down-shorts, were a band who opened the gateway for a most unwelcome decades-long pile-on of chisel-cheeked dancing boy bands, Polyfilla-ing the charts with wet pap. However, their debut album is over 40-years-old and, separated from the cheesy image, it is, quite simply, a fabulous late-period disco-pop album. Mostly this is because it contains 24-carat Eighties classics “Club Tropicana”, “Young Guns (Go For It)” and “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)” (although the “U.S. Club Re-Mix” is the version you really need of the latter). OK, so no-one really needs breathy ballad “Nothing Looks the Same in the Light” and, as George Michael said on the recent WHAM! documentary, “Bad Boys” feels like a forced addition to the duo’s free-ass suburban dole-boy posturing, too far gone into kitsch. But then there’s the counterpoint of the brassy frolicking of “Come On”, “Ray of Sunshine” and their cover of the 1975 Miracles single “Love Machine”. All in all, shiny and frothy, but a solid good time. WHAM!’s second album, Make It Big, is also reissued, but I don’t have anything good to say about that, so let’s leave it there. Fantastic comes in a replication of the original photo/lyric inner sleeve.

GUHTS Regeneration (New Heavy Sounds) + Shooting Daggers Love and Rage (New Heavy Sounds) + Pissed Jeans Half Divorced (Sub Pop)

guThree albums that revel unapologetically in guitar noisiness. Two are from one of theartsdesk on Vinyl’s favourite heavy rock imprints, New Heavy Sounds. GUHTS are a New York outfit fronted by the formidable Amber Gardner, whose witchy singing (and howling) sits against a backdrop of sludge-sloth metal guitars (except for the two numbers that up the ante to thrash). Spend time with it, and a doomed, slowed-to-a-snail’s-pace gothic tunefulness makes itself felt. One for the stoner rock brigade, but filtered through an offbeat dagavant-femme perspective. Comes on Barbie-pink vinyl in lyric inner sleeve. The debut from London feminist punk-queercore trio Shooting Daggers doesn’t fuck about. At 45RPM, on bright blue vinyl, these eight songs brook no argument, delivered at a pace, perhaps the key song being “Not My Rival” (“We watch ourselves being looked at/A man inside rules how we act/You’re not my rival/Get out the spiral/Together, girl, we break the cycle”). They are capable of reflective slower numbers, as proved on “A Guilty Conscience Needs an Accuser” and closing piano ballad “Caves” , but their primary business is smash’n’grab thrashin’, honed, dynamic, and memorable. They deserve to go far. Even more caterwaulingly noisy is the sixth album from two-decade-old Pennsylvanian punkers, pissedPissed Jeans. Opener “Killing All the Wrong People” grips from the off, wiring their hardcore guitar-slam to a grinding groove, singer Matt Korvette’s hoarse, raging voice appropriately rougher with the passing of time. In concert is where Pissed Jeans need to be caught, since catharsis is their game, but on their new album, their tempered rage at life’s convoluted nonsense is conveyed with force. Comes on transparent vinyl the faded aquamarine of bleached toilet water (the coloured vinyl limited edition being called the “Loser Edition” brought a smile).

Kaiser Chiefs Kaiser Chiefs’ Easy Eighth Album (Kaiser Chiefs) + Red Rum Club Western Approaches (Modern Sky UK)

kaiserTwo albums by bands who have an inarguable track record of entertaining their public, and a strong grasp of ebullient songwriting, one already very successful, the other making its way there. As befits an album whose opening song is co-written with Nile Rodgers, and which has ex-Rudimental producer Amir Amor at the controls, there’s a strong dance-boogie flavour to Kaiser Chiefs Easy Eighth Album, a Scissor Sisters bounce combined with the band’s usual new wave snap. They let their muse fly unhindered by hip, allowing them to nail a set of inarguably bright, catchy pop songs, from the bullish, witty “Job Centre Shuffle”, featuring rapper Hak Baker, to the “Black Skinhead”-style electro-glam redstomp of “Reasons to Stay Alive”. Comes in photo-lyric inner sleeve. Red Rum Club recently achieved their first Top 10 album with Western Approaches, their sixth album. Their sound is a burlesque explosion of spaghetti western gallop, trumpet and Bookhouse Boys attitude, sometimes not a million miles from Kaiser Chiefs’ breakthrough hits. Their songs are chock full of hooks, a sense that life is a magnificent experience, all thrown out with cinematic skill and an energy that must surely make them a live sensation. Comes in photo/lyric inner sleeve on transparent fir tree green vinyl.

Ghetts On Purpose, With Purpose (Ghetts/Warner)

ghettsGrime MC Ghetts holds true to his course, following on from his nigh-on-chart-topping album Conflict of Interest from 2021. Arriving on double with a 12” x 12” info insert, On Purpose, With Purpose is well-fitted to vinyl, chapter by chapter, side by side. It starts with Side A’s statement-of-intent tunes, aggressively lucid, insightful, even political on “Mount Rushmore”, featuring Kano and Wretch 32, and “Double Standards”, with Sampha, then Side B pares back to stark bass cuts and guests including Moonchild Sanelly. It has a bitter taste. Tunes such as “Twin Sisters” might be worth challenging but even such bitch-money-sex fare is more layered than it appears on a first listen. Side C alleviates the mood with Afrobeat flavours, more melodies and singing, a gospel inflection, before closing on Side D with bitterly reflective numbers such as “Jonah’s Safety”. Connoisseurs of UK hip hop that matches street suss to joined-up thinking should welcome this set.

Various Disco Discharge: Disco Fever USA + Disco Discharge: Classic Disco (Demon)

discoAround 15 years ago the Disco Discharge imprint released a deluge of CDs that revealed welcome layers of original Seventies-Eighties disco obscurity and gay club naughtiness, further out than great-but-overplayed numbers of the “Native New Yorker” variety. Recently, the brand has been resurrected via Demon Records, firing out the Hi-NRG-centric LGBT celebration Box of Sin, and now these two double sets. They arrive on white (Fever) and orange (Classic) vinyl, with inner sleeves containing amusingly told back-stories (such as that one of the songs, Gloria Gaynor’s “Love is Just a Heartbeat Away”, is from the soundtrack of John Carradine film flop Nocturna, Daughter of Dracula, in which the vampiric Transylvanian count turns his castle into “a disco leisure complex”). Hispanic percussive gem “Space Bass” by Slick and the Afro-funk-rock of Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” are both essential. Then there's more straightforward pop ballad fare such as Boys Town Gang’s “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”, unlikely disco contenders The Glitter Band with “Makes You Blind”, and musical theatre-friendly camp-fests such as “Cherchez La Femme/SeSi Bon” by Dr Buzzards’s Original Savannah Band. There’s even the occasional familiar staple, such as Cheryl Lynn’s “Got to Be Real”. Both are entertaining and hip-wiggling collections.

Deep Purple Machine Head: Deluxe Anniversary Edition (Universal)

purpleDeep Purple’s magnum opus receives a 50th anniversary all-the-bells-and-whistles reissue (although it originally came out in 1972). It’s not, actually, a vinyl-centric experience but is included due to the Dweezil Zappa remix of the original album on “purple-smoke” vinyl. The rest is all CD/Blu-Ray action, a couple of CD versions (the Zappa remix and a remaster), a couple of in-concert CDs, and a Blu-Ray that includes the “2024 Atmos Mix”, the “1974 U.S. Quad Mix” and 5.1 (surround sound) mixes of B-side “When a Blind Man Cries”, as well as album cuts “Maybe I’m Leo” and the likeably bluesy roll of “Lazy”. Dweezil’s dad, of course, was playing when the Montreux Casino burnt down due a fan firing a flare into the ceiling, which became the subject of rock’s most deathlessly riffed number “Smoke on the Water”, a song whose lyrics are a uniquely unlikely success story, combining effortless rock chops with a prosaic description of a band having to relocate their recording studio. It’s the most famous song but this line-up – Ian Gillan, Richie Blackmore, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice – are clearly enjoying virtuosic rock’n’roll sparring, resulting in fine heads-down chunkers such as “Space Trucking” and “Highway Star” which near hold their own against Zep and Sabbath of the same period.

Peel Acid Star (Innovative Leisure) + Stephen EvEns Here Come the Lights (Onomatopoeia) + Glas Kisses Like Feathers (hfn)

peelThree albums that approach songwriting through the prism of sound, rather than just the songs. Los Angeles duo Peel don’t have a great name but their debut album holds interest. There’s something of Ride about it, the vocals especially, the Cocteau Twins too, but such songsmithery is mulched down into squelchy, blobby electronica that occasionally veers into skittering synth-pop, but mostly sounds like an ambient-hyperpop reimagining of long lost acid housers, The Beloved. Comes in art/photo inner sleeve with 12” x 12" photo/lyric/info insert. Perennial indie evenssidesman Stephen Gilchrist has worked the drums for everyone from Cardiacs to Art Brut to Graham Coxon, but also has a sideline as Stephen EvEns, under which he’s released four albums. The latest, Here Come the Lights, contains jolly but offbeat songs in the manner of great Seventies eccentrics such as Syd Barret, Kevin Ayers and Keith Relf, wrapped in prog-tinted chamber pop structures. From the organ-swaddled 11-minute children’s choral opener “Song for Europe”, featuring the Streatham Light Operatic Chorus, to the joyous unselfconscious silliness of “A Bee”, all rock’n’roll theatricality, it’s charmingly itself. Also occasionally reminds of long-lost alt-indie heads The Chrysanthemums. glasComes in photo/lyric/info inner sleeve. Closest to a recognised musical genre convention are Danish duo Glas, but I had to fit their debut album in somewhere, so why not here! Consisting of Lizbet Fritze and Louise Foo, and co-produced by DJ-producer Trentemøller, Kisses Like Feathers is full of wispy synth-pop, their interwoven voices floating over gently gloom-tronic backing pulsations, all adding up to po-faced but persuasive downtempo indie-tronic pop. Arrives, naturally, given their name, on transparent vinyl.

Nick Mulvey First Mind (Fiction)

nickNick Mulvey’s first couple of albums are amongst the loveliest released this century (his third one’s not bad either, albeit the new-agey patchouli-ayahuasca preachiness isn’t as effortlessly integrated to lyrical form). First Mind was the debut and now appears in tenth anniversary editions. There’s a zoetrope picture disc containing the original album or there’s a gatefold double, the second disc of which contains demos, B-sides and alternate versions, including the longer, strummier single version of the magnificent “Nitrous”, alongside live cuts, BBC session versions, and rarely heard treats like the delicious “Look at Miss Ohio”. Mulvey’s combination of ever-revolving Caribbean/classical/minimalist guitar picking, subtle storytelling, cosmic thoughtfulness, and songs that yearn so beautifully, is unique. Put bluntly, for theartsdesk on Vinyl, Nick Mulvey is one of the few essential singer-songwriters, and every home needs this album.

ALSO WORTHY OF MENTION

Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble Open Me, A Higher Consciousness of Sound and Spirit (Spiritmuse): Here’s US jazzer, percussionist and spiritual cosmonaut Kahil El’Zabar on how and why he formed the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble in 1974: “I had a dream where I saw a massive elephant’s face, head-on. The ears became tenor saxophonists, back to back, and I then appeared between them, as though my earthdrum was the elephant’s trunk in the middle.” As a reason to form a band, it beats “It got me chicks”! His latest album, on double in art gatefold is own idiosyncratic but apt tribute to trumpet kingpin Don Cherry, and includes input from Cherry’s son David Ornette Cherry on melodica. Vocal contributions from Los Angeles jazz-funkateer Dwight Trible also help boost this release beyond the sole scope of just hardcore jazzniks. Its percussive fluidity and sense of Afro-spiritual adventure renders it an ear-entertaining and occasionally out-there journey.

Various Tim’s Listening Party (Demon): Tim Burgess of The Charlatans blew up during COVID lockdown with his album listening parties. They were a way for music lovers to get together virtually, hearing favourite albums together while members of the relevant bands tweeted thoughts, memories and details. They’ve stopped now due to the way Twitter’s transformation to X didn’t allow the listening party format’s after-the-event replay. This double album in info inner sleeve contains 24 songs from albums that featured (although not from their biggest success of all, Iron Maiden’s Powerslave). The emphasis is on Brit indie and Eighties pop. Without foreknowledge of the raison d’etre the musical selection would seem arbitrary but, fortunately, it kind of works in its random way, with golden oldies by The Specials, Dexys, Chemical Brothers and, of course, The Charlatans themselves, alongside cuts from newer names such as This Is The Kit, Lovely Eggs, Joan As Police Woman, and The Orielles (“Space Samba (Disco Volador Theme” is a highlight. Comes on vinyl the shade of a forest seen at dusk.

Andy Blade+Buddies Being Alive is Fun (Holy Dotage): Even the most ardent fan of 1970s British punk rock would be unlikely to class Eater as makers of the greatest records of those times. Their fame derived as much from their extreme youth as from their music. The most active member since has long been singer Andy Blade, who now throws his prodigious energies into a contagiously raucous album that’s titled after a quote from Jeffrey Epstein the day before he was found dead in his cell. With guests including Rat Scabies of The Damned and Derwood Andrews of Generation X/Westworld, as well as a strong female vocal presence, its rollicking, ebullient 23 tracks snap by with a well-worded and contagious urgency.

Various Merengue Típico: Nueva Generación! (Bongo Joe): For those who don’t know anything about Dominica’s merengue típico (myself included) this compilation includes a rounded and educational recap by the curator, Belgian roots music crate-digger Xavier Daive, in an accompanying 12” x 12” eight-page booklet. He tells of the music’s format (accordion, tambora drum and cylindrical metal güira percussion), its historical origins, its collapse in the wake of the 1961 assassination of dictator Rafael “El Jefe” Trujillo, and its rise again in the late-Sixties amd early-Seventies, the era examined by this compilation. It’s manic sweaty party music, a driving accordion relentless at its core, the sound rough’n’ready, transferred straight from crusty old ultra-obscure 7” singles. My untrained ears would have difficulty differentiating between many of these ten tracks by long-forgotten musicians, but they have a zest that’s undeniable.

The Utopia Strong The BBC Sessions (Rocket) + Woo Robot X/Xylophonics (Independent Project Records)

Two releases that showcase keen synth explorations. The Utopia Strong is Snooker-genius-turned-avant-prog-obsessive Steve Davis, Cardiacs/Gong musician Kavus Korabi and bagpipe expert Michael York, one of the more unlikely units in modern music. They have cut their own swathe and their latest release is a five-tracker drawn from 2022 sessions for Mark Riley’s BBC 6Music show. Their sound veers between ambience and mantric head-nod, but (by very far) the outstanding cut is “Lamp of Glory”, wherein the drone of York’s pipes adds an unexpectedly fitting folk element to the overall Tangerine Dream-esque hypno-throb. Comes with a 12” x 12” photo insert, the main image of which could act as a visual definition of the term “synth nerd”. Within typically well-crafted envelope packaging, Independent Project Records curate another collection by a band they consider unfairly forgotten. This time it’s Brit sibling duo Woo (Mark and Clive Ives) whose 2016 and 2017 albums, Robot X and Xylophonics are now presented as companion pieces. The former was inspired by Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil, one of cinema’s undermentioned masterpieces, the latter a playful digitization of the brothers’ 1990s analogue cuts. The albums do, indeed, have a similar feel, a light-hearted, filmic mingling of Clive Ives’ synthesizer explorations with his brother’s more trad indie instrumentation. Comes with postcard and beautifully designed robot-themed postage-style stamps in a Woo-branded wax paper bag.


Kee Avil Spine (Constellation) + Fyear Fyear (Constellation): The reliably avant-obtuse Montreal label Constellation release two albums that showcase exactly what has made them a going concern for fans of the otherly. The second album from Montréal creative Kee Avil is a wilfully tricky listen. Titled Spine, it’s a fusion of minor key indie-folk songwriting, delivered mournfully broken, with morose discordancy, all tempered with backing hums, creaks and fluff-on-the-needle sounds. Not an easy listen, then, but fans of Gazelle Twin and most of the staff at The Wire will likely enjoy. The visual art aspect, by Fatine-Violette Sabiri (and, presumably, Avil) is striking and abject, images of Avil splodged in what looks to be petri dish gunk covered in moulds. This runs to a set of six double-sided art-card inserts. The art, in fact, deserves a small gallery exhibition of some kind. And then there’s nine-piece music/words outfit Fyear, also from Montréal, led by producer-composer Jason Sharp and poet Kale Kellough. Their sound mulches free jazz and modern classical into slam poetry abstraction, resulting in an industrial beatnik-ism, or, as the cover sticker has it, emanating “elemental cut-up semiotic materiality”. Comes in art inner sleeve with three-fold 12” x 12” art/words insert.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson and the LSO Percussion Ensemble Ocean Floor (LSO): London cellist-singer Ayana Witter-Johnson is a musical polymath, living creatively between the worlds of classical and jazz-pop. Her latest album is a concert collaboration with the London Symphony Percussion Ensemble and pianist-composer Gwilym Simcock. It’s partly a conceptual affair, based around danger at sea, making reference to the slave ship Zong, which threw 130 slaves overboard (as fictionalised in a sub-plot in the film Bella) and an incident from her own youth when she witnessed a drunk guy drowning in Jamaica. Her jazz vocals and cello, gently accompanied by a carefully stripped-down backdrop, sometimes forthright, sometimes abstract, make for a compellingly offbeat musical exercise. Comes with 12” x 12” insert giving background to the songs and participants.

Meiko Shimuzu My Tentacles (Street Furniture): London-based Japanese producer Meiko Shimuzu gained an electronic scene reputation with her Apache 61 output, and has worked with everyone from the London Symphony Orchestra to Mick Karn to Coldcut. Indeed, one of the tracks on her new album, her second, is a collaboration with Robert Lippok of Berlin’s (now-defunct) post-rock trio To Rococo Rot. In art/info inner sleeve, the record combines Shimuzu’s voice, an instrument that veers between the conversational and the classical, with crunchy electronic backing and melodic strings. It’s thoughtful, downtempo alt-pop with a subtle edge of grit.

Sahra Halgan Hiddo Dhawr (Danaya): The third album from Somaliland cultural icon Sahra Hiddo is given real trash-garage oomph by the grinding and twangy guitar of Maël Saletes. Halgan’s distcinctive vocals, the scaling and the percussion place things firmly within the West African firmament, but the rock element and pop melodies also bring them close to the blues-rock stylings of Tinariwen and Morocco’s Bab L’Bluz. Both Somaliland and Halgan herself have had fraught, hard-scrabble lives but are now on a firmer footing, and the music seems to suggest such positivity.

Jamie Webster 10 For the People (Modern Sky): This dude has already had a No.2 hit album with this. Although I’d never heard of him, it’s his third Top 10 album! As I understand it, he’s kind of an in-house mascot musician for Liverpool FC and their fans, but, judging from his global touring reach and hit album status, his music has reached beyond that demographic. 10 For the People suggests he’s expert at writing uplifting indie pop-rock with a folkish aspect, and lyrics that have enough specificity to be interesting. It's not my thing at all but he can write a tune, amping the emotion with strings and horns where necessary, like a steroid Lightning Seeds.

Electribe 101 Electribal Memories (Demon) + Frank & Tony Ethos (Scissor & Thread): Two albums that major in soulful, sometimes song-based electronic dance music, one old, one new. Electribe 101 were, in essence, a smoky soul band but born from the frenetic excitement of the immediate post-acid house moment, the time of Massive Attack, A Man Called Adam, S-Xpress, The Beloved, “Fascinating Rhythm” and so on. Consisting of singer Billie Ray Martin and a bunch of Brummie producer-musicians, their only album made the Top 30 and they had a couple of low level hits but nothing reflecting the originality of their sound. The album is an object lesson in Balearic, the electronics very much of their time but the songs, and especially Martin’s voice, holding their own, notably on “Talking With Myself”, “Tell Me When the Fever Ended”, and their cover of Odyssey’s “Inside Out”. Comes with a 12” x 12” four-page insert with the back story from Billie Ray Martin and the writer Peter Paphides. The Electribe 101 album is regarded by many as a lost classic. New York DJs Francis Harris and Anthony Collins may even be familiar with it. They’ve been around a while and their second album, a decade after their first, has a couple of laid back house tunes featuring Australian singer Eliana Glass. The rest of it, though, spread over four sides in gatefold, is very much head-nod deep house, akin sometimes to Rodriguez Jr, although often even more hazy and laid back. I’m never quite sure who dances to this stuff – if they do? – but it's solidly cuddly MDMA wallpaper for a back room or an afters.

Swimming Bell Charlie (Permanent): Full marks for the line “We were up all night and the drugs ran away from the morning light”. We all know that feeling. Swimming Bell is Los Angeles singer-songwriter Katie Schottland whose music has the lush strum and subtly multi-tracked harmonics of Topanga Canyon circa 1972. Man, that would have been fun, although I’d have kicked off at James Taylor’s loved-up fluffing then passed out from the way-too-strong grass. Schottland would have fitted in better. Her second album takes its time to travel where it’s headed. The songs aren’t immediate, but they are there. As I sat with the album, an easy charm and intelligence blossomed forth. Comes on vinyl the pink of a dahlia, lightly spotted with dots, plus a 12” x 12” lyrics sheet featuring Schottland in the bath (with her clothes on).

Lizz Wright Shadow (Blues & Greens): US singer Lizz Wright’s laest album falls loosely within the crossover between jazz and, that hideous term, “adult contemporary. Wright blew up with her debut album, Salt, just over 20 years ago, swept along in the jazzual peripheries of the Jill Scott-led neo-soul boom. Shadow is the first release on her own new Blues & Greens label. It’s sometimes too slick for me, despite a Cole Porter cover and guest turns from Meshall Ndegeocello and Angelique Kidjo, but then her gospel-bluesey version of Candi Staton’s “Sweet Feeling” comes along and reminds what she’s capable of. Comes in photo/info inner sleeve on transparent vinyl the colour smoked salmon should be if they haven’t dyed it.

Project Gemini Colours & Light (Mr Bongo) + Japanese Television Automatic Exotica (Tip Top): Two primarily instrumental albums deep-dipped in mod-ish retro-psyche and garage-acid loungecore. Bass player Paul Osbornre revealed his retro-psyche-funk-film-library-music side with 2022’s The Children of Scorpio album. His new album is its match, an enjoyable smorgasbord of imagined B-movie fuzz-jams, bogus themes for non-existent 1970s TV, and easy listening for old school swingers, with occasional actual songs and even a spoken sequence in French. He’s clearly having fun and it carries over. Comes with a 12” x 12” art/info insert. London band Japanese Television trawl similar terrain with their fourth album in as many years, but they have a more cohesive, driven sound that it’s easy to imagine sending dancefloors wild in a live setting. Imagine a hyperactive fusion of a particularly Hammond-hectic Inspiral Carpets B-side crossed with The Egg’s original Nineties incarnation and you’ll be halfway there. Bonus points for having a tune called “Typhoon Reggae Police”. Comes on scarlet transparent vinyl.

Ceiling Spirits The Bloodwren (Ceiling Spirits): Milwaukee composer Mario Quadracci’s music is, without doubt, indebted to God Speed You! Black Emperor maximalist orchestral headfuckery but is also very much its own thing. His second album, created with members and associates of The National, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and John Cale, contains five pieces produced on a large canvas, but which combine rock music energy with prog rock perversity and occasional jazz chops. The result is wired to a Barry Adamson-esque sense of the gruff and bluesily cinematic, and there are tunes within. Comes with 12” x 12” art/info insert.

The Wandering Hearts Mother (Chysalis) + Kathryn Williams & Withered Hand Willson Williams (One Little Independent): Two albums that offer different windows onto vocally collaborative folk-pop. The Wandering Hearts were born of London’s Americana scene. Their third album is polite but grabs the attention due to the harmonic mingling of the trio’s vocals, two female, one male, and classy chamber-pop songwriting on cuts such as “Tired”. It’s not hoedown fare, more like an amalgam of Emmylou Harris and Fleetwood Mac. Pure BBC Radio 2 stuff, then, but done with elegant panache. Comes on photo/lyric inner sleeve. Theartsdesk on Vinyl always has time for Kathryn Williams because she has one of the loveliest singing voices in contemporary British music of any kind. Her new album is a collaboration with Dan Willson, an alumnus of Fife’s alt-folk Fence Collective who records as Withered Hand. It’s a set that balances their two voices in well-balanced duet, harmonics again to the fore on songs such as “Grace”. The overall effect is considered and melancholic, none the worse for that, with the exceptions being a joyful cover of Cat Stevens’ “Sing Out” and the closing rock-out “Big Nothing”. Comes with photo/lyric inner sleeve.

DMX Krew Unlikely Seeming (Bryd Out): Fans of 1990s electronic mentalism and Rephlex Records, in particular, will be familiar with prolific producer Ed Upton’s output, particularly his DMX Krew project. Their staunch old school electro stylings and occasional retro pop suss briefly looked to be heading for more than cult glory. He’s fired out a billion albums since, the latest of which is this six-tracker which mellows his staple electro to a bloopy jazz-funk electro-groove, squidgy, not as in-yer-face as of old, more like the backing to Eighties electro-soul cuts. But still most definitely holding fast to the DMX parameters.

AND WHILE WE’RE HERE

  • The story goes that Tough Love Records in St Leonards heard youthful Aussie psychedelic sorts Liminal while on a trip to New South Wales, and were so impressed that they brought back all 100 pressings of the limited vinyl edition of their second album, White Dots on Impressed Records, back to Blighty. Whatever the truth of this, the music is an ear-pleasing stew that mingles Doors-y grooves with big chunks of hard-prog riffin’ and wispier, whispery Cambridge-Sixties-LSD rustications. They sound like they’d make for a full-on concert experience.
  • Kentish stoner-rockers Sons of Alpha Centauri change things up on their latest album, Pull on Exile on Mainstream Records, by featuring US singer Jonah Matranga on vocals, where previously their game was instrumental. The collaboration certainly opens out their sound – check the driving mesmeric hard “The Ways We Were” for evidence – but also maintains the gruff Desert Rock heaviness that made their name. Comes with 12” x 12” photo/info insert.
  • Are you a synch rights manager looking for music to soundtrack a particularly romantic-but-arty bedroom film scene? Sexy, yes, but fuelled by love and deep glances into each other’s eyes? Then never mind the rest of the records reviewed here, your Vinyl of the Month is Altera Vita, the debut album by Ukrainian harpist Alina Bzhezhinska and Brit saxophonist Tony Kofi on BBE Records (good to hear from this label again – been a while!). This is not to dismiss this Afro-European concoction as jazz-light fluff. Arriving in photo-info gatefold, it’s certainly light, but the instrumental combination also marries sensual airiness to inventive musical intent.
  • The words “virtuoso jazz guitarist” make theartsdesk on Vinyl creep away from the stereo, but US jazz scene perennial Julian Lage’s latest album, Speak to Me on Blue Note, puts our prog-fusion fears to rest. Together with saxophonist Levon Henry, pianist Kris Davis and others, he delivers a double set in gatefold that ranges from twangy Peter Gunn-ish fare to genial clouds-drift-across-the-sky Balearic noodles. Less self-consciously showy than anticipated.
  • For those desirous of a deep dive into the most obscure end of California’s 1980s Paisley Underground psychedelic revival, Bruce Licher’s Independent Project Records brings us a career-summating collection by Torn Boys. This was the band that Grant Lee Phillips and Jeffrey Clark started with before going on to form Shiva Burlesque (to slightly more success), then Phillips achieved proper fame, for a while, with Grant Lee Buffalo. Entitled 1983, it’s more experimental than what came later, spooked LSD vibes akin to Robin Hitchcock’s’ edgier surrealism. Arrives in Independent Project’s typically lavish packaging with a DVD containing four videos.
  • The London duo Strange Boy deal in electro-pop notable for its sparsity and spaciousness on their debut album Love Remains on Groenland Records. Producer Matt Huxley crafts an elegantly unobtrusive backdrop for classically trained singer Kieron Brunt’s carefully enunciated, fragile-voiced poetics. They’re an original proposition who occasionally shine bright. Comes with lyric inner sleeve
  • Danish producer Kasper Bjørke, more usually associated with disco-house and club music, now dives into electro-pop on his latest album Puzzles on HFN Records. True, it’s disco-touched electro-pop but electro-pop, nonetheless. It’s unfortunate that the cover version of Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” shows up the hookiness of the rest of the song writing (all self-composed except one other cover: Cleaners From Venus’s “Corridor of Dreams”), but it’s still a laidback beachside set that settles to a flutey sunset bar backdrop.
  • On the album's tenth, anniversary Brainfeeder Records, via Ninja Tune in the UK, are reissuing US bass-funker Thundercat’s second album, Apocalypse. He’s usually inclined to too much prog-jazz-fusion for theartsdesk on Vinyl (to be truthful, any prog-jazz-fusion is too much for theartsdesk on Vinyl!), but Apocalypse is his most approachable work, balancing tech-electronic pulse with his own classic funk sensibilities. The new edition is on red vinyl and contains two bonus tracks, “Paris” and the uniquely titled “Before I Loved Myself “I” Popped My Ankles (True)”.
  • Following the success of the first one, Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers releases another album of pianocentric instrumentals, unambiguously titled Piano Piano 2 on Mercury KX Records. Where its predecessor was very much part of the let’s-all-calm-down quiet-modern-classical boom, 2 is more cinematic and lushly orchestrated. Indeed Hollywood may be where Fraites’s future lies, judging from these well-calibrated exercises. Comes on photo/info gatefold.
  • Canadian eccentric Eric Chenaux refuses genre once again on the debut release from his Eric Chenaux Trio, featuring Phillippe Melanson on electronic percussion and Ryan Driver on Wurlitzer. Arriving via Constellation and Murailles Music, and entitled Delights of My Life, it combines relatively straightforward jazz ballad singing with interludes of just-slightly-too-weird instrumentation, most notably on the pleasingly curious, ten-minute “This Ain’t Life” with its incongruously oddball synth parping. Comes with two sturdy 12” x 12” art cards.

DIDN’T GRAB THEARTSDESK ON VINYL BUT ON SMALL INDEPENDENT LABELS SO BE RUDE NOT TO MENTION

  • Leeds six-piece Van Houten’s debut is called The Tallest Room and arrives on pink vinyl via Clue Records and EMI North. It is bathed in shoegazey vibes, Eighties indie jangle and frail bedroom boy vulnerability.
  • Liverpool outfit Courting develop onwards from their post-punkish roots on their second album, New Last Name on Lower Third Records, heading for a chart-friendly take on indie-pop. Comes on white vinyl with 12” x 12” photo/lyric insert.
  • South African band Beatenberg’s fifth album, The Great Fire of Beatenberg on Leafy Outlook Records, offers an underplayed combination of Chris Martin vocals and Graceland-ish pop. Comes with photo/lyric inner sleeve.
  • The new album from Glaswegian electronic rock outfit Union of Knives is a sequel, as the title and artwork make clear, to 2021’s Endless From the Start. Entitled Start From the Endless, on Three Hands Records, it’s moodier and more dark-ambient than its predecessor, tonally similar to late period Gary Numan/Ade Fenton fare in its night-splashed gothic with sudden bursts of gloomy industrial crunch.

We welcome any and all vinyl for review. Please hit thomash.green@theartsdesk.com for a postal address.

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