Monday, 30 July 2018

Wild Pink 'Yolk in the Fur'

Its funny sometimes how albums come into your life, by accident by recommendation. On the off chance one morning of browsing via Twitter, this album was reviewed on my feed and I read the review. Part from appreciation of the person's taste but also the gorgeous album cover of the album in question - a birds eye view shot of a landscape but from a different perspective resembles Mr. Incredible pointing westward ho to something if nothing.

So via an Amazon Music app you take a chance on listening to the album; this writer has always had a soft spot for fringe albums the type that may not even engage with the mainstream or near UK radio stations nor garner deserved airplay (I could rant about the 2018 Mercury Music Prize shortlist but I will not).

The album by Wild Pink is one of those growers, an album that is large in scale but small in stature. Lead writer John Ross writes about the environment and the landscapes his feet tread upon in sharp juxtaposition to the band hailing from the urbanity of New York City.

Ross writes about hills in the album opener 'Burger Hill' and lakes in the second 'Lake Erie' with the recurring refrain 'You thought you'd never get out' then the title track itself. Most tracks run at over four and a half minutes allowing songs to form an identity of their own - it reminded me of a little heard album called 'Amusement Parks on Fire' a self-titled album by a Nottingham band which was large in scope but never got the acclaim it deserved.

This is an album rich in harmonies, at times almost tranquil but breezy making the album seem almost laidback to the point of coming across as too easy in terms of production; yet there is more to the album than mere lushness. There is a wanting for simpler times than the ones Americans find them living in now - one where they were in touch with their country thanks to pioneers as Theodore Roosevelt

The euphoric crescendo of 'The Séance on St. Augustine St.' is reminiscent of anything by Doves or My Morning Jacket; these are songs that take time to breathe and become more than humble beginnings.  This is an album that is inventive and seamless with tracks knitting together to form an overall personality.

This is an album that is full of ideas and imagination that you rarely find nowadays in American and perhaps rock music; bombastic and fantastic in equal measure, Wild Pink may well have written the great unknown album of 2018.

Wild Pink's Yolk in the Fur is released by Tiny Engines and available in all formats now.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Smokescreens 'Used to Yesterday'

New album 'Used To Yesterday' out now from Slumberland Records

Hailing originally from New Zealand, the duo of Chris Rosi and Corey Cunningham recruited Jon Greene when they moved to Los Angeles in 2011. After the passing of Greene, the pair re-grouped with Brice Bradley (drums) and Jenny Moffett (bass) that allowed Cunningham to switch to lead guitar and keyboards.

After constant touring throughout last year and recording at Primitive Ears in North Hollywood, the band ended up with the 10 tracks that appear on Used to Yesterday. The result is an ear-worm worthy album of riffs and power pop; that embraces both the kiwi summer zeal with the energy and warmth forever paramount to California.

A sea of guitars hit you from the outset of 'Someone New' the album opener followed quickly by the title track. However, this is not a band rashly flailing on guitars, there are melodic structures and good composition in their songwriting such as 'Waiting for Summer'

There is a rich vein of stylish quality coming out of the speakers even on a hideaway track such as 'Buddy' which culminates in riffs reminiscent of The Velvet Underground. Much like contemporaries such as Major Murphy and Lawn, there is an acknowledgement to the late 1960s Laurel Canyon songwriting; this emblematic on the album closer 'Falling Down' both anthemic and joyous.

How befitting to hear an album end on a high as if Smokescreens are signing off victorious from their efforts; coupled with another gorgeous album cover (a growing theme of this year's releases), the great year of unheralded gems from across the pond continue

Follow the band on Twitter here

Smokescreens 'Used to Yesterday' is out now from Slumberland Records.
My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

An Unwanted Guest

Shari Lapena returns with her third novel, An Unwanted Guest, following the unprecedented success of The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House.

Lapena has taken an Agatha Christie template and weaved a fast paced thriller that this reader read in less than two days when on holiday.

On a cold wintry weekend in upstate New York, strangers from varying backgrounds all descend upon the Mitchell's Inn - a remote lodge where there is not great phone signal nor wi-fi.  The blizzard like conditions have led to an understaffed hotel being manned by the father and son team of James and Bradley.

From the get go, it seems a lot of people are keeping cards very close to their chest; the Christie like method of taking six to ten strangers put them in an uncomfortable situation and then let murder commence leads to the thriller taking shape before our eyes as one body appears after another in the polite atmosphere.

Lapena has crafted a winning formula perfect for these times; a thriller centred upon a mad cap 48 hours in the wilderness with the harsh reality of nature having a debilitating effect on proceedings leaving people reliant upon their wits and survival streak.  Characters are dependent upon being able to connect with the outside world, yet they have tried to escape the rat race for various reasons.

These same characters are knee-jerk in their reactions and behaviour, jumping to conclusions from the defence attorney David who was arrested for murdering his wife to Candice who may or may not be writing a real fiction novel on crime.

Lapena writes with such relish the scenes of people talking in confined spaces that once the body counts starts to add up, other writers may have got lost amongst her character's own hysteria, yet Lapena never deviates from the narrative rounding things of with a denouement that is both satisfying and startling.

Some critics may suggest that the ending comes too soon, yet in these hysterical times of constant moral panics; Lapena has been deliberate in treating the characters with respect instead of mere cadavers.

An Unwanted Guest is out in Hardback from 26th July from Bantam Press.
My thanks to Transworld Publishers for the review copy.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Kevin Krauter 'Toss Up'

Debut album release from Kevin Krauter, Toss Up is released from Bayonet Records

Indiana native Kevin Krauter has built up a loyal following in his home state, and whilst the music has slowly gathered a wave of momentum; Krauter is releasing his debut album and the result is Toss Up.

Toss Up proudly wears a wide range of influences from 60s flower pop, 80s yacht rock and upto the modern day indie rock.  There is a shimmer to the music that is both transcendent and illuminating; full of good will and a smoothness that is rarely heard in music recently.

From the ear worm radio friendly 'Suddenly' to the chilled out 'Keep Falling in Love' there is a confidence in the music that permeates from the earphones and yet there is a richness in the complexity of the production; a mixture of rhythmic intricacies and bold melodic artistry.

Krauter has composed an album that is full of lushness and beauty, one that should be shared by all at poolsides, equally aspirational and ambitious it is one of the better albums to come from America in recent times one that is easy on the ear that slowly penetrates your memory and consciousness.

Toss Up is released from Bayonet Records on 13th July.
My thanks to One Beat PR for the opportunity to review.

Rayland Baxter 'Wide Awake'

Out on 13th July from ATO Records, the new album from Rayland Baxter Wide Awake

Following on from the positive word of mouth of recent video and radio hits, 'Casanova' and 'Strange American Dream', Baxter has realised a dream in the production of his third studio album.

The roving rock and roll philosopher has dreamed of produced an album very much of the space in which it has its genesis. The hard-touring led the musician to slow down and find a quiet place for his work, he found in an abandoned rubber band factory in Franklin, Kentucky where he covered the windows, threw a mattress on the floor and with just a guitar and a piano he spent three months writing in the wilderness so to speak.

At night, Baxter would listen to the sounds of America from howling coyotes and the harsh wind with only the endless cycle of TV news for comfort.

The result is a collection of songs that speaks on the isolation of the individual in the vast United States but yet celebrates the best of humanity despite the worst being spoken of at length in the media.

Following in the footsteps of contemporaries, Ezra Furman and Jim James, who have capitalised on the traumatic presidency of a Trump administration where the needs of big business are being heard above those of the masses; Baxter explains, 'This is an album about decision making. It's about being a human at a crossroads. All of these emotions are things I see in myself, and they're the same things I see in everyone else no matter where I go'.

Wide Awake was produced by Butch Walker and features Walker himself on bass; and the production on this album is first rate elevating what must have been scratchy demos and ideas that Baxter had during his weeks of loneliness to raise them up to greater American staples of rock and Americana; songs that speak to the uniqueness of the American experience - one man can make a difference for sure, but one man perhaps has to make himself heard firstly.

Baxter is going the right way about it, creating music that is both accessible and pleasing despite its angry subtext brimming below the sometimes shiny exterior.

Wide Awake is out from ATO Records on 13th July.

My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Zero - Marc Elsberg

For fans of Black Mirror and conspiracy thrillers with a technological spin

This thrilling novel by Marc Elsberg is one of the more prescient novels of recent memory, due the knowledge of recent data swiping by Facebook and how do you know how safe and secure your online personality is from people who track your data and what you like and do not like.

Elsberg has crafted a paranoid conspiracy thriller in the vein of the man done wrong such as the 1970s American cinematic thriller like The Parallex View and The Days of the Condor, the only change of tone is the use of a female protagonist as the person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cynthia Bonsant, is a journalist, who starts to uncover the truth of a new Freemee App which infiltrates people's live through immediate gratification. Bonsant is on the lead of an anonymous activist called Zero who promises to uncover the truth of how big business is after your data.

As Cynthia gets closer to the truth and people around her become targets also, her safety is threatened by those she trusted.

Elsberg although crafting a decent thriller, has also written a glossary of how apps and online resources infiltrate our lives through our human need to gain instant satisfaction with a combination of chemical releases.  The data businesses garner from our usage rates and likes, tells them a lot about people and how possibly we could all become drones and cogs of a bigger operation.

While the thriller is a very good in places and goes along at a break-neck pace the stops for exposition sometimes drags down a good thriller to a chamber piece; which is unfortunate as caught between the devil and the blue sea Elsberg requires the exposition to create the paranoia in Cynthia for us to embrace her conspiracy.

Tellingly, the last word of the novel is left to the anonymous bloggers and hackers, who are still out there watching keeping an eye on those who are watching us.

Zero is out from Doubleday Press on Thursday 12th July