On Record – Broadcast: Mother Is The Milky Way / Maida Vale Sessions / Microtronics Vols. 1 & 2 (Warp Records)

mother-is-the-milky-way

written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Broadcast were one of Warp Records’ treasures in the label’s earlier years, yet their output came to a sudden halt with the tragic early death of singer Trish Keenan in 2011. At that point the band were at the peak of their creative powers, which makes this set of reissues and rarities all the more poignant.

The triple pack of rarities is effectively a companion piece to the band’s discography, bringing forward a lost album (2009’s tour-only release Mother Is The Milky Way), a set of BBC sessions from Maida Vale, including three appearances for John Peel, and Microtronics, a two-volume set of 21 instrumentals released as tour-only specials in 2003 and 2005.

What’s the music like?

Fans of the band will not be disappointed – and while many will surely own a good deal of this music, having it reissued in a single pack with due love and attention gives it extra special appeal. It is instructive to be reminded just how imaginative the band were, and how their Englishness shines through in the meeting point of acoustic and electronic.

Mother Is The Milky Way makes a strong impression, and could almost have been recorded during lockdown given its quotient of birdsong and field recordings. The murmured awakening of In Here The World Begins makes a strong impression on headphones, while scenes such as the fuzzy backdrop to Elegant Elephant evoke dappled sunlight. Meanwhile I’m Just A Person In This Roomy Verse has a low register musing but also interference as the listener crosses the dials on the imaginary radio.

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The Maida Vale Sessions are special. Drawn from four different sessions between 1996 and 2003, they have poise and elegance, but also macabre elements and psychedelic tendencies that give the music an appealing unpredictability. The autumnal waltz of The Note (Message From Home) is the perfect place to start, while the wonderful Come On Let’s Go is great to hear again. The insistent phrases of Look Outside make a strong impression, as do the willowy, chromatic arpeggios of the harpsichord on The Book Lovers. A stately Long Was The Year, and the exquisite twilight shadows of Echoes Answer, with an extended coda, are highlights of a session from 2000, while the twinkling lights of Pendulum are the highlight of a session from August 2003.

microtronics

The Microtronics album is fascinating. These snippets are descriptive musical postcards, colourfully shaded and showing off a broad range of styles. The electronic bossa nova of Microtronics 2 is striking, while Microtronics 3 – as with many of the recordings – give a strong sense of eavesdropping in the band’s workshop. Microtronics 6 throws some sonic grenades, while other snippets of note include the clattering drums of Microtronics 12 and the playful keyboard stabs of Microtronics 17.

Does it all work?

Yes. These three documents give a fascinating look under the bonnet of Broadcast’s creative process, while the fully formed songs prove their worth in the sessions. The pastoral element of Mother Is The Milky Way, meanwhile, are full of springtime vitality and promise.

Is it recommended?

Yes – to fans and newcomers alike, providing the newcomers avail themselves of the band’s studio albums too. They will not be disappointed.

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On Record – Daniel Rossen: You Belong There (Warp Records)

daniel-rossen

written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

To say You Belong There is an eagerly awaited album would be an understatement. Daniel Rossen, a key member of both Grizzly Bear and Department Of Eagles, made a strong impression with his Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP in 2012, and finally follows up that release with a fully-fledged long player for Warp.

What’s the music like?

Compelling. Perhaps inevitably Rossen brings elements of the two bands’ music to his writing, but there is plenty of room for exploration of his own. The songs on You Belong There live and breathe a heady air, with twists and turns in the music and narrative that keep the listener hooked.

‘The truth is always brighter than you say’, runs the repeated hook through Shadow In The Frame, a song where Rossen’s storytelling has the vivid references of a band like Fleet Foxes or Midlake. With carefully studied guitar work and sumptuous orchestration – never overdone – the song is a beauty, its coda especially moving.

On the title track percussion flits back and forth, the music panning out as the harmonies intensify, while Celia is a remarkable song, with a multi-layered choir of Rossens confessing that “I’m still staggering as you once did”. I’ll Wait For Your Visit goes further still, the singer in a lower range with long phrases above excitable piano and guitar.

Sometimes Rossen appears to be in the same room. Unpeopled Space begins with intimate phrases picked on the guitar before striding forward with a strong sense of purpose. Tangle, meanwhile, is out in the white water, a torrent of piano notes flowing around his vessel. The music is virtuosic but wholly relatable, especially at the song’s apex. However the best song – arguably – is Keeper And Kin, another gripping story told over descriptive guitars and percussion. After this, the final two songs form an effective coda.

Does it all work?

Yes. The blend of carefully studied guitar work and instinctive melodies is a strong one, each song a windswept beauty – and the virtuosity of Rossen should be commended, for over lockdown he learned a number of new instruments to add even more colours to his music. The songs blossom in his hands.

Is it recommended?

Without question. Fans of Grizzly Bear will find a great deal to enjoy here, as Rossen gives us the debut his initial promise suggested he would achieve.

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To hear clips from You Belong There, and for purchase options, visit the Warp Records website

Switched On – Nightmares On Wax: Shout Out! To Freedom… (Warp)

nightmares-on-wax

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a deep effect on many artists, causing them to rethink their approach to life and often showing them the things of greatest importance. George Evelyn, the man behind Nightmares On Wax, is no exception, as a life spent largely on the road became extended time spent with his wife and daughter.

At the same time he was in the midst of a cancer scare, prompting him to write Shout Out! as though it was his last album. The profound effect of these life-changing experiences led to what he declares to be his most personal album yet – and his most thankful one too.

What’s the music like?

Shout Out! To Freedom… has typically blissful Nightmares On Wax vibes, with good feelings to the fore, but there is definitely something more profound hovering on the surface. The positive feelings are dispensed from the start, but contemplation and appreciation is often the order of the day.

3D Warrior is one of the finest tracks in that respect, with a mellow saxophone sound from Shabaka Hutchings and some excellent vocals from Haile Supreme and Wolfgang Haffner. Hutchings appears again in Wonder, a beautiful piece of work where the instrument really feels airborne and lost in time, its opening statement akin to a piece of ancient plainchant.

Greentea Peng is a captivating and provocative presence on Wikid Satellites, her vocal an excellent foil as the music steps up a gear. Own Me is a thoughtful study in positivity with Haile Supreme to the accompaniment of a dreamy trumpet, while Isolated – in spite of its obvious lyrical influence – is uplifting in a deep-rooted way, positivity coursing through the warm production. Trillion has an electro edge, sharpening the vocals from Mara TK, while Miami 80 is an excellent, piano-based instrumental construction that could be longer.

Evelyn has a very natural musical style that can’t be fully pinned down, other than to say he works in elements of hip hop, soul, dub and funk without ever restricting himself to one. The vocalists are well-chosen, while the production casts an attractive heat haze over the whole album.

Does it all work?

Very much so. This is deeply felt material, made by an artist still at the top of his game, bringing music to Warp that is just as meaningful as when he started with the label in 1991.

Is it recommended?

Yes. As simple as that!

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On Record – Squid: Bright Green Field (Warp Records)

squid

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Squid are a fascinating proposition. The cover of Bright Green Field promises much in terms of pastoral beauty and optimistic music, but the reality is often at complete odds with the picture. While there are indeed pastoral moments, found in field recordings of bees and church bells, there are moments of outright anger at the direction in which society, and British society in particular, is going.

This reflects the quintet’s position in Brighton, from where they can see both the attractive and vulgar elements of living in Britain, and the corporate traps too. G.S.K., for instance, details the chemical conglomerate GlaxoSmithKline as being so big you can now tell the time by them.

What’s the music like?

As fascinating and multi-layered as the lyrics. It is not possible to pin Squid down to a single style; rather it is instructive to say what they are capable of doing and how they communicate. What really strikes the listener is how assured it all is, and that no matter what style they use to communicate, they do it with great intensity.

Drummer and vocalist Ollie Judge has a glorious unpredictability, moving from wry observations to excited yelps at the flick of a switch. Several Squid songs change mood like the weather, and the music follows suit – but always in thrall to the lyrics, never for the sake of it. At times they channel the calculated rock of Battles, while the style of Narrator brings reminders of The Rapture, building up into a ritualistic frenzy. Some of the tracks are left as unkempt, but in a good way – and Boy Racers definitely falls into this category, its cheery punk pop grinding to a halt before a woozy interlude starts to blur the senses.

As Bright Green Field progresses, there continues to be a refreshing willingness to disregard the musical rules. Paddling is brilliant, an oblique melody dominating until Judge’s repeated cry of “Don’t push me in!” Rich brass sonorities open up in The Flyover, while Global Groove proves an effective snapshot of the album, building tension with a brass and guitar payoff as Judge gets more and more animated. Finally the lyrical content of Pamphlets emphasises the Britishness of the band in spite of the krautrock influences deployed here, working up a lather as the song progresses.

Does it all work?

Unexpectedly, and in spite of the listener’s expectations. Squid challenge our perceptions of genre on a regular basis, stomping all over the dividing lines. They have such a firm confidence in what they do that their musical workings are instinctive, and their rebellious nature is countered by pastoral asides. There is plenty of seething anger here, too, but none of it is misplaced.

Is it recommended?

Yes, without hesitation. Pretty Green Field contains some of the most original pop music you will hear from a new band in 2021.

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Switched On – Stereolab: Electrically Possessed [Switched On Volume 4] – Warp Records / Duophonic UHF Disks

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Stereolab fans tend to be completists, and with good reason. The long running, much-loved band have taken line-up changes and relationships in their stride to be well-known for the consistency of their output. In recent years a housekeeping exercise on the back catalogue has yielded three excellent Switched On volumes, gathering together the band’s extra-curricular tracks, EPs and album-avoiding singles. Volume four of the Switched On collection goes further, a complement to the deluxe album reissues made over the last couple of years. Being a Stereolab fan is an expensive business, but a worthwhile one it seems!

What’s the music like?

As seasoned fans will know, there is something immediately appealing about the Stereolab sound, giving off a comforting warmth. Yet this is never comfortable music, for the spirit of experimentation runs strong, especially in tracks where there are no constraints or boundaries.

Most of the tracks here are instrumental, but they give the listener an opportunity to revel in the sound the band make. Lovely warm keyboards often spill over into Krautrock-inspired riffing, while on occasion there is a lovely cool marimba (Intervals) or the friendly parp of a trombone (Free Witch And No Bra Queen, a track where two simultaneous loops wander out of phase in entertaining fashion). This track also has some deliciously clashing harmonies from the multi-tracked vocals of Laetitia Sadlier.

The vibraphone and trombone-powered groove of Outer Bongolia is rather wonderful, the listener able to bask in the sounds, while Laetitia’s vocalise at the end of Intervals goes nicely with the marimba. I Feel The Air (Of Another Planet) is a beatless wonder with a nice strings / Hammond organ combination, while other highlights include the perky keyboards of Solar Throw-Away (the original version) and the breezy loop powering The Super It. B.U.A is enjoyably far out, while the best riff – among strong competition – goes to Dimension M2, burning a bright light.

Another talent the band has is somehow finding a funky turn for some pretty obscure time signatures. L’exotisme Interieur is the best of these, a track set in 7/4 but still getting the feet tapping.

Does it all work?

Yes. Electrically Possessed may not be an album as such but it is arranged in a satisfying program, so that its 27 tracks never outstay their welcome. The spirit of invention runs through it, and with a consistently high quality threshold it is very rare to get the sense the band are coasting or not fully focussed. In other bands’ outputs the scraps from the cutting room floor should be just that, but in Stereolab’s case the offcuts are well worth hearing and a pleasure to listen to.

Is it recommended?

Very much so – to Stereolab completists but also to relative newcomers to the band. These tracks may not all be fully formed but they are stamped throughout with the familiar identity of breezy funk, experimentation, offbeat rhythms and warm, beguiling sounds. It is a lovely collection to get lost in.

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