Title: For the Masses
Label: Cityscape records
Tell me more: It took Merchandise five years to record this, but their previous album, Lo-Tech Solutions to Hi-Tech Problems was far more rushed, taking four years. They are effectively a duo of Brad Wood and Conrad Astley, who are from Bolton, near Manchester and this was recorded, apparently, in a very “lo-fi organic fashion.”
The Lowdown: Some commentators have suggested Merchandise are in the same boat as left-field psychedelics The Beta Band and the Super Furry Animals but I would opine that there’s more similarities here with Swedish pop bands. I enlighten you to Enemy, an extremely friendly, catchy track aching with beautiful melodies or to the twee Best Idea which starts with plenty of bah-bah-bahs and has innocent lyrics like “You’re like a favourite album that’s overplayed” sung a la Bobby Gillespie circa 1987 when Primal Scream were a Byrds tribute band. This is almost too nice to criticise and I wouldn’t do such a thing but it does rotate tunes and harmonies a little excessively.
Anything else? Cityscape records is their own label, with distribution by Universal.
Who? Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Title: Before Today
Tell me more: Surprisingly, Ariel Pink has been recording for almost a decade. How come we don’t hear these people sooner? Perhaps that is because, according to the record label, Pink is a “reclusive pop surrealist whose corroded productions have led to a cult following.”
The Lowdown: There’s a woman currently masquerading as a pop star. But, frankly, Ariel Rosenberg is the only Pink worth bothering about.
A cover that suggests it was designed in 1972 is a red herring. Before Today is a varied album, harking back to the 1980s on Fright Night, and then going a bit ’70s rock on Butt House Blondies, and with a title like that you won’t expect to be a thesis on the state of the world. With elements of 10cc, the theme tune to a late 70s science programme and Public Image Ltd’s post-punk grind, this is an album that draws influences from a wide variety of sources, but remains a unique, well-crafted record.
Anything else? Pink started writing songs about the age of 10 and estimates he has recorded more than 500 songs on hundreds of cassette tapes since.
Who? Reality Chant Productions presents ..
Title: King’s Highway
Label: Reality Chant Productions
Tell me more: Jamaica meets New Zealand, featuring reggae giants like Luciano, Jah Mason and Lutan Fyah …. and part of it was recorded in Aoteoroa, which is quite a coup for the label.
The Lowdown: With dancehall becoming so ubiquitous this century it’s good to hear a music that harks back to glory days of reggae, of Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, and of course a certain Mr Marley. New Zealand has always had a strong connection with the sound, with artists like The Herbs back in the 1980s and nowadays with the likes of Katchafire and virtually every band that’s come out of Wellington. This album, featuring staple Rastafarian subjects such as Jah, Ethiopia, ganja and peace and justice, isn’t a revival of reggae but it updates it very well with elements of dancehall and rhythm and Blues.
Who? The Morning Benders
Title: Big Echo
Label: Rough Trade
Tell me more: Four-piece from Berkeley, California making their second album and touring with the likes of Grizzly Bear, The Flaming Lips and the Black Keys.
The Lowdown: The Morning Benders veer toward San Francisco’s love of harmonious indie-pop though it isn’t until the fourth track, Cold War, that I feel confident enough to singalong. There’s an over-representation of easy-on-the-ear, Sunday-morning post-vodka hangover recovery music. Side B, as they describe the second clutch of tracks, has the album’s standouts, particularly the fuzzy, bass-heavy All Day Day Light that contains plenty of handclaps and samples.
Who? The Rough Guide to ….
Title: Scottish Folk
Label: World Music Network
Tell me more: An album of folk music …. recorded in Scotland. Also includes a bonus album by Maggie MacInnes, who performs folk music … and is from Scotland.
The Lowdown: I have always associated Scottish music with the likes of Jimmy Shand, Kenneth McKellar and Jim McLeod. Now that generation has gone and new torchbearers have taken on the role of keeping alive Scotland’s proud music tradition. So, there’s no more Donald Where’s Your Troosers but there are plenty of harps, pipes, drums, and songs sung in Gaelic. It’s now peformed by people such as Karine Polwart, Ishbel MacAskill, Ossian and Bob Blair and reflects a changing Scotland, one that identifies with the past to forge it’s own identity but also looks to the future, one with more ideals and ambition than it had previously.
Anything else? Perhaps a reflection of the popularity of Scottish/ Celtic music around the world, the comprehensive sleevenotes are also translated into Spanish.