Posted in Album Reviews

Belle & Sebastian – What To Look For In Summer (2020)

What To Look For In Summer (2Cd)

2020 was a strange year for musicians who instead of hitting the road were instead stuck at home making meditation videos. In lieu of touring, Belle & Sebastian released live album, What To Look For In Summer. The tracks were taken from the band’s 2019 world tour and their Boaty Weekender cruise that they organized and headlined. The double album covers songs from the band’s debut Tigermilk through to the EP collection How to Solve Our Human Problems.

The first disc lifts off with crowd favourite “Dirty Dream #2” and 2003 single “Step Into My Office, Baby”.  “Seeing Other People” humorously gets introduced by singer/bandleader Stuart Murdoch as an exploration of “early sexual politics of some of the members of Belle & Sebastian”. An electric guitar riff powers “Wrapped Up In Books” before the first disc closes with highlight “Funny Little Frog” from The Life Pursuit album that gets several whoops from the crowd and terrific backing vocals.

Disc two starts with a couple tracks from breakthrough album If You’re Feeling Sinister including a haunting take on the title track. Ex-bandmember Isobel Campbell gets a shout out at the beginning of early album track “My Wandering Days Are Over”.  The disco gets turned up on “Stay Loose” and the funk turned out on the bass heavy “Poor Boy” with Murdoch and Sarah Martin sharing vocal duties. The disc closes with several classic tracks including “The Boy With the Arab Strap” before Martin brings her best vocal take on penultimate track “I Didn’t See It Coming”.

All fans will have quibbles with some of the track selections but such is the enduring legacy of Belle & Sebastian that virtually all 23 of these tracks could be swapped for others with little dip in quality.  The charm, humour, and musicianship of the band all shine throughout. While nothing will beat an in-person night with Belle & Sebastian, this double disc is sure to delight fans as they wait for the next tour.

8/10

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Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends (1968)

Bookends (Vinyl)

The Graduate OST released in January 1968 saw Simon & Garfunkel become a very big deal on an album that featured their name in bold print even if they only contributed one new song. But what a song it was, “Mrs. Robinson” would hit #1 on the US singles chart with its full version appearing on side two of the duo’s Bookends album released that April. The single is best remembered from the soundtrack which obscures its lyrics about Mrs. Robinson being in a mental institution and later talks about watching a political debate that claims “when you’ve got to choose/every way you look at it, you lose”.

Bookends got off to a difficult start with producer John Simon (no relation) being brought in to help Paul with a bout of writer’s block before eventually leaving the project, the album was then produced by the duo with Roy Halee. The eventual recording sees the first side contain a concept journey from the start of life through being elderly. “Bookends Theme” is a lovely acoustic number that is interrupted by a dissonant Moog synthesizer slash that announces the arrival of second track “Save the Life Of My Child” that also contains a snip of “The Sound of Silence” amongst the chaos.

“Voices of Old” is a sound collage put together by Art Garfunkel of folks in two different seniors’ homes speaking about life.  This leads beautifully into the guitars and strings of “Old Friends” sitting on a park bench like “bookends”. The title track then reappears at double it’s length as the first version and closes out side one.

Paul Simon describes the second side of the album as “throwaway tracks”, with some dating back to the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme recording sessions.  “Fakin’ It” is an up-tempo rock song that sees Simon speak of imposter syndrome to a chorus of handclaps. The heavy guitar riff of “Hazy Shade of Winter” took the single to #13 on the singles charts as Simon sounds close to rage that “the leaves are brown/there’s a patch of snow on the ground”. The Bangles would later introduce this song to a whole new generation of fans when their version goes to #2 in the late 80s.  The album ends with the lighthearted single, “At the Zoo”.

The heart of the album is on third track, “America”, an epic of emotion in under four minutes. It has a folky, 60s vibe of discovering America on a Greyhound Bus, a trip that Simon did take with then girlfriend Kathy Chitty. It carefully describes a scene of boredom with a sense of longing in a moment that would rarely occur today in a world with everyone locked into their phones.

So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine/and the moon rose over an open field….”Kathy, I’m lost”, I said, though I knew she was sleeping/I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why/Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/they’ve all come to look for America

Bookends is a massive leap forward for the duo and one that was certainly influenced by what The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys were doing with pop songs in the late 60s. Simon & Garfunkel stretch their boundaries to experiment with unique sounds, collages and concepts. While Simon is dismissive of side 2, it’s sound likely inspired a whole crop of 90s alternative power pop bands. While it clocks in at just under 30 minutes – the album’s experiments, enduring singles, and iconic black and white cover art all make Bookends a landmark album.

10/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Chvrches – Screen Violence (2021)

Screen Violence

The Scottish trio Chvrches recorded their latest album, Screen Violence, with singer Lauren Mayberry and Martin Doherty in Los Angeles and Iain Cook back home in Glasgow.  Screen Violence was a name that the band had considered before settling on Chvrches. The violence referred to on the screen plays out in movies, TV, computers and phones the world over.

“Asking For a Friend” starts with minimal electronics before the track starts to build as Mayberry shares regrets about someone as she tells them “…you still matter”. Over a less noisy musical bed, the band joins other UK transplants in the Golden State as they sing that “no one ever warns ya/you’ll die in California”.  “Violent Delights” adds more atmosphere in the verses along with creepy lyrics based on nightmares that Mayberry had been having.  Guitars add depth to “Better If You Don’t Change” that also offers one of the album’s best vocal performances.

With a brittle, clattering sound, it is Mayberry’s distinct Scottish accent that often produces a warmth that draws in the listener.  Second single, “How Not to Drown” adds Robert Smith to the proceedings with an outro that drifts out to sea.  The often-personal lyrics are bleak where the reports are that “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown”. Four albums in, the emotional scars reveal themselves but Chvrches use that emotion to release on of their best records.  

8/10

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Thompson Twins – Greatest Hits (1996)

Greatest Hits

The original Thompson Twins were a bungling detective duo in the comic strip The Adventures of Tin Tin. The English pop band on the other hand formed in 1977 and after several line-up changes became a trio of Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie, and Joe Leeway.  What’s remarkable is that Thompson Twins were far from a one hit wonder some would consider them and instead regularly hit the dance and singles charts throughout the 80s. The first few tracks on the Greatest Hits from 1996 show off their off-centre dance tracks including the shouty chorus of “Lies” and the minimal Russian sounding “We Are Detective” that reached #7 in the UK singles chart.

The band saw their big breakthrough with one of the more memorable tracks of the early 80s, “Hold Me Now”.  Adding a fat bassline and an emotional core to the lyrics, the track went top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic.  In total, 5 singles were released from the Into The Gap album including “Doctor! Doctor!” and the harmonica lead “You Take Me Up”. “Lay Your Hands on Me” was the first single from the band’s next album, Here’s to Future Days.  The track has a similar sound to what made “Hold Me Now “ so successful but adds religious undertones to the lyrics. 

“King For a Day” was their last track to reach the top 10 in the US. After that, the band went down to a duo after Joe Leeway left. The album finishes with a few decent adult pop tracks from later albums. The core of Thompson Twins’ Greatest Hits lies with the tracks from Into The Gap and Here’s To Future Days, it was there the band established itself as perkier little brother/sister to the morose sound of Robert Smith. They developed pop smarts but never lost their quirky side which made them a favourite mid 80s pop band.  

8.5/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Piroshka – Love Drips and Gathers (2021)

Love Drips And Gathers (USA Exclusive Red Vinyl)

The Miki Berenyi led indie “supergroup” Piroshka returns with their second album, Love Drips and Gathers, named after a Dylan Thomas poem. The sweetly sung “Scratching at the Lid” belies the message of trying to get out of a coffin as it is lowered into the ground. A screeching guitar announces the introduction of “Wanderlust” that eventually gives away to a poppy swing of a chorus.

Guitarist KJ ‘Moose’ McKillop writes memory snippets of his mother on “Hastings 1973” while “V.O.” pays tribute to Vaughn Oliver who was the in-house art director at 4AD.  Where the album suffers at times is in the simplistic lyrics of tracks like “The Knife Thrower’s Daughter” and the album starts to run out of steam towards the end, closing with the moody electronica of “We Told You”.  Still, for certain fans, listening to Miki sing is worth the price of admission and over the course of two albums, this mature group shows plenty of fiery flashes.

7/10