Monday, January 26, 2015

End Of The Road Festival 2015 - The first artist announcement.

To cut to the chase here is the list announced today, completely without any comment on my part at least for now.

The accompanying video, which may or may not drop further hints, is here. 
The EOTR animals seem to have developed a taste for vinyl...

My ability not to comment further did not last long. Jessica Pratt was scheduled for EOTR last year but was unable to attend. Not only is it good news that she is on the first list of artists to be announced this year but her second LP 'On Your Own Love Again' is released, at least in North America, tomorrow (27 January) by Drag City Records. I shall add Jessica Pratt as my first 'one to watch' at EOTR 2015.

Reviews are all well and good. I have read several of this release already and perhaps I will write one myself in due course. The live truth will out in September and I'd be very surprised if I were disappointed.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Music - 2015 - Part 8 - Rae Morris - Unguarded

One summer Sunday morning, in North Yorkshire in 2012, I took this picture. There were not very many of us there to experience Rae Morris open the main stage of Deer Shed Festival 2012 as the unholy hour of midday approached.

 It was clearly something special. I rarely make predictions like this. This could be one of the major label releases of 2015. 

Her début album 'Unguarded' is released tomorrow on Atlantic Records.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Old dog. New tricks. And a total bargain...

My liking for music in physical format needs no further mention. That is still true - I have not changed my spots all of a sudden.
When, however, Spotify offered me 'Premium' for three months at the princely sum of £0.99 and that payment is for all three months, not per month. It would have been churlish to look a gift horse in the mouth.
It will not alter the amount of physical music I actually purchase but, my goodness, it is facilitating the task of listening to new music and, especially if I'm uncertain about it, also  making it a whole lot easier. It might even lead to me purchasing more physical music. It is not that it is impossible to do this with Spotify 'free' but the lack of advertisements actually does make a difference. The blurb said that the sound quality is also noticeably better. I was slightly dubious about that, but then again 99p is not a sum even I was afraid to wager on the possibility. Pending more demanding tests this coming weekend I'm inclined to the idea that this might actually be true.

What has impressed me, and again I could have done this with 'free' but this was the impetus to explore, was the coverage. The removal from Spotify of the music of Taylor Swift became something of a cause célèbre in late 2014 but it is just one small canon of work in the great scheme of things. It was an otherwise unremarkable and quite acceptable commercial response to perceived market forces. It, the music and the publishing phenomenon, is easily found elsewhere quite legally and not least in physical formats, including vinyl. Deleting pressings to promote the sale of newer ones is as old as the mass market for music.
What impresses me more is the sheer scope of the music to be found here - both old and new and across all genres - and with that comes the opportunity to discover, listen and then promote the music of artists less well known should one feel so inclined.
It is something human to look for the newest things and music is no exception - the internet is perfect for this. Finding older, often obscure, things has also been revolutionised but the foil is not so easy to overcome; the contemporary details are either unavailable or require lateral thinking and often more than a little guile to uncover. That, however, is also part of the thrill of the chase - and another use of foil.

I have an idea:
It is not scientific but nevertheless empirical observations can be of great value. It is to test Spotify by searching for a variety of recordings
, both recent and old, that I know or believe are hard to source on a physical format and that I either already have or have tried to find in the past. It has already yielded, as a more or less random 'hit' -  an album of folk music from NE England that I was only faintly aware of hitherto and was released in 1975. The result... I have now bought it on original vinyl.
This new resource will quite possibly shape much of my thinking over the next couple of months. I'm also imagining those artists that I expect/desire to see at the festivals that I shall or even just may attend this coming summer.
Items never released in a digital format are, unsurprisingly, extremely unlikely to feature. This is not to be found therefore - Cate Le Bon 'Edrych yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg' (2008). It was released only on 10" vinyl  but the title is to a reasonable degree the Welsh equivalent of the English phrase 'to look a gift horse in the mouth', more literally it is 'to look into the eyes of a borrowed horse'. I rather like that - there's something about it that makes the horse, rather than the lessor, the more important part of the deal.

I know that it is not the weekend yet...
What the hell, I'm doing some testing now and not least because I'm thinking about those artists that I might be seeing at this summer's festivals. There are some big announcements coming soon.

This artist would be high on my wish list. To say she is underrated is only the half of it.
The Spotify search box is not, or so it seems to me, nearly as good at guessing your mind as some but it's worth a few tries to find what you are searching for. It is also less comprehensive in its results, so you need to be as precise as you are able to be for that reason alone. You can also do this reversibly to good effect - if you know only a song title and artist you can fairly easily get back to the album or other resource from which it came.
It is a collision of new and old technology and quite possibly not to the detriment of either. If you want an old physical recording then not only can you find a source of it on-line but, quite possibly, you can even listen to at least some of it the same way before you commit to purchase.
The sale of an LP that the purchaser regrets buying does neither party any good in the longer term: a fact that, in the quest for 'first-week sales' and 'chart penetration', the major labels forgot somewhere down the line.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

New Music - 2015 - Part 7 - Ruby the RabbitFoot - New As Dew

I'll come clean here - this is actually a 2014 release - but I doubt that many in the UK are aware of the artist who calls herself Ruby The RabbitFoot. She hails from Athens, Georgia.

To some extent one of its greatest virtues is that it isn't challenging, but that can be a good thing in multiple ways. It is acoustic pop, more or less, and there is little country influence either. It certainly isn't all cheerful. This I expect was quite deliberate and, while that was a dangerous hand to play in 2014, I think it worked out for the best here.
It is the music equivalent of comfort food of the best kind (macaroni cheese and fish fingers with ketchup, possibly) and spending the evening wrapped up in a duvet in front of the fire. I'm planning to test this theory, believe me; especially if this coming weekend turns cold, as it is predicted it might.
New As Dew hints at the forthcoming spring and I can't wait for that. It is released by Normaltown Records and the LP is available on vinyl. I'm now curious to listen to the other artists on the label. If you don't actively go looking for new music then you don't find much at all.
It is not the kind of album from which I'm likely to choose stand-out tracks, even when I have listened to it more often, but that is no bad thing either. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A pressing problem. The Times They Are a-Changin'

I have never made any secret of my love for the archaic music format that is vinyl even when extinction, in the sense of new releases, looked inevitable. An obituary after the towel was thrown in, maybe.
I certainly never expected to write a post including an apologia like this.

Even before it got to this point, with almost no investment made in new capacity and equipment, the strain that was being placed on the remaining presses of which many are forty years old would prove to be a limiting factor.  Just keeping them running at all, but now almost flat-out, was causing issues all of its own. Spare parts were a physical one but so too is the knowledge of how to maintain and repair such equipment in an efficient manner. The rate of change is quite astonishing as this article, written about the problems facing the industry shows. It was written late last year and first appeared in The Wall Street Journal. It was probably behind the curve even then...

Independent label Fat Possum Records had already taken a big decision... to enter the manufacturing market by establishing its own pressing plant, as Memphis Record Pressing, in Bartlett, TN.  To do this it sought and purchased redundant presses and then found ways and means to restore them to full working order. It wasn't easy.
To write off the CD, as this article conjectures, looks like a mistake to me. Many of us have have about a quarter of a century of music stored on nothing else and I can't see us giving up that aspect of nostalgia either. What is more is that CDs are (now) cheap, light, transportable, ubiquitous and often surprisingly robust. That is not to mention the home-recordable aspect that was lacking, at least in readily affordable terms, for the first twenty years of their existence.
This is as true now as it was then:

  • The Times They are a-Changin'
It was released by Bob Dylan fifty-one years ago today and only on vinyl (monophonic and stereophonic).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Music - 2015 - Part 6 - Salwa Azar - Black Feather Wooden Chair

I shall maintain the acoustic theme of my last post with LP 'Black Feather Wooden Chair', which is the début full-length from London-based Salwa Azar on which she writes, sings and plays ukulele for the most part.

 Release date: 15 January 2015

Quite a long time ago I mentioned her  'For America EP1', which is available to stream here and will give you an idea of her background. The first track to be released from the album is 'Clouds'.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

New Music - 2015 - Part 5 - Small Houses - Still Talk; Second City

While it was some time ago that I became vaguely aware of Small Houses, which is the vehicle for the work of Michigan native Jeremy Quentin,  only now has it come to my attention again and then somewhat by chance. The song from the forthcoming album 'Still Talk; Second City' features guest vocals from an artist who was one of my favourite discoveries of 2014 festivals - Samantha Crain - and is 'Seventeen in Roselore'.
This prompted me to listen to Small Houses' first LP, 'Exactly Where I Wanted To Be' (2013) several times in the last couple of days. My feeling here is that I like this a great deal. Acoustic guitar, mostly picked, accompanies his songs about the trials, tribulations and delights that are just part-and-parcel of life in, probably, a small town. This certainly is not work that tells of the bright lights of a metropolis.  Here is the song that made me take notice and dig deeper.

If I had to choose a favourite from 'Exactly Where I Wanted To Be' then it would be the last of the eight cuts and that is 'Homes and Photographs'. It is a tough call I have to say and this has only served to enhance my anticipation of the forthcoming release. This is the artwork and track-listing for it.
The slated release date is 10 February 2015 in North America.

There is no doubt that I would like to see Small Houses live at a 2015 festival in the UK and I can think of some possibilities. Just as aside, can anyone think of other album titles that have a semi-colon in them?

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A live recording to assuage the January blues.

It is not the best time of year for new music, or indeed much else to be quite honest. Here is a live recording by a band that has exercised my mind much over the last five years or so but has recently declared hiatus.
Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo 'Live at Swindon Arts Centre' in 2011 and recorded during the tour that followed the release of the LP Almanac is now available to download. I certainly love live music and thus also have a soft spot for live recordings convincingly done. This newly affordable recording possibility is one of the virtues of the digital world.

That is not to say that 2015 will be without interest: all four members are still very active in music. Emily Barker is playing Behind The Castle Festival 2015. There is however a great deal more than that to come.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Why do major labels vacillate?

If you think that a curious title for a post then I shall expound.
It is no secret that The Shires' début album 'Brave', dropping soon, has no known album artwork as of today. Or at least that is the catch-all position that amazon,com and is currently displaying. I have to say that, at this stage in the game, that is rather disappointing. The duo is signed to Decca in the UK and Universal Music Group Nashville in all other markets (the first ever UK act to be so). Be that as it may the labels still can't sort the album artwork such that or can display it. This, in marketing terms alone, is really rather pathetic. No wonder that the independent labels, that can react fast, are running rings.
Be that as it may...

It is still likely an LP that will have an impact. It won't be the only one.
On the other hand seemingly small and insignificant labels can insinuate themselves, and thus also their artists, into the consciousness of music fans seemingly without any fanfare at all. Sometimes emerging under the radar, and then staying there for a while, has advantages all of its own.

Particularly when pop - slightly old-style West-coast pop - is concerned.
Any influence and none, its just your ears that decide that in the end.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

New Music - 2015 - Part 4 - Wildwood Kin - Salt Of The Earth EP

This release, unless you see them live and I wholeheartedly recommend that you do, is one that you will have to wait a little while for. A little indie-folk (or call it what you will) something to look forward to in expectation of the spring, perhaps. Live performance is what Wildwood Kin exists for...

The Exeter acoustic trio are (L - R below) Meghann Loney, Emillie Key and Beth Key.

Wildwood Kin, Cheese and Grain, Frome. 24 October 2014.

New Music - 2015 - Part 3 - Caitlin Rose - Been Thinkin' 'Bout You All The Time

This is quite possibly the least new, new music of 2015. It however satisfies the criterion and then some. To be honest she can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned.

It is, so we are lead to believe, just another demo. 
Written with Willie Breeding of 'The Breedings' some time ago.

Friday, January 02, 2015

UK Blog Sound 2015

I'm delighted to say that, for the second year, I was a tiny part of this project organised and collated by Robin Seamer of Breaking More Waves and few others have the ability to find new music in the way that it offers.

I did think about commenting on the long-list, when it was revealed in early December, but this time it was a conscious decision not to. In order to try and reach a conclusive answer the way the votes were counted was modified this year - this was made quite transparent as are the blogs/bloggers that are invited to tender votes (BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards please take note...).
I thought about it and then decided to take a gamble and wait for the denouement.

In retrospect I'm very glad that I did. There was a clear winner in 2015, one that I didn't nominate incidentally, and that was Låpsley. If that moniker seems slightly Scandinavian, courtesy of the accented vowel, then so be it. It could hardly be more appropriate.

Holly Lapsley Fletcher hails from Formby, Merseyside (formally a part of Lancashire) and Formby is indeed a Scandinavian place name in any case!

Do I reckon that 2015 in music is looking set fair?
That is my honest answer. 
It is in safe hands and sound hearts.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 43 - Trash Kit - Confidence

When I wrote this post, about their self-titled début album back in 2010, I didn't really anticipate reviewing its sequel. Although I had liked it, as the years passed I thought nothing more of it. It seemed just to be a case of the three artists doing exactly what they felt like doing on the spur of the moment with little thought to convention, let alone thoughts of the future, as it blasted through seventeen tracks in twenty-seven minutes. I am glad to say that once again I was wrong!
The core trio of Rachel Aggs, Rachel Horwood and Ros Murray remains, as does the contribution (brass in this case) of Verity Sussman, on recent release 'Confidence'.

In this the eleven tracks make up a play-length of just over 29 minutes. The second one 'Medicine' nears the four-minute mark!
Fear not - the self-imposed restrictions on song structure, particularly the lack of chorus, and the ways and means to avoid problems with that are reason enough to persevere. So too the often almost impenetrable vocals, that are usually low in the mix. This tendency is brought over from Murray and Sussman's previous life in Electrelane - I'm really thinking 'No Shouts, No Calls' (2007) in particular, though the prog tendencies are much less pronounced here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Betwixt the old year and New Year.

At this time every year I feel like writing; that inclines me to think I should be able to write either about the past year, the coming one or even both with some insight. The fact is, and this year is no different, that to a great extent I cannot and that is not for a shortage of content.
Be that as it may I still feel like writing and so I have settled on a suitably time-indeterminate solution. Here are a couple of LPs or suchlike that I have not mentioned in 2014.

This first, released as the end of 2014 approached is a good example of the fact that some of the best Americana comes out of Canada and it isn't that easy to find on physical format in the UK at the moment.

'Chasing The Sun' is the third LP from the female three-piece The Sweet Lowdown based in Victoria, British Colombia. The sound is entirely acoustic and based on traditional and Appalachian playing but many of the songs and tunes are self-written.

Little May is also a female three-piece, but in this case from Sydney, NSW, Australia., and again not that easy to find all that much music from except to say that which I have heard I like. More about this very soon.

To finish a post that has wandered the world more or less on the theme of Americana perhaps less well known I will finish with one from the USA. That is this release by Pennsylvania-based Caroline Reese and The Drifting Fifth.
Electric Year EP (2014).

This track is not from the above but from the 2013 album Slow Code.

I can't wait to see and hear any/all of these artists, and many more, live in 2015. Now that I have started listening, reading and writing after the welcome Christmas break who knows where this will go next? I'm not sure that I do but when I started I didn't know that either. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ten years of writing - and some thoughts on music

Having finally got something of the festive feeling, and also read the suggestion from one of my fellow bloggers that writing a blog displays a certain vanity, I thought I might indulge myself a little.
First things first and a very simple luxury - make a tartiflette and sit in front of a real fire to eat it, accompanied by some wine and recorded music.

This specific idea for this post actually came about as the result of a Spotify advertising link - “What did your 2014 sound like?”
My thought was "Why did my 2014 sound like it did?"

One thing I must say about 2014 is that without doubt I have listened to more music, both live and recorded, than in any previous year. I can't put numbers to that but, trust me, it is true and by some considerable margin. I'm not sure that eight years of writing a blog has done much, whether positive or negative, for my vanity. What it has certainly done is provide me with huge satisfaction and at times a sanctuary from the everyday and the mundane. Not just the writing that is, although it has; the live and recorded music that I have heard and all the people that I have met along the way and the ones that I anticipate meeting in the future. One thing is certain; it is both absorbing and time-consuming. It is also absolutely fascinating. I have spent a great deal of time mulling (perhaps I should have done that with the wine too) over the music of 2014 this last month or so. I suppose with good reason that my 2014 has been dominated by acoustic-folk-Americana-roots. I can see that trend continuing in 2015 but that's not all that I like by any means.

The first time I wrote about music in the public domain was some reviews in 2005. I was reminded of this the other day while reading reviews and suddenly finding myself confronted by one of my own - that for the LP 'Old World Underground Where Are You Now?' (2003) by Metric.
That I suppose, and then the desire for freedom to write just what I wanted, led to this blog starting in September 2006 if only by accident rather than design. In 2007 this led to my going to festivals although it had been on my mind for a while. This was hastened by the new-found need to have original material to write about. Then came photography to go with it because festivals are as much about watching as listening. This bare-bones timeline says nothing at all about the music that accompanied it .

This got me thinking about how my current tastes in music have evolved to the point at which they are now. That is proving a tricky thing to do and harder to explain, not least because of the self-analysis that it predicates.

This evening I decided to listen to absolutely any LPs that I thought inspired my, or the purchase of which was inspired by my, decision to start (and then continue) going to festivals back in 2007. Whilst my liking for acoustic folk goes way further back it would seem, on reflection, to have had nothing to do with this particular decision. It seems to have been largely indie-driven; my choice of Latitude Festival 2007 as a starting point was specifically because Arcade Fire was headlining the Sunday. One thing yesterday's playlist demonstrated was that I still like much of what attracted me then and not all of this indie in the period 2007-9 was indie-rock; that appellation doesn't apply to New Young Pony Club or Polly Scattergood, both of which I first became aware of by seeing them play live at Latitude Festivals. I then bought the LPs and indeed have continued to do so. Both have disco as a pulsing heart - the twisted nature of 'Bunny Club' (Polly Scattergood) and 'Ice Cream' (NYPC) have both stood the test of time I think. 

To use a geological analogy, the growth of my music collection in the last ten years has been a largely sedimentary (rather than volcanic) epoch. It does, however, include a couple of fault planes within it. The most obvious of these is connected with my decision to go to End Of The Road Festival for the first time in 2009. This decision was certainly responsible for stirring my interest in Americana and roots and (while I don't much care for the descriptor) 'alt-country' too.
This fed-back into a revived interest in UK folk music (both traditional and new) that served to fill the gaps in live music between festivals.  That is when things became really interesting. It gave me the idea to go looking for new music myself, be that local in origin or further afield, rather than just wait for it to come to a venue that I was at.