Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 10 - Clara Engel - A Little Slander, A Little Lace

I suppose that Saturday lunchtime is an odd time to write a post but never mind.  It is a cold, grey blustery day and I have done all the things I needed to do that involved being outdoors so now I'm at home and doing domestic things while listening to music, of course.
This, released digitally today by Canadian artist Clara Engel who I have mentioned several times before and most recently here, caught my attention immediately.

The download [from US $2] also includes track 'What's The Damage'. Pay 50% more than the minimum asking price and it is still no more than really good coffee. It is bottomless too - you can have another dose as often as you like, for as long as you like. You won't find a deal like that at any coffee shop that I've ever come across. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New Music 2015 - Part 9 - 'L' is for live music and also these artists...

Both these artists start their moniker with 'L' and both have connections to the forthcoming Behind The Castle Festival 2015. Of these two, one has just been announced as a headline act and the other is already announced for BTCF 2015. Lizzyspit playing live is a treat that I have had the good fortune to witness twice.

This is happening at Kings Place in London and is also the formal launch of music consultancy and label Upturned Pebble, which is the power behind Marnhull Acoustic Sessions and, of course, Behind The Castle Festival. There is a theme here.

Today Behind The Castle announced one, but only one, of the two remaining headline acts. It is Georgia, USA based Larkin Poe who I have never seen live. Larkin Poe is touring in the wake of the well regarded LP 'Kin' (2014) and a raft of EPs before that. I can hardly wait.
The announcement of the final act is eagerly awaited and it won't be long in coming.
Lizzyspit will be playing Behind The Castle again but, I predict, to a much larger crowd this time.
It is not going to be winter forever even though at the moment it might just seem like that.

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.
Another inclusion that excites me is Torres. I bought the album last year, direct from her website.
I searched it on yesterday and the result, in terms of 'other artists I might like', was interesting.  Of the eight of them it suggested I have already seen all of them live at least once! I'm not sure whether this says more about me or Amazon's algorithm except to say that if I let Amazon choose suggestions for me based on all my searches in music it veers all over the place. It is often quite fascinating, however, so read into this what you will.

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 ungodly 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 apparently 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.