Sunday, 25 June 2017

Album: Mark Buckeridge - Coastal Sunshine

Mark Buckeridge Coastal Sunshine

Info: Experimental indie solo act Mark Buckeridge has been a firm favourite of music websites both at home in Ireland and abroad since starting to write and release music back in 2012, but really grabbed attention with the wonderful 2014 EP, Talking Is Good For You, DIY heaven across 5 tracks. In 2015 he released the lo-fi pop single, 'So Long' which was nothing but delightful, and now we have the first full-length debut album, Coastal Sunshine, released on the 19th of June last week.

'Lecture #1' immediately tells us that things have moved forward once again in Buckeridge's style, a full frontal spoken-word assault on the senses, like Velvet Underground or The Doors getting their angry punk on, the track has that acid-psychedelic feel to it, with its protagonist showing a public display of madness on stage to an audience that you imagine only exists in his head, there may not even be a stage at all either.

More other-worldly sounds greet us on 'All I Want To Do Is Cry', with Buckeridge displaying his trademark ability to be wildly experimental yet throw enough of a pop strand into the mixer to make you want to dance. This is a pretty special moment early on, you imagine late 70's post-punk dancehall scenes, snappy drum-pad beats and a Joy Division-esque call and response chorus, it's just such a treat to listen to.

After a brief just under 90 seconds minimalist orchestral instrumental on 'Bronze', we go full psych-hog on the album's title-track. Plodding deep and dark piano tones play the backdrop to Buckeridge's passioned yet despondent vocal, imagine Serge Gainsbourg cool vibes reeling in the drama of Elton John or Billy Joel, that's the middle ground you'll find 'Coastal Sunshine' inhabiting, and it's gorgeous.

Mark Buckeridge - Coastal Sunshine

Then a change, on 'Audio 41' Buckeridge gets his 80's synth on, the determined bass-line like some wonderfully gothic reimagining of the intro theme to Knight Rider, and it also marks the crossover point of the album. A sad sax note wails morosely in the background at the track's beginning on 'Group Singing', it's a haunting environment, and exemplifies the artist's care-free approach to his song-writing, rules are out the window, and this is what allows his music and our imaginations to flourish.

On 'Streaming', I'm expecting two things to happen after the opening electronic beat, the Run DMC vs. Aerosmith 'Walk This Way' guitar solo to kick in, or The Beastie Boys to start spitting rhymes. Neither happen, unsurprisingly, and we have a moment of calm to absorb, with Buckeridge accompanying us with his nonchalant vocal. 

Coastal Sunshine wraps up with 'DDDDDDADA', no, it's not the chord progression to an Oasis song, but it is a power-packed finale to the album, it's like all of the little moments of madness across the album have gathered in one room and Mark Buckeridge relishes in their presence together. He kicks out the jams, rattles manically through verse and chorus and then slips out the side door while we're still dancing away. Like a DIY Frank Zappa, Mark Buckeridge is a standalone talent when it comes to writing music and creating listenable to chaos, it's warm, frightening and invigorating all at once, cherish him!

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Album: Blake's Fortune - Hello World

Blake's Fortune Hellow World

Info: Blake's Fortune is the work of Irish songwriter and musician John Lennon who hails from Dublin. He previously recorded and toured with Pina Kollars, an Austrian-born folk rock singer, when they were signed to Peter Gabriel's Real World Records. 'Hello World' marks his debut album and is a 10-track road-trip inspired by the American north-west.

Hello World by Blake's Fortune opens up with a Tom Petty style track in the shape of 'Hiatus', and lays down the marker for what is to follow across its 10 tracks, an atmospheric collection of Americana-inspired tracks. On second track 'Disconnected' Lennon opts for a more sparse sound initially, opening with just vocals and acoustic guitar, before eventually introducing percussion and bending electric guitar sequences. It's a slow-paced and rhythmic song which aligns itself with his 'road-trip' vision of blurred landscapes passing by through car windows. It's a neat and enjoyable track which pulls you in slowly to its mood, closing out with a soft instrumental refrain.

'Going Slow' ends any suspicions that the album will just 'run into itself' from start to finish, and it's a highlight on Hello World for me, funky rhythms and beats coupled with soul-inspired backing vocals give it a real 70's vibe that works very well. On 'Heart's Roulette' we have a nice Irish folk tinge courtesy of the moody fiddle playing, it's a nice mix with the instrumental closing minute of the track setting things up for the second half of the album.

We are quite some distance away from where the album opened with 'Hiatus' by the time we reach 'Climbing', with Blake's Fortune venturing into more mellow and fulsome ambient folk territory, a hazy blues guitar wobbles in and out, and there's a bit of a War on Drugs feel to the whole affair. The move toward more contemporary indie-folk continues on the enjoyable 'Father', and on 'Moot Point' Lennon dips his toe into some very special places. The track crosses over between Elliott Smith and the type of lo-fi slumber you might have come across on The Beatles' later tracks. 

The upbeat and electro-infused beats of 'Point Reyes' are up next, an interesting blending of country-folk vocals and guitar with modern electronic leanings, again not something you would have expected to come across at the early stages of the LP. Hello World closes with 'Chance', and from a personal perspective it didn't grab me as much as the other tracks and may have fitted in better earlier in the album as a bridge of sorts. 

That said, overall Hello World is filled with numerous tracks that give you something different, it's quite a charming journey that Blake's Fortune brings you on from start to finish, with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. For a debut album it offers many potential paths to go down on future releases and there's no doubt that Lennon is more than just your average good song-writer, the next steps, which may have already begun, will be interesting to say the least.

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Album of the Month: Bear Worship - WAS

Bear Worship Was

Info: Bear Worship is a celebration. It's about positivity and realism, love and friends, passion and nostalgia, and the need for creativity. After a string of well regarded singles which have received airplay on RTE and the BBC, featured in myriad blogs, and ended up in a number of end-of-year lists, Bear Worship’s debut album WAS was released on the 15th June 2017, with a premiere on The Thin Air.

The backbone of WAS’s sound is drums and bass guitar, and layered above are
swathes of synthesizer, guitar, arpeggios, and harmonies, all topped off with Bear Worship’s distinctive vocals. Sonically it lies somewhere between Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, with other touchstones being Deerhunter, St Vincent, Oh No Ono, Giorgio Moroder, Air, Tame Impala, and the Beach Boys. The songs were written and recorded between Bear Worship's home studio and Stephen Shannon's Experimental Audio (Adrian Crowley, Barry McCormack, the Late David Turpin, Strands).

Bear Worship WAS Album Cover

We've never made any secret of how much we love the wondrously dreamy electro-pop of Dublin's Bear Worship (Karl Knuttel), as each single dropped over the last year and a bit that love only grew, and most happily, his debut album WAS is brimming with new songs that match the magic of the singles.

I suppose one of the criteria for selecting an AOTM must be that most of the tracks on the LP are better than very good. From the very beginning of WAS on opening track (and latest single) 'Art in the Artifice' Bear Worship weaves his completely individual ability to shine brightness on the most needy corners of our musical souls. As mentioned in the previous review of the single, it certainly doffs it's cap to one of his self-ascribed influences Animal Collective, but only on the track's instrumental bridge. It's a delightful start to the album, but there's little time to reflect on that as we're lead straight into the magnificent 'Shimmerings'.

Dream.pop.acid.trip.candy. 'Shimmerings' is one of those rarities that you may or may not hear during the course of releases throughout a year, it gives all of itself and asks for nothing in return. It's a bone fide earworm and an exemplary piece of psychedelic dream pop, a shuddering bass-line powers the motion behind the track, with what sound like multi-layers of electronic soundscapes jostling for position around the vocals, perfect.

'Galapagos' momentarily reduces the tempo on WAS, with Bear Worship stripping down to vocal and guitar on it's opening minute, but it's short-lived as drums and bass join the fray, probably the most indie-pop moment on the album which shows we are not dealing with any one-trick pony here.

Bear Worship - Our Friends

We then arrive at my very own introduction to Bear Worship, a track that blew my brain apart when I first heard it, and still does, 'Our Friends' (above stream). "I don't belong here at all, no I don't belong here at all Do I? And you are looking kind of lost, yeah you are looking kind of lost, well so am I. We'll call our friends. We'll call our friends." Is it a dirge of despair or hope? A mixture of both? 'Our Friends' could be interpreted in many ways, an acknowledgement of isolation, a stretched out hand to a stranger or someone who was once close but has since also become a stranger, with the chorus providing a solution to sundry problems. Knuttel's vocals excel and the sound of what recalls a Formula 1 car passing a bend at high speed adds to the happy / sad balancing act so well.

After the funky mania of 'Frequency' we get to 'Pagodas', another example of how Bear Worship can reach the cartoonish pomp of Elton John, Queen or Bowie whilst simultaneously delivering a sombre message. Lyrically he deals with the idea that automation will never replace the power of artistic creativity, with the line; "Since I've discarded childish things, nothing comes close to the joy they used to bring, so I bathe in cathode rays, and I'm assaulted by the vacuum of our age", perhaps referencing the loss of dreams and submission to the overwhelming mundanity of the modern world.

Following the swagger and dramatic intensity of 'Stoicism', WAS concludes with the beautifully titled 'A Wondrous Waste of Time'. This is a lovely shift right at the end of the album, yet another string in his bow, it's a chiiled out house vibe, like a mash-up of Todd Terje, Tycho and again Bowie on the chorus. An emotional and exhilirating vocal performance from Knuttel feels like some kind of inner release of tension, a relief from something that only he knows. 

If you are a fan of any of the artists Bear Worship cites as influences, or you are partial to joyous electronic dream-pop, you will love WAS as much as it wants to love you, and instantly. One of the Irish albums of the year so far for me due to it's swash-buckling adventurousness, wall to wall solid tracks and how it lightly tickles your happy and sad emotions all along the way.