A Girl in Teen City ScrollerNot so much a concept album as a themed album; Suzie Ungerleider (Oh Susanna) has produced a wonderfully moving album set in her teenage years in 1980s Vancouver. As the album unfolds, the sense of time and place are reinforced by the musical references (mainly second generation punk) and geographical references to Vancouver and her birthplace Northampton, Massachusetts. Don’t think for a minute that it’s all rose-tinted nostalgia; there is a bit of that, but Suzie doesn’t ignore the darker side of adolescence. “A Girl in Teen City” is a gorgeous piece of work and one where the musical settings are perfectly matched to the lyrics; there are lots of contributors, but the production always feels really uncluttered, leaving Suzie’s beautiful voice plenty of space to deliver her moving and poetic lyrics (‘We’d dream in black and white and chocolate’ from the haunting “Puget Sound”). 

The songs are sequenced in roughly chronological order, beginning with the innocent friendship of “Flashlights”, working through the sexual experimentation of “Darkroom at the School”, drugs, booze and bands in “Getting Ready” and “Tickets on the Weekend”, to the Springsteenesque street sleaze, disillusionment, and finally acceptance of “My Old Vancouver”. And there’s humour as well, in “My Boyfriend”, the true story of an ex-boyfriend chosen for a band because of his looks, who couldn’t actually sing. It’s a feminist message as the young woman who can actually sing sits it out and watches the audition. “Thunderbird” is an “American Graffiti”-style story about the cool factor of working to pay for, and falling in and out of love with a broken-down T-Bird. 

Apart from the perfect songs and the understated playing (no solos, well, just one guitar break), the lyrics are shot through with references to the music of the era, with mentions (directly or indirectly) of The Ramones, Teenage Head, DOA, Prince and Camper van Beethoven (very indirectly). There’s something here for anyone who appreciates the art of songwriting and great musicianship. I haven’t heard a better, or more complete, album this year so far. 

“A Girl in Teen City” is released on Friday May 12 on Continental Song City (CSCCD1142).

Sam Way and Henry Dell scrollerWant to know what a love song sounds like in C21 London – it sounds a lot like this actually. Sam Way and Henry Dell have got together to turn a nice little acoustic song into a Radio 1-friendly and dancefloor-embracing hook-filled anthem. “Pretty Liability” is all about the ‘bad girl’, the transgressive party girl that we should keep at arm’s length but has a magnetic pull on us. The bass pumps, the percussion skitters and the synths wash and there’s the obligatory breakdown at about the two-thirds mark. It’s when the chorus kicks in that you realise how catchy this tune is – you just can’t help singing along with it. And there’s a neat animated video to go with that you can see below.

“Pretty Liability” is out now and here’s the video:

TheKorvids_02The Korvids, eh? I’m guessing it’s a korruption of the scientific term for the crow family. Anyway it’s the name given to a project put together by James Grant (surely I don’t have to tell you about his history) and Gordie Goudie (Simple Minds producer and former member of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Primevals). So the obvious collaboration would be a disco album, right? Well, not strictly; it’s certainly a dance album, but there’s a lot more than just disco lurking in “The Korvids”. Is it so far away from the music they’ve made in the past? In James Grant’s case, I would probably say no; he’s always had a bit of a funky element to his guitar playing and he’s not afraid to experiment, so a dance album’s not such a big step. Now a cheerful dance album; that’s another thing entirely.

The album covers a range of styles; the opener ”Bad Faith”, with its four-to-the-floor kick, congas, funky keys, hi-hats, melodic bassline and horns is pure joyous mid-seventies Studio 54. James Grant even throws in an Ernie Isley style guitar solo for good measure. Maybe a hint of the Average White Band in there as well. And that’s just the first song. “Tender Tyrannies” is about old records and the memories attached and has a Soul II Soul feel with a female vocal, squelching synth bass and clipped, funky guitar, “Slouch” has a groove that’s part Steely Dan, part humanistic Kraftwerk and previous single “Beach Coma” has an ambient Goa trance feel with synth pads and swirls and an acoustic guitar hook. Elsewhere, you can hear elements of Massive Attack and Eastern music in “Be My Enemy” and trip-hop in “Are You Bored with Me Baby?”

If you were a clubber in the late eighties/early nineties and you’ve grown up since then, this is the album for you. It feels a bit like the dance production process has been turned on its head; instead of building up from a groove and adding layers to create the finished product, this feels like the songs came first and the backing tracks were written to fit the songs. Either way, it’s a cracking album.

“The Korvids” is released on Friday April 28 on Nang Records.

And while we’ve got you here, how about checking a stunningly good song about Scottish families, another of James Grant’s classics:

Madison Violet - 'The Knight Sessions' - cover (300dpi)Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are Madison Violet and they’ve been together since 1999 using the perfect blend of the two voices as the starting point for experiments in musical settings. “The Knight Sessions” is an experiment with different musical settings created with junkshop finds including children’s wooden blocks and old electronics to create interesting sonic textures and ambience without distracting from their powerful melodic songs. Generally speaking it works, creating a hint of spacey trip-hop over the stripped-back instrumentation.

My only reservation is that this approach tends to create a uniformity across the album. There’s an attempt to address this by focussing on the guitars and vocal harmonies in the basic acoustic versions of “Trouble” and “Operator”, which is partly successful. The truly innovative treatment on the album is the roots/Americana dub version of the lullaby “Hush” (also known as “Hush Little Baby” or “Mockingbird”). It’s wonderfully trippy, spacey, disorientating, menacing, and a high point of the album.

“The Knight Sessions” is released on Big Lake Music (Cat. No.471203-2) on Friday May 5 and Madison Violet will be touring the UK in May.

Holy Smoke scrollerBlair Chadwick and Charlie Bateson (Steepways) set out to create an album with the feel of classic seventies singer-songwriter albums and with “Holy Smoke”, it’s mission accomplished. There are nods in the direction of country with “Ghost Walks” and “Pin it on Me”, bluegrass with “Rather be Alone” and even skiffle with “Chaperone” and “The Collector” (which also gives a tip of the titfer to early Kinks). The instrumentation is pure seventies Laurel Canyon with pedal steel and occasional banjo and an occasional glimpse of the classic seventies ornament, the nylon-strung guitar solo. And it’s all done beautifully. The album’s lovely closing song “Dying on the Vine” delicately exposes the evasions of alcoholism, while the lyrics generally lean towards melancholy on a personal scale; life’s minor triumphs and failures. It’s an interesting debut and it reminded me of one artist in particular; Ringo Starr just after the Beatles split. I’d say, on balance, that’s a good thing.

Out on May 5 on Mansion House Records.

musicriot 2017How’s everyone doing? We’re almost a third of the way through the year now and it’s about time to look at how things are shaping up and to give you some news about the direction we’re taking here at MusicRiot. Over the years we’ve evolved from reviewing everything that popped through the letterbox (and now it pops in to the inbox) to our current approach of only reviewing things that we really believe in and want you to hear (and there’s plenty of that to keep everyone busy at Riot Towers). And we don’t like negativity; you can get enough of that in the NME or letters/comments pages of the specialist music magazines and websites. So, if you think there aren’t many one or two star reviews, that’s the reason. There’s so much good music out there that we want to focus on, whatever the genre.

And we’re having a pretty good year so far. Of the 2017 predictions, Ags Connolly has released a very good and critically-acclaimed second album, Stone Foundation signed to 100 Per Cent records and charted nationally at 25 with their “Street Rituals” album, Sound Of The Sirens have their album “For All Our Sins” released at the end of May on DMF Records and they’re playing the Fields of Avalon stage at Glastonbury. Hannah Aldridge’s stunning second album “Gold Rush” is out on June 16, and Dean Owens has delayed the release of his latest album “Southern Wind” until (probably) early 2018 to focus on yet another side project named Redwood Mountain with traditional fiddle player Amy Geddes. Watch this space for more on that one.

As for MusicRiot, we’re going to launch a new review feature very soon called “Sound Bites”, where we take a brief look at albums and singles that are interesting and worth listening to but don’t quite get the full review treatment. No star ratings, no judgements, just a recommendation to give it a listen.

That’s about it for now. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open and check out our Facebook page to find out what we’re up to.

Sound-of-the-Sirens-FOR-ALL-OUR-SINS-packshot-300x300[1]The last two years have been a bit of a whirlwind for Sound of The Sirens. Over that period, Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood have risen irresistibly out of the local and support slot circuit to playing major festivals and headlining their own tours. They’ve won many supporters along the way with their superbly-crafted songs, beautiful harmonies and exhilarating live performances. All that’s missing so far is the chance to convert that to national airplay. “For All Our Sins” should be the chance to put that right.

The opening of the first song, the lead track “Smokescreen” is a good indicator of the new approach with the addition of bass and drums and some Spanish style nylon-strung guitar and percussion giving the song an added dimension. It’s not so much a move away from their live sound as a subtle augmentation. The arrangement reminds me of the way Al Stewart was produced in the mid-seventies, an he’s still being played on commercial radio forty years later. Hannah and Abbe’s voices and instruments are still right up there in the mix, but the addition of some more daytime radio-friendly instruments and a few hooks have certainly worked. Jeremy Vine thinks so; he was at the album launch a couple of weeks ago and played the song on his Radio 2 show the following day. That’s a pretty impressive flash-to-bang time.

There are a couple of songs that have been reworked for the album, and it’s interesting to compare the originals with the new versions. Both “Together Alone” and “In This Time” have been smoothed out a little, with the vocals coming down a couple of notches to blend better with the other instruments, and some slight structural changes. Using a drummer has made the transitions between sections smoother, particularly when the tempo changes, and the production team has introduced some studio effects (some dub echo in “Together Alone”) and even created a psychedelic vibe with the ambient sounds, echo, and reverb of “The Circus”.

But all of the studio wizardry’s just window dressing if the raw material isn’t right. Abbe and Hannah’s songwriting is a huge part of their appeal. They write with a darkly poetic romanticism about subjects that are important; mental health in “The Voices”, the impermanence of relationships in “In This Time” and maybe even embittered journalists (amongst other things) in “Smokescreen”. They often explore the elemental side of human experience (“Chaos”) but there’s usually a message of empowerment in there as well. They care passionately about what they do.

With “For All Our Sins”, Sound of the Sirens have succeeded in creating studio versions of their powerful and dynamic songs for mainstream consumption without losing the creative fire in the process. The songs will be there on their upcoming tour and during the festival season in all their dynamic and noisy glory but, for now, this sounds like the next step up the ladder.

“For All Our Sins” is released on DMF on 26 May 2017.

Meanwhile, you can have a look at this: