Lost at SeaLost at Sea” is the follow-up to The Reads 2011 debut “Stories from the Border”. Although three years is a relatively long time between albums, it pales into insignificance beside the eleven years between their formation and the release of the first album. The line-up of the band is: Marcel Delrue (keyboards and programming), Jamie Russell (lead guitar, harmonica and backing vocals), Stuart Bennett (vocals and rhythm guitar), Clare Goddard (bass guitar and lyricist), Matty Goddard (drums) and Chris Goddard (percussion, mandolin, lap-steel and backing vocals) and they are located, geographically and spiritually, in the rugged area where North Wales meets the North-West of England. They’ve already had some support from BBC Radio Wales, XFM and Radio 2 and if you listen to this album that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I hesitate to use the dreaded phase “concept album” to describe “Lost at Sea”, but there’s an unusual cohesion across the album in the musical and lyrical themes and, with some songs segueing into the next, it’s clearly meant to be heard as an album and not just as a bunch of songs. It took a while to persuade my media player to play the tracks in the right order, but it was worth it. Of the album’s ten tracks half are over five minutes long and only one clocks in at less than four minutes, allowing plenty of time to build up a mood before the vocal comes in.

The opening track, “Drowned” is a perfect example of this, fading in for forty-five seconds before the lead guitar cuts in to push the song along in a fairly traditional arrangement (ok, with a mandolin as well) before a long fade-out featuring a montage of seaside sounds. If you’re looking for lyrical themes, here’s your first one; the sea, or more accurately, the place where land and sea meet. The seaside montage fades in to “Lost at Sea” with sparse beats and some nice lap steel creating a backdrop for a vignette of two strangers looking out to sea. “Scarlet” is a wistfully reminiscent folk-styled piece which, unusually, slows down for the chorus. The instrumental tone poem “High Taid” follows, again building up layers over a percussion heartbeat which continues through the next track, “Haunted”, with its cascading keyboards and synth washes and the great line ‘Feeling spoiled like a painting in the rain’.

Love or Be Loved” kicks off with a six-note sequencer intro which runs on through the song. There’s plenty of wah-wah guitar and a lyric which presents a series of bipolar, or black and white, choices, so it’s interesting that the next track is “Counting your Greys”, a mainly acoustic song about people growing old together. The atmospheric “Schnitzler” is unlike anything else on the album with its beats, trip-hop feel and Clare Goddard vocal which creates an almost hypnotic feel by repeating lines and part-lines throughout the song. The gentle “Shifting Sands” hints, instrumentally at mid-70s Pink Floyd with a relatively simple lyrical message that you can’t build anything without a solid foundation.

The closer, “Spitting Feathers”, (references to a local brewery and Thom Yorke there, and that’s just the title) is the busiest production on the album building up to the rising melody of the chorus, before breaking down after about four minutes to an evocative sequencer and synth-dominated closing sequence. The melancholy musical textures and the lyrical rhythms of the album combine to create a sadness that’s strangely ethereal and uplifting, while the north-western accents keep the whole thing grounded. Not one for the playlist generation, but if they don’t want melodic and lyrical invention, interesting blends of traditional instruments and technology and ten songs/pieces which form a cohesive work, that’s their problem.

Out now on iTunes.

Ok, you weren’t expecting to find Noel Coward here were you?  Well, it’s about time you had some proper culture instead of all that pop music nonsense.  In the play “Private Lives”, the character Amanda has the memorable line “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is”, which has been quoted virtually everywhere.  The broadsheets love to give pop thinkpieces an intellectual feel by throwing this one in, but there’s a whole new slant on it now.  Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich (and a few others) are having hissy fits about the financial returns from Spotify, but they’re missing the real target by a country mile.

The problem isn’t that consumers are only willing to pay a small amount for music.  Most of the traditional teenage pop/rock/r’n’b (add your own genre as applicable) music consumers have grown up with the assumption that music is free if you know where to look for it, so why would you ever pay for it?  Things used to be really simple; you heard a song on the radio (or in a club) or read about it in the NME and went to your local music shop and bought it on 7” vinyl, 12” vinyl, cassette or CD, depending on your age.  The record company took a huge slice of the profit, but the artist got paid, particularly if they had a good lawyer and they wrote the song.  The music business panicked in the seventies over home taping, but still pushed the development of digital technology in the eighties not realising they were opening a can of particularly fat, juicy worms.

Digital recording and processing; you can make and keep perfect copies of everything and there’s no degradation no matter how many generations of copies you make.  No more tapes or master discs to worry about storing (or having stolen by the band when they don’t like the mix or don’t think their piece of the action is big enough).  And then the realisation dawned that if Sony (other labels are available) could make perfect copies, then it was only a matter of time before some under-nourished geek in a bedroom in Dollis Hill worked out how to crack the code and make their own perfect copy, which they generously circulated around the world with that new internet thing.  And they were actually complicit in the process when they got behind recordable formats such as Minidisc and Digital Compact Cassette (ask your dad, kids).

Of course it was easy to do a quick and dirty remaster for CD on all of your back catalogue and get the punters to pay to hear them again with a clarity you promised they wouldn’t believe.  Have you heard some of those early remasters?  Some of them are actually painful to listen to, but we bought into it and duplicated our vinyl with CDs.  But the physical CD market was quite healthy because the audio files were massive and transfer speeds on the internet were painfully slow.  So, there would only be a problem if someone worked out a way of speeding up the internet and making audio files much smaller; that wasn’t going to happen, was it?  MP3 and broadband sorted that one out with a little help from those lovely people at Apple and soon we were downloading MP3s as well.

Of course the music industry tried to defend itself with copyright protection systems (which didn’t work) and litigation (which also didn’t work), so we’re in a position now where creativity has virtually no value.  Bands are being asked to pay to play in venues, musicians are being asked for permission to use their work in films for free (for the exposure value) and music writers and photographers are working for peanuts.  It couldn’t get any worse, could it?

Of course it could.  In a typical “four legs good, two legs better” move, the music industry is showing an interest in Neil Young’s PONO full-fat, uncompressed music delivery system (which Shakey’s been trying to flog for years now, with no success) after years of squeezing sound files as small as you can to get them to sound good on an MP3 player or a phone.  It’s CD all over again; if this system ever makes it to the market, then it’s an opportunity to persuade the small market sector that still believes in paying for music to shell out for their favourite albums yet again.  But we won’t get fooled again, will we?

The BendsReady or not, here it comes.  It’s the second single from the Radio (in my) Head project and this time it’s the turn of Sullivn putting their highly individual stamp on “The Bends”.  The band are John O’Sullivan (all vocals), Layla MK Kim (piano), Simon Goudarzi (guitars), Sjur Opsal (bass) and Jon Mar Ossurarson (drums).  Now, I have to be completely honest here and admit that despite loving Radiohead, I can take or leave the original of that particular song.  In fact, I’d rather leave it; if you can imagine Tom Verlaine singing alternately stoned and constipated, that’s how I hear Thom Yorke’s vocal on “The Bends”.

This version is a very different beast, opening quietly and intimately with close-up solo vocal and piano before the guitars, bass and drums come thundering in at the end of the verse.  The song, at different times, features funk elements, big distorted guitars, twin guitar parts, hints of late Beatles production and some subtle piano touches throughout.  There is a tremendous attention to detail as the vocal sound moves from full and resonant to thin and distant and the guitars play power chords followed by atonal fills.  You need to do two things to get the most out of this; play loud and repeatedly.  Your neighbours won’t mind.

The B-side is a remix of Sullivn’s first single “Come Back”, taking the song down a very different route from the fairly straightforward ballad treatment of the original with a very trip-hop dubby feel of Massive Attack and Portishead and very heavy bass.  It’s not quite full on Lee Perry dub, but there’s a lot on interesting things going on there.  Possibly even better than the original single mix.

So what you get here is a Radiohead cover that’s packed with invention and great performances along with a cracking B-side.  I only wish I liked the original more so I could really emphasise how much more I like this version .  It’s available from Tuesday October 8 on iTunes.