The press release for the second album by Jay Woodward makes it sound thoroughly dispiriting. A “dismal gut wrenching ode”. A “contemplative stream of consciousness that shrouds the most unpredictable stage of the living…death”. Heavy stuff. And the clip of Winston Churchill delivering a wartime speech at the end of track 2 doesn’t bode too well either. But this is no self-pitying, navel-gazing, morosity-provoking glum fest. There’s a lovely chamber pop quality to much of the songs, and Prime Minister Woodward himself has a voice with the potential to buck you up and raise your spirits. What’s also nice is that over the course of a very quick 31 minutes there’s plenty of variety. A couple of instrumentals. Some heavy industrial sounds, particularly at the start. A few lightly strummed folky numbers. And, perhaps the highlight, a little pocket symphony in ‘The Joker or The Fool’. Starting with a ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’-style energy, we’re treated to some wonderful wordplay, “… do I exist at all inside a realm of omnipresent multiplicity, where I make every decision but choose one category …”, only for the song suddenly to metamorphosize into a thing of stillness and calm. There are some serious themes on Jay Woodward’s sophomore release, but they’re not designed to drag you down and pull you under. It might not be exactly life affirming, but it’s highly rewarding. And that’s a good start.
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a nice surprise because Kramies has a new EP out. Our favourite dream-pop merchant played a gig in France back in April and an EP has emerged from it. It contains some lovely versions of old musical friends, including ‘Sea Otter Cottage’ and ‘The Wooden Heart’. It also includes a new song called ‘Ireland’. Needless to say, our ears pricked up immediately. It’s the stuff of fairy tales. It’s also free to download from Bandcamp.
“I don’t live like the others”, says Israel Nash on his Silver Season, “I see twice as many colours”. It’s a hippy-style sentiment right out of the 1970s. And this is an album that’s infused with the sweet, yet slightly acrid smells of Topanga Canyon. But there’s more to Israel Nash’s Silver Season than a whiff of patchouli oil and a few liberal sentiments. Full of songs with wonderful melodies (‘Mariner’s Ode’ is a fine example), great playing all round (check out the bass line on ‘Strangers’), and the highest quality song craft (pretty much anything on the record), this is more than a throwback to a now bygone era. This is a great album in its own right. What’s nice is that it doesn’t give in to ’70s-style excess. Sure, there’s a good old-fashioned guitar solo on ‘Strangers’, but the temptation to dress up a jam as a fully fledged composition, or simply to over-extend (think Jonathan Wilson’s last album) is curbed. So whereas a song like ‘Lavendula’ moves along so nicely that there must have been a temptation to keep it going, we’re treated to 4 minutes 30 of glorious sounds and then it’s brought neatly to an end. “Sooner or later we’ll surrender our guns”, we’re told on ‘Parlour Song’, “But not until we’ve shot everyone”. It’s something we might have heard a few decades back. But it’s still relevant today. Just like Israel Nash and his Silver Season.
Some artists are more reflective than others. On their website, Blitzen Trapper have provided a handy essay that discusses the band’s development, the placement of their new album in relation to the rest of their work, and the specific ethos they’re trying to capture here. For anyone taking Blitzen Trapper 101, it’s the ideal exam primer. So, we’re told, their previous release, VII, was “a futuristic hip-hop/country-rock hybrid”, or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Americana Fantasy, as it’s otherwise known. On Across This Land, though, they’re “back to that rock thing again”. And very welcome they are too. The influences are easy to spot. There’s a lovely Neil Young harmonica on ‘Let The Cards Fall’. A vibe that’s reminiscent of The Eagles on ‘Lonesome Road’. And some decidedly Springsteenesque sounds and sentiments on ‘Cadillac Road’. While in some hands it would all end up a little derivative, here it remains fresh. Witness ‘Nights Were Made For Love’, which includes both a great Allman Brothers guitar riff and some Foreigner-style spangly synths. Blitzen Trapper are an honest hard-working band. They’re on the road a lot and they’re not afraid to do something a little special when they’re out there, witness their excellent full cover of Harvest earlier in the year. In the studio, they have the musical chops and the song-writing ability to craft a bunch of great songs. But All Across This Land is more than that. It’s a spirit. An ideal. An ethos. And there’s a fine essay available on their website if you’re doing Blitzen Trapper Studies and need a quick cheat sheet.