The musical deluge continues on this second installment of Around the Dial as we continue to pick up melodic-hooky signals from around the globe.
I’m glad robots are back in style, like the guy staring back from the cover from the Blank Pages new record Is This Real. Fun and menace in one attractive metal face! Now while I was looking the cover over I was thinking ‘who put this XTC album on?’ I mean, wow, the Andy Partridge vocal echo all over this platter is remarkable. But not exclusive. The build-up in “Before and After” has a nice late-period Police vibe, juxtaposing an interesting vocal interplay over a spare musical backdrop. “Your Generation,” the seemingly muted answer song to Townshend and company, has a more Joe Jackson vocal style. Meanwhile “Robots Will Not Win” reminds me of the manic fun approach of The Tubes. But “Fall Away” and “Waiting in Line” are sonically like XTC love letters. Of course, they work because the songwriting is strong. And then there’s lovely outliers like the sunny poprock gem “Hang Up.” Is This Real is a crisp, fresh, musically adventurous outing worth indulging in.
How does a band take a host of ordinary sounding musical elements and combine them to make something so striking and original? Cumbria’s Mylittlebrother work this trick on their just released Howl. Check out “Goldmine” – it’s just guitars, drums et al, no fancy special effects or wild solos. But it has some crazy alluring quality, drawing you in with its hypnotic ‘oh oh oh oh’s. Actually, that’s it, the distinct value-added here are the various vocal adornments to some solid tunes. Take “Play Hard.” It kicks off with an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western vocal before settling in to a sturdy yet subtle poprock gem. I can’t help but hear a bit of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson or even a mellow Futureheads vibe at work here. By contrast, “Howl” strongly reminded me of Hayden’s endearing alienation or the perky upbeat feel to “Responsibility” obviously bears comparison with the Beautiful South. The band even manages to wrestle the group singing sound away from the bombast of Styx and Boston to use for subtle melodic purposes, like on chorus of “Chicago.” Overall Howl works because it takes up a host of influences from the 1970s but manages to synthesize them into something new.
Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis are literally ‘having a party’ of sorts all over their new collaboration, Your Face is Weird, a wonderful mix of sprightly originals and inspired covers. Just click on “SWIM” and feel that swinging, grin-inducing, melodic charm wash all over you. Not surprisingly, given Geoff’s work with The Connection, the whole record has a winning Rockpile-esque sheen, but there’s something more here. Working with Lucy Ellis has brought to light another side of Geoff’s already sophisticated musical personality, as apparent on their tremendous cover of John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves.” Sometimes the songs are just hooky delights, like “In a Town This Size” and “Together.” At other times, the cover choices seem impossibly hard to improve upon (Kirsty MacColl/Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know”; Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party”; Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”) but the duo still manage to make them highly enjoyable. Surely “Crash of the Music,” with its punky poprock feel, suggests there a lot more mileage in this project. Sign me up for more!
With Zombie, El Goodo nail the sunny pop sound of the late 1960s even more so than normal. Basically, there less psych, more California pop sheen this time around. The album begins with “Things Turn Around,” a Beatles-inflected homage to their namesakes, Big Star. From there it’s straight back to 1966 with “Home,” a very Monkees excursion with Brydsian touches. I’ve always thought that The Zombies and The Turtles were musical cousins of sorts with their delicate, carefully-crafted tunes and El Goodo seem to re-create that with “I Can’t Leave” and “The Grey Tower.” Late 1960s country-rock gets a look in with “Forever Casting Shadows” and the International Submarine Band-ish “You Let Me Down.” For a bit of fun the band even throw in a spot of bubblegum with the Ohio Express-meets-Abba track “Fi’n Flin” and a hip take on a Benny Hill sort of theme, “Sound Good To Me, Man.” The record ends strongly with the Beatlesque “If the Coast is Clear,” nicking lines from “And Your Bird Can Sing” and a vibe right off Let It Be. El Goodo’s Welsh village must have had an amazing record shop because Zombie is a fantastic sixties-infused album.
Freddie Dilevi is the band, Pablo Velázquez is the stentorian voice and co-songwriter of the band’s tunes, and Teenager’s Heartbreak is their knockout 2018 full album debut that is now getting a worldwide release via eclectic punk label Rum Bar Records. Imagine if Elvis headed to the garage instead of Las Vegas in the early seventies. From the title track you can hear this band’s effortless melding of 1950s song styles with a strong punk/new wave sensibility, carried off with Velázquez’s mesmerizing vocals. The new wave element is to the front on “Die Tonight” and “Dangerous Game” while “Half a Chance” and “We’re Alive” so punks up the fifties. And check out the Sergio Leone feel all over “Johnny Remember Me.” Now to give this project a bit of a refresh for 2020, the band re-recorded 5 selections from the album in a stripped-down form as an EP, Acoustic Heartbreaks. And it works too – lovely, lilting, acoustic guitar versions of the originals, with a different but still pleasing vocal intimacy.
2020 may suck for a lot reasons but recorded music is an undeniable winner of all this pandemic spare time. Get to know Blank Pages, mylittlebrother, Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis, El Goodo, and Freddie Dilevi via these conveniently supplied hyperlinks.