Always Here (7-inch EP)
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Back in the Fruits de Mer stable for the first time their Mersey Dream four years back, Stay kick things off with “Always Here,” a pulsing slice of updated Britpop from the Spaniards’ upcoming The Mean Solar Times album - and that’s Britpop with the sort of soaring chorus that Oasis always aimed for, and a beat to batter fish to.
It’s a sound they maintain throughout. The Bee Gees’ “Every Christian Lion-Hearted Man Will Show You” is rendered as buoyantly poppy as the its prototype was downbeat; while Buffalo Springfield’s “Rock and Roll Woman” feels like the Byrds if the Gibbs had eaten them, and fed the bones to Melody Fair. And talking of the Byrds a bit, another Stay original, “You Know It’s Right,” saddles up both a fresh remix and guitar overdubs from Ride’s Andy Bell, and it jangles like you wouldn’t believe.
Best of all, though, is “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” built around an opening guitar that sounds more like “I Can’t Explain,” but sacrificing the weariness that characterized both the Kinks’ original and Bowie’s runaway-best-till-now cover, in favor of triumph, glory and the beginnings of a seething organ freak-out as the last few seconds approach.
Plus! A “making of the album” documentary DVD, slipped inside every seven-inch sleeve.
The Chemistry Set
“Lovely Cup of Tea”
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No, it’s not Madness, although there’s definitely a non-familial resemblance here - one that marries something from our house or thereabouts with… let’s see. The Small Faces, the Kinks, Parklife… the usual suspects viewed from an ever-so-slightly skewed perspective. “Lovely Cup of Tea” is everything a song with that title should be, and if it’s hard for things to get better from there, the Chemistry Set at least remain on an even keel.
“The Rubicon” is another band original, a glorious slab of adrenalin, fuzz, acid, outrage, and more-or-less anything else you could hope to find in three minutes. And, finally, the Moody Blues’ “Legend of a Mind” is snatched away from its makers’ horse-faced peregrinations, to become a black sheep sibling to Their Satanic Majesties Request, mighty Mellotrons tripping hand-in-hand with a 12 string Ricky and possibly trumpets and more.
It is, quite simply, the greatest Moody Blues cover ever made, wrapping up the best 45 the Set have ever released.
The Honey Pot
Ascending Scales (3CD special edition)
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The manifold joys of the Honey Pot’s Ascending Scales LP were discussed a few months ago (here). But now it’s back, on CD for the first time but, more importantly, expanded across an hour of more of the same.
For example: The Luck of Eden Hall’s Gregory Curvey fronting the band’s rendition of his own “Empyrian House.” The Stones’ “Child of the Moon,” sounding somewhere between an out-take from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Tomorrow’s debut album, with Ted Selke (Seventh Ring of Saturn) taking lead vocals. Another Moody Blues cover, “Never Comes the Day,” with Tir na nOg transforming it into one of their own. Icarus Peel’s “Half a Memory” as an electric July reunion.
Pretty Thing Dick Taylor sitting in on a remix of the vinyl’s cover of his “Sitting All Alone,” draping ghostly guitar over what has to be the most spell-bindingly lovely all-star vocal line of the year: Crystal Jacqueline, Britt Ronnholm, Ilona V and Judy Dyble. (Ronnholm’s Us and Them partner Anders Hakansson adds the insistent synth.)
And eleven minutes of “First Light,” the Honey Pot meet Astralasia across a piece that is part angry ambience, part beat group frenzy and part an Adrian Sherwood dub extravaganza. In terms of the mood of the rest of the album, it’s the aural equivalent of falling out of bed midway through a dream about kittens. But that’s not always a terrible thing. It might not have worked on the original album, but wrapping up its postscript, it’s a true unmissable high.
Oceania (2 LPs)
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And talking of Astralasia…
The successor to 2014’s Wind on Water delivers two solid discs worth of agitated ambience, techno effervescence… oh, stop it. More than almost any other modern musical form, the joy of electronics lies wholly in the ear of the beholder - it’s the sound of impressions, ideas and energies, and they can exist only in the mind of the individual.
So, what sounds to one listener like an arctic icequake, as witnessed by a herd of elephants while they groove to Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene (“Astral Voyager”), could easily be a bumpy ride through someone else’s asteroid belt. What feels like a day at the seaside, while an avant-garde brass band serenades the seagulls (“A Long Shore”), might also be the view of a distant mountaintop. And so on.
What is not up for debate is the fact that Oceania was not made to be sliced into bite-sized portions, even though the track listing might declare otherwise. Eleven tracks do spin in different directions, from the wave-washed title track to the eerie “Alooland,” and onto “Ghosts Inbetween,” which oddly invokes both “Riders on the Storm” and “The In Crowd’ within its jazzy electric piano-pressed pulse.
But feelings can be fractured even during the album’s side four epic, the 22-minute “Time & Tide Eternal.” On the one hand, it’s the cut that falls most firmly into the kind of niche you might be expecting if your electro-savvy is shaped only by what you’ve surmised. And on the other, it’s something else entirely. And only you can say what that is.