After a few weeks where our music critic Andrew Tobias has pronounced his love for the music of his youth he now turns his focus on another area, part in thanks to the recent release of the band Arkells new single Knocking at the Door.
For some strange reason I have always had a strange adoration for music from Canada. It does not make a whole lot of sense, for the music produced in the great white north is not that dissimilar to that written in the southern part of the Americas. From the first meeting with Bryan Admas, to the anger in Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill, the soft lilting tones of Sarah MacLachlan and the qurkiness of Barenaked Ladies it seems as if Canada has been close to my heart for a long time.
So when I discovered Arkells a year ago when they were closely connected to Frank Turner, well then it was as if fate had intervened. I must say that I am a big fun of their music and lyrics that tread that fine line between sarcasm and seriousness, wrapped in a simplistic package. Their new single Knocking on the Door is a tune that includes all the pieces that have made their previous releases so great; a catchy melody, quick witted lyrics and a sharp message. It is reminiscent of a southern preachers sermon to a congregation, complete with a climatic baptist choir at the end. It gets the listener going and their hearts racing.
So get off the couch and answer the knock at the door, because it’s the Arkells waiting for you to open and discover them.
In this week’s fresh tracks segment Andrew Tobias, music reviewer at large, highlights American pop trio Jukebox the Ghost’s new single and ponders how age makes us gravitate towards certain artists.
The pursuit of new music has always been very important to me although it has changed over the year. Like a sex addict I found, in my younger years, that I was increasingly looking for stranger and more disjointed music to explore. As if a lone singer songwriter with a guitar just didn’t cut it anymore. Now on the other hand when I am closing in on my forties I find that I look for songs that have a familiar air instead. Jukebox the Ghost, a power pop trio from Washington D.C., is such a band. They play a style of music that is a wonderful blend of tunes hinting on songs you have heard before and a lyrical ingenuity about everyday issues. It wakes a comfort and familiarity in ones bosom in a way that is reminiscent of Fountains of Wayne, OKGO and Scouting for Girls. It is easily digestible, fun and the songs stick in ones head.
They have returned, after a few years of absence, with the song Stay the Night. It continues where there last album ended with a similar poppy feel and quirky lyrics. The difference her is that they are channeling Queen by using the choir vocals and the distinct use of piano. It is also an anthem to platonic love, or the want to spend the night with that special someone, but apparently not being able to.
In short Jukebox the Ghost’s new single is well worth a listen for anyone interested in something dance-able and quirky.
After a brief hiatus Andrew Tobias returns with Fresh Tracks, this time with a declaration of love fueled by the release of his new album Whole New World.
To me Francis Dunnery has always been one of the music industries best kept secrets. No matter how much I have enjoyed his songs it has never bothered me that I was the only one among my friends. It has always been like a brotherhood with a secret handshake, a knowing wink or nod to people behind the record store counter pr someone wearing an It Bites T-shirt one happens to see on the street.
I was first introduced to Dunnery as a teenager, when I heard American Life in the Summertime, and the album Fearless became the soundtrack to the summer of ’96 for me. Since then he wandered in and out of my life and I was even introduced to his band It Bites. At times it can be trying to be a Dunnery fan. He likes to experiment and some of his production has been a highly dubious adventure in various soundscapes, but I guess that is part of his charm. This does lead to the fact that whenever a new album is released one enters into it with a sense of trepidation.
Whole New World Remix does evoke a variety of feelings and questions. Is it a remix album where songs from Dunnery’s catalog is enhanced with ambient sounds, very much in the style of his Made in Space or a re-imagining of the same like his work with The New Progressives. To my joy it was more of the latter than the former. The remix in this case are Dunnery’s interpretations of It Bites tunes as well as some of the more classic progressive songs of the seventies and eighties. Songs like The Faces’ Glad and Sorry or Genesis’ Back in New York City.
This is definitely Dunnery at his best. Most of the songs are flavored with a goodly dose of Steely Dan and other fusion jazz acts. It is a more mature sound, maybe aimed at a more mature audience with a taste for quality and excitement in composition. IT may not be an introduction to his musical history, but it is an introduction to his world, his amazing voice and wonderful ability. This is Francis Dunnery at his absolute best.
The Guild’s music reporter Andrew Tobias has always tried to keep his finger on what is fresh on the music scene. The goal is to highlight a new release from an artist every week. Here is the first one:
It seems to me like John Darnielle and his band always have had a theme in their songs or their albums, even though they never really were that type of act. It also seems to me that they are headed in that very direction. Their previous album, Beat the Champ, had a clear thematic red thread in wrestling and wrestlers and the forthcoming album will treat the phenomenon of Gothic Music. I guess both cases can be argued; Darnielle’s clearly personal songs have always had an overhanging theme of alienation and being an outsider and that in itself might be seen as a concept, on the other hand one might claim that any artist’s catalog is one long concept and that what The Mountain Goats are doing now is structuring it through in actual album form.
Bassist Peter Hughes stated on the band’s homepage that this theme is dearer to his heart, as is true for the rest of the group and may very well be true for most people who grew up in the 80s. The Gothic music scene, I would venture to say, has been more important and influential than we might realize. So far only Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds has been released as a single and it sets the bar high for the coming Goth album. Eldritch, as the founder and remaining member of The Sisters of Mercy one could well argue that he is one of the more important characters of the scene. With the very recognizable sound that is the Goats the tune discusses all the feelings of middle age people who return to their old haunts after success and the adoration of all. It becomes deeply thought provoking and at times sad, with some hope at the end.
The song truly brings a longing for what The Mountain Goats will bring to the new album.
Breaking is the first album from the Brooklyn based band Cold Wrecks, well that’s not the whole truth. This is a new version of the band Eli Whitney & the Sound Machine, which leaned towards the Ska genre. In this new iteration the band has garnered comparisons to Modern Baseball, Weakerthans and Against Me!, but that is to simplify things a bit. This is not going to be a knock on the more or less repetitive world of modern American nondescript punk, but there is reason to have it in the back of your mind while talking about Cold Wrecks. For bands that classify themselves as punk rock today, or the even vaguer term emo, it is easy to fall into the trap that is the aforementioned style and doing so one runs a risk of sounding more like Sum 41, New Found Glory or a myriad of other forgettable bands. To truly stand out in the world of punk bands just might need to look elsewhere to find inspiration and that might just be what the Brooklynites have done.
Th opening salvo of Breaking is called Price and is truly promising, a musical nod to British post-punk like Smiths, Joy Division and more modern counterparts like The Courteneers. Unfortunately it ends there. Most of the album falls back into a punk sound. It is the same problem bands like Fightstar’s album Be Human where the best track by no means represents the other songs. It’s as if Cold Wrecks don’t quite know what they want to be. The tracks on the album are everywhere without a real cohesiveness and with a disjointed feel. One could argue that the need for a unified collection of tracks is unnecessary in the digital age, where listeners concentrate more on individual songs than the sum of its parts, but for new listeners consistency is key.
This said Cold Wrecks style of punk rock is by no means bland. There is heart here and a willingness to experiment with the form, especially when it comes to content and themes. It’s more than your run of the mill punk and deals more with heart ache and loneliness instead of high school angst or parties.
Cold Wrecks show that they are a band that have a bright future in front of them and if they continue to experiment they can go far.
– Andrew Tobias
Andrew Tobias is a music collector, musician and cultural scholar as well as the Guild’s resident music reviewer. His former girlfriends also describe him as perpetually broken.
Between reviews of new music our intrepid music reporter Andrew Tobias would like to recommend an artist he believes you should know about.
If this had been anytime during 1990 to 2010 recommending the band The Hardy Boys might just seem foolish seeing how the band broke up in 1990, and you would be right. Although there is nothing idiotic about discussing a band, no matter when they disbanded, plenty of people will still talk about Nirvana or the Beatles, as long as the catalogue is timeless. Luckily for us this particular act reformed in 2010 and released their second album in 2011.
The Hardy Boys, not to be confused with the band/TV show of the sixties, were formed in 1985 in Greenock, Scotland and broke up due to problems within the band members in 1990, not long after the bands debut album was released. Songs From The Lenin and McCarthy Songbook was a collection of the songs the band had produced from the inception and contained remastered recordings. The break up of the band did not diminish the interest from the public, rather the opposite and the they would become labelled as a cult indie act; a lot due to the oft cited fact that their 12″ single Wonderful Lie would sell on Ebay for quite the high sum. It seemed as if The Hardy Boys would forever be lost in the sea of bigger name Scottish acts from the same era.
But they returned, came out of indie obscurity and strengthened by the vocals of Karlyn King to release the second album British Melancholy on Bubblegum Records. They did release an E.P. in 2009 containing one new track called under The Picadilly Clock, so they had resurfaced a bit. I’m not here to write a review of the two albums, but there is an interesting aspect that needs to be lifted. With a span between albums of 22 years there is more of a difference between the first release and its subsequent follow up, more than you might see from other bands. While the first album strongly resembles The Smiths in composition with a quick melodic pace, but with a great deal of cynicism in the lyrics, dark music that one can dance to. A more polished Joy Division and a style that would dominate the American market in the mid to late nineties with bands like Everclear or Third Eye Blind. British Melancholy is slower and to quote singer King; The new album is a darker affair than “Songs from the Lenin and McCarthy Songbook”, exploring the meaning of the arts amid heartbreaking love.
It seems as if the development that fans usually follow from one album to the next, the tweaking, the maturity in lyrics and vocals happened during the hiatus and that the follies, the experimental albums were conveniently skipped. Not saying that every band should leave fans hanging for two decades, but for The Hardy Boys it has worked and the transition is seamless.
So why should you know about The Hardy Boys? It’s the collection of delicate lyricism, fueled by witty sarcasm at times and true feelings of heartache and being on the outside. They have managed to epitomize the music of the post punk of their contemporaries and brought it into the new era of music without compromising. They are a fine blend of The Smiths, House of Love, Joy Division and even Deacon Blue and they curate this mix like a wine aged to perfection. So make your way to Bandcamp or Spotify, for physical copies of the albums will be hard to find, and give them a try, I think you’ll be happy you did.
Andrew Tobias is an avid record collector and hobby musician who hasn’t read a single Hardy Boys novel in his life and was horrified by the TV-show he accidentally watched on Youtube.
“And despite, despite yourself, You’ll be the last good thorn on the rose.
And in time, in time you’ll see, You’ll make those fucking petals look like plastic shite you see in shops, Or graveyard bins. Where the pointless offers made to long dead lovers means nothing, To cold dead bones. You’ll be the last good thorn on the rose.”
- Give it up
- G’Wan So
- Marching in time
It was in 2013 that the Irish punk band Chewing on Tinfoil released their last album; Marrowbone Lane and to satiate the fans they have now released an E.P. called Moving the Goalposts. The E.P. contains five tracks with the bands typical mix of punk, ska and rock. For those of us who enjoyed the previous release this one will not disappoint. Chewing on Tinfoil quickly show, on the first track Charlene, that they master the fine blend that is legacy of Clash-brand punk rock, Frank Turner- style folky rock and American third wave ska.
Like the mix of musical styles that the quartet displays so is the E.P. similarly blended in lyrical content. The listener is thrown between love and social criticism all in cleverly worded phrases and delivered with right amount of sentiment, anger and joy that the songs require.
All in all Moving the Goalposts is a perfect example of what Chewing on Tinfoil can do when they are on the top of their game and should make fans excited about what might come next.
Moving the Goalposts is available to stream for free at https://chewingontinfoil.bandcamp.com/album/moving-the-goalposts or to download at your own price.
– Andrew Tobias
When it was announced that Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf were once again teaming up to make music my interest was naturally peaked. Bat Out of Hell, as well as their sophomore project Dead Ringer and the long awaited follow up Bat Out of Hell II are some of my favorite albums ever and I often times view them as two of the most complete works of rock ever constructed. Meat Loaf’s production outside this collaboration has not left any lasting impression on me apart from the odd tune here and there, 2003’s Couldn’t Have Said it Better has become a perennial top ten listen.
Going All the Way is the first single from the upcoming album Braver than We Are a project in development since 2013. The upcoming album will contain tracks written by Steinman, new and ones that have been previously recorded by other artists. For a Meat Loaf/Steinman trifecta fan this indeed sounds promising.
But if the lead off single Going All the Way is any indication most of us who fall into that particular fandom will be sorely disappointed. Meat has enlisted some old friends; Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito, who both performed on Paradise By the Dashboard Lights and they are unfortunately the saving grace. For gone is the bombastic grandness that captured the heartstrings of the teenagers of the nineties when I Could Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) would start playing at the high school dance, well at least in my neck of the woods. Instead we are quickly thrown into the song like a child thrown into a cold lake on the first day of summer, and a similar shock ensues. The strength of a Steinman tune is the intro, it sets the mood and tone more than most songs do. It’s the way he constructs it, like a piece of a musical number, the audience gets to feel what the performer is feeling and we are usually in step with Meat Loaf as he serenades the world. This experienced is completely lost and as a listener you are left confused and bewildered about how to feel.
Meat Loaf himself can give no comfort or guidance in the matter either. Whether it is his hectic touring schedule, his recent health scare or just plain old age, but his voice isn’t what it has been in the past. I once read in Time magazine that they very nearly, not quite, but nearly compared him to the old opera singer Jussi Bjorling and Steinman’s epic tunes would not be complete without his voice. When that voice has seemingly lost its potency, well then the entire illusion falls.
Last, but by no means least the compositions itself just doesn’t make it all the way. Steinman’s ability to write a great tune has already been discussed, but his lyrics have always been the heart of the affair. Part nostalgic throwback to a simpler time with outdoor movie theaters, the smell of motor oil, lost loves and reckless youths and part general rebellion, all melded into a baroque anthem. This is not it though. Going all the way is a jumbled mix of nonsensic words and the result is such a mess that one has to step back and say; huh? If this is one of Steinman’s older, rejected songs recycled, then it should have been left on the editing room floor, much like Prince’ later production should have been.
So, is my love affair with Loaf/Steinman over? Only the release of Braver Than We Are in September can answer that question, but this single does not make it look promising and in saying that, this is not a fitting end for Meat Loaf or Jim Steinman.
Andrew Tobias is a songwriter, music collector and writer who generally believes that Two out of three ain’t bad.
After a successful career in the folk group The Oysterband Ray Cooper, better known as Chopper, decided to venture out on his own as a solo act. Now on the eve of a new tour and with a second album in the back he spoke to us about touring, the new album and how important it is to embrace change within music.
When I call him up Ray ‘Chopper’ Cooper has just released his second album Palace of Tears and takes a break from packing and rehearsal for a tour that will keep him on the road until November.
‘I don’t like being away for more than a couple of weeks, so I come home for a bit. I’m going to Denmark, then eastern Germany and then to England’ he explains.
The tour comes to an end on the 16th of November in Brighton, where Cooper went to art collage and a place that holds a lot of memories for him.
‘They were my formative years and I lived in a succession of crappy flats over the course of four years’ he comments on the Brighton days.
Not from a particularly musical background Cooper’s early influence was mostly American music of the seventies and not purely folk as one might think.
‘I’ve always straddled both rock and folk and in the beginning I listened to a lot of artists and bands who meld folk and rock; like Neil Young, Johnny Cash and the British band Fairport Convention. The way folk has inspired those artists is how folk has worked for me as well.’
To Cooper folk has always been a source of really strong melodies and this may very well be why his new album Palace of Tears isn’t inherently folky as one might expect.
In the beginning of the eighties Cooper became one of the founding members of the band 3 Mustaphas 3, a world music cabaret band that played mostly in London, but was the reason for his first visit to Eastern Germany, a place he would return to several times and would influence his latest release.
‘It was a lot of fun’ Cooper says as he thinks back on those days. ‘It was formed in the beginning of the world music scene. I was there for the first two albums and after I left they became more jazzy and better. When you tackle folk music from another country you can do it very seriously or just have fun.’ Cooper is quick to say that 3 Mustaphas 3 did take the music seriously, but it was with the act itself they had fun.
After leaving the band, in 1986, he tried to do a solo project, but nothing came of it and he joined The Oysterband in 1988 as bassist and cello player. He moved to Sweden after meeting his wife and has been living there for the past fourteen years. In 2012 he announced that he was leaving the band and left after their Ragged Kingdom tour in 2013.
‘The main reason I went solo was to sing and do my own material’ he explains. ‘When you’re the singer in a band you’re already there as a singer in a band, to be a singer I had to leave the Oysterband. I was happy to be a band member for two decades, but when I released my first album I realized it could work and that I needed a new kind of challenge. I wanted to write more of my own material and develop myself as a singer and it’s more convenient for me to organize my own tours in Sweden, I drive myself to Denmark and Germany.’
Already in 2010 he released his first solo album Tales of Love, War and Death by Hanging and was well received. In May of this year he released his second album Palace of Tears and has been seen as a very different album from the first.
‘They are very different,’ Cooper explains. The first album was quite a strong statement and some of the songs deal with war, quite heavy topics. Even though it was acoustic I tried to make it fairly hard hitting, whereas with the second album the historical content is much more recent and a much more personal history. I tried to go for more emotional depth.’
When listening to Palace of Tears as an album there is a kind of general tone of darkness and most of the songs are observations of the world around and there may be a lot of things the listeners might recognize. The album in itself might be able to be summarized in the title song.
‘I’ve been an observer for the past 25 years living and working in Northern Europe, witnessing, observing and experiencing things. That’s what the new album is about. I played East Germany quite a bit during the cold war era with the Oysterband and we got to know a lot of people and we became observers as their lives changed when the Soviet Union vanished in a puff of smoke and it was very disorientating. There were losers and winner at that time, especially in the short term and I’ve got many strong feelings from that time. I’ve played in Western Germany and people say they recognize the feelings from the songs. I’ve been an expat for the past fourteen years, it is really all about my experiences, old photographs and places I’ve been’
It’s not only the subject matter that is different between the albums; musically there is quite a change from the dramatic folky to the more melancholy, a Swedish tone perhaps.
‘I have always been drawn to the blue side of things’ Cooper comments as the subject of the Swedish vemod comes up. ‘And it was what drew me to Sweden.’
This tone might have come from the formation of his new band; The Swedish Kitchen Orchestra and has already played two shows, in Sweden, with them. The band adds two violin players and a piano/organ player to the mix. Unfortunately his adopted country isn’t his main focus when it comes to touring.
‘I’ve done a couple of shows in Sweden this summer, but I would like to do more shows next year. Nearly all my stuff is outside Sweden and I do most of my touring in Germany and I have three tours in three regions booked there in the coming year. It is easier to tour in Germany and together with Denmark they are some of the best countries to tour in. They really like music and want to understand the words; they aren’t so affected by fashion.’
Part of the reason for touring in Germany is also because they have a romantic view of Sweden, just like the Danes have one of Scotland, which works well for Cooper since he has is roots in Scotland.
Cooper’s music is readily available on streaming sites like Spotify and to download from iTunes, but has he felt any effects of illegal downloading or is it more difficult for artists to survive today in general?
‘I don’t like to complain about musicians’ situations’ he replies. ‘It’s never been easy; I just like to get on with it. Music changes all the time like going from Dancehall venues to rock clubs. You have to change with it. I do a lot of house concerts at the moment, it feels like something new. I play in someone’s living room and hopefully they get thirty or so people together to come see it. Other things are crowd funding and crowd sourcing, it’s a way to get in touch with the grassroots and that’s really important and people feel a part of it.’
On September 21st he is playing a house concert that will be live through the website concertwindow.com. It’s a matinée show at three p.m. and people pay whatever they think it’s worth.
So, apart from touring, what does the future hold for Ray Cooper?
‘I need to start thinking about what kind of album I would like to do next. I write very slowly so I need to get to work on it early. I finished my latest album in May, but I have played the songs all last year so to me it’s not that new. I will be living with the next album for several years as well, writing, touring and then recording it. I might tour round my hometown as well as a show in Stockholm in December.’
If you are interested to learn more about Ray ‘Chopper Cooper’ you can visit his homepage:
or follow him on facebook
or find his music on Spotify as well as his work with Oysterband and 3 Mustaphas 3
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Label: On the Fiddle
Best Track: Red Sky
When a band splits or a member departs it’s not surprising, maybe even expected or warranted, that a solo album is waiting in the wings. It might serve as an explanation to why the departure happened, as was the case with Peter Gabriel, it could also be a need to put out material that was supposed to be featured on the band’s next album, like Fish’s Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors. On the other hand; when an artist in a very much active band releases a solo effort it may seem a bit strange. A listener might wonder what the purpose for this could be, especially if the artist is the primary songwriter of the group as with Ian Anderson in Jethro Tull or Mike Scott, who basically is the only remaining member of The Waterboys.
The Levellers of the other hand is more of a songwriting collective and putting forth a solo album might be the only way for a member of such a band to showcase once individual style as an artist.
Moment is Chadwick’s second effort after his 2010 debut All the Pieces. That album was quite a deviation from The Levellers’ catalog with its closest kin being Truth & Lies and Hello Pig, but also not a very impressive showing from Chadwick. The tracks were similar in structure and composition as well as lyrically stunted and a as a concept rather dull. This doesn’t make for a very good base to jump off from for Moment.
This past Record Store Day Chadwick chose to release a single from the upcoming album, a seven inch version of Red Sky. When Satellite was dropped online in 2010 it seemed like it would set a good tone for the coming album, but alas it didn’t. Red Sky gives very much the same impression, but to the joy of the listeners Moment fulfills the promises the single makes.
All the Pieces was disjointed and at times confusing lyrically without a clear agenda to them Moment is the counterpart. One gets the feeling that Chadwick has put a bit more effort into his solo songwriting or at least decided what he is going to write about. Previously the songs have lacked personality and recognition, whereas Moment if filled with relatable topics and an honesty that strikes dead center at the heart.
Each track on the album has its own story, a tale within itself, about people. This is what makes these songs more approachable and interesting. One gets the feeling that it is all set in or around some dive bar where people come and go, but their stories remain, as if Chadwick has witnessed them first hand. All the Pieces felt as if it was set in a fairground or carnival with everything that entails, but only to a certain extent.
It is also nice that it doesn’t become a Levellers- esque album, but that he makes it his own with a more rootsy folk sound rather than the Clash -punk -folk that the band is known for.
Moment is as a whole a well done deviation for Chadwick and shows that he has the ability to put something out that is worth while without the rest of The Levellers. It works on many levels, as one unity or each song telling its own tale. Unfortunately this album probably won’t make mainstream play, though it should because Mark Chadwick has made a great album.