Nights In

XTC

What's it called?: 
Drums And Wires (CD + DVD-A)
What does it sound like?: 
This was a pivotal XTC album, being the first with the mighty Dave Gregory replacing abruptly-departed Barry Andrews. Colin Moulding came to greater prominence as a songwriter, giving the band their first palpable hit (Making Plans For Nigel). They stepped firmly away from the punk-tinged atmosphere of their first two albums and emerged with a diverse sound palette, a BIG drum sound, and 12 great songs. So this is a fine choice to receive the Steven Wilson remix treatment. Playing all versions of each track side by side, the difference was clearly audible: compared to the new mixes, the original version sounds oddly recessed now; that’s how quickly my ears decided they loved the new mix. There's a noticeably greater dynamic range, and every instrument manages to be clearly distinct, without sounding artificial. Your ears can walk all around and through the mix at leisure, picking out a baseline here, a guitar dub there, a hi-hat there, then return to marvel again at the overall sound.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Beautifully packaged, and manages the enviable trick of making one of my favourite albums sound new and fresh all over again, yet without changing the essential character of the music. That’s quite a trick. "English Settlement" next, please!
Goes well with …: 
Made me aware that perhaps it's time to upgrade to a full Home Theatre 5.1 setup - listening to this (and other Wilson remixes) in stereo is stunning, but I'm itching to hear the full 5.1 experience. Oh, and of course, play this loud!
Might suit people who like …: 
Classic British pop, the more joyous end of post-punk, Swindon accents, enormous drum sounds, rummaging through loads of bonus features, helicopters...
JoLean's picture

Aretha Franklin

What's it called?: 
The Great Diva Classics
What does it sound like?: 
It sounds like a wonderful soul singer screaming over some of your favourite songs produced by Clive Davis (responsible for Aretha's 'Freeway of Love' period). It also sounds like a wonderful soul singer screaming over some songs you don't like. Think Gladys Knight & the Pips' Midnight Train to Georgia is just too soulful? Never mind, here's Aretha to emote all over it & step on those wonderful backing singer parts. Not heard enough drunk women do I Will Survive on terrible hen nights? Step this way! Wanted a more tinny production for Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman? You're in luck! I really don't see the point in this at all, but will say that Aretha's voice is not completely shot like some of her contemporaries. On the plus side, I finally know what the lyrics to Rolling in the Deep are, as at least Aretha Franklin has not yet succumbed to singing with a sock in her gob a la Adele (and I quite like the way it segues into Ain't No Mountain High Enough).
What does it all *mean*?: 
We'll always have that run of Atlantic LPs. Put Aretha Arrives or Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You instead. Having said that, it's had quite good reviews and I've only heard it once. I may come back next week & beg Ms Franklin's forgiveness.
Goes well with …: 
Well, it *doesn't* go well with headphones, London buses and a breakfast bacon sandwich, I can tell you that.
Might suit people who like …: 
Big voices stepping all over the lyrics and phrasing of a song. Celine Dion. Glenn Ponder's Savoir Faire. X Factor 'Soul Week'
bargepole's picture

Mike Oldfield

What's it called?: 
The Studio Albums 1992-2003
What does it sound like?: 
As the title suggests, a collection of the eight albums released between 1992-2003. This includes four well known works and four lesser known ones. What do you get - the excellent Trevor Horn produced Tubular Bells vol II,the Ibiza influenced vol III, the rather Christmassy Millenium Bell and the 2003 rerecording of the original Tubular Bells album, with John Cleese in the Master of Ceremonies role made famous by the late Viv Stanshall. Additionally, there is the Arthur C Clarke inspired Songs From Distant Earth,plus Voyager, Guitars and Tres Lunas.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Of the lesser known albums, Voyager is a Celtic influenced mixture of original and traditional material, Guitars is a midi based album and Tres Lunas was the accompaniment to a now long forgotten interactive game.
Goes well with …: 
If you like your Oldfield, this box set is a snip. It gives a chance to catch up on the more 'low profile' albums of the late 90's, the best of the bunch being Songs From Distant Earth, which is probably the most typical Oldfield album of the bunch.
Might suit people who like …: 
A mixture of traditional and more progressive rock stylings, instrumental music in general with the odd poppy bit thrown in along the way. And of course Tubular Bells remains to this day an essential and ground breaking classic piece of music!

New Orleans Soul

What's it called?: 
The original sound of New Orleans Soul - 1966-76.
What does it sound like?: 
The wonderful Soul Jazz Records have come out with another of their inspired compilations - this time of Soul from the Crescent City. Most of these songs were unknown to me but that doesn't stop them sounding like instant classics. The playing throughout is wonderful and I defy anyone to listen to this without having a frug around the room. It is music to dance to, music to party to and music to get drunk to. It's hot, funky, sweaty and just the thing to get me out of early Sunday evening torpor. Familiar artists are Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas and Ernie K.Doe but there is enough talent on board to ably demonstrate that there was another less familiar side to New Orleans that shouldn't go unrecognised. Well done to Soul Jazz for bringing it together.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Sometimes I need dancing music and this fits the bill just fine. As good as Tamla is,for me this Southern Soul is an entirely different proposition
Goes well with …: 
The Country Funk collections and the Kent/Ace Country/Soul releases - I listened to this music in the house but ideally it should be in a sweaty club but those days are a distant memory.
Might suit people who like …: 
I know mini breakfast and Tiggerlion will be taken with this collection. Anyone with an interest in Southern Soul music.

Hiss Golden Messenger

What's it called?: 
Lateness of Dancers
What does it sound like?: 
My first instinct was to avoid this album at all costs because I really do not like the Band name. Then I read Uncut reviews and was intrigued. My resistance evaporated and I went and bought it. I am really glad I did. The songs, the playing, everything about this album is perfect. M.C. Taylor who leads the band has a wonderful voice, very emotive but not in a grandstanding way and the whole feel of the songs is American wilderness, big skies, driving with the top down and the wind in your hair. Standout songs on first listens are Mahogany Dread and Day O Day (A love so free). The playing is lovely throughout - chilled organ and piano adding a nice feel to many of the songs. There are a couple of louder numbers halfway through the album that raise the tempo and illustrate the breadth of the band. Excellent stuff.
What does it all *mean*?: 
2014 has been a great year for new (to me) artists coming out of the USA and the music scene over there seems infinitely more healthy than ours in terms of artists willing to take chances and do something different.
Goes well with …: 
Today I am working from home trying to help a sore throat and this music is soothing enough to help that- have been playing it in the car all week and that is perfectly fine too. Hiss Golden Messenger whilst driving through the Snake Pass yesterday.
Might suit people who like …: 
There are distinct echoes of The Band, Midlake and War on Drugs in part. If you like those artists you will like this album. A couple of songs M.C.Taylor sounds similar to Bill Fay too which is no bad thing in my book.

Llio Millward

What's it called?: 
Heat Of The Fire
What does it sound like?: 
This is a record which starts deceptively: after a short a capella intro (the 8 full songs are separated by such "interludes", some in Welsh), the first two songs (Power Play and What Did I Do To You) are abrasive, hell-hath-no-fury numbers, notable for the spiky, Tom Waits-influenced arrangements and Llio's commanding vocals, imperiously belted out and full of righteous power. They provide an arresting opening, before the tempo slows, bringing us to what are to me the highlights: three exquisite ballads which showcase Llio's exceptional control, feel and pitch. I Matter To Myself is a stunner, a simple, heartfelt lyric of loss elevated to something special by the beauty of the melody - and some sumptuous chord changes - and an arrangement that features Llio's impressive ability on violin and piano. Grace maintains the high standard, while Deep Waters sounds like a jazz standard. The voice, slightly reminiscent of Lisa Stansfield at times, has great dynamic range and presence.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Interest declared: Llio is a friend. That brings perils, of course, and it's always a relief when a friend's record not only is Not Shit, but actually exceeds expectations. Although this is her debut album, she's an experienced performer; it shows.
Goes well with …: 
As mentioned above, there is a distinct tonal shift. The first two songs would quicken the pulse on your journey home; listen to the rest having kicked off your shoes and poured a large glass of wine.
Might suit people who like …: 
There is a strong jazz sensibility throughout the album, and connoisseurs of jazz chanteuses with strong voices will love this; those who like original singer-songwriters will also be richly rewarded. If you like both, what are you waiting for?
tiggerlion's picture

Prince & 3rdeyegirl

What's it called?: 
PLECTRUMELECTRUM
What does it sound like?: 
WOW! From its storming start to its final flourish, this is a full-on, muscular album, peppered with pyrotechnics & Princely quirks. He's always enjoyed a Hendrix jam but he's more than matched by Donna Quaint, who first came to his attention when she won a Hendrix soundalike competition. Those two 'front men' might share the vocals and the licks but, recorded as live, it's Ida Nielson's enthusiastic bass & Hannah Welton's energetic drumming that steal the show. The titles scream in upper case and the words spill into each other. There is a thrilling consistency here lacking on its sister album, albeit fewer real peaks. It shares one song with Art Official Age, FUNKNROLL, which is much more exuberant and coherent here. There is a serious misjudgement, the dreadful STOPTHISTRAIN, but, otherwise, across twelve tracks and clocking in at under forty minutes, it's a breathless and exhilarating listen, making me regret missing out on those Hit & Run gigs that led up to this album. WOW indeed
What does it all *mean*?: 
Prince has always needed side projects to stimulate his creative juices. It would be careless to overlook this worthy addition to his cannon. We should be grateful to 3rdeyegirl for bringing Prince back to close to his best. Rock isn't dead. Yet.
Goes well with …: 
This one needs big floor speakers and a volume knob that goes to eleven. They say middle aged people shouldn't wear leather, but PLECTRUMELECTRUM tempts me. It sounds as though it would sound best in a medium sized live venue with a bottle of Jack.
Might suit people who like …: 
Chaos And Disorder. Guitarists who sound a bit like Hendrix (isn't that true of all lead guitarists?) If you delete the obvious aberration, you have a product to compete with Royal Blood, Black Keys and Jack White for rock album of the year.
Hawkfall's picture

Goat

What's it called?: 
Commune
What does it sound like?: 
The first words that come to mind are "Psychedelic", "Prog" and "but with tunes". The Guardian describes their music as "weaving together rock, Afrobeat, funk, chants and tribal drums into an intoxicating, psychedelic stew", which is a fair description, though it makes them sound a bit dry and earnest. Which they're not, the music has a light touch and is full of catchy riffs, chanted singing and time signatures that Frank Zappa probably had on his To Do list. Some of the songs have lyrics that could fit on a King Size Rizla, which may make sense as it's probably where they were written down on in the first place. The album is 38 minutes long and fairly flies by: "Talk to God" and "Words" kick things off in style, and "To Travel the Path Unknown" slows things down nicely Planet Caravan-style. There's a slight mid-album lull, before the wonderful "Hide from the Sun" gives the album its second wind and carries us to the end. It's great fun.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Difficult to say. The band itself look like what you imagine Slipknot would if they came from Brighton, and seem to be big on paganism and all that, but who cares when the riffs are this good?
Goes well with …: 
King Size Rizlas, probably. Will add colour to a 40 minute commute.
Might suit people who like …: 
The Mothers of Invention, The Knife, Kraftwerk and Tinariwen. The single "Words" sounds like Jefferson Airplane soundchecking with Venom's "In League with Satan". It's heady stuff.
tiggerlion's picture

Prince

What's it called?: 
Art Official Age
What does it sound like?: 
Fun, frivolous, funky, flirtatious, freaky, futuristic and fabulous. The effin' little genius is back. Sure, you have to get past the kitchen sink opener and spoken word scene setting but, otherwise, Art Official Age is an album of real substance, with a lightness of touch to please both hardened fans and interested bystanders. There is a playful dance number that would grace Lovesexy and three or four revealing, seductive ballads. Religion has tempered the horny toad but hasn't prevented him from being able to do it 'metaphysically'. The two female vocal talents are crucial and the co-producer, Joshua Welton, gives the Prince sound a modern day sheen. It all culminates in a slinky funk duet, Time, in which Prince straps on his bass, I mean really straps it on, & channels Larry Graham on Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Self Agin). It's the kind of track that hits the brain, the heart and the pelvis all at once. It's wonderful to hear him happy doing what he does best. Welcome back.
What does it all *mean*?: 
I haven't enjoyed a Prince album so much for decades. I didn't realise that there had been such a weird, R&B hole in my life. I now feel my life is more complete. Back at the slave-drivers, Warner Bros, it should get enough of a push to be hit.
Goes well with …: 
Mr Nelson, himself, goes very well with Andy Allo. Her honeyed voice is a perfect foil. Art Official is a proper headphones album with lots of tiny details scattered like diamonds across a deep, velvet drape enveloping the ears. Crank it up loud.
Might suit people who like …: 
Prince of the eighties. Seriously. Well composed, confidently played, professionally produced, beautifully sung, R&B songs with lyrical wit and charm, tinged with a touch of rock. This should be enough to keep us going until Bowie's next album.
bargepole's picture

Queen

What's it called?: 
Live at The Rainbow '74
What does it sound like?: 
Perhaps the popular image of Queen these days is the Live Aid conquering, globe straddling colossus of the 1980's - but in the beginning Queen was a rock band, and a hard rock band at that. This long awaited album showcases the still up and coming band at a pivotal point in their career. Recorded in November 74 just after the release of the Sheer Heart Attack album,this set presents crunching performances of the best material from their first two albums, plus unsurprisingly a healthy chunk of their newly released album. The rock solid rhythm section of Deacon and Taylor, the virtuosity of May's guitar playing,the range of Mercury's vocals and the stunning repertoire of original material all combine to produce a high energy performance, which belies the band's youth at the time. The album is also available as a 2cd set, the second cd being another Rainbow show - this one from March '74 on the Queen II tour - a show that was originally intended for release as the band's third album.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Hearing these performances 40 years down the line is to hear a band ready to spread their wings and take the next step on the road to fame and international stardom. Oh,and it also reminds you that this band could rock out with the best of them!
Goes well with …: 
If you like Queen or hard rock, seek this out. The extra cd has added attraction of the final live outing of The Fairy Fellers Masterstroke and also the non-album B side See What A Fool I've Been, along with the first live release of Great King Rat.
Might suit people who like …: 
Forget the various post Mercury incarnations of the band, and listen without prejudice - if you're of a certain age it will roll back the years,and if you're not you'll have the pleasure of discovering what all the fuss was about!
tiggerlion's picture

Jason Moran

What's it called?: 
All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller
What does it sound like?: 
Fats Waller performed popular, novelty songs livened by stride piano in the 1920s/30s. He has made me laugh since childhood. No-one winked to the microphone quite like Fats. Jason Moran is a bright, charismatic jazz pianist. All Rise polishes those old, grainy tunes and brings them, grinning, into the 21st Century. Meshell Ndegeocello adds RnB production to the album and purring vocals to five of the twelve tracks. It is a celebration of Fats' warmth, romanticism and, most of all, his musicality. It's like a dance party sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. However, the heart of All Rise is in the quieter moments, especially a run of three piano dominated tunes (a touching Fats Elegy, a majestic Handful Of Keys and a dreamy Jitterbug Waltz), in which Moran flexes both his stride and his improvisational skills. Add Charlie Haynes' funky drums, Lehman's tasty sax, Thomas's lush trumpet and you have all the ingredients for a joyful jazz album that lives up to its title. *Applauds*.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Jazz doesn't have to be po-faced and intense to be at its best. It's great to hear modern day jazz that's so easy on the ear. Fats brings out the sense of fun in everyone.
Goes well with …: 
A party fuelled by deceptively strong punch and streamers. All Rise has the feel of a live album. You'd think the band are in the room with you, encouraging you to join in with the singing and dancing.
Might suit people who like …: 
Catchy hooks, infectious rhythms, wistful love songs, a positive outlook on life and music delivered with a smile.
RubyBlue's picture

How to Dress Well

What's it called?: 
'What is this Heart?' (2014)
What does it sound like?: 
Both Bingo and a good friend of mine mentioned How to Dress Well within the space of 12 hours, so I felt the need to investigate. HTDW is singer-songwriter Tom Krell, and a former Philosophy PhD student, academia fans. He’s already done two albums which are worth looking out for. I came to this knowing only that it’s been called ‘Indie R&B’, which must be a good thing. That’s not a bad description: Beck’s ‘Morning Phase’ mixed with Justin Timberlake and a hint of Miley Cyrus. If I had a criticism is that it immediately appears to be a bit bland and one-paced but it’s lyrically and musically much more interesting than it might first appear. A few ‘I love you baby’s and ‘sun reflected in your eyes’ pap but on further listen there is a more sophisticated description about sadness, a fear of intimacy, problems of honesty, a scepticism about sex and needing more even though you have what you wanted (‘Repeat Pleasure’: excellent) and even the void and death.
What does it all *mean*?: 
•This man is going to be very famous. •The further rise of Indie R&B. •Some controversy: is it R&B that white people can like? (I have no view on this really; or at least, I haven’t thought about it too much so I’m not sticking my neck out yet.)
Goes well with …: 
•A big fat spliff at 3am, so I’m told (but then, what doesn’t go well with that?)•More seriously: late nights, very early mornings. Although it’s also both pleasant to potter/dance around to but also to sit still and really listen if you so wish.
Might suit people who like …: 
Sun Kil Moon; later Beck; Michael Jackson; Pure pop; Frank Ocean; Janelle Monae; Prince(?); Jessy Lanza (thanks, Simon L.)
Wheldrake's picture

Counting Crows

What's it called?: 
Somewhere Under Wonderland
What does it sound like?: 
After the somewhat laboured Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings album I began to wonder if the Crows had run out of steam. Main man Duritz must have felt the same because the next album was a covers album and it's mix of obscure and not-so-obscure was the sound of a band having fun again, sounding looser than they had in years. Thankfully that spirit has reignited Duritz's muse and Somewhere Under Wonderland is a stonking return to form. It begins with the epic Pallisades Park, a tale of lost friendship soaked in nostalgia and it's the best thing they have done in ages. It's followed by the insanely catchy Earthquake Driver, the rockier Disclocation and then the beautiful ballad, God of Ocean Tides. Four superb tracks in a row. If the latter half of the album tails away somewhat it's still head and shoulders above the dour Saturday Nights album. If anything, it reminds me of their underrated third album, This Desert Life, and that's no bad thing.
What does it all *mean*?: 
That there's life in the old dogs yet. I saw them last year when they toured Underwater Sunshine and they were brilliant. It's good to hear Duritz firing on all cylinders again.
Goes well with …: 
It's a great driving album. Turn up the volume and tap out the beat on the wheel!
Might suit people who like …: 
Well, Counting Crows, obviously, but anyone who loves well crafted music sung with heart and soul will find something here. The Deluxe CD has two demoes tacked on, which are nice but inessential.
tiggerlion's picture

Peggy Seeger

What's it called?: 
Everything Changes
What does it sound like?: 
This a gem of an album, one that has been encased in an antique engagement ring; it still retains some sparkle and has quite a tale to tell. Peggy should attract more love from the Afterword, having a long career of thoughtful folk with a feminist twist. Here she is, one year from 80, still singing with perfect pitch and a wide range, even if her fricatives do whistle. She has surrounded herself with a 'family' of musicians including two of her sons. At times, the album is too cosy, the songs twee and the playing too gentle. But, at its best it has real bite. The opener is an insightful tribute to those who drowned on the Titanic, Flowers By The Roadside catches the throat, When Fairy Stories End grieves over lost love and Miss Heroin is uncompromising. Death is a constant companion, yet there is still fun to be had for the moment. I just wish there was a bit more grit and that the musicians let rip now and then. Nevertheless, it's quite an album for someone at her stage of her career.
What does it all *mean*?: 
It's not just the young who can express themselves through popular song. The majority of this album is warm, strong and thoughtful. If only I could perform so well when I'm in my dotage. I can't but help fall a little in love with this lovely woman.
Goes well with …: 
To be frank, it is a bit nice-cup-of-tea and slippers sounding but have a warm hand to hold for those revelatory, tricky moments. Peggy, herself, recommends dark chocolate and Burgundy in her beautifully written notes. Wise words befitting the album.
Might suit people who like …: 
Mature, sensible music performed by people unafraid of displaying their rebellious streak. There are songs here that are complex and emotional which celebrate life in all its shades. It is reminiscent of Bill Fay's Life Is People but not as good.
bargepole's picture

Fripp & Eno

What's it called?: 
Live in Paris 28.5.1975
What does it sound like?: 
This three cd set at long last presents this legendary concert in fully restored sound quality, with the live audio now synched with the rediscovered and restored original studio backing loops used in the performance. To hear this work, almost forty years since its original performance, still boggles the mind. Cds 1 and 2 feature the full concert, based around the No Pussyfooting and (the at that time unreleased) Evening Star albums, during which you can almost sense the general bewilderment of the audience. CD 3 contains the backing loops without overdubs, together with the reversed loop for Wind on Water (as used on the Evening Star album), and Later On, the B side of Eno's Seven Deadly Finns single. At the conclusion of the evening's entertainment, as the audience leave with the sound of Index Of Metals (side two of Evening Star) assaulting their senses, their bemusement is palpable.
What does it all *mean*?: 
Hear this and hear two uncompromising artists at the very top of their game,breaking new musical ground before your very ears!
Goes well with …: 
No Pussyfooting and Evening Star in particular are redolent of this performance,musical exploration pushed to the outer limits and beyond.
Might suit people who like …: 
The duo's other works, both together,solo, and also in conjunction with any of their fellow musicians - and of course Crimson fans, and indeed fans of early Roxy Music, should check this out. Free your mind - you won't regret it!

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