Open Ear Blog

New Music Reviews: March

Laura Marling — Semper Femina

As a highly literate songwriter and standout vocalist, Laura Marling may have outdone herself on ‘Semper Femina’ as she weaves insightful character studies of femininity with her own characteristic poise and assuredness. ‘Wild Once’ is bright yet reflective, bordering on wistful, showing off Marling’s tender but authoritative vocals. Like previous albums the instrumentation is well balanced. ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ reveals this balance as it starts minimally with guitar and a simple percussion line, joined with increasing presence of double bass, and finally by elegant strings. The space for Marling’s vocals to stretch out is testament to the compositional skill on show thoughout ‘Semper Femina’. Catch ‘Wild Once’ here.

Depeche Mode — Spirit

Grand and political, ‘Spirit’ sounds remarkably contemporary for an album that distils Depeche Mode’s sound so well and strays so little from their core oeuvre of dark tones, synth leads, and almost-but-not-quite Electro dance beats. For a future stadium favourite look no further than ‘Where’s The Revolution?’ with its chorus of “Come on people, you’re letting me down”. It’s ‘So Much Love’ that grips us tightest however, as it reminds us of those early releases on Mute Records as much as it fits in with current contemporaries like The Twilight Sad. Distilling so much time into one record is quite an achievement. Catch the video for ‘Where’s The Revolution?’ here.

Francois & the Atlas Mountains — Solide Mirage

Those fluent in French tell us this is a more political album than our limited linguistic skills allow us to detect. What we can say is it’s a generally laid back Indie Pop album that is warm and bountiful in good time vibes. While ‘Perpétuel Été’ is a sweeping ode for long summer nights, the pace of the light-hearted ‘Après Après’ is a delicate remix away from a new life as a dancefloor hit. The highlight comes in the shape of opener ‘Grand Dérèglement’ with its Afrobeat rhythms and ringing guitars. Listen in here.

Ibibio Sound Machine — Uyai

While their self-titled debut blasted them into the affections of a broad public with a classic Afrobeat sound, it is immediately clear that this follow up is a more expansive affair. Built around Nigerian Highlife roots ‘Uyai’ brings in elements from a vast number of styles and cultures to create an elegant whole that never lets up. The dramatic vocals of Eno Williams are still front and centre working in tandem with impeccable musicianship to weave rhythm and melody in a way that is relatively unique for songs so capable of breaking into the mainstream. Our highlight comes in the shape of the great Jazz-Funk breakdown in ‘Joy (Idaresit)’. Don’t miss it.

Son Volt — Notes of Blue

It’s been a long time since Jay Farrar first made waves in alt-Country favourites, Uncle Tupelo. Now more known for sticking to traditional forms, Farrar continues to release Folk/Country hybrids led first and foremost by his evocative vocals. It therefore comes as some surprise that there’s an element of rockin’ pep in ‘Notes of Blue’ that is loose with convention. Instead Farrar takes familiar rhythms and themes and distils them into vignettes of the Blues rather than out-and-out Blues narratives. Nowhere is this clearer than on the footstomping ‘Cherokee St’, that alludes to both Neil Young and classic outlaw Country while barrelling on towards its own sunset. Catch ‘Back Against the Wall’ here.

Dutch Uncles — Big Balloon

More enthusiastic and diverse than previous releases, ‘Big Balloon’ is a big, bright Indie Pop record that puts a mad grin on your face. There’s a rolling sense of motion throughout but it’s the textures and melodic palette that is most likely to turn heads. Having always worn their 80s Pop influences on their sleeves, Dutch Uncles show off a chameleonic ability to adapt to a broad swath of 80s sounds, from Pet Shop Boys to Talk Talk. Splendidly, they capture the prerequisite emotion of their influences, with each track here delivered with feeling. Duncan Wallis’ vocal phrasing reminds us of Mark Mothersbaugh, most obviously on ‘Hiccup’. Catch the title track here.

Keb Darge & Cut Chemist present... — The Dark Side – 30 Sixties Garage Punk and Psyche Monsters

Compiled by a long time friend of Open Ear, and a member of our Curator Network, Keb Darge, this selection of Nuggets-esque adventures in Hammond-organ, fuzz guitar, and beating the living daylights out of a four piece drum kit is a powerful trip into some deep crate digging. Don’t expect to find the same cuts by The Sonics, ? and the Mysterians, and The Count Five featured in every other oldies compilation. Instead, this is filled with genuine rarities hand-picked by true collectors with an ear for music of the highest quality, no matter the style. Many of those rarities, like ‘Suzy Creamcheese’ by Teddy & The Patches, may have been long forgotten by most, but in its time it warranted a homage by the more familiar, yet just as oddball, Frank Zappa. Don’t miss a single three-minute blast of loose fuzzy rock by checking out an album sampler here.

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