Every so often, I enthuse in a review for "Hot Music Live" over the privileges of being able to do so: fairly obviously hearing wonderful & original music, often a little before it is released etc. To that I can add the odd "magic moment" such as this morning when anticipating being able to review the brand new EP by King of the Alps & greatly looking forward to doing so maybe in the next week or so, lo & behold Paul Ingram of that group turned up on my doorstep to hand deliver a copy & so you get to read my thoughts even earlier than planned.
It has been the busiest year ever for the band as this is their second EP of 2019. You may remember my reviewing ‘Beauty Scarred' back in April (and this in turn spawned the really well received singles "Beauty of the Rain" (featuring Ellie Gowers) and the Izzie Derry featuring "Helter Skelter").
The essence of this intriguing band remains thankfully the same: emotional & musical honesty being channelled through excellent musicianship & melodic approaches which subtly subvert themselves in unsettling ways to illustrate the very grown up stories of the trials of adult relationships (always assuming I understand the lyrics which can be elliptic).
However the sound does evolve interestingly through their records. Their debut album, ‘Matters of the Heart' (reviewed in March 2018 in this magazine) had a prominent accordion throughout. ‘Beauty Scarred' was built upon the core of the King of the Alps, namely Simon Ward on bass & Paul Ingram on all other instruments & vocals and as noted, graced by guest vocals from two of the area's (nation's?) finest vocalists.
On ‘The Sun Will Rise Again' EP, Paul & Simon are joined by lead guitarist Glyn Finch & this new element of the sound really works well & offers new perspectives on the songs. Whereas the accordion tended to counterpoint the angst of the songs in a very effective manner, the edgy guitar parts on the new record enhance the senses of anxiety (a bit like they do in the work of Talking Heads?) inherent in songs which I imagine are driven by the concerns of Paul (although the material is credited to all three players, previous songs were all his & I assume the words remain his: he also produced the EP by the way).
The counterpoint now is Simon's pulsated bass which offers any sense of calmness in the songs.
I don't think I could call King of the Alps records "concept albums" (they are for starters without pretentions) but they all do have thematic natures: certainly with the two preceding releases you can understand the titles after hearing the songs. After a few plays, I'm inching towards some grasp of why this EP has this name. Arranged as a suite, the first track "Hell of the North" is presented as our "Intro" and the final "Hell of a Ride" as the "Outro", bookending the title track & "Put your Trust in Luck".
The "Intro" is in fact an instrumental & unusually for the band, owing a strong debt to the dubwise style, though with the afore mentioned edgy guitars.
I actually was lucky enough to hear "Put your Trust in Luck" earlier in the week & it's already wormed its way into my mind already. Archetypical King of the Alps, it has the hypnotic melodicism one finds in their oeuvre yet is structured in a slightly weird way with sudden twists & surprises & then the gentle mood is abruptly switched by the entry of squalling "Abbey Road" style lead guitar.
The title song on first listen reminded me of the sort of recitative delivery which Kevin Rowland often used but quite soon any Dexy's comparisons disappear as the track turns into the most overtly "rock" track I've ever heard from the band: heavy with a strong dose of optimism.
The "Outro" is another groover with again a dub approach utilising Simon's skills to the fore and Glyn's cool guitar lacing through the other elements. This time however we can enjoy some lyrics, though not many: it's more of a mantra. A hypnotically beautiful one at that.
In some ways King of the Alps are a connoisseur's band: relying on understatement, subtlety and you need to unpick the songs like a Fabergé egg to get the full benefit. However that said, they are masters of the melodic pop song too: the tracks can impact upon you at once & they are earworms for me....
Happy New Music Friday to you all!
To celebrate the day, Joe Dolman has a brand new single "Better By Now" out for your delectation.
It seems only days since I reviewed his last single "If You Were Mine" (which is pretty true: it was only on October 11th). In that article, I ruminated on how artists might retain their key characteristics while also creating songs with enough variety to demonstrate their breadth of vision & to keep their output fresh.
Naturally with an artist of this calibre, he keeps on challenging & overcoming this paradox, gradually building a diverse body of work all of which is immediately identifiable as "Joe". No wonder his career is on the dynamic trajectory that it is....
"Better By Now" could scarcely sound less like "If You Were Mine": this comes from an entirely different place on his sonic palette. Much more from the rockier end of his repertoire, the track is taut & punchy, driven by virtually every element of the arrangement in turn from the lead vocals to the urgent strumming & snappy massed backing vocals. It arrives, drives it points home & then leaves off once they have been said in a startlingly brisk two & three quarter minutes. There is no room for messing around here.
Yet as I have said, despite the change of pace, the core artistic values of Joe's artistry remain constant: the song is subtly arranged & craftily builds dynamics & as often, the lyrics are a sensitive perspective on aspects of relationships which reek with sincerity.
It has instantly become a favourite of mine... the impact is that immediate.
Yet another one to grace his live set & set the hearts of the audience a-flutter, it's worth perhaps also having a look at the context of his work. This is a really hard worker who gigs frequently & when not performing seems constantly writing & recording: yet he always has time it seems to support local music generally both at gigs & in playing with other artists. His career is involving ever more prestigious venues yet even that somewhat conceals the pressures & work which goes into putting them on. Possibly the two biggest & most anticipated gigs for 2019 were at The Assembly in Leamington & Islington's O2 Academy yet neither has gone to plan which must be pretty challenging to face. Nevertheless Joe worked to swiftly "move" the Assembly gig to All Saints Church in Leamington on December 6th (scene of his iconic 2018 gig & subsequent live EP) & the London date has been rescheduled too (it's now on February 27th). Giving into adversity doesn't seem an option & without doubt both gigs will be full of his ever growing fanbase (best get your tickets for the Leamington gig sharpish though as I believe there are very few left).
Finally, a word on the eye catching if not disconcerting sleeve art. In fact I'll leave that word to its creator, Émilie Cotterill: "It could be photomanipulation... but it could also be that his reflection sometimes has a mind of its own". Intriguing......
From The Source is the title of a new series of concerts at Warwick Arts Centre which focus on artists whose roots are in jazz music, yet whose music spreads far beyond the confines of the genre.
The series kicks off on Friday 8 November 2019 with Nitin Sawhney. Having recently sold out the Royal Albert Hall, in London, the DJ, producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer and occasional actor, revisits his ground-breaking 1999 album, Beyond Skin.
The release which established Nitin's reputation, it combines elements of ambient techno, trip hop, jazz, Asian music, and more, to create a politically changed collection.
Alongside tracks from Beyond Skin, Nitin - who has a new album exploring immigration out next year - also promises to drop in material from across his 20-plus year career.
From The Source continues on Saturday with a World Premiere from Stubbleman, featuring found sounds, modular synths and live piano and bass.
Stubbleman is the nom de plume of writer, producer, musician Pascal Gabriel, who has previously worked with such acts as Kylie Minogue, Dido, Ladyhawke, Bebel Gilberto, S'Express and Bomb The Bass.
Afterwards is an appearance from emerging jazz vocalist Judi Jackson and a new commission from Debris Stevenson, who describes herself as a "dyslexic writer, grime poet, working-class academic, pansexual ex-Mormon and Bashment dancing social activist from the seam between East London and Essex."
The series concludes on Sunday 10 November 2019 with Alice Zawadzki, whose music spans jazz and European folk traditions ("something of a phenomenon" reckons Mojo), and finishes with A Change Is Gonna Come: Music For Human Rights - an exploration of the power of protest music by Carleen Anderson, pianist Nikki Yeoh, Camilla George and Birmingham-based rapper Lady Sanity.
At the core of A Change Is Gonna Come are choice tracks from Gil Scott-Heron, Woody Guthrie, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke.
I find myself here writing a review which I had never anticipated. I kidded myself that I had a reasonable understanding of an artist whom I had previously reviewed but here I am writing about a facet of Izzie Derry not mentioned in earlier articles: not that I'm complaining as I like being surprised by artists & I enjoy finding yet more new depths to their craft & artistry.
One of the themes of my recent reviews has been my admiration for the quantity & quality of her latest work, not least that featured on her ‘Lost At Sea' EP, feeling that her arc as an artist is clearly on a steep upwards gradient.
Yet Izzie's latest single release is "Let This One Be Mine", a track you can find on her debut album "Goodbye" (from 2017) & which is thus more indicative of her solo performances of that era than the more complex band arrangements anyone attending her live shows is currently more likely to encounter.
The answer is of course that this is a re-recording with a full band, undertaken because she felt that the original production did not do full credit to the song & this tells one much about her perfectionism & commitment to her own material. My first thought actually was of John Lennon who always nursed ambitions to rerecord such classics as "Help!" or "Strawberry Fields Forever" in order to produce recorded versions which matched the sounds in his head, regardless of the popularity & acclaim of the ones released.... I sense something similar going on here.
On this new recording, Izzie works with bassmaster Jake Morris (who also mixed & mastered it), keyboardist/backing vocalist Herbie Walker, guitarist Dominic Pulleyn, drummer Hannah Websdale & violinist Gabija KaisiliauskaitÄ—: the first two of whom will be very familiar to those who have caught Izzie Derry Band gigs over the past couple of years.
So what of the new recording & how does it compare with the original? Well if Izzie liked the song sufficiently to revisit it in this way, it would seem plausible that many aspects should remain as she wrote it. This understandably applies to the lyrics & the overall sentiment but extends even to the acoustic guitar introduction & even the length of both versions is identical to the very second. Izzie is applying the "if it ain't broke..." principle and what we have instead are subtle enhancements informed by her musical progress in the intervening years, her changes in perception & perspective informing her vocal performance & of course the individualities of the new players. If the earlier recording has a more "folk" intonation, this one leans more towards "jazz" with a looser more mellow groove (I have to say that the almost military snare drum so prominent on the "Goodbye" cut simply sounds inappropriate once you've heard the new arrangement) and Izzie's experiences in singing have produced a vocalisation which sounds both more playful & contemplative at once. If previously the emotions were expressed wistfully, today we have full on yearning with a greater level of intensity. You certainly feel her angst & if you are not moved by it then you must have a heart made of stone. The arrangement with all its many elegant extra elements builds effectively but is so well produced that her voice & the signature guitar part remain central to your listening & the subtle players complement the song ideally.
This is a strong song & it certainly is presented now in a form both consistent with Izzie's ‘Lost At Sea' material & possibly more in a way to get a broader range of media attention.
Don't just take my word for it: I don't usually quote others in my reviews but I was discussing the song while writing this with Paul Newbold of Lightspark Music Photography (who has long been following her career) and his response to me was "I don't know how she's done it but she's made a superb song even better"
You can find a video of this single on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIWo-yg5c44
You can catch Izzie live at the Bees Mouth in Hove if you are down that way on October 12th or on January 18th at Westview Live in Gainsborough
Read more articles in the magazine.