Bellow the Surface – Shae Bird

Not my usual kind of thing really, but I heard ‘If I Followed my Heart’ somewhere, and was delighted to discover there was an entire album of the same kind of clever, witty guitar pop from the same artist.

The album is perhaps best summed up by Bird‘s description on their Bandcamp page:

‘content warnings: gun, sexual assault, being trapped, losing the will to live (cheerful ukulele context)’

It genuinely does contain all of those elements, plus a smattering of more than decent guitar and violin playing and some killer melodies.  Like a cheery sounding Joni Mitchell singing some especially cutting Leonard Cohen lyrics, this is a surprising and often moving record (‘Smile’ is a particularly extreme example) which really deserves a physical release.

While you’re waiting for that, you could do far worse than picking up the download.

If you only listen to one track, listen to this

https://shaebird.bandcamp.com/album/bellow-the-surface

(digital only)

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A House, Floating In The Middle Of A Lake – Erik Kramer

This was just about the first thing I stumbled across on Bandcamp.  I was drawn in by the album name, I have to admit, before I even got to the music but having started it streaming through my crappy laptop speakers (before I spent a bit of money to upgrade everything) I was instantly captivated and it remains an album I go back to again and again.

I knew I was going to love this music the second that the gentle guitar of opening track ‘Other Spaces’ was interrupted by a police car siren in the background.  Kramer stops, the car passes by, and he begins again from where he left off, a happy accident which somehow only adds to the track, marking the point at which pastoral folk begins to descend/ascend into something more abstract and less easily defined, and the track moves towards an ambient drone, full of subtlety.

And the whole album follows that (non) pattern – nothing is exactly what it seems, everything is in flux and liable to change.  Stand outs include ‘Grass Burning in the Palm’ where Kramer adds his own voice to birdsong, saxaphone, hollow, echoing drums and what sounds like xylophone to create a fascinating soundscape, and some wonderful guitar playing on ‘For Bruce Langhorne’ – but there’s not a failure on here.

If you only listen to one track, listen to this

https://anthropocenerecordings.bandcamp.com/album/erik-kramer-a-house-floating-in-the-middle-of-a-lake

(digital only – there was a cassette, apparently, but annoyingly I missed out on it!)

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Five Best Ambient Tracks on Bandcamp

It’s actually not all that tempting to write something about each of these ambient masterpieces, because ambient (or drone or classical or experimental or however else you personally choose to label such music) as a positive listening experience depends on the listener’s mood and what they hope to get out of it, as much as on the artist’s intentions, and so it all tends to get a bit pretentious really quickly.  I’d be talking about ‘washes of sound like warm water on your hands after a walk on a winter’s day’and ‘the echo of distant galaxies sliding across one another to dissolution’ before you could click Play on the first track.

So, instead, here they are – my current favourite five ambient/drone/call it what you will tracks on bandcamp.

Stars of the Lid – Dopamine Clouds over Craven Cottage

Rameses III – When the Phone goes Dead

Tim Hecker – Obsidian Counterpoint

David Colohan – Arc of a Snowfall III

Caught in the Wake Forever – To Wild Flowers Forgotten

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What would this record have sounded like if John Cale had had some setback and Cinzia La Fauci and Alberto Scotti had taken his place? – Various

Bandcamp is positively littered with this kind of thing; huge, sprawling collections of themed cover versions by bands you’ve largely never heard of.  The themes range from the tentative (single band efforts which are effectively just ‘stuff the band can actually play’ – though this set by Bournemouth based band Chuter is really good) to the pretty damn ambitious (there’s a great 45 track collection of Pearls Before Swine covers out there with not a single duplicate – or bad – track). 

This Stooges covers collection falls somewhere in between those two stools.  Crucially, though, the quality is great, and the approaches taken pleasingly varied (odd that more than a fifth of the running order is taken up by versions of ‘Ann’ though – it’s not exactly the most obvious Stooges cover).  There are relatively straight-forward garage/noise covers, of course – including, predictably but enjoyably enough, ‘1969’ and ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’ – but also experimental soundscapes (‘We Will Fall’) complete with what sounds like someone taking a hacksaw to a violin. Nouvelle Vague-tinged euro electronica (‘No Fun’), and all sorts of heavy, bone weary twists on the Stooges tale.

Oh, and most importantly, the fabulous Frank Chickens do a cover of ‘Not Right’, so – frankly – there’s no reason not to own this, right now.

If you only listen to one track, listen to this

https://snowdonia.bandcamp.com/album/what-would-this-record-have-sounded-like-if-john-cale-had-had-some-setback-and-cinzia-la-fauci-and-alberto-scotti-had-taken-his-place-stooges-compilation

(Digital and compact disc)

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Time Shifts – 62 Miles From Space

Obviously (says me, a middle aged man with a huge record collection), physical artifacts are generally to be preferred to streaming and downloads, but in the case of ‘Time Shifts’, I’ll make an exception.

Not, I hasten to add, because their four track debut EP is rubbish (far from it, it’s great), but because the download from the always reliable Mega Dodo Records contains two extra tracks in addition to the four dream-like slices of keyboard magic on the vinyl, and every bit of 62 Miles from Space’s output is worth savouring.

Combining late 60s synth sounds with carefully positioned vocals on some tracks (check out the title track below), and Kraftwerk-infused electronica on others, the oddly named 62 Miles from Space (a ‘virtual’ band created by two talented Moscow-based guys who collaborate entirely via the internet) have created a short collection of songs which deserves to be more widely heard.

If you only listen to one track, listen to this:

https://megadodo.bandcamp.com/album/time-shifts

(digital and vinyl editions)

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After the Fall Outtakes – Dodson and Fogg

Dodson and Fogg is Chris Wade, a one man music industry all of his own, who seems to release a new album every month or so.  Unbelievably, given this fairly constant output, he’s yet to release anything not worth listening to, if what you like to listen to is pretty gentle prog/folk rock.

That said, and with typical perversity, my favourite of his many releases is this, a collection of outtakes from the album, After the Fall.  I should admit up front that I do like random collections of songs; sets stitched together from scraps left on the cutting room floor are often, I find, full of interest and lost promise, even when there’s nothing wrong with the parent release. And this outtakes album is the perfect example…

For one thing, it starts with ‘The Charge’, which  I assumed for months was actually a cover of an instrumental section from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.  It’s not, but it should be – if ever a song was screaming out for Justin Hayward to start singing over it, this is it.  From there, it’s on to a series of minor gems with Wake’s vocals to the fore, none of which – to my ears anyway – sound in any way weaker than the tracks on the album they failed to make.  Particular highlights include the more jazzy ‘The Stars are out Tonight’, the psych folk of ‘Out on the Fields’ and the infectious ‘It’s Not Real’.

Oh, and the final track, ‘Richard Burton Hiding in a cave’ appears to exist purely to allow Wake to do his Burton impersonation, but he can be forgiven that, given how good the rest is .

If you only listen to one track listen to this

https://wisdomtwinsbooks.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-fall-outtakes

(digital, and the page mentions a cd, but there’s no indication of how to buy it – possibly it’s sold out)

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