Review – Tom Slatter – Happy People – by David Rickinson

Tom Slatter – ‘Happy People’.

I started off this review by writing a load of overblown drivel about Steampunk Troubadours and Stalinist Dystopias.

But then I stopped, because I realised there is not a lot that needs to be said about this album.

It is BRILLIANT.

What can I say about this album that doesn’t sound hyperbolic? It is, glorious, filled with horror, tenderness, despair, love, grime and beauty. Whilst being much darker and more serious than any of Tom’s previous albums, it is imbued with a humanity which hasn’t been as obvious before (unless songs about men transforming themselves into machines counts as humanity).

I have suspected for a while (since first hearing Rise Another Leaf from “Three Rows of Teeth”) that Tom actually has a large romantic streak running through him. On this album he has really found this voice – songs such as Satellites, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and Fire Flower Heart highlight this.

By the third song Satellites, with its lovely bass line, the album really gets into a stride which doesn’t then let up until the end.

Flow My tears, The Policeman Said is, I think, about a once honourable man who is now lost in some nightmare Gulag. I may be wrong. But it is superb, full of little musical flourishes and curlicues.

Even Then We’re Scared with its hint of a Black Sabbath “War Pigs” riff tells of how even with guns, fire, prayer, walls, databases and hiding under our blankets we are still scared of unnamed monsters.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, then why should you be worried? There a price to be free…”, I don’t for a minute believe that Tom approves of the way our world is turning. I would love to hear the last 20 seconds live, as a 10 minute wig-out by a full band.

Fire Flower Heart is imbued with a delicate poignancy, lamenting the loss of a love who could possibly prevent disaster. Or maybe she would encourage him to press the button?

I get the feeling that all Tom’s previous works were a flexing of musical muscles, practicing for the real thing. This album is the real thing.

In no small part, I suspect that the excellence of this album is due to the work of two particular people – Jordan Brown and Daniel Bowles who between them played bass, keyboards and guitar and provided production expertise. They have found a way to get the best out of Tom.

Michael Cairns’ drumming contribution is tasteful, thankfully never overpowering the songs.

There is a strength and depth to the musical arrangements throughout the whole album – everything has a purpose to it.

Bad Elephant Music continue to astound me with the excellence of their releases. If there was any justice in the world, Radio 6 and Jools Holland would be full of music like this.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

Tom Slatter – vocals, guitars

Daniel Bowles – backing vocals, guitars, keyboards

Jordan Brown – bass, backing vocals, keyboards

Michael Cairns – drums

Suzette Stamp – backing vocals

Released 17th March 2017.

Buy ‘Happy People’ from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – The Rube Goldberg Machine – Fragile Times – by Gary Morley

Fragile Times

Listening to The Rube Goldberg Machine and I’m transported back to the halcyon days of the Summer of ’77. The energy and fizz on their debut takes me back to that much quoted “year zero” of music.

Which, in my humble opinion,was not a year, or even  two , but a gradual realisation that “punk” was a gimmick and the talented musicians were those producing “new wave” or  “post punk”. After the initial media “sturm und drang” of those naughty Sex Pistols boys being sweary on National TV , “Punk” became a tabloid fad.

Post Punk – where Mancunians discovering sequencers, New York loft dwellers discovering duelling guitars and Trustafarians in waiting discovering reggae.We were all touched by the “punk” paint. I grew up in Swindon. We had XTC ,they embodied this brave new world, mixing Punk energy with New York brittle guitar and dub bass lines.

Band PR pic
The Rube Goldberg Machine would have slotted between XTC and Television in my small but tasteful collection back then.

There are also some very Floyd / Porcupine Tree sounds here too, the title track has a very PT vibe, all jazz bass and restrained vocal, Roger meets Steven and they put the world to rights over the course of the track, managing to fit in a tasteful piano and guitar interlude, a solo and a coda with a very acoustic refrain which added another band to the list that they link to in my head– The Decemberists. This track could be fitted into ‘The Crane’s Wife’ set without a seam.

The next piece, In Symmetry, continues in this Folk / Prog vein, mined so well by The Decemberists.

It’s not bucolic English Folk Prog from the books of Tull and Fairport, but the more widescreen Small Town American folk/ Roots world, all Decemberists literate and Big Head Todd Bluesy.

Music does this to me. My head joins the dots between bands. I still think like a DJ / producer. If you like this track, then listen to these people. Bought that? Then you should proceed to this point and listen here.

Television influence the swirling twin guitar sound, all sinuous leads attacking and counterattacking each other.

The introduction of track 7 (Times Square), an instrumental tour de force of guitar layers  definitely makes me want to go and dig out my ‘Marquee Moon’ album, or to be more precise, Richard Lloyd’s post Television masterpiece ‘Fields Of Fire’:

https://youtu.be/UkGc9sOvcM4

Sorry about that. If the Wallet Emptier allows that clip, then you get the idea of where my head went whilst listening to the album…..

I’d detail more tracks but this is an album that plays as a whole, the mood and structure of the sounds entice you into their world, a bit bleak, a bit miserable seeming, but never dull, always guiding you through their labyrinth with atmosphere and melody.

As well as this Post Punk vibe, there are excellent vocal harmonies, a sprinkling of electronics and all wrapped in a clean mix that allows their stories told here to capture the listener and take you into the machine.

In the machine there is a Captain sat nursing a drink playing a card game which he wants to lose so he can blast off into space, he seems ambivalent about the quest but more concerned about his cards!

Band Bio Pic

The last track is not a million miles from Mr Chuckle Trousers in feel, a gorgeous melody with layers of cymbal thrashing behind the mix, all about a man afraid of “my own shadow”, scared of heights and being haunted by life in general .This is very HCE territory, but  those guitars weave a spell of almost Crimson intrigue. The track builds to an “epic” climax with the guitar taking up the  mantle and swopping and soaring.

Did he fly? Did he crash? You decide.

All the tracks are short, sharp shocks, none of this twenty minute epic school of thought here. KISS song writing – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Hooks abound, the songs feel that they will come across well live, there they can flex their wings and let it all go.

In conclusion, it is another fine album from Bad Elephant.

At this rate I may just send David Elliot a standing order. Is there a loyalty card? Do we get stickers?  A Panini album of BEM artists with a special scratch’ n’ sniff page for Tom?

Released 1st April 2016.

Buy ‘Fragile Times’ from the Bad Elephant music site