Review – Mothertongue – Where The Moonlight Snows by Tom Slatter

Mothertongue  Mothertongue Mothertongue  Mothertongue Mothertongue Mothertongue!

This is great. A big dollop of proper pop. A slice of singalong hooks, followed by the rest of the cake. The earworms you didn’t know you needed until they wiggled down your eustachian tube and wrapped their little bodies round your cochlea. Your new favourite album.

Bad Elephant Music might be a progressive-rock-adjacent label but this is not prog. Sure, there’s the occasional change in time signature and the combining of a few different genres, but nothing of the 1970’s prog world here. This is a song of short, ‘proper’ songs.

Which is not to say it’s conventional, or obvious. Just that it ain’t prog.

I have to declare two conflicts of interest. One is that my music is released via the same label as this album. The other is that I am already a massive Mothertongue fan. I’m not pretending to be unbiased with this review. Ever since I heard the opening lines of their first album ‘Unsongs’ I was in love.

‘I’ll work the pedals and the devil can steer, things are gonna change, gonna change round here….’

Isn’t that a perfect lyric?

I interviewed two of the Mothertongue boys for my now defunct podcast ( https://soundcloud.com/tomslatter-310392094/the-sunday-bootleg-ep43-mothertongue-fodder-for-the-slander-cannon ) last year when they were putting the finishing touches to this album and they gave me a little bit of a low down on ‘Where the Moonlight Snows’.

Where ‘Unsongs’ was written across different sessions and several years, ‘Where the Moonlight Snows’ was a recorded as one project. Where part of the charm and brilliance of ‘Unsongs’ is that it sometimes has the whole band throwing their kitchen sinks at the listener at the same time, this a more crafted affair. The band have really thought about arrangements here.

Just as I typed that, the song Ofelia, playing in my headphones, got to a part about 4:20 in where a vocal countermelody joins in, along with some drums and high pitched arpeggios in the right hand speaker. You get the impression, with little moments like that, that Mothertongue have really spent a hell of a lot of time making this thing perfect.

One thing I also learned from interviewing them is that the band has a UBS stick of ideas that makes its way around the band, being added to and mined for songwriting ideas. There are sections of songs here that have been hanging around for ages, waiting to be finished, right up against what I presume to be newly minted moments. I couldn’t tell you which is which, though I know it’s true. The finished songs are seamless.

What does it sound like? There’s plenty of English rock song here. I’m not sure of the band’s influences, but it reminds me of the indie rock that I loved in the 90s. That sensibility certainly seems to form the base of the band’s songwriting, but you can add to that moments of Americana, and the sort of string and trumpet playing that wouldn’t be out of place in arrangements of the Great American songbook.

There are three guitar players in the band, a trumpet player and a great rhythm section (not to mention great flute playing and perfectly adequate keyboard playing from guest musicians) and yet never once do things go latter-day Iron Maiden. You’re more likely to get a tasteful bit of delay-laced picking, minimal bass and sparse rhythm guitar than you are to get a wall of powerchords. I swear there are only a few places on the album where the whole band play together at the same time, but when they do it properly rocks.

What are the songs about? I have no idea, to be honest. I don’t think that’s necessarily a sensible question. What you get with Mothertongue is a relentless cavalcade of bizarre imagery, surreal semi-rants and words that you never expected to hear in the same sentence.

‘I climbed out of the creature tree to see myself what I could see.. it’s getting weird as a wasp in a beehive.’

‘Beware of the dog-headed moon’s lunar snare’

‘Dream a dream I did, As a young toothless kid down a twisted road where the river flowed upstream.’

I pretty much love every line on this. I haven’t given a second thought to what the lyrics might be about. Because meaning in popular music doesn’t come primarily from the lyrics, they’re just one element along with hook and groove and melody and arrangement.

(Photo by StudioStead Photography)

And when you put all those things together, what do you get? You get a collection of songs you can loose yourself in, to singalong to, to rock out to, to be slightly thrown when – as The Bullet has just done in my earphones – an unexpected synth line and fuzzy guitar suddenly takes you down a path you weren’t expecting.

Part of the charm of Mothertongue’s first album was it sometimes it really rocked out, but in between those rock songs it would throw something like Shango at you, which had no guitar on it at all, and was all about the vocals and horns. That inventiveness is just as present on ‘Where the Moonlight Snows’, thought it is fair to say this album has fewer out and out rocky moments than it’s predecessor.

What it does have is hooks. Armfuls and bagfuls of hooks and tunes and songs that you really need in your life.

Highlights for me? Blue Wicked Heart, Shipwreck Song, Ofelia, Earthbound

And the rest. It’s all a highlight. It’s Mothertongue.

Mothertongue.

Mothertongue Mothergtongue Mothertongue Mothertongue Mothertongue!

Released 23rd March 2018

Order ‘Where The Moonlight Snows’ from Bad Elephant at bandcamp here

 

Review – Tom Slatter’s Murder and Parliament – Murder and Parliament – by Emma Roebuck

Secret Project **** released, and I have to admit my personal prejudices got the better of me when the worst kept secret at Evil Pachyderm Central Lab 558 was actually announced ready for release.

My bigotry being I see Tom Slatter as a wordsmith turned musician rather than a musician who can do words too! I gave it a cursory spin to choose a track for my show on Progzilla then, as is my wont, set it aside for proper listen when I had no reviews in hand. Martin then suggested I have a go at the review so I have the reason and motivation to examine this release closer with my singular brain cell.

The opening track A Scattering begins with swelling, rising keyboard riff that introduces a distorted guitar sound then a repeating riff that I assume is from Alun on bass. The refrain is passed from instrument to instrument then devolves into a manic feeling ‘battle of the musician’s’ jam session. Imagining Tom essentially jamming with himself is something too torturous to actually retain. In the central section it transforms into a jazz improvisation and tennis match as sections are passed across the studio. Consider four versions of Tom in the studio grinning in the classic evil Professorial manner of a Verne/Wells classic and you get my imagery and should be rightfully worried. This, in all honesty, shows some real depth and texture that makes me smile and I see my prejudices were flawed and incorrect.

Crookedness has the feel of a Tom Slatter track, the “Steam Punk Skiffle” guitar and drums combo racing into the track, seeing who gets there first and unsurprisingly ending in a draw at the middle eight. This is not a bad thing and Grey Malkin is a fine piece of similar proportions of manic guitar and lilting tempos for variety. It appears there is actually a Slatter Guitar sound! You can hear his musical voice and technique in the sound and structure. Both these tracks could have been songs with words but they turned hard left at the lyrical and melody corner and the lyrical content became a guitar line with keyboard harmonies. They both have enough to keep the listener busy if they want to dig deeper but also can wash over you as whole pieces if they are on in the car or while performing those other functions that life demands.

That is the first three out of the way and they feel like what I would expect from Tom knowing his previous work in the way I do. The next 5 all show something very different and one of the reasons why I think this actually is an album that should not be forgotten in the seasonal melee that was Christmas and New year.  Kettle and Cauldron sounds like it is straight of an experimental Berlin school jam between Can Neu! and Kluster and is annoyingly short at 3 minutes and a bit.  It could be expanded to a 15 or 20 minute zone out percussion and synth electronic dream. Firecracker has the addition of Chrissie on Violin giving a softer feel and a drifting continuance from the previous track into that guitar sound.

Embers is, by a country Victorian Mile, my favourite on this album. The violin, atmospheric keyboards and sonic landscape understate what is going on and hide, to some degree, a complex but very easy on the ear piece of music. Think a Steam Punk Floyd Shine on You Crazy Diamond and you get some idea from words but only listening to it can you really get it! Alun does the bass line as a melody in parts and vanishes in others. Again Slatter, too short! I want a longer track with more beyond the fade.

Clamour and They Broadcast My Birthday on a Numbers Station (no, I have no idea what that means either!) flow together from Embers developing and growing almost as if they were from a common session. Clamour is a mature piece and shows insights of an avante-garde and metal combination without sounding like either. Tom has an ear for a riff and a refrain and is fond of bouncing them around and playing them to create larger works. Both tracks have that finger print on them. On deeper listening, Tom is hinting at his influences from the rock, metal, thrash, jazz (and possibly prog too) genres.

Instrumental albums are never easy, especially when you are a songwriter, and it could so easily have been and album of music “I could not find words for so let’s make an instrumental album”. Instead it shows a side of Mr Slatter that lies hidden too often in his other albums; the composer is exposed here at his most vulnerable and it is all the better for that exposure. I know there are plans afoot for Tom to play with a full band in a live setting and I think there is room for these tracks in that set. I would love to hear him experiment in some long form electronic material too.

I said I went into this with a fair amount of prejudice and expectation and I apologise for that and a slapped wrist for me. I think this is one for your collection, despite missing the inevitable end of 2017 best of lists and no doubt the forgotten of 2018 to come lists.

Released 1st December 2017

Order ‘Murder and Parliament’ from bandcamp here

 

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 – Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath – by Gary Morley

Cover

Mike Kershaw is a “Passenger”, or fan of Big Big Train, and we’ve met (in cyberspace) and our lives have been connected through their Facebook page.

I was invited to review this, Mike’s latest solo recording, by Martin Hutchinson, another Passenger whose life is a little more connected to mine in that we have had conversations: Exchanges of ideas and the like, in between him sending me albums to review and me handing in my homework.

So I transferred the files onto CD, placed it in the player and after sharpening my reviewer’s pencil, pressed play.

The following are the notes written as I listen, a running commentary if you will.

The first impression is that the drum sound is warm, jazzy and gentler than other recent Prog albums. There are none of the extraneous fills and beat s that detracted from Dream Theater’s recent excursion into Lloyd Webber land here.

I will research later, but the instrumentation on this is warm, organic and very “English”.

Mike’s voice is not a musical weapon of mass destruction, not chilling roars or over enunciated shouting here. The nearest comparable voice I can think of is Marianne Faithfull. His voice falters and cracks as hers does on “Broken English”, both frail and resilient at the same time. It adds to the charm of the piece as the voice makes the words even more personal and the deliver almost intimate, a rough take charm that grows as the album progresses.

Scott Smith Photography

(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)

The album hints at the great journey we are all on, unfolding and layered with detail that adds to the repeated listening pleasure. Track 2 starts off with a drum track that brought Dire Straits to mind, that simple shuffle beat underpinning the mix. Keyboards float above it, Mike’s voice is higher, almost childlike here. It’s always tricky to write about lyrics without the aid of a “cheat sheet” album cover present, so I tend to leave that to the end user (and the writing on CD inserts is not “People of a certain age friendly at all! That’s why we collect vinyl – to read the notes!)

There are chiming guitars; beautiful bass playing that had me thinking of the Cure at their most pastoral on track 3. The melodic force is strong in this one, the song growing, tide like before the chorus crashes on the shore, then fades and ebbs with lovely electric piano . We have a military drum beat and a ghostly choral backing that fades to voice and rhythm section.

Mr Kershaw, you are a very talented man. Songs that unfurl gently and reveal secrets, your folk singer delivery brings another point of reference here, The spirit of Roy Harper seeps through the 4th track, with it’s guitar textures and space between the component parts allowing the voice centre stage.

“Another disguise” is full of lovely slide guitar and swooping keyboards, this track is very Pink Floyd in it’s sound, warm guitar and icy keyboards over a solid drum part , again no pyrotechnics from  the players, the ebb and flow is complimentary to the lyric.

Or does it bring back memories of  The Enid circa 1981 that ? That period when RJG discovered vocals? There are hints of that too, along with a smatter of Dylan, Track 5 being a bouncy charmer, full of gruff guitar charm and a timeless vocal performance.

Mike

(Picture by Scott Smith Photography)

Track 6 starts with a gentle keyboard piece then we hear of the protagonist, who seems beaten by life, a frustrated individual trapped in some private hell. Kershaw’s words of rallying around a flag, joining a cause, whether wrong or right spookily poignant after recent events in Yorkshire that shocked one and all, here we have the plight of the loner , the isolated man captured in a 3 minute song.

I’ve played the CD 4 times now, each time it releases another little Easter Egg …

This time, Mike’s Voice on track 1 reminds me of Tim Blake (Hawkwind and solo artist) performing “Lighthouse” – half spoken, half intoned lyrics set to a jaunty, almost funky soundscape with keyboards coming at you from all directions. Lyrically it’s not a million miles from the anti war rhetoric of Hawkwind / Tim Blake /The Enid from the 80’s ( we were all going to die in a mushroom cloud caused by Reagan and Russia goes to war over Europe with tactical Nukes proliferating on both sides. Scary times, but produced some great music – “Who’s Gonna Win The War” & “ And Then there were none” being the two that this shares a common bond with.

This is the “Proggiest” track here, with some great synth lines at the conclusion sliding over your ears into your brain.

The more I listen, the less convinced that it’s Prog. Not in a derogatory way, but this album is full of songs, some great musicians playing to complement each other, most tracks are around the 5 minute mark, there are no dragons, anthropomorphic creatures, aliens or starships. No warriors on the edge or any vast inhuman machines keeping people in ignorance and servitude.

There are some glorious tunes, great instrumental pieces and a sense of warmth, almost organic well being generated through the listening experience.

It’s just good music, no matter which box you think it should be put in.

Mike has produced a fine album, a personal statement of where he sits in the musical pantheon and the world is a better place for his efforts.

Released 27th May 2016 by Bad Elephant Music.

Buy ‘What Lies Beneath’ from bandcamp

 

Progradar’s ‘Best of 2015’ review – by Progradar

David

A scary picture to get things started, it’s that time of year again when everyone puts out their ‘Best of 2015’ album list and I’m no different to every other music journalist, budding or otherwise.

Lists like these are very subjective, after all, one man’s poison is another man’s wine but they’re fun to do and give a real retrospective of some of the great music that has been released over the past 12 months or so.

BEM logo

First off, the usual disclaimer, I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases as some people might say I’d be slightly biased. However, once again, this tiny independent label has given us some mighty impressive music from the likes of The Room, Tom Slatter, Simon Godfrey, The Fierce and the Dead and Twice Bitten, among others, all of which can be sampled at the link below:

Bad Elephant Music

I tried to get it down to a top 15, never mind a top ten, but that proved too difficult so, here it is, Progradar’s top 20 albums of 2015. Don’t see the position as being too indicative as, really, albums 20-6 could be in any given order on any given day, the quality is that close. The top 5, however, are my definitive top 5 albums for 2015.

Enough pre-amble, here we go……

20 – Transport Aerian – Dark Blue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

19 – Steve Rothery – The Ghosts of Pripyat

Marillion’s guitarist is venturing further afield with his solo work and it’s simple, faraway beauty is quite inspiring. Put your feet up, get your headphones on, lay back and relax.

18 – Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

17 – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

A new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

16 – Mystery – Delusion Rain

2015 saw Canadian prog-rockers Mystery return with  a new album and a new lead singer and it was as if they’d never been away. Jean Pageau has a voice that fits perfectly with the melodic progressive rock that the band deliver with aplomb. The epic track The Willow Tree is a superb, intricate and emotional hit of passion and takes the album from merely good to very good indeed.

15 – Hibernal – After the Winter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdPh-mbJh0c

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

14 – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brightly.

13 – Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

12 – The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

11 – Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America. A band I have heard little of in the past, this new album will definitely change that, a melting pot of sweet melodies and delicious harmonies.

10 – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

9 – Comedy of Errors – Spirit

Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors.

8 – Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

It could have been this studio album or the equally impressive ‘Glass Hammer – Live’, recorded at this year’s RosFest but, first, let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

7 – Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

6 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

5 – Big Big Train – Wassail (yes, I know it’s only an E.P. but I like it!!)

You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

4 – Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah II

‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.

3 – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

2- Subsignal – The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime

See, this is why these bloody lists are only subjective. I had mine all worked out and then I listened to the fourth album from German band Subsignal and it was blown out of the water. Arisen from the ashes of the great Sieges Even, the first three albums by the band failed to really hit the heights for me. Well, all is most definitely forgiven as ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’ has just hit me right on the correct spot and elevated them to a higher level. It has a real emotional depth to it and is one that is highly, highly recommended, nearly making it to the top spot…..

1 – Riverside – Love, fear and the Time Machine

So, after a tough fight it is Polish band Riverside that take the crown this year. I have always been a fan of this band without actually loving their work. All that changed with this years beautiful release. There is a depth and maturity to this release that resonates deep to the core. The fragile, breaking vocals and signature sound have taken the band to the forefront of the progressive rock genre and, in this album, they have left behind a musical legacy of which anyone can be proud.

 

 

 

Tom Slatter has some rather nasty creatures loose in his Lab…….

You thought the day of the bombastic, big budget video were gone? Well think again, the marvelous Joe Slatter over at The Dark Power has produced a stunning, tongue in cheek and mildly disturbing video (big budget may be pushing it) for the first song from Tom Slatter’s new album.
‘Some of the Creatures Have Broken the Locks on the Door to Lab 558′ is taken from ‘Fit the Fourth’ released on 1/6/015 through those excellent chaps (sic) at Bad Elephant Music.

Tom describes his output as:

the sort of music you’d get if Genesis started writing songs with Nick Cave after watching too much Dr Who.”

Bad Elephant Music’s press release stated:

“Tom weaves complex and fantastical stories throughout his music – and this new album is no different.

“Dark deeds and dangerous characters litter the narrative, including the continuing tale of Seven Bells John and the vivid steampunk world he inhabits.

“The character, who’s been interwoven since debut album ‘Spinning The Compass’, comes full circle in ‘Fit The Fourth, with his eventual fate revealed in 20-­minute epic ‘Seven Bells Redeemed’.”