ALBUM: Salad – ‘The Salad Way’

After an absence of almost two decades, UK alt-rockers Salad have returned to take on the world “The Salad Way” with their long-awaited new LP. From their formation in 1992, until the day they decided to disband in 1998, Salad had released two records: their 1995 debut, Drink Me, and its successor, 1997’s Ice Cream. Now, with an amended new line-up, Salad is back on the menu.

Performing acoustically as a duo from 2016 onwards under the name Salad Undressed, vocalist (and former MTV Europe veejay) Marijne van der Vlugt and guitarist/backing vocalist Paul Kennedy had an itch they needed to scratch. Enlisting the help of long-time collaborator Donald Ross Skinner to provide new beats, original bassist Pete Brown for his infectious groove, and 96-98 touring guitarist Charley Stone for her searing guitar riffs, Salad’s comeback album is a combination of quality ingredients that has resulted in a fresh, varied sound that extends beyond the usual lexicon of established Brit-pop genre conventions.

This isn’t a record to appease existing herbivores; nor is it an attempt in Brit-pop revival. I doubt Marijne or the rest of the band really give a shit. Instead, The Salad Way is thirteen tracks of relentless post-punk infused with renewed collaborative creativity. Opening with their latest single, ‘You Got The Job’, Salad re-establish themselves as purveyors of buoyant pop melodies, underpinned here by a sense of romantic insecurity. “The golden kisses of summer keep me going through winter / I store them up in my treehouse… You got the job!”

‘In The Dark’ sees Salad meets Sabbath with scuzzy guitar hooks, doom-like drum strikes, and a more relaxed tempo, before Marijne lays into Paul for rambling on during a radio interview preceding the abrasive third art-punk track, ‘Details’. “I’m sick of all your details!” Don’t worry though, guitar ballad ‘Your Face’ offers us much needed breathing space… That is until Salad begin pummelling us in said face with ‘Vadim’s Slipper’, a track that sees both Marijne and Paul writing outside of their comfort zone.

Next, Marijne goes full throttle on keyboards for ‘Merryland’, tackling the fantastical with inescapable energy. “There was a place called Merryland / I used to live there / Picked up the keys from a Killer Whale / Two eyes, no legs, big grin…” Scratchy guitar solos punctuate this disastrous tale of marine life before the band transition to the more personal ‘Welcome To My World’ – a song which touches upon Marijne’s arrival to the United Kingdom as an adolescent: “In 1978 / New language on my plate / Difficult to relate / Welcome to my world.”

Flipping over to Side B, Salad continue to surprise with ‘Don’t Expect Things Not To Be Scary’, fusing syncopated funk basslines with rhythmic guitars to create mad musical science: one-third disco anthem, and two-thirds freak dance party. A pulsating bassline dominates first single, ‘Under The Wrapping Paper’ – a post-punk opus inspired tongue-firmly-in-cheek by the music fanatics’ clothing of choice. “I worry about child labour / But I needed a t-shirt / Put it in a paper bag / You can recycle that later.”

‘The Inside Of My Head’ is an honest acceptance of weakness; a melancholic insight to the headspace of the band, whilst the remaining three tracks – ‘Wayward Thinking’, ‘Lovesick Energy’, and album closer ‘Time To Escape’  – perfectly exemplify what ‘The Salad Way’ is: a continuous stream of weird and wonderful consciousness, propelled by a rocket-powered expulsion of creative energy. But most importantly? The Salad Way is that thing called rock and roll, and the band came to fumigate your soul.

The Salad Way is out 30th August via Three Bean Records.

Ken Wynne
@Ken_Wynne

Photo Credit: Tim Topple

ALBUM: Queen Bonobo – ‘Light Shadow Boom Boom’

Queen Bonobo’s engaging debut Light Shadow Boom Boom unites a broad array of textures into a coherent whole. Backed by a talented young group of Northern Irish jazz musicians, her ten tracks draw together the acoustics of jazz, direct songwriting, and an expansive range of other sounds.

This eclecticism is no surprise – born in an Idaho forest, Queen Bonobo has spent a lifetime on the move, pursuing spontaneous collaboration with musicians from all corners. The album showcases less idyllic themes too, with lyrics covering depression in the family and the difficulties of radical self-acceptance in changing circumstances. But the restorative power of music making is always at the core. In her words: “the title stands for the heavens above (light), the earth below (dark), and the pulse of life throughout it all”.

‘The Lord Does What He Wants’, opens the album, placing folksy melodies over joyous chord-strums, but the upbeat feel of the instruments is tinged with escapism too (“I’m plain dysfunctional / break me so I know nothing’s permanent”). ‘Light Me Up’ moves from sultry jazz to cracking, imploring screams, and ‘Shadow’ explores other shades of contrast, with light brushes of sax giving way to lilting solos.

‘Honey’’s brief stopover in 7/4 is balanced by the simple, earthy percussion of ‘Boom Boom’, reminiscent of Ibeyi’s back-to-nature approach. Inspired by the Appalachian Mountains, its signature line may serve as the album’s best summary: “My energy’s infectious, connected with the earth”. ‘Spin Me’ is unquestionably the album’s most intriguing track. Half-sketched melodies are pulled apart by a dream-swirl of languid synths, the music somehow seeming to rotate around itself without having a clear centre point.

The natural sincerity of Queen Bonobo’s voice superbly ties together the variety, elastically summoning energy and introspection in a fine balance. The album is a clear product of its situation – a collection of promising young musicians trying a range of styles on for size. This is an intriguing debut that bodes well for the future of all the artists at it’s core.

Follow Queen Bonobo on Facebook for more updates.

George Howlett

ALBUM: HAVVK – ‘Cause & Effect’ (Pt.1)

From the moment Cause & Effect begins, until the last riff of latest single ‘Shifting Shape’ ends, HAVVK have your complete attention… And this is only the first chapter! Never wanting to be conventional, HAVVK have chosen to release their debut album in two halves; with the latter set for release on 22nd November. 

Beginning life in London, HAVVK now consists of Julie, Matt and Sam, who – over the years – have developed their own style of feedback-laden, ethereal alt-rock, resulting in two incredible extended plays: the self-titled HAVVK (2016) and She Knows EP (2017).

Alternating between London, Dublin, and Berlin (the latter where Cause & Effect was recorded with producer Rocky O’Reilly), the trio approach Part 1 unrestrained with a take no prisoners/punk rock attitude. Opening with ‘If I Don’t Tell You’ – a biting social commentary on social media discord – you are instantly captivated by the shimmering guitar riffs, pulsating drum beats and brooding basslines, before being transported seamlessly into ‘Birds on a Wire’.

‘Birds on a Wire’ introspectively analyses a destructive relationship through Julie’s raw, honest vocals and an expansive, melancholic sound – “When I’m trying to speak, are you listening? Do you want to hear me scream?” This is followed by ‘Always the Same’, which confronts female objectivity and toxic masculinity, as we hear Julie challenge men who make women feel unsafe as a result of their gender.

On ‘The Factory’, Julie’s vocals soar as the track ascends into a crescendo of meticulous noise, before transitioning into the post-punk x shoegazing of ‘Tunnels’.

Throughout the album, the contrasting narrative of each song is structured into a cohesive whole with each seamless transition. HAVVK have always explored lighter and louder soundscapes through political and social songwriting, and Cause & Effect is the perfect example of their euphonic activism.

HAVVK continue to agitate societal bullshit with their final track, ‘Shifting Shape’. Armed with an abrasive edge, and a quiet/loud dynamic, HAVVK waste no time in getting straight to the point: Fuck constraints, fuck traditional assumptions surrounding gender, and fuck the unwarranted, unnecessary pressure it causes.

HAVVK craft music to make a statement, and with the first six songs from Cause & Effect the band have covered a lot of ground; from inequality to gender-preconceptions. It can be exhausting, but change is happening, so let’s keep this momentum going. Bands like HAVVK are needed now more than ever.

Cause & Effect (Pt.1) is out now via Veta Records.

Ken Wynne
@Ken_Wynne

ALBUM: Personal Best – ‘What You At’

The tagline (yep, it’s got a tagline!) of Personal Best’s second album, What You At, is “classic rock for tragic lesbians”. And I can’t think of a greater summary. It’s sweet and spiky, sad and uplifting. And it’s going to soundtrack a lot of break-ups.

Opener ‘Just Friends’ sets the tone. It starts out like a torch song – all acoustic guitar and raw emotion – but soon engulfs into crunchy rock riffs. The album has sadder, slower moments, like ‘Near To The Wildheart’ and closer ‘Salute’, but with front-person Katie Gatt’s powerful voice and lyrics, it remains an angry, empowering record.

Standout ‘Radio’ is a proper stomper, as is the single, ‘Baby’. When Gatt sings “I’m getting better”, backed by frenetic, punky guitars and pure pop harmonies, you really believe her. The album’s penultimate song, ‘One More Thing’, brings the record to a silly, splashy crescendo, which begs to be turned up to 11, Spinal Tap-style. I can almost picture the band playing it live, doing that classic rock, duelling guitars thing, and having an awesome time doing it.

It makes me so happy to see Personal Best stomping all over a traditionally male genre with their tongue firmly in their cheeks. As far as break-up albums go, What You At isn’t about feeling sorry for yourself. It’s the equivalent of a messy night out with the people you love. It’s sticky dancefloors and Strongbow; it’s crying on your best friend’s shoulder and putting the world to rights on the nightbus home.

A perfect fusion of wit, honest emotion and luscious harmonies, What You At will leave you elevated and ready to take on the world, break-up or no break-up.

What You At is out now via Sheer Luck Records/Dovetown Records. Order here.

Vic Conway

Photo Credit: Jennifer Doveton

 

ALBUM: Lisa Hannigan & s t a r g a z e – ‘Live In Dublin’

Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan is set to release her new live album recorded at Dublin’s National Concert Hall with contemporary-classical orchestra s t a r g a z e, founded by conductor André de Ridder. This collaboration sees Lisa’s folk/pop songs played with new orchestral ensemble arrangements and has taken her to the stages of London’s Barbican and Dublin’s National Concert Hall. Live in Dublin serves as a treat for old and new fans of Hannigan, capturing her mesmerising shows across a discography-spanning 14- tracks, including new track ‘Bookmark’.

Love is a key theme on the album, as is nature. The songs lend themselves perfectly to an orchestral setting, bringing out the emotional undertones at the heart of the tracks. The bird-like flutes of ‘Ora’ and the stirring violins which create an atmosphere of sad beauty on ‘Prayer for the Dying’ are particularly beautiful. There’s a lovely change in pace on tracks like ‘Anahorish’ which is sung acapella; ‘Nowhere to Go’ which showcases Hannigan’s slow, plaintive voice as comforting and emotional, before the urgency of following track ‘Lo’, which breaks through with its persistent heartbeat-like rhythms.

Other highlights are the haunting atmospherics on ‘We the Drowned’, which will move you to tears, before the fairytale chimes of ‘Lille’ enchant with their ethereal undertones. Overall, the orchestra swell out the songs, stirring the emotions, adding to the soundscape created by Hannigan’s poetic lyrics. The song is the conductor, her voice is the key instrument. The album closes with ‘Fall’, where the orchestra quiets down and we are sung out with just Hannigans’s vocal harmonies, and guitar.

If you are new to Lisa Hannigan’s songs, this is a wonderful album to discover her gems. Now you will hear them transformed, bringing their inherent dramas and colours to the fore, amidst a backdrop of sublime keys, affecting strings and perfect percussion.

Live In Dublin by Lisa Hannigan & s t a r g a z e is due for release May 31st on digital platforms, vinyl and CD via Play It Again Sam.

Photo Credit: Gerry Sugrue

Fi Ni Aicead
@gotnomoniker

ALBUM: Pinky Pinky – ‘Turkey Dinner’

Giving up her music studies, Anastasia Sanchez replaced her violin with a drum kit, favouring the creative energy of DIY indie rock over the mentally-exhausting paragon of classical music virtue. Joining guitarist Isabelle Fields and bassist Eva Chambers, the Los Angeles trio pulled together their influences – from the Sex Pistols to Jeannie Piersol – and evolved into the monstrous Pinky Pinky.

Taking their namesake from a South African urban legend that terrified an entire generation of schoolgirls, Pinky Pinky’s early iterations were punk, then psychedelia, then blues, before the band realised that they needn’t focus on one genre. Following two extended plays – the self-titled Pinky Pinky EP and most recently Hot Tears, their debut album – Turkey Dinner is a an oddball mishmash of ’60s psych, surf-rock, and unpretentious observations.

Biting down gently on lips, opening track ‘My Friend Sean’ fantasises about the hottest boy is school: “Those pattern jeans, his ass busts through the seams!”. All the girls and boys want Sean. Next, Pinky Pinky take us through downtown LA in their ‘Mystery Sedan’ – ’60s garage pop blasting from the tapedeck – , whilst ‘Floorboards’ leads into ‘Lady Dancer’; two tracks that form two halves, with Anastasia displaying shades of Heart’s Ann Wilson and Kate Bush in her shrill vocal delivery during the first half, and Fiona Apple in the second. Both tracks have an infectious raw energy, and Isabelle’s closing guitar solo will leave you with a crick in your neck!

Four tracks into Turkey Dinner and the fresh-out-of-high-school Pinky Pinky have wasted no time in establishing their own style; foot-tapping rock and roll rooted in classic psychedelia, but bolstered by authentic perspectives on everything from passion to distress. The slower paced harmonies of ‘Applecheeks’ is followed by the surfy SoCal acoustic guitar and tropical drum patterns of ‘Do Me Dirty (Charlie)’.

This album provokes so many emotions, but it is the combination of Eva’s solid rock and roll basslines, paired with Anastasia’s vocal honesty in ‘Mr. Sunday’ that left me melancholic – “Can’t seem to feel what he’s done to me. I’m numb from pain ‘cause he don’t love me.”

The acoustic summer sounds of ‘All The Birds’ are contrasted by the echoing guitar tones, spirited drum beats, and themes of unrequited love in ‘If It Didn’t Hurt’, whilst ‘Sticking Around’ also tackles a similar theme of a doomed relationship, and finally, closing track, ‘Loose Change’, closes the band’s first full-length effort with a combination of keys, horns, and Eva’s irresistible bass guitar.

With every single one of the thirteen tracks on Turkey Dinner, Pinky Pinky have crafted a live-sounding album that is not only this year’s head-bobbing soundtrack to the summer, but an honest example of compelling songwriting and storytelling.

Turkey Dinner is out 14th June via Innovative Leisure. Pre-order here.

 

Ken Wynne
@Ken_Wynne

ALBUM: Barrie – ‘Happy To Be Here’

It’s sort of like waking up from a deep sleep, scattered with dreams, when the first lilts of album opener ‘Darjeeling’ hit you. Barrie Lindsay’s voice, oozing with harmony, doesn’t do much to dispel the slightly woozy feeling that permeates through Happy to Be Here, the debut album from her and the semi-eponymously named fivepiece Barrie. By the time you hear the feet on the stairs of its middle eight (reflecting lyrics of the same phrase), you know you’re in for an imagist ride of many colours, albeit one that’s still meticulously plotted out.

If dream pop is your bag, it’s here in spades. The ’90s video game ether of ‘Dark Tropical’ and its synthy hook; the atmosphere builder of the full fat electronic keys in ‘Saturated’; ‘Teenager’ with its horn-like synth blobs.

That being said, the band are a mixed-up bunch and underneath the sparkle, there’s something slightly more frenetic. Drummer Dominic Apa also plays with Brit electronic rock act, Is Tropical, whilst multi-instrumentalists Spurge Carter and Noah Prebish are DJs who originally bonded over a shared love of house. Sabine Holler, meanwhile, is a German performance artist that the band recruited via a dating app. And somehow, all of this is audible in the mishmash wall-of-sound that typifies the likes of ‘Habits’, with its high-life guitar and post-punk bass, and ‘Chinatown’, with its classic pop-meets-chillwave and delightfully stringy guitar solo. ‘Geology’, meanwhile, crosses genre and decades as its summery West Coast ’60s soul guitar verses flow into ’90s dance-pop choruses.

The standout though is lead-single ‘Clovers’. It, too, shares the mammoth thump in its choruses, as its synths build, blare and bloop all over Barrie’s vocals, extending that middle syllable of the song’s title for what feels like aeons. But here, it’s the contrast with the verses that really make the bombast worth it. Simple, almost childlike lyrics backed by single note piano melodies that stop just as the song explodes back into life. Its harmonised vocal acapella closing is perfect too – syrupy and satisfying.

Shout-outs to album closers too: penultimate track ‘Casino Run’, which evokes synthwavers College (of ‘Real Hero’ from the Drive soundtrack), and finale ‘Hutch’, which is about as close to straightforward pop as the LP gets, piano-led with Barrie’s honeyed voice poured over the top.

The press that came with the album describes it as “snapshots of the band coming together”, and that “inclusivity and friendship is at the heart of Barrie”. Given the disparate nature of how the five individuals came together, and then managed to make it work so well, the latter must certainly be true. It’s the former that sticks with you, though, after the album has finished. The sense of being young, in a squad, kicking around a town. And that’s especially true when you find out that many of these songs were written as part of Barrie Lindsay’s initial career as a solo artist. When it comes to the debut she’s just released, you can take it that her bandmates are indeed happy to be here.

Happy To Be Here, the debut album from Barrie, is out now via Winspear.

John McGovern
@etinsuburbiaego