Album reviews: Broken Chanter, Disquiet Black Country, Adam Stafford, V4Velindre
Broken Chanter - Catastrophe Hits
It may be a fortunate coincidence, but recorded in the wake of Covid, David MacGregor’s excellent second album under his Broken Chanter alias appears in the week of COP26 in his native Glasgow.
However, the songwriter clearly has the state of the world on his mind, as lead single ‘Extinction Event Souvenir T-Shirt’ suggests. And ‘Dancing Skeletons’ sets the scene, a powerful opener, while ‘Allow Yourself’ similarly rips along apace.
Overall. ‘Catastrophe Hits’ is a more muscular effort than the folk-tinged self-titled debut from last year, its fast-moving indie pop, driven by now-Franz Ferdinand drummer Audrey Tait, recalling the frontman’s previous act Kid Canaveral.
However, there are lighter and more introspective moments, none more so than closing instrumental ‘Rubha Alainn’, aptly building to a crescendo before fading away to the sounds of nature.
Various Artists - V4Velindre
Compiled by Welsh music writer Kevin McGrath while recuperating from major surgery at Cardiff’s Velindre Cancer Centre, this mixtape is an appreciation and fundraiser for the NHS.
And while not exactly bursting with big names, there’s enough quality and quantity to make this worth your time.
90s chart stars The Wedding Present are an exception, with one of their best loved tunes ‘Brassneck’ in stripped-back but still-mighty form. There are several Welsh Music Prize-winners too, including the lush acoustic stylings of Boy Azooga, and Adwaith’s bouncy shouty indie pop.
There’s also celebrated art-punks The Nightingales, Scots dream pop from Community Swimming Pool, Galway punks Punching Peaches, Campfire Social’s soca-flecked sunshine pop, and more indie should-have-beens for those of a certain age, BOB. Honestly, at £7 for 50 tracks it’s a no-brainer purchase for anyone who enjoys quality indie pop, with the good cause the icing on top.
Adam Stafford - Trophic Asynchrony
Award-winning filmmaker Adam Stafford always has something to say when making music but here it’s done via the medium of sound.
Eight instrumentals capture the threat of global warming with a mix of complex atmospherica and claustrophobically insistent tunes that mix his usual indie rock with an almost modern classical twist. Inspired by the climate crisis it’s appropriately uneasy listening, Stafford’s trademark loops formed of little piano motifs conjuring the feel of being breathlessly being pursued by an unseen enemy.
‘Carnivore of Lawns’ is built on an urgent, glitchy piano loop, while single ‘Ruptured Telecine’ is as close as we get to pop - yes, it has vocals but of the sinisterly distorted variety plus trippy beats dancing beneath insistently repeated guitar lines. By way of contrast, ‘For Fawn’ is almost purely piano, in the vein of Satie or Tomita.
‘Threnody For February Swallows’ - birds which shouldn’t be here till summer - is another high point. Although heavy on piano, the album’s closer ‘Thappies Clag’ has the noisy feel of Mogwai if accompanied by a string section, an uplifting close to a soundtrack (preferably with with David Attenborough narration) for the collapse of civilisation.
Disquiet, Black Country - A Dystopian Present
Political pop is a rare beast nowadays but this Midlands-based duo make up for it all by themselves as they clearly have a lot to get off their chests.
Employing just drums and guitar, their debut squarely takes on government corruption and ineptitude. ‘Recount’ lays bare the Covid death toll, while ‘Sing Me A Happy Song’ is not that in the slightest, instead motoring along with its police siren-style guitar riff as its lyrics ape a complacent public: “NHS is not for sale... I’ll just close my eyes”.
Despite that, it’s all catchy stuff - chantalong ‘We Are The Riot’ is a call to arms against the rise of the far right: “Take back the streets” the shout over an apocalyptic backdrop. It’s a little in the style of early Jesus and Mary Chain or Sonic Youth - distorted urgent guitar, pounding percussion, but with lyrics to the fore.
Its eight largely sub-two minute tunes are over in a flash, message stated and done and to the point, closing with ‘The Million Swords of the Victims of Austerity’ in case you were in any doubt of their leanings. Sometimes it’s good to vent, if anyone else joins in that will be a bonus.