Since our last set of reviews we’ve seen a new Prime Minister appointed and, quite extraordinarily, resign. In the meantime we’ve been churning through some of the releases of the last month and pulled out some total gems (including one yet to be released). We have a little backlog so there’s more to come too. Here’s seven releases we loved. This may have been eight but our copy of the new Dry Cleaning record is yet to arrive.
Robert Sotelo – Indoors
Andrew Doig AKA Robert Sotelo continues a prolific streak on his new album ‘Indoors’, so much so that it coincides with the release of another album he features on. Order Of The Toad’s ’Spirit Man’ being released on the same day. It often beggars belief as to how someone can be so constantly creative.
‘Indoors’ is very much a companion piece to Doig’s 2021 album ‘Celebrant’, which saw him sique from the retro pop of the magestic ‘Infinite Sprawling’ into the synth pop realms visited in the low key ‘Botanical’. This is evident immediately.
The opener “Moving” revels in keyboard minimalism alongside another gorgeous McCartney-esque vocal melody. The track is beautifully orchestrated, bursting into life with additional layers.
Doig shows throughout that his ear for melody is really something special.
The hip-wiggling “Above” is packed with juicy synth warbles and earwormy melodies. The album is neatly arranged with the instrumental “Companion Piece” acting as a palette cleanser before the fabulous “Caught In A Shape”. You can hear the joy with which Doig approaches his craft. The intricate, almost Paul Simon-esque bassline is glorious and complemented by magical synth twinkles.
‘Indoors’ feels more complete and more playful than its predecessor. “Garden Ceremonial” is accompanied throughout by birdsong, something which became extremely pronounced during lockdowns in the big cities. The intro to the following “Lifestyle” is sublime in its ridiculousness. The mixture of lurching and bouncing rhythms only adds further eccentricity.
The title track is another instrumental, with an almost plaintive tone.
It has a touch of the Flaming Lips’ ‘The Terror’ about it. We are then treated to the delightful 2020 single “Operate Now”. Its staccato keyboard stabs sound perfectly at home here.
This album is absolute bursting with hits. The fizzy pop squelch of “Potion” uses melodic percussion to breathtaking effect. The cavernous drum sounds and glockenspiel-esque keys add a touch of Beach Boys atmosphere. There’s, again, a touch of The Flaming Lips in the closer “Downstairs”, although this time it’s more akin to The Soft Bulletin owing to its subtle yet somehow grandiose atmosphere.
‘Indoors’ is a truly uplifting document of lockdown.
This may well be Andrew Doig’s most accomplished album yet. He clearly focussed a lot of positive energy on this through the darkest time the UK had faced in decades (until now). I thought Infinite Sprawling was a masterpiece but there’s something really special about this. Indoors is out now, via Upset The Rhythm.
FFO Order Of The Toad, Nightshift, The Flaming Lips, The Beatles, Harry Nilsson
Julie Odell – Autumn Eve
Julie Odell is a singer-songwriter based out of New Orleans, a city primarily associated with Jazz. Her debut album ‘Autumn Eve’ comes via the excellent Frenchkiss records. A label who have a prestigious roster of current and former artists, including label founder Syd Butler’s Les Savy Fav, Eleanor Friedberger and The Dodos. Odell’s sound is not typical of New Orleans.
She has a folk-rocky voice and a playful, sometimes explosive, approach to songwriting.
“Caterpillar” for example has the light touch and airiness we often associate with Rozi Plain but changes pace and builds momentum like Fleet Foxes at their most grandiose. “Envelope” on the other hard is a jauntier affair, with wonderfully busy percussion and a powerhouse vocal performance.
You can hear her utter joy at creating throughout ‘Autumn Leave’.
“People Cheering” features some delightful, lightly warped guitar effects as it gently teases us towards its crescendos. Her wispy and wordy performance here is reminiscent of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, as is the intricacy of the melodies she constructs.She plays with dynamics on “Moments Later”, which features a constant alternation between delicacy and stabbing rhythm guitars, before a dreamlike extended outro. The vocal gymnastics are an utter delight.
On this evidence Julie Odell is an artist utterly at home in her own skin; playful and melodically gifted in equal measure. This will go down as one of the year’s best debut albums.
FFO Rozi Plain, Destroyer, Eleanor Friedberger
Shake Chain – Snake Chain
In a world that seems to be constantly on edge, in a status of flux and in which very little seems to make sense anymore Shake Chain are almost accidentally the perfect embodiment of it. The album title recalls the first time I someone mentioned the band to me, mishearing their name as “Snake Chain”.
To describe their sound metaophorically, Shake Chain (not Snake Chain) are the musical equivalent of a shaken up bottle of Irn Bru downed by an unhinged, rowdy child and the resulting anarchy, damaged furniture, wailing and tears that follow.
The intro “Stace” is perhaps the biggest surprise, given its relatively sedate needly atmosphere and largely instrumental nature, when the band are notorious for being as wild, unstable and unpredictable as a Liz Truss economic policy.
However, they perform an immediate U-turn (sorry, not sorry) on “RU”.
This is our first real taste of Kate Mahony’s almost incomprehensible (again not unlike a Liz Truss economic policy) vocal stylings.
The band rip into a surfy post punk, like an evil Dry Cleaning.
“Copy Me”, which is the first of three songs here lifted from their debut EP, sounds as urgent and batshit crazy as ever. This is tailed by the drunk ramble of “Birthday”, which has all the hideous brutality of The Jesus Lizard. The insidious bassline, creepy guitar echoes and purposeful drums lend a truly menacing backdrop to Mahony’s crazed slurs.
They inject a dose of urgency with the fierce “Cavalry”.
It’s fabulously atonal, gloriously dumb and utterly breathless.The slow building and bonkers “Highly Conceptual” sees Mahony getting increasingly wild, from sounding like an intoxicated Shirley Bassey to someone who has slammed their fingers in a car door.Shake Chain really know how to rock out. “Mike” is frantic and relentless, with a simple pummelling bassline and grizzled power chords. It’s similar in its atonal qualities to the aforementioned “Copy Me”, only it gets wilder from insane.
The half-rockabilly, half-Sonic Youth lunacy of “Second Home” provides moments of shortlived relative calm in its choruses. “Arthur” follows a similar aesthetic with its skittery Man Or Astroman blitz, before dropping into something more slacker-ish and abstract.
“Highly Conceptual” is perhaps the most changed track from their debut EP. It feels more lived in than before. The keys are played with a cocky flourish, the vocals a little more manic. They’ve also infused the ending with a bonkers instrumental complete with animal samples and a snippet of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s most cringeworthy interview of his time in office.
The cut and thrust bassline of “Internet” has an almost Brit pop feel to it, while the abrasive guitar adds an itchy menace.
This is also perhaps Mahony’s most entertaining performance too. The almost dog-like grunts and resigned moans are hilarious. They round things up with the initially unexpectedly soft “Duck”. Mahony’s vocals are also at their most comprehensible and understated, offering up something entirely different to the rest of the album. The music, for once, is the most unhinged and unpredictable part of the song.
I’d been awaiting this wild debut album like a giddy school child anticipating Christmas. If their debut EP was the equivalent of waking up at 3am, secretively peeling the corner of a present’s wrapping for a glimpse of what is inside, then this is the moment in which we get to rip open that carefully folded shiny paper with abandon and jump around maniacally having received just what we always wanted. There’s no one else quite like Shake Chain.
’Snake Chain’ is released on 11th November via Upset The Rhythm.
Winter – What Kind Of Blue Are You?
Samira Winter has been a longstanding BTTB favourite, having drifted into our consciousness way back in 2018 when she collaborated with Triptides on the 60s inspired ‘Estrela Magica’. She followed this up with her debut solo album ‘Endless Space Between You & I’ in 2020, a gorgeous psychedelic dream pop album brimful of beautiful melodies. Despite the ill-fated timing of that release the Brazilian singer songwriter evidently hunkered down and has come back with a sophomore effort via Bar/None Records.
‘What Kind Of Blue Are You?’ initially picks up where we left off.
This is evidenced by the shimmering and cavernous “Wish I Knew” which, with its soft vocals and baritone guitar twang, recalls the now disbanded Chromatics.
“Atonement” harks back to the shuffling beats of “Madchester”. A bright and upbeat pop song tinged with atmospheric noise. Winter’s songwriting feels more impactful and purposeful on ‘What Kind Of Blue Are You?’.
“Good” is relatively minimal. The Sparklehorse-esque building harmonies, simple strummed guitars and 4/4 drums are contrasted with controlled melodic guitar feedback that wails beautifully.
The triphoppy elements of Winter’s previous work are still evident via the glitchy opening of “Sunday”.
It eventually reveals itself to be an indiepop jangler reminiscent of The Concretes, only with a gently warped edges. “Crimson Enclosure” takes the warped edges and pushes them to the forefront.
It’s hard not to immediately compare this to My Bloody Valentine. The constantly warbling guitars, simple thumping drums and crystalline melody bear all the hallmarks of the Dublin based godfathers of the genre.
The variation continues on “Write It Out”, a grunge inspired fuzz-fest with a touch of The Breeders’ brilliance, while “Lose You” combines sugary sweet melodies with glimmering synth pulses for a more retro-futurist sound.Variations continue on the slow-core indie rock of “Fool” and the buoyant jangle of “Mr. On My Mind”.
The soft scrawl of “Kind Of Blue” brings the album to a fuzzed out close. It’s a moment of Yo La Tengo level pop perfection, as opposed to a Miles Davis cover.With ‘What Kind Of Blue Are You?’ Winter has undoubtedly one-upped herself. As the nights draw in Winter has been timed perfectly.
Nervous Twitch – Some People Never Change
Another band who have come out the other side of the COVID19 pandemic intact, Nervous Twitch released one of the most upbeat and enjoyable albums of 2021. Their mix of bubblegum indie pop melodies and punk power remains as vibrant as ever on their new album ’Some People Never Change’. “The History Of The Wild West” instantly makes it clear that this is a pandemic product. “You question yourself and your own mental health while the world around you’s a mess” sings Erin Hyde in her ever cheerful tone. The melody, the major guitar chords and Hyde’s bouncy bassline completely at odds with the lyrics.
There’s more to the album than COVID anxiety though.
“Social Chameleon” peers into the social behaviours of someone who puts social status above everything else, cannot find their own identity and follows the herd. It’s playfully constructed with a twee pop keyboard solo thrown in for good measure to add a Parsnip-like paisley pop touch.
The keys play a more prominent part on the delightful “Don’t Be Mean” as they provide the melodic lead, which the vocals follow. Nervous Twitch don’t mess about with their melodies. They keep things simple, are addictive for it and, as ever, sound like they could have materialised any time in the last 45 years. This gives them an appeal that likely transcends generations. As much for the oi punks as they are for indiepop fans. “Forgive Yourself”, with its prominent bass and buzzing guitar lines brings a touch of Pixies into the mix whilst still sounding distinctively British.“You Never Let Me Down” is a sweet homage to a favourite band who can always be relied upon to produce the good stuff. Nervous Twitch themselves could certainly fit into this category for many.
We always know roughly what to expect from the band, active since 2011, yet they always seem to feel like a breath of fresh air.
However, there are still surprises in store.They play with dynamics on the topsy turvy “More Than Enough Warning”, which follows acoustic jangle with sudden crunching power chords within each verse. It’s odd, structurally a little confusing, but ultimately successful.“It’s Going To Be Ok” is perhaps the message of reassurance we all need at the moment. “Things’ll get better” sings Hyde. It seems like it can’t get much worse at the moment (don’t worry, I’m touching the wooden shelf on the wall as I write this).
The under 2 minute blast of “We Don’t Care” is satisfyingly snotty while “This Mad At The World” is at the other end of the spectrum – a soft and sweet stripped down acoustic track expressing concern for a friend’s anger and depression. A sobering moment accentuated by bringing the lyrics into the spotlight.
“Another Way” is, on the surface, a critique of a bad relationship, but also seems pointedly political.
It’s a statement of tiredness of “lessons learned” and overdue change. Bizarrely, that change has likely happened since this song was written, was a complete disaster and we may end up back in the same situation. “Snowball” has a hazier quality, providing another remind of Nervous Twitch’s softer side, with the instant melody and lofi guitar jangle recalling The Vaselines.
“Some People Never Change” reminds us that, even in a world where we feel we are constantly coming and going, sometimes we just need something familiar that we can hold on to, to keep us keeping on. It’s out now via Reckless Yes.
FFO Parsnip, Primo, Jilted John, Pixies, The Buzzcocks, The Vaselines
Pixy Jones – Bits n Bobs
Pixy Jones will be familiar to fans of cult Welsh psych band El Goodo. ‘Bits n Bobs’ is his debut solo album under the moniker Pixy Jones. The album is exactly what it says on the tin; a collection of songs Wallace has put together over a number of years. Some tracks are old overlooked songs originally intended for El Goodo, others written specifically with the intention of adding them to this album.
Down to its psychedelic cover ‘Bits n Bobs’ feels like one of those long lost 60s albums that would be dug up by the likes of Lights In The Attic.
That some of these songs were overlooked is quite remarkable as the standard of songrwriting throughout is outstanding. ‘Bit n Bobs’ takes in The Byrds dreamy paisley pop on “I’m Not There”. The tremolo effected guitar chords, wispy organ and dulcimer solo root it firmly in the past. “I Got Lost” is a junkyard blues rock tune with Beatles-style vocal harmonies.
Fellow Welshman John Cale is an undoubted influence judging by the gorgeous “Confusion” which has more than a hint of “Candy Says” about it, while there’s a touch of The Zombies about “Bad Throat”.
The descending hook of “The Fool” draws instant comparison to The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon”.
To run through these possible influences is almost like describing fellow 60s revivalists The Coral. Funnily enough “Through The Valley” sounds a touch like the “Shadows Fall” from the debut album of the aforementioned.We could find a comparable song to every single track on this album but that would be to do it a disservice. “Maureen Dreams No More” is a fantastic garage psych track, bursting with energy and instant melodies.
There’s no doubting Pixy Jones’s melodic sensibilities, or his adaptability.
The sweet “There’s Something Wrong” takes us back even further into the past with its skiffle rhythms and “I’m Coming Home” successfully brings the soft US Country vibes with its magical lapsteel guitar accompaniment. The Beach Boys backing vocals of “Wind Street” are a joy, while “Dewch Draw”, sung completely in Welsh is a gorgeous ballad.
‘Bits n Bobs’ is, essentially, a love letter to a bygone era, rather than to just one specific genre. During a time where we increasingly view the past with rose-tinted glasses it feels like an escape to something more innocent and hopeful.
FFO El Goodo, The Zombies, The Byrds, The Coral, The Kinks
The Cool Greenhouse – Get Unjaded (single)
The Cool Greenhouse are back following 2020’s fantastic debut album. “Get Unjaded” was the first single to surface from their forthcoming new album ’Sod’s Toastie’. On this evidence they’ve lost none of their sardonic wit. The repetitive riff that revolves throughout is, essentially the tune to 2Unlimited’s classic “No Limits”. That’s, however, where this comparison ends. Tom Greenhouse’s critique of modern life is as pointed and playful as ever. It’s ridiculous to the point that Greenhouse calls for a guitar solo and we’re treated to a keyboard solo instead. This is perfectly acceptable in a world in which the truth counts for very little anymore in which we’re lead by people who seemingly use Bart Simpson’s “Do What You Feel Like Day” as their manifesto.
The album, ‘Sod’s Toastie’ will be released on 11th November via Melodic Records.