Review: Pocketbooks – Carousel

Friday, September 23, 2011

Having taken a little look around to see what the rest of the world thinks of them, it would seem it would be impossible to review Pocketbooks without mention of Belle and Sebastian, but my first thoughts upon hearing this London-based twee-pop quintet were of Tender Pervert era Momus. Admittedly, this may be because – I must here admit – I have only the one Belle & Sebastian album in my collection (The Boy with the Arab Strap) and have not heard anything since their Books EP of 2004. But I digress. The point I am trying to make with this opening paragraph is that, like those other bands unafraid to engage playfully with their words, pen yarns about such seemingly trivial topics as waiting tables on New Year’s Eve, losing the love of your life to stargazing and al fresco apple orchard all-nighters and do so over well-crafted piano and jangly guitar accompaniments such that each and every track oozes with delirious charm, conjuring images of cinematic summer days, all free-wheeling tandems, hands holding hands on park benches and the dizzy falling into new love, dropping the nod to Belle & Sebastian in your review does not quite do them justice.

Never mind a whole paragraph…

Instead, let us review Pocketbooks as an entity unto themselves. Well, everything I said above is true. Carousel is a joy from start to end. Andy Hudson – their chief songwriter – is a master of distilling life, where feelings of sweet abandon are here and there checked by bitter stings of regret at mistakes made, opportunities missed or trust misplaced, all penned with such aplomb and verbal agility as to vividly bring each scene to life. From the opening piano line and arpeggios of Fireworks at Midnight (itself revisited a little into the second half of the album, in The Flowers Are Still Standing, which seems to view the same scene from another viewpoint), the album unfolds slowly into being, adding a little at a time until leaving one last lingering note that explodes into the full band opening of Promises, Promises, replete with strings. The album proceeds to visit its different moods, maintaining both its energy and brightness throughout; even when lamenting life’s losses, there is joy to be found in the details – the inherent poetry found in coupling the vast expanse and the minutiae of everyday experience.

Pocketbooks’ various releases are available to purchase, with some streaming tracks and the occasional free download, from their Bandcamp store. Carousel is available direct from Odd Box Records or the usual:

Amazon: UK (MP3)

Pocketbooks: Official Website

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Review: Haunted House – Blue Ghost Blues

Friday, September 23, 2011

What is in a name? In a world where image is increasingly all-encompassing, you still feel that with many bands nowadays it is as though their name has been plucked from the air almost at random and means about as much to the project as does their choice of toothpaste. Klaxons aside, I really struggle to pick out many examples, from my increasingly wavering awareness of contemporary popular music, where you could see the name after hearing the music – or, indeed, vice versa – and think, But of course; how could they be called anything else? I am sure you could perhaps think of a couple names yourself, but the point is that these bands are in a tremendous minority, amongst whose ranks few fit quite so well as does Haunted House, Loren Connors’ latest group project with his wife Suzanne Langille, alongside Andrew Burnes and Neel Murgai.

Reminiscent of The Birthday Party at their rawest, Connors, Burnes and Murgai employ guitars and Indian hand percussion to create what is an undeniably solid, yet continuously strange and shifting, structure, from the depths of which Langille’s wailing cries are allowed to resonate, always seemingly just outside of your grasp, lingering at the edge of your vision, but feeling all the more a presence for this, something transient a human to try to hold onto – albeit not quite a comfort – in the otherwise all-encompassing swell of evolving, but never quite abating, menace, which wraps itself about you, pulses through and becomes you, and refuses to let you go until the last note fades. When it does, you feel as though, much as with Alice’s own White Rabbit, you have chased a dream, stepped out and let yourself fall beyond all that is familiar and comforting and, by allowing the seeming disconnected currents of dream logic to carry you, have found your way back into the warmth of the sun again. Yet a sense of yearning is left with you, as though some small part of you has been exchanged for something altogether other in a not-quite-of-this-world experience that it is only fair to describe as genuinely sublime.

Sample this closing moment in the bonus track of Blue Ghost Blues, White Rabbit:

Watch Loren Connors perform live at NewIdeas MusicSeries early last month:

Loren Connors – NewIdeas MusicSeries IX – 5.8.11 from Michael Waller on Vimeo.

Blue Ghost Blues is out now, available direct from Northern-Spy Records or from Amazon:

Amazon: UK (MP3) | US (MP3)


Overdue Reviews, Part 4: Manorlady – Home

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Photo by Laura DeAngelis

Homeliness, as those who have been following my online music appraisal career for some time will perhaps be aware, is a troubling concept for me. Therefore, an album that attempts to take on that topic head-on will usually manage to attract my attention; Manorlady’s Home, telling  the band’s “semi-fictional story of … finding their way Home”, certainly did.

Helping the concept hold together is the band’s familial ties and common origins. Consisting of husband and wife Aaron and Melissa Bailey along with her brother Donald Wooley (and sometimes drummer Tony DeAngelis – “brother of the band”), Manorlady identifies foremost as a “family band”. The three core members grew up in Eastern California before relocating to Charlottesville, VA.

It is the former that seems to have made the biggest contribution to their sound, however, as though exploring the Eastern Californian landscape, this album swoops and soars, riding the dizzying heights and the shadowy lows, doing wonders with their instruments and voices that successfully conjure the rich diversity of this terrain. The songs are diverse, ranging from the sheer intensity of International Boys Club, which opens like the climax of a western, where the crashing guitars may signify the last climactic stand-off as the lone sheriff facing the clutch of villainous gunslingers wanting to take over his town, to that of which you might consider the ‘eye of the storm’, Waltz for Couples, the saddest music box in the world. Throughout, the Baileys’ voices weave in and out and over and under each other, in a fascinating sort of slow danse macabre (the closest existent visual image I can think of as a comparison to this is the music video for Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance), and while Aaron typically leads this dance, when the two step together they fit so well as to seem part of one unified organic machine.

The subject matter of the lyrics themselves are not quite in keeping with the vast cinematic scope of this sound, ranging from “misbehaved pets, un-had vacations, reality television disasters, [to] disagreements over baby-making”. The juxtaposition is sublime. As the overarching theme of homeliness weaves in and out, various ideas as to what it is are presented, but in the end, with Sungazing, these thoughts are rather abruptly cut short and the question, “What or where is home?” seems to be left unanswered (or unanswerable), a starkly cold – but fitting – end to a tremendous debut album.

If “home” – the concept itself – could be said to be where the day-to-day trivialities are coupled with a sense of intense emotional significance, then this album nails it. If home feels like a shelter from a storm, it is that, too. And if home is simply something to which you want to return when its warmth has at long last faded, then – above all – Home is that.

Watch the video for the original Home Away EP version of Boy and Flippers:

Manorlady “Boy and Flippers” from Matthew Gatto on Vimeo.

And stream Home in its entirity here, or below:

Manorlady: Website | Digital Store (where a handful of freebies are available)

Purchase: Amazon UK (MP3) | US (MP3) … (or get it on CD direct from the band)