John HowardIt’s still Piano Day somewhere in the world (West Coast of the USA in fact, for another few hours) so here’s another song to feature piano as the only instrument.

“Preservation” is a track from a solo album released late last year by Spain-based English singer-songwriter John Howard.

When John Howard’s 1975 album “Kid In A Big World” was reissued to wide acclaim in 2003, it marked his return to writing and recording after twenty years of silence.  Whereas his previous most recent ‘comeback’ album – ” John Howard & The Night Mail” – was a band album, “Across The Door Sill” is very much a solo work, featuring just layered piano and voice, and songs investigating the process of dreams, inspired by 13th Century poet Rumi’s Quatrains.

The influence of John Howard’s own songwriter heroes – Laura Nyro and Roy Harper in particular – are often mentioned in reviews, because of the nature of the long-form, languidly organic compositions and absence of the usual verse/chorus/middle-eight song structure.

However, there’s also much in common on “Across the Door Sill” with the kind of territory John Grant claims today when he sits at a piano. In other words, some richly detailed storytelling (or reflecting on life, the universe and our place within the puzzle), and some elegant dynamic and ever-shifting piano playing.

While the playing here is a kind of classic lounge-pop style of piano rather than jazz, there’s a flowing, fluid, almost improvisational wandering feel at times during the album which reminded me of the playing of multi-instrumental jazz musician Alice Coltrane when I first heard “Across the Door Sill”.

The album – 5 songs stretching out to 8 or 9 minutes – is a late night listen for me. It’s not exactly ‘difficult’ music – it’s too approachable and melodic for that – but it does require a bit of attention and a few listens to reveal its full mastery.

And, because it’s Piano Day, here’s a video of a grand piano… played by a youthful John Howard in a 1975 TV performance:

Piano Day Nhung Nguyen Sleep Orchestra.jpgToday (29 March) is Piano Day for 2017. The 88th day of the year (88 keys on a piano, of course). There’s days for everything but the piano is as deserving as anything to have its day. And who better to celebrate Piano Day with than PopLib’s favourite ambient piano-loving sound creator Nhung Nguyen, who has collaborated with Sleep Orchestra to create this dark, mysterious and elegant piece “Disparate” –

Sleep Orchestra provides the electronics, and Nhung Nguyen the piano. The electronic sounds mix sombre, snarling ambience with a sense of dread and unease, behind which builds a pulsing, anxious beat. The piano’s ominous chime and alternating chords sound like the warning toll of a navigational buoy sounding in the fog. The soundscape created by this combination of the traditional (piano) and the new (electronic sound) captures perfectly the mood of 2017 so far…

If you haven’t already visited Nhung Nguyen’s Bandcamp there’s a superb back catalogue of EPs to get lost in. Some are built around piano sounds and loops (both Nostalgia and Winter Stories are recommended starting places)  while others mix street sounds with a variety of electronic sounds and treatments (check the dreamy For June EP).

wurldseries_2016_ben-woodsChristchurch guitar-botherers Wurld Series are back with a full-length album called “Air Goofy”, fittingly available on cassette. Here’s the second song “Rip KF” for you:

It’s ‘fittingly’ on cassette because it was recorded on cassette, via a Tascam 424 4-track cassette recorder, staple of a generation of bedroom DIY artists in previous decades, and it seems again today.

As we’ve heard from previous tunes and EPs and songs like “Orkly Kid” and “Rabbit” which are both included here, the spirit of early rough-genius Pavement is undeniably strong in Wurld Series at times – twisting fuzzed out guitars and stream of unconscious life lyrical flights.  But so is the spirit of the 3-Ds from closer to home, who arguably influenced Pavement with their eccentric lead guitar shapes and angles atop lurching fuzzed out guitar skronk-pop.

If “Rip KF” – complete with shared lead vocal between guitarist/ vocalist Luke Towart and guest vocalist Tyne Gordon – represents the more middle-of-a-rough-road-to-nowhere melodic guitar pop side of “Air Goofy” then there’s much variety on either side of that median. Check out the thrilling “LT’s Struggle” for an alternative example.

Another great addition to both the Wurld Series and the Melted Ice Cream label catalogues. Don’t just take PopLib’s word for it. UK music blog Did Not Chart has also been singing the praises of this rough diamond.

 

 

Kikagaku MoyoJapanese sonic adventurers Kikagaku Moyo are back with a new album called “Stone Garden” out 21 April. Here’s the pulsating kaleidoscopic swirl of “In a Coil” to set your mind on fire:

Kikagaku Moyo came to PopLib’s attention a few years ago with the beautiful album “House in the Tall Grass” which mixed heavy-psych rock, Krautrock and more pastoral acoustic psych-folk together into an accessible album.

This track is the only preview track available for the new album so we’ll have to take the word of their label – Guru Guru Brain – that this album is more experimental, built around lengthy improvised jams. “In a Coil” comes over like the most frantic passages of the previous album condensed into one mesmerising 6 minute trip through space and time, a quivering sitar coda adding an Eastern air to this Neu! influenced pulse of cosmic music. It’s an understatement to say this is a promising introduction to the new album.

Foxy Morons FB.jpg

We first met Foxy Morons back in January through tracks from two fine Hobart, Tasmania underground music compilations. Here’s another song from them – “Home” – which comes from a self-titled 6-song cassette EP, released last month by Wrong Place (right Time) Records.

The music on “Home” – all languid strummed guitars and cascading fairground organ – sounds like it could have come from an early single by The Chills played at the wrong speed.

The guitars here are strummed in the classic Velvet Underground chug. Attitude is elevated above slavish attention to technical mastery, as it always should be. It’s all about the song and the performance and the experience it represents.

“Home” is a simple song about trying to avoid returning to a cold house, and looking for a dog. In the fog of course. As with Dunedin bands, it appears weather, cold houses and pets offer plenty of inspiration for songwriting in Hobart, Tasmania.

There’s plenty of other fine songs on the EP and the cassette looks like it’s getting another production run so head on over  to the Wrong Place (Right Time) Bandcamp page.  While you are there, check the back catalogue items from Foxy Morons and other Tasmanian lo-fi & DIY music gems on display.

 

 

AuvaAüva hail from Boston, Massachusetts, in the US of A and “Glitter & Weed” is from a recently released 3 track EP available for free download. It’s wonderful, so go forth and discover it and the rest of their back-catalogue too:

It’s one of many great indie pop songs (mostly available via the artists’ Bandcamp pages) discovered via this an excellent playlist “How Did We Make It This Far?” from The Shadow of the Wall music blog.

Aüva’s “Glitter & Weed” reminds me of Canadian band Alvvays. The music is chiming synth-backed guitar pop, packed with sing-along melodic hooks and wonderful lyrics like “Glitter and weed and LSD / All of my friends moved in with me.”

The combination of the dolorous voice of Jack Markwordt (I’m assuming he’s the male lead voice on these) and the brighter, lighter voice of keyboard player Miette Hope also gives the song (and the rest of the EP) a nice kind of human contrast, particularly combined with the wry, articulate lyrics in these “sweet and sad songs about friends and lovers” (according to their Facebook page bio). It’s the kind of literate pop that fans of Anthonie Tonnon, Jens Lekman, and the above-mentioned Alvvays should instantly appreciate.

Drahla_Jan2017“Is it real? Is it real?” asks Luciel Brown throughout this potent follow up to the thrilling debut “Fictional Decision” by Leeds-based trio Drahla – PopLib’s essential song of 2016.

The song is due for release in April on the Too Pure label’s singles club. Coruscating bass sets a platform for a typically cool and mysterious sing-speak stream-of-consciousness artful wordiness.

The song builds through dense layers of sonic energy as guitars buzz and menace before pulling back, introducing saxophone – some of the best wild skronking saxophone since The Stooges “1970” from their “Funhouse” album in fact – and then re-calibrating the volume for climactic ending.

It all adds up to a powerful statement and the fulfilling experience of a song merging elements of post-punk with art pop and noise rock and leaving some mystery and intrigue in its trail of beautifully dissonant noise.

The only band I can think of who may have been within striking distance of what Drahla are doing right now was Sonic Youth at the absolute apex of their dark abrasive melodic cool, around the time of their 1987 album “Sister”.