Tomas Barford – True to You

The melancholy tones of Gruff Rhys and the precise electronica of Tomas Barfod make for ideal companions in this Record Store Day release, out later this month on Secretly Canadian. And not to sound like a broken record myself, but this is a label with some seriously high quality releases so far in 2014.

The electronic pulses and Rhys’ vocals give the track a similar feel to “Some Things Come From Nothing”, which appeared on the Super Furry Animals 1999 album Guerilla.

If you like this (hint: you should) then you should enjoy that track, too:

True to You goes beyond the sonic and lyrical limitations of “Some Things Come From Nothing”, taking flight into a beautiful new realm of electronic pop balladry.

True to You is out on… well, obviously it’s out on 19th April, as that is when this year’s Record Store Day will be taking place.

Big Star – Take Care

As the members of Big Star fought and scratched at each others mental fragility, occasionally stooping to deliberately sabotage recording sessions for their third and final album Third/Sister Lovers, they were at the same time somehow turning out some of their most bittersweet ballads. Other songs from the album might be more harrowing (Holocaust), more chaotic (Kangaroo), or more loving (For You), but it’s in the closing three songs that you find the truest beauty. “Nightime” and “Blue Moon” could close any show on their own, but here they are like a one-two set-up to the sucker punch that is “Take Care”.

Although the tracklisting for Third/Sister Lovers was argued over, and disputed, and never fully agreed, that “Take Care” would be the album’s final track was the one decision everyone could agree on. It really feels like an end to everything: Alex Chilton sings it like a man waiting for his time to pass, drums crash in and echo out, total collapse doesn’t sound far away. But at its center, there’s a string arrangement that seems as though its been transported from a society ballroom, serenely holding the song together as it keeps its players apart. And then, with a calm farewell, it’s gone.

This sounds a bit like goodbye
In a way it is, I guess
As I leave your side
I’ve taken the air

Take care, please take care
Take care, please take care

Metronomy – Reservoir

Do you ever have songs that make you smile just to hear them? Songs where you can’t shake a piece of the melody for days on end, or songs that you like so much that even though you know the song perfectly from start to finish it always gets all jumbled up when you listen to it in your head just because there are so many little moments you simply cannot wait to hear that you have to keep leaping from halfway through a verse to the middle eight and back down to the intro?

I wouldn’t want to be without them.

And “Reservoir” is so simple, yet so perfect. Why spend your time or money on elaboration when you can construct pop out of a simple keyboard melody and a not terribly intricate drum programme?

The Waterboys – Mad as the Mist and Snow

William Butler Yeats has long been an influence on the song-writing of Mike Scott of The Waterboys, but only an occasional trickle of tracks had directly come from adaptations of the poet’s works. Then, in 2011, came An Appointment with Mr. Yeats – fourteen compositions that use poetry by Yeats as their lyrical source. The idea brought with it a very real risk of embarrassing, cloying, failure – music is not poetry; poetry is not music – but as Mad as The Mist and Snow shows, when treated right, the results can be spectacular.

It helps, naturally, if you have a proclaimed fiddle legend like Steve Wickham on hand to provide sensational energy and drive – in doing so, taking the fiddle far from its post as folksy add-on and dropping it square into the middle of the rock group.

Micah P. Hinson – I Keep Havin’ These Dreams

It starts about 30 seconds in: after a simple picked guitar intro, a single mournful violin speaks of loneliness. Friends appear: a quartet is formed; together they weave a spell of downy softness. Hinson’s gravel tones intercede; by now you are as lost as Hinson in the subject of his song – “you could say that I need another day, but I don’t think I need anything but you”.

It’s immaculate and exquisite. All through, it showcases Hinson’s ability to leave a note or a phrase just dangling, out there, and then follow it up with a well judged silence. You can almost hear every moment of pain in the cracked voice. This is a man who experienced homelessness and drug dependency following his need to escape a suffocating small-town childhood. And all this before – even – the near-fatal car accident while on tour in Spain in 2011 that left Hinson unable to use his arms during the recording of his most recent album – Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing.

Ryan Adams – Rocks

After the slightest dip in form, some artists appear doomed to suffer their every release being described as “a return to form”. With each new album, amnesiac journalists will wonder: is this the one? Is this the return to form? It rarely is, of course. The return is exaggerated, as was the supposed decline.

Ryan Adams (not to be confused with Bryan Adams, his wikipedia page states with tongue not observably in cheek) has returned to form perhaps as many times as any bar, perhaps, Morrissey. Ashes & Fire (2011) is the latest of his resuscitations, released almost exactly a decade after Gold, the album that brought him his first mainstream success, mostly on the back of the video for “New York, New York”, which was filmed against a backdrop of the twin towers only a few days before the September 11 attacks.

“Rocks” saw Adams bereft of the rock, metal, and Cardinals of many of his previous albums, indulging instead his tender acoustic side – the alt-country beauty from his old Whiskeytown and early solo days.

It was, unmistakably, a return to form.

The Smiths – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

I love wikipedia. You get to learn all sorts of interesting facts about songs. Did you know that “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” was originally in F# minor, before being transposed to C# minor for the final recorded version? Did you also know that ‘the song features an ascending F#m–A–B chord sequence that guitarist Johnny Marr took from The Rolling Stones cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike”‘?

I did not know either of those facts [for shame! Ed.]. What I did know was that it “suffers from an arrangement that utilises synthesised strings and the like, which simply detracts from the thrust of the performance, making it sound camp”. Or at least I know that was the opinion of the very brilliant music journalist Nick Kent, reviewing The Queen is Dead for Melody Maker on its release in June 1986. (Source: The Queen is Dead review).

Just because he could be brilliant, doesn’t mean I have to agree with him, however. As much as I’d love to know what it would sound like if there had been enough money in the recording budget to afford the luxury of a string section, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” gets by just fine with its cheaper substitute. Perhaps, even, smuggled in behind Morrissey’s unashamedly open-hearted lyrics and delivery, I’m not even hearing the synths; instead I’m imagining and listening to a chorus of violins. And that’s how I get a song that features no strings into a playlist all about them…

Fanfarlo – Cell Song

Unperturbed by my continuing failure to review their (spoiler alert!) wonderful Let’s Go Extinct, Fanfarlo have pressed on manfully, releasing another video from the album, this time for the (spoiler alert!) beautiful “Cell Song”. In it, animation mingles with live action, providing suitably flowing imagery for the song, itself a pitch-perfect piece of intelligent indie-pop / pop-indie.

Mumm-Ra – Lizzy Lu

When I wrote about Mumm-Ra’s fabulous track She’s Got You High last summer I mentioned that the band were recording again, having split up after releasing just a single album, and that a new album was “imminent”. But this didn’t stop me, yesterday, from suggesting Mumm-Ra in response to this tweet:

It was only after checking Wikipedia, then finding the news of a new album on the Mumm-Ra web site that I remembered to use my own writings as a source. This either says a lot about how difficult it is to keep up with the amount of music news and releases these days, or a little about how mid-term memory starts to fail as you get older…

Either way, I’m not too inundated or aged to be anything less than very excited indeed at the prospect of new Mumm-Ra material, and the good news is that the excitement is not met with an equal and opposite force of disappointment. Lizzy Lu is just one of a number of catchy indie tunes on Back to the Shore that confirm Mumm-Ra as much more than a one-time-only act.

Here’s hoping for more of the same in the future, at which point I’ll no doubt be pencilling them in for a list of artists who sadly only recorded two albums before splitting up.

The Wonder Stuff – Golden Green

I sometimes feel that the “90s gets a bad rap, with its whole ‘decade that fashion forgot” tag. And then I watch a video like this (yes I know this single came out in November 1989, but you have to allow for a certain amount of decade-bleed, don’t you think?) and I kind of have to conclude that maybe the critics have got a point after all. There are some not very good clothing choices on show here.

But it doesn’t make any sense! I lived through this time, and I can say with strong certainty and unwavering conviction that I felt so lucky to be living in such a modern age: we had CDs, for goodness’ sake; you could record programmes from the telly; there was the luxury of 8-bit gaming; microwaves!

Above all, freed from the nightmare of ’70s disco naffness, and that whole ’80s bright lights and burning neon sensation, we had the best music that there was, and ever could be. And we had Kingmaker. It was the best of times, it was the second-best of times.

We had The Wonder Stuff, who my bumper book of sometimes-not-completely-fabricated band name origins tells me got their name from a time John Lennon visited lead singer Bill Hunt’s house (Bill being a member of Wizzard, and uncle to Wonder Stuff lead singer Miles Hunt) and remarked that a young and sparky Miles had “the wonder stuff”. It’s a story Miles used to tell, and Miles being known for the occasional bout of chest-puffing, it’s probably just that, and no more.

But they were fun, however they got their name. Fun, fun, fun until they met Vic Reeves and annoyed everyone by being very popular indeed with their cover of “Dizzy” – OK for a while but they’d already lobbed the chirpy “Size of a Cow” at an unsuspecting public and it was all getting a bit much now. Clearly it was getting a bit much for the band as well, who released a final, more serious-sounding, and actually pretty decent final album, Construction for the Modern Idiot, in 1993, before touring for a near-eternity and then breaking up in 1994.

By this time, of course, we were all living in an inconceivably modern age, thankful to be rid of the late ’80s and early ’90s: the age of Pentium was upon us, and we all wore very good clothes indeed.

Yann Tiersen – A Midsummer Evening

It’s always exciting to hear of something new from the talented Yann Tiersen. Here, on the first track from forthcoming album ∞ (Infinity), the man of many instruments and at least as many styles does not disappoint. “A Midsummer Evening” delivers layer upon layer within layer: tinky tonky toytown tones rubbing up against a steady and reliable rhythm section, backed up by a choir of angels. Somewhere in there, I think a violin is pretending not to be a violin.

The only problem is that it’s all over a bit soon, which possibly explains why I’ve already listened to this radio edit at least a dozen times in a row.