Review: Almost Charlie – A Different Kind Of Here
Label: Words on Music WM43 CD Time: 36:55
Tracks: 1) Shadow Boy 2) Ambivalent 3) The Sadness Of The Snow That Falls In May 4) Defective 5) The Loneliness Of Sharks 6) Waiting 7) Robot 8) A Different Kind Of Here 9) Sunset In The Elysian Fields 10) Expect For Her Name 11) Gold 12) I’ll Still Be Missing You
At last, the songs of Dirk Homuth and lyricist Charlie Mason return, in the latest Almost Charlie album A Different Kind Of Here. It seems that the older I get, the more I lose track of how quickly time passes—it’s already been about 4-1/2 years since their last album Tomorrow’s Yesterday.
It’s so easy to get drawn-in by the inventiveness and wit in their well-crafted songs, the melodies, hooks and restrained arrangements. All of the songs in this album can be quickly committed to memory, and there they remain, added to the playlist of the mind, but they are not simplistic. These songs are deftly efficient, and don’t overstay their welcome—each of the twelve is about 3 minutes long, with the last, longest and most sonically impressionistic, I’ll Still Be Missing You. There are connections between the moods of the music, arrangements and subjects. Listen in …Missing You for the wistful sounds of an implied telephone busy-signal layered back in the mix of the sound effects. In Waiting, the rhythm is like the finger-tapping of impatience. Yet there are contrasts, the upbeat tune of The Sadness Of The Snow… deals with the unexpected and unwelcome shivers of a late winter storm after experiencing the tease of Spring.
Homuth’s singing (with a voice reminiscent of John Lennon’s) varies from near-whispers in Defective to full-throated vocals with a spirited string quartet arrangement in Gold. What’s different from their previous albums: A lyrics booklet is included with this album (YAY!), and while the subjects of the songs is still largely about relationships, they are far more introspective, and some are darker and tend more towards melancholy. The Loneliness Of Sharks is initially stark, and gradually adds layers symbolic of the pressures of the deep and the isolation of power. There is also a short and reflective piano instrumental, Sunset On The Elysian Fields.
Overall, the recording of the album is remarkably spatial. Initially, I listened to the album sitting at a distance in a chair, in my car while driving, and then sat closer to the speakers in my music room, and felt like I was in the studio with the musicians while they were recording—so praise to the musicians in addition to those involved in the recording (Rob Cummings in Berlin is credited). The title track, A Different Kind Of Here, in particular is just plain gorgeous, the acoustic guitar, especially.
And imagine, the two songwriters still have never met (according to all that I have read). Despite the distance, the magic remains. Next time Charlie, please don’t wait so long before returning. This album, like their others, immediately gets put in the “hit replay” category. The Words On Music label (celebrating their 20th anniversary as an independent music label) sells it direct from their website for a great price, but it’s also available through your favorite music sellers. While you’re at it, buy the rest of Almost Charlie’s back catalog, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a three track sampler of the album:
This is a solicited review.
Should – The Great Pretend
Words On Music – WM38 CD Time: 43:15 (To be released on March 25, 2014)
More on Should and the album: http://www.words-on-music.com/WM38.html
Tracks: 1) Don’t Send Me Your Regrets 2) Loveless Devotion 3) Mistakes Are Mine 4) In Monotone 5) Down A Notch 6) Everybody Knows 7) Dalliance 8) A Lonely Place 9) Amends 10) Gold Stars 11) Don’t Get To Know Me
I was around for the punk and post-punk eras (Wire’s Pink Flag and Chairs Missing being pretty prominent in my studio days along with early Talking Heads albums and many other bands and genres). I have to admit that I missed a great deal of the original Shoegaze bands largely due to austerity and having a young family, so other pleasant distractions reigned from the late 1980s into the late 1990s (although bands like Cocteau Twins, The Sundays and Scritti Politti found their way to my vintage stereo). I missed the early days of the band Should, but I remember their second album Feed Like Fishes from the edges, and their 2011 album Like A Fire Without Sound is a recent favorite (by then I was well out of my musical seclusion).
Relationships are often complex entanglements, whether one is embarrassed to admit being in one, longing to be in one (longing to be OUT of one, perhaps?), or preferring to be just plain left alone (whether misanthropic or morbidly shy). The songs on The Great Pretend have pleasantly simple and catchy foundations of melody, chords with lyrics of young and even mature longing or angst. The songs build gradually and the instruments and voices weave into dulcet yet deceptively intricate compositions. The album never sounds heavy, and if anything it’s ironically upbeat at the moments when lyrically it’s just the opposite (at times avoiding directness, shrouding emotions, much like the album’s stylized cover). A side note: The Great Pretend is also the title of the last track on Like A Fire Without Sound.
Don’t Send Me Your Regrets opens the album and is a sort of foreword, largely a verse without a chorus. To me, it’s more of a song fragment that sets a mood, much like some of F. M. Cornog’s East River Pipe songs like Wholesale Lies from The Gasoline Age. The one cover on the album (and it’s a great one) is Loveless Devotion by Over The Atlantic’s Nik Brinkman and Bevan Smith (from their album Dimensions) and it’s a softer interpretation with staggered harmonies from Marc Ostermeier and Tanya Maus accompanied by crisp guitar and bass. The rougher edges of the original version appear towards the end of the song.
What’s a bit different on this album compared to Should’s last is that rhythms seem more energetic (dare I say danceable?) as in Mistakes Are Mine, Everybody Knows (with drum machine and statement-response lyrics) and Dalliance, yet there are moments (like In Monotone) that are more contemplative with gentle keyboards, light electric guitar and drums; it’s a Shoegaze One Note Samba.
Down A Notch is an excellent first single for the album, another example of an upbeat song with paradoxical lyrics. A Lonely Place is a duet reminiscent of some of Brian Wilson’s songs from the romantic yet melancholic Pet Sounds era, it reminds me of Caroline No. Amends explores a darker mood and sound. Gold Stars is like a gentle sonic waterfall, similar to Turned Tables from Like A Fire Without Sound.
The album closes with the curiously upbeat yet shy introspection of Don’t Get To Know Me, and there it is again, the complexities of relationships and emotions—songs that often express feelings better when one is at a loss for words.
What’s Spinning – Deep Winter Edition
I need some warmth on these cold winter days…
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour
I love Ron’s work (another thoughtful Canadian songwriter—imagine that?!). He writes such great songs. My problem with his work, at times, is that sometimes his songs are just too sad, but Ron has a gift for making a sad song curiously uplifting, like Michael and His Dad from his last album Long Player Late Bloomer. I started listening to Ron’s work in 1997 with his third album Other Songs (produced by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake—coincidentally Froom produced Suzanne Vega’s Nine Objects of Desire the previous year, another favorite album of mine). Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith.
The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album.
Nowhere To Go
Lorna – Heart of Wire
http://www.words-on-music.com/index.html and http://lornatheband.com/bio/
This is Lorna’s third album on the Words On Music label. The collective from Nottingham, UK creates dreamy contemplative songs with shy vocals and delicate harmonies. I’ve read of some comparisons to Yo La Tenga, but Lorna’s instrumentation tends to be more complex, and chamber-like at times. I think that this is their most direct album of the three for Words On Music—their sound is more confident, but they haven’t lost the softness and (at times) melancholy of their lyrics. I think the strongest songs on this collection are As She Goes By, Old Shanklin Sunset and Mina and Marco (with a delightful melodic phrase sample borrowed from composer Edward Elgar).
Daphne Lee Martin – Moxie
http://daphneleemartin.com/ and http://telegraphrecordingcompany.com/
A woman after my own heart—part record store owner, part musician; for many years, Daphne has been part of the New London, Connecticut-based band Raise The Rent. Moxie is the first of two releases (the forthcoming being Frost), and is a sultry collection of songs of the (only mildly) lurid backstreets of her imagination (with the added bonus of occasional Mellotron accompaniment!). There are shades of the cheekiness of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the “heat” of mid-1970s Maria Muldaur in this well-produced album. I have an idea for what to expect from Frost—counterpoint!
Heligoland – Sainte Anne
http://heligoland.org/ and http://heligoland.bandcamp.com/
Sainte Anne is the latest EP from the Paris-based Australian quartet known as Heligoland. Their work in the last few releases has come under the wispy spell of producer and musician Robin Guthrie (who also plays occasional keyboards and bass), so it was only natural that I try their work. My favorite tracks on this EP are Sleepless and 22 Miles—peaceful ethereal guitar and bass balanced with gently pulsing drums and Karen Vogt’s warm and full vocals (channeling, at times, the sound of Christine McVie with a bit of vibrato). Other band members are Dave Olliffe (guitars and keyboards), Steve Wheeler (bass) and new member Antti Mäkinen (drums and percussion). Their previous albums and EPs include: Bethmale (recorded in 2010 and released in 2012), All Your Ships Are White (2010) and A Street Between Us (2006).
Corazón from their album All Your Ships Are White
And even more wonderfully creative releases from the Flau label in Japan… I can’t possibly buy them all, so one must be…somewhat…selective.
http://flau.bandcamp.com/ and http://www.flau.jp/top.html
The Boats – Our Small Ideas (2012 Edition)
I have thoroughly enjoyed the various releases by The Boats (Craig Tattersall and Andrew Hargreaves with Danny Norbury, Chris Stewart and others). Our Small Ideas is a re-release and enhancement of an original 2008 CD-R. Contained in this work are the often quirky and sometimes fragile and nascent threads of pieces to be released later (and some are quite recognizable). This album is not unlike the approach of CD #1 of Tape Loop Orchestra’s The Words On My Lips Is Your Name/The Burnley Brass Band Plays On In My Heart.
Sound samples are here (since The Boats seem to eschew Soundcloud): http://www.flau.jp/releases/r09.html
El Fog – Reverberate Slowly
This is a solo project of Berlin-based vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita, a light blend of acoustic instrumentation with a tranquil late night aura of electronics and subtlest of glitchy rhythms.
Masayoshi Fujita – Stories
Stories is an album of solo acoustic vibraphone works (with occasional violin and cello). Whether struck gently (as in Snow Storm) or bowed (as in Cloud), Fujita paints vivid, yet tender sound pictures. Some pieces are rhythmically playful, and could form the foundations for musical conversations (much like those between Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap on their album Every Step A Dance, Every Word A Song). This is an appropriate soundtrack for gently falling snow. The album is beautifully mastered by Nils Frahm.
Swan and Morning Dews
Graham Gouldman – Love and Work
Graham Gouldman has been writing songs since the days of The Yardbirds (For Your Love), and many others like Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, before formally crossing paths with Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley (Hotlegs) who later became 10cc with a long string of albums with sharp, witty and often sardonic songs. Love And Work is an album of twelve beautifully crafted and wide-ranging songs.
The album dedicated to the memory of Andrew Gold, and the song Daylight is about Andrew. They worked together as the duo Wax and earlier on some of 10cc’s later albums.
I’ve seen Graham and Ron Sexsmith appear together on BBC Songwriters Circle programs. Perhaps Graham and Ron will work together someday…
For Your Love
Happy Listening–Stay Warm!
A List Too Small – My Favorites of 2012
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)[vimeo http://vimeo.com/46499688]
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Machinefabriek & Celer: http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/ & http://www.thesingularwe.org/fs/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Review: Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday
Words On Music – WM33: CD Time: 42:17
Record Label Website: http://words-on-music.com/
More on this release:
http://words-on-music.com/WM33.html & http://words-on-music.com/almostcharlie.html
Artist Website: http://www.almostcharlie.com/
Available at: http://darla.com/
1) Hope Less; 2) Open Book; 3) Sandsong; 4) Man Without A Home; 5) A Nice Place To Die; 6) Tomorrow’s Yesterday; 7) Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years; 8) Cummings; 9) Youth Is Wasted On The Young; 10) Undertow; 11) When Venus Surrenders
I have a broad rotation of albums, all sorts of genres (I listen to more than ambient and electro-acoustic works, despite what some might think from my reviews). Since its release in 2009, Almost Charlie’s album The Plural Of Yes (TPOY) hasn’t been too far away from my CD player. It’s a great album of songs written in the tradition of Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Burt Bacharach and Hal David, musician and lyricist working separately. In the case of Berlin’s Dirk Homuth (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and New York City’s Charlie Mason (lyricist), they still haven’t met in-person and aren’t separated by “two rooms”, but two continents and an ocean. It’s evident, however, from their work together that they communicate well, no matter what the distance.
Tomorrow’s Yesterday is the latest release, and I’m really happy that Almost Charlie has returned after three years with more beautifully crafted and skillfully recorded songs. There are familiar faces in the band: Sven Mühlbradt on bass and Pelle Hinrichsen on drums and percussion with the addition of Bert Wenndorff on piano as well as other supporting musicians.
For those unfamiliar with Almost Charlie, I find similarities to the songwriting and sound of bands like The Beautiful South, The Autumn Defense and some of the less raucous songs of the Fountains of Wayne. I’d even compare some songs to works by 10cc (either written by Eric Stewart/Graham Gouldman or Kevin Godley/Lol Creme). Similarities to the Beatles are also unmistakable (especially the voice of John Lennon with a bit of George Harrison on the track Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years). There are marvelous wordplays, edges of wit and subtle metaphors in the lyrics resulting in this latest collection of musical gems.
The feeling of Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a bit more pensive and acoustic than TPOY, but there are upbeat, playful and spirited tracks too. Instrumentally, the foundation of most of the songs is guitar, bass, drums and piano, but many of the tracks are delightfully punctuated with brass, woodwinds, sitar and dobro guitar. Some of the finest moments are simply acoustic guitar and Homuth’s vocal harmonies, as on Sandsong, which is a bit melancholy and reflective. In this album there are songs of relationships, a sense of realism, but not resignation; acceptance and contentment, but also a feeling of hope as in Cummings. I also appreciate that the recording is crisp and sounds like a live performance in the studio with minimal processing. There was only one point (at the end of the last track) where the recording was sounding saturated on my equipment, but I stress this is a minimal issue.
Hope Less (a song of setting expectations) begins with acoustic guitar and harmonies and then advances into a march of sorts. This and Open Book are great examples of the smart wordplay in the lyrics, double-meanings, literary references and a deft efficiency of expression. Man Without A Home and Youth Is Wasted On The Young are ironically upbeat ruminations with shades of The Byrds (electric guitars), syncopated rhythms and are gently arranged with brass and strings respectively. A Nice Place To Die has a lively rhythm and bluegrass roots-music vibe with dobro and violin solos. Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a stark and melancholy observation on the passage of time, and perhaps more than any other track Homuth is channeling John Lennon’s voice (literally and figuratively).
Undertow (a favorite of mine) has power in its symbolism and realism; the words and music combined are indeed greater than the sum of their parts. The passage “The more I try to fight it; Its grip on me is tightened…Overwhelmed by the undertow” is about as close to perfect as it gets. The closing track When Venus Surrenders builds from a quiet beginning, and is the longest and most ambitious song on the album, similar to the spirit of The Monster and Frankenstein from TPOY with a nod, I think, to The Beatles’ Let It Be.
As The Plural of Yes was in 2009, Tomorrow’s Yesterday is one of my favorite song-albums of 2012. Perhaps next time lyrics could be included in the package, since they are such an integral part of the songs. The Homuth and Mason formula works, the chemistry is still there, and I hope they continue to write songs together and we hear much more from Almost Charlie in years to come.