The pop listener’s fear of the pollen count

Now that abnormal weather is the new normal, it feels like it has been a loooong sneezy season. I have been doing little more than popping antihistamins and hitting the beach; with summery pop music in my ears most of the time, of course!

The eagerly anticipated Francis Lung album ‘A Dream is U’ was released in the beginning of August and it is different both to the more experimental indie rock stuff he did as a member of Wu Lyf and the laid back home recorded pop of his two more recent EP’s ‘Vol I (Faeher’s Son)’ and ‘Vol II (Mother’s Son)’. However, the difference to the EPs is more in production than necessarily in songwriting. The sound here is layered and incredibly lush. The music is quite introvert and deal with, among other things, very contemporary identity problems. It all feels both intimate and unhurried. The effect is that of a bedroom recording done in a big studio, which gives the album a unique touch. The songs are great too, and show a strong Beach Boys influence.

Speaking of the Beach Boys, it is impossible not to hear their influence also on Roger Heathers on his latest album, ‘Next Week In Münster’, although there is also a lot of other stuff going on here. In fact, the standout feature of this album is exactly that over-the-topiness; songs stop and start and are full of instruments and ideas in a mid 70s way that make you feel rather overwhelmed the first time around. But I love this type of energetic and intelligent pop a lot and have been playing this album to death. Amazingly, it is only about 25 minutes long but you really have to double check that timing when you’ve listened because there is so incredibly much on offer here.

Speaking of much to offer in a small package, it is impossible to not mention the new EP by The Martial Arts, ‘I Used To Be’. The music here also shows its mid 70s influences but has a much more commercial sheen, more Elton John than Cockney Rebel if you get my point. And spice that with an ABBA influence or two. But that certainly does not mean lightweight as the songs on this EP are complex and grow with every listen. Although The Martial Arts sounds like a band (which I believe they were at the time of their sole 2006 LP, ‘Your Sinclair’), but this is the work of a single person, Paul Kelly, who has played with several other great Scottish acts such as How To Swim and The Radiophonic Tuckshop.

Check out the video below where Paul plays all the parts, and then make sure to get a copy of the EP, it is incredibly worthwhile. Unfortunately the EP is not on The Martial Arts Bandcamp site (but the album is, just a few copies left!!) but you can get it directly from the label, Last Night From Glasgow.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FfpOOBqBN8

Another small package is of course John Myrtle’s debut EP simply called ‘Here’s John Myrtle’. Although Myrtle also references that musical past, it is the quintessentially English side of that past that is at the fore here. The instrumentation is also much simpler, focusing on acoustic guitars, and there are few if any production flourishes. But all of this works to great effect as the songs themselves are allowed to take the front seat and show off their considerable quality.

if there is anything that disappoints with ‘Here’s John Myrtle’ it is that there are only four new songs, as the track ‘Cyril the slug’ already appeared on the excellent ‘Two Minute Bugs’ digital single last March. I honestly had hoped for more from Mr. Myrtle by now. But what is here absolutely raises expectations for a full LP through the roof. Classy stuff!

And you can’t of course talk about classy in this context without mentioning John Howard. As opposed to the other artists introduced in this post, he was there back then and debuted with ‘Kid In A Big World’ already in 1975. Very much an archetypal pop singer/songwriter of the era, combining the pop sensibilities and vocal capabilities of someone like the already mentioned Elton John, albeit with his own signature theatrical touch, his debut went nowhere on release. Although its reputation has been growing slowly and steadily ever since, I remember picking up a vinyl copy in the early 90s and it still cost next to nothing.

Even though John Howard is over 65 years old now, he is still making music, and his latest album ‘Cut The Wire’ is as classy as they get. While also being quite sparse, there is much more instrumental variation from track to track compared to John Myrtle. It is also soon obvious that Howard knows all the tricks in the book: Although the recording budget probably was not very big, the arrangements are great, the vocals are never less than superb, and Howard certainly has the musical ideas to go along with the craftsmanship.

Overall, an album full of songs that are every bit as good as they were in the 70s from an artist who no-one might really expect more from, yet turns out to be at the top of his powers.  Not only does Howard often run circles around younger musicians, strangely, he doesn’t sound a day older than them either. A little gem.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YepVprmtz1A

These records have been on repeat in my ears as I have been anxiously keeping an eye on the pollen count. But even though the pollen season is over now, I am still playing the music. You should be too!

2 thoughts on “The pop listener’s fear of the pollen count”

  1. Great for you to put in a word for the over 65s still writing and recording after all these years. One of problems is coming up with age appropriate lyrics – particularly for those of us who write primarily about ourselves. No one wants to hear that a particular guitar solo is now positively painful to play with arthritic fingers etc! I have written about serious illness (“Become my disease”, “Waiting”) but it’s difficult for people not going through the experience to latch onto. I’ve also tried to write about work (“The meeting”) but who wants to think about that? The other thing is people tend to want to tell you that the songs you wrote in the 1960s were better than your new ones, so it so refreshing to read you referring to John Howard as being at the height of his powers in his new stuff.

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    1. Thanks for commenting on that, Graham! I try to listen with an open mind, not always easy. I really think that John Howard’s new album is brimming with ideas – and he certainly knows how to make something of them 🙂

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