Flipsides & Otherwise: FAO #19

faoWhilst the relentless multi-front march of the internet is ruthlessly undermining the music industry as we know it, the sheer proliferation and over-production of recorded material can also be considered as part of the problem.  Too many bands barely give us a chance to breathe in-between albums these days, leaving us overfilled and exhausted trying to keep up with it all.  So it’s often a shrewd strategy for some artists to slip-off the radar for a few years; to leave fans lusting for a return, to craft something with a ‘less is more’ ethos and creatively recharge the internal batteries.  It’s an approach that has served many of our most loved artists well, with the likes of Neko Case, The Shins, Spoon and Tortoise being shining recent examples.  But of course, there are pitfalls to long-sabbaticals.  Creative intransience can set in, leaving artists lost in the studio with inevitable chemically-assisted blockages; lest we forget The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, Elastica’s The Menace and Kevin Shields’s long-procrastinated attempts to cut a third My Bloody Valentine LP.  There’s a fine line between taking a necessary break and breaking momentum.  It’s dichotomous debate which lingers behind the release of these two albums, both built as hiatus-closers.

 

CornershopJudy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast (Ample Play, CD/vinyl/download)

Cornershop - Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast

Cornershop - Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast

Although Cornershop slipped-out two standalone singles on Rough Trade after 2002’s Handcream For A Generation album – 2004’s tremendous Topknot/Natch and 2006’s somewhat underwhelming Wop The Groove – it seemed like a full-length return would be forever-delayed by backroom record deal mechanics, domestic priorities, a notorious unwillingness to play traditional or nouveau music business games (as best highlighted in a hilariously grumpy 2004 interview with The Guardian newspaper) and quite possibly some undiagnosed writer’s block.  But against towering odds, Tjinder Singh, Ben Ayres and compadres return with a record just waiting for a less-damp British summer to be aired in.  So enveloped in Cornershop’s contrary time-bubble, the eccentrically-titled Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast could probably have appeared at almost anytime in the last seven years.  Its relatively live-sounding immediacy doesn’t suggest years of meticulous studio-layering, particularly when compared to the richly-detailed Handcream For A Generation and its seminal 1997 prequel When I Was Born For The 7th Time.  The key difference this time around is that the multiple stylistic components of the Cornershop kaleidoscope appear to have been more consciously separated-out.  This is both record’s main strength and occasional weakness. 

Consequently, the group’s gospel-rock penchant is ratcheted-up successfully for the rousingly triumphant “Who Fingered Rock N Roll” and the joyous brass-powered bliss of “The Roll Off Characteristics (Of History In The Making)” but feels a little forced with the Primal Scream circa-Give Out But Don’t Give Up stylings of “Soul School” and the slightly plodding title-track.  Fresh dips into disco-funk for “Half Brick,” “Shut Southall Down” and “The Constant Springs” all provide playful but perhaps too brief electronically-manipulated interludes.  Happier connections with previous Punjabi-sung psychedelic sitar-powered Cornershop epics like “We In Yr Corner” and “6am Jullandar Shere” are made through the deliciously dense “Free Love” and the rubbery rhythmic pleasures of “Chamchu.”  Finally, the tussle between the group’s unpretentious pop nous and defiant reluctance to compromise is personified by a spry take on Bob Dylan’s oft-covered Basement Tapes nugget “The Mighty Quinn” and the sixteen or so meandering minutes of the closing “The Turned On Truth (The Truth Is Turned On).”  The latter loses the tug of war through its lack of adventure in using its length to really stretch things out; instead it merely floats along in an unproductive yet pleasant enough grit-free gospel-soul groove.  All in all, although Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast falls short of usurping its two must-hear predecessors, it’s still a reassuringly enjoyable and eclectic addition to the already bounteous Cornershop canon, that belies its drawn-out gestation.

 

The Kingsbury ManxAscenseur Ouvert! (Odessa Records, CD/vinyl/download)

The Kingsbury Manx - Ascenseur Ouvert!

The Kingsbury Manx - Ascenseur Ouvert!

Taking four years off the treadmill to start families and set-up a new record label, The Kingsbury Manx return with a collection that pretty much sounds like Bill Taylor and co. cryogenically-froze their collective muse until time was right to return to the studio.  Thus, this fifth album feels like the quartet needed to thaw themselves out gently and undemonstratively to avoid over-exerting complications; retreating back from the almost-speedy passages within 2005’s The Fast Rise And Fall Of The South.  Hence it is fuzzy analogue synths, honeycombed harmonies, delicate electro-acoustic guitar layers and pace-untroubled tempos all round.  Hooking-up with original producer Jerry Kee also seems like a self-conscious attempt to rediscover the magic that dripped from almost every note of 2000’s still-unsurpassed eponymous debut.  Sadly, it doesn’t reach that near-impossible high again, but at its best Ascenseur Ouvert! does at least match some of the strongest moments from 2001’s flawed-yet-enduring Let You Down. 

The lovely opening “Walk On Water” ushers things in beautifully with a dainty late-Byrdsian country lilt emphasised by Kee’s guesting pedal steel; the ensuing “Over The Oeuvre” bobs along with a plaintive XO-era Elliott Smith radiance; the divine rustically-shuffling “Well, Whatever” could be the band’s best fuss-free pop song to date; the waltzing “Crest” and the shimmering “Minos Maze” bring serene strings alongside chiming guitars and burbling electronics; and the stripped-down piano-and-voice-only “George Closing” rounds things off masterfully.  Betwixt these highpoints, there’s perhaps a few unmemorable makeweight pieces that suggest a tighter ten instead of fourteen tracks should have made the final sequence.  Moreover, a slighter crisper vocal mix would have made for a stronger dynamic range as well as helping to bring the many buried hooks and lyrical twists closer to the surface, without diminishing the ensemble’s endearing lack of ego.  Overall, Ascenseur Ouvert! is certainly no radical revelation for The Kingsbury Manx or the wider planet, but its hermetically-sealed pocket of sound provides a temporary soothing respite from our go-fast culture.