Short Takes on Three Albums

Club 8 - The People's Record

Club 8 The People’s Record

Labrador Records

http://www.club-8.org/

Johan Angergård is a musical multi-tasker extraordinaire – as head of Labrador Records in Sweden and as a member of the bands Acid House Kings, Club 8, and The Legends.  Club 8 is actually a duo consisting of Johan and vocalist Karolina  Komstedt (formerly of Poprace) and they teamed up in 1995, releasing 7 studio albums, including this latest one.

The People’s Record is a bit of a departure from previous self-produced Club 8 albums, with Johan and Karolina employing producer Jari Haapalainen (whose production credits include the bands Camera Obscura and The Concretes) and a bevy of artists who help to open up Club 8’s sound.  Several songs contain sections where many people sing on the chorus, creating a warm and celebratory atmosphere.

Dynamic percussion and upbeat rhythms are key on this album and include kinetic hand drums, wavering and whistling keyboard notes, looping guitar patterns, and the aforementioned chorale vocals.  Karolina’s sweet, but slightly downcast vocals preside over each song, tempering the rhythmic and instrumental ebullience.  Prime examples of this stylistic melting pot include opener “Western Hospitality”, “Isn’t That Great”, and “Shape Up”, which adds organ notes, horn accents, and an alternation between fast and slowly drawn out tempos.

Karolina’s vocals float wispily and bittersweetly through “Dancing with the Mentally Ill” as a chorale sways between and with her lyrics of “I’m fading into them / as they are fading into me / we’re like clouds.”  A constant beat and thumbed bass line keep the pace lively even when Karolina sighs that she’s only “…happy when I’m dancing with the mentally ill.”  Karolina’s airy, longing vocals also revive “My Pessimistic Heart”, along with organ notes, hand drum beat, and a cycling guitar riff.

The same type of energetic hand drum beat, along with bass line, runs through “Back to A” as Karolina’s echoed vocals recall Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays without the girlish coyness as she murmurs “If you are weak / I’ll help you to breathe / …I will wait for you.”  The album’s last song, “The People Speak”, is more sonically reflective with its wood-clacking beat, hand drums, starry sprinkles of chimes, and Karolina’s sky-high vocals braced by a low-register male chorale.  Buzzing guitars cut out short-riff patterns as Karolina sings “I’m waiting for the day when I’m so much older / …I’m going to the air and sky when I die.”

Jo Gabriel - The Unreachable Sky

Jo GabrielThe Unreachable Sky

Ephemera

http://jogabriel.com/

This album is a reissue of singer-songwriter Jo Gabriel’s original, piano-based album released by in 2000 and it sports several changes including the removal of certain songs (“I’m OK”, “Mother May I”, “7 Little Secrets”, and “If Not) and the inclusion of others (“Ladders to Fire:”, “Quicksand”, and “Night Digging”).  The reissue is also almost all-instrumental with just a few wordless vocal accents.  The result is an instrumentally-rich, introspective, and moving album that belies its bittersweet title with stirring, piano-driven numbers.

Jo’s piano notes dance urgently, glimmering brightly and/or yearning melancholically, flowing like a human voice with an upwards reach to the liquid-like notes.  Jo usually plays two separate runs of piano, one in a lower range that frames the song, and one in a higher, lighter, voice-like line.  Instrumental variation is woven throughout the piano-based tapestry, with violins on “Tinderbox Waltz”, harpsichord and resonant strings on “Day Without You”, strings, guitar, and tolling bell on the somber “The Unreachable Sky”, orchestral strings on “Spill”, church organ on “The Grendel Inside”, drums on “Ladders to Fire”, and plunked piano notes on “I’m Still Okay”.

The contemplative tunes “Turbulent Silence” and “Danse Papusza” are reminiscent of the poignant and reverberating piano work on “Promenade Sentimentale” from the French film Diva.  Jo’s vocals grace “Day Without You” as she hums and breathes out a child-like “la-la, la-la” refrain.  “Glorify” features wordlessly crying vocals in the background that become more pronounced by the end of the song, with Jo sounding like Kellarissa amid loops of sitar-like orchestral strings.  Deep-space, sustained synths expand through “Cry” as Jo’s slightly distorted, aching wordless vocals move by in layers, while “Quicksand” slows the pace down with measured piano notes and beat and Jo’s ghostly, high-register vocal “Ooohs”.

Rat Wakes Red - Acres

Rat Wakes RedAcres

Rat Disk

http://www.ratwakesred.com/

Rat Wakes Red, AKA James Raftery returns with his third album in 11 years, produced by Jeral Benjamin and featuring James on vocals, guitars, and a multitude of other instruments (including piano, synths, organ, and tin whistle).  His cohorts include Matt Raftery on drums, Jeral Benjamin on viola, and a welcome guest vocal appearance by Hannah Fury on “Always”.

The songs on Acres have a gentle flow of strummed acoustic guitar and viola, with James mainly singing in either a hazy, low-key tone or a more pronounced exclamatory delivery.  The album runs long with 18 songs that for the most part aren’t distinguishable between themselves because of similar instrumental arrangements.  At times James’s sing-talking vocals aren’t in keeping with the music and he comes off too voluble or too plain.  His vocals are best on tracks where he uses a delicate, hushed tone, like on the appealing “Lights Out”, or a lighter register like on “So Much”, or even his lower tone on “Twitch”.

“Always” kicks off the album in mostly fine form with contemplative piano notes, sustained strings, Hannah’s delicate, hushed vocals, and James’s vocals that alternate between whispers and slightly jarring exclamations that sound like they were placed too high in the mix.  James maintains a pleasant tone on “Another Cut” amid picked guitar rambling and light woodwinds as he sing-talks “Who knew the rules never learned / went to his own school…”.

A slow pull of low-register strings is contrasted with a faster beat on “Crying Chair” as James’s vocals go from soft on the verses to loud on the chorus where he extends the image-based to abstract lyrics “…lessons worn / into wood is only childhood mourn.”  “Forestry” drifts by with muted woodwinds, cymbal tap and shimmer, wooden clacking, and deeper piano notes.  The introspective “I Heart” is plain, but plaintive, with a stop and start flow of strings, picked guitar, and the lyrics “Any wonder I heart / you hurt.”