Dara Higgins revisits 2016 releases from Julia Jacklin, Tim Burgess, Dinosaur jr, The Divine Comedy, Mick Harvey & The Felice Brothers
It’s the end of the year, and it’s been a bloody one. So here’s a roundup of a few records that have piled up over the last 12 months and haven’t gotten a proper review. Entirely my bad. Direct all your ire to the usual address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Australian singer songwriter Julia Jacklin’s debut record Don’t Let The Kids Win is a pleasant enough experience. She has a nice voice, and strums away like it’s alt country time. It’s just songs. Not much more. No new ground is broken, but then breaking new ground is not the remit of most music, and let’s face it, who wants to listen to new ground being broken all the time. Sometimes you just want a pretty voice going through the motions of singing some words over some chords that are arranged in a perfectly acceptable, tried and tested way. Fair play, but the experience isn’t moving me.
The Felice Brothers are from America. That’s obvious on this record, Life in The Dark. It is slice after fat slice of almost self-conscious Americana, starting with Cajun inflected squeezebox of Aerosol Ball and going through every motion thereafter, repeatedly and often referring to different parts of the old USA in the same monotonous drawl. If this is your thing, you’re golden, listen away. Marvel at the odd stories and the monotonous drawl and the simplicity and verity of the bucolic production. If this isn’t your thing, join the fucking club.
Tim Burgess is an old hand at this game. He’s been doing the rounds since the late eighties, most notably with the Charlatans. There’s something timorous in Tim’s voice, always had been. A kind of sincerity. It never sounded forced, or ironic while also being limited in delivery. He’s no Maria Callas, to be fair, but he’s found his furrow and ploughed it well. Same Language, Different Words is a collaboration twixt Burgess and New York based avant garde composer Peter Gordon. On the face of it, an odd alignment, but on the record, it works. Starting out as shiny electro-pop the record veers through the modes; moody jazz horns, bippidy bopping drums, shiny Moroder-pop. The constant is Burgess, he’ll never change, there’s little room to do so, and the intrigue is less in the body of the tunes, but rather the shadowy melodies hanging around the corners, darkening the affair in a delectable way. Around offers the preppy pop, based around what sounds like the bossanova beat from a Yamaha keyboard. Being Unguarded is lowkey oodball, Ocean Terminus has a laid back, almost Kurt Wagner vibe. With Temperature High it continues with this laid back, stoney vibe. There’s no hurrying here. No pressure. The song revolves around Burgess’s hummed line for ten minutes. You’re bored, but then you’re not, you’re into it, then you’re in it. This is the sound of a man who’s discovered meditation.
Of course, this can come across as unfocused noodling. It’s a collaboration, after all, maybe there’s no bigger picture. Just lads working together, having a laugh, enjoying each other’s company and sharing ideas. Everything, therefore, comes across somewhat less than fully formed. Still, like Burgess himself, there’s an essential, almost ineffable likeability to the work.
Health&Beauty’s No Scare starts off with the hyperactive Back To the Place, a song that can’t decide where it wants to be at any given time, like some kind of Allman Brothers math rock. Health&Beauty is the moniker of Chicago based Brian Sulpizio and his collaborators and it’s his twangy guitar that dominates, like a hyperactive Josh Pearson. By the title track, the band have settled down a bit, and the muted picking here is the highlight of the record. Beyond Beyonce is a blues inflected melange of soloing and crashing chords that ends rather sweetly, and hints at something I’d like to hear more of. Im Yr Baby sprawls over 8 minutes and reaffirms the idea that this group works best when it tones down.
Mick Harvey has one of the most enviable CVs in modern rock history. The lad’s always busy. Somehow he’s found the time to reignite and expand his Serge Gainsbourough project on his latest release Delirium Tremens, the third act in his ongoing homage to the great French pop pioneer. Serge has plenty of songs, after all. Mick could spend the next ten years releasing covers and still not get them all.
It’s a difficult enough premise, given that many of the originals already sound so fucking good, but Harvey’s not one to give up. The versions are near literal, but beefed up and with an added edge of the raucous, especially audible in SS E’st Bon, and never veer from the original spirit, despite the fact that Mick has translated the lyrics and whacks them out in English. And who better than Mick to capture that toppy, bright bass beloved of so many Serge Tracks. Occasionally Harvey’s past shows, I Envisage creeping along like an old Bad Seeds number. The spirit throughout is fun, but it’s presented and performed throughout with aplomb.
Bowie, Prince, Emerson and Lake passed on in 2016’s cultural purging. Like I said earlier, it’s been bloody. But Dinosaur jr managed a new record. So that’s something, right? Right? Yeah. Whatever. Never a fan, I wasn’t moved to change my mind after Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. It sounds twenty years out of date, which is no doubt what they’re after, but somehow inauthentic. The drums do, however, sound terrific, and the guitars are loud and J. Mascis sounds exactly the same. Not just as he used to, but on every song. If there’s a melody to be had on this offering, it passed me by or I forgot it. Colonel Abrams, Pete Burns. They’re gone. Sometimes it just ain’t fair.
Speaking of which, The Divine Comedy were at it again. Neil Hannon spent so long pretending to be middle aged it must be a relief to have finally arrived. Foreverland sounds like the soundtrack to a palatial department store that’s secretly crumbling to the ground behind the glitzy chandeliers and Santa grottos. As ever with Hannon, there’s nary a note out of place, production is tight and playing is precise, but there’s nothing relevant to be found here.