By Ed Dyer
Catgod – Heartbeat in My Hand EP
Downbeat melancholia can be something wonderfully uplifting. Bands like Sigur Ros, Bright Eyes, Frightened Rabbit and Death Cab for Cutie have made inspiring sadness an artform and Catgod are a band you can certainly add to that list.
This second EP from the band benefits from the more settled nature of the line-up – the driving force of Robin Christensen-Marriot now seemingly sharing the spotlight equally with his sister Catherine, a scenario which was always the best vocal combination on their previous EP, their contrasting voices conflicting strangely with the familial connection. Robin’s smooth baritone voice is soporific, and perfectly balanced with the more soaring and diverse voice that appears from Cat. Slight she might be but her vocals have a power and drive that surprises.
Musically this is a stronger record as well, it is certainly more coherent and less schizophrenic. Gone are the radical dynamic changes and obvious world music influences, this is a more streamlined and polished piece of floaty, sad dreampop, full of touches, flourishes and moments that suck you in and fade out the world around you.
This is a beautiful and rewarding record and something that deserves to propel Catgod into the ears of a wider audience.
Little Red – Draw Blood
Oxford’s premier folk-noir outfit strike again with a new album that crackles and oozes with all the drama you have come to expect from them.
These songs may still be rooted in dusty old folk traditions and still have a strange, dark, gothic twist to them, but now there is a much more rounded out band feel to them, as if the three core musicians, for so long a pastoral acoustic affair, have finally grown into the new sonic coat that a full band affords them. It works beautifully and if you are a listener of Tom Waits, Elliot Smith or Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads then there is something here for you.
As with past releases, the focal point is the three-part vocals; those harmonies and trading voices as Ian, Ben and Hayley, alternate lead vocal duties. It is this constantly shifting, flowing vocal dynamic that really serves as the fundamental motivator of the songs, complementing the increased scope of the music and adding deft layers. Think the dynamism of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue on Where The Wild Roses Grow and you are part way there.
This is one of those records that presents a new favourite song or favourite moment every time you listen, but then Little Red were always a band with huge promise and great song writing sensibilities. With Draw Blood they have fulfilled this potential.
Tamsin Quin – Gypsy Blood
It is high time this happened. The songs of Tamsin Quin have been crying out for years to have a bit of pampering in a decent studio with a full band. So, to finally get to hear this album is a treat indeed.
The songs have always been there, as has the personality. They just needed a wider canvas on which to flourish, and the cosy studio at Earthworm Amber and wise ears of producer Jon Buckett seem to have been the perfect environment. The band format has given them a life and freedom too (and what a band, a veritable who’s who of British Americana).
A couple of years ago Tamsin spent some time in Nashville, the home of country music, and the influence of this trip is writ large across this record. What had always seemed to be perky bluesy folk pop songs suddenly have emerged as fully fledged British Americana Country ballads.
Of course, this being Tamsin, there is always a cheeky glint in the eye and a little smile on the lips. The vocals still have the character she has always had in her voice and the lyrics are still as fun, wry and mischievous as ever.
This album and mark out this young writer and musician as one to watch, who, despite still being rough around the edges, has come on in leaps and bounds. Stunning.