Balearic Mike`s Musical Diets / Week 13: 26/04/2021

Words & selections by Balearic Mike.

Common Saints – Idol Eyes E.P. – Starsonics 2020

Common Saints Idol Eyes

I’d be bigging this record up with platitudes like “record of the year so far…”, etc. except that the fucker came out late last year and I missed out! Don’t worry though, it’s just been re-pressed in slightly more realistic quantities, so we can all enjoy. And by god it needed it. In any fair and just world this record would sell a few million copies, and the band could all buy the yachts that this music sounds like it was made to be played on.

What you have here is 5 tracks of the most sublime blue-eyed soft rock you’re likely to hear this year, or most years. In bygone days this would be hailed as “Balearic’, but it’s now more likely to get tagged with the ‘yacht rock’ label. Whatever … who cares … it’s flipping gorgeous. The influences are pretty obvious – David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, Steely Dan, Loggins & Messina’s Pathway To Glory, Ned Doheny, as well as some more contemporary artists like Claremont 56 Balearic supergroup Paqua, Psychemagik, A Mountain Of One, and Kirk Degiorgio’s criminally overlooked The Beauty Room LP from 2006. If you like these artists – and let’s face it, if you’re bothering to follow me / read this, you probably do – then you will love this. But the thing that makes this so special and really sets it apart is the quality of the songs, which from the opening title track is just outstanding. I was smitten about a minute in. The epic 9-minute Lovesong is a highlight, but there aren’t any low points. Go seek! They have a Bandcamp page where it’s in stock.

Inspired by the Common Saints EP, I’ve just dug this out for the first time in ages… 

The Beauty Room – The Beauty Room – 2006 Peacefrog Records

The Beauty Room

While listening to the Common Saints record, it really struck me how similar the vocals were to this fabulous record from the mid noughties. The first I was aware of the Beauty Room was when their cover version of Jan Hammer’s Don’t You Know was released on a label called New Religion, which was the pet project of a Manchester-based journalist who wrote for Jockey Slut called Dan Keeling. Dan was friends with Techno-Duncan in Vinyl Exchange and his friend Baz – all VX regulars, and all very into good music of all genres. Anyway, the cover was really nice, respectful of the original, and when promo CDs of the album turned up in the shop, it became a bit of a favourite on the Vinyl Exchange stereo down in the basement.

The Beauty Room is the brainchild of Kirk Degiorgio, and it’s an absolutely beauty-ful (!) LP. Drenched in Californian sunlight. You can feel it on your face as you listen, coupled with a salty sea breeze – and that was in a basement in Manchester, many years before I’d move to Brighton! If you don’t know this album already, check out Holding On, Burn My Bridges, or Visions Of Joy, on YouTube, then go and buy a copy. You won’t be sorry.

Some incredible new music around at the moment. Big thanks to Moonboots for this excellent tip …

Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 – Mas – Banana & Louie Records / Rocordiau Agati / Legere Recordings 2021

Carwyn Ellis Rio 18

A completely lovely LP of Welsh language folk, funk, bossa-nova, latin, country, psyche, pop fusion from the chap from Colorama. Balearic Wife and I have both been enjoying these beautiful, sun-drenched tracks over the last few sunny weeks. It’s all great, but for me it really takes off on side 2 when the Brazilian influences are most prominent, with the shuffling funk grooves of Hedyn Ar Y Gwynt and Cynara both personal favourites, as is the haunting, Cuban influenced Y Cariadon. It’s funny really, as I would never have thought of Welsh as a particularly musical language, but it’s easily as beautiful as listening to a Brazilian artist sing in Portuguese, or any of the gorgeous Japanese music I’ve been listening to a lot recently…and the record is so pretty – look! It’s blue! No idea why it’s credited as being on 3 different labels though?

Another beautiful new-ish release …

Amanda Whiting – Little Sunflower E.P. – Jazzman Records 2020

Released at the end of last year, but I have Jolyon Green to thank for the tip as he posted it on Instagram. This is a really gorgeous 5 track E.P. from jazz harpist Amanda, playing some fabulous music. Balearic / Café Del Mar heads will instantly be drawn to the title track, a stunning, very faithful rendition of the Freddie Hubbard standard, made famous at the CDM through Dorothy Ashby’s beautiful version. However, my personal favourite is the unlikely cover version of the Kylie Minogue classic, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head! I know! A jazz harp cover version of CGYOOMH? It sounds mad but is so lovely it makes me want to cry. The E.P. was recorded way back in 2013, and I have no idea why it’s only now getting a release, but Jazzman have done a great job. It’s a gorgeous wee 10” with a beautiful heavyweight tip-on sleeve. And if that isn’t exciting enough, they’ve also just released a full album of Amanda’s work, which has only just arrived this week, so I haven’t had time to fully absorb it yet. I’m sure I’ll post a review of it for you in a couple of weeks.

Amanda Whiting – Little Sunflower

Another recent reissue …

Nino Nardini & Roger Roger – Jungle Obsession – Neuilly 1971 / Farfalla Records 2021

Nino Nardini Roger Roger – Jungle Obsession

Ever since watching Shawn Lee’s excellent Library Music Film a few years ago, I’ve slowly started to buy the odd reissue of items mentioned / highlighted in the film. It was a genre I already knew a little about, and I have a small collection of original Library LPs, maybe 20-30 records, mostly UK labels like Bruton and KPM, and a few compilations. But after seeing the film I realised that I needed to delve a little more into this fascinating music. Throughout the film they highlight a sort of top 10 library greats. Be With Records have just reissued one of them, the stunning Feelings by Jay Richford & Gary Stevens – actually Italian library music legends Armando Roelens & Stefano Torossi – and now French label Farfalla have decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this French Library masterpiece which is another.

The music here is quite breath-taking. Presented as a musical version of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, it`s a mixture of jazz, exotica, classical, funk. It has a woozy, disorientating, hypnotic effect. Quite psychedelic in places, but with a clean, spacious minimalism. They’ve included 2 bonus cuts as well, of which Safari Park, with its hypnotic, funk groove and beautiful strings is a real highlight. Originals cost about £300, and this 180g reissue sounds and looks excellent, so pick one up while you can.

This another beautiful new release recommended by local record shop / label Mr Bongo

Nashville Ambient Ensemble – Cerulean – Centripetal Force 2021

nashville-ambient-ensemble-e28093-cerulean

This was a complete surprise to me this – the debut LP from a collective of Nashville electronic musicians. It`s a haunting blend of pedal steel guitar, ambient synth washes, pastoral piano chords, and ethereal ‘non-language’ vocals which bring to mind Cocteau Twins or Sigur Ros. All 6 tracks are gorgeous. It creates the sensation of driving at night through the hot sticky deep South with the window down and the radio on, picking up snippets of different radio channels – which was the overwhelming feeling I also used to get when listening to The KLFs Chill Out LP. Cerulean doesn’t use the same collage technique, but it hits the same spot. I love the painting on the cover as well. A lovely record all round.

P.S. It seems like there’s a yellow vinyl re-press on the way, as looks like it’s sold out most places.

A “nearly lost” classic, which is both beautiful music for a bank holiday weekend and reminds me of going round to Jeff’s to watch football…

Michael Head & The Strands – The Magical World Of The Strands – Megaphone Music Ltd 1998

Michael Head The Strands

This is an LP that completely passed me by at the time, but that has subsequently become one of my favourite albums. It’s quite a feat for it to have passed me by, considering that I was working in a record shop, and that Michael Head had previously been the lead singer in both The Pale Fountains and Shack – two Liverpool indie / pop bands who, although I wasn’t a huge fan of, I was both aware of and quite liked. But in 1998 – nothing! Nada! I didn’t even register this for some reason. I was still working in Vinyl Exchange, no longer DJing much, but still buying tonnes of records, very immersed in collecting classics from the New York playlists of The Loft and Paradise Garage, as well as anything remotely ‘Balearic’, and still buying lots of new music, from Radiohead to Jurassic 5, but, strangely, not this. Furthermore I’ve since learned that several of the staff in Vinyl Exchange at the time are also big fans of this LP, and that they did indeed play it in the shop!

It was sometime in the early `00s when a colleague in the shop played this to me for the first time, and I was completely smitten. Musically it sits somewhere between folk and pop. It’s a mixture of early `80s indie jangle, mid `60s Beatles and The Byrds, some Nick Drake, some John Martyn, Arthur Lee’s Love – with whom Michael had toured with for a while prior to this record – perhaps some Baden Powell influence in terms of guitar playing? In 1998 this must have sounded so out of time and place – this was during the dying embers of Brit-pop, and The Spice Girls, Robbie Williams and Britney were reigning supreme. Even its sleeve, a sombre gatefold in heavy duty ‘tip-on’ style card, seemed so old fashioned then – but now right back in fashion. It’s beautiful, and now when I play it, I’m reminded of walking round to Jeffs house in Hulme to watch Liverpool play. I think I listened to it once on the way round, and we subsequently won the match, so it became a lucky tradition on match days. I listened to it yesterday as well, as the match was being called off… interesting times…

In a fitting tribute to the finale of Line Of Duty on Sunday night, I dug into a sealed box of records beginning with the letter “H”, hence the Michael Head post. So, continuing through this box …

Heaven 17 – The Luxury Gap – B.E.F. / Virgin 1983

Heaven 17 – The Luxury Gap

Although their debut LP is probably considered the cooler choice – and I do have my own story about that, about my uncle Steve, and a very expensive record deck to tell – this, however, is one of my all-time favourite LPs. It had some competition that year, with WHAM! releasing Fantastic, The The`s Soul Mining, Tears For Fears` The Hurting, and Duran Duran’s Seven And The Ragged Tiger, but I think this is right up there. From start to finish it’s a masterpiece. Side one is almost all singles – with Who’ll Stop The Rain and Let Me Go – both featuring the gurgling acid house basslines of the Roland TB303 – and both even better in their instrumental 12” form – then ending with a track so funky and cynical it could have been the biggest track on the LP, Key To The World. But then we flip it over to find one of the greatest singles of the `80s kicking things off. Temptation is just brilliant, what else can I say, and in today’s age of top-loading LPs, it would never end up on the b-side. It’s followed by the slightly controversial, Come Live With Me, with its tale of older man and much younger woman. It always seemed like it was meant to be creepy, but still comes across as quite sad and sincere, and again has the bubbling TB303 all through it. It was weirdly a top 5 hit. I love it, no matter how wrong it sounds.

With its themes of disastrous capitalism The Luxury Gap seems eerily prescient, and also surprisingly current, and the LP very cleverly ends on the mournful The Best Kept Secret … a bit like the ending of Line Of Duty

I love the cover shot, with its first impression placing the group in a luxury tropical setting. You then notice the chain link fence behind them and their rugged, unshaven appearance, and suddenly you realise that the luxury scene is nothing more than a tattered, peeling billboard. Andy Votel kind of played a subtle homage to this – possibly without realising – on our second volume of Down To The Sea & Back, the idea being that we were recreating the scene of an Ibizan beach bar / nightclub in a Manchester basement with props. It’s very subtle …

Interesting addition: after posting, Steve Proctor added this little bit of info – 

“A good few years ago I asked Martyn Ware whether he was aware that the 303 bass-line in Let Me Go was regarded as proto Acid House, and he said he wasn’t . I asked him what he was going for with the sound – remember the 303 was regarded as a synth to replicate real bass guitar sounds – and he said that he was trying to get it to sound like a fretless bass, a bit like the Pino Palladino or Mick Karn.”

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