LIGHTNING STRIKES – Quick but essential reviews for the discerning listener



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Lightning Strikes strikes again, bringing you three ‘smash and grab’ reviews for your perusing pleasure. From 90’s refugees Alex Lowe and his retooled Hurricane #1 to another 90’s survival story that easily convinces that the lure of trip hop shall never diminish to a bit of inspired, samba-flecked now, we think are certain you’ll be triply intrigued. So kick back, pour yourself a bit of holiday ale if you like, and dig in. As always, ratings are based a 4-strikes-and-you’re-perfect system, and links for purchase are provided once you’ve been suitably persuaded. [feature photo: Trish Tritz]

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HURRICANE #1 – “Find What You Love and Let It Kill You” (Tapete)

Little, it would seem, focuses life’s aspirations like going head to head with cancer. On the second track of Hurricane #1’s first album in sixteen years – rather sardonically titled Find What You Love and Let It Kill You – a sparkling pounding banger with a flawless House of Love-ish chorus, fully recovered front man Alex Lowe speaks with candid fluency to the fates that govern one’s outcome, beseeching the whatevers that hover over one while bed-bound in hospital under such a circumstance to “show me how to move into light.” Both confessional and resilient, the track, called “Crash,” storms along with a riff-tastic clarity that belies its origins, which, as it turns out, isn’t the exception on this album but the unanimous rule. In fact, from the gritty effervescent opener “Best Is Yet To Come” to the title cut ten tracks later – brief, monastic of mood, glowing with a philosophic (and healthy) fatalism – it’s impossible to think of a record conceived under such duress, with mortality chuckling constantly on the fringes, that exudes more inherent joy and rousing calm at the simple prospect of being alive. Call it existential indie, call it survivalist pop, but whatever unique niche it occupies – and Volume-era, post-Madchester UK rock’n’roll wouldn’t be a poorly nominated candidate – it works.

 

Riding now with a whole new crew – Brazilian brothers Carlo and Lucas Mariani (guitar and bass) and drummer Chris Campbell – the band blow through well-earned wistful ballad (“Don’t Feel Me Now Again”), acoustic-based nod-along that could’ve nestled into the All Things Must Pass tracklisting (“Has It Begun [Imitating Life]), McGuinn-solid mid-tempo rocker with a gently explosive solo (“Round in Circles”), and a spot of ecstatic raunch’n’roll (“Where To Begin”) with an an inspired yeomen’s proficiency, as if playing tag with legends is all in a day’s work. Though classicist song structures predominate, the lads still find ways to surprise, not least on the pub rock-y “Think of the Sunshine” (Alex Lowe wouldn’t be related to Nick Lowe, would he?) whose standard good-time rollick gives way to an exploratory coda drenched in a psychedelic wooze of guitar, stippled by tabla and overall just groovy as fuck.

Mildly anachronistic then but in a most refreshing way, shot through with a healing ease of delivery, Find What You Love… is a pop nepenthe of a record custom made for the dark winter days ahead of us. Recommended (and available here). √√√

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CLUB 8 – “Pleasure” (Labrador)

There have been a lot of records like this over the years, sexy, vibey albums murmuring with alluring studio suss in the ever-spreading shadow of Massive Attack, every subsequent release of which points with inarguable suasion toward that fearless band of Bristolians being the most influential force in modern music over the last twenty years. From Hooverphonic types that proliferated then to the Poliças popping up today, the debt oozing from the speakers grows with compounded interest. It is, in essence, a sound that depends on a clubby warmth being held in a balanced neon tension with a clubby cool, and in large measure Club 8 gets it right on Pleasure.

No great surprise there as the duo – Karolina Kornstedt and Johan Angergård – have been pursuing some variation thereof since they were a pair of teenagers based in Åhus, Sweden in 1995. Known and highly regarded around the globe – especially, oddly, in Indonesia, where they played a pivotal part in creating the indie pop universe as it now exists there – the band here, on their ninth record, bring a finely-burnished gleam to a dark romantic groove that courses primarily around the shadowed chambers of the human heart. Opener “Love Dies” drips with an exquisite regret, Kornstedt purring in her crisp but sultry mezzo “Love ends all the time,” the piece soaked in an atrophic beauty. “Skin,” following on, offers more hope in its late-night dancefloor tempo and its silky transgressive pulse, “Late Nights” strips down the Depeche Mode template to something more akin to, say, a Yaz Marble Giants mashup vibe, “Hush” is pop gorgeous enough to imagine it being something Dusty Springfield might’ve sung had she come of age in the rave years, while the nimble tribal bounce and chrome-light synth lines of “Movement” can’t disguise the desperate and disturbed imperatives within.

 

Whereas, upon hearing Pleasure, the seasoned listener could be forgiven for muttering into their metaphorical beard about how many albums sound – or try to sound – like this, one has to remember that these two helped write that particular book and anyway, the chill frequencies here are simply superb. And frankly, considering how suave the production is on this album (by Johan this time), how effortlessly rich it is in its bruised romanticism, equally subliminal and extravagant, Pleasure marks with laser-cut clarity just how terribly hard many of those ‘other’ records are trying to sound like this and failing. This is the exactly the kind of record we need to help us get our trip hop bearings back, and you can get it here. √√√¼

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CRISTOBAL AND THE SEA – “Sugar Now” (City Slang)

Oh goodness do we love the unanticipated gem around here, a debut that springs from the ether with an immense sense of artistry, a lightness of touch that not only artfully masks the intense musicianship actually at play but as well conveys a flow of confidence and authority so sweet it charms down to the very marrow, that carries in its naturalism more than a whiff of destiny. Sugar Now, the recently released debut LP from polyglot European quartet Cristobal and the Sea (an EP, Peach Bells, landed almost a year ago), ticks those three exquisite boxes and plenty more on its way to warming its way deep into your soulful heart.

Yes, such hype can be almost reflexive on the page but is confirmed in the cans as the album – without meaning to, surely – sets out to become 2015’s official headphone masterpiece. Collectively reflective of its members’ blood origins – bassist Alexander ‘Ale’ Romero comes from Spain, guitarist João Seixas Portugal, flutist Leila Seguin France, drummer Josh Oldershaw the UK (and all but Josh sing) – Sugar Now also has the shimmer of the Iberian sun to it, as well it would since the band decamped with producer Rusty Santos (Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective) to Lisbon to record. You can all but hear the sunshine seeping in through the walls.

Occupying that shifting space between Vampire Weekend in a mellow but kicked-up club mood (“Counting Smiles,” a track that could almost single-handedly bring about world peace if we could just get everyone to hear it at the same time) and a neo-Madchester glowstick groovism (“Bear Paws,” which, c’mon, obviates any need for a bloated 2016 Stone Roses reunion), the record cruises widely in between through various territories wherein the vibrant thrum of joy obtains. “Sunset of Our Troubles” elicits the intimacy of a samba in your living room; “Legs Gone Feathers” latinizes a Fleet Foxes vibe until it flies off into a warmth the Seattle band have never known; “Fish Eye” sounds like an inner-city Rio block party lifted up into the giddy airlessness of space, all spidery Spanish guitar flourishes and dizzying flute textures, somehow both grounded – earthy even – and breathlessly unhinged, while the flute-infused “New Carlton House” soaks itself in a kind of glimmering early-70’s Marin County mist, reminding your seasoned correspondent of Mark/Almond had they borrowed Chris Wood and hired Tracy Nelson for harmony vocals, blissful with a city edge.

 

While the tenor of the Sugar Now‘s overall arc gently sags in places – “Out,” blessed as it is with moments of intrigue and elegance, could use getting to its crescendoed point a minute or two sooner, and “Happy Living Things” passes by too quickly in a bit of an urbanized cha-cha blur – those (otherwise wholly pleasing) half-steps are more than admissible on a debut from a young band whose blend of the playful and the daring promises – and delivers – such marvelous nascent potential. [Sugar Now available here] √√√¼