I’m extremely biased, of course, but I think it’s been an absolutely magnificent year for music in Milton Keynes. The always-healthy Rock n’ Metal scene has provided the sturdy bassline as ever, but there’s plenty of other stuff going on right now too – the rise of the Craufurd Arms as a national venue; a Hip-Hop presence that we’re definitely vaguely aware of; certainly the extremely wide variety of ace bands we came across through the MonKeyVision Song Contest – and also the rise of what I’m going to call the New Acoustic Generation, curated by the brilliant open mics in Newport, Wolverton and now in CMK!
So what better way to tip the salute to this superlative year than by reviewing hot new albums by two of our very favourite MK-related acts? – namely rising local singer-songwriter Project Wolverine and rising national stars Felix (one half of whom hails from these parts originally and featured in the classic MK band The Holistic Cleansing Quintet who we saw at The Pitz on more than one occasion back in’t day!). Grand!
First up Project Wolverine, who we were lucky enough to have play a set for us at the most recent Vodka Boy @ The Enigma Tavern gig in September. His new full-length demo album “Life, Love, Loss & Politics” can be picked up for £3 – contact him through his MySpace if you’re interested.
He describes himself on his MySpace as “Bargin Bucket Billy Bragg”, and you can definitely hear that influence, as well as regular touches of a thrashy acoustic Jamie T bounce – his accent is present throughout, though that’s not to say he can’t sing too, cos he can. Bragg’s present too in his subject matter - you certainly don’t hear many young singers penning attacks on the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s press empire in 2009. But considering his tender years this kind of lyrical and thematic maturity is impressive.
The production is clear and sounds “live” (you can even just about hear some other band playing way down in the mix and a long way in the distance on one or two songs!) – as befits songs which are mostly one voice one guitar, or one voice one piano. There’s an ear-catching guest vocal appearance from Philippa Moyle on “Same Old Game”, her soaring theatrics counter-pointing PW’s gruffer edge to great effect.
For me though, it’s the lyrics that do it. Like a younger Brit-cousin of the fantastic Bright Eyes, you get the sense of a real person behind the songs, that they’re acoustical snapshots of a real life being lived – the rueful “Tame”, the ramshackle busk of “Chance Encounter”, and Official Dudebox Track Of The Summer “Cold Baked Beans” the best examples of this (“It’s £3.20 to get into town… you get there and realise no-one’s around…”). And how could I not love the mournful piano track “Murder Ballad” which seems to literally be a song based on one of my favourite albums of all time?
There’s even a hint at future directions - a possible wider sound - on “Critical Stage” when an electric guitar gives a fittingly emotional backdrop to the dark urgency of the protest song underneath. And the album closes with stand-out track “The Mis-Informed”, which is genuinely touching – gentle but with a steely resolve.
So – a new voice definitely worth listening to. Plus, eleven tracks for just three quid? Where’s the catch? Get involved. And watch out for him on the local circuit too…
Meanwhile in the wider world the debut album from the wonderful Felix is finally out – and on a record label based in Chicago no less! Local girl done extremely good Lucinda should be incredibly proud of herself: “You Are The One I Pick” is not only the best thing I’ve ever heard from a musician outta MK, it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year by anyone. So I’ll try and review it without being too gushing. Hopefully.
To be entirely honest, it is musically right up my alley anyway – laid-back intimately recorded girl vox, dramatic yet minimalist orchestration (w/ plenty of cellos and crystalline pianos), and topped off with a light sprinkling of thump-drummy drone-rock. Yes please! And all the tracks kind of flow into each other cinematically, and it swims in effortless cool. At times it even aches with some sort of calm, sad acceptance. Simply beautiful.
It’s almost tricky to pick out favourite tracks, the whole album has a very evocative sound as a whole. But “What I Learned From TV” feels just a wee bit more intimate, more wistful – and is then followed up with Dudebox Track Of The Winter “Back In Style” with its shuffling beats and oblique Twin Peaks references. So that’s definitely a high point in this already lofty plateau.
And the intertwining of Lucinda’s vocal tracks on “Bernard St” is just lovely – the closest Felix come to some kind of mainstream sound maybe, though it’d never sit quite right there. It’s too sinister somehow. Well, not quite sinister p'raps, but something to do with the weirdness of the mundane… what’s really going on behind those nice curtains in that house down your street. And that’s brilliant. It’s not easy to create this effect well, but Felix have absolutely nailed it.
Repeated listens to the album bring the lyrics out from the mix more and more, and with them this uneasy sense of the oddness of normality hangs over proceedings. The bleak side of childhood naivety. So “Ode To The Marlboro Man” becomes a nursery rhyme sung in a round about running away with a cowboy. “I Wish I Was A Pony” becomes far darker than the gently sad little song it at first appeared. And I’m still not sure after five listens, but I think in final track “Song About Zoo” they might even kill their children and escape together from their drab lives. Outstanding.
So. Proof of just what can be achieved from this humble platform, this brilliant city. Let’s see what all you other bands have got. This is the bar, up here. You can do it. Here comes 2010.