Finally I have unpacked the trunk of album reviews that backed up last year, and this reviews catches up on two albums Bad Elephant released back in October last year, and which are worth having a listen to, before they unleash the new Tom Slatter album on the unsuspecting world.
The Far Meadow: Given the Impossible
Formed back in 2014 this is the first album on Bad Elephant from London based 5 piece, The Far Meadow and was released back in October last year.
As is common with so many of the wonderful artists signed to Bad Elephant, the band defy categorisation, veering from traditional progressive sounds to folk and back with a dazzling array of performances and sounds that make this an excellent album to listen to.
With the fantastic vocals of Marguerita Alexandrou, the guitar of Denis Warren, the drums of Paul Bringloe, the bass of Keith Buckman and Eliot Minn on keyboards they collate an array of sounds into a musical kaleidoscope, bringing together the sound of the Canterbury Scene, contemporary prog and elements of folk music together in one coherent whole.
I think I will start by talking about the last track on the album (an odd way to go, I know but bear with me) The Seamless Shirt takes the traditional folk song Scarborough Fair, and then goes full Fairport on it (reminiscent in fact of when Fairport Convention invented prog folk on A Sailors Life). The magical vocals of Marguerita bring the song to life, using Scarborough Fair as its starting point, whilst the band build a mighty epic sound around it, guitar here, keyboards there, all the while telling the tale of a collapsing relationship and a seamless shirt, all 9 minutes plus of sheer musical enjoyment.
This encapsulates the Far Meadow for me, and it seems the album builds up to this mighty climax, through the Himalaya Flashmob, a 16 minute epic that covers all progressive bases and allows Marguerita to shine throughout, whilst the band prove they can also condense their power into shorter, more immediate songs like the opener Prove it then, which sets the bands stall out, and the great Letterboxing, which provides a short amuse bouche between the mighty main course that is Himalaya Flashmob to the Seamless Shirt pudding, proving sub 3 minute songs work very well in this album context.
Clocking in at around 45 minutes, this would easily have fitted one side of a cassette and allowed you to enjoy it on the bus back in the 1990’s, and also shows the band have full musical control. Knowing exactly when the ‘less is more’ approach works, and when to let loose and go for it.
This is a really great record and one that is a grower, if it doesn’t grab you at first bite don’t worry, as you return to this record it reveals more and more of it’s majesty with each listen.
Sphelm: These Roots Know No Boundaries
Another October 2016 release from those Bad Elephant boys, this is about as different to the Far Meadow as you can get, and shows how BEM like to release albums they like, and not just records that fit a certain style or template.
That’s what makes it so interesting when you get a coded missive from the Head Elephant; it truly is a box of delights trying to work out what the next release will be.
Sphelm are the musical duo of Tim Powell and Mike McKnight and are based in Manchester, and whilst the Manchester scene is known for it’s Britpop, it’s Madchester sound and alternative Punk, it also has a fertile inventive alternative scene, which is where Sphelm dwell in, and their sound is unique, reminiscent of alt artists like the Lone Pigeon or SJ Esau.
With a nice mix of acoustic instruments and electronic samples, the vocal harmonies are lush and integral to their sound.
The opening Lingchi is a woozy, ambient electro/acoustic meld that starts off slowly and builds and builds to an impressive climax.
Meanwhile After the Dopamine, with its fantastic acoustic finger picking and nice use of electro sounds and loops is one of those perfect lazy Sunday chill out tracks, where you want everything to slow down.
Crystal Catcher is a Steve Mason esque chilled out balled, with some fantastic vocal harmonies and lush sounds, whilst the title track starts with some wonderful harmonies and the title repeated in a wonderfully catchy loop, that layers vocals on vocals on top, like a woozy stripped down nursery rhyme that has some stunning guitar work in the mix, and an amazing muted trumpet playing mournfully and hauntingly in the background
In fact the harmonies are what make this album stand out, the stripped down, sparse electronica and acoustic guitar create a very intimate setting and minimalist low-key vibe. Whilst the subtle ambient electronics add so much to the music, and help build the songs and give them an edge. I think that if you enjoyed The Dead Astronaut album, then you will definitely love Sphelm.
This is a wonderfully different record that is worth investigating and proves there’s much more to musical life than a progressive epic.
All albums and many more are available from those good guys at Bed Elephant.