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Album reviews with Ian Sinclair

The Just Joans
You Might Be Smiling Now
(Fika Recordings)
4*

FORMED in 2005, this Glasgow six-piece’s latest record is a charming slice of downbeat indie pop, inhabiting a similar musical world to their label-mates The Hayman Kupa Band and Belle and Sebastian.

According to band member David Pope, it’s a loose concept album about his confused teenage years, horror-filled twenties and terrified thirties and, mixing lo-fi guitars and electronica, the melodious tracks are full of witty, observational kitchen-sink lyrics.

“It’s just a matter of time till it falls apart … the statistics don’t lie/the chances are slim,” is co-singer Pope’s hopeful take on romance.

Elsewhere, his sister Katie intones: “This place is full of thugs and petty vandals/It’s like Deliverance without the banjos/I long to see the bright lights/Far from these endless shite nights.”

Incidentally, it's an album that includes one of the greatest song titles ever — You Make Me Physically Sick (Let’s Start Having Children).

Lucas Oswald
Whet
(Cosmic Dreamer Music)
4*

A TOURING musician with Shearwater and Jesca Hoop, US musician Lucas Oswald recorded his second solo album close to his home in rural Missouri.

An exploration of depression and anxiety, the record’s eight songs are an impressive slice of melancholic rock. Oswald plays most of the instruments, from guitars and piano to cello and the African kalimba.

Intriguingly, with their pop hooks and sensibility, tracks like lush opener I Believe In Trying bring to mind Britpop bands such as Suede and Travis in their early days. Lyrically concerned with the feeling of panic, the punchy Dark On Us is another great tune. “Another sedative, to feel okay,” Oswald sings.

Elsewhere, his vocal delivery on the mid-tempo A Long, Long Year echoes indie outfit Frontier Ruckus and sadcore prince Kevin Tihista – huge compliments, coming from this reviewer.

Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Union Cafe
(Erased Tapes)
4*

ENGLISH composer and multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes formed the Penguin Cafe Orchestra in 1972, supposedly getting the idea from a recurring dream while bedridden in the south of France.

Since then, the instrumental collective’s music has appeared in numerous films, TV shows and adverts.

This reissue of their final 1993 record coincides with the 20-year anniversary of Jeffes’s untimely death in 1997. Mixing various styles including folk, world music, rock and classical, it is a joyous and charming affair.

Infectious opener Scherzo and Trio dances around a sprightly central motif, complete with brass, strings and an oscillating piano riff.

Lifeboat (Lovers Rock) employs moving strings that bring to mind the summer daze of Nick Drake’s songs, while Organum transports the listener to the Scottish highlands.

Playful, eclectic and wonderfully eccentric, Union Cafe is an album to lift the spirits in the dark midwinter.

 

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