wears the trousers magazine


devon sproule: ¡don’t hurry for heaven! (2009)
June 21, 2009, 10:32 am
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Devon Sproule
¡Don’t Hurry For Heaven! ••••
Tin Angel 

Devon Sproule speaks for many musicians who struggle to find a creative path in life. Living a rural existence outside Charlottesville, Virginia, she tells of a perpetual balancing act between her music and the demands of everyday life, marriage, and a low income. The risk of failure is ever present, but so is the sense of fulfilment gained by following your art. Her new album perhaps expresses these dilemmas and jubilations more poetically than ever, and she has also managed to forge a clearer sense of aesthetic cohesion. ¡Don’t Hurry For Heaven! yields a mixture of parlour folk, Americana, and even reggae, while her husband and music partner, Paul Curreri, provides sumptuous lead guitar and backing vocals. Curreri features in the album lyrically, too, for much of Sproule’s storytelling is based around relationships and married life. On ‘Ain’t That The Way’, for example, she wryly observes of his beloved vintage guitar: “If you love me even half as much as your old Martin / you should be practising on me just about every…oh”.

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cortney tidwell: boys (2009)
June 15, 2009, 9:30 am
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Cortney Tidwell
Boys •••½
City Slang 

In the present circumstances of perceived market saturation in popular music, a solid income and a slice of fame pie is never guaranteed and many performers have to squeeze the two realms of work and art into their all-too-short day. Cortney Tidwell has supplemented her musical output by working as a pre-school teacher in Nashville, but she is now hoping to raise her already highly respected profile into the big league with her second album, Boys. There is a real concrete and flowers feel to this wonderfully strange concoction. On ’17 Horses’, for example, the drums sound like field artillery, the bass drum so relentless it’s as if percussionist Scott Martin is attempting to smash through the floor of the studio. This rhythmic thunder is contrasted with the formless drone of swirling electric guitars, soaring louder and louder over a thick wall of noise, and reaching out of this unholy riot is Tidwell’s delicate, ethereal voice, layered over and over again with thick self-harmonies. This contrast between muscular musicianship and sonorous voice continues throughout the album and works to both arrest and unsettle the ears.

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po’ girl: deer in the night (2009)

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Po’ Girl
Deer In The Night ••••
Self-released

In an age where advertising cultivates a market into which it can sell its product – in other words, tells the consumer what she or he should need – popular music is a tool that’s ripe for exploitation. Records are products with an exchange value; we, as consumers, like to collect them, enjoy the artwork, the fact that we own a piece of the singer or band that we like; we develop relationships around these products, as a record collector may boast of their hard-to-find Raincoats EPs. And not only are these products commodities, so is the very notion of artistic expression and youthful rebellion.

We can all be a guitar hero on the PlayStation, even though we might have a beautiful shining electric guitar in the corner that we never play, and so the electric guitar has become the signifier for the notion and a commodity in its own right. And so rock ‘n’ roll and rebellion has become a commodity in its own right, and this is where Marx brings us to the conclusion: with popular music increasingly absorbed in the means of production, with its own exchange value, where do the impulses that created that music in the first place now lie? What relationship does a factory worker assembling Guitar Hero Fenders in China have to the culture that it signifies? Is it a question of rescuing those things that produced the music in first place, and can we break into new territory and redeem popular music? Maybe not.

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wendy & lisa: white flags of winter chimneys (2009)
March 8, 2009, 3:48 pm
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Wendy & Lisa
White Flags Of Winter Chimneys ••••
Self-released 

Some folks may remember Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman from their work with Prince & The Revolution. You can see them in the film ‘Purple Rain’, standing either side of the pint-sized funk flaneur during his climactic performance of the title tune. More than mere accompaniment for Prince’s project, they had a significant influence on his musical direction during that period when he moved from straight disco-funk to…well, Prince. Once their employer found a new direction, Wendy & Lisa seemed to disappear from view. In fact, they have never stopped writing and performing, even touching the charts in the early ’90s with a few hits of their own. They have also been working tirelessly behind the scenes in the music industry, producing and writing for others, and are the creative force behind the music for the TV series ‘Heroes’.

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eleni mandell: artificial fire (2009)
March 5, 2009, 12:55 pm
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Eleni Mandell
Artificial Fire •••½
Zedtone 

The long road to Eleni Mandell’s seventh studio album, Artificial Fire, has taken in some vivid scenes and gradually attracted more besotted travellers with each release. Her very flashy website (which took as long to load up on my old-skool laptop as for me to hear the whole album) reveals an impressive musical CV, including work with greats such as Herbie Hancock and the street poet, Chuck E Weiss. Following 2007’s wonderful but largely downbeat Miracle Of Five, the LA-based musician lays out her mission statement for this album as being a return to her youth, writing that “I wanted to feel like I was in the band of my teenage dreams.” This goal seems apt when the search for the nostalgia of adolescence has historically provided the inspiration for so many great pop songs.

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hazel winter: situation normal then (2009)
January 22, 2009, 6:57 pm
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Hazel Winter
Situation Normal Then ••••
Death Row Bride 

A staple figure of the Bristol underground music scene for nearly two decades, it’s no surprise that Hazel Winter’s third solo album Situation Normal Then – her first in four years – bears all the hallmarks of an artist with years of experience behind her. On the surface her country-noir and folk-inflected music might seem to recall the simple things in life, yet underneath lies something far more unsettling, nightmarish even. In possession of a delicate, almost childlike voice that manages to be both alluring and unsettling, Winter’s approach is roughly the musical equivalent of a Neil Gaiman children’s book – deliciously twisted and occasionally terrifying.

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mia riddle: tumble & drag (2009)
January 15, 2009, 4:30 pm
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Mia Riddle
Tumble & Drag ••••
Miss Mandible

Back in the day, Brooklyn used to be a place where your “crew waz at”, where hip hop spilled from the Bronx, crossed the river and earned its keep. The artists and bohemians made their scene uptown, leaving rap artists to spell out Brooklyn’s mutitude of neighbourhoods in rhyme. Post-millennial Brooklyn has come to represent something else. The spend and plunder years of the noughties have turned the once arty neighbourhoods of Manhattan into playgrounds for the rich and, as the rents shot up, New York’s creative scene crossed the river in search of somewhere cheaper and a little more funky. Now everyone wants a piece of the action and the media are labelling Brooklyn as the city’s new cultural hotspot, and with a fair amount of justification. And so Mia Riddle declares this hallowed environ as home, which places her among an eclectic elite of musicians, ranging from TV On The Radio to Regina Spektor, and her second album, Tumble & Drag embodies the same melting pot of influences for which these nu-Brooklyn acts are known. (It’s so authentically Brooklyn that some of it was even recorded in a pizzeria in Bushwick.)

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