In an unplanned coincidence, today’s three recent releases are from English settlements ending with on. Post-punk band Squid from Brighton, London’s Cleo Sol, and Swindon’s Andy Partridge.
Bright Green Field
There’s a whole crop of young, critically acclaimed post-punk bands floating around in the UK right now. I can barely differentiate Dry Cleaning from Black Country, New Road. But this debut album from Brighton band Squid is fun, the group pairing the intensity of post-punk with other influences. Squid cite Can and Neu! as an influence, and their appreciation of these 1970s German acts is manifested in the motorik beat of ‘Paddling’ and the repetitive and lengthy closer ‘Pamphlets’.
Drummer/singer Ollie Judge is charismatic, somewhere between the abrasive vocals of Mark E. Smith and the paranoid yelp of David Byrne. His distinctive voice gives Bright Green Field a cohesive feel, even as Squid try out a bunch of different ideas on their debut. The abrasive use of brass instruments on ‘Documentary Filmmaker’, played by bassist Laurie Nankivell, recalls 1970s King Crimson. They have plenty of ideas – ‘Boy Racers’ changes from groove-based post-punk to spooky ambient. They can play unsettling funk on ‘G.S.K.’ while ‘Global Groove’ is often stately and gorgeous.
Squid have enough personality and chops to make Bright Green Field a fascinating debut album. It opens up plenty of possibilities for future Squid records to explore.
Music continues to flow from London producer Inflo. As well as five albums from Sault since 2019, he’s also produced albums for Little Simz and Michael Kiwanuka. Mother is the second album from Sault vocalist Cleo Sol, following last year’s Rose in the Dark.
Perhaps controversially, I gravitate to Sol’s solo albums more than Sault. They have their foibles – they’re much less diverse, and Sol’s lyrics aren’t much more involving than generic self-help catchphrases. But they just work for me – Sol’s voice is warm and creamy, and Inflo’s production is more organic and less experimental than the records he makes for Sault.
Mother is never especially challenging, but it’s consistently lovely. It’s subtly diverse – ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’ could have come from the 1970s, from an intersection between Carole King and Roberta Flack. ‘Music’ recalls the trip-hop of Portishead in the 1990s’ while ‘We Need You’ is gospel. It’s fun hearing Inflo embrace busier arrangements – in particular, excellent closer ‘Spirit’ explodes into a joyful mélange of orchestration and choir, quite unlike Sault’s minimalism. The tracks often meander over five minutes, but the production and vocals are so lovely that it’s soothing rather than irritating.
Mother is delightful, musical comfort food that’s warm and inviting.
My Failed Songwriter Career, Volume 1
It’s been a long time between drinks for XTC fans. Since XTC’s final album Wasp Star in 2000, there’s been very little music from Andy Partridge or Colin Moulding. Dave Gregory’s been playing with Big Big Train, but Moulding has largely retired from music and Partridge has largely stayed away from the pop/rock of XTC. Instead, he’s collaborated with other artists like avant-garde composer Harold Budd and early XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews, as well as writing songs for The Monkees’ comeback album.
My Failed Songwriter Career, Volume 1 is a four-song EP, rehabilitating songs that Partridge wrote for other artists. Apparently, Partridge has hundreds of songs waiting for a polish in his home studio.
A four-song collection is never going to satisfy enthusiastic fans like me when it’s the first release of new material for a couple of decades. But at the same time, these four songs showcase a fun cross-section of Partridge’s oeuvre. The sophisticated balladry of ‘Maid of Stars’ could have come from Apple Venus I, while ‘Ghost Train’ is a driving rocker and ‘Great Day’ recalls The Kinks. The disc closes with ‘The Mating Dance’, Partridge providing a moment of levity to balance his seriousness in the same way that Moulding did in XTC.
I’m looking forward to hearing more volumes from Partridge’s archives.