Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Live + On Record: Lush - Live in Brooklyn, Mark Crozer And The Rels record review

Over a year ago came the announcement that a much clamored for reunion by one of the few remaining classic 90’s era dreamgaze pioneers (that had resisted up to this point) would in fact be happening. The tour dates were set and calendars were marked – Lush would be playing New York in September of 2016.

Those of us dedicated to this “beautiful noise” period of music had just experienced The Jesus and Mary Chain playing here, and now we had a whole year to look forward to this.

Sometime after tickets for the initial Terminal 5 show was put on sale for the 14th, a second show was added for the day before in Brooklyn at The Music Hall of Williamsburg, giving fans a choice of venues that suited them best. Although many no doubt went to both performances, attending their first NYC show in 20 years on September 13 created an additional level of historical importance.

Social Media anticipation continued to build, as planned gatherings with like-minded friends were hatched for some pre-show revelry.

Once the band hit the stage everyone in the audience were immediately transformed back to the golden era of heavy, hyper dreamy music.  The "beautiful noise" once more.


Opening with one of their most popular and recognizable songs in “De-Luxe,” the intro chords initially build at a slower tempo than the studio version, before bass and drums enter the mix bringing everything up to speed and the audience now fully engaged.

Although we've gotten to know Phil King over the years as a touring member of The Jesus and Mary Chain, (and who is also featured in a very popular in-depth interview and career profile here on this site) he correctly stepped out of that support role to resume his rightful place as a full partner in Lush.


The live show was all one could have hoped for.  One brilliant explosion of light and sound after another.

The central focus is as it always has been - the persona of Miki Eleonora Berenyi.

She effortlessly commanded the stage with charm (bantering with the audience on a few occasions) while going about the task of executing a set drawing heavily from their first two 4AD albums and early EP’s with a smattering from their later, crossover-to-Britpop hits.

Emma Anderson continues to provides essential harmony vocals and precise guitar melodies behind Miki’s shimmering 12 string chords.

Veteran drummer Justin Welch (a founding member of Elastica) masterfully delivered on all percussion duties.

A reverential moment occurred when the band played “Lost Boy” – a track from their recently released new EP “Blind Spot” live for the first time. Dedicating it to founding member/original drummer Chris Acland, whose 1996 suicide led to the eventual dissolution of the band at that time, Miki’s lyrics express the heartbreak of that loss.

Free roaming the venue, previous viewing locations (with fellow concert mates in full view) made for interesting images.

Perhaps its due to all the new bands that emulate and try to sound like them, but the music of Lush seems to have a timeless quality to it.

Listen to how their live sound fills up this high ceiling venue, allowing for both the songs intricacies and ambient overtones.


The full Setlist played

With significant debuts and milestones achieved.

One of these can certainly be helpful in gaining access to opportunities.

Ultimately having an eye for the main chance is your best asset when doing the post-concert dance.

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With this North American leg of their tour now completed, the band have three major dates remaining in November playing the Iceland Airwaves Festival in Reykjavic, the Rolling Stone Weekender Festival in Germany before ending the month at the Academy in Manchester, UK.

Find out anything else about Lush here

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Long-time friends of this site Mark Crozer and the Rels have released a brand new 10 track album titled “Sunny Side Down.” Recorded at Mitch Easter's studio in North Carolina (where Mitch engineered and co-produced with the band) the legendary Lets Active frontman who also produced R.E.M.’s early breakthrough albums has captured Mark and The Rels at their best.

 There is an honest “live” quality to the recordings that allows the songs shine through. What you don’t get is artificial studio trickery or ridiculous autotune. The current pop airways are currently full of that (unfortunately) and it’s truly a breath of fresh air to hear something as true and organic as this. That said the sound quality is perfect and the songwriting superb. This is the true definition of “indie” (independently released) music.

An eerie mood is set within the pop confines of opening track “Haunted Head.” Though the 1-2, 1-2 chord progression moves things along with a mid-tempo pace, a disquieting sentiment shimmers within the sound. Describing those sleepless moments that “keeps me awake with thoughts and emotions” the memorable hook high-point “oh I think it’s alive” turns apprehension into beauty.

Although “Toxic Town” establishes a quicker stride, the overall wistful atmosphere evokes first-wave British invasion classics like Chad and Jeremy’s "A Summer Song" and “I Go to Pieces” by Peter and Gordon. The universal tale is told of desiring to leave a soul-stifling town that can only offer “sad memories and shells of burnt out factories.” The chorus provides emotional uplift via beautiful chord structure and lyrical hope indicating the “light beyond” and now being “a perfect day to make a getaway.”

The introspective disposition on “Corners Of Your Mind” pair gently strummed guitar against dramatic deep hall drum accents. “Glide like a bluebird climbing high, searching for sunshine” provide lyrical gravitas to a poetic daydream. With the full band joining in, familiar Crozer themes of “redemption” are revisited and how “life can take you way beyond” the limitations you put on yourself.

There are many more equally wonderful tracks on this record, all well worth checking out. Find out how to digitally acquire this as well as everything else from Mark and the Rels current catalog here.

An ultra-limited edition vinyl version of “Sunny Side Down” is in the works and will be released by Planting Seeds Records (PSR093). Keep an eye on their official site (and their Facebook, Twitter pages, etc) for more detailed information.

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 Previous features on this site about Mark Crozer and the Rels:

Bubblegum Track and Live Show Review

Late September Features: Mark Crozer and The Rels, etc.

Mark Crozer and the Rels - Album Review

International Jetsetters - Heart Is Black – Album Review

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Previous features on this site about Planting Seeds Records:

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Sophie Ellis Bextor - Familia - Album Review

It has been more than two and a half years between albums for iconic British singer Sophie Ellis Bextor. That wait has been rectified with the release of her sixth studio album “Familia.” Returning to the creative team that helped bring life to previous Top Ten charting record “Wanderlust,” the latest album once again reflects a unique and fruitful collaboration with producer Ed Harcourt. Sophie and Ed have taken their abundant talents to another level here with these eleven songs, exploring new wide-open vistas for the singer to branch out and shine on.

Along with Harcourt providing piano, synths, samples and various keys, Richard Jones of veteran British pop band The Feeling (and Sophie’s husband) played all the bass guitar (figuring prominently on many tracks), with Seton Daunt on guitar and Phil Wilkinson on percussion.  Also back making significant contributions are the Dirty Pretty Strings (Violins: Gita and Rose Langley, Viola: Amy Stanford and Cello: Amy Langley).  The album was recorded at State of the Ark Studios in London, mixed at Decoy Studios and mastered at the famed Abbey Road. Released via her own EBGB label, worldwide marketing is being handled by Red/Essential. All album photography and initial video work coming by way of the masterful Sophie Muller.

A swirling synthesized reedy flute pattern kicks off opening track “Wild Forever” against metronomic clock-click percussion. Clear acoustic piano chords cut through and establish deeper bass textures as Sophie begins her vocals. “There’s a look in your eye – that says you want to be carefree tonight – just like in days gone by – when we were wild.”

The click-time rhythm and synths give way to full band dance groove on a bridge build-up where Sophie proclaims  “Why be so ordinary? Why just conform? Let’s rip the night in half and forget it all. So keep the engine running, under the stars. I feel release is coming, tonight it’s ours!”

 Chorus: Three sharp descending notes: “We shouldn’t fight the way we feel “ Three more notes, but move in a slightly altered direction “when it comes from somewhere real.”  Background vocals mirror the three accent notes  ("run-ning wild”) with an emerging bass guitar driven pulse.  Sophie goes falsetto  on the line “a garden always in full bloom” before returning to middle-toned voice “That’s how I think of me and you” (Background “running wild”) “but if escape is what we need – when it comes to you and me” -  “we should just surrender” (punctuated by defined drum shots and stately piano chords) – to the ultimate defining line - “stay wild forever.”

Briefly returning to the intro, the second verse finds the piano playing a more active, descending progression beginning with the lyrics “it’s like a secret we hold.”

At almost four-and-a-half minutes in length (which turns out to be the average length of nearly all the songs on this album) there are more than a few wonderfully unexpected moments.  Like the joyously repeated chant of "we just have to surrender" while mad synth twiddles over it all.  Sophie is heard in one of the “making of the record” videos put out before it’s release describing the music on this record as “bonkers psychedelic pop.” Wild Forever delightfully fits that description.

A deeper drum pattern and distinctly plucked guitar notes introduce “Death Of Love” as buzzy synths shimmer underneath. “Streets of SoHo where - we escaped to - take a moment - in slow motion” Sophie proclaims. “Sit beside me and - let them hurry – the city waits for no one” she continues, but then the vocals double and ceremonious guitar chords strum as she sings “but in my mind we’re king and queen – you make the best of everything – and in our fragile kingdom – we’re always singing – an endless melody (with the end note held out on the deeeeee)

Leading in to a gorgeous chorus that goes “Every sunrise leads to a sunset – fruit must fall from branches, and they’ll be centuries for other lovers – but not for us.” The beauty of this section (besides the glorious overview of life lyrics) is how it’s powered along by the deep thumping drums and upward pulsating synth textures.

 “But what we created – it cannot be undone. You know it lives on” To the songs highest point (both vocally and emotionally) – “It’s not – it’s not the death of love” (repeated twice) enhanced by additional double-time cymbal percussion.

 “So you walk through the crowded chaos” Sophie continues as chunky guitar figures enter the mix. “There’s a comfort, waiting for us."   Sophie has stated in interviews that this song is about how the love you create lives on after you've gone.  Therein lies the comfort.

 The magical chorus returns, this time with background vocal enhancements sounding like the trumpet herald of angels. An unexpected drop back in instruments leaves Sophie’s voice out front in ethereal layers over cymbals and drums. Chunky guitar figures return before leading it all back to the lush chorus once more.

Three distinct piano chords establish the essential structure of “Crystallise” as Sophie delivers opening lines “waiting for a lifetime.” As ‘ticking clock’ percussion marks out time, she continues “Like you're carved from the mountain.” One – Two – Three – go the piano chords – “sometimes I stand like a statue – waiting to surprise you”- which immediately leads to the bridge: “and when it comes - and what it does” (with bass guitar taking over as this seconds driving instrument) “is nail you down, you cannot swerve – you’re not the last, you’re not the first to sometimes lose your nerve.”

 To the big chorus: “You don’t need to try – hard. You don’t need to wise – up” The arrival of Sophie and Ed’s go-to string section adds deeper hues to the proceedings.  Specifically the emotionally-charged Cello work by Amy Langley.  “It all becomes clear as day,” she continues. “So Crystallise – love.”  Sweet guitar and piano textures coalesce as Sophie continues “it’s been sleeping since day one – trapped in your subconscious.  Scheming for the moment [sung in higher register and with more force] – when you stop feeling cautious” once again leading immediately into the bridge.

 Doubled vocals this time on the lines “you’re not the last, you’re not the first to sometimes lose your nerve.” In addition to the lush string section, there is now a rising gentle piano figure put in motion. A surprising Pink Floyd-ian extended-note guitar form briefly floats in space before the final chorus. That final pass through finds Sophie layering in alternating background vocals with dramatic tambourine/sleigh-bell shakes. The final seconds have all the instruments dropping away still only the live-in-the-studio drums remain.

The introduction of Nick Etwell’s trumpet on “Hush Little Voices” is significant in creating a cinematic Ennio Morricone/Sergio LeoneSpaghetti Western” vision of the mythical west.  Tambourine jingles feature prominently amid the familiar instrumentation of bass, piano, guitar and occasional “bonkers/psych” synths.   Sophie’s clearly enunciated vocals have less to do with South-Of-The-Border conflicts but rather the bothersome thoughts that keep you awake.  The chorus appears to serve a dual purpose as part lullaby to needlessly worried children, while subtly revisiting deeper subject matter first explored in the song “Party In My Head” from 2003’s “Shoot From The Hip.”  In interviews Sophie has stated this could also be the witch from "Love Is A Camera" on Wanderlust who souls were taken via images held in a tomblike monument (“centograph”), who has now been driven mad by all the souls she's captured.

Making extensive use of the Dirty Pretty Strings on “Here Comes The Rapture,” Sophie creates a chamber music atmosphere comparable to Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” (from her From her No. 1 1985 album Hounds Of Love). However, there is no attempt to add any layers of percussion here as the string section provides the only musical accompaniment. In that regard, The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” serves as a more accurate resemblance.

 Poetic, sweetly sung lyrics describes that moment first encountering the one you were meant to be with. Using metaphors of “towers” on “borders” and surrender (“give ourselves up”) puts a castle siege twist on affairs of the heart. Reaching the angelic chorus, the double edged meaning of “rapture” signifies both ecstatic delight and being transformed to another sphere of existence. With subsequent lyrics making further comparisons to “rernaissance” and “art,” it is the bridge once again that hooks you in. This time “mountains” replace those border towers as “bells are ringing out your name.”

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First single “Come With Us” is placed at the halfway point through the album. The straightforward snare and bass drum stomp pattern is quickly joined by funky guitar licks. Touted as a “return to disco,” the feel seems closer to late 70’s rock bands that specialized in funk (like The Average White Band) or occasionally dabbled in it (The Rolling Stones). While Sophie sings what at first appears to be a call to “come with” her “no matter who you are or *what you see*  (though lyric sheet says “where you’re from” – possibly changed during recording because it sounded better?) a more wary meaning is soon revealed.

 The chorus makes no doubt about the clarion call intentions stating “if you give us all your money we’ll give you your dreams.” How it’s an illusion of “soft focus” imploring you to “release control” and become “lost in a fantasy – ‘til your soul is lost.” That is some pretty damning commentary on advertising and the profit-driven promises offered.  Like many good songs, “Come With Us” can be interpreted on a number of levels. If you want to be seduced by a “welcome to the family” greeting – presented with believable charm by Sophie in both voice and video imagery - that daydream is there. However, one would be foolish not to be suspicious of lyrics “in a hazy frame of mind you’ll believe this stuff.” Sophie has been quoted as saying this song is “about the lure of a cult,” whether that be Jim Jones impoverished Kool-Aid drinkers or the wealthy followers of Scientology.

Instrumental interludes, guitar solos and breakdown with Sophie delivering signature “ooh, ooh, aie ya’s” over “Groovejet” style deep tom-tom percussion and funky guitar riffs lead back to the promised-land chorus. The cultish lure of “living a fantasy under electric stars” ultimately becomes a choice of what (or whom) to follow.

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A basic straight-forward drum beat is juxtaposed against mechanical hand-claps and extended note synths before deep bass guitar establishes the progression on "Cassandra."  Sophie turns to Greek Mythology for her lyrical inspiration here, channeling Cassandra princesses of Troy.  The “snakes in your red hair” allow her to listen to the future, but that gift from the God Apollo becomes a curse.  As a result of her spurning his love, no one believes her predictions.  It’s a classic story that Sophie puts her own spin on.  With the lyrics “putting the blame on the girl,” “I believe in you,” they think it’s a lie you told (but why would you need to)” and “if I could just sit with you, we two could conspire,” and “make them listen,” there’s a sense of a modern female solidarity.  The final minute features rising celestial vocals, rain-tinkling piano and thundering tom toms that build to a dramatic crescendo.

Returning to the “bonkers pop with a bit of psychedelia” approach, “My Puppet Heart” delights as one of the albums most lively tracks.  Over sound effects evoking factory machinery gone slightly awry, the vocals start almost immediately.  Clacketty-stick percussion, oddball foghorn and piano runs counter to Sophie’s first verse vocals, while the bass guitar faithfully mirrors her melody.  All suddenly changes on the next hooky bridge section where vocals starting with “you lift me up and I’m enlightened” are propelled by military-style snare drum rolls, with each line punctuated by deeper voiced chorus of “hoooh!”  The dreamily repeated “When I’m with you” line leads into a big chorus depicting how the puppet masters “hand” has “synchronized” control of her heart.  There is a delightful joy in how the instruments drive it all along, rising to accent “hold – ing tight” until giving way to a somber cello-led string section.  Further sonic surprises come on the third section change where she sings “it’s so beautiful to just free-fall.”  Fittingly the tracks final moments are squiggly sounds of indeterminate origins that imply a tape reel spun out of control.

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A heartbeat-like singular bass drum thump with dueling electric keyboard and guitar figures usher in the ballad “Unrequited.” The pensive tale of yearning love not returned by another ultimately points to the question “Now ain’t that the craziest thing?” The overall mood is like a balladeer singing her heart out in some 19th Century Old West Cantina.

Once again the Dirty Pretty Strings feature prominently behind the vocals, providing a level of pathos unattainable by traditional rock instruments.  The big surprise is a vocal turn from Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws, who arrives after the songs midpoint, providing counterpoint and possible solution (“dance on your own in the light”). The final chorus is sung as a duet, and their voices blend well together.

An oddly jagged synth pulse provides the initial impetus for “The Saddest Happiness.”  Majestic strummed guitar chords accentuate ethereal “ooooh, ooooh, ooooh” background vocals.   Subtleties like the emergence of full trap set drumming halfway through the first verse’s third line (“it’s hard to feel the highs”) shows nuanced attention to detail.   The first change moves from mechanized synth-bass to bright ride cymbals and ceremonious piano accompaniment. Sophie’s lyrical content and vocal performance are sweetly tinged with a plaintive air.     Bass guitar and chamber orchestra strings provide the driving musical force behind Sophie’s vocals on a chorus where “the saddest happiness” is a “friend” that is like “the needle to the groove.”  The emergence of double-time vocal cadence (“rich is the man with a love to treasure”) and mysterious Spanish spoken word segment indicate the freeform possibilities within a self-directed recording environment.

Muted acoustic guitar chords, deep cajon drum and shaker percussion under prominent handclaps furnish the sonic foundation for the albums final track “Don’t Shy Away.”  Perhaps the most purely cinematic track on the album, a southwestern feel emerges once again in both sound design and lyrical content.  There are “mountains,” “birds overhead,” needing to “cross the valley” and “walk in the blazing sun.” With Flamenco-style guitar moving to the forefront and the lyrics “he’s waiting there for me, this runaway bride,” the doomed wedding scene in Tarrantino’s “Kill Bill” makes an excellent visual comparison.  Although Sophie has also stated in interviews that this poetic "runaway bride" is a poetic return to the one in Wanderlust's "Cry To The Beat Of The Band."

The chorus and subsequent musical intervals reinforce the damsel “yearning” for “all that we dared to dream” in a world of new frontiers.  An unanticipated post-chorus halt slowly builds tension around the repeated line “Won’t look back again.”  As that repeated mantra rises with conviction on each pass through, a mournful harmonica wail echoes through this big sky landscape. The majestic sonic coda – evoking pioneers riding out into the sunset (punctuated by stuttering drum fills) serves as a more than fitting end to this album.

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Get Familia: - iTunes

- Signed CD / vinyl

Follow Sophie:

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Previous features on this site about Sophie:

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