When it comes to a Ryan Allen release, it’s never immediately obvious what you’ll get. His brilliant ‘Up Here’ EP from 2019 presented some brilliant punk-edged power pop via a song cycle regarding his divorce; the first of his 2021 releases, ‘What A Rip’ was a guided tour of his various poppier influences, and that year’s second venture, ‘Digital Hiss’, was an exploration of lo-fi, noisier work. That was also cool, but not necessarily what lovers of ‘What A Rip’ would’ve expected…or maybe even wanted.
The former vocalist with Irish electronica/alt-pop band Alphastates, Cat Dowling strikes gold on her 2021 release ‘Animals’. With its mix of jangling guitars, occasional dreampop-ish haze and a few busy rhythms, the core of the album’s best material shifts restlessly, but never in a way that seems showy, or ever feels directionless. Most importantly, Cat’s desire to constantly move between moods never detracts from some deftly written songs. Whether at the helm of loud-ish rocky numbers, or lending a sultry vocal to an ambling 90s influenced tune, or even tackling jazzy pop, the performer shines throughout, and her unshakable presence is vital in taking a genuinely mixed bag of tunes and turning that into something that sounds like a complete and coherent listening experience. The vocals are recognisable as being those from the Alphastates singer, but musically, so much of ‘Animals’ is a different beast; if you were feeling flippant, you might consider it a “grown up pop record”, but it’s so much more than that.
As a contrast to the ‘Progressive Pop Sounds’ sets from Cherry Red Records subsidiary label, Grapefruit, the ongoing ‘Underground Sounds’ series from Esoteric opts for something far more rock oriented. Early collections covering 1968 and ’69 resulted in fine, but unadventurous sets of tunes, and as the series moves into the 70s, fans can expect a similarly accessible approach. Although the four disc delve into 1970 doesn’t necessary dig too deep for obscurities, it still plays very well as a compilation in its own right. In a little over four hours, it serves up nostalgia, unfamiliar curiosities and enough genuine classics to give a solid overview of the year’s prog-leaning and guitar heavy sounds.
The global pandemic of 2020 knocked everyone and everything for six. People found themselves working from home and only meeting their friends virtually across a connected network of webcams. Businesses closed – both temporarily and permanently – and some places became ghost towns. Seaside tourist industries suffered; restaurants and pubs wondered if we’d truly reached the end times, and the entertainment industry ground to a halt with gigs being endlessly postponed. For James Robert Morrison, this seemingly endless landscape of bleakness became something of an inspiration. As man who’d always centred his work around social commentary, current affairs and the state of things in his immediate surroundings, the seemingly broken world and the online anger and self-entitlement surrounding it resulted in a huge burst of creativity.
Like a lot of people, Pierce Frolic turned to music as an escape from the heavier aspects of life. It was something he truly needed, since he struggled through school and, in his own words, “crashed out of college”, survived an automobile accident, ended up hospitalised through other misadventures and found himself surrounded by death. With friends having committed suicide or having their lives cut short through accidents, a dark world got even darker. With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder his debut release ‘Zinnia’ is obsessed with mortality.