This is more like it. This and last month’s “Minor Victories” LPs are my favourite Rough Trade albums of the month in a good while.
Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve is Erol Alkan and Richard Norris. Both are veterans of the dance and electronica scene of the last twenty years. Alkan has been a highly successful DJ and re-mixer in his own right. We caught some of his set at the December 2015 warehouse gig by New Order in Manchester. Norris has had an eclectic career, starting his musical career as a teenage frontman of St Albans punk band, the Innocent Vicars. He worked in Ibiza during the crazy years, was part of The Grid and was also a close associate of Joe Strummer during the late great Mescalero period before his sad passing.
This wasn’t the first Wizard’s Sleeve work in my collection. I had bought their “Ark 1” mix album from Rough Trade in 2008. This was a much less direct album than “The Soft Bounce” favouring the dance floor a little more. I also enjoyed their recent remix “Sun Restructured” LP of Temples’ debut LP. It was an ideal match between Temples youthful psychedelia and the Wizard’s Sleeves more experimental but experienced skill set. Their remix of Midlake’s “Roscoe” is magical.
On to “The Soft Bounce” then. It is effectively their debut LP and feels like a much more focussed and digestible update of their previous work. I should first qualify my view on psychedelia. I love the sixties Nuggets garageband material but I struggle with the more whimsical end of the spectrum. Anything that that is in the old time English music hall vein brings me out in hives. My least favourite Beatles LP is “Sgt Pepper”. I really find those mostly Macca led tracks incredibly tiresome – “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite”, “Lovely Rita” and especially “When I’m 64”. So anything that vaguely resembles that type of nonsense is a big turn off for me.
Opening with soft cooing voices, very quickly “Delicious Light” picks up the pace. It hits a groove not unlike the Everlasting Yeah’s recent offerings, with a driving interlocked four four drum and bass and squally guitars. The momentum is very much maintained into “Iron Age”, but this time the song is very much a traditional vocal driven rock song. The rockier feel of the material isn’t surprising. Alkan in particular has remixed the likes of Franz Ferdinand and the Manic Street Preachers and is by no means a dance purist. The drumming is provided by Leo Taylor, who performs amongst others with my current favourites, Floating Points.
“Creation” feels like a long lost Stereolab song. “Door To Tomorrow” evokes the sixties, a string arrangement not too distant to “She’s Leaving Home” and the chorus of “Emily” an obvious throwback to Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. The song dates from 2012 when a 12 inch was released, featuring Euros Childs of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci on vocals. “Diagram Girl” has a beautiful summer melody, sung by Hannah Peel, perfect for the heady July sunshine that we are enjoying at the moment. We are half way through the album and it has flown by – all killer, no filler. The feel of the record is a collective performing with guest musicians entering into the fray. This is a triumph as the album was created with the component parts worked through remotely. There is just one sample on the album on “Iron Age”.
“Black Crow” is wobbly, woozy and blessed with a gorgeous chorus. It puts me in mind of one of the BlackCountryRock household’s favourite bands of recent years, Deptford’s The Shortwave Set. A blog post for another time, if you see either of their LPs, snaffle them up.
The cinematic “Tomorrow Forever” provides a break in the melodic approach. A string section and those beautiful female harmonies combine with tectonic continental shift. Imagine suitable background music to George Clooney and Sandra Bullock drifting apart in “Gravity” and you are there. What sounds like a pump organ segues into the title track before a drummer kicks in and we are back with those female vocals and through to “Finally First”. The more psychedelic spaced out theme concludes with “Third Mynd” with a voice over from Jon Savage, music journalist and author of the seminal work on the punk/new wave scene “England’s Dreaming”. Savage reads out accounts of first time experiences on LSD to a disorientating lysergic back beat.
The bonus CD is excellent too. Entitled “Ark 2”, it is essentially a follow up to the earlier “Ark 1” LP mentioned above and again is mostly remixes of sixties material. There is a great cut and paste job on The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog”. My favourite though is their take on Love’s “A House Is Not A Motel”. They introduce a loop which emphasises the bass and drums whilst not deviating wildly from the template of the original – excellent stuff.
Back to “The Soft Bounce” though. It stands together very well as a continuous LP, very much like peak Chemical Brothers. There is an excellent flow that avoids the potential feeling of the grab bag that could have existed. The use of guest vocalists serves to provide the variety to maintain one’s attention.
This one’s a keeper.