NewMusicMondays – 14 September 2020

New Zealand-based The Beths follow in the strong power pop tradition blazed by Scotland’s Camera Obscura, Canada’s Alvvays and Australia’s Allo Darlin’ – bittersweet relationship observations shared in common, yet with a somewhat harder edge than all three. Even so, they (also) have melodic hooks galore, sharply yet painlessly so pointed as to be capable of being swallowed hook line and sinker, and brave octave leaps in the vocal line. Their second album, Jump Rope Gazers, was released in July but written last year and finished earlier in 2020 with the global march of Covid-19 already underway. It’s hard, nevertheless, not to see it as something of a metaphor for our times: on the standout track, ‘Dying to Believe,’ Elizabeth Stokes sings ‘I’m dying to believe/That you won’t be the death of me;’

while the title track, written as the band toured extensively away from home, envisages two people apart but still connected on the end here of a skipping rope but which stands as a metaphor for anything which links people and keeps them together – a phone line, a laptop-based camera link, good old fashioned mail. The whole album speaks of distanced relationships but of the ability of people to reconnect and to maintain whatever it is that holds them together no matter the time spent apart.

The Beths’ Bandcamp is well worth checking out; and note that their first album – the wonderful Future Me Hates Me – is available for pre-order again on another differently-coloured vinyl; this time on neon yellow splatter expected to ship at the back end of this month.

Second up this week is Khruangbin’s ‘Pelota’, off their new album Mordechai, released in June. Khruangbin have been around for a while – Mordecai is their third album – but despite raising quite an industry buzz over the last five years, their soundscapes have passed mostly rather over my head up to now. ‘Pelota’, coming over the airwaves on Iggy Pop’s show on 6Music last Friday, immediately strikes an evocative, haunting, late night guitar line straight from the heyday of Senegalese maestros Orchestre Baobab, before Laura Lee’s Spanish vocal and a Latin-oriented percussion take on the theme. There is a clever and rather liberating video, too:

Again, you can pick up more of Khruangbin’s work via their Bandcamp.

Orchestre Baobab, by the way, are shortly to release Specialists in All Styles, their 2002 re-unification album featuring also Youssou N’Dour and Ibrahim Ferrer, for the first time on vinyl, coming at the back end of next week. Sadly, Balla Sidibe, Baobab’s founding and sustaining light, died suddenly at the end of July.

Held also in memoriam this week is Pete King, doyen of the British alto sax scene, who died on 23 August. You can explore his legend on plenty of YouTube videos but the one I come back to is his uplifting role on Everything But the Girl’s ‘Each and Every One’, which came out as the British jazz scene was starting to take shape in the mid-1980s and which song and album (Eden) was also my own founding introduction to feminism. Tracey Thorn might have intended this as a response to the Marine Girls’ music critics, but not least in an album context, its wider resonances are also clear:

‘Each and Every One’ might be best-known otherwise for its Latin groove, but it’s Pete King’s sax which gives it its joy. King appeared on all of EBTG’s first four albums, by the way, as well as on Amplified Heart. RIP to Balla, Pete and Toots Hibbert, who died at the weekend while awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test.

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