A cult band in the late 90s, Hefner’s warped anthems proved that linchpin Darren Hayman wasn’t just another indie-shmindie clone.
Thankful Villages Volume 2 (Rivertones) is his second aural sojourn through the English countryside. ‘Thankful villages’ are those that lost no men in The Great War, and the tracks borrow their charming names from places such as Cundall, Norton Le Clay and Maplebeck. Hayman’s sparse, laconic folk melodies are overlaid with evocative wild tracks of nature, kids playing, locals telling their stories, and the ever under-heard Judy Dyble pops up on Upper Slaughter. It’s one highlight on a curate’s egg of an album that’s like Ray Davies, Roger Waters and Belle And Sebastian messing about on the river.
Maxïmo Park’s Lukas Wooller and The Rakes’ Matthew Swinnerton have joined forces as Karras, a project that allows them to vent their love of ‘Krautrock, post-rock and kitsch’. Municipal Dances (Trestle) is a set of 10 hooky nuggets of alternative synth/guitar-pop with hints of shared favourites Tortoise, Air and Roedelius. There’s a hip, retro feel throughout, and their spacey treatment of the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday In Cambodia is sophisticated, cheeky fun.
Much more earnest are Manchester’s Alive In Theory. Their debut album Abandon (Ultraviolet) is an assured work of dark, crunchy synth pop that showcases singer Kirsty Mac’s dramatic approach to performance. There are echoes of Kate Bush, Evanescence, even Seviour-era Touchstone here; Goldfrapp goes goth, if you will.
On the more experimental end of the spectrum, Partikel return with a new electric guitarist, flautist and sound designer in tow on latest album Counteraction (Whirlwind). There’s a whiff of Canterbury, Zappa, even Knifeworld here (notably on Moving Fields) on an album that’s rich in ideas, atmosphere and jazzy textures. It’ll reward broader minds.
More conventionally proggy (and winner of our occasional ‘Pun Of The Month’ gong), Mancunian Candidate is singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Swindells, ex of Moth Vellum and Matt Bissonette’s band, Raising Lazarus. Bissonette offers bass on the Candidate’s self-titled, self-released album, which is a bit of a find, especially for fans of 80s Yes and Rush. With a voice somewhere between Jon Anderson and Sting, Swindells has a real way with a pop prog melody and a firm handle on the genre’s symphonic language.
And if you ever wondered what Tubular Bells would sound like played by a 28-piece brass ensemble then try Tubular Brass’ version of the album, out now on Static Caravan. It’s a novelty perhaps, but high-minded: Sandy Smith’s orchestration gives new lustre to Oldfield’s magnum opus. And kudos to the players for getting their lips around that fiddly introduction without exorcising their own tonsils in the process…