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Since their 2010 debut album – “Through Low Light And Trees” - Smoke Fairies’ Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire have been on an epic journey, both physically and spiritually. Touring Britain, Europe and America; in tour buses, ramshackle vans and even driving themselves 3000 miles across the US, drawing increasingly devoted audiences with their exquisitely original and mesmerising music.

All these experiences bleed from every pore of their brilliant new album, “Blood Speaks”. From the heavyweight humidity of “The Three Of Us” and “Feel It Coming Near”, to the fragile haunts of “Daylight” and “Hideaway” and the sonic adventures of “Film Reel” and the title track, Blood Speaks is undeniable proof of a tougher and more fearless Smoke Fairies. “We’ve got more confident in what we’re doing, and so we’ve pushed things a bit more,” says Katherine. “We’ve gotten bolder with the dynamics, and our influences have broadened.”

Suddenly that debut album feels somewhat shy and innocent by comparison, though at the time Through Low Light And Trees certainly cast a powerful shadow, with spectral melodies driven by an uncanny symmetry of sound that reflected the duo’s long friendship. Friends since school in Chichester, Sussex, bonding over their parents’ guitars and Jessica’s mum’s vinyl collection, the pair subsequently lived and worked in New Orleans and Vancouver, met and recorded with Jack White for his Third Man label in Nashville and recorded their debut in a remote Cornish studio - all of which added and embellished their haunting, deep-reaching musical impact.

Head, the venerated producer, returns for Blood Speaks, and their live band was also drafted in, adding their intuitive version of the duo’s evolving sound. This time round, the album was produced in the urban surroundings of West London’s Ladbroke Grove. “Before,” Katherine recalls, “the city felt like a trap to us. Like on the first album, we wrote “Devil In My Mind”, about feeling crushed by London. But as the title track symbolises, we’ve made peace with the city. Maybe travelling gives you the space to counteract a city’s impression, but a lot of Blood Speaks is inspired by London and by travelling.”

‘Blood Speaks’ itself is also the album’s longest and most clear signpost of progress. “We tried to break out of the different forms which you can get restricted by in folk and blues,” says Katherine. “It was very liberating to do that, as well as a very uplifting, independent song for us.”

Jessica: “It’s about the sense you get from stopping, thinking and just focusing on your surroundings. To listen to what your blood is telling you, to experience life and to celebrate the freedom of being able to move around.”

The brooding “Version Of The Future” is one distinct ‘city’ song, while ‘Awake’ is haunted by the idea of millions, “thinking the same thoughts at night, troubled by the same routines, dreaming together, but alone,” says Katherine. “We got that feeling too when we drove across America, of being together, but feeling very alone. We did end up in some very strange places. Driving 200 miles to find a motel, bikers either side of our room, and suddenly realising we didn’t know where we were, and neither did anyone else!”

After that cross-country tour and another to play shows with Blitzen Trapper and Dawes, numerous ‘travelling’ songs appeared. Such as “Take Me Down When You Go”, with its unforgettable images (“black ice on a freezing drive…wrote your name on the steamed-up glass / I feel dead like a winter grass”) and “Daylight (“at night, in the motel, I dream of the car crashing through the wild pastures”). The album’s lead single “The Three Of Us” (which spearheads an EP alongside “The Wireless”, “Radio Clicks On” and “The Bells”) was originally conceived a decade ago during a Greyhound bus trip across America the pair took with a friend, it was revisiting some of the obscure towns while driving between shows got Jessica thinking about, “life, friendship, where it ends and appreciating the journey as you go. Your life stretches out and you see so many different lives and places. What’s to stop you from getting out the bus or car and settling in, say, Montana?”

But Smoke Fairies won’t be settling down yet. This epic journey still has a long way to run. As Katherine concludes, “something about what we’re doing drives you on. Something you can’t escape from. It’s part of our journey and we haven’t got where we’re going yet.”


Philippa says: A name like Smoke Fairies suggests a will-o’-the-wisp fragility, and while Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire’s vintage floral frocks and laced up boots see them conform to certain expectations of folky femininity, names and looks can be deceiving. Much of the two years since the pair’s full length debut "Through Low Light And Trees" has been spent touring, criss-crossing 3000 miles of America as well as Europe and the UK. While many might be cowed by that expanse of the Midwest USA, with Smoke Fairies it seems to have given them a greater presence and a new found confidence, which in turn has transmitted itself to their music. It’s a subtle shift, and one that I only fully appreciated listening to "Through Low Light And Trees" and "Blood Speaks" back to back.

As with its predecessor, "Blood Speaks" is steeped in the history of English folk, Americana and blues (the pair have previously decamped to New Orleans for a year’s study), but this new album has a certain additional muscularity to it, most notable on the opening blues slide guitar on "The Three Of Us", while title track "Blood Speaks" goes beyond the constraints of the folk / blues tradition altogether. Unchanging, however, is Smoke Fairies USP, the entwined, entrancing ethereal vocal harmonies of Blamire and Davies, which are still at the heart of every song, as are the tales of love and loss, continuing the thread of melancholia that runs through all their work. If, like me, you found "Through Low Light And Trees" totally enthralling, "Blood Speaks" will be sure to captivate you just as much.


Ltd LP Info: The vinyl also includes a CD of the full album.

"Sunrise", is being released exclusively as a 7" single ahead of their new album "Broken". It's a west coast-drenched, lone-plains-drifter lament sung by Will Oldham, with Lanegan supplying lyrics and music. Returning the favour, Lanegan takes on Oldham's "You Will Miss Me When I Burn" over on the flip.


Ltd 7" Info: Just found one copy of this long deleted 7". First come first served!

Over the past 2 years Adriana Alba, Ferry Gouw and Chris Steele-Nicholson have taken the time to construct an album that focuses on moving forward and breaking new grounds. Using their record company advance to purchase their own studio equipment has meant the Semifinalists recording set up is completely mobile. Hence, the recording locations have varied from a remote cabin by a frozen lake in Wisconsin, to the streets of San Francisco and the suburbs of Chicago. Over the 12 tracks the ambition of the album is clear. By mixing sounds of 80's new wave pop, funk, and disco, as well as dreamy electronic shoegaze, Semifinalists have truly evolved their sound. The songs hit harder, the structures, even though still as genre-bending as ever, are more linear. Thematically the lyrics are more introspective, more personal, and darker. Hidden under the sheen of pop are tales of heartbreak and disappointment, as well as a cautious optimism.

Having secured their status as art-rock legends during the 90s… lionised by the likes of Radiohead and REM… Deus stake out bold new frontiers for themselves. On "Vantage Point" there are the same art rock tendencies we know and love them for, but this time infiltrated with some solid grooves, at times even bordering of punk funk. They've also recruited guest vocalists on a couple of tracks: Guy Garvey from Elbow provides vocals on "The Vanishing Of Maria Schneider" and Karin Dreijer Andersson from The Knife sings on the superb brooding "Slow".

Ray Davies

Working Man's Cafe

Eighteen months after releasing his first ever solo album, Ray Davies is back with what promises to be one of the best albums of his incredible career. While last year's "Other People's Lives" was a lifetime in the making, this new album happened relatively quickly. Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, "Working Mans Café" features 12 stellar songs written by Ray Davies and co-produced with Ray Kennedy. They assembled a crackerjack band of top musicians who breathe life into a wonderful collection of songs. The 12 new songs are vintage Ray Davies and bear all the hallmark classic musical and lyrical insights we have come to expect from him. The album is infused with a transatlantic sound befitting Ray's close ties to the American south coupled with his well respected Englishness. From the first upbeat notes of the lead track "Vietnam Cowboys", it is clear Ray has never sung better. "Working Mans Café" is a wistful, humorous and poignant look at today, just what we have come to expect from one of Britain's greatest songwriters. Highlights are many and include the Preservation Jazz Hall sway of "Morphine Song", the painful longing of "Imaginary Man" and the haunting emotion of "One More Time".

In early 2006, The Black Keys returned to their basement to record "Magic Potion", their fourth full-length album. Despite its title, "Magic Potion" is ironically the sound of The Black Keys getting their signature sound down to a science — it's the band at their heaviest, grittiest and most powerfully stripped down. From the nasty, sweaty strut of "Your Touch" to the sublimely narcotic devotional ballad "You're The One" on down to the stomping, house-rocking call to arms "Modern Times" The Black Keys have made another fantastic album.


Cast Of Thousands

So everyone's saying Elbow are happier now? Don't worry this is still heavy and atmospheric, but it's somehow more liberating, less cloying, than their debut album. Sure, there's the creepily sinister "I've Got Your Number" and they still have a proggy bent, like Radiohead but with ace songs. But there's jazzy vibes, lovely electronica and in "Switching Off" they have another mega slowie. There's mad percussion, gospel choirs, beautiful poetry: all so introspective yet somehow anthemic. Sadness that makes you feel 10 foot tall? Now that's wonderful. And weird! Best of all is "Grace Under Pressure", so awe inspiring it sounds like a hymn. It ends with the crowd at Glastonbury chanting 'we still believe in love so fuck you!'. It's the best thing they've ever done. And the album's at least matched its incredible predecessor. Perhaps even surpassed. There's plenty of unravelling and bewitching to be getting on with here. We'll know by Xmas!!!

Bebel Gilberto is back with "Momento", her third solo album, presenting some of her most elegant and personal musical statements since bursting on the scene in 2000 when her Grammy nominated debut album "Tanto Tempo" took the world by storm. The album draws on the graceful, low-key electronica of her debut and the enchanting, acoustic simplicity of her second self-titled album. Gilberto's voice is presented in a variety of settings that showcase her magical delivery and subtle, powerful emotions. "Momento" sees Gilberto coming into her own as a songwriter, writing or co-writing the majority of the songs here. She also delivers three impressive covers: "Cacada" (written by her uncle and famed songwriter Chico Buarque); "Tranquilo" (written by young Rio producer Kassin) and a heart-stopping bossa-jazz version of Cole Porter's classic "Night And Day".

In just eighteen hugely eventful months since forming, and less than a year after signing a record deal, this four piece have chalked up three exhilarating top 40 singles, completed a string of riotous sold out tours, including show-stealing performances at the Reading and Leeds Festivals and their biggest headline show to date at Sheffield's 1600 capacity Octagon. As the title suggests, this hotly anticipated debut album is lead singer Jon Windle's masterclass in autobiographical storytelling. Oozing heart and soul, the album is full of true stories and a cast of colourful characters, combining a touch of Steel City realism with a healthy does of suburban hedonism.

The Rough Trade shop once again bring us their annual round-up of shop favourites. From the meditative piano pulse electronics of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto to Hush Arbors' Velvet Underground-influenced psyche-rock sorcery, from Lily Allen's helplessly upbeat 70's cockney ska biscuit to Peter Bjorn And John's super hooky space pop, from Scritti Politti's hip hop lullaby to Crystal Castles' lo-fi and no-wave slo-disco, and from Erase Errata's politically-savvy skronky dance punk to Xerox Teens' messed up pneumatic noise - we have the best of everything here, the hottest bands around, old friends returning in fine style. Monkey Swallows the Universe's melancholic indie-pop, Ladybug's favela-electro, Ripchord's son rock (in opposition to dad of course), Burial's grime-score, soundtracking the urban sprawl, Treecreepers powerpop resurrection, Uffie's crystal clear fembot pop, Wolf Eyes' sonic tornado - the list goes on and on and on and on. 2006 was a diverse year for music, and while it may be confusing for those who liked it when it was just skins, punks and greasers, well, they will just have to try and keep up keeping up.

Duke Special

Last Night I Nearly Died (But I Woke Up Just In Time)

Hailing from Belfast with a sound that is self-confessed 'hobo-chic', Duke Special is once heard, never forgotten. Following four stellar live dates in London recently, the acclaimed singer/songwriter releases the lusciously eccentric "Last Night I Nearly Died (But Woke Up Just In Time)". 'I want to capture something dusty and beautiful on record, something that sounds like Christmas smoking through an old wooden radio.' says Duke, and this single is exactly that.


CDS Info: The CD single includes "Glimmer Girl", "From Clare To Here", "Last Night I Nearly Died (1868 Version)" and the video for "Last Night I Nearly Died".

The film - dark, compelling, "Bye Bye Blackbird" tells the story of a circus family and the tragedies that impact their lives. You leave the film wondering what was real and what was a dream. The music – Mercury Rev provide an ambient and beautiful instrumental score for the film across 19 tracks. The CD also features an enhanced section with band studio footage.

Blood Meridian

Kick Up The Dust

Blood Meridian singer/songwriter Matthew Camirand is a man with a diverse rock and roll history. At the moment, he's completely focused on Blood Meridian. Camirands' band mates in Blood Meridian are Vancouver rock-scene luminaries Joshua Wells, Shira Blustein, Kevin Grant and Jeff Lee. Together, they've created 12 stunningly diverse tracks for days when the skies are slate-grey and Jim Beam is the only friend worth turning to. About half of "Kick Up The Dust" was recorded in Vancouver at The Hive Studios, which has recently spit out another couple of Camirand / Wells projects, Black Mountain and Pink Mountaintops. The other half was tracked on Vancouver Island at Shawnigan Lake, where the bands' friend Dante Decaro (Wolf Parade, Hot Hot Heat) has built a small studio aptly named 'Deadwood'.

Various Artists

Le Nouveau Rock'n'Roll Francais

A new compilation put together by Sean Mclusky & Ludovic Merle compliling the best new bands coming out of France. 22 pieces of proof that the new New Cross is more likely to be Pigalle than Peckham. It actually came about by accident, with co-compilers Sean and Ludovic taking such UK bands as 80s Matchbox, The Beatings etc over to Paris to play, and finding that they were constantly being given great music by struggling wastrels of this invisible movement. They spent a year scanning the French rock'n'roll scene and their findings are on this disc. So, if France doesn't know what it's got then - as with the White Stripes or the Strokes in America – we Brits are going to have to lay it on the line for them.

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