Amen 2 by Mikko Joensuu – One of the Best Albums of 2016

Amen 2 by Mikko Joensuu
Amen 2 by Mikko Joensuu

Amen 2 is the second instalment of Mikko Joensuu’s proposed soul-searching trilogy.

Mikko Joensuu was brought up with strong religious overtones. But in the seven years prior to the release Amen 1, he suffered with depression and loneliness. Whereas the first album is Mikko Joensuu coming to terms with the idea that God was no longer a part of his life, Amen 2 recounts a complicated person losing their religion and looking for understanding in a new way of thinking.

On Amen 1 Mikko Joensuu uses the sadness of alt country and a voice full of pain and fragility, at times reminiscent of Gram Parsons, on songs like ‘Warning Signs‘ explaining the doubt of his religious convictions.


Warning Sign from Amen 1

Amen 2 starts with the powerful, driving ‘Drop Me Down‘. From the initial hum, the fragile voice is all that remains from the first album. ‘Drop Me Down’ begins “Starts out with a silent word, with a voice that can now be heard”. This is a beautiful song that builds as it drives, forward on a journey from A to B. Piano, strings and fragile voice embrace a sadness. Drums and guitar build, lifting the song into anthemic realms of celebration. Over the course of seven minutes’Drop Me Down’ continues rolling forward, gathering momentum and power.


Drop Me Down from Amen 2

Whereas on Amen 1 the singer-songwriter from North Finland was sitting alone on the porch of his small cabin by the lake, staring into the water and strumming his acoustic guitar, on Amen 2 he gets up and walks into the forest to celebrate a new found freedom, rising out of depression and confusion with a forward-looking hope.

But as Mikko Joensuu explains,

“There’s a certain balance to be found between an overwhelming joy towards the beauty of life and living, and not really knowing if the mind will collapse into the abyss again. On Amen 2 the light is definitely present, although it is more interested in observing emotions and thoughts than setting them in stone.”

On Amen 2 Joensuu explores euphoric long tracks inhabiting a similar musical territory as My Bloody Valentine’s shoegazer melodies and the space gospel of Spiritualized, infused with a sprinkle of The Jesus & Mary Chain on tracks like ‘There Used To Be A Darkness‘. It is a step into the light, in every respect, and a record that is built on the feeling of relief and acceptance.


There Used To Be A Darkness from Amen 2

Amen 2 by Mikko Joensuu is a truly brilliant album that deserves all the praise it receives. One of my the best albums of 2016. Now I am intrigued where Amen 3 will take us.

Mikko JoensuuAmen 2 is released on Svart Records.

Swervedriver release new album, ‘I Wasn’t Born To Lose You’


I Wasn't Born to Lose You is the fifth studio album by Swervedriver
I Wasn't Born to Lose You is the fifth studio album by Swervedriver


I Wasn’t Born to Lose You is the fifth studio album by Swervedriver. It is the band’s first album in 17 years, since 1998’s 99th Dream and is set for release on 3rd March on Cherry Red Records.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xfB77uFxQk

In 1990 London’s indie-rock guitar scene was developing a distinctive new psychedelic sound: swirling, dreamy and mysterious. Swervedriver had the liquid distortion of shoegaze combined with the cool swagger of Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr – giving them a unique sound and attitude. They were equalled burdened with comparisons to grunge and the shoegazer scenes.  But Swervedriver existed apart from any fad or ‘scene’.

Originally from Oxford, guitarists Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge, bassist Adi Vines and drummer Graham Bonnar signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records and released three EPs, Son of Mustang Ford, Rave Down, and Sandblasted before their debut album, Raise, in 1991.

After recording their fourth full-length 1998’s 99th Dream, the energy was dissipating and they imploded at the end of an Australian tour.  Going their separate ways – Adam Franklin moved to the US and released solo albums with his band Bolts of Melody.

Swervedriver reformed in 2007 and played the Coachella Festival in 2008. In 2013 they released their  first single in 15 years, Deep Wound. Spin Magazine called it a “warm, confidently roiling return” with Mojo adding “those same distorted pop sensibilities remain reassuringly intact” and the band debuted the song on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” in the US.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc8vJFBIvRg

I Wasn’t Born to Lose You is Swervedriver’s first album in 18 years. Recorded at legendary studios Birdland in Melbourne, and Konk in London the album features Deep Wound, along with the recent single Setting Sun.

Swervedriver – I Wasn’t Born to Lose You Tracklisting:

1.    Autodidact
2.    Last Rites
3.    For A Day Like Tomorrow
4.    Setting Sun
5.    Everso
6.    English Subtitles
7.    Red Queen Arms Race
8.    Deep Wound
9.    Lone Star
10.  I Wonder?

Swervedriver release  ‘I Wasn’t Born To Lose You’ on 3rd March 2015 via Cherry Red Records.

14 Iced Bears – Hold On Inside: Complete Recordings 1991-1986

14 Iced Bears - Hold On Inside: Complete Recordings 1991 - 1986
14 Iced Bears - Hold On Inside: Complete Recordings 1991 - 1986

In 1986, amongst the explosion of exciting lo-fi indie pop sounds that would become known as the ‘C86 sound’, a debut single was released by a Brighton band with a peculiar name. 14 Iced Bears had signed to the local fledgling Frank Records label and released, what I thought on first hearing was a classic pop song. ‘Inside’ starts with a rough, jagged, twee yet angst-ridden guitar, before pounding tribal drums precede an ear-bleeding barrage of treble-heavy distorted guitar noise that fills the room and my head, simultaneously.  The cacophony of noise has me slightly wincing with ear-aching pain and pleasure.  The assault is lessened only by the fact that it was predated by The Jesus & Mary Chain and Meat Whiplash debut singles on Creation Records – ‘Upside Down’ and ‘Don’t Slip Up’, respectively.

‘Inside’ delivers a short, sharp shock of intense indie pop music noise as singer/songwriter Rob Sekula delivers a gentle, naked vocal that collides beautifully with the energy & rush of music.  The song comes and goes far too quickly. No time for a middle-eight.  No room for a self-indulgent guitar solo.  The 14 Iced Bears were one of hundreds of lo-fi exponents that had sprung up in opposition to over-produced commercial twaddle, and the dry ice and pomposity of Goth music.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY4KYT4eqCs

As with any period in music history, where there’s a sea-change music journalists will tag a name to it.  By 1986 the UK was certainly awash with new groups, small record labels and clubs that across the country appeared to have rekindled the ‘do-it-yourself’ punk ethic and in the process formed an uprising from…. somewhere.

The 14 Iced Bears were lumped in with the indie pop ‘scene’. In many ways they were a perfect fit.  Their sound, both live and recorded was heavily influenced by twee, jangly treble-heavy guitars and a sense of lo-fi amateurishness.  But 14 Iced Bears also had a psychedelic edge; and by the time of their debut album, they had erred further towards psychedelia and with hindsight, clearer to see they were forerunners of what became known as the ‘shoegazer’ scene.

But before the debut album, they released the exceptional ‘The Importance of Being Frank’ 12” EP & the equally absorbing ‘Come Get Me’ 7” single. The 12” included no fillers just four brilliant tracks – ‘Balloon Song’, ‘Train Song’, ‘Like a Dolphin’ & ‘Lie to Choose’.  For me, this cemented 14 Iced Bears as one of my favourite bands of the moment. They already had more great pop songs than most of their contemporaries.  ‘Come Get Me’ was released on the much coveted Bristol-based Sarah record label.  But because of the labels ‘no albums’ policy they were forced to release their eponymously titled debut album in 1988 on a third label, Thunderball Records.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBtnAskYKr8

By now the C86 ‘thing’ had passed and the UK indie music scene had dissipated.  Some groups signed for major labels in search for commercial success and other copycats & hangers-on simply fell away or changed their colours (The Soup Dragons!). But with the release of their debut album, the 14 Iced Bears sound had simply evolved and taken on new brighter, more elaborate colours.

“I genuinely think 14 Iced Bears’ eponymous debut album is a bit of a lost psych classic.” – Alexis Petridis, The Guardian

Over the course of their career, 14 Iced Bears had a pretty fluid line-up.  But always at its centre was singer/songwriter Rob Sekula. The original noise pop and C86 twee had been superseded by a heavily-influenced 1960s psych pop sound that was always present but sometimes hidden amongst the noise, pop and distortion. The album is indeed a lost and by many, forgotten classic.  ‘Take It’, ‘Spangle’ and reworked versions of ‘Train Song’ & ‘Cut’ were quite possibly overlooked as nothing more than a release out of time with shifting tastes and trends.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_YypomT76I

The influence of West Coast psychedelia continued to influence the band’s music as 14 Iced Bears continued to err closer towards psychedelic ‘shoegazer’ space releasing a further two EPs in 1989 and a second album, Wonder in 1991.

Hitherto, I was unfamiliar with the second album and listening to it afresh in 2014, it includes some great songs that still hold an essence of what I first fell in love with, coupled with a clear evolution that is clearly demonstrated when listening to this whole compilation. Through this later period they enjoyed more success on the college circuit in the US than they received in the UK.  However, the band split in 1992 and lay dormant until 2010 when Sekula resurrected the band for some live dates following a resurgence of interest.

There have been a couple of noteworthy 14 Iced Bears compilations over the past 20 years, the best of which is Hold On Inside – Complete Recordings 1991 – 1986 on Cherry Red Records. In reverse order it contains both albums and all the singles, starting with ‘Hold On’, the last track on the second album and closing with their debut single ‘Inside’.  Hence the title!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvV0fZ82cVg

Listening to this album brings back good memories.  How I met Rob and arranged a gig in Chatham. How the band came back to mine for dinner; and most of all how good the songs were and still sound so good all these years later.  As I listen to this double album I wonder why the 14 Iced Bears didn’t leave more of a mark and bigger impression on more people than they did.

Stumbleine featuring Violet Skies debut album, Dissolver

Stumbleine featuring Violet Skies debut album, Dissolver
Stumbleine featuring Violet Skies debut album, Dissolver

Following their collaborative EP, Chasing Honeybees, in February, UK writer / producer Stumbleine (aka Peter Cooper) and vocalist/songwriter Violet Skies release their debut album, Dissolver.

While listening to the 10 tracks of Dissolver, I think of Massive Attack, Elisabeth Fraser, Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, Jesus & Mary Chain, The Sundays and the explorative dreamy music of Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine.  It sounds like Peter Cooper has been listening to my record collection and managed to succinctly create an album full of influential references borrowing ideas and blending sounds to perfectly suit the beautiful, soulful voice of Violet Skies.  In much the same way as Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ was a perfect match for the Cocteau Twins’ Elisabeth Fraser.

But don’t think the aforementioned list is in anyway negative or condescending.  It’s not like the Jesus & Mary Chain influence is entitled ‘Just Like Marmalade’.  Although clearly recognisable, this is not a Gallagher brothers production. Stumbleine makes no attempt to hide influences in his work.  In fact he has previously recorded a cover version of the shoegazing classic Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade Into You’.

Stumbleine’s music is given more than simply a voice. The velvet vocals of Violet Skies gives each song a personality.  I thought of Rhianna. But to be honest, the contemporary soulful R ‘n’ B style isn’t my strong point.  Though the 22 year-old from south Wales cites Joni Mitchell and the soundscapes of James Blake and Massive Attack, among her influences.

What I love most about this album is the way the music and voice, and the various influences seamlessly gel and plays together as an unabridged set of songs.  So well in fact, that it’s hard to think this is collaboration between two solo artists.

Dissolver starts with the deep sparseness of ‘Thunderdome’ like an introductory piece to capture the atmosphere and settle an audience before the show begins. Think The XX at their most melancholy. Then, with the opening swathes of distorted guitar, the shoegazing ‘Sunset Boulevard’ starts the journey proper. This is a beautiful song that perfectly showcases how Violet Skies brings life to, and opens the music as it drifts and floats around the room. Think Cocteau Twins and the luscious soaring vocals of Elisabeth Fraser.

Even on repeat plays, the album appears to end too soon – always a good sign with a new album.  Other tracks include the catchy melodic pop of ‘Heroine’, with its ‘Just Like Honey’ sound, the err towards R ‘n’ B of ‘Her Touch’ and ‘Whirlpool’ and the swirling shoegaze-infused dreamscapes of ‘One Step Closer’ and ‘Sleeping Through The Day’.

[ad#whirlpool]

Dissolver is my first contender for best album of 2014.

Stumbleine featuring Violet Skies Dissolver tracklisting

1. Thunderdome
2. Sunset Boulevard
3. We’re Shadows
4. Her Touch
5. Heroine
6. Whirlpool
7. One Step Closer
8. Baby Don’t Go
9. XYZ
10. Sleeping Through The Day

Stumbleine featuring Violet Skies debut album, Dissolver is released  on CD, vinyl & digital album on 7 April 2014 on Monotreme Records.