I decided to make a new page to review artists and recent releases I come across that I like. Only music for now, but who knows? …the sky is the limit.
THE MARCH AFTERNOONS-“HI JAMES, MY NAME IS ALSO JAMES! HAIL SATAN!”
Mark Estall is a London-based indie producer and multi-instrumentalist, who runs his own studio called MarketStall Recordings. I was introduced to Mark’s work through his brilliant production for Jeremy Tuplin’s albums, which I love and have reviewed in the past.
Not surprisingly, it turns out Mark is also a recording artist and songwriter in his own right. His bread and butter is production work, and live performances are a rare occasion, but he’s also been releasing albums under the moniker The March Afternoons. They are every bit as fascinating and captivating as his production work.
Mark’s latest as the March Afternoons, ”Hi James, my name is also James! Hail Satan!” shows, in any case anyone’s still surprised, how the line between production, recording and writing is becoming blurrier by the day. Mark is one of those artists who uses the recording studio as his instrument, with marvelous results. This album might well be a publicist’s nightmare since it’s hard to pin down stylistically, not tied to any of the musical niches we’ve all been brainwashed to accept. Instead we find a hyper creative spirit roaming freely, following his Muse to hell and back if need be.
“Hi James…” is, in Mark’s own words, about ‘home’ and the quest to find that magical place without ever really finding it. Born and raised in Northern England, Mark moved to London twenty years ago and began building a successful career as producer and studio owner. He put his own songwriting on hold, until in his own words, ‘it found me again’.
If there is a common sound to describe “Hi James…” it would be melodic psychedelica. Guitars echo stereophonically, vocals float eerily through space, drum machines rub up against jangly guitars, plunky bass and lush analog synths. The shadow of the ever elusive Syd Barret hovers over the album, but we can also hear influences of 60s pop, indie rock and electronica. Moments of unexpectedly heart-wrenching beauty meet whimsical sound design and inventive arranging, all bathed in a glimmering veil of melancholy and longing.
Opener “London, I&II” is a catchy indie pop tune with a melancholy undertone, briefly telling the tale of Mark’s adventures moving to London and establishing himself in the music scene. The instrumental coda is especially cool, in a kind of prog-meets-indie-with-a-touch-of-jazz kind of way.
“Tales of the Unexpected”, with lyrics written and performed by Dominic Silvani, is hauntingly beautiful and achingly sad, its sparseness only adding to the vibe, proving that less is more and showcasing Mark’s mastery of sound and arranging.
“Don’t Panic” is a favorite, marrying mid 60s pop bombast worthy of Brian Wilson with dreamy layered vocals and random bits of crackly conversation.
“CCaRRoll” is an ambient 80s ditty that reminds me of ‘Fantasma”-era Cornelius, whereas “London III” is another favorite. Starting out with minimal flute (played by Hannah Marchand ) and mandolin, the first line laments that ‘It’s been a long time since I slept ok’. Then the song takes an unexpected turn and over spooky bells, background vocals and Lord knows what else, the melody soars upwards to yet more achingly beautiful melodic and sonic goodness, talking about ‘ghosts in this house’.
I could hear every one of these tunes playing over a movie or a TV series, even (gasp) a commercial. They are all such perfect little worlds, lovingly and meticulously crafted, with every perfect little detail contributing to these miniature sonic paintings.
With “Hi James…”, Mark Estall AKA the March Betweens has proven that his songwriting skills can hold their own along the many wonderful artists whose work he has helped see the light of day. The album is a smorgasbord of carefully crafted sounds and arrangements, as whimsical as it is shiny, a glittering jewel of stubborn originality and deep musicianship, and a glimpse into the mind of an intelligent, observant and slightly jaded artist, who like all of us is simply trying to find his way in this crazy world we live in.
JEREMY TUPLIN-“ORVILLE’S DISCOTHEQUE” ( Trapped Animal)
The decline of the music industry has been heartbreaking to me. The hostile takeover by streaming companies pulled the rug out from under the independent scene, which is where 90% of the interesting stuff used to happen. Robbed of their ability to sell recorded music, for indies the only stream of income left is touring. Alas, gentrification, then Covid has caused many small and medium-sized music venues to close, the bread and butter of small tours. Beloved indies like Santigold and Andrew Bird have announced they can no longer afford to go on the road. Inevitably music becomes a hobby for those who can afford it, and it shows. Music has degenerated into sonic wallpaper, the soundtrack to life glued to various screens.
So discovering an artist like Jeremy Tuplin is refreshing to say the least. I was first introduced to his work when I reviewed his albums I Dreamt I was an Astronaut and Pink Mirror for Folk Radio UK. Like any true artist, Tuplin follows his own muse. He has been charting his own path for years, and with his latest Orville’s Discotheque, he is taking his musical journey to a whole new level.
“Orville’s Discotheque” is presented as a ‘disco concept album’. Not exactly what the world has been waiting for, you might think. But this is the same guy who coined the term ‘space folk’ and… made it stick. Jeremy Tuplin is an artist who is adept at transcending expectations and combining unlikely musical elements into a style all his own. So what we have here could possibly be called ‘indie disco’. It has the familiar thumping 70s beat, some spidery Nile rogers-like rhythm guitar, with fat analog synths to round out the sound. But this is not a retro 70s album by any stretch. Rather, it takes the elements of possibly the most un-cool music ever created and rearranges and rethinks them in yet another sonic tour de force for Tuplin. As always, the production, courtesy of Mark Estall is excellent, and Tuplin’s band, both understated and powerful, provide the perfect accompaniment to Orville’s tale.
And what a tale it is! The press release describes it as an Orphic tale peopled with different characters. There is Eugenie, Orville’s love interest (whose lyrics are sung by British indie singer heka) but also Hermes, Hades and Persephone.
Like many recent creative endeavors, “Orville’s Discotheque” was apparently started during Covid lockdown with Tuplin noodling around on an analog synth. Sure enough, opening track “It’s a real World” features Tuplin’s deadpan vocals over a bed of gloriously bombastic synths and sparse rhythm guitar.
But it’s with the second track, “Dancing on Your Own” that the album really comes into its own. Instantly danceable and irresistibly catchy, the tune sets the template for the rest of the album. It also shows us the kind of discotheque Orville, AKA Tuplin, inhabits. Not exactly a place of joy, although certainly one of abandon. A place where strangers meet, mingle and sometimes mate, to forget their loneliness for a night or two.
The search for love is a recurring theme throughout the album, with no less than three song titles featuring “Love” in the title. A recurring character and potential love interest is Eugenie, with whom Orville seems to have quite a tempestuous relationship. Sadly, love seems to forever escape our anti-hero. Still, he can always dance.
“Love Town” is haiku-like in its simplicity, evolving from simple guitar and synth into a minimalist but gently grooving folk disco tune. “Wonderful Time” is another gloriously raucous tune worthy of 90s rockers like the Pixies et all, made all the more striking by the contrast with Tuplin’s deadpan vocals.
“Devil Dances” is reminiscent of Space Oddity-ear Bowie and tells the delightful story of a discotheque run by the Queen of Hades, but with closer “Dancer Must die” we have quite literally come to the end of Orville’s story. Or is it? The stream-of-consciousness lyrics on Orville’s Discotheque don’t exactly lay out a neat narrative, and perhaps everything only happened in Orville’s mind, sitting in his room playing his synthesizer as the world stood still.
One thing is for sure: this isn’t your mom’s disco. Orville’s Discotheque is an ambitious, fairly sprawling and at times positively brilliant addition to Tuplin’s body of work.
Perhaps there is hope for the music industry after all.