Cobalt Chapel – Cobalt Chapel

2 02 2017

rsz_cobalt_chapel_editedCobalt Chapel are a psychedelic / folk duo featuring Cecilia Fage (Matt Berry & The Maypoles) and Jarrod Gosling (I Monster, Regal Worm), and they have just released their debut album on the KLove label.

The late 60s / early 70s inspired music is built round the vocals of Fage and the classic keyboards (mostly organ) and drum machines of Gosling.

The album is very dark and perfectly suited to the Autumn and Winter seasons. The songs conjure up moods and memories from an England long lost to technology, reality television, rampant commercialism and a loss of imagination and mystery.

Album opener We Come Willingly is a tale of murder, driven by the album’s signature organs and vintage drum machines fed through an army of effects.

Fruit Falls From The Apple Tree continues the baroque ‘n roll feel, with a lovely layered vocal during the middle section, as the keyboards and low bassline shuffles alongside the powerful drums. I love the mixture of progressive and folk music that runs through all the songs on this fine debut album. And an album is what it is – built to be heard in one setting, in sequence, so you appreciate the journey as the artist intended.

Ava Gardner is a short instrumental that precedes one of my favourite tracks on the album, Who Are The Strange.

Reminding me a little of early Portishead mixed with The Shortwave Set (whatever happened to them?), this was the first track that Fage and Gosling wrote together.

The lyrics tell the story of a near-death experience and the rattling effects and stabbing organ are as unsettling as the lyrical content.

The Lamb is a cover of the John Tavener choral piece that you may know from the film Children of Men, and is the most moving track on the album. The arrangement is simple but its a beautiful, stunning performance, with wonderful harmonies from Cecilia Fage.

Photography by Alex Lake

Black Eyes is inspired by the 1975 film The Stepford Wives. Distorted drums and keys, along with a slowly mutating arrangement, underpin this sad song of transformation and loss of will.

Singing Camberwell Beauty is the first song that I heard from the album, and it remains a favourite. A playful fairground waltz that gets darker as it progresses – and a song that will surely appeal to Saint Etienne fans due to the spoken interlude

Singing Camberwell Beauty is not “the last waltz” on the album,  as Maze is a short Camberwick Green on acid piece that leads into Two.  The album cover will give you a clue about the “two heartbeats” referenced in the song.

Horratia is “the story of an aging B-movie actress revisiting her life and career; a young face that many people once remembered and now an old face that is all but forgotten, except in the minds of obsessed horror/sci-fi convention-goers…” I love the twists and turns in the instrumentation on this track.

Positive Negative is inspired by The Avengers, and has a wonderful, slow building malevolent end section as layer upon layer of distorted organs pile on top of the vocals.

Photo by Chris Saunders

The album ends on Three Paths Charm and is the longest track in this collection. A mostly instrumental piece, with the occasional backward vocal lines and chants, acting almost as a summary of what has gone before.

Cobalt Chapel is a captivating first release, and there is a real continuity in the instruments used and the textures and moods they create. Its very easy to lose yourself in this album, and I am really looking forward to what the bewitching partnership of Cecilia Fage and Jarrod Gosling cook up in the (hopefully near) future.

Buy the CD on Amazon

Buy the Vinyl on Amazon

Gavin Castleton – It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times EP review

12 10 2014

It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of TimesPortland’s Gavin Castleton has released a new 5 song EP via his BandCamp page. The EP is a collection of songs about unconditional love and loss, but with a twist. If you’ve followed Gavin’s music over the years, you will know who he is singing about, and I won’t need to explain.

If the language of love is universal, then the same thing can be said about loss, it crosses borders and species and it always cuts deep.

Underestimate Me is a piano (and 1950’s sounding guitar) ballad that sets the scene – welcoming the subject of the EP, and the playfulness of youth and the promise of the future is echoed in the instrumentation during the middle section, before the final two lines hit home, signalling that this is an EP reflecting on memories tainted by loss.

“So I’ll just remember how you made me forget the world all around me
while the world still reminds me of you.”


Watering the Soil is a beautiful song, with the sounds of night-time crickets providing the rhythm to the saddest of sad songs.

“I put you in the ground tonight
out beside the house
by the window light”

Where is the Fire? is the darkest lyric on the EP, riddled with regret and wishing you could go back and re-live some of the better times.  I love the subtle reverb on Gavin’s vocals on this track.

Expensive Love is a much fuller arrangement than the live take in the video below, but the EP version makes it clear that this is simply one of the best songs Gavin has written.

Rhodes and a nagging beat drive the song, which has some wonderful Venus as A Boy recalling strings underpinning the later verses.

“But then you got much worse when I took the job –
I had to leave work late and get up at ungodly hours to get out of all the debts I owed.
Maybe you couldn’t see the man for the brand new clothes…”

If you have ever experienced deep loss – whether it was the loss of a parent, a relationship, or a close companion or friend, this song will surely resonate. There are no cliches in Expensive Love – no trite “I’m missing you” – the song serves up some of the raw truths of the cost of love, which can be paid in an emotional and a physical sense.

“I knew you had to go but didn’t know how much it’d cost me”

Image by Carrie Vonkiel

The EP ends on an uplifting song in Team Love – with it’s multi-layered vocals and hand-clap beats.

“I’ll be fixing up my inputs and my outputs
I will learn to love and be loved from any direction”

The change in mood at the end of the EP might suggest that if you are going through the worst of times now,  hang in there because you never know, the best of times could be just around the corner.

Gavin Castleton – It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Timesbuy the EP on Bandcamp

Visit Gavin Castleton’s website.

If you’ve not heard Gavin’s music before, take a listen to his cover of Frank Ocean‘s Swim Good (mixed with the sublime Roads by Portishead).

I also recommend the Home (a zombie love story or is it?) and For the Love of Pete albums as good starting points in your journey. You will become hooked, trust me!

Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe

23 06 2012

Bobby Womack’s albums The Poet (1981) and The Poet II (1984) were two of my favourite 80s releases, but I’ve not heard much else from Womack apart from the wonderful Across 110th Street, the mid 80s When the Weekend Comes and the co-write of The Rolling Stone’s It’s All Over Now.

The Bravest Man in the Universe is the first album of new material since the mid 1990s, and follows on from his 2010 Gorillaz appearance.

Damon Albarn and Richard Russell have to take a lot of credit for the direction this album has taken. Free of old-time soul cliches, the arrangements and instrumentation underpin some of Womack’s finest vocal performances.

The 68 year old soul singer has a new gritty tone to his vocals, that sit perfectly with the glitchy electronic backing to most of the songs.

Please forgive my heart could easily have sat on one of the classic Poet albums from the 80s, but where those tracks were quite conservative in their arrangement, the 2012 Womack tracks rely heavily on drum machines, decaying piano and dub bass.

Womack’s guitar playing on the end of Please forgive my heart and it’s following track, Deep River is sparse, honest and under-played. My only criticism is that his guitar playing should have featured more on the album.

Lana Del Rey duets with Womack on one of the albums key tracks, Dayglo Reflection. A sample of Sam Cooke speaking also features on the song, which has echoes of trip-hop’s finest band, Portishead.

Whatever happened to the times is build around a cheap, haunting organ refrain, and distorted, echo-laden vocals and has a spirit of experimentation rarely heard in the soul genre.  This is the second time Womack has recorded this song – the first version was on 1985’s So Many Rivers album.  The 2012 take simply blows the original out of the water.  Stripped of Van Halenesque lead guitar and a gutteral vocal on the 80s original, the 2012 version pushes the emotion to the fore, and is no doubt the definitive recording of this song.

The late Gil Scott-Heron features on the intro to Stupid, a breakbeat driven song featuring bittersweet lyrics that appear to take aim at corrupt preachers.

The album fades a little toward the end, with Love is gonna lift you up feeling a little too light in comparison with the preceding tracks.  Luckily the album picks up again with Nothin’ Can Save Ya, featuring Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara and the albums closing track, the soul standard Jubilee (Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around).

So whilst both Poet albums will always hold a special place in my heart, The Bravest Man in the Universe has already become my favourite Bobby Womack album, and is one of my favourite albums of 2012.  A career highlight, you bet!

Buy Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man In The Universe from Amazon

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