We last heard from Black Swan Lane during the last half of 2019 when they released the stellar LP Vita Eterna. The LP stood out as a highlight in the band’s oeuvre and featured guitar wizard Dave Fielding from the criminally underappreciated bands The Chameleons and The Reegs. At the time I wondered if Jack Sobel and company had backed themselves into a corner – where do you go from here? As it turns out, the world would soon change. The pandemic brought out the best and worst traits of humanity, leaving the world in a frightening polarized state. The last 18 months or so had band mastermind Jack Sobel in isolation, working diligently on the next Black Swan Lane record. An anomaly in the band’s catalogue – this is just Jack Sobel on record. No heralded guests from Manchester, England. No former musical partners. A solo album in all but name, Hide in View is the latest album from Black Swan Lane. And it lives up to the earlier critically acclaimed releases whilst adding some new twists to the sound. The album cover is simply stunning and is a sign of the music contained within.
Ian and Phil Jackson are the father / son duo that ARE the post punk band Nutopians. Not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, they’ve become one of my go to bands over the last few years. Indebted to The Chameleons (that’s The Chameleons UK to us in the US), Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Buzzcocks (among others), the band has a way of writing post punk gems for the modern era. Over the last few releases, Ian’s vocals have become more confident, Phil’s instrumentation more articulate. The band’s latest full length – their 3rd – is their strongest offering to date. Indeed, Civilisation is an early contender for album of the year.
I don’t know of too many artists who continually reach new heights with each album release, but Black Swan Lane are an exception to the rule. Formed from the ashes of The Messengers, the early albums included members of The Chameleons and The Sun & The Moon in their midst. Comparisons to The Chameleons were apt – Black Swan Lane excels in ethereal guitar work and haunting vocals that give power to the lyrics. The last few records found Black Swan Lane working with the core duo of Jack Sobel and John Kolbeck, leaving some of the connections to Manchester, England behind. It has made no impact on the quality of the records the band is putting out – each release feels like its own majestic universe. Under My Fallen Sky – the band’s first release since 2014 – continues the trend.
The last few years offered up some unexpected challenges to Rhode Island’s Jenn Vix. A medical misdiagnosis that almost lead to death would alter anyone’s perspective on life – with Vix this was especially true. The latest EP follows 2015’s Strange Buildings EP and in Vix’s words “This EP is inspired by feelings I had when I became ill…I wanted to explore different sounds, and it felt good to do so. After my illness, it took me a year and a half to be able to even listen to music again. Change is scary, but it can also be refreshing. I recently had to burn a few bridges, but they say that the brightest light can come from the bridges you burn. I agree.” The EP once again features a host of ridiculously talented collaborates including John Ashton of The Psychedelic Furs & Satellite Paradiso, Frank Coleman of Satellite Paradiso, and Danny Chavis of The Veldt who provides an outstanding remix. What’s the result? Jenn Vix is a standout among a cast of standouts who has delivered a masterfully executed EP that is breathtaking.
Alive Again kicks off the EP with spiky post punk guitar and vocals that balance the line between rage & beauty. Happiness never sounded so good. “I feel alive today / Something good is taking me over / I feel joy again / I feel a power surging in me”. Complicated Man is the single and I can see why – it is a catchy post modern gem that is lyrically focused on covert and destructive relationships. It never comes off as bitter though you’d be forgiven for thinking that while singing along with words like “He’s a complicated man with an agenda / He knows all the right things to say”. Vix’s vocals sell the tune completely, a compelling mix of Siouxsie and Nico. The track is appears in remixed form by Danny Chavis and it creates an even more haunting atmosphere. Both versions are spectacular. Unlocked closes the EP and features John Ashton on guitar. It is simply stunning – the band locks into a groove, the bass creating a hypnotic groove while Ashton creates a holy squall of white noise & Jenn Vix sings her heart out. That’s Paul LF on bass and Frank Coleman on drums by the way. I wouldn’t mind hearing a full length from that core group. Perfect.
You can pick up the album from Jenn Vix’s bandcamp. You can also follow her on Facebook to keep up with the latest news. A classic mini album, one that I will surely return to many times. Recommended.
Verdict: dark gem
For Fans of: The Psychedelic Furs, Nico, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Slits
- Alive Again
- Complicated Man
- Complicated Man (Into The Veldt mix)
Ian and Phil Jackson – the father / son duo known as Nutopians – return with their 2nd full length album, Rewind. The album was preceded by two EP’s that gave us a taste of what was to come – post punk tunes that’ll stay with you long after the album is over. The new album isn’t so much a new direction – it is the band finding their strengths and pushing themselves towards greatness. The guitar lines are crisp, the bass has me thinking of Pornography era Cure in places, and the singing is more confident. Post punk revival? It never went away. Ian also fronts a punk tribute band called 1977 and you can hear that influence throughout the tracks as well. A bit U2, a bit Buzzcocks, and a whole lot of The Chameleons and Joy Division. Sounds like heaven, right?
The album starts off with Rewind – a statement of intent. Shimmering guitars, soaring melodies, emotional vocals – it has everything. A Matter of Conscience shares its title with an old song by The Sun and the Moon but it isn’t a cover – instead, it is a showcase for Phil Jackson’s melodic bass playing. These 1st two songs serve as an opening punch – masterful. The Final Walk taps into darkness in a way that is really unsettling. Opening synths evoke an unholy alliance of Joy Division & The Cure on their saddest days. An instrumental showcase, this is a truly stunning song. Underworld provides a lighter moment – a mid tempo deep album cut. A Life Worth Living was released on an earlier EP but is worth mentioning again – in an alternate universe this would be a hit song. A slow build towards the chorus and then when it hits you – you’ll be singing “a life worth living” right along with the band. It is emotive, transcendent, magnificent. Perfection. The Scarlet Sea closes the album in epic fashion, an emotional release that engages the listener in a visceral way.
Nutopians have avoided the sophomore slump – not that I had any doubts. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. You can buy the album here and follow them on Facebook to keep up with their latest activities.
Verdict: post punk classic
For Fans of: The Chameleons, Joy Division, The Cure, Brian Eno, David Bowie, U2
- A Matter of Conscience
- For a Moment (They Took My Soul Away)
- (Is This) Where The Story Ends?
- The Final Walk
- Fast Forward
- Delay the Day
- A Life Worth Living
- The Scarlet Sea