Saturday, November 18, 2017

Adrian Crowley - Dark Eyed Messenger

Three years back in 2014, my favourite album of the year was Irishman Adrian Crowley's Some Blue Morning. I bought it in October of that year and it haunted me and my record player from that point to the end of that year and beyond. Crowley's new offering Dark Eyed Messenger is just out, and it appears on first listening that it's destined to have a similar impact upon me if not quite such a monumental one as Some Blue Morning did.

It won't quite make my Top 50 this time round as it's come out too late, isn't as good as Some Blue Morning, too many good records are jostling for position and he's already had a Number 1 record from me so what more can he ask for! Nevertheless, what Crowley does is breathtakingly simple. Piano-led and sparsely arranged tracks with a lyrical voice that ponders the small wondrous moments of existence and the inevitability of our final destination. Leonard Cohen is definitely very much the pivotal inspirational point. But he's still his own man and I commend him to you.

What I Did on Thursday Night - Protomartyr at the Cluny in Manchester

Detroit's Protomartyr have figured big time in my life throughout 2017. Not that I was unaware of them before that. They had already released three fine albums which I had heard and loved. But this year they dropped their fourth and to my mind finest Relatives in Descent, and last Thursday they landed on my doorstep, playing at The Cluny, in the Ouseburn Valley in Byker, Newcastle. Just down the road from me.

I'd been waiting for this gig for months, having bought the ticket a while back so when the day finally arrived it came as a surprise. Not managing to find someone who'd accompany me, I went alone, a pint at my local before taking a taxi to The Cluny. Second support Luxury were onstage when I arrived. Slightly generic, shouty punk, good enough at this point, and popular with the crowd.

Main support, Oh Boland! were a further step up. From a small town in Ireland and a three piece with a tall and pogoing bassist in the mould of Kris Novoselic, so Nirvana came to mind but they didn't sound like Nirvana. The expression came to me as they played that they were a Grunge Undertones, a fine idea and they realised this with a fine, sparky energetic and too brief set. I'll write more about them with a Song of the Day presently. They were also very nice guys. I chatted with the bassist and singer after their set and they were thrilled to be in Britain touring for the first time and to be supporting Protomartyr who they clearly revered.

And so to the main act, and a band operating on quite a different plateau from almost any band on the planet that I'm aware of right now. Sure they're intense, about as intense as they get and their themes are undeniably dark, but that's a whole vivid streak of existence in 2017 and to wish it away and live in a state of permanent blissed out happiness is a rather wilful rejection of the state of affairs that surrounds us at this point of time. Protomartyr are not prepared to settle for that and I for one am immensely grateful to them for their endeavour. 

Of course, when writing about this band, it's inevitable that much will be said about singer Joe Casey who is undoubtedly their focal point. The other three are clearly content with this state of affairs providing a phenomenally structured musical backdrop, by turns kinetic, frantic and raging, waves for Casey to surf. When I got home I went straight to Joy Division, an obvious comparison, (I played New Dawn Fades for the record), and Protomartyr are not shamed for a moment. The Fall and Pere Ubu are other reference points, but at this stage in their development they have transcended all influences and are writing their own history.

Casey stalks the stage in a neat suit. Bottles of beer peeping from his hip pockets like molotovs, which he cracks open and consumes over the course of the evening. It's inescapably method of a kind, his face is a picture of involuntary twitches, a thousan yard stare, almost cartoon. The effect is quite mesmeric. I couldn't take my eyes off him all night.

They play a varied set, dipping into their back catalogue, not playing all of the highlights of Relatives in Descent including my own personal favourite The Chuckler. They're blessed with choice. There's occasional, good natured interaction with the audience, but for the most part the songs speak for themselves and Casey sticks to his pre-conditioned script. It's all startlingly good. They encore with Why Does it Shake? from 2015's The Agent Intellect which comes on as some kind of mission statement for the dark poetry they voice, and then they're gone. My gig of the year without a doubt.

Albums of the Year # 38 Catholic Action - In Memory of

The second Scottish guitar offering joining fellow Glaswegians Spinning Coin. From a month back:

'The last couple of weeks appear to have been a relative quiet time for great new albums with only a few notable exceptions. Here's one! Yesterday saw the release of the debut album from Glasgow band Catholic Action, In Memory Of  and it's surely one to sit up in take notice of.

It all exists within the noble tradition: Teenage Fanclub, Franz Ferdinand and Travis (when they were good), The Pastels, great guitar acts going back to Glam beyond. Catholic Action, (oh and the name is wonderful too), know how to have a great time and understand and relish up ripping up the pop tradition and laying it down for the kids who weren't old enough to experience it all, ten twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years ago. They also sound as if they're having the time of their lives!

It's not an original record really except in that it's unusual to hear an album that sounds as good as this one does, in this particular tradition in 2017. Catholic Action are masters at what they do, astonishing for ones so young. Song after song either sounds like a hit single from 1973 or a masterful re-take of Teenage Fanclub's hair-raisingly wonderful Everything Flows.  A joyously wonderful record inappropriately bedecked with floral memorial wreaths around the bands guitars and drums. This is surely a beginning not an end. Catholic Action are writing and performing the songs that the Gallagher brothers would surely love to be coming up with in 2017 but are quite incapable of.

The further I delve into In Memory Of,  the more astonished I am at how good it can be. How remarkably assured it is in its grace. Catholic Action prove themselves to be masters of something of a last art. There may not be the mass-market for this kind of thing anymore. Attention seems to be elsewhere and what momentum there is seems to be directed towards the likes of Ed Sheeran and the aforementioned Gallagher shysters. This is a crime. Spotlights should be on the likes of Catholic Action instead. Where the action really is. Seek them out!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 421 Ray Price

Song of the Day # 1,399 Jen Cloher

Courtney Barnett's long-term partner Jen Cloher, released an eponymous album earlier this year. This, its opening song tells Cloher's story of the last couple of years, left at home base while Barnett tours the world and finds increasing acclaim and fame. 'Oh god I forgot myself. Oh god I forgot my health..' It's a great song, insecure and vulnerable, slightly darker in tone than Barnett's generally are but informed by the same creative, freewheeling narrative gifts and instincts. The whole record is well worth a listen. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Albums of the Year # 39 This is the Kit

A grower which I'm sure the more I listen to it, the more I'll wish it were higher. I wrote about it first towards the end of August:

'This is the natural order of things. Change sets in...'

'Another fine record to have come out in the last few weeks is Moonshine Freeze the new album from This is the Kit, the alias for British musician Kate Sables and the group of musicians she's gathered around her, over a number of years. Her fourth album in all, and her first since signing with Rough Trade, it seems like a point of arrival. Beautiful folky meditations on life somewhere in the tradition of Vashti Bunyan and Pentangle which sometimes meander off into jazz territory. There's a stillness at the heart of what's going on here, which is always Sables voice. Very immediate, very warm, very pastoral, always staying within the realm of immediately relatable human experience. As she sings on 'Riddled with Ticks' a particular highlight midway through the record, 'I know what is true...' '

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 422 The Five Royales

Song(s) of the Day # 1,398 Tall Juan

Argentinian born Tall Juan comes on like Johnny Ramones long lost son in two fine songs just like the Bruvvers used to write them from his album from this year Olden Goldies. More fun than you'd imagine, the record has a beautifully judged and finely sustained momentum for those who still love this stuff. 'One two free, faw........!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Albums of the Year # 40 Guided by Voices - How Do You Spell Heaven?

What I wrote about this one back in August:

'How Do You Spell Heaven the new record by Guided By Voices, is essentially business as usual. Fabulous, fridge magnet song titles, meaty, effortless guitar riffs, abstruse, wordy lyrics, inspired leftfield pop. We shouldn't really be surprised, they've been doing this for well over thirty years now.

In some ways they still sound like the missing lyric between Document era R.E.M. and Bob Mould, although there's always plenty of late sixties The Who, (perhaps leader Robert Pollard's most important formative influence), thrown into the mix. Anyhow, with songs called things like The Birthday Democrats, Steppenwolf Mausoleum, Diver Dan and Tenth Century and all the Prog/ Punk sloganeering, ('sociopathological liars invented the wheel'),  they're clearly having all the fun you could possibly hope for people still doing this at their point in life. A cursory listen will tell you they have every right. Amazingly, it all comes across as effortless, an act of  still impeccably fertile imagination and taste for adventure which is high tribute to them. An American institution!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 423 Jimmy Cliff

Song of the Day # 1,397 The Flying Stars of Brooklyn NY

Fine, lean soul / doo wop / gospel like they used to make back in the day. What makes it even greater is that it's from now. Aaron Frazer from Durand Jones & the Indications steps aside to do his own thing for a moment. It's two minutes fifty five seconds long and something of an instant classic!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 256 Cornershop

Always great to see a further Cornershop song on the jukebox beyond Brimful of Asha.

Leonard Cohen

Albums of the Year # 41 French Vanilla - French Vanilla

LA's French Vanilla throw comedy Post Punk moves. Here's what I wrote back in July:

'Utterly ludicrous. And all the better for it. Los Angeles French Vanilla have just released their debut, self-titled album and its a wonderful throwback to the moment in Punk and New Wave when the Seventies tipped over into the Eighties. Not unmusical at the same time, there's a lot going on here that may make you think  in turn of Nina Hagen, Slits, Lene Lovich, Romeo Void, Raincoats, X, Pylon, Mo-Dettes, X Ray Spex and all kinds of other off the wall female generated oddness and inspiration. Method in their madness.

There's a spontaneity and simplicity about the artists I mentioned above and the scenes that spawned them that makes it a seam of music still much worthy of mining. French Vanilla are clearly having incredible fun most of all, playing for themselves first and foremost as all the best bands do. Their record is just nine brief tracks, all of them wonderful in their own way and is over far too soon. New New Wave record of the year!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 424 Led Zeppelin

Song of the Day # 1,396 Exploded View

'Summer came early that year..'

Exploded View, who featured in my Albums of the Year countdown last year, are back. It's more Nico-inspired, scare the horses atmospherics, and it still works for me. From an EP of the same name. And check out the 'explosive' video. Portentous!!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Covers # 90 Allah-Las

Allah-Las do a wonderful take on the early,  and previously unrecorded Television track Hard on Love, (from their Richard Hell phase), from a recently released EP of covers.


Morrissey continues along his provocateur path with another track ahead of his Low in High School. As with many of his songs a great title Jackie's Only Happy When She's Up Onstage, presages a fine song. Oh and yes the Exit, exit... coda is really Brexit, Brexit.... . Drama queen until the final curtain call!

Songs About People # 498 Saffiyah Khan

New and rather moving song from Billy Bragg for Saffiyah Khan, who stood up to EDL thugs at a demo in Birmingham a while back.

Adam Buxton Meets Johnny Marr

An absolutely fascinating interview between Adam Buxton, (alternative British radio and TV host), and Johnny Marr. Marr is brilliantly revealing on the significant moments of The Smiths and crucially he also has his guitar with him to illustrate the stories he tells.

Albums of the Year # 42 Spinning Coin - Permo

This has been coming for some time. Glasgow's Spinning Coin have been making small splashes on the British indie scene with their releases over the past couple of years. They slot unashamedly into a particular tradition, going back most obviously to the Postcard Scene of the early eighties.

While there's no 'shock of the new' factor with anyone putting out records that sound like this in 2017, there are enough people out there who love this stuff most of all to ensure that Spinning Coin have a ready-made and highly receptive audience who will be highly delighted by the release of their first album Permo. Fans of Orange Juice, Josef K, Fire Engines, The Pastels, The Vaselines and Teenage Fanclub, form an orderly queue.

So fourteen songs in all. That's great. Two different songwriters and three different singers ensure variety and a shifting pallet. Produced by Edwyn Collins, engineered by Davy Henderson and released on Stephen Pastel's Geographic record label. You can't fault their credentials. The record strikes me as a slow burner, one that initially seems like a set of distinct songs that don't immediately gel but require persistent listening over a number of months before they fall into place and you realise that you've chanced upon a modern classic just like they used to make back in the day! 

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 425 Patsy Cline

Song of the Day # 1,395 Pin Group

First Flying Nun signing do frighteningly accurate Joy Division impression, also the first release on the label back in 1981.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 255 Screamin' Jay Hawkins

This scared a couple of people tonight!

Albums of the Year # 43 Ibibio Sound Machine - Uyai

From a review back in July:

'Ibibio Sound Machine's album from earlier on this year, Uyai, (their second), was a glorious throwback for me when I first heard it the other day. Not that it's a dated record by any means, just that it took me back to the eighties when I first encountered the first traces of this glorious strand of music. So it made me feel thirty years younger and frankly I'm grateful! They do what they do very well indeed, with frontwoman Eno Williams singing in her mother's native Ibibio, (a language of Nigeria), as well as English, providing  a marriage of folk heritage and modern concerns lyrically and the band supplying a constantly shifting musical sea for the rhythms and melodies to lock into. All about positivity, pride, consciousness and empowerment as this interview with Williams attests.'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 426 The Temptations

Song of the Day # 1.394 The Mighty Wah!

'What they gonna say about me. When they tell, the Story of the Blues...'

I spent the weekend in Manchester with an old friend attending the Louder Than Words Festival, an event celebrating all things musical, with particular attention to Punk. A wonderful event. I'll write much more here. The most bizarre talk we attended was by Pete Wylie one of the main players on the Liverpool Punk scene. At the end of his discussion he played this among several others. It was Top Ten in early 1983 at a time when I really cared about these things. I took a small transistor to college to listen to the singles charts when they were announced on Tuesday lunch time. It still sounded fine being played by Wylie on a battered guitar onstage in 2017.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Albums of the Year # 44 Travis Bretzer - Bubble Gum

A small but perfectly formed delight which I came across in September.

I can tell you very little about Travis Bretzer except that he's from Edmonton, Alberta, that he's released an album this year called Bubble Gum, which appears to be his fourth, that he played all the instruments on it himself and that it's very, very good indeed!

It sounds like a perfect approximation of all those great smalltown America Power Pop records of the seventies when everybody seemed to be doing this, rather than forming Garage Punk bands as they would have done ten years earlier. Think dBs, Shoes or The Rubinoos.

Plenty of people had done this before and have done so since but there's always room for one more, especially if its as accomplished as this definitively lo-fi record is. You could really trace its lineage back through Elliott Smith, in his sunnier moments, to Alex Chilton and back from him to Harry Nilsson and John Lennon.

Bretzer is a craftsman and Bubble Gum a treasure trove. Though it may not ever establish the reputation of Either /Or or Nilsson Schmilsson, (of course it won't), it will surely afford great pleasure to those who do happen to chance upon it. And I'm fortunate to be able to count myself among that number!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 427 Dick & DeeDee

Song of the Day # 1.393 Xmal Deutschland

German Goth's fine early eighties debut single. Here's a John Peel session version.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Albums of the Year # 45 Sweet Baboo - Wild Imagination

From San Francisco to deepest Wales on this journey through the records that made me sit up and take notice this year. Here's Sweet Baboo, and an album I wrote about in June:

             'You say you like dancing. I put on some Beatles and some old rock and roll...'

There's something distinctive and quite specific about Welsh alternative artists somehow. A shared eccentric sensibility, an innocent purity that often stems from cosy domesticity, that's shared by Super Furry Animals, Cate Le Bon, Gorkys, H.Hawkline even the Manics and Sweet Baboo, possibly the most domesticated of all, who has a new album just out entitled Wild Imagination.

'Yesterday you were on fire. But today don't you know. I'm on a roll.'

It's a charming record and already a go to one for me on stressful days at work. Check out the cocktail snacks on display here and it will give you an idea of where it's coming from. Steven Black, a.k.a. Sweet Baboo, 'the most androgynous woman since Mo Tucker,' according to friend and supporter Le Bon, 

                                                   'Step out onto the pink rainbow...'

Wild Imagination is a timpani fueled delight, full of parping trumpets and gentle entreaties to Baboo's muse to come over and share a pot of tea and some cake. Ten tunes of lo-fi romance from a man wearing NHS specs and a Shetland jumper with a gentle whispered delivery soundtracking the moment where the geek inherits the earth. He has almost single-handedly been kept afloat as a concern by Marc Riley, BBC 6 Music DJ over the last few years for which we should all be eternally grateful. Surrender to Sweet Baboo!

                                                            'Why am I tired. I have a pretty easy life...'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 428 Stevie Nicks

Song of the Day # 1.392 Chelsea

Gene October's frighteningly intense face was quite a big feature of the early London Punk scene before some bands began to split off towards the council estate Oi! side of things. This early single though is splendid whichever way you choose to look at it!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Songs About People # 497 Ludwig Wittgenstein

I was directed here by Yo La Tengo who have a nose for such things. Matmos are achetypal left-field oddball experimentalists in the tradition of The Residents and Mouse of Mars. I'm not planning to listen to whole albums of theirs but a track at a time is diverting to say the least.

Albums of the Year # 46 Fresh & Onlys - Wolf Lie Down

Yet another review written in August for San Francisco's Fresh & Onlys, a favourite band of mine. More coming from their Tim Cohen, later in the countdown.

'The West is the best! Released just last Friday and to no great fanfare, San Francisco's Fresh & Only's sixth album Wolf Lie Down is well worth a listen. It's always refreshing to hear something new, in the well worn tradition of guitar, bass, drums and vocals and think, 'that's interesting' on first listen, not 'that reminds me of ...' It's not a particularly long record, eight songs in all. Says what it wants to and goes on its way. But what it does say is great.

If I had to describe the bands sound I'd say they've do a 'spooked frontier' thing. Probably their best known song Waterfall, from seven years back laid down the template for this. It sounds like a great lost eighties western single in the tradition of Theatre of Hate's Do You Believe in the Westworld, Wall of Voodoo's Mexican Radio and Gun Club's Ghost on the Highway. 

Wolf Lie Down follows this lead. Fresh & Onlys are driven forward by the partnership between singer Tim Cohen and guitarist and producer Wymond Miles and they produce a sound that puts a number of their higher-profile contemporaries to shame.

While a number of American bands such as Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire and War on Drugs have recently released highly anticipated records that frankly left me cold, largely through their sense of self-importance, (I must be honest, I didn't even listen all the way through to all of them because they didn't really make me want to), Fresh & Onlys are an entirely different, more modest, yet I'd say ultimately more interesting proposition.

So, eight lovingly crafted songs that I get the sense I'm going to return to on a regular basis over the coming months. Wolf Lie Down echoes within me every time I listen to it. Closing track Black Widow particularly, is one of the finest songs I've heard this year. Sometimes modest says more!''

12 Days of Blondie # 12 Will Anything Happen?

And to close this neat little series, back to Parallel Lines.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 429 The Drifters

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Song of the Day # 1.391 Bloody Knees

London band Bloody Knees do that thing that Nirvana did all those years ago. The 'N' word is utterly indispensable and inevitable when discussing their band. It's impossible to imagine a note of their EP from 2017 Maybe it's Easy existing without Kurt and the boys. That doesn't mean I don't like it. They do it very well!

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 254 The Charlatans

Not the first Charlatans track on this particular series. They sound great coming out of the jukebox and are a much underrated band in my eyes. This, the last song on their debut album Some Friendly., is a great example of their organ-driven swirl.

Songs About People # 496 Joy Division

Ian Curtis had a song to himself on this series a couple of days ago. Now here's one for his whole band. From prolific American singer-songwriter Simon Joyner.

Albums of the Year # 47 The New Year - Snow

A review written in August for an album which came out in April:

'April brought us the latest album from The New Year entitled Snow. Hardly New Year. It was already Spring. But there had actually been a much longer wait for this album. The band had been working on it and refining it for the best part of ten years. 

I won't say it's well worth the wait, for fear of a knock on my door from the cliche police, but it's certainly a fine record. With songs that unwind and stretch themselves lazily, melodically and confidently at their own pace, - some of them small classics, I'd single out Recent History, Myths andThe Beast in this respect. All driven by the classic line-up of guitars, bass, drums, voice and organs. It's a lovely record at the most tuneful end of slowcore, reminiscent of Low, the slower songs of Pavement and Dean Wareham, but definitely doing its own thing.These guys, (the band is constructed around the core of brothers Matt and Bubba Kadane), have been at this game for some time, coming from the ashes of Bedhead, almost twenty years back and working together as The New Year since and their experience and know-how shows.

They're clearly a band that believe in simplicity. Blank record covers of different shades featuring only the name of the band and the title of the album on it, one name song titles for the most part, avoidance of unnecessary poetic frills in terms of the lyrics. It's a formula that works very well on Snow. There's a warmth and clarity about all ten tracks here. It's not an album that's going  to surprise you so much as reassure you that there are still people capable of making records like this and understanding the importance of doing so in 2017. Listening to Snow yesterday felt like sinking into a comfortable chair in front of an open fire, snow falling steadily outside the window with a tumbler of fine whisky on the table beside me.  And we all know what a nice feeling that is!'

12 Days of Blondie # 11 I Didn't Have the Nerve to Say No

A highlight from Plastic Letters at round about the time when they started churning out gem after gem, indicating that they had the legs to outlast most of their CBGB's contemporaries.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 430 Marvin Gaye

Song of the Day # 1,390 Barry Adamson

Barry Adamson. A fine specific talent. Here's something he released this year.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Albums of the Year # 48 Kacy & Clayton - The Siren's Song

Kacy & Clayton's debut Strange Country featured in the Top 10 of last year's countdown. They're lower down this time round with their quick follow up The Siren's Song. But both are fine records. Here's what I wrote back in August:

'I like artists who endeavor to put out an album a year. It's what people used to do back in the day before global marketing kicked in with full force and the never ending merry-go-round of touring, talking to the media and milking every last drop out of each release kicked in, making one record every three years if you were lucky became the norm instead.

In this respect, I have reason I have reason to be grateful to Saskatchewan-bred duo Kacy & Clayton who have just released their second record, The Siren's Song, not much more than a calendar year after their first, Strange Country came out.

I chanced upon that first album late last year and liked it so much that I ranked it sixth on my end of year list and bought it for a Christmas present for a nephew, though he never got back to me to let me know whether he liked it or not. Now there's gratitude for you.

The Siren Song builds on the promise of that outstanding debut. Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, (n indication of rising profile), and supplemented by a full band it's a neat companion piece to Strange Country. The classic retro cover gives it a distinctly sixties feel, which is only enhanced by the sound of the songs which drift into Gram Parsons, Emmy Lou, Buffalo Springsteen, Byrds and Country Rock territory. I'm also reminded, as with their debut, of Cowboy Junkies.

The songs focus on classic folk and country themes, loss, temptation, the lure of the city and Kacy & Clayton deal with them sweetly, with due respect, but making the emotions seem fresh and real on eight self-compositions and a ninth track, an adaptation of a traditional, the closer Go & Leave Me.'

12 Days of Blondie # 10 For Your Eyes Only

A last hurrah from The Hunter the band's swansong. Written and optioned for the Bond film of the same name but Sheena Easton pipped them at the post at which point they probably decided enough was enough.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 431 Elvis Presley

Song(s) of the Day # 1,389 Rips

Brooklyn band Rips first album, also called Rips, rings rather than rips. It rings most of all like Marquee Moon, Television's still unmatched 1977 debut. There's almost nothing whatsoever remotely original about the record but if you like twin guitars that clash and chime, punky attitude and amped up energy and melody, you might care to give this a listen.

What doesn't sound like Tom Verlaine's boys sounds very much like the Parquet Courts, appropriately enough as that band's Austin Brown produced the record. So while I can't altogether commend the apish tendencies of the record, I do admire its melodies. Rip off or ripping? You decide. I kind of like it...