Friday, December 15, 2017

Creation


Songs About People # 509 Johnny Rotten


First song from arch-opportunists The Monks, (best known for British hit single Nice Legs Shame About The Face), 1979 album Bad Habits. What Johnny thought of it is not recorded.


Albums of the Year # 11 Ratboys - GN

From way back in July and still a firm favourite:


Quite definitely one of my favourite albums of this year thus far. Ratboys GN, just out, is one I waited for and one that lived up to all of my anticipation and more. Whether it'll make a splash in the big pop pond is probably doubtful but it's a better record than many that will.



Several of the tracks on here rank among the very best I've heard in recent months. Hailing from Chicago, and labeling their sound as Post-Country, Ratboys are two, vocalist Julia Steiner and multi-instrumentalist Dave Sagan and in GN, (as in Good Night), they've produced an album that is all calm liquid surface and murky bed depths. Much like going asleep and drifting into either dream or nightmare really.



The Post-Country moniker the band choose for themselves doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense to me personally, though it's always best for bands to pigeonhole themselves if they need to be pigeonholed at all. To me they sound Post-Kim Deal if they're anything, the album hints at all the most wonderful quiet moments of that woman's recording career from Pixies to This Mortal Coil to Breeders to Amps. I can also hear something of unjustly pretty much forgotten nineties outfit Madder Rose in the mix.




As for the songs, they hint at coldness and darkness and the band maintain a smart equilibrium between darkness and light, trapped forever between life's undoubted potential for threat and fear and its redeeming beauty and wonder. Occasionally Sagan lets rip, as if there's a need for all this pent up emotion and experience to be purged somehow. But for the most part, Ratboys veer towards the lower-end of the VU-needle volume-wise. As the album cover indicates, they know how to maintain an essential inner calm despite everything that we have already had and still might get thrown at us as part of life's rich pageant.



In terms of the lyrics, Crying About the Planets is typical, retelling the story of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson, (featured on this blog a few days back) and the desolation and loss of his 1912 Arctic Expedition. Find the lyrics here, if you're not moved, Ratboys are not for you. There are at least five others jostling with it in contention as the album's best. GN, a small but perfectly formed gem.








The Heart of Rock and Soul # 394 James Carr


Songs of the Year # 11 King Leg



And Track One on the same album is well worth a listen too and gets on my Song of the Year list. Dwight himself, or Marshall Crenshaw would be proud to come up with this!

Song of the Day # 1,426 King Leg


Second track from Dwight Yoakam protege King Leg's debut where he demonstrates his astonishing range that will surely mind all who hear it of Roy Orbison. The song too is an absolute winner. Not everything from the record Meet King Leg hits the spot but this, Cloud City, is undeniable.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 259 Zero 7


Someone else's choice tonight. Ian, the eternally phlegmatic bar manager of Rosie's. Sounded pretty good to me. A bit like Massive Attack.



Songs About People # 508 Elvis Presley


Something Courtney and Kurt have been covering on tour. A quite wonderfully evocative song from Gillian Welch from 2001.


Songs of the Year # 12 Waxahatchee


Waxahatchee's album, Out In The Storm could easily have been on my end of year list. It's a fine, passionate, emotive record. In stead of that here's a track from it, (it could have been any one of many), on my Songs of the Year list. Appropriately entitled Fade, as it's the last track on the record.

Albums of the Year # 12 Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice



There's a moment on Blue Cheese, the seventh track on Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile's album Lotta Sea Lice where Vile sings, 'Now I'm calling the cops on you,' and both he and Barnett harmonise, 'Nanny nanny poo poo. Knockin' you out...' It was one of my favourite musical moments of the whole year and a sign that this unexpected but somehow explicable alliance had worked. Just an example of two great, slacker musicians thoroughly enjoying themselves first and foremost. The rest will logically follow from that.


I wasn't sure when I first heard about the project. Barnett particularly is one of my very favourite artists, virtually a patron saint of this blog. My initial thought was that I would prefer an album from her and this only meant that I would have to wait longer for it. I was soon persuaded however. Lotta Sea Lice is the sound of two artists whose music and sensibilities complement each others' utterly. Laid-back, humorous, languid, but also rich in its laziness!




The Heart of Rock and Soul # 395 The Who


I Can't Explain changed my life the first time I heard it, when I was fifteen, by giving me a sound whose power I've spent a whole lot of the rest of my lifesearching to renew. It was the first record I'd heard that revealed British rock with the same purifying intensity as soul anf fifties rock and roll. There's no way if it would mean the same thing today. But if some aspects of what makes I Can't Explain great have grown fuzzier with the passage of time, the central kernel of its greatness has become more obvious.Keith Moon plays lead drums the way other bands had people playing lead guitar. After two decades, the sheer audacity of that act remains amazing and inspiring.'



Song(s) of the Day # 1,425 Last Leaves


There are more beautiful, heart-stopping moments on Last Leaves debut album from this year, Other Towns Than Ours, than most bands achieve in whole long careers. It's no wonder really as they're led by Marty Donald, formerly of Australians The Lucksmiths a band who went their separate ways in 2009. Now, following a hiatus, he's back, with a group supplemented by two other Lucksmiths among others.


Perhaps, if anything, Other Towns Than Ours overdoes the poignancy. But there's much here to treasure and admire. Donald certainly has the delicate sensitivity that I loved so much in the songs of Grant McLennan, Robert Forster and David McComb. The understanding that the greatest, most lovelorn literature and poetry was very much the stuff that could be appropriated in the cause of wonderful pop music. Last Leaves, draining the pool for you!



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Songs About People # 507 John Wayne


I was wary of even listening to the much hyped Cigarettes After Sex, so off-putting do I find the name. However, having heard the record, I understand the appeal. They're like a more commercially driven Red House Painters and though I won't succumb utterly to them, (being a music snob, I naturally prefer the less commercial option), I do respect their languid grace. Here's a song for Big John!


Songs of the Day # 13 Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile




This may not have been the best song on Lotta Sea Lice, but it was the one that made me smile most. More on this tomorrow!

Albums of the Year # 13 Kevin Morby - City Music

Kevin Morby, high on my list for the second year in a row. I wrote this back in June:





Kevin Morby follows up last year's splendid Singing Saw with the equally splendid City Music. An artist with a very strong sense of place, he shifts his focus from the rural to the urban, (most obviously New York, the city of all cities), and it feels like choosing to put on your New York Punk records after playing Nashville Skyline.


It's a deft, assured record. Morby understands the rhythms of the city, just as he appreciates the artistic predecessors who've charted this territory before. On second track Cry Baby the glacial riff that powers I Wanna Be Your Dog gets disinterred, then 1234, (less than two minutes long and quite perfect for it), pays tribute to The Ramones and Jim Carroll for their lives of urban purity in the most apt and succinct terms imaginable, 'Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, they were all my friends. And they died...'


After these two early peaks it would seem that City Music will do well to maintain it's high water mark but Morby is an artist not only with a clear and nuanced understanding of the sources he draws on but enough sheer vision, talent and guts to put his own work up for worthy comparison with the greats. Each successive track remarkably achieves new plateaus. There's soul, blues, folk, rock and punk music here for your delectation and Morby does justice to each. There's also a keen feel for the literary heritage of urban existence in all its contradictory, trapped abandon. A great record, of the old school, for 2017!






The Heart of Rock and Soul # 396 Peter Gabriel


Song of the Day # 1,424 Ifriqyya Electrique



This is extraordinary music. You may not know its context when you hear it but you can surely feel it. It's the sound of struggle. In the words of the NPR Music website:


'Being ridden by a spirit that you don't quite understand and definitely can't contain: That's both the inspiration behind this project and the feeling of hearing it. Ifriqiyya Electrique is one of the most viscerally affecting sonic explorations of recent years. The idea was to marry mesmerizing, highly rhythmic Sufi ritual music from southern Tunisia (music from the descendants of former Hausa slaves) — during performances devotees become possessed — with the grinding, industrial crunch of electric guitar, bass and dark, growling electronics, courtesy of Putan Club's François Cambuzat and Gianna Greco, all melded into a framework that swings wildly between Maghrebi traditional music, punk and free jazz. The result is a cinematic and epic evocation of all-too-human struggle, dust and sweat morphing into a strange and indefinable ecstasy.'



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Songs About People # 506 Thor Heyerdahl


From Ambient Jazz group Open Source Trio's album Altitude. The track is 29.58 in, and well worth scrolling across to!

Songs of the Year # 14 Slowdive


The return of Slowdive, to the recording studio and live circuit was much heralded this year. I didn't go for the whole album but this track is well worth a spin.

Albums of the Year # 14 Girl Ray - Earl Grey

Written when this record came out back in August:



It's sheep we're up against. The Housemartins knew that only too well way back in the mid-eighties. It seems that nothing much has changed. Or ever really will. The album sleeve of Earl Grey, the wonderfully named first album from North London three-piece Girl Ray, (released yesterday), is adorned with images of sheep. Whether this is intended as social commentary or otherwise I'm unsure. What is abundantly clear however is just how wonderful the record within is, and how clearly removed it also is from much of the rest of the current musical flock. If I could do cartwheels, I would!


My initial impression, on first listening to Girl Ray a few days back, was that they were rather fond of Cate Le Bon. The band don't actually make any bones about their affection for Cate, and her influence is there, (certainly in terms of the way they sing),  but there's much much more to Earl Grey than thatIn essence, the album is a potpourri of almost everything resolutely leftfield and non-comformist about the British independent music scene since those fabulous, all female bands of the early eighties, The Raincoats, Delta 5, The Modettes and so forth.


There's much about current British culture that frustrates and irritates me but Girl Ray represents, (as well as any record I've heard this year), what I still treasure about it and keep coming back to. A distinctly eccentric and creative sensibility that you could trace back historically and culturally for centuries if you wished to. To the original Earl Grey and beyond. The members of Girl Ray remarkably, are still in their teens and have a long way ahead of them in terms of musical 'careers'. This is some initial statement! Time for a cup of tea...





The Heart of Rock and Soul # 397 Fats Domino


Song(s) of the Day # 1,423 Mr. Husband


It's nigh on impossible to listen to Mr. Husband's debut album Plaid on Plaid from earlier on this year, without Brian Wilson coming fairly quickly to mind. He, (Mr. Husband being a moniker for musician / comedian Kenny Tompkins), certainly has a knack for melody and poignancy that Wilson and Elliott Smith, (another thing the record reminded me of), would doff a cap to. Recorded in Tompkins bedroom in Maryland, it's a wonderful example of the merits of operating small but thinking big. I've posted the album's opening and standout track Riding a Lightning Bolt above and the rest of the record below if that takes your fancy. Something of an early Christmas treat.



Monday, December 11, 2017

Songs About People # 505 Hans Christian Anderson


For the Danish fairy tale man from Kittyhawk's 2014 album  Hello, Again.


Songs of the Year # 15 Steady Holiday


David Lynch style soundtrack to an imaginary film in a year when global events did make 'terror' an ongoing theme.

Albums of the Year # 15 Perfume Genius - No Shape

Another startling and timely statement from Perfume Genius. The review comes from back in May:


The new album from Perfume Genius No Shape is quite staggeringly good. Clearly one of the very best things I've heard for a long, long time. I listened through to the whole thing at one astonished sitting a couple of days back, quite taken back by its consistent melodic and rhythmic brilliance and insistent build. Genius is not an inappropriate term. Written from a defiant, pained gay sensibility that fits in a proud tradition going all the way back to Caravagio, it's a good as any record anyone is likely to release this year. You can hear elements of Sufjan, Vampire Weekend and Rufus Wainwright here and there but it's still very much Mike Hadreas', (the man behind the Perfume Genius moniker), own thing.  Here's just one track!







The Heart of Rock and Soul # 398 The Spinners


Song(s) of the Day # 1,422 DUDS


Wired and compulsive guitar driven Post Punk from Manchester band DUDS. Pylon, Gang of Four and Fire Engines seem to be guiding signposts which is a good place to start from. From the opening notes of their album of this year, Of a Nature or Degree you sense this is unlikely ever to let up and so it proves. Utterly relentless.


There's a formula to this kind of stuff. Atlanta's Omni for example are mining a similar seam and though the bands have shared a bill, it might not have been the best idea as frankly the way they sound is a bit too close for comfort. Nevertheless, DUDS do this stuff supremely well. Twelve concise tracks in all, many of them not passing the two or three minute mark, their songs tick and chime with the precision of a finely tuned machine. This is an album that would probably have made my Album of the Year countdown, but it's come to my notice too late.



Nevertheless, I commend it to you. The fact that so many alternative bands are drawing on this template, thirty five years or so after the original models were released is an indication of how potent this sound remains. DUDS don't always sound very much like a British band, the vibe of this also gives off a strong whiff of the early records of Devo and Pere Ubu too , a sensibility which emerged from the depressed and decaying American cities of Akron and Cleveland in the late seventies, (everything is automated to the max), but of course the musical conversation and exchange that has always taken place between America and the UK has always been and remains a phenomenally generative one. Perhaps Joy Division and A Certain Ratio, bands who also hailed from Manchester back in the same day, are also worthwhile reference points. Though DUDS never allow themselves to be Factory glum.


Of a Nature or Degree does not necessarily surprise those of us who are familiar with this stuff but it does delight. This is no mere nostalgia exercise, what they're doing still makes perfect sense. Although fired up and occasionally irritable, this is nevertheless 'glass half full' music, (the band sound like they're having the most incredible fun doing this), and frankly DUDS nail their given objective highly impressively.






Sunday, December 10, 2017

Songs About People # 504 Drew Barrymore



Not entirely to my taste music-wise, but this was a big song this year from SZA. Drew Barrymore is a big thing in the States, someone who's famous for being famous virtually all her life as well as being part of perhaps America's greatest dynasty. So here's a song for her.


La Feline


And something from the same artist later in the year. A collaboration with Laetitia Sadler.

Albums of the Year # 16 La Feline - Triomphe

An unusual choice this one, but a very good album. From a review back in August:


I come across things occasionally, sung in languages other than English that have absolutely no profile whatsoever in English-speaking markets but surely deserve to have one. Such appears to be the case with French artist La Feline and her current album, Triomphe, one of the finest records I've heard this year.


It's essentially a modern electronic pop record, mixed up from familiar ingredients, built on synthesised banks of melody, almost whispered vocals, non-aggressive but utterly authoritative in terms of delivery.I find it completely entrancing every time I listen to it.


As I said, it's familiar, anyone who cares for Charlotte Gainsbourg's stuff for example will appreciate exactly where this is coming from. Eleven tracks in all and something intriguing and enticing going on with each and every one. Somehow the French always pull off these poetic, dramatic, dreamlike exercises in style so much better than anyone else! Triomphe indeed.




The Heart of Rock and Soul # 399 The Guess Who


Songs of the Year # 16 Century Palm


Them again. The icing on the cake as far as the album is concerned. A wonderful video here of the band wondering around in Arctic Canadian conditions too!

Song(s) of the Day # 1,421 Century Palm


Classic Post Punk angular Rock and Roll from Canadian outfit, Century Palm. Melodic, taut and to the point, their debut album from this year Meet You instantly hits sweet spots.


There's a lot of cherry picking from favourite bits of their record collection going on, (Wire, Ultravox, New Order and Total Control are a few things that come to mind),and it all comes together to form an immensely. satisfying whole. Angry at points, blissed out at others, they have their cake and eat it.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Songs About People # 503 Jimmy Fallon


A record I haven't talked on here and perhaps should have done, is the new Japanese Breakfast, album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet. It's a fine little pop record. Here's one from it which in some way references the American comedian and chat show host. I should come back to Japanese breakfast shortly.


Songs of the Year # 17 The Moonlandingz


Much of the Moonlandingz acclaimed album, Interplanetary Class Classics was too much for me. It struck me as if it was trying to hard, a subtle, but definite trap for the leftfield. But this, a fine take on the early Simple Minds sound, hit the spot.

Albums of the Year # 17 Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination



This is a very 2017 record in terms of the world that it writes about. And explicitly in comparison with a lot of albums of this year which tend to chart the inner geography of Brexit, the refugee crisis, Trump, Putin and the generally awful state the planet finds itself in, if they cared to chart it at all. But this, Holiday Destination, the second album from South Shield's Nadine Shah is explicit in terms of the concerns it focuses on.


As a result I didn't listen to it as much of many of the other things on the list. I didn't always want to stare these things directly in the face. Any more than it's easy to stare at the pictures of Aleppo that adorn its sleeve and actually make the leap of imagination to find yourself there, which is what the album is daring you to do. But every time I did listen to Holiday I found it strident, raw engaged and angry in terms of its personal and public politics and musical nous. And very impressive. 


Metallic and harsh in terms of its arrangements but warm determined too. Nadine Shah is making her way from the obvious guiding influence of Patti, Siouxsie and P.J. towards her own space and this was a brave committed statement about the harsh world we have little choice but to be living in but also about the responsibility that is ours to engage with it rather than burrow our way into our own shells.




The Heart of Rock and Soul # 400 Bruce Springsteen


Song(s) of the Day # 1,420 Business of Dreams


Two juicy tracks from the highly alluring eponymous album from Business of Dreams which came out earlier on this year. A side project from Corey Cunningham, also of Magic Bullets and Terry Malts, (does everybody in a band have some kind of a side project underway nowadays?). It's a gorgeous, melodic record, highly evocative of the eighties in particular, I thought of New Order, OMD and Go Betweens listening to various tracks, an indication that it touches a lot of bases. It must be nice to be able to produce something as accomplished as this as a diversion from your main nine to five!


Friday, December 8, 2017

Songs About People # 502 Tonya Harding


Sufjan Stevens likes 'name' songs. Here's his latest about vengeful 'white trash' skate-girl Tanya Harding and the nineteen nineties.


Albums of the Year # 18 James Elkington - Wintres Woma

From back in July. An excellent record this one:


James Elkington's splendid debut album, Wintres Woma, just out, maps out that golden sound of British guitar driven Folk Music of the late sixties and seventies with true and rare devotion. Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson and Nick Drake are all here, and Elkington does their immense legacy proud. Chicago based, (though he's English), and a hired hand for many years working with the likes of Jeff Tweedy and Steve Gunn and doffing his cap to the aforementioned artists as well as admitting a particular and detectable debt to Johnny Marr he's now doing his own thing and I certainly love what he does.


The record fits very firmly within the parameters I've listed above. Elkington is not flashy either in the way he writes, sings or plays. He respects and understands the tradition he's working in and pays its essential simplicity its due. The record is more than anything perhaps a nod to Drake's timeless first two albums Five Leaves Left and Bryter Later when he still had some buoyancy and outward projection to his music before succumbing to the introspection that gave birth to Pink Moon.


This seems sure to be a grower, I'm listening through to it now for only the second time and making a promise to myself already to return to it soon, Wintres Woma is a demonstration of the truth of the maxim, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it...' a difficult thing to live up to in some ways because the other side of that particular coin and one that more and more musicians seem to fall into can be slavish imitation of a template that is fundamentally impossible to improve upon. Elkington avoids all pitfalls effortlessly through sheer skill, thought and empathy. A lovely album!



Songs of the Year # 18 The Flying Stars of Brooklyn


A Song of the Day a few weeks back and a wonderful slice of old school soul.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 401 The Four Seasons


Song(s) of the Day # 1,419 Taiwan Housing Project


In one of my Books of the Year, the fabulous music novel This is Memorial Device, (a review of which I'll repost presently), author David Keenan splendidly describes a set of remarkable but utterly fictitious bands that peopled the Post Punk scene of Airdrie in the early eighties. Taiwan Housing Project, a collaboration between Mark Feehan of the charmingly named Harry Pussy and Kilyn Lunsford of Magic Claw could almost be one of these bands, so completely out there are they on every level.


So how to describe them? Mix up B52s, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Destroy All Monsters, Babes in Toyland, Banshees, and any other demented and fearsome female fronted outfits on the far ends of Punk and avant garde you might care to mention. Stir and set aflame. Sit back and enjoy. Here are a couple of tracks from their recent record, the splendidly entitled Veblen Death Mask. However, there's nothing quite like the whole immersive experience and I suggest you dive into the album. The soundtrack for the next time you care to howl at the moon!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Songs of the Year # 19 Zara McFarlane


A standout track from an exceptional albumm Arise from Zara McFarlane. Admiral fusion of Sun Ra style Free Jazz, Roots Reggae and Soul.

Albums of the Year # 19 Mick Head & the Red Elastic Band

From back in October:


'As good a way possible to spend the early part of a Sunday morning. Listening to Adios Senor Pussycat, the latest album by Mick Head & the Red Elastic Band, just out this Friday. Head has a long backstory, he's been doing his thing for coming onto forty years now and has experienced much to contemplate during those years. It shows. This is a highly contemplative piece of art. The work of a man in his mid-fifties rediscovering his mojo and surveying the rocky road that life and his own decision-making have taken him down.


Originally the leader of Pale Fountains, a wondrous Liverpool band who were feted for huge commercial success at the time they were signed to Virgin Records in the early eighties but denied that success by poor record company decisions and a certain wilful attitude on the part of the band. Since then Head has continued making records intermittently, with his next project Shack and  under his own name. Plagued by drug and alcohol dependency for the best part of twenty years, he's finally sober, has got 'piece of mind' in his own words, as he sings on 'Winter Turns to Spring'. And here are the results. A small masterpiece.



He's one of the finest pop songwriters Britain has produced over the last forty years, though he's barely ever had a brush with the actual charts. Adios Senor Pussycat, establishes the truth of that fairly on and goes on to explore the subtle, but quite exquisite songwriting and arranging gifts the man possesses over thirteen thoughtful, flecked and dappled songs. Very much a Liverpool record with its songs of the sea, the booze and poetic romance



The album is not hugely different from several that Head has put out over the course of his career. Just slightly older and wiser. A disciple first and foremost of Love and Arthur Lee and The Byrds, he's used their example as the basis of his art but over the years has crafted it all into an utterly specific personal vision. A sound that's all his own. Full of poetic Scouse dreaming, Adios Senor Pussycat feels like an early Christmas present that you'll want to wrap and unwrap again and again over the next couple of months. It'll catch you by surprise with joy every single time.'


The Heart of Rock and Soul # 402 Stevie Wonder


Song of the Day # 1,418 Shady Bug


Concise, to the point of small genius, the opening track from St.Louis young 'uns Shady Bug Tbh Idk. Despite this title, they do actually seem to know, because the whole record is just great! Echoes of lots of wonderful alternative guitar records in your collection. highly promising.



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Songs Heard on the Radio # 239 Johnny Hallyday


And to compliment that post about Johnny's death, here's how I heard the news just now. On this track he's backed by the Small Faces.



Johnny Hallyday 1943 - 2017


Albums of the Year # 20 Holiday Ghosts - Holiday Ghosts

From back in October:


X marks the spot. Holiday Ghosts, surely the finest band ever to come roaring out of Falmouth, Cornwall, know where the treasure is buried. With the release of their eponymous twelve track debut, just out, they're here to give you the map. Discover them now before the hip kids cotton on. They only have five hundred Facebook likes as we speak.


This state of affairs is sure not to last as they're one pearl of a band. Holiday Ghosts has more than its share of rough edges but this is all part of its charm. They've got a record collection and they know how to use it. Displaying a shambling, happy guile, that sets off, (as so much wonderful guitar music does), from the template that the Velvet Underground laid down between the release of their third album and Loaded. They also take in Sixties Garage, The Modern Lovers, much of the C-86 scene, The Marine Girls and The Popguns. Then they add a sprinkle of their own personal concerns, inspirations and eccentricities, a dash of 2017 joie de vivre, get the motor running and we're off, finding ourselves breaking away from the pack and arriving at the finishing line breasting the tape before we know it.


Holiday Ghosts will keep me happy and chugging along for the remaining months of 2017 and surely well into 2018 too. It will be interesting to see how they develop and whether they reach the broader audience they so richly deserve to  be embraced by. It's nice being slightly ahead of the curve and chance upon a little known band before all and sundry are wearing their t-shirt. But in this case I'm so enthused that I want to share in a big way. Go on, treat yourself. Make Holiday Ghosts your latest discovery!