Netflix series The Politician is occasionally somewhat variable in terms of taste. Its understanding and use of music by contrast is generally spot on. As with this, which features in the second episode. Yesterday in German.
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
El Camino , the follow up feature length finale to Breaking Bad is just out. It's a fabulous thing, fully fitting to the legacy of all that went before. It's full of great moments but the one that really got me is a great music one. Todd, one of the truly standout characters of the series, even though he only appeared in the final season, is driving out to the desert to bury the body of his cleaning lady who he has killed, for no better reason than that she came upon a stash of his money accidentally while tidying up in his flat. As he drives, this song comes on the radio.
It's a wonderfully rendered moment. Todd sings along to the song with all his bankrupt soul. His head rocks from side to side, his hand sways outside the window along to the melody, he finds time to mime the 'parp parp' Casey Jones whistle to a passing truck driver. Meanwhile Jesse is in the back of the car rolling back and forth with the dead body of Todd's cleaner, wrapped in a roll of carpet.
Todd in many cases is the embodiment of banal evil. The bad guy who doesn't actually realise how bad he is, instead reasoning to himself that he's decent. He's a brilliant creation. and the song is made for him/ Dr. Hook the flagbearers in the late Seventies for all American corn as cynical in their way as Todd is in his. All in all, the scene, forty seconds at most is a model lesson for aspiring screenplay writers. This is how it's done. Strangely, it all makes the song sound good enough to post here too.
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Monday, October 14, 2019
Within about five seconds of Zipper, the opening track of Chicago quartet The Hecks second album My Star firing off you know exactly where you are. Frenetic, angular Post Punk somewhere between Devo and The Futureheads, there clearly isn't much respite ahead.
And so it proves. Though as the review in the wonderful A Pessimist is Never Disappointed adroitly points up, the ace in the band's hand is the influence of late Seventies King Crimson. This takes their songs into a different realm from the legions of contemporary Post Punk practitioners like Omni and Preoccupations.
If this makes some of their tracks a little fiddly, muso and Prog for the likes of me who prefer things stripped down, My Star is certainly a claustrophobic and interesting album.
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Switched on the radio to hear this. Magnificent orchestral sweep. Still not entirely sure about Stuart Staples voice which skirts the borders of the ridiculous but the song works, evoking that thick, urban melancholy that was the band's calling card
Indie veterans Comet Gain are back with a new album Fireraisers Forever! and it's an angry raging at the dying of the light and the debris that collects around us as we make our way through this existence. Tilting at any number of targets for their bile the record is a furious rattling feast at everything they feel has gone wrong with the world. If it's sometimes difficult to identify exactly who they're so angry with, the full on commitment is palpably evident.
The titles alone are noteworthy; The Girl with the Melted Mind and her Fear of the Open Door, Society of Inner Nothing. I could go on. In themselves they tell something of the record's narrative. This is a band who have developed their own exclusive argot over the years, in much the way that contemporaries like Carter USM and The Men They Couldn't Hang did back in the day. The tunes rattle and chime. This feels part wake, past last stand.
Comet Gain speak of a whole generation now moving through their forties and into their fifties, making their way though life as best they can on the streets of London and its satellite suburbs. Bruised by their experiences but not bested. Fireraisers Forever! is a record for the committed few for whom they were an important part of their youth. The vocals are out of tune but that is precisely the point. This is a testament to youth and what comes thereafter.
Saturday, October 12, 2019
Album Review # 37 Lloyd Cole & the Commotions - Rattlesnakes
Just turning 35 so I'm re-posting this..
This is pretty much a perfect record. There aren't that many in my collection. I've got a great deal of history with it as do a lot of people of my age and background. My own copy is worn and approaching a stage of vague decrepitude as I am myself and jumps irretrievably on occasion like my own slightly irregular heart but I'm reluctant to replace the copy I bought on its release in 1984 just yet, because it's seen me through more than half of my given span and I'll be listening through to it, whether this copy or another, 'til that span expires, whenever that is. Because, perhaps more than any other album it speaks of the emotions and experience I was going through while first listening to it.
A good friend of mine, who follows this blog, said something along the lines that it was amongst the best records ever made by a minor league artist. I'd agree with that. Cole himself has I imagine seldom reached these heights since, (though he still puts out very good stuff and is excellent live by all accounts). I guess he knows the truth of this very well. It was an album and a statement he could never possibly trump because it was so much of its time. It defined forever a moment, an age of life and a perspective on it better than almost any record I know
I bought it at the time when my life was changing, more quite than it has ever done, before or since. I was eighteen, finishing off my A Levels and thinking about university. I knew very little idea about relationships, the opposite sex or pretty much the world. Records coming out at the time like Rattlesnakes, Murmur, High Land, Hard Rain and The Smiths were the stuff I constructed my identity around along with books, films and politics they referenced and drew on. I could make a list but I wouldn't want to bore you. It was stuff to aspire to and identify with, to construct yourself around in terms of the things you wore and I bought into it. I was far from alone.
Cole suffered slightly at the time from being bracketed with R.E.M, The Smiths, Aztec Camera and also Prefab Sprout who were coming at things from a similar angle. He seemed a minor talent by comparison as perhaps in retrospect he has proved. But it was a perfectly formed minor talent. He also meant a lot to quite a lot of people. I imagine many of those who fell for this record, what he was saying and the way he was saying it have never entirely grown out of it. I haven't.
Fast forward a couple of years from the record's purchase to the Summer term of my first year at University. There's a girl there that I'm falling for and something is starting to happen with. It's a university disco. She lives on campus and I'm at residences a few miles away. It's coming to the end of the night and I have to get on the pre-arranged minibus with the others who stay there. Perfect Skin comes on. We close dance to it, an odd song to close dance to, it's more of a giddy jig really. I go get the bus without a kiss but she's taking me over. We start going out together shortly afterwards, do so for the next four years. I fall completely in love with her. There's talk of marriage but with one thing and another it doesn't happen. Lloyd and the Commotions were there at the start of it all. I'll never hear Perfect Skin without being transported back to that brief pocket of time as it all began. She had a teddy bear called Bloomingdale and eyes like sin. She went into journalism. Wrote something for The Face. But not Cosmopolitan.
Back from myself to the record itself. All in all it's a flawlessly constructed album; track-listing, arrangements, lyrics, length. Nothing outstays its welcome. It's tasteful. Refined. It speaks of an ingrained love of all things America. Lloyd half sings half speaks in immaculately assembled American Beat prose hip-speak throughout. He and the band's sound yearns for the open road and also New York in particular in all its Sixties glory. America as dreamed of in youth spent in Buxton, Derbyshire and nailed into achievable reality as a university student, meeting and mixing with the right people, soaking up the sights and sounds of Glasgow, a city forever in thrall to the States. It's no great wonder that Lloyd ended up moving there permanently himself. Rattlesnakes is choc full of namedrops. Eve Marie-Saint, Greta Garbo, Leonard Cohen, Simone De Beauvoir, Grace Kelly, Norman Mailer, Arthur Lee, Truman Capote. The kind of people and culture that you were gobbling up at this point of life, so desperate to impress, with the youth to get away with it sometimes but without the raw and real experience or knowhow to really back it up. It's a life learned, soaked up through books, films and music.
But there's pain there too. It's marrying these books, films and this music against the intense, brief, rites of passage experience you were actually going through. About wasting precious time as he says himself at one point. It's about first and failed relationships. The ones that hurt the most. It's about trying to understand women that are impossibly attractive, elusive and unobtainable, or even if they are obtained, the moment of possession is sure to be only fleeting. Because you're only twenty one once. It's about being flippant and eager to impress with surface cool and charm whilst all along underneath beats a desperate, yearning heart.
The playing is remarkably tight. I'd pick out Neil Clark the lead guitar but the whole band are hugely adept. Because really they're grounded in Soul. They know their Stax and incredibly they pull off a truly astonishing approximation of its gleam, spark and sheer discipline. And it's in this understanding of the essence of great Sixties American music, not just Dylan and The Velvet Underground but The Temptations, Staple Singers, Aretha and Booker T & the MGs that's the foundation of the record's success. They have the chops. Three of the band were in a Soul group before the Commotions formed. They made a point of playing with vintage equipment and using basic recording techniques rather than letting Eighties sounds and effects leak into the mix. These are some of the reasons the record has lasted.
There are five songs on either side of the album and they all fit as snug as can be. There's not a note too many, a line that doesn't work or a hook too laboured. They can speed it up and slow it down. It's funny and smart and touching by turns. It's a record of ten potential 45s. Lloyd is centre stage of course. The band took his name and it's his artfully constructed self that defines the record. Observant, wry, cynical, but really you suspect beneath the veneer, bruised and hurting.
The band had their brief moment in the sun. The record was feted and they had chart and critical success. They made follow up records, some of which recaptured the glory, most of which in retrospect didn't. Because they'd already made their statement. I played second record Easy Pieces a lot when it came out as it was part of the soundtrack to the great romance I talked of earlier which I was busy experiencing. I'd recommend a few songs from it that would fit right in on Rattlesnakes, Why I Love Country Music, Pretty Gone, Grace. Some of it doesn't work though. It tries too hard. Or else not enough. I didn't bother with the third. The band seemed to care less themselves by this point and split shortly thereafter. They'd run their course. They split shortly before the relationship of mine which they'd played their small part in did.
This is over thirty years ago. Lloyd is back. His latest album got his best reviews in years and his songwriting has aged gracefully. He has a silver flock of hair, barely receded from where it sat in its prime. He's not trying to be twenty, hasn't lost his looks and the man could certainly always write a lyric. He still can. He's always asked about Rattlesnakes of course and answers patiently and honestly. He seems like a good bloke though he still seems to find it hard to suffer fools. But he knows his place in the scheme of things.
So listen to his and his band's first record if you don't know it already. It's forever somewhere amongst my Top Thirty. It always makes me slightly lovelorn and nostalgic, for obvious reasons. I haven't gone into the songs individually here because they speak for themselves and are of a piece. I'd be here forever if I did but it would be all description and not enough feeling. Like I said it speaks for itself. A perfectly assembled row of books on a bookshelf. It's a record which within the dimensions and parameters it constructs for itself, frankly could not be bettered.
There it is. Always sitting there silently in the assembled ranks of albums stacked in boxes on my living room floor demanding to be played again. And again. From the first song, 'When she smiles my way. My eyes go out in vain,' to the last, 'Are you ready to be heartbroken.' I decided at the end of my first Lloyd Cole & the Commotions phase and the end of that relationship that I wasn't ready. I've learned since that the heart always finds a way to miraculously mend itself, work once more and need to love again. Meanwhile, Rattlesnakes plays on in the background. Never changing because it doesn't need to. It will outlast Lloyd. And me.
Friday, October 11, 2019
Allah-Las settle back into the saddle and make their way out into the desert once more on their horses with no name with their new record, LAHS their fourth in all since their eponymous debut came out in 2012. That horse metaphor frankly is exactly what the record sounds like, if nothing else this band are subscribers to the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', school of thought.
In their case you can't really blame them because they came up with such a cool metier from the off. That laidback sound that was minted first time round by bands based in LA and San Francisco between 1965 and 1967; we're talking Beau Brummels, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Doors, Love, Moby Grape, Monkees, Grateful Dead and so on and so forth here. Nothing on LAHS strays from that essential formula and fans of the band will not be disappointed, even if less committed listeners might wonder if they could have pushed the boat out to a greater degree this time round.
Personally I'd say it would be churlish to be over-critical. Allah-Las are quite upfront about what they like and want to do. Made up of a set of four guys who used to work in record shops, they embody that idea, the 'have you heard this?' one. Music obsessives, but not snotty ones, there's a generosity and positive vibe to absolutely everything they've ever done. Stoked by the inspiration of the bands listed above as well as myriad other artists who you've never heard of, (that's record store wisdom for you), they've mastered the contours of a sound and sensibility that is quite effortlessly cool.
So if LAHS doesn't find the band arriving at their creative apogee, (I'd say this probably isn't quite as good as their previous two albums, Calico Review and Worship The Sun), such calls are necessarily marginal because Allah-Las do exactly what you'd expect them to do here and they do it very well. If bands are going to tread water all, you can really hope for is that they'll do so as smoothly as on here.
So, if I found my attention wandering slightly as the album moved deep into its second side, I can't bring myself to be too critical. I just love the altar of cool that fuels Allah-Las engines, so if this feels sometimes like the most shapeless season of a top rate long running programme at least it's clear why the whole thing has proved so successful. Allah Las are as good at what they do as any band in the world. And they know it.
n.b. It should also be noted that they sign off on the record with one of the best songs of their entire career, the imperious ride of Pleasure, which imagines Kraftwerk singing in Spanish not German, in stetsons, ponchos and four day stubble. An instant classic.
Thursday, October 10, 2019
The Chills magisterial Pink Frost finds its way to the jukebox at The Newcastle Arms. Thanks to me it has to be said.
I'm not really on top of this one. This record Cycles by Californian odd bod Worn-Tin came out in February. Never mind, it still sounds fresh to me. Full of that idiosyncratic otherness that marked out Barrett, Bowie, Bolan and Beck in turn as singular talents. Not that I'm saying that it's destined to change the world as they all did to one degree or other. Still, it's a very notable record.
Altogether a queasy take on familiar pop forms. It's not clear if Worn-Tin, (real name Warner Hiatt), is entirely well. According to a recent Facebook post he likes drawing on the wall with crayons. You're not sure if this is all rather contrived, (not that there's anything wrong with that of course, see the people listed above), but the man certainly has a rare pop instinct and sensibility that deserves attention.
The production is sparse and the California sun shines relentlessly down. It's not a flawless record by any means. Some of the songs just don't gel, while others just go out too far, like a badly advised and incoherent drug trip. But the good songs are really good! Although this is offbeat, at heart it also has the purest love for the very best pop records.
Something of the missing link between Donovan, Nilsson, Head- era Monkees and the Flaming Lips, you may feel like you've had a sugar rush if you listen through to Cycles at one sitting. But I'd suggest you'll probably go back to it at a later date just to check that you heard what you thought you heard. Respect where it's due.
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
In a fascinating and revealing interview in the latest copy of Uncut Magazine, Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy makes a remarkable point. 'Nobody needs more Wilco music'. Interesting, given that the interview is designed for nothing at all except to promote and discuss just that, Ode To Joy, the band's eleventh in all since their first in 1995.
It's a frank and dignified admission. Nevertheless, Wilco are something of an institution among American Rock groups. Possibly not many people's favourite band, they still occupy a special place in the scheme of things. Offering an ongoing model lesson about how to age with grace and intelligence. Ode To Joy puts forward further testimony to that fact if it's necessary. I've been living with it over the last few days since its release. Its a beautiful and nuanced record. Though given that this is Wilco why would anybody expect anything else?
They're master craftsmen. With a back catalogue that's a rich and textured narrative of nothing less than the journey through life. Compiling a best of would be an almost impossible task, (it has actually been done of course), as their best known songs are by no means necessarily their best. Each album they've released is studded with jewels. The copy of Uncut that houses the interview also offers a giveaway CD compilation of their songs, covered by an extraordinary range of artists from Handsome Family to Cate Le Bon, Parquet Courts, Courtney Barnett, Low, Kurt Vile and Twin Peaks and many more. It's almost as if they're all queuing up just to pay their respects.
Ode To Joy is a quiet record, except for its drums which take centre stage along with Tweedy's voice and clearly iterated lyrics throughout. It was almost the first thing I noticed about it when I started listening to opening track Bright Leaves. 'These drums are a bit obtrusive' I thought to myself, 'Thudding. Not sure that I like this.'
The interview goes some way to explaining why this might be the case. The record was recorded in Chicago, where the band are originally from but where only Tweedy and percussionist Glenn Kotche still live. Subsequently, the album was initially pieced together by the two of them before the other four core band members became involved and so the drums, martial and thudding, like a heartbeat, (or else a funereal one), are at the core of proceedings throughout.
If this marginalises other players to some degree, most notably lead guitarist Nels Cline, one of the world's finest this is quite understandable. Wilco are at a point of their career where there is a pressing need for them to make things interesting for themselves first and foremost. It seems they must have done so, because the record is a rich and many splendored thing. It may well rank with their very finest although the band are probably past the stage where it is likely to be recognised as such.
Ode To Joy wrestles and itches with the contradictions of being middle aged. In the here and now in this difficult point of human history, watching the madness ebb and flow on the daily news, all the while given over to your own private fears and woes, anxieties for your nearest and dearest, guilt about enjoying and revelling in those tiny moments of levity and beauty that life throws at you on a daily basis. Constant wondering about life.
I love this record. It's content to be small and subsequently makes a big statement. There are eleven songs here and they're all worth getting to know, making your own. Each and every one of them concerned with life and the thought of death. It offers consolation and hope, yes and joy though the latter it has to be said is joy of a tired and fragile middle aged kind. I'm rather a tired and fragile middle aged bloke so in many ways it feels as if it were made for me. When it comes to a close with An Empty Corner you might feel like shedding a tear at its quiet, certain, hard-won profundity. I can only thank Wilco for making it.
One of the oddest of a set of very interesting albums released last Friday. Look Up Sharp by Australian Carla dal Forno, which kicks off like an Antipodean cousin to Jane Weaver before mutating into something altogether more strange.
What it seems to want to do is breathe new life into one of the most leftfield of all musical phases and instincts. That moment in Britain in the late Seventies and early Eighties when any number of arty, independent operators; Durutti Column, Eyeless in Gaza, Monochrome Set, David Sylvian, Virginia Astley, Wire, The Cure, Young Marble Giants and countless more decided to use their talents to open up a perspective that highlighted the essential alienated separation of human existence.
Look Up Sharp is a pretty lonely sounding album. It's also a rather good one. Hardly designed to set cash tills ringing it should nevertheless find the small set of people who will appreciate it. It may remind you of someone you were attracted to as a teenager but never really got to know. Not a record that necessarily wants you to like it. But all the better for that.
Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Monday, October 7, 2019
Pre Haight San Francisco band. Probably best known for their version of Buffalo Springfield's Sit Down I Think I Love You, their biggest hit. This sounded pretty good coming out of the jukebox on Saturday afternoon too though.
If there's one thing I'm always hungry for it's a proper New York Punk album the way they used to make them. There seems to have been no shortage of these lately. Mystery Lights, who I witnessed playing a blistering set last Thursday night at Cluny 2 in Newcastle, an experience I'll have to write about soon. But also Beechwood, Parquet Courts, Bodega and umpteen others. Punks not dead. Even now apparently.
And now Wives, from Queens arrive at the party with So Removed, their debut album, a record brimful of 'attitood' that is both instantly familiar and invitingly fresh, an indication that these ingredients still have plenty to offer. The wall of sound guitar assault, pounding drums, the full on relentless attack, waves of massed, desperate vocals, all present and correct. None of what's on show here will come as a surprise to anyone who has ever bought a Heartbreakers, Suicide, Ramones or Voidoids record but that's not to say those who have won't welcome this record with open arms.
Wives calling card is hardly originality but there's plenty of conviction and spark on show. With a sound that encompasses the first CBGBs wave of bands but also sprinkles Velvet Underground, Jim Carroll, Sonic Youth, Pixies, Band of Susans and many more of the usual suspects liberally into the mix. The whole record is played out in the wired drama of the Manhattan night, steam rising from the manholes and no lack of menace and dread on show. Pure New York.
The pace is pretty much relentless. You may feel you need to come up for air on occasion. All in all though So Removed is a pretty much an unqualified success. Its just fabulous to see so many bands seeking to breath new life into this golden chapter of musical history and succeeding with such abandon, swagger and fire.
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Canadian Folk / Country duo Kacy & Clayton are prolific to say the least. And consistent. Consistently damned good that is. Carrying On, is their third album in four years, and their third since 2016's brilliant, Strange Country, which landed up sixth in the It Starts With a Birthstone end of year Album of the Year list.
Carrying On is a case of, 'if a thing ain't broke why fix it', not that anybody who has ever enjoyed any previous Kacy & Clayton record will be complaining about that. Short, sweet tunes with an Appalachian twinge. vocals shared between Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum, (though she takes the lion's share), loving crafted and embroidered like a top of the range buckskin jacket.
Anderson has a rich nuanced voice reminiscent of Loretta Lynn, Emmylou or Margo Timmins. The musical setting is exquisitely rendered. Carrying On carries on in the best possible way. Another quite immaculate offering.