Thursday, December 13, 2018

TV On The Radio

Mercury Rev & Hope Sandoval

One of the more interesting projects coming up early in 2019 is Mercury Rev's loving recreation of Bobbie Gentry's classic 1968 album The Delta Sweete, each song in collaboration with a different female singer. Looking at the people they're working with, it should be a rare treat. Here's a taster, their take on today's Song of the Day with Hope Sandoval guesting.

Songs About People # 758 Alexander Solzhenitsyn

My Welsh isn't good enough to confirm that this is about Alexander. But I imagine it is.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 350 Kelis

Fine song from Kelis' debut album Kaleidoscope back in '99.

Songs of the Year # 13 U.S. Girls

Albums of the Year # 13 Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Feel

Back in May:

'You know what they say. No-one's born to hate. We learn it somewhere along the way. Take your broken heart. Turn it into art. Can't take it with you. Can't take it with you...'

First a disclaimer. Courtney Barnett is probably my favourite contemporary artist. I feel like I know her, which is one of her great gifts. Over the last five years since I first heard Avant Gardener, she's given me an enormous amount of pleasure and no little sustenance as she's travelled from a small time indie singer songwriter and frontwoman for her band in Melbourne to a known force currently making inroads and friends and inevitably detractors wherever she's decided to go as she gains a wider audience.

And so to her second album Tell Me How you Feel out yesterday. It's a shorter record than 2015's Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit the debut which broke her big. I think it's a better one. She's certainly moved away from the narrative songs which marked that record to an inner space which tries to resolve her own evident inner discord while maintaining simplicity, sincerity and lyrical guile and dealing with the arseholes she comes across along the way as best she can. Seeking greater resonance while all the time ensuring she maintains her grace and not taking on meanness in response to the meanness she comes across. Just look at the feedback under The Guardian review of Tell Me for ample evidence of this.

It's a fine balancing act she's undertaking and on Tell Me I think she's done it. The ten tracks here are thoughtful, melodic and sweet, if troubled. She's moving on as an artist, has written several career best songs, kept what was already wonderful about her and supplemented it with greater depth and emotive power. 

Nirvana is the obvious touchstone for the angrier songs here as they were from the start with Courtney and her three-piece band. On Hopefulness and I'm Not Your Mother I'm Not Your Bitch and Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence, In Utero is definitely a starting point, but the end destination is all Courtney's own. In some ways she's gone back to her early simplicity as a way of forging forward and I think that's exactly the right move.These songs don't detonate as Nirvana's later ones often did in unresolved pain, grief and rage. They stay afloat.

So while Courtney's troubled, she's still grounded in friends, family and community in a way Kurt sadly never seemed to be. She's still got a wonderful way with words, a delivery that's warm and affecting, and no little skill as a guitarist, (perhaps her least appreciated talent). These seem like ten friends to get to know and there's nothing on here I'm uneasy with or I think is a false move, the result of overthinking, something she probably was guilty of on occasion on Sometimes I Sit and Think...

The band placed the lead off single from Tell Me last night on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as part of the album launch in New York last night. The record seems set to shift in large numbers and Courtney's star will surely ascend yet further. If she seems uneasy with this course, (who can blame her?), I'd say she's taken the right approach with Tell Me. Keep it close to home, (final track Sunday Roast well and truly drive this point home), keep it real and try to make it more real, the next step on the journey as the road broadens. It gives more than enough and keeps you wanting more.

In summary, it's a fine record that occasionally howls but maintains its manners and an uneasy smile on its face. This should be another great year for Courtney and she very much deserves it. And for my friend Darran who turned down the opportunity to see her with me in a small venue in Newcastle a few years back, she still doesn't brush her hair and is all the better for it. And she won't ever be back there again...

'Don't come with your arms swinging. Throw them around me...'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 31 Percy Sledge

Song of the Day # 1,789 Jimmy Reed

The original of a much covered song; by Elvis, Bobbie Gentry, B.B.King and many more. From 1960.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Songs About People # 757 Rita Hayworth

Boston's Darlingside offer short but sweet tribute to Rita Hayworth. 

Songs of the Year # 14 Bill Ryder Jones

Albums of the Year # 14 Trembling Bells - Dungeness

Back in March:

Trembling Bells are not a phenomenon that I've really been aware of until this year. I'm catching on late as Dungeness, just out, is their sixth album in all, they've worked with Bonnie Prince Charlie and been endorsed by Stewart Lee and Stuart Maconie along the way and create a big, (undeniably pretentious), but highly distinctive Folk Prog sound.

Christ's Entry Into Govan, the quite brilliant single which heralded it at the turn of the year is probably the most conventional thing on here, and it's not really conventional at all, except in the way that it recalls that strange time at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies in the UK when quite batty Folk acts would find themselves in the UK charts and on Top of the Pops.

It's here and on I'm Coming where the band push forward Lavinia Blackwall, their wonderfully pure- throated singer, undeniably reminiscent of Sandy Denny in her prime and the band aspire for and achieve the wondeful otherness of Fairport Convention at their peak. In the video the band dance in kaftans with flowers in their hair across a sunny meadow.

Elsewhere Prog often takes centre stage. Not generally a style of music that floats my boat much but there's something that's quite infectious and immersive about the way that the band handle it. Blackwall transmutes into Shocking Blue's Mariska Veres or Grace Slick by turns and the band generate a series of Medieval metal hoedowns.

They will probably enrage many. Drummer, main songwriter and leader Alex Nielson is completely forthright, (and probably to some minds daftly pretentious), in interviews about the cultural and literary inspirations and allusions of their work.They're somehow made for The Quietus, the modern online site that faultlessly documents the obscure and arcane and suitably that august journal bites, giving the band no end of documentation and Dungeness a fully appreciative, thumbs up review.

I have to say I concur too. But not really because of its affectations so much as the fact that it's just a big bold, proud and thoroughly enjoyable record. A band having no end of fun with the treasure chest of Folk, Prog and alternative possibilities and dressing up and frolicking across car parks and fields in ludicrous outfits in their promo videos. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 32 Sam Cooke

Song of the Day # 1,788 Charlotte Gainsbourg

Charlotte Gainsbourg is back. Nothing particularly new from her in musical terms but still state of the art.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 349 ABBA

Olivia, the barmaid at Rosie's is an ABBA fan so this went on.

Songs About People # 756 Levon Helm

Levon gets an appropriately 'homey' song.

Songs of the Year # 15 Johnny Marr

Albums of the Year # 15 Blood Orange - Negro Swan

From September:

A couple of years ago I asked my oldest nephew what music he was listening to. He mentioned the name Blood Orange. I didn't follow it up. Kids, what do they know.? The previous time I got recommendations from he and his siblings they were pushing Mumford & Sons on me.

All this time later I've finally got round to Blood Orange, largely because he, (the name, is a moniker for Dev Hynes), put out a new album recently,  Negro Swan, which has made some waves. And no wonder listening to it. It's a fine record. Soulful, considered and clearly an extended comment on the world we live in and particularly America, as turbulent now as it's been since the late Sixties.

In many ways this feels like a companion piece to the Janelle Morae record Dirty Computer that I wrote about in such glowing terms yesterday. This is not such a strident album but it is a State of the World address in a different way. Like Morae it totes no guns and seems at times like an almost academic investigation into black experience, spirituality and soul.

In the man's own words: ' My newest album is an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the dark corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer / people of color. A reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all. The underlying thread through each piece on the album is the idea of HOPE, and the lights we can turn on or within ourselves with a hopefully positive outcome of helping others out of their darkness.'

All power to the Blood Orange elbow and maybe I should listen to my nephew more. Negro Swan is a graceful and beautiful creature. As with Dirty Computer it focuses on the marginalised at a moment of great and explicit political threat but in contrast chooses to internalise, and in doing so traces out a significant and impressive landscape of consciousness.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 33 Buddy Holly & the Crickets

Song of the Day # 1,787 Buzzcocks

Still musing on the loss of Pete Shelley a few days on...

Monday, December 10, 2018

Songs About People # 755 Angela Rippon

Crass have a rant about mainstream media and dedicate it to Angela Rippon, the first woman to take the role as main news presenter on BBC in the Seventies.

Songs of the Year # 16 Courtney Barnett

Albums of the Year # 16 The Goon Sax - We're Not Talking

From September:

Back in the late Sixties the Velvet Underground let their drummer, (the diminutive Mo Tucker), sing a couple of songs, After Hours and I'm Sticking With You. They were lullabies for the cool set and wittingly or otherwise they established a whole Rock and Roll sub-genre of which Brisbane Australia's Goon Sax second album We're Not Talking is just the latest marvellous example

The Goon Sax are three young people struggling with the concept and actual experience of living through and documenting their late teenage years. They take these two Velvet Underground songs, the early Jonathan Richman sensibility and the awkward but equally knowing presence of The Go-Betweens Robert Forster, (father of Louis, one of their number), and mix it all up with their own gawky, hormonal concerns to come out with  a small but perfectly formed classic. Twelve songs too. Like so many of the very best records, going back to my first great musical love, R.E.M.'s Murmur.

All three of the band James Harrison, Louis and Riley Jones sing and their instruments, guitar, drum, bass and other assorted instruments harmonise. Sometimes, the band are happy, sometimes sad, sometimes confused but you know they'll actually be OK because they're whip smart even if they don't want to let on that they are. Louis is the only one who's actually related to a member of the band but they've all inherited the early Go-Betweens genes, And that's a wonderful thing. And this is a wonderful record. Destined to go Top 10. At least in my end of the year album list! (Not quite as it transpired)...

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 34 Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs

Song of the Day # 1,786 Lily Allen

Skimming through the Lily Allen album of this year which is getting some attention in the end of year polls. For the most part it's not for me, but it has its moments. Such as this.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Songs Heard on the Radio # 282 Sharon Van Etten

BC Camplight playing a fine set standing in for Guy Garvey on 6 Music on Sunday Afternoon. Here's just one offering.

Songs of the Year # 17 Rufus Wainwright

New Rufus. Always worth cupping an ear to... 

Albums of the Year # 17 The Lavender Flu - Mow the Glass

Back in July:

Mow The Glass, the second album from The Lavender Flu, is a startling and breathtakingly smart record which came out just last Friday. The record was rehearsed and recorded in a  small house in Oregon on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In other words distinctively lo-fi. But it certainly doesn't sound it. It's an album that arrestingly recalls a bygone age of psychedelic American voyage and discovery.

A project driven by Chris Gunn, (also of The Hunches), and a rotating circle of like-minded friends and associates, Mow The Glass is an album that just invites the description lysergic and comparison with golden and possibly long since unplayed records and bands in your collection.

Austin, Texas's favourite sons The 13th Floor Elevators are the most obvious and immediate reference point here. The Flu, like the Elevators are insistently frazzled and saucer eyed and come across occasionally as verging on mass-derangement in terms of their approach. But at the same time they are also acutely disciplined. Only one song goes beyond four minutes and every track is deeply imbued with fierce, righteous wonder. 

Apologies for spitting out whole sections of the thesaurus here but Mow the Glass is an album not only deserving of it but actually requiring it if it wants to be adequately described. In addition to the Elevators it recalls the phrasing of Dylan in his 'wild mercury' phase, the transcendental chime of The Byrds, Moby Grape, Country Joe, The Seeds and also Television who redrafted this stuff through the prism of New York street experience in the Seventies. Sonic Youth and early Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips also flit in and out of the mix occasionally.

Mow the Grass is more bucolic than much of that. It touches on Cosmic Country on occasion. But it's also wired. And strangely at the same time rather thought through and sculpted. Structured chaos.

There's plenty of stuff around these days a bit like this, (particularly coming out of America), but very little of it is both as thought through as this and yet still manages to come across as so utterly spontaneous. I've found listening through to it over the last couple of days a glorious trip, (sorry, but there you are), in terms of experiencing epiphanic moments that send me spinning back in search of their source.

This may not reach an enormous audience, (not many of the band's obvious inspirations ever did), but it really should. The band have very little social media exposure and possibly prefer life under the radar's blip. Nevertheless, you'll do well to hear a better record of its sort in this or many a calendar year. The Lavender Flu. Listen to Mow the Glass and 'gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing.'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 35 Otis Redding

Song of the Day # 1,785 Sofia Bolt

Young LA singer songwriter. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Songs of the Year # 18 Cat Power

Albums of the Year # 18 Richard Swift - The Hex

Written in October:

American Richard Swift died this summer and I wasn't really aware of him, I'm sorry to say. I am now, with the posthumous release of The Hex, a set of songs he was working on before his death, just released, in fitting tribute to his talents.

Pieced together for release in the months since his passing, the album was pretty much complete anyhow, '11 songs performed by me for family and friends' is how Swift announced it on Instagram. It's a haunted record. Full of wonderful studio effects, which should come as no surprise, the man after all was probably best known as producer for The Black Keys, The Shins, Lonnie Holley and others. It's drenched in echoes of Soul, Blues, Doo Wop and Music Hall, all spinning around Swift's evocative vocals.

The artists who this record reminds me of most are Curtis Mayfield , Elliott Smith and Harry Nilsson. Swift often vacillates magically between the three. But there's much more to this too.This is a magnificent, emotion loaded record and stands as a wonderful statement of legacy.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 36 The Skyliners

Song(s) of the Day # 1,784 Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy does a particular thing and he does it very well. Nothing on his new record WARM will be unfamiliar to anybody who has enjoyed his work with Wilco and Uncle Tupelo over the last thirty years but much of it will be 'warmly' welcomed.

There's plenty of understated, crafted,  melody here, plenty of wry self-depreciating humour in the lyricism. While not an album of my year, because of that familiarity, Tweedy has been here before, in fact he played a considerable part in marking out this punk country territory in the first place, it's still a nice record to have in December as the new releases dry up.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Pete Shelley 1955-2018

Pete Shelley's premature passing, just a couple of days back is a sad one for many of my generation. A clever and talented soul, he was a distinctive and impressive figure on Top of the Pops shows in the late seventies, signalling a specific and proudly individualistic voice on the landscape of pop, punk and new wave.

Of course Buzzcocks were a wonderful, sparkling pop band but Shelley made them much more than that because of his particular obsessions with love and romance and a sharp but determined honesty which placed them apart and above so much of their competition. His sexual projection, so odd for a thirteen year old like myself who had no inkling of that side of life, was one reason. But more than this he put across a wry, but acute sensitivity that made space for Edwyn Collins, Morrissey and so much that followed. They were also the first banner wavers for all that wonderful music that came out of Manchester over the coming decades. Buzzcocks came first and paved the way.

Ultimately, his passing seems sad because he takes a part of many peoples' youths with him. Singles Going Steady, the compilation of Buzzcocks A and B sides is an ultimate glowing epitaph to him and the band he led. But more than that, they also produced some fine albums, (Love Bites and Another Music in a Different Kitchen particularly),  which showed how you could channel a love of the avant gard and outre into pop classicism. They had the tunes, the lyrics and the attitude, decked out in outfits that seemed irrepressibly and brazenly Burtons. Shelley is owed a definite, unresolvable debt.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 348 Neil Young

One of Neil Young's greatest 'cosmic' moments.

Songs of the Year # 19 Air Waves

Albums of the Year # 19 Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar

Young Fathers, who won the Mercury Prize with DEAD back in 2014 returned with Cocoa Sugar in 2018. And it was another winner. Breathy, intense and rhythmic. Like a feral Massive Attack, they're a definite force.

This is not easy listening. It's dense and claustrophobic, crammed full of voices jostling for attention. But it has a cumulative power that's undeniable.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 37 The Four Tops

Song of the Day # 1,783 Anna St. Louis

Following Townes yesterday. The first song of a record that sounds very much like Townes. In a good way.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Songs About People # 754 Townes Van Zandt

Song about Townes Van Zandt sung in the style of ... Townes Van Zandt.

Songs of the Year # 20 Papercuts

And my favourite song from that record.

Albums of the Year # 20 Papercuts - Parallel Universe Blues

From October:

Papercuts sixth album Parallel Universe Blues is an indie record in the most spectacular sense of the word. It's an amalgam of so many features of the genre, incredibly sensitively played,  a set  of ten gossamer delicate alternative pop songs.

The opening two tracks Mattress On The Floor and Laughing Man are as good an opening pair of songs as I've heard this year on any record. Aping the classic melodic trajectory of Wire's wondrous Outdoor Miner they set the bar high, but the songs that follow, maintain an impeccable poise and beauty.

The reference points are quite clear; listing Velvet Underground, Wire, Spacemen 3, Velocity Girl Primal Scream, Spector, early Cure and Jesus & Mary Chain will probably paint as  good a picture as possible of what's being splashed on the canvas here. Priceless teenage emotion and moments, cast in aspic. The fact that this is Jason Quever, (the man behind Papercuts), sixth record is not insignificant. He's utterly mastered the sound and sensibility he's been working towards. It's craftsmanship.

A whiter than white sound. Bleached almost, hooped top and fringe, Chelsea boots, Quever shows a mastery of the sound and attitude that's quite impeccable. The album never lets up. It's a small classic. October has been the richest month of the year in terms of records that have grabbed my interest and Parallel Universe Blues sparkles as remarkably as any among them.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 38 The Beatles

Song of the Day # 1,782 Store Front

Store Front, a new band out of Brooklyn featuring The Pain's of Being Pure at Heart's Peggy Wang, set off with promising vim reminiscent of 10,000 Maniacs and The Swimming Pool Q's.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Rolling Stones

Songs About People # 753 Francis Ford Coppola

Song for Godfather guy.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 347 That Petrol Emotion

That Petrol Emotion's splendid and much underrated 1986 debut Manic Pop Thrill is now available. Here's its pop high point.

Songs of the Year # 21 Gruff Rhys

Albums of the Year # 21 Natalie Prass - The Future & the Past

Natalie Prass came very good indeed with her second album The Future & the Past. Something of an elfin Janet Jackson, her record was clipped and sweet and Jam and Lewis would have been proud to helm it. Graced with possibly the oddest album cover of the year with Prass as pale as alabaster and sporting a jarring, clashing jacket, shirt and bow tie, the album by contrast was tastefully smooth as silk.

I preferred this to the Christine & the Queens record which gets much more support in the big end of year polls. The two records try to pull off similar conceits, both deeply grounded in Eighties  surfaces, production values and attitude. The Future & the Past gets my nod between the two as Retro-Soul Album of the Year.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 39 Roy Orbison