Until earlier on this week I was quite unaware of the existence of U.S.Girls, the project of multi-media Canadian artist Meghan Remy. But I started hearing tracks from her sixth album In a Poem Unlimited, before its official release on 4 A.D on Friday and became intrigued. On listening to it in its entirety, I'd say it's destined to be one of the records of 2018. It's a quite blistering album.
An angry, defiant record, walking the line between art, pop and protest in a quite brilliant way. A State of the Nation address. Whereas Remy has previously drawn on the Ronettes and the girl group sound, In a Poem Unlimited fast forwards into the seventies and beyond, feeding off Blondie, ABBA, Disco 54 and Madonna to create a glorious, swirling feast,tipping a nod to the avant garde with eight minute closer Time, but elsewhere just revelling in the most wondrous grooves and melodies,
So, a highly political and timely album in a week where Alela Diane, Joan as Policewoman and Courtney Barnett have all put out great records focusing on different aspects of the world that women live in. U.S.Girls in many respects is the bleakest and most furious of the lot, commenting on the #me too campaign, male violence and abuse of power, Obama's drone bombing campaign and now to the times of Trump. The promo videos posted here attest to that. It's artistic and social statement but also a wonderfully seductive pop album.
I'm still not entirely sure about the new MGMT album. I certainly liked it on first listenings but then all of its eighties reference points began to pall. But Sean, one of the barmen at Rosie's is a big fan and this sounded pretty good last night.
Produced Procul Harum and Mott the Hoople, (whose band name he suggested). Chronic alcohol and drug dependency contributed to his early death aged just 38 in 1981. But not before he'd managed a late renaissance with his co-production of The Clash's magnificent London Calling album.
A couple of beers with regular barman James after his shift. He seemed to have some confusion between Debbie Harry and Madonna tracks. Well it was so long ago. I put this on as some explanation of what it was like for those of us who lived through the eighties.
All of those great sixties folk records. Many of them associated with Island; Fairport, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan. John Martyn, Incredible String Band and so on and so forth. He also produced Fables of the Reconstruction, the most enigmatic of all R.E.M. albums. But here's Vashti.
It has to be said that the new album from Mexican diva Natalia Lafourcade. just out and entitled Musas (Vol 1), is much better than a slap round the chops, false austerity or anything whatsoever to do with those two cursed Gallagher brothers. Lafourcade has been doing this for a while of course. A Grammy winning artist what's she's doing here, presenting a concoction of Latin American folk music is nothing new but everything here is judged to perfection, so feather light, evocative and charming and you're transported at once to a warm Mexican courtyard with the sights and sounds of that part of the world all around you.
All the while, Lafourcade's voice floats through the mix, sometimes backed by the whispered backing vocals of her band. It's all just enchanting from opening to closing curtain. Sometimes you need a winsome indie band, sometimes you need some soul. Sometimes you need some food for thought. And sometimes you just need this!
'I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup. And spit out better words than you...'
Hot off the press! The new Courtney Barnett song just released today. Ahead of her new album entitled Tell Me How You Really Feel which is due mid-May. I have to say that there are very few contemporary artists that make me hot under the collar quite like Courtney, since I came upon her at my sister's recommendation five or so years back. I've seen her a couple of times in Newcastle, both wondrous occasions and though not everything she's done has quite floated my boat the way the first stuff I heard did, she is still a wondrous and exciting artist. As for this particular taster for things new Nameless, Faceless is an instant winner, with the kind of lyric that frankly only Courtney can write, treading a similar road to past glories of hers, with slightly more serious intent than we might be used to. This here is newly unearthed treasure!
A few hours later and listening to it again a great way of dealing with male aggression from a talented female artist. Through humour. This song is really about finding a way of coping and making a statement on the evident violence that's clearly abroad in this world. 'I want to walk through the park in the dark. Men are scared that women will laugh at them. Women are scared that men will kill them...' Margaret Atwood's words apparently. But put to a great tune. In just over three minutes. Use your words like Dylan. That's always the key. Apparently punched out on an old fashioned typewriter.The album should be worth waiting for...
Very sad to see that Ultimate Painting are no more. They announced their split a couple of days back. The union of two very talented songwriters Jack Cooper and James Hoare, they released three fine albums between 2014 and 2016 in a whirl of momentum and another was due in the next couple of months but has been scrapped. I shall be listening to their stuff slightly glumly today!
And now from R.E.M. fellow travellers. They supported them on early tours. Here's Dream Syndicate, from their splendid comeback record of last year, How Did I Find Myself Here? This, the final track of the album, is dedicated to, and a collaboration with Kendra Smith, the bassist of the original band unit. After her adventures with them, and her time with David Roback and the splendid Opal, she became something of a recluse, living off the grid in rural isolation . This track brought her back into the fold, at least momentarily and it's a haunting and evocative close to the record. Life as a living dream.
Anything relating to the first few R.E.M. records, (and particularly Murmur) is incredibly poignant for me as it is from there, back in 1983, when I turned eighteen, that I began to establish my own sensibility and sense of identity. The production of that record still sounds incredibly magisterial to me. Imbued in wonder, invention, daring and youthful exploration. Easter produced that record, in addition to the band's debut Chronic Town and Murmur's fabulous follow up Reckoning. I was never quite the same again.
This blog is being taken over by wonderful new releases from female artists at the moment. All very good. And I always find it great to hear new Eleanor Friedberger. One of the most original and distinctive voices there is. This comes ahead of her new album Rebound, which is due in April. Quirky as ever, (and let's face it, Friedberger always has a fair dollop of 'quirky' to almost everything she does), Rebound refers to a club in Athens, Greece, where she spent a while recently that only opened at 3.00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. I guess Athens has something to do with the skirt, the pose, the décor and the vase here. Anyhow In Between Stars is warm, lively, and really rather lovely.
Alela Diane might be disparaged by some as a 'worthy' artist in the negative sense. Her songs, particularly on new album Cusp are spare and unembroidered and focus on the most basic issues of existence. The sheer realisation of being alive and its transience, motherhood, family, love, hearth and home, nature, the world around us and how it inspires, informs and shapes us. It's an approach that could easily grate or irritate in the hands of an inferior artist but Diane is such a considered and talented one that the effect is actually the opposite. It's utterly inspiring. A spell cast!
Focusing in turn on migration, what it feels like carrying a child in your womb, the world seen through a babies eyes, the Syrian toddler and the image that went around the world of him washed up on a Turkish beach, Sandy Denny and her own orphaned child and elsewhere on similar, recurrent themes. Nothing seems out of place or overstated Thoughts of familial love and the dreadful imagining of loss. Very much an album on what it feels like to be a mother, on the record's sleeve Diane sits in an elegant almost Edwardian dress, her hair set in a bob, sat in profile on a kitchen chair as if for a family portrait which will adorn the wall of that self-same kitchen for the course of a lifetime before being passed down to future generations. A beautiful idea and this is a truly beautiful album that ticks like an old mantelpiece clock towards its inevitable conclusions of love and consolation.
Produced Durutti Column, Happy Mondays, Buzzcocks, Magazine, New Order and umpteen others but most of all Joy Division of course. That other-worldly haunting and quite unique sound. Not quite like anything else; before, at the time or since.
Scotsman Ewan Cruikshanks just released debut album A Glasgow Band is a particular record. Setting off with an instrumental that sounds something like Sonic Youth warming up, it quickly moves on to different spaces and moods and never lets up over the course of its eleven tracks. Some Scottish flecked indie pop, bits of Glam, Elliot Smith and Teenage Fanclub plangent moments, Afro-Pop, even Neil Young style workouts, melodic but determinedly leftfield at all times with Cruikshanks distinctly Scottish vocals the only real common denominator.
The diversity of it is initially somewhat disconcerting but eventually becomes the record's most interesting characteristic. Cruikshank is undoubtedly a talent but a determinedly non-conformist one. A Glasgow Band is a neat and rather fascinating calling card and a distinctly more-ish one!
And while we're here, more Morton and the start of another spurious series. Morton was at the helm of umpteen pocket masterpieces during his time with the Shangri-Las. Famed for his cape, his hat, his nickname and personal quirks and eccentricities. He later worked with Janis Ian, Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly and produced the New York Doll's second album Too Much Too Soon.
Shiva Burlesque, an interesting eighties band who in time mutated into Grant Lee Buffalo included this, on their self-titled debut album, which came out in '87. Called Lonsome Death of Shadow Morton, it was somewhat premature as Morton only passed the best part of twenty years later. The song lifts the coda of Remember (Walkin' In The Sand), one of Morton's best known productions. He also wrote it.
Shadow Morton day today on It Starts. Starting with Janis Ian and Society's Child, a story of doomed inter-racial romance which Ian wrote when she was only fourteen. It went to # 14 in the Billboard US Singles Chart in 1967.
Inveterate namedroppers of British Popular Culture Half Man Half Biscuit remember Dickie Davies who anyone who grew up here recall vividly from the seventies, when he presented ITV's Saturday afternoon sports programme World of Sport. Of course, the title of this is a play on Kim Carnes' hit from earlier in the eighties, Bette Davis Eyes. from the band's second album Back in the D.H.S.S.
At last I've found a link to this, the fine debut EP from Mick Trouble which came out last year. He's an American, but you certainly wouldn't know it. The record is a perfect encapsulation of the London of Television Personalities, Wreckless Eric and ATV.
Cranberry is the incredibly spare second album from Austin, Texas duo Hovvdy. Composed of eleven one word title songs and one track which breaks to three called In the Sun. It's incredibly simple stuff but deeply effective, reminiscent, (at least to me), of the Red House Painters early records. Full of transient, captured moments that evoke the passing of time. Small beauties. I love it and commend to you.
I was slightly concerned at the start of the year that 2018 may not prove to be a particularly good year music wise. However, promising buds are beginning to sprout and Ty Segall and now Ezra Furman to name just two, have released startling records that lay down early markers for others wishing to make statements in that respect this year.
Transangelic Exodus, Furman's fifth album, (out today), seems to be the moment he's been heading towards all his career. Always a confrontational, raging artist, and one of note, he's never before gathered all of his themes and obsessions as impressively as he does here.
The record is a true concept. Thirteen songs which return again and again to the same issues. Smalltown America and its trappings, the all consuming desire to flee once and for all, but a nagging terror that it will hunt you down on the road you speed down and claim you once again. The look of Furman on the sleeve staring with barely disguised dread into his rear-view mirror says it all.
It all adds up to a very powerful album. Furman is Bruce Springsteen in a dress. Doo Wop, Rockabilly, Glam and Punk, and Furman's own startling, original presence meld to forge a series of blazing, burning statements. Not all of it floats my boat musically personally just yet but I doff my cap to its ambition and scope and will return to it. It's a series of brief witty vignettes, short stories that come together to create a Great American Novel of alternative experience, perhaps one of the greatest since Transformer. It's that good!
Everything comes together towards the end with Love You So Bad, destined to be one of my songs of the year which relives the passions and agonies and dreadful, inconsolable loss of High School. There's plenty more here to relish and songs I'm sure to form similar bonds with over the coming months. I look forward greatly to that happening.
The concerns that Furman addresses here are as relevant now as they've ever been particular in a country where people have decided that they'd like to have Donald Trump as president. Dare to be different and applaud those who have the bravery to do so and flaunt it! Furman is close to the front of that pack.