Saturday, June 12, 2021
Friday, June 11, 2021
I've had some good times with Sleater-Kinney over the years. Mostly in the early part of this century when I first saw them on Italian television while I was in Catania, Sicily, by chance, playing You're No Rock and Roll Fun, still my favourite song of theirs. It feels like a novelty song in some ways, but the best possible ways. Most of all, it's the sound of three people doing exactly that. Having some Rock and Roll Fun.
Twenty years on they've parted company and come back together and started makeing records again. Crucially, they've also lost a member, drummer Janet Weiss, who left in 2019, apparently because of the long cited, 'musical differences'. This leaves them with their core, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Their latest album Path of Wellness, is just out.
It doesn't really sound like 'Rock and Roll Fun', particularly. Why should it? They're almost thirty years down the line now. Path of Wellness sounds like a well written, well played and well produced Rock record, trying to make sense of a world that seems increasingly difficult to make sense of. It has the customary Sleater-Kinney howls, shrieks and yelps of indignation. It has some hooks that you might be able to tease something more out on repeated plays. But on my first play through of this, I'm not sure I really want to do so.
Because, first and foremost, it's not much fun. It's rather earnest and worthy. Sleater-Kinney were always serious, they always had plenty to say, and plenty of ideas and sounds worth investigating. But this seems a bit strained somehow, like a long and difficult looking reading list for a university seminar course. Like a book you feel you ought to read, rather than one you particularly wish to. I'll give it a couple more plays to see if it works its spell on me. I like this lot but I'm not sure, for me at least, that Path of Wellness is a keeper. In the words of that song, it feels like 'a piece of art that no-one can touch.'
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
The Passions, probably known mainly to most as archeypal 'One Hit Wonders' for their 1981 I'm in Love With a German Film Star, which made # 25 on the UK Singles Chart in 1981 and seemed to hang around forever. It nailed much of the atmosphere of the time. Gloomy, arty, vaguely nostalgic, and with a tangible layer of implicit dread. Or if you prefer, drenched in atmosphere and doomed, thwarted romance.
But there's more to them than that. Several years back I chanced upon and bought their 1980 debut album Michael & Miranda, and it's one I still play and enjoy. Full of clipped, jagged, angular posing that was so much a feature of the alternative set of the time and which the likes of Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure, Japan and Magazine specialised in. Sculptured hair, sharp cheekbones, method posing. European Arthouse Films, cigarettes and Existential Novels.An atmosphere drawn from one of Graham Greene's Thirties Thrillers. Or Isherwood's Berlin Novels.
In many ways it's a small classic of this particular genre. The songs have not an inch of unecessary fat. Everything is lean, poised and perfectly posed. Like a copy of The Face from the time with one of the latest hopefuls from The Blitz Club glaring out from the cover.
But this stays the course and stands the test of time better than some higher profile records from that period; Journeys to Glory or Return to Eden for example. Nothing outstays its welcome, each song casts a sparse, paranoid spell of long coated, Film Noir, urban melodrama.
The Passions don't overdo the pretentiousness factor like The Banshees were wont to from time to time round about then. In many ways their role models seem to be the early Cure who specialised in this kind of clipped Penguin Classic gloom. The Passions were on Fiction, The Cure's record label and in many ways this comes across as a companion piece to Seventeen Seconds.
Twelve songs in all, and not a dud amongst them. Michael & Miranda made a negligible commercial splash at the time which is a shame because it's a record that more people should know. The band recorded a couple more and were gone by '83. This is where to start.
Tonight we're going to party like it's 1979. The Post Punk revival continues. Vancouver NOV3L's turn at the wheel with their debut album NON-FICTION. Sounding like an early Factory band, the record is an easy listen, full of tightly wound, melancholic, paranoid tunes and moods.
If there's no effort here to move the conversation on, a constant frustration of records of this type, NOV3L do a good job given the remit they've set themselves.NON-FICTION is sparky and angular and keeps up the momentum it sets from the off.
It many ways this comes across as Dark Pop record. The tunes are good despite their pessimistic edge. NOV3L may not exactly live up to their name but they do simulate that long coat, monochrome, Futurama moment as well as you could possibly hope for.
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Monday, June 7, 2021
Sunday, June 6, 2021
I managed to track down and buy a reasonably priced copy of this yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed listening to it as it was intended to be listened to for the first time this morning. So I thought I'd reprint this post about a particularly splendid piece of journalism written about it by David Bennun:
Was Gene Clark a finer artist than Gram Parsons? It's an interesting question, at least for the likes of me, though it may not be a quandary that the general public at large bother themselves with much. I've been a huge fan of Parsons for twenty years or more but I've never really pondered much on the merits of Clark's life and work as a point of comparison until yesterday when I listened through to No Other, which is generally considered to be his masterpiece and read David Bennun's essay about it in this book.
Bennun is also someone I've not paid much attention to before. He was certainly not a leading light on the Maker when he wrote for them during the Nineties. Since then though he's carved out an interesting career for himself like so many who wrote for them then. Brought up in Kenya, he's recently written a couple of critically lauded memoirs and is currently highly active and politically engaged on his Twitter account with one of the key issues of our age, Anti-Semitism, something we still seem to be plagued with, understandably given that he is Jewish himself.
There's no mention of this in his article about No Other. It's a superb piece, as good as any in the book. In it he gives a highly evocative account on his first discovery of it, listening to it several times on a Walkman through headphones on a milk train journey, during the early hours of the morning, from London to Brighton during the Nineties.
Clark is best known of course as a founding member of the original, Byrds for whom he wrote several of their best early songs. This apparently became the source of some petty jealousy from the other members of the band, particularly when so much money was flowing into his bank account that he bought himself a flash sports car while they were barely scraping by. The Byrds were famously rather like that as people. Clark left them fairly early, apparently partly due to his fear of flying and thereafter never achieved commercial success remotely comparable to what he'd experienced during his time with them. He nevertheless was responsible for some excellent records, most notably this one, which came out in 1974. It's probably the finest Byrds solo album, alongside David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember my Name which came out three years earlier.
Listening to an album called Monastic Love Songs might not be what you feel like doing right now. On the other hand, given that most of us have been living a much more solitary, reflective life than we've been used to over the last fifteen months or so, it might be something worth giving a try.
This is the name of a new album from David John Morris and appropriately it chronicles just this experience. Morris gave up his guitar, drugs, sex and alcohol to spend nine months in Nova Scotia's Gampo Abbey. This is the resulting document. Not surprisingly it's a deeply reflective one.
Grounded on the sparse, basic acoustic bedrock that the likes of Neil Young, John Martyn and Nick Drake favoured, Morris is much more flamboyant lyrically and vocally. Favouring the kind of flourishes the likes of Donovan, Roy Harper and Al Stewart were known for, this will not be for everyone, and could be dismissed as mannered although it is clearly a genuine and ambitious attempt to convey the experience he underwent.
I liked it for the most part, though its ongoing and continual dialogue with elements of the Hippie Love and Peace discourse means it's probably not an album that will feature highly on my playlist over the coming weeks. Nevertheless, those more prone than I am to this kind of stuff should find much to enjoy here.
Saturday, June 5, 2021
The Year of my A Levels. Here's the Best Ever Albums List:
1. Prince & The Revolution - 1999
2. The Smiths - The Smiths
3. Metallica - Ride The Lightning
4. Bruce Springsteen - Born In The U.S.A
5. The Replacements - Let It Be
6. The Smiths - Hatful Of Hollow
7. Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime
8. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Legend
9. Husker Du - Zen Arcade
10. Echo & The Bunnymen - Ocean Rain
And here's mine. Hatful Of Hollow is out as a compilation rather than a Studio Album, even though it has a good claim to be their best album. Rattlesnakes tops the list as it hit at just the right time for me. Just from records I own. Wish I had Double Nickels as it would surely be Top Five:
1. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions - Rattlesnakes
2. R.E.M. - Reckoning
3. Prince & The Revolution - 1999
4. The Replacements - Let It Be
5. The Go-Betweens - Spring Hill Fair
6. The Smiths - The Smiths
7.. Julian Cope - World Shut Your Mouth
8. Everything But The Girl - Eden
9. Husker Du - Zen Arcade
10. Echo & The Bunnymen - Ocean Rain
11. David Sylvian - Brilliant Trees
12. The Pogues - Red Roses For Me
13. The Dream Syndicate - Medicine Show
14. Let's Active - Cypress
15. Long Ryders - Native Sons
16. Hoodoo Gurus - Stoneage Romeos
17. Madonna - Like A Virgin
18. The Psychedelic Furs - Mirror Moves
19. The Pale Fountains - Pacific Street
20. Prefab Sprout - Swoon
Honorary mentions for How Will The Wolf Survive, The Icicle Works and Fried, (for some reason I have a one album, one artist rule),
I've been listening to Neil Young a lot over the past couple of weeks while making my way through Shakey, the definitive biography by Jimmy McDonough. He's a very specific artist and stands in his own space, although obviously comparisons can be made with the likes of Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. What seems to me particular about Neil to me is his loneliness, the sense of isolation and yearning to escape this loneliness, alongside the essential realisation that he's unlikely to ever fully do so and anyhow, this is what makes him Neil.
'When we got into the studio, the groove just wasn't there. And we couldn't figure out why. This was the major frustration for me as a young musician. It fucked me up so much.' Neil Young, talking about Buffalo Springfield
Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere, his second solo album, seems as good a record as any of Neil's to think about when writing or talking about him. It's a very fiine record in its own right, but it's also a deeply haunted one. Haunted by the past and by the idea that was beginning to gain traction in his head about the artist that he wanted to be. Young had already made a name for itself, as a member of Buffalo Springfield, who made three very good albums featuring many fine songs, that Young penned and sometimes sung and also the first signs of his blistering guitar style, but somehow never completely fulfilled their enormous potential, Young had to break free from there and head out on his own in order to realise the vision in his head.
'What does Crazy Horse give Neil Young? A clean slate. They should never have been allowed to be musicians at all. They should've been shot at birth. They can't play. I've heard the bass player muff a change in asong seventeen times in a row. 'Cinammon Girl' - he still doesn't know it. And the drummer - boom, boom thack. Boom, boom thack. I'd say to Neil. What the fuck are you doing playing with those jerks?!, He'd say they're soulful. I'd say, ' Man, so is my dog, but I don't give him a set of drums.' David Crosby on Crazy Horse.
He also needed to find a set of musicians to work with in order to do this. These musicians were Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Danny Whitten, and most importantly Danny, the trio he started playing with in Topanga Canyon who came to be known as Crazy Horse and who on Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere, together light the fuse for what came to be the Neil Young sound. Not the most adept musicians perhaps, although Whitten particularly gave Young something that he hadn't had before and helped him get to where he wanted to go. But musicians with an innate feeling and empathy for what he wanted to do.
'Feeling. Just a vibe - funky, honest and soulful. Direct.' Neil Young, when asked what Crazy Horse offered.'
Within seconds on Cinammon Girl, the opeing track on Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere, it's immediately evident exactly what Crazy Horse brought to Young's table. It's one of the songs most readily associated with him of course and the sparks flying between the four musicians are genuinely palpable. Incendiary even, though that's a much abused term. It seems to fit here. The harmonies, the sound of the guitars and Young and Whitten harmonsiing together. It's almost alchemy. The template has been laid down straight off. At the end of the song, remarkably only three minutes in all, Young and Whitten's guitars, (or is it just Young's? It's difficult to tell sometimes with him?), call and respond in a quite astonishing way. It's as good an example of this kind of music as you could ever wish to hear.
The title track, which comes next is much more laid back and at ease with itself.. Sufficiently so to get a place on the Official Soundtrack of Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, a film seemingly intent on airbrushing anything sordid and genuinely creepy about the late Sixties and early Seventies out of the picture. Not that there's anything wrong with that at all. There was plenty of sweetness on show during those times too and Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere captures that perfectly.
Round & Round (It Won't Be Long') shifts the rules round again. In some ways it seems more aligned with what Crosby, Stills & Nash, (sometimes with Young too), were trying to do with their early records. A calm before the storm of Altamont and the dread that descended in the Nixon years that followed. Whitten's backing vocals are incredibly poignant here. He almost seems to channel Emmylou Harris.
'It's a cry. A desperation plea...There's no murder in it. It's about blowing your mind with a chick.' Neil Young on Down By The River
Then Down By The River and the band stretch things out and show what they can really do. The song, in McDonough's words 'oozes dread...the guitar playing is violent.' Like a jagged, premonition of Television's Marquee Moon, a song it certainly bears parallels with, but without the virtuosity, it's by no means an easy listen, but it is a fully absorbing one. Only Creedence and The Stones at this point in time had any of the nascent fury in their bellies that's on display here.There's an almost unbearable sense of suspense and the idea that everything is really at stake here, that things could go either way as the song lulls then builds, then lulls and builds again and fires its way towards its close. By the end it's not clear if anything has been resolved.
'Danny Gave Neil the blackness he needed.' Jack Nitzsche on Danny Whitten ' Danny was the key.' Neil Young on Danny Whitten.'
Three tracks left, (there are only seven in all on the album), The Losing End (When You're On), drags the old lonesome cowboy routine i to Young territory, not for the first, or by any means the last time in his career. Once more it's Whitten's remarkable, keening backing vocals, that make this work so affectingly. His and Young's call and response vocals are almost like two hetrosexual men declaring their love for each other without actually having to do so openly. That happens in music sometimes. Given what happened to Whitten, only a few short years later, I find it incredibly moving.
Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets), is named in tribute to the band that Crazy Horse were before Neil coralled them. It has the bittersweet violin sound that Dylan later martialled on Desire. It seems to be a song sung from a prison cell and channels the spirit of Leadbelly's In The Pines, a song much later covered by Nirvana. Kurt Cobain in many senses was a fellow traveller or spiritual heir to Young but without the inner stillness that Young maintained to assuage the pain.
And on to Cowgirl In The Sand a reponse or complement to Down By The River. Ten minutes and more to round up Side Two. These two seem clearly to be the key tracks on the record, despite the abundant riches elsewhere. These are the two where it feels to me like the ones where the band are truly striking out for their own fresh territory, wanting to make their mark. Not as great musicians, as with the likes or Page and Clapton. Taking the less travelled route on the fork in the road.
Cowgirl In The Sand has greater conventional beauty than Down By The River but it's equally uncertain, troubled and vulnerable. Another 'desperate plea' in many respects. Again, on the surface to an unnamed woman, an idealised partner. Foregrounding Young's extraordinary voice, which is only here truly becoming to come into its own despite the great work he'd already done. Also of course, the eternally duelling guitars of Young and Whitten.
What a record this is. What a statement. Young and Crazy Horses first great work of art. By no means their last. A testament to the power of personal and group vision. Forwards and onwards into the Seventies, fired by an inner conviction that there was actually no earthly way back to The Garden.
'I liked Everyone Knows. I knew that was a good record. I knew that it was us.' Neil Young
More than happy to go along with almost anything that Wilco do. One of five entries from them on this countdown.