Monday, October 31, 2016
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Bands that have let me down. A short list. Back to the eighties. The Thompson Twins, at my first gig, I was a late starter in 1983. Playing at the Hammersmith Palais supported by Tears For Fears. Previously a hip underground multi-membered vaguely anarchist and underground concern. I saw them just at the point when they'd slimmed down to the three piece that conquered a fair part of the world over the following years. Much of their performance was taped, an early introduction for me to the cynicism of the outside world. Musically or otherwise.
Simple Minds at round about the same time. Just after New Gold Dream '81,'82,'83,84, the culmination of all their wondrous early journey they decided to leave the path for the highway to become a bloated stadium rock entity in the shadow of U2. Still a crying shame, considering the enormous, already achieved potential of that record and the altogether different possibilities it offered them to the route they chose to take.
The eponymous fifth album of Echo & the Bunnymen with an almost air-brushed close up of the band on the sleeve and a series of over-produced rock songs that lacked the spark, mystery and poetry of the records that preceded them as they looked to the States, (rather than their own shores which their early albums had been so informed by), in the hope of a commercial pay off rather than the artistic glory they had initially come together to strive for. Put them in the same category as the Thompson Twins and Simple Minds. Different shades of selling out.
And so, three decades along down the line, to Warpaint. Six years ago they were quite majestic. Their debut album The Fool was out and I saw them shortly afterwards, at the venue just round the corner from my place and they were quite wonderful in every respect. From their pre-gig playlist from which I remember hearing XTC's Science Friction and Neil Young's Barstool Blues to the show itself where they played the majority of The Fool. Just eleven songs, according to the Setlist website but it felt like much more given the hugely immersive experience of their performance. They felt like one of the best bands in the world that night. I feel that I never really need to see them again as they could never outdo themselves. At least for me.
Immersive is the adjective I always come back to with Warpaint when they are at their best. It still is and occasionally even with their new album, released recently, they still achieve that experience. One of my lifetime ambitions is to spend an hour or so in a flotation tank and their music would be the best imaginable soundtrack to that. Distinctively feminine expression, this music could never be made by men. Avoiding the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus structures their songs are dreamscapes, instruments, voices and studio hum weaving in and out of one another.
It's very much an expression of the alternative LA West Coast of America sensibility. The desert is certainly there as are two California precedents; the Doors, most particularly The Doors of The End and also strangely the Red Hot Chili Peppers, not a band I have a particular personal fondness for, but their influence is here, (listen to the chanting intro and outro to Composure, if you're seeking evidence), but most obviously in the basslines of Jenny Lee Lindberg, which tell of hours listening to Flea and his own musical mentor, PiL's Jah Wobble.
Wobble is another good reference point as Warpaint are also strangely an update of late seventies/ early eighties artistic sensibility. Keith Levine and John McGeoch's imprint are there too in the clashing, chiming and occasionally discordant guitar shapes of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman. Meanwhile, Australian drummer Stella Mozgawa patterns a shifting rhythmic basis for proceedings. Often labelled an Art Rock band, and for once it's a tag that makes some sense as the music of The Fool is all about exploration. It's also informed by drug, dance and rave culture, tribal rhythms. A desert festival, a twenty first century communal experience.
The Fool could be classed 'samey' I suppose but then that's half the point of it. Songs don't necessarily leap out of the mix but then neither does anything drop below the high bar they set themselves. It's all mood and no hit single and all the better for it. Tom Verlaine praised them to the heavens, an unlikely occurrence as he's noticeably grudging in terms of offering compliments to other musicians. It's apt. The band sound absolutely nothing like Television but are working to a similar goal. The record is evidence that the conventional rock four piece of guitars, bass and drums are not yet redundant, but are still brimming with potential when channeled creative and imaginatively and supplemented by studio effects that plant them in a modern setting rather than merely trying to replicate the musical glories of previous generations. This was a lesson Television understood when recording Marquee Moon and Warpaint are similarly dexterous on The Fool
In terms of lyrical concerns, your guess is as good as mine. There's love, sensuality and desire, there's the difficult, twist and turns that young relationships take, there's some West Coast philosophy and therapy concerns. Very few lyrics make complete coherent sense but the band were sufficiently proud of them to include them in the vinyl package I bought yesterday to complement and probably supersede the CD version I already have. In any respect they fit. The whole record fits.
So, how have Warpaint let me down? As Thompson Twins, Simple Minds and the Bunnymen did before them? Perhaps only in the respect that I don't feel they've put out anything remotely as good as this since. For not realising quite how good this is. For taking the road they've chosen rather than others they might have taken.For not consistently hitting these heights.
While The Fool is not altogether a masterpiece, it would probably need to reel in one of the excellent songs from 2009's mini-album Exquisite Corpse, (also a superb record), for that status, possibly their early gem Billie Holiday, still my favourite song of theirs. The Fool regardless is still a quite wonderful statement! Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe the point is that Warpaint already realised their potential here. For that at least, I'll always be grateful. It's a record that will last.
An album that has gathered a considerable cult around itself since its release in 1972. King Jung Mi's, Now. Masterminded by legendary songwriter, producer and guitarist Shim Joong Hyun and fronted by a young schoolgirl singing dreamily over a whole set of meditations on nature and the passing of time.
The whole record is remarkable but I'll let these selections stand for the whole and leave those who have their curiosity piqued to hopefully explore the rest. Wind sounds like mid-sixties West Coast artists like Buffalo Springfield or Jefferson Airplane fronted by a Korean Francoise Hardy. Your Dream like a song still waiting for a retro Quentin Tarantino scene to soundtrack. It all lets you imagine that whole love and peace vibe taking place a few years down the line on the other side of the world in an equally oppressive political national mindset. 'Turn off your mind' as the man said...
Saturday, October 29, 2016
The opening track of Les Big Byrd's wonderful album from 2014 They Worshipped Cats. Produced and generally directed by Anton Newcomb in his record studio, it's a fabulously eclectic record pulsing with psychedelic, motorik splendour. The album sleeve's not bad either!
Friday, October 28, 2016
It's also Stephen Morris and William Reid's birthday today. Much more credible, go to options but sometimes you yearn for something from your youth. That's the way this blog operates, occasionally. Telma is on the right in the picture above.
'The initial plan was to make a record that maybe my wife would like. The music she listens to on her phone is often commercial pop, commercial hip-hop - she's a big Beyonce fan. I thought, 'I would love to be in her playlist,' to pop up on her phone. That was a big motivation.' Kurt Wagner
A late contender in a year jam packed with wonderful records. Lambchop's latest FLOTUS, (First Lady of the United States - perhaps it's dedicated to Wagner's wife), sounds like a feast judging by the two pre-releases posted hear. It's out next Friday and on the surface at least could be a companion piece to Bon Iver's latest in that it's informed by Hip Hop, Modern R&B and Electronica from Krautrock onwards and filled with the strange, disembodied vocals of modern experience.
While I'm still not sure about what I feel about the Bon Iver I'm pretty certain I'm going to have a much happier relationship with FLOTUS. First song here NIV is an impossibly warm amalgam of old and new that seems far too short and left me at least wanting more. The record's closing track, The Hustle, more than compensates, being no less than eighteen minutes long, but remarkably, having listened to it last night on headphones and in complete darkness, it actually doesn't outlive its welcome for a moment. I'd say it's a complete triumph. An impossible dream like marriage of motorik Kraftwerk, Station to Station, (a wonderful coda to the year that Bowie left), Scott Walker, Wagner himself and his band. As for what it's on about it seems to me to be a testament to the miracle of love. But that's personal readings for you. Regardless, this should be some album! I do hope Wagner's wife likes it.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Now here's interesting. Miracle Sweepstakes, a young band from Brooklyn, (isn't every other band from Brooklyn nowadays?), with a highly inventive gift of melodic invention. I think It Starts With a Birthstone, (time for this blog to get a little smug and refer to itself in the third person, having successfully posted for over a thousand consecutive days), on this one. The band has a relatively low profile at the moment, with their debut album forthcoming shortly, but if these tracks are anything to go for it should be well worth investigating.
Plenty going on here and it's always great to see any band in 2016 not taking the well trodden path but setting out to explore fresh territory. The songs explode at various points in directions that can't really be anticipated or hung on easy critical hooks. They certainly avoid obvious verse chorus structures at all costs and their songs are all the more thrilling for that. Watch this space!
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
A special anniversary for me!
'I still am, a little bit, in love with Hayley Mills. It's mad, witty, plaintive, beautiful, groovy, and full of tear-inducing moments. Paddy McAloon is a fabulous man, a genius.'
Alexander Armstrong, What if push comes to shove is your all-time favourite album? - Prefab Sprout, Steve McQueen. All Back to my Place - Mojo Magazine December 2016
Monday, October 24, 2016
The centre piece of Catherine Wheel's 1993 album Chrome. You have to assume it's named in honour of Robert Fripp, the guitars, vocals and production values speak of hours listening to and taking notes from King Crimson and Floyd records. Eno, a lifetime cohort of Fripp's was apparently greatly interested in the band.
'The girl group record that fully captures the quality of obsession inherent in teenage love affairs. With its big buildup to an enormous orchestrated finish, it's probably well over the top for most tastes, but somehow, the frantically repeated 'nobody knows what's goin' on in my mind but me,' continually escalating until it bursts forth in the chorus chanting 'No no no no no' (or in the second 'verse' although this song's structure isn't nearly that simple, 'whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa) makes the orchestration, when it finally arrives, seem closer to the Beatles than a misguided application of the Wall of Sound (which is probably what it intended to be). If you've ever had a thought race through your head without cease 'Nobody Knows What's Goin' On' says it all.'
The years from 1997 to 2000 were something of a lull musically here as far as I remember. With Brit Pop dead on the vine, a whole raft of dourer bands took centre stage in the UK, Radiohead and The Verve most particularly. While both bands certainly had their own merits, they presided over a short era where the perspective was greyer, more introverted and with a narrower vision than the one that had preceded it. groups like The Stereophonics, Travis and Coldplay with a muddier perspective crowded into the charts. It was a holding operation.
Geneva were briefly almost in the spotlight during these years and offered something slightly different. Hailing from Aberdeen and chiefly notable for their lead vocalist Andrew Montgomery, who possessed at least some of the choir boy range of Jeff Buckley, their debut album Further had a few moments of promise that they never fully realised. Here were two. They were at their best when they let Montgomery cut himself adrift from his moorings and appear, for the course of individual songs, to fly.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
'What got lost in all the hoopla over Boy George's preferences in sex and dress and drugs wasn't just his soulful singing but the skillfulness of his band, which played sophisticated modern pop-soul charts as well as any group in New York, L.A. or London. That's why The Church of the Poisoned Mind with its latter day Philly soul bottom and scathing harmonica break, its Stax-like horn punctuation , and Helen Terry's wailing vocal responses, remains thrilling long after George's secrets (at least all the ones anyone cared about) have been told.'
Now here's something quite leftfield. A product of the world we live in. A combination of Cretan long necked lute player Giorgis Xylouris and Dirty Three drummer Jim White, hence their band name. The opening and title track of their new record Black Peak. Truly a case of worlds meeting. An album of fabulous depths!
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Doing something like this every day you can't help but pick up on trends: bands from Brooklyn, Portland and Austin; reams of stuff from Australia; unsubtle pilfering from Afrobeat; psych bands of all descriptions; oh, and female singer-songwriters operating somewhere in the wake of Kate Bush. There are reams of them in 2016; Bats for Lashes; Regina Spektor: Brodka; Emmy the Great; Rozi Plain; Angel Olsen. Just off the top of my head. Perhaps it's not fair to lump them in a category like this, but there are certainly common traits.
To Agnes Obel. She's a Danish artist, whose profile is quite rightly growing. She's definitely an heir of Kate but a rather sober, sombre one. This is a taster for her new album Citizens of Glass which is just out. It seems sure to figure high on my list of favourite songs when we come to the end of the year. It has a spectral, classical, wintery poise and stillness as does its mother album. Enjoy!
Friday, October 21, 2016
These days in terms of the 'new' you can pretty much have any of the 'old' you might care for musically. Bands that recreate the whole sixties psychedelia down to a tee. Others that replicate the British eighties indie experience as if that particular decade had never ended. Or here with Japanese group Kikagaku Moyo, (their name translates approximately as Geometric Patterns), who explore the murky, giving depths of Can's Ege Bamyasi and the legacy of their own countries Jap Rock movement with great aplomb and delicacy on their most recent record, the wonderfully named House in the Tall Grass.
It's an enchanting album. Derided in the most prominent review that I could find, (on the Quietus website), as a record where almost nothing is happening. I'm happy to disagree with that august internet journal which I often find precious to a quite ridiculous degree. I'd say that the fact that nothing appears to be going on as the whole point of the record's appeal, at least to me. Kikagaku Moyo as pictured below, are unashamedly Hippie in the most far out extreme imaginable, but unlike other bands who also share their musical leanings they seem to have gone beyond the musical surface and thrown themselves utterly into the whole philosophy and lifestyle that so inspire them. House in the Tall Grass is a meditation to spirituality and searching within for peace and beauty and though some might mock the endeavor and intention as affectation of the first order, I'd personally salute them for their mission and add their record to the tottering pile of great albums released in 2016.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
A quiet night at Rosie's tonight. Just me and the landlord, a few punters chatting among themselves and a Rugby Union match. And this. Gomez. Never the coolest band though somehow they felt so in 1998, (a dearth year in musical terms), when they put out their debut Bring It On . The Tarantino influence is definitely there throughout, as are Withnail & I, Beck and that whole ironic late nineties irony and take home cool. A record of its time and possibly an unfairly neglected one. Time as always will tell.
No direct link. But here it is.
Proper new Punk band in the noble tradition. Sound something like John Lydon fronting The Fall. Or in the words of another:
'Cabbage could so easily be terrible hackneyed incomprehensible sanity, but they're way too clever for that. Don't let the fact they ram a hundred ideas into a song, often at the same time, ignore any notion of anything approaching traditional songwriting put you off, there's something special happening here. eat it up, it's good for you.'
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Higher Authorities are a side-project of Ade Blackburn and Jonathan Hartley, one half of Clinic, one of the better alternative mainstay bands of the last twenty years. You can tell. They do sound like Clinic. But there's more too. Their debut album Neptune, released earlier this year and produced by dub legend Adrian Sherwood is a wonderful exploration of dark sound.
Coming on like a twenty first century seance on a wet Wednesday in the Wirral, Neptune is pure delight. Released on 20th April, unofficial Christmas Day for stoners and with copies purchased from the band's record label coming with complimentary Rizzlas, it's an approriately paranoid missive for an increasingly paranoid world.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Not the greatest record ever made by any means but certainly an interesting curio. The opening track from Allen Ginsberg's 1976 album First Blues, not released until 1982. With Dylan, Arthur Russell and Don Cherry among the accompanying musicians. Not released originally, probably mainly due to its sexual frankness. This certainly is worth listening to despite Ginsberg's wayward vocals and I'll need to explore the rest.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Sunday, October 16, 2016
I spent a fine few hours in Rosie's yesterday on a Saturday evening when the football team, (the bar lies in the very shadow of the stadium),, had won their match. A pub full of happy people in the gathering Autumn evening. My choice at the jukebox was eight for them, songs that I liked but knew others would recognise and at least partially appreciate, Siouxsie, Clash, Police, Only Ones, Dexys and then one for me, from Goat, a band I'm interested in.
They're a Swedish group with three albums under their belt, have a new record out, recently released and derided by some for its overuse of pan-flutes. Nevertheless, I've heard it played in two record shops over the last two Saturdays in record shops I love and it's sounded great both times.
A touch of sixties psychedelia, a sprinkle of modern psych, along the lines of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, some wholesale pillaging of the glorious prospects offered by World and particularly Afrobeat musical heritage. And some full on modern, dubious pop mystery, the band play in African tribal masks. Nevertheless, this, from their 2014 record Commune, went on as the end choice of mine, at the end of my jukebox shift and sounded quite wonderful and also got some bar approval. Fingers drumming on the bar and a few shaking hips. I'll put it on again.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
A Friday night and I put this song on the jukebox at the start of the evening. In many ways a defining song for him despite everything else he wrote and sang. This was not the version I played of course but instead a tumultuous live version, played in Newcastle, the great city I now reside in, of Dylan, backed by The Band, playing into the howls of disapprobation of folk purists like a troupe of Don Quixote's tilting at windmills. Though I was pleased to here there was also a fair bit of appreciation too at the end of this particular performance.
By the end of the evening in Rosie's a bunch of people had seized control of the jukebox and were playing one death metal song after another. They eventually drove me home. It seemed an apt demonstration somehow of how very little we have all moved forward since.
Made it! So here's a small, personal virtual achievement. I plan to freewheel down the next slope!
Friday, October 14, 2016
Sometimes the random choices are the best ones. This went on first thing in the darkness of my living room, first thing this morning and made a good start to the day. The opening track and title song of Dory Previn's fourth solo album from 1972, Thanks to my sister for the record!
Thursday, October 13, 2016
My feelings about Interpol, who are responsible for this song are bound up with a gig I saw them playing before they broke really big in 2001, in New York City on a trip that I made over there with a couple of friends of mine. Playing on a double bill with The Walkmen who I found much more impressive, I was distinctly underwhelmed by the obvious, heavy Joy Division influence in their sound and dismissed them.
Fifteen years later and after an hour spent this morning in the company of their debut album Turn on the Bright Lights, I realise I've done them at least partial disservice. It's an impressive record, obviously deeply informed by that aforementioned band, but still it speaks fluently itself of a very particular urban unease and anxiety, particularly one experienced when you're young. Here's its final track, named, (for reasons that remain obscure when actually listening to it), after the man reputed to have reached North America several hundred years before Columbus did.
The Marvelettes late run of golden American hit singles, five, six and seven years after their first, Please Mr. Postman, which got to number one.
By this point they'd been eclipsed in the Motown scheme of things, by The Supremes. These three though gave them a late run in the Top Twenty. All three written by Smokey Robinson and fine examples of his artistry.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
'Second most famous frat-rockers to attend the University of Minnesota - the first was Bob Dylan of course. This is probably the kind of juvenile noise that drove folky Bob out of Dinkytown, and into Greenwich Village - an overamped organ, guitar, falsetto, and scream raveup that makes up in the inelegance of guitar band simplicity and energy what it lacks in every other measurement. Twenty years later, Prince came out of the same town with two-finger organ riffs that surpassed this one, but it took that long to beat 'em.'