Chicago, before they went entirely to the AOR dark side.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
A thoughtful, contemplative new record The Wilds, the debut album from Vermont's Henry Jamison. He's a bespectacled, bearded type, looking much older than a man in his twenties which is what he is in real-world terms. His songs also, sound older than that, worn down by the weight of experience somehow.
Well crafted and simple songs, that will remind you sometimes of Sufjan, Bon Iver, Mark Kozelek, or going back a bit further Paul Simon, about sitting in bars, draining beers and a relationship winding down towards its painful but inevitable close. Not one perhaps that will have you punching the air but it might give you pause for thought. It might also make you feel sad at the memory of your own young loss.
There are moments that can haunt you forever, when relationships that meant everything to you at the time twist and break and you think your heart will never recover. Jamison on The Wilds documents those moments for you and he does so very skilfully. You might find twelve variations on this same theme a little too much but this album will surely act as consolation for some who need it at this moment.
Monday, October 30, 2017
A holding series to take us through to my Albums of the Year countdown which starts in a week or so. So to Blondie, mostly seen now I suppose as a singles band. If they're remembered for albums its probably for Parallel Lines, which stands out from the pack for obvious reasons. But this is unjust as their others are just fine. So here's a compilation of songs, two from each, twelve in total. Starting with Fan Mail which opens Plastic Letters and finds organist Jimmy Destri centre stage. Fabulous melody, fabulous lyrics.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Listening to a Sunday evening programme of scary songs doubtless programmed with Halloween in mind. So while this isn't actually scary in itself it is a good example of The Horrors doing the thing that they do well. Oddly reminiscent of Simple Minds and Soft Cell.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Yesterday at work, for reasons there is no need to divulge, I was going through something of a minor though certainly, (on reflection), inconsequential anxiety attack moment. In order to arrest these kinds of events I tend to seek out music to answer the crisis. A good source of new, interesting things is always the Rough Trade Shop website and sure enough they met my needs.
A picture of a sleeve with a picture of a British green bus attracted my attention. The album by one , Gilroy Mere, (a pseudonym for a musician named Oliver Cherer) was called The Green Line. The record itself I discovered, is pure concept, inspired by the buses that once took people from Central London out through the countryside to Home Counties Towns and villages in the fifties and sixties.
The Green Line immediately evokes a specific time and place for anybody who grew up in England in increasingly distant decades. Underpinned often by the sound of a bus engine growling or the bell ringing it's instantly transformative in the most magical, evocative way, you're sat at a bus window watching the small landscapes, trees and fields steal past your view. Believe me, it works!
Entirely instrumental apart from a list of house names intoned on opening track Dunroamin' it's a beautiful exercise in nostalgia for a world that still exists for those of us who have experienced it, a glorious wallowing in the mundane everyday that makes life on occasion so exquisitely beautiful. You can't help but feel that Brian Eno, whose ambient work this echoes, would heartily approve. The still point of the turning world.
Friday, October 27, 2017
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Polish military commander, exiled to the States in the eighteenth century where he saved George Washington's life in battle, had a highly significant if brief career and died at just 34 in 1779. Posthumously awarded American citizenship, one of only eight people to be granted that honour. Also here commemorated, if partially peripherally by Sufjan.
'Like Bobby 'Boris' Pickett singing the Monster Mash, Kelley Stolz always comes on like he's been 'working in the lab late one night'. One of the great studio tinkerers, he is forever hatching psych-pop thrills, the sonic cousins of dry-ice wreathed test-tubes bubbling with garish elixirs'
Stoltz's latest, Que Aura, is simply a joy. Part Suicide, part Lyres, part sleek early eighties synth, it's made up of eleven short pop songs that just glide by in the night.He has such a way with melody that the listener's part in all this is made easy. Just ease back in your chair and enjoy the ride.
But rather than employing all this evident talent to head for the mainstream, as he easily might, Stolz prefers to hang in the shadows, slipping dark hooks into the mix that recall Devo and New Order and sprinkling vocals across it all with such masterful ease that it makes you wonder, if it's all really so easy, why isn't everybody doing it? A gem of a record.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
One of the mainstays of this blog over the last four years has been Australian artist Courtney Barnett. It has watched her grow over that time from a small, localised cult into something of an international sensation. Her latest record, a collaboration with Kurt Vile, has come out recently, and it's a small wonder which I've neglected to write about just yet but will do so before the end of the year. In the meantime, I was delighted to find out last night that it's been added to the jukebox at Rosie's. Here's one track, with the two of them, put simply, just having a good time!
It seems there's a more than decent scene of underground alternative bands in Leeds at the minute. Like Hookworms, who've been around for a while, the fast emerging Mush, and here Drahla a three-piece who specialise in an atmospheric dark swirl well represented by this, Silk Spirit, their latest single. Somewhere between great cult band Life Without Buildings and that whole Gothic
thing that Leeds bands were so inclined to, back in the early eighties.
Monday, October 23, 2017
Sunday, October 22, 2017
'If there'd been any question bout whether the Stones could keep the quality up without Brian Jones, the release of Honky Tonk Woman the day after his funeral settled it. The clunking cowbell was weird, Charlie Watt's downbeat an epitome of white funk, and the country bluestang of Keith's guitar cinced the issue. Even Jagger's vocal, nicely layered with echo, rang with malicious conviction. Of course, the lyric was stupid and sexist but when you're dancing this hard, it can take a couple of years to notice.'
'It's not like it is in the movies. There may be police involved..'
And to underline the quite marvellous wonder of the record reviewed below, here's its opening track. An ode either directly or indirectly to Pablo, about inadvisable obsession.
As good a way possible to spend the early part of a Sunday morning. Listening to Adios Senor Pussycat, the latest album by Mick Head & the Red Elastic Band, just out this Friday. Head has a long backstory, he's been doing his thing for coming onto forty years now and has experienced much to contemplate during those years. It shows. This is a highly contemplative piece of art. The work of a man in his mid-fifties rediscovering his mojo and surveying the rocky road that life and his own decision-making have taken him down.
Originally the leader of Pale Fountains, a wondrous Liverpool band who were feted for huge commercial success at the time they were signed to Virgin Records in the early eighties but denied that success by poor record company decisions and a certain wilful attitude on the part of the band. Since then Head has continued making records intermittently, with his next project Shack and under his own name. Plagued by drug and alcohol dependency for the best part of twenty years, he's finally sober, has got 'piece of mind' in his own words, as he sings on 'Winter Turns to Spring'. And here are the results. A small masterpiece.
He's one of the finest pop songwriters Britain has produced over the last forty years, though he's barely ever had a brush with the actual charts. Adios Senor Pussycat, establishes the truth of that fairly on and goes on to explore the subtle, but quite exquisite songwriting and arranging gifts the man possesses over thirteen thoughtful, flecked and dappled songs. Very much a Liverpool record with its songs of the sea, the booze and poetic romance
The album is not hugely different from several that Head has put out over the course of his career. Just slightly older and wiser. A disciple first and foremost of Love and Arthur Lee and The Byrds, he's used their example as the basis of his art but over the years has crafted it all into an utterly specific personal vision. A sound that's all his own. Full of poetic Scouse dreaming, Adios Senor Pussycat feels like an early Christmas present that you'll want to wrap and unwrap again and again over the next couple of months. It'll catch you by surprise with joy every single time.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
The last couple of weeks appear to have been a relative quiet time for great new albums with only a few notable exceptions. Here's one! Yesterday saw the release of the debut album from Glasgow band Catholic Action, In Memory Of and it's surely one to sit up in take notice of.
It all exists within the noble tradition: Teenage Fanclub, Franz Ferdinand and Travis (when they were good), The Pastels, great guitar acts going back to Glam beyond. Catholic Action, (oh and the name is wonderful too), know how to have a great time and understand and relish up ripping up the pop tradition and laying it down for the kids who weren't old enough to experience it all, ten twenty, thirty, forty and fifty years ago. They also sound as if they're having the time of their lives!
It's not an original record really except in that it's unusual to hear an album that sounds as good as this one does, in this particular tradition in 2017. Catholic Action are masters at what they do, astonishing for ones so young. Song after song either sounds like a hit single from 1973 or a masterful re-take of Teenage Fanclub's hair-raisingly wonderful Everything Flows. A joyously wonderful record inappropriately bedecked with floral memorial wreaths around the bands guitars and drums. This is surely a beginning not an end. Catholic Action are writing and performing the songs that the Gallagher brothers would surely love to be coming up with in 2017 but are quite incapable of.
The further I delve into In Memory Of, the more astonished I am at how good it can be. How remarkably assured in its grace. Catholic Action prove themselves to be masters of something of a last art. There may not be the mass-market for this kind of thing anymore. Attention seems to be elsewhere and what momentum there is seems to be directed towards the likes of Ed Sheeran and the aforementioned Gallagher shysters. This is a crime. Spotlights should be on the likes of Catholic Action instead. Where the action really is. Seek them out!
Friday, October 20, 2017
Thursday, October 19, 2017
If you do these things every day like I do, you can't help but notice the trends. The 'deer' bands, the 'rat' bands, and now it seems the wave of 'worm' bands. Cut Worms, the project of Max Clarke, have a nice way with that echoey American early sixties sound of Del Shannon and Roy Orbison showcased nicely on their new EP Alien Sunset. This song Song of the Highest Tower, stretches out to almost seven minutes yet doesn't seem a second too long.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
So here's the review I started off with on this blog four and a bit years ago.
'The first thing you notice in looking at the sleeve and taking the record out to play is the attention to detail. These people really thought about what they wanted things to look like. The name of the album, the lettering, the tangled kudzu grass on the cover, the song titles, the photos of the band. A lot of thought had been put into this. This was an assured and confident group of people.
R.E.M had played scores of dates before this came out. They'd emerged out of the Athens, Georgia college scene which also produced such notables as The B52's, Pylon and Love Tractor amongst others. They'd worked in record shops, played in college bands, done cover versions and worked on half-baked underdeveloped originals while they developed their style and absorbed music and culture to the point where they knew what they wanted to do and how to deliver.
They'd released a mini-album called Chronic Town with some cracking songs but an unrealised vision. Murmur meanwhile is incredibly sure-footed from the off. It kicks off with Radio Free Europe which is a statement of intent. It's pretty close to some Who stuff in terms of dynamics but offers something never heard before and builds and builds 'til the killer punch on the final chorus. Something's afoot.
Pilgrimage continues in pretty much the same vein. It's not clear what Michael Stipe is singing about. This is a consistent feature throughout and one of the main reasons I really fell in love with this album. Somebody suggested that Mumble might be a better album title than Murmur.The band responded that you wouldn't get the script of the film you were going to see when you went to the cinema so why should you be spoonfed here. The lyrics that are discernable - 'rest assured this will not last,' 'the pilgrimage has gained momentum' are about movement, change and growth. Just the stuff to appeal to pale, literate, teenage boys. The vocals from drummer Bill Berry and bassist Mike Mills here are extraordinary and to my mind unprecedented.
Laughing draws on Greek myth and Talk About the Passion talks about poverty. In a way it's the most conventional thing on here chiming like a post punk Byrds. Moral Kiosk is more urgent. Both of these songs are political but in an oblique way. R.E.M emerged at pretty much the same time as Reaganomics. They became more explicit on later albums in terms of their critique of what was going on. I'm not really sure if they became more effective.
Perfect Circle is often mentioned as one of the band's favourite songs. Quite rightly so. It's supposedly inspired by Stipe watching a group of kids playing baseball. I imagine it also may be about being in a great band with a group of friends
Catapult starts the second side and may be the weakest song on the album but was once considered the potential break-out single and New Order's producer Stephen Hague was brought in for an ill-judged remix. Sitting Still which is up next is indescribably good. I think I almost cried on hearing it first. You'll do well to hear a whole line of coherent lyrics here. It's all emotion and youth.
9-9 is the least conventional song and it took me a while to come to terms with it. Again there are Who dynamics there and it's reputed to have a Gang of Four influence though I've never really heard it myself. Shaking Through is marginally the longest song on the album and one of the best. Like much of the album it's driven by a beat generation inspired optimism and fervour. Great use of piano here.
We Walk is truly Southern. The album draws on Southern fiction throughout. Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner are all there. We Walk is pure Harper Lee, pretty much hokum but the band is so assured that they pull it off. Even their jokey song is pretty much streets ahead of the competition. The Smiths were the only guitar band firing on this level for me at this point.
This leaves us with West of the Fields. A song that to all intents and purposes is about death with more Greek myth in the mix. But despite the theme they gallop back for one more chorus to bring the album home.
I love this LP pretty much more than any other. It never tires or dates for me and if you're not familiar I suggest you give it a go. I used to listen to it time after time at the top of the house in Teddington. It cast a spell on me! I would listen through to it differently every time alternatively the vocals, the production, Peter Buck's guitar work, the bass or the backing vocals and hear something new every time. R.E.M produced several great albums and I'll write about them on here at some point but for now I'll just commend this album.
I've no idea how often I've listened to this record or how much I'll listen to it. I'm immersed in it. It's part of me. Everybody should have a record that means this much to them. When I put it on to listen to it today part of me wanted to go back to that time and space I listened to it first as an eighteen year old on the top floor of my parent's house in Teddington. But I can't go back there Nor do I want to. I'm in a different time and space and happy to be here.But I will always love and listen to that album. I will age while it won't. Perhaps it's my Picture of Dorian Grey.'
As with so many people, I have no choice with my # 1 album, this will always be this one for me. When I discovered it, shortly after its release in the UK it felt like I'd come across a mighty secret. The band's growing success over the following years vindicated me in this respect, but I would not be overstating the case to say that I constructed a good deal of my personality on these twelve tracks, the record's packaging and the impenetrable appeal of the band itself. Quite timeless!
They're not reinventing the wheel. Vancouver's Pack A.D. have been around for quite a while, ten years or more and it's perfectly clear by now what they like. A little bit White Stripes, a little bit Black Keys, a little bit Queens of the Stoneage and a little bit themselves. But I'm not one for always demanding originality, (of course the duo are both women which I guess is worth stating), and they do it all very well on their latest Dollhouse their seventh album, out this year. It's a terrific, upfront, relentless, rocking, punky record.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Taken from the splendid new classical leaning record from London-based French artist Angele David-Guillou. Not about Tony or Luchino but Bianchi Maria Visconti. The track is inspired by the 15th Century Visconti-Sforza tarot deck celebrating her marriage. Visconti was also known as the 'warrior woman' and successfully defended the city of Cremona from an attack from the Venetians.
And so back a week or so ago to that original review.
'Four and a bit years ago, when I started this blog, one of the, (perhaps the), major instigator of my decision to do so was an event called The Record Player held at an upstairs lounge in the Tyneside Cinema in the heart of Newcastle. It was something I'd discovered a couple of years earlier towards the end of 2011, and it had become a major part of my social calendar and something I looked forward to and relished greatly.
And so back a week or so ago to that original review.Taking place on Thursday evenings, always the best times to do these kind of things, just as the weekend beckons, the format of these events was simple. An opportunity for the audience to gather, greet each other and buy drinks while taking in the pre-record slides. Then a short intro to that evening's selected album from host (Mr.) Steve Drayton. Then the record itself, played on vinyl, (of course, the format was coming right back into vogue at just this point in time), to the accompaniment of a longer slide show related to the band or artist concerned.
No interruptions, except for the moment where Steve emerged from under his desk where he invariably slumped during the playing of the albums, only evidenced by his tapping DMs) to turn the record over. Then a round of applause when it ended, a chance to discuss the record and refuel or take a leak and then a quiz with a music related theme, a chance to win some prizes then goodnights all round and out into the Newcastle night, almost invariably invigorated and feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. I never had a bad evening there, even with albums I didn't care for, except for the time Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Murder Ballads was played. I truly hated that one and took a long time to forgive Cave for it.
And the reason such a simple idea invariably worked, apart from the idea of actually listening to wonderful music in a room full of people who you knew or got to know, in its best format, (no room for discussion on that one). There are a number of other similar events that have popped up nationally and globally, but in The Record Player's case in Newcastle the reason for its original and enduring success is down to its host Steve Drayton.
A striking looking man, well over six feet tall with a resplendent quiff and beaky nose, always very well turned out, Steve is a local celebrity, comedian, BBC producer, DJ, and generally go-to renaissance guy in this part of the world when you're seeking a host for these kind of events. He has an understanding of how to work a room, make people feel at home, a back to front gift for showbiz delivery, and, most importantly in this context, a deep-rooted love and understanding of music.
So, thanks to Steve and The Tyneside Cinema, I've had a number of wonderful evenings at the Record Player there and at other related venues over the past six years. But recently these evenings have been further and further apart. Steve has got involved in a number of different ventures, a lot of the key records that would come to mind have been done, and done again. In any case, I've missed it, and a lot of the regulars I got to know through it.
So I was delighted, a month or so ago, when I saw that a series of four more evenings would be held throughout October to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of 1977, British Punk's high summer. I'll be going to all of them and why not write about them here. So first, naturally to The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, which I attended with a friend a couple of evenings back. I've got the record of course, anybody with a record collection related to these things should have it, it's one of the ones.
But I don't listen to it all the way through and never have, since I bought it, probably thirty years back, even though I love many of the songs. Why not? Because I was labouring under the misconception that you didn't need to. One song at a time was enough and anyway the whole thing is such a cultural monument now that perhaps even that wasn't necessary. It's stamped indelibly on your memory anyhow.
I was wrong and will be listening to it much more from now on. In his prelude to the playing of the record Steve said a number of interesting things about it. He was there at the time after all, a young Punk on the rough streets of Scunthorpe. I can't remember most of the things he said I'm afraid but there was a comment made by Noel Gallagher, (a man who I generally don't have much time for, but this was pertinent), which was particularly memorable.
Gallagher said it was the best Pop record ever made and having listened through to it on Thursday along with the visuals, I'd agree. It's a better Pop Record than Revolver, a better Pop Album than any ABBA ever released, even better than The Ramones or Parallel Lines. It's only real competitor as a Pop Record to my ears is Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and I wouldn't like to choose between the two. Nevertheless, despite agreeing with Gallagher here, I'd stick to my conviction that Oasis themselves are strictly lower division, and am unlikely to change my opinion there, unless perhaps Mr.Drayton has a Definitely Maybe evening and I doubt he'll ever do that!
So Bollocks is still a wonderful record and document on its own terms. Of course it sounds unbelievably different to how it would have done at the time. I can't verify this personally, I was between eleven and twelve at the time and far to timid to be seeking out The Sex Pistols, I was scared enough of the first Punks I was coming across on the streets of Richmond. But it sounds funnier now than it must have done at the time when it was and was widely perceived to be a genuine threat. The singles stand out of course, that's why they were singles but every song merits its place. Submission sounds like nothing else on it, pointing the way to PiL and post-Punk. Bodies, Problems, Seventeen and EMI , particularly are wonderful supporting players. It's great to hear Steve Jones re-inventing Chuck Berry and the band sound like a ten ton truck. Great evening, why should I be surprised, and I'll be back next Thursday for the Damned and The Clash.'
The original inspiration for this short series. One thing I've noticed since then is that some people have a strange, involuntary body reaction when one of the songs from this record comes on the jukebox. Very difficult to describe, but it happens!
Two songs from the excellent new A.Savage, (Parquet Courts), record Thawing Dawn. It doesn't sound quite like an album as such, more of a collection of songs the man has assembled over the years and deemed not altogether suitable for one reason or another for his main project.
That's not to say it's not well worth a listen. On occasion he veers into Courts territory but that's probably where the record is at its least interesting. Elsewhere he's more introspective and his Texas origins show through, occasionally coming close to Gram Parsons. Well worth the effort!
Monday, October 16, 2017
The album that Blondie will ultimately be best remembered for of course though their other albums are regrettably neglected in its shadow. I may feel a series coming on related to this subject. In the meantime, here's something from the one that made them one of the biggest bands in the world and pushed Debbie Harry centre stage transfixing any number of teenage boys and doubtless girls all over the world too.
Three tracks from the splendid new Barr Brothers album Queen of the Breakers, (their third in all), which came out last Friday. It's Rough Trade Record of the Week which is always a fairly sure sign of quality as the people there know about these things.
Hailing from Quebec and not all brothers, they're evocative songwriters and musicians, their songs giving off something of the feel of those great records of the eighties of bands like the Go Betweens, The Triffids, and The Blue Nile with an occasional nod to classic Simon & Garfunkel. They have a knack for atmosphere. It's a Monday morning and I'm obliged to head back to work but listening to this as I prepare to do so makes me feel OK about that state of affairs.