Utterly uncompromising Membranes single from 1984.
Saturday, March 31, 2018
March was altogether a fine month for new albums. Here are the ten that took my fancy most. Running order will undoubtedly change as all of them appeal to me in their different ways. Slight disappointments from The Breeders and Sunflower Bean aside, there was much that I'd recommend that came out in the last thirty one days. Buffalo Tom, Flowertruck, D.A.Stern and Thousand just missed the Top Ten.
'When the heart gets too tender. Return it to sender...'
Frankie Cosmos brings to mind the word 'cute'. Her presentation of herself, her material and her world, undeniably call forth this description very quickly. She's the daughter of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, (not a detail that's insignificant when placing her music), and Vessel, her third album, is just out.
Listening to it made me think of New York City and being young. People will always be young in that city of course and it will always signal a certain kind of romance, (so long as you're from the right side of the tracks), that will never ever quite change. Think Audrey Hepburn. Think Edie Sedgewick. Think Regina Spector. And now think Frankie Cosmos.
Vessel is a series of smart, sweet indie pop songs, (eighteen tracks in thirty three minutes no less), that never once venture from the formula that Cosmos has already established on her previous records. Pitchfork love it, as they love Frankie Cosmos, possibly because she represents a significant section of their demographic, as well as being undeniably talented. Their review of Vessel contains the following lines:
'(she) has become known as no less than a savior of indie pop and the poet laureate of New York City DIY. With wry minimalism and a voice both cherubic and droll, Kline shows that we feel the depths of the city in a granular way - like in the small defeat of swiping an empty MetroCard, or the tiny victory of ascending in a platform just as the train arrives.'
This is utterly ridiculous but I imagine the writer enjoyed writing it and as a description it does do something to capture the sheer happy contained, (and undoubtedly privileged), youth of the record. Vessel doesn't once veer off its pre-regulated rails but that's no criticism. Its songs are finely honed, packaged and wrapped. It's an album of music re-imagined as a box of chocolates and plenty of people will be more than happy with its gifts.
Friday, March 30, 2018
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 ludicrously 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.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
It's probably Bonny Doon's misfortune, (though I shouldn't imagine they're losing much sleep over it), that I've already had my slacker, casually strummed album of the month with Nap Eyes splendid I'm Bad Now. You hardly need two and that record ticked the boxes that you expect from this stuff and Bonny Doon's second album Longwave, by comparison is a relative disappointment.
This kind of stuff all originated in the Nineties I guess with the likes of Pavement and The Lemonheads. The whole sensibility was based on the idea that less was more I guess, the reasoning that you couldn't be seen to care too much which actually meant that you cared a lot if you arched your eyebrow in the right way.
But while Nap Eyes have more than enough sass and inspiration to transcend their inspirations and find their own niche, Bonny Doon remain determinedly in first gear throughout Longwave. So I guess it's back to I'm Bad Now, an album that really shows how this stuff is to be done.
Something I missed in the mad rush last year is Unrequited Lullabies, the debut album from Joss Cope, younger brother of Julian. It got precious little publicity from what I can see, I certainly didn't hear of it and am enjoying the opportunity to catch up with it now, as it's an excellent record
A set of concise, crafted pop songs in the tradition of Barrett, Ayers and Wyatt. Unmistakably the work of a Cope, Joss has that thick, plummy middle class Midlands accent as the Julian of the first two solo albums, and the songs have a similar melodic and lyrical bent as the the ones from those records such as Head Hang Low and Bill Drummond Said.
It's no wonder really that there is debt and influence of big brother here. The two were close, Julian name checked Joss on Reynard the Fox and Joss contributed to other tracks on Fried in terms of playing and songwriting. So really the similarities here merely add to the appeal of the record, as it's clear that Joss has plenty going for him.
Released on the Gare Du Nord record label which is fast becoming a byword for such quintessential and inimitable expressions of Englishness, Unrequited Lullabies is a pearl of an album, perhaps lacking the musical assurance and production values of World Shut Your Mouth and Fried but still a delight to chance upon and meriting repeated listenings.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
I have mixed feelings about the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain. Proclaimed by their marketing to be the best album ever made on its release I don't even think it's their finest. But hearing this, one of the hits they plucked from it, just now ,I realised what it is. Just fine pop music.
Very much in the style of Range Life. New album forthcoming.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Two highly promising tasters ahead of Floating Features, the third album from La Luz. Formed in LA six years back and with a sound somewhere between Warpaint and Allah Las, (plenty of Tarantino Tex Mex twang), what they do is familiar but no less welcome for that.
Monday, March 26, 2018
Two songs from the new Pete Astor album One For The Ghost. Formerly of The Loft and The Weather Prophets, he really seems to be finding a second wind as he moves in to middle age like many other artists. Mortality and ageing are certainly lyrical concerns but there's still plenty of fire in the belly now being in the charts is no longer the prime concern, as perhaps it was in the Eighties..
Sunday, March 25, 2018
From Belfast's Good Vibrations label run by Terry Hooley. Not as well remembered as The Undertones of course but this is a fine song, slightly more 'old school', but with a fine wobbling vocal with shades of Joey Ramone to it.
Sydney, Australia quartet have just released their debut album Mostly Sunny and it's an excellent record. It reminded me of many of the things I liked most about Eighties guitar music, Orange Juice, Smiths, Village Hymn era James, Go Betweens, Triffids, Hurrah!
Moments of the record might make you recall these bands and others but Flowertruck never dwell on any one influence and Mostly Sunny is almost always sunny, yet another example of how much truly great music is coming out of Australia right now. A band that first and foremost are clearly having a great time, which let's face it is the key to success in this kind of endeavour. An album infused with infectious positivity and one that gets better the more you explore its depths.
Saturday, March 24, 2018
There are two bands or artists out there called Caroline No (the Beach Boys song I assume), and one called Caroline Says, (the Lou Reed ones). From the latter, two songs from her fine second album, No Fool Like An Old Fool, just out.
Friday, March 23, 2018
And the other great song from that album, Hell's Ditch. The Spanish poet, killed by Franco's troops in the Civil War, though his body was never found, a fact the song references. Also the subject, (at least partially) of The Clash's Spanish Bombs and an album of Tim Buckley's.
And here, to link in with my 'moon cycle' is his poem Ballad of the Moon Moon:
on my lane of white starch
their eyelids hanging low
with a boy by the hand
And here, to link in with my 'moon cycle' is his poem Ballad of the Moon Moon:
'Moon came to the forgein her petticoat of nard
The boy looks and looks
the boy looks at the Moon
In the turbulent air
Moon lifts up her arms
showing — pure and sexy —
her beaten-tin breasts
Run Moon run Moon Moon
If the gypsies came
white rings and white necklaces
they would beat from your heart
Boy will you let me dance —
when the gypsies come
they’ll find you on the anvil
with your little eyes shut
Run Moon run Moon Moon
I hear the horses’ hoofs
Leave me boy! Don’t walk
on my lane of white starch
The horseman came beating
the drum of the plains
The boy at the forge
has his little eyes shut
Through the olive groves
in bronze and in dreams
here the gypsies come
their heads riding high
their eyelids hanging low
How the night heron sings
how it sings in the tree
Moon crosses the sky
with a boy by the hand
At the forge the gypsies
cry and then scream
The wind watches watches
the wind watches the Moon'
On a long late night in Rosie's. Well, I am almost on holiday. Late, great Pogues. Something almost Jacques Brel about this.
Sounding like the unlikely meeting place where Felt encounter The Beach Boys in 2018, the debut album from D.A.Stern, Aloha Hola, is a delight. Recorded in his mother's basement in New Jersey it's like one long episode of Happy Days that never threatens to come to a close.
Appropriately released on Slumberland Records, the home of feelgood indie sounds, Aloha Hola is evidence of a definite songwriting talent. There are hints of heartbreak occasionally but only really of the sort that Richie Cunningham experienced with Lori Beth and all seems sure to be resolved happily. With three promos on the songs posted here that speak appropriately of the All American life, this record's a treat!
Thursday, March 22, 2018
The Gare Du Nord record label, despite its name, is a small island of Englishness. With a set of artists on its roster like Papernut Cambridge and Joss Cope who document the particular quirks and idiosyncrasies that make this place what it is for better and worse.
And as if to drive the point home, here is the eponymous debut album from Cold Spells, a music trio based in the Essex hinterlands of London. Four years in the making and clearly a labour of love. Utterly English in its vision, I was reminded of Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers particularly, and it speaks of the understated but quiet ambition that has stoked so many great records from here over the years.
Full of the chatter of birdsong and the rustle of nature of parks and gardens, Cold Spells is a comforting listen like, made for the days when you tire of the stupidity of this place and long for retreat into meditative trance and a reminder of the things you still love about it. A place where 'the ducklings cannot comfort me' and 'nettles make the sweetest tea.' Cold Spells, (how fitting that they take their name from description of the weather), have made a record that won't be heard by many but will be gratefully appreciated by a few.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Probably not widely reported by the music media but Kak Channthy lead singer of Cambodian Space Project has just passed aged just 38 in a traffic accident in Phnom Pen. An inspirational figure who came from great poverty and leader of a fine psychedelic garage band. Here's something for her.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Wonderful new album from French artist Thousand (aka Stephane Milochevitch) named Le Tunnel Vegetal. Delivered in that inimitable French style, half spoken, half sung in the style of Gainsbourg and Dutronc, (with splendid vocal support from Emma Broughton), but not bound by the trappings of the past. The record just glides by in a Gallic blur.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Intense young Swedish band FEWS ticked all the right Post Punk intensity boxes a couple of years back with their debut album MEANS. Except perhaps for dedicating a song to a footballer. Not perhaps what Joy Division or Gang of Four might have done back in the day.
A singer songwriter from Victoria, British Columbia. His sound is rooted utterly in the Baroque Folk tradition of '65 to '68. Here's a song from his haunting recently released mini-album Chasing Shadows, an apt description of his sound.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Alice Bag, legendary leader of Seventies Punks The Bags, is back in 2018 with her second solo album Blueprint. From it comes this taster 77 with a promo that spoofs the classic 1980 film Nine to Five, with Alice in the Lily Tomlin role with Kathleen Hanna and Allison Wolfe providing support as dolly and Jane. 77 is a reference to the 2012 statistic that American women only earn 77 cents to the dollar made by men in equivalent jobs. The YouTube page to the song is plagued with a long list of comments, (from men presumably), contesting the claim. Alice would, I imagine, be pleased.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Yo La Tengo are an American Indie institution. You just need to go to Pitchfork, the self-appointed guardians of such things to read the revered and sacred tones that they're always written about in. They form something of a holy trinity in Indie circles in this respect alongside Sonic Youth and Pavement.
And they've outlasted both of their somewhat more successful and high profiles co-tribunes. There's A Riot Going On, just out is their fifteenth album since they first emerged from Hoboken, New York, way back in 1984. And it's a peach. I'm not sufficiently well-versed with all of their back catalogue to place it with any authority among their body of work, but it's an assured and glowing object in itself, remarkable for a band in its fourth decade as a working unit.
They fit snugly of course in line in the list of alternative New York of guitar bands. Velvet Underground, Television and The Feelies most obviously and the traces of all of them are evident on There's A Riot Going On. But they're also huge fans of The Kinks and The Lovin' Spoonful and the sheer craft and loving warmth of their songwriting is there too as of course is the band's own considerable legacy. There are also moments where the trio just revel in the beauty of quiet ambient electric sound, reverberation and echo. There's an understanding of the sheer beauty of Jazz here too, very unusual considering the circles they mix in. In many ways they were always the most sensitive band of their generation. They would have made great beatniks.
You can watch them playing songs from the new record in the clip above in a gig curated by Pitchfork. Its a concert that really underlines the small homey charm of the band, something they've never allowed themselves to lose. Leader Ira Kaplan still dresses in the definitive Jonathan Richman uniform, hooped shirts, jeans, trainers. The band still play as if they're in their front room.
The fact that the album is called There's A Riot Going On, (a steal from Sly Stone's crowning moment of course), while the record itself bears closer resemblance to the Sea of Tranquility than a riot is no accident of course. There's an enormous storm going on out there in the world at the minute of course. Yo La Tengo's response is a smart one. Acknowledgement with the naming of the record, but otherwise a retreat to the beauty within. Altogether a splendid album and gift.
Mining a not dissimilar seam to fleet Foxes, War on Drugs and Bon Iver but more interesting to me because of the constant electrical crackle in its mix, Akinetic is the third album from Chicago-based musician and multi-instrumentalist Erik Hall, working under the moniker In Tall Buildings.
Taking his moniker I imagine from John Harford's timeless song In Tall Buildings, and fittingly recorded away from those buildings of corporate nine to five which it speaks of, at his home, Akinetic is some achievement, a set of thoughtful and perfectly judged songs that hark back beyond the artists mentioned above back to their source in the early seventies. It makes a very good job of it, a contained meditative album.
Friday, March 16, 2018
Thursday, March 15, 2018
Courtney Barnett has a way of making me happy! Like no young and relatively new artist that I can think of. She's been having this effect on me since I first heard her over five years ago. I've seen her live twice in the meantime in relatively small venues in Newcastle, (where I live), and she made me very happy then. I don't expect to see her again except for in some kind of enormodome, (which I wouldn't really fancy), as she's become rather big in the meantime. And deservedly so.
She has her next album, (her second), due in May, and judging by the two pre-release tracks she's put out up to now it's going to be something really special. The latest Need a Little Time came out today and shows promising signs of a new assured maturity in her writing. Not verse / chorus but a slow and steady and build to a wondrous emotional payoff that grows on me like moss with every listen. She seems destined to be entitled to a rich slice of 2018.
What do they say about falling off a horse? It's best to get straight back on. With that in mind, as one series ends on It Starts With a Birthstone, another one begins. Thirty songs with 'moon' in the title coming up. One of the most evocative symbols we have, we're all always pining for it. Some obvious choices coming up, some less so. Starting with Fleetwood Mac and an example of their trademark sound from Tusk. No band ever made the mainstream sound so cool.
When I was in New York twenty years back, on a great trip with one of my best friends, we went to a nightclub called The English Disco. It was an odd experience, and insight into American perception of Englishness. I remember Duran Duran being played immediately after Joy Division, something that would never happen here.
In the same way there's something extremely odd about the music of Brooklyn's Nation of Language. The template for their sound is unmistakably Orchestral Manoeuveres in the Dark, including the uncool shapes that Andy McCluskey used to throw at the mic which made him an unattractive option for aspiring young hipsters who gravitated instead towards Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch.
Nevertheless, Nation of Language do this all very well. Listening to and looking at them it's as if OMD stayed forever on Factory, their original record label, and drafted in Peter Hook on bass and Peter Saville to design their record sleeves. I imagine they should have a debut album coming up soon along the pipeline.