To bring down the curtain on It Starts With a Birthstone a July of absolute baking heat, that seems to have lasted forever, we have a new single from Cornershop. A band that have been consistently wonderful in their intermittent appearances over more than twenty years. Video's fab too!
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Chicago band Clearance lay down their cards fairly early on for their second album At Your Leisure. They're clearly fond of The Feelies and The Clean and in the modern scheme of things could be accurately pigeonholed midway between Omni and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, both bands they've supported.
Despite all this At Your Leisure does repay the listen. For a couple of reasons. Vocalist Mike Bellis's laconic presence, (like a less caustic Stephen Malkmus), and for the constant interplay of the twin guitars . Each track is fluid, clean adventuring. Not a record likely to rock any foundations but quietly commendable nonetheless.
Monday, July 30, 2018
A favourite Kinks tune and them at their most barbed. Recently covered by New Yorkers Beechwood which really evidenced it's essential Punk qualities.
Sunday, July 29, 2018
Dundee's Spare Snare have been releasing records, touring and playing sessions for the best part of thirty years without coming to my attention. This changed this week with the release of Sounds Recorded by Steve Albini, which remarkably is just that, a collection of songs that span their entire career re-recorded with the great man.
And it's a quite wonderful album, showcasing what I, and surely countless others, have been missing for all these years. Sounding most to me like a Caledonian Pere Ubu, (synthy hum a distinctive characteristic of both bands' sound), they have a deft feel for both art and rock. Each song sets off with a calm assurance and guile won through years of playing together. They sound like a band that might have featured in David Keenan's This is Memorial Device, that wonderful novel of last year cataloguing the drive that fires young people to form bands that are never likely to sell many records.
This is probably still the case for Spare Snare. Voted the 46th best Scottish band of all time and having placed 32nd in John Peel's 1995 Festive Fifty with Bug, (probably their best known song, it closes the record here). They're probably destined to be a footnote at best in the scheme of things. But this takes nothing away from them in any respect. On this evidence they're quite superb!
'We don't do interaction. We don't do fashion trips. We can't do drum and bass. We don't do middle eights. We are The Snare.' So sings Jan Burnett on We are The Snare a song that pretty much acts as a mission statement. But Spare Snare are not a band that should be denigrated for what they failed to do but celebrated for what they evidently do so very well. Sounds Recorded by Steve Albini, is a documentation of a career spent operating largely under the radar, and why that can be time very well spent indeed.
Saturday, July 28, 2018
'It's over for the liberal democracies. It's over. Here comes the jungle...'
A second selection from the wonderful Underworld and Iggy Pop collaboration. With Iggy extemporising on things gone by. Smoking on the airplane, trying to pick up air hostesses and what you're not allowed to do anymore. And for visuals you get Cheech and Chong and Up In Smoke from 1978.
Friday, July 27, 2018
Venezuelan Psychedelic Folk, clearly just what you were hoping for this morning. Well here's a slice. Stereolab and Broadcast sensibilities meet that countries rich folklore tradition on a really gorgeous whirl of a tune a wonderful fusion of the old and new. Insolito UniVerso are based in Paris and they have an album out soon which will surely merit a listen.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
A good friend of mine posted about Raymond Carver on social media today and it inspired me to seek out a song about him. Carver, not my friend. A very special writer, particularly to those who read and loved his stuff in the Eighties, a decade he pretty much owned, and unfortunately passed away in.
A record that's been gathering on me like moss over the course of July is Captain, the latest from Aaron Powell under his well established moniker of Fog Lake. It's a record mired in landscape. More specifically the landscape of Glovertown, Newfoundland, (a town of barely 2,000 inhabitants), where Powell grew up.
Captain's a record that mutters and grumbles and would prefer not to get up and go out unless it really has to. After all, it's cold out there. Powell very rarely spits out what he's got on his mind, and when you do catch a phrase or clause it's nigh on inevitable that the next utterance will mark a retreat and be lost forever in studio interference. And it's this foggy introversion that is the core of the record's appeal.
With every play, the album casts its coils more deeply around you.Or at least it has around me. A comparison point would probably be Elliott Smith, (how often do I mention that man on here? either his influence has become just enormous or I just can't shake the memory of his records). Also Andy Shauf, another artist forging a name for himself from the emotional foundations of a cold, provincial Canadian upbringing.
Powell has a fair few records behind him now and has clearly learned his trade. The songs on Captain are never verse/ chorus, verse / chorus in the traditional sense but they are crafted round an assured, committed, momentum. It's a fine, fine record, muffled and incoherent maybe, but that's not something that will ever bother me. Seeing as Murmur probably still remains my favourite record thirty five years on, I'm hardly likely to hold that against Fog Lake. Captain gets my vote!
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
'Joe Strummer reports from the war for the end of the world, mocking yuppie-era complacency as he beats his breast and exposes an anxiety as deep as the groaning bass line. At the dawn of the age of Thatcher and with Reaganism just over the horizon, Strummer captures the real big chill with caws and the most implacable music of The Clash's career - choppy guitars and ravaged vocals, stuff that sounds like it has looked the future in the face without flinching and understood that humanity is finished. Yet there's not a breath of misanthropy in it, not even a touch of cynicism. Instead there's humour and furious energy and a desire to leave a mark that even the coming Ice age/Sunburst/Nuclear accident cannot erase.'
I think I was easily inclined to gravitate towards North Carolina outfit Nude Party's eponymous debut, (released a few weeks back), from it's very opening notes. It lays down its pitch straight away with those parping Farfisa organ drones deeply familiar to anyone who ever loved Wooly Bully, 96 Tears, or any of that whole, wondrous American Sixties Nuggets / Garage scene.
I certainly count myself among that number. While never inclined to grow a Brian Jones fringe, even when I had hair, I've been drawn towards this whole sensibility since I was seventeen. That scene threw up any number of the greatest Rock and Roll records ever made and frankly without them, where would we be. And where would Nude Party be? Well, probably not playing music anyhow.
Because all in all this record has been cooked up pure and simple from that specific youthful moment in Rock and Roll. The Standells, ? and the Mysterions, Sir Douglas Quintet, Flamin' Groovies, Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, early Creedence are the absolute essence of the record. That's all you need to know to get a clear sense of this records vibe without even hearing a note. And respect to Nude Party. They do it all very well!
So where do we go from here? 'Is it down to the lake I fear?' as Nick Heywood sung once, with no sense of shame whatsoever. There's probably little else to say about this record. If you like that stuff you'll surely like this stuff.
It's upfront good time music and they'd surely be a great band to catch live . It's just fun. It adds pretty much nothing at all to the canon but not every record that's released is obliged to do that. The album very rarely deviates from it's set course. There's one song where the singer comes on all Mick Jagger circa Sticky Fingers. For the last few tracks they start to flirt with the idea of opening up Doors-wise but never quite go all the way. They know what they like as well as their limitations.
It makes sense that they're working with Black Lips drummer Oakley Munson. They're very much in line of the Lips way of doing things without ever quite touching on that band's glory. Still, this is a neat little album and I applaud it!
Monday, July 23, 2018
'Don't try hard to be a flirt. Get your shirt...'
Underworld and Iggy team up and their union is a great success I'd say. Seven minutes of synthy early Eighties sounds injected with a more modern, throbby impulse with Iggy riding the waves improvising freeform nonsense / profound found poetry . The great survivor.
Smittened with The Smittens. American Twee Indiepop band return after four years away without an album with another one surely coming up ahead. Three States starts off all Mo Tucker and ends up strangely closer to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Love is a Word stays closer to the script you might expect!
Sunday, July 22, 2018
'Oh what a world my parents gave me...'
A bit of sweeping, orchestral Rufus in Rosie's on a Sunday afternoon with a touch of Bolero added to the mix to bring things to the boil. From, to my mind, his best album, the magnificent Want One.
The Cumberland Arms is a community style pub on a small hill above the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle. In addition to the normal social drinking that goes on there, it arranges a range of different events including hosting regular gigs in its small upstairs room above the bar. I've had some wonderful nights there over the years; Thurston Moore with Michael Chapman, Subway Sect, The Blue Orchids and The Nightingales and just last Wednesday Trembling Bells. An evening fit to compare with any one of them.
I went alone, taking the taxi from Central Newcastle in a foul mood. I'd had a run in with a dreadful corporate drone at work which had depressed and angered me, and I'd thought about passing on the gig. This however is not a good idea in my experience, always leaving a 'what if?' question mark hanging which I've always harboured since missing an early Stone Roses concert on the cusp of their fame in my university days, when I'd come down with a slight cold and stayed in. After all, if things don't work out you can always leave early. I certainly did the right thing this time round.
The Cumberland Arms is a very pleasant venue, particularly during this apparently endless, glorious summer. I sat in its front garden supping beer rather than watching the support acts, who veered towards the more conventional kind of Folk that I've always been wary of. Various members of the band wandered past at various points and we exchanged pleasantries. I also saw a good friend of mine, Steve Drayton who's a local celebrity and all round man on the scene whose Record Player evenings at the Tyneside Cinema were a definite inspiration leading me to start writing this blog more than five years back.
Needless to say Steve was great company as always and his friends were fine people too and this all helped to while away the time 'til The Bells were due to play. Just beforehand I found myself inside the small back bar when Alex Neilson the drummer, main songwriter and leader of the band came past me. I told him that Christ's Entry into Goven (the centrepiece of their wonderful latest album Dungeness),was my favourite song of the year, which it is, and he thanked me, shook my hand and asked my name, then went off to prepare to play. I thought nothing more of it at the time.
A few minutes later upstairs dramatic rumours were whispered. Alex was not well at all, (food poisoning apparently), and wasn't sure to play. The rest of the band assembled somewhat nervously onstage without him while he hovered at the doorway uncomfortably.
Just as they seemed about to set off without him he made his way though onto the low stage and they started to play. What followed was the finest hour or so of live music I've experienced this year.
Trembling Bells aren't for everyone, partly because they aim high. Their music is perhaps best described as Cosmic Folk although there's a large dose of Prog in their mix. They remind you of things, how could they not given their sound? In my case these are a lot of things from the early Seventies that I probably wouldn't choose to listen to myself, (not being a Prog man by any stretch of the imagination), but in their hands it all becomes deeply palatable and appealing.
Perhaps the most immediate set of references for what they do come from main singer Lavinia Blackwell who was perched at the front of the stage on keyboards and mic. As soon as she opens her mouth and sings, the reference points are undeniable; Sandy Denny, Grace Slick, Mariska Veres and Sonja Kristina inevitably come to mind and the spirit of their most wonderful records is invoked.
That the band, (and Neilson most of all apparently), become slightly disgruntled by such comparisons, is understandable because of how good they are, but the comparisons are inevitable and its actually a veiled compliment to them as what they do is so powerful and thought through.
The evening passed in a happy blur. It felt like 1972, (when I was six and into Chicory Tip). The fact that the walls of the room were visibly sweating was little more than an irritant. At a certain point Neilson from his drum stool made a reminder between songs to, 'Go and buy our records'. In many respects he was quite right to do so. They're far too great a band to still be playing venues this size at this point of their career. Frankly, it's a damning indictment of our time and tastes.
And then the highlight. At least for me! When it came to playing Christ's Entry, Alex said, 'I'd like to dedicate this to Bruce...' and off they went. I found the gesture incredibly touching and if it incurred Mr.Drayton's humorous wrath the next day in a message to me on social media, 'As their Number One fan, I should have had it...' , so be it. I left the venue sated and momentarily freed from the grip of the corporate drone. Pretty much only music can do things like that. So, Trembling Bells, you were and are wonderful, Dungeness is a genius album and I'm now an even firmer devotee than I was before Wednesday night. Many thanks!
'I don't know if I'm coming up or down...'
Everybody loves Escher surely. Teenage Fanclub certainly showed an interest writing this for Thirteen, their 1993 smudged follow up to Bandwagonesque. It was one of the best songs on the record.
A jukebox with a mind of its own the one at Rosie's . The Senseless Things have recently turned up, with Too Much Kissing, their best known song. A South London band who had their moment as the Eighties became the Nineties. They loved The Replacements and that's plainly apparent here with much of that bands ragged momentum and tattered romanticism. It's a good little record from a bygone time.
Four tracks from Oakland California's Blues Lawyer and their debut album Guess Work which came out in April. An impromptu project from members of various bands, it's full of neat, concise Independent pop songs, working from the template of Wire's Pink Flag and Television Personalities with a dash of Velvet Underground circa '69 Live and Loaded, looking ahead to Modern Lovers Roadrunner and occasionally further than that to The Strokes and Moldy Peaches. If you like any of these, you'll find much to treasure here.
It's a cool little record. Call and response from Rob Miller and Elyse Shrock abounds across the album. It's a record which draws lovingly on the groups record collection but informs proceedings which a beautiful felt teenage ennui.
Recorded over a couple of days and available on cassette and Bandcamp download, Guess Work never wastes a moment or skips a beat. Ten songs checking in between one minute and three which kind of make you hope that the contributors shelve their main projects and become full time lawyers.
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Friday, July 20, 2018
The Innocence Mission, a rare discovery in my constant search for new music from a couple of weeks back which I'm finally coming to write about just in time for a much needed weekend.
I'm very late on this particular case as they, (essentially a project built around married couple Karen and Don Peris), have been putting out records for nigh on thirty years having first met while taking part in the preparations for a high school production of Godspell.
They've changed greatly over the intervening years, beginning in rather orthodox fashion considering what they are now, their early records inviting comparison to the likes of The Cranberries or Mazzy Star. Gradually over time they've worked on their sound and vision to the point where they've sculpted something of awe and wonder, documenting the beauty of the commonplace. All of this is wonderfully realised on their latest record Sun On The Square, just released in the UK on Bella Vista Records.
It's music which can quite easily push you to the verge of tears, if you're so inclined, such is its simplistic loveliness. Karen's voice is at the core of the spell being cast here. A lesson in how the purity of youthful existence can be maintained into adulthood and a reminder of how important it is to never completely let go of that magic. William Blake knew, Nick Drake knew and so do the The Innocence Mission.
The album yearns for a return to this innocence. They're an aptly named band. Each song unfolds at graceful pace, evoking the feel of a summers day in a city square, sun shining on trees and flowers, people going about their business and everything maintaining a spectral unity. The miracle of everyday existence.
The Peris now have and are raising children of their own and this surely feeds into the impact of the record. Each song feeds off and melts into the last, building towards a golden half hour of listening. Sufjan Stevens and Iron & Wine's Sam Beam are highly vocal fans and you can easily hear why as the qualities and seeds of their own best records are nakedly evident here.
Karen's voice is a distant twin of Joanne Newsome's and it works its way into you over the course of Sun On The Square. The Innocence Mission are clearly a back-burner project that the Peris have somehow managed to maintain over the years as a backdrop to nine to fives and child raising and this only heightens its appeal. There is a clear grasp of the mundane and everyday here which is the central core of its achievement.
Credit to The Innocence Mission for the realisation of this. And credit to Simon Raymonde too of Bella Vista for recognising how special it is and putting out Sun On The Square. In many ways these songs feel like children's lullabies, but the record is a reminder of just how much we'll always need them. Even, and in fact especially as we journey further through adulthood.
So in honour of my small but wonderful discovery of a couple of weeks back, here is a small 'The Innocence Mission Tribute Day' on It Starts. An extraordinary documentation of the experience of existence and love. Long may they run!
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Goon Sax return with yet another track from their forthcoming second album due this Autumn which is shaping up to be something very wonderful indeed, at least on the basis of the two songs released. This one Make Time 4 Love, (and no I don't like the use of 4, they're supposed to be budding poets), is a peach. Just two minutes long but what a lot they do in that time. Sure their templates are utterly blatant, Jonathan Richman, (that offbeat phrasing) and Robert Forster, (Robert's son is in the group). But they make splendid use of their ingredients. The song blooms with magnificent Indie understatement at its midway point. Respect to the youth for not letting it go to waste!
Some of the music inspired by the British Punk Revolution was among the most honest, refreshing upfront, rawest music ever made in the whole rich, glorious story of Rock and Roll. The Television Personalities, Wreckless Eric, Patrick Fitzgerald, ATV, 999, Spizz Energi, Wire's Pink Flag et al. Perhaps you wouldn't want to listen to it absolutely all the time but in short, sharp bursts, now and then, it really can't be beaten.
Ben Edge of the splendidly named Ben Edge & the Electric Pencils understands this only too well. He's based his whole musical persona upon it after all. Every song on his eponymous debut album, which came out last year, is a small new wave classic. Here's the one he wrote about the man who painted matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Now this is a very odd concept. A London band playing very early British Invasion influenced Rock and Roll, (particularly early Beatles, the twangy treble of Lennon is really evident in the mix), with some lyrical inflections in the mix to leaven the dough. It would clearly sound best in a pub. Here's the first track of their eponymous debut album, which is the one which strays furthest from the flock and is also I'd say the best song on the record.
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
of Montreal, hyper-pretentious Elephant 6 Collective band identify their favourite conceptual artist. Generally, my policy is to post things I like on here, but good luck if you're planning on sitting through and listening to this.
I'm still looking to post a brief write-up of Gruff Rhys' fine new album Babelsberg. In the meantime, here's something else that's new from him. A song, (very much in the vein of the Super Furry's very first single, Hometown Unicorn), in support of our marvelous NHS which is under constant attack from market forces and has been for many decades. Here's what he says about it:
'I was approached by National Theatre Wales recently to write a song for their NHS70 festival, which launches today. In most of my songs I mostly deal in lyrical abstraction, but as the NHS has had such a profound effect on every aspect of my life since birth, this was a commission that I felt duty bound to throw myself into out of respect for everything it’s given me. The title ‘No profit in pain’ is an attempt to counter the mentality of ‘No Pain no gain’ and ‘tough love’ which keep being peddled about by zealous free marketeers. The NHS is something that we can too easily take for granted. But the NHS has been there for me throughout my life and has also saved many of my family members lives. In that sense it means more than anything I could ever hope to convey in a melodramatic synth pop power ballad like this one, so for the song I’ve focused on the battle to keep the NHS as a free service in public ownership. There’s loads of swearing in it. Privatisation is creeping in and signifies a death knell for the NHS we all love and cherish if we are not vigilant. As a devolved issue in Wales, and as an idea that was born here, the idea of a free health service for all is something that serves as a beacon of what we can achieve as a nation and is something we must pass on intact to future generations. The song will be available on most streaming services and I’ll perform it today in Cardiff. A van has been hired to advertise the song. I researched hiring a brexit style red bus but it was too expensive, so in the end I just went for a repurposed bog standard home office style ‘go home’ scare vehicle. We’ve only got it for 2 days, I’m using it for my performance today and designer and profound thinker, Mark James shot the video yesterday as we decorated it, ready for today’s release. Kliph Scurlock plays the drums and Llion Robertson produced it. All proceeds will go to NHS charities in Wales.'
I don't often venture into this kind of territory, but this piqued my interest when I heard it the other day. A couple of claustrophobic but nevertheless intriguing tracks from Berlin based musician Lotic. Originally from Texas and officially J'Kerian Morgan, Lotic, has sights set firmly on nightclubs I'd imagine, though it's not entirely clear how you'd dance to either of these. In any case, they and their parent album Power, (just out), warrant further exploration.
Monday, July 16, 2018
A record I very much liked at the turn of the year was This Is Glue the second album from Christchurch, New Zealand's Salad Boys. At that point there was nothing available to post from it but that situation has changed over the last few months so I'm pleased to be able to write about it now.
It's a spirited and sensitive record interchanging between the full on attack of opener Blown Up which strikes a midway point between Magazine and Buzzcocks and the more plangent approach of second song Hatred, still one of my very favourite songs of the year. Anything that reminds me of those utterly beautiful moments of early R.E.M. gets my approval. Hatred is an absolute peach, from start to finish.
And it's where This Is Glue takes this line that it works best for me. It's not a perfect record, some songs work better than others, but when it hits home Salad Boys really mine the seam of their compatriots glorious Flying Nun heritage. The Bats, The Clean and The Chills all come to mind at various points.If Psych Slasher is rather too close to Foo Fighters territory for my own personal tastes, when they slow the mood and open up emotionally, I'd say they come into their own.
They do exactly that with the run of tracks that follow, Right Time, Choking Sick and Exaltation, things of beauty one and all. Singer Joe Sampson's lyrics are never very clear in the mix, in finest Stipe tradition, but the songs build up a real head of steam when they slot into that golden sound of eighties college rock.
So a fine record in a noble tradition. Salad Boys got a fair bit of attention since the release of This Is Glue and they're fully deserving of it. As for my review, better late than never!
Sunday, July 15, 2018
With the World Cup coming to a close, here's one for the man who's probably still the greatest player there's ever been.
Australia has become the font of so much that is really interesting music-wise over the last few years. There seems to be no end to the number of original and creative artists springing from that market these days. And as if to underline that here's Sculptor the new album from Aussie duo Luluc four years after their second Passerby made such a splash.
It's a thoughtful, graceful record. Modern Folk in many respects, with Zoe Randall's serene and resonant voice recalling Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior and June Tabor. The arrangements are sparse and yes 'sculpted' and this seems an album destined to grow in power and emotional pull with every play.
Saturday, July 14, 2018
R.E.M's Dead Letter Office turned up on the jukebox at Rosie's a few weeks back. Much to my delight! It's the small things. One of my very favourite records of their's. Full of early B Sides, covers and songs that didn't make their early records final cut. The Velvets covers, Crazy, Bandwagon, Voice of Harold and much more. And also Chronic Town, their debut EP, tagged on the end of the CD release. With this, Carnival of Sorts, still one of my favourite song of all of theirs. Echoing down the years!
This is funky to the max and what it might have to do with the Bronte sisters is rather beyond me. But it certainly slots in here rather nicely.
Blast off! A new album out yesterday from Melbourne trio Primo! made up of members of Shifter. It races from the traps on the first and maintains its jittery, giddy momentum without missing a step to the last.
This is familiar stuff. Think Girls at Our Best, Mo-Dettes and Dolly Mixture and so forth. Splendid things all, and Primo! do the legacy proud, each of the song checks in between one minute and three and seems perfect for a John Peel session in the early Eighties.
Does it matter that virtually every note of this could and probably was put out over thirty five years back? Not to me. Because it's all done with unwavering freshness, melody and nous.
On a week when I came upon four or five albums that floated my boat, Primo's Amici, is up there with any of them. All three band members chip in throughout on harmonised vocals. In some ways there's something of the ethos of early Ramones here. As Charles Shaar Murray wrote about that band: 'it's like eating peanuts, cherries or smarties. You can never have just one.'
As an appetiser for the forthcoming Goon Sax album, coming out in Autumn, it's perfect. Primo! (note the exclamation mark, it's wholly apt), are coming to Europe to tour and those who see them will surely love them. All for one!