Thursday, June 20, 2019
One of the most interesting Hip Hop albums I've heard for a long time, Quelle Chris Guns, (released a few months back), is a record that examines American gun culture without glorifying it for a single momemt, enough to rarify it in itself. The conclusions it comes to are pretty depressing but the music itself isn't for a moment.
Satirising the music culture that monetises this stuff, the vicious circles that drive the American car down its long highway, as well as the society and politics that perpetuate all the mindless and brutal and often quite unecessary and avoidable violence.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Feather light guitar driven indie pop music from Spain that skirts the edges of sounds and atmospheres conjured up in the past by the likes of Prefab Sprout, The Railway Children and The Shins.
Luz y Delirios is Senalada's third album in all. They have a nice way of melody and momentum about them.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Monday, June 17, 2019
Satis Factory the second album from the Atlanta singer-songwriter Mattiel and her band. A weak joke but a strong record. She made some waves with her eponymous debut a couple of years back and this consolidates things nicely.
Essentially their schtick seems to be that they're a Nuggets Garage Rock band with Loretta Lynn with a modern sensibility at the mic. Because Mattiel has no mean set of lungs on her and no lack of personality to back them up.
This is no mere period exercise though I have little doubt that Mattiel and her compadres have wonderful record collections. All in all, this certainly sounds like a 2019 record. It has a contemporary sheen.
Coming out on a Friday in June which also boasted new records from Springsteen, Madonna and Bill Callahan among other notables this might be one that might be in danger of disappearing back into the pack but it's a far worthier record than that.
Over the course of the album the early Velvets and The Girl Group Sound all make welcome appearances. The record made my smile wider as each track succeeded the last. Perhaps a couple of fillers stop it being as good as it might be but very few of the original Garage Bands produced absolutely classic albums. This will more than do for now. Currently working with Heavenly Records in Europe which should help them broaden their public profile further. Another fine record comes down the pike.
Sunday, June 16, 2019
Brooklyn's Jeanines kick off their eponymous debut album, released on Friday on Slumberland Records, as if they can't decide which Housemartins riff they want to play, Happy Hour or Sheep. Then the female vocalist cuts in and they locate themselves utterly. As C-86, Sarah Records revivalists.
From this point onwards, they never deviate once from that script. Remarkably, there are sixteen tracks in all here but the whole album lasts just twenty six minutes. Perhaps they could have given The Ramones lessons in brevity.
Anyhow, this is certainly a model lesson of sorts. In knowing what you like and doing it, obviously leaning on your record collection, they're clearly Indie completists, but doing it with sufficient vim, vigour and sheer melodic nous to make a record with sufficient qualities to deserve to nestle in record collections, rubbing sleeves with those of your heroes.
Essentially a duo. Jeanines will make many new friends with this album. From people who know all too well where they're coming from but like where they've gone. Jeanines, far from the most original album released this year but one worthy of note anyhow.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
Bill Callahan strikes me as an artist who only seems to get better with time. While other musicians strive to stay relevant with the passing of the years, he only becomes more so. He refines and hones what he does to a point of clarity precious few others achieve or can even aspire too.
His latest album Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, just out, is his first for six years, and is quite worth the wait. In the meantime Callahan has got married, had a son, and found domestic calm, leading him to question whether he should even be creating and recording music anymore, as it no longer has the driving centrality it had previously in a career moving towards its fourth decade.
We can only be grateful that he chose to return. The record is a double, and a feast to relish, dive into and immerse yourself within at repeated sittings. Twenty songs, imbued with the vedic calm and warm, rich irony but also chiselled profundity that has come to be his modus operandi.
The songs come across almost as diary entries. Minimalist, poetic and beautifully self-aware. Opening up like beautifully judged and lovingly wrapped gifts, the perfect things to listen to late at night before surrendering to sleep.
There's a well earned and hard won contentment to the record and you can't help but feel really pleased for the man. Full of lines so perfectly judged and rendered that you want to press pause and write them down. 'I woke up on a 747. Flying through some stock footage of heaven.' To quote just one. He makes it all seem utterly effortless when it's perfectly plain that it's anything but. Otherwise countless others would be doing it too.
Honouring the ghosts of Cohen, Reed and Buckley, Callahan has matured to the degree when the light is utterly his, despite inevitable reminders of his inspirations. Musically his arrangements skirt the borderlines between Folk and Country. Everything is slowed to Callahan's inimitable pace. Frankly it's something of a masterpiece. A book to give pride of place on your shelf and return to whenever you have need of its sustenance.
Austin Texas Thrash Punks consistently take Route One on their new album, Readjusting the Locks their third in all by my reckoning..The approach serves them fine and a mighty fine time is had by all over the course of its thirteen tracks.
The band has taken notes from plenty of old school Punks along the way. I hear Saints, Magazine, Dead Kennedys, Fugazi and The Damned bobbing up at various points. Punks not dead, apparently.
Whether or not they're really angry I couldn't tell you but there's plenty of vim and fizz in their armoury. I like the cut of their jib!
Friday, June 14, 2019
North Carolina's Jakes Xerxes Fussell doesn't play originals. Instead he unearths little known American Country and Folk songs brushes down and restores them with a true craftsman's touch. His latest album Out of Sight is an object of wonder, ten songs that you've probably never heard before, recast, varnished and held up to the light.
This time round, (it's his third album in all), Fussell is complemented by his band. Pedal steel, violin and organ flesh out the sound, each track unfolds at its own leisurely pace, like a ticking clock or a rocking chair. Fussell's voice meanwhile, somewhere in the territory between Dylan, Zevon and Robertson is the glue. Highly recommended.
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Released posthumously after Cline's death in 1963. Used in a quite inspired way by the Coen brothers in Blood Simple.
Looking back to keep moving forward. Where Future Unfolds the new album from Chicago-base improvisational artist Damon Locks and his ensemble of musicians is immediately evocative and stamped with a remarkably vivid consciousness and stark if mystical clarity. It made me think of so many of the great Black American musics and musicians of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies; of Nina Simone, John and Alice Coltrane, Aretha Franlin, Charles Mingus, Mahalia Jackson, Gil Scott Heron, The Last Poets Sun Ra, Curtis Mayfield. And so on. add your own names, I'm sure you get the idea.
It may not always sound like these artists but the record carries the unmistakable stamp of their work and takes forward the torch they first lit. It stirs together Gospel, Soul and Cosmic Jazz remarkably, (plenty of Hip Hop sensibility too), and then makes its own statement fully fluently It's as good a record to summon forth the turbulent spirit of the age we're living through as you'll hear this year. Soothing and empowering music for deeply troubled times. A strange brew but on first hearing I'd imagine one that promises to be a heady and highly addictive.
The album casts a spell of spoken word, chanted vocals and thick hypnotic musical rhythms. It's perfectly clear that this is a call to political engagement and activism. It's wonderful to see the response of these musicians, among a growing sea of voices to the reactionary wave of politics we're currently experiencing. Fight the power indeed.
This is a defiant and declamatory album. It doesn't offer easy answers but does make a stirring, celebratory and remarkable stand. I can only advise you to get with its programme.
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
I know I write about him a fair bit on here but there was something quite unique about Elliott Smith. Although you could tell that he'd listened to a fair bit to The Beatles and Big Star, he did something quite new with their inspiration. He found a way of twisting their source melodies into fresh shapes and taking the listener to a place where you could feel the emotional anguish that he was expressing. As much as any musician I can think of. Such is the gift of the true artist.
Tragically, he's no longer with us. But he has no lack of spiritual heirs. I hear artists and bands all the time and think, 'oh they've been listening to Elliott.' Such was the case yesterday when I made my way through Palehound's new record Black Friday.
Palehound is essentially a vehicle for Boston based singer-songwriter Ellen Kempner. She shares Smith's ingrained introversion, his insecurity, the conviction that the glass is general half empty but every so occasionally half full. There's plenty of wry wit here but also some essentially inadvisable but utterly human wallowing that occasionally achieves real beauty.
It doesn't all work. I'm not really interested that she's 'due for a shitty tattoo,' as she confides on Stick N Poke, but mostly she's pretty good company, like your slightly morose friend, who you realise is self-indulgent but still has the knack of expressing the slivers of acute intelligence you don't really get elsewhere. A lot of damn fine songs on here. I sense that Smith himself might approve.
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
If you're going to be in a band you might as well push the boat out a bit. Such at least seems to be the maxim of Sparrow Steeple. They push their own personal boat to a very odd part of the lake on their third album Tin Top Sorcerer where the Bryan Ferry of very early Roxy appears to be fronting a band of shambolic astral pixies, not a million miles away from Tyrannosaurus Rex or The Incredible String Band.
It's a very odd conceit and makes for rather mixed results. When they hit the spot it proves very interesting listening indeed. how you'd categorise it is another matter altogether, it's either a music from the distant past or somewhere off in the future.
If you've ever enjoyed anything by the three bands I mentioned above, there might be something for you here. If anything, the fusion of such apparently contradictory inspirational sources make Sparrow Steeple stranger and further out there than all three.
Monday, June 10, 2019
Dutch musician and band Pim Blom have been bobbing along on Indie radars for two or three years now. Regulars on Marc Riley evening sessions and the European club circuit, they've generally gathered up a set of favourable if not blazing set of reviews.
So, mid 2019, they finally come to launch their Boat. their debut album in the bigger pond. It's a sprightly but not outstanding product, distinctly Indie, with rattling, chiming guitars and spirited slightly childlike vocals and an overall sound most obviously recalling The Breeders and compatriots Betty Serveert. It's the kind of thing that would appeal to stalwart British radio DJ Steve Lamacq, and that's not altogether a compliment.
This is perhaps the Post-Fifty cynic in me. But I have been listening to music for a while. I was around for The Last Splash and Elastica first time round and though this is a highly spirited version of those records, it still is a version of it just the same.
The album certainly had its moments and is good company for its thirty five minutes span. I tapped my toes with no little enthusiasm for the songs I liked best, most of the ones that I posted here. It's not one I'll be going back to that often. One for evening radio listening rather than my record player methinks.
From the latest School of Language album, 45 which holds up the Trump phenomenon to the light and naturally finds him wanting, During the course of the record they evoke The Goldwater Rule, named after Barry Goldwater who ran for President in 1964.
LA musician Jackie Cohen's debut album Zagg is a very odd but intriguing thing. Sounding like something of a union between Rickie Lee Jones, The Shangri-Las, Loretta Lynn, Cyndi Lauper and Patti Smith if you can imagine such a thing, it certainly stamps out a specific individuality for itself over the course of its eleven songs.
Cohen's husband is Jonathan Rado, half of Foxygen, and like him she sees the musical past as an opportunity for shameless, brazen larceny. But while Foxygen have lost me completely with their recent releases, Zagg is far more interesting, largely down to the sheer quality of the songs and arrangements on display here. Cohen has a bruised romanticism about her. This may be one for those who remember Be My Baby as still one of the greatest records ever made.
While this is certainly an Indie record, maintaining a small, perfectly honed vision rather than breaking out into full widescreen Hollywood mode like say Lana del Ray, Cohen maintains her charm offensive to the finishing tape. She has a definite songwriting gift which is more than matched by her delivery. Should be one to watch.
Sunday, June 9, 2019
Mariee Sioux's third album Grief in Exile came out last Friday. It's the first I've heard of her, but it took only a few seconds of the opening track Black Snakes playing for it to have me in its grip. Sioux's Native American heritage is enough for the listener to make immediate associations. With Buffy Saint Marie or Black Belt Eagle Scout. But Alela Diane, Karen Dalton, Vashti Bunyan or Sybelle Baier are also summoned forth as the record plays on.
Sioux has a haunting spectral voice, and it floats above her band's folkish accompaniment. what's immediately obvious is that Grief in Exile is a beautiful, decorative record. She casts her spell and it's maintained over the course of the record. What the lyrical concerns are is not immediately obvious but the immediate sense that's invoked is one of redemption and healing and of ancestral memory.
There's a fetching simplicity and minimalism here that's much akin to the best records of Diane, Dalton and Bunyan a good record to turn to when you want to drain yourself of the cares of your world. A superlative record and a great way to start June.
Saturday, June 8, 2019
A couple of days before I was due to see the Flamin' Groovies, the band published an announcement on the Facebook page for the gig:
"Please be advised that it is with great sadness and concern that the Flamin' Groovies must announce that Roy Loney took a bad fall at the airport in San Francisco on his way to join the European tour, and sustained a head injury for which he was hospitalized.
Roy's condition is presently not stable, and he is unable to travel. While we all hold hope for Roy's speedy recovery, it is unlikely that he will join the Flamin' Groovies' tour.
The tour will start as planned, with the band performing a set including much of the "Teenage Head" album.
The tour will start as planned, with the band performing a set including much of the "Teenage Head" album.
We greatly appreciate the cooperation of the concert promoters, fans, and everyone in dealing with this unfortunate situation, and would like to assure that the band will put on a great show that will not disappoint."
They did not as it transpired but the announcement did. The opportunity to see Loney playing with Cyril Jordan had been one of the reasons I had been looking forward to seeing them play. Both founding members and probably the two most important figures in the long and illustrious career of the band, two men who had only recently started playing again decades after Loney's departure from the Groovies in 1972.
I was particularly interested in seeing Loney as he had been a major player on their two fabulous early albums Flamingo and Teenage Head. Mick Jagger had said at the time that the latter was a better record than Sticky Fingers. High praise indeed but Teenage Head certainly deserves it. It's one of the most underrated albums in the whole rock canon. Loney had left shortly afterwards after apparent musical differences with Jordan, the former seeming to favour the Stones road while Jordan preferred to follow the Byrds and Beatles route.
Anyhow, I took the taxi to Newcastle's Cluny with somewhat mixed feelings as I was going to see a band who had clearly had to rethink how they were going to play things in a couple of days. it might be rather messy. I shouldn't have doubted them.
By contrast with most of their immediate contemporaries the Groovies favoured a stripped down Rock and Roll approach which harked back to the Fifties and the British Invasion bands of the mid-Sixties. They had marginal commercial success but in many respects were ahead of their time, looking forward to the more direct approach of Punk. In many respects their true contemporaries were The MC5, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and later the Dolls and The Modern Lovers.
By the time Punk finally came along the Groovies were again slightly out of time, their approach too trad and their playing frankly too good to fit. Famously The Ramones supported them at their first UK gig at The Roundhouse in '76 and nobody talks about the headliners when remembering that gig nowadays. A few years on down the line the lack of recognition along with the rigours of touring and escalating drug issues within the band ground them down. That it seemed was that.
Decades on as often happens the band reconvened with a mixture of old and new members. they even put out an album of new material in 2017. Reconciliation with Loney appeared to be the icing on the cake. But his fall and withdrawal from the tour seemed to call that into question.
The band arrived promptly onstage at nine and after some initial mic problems kicked off. Into Shake Some Action. It was some statement. Probably the band's best known track and I'd say one of the best songs ever written, kicking off with it was some act of confidence. As if to say, 'We can play this first. We have plenty more up our sleeves.'
Next, a cover of The Byrds 'Feel a Whole Lot Better'. Again, an interesting thing to do. 'This is our heritage. This is where we come from.' As the evening proceeded I wondered where they were going to go. To The Stones or The Beatles. In the end they covered both territories consummately. They were a band who utterly knew exactly what they were doing.
The younger players in the band slotted in just wonderfully. The Groovies have had so many members down the years that the central question seemed to be not who you are but do you understand and fit in with the ethos. All five players evidently did. The drummer and support guitarist took turns with Loney's songs and though neither of them could match him voice wise the songs themselves sounded just fine. Altogether it was a wonderful evening. A celebration of the sheer joy and power of music. Appropriate on the night that Dr.John died though we didn't know it at the time.
The crowd were hugely appreciative. Of a certain age naturally and including a number of people I knew personally. It was a wonderful Newcastle night. A party in a city which I've learned over the ten years that I've lived here, really knows how to throw them.
The set was short but frankly it didn't matter. Everybody who was there got more than their moneys worth. They played one song for their encore and it was inevitably Slow Death. One of their finest and most blazing statements. I'm so glad that I was there to see them the evening seemed to be represent everything that the band stand for. They didn't mention Loney once. Not because they didn't care. They clearly care all to much. But they understood the thing to do was get out there and play and give their audience a night to remember. They did that utterly in spades. It was a joy.
The comparison points for Vanishing Point's rightly hailed new album The Age of Immunology are immediately and plainly apparent. Broadcast and Stereolab. Stereolab and Broadcast. That's not a particularly surprising place of reference nowadays. These two bands seem to have a much greater profile in terms of their influence nowadays than they did when they were putting out records and touring.
Not that The Age of Immunology deserves to be confined solely to that particular box. It's a fascinating and rewarding listen. Taking forward the groundwork laid by these two bands into wonderful new vistas in a similar way to what Jane Weaver has done with her last two albums, this an utterly blissful record.
Of course neither Broadcast nor Stereolab were working in a vacuum. They themselves had a very clear set of influences and inspirations from Dada and Surrealism to Science Fiction and Exotica which Vanishing Twin explore and twist into new shapes with admirable relish.
So while the territory is familiar, the execution is quite brilliant. The comparisons made by the Rough Trade review of the record are apt, 'sultry songs for musicians', 'library music from a parallel universe'. we're entering into the realm of cliche here but frankly The Age of Immunology invites them. Look at the record sleeve or read the song titles; Cryonic Suspension May Save Your Life, Planete Sauvage, Language is a City (Let me Out). The whole package is a demonstration of the most refined literary and cultural taste of a certain sort and Vanishing Twin are utterly fluent in the language.
No surprise then that this is also top of the list for new releases of the week on the Rough Trade site. Vanishing Twin are just made for the hipper than thou set. No criticism intended. I started to fall in love with this halfway through my first listen and I'm not altogether certain I won't have to go out and buy it, even though I've already got more than enough records as it is. One to listen to in your polo neck and carpet slippers. The Age of Immunology is as good a record of its kind as you are likely to hear all year. The most glorious form of escapism imaginable.
P.S. Here's a press release from the band which describes their philosophy :
'To Vanishing Twin, one of the most exciting young groups in England at the moment, the term is used in dismay on living through a period where borders are being hardened, walls are being built and new boundaries being needlessly imposed. Band members may come from Belgium, Japan, Italy, France and America but they have all made England their home and, on this album, they are heralds of the much better future that is being rapidly dismantled as we speak. The Age Of Immunology - which is sung in all the primary languages of the musicians who made it as well as English - is the soundtrack for those who still believe in the pluralist dream, where the other is embraced and learned from, not isolated and destroyed.'
Friday, June 7, 2019
Thursday, June 6, 2019
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
The Slow Summits need only to get ten seconds into The Spirit of the Lyrics the first song from their debut EP Languid Belles for the listener to reach one inevitable conclusion. Ye Gods! It's Edwyn Collins. Reincarnated as a toothsome frontman for a band from Linkoping, Sweden.
The resemblance borders on ludicrous. Anders Nyberg, for the toothsome Swede is he, has sold his soul to come back as Edwynsson and his band met at the crossroads at midnight and drew up a pact with the rest of Orange Juice so as not to feel left out. With Amelia Fletcher on backing vocals to give it proper Indie credentials, this is a quite astonishing note for note twelve minute sacrifice at the altar of Postcard's finest.
Frankly it's a rather astonishing listen. Nyberg is Collins down the last chortle, shrug of his shoulders and winsome grin. Slow Summits, Orange Juice to the final jingle jangle.When in the EP closer the band whip themselves in a frenzy with cries of 'balderdash!' and a final languid plea. 'Give us some meaning nothing less. Or give us your home address...' You have to wonder exactly why they are doing this but being slightly glad that they are. Highly odd.