Abe's eyes. From Mercury Rev and 2001. They release their Bobbie Gentry tribute album next week.
Thursday, January 31, 2019
Steve Mason, formerly of The Beta Band has a new record out called About the Light. It's full of the carefully constructed melody, space and thought that made his former group one of the most interesting bands produced in the UK over the last thirty years.
If there's nothing on here that will particularly surprise anybody who ever cupped an ear to and enjoyed a Beta Band record, there's plenty here that will please them too. Recorded with former Smith's producer Stephen Street, (who buffs everything to a shine for commercial purposes as you'd expect), About the Light is a crafted and, (dare I say it), mature record, complete with backing singers and muso chops.
If occasionally this wanders into Primal Scream, Get Your Rocks Off or Waters' Floyd territory, not things that warm my cockles, Mason is better when he tends towards the great British eccentric tradition of Kevin Ayers, Kevin Coyne, Andy Partridge and Syd Barrett. There's much on here that appeals to me and it's all suitably groomed and pruned to cater for the Q crowd too. Mainstream weirdness.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Remarkably individually named Amsterdam band, singer and guitarist Chino Ayala, bassist Jasja Offermans, drummer Ferry Art and keyboardist Bart van der Elst. Together Indian Askin. They have a sound that probably merits the description groovy and fairly wallows in its own excess. Setting the controls somewhere between the trails charted by The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols twenty years back, a description in itself that may put many off. They're incredibly knowing in terms of what they do and this will probably turn off as as many as it draws in. I doubt if they care.
Anyhow, I enjoyed my time with their recently released second album Another Round yesterday. Sure they're a bunch of slightly empty poseurs but they have a sure sense of how to build a rollercoaster constructed on the rails of popular Rock and Roll culture. All in all a fun if tacky and lurid ride.
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
A rather fine new EP from a young guitar band called The Regrets from Seattle. Almost a halfway house between Strokes energy and Weezer preppiness, Endless Desire ticks all pop boxes, except perhaps originality.
Five songs in all (you get four), much Casablancas warbling up and down the scales from the singer while the other boys harmonise to their hearts content as if auditioning for their other main inspiration's Buddy Holly video.
All in all, a great deal of fun. And there's no lack of talent there, the songs sound better to me on every play.
Monday, January 28, 2019
Sunday, January 27, 2019
I'm currently obsessed by Gang of Four's debut album Entertainment! for one reason or another. It's forty years since its initial release and hasn't dated a jot, in fact seems just as potent today as it must have been in 1979, both in terms of what it sounds like and what it says. Few bands have ever sounded more self-contained and poignant in terms of their opening statements. Nothing the band ever did since made quite the same mark but that does little to deny exactly how goodEntertainment! is.
Esteemed American music critic Greil Marcus saw them as a continuation of The Sex Pistols. U2, R.E.M. Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Nirvana all took notes and sold a lot more records than Gang of Four ever did. Derided by Mark E. Smith as art students which they evidently were, (singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill first met growing up in Sevenoaks before studying together in Leeds). They gained greater acknowledgement from John Lydon, 'A little intellectual, which kinda muddied them up a bit, but their noises were so excrutiatingly, tortuously interesting, you could not but smile.'
Entertainment! is twelve songs in all, which I've long thought the ideal length for a record, since I first heard Murmur in 1983. The record is an act of deconstruct, then reconstruct musically and lyrically. It's chock full of jarring and abrasive sound, and words which project slogans that are equally apt for political combatance, marketing campaigns, film dialogue, pop songs or military engagement.
The band were well aware of the contradictions behind what they were doing. They signed to E.M.I. because they'd been ripped off by an indie but eventually lost the love of their major when Entertainment! failed to convert its obvious cultural currency into commercial paydirt. At which point E.M.I. shifted their attention to Duran Duran and the Eighties proceeded. The band would not have been surprised but perhaps hold the vaguest regret for being so hardline. Ultimately though Entertainment! is just too uncompromising a statement to ever expect a place in the high street shop window, (just look at the red-ness of its sleeve!). The passing of the decades has re-positioned it in the canon instead. Hardly a bad place to be.
In terms of its individual songs the record scores mighty high. I'd rate seven of its songs as classics by any definition: Ether, Natural's Not in it, Not Great Men, Damaged Goods, I Found that Essence Rare, At Home He's a Tourist and Love Like Anthrax. The other five are merely brilliant (they all start to catch up the more I listen to them). Recorded quickly in a studio on the Old Kent Road, which was seedy and depressed but still 'glamorous compared to the misery of Leeds,' according to singer Jon King.There's a sense throughout of a band who know exactly what they are and what they want to do. 'The songs were all nailed and road-tested.' , King again.
The band use Godard and Chandler, Goebbels, Augustus Pablo, Hendrix, Free, The Velvet Underground and the news spewing out of their televisions and the inky newspapers reporting contemporary events that were frightening and violent. It all feels like front row reportage of a world that seemed very much on the brink. Forty years on not much has changed except that there don't seem to be as many bands nowadays quite so acute and clear. At the time Gang of Four had plenty of company. The Specials, Joy Division, PiL, Wire, The Fall, The Au Pairs, The Clash, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Raincoats, The Slits and many, many others were engaged on similar territory with slightly different agendas but similarly uncompromised vision. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were on the horizon preparing to re-establish a new, (if new is the word), World Order. We all know what happened next. At any rate the music got poorer until it got better again.
I Found That Essence Rare the first track on Side Two of Entertainment! is the great hit single that never was. The band refused to countenance its release as a 45 because it was too commercial, 'Duh' as Jon King now remarks. Ultimately they had long since chosen sides and were too committed to their cause to be built for any kind of long term commercial success. On the one occasion when they seemed to be on the cusp and were offered a slot on Top of the Pops on the release of At Home He's a Tourist they clashed with the producers of the programme went into negotiation for a slight change of lyrical content, refused to budge and were pulled or pulled themselves. Dire Straits took their place on the show and played Sultans of Swing.
Now I've got nothing against Dire Straits and Sultans of Swing is a fine song and deserves every inch of its commercial success but this small moment in pop history does say something to me about the way things are. Dire Straits will always sell more records than Gang of Four. There is always a Duran Duran waiting to supplant a band like this in their record company's affection. Kajagoogoo came next. Not even as good as Duran Duran.
For Gang of Four lots of American touring came next. They found it a similar experience to Britain but simpler, as guitarist Andy Gill reflects, 'Capitalism in Britain has more things obscuring the basic social and economic structures such as class and tradition. In America, you get more of the bare bones - the social relations and economic structures are more clear.' They were generally better accepted and understood in the way they wanted to be understood there than at home, made friends and laid down a definite legacy. Gill refutes the given cliche that Americans don't do irony which Entertainment! is deeply layered with. Pylon and R.E.M. both supported them, were both obviously inspired and picked up the baton. Michael Stipe said later, 'Gang of Four knew how to swing. I stole a lot from them.'
Gang of Four made more records, changed band members, split and reformed decades later. They were never as good as their original line up, (Gang of Four after all), and never put out anything as powerful and defining as Entertainment!. This detracts nothing.
Entertainment! holds many of the fundamental contradictions of being alive in this day and age up to the light. Love and hate, marriage as contract, consumerist behaviour as loss. They claimed not to be Marxist but they certainly used plenty of Marxist ideas to construct their sound and the record is all the better for the thought that's been put in. Final track Love Like Anthrax is among the album's very best. It's a song that starkly denies the idea that pop music should be all about love songs and points a different way forward. Like so much of the album it must have sounded staggeringly original when it first came out. In fact even though countless others have aped and stolen in the decades since, it and Entertainment! still do.
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Swervedriver, one of the bands associated with the early Eighties Shoegaze scene, always stood slightly apart. Much more obviously inspired by American iconography, culture and music than their contemporaries, they always had a driving, churning sound evoking the guzzled existence of life on the open, endless road. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was an openly referenced template.
Now, the best part of thirty years on, they're reformed and well into their second career arc with the release of their sixth album Future Ruins. It's a record that's versed in the band's established sound, every song they've ever recorded sounds as if it would be best heard in the seat of a car on the American road. This is no different essentially from what they've done before, but appropriately it's more contemplative than their early work, reflecting both the band's advancing middle age and the changing times we live in as the fuel runs out and the world corrodes.
The record is best heard at a single sitting. Echoes of band favourites The Stooges, Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Husker Du, hum through the wires but the sound is very much the band's own by now. A certain resignation of the way the world is seeps through the bones of the album. Swervedriver have always been underrated, in many respects musically they define the adjective, but there are clear reasons for this, leader Adam Franklin's approach was always understated, to let the band's sound speak for itself. It's good to see their return has led them to play to appreciative audiences worldwide and put out records like this. All in all a fine new chapter to add to their body of work.
Friday, January 25, 2019
Thursday, January 24, 2019
In a 2019 that is already shaping up pretty well from my perspective, here are two new songs made public just today from the much awaited fourth Vampire Weekend album, announced by Ezra Koenig to be entitled Father of the Bride.
They sound pretty damned good to me. No revolutionary change from their previous sound but there's never any absolute requirement for that. The band have always set the bar admirably high for themselves and competitors and these two vault expectations comfortably. Father of the Bride is due at some point in Spring, qualifies as a double as it has eighteen tracks in all, and should provoke great interest.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
A trailer for the new Robert Forster album which I'll post presently led me to this. An Australian band I've long been aware of, they were pretty high profile in the Eighties and Nineties, (known for their Krautrock and Talking Heads influenced sound), but that I've never listened to. This song, probably their best known, stuck out to me on first hearing. Something of a classic. According to an Australian friend it's their Number One Karaoke song and I can understand why.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
American screen actor of the Thirties or Forties, notorious for portraying unhinged, depraved types. Alice Cooper devoted a song to him on his band's 1971 album Love it to Death knocking the 'e' off his surname. Frye died of a heart attack while travelling on a bus in Hollywood in 1943.
Kyle Crane, touring drummer for Neko Case, M.Ward and Daniel Lanois has made a rather lovely record under the moniker Crane Like The Birds. It seems like a summer album, mercifully released in darkest January when people need it. It's full of gently strummed. optimistic sounding songs focused on rooting out all that feels the very best about the sensation of just being alive.
The album is full of collaborations, with James Mercer, Conor Oberst and M.Ward himself among several others. It's a rather lovely concoction that is reminiscent of a Summers day teenage excursion.A couple of songs don't work for me but much does.
Monday, January 21, 2019
Sunday, January 20, 2019
A band very much in the mould of early R.E.M. when they first emerged with the fabulous Backyard EP in the mid-eighties.
New Years generally take a while to kick off music wise. But 2019 really set off in fine form for me on Friday with the release of at least three great records, all surely destined to land up high in my end of year countdown when we finally get round to that. And the best of the three to my ears is Remind Me Tomorrow, the latest album by Sharon Van Etten.
Listening through to the record all the way through on Friday was something of a revelation. I'm not enormously familiar with Van Etten's back catalogue which stretches back to 2005, but this album is evidence enough as to why she's held in such high esteem by so many.
It's a highly immediate record, each song sounding as if you've heard it before somewhere, not to say that it's derivative, merely highly evocative and crafted. By the time I got to fourth track Comeback Kid, the record's initial taster, released towards the end of last year, a lost Eighties hit that never was and one of the best songs of recent years, I was already sold.
If the record is something of a statement about determinedly facing forward and stepping away from abuse and distress, (this is well documented in Van Etten's interviews and work), there is scant self-pity here. The picture on the sleeve of the record, of a child surrounded by childhood detritus, is an illustration of clutter, the clutter we all come into the earth to and continue to accumulate, try to come to terms with and discard all the way through life. It describes as well as anything could, a struggle that's going on within the songs themselves.
In a recent interview with Uncut Magazine Van Etten herself identified Portishead, Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree and Suicide as key stylistic inspirations for Remind Me Tomorrow. I can certainly hear echoes of the latter's doomed, urban romanticism here. Elsewhere, I'll leave a proper set of reference points to a friend of mine, and supporter of this blog and someone who's more familiar with Van Etten's work than I am, who has promised an assessment of his own. When he writes it I'll get back and amend this post.
For the time being I'd say that Remind Me Tomorrow is the best record I've heard thus far this year. If I hear more than a handful of better ones it will be a very good year all round. It's an album with all the bruised honesty, artistic intensity and beauty of a late Seventies Springsteen or Patti Smith record but most importantly it makes its own space and stands alone. It's just fabulous!
Saturday, January 19, 2019
Politics almost inevitably on the menu at Rosie's on Friday night. The fact that Entertainment! had appeared on the jukebox seemed appropriate.
Something of a landmark post this one. Today it's exactly five years to the day that I started this particular series - Song of the Day, which has been the driving force in my posting so much since. Today's choice is Colombian Pop Star Kali Uchis and something from her quite remarkable album of last year Isolation.
Friday, January 18, 2019
Thursday, January 17, 2019
A fascinating choice of subject matter for this one. Cornelius Cardew was an experimental composer who worked with Stockhausen and did a considerable amount to introduce the likes of LaMonte Young and John Cage to English audiences in the Sixties. A prominent and engaged Marxist, Cardew was killed in the early Eighties by a hit and run driver and there's still conjecture that the Secret Service may have had a hand in it.
January is coming good, even before Sharon Van Etten and Deerhunter turn up with their new albums tomorrow. The latest record to take my fancy is this, De Facto, the fifth album from Mexican band Lorelle Meets the Obsolete.
A claustrophobic, psychedelic, avant garde Rock and Roll record, it may remind you of plenty of things but is sufficiently compelling to focus your appreciation on its own spell. Best experienced in dark clubs with leather clad types around you or in a room full of lit candles. It's a Gothic thriller.
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Canterbury duo Ultramarine have had a thirty year career on the fringes of Acid and Ambient that has passed me by until now. Their latest record, Signals into Space is just out and it's rather lovely, perhaps directed for the most part at a clubbing crowd pushing into middle age and looking to chill more than they used to in their prime, but there's nowt wrong with that.
Here are three tracks that give you some idea about how it sounds. The first two with regular collaborator Anna Domino sounding by turns like Laurie Anderson and someone borrowed off a Massive Attack record. Plus an instrumental set to send you, altogether pleasantly, off towards the land of nod. Probably not about to move mountains commercially but made by people who very much know what they're doing and a very nice record indeed.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
'Sitting here bending notes, all the hipsters look like Warren Oates...'
Warren Oates was something of an all-American Existential hero due to his appearance in a number of great 'New Hollywood' films in the Sixties and Seventies. Danny & Dusty, a collective built around Green on Red's Dan Stuart and Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn, recognised this fact, and recognised Oates with this song on their 2007 reunion album Cast Iron Soul.
Corey Cunningham of Magic Bullets and Terry Malts is back with more lovely Electropop that harks back to OMD, New Order and the like without ever sounding revivalist. Keep the Blues Away on Sumberland Records comes ahead of a second album entitled Ripe For Anarchy.
Though much feted in many quarters, the charms of Sunderland's Field Music have always rather passed me by. Ridiculously fussy for my tastes, more 10cc than Steely Dan, I'd given them up as not for me. But now, here's a collaboration album from the band's Peter Brewis and Admiral Fallow's Sarah Hayes and it's much more to my fancy.
I think it's Hayes presence that's the key to my change of mind. While the arrangements can still be slightly kitchen sink her folk vocals, coming over as a restrained Sandy Denny, lend a very sweet hue to proceedings. I also found myself warming a lot more to Brewis's approach. It's altogether a rather charming record. The band are giving an in-store appearance at Newcastle's Reflex Records, (down the road from me), this Thursday. Might need to pop along to see them.
Monday, January 14, 2019
January is such a quiet music in terms of good new music that you're grateful when anything that catches your attention comes down the pike. The first album I've noticed this year is the self-titled debut from Toronto's Tallies which came out on Friday.
While far from original in any respect, it is at least fresh. It takes its cues from compatriots Alvvays but also, and more prominently as you listen through to the record, from The Sundays. That band never made any pretence to having designs to save the world and neither do Tallies. But the record is sweet, poppy and melodic and worth a listen.
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Having finally come to the end of one very, very long series, the thing to do seems to be to commence another. One of my proudest possessions of all is a wonderful boxset of the finest records made by Atlantic Records in the field of Rhythm & Blues between 1947 and 1974. Given to me by a girlfriend in the late eighties, something I'm still grateful to her for, it's a marvellous collection of seven double albums, well over a hundred tracks in all. And the countdown through the years starts today.