Monday, October 25, 2021
We're all belately returning to the cinema and there are a number of proper ytreats beckoning us into the darkness. Todd Haynes ' Velvet Underground, much more than a documentary, a new Bond if that'syour thing, Dune, a Ridley Scott. Also The French Dispatch, the latest from Wes Anderson, certainly up there among my favourite directors of recent decades.
And to sountrack that. Jarvis Cocker, the most unlikely Parisian adoptee of all, singing a number of absolutely classic Gallic Pop songs of the Sixties in a truly terrible French O Level accent. It's a quite miraculous performance. He makes French sound like an unspeakable language.
What more could any fan of this kind of infantile ennui wish for. Not much, This, along with Elvis Costello & The Attractions Spanish Model and Tronco's spectral Nainonai is my fun album of the year. A place to retreat to when the travails of life become all a bit too much. That's rather often these days.
So Jarvis does Serge. He does Cristophe. He does Francoise Hardy and her grand amour Jacques Dutronc. He does it all admirably with his tongue in his cheek and his heart on his sleeve at one and the same time. Tres Bien! Jarvis. Tres Bien! J'irai voir le film plus tard dans la semaine.Merci Google Translate.
In a year of Post Punk wherever you looked. This was one of the finest albus to actually deserve that label:
Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present State of the Union - The American Dream in Crisis - # 25 The Brothers Four
Sunday, October 24, 2021
A record that reminded me of one of my best lifetime musical friends:
A terrific new record from a few weeks back that I've neglected to write about until now. Hey, there are a lot of really terrific new records coming out just now. This one particularly takes my fancy because its authors, Munich veterans The Notwist were particular favourites of one of my best friends, Matt, who died in very upsetting and vastly premature circumstances a couple of years back.
So while listening to The Notwist, and other particular musical favourites of Matt will always fill my chest with pain to some degree, I should really get over myself. This album,Vertigo Days, their umpteenth, (they've been putting out records for almost thirty years now), before I met Matt actually, is something that should be enjoyed and experienced. Because it's a wonderful record.
Nominally the start off point for The Notwist is certainly Krautrock. There are definitely echoes of Kraftwerk in particular here, the mysterious electronic chimes of machinery and motion. You're certainly in Europe here and Vertigo Days makes me realise how much I miss it. British musicians might be capable of imitating this but they couldn't ever make it. It has Mittleuropaisch DNA.
So Kraftwerk is here but Notwist deserve to be considered entirely on their own terms. They've been herelong enough. They're certainly good enough. They have the distinctive, specific genes of a great European band. Matt also loved so many of these. The Nits, Can, Deus, 22 Pisterpekko, Bettie Serveert. So many more.
There's a deeply nuanced sense of regret here, again something that most artists from other parts of the world simply cannot do and will never quite understand. There are some notable exceptions. Bowie, Iggy, Eno. An awareness of the Twentieth Century and the way the events of some of the terrible tragedies of those years drained the continent once and for all and somehow it will never, ever quite be the same.
Vertigo Days is by no means a difficult record to listen to though. In fact it's a very easy one. Matt would have loved it. Cheers Matt!
Saturday, October 23, 2021
It's been an interesting watching the Parquet Courts trip over the last ten years or so.When they really came good with blazing second album 2012's Light Up Gold, they seemed like a bunch who'd be content to stay on the ,margins in the shadow of their clear inspirational and guiding initial heroes Pavement, Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma and Guided by Voices.
Not so it seems. Every album since has seen them expanding their horizons, scope and ambitions further to an increasingly surprising and pleasing degree. Now with their latest record Sympathy for Life they seem nothing less than a twenty first century Talking Heads equivalent with a brilliant counter cultural, abrasive edge about them.
That'sTalking Heads things is a bold claim, but listen to the record. It's not necessarily an easy album to listen to as virtually every song here seems to set itself a quite different starting gate and end destination point. That's brave if nothing else. This makes it a record you'll need to get to know. Listen to a few times before you really get to know it and go with its different flows. Though I've instantly taken to it.
What seems clear is that the band are not content to behave as you might expect an alternative white guitar combo to behave and this is where the Talking Heads comparison seems apt. They're constantly looking to tease new funky directons for themselves. This puts them open to failure, as with disappointing recent records from the likes of Bon Iver and Tame Impala.
But I'd say on first listen to Sympathy for Life that it's a quite brilliant success. It might even have a good claim on being the best Parquet Courts record yet. That's not bad going for a band seven albums into their career.
This is a fabious, bold, inventive album. Perhaps coming too late in 2021 to get the full attention it deserves, it's nevertheless probably the best record of its sort that I've heard of this sort this year. Parquet Courts are properly firing on all cylinders.
Louisville, Kentucky's My Morning Jacket's eponynous new album takes a strange departure points. It is, it seems 1972. America's Horse with No Name is Number One in the Singles Charts.My Morning Jacket have just embarked on a cross country tour with Stillwater, the fictional namd from Almost Famous and all is very much right with that world.
There's nothing wrong with this approach and attitude to life. I like nothing better than sitting back on Saturday night to immerse myself in a well realised vision of the past, whether it be Withnail & I, Almost Famous or Dazed ^& Confused. Like them , I believe in yesterday.
My Morning Jacket is certainly a well realised vision of the past. Quite a triumphat one actually if that's your thing. Every solo is note perfect. Every lyrical croon spot on, hitting the missing link between Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Grateful Dead.
I really enjoyed listening through to this record although I did find myself wandering sometimes exactly why I was listening to it when I might have been listening to Zuma or American Beauty instead. Still, it's a set of beautifully registered songs of eternal yearning. Here's a band that very much know exactly what they want to do and My Morning Jacket fids them doing just that.
Friday, October 22, 2021
Needed to write about this. A chance hearing of a track from Earth Man Blues, the latest from Guided by Voices on the radio last night, made me wonder why I hadn't listened to it. The answer to this of course is plain and clear. Guided by Voices release and have released so many albums over the years that it's frankly almost impossible to listen to them all unless you're particularly determined in this respect.
Anyhow, I'm pleased to report that Earth Man Blues is excellent. Probably in the way that most Guided by Voices are excellent I imagine. It sounds just like them. It has everything you might expect of a GBV record. All those Who powerchords, The Who always strike me as their formative influence. The reminders of Wire, if Wire had chosed to play it a little bit straighter and just churned out songs that could have been hit singles as I imagine they might have done if they hadn't been so Art School. The vague hints of Seventies Gabriel in Pollard's voice. Probably just about the time he decided to leave Genesis. Oh and R.E.M. Round about Document, when Scott Litt seemed to be treating Michael's vocals and Michael himself seemed in danger of losing it.
Oh, and of course it sounds like Guided by Voices. They've been around long enough and have more than a rich enough legacy to be regarded on their own terms. Especially when they're putting out records as good as this. Really they're remarkable. They're leftfield of course. Eccentric as you could possibly be in many ways; the song titles, the lyrics, the twists and turns within virtually every song. But GBV, more than any band I can think of, make the leftfireld accessible, through their evident love of melody and memories of fiddling with the radio dial way back in the youth.You can hear the Cheap Trick, The Cars, Grand Funk Railroad, Aerosmith. Still.
So I've no idea where this fits in in terms of the Guided by Voices catalogue. Hey, I have to post a song every day on here, I haven't got time to listen to everything they ever did regardless of how good it is. It's another wonderful GBV album. Why is that not a surpise? They really have no right at all to still be this good, this far down the line.
Thursday, October 21, 2021
The delightfully named Kira Skov is new to me. Something of a Danish Patti J. Harvey, she's been a spectre on the scene in her native Denmark for the best part of three decades now without making much of a splash elsewhere, save for those in the know.
Her latest record Spirit Tree should bring her to the attention of a wider audience. Largely because it's made up of duets with the likes of Mark Lanegan, Bonnie Prince Billy, Bill Callahan, John Parish and Lenny Kaye, but also because it's really good, pure and simple.
This largely sticks to a formula that we're familiar with by now. The elfin siren, with a tall brooding man hovering somewhere at the edge of the frame simmering with dark intent. Murder Ballads essentially. We've seen this before with Lee & Nancy, Nick & Kylie, Mark & Isobel, this particular road is a well known and trodden one.
For the most part Skov sticks to this script and it's probably where the record is at its most successful. Occasionally she comes across as a little more whacky as on Dusty Kate where she starts warbling 'Do your Kate Bush thing for me ..' repeatedly and it doesn't really work. It's important somehow to play it totally straight in this particular sub-genre. That's how to extract the black comedy from this sort of heightened melodrama.
There's much here that does work however. Skov has a truly spectral voice and she and her partners in song combine eerily on several occasions. Idea of Song her duet with Lanegan, and Love is a Force, where Callahan joins the fray, are particularly effective, probably the record's highlights.
I'm a sucker for this dark seance schtik, and have been since I first heard Dancing Barefoot and Some Velvet Morning back in the Eighties, round about the time I got used to and began to love how Nico sounded on Velvet Underground records.
Not all of this comes off. As I've hinted Skov, is prone to occasional barmy, leftfield turns which break the spell somewhat. Perhaps it's slightly overlong and might have benfitted from some judicious pruning. But there's much here that should appeal to the crowd that likes to dress in black.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
TF come good again...
Teenage Fanclub are one of those bands that you're glad are there. Or at least I am. I've been with them pretty much from the start. From the moment I first heard Everything Flows back in 1990 and bought the single. They have a sound that draws openly on a grand tradition wherein they invest their own emotions and experiences to forge an experience that's both familiar and comforting. They have an honesty and sincerity that many bands would kill for but which cannot be bought. This is why they've lasted.
So where does 2021 find them. Endless Arcade, their eleventh, (by my calculations), finds them in the same, but slightly different place where they've been for much of their career. Working on the same Pop and Rock seams, (Fanclub crucially do both). Big Star, The Byrds, The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young & Crazy Horse and their own rich legacy. Rolling riffs, easy melodies, guitars, honest, open lyrical addresses.
I listened to Endless Arcade a week ago on the day of its release and it made little impression. I was even slightly disappointed. Now, a week later, I'm listening to it again and it makes much more sense. Unlike Dinosaur Jr. their most obvious surviving contemporaries and comparison point, Teenage Fanclub are plainly experiencing middle age here and doubt and pain are creeping in to their habitually upbeat demeanor. But their basic DNA is still in place and continuing to come up with the goods.
It's not difficult for fans of Teenage Fanclub, and there are many, to identify reasons for the molecular shift going on in this record. Firstly, Gerry Love, one of the band's three song writers has departed, all this time down the road, to concentrate on his own project Lightships. He's inevitably a considerable loss. Love's songs have always been a fundamental component of the band's appeal. Meanwhile Norman Blake, probably the band's nominal leader to all effect and purposes has also been going through well documented marital separation.
But Teenage Fanclub and the values they represent are still here, I'm pleased to report. Euros Childs, formerly of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci has joined the core, pretty much as a replacement for Love, it has to be said, and he contributed something to their sound, the ethereal wistfulness he's known for. Meanwhile Blake and Raymond McGinley keep working away on what they're known for too. Rich, heartfelt melodicism.
So if there's sadness here, there's also renewal. I'm glad I've come round to this massively on my second listen to this and look forward to playing it a lot more over coming weeks and months. Teenage Fanclub's recipe has always been a simple one. Here they add something fresh to the mix. Unlikely to make fresh converts, Endless Arcade should satisfy devotees who have been prone to this band's specific charms from the start, As ever, looking backwards but moving forwards. Check out the sleeve. I think I'm onto something.
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Doo Wop, R& B Lieber and Stoller and then the white Pop conveyer belt that came to define LA in the early Sixties. Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran and the odd cast of characters who would find their place in the sun in the coming years; Sonny Bono, Jack Nitszche, Kim Fowley, Lee Hazlewood and Phil Spector.
It's odd but strangely delightful to witness major players on the Twee Indie scene of the late Eighties mature into middle age more than thirty years on like a fine wine. Such is the case here with The Catenary Wires latest album Birling Gap.
Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey once figured in spindly Indie outfits such as Tallulah Gosh, Heavenly and Tender Trap. But it's interesting to see where their journey has taken them. This is a record that has a much in common with Sandy Denny as it does with Orange Juice and that's just as it should be.
The sleeve of the album is an immediate giveaway to the record's intentions. It's a photograph of steep chalk cliffs and the waves crashing into a pebbled beach. An incredibly English image and this is an incredibly English sounding record, owing something to The Kinks and The Zombies as well as Tracy Thorn.
On Mirrorball Fletcher and Pursey reminicise about where it all started in an Eighties disco on the cusp of adulthood. It's all incredibly sweet and not for a moment the bitter variety.The past is where it should be, a happy and incredibly distant memory, not the stuff of anguish and regret. Birling Gap is like leafing through a treasured photo album but its feet are very much mired in the here and now.
The album gallops along. In its own words, 'as English as the weather.' Safe and warm, comfortable in its own skin. Fletcher and Pursey have learned enough over the years not to make their harmonies pitch perfect. It's the slightly off key nature of proceedings that provide the essential charm to this project.
A home counties Nancy and Lee but with incisive political awareness to boot, cuttingly critical of the much evident English intolerance of these times . Birling Gap is a treat, like a well stirred pot and plate of scones and jam in a village tea room on a sunny afternoon.