In 1987 I went with my brother, sister and a friend of her's to see R.E.M. at The Hammersmith Odeon just before the release of Document. They opened with this, which almost nobody in the venue had heard before. It was a blinding moment.
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Friday, July 3, 2020
Gary Usher, a notable producer, with credits from The Byrds, Gene Clark and The Peanut Butter Experience makes his baroque, flower power statement.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
R.E.M. doing something they had never quite done before and wouldn't do afterwards. First there are the horns. It's funky, as in Stax funky. Not exactly one you can dance to except perhaps if you're Michael Stipe. Like everything on Fables of the Reconstruction it's Southern. Full of that particular part of the world's particular Gothic logic. Michael singing 'Can't get there from here,' while Bill and Mike chant, 'I've been there, I know the way.' The band gave a wonderful performance of the song on The Tube in Autumn 1985 on a bill they shared with Tom Waits. Michael as bleach haired Southern preacher. Here are both songs they played that evening. Driver 8 then Can't.
Highly generic but nevertheless likeable indie jangle from Columbus, Ohio band. Reminded me of Waxahatchee and The Sundays. Not much wrong with either of these though. Both these selections from an album called Burst from earlier on in 2020.
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Monday, June 29, 2020
There are some new albums which come out that you've heard every single, note and sentiment expressed therein before a hundred times perhaps more. These albums can go either way. You might want to never ever hear them again. Or else you might be happy to listen to them many times because they explore such classic tropes in such an inspired way.
Ray LaMontagene's latest album Monovision slots nicely into the latter category. Trust me, you don't need to hear this album. You've heard every note and experienced every sentiment expressed on here. But then again you might like to listen to it. Simply because it expresses these eternal sentiments so clearly and beautifully. It's the third great new record that I've heard in the last few days, following the Banangun and Nadine Shah albums and I'm very happy about that because I was finding things rather slow in this the second phase of UK Lockdown.
Monovision is a lesser record in terms of its achievement than those other two but that doesn't make it any less lovely. LaMontagne is a long in the tooth journeyman in this respect, he's well versed in this kind of thing. This is neither his masterpiece nor his end station, he clearly has plenty more in the tank. Fans of his will welcome it with open arms and with luck it may make some new converts.
So followers of Cat Stevens, Van the Man, Creedence, Joni, Neil, Nick, Tim and even John Denver might like to bend an ear to this. No wheels are reinvented here, nothing to see really but a craftsman at work. That should be more than enough. May not top many end of year lists but should be somewhere in the rundown.
Sunday, June 28, 2020
Nadine Shah is truly someone who's coming completely into her own right now. I mean she was always good, of course she was, but right now she's shedding the shadow of her clear and evident influences and forbears and producing quite magnificent, resplendent records.
Kitchen Sink, her latest album, just out, is the most recent, and uttely convincing evidence of this. It's Shah, with her peacock's tail on display, cocksure and strutting, with something important to say and utterly sure of how to go about saying it.
Shah is something of a cusp artist at the minute. She was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize last time around but didn't win it though perhaps she should have done. This sounds to me like the one that might push her over the edge to mass acceptance, it's certainly a record of uncanny power and depth.
Dealing with gender issues. Dealing with suburban claustrophobia. Dealing with being told what to do all the time when you really don't want to and think it's just not the best thing to do. Shah, doesn't pull her punches for a moment and is utterly magnificent, from start to finish of Kitchen Sink.
This is one of the records of the year. It's already been given a five star review in Mojo which very rarely happens and it deserves it. If it's not in my own Top Ten when I come to my own countdown in December, I'll eat my hat. Hear it.
'The amber waves of gain...'
It's a huge tribute to the glory of R.E.M.'s third album Fables of the Reconstruction that this is not a lot higher on this rundown. Because it's a thing of rare beauty. But I've got a lot more to pack in from that record yet before I'm done. Green Grow The Rushes, is testament, not only to the band's fluid mastery of their art at this point in their career, Peter Buck's guitar work here is particularly worthy of note, but also their resolve, their sheer confidence in what they were doing.
Another political song, focusing on the plight of Mexican guest workers in the US and drawing paralells with America's colonial past. It's Southern in the way everything, on Fables particularly is Southern. Like so much of the band's early work it drew me in pretty quickly and also made me want to learn more.
Marooned - The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs # 8 Miles Davis - Bitches' Brew - Chosen by Greg Tate
'Miles once said that the only way to achieve anything new in music was to take the best musicians around and get them to play beyond what they know.'
It seems slightly strange that Montreal band Pottery are only now putting out their debut album Welcome to Bobby's Motel as they seem to have been around for a long time already. They're certainly not a band lacking in ideas, but they won't be to everyone's taste as they tend to have a kitchen sink approach to the songwriting, an don't tend to draft and upgrade their product as much as they might do.
Most immediately they remind me of Arcade Fire, (and explicitly their chanelling of Talking Heads), and Parquet Courts. As with these bands, it's nie on impossible not to hear their influences popping through their songs as they are quite upfront about them, I'd be reasonably sure in Pottery's case that they've listened to a lot of early Eighties Post Punk and Independent guitar classics in their time. Particularly those which involved white boys getting funky. A Certain Ratio, Higsons, Pigbag, Josef K and The Clash of Overpowered by Funk, come to mind.
The songs are almost all cluttered, and this means they have a high hit and miss factor, things that sound closer to Pelican West that Fear of Music. It's good to hear alternative bands that are not just trying to sound like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive, but this record both overwhelmed and underwhelmed me on first listen and I think I'll go back to The True Story of Bananagun, (which I reviewed here yesterday) for a more impressive lesson on how to go about messing with the past.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Seeing as Cryan' Shames are today's Nuggets artistes, I thought I'd repost a review I wrote and posted on here a few years back of their small masterpiece.
'A Scratch in the Sky' is one of those rare records laid down at the height of the sixties which manage to pull in the best qualities of the band's many influences and turn back out something wholly unto is own. The cosmic harmonies of the Beach Boys, the jangling spirit of The Byrds, the rollicking pop of The Beatles; these are all commonly borrowed sounds, but rarely ones so expertly disassembled and recast as we hear on this record. Though this collection of songs remain well-polished through studio-craft and the musicians own abilities, it retains a freshness, and noncommercial edge that makes it both an accessible and adventurous listen.' Rising Star blog.
In the States in the mid-sixties it was perfectly normal to be able to make huge waves locally without registering so much as a blip in terms of national commercial or critical recognition. Such was the case with the Cryan' Shames, one of the biggest bands in Chicago for a couple of years while achieving only one Billboard Single hit in 1966, and that only getting as far as # 49, with Sugar and Spice, a cover of a Searchers tune.
Often with bands like this, the hit single is the one moment that's worthy of remembering but in the case of The Cryan' Shames the exact opposite is true. Their real legacy lies in their second album 1967's A Scratch in the Sky, which falls just slightly short of contemporary baroque/ chamber pop albums by The Zombies and The Left Banke (both of which have since since achieved classic status), but is nevertheless well worth tracking down for anybody interested in the period and genre.
While obviously deeply indebted to the great albums of the time (as mentioned in the quoted passage at the start of the post), most obviously The Beatles, Revolver and The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, in addition to The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Turtles and so on, what A Scratch in the Sky does achieve is in managing to convey the sheer contagious energy and joy of being a young adult at the time. While their first album, also called Sugar and Spice, is heavy reliant on covers, and for the most not particularly inspired ones, this time round the band's songwriting team Jim Fairs and Lenny Kerley take the reins themselves and all but two of the eleven tracks are their own compositions. and they're mostly very good ones.
Not particularly inventive lyrically, these songs aren't really particularly about anything, they generally echo the sentiments of their time, where the band's genuine talents lie are in terms of their tight playing and the creative ambition of their arrangements. These are highly evocative of 1967 a landmark year in rock history and its to the records enormous credit that it doesn't pale by comparison with everything that was coming out then.
It would make an interesting parlour game for pop fans of the period to play, 'guess that tune', and unzip where the band have lifted influences from while listening along to the record. Beach Boys, certainly for opener A Carol For Lorelei, Revolver for Mr.Reliable, Byrds for The Town I'd Like to Go Back To. Second side, back to Beach Boys. Cryan' Shames sound so much of their time it's quite uncanny. The production shows a primitive, but effective use of moving the effect, from one ear to the next.
When Side 1 kicks in to Side 2 and they do their version of The Drifter's Up on the Roof, you'll want to throw up your hands, kick off your shoes and just be glad to be alive. There's definitely something about that energy to this particular record. This is almost too well known to work in any other context but they re-craft it hugely into a white, youth pop experience of sheer bliss. It has a claim to be at the very least the equal of the original.
From there to the stars in my eyes, wholly Beach Boys driven It Could Be We're in Love. The Cryan' Shames, like so many of the second ranking artists of the period were utterly under the spell of the sounds around them but this takes nothing away from the achievement of this album. It's every inch a small gem.
Much in the same way as The Turtles, Turtle Soup, which I've posted about on here recently, A Scratch in the Sky, distills so much of the energy, joy and vigor of the time of its release, shakes it up and pumps it back out without claiming or aiming to innovate but at the same time achieving a small, but pretty perfect identity of its own.
The record itself gained local prominence without featuring on national charts and pretty soon afterwards the band disintegrated with the Vietnam draft plucking members and a poorly thought through attempt to rock out with their third album, Synthesis. The band have since reformed and still tour. This is their go to record. Full of the joys of spring!
Melbourne, Austalia's Bananagun are the hip but goofy kids in the school playground. The ones with the record collections full of artists you'd never heard, the ones who wrote meandering songs and made whacky little films together for their own amusement.
They're undoubtedly clever clever as their debut album readily attests from the off, but the esssential ingredient is fun, so I haven't been remotely irritated listening through to it regularly since yesterday morning, when it was released. It's a very fine record indeed!
Here is a band who try at all points to touch all inspirational bases, so long as they are day glo technicolour ones. Their ambition is quite astonishing. They want to recapture the funky glory of Os Mutantes, Fela Kuti, Funkadelic and the out there peaks of Sixties Psychedelia all at once. Remarkably, they manage to do so.
A parallel could probably be drawn with The Brian Jonestown Massacre who took a similarly historical approach, though their inspirations were different ones from Bananagun's. In many respects this album could only have been made in the here and now, as the sounds they source have never been so readily available before.
Bananagum are essentially obscurists. Take a look at the playlists they've posted on their Spotify page. There will be very few people who you've actually heard of. But while this could come across as elitist, it never does here, because this is one of the most consistently immediate and funky records I've heard in months. Years even.
You could probably write an essay on this kind of pick and mix exoticism which would certainly include Psychedelia, Funk, Krautrock, Afrofunk, Madchester, Daisy Age Hip Hop and Dee Lite. But why bother when you can just listen to this. It's urgent, far out and utterly laidback at one and the same time. Relentlessly and fruitily poppy.
I think this may well be the soundtrack to one of the strangest summers I'll ever experience. The summer of Lockdown. It's hot out there, but I'm not allowed to go out and enjoy it, at least not in the way I'd llike to, so I'll stay in here with this instead. The True Story of Bananagun one of Covid-19's great consolation prizes.
'I'm addressing the realpolitik...'
R.E.M were always a highly political concern. You could probably compile an album of songs from their career which were explicitly political even if they remained essentially enigmatic, a consistent feature of the band's output.
Here they at least name their concern. McCarthyism the finger pointing, dencunciations under the banner of patriotism that had been such a historical scourge, most notably in the Fifties under the waves conducted by Senator Joe McCarthy, an ignoble figure of American history,
The song is wonderful, despite it's serious subject matter. Set off by the sound of Michael playing the typewriter, it's a breeze. They're clearly having great fun.Typically their finger is pointed not towards the past, although it maintains an informed sense of it, but at the Reagan exceptionalism of the times they were living though. I was delighted to be able to see the band play the song in Riga round about 2005. What it has to say, sadly, does not go away.
The Cryan' Shames were a great band. This, a cover of a Searchers song was not their finest moment, but was their big hit.
Friday, June 26, 2020
R.E.M. always excelled at opening album songs, from Murmur's Radio Free Europe onwards. They kicked into another gear with Begin The Begin, the first salvo on Lifes Rich Pageant. Fired off by a reconstituted Television riff and there is Michael, proud and loud in a way he has never quite been before. The words are clear, even if their meaning isn't always. I'm sure most listeners caught his drift.
A call for personal political activism and engagement. 'Silence means security. Silence means approval.' This is urgent, but Michael is not wanting to lead us to the barricades. 'Look to me for reason. It's not there. I can't even rhyme.' Like many of the best political songs, it doesn't provide all the answers but it does ask many of the right questions.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Not a huge, personal favourite of mine but I recognise its qualities and why it is a strong favourite for many others. The second great song on Out of List and the last one that will pop up in this countdown until you know what makes an appearance much later on in the game. About the breakdown of a relationship, Michael Stipe has said it's his favourite R.E.M. song of all.
I generally don't go for a huge amount of new Rap and Hip Hop these days and I'm usually put off it by two basic factors. Tone and aggression levels. But I still occasionally come across something that takes my fancy, and here's one that has.
It's Little Dominiques Nosebleed, the fourth album from Koreatown, LA's Koreatown Oddity, and its title alone is an indicator that this might not be the standard guns, ho and self-glorification territory that generally turns me me off this stuff.
This is from the off, a different approach altogether, more tuned to the left field approach of De La Soul, Pharcyde, Cypress Hill and Fu-Schnickens. So while this has its moments of appocalyptic darkness, it's consistently much altogether more thoughful in terms of its tones and textures than a lot of its contemporaries.
It's clearly highly autobiographical in tone and although the man may not technically be a great rapper in terms of his delivery, there's certainly enough going on here lyrically, and with respect to its beats and samples to draw you in and keep you in.
So this is a slightly stoned, diaristic stroll round the man's neighborhood, high on atmosphere and dusty charm and literate impact. Definitely one that I'll be coming back to and can highly recommend to you.