Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Old school. As in the kind of thing you might expect to come across in a Coen brothers movie. Kansas City artist Kelly Hunt and her debut album Even the Sparrow. Doing the kind of thing that Gillian Welch and Rhiannon Giddens do, Hunt is going to be very much loved by a specific community.Music that's deeply, deeply rooted in the rich traditions of American folk musics stretching way back before Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. Hunt has a plaintive, evocative voice and the banjo twangs and the fiddles sing in all the right places.
Even the Sparrow sounds to me like the kind of record that critics and devotees of this genre might make a small storm about in much the same way as they did over albums by Giddens and Margo Price in recent years. Over the course of its twelve tracks it casts and re-casts its spell again and again and by the time the record has run its course its still but unerring is hard to shake.
If hearing this kind of music being played afresh but utterly straight in 2019 always sound a bit incongruous, there are always some things that are never going to go completely out of fashion and Hunt does it all with great skill and resourcefulness. It's utterly heartfelt and immediately authentic. A quiet but powerful album, that understands the power of the silence between the notes.
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Matthew Milia's, new record Alone at St.Hugo is a deceptive beast. At first on opening track Alive at the Same Time, you get the sense that you might be in the company of a carefree Elliot Smith looking through his box of memories. Or a better adjusted Alex Chilton from his Big Star days who ended up with a happy ending. Big Star are clearly a reference point. Alive at the Same Time paraphrases Thirteen, 'Tell your father what we said about Radio City'.
As the album moves on it becomes apparent that it's not all quite as well-adjusted as it initially appears. Alone at St.Hugo is an exercise in nostalgia as its cover, pictures from Milia's photo album attests. It's a document that shows that wallowing in memories is always a slightly dangerous exercise. The world stays young while we don't. Each song is crafted like musical honey while the lyrics choose a slightly darker path.
Milia is also a member of Frontier Ruckus but this record allows him to make a more personal statement and he grasps the opportunity with both hands. Good families and friendships have a way of coming back together even after suffering the most painful personal blows but the impact of these blows always remains somewhere beneath the skin that grows over the wound. Daydreaming about the girl you were attracted to in sixth grade isn't always going to help.
So this is bittersweet stuff and Milia handles it well. He understands that the world moves on from almost anything. There's plenty to unearth here and reward repeat plays. While Elliot and Chilton haunt the corridors of Alone at St.Hugo, he has plenty himself to add to the archive. If occasionally you might feel that you want to shake him out his reverie and urge him to just let it go, the human urge he explores here at length and in depth is a very real one and he charts the condition sensitively.
As the record moves on, Milia marks the passing of time as we move through the internet years. 'Did you update your status?' he asks at one point. All in all this is a finely crafted record but perhaps not one I'll choose to wallow in too often. Looking through your old photos is not something you want to do everyday. But Alone at St.Hugo is ready as an apt soundtrack should you ever choose to do so. Slip on your headphones and indulge yourself. While this is no Radio City or Either / Or as its debt to both is so readily evident, it's definitely a record that deserves an index mention when the book that's dedicated to this stuff comes to be compiled.
Monday, May 20, 2019
Another from Minor Poet. Holofernes was an Assyrian general dispatched by Nebuchadnezzar to destroy all gods apart from himself. He was killed and beheaded by Judith a beautiful Hebrew widow. Whether he actually existed or not is not completely clear. The story is best known by this representation by Caravaggio.
Here's The Good News. Minor Poet is Andrew Carter, Richmond, Virginia songwriter and he's just released a six track EP, his debut for Sub Pop. The good news? It's a fabulous, literate, laid back chamber pop exercise. About as far away from the original template for that record label as you could possibly imagine. But he fits there hand in glove nowadays.
Full of the joys of youth. Not to mention spring. Almost like Aztec Camera meets Rufus Wainwright meets Phil Spector. Each song crafted with enormous care. Slightly detached but with an intimate knowledge of a specific seam of pop history, and a great lyrical turn of phrase, a sunny afternoon spent perusing the local museums and bookshops, with someone who appreciates the pleasure of that. Sometimes it's the small things as Carter knows only too well.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
A couple of years ago New Zealand singer songwriter Aldous Harding used to do a cover of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights while touring. It made perfect sense really. If anybody should be playing Kate Bush songs apart from the woman herself it's Harding. She did a great job of it. She has the range and the emotive artillery required and an understanding of the essential silliness but the equally essential poetry that's going on in the original. At the end of the song in the link I posted she makes a face of childish embarrassment to her audience. An 'I'm not worthy' look. There was no need. She's more than worthy. If Kevin Morby is the modern equivalent of Bob and Bill Callahan plays Leonard, then Aldous is just right for Kate. The comparisons are not a diminishment of any of the three. In fact a compliment. We're very lucky to have them.
I watched the clip this Sunday morning before going to see Harding play The Cluny 2 in the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle in the evening. A prize ticket in a tiny, intimate venue to see a very special artist. I'd snapped it up a few months ago as soon as I'd heard she was playing and waited in great anticipation ever since. Watching her do Kate I wondered whether she'd play the song again that evening. Perhaps it was too much to hope for.
All in all it was a very special day. Nice weather in Newcastle as Spring becomes Summer. I had my lunch and wandered to my local, Rosie's, where James, the perennial barman nowadays, was manning the fort. It was quiet, midday and an empty pub. I put on a few songs, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Love, Cornershop, Mahalia Jackson, things that seemed to fit the early afternoon mood.
Then I wandered down the road to the Tyneside Cinema to watch the documentary about Aretha Franklin Amazing Grace which has just opened. That was an extraordinary thing in itself which will have to wait for a later post but it set me up for the evening. Called Mum and Dad who are both OK. Then after a couple more calls and some texts and another pint at Rosie's took a taxi down to the Ouseburn Valley to The Cluny.
When I got out at the other end there was a definite haze of dope hanging around the place. Lots of, mainly fairly early to late middle aged folk hanging round the venue, several of them dressed in Tie-Dye. The reason soon became clear. Gong, or what is left of them by this point were playing the main venue. Not for me. At least not tonight. I made my way into Cluny 2, just before the support act was due to start.
It was immediately evident that the mood of the evening was polite. Wonderfully so. Not a young crowd but not an old one either. Ranging from twenty to fifty. Stage set up by the venue door, which isn't where it always is. Not where I saw Courtney Barnett for the first time over five years back. Or for Bill Ryder Jones a couple of years later.
Courtney's Dead Fox was playing as support Laura Jean hit the stage. Apt really, as she's been supporting Courtney the last time I'd seen her late last year at Northumbria University. On that occasion Laura Jean had been rather lost on the big stage. Playing alone with guitar, keyboards, sax and effects she's made little sense. Here by contrast, she was in her element.
She played a short half our set of intimate, clever and honest songs and chatted between them to the crowd. Partly about Harding who she called Hannah and said she had looked after years back when she'd been living in Melbourne above a pub of derelict old men. It was great but I went up the winding stairs to catch the last of Newcastle's sunlight. Stood outside the venue for a few minutes and and realised that Aldous Harding was coming straight towards me to turn inside the venue door.
Our eyes met and I got the sense that you do when you see someone in the public eye that they're thinking 'Is he going to bother me?' I'm not like that so I said, 'You're wonderful. Have a good evening.' She thanked me, not once but twice and went downstairs. I went down shortly afterwards to catch the rest of the supporting slot.
After Laura Jean finished with a neat sax solo I followed her out of the doors, (seriously I'm no stalker), and thanked her for her set, telling her I'd seen her supporting Courtney and playing a wonderful version of the Go-Betweens Streets of Your Town with her and her band . She seemed surprised that I knew of them. I said I'd seen Courtney here a few years back, 'We play the circuit' she replied then said 'I'm Laura' and I told her my name and we shook hands.
Half an hour seemed too long to wait for Harding to hit the stage. I stood in a thin queue for the bar although I noticed a sneaky type avoiding this most English of laws and getting his beer before me. I got in conversation with the bloke in front of me. I asked him if he knew Harding and he said no, he was here at his girlfriend's behest. 'Sometimes you have to listen to your girlfriend' I said. 'Only about music', he replied. 'I have to manage everything else.'
And then, shortly after nine, Harding and her band were onstage. For a while it looked as if it was going to be a wonderful gig where I barely saw the artist concerned. Harding was almost unrecognisable from the person I'd seen just outside the venue shortly earlier. She'd pulled her long hair on both sides right across her face and crouched deep onstage. I caught only momentary glimpses of her for the first few numbers, all from her latest album Designer.
She's an intense and mannered performer. She positively gurns at stages, baring her teeth, rolling her eyes, leering. You'll never have seen anything quite like it. Not for everyone, although the crowd seemed to me to be absolutely in the palm of her hand. After the first song, the title track of Designer a middle aged Geordie voice was heard to say 'You're great' which she acknowledged politely and eventually moved onto the next song.
But I still couldn't really see her. A too tall man a few rows ahead was blocking my view. I shuffled horizontally trying not to break the polite, pervasive mood. Still couldn't really see her. The music was magnificent but I seemed destined to be denied a proper view.
Harding began to talk to the audience in between numbers. 'Usually I'm really funny, but it seems not tonight.' was her first rejoinder and from then on she opened up. I'd almost given up being able to see things properly so skirted round the back of the standing area past the bar and towards the exit. Just before it at the side of the stage I finally found the perfect view of Harding and her band. So there I stayed.
So what exactly does Harding do which make her so special? She has precedents and Kate Bush is definitely one of them but by now, moving onto her third album and beyond, she defines her own space. It's definitely intense, the long gap between songs ensures that, but it's a light intensity somehow, and a humorous one. Something quite special anyway.
The band left the stage but were brought back for an encore. A new song, 'Nowhere yet...' called No Peel where she accompanied proceedings by tapping a drumstick on a mug of coffee. Then they were gone. Harding rested her head on the doorway just outside the venue. Then I made my way out. Pausing first for a pee.
I said to the guy in the urinal next to me, 'Well that was something...' He replied, 'I didn't like it.' Each to their own. Outside the venue I saw the bloke I'd chatted to in the queue for the bar, this time with his girlfriend. I asked them if they'd enjoyed it and they both had although she said Harding hadn't played several of the songs she liked best. I told them that previously she'd been known to do Wuthering Heights and we agreed that would have been something. Then my taxi arrived and took me home.
It was one of the best things I've seen...
P.S. No she didn't play Wuthering Heights tonight. She didn't need to.
It's always good to get two for the price of one. Following the split of Ultimate Painting a while back, their two main players have put together new projects. I reviewed Six Lenins, the latest album from Proper Ornaments, which James Hoare is involved in when it came out a month or so back. It's great in its own small indie way. Now Jack Cooper is putting out his own new stuff through Modern Nature where he's working with Will Young of Beak among others and you can immediately see why Ultimate Painting might have had to go their separate ways because its an altogether more adventurous endeavour than the Proper Ornaments record.
Modern Nature's four track EP Nature came out a few weeks ago and it's a fascinating proposition. A whole raft of influences seem to have come together as starting points for what they're doing. The Free Jazz of Alice Coltrane and Roland Kirk, the kinetic groove of Ege Bamyasi era Can , the briefest taste of Stereolab and the Folk poetry of Pentangle and Fairport Convention. Altogether it's a fascinating mix and promises much. In addition to the EP I've posted their latest song and video Peradam which keeps up the momentum. It all augers very well indeed.
Saturday, May 18, 2019
On 1977 it would have been nigh on impossible to imagine Wreckless Eric putting out Transience, the album he's just released in 2019. Back in those far off days he was supposed to be a flash in the pan, a one hit wonder. Considered by many to be something of a joke, reasonably enough as he projected himself of something of one, an afterthought on the bottom of the Stiff Records roster and on their package tours with the obvious talents of the label at the time Elvis Costello and Ian Dury.
But he was more than that then and he's much more than that now. In some respects he's outlasted both Costello and Dury as recording talents. Unfair in Dury's case of course as he's long since no longer with us. But Costello's last record did very little for me while Transience does a lot. First song Father to the Man alone makes it worthwhile. It's as good a summation of a life and career and relationship between a father and son as you're ever likely to hear. It says it all. 'I've got this name but it doesn't fit.' 'I love my dad but I don't want to be him. A history coming back again.' He's talking about right wing politics, which is what his dad espoused and is back in vogue with the swing of the pendulum of the last few years. The song is poignant, sage and touching, everything you want from a musician at his point of his career.
Elsewhere Eric rekindles his Pub Rock roots but sometimes comes on just as much San Francisco circa 1967 as Tottenham Court Road circa 1977. You get the feeling he's a happy man now. When I saw him a few years back playing in an upstairs room of a pub in Gateshead, I spoke to him afterwards and he was open and friendly, continually mentioning his talented wife, singer songwriter Amy Rigby and how he lived in the Catskills. It was almost as if he couldn't believe how his life had worked out himself.
Transience has a cosmic aura to it, almost as if the man has fallen hard for transcendental Californian mysticism. Some of it works well, some of it less so, the long songs are overlong, but you can't begrudge the man these moments of self indulgence. He's lasted the course and still has plenty to say.
Young London trio with a drummer who sings lead vocals, a bassist, a violinist and no lead guitar. So all in all, a rather unorthodox sound. They've just released their debut album PZ1 and it's a really interesting mix. A gritty sustained love letter to the capital that recalls ATV, Wreckless Eric and lo-fi early Rough Trade signings of the late Seventies but recasts them in a distinctly modern setting.
Early evening BBC 6 Music DJ Marc Riley loves them and that makes sense. He's always got a great ear for this kind of guttural street punk. Singer and songwriter Toby Burroughs takes on weighty but real and pertinent subject matter; the Grenfell Tower tragedy victims, euthanasia, dogging. But the band are smart enough to keep things moving from song to song at a brisk pace.
Friday, May 17, 2019
It's wonderful to see New Yorkers Olden Yolk back so soon with their beautifully textured second album Living Theatre. (out today) Their eponymous record, released just a year ago, was a great favourite of mine but this is something else still. A definite thickening and enrichment of the sound and vision they formulated there.
The band, essentially a duo, work from a palette of familiar colours and textures. What they've always made me think of most is the New York of the Sixties, Greenwich Village Folk Cafes, people playing chess on Washington Square, Autumnal hues, a landscape populated by literary urbanites.
Though their sound is steeped in cultural memory it's not in thrall to any one particular sound or artist because Olden Yolk are eclectic magpies and reset all they collect into a record that sounds very much relevant to the here and now. There are a number of musical artists working incredibly creatively in this mode at the minute, Weyes Blood and Aldous Harding, to name but two, have put out records that had a similar unnerving effect on me in recent weeks and on first listening it's immediately apparent that Living Theatre will offer up measureless further listening delights. An opportunity to wallow in an undefined nostalgia.
One of the qualities that I'm more and more struck by with Olden Yolk is their evident but unforced cleverness. Interviews with Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer, the partnership that formulates the band, evidences a rich and varied seam of cultural inspirations from which they forge their sound. Indie in the loosest sense but far more diverse and evocative than the obvious and derivative product that you often get served up from bands operating under that umbrella which so often results in lazy plundering the gifts of the past. This by contrast, is anything but lazy.
I've been watching favourite films again in recent days. The Last Picture Show, Vertigo, West Side Story.Things that I recognise immediately but need to re-experience every once in a while to remind me of their beauty and permanence. Listening to Living Theatre, (in itself a wonderful name for a record), has had a similar impact upon me this morning. This time a nostalgia that I hadn't experienced before. It's an album that's a marked step forward from the debut record that preceded it, fine though that was in its own right. A record you'll want to listen to all day. Or at least one that I certainly do and will.
Calmness and ease are much underrated. So I'm grateful when I fall upon a new album which just oozes those emotions even if it's housed in a singularly inadvisable sleeve which recalls the greatest excesses of the early Seventies.
The record concerned is Full Moon, Heavy Light, the second album from Ona, out of Huntingdon, West Virginia. It's all creamy melodies and good vibe emotions. Ona are a group of friends and it shows because they emanate a ready and easy happiness almost entirely devoid of cynicism. You'll be fortunate to hear an album more contented with life than this one.
The achilles heel of this approach is to succumb to blandness. As my sister said to me as we came out together from a Teenage Fanclub gig twenty years back, (and they're a band who take a similar, 'the glass is always completely full' approach), 'I wish they'd just go 'grrrrrrrr' like The Pixies once in a while'. Ona are a band who clearly don't know how to go 'grrrrrrrr'. More to the point, they simply don't want to.
So does the record begin to grate? Does it become so laid back that it ends up falling over? Fortunately not, because Ona know all too well exactly what they're doing. They keep their gentle but focused and fleshy Country-ish Indie Rock on the Wilco side of the highway, rarely if ever veering into The Eagles lane. It will be curious to see what will happen to this record as it seems to me to have enormous commercial appeal if the right people hear it and start to play and push it.
The Wilco influence sounds blatantly apparent to me on first listen though Ona lack Tweedy's acid tongue or Wilco's occasional electric charge. As the record draws to its close though it shakes off any remaining residue of debt and its emotional draw swells and swells. Able to evoke and sustain a mood the way Midlake and Fleet Foxes have both done in the recent past but without those two's tendency to over egg the pudding rather too much, Ona are a band to watch and Full Moon, Heavy Light an album to cherish.
Thursday, May 16, 2019
One of the most wildly ambitious albums you'll hear all year, Kevin Morby's gargantuan new record Oh My God came out a few weeks back. Morby has long been one of my favourite artists since a friend tipped me off to Singing Saw three years ago. Morby had been plying his skills as a musician for many years previously, as a solo act, and prior to that as a member of Woods.
He's damned prolific, as so many of the best musicians are. If you've got the wind in your sails, why stay in dock. So this is a double, and though I'm generally resistant to that particular format, (see my review of the latest from Vampire Weekend a couple of weeks back), in Oh My God's case it certainly makes sense that it takes that shape, given the vast scope of the enterprise.
Because Morby seems here to be setting out to attempt to make some sense of the very question of being alive, particularly in terms of inhabiting the fallen world we are occupying right now. If this doesn't always make Oh My God very easy to listen to, any more than The Old Testament is an easy read, he certainly constructs a mightily impressive if troubled edifice.
The touchstone artist for Morby seems to generally be Dylan although interviews show that he has an equally strong affinity for Patti Smith. But Dylan to my ears always seems to be his spiritual mentor. Time and time again a turn of phrase, a chord change, the rambling time worn, funereal yet jubilant swing of the arrangements recall the original song and dance man. It's a joy to hear someone sufficiently talented to be able to pull this off as well as he does. If Morby is the best Dylan we have right now, (apart from the man himself of course), then perhaps we're not so badly off after all.
I've put off listening properly to Oh My God since it came out just as you resist reading Moby Dick or Anna Karenina simply because they're such mammoth exercises and you're not sure you'll be equal to them. But as anyone who picks up Melville or Tolstoy will tell you, once you embark on your journey the richness of the experience is sheer delight.
I've also delayed listening to it and now writing about it because the friend I mentioned earlier who introduced me to Morby in the first place has written a vast and hugely comprehensive review of it for Pop Matters which I commend to you strongly and which Morby himself 'hearted' on Twitter.
Rod said something which echoes my own take on Oh My God. That it was Morby's best record but probably not his favourite. That hits the nail squarely on the head. Oh My God strangely is not a record that seems to want you to love it so long as it gets your respect. And boy, does it deserve respect.
Frankly by the end of my listen through to Oh My God I wanted to go and have a good lie down but couldn't because I was at work.Hear it, make sure you hear it. It's a great record, But goodness knows after making it how Morby has the strength to take these songs out on the road and punch them out night after night because just as he's pictured on the sleeve seeming to have risen from his slumbers, there's an inescapable weariness about the whole thing despite how good it is. That he managed to endure that weariness and just release this is triumph enough.
Portland, Oregon quartet who skate the lakes between Jim Morrison, Lou Reed and Ian Curtis's. Their new album A Dangerous Crossing which came out a couple of weeks back, has plenty of glacial moments that occupy this territory almost as if this stuff has never been done before. Though of course it has.
No one trick ponies, they have plenty to bring to this particular table, mainly because the songs are just great in that time honoured tradition.They're quite upfront about the debt they owe, their Spotify playlist is full of Mary Chain, Bunnymen, Stones, Can and 13th Floor Elevators. You know. That lot! The ones who prefer the darkness to the light. Souvenir Driver are fluent in this particular demotic.
A Dangerous Crossing is a strangely schizophrenic cultural product in terms of its design in that if you weren't already clued in, it might be difficult to work out if it was made by an American or an English band. Of course, as with so many Rock and Roll sub genres, this stuff has been a Transatlantic discusion between North America and our own shores which has been going on for over fifty years. Joy Division taking notes from the Velvets and the Doors, American bands going on to take notes from them and back and forth. Morrison and Reed of course originally took a whole raft of their formative inspiration from European film and literature and then re-cast it in American experience. Souvenir Driver meanwhile sound as if they could just as easily be living in Oxford or Manchester as in Portland, Oregon even given the occasional lyrical mention of the prairies.
Anyhow, they pull it off, it's a good though not great record, even though it's really been made many, many times before. But Souvenir Driver understand its DNA better than other contemporaries operating in the same field like Crocodiles or Vacant Lots, in that they know that while imitation may be the greatest form of flattery it ultimately amounts to very little unless the songs are infused with a fresh sense of wonder. They do just that with no little skill in the dark melodies of A Dangerous Crossing,
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Sensitive, crafted pop songs from Love & Other Hopeless Things the latest album by The Pearlfishers, the way that Roddy Frame and Paddy McAloon used to write them. It's a beautiful warm spring day in Newcastle, the best conditions in which to listen to this altogether lovely record.
The young Frame's fingerprints in particular are all over these songs but I for one am not complaining. David Scott, the singer and songwriter who fronts The Pearlfishers, (and has done for over twenty years), knows perfectly well that this stuff never ever goes out of fashion, any more than love and romance do. That a song penned by Bacharach and David will always mean much, much more than one penned by Gallagher and we all need to remember always just how we felt when we were seventeen.
Somehow this stuff always sounds best coming from a Scot and here we have one actually called Scott. The songs variously project memories, sunshine, dreams and relentless and admirable positivity. The accompanying soundtrack is all Eighties understated Indie and backing 'ba ba bas,' as they couldn't afford the Motown orchestra, as if that matters a jot
'Magic that springs from the gutter, beauty that rings...' a line from One for the Bairns which could act as a manifesto for this whole glorious exercise, Scott is the friend you always wish you had, the one who unfailingly pulls you out of your deepest darkest moods. He understands only too well how the deepest beauty resides in the smallest things. Love & Other Hopeless Things is the best 'nephew of Roddy and Edwyn album' you'll hear this year.
Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Ex-Lucksmith Mark Mannone, not quite alone, but with his supporting, bearded band, releases his first album for six years and it's all sunny jangling Power Pop. Nothing remarkable going on here and the songs generally stick to fairly formulaic rails. Ones that don't like The Dystopian Days of Yore and Tumble Down which allow a streak of melancholy and lassitude to creep into proceedings add some welcome light and shade.
Bands have been doing this stuff for several decades now. The Power Pop groups of the Seventies, Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, Travis, The Lucksmiths themselves and now Monnone Alone. The songs here never cross the line into the outstanding category, the timeless poetic realm that Big Star and The Go Betweens operated in but its all more than serviceable. A good record to listen to as summer approaches rather than when it's drawing to a close.
Monday, May 13, 2019
Grateful Dead. One of the most difficult of bands to warm to. American Beauty is probably the album to listen to.
Cologne band Von Spar establish early on on the first track of new record Under Pressure that they're equipped with a kinetic fleet footed deftness and touch to ensure a smooth ride to their given destination. This is their fifth album in all and it's immediately apparent that they know exactly what they're doing.
Choosing to work with a series of guest singers though Chris Cummings is the main vocalist on the record, the textures of their songs alternates between a light AOR sound that recalls Chicago, Steely Dan and the Yes of Owner of a Lonely Heart and sleek Krautrock.
I have to say I'm more prone to the latter than the former so when Laetitia Sadler comes on board for Extend the Song things perk up to an enormous degree. It's a jaunty, gorgeous tune, the kind of thing that should be high in singles charts and on the radio all the time but somehow never is.
The band's musical frameworks are never less than inventive, taking someone like me who may not be an enormous devotee of some of their sources of inspiration out of my comfort zone. It's often leads to strange juxtapositions. On Not to Forget for example, musically things veer off into distinct Underworld territory while Cummings meanwhile sounds like Gabriel working his way through the third side of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. It has to be said Cummings delivery isn't really my favourite ingredient in the mix but the whole album is eminently listenable.
Vivien Goldman music journalist, academic and sometime musician, (note to Uncut Magazine, she wasn't in The Flying Lizards), turns up on Boyfriend and the track is a frothy treat of pure electro sunshine, like a collaboration between Tom Tom Club and Propaganda. Altogether magical.
Falsetto Giuseppe which follows on and features oddball R.Stevie Moore is another cracker, producing a fine leftfield musical mesh that you imagine Laurie Anderson would relish. Final track Mont Vedoux rejects the need for guest vocals altogether opting instead for a muscular marriage of Neu, Kraftwerk and regrettably occasionally screaming guitars as we career towards our final destination. Altogether, Under Pressure is a highly impressive record and though not all of its ports of call chime with my personal tastes, there's more than enough here to maintain engagement throughout the course of a diverse but strangely cohesive musical and lyrical journey.
Sunday, May 12, 2019
Following the Boogarins review it feels appropriate to post a clutch of songs from the soundtrack to 1970's 'Tostao a Fera de Ouro' made in honour of an emblem of that year's World Cup winning team including its theme from Milton Nascimento.
Author Brett Easton Ellis being fantastically odd on early Sunday afternoon BBC 6 Music radio. You get two from the show. Petula Clark from the soundtrack of 1968 Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair, notable here for Ellis's fabulous pronunciation of the adjective 'baroque' in his introduction. Also Graham Parker's Discovering Japan. Ellis wrote a short story with the same title.
Brazilian band Boogarins are back with a new album Sombre Duvida and it's one long pleasurable dive into aquatic sound, like the rare occasions when you get to take an exotic holiday and take a morning dip into the pool. Boogarins have access to a whole range of moods and ambiences that aren't immediately available to American and British bands and they exploit the cultural gift of their upbringing to construct a multi-textured and layered record that consistently seems to resist the forces of gravity as well as easy categorisation.
Of course as they sing in Portuguese, a whole seam of what they are doing here is obscured to this reviewer at least but it matters not one whit. What is instantly apparent is the sheer richness of the palette they work from. Sombre Duvida is one vast psych exploration of colour and dissonance. Drawing on the magical Tropicalia sound that artists like Os Mutantes and Caetano Veloso crafted in their homeland in the late sixties, it's a joy to experience a reinvention of that ambience recast in contemporary surroundings.
Psychedelic in the absolutely specific Brazilian sense, the album eschews standard verse chorus structures to craft a sea of infinite possibilities and positivity. The band take their name from a jasmine flower which translates as 'pure love' and it's fantastically apt. Boogarins are the one current Brazilian band of their kind, (there are umpteen others for those wishing to unearth them) making genuine inroads into European and American markets. There's ample evidence here as to why.
Sombre Duvida is not the first document of their appeal, they've been putting out records of a similar stripe for over half a decade but it does find them experimenting courageously with their forms. Constructing and reconstructing, breaking down and forging onward, a journey of discovery, wonder and unknown pleasures. An album I look forward to becoming more and more familiar with over the coming months.
The delightfully named Olivia Neutron-John has a new eponymous five track EP out. It's not all to my taste but when it hits, it hits hard. The tracks posted here are a thrilling update of the templates first minted by acts like Cabaret Voltaire and The Normal back in the late Seventies. Relentlessly modern, metallic and cool in a slightly scary way. Olivia Neutron-John is a stagename for Anna Nasty, (surely not the name she was christened with either). She certainly hits the electro jackpot here.
Saturday, May 11, 2019
Lazy Saturday morning listening to the wonderful Turtle Soup last album by The Turtles. I was introduced to this record by a recommendation from the late, great music critic Tom Hibbert in The Perfect Collection for which I had a long running series on here a couple of years back. So here's a picture of the record by my record player just now and the review I wrote about it a while back...
The Turtles' 1969 album Turtle Soup is a fascinating period piece as well as being a very fine record to boot. Though the chances are you haven't heard of it. I hadn't until yesterday, but now I've found it and it feels like chancing upon buried treasure. That's only slight overstatement! The band's last studio LP, produced by The Kinks Ray Davies, the first time he had taken the helm for any but his own records. It was also the first time the group had put out a record solely restricted to songs they'd written themselves. As a swansong, it's a remarkably happy one.
I'm not sure how The Turtles are perceived, if at all in the UK nowadays. They're certainly not much revered. I suppose they're probably best remembered for their 1967 smash, Happy Together, a marvelous record of course, but by no means the only thing of note they recorded. Critically lauded by pop connoisseurs like Tom Hibbert and Bob Stanley who don't follow the standard critical path in terms of their tastes and obsessions, listening to the band's back catalogue offers an almost hidden history, an alternative route to appreciating American music of the late sixties away from the beaten track of the established canon of album bands, The Byrds, The Doors, Love and The Velvet Underground.Where it's all about Pop rather than Rock, and taking yourself too seriously is viewed as something of a crime.
The Turtles were incredibly prolific between their peak years 1965 and 1968, most specifically in terms of singles, achieving nine American Top 40 hits in all over this period. By 1969 their commercial star was beginning to wane, perhaps as their consistently jovial, poppy approach began to be seen as out of step with the mood of the times as the world turned increasingly serious. Turtle Soup was a conscious attempt to address this and make an album statement, bringing in Davies to provide a ministering guide at the wheel, inspired as the band had been by 1968's The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society.
Turtle Soup is by no means as coherent as that record which qualifies pretty well as a unified concept album and is among the very best records released in the era. By contrast, this is a diverse collection of sun-drenched, lovingly constructed pop songs, some slightly better than others, but all worthy of inclusion and the experience of listening to it is like spending some time browsing at a Pick and Mix sweet counter assembling a cone.
Davies' thoughtful touch at the mixing desk appears to work dividends as it's a quite beautiful record to listen to. Each instrument and vocal bobs and weaves in the mix throughout. No one song sounds quite the same as the next. A truly democratic, team effort. The Turtles came closer to The Beach Boys vision of harmonised joy than perhaps any other American band in terms of their layered vocals and there are also passages of brief instrumental beauty in their songs where the band suddenly come across almost as a chamber quartet.
But they don't dwell in these moments. They know that their job is ultimately to be a pop band and understand fully that this is no sleight. Indeed, it's a compliment. You Don't Have to Walk in the Rain,for example, the album's final track is the most joyous way imaginable to bring down the curtain on a successful pop career. While so many of their peers were embarked on the road to apparent profundity and drug fueled excess at this point in time and put out shambling, incoherent and self-indulgent records as a consequence, Turtle Soup is a model of pop concision, maintaining a remarkable amount of the innocent blast of the band's early singles. It certainly doesn't sound like a record made in 1969. To its cost, ultimately. It obviously didn't at the time either, reaching a meagre
# 115 in the American Billboard chart. A travesty, but ultimately what does this matter? Almost fifty years on, the quality of the album speaks for itself. 2016, meanwhile will surely find me ordering a vinyl copy of this at some point, for my own collection. And it will get played. A lot!