Friday, November 15, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 435 Echo & the Bunnymen

Fancied hearing With a Hip, the second track from The Bunnymen's masterpiece Heaven Up Here in The Newcastle Arms. So I requested it on the jukebox. When it arrived I got a live version from 2015 instead of the original. Played it and it sounds fine anyhow. A reminder of what a very fine live band they are.

Songs About People # 992 Ray Liotta

Appreciation for Ray Liotta. In French.

Albums of the Year # 41 Parsnip - When the Tree Bears Fruit

From August.

A couple of years back, Parsnip, a Melbourne four-piece, first reared their collective heads on here with their debut single which I posted on Christmas Day. Since then, they've returned intermittently with fine, whimsical, songs and EPs as they made their way towards their debut album. Here it is, a great work of pop confection, eleven track When the Tree Bears Fruit, released yesterday.


The question with this outfit was always going to be whether their particular brand of childlike poesy would stretch to merit a thirty minute listening experience. I'm delighted to be able to report that it does. I've just spent the required half hour in its company to check it out and will be back for more. I'm sure of that.

What Parsnip do is soft harmonised kitsch psychedelia of the kind first peddled by The Strawberry Alarm Clock and their sort way back in the day. The other obvious seeds of their inspiration are Flying Nun records of the early to mid Eighties, most particularly The Chills and Look Blue Go Purple. Even occasionally early Orange Juice.

As with many of these three bands best records, When the Tree Bears Fruit is a retreat to the Arcadian idyll of happy childhood. A series of lush, melodic neatly but deliberately loosely constructed tunes that celebrate the moments in life when the universe felt infinite and anything seemed possible.

Discover the record's charms for yourself. It's regressive tendencies remarkably never grate because the intentions are genuinely sincere and wiser than they might appear at first glance. The profundity of the nursery rhyme. Parsnip are much sweeter than their name might suggest and this is one of the rough and ready Rough Trade friendly DIY  treats of the year. A record whose appeal I feel sure will endure.

Songs of the Year # 41 The Wellington

Song(s) of the Day # 2,124 BCUC

The Rough Trade Album of the Year List gives me a chance to catch up on records like this. The Healing by BCUC, (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness), a Soweto septet that blow up one hell of a proper storm.

Just the three tracks but a multitude of consciousness. Dive in and enjoy!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Songs About People # 991 Lino Ventura

Song for the rugged Italian-French movie star.

Albums of the Year # 42 James Yorkston - The Route to the Harmonium

First posted back in March.

James Yorkston has become over his fifteen years of making records, something of a British Folk legend. For this is what his music is. Folk at its most reflective and ruminative with an inbuilt awareness of lives that have been lived and the delicate and transient of the lives that we ourselves are experiencing.

His new record, The Route to the Harmonium, ( and that is one terrific album title), is another brick in his wall, a record to slide onto a shelf of an excellent body of work. Best listened to early in the morning as the world renews itself in light outside your window, like all good records it's best absorbed in sequence and in its entirety. I did this yesterday morning and it's an experience I'll never quite forget. Like all the best journeys.

The Route to the Harmonium breathes in the air it was written and recorded in and breathes or occasionally spits it back out. It's what you, (or at least I), want from music, an unexpected invitation into a thinker, writer and artisan's universe.

Some time back in 2014 Irishman Adrian Crowley's Some Blue Morning was my favourite album of that particular year. The Route to the Harmonium plays a similar trick to that wonderful record. It summons something quite magical up for the listener. Makes the silence speak.

Songs of the Year # 42 Worn-Tin

Highlight from Worn-Tin's wonderful Cycles album which could easily have made my End of Year Album list.

Song of the Day # 2,123 Shooby Taylor

Remarkable free-form Jazz scatting from the Songs in the Key of Z compilation.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Modern Nature & Olden Yolk

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 434 Conway Twitty

One from James. At Rosie's.

Songs About People # 990 Zsa Zsa Gabor

Not Erasure's finest single. Zsa Zsa played Minerva in Batman. The last of this particular series within a series.

Albums of the Year # 43 Kit Sebastian - Mantra Moderne

First posted in July.

Mantra Moderne, the debut album from London based duo Kit Sebastian, (out today) is a hipster's pipedream. Appearing as if assimilated from the record collections of the cooler than thou set, you can do little better than quote from their press release to sum up what's going on here: 'a stunning contemporary masterpiece that fuses Anatolian Psychedelia , Brazilian Tropicalia, 60s European pop and American jazz. A must for fans of Khruangbin, Portishead, Arthur Verocai, Goat, Caetana Veloso, Tom Ze, Os Mutantes, Cortes and co.'

So, that lot. It seems there's not a box on the hipper than hip checklist that's not ticked. The blurb above serves well anyhow to describe what the record itself sounds like. The soundtrack for an exclusive party thrown by Stereolab and Charlotte Gainsbourg for their cool mates. Mantra Moderne positively floats with upwardly mobile aspiration, and will doubtless be on the player at Rough Trade Shops up and down the land for weeks.

It's quite immaculately done, groovy global cherry picking of the most tasteful kind imaginable. The Kit Sebastian pair, Kit Martin and Merve Erdem shed and slip on outfits from track to track and as if by magic the listener finds themselves by turn on dancefloors in Rio, New York, London, Paris, Istanbul and Mumbai. It's all just seamless.

Frankly, Kit Sebastian never put a foot wrong. Taken on its own terms, Mantra Moderne is pretty much a perfect record. In some respects it feels like a companion piece to Vanishing Twin's wonderful The Age of Immunology, released a few weeks back, which mines similar terrain. If anything this a more cerebral operation than that one, you'll do well to detect much human heart in operation but it's certainly clinical, and very, very cool.

Songs of the Year # 43 Injury Reserve

The whole of the Injury Reserve album was worth a listen. This was the song I liked best.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,122 The Bardots

In my second year at university I shared a house with a couple of Post Grad science students for a couple of terms. In addition to their studies, they made up half of a gigging band named, (I kid you not), The Legendary Gazelles. I saw them a couple of times, they played sprightly, no frills New Wave music. Essentially unpretentious and likeable, like the two themselves.

They shared Norwich stages and equipment occasionally with a young band called The Bardots who were altogether of a different stamp. Decked in paisley, coiffured and slightly preening, if only in a Norfolk sense, in contrast with The Gazelles where pretty much everything was throwaway, you got the feeling there was a lot more career ambition and drive at work here, though always in a strictly provincial sense. 

After the Gazelles and I parted company with them, The Bardots went on to gain a certain amount of national attention, music press and evening radio play over the next few years without ever really threatening to break big. They released an album in 1992 called Eye-Baby, which still stands up reasonably well at the same time as sounding utterly of its time. Like flies in aspic. Taking me back to watching them brooding onstage in dank Indie clubs the first time round with Andy, my gig going mate of the time. 

Listening to the record the other day for the first time was a strange experience, transporting me back to my younger self. The Bardots are almost but not fully formed. Clearly small town unrealised youth, reminiscent of contemporaries The House of Love and The Telescopes but most obviously of Suede, the band who were emerging at the same time and would come to encapsulate all of this brooding suburban tension and frustration and fly it to the stars.

The Legendary Gazelles used to scoff at The Bardots and their pretensions. You can hear why. Their songs never quite break through to the sunlit meadow that they are aiming for. Still. I wouldn't wish to be uncharitable. Like I said, they remind me of my gauche younger self. At least they got it sufficiently together to give us this.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Songs About People # 989 Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino was a trailblazer in many respects. An English-American actress, singer and producer, she was one of the few female film-makers working within the 1950's Hollywood system. She played the imperiously named Dr. Cassandra Spellcraft in Batman.

Albums of the Year # 44 Modern Nature - How to Live

Bands don't seem to split now, the way they did in the old days. Not like The Beatles and The Smiths did for example, way back when. Through irredeemable personal and musical differences. Going their separate ways once and for all. Instead they seem to splinter or scatter, move off to separate projects before coming back together.

There was at least one proper old school group sundering in 2019. Ultimate Painting, one of my favourite bands of recent years, a collaboration between  James Hoare and Jack Cooper which had produced three excellent albums together, went their separate ways due to some personal rancour apparently. A fourth album they had recorded together which was clearly a factor in their split was left unreleased.

A shame, but as it transpired not a disaster. Both Hoare and Cooper moved onto new or pre-existing projects and both produced fine records during 2019. Hoare with The Proper Ornaments and Cooper with Modern Nature. The Proper Ornaments Six Lenins was a neat, understated Indie guitar album the way they used to make them back in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Modern Nature's How To Live was a more layered, nuanced affair. A more considered record. And ultimately, a better one.

Cooper has been a considerable talent for some time and with How to Live which he worked on with Will Young also of Beak among others, he proved it once more. It's a wonderful blend of influence almost suggesting what might have transpired should Fairport Convention, Cluster and Roxy had chosen to work together in the early Seventies. A fascinating proposition and a record that more than lived up to its billing.

Songs of the Year # 44 Proper Ornaments

Song(s) of the Day # 2,121 Big Supermarket

An absolutely fabulous record that's been brought to my attention of late. 1800 by the plain as plainly named  could be Big Supermarket, which seems to have come out at some point last year. The name is plain but the record isn't, distilling the essence and beauty of the Flying Nun Record Label's finest moments of the Eighties over its 35 minute playing span.

One of the things that was most appealing about The Clean, The Chills, The Bats, The Verlaines, Look Blue Go Purple and the other main players of that Dunedin scene was how the minimalism and simplicity of their musical approach was channelled so creatively through ingenuity and drive to forge records of marvellous warmth, mystery and unfathomable depths. 

Big Supermarket harness a similar modus operandi. The early Fall records were a particular spiritual influence on that scene, particularly The Clean, and you can trace the surly Mancs centrifugal pull here too on the abstract chug of tracks like Personal Pronouns and SuoerHwy.

It's that version of The Fall that I still like the most, before Martin Bramah, Una Baines and Marc Riley gave up knocking heads with Mark E. Smith and surrendered the reins to him in the early Eighties. Big Supermarket have plenty of their shambling charm and though 1800 is by no means a coherent record it's certainly a highly compelling one.

There's very little information available about who exactly Big Supermarket are except that they appear to hail from Australia. No band photos or social media presence seem to be available at all. Which leads you to suppose they're a collaboration of some kind. Really it matters little. 1800 is happy to stand on its own merits and they're quite considerable.

The number of Australian bands putting out superior product these days is frankly beyond comprehension. Big Supermarket stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best of them, even though we don't really even know who they are. Many thanks to Darren, supporter and occasional poster on this blog for bringing these to my notice. Something of an instant, if obscure, classic.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Songs Heard on the Radio # 330 The Districts

It's gratifying to see a young bad hit their stride a few years into their career. Such seems the case here with Pennsylvania's The Districts as they make their way to their fourth album You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere. This, Hey Jo the outlier for that has a sad lonely grandeur they had hinted at before. Something of The National, something of Sharon Van E and something all their own.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 433 Space Lady

Space Lady's Greatest Hits is on the jukebox at The Newcastle Arms thanks to me requesting it. This sounded suitably spooky yesterday. A great deal of plundering this wonderful record's considerable riches is probably on the cards.

Songs About People # 988 Liberace

Liberace played Chandell in a couple of consecutive episodes of Batman.

Albums of the Year # 45 Kelsey Lu - Blood

First posted in May.

Classically trained cellist North Carolina's Kelsey Lu has just released her debut album Blood and it's an evocative and elegant record of moody depths that constantly surprises and avoids easy categorisation. Soulful, but with inventive and deft arrangements, it's pop music filtered through classical influences and all the more interesting for that.


I found myself listening through to it, seeking easy references and connections and not being able to make them and finding the record all the more involving for just that reason. In some respects it's something of an avant gard album in that it's experimental and elusive but at the same time it tips out a whole cupboard of melodies and emotions along the way. At the same time, it's by no means a difficult listen despite its bravery.

Occasionally the record gets more obviously conventional as on Poor Fake, which seems to run on more accessible Soul or R & B rails and sounds like something you could easily imagine playing on  daytime radio but even here Lu's voice suddenly takes the track in a different direction and the song takes flight in a quite astonishing way.

If you're looking for a record that constantly surprises then you could do far worse than plumping for Blood. Oddly, towards the end of the album, Lu throws a spanner in the works by choosing to cover 10cc's mid-Seventies weepie classic I'm not in Love and opting to play it pretty much  straight. As someone who has heartily detested this particular track since I remember it being voted the best song of all time by the listeners of London's Capital Radio in the mid Seventies, I wish she hadn't bothered because frankly she has much more interesting songs of her own.

Once this blip has been overcome however, Blood recovers its poise with a series of tracks that remind me of what drew me to it before its brush with Seventies mush. Lu is clearly an artist to watch. Interspersing songs that sound like genuine potential hits with unnerving tracks that disorientate and offer no easy answers making this a strange but highly compelling listen. 

Songs of the Year # 45 Olympia

Song of the Day # 2,120 Quivers

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Bikini Kill

Songs Heard on the Radio # 329 Allah Las

Allah Las. Sounding like 1966 in 2019.

Songs About People # 987 Shelley Winters

Winters played Ma Parker in Batman. Here's a song for her from the Lolita Soundtrack.

Albums of the Year # 46 John Southworth - Miracle in the Night

Originally posted in May.

'There are ancient societies that value the dreaming world on an equal level as the waking world. I've always had one foot in the dreaming world.' So speaks John Southworth an English-Canadian singer-songwriter who's been putting out musical product over twelve albums in all on a regular basis since the late Nineties, His latest record Miracle in the Night is just out.

It's a revelation at least to me, as I've been unaware of Southworth's work until ... well just now. His voice is not a particularly outstanding one but it is noteworthy in terms of the warmth and depth of feeling, the sheer atmosphere he gets across.Miracle in the Night is choc a bloc with crafted, slightly mournful songs played on traditional, generally acoustic instruments with moods that chip away at the listener until they're lulled into admiring silence.

Southworth is working again with his long term band the South Seas, the musicians he feels most understanding to his vision. It certainly works here to an almost magical degree. Miracle in the Night  is very much a waking dream.

Each song adds new ingredients to the spell being cast. The songs are slowly, jazzily paced, and Southworth's gentle, intoned vocals are at the heart of the mix. It's altogether wonderfully done, a set of musicians who know implicitly exactly what they're at and after. At times, things get quite heady, as on Red Velvet Curtains, which occurs midway through the record, one of several standout tracks .


But really this an album that never puts a foot out of place. I get the impression that Southworth has taken notes from the likes of Dylan, Cohen, Robert Wyatt and Robbie Robertson but his voice is still very much his own. This is a fine, fine album that has already encouraged me to investigate his back catalogue in depth because here is a man with a quiet but beautiful skill who should be recognised as an artist to a much greater degree than he is.

There's a tangible sadness to much of what's on show here. Life, after all, is ingrained with sadness, even in its happiest moments. But also a hard earned, palpable awareness of its moments of tender beauty. Because most of all this album is beautiful. In the words of one of the song titles here, Southworth is halfway up the mountain. There's much behind him but much still ahead and he knows that he needs to keep pushing onwards.

The album reaches its summit with Just Before Dawn and you might be tempted to reel back and listen to the whole record through again start to finish. One of the softest spoken but most persuasive records I've heard of this type for many a year. Not dissimilar in tone to Adrian Crowley's wonderful Some Blue Morning which was my Album of the Year way back in 2014, near to the beginning of this blog. Both records appreciate the value of silence and the hushed whisper. Sometimes less is more.

Songs of the Year # 46 Mount Sharp

Song(s) of the Day # 2,119 Rose McDowell

From the sound track of Far From The Apple Tree, which judging by the trailer looks the kind of modern fairytale that you've probably seen before. The music is more passable. Layered baroque, intensity from Rose McDowell, once half of Strawberry Switchblade and Shawn Pinchbeck. Don't be alarmed. It's just a bad dream.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 432 Protomartyr

By the miracle of jukebox algorithms Protomartyr's resplendent Relatives in Distress makes its way to The Newcastle Arms. It was my favourite record of 2017 and this is the track.

Songs About People # 986 Ethel Merman

Archers of Loaf honour Ethel Merman who played Lola Lasagne in Batman.

Albums of the Year # 47 International Teachers of Pop - International Teachers of Pop

Written in May.

International Teachers of Pop released their eponymous album a few months back and I've been negligent not to listen through it right the way through because it's a small treat. Very, very British and to be more precise, English, it's emblematic of the kind of record that shows up every few years from one band or another and represents an ongoing faith in smalltown high street eccentricity and self-expression.

So where exactly did this tradition start? probably with the first Roxy Music album which first foregrounded this kind of weird, assembled futurism. Then fast forward to the Human League, any number of early Eighties synth duos, then Pulp and the cultish but fondly remembered World of Twist.

And now to International Teachers of Pop. Their's is a Woolworth's pick and mix selection, stirring up low and high culture to a frothy mix; sci-fi synths and harmonised vocals, Kraftwerk rhythms, Jane Weaver pulses and B52's oddity. Not intended to be taken remotely seriously but to forge out a series of funfair rollercoaster rides you'll want to get on again as soon as you've got off.

It wasn't altogether a surprise to discover that members of Moonlandingz and Whyte Horses have combined forces in the line up of International Teachers of Pop or that Jarvis Cocker and Moloko's Roisin Murphy have become fans. As I say, they're working in an altogether English tradition that it's heartening to see still has legs. Pop concoction of the year thus far...

Songs of the Year # 47 Mattiel

Mattiel's star appears to have continued to rise this year. A very good thing.

Song of the Day # 2,118 Ignatz & De Stervende Honden

Friday, November 8, 2019

Songs About People # 985 Milton Berle

Again, a long time Hollywood veteran with over 80 years screen experience as an actor and comedian. Took the role of Louie the Lilac in the Batman series.

Albums of the Year # 48 Half Japanese - Invincible

Not an album I imagine likely to show up on many end of year lists. But I think it's worthy. First posted back in March:

The world and his wife are not beating down Half Japanese' door in 2019. Well let's face it they never really have done and are hardly likely to start doing so now. After all, the band have been plying their trade in a determinedly low-fi manner all the way back to 1979 over 18 albums, numerous singles, cassettes and myriad other releases and tours. They've possibly flown as far under the radar as any 'known' band ever have. Much has changed for them over the years but at the same time nothing has.

So how best to evaluate Invincible, the bands latest record, released quietly just last month. On its own merits probably.  I like it. I imagine I would like most of the Half Japanese back catalogue even though I haven't heard much of that apart from Best of collections. Because they all sound a bit like this don't they? That's intrinsic to the band's charm and appeal.

Listening to a new Half Japanese record is akin to going back to the home you grew up in to find the kids next door are still living there, haven't aged at all and are still playing with the same toys. This is no criticism. In fact it's a high compliment if anything. They, (and by this of course I mostly mean focal point and leader Jad Fair), make the case put forward in Television's Friction, 'I don't want to grow up. There's too much contradiction..'. This record to a large extent is a complaint about the realities that life tries to impose upon us. Rock and Roll remains one of the few remaining feasible Peter Pan options in life and Fair never once wanted to make his way back from Never Neverland.

This record makes Pan's case very cogently, to me at least and I'm enjoying it more with every play. Half Japanese still hang around in the High School corridor with the Velvets, The Modern Lovers, Daniel Johnson, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth and Kurt, their ultimate fan. Subject matter; vampires, the walking dead, alien spacecraft, the teenage crush, them and us. The geek ultimately will clearly inherit the earth. The menu remains the same as does the shambling ill-begotten, intentionally inept musical manner they choose to get their message across in. Most of it works. 

So Invincible, fifteen songs between two minutes and the cusp of four, fifteen dweeb manifestos. Perfect. Or at least perfection judged by their own wonky criteria, formulated in stone over the decades. I commend them to you.

Songs of the Year # 48 Bonnie Prince Billy

Song of the Day # 2,117 Sacha Distel & Joanna Shimkus

Not the original and best know version by Frank and Nancy which I always found slightly creepy. This pairs Sacha with Joanna Shimkus, who went on to marry Sidney Poitier. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 431 Chubby Checker

Quite a selection of Chubby on the jukebox at Rosie's for some reason which is odd given the multitude of things not on there. Not a crowd pleaser this one but it pleased me. Patti likes Birdland. I preferred this.

Songs About People # 984 Malachi Throne

Stalwart guest star in all manner of popular American Sixties and Seventies TV Serials, including The Man From Uncle, The Fugitive and Lost in Space. Played False Face  in Batman.

Albums of the Year # 49 Doug Tuttle - Dream Road

Neat, Autumnal stuff from Doug Tuttle:

'American musician Doug Tuttle once of Mmoss has long specialised in the kind of thing he  unveils on his latest album Dream Road. Yearning, jangling, occasionally ever so slightly psychedelic guitar driven pop music. Rooted in Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, Byrds and  '65 and '66 period Beatles.

On Dream Road he does it again but perhaps better than he's ever done it before. This is mining from a classic seam and Tuttle knows exactly how to go about his craft, exactly what he's after and he doesn't let devotees of this stuff down for a moment. Songs don't outstay their welcome for a moment, most of the tracks here see no need to go beyond the three minute mark. Just as it should be.

So, if you treasure your copies of 5D, Rubber Soul, #1 Record or Grand Prix, then there's plenty here which should take your fancy. Dream Road never sounds derivative though because though Tuttle's sources of inspiration are clear he understands the mechanics of this stuff innately and captures the essence. Every song made me marvel at his ability to make the familiar sound so fresh. The essential secret is that he's a damned good songwriter pure and simple.

Ten songs that sound as if a heart is breaking, just the way it did when you were eighteen, Tuttle never puts a foot wrong. Lennon, McCartney, Chilton and Blake would surely doff their caps to Dream Road's achievement. A golden, and quite lovely guitar record.'