Monday, May 17, 2021

Paul Weller - Fat Pop

 


Oh no, not him again. I didn't find too much that appealed to me hugely among the new album releases this Friday. The Chills for sure. St. Vincent left me rather cold as I'd expected it would. Then, late on Sunday evening, I thought I'd give Paul Weller's new one a try. And all in all I was very pleasantly surprised.

I'm never sure whether to give Weller's recent stuff a listen. He's still a pretty prolific artist, with a new album every year or two and making every effort to challenge himself and not to make the same record twice. I was never the hugest fan of either The Jam, Style Council or his solo incarnation. There is much that he's done over the years that leaves me quite cold. But he is after all the man who wrote Going Underground, My Ever Changing Moods and Wildwood, and that shouldn't be forgotten. I certainly recognise and appreciate his talent. That's a difficult one to deny entirely, even his greatest detractors might be obliged to admit that. Never the hippest name to drop perhaps, but he still makes a strong case for himself.


Latest album Fat Pop is worth a listen. The man is 62 now, but it's to his credit that he's still a restless soul and this is a varied and solid and sometimes quite surprising record. I imagine everyone knows where they stand with Weller by now, I sometimes have a problem with his singing voice, an over-earnestness perhaps, and sometimes with the worthiness of his sentiments, but the arrangements here are highly creative and often rather addictive and he seems a man comfortable within his skin and where he finds himself in 2021.

Always someone determined to maintain a basic positivity it seems, despite the fact that he also comes across as a cynical character, he conciously tries to keep it out of the music. Fat Pop shows that you can actually expect old dogs to pick up new tricks sometimes. Drawing on Funk, Soul, Folk and the records of his youth, on first listen, it ticks my requisite boxes and I'll be back.. Weller will never be a mainstay on my record player but it's not difficult to see how he still makes magazine covers even now. Because he still belongs there.


Bob Stanley Presents '76 In The Shade # 13 Steve Miller Band

 


Definitely a man who had his moments.




Strum & Thrum : The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 # 28 Essential Things

 


The last track so the last of this particular series. I liked much of it though it's essential samineness did become a bit wearing at times. Most obviously reminiscent of early R.E.M. but also The Smiths, The Go-Betweens and strangely much that reminded me of Hurrah!. Songs from a more innocent time.



This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 285 Rhythim is Rhythim

 


'still sounds like the future.'




Song of the Day # 2,670 Natalie Bergman

 


An unusual approach to making a Pop Album. Natalie Bergman's latest Mercy is a tribute to her late father who passed recently. Drenched in religious imagery and devotional praise, it's clearly at once  a highly personal and deeply sincere project.


For those who don't share Bergman's beliefs, it may not be an album that maintains interest. This is not Al Green. But the music itself is evocative and glossy and an interesting counterpoint to the norm.



Saturday, May 15, 2021

This Charming Man


 

Lindy Morrison

 


Albums of the Year 1981

 Another cracking year. Probably round about the time I first really started paying attention to music. Good timing. Here's the Best Albums Ever list:

1. Rush - Moving Pictures

2. Kraftwerk - Computerwelt

3. King Crimson - Discipline

4. Brian Eno & David Byrne - My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

5. Electric Light Orchestra - Time

6. Siouxsie & The Banshees - Juju

7. The Human League - Dare

8. The Cure - Faith

9. Black Flag - Damaged

10. The Gun Club - Fire of Love

and here's mine. All records I own:

1. Echo & The Bunnymen - Heaven Up Here


2. The Human League - Dare


3. Grace Jones - Nightclubbing


4. Japan - Tin Drum


5. Brian Eno & David Byrne - My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts


6. The Teardrop Explodes - Wilder


7. Heaven 17 - Penthouse & Pavement


8. The Gun Club - Fire of Love


9. Tom Tom Club - Tom Tom Club


10.  Squeeze - East Side Story


11. The Undertones - Positive Touch


12. Gil Scott-Heron - Reflections


13. Felt - Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty


14. The Cramps - Psychedelic Jungle


15. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Almost Blue


16. Bow Wow Wow - See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah., City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!


17. The Cure - Faith


18. Simple Minds - Sons & Fascination


 19. Scars - Author! Author!


20. Joan Armatrading - Walk Under Ladders


21. The Police - Ghost in the Machine


22.. Kid Creole & The Coconuts - Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places


23. Wall of Voodoo - Dark Continent


24. Pretenders - Pretenders II


25. Altered Images - Happy Birthday



The one record from this year that I probably covet is Josef K's debut. Otherwise, this will pretty much do for me.



St. Vincent - Daddy's Home

 


I truly cannot stand Pay Your Way In Pain, the first track on St.Vincent's latest album, Daddy's Home, just out. It's pushy, vulgar, lurid, in your face stuff of the worst imaginable stripe. It almost made me give up on the record straight off but I kept listening. This is St. Vincent after all. She, it is generally accepted, is a big deal.


The record improved from Pay Your Way In Pain, though it could hardly fail to (it's by far the worst thing on here), without ever making me fall under its spell. I've tried with St. Vincent, I really have. Over several years and several albums. She's slick and sleek, but always seems to be an artist that specialises in state of the art, glossy surfaces and I find it easier to admire than to love her.


The sleeve of Daddy's Home, finds her sporting a new blond crop that I assume is a wig, but can't be sure. This is the thing with St. Vincent for me. She seems to don a lot of costumes. Much in the way that Bowie and Byrne used to back in the day. In many ways she's a modern equivalent of that approach. Sufjan and Perfume Genius are a couple of others I'd put in a similar category. But both engage to a far greater degree.


This is, after all,  Bowie and Byrne we're talking about here, and if St. V sets the bar so high for herself then she should be judged on her own terms. There are some songs here that work for me, better than others. Live in the Dream, first and foremost, throws plenty of art moves but doesn't forget to make the emotional investment and I found it rather moving. 

Serious subject matter is engaged with, most notably issues of domestic violence. There is definite depth here and many will relate to it to a much greater degree than I have. But I find myself fended off by its glossy surfaces and lack of warmth. It's all rather studied for my tastes.

This is very knowing music. It projects, and is very impressive in many respects. St.Vincent is a fully formed artist by now and she doesn't operate in anyone else's shadow, despite her nods to Bowie, Byrne and Prince. In many ways this is a very 2021 record and I imagine it will be lauded as such by critics at the end of the year. But it doesn't really push my buttons. 


For St. Vincent seems first and foremost to deal in artifice and I find that approach difficult to invest in emotionally. I find it difficult to care for music that seems not for the most part to want to care too much itself. Daddy's Home is a highly polished album with several oustanding moments. But it doesn't sound like one to turn to if you're in need of a heart to heart. 


Bob Stanley Presents '76 In The Shade # 11 Sylvia

 





Strum & Thrum : The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 # 26 Pop Art

 


LA based band with a touch of Morrissey about the vocals.




This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 283 Mel & Kim

 


'Pete Waterman's ultimate tribute to the triumph of Thatcherism.'




Song(s) of the Day # 2,668 Pardonner

 


San Francisco's Pardonner do 'the Pavement thing'. One of the most distinctive sounds in modern Rock and Roll. That off centre, wonky thing, where things deliberately don't make sense. Where everything is slightly askew but still eminently approachable and palatable. Where band and audience get to congratulate each other on their eminently good Indie taste. 'Hey, weren't The Velvet Underground cool? Which did you prefer? The John Cale or Doug Yule incarnation?'

Pardonner's latest, Came Down Different, is a very good album. It has a broad selection of moods, despite its in-built, generic constraints, and an impressive, vibrant pop sensibility. It will never once, no not for a moment, stop reminding you of Pavement. Pavement seem to have opened up a whole sub-genre of music all their own, like some modern Tribe of Israel. We seem to have a few of these tribes nowadays. The Tribe of Gang of Four. The Tribe of The Fall.The Tribe of C-86.  In this case it's almost like Malkmus descended from Mount Sinai some time in 1993 with a set of new commandments, one of which read, 'Thou Shalt Make Sense. But Not Complete Sense.' and another 'Thou Shalt Be Slack.' And The Tribe of Pavement prostrated themselves in awe, then got up, dispersed, and proceeded to spread the Gospel.

Came Down Different adheres to these and the other Pavement Commandments. It's the second best Son of Pavement album I've heard this year after Kiwi Jr's Cooler Returns, which I imagine will remain unparalled in 2021. Pardonner plot an interesting variation on the Pavement meme. They make you think here that Pavement are jamming on alternative numbers with first My Bloody Valentine and then Dinosaur Jr. It works.


This is a neat record. It doesn't care sufficiently to rub away its fingerprints from the scene of the crime. It's a breeze of a listen, just not a remotely original one for a single second. That doesn't mean I don't recommend it. I do. This is talented plagiarism.




Friday, May 14, 2021

The Chills - Scatterbrain

 


A lesson in looking on the bright side. I rather thought I might give the latest Chills record, Scatterbrain, a miss this time. I've been rather underwhelmed by their recent offerings and it seems rather late in the day for a late career masterpiece.But Scatterbrain was released on a quiet morning for notable new releases, so I gave it a listen. Then I played it gain, Then again. They're in fine fettle.

On first play I was underwhelmed. Second play and my interest was pricked. Third play I was chastising myself for my lack of faith in them. The Chills are rarely any less than likeable. Here they're truly lovable. In many ways this initially sounds a bit like a Martin Phillips solo album, as he's foregrounded a lot more in the mix, certainly much more so than on their best known Eighties records when it was always clearly a team effort. The band are there for sure here, but more content this time to play supporting roles.


But give them time. This lot know just what they are doing just like Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur. Jr have proved they do in recent weeks and the record unwraps on each  play revealing further gifts with modest but assured grace. The Chills have stood the course of time. More so even than either TF or D.Jr., they were always something of a paradox. Upbeat tunes, downcast, troubled interiors. More than immediately meet the eye. No change here.


This is very much a rumination on mortality, perhaps something you'd expect, given the band and particularly Phillips' advancing years and also their track record preoccupations. He was always a somewhat contrary, fatalistic type. Song titles like Hourglass and You're Immortal and lyrics almost everywhere else, underline this without the greatest subtlety. It's late in the day. Time to consider all of our final journeys. Our final curtains. For Phillips and Co. but also for the rest of the planet.

The Chills are the most pastoral of Pop groups, more almost than any band I can think of.. They always had an innate feeling for the undergrowth, the ocean bed, the verdant and nocturnal, and how entwined they are with the human condition.  I'm pleased to report that these instincts are present, correct amd fully functioning here too. Scatterbrain scatters hints and clues for the listener on first play like adults planting clues for a birthday party scavenger hunt. You'll have to come back if you wish to discover how it all fits together.

These are bleak times in many ways. But this is far from a bleak record. The settings are arcadian and verdant, the band determined and more than able to make the most of the hand that life has dealt them. Scatterbrain is a record that takes a while to unfurl its charms but they're worth the investment of time. It's another fine product to add to the band's rich legacy. That's something I'm more than happy to endorse. Cheer up Martin, it might never happen.


Bob Stanley Presents '76 In The Shade # 10 John Cameron

 





Strum & Thrum : The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 # 25 Holiday

 


Essentially Kate Pierson sings 1,000,000.




This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 282 The Smiths

 


'The Smiths were at their best when Moz and Johnny matched each other inspiration for inspiration.'




Song of the Day # 2,667 Mount Fake

 


Rather like the early Jesus & Mary Chain having an asthma attack. If that's what you're after.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Bob Stanley Presents '76 In The Shade # 9 Liverpool Express

 


Apparently a McCartney favourite. Sounds very much like one of his.



Strum & Thrum : The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 # 24 The Springfields

 


Released on Sarah Records in 1988. The core of The Springfields went on to form Velvet Crush. This altogether rather lovely.


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 281 Beastie Boys

 


I would have to say, one of my all time, least favourite tunes.




Song(s) of the Day # 2,666 The Dead Space

,


I instinctively guessed just what an album made by a band called The Dead Space was likely to sound like. Taut, and fraught with anxiety and tension.  Sure enough, Chlorine Sleep, from this Austin, Texas trio is exactly that. Full-throttle, breakneck, guitar assaults for anyone who has ever enjoyed a record by Husker Du, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Metz, Pissed Jeans and the like.


While the element of surprise for a record like this is slightly limited, (you'll know what you're going to get from the opening notes and nothing from that point on is likely to take you unawares), there's certainly something worthwhile going on here. This is a bracing ride of thrashy, angry songs for those who subscribe to this kind of diet, for those moments in life when you feel like smashing your fist against a wall but realise that there is probably a better way of venting your frustration.

This is not really my standard 'meat and potatoes' and I'm not entirely sure how often I'll need to return to this particular well very often. In any case this record was originally recorded in 2015 and apparently the band are no more, so I wouldn't advise you to etch their name on your pencil case, to impress your family members or work colleagues. Nevertheless, if you want to have an hour that feels you're in a wind tunnel screaming your head off without the risk of annoying your neighbours, this should probably do the trick.



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Songs Heard on the Radio # 405 Mighty Baby

 


I like a bit of this.






The Goon Sax - In The Stone

 


New Goon Sax. Always good news. Ahead of a new album, Mirror II. This bodes very well indeed. Sounds just great on first play.

The Triffids

 


Bob Stanley Presents '76 In The Shade # 8 Hollywood Freeway

 


Altogether rather wonderful.




Strum & Thrum : The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987 # 23 One Plus Two

 


Another band out of North Carolina. The inspiration of early R.E.M. is all over much of this compilation, but it's interesting to see where it went. This is pure Gardening at Night, but uses it to pleasing effect.




This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 280 Mantronix

 


'a beautiful Jamacian born New Yorker who contrived to become an alien entry.'




Song(s) of the Day # 2,665 Last Days of April

 


I compare too many contemporary artists to Elliott Smith. I really do. But it happens a lot in my listening experience. Often, I'm listening to an album that might be fairly nondescript when something I'm hearing grabs my attention and makes me think of Elliott.. A chord change, a lyrical turn, when a song twists suddenly from the light into darkness and I'm reminded of his deeply special talent and I immediately start to listen to the record I'm listening to with increased attention. I'm glad he's made such a lasting mark.


This very thing happened to me a moment ago while I was half listening through to Stockholm's, The Last Days of April's latest album
Even The Good Days Are Bad. It's not a bad record really, though the production is a bit shrill for my tastes and the band's frontman Karl Larsen doesn't have a voice I particularly warm to. The band work in the Elliott, Grandaddy tradition of melodic turns of euphoria and melancholy without quite having the songs to pull off everything they want to.


Most things here go back beyond Elliott, to his original inspirations Big Star and The Beatles. The record veers on Power Pop occasionally in its more upbeat moments. There's plenty here that generally appeals to me and I think it could have been a record I would have warmed to more had the production been a little more sympathetic. Not a disaster all told, in fact there's much to admire here, but one I think could have been a whole lot better given the consistently solid nature of its songs.