Saturday, December 5, 2020

Kate Bush


Songs of the Year # 21 Wire - Humming


More Wire.

Great British B Sides # 21 Happy Mondays


B Side to 24 Hour Party People.

Albums of The Year # 21 Wire - Mind Hive


The band Wire are truly inspirational. The only ones of the original London Punk pack still standing as a creative concern forty five years on and still putting out remarkable music. Their sheer longevity is appropriate really, as they were never just punks in the first place. Way ahead of their time even way back then.

So here they are in 2020 with Mind Hive, their seventeenth album. Seventeen albums! That's some work ethic. I'm ashamed to say that I foolishly thought that it might be a bit of a chore to listen all the way through to this but something I should do out of the respect I hold for them. How wrong I was. This is no museum piece. Mind Hive doesn't tread water for a moment. They're still very much a working project and sound very much alive. Vital even.

This sounds like Wire. Of course it does. They were always a band who pushed onward tirelessly, never remotely interested in trading on or re-living former glories. Nevertheless, there are songs here that wouldn't sound out of place on Chairs Missing or 154.

That's no slur, just a huge compliment. The songs here are that good. Still celebral, deeply thoughtful, slightly pissed off I suspect but also full of wonder for life and pulsing with vigour.

When critics look for recipients to acclaim as National Treasures and end up hanging wreaths around the scrawny necks of obvious and often undeserving recipients, they should really be looking to the likes of Wire, those who have just kept their heads down and gone about their jobs, not for fame or adulation, focused, concentrated on the work at hand. All the while sculpting wonders.

What the specific concerns of the record might be I can't really say. Wire have always been too oblique, not to say too smart for me on that score though I consider myself to be reasonably smart. The title Mind Hive alone suggests, if that ever needed to be be doubted, that their concerns remain deeply contemporary as this is such a contemporary idea. They seem to be pretty disappointed at the way things have turned out, the way we've all turned out and frankly I don't blame them. This is an album that exists as much in the here and now as any record being made by people more than half their age.

Mind Hive is truly a wonder, as good a record as any British guitar band will put out this year. Or perhaps anyone else for that matter.  In many ways it even sounds to me as if it might be as good a record as even they have ever made. How extraordinary that statement is! Not groundbreaking perhaps in the way that their first three albums, Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 certainly were. It's difficult to imagine anyone putting out something truly groundbreaking now. Mind Hive is just a very, very good record like those three were. Wire remain out in front. Their exploring spirit remains an example to all. An example that only the select few will both heed and understand. Quiet, meditative genius.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 119 Prince & the Revolution - Purple Rain


''The first of a Stevie Wonder -like string of classic albums from the lhe Minneapolis Mini-Maestro.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 122 Earth, Wind & Stone


Song of the Day # 2,510 The Hit Parade


Included on a complilation cassette sent to me thirty years ago by a university friend.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Songs of the Year # 22 Frances Quinlan


Great British B Sides # 22 The La's


Down the road to Liverpool. B Side to There She Goes.

Great British B Sides # 23 The Stone Roses


B Side to She Bangs The Drums. Forgot to post this so we have a couple in a row on this series.

Albums of The Year # 22 Isobel Campbell - There Is No Other


There is No Other, the new album from Isobel Campbell, (just out), has apparently been waiting for a couple of years for release for one reason or another for release, before finally seeing the light of day. This must be very frustrating for any artist, but particularly given that the record concerned here is a quite immaculate piece of work, slotting seamlessly into a particular canon as if it has always existed.

Campbell of course, first came to public notice as a member of Belle & Sebastian over twenty years back. Her choice to leave that particular roost was a brave one, given that by the time she upped sticks they were a definite going concern. Ultimately the records she's put out since, both as a solo artist and with Mark Lanegan,  more than justify that, probably difficult, decision. Because she's allowed herself a choice of a whole new set of colours that would probably not have been readily available under the B&S umbrella.

With Lanegan, the immediate and unavoidable touchstone inspiration point was Sinatra and Hazlewood, with she as Nancy, he as Lee. That's still here on occasions but she's also allowed herself to indulge in a whole range of late Sixties and early Seventies artists and records that help make this a rich feast indeed.

This Age of Aquarius period of history is a great grounding point for the lyrical concerns at play on here, because this is primarily a record concerned with a planet in immediate and pressing ecological peril. The original era that first voiced this issue with any sense of urgency produced no end of fabulous records of course and Campbell cherry picks its legacy with meticulous skill to help her make her point.

As a result the record manages to both wear its heart on its sleeve and keep its cool with consummate ease. There is No Other flirts with ersatz Soul, Eastern Mysticism and all kinds of other ingredients that music lovers would immediately recognise from that original Golden Age. Nancy is still there in the mix but so are Dusty, Melanie, Mama Cass, Jackie De Shannon and any number of other cool sirens from that period.

This is a quite wonderful feat of artistic gymnastics, managing both to be of that age and this at one and the same time. Campbell manages both to show off her taste and touch. Hers is a common artistic approach nowadays, people like Lana Del Rey and Weyes Blood to give two immediate examples, accessing the past for their own devices, pulling off a modern retro cool that manages to appeal both to the young and those older who might have experienced the real thing first time round. There is No Other probably won't get the same attention as those two have recently but certainly deserves it. Given the parameters it sets itself, it's a near flawless record.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 118 Run D.M.C.


'It's hard to articulate how utterly weird this record sounded in 1984.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 121 Magazine


'The lyric - 'I am angry, I am ill and I'm as ugly as sin probably explains why this wasn''t toppermost of the poppermost down at Radio One.'

Song of the Day # 2,509 Heavenly


Blast from the past.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Songs of the Year # 23 Iceage


Albums of The Year # 23 The Homesick - The Big Exercise

 Great surprise, record and band:

From one band who used to be on Sub Pop Records to another who find themselves there now. Dokkum, Holland's The Homesick hardly sound like typical Sub Pop fodder on their latest album The Big Exercise, an indication of how far the label has travelled since its formative days.

The Homesick are definitely a prepossessing trio. Working up obscure, propulsive leftfield Pop melodies that are diverting if never completely clear in their intent. Quietly experimental and innovative, their songs never stand in one place which will infuriate many but intrigue the select few.

I certainly found myself  pretty absorbed on listening through to the album for the first time. The Homesick are clever, clever. Boffins in laboratories to some extent. Easy comparisons aren't readily available though you suspect they might rate freethinkers like Wire, Kevin Ayers, Monochrome Set, The Nits or the more off the wall Blur. Songs don't follow prescribed patterns or set progressions while remaining melodic and diverting.

Whimsical and inventive, you might get to the end of The Big Exercise and wonder whether you want to listen to it again, because tracks tend to meander to and fro without necessarily leaving a lasting impression except for of their oddness.The album really hits its stride in its final few numbers where its identity finally coalesces to winning effect. I'm not sure everything worked but I think I'll probably return as it seems to be a record you need to get to know in order to come to a truly informed judgement. Interesting at the very least. 

P.S. Listening through to the record for the second time this morning and I suspect it's one I'm going to grow to love.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 117 Bruce Springsteen


'This tough, this compassionate, this comfortable with the entire notion of rock 'n' roll masculinity.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 120 Blondie


'Giorgio Moroder meets surf instrumental in this epic hit.'

Song of the Day # 2,508 Corey Hanson


First promo I've seen with Santa in it this year. A rather frantic one. Seems appropriate this year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Songs About People # 1,210 Paddy McAloon


It's clearly Paddy McAloon day on It Starts today.

Covers # 135 Nina Simone


Groovy, end of Sixties take on Suzanne from Nina. All rather excellent.

Songs of the Year # 24 Sun Araw


Great British B Sides # 24 Prefab Sprout


B Side to Lions in My Own Garden.

Albums of The Year # 24 Daniel Romano - How Ill Thy World Is Ordered


Reports tell me that Ontario's Daniel Romano has already released nine records this year and apparently there are more in the pipeline. I'll leave you to investigate the specifics of this if you wish to but in the meantime I'm going to focus on this, How Ill Thy World Is Ordered, the quite extraordinary album he put out last Friday.

It's a quite marvellous old school record, something of a marriage of nasal Dylan and spiritual Harrison circa 1972. With that swirling organ Wild Mercury Sound from the former's time with The Band a few years prior to that. But those descriptions are not enough to do justice to just what a great record we've got on our hands here. If this isn't a career best record from Romano than I probably need to hear the one that is.

Each song melts into the next and surpasses its predecessor. It is a constant and deliberate echo of the first five years of the Seventies but as with recent albums from the likes of Weyes Blood and Kevin Morby, that's no slur because Romano and his band have such a handle on what made that such a glorious time to be alive.

Occasionally I caught echoes of early Springsteen and The E Street Band changing gear, classic Cosmic Country, Celtic Van, Lost Weekend Lennon. But for the most part it was mystical George and biblical Bob. In short, some record. Another for my end of year list. September is proving to be a bumper month record wise.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 116 Prefab Sprout - Swoon


'Swoon breaks a cardinal rule of the mediocraty meritocracy  - it's not a record that would appeal to everybody.' 

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 119 The Whispers


Song of the Day # 2,507 Beach Riot


Time travel. Back to the Nineties.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Songs of the Year # 25 Grimm Grimm


Great British B Sides # 25 The Charlatans


B Side to the wondrous North Country Boy.

Albums of The Year # 25 Jeremy Tuplin - Violent Waves

 One of only two gigs I went to this year. Way back in February. A fine and memorable night. A fine and memorable album came later: 

Way back in February, only six months ago but it seems like a lifetime away, I went to see Jeremy Tuplin and his band playing at the Cobalt Studios in Newcastle. I'd been incredibly impressed by his second album Pink Mirror from last year and written a glowing review which I'd send to Jeremy. He in turn had liked it and posted it on his Facebook page.

When I saw they were playing my hometown I send him a message asking whether he'd have time for a chat before they played. Very graciously he agreed and on the evening of the gig I spent a good hour talking with him and his band. Mostly about music obviously. I was very aware of not coming across as a starstuck, imposing fan but they never gave me that impression and were simply very chatty and accommodating bunch of people. The gig was terrific too.

That was the last time I've been to a concert in close company of others. Three weeks later the Lockdown curtain fell and we were all herded into this alternative reality that we've been in ever since. A few weeks ago Jeremy's (sorry for the familiarity, but I have met the guy), latest album Violet Waves came out.

It's a companion piece to Pink Mirror, not vastly dissimilar to its predecessor either in terms of its sound or its lyrical concerns. But it's no mere retread either. Put simply its just bloody good work. What struck me most about Pink Mirror is that a persona is adopted in the great  English Pop tradition, going back to Ray Davies and including and encompassing Marc Bolan, Kevin Ayers, David Bowie,Bryan Ferry,  Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker, Brett Anderson and Luke Haines.

Noble tradition for sure, but there aren't many who attempt it nowadays. Nor is it a conceit that's particularly easy to pull off. But Tuplin, (OK, perhaps I am being over familiar, I only met him for a couple of hours), does so quite effortlessly over the course of Violet Waves. He's louche, he's detached, his eyebrow is permanently arched. He's ironic but you know he'd deadly serious at the same time. This is English outsider Pop at it's very best and its great to see it achieved with such flair and aplomb.

Tuplin's a solo artist, but he's ably supported by a sympathetic band who clearly know their Velvet Underground from their Roxy Music. Violet Waves is another outstanding album and I can only hope that they're allowed out soon to play it to appreciative audiences soon. Hope they get the chance to come to Newcastle again so I can pester them once more, though I realise that might be pushing it!

Song of the Day # 2,506 Old Sea Brigade


Atlanta songwriter delivers neat, introspective, Sufjan, Cass, Elliot moment.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 115 The Smiths - The Smiths

'In thisManchester monsters corrupt the innocent on rainy, cobbled streets that haven't changed since the early Sixties.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 119 Funkadelic




Monday, November 30, 2020

Mercy Seat


Songs About People # 1,209 Bebe Buelle


Fashion model and girl on the arm.

Songs of the Year # 26 Spinning Coin


Spinning Coin were unfortunate to miss out in terms of my countdown when their fine second album Hyacinth were ejected by a late discovery altogether too good to omit. This was a highlight from Hyacinth.

Great British B Sides # 26 Teardrop Explodes


The Teardrops were always a bit more experimental than most. This was the flip to Passionate Friends.

Albums of The Year # 26 Coriky - Coriky

 Eponomously title album of the year:

Now this feels like a throwback. But a highly welcome one. The eponymous debut album by a Washington DC trio composed of Ian Mackay, formerly of Minor Threat, Fugazi and The Evens, Amy Farina of The Warmers and The Evens and Joe Lally also of Fugazi and The Messethetics. This is sure to excite a lot of cooler than cool kids making their way towards or through middle age.

The record is oozing with unflappable, underground suss from its opening notes. This is a band made up of musicians with impeccable testimonials of lives spent on the frontline of Punk, DIY experience, and they're all far too good to make a bad record here. It's a lean quite excellent record without an ounce of fat on it, showing the kids that sometimes, just sometimes, mom and dad know best.

I'm not particularly an expert on the bands Mackay, Farina and Laly played in formerly though I have listened to a fair few Minor Threat and Fugazi records in my time. This seethes with plenty of their righteous disquiet. It also minded me of several of their precursors, or in Minor Threat's case contemporary or near contemporaries; Gang of Four, Wire, Mission of Burma and .Minutemen.

Mackay and Farina, who are also husband and wife, take turns on the mic, (can't verify whether or not Laly does), and all in all this feels like a genuine communitarian statement. Each song here hums with a palpable, nervous tension. There's no dip in quality control from starter's gun to finishing tape. Wire themselves already proved that age is no impediment for authentic urgency with their wonderful album Mind Hive at the beginning of the year and Coriky mine a similar seam of inspiration with equal purpose here. 

Listening through to this has led me to take my copy of Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerad's essential chronicle of the stories of the pioneers of this particular American ethic, down from the shelf. I'll make my way through that over the coming days. Coriky makes an excellent soundtrack to the read. Punk's not dead. Why would anyone imagine that it should be, particularly in these pressing times, Coriky. Age shall not wither them.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 114 The The - Soul Mining


'Soul Mining is a concept album about being alone.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 118 The Clash


'London Calling is a defiant fist in the wake of an impending nightmare  apocalypse.'

Song of the Day # 2,505 The Royal Landscaping Society


Seville's Royal Landscaping Society have been quite for years but they#re back with this very New Ordery rush.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Songs About People # 1,208 The Verlaines & Husker Du


Charcoal Burners pay tribute to The Verlaines and Husker Du. There's evidence to their influence here.

Songs of the Year # 27 Low Key Crush


Great British B Sides # 27 Saint Etienne


B Side to Nothing Can Stop Us.

Albums of The Year # 27 Grimm Grimm - Ginormous

 A total leftfield surprise for me. But an enduring one:

A record I've slowly fallen for rather hard over the last few days is Ginormous the third album from London based Japanese musician Koichi Yamanoha who goes under the Grimm Grimm nom de guerre. I've lsitened to a range of great new records over that time but found myself coming back again and again to this almost despite myself. The sure sign of a great record.

Ginormous is a subtle charmer, whispering and insinuating rather than hammering its points home. It's all the more alluring for this approach, conjuring a soft, fantastic landscape that's reminiscent of the gentlest and oddest moments of Can, Young Marble Giants, Beach House and  Cate Le Bon's back catalogue.

High praise indeed, but Ginormous is worthy of it. It manages the remarkable feat of being both tender and durable and it's already a record I look forward to returning to and getting to know better over the coming weeks and months. Imbued with the loveliest melodies and cadences but shifting mood with the upmost subtlety from track to track, it's one for sensitive Indie couples to tuck the kids into bed to and kickback to before they themselves hit the sack.

Yamanoha describes the objective behind the album as trying to 'sound like a wedding and a funeral at the same time.'  Switching between his native tongue and his adopted one at will and inviting a number of like-minded female vocalists such as Paz Maddio and Laetitia Sadler to leaven the mix, the cumulative effect of their joint endeavours is incredibly compelling as you make your way through this enchanted forest of a record.

The tracks here function almost as nursery rhymes or lullabies, consistently bedded on a warm torrent of organ driven melodies. Determinedly intimate and idiosyncratic it constantly varies its mode of delivery and the individual tracks are quite different from one another yet knit together almost seamlessly. A small but perfectly formed arecord. An album of childlike wonder to clutch to your heart.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 113 Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones


'Tom Waits has never been thought of as a political artist. But in hindsight, his most famous album sounds like a protest against Reaganomics.;

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 117 Madness


'My Girl introduced  a whole new anti-macho male perspective on girl trouble to the charts.'

Song of the Day # 2,504 The Orcas


'Spicy boys, making spicy noice, with spicy toys,' according to their Spotify page. I can tell you no more.