Wednesday, January 23, 2019
A trailer for the new Robert Forster album which I'll post presently led me to this. An Australian band I've long been aware of, they were pretty high profile in the Eighties and Nineties, (known for their Krautrock and Talking Heads influenced sound), but that I've never listened to. This song, probably their best known, stuck out to me on first hearing. Something of a classic. According to an Australian friend it's their Number One Karaoke song and I can understand why.
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
American screen actor of the Thirties or Forties, notorious for portraying unhinged, depraved types. Alice Cooper devoted a song to him on his band's 1971 album Love it to Death knocking the 'e' off his surname. Frye died of a heart attack while travelling on a bus in Hollywood in 1943.
Kyle Crane, touring drummer for Neko Case, M.Ward and Daniel Lanois has made a rather lovely record under the moniker Crane Like The Birds. It seems like a summer album, mercifully released in darkest January when people need it. It's full of gently strummed. optimistic sounding songs focused on rooting out all that feels the very best about the sensation of just being alive.
The album is full of collaborations, with James Mercer, Conor Oberst and M.Ward himself among several others. It's a rather lovely concoction that is reminiscent of a Summers day teenage excursion.A couple of songs don't work for me but much does.
Monday, January 21, 2019
Sunday, January 20, 2019
A band very much in the mould of early R.E.M. when they first emerged with the fabulous Backyard EP in the mid-eighties.
New Years generally take a while to kick off music wise. But 2019 really set off in fine form for me on Friday with the release of at least three great records, all surely destined to land up high in my end of year countdown when we finally get round to that. And the best of the three to my ears is Remind Me Tomorrow, the latest album by Sharon Van Etten.
Listening through to the record all the way through on Friday was something of a revelation. I'm not enormously familiar with Van Etten's back catalogue which stretches back to 2005, but this album is evidence enough as to why she's held in such high esteem by so many.
It's a highly immediate record, each song sounding as if you've heard it before somewhere, not to say that it's derivative, merely highly evocative and crafted. By the time I got to fourth track Comeback Kid, the record's initial taster, released towards the end of last year, a lost Eighties hit that never was and one of the best songs of recent years, I was already sold.
If the record is something of a statement about determinedly facing forward and stepping away from abuse and distress, (this is well documented in Van Etten's interviews and work), there is scant self-pity here. The picture on the sleeve of the record, of a child surrounded by childhood detritus, is an illustration of clutter, the clutter we all come into the earth to and continue to accumulate, try to come to terms with and discard all the way through life. It describes as well as anything could, a struggle that's going on within the songs themselves.
In a recent interview with Uncut Magazine Van Etten herself identified Portishead, Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree and Suicide as key stylistic inspirations for Remind Me Tomorrow. I can certainly hear echoes of the latter's doomed, urban romanticism here. Elsewhere, I'll leave a proper set of reference points to a friend of mine, and supporter of this blog and someone who's more familiar with Van Etten's work than I am, who has promised an assessment of his own. When he writes it I'll get back and amend this post.
For the time being I'd say that Remind Me Tomorrow is the best record I've heard thus far this year. If I hear more than a handful of better ones it will be a very good year all round. It's an album with all the bruised honesty, artistic intensity and beauty of a late Seventies Springsteen or Patti Smith record but most importantly it makes its own space and stands alone. It's just fabulous!
Saturday, January 19, 2019
Politics almost inevitably on the menu at Rosie's on Friday night. The fact that Entertainment! had appeared on the jukebox seemed appropriate.
Something of a landmark post this one. Today it's exactly five years to the day that I started this particular series - Song of the Day, which has been the driving force in my posting so much since. Today's choice is Colombian Pop Star Kali Uchis and something from her quite remarkable album of last year Isolation.
Friday, January 18, 2019
Thursday, January 17, 2019
A fascinating choice of subject matter for this one. Cornelius Cardew was an experimental composer who worked with Stockhausen and did a considerable amount to introduce the likes of LaMonte Young and John Cage to English audiences in the Sixties. A prominent and engaged Marxist, Cardew was killed in the early Eighties by a hit and run driver and there's still conjecture that the Secret Service may have had a hand in it.
January is coming good, even before Sharon Van Etten and Deerhunter turn up with their new albums tomorrow. The latest record to take my fancy is this, De Facto, the fifth album from Mexican band Lorelle Meets the Obsolete.
A claustrophobic, psychedelic, avant garde Rock and Roll record, it may remind you of plenty of things but is sufficiently compelling to focus your appreciation on its own spell. Best experienced in dark clubs with leather clad types around you or in a room full of lit candles. It's a Gothic thriller.
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Canterbury duo Ultramarine have had a thirty year career on the fringes of Acid and Ambient that has passed me by until now. Their latest record, Signals into Space is just out and it's rather lovely, perhaps directed for the most part at a clubbing crowd pushing into middle age and looking to chill more than they used to in their prime, but there's nowt wrong with that.
Here are three tracks that give you some idea about how it sounds. The first two with regular collaborator Anna Domino sounding by turns like Laurie Anderson and someone borrowed off a Massive Attack record. Plus an instrumental set to send you, altogether pleasantly, off towards the land of nod. Probably not about to move mountains commercially but made by people who very much know what they're doing and a very nice record indeed.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
'Sitting here bending notes, all the hipsters look like Warren Oates...'
Warren Oates was something of an all-American Existential hero due to his appearance in a number of great 'New Hollywood' films in the Sixties and Seventies. Danny & Dusty, a collective built around Green on Red's Dan Stuart and Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn, recognised this fact, and recognised Oates with this song on their 2007 reunion album Cast Iron Soul.
Corey Cunningham of Magic Bullets and Terry Malts is back with more lovely Electropop that harks back to OMD, New Order and the like without ever sounding revivalist. Keep the Blues Away on Sumberland Records comes ahead of a second album entitled Ripe For Anarchy.
Though much feted in many quarters, the charms of Sunderland's Field Music have always rather passed me by. Ridiculously fussy for my tastes, more 10cc than Steely Dan, I'd given them up as not for me. But now, here's a collaboration album from the band's Peter Brewis and Admiral Fallow's Sarah Hayes and it's much more to my fancy.
I think it's Hayes presence that's the key to my change of mind. While the arrangements can still be slightly kitchen sink her folk vocals, coming over as a restrained Sandy Denny, lend a very sweet hue to proceedings. I also found myself warming a lot more to Brewis's approach. It's altogether a rather charming record. The band are giving an in-store appearance at Newcastle's Reflex Records, (down the road from me), this Thursday. Might need to pop along to see them.
Monday, January 14, 2019
January is such a quiet music in terms of good new music that you're grateful when anything that catches your attention comes down the pike. The first album I've noticed this year is the self-titled debut from Toronto's Tallies which came out on Friday.
While far from original in any respect, it is at least fresh. It takes its cues from compatriots Alvvays but also, and more prominently as you listen through to the record, from The Sundays. That band never made any pretence to having designs to save the world and neither do Tallies. But the record is sweet, poppy and melodic and worth a listen.
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Having finally come to the end of one very, very long series, the thing to do seems to be to commence another. One of my proudest possessions of all is a wonderful boxset of the finest records made by Atlantic Records in the field of Rhythm & Blues between 1947 and 1974. Given to me by a girlfriend in the late eighties, something I'm still grateful to her for, it's a marvellous collection of seven double albums, well over a hundred tracks in all. And the countdown through the years starts today.
Saturday, January 12, 2019
It was interesting to carry out a basic field poll with friends, colleagues and barmen about Arcade Fire almost fifteen years after their debut album Funeral came out in 2004. 'They've got a few good songs,' 'Funeral is an absolute classic' and 'Who?' were three responses that I got when doing very basic, comprehensively limited and unscientific research over the last few weeks.
Funeral was undoubtedly the edifice on which the band established their reputation and built their fame all those years ago. Enormously heralded at the time and still revered, on the Best Ever Album site, (as good a modern measurement of such things as exists) it's ranked as seventh best album ever made. Below three Beatles albums but ahead of Led Zeppelin IV and The Velvet Underground & Nico for goodness sake! I'm sure time will restore common sense and order and it will drop below both of these eventually. But it's a ranking worth some thought and scrutiny, so I'll try to give it my own personal judgement here.
I actually bought this record on vinyl just before Christmas, the first time I've ever owned a copy in any format, so it must have wormed its way into my consciousness somehow over fifteen years. Listening to it now it's having pretty much the same effect on me as the band always has. There's much to admire but also much that grates.
So first of all what grates? Win Butler's voice, the self-regard, the relentless melodrama, calling four of the first five tracks Neighborhood, (a staggering act of pretension, tell me where I'm wrong), and more which I'll proceed to outline. And to admire? The arrangements, which are often staggeringly graceful, the sheer ambition, and most of all, perhaps the band's ultimate achievement, nailing the vague hysterical emotion that is definitely a key ingredient of being alive whether we like it or not. The fact that I'd say this is the absolute key ingredient in the Arcade Fire concoction and has been ever since may be an indication as to why the band have not managed to sustain the almost universal critical acclaim they were initially greeted with on the release of Funeral.They are in many respects, the ultimate Marmite band.
Saying that, I've written the review up to this point while listening to the first side of the record from start to finish and am still steeling myself to turn it over and listen to Side 2 is as good a measure of any as to where I stand personally in this discussion. I'm still, after fifteen years, in the 'don't know', camp with a tendency to lean towards, 'not today thanks'. While I could with little effort compile an Arcade Fire playlist of absolute top rank stuff there's much else that I respond to with 'please give it a rest'.
Because ultimately we cannot live our lives like this all the time. If I happened to meet the ultimate Arcade Fire fan, I would probably want to avoid him or her like the plague. Having Norma Desmond in our universe is a wonderful thing but none of us would really want to live with her. When Arcade Fire first appeared, they were often most readily compared to Talking Heads, (understandibly), but too often they veer towards U2. They miss the point.
The band would probably prefer to be compared to Echo & the Bunnymen than U2. Much of Neon Bible, their deeply flawed second album tried and failed to nail that band's peak period bruised majesty. What the Bunnymen and Talking Heads both have though which Arcade Fire don't in my book is a fierce sense of dry humour and perspective which makes their best stuff genuinely epic in stature. Neither of them played consciously to the back row of the arena as U2 and Arcade Fire so often did. So while U2 and Arcade Fire are bigger, Talking Heads and The Bunnymen are better.
Perhaps I'm doing Funeral a disservice as I continue to listen and write. It's full of fine songs which have understandably achieved classic status over the years with countless people. It's almost a greatest hits set from a debut album which is a rare achievement in itself. Perhaps whenever from now on I'm in need of hysteria, (and that does happen to me), it will become my go to record. But I can't help but feel that a part of my beef with Arcade Fire is that too much of the raging ambition that fuels their work is thirst for universal acclaim and its resultant wealth rather than respect and awe for the music itself. Perhaps an indication of this is Win Butler's public sense of humour failure in response to the critical bashing of the band's latest 'ironic' state of the world address Everything Now. Like U2 they thirst to be loved as well as rich and sometimes you just can't have both.
So I feel slightly bruised from my almost fifty minute encounter with Funeral. I feel like I need to sit down in quiet and have a cup of tea. Arcade Fire are pretty relentless company. They continued to be so ever after Funeral thrust them firmly into the spotlight. They've had peaks and troughs since. In terms of recommendations I'd direct the curious to this, The Suburbs and Reflektor as their finest works. Even as a slight dissenter from the general consensus I'll admit that they're good. Just not quite as good as they think they are. For the band themselves who would doubtless be less than content with my own, (in the scheme of things, slightly meaningless), assessment, I'd point them towards Speaking in Tongues, Heaven Up Here and Marquee Moon. Meanwhile, I'm off for that cup of tea.
P.S. Along with my cup of tea I listened to a Joan Armatrading album. It cheered me up enormously.
£5.00 Rock Bottom, Whitstable
Bought from a proper collectors shop in rapidly upgrading Whitstable. A 1975 compilation from K-Tel who had cornered the market in this kind of wonderful cheapness. Several genuinely 'Goofy' selections, several rather odd ones, Wild Thing, Nashville Cats and Good Golly Miss Molly but an altogether wonderful listen from start to finish.
Remarkably, this most long running finite series of all finally comes to a close today with a highly appropriate Number One.
'I Heard it through the Grapevine isn't a plea to save a love affair: it's Marvin Gaye's essay on salvaging the human spirit. The record distills four hundred years of paranoia and talking drum gossip into three minutes and fifteen seconds of anguished soul-searching. The proof's as readily accessible as your next unexpected encounter on the radio with the fretful, self-absorbed vocal that makes the record a lost continent of music and emotion.'