'Meet the new Mozart. He's in the bed where commerce sleeps with art..'
From Paddy, to Ronnie Spector and back to Paddy. A slightly heart-rending tale of Mozart coming back for a second go at things having learned from the errors he made first time round and aiming for a more modest and altogether less inspired success this time round.. From Prefab Sprout's 2009 album Let's Change the World With Music.
This month, as Britain transitioned rather wonderfully from winter to spring there was plenty of new stuff musically that caught my ear. good new albums from The Shins, Valerie June, Moonlandingz, Real Estate, Spiral Stairs and on this last date of March the new Goldfrapp record which does the crunchy, cinematic dancefloor things we already know they do rather nicely. Also promising tasters of forthcoming albums from Fleet Foxes and Benjamin Booker, Grandaddy, just fabulous live at the Hoults Yard in Newcastle on Jason Lyttle's birthday, and a wonderful album from Mount Eerie called A Crow Looked At Me, which almost acts as a self-assistance manual, to help listeners cope with personal loss.
I was prodded in this direction by the NME article below where Paddy MacAloon selects it as one of his own personal, musical favourites. A 1971 single on the Apple Record Label, written by George Harrison, co-produced by Phil in preparation for an album which never materialised. In typical Harrison vogue it seems to be about spiritual realisation and is quite epic in scale on every level. It was not a hit! Ronnie Spector herself did not rate it. Both she and the general public were wrong in this respect if feel. There's something quite magnificent about its bruised ambition. Bowie was a long term fan of the song and recorded it himself over twenty years later.
To finish off this little series one of the best philosophical folk pop songs every written. Made famous of course by Harry Nilsson as the theme tune for Midnight Cowboy, and later covered by Luna, here's the original from the man who wrote it.
London band Swimming Tapes new EP, the four track Souvenirs is really a rather lovely object. Setting off rather unremarkably into a shimmery guitar haze that's very familiar to anyone who's remotely aware of Real Estate, Beach Fossils or Ducktails records, they nevertheless do such a fine job of weaving the song into a dream state that by the culmination of each song the effect is rather spellbinding.
All four songs are worth hearing, more to the point, none of them really stand out of the pack either, because the band take a similar route across the course of each. It all seems rather fitting as the weather outside, (at least where I am), takes an upturn and we head into spring.
Here they all cased visually, in highly appropriate pastel beach scenarios. Clearly a band to drift into dream to. They'll probably need to broaden their palette with future releases as this approach alone will not suffice in terms of longevity but for now, and in this short, sweet dose it will very much do.
New Thurston Moore ahead of his new album Rock n Roll Consciousness which is due on April 28th. It's not untypical Moore, working slap-bang within the meter that he's been known for over many years. Things do all rise to a rather thrilling level of guitar virtuosity though.
'Perhaps the truest Beatles single of all, since they recorded it twice, changing not only the music but the message. Although it appears on the White Album as a softened up blues with Lennon announcing 'You can count me in,' the real gem is the 45, with its ferocious fuzztone rock and roll attack and Lennon snarling , 'You can count me out,' not a progressive sentiment but as regards those who went around carrying pictures of Chairman Mao he was right. And Lennon self-righteous could be a wonder to behold.'
On Sunday afternoon on a lovely sunny day I wandered along Newcastle Quayside wasting time before meeting up with a friend and going to see Grandaddy play (of which more later). I decided to waste some time having a look round the Baltic Art Gallery over the Millennium Bridge in Gateshead.
Modern art galleries of course are subject to some disdain and sometimes I share this reaction. This time though I was glad I took the detour. Because at the moment two of The Baltic's floor are taken up by an exhibition by Canadian artist Rodney Graham.
Graham specialises in 'staged' photography. Huge pictures featuring himself in wry, self-depreciating, self-conscious scenarios, playing roles, trying on costumes. It was a thoughtful, funny, gentle and altogether rather lovely show.
He's also a musician, in fact he's playing a rare show at The Baltic in a month or so, and yesterday I listened through to his latest album Good Hand Bad Hand as a follow up to my stroll around the gallery.
It's wry, funny and self-depreciating and rather lovely too. Graham has a very taking Neil Young lilt to his voice and altogether comes across as a marvelously drawn Wes Anderson character, fictionalising himself for the purposes of his work. He says he finds lyrics difficult because he hasn't really got anything to say. He says it very well nevertheless and I'm now a fan.
Mount Eerie, who I wasn't aware of until a couple of days ago, have a new record out called A Crow Looked At Me, released last Friday. In the couple of days since then it's already racked up sufficient support to shift up to # 12 on albums of the year on The Best Ever Albums website which is a good way of measuring these kind of things and their currency.
The band are essentially the solo project of former Microphones band member Phil Elverum. This record is a particular, one-off mission. An autobiographical charting of dreadful personal events in Elverum's recent life, focused on the death of his wife Genevieve Castree of pancreatic cancer shortly after the birth of their daughter.
The songs on A Crow Looked At Me chart Elverum's mourning process, the random thoughts, emotions and sensations that cross his mind as he tries to cope with his loss but also hold onto the memories of his loved, departed one. It's a strangely consoling album, very much documenting the ticking of time. About death, of course, but also very much about life and the struggles we're all obliged to go through as we transition through it. It's not a record of songs constructed with conventional verses or choruses and that's exactly as it should be. Elverum's off-key but warm vocal delivery give things a strange, poignant potency. Here's one that seems sure to spawn a small, tender legend!
There's a story behind every song put on the jukebox at Rosie's if you dig hard enough. It's a small, compact pub in the shadow of the St.James Park football stadium in Newcastle with a jukebox just loud enough to listen to the music if you want to and ignore it if you're equally inclined. Here's the small story behind this particular moment. Milli, who is pretty much the patron centre of the place and the first person I noticed, sat quietly at the far end of the place when I first started going in about ten years back turned up after a long shift of baby sitting for a quiet drink. Unfortunately he wasn't going to have one because there was a pack of loud punters from The Irish Centre across the road already making a row on a stag do at the far end of the bar. They drove him out. I meanwhile went to put a few songs on. The volume got to such a point while I was making my selection that I deliberately put on the loudest but also smartest song I could think of. Nobody noticed. My selection came to an end and the loud guys put on Chris Rea's Lady in Red. I left. Life goes on, somewhere else ,and meanwhile this series is almost two hundred.
I saw Moonlandingz play three nights ago at The Cluny in Newcastle, on the verge of the release of their debut album Interplanetary Class Classics, which came out yesterday. I can't say I enjoyed them greatly, although they certainly put on some show. The aura of the great British hype rose off them like steam, they come from a place where Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Sigue Sigue Sputnick, Jesus & Mary Chain, The Manic Street Preachers, Birdland, KLF, These Animal Men, Gay Dad and umpteen others have been before them. A well trodden path.
With a lead singer, (Fat White Family's Lias Saoudi, but here Johnny Rocket), topless and with the lower part of his torso wrapped in cellophane with drawn on sideburns and eyebrows, swigging from a bottle and gyrating and rubbing himself against co-vocalist Rebecca Taylor in all kinds of contortions which verged on the ghastly, backed by a set of stocky blokes from Sheffield's The Eccentronic Research Council, a stern guitarist, Mairead O'Connor and a stage patter that defied explanation. Frankly I thought they were trying too hard and left before they were done.
I am taken by the record though. They know what they're doing. Whereas their stage show suggested The Cramps and The B52's having been sliced and diced and vomited out by a very British blender, Interplanetary Class Classics tells a very different tale. Here you get The Glitter Band, The Velvet Underground, Simple Minds circa Empires & Dance, Joe Meek, the early Human League, The Sparks, Suicide and World of Twist. You get a series of very interesting alternative pop songs, you get Sean Lennon producing, the cowboy from the Village People on a track called, (erm), Glory Hole and finally Phil Oakey and Yoko Ono warbling horribly all over six minute closer This Cities Undone. And trust me, at least 80% of it is very good. Because they clearly know what they're doing. I'm not particularly fussed about watching them visually again, but the record is just fine. Indie trash!
' The early eighties Paisley Underground Scene of guitar-led garage bands was a particular movement. Based around a set of like-minded and mutually supportive souls, looking more to the sixties than the seventies generally, it produced a bunch of good to middling records and perhaps one album that verges on greatness, the debut outing from The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine & Roses.
Built around the songwriting and vocals of Steve Wynn, but very much a group effort, it was recorded in a couple of days in late 1982 and released later in the same year. Very much indebted to the methedrine intensity of The Velvet Underground, there's even a slower Nico / Mo Tucker track, sung by bassist Kendra Smith. Wynn became increasingly defensive in response to the inevitable comparisons, (they did after all take their name from the original pre-Velvets grouping), nevertheless, it's certainly much more than mere tribute, sounding very much a West Coast record rather than an East Coast one, drenched as it is in Hollywood paranoia and cinematic angst, A series of well-crafted and impressively delivered songs of guitar adventuring.
The band draw on Punk and New Wave in addition to the sixties. Wynn and lead guitarist Karl Precoda duel in a manner not dissimilar to Television's Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd but their interplay is intentionally more ragged and open-ended, (and occasionally awash in feedback), than that band's recorded output and nods its head to Crazy Horse, Dylan and Creedence too, while The Fall were also an influence that Wynn has repeatedly mentioned in interview. He was also apparently an avid fan of Postcard Records, Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. He applies his own, half-spoken, drawled vocals, telling a set of tales of vague, existential dread of lives spinning irretrievably out of control, played out under the unrelenting Californian sun. In addition to all this, the album acts as something of a pre-cursor to Sonic Youth, who were just forming at the same point and preceded to take things to an altogether more unhinged extreme in the following decade.
The Days of Wine & Roses, seen on its own terms, is a pretty much perfect guitar album. Never quite as inspired as Reed, Verlaine or Young, Wynn's songs nevertheless operate highly efficiently in their slipstream and Precoda's playing particularly elevates the record to its own equisite heights.It very much sounds like the work of a band on the uneasy cusp of adulthood and laying down their own path.
Setting off with the creamy Tell Me When It's Over, each track on here keeps up the pace and occasionally, when the band really let rip, they set down a template that has barely been matched since. Wynn is an observer of life's strange tribulations, troubled, but also detached and occasionally the band lock into an inspired almost jazz like hazy, opiate groove.
Going at cross-purposes to much of the New Wave which was turning on mass towards synth-pop, The Days of Wine & Roses revisits and renews the glorious potential of guitar driven Rock and Roll. The Dream Syndicate were far from alone, at least in the States. The Replacements, R.E.M. Husker Du and The Minutemen along with countless others had embarked along similar roads but they were all very much underground concerns at this point, with the possible exception of R.E.M. who immediately began making chart inroads the same year with the release of Murmur.
The Days of Wine & Roses is a record with limited commercial appeal. The Velvet Underground, regardless of Wynn's protestations, the guiding influence of everything on here, were never meant to top the hit parade. Nevertheless, the record did open up a whole field of exciting possibilities which those with like-minded sensibilities leapt on, in Europe as well as the States.
When I personally started hearing this music myself, round about the time, when I was forming my own taste and starting to buy my first records, it was a revelation. The influence of Punk was beginning to dim, with 1982 and New Pop probably its last direct immediate impact on the mainstream. The Smiths emerged to offer an alternative route along with The Go-Betweens, Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, The Triffids and Lloyd Cole & the Commotions but there were also all of these American bands, though, again with the exception of R.E.M. they didn't gain much footing over here except for touring occasionally in small halls to appreciative audiences.
Several of the other Paisley Underground bands were worthy of note. The Rain Parade, True West, The Long Ryders and The Bangles for example. But it was The Dream Syndicate who most successfully built a bridge from the sixties to the eighties with this record. Sadly they never quite matched it, signing to A&M and worked with big-hitting producer Sandy Pearlman on their second album The Medicine Show. In comparison with their first outing, they worked painstakingly on the record's sound but despite having great moments, (it's a fine 'nearly' record, particularly the mighty John Coltrane's Stereo Blues), overall it failed to match the sustained, inspirational peaks of its successor. The Days of Wine & Roses remains the band's definitive statement. It still sounds quite wonderful today, more than thirty years on!
* For an excellent account of the record an its context, see this Uncut Magazine review
A 1975 Private-Pressing record of only 300 copies now to be re-released on the Tompkins Square Label . A thoughtful and wonderfully crafted album from a singer-songwriter in the Fred Neil, Tim Buckley and Rodriguez vein. Beautifully dappled songs which are meditations on the nature of existence and all that we do, and a quest to make some inroads on what it's all about, Am I Really Here All Alone, seems a well judged title.
Rodriguez is the comparison that really comes through to me on listening to this. Not all of the songs are perfectly formed, there's a ragged, demo-ish character to them which somehow seem to indicate why Lewin garnered little attention first time round. You can almost visualise Lewin back then, playing to a slightly inattentive audience in a New York Coffee House on a quiet weekday evening.
Those who were paying attention were onto something nevertheless. The sheer quality of the songwriting and delivery here also goes some way to explaining why they're deemed worthy of renewed attention. This would be a purchase that you wouldn't regret. Nice!
The Red Krayola, among the ultimate sixties American cult bands, possibly because a lot of their output isn't particularly listenable. Galaxie 500 chose to cover this, one of their most approachable numbers.
One of the greatest things about doing this blog for me personally, has been that over the weeks and months that I've been writing it since I started in June 2013 I've gradually become oriented to the here and now in terms of what I listen to and appreciate musically. What began as essentially a nostalgia exercise for me to shuffle through my record collection, jot down my thoughts, ideas and memories about the albums I loved in the eighties, eventually made me more contemporary in terms of what I seek out and enjoy and subsequently post.
Now, I consciously look out for what new music is coming out every Friday and consequently have realised what a broad range of wonderful music is being made in the here and now, an idea I would s probably have been cynical about through ignorance back in 2013. Take Valerie June's fifth album The Order of Time, (just out), for example. In many ways it's not a 'new' record, steeped as it is in classic soul, cajun and mountain traditions although they're updated skillfully through modern recording values. What brings it all together is Brooklyn based, (does everybody live in Brooklyn nowadays?), June's beautiful lived in voice and wonderful smart and warm and slightly quirky), songwriting talent. Astral Plane, (posted above), is sure to be one of my favourite songs of the year. The rest of the record is brilliant too. An album of consolation for the moments when you need it.
One of the leading icons for twentieth century alternative counterculture lifestyle. Jean Genie was apparently written for him. The likes of Patti Smith and Bobby Gillespie swear by him. Here, Brazilian band Capital Inicial pay tribute on their 1999 record Atras Dos Olhos.
Philadelphia's Ron Gallo has a full and slightly forbidding Afro. In the grand tradition of The MC5 and At The Drive In. Their's is a musical seam he definitely mines as well, (lots of seventies New York Punk here also), all loose street, cocksure attitude, which goes back beyond these to the Bob Dylan of Subterranean Homesick Blues and sixties garage which are surely his original sources.
On his new album, the just released Heavy Meta, (geddit!), he makes a strong case for this stuff being as relevant now as it's ever been. Opening track Young Lady You're Scaring Me sets off with a riff that's pure Nuggets at which point Gallo releases a rock and roll howl that let's the listener know exactly where we all are if we weren't fairly sure already. If you have Richard Hell & the Voidoids, The Cramps or Mink De Ville in your collection, you're going to feel perfectly at home here.
If Gallo is somehow working from a similar template and set of ingredients to Courtney Barnett, (she made this kind of loose garage married to modern sentiment relevant again a few years back), he's is definitely an angrier, grittier Barnett, hailing from downtown rather than the suburbs, and emphasises his edge by adding a bit more blues to the mix than she ever did, some Jack White and some traces of Zep.
It's a record that's a bit pick and mix with regards to my personal tastes. Some tracks work better for me than others but Gallo is clearly a talent and Heavy Meta a record I'm sure to return to. For me he's at his best when he's either at his most punkish or at the opposite end of the spectrum at his most thoughtful and laying off the guitar heroics. The best song on here for my money is final track All The Punks Are Domesticated which I can't post a direct link to but which you can find here, which is pretty much a state of play address for where we find ourselves in 2017. The lyrics say much of what needs to be said!
Bristol's pioneering and defiantly low-fi Young Marble Giants were quite an influence on Wareham. Here's a single of their's, from the early eighties where they articulate that post-nuclear dread that was so prevalent at that point in time.
The comeback song from Fleet Foxes after six years away. An album is also forthcoming. This is a nine minute track, (or conflation of tracks) called 3rd of May / Odaigahara about the friendship of singer Robin Pecknold and guitarist Skyler Skjelset. It's a thing of rare beauty and seems destined to be one of 2017 most memorable tracks.
New young London band Shame were Song of the Day on here a few weeks back. Here's their new song Tasteless out soon on on Fnord Communications. The band are all nineteen year olds and this is all highly promising! Anger as an energy.
'I'm going to Aberdeen. That's where they set the scene...'
Scott Kannberg, formerly of Pavement, has a new album out shortly, called Doris & the Daggers. Kannberg moved a few years back to Brisbane, Australia and according to Keith Cameron, who wrote the review in a recent copy of Mojo, the change has impacted positively on his work, with elements of the sensibility of The Go-Betweens and Flying Nun popping up in his sound. That's good news to me. Here's the outlier of the album, a song called Dundee Man a wonderfully crafted sunny pop indie thing, with typical nonsense Pavement lyrics, (Kannberg is certainly no Dundee man, apparently it's about a fishing holiday he took in Scotland, but what do specific details really matter here!), and a beautiful ringing riff. that's reminiscent of The Chills at their peak. I look forward to hearing its parent record.
A song for Chuck Berry. It has to be said, his songs sounded wonderful coming out of the jukebox tonight! Just watch this clip of him playing Back in the USA on the Dick Clark Show. It tells such a story of times gone by.
While we're talking contemporary British punk bands, here's another IDLES. Their new record gets a bit samey in its relentless thrashing after a bit but one track at a time it's fine. French novelist Stendahl described encountering Giotto's frescoes for the first time as follows:
'I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in France, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call'nerves'. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.'
Hence Stendahl Syndrome, which was given a name in Florence again in 1979 after a doctor noticed similar physical and emotional reaction among any number of tourists to exposure to the city's artworks. IDLES sing about a rather less positive, but equally overpowering response to Modern Art.