Saturday, March 31, 2018

Songs About People # 576 Spike Milligan

Utterly uncompromising Membranes single from 1984.

It Start With A Birthstone - Songs For March

And now some songs.

It Starts With A Birthstone - Albums For March

March was altogether a fine month for new albums. Here are the ten that took my fancy most. Running order will undoubtedly change as all of them appeal to me in their different ways. Slight disappointments from The Breeders and Sunflower Bean aside, there was much that I'd recommend that came out in the last thirty one days. Buffalo Tom, Flowertruck, D.A.Stern and Thousand just missed the Top Ten.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 288 The Beach Boys

Song(s) of the Day # 1,532 Frankie Cosmos

'When the heart gets too tender. Return it to sender...'

Frankie Cosmos brings to mind the word 'cute'. Her presentation of herself, her material and her world, undeniably call forth this description very quickly. She's the daughter of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, (not a detail that's insignificant when placing her music), and Vessel, her third album, is just out. 

Listening to it made me think of New York City and being young. People will always be young in that city of course and it will always signal a certain kind of romance, (so long as you're from the right side of the tracks), that will never ever quite change. Think Audrey Hepburn. Think Edie Sedgewick. Think Regina Spector. And now think Frankie Cosmos.

Vessel is a series of smart, sweet indie pop songs, (eighteen tracks in thirty three minutes no less), that never once venture from the formula that Cosmos has already established on her previous records. Pitchfork love it, as they love Frankie Cosmos, possibly because she represents a significant section of their demographic, as well as being undeniably talented. Their review of Vessel contains the following lines:

'(she) has become known as no less than a savior of indie pop and the poet laureate of New York City DIY. With wry minimalism and a voice both cherubic and droll, Kline shows that we feel the depths of the city in a granular way - like in the small defeat of swiping an empty MetroCard, or the tiny victory of ascending in a platform just as the train arrives.' 

This is utterly ridiculous but I imagine the writer enjoyed writing it and as a description it does do something to capture the sheer happy contained, (and undoubtedly privileged),  youth of the record. Vessel doesn't once veer off its pre-regulated rails but that's no criticism. Its songs are finely honed, packaged and wrapped. It's an album of music re-imagined as a box of chocolates and plenty of people will be more than happy with its gifts.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Songs About People # 575 Caligula

Postmodernist Caligula? Not sure what one of those is. But shouty, young punky types seem to know as they return with a new album Nihilistic Glamour Shots.

Moon Cycle # 16 Tom Waits

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 289 The Beach Boys

Song(s) of the Day # 1,531 Trembling Bells

Trembling Bells are not a phenomenon that I've really been aware of until this year. I'm catching on late as Dungeness, just out, is their sixth album in all, they've worked with Bonnie Prince Charlie and been endorsed by Stewart Lee and Stuart Maconie along the way and create a big, (undeniably pretentious), but highly distinctive Folk Prog sound.

Christ's Entry Into Govan, the quite brilliant single which heralded it at the turn of the year is probably the most conventional thing on here, and it's not really conventional at all, except in the way that it recalls that strange time at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies in the UK when quite batty Folk acts would find themselves in the UK charts and on Top of the Pops.

It's here and on I'm Coming where the band push forward Lavinia Blackwall, their wonderfully pure-  throated singer, undeniably reminiscent of Sandy Denny in her prime and the band aspire for and achieve the wondeful otherness of Fairport Convention at their peak. In the video the band dance in kaftans with flowers in their hair across a sunny meadow.

Elsewhere Prog often takes centre stage. Not generally a style of music that floats my boat much but there's something that's quite infectious and immersive about the way that the band handle it. Blackwall transmutes into Shocking Blue's Mariska Veres or Grace Slick by turns and the band generate a series of Medieval metal hoedowns.

They will probably enrage many. Drummer, main songwriter and leader Alex Nielson is ludicrously pretentious in interviews about the cultural and literary inspirations and allusions of their work.They're somehow made for The Quietus, the modern online site that faultlessly documents the obscure and arcane and suitably that august journal bites, giving the band no end of documentation and Dungeness a fully appreciative, thumbs up review.

I have to say I concur too. But not really because of its affectations so much as the fact that it's just a big bold, proud and thoroughly enjoyable record. A band having no end of fun with the treasure chest of Folk, Prog and alternative possibilities and dressing up and frolicking across car parks and fields in ludicrous outfits in their promo videos. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Songs About People # 574 Johnny Marr

Swedes Alpaca Sports, as fey and wan as you could possibly want, (is it a national trait?), sing one for the man.

Bonny Doon - Longwave

It's probably Bonny Doon's misfortune, (though I shouldn't imagine they're losing much sleep over it), that I've already had my slacker, casually strummed album of the month with Nap Eyes splendid I'm Bad Now. You hardly need two and that record ticked the boxes that you expect from this stuff and Bonny Doon's second album Longwave, by comparison is a relative disappointment.

This kind of stuff all originated in the Nineties I guess with the likes of Pavement and The Lemonheads. The whole sensibility was based on the idea that less was more I guess, the reasoning that you couldn't be seen to care too much which actually meant that you cared a lot if you arched your eyebrow in the right way.

But while Nap Eyes have more than enough sass and inspiration to transcend their inspirations and find their own niche, Bonny Doon remain determinedly in first gear throughout Longwave. So I guess it's back to I'm Bad Now,  an album that really shows how this stuff is to be done.

Yo La Tengo

Moon Cycle # 15 Television

Anyone who knows me would know that this song would feature at some stage on this series. Midpoint seems as good a place as any.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 290 William Bell

Song(s) of the Day # 1,530 Joss Cope

Something I missed in the mad rush last year is Unrequited Lullabies, the debut album from Joss Cope, younger brother of Julian. It got precious little publicity from what I can see, I certainly didn't hear of it and am enjoying the opportunity to catch up with it now, as it's an excellent record

A set of concise, crafted pop songs in the tradition of Barrett, Ayers and Wyatt. Unmistakably the work of a Cope, Joss has that thick, plummy middle class Midlands accent as the Julian of the first two solo albums, and the songs have a similar melodic and lyrical bent as the the ones from those records such as Head Hang Low and Bill Drummond Said.

It's no wonder really that there is debt and influence of big brother here. The two were close, Julian name checked Joss on Reynard the Fox and Joss contributed to other tracks on Fried in terms of playing and songwriting. So really the similarities here merely add to the appeal of the record, as it's clear that Joss has plenty going for him.

Released on the Gare Du Nord record label which is fast becoming a byword for such quintessential and inimitable expressions of Englishness, Unrequited Lullabies is a pearl of an album, perhaps lacking the musical assurance and production values of World Shut Your Mouth and Fried but still a delight to chance upon and meriting repeated listenings.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Songs Heard on the Radio # 249 Echo & the Bunnymen

I have mixed feelings about the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain. Proclaimed by their marketing to be the best album ever made on its release I don't even think it's their finest. But hearing this, one of the hits they plucked from it, just now ,I realised what it is. Just fine pop music.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 286 Can

Wonderful when a song as good as this suddenly appears on the jukebox at Rosie's. I'm going to play the life out of it.

Moon Cycle # 14 Creedence Clearwater Revival

Another obvious but necessary selection.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 291 Stevie Wonder

Song of the Day # 1,529 Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

Very much in the style of Range Life. New album forthcoming.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Moon Cycle # 13 The Rolling Stones

Two Stones candidates for this particular series, with Moonlight Mile also in the frame. But this, the B Side of Jumping Jack Flash edges it.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 292 Moonglows

Song(s) of the Day # 1,528 La Luz

Two highly promising tasters ahead of Floating Features, the third album from La Luz. Formed in LA six years back and with a sound somewhere between Warpaint and Allah Las, (plenty of Tarantino Tex Mex twang), what they do is familiar but no less welcome for that.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Songs About People # 573 Robert Altman

One for the late, and very great, Film Director.

Songs Heard on the Radio # 248 Sam Evian

Interesting track that features on New York artists album You, Forever, which follows in June.

Moon Cycle # 12 Nick Drake

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 293 The Dells

Song(s) of the Day # 1,527 Pete Astor

Two songs from the new Pete Astor album One For The Ghost. Formerly of The Loft and The Weather Prophets, he really seems to be finding a second wind as he moves in to middle age like many other artists. Mortality and ageing are certainly lyrical concerns but there's still plenty of fire in the belly now being in the charts is no longer the prime concern, as perhaps it was in the Eighties..

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Songs Heard on the Radio # 247 The Outcasts

From Belfast's Good Vibrations label run by Terry Hooley. Not as well remembered as The Undertones of course but this is a fine song, slightly more 'old school', but with a fine wobbling vocal with shades of Joey Ramone to it.

Songs About People # 572 Henry Kissinger

Peruvian band write song titled after one of the more dubious political figures of the Twentieth Century.

Moon Cycle # 11 Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian, like Fleetwood Mac, who featured earlier in the series, are a band that produced a ream of obscure gems just waiting to be rediscovered. Like this one, from Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 294 Count 5

'Refried Yardbirds, cooked up in a San Jose garage and served on a platter to rock critics and garage punk connoisseurs. One of rock's few comparative obscurities that actually surpasses its rep.'

Song of the Day # 1,526 Flowertruck

Sydney, Australia quartet  have just released their debut album Mostly Sunny and it's an excellent record. It reminded me of many of the things I liked most about Eighties guitar music, Orange Juice, Smiths, Village Hymn era James, Go Betweens, Triffids, Hurrah! 

Moments of the record might make you recall these bands and others but Flowertruck never dwell on any one influence and Mostly Sunny is almost always sunny, yet another example of how much truly great music is coming out of Australia right now. A band that first and foremost are clearly having a great time, which let's face it is the key to success in this kind of endeavour. An album infused with infectious positivity and one that gets better the more you explore its depths.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Covers # 92 My Bloody Valentine

A fabulous cover version by My Bloody Valentine, (the original of course by Wire from 154).

Songs About People # 571 Arthur Lowe

Debut single from 2015 from notable English Indie band Those Unfortunates, who document a world of books, films and TV. And here they pay tribute to a particularly English icon.

Moon Cycle # 10 Van Morrison

An obvious choice. But a necessary one.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 295 Ray Charles

Song(s) of the Day # 1,525 Caroline Says

There are two bands or artists out there called Caroline No (the Beach Boys song I assume), and one called Caroline Says, (the Lou Reed ones). From the latter, two songs from her fine second album, No Fool Like An Old Fool, just out.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 285 Misty in Roots

Misty are on the jukebox at Rosie's.

Songs About People # 570 Federico Garcia Lorca

And the other great song from that album, Hell's Ditch. The Spanish poet, killed by Franco's troops in the Civil War, though his body was never found, a fact the song references. Also the subject, (at least partially) of The Clash's Spanish Bombs and an album of Tim Buckley's.

And here, to link in with my 'moon cycle' is his poem Ballad of the Moon Moon:

'Moon came to the forgein her petticoat of nard

The boy looks and looks

the boy looks at the Moon

In the turbulent air

Moon lifts up her arms

showing — pure and sexy — 

her beaten-tin breasts

Run Moon run Moon Moon

If the gypsies came

white rings and white necklaces

they would beat from your heart

Boy will you let me dance — 

when the gypsies come

they’ll find you on the anvil

with your little eyes shut

Run Moon run Moon Moon

I hear the horses’ hoofs

Leave me boy! Don’t walk

on my lane of white starch
The horseman came beating

the drum of the plains

The boy at the forge

has his little eyes shut

Through the olive groves

in bronze and in dreams

here the gypsies come

their heads riding high

their eyelids hanging low

How the night heron sings

how it sings in the tree

Moon crosses the sky

with a boy by the hand

At the forge the gypsies

cry and then scream

The wind watches watches

the wind watches the Moon'

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 284 The Pogues

On a long late night in Rosie's. Well, I am almost on holiday. Late, great Pogues. Something almost Jacques Brel about this.

Moon Cycle # 9 R.E.M.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 295 Gladys Knight & The Pips

Song(s) of the Day # 1,524 D.A.Stern

Sounding like the unlikely meeting place where Felt encounter The Beach Boys in 2018, the debut album from D.A.Stern, Aloha Hola, is a delight. Recorded in his mother's basement in New Jersey it's like one long episode of Happy Days that never threatens to come to a close.

Appropriately released on Slumberland Records, the home of feelgood indie sounds, Aloha Hola is evidence of a definite songwriting talent. There are hints of heartbreak occasionally but only really of the sort that Richie Cunningham experienced with Lori Beth and all seems sure to be resolved happily. With three promos on the songs posted here that speak appropriately of the All American life, this record's a treat!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

It Starts With A Birthstone on Facebook

Finally, after almost five years of this blog I decided to st up a Facebook page to further publicise the things I write about and the music I post. The link is here.

Songs About People # 569 Robert De Niro

It's taken me several years to get to this rather obvious choice for this series. And I rather liked listening to it, for the first time in years, yesterday.

Moon Cycle # 8 Wilco

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 297 Little Willie John

Song(s) of the Day # 1,523 Cold Spells

The Gare Du Nord record label, despite its name, is a small island of Englishness. With a set of artists on its roster like Papernut Cambridge and Joss Cope who document the particular quirks and idiosyncrasies that make this place what it is for better and worse. 


And as if to drive the point home, here is the eponymous debut album from Cold Spells, a music trio based in the Essex hinterlands of London. Four years in the making and clearly a labour of love. Utterly English in its vision, I was reminded of Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers particularly, and it speaks of the understated but quiet ambition that has stoked so many great records from here over the years.

Full of the chatter of birdsong and the rustle of nature of parks and gardens, Cold Spells is a comforting listen like, made for the days when you tire of the stupidity of this place and long for retreat into meditative trance and a reminder of the things you still love about it. A place where 'the ducklings cannot comfort me' and 'nettles make the sweetest tea.' Cold Spells, (how fitting that they take their name from description of the weather), have made a record that won't be heard by many but will be gratefully appreciated by a few.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Kak Channthy

Probably not widely reported by the music media but Kak Channthy lead singer of Cambodian Space Project has just passed aged just 38 in a traffic accident in Phnom Pen. An inspirational figure who came from great poverty and leader of a fine psychedelic garage band. Here's something for her.

Songs About People # 568 Keith Richard and Anita Pallenberg

Notions of Bohemian cool from Carla Bruni.

Moon Cycle # 7 King Crimson

From debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King and 1969.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 298 Edwin Starr

Song(s) of the Day # 1,522 H.C. McEntire

Belatedly, a couple of songs from the fine Country album Lionheart by H.C. McEntire from earlier this year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 283 Roger Miller

England Swings like a pendulum do.

Songs About People # 567 Gene Kelly

Possibly because I'm enjoying compiling the 'moon' series on here and may have a 'rain' one following it up shortly.

Moon Cycle # 6 Radiohead

Radiohead have many songs that are similar in tone to this. But they do it very well. And of course, the moon is subject matter just made for them.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 299 The Temptations

Deserves I think, to be higher.

Song of the Day # 1,521 Thousand

Wonderful new album from French artist Thousand (aka Stephane Milochevitch) named Le Tunnel Vegetal. Delivered in that inimitable French style, half spoken, half sung in the style of Gainsbourg and Dutronc, (with splendid vocal support from Emma Broughton), but not bound by the trappings of the past. The record just glides by in a Gallic blur.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hollow Hand

Another fine song ripped from the Ray Davies songbook by revivalists Hollow Hand ahead of their debut album Star Chamber.

Songs About People # 566 Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Intense young Swedish band FEWS ticked all the right Post Punk intensity boxes a couple of years back with their debut album MEANS. Except perhaps for dedicating a song to a footballer. Not perhaps what Joy Division or Gang of Four might have done back in the day.

Moon Cycle # 5 Prince

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 300 Elvis Presley

Song of the Day # 1,520 Evan Cheadle

A singer songwriter from Victoria, British Columbia. His sound is rooted utterly in the Baroque Folk tradition of '65 to '68. Here's a song from his haunting recently released mini-album Chasing Shadows, an apt description of his sound.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Songs Heard on the Radio # 246 Father John Misty

I haven't really gone for a lot of Father John Misty that I've heard this far. But I did like this, new from him, which I just heard coming out of my radio.

Moon Cycle # 4 Big Star

More blue. With a Blue Moon from Big Star's Third.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 301 Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes

Song of the Day # 1,519 Alice Bag

Alice Bag, legendary leader of Seventies Punks The Bags, is back in 2018 with her second solo album Blueprint. From it comes this taster 77 with a promo that spoofs the classic 1980 film Nine to Five, with Alice in the Lily Tomlin role with Kathleen Hanna and Allison Wolfe providing support as dolly and Jane. 77 is a reference to the 2012 statistic that American women only earn 77 cents to the dollar made by men in equivalent jobs. The YouTube page to the song is plagued with a long list of comments, (from men presumably), contesting the claim. Alice would, I imagine, be pleased.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Yo La Tengo - There's A Riot Going On

Yo La Tengo are an American Indie institution. You just need to go to Pitchfork, the self-appointed guardians of such things to read the revered and sacred tones that they're always written about in. They form something of a holy trinity in Indie circles in this respect alongside Sonic Youth and Pavement. 

And they've outlasted both of their somewhat more successful and high profiles co-tribunes. There's A Riot Going On, just out is their fifteenth album since they first emerged from Hoboken, New York, way back in 1984. And it's a peach. I'm not sufficiently well-versed with all of their back catalogue to place it with any authority among their body of work, but it's an assured and glowing object in itself, remarkable for a band in its fourth decade as a working unit.

They fit snugly of course in line in the list of alternative New York of guitar bands. Velvet Underground, Television and The Feelies most obviously and the traces of all of them are evident on There's A Riot Going On. But they're also huge fans of The Kinks and The Lovin' Spoonful and the sheer craft and loving warmth of their songwriting is there too as of course is the band's own considerable legacy. There are also moments where the trio just revel in the beauty of quiet ambient electric sound, reverberation and echo. There's an understanding of the sheer beauty of Jazz here too, very unusual considering the circles they mix in. In many ways they were always the most sensitive band of their generation. They would have made great beatniks.

You can watch them playing songs from the new record in the clip above in a gig curated by Pitchfork. Its a concert that really underlines the small homey charm of the band, something they've never allowed themselves to lose. Leader Ira Kaplan still dresses in the definitive Jonathan Richman uniform, hooped shirts, jeans, trainers. The band still play as if they're in their front room.

The fact that the album is called There's A Riot Going On, (a steal from Sly Stone's crowning moment of course), while the record itself bears closer resemblance to the Sea of Tranquility than a riot is no accident of course. There's an enormous storm going on out there in the world at the minute of course. Yo La Tengo's response is a smart one. Acknowledgement with the naming of the record, but otherwise a retreat to the beauty within. Altogether a splendid album and gift.

Moon Cycle # 3 Cat Power

Two moons for the price of one.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 302 The Persuaders

Song(s) of the Day # 1,518 In Tall Buildings

Mining a not dissimilar seam to fleet Foxes, War on Drugs and Bon Iver but more interesting to me because of the constant electrical crackle in its mix, Akinetic is the third album from Chicago-based musician and multi-instrumentalist Erik Hall, working under the moniker In Tall Buildings.

Taking his moniker I imagine from John Harford's timeless song In Tall Buildings, and fittingly recorded away from those buildings of corporate nine to five which it speaks of, at his home, Akinetic is some achievement, a set of thoughtful and perfectly judged songs that hark back beyond the artists mentioned above back to their source in the early seventies. It makes a very good job of it, a contained meditative album.