Friday, August 31, 2018

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums for August

Lots of interesting albums released on the last day of August but as I haven't had time to process them, they'll have to wait for September and the leaves turning brown. In the meantime...

It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs For August

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 135 The Sex Pistols

Song(s) of the Day # 1,685 Watoo Watoo

Bordeaux duo Watoo Watoo released their fifth, and apparently last album, Modern Express, earlier on this year. It's a compact and infectious record, easy to pigeon-hole as Indie and equally easy to like. Squaring the circle between Stereolab, Broadcast, St. Etienne, Felt and Francoise Hardy it's full of neat and beautifully written pop songs.

This stuff will never entirely go out of style though it's been round the rails in different guises many times before. Watoo Watoo have been together for over twenty years and so qualify as craftsmen. It's to their credit that the songs sound so fresh, like a long married couple who have never fallen out of love. Modern Express parks itself behind Say Sue Me's Where We Were Together and alongside Plastic Shoelaces' eponymous debut as the favourite old school Indie record I've heard this year.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Songs About People # 689 Mary Todd

Psychedelicists Honey Radar, (in the Brian Jonestown school of things), appear to be paying tribute to Abraham Lincoln's wife Mary Todd, who was said to have held seances in The White House during her time there.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 137 James Brown

Song of the Day # 1,683 Jess Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter

Seattle's Jesse Sykes has a quite astonishing voice, something like Hope Sandoval cast utterly free from all restraints and taking flight. She's backed by loose, languid Psychedelia. It's been described, not inaccurately elsewhere as 'Spectral Folk Rock'. The overall effect is not too dissimilar from Tim Buckley's Blue Afternoon with a female lead. This is just out and quite gorgeous, you'd have assumed ahead of a new album, seven years since their last.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Songs About People # 685 Tina Weymouth

Tribute to Tina from an also-ran New York band who preferred to be called 'The Shoits' and played CBGB's at the same point in time as she did.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 139 The Rolling Stones

Song(s) of the Day # 1,681 Smokescreens

Los Angeles Smokescreens have a playlist at the foot of their Spotify page. On it they lay down the recipe for what they cook up on their records, ingredient by ingredient. You get The Clean. You get the Chills. Close Lobsters, Television Personalities, The Wake, Monochrome Set, Orange Juice, New Order, Go-Betweens, Pastels, Servants. Pretty much every set of pale white boys who picked up a set of guitars and strummed them earnestly since the early Eighties.

It has to be said that sometimes on their second album Used to Yesterday they follow the template laid down by this tradition a little too slavishly.But in moments on the record when they hit their rhythm they're capable of an effective jangling momentum.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Orange Juice


The Heart of Rock and Soul # 140 Marvin Gaye

Song(s) of the Day # 1,680 Ethers

There seems to have been a lot of interesting music coming out of Chicago and catching my attention of late. A good album from Clearance and a great one from Cafe Racer to name just two. And now this, a fine eponymous debut offering from Ethers, something of an Indie supergroup composed of members of a number of local bands.

With a sound driven by that swirling organ sound that the Velvets pretty much stamped a trademark on for their '69 Live album and which first turned The Modern Lovers radio on and supplemented by frantic, urgent playing and singing that brings to mind Flying Nun legends The Clean and The Chills,(and elsewhere Television and The Feelies), this is a smart little record.

Very much stripped of pretension but constantly inventive within the constraints of the melodic American alternative Rock and Roll tradition of the last fifty years, Ethers doesn't rip up any rule books but slots neatly in with much stuff that you may already cherish. The kind of band you'd be thrilled to chance upon on a Saturday night on the town.

Most of all Ethers themselves seem to be having a wail of a time, all you can really ask of this stuff. It's all thoughtfully streamlined and beautifully concise. Twelve driving songs of between two and four minutes and not a duffer among them.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Songs About People # 684 Ken Kesey

Lead Merry Prankster and One Flew author gets grungy tribute.

The Goon Sax

The third taster from The Goon Sax ahead of their second album We're Not Talking which is just three weeks away now. It's difficult to describe just how good they are right at the minute. I'll try to when that record arrives.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 315 Womack & Womack

Long weekend coming...

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 141 The Chantels

Song of the Day # 1,679 Kurt Vile

Ahead, we can only hope, of a new album, (his first 2015), here is Kurt Vile, back and in magnificent form. An odd kind of counterculture anthem, sticking it to the man for slackers everywhere. 'I park for free...'

Friday, August 24, 2018

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Songs About People # 683 Pete Shelley

Following on in this series from Bruce Foxton we move to another Punk / New Wave icon Pete Shelley. From last year and pretty unreconstructed Buenos Aires Punk rockers SURRENDER.

Courtney Barnett at Sydney Opera House

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 143 The Elegants

'Dion & the Belmonts were the kings of Italin doo-wop. But the prototypical Italian doo-wop record is this take off on Mozart's classical nursery rhyme. Vito Piccone opens and closes the record by asking and answering Mozart's question, and the chorus restates the wish formula, but aside from that, the approach is pure Belmonts - which is to say, a husky baritone lead, a Latin feel to the rhythm, and vocals that simply mouth open vowels, with an occasional "duh,duh,duh" from the bass.'

Song(s) of the Day # 1,677 Emily Fairlight

Sometimes you find yourself in need of what music offers. Sometimes it can be a gift to share with and experience with others and sometimes it's something you crave utterly selfishly, to drown absolutely everything out and immerse yourself in. Some kind of refuge. Yesterday was a day when I inclined towards the latter inclination. I was low. And I came upon Wellington, New Zealand's Emily Fairlight and her splendidly titled second album Mother of Gloom which came out earlier on this year. And I'm just glad that I did.

It's altogether a beautiful, glacial trip. Not entirely a happy one mind. In fact far from it. In many respects it's a very dark and gloomy record. Yet, let's face it, life is never a wholly happy experience either, and we need music that reflects that ambiguity and depth. That darkness sometimes. And this is such a record. Fairlight is clearly a troubled soul, or else chooses a persona that appears to be and the album has a trance-like intensity that will surely draw you into its depths.

Simple rural folk arrangements and Fairlight's swirling, mordant vocals. There's little unecessary embroidery here. It all sounds as if it was recorded utterly authentically with musician and their enchanted leader grouped in a close circle in a shack thick in some forest in a wild and precarious location. Mother of Gloom is a heady trip, all atmosphere, and the witches spell it casts is deep and unnerving. 

Sometimes you know instinctively that a record is not going to let you down as you move from one track to the next, so sure is the trust you're building with the artists shaping its flow. Such was the case yesterday with myself and the relationship I established with Mother of Gloom, (apparently a Martha Wainwright lyric). It never once let me down from first track to last. A seamless, shining path.

Fairlight has something in common with Wainwright in terms of her art and tone. She also shares some gifts and mannerisms with Patti, with PJ, Natalie Merchant, Karen Dalton, and Cowboy Junkies, Margo Timmins. But this record is so assured and powerful a statement that she earns every right to be considered in her own light. She's a wonderful talent, and this is as a good a record of its kind as I expect to hear this year. It surely merits awards of some description, but even if it doesn't get the ones it deserves, it is destined for garlands of some sort from It Starts With a Birthstone at least come December. That's the least I owe it to be frank. It pulled me up just when I needed it yesterday after all. Cheers Emily!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Songs About People # 682 Bruce Foxton

Los Angeles artist Lisa Mychols sings to a poster on her wall. Appropriately, given the subject matter the song is suitably angular and New Wave.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 314 Eek-A-Mouse

Old friend in town!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 144 The Showmen

Song(s) of the Day # 1,676 Holy Motors

Estonians Holy Motors, sound as if they slouched out of the Wild West in between David Lynch and Alex Cox rather than hailing from the Baltic States. Slow Sundown, their album from earlier this year definitely should have been recorded in the sun not the snow as it more than likely was. They are 'cowboys at heart' as it states on their Spotify site, 'a twang and reverb' band. I couldn't have put it better myself. They are also at least the fourth 'Holy' band to feature on Song of the Day on It Starts With a Birthstone so far this year. Holy Moley!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Songs About People # 681 Dee Dee Ramone

It's not hard, not hard to reach.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 145 Dobie Gray

Song(s) of the Day # 1,675 Stella Sommer

It's nigh on impossible to write very much about German singer Stella Sommer's impressive debut album 13 Kinds of Happiness without mentioning the 'N' word. And by that I mean Nico. Because unmistakable echoes of the old girl are all over this record, at the very least in the sombre, mordant vocal tones of Sommer herself, though I'd say many aspects of the album owe something to the late, great Christa Paffgen. 

Not that I'm complaining, For Nico now occupies a specific and sacred place in the whole pantheon of Rock and Roll and Sommer and co. do her legacy proud. For here are 13 songs which worm their way into you, well written and beautifully paced, underpinned perhaps by a very specific, wry humour.

Formerly leader of Hamburg band  Die Heiterkeit, it seems as if Sommer is now striking off on her own and choosing to do so largely in English whereas she had formerly sang in her mother tongue for the most part. She does so with a fine set of gloomy, atmospheric and occasionally anthemic underground pop songs much deserving of an appreciative audience.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 147 Otis Redding

Song of the Day # 1,673 Neftali Santiago

Neftali Santiago, who played for Funk Legends Mandrill on and off in the early and late Seventies finally releases his collection of solo recordings 22 Somerset Dr. first laid down between 1976 and 1978.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Bob Dylan

Liverpool. 1966.

Songs About People # 679 D. Scott Parsley

The fourth of five Lampchops. This song, strangely for a local Democrat politician.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 149 The Shirelles

Song(s) of the Day # 1,671 The Essex Green

In the absence of a full-flown Belle & Sebastian album in 2018, the return of Brooklyn's The Essex Green with Hardly Electronic their first record for twelve years, will more than do. Because The Essex Green have a very similar vibe and driving set of principles as B&S Because they love Pop Music, not necessarily in the way that Rihanna and Lady Gaga understand it, more in the sense that Burt Bacharach, The Monkees, The Mamas & the Papas, Nancy & Lee, The Free Design, The Partridge Family and The New Seekers did back in the day.

I kind of incline to that way of thinking myself and frankly Hardly Electronic is a quite gorgeous sounding Pop Record, riding on the wave of Sixties and early Seventies harmonies and happy hormones, dragging those of a certain age back to golden memories of youth, your first encounters with Pop music, children's television and Primary School crushes.

The retro qualities of the record are apparent from the album sleeve with a shirtless youth facing down the camera lens over the bars of his chopper with his mother, (presumably) in the background, under a washing line of decidedly seventies looking clothes. this is unashamedly a trip back to all our yester-years, and the record certainly cast its spell on me taking me back to when I was ten, sitting with my mother in our living room listening to her Seekers and Carpenters records with her.

At fourteen tracks, the CD version is probably a mite longer than it need to be. Now vinyl is back in vogue there's no real need for an album like this to have more than twelve tracks. In fact the vinyl version sensibly only has ten.  Perhaps the band were overflowing with ideas that they wanted released in one form or other. This minor quibble aside, I'm deeply taken in almost every respect with Hardly Electronic. Mostly because it made me feel like I was a child again. Honest! Such are the utterly magical qualities of music.

More and more bands specialize in this kind of bittersweet reverie nowadays. Papernut Cambridge, The Clientele, B&S, Saint Etienne and so on and so forth. The Essex Green are up with the very best of them, these songs have such golden qualities that they give you the sense that they've always existed and are blaring out from you from your seventies transistor on Radio 1's Paul Burnett show between Helen Reddy and ELO accompanied by garish jingles and cheesy DJ banter.

So a record that only needed one spin to utterly win me over. I only hope that it isn't twelve years before The Essex Green make their way back to Record Shop racks with new product. They're far too talented to be away for so long again. In the meantime, I'm just thankful that Hardly Electronic exists. It's unassuming, nostalgic, Pop genius!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 313 Aretha Franklin

Well of course!

Aretha Franklin 1942 - 2018


Songs About People # 678 Gloria Leonard

More Lambchop. This time a song for Gloria Leonard, a pornographic actress who became publisher                                                     of High Society magazine.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 150 Cannibal & the Headhunters

Song(s) of the Day # 1,670 Tony Molina

Tony Molina's new record Kill the Lights is as simple as pie.Ten tracks, most of them lasting between a minute and two, just a couple actually stretching between two and three. The whole record lasts less than fifteen minutes in total! And every song works on the basic sonic formula which The Beatles kicked off between '63 and '65, The Byrds refined between '65 and '67 and various artists like Nilsson, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and so on and so forth, have tinkered with thereafter.

So no re-invention of the wheel taking place here then. No recognition that Punk ever existed. Just a set of perfectly crafted songs focused lyrically, (as you'd expect), around the trials of love. Your mother would know!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 312 Santigold

More Santigold this evening!

Songs About People # 677 Timothy B. Schmidt

Continuing the mini-Lambchop segment of this series, here's an instrumental track from 2004's Aw C'mon+no, You C'mon, (yes the record really was called that), for the Eagles and Poco bassist and singer.

Santigold - I Don't Want: The Gold Fire Sessions

A new album, (or whatever you care to call it), from Santigold came out a couple of weeks back. Over the last ten years she's  consistently been one of the most interesting figures operating around the dance mainstream. At least for me, not someone who pays that area of music an enormous amount of attention or would claim to know an awful lot about the field. But over the years Santigold's stuff has consistently been of interest to me.

And this ranks with anything she's done over the course of that time. Released without much notice, I Don't Want; The Gold Fire Sessions has been presented on its release as much as a Mixtape as a conventional album. Recorded on the run over a couple of weeks in the studios with Dre Skull, it's at once Old School Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean Dancehall and also sounds utterly up to date, at least to my fifty two year old ears.

It's sexy, bubbly, warm, playful and inventive. What category it comes under I'll leave to others who know more about these things than I do. Whatever, it's just great, and seems like an apt soundtrack to the long hot Summer of 2018 which here has been almost relentless and felt like it might go on for ever but is now finally but inevitably sinking towards its inevitable close.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 151 Chris Kenner

Song(s) of the Day # 1,669 Elephant Micah

On Surf A, the opening track on Elephant Micah's new album Genericana, you get three minutes of synthesised waves dragging across shingle and distant seagull cries. Then when you finally do get vocals too, they're so spaced out and apparently wasted that you are really no more the wiser. Then there are more synthesiser drones, vocals reverberate back at you and then before you know it, the track is gone and track two commences.

It's all quite heroically strange. Six tracks in all, called Surf A, Fire A and Life A and err Life B, Fire B and Surf B. Things do begin to resemble the familiar once we move from Surf to Fire. Fire A swirling guitar motif is pretty damned catchy. So, from there to Life.

There are precedents for this. I was minded of Neil Young's On the Beach and Big Star's Sister Lovers. Wasted classics both. But this 'out-wastes' them both. Whether Joseph O'Connell the artist who drives Elephant Micah forward, (he's now based in a remote part of North Carolina - and that's not insignificant as to how this record sounds), whether he is actually wasted is besides the point. He does a wonderful job at projecting estrangement, alienation and isolation anyhow. Frankly the record is damned unsettling. It wants to and succeeds in taking you well out of your comfort zone.

This was made Uncut Magazine Album of the Month, and I can quite see why. Giving it that status was not just some oddball, leftfield, 'look at me' gesture. This is a fine, fine record. Not one perhaps that is going to sell by the cartload or make some kind of Bon Iver breakout. The weird bits are far too weird and uncompromising for that. Fire B retreats into more synthesiser drone and feedback for several minutes and is closer to Metal Machine Music than Fleet Foxes. But there is something strangely hypnotic about it all. It's no spoiler to say that the record ends as it's begun, with the sound of waves on shingle again. Back where we began.

So if Genericana seems unlikely to fill stadiums it should certainly fan a cult into something more considerable. One of the stranger records you're likely to hear this year. But also one of the most compelling. I'm curious as to how often I might return to this before 2018 becomes 2019. I suspect I'll keep getting drawn back to it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Songs Heard on the Radio # 266 Anne Lise Frokedal

More plaintive female fronted stuff on the evening radio show. From Norwegian Anne Lise Frokedal. It certainly ticks my boxes. Pure loveliness.

Courtney Barnett

Courtney goes all Gram on us.

Song of the Day # 608 Sebadoh

Righting a wrong I committed unknowingly back in 2015. Trust me, you don't need to hear the details.

Songs About People # 676 Steve McQueen

A five-day min-series on here all focused on the glorious work of Lambchop. First entrant to this needs no introduction!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 152 Wilson Pickett

Song(s) of the Day # 1,668 Tomberlin

I listened to Sarah-Beth Tomberlin's debut album, At Weddings, pretty much on a loop at work yesterday. It's simplicity itself. Just Tomberlin's emotive but affectingly toneless voice, accompanied by her acoustic guitar and otherwise the most minimal of musical support imaginable . Each and every track follows the same basic template. I guess if it was really that easy however, everyone would be doing it. And frankly they're not. Singer-songwriter confessional albums as good as this only come down the pike every once in a while.

That much became readily apparent to me as early as the third track Tornado. This. I believe,  was pretty much the first complete song Tomberlin ever wrote, at 19 on her parent's piano in Illinois. It's all sparse economy in musical and lyrical terms. At Weddings is a model lesson in how little you need in terms of musical artillery to make a truly great record. .

Virtually every review of the record, (which came out a week ago), has made much of Tomberlin's own biographical background. The daughter of a Baptist pastor and subject of by all accounts a pretty strict Christian upbringing, which this record i,s to a greater or lesser degree, a reaction to. The album can be seen as an artist mapping out their own path at just the moment in life when such things need to be done if there is something you want and something you need to make a break from. Whether this would have been readily apparent from its lyrics alone isn't immediately clear. However, the poignancy and deeply felt nature of the songs is abundantly plain. 

Although Tomberlin's playlists on Spotify are crammed with songs from contemporary artists, (Courtney Barnett, Snail Mail, Laura Marling, Lorde and U.S.Girls), the antecedents for what I hear on the record go back much further. To Judee Sills, Joni Mitchell and the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters of the early Seventies. There's a lucid clarity here that you assume even Laughing Len might have appreciated.

Most of all, you get the sense that here is an artist undergoing that peculiar and specific anguish that we all, (or at least I assume so), experience so uniquely in late adolescence, our at once blossoming yet declining late-teenage years. When every kiss and every setback has a particular sweet pain and clarity, amid all the intense confusion. It's no wonder that the best 'Coming of Age' films, literature and music resonate so deeply.

I was seventeen once, though believe me it feels a mighty long time ago. Frankly, because it was. But I remember distinctly buying Aztec Camera's High Land, Hard Rain when it came out at about that time and how I felt it was the best record ever made about being a boy of that age. Perhaps thirty five years down the line, Tomberlin has just released the female equivalent. There's even a song called Seventeen on it. What more could you possibly want?

Just like Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame, Sarah-Beth Tomberlin has wisdom beyond her years, the key circumstance required to make art of this kind resonate beyond its 'just a phase they're going through' constraints. Because whatever else is here, there's not a note of self-pity. There's also no little clarity and poise. Tomberlin and At Weddings join the back of the ever-swelling 'coming of age' queue behind Carson McCullers, J.D.Salinger, Benjamin Braddock, Nick Drake, Judee Sills and Roddy himself.

What this record clearly evidences is that art of this kind will never stop being made. How could it? There will always after all be a generation that's 'coming of age'.  And each and every one will imagine that it's going through a set of emotions that no generation that's gone before has. And after all they're pretty much correct in that respect. Hence the need for fresh expressions of that particular crucible of experience.

At Weddings seems set to get my rosette come December for Record of the Year in this particular category. It will also be incredibly interesting to see where Tomberlin goes next. Some artists struggle through their whole careers aiming to make a statement as resonant and powerful as this one. She's achieved it, apparently effortlessly, (though I'm sure that's not the case), with her first shy at the coconuts. Watch her go!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 311 Spiritualized

Dipping my toes in the work of Spiritualized. This sounded alright last night!

Futurama Festival 1979

Songs Heard on the Radio # 265 Liela Moss

I can tell you nothing about Liela Moss, except that this is a forerunner of  her debut album on Bella Union, (who always know about these things), which is due in November. Anyway, I'm a sucker for spectral things like this and look forward to hearing the 'long-player'.

Songs About People # 675 Jerzy Kosinski

Jerzy Kosinski lived a full life to say the least. Born to Jewish parents in 1933 he survived the Second World War and the Holocaust thanks to local underground networks. Kosinski emigrated to America in 1957 where he started writing. His 1965 novel Painted Bird, about the Polish wartime experience made his name. It also inspired a rather silly Siouxsie & the Banshees song of the same name a couple of decades later.

Koinski also wrote Steps and Being There among other works of note, narrowly avoided being at the scene of the Sharon Tate / Manson killings in 1969 and was plagued in later life by accusations of plagiarism. He committed suicide in 1991. Here, Michael Gira project, The Angels of Light, dedicate a song to him.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 153 Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force

Song of the Day # 1,667 H.Grimace

A couple of years back London band H.Grimace made a fine debut album Self-Architect, which featured high in my end of year album list. Now they're returning, (I'd assume with a second album coming up), and In the Body, the track that goes ahead of it,  is a bold, stark marker. Both in terms of the song itself and the art-drenched promo that accompanies it. All the intensity of prime time Kim Gordon-led Sonic Youth and P.J.Harvey.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 310 Little Richard

Because it's there!

Songs About People # 674 Jane Birkin

And to keep within the spirit of the day, here's a true Indie icon. With a song sung by herself, about herself, written by Gainsbourg of course. It came out in 1969 but this clip is from a 1972 TV show .

Young Scum - Young Scum

With all things Indie and C-86 on It Starts With a Birthstone given The Plastic Shoelaces's Song of the Day status  time to go back a few months to horses of a similar colour, Richmond, Virginia's Young Scum. I posted their wonderful track Wasting Time the fabulous precursor and now the opening song on the band's eight track, eponymous mini-album, their third in all, which came out this time last month.

Young Scum clearly prefer to keep things short and sweet. After all this stuff is transient, like youth itself, and there are very few musical genres that capture that like jangling Indiepop does. Young Scum do it all very well here, without ever once replicating the giddy heights scaled by Wasting Time. While the co-songs here are spirited it's a reminder of the original inspiration for this stuff. The early Primal Scream never surpassed Velocity Girl after all, The Bodines never quite had anything to match up to Therese, likewise with The Weather Prophets and Almost Prayed. Sometimes bands make definitive statements. Such is the case here.

So, a lesson in life, Indiepop can become a production line just like any other. Alvvays and say Sue Me remain the gauges in respect of this particular genre at the minute, in playing every song, regardless of how brittle, as if it might be their last. Young Scum forget that somehow on the course of this record. Shame. Anyhow, I'll be back with them when December rolls around when I imagine Wasting Time will figure in my Top Ten Songs of the Year.