Sunday, September 30, 2018

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums For September

It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs For September

Debbie Harry

Thirty Days of Felt # 17 Penelope Tree

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 105 The Shirelles

Song(s) of the Day # 1,715 Vital Idles

From the first moments of listening to A Premise, the opening track of Glasgow Indie merchants Vital Idles June album Left Hand, I was thrilled. It's kitchen sink stuff and deeply familiar, certainly to anyone who ever listened to John Peel in the Eighties. That ragged, jagged but utterly determined momentum of so many angular Post and Post Punk groups of that decade.

Vital Idles keep heading doggedly forward while seemingly looking backwards for the course of Left Hand as you know very well that they will. It's the sound of sweaty grimy indie clubs in small towns and large cities the length and breadth of Britain going back almost forty years now with a band on a poorly lit stage with a dodgy sound system on a dreary drizzly winters evening. Doing it because it's the thing that they love and the sound that's best to articulate their ideas. My youth, long gone. Someone else's youth, right now.

This is a highly impressive reinvention, reminiscent of what Life Without Buildings, (also, probably non-coincidentally Glaswegians), did with their still remarkable debut Any Other City almost twenty years ago. Nothing on here is totally new. But it all seems fresh.

A couple of times the band raise the bar and allow the songs to stretch and meander beyond four minutes but for the most part they keep things short and sweet. There's actually an admirable discipline about doing this stuff as well as and as precisely as they do. If not, everyone would be doing it. But something as good as this in this medium is rare.

Spawned from Underground DIY Culture, the band clearly take what they do very seriously. Various members help run and work in publishers and art related shops and have served their apprenticeships in various local bands going back several years. But Left Hand, the band's debut album definitely seems like a point of arrival.

Everything is rigorous, minimalist and exact and grounded in a feel for these things strong enough to transport you to the feeling you had when you last spent time in a Rough Trade record shop, after stopping off at the local Oxfam's to get yourself a long coat to tide you through the coming months.

Vital Idles cross the 't''s and dot the 'i's, Highly likely to be my indie-retro album of the year, even pipping the marvellous Say Sue Me record. John.P, Raincoats, Au Pairs, Young Marble Giants, Delta 5, Girls At Their Best, Flying Nun and Pylon - your legacy is safe. Magnificent!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Songs Heard on the Radio # 272 Charles Watson

A fabulous song from a fabulous album which came out this year which I've omitted to write about. Coming out the radio it sounds like a wondrous early Seventies minor hit you've never heard before.

Manfred Mann

Thirty Days of Felt # 16 Jewels Are Set In Crowns

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 106 The Clash

Song of the Day # 1,714 Frokedal

Norwegian artist Frokedal's new album How We Made It, is a very fine record, but really it sets itself an almost impossible task. Because midway through comes a track David, which acted as a forerunner for the album which is as fine a song as anything I've heard this year. Frokedal has been called Norway's Joni, but this to me is much more reminiscent of Nico or Judy Collins, spectral and hit the spots that very few songs can find their way to. So listen to How We Made It it's really, really  good, but make damned sure you listen to David. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Richard Lloyd & Tom Verlaine

The Chills - Snow Bound

New Zealand's The Chills have one of the most distinctive sounds of any band. Within ten seconds of the start of Bad Sugar the opening track on their new record Snow Bound, it's perfectly clear it can only be them. Rolling, swirling  melodicists with songs that sound like nursery rhymes recast as Pop songs and all the while leader Martin Phillips' comforting voice navigating the crossing.

For a band that have had such a scarred personal journey, Chills songs are consistently warm with consolation. Snow Bound seems to tell the story of hard won survival. As I say it will all be immediately familiar to anyone who knows the band's work, and while there's nothing here quite the equal of the band's Eighties classics, Pink Frost, Rolling Moon, Doledrums or This is the Way, (that would be too much to ask perhaps), this is solid stuff. It's a record that only adds to their considerable legacy and frankly it's good just to still have them here.

Thirty Days of Felt # 10 Ivory Past

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 112 Dion

Song(s) of the Day # 1,708 Picturebox

The ever masterful Gare Du Nord  have just put out yet another great record. They're a truly wonderful record label. Specialising in a marvellous, definitively English sensibility. By English I mean in the good sense of the word, not the essentially bogus peddled by Brexit merchants, but an England of wet Saturday afternoons pottering around second hand record and bookshops or playing pitch and putt before retiring to the local for a pint and then home for tea.

Picturebox, (who I suspect take their name from a classic Seventies British children's programme), fit the Gare Du Nord sensibility perfectly. Think Blur, with Graham Coxon singing, XTC, Syd Barrett, Bevis Frond or a nicer non-bitter Luke Haines. Gently, sensitive and beautifully crafted Pop songs the way they used to write them.

Setting off with two of the best songs you'll hear this month in Grumble, ('mustn't grumble' the English catchphrase, we still do believe me) and Divvy Cabs, (a divvy is a slightly unpolitically correct term for something stupid for those not from these shores). 'Oh divvy cabs, divvy divvy, divvy cabs. Where do they go? Can I get one.' perfect.

The album centrepiece is I Got the Pox a six minute thing of glory and corny AABB rhyming patterns building to a splendid Krautrock guitar freakout. Then onto The Vicar's Dog about the vicar's dog and closing time. pop music for middle aged folk. Altogether recommended!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Rod Stewart

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 322 The Zombies

The Duncan Hannah painting I posted on here a few days back brought me here. Wonderful song!

Thirty Days of Felt # 9 Crystal Ball

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 113 Bobby Bland

Song(s) of the Day # 1,707 Mutual Benefit

Beauty is a word that comes to mind when listening through to Thunder Follows the Light the third album from Mutual Benefit, the name that Ohio's Jason Lee works under with a cast of changing musicians. Because it's a beautiful record pure and simple and one that evokes the contemplation of natural landscapes, and trying to figure where exactly we fit into all that.

The record flows remarkably smoothly as a suite of songs, Lee comes across as an easy going Sufjan or a less spectral Jonathan Donahue and each track ebbs and flows with calm precision, taking inspiration from a range of sources, (Elliott Smith and Bon Iver probably figure in the mix too), but making what amounts to very much his own thing.

Think Nick Drake too, as he was one of the absolute masters of the communing with nature ambience. There's an overwhelming calm and assurance to the album that builds towards the creation of an impressive and composed work of art.

Timely too, as Autumn is falling and it's good to come across an Autumnal record to soundtrack this. Thunder Follows the Light seems destined to be that album in 2018 for me. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Bring it on!

Friday, September 21, 2018


Songs About People # 707 The Rubettes

Luke Haines, a Seventies archivist for much of his recording career, knocks out one for arch Glamsters the Rubettes.

The Move

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 321 Paul Weller

I've just returned from a while away from home seeing folks down south. Back to Newcastle and Rosie's to find a lot of things I've been listening to down there on the jukebox. Including this the opening track from the new Paul Weller album True Meanings. My jury is still slightly out on the record as a whole, should get round to writing about it at greater length on here at some point. But I do like this.

Thirty Days of Felt # 8 Gather Up Your Wings & Fly

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 114 Buddy Holly

Song of the Day # 1,706 The Maureens

Utrecht, Holland band The Maureens do the plangent Byrds / Big Star / Teenage Fanclub thing with an undoubtable additional nod to The Beatles ahead of their third album which will appear next February.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Songs About People # 706 Paul Klee

Slightly overwrought song for Paul Klee.

Thirty Days of Felt # 7 Don't Die on my Doorstep

The Byrds

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 115 Martha & the Vandellas

Song(s) of the Day # 1,705 Subsonic Eye

In a year when one of my musical highlights has been my discovery of the fabulous South Korean band Say Sue Me, here come their Singaporean equivalent. Taking a Shoegaze direction as opposed to Say Sue Me's more Indie Pop/ C-86 slant, Subsonic Eyes' second album. Dive Into, is a fine record. melodic, dreamy and atmospheric.

On Last Day they recreate the You Made Me Realise wind tunnel. Elsewhere they might be Liz Fraser fronting the early Cardigans. It's odd to see this music which is so reminiscent of old copies of Melody Maker Camden Town at its gloomiest,  Radio 1 evening shows and so much else about the early Nineties take such a hold in South East Asia two and a half decades later and great to hear it all done so very well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Cramps

Photographed in 1977 in The Bowery by David Godis.

Thirty Days of Felt # 6 My Darkest Light Will Shine

Songs About People # 705 David Foster Wallace

Song for late and increasingly Cult author.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 116 The Drifters

Song(s) of the Day # 1,704 Scrunchies

Minneapolis Scrunchies debut album Stunner from earlier on this year, starts off as it means to continue. Nirvana chord changes, Kathleen Hannah sound-alike on lead vocals, Sleater Kinney touches aplenty. Riot Grrrl happy rage!

It remains consistent to this basic plan, just as you know it will. Nine songs. Eight of them short of three minutes. One stretching miraculously to three minutes forty one. All of them melodic, chunky and utterly fabulous.

Scrunchies is a good onomatopoeic description of the record. It sounds scrunchie. Scrunchies are actually apparently the crinkly things that women use to tie the braids in their hair. I didn't know this until yesterday but that's beside the point at hand. This record gives you absolutely nothing you haven't heard before. But some wheels sometimes have absolutely no need of reinvention if things are done properly. They certainly are here.

As catchy as The Ramones, Nevermind or Pussy Whipped without the defining world-changing moments of those records. As good a claim on thirty minutes of your time as any record of this type that I've heard this year.

I wanted three more songs by the time it abruptly came to a close. It's short of classic status for that reason and also because all that it does has been so definitively done before. Nevertheless, it does that thing very well indeed. Stunner!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Please Kill Me

Every few years it seems I need to re-read Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, still my favourite Rock & Roll related book of all time. Having just done so again, here's a picture of me at my local bar reading it this time round and my initial review from a couple of years back. Now, to lend my copy to someone else...

'I've just finished re-reading this, Please Kill Me, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Compiled from over 500 recorded hours of interviews with almost all of the key players of American Punk from 1965 to 1980, it's an incredible, historical document. But what really makes it great is that it's always before anything else, deeply entertaining. Focusing on the people that made and were drawn to the music rather than the music itself it's a wonderful description of life lived to the full during the course of these years, mostly in New York City but also in Ann Arbor, Cleveland, California and occasionally across the pond in England.

It's peopled by the most incredible cast of characters; Rock and Roll musicians, almost invariably gay band managers, hustlers, groupies, poets, photographers and fans. Many of them drug addicts and booze hounds. All the vast array of creative and desperate people who made the scene. Incredible characters leap out of its pages; Iggy Pop, Wayne Kramer, Danny Fields, Ron Asheton, Sylvain Sylvain, Jim Carroll, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Leee Childers, Richard Lloyd, Debbie Harry, Dee Dee Ramone and so on.

McNeil particularly, is obviously keen that a particular slant on the narrative, a story of Punk that he favours, gets told. The lineage of artists that tell the story goes as follows: The Velvet Underground - The Doors- The MC5 - The Stooges - The New York Dolls - David Bowie - Patti Smith - Television - The Ramones - Blondie- The Dictators - The Heartbreakers - Dead Boys - The Sex Pistols. There's only one passing, sneering mention of Talking Heads, little about Suicide and nothing at all about The Modern Lovers or Pere Ubu. This doesn't really matter because the key purpose of the narrative is to keep things lively and it does this in every respect.

The story itself takes a downturn in the last section, from about 1978 when it begins to document the human wreckage that the scene resulted in, with the deaths of Stiv Bators, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan, the state that Dee Dee Ramone wound up in, the fact that Punk in its original state, was not built to last. In some respect it's a cautionary tale. Still, it's good to see, forty years on, probably its most iconic figure, Iggy himself, still with us and the times and music accorded a reverence that is odd to observe, but pleasing to witness. If you haven't read the book, I recommend it highly!'

Songs About People # 704 Wendy James

Taking their name from a 1964 Godard French New Wave film, never the best of ideas when trying to differentiate yourself on a Google search, Band A Part are signed to famed Spanish label Elefant, and paid tribute to the Transvision vamp back in 2010.

Punks at Underdogs

Looks like a good show for anyone who happens to be in Prague tonight.

Thirty Days of Felt # 5 Red Indians

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 117 The Schoolboys

Eleanor Friedberger

Song(s) of the Day # 1,703 Blood Orange

A couple of years ago I asked my oldest nephew what music he was listening to. He mentioned the name Blood Orange. I didn't follow it up. Kids, what do they know.? The previous time I got recommendations from he and his siblings they were pushing Mumford & Sons on me.

All this time later I've finally got round to Blood Orange, largely because he, (the name, is a moniker for Dev Hynes), put out a new album recently,  Negro Swan, which has made some waves. And no wonder listening to it. It's a fine record. Soulful, considered and clearly an extended comment on the world we live in and particularly America, as turbulent now as it's been since the late Sixties.

In many ways this feels like a companion piece to the Janelle Morae record Dirty Computer that I wrote about in such glowing terms yesterday. This is not such a strident album but it is a State of the World address in a different way. Like Morae it totes no guns and seems at times like an almost academic investigation into black experience, spirituality and soul.

In the man's own words: ' My newest album is an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the dark corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer / people of color. A reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all. The underlying thread through each piece on the album is the idea of HOPE, and the lights we can turn on or within ourselves with a hopefully positive outcome of helping others out of their darkness.'

All power to the Blood Orange elbow and maybe I should listen to my nephew more. Negro Swan is a graceful and beautiful creature. As with Dirty Computer it focuses on the marginalised at a moment of great and explicit political threat but in contrast chooses to internalise, and in doing so traces out a significant and impressive landscape of consciousness.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Songs About People # 703 Chloe Sevigny

Tune, (or track is probably closer to the mark) for the ultimate New York Indie 'it' girl.

Talking Heads

When they were still a three-piece.

Thirty Days of Felt # 4 I Will Die With my Head in Flames

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 118 Don Henley

Song(s) of the Day # 1,702 Janelle Monae

'There was a lot of confusion and nonsense where I grew up, so I reacted by creating my own little world. (...) I began to see how music could change lives, and I began to dream about a world where every day was like anime and Broadway, where music fell from the sky and anything could happen.'

In some ways for me, 2018 has been The Year of Janet Jackson, at least in part. Not for the things Janet's put out herself, though she did make a return a few weeks back. Just that for me personally I've learned to properly appreciate all of those great records she put out in the Eighties for the first time. Mainly because I've heard the echoes of it in a couple of wonderful albums that I've liked a lot this year.

The first is Natalie Prass's The Future & the Past, which I'll write about more when I come to do my countdown of favourite records in November and December. The second is Janelle Monae's genuinely noteworthy Dirty Computer, which came out in April but which I've only just caught up with. My loss.

Dirty Computer reminds me of Janet though it's a heck of  lot franker and deeper in terms of its concerns than Janet ever was. It reminds me of Prince. Of Lauryn Hill. And also of Kelis whose Milkshake has been going round my head for weeks unknowingly waiting 'til I got round to listening to Janelle. At a certain point it even reminded me of Anita Baker (Don't Judge Me). 

It's a dirty record, (hence its name, a reference to Dirty Mind?) in the way that black artists  have always done them best. It's also sensual, sensitive, funky and smart. It makes political comment whenever it wants to, (it's almost the ultimate reverse-Trump statement in terms of its sensibility). All the time it's non-stop fun and fantasy. It also packs in big hitting collaborations, Pharrell Williams, Grimes, Zoe Kravitz and even Brian Wilson, (of all people), show up at various points. It will remind you of no end of classic records, (Make me Feel, is purely and quite deliberately a transition from Kiss) while being an absolute classic record itself.

It's a statement too of self-liberation. Read the gushing Pitchfork review for further detail None of that particularly needs to be itemised here, investigate further if you want to, but Dirty Computer is certainly a statement of pride and intent. It's also the best Pop album I've heard this year. And much more than that too!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Songs About People # 702 Jason Molina

Bill Ryder-Jones, ahead of his new album, sent me in the direction of this, by picking it on a Spotify playlist. A splendid song from a splendid album by a one-man project called The Rivulets out of Duluth, Minnesota, the same town that gave birth to Low whose new record I eulogised on here a couple of days back. This absolute classic, from 2014's I Remember Everything, honours Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Co.

Honey Has - Dear Someone, Happy Something

Honey Has debut album Dear Someone, Happy Something is a difficult one to assess. Largely because of the tender age of the artists who have made it. Honey Has are a group of young sisters of 11, 13 and 16 from Honor Oak, London and now have their first long player out there in the world. Produced by Steve McKay, formerly of Pulp, and released on Rough Trade no less. They play guitar, (mostly acoustic), bass and drums, swap vocals and harmonise to their own simple, melodic songs.


This ingenue Pop music has a small but significant history in the annals of Rock and Roll history. There's more to this sub-genre than St.Winifred's School Choir and their horrid There's No-One Quite Like Grandma Seventies Number One hit. Because this aspires to be good. And frankly it is.

So, like The Langley School Project and the Children of Sunshine, the two best precedents for this that I'm aware of, the album is worthy of respect. The songs are crafted, the harmonies are affecting, the mood never lulls. Childhood represents a state of innocence but also wisdom that we aspire to and look to reclaim ever after. Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard. Honey Has see off that ridiculous notion. 

Thirty Days of Felt # 3 Tuesday's Secret

Echo & the Bunnymen

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 119 The Trashmen

Song(s) of the Day # 1,701 Guerilla Toss

Guerilla Toss, (odd name for a band, whatever they had in mind doesn't work this side of The Atlantic), are hipper than you are. Don't worry they're hipper than I am too. Eight years ago they realised that they were so hip that they had to move from Boston to New York City so that their twisted liquid funk could truly realise itself among appreciative, like-minded hipsters. Perhaps, all this time later that moment has come with their third album Twisted Crystal just out.

Boy it's hip and boy it's New York City. Tom Tom Club,  ESG, Liquid Liquid, Dee Lite, Luscious Jackson and other groovers come together downtown to shake their communal asses to it. Sometimes it's a little too cool for school and kitchen sink cluttered for my tastes, but in small doses it's highly effective. Take these three if you don't believe me. Groove, (as always), is in the heart... of Manhattan.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Stooges

First gig. Early '68.

'The first gig we had was at the Grande Ballroom...the night before the show, we didn't know what Iggy was going to wear, so he said 'Don't worry, I'll come up with something.'

So we go pick him up and he's wearing like an old white nightshirt from the 1800s that went all the way down to his ankles. He had painted his face white like a mime, and he had made an Afro wig out of twisted aluminium foil.

As we were driving to the Grande Ballroom we were smoking joints. It was our first show and we were kind of nervous. Then this bunch of hoodlums pulls up next to us and tries to run us off the road. So were a nervous wreck by the time we got to the Ballroom. When we got out of the car, the black security guard in the parking lot said, 'Motherfucker, is that a mechanical man or what?' He was just laughing his ass off.'

Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

Marianne Faithfull - The Gipsy Faerie Queen

Marianne Faithfull has been more consistently elegaic in terms of her output than almost any artist of the last fifty years. Ever since Tears Go By she's been putting out stuff that would sound good at a funeral. Appropriately this becomes more and more the case, the older she becomes. With a new album Negative Capability coming our way in November she's truly excelled herself with this precursor. Called The Gypsy Faerie Queen and with Nick Cave keeping a respectful pace behind her on backing vocals it's elegantly resigned, pretentious and full of self regard. All in a rather wonderful way. Enjoy!

Thirty Days of Felt # 2 Cathedral

Songs About People # 701 Salvador Dali

The wonderful Jonathan Richman wrote many songs for the numerous painters who inspired him. Here's the one he wrote for Dali.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 120 The Rivingtons

Song of the Day # 1,700 The Muldoons

Indie band from Paisley, Scotland and the nineties do jingly jangly things. They've recently reformed to do some more.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Thirty Days of Felt # 1 Rain of Crystal Spires

Felt are having their final five albums re-issued today. They were a fine band who have more than endured over the years. Meanwhile I'm on holiday, so reason enough to start another spurious series to give me a chance to re-explore their canon. There will be no Primitive Painters, perhaps their most famous song but one I've never cared for. Instead we start with a track which my sister sent me a link to just this morning from Forever Breathes the Lonely Word.

Songs About People # 700 Donald Sutherland

Donald Sutherland, still an important player decades into his career, and a song for him. factually speaking probably the 699th in this particular series. I missed one out early on.

Low - Double Negative

The Goon Sax's album is not the only fine record that comes out today. There's also Double Negative, the twelfth album from Low. The two records couldn't be more different really, apart from the basic fact that they're both made by trios composed of two men and a woman. Otherwise they sound like albums made from the opposite end of life's experiential spectrum, We're Not Talking a record made by teenagers reluctant to give up on adolescent feeling and wrestling with the prospect of breaking through to adulthood while Double Negative is their middle-aged parents response, full of static and unease and awareness of death, not something that intrudes on the Goon Sax record for a moment.

Low are a band who've always determinedly trodden their own path. I don't know all of their records but I've liked every single one that I've ever heard. And I very much like this one. A few years back I saw them play at an All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Minehead and they exuded a calm but spectral presence throughout their set. There was humour there, particularly in frontman Alan Sparhawk's between song patter but there was also gravitas. He mentioned Syria, which was then in the early stages of violent war throes. That's seven years or more back and the spectre of Syria is still with us.

Double Negative is a fraught album, streaked with the contradictions of modern existence. There's beauty there, the songs are artfully constructed, but there's also a continual crackle, a dark undertow. Their may also be humour too in the title of the record perhaps a reference to America's current 'idiot in chief' and comments he made a few months ago about Russia. In every way it's a very modern record, trying to take the basic backdrop of guitar, drums, bass and vocals somewhere else through the wonderful medium of studio technology. It's highly successful in that respect, at least to my ears,. I wasn't entirely clear of what its concerns might be, whatever they are don't really matter, the record expresses them powerfully. Perhaps The Guardian's glowing review might give some clues. Anyhow, it held me totally captivated on listening through it in its entirety at my desk with my headphones on this morning, midway through September as Autumn falls.

I'm not sure which record I'll listen more to over the coming months, The Goon Sax one or the Low one. They're both excellent visions in incredibly different ways. The Goon Sax one deals in simpler emotions while Low wrestles with the complexity. I recommend them both highly for different moods. Who says the best music has already been made?

Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan

The Goon Sax - We're Not Talking

Back in the late Sixties the Velvet Underground let their drummer, (the diminutive Mo Tucker), sing a couple of songs, After Hours and I'm Sticking With You. They were lullabies for the cool set and wittingly or otherwise they established a whole Rock and Roll sub-genre of which Brisbane Australia's Goon Sax second album We're Not Talking is just the latest marvellous example

The Goon Sax are three young people struggling with the concept and actual experience of living through and documenting their late teenage years. They take these two Velvet Underground songs, the early Jonathan Richman sensibility and the awkward but equally knowing presence of The Go-Betweens Robert Forster, (father of Louis, one of their number), and mix it all up with their own gawky, hormonal concerns to come out with  a small but perfectly formed classic. Twelve songs too. Like so many of the very best records, going back to my first great musical love, R.E.M.'s Murmur.

All three of the band James Harrison, Louis and Riley Jones sing and their instruments, guitar, drum , bass and other assorted instruments harmonise. Sometimes, the band are happy, sometimes sad, sometimes confused but you know they'll actually be OK because they're whip smart even if they don't want to let on that they are. Louis is the only one who's actually related to a member of the band but they've all inherited the early Go-Betweens genes, And that's a wonderful thing. And this is a wonderful record. Destined to go Top 10. At least in my end of the year album list!