Friday, November 30, 2018

Songs of the Year # 26 Iceage

Albums of the Year # 26 The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic

From August:

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!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 44 Little Stevie Wonder

Song of the Day # 1,776 Fascinations Grand Chorus

As the Did Not Chart blog describes it: 'group soul sung under the streetlamps outside the Brill Building.'

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Songs About People # 749 Stan Lee

Austin Texas's female trio Queue Queue, something like a slightly electrified Sleater Kinney, give tribute to the late Marvel Comics hero. From their terrific eponymous debut album of last year.

Song of the Day # 27 Micah P. Hinson

Wonderful, triumphant lead off single from Micah P. Hanson's album of late this year,' When I Shoot at you with Arrows, I Will Shoot to Destroy You.'

Albums of the Year # 27 Vital Idles - Left Hand

From September:

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!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 45 Prince

Song of the Day # 1,775 Bunny

Chicago band. Very much in that Velvets fronted by Mo or Nico mode, or else Mazzy Star, but they pull it off well here. A debut album is forthcoming.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Byrds

Gene Clark, David Crosby, Michael Clarke, Gene Clark and Jim McGuinn with fans on their first tour of Britain, 1965.

Songs About People # 748 John Milton

John Cale gets serious on 1972's The Academy In Peril.

Songs of the Year # 28 Grandaddy

New from Grandaddy, an out-take from the Last Place record which they've worked on since. Distinctively them.

Albums of the Year # 28 Eleanor Friedberger - Rebound

From May:

And so to Rebound, just out, but already a part of the furniture of my flat. She's still quirky, I imagine she always will be but she's utterly comfortable in her own skin and I think it's one of the best records she's made either alone or as a Furnace.

Whereas Fiery Furnaces often seemed to shift gear and direction almost wilfully to put their audience off their trail, the songs on Rebound maintain a steady course, not necessarily following a conventional verse/ chorus trajectory, (it's hardly Friedberger's way), but absolutely maintaining a happy internal logic.

The songs that were released ahead of the album are already ingrained in me and the rest of the record seems destined to follow course. Inspired by time spent in Athens where she went to escape from having to be in the States for the Trump inauguration, it's a synthy Eighties sounding record, in contrast to 2016's New View which sounded almost Laurel Canyon with its full and rich guitar sound.

Rebound is almost deliberately synthetic by comparison but this doesn't stop its songs being instantly immediate and winning. They're very much of a piece, it feels like Friedberger's ironing out her kinks and establishing a middle aged assurance and calm. She's commented that she's like to gain a broader commercial appeal than she's garnered previously and though that may be hard to realise, she's certainly hitting her artistic stride. Rebound is a triumphant album that lays down a marker for Courtney Barnett, my other personal favourite artist of this ilk to respond to with her own record, later this month.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 46 The Miracles

Song of the Day # 1,774 Attic Lights

Scottish band do that Teenage Fanclub thing very well on Slumberland Records very well ahead of a new album due out early in 2019.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 344 Patti Smith

Wave has arrived.

Songs of the Year # 29 Red Telephone

Albums of the Year # 29 Elephant Micah - Genericana

From August:

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.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 47 Fats Domino

Song of the Day # 1,773 Hannah Barberas

Monday, November 26, 2018

Songs of the Year # 30 Savak

Albums of the Year # 30 Amen Dunes - Freedom

From April:

I've been waiting for Amen Dunes fourth album Freedom to drop since I first heard its lead off single Miki Dora way back in January. Named after the renegade Hungarian surfer from that way of life's Golden Age, it's still one of my favourite songs of the year thus far. 

Now its parent album is here too and it sounds to me like something of a slow burner. Meditative, brooding and intense, to some extent mood and rhythm driven and with a set of songs that certainly never following a formulaic verse / chorus formula. Listening to it feels like an experience of gradual sensory accumulation. The spell the songs cast build as the record wends on and by the end you feel you've experienced something that's impressive indeed.

Damon McMahon, the man behind the moniker, has a voice that's reminiscent of The Verve's Richard Ashcroft and in many ways the songs here pulse and burn like those on that band's golden moment, Urban Hymns. Their concerns are also apparently similar, mortality and how we measure its dark experiences of loss and grief and transcendence as we make our way down the long road.

Mika Dura certainly still stands out from the pack for me as Freedom's outstanding moment, (perhaps a full realisation of what McMahon is driving at). But the rest of the record also has a stately, driving energy and grace that made me feel I'll be returning soon for more. In the meantime, while my inner jury comes to its judgement, I'll post these songs here for you.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 48 Madonna

Song of the Day # 1,772 Swimm

LA's Swimm 'makes music with the concepts of weightlessness and fluidity as the common elements in their genre-blurred sound.' According to their Bandcamp page. No, me neither. Not really. Though you do get some kind of idea with this, their latest release.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 343 Television

My imports continue to arrive on the jukebox at Rosie's. All part of the masterplan. Here's the latest. Television's slightly underrated second album Adventure.

Songs of the Year # 31 Phosphorescent

Albums of the Year # 31 Air Waves - Warrior

From July:

Air Waves third album  Warrior, (which came out a couple of months back), is a delicious lo-fi Indie treat with a great deal more ambition and scope than that tag, (as appropriate as I think it is), might imply. Its cover features a photograph of Air Waves Nicole Schneit's father Martin from 1970 standing with a bicycle wearing an alarming looking gas mask adorned with a daisy. It's a really arresting and implicitly political image and the record it represents is just as proud and distinctive a statement.

Starting off on Home with the lines, 'Would you like to ride with me. All the way home..', over a quite beautifully simple guitar coda, it gets going as it means to continue. Then on to Morro Bay where 'you can find us in our room. Listening to our favourite tunes'. It's all homely but quietly impressive and reminded me of the DIY approach of Young Marble Giants masterpiece Colossal Youth for some reason

The album proceeds from there in stately fashion. Each track mellow, tuneful and considered. Air Waves took their name from the title of a Guided By Voices song and that's not insignificant. That band, like Young Marble Giants and many of the other early eighties electronic reference points that are dotted around Warrior were determinedly operating under the radar, and the end result is all the more impressive in terms of its quiet but steely ambition and achievement.

Partially inspired by the diagnosis of Schneit's mother with fallopian cancer, the record is a statement of loving solidarity peppered throughout with sexual identity and pride. In Schneit's words: 'I want these songs to be heard by people in my queer community but also by anyone that wants to feel strong, powerful and included.' And that resolve to speak both to her own people but also make her voice heard by a broader audience is impressively realised. This deserves to be heard.

Like so many statements from the American Indie community over the last ten years or so, this minds me of the sensibility of Juno and its soundtrack and of Juno herself but perhaps a few years further down the line, having dispensed with her puppy fat and switched her gender alliance.

And then at Track 9 and the title track the record shifts a gear and hits paydirt. This is very much an anthem of pride for the dispossessed and marginalised. A mission statement every bit as precious as The Smiths, Riot Girl and Le Tigre used to make them. Roping in Kevin Morby, a long time favourite of this blog it chugs on with breathtaking momentum. It's a small wonder in itself but by no means breaking the flow of an album that is now utterly into its stride.

A few tracks later the album takes the bell and sprints to the tape. Warrior is a series of messages of quiet  melodic sophistication that coalesce into a glorious and defiant statement. A small, but perfectly formed masterpiece. Straight out of Brooklyn, as if you didn't guess.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 49 Little Willie John

Song(s) of the Day # 1,771 Shy Boys

Appropriately named band from Kansas City play appropriately named song.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Songs of the Year # 32 Captain Suun

Albums of the Year # 32 Emma Tricca - St.Peter

From April:

Now here's something quite new and quite thrilling. The third album from Italian born and bred singer songwriter Emma Tricca, St Peter. It's a Folk record, evocative to me of the best records from the golden era of that sound of the Sixties and Seventies.

Tricca's voice has the otherworldly qualities of Karen Dalton and the record is textured, weaving and highly inventive. Recorded in New York and augmented by a classy band of Steve Shelley, (Sonic Youth) on drums, Pete Calub on bass and the Dream Syndicate's Jason Victor's particularly prominent guitar. Supported by a number of other contributors including Judy Collins, and Howie Gelb the record might call to mind Vashti Bunyan, Davy Graham and Laura Nyro, by Tricca has her own stride and walks her own walk. An album that on only a couple of plays has already taken a fierce grip on my imagination, St Peter is a record that something quite apart from anything else I've heard this year. A rites of passage experience. As resonant and evocative as a great novel.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 50 Martha & the Vandellas

Song(s) of the Day # 1,770 The Perfect English Weather

Beautifully judged light Pop Music from Brighton's wonderfully named The Perfect English Weather. Featuring former members of The Popguns it's a stately, dignified stroll into middle age.


Reminiscent at various points of Tracy Thorne, Saint Etienne and Dubstar, it's all understated and distinctly English in terms of its essence. Full of 'ba ba bas; abd swooning vocals. The record is called Don't You Wanna Feel The Rain. These people know exactly what they are doing.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Songs About People # 747 Peter Stone Brown

The last of this little run of Virgin of the Birds tracks. For Pennsylvania singer-songwriter Peter Stone Brown.

Songs of the Year # 33 H. Grimace

Albums of the Year # 33 Fog Lake - Captain

From July:

A record that's been gathering on me like moss over the course of July is Captain, the latest from Aaron Powell under his well established moniker of Fog Lake. It's a record mired in landscape. More specifically the landscape of Glovertown, Newfoundland, (a town of barely 2,000 inhabitants), where Powell grew up.

Captain's a record that mutters and grumbles and would prefer not to get up and go out unless it really has to. After all, it's cold out there. Powell very rarely spits out what he's got on his mind, and when you do catch a phrase or clause it's nigh on inevitable that the next utterance will mark a retreat and be lost forever in studio interference. And it's this foggy introversion that is the core of the record's appeal.

With every play, the album casts its coils more deeply around you.Or at least it has around me. A comparison point would probably be Elliott Smith, (how often do I mention that man on here? either his influence has become just enormous or I just can't shake the memory of his records).  Also Andy Shauf, another artist forging a name for himself from the emotional foundations of a cold, provincial Canadian upbringing.

Powell has a fair few records behind him now and has clearly learned his trade. The songs on Captain are never verse/ chorus, verse / chorus in the traditional sense but they are crafted round an assured, committed, momentum.  It's a fine, fine record, muffled and incoherent maybe, but that's not something that will ever bother me. Seeing as Murmur probably still remains my favourite record thirty five years on, I'm hardly likely to hold that against Fog Lake. Captain gets my vote!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 51 Chuck Berry

Song(s) of the Day # 1,769 Virgin of the Birds

So, back to Virgin of the Birds, who I discovered earlier this week and fell for in a big way. They're a Seattle based rotating collective of musicians, orbiting around main man Jon Rooney. Named after a poor translation of a Salvador Dali painting and active for over a decade, here are three songs from their latest EP Numberless Needs.

It's found, thrift store wisdom in the best tradition of American Indie eccentrics. The latest in a long and noble line going back fifty years and more; Jonathan Richman, Lester Bangs, Jad Fair, Jeffrey Lewis, Adam Greene, Sufjan Stevens. Rooney slots in just fine and Numberless Needs is his latest pearl.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Songs About People # 746 Victor Bockris

'I invested in this. Nabokov and Victor Bockris.'

More from Virgin of the Birds.

Songs of the Year # 34 Drinks

Albums of the Year # 34 Rosali - Trouble Anyway

A late entry into my Albums of the Year tlist his one. It's Uncut Magazine record of the month in the current issue and those are people who know about these kind of things. Rosali is a Philadelphia based musician and this is her second solo album. It's situated musically somewhere between gently rocky and soft almost an amalgam of Patti Smith's much underrated final Seventies album Wave and Fleetwood Mac albums of the same vintage.

It almost fits in the Easy Listening category too because it's certainly easy to listen to, though this is not disparaging but intended as high compliment. The instrumentation is warm, considered and melodic, Rosali's voice intimate and emotive. the subject matter is matters of the heart, nine songs in all, each of them plowing a similar furrow. A welcome early Christmas present.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 52 Aretha Franklin

Song of the Day # 1,768 CCCP

Italian Eighties Punks do minimalist thing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Songs About People # 745 Frank Rizzo

Part of a mini-series on here from my new favourite band, number blah, blah, blah, Seattle's splendidly named Virgin of the Birds. More on them in the coming days but here's something from their recently released EP Numberless Needs about, (among other things), Frank Rizzo, the draconian police commissioner and Mayor of Philadelphia in the early Seventies.

Songs of the Year # 35 The Good, The Bad & The Queen

The Good, The Bad & The Queen's wonderful album Merrie Land has been something I've been listening to a lot since it came out last Friday. I'll write about it at greater length as these countdowns proceed. In the meantime, here's one of its loveliest songs.

Albums of the Year # 35 Cafe Racer - Famous Dust

Written in August:

'Life in the hive puckered up by night...' 

I can find little trace of Chicago's Cafe Racer and their second album Famous Dust on Internet searches, though they do have a social media presence. It seems they're still something of a secret despite the tremendous qualities of their new record which I've been utterly thrilled with over the last couple of days of listening to it.

It actually came out in February but it seems it's made little more than local waves since. A great number of people are missing a trick in this case because it's a rare gem. The whole thing has that splendid wired qualities that are only too rare with independent records these days and is probably the best frenetic guitar album I've heard this year alongside The Lavender Flu's magnificent Mow The Glass which I reviewed on here a few weeks back.

While Mow The Glass is a record that draws inspiration from the Sixties particularly Famous Dust seems more obviously mired in the Punk ooze of the Seventies and Eighties. More specifically I'm minded of two bands, Television and The Jesus & Mary Chain. Television for the splendid clang and chime, the fluid intensity of the guitars, the Mary Chain for the muttered, sexually wired vocals.

It's a splendid combination, helping you imagine what might have come of things if Jim had ever teamed up with Tom and Richard. What it builds to here is a splendid, brittle intensity, a record that's truly an object of the night in the way that Marquee Moon and Psychocandy both brilliantly and definitively were back in their day. 

So the guitars wonderfully echo the spells Television cast in '77 with traces of  Venus, Guiding Light, Elevation and Friction popping up at various points in the mix, while band members Michael Santana and Adam Schubert, who also share guitar duties, trade turns at the mic recalling the likes of Some Candy Talking and Just Like Candy along the way. There are also some of the best spoken vocal contributions to a record I've heard since Dexys Searching For The Young Soul Rebels all those years ago. Altogether it's a winning formula.

All in all it's the frenetic intensity of the record that won me over. There's a real sense of a band taking risks here rather than trailing down a readily defined path which is so often the impression I get when listening to new records nowadays. Cafe Racer choose to spend the night in the woods instead and Famous Dust is all the better for it!

The of Rock and Soul # 53 The Temptations

Song of the Day # 1,767 Otha

The debut solo single from Norwegian producer Otha is getting some attention with Pitchfork reviews and so on. It deserves it. It's very good, even if its lyrics don't push human existence onwards particularly. But then, why should they? This is here to dance to. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Songs Heard on the Radio # 280 Snapped Ankles

Proper Young Punk from Snapped Ankles who know just how to do this!

Songs About People # 744 James Mason

One of our greatest matinee idols gets rather strange tribute.

Courtney Barnett

In Glasgow. One day from Newcastle.

Songs of the Year # 36 Hookworms

Leeds band Hookworms got no end of attention when they released Microshift at the beginning of February. I listened, and tried to get into it but found it rather garish. I thought the same when I saw them play live. This, the taster for the album stands strong. 

Albums of the Year # 36 The Innocence Mission - Sun On The Square

From July:

The Innocence Mission, a rare discovery in my constant search for new music from a couple of weeks back which I'm finally coming to write about just in time for a much needed weekend.

I'm very late on this particular case as they, (essentially a project built around married couple Karen and Don Peris), have been putting out records for nigh on thirty years having first met while taking part in the preparations for a high school production of Godspell.

They've changed greatly over the intervening years, beginning in rather orthodox fashion considering what they are now, their early records inviting comparison to the likes of The Cranberries or  Mazzy Star. Gradually over time they've worked on their sound and vision to the point where they've sculpted something of awe and wonder, documenting the beauty of the commonplace. All of this is wonderfully realised on their latest record Sun On The Square, just released in the UK on Bella Vista Records.

It's music which can quite easily push you to the verge of tears, if you're so inclined, such is its simplistic loveliness. Karen's voice is at the core of the spell being cast here. A lesson in how the purity of youthful existence can be maintained into adulthood and a reminder of how important it is to never completely let go of that magic. William Blake knew, Nick Drake knew and so do the The Innocence Mission.

The album yearns for a return to this innocence. They're an aptly named band. Each song unfolds at graceful pace, evoking the feel of a summers day in a city square, sun shining on trees and flowers, people going about their business and everything maintaining a spectral unity. The miracle of everyday existence.

The Peris now have and are raising children of their own and this surely feeds into the impact of the record. Each song feeds off and melts into the last, building towards a golden half hour of listening. Sufjan Stevens and Iron & Wine's Sam Beam are highly vocal fans and you can easily hear why as the qualities and seeds of their own best records are nakedly evident here.

Karen's voice is a distant twin of Joanne Newsome's and it works its way into you over the course of Sun On The Square. The Innocence Mission are clearly a back-burner project that the Peris have somehow managed to maintain over the years as a backdrop to nine to fives and child raising and this only heightens its appeal. There is a clear grasp of the mundane and everyday here which is the central core of its achievement.

Credit to The Innocence Mission for the realisation of this. And credit to Simon Raymonde too of Bella Vista for recognising how special it is and putting out Sun On The Square. In many ways these songs feel like children's lullabies, but the record is a reminder of just how much we'll always need them. Even, and in fact especially as we journey further through adulthood.

 An extraordinary documentation of the experience of existence and love. Long may they run!