Sunday, December 8, 2019

Songs About People # 1,012 Gary Glitter

I make no apologies for posting a picture of this unpleasant and wicked man. I've had actual Nazis on here recently after all and this is a good song. From Vic Godard compadres The Bitter Springs who have a new album out soon. This comes from 2012's Everyone's Cup Of Tea.

Toy - Songs For Consumption

A fine late year album of covers from Brighton band Toy. Tipping their hats to their influences while re-inventing the original songs in subtle and nuanced ways. This a warm and sensuous if slightly sinister record and well worth a listen.

Setting off with The Stooges' Down On The Street, one of the finest opening tracks from any album ever frankly, they lay down their ground rules immediately. Rather than trying to ape the track's feral rage they worm inside it instead with an insistent electro pulse, imagining what the song might have sounded like had Suicide played it.

From there to Amanda Lear's Follow Me, something of an unappreciated masterpiece which they do full justice to. And then to Nico's obscure Sixty Forty. Toy are clearly fans first and foremost but they're also sufficiently imaginative and inventive not to play their hand completely straight and subsequently the record starts to cast a dark hypnotic spell.

I personally didn't go for their take on The Troggs Cousin Jane as the original is one of my particular favourites and didn't feel its essential strangeness was taken anywhere new here. Their version of Soft Cell's Fun City is great though, an exploration of metropolitan decadence, discovery and loss.

Choosing to have a pop at Serge Gainsbourg's Lemon Incest as they do next, makes perfect sense given that the album could almost be a soundtrack for for some lush and dubious European movie. Toy are clearly OST obsessives and they've watched and listened well as  Songs For Consumption crafts a genuinely cinematic momentum over the course of its eight tracks.

They play Always On My Mind relatively straight. It's by far the best known track on here and Toy's take is all Tennant and next to no Presley. The song's melody is such a gift that it has to be played faithfully. No real prizes won here. It's just a good song.

To close with John Barry's A Doll's House is an inspired move though. It's a credits roll moment ushering us out of the darkness of the cinema and onto the street. Songs For Consumption is a smooth, considered and seductive record. Not quite Pin Ups, These Foolish Things or Kicking Against The Pricks perhaps but certainly more than a mere footnote. It will be interesting to see where this takes the band next.

Albums of the Year # 18 Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow

An altogether fabulous gift to arrive in January, which this record did in 2019. She also played a just fabulous gig at the Tyne Theatre which I was fortunate to witness in early Autumn:

New Years generally take a while to kick off music wise. But 2019 really set off in fine form for me on Friday with the release of at least three great records, all surely destined to land up high in my end of year countdown when we finally get round to that. And the best of the three to my ears is Remind Me Tomorrow, the latest album by Sharon Van Etten.

Listening through to the record all the way through on Friday was something of a revelation. I'm not enormously familiar with Van Etten's back catalogue which stretches back to 2005, but this album is evidence enough as to why she's held in such high esteem by so many.

It's a highly immediate record, each song sounding as if you've heard it before somewhere, not to say that it's derivative, merely highly evocative and crafted. By the time I got to fourth track Comeback Kid, the record's initial taster, released towards the end of last year, a lost Eighties hit that never was and one of the best songs of recent years, I was already sold.

If the record is something of a statement about determinedly facing forward and stepping away from abuse and distress, (this is well documented in Van Etten's interviews and work), there is scant self-pity here. The picture on the sleeve of the record,  of a child surrounded by childhood detritus, is an illustration of clutter, the clutter we all come into the earth to and continue to accumulate, try to come to terms with and discard all the way through life. It describes as well as anything could, a struggle that's going on within the songs themselves.

In a recent interview with Uncut Magazine Van Etten herself identified Portishead, Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree and Suicide as key stylistic inspirations for Remind Me Tomorrow. I can certainly hear echoes of the latter's doomed, urban romanticism here. Elsewhere, I'll leave a proper set of reference points to a friend of mine, and supporter of this blog and someone who's more familiar with Van Etten's work than I am, who has promised an assessment of his own. When he writes it I'll get back and amend this post.

For the time being I'd say that Remind Me Tomorrow is the best record I've heard thus far this year. If I hear more than a handful of better ones it will be a very good year all round. It's an album with all the bruised honesty, artistic intensity and beauty of a late Seventies Springsteen or Patti Smith record but most importantly it makes its own space and stands alone. It's just fabulous!

Songs of the Year # 18 Butcher The Bar

Song of the Day # 2,147 On Diamond

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 442 Taylor Swift

One for Anna.

Songs About People # 1,011 Harvey Keitel

Definitely a mini-Irishman theme on here as I make my way through the film.

Albums of the Year # 19 Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble - Where Future Unfolds

From June:

Looking back to keep moving forward. Where Future Unfolds the new album from Chicago-base improvisational artist Damon Locks and his ensemble of musicians is immediately evocative and stamped with a remarkably vivid consciousness and stark if mystical clarity. It made me think of so many of the great Black American musics and musicians of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies; of Nina Simone, John and Alice Coltrane, Aretha Franlin, Charles Mingus, Mahalia Jackson, Gil Scott Heron, The Last Poets Sun Ra, Curtis Mayfield. And so on. add your own names, I'm sure you get the idea.

It may not always sound like these artists but the record carries the unmistakable stamp of their work and takes forward the torch they first lit. It stirs together Gospel, Soul and Cosmic Jazz remarkably, (plenty of Hip Hop sensibility too), and then makes its own statement  fully fluently  It's as good a record to summon forth the turbulent spirit of the age we're living through as you'll hear this year. Soothing and empowering music for deeply troubled times. A strange brew but on first hearing I'd imagine one that promises to be a heady and highly addictive.

The album casts a spell of spoken word, chanted vocals and thick hypnotic musical rhythms. It's perfectly clear that this is a call to political engagement and activism. It's wonderful to see the response of these musicians, among a growing sea of voices to the reactionary wave of politics we're currently experiencing. Fight the power indeed.

This is a defiant and declamatory album. It doesn't offer easy answers but does make a stirring, celebratory and remarkable stand. I can only advise you to get with its programme.

Songs of the Year # 19 Aldous Harding

Song(s) of the Day # 2,146 King Princess

Some seriously good female pop this year which this blog doesn't fully reflect. But  I've certainly got ears and they were attracted to this, Cheap Queen, the latest album from King Princess during an afternoon headphones listening session at work this week.

What attracts me are the songs, There's some damned fine songwriting going on. Languid, cool New York sensibility. Great record! 

P.S. This would definitely have been in my album run down had I heard it earlier. Altogether wonderful record!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Songs About People # 1,010 Jimmy Hoffa

Whatever happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Philip Masorti has his theories and they mostly seem to revolve around concrete.

Albums of the Year # 20 Joan Shelley - Like The River Loves The Sea

From September:

When I saw Joan Shelley's latest record, Like the River Loves The Sea on top of Rough Trade's new list of albums to listen to last week, I thought, (though probably subconsciously), 'I don't have time for a tasteful, well mannered, crafted folk album of the old school'. Well as it turns out I definitely do, as I'm discovering on my first listen through to it.

Shelley is not remotely flashy. The songs here are completely pared to the bone. But she understands innately the essence of this strain of Pastoral Folk, in that it's rooted in the eternals, the landscape and cultural consciousness we share, the changing and passing of the seasons and our need to understand processes that we never fully can.

It's a beautiful, lean record, embroidered lightly by Shelley's calm, lilting voice, and an innate feeling and empathy for beauty and the essential verities of things. Altogether a quite lovely album.

Songs of the Year # 20 Buffalo Postcard

Song(s) of the Day # 2,145 Ana Frango Eletrico

Now this is really something! I came upon it nestled somewhere around the 700 mark on the Best Ever Albums site but iit's far better than that. It could easily have been on my own album rundown list, had I discovered it earlier.

Brazilian Ana Frango Eletrico's second album, the fabulously named Little Electric Chicken Heart is a small but indubitable gem. Birthed in Tropicalia, each song goes its own way. Just thirty minutes and very late Sixties cool. A playful record with personality in spades.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 441 Friends Again

Scottish band of the early Eighties. Really rather lovely. Almost sounds like a lost Grant McLennan song.

Songs About People # 1,009 Mark The Apostle

Neat, atmospheric track from Black Swan Lane and 2009.

Albums of the Year # 21 Olden Yolk - Living Theatre

From May:

It's wonderful to see New Yorkers Olden Yolk back so soon with their beautifully textured second album Living Theatre. (out today) Their eponymous record, released just a year ago, was a great favourite of mine but this is something else still. A definite thickening and enrichment of the sound and vision they formulated there.

The band, essentially a duo, work from a palette of familiar colours and textures. What they've always made me think of most is the New York of the Sixties, Greenwich Village Folk Cafes, people playing chess on Washington Square, Autumnal hues, a landscape populated by literary urbanites.

Though their sound is steeped in cultural memory it's not in thrall to any one particular sound or artist because Olden Yolk are eclectic magpies and reset all they collect into a record that sounds very much relevant to the here and now. There are a number of musical artists working incredibly creatively in this mode at the minute, Weyes Blood and Aldous Harding, to name but two, have put out records that had a similar unnerving effect on me in recent weeks and on first listening it's immediately apparent that Living Theatre will offer up measureless further listening delights. An opportunity to wallow in an undefined nostalgia.

One of the qualities that I'm more and more struck by with Olden Yolk is their evident but unforced cleverness. Interviews with Shane Butler and Caity Shaffer, the partnership that formulates the band, evidences a rich and varied seam of cultural inspirations from which they forge their sound. Indie in the loosest sense but far more diverse and evocative than the obvious and derivative product that you often get served up from bands operating under that umbrella which so often results in lazy plundering the gifts of the past. This by contrast, is anything but lazy.

I've been watching favourite films again in recent days. The Last Picture Show, Vertigo, West Side Story.Things that I recognise immediately but need to re-experience every once in a while to remind me of their beauty and permanence. Listening to Living Theatre, (in itself a wonderful name for a record), has had a similar impact upon me this morning. This time a nostalgia that I hadn't experienced before. It's an album that's a marked step forward from the debut record that preceded it, fine though that was in its own right. A record you'll want to listen to all day. Or at least one that I certainly do and will.

Songs of the Year # 21 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Song of the Day # 2,144 Boa Morte

Cork, Ireland, Folkies delivery their third album in three decades. Much to enjoy on it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 440 Beck

This provoked a particularly good 'pub moment' in The Newcastle Arms the other night.

Hinds - Riding Solo

Hinds are back, with a new song, and a quite terrific one, I presume ahead of a third album.

Songs About People # 1,008 H. G. Wells

Albums of the Year # 22 Neil Young with Crazy Horse - Colorado

From October:

Neil Young and Crazy Horse spend much of their latest album Colorado rage, rage raging against the dying of the light. Nothing new there. They've spend their whole working careers doing the self-same thing since they first started working together in 1969. That they can do so still with such full on splenetic rage and fury and click at the flick of the switch to such deeply affecting sensitivity is great credit to all of them. This might not be the most coherent record you'll hear this year but it will almost certainly be one of the most sage and spirited.

It also has a hell of lot of fine songs on it. Perhaps the thirteen minute second track, She Showed Me Love is pushing things a bit. I'm sorry but I just don't have time to listen to a new thirteen minute track by Neil Young and Crazy Horse anymore, though I'm glad they're still churning them out. I tell a lie. I listened through to it the once so I don't have to listen to it again. Anyhow, there's much better elsewhere.

Like Green is Blue. a beautiful four minute lament for the imminent death of the world. Young has had a big crush on Mother Nature since he wrote After the Goldrush and he's as amorous as ever here. Or Shut it Down, which follows a similar ecological thread. but allows the guitars to rage and squall with the band's customary swagger. Milky Way , meanwhile is so good it would merit a place on a Greatest Hits collection. and this is Young and Crazy Horse we're talking here.  

Colorado reworks plenty from the band's mammoth scrapbook of memories to fine effect. Young, Lofgren, Talbot and Molina is a pretty fine line up whichever way you look at it and they pool their shared resources here with admirable purpose. Together, they've forgotten more than most bands will ever know. That they still remember so much is remarkable. and on occasion here remarkably moving. Hats off to  the grizzled masters. Still fuel in the tank.

Songs of the Year # 22 Wreckless Eric

Song of the Day # 2,143 Alex Chilltown

London operative focused around Josh Esaw. Promising.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Songs About People # 1,007 Muriel Spark

For Prime of Miss Jean Brodie author. first of a short mini-series from Pan American, side project of Labradford's Mark Nelson.

Albums of the Year # 23 Elva - Winter Sun

From April:

One of the most impossibly gorgeous records I've heard thus far this year, Elva's debut album Winter Sun came out yesterday, heralding the Spring that is belatedly showing its face outside my window. A duo essentially, and also a couple,  Allo Darlin's Elizabeth Morris and Ola Innset of Making Marks.

Sometimes the location where a record is made is utterly key to the way it sounds and such is the case here. Recorded in an old school house in the Swedish forest during moose hunting season in Autumn of last year, Winter Sun utterly nails the pastoral beauty conjured up by that idea.

There's also an enormously strong sense of love of others radiating from the record. On Harbour in the Storm, in some sense the centrepiece of the album, Morris sings, 'You know, you're more precious than gold. And I'll be your harbour in the storm.' It's difficult to convey how beautifully that comes across in words alone, I'd suggest you listen to the song itself and experience it for yourself.

Morris and Insett pass the vocal baton from one to the other over the course of the album. It's Indie in the broadest sense but what I really love about the record is that it defies the need for categories or comparison points. It stands in its own place. The recurrent reference  point is the passing of the seasons but also what remains the same. The constancy of love. 

A record of enormous optimism and positivity, Winter Sun is an album to cherish. A record released on Good Friday made Friday feel good for me. This may not achieve the full recognition it deserves critically or commercially but it's already one of my favourite records of 2019.

Songs of the Year # 23 Chopchop

Song of the Day # 2,142 Sondra Sun-Odeon

Los Angeles/ Brooklyn based artist Sondra Sun-Odeon has a dramatic name and an equally dramatic album called Desyre just out. This is the most toned down song on the record and also my favourite.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Songs About People # 1,006 Unity Mitford

Altogether bad egg of the Mitford tribe, known for her wholehearted support for Fascism, Hitler in particular and Anti-Semitism. Oddly, she was conceived in the town of Swastika, Ontario.

Albums of the Year # 24 Jeremy Tuplin - Pink Mirror

First posted in July:

Now this is really something. Jeremy Tuplin, a man who seems to be some parts Jake Thackray and some parts Jarvis Cocker and makes of it a fabulous composite of arch, reflective thought in Pink Mirror, his wonderful second album of earlier this year.

Not everything comes off but most of it does and when he gets it right, he really gets it right. A concoction of eccentric ambition, that tips its hat to great, mostly English artists of the late Sixties and early Seventies as well as literary ones such as Firbank and Isherwood from a previous age. Tuplin twists new shapes and breathes fresh life that's remarkably contemporary into these inspirations.

On Bad Lover this comes across as Kevin Ayers fronting Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine in their Neon Boys period. Elsewhere Bowie, Ferry, Eno and Barrett haunt proceedings but always in a very good way. Louche and wry by turn, there's an enormous amount to enjoy and admire here. 

Lyrically alive and musically ambitious, Pink Mirror has plenty of antecendents, but does them all proud, forging a lounge lizard identity for Tuplin, an aesthete skin he inhabits utterly. There aren't many new musicians emerging nowadays with such fully formed sheer personality as this. Marvellous record.

Songs of the Year # 24 Neutrals

Song of the Day # 2,141 Rhysics

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Heaven 17

Songs About People # 1,005 Lester Young

Tribute from Mingus to one of the more tragic figures in Jazz.

The Newcastle Arms 30th November 2019

No November playlist . There wasn't enough good new stuff to merit it. Instead, here are nine songs I played at The Newcastle Arms last night in a bid to clear the bar.

Albums of the Year # 25 Shana Cleveland - Night Of The Worm Moon

From April:

Way back in the early Eighties kids, there was a musical scene in California that came to be called The Paisley Underground. It was full of people who harked back to the Sixties as their spiritual home, grew their hair long as a mission statement, played guitars, wore suede jackets and made music that really had very little to do with either the Punk or New Wave scenes that had gone just before.

The bands they looked back to were The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Velvet Underground, Love, The Doors, The Beau Brummels, and, (a sole concession that something interesting might have been happening across the Atlantic at the same time), the early Pink Floyd. These young bands, The Rain Parade, The Dream Syndicate, The Bangles, (before they became the Bangles), Three O'Clock, the Long Ryders, Green on Red and True West didn't make an enormous amount of commercial headway, at least at this point, and the scene was gone within a couple of years as inevitably happens to most scenes. Before they went their separate ways though some of them got together and made an album of covers of their inspirations called Rainy Day which you really should hear.

But they did leave a lasting impression, at least towards the margins. On Creation Records in the UK for starters and Alan McGee, who was a big Rain Parade fan, in particular. One member of the original line up of that band, David Roback, departed early and formed Opel with Kendra Smith of the Dream Syndicate. They made some wonderful records together then went their separate ways too at which point Roback formed Mazzy Star with singer Hope Sandoval and they proceeded to establish a considerable cult and critical legacy for themselves which lasts to the present day.

Which brings me finally to Night of the Worm Moon, the debut album from Shana Cleveland, lead singer of La Luz. La Luz are another California band and this fact is absolutely key to an appreciation of the record. It's very, very Californian in the best possible way. But a very specific tradition, the one I've talked about in the previous paragraphs, and one that goes back even further than that to the Beats City Light Bookstore.

Night of the Worm Moon is a record of dewy eyed cosmic and psychedelic wonder and remarkable tonal consistency that is already one of my favourite albums of the year after a couple of plays on the morning it's released. It's the sound of strummed acoustic guitars and Cleveland's wan, evocative awestruck vocals, songs sung around a desert campfire gazing at the moon and the stars and the aliens beyond.

The album isn't entirely a bolt from the blue. There are a whole raft of bands making music a bit like this at the moment. La Luz of course, but also Allah Las, Mystic Braves, Cool Ghouls, even at a push Warpaint. But there's something remarkably sustained and powerful about this.

I'm incredibly excited about Night of the Worm Moon and exactly how accomplished it is. I'm going to go out today and try to track down a vinyl copy to play to a friend who's coming to stay for the weekend. He's someone who I've known since the mid-Eighties, loves this stuff as much as me and I suspect will appreciate it as much as I do. Truly. A gem!

Songs of the Year # 25 Patio

Song of the Day # 2,140 Basic Plumbing

From what I can ascertain, Basic Plumbing is pretty much a one man concern. Patrick Doyle, who has relocated from London to LA while making his latest album. As You Disappear, the first outlier from that, plays a similar trick to early Teenage Fanclub and Sebadoh. Depressed but not suicidal, to good effect.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

Songs About People # 1,004 Carrie Fisher

Albums of the Year # 26 Hand Habits - placeholder

From March:

A belated acknowledgement of one of the most distinguished records of 2019 thus far. placeholder, note the small 'p', ( not really sure why artists care about this kind of thing), is a sleek, elegant album from American Meg Duffy, who has had Kevin Morby associations previously, but now plies her trade under this moniker putting her records out on Courtney Barnett and Jen Lohers Milk! Records label, another indication that they are pursuing a quiet but assured world domination agenda.

 placeholder is another ace in their gradually fleshing hand, following closely on the heels of the similarly excellent Tiny Ruins album Olympic Girls. It's a slightly more morose prospect than that one, a record, (if it's possible to imagine one), on mild, GP prescribed anti-depressants with just sufficient edge to dull the more severe aspects of the world while simultaneously conveying it in blurred, atmospheric hues.

The album sleeve is an interesting one. Duffy with a shirt wrapped round her as if she's just been in some kind of accident and is standing at the roadside now, in front of the wreckage.  placeholder doesn't really surrender the secrets of its glossy depths but is all the more interesting for that discretion, with songs that don't do verse / chorus but nevertheless follow a sustained and compelling route. For a more in depth account, go here for a friend's review on Pop Mattersotherwise, just hear the record.

Songs of the Year # 26 Merival

Song(s) of the Day # 2,139 Kosmetika

Bubbling under! Kosmetika's debut album, Pop Soap, the latest wonder off the Melbourne  conveyor belt works a different seam from much of the rest of that most prolific pop mine. Taking Krautrock, Soviet iconography as its starting points rather than Flying Nun, it sprinkles melodic confectionery across the synth bedrock to ragged effect.

As with so many of their contemporaries, Program, Possible Humans, Courtney, The Vacant Smiles, to name the most immediate handful, Kosmetika are an inventive bunch, mixing up New Wave, early Blur, Stereolab and no little of themselves to highly pleasing effect. Much of this is deliberately not fully formed, many of the songs have a demo-ish quality. Not that this matters a bit. Kosmetika's trump card, Veeka Nazarova, one of the band's singers hailing from Khabarovsk Russia adds a distinctive Glasnost quality to proceedings. 

Kraftneau, the four minute single that came before the album is the pick of the bunch, good enough to slot in seamlessly on Mars Audiac Quintet or Emperor Tomato Ketchup, but there's much else here that almost fulfils its promise. Pop Soap is all too brief a pleasure, perhaps slightly short of a full album, but while it plays it works up a proper lather.