Wednesday, July 31, 2019

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums For July

It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs For July

Songs About People # 910 Indira Gandhi

As this is, at least partially, India day on here, here's one for Indira. 

1971 - Never a Dull Moment # 9 Nilsson - The Point

Song(s) of the Day # 2,018 Sarathy Korwar

A record described as 'sublime' by the Rough Trade homepage who also made it their album of the word. Sublime is a good word for this, More Arriving,  the new one from Sarathy Korwar. All in all it's quite some record, a bubbling melting pot cauldron of sound and ideas. Vibrant, rhythmical, eclectic, furious and immersive.

Sarathy Korwar is pretty much the definition of a globalised culture musician. Born in the States, raised in India, now living in London. His More Arriving, (and what a title that is),is a broad, expansive album that pretty much sweeps away the vast majority of albums released in 2019 in terms of both ambition and achievement.

In Can't Get There From Here, from R.E.M.'s third album Fables of the Reconstruction, Michael Stipe sang about 'the earth of seven continents going round and round'. Along with the aforementioned adjective 'sublime' this is the best description of this record I can come up with. More Arriving is positively seething with energy. With life, death, the ebb and flow of existence. Never mind quite remarkable words and music.

There are records that focus on the intimate and personal. This isn't one of them. It's out on the streets and pushing its way through the teeming marketplace from the off with its opening track, appropriately Mumbai. From there it never lets up and is fabulously musically and lyrically diverse. all kinds of Indian music, Jazz, (particularly Coltrane), Hip Hop, Ragga and more are stirred up gleefully into the mix. The tone is defiant and celebratory, dancing up a storm of global colour and culture.

I've heard and written about all manner of great music in the seven months of this calendar year thus far. More Arriving is the best record I've heard up to now and it will take something really special to best it by December. Something of an instant classic!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Friday, July 26, 2019

R.E.M. - It's The End Of The World As We Know It

This, and many other similar pictures that I'm posting, is the work of Todd Alcott, a very fine graphic designer who specialises in Pop Culture of this kind. You can find more of his work here.  

1971 - Never a Dull Moment # 4 Crazy Horse - Crazy Horse

Song of the Day # 2,013 Carnivorous Plant Society

More from Dunedin, New Zealand's fabulous Carnivorous Plant Society. Something of a Krautrock, Cosmic Jazz Antipodean marvel. This is new from them and finds them working with Tiny Ruins.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Wilco - Love is Everywhere

Wilco are back with another fine song that sounds like Wilco naturally. The album Ode to Joy follows in October.

Songs About People # 906 Joyce Carol Oates

The Lawrence Arms have quite unnecessary go at Joyce Carol Oates.

Talking Heads - Psycho Killer

1971 - Never a Dull Moment # 3 Mountain - Nantucket Sleighride

Song(s) of the Day # 2,012 Jeremy Tuplin

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.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Songs About People # 905 Jarvis Cocker

Jarv gets appropriately louche tribute.

1971 - Never a Dull Moment # 2 Carole King - Tapestry

Song(s) of the Day # 2,011 Grace Lightman

 'One part Abba, two parts Twin Peaks' not a bad description of a record. In this case it's the artist's own, Grace Lightman's description of her sound and her debut album, Silver Eater. It's a slick, smooth beast indeed, redolent at various points of Goldfrapp, Kylie, Ladyton and Madge herself, but always maintaining a fierce electro-dance identity of its own.

A couple of killer tracks short of classic status it's still a very good record, which should shift some units given the right marketing push. Lightman has a smooth voice which simply floats across the surface of one slickly constructed track after another. 

Reminiscent at some points of that strange moment in the late Seventies when space adventure became a sub genre of disco. Silver Eater is  cool, mainstream multiplex entertainment.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Songs Heard on the Radio # 320 Beach Boys

Bit of Beach Boys.

Johnny Clegg 1953 - 2019

Klaus Nomi

Songs About People # 904 Lee Trevino

Rock and Roll golfer.

1971 - Never a Dull Moment # 1 Janis Joplin - Pearl

Having finished one long series with the Atlantic Box Set thing yesterday, I always thing it a good idea to get going straight away with another. This one's focused around David Hepworth's recent book, 1971 - Never a Dull Moment, Rock's Golden Year, Centred around the year when he came of age and the wonderful set of albums released during those twelve months. While Hepworth has never been my favourite music journalist, he certainly writes informatively and succinctly about that particular moment in time and makes a persuasive case for the primacy of his chosen year.

Song of the Day # 2,010 Oscar Lush

Australian songwriter Oscar Lush and Pheasant Country, the wonderfully evocative lead off track and accompanying promo from his latest album Black Dog.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Songs About People # 903 Jean-Paul Belmondo

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 189 Major Harris

The end of this particular series. Thanks so much Min for the records.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,009 Armstrong

As always the A Pessimist is Never Disappointed blog listed on the right hand side of this page is faultless in terms of its taste. This time, in tipping me off to this Under Blue Skies by Armstrong, a perfect series of slices of alternative guitar pop like Roddy Frame used to make them back in the early Eighties.

Frame and Aztec Camera are an inevitable touchstone when attempting to describe what's going on here. Armstrong are led by Julian Pitt and he's Welsh but he sounds far more Eat Kilbride to me and I'd bet my bottom dollar that his copies of High Land, Hard Rain and Knife are pretty well worn.

I first heard those records in the flush of my own youth almost thirty years back. They still mean a lot to me. Under Blue Skies never shakes off the unmistakable shroud of Frame's influence. But then it doesn't seem to want to. It's a fine record anyhow, so long as it's regarded on its own terms. Like Frame himself for many people, it will stay seventeen forever. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 407 Amadou & Mariam

Songs About People # 902 Helen Mirren

What I Did Last Night - Shonen Knife

It's difficult to argue with Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth. They, after all were the avatars that first heralded the cool of Japanese trio Shonen Knife back in the early Nineties. Flag bearers for a certain niche kitsch, they're still going almost thirty years on from when they toured with Nirvana and they haven't changed one jot.

When I saw they were coming to Newcastle a few weeks back I thought they were one to see. So last night I made my way to The Cluny in the Ouseburn Valley in Byker to catch them for the first time. After slightly more technical fiddling to see that everything was ready than you might have expected, they were on, in matching Mondrian dresses, standing on the cusp of the stage together and holding aloft banners for their latest record, Sweet Candy Power, before kicking off into a night of, well just that!

Playing before an audience of a certain vintage in the intimate Cluny 2, where I've seen some fabulous gigs over the years from the likes of Courtney Barnett, Bill Ryder Jones, Misty in Roots and Aldous Harding. While tonight wasn't quite up there with the best of those in my estimation at least, they certainly got a mightily appreciative response and kept a smile on my face.

This draws on and exists utterly within a certain bubblegum ethos: The Partridge Family, Josie & the Pussycats, Sugar Sugar and The Ramones. Most of all of course The Ramones. But while the bruvvers were a quartet of unprepossessing bowlheads from Queens, Shonen Knife are defiantly cute.

All three of The Knife took their turns on the mic as you'd expect and gave a good run through for their new record in addition to a selection of classics from their vast back catalogue. They never once slip out of character and exhorted us to 'crap your hands' at a certain point in the night.

I didn't stay to the end. I didn't feel it was necessary. I'd seen them do their stuff. They were good but not great. They had the best merchandising stall I'd seen in some time, truly knowing, as you'd expect from a Japanese band, how to package their brand. There's clearly plenty more gas in their tank.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 188 The Spinners

Song of the Day # 2,008 Sigrid

This blog doesn't try to cover all bases but I know a good pop song when I hear one.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 406 Led Zeppelin

While rumours in Newcastle are that Rosie's is going to be closed for six weeks longer than originally planned and is likely to return resembling a wine bar more than a traditional pub, there's always this on the jukebox at The Newcastle Arms around the corner to offer some consolation.

Songs About People # 901 Hernando De Soto

Pere Ubu, who may or may not have just released their final studio album, with a song from a few years back about Hernando De Soto, a Sixteenth Century Spanish explorer and conquistador. 

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 187 Roberta Flack

Song(s) of the Day # 2,007 Johanna Samuels

As I get older I start to appreciate Carole King's Tapestry more and more. So the older me appreciates Why Do I Go There from her EP Have a Good One from earlier on this year as one of the best songs I've heard thus far in 2019, while the younger me likes coming upon an artist as promising as this ahead of the curve.

The other songs on Have a Good One are not as immediate as Why Do I Go There, but prove to have assiduous charm of their own, constructed from the same Laurel Canyon inspired DNA.

There's silence, space and thoughtful reflection on all five songs on the EP. Samuels is just 27 but has a wiser head on her shoulders.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Songs About People # 900 Carlos the Jackal

Another season reaches a milestone and who better to take us there. Something of a Rock and Roll alternative icon. Must be the shades.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 186 The Spinners

Song(s) of the Day # 2,006 Kit Sebastian

Mantra Moderne, the debut album from London based duo Kit Sebastian, (out today) is a hipster's pipedream. Appearing as if assimilated from the record collections of the cooler than thou set, you can do little better than quote from their press release to sum up what's going on here: 'a stunning contemporary masterpiece that fuses Anatolian Psychedelia , Brazilian Tropicalia, 60s European pop and American jazz. A must for fans of Khruangbin, Portishead, Arthur Verocai, Goat, Caetana Veloso, Tom Ze, Os Mutantes, Cortes and co.'

So, that lot. It seems there's not a box on the hipper than hip checklist that's not ticked. The blurb above serves well anyhow to describe what the record itself sounds like. The soundtrack for an exclusive party thrown by Stereolab and Charlotte Gainsbourg for their cool mates. Mantra Moderne positively floats with upwardly mobile aspiration, and will doubtless be on the player at Rough Trade Shops up and down the land for weeks.

It's quite immaculately done, groovy global cherry picking of the most tasteful kind imaginable. The Kit Sebastian pair, Kit Martin and Merve Erdem shed and slip on outfits from track to track and as if by magic the listener finds themselves by turn on dancefloors in Rio, New York, London, Paris, Istanbul and Mumbai. It's all just seamless.

Frankly, Kit Sebastian never put a foot wrong. Taken on its own terms, Mantra Moderne is pretty much a perfect record. In some respects it feels like a companion piece to Vanishing Twin's wonderful The Age of Immunology, released a few weeks back, which mines similar terrain. If anything this a more cerebral operation than that one, you'll do well to detect much human heart in operation but it's certainly clinical, and very, very cool.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Songs About People # 899 David Johanson

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 185 Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

Song(s) of the Day # 2,005 Drawing Boards

Drawing Boards debut album The Message is classic New York attitude and dissonance. Appropriate really as they're based in Brooklyn. Working from a template that's at least fifty years old they certainly don't rewrite the rulebook in any sense whatsoever but do churn out a set of well crafted alternative guitar workouts with kooky vocal turns that wile away the best part of an hour very nicely.

If originality is not the record's strongest point, familiarity and approachability make some amends.Opening song Queen Bee comes on like Teenage Riot making out with Union City Blue at the wrong speed. Elsewhere Yo La Tengo and Pavement could possibly sue for songwriting credits.

Ultimately it doesn't really matter if the inspirations for all this are blatantly clear. Drawing Boards do a great job and if they were playing tonight in my home town I'd go and see them like a shot. I guess the message here is, if something ain't broke, why bother to fix it? No need to go back to the drawing board this time round. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Songs About People # 898 Francoise Hardy

From Dunedin, New Zealand's Carnivorous Plant Society, my new favourite band part blah, blah, blah. More from them shortly. In the meantime, one for Francoise.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 184 Roberta Flack

Song(s) of the Day # 2,004 Injury Reserve

A little bit late on the case on this one but sometimes I have to take a look at the Best Ever Albums site to see what's down with the kids. Injury Reserve are an Arizona based hip hop trio who seem to take their leads from Tribe Called Quest and Jungle Brothers. Never a bad thing. For good measure they also stir some Cypress Hill into the pot.

If they're rather too free with the 'N' and 'F' words and coming on as if they're actual gangsters for my liking, there's plenty there musically on their eponymous fourth album, released a couple of months back, to recommend and reward a listen.

Although the MC-ing doesn't push the boat out too much, the music here is far more groundbreaking and promising. Should be interesting to hear where they go next once they spend some time thinking about what they want to say as well as how they want to say it. Because there's much here that's cool.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Songs About People # 897 Nick Drake

From Robyn. For Nick.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 183 Roberta Flack

Song of the Day # 2,003 Penelope Isles

Until The Tide Creeps In, is the charming and noteworthy debut album from Brighton four-piece Penelope Isles released last Friday. Driven by brother and sister songwriting combination Jack and Lily Wolter, it's a highly aquatic sounding album, appropriate given the band's place of residence and the record sleeve picture of some hairy bloke, (possibly the Wolter dad),  gesticulating triumphantly over the full on sandcastle he's just created.

What this is is definitely Indie in the definitive sense. It reminded me at first of Shoegaze most particularly and took me back to a spectacular gig I saw in 1990 where Pale Saints and Lush played together at a spectacular gig at Norwich Art Centre during my last few months at university. From a cursory look at interviews with Penelope Isles it seems highly unlikely that they've taken notes from those two bands. Radiohead and Tame Impala seem to be the most prominent mentions. Anyhow, Until The Tide Creeps In is a good enough record to merit consideration on its own assets alone, which are appreciable. 

At first listening I preferred the Lily fronted songs to the Jack fronted ones but on repeat plays found his were creeping up on me too. Anyhow, it's like with Big Star, you don't have to choose between Chilton and Bell, and the variety of moods and slants of subtle attack on the album is one of its greatest drawing points. It's tuneful, it's breezy, it's thoughtful and it's a record that should be one the discerning listener will keep coming back to over the coming months.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 405 Penetration

Local heroes find their way onto the jukebox.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 181 Betty Wright

Song of the Day # 2,001 RVG


Another fine band from Melbourne. They produced a great album last year with The Quality of Mercy but I think this, Alexandra, ahead I imagine of another, is the best thing they've ever done. There are always echoes of The Go Betweens in their songs and here too, which has something of Grant McLennan's unconstrained romanticism about it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 180 Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

Song(s) of the Day # 2,000 Purple Mountains

David Berman has returned after a ten year sojourn 'playing chicken with oblivion' with a self titled album as Purple Mountains rather than as Silver Jews, his previous creative incarnation which folded ten years back. The resulting record is as good an argument for prolonged procrastination as you're ever likely to hear in this or any other year. It's something of an instant classic. The ying to the yang of Bill Callahan's Shepherd in a Sheepskin's Vest, released a few weeks back. In many respects the two sound like companion pieces to me.

But while Callahan has found domestic contentment and calm, Berman most certainly has not. Purple Mountains is an extended metaphor on middle aged unease, not not mention chronic depression. The fact that it's also a highly entertaining record rather than a chore or a dirge is  testimonial to Berman's considerable gifts. The record serves as a panacea for our increasingly troubled times.

It's by turns funny, wry and profound, containing several of Berman's career best moments. This finds him, like Callahan pitching his tent in Leonard Cohen's kingdom, while also crafting a deeply felt personal statement. Take a verse of lyrics from opener That's Just The Way I Feel; 'I met failure in Australia. I felt ill in Illinois. I nearly lost my genitalia. To an anthill in Des Moines.' No one can write lyrics like these for the so called Post Modern existence we find ourselves experiencing now. Except perhaps Callahan. And as he's too well adjusted to do so in the here and now we can only be grateful that Berman still can and chooses to.

The record flows with sublime, if troubled grace. It touches upon areas that might seem like too deeply dark concerns for popular music such as musing on the loss of your mother in I Loved Being My Mother's Son, which deals with just that and the inevitable, phenomenal waves of grief that ensue after she has passed. That Berman manages to do so and the end product is warm and actually life affirming is really remarkable. In the words of a friend of mine and another devotee, 'he walks the line.' Better than anyone else right now.

So if Callahan is now a glass half full guy, Berman's is half empty. You could worry about him, but perhaps gratitude for accomplishing this record as a way of dealing with all this is a more appropriate response. Berman's father, David Berman is a political lobbyist whose organisation runs campaigns advocating reactionary responses to smoking, cruelty to animals, not increasing the minimum wage and on and on ad nauseam.  That this acts as continuing grist to his son's creative mill is an inevitable conclusion. That he manages to compose such a rich canvas from this and other life ingredients, his ten year time out to read books and experience depression that he's emerging from for starters, is a cause for celebration.

So this is a state of David Berman and also a state of the nation address at one and the same time. It succeeds in spades on both counts. The lyrics are sublime. The arrangements , (just Berman and a couple of members of Woods for the most part), divine. This particular series on It Starts With a Birthstone, has now reached 2,000, meaning I've now managed an unbroken consecutive run that stretches beyond five years and towards six. Purple Mountains is one of the very best records I've heard in all that time and is more than a fitting recipient for song(s) 2,000. Onwards and upwards.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Songs About People # 895 Billy Mackenzie

Great song for still much missed Associates vocalist.

Joanna Sternberg - Then I Try Again

The best thing about writing this blog is getting to interact, albeit briefly, with the musicians and writers I post things about on here. Like when Vivienne Goldman thanked me for writing about her when I made Launderette my Song of the Day. Or the time Simon Reynolds, the music journalist, reminded me that I'd missed Fleetwood Mac's Tusk off my end of series list when I'd been writing a set of posts about Melody Maker a few months back. Or Lawrence McCluskey of Bubblegum Lemonade thanking me personally for a review I wrote of his latest album Desperately Seeking Sunshine and told me how much The Stone Roses had meant to him when he first heard them.

And so to Joanna Sternberg. A few days ago she sent me a friend request on Facebook which I was delighted to accept. I've been aware of Joanna, who's based in New York, for a few months now, since I first heard This Is Not Who I Want To Be, the first song to go public from her debut album , which is finally with us.

It stuck out from the pack on first play, quite stopping me in my tracks frankly, a beautifully wrought song, quite devastating in its simplicity and painful immediacy and I've been waiting impatiently for the long player ever since. And now it's here.

As so often when new musicians emerge with a truly great song, you can't help but wonder whether they'll be able to do anything to match it. I felt something similar when I heard Courtney Barnett's Avant Gardener or Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's French Press.

But as with those two, I shouldn't have worried, because Joanna Sternberg has plenty more to offer as readily attests. The album starts with This Is Not Who I Want To Be and why should it not. It's clearly a pivotal song for her in terms of her development and growth as a writer and performer. A song written from a hospital bed when she delivered a full stop to one period of her life and began down the road she finds herself on from there.

The songs that proceed from here all share its sparse minimalism. Piano, acoustic guitar and Joanna's voice. The experience and expression of pain but gritty determination to push forward towards the light. It exists in a specific tradition; Connie Converse, Sixties Greenwich Village boho poets, Moldy Peaches. It's good to hear a new record that taps into this vein.

The album is sometimes difficult to listen to because of its sheer, raw honesty. It never pretends that life is easy. But it channels the experience of childhood and attempts to recover its purity. I frequently found the record quite beautiful. It's determined simplicity and wisdom is truly admirable.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 179 Aretha Franklin

Song of the Day # 1,999 Campfires

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Songs About People # 893 Stokely Carmichael

Prominent Black Panther leader. Features in Spike Lee's wonderful BlackKlansman,

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 177 Beginning of the End

Song of the Day # 1,997 Sinead O'Brien

So what to make of this. A new song from Irish artist who has an obvious hip quotient and I imagine is going to divide opinion as she heads towards her first album. Early Patti Smith is the obvious comparison although she doesn't sound like her musically, but it's a comparison point in that her spoken delivery resembles poetry. It all rather irritates me personally but it's definitely something that will attract the attention of cool hunters.