Thursday, October 31, 2019
Another from the North Sea Scrolls album. This one imagining, as well you might, Singer songwriter Tim Hardin as a British parliamentary MP. Hardin was an enormous talent. Dylan himself hailed him 'the greatest'. He never really got his full due.
More Young Turks speeding down the inside lane in the slipstream of Shame, IDLES, Fontaines D.C. and the like. This time Egyptian Blue a band from Brighton who have plenty of the requisite fire, fuel and bile if these tracks from their debut EP from earlier this year are anything to go by. what joy it must be to be responsible for such pure noise!
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Rare that I like something with any connection to Zappa. But I was taken by this re-imagining of Hey Joe when I heard it on the radio this evening.
The new albums from Cate Le Bon and Big Thief have turned up on the jukebox at The Newcastle Arms, an indication of a slight rise in the profile of both bands. A very welcome thing. Here's one of the stand out tracks on Cate's exceptional Reward.
A short mini-series within a series here from a quite bizarre eponymous album released in 2012 by a collective called The North Sea Scrolls. As is so often the case with the oddest albums, Luke Haines is one of the main suspects involved. In this case he's joined by another notable obscurist Cathal Coughlan once of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions and Australian journalist Andrew Mueller. The record seems to explore an alternative universe where Oswald Mosely gets to be Prime Minister, Ireland has invaded England and all kind of other peculiar and inexplicable eventualities occur.
It's a good album anyhow, so long as you don't try to figure out what exactly is going on. There are three specific song title namedrops here. The first I'm posting is for slightly marginal supporting actor Tony Allen who made an uncredited appearance in A Hard Day's Night and later appeared in Carry on Abroad and The Sweeney. Nothing so funny as an in-joke I guess!
This is certainly a great time for Pop Music with a capital 'P'. This isn't really what this particular blog specialises in but I can always appreciate a good tune aimed at a more mainstream market when I hear one. And there's plenty of that around, whether your thing is Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Lizzo or this.
Women mostly because women seem to do this stuff much better than men right now. That's really nothing new, the legacy for this big bright Pop thing goes way back, certainly to the early Eighties where Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benetar and the early Kim Wilde took the lead from the groundwork laid by Debbie Harry in the previous decade.
Apt, as Australia's Olympia seems to take much of her inspiration from sparkling chart New Wave. Nothing wrong with that. It was one of the finest moments in Rock and Roll history. These four come from her latest album Flamingo. Slightly formulaic at times but a lot of great music was production line stuff going back to the heyday of Motown and Spector. Olympia certainly understands that particular principle.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
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.
From earlier on this calendar year, Hope is for the Hopeless, the latest album by The Golden Dregs, (aka Benjamin Woods), is a record that draws you in over the course of its playing time. I found initial interest succeeded by growing respect and finally by the time it drew towards closure, warm immersion.
Woods persona is unmistakably that of the lonesome cowboy, a long way from home, A lot closer to Utah or Ohio than Balham High Street. His world-weary vocals tip a stetson to Lee Hazlewood, Laughing Len and Townes Van Zandt. There's even a song called Nancy and Lee if you missed the signposts planted firmly in the soil track after track.
Woods is by no means the first London based musician to write a love letter to mythic America. Hope is for the Hopeless, ticks the to do list required to pull off such chutzpah. It's a delightful record, best played at the end of the night staring into the golden light of a half-full whisky tumbler.
Monday, October 28, 2019
Great to hear anything by the fabulous Life Without Buildings coming out of the radio. This is their debut single from 2000.
Creation is Perfect. Indeed. So why don't we leave it alone? Israeli Post Punk band Minimal Compact from the original era are back, with a new record of that name. Produced by Wire's Colin Newman. It's full of jarring, frantic moments that evoke reminders of the best bits of that movement. A record at once strangely out of time yet of it.
Sunday, October 27, 2019
It's Halloween. Have you noticed? You probably have. There's another week to go and from there it's all downhill til Christmas. The Shaggs have found their way onto the Newcastle Arms jukebox. Whether this is a good thing probably depends on where you stand on the 'so bad it's good' debate. This song I'm afraid is simply bad. But hey....it's Halloween,
New Zealand multi-instrumentalist Ash Smith delivers his second album Snuff under the moniker Secret Knives. It's a dense, layered affair, somewhere between a guitar record and a synth one. Perhaps the closest comparison point might be compatriot Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
On third track Fall Smith echoes namesake Elliot an influence that becomes further evident as the album unpacks. Snuff as a whole is extremely dreamlike in terms of its texture, by turns comforting and disturbing. It's eight years since the last Secret Knives record and listening to the new record you can hear why that is. This stuff takes time to assemble. An emotive sound chamber, well worth a listen.
Saturday, October 26, 2019
Went and saw Judy at the cinema the other night and it's a film worth seeing. Not perfect by any means but it does shine a light on what a talent Judy Garland was and what a painful, difficult life she lived. Frog, who put out a fine album just a few months back with Count Bateman, wrote a song about her on their 2015 record Kind of Blah. It explores the anguish to fine effect.
Friday, October 25, 2019
As if to drive home the point made in my review of Program's Show Me, yesterday here's yet another great sounding record coming down the pike from Melbourne, Australia. Cooperation, the fourth album in all from The Vacant Smiles, all rough edged harmonies and ragged Psychedelic Garage energy.
Joining the dots between The Black Lips, The Hoodoo Gurus The Paisley Underground and The Easybeats, Cooperation is yet another blast of hot Australian sunshine, timely just as it gets dark in this part of the world, though it does rather make you wish you were in Melbourne yourself right now.
Thursday, October 24, 2019
My new favourite band Part blah, blah, blah. For anyone taking notes, the Australian and more specifically the Melbourne music scene is in ridiculously rude health right now. Every couple of weeks it seems a new, apparently fully formed band or artist leaps into view. Almost every one of them armed with a gripping new take on familiar pop thrills.
Latest suspects are Program, a young five-piece, whose debut album Show Me dropped just last Friday. Program are reminiscent of other bands on the scene, most immediately Possible Humans and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever but present their own and highly exciting fresh slant on things.
Show Me hits the ground running with opening track Another Day and then never lets up. Full of moments that relive and revivify the guitar spirit of the years between 1978 and 1984 underlining exactly why that was such a golden pop era, it's an altogether brilliant set.
Essentially the record plays out like a love affair with how good twin guitars can sound together. Offering up reminders of Wire, The Only Ones, Television, The Cars, The Passions, Pylon, The Clean, The Chills and The Go-Betweens but at the same time sounding effortlessly contemporary, the eleven songs here are prosaic, brilliantly plotted (ad)ventures.
Clipped matter of fact one or two word titles clinically demonstrate Program's no thrills, no nonsense approach to things. Fronted by a couple of singers taking turns at the mic, one slightly ingenue the other more worldly wise, the songs concerns are fascinating if oblique.
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
I'm highly reliant on music. This blog if nothing else gives ample evidence of that. After all, I've been posting on here in an unbroken daily run which now stretches back for over five years. That's not so much an indication of a wilful or dogged streak or an act of sheer bloody mindedness so much as a core characteristic of myself that needs expression.
On a work day yesterday that felt particularly stressful I came upon this. It floated into me through headphones and gave me light relief. Like so much great music it hails from Canada. It's is by Patrick Watson from Hudson, Quebec and is the opening song from his new album Wave. The rest of the record didn't have the same impact on me. That doesn't matter too much. Dream For Dreaming is more than enough.
Monday, October 21, 2019
Sunday, October 20, 2019
It's a little difficult writing about Big Thief at the minute as they're so far ahead of most of the rest of the contemporary pack now. With Two Hands, their second album of 2019, (releasing two LPs of this quality was something bands used to do but haven't for goodness knows how long). This does nothing so much as drive the point home if it needed driving. They stake a very good claim to being the best Rock band in the world at this point in time.
Two Hands is a much more direct record than U.F.O.F. which came out in late Spring. Less ethereal, more earthbound and visceral, much of it recorded in first takes in the studio, it brings back some of the tangible pain of experience of their first two albums Masterpiece and Capacity but the band are not looking back but driving fearlessly onward.
It's gratifying to see a group so obviously dedicated to the cause as this one. Adrianne Lenker is clearly a first among equals but this is a band in the proper way they used to make them, Two Hands is a record of quite vivid immediacy, you feel like you're in the room with them. Ten sublime, intimate, heartfelt songs served up with passion, blood and sinew. The world is laid out before them and Big Thief know it only too well. A force of nature.
Tindersticks are back, with an album in the works and this, the delightfully entitled The Amputees ahead of it. Offbeat Bedsit Miserabilism at its finest, hardly a maturing of their sound as all of the elements assembled here were already here when they first appeared in the early Nineties. It's good to see that some things don't need to change.
My favourite discovery of recent days has been Chopchop, a Brighton based collective who utilise an essentially Jazz powered approach with eccentric Post Punk ingredients sprinkled into the mix to stunning and instant effect.
With comedic but hugely effective and furiously delivered vocals the icing on their cake they must be a fabulous live proposition. With a crowd funded album Everything Looks So Real in the pipeline for early next year, Chopchop look sure to make waves in 2020.
Saturday, October 19, 2019
I featured this as Song of the Day some time back but need no excuse to post it again. Sounds particularly great late night.
Friday, October 18, 2019
Thursday, October 17, 2019
Band from Saint Paul, Minnesota fronted by Drew Forsberg that know what they want and know how to get it as the man said a long time ago. More hooks than a fishing convention. Every song on their second album Electrical Living draws you deeper into their pop vortex.
The songs find like the missing link between Guided by Voices and The Smiths with Forsberg embodying the Morrissey role with poised elan. Each song on Electrical Living sounds better than the last. Tick tock precision. It's just a pleasure to come across a band so utterly in charge of quality control.
This could probably be called Power Pop but such a label would be reductive because Persian Leaps have such a relentless grip on melody and tension. An immaculate set of songs that flirt between the two and three minute marks. It all sounds like wonderful fun too!
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
El Camino , the follow up feature length finale to Breaking Bad is just out. It's a fabulous thing, fully fitting to the legacy of all that went before. It's full of great moments but the one that really got me is a great music one. Todd, one of the truly standout characters of the series, even though he only appeared in the final season, is driving out to the desert to bury the body of his cleaning lady who he has killed, for no better reason than that she came upon a stash of his money accidentally while tidying up in his flat. As he drives, this song comes on the radio.
It's a wonderfully rendered moment. Todd sings along to the song with all his bankrupt soul. His head rocks from side to side, his hand sways outside the window along to the melody, he finds time to mime the 'parp parp' Casey Jones whistle to a passing truck driver. Meanwhile Jesse is in the back of the car rolling back and forth with the dead body of Todd's cleaner, wrapped in a roll of carpet.
Todd in many cases is the embodiment of banal evil. The bad guy who doesn't actually realise how bad he is, instead reasoning to himself that he's decent. He's a brilliant creation. and the song is made for him/ Dr. Hook the flagbearers in the late Seventies for all American corn as cynical in their way as Todd is in his. All in all, the scene, forty seconds at most is a model lesson for aspiring screenplay writers. This is how it's done. Strangely, it all makes the song sound good enough to post here too.
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Monday, October 14, 2019
Within about five seconds of Zipper, the opening track of Chicago quartet The Hecks second album My Star firing off you know exactly where you are. Frenetic, angular Post Punk somewhere between Devo and The Futureheads, there clearly isn't much respite ahead.
And so it proves. Though as the review in the wonderful A Pessimist is Never Disappointed adroitly points up, the ace in the band's hand is the influence of late Seventies King Crimson. This takes their songs into a different realm from the legions of contemporary Post Punk practitioners like Omni and Preoccupations.
If this makes some of their tracks a little fiddly, muso and Prog for the likes of me who prefer things stripped down, My Star is certainly a claustrophobic and interesting album.
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Switched on the radio to hear this. Magnificent orchestral sweep. Still not entirely sure about Stuart Staples voice which skirts the borders of the ridiculous but the song works, evoking that thick, urban melancholy that was the band's calling card
Indie veterans Comet Gain are back with a new album Fireraisers Forever! and it's an angry raging at the dying of the light and the debris that collects around us as we make our way through this existence. Tilting at any number of targets for their bile the record is a furious rattling feast at everything they feel has gone wrong with the world. If it's sometimes difficult to identify exactly who they're so angry with, the full on commitment is palpably evident.
The titles alone are noteworthy; The Girl with the Melted Mind and her Fear of the Open Door, Society of Inner Nothing. I could go on. In themselves they tell something of the record's narrative. This is a band who have developed their own exclusive argot over the years, in much the way that contemporaries like Carter USM and The Men They Couldn't Hang did back in the day. The tunes rattle and chime. This feels part wake, past last stand.
Comet Gain speak of a whole generation now moving through their forties and into their fifties, making their way though life as best they can on the streets of London and its satellite suburbs. Bruised by their experiences but not bested. Fireraisers Forever! is a record for the committed few for whom they were an important part of their youth. The vocals are out of tune but that is precisely the point. This is a testament to youth and what comes thereafter.
Saturday, October 12, 2019
Album Review # 37 Lloyd Cole & the Commotions - Rattlesnakes
Just turning 35 so I'm re-posting this..
This is pretty much a perfect record. There aren't that many in my collection. I've got a great deal of history with it as do a lot of people of my age and background. My own copy is worn and approaching a stage of vague decrepitude as I am myself and jumps irretrievably on occasion like my own slightly irregular heart but I'm reluctant to replace the copy I bought on its release in 1984 just yet, because it's seen me through more than half of my given span and I'll be listening through to it, whether this copy or another, 'til that span expires, whenever that is. Because, perhaps more than any other album it speaks of the emotions and experience I was going through while first listening to it.
A good friend of mine, who follows this blog, said something along the lines that it was amongst the best records ever made by a minor league artist. I'd agree with that. Cole himself has I imagine seldom reached these heights since, (though he still puts out very good stuff and is excellent live by all accounts). I guess he knows the truth of this very well. It was an album and a statement he could never possibly trump because it was so much of its time. It defined forever a moment, an age of life and a perspective on it better than almost any record I know
I bought it at the time when my life was changing, more quite than it has ever done, before or since. I was eighteen, finishing off my A Levels and thinking about university. I knew very little idea about relationships, the opposite sex or pretty much the world. Records coming out at the time like Rattlesnakes, Murmur, High Land, Hard Rain and The Smiths were the stuff I constructed my identity around along with books, films and politics they referenced and drew on. I could make a list but I wouldn't want to bore you. It was stuff to aspire to and identify with, to construct yourself around in terms of the things you wore and I bought into it. I was far from alone.
Cole suffered slightly at the time from being bracketed with R.E.M, The Smiths, Aztec Camera and also Prefab Sprout who were coming at things from a similar angle. He seemed a minor talent by comparison as perhaps in retrospect he has proved. But it was a perfectly formed minor talent. He also meant a lot to quite a lot of people. I imagine many of those who fell for this record, what he was saying and the way he was saying it have never entirely grown out of it. I haven't.
Fast forward a couple of years from the record's purchase to the Summer term of my first year at University. There's a girl there that I'm falling for and something is starting to happen with. It's a university disco. She lives on campus and I'm at residences a few miles away. It's coming to the end of the night and I have to get on the pre-arranged minibus with the others who stay there. Perfect Skin comes on. We close dance to it, an odd song to close dance to, it's more of a giddy jig really. I go get the bus without a kiss but she's taking me over. We start going out together shortly afterwards, do so for the next four years. I fall completely in love with her. There's talk of marriage but with one thing and another it doesn't happen. Lloyd and the Commotions were there at the start of it all. I'll never hear Perfect Skin without being transported back to that brief pocket of time as it all began. She had a teddy bear called Bloomingdale and eyes like sin. She went into journalism. Wrote something for The Face. But not Cosmopolitan.
Back from myself to the record itself. All in all it's a flawlessly constructed album; track-listing, arrangements, lyrics, length. Nothing outstays its welcome. It's tasteful. Refined. It speaks of an ingrained love of all things America. Lloyd half sings half speaks in immaculately assembled American Beat prose hip-speak throughout. He and the band's sound yearns for the open road and also New York in particular in all its Sixties glory. America as dreamed of in youth spent in Buxton, Derbyshire and nailed into achievable reality as a university student, meeting and mixing with the right people, soaking up the sights and sounds of Glasgow, a city forever in thrall to the States. It's no great wonder that Lloyd ended up moving there permanently himself. Rattlesnakes is choc full of namedrops. Eve Marie-Saint, Greta Garbo, Leonard Cohen, Simone De Beauvoir, Grace Kelly, Norman Mailer, Arthur Lee, Truman Capote. The kind of people and culture that you were gobbling up at this point of life, so desperate to impress, with the youth to get away with it sometimes but without the raw and real experience or knowhow to really back it up. It's a life learned, soaked up through books, films and music.
But there's pain there too. It's marrying these books, films and this music against the intense, brief, rites of passage experience you were actually going through. About wasting precious time as he says himself at one point. It's about first and failed relationships. The ones that hurt the most. It's about trying to understand women that are impossibly attractive, elusive and unobtainable, or even if they are obtained, the moment of possession is sure to be only fleeting. Because you're only twenty one once. It's about being flippant and eager to impress with surface cool and charm whilst all along underneath beats a desperate, yearning heart.
The playing is remarkably tight. I'd pick out Neil Clark the lead guitar but the whole band are hugely adept. Because really they're grounded in Soul. They know their Stax and incredibly they pull off a truly astonishing approximation of its gleam, spark and sheer discipline. And it's in this understanding of the essence of great Sixties American music, not just Dylan and The Velvet Underground but The Temptations, Staple Singers, Aretha and Booker T & the MGs that's the foundation of the record's success. They have the chops. Three of the band were in a Soul group before the Commotions formed. They made a point of playing with vintage equipment and using basic recording techniques rather than letting Eighties sounds and effects leak into the mix. These are some of the reasons the record has lasted.
There are five songs on either side of the album and they all fit as snug as can be. There's not a note too many, a line that doesn't work or a hook too laboured. They can speed it up and slow it down. It's funny and smart and touching by turns. It's a record of ten potential 45s. Lloyd is centre stage of course. The band took his name and it's his artfully constructed self that defines the record. Observant, wry, cynical, but really you suspect beneath the veneer, bruised and hurting.
The band had their brief moment in the sun. The record was feted and they had chart and critical success. They made follow up records, some of which recaptured the glory, most of which in retrospect didn't. Because they'd already made their statement. I played second record Easy Pieces a lot when it came out as it was part of the soundtrack to the great romance I talked of earlier which I was busy experiencing. I'd recommend a few songs from it that would fit right in on Rattlesnakes, Why I Love Country Music, Pretty Gone, Grace. Some of it doesn't work though. It tries too hard. Or else not enough. I didn't bother with the third. The band seemed to care less themselves by this point and split shortly thereafter. They'd run their course. They split shortly before the relationship of mine which they'd played their small part in did.
This is over thirty years ago. Lloyd is back. His latest album got his best reviews in years and his songwriting has aged gracefully. He has a silver flock of hair, barely receded from where it sat in its prime. He's not trying to be twenty, hasn't lost his looks and the man could certainly always write a lyric. He still can. He's always asked about Rattlesnakes of course and answers patiently and honestly. He seems like a good bloke though he still seems to find it hard to suffer fools. But he knows his place in the scheme of things.
So listen to his and his band's first record if you don't know it already. It's forever somewhere amongst my Top Thirty. It always makes me slightly lovelorn and nostalgic, for obvious reasons. I haven't gone into the songs individually here because they speak for themselves and are of a piece. I'd be here forever if I did but it would be all description and not enough feeling. Like I said it speaks for itself. A perfectly assembled row of books on a bookshelf. It's a record which within the dimensions and parameters it constructs for itself, frankly could not be bettered.
There it is. Always sitting there silently in the assembled ranks of albums stacked in boxes on my living room floor demanding to be played again. And again. From the first song, 'When she smiles my way. My eyes go out in vain,' to the last, 'Are you ready to be heartbroken.' I decided at the end of my first Lloyd Cole & the Commotions phase and the end of that relationship that I wasn't ready. I've learned since that the heart always finds a way to miraculously mend itself, work once more and need to love again. Meanwhile, Rattlesnakes plays on in the background. Never changing because it doesn't need to. It will outlast Lloyd. And me.