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. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Albums of the Year # 27 Joanna Sternberg - Then I Try Again

From July.

One of the best things 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.

Songs of the Year # 27 Salad Boys

At the beginning of 2018 Christchurch, New Zealand's Salad Boys came out with This is Glue, a fine akbum that brightened up an otherwise drab month. Now they're back with 'fresh' product and have taken a new road, distinct from their Flying Nun roots. This is promising, echoing late Seventies Bowie, perhaps even early Psychedelic Furs.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,138 The Weakerthans

Canadians. From 2003.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Albums of the Year # 28 Adam Green - Engine of Paradise

From early September:

Roger Miller and Lee Hazlewood. These seem to be the role models for what Adam Green, formerly of The Moldy Peaches, (though that's a long time ago now), has decided he'd like to be as he moves towards middle age. Listen to Little Green Apples by the former and My Autumn's Done Gone by the latter to identify the kernel of what's going on over the half hour course of Green's latest and quite splendid album Engine of Paradise.

It probably won't get too much critical attention. It seems that Green's moment in the sun will prove to be mostly the work he did at the turn of the century with Kimya Dawson in the Peaches. A knockabout, comedic duo, they were fortunate to emerge at the same time as the incredible moment when The Strokes and umpteen other notable young New York based talents appeared.

The Moldy Peaches probably wouldn't have got the column inches they did if it hadn't been for that. Not that they weren't a fine band but they were self-consciously obscure in their concerns. Then, a few years later they were enshrined on the indie canon once and for all when Anyone But You and a number of Dawson songs where chosen for the OST of Juno. Cutesy for sure. Infantile perhaps, but finely crafted and as warm as a family living room with the open fire blazing in November.

Green hasn't garnered particular notice from taste-makers since he and Dawson went their separate ways. Except for those who cared and continue to care. This is a shame because he has a pretty good work ethic and has been putting out good records on two or three year intervals ever since. Still, he doesn't get much mainstream attention nowadays. Pitchfork gave up reviewing his records a few years back.

Frankly, this is their loss. I'm not really sufficiently an expect to judge where Engine of Paradise ranks overall in Green's body of work but it ranks pretty highly on its own terms with me right now. It's a loving, crafted and nostalgic record for those unashamed to wear woolly cardigans and be sentimental.After all 2019's Autumn is rolling in, and this is as homely and likeable an album as you're likely to hear all season.

Green favours the kind of chamber arrangements that Miller, Hazlewood and indeed Jimmy Webb based so much of their careers around. That in in itself is enough to recommend it to those of a particular musical disposition. What he sprinkles on top is a wry, lyrical and vocal irony not a million miles away from that associated with the late, lamented David Berman.

Berman, who passed only recently in the saddest of circumstances, is still sore, subject matter for those who loved his work. Green is not an artist of this stature but he is someone to treasure nevertheless and it's nice to have Engine of Paradise, a glass half full record to act as a counterpoint to Berman's last record, the glass half empty, (as things transpired), Purple Mountains album.

So, this is a go to record for those who like the kind of stuff I've detailed in preceding paragraphs. Apparently, a concept album of sorts 'about the clash of humans with machines, the meeting of spirituality with singularity and the biderectional relationship between life and the afterlife.' I can say nothing at all about all that. Anyhow, it's a very fine record and I commend it to you!

Songs of the Year # 28 Adam Green

Given that Adam Green is coming up next, here's his contribution to the recently released Hannukah+ collection.

Song of the Day # 2,137 NovaBound

Piscataway, New Jersey natives NovaBound take a distinctly early Seventies Prog journey on the opening track of their new album Sevenths.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 439 Syndicate of Sound

Proper nugget. Later covered by Dead Boys and R.E.M. among others.

Songs About People # 1,003 Adam West

A few weeks ago on here I ran a mini-series for Batman villains. So here's one for Batman himself.

Albums of the Year # 29 Trash Kit - Horizon

From July:

When I started this blog over six years ago and told a friend about it his reply was to paraphrase: ' Oh one of those. That people start writing and then stop...' Rather than acting as a discouragement his comment served as a spur. I became committed to this. Shortly afterwards I started this particular series which obliged me to write at least one post on a daily basis and as a result actively seek out new music rather than just chronicling the records I already had in my collection, as I'd originally intended, most of which I'd bought way back in the Eighties.

This has led to me becoming one of those people who trawl the music press and Rough Trade website for new releases meaning that I'm aware of exciting new ones like this, Horizon the new record by British indie three piece Trash Kit in advance. In short, I've become an anorak, and it's something I'm very pleased to be, although I don't own the particular item of clothing  as it means that I don't fall back on the old stand by for people of my age that music ain't what it used to be back in the day.

Because this is a brilliant response to that essential falsehood, a quite thrilling album and an example of what our age continues to throw up on a weekly basis. Artists who find a way of fusing inspirations from  range of sources from the past into enervating new forms. The three women in Trash Kit have played in and contributed to a number of projects as seems to be the way these days; Bas Jan, Bamboo, Sacred Paws and shopping all appear on their CVs, and while all of these bands are well worthy of exploration, this album immediately stands out from anything any of them have done before. It's a remarkably inventive and fluid album.

The immediately apparent sources of inspiration seem clear; lilting Afro Pop, (Thomas Mapfumo is someone the band have mentioned in interview), and the squat commune ethos of late Seventies and early Eighties Punk and Post Punk. The Slits, The Raincoats, Delta 5, Au Pairs, Scritti Politti and Orange Juice. But despite drawing on these increasingly remote starting points Trash Kit are to be commended in every respect, as far from coming across as an an act of archeology, Horizon is from start to finish, invigorating fresh.


Trash Kit have already received deserved plaudits for their labours by being awarded album of the month status in the latest edition of Uncut Magazine, a status generally reserved for artists with a rather higher profile. It's good to see this happening in days where musicians working on this particular seam don't necessarily get the recognition they deserve. With luck this will see this fine record reach out beyond the band's immediate constituency to find a broader, appreciative audience.

I listened through to Horizon right the way through on the morning of its release and it had an insistent, coherent flow. Surely one of the best records that will be released from the catch all Indie umbrella category all year. Last year we had the Orielles, the year before that Girl Ray. This year it seems reasonable to suggest that Trash Kit's name seems set to be carved on the cup.

Songs of the Year # 29 Leonard Cohen

Song of the Day # 2,136 Boxer Rebellion

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Vanishing Twin

Albums of the Year # 30 Possible Humans - Everybody Split

From April:

There are some things so reliable that you could set your watch by them. One of these things nowadays is that there'll be another great Melbourne guitar band along any moment that you've never heard of. Tangible proof of this maxim arrives in the shape of the debut album from Possible Humans, Everybody Split, released on April Fool's Day.

The record is an absolute treat from start to finish. Distinctly Antipodean and full of pleasant reminders of greats of the past from that region such as The Go-Betweens, The Triffids and The Clean. This is esteemed company to even mention any young band in the same breath as but in the case of Possible Humans it's entirely deserved.

Intense but focused, driven by melodic, chiming guitars and probably dark thought processes, Everybody Split rattles throughout with driven conviction. Brought to my attention, as so much great stuff is, by the Did Not Chart blog listed on the right hand side of this page, I'm enormously grateful. The writer there rightly notes the resemblance to Melbourne contemporaries Rolling Coastal Blackouts Fever.

It's an undeniable and immediate comparison point. Where the two bands differ is probably in terms of Possible Humans distinctly darker dispositions both lyrically and melodically. They're somewhat tortured by comparison. As a result they also sounded somewhat late Seventies rather than Eighties to me, with some of the wired angst of Television, Wire, The Saints, Magazine and their ilk. 

Everybody Split seems on first listening like it'll be a record that will stay with me and I'll return to consistently. I suspect it'll feature in my end of year album countdown. That's a couple of seasons down the line however, in the meantime I commend it to you here.

Songs of the Year # 30 Steve Gunn

Song of the Day # 2,135 Bruce Haack

Monday, November 25, 2019

Songs About People # 1,002 The Montgolfier Brothers

Appropriately airless given its subject matter.

Albums of the Year # 31 Kevin Morby - Oh My God

One of the most wildly ambitious albums you'll hear all year, Kevin Morby's gargantuan new record Oh My God came out a few weeks back. Morby has long been one of my favourite artists since a friend tipped me off to Singing Saw three years ago. Morby had been plying his skills as a musician for many years previously, as a solo act, and prior to that as a member of Woods.

He's damned prolific, as so many of the best musicians are. If you've got the wind in your sails, why stay in dock. So this is a double, and though I'm generally resistant to that particular format, (see my review of the latest from Vampire Weekend a couple of weeks back), in Oh My God's case it certainly makes sense that it takes that shape, given the vast scope of the enterprise.

Because Morby seems here to be setting out to attempt to make some sense of the very question of being alive, particularly in terms of inhabiting the fallen world we are occupying right now. If this doesn't always make Oh My God very easy to listen to, any more than The Old Testament is an easy read, he certainly constructs a mightily impressive if troubled edifice.

The touchstone artist for Morby seems to generally be Dylan although interviews show that he has an equally strong affinity for Patti Smith. But Dylan to my ears always seems to be his spiritual mentor. Time and time again a turn of phrase, a chord change, the rambling time worn, funereal yet jubilant swing of the arrangements recall the original song and dance man. It's a joy to hear someone sufficiently talented to be able to pull this off as well as he does. If Morby is the best Dylan we have right now, (apart from the man himself of course), then perhaps we're not so badly off after all. 

I've put off listening properly to Oh My God since it came out just as you resist reading Moby Dick or Anna Karenina simply because they're such mammoth exercises and you're not sure you'll be equal to them. But as anyone who picks up Melville or Tolstoy will tell you, once you embark on your journey the richness of the experience is sheer delight.

I've also delayed listening to it and now writing about it because the friend I mentioned earlier who introduced me to Morby in the first place has written a vast and hugely comprehensive review of it for Pop Matters which I commend to you strongly and which Morby himself 'hearted' on Twitter.

Rod said something which echoes my own take on Oh My God. That it was Morby's best record but probably not his favourite. That hits the nail squarely on the head. Oh My God strangely is not a record that seems to want you to love it so long as it gets your respect. And boy, does it deserve respect.

Frankly by the end of my listen through to Oh My God I wanted to go and have a good lie down but couldn't because I was at work.Hear it, make sure you hear it. It's a great record, But goodness knows after making it how Morby has the strength to take these songs out on the road and punch them out night after night because just as he's pictured on the sleeve seeming to have risen from his slumbers, there's an inescapable weariness about the whole thing despite how good it is. That he managed to endure that weariness and just release this is triumph enough.

Songs of the Year # 31 Belle & Sebastian

Song of the Day # 2,134 Jenny Lewis

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 438 Dire Straits

'Saving it up for Friday night...' This Friday was a particularly sad personal anniversary for me. This song went round my head all day. So it went on the jukebox early evening at The Newcastle Arms.

Songs About People # 1,001 Lisa Loeb

Albums of the Year # 32 Fat White Family - Serfs Up!

I have to say I've always been slightly wary about Fat White Family and their affiliate projects. I've never been one for heroin chic for starters, going all the way back to Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders and the Eighties version of Nick Cave and there's always been a kind of attention seeking desperation about  the way the band conduct themselves to my mind. Plus I just didn't like the records for the most part. Though I'm still no great fan of the band's public persona, my impression of their music  changed when I started listening to their new album Serf's Up! It's a truly monumental record. A very good one too.

This is what comes of having great record collections and applying the nerve to fully immerse yourself in them as the starting point for the creative process. Fat White Family have done so and come up with a soundtrack with genuine swagger, attempting to take on the greats. Serf's Up! is a massively daring and ambitious album, and very much a 2019 sounding one. Funky and widescreen, it's great to see a British band trying to sound quite so vast again.

So what does it sound like? It sounds a bit like the album cover and recent promotional shots of the band stripped to the waist looking like a Russian feudal chain gang might suggest. Like a cross between Dostoevsky, League of Gentlemen, The Human League, Pulp, Glam Rock, Disco, Rap and Funk and Spaghetti Western Soundtracks. Oh and Nineteen Forties Hollywood Black and White Horror movies. It's a record that just demands to be listened through to at one sitting. and then listened to again and again.

Really, this shouldn't work. There are just so many ludicrously diverse ingredients stirred into the mix here that it's some kind of minor miracle that they cohere to the astonishing degree that they do. Part of the reason for this might be  the band's relocation from their beloved London to the altogether grittier Sheffield for the duration of Serf's Up! recording . Somehow taking a fresh look at their modus operandi has helped them become the force that they've always wanted but never really threatened to be previously. Good luck to them.

Songs of the Year # 32 Mavis Staples

Song(s) of the Day # 2,133 Nick Frater

Power Pop in the noble tradition of XTC, Elliott Smith, Ray Davies and Brian Wilson. Nick Frater has been putting out records for the best part of a decade and this year's album Full Fathom Freight Train makes the familiar seem fresh. Here are the record's first two tracks.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Songs About People # 1,000 Betty Grable

A favourite series of mine reaches four figures.

Albums of the Year # 33 KOKOKO! - Fongola

From July.

Charged! Now this is genuinely exciting. One of the best and certainly most original African records you're likely to hear all year. Kinshasa, Congo collective KOKOKO! and their debut album Fongola, just out. From the off it summons up a fantastic kinetic energy, rooted in African traditions as you'd expect, but plugging into something else too which  is what really grabbed my attention. The whole thing has a fabulous electro driven momentum.

As the record progressed I realised that one of the things it reminded me of most was Devo.  An impression only enhanced when you see pictures of the band dressed in striking matching yellow overalls. The energy of that and Kuti generated tribal rhythms result in quite inspired fusion. KOKOKO! have two main singers and they set off a call and response effect that drives the songs forward into wonderfully infectious open territory.

Recorded in ad hoc circumstances in Kinshasa and Brussels utilising all tools and means at the band's disposal, Fongola well and truly gets the party started although there are darker voodoo elements stirred into the mix of their incantation which only serves to broaden their appeal. KOKOKO!  embark on the European festival circuit shortly and judging by this and given that they tour with their own backing vocalists, dancers and performing ensemble should make a quite fabulous live proposition. Make sure you give them a listen.

Songs of the Year # 33 RVG

Song of the Day # 2,132 Lime Spiders

Had a chat in a bar with a  Glaswegian guy the other night who was extolling the virtues of The Lime Spiders. After listening to this I can understand why.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Songs About People # 999 Rachel Khoo

IDLES give a nod to Rachel Khoo, British cook, writer and broadcaster. Why? Search me.

Albums of the Year # 34 Tiny Ruins - Olympic Girls

From February.

On Friday morning I woke to find there was a layer of thin but quite defiant looking icy snow on the pavement, trees and cars outside my flat. It wasn't a particularly welcome sight, presaging a cold, dark trudge to work, even if the weekend beckoned beyond that. 

I'd been awaiting the arrival of Olympic Girls, the third album from Tiny Ruins for a while, so listened through to it in full while I steadied myself for the day ahead. It was altogether a haunting, and memorable experience. There's something wonderful about listening through to a really, really good record from start to finish and this is certainly one of those.

Tiny Ruins are led by New Zealand singer songwriter Holly FullbrookOlympic Girls is a  beautiful, finely cast pastoral product, one song after another revelling in life's small moments of contemplative quietness. A record that asks you to stand still and look around you for a moment, something that's always a worthwhile thing to do but we never somehow manage to do as much as we should.

Fullbrook has a fine band to support her and together they put together a record of excellent songs that essentially work from the same simple skilfully wrought template of tumbling guitar, thoughtful accompaniment and almost whispered vocals. The album hums with resonant warmth like an open fire. Echoes of Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and Suzanne Vega are there, but the record is really all Tiny Ruins own. 'A Perfect Circle. Acquaintances and friends...' as someone once sang.

These are ruminations on mortality. 'I saw the grim reaper...' Fullbrook sings at one point but they're really the ruminations of youth. You get the sense here that there's plenty of time left yet. Plenty left in the glass. It's a really lovely record from start to finish, all eleven songs as I've said starting from a similar starting point, and finding their way to similar conclusions but Fullbrook is such a thoughtful writer that same-ness never settles on proceedings. Her lyrics are particularly winning and surprising, sometimes touching on the stuff of poetry.

Along with Sharon Van Etten's Remind Me Tomorrow, this is the best album I've heard in 2019, a year that's already yielded plenty of small gems. I hope Tiny Ruins find a growing, appreciative audience for this because Olympic Girls is an altogether abundant record that certainly deserves to find one.
As it draws to a close with one, fine, reflective song succeeding another I became more and more lost in admiration for what's going on here, most of all for its essential, glowing but always thoughtful positivity. It's a tonic for difficult times, the way all the best music is. Hear the record if you can. It's a keeper.

Songs of the Year # 34 Miracle Sweepstakes

And to make this Miracle Sweepstakes day, here's Relative Mind, the lead off single and perhaps stand out song on Rorschached.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,131 Miracle Sweepstakes

It's always nice to have a surprising and strong new album come out of the leftfield at this late point in the year just as the rest of the music business is packing up and heading off for Christmas. This year that record seems to be Rorschached the second album from Brooklyn's Miracle Sweepstakes.

Take their lead from soft Psychedelic Baroque bands like The Left Banke The Zombies and Syd's Floyd, the early dBs, The Three O'Clock and Olivia Tremor Control, Rorschached is sweet, understated and immaculately crafted Pop music for the sensitive. Eleven songs that will stir rather than shake you but there are moments of true, pure loveliness here. Not miraculous perhaps but certainly rather special. It would probably be in my Top 50 album list  but sadly it's arrived just too late. Honorary mention anyhow!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Songs About People # 998 Blind Lemon Jefferson

Albums of the Year # 35 Good Morning - Basketball Breakups

First posted in October:

It was early yesterday morning that I first  listened to Melbourne's Good Morning. Their new album Basketball Breakups to be precise. They made my morning good. Eight laconic, spontaneous sounding but utterly thought through meditations on the strangeness of life in the style of Ray Davies, Jonathan Richman, Stephen Malkmus, Evan Dando, Courtney Barnett and Jeffrey Lewis. It all has an immediate and winning charm.

It's so great to come upon a record as instant and appealing as this in dark times such as these. A reminder that life at its most basic can just be a breeze, a Saturday wiling away the hours with best friends. Basketball Breakups is a reminder of the best moments of your teenage years, all served up on a platter of buoyant melodies.

You kind of know who the staples of the boys from Good Morning's record collection are. The artists listed above for the most part and Mr. Davies most of all. Frankly you could hardly want for young musicians to have better guiding mentors. Each and every one of these knew exactly how to go about writing a tune that broke down life's complexities and put it back together again from the outsider's perspective to give the loneliest adolescent something to grasp onto; a side to root for, as he or she makes their way through those strangest, most difficult of years.

Basketball Breakups is a dappled and sunlit record. Brief, but also profound in the way Catcher in the Rye is. Troubled at times, but also aware of the community of family and friends and the consolation that will always provide. A reminder that however bad it gets we are never and never will be fully alone. Make your morning a Good Morning!

Songs of the Year # 35 Palehound

Song(s) of the Day # 2,130 Dilary Huff

Brittle, shiny Indie. From Australia if you haven't guessed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Songs About People # 997 Oswald Mosley

More from Arthur Kitchener. This one for one of the most regrettable men in Brutish history.