Rather lovely lament for fine architect who had a rather sad legacy of ugly and inadvisable buildings constructed in his wake.
Friday, January 31, 2020
The extraordinary Bonnie 'Prince' Billy is back. With a quite extraordinary album. I Made a Place was mooted for release in December but for some reason has only just appeared. Or at least to me. It's a record quite out of time. Billy has form for this of course, a fierce determination to do his own thing and stay in his own place regardless of the way prevailing winds are blowing. He's certainly done just that here.
For this record sounds utterly authentically like a Roots Country album made in America between 1968 and 1971. By artists such as Dillard & Clark, Gram Parsons, Neil Young or Michael Nesmith. There's a real beauty in having an artist who can bring forth a record that inhabits the sensibility and pure idealism of these times. For let's face it, we live in much more cynical times now.
Of course the hippies, (and this is very much a 'hippie' record), had Nixon and Vietnam to contend with, but their response was to immerse themselves in universal verities. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy makes his way down a similar forest path. It's difficult to imagine a record coming out this year that immerses the listener so utterly in the Great American Outback.
Thirteen tracks in all and not a single dud to break the mood. One of my favourite records of the year so far. An utterly immediate and heartfelt album. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy knocks the ball quite out of the park with I Made a Place.
Thursday, January 30, 2020
The standout tracks from Vantaa, Finland's finest Pintandwefall's latest album Your Stories Baby. In many ways they're an odd band seeming to alternate between left field Post Punk material and other tracks which take a more mainstream approach.
These latter songs rather pass me by but I'm quite taken when they choose to join the dots between B52s, Mo-Dettes, Sleater Kinney and The Raincoats as they do roughly half the time.
My advice would be to take a Pick and Mix approach. Some really nice tracks to be chanced upon here though perhaps a bit more quality control might be advisable next time.
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
One of the ultimate Cult bands of the Eighties. This is a good example of what they did and why it appealed so much to intense Seventeen year olds. Perhaps slightly dated now by comparison with say the Bunnymen or Joy Division, its existential fire still burns.
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Canadian Andy Shauf has been on my radar for some time. By no means a newcomer anymore, (he's been putting out records since 2009), he still has something distinctly young about him though there is a weathered and veined wisdom running through the songs on his latest album Neon Skyline.
Something of a suite, about a girl named Judy, an unnamed narrator and a bar called, yes you guessed it. Shauf tells stories, and this is something of a dying art these days. The fact that he tells them so sensitively and so well makes Neon Skyline a proper treat. This is his first album for four years and the songs seem work on, chiselled. They have the texture and quality of literature, a set of short stories, vignettes of small town life.
Small towns and the people who live in them seems to be a very contemporary concern at the minute and the characters who inhabit the songs here seem very contemporary, although of course they've always been around.'Left behind' as the well worn expression implies yet not seemingly over concerned about having been left behind. There's always time to order another at the bar or have another cigarette. Life goes on, even when it seems that it's upped and gone elsewhere.
The sheer quality of these songs is highly impressive as is the way they bleed so seamlessly into one another. Shauf has always reminded critics of Elliot Smith, and his influence is still apparent but Shauf is maturing nicely. I detected Kind of Blue in some of the key changes, Joni Mitchell, Ricky Lee Jones and Steely Dan in the hue and soft shoe shuffle of the songs.
These are big hitters and Shauf is not crushed by the comparison. He knows exactly what he's doing. Neon Skyline is the best thing he's done and he's done very good stuff already. He's not afraid to be cute when he wants to be. He understands that life is full of wonderful small moments that deserve to be recorded. We should be thankful.
More Flying Nun inspired fun, second day in a row. Remarkable how much modern Indie music can be traced back to that scene.
Kiwi Jr. hail from Toronto, not from New Zealand as you might imagine. They could easily be proper kiwis, so precisely does their latest album, Football Money replicate the rhythms, melodies and momentum of bands old and new from that part of the world.
Stephen Malkmus was famously a big fan of all things Flying Nun and carried its flame onward into the Nineties. He and Pavement are the big daddies of what's going on here along with that record label of course. This isn't an original record at all but that doesn't stop it being hugely enjoyable from start to finish.
Most of all it sounds the band is just having enormous fun here and that kind of thing can be mighty infectious if done properly. There are any number of bands doing this kind of thing nowadays; Twerps, Zebra Hunt, Stevens, Parquet Courts to name just the first few that come to my mind.
Kiwi Jr. do something not that different from what any of those bands do and this record is neither better nor worse than any of these. Some of the free-form Malkmus beatnik lyrics are quite inspired. 'Last night your dreams were broadcast. But no-one you know has a television.' To quote just one. The guitars jangle with fabulous spirit throughout. A couple of the songs break out of the pack and forge all of the band's obvious influences perfectly to achieve minor classic status for themselves. It's just great that they're doing this. Lovely record.
Monday, January 27, 2020
First things first. Guardian Singles is a wonderful name for a band. It must be difficult coming up with a good one nowadays. All of the best ones have already been taken over the years. Perhaps not a wholly advisable name perhaps in a particular respect, as any Google search will take you to a slew of links to the actual Guardian Singles site before you come to anything about the band themselves.
Anyhow, the eponymous album by said band is a pretty neat record. Full of propulsive, poised and incisive Post Punk and Alternative New Wave songs that sound somewhere between Flying Nun, Guided by Voices and Wire. Thick, meshed, guitar driven songs that never let up and fly past at the speed of sound.
Guardian Singles are something of an Indie supergroup although you may not have heard of all the bands that its members have played in. Vivian Girls, Wilberforces, Civil Union, Green Grove? Told you! However, perhaps this is reason to do further exploration because there's a conviction and drive here that's mighty impressive.
It has to be said that a certain saminess kicks in at a certain point. There's a great cover of the hugely underrated The Sound's Heartland to pick things up. Then a slight and welcome change of pace comes in as we hurtle towards closure. The record's only eight tracks long so it's nothing if not concise. For the most part this is a breezy and highly enjoyable ride. Make a date with Guardian Singles.
A key influence on Bowie and you can hear exactly why here. It could almost be the man himself. Uncanny.
England's dreaming. In 2020. Difficult to credit a record as good as this and sounding like this, coming out now. Alex Chilltown have appeared on this blog before. A couple of months back as a Song of the Day as I couldn't wait for their debut album, which I knew was coming, to actually arrive. Well now it's here and I'm writing about them again.
There's something really exciting about this lot, though it's a little difficult to say exactly what it is that's so exciting. Perhaps it's because they're part of a heartening renaissance of decent young guitar bands from London that have surfaced in recent years. After the Fat White Family extended family, Shame and Goat Girl to name the most obvious examples.
It's also because Alex Chilltown are rather difficult to define. Sure, their name is a play on the mighty Alex Chilton's and they may well have listened to some Big Star records along the way. But actually that's almost a complete red herring. The record sounds very British, or actually more English, rather than something made in Memphis. But it's just the sensibility that's difficult to describe more deeply . In order to get a handle on Eulogies, (the name of the record), you have to work a bit harder.
For they hide the traces of what exactly has given birth to this very skilfully. I'd say the point of inspiration starts from the early Seventies and Bowie, most obviously, then going on to the late Seventies through the Eighties and into the early Nineties and any number of inspired English mavericks from Robert Smith, Richard Butler and Peter Perrett to Luke Haines and Brett Anderson. This is a record that evokes suburban terraced houses and estates, and adolescent Friday evenings, spent in teenage bedrooms or tearing around on high streets, drunkenly constructing your adult self before returning to the safety of the family home and slightly concerned parents.
It's good to know this process still goes on. Of course it does but it's important that it continues to be documented. This record reminds me of when I did just this myself in the early Eighties growing up in South West London. It's heartening to see that the essence of this experience can still be so artfully realised by guitar bands and the poetry of teenage dreaming. This is a very English art form after all. It's obviously not yet entirely extinct.
Josh Eshaw is the man at the heart of the Alex Chilltown and in photos he exudes an androgynous cool that we've seen before, most obviously in Bowie, Bolan, Butler and Anderson. All sons of the suburbs. A pop star of the old school! Whether he'll actually realise that status himself remains to be seen. In Eulogies he and the rest of Alex Chilltown have made a very fine start.
Sunday, January 26, 2020
Arbor Labor Union are back. Hurrah! First vinyl product since 2016 and an album on the way next month. Called New Petal Instants. This reminds us in less than four minutes of everything that makes them great. Inspired, arcane lyricism, spiralling duelling guitars that locate the sweet spot between Television and The Allman Brothers. Splendid!
Talking of transcendence, Bill Fay's Countless Branches, which came out a week or so ago, slots into a particular category almost of all of its own. This is meditative, ruminative stuff from someone who must suspect he may not have too much time left on the planet and is determined to make every second count. It ticks along to a different clock than other records, and sings its own tune. It's often unashamedly sentimental and infused with fragile passion.
Nature is a natural companion for this kind of pursuit. As you get older your relationship with the world around you change you see the eternal all around you. That which will outlast you. This is what Fay is up to here. The songs on Countless Branches are full of wonder and regret. Many of them instantly numbering themselves among the best of his long career.
He's enjoyed a late renaissance that few, least of all he himself I suspect, would have expected. It's very well deserved, as every song here has a trembling, wistful quality. They're poignant and deeply heartfelt, eulogies to himself and a world that perhaps is dying with him.It may not be a record that cheers the heart but it does offer plenty of poetic consolation. Fay doesn't claim to have the answers but he does ask a lot of the right questions. A special record.
My favourite song of the year thus far. Nap Eyes return ahead of a new album Snapshot of a Beginner, which lands at the end of March. They've done lots of great stuff down the years but nothing quite as great as this. The best guitar Pop records don't need to outstay their welcome. Think Wire's Outdoor Miner. R.E.M.'s So. Central Rain. Lemonheads It's a Shame About Ray. Now this. They say what they want, are gone and instantly you want to hear them again. Great 2020 sentiments too. 'Transcendence is all around us...' How Internet. So why not dedicate it to Mr Internet. Is he a ghost? We may never know. Perfect!
Last Friday was a wonderful one for outstanding new records. During the day and over the weekend I enjoyed five or six really notable albums, very different from one another but each worthy of attention in terms of their sheer quality. By no means the least of them, in fact very close if not right on top of the heap was this, the eponymous album from Bonny Light Horseman.
It's a New Folk album, if labels are needed, and a warm, textured and highly directed and thoughtful one at that. The songs roll with convicted momentum like a horse and carriage making their way home to a warm open hearth, (apt given the record's cover or perhaps this has made me draw the comparison). The product of a union between Anais Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, (Fruit Bats, Shins), and Josh Kaufman, (The National).
Mixing a handful of standards with inspired originals of their own it's a true feast. Familiar yet fresh. For once the band's press release hits the nail on the head. 'An elusive kind of sonic event: a bottled blend of lightning and synergy that will excite fans of multiple genres and eras.' Slightly glib perhaps but nevertheless pretty much a spot on description.
I must confess that after the four utterly wonderful opening tracks my attention wandered a little for a while as it settled into slight worthiness. The project is at its finest when Mitchell is at the heart of proceedings as she has a truly spectral presence. When she drifts to the margins things lag rather. Nevertheless at best their is some wonderful and truly haunting spell casting taking place here.
Bon Iver's Justin Vernon takes the mic and offers his stamp of approval in penultimate track Bright Morning Stars, by which time they've made their case. Bonny Light Horseman stakes a strong case to be a Trinity Sessions for the 2020's. Exquisite musicianship, classically arranged and immaculately delivered.
Saturday, January 25, 2020
It was curious to listen to Canadians Wolf Parade's latest album Thin Mind immediately after Wire's Mind Hive yesterday. Not simply because they share a word in their title. As I said in my review of the latter, it's a remarkably contemporary record. Thin Mind certainly isn't. This is an album where virtually every single mannerism, lyric and sound on the record sounds like it comes from Post Punk New Wave and Electro Pop tracks put out between 1978 and 1983.
This in itself is a remarkable achievement in itself. But is it one to commend? I think not really and I tired of Thin Mind after about four songs and chose to listen to the new Andy Shauf one instead, altogether a much better album which I'll get round to writing about presently.
It's not really a good thing to make records that purely replicate the sounds of the past. Some can get away with it. Like The Killers for example, by making the songs so good that you can't ignore them. Or Weyes Blood by making it more than mere note for note replicate and turning it into a contemporary statement about nostalgia instead.
Thin Mind does neither sadly. It's too much in thrall to thrill. It ultimately tested my patience too greatly and often came across as pompous and turgid. There have been some really great records put out that January that inevitably remind the listener somewhat of the past. Wire, Shauf, En Attendant Ana, Aoife Nessa Frances, Bill Fay among them. By comparison this is strictly second division material.
Friday, January 24, 2020
The band Wire are truly inspirational. The only ones of the original London Punk pack still standing as a creative concern forty five years on and still putting out remarkable music. Their sheer longevity is appropriate really, as they were never just punks in the first place. Way ahead of their time even way back then.
So here they are in 2020 with Mind Hive, their seventeenth album. Seventeen albums! That's some work ethic. I'm ashamed to say that I foolishly thought that it might be a bit of a chore to listen all the way through to this but something I should do out of the respect I hold for them. How wrong I was. This is no museum piece. Mind Hive doesn't tread water for a moment. They're still very much a working project and sound very much alive. Vital even.
This sounds like Wire. Of course it does. They were always a band who pushed onward tirelessly, never remotely interested in trading on or re-living former glories. Nevertheless, there are songs here that wouldn't sound out of place on Chairs Missing or 154.
That's no slur, just a huge compliment. The songs here are that good. Still celebral, deeply thoughtful, slightly pissed off I suspect but also full of wonder for life and pulsing with vigour.
When critics look for recipients to acclaim as National Treasures and end up hanging wreaths around the scrawny necks of obvious and often undeserving recipients, they should really be looking to the likes of Wire, those who have just kept their heads down and gone about their jobs, not for fame or adulation, focused, concentrated on the work at hand. All the while sculpting wonders.
What the specific concerns of the record might be I can't really say. Wire have always been too oblique, not to say too smart for me on that score though I consider myself to be reasonably smart. The title Mind Hive alone suggests, if that ever needed to be be doubted, that their concerns remain deeply contemporary as this is such a contemporary idea. They seem to be pretty disappointed at the way things have turned out, the way we've all turned out and frankly I don't blame them. This is an album that exists as much in the here and now as any record being made by people more than half their age.
Mind Hive is truly a wonder, as good a record as any British guitar band will put out this year. Or perhaps anyone else for that matter. In many ways it even sounds to me as if it might be as good a record as even they have ever made. How extraordinary that statement is! Not groundbreaking perhaps in the way that their first three albums, Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 certainly were. It's difficult to imagine anyone putting out something truly groundbreaking now. Mind Hive is just a very, very good record like those three were. Wire remain out in front. Their exploring spirit remains an example to all. An example that only the select few will both heed and understand. Quiet, meditative genius.
Parisian colts En Attendant Ana splash welcome colour all over the end of January with their sparkling second album Juillet.It's a glorious record, all vim, verve and melody, C-86 jangle, and Margaux Bouchaudon's astonishingly optimistic vocals soaring over proceedings throughout.
The band barely barely put a foot wrong throughout the course of the album's ten track run. In many respects this is the best 'indie' record, (in the old school sense), that's come my way since the last Alvvays and Say Sue Me albums. Despite singing in English, En Attendant Ana add some distinct Gallic flair to proceedings at times, (why on earth would they not, they hail from the land of Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy and Laetitia Sadler).
A really lovely record that has both winning immediacy and the promise of staying power, July in January. En Attendant Ana, my brand new favourite band.
Thursday, January 23, 2020
It's taken some time for me to come round to the charms of Brittany Howard despite protracted media hype. Much of what I heard from her latest album, Jaime, just didn't do much for me. I have gone for this, Stay High, probably the pick of the record. Sure it's deeply indebted to Sly, but there's nothing wrong with a bit of Sly.
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
From a fabulous compilation, brought to my attention by Michael Kiwanuka. Called Afterschool Special: The 123 of Kid's School it documents the legions of bands and singers who formed across America in the wake of The Jackson 5's emergence. Some quite wonderful stuff to discover.
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Always great to see fab new Bobby Darin pitch up on the jukebox. What a wonderful and actually underrated performer he was.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Someone brought to general notice by inclusion on the Songs in the Key of Z compilation. This isn't the track of his on there but is my favourite of the songs by him I've heard. Maintains a strange, spooky yet coherent logic like the best of this strain of music.