Monday, March 30, 2020

Songs Heard on the Radio # 342 Foxygen

Always got a bit of time for slightly silly Dylanesque Foxgen.

Covers # 121 Rebekah Del Rio

Another from Lee's DJ session yesterday. From the Mullholland Drive soundtrack. The word 'beautiful' doesn't really do it justice.

1980 Singles # 13 Teardrop Explodes

1980 was Teardrop Explodes year in the sun. Reward was their big hit. This was quieter, but equally as good.

Bowie's Books # 91 Ian McEwan - In Between The Sheets

Song of the Day # 2,259 Fennesz

Yesterday afternoon and early evening I attended a virtual DJ set from a friend of mine who generally plays in a pub not far from me. The chat box was filled with comments from other attendees. It was a poignant and rather wonderful experience. It also stocked up my song larder for the coming weeks as there was much I hadn't heard before. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Songs Heard on the Radio # 341 Beck

From Guero. One of Beck's grooviest albums.

Nap Eyes - Snapshot of a Beginner

Halifax, Nova Scotia's finest Nap Eyes have been doing their thing for a fair time now, (five years in all since their first album), and have established their own rhythm and stride over the years. Snapshot of a Beginner their fifth album, is both business as usual and pastures new at one and the same time.

Over their previous records the band have established a sound that is a bit Modern Lovers, a bit late Velvet Underground, a bit Pavement and a bit themselves and now they are starting to sound most of all like themselves and leaving the others receding in the rear view mirror as they make their way down the open American alternative backroad.

If this is a slight disappointment to the likes of me who likes things that remind him of Modern Lovers and late Velvet Underground in particular, it's probably only right for the band to fully find their own voice. They laid down a marker for this early on in 2020 with Mark Zuckerberg probably the best and certainly the most concise thing they've done in their career so far. Also one of my very favourite songs of 2020.

For this is a band not known for their concision. Quite the opposite in fact. Nap Eyes have always been notable for their longeurs and digressions, lyrically and musically. Vocalist and indisputable band leader Nigel Chapman is someone who rarely gets to the point. Something of an Indie Hamlet, with one thought constantly bleeding into another. So laid back he's virtually horizontal.

That doesn't particularly change on Snapshot of a Beginner, but the songs themselves seem more considered. Most of them are languid and sparse with a couple of exceptions, the aforementioned Mark Zuckerberg which would make Evan Dando nod with approval at its pop nous and If You Were in Prison where the band truly let rip in the manner of Sonic Youth or early Ride. It comes as some surprise.

Real Thoughts the eight minute track after Prison, slows the pace again and has the most gorgeous set of guitar riffage on the whole record, mutating into something of an Indie Freebird bizarrely. A highlight. Elsewhere I'm not entirely sure of the staying power of the album and will need to revisit it again to find out.

 In some respects as I've indicated, I miss the ghosts of Jonathan Richman and Sterling Morrison that haunted previous albums. They return briefly in final track Though I Wish I Could but elsewhere Nap Eyes are truly Nap Eyes for the first time in their career. A strange criticism perhaps but they have more than enough going for them on their own terms to ensure that I will return. Certainly an album worth giving a once over if you're not familiar with this band already. For the time being, I give it eight.

1980 Singles # 14 Diana Ross

Bowie's Books # 90 Wyndham Lewis - Blast

Song of the Day # 2,258 Surreal Kinnock

Welsh band Surreal Kinnock, ( and there's a name that will mean little to anyone outside the UK), probably have their picture posted next to the word 'eccentric' in some dictionaries. Produced by Super Furry Animals drummer Dafydd Ieuan it certainly seems to crib some notes from that band's songbook, particularly God! Show Me Magic. Great fun seems to be being had by all involved.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Songs About People # 1,099 Catherine Deneuve

A Saturday evening in watching Polanski's Repulsion lead me to post a song for its star.

Bob Dylan - Murder Most Foul

Onto another Bob. Dylan has released a new song. In timely fashion as is his wont. It's sixteen minutes long. I've just listened to it. It stopped me in my tracks. Dylan has an ability to do that. It's probably already my song of this year. I'll write more about it. In the meantime, it's posted here.

Bob Andy 1944 - 2020

Sorry - 925

Sorry are one of those new, young London bands. Part of that pack of slightly feral groups that started to emerge a couple of years ago, along with Shame, Goat Girl and the Fat White Family set and many others. They've been dropping singles and EPs for a while and now they've put together and released their debut album.

It's a clammy, uncomfortable listen. Reminiscent at times of previous moments in British Pop history, the Mid Nineties. The late Seventies. I hear Tricky and The Slits, Blur, P.J.Harvey and Elastica. It's truly a pick and mix of the kind they used to offer at the Woolworth's sweet counter before that shop's sad demise. The music is grubby and claustrophobic, deliberately so. There are a lot of loose ends, unexplained leads and discontinued threads, songs don't conform to standard verse / chorus expectations, the band sound as if they're playing for themselves and their own enjoyment as much as for a perceived audience.

None of these are criticisms. The messiness of the record is central to its appeal. They have an intriguing lead singer in Asha Lorenz and her vocals are complemented with constant co-text from a male bandmate Louis O'Bryen. There's a lot of call and response going on. Nothing is particularly coherent but guitar, bass and melody lines slip in and out of the mix throughout, keeping things lively.

This is an album to return to, to try to work out what is going on. You may not be any wiser but you will get to anticipate its snaky rhythms. Sorry plunder from traditional Indie, Alternative and Pop sources but disassemble the structure and reinvent the wheel in a highly creative way. This is out of the box thinking of a genuine kind. One of the most original albums I've heard this year.

1980 Singles # 15 Siouxsie & the Banshees

One of the Banshees most powerful statements. Still.

Bowie's Books # 89 Howard Zinn - A People's History of the United States

Song(s) of the Day # 2,257 Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam are not a band I have enormously strong feelings about one way or another. There are a lot of people who don't feel quite the same way about them. On the one hand, they have a fiercely loyal band of fans who have maintained their faith for the almost thirty years of their career and have no plans to abandon the cause just yet. On the other there's are some who are equally strident types who have never forgiven them for supposed sins commited in 1991 or how much disdain Kurt Cobain had for them from the off.

Whereas I don't mind them and never have. There are a handful of big and important bands in Rock history that I heartily dislike and Pearl Jam have never been among them. In fact they actually occupy a rather important place in my personal memory banks. In 1992, I moved to Dortmund, Germany and worked for a language school there for a couple of years. During that time I made some of my most important life friendships including one with a bloke called Matt who was a huge Grunge convert and a particular fan of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Together we added Smashing Pumpkins and others to the list.

I listened to a fair bit of PJ's first two albums Ten and Versus during that time. They were definitely of their time, I can't have listened through to either for over twenty years. Not that they date particularly, new record Gigaton is hardly a huge departure from the template they laid down almost three decades back.

Pearl Jam churn out chunky, well fed, classic Rock and Roll, utterly reliable and anthemic, capable of speaking to the back rows of large arenas. They've always tried to say something.They emote less than they once did. They're middle aged now of course but this is a sensibility they've always gravitated towards, even from their early days . The early Seventies were their natural habitat, The Who their natural mentors. Even when they varied the line of their attack towards Punk they never fully convinced. In essence they were Stillwater, the band in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous who Mike McCready, one of their two guitarists stood in for Russell Hammond on its soundtrack . A band, on a mission, on the road.

The guitars on Gigaton shriek and howl in an early Seventies manner. Bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron, (once of Soundgarden but in the Pearl Jam fold since 1988), provide an utterly solid rockbed. Vedder, who always had one of Rock's richest, most humane voices, is his reliable self, his voice sounds exactly the same as it did on Ten frankly. Emotionally he's mellowed since then though and this is a good thing.

The songs are sturdy and clearly built too last. Nothing immediately stands out as classic Jam, the album will probably require further plays to ascertain where this will end up ranking in the band's canon. I think I prefer it to much of their early output because it feels as if it's somehow more comfortable in its own skin. There were several moments across the record when I thought, there's something here, I'll need to listen to that again. There is less pomposity, more stoicism and humility, awareness of their smallness in the overall scheme of things  than they used to be known for. There were even moments when I was quite moved, particularly in album closer River Cross, which has a similar elemental tug as R.E.M's Find a River and which I'd say is the best thing on the record.


I wish sometimes they'd lighten up a tad and just let the tunes flow but Pearl Jam were never among Rock's easy riders. There was always a sense of struggle, they never had Nirvana's fluid, elasticity, hungry rage or genuine, inspired anarchy. You always got the sense that they were hammering away on a rockface, but there's more awareness of mortality here, the collapsing polar ice shelf  on the cover of Gigaton admits as much, but this is a record constructed to endure the test of the elements and time itself. One that wants to be listened to in fifty years time if we're still here. I imagine it will be if we are.

I'll give the record a few more plays over the coming days to see what I think about it overall. As I've indicated, Pearl Jam have never been one of my great loves, as their natural musical habit has never chimed wholly with mine. I imagine we have rather different record collections. One of Vedder's great loves was R.E.M., (my own starting gun in terms of constructing my personal musical taste), he made the induction speech for their Hall of Fame inaugaration.

Nothing, you sense was ever as easy for Pearl Jam as for R.E.M. just as with Nirvana. But they deserve respect merely for the fact that they're still here. None of the band have succumbed to the trappings of fame particularly, they've maintained their values and prevailed towards the terrains of late middle age. They know how to pace a record and populate it with hills and valleys. They'll never be hip but I imagine they've long since stopped caring about that.

Ultimately, Pearl Jam will always make me think of Matt, one of the best friend's I'll ever have. He passed a couple of years back, quite tragically for those who knew and loved him. As a mutual friend said to me, he had a knack of being very cool and not cool at all at one and the same time, which is some gift. I used to go round to his flat on Friday evenings, sometimes with other male friends and we'd drink beer and smoke dope and talk and watch TV and listen to music. We always had an incredibly good time. 

I'm still grateful to him. It was an important friendship. It's a Friday evening now and I wish I were heading round to his. Instead I'm listening to Gigaton now in forcible quarantine like much of the world and in much less certain times and finding the experience of just listening to it strangely reassuring. It's a very solid album. I only wish Matt could hear it and experience these strange times. I dedicate these incoherent ramblings to him.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Beck - Guero

1980 Singles # 16 Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, at his best.

Bowie's Books # 88 Evelyn Waugh - Vile Bodies

About the party set of the Thirties, unaware of the imminent catastrophe about to visit the world..

Song(s) of the Day # 2,256 Lapsley

Always good to listen to music that takes you out of your comfort zone. Such is clearly the case here with me. York based Holly Fletcher, middle name Lapsley, apparently inspired Billie Eilish's first single Ocean Eyes and has just released her second album Through Water.

It's a record of tracks of soulful emoting inspired by the elements. The kind of thing that would generally make my toes curl, and this happened here too, but there were a few things on here that I warmed to. I've posted them here.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Nilsson - Thursday

Songs about other days of the week are relatively commonplace. But Thursday is generally neglected. Thankfully Nilsson, (who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite musical artists of all, possibly for his laziness, a characteristic I share), rectifies that situation. Strangely appropriate, though it's not a good moment to nip off to a bar and play pool. That can wait for happier, safer and less responsible times.

1980 Singles # 17 The Jam

Another song that speaks anew in this fresh setting. The band's first Number 1, it went straight into the charts in that position, (very unusual in those days), and stayed there for three weeks.

Bowie's Books # 87 Vance Packard - The Hidden Persuaders

The power of marketing.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,255 Makaya McCraven (and Gil Scott-Heron)

A record I've neglected writing about 'til now which came out a month or so back. Now seems as good an idea to listen through and write about it as any. A reinvention of Gil Scott-Heron's final studio album We're New Here from Chicago's Makaya McCraven recast here as We're New Again. It's a deeply special and valuable document which sounds just great in the meditative 'behind closed doors' space we find ourselves in right now.

McCraven honours Scott-Heron's memory and unique musical legacy without being beholden to the original record. He reorders and resets the narratives of We're New Here in incredibly imaginative new settings. New York is Killing Me, not unnaturally sounds particularly haunting given the crisis in which that great city finds itself embroiled in right now but really there are no highlights, it's all quite vital.

The record has all the driving mindhive virtuosity of Scott-Heron's work. Best listened to at a single sitting, it paints a picture of  Black American Consciousness as vivid and powerful as anything you'll hear this year. The beats and rhythms are as sharp and potent as you could ever wish. It's sad, angry, thoughtful, sensual and learned by turns. Scott-Heron's poetic lyricism speaks clear from the grave. What a loss he was.

There's regret but also renewal  here as there was in We're New Here. McCraven puts Scott-Heron centre stage where he belongs, while he in turn pays tribute to those that he loves and owes a debt to that can never fully be paid. This is an incredibly rich, generous and timely record, almost prophetic in its tenderness,  thoughtfulness and rage. One that encourages humanity to learn from its mistakes and forge something new and better from the embers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Songs Heard on the Radio # 340 Working Men's Club

Quite possibly the best young band in the UK right now. Just a classic sound. Here they become an exceedingly funky Stranglers.

Songs About People # 1,098 Sal Mineo

Sal Mineo, James Dean's co-star in Rebel Without a Cause was a Pop Star for a short while in the late Fifties. His profile plummeted in the Sixties and he was murdered in the Seventies. An altogether sad story.

1980 Singles # 18 Sheila B. Devotion

A fabulous single which still sounds fresh forty years on.

Bowie's Books # 86 R.D. Laing - The Divided Self

Song(s) of the Day # 2,254 Arboretum

A comforting record in this most discomforting of times. Let It In, the new album from Baltimore's Arboretum, flows like a mighty river, with assured and convicted momentum through each of its eight tracks like a voice from the past, showing the way towards a future we're not sure whether we can believe in given our fractured and deeply conflicted present. Forgive the purple prose but days like these surely permit them.

Guitar fuelled, and reminiscent by stages of Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Allman Brothers, Crazy Horse, Fables and Pageant R.E.M. and Television in its rockier moments, it's a companion piece to the similarly named Arbor Labor Union's masterful, recent New Petal InstantsLet It In has wisdom and full fluency of form. 

There's a definite spirituality and mythic pull to each and every one of these songs. It fully recognises and evokes the great nature we find ourselves momentarily exiled from. Foregrounded recently as Album of the Month by Uncut Magazine, which has a gift for recognising these marginal but important records, it's a gift which keeps giving. I'd suggest you give it a listen.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Paul Simon & George Harrison

For anyone who hasn't seen this. I hadn't until 10 minutes ago.

Songs About People # 1,096 Pier Angeli

The first of a three part series within a series for James Dean. Here's one for Pier Angeli who was one of the major loves of Dean's short life. She married Vic Damone instead of him.  She died short of forty of a barbituates overdose.

1980 Singles # 20 Devo

Devo were always an excellent and probably underrated band. Thoroughly entertaining and always pointing out what was going on. They knew what was coming down the line. This is probably their best known song and their MTV breakthrough moment.

Bowie's Books # 84 Otto Friedrich - Before The Deluge: A Portrait Of Berlin In The 1920s

Song(s) of the Day # 2,252 The Foreign Films

Fronted it seems by a less cynical Luke Haines, Ontario's The Foreign Films peddle an uncomplicated, retro Pop sound. Their natural habitat seems to be the early Seventies Glam period, also a very nostalgic time which harked back itself to the late Fifties Golden Age of Rock and Roll.

The Foreign Films have been putting out records since 2007 and Ocean Moon, their latest, hardly carves out new vistas of experimential territory. This is classic, romantic pop stuff of the kind that Mott The Hoople, Wizzard and ELO were once known for. The songs here are swoons within swoons. I'll bet they're Roy Orbison, Phil Spector and Springsteen fans.

Song after song returns to the same pitch but they're all well formed. As I said frontman Bill Majoros certainly bears a close resemblance vocally to Luke Haines, ironic really given that there isn't an ounce of smugness or wry humour in his delivery. The songs have an innocence that is quite remarkable in this day and age.

So, not a 2020 record, but then again, not one that tries to be so for a moment. This has the kind of yearning quality that bonded John Lennon and Harry Nilsson in the early Seventies without the resultant hangover. Ocean Moon is full of  classic moments, all of which you've heard many times before. That's by no means a slur. This stuff will never die out entirely.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Scott Walker

The great Scott Walker died a year ago today. Here's what I wrote:

Scott Walker 1943 - 2019

I heard in the oddest circumstances yesterday that Scott Walker had died . I'd just arrived for a short break to my parent's house in Canterbury and my mother, who is Brexit obsessed at the moment, (she's not for it, I hasten to add), had the television on to watch the latest proceedings in parliament. On the text feed on the bottom of the screen a long sentence commenced beginning with the words 'Scott Walker' . I realised long before it came to its end what it must be about. The BBC would hardly have been announcing that a new album was imminent.

It felt strange. Scott Walker was a particular artist but also a uniquely special one. At the start of his career as the focal point of The Walker Brothers, (of course they weren't brothers and none of them were called Walker), he was as famous as anyone on the British Pop scene and as fabulously attractive as any Pop Star had ever been. When my parents saw the news surrounding his death he didn't mean anything to them. I had to mention 'The Sun Ain't Going to Shine Anymore', the one song of his I thought they'd know. But my mum, watching the onscreen photo montages of him, said, 'he was very good looking'. It was undeniable. Frankly, Scott Walker  was a Golden Lord. He was the epitome of what Pop Stars were supposed to look like.

Yet he also had that voice. That rich, deep gorgeous wondrous croon that could easily have captured the MOR or the Beatnik crowd. Walker ultimately chose the Beatniks. He was too much of a quester, some might say a poseur to take the straight Pop lane- his bookshelves crammed with Camus and Kirkeggard. His record shelves with Brel and Greco. He craved for some of that timeless quality of true art, that thick texture of genuine artistic depth for himself. That rich, dusty, melancholy. And by god he achieved it.

I don't think he's a poseur, but a truly great artist. One who had pretty much everything. His almost lifelong association and friendship with Bowie, who considered him one of the absolute touchstone artists, speaks volumes. Because in addition to the looks and the voice, Walker also had the intellect and the vision. Like Bowie he realised that Pop offered an almost unique opportunity, a playground for daring and bravura. If the Walker Brothers were wonderful, Scott 1 to 4, the set of solo albums that followed them, were something else, something quite dazzling. Quite unique.

This isn't a complete career obituary. Look elsewhere for those. I'm not enough of a completist or an expert to be qualified to write one. Many of Walker's records I just don't know. I bought Tilt, his much vaunted avant gard album of 1996. I listened to it a fair bit. It was staggering, but Walker didn't take me with him. I didn't listen to his late period records. That's not to say that I didn't rate them. I just didn't listen to them.

Anyhow, Walker was a great artist and leaves a huge void. If you don't know his back catalogue go and explore it. It's one of Pop Music's truly great adventures. A model lesson in bravery, artistry and beauty. He was a one off.

Songs About People # 1,095 Feargal Sharkey

Slightly soppy song for Mr. Warbling Tonsils.

Rain Parade - What She's Done To Your Mind

Songs Heard on the Radio # 338 Les Paul & Mary Ford

From pub jukebox to radio which is providing a proper public service at the moment.

1980 Singles # 21 UB40

UB40 emerged in 1980. A Socialist, Reggae, Dub collective with one of the truly great debut singles,  Food for Thought, backed with the equally good King. It went all the way to # 4 in the UK singles charts. 

Bowie's Books # 83 Jessica Mitford - The American Way of Death

Live cover of the Jacques Brel original.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,251 Tony Allen & Hugh Masakela

Fabulous collaboration from 'two of Africa's greatest sons' has a timely release. It has all of the syncopated glory you'd expect of such masters. They got together in 2010 after years of talking together about the idea adn following Masakela's death in 2018, Allen and producer Nick Gold got together in the studio to complete the project. It's all just masterful.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 469 Louis Armstrong

This may be the last post on this particular series for a while. The pubs, restaurants and cafes around me are all closed and who knows when they are likely to re-open. Still, in the meantime, this one seems like a good choice to sign off on for the time being.

The Beatles

Kenny Rogers & the First Edition

For Kenny. Memories of York. A short holiday with my parents and a great record shop. From September 2015.

Song of the Day # 604 Kenny Rogers & The First Edition

'It wasn't me that started that old crazy Asian war. But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore...'

Strange how this blog has become a diary of sorts. The thing that I said in my first ever post it wouldn't be. Still, perfectly happy with that. Just back from a weekend spent in York with my dearly beloved parents. I chanced upon an absolute treasure trove of a record shop, The Inkwell, of which I'll write more. Bought the parent record for this song for a fiver. Much prefer this to the more famous version. It's got that great, gentle, rolling guitar sound of the best late sixties Glen Campbell records and the lyric, about a Vietnam vet who comes back from the war crippled and suspects his want away missus of playing around, is tragic though slightly ironic poetry. The rest of the record is just great too. Laid-back, slightly psychedelisised Country. Another memory.

Kenny Rogers 1938 - 2020

Baxter Dury - The Night Chancers

On a fresh but bright day in March when the Prime Minister of a very dis-United Kingdom advised the closure of pubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms, Baxter Dury released his sixth album The Night Chancers. It's a sterotypically English record, or more specifically a Laandon one, full of idiomatic, sloppy character(s), a schtik that Dury has been honing carefully since he first emerged with Len Parrot's Memorial Lift in 2003.

This record finds him reaching an end destination in this respect in that it seems his act could not be further refined or heightened. Dury is centre screen and utterly cinematic throughout, Michael Caine, Bob Hoskyns or Ray Winston playing the lead in the kind of  film you've seen before but go to anyway because you relish the woozy cockney stereotypes it embodies and reinforces as there's something comforting about its menacing swagger.

Dury barely breaks into song, (though some of the characters he embodies certainly break into a slightly unsavoury sweat at times), throughout the records course, instead relaxing into the slouching worded delivery he's developed over the years. The record is seamless and quite consistent, one song melting into another, all East End four day stubble and greasy charmless prowl.

It's a world away from the innocent Indie outsider that came across when Dury first appeared. He's middle aged now and utterly comfortable in his skin and suit, that of a small time gangster out to punch above his weight and destined you imagine to arrive at a sticky end.

Musically it's trimmed and in shape. Gainsbourg orchestration, uptown nightclub, cool for cats chic, droll female backing and dub adornment. I can't wait to get some of these songs on my local's jukebox once all of this comes to an end and we can all meet up again without guilt or risk. It's Dury's best record, the equal of many of his father's. Its timing is unfortunate but I'm sure, given time it will get the attention it very much merits.