Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Monday, June 29, 2020
There are some new albums which come out that you've heard every single, note and sentiment expressed therein before a hundred times perhaps more. These albums can go either way. You might want to never ever hear them again. Or else you might be happy to listen to them many times because they explore such classic tropes in such an inspired way.
Ray LaMontagene's latest album Monovision slots nicely into the latter category. Trust me, you don't need to hear this album. You've heard every note and experienced every sentiment expressed on here. But then again you might like to listen to it. Simply because it expresses these eternal sentiments so clearly and beautifully. It's the third great new record that I've heard in the last few days, following the Banangun and Nadine Shah albums and I'm very happy about that because I was finding things rather slow in this the second phase of UK Lockdown.
Monovision is a lesser record in terms of its achievement than those other two but that doesn't make it any less lovely. LaMontagne is a long in the tooth journeyman in this respect, he's well versed in this kind of thing. This is neither his masterpiece nor his end station, he clearly has plenty more in the tank. Fans of his will welcome it with open arms and with luck it may make some new converts.
So followers of Cat Stevens, Van the Man, Creedence, Joni, Neil, Nick, Tim and even John Denver might like to bend an ear to this. No wheels are reinvented here, nothing to see really but a craftsman at work. That should be more than enough. May not top many end of year lists but should be somewhere in the rundown.
Sunday, June 28, 2020
Nadine Shah is truly someone who's coming completely into her own right now. I mean she was always good, of course she was, but right now she's shedding the shadow of her clear and evident influences and forbears and producing quite magnificent, resplendent records.
Kitchen Sink, her latest album, just out, is the most recent, and uttely convincing evidence of this. It's Shah, with her peacock's tail on display, cocksure and strutting, with something important to say and utterly sure of how to go about saying it.
Shah is something of a cusp artist at the minute. She was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize last time around but didn't win it though perhaps she should have done. This sounds to me like the one that might push her over the edge to mass acceptance, it's certainly a record of uncanny power and depth.
Dealing with gender issues. Dealing with suburban claustrophobia. Dealing with being told what to do all the time when you really don't want to and think it's just not the best thing to do. Shah, doesn't pull her punches for a moment and is utterly magnificent, from start to finish of Kitchen Sink.
This is one of the records of the year. It's already been given a five star review in Mojo which very rarely happens and it deserves it. If it's not in my own Top Ten when I come to my own countdown in December, I'll eat my hat. Hear it.
'The amber waves of gain...'
It's a huge tribute to the glory of R.E.M.'s third album Fables of the Reconstruction that this is not a lot higher on this rundown. Because it's a thing of rare beauty. But I've got a lot more to pack in from that record yet before I'm done. Green Grow The Rushes, is testament, not only to the band's fluid mastery of their art at this point in their career, Peter Buck's guitar work here is particularly worthy of note, but also their resolve, their sheer confidence in what they were doing.
Another political song, focusing on the plight of Mexican guest workers in the US and drawing paralells with America's colonial past. It's Southern in the way everything, on Fables particularly is Southern. Like so much of the band's early work it drew me in pretty quickly and also made me want to learn more.
Marooned - The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs # 8 Miles Davis - Bitches' Brew - Chosen by Greg Tate
'Miles once said that the only way to achieve anything new in music was to take the best musicians around and get them to play beyond what they know.'
It seems slightly strange that Montreal band Pottery are only now putting out their debut album Welcome to Bobby's Motel as they seem to have been around for a long time already. They're certainly not a band lacking in ideas, but they won't be to everyone's taste as they tend to have a kitchen sink approach to the songwriting, an don't tend to draft and upgrade their product as much as they might do.
Most immediately they remind me of Arcade Fire, (and explicitly their chanelling of Talking Heads), and Parquet Courts. As with these bands, it's nie on impossible not to hear their influences popping through their songs as they are quite upfront about them, I'd be reasonably sure in Pottery's case that they've listened to a lot of early Eighties Post Punk and Independent guitar classics in their time. Particularly those which involved white boys getting funky. A Certain Ratio, Higsons, Pigbag, Josef K and The Clash of Overpowered by Funk, come to mind.
The songs are almost all cluttered, and this means they have a high hit and miss factor, things that sound closer to Pelican West that Fear of Music. It's good to hear alternative bands that are not just trying to sound like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive, but this record both overwhelmed and underwhelmed me on first listen and I think I'll go back to The True Story of Bananagun, (which I reviewed here yesterday) for a more impressive lesson on how to go about messing with the past.
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Seeing as Cryan' Shames are today's Nuggets artistes, I thought I'd repost a review I wrote and posted on here a few years back of their small masterpiece.
'A Scratch in the Sky' is one of those rare records laid down at the height of the sixties which manage to pull in the best qualities of the band's many influences and turn back out something wholly unto is own. The cosmic harmonies of the Beach Boys, the jangling spirit of The Byrds, the rollicking pop of The Beatles; these are all commonly borrowed sounds, but rarely ones so expertly disassembled and recast as we hear on this record. Though this collection of songs remain well-polished through studio-craft and the musicians own abilities, it retains a freshness, and noncommercial edge that makes it both an accessible and adventurous listen.' Rising Star blog.
In the States in the mid-sixties it was perfectly normal to be able to make huge waves locally without registering so much as a blip in terms of national commercial or critical recognition. Such was the case with the Cryan' Shames, one of the biggest bands in Chicago for a couple of years while achieving only one Billboard Single hit in 1966, and that only getting as far as # 49, with Sugar and Spice, a cover of a Searchers tune.
Often with bands like this, the hit single is the one moment that's worthy of remembering but in the case of The Cryan' Shames the exact opposite is true. Their real legacy lies in their second album 1967's A Scratch in the Sky, which falls just slightly short of contemporary baroque/ chamber pop albums by The Zombies and The Left Banke (both of which have since since achieved classic status), but is nevertheless well worth tracking down for anybody interested in the period and genre.
While obviously deeply indebted to the great albums of the time (as mentioned in the quoted passage at the start of the post), most obviously The Beatles, Revolver and The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, in addition to The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Turtles and so on, what A Scratch in the Sky does achieve is in managing to convey the sheer contagious energy and joy of being a young adult at the time. While their first album, also called Sugar and Spice, is heavy reliant on covers, and for the most not particularly inspired ones, this time round the band's songwriting team Jim Fairs and Lenny Kerley take the reins themselves and all but two of the eleven tracks are their own compositions. and they're mostly very good ones.
Not particularly inventive lyrically, these songs aren't really particularly about anything, they generally echo the sentiments of their time, where the band's genuine talents lie are in terms of their tight playing and the creative ambition of their arrangements. These are highly evocative of 1967 a landmark year in rock history and its to the records enormous credit that it doesn't pale by comparison with everything that was coming out then.
It would make an interesting parlour game for pop fans of the period to play, 'guess that tune', and unzip where the band have lifted influences from while listening along to the record. Beach Boys, certainly for opener A Carol For Lorelei, Revolver for Mr.Reliable, Byrds for The Town I'd Like to Go Back To. Second side, back to Beach Boys. Cryan' Shames sound so much of their time it's quite uncanny. The production shows a primitive, but effective use of moving the effect, from one ear to the next.
When Side 1 kicks in to Side 2 and they do their version of The Drifter's Up on the Roof, you'll want to throw up your hands, kick off your shoes and just be glad to be alive. There's definitely something about that energy to this particular record. This is almost too well known to work in any other context but they re-craft it hugely into a white, youth pop experience of sheer bliss. It has a claim to be at the very least the equal of the original.
From there to the stars in my eyes, wholly Beach Boys driven It Could Be We're in Love. The Cryan' Shames, like so many of the second ranking artists of the period were utterly under the spell of the sounds around them but this takes nothing away from the achievement of this album. It's every inch a small gem.
Much in the same way as The Turtles, Turtle Soup, which I've posted about on here recently, A Scratch in the Sky, distills so much of the energy, joy and vigor of the time of its release, shakes it up and pumps it back out without claiming or aiming to innovate but at the same time achieving a small, but pretty perfect identity of its own.
The record itself gained local prominence without featuring on national charts and pretty soon afterwards the band disintegrated with the Vietnam draft plucking members and a poorly thought through attempt to rock out with their third album, Synthesis. The band have since reformed and still tour. This is their go to record. Full of the joys of spring!
Melbourne, Austalia's Bananagun are the hip but goofy kids in the school playground. The ones with the record collections full of artists you'd never heard, the ones who wrote meandering songs and made whacky little films together for their own amusement.
They're undoubtedly clever clever as their debut album readily attests from the off, but the esssential ingredient is fun, so I haven't been remotely irritated listening through to it regularly since yesterday morning, when it was released. It's a very fine record indeed!
Here is a band who try at all points to touch all inspirational bases, so long as they are day glo technicolour ones. Their ambition is quite astonishing. They want to recapture the funky glory of Os Mutantes, Fela Kuti, Funkadelic and the out there peaks of Sixties Psychedelia all at once. Remarkably, they manage to do so.
A parallel could probably be drawn with The Brian Jonestown Massacre who took a similarly historical approach, though their inspirations were different ones from Bananagun's. In many respects this album could only have been made in the here and now, as the sounds they source have never been so readily available before.
Bananagum are essentially obscurists. Take a look at the playlists they've posted on their Spotify page. There will be very few people who you've actually heard of. But while this could come across as elitist, it never does here, because this is one of the most consistently immediate and funky records I've heard in months. Years even.
You could probably write an essay on this kind of pick and mix exoticism which would certainly include Psychedelia, Funk, Krautrock, Afrofunk, Madchester, Daisy Age Hip Hop and Dee Lite. But why bother when you can just listen to this. It's urgent, far out and utterly laidback at one and the same time. Relentlessly and fruitily poppy.
I think this may well be the soundtrack to one of the strangest summers I'll ever experience. The summer of Lockdown. It's hot out there, but I'm not allowed to go out and enjoy it, at least not in the way I'd llike to, so I'll stay in here with this instead. The True Story of Bananagun one of Covid-19's great consolation prizes.
'I'm addressing the realpolitik...'
R.E.M were always a highly political concern. You could probably compile an album of songs from their career which were explicitly political even if they remained essentially enigmatic, a consistent feature of the band's output.
Here they at least name their concern. McCarthyism the finger pointing, dencunciations under the banner of patriotism that had been such a historical scourge, most notably in the Fifties under the waves conducted by Senator Joe McCarthy, an ignoble figure of American history,
The song is wonderful, despite it's serious subject matter. Set off by the sound of Michael playing the typewriter, it's a breeze. They're clearly having great fun.Typically their finger is pointed not towards the past, although it maintains an informed sense of it, but at the Reagan exceptionalism of the times they were living though. I was delighted to be able to see the band play the song in Riga round about 2005. What it has to say, sadly, does not go away.
The Cryan' Shames were a great band. This, a cover of a Searchers song was not their finest moment, but was their big hit.
Friday, June 26, 2020
R.E.M. always excelled at opening album songs, from Murmur's Radio Free Europe onwards. They kicked into another gear with Begin The Begin, the first salvo on Lifes Rich Pageant. Fired off by a reconstituted Television riff and there is Michael, proud and loud in a way he has never quite been before. The words are clear, even if their meaning isn't always. I'm sure most listeners caught his drift.
A call for personal political activism and engagement. 'Silence means security. Silence means approval.' This is urgent, but Michael is not wanting to lead us to the barricades. 'Look to me for reason. It's not there. I can't even rhyme.' Like many of the best political songs, it doesn't provide all the answers but it does ask many of the right questions.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Not a huge, personal favourite of mine but I recognise its qualities and why it is a strong favourite for many others. The second great song on Out of List and the last one that will pop up in this countdown until you know what makes an appearance much later on in the game. About the breakdown of a relationship, Michael Stipe has said it's his favourite R.E.M. song of all.
I generally don't go for a huge amount of new Rap and Hip Hop these days and I'm usually put off it by two basic factors. Tone and aggression levels. But I still occasionally come across something that takes my fancy, and here's one that has.
It's Little Dominiques Nosebleed, the fourth album from Koreatown, LA's Koreatown Oddity, and its title alone is an indicator that this might not be the standard guns, ho and self-glorification territory that generally turns me me off this stuff.
This is from the off, a different approach altogether, more tuned to the left field approach of De La Soul, Pharcyde, Cypress Hill and Fu-Schnickens. So while this has its moments of appocalyptic darkness, it's consistently much altogether more thoughful in terms of its tones and textures than a lot of its contemporaries.
It's clearly highly autobiographical in tone and although the man may not technically be a great rapper in terms of his delivery, there's certainly enough going on here lyrically, and with respect to its beats and samples to draw you in and keep you in.
So this is a slightly stoned, diaristic stroll round the man's neighborhood, high on atmosphere and dusty charm and literate impact. Definitely one that I'll be coming back to and can highly recommend to you.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Resonates more to me down the years. Apparently written in twenty minutes when their bus broke down on the Fables tour. Lyrically focussed on the American Civil War, in Stipe's words, ' A war our country inflicted on itself. It's a period of our American history that was very, very ugly.' Typically R.E.M. craft something of beauty and redemption out of it. Packed full of Christian imagery. Points forward to Automatic to my ears.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
The last song from R.E.M's debut and the first one listen on this particular countown. But by no means the last. It took quite a while for this one to settle in as a personal favourite I think. There were more immediate things on this record.
But this one has a resonance which makes itself known through repeated listend. It has a galloping momentum that always reminded me of early Who, as quite a bit of Murmur does. The call / response stuff is fabulous and the themes significant. The dream state, and ultimately of course death, The Fields of Elysium of Greek mythology. The first song on the album, Radio Free Europe, is all about birth, the last song is about death. One of the most remarkable things about R.E.M. when they emerged first was how much they seemed to know.
So glad I chose to do this particular series. Because this is the way to listen to this record, perhaps the best and certain one of the most influential compilation albums ever released. But to get a chance to listen to it day by day one song at a time is reminding me just how much I love this stuff, and so many of the songs on here are amiong my favourite songs of all.
This one certainly. The 13th Floor Elevators, unlike many of the other groups on here, weren't quite like any other band before or since. This was the most accessible thing they ever recorded. Their only hit. But, although it has a fabulous tune, relentless momentum, it's still utterly sealed and remote in some ways. If you're not on the trip that the band are on after all, you can't quite keep up with them. Some were. More have been since. Utterly peerless.
Jittery, jagged Post-Punk from Washington D.C.'s Time Is Fire, and their debut album In Pieces, which came out a few months ago. Very much in the mould of Talking Heads and Pere Ubu. A bit too abrasive to sit through the whole thing for my taste but highly effective in short bursts.
Monday, June 22, 2020
One of R.E.M.'s saddest recorded moments and one of the very few things that made Monster worthwhile. It's the last of two on this rundown. I probably could have chosen Crush With Eyeliner at a push. But this is surely the best thing on this album. It's incredibly moving.
Inspired by the death of two of Michael Stipe's close friends, Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix, it's an outpouring of the deepest grief that only occurs in life when you lose someone you truly love. Michael puts in one of his greatest performances of utter emotional engagement. Then there are the brief pauses and the frenzied Peter Buck guitar bursts in, raging against the dying of the light. Not like many moments in the R.E.M. back catalogue this one. Generally they find moments of light, joy and redemption in pretty much everything they did. Here there's so much pain. Great beauty too. This could easily have been much higher.
Truly wondrous. In less than two minutes and with this, essential, accompanying video, The Castaways explain excatly what was so fabulous about the Sixties American Garage Scene. True one hit wonders from Minneapolis. This was a Billboard 1965 single and then they were never heard of again.
Marooned - The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs # 2 Skunk Anansie - Stoosh - Chosen by Laina Dawes
Are you sure? Are you really sure you want to be marooned on a desert island with nothing but Skink Anansie for company?. Each to their own I guess. Certainly the first and last time I ever post anything by them on here.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Wendell Gee tends to be one of the more divisive R.E.M. songs, even apparently amongst the band itself. The final track from one of their most interesting albums of all, Fables of the Reconstruction, it was strangely, and rather inadvisably chosen by IRS as a single. It was hardly likely to chart when the record's two most immediate moments, Can't Get There From Here and Driver 8 had tried and failed (the latter was released as a 45 in the US, though not in Europe).
Entirely written by Mike Mills and Michael Stipe, it was greatly disliked by Peter Buck, who claimed its only redeeming feature was its banjo solo, which gave an early indication over where he was going in terms of his thinking.
Named after a man who ran a used car lot on the road from Athens towards Rabbitown and died in 1994. When he wrote it, Mills oddly was thinking of Fleetwood Mac. It's undeniable mawkish, corny and unashamedly sentimental, but gives a moment of positive closure for an album that has been to some dark places. My feelings about it change from listen to listen. Today I like it.
R.E.M. used to regularly play a cover of Moon River in their early sets and clearly aspired to writing something with similar resonance themselves. Wendell Gee was an early example of this. I think they finally got as close as they were to get with Automatic's Nightswimming.
Beautifully sculpted three minutes. New York's The Magicians come across as Sandie Shaw's wicked American cousins. From 1965.
Marooned - The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs # 1 Motorhead - No Remorse - Chosen by Phil Freeman
So Stranded departs and Marooned arrives. The follow up to the Greil Marcus collection published in 2007. It picks up the baton, carries the torch on, whichever metaphor you choose. A whole new generation of Rock writers get to make their choice. More eclectic than the original selection, though that had its diversity. It starts off loud.
My new favourite band, part blah, blah, blah. Bit late on the case on this one. LA duo No Age have been around for sixteen years already, but their latest record Goons Be Gone. just out, sounds as fresh as a field of daisies.
This sound, full throttle New Wave / Post Punk, is hardly new. It's been doing the rounds after all on a fairly regular basis since 1978. But given its familiarity, it's increasingly difficult to do it all in a worthwhile way anymore. If The Strokes, remarkably, managed to pull off that trick one more time with their latest The New Abnormal, this is the second album I've heard this year to slot into that particular category. New, New Wave / Post Punk that works, 2020.
Because this, quite definitely works. I listened, rapt from start to finish, yesterday morning, then went back to the beginning and listened to the whole damned thing again. This went on throughout the day.
This is by no means an easy trick to pull off. It's relatively simple to play the right notes when you're doing this kind of thing. It's much more difficult to convey the required conviction, the necessary desperation to come up with convincing product. Goons Be Gone has all the requisite desperation in spades. It also has the songs.
So No Age sound a bit like early Pere Ubu. They sound like a less stoned Heartbreakers. They sound like a Sonic Youth slightly less interested in scuzzing up their pretty melodies with excessive feedback so they can maintain studied cool. They have the itch you can't scratch, reckless craving of early Gun Club. They have the melody and drive of Mission of Burma. They share a few things with the best of The Strokes. They have the tunes, but they know enough to fray them at the edges so they come across with just the right sense of alienation and disaffection to get the whole narrative of doomed leather-jacketed romance across.
No Age know who and what they love. I love the same things too. Some would say that this stuff should be in a museum by now. But so long as the human heart exists and there are those who remember exactly how good this sounded the first time round and want to relive that moment again and again, there will always be an audience for this.
Saturday, June 20, 2020
Michael bare chested and wearing his cap back to front. Neither of them perhaps the coolest moves but I don't think he's much concerned about appearing cool. He and the rest of the band are more interested in having fun here. One of, or perhaps the only time on Automatic For The People, where they really are. Anyhow, I love the melody, I love the backing vocals, I love the whole feel of the things. It moves me. Perhaps it's slightly disposable by their own high standards, but plenty of other bands would die for just this.
Stranded - Rock and Roll for a Desert Island # 19 The 5 Royales - Dedicated To You - Chosen by - Ed Ward
The last of this particular series. But don't worry. There'll be another one coming along in a mnute.
Now this is a find. Yet another angry and acerbic young London band, The Cool Greenhouse who perfectly capture the insane, hyper-surreal tenor of the times with their eponymous debut album, just out.
Taking their lead most obviously from The Fall, The Cool Greenhouse spin a thick, dense psychotic web of sound for lead singer Tom to lay out his manifesto upon. This is well described by second track Cardboard Man, where former Prime Minister David Cameron is skewered in the most delightful and exhilarating manner.
This may be a difficult album to get through at a single sitting. Things are turned up to the max from the off and the pace rarely lags thereafter. It's all quality stuff mind . Lyrics that take the temperature of our bizzare, frenzied times, itemising the mundane and paranoid concerns of modern living. Blur tried to do a similar thing almost thirty years ago. Frankly this band do it with greater accuracy and honesty.Though maybe not with the same commercial potential. But they don't seem remotely concerned about all that nonsense.
I'm not sure where The Cool Greenhouse stand currently in the scheme of things in terms of their public profile. I only came upon them a couple of days ago and quite by chance. Their prospects should be good anyhow. Certainly Idles, Sleaford Mods, Shame and Goat Girl in particular have ably demonstrated that this stuff has sufficient cultural cachet at the minute to catapault bands like this, who are not prepared to accept what's on their plate, onto the pages of Q and larger venues. Hope The Cool Greenhouse follow a similar path. They certainly deserve to do so on the merits of this.
Having already astonished with Cardboard Man they continue to exceed expectations with Dirty Glasses which is pretty much their How I Wrote The Elastic Man. Kurt Vonnegut, Mark E. Smith Thomas Pynchon and Charlie Kaufman swop anecdotes and perspectives over unwise cocktails in a smoky bar, (the sort that no longer exist), one of them telling a tale of going round to dinner with Margaret Thatcher and being shocked by the state of the glasses in the cupboards in her kitchen.
But they don't just project the guilt outwards at obvious, guilty parties. After all, in their own words, 'We represent a different platform. Dispossessed pinko middle classes. Who have very dirty glasses. And anyone else who has very dirty glasses. You see, the purpose of this band,is to offer a glasses cleaning service. At a very reasonable price.' We're all complicit in this of course but at least here's a band who are trying to do something about it.
So while The Cool Greenhouse don't have all the answers, (why on earth would you want to trust any band that claimed that they did), they ask the most interesting questions and do so while having the best of possible times. 'There may be trouble ahead.' As the captain of The Titanic may or may not have said, 'But while there's moonlight and music and love and romance. Let's face the music and dance.' This is as good a soundtrack as any for that right now. Just don't try to dance all the way through it is my advice. You're liable to give yourself a hernia.
Friday, June 19, 2020
Buried deep in the first side of Document, Disturbance at the Heron House finds R.E.M. doing what they'd done before in a slightly different way. A track that both looks backwards and forwards it highlights the bands political conciousness and gift for melody and Rock dynamics. It's lyrical concerns are obscure, though apparently there's a nod to George Orwell and Animal Farm, but their essential murkiness and obscurism is offset by a willingness to frame it in a slightly more accessible production. It looks forward to Ignoreland and backwards to Begin the Begin, Little America and Moral Kiosk.
The ridiculous and hilariously bad tale of how Moulty, the drummer of the band, Victor 'Moulty' Moulton lost his hand. This happened at the age of 14 when a home made pipe-bomb detonated in his hand. He's backed here by The Hawks, the musicians who went on to become The Band. Remarkably, it reached Number 90 on the Billboard Singles Chart in 1966. A favourite of Robert Plant's.