Saturday, October 31, 2020

Albums of The Year # 56 The Proper Ornaments - Mission Bells

 From March:

The sad, but probably inevitable split of Ultimate Painting a couple of years ago has at least led to three terrific records coming out in the intervening time since. Modern Nature's Jazz Folk epic, How To Live and two albums from The Proper Ornaments. Last year's splendid Six Lenins, and now an even better record, Mission Bells which dropped last Friday.

The two main songwriters from Ultimate Painting Jack Cooper and James Hoare were probably doomed to go their separate ways sooner or later given the oft cited musical differences. Cooper is by far the more adventurous of the pairsonically  but Hoare has a specific, articulate talent all of his own.

There's ample evidence of this on show on Mission Bells an album that slots in nicely with a tradition of downcast, melodic English guitar music going back to The Kinks Dead End Street. Proper Ornaments are resolutely glum, and put out a set of songs redolent of depressing Southern bedsits, with cracking wallpaper, overflowing ashtrays, predatory landlords, rising damp and narrow and ever narrowing life opportunities.

That certainly doesn't mean there isn't plenty to relish on Mission Bells because in many respects it's a quite inspired record. If The Velvet Underground were surely the initial guiding influence for Hoare and Max Oscarnold, (his partner in Proper Ornaments), they make a sound that is inescapably, almost defiantly English. The departure point for this is the Swinging Sixties though they remind us as The Kinks, Zombies, Hollies Who and Manfred Mann did before them that it certainly didn't swing for everyone.

For the vein that Hoare and Oscarnold choose to plunge their syringe into is a determinedly melancholy, under-achieving one. It's an England where it always rains and we somehow almost always just manage to scrape by despite foreboding skies and bad news in the papers and on TV every single day. In other words Hancock's Half Hour set to music.

 Proper Ornaments don't exactly locate the cloud's silver lining. They positively revel in the misery. But in documenting it with such precision, as the bands mentioned previously did and novelists like Graham Greene, George Orwell and Patrick Hamilton did before them, they provide an enormously valuable public service. Mission Bells describes a cast of characters occupying themselves in the space between this life and the next as best they can. If there aren't exactly a barrel of laughs to be had along the way, this is as true a document of a certain way of life as another generic standby of the English artistic tradition, the kitchen sink drama.  Proper Ornaments have a gift and vision that should be celebrated. Chin up. Stiff upper lip they say. Get on with it. The most English values of all.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 85 Blondie - The Best of Blondie


'Think The Everest of Mountains, or The Pacificest of Oceans or The Johnniest of Depps. Got it? Good. Next!'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 89 Chic


'Trust Chic to capture a moment perfectly.'

Song of the Day # 2,479 Andrey Azizov


Cute, perky little number from Russina producer. According to the man himself, this' washes over you like the feeling of driving down a tree-lined road on a summer evening. It’s simplistic, but carries an overwhelming sense of peace and ease. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums for October


It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs for October


Albums of The Year # 57 Andy Shauf - Neon Skyline

 From January:

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. 

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 84 Was Not Was - Was Not Was


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 88 Public Image Limited


'This record did just about everything a punk rocker was not supposed to.'

Song of the Day # 2,478 Magana


Describied on her Spotify page as having something of Sharon Van Etten and Torres about her. That's apt description. From her new album You Are Not a Morning Person. Good stuff.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Songs About People # 1,203 Tura Satana

 Mountain Goats have a wonderful new record out which I'll get round to reviewing shortly. In the meantime, (as they're particular experts at the art that this series specialises in), here's one of their's for Japanese American actress and exotic dancer Tura Satana.

Albums of The Year # 58 Native Harrow - Closeness

 From September:


I've documented the wonders of Native Harrow before. Just recently. Just loved their album of last year, Happier Now. They're back already with another, Closeness. I'm pleased to report it's another winner.

Mired in Hippy Dippy loveliness of the early Seventies, the record takes its times to unwrap its charms . Devin Tuel, whose quite lovely, spectral voice fronts the Native Harrow experience is a siren in the tradition of Joni and Laurel Canyon. She has a calm, confident stillness in terms of her delivery that  quite casts a spell.

Just once a song dips into time travel cliche, with Carry On, but apart from this Tuel and her partner in crime Stephen Harms, have the songs to back up the vision. This should do much to raise the profile of the band as masters of this particular nostalgic sub-genre, alongside similarly minded types like Weyes Blood and Natalie Prass.

A proper balm of an album. A warm bath to lower yourself into and luxuriate in, Closeness barely misses a beat. Treat yourself.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 83 Siouxsie & The Banshees - Juju


'Mixing thundering power with inky and ornate subtlety.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 88 Cabaret Voltaire


'Make something funny, even danceable out of disease and decay.'

Song of the Day # 2,477 Choux


American / Canadian band bring back memories of Eighties Cocteaus.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Songs About People # 1,202 Hugh Grant


Albums of The Year # 59 The Orielles - Disco Volador

 Early March:

The Orielles, Halifax's finest, (I am afraid they are destined to be called this often), return with their second album and it's evidence of thought and clear growth as well as a great time being had by all involved. Aptly named Disco Volador, it offers forty five minutes in an alternative nightclub with the coolest people, faraway from the beaten path of the High Street meat market.

The group maintain the refreshing positivity that characterised their debut, Silver Dollar Moment, but add sci fi dance touches that hint at the diversity of their record collections and determination to keep moving forwards. Stereolab are the most obvious influences here, but also Air, Can, Neu! and Broadcast as well as Seventies dance and Eighties and Nineties Trip Hop peek out at various points. This never detracts from the record's merits as the band's own personalities,(they have plenty), drive things constantly forward. This is one of the most purely likeable records you'll hear this year. A disco for your living room.

It's a great record but if I had a caveat it would be that Disco Volador doesn't really hang together as a cohesive album. It's more of a series of great, airy pop moments. That of course is more than enough for the time being and I look forward greatly to hear what comes next. Orielles point the way out of the Indie ghetto and onto the dancefloor.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 82 Duran Duran - Duran Duran


'No other pop album of the early '80s so crtystallised the end of punk's protest, nor made emptiness sound so energised.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 87 The Cramps


'The Cramps dispose with bass. All the better to itch you with...'

Song of the Day # 2,476 Trees


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Songs About People # 1, 201 John Seawright


Tribute from Love Tractor to fellow Athens, Georgia resident, scenester and poet, John Seawright, who died in 2001.

Albums of The Year # 60 Nadia Reid - Out Of My Province

  From March. Just after Lockdown:

There were at least three fine albums released this Friday by greatly distinctive artists working in different fields. I've already posted about Cornershop England is a Garden on here and will do about U.S.Girls Heavy Light, but in the meantime here are my thoughts on Nadia Reid's latest Out of my Province.

New Zealander Reid is probably the most easily categorisable of the three, working in the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter tradition most obviously that of Joni Mitchell. But she brings her own particular gifts and qualities to the table and things flower wonderfully over the course of this record.

Reid's approach is fairly conventional and unadorned though this doesn't make her songs any less affecting, in fact exactly the opposite. There's actually something quite touching apart an artist who is quite unafraid to offer up her emotions so nakedly and bravely. There's also much more going on than immediately meets the eye. She never makes the obvious rhyme and the emotions at play here tunnel surreptitiously deep.

Reid doesn't really indulge in the eccentric self-conscious quirkiness of her friend and compatriot Aldous Harding or those that Australian Courtney Barnett is also prone to. She prefers to play it straight and this is the record's essential strength. It is what it is. Reid is a master of her craft and Out of my Province finds plenty of ways of telling basic but fundamental truths to a multitude of listeners who will surely appreciate its warmth and veritude. 

There are ten songs on here and most of them focus on the vagaries of the human heart. The arrangements here are tasteful and tradition bound. There's nothing on here that is likely to surprise but much that may move you. 

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 81 Grace Jones - Nightclubbing


'The ultimate blankly perfect Post-Warhol product.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 86 The Clash


Song of the Day # 2,475 TV Priest


London quartet with debut album forthcoming. Seems they may have been taking notes from Protomartyr. There are worse mentors.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Songs About People # 1, 200 Gore Vidal


                                            Song for one of the great American men of letters.

Albums of The Year # 61 Tricky - Fall To Pieces


Tricky continues to take his own brave, if lonely path, on latest album Fall to Pieces, his fourteenth in all, just out. In some ways his whole career has been a wilful retreat into darkness following his brief moment in the commercial spotlight with debut album Maxinquaye.

That record established the basic, defining characteristics of Tricky's sensibility and sound. Blunt, minimal but inventive missives from a deeply bleak, troubled, paranoid space. Fall to Pieces makes no real departures from this recipe but is well worth a listen anyhow.

Tricky knows that he works best working off a female foil and that feature is foregrounded again here. Mostly this involves Marta Zlakowska who he met in a Krakow bar looking for a replacement for a singer who had dropped out on tour. The two work together like a dream. Even if it's an unmistakably disturbed and troubled one.

Fall to Pieces comes from the bleakest possible point of origin. The death of Tricky's baby daughter Mazy 2019. This is an album that pulls no punches in terms of its raw, grim pain. Tricky is to be commended for crafting such determined art from such traumatic loss. It's a very good record.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 80 Echo & The Bunnymen - Heaven Up Here


'Itchy, gushing, imperious yet intimate.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 85 McFadden & Whitehead


Song of the Day # 2,474 The Jetsons


               The Jetsons were from Bloomington, Indiana. They clearly liked The Ramones. From 1981.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 477 Tim Buckley


The most conventional moment from Tim Buckley's most out there album Starsailor. Put on the jukebox for a dear, departed friend on his birthday. He was a huge Tim fan.

Songs About People # 1,199 Alger Hiss

One of the earliest victims of the American Post War drive towards Anti-Communist purges and witch trials.

This Is The Kit - Off Off On


I wondered, when I started listening to this, earlier on in the day, whether I really fancied hearing another This Is The Kit album. Not that I don't like them, because I do, but you fairly much know what you're going to get with this bunch. Tuneful, thoughtful, reflective Folk music. Nowt to complain about. But there are plenty off purveyors of this kind of thing these days.

Of course, Off Off On, remarkably the band's sixth soon lulled me under its spell. They do their thing very, very well. For This Is The Kit, essentially Kate Stables and the musicians she works with, are masters of this particular art. It's a great knack they have, to be able to draw on such ancient traditions and make them poppy and immediate. The stuff you feel like dancing around to the kitchen to.

I'm not informed enough of the band's stuff to know where this stands in terms of their overall body of work. But if you're going to listen to one This Is The Kit record, it might as well be this one seeing as it's their latest and it's just great. It's immediate, it's warm, it's inventive. In turns it's upbeat, then laid back. Then it's something in between the two. It dances to the rhythm of its own drum. In short, I love it. Go on treat yourself. Proper Sunday morning record.

Albums of The Year # 62 The Hanging Stars - A New Kind of Sky

 I was diue to see this lot play in March in a small pub in Gosforth, Newcastle. Then Lockdown happened.

From the opening bars of their latest album A New Kind of Sky.It's fairly clear exactly where The Hanging Stars are coming fromThey inhabit utterly the territory called Cosmic Country, in this case the patch once occupied by Gram Parsons and the countrified Byrds and first brought forth on albums like The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Gilded Palace of Sin.

Theirs is a gorgeous, swirling awestruck sound. The band, and they're from London not California or Texas, are fine musicians one and all and they understand exactly how to hold back as required and let the music flow from them with a measured, unhurried step. This is a record made by people who know all too well what they want to do and how to go about doing it.

Being in awe of a particular kind of music and setting out to recreate what makes it so special is not always the easiest trick to pull off. Bands as good as Ride and The Rockingbirds have in the past have fallen into the trap of being too reverent to similar source material and failing to bottle the magic they sought to capture.

The Hanging Stars do very well in this respect on A New Kind of Sky. Purely and simply because the songs on here are very good ones and they're not merely trying to catch a lift on a time machine taking us back to '68 or '69. This is a record that sounds just fine in the here and now and manages to be more than pastiche or period piece despite its unashamed influences.

The songs sound just fine and dandy and with a couple of exceptions towards the end of the record cast a spell and hold it. No real surprise that there's nothing here good enough to grace the albums mentioned above but there's certainly much to enjoy and possibly send you back to the originals to discover just how great they were once more. On Three Rolling Hills they conjour up the mariachi spirit of prime time Love, on (I've Seen) The Summer in Her Eyes they remind the listener of just how special The Byrds were at their peak.

Track after track flows with convinced momentum. The band have an ace in their hands in the shape of steel fiddle player Joe Harvey-Whyte and his deft touches inspire moments where the band seem to defy gravity and allow their songs to float in the ether.

The Hanging Stars are a fine band and this is a class record. It seems that they're destined to remain a cult concern as this kind of music is something of a niche concern these days. They're playing in a pub just down the road from me a week on Saturday and I'll do my best to be there because judging by this they'd really be something special in a small room. In the meantime, this will more than do.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 79 The Au Pairs - Playing With a Different Sex

                     'The Au Pairs need to be rediscovered because like Patti Smith and The Slits,                                                                                     they proved feminism was sexy.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 84 Earth, Wind & Fire


Song(s) of the Day # 2,473 Dead Famous People


It's staggering to consider the sheer number of fine artists thrown up by New Zealand in the Eighties and Nineties and associated with the Flying Nun record label. The main players are well known and relatively claer enough for those with the remotest interest in these matters but lesser lights are still showing up and coming to my attention.

Take Dead Famous People as the latest example. Not a band I was even aware of until a few weeks ago when I read a review of their new album Harry and gave it a listen.A band that made little impact first time round, a couple of John Peel sessions and a period spent in London, before splitting in 1990.

Now they're back with Harry, their thrid album in all and it's a sunny little record, parking itself somewhere between Aztec Camera, Go Betweens and The Chills. Highly Poppy, highly positive, yearning, lovesick and very listenable. A band that have clearly not forgotten what it feels like to feel young and fancy another slug of the elexir.

This is a world where 'hold your hand' is always destined to rhyme with 'understand'. Some of these songs more than brush with cliche, (quite knowingly, to give the band their due), but that doesn't stop them being highly alluring for those prone to this stuff. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Songs About People # 1,198 Sun Ra


 A track for one of the great Outsider Artists of the Twentieth Century. 

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 476 Jacques Brel


This sounded quite magnificent the other evening. An absolute, blazing barnstormer from a man who had to end of them.

Albums of The Year # 63 Hamerkop - Remote

 An interesting look given the year we've had. From March:

Electro duo Hamerkop filch the melodic synth pulse of the likes of Suicide, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Blancmange, add glacial female vocals of their own and ride the whole charabang to the oasis of consumate bliss on their great new album Remote.

The end result is the polar opposite of remoteness to be frank. This is a consummate, warm and immediate record, sounding quite of its time though the fuel that fires its engine is clearly that of the Synth wave of the early Eighties.

By the time guitar appears prominently for the first time on the title track I was hooked. This comes across as the kind of thing Paul McCartney might have come up with had he been inspired by Kraftwerk as greatly as he had been by Little Richard. The melody on display here is utterly fabulous. Hamerkop comprise Kiwi singer and multi-instrumentalist Ananbel Alpers and drummer and Baltimore drummer and studio engineer Adam Cooke. Together they sculpt an altogether alluring sound that hints at moments of transcendental catharsis.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 78 Gang of Four - Solid Gold


'The best completely tuneless record ever made.'