Monday, November 30, 2020

Mercy Seat


Songs About People # 1,209 Bebe Buelle


Fashion model and girl on the arm.

Songs of the Year # 26 Spinning Coin


Spinning Coin were unfortunate to miss out in terms of my countdown when their fine second album Hyacinth were ejected by a late discovery altogether too good to omit. This was a highlight from Hyacinth.

Great British B Sides # 26 Teardrop Explodes


The Teardrops were always a bit more experimental than most. This was the flip to Passionate Friends.

Albums of The Year # 26 Coriky - Coriky

 Eponomously title album of the year:

Now this feels like a throwback. But a highly welcome one. The eponymous debut album by a Washington DC trio composed of Ian Mackay, formerly of Minor Threat, Fugazi and The Evens, Amy Farina of The Warmers and The Evens and Joe Lally also of Fugazi and The Messethetics. This is sure to excite a lot of cooler than cool kids making their way towards or through middle age.

The record is oozing with unflappable, underground suss from its opening notes. This is a band made up of musicians with impeccable testimonials of lives spent on the frontline of Punk, DIY experience, and they're all far too good to make a bad record here. It's a lean quite excellent record without an ounce of fat on it, showing the kids that sometimes, just sometimes, mom and dad know best.

I'm not particularly an expert on the bands Mackay, Farina and Laly played in formerly though I have listened to a fair few Minor Threat and Fugazi records in my time. This seethes with plenty of their righteous disquiet. It also minded me of several of their precursors, or in Minor Threat's case contemporary or near contemporaries; Gang of Four, Wire, Mission of Burma and .Minutemen.

Mackay and Farina, who are also husband and wife, take turns on the mic, (can't verify whether or not Laly does), and all in all this feels like a genuine communitarian statement. Each song here hums with a palpable, nervous tension. There's no dip in quality control from starter's gun to finishing tape. Wire themselves already proved that age is no impediment for authentic urgency with their wonderful album Mind Hive at the beginning of the year and Coriky mine a similar seam of inspiration with equal purpose here. 

Listening through to this has led me to take my copy of Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerad's essential chronicle of the stories of the pioneers of this particular American ethic, down from the shelf. I'll make my way through that over the coming days. Coriky makes an excellent soundtrack to the read. Punk's not dead. Why would anyone imagine that it should be, particularly in these pressing times, Coriky. Age shall not wither them.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 114 The The - Soul Mining


'Soul Mining is a concept album about being alone.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 118 The Clash


'London Calling is a defiant fist in the wake of an impending nightmare  apocalypse.'

Song of the Day # 2,505 The Royal Landscaping Society


Seville's Royal Landscaping Society have been quite for years but they#re back with this very New Ordery rush.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Songs About People # 1,208 The Verlaines & Husker Du


Charcoal Burners pay tribute to The Verlaines and Husker Du. There's evidence to their influence here.

Songs of the Year # 27 Low Key Crush


Great British B Sides # 27 Saint Etienne


B Side to Nothing Can Stop Us.

Albums of The Year # 27 Grimm Grimm - Ginormous

 A total leftfield surprise for me. But an enduring one:

A record I've slowly fallen for rather hard over the last few days is Ginormous the third album from London based Japanese musician Koichi Yamanoha who goes under the Grimm Grimm nom de guerre. I've lsitened to a range of great new records over that time but found myself coming back again and again to this almost despite myself. The sure sign of a great record.

Ginormous is a subtle charmer, whispering and insinuating rather than hammering its points home. It's all the more alluring for this approach, conjuring a soft, fantastic landscape that's reminiscent of the gentlest and oddest moments of Can, Young Marble Giants, Beach House and  Cate Le Bon's back catalogue.

High praise indeed, but Ginormous is worthy of it. It manages the remarkable feat of being both tender and durable and it's already a record I look forward to returning to and getting to know better over the coming weeks and months. Imbued with the loveliest melodies and cadences but shifting mood with the upmost subtlety from track to track, it's one for sensitive Indie couples to tuck the kids into bed to and kickback to before they themselves hit the sack.

Yamanoha describes the objective behind the album as trying to 'sound like a wedding and a funeral at the same time.'  Switching between his native tongue and his adopted one at will and inviting a number of like-minded female vocalists such as Paz Maddio and Laetitia Sadler to leaven the mix, the cumulative effect of their joint endeavours is incredibly compelling as you make your way through this enchanted forest of a record.

The tracks here function almost as nursery rhymes or lullabies, consistently bedded on a warm torrent of organ driven melodies. Determinedly intimate and idiosyncratic it constantly varies its mode of delivery and the individual tracks are quite different from one another yet knit together almost seamlessly. A small but perfectly formed arecord. An album of childlike wonder to clutch to your heart.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 113 Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones


'Tom Waits has never been thought of as a political artist. But in hindsight, his most famous album sounds like a protest against Reaganomics.;

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 117 Madness


'My Girl introduced  a whole new anti-macho male perspective on girl trouble to the charts.'

Song of the Day # 2,504 The Orcas


'Spicy boys, making spicy noice, with spicy toys,' according to their Spotify page. I can tell you no more.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Songs of the Year # 28 Peggy Sue


Great British B Sides # 28 XTC


B Side to Generals & Majors.

Albums of The Year # 28 Kevin Krauter - Full Hand


On a day of quite outstanding new album releases this, Full Hand, the second album from Kevin Krauter, stood out from the pack for me. It's a devastating, remarkable statement, identifiably slotting into a recognisable generic category while demanding attention for itself at one and the same time.

Krauter was, and possibly still is  a member of Bloomington, Indiana's Hoops one of the more interesting Indie bands to emerge in recent years. But good as Hoops are, this is something else still. Full Hand marks him out as one of America's lonely boys, in a noble tradition going back five or more decades; Gram Parsons, Chris Bell, Alex Chilton, Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, Beck, Jeff Mangum, Mark Linkous, Christopher Owens, Mike Hadreas. The lonely boy in the High School corridor. The one that others shy away from or bully who is all the while is plotting his quiet revenge and escape into music .

Perhaps there's a reason Krauter  became that kid as he was homeschooled until his high school years . Raised as one of six siblings in a heavily Christian household, where he was not allowed to listen to secular music. This surely feeds into the otherworldly sensibility that haunts Full Hand, the essential loneliness but inextricable sense of mission that strikes the listener again and again on listening through to the record.

When asked to name favourite artists and inspirations in interview Krauter generally mentions a number of unorthodox sources that perhaps hint at what's going on here. African, Japanese and Brazilian music that feed into the offbeat tonalities and rhythms on show a different way of going about things and subsequently a different sound resulting though I would maintain that it still fits recognisably into the American tradition I outlined above.

Not all of Full Hand works for me, some of the tracks on the first side of the record congeal rather into Emo self-pity . But it hits its stride in a glorious, almost sublime run of songs stretching across Side Two when the awestruck wonder of proceeddings is astonishingly impressive, marking this out as the best record of its sort I've heard since Perfumed Genius's No Shape or before that Girls' Father, Son, Holy, Ghost.

You can only hope that Full Circle finds the ears it deserves, and many of them at that, because this is a really special record. It describes a certain sense of isolated loss but also the transcendent beauty that can come be constructed through it when it's experienced in the difficult teenage years. Krauter is a special talent. I wish him well in his search for his audience. This is an album which exists in the margins but demands to be heard, and now rather than at some point further on down the line. It captures and restates the loneliness of Elliott Smith in particular without being obviously derivative and that's almost as high a compliment as I can give.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 112 The Cure - Boys Don't Cry


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 116 Positive Force


Song of the Day # 2,503 Northern Portrait


Rather lovely Lennon lilt to the vocals here. All in all quite terrific. Jangly and cheering. Top job all round.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Songs of the Year # 29 The Proper Ornaments


Stand ut song from excellent album.

Great British B Sides # 29 The Housemartins


B-Side to Sheep.

Albums of The Year # 29 I Break Horses - Warnings

 From May:

It's some statement to start your album with a nine minute track. It says something about your degree of confidence and faith in your abilities as an artist that you can be willing to do that and trust your audience to stay with you.

In the case of Turn, the opening track of Swedish duo I Break Horses' latest album Warnings, it's faith entirely well placed. Its nine minutes goes past in the merest blink of an eye, the track floats inexorably with quite beautiful grace and purpose, like one of your very favourite Cocteau Twins or This Mortal Coil tracks with the subtle but important difference of having an eye on the mainstream.

So where does Warnings go from here? Into a fairly sublime dream state is where, and one it maintains for the rest of its playing span. I think the Cocteau Twins and 4AD comparisons are apt ones but there's also a definite commercial sheen on show here, redolent occasionally of AOR hit singles of the Eighties, not something that generally appeals to me though it certainly does here.

It's a record I was somewhat transfixed by on first listening. Sat in my dressing gown past midday with headphones on and thinking it was time to get dressed and set about the day in earnest even though it was a Saturday during lockdown and I had nothing that absolutely had to be done. It was a case of just one more, just one more, like the very best binge television.

Because this is an album that should certainly be devoured at one sitting if you can. It's certainly designed as a piece. An utterly gorgeous record in every sense of the word and one that seems destined to rank among my very favourites when it comes to listing the best records I've heard come November and December.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 111 New Order


'New Order gave a great many introspective student types permission to get happy and dance.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 115 The Sugarhill Gang


'Rapper's Delight is a massively important record that came to exist through a murky blend of opportunism and total surprise.'

Song of the Day # 2,502 The Bluebells


Early Eighties Glasgow contemporaries of Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Josef K and Altered Images. The Bluebells somehow seemed a little less essential than their fellow travellers at the time. At least to NME readers like me. Now, almost forty years later with the re-release of their debut album Sisters they scome across as impossibly youthful, vital and fresh to my ears.

The template for their sound and sensibility seemed clearly to be early Sixties British Pop. They almost come across as Freddie & The Dreamers, Herman's Hermits or Manfred Mann wannabes on here sometimes, particularly on their most famous songs and notable hits Young At Heart and Cath. They seem to certainly owe nothing, or next to nothing to Punk.

This pales by comparison with Aztec Camera's High Land, Hard Rain, I'd say the finest album this particular scene produced, but most albums would. There's certainly much here to relish and enjoy. A good record for the middle aged likes of me to start the day with. A couple of songs you might want to skip perhaps, but for the most part, this should put a spring in your step.

All yearning choruses and swooning harmonies. Sisters come across a reminder of what seemed like more innocent times, (I guess many of the fortunate feel that way about their youth and mid-teenage years). One to savour your first kisses, the way your heart always seemed about to break, and the sky seemed infinite when you were sixteen.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Songs of the Year # 30 Lily McKown


Great British B Sides - # 30 The Pretenders


The Pretenders were a band without an enormous amount of flesh on their bones. Most of their B Sides appered on their albums. Here was a notable exception. B Side to Talk of the Town.

Albums of The Year # 30 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sideways to New Italy

 Perhaps not quite as good as their debut. But a pretty worthy follow up:

An act of quiet, but thoughtful consolidation. That's how I'd describe Melbourne band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's second album, Sideways to New Italy just out. I've been listening to it fairly consistently since it was released last Friday and find it that rarest of beasts. A record that is at once immediate and one that will surely also reward repeated plays.

This is a band with a fair bit of road behind them in addition to one surely stretching far ahead in front of them too. They've been putting out records since 2016, all of them of consistent merit, some hinting at and touching on greatness. Not sure they've got there yet and I would suggest that their best probably lies ahead.

Still, what we've got here will more than do. If, like me you are versed in R.E.M. and The Go Betweens, then this record will be more than welcome. For Rolling Blackouts unmistakeably mine similar seams to those two great bands while carving out a sound that becomes increasingly distinctive to themselves.

There's is something of a Striped Sunlit Sound going down herethis being the spot on term that Robert Forster and Grant McLennan came up with to describe the vision they were hoping to achieve with The Go Betweens.. Sideways to New Italy adds ten fresh entries to this catalogue of thought, literary and poetic inclination, and song. Not a bad track on here, though some stand out more than others on my first few plays. But it's a record that immediately invites playing on loop to allow things to seep deeper into you and this is something I'll be more than happy to do over the coming weeks.

Another band that Rolling Blackouts perhaps court comparison to are Real Estate. But while Real Estate have increasingly succumbed to blandness, (I had little patience with their last album), these Australians resist such easy criticism despite the saminess of their sound, because there's a constant sense that there's more to discover here than immediately meets the eye and ear, which will offer a great deal more on further immersion.

Sideways to New Italy has less immediately obvious peaks as debut album Hope Downs, but it does have a pleasing, assured consistency. I'm particularly taken by its last two songs. Sunglasses at the Wedding which is the one song which slows down the pace noticeably. Then The Cool Change, which shimmers and crackles like prime time Television, (quite consciously I'm fairly sure). both songs invite you to rewind back to the start and let this excellent record seep further into your bones. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever were clearly already a band to watch. Sideways to New Italy marks them out increasingly as one to follow.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 110 The Cramps - Off The Bone


'The music on this record strips away all frippery and mainlines  all of rock 'n' roll's secret dirt and dummest impulses.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 114 Chic


'Their weirdest single yet, their ultimate metaphor for their own arch distrust of dance escapism...'

Song of the Day # 2,501 Corvair


Portland duo rock the house in poppy, nuanced way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Orange Juice


Songs of the Year # 31 Caroline Rose


Great British B Sides - # 31 Felt


On the 12 Inch of Ballad for The Band. Instrumental, but well worth the listen.

Albums of The Year # 31 The Innocence Mission - See You Tomorrow

 A quite transcendent record from January:

Life is not an easy road. nor should it be really. But it's important that we realise its miraculous incidental moments and appreciate the fragrant beauty all around us as its seconds tick past. One of my greatest musical discoveries to help me do just this over the couple of years has been Pennsylvania band The Innocence Mission fronted by married couple Karin and Don Peris who have been putting out records which capture this sense of fractured wonder for over twenty five years now and make a welcome return now with their new album See You Tomorrow.

The record is a continuation of what they do rather than a particular refinement or new departure. This would actually be inappropriate for this particular band as they've already achieved a mastery of the form that they specialise in. The best way that I can describe it is that it seems to be apropos to standing at the window of your town apartment on a Saturday morning, regarding the daylight playing on the trees outside your window and living within the space you find yourself in. What I'm doing right now as I listen to the record as it happens.

Karin's voice is clearly one of the band's key strengths. A somewhat less quirky Joanne Newsom, she manages to convey both the magical quality of childhood and the hard won wisdom of adult experience at one and the same time. No small achievement. The musical support that Don and the rest of the band provide is consistently tender and crafted. Songs don't necessarily follow received verse, chorus patterns but achieve a structural unity of their own anyhow which almost invariably make complete sense.

The Innocence Mission don't have an enormous audience. They certainly aren't as well known as they ought to be. What they do have though is an utterly devoted following. Sufjan Stevens counts himself among this number. He calls their music: 'Moving and profound. What is so remarkable about Karen Persis' lyrics are the economy of words, concrete verbs which come to life with melody.' I'm a total convert too. See You Tomorrow is an utterly enchanting new chapter in a steadily blossoming body of work.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 109 One From The Heart OST

 'One From The Heart isTom Waits final goodbye to pop-jazz songwriting before his spectacular  reinvention as  music's foremost junkyard hobo.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 113 The Pretenders


'Brass in Pocket is probably the greatest female seduction song of all time.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,500 Helen Love

Another minor milestone on here, but never mind that.The biggest Ramones fans in the World, or at least Wales, are back. Helen Love, who have been releasing records since the Nineties are of the disposition that if it ain't broke, there's no need to fix it.So new album Power On carries on in their best tradition. A record that you might enjoy a listen of but one that you're unlikely to get back to.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions - Rattlesnakes

 Still love this record. Still like this review: 

Album Review # 37 Lloyd Cole & the Commotions - Rattlesnakes

Just turning 35 so I'm re-posting this..

This is pretty much a perfect record. There aren't that many in my collection. I've got a great deal of history with it as do a lot of people of my age and background. My own copy is worn and approaching a stage of vague decrepitude as I am myself and jumps irretrievably on occasion like my own slightly irregular heart but I'm reluctant to replace the copy I bought on its release in 1984 just yet, because it's seen me through more than half of my given span and I'll  be listening through to it, whether this copy or another, 'til that span expires, whenever that is. Because, perhaps more than any other album it speaks of the emotions and experience I was going through while first listening to it.

A good friend of mine, who follows this blog, said something along the lines that it was amongst the best records ever made by a minor league artist. I'd agree with that. Cole himself has I imagine seldom reached these heights since, (though he still puts out very good stuff and is excellent live by all accounts). I guess he knows the truth of this very well. It was an album and a statement he could never possibly trump because it was so much of its time. It defined forever a moment, an age of life and a perspective on it better than almost any record I know

I bought it at the time when my life was changing, more quite than it has ever done, before or since. I was eighteen, finishing off my A Levels and thinking about university. I knew very little idea about relationships, the opposite sex or pretty much the world. Records coming out at the time like Rattlesnakes, Murmur, High Land, Hard Rain and The Smiths were the stuff I constructed my identity around along with books, films and politics they referenced and drew on. I could make a list but I wouldn't want to bore you. It was stuff to aspire to and identify with, to construct yourself around in terms of the things you wore and I bought into it. I was far from alone.

Cole suffered slightly at the time from being bracketed with R.E.M, The Smiths, Aztec Camera and also Prefab Sprout who were coming at things from a similar angle. He seemed a minor talent by comparison as perhaps in retrospect he has proved. But it was a perfectly formed minor talent. He also meant a lot to quite a lot of people. I imagine many of those who fell for this record, what he was saying and the way he was saying it have never entirely grown out of it. I haven't.

Fast forward a couple of years from the record's purchase to the Summer term of my first year at University. There's a girl there that I'm falling for and something is starting to happen with. It's a university disco. She lives on campus and I'm at residences a few miles away. It's coming to the end of the night and I have to get on the pre-arranged minibus with the others who stay there. Perfect Skin comes on. We close dance to it, an odd song to close dance to, it's more of a giddy jig really. I go get the bus without a kiss but she's taking me over. We start going out together shortly afterwards, do so for the next four years. I fall completely in love with her. There's talk of marriage but with one thing and another it doesn't happen. Lloyd and the Commotions were there at the start of it all. I'll never hear Perfect Skin without being transported back to that brief pocket of time as it all began. She had a teddy bear called Bloomingdale and eyes like sin. She went into journalism. Wrote something for The Face. But not Cosmopolitan.

Back from myself to the record itself. All in all it's a flawlessly constructed album; track-listing, arrangements, lyrics, length. Nothing outstays its welcome. It's tasteful. Refined. It speaks of an ingrained love of all things America. Lloyd half sings half speaks in immaculately assembled American Beat prose hip-speak throughout. He and the band's sound yearns for the open road and also New York in particular in all its Sixties glory. America as dreamed of in youth spent in Buxton, Derbyshire and nailed into achievable reality as a university student, meeting and mixing with the right people, soaking up the sights and sounds of Glasgow, a city forever in thrall to the States. It's no great wonder that Lloyd ended up moving there permanently himself. Rattlesnakes is choc full of namedrops. Eve Marie-Saint, Greta Garbo, Leonard Cohen, Simone De Beauvoir, Grace Kelly, Norman Mailer, Arthur Lee, Truman Capote. The kind of people and culture that you were gobbling up at this point of life, so desperate to impress, with the youth to get away with it sometimes but without the raw and real experience or knowhow to really back it up. It's a life learned, soaked up through books, films and music.

But there's pain there too. It's marrying these books, films and this music against the intense, brief, rites of passage experience you were actually going through. About wasting  precious time as he says himself at one point. It's about first and failed relationships. The ones that hurt the most. It's about trying to understand women that are impossibly attractive, elusive and unobtainable, or even if they are obtained, the moment of possession is sure to be only fleeting. Because you're only twenty one once. It's about being flippant and eager to impress with surface cool and charm whilst all along underneath beats a desperate, yearning heart. 

The playing is remarkably tight. I'd pick out Neil Clark the lead guitar but the whole band are hugely adept. Because really they're grounded in Soul. They know their Stax and incredibly they pull off a truly astonishing approximation of its gleam, spark and sheer discipline. And it's in this understanding of the essence of great Sixties American music, not just Dylan and The Velvet Underground but The Temptations, Staple Singers, Aretha and Booker T & the MGs that's the foundation of the record's success. They have the chops. Three of the band were in a Soul group before the Commotions formed. They made a point of playing with vintage equipment and using basic recording techniques rather than letting Eighties sounds and effects leak into the mix. These are some of the reasons the record has lasted.

There are five songs on either side of the album and they all fit as snug as can be. There's not a note too many, a line that doesn't work or a hook too laboured. They can speed it up and slow it down. It's funny and smart and touching by turns. It's a record of ten potential 45s. Lloyd is centre stage of course. The band took his name and it's his artfully constructed self that defines the record. Observant, wry, cynical, but really you suspect beneath the veneer, bruised and hurting.

The band had their brief moment in the sun. The record was feted and they had chart and critical success. They made follow up records, some of which recaptured the glory, most of which in retrospect didn't. Because they'd already made their statement. I played second record Easy Pieces a lot when it came out as it was part of the soundtrack to the great romance I talked of earlier which I was busy experiencing.  I'd recommend a few songs from it that would fit right in on RattlesnakesWhy I Love Country Music, Pretty Gone, Grace. Some of it doesn't work though. It tries too hard. Or else not enough. I didn't bother with the third. The band seemed to care less themselves by this point and split shortly thereafter. They'd run their course. They split shortly before the relationship of mine which they'd played their small part in did.

This is over thirty years ago. Lloyd is back. His latest album got his best reviews in years and his songwriting has aged gracefully. He has a silver flock of hair, barely receded from where it sat in its prime. He's not trying to be twenty, hasn't lost his looks  and the man could certainly always write a lyric. He still can. He's always asked about Rattlesnakes of course and answers patiently and honestly. He seems like a good bloke though he still seems to find it hard to suffer fools. But he knows his place in the scheme of things.

So listen to his and his band's first record if you don't know it already. It's forever somewhere amongst my Top Thirty. It always makes me slightly lovelorn and nostalgic, for obvious reasons. I haven't gone into the songs individually here because they speak for themselves and are of a piece. I'd be here forever if I did but it would be all description and not enough feeling. Like I said it speaks for itself. A perfectly assembled row of books on a bookshelf. It's a record which within the dimensions and parameters it constructs for itself, frankly could not be bettered.

There it is. Always sitting there silently in the assembled ranks of albums stacked in boxes on my living room floor demanding to be played again. And again. From the first song, 'When she smiles my way. My eyes go out in vain,' to the last, 'Are you ready to be heartbroken.'  I decided at the end of my first Lloyd Cole & the Commotions phase and the end of that relationship that I wasn't ready. I've learned since that the heart always finds a way to miraculously mend itself, work once more and need to love again. Meanwhile, Rattlesnakes plays on in the background. Never changing because it doesn't need to. It will outlast Lloyd. And me.

See Emily Play