Sunday, January 31, 2021

Hilton Valentine - All in Your Head

 More Hilton. A review I wrote about his solo album All in Your Head a few years back.

Hilton Valentine, local hero to where this blog is coming from, he's from South Shields, part of the Newcastle urban sprawl, about ten miles from where I'm writing this. He's best known of course as guitarist of The Animals, I'll always think of him for his beatific smile at the end of the promo of The House of the Rising Sun. But he also made a solo record in 1969 called All In Your Head made and recorded on the West Coast and sounding very much like itIt's a hippy period piece, Valentine himself prefers not to talk about, dissatisfied with its florid, overpowering arrangements in retrospect, returning after this to his first great loves, Rock and Roll, Skiffle and Soul driven music.

Nevertheless, it's an interesting listen. Acoustic and introspective and full of the love and peace sentiments of the time, it certainly sounds little like The Animals records of their peak years. It's wide-eyed flower child stuff, some of the lyrics sound ridiculously naive at this remove but it's all obviously deeply heartfelt. Some tracks almost  sound like out-takes from Spinal Tap's formative years but the songs are lovingly presented. 

Donovan is probably the guiding inspiration, and if you're not a fan of his, you almost certainly won't go for this. But it has a certain charm and spirit. The record, needless to say, sank without trace. Valentine returned to his roots, 'It was the flower-power thing. I was even chanting 'Hari Krishna' for a while. Thank God I'm not still doing that. I couldn't handle the yellow robes...'

Hilton Valentine 1943- 2021


It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs For January

 A further playlist of songs that have taken my fancy.

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums for January

 So January is at and end. I'm sure a month we're always pleased to see the back of. I'm delighted to report that there has been no end of great and interesting music. Much of which I've written about on here. Here's a playlist of my favourite things:

1981 Singles # 20 Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark


OMD moved out of the dark and towards pop in 1981. This was their biggest ever hit, reaching #3 in the UK charts. It was such a joy to be alive and at the right age when such essentially strange but beautiful sings were right in the mainstream of popular culture.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 172 Madness - Divine Madness


'Madness's songs spoke of a gentler world where fun could still be had, and were deft enough to be musically nostalgic and thematically progressive simultaneous.

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 179 Tom Tom Club - Wordy Rappinghood


''Crisp pop funk production and a vibe of smart fun.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,565 Besnard Lakes


Mid-Saturday morning and I'm two tracks into the new Besnard Lakes album, (take a deep breath), The Besnard Lakes Are The Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings, and I'm pretty much dumbstruck. Boy is this ambitious. It sounds like they're after some kind of unholy mix of Pet Sounds, Big Star's 3rd and Flaming Lips Soft Bulletin, and more remarkably that they might not actually fall too far short.

Besnard Lakes are a band that have popped up intermittently on my personal musical radar for a few years now without ever fully registering. I had to check just now as to whether I'd featured them here as a Song of the Day artist. Apparently I haven't. So I'm making amends in that respect anyhow. Because on the basis of what I've heard thus far, (listening as I type), it's the least they deserve. There's something quite fantastic going on here.

I'm clearly not alone. Uncut Magazine made the record their album of the month a couple of issues ago. I'm currently in a state of some frustration trying to track my copy down, having made the unforgivable error of tidying up my flat a couple of days ago. Never mind, I'll try to do the whole thing justice myself.

So, biographical basics. Besnard Lakes hail from Montreal, Canada and were formed way back in 2003. That's so long ago that you might be led to assume that they've long since lost any creative spark they may once have had. Trust me they haven't. There may be some true gems in their back catalogue, I'm sure there are, but frankly this one is more than enough for me, for right now and some time ahead I imagine.

The record is full of things that I would usually expect myself to hate. It also reminds me of Pink Floyd, and not the Pink Floyd that I'm generally partial too. Namely the Syd incarnation. But the Roger Waters one that I'm generally utterly allergic to is the one that comes most readily to mind here. Also other Prog offerings that I've never even been able to summon up the courage to immerse myself to even really listen to. The Alan Parsons Project. Peak period ELO. It ends with a seventeen minute title track for goodness sake. A seventeen minute title track which is utterly magnificent at that. Perhaps I've been ungenerous and should open myself up to some of these things. The Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings is doing strange things to me. I'm quite lost in its cosmic wonder.

Because Wonder seems to be the key word here. The Besnard Lakes are adrift in Cosmic Wonder. Like your older brothers record collection, they remind you of things that you were born slightly to late for. Like another slightly less than hip reference point, The Moody Blues, they seem to find themselves in search for the mythical lost chord. I actually suspect they might have actually found it at some point during their journey.

I'm not sure what I'm writing will encourge you to investigate further. All I can say is that I urge you to do so. This is some record. I'm not altogether sure that it's entirely a 2021 album, (save for its solemnity and portentious themes),but it is a truly fascinating one, and one of great achievement and perhaps in this of all years we need to put aside inherent prejudices and lay ourselves open to what is so often and so foolishly described as guilty pleasures. The Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings is full of guilty pleasures and I'll certainly be back for more. Time to make myself presentable and see if I can track down that copy of Uncut Magazine and remind myself to tidy up a bit more judiciously next time. I'm sure it's around here somewhere.

P.S. I found the magazine I was looking for. It was where you would have least expected to find it. In a pile of other music magazines. I was pleased to disover that the review, (well worth a read in itself), concurs with a lot of the conclusions I arrived at myself in the review here.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Covers # 150 Tricky


The secret of the really good cover is that you have to dragi t into your world. Very, erm tricky with Love Cats but I think he does that here.

The Cure & Siouxsie & The Banshees


Seems like rather a Cure and Banshees day for one reason and another.

Sophie Xeon 1986 - 2021


The Cure


The Cure are on the cover of the latest issue of Mojo Magazine. Inside, the magazine has a rundown of their estimation of their thirty greatest songs. It makes for great listening.

1981 Singles # 21 Ultravox


Not something I like. I didn't at the time. It's ludicrously portentious and quite meaningless, a series of art school shapes and poses, putting on long coats, going outdoors and turning up collars in the shallow pretence of projecting the profound, a conceit it has no real right to. Blitz Club refugees and clothes horses gatecrash the Hapsburg Empire and Midge Ure models sideburns that you could probably cut bread with. It marked the end of the much worthier John Foxx Ultravox phase and the moment when Midge well and truly  truly seized contol of the reins and the band finally started to shift units. Best listened to in the company of its video which was utterly ubiquitous at the time and marked the band's arrival in the mainstream as UK singles contenders. A position they maintained for a number of years. Every hit thereafter  was to some degree a rewrite of Vienna, every video a recasting of the Vienna video. The single was kept off Number One by Joe Dolce's Shaddap Your Face. It's fair to say that Midge probably had the last laugh.

P.S. An alternative way of looking at this is that it is a good tune.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 171 Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill


'The sound hinges on three me doing three very specific things over and over again.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 178 Grace Jones


'Pull Up To The Bumper remains her finest moment, a driving-as-shagging double entendre as bald as anything a Carry On Film could come up with.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,564 Marie et les Garcons


French Punk / New Wave band who hooked up and trailed Talking Heads on their first European tour in the company of The Ramones in 1977. This, is anthologised in great detail by Heads drummer Chris Frantz in his fabulous memoirs Remain in Love. 

Listened to almost fifty years on they're very much of their time. Snappy, urgent and brief songs, clearly impatient with the world and the man. They're not bad at all though and the French delivery and the way their guitars jump and spark definitely add tasty ingredients to the Rock and Roll lexicon.

They signed to the groundbreaking record label Ze were produced by John Cale and supported Patti Smith as well as Talking Heads. Lacking the colour and truly distinctive spark to truly pull them away from the pack and into clear countryside, they hung up their spurs in 1980. Single Re Bop is probably the place to ask but there's plenty else that might take your fancy.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Song of the Day # 2,563 The Apples in Stereo


Happy Friday! From me and The Apples in Stereo.

Clare Grogan & Siouxsie


Aztec Camera & The Go Betweens


Songs About People # 1,245 Elmore Leonard


Elmore Leonard has left Detroit. Apparently...

1981 Singles # 23 UB40


UB40 still sounded rather depressed. But they still sounded great. Strange, a band that when they cheered up and started selling more playing not particularly good covers of the songs they loved the most, got progressively worse at the same time.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 169 Sons of Bazerk Featuring No Self Control & The Band - Bazerk, Bazerk, Bazerk


'The greatest ever hip hop album that no one's ever heard of.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 176 The Fire Engines


'Candyskin's blaring approimation of a seaside singalong played by drunken anarchists still sounds fresh and thrilling and full of bare-faced cheek.'

Song of the Day # 2,562 Brijean


Dreamy, back room disco. According to the band's own Spotify description. Seems about right.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Songs Heard on the Radio # 386 Laura Nyro


Late night Laura.

Cool Ghouls - Helpless Circumstance


Good News for Modern Man! Cool Ghouls, San Franscisco guitar adventurers are on the way back. A new album is due in early Spring and in the meantime we have this Helpless Circumstance athree minite slice of their wondrous chime and jangle. Yum yum! Don't mind if I do.

Songs About People # 1,244 James Baldwin


Will be following the author theme on here for a while. Here's one for Baldwin.

1981 Singles # 24 Altered Images


1981 was the year Altered Images stormed the UK with two enormous, and at the time totally ubquitous singles. Happy Birthday, and this, I Could Be Happy. They were essentially Orange Juice for your younger sister. Something that felt slightly uncomfortable at 17 but just right at 14. It was no wonder that they became huge when Orange Juice hadn't. The reason not merely small label distribution issues.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 168 Massive Attack- Blue Lines

'The collective fused hip hop, reggae and rare groove, aiming for a British  multi-cultural soul that stank of weed but sounded just as good on caffeine, nicotine or a pint of Scruttocks, Old Dirigible.'


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 175 D.A.F.


'Der Mussolini took electro-dance out of thehedonist clouds and into the dirt of manic tempos,  sonic aggression and sledgehammer sarcasm.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,561 Neo Boys


One of the great things about the Internet Age music -wise is the ready access it allows the curious to the obscure nooks and crannies of Rock and Roll history. Take Neo Boys. A female quartet from Portland, Oregon and the late Seventies and early Eighties before that city was really on the map. They only released a few tracks during their actual career but have been recognised and anthologised since.

They're just great. They come across as some unholy blend of Raincoats, Mission of Burma, Pylon and Sleater Kinney before Sleater Kinney came into being. Taut, urgent, politicised and fully formed. The double CD Sooner or Later is well worth tracking down.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

James Yorkston - The Wide, Wide River.


So January is running its course. And the weather, in my part of the world at least, is making some kind of recovery. This is good news. As is the arrival of several excellent new record releases which offer scope for optimism for another good year for music, despite all the obstacles and difficulties that the music industry, and more importantly, musicians are beset with right now.

Take James Yorkston's latest The Wide, Wide River. one of the best things I've heard thus far in 2021. Yorkston is something of a wizened stalwart by now, generally tagged with a Folk label, not altogether innapropriately, but his records have a lot more to offer. This one in particular is grained with a subtle and nuanced pop sensibility that reminded me at various points of The Beatles and Blue Nile as well as more obvious forbears like John Martyn, Van Morrison and Leonard Cohen.

Much of the record has the delightful sense of travel and momentum. Taking a cross country train on a fresh spring day and watching the countryside pass outside the window like a dream. Yorkston has gathered an ensemble made up of like-minded musicians and companion backing vocalists. The guitars often have the gentle, ringing timbre that The Byrds added to the mix. Every track seems to have an assured conviction a clear sense of where it's going that we, in the words of R.E.M's Driver 8, will reach our destination.

Yorkston himself is at the heart of the mix. This is a team effort for sure, but there is never any doubt as to who is conducting operations.But he's a benevolent dictator and there is little doubt as song follows song about just how much reward and recompense everyone here is getting from the experience.

Songs that gather and mount and bloom with perfect and bonteous grace. A record that offers rich pickings indeed. An album of eight songs, all journeys of sorts, that has taken me into reverie, listening to it on headphones on a Sunday morning, bright sunlight splaying patterns on the desk in my living room. 2021 might not be so bad after all.

Songs About People # 1,243 Katherine Mansfield


Brooding New Zealand born author.

1981 Singles # 25 Kim Wilde


Kim Wilde's debut record and the only one she ever made that I'd say was necessary in any way. Sure it's completely phoney. Kim's not remotely edgy even though she's pretending to be. Nor is she remotely street or remotely New Wave.The band are not her gang. They're just session musicians. This is totally fabricated from start to finish. The whole thing is nicked quite unashamedly lock, stock and barrel from Blondie's Parallel Lines routine. But the tune is great, its momentum is full on.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 167 R.E.M.


'Out of Time is a great albumand one of those records where you can hear the band very deliberately going for mainstream success, and it doesn't come off too nakedly compromised or greedy.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 174 Pigbag


'The shock dance hit of the era.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,560 Little Gold


Rather charming. Ex-Woods player relocates from New York to Athens, Georgia, finds like-minded types to make music and puts out lovely little albim called Wake Up & Die Right which seems to square the circle between Kurt Vile and Mike Mills contribution to R.E.M's Out Of Time. Here are two.

Monday, January 25, 2021

1981 Singles # 26 Depeche Mode


Back to Martin Gore and Depeche and where they started from.

Bernie & Slint


Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 167 Slint - Spiderland


'Legend has it , every member of Slint had to be institutionalised at various points through the recording of this massively influential six-track album.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 173 Magazine


'Naturally it's not about the weather, but about being dumped.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,559 Martin Gore


Martin Gore, the oddly coiffered little fellow who saved Depche Mode's bacon when Vince Clark decamped early on, has a new EP out. It doesn't stray far from his initial preoccupations but I don't imagine fans will complain about that.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Robert Forster & Keats


To continue the graveyard theme. Robert Forster of The Go Betweens, kneeling at the grave of John Keats in 2018.

Songs About People # 1,242 John Keats


                                                     'Keats and Yeats are on your side.' 

Another possible Twee icon. The songs for John Keats, and there are a few, are quite drenched in sentiment. This one certainly. Keats of course, famously died young. But he left a considerable legacy.


 After that Kiwi Jr. review, a broader definition of the term Twee. Something I posted back in 2016.

'What I'm reading now, and it's just great. A historical and cultural investigation into a particular sensibility taking in all the great writers, artists and musicians who have championed a gentler way of doing things. Taking in Walt Disney, Anne Frank, J.D.Salinger, Truman Capote, Jean Seberg, Jonathan Richman, Edwyn Collins, Morrissey, Wes Anderson and so on. Every sensitive icon you could possibly want. Wonderfully written and encyclopedic in its scope, it's sure to act as the source for a lot of the music I'll post here over the coming months.' 

      I first wrote this about Twee just yesterday and a day later I'm through it, partly owing to a long train journey, but partly because it utterly enthralled me until its denouement. On Pop Culture, encompassing mostly music, television, film and fashion as its title suggests, Spitz is quite excellent, both in terms of his choice of key players who have played their part in contributing and shaping the sensibility and in assessing exactly what they added to the construct. The chapters on Richman, Collins, Morrissey, Cobain and Murdoch and the bands they led are original, perceptive and hugely pleasurable for anyone who treasures these people's records. Me for starters!

     From this point on, one hundred pages from its end destination I found my attention began to wander and I even resorted to skipping paragraphs and sometimes pages. Partly because Spitz's main focus moved from music to film, the internet, the technological revolution we've all experienced in the last twenty years and how they inform the Twee phenomenon he was at pains to define. The focus here becomes relentlessly American, where it hasn't been before with Spitz jumping with some authority from New York to the UK over the preceding five decades. Boston also gets a look in with Richman and the Modern Lovers but according to his account Twee remains a predominantly East Coast concern in the States until it spreads nationwide after the millennium, much as punk had spread accross the country from its initial CBGB's base in the eighties.

As for the what goes on in the remainder of the book, with the exception of Wes Anderson, who I do think is, and will continue to be seen as an important figure, I was either unfamiliar with many of the players or cultural products he was discussing or, for example with the films Garden Stone and Juno, I feel that despite their basic enjoyableness, comment on an idea that is being set in stone, put on display like an exhibit behind glass. Something is just not nearly as exciting as it was. A basic process of passivity and consumption is setting in. Because so much of the best stuff in this tradition has been produced already and now it's most of all about collecting, refining, complementing in the minutest detail and most of all revering the canon. Or else, if there is an act of creation going on aping and mirroring what has gone before in ever diminishing circles

    So while Spitz makes a splendid case in defining the idea of Twee, he's on shakier ground when attempting to justify using the term Revolution in relation to it. While I applaud the set of records and related culture that he extols, (it's pretty much me to a large extent, or certainly a sizable proportion of me), he does, and this is not a direct criticism of his book per se, make you yearn for more of the sheer creative, engaged energy that he describes in the first two thirds of the book.

Kiwi Jr. - Cooler Returns


A Shady Lane. Everybody wants one. New Sub Pop signings Toronto's Kiwi Jr. for sure. Their debts to Pavement and Stephen Malkmus are so entirely obvious, glaring and fundamental that it really has to be foregrounded from the off, before even mentioning, never mind discussing their second album Cooler Returns.'

But wait, because there's more to say. First and foremost Kiwi Jr. are far from the only alternative guitar band around these days that owe a considerable amount, perhaps their very existence to those well schooled, well fed indie chancers who gagged at their big shot at the mainstream by deliberately making a goofy video for Cut Your Hair when genuine rather than 'Cool' marginal stardum beckoned. back in the early Nineties.

Nevertheless, Pavenment's legacy remains huge. Ask Parquet Courts. Ask Nap Eyes. Ask any number of slacker early Twenty Somethings who choose to eschew the obvious melodic pop action plan and wander off into the trees like a non-placing Whacky Races contestant. Kiwi Jr. are merely the latest contenders.

And they're most definitely contenders. This is a darned good record. It should also be remembered very early on that Pavement most definitely did not invent this particular wheel, although they've come to define it more and more in some respects since the millenium.

So here comes, a list of progenitors for the alternative world of pop wonder that Kiwi Jr. draw on. This really started with The Velvet Underground. Then Jonathan and his Modern Lovers, early Television, Subway Sect, Buzzcocks, Orange Juice, The Go Betweens, The Clean and all those fabulous, fabulous Flying Nun bands. If you like I could make you a playlist but you'reprobably  best directed to Twee by Marc Spitz which pretty much definitely catalogued and itemised this approach.

Kiwi Jr understand this school of thought from top to bottom, inside out. They add their own entry to this alternative encyclopedia with Cooler Returns and like Fonzie it is cool, though those who are not prone to this kind of thing will probably not understand. The record never lets up. One song after another takes the self same route. The same but different.

Listen to this if you like the bands I've mentioned. Listen to it even if you don't. You'll understand immediately where I'm coming from. You'll hear Pavement, but also Loaded suss and strum, the guitar solo in Boredom, echoes of Blue Boy, Anything Could Happen and any number of wonderful bits from other alternative universe pop hits. But it's not stealing. It's all used and utilised with the best possible intentions. And most importantly it works...

Everyone gets to be young at least once. Kiwi Jr. are grabbing this particular chance in life by the collar and squeezing every inch of joy out of their opportunity. This is a wonderful, joyous record and I love it to bits. Same as it ever was. If a thing ain't broken, there's no need to fix it. Just understand its essence, what makes it tick, and do it for yourself.

1981 Singles # 27 The Police


             The Police were easy to sneer at. Perhaps at the time, certainly retrospectively. But some of their                                            singles were just to damned fine to dismiss altogether.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 166 Retro Techno Emotions Electric


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 172 The Teardrop Explodes


'As humble and self-questioning as Reward had been emphatic and triumphant.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,558 Sleepmarks


It makes sense that the members of Sleepmarks are Washington D.C. scene veterans. The music from their recently released debut EP Evaporating Haze has all the characteristics you might expect. Commitment, urgency, activism, Punk energy. Unexpected chord changes.

Fans of Mission of Burma, Husker Du and Minutemen might also find plenty to enjoy here. American Post Punk seemed instilled with a work ethic which was never really quite so evident in the refusenik British equivalent. Sleepmarks demonstrate why the effort was often worth it.

Saturday, January 23, 2021



Yung - Ongoing Dispute

I've written about Yung before. Way back in 2015.  They're a guitar band from Aarhus, Denmark. Maybe not as Yung as they once were, but they still seem quite young to me. These things are relative I suppose. Their guitars clash and chime as they always did. Their vocals ,delivered by frontman Mikkel Holm Sikjaer, consistently urgent, intense, but most importantly, commited.

On latest album Ongoing Dispute, they add another chapter to their story and it's a worthy, (in the positive sense), entry. The guitars, bass and drums, brew up quiet storms in which Sikjaer intones, struggles, and makes his case tellingly.

It's a record which will probably remind you of others. Strangely, I was minded often of Grant McLennan and early Go Betweens and that band's strained, pained but poetic presence. More obviously, Yung's sound echoes any number of great Nineties European alternative guitar bands, Darryl-Anne, Deus, Bettie Serviert. 

There are other reminders. There's a definite suggestion of Radiohead's initial rage and intent. Also, earlier travellers down existential roads, Magazine, Television. Yung dance to Joy Division's radio. You get the sense oflines of thumbed paperbacks on their bookshelves.This is well read, independent rock music.

 Yung are good enough to deserve to be considered on their own terms. And  Ongoing Dispute is a record worth coming back to. I will.

Songs About People # 1,241 Plato



                                                                  Plato. From his cave.


1981 Singles # 28 China Crisis


Not a huge hit as I remember, I seem to recall it stopped just shop of the Top Forty in the UK. But it's still my favourite thing of everything they ever brought out.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 165 Madonna - The Immaculate Collection


'She has always made brilliant pop singles, most of which you can dance to.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 171 The Human League


'Both uplifting and sinsiter...made 1981 the League's miracle year.'

Song of the Day # 2,557 Flavians


Bavarians, Flavians offer poppy, radio-friendly start to the weekend.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Song of the Day # 2,556 Glaxo Babies


Listening quite a bit to Pigbag yesterday led me to this. Glaxo Babies, another product of the vibrant and immensely diverse late Seventies and early Eighties Bristol Scene. Clearly plenty more to investigate here. Agitated, paranoid urban tension.

Songs About People # 1,239 Michelangelo


On the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st Century, rememberance of beauty past and present and promise for the future. Cassandra Jenkins, who is certainly the latter has a debut album coming soon which should certainly be worth a listen. Here's a taster.

1981 Singles # 30 Pigbag


This will return in a few days in the This Is Uncool series. Never mind. It rewards replaying. One of the best pop / dance instrumental singles ever made. That's a fact Jack!

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 164 The La's - The La's

'The best retro pop album ever made.'


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 169 Public Image Ltd


'PiL's last stand remains the strangest chart record of the last 25 years, maybe ever.'