Friday, April 30, 2021
'If a more revealing and ecstatic song - and performnce - has ever been given in the name of love and the illogical joy and fear of falling in it, its name escapes me right now.'
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Jangly and esoteric. Not unlike early R.E.M., Go Betweens and Verlaines. Also harking back to '67. From D.C.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The Loft never got round to releasing an album during their short time together. More's the pity, listening to this. It would have been very good, judging by the songs on display here. They have something that The Weather Prophets never had I'd say. A brittleness. A tension. A genuine reach and scope. While predicated by the same basic aproach. Guitar, bass, drums, the players here add something specific I'd say. They are a genuine band rather than Pete Astor and his supporting players. The songs sound more alive than almost everything The Weather Prophets ever recorded.
Plenty of good songs here that with proper production could have been knocked into a fine debut album in 1985 on Creation had stayed the course. Winter, Your Door Shines Like Gold, Model Village, Rickety Frame, Mad Old Woman Man Old Man are all sturdy, well constructed songs that would have stayed the course better than many of what ended up on Mayflower, the Weather Prophets' debut which sounds wet and limp by comparison.
Ghosts Trains & Country Lanes also contains two of the three songs that Astor is best known for (Almost Prayed, The Weather Prophets debut ingle and best song, being the third). The two Loft sngles. Why Does The Rain, which has Astor pondering on both the rain and the morning train and why people bother to catch it. Also Up The Hill and Down the Slope which seemes to concern itself with ambition for an alternative path, a musical career ambition mainly. Both songs are underpinned by a musical framework that seems to draw mostly on three primary influences; The Byrds, Television and Orange Juice. In addition, poetry and books. Astor is certainly a bookish type and here and on the other songs he's more lyrically engaged than he often seemed to be during his period at the helm with The Weather Prophets. The friction, which the other three players, Bill Prince, Andy Strickland and Dave Morgan keep the songs taught and alive. It's a shame these clutch of poised. literate and tense songs were never released within a conventional album context.
Much else on this, a double, which collects pretty much everything the band ever recorded, session and poorly recorded live tracks, are merely curios for completists. But the rest stands as testament to the band The Loft might have been had they kept their tempers which got fraught in their early youth, at bay and regrouped.
Charming. Perhaps a one word review would suffice in this respect but this record certainly deserves to have more written about it. Songs sung, or perhaps better described as' harmonised', in Spanish by male and female vocalists called Fermi and Conxita and some of their friends. Gentle, strummed acoustic accompaniment. A Spanish band called Tronco. An album called Nainoia.
These sound like lullabies or candidates for the Hispanic remake of Juno. They also sound like the cutest, sweetest set of songs I've heard so far this year.
Tronco are on Elefant Records. This might give you some inkling as to where they're coming from. This is an indie sensibility but its one that prioritises fun and banishes earnestness. I'm more than happy to go along with that.
There's nothing demanding about this record but I'm not one to bow to the maxim that pain necessarily means gain. This isn't actually as easy to do as it sounds. Tronco do it very well.
Each song on here is light as a feather. Or light as a souffle. Or whatever your metaphor of choice for lightness might be. Trunco are fleet of foot and deft of touch. They take you back to childhood for forty minutes. For forty winks if you will. They remind you that we must never ever lose touch with our own childhoods and what it felt like to be lost in that limitless experience.
So all bound for morningtown, many miles away. Tronco gave me one of the most magical musical rides I expect to experience in this year, in fact in many years. It's an album I'll listen to many, many times over the coming months. A safe and wonderful place.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
The third act of the Go Betweens long journey is certainly throwing up some interesting and surprising insights and revelations. For a band that never came up with so much as a hit single or charting album during their years as an active, touring and recording band, they're certainly making their mark now, and not only on the margins of proceedings where they previously operated. But oddly towards the mainstream. Or at least the middle aged, Radio 4 listenership mainstream.
The emerging insights and revelations shed new light not only of the main players of the Go Betweens drama, essentially Robert Forster, Grant McLennan, Lindy Morrison and Amanda Brown, but also on those who latched onto them at the time and followed their journey thereafter. Bookish, sensitive types mostly. I'd say we can all learn something about ourselves from Thorn's book. It's never too late to reflect and make realisations about the person you were in your late teens and twenties. About the way that others saw you and why they saw you that way. It's a good idea to try to I'd say. The Go Betweens, more than any band I can think of, act as a useful rule measure for this process. Particularly for the likes of me who came of age myself as they were recording and releasing their landmark statements.
Devotees of the band like myself, are truly blessed these days. Since the still painful death of McLennan in 2007 we've seen unprecedent post band activity, most of it instigated by Grant's writing companion and supportive adversary Robert Forster. We've had a memoir, Grant & I, one of the best books of these kinds I've read, a couple of deeply comprehensive box sets, a documentary and wonderfully a bridge in their hometown Brisbane bearing their name. All, (apart from the latter), to greater or lesser degrees pushing the Forster perspective of things, largely fuelled I'd say not by overbearing ego, but a burning need to do McLennan and his talent justice. Probably also to foreground themselves as the main players in the band.
Now we have My Rock 'n'Roll Friend, Tracey Thorn's recently released counter-memoir, of her friendship with Lindsay Morrison, at once a co-collaborator, a musician, a muse, a foil and an antagonist within the Go Betweens pot. A woman often described as 'difficult' because of how her inherent strength of personality drew attention to some basic contradictions implicit in the way that both Forster and McLennan wished to project themselves throughout their careers. As feminists, and men who loved and respected women primarily. But ones who also wanted to be stars. And also ultimately to take the lion's share of the credit for the band's particular artistic achievement.
First and foremost it has to be said that Thorn has done a wonderful job. My Rock 'n'Roll Friend is an incredibly accomplished and realised book. It makes you think and wonder and feel gratitude for her endeavours and thoughfulness on virtually every page. It's not necessarily an easy read, particularly for anybody who has invested anything in this very special band over the years. I actually found it a rather painful experience in many ways, it touched upon many issues and memories that still genuinely hurt in some respects. But that doesn't lessen for one moment how highly I'd recommend it. Life is not only about the happy things and we're all kind of behest not to ignore and forget that basic truth.
Thorn is not afraid of the pain.She sticks to her task with incredible precision and fortitude. But what exactly is that task?To do justice to Lindy Morrison to a large degree. To re-address the balance, to set the record straight. The Go Betweens story is not merely that of Forster and McLennan, Morrison particularly deserves her due, without her they wouldn't and couldn't have existed. And by telling their tale, to shed light in some ways on a greater issue. On who gets left out of the script when the story finally gets told. And why that happens. And why it shouldn't.
This book certainly does Morrison justice. She speaks loud and proud in every chapter and comes across as a person every bit as layered and fascinating as either Forster or McLennan. She was a great musician too as Thorn makes a point of underlining. How often her endeavours brought Forster and McLennan's songs together. Made them speak in a way that they never spoke on the solo albums the two made after the bands initial split. And how when The Go Bewteens did reform in the 2000s, without her, (or Brown for that matter), they never sounded quite like they had done in the their initial incarnation.
It's definitely worth excusing Forster and McLennan for slight indiscretions along the way. They did write these fabulous songs after all. They realised their ambition. In terms of product if not in sales..All of the great artistic musical statements ever made were first instigated with the intention of being hung up on a wall after all. All of them. Is there any counter argument to that. It Starts With a Birthstone confines itself for the most part to records that conform to that objective. Art statements of various kinds. So you have Television and Marquee Moon. Patti Smith and her associates and Horses. Marvin Gaye, his crew, and What's Going On. Pretty much everything Miles Davis ever recorded. Bowie.
Of course you need Whigfield, and Simply Red. Even Rednex I suppose. But for the most part I can't be bothered with all that stuff. Because pretty much from the moment I started getting into these things, I've wanted something more from music. Something that moves me, makes me change, makes me grow. Something that's actually about the astonishing world all around me. Go Betweens have become personal titans of mine in this respect. My Rock 'n' Roll Friend is a wonderful addition to their legacy.
Monday, April 26, 2021
Dinosaur Jr. are back. This seems like a strange thing to say. Have they ever been away? There have been plenty of long gaps in their back catalogue and in terms of their status as a band since they started up in Amherst, Massachussetts, way back in 1984. But at the same time they seem to have been here in some strange way ever since then. Part of the Rock and Roll furniture.
I'd say only Teenage Fanclub of their basic generation, (and TF are actually quite a bit younger as a band), can say anything like the same thing. Both bands seem like essential touchstones and verities. Like rocks, streams and trees somehow. Teenage Fanclub have a new album out in a week which I'm pretty much sure I'll like. But I'll let you know then, because in this post I'm going to tell you that I like Dinosaur Jr.'s new one, Sweep It Into Space.
It sounds like a Dinosaur Jr. record. From start to finish there are no real surprises but in this case, that's a good thing. There is nothing on here that you haven't heard on a Dinosaur Jr record before. Many, many times frankly. But that is not a criticism in this case as it might be for many bands. Dinosaur Jr. came upon a very fine sound relatively early in their career. There was some variety and development on their early albums but they came upon the sound they were heading to in round about 1993 I'd say with the release of Where You Been in 1993. And they've pretty much stayed there ever since.As they say, 'If it ain't broke...'
That's fine by me.Sweep It Into Space is a record that does all of the things that any Dinosaur Jr. would want a record to do. It's made up of consistently solid songs. J Mascis sounds his wonderful self and Lou and Murph seem entirely onboard. There are solos when you need solos, there are tunes that easily might have been on Where You Been. There is nothing that really surprises you except how good this is.
Where this stands in terms of the best records of 2021 is a difficult one. It's a very, very good Dinosur Jr. record so I guess that means pretty highly. Delayed for a while because of Covid but it's here now nd many people will like it with good reason. I like it too and commend it to you.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
One I've been waiting for, for a couple of months and it hasn't let me down. Fog Lake, essentially an outfit put together to present the vision and songwriting of Aaron Powell, first captured my attention with their wonderful album Captain back in 2017. They're back with another Tragedy Reel, and it refines and adds fresh brushstrokes and nuance to things they've already done.
The thing that needs to be understood first of all, about Powell is that he hails from Glovertown, Newfoundland. An outpost of the civilised world that I'm sure has much going for it, but is certainly shrouded in arctic weather and limited daylight for much of the year. These conditions might incline a man to be in need of a good drink on occasion and certainly inclined to self-reflection and potentially painful introversion on others.
Once you know this, Tragedy Reel makes perfect sense. It's a shrouded record, that makes you feel like you're staring out of the window in the front of a bar, onto a bleak icy main street dreading the prospect of the trudge back home in darkness. This isn't the cheeriest album you'll hear this year, but it does offer some basic and fundamental consolation. At least you feel like you're on the inside looking out. Added to the fact that it's a damned fine record.
Powell is an experienced and able songsmith by now. This album finds him forging steadily fowrard within the remits that he has laid out for himself. You wonder at what the lyrical concerns of the record might be. Powell is not particularly helpful in this respect. For the most part his vocals are muffled, like he's nestling his mouth in the top of his sweater in refuge from the cold. Somehow, he manages to get his point across anyhow.
If there's an evident central musical influence on Fog Lake, I'd plump for Elliot Smith. Powell has something of Elliot's pain about him but also I'm pleased to report his considerable gift for melody too. One to consider re-reading Shipping News or watching that last episode of Breaking Bad again to or even dust off your copy of The Trinity Session and give it one more spin. Fog Lake triumph here making a potentially chilling experience a very warm and pleasurable one indeed. One of my favourite albums of 2021 thus far.
Music is well and truly back after the injection that 1977 gave. Some really fabulous albums came out in '78. Here's the Best Ever Albums list:
1. Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
2. The Cars - The Cars
3. Blondie - Parallel Lines
4. Elvis Costello - This Year's Model
5. Van Halen - Van Halen
6. Kraftwerk - The Man-Machine
7. The Rolling Stones - Some Girls
8. Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings And Food
9. Kate Bush - The Kick Inside
10. Steve Reich - Music For 18 Musicians
And my own, from records I own. I realised that from not being able to compile a list of ten in 1976, '78 had so many personal riches that I wanted to list 25. Probably the year where my personal musical consciousness began. Wonderful stuff. This will continue for the next few years.
1. Blondie - Parallel Lines
2. Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance
3. Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
4. Magazine - Real Life
5. Kraftwerk - The Man-Machine
6. Elvis Costello - This Year's Model
7. Big Star - Third
8. Wire - Chairs Missing
9. Television - Adventure
10. Tom Waits - Blue Valentine
11. Kate Bush - The Kick Inside
12. Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings And Food
13. The Clash - Give 'Em Enough Rope
14. Buzzcocks - Love Bites
15. Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel II
16. The Stranglers - Black & White
17. Blondie - Plastic Letters
18. Patti Smith Group - Easter
19. . Neil Young - Comes a Time
20. XTC - White Music
21. The Cars - The Cars
22. Buzzcocks - Another Music In a Different Kitchen
23. Rezillos - Can't Stand The Rezillos
24. The Police - Outlandos D'Amour
25. Lene Lovich - Stateless
Post-Punk seems to be absolutely everywhere nowadays. For something that in its first incarnation seemed genuinely abrasive, threatening and on the outside of things, (it certainly very rarely made the actual charts), it now comes across as part of the furniture of Rock and Roll, a set of tropes available to all that can be revisited and rehashed seemingly indefinitely.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of wonderful bands have dabbled with this basic toolkit with wonderful results in recent years. Protomartyr, Total Control, Fontaines D.C, Goat Girl and my most recent discoveries Fievel is Glauque, come immediately to mind. But there is also plenty of stuff that seems to be going through the motions to me and barely adding to the conversation. I won't name guilty parties.
So now we have Oakland Fake Fruit's eponymous debut and it's plainly apparent from its opening jagged chords that its anothe Post Punk record and very good one. Rather like Courtney Barnett deciding she prefers Pylon to The Velvet Underground.Eleven well scrubbed but highly likeable tunes. Angular, melodic and occasional confrontational, but still a record you could probably take home and play to your mother, particular if she was into the original bands first time round.
In Swing and Miss Fake Fruit seem to have a go at one of the most wonderful riffs and moments in of all The Who's I Can't Explain. It's a reminder that even Post Punk itself didn't come entirely out of a void, even if it tried to come across and often felt like it did immediately. This is a band with a genuinely affecting pop sensibility, even if it's nominally coming in from the margins. It's rather different to say exactly what the margins are these days.Perhaps it doesn't really matter.
This is a highly infectious album. It definitely feels like one I'll want to come back to lots over the coming months, which is more than I can say for example for the recent Dry Cleaning album which garnered so much, (I would say unwarranted attention). Fake Fruit doesn't really push originality or innovation envelopes, but it's bright and shiny and very more-ish. That's more than good enough for me.