Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Long Players: Writers on Albums That Shaped Them # 8 Billy Bragg - Ronnie Laine - Ronnie Laine's Slim Chance
'built on a sound conceived in Lazy Sunday and Itchycoo Park to create an English country music that was neither traditional nor pastoral.'
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
It's great to come across an album unexpectantly from someone you heard a song from a few months back, knew a long player was on the way but it slipped your mind hen exactly when it was scheduled. A case in point. San Francisco's The Telephone Numbers released the wonderful You're Nowhere some time in early 2021. As sweet and winsonme an old school Indie Pop song as you could want to hear this year or frankly any other year for that matter. Now they've come good on their promise of a full album, The Ballad of Doug and not a moment too soon.
This is music which sticks with almost religious purpose to its chosen peramaters. It is, as I've already state,d Indie Pop and its primary texts of inspiration and guidance were all recorded in the UK between 1984 and 1988. Felt, The Razorcuts, The Field Mice, Creation and Sarah Records. The C-86 compilation itself. Before My Bloody Valentine, one of the janglers original inner circle broke things wide open with You Made Me Realise and you could never with any creative integrity go back to doing the same thing, just as The Beatles changed forever the way people thought about and went about the album format.
The Telephone Numbers have somehow found their way back to The Garden before the fall. The Ballad of Doug might be by twee indie by numbers' but it's a .perfect pitch as to the validity of that approach. An altogether lovely record. Like finding yourself back in your bedroom in 1986 with your bowl headed pals, preparing to give Whole Wide World the debut single by The South Dragons a spin.
Diabetics and calorie fearers beware. This is highly sacharine from the off. Thomas Rubenstein, for he is the power behind The Telephone Numbers, has a voice that might make your toes curl if you're not pre-disposed towards this stuff. He's a master of his chosen form, like a maverick art forger who can dash off a Canaletto and a couple of Bellinis of your choice in an afternoon before knocking off for tea.
There's not a false note on the whole album. It does what you expect it to do, then continues to do what you expect it to do and gives anyone who still subscribes to this a warm and grateful glow before the needle clicks into the run out groove of Side B.. It's put me in a great mood for my Saturday. I'm going to sign off myself now. Make myself breakfast and watch Whistle Down The Wind, a film the makers of The Ballad of Doug would I'm sure wholly approve of. But I'll be back to this soon.
You already have a vague idea of what your going to hear when you listen to a record put out on the American Paisley Shirt Records. A certain wanness, fragrant jangling guitars and a general preoccupation with the Eighties C-86 or the Mid-Sixties West Coast Pop sound. Or possibly both.
The eponymous debut from San Francisco's Flowertown doesn't stray far from this given formula. Somewhere between Mazzy Star and The Velvet Underground their songs are disembodied, the vocals barely there, recalling Spiritualised's Jason Pierce and the way he threatened sometimes to collapse into a coma mid-song.
There's something of the early Jesus & Mary Chain to proceedings. It's all too cool to care. Slightly too obviously derivative to be absolutely essential, Flowertown is nevertheless a well put together collection of songs. Easy listening for the checked shirt and leather jacket set.
Monday, June 28, 2021
And to continue the Funky theme. SAULT the mysterious UK ensemble are back with a new album 9. It comes with an interesting concept. Available for just 99 days so get it while you can. You should do so. It has all the hallmarks of what makes them such a fascinating proposition.
This stuff is definitely cool. A much abused term but in this case it applies. Every moment of 9 is eminently groovy. R&B, Soul, Hip Hop, Jazz and Funk ryhthms and grooves stirred into a delicious stew. They rarely seem to put a foot wrong.
It's heartening to see such positive and deeply conscious music in these difficult times. SAULT are not alone. Greentea Peng, Little Simz,(who guests here), Arlo Parks, St.Panther and more. SAULT are more combative than most of their contemporarues but they also know how to dim the lights and get intimate as on Bitter Sweet. In many ways they're the most exciting new arrival for this kind of music and vibe since Massive Attack first came up the pike.
The artistry flows from this record like warm honey. Shifting the mood up then slowing it down at will, 9 is choc full of wonderful surprises. This bunch are so prolific that you expect their next release won't be very long. But it's well worth pausing to appreciate and enjoy this magnificent statement.
This is turning out to be a very groovy and funky year indeed. SAULT, Greentea Peng and Little Simz and more on this side of the pond. And here comes Doja Cat from LA to add a little full on sexuality to the dancefloor with her latest record. Planet Her.
Perhaps best sampled in three minute bursts rather than in its entirity, but hard to beat in this respect. Amala Diala, for she is Doja Cat, has something of Missy Elliot and Jaenelle Monae to her, but brings plenty of her own thing to the party.
Best of all is Kiss Me More, which conciously lifts the hook from Olivia Newton John's Physical and makes it seem like a very good thing. It's surely one of the songs of the year and Planet Her has plenty more going for it too.
Sunday, June 27, 2021
'Arguing With the Ghost of Peter Laughner about his Coney Island Baby Review'. The ultimate in muso namedropping from the latest Mountain Goats record of which more later. Laughner is a late and potentially great writer and musician, best known for his time in Pere Ubu and hanging out with Lester Bangs. The second tribute to Laughner in this particular series after the one from The New Lou Reeds.
I have to say I've taken my eyes and ears off John Grant in recent years, having been very much taken, like much of the musical world, by his first two albums. Boy From Michigan his latest, is a reminder of what attracted me so much to him and his gifts and vision in the first place. Splendidly and sensitively produced by Cate Le Bon, it's a truly elegant, lyrical ride, with all the atmosphere of rich cinematic drama.
Mythic, mystic small town American life and the trauma it can visit on those who choose or have no choice but to be different. The kind of experience documented by John Cheever and Richard Yates, David Lynch, Virgin Suicides, Danny Darko and Six Feet Under. Grant is almost a short story writer in this respect, casting himself in the leading role each time, producing songs imbued with haunted melancholy and he's very much recovered his muse here I'd say.
Ferris wheels and girls called Cindy, maple trees and Five and Dimes, everything butressed by an electronic pulse that functions almost as a heartbeat. Grant of course has a wonderfully rich and nuanced baritone, but what's great about it here is that it's splendidly restrained, he controls his delivery masterfully with his narrative aims in mind. Generally those of doomed and thwarted romance.
Of course this is all grounded in Grant's sexuality and the implication of parental and communal rejection at the most vulnerable passage of teenage experience that still leaves an indelible hurt, an ache decades down the line.
There is a jarring moment halfway through the album with Rhetorical Figure when the record takes a hysterical, jaunty New Wave novelty turn that seems out of place with its bedfellows here, coming on like Trio meets Van Halen's Jump for some reason only known to itself. It doesn't work for me. Offbeat, self parody is always part of Grant's charm but this grates and it'll be a track I skip. Same goes for Your Portfolio a little later on. They're rare blemishes on a record that otherwise is the John Grant return to top form that I've been waiting for without even realising it.
As with the best storytellers he saves the best 'til almost last. Nine minute penultimate track The Only Baby where Grant takes aim at the Moral Majority and the people behind Donald Trump and lets them have it with both barrels. There's always a sadness about his best songs but they're redeemed utterly here by their sheer artistry and musical beauty and grace. He's really excelled himself this time. The record unfurls seamlessly like the most bingeable and atmospheric Netflix drama. An absolutely terrific album.
Pop music for people who don't like pop music that conforms to the rules. Or plays or sings in tune. The kind of people who love Kurt and Beck and J. Mascis and those guys. The cool set of Slacker demigods.
Helvetia hail from Seattle and that's slightly apt as this deadbeat, downcast and slightly aimless mode of delivery hails from there as much as anywhere. Sebadoh, Lemonheads, East River Pipe and Built to Spill, (who they've toured with) spring to mind too on their latest album Essential Aliens.
This bunch have been around for the best part of fifteen years now so I'm not sure how this stacks up against previous records. It stacks up fine on its own terms though. One slightly incoherent anthem after another to underachievement and its rich pleasures.
It's a record that takes you back to its sources. Think I may need to give It's a Shame About Ray and Nevermind a play a bit later in the day. At the minute though Essential Aliens is . Doesnon't sound shabby by comparison by any means either.
Saturday, June 26, 2021
It's odd but strangely delightful to witness major players on the Twee Indie scene of the late Eighties mature into middle age more than thirty years on like a fine wine. Such is the case here with The Catenary Wires latest album Birling Gap.
Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey once figured in spindly Indie outfits such as Tallulah Gosh, Heavenly and Tender Trap. But it's interesting to see where their journey has taken them. This is a record that has a much in common with Sandy Denny as it does with Orange Juice and that's just as it should be.
The sleeve of the album is an immediate giveaway to the record's intentions. It's a photograph of steep chalk cliffs and the waves crashing into a pebbled beach. An incredibly English image and this is an incredibly English sounding record, owing something to The Kinks and The Zombies as well as Tracy Thorn.
On Mirrorball Fletcher and Pursey reminicise about where it all started in an Eighties disco on the cusp of adulthood. It's all incredibly sweet and not for a moment the bitter variety.The past is where it should be, a happy and incredibly distant memory, not the stuff of anguish and regret. Birling Gap is like leafing through a treasured photo album but its feet are very much mired in the here and now.
The album gallops along. In its own words, 'as English as the weather.' Safe and warm, comfortable in its own skin. Fletcher and Pursey have learned enough over the years not to make their harmonies pitch perfect. It's the slightly off key nature of proceedings that provide the essential charm to this project.
A home counties Nancy and Lee but with incisive political awareness to boot, cuttingly critical of the much evident English intolerance of these times . Birling Gap is a treat, like a well stirred pot and plate of scones and jam in a village tea room on a sunny afternoon.
Long Players: Writers on Albums That Shaped Them # 4 Lavinia Greenlaw - The Velvet Underground - White Light / White Heat
It's the most tense record that I've ever heard and not one I play often... It's an experiment in limits and scale.... I have never heard anything like White Light/White Heat and it changed how I listened as well as what I listened to next... It sounds no less original every time I hear it.'
Friday, June 25, 2021
In the absence of any new Fall albums, devotees in need of a Northern fix could do worse than turn to the latest Blue Orchids album Speed The Day. Martin Bramah, one of the guitarists in the original line up soldiers on to wonderful effect here. Recorded in three days with no overdubs last July. It's a feast.
Bramah is a specific talent, indicating a direction that The Fall might have pursued had he and Una Baines not split after a couple of records to do their own thing. In the words of John Robb 'monochromatic psychedelia'. Their debut album, The Greatest Hit, from 1982, is still a go to record for me, almost forty years on from its initial release. Fuelled by a more melodic and dreamy vision than that which drove Mark E.onward but with plenty of the same grit and vigour.
Speed The Day takes its inspiration from the great American Garage bands of the Sixties. In many ways it sounds more akin to The Stranglers than The Fall but I'm not going to complain about that. Bramah's vocals still have the same yearning quality they ever did and the swirling organ that underpinned the greatest moments of The Doors and The Seeds grounds everything. Urban dreaming. The same kind of fire the early opium eaters had in their bellies.
The early Fall were very much ingesters of paperbacks, mushrooms and wonderful obscure records. Very much more more obscure then than they are today. Bramah still draws from this well and it clearly hasn't run dry just yet. Anyone who ever enjoyed The Teardrop Explodes Kilimanjaro, The Fall's Live at the Witch Trials and Dragnet, The Stranglers Black & White or early Felt or Bunnymen should find much to detain them here.
Long Players: Writers on Albums That Shaped Them # 3 Patricia Lockwood - This Mortal Coil - It'll End in Tears
Thursday, June 24, 2021
I come to the end of this quite wonderful book. Jimmy McDonough its author doesn't rate the music that Neil's putting out at the end of the Nineties. He thinks he's treading water. But he knows instinctively that Neil will be back to surpirse him. In the closing lines of the book: 'he'd done it his way, the only way he knew how. By changing.' Full review tomorrow.
Long Players: Writers on Albums That Shaped Them # 2 Clive James - Duke Ellington - Ellington at Newport
'he could always swing and on that Newport LP the whole orchestra swung like a train coming.' Clive James
Recently deceased writer and critic Clive James chose The Duke.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Long Players: Writers on Albums That Shaped Them # 1 Deborah Levy - David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars
Not an essential read by any means but a good one for a long bus or coach trip. Writers pick an album that shaped them and explain why. From a set of articles originally published in The New Statesman. The articles are too short to really satisfy the trainspotter-ish likes of me. But it does give you the opportunity to think about the record concerned and possibly investigate the writer further. Staring with an album that changed the lives of countless thousands.
Neil teams up with Pearl Jam for Mirror Ball. Much to the chagrin of many, including Jimmy McDonough, (the author of Shakey), who despises the band. He doe sapprove of this though. In his words, 'perhaps the greatest track Young has done in the nineties.and he did it with Pearl Jam.'
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Joan Armatrading's new record Consequences has just got an Album of the Week review in The Guardian. Also a well deserved eulogy to her talents by their main writer Alex Petridis. That's just great to see and listening to the record now it's more than worthy of that status. Armatrading is a very particular artist. One who has consistently put out great records for over forty years, and though she's always sold plenty to the contingency that appreciate such things, it feels like she's never quite got the critical acclaim and credit that her talent deserves.
Consistency and modesty are key factors with Joan. She's always sold fine, always had her audience while never quite ever getting the critical acclaim that she deserves. Perhaps this is changing a bit now as people start to realise how much a part of their lives her songs and albums are.
Consequences gives us an opportunity to appreciate her if one is needed. It's a rich, warm and positive record. Just what you'd expect. It's a record that celebrates life which is also just what you'd expect. It's full of great songs. Which is... OK you can see where I'm coming from here. Really, she's just pretty much wonderful in every way.
Monday, June 21, 2021
The one where Gram Parsons joined The Byrds and they became the first Rock act to make an essentially Country album. It's not my favourite of their records. It feels like a compromise between McGuinn and Parsons to me. Neither fully one or the other. I prefer Younger Than Yesterday and Notorious Byrds Brothers. But it is a major statement and a major moment in Rock and Roll music.
Portland husband and wife team, Heather Larimer and Brian Naubert, together are Corvair and their eponymous debut, which came out in February, is a neat, polished retro Pop record. Kicking off on Oceansided and Paladin with Who power chords, woozy synth sounds and the kind of harmonies and melodic runs that got Cheap Trick and The Tubes on the radio in the Seventies, this is immediately confident and competent stuff.
It isn't looking to tick the hip boxes necessarily. It has much more in common with ELO and ELP than it does with The Velvet Underground. Nevertheless, even though I personally am much more prone to the latter, I enjoyed this a lot. It seems to recreate a Mid-West, Mid-Seventies mindset, a place where it's always graduation day at the Dazed & Confused High School and there's always that Kiss concert to look foward to.
Corvair is certainly eclectic in terms of its magpie pick and mix sensibilities. This definitely feels Seventies grounded but the duo are not afraid to cast their net wider. Sailor Down has a tangible Motorik groove and Larimer's voice is incredibly emotive and resonant on Daily Double. reminding me of Weyes Blood who mines a similar nostalgic seam.
The more that the record spun on, the more I found myself saluting its creative charms. Green clicks on the New Wave switch to thrilling effect even seeming to flirt with Blondie's Fan Mail riff for a moment.Elsewhere, on Focus Puller I was reminded of The Motors Airport of all things, and I didn't mind at all.
By the time the last lap bell was about to be rung it was clear that this was a winner. Not a record that has made any sort of real commercial or critical splash but one that should definitely be heard. A crafted and accomplished album with a peculiar but alluring nostalgic haze about it.
Sunday, June 20, 2021
A song of the day I ommitted to actually post a few days back:
There's such an enormous glut of female singer-songwriters on the market nowadays that I almost don't want to isten to them all. Not that there aren't some excellent records of that type all the time but it does become somewhat difficult for artists working within this format to distinguish themselves sometimes.
Marina Allen's debut mini-album Candlepower, does a decent fist of thing in this respect. It's a sweet and tender record that takes its lead from Joni as many of these records do. What Allen has going for her most of all is a wonderful voice. Thick and nuanced, it captures your attention immediately.
The songs here are also of merit, robust and nuanced. Candlepower, may not be long enough, at just seven tracks, to quie make the front page, but there's more thn enough here to mark Allen out as a talent to watch.
Here's the Best Ever Albums chart for 1986.
1. The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead
2. Metallica - Master Of Puppets
3. Paul Simon - Graceland
4. Peter Gabriel - So
5. XYC - Skylarking
6. Talk Talk - The Colour Of Spring
7. Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill
8. Sleigher - Reign In Blood
9. R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant
10. Sonic Youth - Evol
And mine. Just chosen from records I own. Born Sandy Devotional is the one that stays with me most. Then The Queen... Rapture, also a very important album to me from this particular year.
1. The Triffids - Born Sandy Devotional
2. The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead
3. Anita Baker - Rapture
4. The Go-Betweens - Liberty Belle & The Black Diamond Express
5. R.E.M. - Lifes Rich Pageant
6. The Costello Show - King of America
7. That Petrol Emotion - Manic Pop Thrill
8. The Woodentops - Giant
9. Sonic Youth - Evol
10. Prince & The Revolution - Parade
11. The Housemartins - London 0 Hull 4
12. Throwing Muses - Throwing Muses
13. The Feelies - The Good Earth
14. Cameo - Word Up
15. The Smithereens - Especially For You
Honorary mention for Kaleidoscope World by The Chills. A compilation essentially, the only reason it's not high on my list.