“Memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive are tied up in memory.” Nick Cave
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Albums of the Year # 26 Tronco - Nainoia
One of the most utterly charming records I've come across all year.
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.
The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 490 Eminem
'Among the slapstickit uncovers the dark truths of growing up poor and alienated and inadequate and bewildered in America...'
Song(s) of the Day # 2,865 Pip-eye
Monday, November 29, 2021
Albums of the Year # 27 Fog Lake - Tragedy Reel
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.
The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 489 Aphex Twin
Song(s) of the Day # 2,864 Julie Doiron
Vaguely Grungey stuff of the kind that is not uncommon in this day and age from female singer-songwriters. Julie Doiron, (also of Eric's Trip), hails from Moncton, New Brunswick and has a long track record going down the years. Her latest album, I Thought of You, does not particularly leap out at the listener but is a very pleasant gently rocking experience.
Sunday, November 28, 2021
Albums of the Year # 28 TEKE:TEKE - Shirushi
Like something Julian Cope might have dreamed of, or a band you suspect he may have even made up for his classic Japrocker. TEKE::TEKE have all the fun you could possibly imagine on their latest album Shirushi.
This is unshamedly Retro kitsch from the off. Surfy, spacey, funky, freaky by turns and utterly unpredictable from start to finish. It's sheer pleasure to hear where TEKE::TEKE um, take this.
Sounding like the soundtrack to a Sixties Japanese Yakuza movie of the kind that Tarantino reveres and that you probably need to see, the cultural juxtapositions on here are just spectacular. Plenty of variety of pace and tempo and always prioritising the pleasure principle, this is a total breeze, start to finish.
Coming hot on the heels of El Michels' wonderful Yeti Season, which took a similarly inspired, cinematic slant on things, this is a record quite unlike anything you will hear this year, or any other year for that matter. Frankly, just fantastic.
Song(s) of the Day # 2,863 Pye Corner Audio
Saturday, November 27, 2021
Nell Smith & The Flaming Lips - Where The Viaduct Looms
Albums of the Year # 29 Elephant Micah - Vague Tidings
Joseph O'Connell, the man behind Elephant Micah, is an interesting artist. I first came across him via a Record of the Month review in Uncut Magazine a couple of years ago. This led me to his previous record Genericana in and now he's back with a new one, Vague Tidings, just out. It's another fascinating document.
The musician O'Connell is most obviously reminiscent of is the unhinged Neil Young of On The Beach and Tonight's The Night. As with Young on those records, Elephant Micah, (probably best to refer to him by the name he goes out into the marketplace with), sounds alternately as if he's about to burst into tears, slit his wrists or mainline heroin to dull the pain.
Vague Tidings is probably less unhinged than Genericana. But that's not saying much. Genericana was an extraordinarily unhinged record. This one is just about back on the rails in terms of conforming to the basic conventions of structure and melody, but only just.
It's still pretty bleary eyed and wasted. There's an awful lot of emotional bloodletting going on here and it all comes together to fashion a damned strong album which I already can't wait to come back to and get to know better.
There are very few precedents for records and statements like this in the Rock and Roll canon. The Young ones I mentioned come immediately to mind. Also a few of Dylan's, Big Star's Sister Lovers, Skip Spence's Oar, Townes Van Zandt.
Vague Tidings fits in nicely with these great records and it's not necessarily shamed by the comparison. A voice from the wilderness trying to find its way home. An altogether staggering record, not one that will necessarily fill your heart with joy, but one that should make you glad you've heard it. The west is the best. Not always Jim. But it's definitely got something going for it if it can summon forth albums like this.
The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 478 The Divine Comedy
Song(s) of the Day # 2,862 Leonie Pernet
Friday, November 26, 2021
Songs About People # 1,315 Jorge Luis Borges
Another from The Forms, whose back catalogue I've had great pleasure exploring over the last few days. This one for the great Argentinian puzzle maker.
Albums of the Year # 30 James Yorkston - The Wide, Wide River
The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 477 Mercury Rev
'Gently funky, subtle and then sweeping, anthemic but full of off kilter details with its chilling, submarine peals and underlying organs and harpsichords.'
Song of the Day # 2,861 Alyssa Gengos
Thursday, November 25, 2021
Songs About People # 1,314 Igor Stravinsky
A couple of songs from The Forms back catalogue in this particular series. Starting with one for Igor from 2007.
Albums of the Year # 31 Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
New Yorker, Cassandra Jenkins is an artist who has been attracting a fair bit of notice of late. Features and reviews in the likes of Uncut Magazine ,glowing reviews and repeated plays from DJs such as 6 Music's Gideon Coe, who know their stuff.
Jenkins' latest record An Overview of Phenomenal Nature, from what I can gather, her second, has been out a couple of weeks and I've played it a few times and it's a very impressive album. Full of space and light and thought, reflection on life and loss, intoned with calm phrasing reminiscent of Laurie Anderson, Margo Timmins and Suzanne Vega.
Some background detail might be helpful with regards to getting a feel for this. Jenkins is a very close friend and musical associate of David Berman, Of Sikver Jews and Ourple Mountains), who lost his struggle with life and passed in dreadfully sad circumstances less than a couple of years back.
This was a death that affected a lot of people who had been moved and stirred by Berman's work over the years. But clearly it must have had a particularly unnerving impact on those who knew and worked with him.
An Overview is a record in gradual transition from pain to somewhere more hopeful. In short, a reflection on life.The grief, the mourning is palpable, but so too is the plapable resolve to push on to somewhere more positive.
Beauty is probably an overused and abused phrase but I find this a really beautiful record and one I suspect will endure. It's just seven tracks long but by no means insubstantial. One to return to and work out what you liked about it and why it resonated first time round.
The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 476 Cher
Song of the Day # 2,860 The Forms
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
Albums of the Year # 32 ABBA - Voyage
I've been listening to ABBA's back catalogue over the last couple of weeks as part of an immersion based music listening group on social media that I'm part of. Firstly, through the Seventies, when virtually the only records my parents bought were ABBA ones. Then into the Eighties when they stopped buying them, except perhaps for the Best Of ones on CD. It's been an interesting ride through my childhood memories.
Of course ABBA's initial run was always going to be a finite one though they made the very most of it, because my god, they were talented. But their subject matter was fundamentally love, desire and relationships and there are only so many variations on those themes on offer, fundamental as they are.You can't keep making records about that stuff all your life, or at least ones worth listening to, no matter how good you are.
So, miraculously in 2021, ABBA are back. I'm pleased to report that they're still very, very good. As good as they ever were really. Well they would be. They're ABBA aren't they? They've also found an appropriate new theme. Getting older and slightly wiser and reflecting. Like The Beatles albums and ABBA's old ones, this is a grab-bag of styles. Something for everybody. Everybody that is except for people who don't like ABBA. They're highly unlikely to convert any in that particular camp at this late stage.
Because this is ABBA, as you remember them. Except that now they're ABBA in their Seventies. It suits them really. We'll all get old. I'm well on the way myself. But if you get old like ABBA, you've not done badly, because they still remember how it's done and on Voyage, their new, and we're told, their final act as recording artists, they definitely do it.
I like it all really. The ones that I don't like so much, because they're not so much aligned with my own personal taste, I still recognise how good they are. There are precious few artists in Rock and Roll history, (if you conside them part of that and I would), who can move you and make you tap into specific, deeply ingrained, fundamental emotions as well as ABBA do. They do that one last time on Voyage.
So, they do ageing, they do Christmas. ABBA were always bound to do Christmas at some point or another and this is certainly good enough to be this year's John Lewis Christmas ad soundtrack. They do West End musicals. They do love.They do it all in that measured, stately, graceful, and ever so ever so slightly sentimental way, (OK, really sentimental), that only they can really do.
They save the best 'til last with Ode To Freedom, which is one of the best things they've ever done, an altogether glorious and moving last hurrah, (classically arranged, ABBA's understanding of the classical was always extraordinary), before they take their final bows and leave the stage. It's appropriate really giving that they first appeared onstage in a brilliant flash in 1974 in the Eurovision song contest with Waterloo an anthem to Europe, and it seems they're finally leaving the stage with another one and astonishingly with a song that's just as good as Waterloo was and is.
Now to milk it. To put their feet up and watch their own virtual concerts next year and wait for the applause, and, thinking more cynically, for the cash tills to ring. Boy, do they deserve both. One of the most surprising and successful musical returns I can think of.
The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 475 Lauryn Hill
Song(s) of the Day # 2,859 UV-TV
So interesting to find what you can stumble over these days. Pretty much anything you might want to hear is out there somewhere. Gainesville, Florida band UV-TV for example, seem to be carrying the torch for the great lost American alternative guitar sound of the Eighties.
On their latest 9 track album Always Something you get Blondie, Go-Gos, B52's, Let's Active, Swimming Pool Qs. It's nice that they evidently want to do this so much because they're very good at it. There's not a bad song here. There are several damn good ones. Listening to it I felt like I was watching MTV in the early days and one of these came on after Billie Jean.
Never stepping out of its lane Always Something made me feel like I was seventeen again, and I'm always very thankful for a record that makes me feel that. I find it slightly strange that there are bands around like UV-TV and The Exbats, (reviewed on here a couple of days ago and who operate in a similar field), doing what they are, but I'm glad there are.
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Albums of the Year # 33 Ishmael Ensemble - Visions of Light
The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 474 Hole
Song(s) of the Day # 2,858 The Exbats
Monday, November 22, 2021
Songs About People # 1,313 Georges Pompidou
Probably named after the centre, not the French President, but a chance of a bit of tasteful Portico Quartet is too good to miss.
Waiting For the Sun by Barney Hoskyns # 10 War
The Eagles, oh no.... But also Motown moves to LA. Sly & The Family Stone and War. This song seems to fit the general mood.
Albums of the Year # 34 Dummy - Mandatory Enjoyment