Thursday, December 8, 2022
Listening to the new Wilco album ptobably isn't high on the 'to do' list of young hipsters at this point of 2022. They're a band who have cerrtainly been hip at certain points in their history, but those points are rather a long time ago now. So while hipsters, young ot otherwise, are probably best directed to the latest Kendrick record, or else Black Country, New Road, I'll give Wilco's latest Cruel Country a listen instead and share my thoughts here.
I'm very pleased to have seen Wilco live over ten years ago. They're probably one of my favourite bands. I say probably because despite all they've achieved down the years, and those achievements are considerable, they've always been the most unassuming of bands.
Because Wilco, (and when you're talking Wilco you're talking Jeff Tweedy first and foremost despite the other great musicians and personalities within the band), really know their stuff and always did. They know their Hank Williams, they know their Gram Parsons, their Big Star, their Mavis Staples, their Replacements. They know their place in the scheme of things. And that alone makes them worthy of respect.
I like the new record the more I listen to it. Wilco are like that too. You have to give them time. Cruel Country is mostly a trimmed back set of songs. Largely acoustic and reflective ones that don't share their secrets easily Fans of Nel Clines extraordinary guitar heroics may not find much in this one to revel in in that particular respect.
But there's plenty else to cherish. It's a rather sad record, as it seems to be reflecting most of all on America, and America's a rather sad place right now. But it's not overly sad. There are plenty of good lyrics. Plenty of good songs. Plenty of reasons to listen to it again and get to know it better. Wilco are not dead just yet even though they're no longer the coolest kids on the block and never will be again.. And that's great news.
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Darren Jones comes good again. Darren, consistent supporter and advisor on content on this blog has similar taste to mine and tracks down loads of stuff I would otherwise be unaware of. I'm very grateful for his input. His latest tip is this one.
It's Asleep at the Wheel, the latest from Ryan McKeever's solo project The Staffers. Classic indie stylings of the sort immediately familiar to the likes of Pavement or Neutral Milk Hotel. This has become a musical sub genre all of its own over the last thirty years. McKeever is fluently versed in its charms. Every song here is a mini-classic of its form.
A decisive factor of whether you go for this or not is McKeever's voice. It tends to be rather willfully flat. I confess I wasn't hugely enamored. Bur otherwise I was enormously taken by Asleep at the Wheel in every respect. Many thanks to Darren. Please keep them coming.
Tuesday, December 6, 2022
Monday, December 5, 2022
Jake Xerxes Fussell's records are always worth a listen. He's back early in 2022 with another very good one, entitled Good & Green Again.
Fussell is a definite contender if prizes are being handed out in this respect. Good & Green Again plays its hand sraight. There's not the slightest hint of pastiche or irony of any sort. The playing with form that you get wth the likes of Will Oldham, Bill Callahan or Nick Cave.
No this is honest endeavour. Archealogical enquiry of the most loving and diligent kind. A very fine record to add to the modest pile this year has already produced.
A wonderful weekend away in Nottingham seeing good friends for the first time for too long. This was purchased. Not that I thought it would be a good record. In fact I suspected it wouldn't. Just because I liked the essentially ridiculous nature of the record cover. The record's OK though occasionally slightly ridiculous. The Rattles were a German Beat Combo and sound pretty much as you'd imagine they would.
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Baltimore's Beach House's long awaited and much anticpated new album Once Twice Melody, sets off with its opening and title track as if it's on a mission. The mission seems to be to find the missing link between Serge Gainsbourg at his dreamy peak, Suicide's electro pulse, Nancy and Lee's Some Velvet Morning, Broadcast, The Whicker Man and Goldfrapp's marvellous Felt Mountain.
That's a pretty good place to start from and the record shifts on from there, twisting and turning in interesting ways for the course of its run. Like a smooth, high speed train, travelling fast while appearing to travel slowly at one and the same.
I'd like to say immediately that I think it's a very good record. I won't go into how it ranks among their back catalogue, as I'm not familiar with all of that. 'There was never enough time, Michael. There was never enough time,' as Marlon Brando, (speaking from within the skin of Vito Corleone), said to Al Pacino, (listening from within the skin of Michael).
Beach House have been doing this, or things that are rather like this, for quite some time now. I first became aware of them about Veckatimest, the superlative 2009 Grizzly Bear album. I went to see them shortly afterwards play a great set at The Sage, in Gateshead.
Beach House were supporting them that night and though I was aware of and interested in them at the time, I arrived too late to see them. A mistake I cannot amend, though I'd like to. On Once Twice Melody they alternate vocals between the duo's core members Victoria Legrand Alex Scally, and it's quite a disarming process sometimes.
Nancy does the Nancy Sinatra / Broadcast thing while Alex can actually come across sounding rather like Neil Tennant. Not that I've got anything at all against Tennant and The Pet Shop Boys at all. Far from it. But it does come across as a strange, contrasting ride sometimes. But it still works remarkably and incredibly soothing. There are also hints of Flaming Lips occasionally and certainly Kraftwerk which all adds to the mix.
Anyway it's a fascinating and rewarding listen. A record to fall asleep to, and I mean that in the best sense of the term and experience. It will give you sweet dreams. One to listen to and tease out the nuances from over the coming months.
Saturday, December 3, 2022
Friday, December 2, 2022
Much has been written down the years about Liverpudian Michael Head's status as the great neglected British songwriting visionary of the last forty years. To the point of cliche really. Despite the any number of quite classic songs he's written down the years, the man's never actually had a Top Forty single. This beggars belief frankly.
One more classic record to add to the case for the man. Head and his current band The Red Elastic Band have just put out another album, , Dear Scott and it's probably among the very best he's ever released down the years. Twelve classically crafted and beautifully wrought and produced songs, all immediately recognisably Michael Head.
I saw Head and the Red Elastic Band play last Thursday at The Cluny in Ouseburn the day before Dear Scott came out. There was something vaguely triumphant about the performance. Head has struggled with heroin and alcohol addiction down the years and is really doing well just to still be with us, never mind putting out such great records and playing such magnificent gigs.
Because last Thursday was magnificent and Dear Scott is a great album. Full of Scouse melancholy, ennui and regret but pride and dogged endurance too. A story of survival against the odds. It has all the defining features of Head's work. Another essentially nautical record, water is almost ever present in his songs, with his underlying and abiding inspiration points running through it like Liverpool Rock if such a thing exists; Love, Baccarach, The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel.
It was great finally seeing the man perform, having enjoyed so many of his records from Pale Fountains, Shack and probably his masterpiece, The Magical World of the Strands. It was also nice to see that he's not entirely a prophet without honour in his own land. There were any number of people in the audience in clear rapture at points when career favourites were played. It was a special evening.
Any number of the songs on Dear Scott stand shoulder to shoulder with anything he's ever done. It's a tale of Liverpool more than anythng else, Head namechecks its streets at one point in The Ten, and you feel like you're walking down them with him. It's an evocative and, yes, magical record.
Best heard as a piece at single sittings. It was perfectly clear on Thursday how deeply proud of the record Head is and he has every right to be so. It won't top any charts apart from personal ones. Head never will sadly, but those who appreciate the man's special gifts will cherish it.
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Women seem to be pretty much in charge of things in the music world these days. That's a huge generalisation of course, and blokes and bands obviously have plenty to contribute but I'll just chuck a few names that seem to apply at you, entirely at random.
Weather Station, Courtney Barnett, Cate Le Bon, U.S.Girls, Sharon Van Etten, Goat Girl, Adrienne Lenker, Snail Mail, Cassandra Jenkins, Mega Bog, Jane Weaver, Little Simz, Greentea Peng. That's a pretty formidable list off the top of my head. My Top 3 albums of last year were by female solo artists and I could have tweaked the final Top Ten fairly easily to make the whole thing female without betraying my essential musical tastes and preferences.
Add to that list Alynda Segarra or Hurray For The Riff Raff if you prefer. If she's not high on your list already. She may well be. She put out a fine album in The Navigator in 2017, and has a back catalogue that is worthy of exploration.
Her latest Life on Earth though seems like a point of genuine arrival. A realisation of where she's been heading to for the best part of ten years. Segarra does a fairly similar thing to Sharon Van Etten. That thing that Springsteen did on his albums up to Darkness at the Edge of Town. Walking the mean streets in your leather jacket. Not stepping aside for anyone and not showing any fear.
Segarra's own personal twist on this is a slight New Orleans one. She moved there from The Bronx in 2007. She's also taking an 'it's the end of the world as we know it,' eco-line on this one, like so many others right now. Inevitable frankly, given the state of the planet we live on.
This leads to a slightly unfortunate record sleeve for with a picture of Segarra up to her knees in what looks like a Bayou river, wearing the oddest and not the most fetching battle garb. It's a dreadful choice of image to be honest but you shouldn't let it put you off because the record itself is just excellent and finds Hurray For The Riff Raff shifting into an altogether higher gear than she's ever operated at before.
In a year that's already provided some completely excellent and inspiring records; Big Thief, Cate le Bon, John Xerxes Russell, Beach House, Green/ Blue, Costello and any number of others, Segarra finds herself in the leading pack as we head towards the end of February. But it's far too early yet to make predictions for end of the year podium places just yet. Nevertheless, this ones a definite candidate and I suspect it has staying power. It's already getting a play for me every few days.
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
You probably won't need to read this review to decide whether you want to read the latest album by Belle & Sebastian, A Bit of Previous, their tenth in all. For such an apparently inoffensive band, they're really quite divisive.
I'd say if you've ever enjoyed anything by them over the years, give it a listen. It feels like a return to form, to such a degree that it bears comparison with virtually any album they've put out down the years. Not If You're Feeling Sinister perhaps, or Boy With The Arab Strap, but these are the kind of records that bands can only really come out with in the first flush of giddy youth. As a record that's clearly a product of middle age and all it inevitably brings, A Bit of Previous has plenty going for it.
For starters, it has plenty of career best songs. Just kisten to the three that kick off the record. Young & Stupid, Talk To Me, and particularly If They're Shooting At You. They're reminders of what made Belle & Sebastian stand out from the pack when they first appeared in the mid-Nineties. The new gang on the block. The distinctly wimpy one that you wouldn't want to mix with anyhow because they so clearly exactly who they were and where they were going.
Belle & Sebastian arrived fully formed, like The Smiths more than anyone before them, (and this was entirely calculated on their part), with a clearly delineated sensibility, look and sound, a package that was ready made for an existing indie congregation to embrace and relish.
A Bit of Previous is an album, more than any they've released for perhaps more than fifteen years that seems tailored entirely for B & S devotees needs. Perhaps the fact that its the first for almost twenty that they've recorded in home town Glasgow, inspired by Lockdown walks leader Stuart Murdoch took across the city has spmething to do with this sense of return.
So, twelve songs in all. None of them extraneous. Perhaps they retreat into sentiment to a greater degree than they need to during the last few songs, where Deathbed of my Dreams reminded me of no one so much as Val Doonican. Belle & Sebastian have always had something of the slippers, cocoa and cosy sweaters feel to them but this is a little too far even for the likes of me who are highly prone to the twee things in life.
But this is the merest quibble. It's nice to see them still in such rude health, like meeting up with an old, important friend for the first time in many years and being delighted to find there's still a spring in their step and a twinkle in their eyes when they smile just as there always was.
There are still reminders of their usual touchstones. The Smiths, the early, gentler Velvet Underground, The Kinks. And delightfully on If They're Shooting At You early Dexys. Like Dexys, it's worth restating that Belle & Sebastian are first and foremost a gang. One that sticks together, their line up has changed remarkably little down the years. They also have no intention like Morrissey of disappointing you in middle and old age in terms of their attitudes and beliefs.
They're just as,politically and socially engaged perhaps if anything, even more so, than they've ever been. They do Indie Pop, they do Northern Soul, they even do a turn on the dancefloor like your Aunts and Uncles as the wedding reception presses on into the evening and the one drink too many kicks in. They're not done yet and that's very much to their credit.
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Get into the groove. That's the key here. To really enjoying Eternal Light Brigade third album from Swedish psych unit Les Big Byrd that is.
Operating in a similar field as Brian Jonestown Massacre and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizzard, you can't help but imagine they have ridiculously large record collections, focused mainly on the Psychedelic late Sixties and early Seventies.
This kind of immersion in a mythic and probably imaginary past has been a feature of Rock & Roll since Julian Cope, Spacemen 3, Spiritualised, Primal Scream and The Verve revived interest in it in the Eighties and Nineties. Once considered an area of interest primarily for Dungeons & Dragons nerds, (at least in the UK). it's gained credibility ever since.
This kind of endeavor is grounded on a certain space gazing mysticism and dopiness sparked by one two many hits on the bong generally. Les Big Byrd indulge in this kind of addled staring at the sun throughout Eternal Light Brigade. Whether you go for it or not probably depends on where you stand on the collected works of Gong, Hawkwind, Can and Neu as well as Krautrock in general.
Les Big Byrd favour a leaner, more disciplined approach to this kind of thing to King Gizzard for example, though you wouldn't guess it from the record sleeve. I really enjoyed this once I'd followed Madonna's advice, (thanks Madge!), and will be back for more.
After the reminder given, if one were needed, by a wondrous Glastonbury, that this music thing is a truly global endeavour, this is a great new record to chance upon, to drive the point home which I've been very much enjoying over the last few days..
There's a long article in the current Uncut Magazine focussing on the young Brazilian musician Sessa. He's worth extended attention, as he seems to encapsulate everything that makes the traditions, both musical and cultural, of this country so magical.
New album,Estrela Acesa encapsulates the almost aquatic, submarine quality of the best of that tradition. Sessa is clearly versed in the Brazilian canon; Tom Jobin, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa. But he infuses fresh wonder all of his own.
A beautifully crafted remembrance that sometimes you need to make the time. Relax and float downstream.
My favourite new band, part blah, blah, blah. A highly pleasing album arrival late in the year from the Glasgow Underground scene from Nightshift called Made of Earth. Their second, it slots into expected alternative listening patterns, while remaining very listenable on its own terms.
While most obviously Andy's Babies, as Lloyd Cole called the Velvet Underground traumatised youth of that fair city, Nightshift are also well versed in the Post Punk of bands such as Raincoats, Delta 5 and Kleenex and Glasgow's founding indie fathers, Orange Juice, Fire Engines and Postcard Records.
I loved this kind of slightly mannered artiness in my late teens and into my twenties. It represents a joyous immersion into books, music art and film that will never date or age.
So all in all, a great night out at the arty indie nightclub in black polo necks, berets and shades. a delightful record that breaks no new ground but is all the more enjoyable for all that. Shiny, shiny boots of leather.
Monday, November 28, 2022
Ezra Furman remains first and foremost the kind of Rock & Roll star that doesn't exist any more. Bowie or Reed in the early Seventies. Loud, proud and unapologetic, at the point of realisation.
Now a transgender woman and currently training to become a Rabbi, her own narrative is just as intriguing as her records. Latest album All of us Flames is at first, one blazing, fist aloft queer anthem after another though by the end of the record, it becomes something else.
More Bruce than Lou or Dave in terms of its tone. Virtually every song builds and builds though there is occasional time for contemplative nuance, notably Ally Sheedy in the Breakfast Club which immediately made me want to watch the movie again.
I'd imagine Ezra is such a point of inspiration for many going through their own journeys of discovery and becoming. All of us Flames is a particular record, not quite like any other you'll hear this year and it's brilliantly realised.