“Memory is what we are. Your very soul and your very reason to be alive are tied up in memory.” Nick Cave
Thursday, March 31, 2022
Song(s) of the Day # 2,986 US Highball
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Neutrals - Bus Stop Nights EP
There are a few bands around now who specialise in revival of that New Wave sound that seemed so prevalent in the UK as Punk spread to the suburbs and on to the Northern regions in 1978. Mick Trouble, Artsick, Jetstream Ponies to name the artists who came first to my mind, most obviously associated with this mode of musical creation and delivery.
But surely nobody does this thing quite as well as Neutrals.When I came across them in 2019 on the release of the Kebab Disco LP. They were Lanarkshire born and bred middle aged refugees living and performing in the San Francisco area. Not sure where they're living at the moment but they're still working on the same musical mission statement map. Mining an essential seam.
So, Jilted John, Television Personalities, The Members. Undertones coming round the bend. Evening sessions. Scratching the name of your favourite band on your pencil case. Making sure you never ever miss Top of the Pops. Being a bit of a herbert. My youth. Neutrals, on latest EP Bus Stop Nights replicate this sound and these feelings better than anyone I know.
Ibibio Sound Machine - Electricity
The new Ibibio Sound Machine record is just excellent. Now there's a surprise. They've been doing this for years now. They've been doing this since 2014 by my reckoning, with a new record with just as much fun and pure energy as the last one, brimming with rhythm, joy, conscience, infectiousness and spirituality.
Their latest Electricity ticks all requisite boxes with consumate ease, Eno Williams and her posse do it again. For more information about them and what they do, please access this previous review.
Coming Up # 7 Tomberlin
Sarah Jane Tomberlin's 2018 record At Weddings was one of the more interesting debut albums of recent years.A minimal, confessional record about growing up as the daughter of a Baptist pastor in Illinois it was a sparse affecting record which lingered long in the memory.
Now she's back, with her second pending at the end of April. Judging by the advance tracks, it should be well worth waiting for.
Song(s) of the Day # 2,985 Placebo - Never Let Me Go
Placebo were never the most grown up of bands. A duo essentially, although they did tour as a band. Epitomised absolutely by the almost stateless Brian Molko, (he lived almost everywhere growing up and could probably be best described as Trans-European). The other members of the group might as well not have been there except they were there to flesh out the numbers onstage, they were support, pure and simple, Brian's droogs. Like the members of Tubeway Army who weren't Gary Numan.
Listening back to their first incarnation's finest moments, Pure Morning, Every You Every Me, The Bitter End and so on, they weren't at all bad, so long as you didn't take the essential artifice of their projection. The neutotic, teenage, suicidal, asexual, black fingernails and pout. They had a good sound. Glacial, glossy and cool. Ideal for sixteen year olds. Vaguely Gothy, vaguely Punky, vaguely Grungs, always angsty and dark. But fun. Come downstairs Brian, your supper's, on the table, but don't bring the snake and put your top on.
This is not to dismiss the relevance of bands and sounds like these. Molko had his mental health issues and songs like theirs can save lives. And, if their image was always somewhat contrived they at least had some good songs. More than most of their immediate competition. New album Never Let Me Go their first for almost ten years, has some good songs on it too. Nothing as good as Pure Morning perhaps but nothing to shame their legacy. Placebo have not chosen to age at all. They are still posey attitude, teenage anguish.
I enjoyed listening to the new record. Though it's not a necessary one, except for original fans who are keen to relive their leathered youth. I wasn't one of those so won't listen to it again. Nor will it make it to my end of year lists. But if you're still open to illicit Gothic thrill, this might be for you. Placebo were always good at it and still are.
Tuesday, March 29, 2022
Songs About People # 1,331 Ursula Andress
The Hanging Stars - Hollow Heart
Just before the first Lockdown, a couple of years back, London throwback alternative guitar band, The Hanging Stars, were due to play one Sunday evening at The Brandling Arms in Gosforth, a twenty minutes bus ride away from me. It's a rare thing indeed to get to see a band as good as this one playing in a pub and I was all set to go but sadly the times conspired against me an the gig was pulled.
The Stars have just released their latest record. Hollow Heart and it's the latest in a number of fine ones they've put out over the years. In terms of their sound they're really in thrall to the great B guitar bands of the Sixties and Seventies. Beatles, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Burrito Brothers, Big Star and Badfinger. Add The Eagles, elements of Waters Floyd, Unhalfbricking Fairport, Moody Blues and Teenage Fanclub and you have their sound. They're mellow fellows.
This is not music that has any plans at all to rock your boa,t so much as make you tap your toes, perhaps in front of an open fire at your local on a Sunday night. Occasionally they take their love of the idols a little too far. Fourth song, sounds uncannily like the time when Alex met Gram, and would never have standed the remotest chance of even existing if Big Started hadn't written Thirteen all those years ago. Still, that description sounds like aversion nice thing to me and trust me, the song sounds just as nice as the description.
Elsewhere, The Hanging Stars do their thing and the records spins with mellow determination and certainty. You could play The Notorious Byrds Brothers tonight. You could play #1 Record or Songs From Northern Britain. Or you could just play this. It's not as good as any of these records. But it might give you a similar warm, contented feeling.
Song(s) of the Day # 2,984 Baby Grande
Canberra, Australian Glam Rock band from the Mid-Seventies. Clearly stigmatised by Aladin Sane era Bowie but also probably The Stooges and Sweet too. Steve Kilbey and Peter Koppes would later form The Church who ploughed a completely different furrow. This is too derivative, paricularly of Bowie to really demand intense scrutiny but it's quite good fun.
Monday, March 28, 2022
Song of the Day # 2,983 The Surfrajettes
Sunday, March 27, 2022
Coming Up # 6 Fontaines D.C.
I'm always slightly wary of new Fontaines D.C. as their main musical drive seems to be drawn from the kind of Punk, New Wave and Post Punk that I'm least drawn to. They always win me round through their invention, bravado and creative wit. New album Skinty Fia is due at the end of April. I imagine it will be terrific. Here's the title track.
Here's an account of my gig of the year.
A couple of years ago New Zealand singer songwriter Aldous Harding used to do a cover of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights while touring. It made perfect sense really. If anybody should be playing Kate Bush songs apart from the woman herself it's Harding. She did a great job of it. She has the range and the emotive artillery required and an understanding of the essential silliness but the equally essential poetry that's going on in the original. At the end of the song in the link I posted she makes a face of childish embarrassment to her audience. An 'I'm not worthy' look. There was no need. She's more than worthy. If Kevin Morby is the modern equivalent of Bob and Bill Callahan plays Leonard, then Aldous is just right for Kate. The comparisons are not a diminishment of any of the three. In fact a compliment. We're very lucky to have them.
I watched the clip this Sunday morning before going to see Harding play The Cluny 2 in the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle in the evening. A prize ticket in a tiny, intimate venue to see a very special artist. I'd snapped it up a few months ago as soon as I'd heard she was playing and waited in great anticipation ever since. Watching her do Kate I wondered whether she'd play the song again that evening. Perhaps it was too much to hope for.
All in all it was a very special day. Nice weather in Newcastle as Spring becomes Summer. I had my lunch and wandered to my local, Rosie's, where James, the perennial barman nowadays, was manning the fort. It was quiet, midday and an empty pub. I put on a few songs, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Love, Cornershop, Mahalia Jackson, things that seemed to fit the early afternoon mood.
Then I wandered down the road to the Tyneside Cinema to watch the documentary about Aretha Franklin Amazing Grace which has just opened. That was an extraordinary thing in itself which will have to wait for a later post but it set me up for the evening. Called Mum and Dad who are both OK. Then after a couple more calls and some texts and another pint at Rosie's took a taxi down to the Ouseburn Valley to The Cluny.
When I got out at the other end there was a definite haze of dope hanging around the place. Lots of, mainly fairly early to late middle aged folk hanging round the venue, several of them dressed in Tie-Dye. The reason soon became clear. Gong, or what is left of them by this point were playing the main venue. Not for me. At least not tonight. I made my way into Cluny 2, just before the support act was due to start.
It was immediately evident that the mood of the evening was polite. Wonderfully so. Not a young crowd but not an old one either. Ranging from twenty to fifty. Stage set up by the venue door, which isn't where it always is. Not where I saw Courtney Barnett for the first time over five years back. Or for Bill Ryder Jones a couple of years later.
Courtney's Dead Fox was playing as support Laura Jean hit the stage. Apt really, as she's been supporting Courtney the last time I'd seen her late last year at Northumbria University. On that occasion Laura Jean had been rather lost on the big stage. Playing alone with guitar, keyboards, sax and effects she's made little sense. Here by contrast, she was in her element.
She played a short half our set of intimate, clever and honest songs and chatted between them to the crowd. Partly about Harding who she called Hannah and said she had looked after years back when she'd been living in Melbourne above a pub of derelict old men. It was great but I went up the winding stairs to catch the last of Newcastle's sunlight. Stood outside the venue for a few minutes and and realised that Aldous Harding was coming straight towards me to turn inside the venue door.
Our eyes met and I got the sense that you do when you see someone in the public eye that they're thinking 'Is he going to bother me?' I'm not like that so I said, 'You're wonderful. Have a good evening.' She thanked me, not once but twice and went downstairs. I went down shortly afterwards to catch the rest of the supporting slot.
After Laura Jean finished with a neat sax solo I followed her out of the doors, (seriously I'm no stalker), and thanked her for her set, telling her I'd seen her supporting Courtney and playing a wonderful version of the Go-Betweens Streets of Your Town with her and her band . She seemed surprised that I knew of them. I said I'd seen Courtney here a few years back, 'We play the circuit' she replied then said 'I'm Laura' and I told her my name and we shook hands.
Half an hour seemed too long to wait for Harding to hit the stage. I stood in a thin queue for the bar although I noticed a sneaky type avoiding this most English of laws and getting his beer before me. I got in conversation with the bloke in front of me. I asked him if he knew Harding and he said no, he was here at his girlfriend's behest. 'Sometimes you have to listen to your girlfriend' I said. 'Only about music', he replied. 'I have to manage everything else.'
And then, shortly after nine, Harding and her band were onstage. For a while it looked as if it was going to be a wonderful gig where I barely saw the artist concerned. Harding was almost unrecognisable from the person I'd seen just outside the venue shortly earlier. She'd pulled her long hair on both sides right across her face and crouched deep onstage. I caught only momentary glimpses of her for the first few numbers, all from her latest album Designer.
She's an intense and mannered performer. She positively gurns at stages, baring her teeth, rolling her eyes, leering. You'll never have seen anything quite like it. Not for everyone, although the crowd seemed to me to be absolutely in the palm of her hand. After the first song, the title track of Designer a middle aged Geordie voice was heard to say 'You're great' which she acknowledged politely and eventually moved onto the next song.
But I still couldn't really see her. A too tall man a few rows ahead was blocking my view. I shuffled horizontally trying not to break the polite, pervasive mood. Still couldn't really see her. The music was magnificent but I seemed destined to be denied a proper view.
Harding began to talk to the audience in between numbers. 'Usually I'm really funny, but it seems not tonight.' was her first rejoinder and from then on she opened up. I'd almost given up being able to see things properly so skirted round the back of the standing area past the bar and towards the exit. Just before it at the side of the stage I finally found the perfect view of Harding and her band. So there I stayed.
So what exactly does Harding do which make her so special? She has precedents and Kate Bush is definitely one of them but by now, moving onto her third album and beyond, she defines her own space. It's definitely intense, the long gap between songs ensures that, but it's a light intensity somehow, and a humorous one. Something quite special anyway.
The band left the stage but were brought back for an encore. A new song, 'Nowhere yet...' called No Peel where she accompanied proceedings by tapping a drumstick on a mug of coffee. Then they were gone. Harding rested her head on the doorway just outside the venue. Then I made my way out. Pausing first for a pee.
I said to the guy in the urinal next to me, 'Well that was something...' He replied, 'I didn't like it.' Each to their own. Outside the venue I saw the bloke I'd chatted to in the queue for the bar, this time with his girlfriend. I asked them if they'd enjoyed it and they both had although she said Harding hadn't played several of the songs she liked best. I told them that previously she'd been known to do Wuthering Heights and we agreed that would have been something. Then my taxi arrived and took me home.
It was one of the best things I've seen...
P.S. No she didn't play Wuthering Heights tonight. She didn't need to.
Aldous Harding - Warm Chris
I'm certainly not the only person who enjoys Friday mornings, particularly as we make our way into Spring. But I particularly enjoy waking and listening to a new album I've really been looking forward to while getting ready for work, knowing the weekend is coming up at the end of the day.
Such was the case this Friday and the treat I was looking forward to was hearing Warm Chris, the fourth album from New Zealander, Aldous Harding. She's a singular talent, difficult, or rather impossible, to pin down and categorise. Types like me who write about music always need to try to do this to some degree and generally it's manageable with reference points and comparisons.
What I like most about AH though is her elusive quality. Labels don't define her. Generally she's described as a Folk artist. But Warm Chris like her previous records is not quite like any Folk album you've ever heard, though you can see why the word is applied to what she does. On the Pitchfork site, which is always a good place to go to for particularly ludicrous and unintentionally comic reviews, the writer of the review for this goes to enormous lengths to tie herself and her reader up in knots by detailing how she likes the record very much but doesn't understand it.
But music is really meant to be enjoyed or provoke thought or emotions rather than being coralled in print. Warm Chris is a hugely enjoyable and thought provoking record first and foremost. AH never itemises her thought processes for clinical dissection and this is a prime reason for why I find listening to her so rewarding.
Warm Chris like so many records right now of course is AH's Lockdown record written after moving back to her mother's house in Lyttleton, New Zealand and then recorded in Monmouth, Wales with her long term production collaborator John Parrish. In a recent Guardian interview she describes what she does as 'treading the line between flow state and dissociation - being present and being somewhere else.'
That will do for me. As with my first great musical love R.E.M., who alternatively titled second album Reckoning, File Under Water, the best records need to be listened to and not defined. Warm Chris like Reckoning is a record most of all to be savoured and listened to again and again. That's what I'll be doing over the coming weeks and months.
Song(s) of the Day # 2,982 Sugar World
Saturday, March 26, 2022
Songs About People # 1,330 Henry Moore
In advance of my review of the wonderful new album from Aldous Harding which I'll post tomorrow. Here's one track from it. For another indefinable artist.
Coming Up # 5 Say Sue Me
One of my favourite young bands of recent years, Korean Indie Surf janglers Say Sue Me return with third album The Last Thing Left in May.
Song(s) of the Day # 2,981 Fortunato Durrutti Marinetti
Friday, March 25, 2022
Song(s) of the Day # 2,980 Sprints
Oirish Attitoode. There seems to be so much of it around these Fontaine's D.C., Silverbacks, Murder Capital and now it seems prints. It's definitely a scene that has common demoninator. Rage, bile, Irish accents. Punk you'd probably call it.
Thursday, March 24, 2022
Coming Up # 4 Sunflower Bean
A few years back in 2016, I was highly, highly taken with New York trio Sunflower Bean and their debut album Human Ceremony. It was a fantastically exciting, innovative and visceral record and it still sounds great, I gave it another listen yesterday and can vouch for that. I also saw the band play at round about the same time in a small indie club in Newcastle where I live and they were fabulous.
Since then I've kind of taken my eye off the band. They, or their record compan,y seem to have consciously foregrounded Julia Cummings, one of their songwriters at the expense of the other, guitarist Oliver Kivlen and their music seems to have suffered slightly as a result. It's a little more nondescript and stands out less than it did. The song I've posted here evidences that I'd say. Anyhow I'll certainly give their new record Headful of Sugar, which arrives at the beginning of May, a spin. If you'll forgive the pun, or even if you don't I hope it gives me the same rush as Human Ceremony but I'm not entirely sure that it will.
Song(s) of the Day # 2,979 Park Jiha
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Coming Up # 3 Kurt Vile
With Kurt Vile you kind of know what's coming by now. Stream of consciousness Beat generation meets early Dylan sensibility wedded to Dinosaur Jt. at their most laid back. That will more than do for me. Watch My Moves arrives on Verve mid-April. It may not be hugely surprising but should be hugely enjoyable.
Song(s) of the Day # 2,978 Jerry Leger
Canadian Jerry Leger knows his stuff. Had he released his current album Nothing Pressing,in 1972 it would probably now be considered as a lost Americana singer songwriter nugget in the style of Dylan, Croce, Young, Prine and Lightfoot. But instead, it's just out. This really doesn't make the record any less remarkable.
Leger has a voice that's eerily reminiscent of George Harrison's on occasion and a droopy moustache that would have earned Rick Danko and the rest of The Band's approval. Nothing Pressing is produced by Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies and is immediately, along with Jake Xerxes Fussell's Good & Green Again, the best record of its sort I've heard this year.
It's distinctly old school. Every song on here sounds utterly as if it was written and recorded between 1967 and 1974. There's a lot of stuff on here that you sense that the Travelling Wilburys would have approved of, but don't let that put you off for a moment. This is just a man who intimately knows the tradition he works in draws you into his Pastoral American world with sweet, astonishing skill.