Monday, October 31, 2022
I very much liked Aoife Nessa Frances' debut Land of No Junction when it appeared at the beginning of last year. Enchanting was a good description of it. Mysterious, enigmatic and highly more-ish it employed tropes you'd immediately associate with Stereolab and Broadcast and filled the spaces with fantastic, original ingenuity. It was and is some record.
So it's great to be able to report that Frances has returned 18 months down the line with a follow up Protector that on first play is quite the equal of its predecessor. I'm already looking forward to playing this again and getting to know these songs better.
Protector seems less immediately indebted to either Stereolab or Broadcast here. In many ways these seem like more traditionally derived Folk related compositions. But they're every bit as compelling and mysterious as the songs on Land of No Junction and Frances is carving out a fascinating identity for herself that brings Jane Weaver to mind in terms of its potential future legacy.
A late entry in terms of my albums of the year. It had to have a space someone. A magical, textured record. The stuff of happy dreams. An album that demands playing and re-playing to allow it to fully unwrap its pearls. Sorry for the hyperpole but trust me. It really is that good.
'Country music for people who don't like Country music.' Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky's latest album certainly is grounded in C& W. It has the twang, the pedal steel, the sense of place.
But it has something else too. The Cosmic that Gram was searching for for. Beautiful harmonies and melodies, the sense of otherness. As if Gram and Bowie had somehow met and talked about the stars over the prairie.
Sunday, October 30, 2022
Utah's Backseat Lovers map the difficult passage from late adolescence to adulthood in second album Waiting to Spill. It's a record that reminds me of the first couple of District albums and sure enough they turn up on a number of times on the band's Spotify playlists.
These are strummed slightly pained songs that seem aching to stretch their wings and become fully fledged anthems, but their bands innate taste and restraint won't let them.
I enjoyed listening to Waiting to Spill. even though I knew it wasn't really made for me. I don't feel emotions quite like these anymore. When I was 19 I had The Replacement to listen to when they hit me.
Nevertheless it seemed clear to me that Backseat Lovers talent is quite palpable. Plenty of people, mostly round about their age will readily identify with them and play this record to death. I'd say they have some future ahead of them.
Saturday, October 29, 2022
Burning Hell a fabulous band that I was unaware of who have just come across my radar by chance. Here are some songs from Garbage Island from earlier on this year which showcase their considerable gifts and craft.
Rinky Dink DIY essentially, which always catches my attention. I've always been drawn towards artists operating at the margins, like The Go Betweens, Vic Godard, Jad Fair and Sufjan Stevens who adopt particular personal perspectives to describe the world that they see and their efforts to find their place within it. This goes back to Lou I suppose most of all.
The band's Spotify playlists indicate where this kind of sensibility is rooted. Velvet Underground, The Roches, Tom Tom Club, Richard Dawson, Smog, XTC, Silver Jews, Grandaddy. All huge ticks from me. A cursory listen to their own songs immediately confirms that Burning Hell belong in their august company.
A songwriting alliance out of Newfoundland, Canada, formed between songwriter Matthias Kom and multi-instrumentalist Ariel Sharrett and musicians who coalesce around them. Alternatively wry and tender and touching, A realsation of the way the world is but a constant imagining of another better place. Garbage Island is as good an entre as any to their universe.
Friday, October 28, 2022
If you like that stuff then you'll surely like this. Despite their long absence, Battle Ave. haven't forgotton how to do what they do. The record starts with the sound of a baby crying. She's Esther, the daughter of band leader Jesse Dohetry. It's an invitation to an album that like Esther is vulnerable and emotionally honest.
It's also well versed in its chosen generic style. I Saw The Egg may remind you of Dinosaur or Young but it's never slavish to either of them because the songs here are sturdy, crafted product in their own.
I thoroughly enjoyed this on first listen and wager I'll back which is always my ultimate indicator on whather a record passes muster, given what this blog tries to do . It's going to be on my end of year albums rundown too. Time will decide where. A highly likeable and durable album.
Plaintive reflections on a rolling, folky melodic backdrop on Paul Thomas Saunders' first album for eight years Figure in a Landscape. Not dissimilar from classic records by Red House Painters, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. Once this resemblance is established, it's not and album that springs in any surprises but it's a smooth and comforting listen and there are moments when true grace is attained..
Thursday, October 27, 2022
I had begun to wonder whether Atlanta Punk stalwarts Black Lips were past their sell by date of late, but they've come good again with latest album Apocalypse Love. Multiple changes in their line up around core members Cole Alexander and Jared Swilley and risky dabbling genre wise had made me think they'd lost their way, but they're fighting fit once more here.
Remarkably, almost a quarter of a century into their career, a milestone you hardly expect bands like Black Lips to reach, Apocalypse Love is eclectic to say the least. Country, Punk, Rock & Roll and even Rap are all touched on but it's still an enthralling, listen all the way as the songwriting is so solid.
So while this is recognisably The Lips, it's good to see them intent on moving onwards. The core of the band's magic has always been their deep and profound knowledge of music and insistence on not taking it all too seriously. They're an inspiration and guiding star for younger bands as to how to plot an enduring and remunerative career in Rock and Roll.
A reflective and meditative album called Pigments. The vocals are not particularly to my tastes but ir will certainly have takers.
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
It's strange happenstance that the latest Weather Station album should come out during a week that I've been undergoing a wonderful Joni Mitchell immersion on the Facebook listening group Temporary Fandoms and finally fully beginning to realise why she's esteemed quite so highly by so many.
Weather Station's Tamara Lindemann, (who fronts and steers the band), has much in common with Joni. They're both Canadian, both women obviously, both whisper to the world rather than scream at it, and both have a solemn but committed and engaged approach to the state of play in the world, relationships and how we stand in relation to the wonderful but also woeful planet that we share.
How Is It that I Should Look At The Stars appears almost exactly a year after Ignorance, Lindemann's record from 2021, which was rightly almost universally acclaimed. Apparently it was recorded during the same sessions. It's another stately, almost state of the art, state of play in the world album, that complements and contrasts from Ignorance and has already been praised to the heavens and given a 10 out of 10 score by Uncut Magazine, who generally understand these things. on first listen, I can quite see why.
How Is It finds Lindemann at her most restrained and insightful. The still point of the turning world. At a moment that, given Russia's full out invasion of The Ukraine, and a time that many of us are beginning to wonder whether this is the beginning of World War Three and the beginning of the end of everything we know and cherish about life.
It's a record that I immediately warm to in a similar way to how I've finally warmed to and appreciate Joni's gifts over the course of this week. It's another marvel to be wondered at and embraced. A light in the ever encroaching darkness.
Tuesday, October 25, 2022
Pete Astor has featured reasonably consistently in my life down the years. In the mid-Eighties when I was first defining my music taste along with the rest of my personality, he fronted the kind of bands I would have aspired to have been in had I got my act together. The Loft and The Weather Prophets, polite jingly jangly and vaguely literary groups built on the lines of classic guitar outfits:. Television, Velvets, Byrds.
Neither The Loft or The Weather Prophets propelled Astor to either the fame or critical acclaim he clearly envisioned for himself. They sold and went down reasonably well but pulled up few oaks. It's no great mystery in retrospect why that didn't happen for him. His songs ultimately weren't quite strong enough and it wasn't quite the music for those times. At least not the music that was going to be played on daytime radio or reach the Top Ten.
Astor seemed to realise this himself eventually and got himself a daytime job as a lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. He's kept his eye in though, releasing records consistently down the years since. And consistently good ones. For anybody who reveres this kind of thing.
What 'this kind of thing' is, seems to be a very British pursuit. Traditional Pop songs of the kind that used to make the charts when the likes of the Kinks and The Faces put them out, but haven't much since. The kind of songs that the likes of Robyn Hitchcock, Robert Lloyd, Martin Bramah, Vic Godard and Billy Childish specialise in, plough out and tour small pub venues to play every few years. A music that has its own small constituency and maps out its lives.
Astor does what he does, very well. In fact you could actual make a good case that he's really hit his stride properly in late middle age, and latest album Time on Earth is among the best things he's ever done.
It's a sad record in some ways. One that maps the passing of time. Watching the passage of the sand in an hourglass from northerly to southerly bulb. But Astor finds all the small consolations of that process. Even as you watch more and more of your friends pass to the other side as inevitably happens at this point in the road.
Astor is a craftsman and he does a great job. Not many people will hear this record. Certainly not as many as should. But it will be greatly treasured by many of those who do.
Monday, October 24, 2022
Another of the fresh explorations in to the wonders of yesterday which the likes of Allah- Las excel in. Ghost Woman's eponymous album joins the dots between Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape. the Paisley Underground scene and Brian Jonestown Massacre.
That's my review in a nutshell frankly. If you like those artists, you will almost certainly like much of this. Ghost Woman explores absolutely no fresh territory but nevertheless covers plenty of deeply wonderful familiar ground with great skill.
The sound of clanging, chiming reverb guitars and lush harmonies essentially. There are records that try to exist in the present and those that simply don't because they revere the past too much. This is certainly one of the latter. That's not intended as a criticism in any respect.
I come across a record like this every year pretty much. One that shines a light on this golden era of the American guitar at the frontier of a new consciousness, 65-67. If Cool Ghouls or alla La's put out a record during the year it's generally theirs. Looks like Ghost Woman are set for this award this year.
In 1998 I went to Manahttan with one of my best lifetime friends for a couple of weeks. We had the most wonderful experience. A couple of English bachelors roaming one of the best cities on Earth. Still the best in my estimation. Punching above our weight with wonderful woman who gave us the time of day because of our English accents giving us novelty value that we probably didn't deserve.
One evening we found ourselves at a club I seem to remember being called The English Disc,o where we met and had a great evening with a cool Chinese American girl and her friend. The club was festooned with showroom mannequin dummies and played exclusively British Pop Music, mostly from the Eighties. At at a certain point I remember the DJ playing Joy Division and then following it up immediately with Duran Duran. Something which would never have happened in an English club given our strict, almost regimented perspectives about music. What was cool and why. Earnest men in long coats and hedonistic men on yachts. Not things that belonged together on the dancefloor.
A similarly disorientating experience can be had listening through to Momentary Presence the debut album from Brooklyn Pop Psychedelicists GIFT. Clearly Anglophiles, every track reminded me of British bands, but a whole fistful of different ones, generally from the early Eighties with Spacemen 3 occasionally chucked into the mix.
Mostly though it's early Eighties British Synth. Simple Minds between New Gold Dream and Sparkle, Flock of Seagulls, Fixx, OMD, Psychedelic Furs and the like. Highly listenable Pop but certainly rather odd to someone of my vintage.
Sunday, October 23, 2022
Yesterday was a good day for those who like to spend a lot of time in record shops discussing whether highly anticipated new record releases are any good or not when they finally arrive. Believe it or not, a certain kind of person actually does this all the time. Or else they're doing something similar on online forums for obsessive types, who come straight off the pages of the High Fidelity script, (mostly blokes, it probably doesn't need adding).
This Friday there were three main candidates up for discussion. The return of the Arctic Monkeys. The new Taylor Swift, and Stumpwork, the much heralded second album from London thirty somethings Dry Cleaning who are rarely mentioned in print without the dreaded appellation 'Post Punk' attached either before or after their name.
For the record neither Arctic Monkeys or Taylor Swift did much for me this time round. I had to take them off fairly quickly. I will try again but my hopes won't be too high. Stumpwork though I found highly enjoyable and would expect to do very well indeed given how in vogue this kind of thing seems to be right now. I can also see myself listening to it quite a bit for quite for a while.
My highly positive response to this record is quite a surprise to me given how I've reacted to listening to previous Dry Cleaning releases as if I've contracted a particularly irritating rash that you can't help but scratch, even though you know it's only going to make things worse.
Dry Cleaning, like many of the bands they're readily grouped with, IDLES, Yard Act, Squid, Black Midi, Shame, you know, the usual suspects, seem to delight in itemising the inescapable deeply set tedium and utterly humdrum boredom of modern adult existence. Mortgages, bank accounts, ring roads, run down high streets, adverts that come round in a loop every fifteen year, trying to be cleverer than your very clever friends all the time. Hopelessness, helplessness, ennui and inner rage and making jokes about it.
But despite my kneejerk resistance to almost everything about this approach, I took to Stumpwork immediately like I kind of expected I would, given the intensive marketing that led up to its release. They seem to be really hitting their stride here. Everything that worked against them previously works for them now.
Singer / droner Florence Shaw's deadpan modern or post modern commentary is galvanising rather than grating and frustrating this time round. The arrangements are inspired. Guitarist Tom Dowse in particular, pulls out all the stops, painting an endlessly shifting musical narrative that hints at Pylon at their finest or that wonderful Life Without Buildings record from the turn of the century that seemed to presage so much of the sensibility this current wave of guitar bands, Meanwhile the rhythm section is unobtrusive but rock solid.
Both Shaw and Dowse were Art Students and met at the Royal College of Art in 2010 and their journey seems to have reached its moment of fruition. Despite perhaps the most unprepossessing album sleeve of the year, with the letters of Stumpwork written out in pubic hair on a bar of soap, it's actually a fluid and surprisingly coherent statement for a band that thrives on incoherence. It's all rather State of the Art as well as a State of the Nation address in terms of its themes actually, something any band worth their salt strives for but very few get anywhere close to. This is an admirable stab at that. Everything flows.
This probably doesn't mean I'll now relent and become a died in wool convert to this stuff. The standard ingredients of this modern sub-genre, (if you want to call it that).are never that inspiring to me generally. I still kind of dread the arrival of new Black Midi and Black Country New Road product and that's unlikely to change. But kudos to Dry Cleaning for converting me to their own approach to all of this. This is highly listenable and more-ish record which short win them many converts. They're now off on a very, very long World tour which I imagine should advance their cause considerably.
Joni Mitchell, throughout her remarkable musical career, was constantly vexed and exasperated by being asked about how she felt about being a female artist rather than just an artist. Her frustration was inevitable but I would say the pigeon holing, which is what it was, is understandable too.
It's easier to compare female musicians to other female musicians than male musicians. Journalists tend to make the easier comparisons. I was reminded of Joni's dilemma and irritation when listening to Australian songwriter Jo Schornikov's wonderful new album Altar, this morning.
I think it is a wonderful record, but it's also recognisably and immediately one made by a woman. I find that a large number of the best records I've heard over the past few years have been made by female artists. Altar has a remarkable clarity and focus that others could learn from. It's based on old fashioned songwriting craft first and foremost.
It's not partiicularly dreamlike or ethereal. Nor is it cerebral. It has an appreciation of light, which I imagine comes naturally to Australians. There I go again. Applying labels. It doesn't particularly remind me of Joni. Or Kate Bush for that matter. It's good enough not to deserve appreciation on its own merits which are considerable.
Saturday, October 22, 2022
Beware The Bull - The Enigmatic Genius of Jake Thackray # 5 The Last Will & Testament of Jake Thackray
Jake returns to Leeds and teaching. Starts courting Sheila and building up his repertoire and rapidly attracts record company attention.
I didn't rush to listen to Laura Veirs new record Found Light for some reason. I'm not sure why not. I've liked her stuff previously. I think I didn't care for one of the taster tracks, Eucalyptus, heard in isolation.
Still I got round to listening to it yesterday afternoon. It was exactly the right moment to do so. We've been suffering or experiencing something of a heatwave where I'm living for the past few days. In my case the latter.
For me the heat, or rather the humidity is quite intolerable. I'm working from home and I sweat and suffer as best I can to make it through the night. Barely able to sleep and during the day I wilt at my desk until I can get out and actually make the most of it for a while.
In this respect Found Light is a godsend. Never have a weather spell and a record been so well suited. It's a positively sultry record, just made to be listened to on the hottest day of the year.
Definitely a concept in terms of mood. It all has the still, airless quality that any fan of Girl From Ipanema will appreciate.