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.
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Hannah Peel continues to put out the most enchanting mindfullness music on a regular basis. An ambient, classical dreamy sound that's infused with almost spiritual joy. The opportunity to put your headphones on and enter a space where you're floating above the clouds.
New album The Unfolding is another example, if one is needed, of what makes her such a magical and treasurable artist. Created in collaboration with Bristol's The Unfolding the record is an opportunity for you to park your cares at the door and experience wonder.
Taking your lead from The Marine Girls, Weekend and Shop Assistants is never a bad move in my book.
That's exactly what New York trio Ribbon Stage do here. Switching from laidback to urgent and back again on eleven track debut album Hit With The Most, only a couple of tracks breaking the two minute barrier and then only just. Just as it should be.
Of course they know that this stuff goes back to NYC first of all. With The Girl Groups and The Ramones. A breath of fresh air. Yesterday, today.
Saturday, November 26, 2022
Kid and Jeffrey Lee reunite in LA shortly before Jeff finally says adios. Kid then cleans up and the curtain comes down.
Friday, November 25, 2022
I've seen Laura Jean, (Australian Folk Indie Rocker), play support a couple of times in Newcastle over the last few years. First with Courtney where she returned later with Courtney to sing rather lovely harmonies on an altogether special cover of The Go Betweens Streets of Your Town.
Then in May 2019 with Aldous Harding. We had a really great chat afterwards and she was very gracious and friendly. But enough of the support stuff on It Starts for Laura Jean. She has a new album out, called Amateurs.
And it's really something quite splendid, notwithstanding a slightly awful album sleeve with an extremely amateurish portrait of Laura, some kind of bird and a microphone for some reason. Disregarding this. it has numerous very alluring selling points.
It's been on constant rotation on my place for the best par of a day at my place, a sure sign in itself. Immediately recognisable to anybody already wedded to the quirky vision of Courtney and Aldous without being indebted to either.
But there's something else here too. Something unmistakable. The beautiful classical grace of the string arrangements which bring back the timeless feel of Nick Drakes' Five Leaves Left and most of all Laurel Canyon Joni Mitchell.
This is certainly Remembrance of Things Past, The first words of the record are 'When I was seventeen.' As the record spins you realise you're in the company of something of a classic. From innocence to experience.
This album probably won't get the attention I deserves. That happens. For me it puts her in the company of Courtney and Aldous. It's that good. Make sure you hear it.
Thursday, November 24, 2022
Toronto's Kiwi Jr. are a mounting force. Already with two considerable albums under their belt, their third Chopper gathers together all of their considerable promise, builds on it, gathers momentum and makes a masterful, cohesive statement. This may well be my Indie Rock album of the year.
It's almost impossible to mention this band without making at least some reference to Pavement who always have been and remain their guiding inspiration, so I might as well get this out of the way straight away.
Kiwi Jr, draw on the pop sensibility of Pavement first of all. I have to say that was always what I found most attractive about that band. Wry, twisted but beautiful imagery wedded to cool melodies that date beyond that band to the records of Felt and the splended Flying Nun roster of the Eighties.
But Chopper never bother themselves with the clever clever qualities that I always and still struggle with when listening to Pavement and particularly Malkmus. This is not a boastful record. It has a quiet confidence and sense of direction. Each song sounds better than the last, if you believe that to be possible.
Kiwi Jr. has a second trump to play. The songs that don't remind me of Pavement remind me of The Strokes instead and what a splendid new dawn it felt for me hearing the sound of The Modern Age at the turn of the century. The realisation thet New York CBGB's guitars were back, good and proper.
Chopper is a triumph pure and simple. It does nothing particularly new but also shows that you don't always have to in order to achieve something deeply thrilling.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
It must be Friday. It's great to hear great new records like this on a Friday. I've always been rather prone to Mattiel since being directed towards them and their self-titled album in 2017 by James Endeacott indie music entrepeneur and all round nice guy. Atlanta based and distinctly Southern sounding, each of their two albums have been bracing and exciting. Latest Georgia Gothic more than keeps up the momentum they've built up as well as adding something fresh to the pot.
This is Pop music of an indie stripe. If only mainstream pop was as stirring and exciting as this.It twangs but doesn't annoy in the way that Jack White for one certainly can. It's not mannered. In fact it's authentic and incredibly appealing. It has no great pretension to being Art, it's much more intent on having fun whilst maintaining its eccentricity and otherness.
Other bands from Georgia, Black Lips, B- 52's, Outkast, R.E.M, Deerhunter. and Pylon come to mind of terms of spirit though not necessarily in terms of the way the actual music sounds.But most of these bands don't actually sound like each other either. It's their quirky eccentricity and individuality that they have in common. The band reference it themselves of an interview on their Heavenly Record site.
Crafted and achieved in a woodland cabin in their home state by core band members Atina Mattiel Brown and Jona Swilley it has an earthy rootsiness about it, clearly inspired at least partially by the environment it was crafted in. It's also incredibly eclectic, drawing on Garage Punk, R & B, Soul, Hip Hop, Rock and Roll. It makes you want to move. It swings.
It's great to hear music that is not in thrall to one particular generic musical style or obviously sounds like anything other than itself. This is already one of my favourite Pop records of the year so far. My sister and brother in law are going to see them play in London soon and I'm deeply envious.
Tuesday, November 22, 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.
Monday, November 21, 2022