Thursday, February 29, 2024

It Starts With a Birthstone -Albums For February


It Starts With a Birthstone - Songs For February


Jonathan Coe - The Dwarves of Death # 2 The Smiths


Certain recurrent Coe themes emerge in these 25 pages. The unreliable male narrator / lead character / hero. It's a type that pops up again and again in his fiction. A slightly troubled, creative, emotional dilettante sort. In this case William. Also another archetype, the slightly unobtainable, and in this case rather drippy female love object Madeleine who he projects most of his pent up desires and frustrations upon. It doesn't bode well.

Like many of Coe's heroes William reminds me a bit of myself when I was younger in terms at least of my emotional immaturity and vulnerability. Not completely. Coe's heroes are often an exagerration of a type, but the type that they are are actually quite unusual in fiction in my experience and a major factor in why so many people make such an effort to read his fiction every time Coe puts out something new. A new Coe is an event for many.

The ability to create relatable and immediately empathetic characters who you believe in is a particular gift of Coe's. In this respect he's like no other author I can think of apart from Salinger who seems the obvious precedent for him in this respect though I've never seen the two compared. Anyhow Morrissey and The Smiths supply the natural soundtrack for the awkward and slightly clumsy progress of a type such as William. 

500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 448 The Go Gos - Beauty & The Beat


It's wonderful how refreshing The Go Gos still sound all these years down the road. It makes you wish you were in a fast car speeding down the American highway with the top down.

Steely Dan - Their Thirty Greatest Songs # 24 King Of The World


From 1973's Countdown To Ecstasy. 'The grimly humorous lyric describes a survivor of a nuclear holocaust holed up for safety, re-eading bad news in 'last years papers' and trying to contact others via an old radio with intent to drive 'through the ruins of Santa Fe.'  As so often with this band this seems closer to the pages of J.G.Ballard and Thomas Pynchon or Borges than the records of contemporaries like J.Geils Band or The Doobie Brothers.

Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 542 Underworld - Second Toughest In The Infants


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 5 Radiohead - Kid A


The second Radiohead in a row as we countdown towards # 1. Kid A is startling, still. Almost twenty years on. In the same way as Kraftwerk did in the Seventies it feels like Radiohead are predicting the future. Unnerringly.This is a briliant, glittering sea of possibilities. 

Listening through now, it also sounds like their most coherent listen. Elsewhere they're a brilliant but jagged listening experience. Unlike yesterday's In Rainbows I can fully understand  why this record is so high on the list. In fact I wouldn't mind if it were top of the whole thing. It's a phenomenal achievement.

Song(s) of the Day # 3,663 Whispering Sons


I am considering the possibility of a short break in Belgium at some point this year. I'm getting wanderlust for one reason or another and am looking into the possibility of a whistlestop tour of at least one of the low countries. Eurostar to Brussels. A couple of days in Liege, a couple in Antwerp, then Bruges, Ghent perhaps, then home. The thought appeals.

Perhaps my trip might coincide with a gig by Brussels favourite offspring Whispering Sons. While I pondered the possibility of continental travel and experience over cereal yesterday morning I listened to and enjoyed their latest album The Great Calm.

Calm was not necessarily the adjective that immediately came to mind. Urgent perhaps, certainly assured and with a sense of direction and purpose. They're a band that certainly know what they're doing which is always a relief.

They are, whisper it ... Post Punk. Certainly. You probably guessed already.Certainly if you've looked at any band photos where they generally do their best to look moody and stare in different directions. Don't spill your cookies and turn the page just yet though. Because Whispering Sons are a rare good example of this much abused term. They take Joy Division most obviously as their guiding stars but singer Fenne Kuppens is less full throttle and in immediate need of emotional concern amd support than Curtis was, almost from the very beginning,

But this band share JD's intensity, differentiation of  instrumentation, and specificity of task objectives for different players. This is a proper group effort. The Great Calm is a great ride and I would love to see them live..Meanwhile the record is more than enough. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 450 Marden Hill - Cadaquez


'Latin Lounge rhythms, Morricone mood pieces, jazzy spy flick noirs and 60s surf tomes mingled on a debut that's considered the missing link between acid jazz and trip-hop.'

Jonathan Coe - The Dwarves of Death # 1 The Smiths


Having a bit more time to myself of late I'm finding I'm reading more. I've been spending quite a bit of time in Newcastle Central Library recently and took out Jonathan Coe's Dwarves of Death which I read originally back in the nineties for a retread through my yeaterdays..  

Coe has been a favourite writer of mine since I read What a Carve Up when I was living an working in Warsaw in 1995. It probably remains his defining work, masterpiece and certainly my favourite of his books. He has a loose, engaging writing style, is not afraid to be political and current. He's always funny and real. Except when he chooses to be surreal. When he's even funnier.

 Dwarves of Death is an early work when Coe was still working out his style and approach. He's already highly playful and focuses here on one of his abiding obsessions. Music. He also dwells  on every adolescent's abiding obsession. Being in a budding rock band.

The band sounds bad. As of course they must be. They are called The Unfortunates. Which is an appropriate Rock & Roll name. Focusing on one of Punk's tropes. Loserdom. There is a murder to whet the reader's appetite before the 25th page. Of course The Smiths provide the soundtrack.


500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 449 Judas Priest - British Steel


No thank you. There are places where I draw a line. And listening to this to find out what I thought about it is one of those.

Steely Dan - Their Thirty Greatest Songs # 25 Only a Fool Would Say That


Finally we find ourselves in the Seventies and classic Dan territory. There is a suggestion in the Mojo take on this song that it cocks a snook at Lennon at his piano in the Imagine video. Imagining no possessions. Great bossa nova tune which I played immediately again.

Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 541 Fugees - The Score


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 6 Radiohead - In Rainbows


I like and respect Radiohead as much as anybody but it still seems strange to be in a time and place where they are set in stone as the best there has ever been and possibly ever will be. This is the first of three of their albums in the Top 6 of this rundown. It's an excellent but slightly indistinct record to my mind.

This still sounds very modern and state of the art more than twenty years on. Everything slotting into place and Radiohead embracing Durch Spring Technik. An imaculately functioning modern Krautrock band at the height of their powers.

Whether it all sounds like a coherent album is another matter. Producung those has never been the band's strength to be honest. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful series of funfair rides.Or an hour in the Modern Art sections of The Louvre or El Prado.

Song(s) of the Day # 3,662 Amigo The Devil


Are you sitting comfortably? Amigo The Devil is going to tell you a story or several. Ones which might just frighten you a little bit. But the best stories often do. Ticking the Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits influence boxes on a tick list is pretty much a day pass for approval on a blog like mine. This generally means  means you can skip the queue and make your way into my virtual club and head straight to the bar.

This was immediately the case with today's Song of the Day artiste Amigo The Devil . He's certainly born and bred on Tom which is never a bad thing and the healthy nature of the gallows humour influence is immediately readily apparent a couple of songs into latest record Yours Until The War is Over.

Danny Kiranos the Florida raised artist behind the Amigo The Devil project is an assured fellow. His songs are vivid and winding Dark Folk narrative journeys which frequently second guess even the smartest listener. Waits is the most evident inspirational hero. If I had to bet  my shirt on his favourite Tom album I'd probably go Rain Dogs. It's up there on my list too.

Anyhow, the record's a treat. It's on my Albums of the Year list halfway through the records first play. There's nothing wrong with being heavily influenced if you burrow your way to the essence of the thing you love and use it well to create your own art. That's certainly the case here. This record has not a dull moment and you can't help thinking that Tom and Len are nodding their approval from their box seats.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 451 American Music Club - California


American Music Club are one of those bands you're generally led to by the music press. A classic critics band. Melody Maker fell for them hard in the late Eighties and early Nineties. I think I found them perhaps a mite earnest. Worthy. Still I'm enjoying listening to California. It's an indication of what happens when you get traumatised by the likes of Nick Drake John Martyn and Tim Hardin and sad poetry in your teenage years.

Steely Dan - Their Thirty Greatest Songs # 26 Things I Miss The Most


From 2003's Everything Must Go. Another indication that the Steely Dan story was not confined to the Seventies at all which I'd probably suspected before we started this. A song about the divorce experience..Good and bad things and the wonderful droll Fagen humour. As always you suspect he's writing in the third person. Permanently detached.

Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 540 Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brook - Night Song


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 7 The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band


I still have plenty of time for The Beatles and go through immersions every 12 months or so to remind me of their incredible gifts to the world. I play Sgt. Pepper less often. Once generally accepted as 'the Best Album Ever Made' when lists were put together it feels more like a record documenting a particular historical moment now' Albeit the documentation of an incredible moment. But one that has gone now and will not be repeated.

I like a lot of the songs. But generally I tend to think ' Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields are not here.' An indication of precisely how strong an outfit The Beatles were, To be able to leave songs like those two off because they'd already released them as a single and didn't wish to repeat themselves. We won't see their like again 

Which leaves us with one truly outstanding song I'd say; A Day in the Life and lots of really great ones. I enjoyed my listen again this morning. Its technicolor swirl. But it goes back in the box again now and more than likely I won't play it again in 2025. I will play Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album and Abbey Road though. Sgt. Pepper now ranks below those in my personal preferences.

Song(s) of the Day # 3,661 Mary Timony

A certain attitude and confidence that tells of living through the nineties, first of all Riot Girl, guided by certain feminist beliefs and pride. A steely guitar sound that recalls prime time Sonic Youth and Sleater Kinney.

 All of this tells a certain listener that they're going to be in safe hands for the next half an hour or so. That they can sit back in their armchair and enjoy the ride. That everything is going to be all right.

Mary Timony's Untame The Tiger is an assured and steely record indeed. Timony has done her time on the Washington D.C. Punk barricades. Spend time in Wild Flag, Autoclave and Ex Hex. You don't get medals for this kind of thing but by rights you should. 

Untame The Tiger walks a certain familiar line but the familiarity in this case is highly welcome. There's the early Seventies Stones, Television and Mission of Burma in the DNA here as well as the aformentioned Sleater Kinney and Sonic Youth. Timiny's voice is questing but relaxed. The playing throughout is top notch. In short the record is a wild but disciplined ride. A challenge.

I put this on and cooked a pretty respectable fried breakfast inspired by its company if I say so myself. Inspired by this record's discipined. martial rhythms. Sometimes there's nothing better than being in the company of people that know exactly what they're doing. 

Monday, February 26, 2024

Real Estate - Daniel


I first connected with Real Estate and their records about ten years back in the early days of this blog. 2014, Ten years exactly. Atlas, their album from that year was the first I listened to. It highlighted precisely what I liked and what puzzled me about the band and what they did. Ten years down the line and a new album Daniel. Little it seems has changed either in terms of what the band do or my own reaction to it.

Real Estate hail from Ridgewood, New Jersey and everything about them screams leafy suburbia. This is not a crime nor a handicap by any means, Modern Lovers and The Feelies made the very same factor work in their favour in The States, The Cure and Ride and multiple others did precisely the same in different ways in the UK. Real Estate plot a less contentious but equally valid version of suburbia in terms of their output.

They choose never to go on about the books they've read or the films they've seen. They have precisely no interest in troubling you with their political preoccupations or blinding you with their intellect. They might be interested in romantic engagements but from the sound of their lyrics only the blandest most non committal ones. Filtered of passion and turbulent experience. Nothing wrong with that either.

I get the sense they like watching cloud formations and plotting their geometric patterns. I have no problem with any of these things but it does tend to banish actual excitement from the equation. Real Estate are like a Cameron Crowe film for better or for worse, Daniel is another Real Estate production featuring Cameron Crowe as Executive Producer and advisor. I'd say it's sure to do well at the Box Office, I enjoyed it actually. Contentment is much underrated.  

Steely Dan - Their Thirty Greatest Songs # 27 Book Of Liars


Fagen and Becker remained on good terms and reunited on any number of occasions after the golden seventies period. Here's one of Becker's standout moments.There's a restrained minimal elegance about the delivery and playing. The bitterness of the sentiment here is undisguised but you get the feeling its probably deserved.

500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 452 Depeche Mode - Construction Time Again


I was happy to give this another spin tis morning. It was the Depeche Mode album I almost bought when it came out in 1984. I was going through a spell where I was obsessed with Soviet chic. As were The Mode themselves. I considered buying the record. It's still the period of the band's history I'm fondest of.Einsturzende Neubauten for younger siblings.

Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 539 The Auteurs - After Murder Park


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 8 Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here


Song(s) of the Day # 3,660 Stereo Naked

 Odd Couples. Don't you just love them . Lee & Nancy. Dean & Nancy. Frank & Nancy. And not just Nancy by any means. Johnny & June. Serge & Jane. Micky & Sylvia. Otis & Carla. Marvin & Tammy. The Fifties and Sixties were full of these Odd Couples. But they weren't just of their time. They laid down a lasting marker that endures. In any record collection worth its salt.

In the Eighties, the decade where I came of age and first started noticing these things Lee & Nancy or Nancy & Lee if you prefer, started make a re-emergence.  Every cool Indie disco, or nightclub soiree you went to you heard Sand, Some Velvet Morning or another one of their classics. Among the rough stuff. The Leather Boys. Stooges, Suicide, Velvets and Heartbreakers. 

Imitation tributes began to appear in that and later decades. Nick & Kylie. Nick & Polly. Mark & Isobel. Bobby Gillespie and every poor unfortunate he could persuade to share a mic or stage. The legacy and tradition endure. The records still sound cool even if you're instantly familiar with the tropes and it feels like you're eavesdropping on others most intimate foreplay. Let's face it. That's just fun anyhow.

Which brings us to Stereo Naked. And Cerys Matthews. Cerys is back . On 6 Music's Sunday morning Show. I always love listening to Gideon Coe sitting in for her when she takes a short break, he always plays a fascinating mix, but Cerys has become something of a small but treasured listening institution over the years.

Cerys understands Sunday Mornings and what we want to hear on them. Nina Simone. John Martyn. Soul, John Betjeman. Her own instantly recognisable Welsh tones. Comfort. Familiarity. And when she plays something new, something immediately comforting and familiar that fits instantly into our existing playlists and comfort zones..

On Sunday she played something off Stereo Naked's latest album and I sat up instantly careful to catch who I was listening to at the end of the track.I did some rudimentary research. Stereo Naked are essentially a guy in a bowler hat from New Zealand. A lady from Cologne with flowing locks and harmonising vocals.

They work out of Germany and Upside Down is their latest record. It's Americana essentially ad they're fluent in its tongues. At times they go all Appalachian. Elsewhere they veer into Nancy & Johnny territory. It's all immensely adept and pleasurable. And highly recommended. 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Songs Heard on the Radio # 441 Nina Simone


Rather nice coming out of my radio just after ten with Cerys back on the radio again after a short break.

Steely Dan - Their Thirty Greatest Songs # 28 Cousin Dupree


This doesn't restrict itself to the band's golden sevnties period. This comes from 2000's Two Against Nature and is worthy of recognition. Funky. Also genuinely sexy. An underrated Steely Dan trait,

500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 453 Ultramegnetic Mc's - Critical Beatdown


Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 538 Pulp - Different Class


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 9 David Bowie - The Rise Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars


Great to see this oddball, visionary, messianic record here. It feels like a set of funfair rides. The Sixties and early Seventies must have been the historic peak for those wild, visceral Saturday Night experiences an this makes the ideal soundtrack. I never tire of this. Pop albums don't get any better.

Song(s) of the Day # 3,659 The BV's


Augsburg is a very pretty looking city in Bavaria. Chocolate Box. One of Germany's oldest, with everything you'd hope for judging by a rudimentary Google search. It looks like it merits a visit. History, tea shops, bars and walks. Mid table Bundesliga football team.

Today's Song(s) of the Day is dedicated to what may be Augsburg's finest indie band. If there's a better one I need to hear them. Taking Pictures of Taking Pictures The BV's third album is a rare pearl. A quite lovely guitar record underpinned by tried and tested values. I direct you there forewith,

As with all the best albums there's a story behind the record. Studying at university in Cornwall on exchange programmes. Falling in love with the likes of The Bodines, The Railway Children and mid Eighties New Order. Writing and perfecting songs guided by tried and tested Indie guitar values.This reminds me of why I loved The Go Betweens so back in the day. Listening to this is a gradual, discovery of accumulative beauty and craftsmanship. Just like listening to their records used to be back in the day.

On The BV's Spotify homepage the band have posted a number of quite lovely playlists of the kind of records that have inspired them on their journey. It's all there; the Chills, Crystal Stilts, The Mantles, Holiday Ghosts. Independent Rock's forgotten guitar seam, the kind of wonders I return to again and again on It Starts because I love it all so

I loved Taking Pictures of Taking Pictures on first play and will return to it on a regular basis in the coming weeks and months. It's such a pleasure to chance upon a record with such an innate understanding for unknown pleasures and a gift of forging new pathways for it. Augsburg's finest doesn't do either the band or this fine record justice.

What I Did Last Night - Nadine Shah Instore at Reflex Records.


                              'You do it to yourself you do. And that's what really hurts.'

Earworms are one of life's most intriguing mysteries to me.How a riff or phrase or melody can attach itself with limpet like tenacity to the inside of your skull and play on a loop for days. For me it's been various songs from Radioheads remarkable The Bends record recently. Some set of songs. They're still proving incredibly durable. Songs of struggle. With mental insecurity. The ways of the world. Modern existence. Making your way forward in the face of a full fathom gale. It's almost thirty yeas old now. Everything has changed and nothing has. Life remains a struggle. That's what's so great about it,

When The Bends came out in 1995, I  was in Warsaw, Poland. A bold and gritty and slightly frightening frontier city, working for a Business Language School as an EFL teacher. Embarking on a doomed but always interesting romance with one of my teaching colleagues. I bought a copy of The Bends on casette from a bootleg cassette from one of the stalls on Marszalkowska. I played the album ragged. Twelve songs of durable grit, defiance and backbone that have stood the test of time rather better than some of its Brit Pop contemporaries. These songs reinvent themselves with the passing times and still have plenty to say. 

I'm setting off on a new chapter of working routine right now strangely. The final journey of a long and varied career as a teacher which is all I've done since I graduated in 1990. Now after fifteen years in a steady job which has paid off the best part of the mortgage on my flat in Newcastle, I'm ready for a new challenge and am going freelance.

Much of my teaching I'll do from now on will be from the comfort of my flat. Teaching online. Working initially strangely with the same organisation I worked with all those years ago in Poland. My first class with them is due on Monday morning. An online business class in Dussledorf. The wonders of modern science. I'm looking forward to it.

I wake and work on the blog. It's a major focus for me these days. Waking early every morning and working on four or five pieces on records I'm interested in. Then posting them at eight and going to the pool, or preparing an extended breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of my day these days.

The blog takes time and determination. People rarely respond to it but I enjoy the process and the reward is mostly in the records I discover or rediscover. I don't procrastinate. Write and post. Then try to come back and proofread later. It's a daily pursuit that I find quite pure. Some tend plant pots or put their energies into shopping and preparing meals. Watch football matches. Sink pints. This works for me.

I cook a proper fried breakfast listening to Mary Timony's fantastic Untame The Tiger which I'll post about tomorrow. Phone Dad and head to the pool at the Royal Station Hotel just by the station. More routine. I find I need and benefit from it. It's a brisk and bright day. 

Outside The Centurion Bar at the front of the station a small Hen Do is gathering. The lead participant and subject I assume, a pretty blond girl with high heels, shorts and a Learner sign tagged on her back. One of them has a Sex Doll tucked under her arm. Rituals and our unform expressions of determined individuality in rigid uniformity. Human beings are a funny lot. I don't exclude myself.

In the sauna I meet and chat with a couple of young guys. I like it when I get a good conversation out of my hour long circuit. There's a white lad who's done a year at a secondary school as a PE teacher in Kuwait. This gets us talking about the Islamic World and the daily call to prayer, the reason I felt I could never live and work in that part of the world. Respect to others religious beliefs and all that. I found it rather overbearing.

A young black guy guy is there too who I've met before here. We get talking. His name is Mercy and he's a fascinating fellow. One of the most respectful and unfailingly polite young people I've ever met. He's British, Angolan, Portuguese and makes his living as a full time model. The money is good but he knows it won't last forever and is plotting the next stage. He wants to invest in a property portfolio if he can. Secure his future. The future's uncertain and he realises it. It's nice to meet him again.

I return home, call mum and then watch a film. Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty, Bonnie & Clyde. A classic. I watch it every couple of years. A landmark in cinema in many ways. Still stunning use of colour. Brilliant leads. Epitomes of male and female beauty. Stunning screenplay and bloody set pieces. The French New Wave arriving in Hollywood to banish Old Hollywood and the studio system once and for all.

It's ticking on to six and the sun is setting. It's time to prepare for my evening's entertainment. I've got a ticket to see Nadine Shah, playing at Reflex Records which is a five minute walk from me. So I put on her latest Filthy Underneath to set an appropriate atmospheric tone.

It's appropriately dramatic. I love Nadine and have enjoyed all of her recent records, going back to 2017's Holiday Destination. I've expressed my appreciation of them on here. She's a force of nature. A strong and artistic local hero, she's from South Shields. Just up the road. A thirty minute metro ride. She has that steel and sass and strength which is so admirable in women up here. Which makes me glad to be here. The people are canny and no mistake,

Filthy Underneath is another fine album to notch under her belt. It's dark, but she's no stranger to darkness, She has no fear of it and generally chooses it as her subject matter. She engages with reality. Global Warfare. The Marketplace. Multiculturalism. Gender and Identity Politics. Sexuality. It's not exploitative. She's engaged. A fighter. An artist. I think she's great.

Time to go to the instore. I arrive early. Collect the album that's part of the 30 quid ticket price and  decide to drop it back off home and then head back to the queue outside Reflex and watch the shenanigan's in Butler's across the road. I've never notced this bar before but it seems like a local with only one function. As a place for locals to get entirely mortal on a Saturday night and dance to trashy Pop Music played at unhealthy volume.It's diverting to watch for ten minutes until we're allowed in out of the drizzle.

Eventually we're let in. About 35 of us in all. Reflex have cleared the record racks and arranged a small stage area  with monitors and wires. Another short wait. All of the five guys who work in the shop are here. Partly because they're all needed I imagine but also I suppose they'd want to be present. It's an event. Nadine has just finished her first set. We're ready for the second. She's announced and she's down the stairs and on. In the company of two of her band. No messing around. They kick into their opener.

She has some presence. It needs saying immediately. She's the kind of woman who would turn heads wherever she went. I'm sure you've seen a gorgeous, strong, determined woman before. She immediately reminds me of a large feline. A Puma or Black Panther. She's friendly and chatty and garrulous. But I wouldn't advise crossing her.

It's a strange experience the Instore Performance. We get about 30 minutes. All I assume from Filthy Underneath. She chats between songs. Encourages chat  in return from the audience like a confident barmaid getting the banter going on a Saturday night. She talks about the instore experience. 'These are great! Does this look like a brothel? Have any of you been to a brothel.' Then gets derailed by a fascinating digression with a woman in the front row who had. In Belgium if all places.

I'm not sure what I think of the instore experience. I haven't been to that many. It's a taster essentially. To encourage you to come back, elsewhere and get the whole gig experience. The full band and sound and lights system. The drama and passion. We more than get her money's worth here though.

What I take away is how strong, impressive and admirable she is. She's been through a lot,( just read an interview), and she's quite happy to talk and write about it. Wears her heart on her sleeve and comes back for more. She has no fear.

Most of all she's got strong material and an incredibly, but incredibly strong voice. Her voice never wavers and she could more than hold her own in a classy Jazz venue with an entirely different set of material. She remains one to watch.

We're done anyhow. I'm off into the Newcastle night feeling I've been given  more than my money's worth. Highly memorable.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

MGMT - Loss of Life


Authenticity. The real. It's much sought after these days. Check out this whole new massive Folk thing. Whatever you call it. Lankum, Lisa O'Neill and myriad others that seem set to cast a huge shadow on 2024, just as they did in 2023. It will be an interesting one to watch. The present is frightening for any number of people and with very good reason. Let's all escape and find refuge in the past if we can.

On Friday morning I listened to and very much enjoyed Hurray For The Riff Raff's latest The Past is Still Alive. I also listened to and enjoyed MGMT's return to the fray Loss of Life,. Albeit for slightly different reasons and with a slightly puzzled expression on my face as I listened.

Strange boys MGMT. They arrived in 2007 and made an instant global splash with debut album Oracular Spectacular. Such an enormous splash in fact it seemed to scare them half to death. They subsequently started running around telling anyone who would listen how much they loved The Television Personalities.

They retreated in short. There's nothing wrong with an occasional, dignified retreat. Napoleon had several over the course of his career and he did alright. Almost twenty years on from Oracular Spectacular MGMT are still standing. They make the records and statements they wish to make. The world no long waits with bated breath. I suspect they're happier that way.

Loss of Life is  a neat little record. It seems that what really lights these guys candles is eccentric oddball  and generally English and Scottish whimsy. Syd Barrett, Marc Bolan, Kevin Ayers, Donovan. Those guys. All people I treasure so I'm not complaining.

I enjoyed the record and am enjoying it again now. The one thing that this album isn't is authentic. Bur what's 'authentic' anyhow in 2024? It's a long conversation. Listen to the latest Ty Segall album if you're looking for further evidence. That man seems to have genuinely convinced himself that it's 1972 and seems set to continue on his way under this basic delusion for the rest of his recording and touring career. That's not an actual crime of course. Just an odd conclusion to draw and direct all your energies.

For the record I prefer MGMT's latest to Segall's though it takes a very similar approach. It's a flight of fancy I suspect from people who never need to work another day in their lives if they don't wish to. You can't knock the evident talent on show here. It's considerable.  American Indie kids and their obsessions are truly the oddest thing mind.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 586 Tony Orlando & Dawn


I spent an hour or so in The Newcastle Arms for a change one afternoon earlier this week. Michael, one of my favourite regulars was there, with his dachsunds in a pushchair pram as usual. He let them sup greedily from his Guinness as he always does. I'm not sure about that myself but I always enjoy his company. Good man.

I'm  inspired still by The Holdovers, which I saw recently and was so thrilled by I've just finished a run through its OST on here. Knock Three Times features in the film, in fact it's a highlight of the movie. I chose somethiing else that I didn't know because the title appealed to me. It's essentially the same gently flirtatious dance floor teasing stuff.. Perfect for mid afternoon with Spring approaching.

Steely Dan - Their Thirty Greatest Songs # 29 Sign In Stranger


Virtually every Steely Dan song sounds like a classy short story from a forgotten decade. Sign In Stranger from 1976's The Royal Scam is rather too noodly for my taste. They were definitely prone to noodling, But as always the production values were just immaculate.

I had a chat with the wonderful Richie, last time I was in RPM Records in Newcastle. It's great to talk to Record Shop guys who are such a font of knowledge music wise regardless of the band or artist you choose to bring up.

Richie said they've always been much sampled by Hip Hop artists and the like. Largely because they come from a time when budgets for recording purposes were virtually limitless. Their records still sound completely immaculate.This rundown should certainly be a smooth one if nothing else.


500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 454 This Heat - Deceit


Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 537 Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 10 The Velvet Underrground - The Velvet Underground & Nico


This race is almost run. Prepare yourself for a Top Ten of the finest albums ever made that's largely made up of Beatles, Radiohead and Pink Floyd records. I'm glad to see this here at least. It's the starting point for so much of my record collection. There doesn't seem to be much actual production. It sounds like Warhol, or whoever was actually responsible, largely just left the tapes running. But that doesn't prevent the songs and the fantastic set of people and life that inhabit them shining through. Larger than life and every inch as vivid. There's so much here it's difficult to know where to start or imagine the world today without it.

Song(s) of the Day # 3,658 Prize Horse


We don't always use those crucial teenage years quite as productively as we might looking back. Spending our time with similarly surly and uncommunicative kids at High School or College. Kicking stones around down the sidewalk or hanging round for hours at the cornershop. Avoiding parental eye contact at the dinner table. Passing the time hiding behind your hair and staring at your shoes mostly. Possibly not fully investing in life.

Glum Minneapolis Indie trio Prize Horse. Why the long face. Or faces perhaps? It's a joke kids geddit? I doubt if Prize Horse would laugh, judging by the sound of their debut album Under Sound. . It's a morose product and no mistake.

I like a down in the mouth album as much as the next man. I regularly choose to play records by Joy Division or The Smiths. The Replacements and Husket Du. But all of these bands were inspired by the hormonal teenage maelstrom ahd classic literature rather than overcome by the challenge of grappling with Ian Curtis and Dostoevsky as seems to be the case here.

I tried with Under Sound but I'm afraid I didn't get very far. It didn't provide the soundtrack to my morning bath that I had been hoping for. I had to mute the TV as soon as I entered the living room and search for something more amenable to listen to while I made my breakfast.

So here is a record that doesn't really have a proper review. Largely because the reviewer couldn't face listening to the whole thing. In my defence, I haven't posted this in, I've thought about it, so at least Under Sound made some impression. It made me think. I'm sure Prize Horse may go on to win several prizes, at country fetes,music festivals and the like. I'm afraid they're getting no awards from me this morning.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Fleetwood Mac


Steely Dan - Their Thirty Greatest Songs # 30 Trans Island Skyway


One series ends and another must begin. Mojo come to my rescure with their countdown of Steely Dan's best in their current issue. Should keep me happy anyhow and be educative, We start with a song fron a 1993 Donadl Fagen album. It certainly sounds like a Steely Dan song.

Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Past Is Still Alive


It's comforting to wake up on a Friday morning to find two immediately wonderful freshly released albums waiting for me. Like birthday gifts on the doormat. Laetitia Sadler's Rooting For Love which I've already reviewed. And this, the latest from  Hurray For The Riff Raff.

Alynda Segarra HFTRR's alter ego, has maintained an excellent hitting record in recent seasons which immediately led to my antennae rising in anticipation of the arrival of The Past Is Still Alive. Expectations were immediately met. Another excellent record.

She's in laidback mood here. The album cover shot of her sat in her living room window. Or else at a corner table at a favourite diner, hat elegantly cocked over her eyes. The record more than matches and then surpasses this immediate impression. All said this is a fluid, masterful set of guitar driven songs with engaged but tempered lyrics.  

Segarra's well aware of the pitiful state of the world. End days. But also aware of exactly how much, or perhaps how little she can do about it. .She's resigned. But that's an elightened, not a questionable stance to arrive at I'd say. There's never a moment's doubt that she still cares about the things that matter as much as she ever did.

This is more than enough. Hurray For The Riff Raff were due to play at a favourite venue near me last time round but pulled the gig at the last minute. I hope they reschedule though the world doesn't always work out that way. I'd love to see them live and witness the fire in their eyes. Fantastic stuff. And I've only played the reccord once. More than enough to know. Think I'll give it another play. Invest in its narrative.

* Oh and that's some album title too.

500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 455 Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Doc At The Radar Station


I remember this popping up as a point of discussion late in my secondary school years.One of the cooler music kids. Paul Brett I think. This album was out. I seem to remember Paul brought it to school. I might be mistaken.

Captain Beefheart meant nothing to me but the name was immediately attractive. The songs I heard from the record less so I recall.

The Captain showed up on The Old Grey Whistle Test. A wild eyed man with a wild moustache. He seemed more interested in selling his paintings than his records.

Listening this morning I was inclined to turn to his art too. Too much here reminded me of the opening riff to Television's Friction coiled in on itself and repeated like a madman's violent and vicious assault in a deserted car lot in the middle of the afternoon. I love that riff but a whole album needs greater light and shade I'd say. This wore me down quite quickly this morning and I had to go off and do something else.

Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 536 Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 11 The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds


Song(s) of the Day # 3,657 Laetitia Sadler


I find it comforting when a new record featuring Laetitia Sadler turns up in the New Release schedules on Fridays. Like spotting the first shoots of primroses in a fresh meadow in Spring. It makes me think of an old friend turning up in town suddenly and suggesting you meet up for a pot of tea and a plate of macaroons in a local tearoom.

 Is there anything that resonates so much as sharing a plate of macaroons and swopping confidances in the company of someone whose company you treasure and always enjoy.

Sadler is someone who always brings something new to the table. Even if her records are instantly familiar. Latest album Rooting For Love finds her tending a garden not disimilar from ones she cultivated and cared for  with Tim Gane for many records and tours during the Stereolab years. Ye Ye Pop, Motorik rhythms, Situationist Manifestos. A refusal to dumb down to demands of market forces.

To the right of me on my work desk as I write is the populist alternative. A copy of the latest issue of Mojo. With a rather distressing image of Liam Gallagher and John Squires on the front cover, looking like bedraggled refugees from a long forgotten war that was fought on unjustifiable terms in the first place.

I'd rather Sadler was there myself but we must resign ourselves to the ways the world actually is and then try to work out what we can do about it. Rooting For Love is consolation enough for the time being. Inspiration, too. A record that employs ba dee dah melodies and smart responses to the world and puts them to the most functional and comforting purposes. This was a wonderful soundtrack to accompany the rise of Friday's sun, Ne desperez pas. Le printemps est a horizon. 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Green Day - Saviors

                                                   'The American Dream is killing me...' 

I need to put my hands up immediately here. Green Day have made barely a blip on my life, despite being one of the world's biggest bands for many years and selling millions. I  haven't really had much of an opinion on them either way for amost thirty years.

This may not qualify me to write a review of their latest album Saviors really, but this here's my blog. I've listened to it a few times  over the last few weeks and here's what I think.

'Don't know much about history. Cos I never learned how to read...' Look Ma No Brains.It doesn't seem that Green Day have any intention of growing up or getting thoughtful at this late stage. This is how they bought their swimming pools after all and let's face it the last thing the band's fanbase would generally want them to become ..... is adults.

They certainly don't do this here. What they do is serve up an album that is surprisingly similar to the albums that the band made their names and fortunes with all those years ago.

Good tunes here in the strictly Ramones tradition. The Ramones are the band thar Green Day most obviously modelled themselves on first time round along with mindless daytime TV and nothing has changed much in either respect.

The songs mostly sound like mindless advertising jingles. You get the impresson that if Green Day hadn't decided that they wanted to be in a Punk band they might have made a reasonable living working out of some marketing office instead. The guys in the corner of the open plan who regularly came up with the best slogans but insisted on working with their sleeves rolled up every day to show off their Misfits tattoos.

Saviors is a perfectly amiable listen but like every other Green Day album I've ever heard it doesn't really have me singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I still find them rather workaday I'm afraid. Plenty will nail it to their record players and relive their youths.

Middle Kids - Faith Crisis Part 1


Faith Crisis Part 1 Sydney's emotive trio Middle Kids third. Their own description. Good to have a band from Sydney rather than Melbourne to focus on for a change. And a nice record to wipe the sleep from my eyes on a Thursday morning.

Middle Kids have an interesting, thought provoking name. They also have a slightly more Mainstream directed sound than many of their more leftfield contemporaries.

This leads to a certain blandness a few tracks in which possibly means I won't return to this record as much as I will to Spft Covers Soft Serve for example. Solid album nonetheless.

500 Greatest Albums of the 1980s ... Ranked! # 456 The Alan Parsons Project - Eye in The Sky


I lasted precisely thirty seven seconds. I like to think of yself as having an open mind. I don't always make it I'm afraid.

Mojo Collection - The Ultimate Music Companion # 535 Pavement - Wowee Zowee


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums # 12 Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV


Song(s) of the Day # 3,656 Varsity


Chicago's Varsity have been round the block a few times. Playing the circuit and putting out records for over a decade now, becoming the Windy City's 'leading indie pop band' according to their Bandcamp page. No mean claim.

I'm not even going to dispute it. I'm in a liaidback mood these days. Varsity have a lean and measured sound. You'll find them in  Alvvays, 10. Maniacs and Fleetwood Mac's neighbourhood.. Latest record Souvenirs is a measured and confident record that wins you over within a couple of minutes and maintains good relations from thereon.

Not a startling album but a very likeable on. It's worth perservering if you make an early assumption that this is going to be rather generic. They know how to vary their serve and there are some interesting song structures and interesting twists and turns as the record progressed which definitely drew me into theor camp.