Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lerin/Hystad - Amaterasu

One of my many trawls through that bottomless pit of the obscure that is Bandcamp ended up at this album.

Simon Torsell Lerin and Bettina Hvidevold Hystad are a Swedish/Norwegian duo who explore the world of modern electronica and sampling. Since starting in Bergen in 2010 the duo have used music and other media to tell impressionistic stories that in their words explore a "borderland between music and art". They have also toured with Damo Suzuki in Japan, and in December 2013 German label Clouds Hill released a box set containing the duo's book about Suzuki together with a live LP recorded in Stockholm with the iconic Japanese musician. This intriguing project is available through the duo's Bandcamp page, but at €89 I will have to leave it alone!

Amaterasu is the duo's second album and is released on their own aptly named Extemporaneous Recordings label. Continuing their now long established connection with Japan, the concept behind it centres around the legend of the mythological Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu. As the press release explains "Amaterasu hid inside a cave after her brother Susanoo had destroyed her rice fields and killed her attendants in a fit of rage. In order to get Amaterasu to come out of the cave the other gods threw a party outside luring her out with music and noise."

Using streetlife recordings from Tokyo and Osaka entwined around their bubbling and occasionally meditative electronica, the duo paint a vivid picture tinged with Eastern promise.


Clever use of looping makes tracks like Harajuku compelling and hypnotic experiences, and much varied instrumentation, including some great guitar on Kabukicho, and indeed throughout makes the album much more than a merely instrumentally synth and laptop dominated experience. The Deutschrock influence from their long association with Damo Suzuki has rubbed off, and in places a cut-up technique not far removed from Faust is in evidence, as well as the useful deployment of motorik rhythms.

The combination of modernistic ambience, electronica, and Simon's shards of psychedelic guitar share a commonality with our own Bill Nelson, and like the highly prolific Yorkshireman, Lerin/Hystad show no little skill behind a mixing desk, and although the duo are coming from an entirely different place, perhaps unwittingly they continue Bill Nelson's traditions into the 21st century.

What will later develop into an urban atmosphere is leavened with pastoralism on opener Shibuya, and from the start of this intriguing album the combination of cutting edge technology and an ancient Nipponese meditative atmosphere draws the listener in. The duo's more experimental instincts are to the fore on Harajuku, which could be the soundtrack to a party attended by the shrunken humanoid inhabitants living inside a pinball machine.



Ueno uses its longer existence to leave the crazed cityscpape by way of meditation and stretches out into arthouse soundtrack territory. A hypnotic backward guitar loop leads to another plane of existence. An expansive Zen calm in the eye of the surreal Manga maelstrom leads to a calmer melodic guitar loop, preparing us for re-entry into the ceaseless urban neurosis.

Roppongi begins as a simple exercise in repetition, with guitar, synth, and rhythmic loops, before changing tack into a chattering and arhythmic conclusion. The recurrent pastoralism reappears on Ebisu, where contemplative keyboards and a post-rock guitar melody backs a repeated found sound spoken refrain, the calm of one part balancing the anxiety of the other. This album seems to set out to balance the yin and the yang, and it achieves it. Throughout the album there is a balance between the ancient mythology and the thoroughly modern means through which the story is conveyed.

Amaterasu is never less than an interesting listen, and I will be looking out for future releases from Lerin/Hystad, who are yet another example of the vast, flourishing, and extremely diverse Scandinavian music scene.


Tracklist:
1. Shibuya (3:53)
2. Harajuku (4:45)
3. Shinjuku (1:24)
4. Kabukicho (3:45)
5. Ueno (8:14)
6. Roppongi (3:03)
7. Ebisu (3:42)
8. Akihabara (5:56)
9. Nippori (8:55)

Total running time - 43:38

Line up:
Simon Torssell Lerin - Guitars, synthesizers, percussion, sampling and sequencing
Bettina Hvidevold Hystad - Synthesizers, percussion, electronics and noise making devices


Extemporaneous Recordings

Bandcamp

Friday, 17 April 2015

Anekdoten - Until All The Ghosts Are Gone

With Anekdoten albums being occurrences as rare as Everton FC trophy wins...well, ok not that rare...the arrival of this, their first album in eight years is something of an event for me and the handful of fans who are aware of this band. Even amongst the prog family a not infrequent answer to the statement "Anekdoten have a new album out" is often "Who?" It seems this long-running  band have a profile as low as Holland.

Most if not all of this seminal Swedish outfit have careers and of course families out there in the real world, and Anekdoten is an occasional indulgence for those rare occasions when the four members can synchronise their diaries and get together. This they have managed to do, and this time for long enough to write and record an entire album.

If any of you follow my witterings, then you will be well aware that this band and Änglagård are the reasons I got back into prog just over twenty years ago. Whereas Änglagård lurk under giant mushrooms in the darkest corner of the pine forest, building deftly intricate constructs of complex and dark prog-folk, this lot stomp that mofo wood down with giant hobnailed boots whilst wielding chainsaws. They are indeed the yin and yang of Scandi-prog, albeit linked by the commonality of a dominant bass player.

To be honest, of the two bands I always had slightly more of a penchant for the headcrushing might of Anekdoten, but their last album A Time Of Day didn't quite hit the heights of former glories for me. After all, this band are responsible for two of the loudest and heaviest live recordings you will ever encounter. 1997's Live EP and the following year's Official Bootleg: Live in Japan are must buys if you are into heavy, and I mean HEAVY prog. These are the kind of albums that deafen even at low volume, and bloody brilliant they are too. As is perhaps inevitable, after their peak of studio-bound heaviosity achieved with sophomore album Nucleus in 1995, the three subsequent albums, each released a steady four years apart witnessed a gradual lessening of the sonic assault. However, the eight year gap to this sixth album Until All The Ghosts Are Gone appears to have recharged the collective battery, and then some.

Riding an interstellar wave, originating at the dawn of time, suddenly Shooting Star crashes into the surface of a benighted planet of your worst imaginings. This is a righteous and thunderous declamation that announces the arrival of a new Anekdoten album in a manner to which we have become accustomed. The eight year wait for this album is instantly forgotten as the tune charges around smashing furniture and breaking spirits at will. An atypically optimistic lyric from bass monster Jan Erik Liljeström tells us to "Hold your head up high", and another new layer is added by the organ embellishments of ex-Opeth man Per Wiberg.

"Hello my friend, tell me how you've been" brings forth a smile and a sigh as Jan Erik introduces Get Out Alive, and like meeting up with a good mate you've not seen for...well, eight years, it's as if the old conversation is taken up without so much as a pause for breath. Yep, I'm going to enjoy this ride.

Rekindling the old sense of power, the mighty weight capable of crushing buildings evident on the likes of Our Days Are Numbered is countered by the maturity of the passing of years, reflected in straight ahead great songwriting, as on the title track.



Fleshing out the sound this time around in addition to Per Wilberg is Theo Travis, go-to reedsman of choice for the prognoscenti, adding his subtle but striking flute playing to If It All Comes Down To You and Until All The Ghosts Are Gone. Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church and All About Eve fame is all over the title track - I was going to call Marty a "veteran" but as I am virtually the same age I thought better of it! Finally we have some great saxophone on the pummeling Our Days Are Numbered from Gustav Nygren, whom I last encountered as part of the rather fine but sadly short lived Swedish heavy prog outfit Makajodama, who released one eponymous album back in 2009.

Bearing in mind the presence of a former Opeth keyboard man on the opening track and listening to this album as a whole it would not surprise me if Mikael Åkerfeldt was a fan, for his band's latter adventures into heavy prog certainly display Anekdoten hallmarks, given that Anekdoten have consistently developed this sound over a period of time that begun before Opeth released their first record, and certainly well before their current heavy prog fixation.



A more rounded sound, added to by the guest appearances, and a less up front bass guitar take the album into a more relaxed but still occasionally brutally intense territory. Once again Jan Erik's voice plaintively cries above the swirling maelstrom, a juxtaposition of styles that has become one of Anekdoten's trademarks. 

Finely balanced around some marvellous flute playing from Theo Travis, replied to in keening fashion by Niklas Barker's lyrical guitar makes If It All Comes Down To You an early album favourite, and takes the band to a higher level of musical repose. As does the subtly grandiose and cinematic title track, played as the hero of the film fades into the sunset. Marvellous!

Central to Anekdoten's music over the years has been the meshing of a thunderous guitar and bass melody with tumultuous melancholic waves of ye olde Mellotron, and this record does not disappoint in that respect. Just listen to the typically and bleakly titled Writing On The Wall for primary evidence.

Too soon we reach the last song on the album. We are lulled by the eerie and creepily quiet start to Our Days Are Numbered, and then suddenly the force hits you and you are unceremoniously flung upwards and sucked backwards through a vortex, back to the scorched Earth left in the wake of Nucleus. Niklas' guitar does justified and ancient battle with banks of Mellotronic lovliness and one of THOSE menacing bass lines from Jan Erik. This track proves, if nothing else, that Anekdoten do indeed remain mighty.

The last time I had contact with the band was close to a gig I had long anticipated, which for unfortunate personal reasons they had to cancel at the last minute. The 6th of October 2011 was to have been the date of what remains their only planned UK appearance, ever, and it is a date I hope one day will be rescheduled...we live in hope! 

Tracklist:
1. Shooting Star (10:10)
2. Get Out Alive (7:32)
3. If It All Comes Down To You (5:52)
4. Writing On The Wall (9:03)
5. Until All The Ghosts Are Gone (5:07)
6. Our Days Are Numbered (8:36)

Total running time - 46:20

Line up:
Nicklas Barker - Electric & acoustic guitar, Mellotron, organ, vibes & voice
Anna Sofi Dahlberg - Mellotron, organ & Rhodes
Jan Erik Liljeström - Bass guitar, voice
Peter Nordins - Drums, cymbals, vibes & percussion

With:
Per Wiberg - Keyboards
Theo Travis - Flute
Marty Wilson-Piper - Guitars
Gustav Nygren - Saxophone

Anekdoten website

Buy from Burning Shed

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Julian Cope - One Three One

One Three One is so named after the route number of the "only" major road on the Italian island of Sardinia, and as this is Cope's alternate reality where Jim Morrison is still alive, but Van Morrison isn't, partly as a result of Jim Morrison's way with words, we will accept the dramatic licence. The book is the tale of a walking wreck and alternative culture star by the unlikely chosen name of Rock Section and his thoroughly repugnant mates, a bunch of Liverpool FC football hooligans, and their collective disastrous shenanigans at the World Cup of Italia '90. In 2006 Section, in what are inferred to be his final days, returns to Sardinia in order to hopefully find answers to the whys and wherefores of the tragic events that unfolded 16 years earlier when Section and his chemically enhanced posse became the hapless victims of a mass kidnapping by a now incarcerated Dutch hooligan-come-shaman by the name of Judge Barry Herzog. Or at least, that is what this weighty tome is about on the surface.

Rock Section acts as the narrator. Unlike his mates, it seems he is a football hooligan more by association than action, and an 80s indie rock star turned rave-remix DJ to boot, on whom the finer points of being human are utterly wasted, a particularly appropriate choice of adjective. Mr Section is self-serving, nihilistic, and a permanently drugged-up fucker, whose sole purpose in life seems to be the obliteration all traces of humanity from his perma-monged body and soul. This he achieves by constantly ingesting any and all forms of consciousness altering chemicals in unfeasibly vast quantities. If Rock Section's body is a temple, then he obviously takes great delight in repeatedly shitting on its altar. This putrid mess of a man is introduced to us in stomach-churning fashion having fulsomely and noxiously followed through on a fart into his brown leather kecks while sitting in a plane on the way to said Mediterranean island. Sympathetic he most definitely ain't.

Section is obviously based on the author, right down to his Midlands upbringing and his friends' Liverpool roots. It would normally be the case in books of a similar character set up to say Section is an exaggerated version of the author. In Cope's case it is difficult to know where or indeed if the exaggeration begins, in which case "parallel version" is probably a better description. One can only hope that Cope is somewhat less self-absorbed than his fictional reflection! By the book's end Section, having had to cope (heheh) with his time on Sardinia without the assitance of his usual diet of chemicals, has redeemed himself somewhat, via justified revenge on his and his mates' tormentors from 1990 and by the healing power of lurve, baby.

Reading reviews on Amazon, it becomes clear that many of those who struggled with One Three One have never read any of James Joyce's streams of consciousness, or any of the Beats' prose as that is definitely where this rambling tome is coming from, but on far more drugs, both in variety and quantity. Yep, even more drugs than Burroughs. Unfortunately, Jack Kerouac this most certainly is not, although an appreciation of the great drunk would definitely help where One Three One is concerned. It is the opposite of his two autobiogs, Head On and Repossessed, which were the kind of books you'd pick up mid-evening, and put down reluctantly at 1am, as it's work the next day...but sod it there's only a couple of chapters to go, and finish them anyway to arrive at work the next day bleary eyed and irritable. No change there, then! One Three One on the the other hand starts off as hard work, as Cope's clattering and rambling verbiage takes some getting used to, especially if you have never encountered his thoroughly entertaining and out-there reviews in Ur-pagan rock star speak over on his Head Heritage website, where it works far better in a journalistic context. Unlike Kerouac at his best, whose paragraph-long sentences flowed with a poetic beauty, One Three One jerks along like a clapped-out car with a clutch problem, steered by a driver blessed with only a rudimentary sense of direction. However, once the novel has crunched through the gears and settles down and you become accustomed to the scatter-gun language, it is an entertaining if overlong tract.

Back to the narrative - most of Section's mates were themselves involved in the rave scene and lived parallel lives in the music biz alongside their righteously violent existence as Liverpool FC hardcases. The ongoing football theme includes a particularly harrowing chapter of first-hand description of the Hillsborough disaster, and the burning sense of injustice that came out of it. This is particularly poignant now, as the chief police culprit has finally admitted responsibility back in the real world. Of course as is often the way with Liverpool fans, no mention is made of the Heysel disaster. J96? Yes of course, but J39 is just as relevant.

I digress...The imaginary soundtrack to the tale is provided by DJ Jesu Crussu on 89.9 FM Radio, where "bands" that would fit right in to Head Heritage's long list of obscurities in the reviews section blast out whole LP sides at a time of righteous rock'n'roll. In a novel twist (ahem), Cope has constructed a website where you can read descriptions of these fictional bands, and in most cases sample the "work" of the Brit contingent via Bandcamp, mostly for free. The music is basically Cope messing about with synths and beat boxes and anything else lying around in the studio, and is mostly practically unlistenable. It is indeed a shame that "Slag Van Blowdriver" does not actually exist, but on the website one can enjoy the world's "First Indie Football Hooligan" with his only slightly headache-inducing eponymous toy-synth racket bangin' away in the background while you read...or the foreground if you like that kind of thing. It is probably the most palatable "tune" on offer.

I had to laugh when I discovered the only track not being offered for free was all of 28 seconds long, for which you have to pay £1. Unlike the other fictional bands, this "band" has a discography on Bandcamp of three releases, all of which will cost you real money. They are called "Nurse With Mound" - yes, I see what you did there...very funny, Mr C! And, no I didn't buy them, playing them on streaming was quite enough thank you very much.

As well as Rock Section reminiscing about Italia '90 and his mates, those hooligans-turned-rock stars-turned-hooligans again (Happy Mondays parallels, there?), the rather thin plot in the here-and-now is fleshed out with a succession of classic cars, (dis)organised crime, and sundry other devices. A running theme is Section's growing attraction to his travel guide cum chaffeur Anna who acquires the prefix "Blessed" as Section increasingly deifies this picture of Latin beauty. The psychedelic parallel plot diversions involve Neolithic Doorways that facilitate headless time travel back to a world 10,000 years ago where everyone is chemically enhanced by ephedra, a natural amphetamine, and our hero is a pre-history tribal leader...possibly. Flitting between two timeframes, Mr Section has to face all this without his usual supply of drugs, and becomes ever more strung out as the fantastical tale evolves. Actually "unravels" might be a better word.

One of the funniest parts of the book is where Section describes how back in 1990 he avoided the fate of his witless friends and fellow kidnap victims, that is, being buggered by their captor. This our hero achieves because he is lactose intolerant - you'll have to read it to find out how or why! When Cope gets it right he can be a wickedly funny author, but the reader has to hack their way through some dense prose jungle to arrive at the witty bits. The book was edited by his daughter, but I get the impression she dropped her machete about 20 pages in and hoped no-one would notice, least of all her dad.

It says something about Cope's standing as an alt-culture underground icon that a publisher as big as Faber & Faber took this on, as you can bet your last spliff that had this been an unknown author the only way it would ever have seen the light of day would have been via the dark arts of self-publishing. I acquired this as an Xmas present, and frankly I'm glad I did, for had I bought it I would have felt somewhat shortchanged. A definition of the word "gnomic" reads "difficult to understand...enigmatic or ambiguous" and that would have been a far more apt choice than the word "gnostic" featured in the book's subtitle.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Bad Elephant sampler

A short pointer for Easter...those nice folk at Bad Elephant Music have put up a sampler of their wares on Soundcloud. Vaguely linked by a progressive sensibility, the Bad Elephant roster is home to some of the better examples of the dreaded prog genre. Not everything on here floats my boat, but then there are few labels anyone could say concurred with their tastes 100%. Still, there might be something here you like, who knows?



Happy Bunny Day!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

"Dirt behind the daydream"

Us lucky folk here in the UK get to express our five-yearly democratic right in a few weeks, to determine which shade of blue governs our Sceptered Isle for the next half-decade. Ho-hum...

What has that to do with music you may ask? Well, thinking about our soon-come election got me musing on the relationship between the creative arts and politics. With his or her naturally inquisitive nature the creative person exercises a freedom of thought and expression that goes hand in hand with the act of being creative. This can only give rise to a liberal outlook - that is "liberal" as in open to all influences and enquiring, with a healthy thirst for knowledge, not as in the reprehensible pact with Mammon that is "neo-liberalism". Sticking to musicians, as that is what I allegedly know a bit about, that is why the vast majority are, even if not directly political, naturally on the left side of the political spectrum. Open-mindedness and conservatism are not natural bedfellows.

Indeed, how could they be anything but left leaning? Popular music from its earliest beginnings has been built on protest, railing against injustice, alongside the simple need to get those dancing feet moving. In totalitarian regimes, music has always been a way of communicating protest and bringing people together.  Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution springs to mind as the epitome of the artistic community banding together and bringing down a dictatorship. The fact that Václav Havel was a big fan of the Velvet Underground, and that according to some reports he and the leading dissidents listened to a lot of the band's music in the build up to the coup is the cherry on top of the cake. Although politics were never on the agenda where VU were concerned, there is an obvious rebellion in their work, especially when you consider that their iconoclastic music was the antithesis of the era it was made in.



The Velvet's stance was an inspiration to the punk movement over here, and their nihilism married to the Stooges primal rock'n'roll was adapted and applied to the peculiar circumstances of mid-1970s Britain by the Sex Pistols. Lydon's Anarchy In The UK remains as potent today as it was 38 (gulp!) years ago.

A more specifically targeted approach is favoured by the obstinate and wilful Neil Young, for whom politics are never far away from his muse. From Ohio to the wonderfully direct Let's Impeach The President, Young has never shied away from telling it like it is. He is not the card-carrying left wing Democrat you may imagine, for he describes himself as libertarian, as his initial support for Bush post-9/11 shows. He obviously soon saw through that evil little man, as Let's Impeach The President illustrates.



The predictable reaction of the rednecks in his audience on that video above is as funny as it is sad.

Over on this side of The Pond, we have our own Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, who went so far as to organise a tour of the country under the banner Red Wedge with the likes of Madness, The Style Council, The Specials, and a host of others in support of Neil Kinnock's ill-fated general election campaign of 1987.

Another musician well known for his left wing views, even to the point of once being a member of the Communist Party, is Robert Wyatt, for whom Elvis Costello wrote what is probably the most well-known and best UK anti-war song in popular music. If Shipbuilding doesn't still manage to tug those heartstrings 30 years and more after its release, you're the ghost of Thatcher.



However, most musicians, while naturally inclined to the left are not that overtly political, and their views are less focused, and in a lot of cases hopelessly naive. Come on down Bob Geldof, Bono, Sting, etc etc. At least their hearts are in the right place, and they try to make a difference.

There are rare examples of musicians whose views are conservative, although one suspects the number, while still a minority is actually more than we are aware of. What musician in their right (as opposed to right wing) mind is going to come out in support of Cameron's mob in our forthcoming election? Not that the opposition are any better, as mainstream politics is now something to avoid as far as most pop musicians are concerned, reflecting the distrust felt by the general population.

Back in time, musicians supporting the right wing over here tended to be those at the top end of the success scale, probably more as a personal protest than for ideological reasons. 98% top rate tax for the highest band of income was as good a reason as any I suppose.

Over in the USA/Canada, we have gun totin' Ted Nugent, who seems to be a thoroughly repugnant sort, and Rush. Yep, I had to mention them. Their epic album 2112 comes with the dedication "With acknowledgement to the genius of Ayn Rand", a woman whose Neitzschian philosophy denies the existence of the individual and declares "Capitalism and altruism are incompatible". Adolf would have loved it, and it wouldn't be any surprise if he had the two books she published in his lifetime on his library shelf. To be fair to Peart, he was probably more of the naive rather than nasty variety of libertarian, particularly given Geddy Lee's parents' captivity in Auschwitz. One wonders if the band's disassociation with Rand came as a result of Lee realising what Rand actually stood for.

Generally though, the very act of being conservative (small or big "c") and an artist in any field are intellectually and morally irreconcilable, and long may it be so. Unfortunately, as a direct result of the main political parties' of the larger western democracies all gravitating to the centre-right over the last 20 years, thereby reducing the distinction between the so-called left and the libertarian right, together with the rise in bland and formulaic talent show pop music, protest in popular music is at an all-time low. Yes, there are reams of lyrics that grumble with varying degrees of discontent, but it takes an old-stager like Neil Young to show the new generation how it should be done. 

Like everything else in modern life, popular music has become safe and homogenised. This is not helped by the new economic model of the music industry, where the number of bands and artists that can actually make a living from their art is restricted to the James Blunts of this world, with their privileged backgrounds and familial safety nets should it all go Pete Tong. Sadly, there will soon come a time in the UK, and elsewhere, when the number of conservative-inclined pop musicians will outnumber those with a social conscience.


There's only one song I could possibly end this with...

Monday, 2 March 2015

jh - Morning Sun - The Best Of jh

Jon Hunt aka "jh" is a London based singer-songwriter, and as such a slight departure from what usually gets written about on these pages. What gets him here is the eclectic nature of his work, and this compilation draws together tracks from his three albums to date.

With influences as diverse as Britpop, prog, post-rock and indie and much more, this compilation is the sound of a muse in a blender. As such it is stylistically diverse, but it works as a whole rather well, for it is held together by a keen ear for a tune and wryly observational and archetypal English lyrics often distilled through a metaphorical raindrop flecked window, keeping alive a modern pop tradition that goes back to the likes of Ray Davies. 

The wistfully reflective but still somehow summery groove of opener Next Time is followed by the Supergrass pop of I Wanna Spend My Summer With A Rich Girl and then by the longingly melancholic sigh of a song that is London Road.

 

Long gone are the days when I vainly attempted to "play" a guitar, although I still have three of them for strictly ornamental purposes only you understand, but the somewhat jarring ending of London Road where within a few bars a promising chord sequence collapses in on itself with angry frustration definitely made me smile nostalgically! Not quite sure what the point of that strange ending was, and the song would have sounded better on this compilation with it edited out. However, it hopefully made far more sense in context, as this song is the first part of a near 40-minute (!) song cycle from Jon's second album Wanderlust. This boy does not lack ambition, for sure!

Speaking of song cycles, included here in its 18-minute entirety is Making Tea Is Freedom from Jon's 2008 debut Truth & Bullshit. A curious mix of Pete Townshend, Paul Weller and Roy Harper, the piece is in six distinct but joined parts. First part Alfie is enunciated by Jon's disillusioned Londoner voice spitting venom. The protagonist then goes through the redemption of companionship aided by a good old British cup of tea, with "Now there's sunshine in my stomach" making me smile, to the realisation that he can rise above the bullshit, and the song ends in a healthy spirit of defiance. Personally I prefer his more concise and self-contained songs, but this is a departure from the average "epic", especially instrumentally, being built on simple acoustic guitar patterns, enlivened in the instrumental section Afternoon Grey by some angsty Weller-like guitar, leaving only its length to suggest any prog traits, which has to be a good thing, as this album is not "prog" in the slightest, oh no.

From the modernistic beats of Lucy's Party to The Sky Is Breaking which is initially structurally vaguely and somewhat weirdly reminiscent of Safety Dance by Men Without Hats, Jon is a stylistic magpie where the music is concerned, but overriding all that is the storytelling of the lyrics. Sometimes slightly surreal (Lucy's Party again) but mostly rueful, the lyrics are the focal point of the album. If I were to make a comparison away from these shores, Jon could be a soulmate of Sufjan Stevens, as they both share an eye for detail and a liking for idiosyncratic twists and turns.

The way the album is compiled neatly contrasts Jon's influences; the angular and almost arhythmical instrumental Fort Dunlop, the most interesting piece of music on the record by a mile, co-written with drummer Claude Trejonis and replete with disembodied voices knowingly sits next to the straight ahead slab of classic indie rock that is In Ascension, a kind of cross between the Manics and Sugar, and a juxtaposition that might sound jarring actually works perfectly.

The seemingly autobiographical I'll See You Tomorrow In A Different Light sums up Jon's knack for telling a story, the captivating tale only slightly spoiled by a rough sound, but that could just be down to my review download, hopefully.

Closing the album with The End - natch - a bittersweet tale of a failed relationship, this compilation is a great introduction to a talented songwriter, whom I'll admit I had not come across before. Let's hope it gets him the exposure his undoubted talent deserves.

The album is out 16th March from those fine folk at Bad Elephant Music. Pre-order HERE.

Tracklist:
1. Next Time (3:40)   
2. I Wanna Spend My Summer With A Rich Girl (3:56)
3. London Road (4:36)
4. Lucy's Party (3:21)
5. Wartime Spirit (3:51)
6. Fort Dunlop (6:45)
7. In Ascension (3:03)
8. Angels (6:49)
9. I'll See You Tomorrow In A Different Light (6:32)
10. Making Tea Is Freedom (18:17)
11. The Sky Is Breaking (3:55)
12. Collapse (3:11)
13. Something's Happening Here (3:28)
14. The End (5:57)

Total running time - 77:21

Line up:
Jon Hunt - Plays everything, except drums on tracks 1, 2, 6, 7, 13, which were played by Claude Trejonis

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The MOJO CD - Physical Graffiti Redrawn

As everyone knows by now - frankly if you don't, you must have been living on Ganymede these past few months - the new reissue of Led Zeppelin's sprawling 1975 double album Physical Graffiti is now available for our delectation. MOJO have gone to town on it in their latest edition, including a cover versions album of the classic as its cover CD.

If I were forced to take only one Zep album to the mythical desert island, it would most likely be Physical Graffiti as it runs the gamut of every stylistic twist and turn that the unmatchable band went through in their relatively brief career.

Assuming the guitarist knows the chords and the singer isn't tone deaf, it would be difficult if not impossible to do a bad cover of one these songs, so strong and instantly recognisable as they are to any self-respecting rock fan, and this tribute album does not disappoint and is a fun ride. So, here goes...


1.  White Denim - Custard Pie
Kicking off the album is this rumbustious piece of blues-rock. There are two ways of attempting cover versions - do them straight, or reinterpret in a new way. Few acts on this CD are brave enough to do the latter, and Australian psych-rockers White Denim are not one of them. Sensibly they do not attempt to repeat the thunderous Bonzo reply to Percy's last "drop down", but they do manage to slightly psychedelicise the Pie. The track is let down by a weedy production.

2. Blackberry Smoke - The Rover
According to MOJO, "the hottest hard rock band on the planet right now", although not a name I had come across before. They play it straight, but again it pales in comparison to the original. What this CD is telling me only two tracks in, is that Zep's sheer power is hard if not impossible to match.

3. Miraculous Mule - In My Time Of Dying
One of those blues/gospel standards that Zep were so good at stealing...sorry...adapting, here given a proper heavy then country gospel kicking by a mule. Not bad at all.

4. The Temperance Movement - Houses Of The Holy
Suitably, given this band's name, this is straight.

5.  Son Little - Trampled Underfoot
The first artist with the cojones to do something radically different is nu-soul icon Son Little, who turns the stomping whiteboy funk metal of the original into a languorous swamp soul-blues that Dr John would have been proud of. The best track on the album, so here it is:



6. Songhoy Blues - Kashmir
Running Son Little close in the innovation stakes is Malian band Songhoy Blues who turn the timeless and genre-defying original into a desert blues psychedelic hymnal, taking the Page & Plant desert rock version one stage further. Robert Plant will love it. Marvellous!

7. Syd Arthur - In The Light
We are now on to LP no.2 of the original issue, and it is fitting that the opener of side three, and one of Zep's most "prog" songs is covered by the currently feted and nonetheless highly talented UK prog kings-in-waiting Syd Arthur. They use their dozens of effects pedals to practically copy the original, but it's enjoyable enough.

8. Laura Marling - Bron-Y-Aur
A natural choice to cover Page's folk standard, and she plays it with panache.

9. Max Jury - Down By The Seaside
Des Moines new age hippy type Max Jury takes an Americana twist to the wistful original, making it even more blissful. Sounds like The Band fronted by Jackson Browne. Nice!

10. Michael Kiwanuka - Ten Years Gone
A sad song about a past and failed relationship, and a tune that always vied with the more obvious choices for the title of my favourite from the original album. London singer-songwriter Kiwanuka makes the song even sadder, aided by a minimalist accompaniment that swings the focus to his slightly reverbed and powerful voice. Another triumph from yet another name I'd not come across before.

11. Duke Garwood - Night Flight
More minimalist instrumental backing, this time fuzzed out sparse guitar and percussion to Garwood's cracked croon.

12. Rose Windows - The Wanton Song
A band I've vaguely heard of, apparently from Seattle and on the Sub-Pop label slow this rockin' mutha right down, and with Rabia Shaheen Qazi's soulful Earth-mother croon leading the way turn the song into a smoky psych-blues. "The wheels roll on"...Yes!

13. Kitty, Daisy & Lewis - Boogie With Stu
Whoever these three are, they turn Ian Stewart's showpiece into a skiffle knees-up, mirroring the good time party vibe of the original. No piano, either!

14. Hiss Golden Messenger - Black Country Woman
Takes the country rock of the original and strips it right back, making it even more down-home. Sung from a rickety rocking chair on the porch of a tumbledown shack in Georgia in the as yet unmade video.

15. Sun Kil Moon - Sick Again
Ah...someone I've heard of, if not heard. World-weary and desolate, Mark Kozelek's voice takes the album closer way, way on down, with a suitably subtle and delicate instrumental backing. As different from the original as you could wish, this is a fitting conclusion to a more than decent album.

Physical Graffiti Redrawn makes this month's edition of MOJO more than worth the admission fee. Of course, what this CD really does is make you want to play the original, which was probably the intention...