Sunday 22 December 2019

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madness, which by the time you read this will have crystallised still further, or maybe it's still chasing itself round the kitchen garden wearing nowt but outsized bloomers on its head, who knows? Thank fuck for the music, is all I can say.

Expanding on last year's more informal layout, I will hopefully tempt you to dip your toes into the multi-coloured waters of my strange musical pond, as I witter on a bit about those albums that made me sit up and take notice, mostly in a good way.

Here's a handy playlist that includes a track from most of the albums mentioned below, which saves you having to read it all, I suppose!

In roughly chronological order of release, here goes...

We start the year with an album I missed from 2018, namely Marianne Faithful - Negative Capability, which oozes the class and dignity of one of life's survivors. 2019 was prodded into action by Free Human Zoo - No Wind Tonight, a new take on jazz rock, and Stephan Thelen, he of tri-tone monsters Sonar, whose solo album Fractal Guitar sounded much as you might expect, but still did the trick.

In September we went to see an intriguing idea called The Utopia Strong (more of that band further down... ), who were supporting Teeth Of The Sea, a punishingly loud live act that bludgeoned their fine album Wraith into the mostly willing audience with untrammeled glee. This band and those of similar outlook are naturals to be soundtracking the end of days, should the apocalyptic scenarios of soon come ecological and/or economic disaster prove correct. Not for Teeth Of The Sea a cosy nostalgic worldview through rose-tinted spectacles, oh no. This music tells tales from the beyond, and as a bonus is beyond classification. Brutal and beautiful at one and the same time.
A different prospect live, where they seem to be a "rock band for clubbers" who like their music to deploy insane bowel-loosening levels of low-end volume. The only gig I left before the end this year! I must be getting old.

A slight return for Talk Talk luminary Paul Webb, as Rustin Man, on his first outing in a mere 16 years with Drift Code, a very English record, from a slightly altered space. Robert Wyatt would approve.

And now we come to one of the year's highlights with Lost Crowns - Every Night Something Happens. I have already written plenty about this band and their album (see HERE and HERE if interested), and some of it made a kind of sense, much like the album in question. "Let Loving Her Be Everything... is leaping around in the kitchen in a peculiar collection of wrong time signatures while I’m attempting to prepare tea, headbanging furiously to THAT riff. I’ve seen this played live, I know what it can do where yoga takes twice the time." You have been warned.

A duo from Belgium now, both helmed by a guitarist of some note by the name of Michel Delville. First up is The Godel Codex - Oak, which is 21st century artrock carved from a rapidly receding glacier. Well, it would be if Belgium had mountains. Exploratory cosmic surfing from Brussels, via Canterbury, through an industrial electronic filter, with love. Then we have The Wrong Object - Into The Herd, wherein Michel Delville's psychedelic fusion band get down right deep into the groove and turn the lightshow on.

The new era of Gong goes from strength to strength, and The Universe Also Collapses took the pothead pixies along to the Knifeworld party to produce a very trippy hybrid. Where does Knifeworld end and Gong start is the question no-one is asking?! Motorpsycho followed up last year's triumphal The Tower with The Crucible, which is a tad looser, and definitely heavier, and it does the business in classic Motorpsycho style.

Long-running altered state Americana exponents Mercury Rev came up with a cover of Bobby Gentry's The Delta Sweete, which introduces a whole new audience to a classic outsider's album, especially this side of the Pond where I'm guessing 90% and upwards of the buyers of Mercury Rev's latest had never heard nor even heard of the original record, me included. The Rev filter the countryfied Americana of the original through their familiar psychedelic gauze, using a succession of guest female vocalists, but making it very much their own record in the process. A fine return to form.

A 14-headed beast by the name of Fire! Orchestra fell upon Earth from the drinking halls of Valhalla, gifting us mere mortals music by the longship-load. Arrival is breathtaking in its scope, and for good measure includes a sublime cover of Chic's At Last I Am Free, which I primarily associate with Robert Wyatt as I heard his version from 1978's Rock Bottom before I was aware of the original.

Three vastly different albums now: Daniel O'Sullivan - Folly gave us twelve sumptuous and magickal songs from the multi-talented musician with Ulver connections that will caress your weary soul. The Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Smells Funny is the loudest record in this list, and Hedvig's monster guitar rock from the jazz clubs of Valhalla will loosen yer fillings. Luvvly. Lastly, and in complete contrast, we have Michael Chapman - True North. Maybe doesn't quite hit the heights 2017's celebratory 50, but the veteran folk growler still makes the art of engaging and relevant songwriting sound effortless, creating a very listenable album in the process.

A couple from the Prog Pond now, starting with Tim Bowness - Flowers At The Scene. Full-on but cliché-free modern prog rock from the diminutive but forceful "David Cassidy of prog". To clarify, I mean for his breathy crooning, not that he gets knickers thrown at him by obssessive female fans. That's still to come, but judging by his ever-growing profile it won't be long.  The other is Isildur's Bane & Peter Hammill - In Amazonia. Having made an album with Steve Hogarth, the unashamedly prog Swedes now team up with one of the heavyweights, and the greatest lyricist of the originals, one Peter Hammill. It's far too tempting to say that this is what a new incarnation of VdGG might sound like, so I just did.

Meanwhile, back in Belgium, a strange but beautiful beast from the never less than interesting Guy Segers of Univers Zéro fame, by the name of The Eclectic Maybe Band gave the world their Reflection In A Mœbius Ring Mirror. Here, Segers surrounds himself with a cast of seasoned players and makes an album that is as out there and as genuinely progressive as you'd expect, while being entirely listenable. A contender!

Two albums as different from one another and from the previous album in this scattergun list that effortlessly reflects my obviously superb Catholic tastes, are Ebony Steel Band - Pan Machine, and Spellcasters - Music From The Anacostia Delta. The former injects Krafwerk's glacial classic with a large helping of Caribbean soul food for the ears, covering Man Machine on steel drums, and it works! The latter finds three American dudes on Telecasters rocking out, probably sporting acres of denim. These two tie for Fun Album of The Year.

Hip thang of the year was black midi and their album Schlagenheim had the Shoreditch beard gel consumers bobbing their man buns about in a studied cool approximation of orgasmic frenzy. Proof that BRIT School graduates don't just make pretty pop. They are indeed VERY hip, but that's probably not their fault. Angular, spiky, reminds me of early Wire, but it has a wily presence all its own. Might be too clever for its own good, and unlike the other deliberately clever album in this list (Lost Crowns) shows little evidence of a sense of humour, and takes itself a tad too seriously. The interesting question is how they follow this up!

WARNING (and general rant... ) - don't buy the CD version, it's probably the worst "designed" cover I have ever come across, if Amazon reviews are to be believed. The lyric sheet is apparently stuck under the shrink wrapping on the outside of CD-single case, and won't fit inside the case! Rough Trade are obviously run by kids who don't understand that the CD is a perfectly acceptable format being deliberately killed off by the major labels - no manufacturing costs in streaming, it's all about profit. This is not a good thing.

Another trio of releases that cover an awful lot of stylistic ground is headed up by North Sea Radio Orchestra - Folly Bololey. A joyous reworking of Robert Wyatt's classic solo album  Rock Bottom, plus some gorgeous extras, with John Greaves and Annie Barbazza. If it doesn't make you smile inside, your soul has had too much of life's botox.

Flying Lotus came up with a sprawling follow up to 2014's psychedelic extravaganza You're Dead, entitled Flamagra. Unlike that album, which wore its early Soft Machine influence quite openly, and put it through all sorts of modern production trickery to produce a dense trip hop stew, this time Stephen Ellison flings open the stable doors and the horses stampede their new-found freedom across lysergic plains of dayglo cinematic vistas. Or summat. In a word, epic! The last panel of this ill-matched triptych is Elephant9 - Psychedelic Backfire I & II. Keyboard wizard Ståle Storløkken, best known for his many collaborations with countrymen Terje Rypdal and Motorpsycho, and for leading his own jazz-improv group Supersilent, has another project named Elephant9 who are a trio consisting of his keyboards, plus bass and drums. They groove like muvvas on this double live release where they lock in to some tremendous ass-kicking grooves. On II they are joined by Reine Fiske, the guitarist from psych rockers Dungen, and things get very hot in the kitchen, oh yes! Live album of the year, no question!

Ståle Storløkken also makes a guest appearance on the weighty jazz-prog-improv collision Q by Krokofant, an album guaranteed to rattle yer ornaments. It is probably time to declare those flawless purveyors of sonic goodness, Norway's Rune Grammofon as my label of the year, given their many entries in this collection. Staying out on a limb with a sublime suite of chamber-rock music is the welcome return of Spanish band October Equus with Presagios, their first release in some six years, and a fabulous album it is!

Individualism, that's what attracts me where music is concerned, and four fellas with little regard for convention are up next. First we have the latest album from that insane NZ dwelling ex-pat Scouser chilli muncher (retired) Matt "It's Our Year" (probably, curses) Deacon and his also ex-pat Scouser LA-based drummer friend and colleague Chris Jago, who under the moniker The Bob Lazar Story inflicted Vanquisher upon us unsuspecting fools. Vanquisher is a triumph over a likely disaster involving fried guitar, smoochy electric piano, jazz fusion, weird electronica, and a hilarious interlude of frenzied shouting entitled "Tony". As Eno once said "Burning Arseholes Give You So Much More".

Meanwhile, back in the Northern Hemisphere, Our Man In Moscow, Emmett Elvin described to us heathen The End Of Music, which plays out as a headlong rush into the unknown, and is Emmett's most complete work to date, charging along with an almost manic intent. LOOK OUT!! CLIFF!!!...
After that, what better way to reflect on the crazy times we live in than to lose yourself in Charlie Cawood's understated but epic Blurring Into Motion? Probably the most cerebral offering in this list, Charlie's beautiful and introspective opus takes on a voyage into our deepest thought processes. The ego is left behind.

Incidentally, all those last three are on Bad Elephant Music, home for the genre-war refugees.

Long running jazzists Led Bib annoyed a critic or two, who really should know better, by taking a left turn to incorporate the distinctive tones of Sharron Fortnam on the highly engaging It's Morning. The album launch show, held in a cinema, was an otherworldly experience.

Prog metal - y'all know how I love it, right? Well, these next three pitched their hats into the ring...  Tool returned after 13 years with a rather strange and flat affair entitled Fear Inoculum that never really gets out of second gear, and lasts waay too long. No doubt it topped all sorts of lists, because, well I dunno... Less well known but taking the kinds of risks with this often hidebound genre that Tool have long forgotten about are Leprous with Pitfalls. They appear to be mining the same dark pop seam recently uncovered by Ulver, who are the most unpredictable band (this is a good thing btw) ever to have been associated with the genre that for the most part I find about as inspiring as a Michael Gove speech. Ulver are of course, genius writ large, and on this showing Leprous are not far behind. The third act in this threeway (no chickens were harmed) is Opeth with In Cauda Venenum, in which Mikael Åkerfeldt out-Wilsons his old mate in the non-generic application of vintage instrumentation department. It seems that after dropping the stale growly prog metal style a few years and albums back, that they have finally found the pantaloons large enough to fit comfortably.

That's enuff "prog" and "metal". Back in the land of the odd we came across the self-titled debut from The Utopia Strong, where 80s housewives' favourite Steve Davis (for it is he) messes around with a modular synth and puts his and his bandmates' reps on the line and comes up smelling of Kosmische cologne. This is far better than you might think, and live it was quite entrancing.

Bent Knee - You Know What They Mean is art-rock and then some, and a band at the height of their powers. The British equivalent are the rapidly maturing A Formal Horse, whose A Man From The Council With A Flamethrower, as well as being Album Title of The Year, shows a band who have progressed (eek!) in leaps and bounds from their previous EP releases. Keep an eye on that equine!

Sheffield jazz/avant luminary Martin Archer got the conceptual shakes with his Anthropology Band's fine double blast of Miles-inspired tuneage, and Sonar made an album as a quintet with David Torn called Tranceportation Volume One, which took us on a near-familiar journey. I also dabbled in the folk world, with Irish Gothic-folk practitioners Lankum and their Livelong Day, whose darkly impressionistic world is in stark contrast with the more direct and literal style of Richard Dawson's 2020, a record that pulls no punches, reflecting these stark times back at us.

Stick Men - PANAMERICA is a mahoosive five-album document of the Sticky beast's journey through cocaine bandit country, with violinist David Cross. A total headfuck, in a good way! no-man - Love You To Bits ends a busy year for Tim Bowness with the long awaited return of his and Steven Wilson's long-dormant musical project. I didn't expect EDM though! I reckon the Tunesome Twosome are another pair of musical artists who have been listening to Ulver's latest incarnation. This is not a bad thing. It also might be what Mr Wilson wants to do under his own name but is worried might lose him his burgeoning crossover audience. Possibly.

Back in the mainstream, modern urban soul giant Michael Kiwanuka's third album, entitled simply Kiwanuka takes the pulse of modern urban living, and has a gritty relevance combined with deep tunes, in a manner unseen since What's Going On. Yes, it's that good. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen is an album of love and hope after loss and grief, and Cave's songwriting gets better with every release. If ever proof be needed of the power of lyrics as poetry, this is it. Underworld - Drift Series was a project to release something new every week for a year, which perhaps inevitably took on a life of its own. The hour long sampler available gives you a miniscule peek into the year's finest conceptual shenanigans. There is a sprawling 7 CD box set version, including all the related films, and you can find all of it online, including the psychedelically mesmerising 47-minute collaboration with Australian tri-tone improv legends The Necks. Stunning!

2019 - a year of many decent albums, but nothing head and shoulders above the rest. Tying in a three-way (the chicken took charge) for my Album of The Year are Lost Crowns - Every Night Something Happens, North Sea Radio Orchestra with Annie Barbazza & John Greaves - Folly Bololey, and Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka. Oh, and Emmett Elvin's End Of Music has to be mentioned as it made my 10 best of the decade! I had a different hat on then. This is all bollocks obviously.

Other stuff...

Reissue of the year - Van der Graaf Generator - Aerosol Grey Machine
Thanks to Vicky at Esoteric for sending me a physical copy of this lavishly tooled box set commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of the iconic prog explorers' first album. If ever the overused review word "sumptuous" applies, then this is the baby!

One fails to appreciate from the pdfs of the artwork and the book that came with the review download what a work of art this is. Anyone who doubts the rightful place of the vinyl LP as the pinnacle of music product expressed as an artform needs to see the LP contained herein, housed as it is in a gatefold sleeve adorned with the never used original artwork, and their curmudgeonly opinion should be shifted. If not, then frankly, there's no hope for them, the Philistines!

The rest of the package, especially the 12 x 12 book crammed with photos and a new essay by Sid Smith, ain't too shabby either. Well done Peter Hammill and all at Esoteric Recordings involved in making this lovely objet d'art.

Gig of The Year
Koenji Hyakkei - The Lexington, London 12th May 2019
Soul, humanity, staggering complexity, and dancing, all at once! Fabulous UK debut for long-running Japanese Zeuhl exponents saw many mouths left agape in wonder!

Worst Album Cover of The Year
A new category, because I couldn't let Big Big Train's Grand Tour album cover pass without comment! But wait, what's this? I'm afraid BBT's cheesy veneer is trumped (heheh... ) by the album cover for Tom Slatter's Demon, which looked like it had all of a minute's thought, and a budget of 5p. Knowing this Slatter fellow's arch ways (rather than his archways, which I'm sure are probably Gothic), it was probably deliberate. Still, KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!!

If you've read this far, you've probably read other examples of my torturous sentences in 2019 and not lost the will to live. For that, I admire your perseverance, and thank you most humbly. Now, go and do summat useful with your time, and try not to let the prospect of endless Johnson put you off.

Friday 28 December 2018

2018 was a year, here is a list...

It's December 28th, and I have only just started typing this. You see, I wasn't going to bother doing my usual "Best Of" thing this year because my mojo has disappeared so far south, it's shacked up with a colony of penguins off the Megellan Strait in Chile, and I am quite enjoying my current extended hiatus from churning out reams of wurdz that no-one reads.

However (you knew there was a "however" coming, didn't you?), my good friend and wrangler of guitars, Mr Matt Stevens, posted this on his page:

""We’re so pleased so many people are discovering the band thanks to the end of year lists. Cheers for listening to weird stuff 😊"

It made me think that even if one person picks up on something I mention in my version of The List, then it's worth it. I was also inspired to once more take up the virtual Sheaffer by the typically po-faced ranting of a well-known interwebs music journo against The List wherein he gave reasons, in the form of...a list, as to why end-of-year lists are WRONG, and he is RIGHT - no change there, then. Cor, such cutting i-ron-ee, eh, how can I possibly compete? Why, by delving into my small but perfectly formed List of 2018, that's how. Read on, start a revolution, or put the kettle on!

This time I will try to keep it relatively short'n'sweet, with the year's highlights in rough chronological order followed by a straight list of those albums that rattled my cage without picking the lock. Right, here goes...

The beginning of the year saw the hep cats groovin' to the big fun pop-prog produced by Norwegians Dobbeltgjenger on their album Limbohead. This is music for folk who answer the door wearing nowt but a shocking pink merkin and a leery grin.

Unapologetically ROCK, Poland's Weedpecker with their third album saw any hints of pretension given a good kicking, right down to the album title, III. This Brobdanigian stoned colossus tramples everything underfoot, in between being rilly, rilly chilled, maaan. From the reefer-stewn deserts of the hinterlands of Warsaw. Possibly.

Changing tack into more considered waters, we visit the shores of a Swiss lake where we find an unlikely but inspirational hook-up. Swiss tri-tonal minimalists Sonar get down with avant-guitar slinger David Torn and produce one of the best records of the year in Vortex.

Cheer-Accident are veteran dwellers of the far flung fringes of modern music, and Fades is their 19th album, and it shows as much zest as a lot of debuts. The Chicagoans this time come up with some deep pop moves, including Monsters which has a relentlessness about it that The Fall would have been proud of. They are much more polished than the wilful Mancunians, of course! Oh...and Sacha Mullins' vocal on I'm Just Afraid are a delight, and worth the entry price alone. Sticking with the avant fringes, Jack O'The Clock are a band even more obscure but no less beguiling. Repetitions Of The Old City II is this year's model. Veering from avant chamber-folk to complex art-pop, sometimes within the same song, this unique band is led by a musical wizard by the name of Damon Waitkus from within a fairy grotto in the mist-laden forests of Erewhon, and they just get better and better with each release.

I'm told this is "smooth jazz", but categories are bunk. Kamasi Washington is the name and Heaven & Earth is the album. Unlike another recent(ish) album of the same name, the grandiose title here finds itself given a true vision, and is treated with suitable respect. You will also find sweeping arrangements and bags of swing, not to mention soul by the bucketload, something I find lacking in that other jazz/fusion band currently filling halls wherever they go. While jazz purists might consider both Kamasi Washington and Snarky Puppy to be coffee table jazz for folk who don't really like jazz, give me the raw humanity of Mr Washington's combo and the odd duff note they are prone to in a live setting over the clinical technical perfection of the Puppies all week long, daddio.

Oh, and whose effin stoopid idea was it to seal, yes actually seal, the bonus disc inside the middle panel of the CD case? Everybody knew it was there, so why make folk destroy the damn packaging to get at it? Apparently it was similarly hidden in the vinyl version, which given the vinyl LP's general allergy to sharp objects probing about in its vicinity has to rank as the most coke-fuelled marketing mistake this year. Twats.

And... breathe out... Well, there had to be one actual "prog" album in here, and Regal Worm's glorious Pig Views is it. A double album on shocking pink vinyl? Yes please, mista. Possibly the most gloriously fulsome sound of the year. Without descending into cliche anywhere and without sounding anything like Genesis or Yes, it's still "prog", and a bloody good job too!

I never thought I'd be putting an Arctic Monkeys album in one of my lists, but prejudices are there to be overcome, say I! Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, in which Sheffield's favourite sons complete their transformation from awkward and frankly irritating agit-pop oiks into a world of arty ultra-sophistication seen through swirls of Gauloise smoke from an observation deck on the Moon, is something of a classy revelation. Any band that generates 30% 1* reviews from its hidebound fans on Amazon must be doing something right. Fans don't like "their" band taking risks, doncha know!

Back in the land of exotic fruit, how about Sheffield's (third time in this list - must be summat in the water, 'appen) Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, and their fourth mash up of the Kosmische, world music, and general avant strangeitude, entitled θ4? This time they've reigned in their excesses and restricted themselves to a mere near-eighty minutes of music on one CD. In places you can dance to it. Jah Wobble would approve.

All Them Witches had the keyboards take a back seat on Atw which allowed guitarist Ben McLeod to fling riffs and melody lines into the gaps with swaggering panache. Dig that groove, rainy day, dream away...

Another complete change of direction sees us getting all cerebral with Edinburgh's North Atlantic Oscillation and their fourth album Grind Show, here's what I said when I made notes at the time -
If The Beatles were a synth pop band with a propensity for grandiose arrangements, they might have written Spinning Top. Following track Sirens is monster, o yes... and then there's Downriver. Heck, just go give it a listen. Sample heavy - the many brass samples are a delight - and thankfully uncategorisable, this is one of those albums that I thought had passed me by, but Phil H wouldn't let it lie. And so it crept into my ears and went KABOOM! PLAY LOUD.

Staying in the land of chin-stroking, Thumpermonkey gave us Make Me Young etc. From a whisper to a scream, the ideas on display here are neither colourless nor green, but occasionally they are indeed furious, to quote their previous album which seems like an aeon ago. This new album is bigger than the largest thing you can imagine, and expanding all the time.

Finally, a truly wonderful racket to caress your ears at year's end, namely the new album from American sonic adventurers Far Corner that goes by the descriptive title of Risk. Who needs a lead a guitar? Not these folk, who make a thrilling amalgam of chamber rock and avant stylings with a truly devilish panache. Lovely!

Mentioned in dispatches, again in rough chronological order of release:
Ashley Reaks - The Earth Sings Swan Again, Vantomme - Vegir, Tautologic - re:Psychle, 7Shades - Monumental Midden, Not A Good Sign - Icebound, Ryley Walker - Deafman Glance, Jon Hassell - Listening To Pictures, David Kollar & Arve Henriksen - Illusion Of A Separate World, Det Skandaløse Orkester - Tenk om noen ser deg, Voivod - The Wake, Sterbus - Real Estate/Fake Inverno, The Fierce & The Dead - The Euphoric. King Buffalo - Longing To Be The Mountain, Gosta Berlings Saga - Et Ex, Alec K. Redfearn & The Eyesores - The Opposite, Forgas Band Phenomena - L'Oreille Electrique

... and of course, there are at least 700 albums released in 2018 I've not heard yet that would have made this list.

It remains for me to thank Jez, Bob, & Rob at TPA for putting up with me, Phil L for being great company and as mad as a as a as a... spoon, Phil W for allowing himself to be deafened at the many dives I've dragged him into over the year, and Phil H for being a mad bastard no longer 200 yards away, but 300 miles away. That's a lot of Phils, innit? All Two Els, too - what are the chances of that? Oh, and ta muchly to any and all of you lot who have read this far and probably also read my increasingly intermittent music-related wibble on the interwebs, be it here, at TPA or anywhere else. May 2019 not be quite as scary as most of us with any gumption know it will be!

Now... put yer knickers on, and make a cup of tea.

Saturday 17 November 2018

The MOJO CD - The Best of 2018

Here we are again, another year nearly gone by, another "Best of" CD to have fun with. They seem to come out earlier every year!

Idles - Great
Bristolian flavours of the year dip into their grandad's post-punk collection, add in some Iggy, both vocally, and via the chaos at their gigs, and come up with 2018's attempt to breathe life into the rock corpse. If I was 18 I'd love this racket. I quite like it at 307, as it happens. OK, this band have one idea, but they do it very well, and having one idea never did Coldplay any harm, did it? They even woke up Later for 5 minutes earlier in the year, for which many thanks are due.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - An Air Conditioned Man
Another band who take their cues from the explosion in sounds that happened when the dust settled after the Punk Wars, this time from their Antipodean ancestors from that time. This song is giving me Go Betweens plus added swagger. Not bad at all. Oh, and definitely Band Name Of The Year!

Elvis Costello - Stripping Paper
Only a wordsmith as accomplished as Mr McManus could write a surprisingly warm self-examination ostensibly about decorating. He may be mellowing with age, but with The Attractions.... sorry, Imposters behind him he can still come up with the goods.
This song is superbly recorded,the sonics on this track are sublime, and the bass sound alone is worth the entry fee. Otherwise talented but cloth-eared new artists (Syd Arthur and Ryley Walker spring to mind) take note.

Cat Power - Woman
I've heard of Cat Power, and I'm vaguely aware of her feminist credentials. Knowing that means that this ditty is deffo not aimed an gnarled old scrote like me. She sings "I'm a woman" a lot on a decent enough pop outing.

Christine And The Queens - The Walker
Another one that passes by my bathchair, more hurriedly than Cat Power as it is driven by an annoyingly obvious electronic rhythm that a child could have come up with. The song itself is pretty forgettable too.

Young Fathers - Border Girl
Another new one for me, this lot make an electronic bass-driven racket that I can imagine Peter Gabriel making now if he'd been born in 1993.

Low - Disarray
Veteran miserablists go glam, but quite slowly, obviously. Actually not bad. After all this computer music I'm beginning to long for some humans playing instruments.

Kamasi Washington - Will You Sing
Humans, you say? Well, it doesn't get much more organic than this, from MOJO's #1 album of 2018. Kamasi leads the way in the age of nu-jazz. More soul in this one song than an entire album of puppies.

Fatoumata Diawarra - Nterini
Italy-based Malian (good luck with that, you might need it) singer with connections to Damon Albarn via his African Express adventures. Familiar African female vocal gymnastics and modern rhythms combine to make a finger-poppin' pop choon. Further investigation needed, as I've always been hypnotised by the African beat.

Eleanor Friedberger - Everything
Passable synth-pop. Inoffensive.

Gaz Coombes - Oxygen Mask
I have toyed with buying Mr Coombes' highly praised latest solo album, it being recommended by a mate as well as the press. This particular track is a fine example of singer-songwriter melancholic reflection without getting maudlin, with a great arrangement thrown in for good measure. Another one I will have to check out, methinks.

Ry Cooder - Straight Street
Mr Cooder and his guitar. Not much more to be said really. If you know the name you know how it pans out. If you don't you must be under 40, and a treasure trove awaits. This is where Americana came from.

Spiritualized - Here It Comes (The Road) Let's Go
Stonesy blues number from Jason's twenty-one-year comedown. It seems Primal Scream have have a rival.

Gwenno - Hi A Shoellyas Liv A Dhagrow
Celtic rebel Gwenno Saunders' first album was sung in Welsh, and apparently the follow-up is in Cornish. Breathy vocals singing a song about which goes on first, the cream or the jam. I may have made that up. The music has a woozy psychedelic pop soundtrack feel, which complements the wilful obscurantism of the lyrics to anyone born east of the Devon border, and probably to most pasty munchers, too. Actually rather alluring.

Maisha - Osiris
MOJO bigs up this London band as the closest thing we have to Kamasi Washington, big praise indeed. They're right too, by the sound of this. Yet another one waiting to snap at my wallet.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Space-time continuum disruption, daddio! (Vol 2)

Amazingly, a volume two of this nonsense appears, so soon after volume one too! Whodathunkit?

The Who - Live at Leeds

The second album in my occasional series is another I have never owned, and for good reason, as I have never liked it, or so my memory thought. I suppose I got off on the wrong foot with this one from day one, my mate's older cousin finding much mirth in my naive assuming that the title of his new purchase by The 'Oo meant that the band lived in the Yorkshire city. I was only 12, is my excuse!

This may have clouded  my judgement, as I seem to recall that Pete Townshend spent most of the album proving he isn't a lead guitarist. To be fair the episodes of noodling are kept to fast and furious minimum, most of the time he's just chopping away in that familiar rhythm guitar style of his, rather well it has to be said.

The conventional wisdom is that this is the best live album ever. Well it's far too late for me to even begin to work that one out, but one thing I find odd is the track selection. At a mere 37 minutes long, the album contains three cover versions on the rather short 15 minute first side of the original LP, and side two ends with the throwaway Bo Diddley rip off Magic Bus, when the band by this point had accumulated a pile of much stronger self-penned material that they could have included. Tommy was played in full at the gig I believe.

I suppose they had to include the near quarter hour long sprawling mess of My Generation, it being the expected climax of the gig. Expanded here to include parts of other songs, and Townshend leading some general messing about, it seems the band had taken a leaf out of the new kids on the superstar block Led Zeppelin's book, and that band's excesses on Dazed And Confused, always a track I skip on Zep live albums. All that's missing here is a violin bow. However, I am thankful for small mercies, as at least Live At Leeds doesn't contain a drum solo!

Long-form wigouts although the flavour of the day didn't suit The Who, who were always song-oriented, and some damn good ones they had too. Shame more of them are not on Live At Leeds. Star of the album is John Entwistle whose thunderous and dexterous bass playing stops it falling apart as Townshend and Moon try to outdo each other in the splenetic fury stakes.

I listened to this album twice for the purposes of writing this, and that's probably doubled the number of times I have heard it in full since the early 70s. In conclusion, it's not as bad as I remembered, but I won't be rushing to buy it. The best live album ever is Space Ritual by the way.

Thanks to my mate and similarly opinionated music-head Leo Trimming, without whom, etc...

Sunday 16 September 2018

Space-time continuum disruption, daddio! (Vol.1)

Hi there
It's been a while since I posted anything here, so all my audience, all three of them, have wandered off over there somewhere, ne'er to return. The only visitors to this blog now are bots, worming away in a futile imitation of real life...or summat.

Anyway...this here thing will be an intermittent series of revisits to ancient records that have been gathering dust and spiders in my memory. Some may have been significant to my musical and sundry other forms of development, some will not. First up is:

Uriah Heep - Wonderworld

This is an album I had largely forgotten about, until I happened across a thread on Farcebook discussing Uriah Heep's new album. They're still going? Blimey, Mick Box must be about 107! As is the nature of these things, the discussion meandered and ventured into discussing this album.

Released in 1974 it was the Heep's seventh album, and the last with what would come to be regarded as their most consistent (you can't use a word like "classic" where a band this lumpen are concerned!) line up, as sadly bassist Gary Thain was shortly to become a victim of his long addiction to H. If we are to believe Wikipedia, the band handled his problems with Yes-like sensitive pragmatism!

"During his last tour in the United States with Uriah Heep, Thain suffered an electric shock at the Moody Coliseum in Dallas, Texas on 15 September 1974, and was seriously injured. Due to his drug addiction he was not able to perform properly, and was fired by the band in early 1975".

I never actually owned a copy of Wonderworld, a mate recorded it on cassette for me, and I am now listening to it (on YouTube I hasten to add) for the first time in at least four decades. Gawd, this takes me back!

Taken on its own it's not a bad album, although very much of its time and not particularly memorable. Where it falls down is that by 1974 Heep had hit on a formula, and it sounds like a fading shadow of what went before. It sounds a tad tired, a rehash of past glories.

Also by 1974 my musical tastes were broadening fast, having succumbed to the educational delights of John Peel. Heep's somewhat plodding straight ahead rhythms and Byron's and Hensley's sixth form poetry-as-lyrics now belonged to an age when I was but a child.

I got as far as Something Or Nothing, track six of nine, so I did quite well. By then it was giving me a headache so I had to turn it off.

Expect the next installment soon... or not.

Thanks to Jan Erik Liljeström for the Heep thread that inspired me to do this!

Thursday 17 May 2018

Spock's Beard - Noise Floor

This band may well be Les Grands Fromages of American prawg rawk, and I thought it would be good to use their new album as an indicator of why I need to stop doing this reviewing thing for a while.

I managed to sit through the first two tracks. Lots of predictable empty AOR bluster arriving from nowhere and going straight back there. It sounds exactly as I thought it would, and could have been made at any time in the last 30 years.

How this dull fare has the gall to call itself a word derived from "progressive" should be the least of anyone's concerns. Frankly, this is no less referential or unimaginative than anything Ed Sheeran has come up with. In fact I'd rather go see the ginger minstrel, as at least his audience would be more pleasing on the eye.

This uninspiring musical constipation clogging my earways reminds me why I need to take a break from the unrelenting tsunami of mind-numbing noise that is forever engulfing us all. Yes, the occasional diamond surfaces, and deserves the spotlight I might throw on it, but someone else can have go for a while. You may see more live reviews, interviews, and who knows, actual music journalism from my acerbic virtual pen in the future, but album I said, I need a break.


Sunday 28 January 2018

Mark E Smith - Totally Wired

Mark Edward Smith, who died aged 60 from a combination of bizarre and mundane illnesses that apparently baffled his doctors, a fact his ghost is no doubt cackling away at as I type, would of course take exception at yet another splurge of verbosity in his honour, such as this. Among the many things he professed to hate was "soft lads who blab." Oh well, he was the bloke who epitomised the old adage "never meet your heroes" after all, so being a mild irritant to his ghost is no skin off my hooter.

I first came across The Fall sometime in 1979 when subjected to their debut album Live At The Witch Trials round a mate's house. I remember thinking to myself "what a dumb racket this is", and me au fait with the punk ethos too. It's still not an album I can listen to, to be honest, although I appreciate its ramshackle DIY art terror. In those pre-interweb days it took years before my young naive self twigged what "No Xmas For John Quays" actually meant, by which time I was long a convert, my Damascene moment occurring seconds into my first hearing of  the single Rowche Rumble on the John Peel Show, probably sometime in July 1979, not more than a month or two on from that first encounter.

Rowche Rumble is four minutes of primitive glam-punk perfection with a subversive scat from Mark concerning ethical and moral corruption within government, the medical profession, and the pharmaceutical industry. And he named his band after a Camus novel, one that I bet was read by a fair number of us spotty oiks who may never otherwise have been aware of its existence. Like the band the book is hard work but ultimately rewarding.

How dare they fling this filth at our pop kids! Well they didn't because only us few wise young/old heads bought Rowche Rumble, but it started a run of four perfect anti-pop blasts from Manchester's finest that would see me well and truly submerged into the murky depths of Fall Sound, and the joy of Repetition, a tenet carved in vinyl as the third track of the same name on their debut single released on 11th August 1978.

John Peel famously said of his favourite band "always different, always the same". The glittering likes of  Rowche Rumble, Fiery Jack, How I Wrote Elastic Man, and the fabulous speedfreak anthem Totally Wired  were meat and drink to the Peel disciples, but The Fall were at their best when subverting the mainstream with covers of Ghost In My House and Victoria, which saw them make two minor dents on the real Top 40, and thereby the subconscious of the wider audience of pop pickers.

Mark's observations on life peppered with his cut'n'paste surrealism made for lyrics that were truly unique. These were delivered in his trademark drawl that as the years progressed became the often unintelligible but undoubtedly dyspeptic bark of the mad old bloke sat on his own in the corner of the pub, but we wouldn't have had it any other way. Thankfully the marvellous fan resource takes the hard work out of deciphering Smith's more mangled blasts.

"I wrote about what was around me, but some people are so daft they don't understand that writing about Prestwich is just as valid as Dante writing about his Inferno"

As a live act they were gloriously unpredictable, often veering from the sublime to the ridiculous within the same song, particularly in later years as Mark prowled the stage, fiddling with his musician's amps. Being a soundman for The Fall must have been a nightmare, which is probably why, as legend has it, they designed an on-stage monitor especially for Mark called the "DFA Amp" that the irascible frontman could muck about with to his heart's content. It didn't take him long to twig what "DFA" stood for!

The musical legacy Mark has left us with is a wonderfully primitive, visceral thing, topped off with his often incisive and frequently impenetrable stream of consciousness verbiage, and as such it has stood the test of time better than that of most of his punk contemporaries, partly because he never stopped until nature stopped him.

RIP Mark E Smith, now fiddling with Jimi's amp on the great stage in the far beyond...

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...