Saturday, 29 November 2014

The MOJO CD - The Best Of 2014

It's that time of year again when the "Best Of" lists start coming out. In order to give any band daft enough to release an album in December a chance, I always hold off until the Xmas holiday, but MOJO are there already with their picks of the year on January's cover CD.

Why do mags release issues in one month and call them by the month after next? Anyway...most of these are new to me, and here are my opinings:

1. Beck - Blue Moon (from Morning Phase, MOJO#1 album of 2014)
A typically lush and downbeat anthem from Beck's wonderful rise'n'shine album Morning Phase, which MOJO have as their album of the year. Do I agree? That would be letting the cat stick a tentative paw out of the bag now, wouldn't it?

2. Jack White - Lazaretto (Lazaretto/#4)
I quite like Jack White, the guy has a way with a choon and a dirty geetar. This noisy charge through White's garage rock workshop is enjoyable enough, and will certainly shake the dust off your shelves.

3. Robert Plant - Turn It Up (Lullaby And...The Ceaseless Roar/#19)
Percy's world music and rock'n'roll mash-up gets ever more eclectic. I might buy this album.

4. Sharon Von Etten - Nothing Will Change (Are We There/#11)
The first name new to me, this cathartic soul-bearing wouldn't have sounded out of place on Beck's album. Nice.

5. Temples - Keep In The Dark (Sun Structures/#32)
They do glam rock too, apparently. OK, but a bit tame. Goldfrapp does this kind of thing better.

6. Ty Segall - The Faker (Manipulator/#13)
Another 70s stompathon with freakbeat tendencies. If you had never heard this kind of thing before it would get you jumping like like a loon.

7. Steve Gunn - Milly's Garden (Way Out Weather/#6)
My first boss was called Steve Gunn, and our cat's sister that lives two doors down is called Milly. Actually, this is rather good - more wistful singer-songwriter stuff, from a guy who reinvented himself in a plaid shirt, for he was once an avant-guitarist, apparently. A bit Steve Earle-ish.

8. Sturgill Simpson - Turtles All The Way Down (Metamodern Sounds In Country Music/#15)
As far as I can make out, that mouthful of an album title translates as trad Nashville with a bit of sampling chucked in. Pass

9. Julie Byrne - Holiday (Rooms With Walls And Windows/#7)
Yep, singer-songwriters seem to have been this year's thang, at least as far as MOJO are concerned. You can imagine what this sounds like from the album title I'm sure, and it does. Gossamer-light and quite lovely.

10. The War On Drugs - Under The Pressure (Lost In The Dream/#2)
Ah...a band I've heard of at last...
Definitely the hipster group of choice at the moment, I struggle to see the appeal of this band with the wettest name imaginable. Listen to this and tell me it's not one of The Waterboys' lesser moments. It's a nice tune, but way too earnest and probably twice as long as it needed to be...does that make it prog?

11. Kasai Allstars - Yange, The Evil Leopard (Beware The Fetish/#29)
The only non-Western record in MOJO's top 50, this Kinshasa band play some nice Afrobeat, all hip-shaking rhythms and liquid guitar runs. This sort of music is timeless, and a nice change from the shedloads of angst elsewhere on this CD.

12.Wild Beasts - Wanderlust (Present Tense/#16)
Sounds like Cabaret Voltaire meets Depeche Mode. Singer's quite good, but musically it's a bit dull.

13. Caribou - Your Love Will Set You Free (Our Love/#12)
Mildly interesting electronica from Canadian Dan Snaith that doesn't live up to the Pseud's Corner hyperbole the mag lays on with a trowel.

14. Sleaford Mods - I Keep Out Of It (Divide And Exit/#3)
Described as "grot-hop", this Nottingham duo sound like the kind of fellas you'd cross the street to avoid. They look like it too. If I was 16 I'd love this. I'm not and I don't. Seems I've turned into my dad...

15. The Bug (Feat. Flowdan) - Dirty (Angels & Devils/#10)
Now this is how you do attitude. Dystopian rapping ain't my thing at all, but I can see where it's coming from. Makes Sleaford Mods sound like 14 year-old football hooligans, which is probably what they once were.

Well, if that lot represent the best of 2014, I must have been on another planet for the duration...oh...hang on...

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

London (Jazz Festival) Calling

Well, we have not long returned from a long weekend in "That There London" as it is now henceforth known to us mere yokels, or hicks, if you're on the other side of The Pond. The weekend came after another visit a few days earlier, and taken together we have now attended four events sponsored by the EFG London Jazz Festival in under a week.

This cultural extravaganza started on Tuesday 18th November with a gig by Snarky Puppy at the famous rock venue, the Chalk Farm Roundhouse. The actual raison d'etre of this particular soirée was to meet up with a handful of regulars from Pete's Nice Enough To Eat Facebook page, a place where several stoned hippies (and me) gather together in a cave and groove with...YouTube videos of psych and prog music past and present.

Pete I've met before, but it was great to put faces to "Dave Maximum Darkness", "Arv Lotus", and "Diane Sofer", which could well be her real name! :)
Also, a shout for Toby Mearing, who actually got us all interested in Snarky Puppy in the first place but circumstances conspired to force him to miss the pub meet-up and the gig.

As for the group, well until a few months ago I had never heard of Snarky Puppy, and it's not often that a band you've never heard of can quickly sell out a venue the size of the Roundhouse. Around 3000 mostly 30-somethings amongst whom was a large smattering of bearded hipsters got well into the band, who have been going quite a few years now, and seem to have built their audience through ceaseless gigging. Their music is beat-driven jazz-fusion-lite with world music influences, and while certainly very well played I found it a tad difficult to make a connection.

There was even a twenty-minute drum solo, augmented by furious bongo-bashing, the likes of which I thought had ceased to be around 1976. During this overlong percussive interlude one poor chap behind us slipped and fell near the bar, banging his head and passing out, causing much panic among the venue staff. One hipster wag near me said to his mate "maybe the excessively long drum solo made him come over all unnecessary". I hope he was OK...the tumbler, not the hipster.

Much as the music did not do that much for me, it was great evening from a social point of view.

On the Friday, off we went "darn sarth" again, this time for a long weekend with our better halves, as Phil W and I had a gig on that night, and a book launch on the Sunday night. The gig was A Celebration Of Lindsay Cooper, and my full review can be found HERE.

Again the social side of things made an already memorable evening into a special occasion. Phil and I met up with Billy and Martine from Billy Bottle & The Multiple, whose delightful album Unrecorded Beam is certain to make my "Best of 2014" list. Much post-gig nattering initially in the foyer of the Barbican Centre and later at a nearby overpriced yuppie pub by the name of The Jugged Hare meant we did not get back to our hotel until some time well after 1am.

I often consider that some amateur scribblers have far too cosy a relationship with some of the bands they write about, and I rarely go out of my way to meet the objects of my keyboard tappings in order to retain a modicum of objectivity, but in this particular instance I am glad I did, for Martine and Billy are genuinely nice people without a hint of the infamous artistic ego.

I had a bit of a thick head on the Saturday morning, and Phil and I and our partners spent a rather nice relaxing day at Chartwell, the country house of Winston Churchill. The building looked suitably mysterious and spooky in the unshifting winter murk, as you can see.

A very wet Sunday was sensibly spent under cover in the Science Museum, and after a late afternoon meal, we sauntered on down to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre for An Evening With Robert Wyatt, the book launch for Marcus O'Dair's biography of the great man. This was to take place later in the evening, and the reason we got there early was to catch Billy and Martine's bandmate Roz Harding playing as part of the free concert in the foyer.

Roz Harding's Wave were performing as one of four female-led ensembles as part of jazz club and label Blow the Fuse's 25th anniversary celebrations. We got there early enough to catch the Chelsea Carmichael Quartet too, and damn good it was! Roz Harding's Wave followed and she was supported by Mike Outram on guitar, who also appears on Unrecorded Beam, and Jim Bashford on drums, the trio playing out an enjoyable sparse modern jazz set.

The free concert was headlined by Blow the Fuse founder Alison Rayner's Arq, playing tracks from their new album August. Despite Dierdre Cartwright's guitar amp spluttering and eventually going FUBAR and having to be replaced mid-song (well done the guitar tech), the set was hugely enjoyable and perhaps more melodic than Wave's. That was a shame as our partners had decided to call it a day before Arq came on, leaving us two reprobates to our own devices.

Alison informed us all that their new CD was for sale from the merch desk, to the bemusement of the guy standing behind it who thumbed through the box on the table without finding it. Phil informed Alison about this, and the CD seller reaped the whirlwind, as the dozy sod had a full box of Arq CDs under the table by his feet!

And so on to An Evening With Robert Wyatt which commenced with Marcus O'Dair interviewing Robert, who arrived onstage to a long and thunderous ovation. As Robert does not play live this was as close to a gig we are ever going to get, so we took the opportunity to let him know how much he is appreciated. Marcus's questioning took in Robert's songwriting and collaborations, with a brief detour into his radical politics. There then followed a Q&A session with the audience, and the all too brief encounter was over.

Next up was a short set by vibraphonist and software manipulator Orphy Robinson, another and recent collaborator with Robert. Taking in sound samples that included a humorous take on the shipping forecast of all things, Robinson played his looped vibraphone to create a dark soundscape. The evening was concluded with an airing of the BBC documentary Free Will and Testament:The Robert Wyatt Story.

By now it was a lot later than we had expected and we had to dash across town to get a tube train and then an overground train back to our hotel in south London. This was compounded by an enforced detour up the Northern Line due to some unspecified problem on our preferred line, but we managed to get "home" a minute before the witching hour, so all's well that ends well.

We didn't get the chance to say our goodbyes to Billy and Martine, so, if you're reading this, I can't wait to hear your new single!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Wright Stuff...

As this piece is only partly a discourse on the merits or otherwise of Pink Floyd's "new" waxing Endless River, I have avoided the usual "Band - Album Title" header.

Firstly, I have always been of the opinion that Pink Floyd were a) not a prog band as such, and b) stopped developing after Dark Side... came out. The Syd era will not be discussed here, it's another group effectively, anyway.

They tried being prog; the studio album of Ummagumma while it has its moments is largely forgettable, although it did give us one of the best track titles know what that is, I'm sure! Probably their most "prog" piece, Atom Heart Mother, was ok, but it cannot hold a candle to its peers of that era. Before you ask, Echoes is an enjoyable hark back to their own take on post-Syd space rock, and not prog in the slightest. Now, there is nothing wrong with not being prog, in fact many would say that's a bonus - me included, sometimes!

The post-Syd band peaked with Dark Side Of The Moon, which was an utterly brilliant piece of very English classic rock, and will always be regarded as one of the best rock albums by anyone, ever. If you disagree, you are simply wrong, and reading the wrong page. After that, Wish You Were Here was a good if not great album, and the start of their long march into moroseness courtesy of Roger Waters, who then and subsequently used the band as a vehicle to exorcise his sour demons. Animals was one-paced, self-indulgent and frankly dull, and as Andy Gill in The Independent rightly put it in his review of Endless River, made Floyd one of the reasons punk had to happen. As for The Wall, well by then Waters was telling us in practically every song how the mental scars from being buggered behind the bike sheds of his minor public school were still haunting him...well, not quite, but it's bloody grim. The best song by several country miles on that acerbic and self-absorbed double album was not written by Waters, let's leave it at that. Around this time, Waters was falling out big time with Dave Gilmour and more so with Rick Wright, who quit in exasperation at Waters' demanding attitude, or so one of several versions of the story has it. Not only did the autocratic Waters effectively sack Wright in all but name, but he had the temerity to re-employ him to play it live, the cad! As for The Final Cut, there is no involvement from Rick who may at least have leavened its Slough of Despond with some soothing keyboard atmospherics. A thoroughly dreadful album, and a full stop on the most commercially successful era of the band.

Endless River is culled from The Division Bell sessions, an album released in 1994, seven years after a Waters-less and Wright-less "Pink Floyd" reformed for the rather poor A Momentary Lapse Of Reason album. The Division Bell was by far the better of the two, as Rick Wright and his trademark atmospherics and piano flourishes were back in the fold. Stylistically, the trio had settled on a comfortable MOR rock sound, instantly identifiable as Floyd by Gilmour's iconic guitar tone. The album passed me by to be honest, as by then Floyd were hardly relevant. One reviewer called it "a glib, vacuous cipher" of an album, which is well over the top, but it certainly wasn't blazing any trails and sounds like the musical equivalent of wearing slippers and putting your feet up. Listening to it now, apart from High Hopes it is indeed somewhat soporific, but then post-Syd they always were to a degree, that was part of their charm.

All of which brings us neatly on to Endless River. As Gilmour and Nick Mason - can't really say "the band" with any justification - have pointed out on numerous occasions, this is NOT a Pink Floyd album per sé, but a tribute to their friend and colleague Rick Wright. The album shows that Wright was an integral part of the Pink Floyd experience, and it is a fitting tribute to the mild-mannered keyboard player. The only fully realised song on the record is the concluding Louder Than Words, and, listened to in context, I defy you not to have shivers running down your spine the first time you hear it.

Unfortunately it is by far the best thing on the album. The previous 17 instrumental tracks are pleasant enough, and sound like what they are - works-in-progress polished up for release. A disembodied voice (Wright?) introduces Things Left Unsaid, and we are off an a 52 minute trip through a late middle age dreamworld, to be helped along by your relaxant of choice. It's What We Do is basically a lift from Shine On..., Sum starts "Side 2" according to Spotify, and begins with some great keyboard sounds from Rick. Skins sees Nick Mason get slightly animated, and there's even a track called On Noodle Street, which at least shows they still have their sense of humour. No Floyd album would be complete without some languid sax, and along with some rather nice clarinet (?), that's what we get on Anisina, topped off by a short trademark Gilmour solo. Talkin' Hawkin' features the instantly recognisable voice of Prof. Stephen Hawking, telling us that "mankind's greatest acheivements have come about by hardship", making me smile, as Gilmour and Mason must be two of the most well-heeled musicians on the planet.

I heard Gilmour comment on Jools Holland's Later, in contrast to Mason and his previous caveats, that "there was too much for one album" at the time of Division Bell, but all that does is beg the question that if there was "too much" for the album, implying it was good enough, then why didn't it get finished and released at the time?

One final thought - Gilmour has said in an interview that he thought the reason Endless River topped the Amazon pre-order charts was down to younger listeners being discontented with the uniform blandness of modern mainstream music. Well, you can't get much more mainstream in the rock world than Pink Floyd, Dave, and no, it topped those charts because it was pre-ordered by thousands of (mostly) blokes my age hitting "Buy Now", people who lost interest in mainstream pop, if they ever had it, 40-odd years ago. These folk are now part of a very conservative demographic who will readily open their wallets for the latest rock nostalgia-fest, while truly impressive, cutting edge music, be it prog or not, struggles for an audience.

I do not begrudge the existence of Endless River, for it is a fitting and dignified tribute to Rick Wright's contribution to an, if I may employ an over-used adjective in its proper context, iconic British rock band. As that has been stated by Gilmour and Wright as its raison d'etre, one hopefully assumes that Wright's family will profit from the lion's share of the royalties, and so they should.

All that said, I won't be buying it for there are far more worthy musical causes deserving of my support, and the band will not miss my £15 anyway.

Listen on Spotify

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The MOJO CD - November 2014

Yep, it's another keeper in the MOJO cover CD series. It is no surprise that one of the best tracks on this compilation is a cover of a classic from the original psychedelic era. Having said that their are some other corkers on here too. Celebrating modern psych-rock in all its many guises, Brain Damage is the kind of glorious racket that can really only be played LOUD.

The psychedelic classic I refer to is Interstellar Overdrive, which, along with Astronomy Domine started the British version of acid rock in 1966. The tracks that make up Brain Damage all share some degree of inspiration from the freedom expressed in Syd's formative forays into lysergically propelled acid-rock expression.

Everyone knows the story behind Syd's primal descending riff that bookends Interstellar Overdrive, surely? No? OK then - Floyd's manager had an earworm going through his head, but he couldn't remember the title. So, he hummed the riff as he semi-remembered it to Syd who then played it back on his guitar. Liking it so much, Syd used it in what would become Interstellar Overdrive. The tune Peter Jenner was trying to remember was Love's Little Red Book, itself a cover of a Bacharach/David composition, from the band's 1966 debut album. As Roger Waters noticed at the time, Interstellar Overdrive also bears a fleeting resemblance to the theme from Brit sitcom Steptoe & Son, a coincidence that points to the impish humour so often seen in Syd's work.

1. The Coffin Daggers - Interstellar Overdrive
If this band were my age, they'd no doubt be called The Coffin Dodgers.

It's hard to get this one wrong, and they don't. Even the lysergic breakdown in the middle is right on the button. This is taken from their 2002 debut album, which apparently is a mix of damaged originals and all sorts of interesting covers - might be worth checking out. A great start to this collection!

2. Pontiak - Ghosts
A pleasing and rumbustious mix of stoner rock and 13th Floor Elevators acid-infused pop hooks from this American band, named after their hometown in Virginia.

3. Anthroprophh - Crow With Sore Throat
Pere Ubu on baaad acid, speeding toward the centre of the Sun. It's great!

4. Foxygen - Star Power II: Star Power Nite
This band are currently so hip it hurts. As a result they may well be the first band on this CD that you've heard of. Had Jack White been brought up on a diet of 60s garage psych music, White Stripes might have sounded like this. They probably would have tackled this simplistic mess of a tune in a far more appealing manner, too.

5. The Wytches - Digsaw this is more like it. The singer changes from wild-eyed high register incantation in the verses to Black Francis throat shredding on the chorus where the band rock out in fine punk-psych style. It will get your toes twitching. They're from Peterborough, of all places. What with Kettering's Temples is there an East of England new psych scene in the offing? No, for this lot sensibly decamped to Brighton.

6. Goat - Gathering Of Ancient Tribes
The second helping here from Rocket Recordings comes from these charmingly bonkers masked Swedes, whose live appearances are something of an event. Mixing classic fuzzed overdriven guitar with mantra-like rhythm sections, and shamanic twin lead vocalists, the band also dabble in world music influences, making for a heady mix. Undoubtedly much better in a live setting, this is still a blast. This short video, awful sound quality aside, will give you an idea...

7. Dead Skeletons -Dead Mantra
They're not wrong, and dead good it is too, as motorik rhythms meet post-punk doom laden guitar. From Reykjavik, you would therefore expect nothing less than slightly odd. The "look at me, aren't I clever" hyperbole in MOJO's preamble made me smile, for apparently they "conjure up the brilliant sound image of Goethe's Der König in Thule brought to the stage by Television, live at CBGB's in 1977". Not having a degree in German literature, I had to look that up!

8. Gnod - Visions Of Load
A sinister but low key and single note guitar riff, which is a millimetre away from being a direct lift from The Stooges 1969 forms the basis of this eight-and-a-half minute long spacerock excursion. Another one that probably works far better in a live setting.

9. Hookworms - On Leaving
Great band name! And a decent tune too, another repetitive riffer with that ubiquitous Farfisa-like organ sound. Builds up nicely to some frantic single note guitar squalling, as indeed it damn well should. MOJO describes them as "too young to have seen Spacemen 3 or Loop live", which made me feel quite old.

10. Hills - Master Sleeps
Third bag of goodies from psychrock sweetshop Rocket Recordings, who are cornering the market in garage psych it seems. Some gloriously dirty but languid fuzz guitar and some blissed out vocalising does not take this nine-minute non-tune out of the garage, but instead locks it in and buries it in the inspection pit where it writhes around in a lackadaisical fashion for many minutes before entering an altered state and slowly dying out.

11. Lay Llamas - We Are You
Second band on here you may have heard of, and yet another on thee olde Rocket Recordings. Actually, I've no idea why you might of heard of this band, but I have! Hailing from Sicily, this duo show the similarly constituted Foxygen how two people should make psych-pop. This tune is a beguiling mix of hypnotic mid-period Can and Europop. Nice!

12. White Manna - Acid Head
You can probably guess what this sounds like. It does, too, all acid-fried guitar and thunderous bass turnarounds, this Californian band freely admit to ingesting psychedelics for musical inspiration. Julian Cope will see things in here I can't, but I like it all the same.

13. Thee Oh Sees - Penetrating Eye (Feat. Chris Woodhouse) 
I was wondering if there would be a band on here spelling the indefinite article with an extra "e". The best song title on the compilation is somewhat spoiled by the "Feat." addendum. Taken from the band's eighth (!) album, this sees a return to the inspiration behind this fine compilation, banged out with a devil-may-care panache.

14. Electric Wizard - Sadiowitch
Actually, take that last one back; this is the best song title on here. They also have the best label name - Spinefarm Records - marvellous! I have heard of Electric Wizard, too. Ending the CD in fine fashion, this is a shapeshifting beast of a riffmonster from dirty acid hell, blasting away the wasted synapses of the free festival crowd like Black Sabbath leading a tripping Panzer division through Hades. As the blurb says "Electric "Fucking" Wizard are back!" The fact they are from Dorset rather spoils that image...then again, Dorset is where one Julian Cope resides! ;)

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...