Saturday, December 09, 2017

Songs of the day

“Memphis, Lancashire”, by Jack Cooper.
”Cremated (Blown Away)”, by The Proper Ornaments.
Hands up if you like your pop jangly. So, that’s all of you. As I thought.

A bit of history. In the shape of a fairy tale. Which is appropriate, given that every time I hear something new by these guys I have to pinch myself to check if it is real.

Once upon a time there was Veronica Falls. (“Beachy Head” I have written about here.) They released two albums. They also released, I was recently surprised to discover, two sets of cover versions, tracing many parts of the rock’n’roll map, from The Rolling Stones to The Verlaines, and putting their own distinctive stamp on all of them.

While touring, James Hoare from Veronica Falls met Jack Cooper from Mazes. The reverb fairy waved her magic wand, and they formed Ultimate Painting, a band whose sonic palette conveys more than a passing nod in the direction of The Velvet Underground, but given the way these two gents have with a melody, every song of theirs has thus far been both a surprise and a delight.

And so we arrive at the tumultuous year of 2017. We could probably all have done with a new Ultimate Painting album, but it was not to be. Instead, Jack and James cleaved themselves apart so that between them they could give us the healing balm of not one but two albums — “Sandgrown”, a Jack Cooper solo album, and “Foxhole”, by another of James Hoare’s many bands, The Proper Ornaments.

Neither of these albums is likely to appear on anybody’s 2017 best-of lists, but I defy you not to feel better about pretty much everything after listening to them. Maybe they should be available by prescription.

Bonus beats: Veronica Falls’ take on The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s “Eighteen Is Over The Hill”.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Song of the day

"Fallin' Rain", by Link Wray.

This would have been a fair pick for song of the day anyway, given the recent high levels of precipitation across the south east of the country. But it also, lyrically and perhaps also sonically, captures the mood of these strange times in which we find ourselves.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Song of the day

“It’s A Long Way There”, by Little River Band.
There is an Apple Music playlist called “I Miss The Seventies”. The more I listen to it, the more I am inclined to think that this might be true.

It has also caused me to wonder whether I should have taken Little River Band more seriously.

Maybe they were two bands in one: the purveyor of lowest-common-denominator singles (if I never hear “Help Is On Its Way” or “Happy Anniversary” again I won’t be disappointed); and the classy "AOR" unit exemplified by “It’s A Long Way There”. (Actually that doesn’t work: “It’s A Long Way There” was also released as a single. But the single is only half as long as the version that opens their debut album. The extra length, I think, takes the song from good to great, while also serving as an advertisement for what they thought they could achieve.) The question being: what had I been missing?

It was with some disappointment, therefore, that I listened to the rest of their first album, and discovered that it is, by my own calculations, eight parts dross to one part diamonds.

I will say this, though: guitar solos were better in the seventies.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Song of the day

"Get It Up For Love", by David Cassidy.

So often, the frustrated "teen idol" changes tack in the interests of demonstrating some new-found maturity. So often, such attempts are, in their own way, no more listenable than the stuff they made their name with. "Teen idol" is maybe the toughest pigeon-hole to fly out of, and it was perhaps inevitable that David, like so many others before and since, never really did.

This, however, is a David Cassidy song I can get behind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Song of the day

"Compared To What", by Della Reese.

I only know one Della Reese song. (Shame on me.) But what a song.

Della Reese. Makin' it real from 1931 to 2017.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Song of the day

“Graveyard”, by Dead Moon.
I have a Dead Moon memory. It has to be false, because the dates don’t add up. Or it might be two memories rolled into one. Or my head might be all messed up. Too much Dead Moon will do that to you.

So anyway, it goes like this.

Back in the summer of 1987-88, when I was living in a miner’s cottage in Korumburra, a house with ceilings so low I had to duck whenever I walked through a doorway, a house that I managed to cover every surface of with my records and comic books, a parcel landed on my doorstep. It was a parcel from the United States, stuffed full of records that Doctor Jim, medical-man-about-town, purveyor of records of quality and distinction, and my good friend, had bought on what I think was his inaugural record-buying jaunt to the US. I wasn’t immediately sure why he would have sent them to me (maybe he didn’t want them falling into the dubious hands of the shoeless man-in-black known only as Moose, who if I remember rightly -- which, again, I might not -- was his housemate at that time), but after pondering the question for a couple of days I decided somebody might as well be listening to whatever was inside, so I opened it and was on my way.

My memory tells me that the first two Dead Moon albums were in the parcel. That can’t be right, because one of them only came out in 1989. And I can’t verify when in 1988 the first one came out, but for it to have been included it must have been released somewhere around 1 January.

Whatever. Somehow or other I was introduced to Dead Moon. And somehow or other Doctor Jim was involved. In the context of the late 1980s, it was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience. The cover and the labels were all in black and white. The recording was in mono. (Mono! At the height of the digital/CD era.) The music seemed to have taken a long running jump from 1968 and flown non-stop to 1988. “In The Graveyard” is a fine album. Dead Moon were a fine band. “Graveyard”, the first song on that album, might as well have been The 13th Floor Elevators. (That is intended as a compliment.) They started as they meant to go on.

Rest in peace, Fred Cole. Your work here is done.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chicks with machines

Chicks with machines are where it's at.


"Black Origami", by Jlin.

Here is a record that demands of even the seasoned music listener a mind that's open to new ways of doing things. It is born out of "dance music" but seems (to me) to have more in common with some of the newer composers and other folks mucking about with the pristineness of digital sound. It doesn't have the immediate human warmth of, say, a Fennesz, coming from more of a maths-and-science tip, and working exclusively in a sound-world that would be unrecognisable to someone teleported from the pre-Robert Moog era, but a bit of digging beneath the surface suggests that there is a person in there somewhere, pulling on the levers. Try "1%".

"Distractions", by Ikonika.

This is Ikonika's third album. Like Jlin, she seems to appeal (or at least has in the past) to the kind of person who writes for The Wire magazine, but unlike Jlin, she is also comprehensible to your older blogger. Like, hey, you can tap your feet. Well, sometimes. Note, in particular, the last track on the album, "Hazelfield", which features on vocals the unmistakable Jessy Lanza. There. That got you interested.

"Dust", by Laurel Halo.

Laurel Halo, like Ikonika—and Jessy Lanza—is a Hyperdub recording artist. Like The Go-Betweens (now there's a comparison I bet you weren't expecting), each of her records to date seems to have been an inverse/negative reaction to the one that came before it—bouncing between lyrical pop music, hard-edged beats and obtuse abstract expressionism. On this new album, though, the experimental and the human take roughly equal prominence, sometimes within the one song. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Jelly".

"Halo", by Juana Molina.

And then there is the new album by Juana Molina, the (it says here) former television comedian who converted to the more treacherous path of experimental electronic musician at some point in the 1990s and, perhaps because she liked what she heard or perhaps just to piss people off, stuck with it. I'm not entirely sure I can hear incremental development in what she has done across her several albums to date—she seems to have been one of those lucky people who find their sound straight away—but it's so appealing, and open ended, that her career, if that's what it is, would appear to have some way yet to run. Strictly speaking she may not entirely fit here, as her palette is not limited to machines (for that matter nor is Laurel Halo, if you check the credits, but you could have fooled me), but everything, even her voice, is so heavily treated that you would be hard pressed to tell which is which. One could more or less pick any song off the album at random. Here is "In The Lassa".

"Ariadna", by Kedr Livanskiy.

Not every Russian is up to no good. I seem to recall that Kedr Livanskiy appeared on one of my hypothetical mixtapes a while back. The new album of hers, which I am still in the process of absorbing, is at the very least notable for including "ACDC", a song that features British national living treasure Martin Newell. No, I can hardly believe it either.

"Kelly Lee Owens", by Kelly Lee Owens.

But the pick of the bunch, and one of my favourite albums of the year, is this one. Yes, it is "electronic music", but it is electronic music with a beating human heart. Think all the way back to Kraftwerk. Think back not quite so far to Telefon Tel Aviv, say, or Junior Boys, or Darkstar, or Andy Stott, or Forest Swords. There is nothing abstract or intractably "difficult" going on here, only good old-fashioned music. Not your grandparents' music, maybe not even your parents', but yours. "Arthur" might be the song that everybody has been talking about (and you can't help thinking that Arthur himself would be looking down approvingly), and "Anxi" might burn with the power of one thousand suns, but I am taking you right to the end of the record, and the ten minutes that make up "8". It's like being submerged in a warm bath of zeros and ones.