Monday, July 10, 2017

Song of the day

"All Cats Are Grey", by Nouvelle Vague.

"Nouvelle Vague". It's French for New Wave. You would have thought the idea of arranging post-punk songs in the style of sixties French pop-music forms would have had a fairly short life span. It comes across as a particularly nineties kind of conceit (as, indeed, the above album cover suggests), good for a couple of records (and a couple of laughs) before its creators wandered off to other pastures.

And yet here we are, and I am as surprised as you are to discover that Nouvelle Vague's fifth album was released at the tail end of 2016. (We missed the fourth one, from 2010, which was made up largely of covers of French new wave songs. Theoretically, that could by then have been of more interest than listening to them continue to mine songs that are probably better known by anyone who isn't actually French. I should probably check it out.)

So, has the law of diminishing returns kicked in on this new album? Obviously, the element of surprise is long gone. But they seem to have stuck resolutely with what they know best. It might be a gimmick, but it is not a gimmick without substance. Or heart. Okay, maybe Cocteau Twins isn't a perfect choice to lead off the album (their take on "Athol - Brose" might confirm any suspicions you may have had that Cocteau Twins were long on sonic artistry and atmosphere (and that otherworldly voice) and short on traditional song craft), but The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" works surprisingly well, and one imagines Brian Eno being tickled by the appearance of the slightly misnamed "No One Is Receiving", given how far adrift from post-punk and new wave "Before And After Science" sounded when it came out (Talking Heads anagram "King's Lead Hat" notwithstanding -- and is it a coincidence that this version sounds not entirely unlike the solo records David Byrne, with whom Eno would shortly be working, would one day release?).

But we are here today for their take on "All Cats Are Grey", a song from The Cure's never-bettered "Faith" album. As a general rule I prefer my favourites to be left well alone, but I can make exceptions, and this is one. The thing that jumps out at me is how closely this version is aligned to the quieter moments on Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool", and in particular "Present Tense". Which, if you think about it, makes some kind of intuitive sense, Radiohead and The Cure being bound together by a particularly English strain of miserablism, coupled with occasional outbreaks of extreme musical gorgeousness. It only took a group of French retro-curators to make the connection.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Hypothetical Mixtape 2.01

Aaaaaaand, we're back. Eighty fresh minutes of music that was lying around on the Internet, waiting for me to pick it up, brush off the dust, and make sense of.

"Forty-Nine Reasons", by Julius Brockington. Well, this is a nice way to kick these playlists back into gear. From the get-go, it signals that it's going to be some kind of epic slow jam. Its fluid introduction quickly coalesces into a (trigger warning) flute-driven monster. The flute, in turn, gives way to a piano that sounds like it has seen better days. It is a song that is, maybe, at its best when the intensity is dialled right back, but you need the intensity to be able to make that call, right?


"Down By The River", by The Undisputed Truth. The real undisputed truth (see what I did there?) is that I still haven't heard too many covers of this Neil Young landmark. You will, until the song reveals itself, think you are listening to a rather faithful cover of "Breathe", by Pink Floyd. This (a) makes me want to listen to "Dark Side Of The Moon", a feeling that I have been confronted with considerably more often of late than I ever expected and that, even more surprisingly, I am entirely comfortable with, and (b) turns out to be entirely a good thing. Even when you realise it isn't "Breathe", that feeling never really goes away. Can I also just say that the guitars on this song are somewhere beyond outstanding.


"The Mexican", by Babe Ruth. Concluding, for now, our little sojourn into the 1970s, some indescribable prog-thrash fronted by what sounds, to these ears, like a close relative of Suzi Quatro. I didn't know I needed this in my life.


Bonus: album cover of the month.
 
 "Cry Later", by Hater. Fast-forward to the year 2017. Music sounds like this now. Except it also sounded like this in the late sixties. And the early eighties. And the end of the eighties. And the nineties. And so on. Guitars, bass, drums, a girl singer. Never gets old.


"Lip On The Floor", by Duck. Imagine if The Jesus and Mary Chain were influenced, not by the Phil Spector-produced girl groups of the sixties, but by Suicide (who were, themselves, not uninfluenced by the exact same sound) and/or by assorted Sheffield electronic bands from the end of the seventies.  Oh, look, Duck are, it says here, from Sheffield. Something must be in the water. Clearly, this is meant to be listened to loud. No, louder.


"Flower Glass", by Hand Habits. Don't let the similarity of the melody through-line with, well, actually let's just let that go unmentioned. In this context, it is a melody that allows you to melt without shame.


"Running Waters Wide", by The Hanging Stars. I believe we have had The Hanging Stars on here once before. What's not to like? If nothing else, The Hanging Stars have a very excellent graphic designer. Which may sound like damning with faint praise, but isn't meant to be. Also: bet you didn't think you would hear piano like this on a 2016 song. (And oh, those vocal harmonies. Plus, is that the second appearance of a flute in this playlist? Code red! Code red! No, wait, maybe this time it's a recorder.)


"Touch Blue", by Scraps. In which some sick beats fool me into not expecting that the synth chord sequence that follows is about to reduce me to tears. God damn. It's only pop music, but really it's also only everything that fucking matters. Oh, sorry. I got a bit carried away there.


"Twist Your Arm (Lindstrom And Prins Thomas Remix)", by Ten Fe. Nice to see these two old dudes working together again. This one screams "EIGHTIES!". Put it this way, if you like Talk Talk, you're gonna love this, I think.


"Dub Be Good To Me", by Beats International. I am particularly struck, at this distance, by the mounful harmonica, straight outta Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds circa "Your Funeral My Trial".


"Chopping Dub", by Prince Jammy. From one classic riddim to another; this one you might think you know from The Clash's "Justice Tonight / Kick It Over". Or, y'know, you might not.


"Scrying In Water", by Jenks Miller & Rose Cross, NC. This be drifting of the highest order. It may run for 20 minutes, but nevertheless I find myself coming back to it over and over again. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that there are parts of it that remind me, in the nicest possible way, of the records Brian Eno was putting out in the early 1980s: I'm thinking "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks", and "The Pearl", with Harold Budd. Technically it bears no relation to those records (and it reaches parts that they never attempted to reach), but emotionally, well, maybe it's just me. Anyway, Three Lobed had the good sense to put this out, and you would be a fool to ignore Three Lobed.


Saturday, July 01, 2017

Song of the day (2)

"Let It Be Unknown", by Endless Boogie.
If you have ever thought to yourself, "Somebody should write a song that rhymes "nickel" with "Don Rickles"", well, this song is for you.

(Sorry, but I can only find it online as part of the whole album. Song starts at 8:25.)



Song of the day (1)

"Avalanche Alley", by The New Pornographers.

This almost sounds like it could be a Wire song of recent vintage. Except that you can't imagine Wire, those perennial wrongfooters, coming up with something that becomes as exhilarating as does this song, which, I can almost guarantee, will have you doing pinwheels around the living room until you realise that you are actually way too old for that sort of thing and that you are therefore an embarrassment to everyone around you. But it felt good for a while there, didn't it?



Bonus beats: the same song, live on KCRW. Have to say, some of them are starting to look like Old Pornographers ...