Friday, February 23, 2018
Produced Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can, Cluster, DAF, Devo and umpteen more. Also was fundamental in the sea change that Eno and Bowie made in the mid-seventies. Impeccable pedigree!
Thursday, February 22, 2018
A friend and colleague of mine is going to see the man who fronted this band tomorrow. So it gets a re-post
This is pretty much a perfect record. There aren't that many in my collection. I've got a great deal of history with it as do a lot of people of my age and background. My own copy is worn and approaching a stage of vague decrepitude as I am myself and jumps irretrievably on occasion like my own slightly irregular heart but I'm reluctant to replace the copy I bought on its release in 1984 just yet, because it's seen me through more than half of my given span and I'll be listening through to it, whether this copy or another, 'til that span expires, whenever that is. Because, perhaps more than any other album it speaks of the emotions and experience I was going through while first listening to it.
A good friend of mine, who follows this blog, said something along the lines that it was among the best records ever made by a minor league artist. I'd agree with that. Cole himself has I imagine seldom reached these heights since, (though he still puts out very good stuff and is excellent live by all accounts). I guess he knows the truth of this very well. It was an album and a statement he could never possibly trump because it was so much of its time and said so many of the essential things that he had to say. It defined forever a moment, an age of life and a perspective on it better than almost any record I know
I bought it at the time when my life was changing, more quite than it has ever done, before or since. I was eighteen, finishing off my A Levels and thinking about university. I knew very little idea about relationships, the opposite sex or pretty much the world. Records coming out at the time like Rattlesnakes, Murmur, High Land, Hard Rain and The Smiths were the stuff I constructed my identity around along with books, films and politics they referenced and drew on. I could make a list but I wouldn't want to bore you. It was stuff to aspire to and identify with, to construct yourself around in terms of the things you wore and I bought into it. I was far from alone.
Cole suffered slightly at the time from being bracketed with R.E.M, The Smiths, Aztec Camera and also Prefab Sprout who were coming at things from a similar angle. He seemed a minor talent by comparison as perhaps in retrospect he has proved. But it was a perfectly formed minor talent. He also meant a lot to quite a lot of people. I imagine many of those who fell for this record, what he was saying and the way he was saying it have never entirely grown out of it. I haven't.
Fast forward a couple of years from the record's purchase to the Summer term of my first year at University. There's a girl there that I'm falling for and something is starting to happen with. It's a university disco. She lives on campus and I'm at residences a few miles away. It's coming to the end of the night and I have to get on the pre-arranged minibus with the others who stay there. Perfect Skin comes on. We close dance to it, an odd song to close dance to, it's more of a giddy jig really. I go get the bus without a kiss but she's taking me over. We start going out together shortly afterwards, do so for the next four years. I fall completely in love with her. There's talk of marriage but with one thing and another it doesn't happen. Lloyd and the Commotions were there at the start of it all. I'll never hear Perfect Skin without being transported back to that brief pocket of time as it all began. She had a teddy bear called Bloomingdale and eyes like sin. She went into journalism. Wrote something for The Face. But not Cosmopolitan.
Back from myself to the record itself. All in all it's a flawlessly constructed album; track-listing, arrangements, lyrics, length. Nothing outstays its welcome. It's tasteful. Refined. It speaks of an ingrained love of all things America. Lloyd half sings, half speaks in immaculately assembled American Beat prose hip-speak throughout. He and the band's sound yearns for the open road and also New York in particular in all its Sixties glory. America as dreamed of in youth spent in Buxton, Derbyshire and nailed into achievable reality as a university student, meeting and mixing with the right people, soaking up the sights and sounds of Glasgow, a city forever in thrall to the States. It's no great wonder that Lloyd ended up moving there permanently himself. Rattlesnakes is chock full of namedrops. Eve Marie-Saint, Greta Garbo, Leonard Cohen, Simone De Beauvoir, Grace Kelly, Norman Mailer, Arthur Lee, Truman Capote. The kind of people and culture that you were gobbling up at this point of life, so desperate to impress, with the youth to get away with it sometimes but without the raw and real experience or knowhow to really back it up. It's a life learned, soaked up through books, films and music.
But there's pain there too. It's marrying these books, films and this music against the intense, brief, rites of passage experience you were actually going through. About wasting precious time as he says himself at one point. It's about first and failed relationships. The ones that hurt the most. It's about trying to understand women that are impossibly attractive, elusive and unobtainable, or even if they are obtained, the moment of possession is sure to be only fleeting. Because you're only twenty one once. It's about being flippant and eager to impress with surface cool and charm whilst all along underneath beats a desperate, yearning heart.
The playing is remarkably tight. I'd pick out Neil Clark the lead guitar but the whole band are hugely adept. Because really they're grounded in Soul. They know their Stax and incredibly they pull off a truly astonishing approximation of its gleam, spark and sheer discipline. And it's in this understanding of the essence of great Sixties American music, not just Dylan and The Velvet Underground but The Temptations, Staple Singers, Aretha and Booker T & the MGs that's the foundation of the record's success. They have the chops. Three of the band were in a Soul group before the Commotions formed. They made a point of playing with vintage equipment and using basic recording techniques rather than letting Eighties sounds and effects leak into the mix. These are some of the reasons the record has lasted.
There are five songs on either side of the album and they all fit as snug as can be. There's not a note too many, a line that doesn't work or a hook too laboured. They can speed it up and slow it down. It's funny and smart and touching by turns. It's a record of ten potential 45s. Lloyd is centre stage of course. The band took his name and it's his artfully constructed self that defines the record. Observant, wry, cynical, but really you suspect beneath the veneer, bruised and hurting.
The band had their brief moment in the sun. The record was feted and they had chart and critical success. They made follow up records, some of which recaptured the glory, most of which in retrospect didn't. Because they'd already made their statement. I played second record Easy Pieces a lot when it came out as it was part of the soundtrack to the great romance I talked of earlier which I was busy experiencing. I'd recommend a few songs from it that would fit right in on Rattlesnakes, Why I Love Country Music, Pretty Gone, Grace. Some of it doesn't work though. It tries too hard. Or else not enough. I didn't bother with the third. The band seemed to care less themselves by this point and split shortly thereafter. They'd run their course. They split shortly before the relationship of mine which they'd played their small part in did.
This is over thirty years ago. Lloyd is back. His latest album got his best reviews in years and his songwriting has aged gracefully. He has a silver flock of hair, barely receded from where it sat in its prime. He's not trying to be twenty, hasn't lost his looks and the man could certainly always write a lyric. He still can. He's always asked about Rattlesnakes of course and answers patiently and honestly. He seems like a good bloke though he still seems to find it hard to suffer fools. But he knows his place in the scheme of things.
So listen to his and his band's first record if you don't know it already. It's forever somewhere amongst my Top Thirty. It always makes me slightly lovelorn and nostalgic, for obvious reasons. I haven't gone into the songs individually here because they speak for themselves and are of a piece. I'd be here forever if I did but it would be all description and not enough feeling. Like I said it speaks for itself. A perfectly assembled row of books on a bookshelf. It's a record which within the dimensions and parameters it constructs for itself, frankly could not be bettered.
There it is. Always sitting there silently in the assembled ranks of albums stacked in boxes on my living room floor demanding to be played again. And again. From the first song, 'When she smiles my way. My eyes go out in vain,' to the last, 'Are you ready to be heartbroken.' I decided at the end of my first Lloyd Cole & the Commotions phase and the end of that relationship that I wasn't ready. I've learned since that the heart always finds a way to miraculously mend itself, work once more and need to love again. Meanwhile, Rattlesnakes plays on in the background. Never changing because it doesn't need to. It will outlast Lloyd. And me.
Lawrence's Go-Kart Mozart, one of the oddest manifestations around of the individualistic, singular personal vision that Pop Music allows for, are back in circulation, with a new album out shortly. In the meantime, while we wait for that, here they are, from a few years back, singing of the joys of listening to Marmalade, the Glasgow band of the sixties and seventies, (rated by Hendrix no less),. Certain similarities between Lawrence and Jarvis Cocker's vocal stylings evident here.
Best known for a few things. Being Doris Day's son. Knowing, wanting to work with and being targeted by Charles Manson after they fell out. And producing The Byrds.
Julian Cope's fabulous Japrocksampler rightly eulogises the likes of Flower Travellin' Band, one of the most prominent early practitioners of this scene. Here's the first track from their second album which demonstrates well where they were coming from.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
I found listening to The Orielles debut album Silver Dollar Moment yesterday a glorious experience. 'Yes' I kept thinking. 'Yes,' 'Yes', 'Yes'! Halifax's pride and joy, a young indie trio come out with a joyous, poppy marvel of a record to shake away the cobwebs of winter. It meanders, but that is surely a big part of its attraction as it just invites you to dive back in to discover what intrigued you so much in the first place. Indie album for the first quarter of 2018.
Monday, February 19, 2018
Sunday, February 18, 2018
The Stooges, Modern Lovers, The Marble Index and Horses. More than enough on their own to deserve a slot here.
Until earlier on this week I was quite unaware of the existence of U.S.Girls, the project of multi-media Canadian artist Meghan Remy. But I started hearing tracks from her sixth album In a Poem Unlimited, before its official release on 4 A.D on Friday and became intrigued. On listening to it in its entirety, I'd say it's destined to be one of the records of 2018. It's a quite blistering album.
An angry, defiant record, walking the line between art, pop and protest in a quite brilliant way. A State of the Nation address. Whereas Remy has previously drawn on the Ronettes and the girl group sound, In a Poem Unlimited fast forwards into the seventies and beyond, feeding off Blondie, ABBA, Disco 54 and Madonna to create a glorious, swirling feast,tipping a nod to the avant garde with eight minute closer Time, but elsewhere just revelling in the most wondrous grooves and melodies,
So, a highly political and timely album in a week where Alela Diane, Joan as Policewoman and Courtney Barnett have all put out great records focusing on different aspects of the world that women live in. U.S.Girls in many respects is the bleakest and most furious of the lot, commenting on the #me too campaign, male violence and abuse of power, Obama's drone bombing campaign and now to the times of Trump. The promo videos posted here attest to that. It's artistic and social statement but also a wonderfully seductive pop album.
Saturday, February 17, 2018
I'm still not entirely sure about the new MGMT album. I certainly liked it on first listenings but then all of its eighties reference points began to pall. But Sean, one of the barmen at Rosie's is a big fan and this sounded pretty good last night.
Produced Procul Harum and Mott the Hoople, (whose band name he suggested). Chronic alcohol and drug dependency contributed to his early death aged just 38 in 1981. But not before he'd managed a late renaissance with his co-production of The Clash's magnificent London Calling album.
Friday, February 16, 2018
A couple of beers with regular barman James after his shift. He seemed to have some confusion between Debbie Harry and Madonna tracks. Well it was so long ago. I put this on as some explanation of what it was like for those of us who lived through the eighties.
All of those great sixties folk records. Many of them associated with Island; Fairport, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan. John Martyn, Incredible String Band and so on and so forth. He also produced Fables of the Reconstruction, the most enigmatic of all R.E.M. albums. But here's Vashti.
It has to be said that the new album from Mexican diva Natalia Lafourcade. just out and entitled Musas (Vol 1), is much better than a slap round the chops, false austerity or anything whatsoever to do with those two cursed Gallagher brothers. Lafourcade has been doing this for a while of course. A Grammy winning artist what's she's doing here, presenting a concoction of Latin American folk music is nothing new but everything here is judged to perfection, so feather light, evocative and charming and you're transported at once to a warm Mexican courtyard with the sights and sounds of that part of the world all around you.
All the while, Lafourcade's voice floats through the mix, sometimes backed by the whispered backing vocals of her band. It's all just enchanting from opening to closing curtain. Sometimes you need a winsome indie band, sometimes you need some soul. Sometimes you need some food for thought. And sometimes you just need this!
Thursday, February 15, 2018
'I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup. And spit out better words than you...'
Hot off the press! The new Courtney Barnett song just released today. Ahead of her new album entitled Tell Me How You Really Feel which is due mid-May. I have to say that there are very few contemporary artists that make me hot under the collar quite like Courtney, since I came upon her at my sister's recommendation five or so years back. I've seen her a couple of times in Newcastle, both wondrous occasions and though not everything she's done has quite floated my boat the way the first stuff I heard did, she is still a wondrous and exciting artist. As for this particular taster for things new Nameless, Faceless is an instant winner, with the kind of lyric that frankly only Courtney can write, treading a similar road to past glories of hers, with slightly more serious intent than we might be used to. This here is newly unearthed treasure!
A few hours later and listening to it again a great way of dealing with male aggression from a talented female artist. Through humour. This song is really about finding a way of coping and making a statement on the evident violence that's clearly abroad in this world. 'I want to walk through the park in the dark. Men are scared that women will laugh at them. Women are scared that men will kill them...' Margaret Atwood's words apparently. But put to a great tune. In just over three minutes. Use your words like Dylan. That's always the key. Apparently punched out on an old fashioned typewriter.The album should be worth waiting for...
Very sad to see that Ultimate Painting are no more. They announced their split a couple of days back. The union of two very talented songwriters Jack Cooper and James Hoare, they released three fine albums between 2014 and 2016 in a whirl of momentum and another was due in the next couple of months but has been scrapped. I shall be listening to their stuff slightly glumly today!
And now from R.E.M. fellow travellers. They supported them on early tours. Here's Dream Syndicate, from their splendid comeback record of last year, How Did I Find Myself Here? This, the final track of the album, is dedicated to, and a collaboration with Kendra Smith, the bassist of the original band unit. After her adventures with them, and her time with David Roback and the splendid Opal, she became something of a recluse, living off the grid in rural isolation . This track brought her back into the fold, at least momentarily and it's a haunting and evocative close to the record. Life as a living dream.
Anything relating to the first few R.E.M. records, (and particularly Murmur) is incredibly poignant for me as it is from there, back in 1983, when I turned eighteen, that I began to establish my own sensibility and sense of identity. The production of that record still sounds incredibly magisterial to me. Imbued in wonder, invention, daring and youthful exploration. Easter produced that record, in addition to the band's debut Chronic Town and Murmur's fabulous follow up Reckoning. I was never quite the same again.
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
This blog is being taken over by wonderful new releases from female artists at the moment. All very good. And I always find it great to hear new Eleanor Friedberger. One of the most original and distinctive voices there is. This comes ahead of her new album Rebound, which is due in April. Quirky as ever, (and let's face it, Friedberger always has a fair dollop of 'quirky' to almost everything she does), Rebound refers to a club in Athens, Greece, where she spent a while recently that only opened at 3.00 a.m. on Sunday mornings. I guess Athens has something to do with the skirt, the pose, the décor and the vase here. Anyhow In Between Stars is warm, lively, and really rather lovely.
Alela Diane might be disparaged by some as a 'worthy' artist in the negative sense. Her songs, particularly on new album Cusp are spare and unembroidered and focus on the most basic issues of existence. The sheer realisation of being alive and its transience, motherhood, family, love, hearth and home, nature, the world around us and how it inspires, informs and shapes us. It's an approach that could easily grate or irritate in the hands of an inferior artist but Diane is such a considered and talented one that the effect is actually the opposite. It's utterly inspiring. A spell cast!
Focusing in turn on migration, what it feels like carrying a child in your womb, the world seen through a babies eyes, the Syrian toddler and the image that went around the world of him washed up on a Turkish beach, Sandy Denny and her own orphaned child and elsewhere on similar, recurrent themes. Nothing seems out of place or overstated Thoughts of familial love and the dreadful imagining of loss. Very much an album on what it feels like to be a mother, on the record's sleeve Diane sits in an elegant almost Edwardian dress, her hair set in a bob, sat in profile on a kitchen chair as if for a family portrait which will adorn the wall of that self-same kitchen for the course of a lifetime before being passed down to future generations. A beautiful idea and this is a truly beautiful album that ticks like an old mantelpiece clock towards its inevitable conclusions of love and consolation.
Produced Durutti Column, Happy Mondays, Buzzcocks, Magazine, New Order and umpteen others but most of all Joy Division of course. That other-worldly haunting and quite unique sound. Not quite like anything else; before, at the time or since.
Scotsman Ewan Cruikshanks just released debut album A Glasgow Band is a particular record. Setting off with an instrumental that sounds something like Sonic Youth warming up, it quickly moves on to different spaces and moods and never lets up over the course of its eleven tracks. Some Scottish flecked indie pop, bits of Glam, Elliot Smith and Teenage Fanclub plangent moments, Afro-Pop, even Neil Young style workouts, melodic but determinedly leftfield at all times with Cruikshanks distinctly Scottish vocals the only real common denominator.
The diversity of it is initially somewhat disconcerting but eventually becomes the record's most interesting characteristic. Cruikshank is undoubtedly a talent but a determinedly non-conformist one. A Glasgow Band is a neat and rather fascinating calling card and a distinctly more-ish one!