Sunday, December 17, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 259 Foxygen

and probably their second most famous song, from the same album, is on the jukebox at Rosie's. A perfect replication of sixties affectations.Perhaps they've never been quite as good since.

Songs About People # 511 Shuggie Otis

Foxygen beautifully replicate the vibe of early seventies soul with probably their most famous song, a tribute to Shuggie. From their 2013 album and probably definitive statement We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Freedom.

Songs of the Year # 9 Sidney Gish

New young American artist who minds me, (in terms of talent, not thievery), of Liz Phair, Rickie Lee Jones, The Roches, Moldy Peaches and even Suzanne Vega over the course of her excellent debut from this year Ed Buys Houses.  Here's a highlight. Finger clickin' good!

Albums of the Year # 9 Benjamin Clementine - I Tell a Fly

Interestingly, this was not in any Best Albums list that I saw given the accolades his previous had heaped upon it. But I preferred I Tell a Fly. I thought it was a bold and brave record. Here's what I wrote back in October:

The second album from Benjamin Clementine, I Tell a Fly. Not something I expected to be enthusing about or advertising on here but I feel obliged. Because I think it's quite brilliant. Barmy but brilliant! This comes two years after Clementine's debut album At Least For Now which won the Mercury Music Prize and had critics prostrating themselves before him. But whereas that record made me cringe, this one leaves me open mouthed with admiration and wanting to listen to it again as soon as possible to try to work out why I like it so much. So why is that?

I thought that At Least For Now was nouvelle cuisine for the chattering classes. Elegantly arranged on top drawer porcelain but ultimately pretension warmed up. It still sounds like that to me. When I heard that I Tell a Fly was a concept about two flies in love, I thought that actually listening to it would probably make me gag and so made no plans to do so. However, I gave it a go the day before yesterday and instead after several plays I think it's sublime. So why is that? 

For starters, mannerisms. Clementine is about as mannered an artist as you will ever come across. But whereas I found the mannerisms on At Least For Now empty and affected, suddenly on I Tell a Fly Clementine has hit his voice and his stride. For me its as if he's emerged from a chrysalis. It's pretension put to the best purpose. Towards the creation of art.

So where are the precedents for this. An autodidact, inspired by Anthony & the Johnsons, Eric Satie and surely, whether he likes the comparisons or not, (and I've read that he doesn't), Nina Simone. Writing and fronting an album that's so ridiculously ambitious it's surely going to be either a triumph or a catastrophe. He sings about the camps in Calais, he sings about Brexit, he sings about bullying, he sings about the turbulent current state of the world. And he sings about it all in such an arch comic utterly exaggerated and frankly comic voice or more accurately a whole sea of them,  that you're obliged to form an opinion on it. Indifference is frankly not an option. He holds absolutely nothing back over the course of eleven tracks, is utterly uncompromising, and certainly, certainly produces a record that is not coffee table music whatever else it might be.

Many people will be instantly repelled. The album will surely sell less than At Least For Now. It's impossibly stagy, almost operatic in its scope and scale and many more will peg Clementine as a deranged poseur. But it's partly its ludicrous scope that most appeals to me about I Tell a Fly. It puts him in the company of the most ambitious pop artists we've had; Bowie of course, Scott Walker, Jobriath, Jacques Brel, Billy Mackenzie and I'm also minded of Kevin Coyne, one of the most bloody minded singer songwriters of all. Clementine is certainly astonishingly bloody minded himself. I wish him all the luck in the world!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 392 The Capris

Song of the Day # 1,428 Tim Darcy

Belatedly, a favourite song of mine from this year and a wonderful video too. From Tim Darcy, also of Ought and his fine solo album from 2017 Saturday Night. Three minutes of wonderful Punky artistry in the noble tradition.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 260 The Rolling Stones

A drunken Friday night catch up with an old friend. This was the best song we put on.

Songs About People # 510 Mark Chapman

Don't call me Mark Chapman either. Julian Cope's always fertile imagination and creative energy get to work on the day that Lennon died.

Songs of the Year # 10 Domiciles

Much fine alternative Scottish music emerged this year from West Princes, Neon Waltz, Catholic Action, Spinning Coin and this bunch, Fife's Domiciles with a brilliant first single that almost brought the late eighties and nineties alive for me again.

Albums of the Year # 10 Dag - Benefits of Solitude

A leftfield choice this one but an excellent album. From Australia's Dag back in August:

One of the mainstay TV programmes of my late teenage years and early twenties, (when you had more time and inclination to consume such rubbish), was Australian Soap Neighbours. A phenomenon, both in its homeland and the UK, it initiated the Pop careers of Kylie Minogue and (rather more regrettably),  Jason Donovan among many other things. It also brought no end of vaguely colloquial Australian slang to the British shores. Among all of this was the term 'dag', unfortunately originally a reference to faeces dangling from a sheep's rear end but then in time coming to indicate someone with eccentric or inept social behaviour.

Wisely or not, Dag, (a Queensland originated band, focused around Dusty Anastassiou), have chosen to go out into the world under this name. Although on the surface, this may indicate a lack of ambition, there's little further evidence of that on their outstanding debut album Benefits of Solitude. Quite the opposite in fact. It's a record that's plays like a fine novel or collection of short stories. It's all highly redolent of the thoughtful, literary, and landmark albums produced by their great Australian forbears The Go-Betweens and The Triffids thirty years ago. That's as high a compliment as I can give and its to Dag's immense credit that they're not shamed by either comparison. They remind me of these two great bands, not so much in terms of their sound, (though there is an occasional nod to the former in this respect), but more in terms of their scope.

Where they resemble The Triffids meanwhile is in terms of their content. Like Born Sandy Devotional and In The Pines, that band's finest records, this is an album that evokes the desolate vastness and risk of the Australian outback. Anastassiou was raised on a remote cattle farm in Queensland and Benefits of Solitude from its title and sleeve to the essence of its music, evokes all that loneliness, space, alienation and strange beauty. The record has enormous variety of mood in its favour too. It has a set of melodies and lyrics that don't give themselves up too easily, demanding considerable input from the listener in order to fully appreciate it, something of a rarity nowadays. Altogether, a very fine record indeed and one I suspect which will be high on the list when I come to compile my favourite albums of 2017 towards the end of this year.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 393 The Olympics

Michael Stipe

And here's that picture of Stipe...

Song of the Day # 1,427 The Keep Left Signs

Creamy, dreamy pop songs from The Keep Left Signs. Here's just one example, from a mini-album called Tomorrow, released at the end of November. Fans of Flying Nun, early R.E.M. early Stone Roses, The Byrds and all things that jangle pay heed. The record is virtually note-perfect in its scholarly immersion in the form. It reminded me of the first time I saw Michael Stipe gazing out from the back sleeve of Murmur in bookish spectacles in 1983. I can tell you nothing about the band at all but for the time being the seven songs on Tomorrow are more than enough.

Friday, December 15, 2017


Songs About People # 509 Johnny Rotten

First song from arch-opportunists The Monks, (best known for British hit single Nice Legs Shame About The Face), 1979 album Bad Habits. What Johnny thought of it is not recorded.

Albums of the Year # 11 Ratboys - GN

From way back in July and still a firm favourite:

Quite definitely one of my favourite albums of this year thus far. Ratboys GN, just out, is one I waited for and one that lived up to all of my anticipation and more. Whether it'll make a splash in the big pop pond is probably doubtful but it's a better record than many that will.

Several of the tracks on here rank among the very best I've heard in recent months. Hailing from Chicago, and labeling their sound as Post-Country, Ratboys are two, vocalist Julia Steiner and multi-instrumentalist Dave Sagan and in GN, (as in Good Night), they've produced an album that is all calm liquid surface and murky bed depths. Much like going asleep and drifting into either dream or nightmare really.

The Post-Country moniker the band choose for themselves doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense to me personally, though it's always best for bands to pigeonhole themselves if they need to be pigeonholed at all. To me they sound Post-Kim Deal if they're anything, the album hints at all the most wonderful quiet moments of that woman's recording career from Pixies to This Mortal Coil to Breeders to Amps. I can also hear something of unjustly pretty much forgotten nineties outfit Madder Rose in the mix.

As for the songs, they hint at coldness and darkness and the band maintain a smart equilibrium between darkness and light, trapped forever between life's undoubted potential for threat and fear and its redeeming beauty and wonder. Occasionally Sagan lets rip, as if there's a need for all this pent up emotion and experience to be purged somehow. But for the most part, Ratboys veer towards the lower-end of the VU-needle volume-wise. As the album cover indicates, they know how to maintain an essential inner calm despite everything that we have already had and still might get thrown at us as part of life's rich pageant.

In terms of the lyrics, Crying About the Planets is typical, retelling the story of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson, (featured on this blog a few days back) and the desolation and loss of his 1912 Arctic Expedition. Find the lyrics here, if you're not moved, Ratboys are not for you. There are at least five others jostling with it in contention as the album's best. GN, a small but perfectly formed gem.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 394 James Carr

Songs of the Year # 11 King Leg

And Track One on the same album is well worth a listen too and gets on my Song of the Year list. Dwight himself, or Marshall Crenshaw would be proud to come up with this!

Song of the Day # 1,426 King Leg

Second track from Dwight Yoakam protege King Leg's debut where he demonstrates his astonishing range that will surely mind all who hear it of Roy Orbison. The song too is an absolute winner. Not everything from the record Meet King Leg hits the spot but this, Cloud City, is undeniable.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 259 Zero 7

Someone else's choice tonight. Ian, the eternally phlegmatic bar manager of Rosie's. Sounded pretty good to me. A bit like Massive Attack.

Songs About People # 508 Elvis Presley

Something Courtney and Kurt have been covering on tour. A quite wonderfully evocative song from Gillian Welch from 2001.

Songs of the Year # 12 Waxahatchee

Waxahatchee's album, Out In The Storm could easily have been on my end of year list. It's a fine, passionate, emotive record. In stead of that here's a track from it, (it could have been any one of many), on my Songs of the Year list. Appropriately entitled Fade, as it's the last track on the record.

Albums of the Year # 12 Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice

There's a moment on Blue Cheese, the seventh track on Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile's album Lotta Sea Lice where Vile sings, 'Now I'm calling the cops on you,' and both he and Barnett harmonise, 'Nanny nanny poo poo. Knockin' you out...' It was one of my favourite musical moments of the whole year and a sign that this unexpected but somehow explicable alliance had worked. Just an example of two great, slacker musicians thoroughly enjoying themselves first and foremost. The rest will logically follow from that.

I wasn't sure when I first heard about the project. Barnett particularly is one of my very favourite artists, virtually a patron saint of this blog. My initial thought was that I would prefer an album from her and this only meant that I would have to wait longer for it. I was soon persuaded however. Lotta Sea Lice is the sound of two artists whose music and sensibilities complement each others' utterly. Laid-back, humorous, languid, but also rich in its laziness!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 395 The Who

I Can't Explain changed my life the first time I heard it, when I was fifteen, by giving me a sound whose power I've spent a whole lot of the rest of my lifesearching to renew. It was the first record I'd heard that revealed British rock with the same purifying intensity as soul anf fifties rock and roll. There's no way if it would mean the same thing today. But if some aspects of what makes I Can't Explain great have grown fuzzier with the passage of time, the central kernel of its greatness has become more obvious.Keith Moon plays lead drums the way other bands had people playing lead guitar. After two decades, the sheer audacity of that act remains amazing and inspiring.'

Song(s) of the Day # 1,425 Last Leaves

There are more beautiful, heart-stopping moments on Last Leaves debut album from this year, Other Towns Than Ours, than most bands achieve in whole long careers. It's no wonder really as they're led by Marty Donald, formerly of Australians The Lucksmiths a band who went their separate ways in 2009. Now, following a hiatus, he's back, with a group supplemented by two other Lucksmiths among others.

Perhaps, if anything, Other Towns Than Ours overdoes the poignancy. But there's much here to treasure and admire. Donald certainly has the delicate sensitivity that I loved so much in the songs of Grant McLennan, Robert Forster and David McComb. The understanding that the greatest, most lovelorn literature and poetry was very much the stuff that could be appropriated in the cause of wonderful pop music. Last Leaves, draining the pool for you!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Songs About People # 507 John Wayne

I was wary of even listening to the much hyped Cigarettes After Sex, so off-putting do I find the name. However, having heard the record, I understand the appeal. They're like a more commercially driven Red House Painters and though I won't succumb utterly to them, (being a music snob, I naturally prefer the less commercial option), I do respect their languid grace. Here's a song for Big John!

Songs of the Day # 13 Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

This may not have been the best song on Lotta Sea Lice, but it was the one that made me smile most. More on this tomorrow!

Albums of the Year # 13 Kevin Morby - City Music

Kevin Morby, high on my list for the second year in a row. I wrote this back in June:

Kevin Morby follows up last year's splendid Singing Saw with the equally splendid City Music. An artist with a very strong sense of place, he shifts his focus from the rural to the urban, (most obviously New York, the city of all cities), and it feels like choosing to put on your New York Punk records after playing Nashville Skyline.

It's a deft, assured record. Morby understands the rhythms of the city, just as he appreciates the artistic predecessors who've charted this territory before. On second track Cry Baby the glacial riff that powers I Wanna Be Your Dog gets disinterred, then 1234, (less than two minutes long and quite perfect for it), pays tribute to The Ramones and Jim Carroll for their lives of urban purity in the most apt and succinct terms imaginable, 'Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, they were all my friends. And they died...'

After these two early peaks it would seem that City Music will do well to maintain it's high water mark but Morby is an artist not only with a clear and nuanced understanding of the sources he draws on but enough sheer vision, talent and guts to put his own work up for worthy comparison with the greats. Each successive track remarkably achieves new plateaus. There's soul, blues, folk, rock and punk music here for your delectation and Morby does justice to each. There's also a keen feel for the literary heritage of urban existence in all its contradictory, trapped abandon. A great record, of the old school, for 2017!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 396 Peter Gabriel

Song of the Day # 1,424 Ifriqyya Electrique

This is extraordinary music. You may not know its context when you hear it but you can surely feel it. It's the sound of struggle. In the words of the NPR Music website:

'Being ridden by a spirit that you don't quite understand and definitely can't contain: That's both the inspiration behind this project and the feeling of hearing it. Ifriqiyya Electrique is one of the most viscerally affecting sonic explorations of recent years. The idea was to marry mesmerizing, highly rhythmic Sufi ritual music from southern Tunisia (music from the descendants of former Hausa slaves) — during performances devotees become possessed — with the grinding, industrial crunch of electric guitar, bass and dark, growling electronics, courtesy of Putan Club's François Cambuzat and Gianna Greco, all melded into a framework that swings wildly between Maghrebi traditional music, punk and free jazz. The result is a cinematic and epic evocation of all-too-human struggle, dust and sweat morphing into a strange and indefinable ecstasy.'

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Songs About People # 506 Thor Heyerdahl

From Ambient Jazz group Open Source Trio's album Altitude. The track is 29.58 in, and well worth scrolling across to!

Songs of the Year # 14 Slowdive

The return of Slowdive, to the recording studio and live circuit was much heralded this year. I didn't go for the whole album but this track is well worth a spin.

Albums of the Year # 14 Girl Ray - Earl Grey

Written when this record came out back in August:

It's sheep we're up against. The Housemartins knew that only too well way back in the mid-eighties. It seems that nothing much has changed. Or ever really will. The album sleeve of Earl Grey, the wonderfully named first album from North London three-piece Girl Ray, (released yesterday), is adorned with images of sheep. Whether this is intended as social commentary or otherwise I'm unsure. What is abundantly clear however is just how wonderful the record within is, and how clearly removed it also is from much of the rest of the current musical flock. If I could do cartwheels, I would!

My initial impression, on first listening to Girl Ray a few days back, was that they were rather fond of Cate Le Bon. The band don't actually make any bones about their affection for Cate, and her influence is there, (certainly in terms of the way they sing),  but there's much much more to Earl Grey than thatIn essence, the album is a potpourri of almost everything resolutely leftfield and non-comformist about the British independent music scene since those fabulous, all female bands of the early eighties, The Raincoats, Delta 5, The Modettes and so forth.

There's much about current British culture that frustrates and irritates me but Girl Ray represents, (as well as any record I've heard this year), what I still treasure about it and keep coming back to. A distinctly eccentric and creative sensibility that you could trace back historically and culturally for centuries if you wished to. To the original Earl Grey and beyond. The members of Girl Ray remarkably, are still in their teens and have a long way ahead of them in terms of musical 'careers'. This is some initial statement! Time for a cup of tea...

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 397 Fats Domino

Song(s) of the Day # 1,423 Mr. Husband

It's nigh on impossible to listen to Mr. Husband's debut album Plaid on Plaid from earlier on this year, without Brian Wilson coming fairly quickly to mind. He, (Mr. Husband being a moniker for musician / comedian Kenny Tompkins), certainly has a knack for melody and poignancy that Wilson and Elliott Smith, (another thing the record reminded me of), would doff a cap to. Recorded in Tompkins bedroom in Maryland, it's a wonderful example of the merits of operating small but thinking big. I've posted the album's opening and standout track Riding a Lightning Bolt above and the rest of the record below if that takes your fancy. Something of an early Christmas treat.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Songs About People # 505 Hans Christian Anderson

For the Danish fairy tale man from Kittyhawk's 2014 album  Hello, Again.

Songs of the Year # 15 Steady Holiday

David Lynch style soundtrack to an imaginary film in a year when global events did make 'terror' an ongoing theme.

Albums of the Year # 15 Perfume Genius - No Shape

Another startling and timely statement from Perfume Genius. The review comes from back in May:

The new album from Perfume Genius No Shape is quite staggeringly good. Clearly one of the very best things I've heard for a long, long time. I listened through to the whole thing at one astonished sitting a couple of days back, quite taken back by its consistent melodic and rhythmic brilliance and insistent build. Genius is not an inappropriate term. Written from a defiant, pained gay sensibility that fits in a proud tradition going all the way back to Caravagio, it's a good as any record anyone is likely to release this year. You can hear elements of Sufjan, Vampire Weekend and Rufus Wainwright here and there but it's still very much Mike Hadreas', (the man behind the Perfume Genius moniker), own thing.  Here's just one track!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 398 The Spinners

Song(s) of the Day # 1,422 DUDS

Wired and compulsive guitar driven Post Punk from Manchester band DUDS. Pylon, Gang of Four and Fire Engines seem to be guiding signposts which is a good place to start from. From the opening notes of their album of this year, Of a Nature or Degree you sense this is unlikely ever to let up and so it proves. Utterly relentless.

There's a formula to this kind of stuff. Atlanta's Omni for example are mining a similar seam and though the bands have shared a bill, it might not have been the best idea as frankly the way they sound is a bit too close for comfort. Nevertheless, DUDS do this stuff supremely well. Twelve concise tracks in all, many of them not passing the two or three minute mark, their songs tick and chime with the precision of a finely tuned machine. This is an album that would probably have made my Album of the Year countdown, but it's come to my notice too late.

Nevertheless, I commend it to you. The fact that so many alternative bands are drawing on this template, thirty five years or so after the original models were released is an indication of how potent this sound remains. DUDS don't always sound very much like a British band, the vibe of this also gives off a strong whiff of the early records of Devo and Pere Ubu too , a sensibility which emerged from the depressed and decaying American cities of Akron and Cleveland in the late seventies, (everything is automated to the max), but of course the musical conversation and exchange that has always taken place between America and the UK has always been and remains a phenomenally generative one. Perhaps Joy Division and A Certain Ratio, bands who also hailed from Manchester back in the same day, are also worthwhile reference points. Though DUDS never allow themselves to be Factory glum.

Of a Nature or Degree does not necessarily surprise those of us who are familiar with this stuff but it does delight. This is no mere nostalgia exercise, what they're doing still makes perfect sense. Although fired up and occasionally irritable, this is nevertheless 'glass half full' music, (the band sound like they're having the most incredible fun doing this), and frankly DUDS nail their given objective highly impressively.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Songs About People # 504 Drew Barrymore

Not entirely to my taste music-wise, but this was a big song this year from SZA. Drew Barrymore is a big thing in the States, someone who's famous for being famous virtually all her life as well as being part of perhaps America's greatest dynasty. So here's a song for her.

La Feline

And something from the same artist later in the year. A collaboration with Laetitia Sadler.

Albums of the Year # 16 La Feline - Triomphe

An unusual choice this one, but a very good album. From a review back in August:

I come across things occasionally, sung in languages other than English that have absolutely no profile whatsoever in English-speaking markets but surely deserve to have one. Such appears to be the case with French artist La Feline and her current album, Triomphe, one of the finest records I've heard this year.

It's essentially a modern electronic pop record, mixed up from familiar ingredients, built on synthesised banks of melody, almost whispered vocals, non-aggressive but utterly authoritative in terms of delivery.I find it completely entrancing every time I listen to it.

As I said, it's familiar, anyone who cares for Charlotte Gainsbourg's stuff for example will appreciate exactly where this is coming from. Eleven tracks in all and something intriguing and enticing going on with each and every one. Somehow the French always pull off these poetic, dramatic, dreamlike exercises in style so much better than anyone else! Triomphe indeed.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 399 The Guess Who

Songs of the Year # 16 Century Palm

Them again. The icing on the cake as far as the album is concerned. A wonderful video here of the band wondering around in Arctic Canadian conditions too!

Song(s) of the Day # 1,421 Century Palm

Classic Post Punk angular Rock and Roll from Canadian outfit, Century Palm. Melodic, taut and to the point, their debut album from this year Meet You instantly hits sweet spots.

There's a lot of cherry picking from favourite bits of their record collection going on, (Wire, Ultravox, New Order and Total Control are a few things that come to mind),and it all comes together to form an immensely. satisfying whole. Angry at points, blissed out at others, they have their cake and eat it.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Songs About People # 503 Jimmy Fallon

A record I haven't talked on here and perhaps should have done, is the new Japanese Breakfast, album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet. It's a fine little pop record. Here's one from it which in some way references the American comedian and chat show host. I should come back to Japanese breakfast shortly.

Songs of the Year # 17 The Moonlandingz

Much of the Moonlandingz acclaimed album, Interplanetary Class Classics was too much for me. It struck me as if it was trying to hard, a subtle, but definite trap for the leftfield. But this, a fine take on the early Simple Minds sound, hit the spot.

Albums of the Year # 17 Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination

This is a very 2017 record in terms of the world that it writes about. And explicitly in comparison with a lot of albums of this year which tend to chart the inner geography of Brexit, the refugee crisis, Trump, Putin and the generally awful state the planet finds itself in, if they cared to chart it at all. But this, Holiday Destination, the second album from South Shield's Nadine Shah is explicit in terms of the concerns it focuses on.

As a result I didn't listen to it as much of many of the other things on the list. I didn't always want to stare these things directly in the face. Any more than it's easy to stare at the pictures of Aleppo that adorn its sleeve and actually make the leap of imagination to find yourself there, which is what the album is daring you to do. But every time I did listen to Holiday I found it strident, raw engaged and angry in terms of its personal and public politics and musical nous. And very impressive. 

Metallic and harsh in terms of its arrangements but warm determined too. Nadine Shah is making her way from the obvious guiding influence of Patti, Siouxsie and P.J. towards her own space and this was a brave committed statement about the harsh world we have little choice but to be living in but also about the responsibility that is ours to engage with it rather than burrow our way into our own shells.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 400 Bruce Springsteen