Friday, May 25, 2018

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Sparkle Hard

My feelings about Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks' new album Sparkle Hard are pretty similar to my feelings about Malkmus output over the last almost thirty years. What I like, I like very much and what I don't, well I don't! Where Malkmus has a winning way I'd say is with a wistful melody a neat but probably largely meaningless lyric and a gently loping tune that maintains momentum, so whereas I'm more than happy with Here, Gold Soundz, Folk Jam, Cut Your Hair, Shady Lane and Date w/ IKEA, I have little time for Stereo, We Dance, Rattled By The Rush, Grounded or Conduit For Sale where he wanders wilfully into absolute wilderness. Just because he can. My reading of Sparkle Hard conforms very much to the script. Some of it's good, some of it is downright sloppy. 

As virtually patron saint for the Pitchfork site and the generation it represents, Malkmus won't be worrying about what I think. He has a guaranteed constituency vote that will ensure he gets re-elected back into the Indie Pantheon just as long as he chooses to stand for re-election. For me I'd say when he tries to move me I'm moved, because I think this is the core to his songwriting gift. When he tries to show me how clever he is and impress me, I'm not impressed and sometimes get downright irritated. At least he and I are both consistent. He in terms of his records and me in terms of my reaction to them. I'd direct you to Solid Silk, Middle America, Brethren and Refute as the best moments on here and Bike Lane as the lowpoint. Not because it's a bad tune but because it's when Malkmus decides to make political comment on the death of Freddy Gray an African American who died at the hands of the police in 2015. He shouldn't trespass on territory like this really. Having spent almost three decades pretending not to care this almost comes across as a case of bad taste even though I don't doubt his sincerity.

Songs About People # 623 Mao Tse Tung

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 233 Stevie Wonder

Song of the Day # 1,587 audiobooks

Debut song from a Swedish duo, just signed to Heavenly. It's dark but appealing.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Beach House 7

The new Beach House record 7, (well it's their seventh album), is an easy thing to admire and respect but I'm finding it rather more difficult to love. And that's not for the want of trying. I've listened to it several times since it was released a couple of weeks ago and as seductive as its glossy surfaces seem, all sleek melodies and electronic pulses I find it somewhat difficult to warm to because try as I might I can't locate its human heart.

Electronically generated albums naturally can and should have a human heart and the human instinct. Two of the great pioneers of the form that Beach House work within, Kraftwerk and Suicide, always had that in spades. This Beach House record doesn't, certainly not to the extent that other albums of theirs have, 2016's Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars to name just two.

So while I'm still open to persuasion from 7 currently that's just  about the mark I'd give it. So while they are an indisputably great band this is an accomplished record I'd say but not a particularly great one, feeling most of all like a gleaming black car, (and hey there's a song called Black Car on the record to underline the point), everything in its place sliding off an ultramodern production line. State of the art, admirable, but not particularly memorable.


Songs About People # 621 John Steinbeck

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 234 The Pretenders

Song of the Day # 1,586 Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr does he re-take of There Is A Light... ahead of his forthcoming album. And quite brilliantly too!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 295 Marlene Shaw

Generally I have a rule for songs of my own that I put on that they shouldn't be too long in case the other punters don't like them. That's when I haven't imbibed too much and Marquee Moon, All Blues or when I'm really at my very very worst Sister Ray might go on. But yesterday I hadn't imbibed and all six minutes of this sounded just wonderful with all kinds of great studio effects on the record showing off Rosie's sound system at its very best.

Songs About People # 620 Philip Roth

For Philip Roth who has just passed. When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature a couple of years back there was much uproar about how it should have gone to Roth instead. Rachel Garlin comments here.

Forty Days of Rain # 40 The Beatles

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 235 The Everly Brothers

Song(s) of the Day # 1,585 Trace Mountains

This is unassuming but quite beautiful and notable stuff. Determinedly small in its scope and all the better for that. A Partner To Lean On, the recently released debut album from Trace Mountains, the indie folk project of American Dave Benton, also or formerly part of LVL Up and Double Whammy. It's all sweet guitar led rhythms, hushed ,though sometimes oddly studio treated, vocals, winding melodies and introverted thought processes.

It certainly floats my boat. Benton is an assured and gifted songwriter who pitches his tent somewhere between Sufjan and Elliot's and if either of those artists have ever touched you, (how frankly could they not have done), I'd direct you towards A Partner To Lean On. 

Probably a record that will get lost in the rush as the end of the year album lists come to be written, I imagine it will feature somewhere on mine. A charming, thoughful and perfectly crafted record, that had me utterly hooked on first listening and which I'm sure to return to, often!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dexys Midnight Runners

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 294 Primal Scream

On an evening when the new Courtney Barnett and Parquet Courts albums came on the jukebox at Rosie's, (and I played plenty of them too tonight), I'm choosing this off the first Primal Scream album, Sonic Flower Groove. Ir's a fairly wretched record for the most part, but they had their notable moments in their early days, Velocity Girl, It Happens and the early John Peel sessions for example. But Sonic Flower Groove was pretty poor in most respects but this is probably where they came nearest to replicate the crystalline Byrds sound and feel they were after. And also, as a bonus, played on a Tuesday.

Songs Heard on the Radio # 254 Sam Evian

Very nice indeed! From the album You, Forever, which is out on 1st June.

Felt / Weather Prophets / Primal Scream


Songs About People # 619 Raymond Chandler

Robyn Hitchcock salutes a master!

Forty Days of Rain # 39 Marmalade

A Hendrix favourite.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 236 Ray Charles

Song of the Day # 1,584 Young Scum

The always excellent Did Not Chart blog, listed to the right hand side of this page, brought my attention to this. From Richmond, Virginia and with a new album following. It's another sign, (as the writer attests), that along with Say Sue Me, Alvvays, and several other notables, the legacy of Eighties Indie jangle is alive and well!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Songs About People # 617 Suzy Parker

Brazilian band Filhos Da Judith cover a rare Beatles track,an outtake from the Get Back sessions. Suzy Parker was a leading American model of the Fifties and Sixties.

Forty Days of Rain # 37 Neil Young

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 238 Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels

Song of the Day # 1,582 Beverly Glenn-Copeland

Recently re-issued 1970 album from Beverly Glenn-Copeland an artist now living as a trans-man. This, the opening track, has a nice soulful feel, somewhere between Tim Buckley's Folk-Jazz inflected records and what Joni was doing at round about the same time.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Patti Smith

Parquet Courts / Ultimate Painting The Wylam Brewery August 2017

And to tell the story, here's what I wrote when I saw them last Autumn:

The Wylam Brewery, across Exhibition Park, next to Newcastle University, is one of a number of new music venues that have been added to the city circuit recently. This is an indication that the live scene is flourishing here, always a good thing, and it's pleasing that alternatives are being supplied to the rather soulless Carling Academy, which for a while was  the only venue to see bands like Parquet Courts who'd outgrown The Cluny and Digital Underground's Think Tank in terms of the number of punters they could attract through the front doors.

The Brewery certainly has its share of soul. Set across the lake in the heart of the park, it has rolling gardens, still functions on most nights as a brewery and micro-pub for real ale devotees and has a large, atmospheric hall where the bands play. A number of people had told me that the acoustics were not what they should be, but having been a couple of times I can scotch that rumour, and as the guy who runs the place says to me, 'Opinions are like arseholes...'.

So, to Ultimate Painting, too good a band to be supporting anybody, but it's always great to see a fully formed unit in operation before the main event. I'm reasonably sure in any case that a fair few of the audience are looking forward to catching them just as much as the headliners, a young and very friendly couple I chatted with at the beginning of the evening for example.

Ultimate Painting are a union between the principle songwriting talents from Veronica Falls and Mazes, James Hoare and Jack Cooper. They're nothing if not prolific, having recorded and released three albums in two years together from Hoare's bedroom in London of neat guitar driven pop music of the type they used to make.

Looking, and sounding like a band who Creation Records would have signed up in the eighties, all hooped shirts and fringes, they're the missing link between The Velvet Underground, (during the phase that Doug Yule was in the band), The Kinks and Rubber Soul era Beatles. Neat guitar, lyrics, harmonies and driving rhythm section, they strike me as a group that haven't got the attention and acclaim they deserve, they would have blown many of those eighties acts off the stage for example, and that comes from someone who saw a fair few of them back in the day.

In terms of sheer songwriting, Ultimate Painting knock the spots off most of their contemporaries and a fair few of more revered forbears. Dividing things between Hoare and Cooper, (I'd say Cooper just shades it in terms of songs and charisma, though with these joint operations there's no need to choose, as the fact that they've got the dual point of attack is a central part of their appeal), they're looking back to forge forward, in some ways a simple, melodic response to an age where things are far more cluttered than they need to be.

They blow me away with Central Park Blues, (to my mind their strongest), which they play midset, a song in the spirit of Courtney Barnett doing Dylan, and one that she herself would have been mighty proud of coming up with. Then on to Song for Brian Jones and finishing a set which was just too short, with Ten Street which allows scope for appropriate full on guitar freakout to close.

 'We're the fabulous Parquet Courts from New York City', intones A.Savage into his mic half an hour later after the band have kicked off with Dust and Human Performance, the same one-two that sets off their album from last year. In contrast to Ultimate Painting who are all English self-depreciating diffidence and modesty in terms of their onstage demeanor, the headliners are non-stop 'attitood' from the moment they hit the stage to the moment they leave it and don't return for an encore.

They approach everything, absolutely everything, from an angle. If you like bands that go at everything from an angle, they, more than anyone currently around, are the ones for you. They've certainly got the songs to back up the swagger. Five years of intensively produced back catalogue which now allows them to pick and choose at will rather than kowtow to the demands of an audience baying for Stoned & Starving, to pick one example, (this isn't played).

Plenty from the Human Performance album is, an indication that they rate it as their best, more than a year after its initial release. As with Ultimate Painting, they divide attention and proceedings between Savage and Austin Brown left and right, with bassist and considerable presence Sean Yeaton centre-stage. This three pronged line of attack is considerably effective with drummer, A.'s brother Max providing a driving backbeat but keeping schtum between songs. He probably wouldn't be able to get a word in edgeways anyhow.

The moshpit is small but eager and mostly female, which I imagine the band would have appreciated. The banter comes thick and fast between songs, Brown and Yeaton conduct a bowing competition at one point. They are smart arse and eternally sure of themselves, 'too cool for school' as the girl at the cornershop artisan bakery, (who was also there), says to me when I stop off for my customary pain au chocolat the next morning.

They've earned a right to a certain degree of hubris. Starting off as a DIY proposition, they've come a long way in a short time and done so largely on their own terms. Tonight though I don't always find their cockiness particularly endearing, (I'm in the diffident Englishman camp with Ultimate Painting not unnaturally), I do enjoy the show, apparently the first they've ever played in an octagon-shaped hall. 

Towards the end of the show Yeaton shakes himself out of  the frantic shugging, frothing mode he operates in for most of the set to remark on the judgmental Santa shadows thrown onto the backwall by the onstage overhead speakers. Brown thanks us for choosing to come and see them rather than Mac DeMarco at the Carling Academy, (he's playing there this evening, it's clearly meant as a slagging), and they're gone after closer One Man, No City, where they do their Marquee Moon style burning inferno, (the comparison is inevitable). As I said, no encore, but they've done more than enough.

So two fine bands and an altogether fine night!

Parquet Courts - Human Performance

My journey with Parquet Courts. Here is the review I wrote about Human Performance when it came out a couple of years back which I think is a far better than their new one Wide Awake! which I've written about below. Here's why:

'Dust is everywhere. Sweep!'

I'm already deeply enamored with the new Parquet Courts album, which is just out on Rough Trade Records. To such a degree that I'll almost certainly buy myself a vinyl version fairly shortly despite going through a belt-tightening phase at the minute, because the record casts a tighter spell on me every time I listen to it.

Parquet Courts are in an interesting place right now. Their last record made it to # 55 on the American Billboard Charts. Albums by left-field alternative bands don't generally make it so far these days. This record seems sure to go further still as it's a definite stride forward, with several of the best songs they've ever recorded and the whole thing glowing with confidence.

There's an assured clockwork tick-tock efficiency about much of the album, a willingness from the band to not be content with what they've already achieved, stare at their shoes and skulk in the shadows and play for the select few. This is heartening. Of course what they're doing is by no means unprecedented, Far from it obviously, though it's no less thrilling for that. Parquet Courts are working within a finely honed alternative guitar tradition going back to 1967 and the first Velvet Underground record.  You'll recognise moments from your own record collection if you come from a similar place to them. At various points I picked up Stooges, Velvets, Modern Lovers, Mission of Burma, Meat Puppets, Television, Sonic Youth, Wire and of course Pavement, an oft-stated influence, though this band are more like Pavement with a heart and devoid of that particular group's superior, entitled smirk.

On second song, the album's title track, they lift the descending melodic line of Wire's Outdoor Miner, one of the best pop infiltrations from the leftfield ever written and augment it to stunning effect to create one of my favourite things from this year. Elsewhere, they plough more familiar furrows, but flesh it all out to a greater degree than they ever have before. They're growing, like all the best bands do. They have something of a swagger about them now. On the record's longest track, One Man No City at differing points of this song their guitars invoke the spirits of first Teenage Riot and then Heroin, and they're no mere steals but testaments to a band entering their imperial phase. It's an album that seems sure to reap further rewards the more it's played. Have a listen!

Songs About People # 616 Ava Gardner

And from the writer of Avant Gardener to Ava Gardner. This thing isn't just thrown together you know...

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How you Feel

'You know what they say. No-one's born to hate. We learn it somewhere along the way. Take your broken heart. Turn it into art. Can't take it with you. Can't take it with you...'

First a disclaimer. Courtney Barnett is probably my favourite contemporary artist. I feel like I know her, which is one of her great gifts. Over the last five years since I first heard Avant Gardener, she's given me an enormous amount of pleasure and no little sustenance as she's travelled from a small time indie singer songwriter and frontwoman for her band in Melbourne to a known force currently making inroads and friends and inevitably detractors wherever she's decided to go as she gains a wider audience.

And so to her second album Tell Me How you Feel out yesterday. It's a shorter record than 2015's Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit the debut which broke her big. I think it's a better one. She's certainly moved away from the narrative songs which marked that record to an inner space which tries to resolve her own evident inner discord while maintaining simplicity, sincerity and lyrical guile and dealing with the arseholes she comes across along the way as best she can. Seeking greater resonance while all the time ensuring she maintains her grace and not taking on meanness in response to the meanness she comes across. Just look at the feedback under The Guardian review of Tell Me for ample evidence of this.


It's a fine balancing act she's undertaking and on Tell Me I think she's done it. The ten tracks here are thoughtful, melodic and sweet, if troubled. She's moving on as an artist, has written several career best songs, kept what was already wonderful about her and supplemented it with greater depth and emotive power. 

Nirvana is the obvious touchstone for the angrier songs here as they were from the start with Courtney and her three-piece band. On Hopefulness and I'm Not Your Mother I'm Not Your Bitch and Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence, In Utero is definitely a starting point, but the end destination is all Courtney's own. In some ways she's gone back to her early simplicity as a way of forging forward and I think that's exactly the right move.These songs don't detonate as Nirvana's later ones often did in unresolved pain, grief and rage. They stay afloat.

So while Courtney's troubled, she's still grounded in friends, family and community in a way Kurt sadly never seemed to be. She's still got a wonderful way with words, a delivery that's warm and affecting, and no little skill as a guitarist, (perhaps her least appreciated talent). These seem like ten friends to get to know and there's nothing on here I'm uneasy with or I think is a false move, the result of overthinking, something she probably was guilty of on occasion on Sometimes I Sit and Think...

The band placed the lead off single from Tell Me last night on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon as part of the album launch in New York last night. The record seems set to shift in large numbers and Courtney's star will surely ascend yet further. If she seems uneasy with this course, (who can blame her?), I'd say she's taken the right approach with Tell Me. Keep it close to home, (final track Sunday Roast well and truly drive this point home), keep it real and try to make it more real, the next step on the journey as the road broadens. It gives more than enough and keeps you wanting more.

In summary, it's a fine record that occasionally howls but maintains its manners and an uneasy smile on its face. This should be another great year for Courtney and she very much deserves it. And for my friend Darran who turned down the opportunity to see her with me in a small venue in Newcastle a few years back, she still doesn't brush her hair and is all the better for it. And she won't ever be back there again...

'Don't come with your arms swinging. Throw them around me...'

Forty Days of Rain # 36 Can

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 239 The Searchers

Song of the Day # 1,581 Childish Gambino

The new Childish Gambino which is whipping up a considerable storm and a well justified one. Fine song, but it's the video that really drives the point home.  

Friday, May 18, 2018

Parquet Courts - Wide Awake

Parquet Courts are back with a new record after their longest break between their albums in their career, (though it's only been two years since Human Performance, they're a highly prolific band),  and it's not an unqualified success. Wide Awake! is an angry record, angry at the anger and the violence at large in the world just now, and it's also a wordy one, dominated by A.Savage at the expense of their other songwriter Austin Brown and subsequently slightly lopsided in comparison with their other records. It has some of the best songs of their career but I don't think it's their best album.

Total Football, the opening track is typical of the approach and one of the best things on here. A comparison of the collective spirit embodied by the 1974 Dutch World Cup football team that gave name to the term, and an analogy of the old world that the band are railing against and the collective consciousness offered by the New World's youth.The comparison of the team ethos of a football team that can switch positions at will in comparison with the lone wolf American archetype embodied by an American Football team quarterback.  It's a laboured metaphor, the band are and always have been 'too cool for school', but it's a good tune and funny too.

Elsewhere the record lacks coherence. As a band they've always hopped from one mood to another but Human Performance for one certainly had a greater sense of balance, which was offered by Brown's melodic nous which counterpointed Savage's barely suppressed wordy rage. The former is largely absent here. The album is produced by Danger Mouse, and his know-how certainly gives the record a polished  sheen which contrasts with the band previous lo-fi feel but when they try to bring the funk they don't have the feel for black music, that's required. There have been plenty of white guitar bands who could pull this off, Talking Heads and Gang Of Four for example, but Parquet Courts are far too self-conscious to be able to follow suit. The title track verges on laughable in this respect. There's no comparison point with Pavement here, an obvious reference which plagued the band and obviously irked them greatly. But in attempting to make a brave career shift from the waters they previously occupied they've ended up muddying the waters somewhat. So while several things here add to the band's considerable back catalogue overall this seems like a somewhat missed opportunity.

Teleman - Cactus

Deeply groovy new song from Teleman ahead of their third album Family of Aliens. Their re-creation of late Seventies and early Eighties synth-pop is becoming denser and more muscled, but no less melodic.

Songs About People # 615 Agatha Christie

Leicester's Deep Freeze Mice are back on this series with a song for the dame.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 240 Little Richard

Forty Days of Rain # 35 Eddie Gale

And some more...

Song(s) of the Day # 1,580 Ildris Ackamoor & the Pyramids

A bit of cool Cosmic Jazz for a Friday!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Songs About People # 613 Joseph Beuys

Billy Childish tips his hat to another man in a hat in typically flagrant, Punk-ish manner. That man is German intellectual, artist and deeply cool man Joseph Beuys.

Forty Days of Rain # 33 The Everly Brothers