Archives for category: Music

songs ohia

I remember when I first belatedly got into some Songs:Ohia. I seem to recall giving up on them once they had Crazy Horsed into Magnolia Electric Co. and also being frustrated that there were already 5 or 6 albums to get hold of and I’d missed out on a lot of good music from the past 10 years, time wasted on not really caring much about music (also known as the Britpop era), Galliano and Galliano not really caring much about music. I think a friend had mentioned them in passing and, once Steve Albini was mentioned as being engineer, I decided to buy ‘Didn’t It Rain’ as it seemed the sort of thing that would sit well with my post-millennium realisation that I would obsessively buy music for life and no amount of hiding out in the tropics would alter that. I clearly didn’t realise that ‘they’ were pretty much just a ‘he’ with added friends, associates and session players at this point.

So, to ‘Didn’t It Rain’. Bleak and without hope. Desolate. Uplifting only in that there couldn’t be anyone else whose life could possibly sound so lonely. Beautiful, therefore, but also overpowering, almost too rich in its sadness as to give it a voyeuristic quality I did not feel I wanted. I was going through a happy time in my life and this album just didn’t fit in with that or positivity in general no matter how beautiful ‘Blue Factory Flame’ really was. The next album could only seem watered down by comparison, a step back was surely necessary for the sanity of the artist. Listening to ‘Magnolia Electric Co.’ – the last album by Songs:Ohia before Jason Molina changed his band name to Magnolia Electric Co. (I kind of liked the way he did that even if it was another clear parallel with Palace/Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) is a much less intense experience and a sense of something being reigned in to me. I never got around to going back to seek out his earlier albums, something I regret and am now finally doing starting with ‘The Lioness’. That sounds like mawkish guilt but isn’t. I guess my life hasn’t been too great of late and therefore Songs:Ohia are able to make more sense to me now that I can wallow in it more authentically. Vacuously maudlin? No, more using the art of suffering to draw a line under my own things. ‘Rumours’, ‘Here, My Dear’, ‘Shoot Out The Lights’ and ‘Steve McQueen’ have also been of great comfort but seem to provide an understanding that I can tolerate this crap for evermore. Songs:Ohia and ‘Didn’t It Rain’ in particular, make me want to shake these blues and move forward with purpose. I also get a brief snapshot of the quieter and more reflective times hidden beneath a more upbeat time of life. ‘Didn’t It Rain’ may well have been the album I fell asleep to after returning home late and needing some background noise to drown out the cicadas that soundtracked many a developing hangover or, and more likely, to harmonise with them. I also now hope to be find greater light to add to the shade of this album over the course of many future listens.

Anyway, to discover Jason Molina has died a year younger than I currently am and has done so after a few wilderness years in rehab after relentless dedication to releasing music almost too rapidly for any of it to take a strong enough hold is dreadfully depressing. That I missed his the vast majority of his career makes me wonder what this thing called music that we are caught up in is all for. After all, I have been revisiting his music all week and must admit that ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is an absolutely superb piece of music that suits a reflective early morning dogwalk as much as it does the wee small hours. I am also staggered that someone could record and tour so relentlessly with such an obvious dependency for so long. However, maybe that’s not so hard to understand. It may have been work that kept him together and, without it, he rapidly fell apart. If that is the case then it merely serves to prove that throwing yourself into work to deal with things is not healthy as there will always be times when the work isn’t there to reassure you just like replacing cigarettes with something else be it chocolate or jogging means you never really quit but merely shift the addiction’s hold. A life without producing music did for Jason Molina in as much as a life relentlessly producing music did the same. My thoughts are with his family and the bigger fans than I who must feel a massive hole in their lives with his passing. RIP and ‘Cross the Road, Molina’.

For the rest of this week Secretly Canadian (Molina’s label that started to release his music and ended up giving us Bon Iver) are streaming his entire back catalogue. I recommend you go to ‘Didn’t It Rain’ first:
http://live.magnoliaelectricco.com/album/didnt-it-rain

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mbv 2

Further thoughts following up the original review/appreciaton: ‘mbv: A Remastered Review’ piece (https://tuppencedylan.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/m-b-v-remastered/)

What started as an attempt to be quick to respond to an unprecedented new album release ended up turning into a kind of ‘m b v’ journal. It also got confused by an intervention from real life that made me concentrate on something other than music for a week. I have tried to edit these ramblings. I don’t know how successful I have been. Dates and references may be all over the place. Beware repetition and mixed connectives. I’ve kept the production values hazy to retain an overall effect, don’t you know.

So I didn’t spend Saturday afternoon (February 2nd) and evening eagerly trying to be among the first people to get the new My Bloody Valentine album, listen to it twice and quickly post a review thus the massive outpouring of blogging that went on. The reviews are now appearing (February 5th) but no reviewer has had more than 3 days to get their head around the album. There were clearly no advance copies. You might as well buy it and do it yourself. You may even have an insight into the idea that maybe music journalists regularly knock something off during lunch rather than listen to a review copy over a week to get familiar with it. Is it any good? It’s a late 90s MBV album, what do you want exactly? If you are interested, if you already own ‘Loveless’ or more, then you are bound to like it. It’s that simple. Does it break new ground? Maybe it did but it doesn’t really break much now. How could a groundbreaking album even be humanly possible? Someone is supposed to have recorded consistently groundbreaking music over 5 years and then kept it in the vault for 15 and none of those ideas have since been developed, done to death or even started to sound dated. Impossible unless you believe Kevin Shields to be some sort of actual prophet.

However, some of the critical reception seems to suggest that this is an even more perfect album than ‘Loveless’. Now, it seems obvious to me that Loveless was far from perfect, ‘Soon’ already sounded dated when preceded by the rest of the album. It was recorded 18 months before, imagine 18 years… ‘Loveless’ is a seminal album but at the time it was one of many that came out in 1991. Nirvana were the biggest name in alternative music when ‘Loveless’ came out and would remain so in its wake. Shoegazing bands who borrowed heavily from My Bloody Valentine’s sound had vanished as a going concern by the mid-1990s when this ‘new’ album should have come out. Only Spiritualized really survived only to later become a tad predictable and Stereolab either took the scene forwards or backwards depending on your opinion, or the Stereolab album for that matter. We may joke about Ride going on to become a source of a new Bonehead in Oasis, but Shields was an extra in Primal Scream too. A lot of the reviews of ‘m b v’ seem to forget the context it would have had if it appeared way back when.

Of course, another reason to not take the announcements of an imminent release seriously was that there has been plenty of form in that department. Sudden announcements have been made before and turned out to be inaccurate. How do poorly remastered reissues result in a delay of over a year? The new album was supposed to be delivered before the end of 2012. Why am I going to waste Saturday waiting around for another rumour to play out false regardless of who starts it? Clearly plenty of people did. It is as if the sudden December announcement left fans almost feeling spoiled for choice after so little material for so many years and then this reaction ‘inadvertently’ created a massive blog hype machine of people checking daily for a new ‘m b v’ album like Marquez’s colonel waiting for his pension or J.R. Hartley tracking down a copy of ‘Fly Fishing’. Did New Order fans do this once ‘Lost Sirens’ became delayed? More on New Order to come. (Probably too much on New Order so that the point becomes laboured. The point is also weakened as ‘Lost Sirens’ is so dull, that I still can’t be bothered listening to it again for this piece…and still can’t now as I edit this for a second time.) Does this instead reveal something about MBV fans of the past 20-odd years? We are either still pissing around waiting for alternative albums to appear rather than mowing lawns or frantically barbecuing or our lawns and barbecues become instantly tedious when compared with a new album from a band from another era. Either way, we may have failed or missed a few boats somewhere along the line. Let’s start trying to pull ourselves together.

Indeed (no idea what this ‘indeed’ follows but I like it’s tone so it stays), on Saturday itself, the website crashed, trying to pay without Paypal was still proving impossible on Sunday afternoon in my case. However, after a break for a late lunch, I got myself an incorrectly registered Paypal account  (I still have to get back to them to sort out my account which is currently registered as being in both Shropshire and Chiapas for some reason) and downloaded the album fairly easily despite iTunes attempting to create two albums, the first of which just contained the opening track. By 7pm Sunday, I was using ‘m b v’ to soundtrack my Superbowl experience. I had spent an hour or more attempting to achieve this and it had cost me over a tenner, had they just stuck the album on iTunes I would have merely had to pay £6 at Mexican prices (actually 4 if a recent 3 for 2 offer on gift cards is factored in). Can’t quite see how we are supposed to be behind the self-releasing and publishing revolution on those figures. The sound is also poorer than my usual iTunes downloads and needs a boost of a good 20% to get the full effect on headphones much like an old Northern Soul collection. This could be deliberate as those old albums tend to be viewed with much more affection than an artificially loud recording that lacks both depth and substance. Oasis were guilty of this in the past and history shows the lack of depth it masks. However, this quiet album might have been drowned out by the tedious bombast of Britpop had it appeared in the second half of the 90s. The quality of sound and price of ‘Lost Sirens’ is better but this is like a teacher praising a child for an immaculately produced but ultimately vacuous essay.

The delays, the hold ups, the mistakes, the general fannying around and the cost had seriously irritated me before I began my listening experience. That may be why I was ready to bathe in backlash. I was wrong but also notice that the backlash seems to be disappearing as the week develops and reviewers have actually had time to listen to the album PROPERLY and reflect on something special rather than just vent their frustrations as I would have done on Sunday. However, Monday morning felt good with a new My Bloody Valentine album to enjoy afresh and which sounded so familiar as to be comfortable. It is a form of nostalgia, albeit a nostalgia for something that sounded like nothing else at the time of its release.

Did I give ‘Loveless’ the same attention? At the time I seem to recall being more of a Nirvana and Galliano fan. Yes, that is quite the combination. Good job I didn’t start a clothesline pushing lumberjack corduroy. ‘Loveless’ almost seem to deliberately arrive at a time when it would not attract too much initial excitement compared to what would ultimately grow afterwards. It’s reception and reviews of the new album do suggest a lot of people, experts even, only becoming fans long after the initial release. With ‘m b v’ the group have successfully created the exact opposite effect. I imagine that this will lead to ‘m b v: 1 year on’ articles arriving in Stereogum in about 11 months.

Too many reviews and reactions, more depth. (That note was written some time after reading through endless reviews)
This still seems to be something of an issue despite attempts at improving the responses after initial reviews had been rushed out. Time may be the enemy of the blogger but it is necessary for truly great music to take hold. I suggest we might just like to revel in that indestructible fact rather than frantically aim to disprove it by comparing ‘m b v’ to ‘Finnegans Wake’ just because Shields and Joyce are Irish and took years to follow up on their most fondly remembered work. ‘Finnegans Wake’ is a nightmare for any reader to deal with and may only work properly if read out loud with the emphasis in all the right places for the phonetic jokes to work. That is clearly very different to ‘M b v’ which may even be more accessible than ‘Loveless’. FW is more like Terrence Trent D’Arby’s 2nd album or ‘The Second Coming’ but with more depth.

Why didn’t people react this way to ‘Lost Sirens’? I guess that’s the true value in not keeping a legacy going when uninspired. Essentially, that seems to be what Kevin Shields has done since 1994/5-ish when the rough demos for this album must surely have been recorded but left far from completion. Does ‘m b v’ sound dated? Yes, of course. The most substantial aspects of its recording  are at least 18-years-old. It does not sound as dated as ‘Lost Sirens’ which must have been recorded about 10 years later (I swear it only gets one more reference. They should have called it ‘n o’ for convenience). However, there are clues that suggest the album is from the vaults rather than a new idea or a reflection of where Shields is at in 2012. The Primal Scream remix (‘If They Move, Kill ‘Em’) sounds more modern than the first 6 tracks and they must surely pre-date it. Afterwards comes ‘Wonder 2’, the 2 tracks prior to it could be contemporaries of the Scream mix but ‘Wonder 2’ seems like the next step – which makes this album a summary of My Bloody Valentine 1992-1998.

That makes it hard to dislike. That makes it exceptional, like if The Beatles anthology series had turned up an entire album of unreleased tracks secretly recorded after the group had ceased to function and assuming they weren’t as dull as their solo work. Like the ‘Caribou Sessions’ bonus CD that you get with the Dennis Wilson ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ reissue that did so well and inspired so much affection a few years back. Affection is the only reaction possible from fans from the original era. Later fans who picked up on the legacy cannot fail to be blown away by 9 new tracks which are not completely new and thus reveal weaknesses compared to current sonic experimentalists. Television or Big Star’s comeback albums and so many others did little to add to their legacy, more taint it. Would you want your favourite cult band to release more albums after they were close to the zeitgeist than when they were it? Just ask Mission of Burma or Dinosaur Jr. fans, it’s a false economy. The new cannot be better than the old when there has been such a gap in development. In that way, this new album may promise more to follow now that a line can finally be drawn under the 1990s.

So is it any good then? (I have since decided that it definitely is.)

Initially I have to say I thought it quite bland. The muddy production and mastering don’t help. The sound quality on the mp3 means turning up the volume every time I listen to the album, which is a bit much if you have been listening to old My Bloody Valentine b-sides immediately before as happened later in the week. However, it is noticeably familiar from the very off. The album still hasn’t leaped out at me (after a day or two?) and still seems like it would have made for an excellent additional release in 2012 to draw a line under the 1990s. I initially view it as something like Can’s ‘Lost Tapes’ or even a good version of New Order’s ‘Lost Sirens’. ‘Loveless’ didn’t immediately grip me as ‘Nevermind’ did around the same time. I always felt that it was excellent but there was always room for improvement as ‘Soon’ seemed to spoil the end of the album as it sounded like it belonged elsewhere. ‘Isn’t Anything’, the ‘You made Me Realise’ EP and ‘Strawberry Wine’ were almost if not more enjoyable than ‘Loveless’ to my ears for a year or so. It was only later on in life that it became my go to MBV album above all others. I had also, presumably, stopped listening to Galliano by that point after being irritated by their appearance at Glastonbury 1994.

Then (not sure when) the listener starts reflecting.What would lost albums from other groups from this period sound like? Would they be any good whatsoever? Did anyone get excited by the lost Screaming Trees sessions that appeared a couple of years ago? Another issue to consider is whether this album would have been as well received then as it has been now? Oasis kind of blew subtlety out of the water in the second half of the 90s ands only Spiritualized seemed to come out of the shoegazing era relatively unharmed. (I know, I know, I said it already.)

A similar joy to ‘m b v’ can be found on the second Bark Psychosis album, ‘Codename: Dustsucker’ which appeared 10 years after their debut but didn’t create quite the same buzz. Err…that’s it on Bark Psychosis I guess, but both their albums are worth seeking out – especially if you find them in a clearance sale in El Salvador for about a fiver for the pair as I did.

Those last 3 tracks…I may have already covered all of this in my previous review.
‘Nothing Is’ is excellent in its relentless de-tuned glory. An excellent build towards the most talked about track, ‘Wonder 2’ which someone summed up simply as “relentless helicopters”, I forget who or where but can always credit it if someone tells me. It is a brilliant two-word review though. After hearing ‘Wonder 2’ a few times on e realises that it is the most developed sound in terms of progression but perhaps not the album track that you will return to repeatedly. That honour seems to fall to ‘In Another Way’ which does all the shimmery stuff in the right way and would make for great headphones in the bath listening. To some extent it is comfort food but it also hunts around and finds the uplifting melody that transports the listener that none of the first 6 tracks quite manage to do. This is the track that you will whistle or smile while listening to, much to the disbelief of the passing pedestrian – these are MBV melodies after all.

‘Isn’t Anything’ was my MBV album, complete with the introduction of fairly nondescript titles. The ‘You Made Me Realise’ EP lifted MBV to the status of fabled band for me and therefore I found ‘Loveless’ a little disappointing when it first appeared. The muddy production can’t have helped. The preceding EP suggested something odd and then the album returned to more familiar territory in a number of cases. ‘Strawberry Wine’ really needs to be properly reissued though it may not suit Shields’ tastes, it was a beautiful piece when it arrived, much more so than the scrappy yet exploratory ‘Ecstasy’ mini-LP. Prior to that, ‘This is My Bloody Valentine’ was weak, but single tracks like ‘Sunny Sundae Smile’ and ‘Lovely Sweet Darlene’ are not that far removed from future MBV sounds if only a little more cute and Sarah Records in style. One thing is clear, from 1988 onwards, MBV were always near the top of my lists of favourite artists even if I might not have realised this during their late 90s. The feelings inspired by ‘m b v’ tell me that if nothing else.

Can this album create a legacy like ‘Loveless’ managed to do? It shouldn’t. In 22 years, there should by now be plenty other superior albums which explore, remind and uplift in the same way without arriving way after the event. It has been incredibly well received. It probably averages higher review scores than ‘Loveless’ managed but would any of those reviewers dare go a step further and claim it to be a better album? A more perfect sound? Forever? Still, it beats listening to Hot Chip discussing Hall & Oates in interviews. ‘Wonder 2’ or ‘Maneater’? It’s not a difficult choice as to which will inspire the better music in the future if not the least derogatory. Blah, blah, blah etc.

ENOUGH!!! 

The Only Original Bad Seed Left.

The Only Original Bad Seed Left.

30+ years into their career the Bad Seeds have finally made it to Mexico City. For fans this must have been something of an event. The ticket price seemed high at $650 with no support, but surely that meant an extended performance from ol’ Nick? 80 minutes actually, a little under-rehearsed as this was opening night of the world tour proper but surely the idea of playing a city like ‘El DF’ for the first time would create something of an impression on the band? Not really. This seemed more a perfunctory opening night where the band expects to slowly develop their groove for the rest of the tour. You’d think maybe, that might have meant a slightly lower price, longer set or just a couple of words of Spanish.

No, this was a back to basics Bad Seeds performance, no strings attached just the return of Barry Adamson on extra drums/sound effects of some sort emanating from an enigmatic little box. Ed Kuepper’s presence in the band meant that I finally got to see one of The Saints live. He remains a touring member only suggesting that Mick Harvey’s presence has been hard to replace in the studio if that can ever satisfactorily happen. The new album also seems unadorned and undownloadable until the day after ther concert in Mexico. Not to worry, pretty easy to spot the new material. ‘Push the Sky Away’ is not a collection of attention grabbing jams, instead it is the anti-Grinderman, 9 enigmatic slow to medium paced Bad Seeds ballads which, in a live context, seem designed to calm things down and add gravity to what could easily  be a set dedicated to nostalgia. Apart from the new album tracks, only 1 song comes from this millenium.

The set opened with the first two tracks from the new album, ‘We Know Who ‘U ‘R’ and ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’. Both fairly pretty and slow. This seemed to be accepted well by the crowd but something slightly more magnaminous may have suited better. In fact, I wondered if, like other recent album preview gigs, we weren’t going to get the whole album played through in order but the sequence was broken by ‘Red Right Hand’, now a swaggering piece of noisy genius that acts as an early opportunity for the crowd to at least shout the title of the song as the rest of the lyrics have not made their mark quite so effectively. If ‘RRH’ sets an ominous tone then ‘Tupelo’ was always going to serve to confirm it. This is a storming performance that still manages to reveal the power of the early, rather more primal though less hairy, Bad Seeds. It’s just one hell of a dirty throbbing bass groove that launches the track into controlled violence rather than anything more positive and yet still feels uplifting as it does deal with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Another new one follows, an uplifting dirge called ‘Jubilee Street’ that may be the album track that sticks around the longest but remains elusive just yet as it is clearly another grower. It may not get that chance to grow as no material is taken from the last 3 Bad Seeds album prior to ‘Push the Sky Away’ which seems indicative of the need for Grinderman to emerge and then disappear again after two albums. Personally, I could take or leave much of ‘Lazurus’ and ‘Nocturama’ but would have thought something from ‘The Lyre of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues’ double album would have been worth revisiting.

The old stuff returns with ‘Deanna’ performed and received with customary enthusiasm even if the band doesn’t seem entirely in time throughout. Still, the song remains something of a garage stomp and not best suited to a slick muso approach. ‘Tender Prey’ was my first Bad Seeds album and remains a perfect way into the Bad Seeds, featuring both the gothic horror ballads and the early thrash and drama while finishing with ‘Lucy’, as tender a ballad as any of those appearing tonight. ‘God is in the House’ follows with a singalong and a wonderful violin solo from the wonderfully demented looking Warren Ellis. In age, the Bad Seeds are starting to look like former Doctor Whos of the 60s and 70s or the early cast of Rentaghost. Ed Kuepper is in a bright blue shirt and Thomas Wylder’s absence is covered by the return of Barry Adamson for the first time since the mid-80s also in blue. The dress code seems to mark out the full-time from part-time Seeds. Experience makes the clothes darker.

All the classics are coming out now, ‘Into My Arms’ gets the singalong treatment too before ‘From Her to Eternity’ is introduced as one of the first songs the group ever recorded and still the best. He’s right, but if ever there was a career to typify not being defined by your opening dramatic moments then it’s the Bad Seeds’. It remains another one of those moments of heavy drama that suits a thunderstorm arriving outside. Along with ‘Tupelo’ this song has the effect of making any open air festival crowd, anywhere suddenly look at the sky expecting to see angry clouds. Their power is an excellent demonstration of the wonderful sound equipment that Plaza Condesa seems to have. The gigs here seem a little too slick and corporate on some levels (beer waiters, jamon serrano ciabattas!) and yet it is possible to get a clear view from anywhere in the venue and to hear every syllable sung, even if Nick gets a bit annoyed later as the monitors are “too fucking loud”.

All the dynamism of this gig seems to come from material that is at least 15 years old. This continues with a ferocious ‘Jack the Ripper’ which makes the following ‘Mercy Seat’ seem almost down-played to begin with before it takes off in all its glory and menace. Two new songs follow which both seem like they may grow in time but are not something grabbed on first listen. This is despite the interest generated by a lyrical reference to Hanna Montana making a few ears prick up in the crowd in the apocalyptic stream of consciousness that is ‘Higgs Bosun Blues’ which also features an image of Miley Cirus floating in a pool among other visions give it something of the feel of Neil Young’s wonderfully tired ‘On the Beach’. It also calls to mind Bob Dylan rambling on about Alicia Keys in ‘Modern Times’ opener, ‘Thunder on the Mountain’. After the new title track, they’re gone. The crowd seems a little surprised but would assume a double encore and may have got it later in the tour. Instead, there are just 2 further classics. A mighty ‘Stagger Lee’ seems to please everyone though I wonder about the crowd member who has the lyrical sucking references directed to them. Then it’s the post-modern wedding song that is ‘The Ship Song’ which is hard to top but also seems a rather under-stated finish, just like the opening. This is a new chapter of the Bad Seeds and one which seems to have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards the job at hand. It’s a professional, slightly clipped performance by a band that will only get tighter over the coming months and the same might be said of the new material. They might have reflected a little harder on making things a little more special for their first visit to DF, even if it were to be just obligatory sombreros for each unsmiling Bad Seed. A missed opportunity for sure.

As I finish this off, I have the album on for the third time and the songs already seem to have grown in familiarity. Oddly, I expected them not to after keeping up-to-date with advance streams of various songs. Perhaps the simmering slow burn of most tracks loses something through the pathetic little speakers on my laptop that they immediately regain when fed through a source designed specifically for music or maybe I was distracted by all the fuss over My Bloody Valentine. nevertheless, there is a funereal quality there which makes this album somewhat inaccessible to anyone unfamiliar with the group. Not something that you need to worry about too much after 30 years performing ‘From Her To Eternity’. However, it does seem a little worrying that an album developed in a communal living experience as a band still does not seem particularly flexible in a live setting.

Though more could have been had for the money spent and perhaps more effort made, this remains a very good live experience that will suffice for now. I suspect they may loosen up a little for the second night and beyond but I may be wrong. A deluxe CD, t-shirt and ticket would set the punter back $1250 – over £60 on 2 hours of Nick Cave in 24 hours. Not a bad day’s business.

 

mbv

I took several stabs at writing about ‘m b v’ and still have a messy draft that I might attach to this once it is reissued in deluxe format in about 20 years but less than a year before I next write anything. This morning I opened my draft to find all the paragraphing deleted including the subtitles. It would happen for this album, wouldn’t it? The initial trouble with ‘m b v’ was other people (“they’re the worst!”) as every time I’d sit down to write about this latest musical event (for event read hype) of the year, someone else had beaten me to it by mentioning Stereolab, Spiritualized, Third Eye Foundation and many more little references. Reviews seemed to quote each other and, when read all at once, seem to blur into a multi-tracked buzz of excited riffing, just like the sound of My Bloody Valentine has always managed to do. There is something about the sound which makes music journalists reach for the thesaurus or even a guide to musical terms as agreed upon by the Melody Maker circa 1991. ‘Relentless helicopters’ was used somewhere and I like that. Just keep it simple but almost nonsensical…almost. After all, who is likely to read a review of this album as they think they might like it? Everyone who owns this album will already be a fan. The hype that has engulfed its release has ensured that anyone feeling a little left out must be totally alienated by the experience by now. Also, good sense would tell a music fan that it might be best to get into the early stuff first. This may be something that My Bloody Valentine now have in common with Bob Dylan and Neil Young among others.

The context is everything for this album. Is it just a matter of tidying up some old tapes that have remained unreleased for a long time? Is this the My Bloody Valentine equivalent, along with the ‘EPs 1988-91’, of Can’s ‘Lost Tapes’? If so, there will be no more to follow. So why announce live dates too? Surely this is then an old album that is finally seeing the light of day just like Dennis Wilson’s ‘Bambu (The Caribou Sessions)’ being tagged on to the excellent ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ reissue of a few years back. Hard for the late Dennis to tour that release, but had he been around, you think he might have as it went straight into the UK top 20 album chart, something the original never managed. However, ‘m b v’ has been released at a price of $16 or 10 pounds rather than simply given to loyal fans who don’t want to shell out cash repeatedly or won’t. Either this is because the material is more important than a bunch of unreleased demos or the shields estate needs a serious cash injection and so ‘Odds and Sods’ MBV-style has been knocked out. No, maybe that was a possibility but surely not so soon after the remasters finally emerged. A third possibility then emerges that this is an album that shows signs of being begun over 20 years ago and really has only just been finished off after initially being discarded. Do we honestly expect a musician to have stepped into a studio 20 years ago, recorded various tracks for a few years that then get abandoned for almost 15 more years and for those recordings to not be similar to anything else that has appeared in the interim? Impossible! This album is a good, no excellent, version of what New Order’s ‘Lost Sirens’ is. It has been released by a band stepping back into the arena rather than one seemingly torn apart by infighting between its two most iconic members. It may reveal weaknesses in terms of some areas sounding a little dated but this should more than adequately balanced off against the nostalgia advantage that the album has. Is nostalgia valid in assessing new music? I would say it is but it can ruin things if allowed to run out of control. Any further MBV release would have to move forwards quite significantly or risk becoming their ‘Be Here Now’.

This then is a new My Bloody Valentine album that will be toured. If it sounds dated or unfinished, we don’t care as we’d rather not wait another 20 years for its completion. The only negative aspect to its appearance would be if it were to destroy a legacy, a mere shadow of the band hastily packaged as a cash cow from recording sessions that cost too much money to go to waste. It is interesting that the ‘Loveless’ sessions and New Order’s ‘Sirens’ sessions both seem to have cost a quarter of a million as did sessions for Keith Moon’s disastrous solo album. Looked at like that, My Bloody Valentine represent value for money. No more preamble…

m b v

Even the lower case letters are a 90s throwback. At least they’re not printed in the lower right corner and followed by an ironic question mark though their position is not far off the former. Even the album title has an ambiguity of either being tossed off demos without a proper name, or is it the definitive self-titled album that isn’t a debut? Did ‘blur’ get there first?

‘she found now’
Begins with a gentle drum and everything’s soft, fuzzy and warm with it due to the characteristic effects of a womblike pulsing. Womblike pulsing? Why do MBV always have this effect on writing? This really is a simple opener which breaks no new ground except for being the first track on an album which people have waited 20 years to hear. It would fit well on the ‘Tremolo’ EP. The wash of warm fuzz acts as a portal into the world of the album. Background sound around the room, nearby traffic or a television across the way are now merged rather than drowned out, one might say they’ve been caught by the fuzz. Either way, attention is focused on the album as there is no other option. So many peers and alternatives to MBV have long become background music rather than dominating the actual background so effortlessly. Maybe that is a strength to the group that I have only just realised. So there we have a new album opening up something new in what we hear of a known band. This is no unreleased demo then.

‘only tomorrow’
Wonderful booming drum sound! Vocals and bassline surround them to create something slightly more forward-looking in approach, beyond ‘Loveless’. A wonderful, lazily discordant riff saws through everything else in a way that reminds me of Moonshake’s first EP…which, ironically, predates ‘Loveless’. So the overall feel has returned to Shoegaze ’91. There is no real progression just a development of the existing mbv stock sound. A simplistic beginners guitar solo adds another memorable track over the top of the familiar perhaps helping to disguise the lack of anything truly original. However, that guitar does serve to make the song memorable.

‘who sees you’
Now, surely this could be a ‘Loveless’ outtake. Everything about the opening suggests classic MBV. The drum intro leading into the uneasy drone which resolves itself into something familiar with repeated listens. It’s not that it’s bad, but it hardly acts as a memorable addition to what already exists. This could have turned up as a bonus track on the remasters and no-one would have noticed anything out of place. However, how repetitive can a band be if they don’t release anything for 22 years? That’s tha advantage of what used to be the problem with My Bloody Valentine. Expectation may have not been simply for more similar, formulaic material but almost anything would do. After a while of absorbing the fact that this track is not going to rewrite the genre, the listener may become beguiled by all the classic MBV hooks falling into place. It is dreamy and hazy again, like no band since. It does not, as some reviewers may claim, require drugs to be appreciated. Instead, it creates that soporific effect. We can just leave this alone as we’re simply happy that there is more. It would be great if Talk Talk, The Cocteau Twins and The Stone Roses could produce something unreleased that sounds this good but I doubt they can or will. The La’s might have something left in the can but Lee Mavers probably won’t let anyone ever hear it.

‘is this and yes’
Many MBV titles are meaningless but they usually make some kind of sense. An ominous gap may be exclusive to my download so I won’t over-analyse. The gap makes sense if we are to divide the album into thirds. The title may suggest something existed before and after its content – what ‘is this’? What is the question that is answered with ‘yes’? This is the part of the album that sounds most like Stereolab interlude though it is a tad long to be a mere interlude. The title might be explained by the words but I’m not sure there are any. Quite a mysterious little track that doesn’t seem to even feature a guitar as far as I can hear. Whether this sounded like Stereolab as they existed in the mid 90s is unclear, but what is clear is that this track heralds in a new sonic landscape to the MBV canon. Is this progression going to continue in the second third of the album?

‘if i am’
More new sounds. This time a distorted wah-wah that might have allowed this track to fit on to a Kevin Shields solo album around the time of his ‘Lost in Translation’ work. However, for all the joy of a new sound we seem to be developing a line and length approach to the pace of the tracks. This song seems to chug along at much the same pace as ‘only tomorrow’ and ‘who sees you’. Of course Oasis’ debut chugged along at a metronomical pace but there the Britpop links must end. Instead, this sounds like Echo Lake or The History of Apple Pie could have included a version on their recent albums and the original author never be discovered. After a couple of minutes this listener found himself asking ‘is that it?’ It seems it really is it and that I should just let my guard down and enjoy it for all its classic MBV broken walkman stylings. That broken walkman reference has certainly been used before, possibly about ‘Loveless’.

‘new you’
Dated like ‘Soon’ by the time ‘Loveless had appeared? This would be fine as a ‘Lost Tapes’ track but not really on a new album. A kind of MBV-lite go pop. Comparing it to The Farm as I read elsewhere seems to go a bit too far but maybe it is not too cruel to suggest that this lighter track may have paved the way for a Bilinda Butcher solo career had it appeared sooner than 2013. What makes this track irk? The warm fuzz has been reigned in. This would now not seem out of place on the weaker major label Cocteau Twins albums but in a more tidied up form. Might this have sat comfortably next to a less commercial Pulp had it arrived on schedule? It certainly could suit a Jarvis vocal. Now we pause to see if anything emerges on further listens…no, definitely a bit dull. It suggests that they may have had to come up with something that Island might have wanted to release. It fails. It’s saving grace is that it acts as a good counterpoint to all the fuzz. It signs of the predictable section of the album and leads us into the considerably more gory final third.

‘in another way’
Distortion, that familiar Beatlesey drum loop, grinding sounds at the higher end and we’re off. This track feels like another era of the group altogether compared with the first 6 tracks. This and what follows feels like it belongs together with other similarly confrontational material while the rest of the album was almost an attempt to produce something Island could handle. This track has a beautiful chopping rhythm mixed with slightly dated keyboard sounds. This is the beautiful noise that we craved. This instantly puts cynicism at rest. This is what Paul Weller thinks his last album sounds like. It doesn’t. Noel Gallagher will have become instantly jealous of this sound too. Countless shoegazey bands, both past and present (should the present wave be described as Shoegazi?), have tried to capture this sound. Those from the past will be envious while those from the present may now go back to college. Really, what this song does is fairly simple and is not as earth shatteringly profound as these words may suggest it is. However, we can be sure that the emergence of this melody was not simple as it took 20 years to arrive. Still, making the complex sound simple and the simple sound complex is another great trait to My Bloody Valentine that always left mere imitators seeming laboured in comparison.

‘nothing is’
Barring certain moments in ‘You Made Me Realise’ and ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’, this is the most aggressive sound MBV have achieved yet. It’s a shortly held record as they surpass all three in the following track. For now though, this is altogether rather heavy with looped drums and everything else. This brings in the aggression that Loveless kind of lacked when compared with those earlier sounds. This marks MBV out as a band that could have got heavier, darker and closer to American alternative music. It’s a thrash and a highly enjoyable one. As another almost interlude, it seems that more than just a solitary track should follow it. Does the ending we are building to then point a way forward into new material? Could this happen in the not too distant future, maybe in 10 years or so?

‘wonder 2’
Another loop? Are we now under attack? It sounds that way as the “relentless helicopters” song kicks off and maintains its onslaught throughout its full 6 minutes.It feels like everything is speeding up and slowing down simultaneously. Is that possible? Vocals emerge, which rhythm are they supposed to follow for a cue? Well anyone ever work out the lyrics? This  is chaos. This does not sound like Third Eye Foundation, this is more primal. This is wonderful. Beautiful and, yes, relentless. Smooth and choppy like a large washing machine with helicopter blades. What on earth does that even mean? This would blow the listener away on large speakers and will be ferocious live. It already sounds like it needs remastering. Towards the end it gets even louder and the washing machine helicopter thing seems to transform into a plane and disappear over some magical horizon after its highly enjoyable bombardment. This wins back drone attack from the United States airforce in the name of music.

There, done it. Have tried to avoid references to shimmering/cascading cathedrals/towers of sounds. Sorry about the washing machine helicopter thing. I kind of did the summing up in the beginning. Of course it’s excellent, what more do people want? Over to you, Talk Talk and The La’s but best leave it alone reformed Stone Roses.

charlie boyer

Sometimes all it takes is one great single and we begin to forgive British guitar bands for heading down a myriad of creative cul-de-sacs OR we find ourselves wondering whatever happened to David Devant and his Spirit Wife (and then disappointed to find ‘Cookie’ is unavailable on Mexican iTunes). Then again there is always a barrage of band names floating around like they have always been there and they generally have, friends of Toy who are friends of The Horrors and they know Noel Fielding, don’t they???

‘I Watch You’, produced by Edwyn Collins, has that retro New York in the 70s sound that doesn’t evoke Television and Jonathan Richman so much anymore as it does The Strokes. It certainly isn’t a million miles away though the voice sounds a little more crazed and less contrived. However, the disaffected video performance of Charlie Boyer does echo that detachment that so irritates those in search of good music. It worked for The Strokes for a while, it still does in terms of a cartoon image that will flog tickets on its own despite the absence of any decent new ideas for well over 10 years. East End pubs have also been mentioned in press material just to happily echo The Libertines era rather than jellied eels. The use of a cheap organ sound helps to restore some innocence or possibly reminds me of Tiger. Flipside, ‘Be Nice’, is definitely a cuter song from the title onwards though the Tiger comparisons remain for me. It also sounds a lot more C86 influenced than the a-side, just a little more self-consciously cuter. Both sound like significant departures from Electricity in our Home, Charlie Boyer’s previous band who split earlier in 2012 after a disappointing debut album.

So are we dealing with naivety or the art of knowing? The sound of the single in isolation suggests the former, perhaps we can thank the presence of Edwyn Collins for that. The live footage and videos featuring inert expressions and little movement point to the latter as does the convenient disappearance of EIOH about six months before the appearance of CBATV. I suspect that the debut single may have delivered a little too much and that there may not be a lot more to back it up with but then I am just a jaded old cynic still mystified by the commercial failure of The Jasmine Minks. However, it seems as if the advantage that CBATVs have is that they emerge at the same time as a lot of other bands tagged in a similar way: Could this be the future for British guitar bands? That has a silent ‘What’ in front of it and an additional question mark after ‘be’ for most.

childhood

Palma Violets, Savages, Childhood, Peace and Temples have been touted around as a new kind of scene along with Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs. Savages seem a little different to the vibe of the others as a harsher sound with more post-punk leanings than the other bands mentioned. Palma Violets sound like the next laddish UK indie hype but not without some merit (I have yet to work out what it is  but I like it). Their debut album ‘180’ drops in late February either giving them a head start or dropping like a stone. Childhood sound like a laid back version of early Bloc Party with a rather overused chorus pedal getting them all the usual shoegazing props. However, if that blissed out haze is your thing, then their debut 45 ‘Blue Velvet’ doesn’t disappoint and my recommendation would be to drap yourself in it, Costanza-style. Temples sound a lot like The Allah-Las and thus bring the 80s Paisley Underground to mind. I’m not entirely sure about Peace though – typically this is the only one of these bands signed to an old-fashioned major label thus far. Boy do they look young and why does their ‘Bloodshake’ video remind me of Soda Stereo’s ‘De Musica Ligera’? The one where they look a bit like later 80s Goths who prefer lipstick to the Nephilim’s flour – don’t ask if you don’t know and you probably don’t want to know. If you do know, then you know what I mean. Anyway, Peace suggest that a Gene Loves Jezebel revival may be afoot or possibly Pale Saints. That could be interesting for anniversary tours as one of GLJ’s ex-drummers has since become a primary school teacher obsessed with dolphin songs and Damian Marley. Good luck with that! However, the latest 2013 track from Peace, ‘Wraith’ suggests they may have had their ears bent by someone in search of a bit more crossover and thus to me they sound lost inside corporate hell. Take some advice from Death Grips, boys. (For further details: https://tuppencedylan.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/death-grips-epic-cock-saga/)

temples

At the end of this little run through the ‘new’ sounds of 2013 it seems just like the emergence of Ride, Chapterhouse, Pale Saints, Spirea X et al in the early 90s. Similar comparisons might be made to the first crop of bands that acted as a backlash to Britpop. What goes around comes around. The Strypes seem to think everyone may have forgotten what early Beatles looked and sounded like or early Stairs or even The Coral. Just like most movements or scenes rather than individual bands, it seems hard to see where the truly earth shattering music will come from. In most of these cases, it has already been made and the scene just follows it. Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs have a good idea but can they run with it over an album? I guess this question will be answered in May when their debut album, ‘Clarietta’, drops. I sincerely hope it’s considerably better than the Electricity in Our Homes debut from a year ago.

Needless to say, preparing this article has already led to two further downloads from among the new talent on offer. this always seems to happens to me as I guess, at heart, I’m a scene sucker who doesn’t learn from his mistakes but does still have a soft spot for David Devant and his Spirit Wife and the way they seemed to mould late 90s Camden indie and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Scenes become all image, sucking the very life from the music if there ever was any life there to be had. That’s why I’ve gone with actual record sleeves for artwork rather than group pictures that really could be anyone from the past 20 years or so. The same can so often be said of the music as some are excited by a new Wild Beasts album this year, I just wonder if it will sound a little less like Geneva and Savages sound amazing and yet very familiar. I can find great enjoyment in The History of Apple Pie album I am about to download but little originality (it sounds like Asobi Seksu who sounded like Lush), maybe it was always this way and age and experience just serve to educate a previously raw palate OR its best to just enjoy music made in the right spirit without worrying too much about whether it is derivative or not but then again, backing either attitude 100% would lead to a very dull collection of music.

matthewewhite

An early big 2013 hype in the alternative hipster universe comes from a man giving off the aura that says ‘Don’t make me famous, I don’t need it. But if you must…’ Contrived? Only in so much as this album appeared last year on Hometapes/Spacebomb or Spacebomb/Hometapes depending on where you look, took a few by surprise and then suspiciously disappeared from my radar presumably so that Domino can reissue it in the UK this year. Neat move for an ‘indie’ label, but they have always been a bit corporate in their behaviour like demanding that The Fall improve the quality of their one Domino album. The nerve!

The album has been described in rather hallowed terms already and as a true original despite the fact that this has been done many times before. That is not to say that it is not welcome when it happens as, when a group nails the classic cosmic American album in contemporary times, it can still be lauded and applauded like Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ or Plush’s much delayed ‘Fed’ for a more similarly soulful vision. They sound warm and familiar from the off but they also sound unlike any particular contemporary style that they can be definitively filed under. Instead they have nostalgic production values and definite links with the past through a guest appearance or even just a familiar riff or style. This album has the same timeless quality. However, the hype creates suspicion. It seems unfounded but may also point to a lack of real inspirational music these days with tunes and stuff. Last year was a great year for very good music but it was not a good year for very great music. In reappearing at the start of this year, it seems that music critics have almost tacitly agreed that this was the classic that got missed last year. However, this is an album featuring seven songs and no filler. It was recorded in a week but clearly grew organically prior to that. The listener doesn’t walk away with a vague impression of a sound that is cool, a fault that seemed to me to be the weakness in last year’s albums from The XX, Grizzly Bear, Tame Impala, Beach House, The Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective among others.

To the tracks!

‘One of These Days’ opens the album up in understated fashion. This is a mellow slowburn of an opener which inspires immediate groove-based nodding like so much slightly altered southern rock seems to do. It kind of reminds me of the opening to The ‘Meridian 1970’ compilation album from a few years ago – sure, things will get groovy, but not yet – its time to build something. I am talking music here rather than with Rizla papers. Bongos appear with subtlety – something that’s hard for the average bongoist (?) to achieve. This now gives a feeling of The National Trust’s marvellous ‘Dekaggar’ debut from over 10 years ago now. As rich brass blends into the overall sound, you realise that certain elements of this album are going to work in the same way that Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’ did, updating or maybe just revisiting the Cosmic American songbook for a wild slightly ‘out there’ ride, but hopefully without the vocals of a Muppet this time. Plush maybe another reference point, less successful but owners of ‘Fed’ tend to view it as essential. The pace doesn’t seem to change, something more upbeat is seemingly imminent. However, the atmosphere is sweet and loving with repeated images of lying together. It may also be relevant that the first chorus is just hummed, perhaps a message that we should not be looking too deeply into the lyrics as they could be anything judging from the first chorus on the album. The whispered vocals make life difficult for anyone without a lyric sheet, or he really does sing ‘So much beauty in the face of soup’, which is a wonderful image but sadly ‘and it fades too soon’ is the second half of the sentence.

‘Big Love’ is less sweet. The voice now claims to be a barracuda and a hurricane or is this just bluster and bravado in the face of the end of something important? This sounds more like the classic album opener (‘Let’s begin to spiral’) or the more accessible single that betrays an album’s more reflective nature by dressing it up in a more mainstream shuffle that echoes Krautrock just to keep in with the in-crowd and that begs for ‘interesting’ remixers. It could also be described as sounding like a lost U2 album recorded after someone in their employment had just informed them that The Beta Band were fashionable but had no songs. But this would be harsh. The bassline wanders around wonderfully and again additional percussion is called upon to fill out the rhythm which now features hand claps. This could be introduced as a new Django Django single and no-one would bat an eye except to reflect that, like The Beta Band before them, they seem to be getting closer to developing an actual hit.

‘Will You Love Me’ sounds more classically southern in style and less fried. The string driven build of ‘Deserter’s Songs’ is present again and now I’m starting to understand The Band references. This will become Uncut’s favourite new album of the year. Who else could get a mention? Brightblack Morninglight? The Guardian have already mentioned Bill Callahan and Marvin Gaye, which I like but there’s a lighter feel to the arrangements than Smog which breaks down this more deadpan delivery and Marvin links often seem good at the time but are always wildly inaccurate. ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ is echoed and even credited. Now the feeling is a fear of abandonment and the loneliness that may follow.

‘Gone Away’ has a simpler, almost campfire tone to its opening. Brass slowly emerges and strings before a hi-hat marks the rhythm. A chorus resolves yet another build and we can relax, for a while. More gospel-tinged than prior material, the song breaks the rhythm down just as we hear ‘He will tear your kingdom down’ before that rhythm rebuilds back towards the fade out. Rhythm is our saviour then, led by a funky gospel vibe. This song carries a lot of emotional weight and questions why a girl, White’s little cousin in fact, is in heaven and asks why she was taken. It depicts the family as clinging to the cross ‘with trembling and fear’. The relationships that affected mood in the first three songs now seem trivial when placed next to this loss. We are entering a darker place now as the family’s kingdom of innocence is broken and torn down by God. The song does feature strong echoes of ‘What Are You Doing in Heaven Today?’ by Washington Philips, a gospel song that does not overstate and can get a message across in a secular way too.

‘Steady Pace’ sets itself up with an awkward but jolly rhythm. The swagger of ‘Big Love’ may have partially returned. However, rhythm and melody resolve conflict in a beautiful chorus that dismisses the fuss of the arrangement experienced thus far. This leads into something of a classic funk breakdown again before reintroducing the confusion of earlier. It seems quite complex and chaotic but the craftmanship shines through in the structure. The brass has an afro-funk feel later on before yet another melody appears before the fade out. Is this southern prog? No, its complex but warm. It is the exact opposite of the detached Brooklyn hipster soundtrack of 2012 and possibly the antidote to it. This is to southern soul what ‘Django Unchained’ is to the Spaghetti Western: an exaggeration, an homage and yet still fresh and vibrant. Less blood though.

‘Hot Toddies’ are possibly the most well-rounded depiction of alcohol that exists. Who can argue against a hot toddy? They’re great for a cold and suggest companionship in front of a warm fire rather than reviving a collapsed drunk outside in freezing weather. This beautiful wintry song, complete with ‘frost on windows’ also echoes Mercury Rev but brings in the percussion and the breakdown again. That’s the third breakdown followed by slow build in as many tracks. Perhaps the opening three tracks served to set the scene before a trinity of musical traumas are recovered from leading to a salvation suggested in the final track. In the meantime, the ominous build which follows the breakdown adds percussion again in a Beta Bandesque kind of way before a few psychedelic strings and a brief, free sax solo finish things off. We haven’t had one of those yet. It was only a matter of time as Matthew E.White also leads a jazz band, Fight The Big Bull in his spare time. Maybe the jazz influence is what is strikingly original in an album which at the same time also feels like an homage.

Lush strings followed by triumphant brass introduce the lengthier album closer, ‘Brazos’ is presumably about crossing the longest river in Texas. However, Brazos in Richmond, Virginia appears to be a tamales joint so I could be wrong. This now sounds prettier than Mercury Rev trying to be cute and a lot more sincere than much of Plush. I get The Band comparisons now. Very religious, very gospel – all crossing the river and what not –  but seems sincere and certainly is beautiful. Crossing this river was also important in the drive west of the settlers which explains the ‘strangers in this land’ and ‘They say that white folks are never lazy’ references in the lyrics. This could easily be a traditional American song but for lyrics like ‘Take it easy baby’. Once again the bass leads change through a breakdown and a full on gospel climax seems ready to break out. In fact, as the rhythm resolves itself, it becomes reminiscent of an RZA rhythm that The Black Keys could only dream of recreating. Meanwhile, the chorus over the top of this is lifted from a religious Jorge Ben track, ‘Brother’. Those offbeats that clash with the rhythm are classic Ringo. At the end of it all, maybe a funky ‘Nixon’-era Lambchop is suggested but religious too. Like someone has finally woken up Brightblack Morning Light. A little like ‘Love Spreads’ too.

matthew_e_white_hopscotch_4

The links and references could continue, in fact most readers could probably accurately improvise a couple of their own by now. Essentially, this seems to be an album that deals with a certain religious doubt that may stem from the end of an important romantic relationship for the voice though it may not have meant so much to the other half of it. It seeks answers but doesn’t find much beyond the standard response of Jesus saves. The doubt is the confrontation with the great unknowable element of religion that Graham Greene was so drawn to and it seems to also be a draw for Matthew E. White. Water is used frequently as a motif thus suggesting being reborn or at least cleansed. As the man was raised by missionaries, this isn’t hard to understand but perhaps this album shows how a religious understanding has provided the singer with support in his life. How can a truly southern album exist without the soul? Ask Primal Scream. However, the album does also seek to enjoy life either through a hollow bluster in ‘Big Love’ or taking life at a ‘Steady Pace’ or even taking ‘it easy baby’ in ‘Brazos’ and, as stated before, who doesn’t enjoy ‘Hot Toddies’?

This album does live up to the hype and does sound like an instant classic. It seems genuine, sincere and filled with soul. It is religious but does not seek to preach. It wears its influences on its sleeve, but does not seem derivative. This is an album that will be remembered by those who give it just a little of their time. Following it up will be very difficult, especially if this was just ‘Big Inner’s luck.

bandtastic

Warhol-based punning aside, Bandtastic have been making waves in Mexico since the middle of last year. They are a company moving in the right direction at a time when there seems to be a lot of negative energy surrounding the concept of anyone ever making a living out of music again without selling out, not that that even seems to be an option for many bands, labels or shops. Essentially they act as a go-between for fans curious to see bands in their hometown in what can be (and has been) called a ‘modified crowdfunding model’. This currently applies to Mexico City but with the aim of spreading further afield in the future starting with Guadalajara as the idea is quickly taking off for other companies in the U.S.A. and also Brazil.

It is a fairly simple process for music fans. The fan contacts Bandtastic through their website to request that an artist they would like to see comes to their hometown. Bandtastic then collect likes through their Facebook page for the idea of seeing the concert. Once enough interest is shown they then go straight to selling tickets on a pledge basis much like charities use the internet to raise money. If a set target is reached then they go ahead with putting on the gig. If there is not enough demand then refunds are given without question. Whilst most events attempted so far have gone ahead, the visit of Real Estate did not which allowed the team to demonstrate just how easily and reliably the refunds could be handled. Also, Real Estate did not make a long journey to Mexico for little or no return. There is a 10% cut for the company which mostly goes into development of the business which ultimately leads to more satisfied fans and bands.  Ticketmaster do not get their 30% cut for printing a generic ticket and instead fans who want to see a band get to give money to that band rather than the band getting a cut on takings from a promoter, ticket seller or the owners of the venue.

It seems a pretty great idea to get behind. Fans get to request what they want. Bands win in two ways as 1) they don’t slog around a country in a van playing to mostly empty venues and 2) their cut is likely to be higher and thus more profit made. I guess it’s also probable that many bands always need to raise their own money prior to touring through friends and family, well that’s going to be considerably easier to do if 100s of tickets have already been sold.

Further details are found in their manifesto which can be muddled through with the help of Google translate. It states that music is for the fans and that those fans would rather support their favourite bands than the industry. They also link themselves, or more accurately the participating fans to the power of the masses to demand change. It was this latter ethos that led to their promotion of the June event in the zocalo (the main square slap bang in the centre of Mexico City)  for YoSoy132, a popular movement against the candidacy of the new Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, which attracted 80,000 people. They also feel that technology should be used to simplify our lives and that buying tickets and having music promoted through traditional channels is a waste of precious time for the average Chilango hipster when getting tickets for a concert should be as easy as ordering a pizza. Another nice touch is that they are a paperless organisation. Tickets are sent through a Facebook app and can be checked at the door on a variety of devices.

When I was young, I did not have the good fortune to have live music within a few miles of my home with either Wolverhampton or Liverpool being the closest options for most bands being a good 45 miles away. However, somehow  The Stone Roses played at Park Lane nightclub in Shrewsbury on May 25th, 1989 – the same month that their debut album appeared and quickly became iconic. Birdland, Bob, The Blue Aeroplanes and also The House of Love came to Shrewsbury, the latter with Alan McGee in attendance – I spotted him and muttered that he should sign The Telescopes but he mumbled something involving the word ‘shite’ – of course he did later sign The Telescopes though he may have proved that he was right in his first judgement as they really were shite. All of this happened due to a couple of guys working towards making something happen in their hometown and the idea that there really might be an audience for these bands and he was proved right. Even Chester managed to attract bands like Mudhoney and My Bloody Valentine back in the late 80s. It might be a bigger place than Shrewsbury but its proximity to Liverpool would suggest that there might not have been any demand and yet the attendance at those gigs suggested otherwise.

Thursday January 17th saw We Have Band visit Mexico as a result of Bandtastic’s efforts. Initially the band themselves tweeted that they would like to play in Mexico. This was seen by a follower in Mexico who then got things started with Bandtastic. Interest seems to have been surprisingly high with over 200 tickets sold for a band who might struggle to get a similar audience in parts of the UK. Now, this is where the potential for expansion comes in. Bandtastic would have very little to do in London as everyone plays there. The same can be said of many other cities either due to size or an established student union venue ruling out Manchester, Glasgow or even Leeds, Bristol and Newcastle among others. However, there are still many places with a decent sized population that could support appearances by up and coming bands much like The Stone Roses in Shrewsbury back in ’89. Plymouth springs to mind, or Aberdeen. Correct me if I’m wrong, but even somewhere like Birmingham can be unpredictable in terms of the profitability of live alternative music, or at least that’s the impression I get from a British city of over a million that has nowhere to buy CDs in the city centre now that HMV has closed down. The where is not important, if enough people pledged enough money into a scheme like this then the gig would happen with no risk of any bands disappearing into rural Britain never to be seen again. It remains a truly disturbing fact that The Bay City Rollers did once play Llanymynech Village Hall. I know this because apparently my dad was on the door!

Returning to the present, or at least the recent, We Have Band played at the little El Imperial venue on the border between Roma and Condesa in Mexico City. This was the first of 3 gigs in Mexico, with Cholula and Guadalajara to follow. It was a cold night though a long queue could be avoided for a while by heading into the bar next door which had a DJ and a large amount of Vespas parked outside – some even had additional rear view mirrors. Yes, it seems that New Mod has reached Mexico. The venue itself feels more like a little improv theatre and features inconvenient pillars as well as an astonishing chandelier dangling above the bar that give it a comfortable and strangely homely feel.

Photo from www.lifeboxset.com and taken by Feli Gutierres

Photo from http://www.lifeboxset.com and taken by Feli Gutierres

We Have Band arrived on stage around 11.15, maybe a little later. Hard to say as I’d had a tequila or two by then. Originally it said 10. You’d think that would be…well, this is Mexico so you just don’t assume anything unless you crave disappointment (That’s not a criticism, you have to embrace it and get off on the frustration – it makes you less frustrated yourself). The tiny venue with a giant chandelier suited a post-punk-funk bass heavy sound. Darren Bancroft handled most communication issues by talking enthusiastically in English – always seems to work. The band locked into a groove with consummate ease considering that they were working with a stand-in drummer due to illness and a lively crowd attempted to dance in increasingly restricted space. The sound almost feels like it needs a little light to add to the shade, maybe some guitar would give a more rounded sound but may also perhaps sound a little too similar to other acts such as Django Django. Instead, We Have Band seek out a groove and stick to it. The tiny stage worked well for a three-piece and the sound was good considering the potential for problems in a venue of that size. The organisers seem to have got the right amount of people into the venue without it getting uncomfortably full and a number of influential people on the Mexican alternative music scene were in evidence. It was a happy night for all which was followed by an indie disco mixed with classic Bowie.

As more attention and success is gained by small events like these, increasing amounts of sponsorship can be brought in. Movistar helped to fund this event and thus keep prices down for punters. Obviously, independence would need to be carefully maintained but if a leading Mexican mobile phone company is willing to throw some cash in their direction after just a clutch of events in the past year or so then obviously there is far more still to achieve. The organisation is handling the ticketing for the upcoming Grizzly Bear concert at a much bigger venue. This may then lead to further reach for the project. Last year, they brought over Motorama from Russia who sold out each show and thoroughly enjoyed themselves despite limited mutual vocabulary.

Look them up at bandtastic.me

The reformed, but hopefully not too reformed, Afghan Whigs

The reformed, but hopefully not too reformed, Afghan Whigs

I read somewhere that this was nominated for cover version of the year. Not a bad choice. A slow build of a song that peaks in intensity after the lyrics have faded. It’s under-stated but threatens more to come. Dulli’s voice seems to constantly suggest something more extreme to come and yet manages to remain in check. How will a new song with the intensity of ‘What Jail is Like’ come across? Will one arrive? The promise of ‘Lovecrimes’ would suggest something even better to come.

‘Lovecrimes’ is one of two cover versions that the Afghan Whigs gave away online last year to celebrate their return to the live arena. Reports from these concerts suggest that they have been a wonderful return to form from a band that always had something left to prove. Back in the 1990s they were never quite the zeitgeist. As grunge took off they developed in popularity but were always outsiders from Cincinnati to the Seattle-based party. They sounded a bit southern and soulful at a time when it was better to be north-western and alienated, though they oozed the latter but in a  more adult and relationship-based form. They covered The Supremes’ ‘My World is Empty Without You’ with a wonderful injection of malice and yet the very idea of covering The Supremes would have sent most grunge fans running for the hills. Their album ‘Gentlemen’ from 1992 was superb and is highly recommended as a place to start and yet it never quite managed to fully get them into the mainstream public conception. Frontman Greg Dulli was viewed as difficult and his stage persona viewed as macho at a time when artists were supposed to scream to reveal their vulnerability. Lyrics may have suggested otherwise and perhaps his persona was more honest than others around the scene of the time. The somewhat ‘Debonair’ macho-loverman persona never seemed to be a problem for Nick Cave and/or his fans. Would The Afghan Whigs ever have got away with an album of murder ballads? What would they have done with Kylie? Subsequent albums seemed to see a shift towards diminishing relevance despite good reviews. Final album ‘1965’ was a wonderfully soulful ride that barely raised a ripple and seemingly got buried by their label. Nowadays it has become more and more expensive through Amazon UK – £16 at the moment when, just a few years ago, I recall it could be picked up from the same company for next to nothing. The increase suggests that the demand is out there for new material or even deluxe reissues. They could even reissue the promo ties and cufflinks that accompanied ‘Gentlemen’. Very smart they were too, though I’m not sure I’d stretch to £200 on ebay as some fool once did.

Grunge cufflinks? £200 a go.

Grunge cufflinks? £200 a go.

This glimpse of the new, 21st century Whigs along with ‘See and Don’t See’ (also available from their website) immediately sounds familiar to fans. Many of us were only fully made aware of the band through the soul covers novelty aspect at the time and took it from there. Lyrically, Ocean’s (you know I mean Frank and not Billy, right?) song immediately introduces sex and metaphorical bullets which seems appropriate for his interpreters. Perhaps the shuffle beat and strings seem a little dated, or do they hark back to the era where the Afghan Whigs got left behind and from which they now re-emerge? Either way, moody, light trip-hop will delight the dinner party crowd who still love their ‘real’ vinyl authenticity as it was when they started to buy music more seriously, or when they left it behind. Y’all know who you are. For me though, the only thing that spoils the oozing sexual tension of ‘Lovecrimes’ is the repeated “Murder, murder, murder she wrote” which suddenly brings an image of Angela Lansbury to mind and that’s really ruined the mood for personally speaking but, you know, whatever floats your boat.

LANSBURY!!!

LANSBURY!!!

HMV opens on Oxford Street, 1921

HMV opens on Oxford Street, 1921

I imagine a number of people would be mystified as to why I would care about HMV going into administration. They would assume that my tastes in music would lead me to alternative and independent record shops. Sure, put me in Shrewsbury 20-odd years ago and I wouldn’t immediately seek out HMV, it would be Rainbow Records, Durrants and Cobweb – even Virgin before HMV. Chester, would see me head straight to Penny Lane. Bristol? Replay and Revolver and London seemed limitless for other options. In fact, it is even quite hard for me to recall the great albums or singles that I may have purchased from HMV and I do have clear memories of some classic purchases – Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ on vinyl from Our Price in Shrewsbury, Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ remastered on vinyl and on sale in Penny Lane, Chester and many, many more. HMV played a different role in my life and it would be far more important now if I still lived in the UK. Though I can’t remember my first HMV purchase for the life of me, I did get Frank Ocean’s album in the Birmingham New Street branch last summer along with a few other things that must now be the last things I will buy there.

HMV was there! Last summer, in central Birmingham, I found very few shops that I personally would want to head for. I did my research in advance and found that HMV was the ONLY place to buy music in central Birmingham. There were a couple of places in the suburbs and I did find another place that seemed to claim the Swordfish name, but it was nothing like that wonderful shop used to be back in the early 90s (Primal Scream’s ‘Come Together’ 12″). Oxford Street was always a nightmare for crowds but a shop like HMV would be one of my oases of calm along with Virgin if I had time to kill. Obviously, I’d rather head down to Soho for Selectadisc, Sister Ray, Mr. Bongo or Mr. CD and Rough Trade in Covent Garden was not too far away and not to be confused with rough trade in soho which meant something else entirely.

HMV had big sales. Really big! Bargains were there to be had, or possibly not as that may explain why I can’t remember what I bought in there on so many occasions. Cheap DVDs could be found, music books at reduced prices and even a Hong Kong Phooey t-shirt (Chester). I could kill time happily by deciding I would get 5 CDs for £20 and then spend an hour compiling a long list before selecting about 8 or 9 and then trying to use logic to whittle them down to 5 and then usually discovering another ‘must have’ (translation: ‘rarely listen to beyond that week’) at the last minute and either starting again or walking out with 10 CDs for £40 and realising that I’d spent money originally intended for clothes or even groceries.

"You won't be carrying any of that awful 'jazz' that's ruining me, will you?" - Elgar on the far left at the HMV opening luncheon.

“You won’t be carrying any of that awful ‘jazz’ that’s ruining me, will you?” – Elgar on the far left at the HMV opening luncheon.

HMV has history. The first branch was opened in 1921 by Elgar! Elgar, for chrissakes! I must admit I only discovered that today and it kind of blows my mind. Incidentally, don’t think of pomp and graduation themes, instead listen to his first symphony (this is a rare example of my classical music knowledge so I have to use it while I can). It grew out of EMI, it took over Waterstones and merged it with Dillons, Fopp and the dreadful Zavvi shops too. It may have been rather an arrogant shark if the truth be told and the mergers have certainly help to homogenise British high street shopping but nevertheless, if it’s gone then so have all the previously mentioned brands. This is clearly where they went wrong. HMV attempted to take over the high street book, CD and DVD market just as Amazon and iTunes had managed to take people off the high street. HMV bought something that would have made them billions in the 80s or 90s but would only produce diminishing returns in this decade. Surprisingly, record sales are back on the rise but nowhere near the amount required for an organisation like HMV which explains why certain well-run independent record shops seem to be thriving even if more provincial ones are closing down than ever. HMV failed to move with the times and, when they opened, Elgar was going out of fashion too.

Nipper!

Nipper!

HMV had Nipper, the little Jack Russell that peered into the gramophone horn with curiosity as if to say “This Armstrong cat sure can swing it, now pass me some legal cocaine so I can like listen really carefully.” Apparently, Nipper wasn’t a pure bred Jack Russell but that didn’t concern me as the attraction was that he looked like my dog, Tuppence. Maybe this was the first thing to pull me into my obsession with music? From looking at the cute little dog to seemingly infinite Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy albums in just a few decades. Thus a name for a blog involving my two dogs was born. So that’s just nostalgia then.

So, it looks like HMV will disappear and it will be even harder to get me into a high street for very long. If Waterstones closes then there will be nothing to keep me out of the pub – a function society might regret on a national scale….obviously, I include other people in that statement and not just me on a national high street crawl. HMV was by no means the greatest shop in the world but I will miss it and wonder what on earth these groaning gaps in high streets will be filled with, or will they be abandoned like so many derelict city centres in the USA. Maybe we need to look to attempts at regenerating the likes of Detroit or Baltimore for answers and try not to dwell too much on what we assume from The Wire – no longer available as a box set from a high street near you.

paul buchanan 1

WARNING: The article below may also contain references to Deacon Blue and possibly traces of nuts.

Beauty in Brevity seems a somewhat trite and yet accurate way to some up this album that took me over 6 months to finally get around to downloading. I can blame a limit in funds/time/the stupid amount of music one man can process, but, if anything, I was put off by reputation as I’ve never quite got around to The Blue Nile and worry about having another Prefab Sprout in my life as that is what they seem to have mutated into in my mind. This would not normally be a problem but does have serious potential consequences because a similar thing happened one dreary summer afternoon working at ‘the record shop’ back in ’88 when I briefly, ever so briefly mind, fell for Deacon Blue’s ‘Raintown’ though, in my defence, I am pretty tight and a deluxe cassette with about 90 minutes of music on it seemed too good an offer to refuse despite the fact that it so very obviously was. That sodding dinghy! I blame Thursday afternoons in Oswestry. Onywey, (hmm…patronising, vaguely dialectic style adopted to discuss music from Glasgow simply must stop) I kind of had The Blue Nile figured as a bit too slick at the time and really not too punkrock. There is also the small matter of feeling like I needed to get to The Blue Nile first before attempting to appreciate a solo album from their singer …but wait a minute, their first two albums are now remastered as double discs with lots of bonus material? Hmm…It’s happening again.(“Set it up again!” – pipe down Ricky Ross!) And Mid Air’s brevity is now boosted by a deluxe edition with 10 extra tracks too! All the signs were there, I had to go for it. I did also like the couple of tracks I’d heard on free compilations. It still clocks in at under an hour, something Neil Young might want to consider after ruining ‘Psychedelic Pill’ with seemingly endless jamming. However, my gnat’s chuff-esque* approach towards music kind of negates the whole beauty and brevity angle.

Back to Buchanan, the songs appear and disappear in a flash of 2 to 3 minutes and are then gone, ‘tiny epiphanies’ – says The Independent which brings ‘Dubliners’ into my thoughts. I guess this made previews somewhat redundant as a way of sampling the delights held within. It also stands in contrast to The Blue Nile who featured just 7 songs on each of their first 2 albums and with considerably more complex musical accompaniment too. Maybe this is why the album is so very different to what I would have expected. That a certain aim for perfection lies within these little musical vignettes is certain and yet the casually tossed off 2 minute pop song is where music begins and ends for some of us. A first listen in the afternoon led me into this wonderfully heartwarming and/or broken world despite the irritation of the carwashers below the apartment resorting to the Easyvac far too close to our building once again. It framed an afternoon. It may have allowed me to wallow in melancholy, it made the concentration on finishing the excellent book I was hitherto reading undisturbed was now diminished, yes, it’s fair to say that the album had gripped me on first listen even if said listen came a little too late for to allow for consideration among my albums of the year. It’s safe to say that, had I picked this up back in May when it first appeared, it would have made my top 3 with ease. During my second listen, I had already decided this is a classic and most likely the best album I would have heard all year if it hadn’t been for that memory of mistakenly feeling an empathy with Deacon Blue. Why couldn’t I have got into The Blue Nile’s ‘Hats’ that summer? Put it down to misguided youth and the chart orientated policy towards stock in a provincial record shop that shunned the word indie rather than ‘dinghy’.

From the atmospheric title track onward, it is obviously going to be an evocative journey with just piano, minimal string sounds with maybe the occasional horn accompanying a vintage croon as an elemental synergy is used to capture the singer’s feelings for a woman who is seen everywhere. The buttons on her coat, memories and her presence in mid air create a melancholic tone but one which could also suggest contentment. Marriage is referred to but not necessarily the result, perhaps the relationship ended but remains with the singer still and, though this is somewhat maudlin, he does not necessarily find this crushing. Instead, this woman is everywhere as she seems to have passed from the concrete into the abstract somehow – maybe it was the trapeze accident or, hopefully, that’s a metaphor as the song also states ‘only time can make you/ The wind that blows away the leaves. Has she becomes Hardy’s ‘(The) Voice’? It all seems very personal to me rather than the observations of a “bemused bystander” as suggested elsewhere, then again a highly effective persona always seems personal and, at some psychological level, must be. I guess it’s like separating the methodology from the psychology as I recall a German actor who played a Nazi once say.

A reference to ‘the virgin birth’ in the first track is continued into Saint Martha in ‘Half the World’ as well as a reference to ‘the astronaut in God’s good sky’ which suggests a meeting of the human and the celestial though not as incongruous as to suggest man taking on the role of God. However, the story of Martha and her brother, Lazarus, may give this song a more personal dimension as the album was written in the aftermath of the death of a close friend. Clearly he or she, the ambiguity is retained throughout, is now seen everywhere if we follow ‘Mid Air’ and yet this ‘astronaut’ of ‘Half the World’ is waving his last goodbye.

Religion and family seem to play a central role in the themes of the album and may be suggested at other times. In ‘Mid Air’ ‘the girl I want to marry/ upon the high trapeze/ The day she fell and hurt her knees’ maybe a convenient rhyme or could suggest checking out of the circus to turn to religion where the praying can indeed hurt the knees. It may also be stated that the quiet nature of tha album does not necessarily lead to a depressing experience though beginning ‘Wedding Party’ with ‘It’s a good day for a landslide/ there are tears in the car park outside’ may suggest otherwise and the song eventually develops a picture of a depressing argument between a couple attending a wedding.

‘Mid Air’ has a poetic if minimal feel to its lyrics. The working title was ‘Minor Poets of the 17th Century’ after a poetry anthology Buchanan purchased from Oxfam. I have already suggested Hardy’s influence on ‘Mid Air’ whilst the astronaut of ‘Half the World’ seems to echo Yehuda Amichai’s ‘My Father in a White Space Suit’ numerous other links or similarities can be found. ‘Wedding Party’ and ‘Cars in the Garden’ seem to have echoes of early Larkin without the shock of profanity which is perhaps unnecessary in the post-Larkin age of poetry. ‘Two Children’ could be Plath or Hughes on parenthood, though again this could suggest a doomed relationship – Plath and Hughes as a couple would certainly fit as the characters in ‘Wedding Party’ any road. However, amidst all these rather gloomy links, it must also be said that the lines and their rhymes have a rather childlike quality that would suit Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’. The imagery seems deliberately basic at times almost giving a child’s perspective in places or, possibly, the numbed perspective of grief. The latter is suggested by background information that tells us the album was written in the early hours (or ‘wee small hours’ to link with Sinatra when he wasn’t a happy bunny) after the death of a close friend as mentioned previously. The fact that something gorgeous emerges from this grief may reflect the way we come to terms with grief as I understand it – the seventh stage: acceptance and hope.

I guess this album also wears age on its sleeve with references to children and the past and yet it is hard to imagine that its beauty would not have an effect on a younger audience too even if that may negate any potential commercial clout. In some ways it reminds me of ‘The Magical World Of The Strands’ by Michael Head and the Strands, though this album’s disappearance seemed a foregone conclusion from the moment it appeared yet the beauty is there in this case shimmering through a haze of quite dedicated heroin use and, even more damaging for the soul, an initial appearance as a Dutch import. There is no suggestion of a druggy dimension to ‘Mid Air’ just a poetic album that may get left behind in the modern rush for bombast. ‘The Boatman’s Call’ has also been mentioned by reviewers but I feel Ol’ Nick would strangle the beauty of these songs with his rudimentary baritone. Elsewhere I have read of this album being the point where Paddy McAloon and Tom Waits meet. While it has none of the larger than life persona suggested by the latter, it would be great to hear a similarly stark album from Prefab Sprout. Mark Hollis could perhaps do something similar if he pulled himself together and stopped relaxing on Talk Talk royalties generated by Gwen Stefani and her ‘pals’.

I also love the brilliant consistency in terms of chart performance represented by the performance of each Blue Nile release and this solo album. Whilst debut album, ‘A Walk Across the Rooftops’, only made 80 in the album charts, the 4 subsequent studio albums have been released about 7 or 8 years apart with chart positions varying between 10 and 14. Nice and dependable, much like a couple arguing at weddings but happily raising children whilst dreaming across the rooftops to elsewhere. On the other hand there is also a sense of the end of life and the end of the relationships. What I like a lot about the album is the happy blending of the concrete and the abstract, the surreal and the mundane and also, as just referred to, the dependable and a sense of ending. Not only does this make the album enjoyable, but researching every review led to uncovering lots of profound comments which sometimes reveal very little (well, this is music journalism so what do cynics expect?). The Irish Times** sounded confident in stating that the title track was brief but with a ‘vivid aftertaste’ and yet quite what was so vivid about this synesthesia they managed to leave to the imagination. Was it the buttons? If she is ‘The Chocolate Girl’, then maybe but I hope she isn’t.

* – As tight as a…

** – The album creates this ambiguity not poor journalism. It’s that good is my point. Maybe my poor journalistic skills have created further ambiguity…I’ll shut up now.

A slight apology to Deacon Blue – the grating nature of your music is personally irritating once it becomes a memory of something bought that I wished I hadn’t (see  first footnote). At least you’re not Danny Wilson or China Crisis.