Sunday, 29 June 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #153: The Wrens - "She Sends Kisses"

Well, what can you do about this song. It's pure emotional overkill, and who writes lyrics like that. Off The Meadowlands (2003), an album that is either extremely underrated or lionized beyond all reason. Also, I hear they have just finished recording the new album - hilarious. Not holding my breath. A boy has cried wolf too many times now.

"Past Seven Wrecks I've read four answers:
1. Your move
2. I'm tres involved
3. Move on
4. ...". 

'Tres' is of course fantastic, but I'm still trying to figure out what number four is.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Album review: WHITE LUNG - Deep Fantasy

Highlights: well, everything


I have to say that I could never understand the concept of that ‘riot grrrl’ thing. At best, it feels extremely loose. At worst, it’s just silly. Courtney Love was right about that one. It’s just a big pathetic put-on. I guess The Ronettes were my favourite riot grrrl band.

White Lung are girls in sunglasses with loud guitars and lyrics not necessarily about daffodils and love. Have to be feminists. Have to be riot grrrls.

In a word, bullshit.

So what are they? I’d say roughly one of the most exciting bands in business today. Canada seems to be doing quite well. Deep Fantasy is White Lung’s third LP in five years, and they have been equally ruthless and flawless so far. Their albums last from 20 to 25 minutes (which is a brilliant concept, I would certainly encourage many bands to do the same) and contain songs of such power, sheen and intensity that you will wonder what everyone else is up to.

No filler, just guts. Ten perfect blasts of articulate punk rock bliss. The production is masterful yet again, you will get extreme pleasure picking out the brilliant guitar details of a song like “Snake Jaw”. And it’s not just muscular singing and Motorhead-styled riffage running riots through each one of these songs, it’s also intricate and almost beautiful in its own savage, uncompromising way. 

I’d say “Down It Goes” is a song of the year, but I’d be hard pressed to come up with any sensible reason why that might be the case. Deep Fantasy is brilliant. And never, not for one second, is it anything less than that.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Album review: GUIDED BY VOICES - Motivational Jumpsuit

Highlights: Save The Company, I Am Columbus, Shine (Tomahawk Breath)


North Korean people will vote against. England will win the World Cup again. In fact, anything could happen. World will collapse. Robert Pollard will still be Robert Pollard, no matter what. Releasing yet another batch of ridiculous snippets and half-songs. An act of artistic sabotage that is looking more and more fraudulent each year.

And I still find it irresistible, even if technically Motivational Jumpsuit is one of Pollard’s less focused songwriting bouts in recent years. The Bears For Lunch (which still sounds like a late-period GBV classic) this clearly is not.

But no fears. Explosive garage rockers ending halfway, psychedelic tomfoolery, half-baked power pop, flimsy acoustic strummers, it’s all in here, catchy and murky and brilliant and deranged. Besides, it’s interesting to hear a song by Robert with the title “Writer’s Bloc”. I wonder if that happens when he doesn’t drink or else drinks too much. In fact, I wonder if that happens at all. Tobin Sprout’s songs are reliably charming and disarmingly clumsy, though I sometimes get the feeling he isn’t trying too hard and is contributing leftovers (lovely though they are) to these never-ending projects with Pollard. Saving his best for future solo albums. So for every godlike beauty (“Shine”) there will always be some pleasant and harmless filler (“Calling Up Washington”). 

Overall, whatever. ‘In a world of airplanes’, may this go on forever, though next time I hope the songwriting will be slightly sharper. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #152: Big Brother & The Holding Company - "The Last Time"

"The Last Time" is the way you do it if you choose to do it in the first place. The only problem is, Janis Joplin was probably the only one who could. And she wrote it herself, in 1967 or thereabouts. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Album review: THE AFGHAN WHIGS - Do To The Beast

Highlights: Matamoros, Algiers, Lost In The Woods, These Sticks


I have to say that listening to this album after Ultraviolence is like being suddenly injected with a huge dose of oxygen. It’s like being alive again. Let’s celebrate life.

But there’s a paradox. On the one hand, I can’t say Do To The Beast has serious claims to being the Afghan Whigs’ best album. After all, does it really beat Gentlemen? On the other hand, I don’t believe that Greg Dulli is physically capable of writing a better collection of songs. Do To The Beast is all you could ask for, now or in 1993.

Each one of these ten songs is a winner: nuanced, emotional, intense. Do To The Beast is what you would call a comeback with a vengeance. Still, however consistent the whole thing is, “Matamoros” is something else. It’s the shortest song here, clocking in at 2:43, but what a punch it packs. The urgent funky groove, the flashy guitar line, the chorus reeking of style and appeal, and (as if that wasn’t enough) there’s also a brilliant Eastern-flavoured violin solo that will make you want to hang this track on a museum wall. And that’s just one highlight. Elsewhere, they do beautifully rough piano-based slow-burners (“Lost In The Woods”), convincing screamers (“Parked Outside”) and throw in the kind of epoch-defining riffs that are almost too good for 2014 (“The Lottery”). Not to mention the closing 6-minute epic “These Sticks” that has a build-up to kill for. 

I never thought The Afghan Whigs were the best band in the world and Do To The Beast is not a masterpiece, but… from its inventive arrangements to Greg’s has-he-really-been-away vocals and melodies, this album is a quiet triumph.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Album review: LANA DEL REY - Ultraviolence

Highlights: West Coast, Power Money Glory


Ever since I saw the cheap Burgess quote, I was determined to hate this album. Or maybe ‘hate’ is the wrong word, because there’s nothing to hate about Lana Del Rey. She is lovely, pretty, stylish, ‘different’, she has this precious image of a tragically depressed celebrity. No, hating her would be positively reactionary. Rather, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, swept away by waves of boredom masquerading as class.

And for God’s sake – it’s like she wasn’t even trying.

Ultraviolence is like a gigantic sad marshmallow smeared all over your face over the whole duration of this album. Which, and this might be an issue, is frankly overlong. The opener “Cruel World” drags forever, and the mood-setting excuse is weak. This album has the same mood painstakingly sustained for 52 monotonous, narcoleptic minutes. Had she started with the title track, my six would have a much healthier look.

Not that “West Coast” (or “Wesht Coasht”, if we get into her voluptuous phonetics) isn’t a classic. It is this album’s “Video Games”, only this time the novelty effect gives way to clever songwriting. The way she breaks down the pacing halfway through is absolutely majestic (if thoroughly calculated) and leaves me wondering if she really is as good as they say. Elsewhere, it’s mostly just mannerisms. “Sad Girl” living in a “Cruel World”. Presentation too important to consider the actual content. Some choruses, however, do impress and there’s no question that “Power Money Glory” (I bet you can guess the lyrics of that one) can melt any number of cynical hearts.

But mostly it’s just kids, of course. Girls who think she is some glamorous, lonesome queen. Boys who get a hard-on every time she says the word ‘fuck’. It’s really quite priceless, the whole thing, even if occasionally it becomes grating – her taking herself so bloody seriously. But I guess pop stars can be forgiven: sincerity is arbitrary. Talent, though, can’t be synthesized. Not even with that pout. 

In the meantime – brilliant background music.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #151: Belle & Sebastian - "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie"

Say what you want about this world, but it's the only world where you can get Push Barman To Open Old Wounds. That compilation is so blindingly perfect it should be in every household. Oddly, most of the greatest songs by Belle & Sebastian were recorded for EP's, and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light (1997) could be their second best. "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie" is a bouncy 3-minute classic that namechecks Kerouac, "Catcher In The Rye" and (Murdoch at his best) Judy Blume. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Album review: EELS - The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett

Highlights: Parallels, Where I’m From, Mistakes Of My Youth


How do you write about Eels in 2014? What exactly can you say about Mark Everett’s new songs that you haven’t said about his old ones? And what does this new album have to tell you? The fact that he can still write a bunch of good songs in that gruff-pretty style of his? The fact that in a year or two you will be craving for more?..

I don’t know. Throughout the years I’ve realised that I may well be happy with my trusted copy of Daisies Of The Galaxy. An album which, all things considered, remains the ultimate Eels experience.

Adorable piano, tasteful orchestration, gorgeous guitar tones, tragic lyricism, husky vocals. This time, though, it is dead earnest: the cover art shows Mr. Everett as a hip composer; Mark’s middle name makes its solemn appearance; these are tales, not songs; the whole concept of Eels performing Mark Everett’s music.

But since it’s all about songs, let’s talk about songs. The songs are good in the usual, safe way. Which means that if you can’t find beauty in the disarming simplicity of “Agatha Chang”, you stand no chance with Eels. Still, we have heard better, and thankfully the album does have glimpses of Everett’s spark. “Parallels” has that extra dimension that makes it a modest Eels classic. “Where I’m From” is pleasingly country-ish and upbeat. “Mistakes Of My Youth” has an understated anthemic quality to it that is very endearing. “Kindred Spirit” is prettier than others. But then again – the guitar underpinning “A Swallow In The Sun” may be one of the loveliest things you will hear all year, but the melody never sounds especially convincing. This is Mark’s general problem at this point, even if he remains a masterful songwriter-in-style. 

What I want to say is that if you’re not a fan, you have every right to feel exhausted. If you are a fan, The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett is pretty much your favourite album of the year. It’s simple. Personally, I’d love to love it more, but I’m afraid I’ve had my Eels days. Will they come back? They might, but that is not something you should be looking forward to. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Album review: TOM VEK - Luck

Highlights: Broke, Trying To Do Better, You’ll Stay, Let’s Pray


Any man of talent should be a genius once in a while. It’s axiomatic. If that is not the case, talent is delusional. The question is, how does Tom Vek fit into that idea? Well, there’s a chance you’re not familiar with Tom’s two previous albums (both are amazing, incidentally), but do yourself a favour and listen to his new song “Broke”. If that silly, deranged synth riff you hear isn’t musical genius, nothing is.

“Tongue avoids the teeth on a daily basis”. Tom Vek is a man who knows how to do quirky with taste and catchy with style. Luck, his third album in what sounds like 10 very long years, is all about that. I may dislike the idea of huge gaps between records, but in Tom’s case you have to accept the rules. The man’s a goddamned perfectionist, and every second on this album has been thought to death.

Besides, it is nice to have an album that is actually an event. An obscure, underrated event, but an event nonetheless. Two things make it work. Tom Vek has a very distinct style, and he knows his way around hooks. These hooks attack your brain like zombies in a violent computer game that just keeps getting faster and faster. But it is all so brilliantly tied together by Tom Vek’s stylish, cool, detached vocal intonations. It’s not emotional, it’s clever. The way he starts it all with a repetitive, lazily engaging groove of “How Am I Meant To Know”. The way musical phrases of “Trying To Get Better” seem so different yet seamless. The way he breaks it up with the Spanish-tinged, melancholic guitar of “The Girl You Wouldn’t Leave For Any Other Girl”. Even when it is ugly and disheveled (“Mistakes”), it still works (almost). By way of all those synthesizers, drum machines, echoey vocals and god knows what other sounds Tom uses with such artistry and expertise. 

“You’re skating on thin ice with a heavy heart”. This line starts “Pushing Your Luck”, and it just might be the perfect description of this album. Luck is edgy, claustrophobic, intelligent. It has dance beats, but they will not get you on the dance floor. 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #150: David McComb - "Heard You Had A Bed"

Love Of Will (1993) was David McComb's only solo album, and it's about as good as you would expect. "Setting You Free", "Day Of My Ascension"... so much to choose from.  "Heard You Had A Bed" is bitter and grim but it's a grim highlight. The clever arrangement is constantly on the verge of something but the explosion never arrives. Intense stuff. 'I plague your shopping list'. Christ what a line.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Favourite albums: CALENTURE (1987) by The Triffids

I love David McComb. This love goes way beyond mere respect or affection. The man has dragged me out of hard times on more occasions than I would care to admit. Seriously. Whatever it is, “The Seabirds” will do you good.

Calenture over Born Sandy Devotional was of course one hell of a tough choice, but I guess there comes a time when you start preferring “Across The Universe” to “Let It Be”. It is not necessarily ‘right’, but Born Sandy Devotional is so deeply engraved in my psyche that I barely even need to listen to it again. It’s a stone-cold classic. It’s in my all-time top 10.

This album, however, is not so much their essential Australian statement, as a collection of some of David McComb’s best songs. From the delicate opening guitar line of “Bury Me Deep In Love” to the glorious orchestral ending of “Save What You Can”, it’s a songwriting triumph very few could match.

And it is quite incredible to think that at some early stage of their existence The Triffids were doing effortless pop gems like “Stand Up” and “Farmers Never Visit Nightclubs”. Nothing suggested the dark Cave-esque edges of “Hanging Shed” or the desperate and suicidal vibes of “Tarrilup Bridge”, but that’s where we ended up a few years later. The Triffids’ great big style that combined roughness and romance in equal measure. If anything, that early melodicism ensured the appeal of whatever amphetamine-heroin-alcohol darkness David McComb would get himself into.

Calenture (fever of tropical climates) is tough rock music for emotionally vulnerable people. It’s full of love songs that showcase the wide range of McComb’s songwriting talent. It’s instantly memorable pop music (“Open For You”), it’s powerful sweeping ballads (“Blinder By The Hour”), it’s ‘dark’ and ‘difficult’ (“Unmade Love”), it’s romantic idealism (“Trick Of The Light”), it’s tough folk motifs (“Jerdacuttup Man”, possibly their greatest achievement), it’s anthemic elegance (“Save What You Can”). That was a band at their absolute peak, operating between subtlety and intensity. There’s just one threatening moment on the album, and it comes ‘courtesy’ of the first five seconds of “Holy Water”. What’s with that U2-styled groove?.. 

…But then David’s voice comes through and you know you will be fine again. The voice is deep and comforting, and it shouldn’t have ended the way it did. Though you can’t deny the fine lyric in the chorus of “Save What You Can”. ‘If you can leave’, it says in a painfully exultant way, ‘then leave it all’.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Album review: LUKE HAINES - New York In The 70's

Highlights: Alan Vega Says, Doll’s Forever, Cerne Abbas Man


Apparently it’s a great week for killing your darlings. And I do feel murderous when I say Luke Haines’ latest album is his weakest. His weakest is still worth anybody’s while, of course, but something has gone wrong here. The songwriting is not so much poor as it is lazy. Or we can just cut the crap: New York In The 70’s doesn’t have enough great songs.

Luke’s new album is like Twitter: catchy, brief, repetitive, self-indulgent. I fully realise it takes a special kind of artist to cram self-indulgence into a 30-minute album, but this is what you get. “Drone City” and “U.K. Punk” are prime filler material. Has the man lost it? Has that self-styled righteousness gone to his head? Or did he do it to avoid the running time of an early Beach Boys album? These dull drones may serve their conceptual purpose, but their musical value hovers around zero.

Thankfully, great songwriters don’t disappear overnight, and when he is good he is brilliant. Once you get used to constant repetitions, tunes start shining through. The melody of “Alan Vega Says” is timeless, and it’s a lovely story. Luke sounds like Denim-period Lawrence in the chorus of the title track, and the very uneven “Bill’s Bunker” has passages of striking elegance and beauty. “Doll’s Forever” is a loving paean to The New York Dolls, and “Cerne Abbas Man” with its unforgettable chant belongs to the list of Haines’ greatest creations. But then you will also have to deal with something like the single “Lou Reed Lou Reed”. It’s an affectionate tribute to the great man, and you’ll have the hook stuck in your head for days, but isn’t it the sort of stuff best suitable for obscure B-sides and Record Store Day throwaways?..

I haven’t yet mentioned the concept, but that’s because I insist that music comes first. You don’t need to ‘get’ anything to know that “Jim Carroll” rocks and “Drone City” (Suicide-lite) is a waste. But I might just as well mention that New York In The 70’s (self-explanatory) is the third installment in Luke’s psychedelic series of concept albums, following one album about British wrestling and another about rock‘n’roll animals. Basically, outsider artist at his outsidest. I have deep respect for that, I just don't think it's worthy of a man who wrote "Klaus Kinski". 

After all, it was Haines who answering a question about new music formats said that a good song will be a good song regardless of the medium. Be it classy vinyl or a cheap floppy disk. And who would argue with that?..

Sunday, 1 June 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #149: Tom Vek - "A Chore"

Tom Vek has his new album out on June 9, and one can only hope it will be as good as the smart, sparkling, stylish pop of "A Chore", his single from Leisure Seizure (2011). Also, to avoid any confusion: the girl is Abigail Rose and that is not her voice. Everything you hear - that's Tom Vek. This is pop music with a character.