First heard it completely by chance on some John Peel tribute album, in a lovely town of Loughborough. Good times. The Great Eastern might be their strongest album, but "Pull The Wires From The Wall" is unquestionably their greatest song. And those lyrics are definitely worth marvelling at.
Sunday, 31 August 2014
Friday, 29 August 2014
Album review: THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
Highlights: Fuck Off Get Free, Austerity Blues, Take Away These Early Grave Blues, What We Loved Was Not Enough
If there’s something I dislike more than long album titles, it’s long band names. And this particular band has a history of offensive behavior. At some point the fuckers were called The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band With Choir, and that was just plain rude.
But a little kid says ‘we make a lot of noise because we love each other’, and all my concerns are swept aside by the wall of sound that is both monstrous and absolutely majestic. If you love rock’n’roll (whatever that even means), you will love this. The intensity is overpowering, and it does indeed sound like early Arcade Fire possessed by the demons of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “Fuck Off Get Free (For The Island Of Montreal)” is phenomenal. “Austerity Blues” is 14 minutes plus, and the demented acoustic rhythm at the beginning shouldn’t fool anyone. We are soon back to the guitar-violin slaughterhouse typical of this album.
And it is never one groove stretching over the whole duration of a song. They break it down, they do quieter parts, they raise intensity, they drop it back to zero. If Fuck Off Get Free is chaos, they have perfect control over it. The melodies are generally exciting, and you will find quite a few tunes and chants (check out that middle section of “Austerity Blues”) you could sing along to. At 6:47, “Take Away These Early Grave Blues” is almost too short. But what a hellish outburst. “Little Ones Run” is a much needed breather that is, inexplicably, a lovely if rather unnerving lullaby. “What We Loved Was Not Enough” is this album’s most subdued epic where the singer sounds very much like Win Butler at his most emotional/hysterical/anthemic. Nobody seems to like the closing track, but I personally find it a fitting and atmospheric end to whatever wildness and insanity we have already endured.
The cover is genuinely creepy but it’s not like it goes against the sound. The album is filthy and transcendental and it is forever engraved into my end-of-year top ten list. I have to say that Godspeed You! Black Emperor do not sound particularly great about now.
Wednesday, 27 August 2014
Highlights: Colfax Avenue, I Won’t Slip Up, Sandman’s Coming, He Told Her The City Was Killing Him
This is one of those why the hell do you need a review when you can just look at the album cover situations. There’s this engrossing, atmospheric darkness swallowing the city with only a few neon signs flashing out of the night. The effect is both lush and narcotic, and you know you’re in for a great deal of style.
In Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Colfax Avenue is a place of late nights, drugs, prostitutes and alcohol. While definitely conscious of that, these songs occupy a world of romance, heartbreak and longing. It’s a world of Paul Westerberg’s regular, but more soulful and less raw, less desperate. The city (might be Denver, might be not) is killing you but there’s still chance you will not slip up.
The songs on Colfax are these beautifully crafted things sung in a way that is both world-weary and intoxicating. Some tunes are less charismatic and get lost in the process (the closing “82nd Street” has a beautiful guitar line and a pleasant if not especially articulate melody), but this is an album that has to be taken as a whole. In all its bluesy, country-ish, jazzy vibes of hopelessly late hours. Standouts include “I Won’t Slip Up” that is a tune to get lost in, the sad but strangely uplifting story titled “He Told Her The City Was Killing Him” and the soft piano-driven lullaby “Sandman’s Coming” that I could very much imagine on an early Tom Waits album.
This is thoughtful, mature songwriting for soulful people. Sung by Amy Boone and written by Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin. Interestingly, keyboardist Jenny Conlee is with The Decemberists. The Delines may turn out to be a one-off project, which is yet another reason to say Colfax is nothing if not special.
Sunday, 24 August 2014
I think more people should realise that when an album becomes this famous and achieves this sort of cult following, it can still remain a great album. And the way Arthur Lee wrote those lyrics - it doesn't add much, but it is still quite fascinating. A breathtaking song.
Friday, 22 August 2014
Sneaky Christian priests? Cricket? Blowjobs? Stephen Malkmus was genius for ending Pavement’s career with a song as fantastic and inexplicable as “Carrot Rope”. Catchy, probably nonsensical, it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. And if you feel any guilt about singing along to a song about ‘carrot ropes’, never you worry. ‘Carrot ropes’ could mean so many things.
A few people have told me this about Bossanova: if that is your first Pixies’ album, it is bound to stay your favourite. Hasn’t worked for me (you don’t beat Doolittle with “Rock Music”), but the idea may be true for Pavement’s last album. It just sounds like their most complete, mature, thoughtful work. Terror Twilight has a very special, homogenous feel to it, and each one of these 11 songs manages to contain everything you love about Pavement.
Terror Twilight is the perfect sound of ramshackle beauty mixed with sadness. It is sad – because this was supposed to be their last album and they knew it. It is beautiful – well, because Malkmus (and Malkmus only, Spiral Stairs only lends vocals to “Carrot Rope”) wrote his most beautiful tunes for this album.
And it’s not just “Spit On A Stranger” which may be the loveliest break-up (I’m guessing) song ever written. And it’s not just “Major Leagues” which may be the loveliest song ever written. It’s beautiful even when it’s rough, and the epic “Platform Blues” (‘you’re a nice guy, and I hate you for that’) is a powerhouse of intensity that is somehow filled with intensely powerful vocal melodies. To say nothing of that astonishing guitar/harmonica interplay which may well be the instrumental high point of the whole album. And instrumentally – not least due to Nigel Goldrich’s crispy-clear production – Terror Twilight is impeccable. That guitar solo in “The Hexx” would have been a nice final chord to Pavement’s career. But then of course: Malkmus had to fuck it up by sticking a goofy carrot rope at the very end.
Quite in contrast to the head-spinning mess of Wowee Zowee, this time Malkmus’s diversity feels measured, controlled. “Ann Don’t Cry” (‘room to give but no room to give in’) is a heartbreakingly gorgeous ballad, “The Hexx” (‘architecture students are like virgins with an itch they cannot scratch’) is pleasingly unnerving, icy-cold perfection, “Cream Of Gold” (‘I dream in beige’) is infectious grunge, “Speak, See, Remember” (‘deadbeat December’) is jazzy and adventurous, “Folk Jam” (‘Irish folk tales scare the shit out of me’) is, well, a jolly banjo-driven folk jam with an indie twist. One of the greatest 90’s songwriters at the peak of his whimsical songwriting powers. Those fey ‘la-la-la’s in “Billie”? Even that works.
We all love Slanted & Enchanted, and Terror Twilight might not be the Pavement album. That is not the point. My point is that Terror Twilight has all the best songs.
Also, ‘Relationships, hey, hey, hey’. It’s not very often that you come up with lines as ridiculous and brilliant as that. In fact, most of us never do.
Wednesday, 20 August 2014
I want to be described by Cadence Sinclair. I want her to put me into two words, maybe three. ‘Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity, and rain’. Who wouldn’t want to be distilled like that?..
We Were Liars is a novel with a twist. That’s an extremely vapid sentence if you consider the fact that most of modern-day fiction comes with a gimmick-sized twist. Style and the rest of it might come in useful, but twist is the selling point. This time, however, it’s a twist that is pretty much what this whole book is about. Like a detective story without a crime, the novel will not work without this twist. It will fall apart.
The book is based on a lie. Cadence Sinclair Eastman is a teenage girl coming from a wealthy, tall, athletic, handsome American family. There’s a brief and eye-catching first chapter that describes the Sinclairs and, like all Cadence’s descriptions, it is childish, whimsical, unaffected and very precise. The girl’s vain grandfather owns an island, and four best friends (three are related and one is Cadence’s boyfriend) spend each summer there – wallowing in silly good times. The notion of ‘best friends’ is questionable, though, as they tend to forget about each other’s existence once the summer is over. ‘Friends weakened into acquaintances’. It is also questionable because one summer an unspeakable thing happens.
It happens to Cadence. Did she see something she was not supposed to see? Was she raped? Cadence does not remember, because she probably hit her head on the rock and the only thing that is left of that strange day from summer fifteen is a bad headache that keeps tormenting her all through the next year. Well, she has to find out – because there are all these liars. Mirren, Johnny, Gat, even her mother – nobody tells her what actually happened, and so this book is this anxious trip that will have to end with a quite astonishing chapter called “The Truth”. And Christ will you want to know it.
Is it worth it, getting inside this girl’s head? I’d say yes. She might not be anything beyond her secret, but with a secret that big you do not need to worry. Besides, Cadence is full of good observations that are so infantile they border on genius. ‘Johnny, he is bounce, effort, and snark’. It’s a raw and sketchy and cranky world E. Lockhart creates, but it rings with genuine feeling. It’s a disturbing feeling, even sickening, but it is also quite fascinating. We Were Liars is what you could call a cleverly constructed cherry-bomb of a novel.
Well, let me put it like this. I was walking through a park in Siena and suddenly it started to rain. Nothing critical. Nothing a decent bench, a thick tree and fifteen minutes wouldn’t fix. There were maybe 150 pages left in We Were Liars and so much to do about the city. And then suddenly the rain was long over, my chance neighbour changed for the umpteenth time, Siena grew a little dim, and the book was closed on the last page.
All, remember, all about that twist. But what twist.
Sunday, 17 August 2014
To establish a (fairly loose) connection with this week's reviews, here's a great non-album track from The Jesus And Mary Chain. A classic pop song that is as good a way to start a day with as you can think of. Off The Sound Of Speed compilation from 1993.
Friday, 15 August 2014
Highlights: Almost Optimistic, My Old Dancing Shoes, Sweet Nothing, Smoking On The Cancer Ward, Kisses And Scars
Playful. You could even say upbeat. Floral Tributes was written at roughly the same period as Lo-Fi Lullabies, but this time John’s songs are performed by a jazz quartet and so the sound is something you could actually get your teeth into. You could smile once or twice, you could possibly even break into a sad and lonely dance during songs like “Through The Eyes Of A Drunk” or “Smoking On The Cancer Ward”.
The arrangements are lusher, fuller, and even the voice has more meat to it. Lyrically, too, there is a bright (still dim) side on occasion, and the opening “Almost Optimistic” is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Almost, though, that’s one cruel word. Incidentally, my favourite lyric on the album is all bitter, sardonic wit. A line from the aforementioned “Through The Eyes Of A Drunk”: ‘If the world is such a funny place, how come nobody is laughing?..’
So essentially Floral Tributes is a perfect companion to Lo-Fi Lullabies. Its playfulness is jazzy and obvious, but it isn’t sober and is, quite possibly, totally delusional. As for the actual songs, they are just as good as the ones that made up Lullabies. Particular favourites include “Sweet Nothing” with its hazy, smoky night bar vibe, “Almost Optimistic” with an unforgettable piano hook line and “Smoking On The Cancer Ward” with its sound of fucked-up intelligence drunk out of its mind. If that makes any sense. The closing “Kisses And Scars” ties the two albums together, beautifully. It is more elaborately produced than the Lullabies version, it has affecting female back-up vocals, but its wounded charm is just as understated.
Well, what else is there to mention? Two things. The tasteful cover art that was, I understand, created by John Moore himself. And the fact that since these two albums will not find a huge audience, there is all the more reason to do something about it. I’m kind of almost optimistic about that.
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
Highlights: What Do You Want To Talk About, Path Of Least Resistance, Watching The Lady Dress, Giving Up The Ghost, Now That Your Lover Has Gone
Blood Money / Alice situation. Two new albums by the same artist released on the same day. John Moore’s Lo-Fi Lullabies and Floral Tributes will come out on the 1st of September. The records are so good they demand two separate reviews. So good, in fact, that I laughed nervously by track 2 thinking the year 2014 doesn’t deserve this sort of songwriting. And considering these albums are more or less doomed to noble obscurity… But read on.
Lo-Fi Lullabies is a special album, I don’t think it’s physically possible not to hear that. It’s literally soaked through: in painfully honest lyrics, intimate atmosphere, subtle melodies, John’s delicately frail vocals. There’s a word ‘depression’ hanging over these 10 songs like a wet cobweb. But somehow this is not a depressing album. On Lo-Fi Lullabies, depression is merely a musical language. And an art form.
I first heard John Moore on Black Box Recorder’s “The Art Of Driving”, which he provocatively half-whispered in duet with Sarah Nixey. Cofounded with Luke Haines, the band played the kind of witty, cynical pop (‘pop’ as in actually ‘popular’, what with the unlikely but highly calculated success of “The Facts Of Life”) that is like a wet dream for any intelligent music lover. It’s only later that I found out about John Moore’s career in The Jesus And Mary Chain and a couple of largely (I’m being generous) unknown solo albums.
The songs that make up Lo-Fi Lullabies were written in dismal, crisis-fuelled mid-90s, prior to Black Box Recorder. And Christ are they good. The sound and the vibe wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with John’s music. It’s elegant and stripped-down and it never gets monotonous because of the sheer quality of songwriting. There’s a little Leonard Cohen here (I can very much imagine hearing the waltzy “Path Of Least Resistance” somewhere between “Suzanne” and “Master Song”), a little of that intimate feel you could hear on latest album by Peter Astor (I can’t recommend Songbox enough). However, the reference points will not get you anywhere: this is simply too sincere and personal not to be unique.
Lyrics might be the first thing you notice (try the final verse of “When I’m Dead” or the chorus of “Kisses And Scars” or just about anything else here), but I wouldn’t separate them from the melodies or John’s vocal performances. Lo-Fi Lullabies is basically its own world. To the extent that I almost don’t want to talk about individual songs. Let’s just mention that vocals rarely get any more honest and heartbreaking than on “Clouds Roll By”, as well as the fact that John certainly knows his way around a clever one-line chorus. As for the sound – it is, like I say, very stripped down. There’s a raw but romantic bedroom quality to these songs (check out the album title again) that, thankfully, does not disappear when John adds strings or a bass line or even a touch of harmonica.
Oh and the final four-song stretch is frankly phenomenal. Etc., etc. Lo-Fi Lullabies is a masterclass in thoughtful, articulate songwriting. I’m really gasping for superlatives here. So far it’s my favourite album of the year by roughly a country mile. If I considered this album and Floral Tributes as a single-package release, I’d give it a ten. But then it’s art, so who cares about fucking numbers anyway.
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Nick Drake's haunting blues, simple and soulful. Interestingly, he changed Robin Frederick's original 'got the marijuana blues' line into 'got no other life to choose'. But this is perfect, and the quality of the recording adds to the feel.
Friday, 8 August 2014
Highlights: Fault Lines, Red River, Full Grown Boy, Shadow People
It’s just ten seconds, but something clicked in my brain. “Forgotten Man” may not be the most exciting song on Hypnotic Eye, but it does have one hell of a remarkable intro. I don’t think I’m off on this one, but it has to be “American Girl”. It’s a big moment if you are sentimental. And since you got interested in Tom Petty’s new album in the first place, sentimental is what you are.
What follows is a classic (if a little generic) pop rocker with a decent melody, good driving rhythm and a sparkling solo. Tom Petty is back.
The cover looks awful, but it's not like you will buy the physical copy and then stare at it all that much. This is what counts: Tom Petty’s amazing pop sensibilities have survived to this day. Yes, the band rocks, the sound is busy and lush, but in the end it has always been about this man's vocal melodies. When the band just rocks, and the sound is just busy and lush, the results don’t impress. “Burnt Out Town” is masterfully executed blues rock that is so immaculately predictable that you have to wonder why they bothered. “Honey Bee” had more to offer. (Or did it.)
Nothing special about Hypnotic Eye, but what an appealing collection of songs. I'm sure I've heard some of those vocal hooks before (e.g. “Shadow People”), but never mind. “Burnt Out Town” and the slightly plodding “Power Drunk” aside, this meets all reasonable expectations. The charming/romantic “Full Grown Boy” is a personal favourite. It’s different. It’s soulful. It’s almost Bossa Nova among all them heavy riffs and sweaty solos.
I will of course get back to my copy of Full Moon Fever or any half-decent Heartbreakers compilation three days from now, but God knows it’s amazing to hear that voice again. Even if in the end Hypnotic Eye is about terrific musicianship rather than unforgettable songs.
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
Highlights: Long After Tonite’s Candles Are Blown, ‘Sad Love’ And Other Short Stories, Wait ‘Til December, Confessions Of A Daydream
Comet Gain are back. Which is a rather strange thing to say as they haven’t really been away. But the truth of the matter is – I more or less forget about this band’s existence once the wistful sugar rush of their previous album subsides and I have to face grim reality. I do of course play Réalistes and City Fallen Leaves now and then, but that’s a very rare now and then. In fact, the typically inconspicuous release of Paperback Ghosts was something of a sweet and pleasant surprise.
Paperback Ghosts is the band’s seventh album in – Jesus God – over twenty years. Over time Comet Gain’s post-punk edge has dissolved into twee pop into romantic indie rock. It’s not such a big deal. They are still hopelessly British, even if this latest album wasn’t produced by Edwyn Collins. And David Feck is still an excellent songwriter, even if he has gone rather soft here. The youthful idealism of his voice still makes me this much happier.
Howl Of The Lonely Crowd this may be not, but there’s a perfect album in here. Side A is perfect. Six brilliant pop songs of articulate melodies, lovely vibes, affecting violins. The lyrically and musically catchy “Long After Tonite’s Candles Are Blown” is as good an opener as they’ve ever recorded. “Sad Love' And Other Short Stories” has that irresistible vocal hook. “Behind The House She Lived In” is two infectiously scorching minutes with Rachel Evans. The soul-melting “Wait ‘Til December” is this album’s most gorgeous ballad. The rough-edged “Breaking Open The Head Part 1” is a punkish blast with a good echoey guitar effect. “The Last Love Letter” is confessional and awkward and well-written and cynical bastards stay away.
Then we get into an admittedly faceless territory with five perfectly decent songs of sweet little nothing. A couple of memorable melodic twists here and there, but I bet David Feck could write that stuff in his sleep. Thankfully, “Confessions Of A Daydream” arrives at the very end – and all is forgiven. All you love about Comet Gain is there in glorious and clumsy and unaffected six minutes.
These twelve songs are about as far away from saving the world as you can get. But please note how the last words on this album go: ‘Every little nothing is some kind of something’. If anything, Paperback Ghosts is certainly that. Some kind of something. Something genuinely good. Precious. Unpretentious. Maybe a little timeless, maybe not.