Monday, 10 December 2012

69 Love Songs

I'm listening to this Magnetic Fields album right now and it inspired me to write and say, well, how lovely it is.
Conceived as part of an ambitious project to write 100 love songs, Stephin Merritt apparently decided to stop at the far more poetic 69.

So, err, that's is really. 69 songs spread over 3 CDs - songs about love, and songs about songs about love. Sometimes simple, sometimes cynical, sometimes warped and painful. It's one great, unique and often overlooked album.

Just look at the reviews on the sticker in this photo if you don't believe me.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Can - The Lost Tapes (vinyl edition)

Nice as the CD Box Set was, 'The Lost Tapes' has finally been issued on 5 lovely slabs of vinyl. In a box. With a poster. And booklet.

Monday, 26 November 2012

A Heavy Nite With Relaxed Muscle

Relaxed Muscle, the mysterious duo of Darren Spooner and JP Buckle (with some help from their friend Wayne Marsden on guitar) existed fleetingly near the beginning of the millenium. They only released one album and a brace of singles to no fanfare back in 2003 and then disappeared. The music is a sort of lo-fi, claustrophobic take on electroclash, post punk and glam rock, dealing with the dark tragi-comic side of life. Much like a sleazier version of Pulp.

Okay, so in reality, Darren Spooner is Jarvis Cocker, Wayne Marsden is Richard Hawley and JP Buckle is...err..Jason Buckle - three legends from the Sheffield music scene going against the grain to create something far less accessible, commercial or sellable than their fans or record label would crave.

But "A Heavy Nite With..." is a great album - difficult to get into admittedly, but rewarding once you get there. Best listened to in a dark place, it was issued on luminous vinyl, presumably so you can find your way to the turntable when the lights are off. It's a bit of a pain (as Faust once said) to photograph, but here you go.

My favourite lyric has to be Battered - taking on the different meanings of the word (getting very drunk, being beat up etc), for each verse, Jarvi....err, I mean Darren  then delivers the seminal - and sadly, all too true - line "I went to see The Wednesday last night, oh they got battered, yeah they got battered". 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Brilliant vinyl

As any self respecting Ultravox fan will know, clear vinyl is where it's at, so here is the double vinyl pressing of Brilliant. It sounds great too - a much fuller and warmer sound than the rather clinical CD version.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

More Pink

Talking of Pink vinyl, here's the 8 track debut album by Manchester post-rockers Plank! It's pink, which makes my daughter very happy.

I saw Plank! live at the Green Man Festival a couple of years ago and immediately took to them, as I thought they sounded a lot like my old band The Deltics - maybe they were part of the 20 strong crowd that saw us at a gig once...or maybe it's just that post rock / math rock sound. When it comes to their records, the sound is very much like Standards-era Tortoise with an element of post-punk thrown in for good measure.

Four Tet's "Pink" on vinyl

Four Tet's latest album, Pink, collected together a number of tracks Mr Hebden has released over the last 18 months, with a couple of extras thrown in, and is available as a "download only". However, with the extra tracks (Lion and the beatiful Peace On Earth) now available as a 12" single, there's a 5x12" audiophile vinyl format of the album that you can get. If you can be bothered to track them down or bought them when they came out.

You even get an art print of the albums design with the lastest 12".

So here's the tracklisting (technically with two "bonus" tracks not available with the digital version):

Disc 1
Ye Ye (by Daphni)
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
128 Harps
128 Harps (Anthony Naples Remix)
Disc 5
Peace for Earth

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

The return! of! Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Completely out of the blue, this album turned up unannounced at a GYBE gig in Boston a couple of weeks ago - a far cry from the usual "please please please buy me" overpromotion that most bands sign up to with every release. Anyway, it's now available in proper shops too (yeah, I know - sell outs eh?).

In classic GYBE style, you get something unique with both the vinyl and CD versions, with songs differing in length (I haven't listened to the CD so I can't tell you what is different, I've just noted that the track lengths are different) and sequencing. As always though, the vinyl version is the one to get - a 12" album and a 7" single, both housed in a wonderful elaborate gatefold sleeve with a "spot metallic ink and spot matte varnish" and a poster.

As well as looking good, it sounds great too. The usual beautiful, mournful, uplifiting and aggressive monoliths that you would expect from the band. The sequencing works better on the vinyl with the two long tracks - think classic GYBE symphonies designed to be listened to during a heavy storm - being placed either side of the 12" to make a wonderful 40 minute album, whilst the two shorter "drone" tracks (also good, but an acquired taste akin to Tangerine Dream's "Zeit" or Tony Conrad & Faust's "Beyond The Dream Syndicate") are kept together on the 7" as a beautifully unsettling side dish.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Heady Fwends

Well, after a 2 month delay, the 'proper' vinyl release of The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends has finally arrived.

Originally released as a very limited edition outside the UK as part of Record Store Day, it was inevitable that it would see the light in a non-limited form sooner rather than later.

The CD version came out in July, but I bet that's really boring to look at, unlike this beautiful headache-inducing package. Two uniquely coloured locked-groove discs with etched messages, contained in a sleeve that is all colour and no info.

Each song is a collaborative piece of cyberdelica, performed with the likes of Nick Cave, Ke$ha (yes, yes, I know what you're thinking. It's a great tune), Yoko Ono, Prefuse 73, Tame Impala and Bon Iver. The track with Chris Martin (available on the original RSD release) has been replaced by a new song with Aaron Behrens, presumably for some inexplicable licencing reason. It's a shame, because the Chris Martin song was quite good. Not that many people would admit to liking it, but that's their problem.

Go and buy it, listen to it and then put it on your wall as a piece of art.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Is it a postcard? Is it a record?

It's both.

The new single from Barry Adamson comes as a playable flexi-postcard with a barcode to scan for the download version.

The track, Brighton Rockers, is a brief but pleasing piece of dub, done in typical Adamson cinematic style. All proceeds go to CALM, so you really should buy a copy and then post it to a friend. Go to his website for more details and, while you're there, also buy his latest album 'I Will Set You Free', which is brilliant.

The question now is, where do I keep it? With my records? Or maybe I should stick it on the fridge.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Oi! Y Niwl! Where are your songs?

I love the fact that all Y Niwl's song titles are numbers - named in the order that they were written, which gives a certain amount of chronology to their releases. It also allows the songs to stand on their own merits rather than by any association with good or bad titles.

But it has made me curious - what has happened to the missing numbers? The world can remain unaware to unreleased/unrecorded songs by most bands. But there's no hiding the fact that Y Niwl have a song, somewhere, called "5" (or "Pump" in Welsh).

So here's the complete/missing songs released so far that I'm aware of. Anyone know the whereabouts of 5, 16 or 20?

1:   Un - first 7" single
2:   Dau - first 7" single
3:   Tri - first 7" single
4:   Pedwar - self-titled album
5: ???
6:   Chwech - self-titled album
7:   Saith - self-titled album
8:   Wyth - self-titled album
10:  Deg - self-titled album
11:  Undegun - self-titled album
12:  Undegdau - self-titled album
13:  Undegtri - self-titled album
14:  Undegpedwar - self-titled album
15:  Undegpump - self-titled album
16: ???
17:  Undegsaith - second 7" single
18:  Undegchwech - second 7" single
19:  Undegnaw - 'Y Niwl 4' 10" EP
20: ???
21:  Dauddegun - 'Y Niwl 4' 10" EP
22:  Dauddegdau - Y Niwl '4' 10" EP
23:  Dauddegtri - 'Y Niwl 4' 10" EP
24:  Dauddegpedwar - 'Y Niwl 4' 10" EP
25:  Dauddegpump - 'Y Niwl 4' 10" EP

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Pye Corner Audio - The Black Mill Tapes Volumes 1 & 2

I'm really enjoying this album at the moment. Collecting together two digital EP/LPs, this repress is available on tasty double grey vinyl (the original vinyl issue came on coloured or...yawn...black vinyl).
Sounding antiquated but timeless, and rich in melody and atmosphere, it's an exploration into the murky world of analogue synths. All the reviews I've read compare the music to the Radiophonic Workshop and Boards of Canada and, whilst they're right to mention these, it would be pointless for me to simply repeat what they have said, so can I just add the following reference points: Aphex Twin (Ambient Works), Cluster, The Human League (Introducing, Tom Baker, Dignity of Labour etc) and Harald Grosskopf. There you are, I feel much better for saying that now.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Aiming Toward The Sky - Grandaddy at The Ritz, Manchester

Although darlings of the music press, starting the gig with three songs from 'Sumday' - perceived by many critics as their weakest album - could be seen as a statement of intent: What do critics know eh? El Camino's In The West, Now It's On, and "Yeah" Is What We Had are up there with anything else in the Grandaddy Catalogue. Following these up with a b-side (Fare Thee Not Well Mutineer) showed this was going to be a masterclass in reforming for the right reasons.

Playing to a sell out crowd at the Ritz, what we got was something akin to a fan's dream set - album tracks, b-sides and a cover version (their blistering cover of Pavement's "Here", which originally appeared on the AM180 7" single). Naturally, they play a fair chunk of 'The Sophtware Slump' - an album that quite possibly outdoes OK Computer  with it's vision of machines living in a decaying future, but this is almost equalled by the number of 'Sumday' tracks. Of course, there's always going to be something else that they could/should have played, and an alternative setlist could be made by focussing on 'Under The Western Freeway' (2 songs played tonight) and their overlooked swansong 'Just Like the Fambly Cat' (clearly overlooked by the band too, as they didn't play any songs from this).

Although originally lumped in as being another Americana band, there's still something wonderfully unique about the Grandaddy sound - analogue keyboards sit (un)comfortably alongside the guitars, crunching chords are left floating mid air, motorik riffs underpin melodies to die for. Or, to reference one of their album sleeves, "sad strings, chunk chunk guitar, quiet vocal, end ahhhs, piano"; they do uplifting melancholy so much better than most bands.  And AM180 still has the most ridiculous hook in any song ever.

Ending the main set with where it all started for me, with the wonderful Laughing Stock (I can't remember what Piccadilly Records said about this single at the time, but it was enough for me to take a punt and buy it without hearing it), they return for two encores - The aforementioned Here and, finally, the nine-minute song that needs no chorus, He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot.

Here's the setlist (should you need it)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Keep Calm and Green Man 2012

A Green Man Festival 2012 review

Right, so I've just got back from this year's Greenman Festival and have washed off the mud from my legs. Here's what it was like....

Despite to torrential rain throughout Thursday night and most of Friday and briefly on Saturday morning and Sunday morning, the weather was pretty good. Seriously. The sun came out a lot, it got too hot at times and you could sit around and enjoy the music...as long as you could find somewhere dry to sit. I've been to festivals where the conditions have been much worse than this.

Anyway, here's some of the quite/very/exceptionally good stuff I caught...

So hip it hurts, Toy played an excellent set of Krautgothrock on the Far Out stage. Hopefully being flavour of the month with the hipsters won't result in a backlash and they can become as successful as anyone melding the sound of the Horrors with early Stereolab can ever be - like all the great bands, they make two chords go a long way and it has to be said, they are infinitely better than Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong ever were.

Friday's rain stopped in time for the return of Dexys who, despite the futile shouts for Geno (this isn't some "I love the 80s" return) performed the most remarkable set of the weekend - the nearest a gig has ever come to nearly making me cry for a long time. Rewriting some of the lyrics to old songs and setting them alongside the highlights of the new album, this was more a play set to music than a gig, revolving around the mental rehabilitation of Kevin and his ability/inability to fall in love, with vocals shared by Kevin (the male lead) with Pete Williams (his best friend/father) and Madeleine Hyland (the love interest).

The Junior Boys were probably just glad to play in a tent and not outside in the torrential rain as they did last time they played at the festival. They did good.

A couple of hours before Mogwai's headlining set on Friday I had the good fortune to meet Stuart and Barry from the band in the Rough Trade shop, so I quickly went and bought the San Pedro 7" and got them to sign it like the fanboy I am. Anyway, the band did exactly what you would want from them on a festival headline slot, with songs from last year's awesome Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will sitting comfortably alongside everything else in the set with the exception of the peerless Mogwai Fear Satan, whose thunder made the valley shake. It's just a shame it wasn't raining at this point as this is probably some of the best music you can set to stormy weather.

What was missing from the festival was Post Modernism, Lover's Rock, a middle aged white man rapping and oblique lyrical references to Immanuel Kant. Fortunately, Scritti Politti were on hand to set that right. I'd always understood that Green Gartside had a real aversion to playing live, but he showed himself to be a brilliant front man - witty, charming and self effacing. Yes, a lot of people were waiting for them to play the "hits" (they obliged), but the later material is equally strong, with the one NEW new song (which he hasn't finished writing yet) being one of the highlights of the gig.

Van Morrison was 'headlining' the Mountain Stage on the Saturday night. The funny thing was, he was on at 7:15pm, with 2 bands on after him. Anyway, whatever the reasons behind this decision his music is ideal for a sunny Saturday evening rather than late at night. Not that I saw any of his set, but it sounded great from back at the tent.

Field Music played their usual quality set of mini symphonies in 7/8 time. I've raved about them in a previous blog, so I won't say any more here.

tUnE-yArDs were another highlight, mainly to see quite how Merrill Garbus can transform the multi layered vocals/instruments/effects of her albums into the live setting. And the answer is via a live band, probably a Loop Station, her charisma and a lovely orange dress. It was quite brilliant and one of those true festival Sunday-feel-good sets. Mind you, it does you no harm when people get this view of your band on stage...

Other bands worth a mention include Alt-J, Jonathan Richman, King Charles, Ghostpoet and Dark Dark Dark and that guy dressed as a spaceman with his own mini-stage.

So, yeah, it was alright really.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Julian Cope's Copendium

Well this is a surprise. Not that Mr Cope has another book out, but that the "standard" edition of this book is out now rather than the scheduled release date of November. A deluxe signed version containing 3 CDs was released earlier this year and, costing over £100, I decided to wait for this more affordable version, which still feels pretty deluxe to me - in its hardback embossed, fake snakeskin cover.

So, after two autobiographies, two 'samplers' (covering rocks Kraut and Jap) and two books on the megaliths of Britain and Europe, comes Copendium. Subtitled "An Expedition into the Rock'n'Roll Underworld" this is, as with his other books and at almost 700 pages, what the terms 'weighty' and 'tome' were designed for.

I've not read the book yet (I only got it today), but I have read some of the chapters that appear in the book, as it has all appeared at some time on the Head Heritage website (so, if you're not interested in owning a book, it's all there for you to read for free). These aren't necessarily album reviews, they're more like essays on different artists using an album (or albums) as the central theme of the writing.

At a glance it's clear that this book - covering music from the outer reaches of rock over the last 60 years - is written with the same sense of drive and passion that has made his previous books such compelling reading, which means it's going to cost me a fortune; Krautrocksampler acted as a buyers guide during the mid-90s, Japrocksampler introduced me to the delights of the Flower Travellin' Band and Speed, Glue and Shinki. No doubt I will soon be tracking down albums by (*turns to random pages in the book*) Battiato, Factrix, Simply Saucer and Vibracathedral Orchestra.

Not that it's a complete exercise in obscurism though, so don't be frightened off - there's still space to write about James Brown, Comets On Fire, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Van Halen.

The comments by David Peace on the back state that this book "is unlike anything you have read before", which means that if you are interested in books or exploring music then this is essential reading. I'll let you know how I get on...

Friday, 27 July 2012

What does music look like?

So, I ran the...err...classic Aphex Twin tune that goes by the name of
∆Mᵢ⁻¹=−α ∑ Dᵢ[η][ ∑ Fjᵢ[η−1]+Fextᵢ [η⁻¹]]
              η=1            j∈C{ᵢ}
through a spectrograph to see what it "looks" like. I read about this around the time that the track was originally released, but only now have I decided to test it out for myself.

Anyway, approximately 5:27 into the track (i.e. near the end), the visualisation of the track looks like this....
...which isn't scary at all is it?

And here's a link to the sound that makes this image... A bit of Aphex Twin's [Formula]

Friday, 13 July 2012

2012 - Half time

When did 6-monthly music reviews become acceptable? What was wrong with end of year charts? Everyone seems to be publishing a "best of the year...so far" list at the moment - damn the internet, blogging and people's obsession with having an opinion.

Anyway, I WILL NOT MISS OUT ON THIS, so I've made a non-definitive rundown of some good to great albums of the last 6 months, based on what I've heard and what mood I'm in right now.

I feel sorry for the July-December albums - when do they get a chart of their own?


Where have you been?
Dexys - One Day I'm Going to Soar
To come back with possibly the best album of the year (so far) and of your career after 27 years is some feat.
Ultravox - Brilliant
This would make a great 9 track album. It's 12 tracks long. It may be patchy, but when it's good, it's very very VERY good.

Music that brings a smile to my face...
The 2 Bears - Be Strong
This has really given Hot Chip something to think about. It's just waiting for a summer to soundtrack
Orbital - Wonky
Especially for the 'arms in the air' final track. Reassuringly Orbitalesque.

So old it's new...
Can - The Lost Tapes
"but this is all old music, so it doesn't really count". It's old music that hasn't been released before, so it DOES count. It's my list.

New kids on the block...
Okay, so they're not technically new bands, but this is the first music I've heard by them. But well done to you if you heard of them before me.
Dead Mellotron - Glitter
I've only just bought this, so I may revise my opinion if I'm bored of it in 6 months time, but this post-shoegaze music sounds pretty good so far. It's released on Sonic Cathedral records and comes on clearish vinyl in a lovely glitter sleeve.
Pond - Beard, Wives, Denim
As a great DJ recently said: coming from the Flaming Lips school of Psychedelic Rock.
Not an album, but an EP that is so good I couldn't leave it out. See my earlier blog and the rest of the internet for more details.

More ideas than most bands manage in a lifetime...
Field Music - Plumb
Along with Dexys, a contender for best album of the year. It really has to be listened to in one sitting - not in a pretentious "ooh there's a concept to this album" way, more because some of the tracks sound like three songs in one, so it's hard to tell when a new song really does begin. Also, special mention for their Actually, Nearly 7" of Pet Shop Boys Covers.

Ouch....my brain hurts...
The Flaming Lips - Heady Fwends
Reigning in the sonic experimentation of Embryonic for this round up of collaborative recordings they've made over the last year. When I say "reigning in", this is the Flaming Lips and it's all relative.

Like an old friend, someone you can rely on...
Julian Cope - Psychedelic Revolution
This would be an even better album if he didn't swear so much so I could listen to it when my daughter is about.
Barry Adamson - I Will Set You Free 
Gone are the days of making soundtracks for imaginary films (he makes his own films now and then soundtracks them). Here is an album of 21st Century Soul.
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
Exactly what you would expect from Spiritualized - i.e. like the Velvet Underground in space.

If only they were signed to Warp Records...
Mouse on Mars - Parastrophies
...then they'd get the credit and reverence that they deserve. Another astonisingly unique album from MOM.

Someone who is signed to Warp Records...
Squarepusher - Infabulum
Do you know Squarepusher? If so, you'll like this.

The "It surprised me too" album...
The Maccabees - Given To The Wild
Apparently they were "Landfill Indie" a few years ago, now they are sounding like Arcade Fire jamming with Foals. Brian Eno should produce them.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The lost blog... 2011 - 21 albums

I found this unfinished and neglected blog post saved as a draft. In the spirit of bands releasing warts'n'all archive recordings of previously unreleased material, here is the blog as I found it - no remastering, editing or remixing has taken place...

Originally written December 2011:

A non-definitive list of recommended albums from 2011. I've deliberately omitted PJ Harvey from the list because you're probably sick of everyone telling you how good the album is.

Anyway, here it is, in alphabetical order as usual. Maybe you'll like some of them...

Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
AM go "pop"? Their best album yet? A return to form? (answers: "not quite", "possibly" and "no, they never lost it - Humbug was a great album"). Whatever the critics might have said, this is certainly more accessible than previous efforts and the influence of Richard Hawley and the 60s is apparent on a number of these tracks.

Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
or "Hot Sauce Committee with a slightly amended tracklisting". This covers pretty much all bases for the Beastie Boys, from the punk-hop of "Lee Majors Comes Again" to the classic BB sound of "Make Some Noise", via the smoker's delight that is "Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament".

Bibio – Mind Bokeh
Bibio makes "lovely" music don't you think? Even when he's doing his best Phil Lynott impression on "Take Off Your Shirt". Get the limited edition packaging, get your cameras out and make your own Bokeh. Eh?

James Blake – James Blake
Seen as a disappointment by those who thought it was uncool for James Blake to be good looking and to start singing on his records. The rest of it thought it was a beautiful, bold, sparse effort. And as for the bass when I saw him live at the Green Man Festival....

Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Adding a couple of layers of keyboards and effects to his sound was a brave move, but it works - I guess that's what happens when you hang out with Kanye West for too long. "Beth/Rest" in particular is stunning, sounding like the sort of tune you'd listen late on a summers evening.

Euros Childs – Ends
The seventh solo album in 6 years from Euros was a stripped back affair, featuring just vocals and piano on the majority of tracks. He's reigned in his "messing about as if no one is going to hear the results" approach to songwriting to put together his second fully coherent set of tunes of the year.

Julian Cope – The JEHOVAHCOAT Demos
A set of (previously) unreleased material from the Autogeddon era. Mostly instrumental, this could have easily fallen into his classic "Rite" series of albums - sounding like a threeway fight between Funkadelic, Can and Hawkwind.

Destroyer – Kaputt
Those lazy comparisons with Sade from some corners of the music press didn't really do anyone any favours did they? I can't imagine many Sade fans liking this album. Yeah, it's got saxophones on it and it sounds "a bit 80s", but it's probably got more in common with Leonard Cohen's classic "I'm Your Man" than Diamond Life. Here's what I said about it earlier this year: Destroyer - Kaputt

Baxter Dury – Happy Soup
Sounding more and more like his dad, this is a collection of three minute new wave pop nuggets.

The Field - Looping State of Mind
Is this as good as 2009's "Yesterday and Today"? I've not listened to it enough yet, but the early signs are promising...

Ford and Lopatin – Channel Pressure
I remember being laughed at for buying the first Zoot Woman album in 2001 - it (and me) being seen as taking irony a step too far with that whole 80s sound. But that album now seems so ahead of it's time with 80's sound. Anyway, this album doesn't really sound like Zoot Woman other than the dreamy vocals

Holy Ghost! – Holy Ghost!
Didn't really have a lot to say about this at the time, other than I liked it. This review seems to sum it up... Holy Ghost

Jonny – Jonny
Euros Childs (Gorky's Zygotic Mynci) and Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub). Sadly their ode to Gloria Estefan didn't make it onto the album

Junior Boys – It’s All True

Low – C’Mon

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
The great forgotton album of 2011? I don't think I've seen this in any "best of the year" lists yet, which is a massive oversight because this is one of Mogwai's finest yet. "limited" copies included the stunningly beautiful 23-minute "Music for a forgotten future".

Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
What he said: Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica

Peaking Lights – 936
The aural equivalent of a half forgotten memory of a summer spent listing to a radio station playing dub, post punk and Saint Etienne.

Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo
Sounds just as you would expect from Gruff Rhys.

Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk – Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk
After the disappointing (to me) "Goodbye" album, it was nice to find Mr Schnauss returning to his classic Slowdive vs OMD sound.

Soft Metals - Soft Metals
I wish this had been the new Human League album, rather than the it-has-it's-moments-but-note-enough-of-them album they did release.

Suuns – Zeroes QC

Wilco – The Whole Love
Containing some of their poppiest tunes since "Summerteeth" and most out there moments since "A Ghost Is Born"

Wooden Shjips - West
More of the same, but different. There's a grand total of two chords on this album - both of 'em good uns.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Can - The Lost Tapes

Most "previously unreleased" compilations, although worthy, rarely amount to much more than a fans-only selection of variable quality. This, on the other hand, is astounding - three CDs of previously unreleased songs, works in progress and live tracks, spanning from 1968 to 1977.

I was intending to review this album, but I've just realised that I simply don't have sufficient grasp on the English language, or know enough adjectives, to do justice to this release. All I will say is that The Lost Tapes is up there with the greatest music that Can have ever made, which happens to be some of the greatest and most influential music of all time - just ask John Lydon or Kanye West - and still no one has ever come close to sounding like Can. They are one of the few truly unique bands in the history of music. 

Having said that, I'm sure a lot of people will moan that there's not enough choruses.

Here's one of my current favourites from the release...

Friday, 1 June 2012


Whilst I'm waiting for the vinyl version to arrive in the post, here's my thoughts on the digital version...

You'd think I'd get bored of that whole 40 year old Neu! Motorik groove that bands keep peddling (see my future blog for how Neu! have become one of the most important bands in rock ever), but once in a while something comes along that reinvigorates the sound and takes the music somewhere new. Spitfire by PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING (always in capitals - it's important!) is one of such moment.

6 Music have already fallen in love with the track, with a number of their DJs fighting to claim bragging rights to who is their biggest fan (the prize goes to Tom Robinson for getting in there first back in 2009, whilst we were all oblivious to the band's charms) and now it seems as though the rest of the sane world is following suit.

If you haven't heard the song yet, then you can give it a listen , and watch the remarkable video here...

But one song does not maketh a great band, so what are the other tracks on the EP like? Well, like all their stuff (check out the equally excellent EP One and Roygbiv), the tracks lean heavily on the use of public information and WWII propaganda films - as the band say, they "teach the lessons of the past with the music of the future". There's nothing as instant or uptempo as Spitfire on the EP - it's more head nodding rocktronica (sorry!) with banjos than all out assault on the senses - but it's still pretty fantastic. The thing plays out like a concept EP starting with the outbreak of war and made all the more moving by sampled speech throughout, culminating in the touching Waltz for George (the EP is dedicated to J Willgoose Esquire's great uncle George, who was killed in Dunkirk during WWII, and the track is played on his old banjolele).

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Monday, 21 May 2012

Squarepusher - Ufabulum

The new Squarepusher album sounds a lot like, umm, err, Squarepusher.

Well, what did you expect?

Okay, to be more explicit - gone (or toned down at least) is the fusion sound of Just a Souvenir and the Daft-Punk-Go-R'n'B of the Shobaleader One album, and for those who often felt that some Squarepusher tracks were "a bit much", you'll be reassured to know that the kitchen sink approach (see the brilliantly bonkers "The Modern Bass Guitar" from 2006's Hello Everything) has been toned down...a bit. Even his bass guitar has taken a back seat for now.

What you get instead is the sound of classic Squarepusher - rich but complex rhythms and melodies, and frequent use of highly synth-etic orchestral sounds that he loves so much. It's also remarkably accessible (for him). There's not much point in me doing a track by track review, but I will say that right now I'm listening to Dark Steering, which manages to be funky, heavy as hell and playful at the same time.

The artwork and packaging is another Warp records masterpiece. Two discs in individual sleeves, a CD EP and a 12" booklet of photos, which are all finished off with a nice high gloss - you know, the type that immediately shows up ALL your fingerprints when you touch it.

Best of all the box that holds it all together, which printed phosphorescent ink so it goes from looking like this during the day...
To something like this at night...
If I had a better camera / grasp of Photoshop, then this would look even more impressive, but you'll just have to go out and buy the album instead...

Saturday, 19 May 2012

From "Tonight" to "This Is What She's Like"

Two songs I've just played on Chorlton FM got me thinking about their lyrics and how they are head and shoulders above so much that is out there...

Iggy Pop - Tonight
"I saw my baby, she was turning blue".

Not the happiest of starts to a song I admit, but the sentiment at the heart of the song really is quite beautiful. It's rumoured to be about someone dying of a heroin overdose but it still conveys more emotion and says more than a thousand power ballads ever could.

It's arguably the song most likely to make me cry (not really cry obviously, but...err...nearly cry) - essentially Iggy is singing words of reassurance to a loved one who is on their death bed. The last verse is the one that really gets you, where Iggy stops singing to her and starts singing about her, at which point you know here life IS through.

Actually the only song more likely to make me cry is David Bowie and Tina Turner's cover version, where they ripped the soul out of the song and left it for dead in the gutter.

Dexy's Midnight Runners - This is What She's Like
This has to be the noblest attempt to describe someone and express how you feel about them ever. Anyone can sing "I love you" without really meaning it, so often it sounds like some trite half baked lyric, but few are able to try and express how they feel and sound so sincere as in this song.

What starts out as an awkward conversation between Kevin Rowland and Billy Adams turns into, over the course of 12 minutes, Kevin trying his best to explain how he feels about the girl in his life. But he can't - all he can do is list the kind of people he hates and everything that she most definitely isn't -  you know, the usual things such as the upper classes, people who put creases in their jeans and those who use words like "super" and fabulous" all the time.

"What's she like?" Billy keeps asking.
"In time, in time" is all Kevin can reply.

In the end he resorts to a singing a wordless melody to describe her. "oh, I see - she must be something" goes Billy. "I don't speak Italian myself....but I knew a man who did" Kevin summarises. Err...quite.

It's hilarious, stunning and bang on the mark. Looking forward to more of the same on their forthcoming album.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Check Your Head

I was thinking of this album earlier today and wanted to get home to listen to it. A friend had just posted an adapted version of the album cover online (renaming the album 'check your shoes', relating to his inability to leave the house with matching footwear) and I had So What'cha Want running through my mind.. .

Then, a couple of hours later the tragic news came through that MCA had died. Now, normally when someone dies I see a handful of comments amongst my friends online paying their respects and not much else. However, in this instance my news feed was immediately flooded with friends expressing their sadness at his passing - I've never seen so many people comment on someone in such a short space of time. It shows what a huge impact the Beastie Boys had - putting out a run of hugely entertaining, eclectic and innovative albums right up to last year's Hot Sauce Committee pt 2 - that moved so many of us.

Check Your Head just shades it for me as being their finest work, where they sound for the first time like a real band - or should I say like a dozen bands, such is the range of styles and genres they mesh together. It's one of my favourite albums from the last 20 years. Pass The Mic...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Record Store Day 2012

Another year, another early morning queuing up for records. The first time I took part in Record Store Day was in 2009; I arrived at Piccadilly Records at 9:40am - twenty minutes before it opened - where we (it was a family outing then) stood outside sheepishly with another 6 or 7 people. Since then I've got there earlier and earlier each year, only to find myself further and further back in the queue. Here's the queue that greeted me on arrival this year at 6:30am (I joined the queue just before it spiralled round onto Tib Street).

So I was glad that this year Piccadilly Records decided to open at 8, to save me waiting too long outside in the rain (yes, we had about an hour of fairly relentless rain to cope with) - still, I didn't get served until 10:30, so that's still a pretty long wait. Luckily I had the company of my next door neighbour, Queen lover (the band) and all-round audiophile, Gary (on the look out for a 45rpm high quality vinyl pressing of a Fleetwood Mac album), and a couple of blokes who shared the same sort of passion for music as we did. Oh, and some free teabags courtesy of Yorkshire Tea.

So, here's this year's booty...

John Cale - Extra Playful: Transitions 12" EP
BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Out of this World LP
Richard Hawley - Leave Your Body Behind 10"
Tindersticks - Medicine 10"
Billy Bragg and Wilco - The Complete Mermaid Avenue Sessions 3xCD and DVD
Futureheads - The No. 1 Song In Heaven 7"
Mouse on Mars/Prefuse 73 - 7" split single
Arctic Monkeys - R U Mine/Electricity 7"
Graham Coxon - What'll it Take 7"
Orbital - Wonky (remixes) 7"
Field Music - Actually, Nearly 7"
Belle and Sebastien - Crash 7"

Plenty of great stuff to keep my ears busy for a while...

Good as it is, I do think it's time for a rethink with the way Record Store Day is run - I'm sure it's doing wonders for promoting and supporting independent record stores, but I'm not convinced that labels pressing such small quantities of "exclusive" releases is the right way to go, especially when it creates such a mad panic amongst fans, who will camp outside all night to try and get a copy before it ends up on Ebay for a hugely inflated price. And as for the in store prices? Well, do people really want to pay £17.99 for an Arcade Fire 12"?! I'm all for saving record stores, but not if it means fleecing the fans.

Having said all that, you can guarantee that I'll be down there next year - probably from 6am this time.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Orbital's Wonky Vinyl

Live review alert. I'm listening to this for the first time right NOW and typing this up as I listen..

So far? Well most of the reviews I read seem to be aligning this album with a return to the Green and Brown albums - can't hear it myself, I think it's wishful thinking on their part that Orbital are going back to their old school (skool?) roots.

Opening track "One Big Moment" does take us straight away into familiar Orbital territory, but it's the Orbital of In Sides or The Middle of Nowhere (a vastly underrated album) that immediately spring to mind - all shimmering melodies and crunchy beats. Yep, the next two tracks confirm I'm definitely listening to an Orbital album.

The single "New France", featuring Zola Jesus, is good but so far sounds like one of the albums weaker moments; why do people insist on releasing the tracks featuring another artist as singles, irrespective of whether they are the strongest tracks on the album? Is it just to boost sales by appealing to both sets of fans? Anyway, the song's a bit better than the next track, "Distractions", which is okay, but sounds like it's been lifted off Kraftwerk's Tour De France Soundtracks.

Oh, hang on, it's picking up again and they've got the rez filters over the top of the lovely melody of "Stingy Acid". "Beelzedub" is, apparently, their attempt at doing dubstep, not that it's that obvious - especially when it kicks into some good old drum'n'bass about 4 minutes in.

The title track is possibly the least Orbital track here, but it's still pretty good, especially the bits that sound like there's a drunk fly stuck in your speakers. And closing track "Where is it Going?" just makes me smile, in that way that Orbital tracks make you smile, knowing that everything is going to be OK.

So, yes, it sounds like the Orbital of old, but we're definitely talking a slightly beefed up In Sides Orbital, which is a very, very good thing indeed.

Welcome back lads, I've missed you.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Field Music's Plumb

This incredibly inventive album plays like a 36 minute suite over fifteen short songs. The album flows so smoothly that at times it's almost impossible to tell where one songs ends and another begins - of course this is made more difficult by each song packing in more melodies and ideas into under three minutes than most bands manage in a lifetime.

I recently - and rather crudely - described Field Music to a friend as being the missing link between The Futureheads and Fleetwood Mac, a comparison that I'm sure many will dispute, but it served it's purpose and there is some truth in those reference points, I just omitted a hundred other bands that spring to mind when listening to this album, such as Supertramp and XTC and the Beach Boys and Calexico and Foals, and...err..Marillion circa Misplaced Childhood. Oh, and Field Music too, because, despite the eclecticism that is on display here, there's something incredibly unique in this music that makes 'sounds like Field Music' a valid reference point.

The album comes on lovely 'plum' (yes, yes, very funny) coloured vinyl and sounds fantastic - as the sleevenotes say 'in order to preserve sonic fidelity, this record has been mastered using significantly less compression and limiting than most contemporary records. For your maximum listening pleasure, please turn your stereo system UP!'. Not that this will be of concern to most fans of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (if you want to know what I mean by this, read the chapter on 'The Story of the Band That Clipped Itself to Death' in Greg Milner's superb book "Perfecting Sound Forever").

Oh, and if you buy it from Piccadilly Records in Manchester now, it comes with a lovely exclusive free 'studio sessions' 7 track CD.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Me, Dave and "Heroes"

Because it's his birthday...

Widely acknowledged as Bowie's finest moment, "Heroes" makes a pretty strong case for being my favourite song of all time; romantic, modern, ironic, iconic - it's such a remarkable piece of music. But it wasn't the studio version that I first liked, it was the pretty awesome Live Aid version from 1985.

I liked Bowie when I was younger, you know, in the way that young kids "love" bands - I liked the stuff I heard on the radio but it never went any further than that. But then his Live Aid performance changed everything, no doubt helped by Thomas Dolby on keyboards trying his best to emulate Billy Currie's synth sounds. This was "charming" Dave Bowie - not the androgynous alien of the 70s - turning one of his minor hits into a stadium anthem.

So, a few months later, and unlike the rest of the world after Live Aid who seemed intent on re-buying Queen's Greatest Hits, I decided that I had to get the Bowie album that had "Heroes" on it, which was helpfully also called "Heroes". I told one of my brothers of this exciting news, but he advised me to get Ziggy Stardust instead, as that was “a classic” album. Ignoring his advice I bought "Heroes", not being quite prepared for what the album had in store for me....

Where were all the uplifting pop songs? What about the sing-a-long choruses? Most songs on side one seemed to be immersed in an atonal wall of noise, whilst side two was mostly electronic instrumentals – like a darker take on side 2 of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn...BUT, my what songs! And what a noise! I didn't have a clue what was going on, but I liked it. Twenty six years later I'm still trying to get my head round this album - each listen feels as though I'm hearing the album for the first time, with new sounds, melodies and words jumping out. It is arguably his finest and most influential achievement...well, one of them anyway.

And who was this Eno person that kept cropping up on in my record collection? First with Ultravox! Then on a couple of Talking Heads records and U2's The Unforgettable fire and now this? I really must find out more.

People often talk about "life changing" music, by which they usually mean "a record that I really really like", but then I wonder what my life would be like now if I hadn't heard this song in 1985, or what would have happened if I'd followed my brother's advice. I'd certainly have a very different record collection.