What I’ve been up to elsewhere…part 1: Gary Numan

As many of you will know, I also write regularly for God Is In The TV. I’m one of many contributors, and I’ve been quite busy over there of late. It’s a site that’s well worth reading if yu don’t do so already.

One of the reviews I’ve just had published over there is Gary Numan’s latest album Savage: Songs From A Broken World. You can read the review on the site …and why not whet your appetite before you do?

 

 

 

 

Album Review – Miles Hunt & Erica Nockells

We Came Here To Work is Hunt and Nockalls’ third album together. The frontman of The Wonder Stuff and his partner, Stuffies violinist Nockalls have previously released two studio albums together, 2007’s Not An Exit and 2009’s Catching More Than We Miss. In the press release accompanying the new album, Hunt explains that “The music that The Wonder Stuff make is for nights out with your friends, what Erica and I have hopefully done with ‘We Came Here To Work’ is make music for nights spent at home in more genteel company.

Take it from me, Messrs Hunt and Nockalls have certainly succeeded. The album opens with the gorgeous and wistful reflection on getting older that is ‘When The Currency Was Youth.’ It sets the tone for the album with Hunt’s lyricism mixing with Nockalls’ harmonies and string arrangements. ‘When the currency was youth/our pockets were so much deeper‘, he reflects. True, dat. You can trace a direct line between a song like this and earlier Wonder Stuff songs like ‘Caught In My Shadow’ and ‘Sleep Alone.’

This is very much an album built on a partnership; Nockalls’ arrangements aren’t just a backing for Hunt’s songs – they’re something special in and of themselves. The solo on ‘Waste Some Time With Me’ in itself is enough to make your heart flutter. Sure The Wonder Stuff may be best remembered for ‘The Size Of A Cow’ – but this album reminds us just how strong a singer-songwriter Miles Hunt really is. Often acerbic, but frequently able to stop you in your tracks with a single couplet. Joined together, it’s clear that this is not simply a stopgap or side project; rather it’s two very talented musicians producing an album that is the sum of both their parts and that they are worthy as an act in and of themselves.

Other highlights of the album include the stark ‘If I Were You’ which lambasts how a partner left a relationship, ‘Waste Some Time With Me’ and ‘A Matter Of Circumstance.’ Sometimes, lesser singer-songwriter records simply fade into the background, and repeated listens show up the serious shortcomings of the material therein. What listeners get with this album is a partnership which has gifted the world a strong collection of songs that in delivery provide a joy to listen to, and successive listening reveals the deeper strands making up the work.

A night at home in genteel company with this album seems like a fantastic way to spend an evening as autumn approaches!

We Came Here To Work is released on 8th September through Good Deeds Records.

Album Review – LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem -‘American Dream.’ (DFA/Columbia)

James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem exploded onto the music scene in 2002 with the release of their debut single ‘Losing My Edge.’ Like all great debut singles should do, it sounded like a manifesto. Over the mocking tale of an aging hipster, musically it bridged the re-emerging interest in post-punk sounds with cool as anything dance music, that was anything but faceless. It still stands as one of the greatest tracks of the 2000s. Over the course of the decade, they released three studio albums which won not only critical acclaim but chart success in both the UK and the US. After playing a farewell show at Madison Square Garden in 2011, Murphy split up the band.

Since then, of course, he’s kept himself busy, amongst other things working with Arcade Fire (there’s definite parallels with American Dream and the Canadian’s recent, underrated Everything Now ) and remixing David Bowie.The latter reportedly convinced Murphy to reform the band. Of course, there’s a million bands who have reformed and left fans wishing that they hadn’t (though it’s pertinent to wonder whether many of those people aren’t having to depend on music to pay their bills). Yet, overall, this record feels like it has been worthwhile.

The first new music to emerge from the album was the AA-side of  ‘Call The Police’/’ American Dream.’ Excellent tracks, both, and providing a fine examples of two very different musical approaches running through the album. As you would expect, there are a number of tracks that sound most at home on the dancefloor, and ‘Police’ is one of them. However, as the title track indicated, the album is unquestionably the darkest of their four studio albums, and there’s a definite nod to both The Cure circa Faith and Pornography and Joy Division on the album’s centrepiece, nine-minute long  ‘How Do You Sleep?’

Murphy has, of course, always been something of a musical magpie: talent borrows, genius steals, as the old cliché has it. ‘Tonite’ and ‘Change Yr Mind’ are evocative of early 1980s Talking Heads, a band who were producing music that pointed the way for ‘indie-dance’ sounds that would emerge at the end of that decade. It does feel, though, that this album has Murphy wearing his influences on his sleeve rather more than he ever has before.

Many albums reveal more with successive listens (which is perhaps why I’m still not keen on reviews that highlight just a couple of tracks for the reader to stream later on). It has to be said that this album may not quite reach the heights of the first two LCD Soundsystems’ – though those are pretty big landmarks in any music fan’s book. Yet in a year that has also seen a number of other acts producing comeback albums (Ride and Slowdive spring to mind), this stands comfortably alongside them. It’s a successful comeback album – and hopefully will see Murphy stretch himself further on future albums.

***1/2

is released on September 1 on DFA/Columbia

Album Review – Underworld (re-issue)

Underworld -‘Beaucoup Fish’ (Universal)

Look over the best-of lists for 1999, easy enough to find on the internet (though I personally recommend www.rocklist.co.uk) and what is clear is just how much awesome dance music was being made in Britain at the time. Underworld’s third album came out the same year as Basement Jaxx’s Remedy, Death In Vegas’s The Contino Sessions, Chemical Brothers’ Surrender, Orbital’s The Middle Of Nowhere and Leftfield’s Rhythm and Stealth. Sure, a lot of it may have been overshadowed by the unstoppable juggernaut that was Moby’s Play (which by the end of 2000 seemed like it should have been titled Overplayed. Then again, none of the U.K. acts had licensed every single track for adverts.)

By this stage, it was over a decade since acid house, and with legal challenges affecting the dance scene – most notably, the notorious Criminal Justice Act with its’ fear of repetitive beats – the era of the super club was underway. There’d been many different strands of dance music appear, both homegrown and imported, and acts like Underworld demonstrated that they could incorporate many of them within the same album. Underworld didn’t tend to work with featured vocalists (many of their contemporaries snapped up indie stars to front their singles); along with the Prodigy’s Keith Flint, Karl Hyde was one of the few dance music frontmen.

Beaucoup Fish opens with the epic, near-12 minute long ‘Cups.’ The press release describes this as ‘Windy City meets Motor City meets Thames Estuary swoop’ and this is pretty accurate. Proper dance aficionados knew – and know that where the US was concerned it was Chicago House, Detroit Techno, and New York Garage. Here is a band who know their roots, setting it out in a British style. From there, it’s onto the urgency of the album’s first single ‘Push Upstairs.’ Nearly twenty years since its release, it’s still thrillingly urgent; music to lose yourself or, just as likely, find yourself, in. Like much of the best music you’ll find in the dance/electronica section, Underworld made music that was for the heart and head as much as for the feet, as demonstrated by ‘Winjer.’

There are one or two moments where the record drops. The opening thirty seconds of ‘Shudder/King Of Snake’ with its willfully out of tune ambience seems more appropriate to a Boards Of Canada track. All is forgiven, though, as the group suddenly run off with Giorgio Moroder’s blueprint for Donna Summer’s evergreen ‘I Feel Love.’ ‘Bruce Lee’ feels somewhat incomplete as a piece to be on the album.

Yet listened to as a whole, the album comes across as exciting and thrilling. Underworld were – and are – a band capable of understanding that you could experiment and still have hit singles. The album hangs together well, overall, slowly letting you back down to earth at the end with the coda of ‘Moaner,’ as if reconnecting  you with the world.

As a deluxe edition, there’s a whopping three extra discs of additional material. The second disc features previously unreleased out takes from the sessions, while the final two discs feature a whole range of remixes. From the outtakes ‘Nifter’ and ‘Ramajama’ are gorgeously hypnotic, and the version of ‘Bruce Lee’ is perhaps preferable to the album version. 

The sheer number of remixes across the two discs is quite bewildering, and quite a lot to take in one sitting (or should that be hearing?) certainly worth checking out are the Salt City Orchestra remix and Fatboy Slim’s not too big beat actually ‘King Of Snake,’ the latter running riot with squelchy 303ness.

As a whole package, this may appear to be for completists and die-hardship but that is to miss the point of showing how comprehensive re-issue packages should be. Yes it reflects dance culture at a certain time, but it deserves to be commemorated. Added to which, it’s interesting to hear the original album alongside demos and to hear the remixes inspired and commissioned. Underworld are still going strong – last year’s Barbara, Barbara We Face A Shining Future is worth checking out – and this is as good a reminder as any that there was so much more to them than just ‘Born Slippy.’

****

Live review – Lift To Experience/Meursault

Lift To Experience/Meursault

Summerhall, Edinburgh, August 17, 2017

Meursault frontman Neil Pennycook is a busy man. Just six months after the release of the band’s fourth album (sort of a comeback, in that the act had been retired in 2014) I Will Kill Again, he’s already finished the next album in the last week. Given that that album is one of the highlights of 2017, expectations are already high. Not a man to rest for long, he is joined tonight by singer and violinist Robyn Dawson for an excellent set.

Part of the appeal of Meursault is the way Pennycook and cohorts don’t feel the need to play the game that other bands would. So instead of repeatedly pushing the last album and the new one, they play a handful of covers alongside with their own material. ‘This is my new thing. I play covers and say who wrote them at the end,’ deadpans Neil. This includes local and associated acts Viking Moses and Rob St. John (the latter now making series waves as part of Modern Studies), as well as a gorgeous version of Hank WIlliams’ ‘I Heard My Mother Praying For Me.’ For those who have yet to see Meursault live, it’s worth noting that there’s a fabulous counterpoint between the songs’ fragile beauty and Neil’s uplifting onstage banter. Despite the fact that the headliners may make music that at times it seems will melt you face (more about them later), Robyn and Neil hold the crowd rapt. And as an old adage has it, talent borrows, genius steals: hearing ‘I Will Kill Again’ live and hearing how it incorporates Vince Guaraldi’s ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ shows just what a clever steal it was.

Everyone knows about the statement about The Velvet Underground & Nico (google it, it’s become too much of a cliché to repeat, however true it is), but the legend around Lift To Experience has grown over the past few years. What is clear is this: the band were and are singer-guitarist Josh T. Pearson, bassist Josh ‘The Bear’ Browning and drummer Andy ‘The Boy’ Young. When they performed at SXSW in 2000, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde of Bella Union were so impressed they signed the band to their label that very day. Legendary DJ John Peel was so impressed by them that they recorded three sessions for his programme in 2001 in the space of just five months (to put this in some kind of context, not even The Fall did that). That year they released their one and only album The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads; a double album about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ that casts Texas as the Promised Land. What could have fallen flat on its face is a staggering piece of work – and in some ways feels likie a cousin to Slint’s Spiderland. (Whether the band actually split or not after the release of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads or not depends on what you read.)

Having reformed for shows last year, the band have now remixed and re-released the album this year, with more shows following. By the time they walk onstage at Summerhall, anticipation has reached quite a level. Josh T. Pearson has shaved off his hellfire preacher beard and with his cowboy hat looks like a cool Texan dude, which with that accent, he most definitely is. And so it begins…

It’s not just the religious themes on the record: it must be said that watching Lift To Experience live -and even more so, seeing their effect on the crowd, is akin to some kind of religious experience. It’s a wonderful, wailing wall of sound that seems to run the gamut of human emotion, and quite staggering the think that this is just the work of three people. Seeing the crowd move almost in time, swaying to the sounds produced onstage, hypnotised, mesmerised, is really quite something.

Sure the album’s still fantastic. Live it really is taken to a whole new level. It isn’t everything but the kitchen sink (no hip-hop beats or sequencer bleeps), but what is impressive is just how much is mixed in. On one level, there’s the shoegazer-indie-post-rock axis. But then add hints of Americana, spirituals and gospel…there’s few that could even dream of trying to take this template. When Josh calls ‘The Ground So Soft’ a gospel song, it really is.

It’s not to say that the gig passes entirely smoothly. There are a few technical hitches – but the crowd, including yours truly, will forgive them anything. When Josh apologises, one audience member shouts ‘Never apologise!’ This isn’t blind devotion, but a sense that it’s worth it. For the encore, aware of where he is, Josh comes on to do a cover of the old Scottish folk song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ which works perfectly as an idea, and even if the delivery is slightly shambolic, it all feels part of the same glorious package.

Paying tribute to those caught up in the horrors in Barcelona, Josh tells us ‘God Bless You. He means it. We file out into the open air, ears ringing, wowed.

Track of the day #47: Rat & Co.

Australian trio Rat & Co. will release their new album Third Law on August 25. The theme of the album is a futuristic world in which artificial intelligence has taken over. Ahead of it, they have unveiled a new track ‘Control.’

It compliments previous single ‘Soldiers‘ and the appropriately named ‘A.I.’ by adding Joshua Delaney’s otherworldy vocoder vocal to the track. Whilst Boards of Canada are clearly an influence, the icy post-punk pop sound adds a fresh layer of auible foreboding, reflecting a world where the news just gets darker by the day, and within the music it’s a post-apocalyptic feel; made even darker by the sense that there’s something to be feared – but what?

Delaney’s lyrics hold an authoritative tone as they guide you through the track, despite the uncertain message… unfold control, we are the other one, the other one, our hearts are cold, we’ll start again, just start again’.

Who knows what the coming weeks will hold? One thing’s for sure: assuming we haven’t descended into a nuclear winter, Rat & Co. will likely be providing the soundtrack for the coming months…

 

 

 

Getting ready for the new Mogwai album

Even into my forties, there’s still a number of bands for whom the release of a new album remains An. Event. Near the top of that list is Mogwai, who will release their ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun on September 1.

The album tracklisting is as follows:

1. Coolverine
2. Party In The Dark
3. Brain Sweeties
4. Crossing The Road Material
5. aka 47
6. 20 Size
7. 1000 Foot Face
8. Don’t Believe The Fife
9. Battered At A Scramble
10. Old Poisons
11. Every Country’s Sun

So far, two videos have been unveiled by the band for the album ‘Coolverine’ and ‘Party In The Dark.’  Two very different songs, two very different videos – but as ever, unmistakeably Mogwai.

 

The band’s world tour begins next week, and concluded with a massive show in Glasgow in December:

19 August – Hostess Club All-Nighter, Chiba
8 September – Festival No.6, Portmeirion
10 October – Rockefeller, Oslo
11 October – Nobelberget, Stockholm
12 October – KB, Malmo
13 October – Vega, Copenhagen
14 October – Columbiahalle, Berlin
16 October – Docks, Hamburg
17 October – E-Werk, Koeln
18 October – Aeronef, Lille
20 October – AB Main Hall, Brussels
21 October – AB Main Hall, Brussels
22 October – Tivoli Vredenburg Ronda, Utrecht
23 October – Grand Rex, Paris
25 October – Riviera, Madrid
26 October – Reithalle @ Kaserne Basel, Basel
27 October – Fabrique, Milan
28 October – Atlantico, Rome
29 October – Estragon, Bologna
31 October – Roxy, Prague
1 November – Arena, Vienna
2 November – Täubchenthal, Leipzig
3 November – Backstage, Munich
18/19 November – Corona Capital Fest, Mexico
20 November – Observatory N. Park, San Diego
21 November – Belasco Theater, Los Angeles
22 November – Regency Ballroom, San Francisco
23 November – Roseland Theater, Portland
24 November – The Showbox, Seattle
25 November – Commodore Ballroom. Vancouver
28 November – Ogden Theatre, Denver
30 November – The Waiting Room, Omaha
1 December – First Avenue, Minneapolis
2 December – House of Blues, Chicago
3 December – Majestic Theatre, Detroit
5 December – Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
6 December – Corona Theatre, Montreal
7 December – Royale Nightclub, Boston
8 December – Terminal 5, New York
9 December – Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia
10 December – 9:30 Club, Washington
15 December – O2 Academy Brixton, London
16 December – The SSE Hydro, Glasgow

 

 

 

Album Review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson -‘ Acoustic Classics II.’ (Beeswing)

There’s no shortage of half-century anniversaries to mark in the music world this year. Whether it’s Sergeant Pepper, Forever Changes or The Velvet Underground & Nico (to list three of a very long list indeed), it’s important to note that this year marks fifty years since Richard Thompson, then still a teenager, co-formed Fairport Convention, thus paving the way for British folk-rock.

Since then, of course, he’s been very highly regarded – and perhaps surprisingly, his highest charting works solo have been over the last ten years. One of those was the first Acoustic Classics album. As with this volume, it’s not a stopgap release. Rather, whilst an excellent electric guitarist and bandleader, the strength of Thompson’s singing, guitar playing and songwriting means that stripped down to just voice and acoustic guitar the listener gets a new insight into fourteen songs from his spectacular back catalogue.

It’s a fairly wide selection across his career. From the Fairport Convention days there’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge;’ from the days when he played with his wife Linda ‘Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair’ and from the last thirty years there’s ‘Pharoah’ from Amnesia, ‘Keep Your Distance’ from Rumor & Sigh (a contender for his best album) and ‘Bathsheba Smiles’ from Mock Tudor. They may be less well-known songs than those represented on the first Acoustic album, but none the worse for that.

What both Acoustic albums – and there’s more on the way, apparently – manage to achieve is that due to to the sheer magic contained within, they stand as albums in their own right. This album is perhaps darker – demonstrating that along with the humour displayed in his work (check out ‘Hots For The Smarts’ or ‘Don’t Step On My Jimmy Shands’), there is ability to reflect the variance of all human emotion within his work.

Whether this is the best place to start with Richard Thompson’s work (shame on you! Get with the programme, Godammit), as opposed to a compilation of better-known tracks is open to debate. Half a century’s work that has been covered by artists as diverse as Dinosaur Jr, Elvis Costello and June Tabor (and that’s a small list of those who have covered his work) is going to give a lot of people a lot of individual favourites. For my money, it demonstrates an important cross-section of his work, showing why he is so highly regarded and why his fanbase continues to grow. Hell, while many artists of his age are losing their singing voices, Thompson sounds ever more powerful.

If you haven’t heard Richard Thompson’s work before, there’s nothing to be lost by starting here. If you are an afficianado, you’ll want this as a wonderfully listenable example of his work.

Acoustic Classics is released on August 11.

Live Review – P J Harvey

Photo credit: Beth Chalmers/Edinburgh International Festival (used with permission)

PJ Harvey

Edinburgh Playhouse, August 7, 2017

It’s now 25 years since PJ Harvey released her debut album, Dry. It was clear that she was one of a kind then – and tonight’s performance demonstrated that they broke the mould thereafter.

Rock acts playing during the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe – now celebrating its seventieth year – are not new, but the calibre of both performers and performance indicate just how high the standard is here. PJ Harvey and the nine members of her band come on not to backing tracks, strutting like peacocks, but process in a line, beating drums. They open with an extended version of ‘Chain Of Keys’ taken from last year’s The Hope Six Memorial Project. When Harvey first appeared she was usually to be seen wielding a guitar, now she adds saxophone to the proceedings, often holding it aloft when not playing. The songs sounded pretty impressive on record, but the live show really takes it to a whole new level. A brick wall slowly rises during ‘Chain’ symbolic about the notions of division and war that inform the record.

Even the writing and making of the album was – yet again – sign that Polly Jean is no ordinary artist. Both this album, and her previous album, Let England Shake, are intensely personal and political records, but never preaching. The Hope Six Demolition Project, is an account of her travels to experience post-war Afghanistan and Kosovo, and the clearance of housing in Washington DC, and then recorded at Somerset House in London, where the public could watch.

And here it’s all delivered in a way that adds to an impressive visual display. Not by using video or photography, but rather by the way hat the band play together on stage. In many ways it feels like watching a play, as they play to the audience but not descending to cliche.The band includes longterm collaborators Mick Harvey and John Parrish, as well as the Bad Seeds’ James Johnston, legendary brass player Terry Edwards and Queen Of The Stone Age’s Alain Johannes.

As well as album highlights like the record opener ‘The Community Of Hope’ and ‘The Wheel’ there is a carefully selected use of older songs from her back catalogue. Flowing so well together, it’s tempting to marvel and wonder at how carefully planned this whole show is. So as well as songs from her previous record like ‘Let England Shake,’ ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ and ‘The Glorious Land there are also outings for earlier singles like ‘Down By The Water’ and ’50 Ft Queenie.’ It’s incredible to think as she demonstrates her gothic blues that these songs made the top forty, and how fresh they still feel.

The effect on the audience is worth noting, too. My fiancée clutches my arm at one point in astonishment: ‘hardly anyone’s got a phone out!’ she says in wonder. There’s several kids in the audience, who may well be having their first experience of live music but also people considerably older than your forty year old scribe. At the end of the set, the band receivbe a standing ovation. The only concession to being a rock gig is the introduction of the band members – done with warmth, but no need to descend into cliche.

Even the encores are special. It’s her cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ which she first visited on her second album, 1993’s Rid Of Me. And the magical finale ofthe hypnotic ‘River Anacostia’ which becomes like a mantra as we file out in awe.