Album Review – Meursault

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Meursault -’All Creatures Will Make Merry’ (Song, By Toad Records)

Meursault’s debut album Kissing With Tongues/Pissing On Bonfires crept out quietly on the Song, By Toad label at the very end of 2008. With the Edinburgh music scene gathering considerable momentum in 2009 -in no small part thanks to Song, By Toad’s Matthew Young’s hard work, their sophomore arrives eighteen months later with a considerable weight of expectation. Yes, they’re now vying with Broken Records as one of the most important scottish acts of the last couple of years. Neil Pennycook has collaborated with many of the local scene to whom he is seen -whether he wants to be or not as one of the leading figures, and he has featured on albums by the likes of Withered Hand and The Last Battle. Scottish music magazine The Skinny can be incredibly harsh on local acts, but at the end of last year the debut made a top twenty scottish albums of the decade alongside a list also featuring the likes of Mogwai, Idlewild and Primal Scream. So no pressure then…

Meursault seem by some to have been labelled as ‘folktronica;’ not a label I’m personally all that comfortable with in their case. Not because I haven’t enjoyed some music that comes under that heading – but because it implies something slightly more ‘chill out’ than this album. Yes, ‘folk’ and ‘electronica’ make up part of the musical potion on aural display here, but there’s also an epicness and grandeur (and I mean that as a compliment) that has more in common with the likes of early albums by fellow scots Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad. Though there’s far more inventiveness going on here than I find on those band’s albums, which is why I think in the long wrong Meursault will prove themselves to be such an important proposition. Second track ‘Crank Resolutions’ is heartbreaking yet somehow life-affirming in that there are bands making albums like this :’I broke down on new Year’s Day/I mixed my drinks and lost my way.’

Considered on their own, the lyric sheet to the album might give the impression that this is bleakness on a parallel with the world-weary life-view of Aidan Moffat. But there is a sense towards the end of the album that there is hope. It is an album that rewards repeated listens and is best listened to as a whole -’One Day This’ll All be Fields’ or ‘Payday’ perhaps not making much sense outside the context of the album. But that’s not a bad thing; in an age where download services mean that people are cherry-picking what they take from an album, this adds to the cohesion of the whole.

Will this break Meursault through to a wider audience? I believe so, but I’m encouraged that they haven’t abandoned the ideas, exploration and experimentation that made them so vital to begin with. This may not charge up album charts around the world, but those who take the opportunity to listen and listen again will enjoy a highly accomplished and brilliant second album.

****1/2

All Creatures Will Make Merry is out now on Song, By Toad Records.

Meursault -’Crank Resolutions.’ mp3

Meursault -’Sleet.’ mp3

Elvis didn’t mean shit to Chuck D…

elvis-costello1

…but that was Mista Chuck talking about Presley, and Costello would hopefully not incur Chuck D’s wrath so much (apart from that stupid remark about Ray Charles, but if Charles forgave him, then so should the rest of us).

I guess at this point in history Costello’s always going to be best known for ‘Oliver’s Army’ though I reckon he’s done many better. So why not post a handful of great if lesser known Costello tracks?

This track was a minor hit in 1980, and whilst I’ve never really loved parent album Trust, this shows just how important Steve Nieve was to the Costello sound:

1982′s Imperial Bedroom is probably my favourite Costello album. This was another single that didn’t make the Top 40 (yes, it was a single, I have it on 12″!) and if there’s an official video I cannot find it on YouTube. But this rules -and one of my favourite Costello songs:

As with any artist who’s been going over thirty years, there are highs and lows – I reckon he’s made many great albums, though some like Goodbye Cruel World are poor. Mind you, I loved the Juliet Letters collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet in 1993, though I don’t tend to play the collaboration with Burt Bacharach Painted From Memory very much.

But one album that is chockablock full of great songs (in some other people’s hands it would be a greatest hits comp) is 1994′s Brutal Youth. Another song that should have been a bigger hit…

Album Review -Stanley Odd

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Stanley Odd -’Oddio’ (Circular)

Stanley Odd appeared towards the end of 2009 with an excellent single entitled ‘The Numbness’, which has been followed up by one almost equally as good entitled ‘Think Of A Number.’ Whilst there will be those who sneer at the idea of a scottish hip-hop act as being an oxymoron, the joke’s on them, because this is a genuinely fresh and exciting album.

Scotland’s had a hip-hop scene, it’s just that it’s underground, and by definition that means out of sight (or hearing range) to many people. But what Stanley Odd have remembered is that Hip-Hop grew out of both a party scene and social consciousness and this album genuinely keeps it real. Rapper Solareye raps in his own Edinburgh accent, and that means sounding scottish and not like he’s convinced he’s from LA, like some idiotic teenager aping Ali G without ever getting the joke. The press release remarks that Oddio is for those people that get tongue-tied talking to girls… those for whom fashion sense is an oxymoron and anyone who prefers literary figures to viewing figures. Good. This is hip-hop on a par with the socially conscious likes of Jurassic 5; Michael Franti;as far back as Gil Scott-Heron, and with a pop sensibility on its’ own terms, that sneers at the likes of bling and gets on with living.

I’ve yet to see them live, but this album’s just so much fun that that surely cannot remain the case for long. Get your ears around this collection of songs. Scottish Hip-Hop is about to go overground, and those laughing are about to have the smiles wiped off their silly faces. Bring it on -and here’s to Young Fathers too…

****

Oddio is released on May 31 on Circular Records.

Presenting…French Wives

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Over the last week, I’ve totally fallen for a band from Glasgow called French Wives. This five piece have released two awesome singles so far -’Hallowe’en’/'Dogfight’ last October and this month they have issued their second ‘Me Vs. Me.’

As yet they are unsigned, but on the strength of their two singles, this surely won’t be the case for very long. They have several gigs lined up on their myspace page, and appearances at Rockness amongst other places, though nothing lined up in Edinburgh for now.

The band (Siobhan Anderson, Chris Barclay, Stuart Dougan, Scott W.D. Macpherson and Jonathyn Smith) include Sege Gainsbourg and Arcade Fire amongst their influences, as well as nearer to home bands like Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian. They sound like very few Glasgow bands I’ve ever heard (though if they have any musical kin I reckon it’s the mighty Fear The Fives). They sound European, in the same way that Broken Records sound European, though paardoxically I don’t think they sound much like Broken Records. I like to think they’ll appeal to people who like The Last Battle, burnit Island and the aforementioned Broken Records.

Make up your own mind -and please go and pay for the singles if you like this (three awesome unreleased tracks on their myspace too!):

French Wives -’Hyndland Weather Bear.’ mp3

The return of the Melvins

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Yay! those loveable hair-brained screamers, the Melvins, who recently celebrated twenty-five years together, are back with their twentieth album, The Bride Screamed Murder. This is the follow-up to 2008′s awesome Nude With Boots.This is out on June 7 (June 1, if you live in North America).

Two tracks are doing the rounds from this album -which, even if you have never heard them, you have probably rightly guessed, do not sound like Lady Gaga or Enya. The album’s opener ‘The Water Glass’ starts off maybe like you’d expect it to, then goes delightfully different about the two minute mark. The other track is the heavier than heaven second track ‘Evil New War God.’ I haven’t heard the whole thing yet, but this bodes very well indeed…check out the tracklisting here

Melvins -’The Water Glass.’ mp3 (Right click to download)

Melvins -’Evil New War God.’ mp3
(left click to download)

Make friends with the Melvins at their myspace.

Album Review – The Cure

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The Cure – ‘Disintegration (re-issue)’ (Fiction)

How do you write objectively about an album by your favourite band ever, that’s your second favourite album ever, that you feel is pretty bloody amazing? Well, yes, this is going to be a rave review, so if you don’t care for the band and/or the album, this is not going to change your mind. But given that this week the no.1 album in the UK is the re-issued Exile On Main Street from the Rolling Stones, re-issues seem to be making the news.

But dammit, this is how a re-issue ought to be put together. Having fallen from favour in the nineties, The Cure reached a new stage in the last decade where acts as diverse as Mogwai, Razorlight and The Rapture declared them an influence, where they were seen as godfathers of post-punk and continued to record new albums. Granted, these tend to be about four years apart (and I would love to see them play Scotland again!), but given that Robert Smith is now fifty-one, slack should be cut.

This was the Cure’s eighth album back in 1989 (it’s ironic that at around £12 for a triple CD that’s quite possibly what many people would have paid for a copy of the album on CD then, and conceivably more) and many have considered it to be The Cure’s finest. In time Smith has considered it to be part of a trilogy with 1982′s Pornography and 2000′s Bloodflowers. (When I heard the latter on its’ release ten years ago, I really assumed that was their grand finale, and I’m delighted that’s not proved to be the case). It was a commercial and critical success and provided the band with their highest charting singles so far -’Lullaby’ reaching no.5 in the UK, and ‘Lovesong’ reaching no.2 in the US.

Yes, it’s dark in many places, but it’s epic and sublime. Bizarrely, given that the original version omitted two tracks on the vinyl ‘Last Dance’ and ‘Homesick’ it’s one of the very few albums I would prefer to have on CD than vinyl (though I own both, surprise, surprise). What the re-issue has is not only the original album remastered, but a CD of genuine rarities (not b-sides but never before released versions of tracks and demos of the b-sides) and a third CD, entitled Entreat Plus. Entreat was originally an eight track album of live performances at Wembley Arena in the summer of 1989 on the Prayer tour which accompanied the release of the album. This has now been expanded to feature all twelve album tracks from the album in order.

Is this obssessive? Well, maybe, but the fact is that the deluxe editions are genuinely produced for those who consider themselves fans rather than someone who’s just buying the album because they like one or two tracks from it (and in this age of iTunes etc.. that’s got to be becoming a progressively rarer occurence). The sleeve notes are well put together and provide insights into the album that I wasn’t aware of; including that Lol Tolhurst did make more of a contribution to the album than often given credit for (though he left after hearing the playback), how a fire nearly destroyed all of Smith’s lyrics on the first night at the studio and how the record company thought it was commercial suicide.

The original album still thrills from the wind-chime like opening of ‘Plainsong’ to the dying harmonium coda on ‘Untitled.’ This is a band firing on all cylinders, producing their masterpiece. And the minisite they have put together for this re-issue is truly phenomenal. And some of the greatest lyrics Smith has ever written.

21 years on, this still packs a truly emotional punch.

*****

The re-issue of Disintegration is out now on Fiction.

Album Review – Swimmer One

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Swimmer One -Dead Orchestras’ (Biphonic)

Swimmer One first appeared on the radar around seven years ago with the release of two excellent EPs entitled We Just Make Music For Ourselves and Come On, Let’s Go!. Their debut album The Regional Variations was released in 2007, and around that time they became the first band I ever interviewed for this blog.

Now here’s time for an honest confession: I liked the debut album, gave it the thumbs up, but deep down I never quite felt it lived up to the first two EPs. But Dead Orchestras has been on the iPod since it first arrived here at 17 Seconds Records, and I think it will stay on there for quite some time. Now a three piece with the addition in 2007 of Laura Cameron Lewis joining Hamish Brown and Andrew Eaton, this second album sees them firing on all cylinders and delivering an album that may have had a long gestation period but it’s been worth it.

When I interviewed the band, they spoke of their love for the original work of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), particularly classic albums like Architecture & Morality. And in Dead Orchestras, Swimmer One have produced an album with a sound that is distinctively theirs (and which I for one think Snow Patrol have tried to rip off with their ‘Just Say Yes’ single). See like with the aforementioned OMD, the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode, and more recently, X-Lion Tamer, Swimmer One have shown that electro-pop does not have to be a slight thing, but a thing of real beauty. ‘Pop’ as oppsed to rock has seemed less serious, less worthy, and if it’s sought acceptance, it’s had to beg to be taken under the label of electronica or some other in the hope that it will make it okay. Not here. This is pure pop, in the best sense of the word.

From the opening title track, this is an album that draws you in, on its’ own terms. With songs like ‘This Club Is For Everyone, Even You’ and ‘Psychogeography’ the luscious pop within cannot fail to warm even the coldest of hearts. This is the album Swimmer One have wanted to make, and they’ve definitely delivered it.

****

Dead Orchestras is released on Biphonic on May 31.

Swimmer One – This Club Is For Everybody, Even You by Biphonic Records

Swimmer One – Psychogeography by Biphonic Records


Read more about the songs on the album
here

A Sunny Saturday Afternoon

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This shot is of the meadows in Edinburgh. It’s a Saturday in May and today the Meadows were full of people! Enjoying the hot weather! And playing cricket!!

We’d been invited to a Bar-B-Q round at Mr and Mrs. Toad’s, which we couldn’t go to, unfortunately, but it’s time for a few upbeat summery numbers here, I think.

Apart from the whinging about the taxman taking all his money (The Beatles spoil Revolver ever so slightly by whining about this, although otherwise it’s the greatest album ever), this is a classic summer tune:

The Kinks -’Sunny Afternoon.’ mp3

You gotta have a bit of reggae for the summer…

Bob Marley -’Waiting In Vain.’ mp3

…and some good quality American R’n'B. Apparently there are people in the world who do NOT like this song?! I pity the fools.

Beyonce -’Crazy In Love.’ mp3

I don’t own a convertible, but if I did (ha!), this is exactly what I’d want to be playing on the stereo in hot weather.

Rockers Revenge -’Walking On Sunshine (Extended 12″ mix).’ mp3

…and for a bit of contrast:

Miles Davis -’So What.’ mp3

Other perfect summer sunshine tracks I’d have: Primal Scream ‘Higher Than the Sun;’ The Cure ‘Close To Me;’ The Orb -’Little Fluffy Clouds;’ Saint Etienne ‘Only Love Can break Your Heart; Aztec camera ‘Somewhere In My Heart’; ‘Shanice -’I Love Your Smile’ and ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ by Roy Ayers. Obviously

Why I still love The Wire magazine…or a wonderful cover for Friday

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The Wire magazine remains the greatest print music magazine out there as far as I’m concerned, doing the job that lesser magazines can only dream of.

This month’s issue features someone I hadn’t come across before on the cover (see, when was the last time you could say that about Q or Mojo or NME? Exactly), a german artist by the name of Felix Kubin. I’m about to begin investigating his back catalogue but as I do, I have to share with you the bizarre and wonderful cover he did of Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello.’

Now I don’t know about you but I find the original turgid and bland, and the video bordering on the crass. But by the simple expedient of changing ‘you’ to ‘I’ in the song it becomes an excellent idea song about alienation. And musically it makes the Schneider TM’s take on The Smiths ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ seem tame by comparison…

see what you think:

Felix Kubin -’Hello (Lionel Richie cover).’ mp3