Album Review – Gretchen Peters

Gretchen Peters -‘Dancing With The Beast.’ (Proper)

It doesn’t contain the subtitle ‘Eleven tales of heartbreak and loss from the American heartlands’ but it could almost do. However – and here’s the impressive bit – despite the themes that lie within, this is an album that is possible to make a connection with. It’s a very human album, and one that instead of making listeners feel ‘oh I can’t bear this! it’s too depressing’ instead, it’s one of connections.

Those connections can be things like getting older, and finding that you’re getting lost in your hometown, the opening line of the record. ‘The years go by like days. Sometimes the days go by like years. And I don’t know which one I hate the most,” she sings in ‘Arguing with Ghosts,’ the opening track on the album.

This is very much a record from a woman’s perspective, and as a male writer, with all the privilege that still embodies, I mean that as a compliment. She has spoken how the 2017 Women’s March and #MeToo Movement ended up as bookends to her writing time, and the characters inhabit the songs may come from her imagination, but oh, are they real. Additionally, there’s the little matter of the most recent Presidential Election since her last album, which sharpens her perceptions, and indeed, those of us as listeners.

In ‘Wichita’ we have the Greek tragedy of the dumb girl disfigured at birth who is abused by her stepfather and eventually takes matters into her own hands. The title track is sung from the point of view of a woman in a relationship were her interactions with others are being controlled. With such strong writing and performances on the record, there’s barely a dud track. If forced to pick a standout, though, it could well be ‘Truckstop Angel.’ On this song, informed by an article she had read, and an observation at an Alabama truckstop, Peters sings from the persepctive of a truckstop prostitute. The roll of the dice within represents the chance that these women take when they get into a car or truck to have sex with strangers in order to survive.

It’s a beautifully arranged album, and the music provides a perfect foil that could make those words so hard to take on board. In a funny way, the album it begs comparison with is the latest album from Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer. At first glance (listen?) the records may appear poles apart. But they are spectacularly on the money with their assessment of life in the United States at this particular point in history.

A real accomplishment.

****

Dancing With The Beast is released on Proper on May 18.

Track of the day #53: Jamie Bacon

This arrived in the inbox a few days ago. Released today, I held back on publishing until it was actually released.

Jamie Bacon originally hails from Wick in the north of Scotland. Now based in the Central Belt (he doesn’t specify), this is a song which draws on rock and folk, with that strand of Scots melancholy that is found in the likes of Frightened Rabbit, early Biffy Clyro, Idlewild and R.M. Hubbert.  The song talks of the issue of feeling isolated living so far north, and the feeling of being a prisoner in your hometown. A mighty fine song, in fact.

This is a live version of the track, released through Meraki records. You can stream it on all usual services, including bandcamp and buy it. (For the record, and to support the cause, I did.)

 

Track of the day #50: Steven Wesley Guiles

It’s a privilege writing a blog and getting so many submissions, but there are occasions when I get irritated about the sense of entitlement from some who seem to think they have a God-given right to have their entire roster reviewed in detail before you so much as pick up your child from school or feed the cat.

So it was quite touching to have an email from California from one Steven Wesley Guiles, who promised not to send any follow-ups and acknowledged he felt he was sending an email into the void.

Because ‘Misunderstanding’ is absolutely lovely. It has echoes of Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver, and also reminds me a bit of Death Cab For Cutie and The Decemberists. Also the lyric video reminds me of that Great American Roadtrip I have yet to take (money being perhaps the biggest factor).

His third album Hallelujah Heartbreak came out last month and you can check it out via his bandcamp here. Seriously, you should, it’s lovely stuff.

 

Track of the day #48: U.S. Girls

4AD continue to be one of the most consistently brilliant independent labels, nearly forty years after they were founded. A mere couple of days after new music from The Breeders (see below), Meg Remy (AKA U.S. Girls) has released her new subversively pop tune ‘Mad As Hell’ – and it’s absolutely fabulous.

The press release – accurately – describes it as a ‘candy-coated Trojan horse for her powerful call to action for pacifism and impassioned critique of military spending.’ Protest music takes many forms – not least with the video. Directed by Remy with Emily Pelstring, it brings together historic, patriotic and military imagery. Remy performs throughout the video duplicated in synchronized dance moves flipping off her subjects recalling backup dancers of ‘60s pop girl groups. Indeed the song sounds like an alt-pop take on an 80s take on 60s girl bands.

Struggling to make sense of that? Watch the video below. The track is taken from the follow-up to 2015’s Half Free, about which more details are set to follow…

 

Foo Fighters unleash brilliant video for ‘Run’

I guess like a lot of people, my initial interest in the Foo Fighters was because Dave Grohl had been in Nirvana. I bought the debut album the week the self-titled debut came out in 1995 (if memory serves, the day before school finished for me for ever) and I’ve enjoyed them on their own terms ever since.

In the last week they’ve unveiled a new song ‘ Run’ and not only is it a fabulous song, but the video is fantastic.  With a sentiment about getting old but not taking any crap that hasn’t been shown so much since Pulp‘s ‘Help The Aged’ (bloody hell, that’s 20 years old now as well), the six-minute-plus promo sees the now six-piece showing that there’s no harm to be had in rocking out, and taking no prisoners while they do it. Without wishing to give too much away, the band feature as part of a bunch of elderly miscreants who cause havoc in a church before carjacking some kids. As you do. Pipe and slippers can wait.

As the birthday cards say ‘Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional.’ Damn skipper!

 

A song for today #36: My Pleasure

my-pleasure

Many moons ago, NME (back when it was better than the sadly-depleted freebie it is now) ran a feature on the most rock’n’roll films. A Clockwork Orange came out top.

Anthony Burgess may not have liked Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel, but it seeped deeply into popular culture. Even though it was banned in the UK for the best part of thirty years (Kubrick withdrew it), it informed so much of popular music. Blur’s video for ‘The Universal’ is an obvious reference point, but an entire book could be written about how it informed youth culture in Britain for decades afterwards (there probably has already been a book or two on this). As a teenager growing up in the early 90s it had a whole mystique attached that’s harder for a younger generation to figure out now, much of it in the fact it was so hard to see legally in the UK.

I mention this because a video popped into my inbox that’s very much informed by A Clockwork Orange. Not so much the ultraviolence, hanging out with droogs or even Beethoven but more the controversial ‘cure’ (if you have seen the film, you will understand the quotation marks). Jon Mills is the director and he has produced a great pop video.

My Pleasure is a Hull-based solo musician who has received acclaim from the likes of Steve Lamacq and Tom Robinson. This track ‘I Want To Keep This Feeling Going’ is a joy, like Momus covering XTC (and I mean that as a compliment). This is taken from the EP Party Popper which is available for free (sic), you pay only P&P (see here for details).

 

…and I’m back

Quote

Hmm.

It wasn’t my intention to stop writing the blog for 6 weeks, merely that a day or so after my last post I was taken ill with what turned out to be chronic pancreatitis and I’ve been frankly bloody exhausted. As I return to the blog, I find that updates seem to have made the blog harder to edit and I am trying to sort these out as well.

I have written a few articles for God Is In The TV in the meantime, and so I would like to point people towards my review for Michael Kiwanuka’s excellent sophomore album Love and Hate, and Frank Ocean’s utterly astonshing’s Blonde.

Normal service will be resumed, sometime soon!

A song for today #27: High Violet

high-violet

This was another song that arrived in my inbox that I just happened to give a spin to one morning, and found myself singing for the rest of the day.

There’s not much I can say about High Violet – whilst their name is also that of an album by The National, the four members – Smem, Ricky, Dan and Emily seem to pick up where Haim left off, a glorious take on 1980s Fleetwood Mac. This is a debut single – and while I can’t find out much more about the Australian four-piece, other than that they seem to come from Sydney and Adelaide, just take this song on its own merits. It’s bloody fabulous!

Presenting…Playing House

Playing House

Photo credit Veronica Aguilar photography

It’s probably not fair to judge a band on the basis of one track alone, but before my first play of ‘New Haircut’ by Playing House had even finished, I knew I had to feature them on the blog.

Formed just ten months ago in East London, Playing House are Mel Patman (vocals & guitar), Izzy Cox (vocals & bass) and Killian McCorley (guitar). Shortly to release their debut EP New Haircut, the first track to be released from that is the title track. To describe it as youthful is not to infer it is naive or unpolished; rather it is to say that there is an optimism and freshness in the sound, an excitement that is infectious, and like all decent pop songs, before you’ve even finished playing it, you know you want to play it again and again.

Playing House say that their name ‘comes from the idea that we are all learning how to be a grown up and the pressure to keep it all together” and their songs are full of honest observations on life, love and a fear of everything.’ On the evidence so far, they’re going to be just fine.

This is a live video of another song from the forthcoming EP ‘Grapefruit.’

This is another song from YouTube ‘Lion and the Lamb.’