Album Review – 12″/80s

Various Artists -’12″/80s Chilled.’ (Commercial Marketing)
Various Artists -’12″/80s New Wave.’ (Commercial Marketing)

Originally finding favour on the disco and reggae scenes in the 1970s, by the 1980s 12″ singles were pretty ubiquitous for most releases. It gave rise to multi-formatting, which was seized upon by indie labels and majors alike as a way to sell as many copies of the same single to eager punters, rather than simply different picture sleeves or different coloured vinyl. [ By the mid-1990s meant that punters were often feeling like they had to have both CD singles, with a varying quality of extra tracks]. There was an art to the 12″ single, and the 12″/80s series has been running for the best part of a decade now, gathering together a wide variety of releases from the decade in an often long-unavailable mix for the public. These were for clubs and homes, being too long for radio play in most cases.

12 80s chilled

Of the two releases, …Chilled is perhaps the better of the two. ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s ‘Extended Souvenir’ is even better than the original, Culture Club’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ is rendered even better with added toasting and David Sylvian turns up twice, fronting Japan with their cover of ‘I Second That Emotion’ and collaborating with Ryuichi Sakamoto on ‘Forbidden Colours. There are examples of how 12″ mixes could overegg the pudding – the six minute version of Aha’s ‘Hunting High And Low’ messes around with the structure of the song, to the extent that it misplaces the drama of the original. What still astounds years later is the (mashup? medley?) of ‘Tainted Dub/Where Did Our Love Go?’ as Soft Cell combine not one but two classic soul numbers into a piece over nine minutes long. (****)

New Wave has it’s moments, too. I have found the original version of Classix Nouveaux’s ‘Is It A Dream’ to be horrifically shrill, and yet the 12″ version here reveals an underlying beauty. The eight minute version of UB40′s ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ reminds us that UB40 were much better writing their own songs and had quite an edge, before they decided to spend the majority of their career turning out one limp cover version after another. Much as I admire Grace Jones, her take on Joy Divison’s ‘She’s Lost Control’ can really only have the redeeming feature that it probably provided royalties for Ian Curtis’ family. But then again, when The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘ the Beat’s Twist & Crawl’ appear here too, in glorious long-form, anything can be forgiven. (***1/2)

Given that most people will be familiar with songs in edited shorter format, it may be play with how you remember these songs. But these two compilations are well worth checking out.
***1/2

12″/80s Chilled and 12″/80s New Wave are out now on Commercial Marketing

Album Review – Stanley Odd

Stanley Odd - A Thing Brand New - Cover

Stanley Odd -’A Thing Brand New.’ (A Modern Way)

Over the course of several years and two great previous albums, Oddio and Reject, Edinburgh Hip-Hop collective Stanley Odd have been plying their own take on Hip-Hop, complete with Scottish accents, unforgettable hook lines and excellent live shows. And on this, their third album, Stanley Odd have delivered their most accomplished album yet.

If the rules of Hip-Hop include keeping it real, and telling it like it is then Stanley Odd most definitely stick to them. As the years have gone by, they – and others like them – have demonstrated that it’s not where you’re from (though they’re very definitely proud of their roots) but it’s where you’re at. So this record takes in the themes about being young and struggling and delivers them wrapped up in thoughtful tunes. There’s a number of highlights on this record – but amongst the highlights are ‘Draw Yir Own Conclusions’ and ‘Her Name Was Hip-Hop.’

The album closes with the earlier single ‘Son I Voted Yes’ which delivered their stance on the Scottish referendum. Whilst the result was a ‘no’ the strength of feeling amongst many north of the border is that this is an issue that won’t go away, and this is actually an upbeat tune about the referendum and hope.

There will be those who attempt to draw parallels with them and Young Fathers, with the latter having just won the Mercury Music Prize. Both fine acts, but they share a city and not much else. Stanley Odd have always stuck to their guns – and if there is any justice this will be the album that breaks them through to a wider audience.

****

A Thing Brand New is released by A Modern Way on November 10.

Presenting…Jana Josephina

According to her website, Jana Josephina is a singer, songwriter from Frankfurt via Mallorca, Paris, London, Zurich and New York. She’s just released a rather fantastic song called ‘Dreamdancer’ the video for which can be streamed at the top of this page. Not only is it an awesome example of her icy electro-pop, but it’s a video of her in London wearing nothing but a duvet which, not surprisingly, caused quite a reaction which she filmed it…

She has an album on the way called Contradictions which actually sounds like a wonderful statement of intent. And on the evidence of what’s on display for our eyes and ears mark her out as an artist to watch out for.

Here are a couple of earlier tracks:

(re) presenting CGIV

I’ve featured Clean George IV on this blog in the past, the work of Edinburgh’s George McFall. His last album God Save The Clean was fantastic and featured at no.25 in my list of best albums of the year

He’s now trading as CGIV. He’s working on a new album from which you can hear and see the utterly thrilling ‘Autumn’ at the top of the page. CGIV is basically George McFall and in his own words ‘whoever he can find to play drums at the time of recording.’ George is currently finishing an album which he would like to think will be ready for release by spring 2015.

‘Autumn’ is released via Tenement Records on November 24.

Earlier this year he released ‘Change’ which is utterly different and can be heard and seen below:

I was pretty impressed by the lyrics for ‘Autumn’ too; so here they are in their entirety:

“hoods up for the long haul
inordinate animal
it’s time to put the child to bed
tame yourself in time for death

last stretch before surrender
undeserving also-ran
time to put your prices up
change yourself in time for luck

activate the five year plan
on the wagon, in the can
a perfect day to overcome
obstacles like love and fun

the grip of fear the knee jerk hate
vibrating nerves in vacant lots
the abstract comfort of aroma
brickdust and bergamot

there is no stone as deep as sleep
at least not for the living
no more fantasies to keep
me from going where i’m going

autumn in paradise
prepare the sacrifice

your every right to lose control
your right to be unreasonable
your right to moulder and to rust
your right to misjudge and mistrust

an autumn hue in everything you see and hear and say and do
the abstract comfort of perfume
of yesterday and soon to come

autumn in paradise
prepare the sacrifice
germanic discipline
a shadow of your future self

there is no stone as deep as sleep
at least not for the living
no more fantasies to keep
me from going where i’m going
after the rain we’ll start again
we’ll start mapping out an ending
a perfect day to pave the way
a perfect day to give up thinking”

The return of the Wu-Tang Clan

With there being less than two months til the end of the year, the music industry is, as ever hoping that the fourth quarter will rescue them. This does, of course, depend on them giving us stuff that we want to buy rather than spending our hard-earned cash.

Along with what appears to be a final Pink Floyd album, more greatest hits albums than you can shake a stick at, and no doubt the ubiquitous cash-ins, amongst the albums still to grace us with their presence is the first Wu-Tang Clan album in 7 years.

Entitled A Better Tomorrow, the album is released on December 1 and the tracklisting is as follows:

‘Ruckus in B Minor’
‘Felt’
’40th Street Black / We Will Fight’
‘Mistaken Identity’
‘Hold the Heater’
‘Crushed Egos’
‘Keep Watch’
‘Miracle’
‘Preacher’s Daughter’
‘Pioneer the Frontier’
‘Necklace’
‘Ron O’Neal’
‘A Better Tomorrow’
‘Never Let Go’
‘Wu-Tang Reunion’

The opening track ‘Ruckus In B Minor’ can be streamed above. It sounds like prime Wu-Tang to these ears…

Album Review – New Street Adventure

nsa_album

New Street Adventure -’No Hard Feelings.’ (Acid Jazz)

Whilst there’s never been a shortage of white British bands bands trying to make out that they do listen to Black American soul and R&B, the feeling with new Street Adventure is that not only do they do so, but they’ve managed to produce something of their own in the process. And without the ‘beige’ sound that so often happens when acts to to do this, falling flat on their faces (and our ears) in the process.

There’s a sense of the underdog and social commentary here, but with neither a chip on the shoulder nor a negativity about it all. Lyrically strong, and with tunes that linger long after the album has come to an end, this is a debut that displays promise. It isn’t an all-time great debut – but there’s the sense of a band who are finding their feet, and who you sense are sticking to the music that inspires them rather than a ‘just a few tweaks and you could sound like [indie flavour of the month].’

Kicking off with this year’s rather fine ‘On Our Frontdoorstep’ single there’s a timelessness to these songs which will hopefully be finding a wider audience very soon. And I like to think on the evidence within that they can do that.

***1/2

No Hard Feelings is out now on Acid Jazz. The band’s album launch takes place at London’s 100 Club on November 4.

The long-awaited return of Belle and Sebastian

It feels like it’s been a very long time coming.

But January 19 2015 will see the release of the ninth Belle and Sebastian studio album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance on Matador. The first track to do the rounds is ‘The Party Line’ which you can stream at the top of the page. It nods to recent remixes and collaborations. I wasn’t sure about it on the first play and yet by the third I really was hooked. Turn it up. The track can be streamed and downloaded at all the usual sites.

The tracklisting is as follows:

1. Nobody’s Empire
2. Allie
3. The Party Line
4. The Power Of Three
5. The Cat With The Cream
6. Enter Sylvia Plath
7. The Everlasting Muse
8. Perfect Couples
9. Ever Had A Little Faith?
10. Play For Today
11. The Book Of You
12. Today (This Army’s For Peace)

The tour dates in May in England, Wales and and Scotland are as follows:

May 3 St. David’s, Cardiff, Wales
May 4 Colston Hall, Bristol, England
May 5 Guildhall, Portsmouth, England
May 7 Corn Exchange, Cambridge, England
May 8 Open, Norwich, England
May 10 Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England
May 11 Westminster Central Hall, London
May 14 Albert Hall, Manchester, England
May 16 City Hall, Newcastle, England
May 18 Opera House, Buxton, England
May 19 City Hall, Leeds, England
May 22 Hydro Arena, Glasgow (with the Scottish Festival Orchestra)
May 24 Sound City, Liverpool, England

(re) presenting BWANi

The have been examples of bands who have shortened their name over the years (-and one of my favourites was the way The Southern Death Cult morphed into Death Cult and finally became The Cult). 17 Seconds faves Bwani Junction have rebranded themselves BWANi and are set to release their new single ‘Make My Day’ on December 1 as the first single under their new(er) moniker.

The song was written in Vietnam last year as Rory Fairweather, the band’s singer says ‘We came up with the tune at sound-check in Hanoi, and decided to play it unfinished that night: two thousand wee Vietnamese heads bobbing up and down suggested we might be onto a winner!’

You can stream it at the top of the page.

Meanwhile, the band have announced two live dates – London’s Garage on November 12 and Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms on November 28.

Album Review – Scott Walker & Sunn o)))

soused

Scott Walker & Sunn o))) -’Soused.’ (4AD)

You get the feeling that there are still people who wish that Scott Walker hadn’t deviated too far from the path that they would have chosen for him. Having first arrived in the limelight as one third of the Walker Brothers (nearly fifty years ago), the path he has trod has been increasingly leftfield. Yet it’s not just the fact that songs like ‘Clara’ (from 2006′s The Drift) featured percussive sounds including a dead pig being punched. The signs were there on those four, numbered Scott albums, not to mention the last Walker Brothers album, Nite Flights, particularly ‘The Electrician.’

Yet whilst this is still an album that will frighten those who would still have him singing the chart hits from the 1960s, there’s been a considered view that this may well be the most approachable album Walker has recorded since 1984′s Climate Of Hunter. And that’s allowing for the fact that this is a collaboration with the legendary Sunn o)). The fact is: they have evolved from the days when they were perceived as being just an Earth tribute act. And thankfully for us, their trajectory has brought them together (reportedly they wanted Walker to sing on their 2009 album Monoliths and Dimensions, but it didn’t happen).

‘Oh the wide Missouri!’ Walker sings on opening track. It’s almost a tease – sounding almost operatic before the Sunn o)) drone kicks in. Whilst none of this is singalong (did you really expect that? Seriously??), it’s a cycle which kicks in – and the thought occurs that this may be an album you can – whisper it – enjoy.

And that’s the thing: while on paper this album may seem dark and forbidding, it’s surprisingly easy to listen to time and time again. Not is a despairing ‘I have to be seen to like this’ kind of way – but far more – ‘I hear something new each time.’ Sunn o))’s sound has been described as cavernous – and that’s one of many adjectives – but it truly does fill a room, particularly ‘Bull.’ The 12 minute ‘Herod 2014′ with saxophones that sound like dying birds and the heartbreaking almost-chorus of ‘She’s taken her babies away’ doesn’t end up playing out like Lou Reed’s ‘The Kids’ but almost beautiful.

And it’s a record of two artists’ interest and exploration of the avant-garde, but if people can progress beyond the suspicion that avant garde has to equal a) unlistenable and b) pretentious, it’s a very rewarding album.

Oh, and as far as I can tell, there’s no pig-punching on this, either.

****

Soused is out now on 4AD.

Gig review – Robyn Hitchcock/Kat Healy

Robyn Hitchcock/Kat Healy

Edinburgh Electric Circus, October 19

By her own admission, Kat Healy does a lot of songs about boys and the wather. ‘Also revenge songs,’ she tells us. Though singer-songwriters can often struggle as a support act, Ms. Healy benefits from the fact that a) the crowd are actually polite and receptive and b) she is very good at what she does. Songs like ‘Hey Mr. Weatherman,’ ‘No Heroes’ and ‘Sweet November’ show her to be more than just another singer-songwriter.

I’ve long admired Robyn Hitchcock on record, both solo and as a member of the Soft Boys, but tonight was the first time I’ve been privileged to see him live. In the environs of the Electric Circus, it feels intimate and yet even with just him and an acoustic guitar, he absolutely fills the place, and I don’t mean the fact it’s a very busy night.

He tears straight into ‘In The Abyss’ and ‘Wreck Of The Arthur Lee’ before telling us that ‘it’s great to be back here…in the crucible of the Incredible String Band.’

Not only is he a fantastic musician and songwriter, but he also knows how to make the audience laugh with him. Even if I pity the long-suffering soundman tonight with all of Mr. Hitchcock’s stage directions. ‘Joe,’ he announced. ‘For this one I’m going to count down from 5 – I’ll presumably stop at 1 – and at that point it’s just my guitar. . . do you have stereo? Brilliant… I want to fill their minds with geeeetarrr, so pan it around, back and forth, so it…’ [gesturing to the audience] ‘…FLOSSES THEIR BRAINS…’ (with thanks to my quick thinking friend Jared who managed to get all that down. That was just one example of many.)

With a career now taking in four decades, he has not only a large back catalogue to choose from, but also a very unique style. ‘So we get songs like the excellent ‘My Wife and my Dead Wife:’

” My wife lies down in a chair
And peels a pear
I know she’s there
I’m making coffee for two
Just me and you
But I come back in with coffee for three
Coffee for three?
My dead wife sits in a chair
Combing her hair
I know she’s there
She wanders off to the bed
Shaking her head
“Robyn,” she said
“You know I don’t take sugar!”

(I had to share that with you in case you’ve never heard the song.)

So no, we don’t get ‘I Wanna Destroy You’ or ‘So You Think You’re In Love’ but when we get ‘Museum of Sex,’ The Soft Boys’ ‘Queen of Eyes and a first set that closes with ‘Tarantula,’ who’s complaining?

He also pulls of the feat of playing entirely cover versions of The Doors’ The Crystal Ship,’ Nick Drake’s ‘The Riverman,’ Syd Barrett’s ‘Dominoes’ and Bowie’s ‘Soul Love.’ In the hands of many, you could feel short-changed. In the presence of Robyn Hitchcock, you feel privileged.

****