That’s the thing that hits you first about Ben Watt’s third solo album. He’s made so many records and diverse ones over a career now into its fourth decade, and not so much dabbled as embraced many styles over that time. Yet what they all have in common is the ability to produced music that connects with the heart.
There’s no question that for many he’s the male half of the excellent Everything But The Girl duo with wife Tracey Thorn. While she sang lead vocals on many tracks, he took lead on a few – ‘The Night I Heard Caruso Sing’ from 1988’s album Idlewild is one of the best songs in their catalogue, for example. And even before he formed EBTG, he was working with his hero Robert Wyatt.
And that’s perhaps the starting point for this album. It’s not that this is a record that sounds retro, but rather it connects with the likes of Wyatt and other artists of a similar pedigree: Richard Thompson, John Martyn and Nick Drake. It’s hard to pick a standout track, because it’s one very impressive whole, but perhaps album opener ‘Gradually.’ Or maybe ‘Winter’s Eve’. Ask me when I play this album yet again and I might give you yet another answer.
An excellent album, that benefits from repeated listens, each one bringing you further into its charms and its…
Every so often, along comes a band who just look so bloody perfect, it almost seems too good to be true. Even before you hear a note of their debut EP, the band look so utterly cool, just hearing them blows you away. There’s Izzy Cox the bassist, who stands with the quiet and friendly confidence of one who doesn’t take any crap, and guitarist Killian McCorley who looks like a young Alex Kapranos and you suspect might well have been the class goof – in the best possible sense. The three-piece are fronted by Mel Patman, who would be a cover star in any age. Subverting the notion of Essex girl on its head, just by being, she has the star quality by being there, and one who sings in her own voice and accent. Even as the support band to a small crowd, there’s just something about this band that just cannot fail to win people over. Best of all, their debut release matches their well-regarded live shows.
A debut release should sound like a manifesto, and what is so utterly impressive about this EP (one of many things, actually) is the way that the three tracks show different sides to the band. Any of them could have been the lead track. It opens with the urgency of ‘Feel The Weight’ a song that could inspire moshers to dance, and dancers to mosh. Title track ‘New Haircut’ showcases the band’s love of post-punk yet sounds utterly fresh. Closer ‘Grapefruit’ (damn, is this over so soon?) is more atmospheric, and while taught and focused there are suggestions it could go off in any musical avenue it so chose.
There’s no wasted time here, and all you can do is go back to the beginning. Seek them out now, and enjoy the feeling of joy and of being proved right announcing you heard them before everyone.
Swedish synth pop trio Red Cell was formed in 2003 by Per Linnerblad, Jimmy Jönsson and Stefan Aronsson. Imagine a band that understand both the mystery of synthesiser experimentalism and the joy of the unabashed three minute pop single. Having released two albums in the first decade of this millennium – 2005’s Hybrid Society and 2008’s Lead Or Follow, they will release their third album this autumn.
So far, two tracks have been premiered from the album, which you can stream below. Comparisons have – understandably when you hear the music – been drawn with the likes of Devo, Human League and Depeche Mode. Yet the music produced feels fresh and exciting, rather than being retro and in debt to the past.
So, today was Record Store Day. I bought my first single back in 1986 (The Housemartins’ ‘Caravan Of Love’ in case you’re interested), I dreamt for years of working in a record store (and did indeed work in several, a decade or so ago), and have collected vinyl for many years. Browsing through new or second-hand vinyl is one of my favourite pastimes. I even ran a label for a few years.
So was I up at the crack of dawn to queue for ages to spend huge wads of cash on limited releases for myself and/or to flog on ebay? No. I wasn’t. I didn’t even go in a record shop today. Not even for live bands.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the fact that vinyl’s been experiencing a resurgence, not that I ever stopped buying it. I think record shops should be supported, the format sustained. But the excess of records produced for this one day, that in many cases I suspect people wouldn’t want to buy 364 days of the year, available overpriced, and then punted for ridiculous sums online within hours…forget it.
There are, of course, Record Store Day specials I have bought in the past. Last year I bought Woman’s Hour’s fantastic cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ on 12″ and it was great. I still play the thing a whole year later! But as been posted elsewhere, the aim of supporting the remaining record shops seems to have become an opportunity for the public to be fleeced.
I don’t have a problem with records being re-issued on vinyl. If it’s the format you like, and the original is more money than you have, then why not? The other day I looked online to see how much an original copy of Pink Floyd’s 1967 debut Piper At The Gates Of Dawn would be. Answer: over £100. I’m a public sector worker with a kid to bring up. That isn’t going to happen. But a repressing would suit just fine.
It can also be an opportunity for records to be pressed on vinyl that weren’t originally available on the format. Last year’s releases included Biffy Clyro’s Puzzle and the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan. I already had all the other White Stripes albums on vinyl – but with a cost of £30 +…again, forget it. Why were these records not made available anyway?
And here’s the thing. There’s not a lot of pressing plants left, so why just press up stuff for one day? I buy vinyl throughout the year. An increasing number of people do. But if bands want to support record shops then there’s no point doing it for just one day. They need to be doing stuff throughout the year. And maybe encouraging people to buy direct from shops rather than from their own websites or massive online retailers.
Above all, I looked at the list this year and there was nothing I really wanted. Yes, I rather like the Primal Scream cover of S Express’ ‘Mantra For A State Of Mind’ below. I get only pressing a limited number – it’s not economic sense to press a huge amount that won’t sell. But for just one day a year? How into your vinyl are you really? And how much do you really care about supporting shops?
Who is the mysterious Jackie Lynn? According to the press release, the “elusive songstress is currently on the run, having just barely dodged a police raid on her Chicago south side apartment, but the track “Alien Love” from a recovered LP has suddenly turned up… the enigmatic Jackie, however, is still nowhere to be seen.
“Alien Love” suggests at Jackie’s tormented relationship with Tom Strong (real name unknown) and provides the perfect getaway soundtrack, with a pulsating bassline and irresistible vocals.”
NPR commented that the debut album “exists in an alternate world where outlaw country dreams of synth wires and clops along to drum machines, and where Fohr’s moaning baritone narrates the seediest story ever told.”
That first track ‘Alien Love’ can be heard below – it really is fantastic:
The self-titled album will be released by Thrill Jockey on June 10, with the tracklisting as follows:
1. Bright Lights
2. Chicken Picken
5. Alien Love
6. Franklin, TN
7. The Great Fight
(and don’t tell anyone that we told you, but Jackie Lynn is the project of Haley Fohr from Circuit des Yeux, featuring members of Bitchin Bajas and Cave).
Swans have announced a new album, which will be the ‘last album of their current incarnation.’
The Glowing Man will be released on June 17. The tracklisting is as follows:
1. Cloud of Forgetting
2. Cloud of Unknowing
3. The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black
4. People Like Us
5. Frankie M.
6. When Will I Return?
7. The Glowing Man
8. Finally, Peace.
An excerpt of the title track can be heard below:
Swans main man, Michael Gira, has issued this accompanying note with the press release:
“In 2009 when I made the decision to restart my musical group, Swans, I had no idea where it would lead. I knew that if I took the road of mining the past or revisiting the catalog, that it would be fruitless and stultifying. After much thought about how to make this an adventure that would instead lead the music forward into unexpected terrain, I chose the five people with whom to work that I believed would most ably provide a sense of surprise, and even uncertainty, while simultaneously embodying the strength and confidence to ride the river of intention that flows from the heart of the sound wherever it would lead us – and what’s the intention? LOVE!
And so finally this LOVE has now led us, with the release of the new and final recording from this configuration of Swans, The Glowing Man, through four albums (three of which contain more complexity, nuance and scope than I would have ever dreamed possible), several live releases, various fundraiser projects, countless and seemingly endless tours and rehearsals, and a generally exhausting regimen that has left us stunned but still invigorated and thrilled to see this thing through to its conclusion. I hereby thank my brothers and collaborators for their commitment to whatever truth lies at the center of the sound. I’m decidedly not a Deist, but on a few occasions – particularly in live performance – it’s been my privilege, through our collective efforts, to just barely grasp something of the infinite in the sound and experience generated by a force that is definitely greater than all of us combined. When talking with audience members after the shows or through later correspondence, it’s also been a true privilege to discover they’ve experienced something like this too. Whatever the force is that has led us through this extended excursion, it’s been worthwhile for many of us, and I’m grateful for what has been the most consistently challenging and fulfilling period of my musical life.
Going forward, post the touring associated with The Glowing Man, I’ll continue to make music under the name Swans, with a revolving cast of collaborators. I have little idea what shape the sound will take, which is a good thing. Touring will definitely be less extensive, I’m certain of that! Whatever the future holds, I’ll miss this particular locus of human and musical potential immensely: Norman Westberg, Kristof Hahn, Phil Puleo, Christopher Pravdica, Thor Harris, and myself mixed in there somewhere, too.”
“I wrote the song ‘When Will I Return? specifically for Jennifer Gira to sing. It’s a tribute to her strength, courage, and resilience in the face of a deeply scarring experience she once endured, and that she continues to overcome daily.
The song ‘The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black’ uses some words I wrote in 1982 or so that Sonic Youth used for their song ‘The World Looks Red’, back in the day. The music and melody used here in the current version are completely different. While working up material for this new album, I had a basic acoustic guitar version of the song and was stumped for words. For reasons unknown to me, the lyric I’d so long ago left in my typewriter in plain view at my living and rehearsal space (the latter of which Sonic Youth shared at the time) and which Thurston plucked for use with my happy permission, popped into my head and I thought “Why not?” The person that wrote those words well over three decades ago bears little resemblance to who I am now, but I believe it remains a useful text, so “Why not?”. Maybe, in a way, it closes the circle.
The song ‘The Glowing Man’ contains a section of the song ‘Bring The Sun’ from our previous album, To Be Kind. The section is, of course, newly performed and orchestrated to work within its current setting. ‘The Glowing Man’ itself grew organically forward and out of improvisations that took place live during the performance of ‘Bring The Sun’, so it seemed essential to include that relevant section here. Since over the long and tortured course of the current song’s genesis, it had always been such an integral cornerstone I believe we’d have been paralyzed and unable to perform the entire piece at all without it.
‘Cloud of Forgetting’ and ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ are prayers. ‘Frankie M’ is another tribute and a best wish for a wounded soul. ‘The Glowing Man’ contains my favorite Zen Koan. ‘People Like Us’ and ‘Finally, Peace’ are farewell songs.”
The late, great John Peel used to say about his favourite band The Fall, that they were ‘always different, always the same.’ It’s something that could be said about Mogwai, too. ‘U-235’ was the first track to do the rounds ahead of the release of this album, and the minute the listener presses play, it is unmistakeably them. It may sound a little bit more ‘electronic’ than some of their work, but the soundscape of darkness and beauty, dread and possibility could not be anyone else. Yes there’s other post-rock bands out there, but no-one could do Mogwai like Mogwai do.
It’s not the first time Mogwai have leant themselves for soundtrack work – they have previously soundtracked both the French TV series Les Revenants (The Returned) and Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. In this case, this album is composed of reworked versions of the music recorded by the band for the soundtrack to director Mark Cousin’s documentary Atomic: Living In Dread and Promise. Though I should probably declare that I have yet to see the film – the strength of the work is that it appears to fill the brief, as described in the press release – ‘Constructed entirely of archive film, an impressionistic kaleidoscope of the horrors of our nuclear times – protest marches, Cold War sabre-rattling, Chernobyl and Fukishima – but also the sublime beauty of the atomic world, and how x-rays and MRI scans have improved human lives.’ I mentioned dread and possibility in the last paragraph – that’s exactly what this soundtrack does. Evocative, in a word. Right from the start of album opener ‘Ether’ up to the closing bars of ‘Fat Man.’
As with much of their music, each listen reveals something more of this album. It may not rate as their greatest achievement, but for those who are new to Mogwai, this is a good place to start. For those who have loved the band for decades, it adds a new chapter to what is already an impressive tale. Mogwai probably vie with Belle & Sebastian for greatest band in Scotland at the moment; both acts are now beginning their third decade of music, and neither show any signs of slowing down. For which lovers of great music across the planet should give thanks.