Album Review – Jaz Coleman

Jaz Coleman with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra -‘ ‘Magna Invocatio – a Gnostic mass for choir and orchestra inspired by the sublime music of Killing Joke’ (Spinefarm Records)

Um..er..sublime? Killing Joke?

No, really. This is no opportunistic orchestra for hire play the hits of Killing Joke (something for which we should all be thankful). Rather these are thirteen tracks that take on musical themes within Killing Joke’s music. The result is ninety minutes of sublime music that stands as one of the best albums to be released this year.

It’s not the first time that Coleman, Killing Joke’s leader since 1978, has worked within classical music. As a child he studied piano and violin and was a chorister in several cathedral choirs. Even forties years ago, as Killing Joke formed and took off he was studying classical music. An expert in that field, Conductor Klaus Tennstedt, described him as a “new Mahler.” His first classical release, Songs From The New City, a collaboration with Anne Dudley, was released as long ago as 1990.

A Gnostic mass, in case you’re wondering, is a ritualised celebration of the mysteries of existence. Over the course of this album there’s plenty to ponder, so that the rock vs. classical debate hopefully gets left behind very soon. It’s just music, kids, and all the better for it. The orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is Russia’s oldest.

The promotional track doing the rounds ‘The Raven King’ (see below) is a great example of why this album works so well. It takes the 2010 Killing Joke track ‘The Raven King‘ – a tribute to the former Killing Joke bassist, Paul Raven, who died in 2007, and takes the melody someplace entirely else, while remaining close to the spirit of the original. Those familiar with the music of Killing Joke (hopefully most of you) may expect that translating the music into this new form that it contains the paranoia and rage that characterises much of their music. The surprise is that a) it doesn’t and b) it still works perfectly well. The reworking of 1986 single ‘Adorations’ is another highlight.

As someone who’s long enjoyed classical music, and indeed the work of Killing Joke, this album works well on several levels. Yes, there’s the majesty (I don’t use that word lightly, you understand) and power that you expect from Killing Joke, and the passion from classical music. Indeed, you don’t need to be particularly in either camp to appreciate this album. One that I intend to pass onto both my classical loving parents and rock fans. Nor does it at any point invoke that dreaded spectre to ‘rock-classical crossover.’

In the press relase, Coleman states ‘“The end goal was always to bring magic into the listener’s life in some meaningful way”.

Mission accomplished.

****

Magna Invocatio – a Gnostic mass for choir and orchestra inspired by the sublime music of Killing Joke is out now. The vinyl version will follow on January 24.

Gig review – Karine Polwart

Karine Polwart – Usher Hall, Edinburgh

November 16, 2019

(Yes, it was a week ago, but it’s been a rather chaotic week, yet this has left a nice glow…)

It’s that time of year – yet again – when thoughts turn to end of year lists. High on the list at 17 Seconds Towers is Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook (see here for review), eleven songs from the last fifty years of Scottish popular music delivered in her own style.

Interviewing her in August, she explained that the album evolved out of the exhibition on Scottish pop music that took place last year at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and a night of Scottish pop in a folk style that she curated at the Leith Theatre. ‘The amount of effort for one night led to four days in a studio and pondering the issue of ‘How can you make a go of them in a way that’s not shit karaoke?’

As anyone who has heard the album will attest, it’s most definitely not shit karaoke. The show opens with her radical reworking of The Waterboys’ ‘The Whole Of The Moon.’ The skill of the reworking is that it maintains the spirit of the song, even though it doesn’t have the famous trumpet solo.

There’s some excellent banter form the stage, drawing upon her time growing up in Stirlingshire, including an excellent story about the girls who decided that they weren’t going to do knitting if the boys weren’t. She sheds light on the songs – it’s still a surprise to learn that Strawberry Switchblade’s song ‘Since Yesterday’ is about nuclear war.

When interviewed, she indicated that there wouldn’t be a second volume, but there’s a number of tracks that get an airing tonight. On paper, a choir of schoolchildren coming on stage to join a version of Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone Like You’ should have been unbearably cloying, but it comes together surprisingly well. Perhaps the highlight, though, is a medley of Eurythmics’ ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ and Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown boy.’ She jokes that it’s because they both feature the word ‘rain’ prominently in the song but it’s a genius reworking. As a songwriter, it’s understandable that she may not wish to do a second volume, but  her reworkings make for an engaging listen.

New from The Flaming Lips

I’m not going to starts Christmas posts properly until we’ve got past Thanksgiving (Mrs. 17 Seconds is originally from Indiana, so this gets noted more in our home than it would do otherwise in most Scottish homes), but this popped into my inbox on Friday, and is too good not to share, frankly.

It’s a tribute to the David Bowie and Bing Crosby medley of ‘Little Drummer Boy – Peace On Earth‘ originally taped for a Bing Crosby special in 1977, and released as a single in 1982. The video is as wonderfully psychedelic as you might expect. This performance was originally shown last December and was directed by Wayne Coyne and George Salisbury.

Now, although the info from the US says it’s out now, it’s not on iTunes, in the UK at least, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled…

In other Flaming Lips’ news, there’s a live album, entitled The Flaming Lips Recorded Live At Red Rocks With The Colorado Symphony Orchestra due on November 29. This version of ‘Race For The Prize’ is glorious.

Forthcoming from Paul Vickers and The Leg

Ahead of the December 6th release of their new album Jump, Paul Vickers and The Leg have unveiled the first single and video from the album.

Released on Tenement Records (who have also given us releases by Aberfeldy, George McFall and Dominic Waxing Lyrical), if you’ve never heard the band reassembled from the ashes of Dawn of The Replicants the first single is an excellent place to start. ‘Chieftain Of Paradise‘ manages to sound like a slightly sinister knees-up and a call to arms. No mean feat, I think you’ll agree. A couple of plays and it is very pleasantly wedged into your brain.

The video is cheerfully bonkers and great fun. The first verse drops clues about early Elvis Presley singles with hands holding up singles to drop clues. I can’t work out if this was low-budget or not, but it’s wonderful to have a single that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The album tracklisting is as follows:

  1. Hearing My Voice
  2. Do your Best
  3. Chicken Church
  4. Hopelessadocus
  5. Sherbert And Chili
  6. Little Turtle Wars
  7. Help this Animal
  8. Chieftain Of Paradise
  9. Xmas In The Jungle
  10. The Blackburn Giant

Album Review – Mappe Of

Mappe Of -‘The Isle Of Ailynn.’ (Paper Bag Records)

Mappe Of is the moniker of Canadian avant-folk artist Tom Meikle. On this, his second album he sets out to document a fantasy world that draws parallels between a mythological space and everyday conflicts, concerns and struggles within our lives. While that might sound on paper like the sort of stuff that punk rock came to save us from a little over forty years ago, this is no prog-folk monstrosity, but rather a thing of beauty. I come not to bury brother Meikle but to praise him.

Moodwise, it’s absolutely perfect for this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Daylight is becoming progressively more and more scarce, and the sense that nothing is permanent becomes ever more prevalent. Were it not for the fact it’s so damn cold here in Scotland, I’d be using this as the soundtrack to walk barefoot through autumn leaves and treasuring what remains outside. I’ll just have to wrap up warm – but this warms the soul.

Comparisons have been made with the likes of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, the sense of the very sad being absolutely beautiful. While it sounds nothing like Mogwai in full-on explosive mode, it does capture a lot of their magnificent melancholia. At times his voice reminds me of Tim and Jeff Buckley, perhaps most on ‘Thessalon’ and the fragility of music evokes Vashti Bunyan or Mercury Rev circa Deserter’s Songs. Yes it’s ethereal in places, and electronic in others – the juxtaposition on ‘Unkno’ (no, that’s really not a spelling mistake) is particularly successful. Voices sore like church choirs (as opposed to Gospel choirs), both evoking death and life.

‘Volcae’ evokes Radiohead as much as the Buckleys; with its refrain of ‘I was born in magma’ it evokes both Meikle’s beloved fantasy writing as much as reflecting on the turbulent world that the first two decades of the twenty-first century have been. Pan’s Labyrinth made the viewer try to make sense of the fantasy and reality and what was really stranger; this works on a similar level.

At this time of year, the music writer finds themselves drawn to consider end of year (and decade) lists. I hope this will manage to make itself known to those who can spread the word as much as listeners. While the music within here may not appeal to all, those who take the time to live within the album will want to spread the word. If you cast aside your prejudices, you will find yourself rewarded. If folk, prog, psychedelia or ethereal sounds have ever moved you, then take the time to investigate this. There’s scarcely a wasted note within.

****

The Isle Of Ailynn is released on November 1 on Paper Bag Records.

Album Review – Spearmint

Spearmint – ‘Are You From The Future?’ (hitBACK)

Most music nuts will have a list of acts that, past or present, they feel should have a far higher profile. The German philosopher Gottfried Liebniz may have argued that we live in the best of all possible worlds, but he wasn’t a music journalist. One of the acts that should have had a far higher profile are, of course, Spearmint, a band who paid tribute to this on their seminal early single ‘Sweeping The Nation.’ That was over twenty years ago, and Spearmint continue to make awesome records. Sure they still have day jobs – but one of the things about releasing your own records is that you don’t have to worry about A&R men (and they usually are men, let’s be fair) muttering about not hearing a single or it having to be remixed for the American market.

Over the course of twelve songs on a 45 minute album, frontman Shirley Lee and his merry men demonstrate just how great they are at writing songs. Sure they’ve been linked with the indiepop movement, but there’s a lot of soul and disco influences on this album, too. Not in a ‘there’s always been a dance element to our music…erm, honest’ sort of way, but in a way that feels totally natural and honest.

Album opener ’24 Hours in A & E’ sets the tone, with its use of strings, not as window-dressing or ‘let’s get on Radio 2’ but as soul and disco do, to increase the urgency and passion, mixing gorgeously with a wah-wah guitar. ‘Senseless’ evokes Orange Juice’s comment that they wanted to mix the Velvet Underground with Chic and runs with it. It also features the immortal line ‘you wouldn’t give away your mint original pressing of ‘(White Man In) Hammersmith Palais’ would you?’ amongst all the rhetorical questions posed within. Other tracks that seek to bring the album onto the dancefloor are ‘St. Thomas In The Darkness’ and closer ‘It Won’t Happen To Me’ the latter with reflections on all the things that Shirley thought…well, you get the picture.

The album title comes from the second track ‘Pick The Papers Up.’ ‘I’m sick of hate being put in front of me’ sings Shirley and it’s impossible not to sympathise, especially if you live in the UK. Singling out The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express for particular criticism, Lee has explained that ‘The title refers to the younger folk, who will see a future that I won’t. I can only apologise for what my generation and the baby boomers are passing on – the sooner the current teens and twenty-somethings are running the world the better, as far as I’m concerned.’ How much does that some up the present here in the UK?

So sure, they still seem to be a (frustratingly) well kept secret. But as someone who receives more albums to review than can possibly be heard or written about, this is one that got played frequently in the runup to writing the review. I’m likely to continue doing so, as it’s one of the best albums of the year…

****1/2

Are You From The Future? is released on hitBACK on November 1.

Forthcoming from the Go-Betweens

Looking for a perfect present for the Go-Betweens’ fan in your life? Well, December 6 will see the release of a fantastic box set entitled G Stands For Go-Betweens Volume 2, which is a sequel to the first volume. It gathers together their albums Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond ExpressTallulah & 16 Lovers Lane. But there’s so much more, so check out the details here.

So why not whet your appetite with some videos from the period? The reality is the band should have been bigger, but hey ho…

From Liberty Belle…

From Tallulah

From 16 Lovers Lane…

Gig Review – XO: A Celebration Of Elliott Smith in aid of Tiny Changes

Dissection Room, Summerhall, Edinburgh

October 26, 2019

The word ‘celebration’ in the title should not be underestimated. As Broken Records’ Jamie Sutherland explains to the crowd, it’s about celebrating the life and music of Elliott Smith. Smith tragically died fifteen years ago this week. It’s a link with another musician closer to home, Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison who died last year and in whose name Tiny Changes was set up. The night is a celebration of Smith’s work and a reminder of just how much great music making goes on in Scotland. Oh, and of course, twenty-one years since the fabulous XO album was released.

Sadly, your humble scribe was making his way from another event and wasn’t able to be there for the start. But an event that included Matt Norris, Kid Canaveral and eaglowl is pretty much guaranteed to be good. We made our way up the stairs as a gorgeous version of ‘Thirteen’ floated through the building. This song, originally performed by Big Star was covered by Smith and the frailty of his version helped him make the song his own (for those looking for other heart-rending versions of Big Star songs, may I suggest Yo La Tengo’s version of ‘Take Care’).

The concert that I witnessed was fantastic. Siobhan Wilson, who has released two highly regarded albums There Are No Saints and The Departure was absolutely beguiling. Accompanied by Broken Records’ Ian Turnbull on guitar while she sang and played piano, it was the reminder that you can get at events like this that you have to investigate the artist concerned further.

Jamie Sutherland performed ‘Waltz #2’ and ‘Between The Bars.’ A stunning stripped down performance, it begs the question why, a decade into their recording career, have Broken Records not been given the exposure and recognition they so richly deserve? Certainly, this blog has long championed him and his band.

Still, one of the night’s surprise guests can tell the world about profiles being raised over a period of decades. Rachel Sermanni had to pull out but the legendary Vashti Bunyan takes her place. Ms. Bunyan seems very nervous but accompanied by Messrs Sutherland and Turnbull gives us a lovely rendition of ‘Pitseleh.’

The evening’s highlight for me was James Yorkston. Accompanied by violinist Aidan O’Rourke, he closed the event with distinctive versions of ‘No Name #1,’ ‘Roman Candle’ and finally ‘Miss Misery.’ In true Yorkston style, he recounts a story of meeting Smith backstage at a gig and Smith telling him to perform ‘Roman Candle’ at the memorial gig, in the style of the Doctor Who theme. It’s a wonderful idea…

More from Leonard Cohen

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Leonard Cohen’s new album, Thanks For The Memories. It’s released on November 22. Today the video for the opening track and first single proper from the album ‘Happens To The Heart’ has been released.

While I realise some people can get worried about posthumous albums, in that they fear it may not be as the artist intended, this is a sure sign that Thanks For The Memories will be absolutely brilliant. To these ears it sounds like prime Cohen.

Sit back and enjoy…

…and as a wee bonus, this rather fantastic version of Cohen’s ‘The Future’ arrived in my inbox yesterday. It’s by Brooklyn act Guiding Light, who are a new name to me, but this is worth the six minutes of your time.

Album Review – The Motorcycle Boy

A street photograph of a Harlem Motorcycle Gang, photographed in New York City, USA for Queen magazine, 1959.

The Motorcycle Boy – ‘Scarlet.’ (Forgotten Astronaut Records)

There’s no shortage of records that we have had to wait an aeon for. Through my teenage years, it was The Stone Roses’ Second Coming which took five years to follow-up their self-titled debut, and then as I got older it was the dozen years that went by before Kate Bush finally released Aerial, the follow-up to 1993’s The Red Shoes.

But there are, also, those records that sit in the vaults, while rumours circulate, and bootlegs may issue forth. So let’s take a brief step back…In 1985, contemporaries of the Jesus & Mary Chain, Meat Whiplash, took their name from a Fire Engines b-side and released their one and only single ‘Don’t Slip Up‘ on the legendary Creation record label. Meanwhile, over in Edinburgh, there was a band called The Shop Assistants, who were fronted by one Alex Taylor. After the band released their only album, Will Anything Happen she left to join up with the members of Meat Whiplash and guitarist David Scott and The Motorcycle Boy was born.

Of course, this should have been the start of something brilliant. In a way, it did start brilliantly. The band debuted with a cracking single ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain‘ which made the Peel Festive Fifty and saw them get an NME cover. They signed to Chrysalis, but sadly, momentum got lost, and while a couple of singles were released in 1989, the album that got recorded was never released…until now. But with an interest in indie guitar pop always bubbling away under the surface, the band haven’t been forgotten, and the release of the album has certainly piqued the interest of many.

So what does the record actually sound like? Album opener ‘Hey Mama’ is dancey, and dallies with the sounds that were emerging out of the dance scene, involves sequencers and keyboards. ‘Valentine’ is that underrated point where shoegazing meets c-86, and ‘World Falls Into Place’ is that gorgeous sixties influence that had such an influence over many of the 80s indie bands (while we’re at it, I genuinely think the first c-86 record may well have been The Byrds version of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’). Oh, and if you’ve never heard it before, ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ is here, too. It should have been filling up indie dancefloors for the last thirty years, and hopefully it now will do, too. Historically, it belongs with a whole host of bands that decimated the charts like Primal Scream and the aforementioned Mary Chain, the cult heroes The Pastels and the criminally underrated Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes.

It’s great, too, that the last two tracks on the album are an unreleased single ‘Sweet Dreams Pretty Baby’ and ‘Days Like These.’ If you look up the band’s releases on Discogs or Wiki you can see that there are other versions and recordings that could have filled an entire second disc. In the meantime, celebrate the fact that this release has finally seen the light of day, and check out the other bands on the family tree.

****

Scarlet is released on Forgotten Astronaut Records on October 25.