Album Review- Kevin Armstrong

Kevin Armstrong

Kevin Armstrong – ‘Run’ (Wishing Tree Records)

While the name Kevin Armstrong may not be known to many readers, the list of people that he has played with over a career stretching nearly forty years is pretty impressive. It includes, amongst others, Iggy Pop, Prefab Sprout and Sinead O’Connor. Perhaps the two artists that most connect with this collection of songs are David Bowie (still missed around 17 Seconds Towers) and Morrissey.

Armstrong has written seven of the songs on this album himself, and the other four songs are co-writes with Bowie and Morrissey, two apiece. From Bowie we have ‘Run’ (recorded with the much-mocked Tin Machine project), and Morrissey ‘Oh Phony’ and the standout on the record ‘He Knows I’d Love To See Him.’

He’s a pretty reasonable singer, and an excellent guitarist. Whilst it’s not Slaughter On 10th Avenue, it’s a pretty solid collection of songs. ‘On Beachy Head’ seems to be a touchy without moping lament for a friend who died at that notorious suicide spot, and ‘Dog Ate My Giro’ is far better than a song with this seemingly daft title has any right to be. To say that this will only appeal to Bowie and Moz diehards is unfair. It’s a gentle listen, without some next textures throughout. Not lifechanging, but a steady grower.

***

Run is out now on Wishing Tree Records.

Stream via Spotify.

EP review – Munya

Blue_Pine_artwork

Munya -‘Blue Pine EP’ (Luminelle)

Munya is the stage name of Canada’s Josie Boivin. Raised in Saguenay, Quebec and based in Montreal, this is her third EP and the final in a trilogy. Following on from last year’s North Hatley (named for one of her favourite villages in Quebec) and Delmano EPs (the latter named for the Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg), we now have the Blue Pine EP. Blue Pine is a mountain in Twin Peaks – so not a real place, but as David Lynch is an important influence on her work, pretty real for her.

The trilogy of EPs very much sit together (so if you haven’t heard the previous two, get on with it!), making a coherent whole – in fact they’re available. Her sound is that of gorgeous electronic pop, with a lightness on the surface, but a sadness that’s just beneath. Comparisons (not to put her down) could be made with the likes of Stereolab, and also Grimes, Air and Zola Jesus.
As with the previous EP releases, this is a three-tracker, and all songs stand very much on their own terms, rather than simply being one single bulked out with a couple of bonus tracks. ‘Blue Pine’ perhaps shows the David Lynch influence strongest, not as a rehashing of the music from the TV series, but in terms of the dreamy electronic spirit. Seriously, you can imagine Sherilynn Fenn swaying to the music on the jukebox in the Double R Diner. While Munya has recorded in both French and English, ‘Benjamin’ the second track is the first time she has recorded a bilingual song. It’s perhaps the most French-sounding track (even without the singing) on the EP, but what is impressive is that it refuses to become cloying, instead being sophisticated and dreamy at the same time. On the final track -‘It’s All About You’ we get an eastern influence, with a sitar providing an interesting juxtaposition with the sophisticated French pop. Dreamy enough to be shoegazing, and certainly music to lose and find yourself within, though much less rocky than the music that has generally comes from that genre.
On the evidence of this latest EP, Munya confirms what her previous releases suggested, that she really is a fantastically talented writer and performer. It’s harder than ever to make a living as a musician in this day and age, but I keep getting dragged back to this EP (and the others), and I hope that she gets the recognition she deserves.

****

Blue Pine EP is out now on Luminelle

 

Rest in peace, Keith Flint

Keith Flint

Dear God. Please don’t let 2019 turn into another year like 2016, when celebrities dropped like flies and every time you saw a name trending on Twitter you started fearing the worse.

News has broken in the last hour that The Prodigy’s Keith Flint died this morning at his home in Essex. He was just 49. According to the Prodigy’s Liam Howlett, he had taken his own life.

It would be dishonest to claim that I was a Prodigy fan from the off, because I wasn’t and for much of the first half of the 1990s, I didn’t get much dance music. This was far more to do with me being a moody teenager, seeing boundaries that weren’t there, and nothing to do with the music itself (though the fact that I can’t dance for toffee may be something to do with it). I didn’t care much for these tracks at the time – I now recognise them as representative of much of the great dance music coming out of Britain then.

 

But The Prodigy – along with many other acts, such as The Orb, Underworld, Orbital, Leftfield and The Chemical Brothers changed my approach, along with the more down-tempo sounds of the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead.  When I heard the news, there were so many songs I wanted to hear. Sure, they may have been the hits – but what hits they were.

The year after I left school, they topped the charts with ‘Firestarter,’ a song that blistered visually as much as sonically, with a video that was supposedly too scary to be shown on TV (the following year’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ would put it into some kind of perspective, along with Aphex Twin’s ‘Come To Daddy’ video).

This was followed by the even-more exciting ‘Breathe’ which mixed Joy Division bass-lines, punk energy, seemingly several different styles of dance music (I was learning by now) and Keith Flint and Maxim leading this brilliant monster out of our stereos. Perhaps like Massive Attack, they were a British band who managed to combine so many different styles to produce something that was reflective of where Britain’s many tribes were coming from and how they had come together.

Frustratingly, the only time I saw them live was at Glastonbury in 1997. Keith was on fine form, even if the electrics gave out after the second song, and Dennis Pennis had to keep things going by singing to the crowd in Hebrew (no, really). I headed off to China a couple of days later, but not before I picked up a copy of Fat Of the Land, their third album, released the Monday after Glastonbury. Perhaps I drifted apart from The Prodigy after this period – I didn’t much care for the ‘Baby’s Got A Temper’ single in 2002 or the Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned album from 2004 (which didn’t feature Keith), but my interest was reignited with 2009’s Invaders Must Die album and listening to two of the singles from this album again, they deserve to be shared. What also struck me as interesting – I was teaching by this time – was how many of the kids I taught loved The Prodigy, too.

I never met Keith Flint, but according to those he was a lovely guy, and always very appreciative of the crew who worked with The Prodigy. His death, seemingly from suicide, is heartbreakingly sad, but he leaves behind some utterly awesome music.

Album review – George McFall

George McFall

George McFall -‘XIV: Surrounder.’ (Tenement Records)

It’s been nearly eight years since his first album, God Save The Clean, but the artist who formerly recorded as Clean George IV, is back with a new album which has definitely been worth the wait.

Towards the end of last year, McFall unveiled the first track from the album ‘Autumn.’ If so have still to hear it, it’s a wonderfully dark track, which genuinely feels like that time of year when the days are getting shorter. It was a perfect taster for the album, fitting in with the peculiarly Scottish melancholia of bands like Mogwai and the Twilight Sad, Sad and sounding as if it had been processed through the post-punk electric sounds of Gary Numan and John Foxx-era Ultravox, them finished off with addressing of prime 1970s German progressive rock. It broods with barely contained menace, as if any moment it might jump out of your speakers and attack.

However, it’s not an album which simply xeroxes the lead single to diminishing returns. The following track ‘Practice’ comes in two parts, the first part coming on like a fight song meets mantra, before slowing down into a soundtrack that evokes the opening of space doors onto unimaginable horror. Our George could have a bright future scoring Hollywood soundtracks if the fancy took him. Meanwhile songs like ‘Repetition’ and ‘Change’ channel the ghost of a young Mark E. Smith (circa 1979) and head for the dancefloor, dragging you along with a supernatural power, sneering at Kasabian that anything they can do, McFall will surely outclass them.

Several listens before reviewing this album demonstrate on each listen just how excellent this album is. Legendary Edinburgh drummer Murray Briggs (Aberfeldy and Oi Polloi) plays drums, but otherwise everything else is played by Mr. McFall himself, leading to the feeling of an album that’s entirely as its creator intended (no A&R fool bleating about the lack of a single for the American market here). There’s a huge number of influences within, but they are interwoven so effectively that there is no question of this being written off as mere record collection rock.

Interviewing McFall earlier this year, he told me that he intends to finish two albums under his own name this year. For us as listeners, on the strength of this album alone, that’s a treat being dangled in front of our ears and noses. Yum Yum.

A resounding success.

****

XIV: Surrounder is out now on Tenement Records

Andy Anderson remembered

Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson, with his father Cliff Anderson, a well-known boxer in the East End of London.

Jeez, not a good week, is it?

Andy Anderson drummer for The Cure between 1983-84 and frequent collaborator with other acts, including Iggy Pop, Isaac Hayes and Peter Gabriel,  died on Tuesday aged 68. He had been battling cancer.

His death was announced by former Cure member Lol Tolhurst. Tolhurst wrote:

‘It’s with a heavy heart, I have to report the passing of a Cure brother.

Andy Anderson was A (sic) true gentleman and a great musician with a wicked sense of humor which he kept until the end, a testament to his beautiful spirit on the last journey. We are blessed to have known him.’

The Cure in 1984

The Cure in 1984: (l-r) Phil Thornally, Porl Thompson, Robert Smith, Andy Anderson and Lol Tolhurst.

So as a tribute, some of the tracks Anderson played on.

He first played with Robert Smith, in the side project The Glove, who released one album, Blue Sunshine, in 1983:

He first played on The Cure’s top ten hit ‘The Love Cats’ seen here on Top of the Pops in late 1983. The track was first compiled on the Japanese Whispers album later that year.

Andy also played on The Top studio album and the live Concert, bothreleased in 1984. ‘The Caterpillar’ was another top twenty hit.

Mark Hollis remembered

Mark Hollis

Of all the band’s whose evolution over their lifespan might not have been expected, Talk Talk might well top the list. Lead by Mark Hollis, who died today aged 64, they went from being seen as possible new romantic rivals to Duran Duran around the time of their 1982 debut, The Party’s Over and its accomplished follow-up It’s My Life (1984) to laying the groundwork for Radiohead and post-rock over the trio of records that is The Colour Of Spring (1986), Spirit Of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991).

So here, in tribute, a track from each of those five albums, and one from his only solo album.

From 1982’s The Party’s Over, the eponymous single ‘Talk Talk.’ Sure you can hear the similarity to acts like Duran, Visage and A Flock Of Seagulls, but there’s a scope here that suggests they are thinking beyond the nightclubs of London town.

 

From 1984’s It’s My Life, the title track (later covered by No Doubt). This wouldn’t be the last time there would be an animal flavoured video.

From 1986’s The Colour Of Spring ‘Life’s What You Make It.’ Another animal-featuring video…one of their best known songs.

 

Whilst 1988’s Spirit Of Eden didn’t produce any big hit singles, it showed that the band had moved on leaps and bounds even from the changes that had come about on their previous album. It shows a link with pastoral records like Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure (1983) and points to post-rock, particularly bands like Sigur Ros.

The band’s final album would become even more minimalist – and links to bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and possibly full circle to early 80’s contemporaries like David Sylvian. This opening track is seemingly about suicide but utterly beautiful.

Mark’s sole release under his own name was his 1998 eponymous album from which this is taken. Just brilliant.

He retired from the music business to focus on bringing up his two sons. 17 Seconds sends best wishes to his family and friends.

Presenting…Rev Magnetic

Rev Magnetic

Rev Magnetic are based around the core of legendary Scottish musician and writer (Sweetmeat, Jelly Roll, Venus As A Boy – all worth reading) Luke Sutherland.

An occasional member of Mogwai, his musical project Rev Magnetic are now signed to Mogwai’s Rock Action label, and ‘Gloaming’ is the first fruits of the partnership. The single is released on 7″ at the end of this week, out now on digital, and an album is to follow.

This is glorious – and the video is fantastic, too.

 

New from Chaka Khan

chaka-khan-hello-happiness

I’ve been a bit quiet round the blog lately, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve given up.

Rather that life is keeping me busy. But I’m still listening, reading and writing.

At the moment, I’m enjoying the final part of Stuart Cosgrove’s epic soul trilogy, Harlem 69: The Future Of Soul. It follows on from Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul and Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul. The fast-moving tale of soul is intertwined with the politics of the period, and it’s educational not just about music but also about history, politics and sociology. The advantage of the modern age is that you can make a list of the music you are reading about and go and investigate it at the touch of the button…though this probably works more to the benefit of the consumer rather than the artist.

One of the people who appears in the pages of Harlem 69 is a young Chaka Khan. She’s just released her first album in twelve years, Hello Happiness. Somehow I missed last year’s first track from the album ‘Like Sugar’ which is just awesome. Fortunately, when it comes to doing my end of year Festive Fifty lists, one of my rules is that a track can qualify even if it was released as single the previous year…if it is released on the parent album that year. Seriously, check this out…

 

 

This is the title track, which is also rather fine.

 

 

Hello Happiness is only seven songs long, but it’s a joy to hear. Take the time to do so!

 

Gig review – Craig Finn

Craig Finn

Craig Finn – Edinburgh Usher Hall, February 6, 2019

The last time I saw Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn it was close enough to see the whites of his eyes. Hardly surprising, it was a living room gig in an Edinburgh tenement. At the time he was promoting his latest (third) solo album, We All Want The Same Things. Now two years later, he’s supporting Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon on solo dates, and has a new solo album, I Need A New War, out in April.

There’s no doubt that Craig Finn is a talented songwriter – but watching and listening to him armed with just an acoustic guitar (no mean feat in a venue the size of the Usher Hall, upgraded from the comparatively smaller Queen’s Hall), his skill as a raconteur cannot be underestimated. Sure, it’s irritating when people won’t shut up over the support act, but even more so when it’s someone this witty.

Introducing the Hold Steady’s song ‘Magazines’, he talks about how it was written after a girl dumped him on a date. Then twenty-four hours later – during which time he’d written the song – she realised she’d made a mistake and they’ve been together ever since, even though he wrote the song. There’s a preview of the new record’s ‘Magic Marker’ and more reflections about growing up and missing out on being a proper punk because he didn’t get to see Black Flag on ‘Punk Is Not A Fair Fight.’ There’s the melancholy of 9/11 revisited on ‘Newmyer’s Roof’ and a touching tribute to the late Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit with a cover of Frabbits’ ‘Heads Roll Off.’

As a reviewer, I was privileged to see this, but if I’d been a punter I would have been amply rewarded, too.

Album review – Katie Doherty and the Navigators

katie-doherty-lg-1170x650

Katie Doherty and the Navigators -‘And Then’ (Steeplejack Music)

‘Second album syndrome’ is an idea that’s been around so long it’s tempting to wonder how music makers were pressured pre-recorded sound. Katie Doherty released her debut, Bridges, back in 2007, but it’s only now that the follow-up, And Then, has been released.

Not that she’s been idle in the meantime, as she’s been a composer for many Northern Stage productions, as well as collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and starting a family. This second album is not a concept album per se (or if it is, it’s very well hidden!), but there is a theme running through the record, Doherty’s evaluation of the concept of change.

This is a record that probably will be described as folk, for convenience if nothing else, but that shouldn’t mean that it isn’t hugely contemporary in terms of the lyrical concerns within. On the title track she looks at the issue of looking perfect in the age of social media:

And they filter out the lines that show you’re living

They paper over cracks where light gets in

And that fire in your belly is a safety hazard

And they’ll smother it before it could begin

Please, please don’t let them win‘ she implores the listener.

Elsewhere she looks at just how overwhelming being a parent is on ‘Tiny Little Shoes’ and takes a tough stance on standing up for yourself as a woman on ‘Angry Daughter.’ If you ever thought that folk music was little more ‘than hey nonny no’ needs to listen to her powerfully proclaiming that ‘this is owed to resilience, stand up for what is wrong.’

It’s not just about the power of Doherty as a lyricist but it’s also about how compelling the album is, over repeated listens, musically. Shona Mooney (fiddle and vocals) and Dave Gray (melodeon and vocals) make this very much a group record, along with double bassist Ian Stephenson, producing something very powerful to listen to. The atmosphere conjured up to listen to on ‘A Rose In Winter’ particularly is a spinechilling listen, and the centuries-old traditions meeting the twenty-first century head on in the instrumental ‘Polska.’

The standout track, though, is ‘Heartbeat Ballroom.’ Reflecting on lovers who met at teenage dances, it’s actually pretty moving, even more so when combined with Ian Fenton’s video. even on its own, it is an extraordinarily visual song in the images it conjures up. If it doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, then something’s wrong.

There’s no need to spend hours debating what folk music is or attempting to justify this album’s place. Take it at face value, and live with it until you love it. Then keep playing…

****

And Then is out now on Steeplejack Music