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Lou Reed: Sunday Morning After the Sunday Mourning Before

3 Nov

It was Kim Gordon who told me that Lou Reed had died, I swear.

LOU_REED_Edad_de_oro

I turned on Twitter and there it was.

The words “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed s passing this is a huge shock!” from the blue-tick @kimletgordon account suggested this was not another of these tiresome internet death hoaxes but actually something very real. Why would the Sonic Youth (and now Body / Head) songsmith and latterday queen of NYC cool fall for such a dumb stunt if it were merely that? Indeed, Ms. Gordon went on to write a whole magazine article here in memory of the man she called “the first real anti-hero in rock”.

Lou Reed was one of these old gnarled, grumpy anti-heroes who you probably presumed would go on living forever, despite having smoked, sniffed, snorted and injected all manner of illicit substances for years (despite being “clean” for a fair few years) washed down, one would imagine, by plentiful quantities of liquor and strong coffee.

Not unlike Keef, Iggy, David or Julian, the craggy face of Lou Reed in his latter years seemed to be like one of those old trees standing strong in the middle of a storm, having absorbed years of battering from the “elements”. But in the end he died at the age of 71 – hardly a rock ‘n’ roll casualty – but still younger than my mum is now. And despite some pathetic tabloids trying to paint him as a poster boy victim of drug abuse he had been “on the wagon” for a fair while.

There is really no need for me to sum up Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground as most of you reading who are fans will know the backstory already while those who have a merely cursory interest in the fellow will have probably gleaned the relevant information in the many obituaries that were written after his demise.

You will already know that his parents sent him for electro-shock therapy at the age of 17 to “cure” him of his burgeoning, “worrying” homosexuality, that he was part of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and got Andy to paint a cheeky banana on the cover of his band’s debut album, that he was a good mate of David Bowie and Iggy Pop (and later championed Antony Hegarty of “and-the-Johnsons” fame), probably took hard drugs and certainly wrote songs about it and hated giving interviews. We all know that John Peel championed The Velvet Underground in their early days because that’s what he did with most culturally important artists.

The fact that his most instantly recognised worldwide hit was about a series of transvestites and / or transexuals and contained a line about “giving head” is to the man’s eternal credit.

It took me YEARS to twig the innuendo in the album title of “Transformer”, which I’d always naívely presumed was some electrical power reference.

lou corn flakes

To be frank, of the man’s relatively ample catalogue, I only own four physical albums of his, although others have resided on my hard-drive for some time, a few extrapolated “for personal use” from record library borrowings.

And yet it is probably in the influence of The Velvet Underground that many of the favourite bands of my teenage self in the 80’s that casts the longest shadow over my music collection.

Of my youthful “holy trinity” of The Smiths, New Order and The Cure, Morrissey has covered Satellite of Love, New Order covered Sister Ray (which they also did as Joy Division) and also performed Do The Ostrich pre-VU Lou band The Primitives (not Tracy Tracy’s band, more on THEM later), while there are photos of Robert Smith with Lou Reed and no doubt Cure performances of Velvet Underground material circulate beyond the realms of YouTube.

It was also through cover versions that I first came into contact with A LOT of Velvet Underground material that I probably didn’t know was actually by them in the first place at the time. Probably because I didn’t purchase “The Velvet Underground and Nico” until decades later, to my eternal shame. Like this wonderful Strawberry Switchblade version of Sunday Morning, probably the first of these aural delights (which you’ve already guessed I am going to catalogue):

Everyone from Ian McCulloch to Siouxsie to Japan to The Wedding Present to Ride to Nirvana to Bryan Ferry and back covered VU songs, and you could probably get a couple of complete compilations of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” with each track covered by a different artist, gleaned from a plethora of B-sides, album tracks, live recording and even the odd single.

Beck even covered the whole damn album.

The Cowboy Junkies‘ beautiful rendition of Sweet Jane is another case in point:

Could the glorious noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain have sounded quite the same without the sonic innovation of Reed, Cale, Tucker, Morrison and sometimes Yule? Although other bands have had a notable influence on UK indie and US “college rock”, I’d wager few would have had the impact on teenage ears if they themselves hadn’t been exposed to The Velvet Underground. Of course Gram and Neil and John and Paul and Alex and Jonathan and all the girl groups also left their mark, but Lou and his bandmates left a bloody great boot print.

Coventry’s recently-reformed Primitives not only nicked their monicker from Lou Reed’s pre- Velvets garage band incarnation (I may have mentioned them earlier) but also introduced my younger self to I’ll Be Your Mirror, another b-side.

As Brian Eno said, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” only sold 30,000 copies when it came out, but everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band“.

Even in his post-Velvets solo career, Lou Reed still attracted many a fine cover version.

The House of Love covered I Can’t Stand It to great effect:

Away from the world of indie, Reed’s oeuvre both with and without the Velvet Underground has also been keen sampling fodder.

A Tribe Called Quest‘s lift of a snatch of  Walk on the Wild Side for their breakthrough radio hit Can I Kick It? is probably the most well-known (the entire track is credited to “L.Reed” alone), but Massive Attack, RZA (him out of the Wu-Tang Clan), Del The Funkee Homosapien, LCD Soundsystem and even Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch have sampled Lou Reed’s compositions.

Further afield Japanese artists Pizzicato Five, Takako Minekawa and Kahimi Karie all sampled THE SAME Lou Reed song.

It wasn’t anything off “Metal Machine Music” either.

The most curious Lou Reed sampling though has to come from Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, who managed to match Lou Reed with his future wife Laurie Anderson on a 1990 b-side, a full 18 years before they married in 2008.

For me personally, post-Velvet Underground Lou Reed had its highlights in “New York“: the man’s tribute to the city he loved with all its dirt and crime and seediness (and to his friend the wheelchair-bound songwriter Doc Pomus) and his reunion album with John Cale “Songs For Drella“: a two-man warts-and-all tribute to their late mentor Andy Warhol.

Here’s the whole concert-film-recording thing of “Songs For Drella”, a tremendous record.

I hear “Magic and Loss” is another highlight, but embarrassingly, I’ve yet to hear that in full.

One for the Christmas wishlist there.

So long Lou, and thanks for inventing indie along the way.

Oh, and as we started with Lou Reed subtitled in Spanish, here’s my favourite cover of Walk On The Wild Side, which just happens to be in Spanish as well,

 Courtesy of Albert Plà:

Keeping it Peel, nine years on (with Boards of Canada in session)

24 Oct

john peel in a boat

Nine years after the man who taught so many of us the importance of opening our ears to “different” music – music often far removed from  the mundane daytime fare of the popular airwaves – left us without an appointed heir, we at We All That Towers (okay, I’ll “fess up”, it’s only me) are still keeping it Peel.

I won’t go on about the artists who became celebrated international recording talents of note or cult heroes to a bedroom army of home-tapers or EVEN about those genres which went from underground to overground (not the Wombles, get a grip!) years after John expressed a preference, mainly because I’ve done that before.

Around this time.

And often.

But as we show our annual respects and doff our collective music-lover’s caps at the church of Peel, (a lot of which is handily frozen in time at the splendiferous John Peel Achive at The Space) are we actually keeping the spirit of the great man alive?

One of John Peel’s unique gifts was his enthusiasm for any untapped vein of music or his notion that hidden somewhere on a poorly recorded demo tape was the next Duane Eddy or whoever. New music is out there, and in my next post I am going to patronisingly explain how to find it to those of you who, like my weary self, feel that they are losing their edge in a James Murphy-like way.

Just as all those years ago, business types had typists or secretaries who would do a lot of the tiresome stuff like booking hotel rooms or typing up documents freeing up more valuable time to play golf, nine years ago (and before, obviously) we had John Peel to steer us through the mire of alternative music in its various forms and select the good stuff for our eclectic ears’ delight. And just as in the modern office of today only the creme de la creme of corporate top management are afforded the luxury of a personal secretary or PA, while most rank and file office bods have to do the typing and so on themselves. Without external help.

And with one finger if necessary ( * coughs *).

Surely the best way to pay tribute to the John Peel is to discover some quality new music and spread the good word, as he himself dedicated his working life to doing?

Do it yourself?

Wasn’t that the essence of punk, or post-punk, or C86 or whatever?

As the clip below shows, even when nominally kow-towing to his Radio One paymasters, Peel could still worm in a cheeky plug for his favourite Salford band the way that no-one else would have the audacity to do.

Yet the day does provide us with an opportunity to look back and celebrate all manner of great music from skiffle to happy hardcore and back again. Keeping-it-Peel-the-website will be doing this all day, and they, I and various like-minded Peel disciples will be tweeting at you over the next 24 hours with links to session tracks, tribute shows, TV specials, articles and whatnot. I’ve been “ordered” not to mention The Fall – presumably to show this is a “special day” unlike all the other days I tweet about the “mighty” Fall (Peel’s coinage, naturally) – but I can’t promise you that.

But I will leave you with a rather splendid end-of-an-era show where John had Boards of Canada in for a session.

Years before talk of “hauntology” or limited promos hidden in record shops around the world.

Enjoy it, and if you do the Twitter thang, be sure to hashtag your Peel memories or links with a #keepingitpeel hashtag-thing.

And here is the master, at work, fifteen years ago:

John Peel Show, with Boards of Canada in session, 1998

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Tomorrow is the day we’re Keeping it Peel

24 Oct

 

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You know what to do.

Know Your Enemy: Thatcher vs. Pop

18 Apr

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“Mixing pop and politics he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses”

So sang Billy Bragg in 1988, when he was Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards.

Bragg – more than Morrissey, more than Weller, more than Wylie, more than any of his contemporary “spokesmen for a generation” who had gone on to trouble the upper echelons of the UK top 40 charts – had been forever tarred with the “a bit political” (© B. Elton ) brush from the moment he claimed to have been a miner, a docker AND a railwayman in front of the gooning masses on Top Of the Pops in 1984. Yet Between the Wars was Bragg’s first bona fide Top 20 hit, the first actual traditional (albeit self-penned) protest song many of the pubescent audience may have ever heard.

But during what historians will inevitably dub “The Thatcher Years”, protest songs were not uncommon. Despite Billy Bragg’s debt to Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Dick Gaughan (the latter’s World Turned Upside Down was also featured on the value-for-money Between the Wars EP), protest songs were a going concern between 1979 and 1990, especially in the early years of the Thatcher Cabinet. Stand Down Margaret by The Beat and Ghost Town by The Specials were but two examples of 2-Tone’s contribution to the genre, while the subsequent purveyors of irritatingly radio-friendly reggae-lite UB40 actually delivered a genuine anthem for the unemployed in the dubby One In Ten. Crass kicked up a post Falklands storm with their “Thatchergate” tapes, while Sheep Farming In The Falklands was just one of their various barbed attacks on Mrs T. Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding was a minor chart hit for Robert Wyatt (himself no stranger to political songs – remember Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’?)  in 1982, and Costello (with his Irish family roots showing through) would have another pop at the so-called Iron Lady with Tramp The Dirt Down, where the artist known to his mum as Declan not so much danced on Maggie’s imagined grave as vigorously stomped upon it to ensure her zombie did not prize open the coffin lid and stalk the land. Of course, cremation was never an option for Thatcher – the lady was not for burning.

THATCHER Crass_5 (3)

The 1980s are often depicted as “the decade taste forgot” (was it VH1 who coined that one?), meaning shoulder pads (the fashion accessory, not the 1986 “Bend Sinister” album cut, which like 95% of The Fall’s output is pure genius), new romantic couture, over-the-top make up for men and women and silly haircuts all round (guilty as charged, m’lud) etc… but the 1980s were also the decade where political activism and a sense of genuinely wanting a better world for you and for me (to quote another dead 80s icon equally adored and reviled during his career) were actually the norm for young adults… and students in particular (remember Steve Coogan’s character who mocked such right-on “student types”?)

The 80s – under Thatcher – saw the rise and fall of political implication. Apartheid, feminism, the miners’ strike, animal rights, student grants: all things that provoked demonstrations, fundraising and “action” – for or against depending on the cause – and with the rise of Thatcherite thinking that echoed that of Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gecko yuppie character in zeitgeist flick “Wall Street” –  greed was good.

As concepts such as greed, unfettered ambition and looking after number one turned from what one’s parents considered to be vices to what one’s neighbours considered to be virtues, interest in saving the whale or putting pressure on government to intervene in international emergencies (like famines etc, not in wars for oil etc) waned. Supermodels who claimed they would rather go naked than wear fur started wearing fur again. Although it may well have been that they just liked getting naked in the first place, it seemed now that principles were often flexible, so long as they were in the best interests of the individual holding them.

I recently read an article that claimed that Band Aid and Live Aid were responsible not only for “killing the protest song” (with Farm Aid, Ferry Aid and a whole host of other charity singles featuring a progressively higher year-on-year intake of half-forgotten popstars singing cover versions propelled into the Top Ten by guilt-ridden record buyers and hardcore fans of the artists roped in to do the singing)  but for reducing the need for government money to be poured into disaster funds, as these records would serve that very task. With Do They Know It’s Christmas? and all the INTERNATIONAL revenue from that, plus the video and the publicity generated, why would the government need to search for the keys to the coffers? Plus this clever move was diverting public attention to trouble at home, like the miners’ strike. Pits closing down? What about the starving millions in Africa, for Christ’s sake? You never had it so good! No wonder Thatcher was so keen to shake Bob Geldof’s hand (and probably hurry up his knighthood)!

No more, please!

No more, please!

Just as it is said that “the sixties really ended when The Beatles split up” (although that happened in the early seventies), we can probably conclude that the eighties really ended in September 1990 when a backstairs conspiracy lead to Thatcher’s arm being twisted and her being convinced that her resignation would save the party. The “wicked witch of Westminster” (as Pete Wylie called her) was politically dead in the water, her spirit perversely resuscitated by Tony Blair some years later as he embarked on his “third way” crusade to reform state education and the welfare state (by trying to run them like businesses and then sell bits of them off when they weren’t profitable).

Whereas the mid-eighties were all about promoting feminism and ending racism, the mid-nineties were all about women getting drunk and telling men to get their kit off (hey, equality!) and men ending up in a police cell after a night on the tiles. Students still drank heavily, but this time were more concerned with cellulite than apartheid. Thatcher’s dream of an ambitious society of motivated (read “unsubsidised”) men and women lead to a generation of directionless individuals hellbent on fame and bling.

While Morrissey had evoked the decapitation of Thatcher (after previously informing that the monarch had passed away), subsequent heads of state were seen as too bland or too boring to merit public slaughter, and even the much reviled war exploits of Tony Blair hand in hand with George W. Bush received scant musical attention bar a hitherto-unknown-in-the-UK all-gal country music trio saying they were a bit embarrassed at being Dubya’s homegirls. Ok, there was George Michael‘s cheeky Shoot The Dog ditty and accompanying cartoon video, but this remained more of a curio in the bottom draw of a one-time A-list songwriter than a genuine call for the head of Bush’s “poodle” on a silver salver.

the bitch is dead

It could also be – most ironically –  in part thanks to Thatcher herself that Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead! was chosen as a two-fingered send-off from the great British public to Margaret Hilda. Thatcher loved to simplify things to make them more easy for the great unwashed to understand. Monetarism was never mentioned by Thatcher, though that was exactly her philosophy. Instead, references to “good housekeeping” and the like peppered her public discourse. Thus, it only seems fit that such a simplistic and to-the-point chorus should be used to taunt the perpetrator of such social division. Puerile, yes… but simple. Short and sweet. A short sharp shock, something loved by the Tories since time immemorial.  Millions didn’t download the song for its musical (or let’s face it, its lyrical) message, and most probably never even played it. But a point was made, and certainly one that surprised people in the United States where Thatcher was universally worshipped for ending the Cold War along with Ronald Reagan. She had her enemies back home. And lots of them.

I would personally have favoured Crass’ chirpy, down-the-pub-singalong-round-the-old-joanna non-hit Whodunnit with its radio-friendly chorus of Birds put the turd in custard, but who put the shit in number ten?, but maybe a little-known song from an anarcho-punk collective wouldn’t have registered with the masses as strongly as a clip from a Hollywood film starring Judy Garland.

And now that Thatcher is dead and buried, isn’t it about time someone actually revived the noble art of the protest song? Guardian scribe Dorian Lynskey wrote a fine book about the art of the genre (not merely reviewing the Woody Guthries and Dylans of the oeuvre but also the once incendiary world of rap protest – Public Enemy and KRS-One being leading lights – which has now just descended into mere brag – with one “g” -and moaning and fantasising) and even has an equally fine blog about it. Eminem did protest about his mum a few times, Neil Young dedicated a whole album to “Living With War” and Bobby Gillespie has “got political” on record on occasion (as well as bemoaning the dearth of complacency in modern music during our current “hard times”) but protest on vinyl (or on mp3) is a fraction of what it was in Thatcher’s heyday.

Darren Hayman’s Hefner had a good try in 2000 though, but even that was celebrating The Day That Thatcher Dies (see vid below):

Sadly the wish-washy likes of David Cameron don’t quite inspire the venom that Thatcher did, despite some of his cuts being equally harsh. The only consolation we have from the Thatcher years is a collection of rather fine protest songs. What consolation will we have when the current coalition breathes its last, or when Cameron shuffles off his mortal coil??

Well, apart from this (which scraped its way into the UK Top 50 I do believe with a band title and a song title unfit for radio broadcast), just a horrendous cameo on a horrendous Blondie/Undertones pseudo mash-up from Cowell’s latest puppets One Direction.  Even the idea of the cameo was plagiarised from Neil Kinnock and Tracey Ullman.

Help save the youth of America, Billy?

God help the youth of the UK, more like.

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Bowie is Back: The return of the Thin White Jukebox

1 Mar

Well, today, the first of March, is Saint David’s Day, and it seems that this merry month of March 2013 has been unofficially dubbed Bowie Month, as the elder statesman of chameleonic pop (or rock, or blue-eyed-soul, or glam, or whatever), the gentleman known to Smash Hits readers as “the Dame” is officially back with a new album housed in the most controversial Bowie cover art since a canine male member graced his inside leg on the gatefold sleeve of Diamond Dogs in 1974.

Bowie’s unannounced return to the radio waves with new material (a paltry TEN YEARS, less than half the time it took Kevin, Bilinda and the other two to deliver the third “proper” My Bloody Valentine album) was even more surprising considering that it had been generally considered that the artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust had discreetly retired from rock and roll to be a doting dad to his  second child and basically to chill out following a heath scare (and… er…  a lollipop in the eye). Rumours even floated around cyberspace that Bowie had cancer or was wasting away, victim of some unutterable lurgy.

Where Are We Now? was thus a bolt from the blue, a slice of unexpectedly elegant nostalgia that surfaced – totally unannounced – on the man’s 66th birthday. Many of us old enough to remember when vinyl was the main “physical support” for all music (rather than being the preserve of hipsters, djs or audiophiles) were then transported back to an impeccable run of albums and characters from the close of the 60s to the early 80s, conveniently blocking out all memory of diabolical duets with Tina Turner or Mick Jagger, never mind Tin Machine.

Most unfortunate for Brett Anderson – once chided for aping early Bowie vocal delivery – that the day chosen for Suede’s announcement of their reformation and return from an equally long hiatus unintentionally coincided with that of the return of Bowie himself. Ouch.

bowie chameleon

David Bowie’s back-story is pretty much common knowledge to anyone with a passing knowledge of music in the last 50 years. He changed his surname to Bowie because he didn’t want to be confused with one of The Monkees, his missus caught him in bed with Mick Jagger and John Peel told him to drop the miming spiel. He “invented” glam rock,  penned some of the finest songs in music history and once lived on a diet of milk, peppers and DRUGS. He named his son Zowie Bowie (the lad later became known as Duncan Jones, the film bloke), he shared a flat with Iggy Pop in Berlin (where he moved in a rather hopeless attempt to stem his substance addiction) and his career went downhill rapidly when he got his teeth fixed. But despite that consistent run of groundbreaking albums in the 1970s he only clocked his first solo number one single with the 1983 hit Let’s Dance. As any fool know.

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Pierrot, Young American, spikey-haired-goatee-bearded junglist… Bowie has had slightly fewer characters than the typical Frank Ocean tweet. And then there was Tin Machine.

But let’s not go there.

Today a stream of “The Next Day” has been unveiled for the world’s aural delight, while a few days ago a cannily casted video featuring Tilda Swinton alongside Bowie set the internet alight with tweets that the previous video had really been rather lacklustre and links to the Tilda Stardust tumblr page which may just have inspired the aforementioned canny casting. As with the My Bloody valentine album I am lazily going to pass the baton to the more polished wordsmiths in the employ of  The Quietus and The Guardian Music Weekly to review it, while we concern ourselves with curious Bowie reworkings, as if stocking a virtual Wurlitzer with bizarre promotional and semi-legal re-treads of his finest hours (see what I did there) , past and present.

And so. let us unveil…

THE THIN WHITE JUKEBOX!!

One of the first (cough) semi-legal Bowie remixes I encountered online that impressed me more than a bit was a fine cosmic take on Space Oddity, the song that really catapulted the former David Jones into the consciousness of the British record-buying public when it was used to accompany BBC reports on the moon landings in 1969.

At remix controls is Appo, a Middlesborough native who – it says here – has worked with the likes of Danny Rampling, Pete Tong, Graham Park and other turntable luminaries from the acid-infused 90s, and the balearic edge of his chilled re-work is testament to that

I would have added a link to Appo’s site, but it appears to be infected with a virus. Which is a shame.

Anyway, enjoy the choon:

Atlanta’s DJBC, veteran patron of the genre-defining Get Your Bootleg On (or GYBO to its pals) internet fraternity, managed – with other like-minded bootleggers such as SF’s Bootie collective – to produce an entire “mash-up” album of the “Ziggy Stardust” LP, and stick it up on the internets for no money. Click on the link and find out!

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Fritz von Runte (sadly not a Berliner, but a Manc who has worked with Peter Hook’s ill-starred vanity project Freebass, among other things) has also created his own album of Bowie reworks – spanning most of his career – entitled Bowie2001. Not only has he created an album’s worth of stuff, but there’s a DVD too as the whole project is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, which has now passed was once the future and predicted the internet which brings this whole journey full circle. Or something. Read more here, where you can sign up for a free download of the album, or even purchase the DVD. In case you didn’t twig, what’s being done here is Space Oddity  is being melded with “A Space Odyssey”. Right.

Oh, and there’s also one mix which makes the latter-day Bowie sound like Antony on that Hercules and Love Affair track Blind. This isn’t it though.

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Go Home Productions (Mark Vidler to his doctor) is best known to bootleg (or “mash-up”) aficionados for being “there” when the genre was fresh… and for making classic couplings of other people’s records, the Sex Pistols vs Madonna “boot” Ray Of Gob, being a prime example (which apparently met with the approval of both Steve Jones and Madge herself). Bowie was also impressed with GHP’s “skillz”, as he commissioned him to do a mix of Rebel Rebel with his “Reality”- era single Never Get Old called (true to old skool bootlegger track nomenclature) Rebel Never Get Old.

GHP also “mashed” the Dame’s I’m Afraid of Americans with his beloved XTC (and later went on to work with Andy Partridge), but for now lend your ears to this splendid remix of Fame:

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Jeremy Sole is a “roots” DJ (whatever that is) on Santa Monica radio station KCRW. Bowie liked his remix of Golden Years so much he officially sanctioned it for release to promote the “Station To Station” box set thing.

Not hard to see why, as it’s a fairly tasteful re-rub:

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Chicago’s TR34TM3NT (obviously a one-time 5IVE fan) wasted no time in putting out this trippy, almost post-dubstep mix of bolt-from-the-blue return from oblivion single Where Are We Now?

With no officially sanctioned 12″ mix, this makes for a fine substitute:

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The Pinker Tones are a jaunty Barcelona-based duo / trio (in a twee-pop-meets-Shibuya-kei vein) who have remixed Pizzicato Five, among others.

Here’s their mix of number two single off the new LP – The Stars Are Out Tonight:

Happy Saint David’s Day, everyone, Welsh and otherwise!

Give My Love to Kevin: the return of My Bloody Valentine

12 Feb

MBV_YES

Well, it actually happened… the follow-up to My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” – released in 1991 and given a questionable remastering last year – is finally available. Nearly twenty-two years later, with no further warning than an aside by Kevin Shields at a recent Brixton Academy gig in which he replied to a lairy fan’s heckle about the likelihood of a new MBV platter within the forseeable future with a shouting of  “two or three days!”, something jumped upon by the digital music press. After all, after such a long wait – the hysteria which greeted The Stone Roses’ tardy follow-up “The Second Coming” soon turned to disappointment when it failed to live up to the lofty heights of its eponymous predecessor.

saint_kevin_mbv

And maybe it if this reference point we need to re-visit, to compare to the second coming (or the third coming, as “mbv” is – of course – the band’s third album “proper” when compendiums and reissues are ignored) of “My Bloody” (I distinctively recall annoying fans yelling “MY BLOODY!!” at the quartet’s memorable Rollercoaster gigs alongside Dinosaur Jr., The Jesus and Mary Chain and a pre-mega-fame Blur) especially when Madchester’s most infamous quartet (note I did say Madchester, not Manchester’s… obviously too many contenders for THAT title) rolled back into town for a series of triumphant reunion gigs last year.

Because, whereas the five years idled away between debut and (WARNING: irritating US music journalist word ahead) sophomore album the Roses built up an anticipation that couldn’t possibly be quenched by any album, by letting over an ENTIRE GENERATION go by between one much-loved (can I say “groundbreaking” yet?) album and the next – supposedly bankrupting Creation in his quest for a perfect sonic palette along the way – Kevin Shields replaced any possible whinges of “is THIS it?” with gasps of amazement that the album was actually being delivered at all. And as The Stone Roses themselves saw when their surprisingly successful return (I mean critically, any Roses reunion was obviously bound to be a star-studded sell-out) a real long absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

MBV1

Like anyone who remembers the hazy crazy days of shoegaze in the early 1990s with half an eye on the internets, I watched the build-up to the “album drop” on Twitter. In real time. Will it, won’t it… some people were floating the idea that midnight Saturday/Sunday would be as good a time as any, a bit like when the megastores (RIP) used to open at midnight for the new Madonna album or whatever, and sure enough at the stroke of midnight mybloodyvalentine.org sprung into life.

Or rather, for most people, it didn’t. Tweets began to fill my timeline that “Kevin Shields has broken the internet” and a few die-hard fans began to whine in a way eerily reminiscent of those let down by the technology when trying to purchase Kraftwerk tickets a few weeks previously. I managed to get on to the site after refreshing lord-knows-how-many times, when it crashed as soon as I clicked a button. Then I saw the album had been uploaded to YouTube… and then I decided to call it a night.

But next morning Mary Anne Hobbes blasted a medley of the whole album over the BBC 6Music airwaves and I knew that I had to purchase it, and preferably on vinyl as mp3 probably wouldn’t do 22 years of sonic tweaking justice. Plus there was an LP + CD + download bundle option available on the now smooth-running MBV site, and the word LIMITED alongside the vinyl details. I punched my info in and am still awaiting my package. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 22-odd years to arrive… after all this is the band whose last recorded effort as a quartet was a cover of “We Have All The Time In The World“.

MBV_B&W

I was going to do a track-by-track rundown of the mbv album (lower-case letters please) that has been on the iPod for around a whole week now but seeing that both Ned Raggett from The Quietus and Alexis Petridis from The Guardian have penned far greater reviews of this exhilarating long-player than this humble servant could ever hope to, you can read theirs instead (he said lazily). Nonetheless, my enthusiasm for “mbv” hasn’t been dimmed by a week of exposure, and although it is hardly a quantum leap from the intoxicating fuzz we fell in love with last time, the general standard of daytime-radio-friendly pop music has fallen so far (can YOU think of an early 90s irritant comparable to Guetta, Pitbull or the current slew of identikit boybands / urban soundalikes? Even Take Take that were almost bearable by comparison, ffs…) that the enchanting, dreamy, noisy wooze-pop that debatably kick-started “the scene that celebrates itself” (certain Bella Union bosses may beg to differ) was not only greeted with nostalgic glee but also as as breath of fresh air. Yes, the last track has a bit of a vintage drum-n-bass-wig-out edge to it, and in a couple of tracks Bilinda’s vocals are almost transcribable without a second listen, but there’s no doubt this is a My Bloody Valentine record. and a jolly fine one at that.

And what do the class of ’91 think of Kev and the gang’s return to our turntables? Emma from Lush tweeted that she “had heard a couple of tracks off YouTube on her “crappy laptop speaker” before proclaiming she was “gonna get the CD. Old school, yes”. Rachel from Slowdive opined – shortly after the album “dropped” – that she was “drowning in mbv”, and subsequently concurred with a follower that the album was “rather good” and that she “wouldn’t expect anything less”. Charlatan and sometime coffee man Tim Burgess described the album as “epic… loudly epic”, while David Gedge, the Ralf Hütter of The Wedding Present (and author of this post’s title, as you had probably spotted), protested he had “not had the chance yet” to hear the aforesaid recording and Boo Radley Martin Carr claimed to have been almost knocked down by a bus as he cycled home, enraptured by “mbv” on the headphones.

Meanwhile, from the world of football, Basque-born Spanish internationals past and present Gaizka Mendieta and Xabi Alonso both tweeted My Bloody Valentine related-links, with “only tomorrow” being a favourite of the Madridista. One Spanish tweeter pondered that if Xabi were allowed first dibs on the Real Madrid changing room sound system their unfortunate league trajectory could probably be dramatically reversed thanks to the power of MBV riffs.

To conclude, I would add that you could do a lot worse than investing in a hard copy of “mvb”, preferably on vinyl, or failing that on CD.

And when the package finally arrives… PLAY IT LOUD.

(Black & White mbv album shot as manipulated by The Richardson Fosters on flickr)

BONUS CONTENT FOR NOSTALGISTS:

* My Bloody Valentine Peel Session from 1988

* Shonen Knife – When You Sleep (MBV cover from “Yellow Loveless” – Japan only tribute album)

* Uncut SNUB TV interview with Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher (and Bobby Gillespie)

The We Love All That Favourite 50: our Best Albums of 2012

22 Dec

It’s hardly the Festive Fifty. The hipsters at Pitchfork and Stereogum needn’t be worried. The indier-than-thou bloggers can sleep easy, knowing that I probably haven’t stolen a march on them and unearthed the coolest LP of the year that you never read about before… BUT…

This inaugural year-end best of is probably a melange of the obvious, the not-so obvious and the odd curveball extrapolated from many of the music blogs, podcasts, Mixclouders, Soundclouders, happy Bandcampers and Twitterers (tweeters? tweeps?) I have drained of bandwidth over the past 12 months or so. While trying to avoid the influence of the popular pages’ picks of the past year (try saying that with a mouthful of sausage and egg McMuffin) some did catch my eye and remind me of a few albums I’d not heard.

Nonetheless a handful of quite possibly inclusion-worthy releases registered too late on my not-as-sharp-as-it-once-was musical radar – Swans, Actress and a handful of rappers-who-might-just-be-swearing-and-bigging-up-their-own-love-lives-a-tad-too-much-over-the-course-of-their-album-even-though-musically-and-“flow-wise”-they-may-be-pretty-spot-on (yer A$AP Rockys, yer Kendrick Lamarrs etc) missed the cut for.. er… those very reasons. Just as Neil Young failed to ratchet up a higher position for the perfectly acceptable “Psychedelic Pill” due to rather trying lyrics on Ontario, and Lana del Rey missed the boat completely – despite a year of stonking remixes – simply because those bloody lips annoy me and the hype has sadly outshone the music. Azealia Banks (who is the exception that proves my self imposed-rule on excessive gratuitous swearing spoiling records) misses out because she only released a 4-track ep and a mixtape this year, while the top Japanese chillwave Bandcampers LLLL are omitted on a technicality that a four or five track ep (or a couple thereof) still isn’t a proper album. Cornelius‘ top remixed-by-his-good-self album “CM4″ (his fourth collection of unique remixes for other people) was excluded as it’s really a compilation album, while salyu X salyu’s album “S(o)un(d)beams” came out in 2011. Oh damn, and I missed Cat Power. Bah. Too late now, sorry Chan. And Beak > and that other Geoff Barrow project which was most certainly double top. And John Foxx and The Maths, that was an ace album that just slipped my mind and I cant see how to shoehorn it in.  Botheration. Oh, blimey… Dinosaur Jr.‘s “I Bet On Sky”!! How could I forget that!?! And… what? Gaz Coombes had an album out?

So… are we going to do this in reverse order stylee?

THE FAVOURITE FIFTY 2012 –

OUR BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

50. ON THE HOT DOG STREETS – Go-Kart Mozart

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Lawrence attempts a take over and reveals his preferences and pecadilloes, backed by what could be a synth ditched by Ted Chippington’s band. A very English album, without going anywhere near EDL territory. Or Morrissey territory for that matter.

49. ILL MANORS – Plan B

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A move away from his male-Winehouse chart-busting success, Uncle Ben tells a harrowing tale of Broken Britain, even though – as he reminds us – there’s no such thing as Broken Britain. Not an easy listen, but a well crafted concept album. Prodigy mix was a corker.

48. THE CHERRY THING – Neneh Cherry and The Thing

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Neneh Cherry drops the Buffalo Stance for some free jazz with Bristol’s The Thing. Wigs out in places.

47. ONE DAY I’M GOING TO SOAR – Dexy’s

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Kevin’s put the dress and suspenders away for a new set of clothes. Just as well really. He too, has got a “wiggle“.

46. THE ORBSERVER IN THE STAR HOUSE – The Orb & Lee “Scratch” Perry

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The Orb are a perfect foil for Perry’s mad dub-crazed meanderings, but their respect for him can let get the better of them when he really starts to wander. Golden Clouds is a brilliant re – work of the old 90s favourite though, and worth the price of an illicit download alone.

45. THE LOST ARE FOUND – Claudia Brücken

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Ex-Propaganda fraulein bangs out eclectic selection of covers including ELO, Bowie, The Band and Pet Shop Boys (though not the obvious ones). The voice is what makes the package shine, along with a pleasantly chilled orchestration.

44. IS YOUR LOVE BIG ENOUGH? – Lianne La Havas

is-your-love-big-enough LIANNE LA HAVAS

There was a great One Two Inch Punch remix of one of these tracks, and Mary Anne Hobbs loves this to bits, which can’t be bad. Maybe a bit mainstream for some, but pushes buttons for me. Just hope she avoids the Tasmin Archer syndrome! Still can’t work out if the double entendre in the title is deliberate or not.

43. PSYCHEDELIC PILL – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

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This marvellous album sounds as if it was recorded in the 70s, which considering it’s Neil Young is a compliment more than a put down! Crazy Horse haven’t aged at all, but – as I said before – lyrics to Ontario are a little (ahem) “shakey”. The mention of psychedelia also reminds me I’ve also forgotten Richard Hawley’s album. Sorry, Richard.

42. TRAMP – Sharon Van Etten

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Being a female singer songwriter the old comparisons get trotted out with this one, but this album is definitely worth a listen. All I Can is a fantastic anthem, despite mentioning “Old Tokyo” quite randomly.

41. MOST OF MY HEROES STILL DON’T APPEAR ON NO STAMP – Public Enemy

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Yeah boyeee! Chuck D, Flavor Flav and the rest wormed their way back into the British public’s general consciousness via the Paralympics, an inspired TV trailer and a five-year-old track that isn’t on this album. It’s no “Nation Of Millions” but this Fight The Power-inspired album shows this ageing crew of hip hop pioneers are still relevant in 2012.

40. TOY – Toy

TOY THE ALBUM

It’s feedback. And you can’t beat a bit of feedback, can you?

39. SHIELDS – Grizzly Bear

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Good to listen to late at night with a glass of 12-year-old whisky. Odd flashes of melancholy, occasional shoegazey splashes, even infrequent Billy Bragg chords. Just don’t try to dance to it.

38. FIN – John Talabot

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The Barcelona-based producer’s first album turns in some solid tracks of an electronic variety. Strangely for someone who pinched his moniker from what was possibly his old school, his music sounds anything but. A Catalan Flying Lotus? Oh damn, that’s someone else whose fine album I’ve left out. There’s a remix album out of this as well.

37. PIRAMIDA – Efterklang

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Efterklang is Danish for “remembrance”, but also “reverberation”. Fourth album “Piramida” is (say reviews) “hymnal”, and built around  simple rhythms.  John Grant likes ‘em.

36. THE BELBURY TALES – Belbury Poly

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Most recordings on the excellent Ghost Box label evoke a world of haunted English villages, 1970s tv interludes and Open University broadcasts, enhanced by the beautiful Pelican Books-style sleeve art. And the Radiophonic Workshop. Sort of like modern electronic folk. But in a definitely retro dimension. Belbury Poly’s latest is no exception.

35. SLEEP GAMES – Pye Corner Audio

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More of the same as this too is a Ghost Box release, but (as John Peel used to say) this one fades in. For those of us who grew up with short wave radio, public information films and black and white TVs. And for those who didn’t but are curious to know what it sounded like.

34. BASTARDS – Björk

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Reworkings of her criminally under-bought “Biophilia” interactive album / app / concept thing from last year. Puff Daddy may claim he invented the remix (which is bollocks as Wikipedia says Tom Moulton invented the remix), but Björk re-invented the remix (remember her first remix album), and the blinding Omar Souleyman re-tread of Crystalline which opens the collection justifies the whole package sevenfold.

33. HAIR – Ty Segall & White Fence

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Letterman-approved noise-merchant Ty Segall released three full-length albums this year, which puts him up there with Prince and Ryan Adams in the “jolly prolific” stakes. This was my favourite of the three. The sleeve art is far better than that of “Slaughterhouse” which looked like it had been done by someone’s brother. On acid.

32. LUCIFER / LUCIFER IN DUB – Peaking Lights

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Peaking Lights are a husband and wife duo from Wisconsin (home of Yon Yonson, Dave Howard Singers fans). “Lucifer” is a trippy, dubby affair not unlike the woozier bits of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”, featuring the vocal contribution of their own sprog (who is, disappointingly, not called Lucifer, or even Damien) . “Lucifer In Dub” takes the trippy, dubby bit one stage further (hence the name), not unlike Primal Scream’s “Echo Dek”, into almost unrecognisable territory.

31. COEXIST – The xx

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Several years on from their stunning 2009 debut, Jamie xx is now a coveted remixer and the virtual entirety of that album has been covered by everyone from Damon Albarn to OMD to Shakira, mashed up with The Notorious B.I.G. and sampled by Rihanna.  Not to mention an infinity (see what I did there) of wubstep remixes. Three years on and the trio return with “Coexist”, which Jamie xx decsribed as “developed” but not “completely a world away” and “a development of where we were before”. Which is exactly what it is. The complicatons of relationships are mulled in much of Oliver Sim and Romy Madely-Croft’s interchanges, the thread running through most of the album. It’s not a quantum leap for The xx, but does further define the unique sound of a band, a bit like the instantly recognisable chords of Depeche Mode or the dissected beats of Cornelius (even though the album sounds like neither, if you see what I mean). And, like a vast swathe of this year’s selection, it could well be described as “haunting”.

30. SOLO PIANO II – Chilly Gonzales

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Imaginatively-titled follow-up to his “Solo Piano” album from 2004, featuring nothing but…er… solo piano. But sometimes there are times when only a bit of solo piano will do, and this does the trick a treat. Especially if you’ve already had your fill of Chopin’s nocturnes. A classical classic, as it were.

29. OH, MONSTERS! – Anni B. Sweet

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Another female singer-songwriter? And a Spanish one to boot? Haunting (it’s that word again), almost Irish-tinged vocals which wouldn’t jar if played after the album at number 11 on this very chart. And to think she once did a folksy cover of Take On Me.

28. A+E – Graham Coxon

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Following the “pastoral” excursion of 2009’s “The Spinning Top”, the reconciled Blur guitarist went back plying his established craft as a purveyor of excitable noisy pop songs, albeit longer ones than usual. Not his grazed knees on the cover btw, although he did take the picture.

27. WORLD YOU NEED A CHANGE OF MIND – Kindness

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The audacity of this North American fellow covering Mrs. Brian May’s finest musical hour (or three minutes) on this record was incredible, but the welcome revisiting of the late Chuck Brown’s Washington GoGo sound was even more so. Who would have thought that one album could channel Prince, Talking Heads, Trouble Funk and Eastenders? Now where did I put that Trouble Funk remix of Copey’s World Shut Your Mouth?

UPDATE: In a strange twist of events that seems to be some inverted echo of LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” premise, it transpires that Adam Bainbridge, the long-haired brains behind Kindness and the fellow on the album sleeve above these very words, is not from the heart of Washington DC, but from Peterborough.

Which should make the gogo element of his album all the more surprising and somewhat dulls the novelty of his Albert Square re-visit. But only marginally.

26. SHRINES –Purity Ring

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Something about this album reminds me of the Grimes album. Is it the sound, the pitch, the vocals? Or is it just that it’s attractively weird and electronic at the same time. Grimes never sang about her sternum though, and Fineshrine is definitely one of my top five singles of 2012 – even though Tom Ravenscroft didn’t like it.

25. CELLULOID – Lippy Kid

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Top Bandcamp discovery this, a mainly instrumental minimal electronic album harking back to the days of 8O8 State’s “Quadrastate”, echoing the sounds of modern cities in the way an ultra-slick metro train might hurtle down the neon tunnels of a Blade Runner-era  Japan. Or something. His Love To Infinity EP (not on this album) is worth checking out too!

24. CELLS – Fake Blood

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As forgotten two-hit wonder Carmel once opined in the mid 80s: the drum is everything. Even if it may be a very upmarket drum machine or a pricey computerised rhythm program. Unlike his popular “USED” mixtape series which was a jazzy selection of downtempo breaks and the like, “Cells” is a return to the beat-driven sound for which he carved a remixing niche for himself, although house, techno and yer quality electronica are used to incredibly uplifting effect, of which lead track Yes / No is a prime example. Bang to the beat of the drum!

23. DON’T BE A STRANGER – Mark Eitzel

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The American Music Club founder returned to the recording studio after a good pal of his struck it lucky on the lottery and altruistically decided to plough a share of his generous takings into this album. As you might expect, if you are familiar with Eitzel’s often introspective oeuvre, it’s no chipper upbeat compendium of tunes… but competent production and a world-weary sense of humour pulls you through, and the record certainly stands up to repeated listening.

22. THE HAUNTED MAN – Bat for Lashes

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Blimey, how many albums on this list could be described as “haunting“, eh? And this one’s even got the word “haunted” in the title. Laura is the key song on this disc, and it too could be described as haunting. Beautifully so, but haunting nonetheless. Natasha gets her kit off on the album cover as well, although pervs should be warned that she seems to be carrying the body of a dead (and also naked) man that cover up her bits. Maybe she caught him ogling from behind the bushes. Who knows what goes through this lady’s mind?

21. DJANGO DJANGO – Django Django

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Rob da Bank liked this ‘un from the get-go and who can blame him? Hail Bop is the standout track from the album at We Love All That Towers (sadly they weren’t the first to use their comet-centrical punning title) as it has all the hallmarks of what I believe is called “an earworm” and Love’s Dart and Default were rum singles too. If the album reminds you a touch of the Beta Band it’s possibly because the Django Django drummer is the BROTHER of John Maclean out of the Beta Band.

20. SWEARIN’ – Swearin’

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Another Bandcamp discovery that can actually be found as a totally legal free download on the internets if you know where to look, Swearin’ are an exciting  Brooklyn band with echoes of the Sub Pop scene before grunge became stale. The Breeders are another touchstone when trying to describe that Swearin’ sound. If you can imagine a wide awake and jumpy version of slackers, this is what this band sound like. Hat tip to the Edinburgh Man podcast for alerting me to this!

19. IN OUR HEADS – Hot Chip

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Some people were disappointed with this latest Hot Chip album, as maybe their previous work had set the bar too high. However, tracks like How Do You Do? and Flutes are worthy additions to the band’s exemplary canon, although why Night and Day B-side Jelly Babies wasn’t an album track (or even an A-side!) is anyones’ guess.

18. VISIONS – Grimes

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Stupidly I expected Grimes to sound like Wiley or Roll Deep Crew, whereas actually this album is sort of industrial shoegaze chillwave electronica with female vocals (provided by Clare Boucher, aka Grimes) and hints of medieval folk music, Kraftwerk and metal in the mix. It’s strangely addictive, and sonically enthralling. It’s also on 4AD, which figures.

17. WONKY – Orbital

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The Hartnoll Brothers join the long list of 90s rave comebacks, including The Prodigy and… er… Guru Josh. Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a long list. Wonky the single stands out, not least because of that mad cat video, but Where Is It Going? was a stormer of a track, both in its remixed “live style” version and in its Paralympics appearance with Stephen Hawking, who last contributed to a pop record doing the vocals to Radiohead’s Fitter, Happier in 1997. Possibly. Oh, and Zola Jesus also appeared on there!

16. PAMYU PAMYU REVOLUTION – Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

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This is what Japanese pop should be about, dressing up in weird retro clothes, sporting daft cutesy wigs, long eyelashes and bizarre videos that would make any acid casualty check his drink. The whole album is like the “PONPONPON” video. Forget Gangnam Style and K-Pop, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is where it’s truly at in quirky Asian pop.

15. BREAKTHROUGH – The Gaslamp Killer

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I first became aware of The Gaslamp Killer after watching an online stream from Dublab.com of William Benjamin Benussen (for it is he) doing a live video mix. His debut album is a freak-out in a padded room but bizarrely addictive. There is also a rather instructive linguistic interlude on Britain’s favourite four-letter word.

14. BLOOM – Beach House

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It’s American shoegaze (they call it “dream pop”, you know) but it’s, like, from now! Or is it chillwave? You get the feeling they’ve listened to a few Cocteau Twins albums and Lush singles but that’s really not a bad thing. In fact we need more records like this. It’s the Lazuli of the land, my son.

13. MATURE THEMES – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti

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Only In My Dreams was one of my singles of the year, an absolute pearl of a tune.. and although it is the obvious stand-out track on the album, the long player is no stinker. One track even sounds a bit like Julian Cope. Ariel himself does come across as a bit of a rose-tinted Evan Dando in the videos though…

12. SILENCIO – Laetitia Sadier

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Debut solo outing from the voice of Stereolab. Despite her split from her band partner Tim Gane, Laetitia sounds as political on this album as Gane did at the height of McCarthy’s cult fame. And yes, it still sounds a bit like Stereolab, and not just vocally. Should have done better in the year-end charts!

11. MELODY’S ECHO CHAMBER – Melody’s Echo Chamber

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Breathy French chanteuse (quite possibly named after Serge Gainsbourg’s trippy opus Melody Nelson) chases Tame Impala bloke half way round the world and tracks him down and gets him to help out with her debut album. Result, one charmingly woozy psych-pop album (mainly in English) with echoes of Lush and shoegazyness. Albeit one that sounds a bit like Tame Impala.

10. THE GHOST IN DAYLIGHT – Gravenhurst

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At times Nick Gravenhurst sounds like an English Jeff Buckley, at other times it seems like he wants to be Kevin Shields. Melancholy and thoughtful, wistful but at times noisy. Another fantastic late night listen, on Warp Records despite being bleep ‘n’ glitch free. Well worth your eartime, I would say, as are all his albums. You might even say it too was haunting (groan).

9. BLUNDERBUSS – Jack White

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Strangely less erratic than some White Stripes albums, “Blunderbuss” packs a punch. White’s reading of “I’m Shakin’” is a joy to behold. As journo Alexis Petridis once observed, “bonkers Jack White” is back on this album, jostling “earnest Jack White” to one side. Which can only be a good thing.

8. THE BRAVEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE – Bobby Womack

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This album basically follows a similar precept to that of Gil Scott-Heron’s swansong “I’m New Here”, a moderately well-known black male singer with an illustrious back catalogue and of advanced years showing he’s still “got it” by singing amazingly over a modern but strangely un-jarring series of compositions. And it works, to great effect. All the more surprising considering this was partly the work of Blur polymath Damon Albarn. It’s a shame no-one bothered to do this with James Brown when he was still alive.

7. VALENTINA –  The Wedding Present

David Gedge is quite possibly the nicest man in post C86 indie-pop (or rock or whatever it’s called these days), but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a cutting line to a lover who spurned him. “Bang bang you’re dead!” he shouts on the opening track, with a very subtle Mark E. Smith “-ah!” at the end of the exclamation.. and this sets the tone for the whole album. Vintage Weddoes. “I understand you, and I can’t stand you.” And he even recorded one of the tracks in German.

6. LONERISM – Tame Impala

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The lone member of Tame Impala – Kevin Parker – explained the album thus: “For me, it’s a combination of nice sugary pop crossed with really fucked-up, explosive, cosmic music. It’s like Britney Spears singing with The Flaming Lips”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

5. OH NO I LOVE YOU – Tim Burgess

Oddly, it was only once head Charlatan Tim Burgess had left his adoptive home in L.A. to return to dear old Blighty that he produced his most Americana-tinged record yet in the form of the wonderful “Oh No I Love You”.

Helped out by Kurt Wagner of Nashville alt. country heroes Lambchop (Wagner actually went to school in Sheffield, to confuse matters) Tim has turned a real gem of an album, another disc that merits repeated plays from start to finish.  High points are the record-lovers’ anthem A Case For Vinyl (did you see what he did there?) , originally a Record Store Day 7” single, White (which should have been a top ten smash but probably wasn’t) and The Doors of Then.

4. PEGASVS – Pegasvs

Some people out there might not be that familiar with Pegasvs (even though I featured them earlier this on the blog… keep up!) whose eponymous debut album oh-so-narrowly missed bagging bronze in this rundown of the best of 2012.

The Barcelona-based band was recommended to me earlier this year by @drelatsg on Twitter (who lives thereabouts) and since then they’ve garnered plaudits from TheQuietus (UKs premier intelligent music site), a BBC6Music play from Stuart Maconie and underground acclaim in various Latin American countries. Not bad for a noisy motorik band singing in Spanish! The album is a must-have, with tracks such as Brillar, El melodía del afilador, Atlántico and El final de la noche being standouts. Top videos too, courtesy of record label CANADA (all capitals). Hoping for bigger and brighter stuff from this lot in 2013.

3. CHANNEL ORANGE – Frank Ocean

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In the top five of this We Love All That 2012 chart heavy iPod rotation counts for a lot, and so Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” – his first album proper following a couple of critically applauded mixtapes – had to be top three at least.

 Part of the peculiar Odd Future collective (kind of an abstract homophobic Wu-Tang Clan but with fewer kung-fu references and even more swearing), Ocean (no relation of Billy, you’ll be relieved to hear) “stunned” the world by issuing a press release fessin’ up (I believe this is the parlance) to having “loved” (I’m quoting) a person of the same sex. This normally would not have brought the internet to gush with praise – this didn’t happen when Will Young came out, did it – but given that fellow Odd Future acolyte Tyler (the Creator) was becoming a sort of Buju-Banton-it’s-okay-to-like in the eyes of some online music hacks, Ocean’s frank (pun intended) admission was a breath of fresh air in a genre of black music where “no homo” had seemingly become a jolly catchphrase to revive another prejudice.

 Sadly, given that Ocean’s statement linked to a stream of the album which was the first chance most of us got to hear it, the man’s sexual persuasion did tend to overshadow the musical worth of a blinding album, which seemed to meld the good bits of Prince and Stevie Wonder and thrust them headlong into this confused post dubstep world. A Carpenters sample here, a (come on, let’s say it) wanky guitar solo there, an album that managed to sound vaguely off-kilter (Pyramids is over nine minutes long, but it seems shorter) but enticingly easy on the ear. Ill Manors it ain’t. Thinkin’ About You is another standout track, quite possibly about a male lover, real or imaginary. Unless I’m getting the wrong end of that “a new feel” line. Ok… best not go there. But a cracking song nonetheless. How can he top this though? Or will it be genre-hopping for Frank Ocean album number two?

2. BE STRONG – The 2 Bears

“Be Strong” can be summed up in one (albeit clumsy) sentence: positive 21st century balearic vibes for the beaten generation.

Another album that merits repeated playing, although the title track and singles Work and Bear Hug are obvious highlights. The 2 Bears moniker has been explained various ways… one being that it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Hot Chipper Joe Goddard and comrade Raf Rundell as “bears” (google it) despite both being straight, another being that there was originally a third bear – Joe Mount from Metronomy – who left. Whether there was ever a Goldilocks or some porridge is debatable. The Hot Chip sound is detectable and Alexis Taylor even appears to chip in (pun intended) on Bear Hug.

But the Balearic mix of palatable 90s house beats and positive lyrics to uplift the listener whether on the dancefloor or in the “cans” makes a change from the tiresome dance clichés of sexual prowess and bling / cash / cars. If David Guetta was flogging this kind of gold dust to spotty braced-up American kids in Miami instead of the dross he currently churns out along with Pitbull, Flo Rida et al, the world would be a far better place, and more positive to boot. Oh, and the references in the title track are impeccable, possibly even more so than those of the band whose album is sitting atop the 2012 favourite fifty tree today…

1. WORDS AND MUSIC by Saint Etienne

For most people, the words “concept album” have disturbing connotations, often inextricably linked with the darkest excesses of prog rock, conjuring up all sorts of images related to an over-eager consumption of Tolkien, illegal substances and far too many hours ogling nine-sided dice in the Games Workshop. So if you are then told that the first track off this ‘ere concept album actually namechecks “Peter Gabriel from Genesis” you may start to worry. But fear not, for this is Saint Etienne we’re talking about here.

Words and Music by Saint Etienne” (to give the album its full title) shows that, even though a quarter of a century gone by since the fantastic London-centric collage that was “Foxbase Alpha” (tastefully – dare I say masterfully – updated by Richard X as “Foxbase Beta” in 2009), the Heavenly trinity (see what I did there?) of Stanley, Wiggs and Cracknell can still produce fantastic pop music. Like whisky that has spent years in an oak cask, the band have matured, while retaining the essence of what we liked about them in the first place. The wistful nostalgia and the dewy-eyed memories of greasy-spoon caffs (remember Mario’s Café?) still remain, as do the overt references to pop-songs-they-have-loved.

 The whole album, as the title suggests, is a paean to a bygone era, one probably dear to the hearts of anyone over thirty-five. The era “where music mattered”. Where music was a physical product, initially vinyl, which could serve not only as a backing track to our daily lives but actually something to be treasured, and often shared with friends – either “round at someone’s house” or copied onto a cassette tape – cementing friendships and defining what was “in” or “out” to the listener. Records were not just for playing, but for collecting… for coveting. As opposed to simply amassing, which is what even yours truly does with mp3s. And these vinyl platters aged, often adding a warmth to the recordings, a personal edge not unlike that which trouser manufacturers try hard to artificially replicate with their “stressed jeans” lines.

Every song on the album is connected to the way music connects to the listener: via the radio DJ, the club DJ, the seven inch single, the live concert, the stereo headphones etc. On a personal level I first heard the double album (with a disc of beefed-up remixes) and played the remix album to death, far more than the original disc. I even forked out for the 3CD box set, with a map, photos, a pin badge thing and all. But then a few weeks ago I listened to the original disc again and fell in love with it. Whereas the original album had previously seemed a bit limp compared to the kickin’ 2 Bears, Golden Filter and Tom Middleton remixes, upon further listening (especially to the lyrics) the whole album stood up as a solid body of work. Record Doctor is probably my least favourite moment on the album, but even that works in the context of the whole thing.

It’s rare to find an album these days that is not “just something to dip into” but a satisfying meal from start to finish. Where the words and the music are equally important. When one of your favourite bands does it, after so many years, it is to be commended. Along with the selection of remixers on the bonus disc as well, of course. The icing on the cake, as Stephen Duffy would have said.

So, when all is said and done, 2012 has been a fantastic year for music, even though – when the cans come off –  the non-musical reality is pretty grim. Better keep those headphones on then. Besides, in this weather they keep your ears warm too.

List we forget…

14 Dec
The Best of the Best: one man's meat...

The Best of the Best: one man’s meat…

Obsessing over lists plays an embarrassingly large part of the lives of many an adult male (and – albeit probably to a far lesser extent – in those of a fair few females too). Whether it is Rob Fleming’s various top tens as detailed in “High Fidelity”, positions in the Premier League (or in any number of lower divisions or international football leagues / championships) or the ins and outs of the Top 40 (an obsession that is actually more of a dewy-eyed memory for anyone over thirty and probably a bizarre quirk of the pre-ringtone generation for anyone under that age), the list, league, rating or rankings table tends to loom large in any bloke’s subconscious.

The dying embers of a calendar year (read: early December) often provide ample opportunities for list making. Christmas present lists for Father Christmas or for clueless relatives. Christmas shopping lists of mince pies, walnut whips and festive crackers. Christmas card lists which omit all those so-called-friends who forgot to send you so much as an email last year. And, of course, the best-of-the-year lists.

Best films, best gadgets, best buys, best wines, best-dressed celebrities, best books… words of the year, restaurants of the year, bores of the year, beer of the year, rear of the year… and so on ad infinitum.

These lists are merely one publication or one website’s favourite things of the past 12 months or so, and – especially when it comes to music – the taste of one such organ, or even of one opinionated writer. It doesn’t take a social anthropologist to work out that the number 3 album of 2012 in this month’s Metal Hammer is not very likely to be the same as the number 3 album in Hip Hop Connection’s selection, or that however popular One Direction may be on both sides of the Atlantic they are quite probably not going to feature in either NME or Rolling Stone’s Top 20 this year. Or any year.

As a spotty 80s teenager I religiously bought the bumper festive double issues of NME, Melody Maker and Sounds, with their reviews of the year, quotes of the year and – more often than not – photos of bands dressing up in Yuletide regalia, sitting around a table supping mulled wine and similarly mulling the hits of the past 12 months, or even dressing up as other bands. And especially for the papers’ Albums and Singles of the Year. I’d count up the ones I’d bought, add on the ones I’d taped off friends and see how my own favourites had compared with those of the august scribes at Kings Reach Tower or wherever. John Peel’s Festive Fifty – compiled, lest we forget, from listeners’ votes, not the personal favourites of the man himself – was another highlight of this time of year. Later, glossy mags such as Select, Vox, Q, Uncut, Word and Mojo brought their own selections to the table (although if I seem to recall Q used to cop out by not actually assigning a number to any of their favourite platters in a display of the horrendously modern “you’re all winners!” fence-sitting favoured by so many UK schools on Sports Days), forcing me to increase my monthly print-media spend by several hundred percent in the month of December.

But as well as the old “I-bought-that-when-it-came-out-and-it’s-top-three-so-am-I-cool-or-wot”-ness of this list-guzzling, the year-end chart roundup was also a revelation of quality new stuff that had somehow passed you by earlier in the year. I distinctly recall seeing The Flaming Lips’ “The Soft Bulletin” at or near the top of every year end chart I read the year it came out, and never having heard anything by them I decided to seek it out, duly delighted at my discovery.

And so, dear reader, it is now that I dip my toe into the murky waters of the compilation of the first We Love All That year-end “Best of” chart, one that people are bound to have “issues with” because a few rather obvious choices will be found in the upper echelons of the aforementioned hit parades, and also because – inevitably – I will have (according to someone somewhere, or maybe even according to myself some moments after hitting the “publish” button) overlooked some fine body of work, some cracking remix or some or other future generational anthem.

Which always happens. Either because of not realising something came out this year or AMAZINGLY because it didn’t actually register on my radar in time. Despite my spending far too much time on Twitter, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Spotify, various music podcasts, various music blogs AND listening to BBC 6Music I still don’t hear all the top songs I would like and would thus appreciate any tips on stuff people think I’ve missed. But, please, no X-Factor bollocks, however post-modern-ly ironically hip you may feel it might be.

So stand by. A couple of end of year charts are on their way.

Sometime soon.

At least, before that next My Bloody Valentine album.

Sheffield Peel II: a Peel Session selection

26 Oct

Many of the celebrated Sheffield bands from then and now have visited the BBC Studios at Maida Vale to record a session for John Peel, and – without further ado – here is a choice selection of them.

The Human League, in their pre-chart-topping lineup of Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh alongside Phil “Philip” Oakey, recorded a Peel Session in the August of 1978 – mere months after their live debut at what was then Psalter Lane Art College (and now part of Sheffield Hallam University) that June.

A formative “Being Boiled” and a novel take on “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” are accompanied by “No Time” and the 12-minute-plus epic “Blind Youth”.

You can take it away HERE

Warp-certified bleepsters and Speak-and-Spell owners LFO recorded a Peel Session in 1990.

Take Control, To the Limit, Rob’s Nightmare and Lost World were the tracks featured.

Take it away HERE

John was a bit partial to Cabaret Voltaire, who recorded the above session in 1984, which kicks off with a superior version of Sleepwalking.

Other tracks are Big Funk and The Operative.

The Comsat Angels are often talked about in reverential tones by later Sheffield indie bands, and above these words you can find the first of what seems to be a grand total of four Peel Sessions (although it could be just two, played twice), from 1980.

Tracks were: Real StoryMonkey PilotWaiting For A Miracle and Home Is The Range.

Artery were fondly remembered by Jarvis Cocker in his recent radio reminisces on his formative years in his native Sheffield, recently aired by BBC 6Music in their recent “Sheffield Sunday” tribute to the (ahem) one-time steeltown. If I remember rightly, he even mentioned that the drummer went out with his (Jarvis’) sister! Never really broke through to cult status outside Sheffield, but they still managed to attract the ears of Mr Ravenscroft who got them in to record the above session in 1982.

Tracks were: The Ghost Of A Small Tour Boat Captain,  Louise (no relation to the Human League song of the same name years later), The Slide and The Sailor Situation.

If any of this has awoken your curiosity about Sheffield bands (I couldn’t find the ABC Peel Session anywhere, and Heaven 17 never did a Peel Session despite – I believe – making the Festive Fifty) your first port of call should be the Sheffield Vision website. Their “The Beat Is The Law” film looks good too.

And I didn’t mention Arctic Monkeys once.

Ah.

Sheffield Peel: Part I – Pulp at Peel Acres

24 Oct

Well today is Keeping It Peel day, the anniversary of what some refer to as “the day the music died” – the day John Peel shuffled off his mortal coil (and no, I won’t make that 4AD-related quip again) – the day a lot of us abandoned Radio One for good. Well, at least after the tribute programmes that is.

We at We Love All That Towers  are not averse to a bit of calculated punnery, and so while our title cocks a sly wink (or what ever it is) at Joe Cocker’s 1982 album – and that the gravel-voiced Sheffielder recorded a Peel Session in 1969 – it is another Cocker that we wish to feature in today’s homage to Mr. Ravenscroft Sr.

Possibly the most determined band in the history of “alternative” music – Pulp, fronted by the inimitable Jarvis Cocker – took approximately SIXTEEN YEARS from their formation as “Arabicus Pulp” in 1978 to their first Top 40 hit with Do You Remember The First Time and the MTV Europe favourite Babies, the forerunners of Common People, Mis-shapes, Sorted For Es and Wizz, Disco 2000 and the rest – coinciding with the love-it-or-hate-it Britpop explosion the following year, the year from which our first audio takeaway is extracted.

Clipping filched from the more-than-thorough Pulp Wiki

Jarvis was always a huge fan of John Peel, and John was an ardent supporter of his band’s music, despite their persistent abject failure to develop anything more than a small cult following during Pulp’s first fifteen years or so. FIFTEEN YEARS. That’s the recording career of The Beatles PLUS the recording career of The Smiths. But without the hits or the fans or even the favourable reviews. Yet, ever a champion of the underdog (see Dandelion Records!) Peel kept playing the records and in turn Pulp kept putting them out.

So, at the height of their fame, instead of chumming up to the likes of Steve Wright or his cohorts on daytime Radio One, Jarvis and drummer Nick Banks (nephew of legendary England keeper Gordon Banks, footy fans) visited Peel Acres (one of the first musicians to do so… after David Gedge of The Wedding Present and “a Dutch band“, allegedly) and got a guided tour of the great man’s gaff before airing both highlights of the then-forthcoming “Different Class” (UK listeners’ exclusive first chance to hear the album… remember this was in the years before music blogs and online album leaks) and an unearthing of Pulp’s first recorded Peel Session – from 1981! , much to the embarrassment of Peelie who admits he’d presumed the band had recorded umpteen sessions for his programme since then, but evidently not (none at all in fact, between that ’81 session and 1993). Jarvis also admits to recording Peel’s shows off the radio and tries to find some Half Japanese on the hallowed record shelves. Björk’s house, breasts (in general, not Björk’s), Glastonbury, Scunthorpe baths and Jarvis’ estranged dad’s beard (and Peel’s) are also discussed, while early on it is revealed that Peel Acres is home to a dog called Bernard (after Mr. Sumner, perhaps?).

The genuine mutual appreciation – far removed the usual smug fakery often heard in popstar-meets-established-music-broadcaster that was par for the course in Britpop-blunted Britain – is evident, and shortly following Peel’s untimely death on this day eight years ago Jarvis went on to record a moving tribute to our hero which you can find on this old post I wrote when the Pulp frontman went round the countryside recording sounds for the National Trust. The clicky-clicky bit is at the end, and the last time I checked it, it still worked.

Anyway here is the Peel “Pulpathon” (his words, not mine), in an edited (but not very much) version fleetingly uploaded by the elusive das Boy to the general internet consciousness last month… and salvaged for posterity by yours truly:

Pulp on John Peel, September 30th 1995

Plus, here’s a YouTube-d up session that the band recorded when they returned to Peel Acres six years later, around the time of swansong album We Love Life:

Jury is still out on whether Jarvis’ beard is a sly tip of the “respect” hat to Peelie’s though.

But as an extra extra bonus here’s a clip of Jarvis reminiscing in a kitchen about handing the early Pulp demo tape over to John in person that won the band that first Peel session back in 1981, when Jarvis was just 17.

Looks like he was sprouting the beard already.

(Press clipping cheekily filched from the more-than-thorough Pulp Wiki)

Oh, and WATCH THIS SPACE today for “Sheffield Peel Part II”… with a few tasty take-aways!

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