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Archive for December, 2011

PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (Island) 
Harvey looks at her home country and its role abroad, with an emphasis on war, both current and historical. The end of the Empire and Britain’s diminished role in the 21st Century brings Harvey to note that “England’s dancing days are done,” and on a track simply titled England her homeland “leaves sadness, it leaves a taste, a bitter one,”.

The bugle’s used to majestic effect on The Glorious Land, one of a few tracks that reference the horrors of World War I and in particular the gory Gallipoli campaign that is etched so strongly in the psyche of the people of New Zealand and Australia. The militaristic and national soul-searching elements aside, this is a generally uplifting album that shows a musical diversity and even includes a sample of Niney the Observer’s reggae classic Blood and Fire.

 

Wire: Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

Wire sound, like how Wire have always done, in 1977, 1987 and 2011. There’s some sort of random wordplay going on in Two Minutes, Colin Newman shouting statements like ‘A dirty cartoon duck covers the village in shit, possibly signalling the end of western civilisation, and ‘Coffee is not a replacement for food or happiness’.
That may be the best track of the album but Adapt is the most potent: a slow moving beast it may be but that is an ideal pace to delve deep into the state of the modern world – extreme climate change and disaster, the failure of financial markets and hollow politics. There’s a strain of melancholy and it’s difficult to ascertain much hope in the song, just a denouncement of how things are, but it remains aesthetically beautiful.
And in those two tracks you have the essence of Red Barked Tree: quiet or loud; random or thoughtful; brutal or delicate.

 

 

Little Bushman: Te Oranga (Little Bushman) 
As someone who comes from the thought process that angry is better, born of a youthful love of punk and reggae, I often have to remind myself that some of the best records and songs are those about love, peace and the human condition. So, there’s no axe to grind, no point to make. Just some sprawling, ambitious tracks like Gone, that are long, but the length is justified as Warren Maxwell, and co delve into different layers of sound and weave them together. That track and the space-rock Dream of the Astronaut Girl come in two parts, saddled together rather than as a reprise. This means the four-piece allow themselves the luxury of developing the tracks as much as they can, but it doesn’t sound like prog-rock-esque indulgence and in the true nature of a concept album, which I guess this is, Gone Part II segues nicely into the eight-minute Big Man.

 

Arctic Monkeys: Suck It And See (Domino)
On the first couple of listens Suck It And See sounds like their adventure in Indie-Rock, as if a sober Pete Doherty ghosted into the studio and left some ideas behind. Could it be … no, I dare not so their name ….damn I’ll have to now, but have they been listening to post-Madchester James?  Later listens suggest a broader palate, but you get the picture.

Regardless, Alex Turner’s words remain as potent as ever, if you’ll forgive the monotonous Brick By Brick. Turner’s come up with some gems like “Topless models doing semaphore” (Reckless Serenade), or “You’re rarer than a can of dandelion,” (title track).

Oh yes, and there’s those gloriously long-winded titles, like Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair.

 

The Horrors: Skying (XL recordings)  

From looking like a bunch of black-clad goths reading Joseph Conrad all day, the four-piece now remind me of Pink Floyd, circa 1969, both in look and sound. What enters the ears is the most pleasant and surprising thing, as Skying is choc-full of lush, ethereal tracks such as You Said, which builds into an enormous monster of a tune with its captivating verses and pounding beats. Endless Blue begins like Velvet Underground, but at 1:44 out come the grinding guitars while Faris Badwan gives it his best rocking frontman impression. Their development from garage rock to post-punk psychedelia is reminiscent of the same path tread two decades ago by The Telescopes, who’s self-titled second album remains one of my personal favourites, with its ability to blend in the emerging indie-dance sound with killer rock noise. Time was not favourable to the Telescopes, so I hope there’s a better outlook for the Southend-on-Sea’s finest talents.

 

Iggy Pop: Roadkill Rising … The Bootleg Collection 1977-2009 (Shout Factory!)

Recorded at various venues around the world with much of the latter two disks being recorded at festivals, it offers a broad overview of Pop’s career, peppered with covers such as the Batman Theme and Les Feuilles Mortes, a French favourite sung by Yves Montand and Edith Piaf. These are welcome additions to the familiar (I Wanna Be Your Dog, TV Eye, Lust for Life, Nightclubbing etc) and the not so familiar: the album tracks and the singles from the largely barren early 80s period.

The tracks are laid out in an awkward manner, so you want to stay with one concert and skip another but, really, that’s my only real quibble. The quality is generally good, Pop has great interaction with the audience and he puts his heart and soul into Search and Destroy, Raw Power and the rest.

 

Nick Lowe: The Old Magic (Proper Records)  

Age has invigorated this quintessential Englishman, with 2007’s At My Age delving into the nuances of his approach toward the big six-oh. In fact, he confronts it with typical wit and adroitness: “I’m 61 years old now, and Lord I never thought I’d see 30/ Though I know this road has still some way to go, I can’t help but thinking on.” (Checkout Time).

He ponders lost love; selling a house where love once resided (House for Sale) and finds solace in the printed page: “not just magazines, but more serious things” to get over a deserted lover (I Read a Lot). Meanwhile, Lowe also finds he has the “wander dust” in his feet, on Restless Feeling, though he doesn’t know where it’s leading him to. With a strong backing band, Lowe has found a niche, and there seems little let up, a la Lee Scratch Perry.

 

S.C.U.M: Again Into Eyes (Mute)

S.C.U.M have a longing for psychedelia, space-rock, avant-garde and ambience. There’s a spiritual element to the five-piece as they ponder the essence of life, as on Sentinal Bloom: “What I hold as time/ Nothing without you/Buried ‘neath the water.”

There are deep and meaningful thoughts, set to a soundscape of epic, swaying guitars and moody bass, reminiscent of shoegazing, My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead in reflective mood. The single, Amber Hands, is a triumphant, multi-layered cascade into pop’s bitterest tendencies. It takes some practice to master the art of S.C.U.M, but, equally, there is a limit to their often one-dimensional material, with some tracks drifting into a black hole of emptiness. Some tracks lack substance and diversity but the beauty of Days Untrue, Amber Hands, and Cast Into Seasons render them obsolete. I find the more I listen the more goodness I uncover.

 

The Waterboys: An Appointment with Mr. Yeats (Puck records)  

Like Primal Scream who change stripes with every album, Mike Scott is no stranger to a challenge, keenly adapting WB Yeats’ symbolist words, written between 1893 and the late 1930s.
Most of the songs, such as The Hosting of the Shee offer themselves to music, with Scott’s ever-beautiful voice ensuring the words are given the grace they so deserve. Sweet Dancer is a clever welding of two poems published 22 years apart. On A Full Moon in March, Scott emphasises the darkness of the theme, with the band matching his mood.
With a band that includes a variety of talents include long-time Scott collaborator Steve Wickham, Irish singer Katie Kim, keyboardist James Hallawell and multi-instrumentalist Kate St John, Scott and friends provide an engaging background to 14 poems, and while it could be argued that no band could ever provide the vigour and realism of a poem regaling his own words to a crowd, there is sufficient enthusiasm and understanding of the works to make this a worthwhile effort.

 

Half Man Half Biscuit: 90 Bisodol (Crimond) (Probe Plus)

All the elements of a Half Man Half Biscuit album are here: the play on words and the witty titles and songs about the things we actually talk most about: korfball, Betterware products, and “Ross Kemp on Watership Down.

The Biscuits are a breed apart, leaders of a small clique of obscurantist artists delving into the minutae, the strangeness, the uniqueness of our 21st century lives. Porky adores Joy of Leeuwarden (We Are Ready) which is bizarrely derived from a song written about the 2010 European Korfball Championships in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Nigel Blackwell uses the narrative style he’s used to good effect on previous albums, on Descent of the Stiperstones, to describe a meeting a dullard has with a former Coronation Street star.

 

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Who: Kate Bush

Title: 50 Words for Snow 

Label: Fish People

Tell me more: Gosh, she releases albums as often as a coup in Fiji then unveils two in one year. 50 Words for Snow follows May’s Director’s Cut, a reworking of songs from two previous albums.

The Lowdown: Long gone is the Kate Bush who pranced and danced on Top of the Pops, and hit ear-piercing notes on Wuthering Heights, or indeed the Kate Bush who showed her teeth on such rocky numbers as Rubberband Girl. In 2011, as in 2005 for her magnificently ethereal comeback album, Aerial, Bush creates pieces of music, songs that build and grow, something that is eminently achievable when the whole album is 64 minutes long and one, Misty, clocks in at over 13 minutes.
In this winter-themed work, Bush gets Stephen Fry to reel off 50 words for snow; her son plays the role of a falling snowflake and Misty is about the consequences a snowman faces after a night of passion with a beautiful woman.
The orchestral, neo-Eno rhythm of 50 Words, with the use of technology and pace, resembles late-era Talk Talk when the development of a song, using whatever was available, was far more important than cranking out three-minute pop songs. All of which make the use of Elton John, on Snowed In At Wheeler Street, all the more beguiling. That is not a statement of John’s talents, but a little irritation that his voice is somewhat out of place. It sounds as if he hasn’t been given the full job spec, or hasn’t grasped the feel of the work, as he overdoes his vocal duties. It is my sole gripe, however, and the song is decent regardless. 50 Words is a concept album of sorts … a unifying theme, tracks bearing their sole with their successors, and the sense of worth that abounds.And there are plenty of examples of that, from the Himalayan adventure of Wild Man to the mesmerising minimalism of Among Angels.

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Who: Lisa Crawley

Title: Everything That I Have Seen

Label: Rhythm Method

Tell me more: Crawley first came to prominence supporting Paul Weller when he played three nights in a row in Auckland late last year. Support acts to those with a huge following are always in a tricky position, but Crawley and her band, The Conversation, received lukewarm admiration from the Weller army.

The Lowdown: Crawley writes about love and loss, with the fear of being alone clouding her thought process. “Loneliness should be against the law” she sings on You Won’t Be There. Everything That I Have Seen is a delicate little angel that critics have lumped into the folk-pop bracket, though that wouldn’t quite tell the whole story. Crawley’s voice is eerie and comforting at the same time and the band are doing a grand job. But it’s too laidback, lacking in energy and I could easily envisage Crawley playing in a lounge bar to 50-somethings on their first date. Pleasant but hardly arresting.

Anything else: The who’s who of the album credits lists members of Kiwi bands Bannerman, The Ruby Suns, The Checks, Artisan Guns and TinyRuins.

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Who: The Gorillaz 

Title: The Singles Collection 2001-2011

Label: Parlophone

Tell me more: With time to kill before another Blur album, Damon Albarn created a band that use pseudonyms, were illuminated as cartoon characters and dipped into hip-hop, dub, rock and whatever.

The Lowdown: The mix of styles was always the most captivating part of the Gorillaz. Blur may be a fairly straightforward rock/ pop band but Albarn has been to Mali and Iceland in search of new, exciting forms and to record in such places. After hearing Clint Eastwood for the first time I found it hard to comprehend that this was by the same person responsible for Britpop classics like Country House and Park Life. The track listing is pretty much in chronological order, with a bit of tinkering. 19-2000 has always been the most played Gorillaz track of all time both in its original form and as the remixed, beefier Lil’ Chief Dubbin, and alongside Clint Eastwood and last year’s On Melancholy Hill are the standouts. No surprises but a couple of versions end the collection.

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Who: Surrealistic

Title: Surrealistic/ Thoughtghost

Label: Sarang Bang records

Tell me more: Surrealistic is the vehicle for multi-instrumentalist and Mellotron enthusiast Ben Furniss from Auckland. Since releasing his debut in 2004, Furniss has been spending a lot of time in groups such as The Broken Heartbreakers, White Swan Black Swan and Superturtle.

The Lowdown: There are clear but gentle strains of Superturtle, who’s 2010 album I reviewed on these pages click here and are subtly obvious on what is two mini-albums in one. The first six tracks of Surrealistic are uplifting, with plenty of hooks and harmonies. There’s some glorious melt in the ears moments here, such as the simple beauty of Even Deeper in Thought or the dreamy Tell Me When It’s Over. Surrealistic is over too soon, before Furniss switches to Thoughtghost, a near-minimalistic collection of semi-acoustic and languid tracks that allow the listener to wallow in peaceful thinking.

Anything else: Available from click here  http://www.sarangbang.co.nz

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Following on from his misty-eyed reminiscing on the gems of his collection lying somewhere in the farm, Porky continues his detour into Thing-ism, the art of buying stuff that wasn’t entirely tatty.

Read Part 1

Mansun – Attack of the Grey Lantern.

The copy I have is a tin box which had the same cover as the one sold in the high street and this was repeated on the CD itself. As a promo this is a pretty amazing item. I won a copy in a competition organised by the Sheffield Star newspaper. Of course, the idea of housing your product in a metal box wasn’t new by 1997: PiL’s metal box album came just in that, 18 years earlier. I was shocked to see the starting price alone for the Mansun item on eBay.

Easterhouse – Contenders.

As a teenager and into my early 20s I would sometimes swap stuff with mates and in this instance I was enticed by Gav’s copy of Contenders by this Mancunian band who Morrissey had hailed. I didn’t know much about them apart from their left-wing viewpoint (they were aligned to the tiny Revolutionary Communist Party). My mate liked my Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ second album, and I really liked it too. But I thought I could get that back at a later date. I never did but I do have a copy on cassette, which ain’t the same. Thankfully, Contenders is a classic political album.

Anaemic Boyfriends: Guys Are Not Proud

MacKenzie sings Orbidoig: Ice Cream Factory.

On a trip to north-west England, Porky took a clutch of seven-inch singles that had recently arrived at the sty. These came from a package of new wave singles from a different trader to the one that sent the Neon single (see below). The Anaemic Boyfriends single came without a picture sleeve but the A side, Guys Are Not Proud, is a tantalising song about how lusty men are, but not in an admiring way: “Guys are disgusting, they’re always lusting, Guys are obscene, vile and unclean, Guys are such creeps, they’ll even do it with sheep”. The last line was the killer and got me, Scouse Neil and Da Judge laughing like crazy. Scouse Neil was practically pleading with me to give it to him, but he would have had to anal rape me to get it.

The tables were turned on a future visit to Liverpool when he unveiled an absolute gem by Billy MacKenzie, the lead singer of The Associates, a band I’ve adored since I heard them as a teenager. Under the banner, MacKenzie sings Orbidoig, this 12-inch had the playful Ice Cream Factory which was full of innuendo over a bouncy pop sound. Unlike The Associates’ big hits of that year – 1982, beginning with Party Fears Two – this didn’t intrude into the nation’s consciousness. I heard this and tried in vain to get Neil to give, or sell to me. But I did find a copy later on.

Neon – Bottles 7″

Who are they? To be honest I have no idea and neither Dr Google nor Prof Wikipedia can help me, other than to confuse me by informing me of an Australian band of the mid-90s. This lot were from the late 70s. My friend at sixth form college, Gordon, who wasn’t a moron, put this on the end of a tape for me and I thought I was wonderfully bizarre and overdone. Later, I actually found the single in a bunch of new wave singles sold by a company that sold bulk singles for cheap. You had no idea what was enclosed, but with new wave you could be certain of some good ones. I guess some of these things sell quite well nowadays given the interest in anything from 1977 to about 1983.

Fan club stuff

Before MySpace and online websites, fans would rely on fan clubs, which the record labels would sometimes organise themselves. Some offered very little for the money but some were worth the effort. I was only ever a member of two, The Levellers and House of Love, and both were well catered for as they were run by people who actually liked and were close to the band. Like most fan clubs, these two offered freebies, such as a compilation of offcuts by the Brighton band, which suitably had a cover of various bits of offal, and in the House of Love’s case a cassette that had two rare tracks. The Levellers sent a fabulous A4 magazine, the HoL people would issue lyric sheets and all sorts of bits and pieces.

Spinal Tap: Back from The Dead

Funniest film ever. No argument. Two years ago the original soundtrack was re-released with extra tracks and a DVD, which was groovy enough but there was also the addition of a unique pop-up diorama package that unveiled three 12-inch action figures of the band along with a proportionally-sized Stonehenge. It’s good to see that some record labels still make some effort with a package.

Flying Nun 25 Years boxset

An iconic label in New Zealand, and a cult beyond Aotearoa, Flying Nun is defined by Dunedin and the individual style of the city in the 1980s. The Clean, The Gordons, The Chills, Straitjacket Fits, The Verlaines, The Bats, D4 and the Mint Chicks all released material on Flying Nun. And all of those acts are on here, as well as a glut of largely-forgotten heroes and heroines of the Dunedin and Otago scene … people like Rik Starr, King Loser, Chug, Sombretones, The Victor Dimisch Band, Marie and the Atom and Naked Spots Dance. Much of it groovy, some of it woeful, but this is a fantastic reminder of the influence and charm of the label. This boxset also includes a booklet of artists’ photographs, artwork and scribblings.

The The – Soul Mining tape

In the 80s, a professional footballer would tell a glossy magazine they liked to listen to Wham! or Whitney Houston in between games. One who would have been mocked in the changing rooms for his eclectic tastes was the Scotland and Chelsea winger Pat Nevin, who once listed the Cocteau Twins and Pink Industry among his top 10 in one of the weekly music rags. He also included The The’s Uncertain Smile and I can think of no greater accolade for a band than the thumbs-up from that rarely-spotted species: the footballer with a couple of braincells. In 1986 I was buying a lot of tapes – they were compact and a little cheaper than vinyl. Soul Mining is an absolute classic but at seven tracks was deemed to be too short for American tastes even though most of them stretched to more than five minutes and Giant clocked in at 9:34. So a version of Perfect was added to some versions and the UK cassette version had another five goodies, some of which could well have been on the original line-up. It’s likely that at least one of these tracks was from the discarded Pornography of Despair album.

Read my blog on taping and the mystique of cassettes

 

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