Archive for October, 2015

Going to Chvrch


SCOTTISH TRIO Chvrches came like a bolt from the blue in late 2013 with their The Bones of What You Believe album, lapping up critical acclaim and racking up fabulous sales in a short period with what can best be described as cold wave, electro-bash.

By the second album I would expect them to have fleshed out raw ideas, while retaining their unique boom and gloom chart-unfriendly sound.

And Every Open Eye does open impressively with its pounding rhythms and female harmonies that pitch perfect with the Goldfrapp-esque sequences.

Admirably the trio – Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty – declined any, presumed, offers to record in LA, Berlin, Bognor Regis, to stay in their native Glesga and record the follow-up. And to self-produce.

Mayberry’s plaintive voice is at the heart of each song, with one deviation where Doherty leads, on High Enough to Carry You Over.

It feels like I’m listening to the new Lorde album in some ways. Of course that is a misnomer as Lorde is yet to release her second, but I would imagine it wouldn’t stray from the debut – one absolute stand-out and an array of middling tracks that don’t detract from Royals. Her second will be carry on as usual, and in a way so are Chvrches. I can’t detect anything that strays from the successful formula of The Bones of What You Believe.

There’s a tried-and-tested formula on virtually every track: an energetic opening, disco 1998 middle, and pretty much repeat the above till songs fades out. The lyrics are perpetually humdrum featuring lines such as “every focussed thought just an illusion” and “here’s to never ending circles.” Indeed.

I know that this will sell tens of thousands, nay hundreds of thousands and make them enough money to pay to have sex with each member of Richard Branson’s family. But. Ach, let’s just end it there. I have a caramel wafer to attend to.

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I EXPECTED THE unexpected from The Fall and got exactly what I, erm, expected.

Mark E. Smith is pop’s grumpy, eccentric old coot, a man giving a good impression of James Bolan appearing as Terry’s dad in the remake of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads. I also pictured him as the daft old git who has just come out of the betting shop and cadges you for five bucks so he can put on another horse.

On Sunday night this true English eccentric and his cohorts were playing a heaving, and typically ageing crowd, at the Bodega in Wellington. I imagined this being The Fall’s first time in New Zealand, and wasn’t going to do the research to usurp my uneducated claims, but I did overhear someone at the bar saying they saw The Fall in Christchurch in 1982, supported by The Clean. Now that would have a gig and three quarters.

Smith and co took a little time to get themselves sorted, and at 10.17 the first strains of Smith could be heard, without anyone being seen on stage. He was uttering words incoherently, a fine tradition he upheld for the entire gig, sometimes with two mics in his hands.

Crap photo courtesy of Craig Haggis

Crap photo courtesy of Craig Haggis

The Fall in 2015 comprises Peter Greenway (guitar), Keiron Melling (drums), Elena Poulou (keyboards,vocals), and David Spurr (bass). Once members would only be in for a short spell as Smith dispensed with their services as quickly as he did with his evening sandwich, but this unit appear to be in it for the long haul.

The first few songs I don’t recognise, partly because, I presume, The Fall are playing most of the current album, The Sub-Lingual Tablet, Smith being no great fan of his back catalogue. This album is so new I haven’t had a chance to subject my ears to it. As he hovered around the stage the Mancunian would occasionally fiddle with Greenway’s amp to boost the sound, with the guitarist then obliged at the end of the song to turn around and return it to normal.

The finest ten minutes comes in the shape of the rousing, clattering, boisterous Theme From Sparta FC, with a spectacular finale.

There’s a brief break before the mob return for a welcome take on the mini hit Mr Pharmacist, before they quickly disappear again, leaving an instrumental tape playing and all the expectation of a second encore, which doesn’t happen.

Then we all went home, passing a merchandise table that sold nothing more than the CD of Sub-Lingual Tablet, and the vinyl version of the same album. The glasses have never been rosy-tinted in the Smith household.

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JOE JACKSON probably won’t thank me for reminding the world of his biggest hit Is She Really Going Out With Him? Trust me, I’d rather not, but it was so good it reached No.3 in the UK charts in 1979, in an era when Cliff Richard was at the peak of his powers, and Boney M were the housewives’s favourites. Joe Jackson

Fast Forward (earMUSIC) is Jackson’s first collection of largely original songs in seven years and has four settings: the cities where they were recorded, New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans. Why he never went to Wagga Wagga remains a mystery. In each city Jackson’s recording with different musicians; in New York the legendary Bill Frisell; in Holland he’s joined by two members of Zuco 103; in Germany two expat Americans, Greg Cohen and Earl Harvin, and in New Orleans he’s teamed up with members of a local funk band.

In the NY sequence, Jackson does a commendable version of Television’s ever-wonderful See No Evil. I would never have envisaged Jackson attempting such a feat, but when you hear the first few bars it’s clear this is a song that sounds right for the artist. Jackson retains the original’s seedy side, and makes it sound like fun. There was a lot of guitar focus on the original and, thankfully, Frisell’s strumming keeps this fine tradition alive.

This section contains the title track which muses about generation gaps and modern life, and how “Everyone is a genius, but no one has any friends,”.

Jackson has always sounded best when he just lets go, and that’s what he does on A Little Smile whose general jollity is interspersed with a surprising, biting verse that on the surface seems out of place, but in fact is the perfect progression for the track.

If I Could See Your Face, with its snake-charmer introduction, meanwhile, is a dark journey into the worst of the human condition, “How you could kill your own sister, you evil fuck,” seems uncharacteristic of the English songwriter.

The other cover is a little more unconventional, the 1930s German ‘Kabarett’ song Good Bye Jonny which is exactly how I expected a cabaret song to be, but that doesn’t suggest it necessarily fits in with what is obstensibly a pop album.

The final track, Ode To Joy, is Jackson very much on form, a lot of glorious 80s-esque horn playing, JJ’s astute voice, to create a fantastic pop song that would fit on any album out this year.

One of those albums you are surprised to say you would recommend to your mum.

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SOMEONE, WE NOW know, listened to Ladytron. A lot.

Two Italian sisters from the island of Sardinia and are now based in London, call themselves Lilies on Mars. They have a new album, ∆GO on Lady Sometimes records.Lilies On Mars

The breathy vocals of the opening track, Stealing, provides a link to last decade’s two-girl, two-boy Liverpool act that I mentioned in my seventh word.

There’s a dischord, an ethereal beauty that unites the two, but the perpetual chime of Stealing delves into the hypnotic transcendental keyboard fixation of Orbital or Severed Heads.

The second track, Dancing Star, divulges such loves even further. “Dancing star, sexy moves/ No space, no time!”, and we’re off in a 1982 basement disco with iffy lighting and seriously cruel clothing.

Their press officer likes to call GO “krauty, dreamy and psychedelic” which isn’t too far off the mark. In fact, it’s right on the button. It Was Only Smoke, for example, has a glorious minute and a half or so orchestral runout that you feel would be ideal in an Sean Connery-era Bond movie when the baddie has been dispensed with and our hero is stranded on a dinghy with a beautiful woman.

The lyrics are very abstract, the electro-fuelled rhythms are head-poundingly brilliant or earachingly painful, depending on your viewpoint, and the repetition can at best be described as engaging. It’s as if Goldfrapp collaborated with Disturbed. At this moment in time, after a few listens, I remain, still, in a position in which I cannot say if I want to listen again, or throw it to the dogs.

That this came in the same envelope with an album by the Brit-based Aussie Joel Sarakula reveals what a wonderful job these press officers have, where “modern Northern Soul” mingles with pop, and straddles electro-clash.

SarakulaThe Northern Soul link is thanks, as it were, to BBC6 Music DJ Craig Charles. Perhaps there is an attempt to re-energise a movement that includes Leon Bridges and Curtis Harding, artists with an affinity with Motown and the Chairman of the Board.

I can’t quite buy it though. The Imposter (We are Elevate records) is joyful, but it isn’t soulful, not like Aretha might sound if had finished a shift as a miner. Too polished, too tame, not enough heartache. I will give Sarakula his dues, and the benefit of the doubt, for now, but future releases may require an extra edge.

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PART OF THE ‘new wave’ crowd of the late 70s/ early 80s, Squeeze were never happy members of this loosest of loose labels. With a lightning approach to lyrics, a love of satire, and a style that descended from the Kinks and The Small Faces, the Londoners often felt more like a pop band fronted by Noel Coward. Squeeze

There’s no history lesson here today, suffice to say there are many peeps out there with a near-fanatical obsession with the band that probably stretches to pilgrimages to Deptford for those Up The Junction locations.

Cradle To The Grave, released this month, is their 14th studio album and the first since 1998. You can exhale: Jools Holland does not appear on this record. Repeat: no fucking Holland piano playing.

Cradle To The Grave is based around a television comedy starring Peter Kay, which may mean very little to people in Paekakariki or Wollongong. Trust me, it probably isn’t a recommendation, but I look forward to it nevertheless; British comedy, once by far the most agonisingly prophetic in the world, needs a few boosts to its reputation.

To the music. While I haven’t heard any Squeeze records in donkey’s ears, I’m reliably informed by a man in the know that this is their best since the previous best album.

The TV show is based in 1974, coincidentally the year of their formation, and it very much has a nostalgic feel, with The Beautiful Game reminiscing about football in the 1950s when a prima donna demanding his own masseur wouldn’t have even got a trial. It’s hard not to argue with Glenn Tilbrook when he tells us: “Believe me, it was good to be alive.”

In Only 15 the protagonist is “supposed to be in by nine” but is off discovering new, hearty pleasures, but it all ends in a testy meeting the next morning with his mum. Top of the Form is another trip back to teen-days where our hero/ zero doesn’t do as well at school as he should do. “Life was so different for underachievers,” well it would be with the coolest cop show ever, Starsky and Hutch, on the goggle box.

The lyrics are trite but this is memorable for its jugband feel, and other tracks such as Nirvana and Snap, Crackle and Pop are jaunty, upbeat affairs. But there’s space for those easier moods, with violins leading Sunny and Open having a gospel drive, complete with female backing singers.

While there’s undoubted highlights here, and there isn’t really anything dragging the chain, ultimately Cradle To The Grave is written for a TV comedy set in the mid-70s, so songs like Happy Days fit in with their nostalgia-as-happiness outlook. Yes, they fit in the envelope for the television programme, but for the album itself, as a separate entity, Porky may take a bit of convincing.

Instead of a clip of the new single, here’s a preview of the show …

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