Monday, January 31, 2011
Oh fucking hell.
First Peter Christopherson, then Trish Keenan and now John Barry. Jesus Christ.
What to say apart from 'thank you'. I'm sure the papers will concentrate on the boring stuff, the tiresome Bondy themes and the soundtrack to 'Dances With Wolves' and if it had been anybody else, yes they would be the details of a fair and glowing epitaph. As it is John Barry was responsible for some of the all time greatest musical pieces in the history of the galaxy: The music from 'The Persuaders', 'Midnight Cowboy', 'The Black Hole'. Hugely influential, beautifully listenable and one of the people instrumental in opening my ears and dragging me away from the often all too predictable world of punk rock.
Heart attack at 77. Shit.
As slight as it may be there is an upside: At least John wont have the hideous misfortune of having his death trumped by that of Norfolkian man-mountain Bernard 'Turkey-ham' Matthews.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
'In the next few years 'Flaunt It' will be re-evaluated by the music press and by the time they are done with it the album will be heralded as one of the greatest records of the 80s'.
To those under the impression that SSS were merely misguided teen-friendly electro-pop the above probably sounds like the talk of an utter fuck-puddle. But let me try and qualify my opening statement by furnishing you with some perspective: B.A.D (Big Audio Dynamite), that comedy project that your man from The Clash started with Don Letts is already being re-assesed. Apparently they were something new, fresh and dangerous, they fused 'hip-hop' beats with punk guitar chops. It seems to have escaped peoples attention that they did this very badly and that despite their multi-cultural barrier breaking facade they were harder to listen to than a dog turd with a pair of white ipod headphones dangling from it.
Add to this the fact that the dreary and bland idiot-hop of De La Soul is already being hailed in a similar manner, is it really that improbable?
I should probably clarify the above mark so that it doesn't come across as a lazy snipe. There was nothing exceptional about De La Soul, they have a sound like a hairdryer set on low accompanied by a drum machine made out of marshmallows. They were so fucking boring that '3 Feet High and Rising' could have been prescribed as a cure for insomnia.
The same however cannot be said for this Sony TV-glasses assisted glimpse into the future of music. 'Flaunt It' is still as exciting today as it was when I had a BASF cassette copy playing on my Walkman as I sat sulking in the back of the car on the way to visit my Grandparents.
Musically it's Elvis meets Suicide. Jet-fueled hi-tech Blade Runner inspired party music sung by a guy with three foot hair and a fishnet stocking on his face. What is not to like? I mean we are talking about the band who (at this stage) refused to be photographed unless it was at night, the band whose opening gambit was to blow up a helicopter in the video for their first single as they posed with an arsenal of automatic weapons.
So why the cultural cold shoulder?
It's obvious, they were aimed at the Smash Hits and No1 magazine readership, I even recall individual band member posters complete with profiles coming with one particular title. They were set on world domination from the get go, none of this standing in the shadows and waiting to be discovered business... And that's why WIRE magazine feature endless pean's to Martin Rev and not Martin Degville. Sigue Sigue Sputnik had already sold out before the second this album hit the shelves: The space between songs is used to advertise hair gel and style magazines, Tony James wears an Atari t-shirt. Unlike the two quirky New York misfits who got bottled off every time they tried to play CBGBs, SSS placed themselves as a product.
And this is what modern music is missing. The kids of today have those fucking retards The Arctic Monkeys et-al singing about drinking cheap cider and fingering the girl from the chippy when what they need is tight leather pants, fur coats, film samples and guitar's shaped like laser guns. It is quite possible that you have the cure for the inner-city stab-a-thons right here: Turn the rude boys and wanna be gangsta's on to this business and they'll be comparing lip-gloss and collections of vintage Japanese electronica rather than leaving each other to bleed to death in train stations.
If that sounds too much like fun, you can take off the high-heels, scrape away the eyeliner, wash out the pink hair dye and you are still left with a very solid collection of listenable songs. 'Love Missile F1-11', '21th Century Boy', 'Sex Bomb Boogie', 'Atari Baby'. Yes there are fillers but nothing to swing the balance or to detract from my opening statement.
I'd love to see this remixed, made even more relevant to 2011. It wouldn't take much, just the eradication of a few 'Yello-isms' and the keyboard stabs that sound more at home on the soundtrack to Ferris Bueller's Day Off (That 'comedy' film where he fucks over his best friend), maybe more of an emphasis on the twin drumming and a wash of feedback. But given that's unlikely to happen I'll just have to stick to playing this a lot more than I should, especially when I have pretty much everything Alan Vega and Suicide did right next to it on the shelf.
Anyway, ladies and gentlemen here's to the fifth generation of rock and roll...
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Everybody knows this record, if there is a used record shop in the US that doesn't have a copy I am yet to find it. It sits comfortably in the majority of people's 'Hottest Album's Of All Time Ever' lists. It was a significant milestone in the development of yada, yada, yada.
This is, I think my third copy of this album, not because I have a habit of falling out with it and casting it aside but because it's been upgraded. I started with a battered first press from Limelight Records in Santa Cruz (Props yo!) and then bought another, cleaner copy somewhere else along the way. Now I was more than happy with that until the above Japanese press appeared in my local store. I had them both for a while but couldn't really justify my growing multiple copy problem and got rid of the US press.
Funny that, getting rid of the original in favor of a later Japanese pressing, not the first time though. Did the same with my 'Trans Europe Express' - it's amazing what a thick stock card sleeve and an Obi can do for my vinyl libido.
Anyway, 'Surrealistic Pillow' is a really good record that stops short of being 'Great' for two reasons: It's uneven and The United States of America did it better. Maybe I am being too harsh but the other-worldly psychedelia hinted at here by the likes of 'White Rabbit' is a theme that they not only improved upon but one that they smashed out of the park and into space.
Why is it uneven? Unwanted injections of blues and guitar-noodling, in fairness to them this was recorded in late 1966 so the whole 'Psychedelic' movement was in it's infancy. RCA probably felt an end to end whacked out mission statement was not going to shift units. It's not just me that doesn't like the deviation though. As if by magic every time the boogie woogie crept in my son would cry uncontrollably (Mental note - Play Status Quo to him to observe reactions to prolonged exposure)
I should probably play up the album's strengths though as despite the above I am very fond of it. Obviously 'White Rabbit' is on it, I could write an essay about that track alone, it's cultural impact, it's use as a soundtrack to celluloid and books alike. 'White Rabbit' is a giant blue whale of a song, it's stratospheric, an anthem to anybody and everyone who ever dabbled with LSD. It has 'Somebody To Love' on it and if you can get the image of Jim Carey doing karaoke to it in the 'Cable Guy' out of your head then it's a great song. 'She Has Funny Cars' is worth a punt as well but the album's savior, it's most solid representation of the records titular umbrella - 'Today'.
Holy shit in a handbag 'Today' is epic, understated but epic and Grace Slick doesn't even contribute beyond a backing vocal. This track is probably on every mix tape I did between 1993 and 1998, it's a perfect song.
Two things I did not know about 'Today': Marty Balin, the singer of the song, and the one who got punched out by a Hells Angel at Altamont actually wrote it for Tony Bennett to perform (This never happened). Secondly, that bearded fuckwit and Ice Cream namesake Jerry 'the teddybear' Garcia plays that awesome repeat guitar part. That would normally be enough to put me off, a reminder of turtles walking to a station and tie-dye t-shirts but no. It's a killer of a song despite of his efforts.
Anyway, 'Surrealistic Pillow', yeah still pretty groovy I suppose.
*Oh and I get bonus points for writing a review of a Jefferson Airplane record without mentioning Haight and or Ashbury.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
So this is a first.
My reason for this review isn't a recent visit to their physical premises but rather the use of their on-line shop. Yes they stock a lot of faceless dance music bollocks but what a great site.
This used to be a regular port of call back in the early 90's when I was at college in Sheffield. I've only visited their 'new' premises a couple of times but when they were off the high street round the corner from 'Stolen From Ivor' I'd stick my head round the door at every given opportunity. The product mix always had a strong leaning towards 'dance' but it appears they have made it their bread and butter in the past years. Makes perfect sense I suppose: Selling 1 Shonen Knife album Vs 23 copies of Whigfield's 'Saturday Night' (Or whatever the fuck people dance to in 2011). Pure economics - Even if you are going to hell for it.
Anyway, enough already, back to the positive hyperbole.
There were a couple of new bits and pieces I was after so I popped down to Soho in my lunch to hook myself up. Well despite being friendly enough London's 'finest' could not product the goods. Disappointed, I was walking home when I heard a voice in my head all booming and Godlike:
'Try Piccadilly Records... They have a website... Go out and kill people'.
So I did. I'd been on the site before briefly in 2006 but never bought anything, I was living in New York at the time and a colleague (a DJ) swore by the site and bought pretty much everything he played from them. Now that should give you some idea of how 'on it' the guys at Piccadilly must be - One store in Manchester Vs the whole of the Eastern seaboard.
Anyway, the site's easy enough to use and even if a virtual flick through the racks is never going to compare to emerging smelling of mould from some backstreet real record shop, they had everything I was looking for so mad props for that yo.
The best thing about the site is the 'Just in' column on the right of the screen. As stock comes in it's featured in a rolling bar of clickable Jpegs. Sounds a bit like I'm getting excited about nothing but it is updated at such speed that you feel like you've got he freshest bread of morning at your fingertips.
So to summarize: Well worth a visit.
Okay, so that's great but what was the point of that particular plug?
Well, it just struck a chord. Its interesting to see how some stores are weathering this musical storm pretty successfully through savvy evolution.
Plus I fancied a trip down memory lane. It is 1991, I am in Piccadilly, I am wearing a fish-tail parka with a hand painted Sub Pop logo on the sleeve and a lumberjack shirt. Although my hair is slightly confused my direction in music is quite clear, it either comes from Washington DC or Seattle or it doesn't exist. The world is a very exciting place. Jesus, I used to get goosebumps walking into that shop, it was so fucking exciting, each record an adventure waiting to happen, every carefully thought through purchase a token of legitimization for my formative years, a bit like collecting Pokemon in a Tad t-shirt I suppose.
Anyway, that shit is all gone, the hair, the coat, the shop, my copy of the first Action Swingers album. What hasn't crumbled like dust in the wind is Piccadilly Records, so hat's off to you... Even if you do charge too much for post and packaging.
This was yanked at random from the racks earlier this morning. I've been giving a lot of time to all things Will Oldham of late, he's a tough cookie to keep up with and seems to shit out an album on an almost bi-monthly basis. To be honest this could be part of the appeal - Ooooh just think of all those spines staring out at you in date order. This is probably how James Last got so big, an obedient army of mindless completists just waiting for the latest moustachio sleeved album to hit the shelves.
I have no love for James Last and luckily that is where the similarities between him and the cuddliest man in music come to an end. I find something colossally wholesome about Will Oldham or Bonnie ' Prince' Billy - I don't like using that acronym as it sounds Scottish and consequently makes me think of Irn Bru and Big Issue sellers (Interestingly enough he does look like a Big Issue seller). I find listening to him is a bit like eating a couscous salad: I actually feel like it's doing you good as I eat it. Will Oldham is horses, rolling hills, he's a Powell and Pressburger film on Christmas Day. That's why I find myself playing it now, it's perfect Sunday morning music to sit my son in front of, his synapses firing ten to the dozen and taking in every off-kilter tone and wonderfully tuneless wail.
There's nothing controversial about WIll Oldham, nothing tasteless or difficult. The only thing remotely challenging about him is keeping up with that quick fire out-put. Yes he sings 'If I could fuck a mountain' in 'The Mountain Low' but he does so in such a nice beardy boy next door way that it's in impossible to take offense.
So, on to this 'Viva Last Blues'. It's more electric than much of his output - The opener on side 2 'Work Hard/Play Hard' comes as something of a shock, it's tempo and delivery a lot more ferocious than you might expect. There are other songs that share the former's mood but not it's perfect battered pitch and delivery. The rest of the album is as you might expect: The greatest voice in contemporary Americana accompanied sparingly with guitar and the occasional addition of rhythm.
I think a problem with Will Oldham might be that has such a prolific output and so much of it is totally listenable, completely enjoyable that it's hard to find exception in that body of work for better or worse. I have my favorites, the Tortoise collaboration comes to mind but there isn't much that's head and shoulders above. 'Viva Last Blues' is no exception.
'But it's Palace Brothers!'
Yes, but if you care to get out some paper and an HB1 and draw a graph plotting the boy Oldham's works casting aside any old skool indie allegiances any money this sits bang smack in the middle of that scatter graph along with 80% of his work.
This said it really isn't such a bad thing. It's good to have a constant in your life of some kind, somebody musically reliable and despite his turning up in the strangest of places - Jackass, a Kanye West video etc, someone who is for the most part at least thusfar, predictable.
I like it, and as he rocks back and forth on one of those bouncy chair things, so does the little man*.
NB* - Reading that back I feel it important to clarify that I am actually talking about my son and not my penis.
Friday, January 21, 2011
So this is one of those places I passed when it was shut last time I was in Milan. I pressed my face against the glass in the hope it might some how meld with the liquid and allow me a kind of 'fish eye' view of the interior. This did not happen.
Anyway, last week I was sent there again for work to observe the well dressed people of what is generally regarded as Italy's fashion capital. It didn't take very long for me to pull this place up on a map and work it into my day's itinerary. Was it worth the detour? I would say so. I left with an 1976 Italian press of the frustratingly hard to find 'Tarot' album by the Cosmic Jokers. It wasn't cheap but now that that particular search is over I can rest a little and score it off my now imaginary bingo card (it was very real until I left my hard drive on a flight to Boston).
Dischivolanti is possibly the worst name for a record shop in the history of man. This is entirely because a.) I have no idea how to pronounce it or b.) what it means. I am guessing it's a head-nod to the yacht from that Bond film, that or this guy was massively impressed by that Mr Bungle album from the mid 90s. Either way he spelled it wrong.
So what of the inside of said shop? Yeah, it's not bad. I don't have much to compare it against as I've only ever been into a handful of other Italian record shops over the years, even spattering of records and CDs, few gems on the wall, unhealthy amount of what looked like static stock under the shelves. Regardless of that the owner was very friendly, I think - My Italian consists of about ten words done in a Joe Dolce 'Shaddup Your Face' style accent. Either way he smiled at me when I pointed toward the wall where the copy of 'Tarot' was sitting and seemed to understand when I said:
'Can I get that please?....Tarot...Tarrut,,,That one..,Cosmic...Yeah'
He even chipped a bit off the price which is always appreciated.
So how to rate this shop?
How to rate any of these stores that are brave enough to still be hanging in there? They should get medals. Medals but also points deducted for boring and tiresome stock. I really don't ever need to see another copy of that Christopher Cross album with the flamingos on the front.
Yeah, it was alright but Dischivolanti is not in danger of worrying the few hallowed stores that have been mentioned up to now in the 'Greatest Record Shops in the World' list but then that particular occasional feature is becoming more difficult to write on a daily basis. I mean shit, the last time I came out a new found record shop fully aroused could well be a couple of years back. Who to blame? The hoarders who refuse to die? The websites that artificially inflate the pricing structure? The landlords who would rather triple their rent and have Starbucks as a tenant?
Maybe I should try and flip this. Surely the lack of hunting grounds makes the sport all the more exciting? The competition that much fiercer... Yeah, that's it. Now I feel like one of those sailors on that island chasing down the last of the Dodo meat.
Probably tasted like chicken anyway.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Trish Keenan, lynchpin of one of the few contemporary bands I gave two shits about has passed away. This is normally the part where I'd make a quip about something or other, her voice or her hair. I can't, Trish had magical hair. Dark brown flowing locks with a healthy 'wash day' sheen, occasionally a fringe (bangs) that framed her face perfectly. As for her voice, it was almost peerless in it's beautiful and unwavering melancholy... And now she is gone.
Few artists will ever come close to leaving behind a back catalogue as spotless (despite parts of Tender Buttons) and sadly brief as hers, I for one was hooked from the opening harpsichord bars of 'The Book Lovers'.
I met her once, Broadcast were playing with Stereolab in Wolverhampton in support of the 'Work and Non Work' comp that had just come out on Duophonic. I knew nothing of them before that night but came away mesmerized and with something of a new school boy crush. The conversation was briefer than the time I spoke to Nina Persson and went something along the lines of...
'I thought you were really good'
But still, suddenly that seems to say it all.
Trish Keenan, I thought you were really good.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Much has happened since my last entry, not least the naming of my son. I think I'd underestimated just how tough the entire naming process could be. In the UK there is a six week legal limit to give your baby some kind of title, I don't know what happens after that but needless to say we were down to the wire when we finally agreed on some kind of label for our bundle of joy. Yes we could have run our finger down the current and achingly dull 'Child Names Top 10' stopping at the first one that wasn't a name shared with one of my wife's ex-boyfriends but really? Doesn't exactly reek of creativity, care or thought does it?
Anyway, moving on to today's subject 'Stone Angel' by 'Stone Angel'. I bought this due to the fact it got nothing short of mad props in the book Galactic Ramble (Worth a look if you're in the market for a record based read). It's a private press from 1975 and regarded by many as an unsung classic of the Acid Folk genre.
'What so you spent three hundred quid on the original?'
'Nope, I put it on my Christmas list and was more than happy to receive the CD from my mum and dad.'
'You wouldn't say that if you heard it through my new stereo. You'd be too busy with your hand down the front of your pants writhing in aural ecstasy.'
New found father-hood has got my brain working in an entirely new way, in no short time, amongst other things I've invented the 'Scream Helmet', 'The Milky Finger' and the under arm tampon for men. The first two are fairly self explanatory the third I will expand upon. I'm not sure if it's a side effect of becoming a dad or not but suddenly I'm sweating like a mother fucker. The smell isn't an issue as much as the almost incomprehensible amount of moisture emitted by my armpits. It's as if that particular pat of my body has decided I'm living in a sub-tropical climate, a jungle or the like.
And exactly what does that have to do with 'Stone Angel? Well as I sit here and write with the window wide open, despite the cool breeze and low temperature I am sweating, the armpits of my t-shirt moist and clammy
I have tried every deodorant and anti-perspirant out there even a special one for stinky women but no. I still arrive at work every day with tears of moisture running down the sides of my torso. Tired of this I took the matter in hand and wedged two large folds of kitchen towel underneath my arms before setting off on my commute and you know what? It actually worked. Yes my rummaging in my shirt and producing wads of flowery ultra-absorbent paper raised questions in the office but that's a small price to pay for a new level of dryness - Manpons - Underarm tampons for men.
This reminds me a lot of the music from 'The WIcker Man', the tempo and the Jew's harp, the aprons and worrisome moustaches, 'Stone Angel' has it all. But Is it any good? Well, we're on to track 3 and it's not offended me in any..... Oh wait. We are now nuts-deep in 'Hey Nonny Nonny' territory with the added 'bonus' of a Roy Wood of Wizard sounding guitar.
'Traveller's Tale' is up next and it's alright, but I have to be a honest it's a bit too much folk and not enough acid thusfar. I mean at the moment we are within 6 degrees of separation of 'The Wurzels' and that's not somewhere I feel particularly comfortable. I dunno, maybe I woke up without my 'Folk' head on but this just makes me want to drink cider and say 'Ooo Arr' a lot in a Naughty Fred West Country accent.
It's nice enough when the singing stops, the flute and the guitar is fresh, bright, meticulous even. Unfortunately the sum of the parts is just a bit... Is this what Tractor drivers listen to when they are hauling pig shit up and down back country roads at five miles an hour? I bet it is. I bet this was sold as mail-order only out of the back of Farmer's Weekly. You see it's conjuring all of the wrong images. I want to close my eyes and see something like the sleeve of 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' instead I've got an image of Devon's favorite son of comedy Jethro sat in a hedge. I feel dirty. I feel like eating a 'plough man's lunch' and having sex with a pig.
Not sure there's any coming back from this. I think that term 'Acid Folk' is batted about too freely 'Stone Angel' is just plain old straw chewing, trousers held up with twine, mead drinking Folk, the kind they warn you about at school and to that young sire I say 'Hey Nonny NO!'
And before I forget I should make it official. I am now the proud pater of one Ren Josef Ramone Robbins. Future drummer with some awesome hardcore revivalist jazz-core band, that or the fastest man alive, I'm not fussy as long as he doesn't up in agriculture dancing round a maypole to this tripe.