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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chloe March – Old tree, mon coeur (from the Under the day EP, Hidden Shoal)

And speaking of winter music...something about this dreamy beauty makes me think of the kind of swirly feeling that comes at the end of the year (often brought on hot whiskey).

It’s a song inspired by the oldest tree in Kew Gardens. The combination of harpsichord-alike arpeggios, a thick ambient fog and March’s marvellous drifting vocal creates a suitably ageless effect.

A stunning evocation of the vastness of the universe and the microscopic human heartbeat running through it.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Alela Diane & Ryan Francesconi – Cold moon (Believe Recordings)

Sublime pastoral meditations from the two Portland-based artists.

Francesconi’s timeless open tuned guitar - Balkan music is his area of specialty and there is that feel to the tunes - makes a great backdrop for Diane’s wonderfully clear vocals. The latter aren’t cold in the usual sense but there is an icy tone, something crystal, semi-classical in delivery, a plaintive but dignified air and utterly compelling. As pointed out elsewhere, it feels distinctly like winter music overall, as the title would suggest.

While his playing and her singing would be enough to sustain the songs on their own (opener ‘Quiet corner’, for example, has a magnificent dynamic to it, almost like a symphony with its movements, and no other decoration except for an ingenious falsetto vocal harmony), the album reaches another level of brilliance with the few choice arrangement flourishes. Even at that, flourishes is the wrong word. These are perfectly sympathetic shadings, restrained and underplayed.

Like the bubbling hum of feedback on ‘Migration’, bringing the pent up cry at death to the surface. The stately string section (which includes Francesconi’s partner, and fellow Joanna Newsom collaborator, Mirabai Peart) and brass swells of ‘The sun today’. Another glorious brass bed in the title track. The elongated counter vocal of ‘Shapeless’, a great baroque choral touch. The thumb piano and then percussion and handclaps of the same song, an ancient intriguing tribal dance, a prayer to the night.

These are personal songs, intimate essays of contemplation against masterful musical settings. (Interestingly, their working process began with Francesconi sending Diane the tunes in instrumental form. Over time, her writing formed around the music, drawing compelling resonances from it.) Of existence, the natural world, our knotty unsavoury modern lives, how to reconcile these puzzles. And, on repeated listens, a bracing clear-eyed musing on death.

A wonderful and moving piece of work.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Slow Moving Clouds - Os

A beautful record finding the common ground between Irish and Finnish traditional music. In fact, that overlap takes in all kinds of other tangents – classical, ambient, folk drones among others.

I had the pleasure of seeing the band play live a few weeks ago in Cork. The tone of the album could be taken as sober, reflective but live there’s great gameyness and humour to the music. Aki, the Finnish connection, did the introductions – Danny Diamond on too many fiddles (there were several), Kevin Murphy on grown-up fiddle (cello) and himself on crippled fiddle (nyckelharpa).

The music that night showed something like the ambient drift of Sigur Ros in places, the cello heaving and swelling like a proper bellows. The full dynamics of the instruments were heard too, with scrapes, slides and harmonics all used. At times, there was a strident string quartet feel (trio I know but the nyckelharpa is like two instruments in one), other times it came across as some wonderful mutant strain of chamber folk.

Most of the time they just played stirring and boisterous (or mournful) folk tunes with seesawing cello and keening fiddle. It's like folk music reaching out into the ether, majestically. Plenty for trad fans, plenty for classical fans, great tunes with inventive arrangements for all music fans.

Like I said, a beautiful record. Get into it.

The Kinks – Autumn almanac

It actually felt like autumn there for a week or two. Winter now for sure in this northern hemisphere. Once the Christmas lights arrive, autumn knows it’s not welcome any more. Those high street window displays give it the right bum’s rush.

There are very few songs paying tribute to autumn, have you noticed*. Plenty for spring, summer and winter but autumn seems to hold no glamour for songwriters. Just a stopping off point between the warm and cold rushes of July and December. A gloomy counterpoint to the growth and renewal and libido of spring. Maybe it’s a reflection of the discomfort we in the west feel about death. It’s more of a season for poetry, apparently, mists and mellow fruitfulness and all the rest. And poetry seems to fit better with musings of mortality than pop music.

*Although this link does a good job of making a case –

Autumn is in the Air by Buiochas on Mixcloud

I suppose ‘California dreamin’ would be one (even though it’s a winter’s day, all the leaves are brown), although autumn is only really represented in that first line. Plus you couldn’t call it a tribute. It’s about loss, doubt, a desperate search for something. These are the things synonymous with autumn for most songwriters, those who bother with the season at all.

There is one glorious tribute to the poor relation of seasons. It’s by that great chronicler of Englishness, Ray Davies. A couple of things. The simple narrative switch is so refreshing in itself – a jaunty atmosphere, jolly even, things are on the up, to start anyway. Yes yes yes it’s my autumn almanac. Celebrate it.

Also trust Ray Davies to locate some essential qualities of his own people in autumn. The brass band, the cooing choir, the dancehall high hat, something communal. The kitchen sink symphony, the comfort of domesticity. Tea and toasted buttered currant buns. Some other qualities too. A certain strangeness. There’s something about the way he emotes “sweep them in my sack”, referring to the leaves blown by the breeze. Perhaps Ray – or his narrator - finds those multicoloured beauties more of an irritant than a decoration (in which case I’m with him). Plus there is that backwards tape in the fadeout – a very psych undercurrent.

The song takes a distinct turn around the midpoint. The hitherto homely details (football on a Saturday, roast beef on Sundays, Blackpool on my holidays, all sung in some kind of semi-parody Goons-alike voice) are seen in a different light. This is my street and I’m never gonna leave it. No I’m always gonna stay here, if I live to be 99. Even that age is totally strung out in the delivery, with something like anguish. It’s almost like a cry, a plea to broaden your horizons, to go out and experience what you can before it's gone, a grabbing by the lapels and a good shaking. All the people I meet, seem to come from my street. And I can’t get away... Every time this gets me. It’s unbearably poignant, like the best English social realism. Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, it’s up there.

So a kind of tribute to autumn. And a backdoor critique of smalltown Englishness (it could be smalltown anywhere, except for the detail). Or a paean to the deep pull of home. All of these things.

It is a work of quiet genius, a masterpiece of tiny accumulated detail. And a blinding pop song at any time of the year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Playlist 379 - Nov 24 2015

During this week's show, someone suggested there was a bit of a "hunkering down for winter" feel to the playlist. There could be something in that, although more on my mind at the time was the classic style of 60s/70s singer-songwriters.

So Harry Nilsson, an underrated (by some anyway) genius.
Steve Warner, a sumptuous songwriter, from 1979, reissued now by Earth.
Anderson, a Dublin artist somewhat following in their vaunted footsteps with his fine debut album.
Bacharach & David, via Jackie De Shannon, fit into this pattern somehow.
Julia Holter, imagine her singing Burt & Hal, I'd love that, gauzy and all.
Glen Campbell singing one of the many to die for Jimmy Webb songs he recorded.
New High Llamas, 70s AM radio refashioning.
Owensie, great hushed folk drones.

And Lee Hazlewood, the master of country lounge music (let's call it), from one of the great new Light in the Attic 1960s reissues.

More on these pages.

Nov 24 2015 w/ Nilsson,Anderson,Hazlewood,Holter, High Llamas,Chills,Eska,Minnie Riperton++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 379
Tues Nov 24 2015
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

Steve Warner – We’ll go on
Harry Nilsson – Without her
Anderson – Things we have in common (playing Button Factory, Dublin, Dec 9)
Julia Holter – Night song (playing Button Factory, Dublin, Feb 17)
Jackie De Shannon – What the world needs now is love
Trash Can Sinatras – Freetime
Glen Campbell – By the time I get to Phoenix
Lee Hazlewood – For one moment (Light in the Attic)
Alela Diane & Ryan Francesconi – No thought of leaving
Howard Eynon – Mad Mike (playing Old Church, Stoke Newington, London, Dec 3+8, w/ Wreckless Eric)
This is the Kit – Les plus beaux (playing Academy, Dublin, Dec 12, w/ José Gonzalez)
Owensie - Red line (playing Plugd Records, Cork, Nov 28, 1pm)
Eska – Shades of blue (playing Islington Assembly Hall, London, Nov 27)
Minnie Riperton – Les fleurs
Lillith Ai – Riot
High Llamas - Here come the rattling trees
The Chills – When the poor can reach the moon

*next week's show features music from the new Creation Records Box Set, The Drink & Jóhann Jóhannsson among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Friday, November 20, 2015

ORK Records - New York, New York (Numero Group)

A great record compiling the diverse strands which made up the ORK Records activity of the late 1970s.

This was the label launched by Terry Collins, aka Terry Ork, a sometime Warhol acolyte and film nut who ran a movie memorabilia shop, Cinemabilia, in Greenwich Village. Out of these humble surroundings, a seed grew through mail orders, small ads in the Village Voice, free labour from willing rock n roll interns (Richard Hell, later of Television, was one of the first of these) and of course live shows at the likes of CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. There are only thirteen 45s to report from the ORK back catalogue therefore the majority of this release features demo sessions, outtakes and various other recordings that did not make it on to actual vinyl at the time.

These range from the well known – the first Television single ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ and Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ ‘Blank Generation’, providing the future templates for post-punk and punk respectively. (By the way, how post-modern and just cool as fuck is that, predicting post-punk before punk had even been coined.)

The less well known, in the shape of Richard Lloyd’s (of Television) magnificent foray into power pop (unreleased at the time because of Lloyd’s contractual ties with Elektra, via Television), and The Marbles putting forth a convincing, if unlikely, argument for sunshine pop in New York’s late 1970s impersonation of Gotham City.

And the out there – Alex Chilton (in his post Big Star, flailing around period) and rock critic Lester Bangs and friends.

It’s by turns thrilling, shambolic and endearing – in short probably a perfect representation of the times – and year zero for any history of independent record labels.

An essential document of a seminal moment in rock n roll history and don’t ya just love it.

(*By the way, you’ll want this for the excellent 60 page book that accompanies it, compiled by Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley, as much as for the record itself. It’s a gripping read.)

Track 7 in this playlist

Nov 10 2015 w/ ORK Records,The Drink,The Chap,Serge G,West Side Story,Julia Holter,Alela Diane++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Playlist 378 - Nov 17 2015

A class of an electronic 1st half to the show this week, brought on by a couple of new releases -

Noveller, back with a new album, more delicious ambient guitar washes
Phantom Horse, a Hamburg duo, keeping bleeping minimalist German kosmische alive
SlowPlaceLikeHome, lovely drifting ambient electronica from Donegal, of all places.

Around which was added -
Some classic Cluster from 1974
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, one of the best albums of 2015 for me, beautiful kosmische tones
Groundbreaking wigged out Moog boogie from Bruce Haack 1970
Seminal psychtronica from Silver Apples 1968
Moondog making gorgeous canons a child would appreciate.

Great film music in the 2nd half from -
Mikael Tariverdiev, Russian, not heard in the West before (by many anyway), revived by Stephen Coates via Earth Recordings
Martial Solal, from A bout de souffle, jazz in the service of the Nouvelle Vague.

Plus Steve Warner, another great Earth reissue, lush piano, sumptuous vocals.

More on the blog.

Nov 17 2015 w/ Cluster,Bruce Haack,Noveller,Moondog,Mikael Tariverdiev,Lail Arad,Julia Kent++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 378
Tues Nov 17 2015
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – Careen
Slow Place Like Home – Luna
Phantom Horse – Hector
Benoit Pioulard – Ante
Noveller – Fighting sleep
Cluster – Heisse lippen
Bruce Haack – Cherubic hymn
Silver Apples – Oscillations
Moondog – Bells are ringing
G Rag & Die Landlergschwister – Poem for the Viking of 42nd St
Mikael Tariverdiev – Russian ragtime (from the soundtrack of the film Goodbye boys) (The Real Tuesday Weld reinterpret some of Tariverdiev's music at Union Chapel, London, 28th November)
Martial Solal – Poursuite (from the soundtrack of the film A bout de souffle) Lail Arad – When we grow up (playing Tooting Tram & Social, London, Nov 29)
The Leaf Library – Asleep between stations (playing The Lexington, London, Nov 22)
Steve Warner - Rainfall
Julia Kent - Tramontana
Slow Moving Clouds – Os

*next week's show features more music from Steve Warner, also Harry Nilsson & Jimmy Webb among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,