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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Merchandise - Enemy (4AD)

The second tune from this Florida band's 4AD debut album is an absolute killer and has been rattling memorably around my head for the last few months.

Firstly, there's an unforgettable guitar riff locked down with a four to the floor drumbeat. Not a distorted riff, it's clean, a descending pattern and it kind of unwinds itself, insidiously, vaguely threateningly, like a snake raising itself off the floor.

Then there's the vocal of Carson Cox. What a wonderful instrument that is. You imagine him pulling off a white soul or a lounge act quite easily. Plus he has a side of the mouth delivery that's intriguing. So chorus lyrics as innocuous as "all your thoughtless words" take on an extra weight or gravity.

That chorus also has a great arrangement touch, a layered octave vocal which lifts the whole proceedings another notch.

There's an atmosphere of coiled tension about the whole thing, even with the major key and smooth singing, which in itself is a great achievement. Apparently there's hardcore punk in the band's backstory so it seems maybe their aims haven't changed, just their methods.

They sound like they could be a genuinely great band, a band that could inhabit some strand of the mainstream while smuggling in higher concepts and darker intent.

For now, this is thrilling stuff, one of the songs of the year.

Parquet Courts – Bodies made of (Rough Trade)

The second single from the new album Sunbathing animal finds the Courts nestling comfortably into the space where Television and Pavement collide.

The first guitar interplay (staccato power chord to 3-note riff) brings us a taste of 1992 – it’s Slanted and Enchanted all over. The vocal has all the shouty, confrontational stance of Stephen Malkmus but without the wordiness. Andrew Savage does a whole lot with less – “bodies made of slugs and guts”.

The guitar solo is pure Tom Verlaine – in fact, if you drift off you could take the view that the entire song is a freewheeling, guttersnipe version of ‘Friction’ from Marquee Moon.

Then back to Pavement for a no wave, noise collapse and crisp kiss-off.

It’s a beautiful thing, all round.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pye Corner Audio - Black mist EP (Front & Follow)

Another tune that was floating around my ether over the summer, from the great Front & Follow label based in Manchester.

The title track is a wonderful Krautrock concoction, dominated by a motorik bass and phasing synths. There's an epic four-note melody across the middle and some very tasty percussive touches later.

It's pleasingly relentless, with a lovely industrial chug about it and seven minutes positively flies by. It reminds a bit of Roll The Dice's post-industrial soundtracks of late, except that this one could rule the dancefloor aswell as offer a compelling 21st century narrative.

Full details on Pye Corner Audio at Followers of The Outer Church and TYPE Records will already be familiar.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Clientele – Suburban light (Merge, reissued)

One of my favourite albums of last year was The house at sea by Amor de Dias on Merge Records, an Anglo-Spanish duo made up of Alasdair MacLean and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez. Their brand of chamber folk might have been too twee for some people but it resonated in a major way with my inner Go Between. There was a nostalgia and a writerly quality to it that Grant McLennan would have been proud of.

MacLean used to front English group The Clientele, a band who shared some of the atmospheres of Amor de Dias, although leaning more towards electric guitars than acoustic or Spanish for its core sound. Now Merge have reissued that band’s debut album Suburban light (a collection of singles originally released in 2000), remastered and including previously unreleased tracks and alternate versions. Where it failed to find much of an audience at that time, it should find a much more receptive public these days. It’s warm and fuzzy, blissful dream pop with a strain of sadcore running through it. It’s interesting to read MacLean’s comments about the band’s aims back then.

“We were just waiting to get in a proper studio and have strings, brass, choirs — Phil Spector-crossed-with-Martin Hannett production,” MacLean remembers. “At the time, every engineer wanted to make every band sound like Radiohead, which just broke everyone’s heart. We couldn’t get a warm sound anywhere we went in those days.”

They certainly achieved that warmth. You’ll recognise The Byrds in the guitar treatments, but also the downbeat moods of a band like Galaxie 500 and the late-night psych reveries of The Velvet Underground.

‘Rain’ has that Byrdsian sunburst guitar shimmer, but with MacLean’s hushed vocal it takes on a more muted, autumnal hue, perfectly in keeping with the longing of the subject matter. ‘We could walk together’ takes a soaring bassline to the chiming guitars, managing to make downbeat sound pretty thrilling.

‘Reflections after Jane’ is like the lost companion to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday morning’, a sparse, glittering, blissed-out love poem, as close to jazz as pop music. ‘An hour before the light’ takes this sound on a notch – a pitter-patter backbeat over another glorious guitar arpeggio gorgeously conveys the rush of being “lead astray by love”.

There are many more low-key gems in here ('Bicycles' is another stunner), most containing guitars that ring out like church bells and a hushed vocal which will burrow far into your inner ear. All round, it's utterly gorgeous pop music you could drift away on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Anthony Reynolds – Underwater Wildlife (Rocket Girl)

A collection of assorted recordings drawn from various EPs and albums, but also advertising, film soundtrack and other private commissions, making it most unusual already.

Add to that a great ear for melody and Reynolds’ aching baritone and it all becomes rather special.

Cardiff native Reynolds used to front a band called Jack (then later Jacques also) in the 1990s who were signed to Beggars Banquet imprint Too Pure. They played a brand of literary, baroque pop which may have been lost beneath the hysteria around Pulp and The Divine Comedy, or was possibly just not understood. I must admit I missed them at the time but a good friend of mine, Songs to Learn and Sing, still talks about Pioneer Soundtracks as one of his favourite albums of all time.

A quick flick around that website reveals seminal influences in the shape of Japan, David Bowie and Scott Walker, among others. Those aren’t bad reference points for getting a handle on this compilation, which is generally sublime orchestral, or orchestrated, pop with depth and texture. More recently, fans of The Dears, for example, will find plenty to love here too.

Some highlights are ‘The laws of the game’, which reminds me a bit of labelmate Jon DeRosa, a deep-hearted mediation on love wrapped around with mourning cello and keening steel guitar.

The epic ‘Loneliness is the engine of the world’, which is more like a noirish novel crammed into 3 minutes with a sweeping prog pop soundtrack.

The wonderful duet (with Argentinian singer Eugenia Jolly) ‘Kingdom of me’, another sprawling narrative taking in spoken word interludes and a gorgeous minor-key chorus.

Or the absolutely heartwrenching ‘I wonder about you’, a simple piano piece with a plaintiff vocal undercut by out-of-context strings and found sounds.

The whole thing is a rollercoaster of emotion but kept in perfect shape by beguiling arrangements of woodwind or strings around a core of piano or guitar.

It’s great stuff and is well worth your time (and money).

'Wine Tasting 101' Rorschach Wine Co style from Craig Thompson on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wussy - Teenage wasteland (Damnably Records, from the album Attica)

A couple of years ago, I heard Wussy for the first time and fell in love with them, when Damnably Records compiled the best moments from their career to that point on the Strawberry album (they were about 10 years in or so at the time, with four albums under their belts). (Here's the link for that 2012 round-up.) This song is taken from their 5th album, Attica, which came out last May.

Of course, 'Teenage wasteland' was also a song by The Who a few decades ago. The Wussy vintage takes that shimmering guitar part of the Who song as a kind of starting point, and proceeds to "answer" from the perspective of a middle American who grew up with The Who.

That would be Lisa Walker in this case, one of the band's joint vocalists and songwriters along with Chuck Cleaver. What she makes out of this dynamic is a moving paean to the power of rock n roll to cross oceans and affect lives. It's wonderfully heartfelt, personal, delivered in one chord more or less. You might even say epic, but with a small e if you follow me, compared to the very much capital E of The Who.

"yeah we heard you Pete, real loud and clear on the last one
and we were pulling for you a 1000 times a day
it don't take much to sound like a sleeping prophet
when your misery sounds so much like ours
so far away, so far away"

That reads great doesn't it? There's a real gritty poetic quality to it - like "sleeping prophet". And here's Walker's comment on The Who and what they meant to her and her generation growing up.

That band changed many lives of farm and rust belt kids here in America who closely identified with such a bombastic blue collar band. Very different from Stones and Beatles type bands. Regular guys. A band for the unpopular kids. Kind of a precursor to the ethos that underground bands in the US began to embrace in the 80s.

It's interesting to put the two songs side by side and treat them as a call and response.

Here's the blurb on the album from Damnably Records.

Attica! is the 5th album from Cincinnati’s Wussy, and the first to be released in the UK following the 2012 compilation Buckeye. These 11 new tracks were recorded at John Curley’s (Afghan Whigs) Ultrasuede Studios, and mastered by Dave Davis at QCA, both of Cincinnati, Ohio. 2012 marked the first excursion outside of the US for Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, and Attica! is partly drawn from their experiences. Former Ass Ponys guitarist John Erhardt joins the band as a fifth member on pedal steel, and the album as a whole sees Wussy incorporate new instrumentation including piano, organ, harmonium, synth, mellotron and e-bow. This, together with guests on cello & theremin, adds a greater range and depth to their sound.

This is a live performance of the song for Cincinnatti magazine. It's really good with a slightly rawer feel.

Here are a couple of other great cuts from the album, plus the whole thing on bandcamp underneath. 'To the lightning' in particular has some great counter vocals by Cleaver and Walker - something of a signature style for them. And that lap steel guitar on 'Halloween'. Yes. They're a great fuckin band who speak to the lives of ordinary people in all their dirty and beautiful detail.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Brother Earth – Out like a lion (Hidden Shoal)

There’s a very pleasing psych feel to this track from GBV and Circus Devils alumnus Todd Tobias, in conjunction with Steve Five on vocals (from The Library is on Fire).

What do I mean by psych? In this case, a stealthy clicked rhythm with plucked acoustic guitar to open. Later, an intriguing offkey punctuation of strings? synths? expiring guitars? (I’d also say offbeat except that these soundbursts occur on the beat.) Followed by gradual decrescendo in a minor key.

The vocal has a mantra-like quality – “in like a lamb and out like a lion, I’ll walk you through the waste” – and hushed tones reminiscient of Elliot Smith.

Like Elliot Smith at his best, this tune is hardly there at all in one way, it's kinda wispy. However, the elements are so brilliantly and subtly put together, you'll find you'll need repeated listens to figure them out.

Haunting stuff. There's an album on the way from Brother Earth, stay tuned.