New! Now!

Set To Clean Up

There’s a terrific label that’s been releasing really great records with no fuss or fanfare for the past four years. Last Night From Glasgow – named, I imagine, from the opening line in Abba’s Super Trouper – is unique in that it exists through crowdfunding. Members pay upfront at the start of the year and the subscription fees are put towards the production of music from over a dozen acts. The music varies, from the wandering electronica of L Space and Broken Chanter‘s soulful folk to the E-Street isms of The Gracious Losers and a reborn, hard jangling Close Lobsters. The latter will launch their LNFG-curated Post Neo Anti LP this coming weekend at a sold-out Glasgow show and will, I suspect, feature strongly in the end of year Best Of lists. It’s a cracking record, one that, as a newly-converted member to the label, I’ve been lucky enough to have been listening to far ahead of its official launch date.

Another release of note is the eponymously-titled debut album by Glasgow 3-piece Cloth.

Released towards the end of last year and taking the label on yet another interesting path, the album almost defies classification and comparison. Squint and you might hear traces of Luscious Jackson’s more ethereal moments. The womb-like groove of Warpaint also springs to mind. The layered atmospherics of Built To Spill, maybe. But really, Cloth are fairly peerless. Sure, there are guitars on there. Chiming, perfectly clean and other-worldly in places, as far from ‘rocking’ as you can imagine. There are vocals too. Dry, high in the mix, gossamer-thin and spectral, yet honeyed and warm. There’s a drummer somewhere too, playing with an understated finesse that’s far more background than backbeat, and being under-stretched, she has the time and gumption to trigger an occasional bass sample to help put flesh upon the skeletal frame from which the songs hang. All in all, it’s a terrific sound.

ClothDemo Love

The album is only now gathering pace. Tom Robinson, a long-time supporter of the group has featured Cloth regularly on his BBC6 Music ….Introducing show. Stuart Maconie gave them a play at the weekend. Marc Riley, Gideon Coe, Vic Galloway, Steve Lamacq….all the big hitters really, have fallen for the band’s sound and given them generous airplay since the turn of the year.

ClothFelt

Guitars ping throughout. Airy atmospherics abound, swirling like the 5 in the morning mist on the Clyde. The rhythm chugs ever-forwards, propelled on a breeze of multi-layered breathy vocals. It’s all very lean. Fat-free. No superfluous clutter. By the third listen you’ll love this album, I tell you. Cloth, if you pardon the pun, are due to wipe the floor with all opposition.

Insular in sound, cosmopolitan in outlook, it’ll be exciting to see where 2020 takes Cloth. It’s not too late to jump aboard. Click the logo below and sign up to the label for the year ahead. Satisfaction and good music guaranteed.

 

 

 

Gone but not forgotten

Music’s Not For Everyone

Pioneering DJ and soundscaper Andrew Weatherall left us today. A quick look in the more esoteric corners of my record collection will find any number of 12″ singles, CD singles and compilations stamped with his unmistakable sonic signature; dark and dubby and as wildly creative as the hair on his face. Weatherall-enhanced records always grew on you (correction – still grow on you), revealing hidden layers with each new rotation, a sound that was simultaneously out of time and ahead of time.

It was Weatherall who taught Primal Scream that their records should be marathons rather than sprints, and he transformed them from a sniggered-at Asda-priced Guns ‘n Roses into a genre-hopping behemoth, welding MC5 chants to acid house beats to gospel samples to tripped-out, whacked-out house, sometimes within the same track. Before the release of Screamadelica, I’d wager that most folk who approached music from my stubborn and blinkered post-teenage point of view – guitars are where it’s at, dance music’s all nonsense, blah blah blah- would never have heard of Weatherall. That it’s now Primal Scream’s accepted era-defining classic is due mainly to the producer’s ability to channel the group’s punk spirit with the ‘new’ sound pumping out of the clubs. Proof, should it be needed, that the sum of a classic album is even greater than its constituent parts.

It was his magnificent melding of loose and tumbling Stonesy piano and crashing guitars on Loaded that signalled a brave new age in indie guitar music. It was now OK to tuck your melodies into a bed of beats. It was perfectly acceptable to loosen and lengthen your track to the point where it bore no resemblance to its original form. It was suddenly de rigeur to have a Weatherall or Two Lone Swordsmen remix on your single. Acts as wide and varied as Happy Mondays, Six By Seven, Tracey Thorn and Wooden Shjips have all benefited from the magic beats and bloops he sprinkled on top. A Weatherall remix, to use that hackneyed old term, rocked, but more importantly, they rolled.

Wooden ShjipsCrossing (Weatherall remix)

Bocca JuniorsRaise (63 Steps To Heaven)

His production alongside Heller and Farley on Bocca JuniorsRaise (63 Steps To Heaven), all Hanna-Barbera sampled starts, stolen Thrashing Doves piano loops and monster beats still sends the hairs on the back of my neck tingling in anticipation. Was it really played ahead of the Stone Roses gargantuan Glasgow Green show in 1990? I like to tell myself it was. I have some sort of warped memory of going bonkers to it at the time.

His thumping mix of Primal Scream‘s Uptown is a string-driven, disco-infused variant on The Clash’s Rock The Casbah going 15 rounds with Augustus Pablo and Elecronic’s Getting Away With It. Absolutely essential, if you listen to just one Weatherall remix this week…

Primal ScreamUptown (Andrew Weatherall Long After The Disco Is Over mix)

Sometimes, he beefed up the original record to the point where the Weatherall remix became the accepted version. My Bloody Valentine‘s Soon would be a case in point.

Sometimes, he’d take a tiny part of the original tune and steer it towards uncharted territory. The new shapes he twists from St Etienne‘s Only Love Can Break Your Heart were a step too far for these ears at the time. In the intervening years though, this slowcoach has caught up and jumped aboard.

Occasionally, the finished result bore no resemblance at all to the original record. His production on his remix of Flowered Up‘s Weekender, all 16+ minutes of it, is sensationally up there and out there, yet if the artist and title wasn’t on the label, I’ve no doubt that even the keenest of trainspotters would struggle to identify it.

Flowered UpWeatherall’s Weekender (Audrey Is A Little Bit More Partial)

An eclectic, catch-all artist – his setlists read a bit like a random John Peel show, with the added bonus that all tracks were played at the correct speed –  spanned 50s rockabilly…punk…acid house…new wave…no wave…nosebleed techno…avant garde ambience…and flowed seamlessly; dubby, clubby and ebbing and flowing like the best of nights out.

Sabres Of ParadiseTheme

The AsphodellsA Love From Outer Space

A true pioneer, his unmistakable stamp on the great records of the future will be greatly missed. For now, I’ll sate myself with the honest understanding that my knowledge of Andrew Weatherall’s work barely scratches the surface. I’m going in head-first for the next wee while.

Get This!, New! Now!

Leon On Me

Currently rolling across the airwaves via your more clued-in radio presenters is Texas Sun, a heady collaboration between unlikely bedfellows Leon Bridges and Khruangbin.

Bridges is the very epitome of studied soul cool; the voice an amalgamation of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, dress sense as lean and sharp as a pair of fifties Cadillac fins, and two albums into what you suspect might be a career that’s worth following.

Fellow Texans Khruangbin are also two albums to the good. Both are built around an anything-goes policy and the trio frequently magpie influences as disparate as r’n’b, psychedelia and foreign language and stir them into a heady soulful stew. 2018’s Con Tudo El Mundo should be your first point of reference if you’re unfamiliar with them.

A year in the melting pot, the 4 tracks on the collaborative EP grew out of shared tours and jam sessions and, in the shape of the title track, has yielded a modern-day stone-cold classic. Texas Sun blows like tumbleweed across a vast dustbowl landscape, big sky music that’s widescreen, expansive and wrung out on reverb and twang.

 

Caressing you from Fort Worth to Amarillo,” coos Bridges, his voice a controlled ol’ King Cole croon. “Come on roll with me ’til the sun dips low.” Weeping pedal steel slides effortlessly from the beautiful glowing orange grooves and out into the ether. Ghostly falsettos provide colour and tone in the background. And the guitar, strung-out and slow-burning, carries the whole thing home. It’s only February but if a better Lone Star State-borne shuffling love ballad is released this year I’ll head on out to the nearest Joshua tree and jab a cactus in my good eye.

The rest of the EP hasn’t yet quite matched the heights of the lead track – although I suspect at least two of them are proper growers that by this time next week will be perhaps on a par with the opener – but across those other 3 tracks there are plenty of vintage soul-influenced chops – rattlin’ wah-wah, understated Fender bass, Mayfield flutes, vibes, even a smarty pants Isaac Hayes sample – and a proper old-skool analogue sound from the production to sate your inner seventies soul boy. It’s a great record. Hopefully, an album will follow…

Alternative Version, Cover Versions

Simply Dread

Fisherman by The Congos is a proper chunk of roots reggae; thudding staccato bass, lilting scratchy guitar, blunt-powered off-beat drumming and the sweetest falsetto this side of Frankie Valli’s The Night. The opening track on The Congos 1977 Heart Of The Congos album, it’s exactly the sort of track you’d introduce to any cloth-eared fool who tells you they don’t like reggae.

The CongosFisherman

 

Produced by Lee Perry, Fisherman is testament to his genius at the controls. He allows the band to play with a tight fluidity, adds the requisite sonic watery boinks and drowns the whole load in a bathtub full of reverb and delay. There’s a spaciousness to it all, the sound of a group of musicians and producer playing, at the very least, in their slippers with their feet up, but more likely horizontally and under the influence of old, home-rolled Jamaican finest. His dub version is fantastic…

Lee PerryFisherman dub

As crucial as Lee Perry is to the sound of the record, the musicians themselves can’t be overlooked. Save the booming, brooding opening track, drums on the album were provided by the ubiquitous Sly Dunbar. That stellar bass is played by Boris Gardiner, best known in the UK perhaps for his unlikely mid 80s number 1 hit, I Want To Wake Up With You, but famed in reggae circles for his stellar contribution to the development of the genre from knee-trembling ska to filling-loosening whacked-out dub. Check out his fantastic take on Booker T’s Melting Pot for proof, if any was required, that bass playing and arranging doesn’t come much groovier.

Boris GardinerMelting Pot

Likewise, that lightly toasted, occasionally lightly rocking wockawockawocka wah-wahd guitar comes courtesy of Ernest Ranglin, a true originator who played on oodles of original Jamaica ska and rocksteady records – umpteen Prince Buster singles, My Boy Lollipop, Rivers Of Babylon amongst others. By the time of The Congos album, he was a guitar-for-hire sessioneer, as likely to be playing bebop in Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club or on a James Bond soundtrack (Dr No) as he was to be found in Jimmy Cliff’s touring band or in Studio One and Black Ark. Add the floating falsetto of Cedric Myton and Ashanti Johnson’s baritone and you can appreciate the pedigree. The Congos wasn’t just a supergroup. It was a super group.

Record label politics being what they are, Chris Blackwell at Island Records balked when he heard Heart Of the Congos. He’d invested heavily in Bob Marley, smoothing out his thumping roots reggae to ensure radio play and appeal to fans of white rock music (because, y’know, whitey doesn’t dig the real roots reggae), and here was Heart Of The Congos; untampered, 100% proof roots reggae….a direct threat to Marley. Island ended up pressing just a few hundred copies of Heart Of The Congos, Marley went on to international success and The Congos disappeared into a footnote marked ‘cult groups with cult records’.

Here’s where it gets bizarre. In the mid 90s, none other than Mick Hucknall, the ruby-toothed, elfin-faced, ginger-corkscrewed perma shagger who keeps warm by tossing £50 notes onto an open fire every coupla minutes thanks to his omnipresent global smash hit Stars LP got hold of the original Black Ark tapes and arranged for Heart Of The Congos to be repressed. He did! See, Blackwell, whitey really does dig the real roots reggae! Nowadays, anyone buying a copy of the album, unless they’ve somehow managed to unearth one of those rare originals, owes a great deal of thanks to the focal point of Simply Red. What a brilliant and strange world we live in.

Now get yourself over to that there Amazon and relieve yourself of just twelve quid (as we go to press) for a copy of the record. I’m sure wee Mick is on Twitter or suchlike, should you fancy passing on your thanks.

 

Hard-to-find

Hook (Nose), Lines And Thinkers

Happy Mondays made great music; lolloping, scuffed-at-the-knees and forever riding the very limit of their abilities. The producers they worked with – yer actual John Cale, Factory’s in-house madcap genius Martin Hannett and Oakenfold/Osborne no less – coaxed and teased a groove that grew ever larger and ever-more technicolour with each release. The zeitgeist-surfing Bummed proved to be the moment the band outgrew the skinny, scratchy ACR-affected funk/punk of their debut and eased their way into wider trousers and more expansive soundscapes, torch bearers of what came to be termed ‘indie dance’ – dance music that fans of guitar bands could shake a leg to to, guitar music for fans of house music to groove to. Overnight, two tribes collided. The Metro in Saltcoats began playing Stones records. Irvine’s Attic spun A Guy Called Gerald. Everyone got along.

Happy Mondays’ music was gang music, bashed out together in rehearsal rooms with each member pulling the band in their own particular direction until snapped back by one of the others. There’s little in the way of finesse about it. The assembled musicians jumped in as one, hit a groove and rolled with it, clattering and rattling out of the traps like half a dozen Tesco trolleys being pushed from the roof of a multi story car park. What came out the other side was the resultant pull and drag, a cross-pollinated melding of repetitive dance-influenced bass lines and wheezing, tongue-chewed spaghetti western guitars twisted into a Mondays-shaped wonky industrial funk. Such is the wide-eyed fear of failure in the collective, once they hit their seam, they keep at it, afraid to change lest the whole thing falls apart.

Almost every Happy Mondays track from the time has a four bar guitar riff played ad infinitum behind the keyboard stabs and spacious, echoing drums. Go and listen to Bummed and hear for yourself; Do It Better, Wrote For Luck, Brain Dead….none of them deviate from the furrow they plough from the off. Much of it is one chord groove stuff, and it’s fantastic for it. You can bet your last post-Brexit pound that Shaun Ryder wasn’t sitting at the end of his bed with an acoustic guitar and a broken heart, notebook in hand and a “wait’ll the guys hear this in the studio” chain of thought. Gaz Whelan wasn’t creating the bones of Fat Lady Wrestlers when no-one else was around to disturb his mojo, man. This music is instant, spontaneous and reactive to its surroundings. And it’s never aged.

Happy MondaysBrain Dead

In the case of Bummed, what turns good music into a great record is the vocal line. By the time it came for Ryder to add his wild grown mara-joanna stream of consciousness vocals –Grass eyed slashed eyed brain dead fucker, rips off himself steals from his brother, Loathed by everyone but loved by his mother – the finished item was quite unlike anything else of the time.

Never one to miss a potentially pretentious point of reference, Tony Wilson likened Ryder to WB Yeats. Certainly, the lyrics on Bummed scan well without the music and would make an interesting book of pre-millennial prose; Turkey Lurky, Juicy Lucy…..teachers who eat on their own…..double double good…..what about the detector vans…..You’re rendering that scaffolding dangerous!…..I might be the honky but I’m hung like a donkey…. and teamed with the unexpected twists and turns from the music -the clip-clopping Country Song for example, or Bring A Friend‘s choppy, Chic via Chorley groove, or the swirling, unstoppable shouty house of Mad Cyril, Happy Mondays were the fly in the ointment that soon became the grease on the gears of a music industry looking for The New Thing.

Happy MondaysMad Cyril

Street urchin rock n’ roll, wild-eyed on hard drugs and esoteric reference points – had anyone of our age ever heard of Karl Denver until 1988 ? – Happy Mondays ploughed their own wide-legged path regardless. Others might have followed, but all are poor imitations of the originals. You knew that already though.

 

Get This!, Kraut-y

Rock Goes To Collage

The Beta Band will forever be defined by Dry The Rain, the first track on their first EP that most-famously soundtracks one of the most memorable scenes in High Fidelity. That EP, Champion Versions, introduced the band’s music at a time when dumbed-down indie rock was ubiquitous, predictable and in need of a good kick square in the haw maws. The big bang of Brit Pop had long-since fizzled to a watery fart and the Big Two led the lethargic charge towards mediocrity and meaningless. Oasis was a bloated beast, cocksure with misplaced arrogance merely by being super-popular. Their music, once a glorious melding of rabid snarl and Mersey melodies – the Sex Beatles, if y’will, was now bloated, irrelevant and plain old rubbish. Blur was midway to nowhere, somewhere between slumbering, opiate-enhanced recording sessions and making cheese whilst living in actual very big houses in the country. Others limped on to ever decreasing returns; Supergrass, Gene and Elastica, for example, who’d eventually disappear down the same black hole that had claimed Marion, Menswear and Mansun before them (although some would find their way back out now and again for one last hurrah. Watch Supergrass go in 2020.)

In 1997, music was ripe for interesting change. Radiohead led the way and The Beta Band followed close behind. Dry The Rain may well be the band’s signature tune, but it’s their second EP, The Patty Patty Sound, that does it for me. Across the four tracks that constitute The Patty Patty Sound you’ll find enough weird ‘n wonky, dubbed out, clubbed up soundscapes to sate your more out-there moods. With knowing nods towards aural sculptors Can, the greats of dub reggae, the rhythms of the Stone Roses and the folky introspection of John Martyn, it’s quite something. Given its time and place, the EP really was the in-sound from way out.

It’s the opener that does it for me.

Beta BandInner Meet Me

Inner Meet Me is a solid piece of sampled and looped acoustic beat music, a cut ‘n paste sonic collage of odds ‘n sods ‘n found sounds designed to astonish and astound. It begins simply enough, with some electric bleepery and studio static before a repeating vocal plays just behind the sound of a lone pigeon cooing its way into the mix. As you might know, The Beta Band was originally going to be called The Pigeons, and after a year or so, founding member Gordon Anderson left the band soon after they relocated to London and began recording as Lone Pigeon. In a nod to their early roots, the pigeon sample is something of a band in-joke.

When it really gets going, Inner Meet Me positively swings. Acoustic guitars are played throughout with the same sort of focused gusto normally reserved for the poor soul whose job it is is to work a Brillo pad into burnt-on mince in a two day old pot. As the chord changes, the song moves into gear. The drums kick in, accompanied by percussive shakers and what sounds like a decent set of Le Creuset pots and pans being clattered on the off-beat. As you settle into it, arcade machine electro bloops and whooshes colour the mix, a reminder that Beta Band are forward-thinking retro revisionists. No-one else was doing this kinda thing in 1998 and 20-odd years later, I still think it/they sound brand new.

The EP continues with two epic sound collages – the self-descriptive House Song that, once it’s going, kicks like a mule, carried by a really great bassline and sounding like DIY lo-fi indie house, and The Monolith, a near-16 minute folktronica jam that incorporates backwards samples from their own Dry The Rain, African chanting, chiming, cascading, waterfalling guitars and plenty of birdsong. It’s not Be Here Now, that’s for sure.

Beta Band She’s The One

Closer She’s The One is closest in sound and spirit to the opener. A scrubbed acoustic jam replete with random bursts of noise and a twangin’ Jews’ harp, it’s indie hoedown relocated from a creaky porch in the deep south to a cramped St Andrews student flat. It’s all about the layers and the rhythms. Vocals and vocals, multitracked to the max create a circular, hypnotic groove, ever propulsive, ever moving forward.

Their next EP, Los Amigos Del Beta Banditos featured more of the same, a document of a peerless band ahead of their time, out of their minds and out of this world. It’s The Patty Patty Sound though that marks The Beta Band as more than just the ‘Dry the Rain‘ band.

 

Get This!

Sound Aphex

Aphex Twin is a true pioneer of electronic music, a self-taught and home-schooled, hands-on manipulator of sound. His first keyboard wasn’t of the electronic variety, but the piano that the teenage ‘Twin regularly took apart in order to play and record the strings inside the case rather than the keys themselves sparked a curiosity in reworking sound that has continued for the best part of 40 years.

Part musician and part engineer, Aphex was confident enough to dismantle and deconstruct the instruments available to him and then reconstruct them into strange new sound-carriers. Utilising a heady combination of boxfresh ZX Spectrum and pure brainpower, he worked out a way to record the static from a de-tuned TV and turn it into exotic soundscapes. With ease, he went from bedroom prospector to the goldmine of techno, DJing at underground events around the south of England during its heyday before eventually making his own music that he’d segue into his playlists.

His debut album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is properly ground-breaking. On release, nothing quite like it had been heard. By late ’92, techno was in full flow and fell into two camps; novelty and nosebleed. The novelty stuff (such as Sesam E’s Treet) popped up like an uncontrollable rash on Top Of The Pops every other week. The nosebleed stuff occasionally punctuated the strange airwaves betwixt and between the Mudhoney and Misty in Roots records on the John Peel show, sometimes (they tell me) even playing at the correct speed. It was something I learned to tough out, as the rewards on the show far outweighed the odd filling-loosening clunker in-between. But you knew that already…

Aphex Twin’s album was purely electronic, but it was head music rather than hedonistic music. With massive nods to Brian Eno and only very occasional forays into ear-splitting nosebleed nonsense, it was an album in the true sense of the word; it ebbed, flowed, peaked and troughed, taking you on a journey. It made for perfect headphone music then and it still does now. Stick it on as your subway train rattles through Glasgow’s underground and it’ll make the journey truly cinematic. Cue it up for a 20 mile cycle and the subtle percussive parts will work their way into the outside mix, hi-hats complementing the smooth groove of a well-oiled chain making its way through the sprocket. The fact it was all jigsawed together on Aphex Twin’s strange collection of hybrid keyboards and sequencers rather than in a state of the art studio makes it all the more special and unique.

Aphex TwinXtal

The opener Xtal is fantastic; smooth-rolling ambience, ghostly, synthy vocals, a beat that’s almost a hip hop breakbeat and multi-layers of subtle percussion. There’s a real flotation tank depth to the bass too, making the whole thing airy and spacious and, well, magic.

The phonetically troubling Ageispolis builds on the opener’s blueprint with synth washes, wandering basslines and a little keyboard motif that the unkind amongst you might snigger at for being too close to pan pipe to take seriously. Listen if you will…

Aphex TwinAgeispolis

This variation of techno music was subsequently everywhere, with Leftfield and Underworld adopting the atmospherics and spirit for their own gain, St Etienne remixes bearing the undeniable stamp of the ‘Twin and every anonymous contributor to the Café Del Mar series taking their jumping-off point from Ageispolis especially.

All fine records and artists, but there’s something that makes Aphex Twin’s stuff just that little bit extra-special. Maybe it’s the punk spirit in him that resonates. Making such beautiful, insular music in an era when everyone around him was off their nut and dancing bare chested to 180 bpm bangers is to be applauded. Punk in spirit, hippy in execution, those early Aphex recordings still sound groundbreaking today.