New! Now!

Beths Intentions

You get to a point in life when you don’t need any more new friends. I have enough old friends I can barely find the time for that to make the time for new friends is nigh on impossible. I’m not an unfriendly person. Far from it. But the circle of friends I have is rich and varied and more than enough to enhance my life for the rest of it. And it’s like this with music. I don’t have the energy or the inkling (or the cash) to invest in new music when there’s so much brilliant stuff from the past I’m happy to revisit and replay and re-evaluate, and occasionally re-buy if I fall for the remastered/repackaged/enriched audio blah blah blah that the record companies know folk like me can’t resist.

Now and again though, a new record comes along that demands my attention. The current Arctic Monkeys’ album is one such thing, even if the band didn’t quite reach out with an advance copy and ask for it to be featured Plain Or Pan. I’m regularly sent music, mainly from new bands looking for a bit of exposure. Once in a blue moon, an mp3 will arrive that stops me in my stubborn tracks. A couple of months ago it was The Saxophones that hooked me, awful name ‘n all. This time around, it’s The Beths.

If you’re of a certain age – and as you’re reading a blog with a tagline that reads Outdated Music For Outdated People, I’d suggest you may well be, you’ll be quick to point out that The Beths sound like nothing new. Which is good, isn’t it? I suspect that, like me, many of you also don’t have the time to invest in getting into new music. Familiarity, like an old Marks & Spencer v-neck or Songs From Northern Britain is just fine.

The Beths take all the best parts of that window in time post-grunge and pre-Britpop when American guitars ruled the alternative airwaves. A quick listen to them and you’ll spot obvious nods to The Breeders and Belly and suchlike. There’s a studied looseness and seemingly sloppy approach to how it all hangs together, but of course, there’s nothing sloppy about it at all.

All four Beths met in Auckland New Zealand as jazz students, and they can really play. They could’ve chosen to take a Steely Dan/Ben Folds route to showcase their talents. Instead, they’ve gone for an update on slacker rock. Fancy-pants chords chime on top of counter melodies. Mercurial, quicksilver guitar riffs are tight and taut, wrapped around the melodies as snug as a straightjacket, the only sloppiness on show being intended rather than unavoidable.

On current single Happy Unhappy, there’s a fantastically furious mangled guitar solo that sounds like J Mascis being spun at 200rpm in a KitchenAid food blender. The vocals, a saccharine-sweet rush that embraces singer Elizabeth Stokes’ Auckland twang and wraps it around sunkissed harmonies in the chorus bring to mind fellow Southern Hemispherian Courtney Barnett, one of the few new acts I like, even if despite my best intentions, I can’t seem to find the time to properly invest in her. It’s very 6 Music and “ones to watch out for” and, suddenly, when it was the last thing I was looking for, I have a new friend. I suggest you invite The Beths in for a cuppa and a chat about your favourite records. I reckon you’ll have a lot in common.

The album , Future Me Hates Me is out on 10th August. Visit the band’s Bandcamp page to stream, order and what not.

Hard-to-find, Sampled

Shake Your Money Maker

The Beastie Boys might have portrayed themselves as three street-smart, sharp-witted goofballs with expensive tastes in trainers and sports-casual wear, but anyone with half an inkling knows they were much more than that. Behind the facade was a ruthless business empire including a record label, a magazine and their own clothing line, all of which were as undeniably hip as their Brooklyn-based beats. Working alongside the trio (but forever just out of shot) was a handful of trusted associates, pulling the strings, wheeling and dealing, making sure the well-oiled Beastie machine crept forever forwards. Alongside the film makers who captured their good sides on celluloid and the payrolled sneaker pimps who forever kept them in box-fresh trainers were a core of musicians and producers who could be relied upon to enhance the Beastie’s sound in the studio and on the stage. One such entrusted friend was Money Mark.

Money Mark was born Mark Ramos Nishita in Detroit to a Japanese-Hawaiian father and Chicano mother. The sounds he continues to coax from his assorted vintage keyboards are as exotic and interesting as his background suggests. He came to the Beastie Boys via producer Mario Caldato Jnr. when the producer asked him if he was able to fix the fence at the studio where the Beastie Boys were recording Paul’s Boutique. Mark was quick to point out that not only could he build fences, he could build recording studios too and, after duly building the Beastie Boys their dream studio, he began helping out with the recordings that followed.

Between 1992 and 2011, Money Mark collaborated on every Beasties’ release. Considered wisdom suggests that Paul’s Boutique is the highest of high points in a flawless discography, but when pushed, I’ll always choose Check Your Head. In no small way that’s due to Money Mark’s Fender Rhodes being allowed to roam all over its 20 tracks without a leash. It’s Mark that drives Sure Shot on Ill Communication, his rudimentary beat box vying for space with the understated keys, trying to reign it all in while the Beasties’ signature Panzer attack vocals spit and snarl from start to finish. It’s Mark who triggers the siren assault on mega-hit Intergalactic, and that’s him again, holding the groove behind the multitude of samples on Triple Trouble from the post 9/11 To The 5 Boroughs. You might not realise it, but Money Mark probably plays on at least 4 out of your top 5 Beastie Boys tracks.

f=”https://philspector.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/money-mark-by-stephane-kardos.jpg”> Money Mark by Stéphane Kardos[/capt
As well as being the Ian Stewart of the Beastie Boys, responsible for much of the general funkiness but stuck stage right, half-hidden behind a bank of speakers, Money Mark makes music in his own name. Push The Button, his second album is a melting pot of stoner grooves, clattering hip hop and gorgeous Fender Rhodes piano. Released in 1998 (shit – that’s 20 years ago!) it’s worth discovering if you’ve never heard it. And if you have, it’s worth a revisit. I bet it’s been a while.

The lead single Hand In Your Head is a mid-paced shuffler that takes its lead from Sly Stone circa There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

Money MarkHand In Your Head

Bass on this track is played by Sean Lennon, himself signed to Grand Royal, the Beasties’ label and drums are provide by Russell Simins, another who’s no stranger to a Beastie Boys record. In short, this has all the ingredients of a prime-era Beasties’ track without the gobby, snotty icing on the cake. And while you might enjoy that gobby, snotty icing, you can’t deny the simple mellowness of it all.

The b-side, if CD singles have b-sides, is just as good. Old track Cry is given a Dust Brothers remake, keeping the original’s downbeat groove and descending bassline – sampled from Quincy Jones’ version of Summer In The City, I think.

Money MarkCry (Dust Brothers remix)

The scratching and stu-stu-stuttering horn samples are very of their time, but the vocals! Man, it’s Sly all over again. Actually, it’s probably more Shuggie Otis. By the time the keyboard solo meanders in, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d regressed to some Hispanic neighborhood in uptown New York in the summer of 1973, fire hydrants gushing their escaping load out and across the stoops of the brownstones as kids play in slo-mo inside it.

Mark wasn’t always kept in the Beastie Boys’ shadows. At a memorable Barrowlands show during the Ill Communication tour, he waited until the encore – So Whatcha Want if I remember correctly, before launching himself over his bank of keyboards and out into the first couple of rows. He reapeared a minute or so later, trainerless but smiling, helped back onto the stage by MCA and a wee baldy G4 security guy who never even noticed him flying over his head in the first place.

Hard-to-find

Pure Joy

I like my soul to come in both varieties; a Stax-flavoured southern soul tear-jerker, aching with pangs of guilt and regret can fairly set me up for the weekend. You might not need to look too far to find problems of your own, but they ain’t nuthin’ compared to what James Carr is going through on The Dark End Of The Street or Laura Lee on the fantastic Dirty Man.

In contrast, a talc-dusted northern soul belter fairly blows away the cobwebs of a long week at work. Where better to get on the good foot than with this wee cracker:

Joy LovejoyIn Orbit

In Orbit is that most trainspottery of things – a rare-ish northern soul single that very little is known about. A while spent on Google reveals next to nothing, save a whole load of northern fans speculating and second-guessing the whys and wherefores and identity of the mysterious Miss Lovejoy – cos that’s not her real name, after all.

Originally recorded as a demo at Chess Records, all and any information about the singer and the musicians seems to have been long-lost in the spinning grooves of time. Which, in that terribly elitist northern way, makes the record all the more appealing.

It‘s a terrific record, over and out in less than the magical two and a half minutes. My 7″ copy has more run-off groove than actual groove. Which is really quite something, given that it grooves like a good ‘un. It’s fairly standard northern soul really; a quick parping blast of brass on the intro, a clipped guitar holding the groove on the off-beat, a metronomic pistol-crack snare as regular and reliable as a Swiss watch and a helium-enhanced female vocal, giddy with being in love. Just when you’re getting into it, it’s over and done with. Short and sweet. Just like this post.

 

 

Get This!, New! Now!

The Turner Prize

When Neil Armstrong and his pals landed on the Moon in the summer of ’69, their landing spot became known as the Tranquility Base. I’d assume this is because it was close to the Moon’s Sea Of Tranquility, although I’m happy to be corrected on that one. Anyway, being the first to experience an out-of-this-world environment of stilled calm and slo-mo movement, I’d imagine it was the very essence of tranquility.

 

Alex Turner and his Arctic Monkeys pals have just taken one giant leap forward with their new album, in part (I’m assuming again, and happy to be corrected) named after that landing spot on the moon. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino landed last week and it’s a real departure from previous Arctic Monkeys’ records. I’ve lived with it on the commute to work the past few days and it’s fairly wormed its way into my head.

I just wanted to be one of The Strokes,” laments Alex on opener Star Treatment.Now look at the mess you’ve made me make, hitch hiking with a monogramed suitcase, miles away from any half-useful imaginary highway.”

Arctic Monkeys Star Treatment

He half speaks, half croons in his Yorkshire accent, unaffected (in voice at least) by his current choice to live in California. The sunshine’s clearly doing good for his music. He’s eased the band into ridiculous new trousers – the mark of true popstars, of course, and the mid 70s with liberal sprinklings of Carol Kaye-ish stop/start basslines, Fleetwood Mac-esque falsetto backing vocals and coke-addled Station To Station era Bowie piano. It’s as far removed from I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor‘s rattlin’ knee tremble as possible and it’s great.

OK, you’re thinking. That’s the curveball out the way. The band’ll get down to their usual business from now on in, But no! There’s more of the same on the next track. And the next. And the one after that. Fragments of half-known lyrics pop up now and again; the title track mildly pilfers ‘Mother’s got her hair-do to be done‘, from Pet Shop Boys’ Suburbia. Start Treatment‘s drawled, laconic ‘Who you gonna call?‘ is begging for a fuggy ‘Ghostbusters!‘ in response. “Take it easy for a little while,” he suggests, on Four Out Of Five. It’s bugged me all week where he borrowed that particular line from, but it’ll come to me no doubt as soon as this piece is published. Despite the sticky fingered approach here and there, Turner’s lyrics are pretty great.

So when you gaze at planet Earth from outer space, does it wipe that stupid look off of your face?” he intones on American Sports.

Arctic MonkeysAmerican Sports

The entire album continues as it starts; mid paced, self assured and self indulgent. Turner’s voice is the real star throughout. He’s the Sheffield crooner, taking his cue from those excellent Last Shadow Puppets records and using it to grease the wheels of a band who’ve worked extremely hard to steer their ship from its expected course.

It’s the sort of collection of tracks that could really tick off the festival audiences in the summer. If Alex and co choose to ignore the terrifically urgent Fake Tales Of San Francisco or the long-haired desert rock outs of Crying Lightning and everything else that followed in its globe-straddling wake, the band are in danger of losing their audience. My teenage daughter is already getting twitchy about their potential choice of set at TRNSMT in a few weeks. Me? At the age of 48 and a half, I’m perilously close to buying my first Arctic Monkeys album. Get with it, kids.

 

Get This!

Jet Pilot

Here Come The Warm Jets by Brian Eno is a cracker. Released at the start of 1974, it plugs the gap between his own short stint as sonic controller in Roxy Music and his future role as Bowie’s sonic architect in Berlin. These days Eno is considered an audio boffin, the adopter of slightly strange and left-of-centre techniques that encourage/demand the musician to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Without Eno there’d be no Remain In Light or Achtung Baby or Shleep; albums that take pop music to new levels via unexpected twists and turns while retaining the undeniable sprinkling of Eno’s magic dust. This is nothing new though – it turns out that Eno has always been an enthusiastic practitioner of unusual production methods.

…Warm Jets continues where Eno left off with Roxy Music. As Ferry and the others pushed for a more chart-friendly, commercial sound, Eno departed to steer his own ship. Calling in a familiar cast of musicians – Robert Fripp, Chris Spedding, Roxy’s Phil Manzanera, John Wetton et al to help him realise the sounds in his head, Eno created an art rock masterpiece.

The musicians were deliberately picked as Eno knew they’d clash, both in personality and style, and it was this clash that would give the album it’s overall feel of unpredictability. Eno happily acknowledged his own musical limitations but found a place for his ‘snake guitar’, ‘simplistic piano’ and ‘electric laryncx’. When he couldn’t achieve the required sounds on his own, he called in the musicians and directed them through body movements and dance.

The song structures on …Warm Jets are still built upon the same nuts and bolts foundations that all guitar-based music is based on; a chord progression, a riff, a complementary bass part etc, but the musicians, Fripp’s guitar on certain tracks in particular, cook up an avant-garde storm. The Frippery on Baby’s On Fire is a few years away but not a million miles from the six string sounds he would coax out of his instrument on Bowie’s Scary Monsters album.

Brian EnoBaby’s On Fire

Eno once described album opener Needles In The Camel’s Eye as “an instrumental with singing on it.” It fairly glides along, a metallic groove that’s somewhere between the skewed pop of early Velvet Underground and The House Of Love’s Christine.

Brian EnoNeedles In the Camel’s Eye

The title track (and album closer) sounds exactly like My Bloody Valentine; woozy and fuzzy, a fug of drums being played in a room in some far-off corridor, a fade-in of singing that could be one voice or twenty five, it’s impossible to tell. The track also gave birth to the title of the album, with Eno enthusiastically informing the assembled masses, “Here come the warm jets!” ahead of his heavily-treated guitar solo’s appearance. It’s magic, of course.

Brian EnoHere Come The Warm Jets

Elsewhere, the skewed Phil Spector pop of On Some Faraway Beach rubs shoulders with the more out-there wonky Bo Diddley-isms of Blank Frank. On the timeline of pop, it’s quite extraordinary that songs and albums such as this were being realised and recorded.

To add some perspective, a quick glance at the January 1974 UK singles chart will reveal the big hitters of the day to be Sugar Baby Love by Rubettes, Hey Rock And Roll by Showaddywaddy, Abba’s Waterloo and Remember You’re A Womble. The album charts were no less mainstream, with Elton John, Yes and Perry Como all sharing the top spot in the first few months around Eno’s album release. Some sort of movement was taking shape, with Sparks’ This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us crashing the top ten singles chart, but the pop landscape of the day was generally not ready for Eno’s sonic assault on the senses. Given the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to spot how much of an influence Here Come The Warm Jets proved to be.

Gone but not forgotten

Scott Free

Every generation has their band. And every subsequent generation believes, or indeed knows that their band is the best of all. The unfortunate generation behind mine got Oasis and the good, the bad and the downright ugly of Britpop. The generation behind them, ’round these parts at any rate, were lucky enough to get Frightened Rabbit, a band who inspired an enthusiastically devoted and blindly loyal fanbase on a par with the previous generations who’d grown up with The Beatles or The Clash or The Smiths or the Stone Roses or any of the bands who ever truly mattered.

Originally from Selkirk, the ‘Frabbits made their name as a Glasgow band, packing out venues from the Captain’s Rest to King Tuts to T In The Park. I once met someone who’d been such a fervent follower of the band from their early days that he’d been saving money so that when they eventually made it to Tokyo, he’d be in the audience. I’m assuming he made it too. It’s that sort of devotion that sets bands apart and if I had been 10/15/20 years younger, I dare say I might’ve been just as devoted to Frightened Rabbit. As it was, I saw Frightened Rabbit live just the once. We shared mutual friends. And I met their vocalist and focal point Scott Hutchison briefly in hyperspace when I asked him a year or so ago if he fancied bringing his band down to Ayrshire for a gig. “Sure thing,” he said. “Here’s our agent’s number. Let’s sort something out.”

Today a whole generation of music fans are united in grief over the passing of Scott. His Tweets on Tuesday night hinted at the very worst and that was confirmed this afternoon. There continues to be a tremendous outpouring on social media and not one bad word has been said about him. He knew, it seems, how to help others suffering from mental illness, yet he couldn’t help himself. And there lies the terrible tragedy. From the outside looking in, here was a young man who not only was blessed with a fervent following who loved his songs, he also had immense respect from fellow musicians. Who knows what goes on inside the heads of those who need help the most?

Frightened Rabbit with Manchester OrchestraArchitect

With love and respect to Scott’s family, friends and fellow ‘Frabbits. x

Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Sound Affects

There are a million bits in records – not necessarily the whole track – that stick in the brain and when re-heard trigger some sort of euphoric high in the brain. Off the top of my head, the galloping acoustic rush as Johnny Marr leads The Smiths into Bigmouth Strikes Again, The Clash going full pelt on White Riot, the popping bass intro to Sly & The Family Stone’s I Get High On You, the 14th fret D chord that fills every second line in Rip It Up, Liz Fraser’s voice on Song To The Siren, the gear-changing riff on The Breeder’s Cannonball, the stomping goosestep that opens Holidays In The Sun, the wild-eyed storm at the end of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter, the clattering industrial funk that holds Happy Mondays’ Mad Cyril loosely together, the bit in I Am The Resurrection when Mani’s riff kicks in and the whole band head off into an episode of Starsky & Hutch for 5 minutes, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Up early in the morning!’ when the Funk Brothers momentarily drop out on Can I Get A Witness.….That 10 Favourite Albums thing that’s doing the rounds just now on Facebook is good fun ‘n all, but if you were to ask me my 10 favourite bits in music, I reckon I’d be at it, one a day, for months on end. And I’m sure any of you reading this would be similarly challenged.

There’s no doubt though (this week at any rate) that the sound of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards playing together is just about my favourite sound in music. Nile, with his chattering funk guitar, all major 7ths with extra pinky action, found the perfect foil in Bernard (pronounced with the emphasis on the 2nd syllable – it rhymes with ‘hard’ (just like those bass lines he plays)), a seasoned jazz player who ran up, down and across the 4 strings under his fingers with an effortless glide. When the pair of them lock into a groove it’s like an old married couple nattering over the kitchen table, Nile leading the conversation with positive excitement, Bernard uhm-ing and ah-ing in contended agreement.

Listen to their playing on Sister Sledge‘s Thinking Of You.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You

Rodgers’ idea for Chic was always that they’d be a hit-making machine writing songs for others as well as themselves. They’d have their own act, Chic, who took their cue from Roxy Music by dressing to the nines and fronting the band with a couple of glamorous females who wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Roxy album sleeve. Chic ran up all manner of hit singles; Le Freak, Everybody Dance, I Want Your Love….. and when Nile and Bernard weren’t guiding them to chart success they were busy helping others fill the gaps in the charts they’d just vacated.

The Chic Organisation played on all manner of records, a disco-era house band akin to the Funk Brothers at Motown or the Wrecking Crew in LA. And the best thing about those Chic Organisation records is that every one of them sounded exactly like Chic themselves.

Take the Sister Sledge record above. It opens with that none-more-recognisable Rodgers’ guitar sound, played high up the frets on the first 3 or 4 strings, simple enough to listen to but devilishly difficult to play with the same bounce as its writer. When Edwards’ bass comes in along with the vocals, the whole thing takes off in airy abandon.

“Everybody, let me tell you ’bout my love,

Brought to you, by an angel up above….”

And away we go. Strings sweep up and down, the bass drops in and out, congas and pitched percussion keep the whole thing groovy and the sisters Sledge sashay on the spot, ice-cool four-part harmonies and backing vocals from beginning to end. The Chic Organisation thought the finished track was just OK and stuck it on a b-side. A b-side! The a-side? That would be Lost In Music.

Thinking Of You finally gained chart success in 1984 when a down on their luck Sister Sledge were releasing records to ever-diminishing returns and some clever soul at the record company pointed out that that old b-side from 5 years ago hadn’t been too bad after all. By this point, Rodgers was working with Bowie and Madonna, his sound forever in demand. Listen to Let’s Dance or Like A Virgin and you’ll hear his clipped guitar all over the records like a happy rash. Not for nothing has he nicknamed his white Strat ‘The Hitmaker’.

Nile of course is everywhere nowadays, front and centre stage, in a forever-touring version of Chic. “No, it’s not the same musicians,” he’ll happily tell you, “but no-one complains when they go to hear a Mozart piano concerto and ol’ Wolfgang fails to turn up.”

A few years ago we (I say ‘we‘ – I’m part of a group who put on local gigs) were looking for a headline act. We had enough money for either Nile Rodgers or The Magic Numbers, but not both. Nile lost out on the vote, which greatly upset me…..and the others when he popped up a few months later owning the stage at Glastonbury, at that very moment reborn. Our Magic Numbers gig a few short weeks later was great, but, y’know, not Nile Rodgers great. Nowadays, believe me, you could probably fund a Magic Numbers World tour for less than the cost of putting on Nile for one night. On stage, Nile plays with a smile as wide and long as the zeros on his royalty cheques. And who can grudge the man! He’s survived a very disfunctional childhood. He’s beaten cancer. And he seems like an all-round decent man. If you haven’t already, you really should read his book.

Bonus Tracks

Paul WellerThinking Of You

Taken from his Studio 150 album, clearly a contract-filling album if there ever was one, Weller treats the original with politely-scrubbed acoustic respect but not the required funk.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You (Dmitri From Paris remix)

Dmitri From Paris takes Sister Sledge’s original and turns it into a rolling, soulful house cut. Sensibly, he keeps all of Edwards’ and Rodgers’ parts. There is, after all, some music DNA that you just don’t mess with.