Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

(Senti)Mental Machine Music.

Although it was actually released at the end of January, 1994, this week sees the 20th (20th!!) anniversary reissue of Underworld‘s ‘dubnobasswithmyheadman‘ LP. Given the kind of music Plain Or Pan normally features, you might be surprised to learn that I’m really looking forward to this. Indeed, my excitement might only be surpassed if The Queen Is Dead or Blonde On Blonde were to be suddenly released as 5 CD super-deluxe box sets featuring scores of previously unheard session outtakes and retailing for a tenner. Along with those two releases, dubnobasswithmyheadman holds a place in the higher echelons of my favourite albums of all-time list.

undworld dub

It’s dance music, Jim, but not as we know it.

For starters, dubnobasswithmyheadman dispenses with the notion that dance music is all about the ‘now’ – it may well be the first dance album with genuine longevity. In that respect, it opened doors for Leftfield and the Chemical Brothers. But to these ears, both those act’s various LPs now seem a tad dated. Twenty years on, dubnobasswithmyheadman still thrills.

Opening track Dark & Long is exactly that:

What is ‘Dance music’ anyway? Dark & Long could almost be Joy Division.

dubnobasswithmyheadman sounds nothing like its ‘contemporaries’. There’s none of that generic hysteric female vocal that was prevalent on every release at the time. And sure, it has it’s four-to-the-floor moments, but nothing as crass as the handbag house hits of the day that cluttered up a gazillion Ministry Of Sound compilations and their ilk. There’s not a James Brown sample or a “Baby! Baby! Baby!” anywhere near it.

At times the album sounds as if it’s running on the same sort of energy that pulses through I Feel Love. Elsewhere it sounds as if someone’s turned every knob on every keyboard all the way round as far as they’ll go, drowning the listener in a bath-full of acid squelches and road drill beats.

Occasionally it sounds stoned and other-wordly. River Of Bass could almost be Can, with its repetitive guitar riff and whispered vocals.

undworld1

dubnobasswithmyheadman is a true one-off – it’s percussive, it’s relentless and it ebbs and flows like all good albums do. It’s got guitars on it! Lovely chiming, echoing, layered guitars that fade in and out when the mood arises. The vocals are a one-off; half-spoken snippets of overheard conversations and cut ‘n paste phrases, mirroring the cut-up, random cover art.

I see Elvis!

“‘I’m just a waitress’, she said.’

Don’t put your hand where you wouldn’t put your face.

undworld3

Cowgirl is perhaps the most instantly-accessible track.

Nagging and creeping, like a virus worming its way under your skin it’s a full-on four-to-the-floor smash, glo-stick techno at its longest, loudest and best, a precursor for sure to the band’s big Lager! Lager!Lager! breakthrough hit a couple of years later.

You can take each track in isolation and get something from them, but the best way to listen to dubnobasswithmyheadman is to bunker down and swallow the whole in one go. In amongst the rollin’ and tumblin’ sequencers and rat-a-tat percussion there’s a fluidity to it and because of that it’s been a recurring soundtrack to my cycling, speeding me up hills that I have no inclination to go up, whisking me back home when I’d rather take the last few miles a bit easier. Now and again I’ll hear the sound of the chain snake its way through the sprocket bleeding into the mix and this just adds to it.

When it comes out this week with all manner of weird and wonderful remixes, lost tracks and souped-up remastering, it’ll help me get many extra miles in on my bike.

  undworld2

 

 

 

 

 

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

‘Head Music

Radiohead play both types of music – arty and farty, and they’re still the band by which all others must be measured. In comparison, everyone else just doesn’t sound like they’re really trying, do they?

Radiohead haven’t stood still. The left-field rock double whammy of The Bends and its more adventurous follow-up, OK Computer would’ve been the pinnacle of many a band’s career – lesser bands would maybe even have stopped after such an explosive one-two. Other bands (hello Coldplay, we’re looking at you) took lowest common denominator Radiohead and churned out the Asda price version, to much ringing of cash registers around the world. How could you improve on two great albums? Not many could. For some people, Radiohead couldn’t either. But you know better…..

radiohead2

I like the experimental, itchy, claustrophobic Radiohead. The static bursts. The skittering drums. The are-they-guitars-or-are-they-keyboards? The cut ‘n paste approach to the vocals. The way everything is wrapped, womb-like in its own wee Radiohead bubble. Recent Radiohead has been all about the sonic textures. The ebbing and flowing. The peaks and troughs. The grooves rather than the grunge.

These Are My Twisted Words was put up for free download a few years back on the band’s website. I’m sure you’ve heard it;

From the warped intro via the chiming, falling-down-a-hole guitar riff that surfs across the top, the whole thing jerks and twitches away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye whilst maintaining an actual tune – the perfect amalgamation of all that makes Radiohead great. Lots of people moan that the ‘Heid have lost their way with a tune. Sit them down and play them this. The only way it could be better was if it was three times the length.

yorke

Where I End And You Begin is all swirling ambience and one chord groove. Hip hop drums and phat bass. But still slightly wonky and weird. It’s on Hail To The Thief, a quiet contender for title of Best Radiohead Album. I’m sure you’ve heard it too;

simple minds early

Post-rock Radiohead remind me an awful lot of pre-rock Simple Minds, back when they were releasing arty, Eastern European influenced glacial soundscapes. Equal parts post-punk snottiness and Bowie metallic art punk with a Kraftwerk man machine-like muscle, this was not music to punch fists in the air to. It was cerebral yet danceable. It aimed for basslines rather than headlines.  Perfect headphone music. Mandela Day and Belfast Child were somewhere in Western Europe, a million light years away.

Here’s a couple of early Simple Minds tracks. Note the influence on mid-period Radiohead. They won’t deny it.

Theme For Great Cities

This Earth That You Walk Upon

 

Have you got Polyfauna, the Radiohead app yet? What d’you think?

radiohead app

Alternative Version, Cover Versions, demo, Dylanish, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Most downloaded tracks, Six Of The Best, studio outtakes

Lucky Seven

Plain Or Pan began back in January 2007. December 2013 saw the 7th full year of the blog. The end of the year makes me come across all misty eyed and giddy at the thought of this blog being not only still in existence but in rather rude health. At some point recently, the one-and-a-half millionth visitor crossed the threshold to read all about James Brown or Lou Reed or some forgotten Teenage Fanclub b-side. Facebook followers are in abundance, Twitter sends its fair share of readers in this direction and if you read that wee panel on the right, you’ll notice visitors from as far afield as Buenos Aires, Berlin and Ayr. Thank you one and all!

What better way to celebrate 7 years of typos, titbits and factual inaccuracies than with the annual Plain Or Pan Best of the Year CD*.

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*I’ll provide the tunes. You make the CD.

Our team of stat monkeys works double shifts over the festive period before presenting me with documented proof of the most listened to and downloaded tracks from Plain Or Pan throughout the year and I compile them into a handy CD-length album, complete with artwork, that can be added straight to your iTunes or wherever and onto your iPod to listen to during that new-fangled jogging craze you’ll ditch by February. Alternatively, it could be burnt off to listen to, old-skool style, on a couple of shiny discs in the car.

Tracks included:

PixiesRiver Euphrates (Gigantic ep version)

Victoria Wood14 Again

The SmithsRusholme Ruffians (demo)

James Brown(Hot) I Need To Be Loved

SupergrassCaught By The Fuzz (acoustic)

The CrampsI Wanna Get In Your Pants

The House of LoveDestroy The Heart (demo)

Neil YoungBirds (Mono single version)

Elizabeth Archer & the Equators Feel Like Makin’ Dub

Beak>Mono

Dave EdmundsBorn To Be With You

The CliqueSuperman

Ike TurnerBold Soul Sister

CanI’m So Green

WilcoImpossible Germany

The Mamas and PapasSomebody Groovy

Santo & JohnnySleepwalk

Dee ClarkBaby What You Want Me To Do

The SpecialsToo Much Too Young (LP version)

Barry AdamsonSet The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis

NeuHallogallo

MogwaiThe Sun Smells Too Loud

Trash Can SinatrasLittle Things That Keep Us Together

Roxy MusicVirginia Plain (Peel Session)

*** a cracker! ***

Get it here.

pop 7 cover art

Normal service resumed next week. Lookin’ forward to it!

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Meddling Kids

Plain Or Pan Health Warning:

Two words. Prog Rock.

Pink Floyd’s Meddle LP was released in 1971, sandwiched between 70’s experimentally textured Atom Heart Mother and 72’s omnipresent, global-shagging Dark Side of the Moon. Sitting between these two LPs, Meddle is more experimental and free-flowing than its conventionally-structured follow-up; There are whoosing wind effects galore, barking dogs (the eponymously titled Seamus, named after recording Steve Marriott’s hound – it’s a howler in every meaning of the word) and one entire side is given over to a self-indulgent ambient collage that, some claim, can be synced in perfect harmony with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (side 2’s Echoes). If techno-hippies The Orb had played guitars instead of sequencers they might’ve come up with an album like Meddle.

pink floyd meddle

It’s not an album I listen to very often – maybe once in the last 10 years, but I do like track 3 – Fearless. An eastern-tinged, six minute-plus electric skiffle blues played in the sort of open tuning that Jimmy Page might have employed during the writing of Led Zeppelin III, it meanders like the Ganges on a hot day.

It starts terrifically, the recurring, nagging riff underpinned by a sample of the Anfield Kop singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, Gilmour in full-on Home Counties posh boy whisper mode. Throughout, strings bend like bluesy elastic bands, electric guitars intermittently chime, harmonics ping, a piano tinkles, Fab Four backing vocals weave in and out of the rich tapestry of sound….but everything always comes back to The Riff. You should listen to it, you’d like it.

The Charlatans certainly did.

charlatans 95

Musicians stealing other musicians’ tunes is nothing new. Pick a month at random from the sidebar on the right there and you’ll find umpteen examples without looking too hard. Right now, you’ll have your own examples bouncing around your head. So we shouldn’t single The Charlatans out for individual attention.

 “Here comes a soul saver on your record player…”

Their track Here Comes A Soul Saver has Fearless written all over it. Or rather, it has Fearless written through it like the words on a stick of Blackpool rock, the Pink Floyd track the scaffolding upon which The Charlatans build their magpied groove.

They’ve done a good job of it too – all 1970s Ian McLagan keys and inspired chord changes, but The Riff continues brazenly throughout. “No-one’ll notice,” they probably thought in 1995, “it’s from the Pink Floyd LP that no-one listens to.”

And they would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for this Meddling kid.

pink floyd meddle art

 

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Kraut-y

Cum On Feel The Neus

cycling

I’ve been doing a lot of cycling recently, up and down Ayrshire’s sun-baked coast, and much of it has been soundtracked by Neu! I’ve become a bit fed up of my self-compiled iPod ‘Cycling‘ playlist, a playlist that was put together a year ago with great care and attention, added to sporadically since and been sequenced and resequenced numerous times to reflect the ebbs and flows of an average 30 mile ride – a blood-pumping fast one to start (a track by the essential yet horribly-named Fuck Buttons, the name of which escapes me at the moment), before settling into the groove and rhythm of cycling to the combined output of Underworld, Land Observations, Kraftwerk and the likes. And Mogwai’s The Sun Smells Too Loud. That’s always a good one when it pops up. But I got fed up with all of it and started listening to complete albums instead. Searching for the ideal cycling companion. Did you know, you can cycle from Prestwick to Kilwinning in exactly the time it takes London Calling to play? If it’s not too windy…

NEU! PressefotoKlaus Dinger and Michael Rother of Neu!

As much as I love my guitar bands though, I prefer to cycle to electronic music. Music with a pulse beat. Music that plays repetitively. Music that is enhanced when, between the gaps in the tunes, you catch the whirr of a well-oiled chain snaking through the sprocket. Which is where Neu! come in. Not really pure electronic music, Neu! They play guitars and stuff. It’s just that, in amongst the found sounds and random ambient noises they’ve commited to tape, the band have a knack of locking into a good groove and can go at it for ages. Proper head-nodding music. But you knew that already.

Their track Hallogallo has been a cycling staple for over a year. Rhythmic, repetitive and driven by that very motorik, Krauty pulsebeat that’s required for my type of cycling (“I wanted to be carried on a wave like a surfer”, said Rother, explaining his music a few years back), it’s almost as if it was made with me in mind. Which is frankly ridiculous. If someone had told the band in 1972 that their 10 minute opus would be able to be freely listened to on a portable device whilst someone wheezed their way along the highways and byways of the national cycle network, they’d have accused you of smoking something more potent than the jazz cigarettes they were willingly ingesting.

NEU! Pressefoto

Imagine if after leaving The Beatles, Pete Best had gone on to form The Rolling Stones. Not content with being the founding father in one extremely influential group, he goes on to build another. Dinger and Rother did just this. Both were in a prototype Kraftwerk, before splitting and forming Neu! To paraphrase an old joke, I’d say Neu! play both types of music – arty and farty. The three albums they released in the 70s – 1972’s Neu!, ’73’s Neu! 2 and ’75’s Neu! 75 are hugely influential (not then, of course, but now) and greatly important in the development of the Krautrock sound – “an ambient bassless White-light Pop-rock mantra,” as Julian Cope described it in his excellent (and recently reprinted) Krautrocksampler. Remarkably, I picked up an original in a  book sale in Kilwinning library for 25p!

If you’re expecting to hear verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/fade to end, look away now. If you’re made of sterner stuff, jump right in. It’s a bit like drinking alcohol for the first time. Initially, you pretend to like it, but secretly find it hard to stomach, but before long you wondered how you got by without it.

Hallogallo is the opening track from Neu!

Für Immer is the opening track from Neu! 2. “A greener richer Hallogallo“, to quote Julian Cope again. It’s another terrific example of the Neu! sound – a relentless, motorik driving pulse with textured layer upon layer of chiming, ambient guitar and occasional whooshing flung in for good measure. I think you’ll like it.

millport cycle

*Bonus Track!

The Sun Smells Too Loud by Mogwai. Cut from the same Krauty kloth, but with a heavier guitar. S’a cracker.

And, hey! If you go here, you can download Krautrocksampler as a PDF, for free. Danke schön!

 

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, New! Now!

Slanging Match

So the new Primal Scream album’s here and before a note had been heard, the knives in this house were already being sharpened. From the rubbish cover that looks as if the work experience boy was given a generic shot of Bobby and 10 minutes with a laptop, to the list of cliches masquerading as song titles on the back – River Of Pain, Culturecide, Tenement Kid, Invisible City, Goodbye Johnny, Elimination Blues – I had this album down as a stinker, another one of those disappointing albums the Scream have been turning out with increasingly diminishing returns since the high watermark of the double decade-old Screamadelica.

ps 2013

But y’know what……..?

It’s not all bad. In fact, some of it’s pretty good. And bits of it are really very good indeed. Opener (and lead single) 2013 seems to have split opinion amongst the critics, and at 9 minutes long, it’s not perfect radio fodder, but I like it. Bobby’s clearly determined to write an era-defining chronological anthem (think Stooges 1969, or Stooges 1970 come to that, or 1977 by The Clash). It reminds me of golden-age Psychedelic Furs, if they ever actually had a golden age, replete with a rasping saxophone line not heard since The WaterboysA Girl Called Johnny. Very similar, Bobby. Very similar indeed. Elsewhere, vocals are whispered where previously they were mangled into that accent that was more yer actual Florida then Mount Florida. Acoustic guitars flutter against a backdrop of We Love You-era Stones psychedelia. Keyboard swells and electro bloopery compete with Zeppelin drums and turned-up-to-11 Les Pauls through Marshall stacks. Textured. That’s the word I’m looking for. More Light is a textured album. A textured album that’s about 4 tracks too long, but never mind. Is it obtuse of me to say that, for me, the best tracks are the bonus tracks? They’re certainly the most interesting by far.

Nothing Is Real/Nothing Is Unreal (above) is terrific – a proper motorik, Krauty groover that really benefits from David Holmes’ polished sheen. If the whole album was like this, we may be saying it’s the best Primal Scream album since Screamadelica. Actually, the publicity surrounding the album would have you believe that, but this track is truly wonderful.

For Record Shop/Store Day this year, Primal Scream brought out a 12″ of them doing Sonic’s Rendezvous Band‘s City Slang. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band was a mid 70s alt-supergroup, formed by Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of the MC5 and featuring Scott ‘Stooges’ Asheton amongst other garage band no-hit wonders. City Slang is a pretty intense piece of proto-punk, full of elastic band bass, cheesegrater-thin guitar solos and a stu-stu-stuttering chorus, a testifyin’ punk rock call to arms. Heard once, never forgotten. Heard for the first time, it’s one you’ll want to play again and again. Just as well the original 7″ has the same song on both sides – wear out one set of grooves and you’ve still got another to batter the hell out of. That SRB had only one track was neither here nor there, City Slang remains something of a masterpiece. It also happens to be one of Alan McGee’s favourite records, as he told Plain Or Pan a year or so ago.

Best ever punk rock single, as he so succinctly put it. You can read more about Alan McGee’s favourite records (something of a Plain Or Pan scoop at the time, though you wouldn’t know from reading it) here.

sonicrendezvous_city_front

Anyway, Primal Scream’s version  is a faithful-to-the-original, full-on heads down punk rocker. For men pushing 50 and more, this is either admirable or rather sad. I’ll let you be the judge on that one.

Contrast And Compare:

City SlangPrimal Scream

City SlangSonic’s Rendezvous Band

Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, Live!, New! Now!

Can o’ Worms

This Record Store Day thing really grates eh? Who’s at fault? The record companies, who see the event as a way to fleece the record buyers out of every last penny they have and set sky-high dealer prices, thus forcing retailers to charge daft prices for (mainly) old records? Or the record buyers themselves, who see the event as a way to fleece less-fortunate record buyers who have neither the means required nor the availability of a local record shop to go to in order to buy what they want and are forced to take to the internet in a desperate attempt to secure the objects of their desire from people who neither know about or care about the records they are punting?

rsd13

Five minutes after the shops opened and eBay’s suddenly full of the things everyone wants, available from twenty five different private sellers at twenty five times the original prices, and the internet is bulging at the virtual seams with sob stories from seething, seasoned record buyers unable to get their sticky fingers on the records they so desired.  They’ve scanned the lists in March and written and re-written their wishlist into 3 columns; ‘Ideally…’, ‘Hopefully…’ and ‘I cannot leave without this…’ but still ended up only with the last sticker from the acoustic act playing in the corner and a crumbly cup cake from the beardy guy behind the counter who’s job it is to say, “Sorry mate, that’s sold out too,” over and over and over and over until the end of the day. They’ve even emptied the kids’ piggy banks and forced them to eat beans on toast for a month, but that counts for nothing. Come April and the Day itself, they got up half an hour after going to bed in an effort to get as close to the front of the snaking line outside Shady Dave’s Second-Hand Sounds as they possibly could, to no avail. It’s a long line, but the ‘good-time vibe’ in the queue (“Aye, I’m after the Elliott Smith 7″ and the Pulp 12″ and the Big Star outtakes LP too, pal…”) is such that standing hunched up in the rain and the cold with Angry Birds and a quickly-decreasing battery charge on the phone for company are just about tolerable, as hopeful prayers of over-priced, limited edition bits of plastic are messaged to the great vinyl god above.

By the time the doors are unlocked by Shady Dave himself (who knows that only today, this one day of the year, is the make-or-break that might allow him to trade until next year’s big day), wads of money are jumping out the pockets of middle aged men and being flung towards the counter in exchange for a one-off Flaming Lips LP or a White Stripes coloured vinyl or an old Paul McCartney track re-pressed in glorious retro fashion. It’s ridiculous. Especially as that guy in the expensive puffa jacket and beige chinos (not yer average Wedding Present fan, you muse), who happened to be at the front of the queue was royally loaded and bought every copy of the German language 10″ And whatever else he thought he could off-load for a profit. “How many Bowie did you get? I’ll take them all.” It’s the new model for the spineless, the shallow and the touts who already rake it in from selling high-demand concert tickets. Have you checked those eBay sellers addresses? Sorry for the sweeping generalisation, but are they all in Merseyside? Call the cops…

can malkmus

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’d have quite liked the live Stephen Malkmus does Can thingy. And the Elliott Smith 7″ and the Pulp 12″ and the Big Star outtakes LP too, pal, but I was nowhere near a decent record shop and was being Dad for the day while the missus went off for a belated birthday afternoon with her pal. Plus I don’t have the spare £40 or so that would’ve been necessary to procure them, had I been game enough to try and buy them. A quick scroll through eBay tonight and the Elliott Smith 7″ is selling for £15, as is the Pulp 12″ . The Big Star LP? That’s currently around the  £40 mark, but given that almost 20 folk are after it, it’ll probably take a bid of around £100 to secure the bloody thing. That Malkmus/Can album has attracted a dozen or so bids and is already pushing £40 itself. The vinyl would be nice, but I’m just as happy for the moment with the illicit mp3s I found whilst poking around the darker corners of the internet. It’s not ‘real’. It’s not holdable. It’s not warm and friendly analogue. But it was cheaper than cheap. I’ve always preferred Can at their grooviest and Malkmus does a good job. Contrast and compare…

Can  – I’m So Green

Stephen MalkmusI’m So Green

CanVitamin C

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Stephen MalkmusVitamin C

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Get This!, Kraut-y, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – James Brooks

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 12 in a series:

It’s not often these days that a new album hits me square between the eyes demanding I reach for the repeat button again and again. Normally, by the 2nd listen, I’ve heard all I need to hear and whatever I’m playing is filed away in alphabetical order, unlikely to see the light of day ever again. Sometimes, an album will make it all the way to a week on Wednesday, as I do my best to find some so-far unheard melody or wee bit that grabs me  (Tame Impala, I’m looking at you). But, eventually, the same fate awaits all of them. Well, nearly all of them.

The album that’s got under my skin most in the past few months is unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. That this album features no bass, no drums and no singalong choruses, or, for that matter, no singing at all makes it all the more surprising. Roman Roads IV-XI by Land Observations is that album. With my penchant for old La’s demos and soul tracks recorded before 1975, I could hardly be considered a knowledgeable voice at the forefront of cutting edge new music, but I’m going to stick my neck out just this once. I really think you’d like it. That’s what my old work pal Donald told me before I’d listened, and it turned out he was right. I liked the album so much that I bought it there and then from iTunes. That’s not something I’ve ever done, believe me. iTunes? Gads. But Roman Roads IV-XI made that big an impression on me. I’ve only just got around to ordering the vinyl version, which comes with a CD copy, so I’ve now found myself with all bases covered. I’ve got plenty of albums in multi-format, but the Land Observations one is the first in a long while. It’s a ‘keeper’, as they say. Alongside Lightships’ Electric Cables and Outside In by the Super Furries’ Cian Ciaran, it’s formed an inseperable trio that make up my Best Album(s) of the Year. Like I said earlier, I could hardly be considered a knowledgeable voice at the forefront of cutting edge new music, but I really think you’d like it.

Land-Observations Erika Wall 3

Land Observations is the nom de plume of James Brooks; fine artist, musician and Roman road enthusiast. Previously in Peel favourites Broadcast (they recorded 4 Peel Sessions and 4 albums in all), James has developed a very particular sound. For him it’s all clean, linear and minimal, built around layered and gently effected guitars.

Roman Roads IV-XI is a simple album. In times gone by it would have been labelled a concept album. Eight tracks of quietly pulsing motifs, inspired in part by the remnants of the Roman road at the end of James Brooks’ street, its repetitiveness and motorik Michael Rother-ish chiming guitar bring to mind the work of Vini Reilly and The Durutti Column, Rother’s Neu and all those other mid 70s German bands that the real barometers of hip opinion told you about long before now. I suppose you might call it Kosmische Musik if you were a lazy labeller.

Play it through a set of headphones and the world slows down in front of your very eyes. You lose track of time. You want to stop time. This isn’t an album you can multi-task to. Like many of you reading this, I like watching stuff like Countdown or Pointless with the sound down while I listen to my music, but you can’t do that with Roman Roads IV-XI. It requires you to stop. And listen. Tracks melt into one another. That understated, nagging motorik feel worms its way inside of you. Counter melodies make their way to the fore and new rhythms start to appear. Bits of it sound like mild-mannered drum machines battling with analogue synths. Before long you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to some minimal techno album or other, and not one man and his guitar (and, in keeping with the Roman theme, that’s a VI string guitar James is playing). The whole album’s quite sensational, really.

There’s a gentle ebb and flow to the whole thing, which means it’s best listened to as a whole thing. It’s not much longer than half an hour – that makes it ideal commuting and lunch break material. I’ve been cycling a lot with it. There’s no greater feeling than really going for it on a nice flat bit of road with the sun setting behind the Isle of Arran as Appian Way washes over you. So what if you hear the sound of the chain snaking its way through the sprocket and into the mix? That only adds to it.

land obs

I’ve always really admired the fragile emotion in Phil Collins’ voice, and his version of You Can’t Hurry Love is far superior to anything Motown ever put out.” Not an actual quote, but I dread the day when someone tells me something like that. Whenever I do these Six of the Best pieces I’m always a wee bit panicky in case the contributor’s choices are unexpectedly naff and I’m left with a whole different impression of that person. Thankfully, it’s unlikely James will ever need to channel his inner Slash in the quest for inspiration. A look through his Six of the Best choices reveals a set of records that, once you’ve heard Roman Roads IV-XI makes perfect sense. All the music featured is repetitive, emotive and full of soul. Guitar lines are clean and distinctive. There’s space. On one or two tracks, there’s an almost neo-classical thing going on. Much like James’ own work.

James agonised over his choices for a good few weeks before narrowing them down to his final six. For what it’s worth, if you’ve never heard any of the bands on offer, they’re as good an introduction to those artists as you’ll find.

It’s funny how it all pretty much ends up being early influences, rather than things from 2 years ago etc.”

Here y’are’;

james brooks 6 o t b cover

Can – Future Days
There are of course a number of Can songs I could have picked that I hold close, but this one seems to win out because of its mystery. Everytime I listen to it, I’m left wanting more. There is a strong sense of rhythm, yet, it still seems to retain this droney, washed-out enigma.

The Durutti Column – Pauline 

When I first got the Circuses And Bread LP, I so was taken with this track…..and still am – elegance and understatement that is second to none. This might sound over the top, but it calls to mind Bach and Chopin in the same sentence.
Television – Marquee Moon
I recall reading about the album first before hearing it and thinking that this sounds like something I need to find out more about.

There’s such accomplishment, with the twin guitars and band playing as a cohesive force. Marquee Moon (the song) is such a constructivist opus in its arrangement and structure.

Listen to Marquee Moon by Television

Nick Drake – Road
I had to select a Nick Drake song. Through whatever musical exploring I have done, his music has stayed consistent ever since hearing him as a teenage art student. I do remember very vividly standing at my bedroom window and having an epiphany of how good guitars could be. Again I could have chosen a number of songs. For such a small output, there’s a lot of quality…
The Cure – A Forest 
Just a magnificent indie guitar song. What can I say…Robert Smith is a lucky man to have written this. The space that is left within the track and on Seventeen Seconds is something else.
Neu – Hallogallo
I had to pick this track. It was the one that got me initially… Drive, attitude, propulsion, yet never rock. It just rolls along… A real bench-mark moment.

Every Six Of the Best compilation comes in a handy RAR download file. Get James Brooks’ here. New Link!

Land Observations: Roman Roads IV - XI (180g Clear Vinyl + CD)

Now! Click on the album cover and go and buy a copy of Roman Roads IV-XI by Land Observations. Then tell all your friends. Go! Go! Go!

All photos courtesy of and copyright by Erika Wall

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y, New! Now!

Skeletal Family

Vini Reilly is the public face of The Durutti Column, the first signing to Tony Wilson’s nascent Factory Records way back in 1978. Forever pasty-faced and ill-looking, he’s as wiry and fragile as the high ‘e’ string on his guitar, and on the rare occasion when this Wythenshaw will o’ the wisp pops his head out in public, he’s quietly spoken and totally intense. Clearly, he prefers his music to do the talking.

The Durutti Column’s first album, The Return of the Durutti Column was produced by Factory in-house knob-twiddling hedonist Martin Hannett on clear instruction from Reilly that he didn’t want ‘the usual, horrible distorted guitar sound.‘ What followed was a heady mix of chiming beauty, pastoral fragility and neo-classical intensity. All instrumental, and almost all featuring only layers of Reilly guitar, with the odd rudimentary skittering drum machine or piano part, the music is almost as revolutionary as the Spanish Situationists from whence Tony Wilson christened Vini’s band’s name. The music isn’t ‘rock’ or ‘post-punk’ or ‘jazz’ or any other obvious genre. It would be a huge disservice to lump it as (gads) ‘chill-out music’, but to these ears, in the same way that you could categorise someone like the Cocteau Twins, that is essentially what the music of The Durutti Column is. In later years, Tony Wilson would tell anyone who listened that at the end of a night at the Hacienda, he’d spark up a large one and mellow the wee hours away with The Durutti Column playing in the background. Vini’s music is perfect for this.

In one of the first great Factory marketing moments, The Return of the Durutti Column came packaged in a sandpaper-covered outer sleeve, intentionally designed to destroy any record sleeves you might have been careless enough to file besides it. If you happen to have one of those original LPs you may be interested to know that it was the four members of Joy Division who stuck the sandpaper onto each and every cardboard sleeve. I’m sure any decent policeman worth his salt could do some sort of DNA test to it if you asked- you might be sitting on a Curtis there! Or a Hook. (No luck).

Reilly was asked to produce Happy Mondays’ Freaky Dancing single, a choice that may have made sense musically, but personality-wise was a disaster. As Shaun Ryder says in his autobiography, “We initially tried recording with Vini Reilly but that only lasted about two hours before he decided he couldn’t handle us. I like Vini, and he’s a great guitarist, but he’s a bit of a weird one and everyone knows he’s a bit fragile. He once told everyone that I’d spiked him at the Hacienda, and the next morning I got phone calls from Wilson and other people at Factory having a go at me, saying stuff like, ‘Why did you do that to poor Vini? You know what he’s like,’ when I hadn’t even fucking done anything. It was all in his mind.

To quote Reilly – “I simply couldn’t work with them.”

A real musicians’ musician, he’s perhaps best-known for filling the substantial (desert) boots of Johnny Marr when The Smiths imploded. For the briefest of very brief moments, The Smiths looked like carrying on, until Morrissey decided otherwise. He instead roped Reilly in to play guitar on Viva Hate and, by chanelling his inner Marr, helped Morrissey’s solo career off to a flying start. But that’s a story for another day.

Durutti ColumnSketch For Summer

Durutti ColumnSketch For Winter

MorrisseyMargaret on the Guillotine

This post was all ready to go and then…

…my old pal DW put me onto Land Observations. “You’ll like them,” he said. “It’s just one guy and his guitar. No singing. It’s a bit motorik, a bit Krauty, with that sort of Michael Rother feel to it.” I quick listen on iTunes and I bought it….and I never buy anything from iTunes. But I had to have it there and then. And for the past week or so it’s been something of a constant on  the iPod. Motorik, krauty and sort of Michael Rother-ish, just as I was told. (A Soundcloud player should appear below. Please let me know if it doesn’t. It’s been a major headache trying to install it for some reason.)

It’s a concept album of sorts (hippies! prog-rock!), but stick with it. Loosely based on the journeys made along the Roman Roads of Britain, it’s the companion piece to an EP released last year. Unbelievably, given my instant love of the LP, I’ve still to buy the EP, but I will. The album, Roman Roads IV – XI, reminds me greatly of The Durutti Column – one guy who lets his guitar do the talking, no fancy pants widdly solos, just layered, textured, skeletal music that you can listen to, that makes you want to listen to it. And it sounds great through headphones. It’s currently at Number 3 in my ‘Favourite LPs of the Year’ list and climbing. Land Observations, folks. You’ll like them.

Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Culture Club

Corner Shop
noun
British
  • a small shop selling groceries and general goods in a mainly residential area.
Cornershop
Proper noun
British Asian
  • a small , bona fide one-hit wonder pop group who release consistently brilliant Eastern-flavoured lo-fi indie-pop records with a side order of pakora and funk.

Cornershop have, believe it or not, been a going for concern for over 20 years. Formed by mainstays Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayers in 1991, they are a multi-cultural collective. This is reflected in the music they make – two-thirds Asian-fragranced and one-third steeped in Western indie rock convention.

I remember reading about them in Melody Maker when the band were pictured burning an image of Morrissey (bottom image), who at the time was flirting with the wrong side of the Right and as a result had everyone and anyone with half an ounce of decency calling him a racist. I bought their first single, In The Days Of Ford Cortina, pressed on 7 inches of beige, curry-coloured vinyl and was in truth disappointed in their seemingly rudderless and meandering grasp of melody and tunefulness. Things picked up with debut album Hold On It Hurts, and by the time they had recorded the 6am Jullandar Shere single, well, the band had truly hit their stride.

If the Velvet Underground had travelled further than the Lower East Side, or Can stepped out beyond East Germany, they might’ve come up with something as one-chord groovy as. …Jullandar Shere. Droney and druggy and dipped in reverb, it‘s a cracker. Rather than the Velvets preferred method of ear-splitting feedback accompanied by rudimentary drummer, or the meandering mumbled mumbo-jumbo that passes for a vocal track on many a Can record, Cornershop employ their own hotchpotch of tablas, tambours, sitars and guitars to create a monster that builds and builds and goes on and on for ever. Noel Gallagher, no stranger himself to a bit of pop-psych and a whistleable tune, liked it so much he took Cornershop along on one of Oasis’ many troubled US Tours.

Creeping ever more into the mainstream, their big ker-ching moment came after Norman Cook remixed Brimful of Asha. The original single was taken from their most popular album, When I Was Born For The 7th Time (a big favourite round here when released). A mid-paced 3 chord strumalong, Brimful Of Asha is Tjinder’s ‘We Are Not Worthy‘ gesture to his musical heroes, specifically those of Asha Bhosle, an Indian ‘playback’ singer who sang the songs that many a Bollywood starlet would lip-synch to in the movies. If you listen closely, you’ll hear fellow playback superstars Lata Mangeshkar (Asha’s big sister) and Mohammad Rafi also being mentioned. Eagle-eared listeners might also spot references to Trojan Records and Marc Bolan. A terrific wee record, with its ‘everybody needs a bosom for a pillow‘ refrain, it barely scraped the charts and dropped into insignificance, until the Fatboy himself got involved.  Norman Cook turned Asha into a brilliant big beat boutique of a record, all gargantuan drums, sped-up vocals and those incessant wee Fatboy keyboard stabs that you could argue are, by now, his trademark. This version of Brimful Of Asha went all the way to the toppermost of the poppermost, proof (if it was still needed) that in the mid 90s, everything Norman Cook touched turned to gold (literally, in Cornershop ‘s case – 400,000+ sales of Asha and counting).

Since then, Cornershop’s career has maintained a healthy, if marginal appeal. Favourite recent-ish track Double Decker Eyelashes reminds me somewhat bizzarely of the incidental music to Gregory’s Girl. It’s got that mid 70s jazzy, library music backing so beloved of Bill Forsyth in all of those brilliant films of his.  And this year’s Urban Turban LP gathered together a series of low-key singles releases, including What Did The Hippy Have In His Bag?, a stupidly fruggable track that De La Soul might’ve done on another day. Flirting between Casio-flavoured hippity hoppity indie and 3 chord groovy shuffle-alongs, with a beat here and a bang(hra) there, they  come across like the Asian half-cousin of Gorillaz. Yer actual cornershop to Damon’s global-straddling Wal-Mart, if you will. Cornershop may never grace the charts again in quite the same manner as they once did. But then, what guitar bands do in this day and age of gurning, desperate idiots from the telly?

Singed by Singh