Ali Farka Touré was the guitarists’ guitarist, his bony-fingered multi-flowing rhythms sending chattering and cascading African blues out into the dusty ether. His speciality was in finding the sweet spot in which to riff, his band of tribal-robed desert bluesmen laying down and locking in to the steady groove to allow him the freedom of expression on top. His playing was nothing short of breath-taking; dextrous and elastic, primal yet boundary-pushing, a Saharan sand-coated John Lee Hooker, flash but without the player himself being flashy. When Ali took off, you took off with him.
Out this week is something of a tribute record to his songs and legacy. Ali’s son Vieux has teamed up with everyone’s favourite Texan guitar artists Khruangbin and, in what’s becoming something of a habit with the trio, created an interesting and highly musical collaboration.
Named simply Ali, the album is a real beauty, with Vieux taking the essence of his father’s music and passing it over to Khruangbin to add their respectful and reverential twist.
Midway through you’ll find the effortless Tongo Barra, five and a half minutes of clean and chiming, freeflowing high line guitar, an ever-moving, shape-shifting enigma with more melody per mile than the entirety of your record collection combined.
It’s a magnificent example of what happens when two worlds collide. Vieux, with his chanting, expressive Malian vocals and peerless guitar playing surfing atop a glorious gumbo of Khruangbin magic. Drums and bass are locked tight but loose, verging almost towards Fools Gold territory in places; solid and repetitive, driving forward but with space to breathe, to stand aside and admire.
Touré’s guitar is non-stop and continual, intertwined with Mark Speer, his Winkleman-fringed six string foil in Khruangbin, gushing like a burst and overflowing NYC fire hydrant in the sun. Hammer ons, pull offs, double and triple stops, spidering up the frets and slinking back down again, a funky one chord head nodding groove, powered, if these old ears don’t deceive me, by a cranked-up Roland Jazz Chorus and played with nary a hint of effort.
Right now, Tongo Barra hangs above all other music like an omnipresent and fluid dust cloud. I can’t get enough of it.
If you’re a regular tuner-inner to night-time BBC 6 Music, you’ll be no stranger to the music of Los Bitchos. Their largely instrumental pot pourri of surf guitar, fuzz bass and Columbian cumbia rhythms is pretty unique and well worth further investigation if the likes of Khruangbin or Cats Eyes or the Allah-Las are on your radar.
If you’re a garage rock aficionado whose tastes extend far beyond the mother lodes of Nuggets and Pebbles, you may well be familiar with Danny Lee Blackwell, authentic mid-’60s sound seeker and prime mover in a scene of wonderfully-named bands; his The Old Explosives and White Light Fever sound exactly as you’d expect. I’ve yet to dive into the back catalogues of Night Beats and Medicine God Box, but I can imagine what awaits.
You can, then, make a good guess at what might happens when an ex-Los Bitchos – Carolina Faruolo – collaborates with Danny Lee Blackwell under the name Abraxas.
Great, isn’t it!
A minor key reggae ‘n garage-fried head nodder, it has shades of Jonathan Richman’s Egyptian Reggae and Byron Lee’s Rocksteady, a vapour-trailed late summer groover that would sound perfect played out in a melting heat haze or wherever your sun may set. It’s the perfect sound of offset Fenders, hip swinging and hair.
That Los Bitchos cumbia beat is still there, shuffling along on a bed of Os Mutantes tropicalia and the sort of lazily shaken maraca shimmy that might well stir Lee Mavers’ inner yet dormant Bo Diddleyisms. The surf guitars are still there too, aimed skywards, set to maximum whacked-out reverb and twang and happily chattering away like a couple of auld clucking biddies at the Beachcomber Bingo.
It’s the vocal though that elevates it all; Blackwell channelling Lee Perry, half-singing the effect-heavy verses, elongating the words and phrases for extra frazzled effect, echoes of key words morse-coding their way into the ether before hitting the high notes with the double tracked ear-wormy refrain. Dry my tears, ah-ye-aye. It’s a beauty!
Midway through, the guitar breaks out in a rash of heavily-delayed psychedelia, some nicely pitched wah-wah going toe to toe with a delay pedal, but it’s short lived. Before you know it, we’re back to that hip swaying desert blues shuffle, Tinariwen by way of Texas (the state, not the band), as Faruolo freeforms her way up the higher reaches of the frets and Blackwell mutters his way to a lightly toasted conclusion.
What’s amazing – but not surprising these days – is that the track was recorded not in some suitably lo-fi, low rent studio, but across the internet between Blackwell in Dallas and Faruolo in Manchester. That such great music can be created when its principal players are separated by the Atlantic Ocean and a couple of time zones is pretty impressive.
A word too about the band name. Abraxas, as you well-know already, is the title of the second album by jazz rock Latin guitar strangler Santana. It’s no coincidence that this new collaboration has named itself after an album that is packed full of interesting rhythms, experimental percussion and endless, inventive, meandering guitar playing.
‘Planet Abraxas is a world filled with jungles, mist-covered rivers, panthers lurking in the night, desolate shopping malls, Neolithic citadels and sand-worn walls,’ they say. Well, of course it is. You know that just by listening to the track above. It bodes well for the album – Monte Carlo – released at the end of October on Suicide Squeeze.
You can find Abraxas at Bandcamp and in all the usual corners of the internet. I’ll see you there.
I’d lost my way with Crowded House sometime ago. That wee imperial run they went on, from Temple Of Low Men via Woodface and Together Alone to their Greatest Hits compilation, would have been enough to sate the keenest of appetites for most things Finn. Add in the eponymously-titled album(s?) released by Neil and Tim in the late ’90s plus Neil’s solo material and the Seven Worlds Collide project in the noughties and suddenly you’d be knee deep in wafting, rolling melodies and jetstream harmonies wrapped around gently scuffed acoustic guitars and chiming, jangling electric six strings sent down from the musical gods above. There’s never ever enough time in the day to get through it all and so these ears wandered off in search of new bands and new sounds when they hadn’t fully soaked in the Finn brothers’ stuff that was already right in front of me. Which was, in hindsight, a bit daft. They’ll never be hip, but where the Finn name is attached, there’s usually something happening.
I took a chance last week on Crowded House’s latest album, Dreamers Are Waiting. I say ‘latest’, but it’s been out a year already. Not for nothing do I have ‘Outdated Music For Outdated People’ at the top of this blog. So, I’m slow to catch up, but for just £6 via the devil’s online supermarket (next day delivery, a mountain of packaging) I couldn’t pass it up, no matter how many independent shops it may close or rainforests it may fell or zero hours contracts it took to get it to me. Yeah. When it comes to the price of music, I have pretty lousy double standards.
Crowded House is a real family affair these days. There’s no Tim Finn, but ever-present bass player Nick Seymour is still involved, alongside Neil and his two sons Liam and Elroy, augmented now and again by Neil’s wife Sharon and the well-travelled Mitchell Froom. The songs on Dreamers Are Waiting are well crafted and carefully considered, the production rich and vivid. It’s a good album.
The opening track is a real beauty, a real scene-setter of what promises to follow. It’s not a wham-bam opener, over and out in a breathless rush of flailing cymbals and crashing feedback. Crowded House don’t go for that. What they do go for though is control and restraint. Bad Times Good is a quietly confident, gently unravelling masterpiece.
Crowded House – Bad Times Good
With breathy Californian harmonies wafted in from Neil Finn’s stint in Fleetwood Mac and a heavy borrowing of Don’t Fear The Reaper’s multi-tracked, multi-stacked backing vocals, the album opener has all the hallmarks of soft rock greatness. It’s absolutely vintage Crowded House; from the understated acoustic opening and muted percussion to its gently tumbling piano/guitar arpeggios and close-miked vocals – and it has you hooked from the off.
Neil Finn is a tease though. He has unlimited melody the way some of us listeners might have limited patience, but still, he doesn’t give it all up at once. We’ll discuss the music in a second, but first we must acknowledge one of the finest voices in popular music. There’s an unexplainable tone to his voice that gets me right there. Very few vocalists have this impact on me – most of my favourites don’t – but Neil Finn is one of them. An undeniably brilliant vocalist. And melodicist. And writer.
The music that carries Bad Times Good threatens to fly off on a couple of well-placed chiming chords midway through the first verse – ‘Make a good time last/Before we choose a path, let’s spend the night at Los Campaneros please,’ – but Finn pulls it back – ‘through the doorways of the past‘ – you’re not ready for it yet, he thinks, and the tune settles in again. Those chiming, not-quite-expected chords, sometimes the harbingers of deadly night, other times the chink of light in a door half ajar are, it dawns, something of a Finn trademark. Not The Girl You Think You Are…Nails In My Feet…Into Temptation...Distant Sun (great performance from the Tonight Showhere) all benefit through the principal songwriter’s way with a well-chosen chord that provides the stepping stone to melodies to die for.
‘Hey! Everybody wants to make a bad time good.’
Something is nagging at me by the second verse. It’s the vocals! They’re wonderful! And wonderfully close to Gerry Love’s more pastoral deliveries on those late-era Teenage Fanclub albums. No bad thing, obviously, and when married to those hazy, lazy Blue Oyster Cult heeeeyyys gives us a track that anyone with an addiction to ’60s-influenced sunshine pop and an unravelling melody should enjoy playing multiple times in a row and never tire from. Trust me on that.
As the second verse winds its way to an end, and the bass player begins a frugging run up the frets, the reins come off and we’re suddenly soaring. ‘It’s a challenge for the impresario,’ sings Neil, and the band behind him climbs upwards and outwards on a beautiful chord progression, led by understated and underscored strings – where did they come from?!? – subtle and keening, leading us to the key moment that opens the song into technicolour.
When they hit the sunshine chord – ‘Whether sunlight or shadow falls on me‘ – and the tune opens as wide as the Clyde- ‘You won’t come out….’ – aw man! It doesn’t get better than this! Neil Finn’s vocals are now flirting with that falsetto that he can do – the one you’ve tried and failed at since first hearing Weather With You – and a song that once showed real promise now really delivers and then some.
There’s an acoustic drop out, before perfectly executed ‘Heeeeyyy!‘ AOR vocals breathe their way back in, blowing the track to its slow-winding, meandering end. The rest of the album has a lot to live up to. It doesn’t quite get there, to be honest, but as far as opening tracks go, you’ll not hear a better one this year.
Betwixt and between the hotchpotch of raggedy-arsed guitar stranglers and expensively-suited slick blues musos, world music groovers and torch song balladeers, you might have spotted Belgian funk/pop act Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul on Later the other week there. They wouldn’t have been too difficult to spot, dressed as they were from expertly coiffed head to carefully-considered toe in banana yellow and, as Jools Holland swept his arm by way of nasal introduction, began playing the sort of effervescent funk that makes rhythmically-challenged non-dancers the world over twitch a toe in admiration.
A Soulwax production, Ceci n’est pas un cliché is propelled by the sort of tight snapping bass line that any self-respecting breakdance crew could make excellent use of. Snap-snap-slide…snap-snap-grrrrowl. Great stuff. Retro ’80s pitter pattering rhythms keep the flow in motion, shocking pink-varnished fingersnaps, electro bloops and off-beat splashing hi-hats add the colour. On the Later appearance, there’s a great airy whoosh near the end – that same production technique employed by John Leckie in the middle of Made Of Stone – and, after the duo countdown from 7 to zero, it drop outs completely before recommencing the funk exactly and precisely on the one.
You’re a cold as icccce, goes Charlotte. I wanna make you feel real nice. It’s daft and it’ll possibly prove to be as irritating as that Wet Leg single, but for now it’s the sound of my early summer.
Ceci n’est pas un cliché takes its title from fellow Belgian René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe, a perfect example of his surrealist humour-inflected art. This is not a pipe, he says, eyebrow arched and metaphorical question mark floating above his head. …or is it?
Charlotte and Bolis fill the lyric of their track entirely with cliched lines borrowed from songs that have gone before. I woke up this morning, I throw my hands up in the air, wave ’em like I just don’t care, my heart is beating like a drum, down on my knees, begging please…etc etc. Either it’s a lazy, quick-fire way to add a lyric to a track already completed or it’s a genius commentary on the banality of pop music. Like all art, the answer to that lies in the beholder. Me, I’m erring towards the latter.
I think the album – there’s a great earwormy track called, knowingly, Making Sense Stop – will be worth investigating too.
Idlewild frontman and focal point Roddy Woomble quite often steps away from the day job to indulge the folkier side of a personality that is perhaps quashed and lost in the blustery storm that his band cooks up whenever they get together. My Secret Is My Silence, released back in 2006 is a good starting point if you like this sort of thing; the title track itself is a lovely, lilting, fiddle-driven end of the evening affair that is exactly the sort of song that sounds just right five minutes before the bells when the curtain is drawing on an old year and re-opening to a new. He’s got a great voice, pitched somewhere between Michael Stipe and Ewan McGregor, and sings in an honest, unpretentious fashion. As I say, worth checking out.
Even better is his ‘current’ release, Lo! Soul. I use those inverted commas as the album is now a year old, but it’s only just come to my attention on the back of an excellent ‘solo’ show at the tiny but perfect Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine last week. I use that second set of inverted commas because, despite being billed as a solo act, he arrived with long-time Idlewild foil and current hip name to drop Andrew Mitchell.
As Andrew Wasylyk, Mitchell has released a handful of hard-to-find records that meld the intricate and jazzy compositions of prime time David Axelrod to the very best of UK library music of the ’60s and ’70s. They chime and vibe and meander tastefully like soundtracks to long-forgotten films of more innocent times; of walking lazily to school and endless hazy summers and adventurous bike rides out into the countryside where housing estates now nestle. The music of Gregory’s Girl or any of those Bill Forsyth films of the ’80s might be a good reference point for any reader struggling to make sense of this in their internal sound system as they read, but truth be told, they’re far more sophisticated, far more hip than even any of those beauties. You can imagine my disappointment when he told me he hadn’t thought to bring any of his own music to the merch stall. Seek out Fugitive Light And Themes Of Consolation for starters. And go and see him live with his 8-piece band who’ll be hitting the road anytime now. You can thank me the next time you see me.
Wonderfully, Lo! Soul combines low-key Roddy with peak-performance Andrew. Mitchell’s keys and synths are all over the record and it’s spectacular as a result. Big, clanging, minor key, grand piano chords give way to wonky and wobbly Moog, fizzing and squeaking and vintage and essential. The record has a lovely ebb and flow, Roddy’s unselfconscious croon filling the gaps left by the keys, leading the way whenever producer Mitchell reigns in the instrumentation. Pitter pattering drum machines rattle the rhythm throughout, as little soundscapes sandwiched between the beats and the vocals colour it all with a mystical sheen; synthesised ’70s Philly soul strings, spring showers of Fender Rhodes, tinkling and descending piano triplets… they’re all in there. It’s a really great wee record.
The standout track may well be Architecture In L.A..
Roddy Woomble – Architecture In L.A.
Sounding like the magpie eclecticism of peak Beck hotwired to Prince’s Lady Cab Driver, if De La Soul haven’t cut, sampled and looped that little horn motif and added a Daisy Age happy rap on top by the middle of July and conquered the world with it, I’ll be very disappointed. Even Roddy himself could be the toast of the festival season if he were afforded the opportunity of playing on the main stage as the sun sets to orange and an expectant crowd, hopped up on happy pills and expensive alcohol, look to cut a rug and get their party started. “All the ladeez do this…” (waves to the left) All the fellas do this (waves to the right)” I tells you, it’d work.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Roddy and myself actually grew up living across the street from one another, although being maybe 7 or 8 years younger than me he wouldn’t have known. His sister was ages with my sister and I’d sometimes see young Roddy running in loud and joyous circles around the front garden in his nappy when I was sent to bring her home. The Woombles then moved… to the same street we’d move to a year later. Then Mr Woomble’s job took him to Edinburgh (and then France and America, as I’d find out) and they were off.
I never forgot the name though. It’s not a common one. So, when Idlewild started making the press, I did wonder. Years later I had my thoughts confirmed when I interviewed Roddy ahead of what the local paper would bill his ‘hometown show’, when he played the first of his Harbour Arts Centre dates in 2014 or so. Funny how things come around.
Ten years ago, Jacob Lusk was one of the many big-voiced, big-hopes talents on American Idol that hung onto the fading coat tails of his dreams week on week until finally being eliminated at the top 5 stage. A decade later, dreams seemingly smashed, he’s back under the name Gabriels, signed to Parlophone and recording gospel-tinged soul that sounds authentically vintage but is as box fresh as a new pair of Air Jordans. American Idol’s loss is very clearly authentic, soul-stirring, respectable music’s gain.
Sneaking out at the very end of last year, Love And Hate In A Different Time is the lead track from a long sold-out 6 track EP that’s already selling at eye-watering online prices. A low-key soul belter, Love And Hate… is all pounding rhythm, call-and-response, take-it-to-church vocals and snapping handclaps wafted straight off of some talc-dusted floor in a forgotten northern Mecca. Clomp your Weejuns at the appropriate time and you’ll convice yourself it’s 1975 and you’re hopped up on stolen Dexies in the Wigan Casino. It’s the sort of track that I know many of you will be familiar with and love already.
The music is great, on point as a long-lost 45 from the gospel/soul crossover era, the sort of thing Aretha Franklin’s early advisors might’ve had her lined up to sing on. It’s retro sounding, but brought right up to date with those wee synth whooshes – ‘eee-wooo!‘ – that separate the soul fug like a zip running up the middle of a mohair jumper. Not quite right on first impressions, yet unique, individual and totally acceptable once experienced.
The musicianship is one thing; those on-the-one cinematic string slides, the loose ‘n effortless jazz club piano and a snare beat that’s absolutely ripe for sampling, but it’s the vocal that elevates the track to greatness.
Having been pigeonholed as a Temptations’ covering, Luther Vandross loving crooner, those daft judges on the telly couldn’t hear Jacob’s true voice for all it was worth. With a tone that’s soft and rounded, he sounds not unlike Antony/Anohni channeling the spirit of Billie Holliday. Falsetto, yes, but with filling-loosening bass tenor when required, and dusted in the smoky undertone of a God-fearin’, spiritual-hollerin’ veteran.
Free from the naff pigeonholing shackles of mainstream TV and a need to compromise and fit in, he’s able to talk freely of his Christianity without alienating half his TV audience or making those slaves-to-sponsors telly executives jumpy and twitchy. Consequently, Jacob is much happier in the skin he’s in…and he’s unwittingly revealed himself as the most authentic soul singer since…well, add your name of choice here: __________ .
A recent run of UK ‘club’ dates, as they say, was abruptly cancelled recently, including a show at King Tuts. Shame that. No doubt greedy agents and double-crossing promoters are lining Gabriels up for headline shows in grander venues. Catch them before they become too big is what I say.
The Smile could be considered something of a vanity project; a sideways step, an away from the day-job shaking loose and letting down of the hair until regrouping and getting down to the business of Radiohead. Just when your Spidey senses suggest the ‘Head might be due a burst of about-time-too activity, along comes Thom and Johnny’s hot new thing; guerilla gigs and sudden releases and everything.
They’ve just announced a hefty European tour that takes in the grander venues in all major cities throughout the summer months. By the time you read this it’s probably sold out and a healthy second market for over-inflated tickets at what were already over-inflated prices will be on the go and causing internet meltdown. Such is the way of life when the word ‘Radiohead’ is attached to the project.
Had the two tracks released in the past couple of weeks been done so under that day-job moniker, they may have kickstarted a media frenzy and signalled an interesting new direction for Radiohead. Instead, despite being fairly low-key releases, they point to a band that may well turn out to be something more than a distraction until the bill-paying job starts up again.
The Smile – You’ll Never Work In Television Again
The first track to emerge from the wintery darkness was the clanging, spitting You Will Never Work In Television Again, Thom Yorke snarling and swearing his way across the top of a band that sounds like The Police going toe-to-toe with Fugazi; chorus-effected guitars battling for earspace with searing feedback and a drummer that sounds like Animal from the Muppets going downhill without the brakes on.
Had this been the ‘Head and not The Smile, there’d have been a clamour of “they’ve got the guitars out again!“-type hyperbole, a feeding frenzy for the six string-starved Radiohead fan who stupidly, ignorantly lost touch round about Hail To The Thief. Here, The Smile – a power trio! – sound more guitary than yer actual Radiohead ever have.
Even better is the totally different The Smoke. Taking its cue from the skittering and skeletal repetitive beats of Jaki Liebezeit and Can, The Smoke is a bass-led noodling groove, a proper head-nodder in the vein of any of In Rainbows‘ more ambient moments.
The Smile – The Smoke
Thom swaps full force for falsetto, easing himself into the track and wafting across it, winding his way in-between and underneath the fug whenever he sees fit. Synths follow his melody, gently arpeggiated guitars ring across the sparse backing, and woozy, womb-like sounds add muted colours to the heady stew as it plays out with understated majesty. A proper grower and no mistake.
There are a handful of clips online from those guerilla gigs and more to suggest that The Smile might be making a proper go of it in the coming months. And although any notion of Radiohead perhaps releasing new music any time soon is somewhat fanciful, I for one am not complaining
There’s a great little authentic soul scene bubbling just under the surface, a handful of artists who’ve strode proudly in on the back of Michael Kiwanuka’s door-opening wide lapels and wormed their way into the more discerning listeners’ ear space thanks to their abilities to take the best of those late ’60s/ early ’70s soul pioneers (Stevie, Curtis, Marvin) and re-present them as shiny new things, played and produced with effortless majesty. At the forefront are the excellent Black Pumas, previously featured here, along with the also-featured Curtis Harding and Leon Bridges.
The newest cool chops on the block belong to Boulevards, the name by which North Carolina’s Jamil Rashad preferes to go by. He’s not new to this. Bandcamp throws up some self-released tracks that are a good five years old, but in the interim he’s thankfully thrown off the questionable and gadsy Kravitzesque approach to what constitutes ‘retro’ and reimagined himself as a pimped up, cooled out Blaxploitation soundtracker.
His fourth album – Electric Cowboy: Born In Carolina Mud, due out in February ’22 will perhaps be one of the early go-to albums of next year. If you like the references above, I think you will, as Shaft was wont to say, dig it.
Better Off Dead floats in on a lush tapestry of whacked-out wah wah and paranoid orchestration, pistol crack snare and movie-esque synths. Boulevards takes the first verse – sumthin’s wrong wit’ me, I can’t barely breathe – singing the tale of the after-effects of a week-long bender and, just as you’re falling into hungover step with him, guest vocalist (New West labelmate) Nikki Lane eases her way in on a shimmer of silver strings to tell her side of the story – noses start to bleed…when can I take a seat?…I need a hit you see…tell me I’m alive… It’s Lee ‘n Nancy ‘n Isobel ‘n Mark for the strung-out post-millenials in your life and it’s utterly fantastic.
Those chords are great; luscious and creamy major 7ths with just the right amount of echo and reverb, and when they make way for the slow burning solo, it’s exactly what you were wishing for; a string bent, multi-phased, morphine-dripping long-lost cousin of the Isleys’ That Lady. You can practically see the technicolour flow from the speakers as it floods the room. Reading the credits alongside the press release here, it would appear that it’s the work of Black Pumas’ talented Fender bender Adrain Quesada, a neat way of squaring the circle, of passing the baton on to the latest trailblazers in the soul underground.
Fill yr Boulevards boots at New West Records here. You should also take the time to investigate Nikki Lane. A bit country, a bit Southern Soul, she is, apparently, the real deal.
I wrote a book. A proper, hefty music biography that won’t look out of place between Ziggyology and Head-On and Beastie Boys Book and Songs That Saved Your Life and Revolution In The Head and any of those other essential reads that make up your book shelf.
The Perfect Reminder tells the story behind the songs on the Trashcan Sinatras‘ second album I’ve Seen Everything – a quietly-confident-but-knows-its-place cult book about a quietly-confident-but-knows-its-place cult act. Thanks to a small team that includes a fantastic photographer (Stephanie Gibson) and a Brooklyn-based creative director with an analytical approach to typesetting and design (Chris Dooley), the finished article turned out waaaay better than expected. We got to hold it, feel it, sniff it, on Tuesday night and it was quite the thrill. The book, tactile and glossy and heavy, is also almost three times longer than my initial (now-laughable) estimate of 35,000 words, and far-better for it.
To paraphrase David Byrne, how the fuckdiddilyuck did I get here?
With the long out-of-print I’ve Seen Everything being reissued by Last Night From Glasgow, I chanced my arm and asked if I could write the sleevenotes. I had clout, I suggested. Back in 1992, I’d been around the studio during the making of the record. I was pals with the band. I’d written articles on them for local and national press; my sleevenotes would surely be wonderfully entertaining.
Clout I may have had, but that particular gig had already been promised to crack music critic and life-long Trashcans fan Pete Paphides. You can’t argue with that, I told myself, while Ian from LNFG let me down gently by asking me if I’d like to put together a “small book-type thing, a posh fanzine perhaps” that told the stories of the songs through the eyes of the Trashcans’ loyal and steadfast fan base.
There’s a better story than that, I suggested after a minute’s thought, and reeled off plans where the five Trashcans would tell their own stories of how the songs came to be; from the underwhelming initial writing sessions that filled the band with self-doubt, through to the sparkling finished product, expertly steered and produced by the affable and dude-like Ray Shulman. Despite the band separated by the small matter of the Atlantic Ocean, it would read as if the five of them were sat round a table in The Crown, telling tales of how the album came to be, each interjecting the others with contradictory tales that, when taken as a whole, would tell a version of the truth behind the making of an album that is now considered something of a lost classic, a great Scottish album by one of our greatest bands.
Trashcan Sinatras – Hayfever
“People want to know how these fabulous songs came to be,” I wagered. “The lyrics – who wrote them, what the songs were about, who the songs were about, and the music, dripping in melody and finesse – what makes it so unattainably magic, how did they come up with that wobbly sound on Send For Henny, why is there no guitar on Hayfever…the important stuff, y’know? They’re not that bothered that Marko fae Motherwell first locked eyes with the love of his life while the clanging thunderstorm of One At A Time played furiously in the background, although we’ll make space for that too. A proper music biography must be written.”
And it was. A hundred thousand words and dozens of arty photographs and eye-catchingly beautiful font later, the book, The Book – definitely anything but small and most certainly booting into orbit the concept of ‘posh fanzine’ – whatever that is – rolled off a Polish printing press, negotiated Brexit-affected customs and landed, finally, in Glasgow. It is currently winging its way to the hundreds – that’s hundreds, Archie – of TCS fans around the globe who placed pre-orders.
It’ll eventually find its way to Waterstones, Mono and a handful of select retailers. The Perfect Reminder – titled by John from the band before a word had been typed – is very much available for order right now via LNFG. I’d recommend you read it. But you knew that already.
Last year’s lockdown may have meant a temporary end to live music, but it enabled Trashcan Sinatras‘ songwriting bass player Davy Hughes to team up with his artist wife Maree to create a four track audio-visual EP, as pleasing on the ears as it is to the eyes. Part crowd-sourced and part-funded by Creative Scotland, the Homespun EP has just been released. It’s quirky, atmospheric and filmic, with multi-layered stop-frame animation videos featuring butterflies and birds, dragonflies and all of nature’s delights providing the visual wallpaper for the glossy sheen of music that plays in the background, or foreground (depending on where you sit on the audio or visual learner see-saw).
Part ambient filmscore for some imagined film and part pulsing melodic electro, at least two of the four tracks feature moonlighting Trashcans as well as Eddi Reader, her voice instantly recognisable despite the musical accompaniment sounding quite unlike the instrumentation that normally plays behind her.
Opener I Don’t Know What’s Going On (I Only Know It’s All Gone Wrong Again) is the greatest track Public Service Broadcasting hasn’t yet recorded. Carried by a plummy-voiced sample that repeats the title throughout, it glides on linear synth pulses and post-punk guitars, keyboard swells and tingaling percussion. The accompanying video features much of Maree’s signature art; felt people, leaves and flowers, fluttering creatures in flight… an audible and auditory trip.
It’s the middle two tracks that I reckon will appeal most to fans of the Trashcan Sinatras.
Sea Made is the missing link between Talk Talk and the Blue Nile that you never knew you were looking for. Ambient and gyroscopic, it eases itself in gently, wafted along by tinkling keys and the sampled autumnal breeze from Irvine harbour. Frank’s voice is sleepy and mellow, the perfect foil to Eddi’s octave-surfing harmonies. With a multi-coloured video featuring sea creatures, scooners and some backwards spelling, it’s quite the package.
Can You Hear Me? is all understated minimal techno; vibrating electro bass, sparse percussion, programmed and processed beats, on top of which the Trashcans’ Frank sleepwalks his way through a beauty of a duet with his ghostly-voiced sister, half hidden in the shadowy background.
Huge, wobbly, tremeloed guitars add dollops of colour to the proceedings, little arpeggios and long notes that burn off out into the ether bringing to mind the more ethereal moments in the Trashcans’ forever-underrated back catalogue. It’s a quiet, slow-building beauty that, after half a dozen plays, unravels and reveals itself to be a work of melodic, atmospheric genius. It’s music for space travel, Jim, but not as we know it.
Closer Made Up Story features a slightly sinister video, with reflected impish creatures giving the effect of multiple Rorschach inkblots that give way to a cut-out girl who seems to fall forever until the track’s end. Vocal-less, Made Up Story features a repeating bass riff and an airy high-up-the-keys hook that bring to mind any number of those old early ’90s electronic records. Papua New Guinea, Yeke Yeke, Chime… you get the idea, but unwinding, slowed down to flotation tank levels of urgency.
As an EP and as a visual medium, Homespun urges you to slow down, take a breath, reset. It’s pretty great.
You can support the arts and buy the EP at the Homespun Bandcamp page here. All profits will go to Irvine-based music charity Freckfest.