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My Best Ideas Are Borrowed But They’re Never Half-Baked

Yard Act may well be the most important new band of this year. Judging by all that can be found online, it’s quite possible that they’ve written just four songs, but all appear on their super-limited, super sold out debut EP, Dark Days.

D’you know those two choppy minor chords that play behind the chorus on Roxy Music’s arty, decadent and oh so European Love Is the Drug? Yard Act have nicked them, welded them to Joey Santiago’s fire-spitting Uriah hit the crapper guitars from Pixies’ Dead and, by adding a sullen, gobby vocal, half Mark E Smith and half John Cooper Clarke, have gone about creating the most thrilling of title tracks on an EP that’s bursting with originality, vim and the odd sweary word. I think you’d like them very much.

It’s a never-ending cycle of abuse, I have the blues and I can’t shake them loose, goes the singer, spitting piss and vinegar through a megaphone for good measure, choppy basslines and a no-frills drummer holding it all in place. The vocals, all northern rap and Yorkshire tang are what sets it apart. There’s no singing in the traditional sense, until the choruses, when the monotone dark days title is repeated by the rest of the band. It’s a fat-free track, bereft of any superfluous nonsense. There are no obvious overdubs, no gimmicky production, just bass, drums, one guitar and the vocals on top, all in clear separation. Repetition is discipline said Mark E Smith and on this track…this EP…Yard Act have proven themselves to be the most disciplined of all.

Peanuts is two songs welded together in a spoken-word sandwich; the noise-clash first half, all discordant, cheesegrater Telecasters and drawling vocals that sound as if they’re being orated through a mouthful of Juicy Fruit, before giving way to the spoken word second half with a weeping Disney ambience in the background. Great punchline too, before the band kicks in for the last wee bit. I can guarantee, you haven’t heard a track like this ever.

Fixer Upper takes Jarvis Cocker’s take your year in Provence and shove it up your arse sentiments to the next level. I can’t believe I’m a two home owner, proclaims our protagonist, it’s a fixer upper though. The Polish builders’ll take care of it, cash in hand like. You can be sure of that. Great wee bit of percussion at the end too.

The Trappers Pelts grooves along on a bed of fuzz bass and hip-hop drums, not a million miles away from those Pixies again, twisted electric guitar sound effects and a vocal about, what, exactly? Entrepreneurship in the 21st century? The gig economy? You’re really all so desperate. Desperate! Despera-tuh! (Subtle influence clue there). HMRC, pay as you feel! I’ve no idea what it’s about, but in a head-nodding-to-the-groove kinda way, it sounds fantastic.

You might listen to all four tracks as they play on the Bandcamp app above, but can I suggest you watch the session below. All the visual clues point to the band’s peerless influences; a set dressed like The Smiths’ This Charming Man video, a Curtis/McCulloch grey mac, a singer that’s humourous, intelligent and charismatic, leading a band where each player knows his part…Yard Act are, like all the best bands, the sum of their influences and something inexplicably more. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next.

Check the band’s Bandcamp page for merch, music and suchlike.

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Non-Rock, Non-Roll

One-man/one-woman bands tend to be easy to pigeonhole; talented multi-instrumentalist + laptop x headful of ideas = nattily-produced, hastily-manufactured, self-financed album, a bit scuffed at the knees, perhaps, a bit frayed at the elbows maybe, the rough charm grudgingly accepted as part of the deal. ‘Hey! I’m on my own here! I don’t have a record company behind me, I can’t make money from gigging and I just want to get my songs out there.’ We’ve all heard these musicians, more than ever in the current climate, earnestly bashing out their cottage industry wares into an overcrowded ocean of flotsam and jetsam for whoever happens to pass along at the right time. It’s admirable to the point of lunacy.

I’m not alone in this. Every second post on here since the turn of the year is another chapter in my own ‘book seeks publisher‘ serialisation of an admittedly flawed young adult novel. The irony of my opening statement is not lost on me. Fail we may, sail we must, as a great philosopher once said.

Blowing the preconception of the one man band clean out of the overcrowded water is Andrew Wasylyk. The nom de plume of Andrew Mitchell, sometime Idlewild bass player and guitarist/vocalist in Dundonian four piece The Hazey Janes, Wasylyk is a supremely talented individual. The Hazey Janes’ neat way with a twisted melody and an Americana-tinged acoustic arrangement has found favour in all the right places, yet despite tours with artists as disparate and massive as Wilco and Deacon Blue, the group never quite made the leap to the next level that might have been expected of them, and by them. Not that Andrew seems to mind.

For the past few years, Wasylyk has quietly gone about working on a loose triptych of gorgeous, free-flowing instrumental albums that study the themes of architecture, the Scottish coastline and the light on the land. Unlike anything remotely connected to his two bands above, these albums meander between neo-classicism, library music, sophisto-jazz and the off-kilter filmic soundscapes of David Axelrod. The most recent release, 2020’s Fugitive Light and Themes of Consolation was 6 Music’s Gideon Coe’s album of the year and, had I discovered it at the time of release, would very likely have been one of mine too.

The album was promoted through the second track, Last Sunbeams Of Childhood, an evocative title that is reflected in the pastoral groove within.

Wobbly Fender Rhodes, staccato bass and rippling jazz guitar ease you in on top of a soundbed of far-off playground shouts. Wandering saxophone and honeyed, textured brass add the requiste colour before the breakdown and the low-in-the-mix, wordless, chanting female backing vocals that elevate from somewhere below the surface. Layer upon layer of non-rock upon non-roll, it’s lovely, somewhere between Colin Tully’s Gregory’s Girl soundtrack and the orchestral sections in Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly score.

Save string arrangements from long-term collaborator Pete Harvey, it appears that Andrew Wasylyk has performed everything on the album himself. I mean, wow! Surely not?! This would elevate him immediately to Stevie Wonder levels of prodigiousness. Oboe, harp, flugelhorn (?), drums and percussion swirl around his cascading guitar and multi-layered pianos, adding light and shade, melody and counter-melody to what is a modern day, stone cold classic in its field, with nary a scuffed knee nor frayed elbow in sight.

Really, it’s great. Such was Wasylyk’s and his label’s (Athens of the North) limited expectations, both vinyl and CD are currently out of print, but I’d imagine a repress is very much in the works. Keep your eyes and ears peeled. I know mine are.

Support Andrew Wasylyk via Bandcamp

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Double Thumbs Up

Where are we going, fellas?

To the top, Johnny!

And where’s that, fellas?

To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny!”

That tag at the top of this page – ‘Outdated Music for Outdated People‘ isn’t there for nuthin’ y’know. Joe Kane‘s latest project The Poppermost is exactly the sort of forward-thinking, retro-tastic music that floats this particular lockdown boat.

Released worldwide today, The A Piece Of The Poppermost EP is Beatles For Sale-era Fabs, all monochrome graphics and monophonic thunk. The attention to detail is obsessive; the structure and arrangements, the playing, the sentimentality… it’s all there alongside the in-jokes (Parlophoney – yes!!) and super-obscure references that even the most Beatle-obsessed Beatlehead might not spot first time around.

Borne out of a one man mission with his roots firmly planted in all things Fab – Joe has Rutled with Neil Innes, switched from right hand to left (such is his dedication and obsession with the minutiae) to play McCartney in all manner of Fabs ‘n Macca theatre acts – and he’s only gone the whole hog by recording his own music so in thrall to his idols as to be genuine rather than pastiche.

Not bound by such hinderances as, y’know, actual bandmates, The Poppermost finds Joe in his garage studio playing everything himself. Utilising an array of instruments, microphones and recording techniques, all glued together by bargain basement analogue junk – ‘shitty is pretty‘, says Joe, your innermost Fab Four desires will be sated by an affected Lennon-like ‘you wanted the werld and I gave you the werld‘ here, a woody McCartney bassline there, a multitude of 12 string chiming George middle eights, with everything held in place by multi-tracked handclaps and a Ringo-perfect compressed backbeat.

The EP is trailed by a terrific promo clip for the upbeat, clipped guitarisms of The Laziest Fella In The Realm. It’s quite spectacular.

See what I mean?

Elsewhere on the EP you’ll find Well I Will, a chugging, Beatle-wig flipping I Saw Her Standing There for the 21st century, replete with on-the-money Fab Four backing vocals, an era-defining guitar break and enough spontaneous yelps, woos and general Maccary to warm the heart of even the fiercest of Beatles naysayers. Great cowbell too.

The PoppermostWell I Will

The EP takes a minute to gather its breath with the downbeat and ballady Get It Down, all sharply ringing acoustics and pitter-pattering I’ll Follow The Sun rhythms before rounding off in ballsy rocking manner with In & Out, a mid-temp head nodding Cavern Club stomper, all descending guitar runs and tumbling vocals throughout. Joe’s claim to be the self-styled King of the cunning coda would appear to be spot-on, given the overlapping, overloaded Fabisms in the final half a minute.

If you like your Fabness pitched somewhere between the lo-fi authenticity of The Stairs and the technicolour dreams of Jellyfish, you could do worse than head straight over to The Poppermost’s Bandcamp page to pick up your copy of ‘A Piece Of The Poppermost‘. An album will follow in June.

 

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Captain Hook

You don’t know this yet, but Gorillaz are the band that passed you by. Damon Albarn’s cartoon collective of rappers and rockers will turn (blink!) twenty years old this year. That’s almost as old as the cor blimey mockney Cockney band he’s still synonymous with.

Since their Clint Eastwood single made number 4 in the charts in March 2001, Gorillaz have released no less than 7 studio albums (with an 8th just around the corner) and 43 singles. Go on – name some! Then there are the trio of compilation albums, the remix album, the double figures-worth of EPs. From somewhere, from nowhere, Gorillaz have created quite the back catalogue. You should dive in.

He’s clever, that Albarn. Gathering together the cream of a world far-removed from Blur and featuring them on Gorillaz records instantly takes him to a whole new audience.

From Grace Jones to Mick Jones, the list of Gorillaz collaborators reads like a who’s who of the great and groovy in music, an ever-shuffling iPod lassooed and coralled under the Gorillaz umbrella; Neneh Cherry, Terry Hall, Simonon, Snoop and De La Soul, Benson, Womack, Elton John, Mavis Staples, the list goes on…..the real Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper, Mark E Smith before he came a cropper…

…every one of them has been on a Gorillaz record. The clout of Albarn is mightily impressive.

On Gorillaz most-recent album, Song Machine Season 1: Strange Timez (‘Season‘ – tsssk!), party mode Beck rubs shoulders with a downtrodden Robert Smith, St Vincent sits side by side with Joan As Policewoman, Slowthai and Slaves battle it out in a noisy, sweary fight to be top dog… and everything is underpinned by the happy/sad signature sound of Gorillaz – sing song choruses to lift the mood after Albarn’s melancholic verses, a ripple of chiming electronic percussion here, a rumble of electronic bass there, room-shaking phat beats throughout. I’m not sure what wizardry Albarn employs to produce such glossy, shiny contemporary sounds, but whatever it is, it’s really great.

Thematically I suppose, the album runs a bit like a 6 Music show; you’re not going to like everything that’s on it, but there’s always a beat or a melody or a wonky background noise worming its way into your head and setting up camp in your cerebellum. You’re never all that far from an unexpected cracker.

The standout on Song Machine is Aries, the collaboration between Albarn, producer/rapper/drummer Georgia and Peter Hook. With her dad being half of Leftfield, rhythm is in the blood for Georgia, and once welded to the instantly recognisable sound of Peter Hook’s bass, it all makes for a fine noise.

Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook and Georgia Aries

Hook is in full-on, low slung Viking mode on Aries, his imperial, mercurial bassline slinking up and down the frets like prime time, box office New Order. The section at two and a half minutes where he plays in confident abandon could quite easily have flowed straight off the grooves of Power, Corruption and Lies or Low-Life, leather keks, Triumph Motorcycles t-shirt, beef with Barney…the lot. He even adds his spoken voice – ‘Aries!‘ to the start, much as he did in the past with those ‘You got love technique!‘ vocals on Fine Time.

Albarn knows a hook when he hears one. And who better to provide the hook than Hook himself?

FYI, there’s a regularly updated list of Gorillaz contributors here.

Get This!, Hard-to-find, New! Now!, Sampled

Velvet. Underground.

phenomenon
[fəˈnɒmɪnən]

a remarkable person or thing.
“the band was a pop phenomenon just for their sales figures alone”

I’m annoyed at myself. I’ve somehow managed to miss the two Sault albums that were released at pivotal points this year. It’s only now, as the movers and shakers and barometers of hip opinion are revealing their favourite albums of 2020, that I’m discovering that a band I found quite by fortune a year ago via a succession of blogs and Bandcamp links (snapping up both albums LIKE THAT) has released another two albums – both doubles! – in 2020.

Sault, it would appear, are a proper phenomenon.

They arrived a year or so ago with no fanfare or front page spreads. They have next to no online presence. No press shots exist. There appears to be no record company at work. Their artwork is sparse, dense and free of information. They are, like the good old days of yore, a proper underground sensation.

That a band can slip under the radar in a world of streaming and playlists and metatags and analytics and appear at the top of the tree above your Bruces and Bobs and Idles and Swifts is both remarkable and admirable. Phenomenal even.

They are, we have worked out, a collective of anonymous musicians, possibly a group of megastars, possibly a collaborative of home studio boffins or a mixture of both, with their music fine-cooked into its heady soulful stew by the hands of ace producer Inflo, the man who steered Michael Kiwanuka’s most-recent album to Mercury success and healthy worldwide sales. Urban Gorillaz, you might say.

Their music is eclectic, taking in straight-ahead, knee-dropping soul, sample-heavy gospel funk and the sparse, skittering sound of New York’s post-punk No Wave scene, that on-the-one bass and chanting sound pioneered expertly by ESG and their sing-song nursery rhyme vocals. In short, it grooves. And, short ‘n sweet, the songs never outstay their welcome. The albums – those first two at least – beg to be played again immediately after the needle has hit the run-off groove on side two.

SaultDon’t Waste My Time

Their first album – teasingly titled ‘5‘ (did this mean there were another 4 releases before it? I looked, believe me) is everything that’s great about the band; expert playing that treads a fine line between an ‘is it real or is it a sample‘ conundrum, interesting/weird synths and ambient noise, insanely catchy and street-sussed, super-confident vocals, sulky as hell one minute, smooth as velvet the next but always irresistible.

SaultWhy Why Why Why Why

SaultNo Bullshit

Their second, ‘7‘ (they’re messing with us now!) popped up a month or so later and continued in the same vein. No drop-off in quality, no less essential, no more clues as to who Sault actually is.

Sault Smile And Go

To discover that they’ve released another two albums – four sides of guaranteed-to-be wonderful music – is both frustrating and exciting. I should have known about this! I didn’t, though, so there’ll be some good new music to look forward to and there’s nothing better than that, is there?

A quick search led me to an Alexis Petridis review in the Guardian. Even he has been caught slightly off-guard as the review is built around this year’s two releases, both untitled (yet both titled.) How very Sault.

Untitled (Black Is) came first, a record apparently put together in the hours and days that followed the George Floyd murder. The follow-up, Untitled (Rise) crept out just a few weeks ago. It is, for those in the know, the album of 2020.

Jeez. I gotta hear it.

Them.

But, look! Their Bandcamp page is sold out and the eBay scalpers are having a laugh. Yeah, you can play the soundfiles to your heart’s desire – and there’s a superb Kiwanuka-voiced Afrobeat belter amongst them, but we need physical product man! Surely a quick repress is on the cards? Everybody loves you, Sault! Everybody! (You knew that already though).

 

 

 

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Grandmaster Smash

Years ago I was doing supply in a school where they dedicated a whole Friday afternoon to the learning of new skills; baking, woodworking, knitting, glass staining and so on. The kids loved these afternoons. The dinner ladies helped with the baking, the janny helped with the woodworking and experts from the local community came in to impart their considerable knowledge in the art of growing root vegetables and making stained glass. With each new term, the kids could pick a different skill so that over the course of the school year they got to partake in four activities.

Being the supply teacher, I was right at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid and I watched, pained, as first the blogging and then the guitar groups were given to two teachers who couldn’t care less. Each subsequent activity was assigned to a nonplussed teacher until, finally the head teacher looked at me with a thin, watery smile and handed me a box of battered, rattling chess sets. “Chess Club!” she confirmed. “I doubt many will pick it, but it’s an option.” She never asked if I played chess, if I understood the rules, if I wanted to be in charge of the chess club. I just was.

I did know how to play chess, as it happened, but it was years since I’d done so. Anyway, I took the chess sets, fumbled together half a dozen complete sets out of the ten or so ancient boxes I’d been saddled with and set about turning my classroom into a (cough) Chess Club.

On the first Friday, seven kids – there’s always an odd number for these things – turned up to see what all the fuss was about. None of the kids I knew. Six of them were curious to see this new teacher in the school – a man! – and the seventh was sent to play chess because he’d already tried to stab someone’s hand with a gardening fork outside. Grrrrreat. First thing I did was draw the blinds to create an ambience that encouraged studied quietness.

After that I Googled an arty monochrome picture of Bobby Fischer eyeing up the board, typed ‘Chess Club‘ on top of it in an interesting font and displayed it on the smart board, a reminder to the players of where exactly they were. Then I rejigged the tables so that the players sat in a square around the sides of the classroom, allowing me to stand in the middle and explain the object of the game and so on, helping the kids as they took their first unsteady steps into the geek world of chess.

As they slowly began to understand the whys and wherefores of the board, I introduced music. Classical stuff sometimes, an Erik Satie piano piece or two, but mostly jazz, mainly John Coltrane or Oscar Peterson but always Miles Davis. Sometimes I’d branch out into the blues, helping some poor cornered soul get out of a chequered funk as John Lee Hooker boomed out at a genteel volume in the corner.

By week three, the ‘Chess Club‘ image of Fischer had been edited to say ‘Chess (and Jazz and Blues) Club‘. By the following week, this had been shortened, in loose homage to CBGBs to ‘Chess AJABs Club‘. No-one complained. None of the school management noticed. I was having fun and so were the kids.

I taught them the one fancy move I knew, learned from my dad when I was 10 or 11, about the same age as them, where you could put your opponent in checkmate in three moves. More fool me, as after that, they all wanted to play white. One time, the garden fork boy got so enraged at being put into checkmate before Miles Davis had parped his way out of his first solo that he tossed the board and all its pieces into the air and stormed off. “There was no need for that, Mr McAllister,” said his victorious opponent in a world-weary voice that suggested she’d seen all of it before.

Over the weeks, the chess kids progressed to a reasonable standard. They played one another, they challenged and beat me, they seemed to enjoy themselves. In fact, when the time came to renew activities at the end of term, half of the kids chose to stay at the chess. And on their return in January, a couple of them told me excitedly that they’d woken up on Christmas day to a new chess set under the tree. One of them even got a ‘Best Of Jazz’ CD too. As it turned out, Chess (and Jazz and Blues) Club was alright.

We’ve binged recently on The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s seven-parter that tells the story of a young girl’s rise to Grandmaster level. It’s ace.

Set against a backdrop of 50s and 60s Cold War America, it is, on every level, a triumph. Visually, it’s stunning. From the trippy, imagined chess pieces that emerge from the ceiling each night and play combinations of winning moves that the lead character Beth Harmon commits to memory, to the period-perfect set design, every episode has the appearance of being filmed through a particularly agreeable Instagram filter. The more poetic of us might even suggest that the muted tones and dull pastels of the actors’ clothes that contrast with the glossy shine of hardwood and chrome are metaphors for the opposing sides on the chessboard itself.

The cars – big, American gas guzzlers, all sleek fins and whitewalls, cruise across the background like gliding bishops picking off pawns. The houses, with their mod cons and perfect lawns, bordered by subtly territorial picket fences, are the very symbol of nuclear family success. ‘Stay out,’ they scream silently, ‘or I’ll take you out.’ It’s a world at odds with the lead character – supremely played by Anya Taylor-Joy – yet here she is.

Quincy JonesComin’ Home Baby

The hotels where the chess matches are played, especially as the series progresses and the competitions become more exclusive, are grand affairs. Jet-setting across the continents, Harmon and her mother enjoy nothing less than the good life. Expensively-wallpapered corridors and opulently furnished dining areas are accessed via long-winding and never-ending Art Deco staircases.

There’s a terrific scene set in Miami where the swingin’ Quincy Jones track above perfectly soundtracks Harmon movin’ on up to the competition floor, sashaying confidently to another crushing victory against an awkward and embarrassed male player, all the while looking like Jackie Onassis’ cool half-sister.

A horrendous childhood and a less-than-smooth passage into adulthood comes at a cost to our young prodigy. To cope with all that life has thrown at her, Harmon has developed a fondness for tranquilisers and booze. Her numerous breakdowns and spirals into addiction are soundtracked by period-era deep cuts. If she’s not kicking off a three-day bender by dancing like no-one is watching to Shocking Blue’s Venus, she’s discovering pot to the sound of Gabor Szabo.

Gabor SzaboSomewhere I Belong

The throb and thrum, the slowly spidering guitar line, the creeping paranoia and electric dischord are just the thing to simulate an out of body experience, no?

Or how about Gillian Hills’ 1965 slice of fingersnappin’ French Yé-yé mod-pop?

Gillian HillsTut Tut Tut Tut

Druggable yet fruggable, Tut Tut Tut Tut features during another particularly memorable scene, bursting through the stately piano that is woven through the soundbed of each episode, as joyously unexpected as the ever-attacking Harmon choosing to play the Sicilian Defence.

To be perfectly honest, every scene with Taylor-Joy in it is memorable. Usually, a blink of her dark almond eyes is all it takes to hook you in. She plays perfectly the ever-spiralling Harmon with a magnetism that should win her whatever awards are going these days for Netflix dramas. 

The Queen’s Gambit is a masterclass in stylish home cinema. As the year creeps to an undignified close, we may well have found the best thing about it. Watch it. Now!

New! Now!

Paul Well-ooh-arr

An extended period of working from home has allowed me to indulge in the wee pile of new releases I’ve never quite got around to giving my time to. Paul Weller‘s On Sunset is this week’s Home Office Record of the Week. It’s mainly terrific – the emphasis on mainly – a well-produced collection of tracks that finds Weller continuing to stretch and reach further than a man of his vintage should ever need to. He could easily be sitting back in his Chesterfield, admiring the reflection of his grown-out feathercut in the satisfying glow of his numerous gold discs, Patrick Cox-ed feet up and taking it easy, but no, he’s gone all out to create an album that’s soulful, full of substance and sonically brave.

The opener Mirror Ball is kinda the album in minature.

Paul WellerMirror Ball

A seven and a half minute epic, it starts understated – Disney-by-way-of-Mercury-Rev – before, curtains thrown open, it bursts into 21st century sunshine soul, taking in Beatleish mellotron, Isley Brothers guitar, Curtis Mayfield strings and rinky dink Philly riffing.

It’s essentially his Starlite single from a few years back, filtered through a late Summer heat haze and laid out on a bed of scorching white Californian sand. No bad thing at all, especially when it shimmers towards its grandiose end on a bed of overlapping vocals, random radio bursts and the funky squelch of Dre G-Funk keyboard lines. As far as album openers go this year, I can’t see it being bettered.

The album continues in similarly grab-all manner, Weller’s autumnal voice wrapping itself around Faces Hammond, honeyed Stax horn blasts, pastoral folk, a nod and a wink to Slade’s Coz I Luv You, and Gil Evans wandering piano lines. It’s easy to play spot the reference, wrapped up and re-positioned somewhere north of the Style Council and just to the left of those first couple of solo albums, glistening in state-of-the-art production and flying with confidence. Weller wears his influences proudly on his sleeve but makes them into his own thing. Always has done, always will do.

As it continues to spin, On Sunset builds itself up to be quite the classic…until the runt of the litter makes its appearance.

A right clunker and no mistake, Ploughman pops up near the end and it’s unintentionally hilarious.

Paul WellerPloughman

Channeling his inner Wurzel, Weller eschews the tailor-made pinstripe suit and cashmere sweater for a boiler suit and flat cap, ditches the classic open-top for a John Deere and climbs aboard. He flicks his 20th Benson & Hedges of the day to the side, jams a sheaf of wheat between his teeth in replacement and, with balls of steel, begins to sing in a full-on zider drinkin’ West Country accent about ploughing his earth and living a menial but honest living. The subject matter is fine. The musicianship  – even the flown-in Inspiral Carpets demo that masquerades as a hook line – is fine. The delivery though is unintentionally hilarious.

Who at the record company let this pass muster? Are the folk around Weller too scared to point out when his quality dips? With a career such as his, you are of course excused the odd faux pass – whole albums in some instances, but Ploughman finds our hero aimlessly ploughing a ridiculous furrow all of his own, less Modfather and more Modfarmer. What were you thinking Paul Weller? This aberration just knocked a potential 10/10 album down to a 9.

(That opening track though…. that’s a cracker.)

Weller this evening. Tractor not pictured.

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2020 Vision

Trashcan Sinatras fans are used to playing the patient game, so when a few weeks ago their I’ve Seen Everything album featured on one of Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, the group found themselves back at the forefront of the collective conscience of a fanbase who remain fiercely loyal and proud. That same fanbase went into something of a restrained lockdown meltdown when, a couple of weeks later, close-cropped, half-chopped words atop pixelated dots began appearing across the group’s social media feeds. What does it all mean? everyone speculated. Some eagle-eyed fans pointed out the relationship between some of the jumbled letters that captioned an image with one of the lines on an eye test chart and before you knew it, the rumour was that I’ve Seen Everything was set for imminent and long-overdue release on vinyl. An original version will easily relieve you of a three-figure sum, should you be fortunate enough to uncover one in the first place, so, what with the Trashcans themselves selecting the album for the spotlight-shining Tim’s Listening Party and everything, it made for perfectly logical reasoning that this was what was coming our way.

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Except, as you, I and everyone else affiliated to the hardest working band in slow business will atest, the words ‘logical’ and ‘Trashcan Sinatras’ rarely appear in the same sentence. What we got was not the reissue of an album that surely deserves just that, but instead a brand! new! track!, recorded, as is the group’s way these days, by pinging electronic files back and forth across the Atlantic until steady patience cooks the mix and it rises to perfection. D’you know how Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder recorded the metaphorical and groovy Ebony & Ivory without ever being in the same room? Well, that.

Trashcan Sinatras The Closer You Move Away From Me (Buy it here)

Beginning with a gentle electronic keyboard buzz that springs to mind an effect-treated take on that feedbacking, AC30-conduited open A string that introduces The Beatles’ I Feel Fine, The Closer You Move Away From Me is a slow-burning, knowing and yearning mini masterpiece.

Like the keyboard swell that carries the melody, it comes to you in waves. It’s not instant in the way Obscurity Knocks gatecrashed itself into your hippocampus 30 years ago. Nor does it have that sheen of undeniable hit hit hit! quality (if only) of a Hayfever or a Twisted & Bent or an All The Dark Horses.

It’s one of those records that requires one or two slightly apprehensive, fingers-crossed listens before, by the third rotation you begin to notice the slightly trippy guitars, lifted straight offa the grooves of Bette Davis’ Eyes…the lyric, a rumination on the big ideas of life and living…the spoken word section (has there ever been a bad record with a spoken word section?) …the perfect marriage of melancholy and melody…and by the time you’re tangled in the backwards guitars that weave their way through the fading outro you finally come to the acceptance that, yes!, this is one of the Trashcans’ finest moments indeed. It’s well worth your time.

The video that’s currently being shared by the more discerning social media surfer in your friends list is the perfect accompaniment. Here are the five principal members – the classic line-up, they herald in the publicity material – stuck in five living rooms somewhere between the west coasts of America and Scotland, backdropped by bay windows and bodacious bookshelves. It’s so goddam NOW!, the perfect summation of life in the first half of 2020. There’ll be artists that follow of course, and probably with greater impact, but read this here and now – out of circumstance rather than concept, the Trashcans did it first.

As I watched it for the first time, a sudden face-slapping realisation smacked me right across these lockdown-fattened jowls –  with lines such as ‘the more intricate the build, the deeper the foundations‘ and ‘the harder the realisation, the deeper the love that stays‘ playing out over wistful monochrome images of five life-long friends playing together yet apart, The Closer You Move Away From Me is principally the group’s own love song to one another.

It’s there in the way they peer hopefully out of their windows, hoping perhaps that a fellow Trashcan will come skipping up the street at any moment, new tune in hand in need of a melody to unfold. It’s there too in the watery pictures of yore that float up to the surface, punctuating the monochrome with faded coloured memories of the past; pictures of the TCS in a different era, when the group looked to the future with excited hope rather than looking back with the melancholic regret of a life in music that should’ve gained them far more kudos and success. I don’t for a minute think the Trashcans regret anything – that’s just not them, but the visuals of a young group floating between the crows feet and worry lines and grey hair and nae hair that define the group currently make for a good yin-yang of the Trashcan Sinatras.

For a group that has survived everything thrown at it by an eventually-disinterested record label, studio-seizers in grey suits, serious ill health and the impracticalities of being a band whilst recording transatlantic-style, it’s hard to deny them the luxury of a song where they themselves may be the subject matter (see also Weightlifting‘s It’s A Miracle).

That The Closer You Move Away From Me exists at all in both song and video is fairly incredible if you stop to consider it. It may be some time until an album creeps out – I’m told that, such are the high standards set by themselves, half an album was thrown out with the bathwater at the start of the year – but I know, you know, those in the know know that whenever that may be, it’ll be well-worth waiting for.

You can buy The Closer You Move Away From Me here.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Versions, Get This!, New! Now!

Chant Number 1

I don’t need this pressure on indeed. Isolation remains very much a part of Scottish life. Johnson was wittering on at some point over the past week – I can’t remember exactly when as it’s been a wee while since anyone’s seen him, and when he is there, we tend to tune out until he veers sharply and unexpectedly from that rigid scrolling script to venture dangerously off-piste. Usually then he’s worth listening to, if only for the made up rubbish he upchucks then contradicts before anyone’s had a chance to tell him. Here he was, having a go at oor ain Nicola Sturgeon for daring to defy his relaxed approach to the Great British Lockdown, saying that Scotland was out of step with the rest of the UK. It was quickly pointed out that with Wales and Northern Ireland still to fully embrace this brave new world of the Prime Minister’s, it was in fact his own country that was out of step with everyone else. Telt, as they say.

Leaving political point scoring aside and eschewing BawJaw’s bumbling, stuttering, fuckwittery in continually putting profit over people, our own leader has made it clear; isolation continues for as long as it needs to be in place, and if that means another few weeks without an overpriced coffee or a long queue at the recycle centre, then so be it.

It’s good that we have the music. During these locked down and locked in, working from home times, I’ve been getting to grips with new albums I might never fully have invested the time in. Much of this new music has come courtesy of Last Night From Glasgow, the co-operative, not-for-profit label that aims to give the artists as great a share of the takings as possible whilst still investing in new bands and new projects. The music is a catch-all eclectica of scuffed at the knees indie, leftfield electronica, beat groups, studio projects and just about everything else you can think of. If you’re a member you’ll receive new releases well in advance of the launch date and in the years B.C. (before Corona) you’d get to attend the album launch party too.

Their forthcoming Isolation Sessions project may well go on to be the jewel in a particularly sparkling crown. Pre-sales have already led to thousands of pounds being pumped back into struggling local venues and it’s on course to be quite the release of 2020. Conceived, written and recorded between March and April, it sees all the acts on the label tackle a song by one of their labelmates. Recently, I raved about Close Lobsters’ fantastic version of Cloth’s Curiosity Door, fragile etherea reimagined as a propulsive head nodder straight outta 1970s West Germany. In the time since, more and more tracks have appeared; recorded, wrapped and ready for imminent release.

In conjunction with the record, esteemed photo journalist Friar Brian Sweeney, coincidentally the label’s creative director, has rather beautifully documented these strange times. Closely observing social distancing rules, the photographer has zig-zagged his way up and down the country to take candid shots of the movers and shakers and members that combine to make one of the very best record labels around. Reproduced in silvery black and white, the images perfectly capture the uncertainty and new-found relaxed approach to personal appearance that this period in time has allowed. Right down to the untied shoes (who cares?) and four days-old shorts (who cares?) and a hairdo that’s long overdue a visit from some scissors (I mean, who cares?), he’s bottled my three chins (compresion, I’m assured) and me, ladies, for eternity.

Jowly author/Plain Or Pan by Friar Brian Sweeney

The visuals are terrific, the perfect atmospheric accompaniment to what’ll be going on and in the grooves. Broken Chanter, the nom de plume of Kid Canaveral’s David MacGregor released his self-titled debut album via Olive Grove towards the end of last year. Melodic, ambitious, grand (in every sense of the adjective) and (in a very good way) weird enough to maintain interest to this very day, it includes Don’t Move To Denmark, a cry of loss and longing that implores a recent love to not move abroad but not to stick around on his behalf either.

Broken ChanterDon’t Move To Denmark

David MacGregor/Broken Chanter by Friar Brian Sweeney

Autobiographical? Quite possibly. MacGregor certainly means every word he sings. Mixing trad with tech, scratchy acoustic guitars and plucked ‘n sawed strings are carried along by ricocheting percussion and a welcome hint of underlying laptop electronica. One of the album’s finest moments, it’s a good introduction to his rich musical world. If it’s piqued your interest you could do worse than get a hold of his album via the link in the third paragraph above.

Lesley McLaren/Lola In Slacks by Friar Brian Sweeney

On the Isolation Sessions, Glasgow’s Lola In Slacks, newcomers to the label but not to the local music scene, transform Broken Chanter’s already wonderful original into a shimmering cinematic beauty, a skyscraping track of restrained majesty that recalls the understated yet uplifting sound of Natalie Merchant and Stevie Nicks having a go at recreating the soundtrack to Twin Peaks at 45rpm. Somewhere in a parallel universe, this version spins eternally.

Lola In SlacksDon’t Move To Denmark

Brushed drums shuffle the groove, twanging and reverberating hollow-bodied electric guitars lift the whole thing up and out into the clouds where it floats forever… it’s casually fantastic and currently playing for the 95th time since the weekend, another triumph on an album that seems certain to be packed full of them .

Don’t move to Denmark or stay on my behalf, it goes. The brass on my neck made you laugh. Why, that’s almost Johnson-esque in its prescience. Given the Scandinavian country’s tight handle on Covid, and education, society, lifestyle and just about everything else, why wouldn’t you want to move there just now?

Isolation Sessions can be bought at the LNFG shop here. Get down on it.

Cover Versions, New! Now!

Cloth Lobsters

Lockdowns. Lock-ins. Low downs.

Strange times abound. You’ve probably been working from home the past week or so, perhaps sat at your makeshift workspace in a pair of two days-old underpants, your face and razor no longer on speaking terms. Yes, perhaps even you, ladies. Maybe too there’s a chalky white toothpaste trail down the front of your t-shirt, the one you also slept in last night as it happens (and what’s it to ya?), a stain that, you notice, looks like a grubby white silhouette of Africa when you look in the bathroom mirror. You’ve been checking and rechecking your phone to clarify if it’s a Tuesday afternoon or a Sunday morning or even a Thursday night, the same phone that loudly heralds your daily step count and quietly informs you of an increase in screen time…..for the third week running. The telly plays in the background, a never-ending loop of graphs in an upward trajectory, safely-distanced shots of hastily-built hospital wards and talking heads of serious scientists and gormless government officials. The Prime Minister has chucked it, isolated due to The Virus (he says), so no more babbling hyperbole of squashing sombreros, but really, we all know he’s keeping out of the road because he’s feart to answer questions he has no decent answer for.

In times like this, I, we, look to music. Recently, it’s been a mix of Buzzcockian post-punk and a reacquaintance with the Zim at the start of the day, dub reggae and a bit of ska for lunch and John Martyn until the second? third? glass is drained and bedtime has long-passed. Last night I lifted and redropped the needle on his Glistening Glyndebourne half a dozen woozy, boozy times. A future article for sure.

A recent article focused on Cloth and their label Last Night From Glasgow. As you read this, the label is in the midst of curating and compiling The Isolation Sessions, a timely, hastily hatched and socially-conscious album with a noble purpose: the small, independent venues that host weekly shows, many of them featuring LNFG artists, venues that struggle at the best of times, will share in all proceeds from its sales. Simple, yet (fingers crossed) effective. The hope is that this endeavour should help in some small way towards these venues staying alive until who knows when. By the end of April, The Isolation Sessions should be complete and ready for release. You can pre-order it here.

What sets the album apart from most other compilations is that this is an album where labelmates cover one another’s tracks. The aforementioned Cloth have a go at reworking acoustic neo-folkie Annie Booth, who returns the favour by turning in a gossamer-thin version of Sleep. The Gracious Losers, Glasgow’s sprawling, scabby-kneed take on an Arcade Fired-up E-Street Band will cover psychedelic shoegazers Domiciles. Sister John offer up a faithfully introspective recording of Stephen Solo‘s Secrets You Keep, enhanced by the combined female/male vocals. For reference, think of those fantastic Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan albums from a few years back. Yes, that great.

The best track so far – and so far is the caveat here, because only a third of the album has been made available to LNFG subscribers, is Close Lobsters‘ amazing version of Cloth’s Curiosity Door. To fully appreciate it, you must first be familiar with the original;

ClothCuriosity Door

Curiosity Door is fantastic; synthesised pealing church bells giving way to whispered vocals, sparse percussion and lean, fat-free pulsing guitar, the pinged harmonics ringing long into the empty spaces. Womblike, dreamy in a just-woken-up manner and pin drop-quiet, it’s the perfect sampler of what Cloth is about. Never heard them? Curiosity should get the better of you. Boom boom.

Close Lobsters have only gone and – wow! –  totally reinterpreted Curiosity Door as a motoric, propulsive mid 70s kosmische groover, all compasses going wild for map reference 51°14′N 6°47′E and Düsseldorf, West Germany. Listen to this!

Close LobstersCuriosity Door

Close Lobsters’ version is washed in Suicide keyboards, Michael Rother guitars and slow-burning, fractal, vapour trails that Sonic Boom would give his 1962 Vox Phantom for. The first thing you notice though is Andrew Burnett’s close-miked Scottish burr. Slightly menacing, slightly sinister, it brings to mind some of those great Pulp records where Jarvis whispers only for you, right down and deep into your ear. All summer, you’d shave your head, he goes. Given the current trend for DIY stay-at-home buzzcuts, well, how prescient!

I’ve had this on non-stop repeat for the past 24 hours and I can say with absolute confidence that it’s the best thing I’ve heard this year. When all of this is over and we get back to live music again and Last Night From Glasgow give the compilation the proper launch it deserves, I hope very much that, as great as Close Lobsters’ new album is in its own right, they’ll coax the band into playing their version of Curiosity Door very loudly indeed.

Now, have you ordered The Isolation Sessions yet?