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.
Sault – Don’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.
Sault – Why Why Why Why Why
Sault – No 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.
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).
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 Jones – Comin’ 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 Szabo – Somewhere 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 Hills – Tut 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!
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 Weller – Mirror 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 Weller – Ploughman
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Chanter – Don’t Move To Denmark
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.
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 Slacks – Don’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.
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;
Cloth – Curiosity 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 Lobsters – Curiosity 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.
There’s a terrific label that’s been releasing really great records with no fuss or fanfare for the past four years. Last Night From Glasgow – named, I imagine, from the opening line in Abba’s Super Trouper – is unique in that it exists through crowdfunding. Members pay upfront at the start of the year and the subscription fees are put towards the production of music from over a dozen acts. The music varies, from the wandering electronica of L Space and Broken Chanter‘s soulful folk to the E-Street isms of The Gracious Losers and a reborn, hard jangling Close Lobsters. The latter will launch their LNFG-curated Post Neo Anti LP this coming weekend at a sold-out Glasgow show and will, I suspect, feature strongly in the end of year Best Of lists. It’s a cracking record, one that, as a newly-converted member to the label, I’ve been lucky enough to have been listening to far ahead of its official launch date.
Another release of note is the eponymously-titled debut album by Glasgow 3-piece Cloth.
Released towards the end of last year and taking the label on yet another interesting path, the album almost defies classification and comparison. Squint and you might hear traces of Luscious Jackson’s more ethereal moments. The womb-like groove of Warpaint also springs to mind. The layered atmospherics of Built To Spill, maybe. But really, Cloth are fairly peerless. Sure, there are guitars on there. Chiming, perfectly clean and other-worldly in places, as far from ‘rocking’ as you can imagine. There are vocals too. Dry, high in the mix, gossamer-thin and spectral, yet honeyed and warm. There’s a drummer somewhere too, playing with an understated finesse that’s far more background than backbeat, and being under-stretched, she has the time and gumption to trigger an occasional bass sample to help put flesh upon the skeletal frame from which the songs hang. All in all, it’s a terrific sound.
Cloth – Demo Love
The album is only now gathering pace. Tom Robinson, a long-time supporter of the group has featured Cloth regularly on his BBC6 Music ….Introducing show. Stuart Maconie gave them a play at the weekend. Marc Riley, Gideon Coe, Vic Galloway, Steve Lamacq….all the big hitters really, have fallen for the band’s sound and given them generous airplay since the turn of the year.
Cloth – Felt
Guitars ping throughout. Airy atmospherics abound, swirling like the 5 in the morning mist on the Clyde. The rhythm chugs ever-forwards, propelled on a breeze of multi-layered breathy vocals. It’s all very lean. Fat-free. No superfluous clutter. By the third listen you’ll love this album, I tell you. Cloth, if you pardon the pun, are due to wipe the floor with all opposition.
Insular in sound, cosmopolitan in outlook, it’ll be exciting to see where 2020 takes Cloth. It’s not too late to jump aboard. Click the logo below and sign up to the label for the year ahead. Satisfaction and good music guaranteed.
Currently rolling across the airwaves via your more clued-in radio presenters is Texas Sun, a heady collaboration between unlikely bedfellows Leon Bridges and Khruangbin.
Bridges is the very epitome of studied soul cool; the voice an amalgamation of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, dress sense as lean and sharp as a pair of fifties Cadillac fins, and two albums into what you suspect might be a career that’s worth following.
Fellow Texans Khruangbin are also two albums to the good. Both are built around an anything-goes policy and the trio frequently magpie influences as disparate as r’n’b, psychedelia and foreign language and stir them into a heady soulful stew. 2018’s Con Tudo El Mundo should be your first point of reference if you’re unfamiliar with them.
A year in the melting pot, the 4 tracks on the collaborative EP grew out of shared tours and jam sessions and, in the shape of the title track, has yielded a modern-day stone-cold classic. Texas Sun blows like tumbleweed across a vast dustbowl landscape, big sky music that’s widescreen, expansive and wrung out on reverb and twang.
“Caressing you from Fort Worth to Amarillo,” coos Bridges, his voice a controlled ol’ King Cole croon. “Come on roll with me ’til the sun dips low.” Weeping pedal steel slides effortlessly from the beautiful glowing orange grooves and out into the ether. Ghostly falsettos provide colour and tone in the background. And the guitar, strung-out and slow-burning, carries the whole thing home. It’s only February but if a better Lone Star State-borne shuffling love ballad is released this year I’ll head on out to the nearest Joshua tree and jab a cactus in my good eye.
The rest of the EP hasn’t yet quite matched the heights of the lead track – although I suspect at least two of them are proper growers that by this time next week will be perhaps on a par with the opener – but across those other 3 tracks there are plenty of vintage soul-influenced chops – rattlin’ wah-wah, understated Fender bass, Mayfield flutes, vibes, even a smarty pants Isaac Hayes sample – and a proper old-skool analogue sound from the production to sate your inner seventies soul boy. It’s a great record. Hopefully, an album will follow…
It’s not quite Hallowe’en yet, Brexit has been given some sort of stay of execution and the tapers have yet to be lit at arm’s length on yer roman candles and squibs and firecrackers, yet magazine feature editors employed by the more switched-on music publications will already be compiling their Best Of 2019 lists. While it’s far too early for me to think of such things, a prime contender will surely be Incidental Music by camera-shy Mancunians W.H. Lung.
I’ve written about the band a couple of times before, from their debut offering being whizzed in the direction of Plain Or Pan via email, to the debut album released without fanfare or fuss in April. Back then I was taken by its clattering juxtaposition of LCD Soundsystem mid-paced grooviness and clean, chiming Public Service Broadcasting guitars. These days, it still sounds fantastic…even better, to be truthful. Best heard as a whole, Incidental Music ebbs and flows and dives and soars in the way all great albums do. That it was hatched in Manchester will only cement its status as a future classic. It sits perfectly well in a lineage that includes Unknown Pleasures, Power, Corruption And Lies and Bummed, a trio of electronically-treated albums that rocked at the core. If it fails to make the upper echelons of those much pored-over lists come Christmas time, I’ll eat my original copy of PC&L in protest. You can hold me to that.
In the unassuming way that W.H. Lung do, I arrived home from work today to an email from the band. Would I make a feature of their new track, they wanted to know. Before I had my jacket off, the familiar whooshing, metallic guitars and linear groove were spilling their tiny, tinny guts from my phone. Music on a phone sounds totally rubbish, as you know already, so it was soon booming from the speakers wired up to my PC; a fantastic, skyscraping and soaring metallic clatter totally in keeping with the album material but, more importantly for Lung-watchers, a new track.
Snippets of lyrics sung by a falsetto voice with a social conscience unravelled and revealed themselves over repeated plays in the troughs between the peaks in the propulsive soundtrack. “A body curled around a lamp-post like a cigarette in light rain….Daddy, why is there a man asleep there? Should I wake him?” And was that something too about Alan Turing, WWII code cracker and thorn in the government’s side? Turns out it was.
As singer Joseph E explains, “There’s a statue of Alan Turing in a small park just off canal street in Manchester city centre. The statue has always struck me as odd, the face is quite childishly done and Turing seems to be offering his fruit to passers-by. People often sit with him and take pictures. The park is also regularly attended by the homeless community of Manchester, as visible a presence on the streets now as the statues of the great and famous.”
In a nod to the city’s homelessness problem, the band will donate all profits from the sale of the single to Mustard Tree and Booth Centre, two local charities dedicated to the issue of homelessness in the city.
If you like the track above, use it as your gateway to the wonder of W.H. Lung. Buy the track and help the homeless. Buy the album and help the band. Go and see them on tour in November. And look out for Incidental Music topping those Best Of The Year polls come Christmas time. Amazingly, you read it here first.
22/11 – Riverside, Newcastle
23/11 – Moles, Bath
24/11 – Patterns, Brighton
25/11 – Rich Mix, London
26/11 – Academy 3, Manchester
Pound slam pound slam pound slam pound slam… The rhythm is heavy but regular, incessant and never-ending. I am not at an all-nighter nor am I listening to Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman in the corner of my living room, turned up to 10 whilst the house is shorn of all family members for the time being. I wish I was though. Even an all-nighter these days would be better than the reality, the living hell that I’ve chosen to inflict upon myself. I am on a treadmill in a gym, surrounded by mirrors and all manner of shapely and shapeless hotties and fatties, my own contorted, mouth-breathing face staring back at me in disbelief at what I’m putting myself through. “You bastard!” I say to myself between half-gulped gasps. “You’ve conned me!”
Joe Strummer, London Marathon, 1983
I woke up a few weeks ago with the creeping realisation that I turn 50 in the middle of November. My clothes don’t fit as loosely as they should. That favourite suit jacket that I kept for special ‘going-out’ nights no longer buttons up. The pair of indigo Levi’s I used to wear with it are suddenly, somehow, a size too small. I’ve more chins than a Chinese phone book. I am almost 50 and I’m a flabby, Jabbaesque mess. As I’m singing The Strangler’s Something Better Change into my head, get this! – a Facebook ad pops up in my feed. It offers cheap membership with no joining fee to my local community gym and so, a couple of nights later, I find myself in a new pair of trainers being given an induction in a roomful of equipment I had no intention of ever becoming familiar with.
The first days were laughable. I managed a whole 7 minutes on the treadmill; a heaving, wheezing sack of useless mess, huffing and puffing my way through my mantra of “just one more song before I stop.” The radio in the gym is permanently tuned to Smooth FM, with Sade’s Your Love Is King and Spandau Ballet’s True taking turns to push me through the miles metres and I hate it. In a bid to reach my first real milestone of week three – 10 long minutes – I sang bloody Bohemian Rhapsody to myself from the 3rd minute mark, convincing myself that if I didn’t look at the stopwatch that was counting up the long seconds that would become unattainable minutes, by the time I’d rocked out the solo in my head and come crashing back down on the “mama, oo-oo-ee-oo” section, I’d be almost home and dry. It only went and worked too. I’d try this again, definitely, but with far better source material.
I know! The iPod!
I’ve tried using headphones, but from around 12 minutes, the sweat really comes on, so the wee tricky buds won’t stay lodged in my ears. The right one especially slips out at the first hint of a trickly brow. They stay in place a bit better when I’m on the rowing machine – a whole other version of repetitive hell where you provide light entertainment for the heavy weights doing the serious bench pressing and weight lifting behind you – and my tunes have helped me row as far as 5000 metres in the one arm-numbing sitting.
Johnny Marr, NYC Marathon, 2010
It’s the treadmill that I favour though, and I really need my tunes. I’ve realised I’m a luddite. Everyone around me is streaming their music through the musty ether from smart phone to ear pod with not a wire in sight. My old iPod Classic looks out of place, but then, so do I, so fuck it. I’ve discovered that if I happen to be the only one in the gym, I can sneakily switch channels on the TV that pumps out the blandfest that is Smooth FM, so this is what I do whenever I can.
It’s a magic sight when you see the teams of hardened gym folk, all daft hair and stupid, tight, jogging trousers and oriental tattoos and suspiciously golden skin coming in for a serious workout to the wonky pop of Pip Blom and Ty Segall blaring wildly on Marc Riley’s BBC6 Music show. Nobody knows quite how the channel changed, nobody bar the new guy in the new trainers seems to like this stuff and nobody is brazen enough to suggest changing it back again, so everyone works up their sweaty sweat to a beatless racket while I ignore the stopwatch on the treadmill and try to work out who is on Marc’s t-shirt for the night.
Ty Segall – Drug Mugger
And d’you know what? This approach has seen me clock up 30 minutes – half an actual hour – on the treadmill of death. Two and a half sloth-like miles, where every pffft step eugh is hrrrr an accchht almighty heugh effort.