Not quite just played, but recently

It’s been a while since I did a rambling ‘things-I’ve-been-listening-to-and-quite-like’ type post, so this be one of them.  While plenty of new stuff has crept in, this week has involved a lot of Manics. I’ve been suckered in by the Mini-LP, 2CD Japanese reissues of their studio albums prior to ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, despite owning all of them and most of the accompanying b-sides. They are utterly lovely though and it has resulted in me realising a couple of things. Firstly, I know the b-sides from the ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth’ like they are unofficial national anthems, something that’s not replicated with the more recent albums, suggesting that as I’ve got older, I’ve spent less time with b-sides, despite rabidly gathering them all up. Secondly, as a direct consequence of the last point, the bonus tracks on ‘Lifeblood’, in particular, took me aback. They’re really very, very good and the consistency was still there, even if my attention wasn’t. Oh, and it was another excuse to listen to their gloriously bombastic version of ‘Umbrella’. I love the idea of bonus disc reissues and the notion of an alternative history being offered up by those lesser-known songs. Sadly, very few reissues offer much of any real merit, but these are wonderful collections and this allows me to now say that I didn’t just buy them because they’re shiny and nice. I also bought them to reevaluate a musical legacy. Albeit one in shiny packaging.

I bought The Low Anthem album, ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, whilst down in London for a bit of real life, over the counter, music you can touch, record shopping back in April. Back then, it was proudly described as a ‘Rough Trade Exclusive’ and it came in a blue card, hand stamped sleeve. It struck me as a marvellous but curious little record and certain tracks got pretty regular plays. I now find it quite surprising to see it receiving a sizeable media focus; it seemed such a tiny, niche release only a few months back. Anyway, because I’m a sad obsessive, I ended up purchasing the vinyl pressing of the new Bella Union release of this wonderful album this week and it sounds absolutely magnificent. It turns out that I haven’t actually bought exactly the same thing twice. Apparently, the album’s been remastered in the interim and resequenced for some reason. I can’t say I really noticed all the much in the way of sonic difference, but then people say that their debut album, ‘What The Crow Brings’, is poorly recorded and I think that sounds rather lovely too. What I can recommend is the pressing quality of this vinyl edition and also that aforementioned debut album which you can buy from their site as a CD preorder (they’re making some more copies – hand stamped and all that malarky) along with a free, instant download to be getting on with. It’s worth also noting that this is yet another solid gold release by Bella Union, a label seemingly unable to do any wrong. Peruse their site, click buy next to pretty much anything and you’ll not be disappointed.

The latest Ohbijou record, ‘Beacons’, is getting played rather a lot round these parts. Ethereal is probably the best word for it and, frankly, it’s more eloquent than sodding marvellous which is the only other way I’ve got for describing it. Pick any track at random, have a listen and I defy you to not fall in love with it. Seriously. Did I mention that it’s on Bella Union?

The new album by The Rumble Strips arrived this week and my first impressions were not great. Apparently, it’s a big step on from the last album, it’s less like Dexy’s and it had added Mark Ronson. Hmm. It’s not a huge success. Firstly, they still sound very like Dexy’s at times, just not as well as they did on the first album and thus it is less enjoyable. Secondly, the sense of fun that made me really rather warm to their debut (‘Girls And Boys In Love’, in particular) doesn’t seem to be there. Now, this is fine in itself, but not when it hasn’t really been replaced with anything else. I’ll give it time, but I think the attempted reinvention may not have been necessary after all.

Plenty of time has been spent picking over all of the b-sides and remixes offered up by the luxurious and really rather shiny (spot the pattern?) Girls Aloud singles collection box set. It’s not hugely revelatory – I knew they were great beforehand, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable stuff for dipping in and out of. The musical equivalent of a ‘toilet book’, I suppose. For example, the weird vocoder effects used on the single mix of ‘Untouchable’ didn’t warrant an additional purchase after buying the album, but it makes for an enjoyable listen when offered up as part of as massive collection of top-notch pop.

I continue to delight in the majesty of the self-titled album by The Duckworth Lewis Method, such is its summery splendour. They recently performed ‘Test Match Special’ on Test Match Special. Arf, arf! What larks. Still, a suitable way to celebrate a decent performance by England this weekend. Alternatively, celebrate shite boats and being pissed by downloading the bonus track, ‘Pedalo’, from iTunes. It was one of the first albums I reviewed for my new glossy-paged home and this leads me nicely to talking about one of the other records from that first batch: Magnolia Electric Co‘s ‘Josephine’, which is Jason Molina‘s finest record in absolutely yonks. And that’s taking as given that the last few have been of a high quality nevertheless. In entirely predictable fashion, I bought the vinyl to accompany my promo CD and it is a fantastic pressing. This is all the more impressive as I’ve found Secretly Canadian vinyl to be of a varying standard in the past and this record truly deserved a decent outing on wax. And so it is. It’s soulful, it’s warm and yet still oddly bleak. Such is Molina’s way with a guitar. If neither Magnolia Electric Co nor his earlier outings as Songs : Ohia aren’t in your record collection you really should set about correcting that criminal oversight.

The quite simply bloody lovely new record by Wilco arrived from the delightfully mispriced (£8.98, free delivery!) Amazon this week and it does not disappoint. Although it seems to be getting some revisionist slagging, I loved ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and so already had high hopes for the appallingly titled, ‘Wilco (The Album)’. The vinyl pressing (What do you expect? It matters!!) is exceptional and the music’s not far behind. At times gently chugging, at times more upbeat and almost poppy than Wilco have been for some time, it’s a concise, summery record that you need to get now so it can soundtrack any remaining nice weather before the end of August. Or you could just wait until the inevitable reissue with a bonus disc that seems to have been the norm for the last few records. Tracks like ‘The Thanks I Get’ were simply tossed out as ‘bonus material’, despite being of album-worthy standard. Here’s hoping for more suitably spiffing bonus stuff this time out.

Having mentioned during the Glastonbury weekend blog overload that I was rather taken with The Hot 8 Brass Band, I’ve been giving their album a few listens of late and, while it’s not one I’ll play from start to finish all that often, it’s does have some truly inspired moments. The take on ‘What’s My Name’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg is reason enough to buy the record, before you even get to the charming interpretation of ‘Sexual Healing’. Suitably bargainous price and copies in stock here.

I’ll conclude with my current favourite pop nuggets. I recently mentioned that I’ve come round to the idea that La Roux, despite looking like an aggressive baby, has released one of the songs of the year with ‘Bulletproof’ and I can’t really see what might actually better it right now. I’m quite taken with the Freemasons single with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even if she does sing “Heartbreak, make me a darn-ser.” It niggles away at your head that one and it’s hard to shake off. ‘New In Town’ by Little Boots is rather charming but I don’t imagine it has much staying power. The whole of the latest Pet Shop Boys album is still satisfying the vast majority of my pop needs. Feel free to recommend me any great new pop you can think of below.

Right then, suitably rambling as always but with a twist this time. The good folks at both teatunes and Jo-Whiley-hating* The Word magazine regularly share Spotify playlists relating to what they’re banging on about. So, I thought I’d shamelessly steal the idea and try it myself. It doesn’t cover everything listed here – Magnolia Electric Co’s new album’s not on there yet, neither are the Wilco album or La Roux – but it’ll give you a nice idea. Try it by clicking here.

 

*T’was them that made us have Fearne Cotton on daytimes. They killed her.

Shameless Nudity

It would seem that at least one person has visited this blog in the last week in the hope of seeing pictorial evidence of Lady GaGa‘s lady parts, judging by the search engine referrers list. How quaint. Not that kind of site, I’m afraid. I’m really resisting some weak pun linking this information and the new Bloc Party single. Oh, just do it yourself, you know you want to.

Anyway, I’m still suffering a bit of Glasto withdrawal. What am I supposed to watch on the telly now? I know, it’s hardly the same as those people who actually depressed at no longer physically being in Pilton, but I so love the five-screen red button pleasure. Maybe it is that kind of site after all? Blur was everything I’d hoped they’d be and they genuinely seemed to be bombarded with love by the enormous crowd. Admittedly, watching Jo Whiley nearly crying and Zane Lowe over-analysing some songs, played by a band, on a stage, was pretty disturbing but I still went to bed happy, despite their best efforts. I particularly enjoyed viewing the rest of the night’s footage the following evening via Sky+ and finding a really-quite-pissed Mark Radcliffe confusing the hell out of lovely Lauren Laverne. She genuinely seemed surprised by how ridiculous Radcliffe was being. Brilliant, but ridiculous. The best TV presenting I’ve ever seen him do. In fact, I loved it so much I went out and bought his recently published memoirs. I also picked up new musical writing magazine/glossy-book-thing Loops – a joint venture by Domino Records and Faber & Faber. I’ll report back on what could be an exciting new development in due course, but I think Norman Records summed it up quite nicely in their review: “It’s an attractive little thing, all glossy and professional-looking with words in it from such legendary titans as Nick Cave (who seems to be writing largely about Avril Lavigne‘s vagina), Nick Kent, David Shrigley, Jon Savage, Simon Reynolds… Erm. It smells really nice too. You should probably buy one!” Hmm. I sense the Lady GaGa fans returning via Google again, anytime soon.

I think I’m coming round to the idea that La Roux‘s ‘Bulletproof’ is one of the singles of the year. It’s crept up on me and now I really, really like it. She does need to smile a bit though. She still has that look of the aggressively curious baby. You know the type. Friend shows you baby, you’re supposed to say ‘awww, how sweet’, but, on this occasion, you nearly soil yourself at the sight of ugly baby glaring at you angrily. That’s what she looks like in the video. Ten times more disturbing than any banned Manics album art. Still, the song is brilliant.

The Duckworth Lewis Method‘s album is now actually available for purchase and, as my review has appeared in print, I guess I can gush about it on here now. It’s a wonderful new set by Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh (of Pugwash fame-ish) that is a delight from the first second to the last. Joyous and unashamedly pop, it rips off the embarrassing side of 70s pop/rock, wafts off into classic Divine Comedy balladry and takes a brief detour into Noel Coward country. (For all Googlers, that was count-ry, ok?) There are some iTunes bonus tracks that they’re currently allowing you to buy individually to go with your proper shop-bought copy of the album (which is in a lovely digipak) but I’m not sure that that will always be the case. HMV in Leicester had a whole chunk of the Artists Alphabetical section set aside for this album’s physical release tomorrow. Bodes well for sales.

Other music I’m thoroughly enjoying but not especially willing to write a lot about right now: Ohbijou, My Latest Novel and Banjo Or Freakout – all brilliant, all on Bella Union (do they ever get it wrong?) The Hot 8 Brass Band and some classic Tony Christie. You know you want to.

Madness. Divine.

An old man thrusting his crotch forth and lifting his shirt in the street would be a pervert. Put him on a stage in Pilton and it’s entertainment. Apparently. Just ask Tom Jones. Still, at the same time they were showing Tony Christie on the red button and he was fucking marvellous. What an entertainer. After a bit of drifting around the red button options and watching Mark Radcliffe freezing Lauren Laverne out of the Tom Jones interview, we were then treated to Madness who, if I’m being absolutely honest, were the highlight of the weekend’s coverage thus far. Bursting with energy and possessing a setlist of pure quality, they proceeded to entertain and delight for the best part of an hour’s telly viewing. The massive bouncing accompanying ‘House Of Fun’ and ‘Baggy Trousers’ was really rather charming and speaking of massive bouncing, did anybody notice how the director included a shot of a female member of the crowd displaying her breasts for all and sundry? I’m sure there’s a great reason related to artistic integrity, but I’m buggered if I can think of it right now. Jarvis and Yeah Yeah Yeahs looking good on the red button, although they’ve only just appeared and were on at the same time, so may need to nip to the BBC site for some catchup action tomorrow.

Blur soon…

(Slightly) Bored In The Uk

Clearly, Glastonbury is not best experienced from your sofa and, as such, any comments I make about the festival are entirely limited to the BBC coverage. But, this year really doesn’t seem to have hit the highs of recent Glastos, at least from the couch potato’s perspective. The red button content has been pretty limited and not especially exciting. Fewer new bands seem to have been shown and the waffle quota from the presenters seems to have been doubled at the very least. God bless the like of Gideon Coe and the ever-charming Adam & Joe on 6music for their sterling efforts in terms of bringing the festival to those us dotted around the country.

Franz Ferdinand, as much as I love their recent album – normal and dub version, were good but failed to thrill, while Bruce Springsteen was a tremendous presence, in fine voice but as extraordinarily lengthy as he always is. Glasto is perhaps not the time to test people’s endurance and from a TV perspective it was time to press the red button. Except there was bugger all on there.

As with 2007, Maximo Park offered a wonderful performance and the thirty minutes of their set that got shown several thousand times on the aforementioned additional channels was hugely enjoyable, even if Paul did use the same line about how grateful they were for people coming to see them despite the choice that they used last time. Ultimately, I just keep thinking about how long it is until we get to see Blur. Not long now. I wonder if my extreme anticipation for Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave is spoiling everything else for me? Or it could just be because I’m pissed off at being riddled with hay fever and too sodding warm. And there’s a heatwave coming.

Anyway, keep yourself amused during today’s early evening broadcast by searching Twitter for the Edith Bowman hate campaign; it’s oddly addictive. The failure to use Phill Jupitus this year is a screw up on the Beeb’s part and the continued banishment of Adam & Joe from presenting duties on BBC3 due to some Rolf Harris incident seven years ago seems ludicrous. As always, thirty minute video highlights from some of the artists are available from the BBC Glasto site, as are the 6music shows broadcast over the weekend.

Lady GaGa: Making Bowman’s shorts seem lengthy

I don’t suppose it helps that we all know that Blur, Springsteen, Madness and are all still to come, but Friday at Glastonbury seemed rather underwhelming from the comfort of my sofa. As if to add insult to injury, almost all of the presentation team seemed completely incompetent. I can only assume that Edith Bowman has some very incriminating photos of someone very important at the Beeb because she surely doesn’t keep getting rehired on the basis of her actual work. Combine her with the ever-so-slightly too excited Reggie Yates and Jo Whiley, who seemed unable to utter any error-free sentences last night, and the links proved excruciating. The only saving grace was the increasingly enjoyable double act between the lovely Lauren Laverne and the equally lovely (though not in quite the same way) Mark Radcliffe, who seems to be getting younger with every passing year.

Musically, things weren’t much better. Lily Allen offered reasonably tuneful renditions of some of her splendid pop nuggets whilst being only ever seconds away from a wardrobe malfunction. A crisis was averted, unlike during Lady GaGa‘s performance, which prompted Laverne to actually ponder on air as to whether she was wearing any pants during the performance. Whichever way you look at it (and I’d recommend hands over the eyes) the performance was an unpleasant affair. Staging right out of 1970s excess and costumes right out of the necessary inches, one of the possible pop moments of the weekend fell flat.

Fleet Foxes were gently splendid but hardly likely to set the pulse racing. Unlike The Specials, however, who offered a blistering festival set, musically tight and vocally marvellous. Terry Hall even smiled briefly. It was quite brief. Blink and you miss it brief. But smile, he did. Doves, for the few songs they were oh-so-graciously allowed, were as outstanding as their recent tour suggested, ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ confirming its place in the pnatheon of Doves classics. Bloc Party were as distressing as you might imagine. Do any of the band apart from Kele even want to be there now? They don’t give that impression. Everything I saw of theirs seemed nearly-but-not-quite, much like their recent records. That reminds me, I need to review their new single at some point.

Jack Penate was hugely excited but forgot that jumping up and down whilst singing doesn’t tend to allow for a tune to be held. Or ever veered close to. Little Boots still sounded a bit too nasal to me. Something about her doesn’t quite click with me, but I can’t put my finger on it just yet. The Maccabees and White Lies were so inoffensive I can’t really remember anything their sets on which to comment.

I was thinking the other day about who would be this year’s Ting Tings. You know, hideously shouty, out-of-tune, technically inept vocals and ramshackle musical beige. As it happens, it’s the fucking Ting Tings. They were back. No new songs. Same shite performance as last year, just a bigger stage. How exciting.

Anyway, M Ward, Bon Iver, Jarvis, Maximo Park, Franz, The Low Anthem, Kasabian and The Boss all peform today, amongst many others. How much of such good stuff will make it to air, I’ve no idea. After all, we need to spend five minutes in car park while some vacuous girl with a big tongue interviews security before Edith and Reggie talk about how they dance to certain bands. God bless the red button.

 

An enormous sense of wellbeing

It now actually feels a bit like it never happened. Last night, sweating furiously and surrounded by several thousand like-minded obsessives, I saw Blur at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall. They were probably better than I’d hoped. And I’d had very high hopes for this show. So utterly powerful was this Blur performance that ‘Country House’ sounded like a world beater. Seriously.

The smiles barely dropped from the faces of all four of them across the entire evening and Graham’s not especially graceful backwards roll during ‘Popscene‘ seemed to sum up how they felt about being back on stage together after nine years. Damon doesn’t appear to have aged, in fact he looks an awful lot younger than he did when promoting ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ two years previous. Alex remains one of the coolest performers gracing a stage in modern music, even if he does now tuck his T-shirts in and sweat in the strangest places. After opener ‘She’s So High’ came to an end, Dave looked out at the crowd in wonder and seemed genuinely affected by the response. Rather charmingly, that same look appeared on his face after every subsequent song, resulting in him throwing his sticks crowdwards at the end of the first encore.

Musically, they sounded indecently good for a band that are only five gigs in to the return from a sizeable lay off. Graham’s much vaunted performance on ‘Out Of Time’ was subtle but wondrous and the added brass and backing singers were deployed in an understated fashion to great effect. ‘Tender’, with its multiple false endings, seemed set to reduce the entire crowd to slightly weepy, grinning idiots but it was ‘Beetlebum‘ that seemed to leave Damon choked. He took a moment to thank the audience for its response, a response that was dished out to much of the night’s setlist. The singing was near constant, the bouncing not far behind. Fair play to the slightly chubby teen who suddenly appeared next to me towards the end of the set, clearly barely able to stand, drenched in sweat and more than a little emotionally overcome. He wasn’t alone. The audience reaction was startling and, while I fully anticipated coming across as a crazed loon, I don’t think I’d quite imagined that every other attendee would be the same. Welcomed like heroes and sent on their way by minutes of applause, Blur truly delivered.

I can’t really pick a highlight as there wasn’t a moment where I wished they’d chosen a different song or a performance that didn’t quite take off. It was a consummate performance from one of our very best bands. That said, ‘For Tomorrow’, ‘This Is A Low’, ‘Popscene’, ‘Trimm Trabb’ and ‘The Universal’ were genuinely rather moving from where I was standing. Inevitably, I’ve popped a few YouTube videos below to illustrate my point, although I would still send you dashing off to the post with the videos from Colchester for some startlingly good amateur footage. Rest assured, Glastonbury has its highlight in waiting. What with Blur occupying the Sunday night slot, it’s a fairly safe bet that the majority of the set will be shown on BBC2 without too much Whiley interference. Cancel everything, turn the telly up and enjoy.

 

 

***

Just after posting this, I read that Steven Wells, you’ll have known him as Swells, had died at the age of 49. I am a music press obsessive and anyone who read the NME while Swells was writing for them will remember what made him such a great writer. Whatever else he was (and he oh-so-fucking-many things) he was absolutely hilarious. While so few of us that attempt to write about music ever get close to the linguistic perfection that Swells could achieve, he was an inspiration for so many people. I may have to do a detailed review of the new Bloc Party single in tribute to him tomorrow. All the best, Swells. Your time on earth will be remembered by many for a very long time.

Swells’ last article

NME tribute

Four

Hmm. The fact that I’m researching some background details for work tomorrow via the interweb and updating this here blog doesn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement of The Verve, does it? Well, two plus two and all that.
Oh, and ‘Life’s An Ocean’ has the bassline to ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, doesn’t it? ‘Mad’ Richard’s introductions for the songs are right up there with vintage Alan Partridge. He doesn’t really do stage banter does he? By the way, if you’ve got the nickname ‘Mad Richard’, you shouldn’t really do things like this, should you?
No sign of Solomon Burke. And, in every sense, if you can’t spot him on the horizon, he’s no-fucking-where near.
May well give up soon. I just want to be entertained!