A reasonably concise update

It wouldn’t be the same if this blog didn’t just grind to a halt for a month or so every now and then, would it? I’d originally intended to rest it for a week or two while I delved into the Beatles remasters but a week leads to a fortnight, a fortnight to a month and, well, you know how it is. Quite a month, mind, including the live return of one of my all-time favourite bands, Massive Attack. If the new songs played on that drab night in Sheffield are anything to go by, the new album will be everything people have hoped for and a little bit more. There’s one new track, (I have no idea about the title, I’m afraid) sung by Horace Andy which may well be one of the best things they’ve ever done. The ‘Splitting The Atom’ EP emerged last weekend as a digital download and it’s a pretty impressive quartet of new material. The lolloping title track belies the fact that Damon Albarn has been involved this time around, while ‘Pray For Rain’, featuring vocals from TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, has a wonderful gear change about four minutes in which elevates it to ‘special’ status. You can sample it for yourself over at Spotify, purchase it as a high-quality FLAC download from 7Digital or even shell out £20 for a spangly vinyl edition from those Monkey-box-set-making-types over at The Vinyl Factory.

Beatles expenditure limited the funds for new music last month, but a few splendid things snuck though, such as the latest offering from Richard Hawley, ‘Truelove’s Gutter’, which is a muso’s dream and the very definition of a ‘headphones album’. Coming off the back of the really rather polished ‘Lady’s Bridge’, (hmm, that sounds slightly wrong) an album with only eight songs, two of which scrape the ten minute mark, it’s an absolute delight to listen to and it may well be his best. ‘Remorse Code’ is a remarkable beast, languidly atmospheric and beautifully recorded. ‘Open Up Your Door’ may have spent some time with ‘The Ocean’ from ‘Coles Corner’, mind. There is meant to be a deluxe double vinyl edition with free CD and signed photo springing up at some point but, with every additional week’s delay, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

The NME has a new editor in the shape of Krissi Murison and she’s already made a few changes. Icky changes, largely speaking. Making me actually wish Conor McNicholas hadn’t left after all kind of changes. The most unforgiveable change is the removal of Mark Beaumont’s weekly column, which was as good a reason as any to shell out £2.30 a week. Thankfully, Peter Robinson Vs has been retained, tucked away at the back now, or I may have had to have said goodbye. Again. Oh, who am I trying to kid. Still, it’s a shame as Beaumont was a witty and acerbic observer of the music scene, something the NME was always good at and I’m not sure how that hole will be filled.

The Radiohead deluxe editions for the latter half of their EMI tenure proved to be delightful additions to the collection, containing some splendid B sides which I’d never previously spent any time with and selected visual highlights from this wonderful, wonderful Later… special.

Put aside an hour and treat yourself. It’s really rather special. While I’m talking about all things Yorke, if you’ve not yet sampled the two tracks recently released as a (bloody expensive) heavyweight vinyl 12” single, you’re truly missing out. Click here to sample ‘FeelingPulledApartByHorses’ and ‘The Hollow Earth’, the latter track being one of the finest things I’ve heard all year. It’s in the same, slightly skittery vein as ‘The Eraser’, with a nagging hook and a thumping beat. It’s almost worth the insane amount the 12” costs. £10, by the way.

I’ve been ploughing through my record collection for the last few weeks, attempting to assemble a list of some kind ready for the launch of the previously trailed, ‘Just Played – Albums Of The Decade’ feature, which will be arriving fairly soon now. It’s been lovely to be reminded of albums like Daft Punk’s ‘Discoveryand Air’s ‘10 000Hz Legend’, alongside Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Howdy and Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Poses. There are some absolute certs for the final list, but it’s been interesting to realise some of the records I’d totally forgotten about that are thoroughly deserving of a place. More on that soon.

Oh, and there were those remasters I briefly mentioned at the start. I haven’t got an awful lot to add to the millions of column inches offered up over the last six weeks (and largely bought by me) so I’ll not say much. (On the other hand, recent convert, Dan of teatunes, says plenty here) Suffice to say, the more expensive of the box sets, ‘The Beatles In Mono’, is an absolute delight, with the sound punchy and remarkably clear. I feel obliged to inform you that you haven’t heard ‘Rubber Soul’ until you’ve heard the mono mix at a fair old volume – it’s a rather special moment. The packaging is wonderful and a serious step up from the fold-out card things used for the stereo reissues. As for the more widely available stereo mixes, I found that box a slight anti-climax, what with it arriving four days after the mono box had had its chance to seduce me. That said, it’s still a beguiling collection of music and those albums only available in stereo sound pretty impressive to these ears. I’ve certainly never liked ‘Abbey Road’ more than I do now. I love their catalogue now more than I ever previously have, but that’s probably no great surprise. For anyone who takes their music listening seriously, you really should get at least one of these boxes, if you haven’t already, as they are the definitive versions. Sod the money, on this occasion. Buy a few less takeaways or £40 games and treat yourself.

Oh, and if you’ve still not heard the new Maps album, sort yourself out, eh?

Futuremusic – Day 5


How is an artist that I’ve been banging on about for the best part of two years getting featured in FUTUREMUSIC? Firstly, there’s a quite staggeringly wonderful new album just around the corner and secondly, James Chapman, he who is Maps, has maintained a pretty thorough internet presence during the recording of the new record, engaging listeners in new and really rather splendid ways.

For the uninitiated, and there really is no excuse, Maps’ debut album, ‘We Can Create’, was one of the highlights of 2007 combining euphoric electronica with heartfelt and slightly-whispered anti-vocals; less sung, more discreetly conveyed as if trying not to wake a sleeping child in the next room. Despite being the result of one man piddling about with technology in his Northamptonshire bedroom, the music sounds absolutely huge. Although hints of other whispery chillout types such as Spiritualized and early Mercury Rev pop through at times, it still feels like nothing else you’ve ever heard. A record guaranteed to put a smile on your face and one that I know inside out, an ever rarer accolade in these days of such easy access to so much music.

maps turning the mind

The new album, ‘Turning The Mind’, is out on September 28th and features everything that made the first record great only a wee bit larger and with a dollop more ambition. Plus, there’s a few faster ones, though not quite in the mould of recent single, ‘Let Go Of The Fear’, which sounds great in the midst of all of the other wonderful tracks but is hardly representative of what to expect. A far clearer idea can be gained by listening to new single, ‘I Dream Of Crystal’ on the Myspace page. The best, however, is still to come. Album tracks like ‘Die Happy, Die Smiling’, ‘Love Will Come’ and ‘Papercuts’ are some of the most naggingly insistent things he’s ever done and, to paraphrase petite Australian pop-monger Minogue, I can’t get them out of my head. I won’t bang on about the record too much as I know how annoying it is to be told something’s amazing when you can’t actually hear it yet, but suffice to say that the 9 I gave it for my review was entirely deserved. Will keep you up to date with new tracks appearing on assorted Maps pages over the coming weeks.

In the run up to this album’s release, James has provided loyal fans with some utterly bizarre but thoroughly charming video diaries through the medium of Ver Tube. They’re all still available here. I don’t think there’s much point attempting to pretend that he is entirely without chemical assistance for most of his appearances in those clips. Even weirder – no, seriously – is the latest video update which has instead appeared on the Myspace page, including a mildly blinged-up James miming to Eminem. While I’m well aware that this isn’t quite the same as some of the internet based promotion some of the other acts featured this week have undertaken, the stark honesty and genuine love which James seems to offer up to his fans is all too rare these days. You don’t get the impression that this bloke could ever really be part of a corporate machine (even though he pretty much is.) He keeps the musical experience personal. This is something he’s developed over on the MapsMusic site, from which you can download his regular series of mixtapes bafflingly entitled ‘The Rules Of Baseball’. Largely consisting of stuff you’ve never heard of, these mixes offer a reasonable clear idea of how James Chapman likes his music and also gives some pointers as to how the Maps sound is what it is. All free, all good fun and all rather more lovely than incessant corporate emails, texts and facebook updates reminding you that some mediocre chump has a new album out.

Aren’t Waterstone’s points great?

Where to start? Having spent a week trolling around the South East of England, I have returned with copious new records and a sizeable pile of books. The Great British Holiday – bugger all use if you’re after a tan but pretty reliable for enhancing your CD collection. I’ll start where it ended, which was the purchase of Simon Goddard‘s hugely enjoyable masterwork on Morrissey, entitled ‘Mozipedia‘. Priced at £25, but easily found online for £14.99 delivered, it’s a gargantuan study of all things Moz, with entries for every song he’s been involved with, both as a solo artist and as a member of The Smiths. There are also numerous cultural entries to offer a fuller picture, something Goddard is keen to emphasise in his introduction, imploring readers to draw their own conclusions about Morrissey by piecing together whichever entries seem appropriate. The carefully ambiguous, not to mention beautifully written, overview of Moz with which Goddard opens proceedings does the required job of stirring up a passion for the man and his music and ensuring that the ensuing six hundred or so pages are a delight to dip into on numerous occasions. Highly recommended.*

Speaking of Morrissey, the infamous 1992 NME vs Moz race row was brought back to the public domain this week as a result of some pretty heated debate on the really rather splendid Andrew Collins‘ site. It all came about due to some chronically mediocre reporting in The Guardian about offensive comedians which took as its centrepiece Richard Herring‘s new show, ‘Hitler Moustache’. Whatever your take on the imagery used to promote the show, or indeed some of the material contained within, it would surely be difficult to conclude that Herring is anything even bordering on racist. You’d think. Not if you’re Brian Logan, critic for said newspaper, who had a pretty good go at trying to paint him as a racist, or at least somebody with a great deal of sympathy for racists. Andrew Collins, with whom Herring records an often mildly amusing podcast each week, naturally opted to defend his comedy chum via his blog. As part of the ensuing debate in the comments section, a couple of readers drew parallels with Andrew’s involvement in the NME cover story about Moz, Madstock and the Union Flag (Covered in detail in the aforementioned ‘Mozipedia’. ) This, in turn, led to Andrew posting an additional article on his blog in which he attempted clarify why the two events had little in common. This appears to have simply stirred up emotions further and it has since been removed. Instead, Andrew opted to wade in on a related discussion on the Morrissey Solo Forums, where he encountered both ends of the scale: the intelligent, articulate and thoroughly knowledgeable Moz fans and those for whom Mozipedia will function as little more than a door stop. Still, all very entertaining reading and worth an hour of your time, if you’re willing.

In other internet confusion this week, Live Here Now, the company responsible for doing immediate live recordings at gigs continued to show why they’re not really deserving of anybody’s money. A quick pootle round the web will reveal exactly how many times they’ve delayed issuing recordings well beyond the date stated in the past and so it has proved with Blur’s Hyde Park gigs. I’ve had a negative experience with this lot in the past also, opting for Richard Hawley‘s ‘Live At The Devil’s Arse’ concert CD, which arrived many weeks after the stated date. The Blur gigs were to be available for download a week after they had happened and the CDs would follow a week later. Now, even when I ordered, I was pretty certain that this wouldn’t be the case and simply sat back and waited for them to be crap. They didn’t disappoint. If you ordered the CDs, you were promised the downloads for free, as part of the deal. Those downloads were finally available this Wednesday, July 29th. As I’m sure you can spot, this is not a week after July 2nd and 3rd. Still, at least the downloads were here and grumbling can cease, eh? Well, no, actually. When the shop site first went live, it offered the recordings as CDs or ‘High Quality 320kbps’ mp3s. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, those buying the CDs would also receive the downloads free of charge. However, upon making the downloads available to those who had preordered this week, it became clear that the downloads were only 160kbps mp3s, hardly sufficient quality for a product that is being offered up professionally in 2009. As you might expect, numerous Blur fans opted to complain about this poorly encoded product and were offered the following explanation: “We do apologise for the wording of the download quality on the website and are sorry if this has caused confusion, however as per our help section as linked below the bundled/CD purchases of the shows will have received the 160kbps version of the download.” Fair enough. Except it’s not. This information was only added to the site in the last week or so and thus it is not an excuse for why the downloads are substandard. A quick search of Google, using the cache option, yesterday unveiled the original version of the help page, which simply referred to 320kbps mp3s. Frankly, if you’re going to be utter shit, be utter shit, but to then lie about it and twist the facts is pretty bloody pathetic. I’ll be glad to finally get my CDs whenever they actually emerge, but I won’t be using this bunch of unreliable, untrustworthy cretins again.

Having mentioned the acquisition of numerous records above, I feel like I should offer some additional comment, but there’s far too much to talk about in one go. Suffice to say, a wonderful time was had in Brighton, particularly in Resident Records – as good a record shop as I’ve been in since my beloved Reveal Records died some 18 months or so ago – but not to take anything away from Rounder, Wax Factor or Ape. A special mention the glorious, and rather charmingly named, The Record Shop in Amersham, at which I stopped en route, where I had an enjoyable compilation about Honest Jon’s compilations as I purchased ‘Marvellous Boy – Calypso From West Africa’ and reduced copies of two of the ‘London Is The Place For Me’ series. Something I don’t think I’m ever likely to get in my local branch of HMV. The inevitable trip to London was conducted and Rough Trade East did its best to lure me in many musical directions, with not inconsiderable success. Berwick Street was rather disappointing, with only Sounds Of The Universe (just off Berwick Street on Broadwick Street) tempting me to open my wallet. Still, plenty of good stuff was found and will be mentioned on here as I get my ears around it over the next few days. Weirdly, the album of the holiday was Maps‘ new one, ‘Turning The Mind’, which won’t be released until September 28th, but which I spent plenty of time with in order to write a review in the next day or two. It really is as good as you might have hoped. I’ll endeavour to say a bit more soon.

Finally, keep an eye on the ‘Special Purchase’ section in your nearest HMV for the next week or two, as some decent stuff has started to appear of late. The Portsmouth branch provided me with four of the ‘Talcum Soul’ series at £2 each, while the Southampton store had the best bargain, with a copy of Lewis Taylor‘s beautiful ‘The Lost Album’ also priced at only £2. Have a listen to that rather wonderful record here.

I Do Like The Man That He, er, Am

Amazingly, the not-especially-serious last post did attract further dodgy Googlers. How quaint!

Anyhoo, just a quick one to draw your attention to a fabulous bit of news about a release coming up in August. Pete Molinari – you remember, I was banging on about him loads a little over a year ago after being spellbound by his support set for Richard Hawley – is releasing a new covers EP, ‘Today, Tomorrow and Forever’, on which you will be able to find his version of ‘Satisfied Mind’. A great song as it is, but his version is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Here is where you can pre-order it now.

Here’s an audience-recorded video of him doing it live. Majestic! (Sadly not complete)

In other tremendous news, James Chapman continues to upload new tracks from his next album as Maps on his MySpace. Have a listen to the latest one here.

One last thing. A new Charlotte Hatherley single has appeared on YouTube. Have a watch/listen below:

Taking all the credit

Having been banging on about physical media and the demise of the record shop only yesterday, I found myself purchasing a download-only album mere hours after publishing said blog entry. My main excuses are that a) it was only a fiver b) it isn’t available by any other means. I’m not especially fond of downloads, mainly because I rarely form an attachment with music I acquire in that manner, but on this occasion I’ll make an exception. The album I download was ‘I, Yeah!‘ by up-and-coming (get me!) Bristol band, Glow.

Regular readers may remember me droning on about the sheer majesty of Northampton’s finest, Maps, last year. The album, ‘We Can Create’, just edged ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ as my album of 2007. It’s slightly squelchy, delightfully indie, intelligently-crafted electronic music. And that, my music-loving-internet-browsing chums, is also how I would describe ‘I, Yeah!‘ Seriously, it’s that good. It hasn’t been with me long enough for me to make insanely hyperbolic statements about how it’s as good as the Maps album, but I can forsee a long and beautiful relationship. It won’t be quite as beautiful as could be though, because it’s a CD-R. Still, mustn’t grumble. This appears to be a clear argument for the increasing reliance on digital releases. My guess would be that this album would have been a financial nightmare to get off the ground if it had to be pressed up and packaged as a full CD release, but as a download that you can pay for with Paypal, it’s a (relative) piece of piss.

I should just confess at this point that I shambled upon this rather wonderful album as a result of the tireless work of one Adam Walton. I’ve mentioned him before for one reason or another, but for those not up to speed he’s the host of a late-night new music show on BBC Radio Wales. I became hooked on the show in an earlier format during my later teenage years living in South Wales and I’ve kept listening from time to time ever since. A few months back he played the Glow album in its entirety. As it happens, I missed that show, but while following the time-extinguishing Google/Wiki trail of Adam Walton I happened upon a post on their site about him doing that. So, I had a listen and the rest, as they say, is history. For those counting cliches in this post, I think that’s four.

Adam’s great, by the way, and sadly not as revered as he should be. There are two remaining, essential new music shows for me these days – one is, as you may be aware by now, Gideon Coe on 6music and the other is Adam’s. He plays some truly bizarre stuff from time to time, but his show is essentially a latter-day John Peel show with the emphasis on Welsh music. Last night I heard a hip-hop group called Mudmowth – great, although the Myspace page appears to have been written by an Alan Partridge version of Westwood – a delightful female artist by the name of Georgia Ruth Williams, the folksy delights of The Toy Band and a truly brilliant indie band called Man Without Country. Click on the respective names to find out more and/or have a listen to last night’s show via the BBC iPlayer. He’s on every Sunday from 10pm.

Oh, and if you didn’t click on the link above, go and buy the Glow album here.

Live and interactive

A brief initial post in which I point out that I would love Maps to win the Mercury tonight. Of course, if James (Maps) Chapman is the winner now I’m going to be annoyed that I put no money on it. Still, it’s a wonderful album and if you don’t own it yet, then you really need to sort yourself out.
Anyhoo, this post will be contiuned later with reaction to the event.
It’s ‘live’ on BBC4 from 9pm.
Well, The View were shite, as was Jamie T and that old Rascal. The Young Knives had a certain charm, although they were a little nervy, and New Young Pony Club went from a band I’d wanted to investigate to the ‘not bothering with them’ list. The Maps performance just edged it for me, although La Maison du Vin did a wonderful job of putting the attention back on the music and the Bat For Lashes album has just been purchased. Neat little performance from Glasto by the Arctics, while Klaxons were somewhat wonky as is always the risk with so much in the high-notes range – sounds a bit better on record. Basquiat Strings weren’t all playing the same song, to my knowledge and Fionn Regan conducted himself with a fragile majesty.
And the winner is…
(God, Jools is a knob!)
The Klaxons!
What the fuck happened there then? Just goes to show that the Mercury is the most bizarre music prize in the world. Bear in mind that in the past they did give it to M People. The Klaxons are crying on stage. Awww. Couple of decent songs lads, but do they really deserve this?
Ah well, good exposure for Maps and I’ve found a nice album from Bat For Lashes. Night all.

Oh piss off, pop-pickers

What makes a record one of your ‘all-time’ favourites? I’ve been pondering this over the last couple of days, having nothing better to do and all that, and I’ve struggled to come up with a satisfactory answer. In the past, I ‘ve always been able to trot off a list of ten albums that I really rate, but I’m not sure in what capacity they have earnt that title. For example, on that last would be Nina Simone‘s ‘Here Comes The Sun‘, which is a beautiful album, particularly for this time of year. However, I can’t remember the last time I played it. The same is true of R.E.M.‘s ‘New Adventures In Hi-Fi‘, which I own four different copies of, but which I haven’t played for some time. Yes, I can’t deny that I think they’re brilliant records, but should what I play on a regular basis not offer a clearer definition of my favourite music?
Had I been sampled across the first few months of the year it would have seemed that ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen‘ was my favourite record by a long shot, at times almost like it was the only record ever made. I genuinely love it, and it may soon make it into my all-timers list, but if you’d asked me at the time if it was one of my all time favourite albums, I’d have snorted in your face. I suspect the whole idea is starting to rankle as a result of the constant obsession with lists in UK music magazines of a certain ilk. I’ve recently been enjoying Artrocker and Plan B, two fine, fine titles full of engaging, intelligent and fucking fun writing about music. Meanwhile, Uncut, Mojo and Q are happy to keep rehashing the same stupid lists with alarming regularity. I’m getting to the point where I couldn’t give a toss about the ‘best records of all time’, I just want to keep expanding my record collection and finding albums that make me smile, nod and talk utter shite to other people. Is that one better than this one? Who gives a shit?
I did try to draw up a list of ten prior to writing this to see if it’s something I can realistically do, and I struggled. Blur‘s ‘Think Tank‘ made it in last time I settled on ten, and it’s probably still there or thereabouts, but I’ve been playing ‘Blur‘ much more in recent months. I haven’t played ‘Blue Lines‘ for yonks, and so I’m now less sure about how much I actually love it. I think Elvis Costello‘s ‘My Aim Is True‘ is still safe, as it gets a regular dusting down and never fails to entertain. I’m sure the Super Furries deserve to be in there, but I’m not sure which album it should be. Miles Davis‘ ‘In A Silent Way‘ has been a favourite for some time, but again, it hasn’t been played all that much recently. And so it went on. Very few albums were certainties, but hundreds were possibles. Even in my sad little muso world, I just can’t be arsed spending the time trying to figure this out.
I will tell you what my current favourite is, and that’s the Maps album, ‘We Can Create‘. Is it in my top ten?

What top ten?

He won’t win, mind.

New Maps single, ‘You Don’t Know Her Name’, has a curious video. The downloads are already available and the remixes of both the title track and ‘Elouise‘ are well worth the money. I love Maps. Not in a geography way though.

What time’s the bus come?

In brief, today.
I think I was unnecessarily nasty about the Arctic Monkeys when they first arrived on the music scene. I think the hype sent me running in the opposite direction. However, any band that can come up with lyrics like “this house is a circus, berserk as fuck” and “there’s only music so that there’s new ringtones” actually deserves a little place in my world. Playing, as I am, both albums back to back emphasises the fact that I actually love a large number of these tunes. Since getting the debut on vinyl, I’ve learnt to appreciate its, well, ‘oomph’ a little more. I bought ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare‘ on vinyl from the off and have been pretty fond since day one. This may sound a little silly, but this lot are definitely a vinyl band.
Other quick things; the Patrick Humphries book on Tom Waits is excellent. I had a very pleasant afternoon in the back garden listening to the Maps album and reading this fine text on the marvellous man himself. Dvd.co.uk are doing a cheap, free-postage deal on it. Other bookshops are available.
That’ll do for now. Hope all’s well with you.