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.

Oh, the anticipation

Gosh, Mock The Week is rather funny. That Frankie Boyle does come out with some outrageous stuff. Chortle.
Anyway, that Magnolia Electric Co boxset. I suspect that may be the least grandiose introduction it’ll ever get, but what do you expect from a two-bit blog that doesn’t really get freebies? It’s lovely. ‘Sojourner‘ comes in a little wooden box with a slidy lid and the band logo on the front. It’s got a weird, utterly useless poster, four CDs, a DVD and some glossy cards explaining each of the discs. Oh, and a medallion. Let’s not dwell on that or we might think that Magnolia Electric Co are wankers.
The music, for that, as I am occasionally prone to forgetting, is what it’s all about, is rather splendid. Recorded across four different locations – hence the four discs – and each featuring a different line up – Molina being the only constant, the sounds vary from full-on blues-rock right down to sparse, solo, acoustic recordings full of background hiss and fuzz. None of it is less than splendid.
However, I can save myself a lot of time on the reviewing here. First up, if you’ve never bought a Magnolia Electric Co/Songs : Ohia/ Jason Molina record before, this isn’t the one to start with. If you have then it’s very easy to give you some reference points. The most obvious starting block is the ‘Fading Trails‘ album from last year, which features selected highlights from these four sessions, hence the fact that it doesn’t hold together as well as most of Molina’s albums. If the majority of it was up to scratch for you then this set is an absolute must. If you’ve not gone down the MEC route, but did like Songs : Ohia, then my guess is that you were turned off by the fuller production and bluesier, Neil Young feel to the last Songs : Ohia album, ‘Magnolia Electric Co‘. In which case, you will enjoy approximately half of the boxset with ease, but I suspect the other 50% could win you over if you give it a chance. It’s still fairly restrained and contemplative, even when it gets as close as Molina can manage to ‘rocking out’.
It is, essentially, a collection of music that lays out the different approaches that one man has taken towards music over the years. It takes all of the things that have made Molina’s records great for the last however-many years and condenses them down into one set of tunes. It’s a greatest hits featuring tunes that, in the main, you’ve never heard before.
Remember, cheapest option is to buy direct from Secretly Canadian.

I’m a nice girl, me

Musical Revelations Of The Week:
Hamfatter What Part Of Hamfatter Do You Not Understand? I’ve been hugely fond of this record for the last two months since it dropped onto the doormat. The artwork promises little and they’ve not got the best band name I’ve ever heard, but they’ve got the tunes. A whole album full, to be precise. I’ve been playing this rather a lot today for vaguely professional reasons and I’m still discovering new bits I love about it. I won’t say too much now, as it’s not out till mid-July, but around release time I’ll deploy hyperbole like you wouldn’t believe.
Suburban Kids With Biblical Names#3 This one that I have to thank Radcliffe and Maconie for. ‘Loop Duplicate My Heart‘ was an early single of the week on their new Radio 2 show and their name lodged at the back of my mind as a result of its shining brilliance. I was tootling around town on Friday evening, in the mood to pick up a few bits and bobs and this popped back into my mind. Glad it did. Very Magnetic Fields-y with some superb summery sounds.
Songs : OhiaThe Lioness I’ve been working my way through Jason Molina‘s back catalogue over the last couple of years, and this was the last album for me to pick up. The blessed Norman Records got a second hand copy of this in on vinyl last week so I figured it was time to get hold of it. Once again, it’s a beautiful, fragile album that creates an atmosphere and commands your attention. I’m conscious of the fact that his albums need a bit of time to be absorbed and that I flit about far too quickly to truly appreciate them. Thus, I have mentioned it here so that it might actually remind me to spend more time with the Molina cannon in the near future.

Non-musical Revelations Of The Week:
Alex James – ‘Bit Of A Blur‘ Yes, I know, it’s a book primarily about music, but when you bear in mind that I spend as much of my free time obsessing over music as possible it’s hard for anything else to creep in. Anyway, it’s as good as I had hoped. I’ve even forgiven him for selling his soul to the Mail on Sunday and letting them print extracts in the run up to its release. It’s honest, breezy and chirpy. It doesn’t get bogged down in the first sixteen years of his life like so many biographies that end up boring the arse off you before you get to the good stuff. I’m just over a hundred pages in and he’s already up to the recording of ‘Parklife‘. Suits me just fine.
Another quick mention for (full details below) at this point. Currently watching/listening to the ‘13 Live‘ show that was on BBC2 to promote said album, back in 1999. Excellent stuff.
Big Brother – Apparently they have a moral conscience after all. Did they need to show the clip though? Was it really essential viewing? In a sense I do agree that it had to be aired once in context in order for it to be put to bed, but at the same time Channel 4 can’t really claim to have been acting with anything other than ratings in mind, as with the Diana show. If nothing else it confirmed my opinion that Emily wasn’t even half as clever as she thought she was. The flimsy attempt at an explanation in the diary room was disturbingly confident, almost as if she didn’t really believe anything would happen. Yes, I’m still watching it, four days after the point at which I normally storm off in a huff complaining about how annoying they all are. I still think that, only I seem to be more tired in the evenings and less willing to get off the sofa.
New Zealand rugby team – Is there any point having the World Cup later this year? Watching the destruction of France at the hands of the All Blacks, who themselves were not at their best, made it quite clear that nothing much is up for grabs this autumn. However, for some insane reason, New Zealand will be playing a warm up game against Canada next weekend. Canada? Even my beloved Welsh team managed to put a bucketload of points past them last year, so what sort of challenge will they present for the world’s best rugby team?

Deluxe packaging is surprisingly effective

Did the traditional Bank Holiday trundle into town to my independent retailer of choice. It was pissing down, once again. I didn’t really go in with any major intentions – possibly some Morrissey vinyl I’d seen listed on their website (no sign of it) or the HQ Belle and Sebastian vinyl reissues (no sign either). Instead, I left with four CDs which I’d been after with varying degrees of urgency (from plenty to barely at all). I’ll give each a brief mention. Firstly, Warren Zevon‘s ‘Preludes‘ has been out for a couple of weeks and I noticed the promo in the bargain bin. I was quite happy with this until I remembered a review I’d seen that talked about the booklet and the like and suddenly I was drawn to the Z section to see what the real thing looked like. Thus I ended up paying twice the price of the promo copy – but I do have a nice box for my copy. Not played this one yet, but will get back to you on it.
I have played the other three, however. Cinematic Orchestra‘s ‘Ma Fleur‘ is dense, atmospheric and languid. It’s charming and engaging but not absorbing. I don’t think it deserves some of the reviews it’s had, suggesting it’s simply dull and samey. It’ll take some time, but I suspect I’ll grow rather fond of it. It automatically qualifies for the ‘late night’ pile.
Feist‘s newie, ‘The Reminder‘, was far more enjoyable than I expected. I hear you ask, ‘well, if you didn’t expect it to be good, why did you buy it?’ Firstly, fuck off with your logic. Secondly, a friend recommended it in the highest possible terms (although he is quite fond of Starbucks, so perhaps I should never have trusted him in the first place). It’s the musical equivalent of an ornate vase. You know it’s ‘art’ and you have been known to really like it, but I wonder if I’ll ever form an emotional attachment to it. It does come in one of those curvy cases, which is always nice.
The final disc is on Secretly Canadian records. It’s a label I have grown to really love. It’s one of those labels whereby you can simply purchase a record because it’s on that label and will thus be ace. I just said ace. Sorry about that. This realisation began with Songs : Ohia, followed on logically to Magnolia Electric Co and then Damien Jurado, Richard Swift and Jens Lekman followed. All ace. Ah, did it again there. At least I’m consistent. It’s by Frida Hyvönen, entitled ‘Until Death Comes‘, and it’s sparkling, witty, Tori Amos if she wasn’t bonkers and had a more curious voice kind of stuff. The lyrics can’t fail to grab your attention. After only one play, it comes highly recommended. As I said, this was purchased because of the label name alone – well, and a nice sleeve, but mainly the name.
That’ll do for now.
Please leave a comment if you’re checking this blog out regularly. I’m well aware that this will probably make me look very unpopular, but such is life.