The Just Played Verdict: Yuck ‘Yuck’

Turn the volume up. Dust the record down. Nestle the stylus in the groove. Sometimes music need not be any more complex than that. Anyone who loves their tunes should be able to recall a moment where a riff kicked in on a song and things just felt better. The unexplainable euphoria of the right collection of notes in the right order delivered with enough gusto is part of why we’re all so addicted to music. It’s often the case that the albums which deliver that urgent rush are derivative, simple and noisy. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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Having seen Yuck supporting Teenage Fanclub back in May of last year, I was eagerly anticipating this debut. Their nascent live show was energetic and quite noticeably rough around the edges, but what makes them good now made them good then. They’ve heard some great records which made them want to be in a band. OK, for two of them that band was originally Cajun Dance Party but we’re all sensible adults here and we can let that go. Just this once. Add in a drummer who looks like the improbably well fed islander in Lost and attacks his drum kit like it’s betrayed him several times over and things are ticking along nicely.

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The Just Played Verdict: Jonny ‘Jonny’

Remember when Super Furry Animals songs used to go so fast it sounded like they’d implode before they got to the end? ‘God! Show Me Magic’, ‘Something For The Weekend’ and ‘The International Language Of Screaming’ are three which spring quickly to mind. Listening to these songs was a pure, unadulterated adrenaline rush. Still is, actually. Add in a bit of power-pop jangle from ‘Grand Prix’ era Teenage Fanclub and a little of ‘Barafundle’ era Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and you’re somewhere close to the recipe for ‘Jonny’ by Jonny.

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Norman ‘Fannies’ Blake and Euros ‘Gorky’s’ Childs are the unspectacularly named Jonny (named after the photo above, which adorns the album cover) and the music is every bit as good as such a collaboration might suggest. Sun-kissed Sixties jangle crossed with yearning meditations on affairs of the heart appears to be the order of the day, with a few psych-lite moments thrown in along the way. Opener ‘Wich Is Wich’ has the aforementioned energetic SFA charm, while lead single ‘Candyfloss’ possesses the kind of yearningly melancholic chorus which Teenage Fanclub master in, these two wonderful voices combining to charming effect.

Lyrically, ‘Jonny’ has plenty of tales of love pursued and love lost. ‘Circling The Sun’ is a typically classy tale of delirious romance from Blake, with gorgeously crooned lines like “will I stay in your heart, will our days be spent apart?” However, such a delicate touch is not always the favoured approach. ‘Bread’ is a song about the many and varied types of yeasty product, featuring the chorus line “hats off to those who make bread”. At one point, Euros sings “sandwich, baguette or morning toast” only for the backing vocals to kick in, and when you hear this you will accept it for the genius move that it is, with “or morning toast” as if it were the most meaningful phrase in the English language. The phrase “the kind of voice that would sound good singing the phone book” gets bandied around a fair bit. Well, with ‘Bread’, this is a chance to hear everyday words delivered with aplomb.

Cave Dance’ bursts out of the speakers practically begging to be accompanied by a hand-jive routine of some kind, before breaking down into a noodling electronic haze. While there are a number of songs competing for the title, ‘Waiting Around For You’ is the album’s highlight, sounding uncannily like an extra track from ‘Rubber Soul’ which has somehow never previously been noticed. The swaggering guitar and hyperactive organ stabs bring to mind ‘The Word’ and ‘Drive My Car’, whilst the lyrics “the man in the moon is laughing at me” aren’t difficult to imagine in a Liverpudlian burr.

Euros Childs’ solo releases have come thick and fast and quality control hasn’t always been at the forefront of his mind, whilst Teenage Fanclub haven’t really ventured past mid-paced since the Nineties ended. This is no bad thing and they’ve released some beautiful albums, as has Childs for that matter, but don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘Jonny’ can’t be a beautifully sung, charmingly simple and utterly exhilarating listen. Because it is.

2011OTR

New Music Monday – Teenage Fanclub ‘Shadows’

Cards on the table. To these ears, ‘Man Made’ and ‘Howdy!’ weren’t quite up to the ludicrously high standards of ‘Bandwagonesque’, ‘Grand Prix’ and ‘Songs From Northern Britain’. Both records had much to enjoy and a new Teenage Fanclub record is still a bit of an event for me, so just the chance to hear those songs was enough to sustain my interest. But then came ‘Shadows’. Get yourself a new pair of headphones, a suitably vintage alcoholic beverage of your choice and somewhere to put your aching feet because it’s time to truly get lost in the music once again.

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As ever, songwriting duties are shared equally between Gerry, Raymond and Norman, even though, as ever, you can’t tell that this stunning set of songs weren’t conceived together. Lyrically, there’s plenty to devour, even if they won’t win any awards for inventive deployment of the English language.  “Dark clouds are following you but they’ll drift away” is simple but hugely affecting on ‘Dark Clouds’, a track notable for its complete lack of guitars. “I recorded it with acoustic guitars and I couldn’t quite get it to work so when Euros [Childs] was there I got him to play piano on it, and we just went with piano and vocal and that saved the song. I was feeling a little down when I wrote that lyric,” says Norman. Despite the absence of soaring guitar refrains, it’s a classic example of the Fannies’ knack for comforting melancholia.

First release, ‘Baby Lee’, which you really should have heard by now, continues the band’s long lineage of quite magnificent singles, jangling along at a pace that wouldn’t render it out of place on ‘Grand Prix’, often regarded as their finest record. (It’s not, by the way, that’s ‘Songs From Northern Britain’, which is about as perfect as any album can ever, ever be) Meanwhile, ‘Shock And Awe’ does little to hide its subject matter: Gerry explains that “the title refers to the recent military campaign, but lyrically it’s probably about the idea of conflict, and instinct versus culture. It’s not something we normally talk about in our songs… It’s not some kind of spokesman for a generation kind of stuff, it’s dealing with a small part of life and what people take for granted. And the numbing nature of modern media. It’s hard to talk about it without sounding like Bono or something.” The rolling harmonies of old are all over the track, accompanied by an emphatic string arrangement, although the small aspect that makes it so utterly unforgettable is a small, echoing refrain that cascades across the early part of the song conjuring a sense of the song floating around in front of you. Sometimes words truly can’t do something justice – when you hear it, you’ll know what I mean.

When I Still Have Thee’ quite openly states that “it’s a modern hymn for…The Go-Betweens,” and it is a fitting reference to one of the great overlooked groups of the last thirty years. Don’t be put off by the presence of the word ‘thee’ in the title, because it’s actually one of the more lively tracks on ‘Shadows’, and rather beautiful in its simplicity. Meanwhile, ‘Live With The Seasons’ is straight out of the drawer marked ‘Slowly building, effervescent strummers’. The lyric explores our place within nature and how we so often find the weather reflecting our moods and feelings: “there’s an ocean of meaning in a lover’s tear. The wind, snow and rain make me feel you” offers a simple but heartfelt sentiment.

The warm, soulful sound of ‘Sweet Days Waiting’ wouldn’t be out of place on a Richard Hawley record, representing an unusually restrained approach from Gerry. The soft pitter-patter of the drums provide an aural hug while the deliciously saccharine chimes of the lead guitar are like a pack of Love Hearts injected straight into the soul. And, while things end with ‘Today Never Ends’, an oddly sombre instruction to live life in the here and now, it’s the very beginning of this album that marks it out for greatness.

‘Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything’ is not only in possession of a fantastically ‘Holy Bible’-era Manics style name, but also a rhythmically soaring chug that simply explodes after eighty seconds into a joyous chorus, with a small but swooping string part diving around behind the repeated refrain of the song’s title. It’s what the Fannies do best: it doesn’t sound like it could seduce a stadium crowd, it won’t garner frequent plays on popular music stations but it will buff the smile of a believer, open the door for the wavering hardcore fan to welcome them back in and, to cut to the chase, offer welcome respite from the more serious business of real life.

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May Reviews – Teenage Fanclub and Tracey Thorn

Here are the three reviews for which I’m responsible in this month’s Clash Magazine. Although there are only three this time out (seven next month, fact fans) what a three they are. I’m including my review of ‘Bang Goes The Knighthood’, despite the much longer piece I recently published as this is me reviewing it for a wider audience with many, many fewer words. Roughly the same end result though!

May Reviews

TEENAGE FANCLUB – Shadows’ (PeMa)

Finally, the Fannies explore their penchant for prog-rock and German psychedelia! Ok, so it actually sounds very much like a classic Teenage Fanclub record, but that should be enough to satisfy the discerning ear. After the relatively stripped back ‘Man Made’, ‘Shadows’ returns to the lush, meticulously crafted sound of previous albums. Lyrically, they’re no slouches but, as with so many of their wonderful albums, it’s the chiming guitars and angelic harmonies that truly revitalise the soul. ‘Shock And Awe’, replete with soaring guitar break, is a highlight, while their list of classic singles grows with the cheery ‘Baby Lee’. 9/10

If ever it’s possible to find oneself wanting another 900 words or so to explore an album properly, it was with this one. Keep an eye out for another ‘New Music Monday’ coming soon.. It’s a belter.

THE DIVINE COMEDY – ‘Bang Goes The Knighthood’ (DIVINE COMEDY RECORDS)

I won’t piss about. This album won’t convert anyone who previously found Neil Hannon’s band unpalatable. Indeed, it rather gleefully ramps up the eccentricity and delights in the study of curious characters of all ages and classes. At times it gets a little too silly, the lazy implied rhyming slang in ‘The Complete Banker’ the true lyrical nadir, but ‘Down In The Street’ and ‘When A Man Cries’ rank up there with Hannon’s finest grand production numbers, the former a shape-shifting musical avalanche which gets things underway. Album closer ‘I Like’ could even displace ‘National Express’ as his annoying pop smash. 7/10

I opted not to make a big thing of ‘Can You Stand Upon One Leg’ in this review as a) I had bugger all words in the first place b) it might have completely turned people away. It was tricky trying to contextualise this record beyond TDC fans, but I think it’s a relatively fair assessment. The recent, larger piece explains my thoughts in far greater detail.

TRACEY THORN – ‘Love And Its Opposite’ (STRANGE FEELING)

The distinctive voice of Everything But The Girl, Thorn’s almost effortless vocal grace has been a compelling part of the musical landscape for nearly thirty years. From electronic folk to warm, soulful country, the songs on what is only her third solo record tackle the pitfalls of middle age with a stark honesty, tempered by restrained optimism. ‘Long White Dress’ and ‘Singles Bar’, subject matter made clear from the off, are highlights; the former is mellow and wistful, with a delightfully lilting chorus, while the latter radiates the fatigued disenchantment of somebody lacking motivation in the unfulfilled pursuit of love. 7/10

This might actually be an 8 in the fullness of time, but what do numbers matter anyway? There are some quite magical bits on this, not least the two tracks mentioned in the review. Well worth a listen and a charmingly stripped back accompaniment to one of pop’s most recognisable voices.

2010 inverted

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?