Wittering Wednesdays: New music, old music and 6 Music

It’s been a while since my last stream-of-consciousness muso thought vomit, so I should probably put that right. Not like there isn’t plenty to talk about, eh? In the last hour or so, I got to hear the new material on the forthcoming Doves Best Of so as to enable a review I need to turn around fairly rapidly. Across the two CDs of the special edition can be found a number of previously unreleased bits and bobs, but it’s the songs that have never been released in any shape or form that will draw the most attention. Rest assured, the new tracks don’t stick out amongst the many highlights from the band’s first twelve years. ‘Blue Water’, a track that has been knocking around in the back waters of the internet for almost a decade, is a fine, fine way to kick off the second disc, the swaggering ‘Drifter’ then appears smack in the middle of the disc. The former shuffles along with that wonderful stuttering drum pattern so well deployed on ‘Here It Comes’ and ‘Drifter’ features overlooked talent Simon Aldred, of Cherry Ghost. While both new songs on disc two are fantastic, it’s worth pausing to note the quite brilliant sequencing of the songs, as undertaken by the band themselves. It actually hangs together like a proper record, with the same ups and downs in mood and pace that we’ve come to expect from a typical Doves studio outing. ‘The Last Son’ is saved from the icky obscurity of being an iTunes only bonus track while ‘Friday’s Dust’ appears in its ‘Capital Tower Session’ guise, sounding even more stark and raw than the not especially bells and whistles version from ‘The Last Broadcast’. The decision to include a small number of album tracks seems at first to be an odd one, but the choices have clearly been made carefully and I can’t really see any harm in a couple of these beauts slotting in across the disc when, without them, it would just have had less tracks on it. Don’t kid yourself that they got in the way of new songs and, similarly, it’s easy to cry about favourite b-sides not making the cut but the obvious time taken in getting this selection right and, even more precisely, in the right order means I have no complaints. The main disc, featuring a veritable cornucopia of melodic indie class, is augmented by forthcoming single ‘Andalucia’ which, loosely speaking, is one of their upbeat turbo-chuggers. It’s a good ‘un and, after several dozen listens, you’ll know it inside out but it’s no world-beater. My slightly subdued first impressions may have something to do with it sitting between ‘The Man Who Told Everything’ and ‘Caught By The River’, two songs which did more than a little to soften the tricky late-teen to shit-I’m-actually-an-adult transition period. Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll be banging on about how great it is. You watch.

Oh, and just to completely contradict what I said earlier, ‘Brazil’ from the ‘Winter Hill’ 7” really did deserve another outing! To be fair, I can’t see how it would have fitted, so here it is for your delectation and delight. You’ll have to turn your speakers up a bit.

I’ve been listening to the new Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings record, ‘I Learned The Hard Way’ quite a lot recently and it’s one of those rare beasts – an album that sounds incredibly warm… on CD! Regular readers will know of my obsession with vinyl and my general preference for its sound. This is largely as a result of the maximised and just plain bloody loud nature of most newly released CDs so, when one comes along that actually sounds good even when you turn it up loud on some decent speakers, it’s cause for celebration. I loved the first three Sharon Jones albums and this one isn’t a radical departure so, unsurprisingly, I love this one too. I need to listen a little more closely to make any meaningful judgements, but if you’re waiting on this one, you’ll not be disappointed.

The news about 6 Music continues to disappoint and disturb. There are those who are arguing that this is part of some complex ploy to generate publicity for the station and that its future was never really in doubt. Unlikely, I would suggest, but if it does turn out to be true, it still seems a bit mean to put people Lauren Laverne through the on air experience she faced yesterday morning, starting her show just minutes after the station’s closure was confirmed. She dealt with it with the good grace, intelligence and passion which has seen her become a firm 6 Music favourite and delivered one of the finest shows to be heard in the morning slot since Gideon Coe was shunted off to nights. Not that that actually seems all that bad an idea now that I’m happily established in my routine of spending ludicrous amounts of cash on an almost nightly basis at the behest of the genial music enthusiast and waffler-without-compare. His current stint covering breakfast is making for surprisingly pleasant morning car journeys and his presence on the station is a prime example of how it perfectly communicates with its audience. Watching Paxman make Mark Thompson look like the school bully after he’s been caught bang to rights by the head, threatened with exclusion and had his parents dragged in (and, frankly, like he’d shat himself a few minutes before going on air and couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit) was an absolute delight. He looked out of touch, out of his depth and out of line with popular thought. Thankfully for him, they also had Kelvin MacKenzie on, so he still wasn’t the biggest twat in the room. Even better than this, was Adam Buxton offering Thompson out for a fight on Channel 4 News a few hours earlier. Cutting to him for a serious response, Jon Snow asked Buxton if he had anything to say to Mark Thompson. To which he replied, "Mark ‘Thommo’ Thompson, I’m inviting you for a fight. I could take you, I’ve been practising." I’d click that, if I were you. It’s worth watching how remarkably serious he remains whilst saying it. Thompson appears to have no idea what is going on. Presumably not a member of Black Squadron?

Currently waiting on a couple of sizeable jiffy bags, so I’ll endeavour to offer a round-up of new things that have come this way of late by the weekend at the latest. That should include new Matinee signings The Electric Pop Group, the dreadfully named but beautiful sounding Allo Darlin’ and the new album from Tracey Thorn. Good good. Feel free to say hello on twitter – @justplayed is, perhaps unsurprisingly, where I am or you could always email. Address on the ‘About Just Played’ page. Speak to you soon.

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A Week With… 9. BBC 6 Music

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On Monday morning, Gideon Coe tweeted that, having completed a week’s holiday, he would be back on his 6 Music evening show later that day and for the rest of the week, before spending a week covering the breakfast show. I was overjoyed at this news, Coe having previously been a regular, and unsurprisingly excellent, deputy to Phill Jupitus during the early years of his breakfast show. This additional role at the station came to an end and seemed unlikely to ever be reprised after Gideon was buffeted off the morning show and shunted to the late show in place of his daytime replacement, George Lamb in the latter part of 2007. A return to breakfast cover seemed to suggest a positive repositioning of 6 Music, potentially in light of the recent BBC Trust report which suggested that the station needed to commit itself to presenters with strong musical knowledge. Things were looking up. And then I listened to Tony Livesey’s 5 Live show on Thursday night.

The report in The Times that was being discussed declared, with no hint of ambiguity, that the BBC would soon announce that, as part of a raft of cost-cutting measures, it would close 6 Music. I was quite surprised by how taken aback by this news I actually was. It soon became clear how much I actually value this curious digital radio station. Marc Riley, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Guy Garvey, Adam & Joe, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Bacon, Stuart Maconie and, most of all, Gideon Coe, host shows that I adore and, while I may not catch every second of every one of their shows, when it comes to radio listening, there’s little else to tempt me towards my radio coming from other sources, and absolutely nothing from the commercial radio sector. Say what you like about fair competition and BBC monopolies, but there isn’t a single commercial radio station that could hold my attention for more than thirty minutes, let alone command repeat listens. I’m sure that plenty of that does come down to the fact that the Beeb can broadcast programmes without the fear of poor advertising sales for the ad-breaks, but that doesn’t negate the point that widespread suggestions that music fans will be catered for elsewhere are complete bollocks.

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I go through phases of allowing myself to listen to Gideon Coe’s late show (Monday-Thursday, 9pm – midnight) as a result of the financial implications associated with each three hour programme I consume. This week alone, I ordered CDs as a result of three of the four shows I listened to. Indeed, so expensive is a week of Coe shows that I’m increasingly convinced that we have incredibly similar tastes in music, only he knows an awful lot more about it than I do. He is a warm, convivial and humble host, making you feel thoroughly involved in every show. Coe conveys his great enthusiasm for the music he plays in an understated, unassuming and yet hugely contagious fashion. I truly believe that is the best music show you can hope to hear on British radio. The Sam Prekop, Mojave 3, A Certain Ratio and Lee Hazlewood tribute album CDs which I’ve been enjoying greatly over the last couple of days would not be in this house were it not for that one particular radio programme. There are dozens of other examples, just from that one programme alone. I’ve also encountered, and subsequently purchased copies of, brilliant music on Lamacq’s afternoon show, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone, Craig Charles’ Funk and Soul Show, Marc Riley’s evening and on the recommendation of regular cover host, Jo Good. I’m sure that are numerous other recommendations which I’m forgetting right now, but even that list says a lot about how utterly in tune with their listeners the 6 Music team are.

I make no bold statements about the need to join Facebook groups or to add a twibbon to your picture on Twitter, but I do think it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge what a wonderful station 6 Music is. Yes, George Lamb was a mistake that took a long time to sort out and yes, sometimes the daytime playlist can get a little clogged with identikit indie bands, but the vast majority of the 6 Music output is excellent and occasionally it’s truly outstanding. As a station, its musical scope makes it unique and its presenting team isn’t too shabby either. I am a staunch defender of the BBC and consider it to be ludicrously good value for money. I am well aware of why its competitors have their reasons to campaign fiercely against it, but some of the more general anti-BBC sentiment has always baffled me. I can only hope that the mass outpouring of something bordering on grief at this dreadful news may have some influence on the final decision. I’m preparing for the worst but, for now, I’ll continue enjoying radio’s best. Jarvis is on right now and Gideon’s on breakfast tomorrow. That’ll do nicely.

Song Of The Day 36: The Webb Brothers – Intermission

Less a song, more a tune. And, if I’m being brutally honest, I’ve not really picked it based entirely on its own merits. I’ve picked it because it is, as near as damn it, Gideon Coe’s theme tune for his 6music evening show. He returns tonight, after a week’s break, and announced this morning that he’ll be covering 6music Breakfast next week. This is something that Gid used to do quite a lot under the old regime at the station, but it’s been some time since last he did so. It gladdens the heart to find that he will be back on in the ‘am’, however briefly.

Can’t find a tube clip for this, but it doesn’t matter. Listen to the quirky minute and a bit of pop on Spotify by clicking here and then, more importantly, click here to listen to live to 6music right now (assuming you’re reading this between 9pm-midnight, Mon-Thurs) for a bit of Gid, or here for his recent shows. Public service announcement over and out.

Futuremusic – What to listen to?

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Many’s the time I’ve banged on about how I had to budget an extra tenner for each visit to my now deceased local music emporium in anticipation of me taking a shine to whatever they were playing while I was partaking of a little hot browsing action. But with good reason. I loved their shop stereo choices. I loved discussing new releases with the staff. I loved the little labels on the display products which told you about the album in a paragraph or so, hand-written and often peppered with exuberant exclamation marks. The less frequently mentioned record shop of my youth was offered a similar service, with James, owner and seemingly sole member of staff, frequently telling me that something I’d brought to the counter was shit or that what I was offering to trade in was too good to get rid of. Perhaps this delightfully honest approach to music retail played a little part in his business becoming unsustainable, but it was critical in helping to shape my musical taste. As all of our record shops die and we’re left with the increasingly dominant download, where do we get our recommendations from?

Both Amazon and iTunes invite copious reviews from the general public. Anyone who’s ever listened to a radio phone-in or watched a rolling news channel knows that, largely speaking, the people most willing to express their point of view are largely unable to express a point of view. I am well aware that writing a blog and espousing such a line of thinking is more than a little hypocritical but sod it. Go with me on this. For example, look at La Roux‘s ‘Bulletproof EP’ on iTunes and you’ll find numerous reviews, with varying degrees of coherence. One of the few currently displayed when you land of the page for ‘Bulletproof’ comes from Musetasticeldo, who writes:

But, it’s rubbish

That high pitched sh*t that we heard last time was rubbish, and amazingly, this is even worse. why the hell do people like the cr*p (sic)

Now, I’m assuming that that’s self-censorship rather than an aversion to naughty words – after all, what’s someone who listens to Muse supposed to say after it’s finished? – and the errant deployment of punctuation can be forgiven in a quick online review, but what was the writer’s purpose here? Seemingly, they truly hated ‘In For The Kill’, and yet they have returned for more. Presuming that they weren’t quite thick enough to purchase a song by an artist they don’t like, did they base their review on the iTunes thirty-second sample? In which case, it’s hardly fair and if, as I suspect, they have actually heard it numerous times elsewhere, what made them feel that it was a good use of their time to actually seek out the song on iTunes in order to contribute this rather vacuous comment?

Amazon reviews operate within similarly lax boundaries, resulting in the violently sarcastic reviews of the Peter Andre and Katie Price album and books by hateful figures like Jon Gaunt. Occasionally you hit upon someone who seems to have actually listened to the music a few times but it’s a very unreliable way to garner recommendations.

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It was possible to tailor your music purchasing to whichever shop seemed to most closely match your musical outlook. Certainly, if I lived near Brighton, Resident would receive at least one visit a week as it does all of the stuff I nostalgically bleated about above and more but, as is the case for so many of us, I don’t and the local options are all gone. That said, it’s not as bleak as it first seems and there are still some decent places to seek musical guidance in these troubling times.

Online record shops are a curious breed. They are becoming increasingly important to the indie kids of the world and yet they are competing against the cheap big boys in a fashion not dissimilar to the days of the independent record shop co-existing on the high street with HMV, Virgin and Our Price. The way they seem to be getting around this is the personal touch. I’ve talked about the wonders of Norman Records before, but I’ll briefly recap. Phil, and his team of slightly odd but hugely enthusiastic music warriors, get very involved in your access to new music. An order will receive a personal reply, a query will get a good (and often comical) paragraph with the information you require and pretty damn sharpish too. Each week, the site publishes its reviews of new music with an opinionated and irreverent edge that is far less prominent on the next site worth a look; Boomkat.

Rather more specialist than Norm – which is to say less riffs more bleeps – and considerably more aesthetically pleasing, Boomkat is an increasingly dependable source of exciting and intriguing new tunes. As well as doing a decent line in CDs and vinyl, they also offer a very impressive download service, allowing you to download your music either as 320kbps MP3s or, for a bit more cash, admittedly, FLAC files, giving you a lossless fix that iTunes don’t think you want. Try recent curio from glacial minimalist Max Richter for size to get an idea of the presentation and purchasing options provided by Boomkat. What you will notice is that the reviews are a little too earnest but sound clips allow you to balance out the bullshit. I suppose it’s possible that they only stock stuff they love – it’s certainly pretty select – but they do seem to love most of what they sell. The page is full – some might say cluttered – with all kinds of recommendations for you, including other stuff by this artist, other stuff on that label and what other people buying this item bought.

Boomkat also runs a small download boutique, if you will, entitled 14 Tracks. The idea being, the site offers you the chance to buy download batches of 14 tracks at a time, each curated by Boomkat and offering a guide to a genre, musical theme or whimsical concept. While you won’t like each one, there’s some bizarre and beautiful stuff to be heard via that method and I’d recommend a browse when you have a spare hour or two. You can search back through all of the previous collections offered.

Hardly fresh and exciting, but just as good at doing what it’s always done, is last.fm, a site which allows you to monitor your listening habits, develop musical ‘neighbours’ and compare and contrast your libraries in the hope of finding things to try. I have to say, I’ve only recently started to use it seriously, so my numbers are pretty low and it can be a little swayed if I choose to do my listens to something I’m reviewing via the iPod, but, it’s nevertheless quite an entertaining way to draw up yet more of what every muso loves. Lists. Click here and you should be able to see the list for my all time top artists on last.fm, but as, at the time of writing, even my top act only has 98 plays, it hasn’t yet got to the stage where it is a truly accurate reflection of my listening, but it’s getting there.

Once you’ve listened to enough stuff, last.fm will be able to show you people with similar tastes to yours and then you’re off. Furthermore, plenty of labels seem happy to have tracks uploaded to the site to allow you an instant listen. That said, for me, last.fm is where I get the names of potentially great artists from, before searching for them on Spotify in order to have a listen. I think Spotify’s been covered enough on here of late, and you can certainly find enough links to it across this page, but it’s worth remembering that it’s still a relatively new and fragile device. Enjoy it while it lasts.

The most conventional method of receiving musical recommendations remains. Radio is still very much alive and well, even if there’s less decent new music broadcasting going on. Zane Lowe does a reasonable job of alerting you to new stuff via his Radio 1 evening show, but the likes of Huw Stephens and Rob Da Bank are far better at digging below the surface. Over on 6music, Marc Riley and Gideon Coe are always worth a listen, both having full blown music obsessions and forever seeking out new music that’s both challenging (Riley) and easy on the ear (Coe) on a nightly basis. last.fm can knock you up a radio station of either your library or recommendations for you based on your library. Sadly, this is restricted by what’s on their catalogue and so the recommendations station isn’t always as glorious as it first seems. California based radio station KCRW offers up the rather splendid ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’, until recently hosted by music biz legend Nic Harcourt, but now helmed by Jason Bentley. Weekday mornings from 9, 5-8pm for UK listeners, are a wonderful mixture of all kinds of stuff, described by their webpage as, “progressive pop, world beat, jazz, African, reggae, classical and new music.” Indeed.

Finally, there’s the method you’re using right now. Blogs. I’m also going to include message boards at this point as I think they serve a similar purpose. At this relatively advanced stage in internet usage, it’s pretty easy to find people with similar interests to you and to join any number of different communities. I actively participate in only a few music forums, but those few forums offer me all kinds of musical recommendations and have noticeably shaped my listening habits over recent years. The few blogs that I frequent are suitably attuned to my taste in music and I know I can pretty much trust whatever they’re banging on about. For example, the previously mentioned teatunes site, which mixes musings on music with reviews of various splendid teas, covers music that is almost entirely to my taste. Indeed, they’ve only today published an article about Charles Ramsey who you may remember Just Played looking at only last week. If I see something recommended on there that I’ve not heard, I’ll endeavour to hear it as, chances are, I’ll like it too.

The final word on this issue can go to Thom Yorke. I have to confess that, sadly, this isn’t something that Thom personally confided in me; he said it as part of an interview with Believer magazine, which in turn got parped out to the UK via The Guardian. That said, it’s a decent comment and pretty neat summation of everything you’ve just been reading. Feel free to hurl alternative suggestions for where to find good new tunes at me via the comments option below.

“I don’t spend my fucking life downloading free MP3s, because I hate the websites. No one seems to know what they’re talking about. I’d much rather go to sites like Boomkat, where people know what they’re talking about. It’s brilliant. To me, that’s a business model. It’s like when I used to go to music shops in Oxford. You’re looking at this and you’re looking at that and there’s a whole line of other things going down the side saying, “You’ll probably like this,” and “You might like this.” Boomkat is very specific with the type of stuff they flog there, but I can’t see why that wouldn’t work for all music.”

Do you have hallucinatory visions of The Chuckle Brothers?

Mojo readers – is it wrong to like that cover of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da‘ by Gabriella Cilmi that’s on this month’s free CD? Clearly, it’s dreadful, wrong and naughty, but something about it got under my skin. Surreal, to say the least. Not a great start, I know, wittering on about a track you’ll only know if you buy a certain magazine. Not unusual, either.

The post had a few surprises in it today. Firstly, the new Herman Dune album, ‘Next Year In Zion’, which is really rather good. Never taken to them in the past, but, on first impressions, it sounds splendid. They haven’t changed particularly, perhaps I have.

Secondly, a new album from Misty’s Big Adventure! Oh yes! The last one only came out towards the end of last year, but even so there is more to delight, thrill and confuzzle your ears. ‘Television’s People’ is a concept album about a troubled man seeking solace in daytime stodge who ends up getting sucked into the TV. Delightfully bizarre, but not especially surprising when it comes to Misty’s. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of this lot  then a) you’re not a long-standing, loyal reader of the Vinyl Junkies internet presence (fair enough, really) and b) you’re in for an absolute treat. Start with the album, ‘The Black Hole’ and then buy everything else. Anyhoo, this album is wonderfully good and comes with a quite brilliant press release by Grandmaster Gareth (the head honcho). I truly hope the good folk of Misty’s and SL records won’t mind that I’ve temporarily placed track 10, ‘There Is Hope’ on the Muxtape, simply because of its comic genius. It documents the daytime commercials coming alive in the head of the man at the centre of the story and he starts to believe that the telly is talking to him. Superb. Naturally, if anyone’s pissed off at its presence on the Mux, please let me know and it’ll disappear rapidly. That also goes for any of the new bands whose material I’ve popped on there as a taster for those who’d like to go and spend their hard earned quids on some independent releases.

As I believe I mentioned the other day, I was off on my jolly holidays last week and upon arrival I was heartened by the lack of phone reception and utterly shite TV signal. I was subsequently startled when I turned on the DAB radio and had the strongest reception I’ve ever had. Figure that out. Anyway, as a result of that, I ended up spending some time with 6music outside of the Gideon Coe show. In particular, I spent a few afternoons with the ever-delightful Lammo. Only the other week I was praising his blog and now it’s the turn of his radio show. His ‘New Favourite Band’ feature is a logical extension of what he’s been doing on the radio for years and years. Quite simply, each week he identifies a new act to which he’s taken a shine. Last week it was Tom Williams & The Boat. It’s a good band name that. Although the name at the start is nothing out of the ordinary, by adding ‘& The Boat‘ on the end, the name is suddenly memorable. It would’ve been enough to keep it lodged in my mind until I got back to the world of Google. Obviously, I’m geeky enough that if I ever happen upon music I like when I can’t do anything about it, I save the name of act and song as a draft text message, but if I wasn’t a geek, I’d still have been able to remember their name.

Anyway, we got sidetracked there. Tom Williams & The Boat’s latest release is the ‘Got Fuel EP’, which you can get from this website. It’s a delightful little package, coming as it does in a PVC sleeve with a wraparound sleeve made of glossy photos stuck to sugar paper. Inside, you get two more photos, a lyric sheet and, of course, the rather splendid CD. ‘Got Fuel’ is a delightfully woozy indie singalong that has been going round in my head for the best part of this week. To confuse matters, there’s a song called ‘Pete & The Pirates’ that actually sounds like a menacing version of The Young Republic and ‘Half Mast’ contains one of my current favourite lyrical refrains; “I don’t have a hoodie set at half mast, sitting on my fringe like  balaclava on my chin.” I’m not putting it on the Mux because I think the bloke deserves £6 for that alone.

The whole EP is great but, should you want more convincing, over on the main TW&TB site there are loads of free downloads, including some rather amusing covers. Treat yourself.

One final act of note today. Our Broken Garden are a new act on the, quite superb, Bella Union label. She – for it is only one woman, Anna Broensted of Efterklang – had an EP out back in April called, ‘Lost Sailor’ and there’s a new album on the way in September, entitled ‘When Your Blackening Shows’. Nothing else to tell, I’m afraid, but you can be thoroughly enchanted by the tunes over at the Myspace page.