Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 - Top 10

Top 10 time and 2 returning 80s throwbacks, 3 new bands with debuts , one difficult 2nd lp, 3 former lead singers of, and one should be bigger than the Beatles or at least bigger than Elton John. Bubbling under were releases by Josh Ritter., Frightened Rabbit and Ed Hardcourt but with the votes all in (well my votes anyway) these are my favourite 10 lps of 2010

Somehow managing to sounding 1982 and 2010 all at the same time. Despite a couple of misfires a great lp that does what OMD do best which is straddle twin peaks of pop and experimentation

10 History of Modern - OMD which you can buy here

Described as Lloyd Cole's country record this is the most straight forward guitar driven music he has made since Rattlesnakes

9 Broken Record - Lloyd Cole which you can buy here

A return to the more reflective sounds of earlier Everything But the Girl, intelligent, thoughtful , adult songs with still one of the best voices going

8 Love and Its Opposite - Tracey Thorn which you can buy here

Is it folk? is it pop? is it a singer songwriter, who know but it is tunes that melt and harmonies that belong on a summer's day.

7 - Fireplace by The Boy who Trapped the Sun which you can buy here

Inventive rhythms, unexpected chord changes, interesting lyrics, closer to Swoon than the usual singer songwriter fare. All that and a mercury nomination too.

6 Becoming a Jackal by The Villagers which you can buy here

A slightly rougher edge but still heavenly melodies and sing along choruses

5 - Shockwaves by Unkle Bob which you can buy here

Even ignoring the feat of recording and writing again let alone anything this good, this is one of the best things he has done. Ignoring some of the sound doodles of recent lps this has a guitar sound that has lineage right back to his Orange Juice days

4 - Losing Sleep by Edwyn Collins which you can buy here

Quite simply short stories to lose yourself in set to a gorgeous backing

3 Keepers by Jones which you can buy here

In with a bullet and out of nowhere, after a gap in reproduction that would put a Giant Panda to shame, Red Box return sounding like a different band. Like meeting someone you knew at school at first you are a bit thrown by the changes but gradually you realise that you like the older, wiser version

2 Plenty by Red Box - which you can buy here

The best single in Zorbing from the best lp. Simply joyous, and the lyrics mention conkers.

1 The Beachcomber's Windowsill - Stornoway which you can buy here

You can hear some of these tracks here
(actually the only one missing is one by Unkle Bob who when I reviewed their lp asked for a track not to be posted which is fair enough. )

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - The Infinities

Well I guess it had to happen. My thoughts on the books I read tend to be mainly positive which as I've chosen to buy them I guess is no surprise. Also I used to finish everything I started, no matter how unenjoyable, I'd grit my teeth and plough on to the end. Then I happened to read Moby Dick followed by Blood Guts and High School ( a triumph of cult following over anything resembling enjoyment) and thought life was just too short. Now if I'm really not enjoying a book then I just stop and leave it on the tube hoping someone will find it who likes it more than I did.

How the Infinites by John Banville survived the tube drop I'm still not sure. The Infinities tell the story of a family gathering for the impending death of patriarch. Bottled up emotions are given a good old shake by the fact that Hermes, Zeus and Pan have also popped in to watch the unfolding events and make a bit of mischief. A good idea but done a lot better by Marie Phillips in Gods Behaving Badly.

John Banville is no doubt a good writer ( he's won a Booker for goodness sakes) but this one just passed me by, The jacket describes it as "over flowing with bawdy humour" and a "salacious delight" . People cleverer than I see it as "darkly comic", "full of dark humour" and a "heady delight" that "radiates happiness" again making me thing the broadsheet reviewers have a very strange sense of humour ... the book didn't manage to prod a smile out of me.

None of the characters really rings true and a couple do prompt me to wonder what point they serve. One arrives , mopes around , is taken over by Zeus to plant a kiss on someone, is slapped and leaves.

This is all a real shame as the book starts with real promise as it captures the conflicting emotions of the wife , son , daughter and daughter in law as the father lies upstairs in a coma. There are some great passages , in fact individual scenes work well. For me it was when you put them together and looked at the story as a whole that it just didn't work for me.

Sad to end the year on a downer ... but hey tomorrow it is top 5 time for books and the lps

You can buy The Infinities here

Monday, 27 December 2010

Monday Moments - Stupid Thing

Monday moments this week is a rerun of my very first post. I think it deserves another airing as at that time I think I had about 2 readers. Paul Quinn as I've mentioned before has one of the best voices in music and it seems a crime that he has a career of false starts and remains on the fringes of cult following rather than basking in number one singles and albums.

The Independent Group were I think the first band to be released on the relaunched Postcard records and this track comes from the groups ( a whose who of Scottish jangly guitar musicians) 2nd and to date latest lp.

The whole song ouses classic, from the beautifully understated guitar playing to Paul Quinn's soaring vocal, the sweeping

My monday moment comes at about 4 1/2 mins through this 7 min epic with the world weary "I've got enough on mind with out you...... crying all the time , crying all the time" refrain

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Boxing Day and Pop Music

Cold turkey and that slightly stuffed feeling. When I was younger for some reason we had a trip to the coast every boxing day which ususally meant a 30 min walk in a freezing east coast wind , coke and crisps in the back of the car then head home as the medium wave car radio drowned any song in crackles and hisses.

The fact is has boxing in the title gives me an excuse to post this. From the Worldwide lp this is a reare vocal outing for Ben Watt which as ever leaves wishing he sang on a few more tracks

Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy Xmas

Happy Xmas to everyone and here's hoping you get some great poptastic presents. To celebrate here is a track from Spearmint's christmas with a difference lp

Oklahoma! - Spearmint

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Cult of the b Side - The Housemartins

The early Housemartins singles often featured b sides just as good as the a sides, all captured on the gloriously titled "Now That is What I Call Quite Good" compilation

I've posted the b side to Sheep. Drop Down Dead was a party favourite when I was at poly (as was pretty much anything off the debut lp) and even manages to get away with the repeat chorus with just bass and drums trick. I still remember scratching my head in bewilderment when they split up. I was meant to go and see them play live but didn't go in the end having been struck down with man flu (or the slightly different strain known as student flu). They remain one of the "wish I'd seen them live "bands.

You can get all the early b sides and alot more on the expanded version of London 0 Hull 4 here

Monday, 20 December 2010

Monday Moments part 37/52 - Summertime

Monday moments this week comes from the Sundays, whose lead singer Harriet Wheeler has , along with Kate Bush, the sexiest singing voices going. Over 3 lps they made the kind of sparkly guitar pop songs that had them often compared to the Smiths.

Summertime was the lead off single from the 3rd lp "Static and Silence". My monday moment is the simple chord changes that drives the song along. Normally I'll always go for a sad song , but I can't help but feel good with the joyous "It's you and me in the Summertime" and that feel good glow starts to bubble with the first chord change

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Lazy Sunday - The Gobetweens

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track form the early Gobetweens lp Before Hollywood. What I like about it , it has that slight Talking Heads stop start approach but with the harmonies and melody that will become the staple of future lps

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Bigger Than The Beatles - Red Box

This version of Bigger than the Beatles is a bit different in that for 2 singles at least and the first lp if not bigger than the fab 4 they did climb the upper reaches of the chart. I think they still qualify in that their best stuff was still to come and of course sold diddly squat.

I first came across Red Box with the single Lean on Me which was all over the radio and was accompanied with I remember a particularly energetic top of the pops appearance , all flags and drums.

The follow up For America (written after the record company "requested" something that would be a hit across the Atlantic ... which of course it wasn't) continued the pattern of complex rhythms, sing along melodies and a mixture of chants and almost nursery rhyme lyrics that hid big themes.

When the lp came along it was a breath of fresh air with songs that gave a real sense of adventure and experimentation.

Predominately a duo of Simon Toulson- Clarke and Julian Close, it sound with all the instrumentation and massed vocals as if they were joined by a cast of 1000s (including rather strangely  Buffy stalwart Anthony Head on backing vocals)

Heart of the Sun - Red Box

By the time Motive came out 5 years later Julian Close had left leaving Red Box as a recording name for Simon Toulson Clarke and the various musicians he got in to support him especially arranger Alistair Gavin There are some echoes from the first lp especially in the rush of the first single Train, however the music is much lusher and has a more orchestral feel. It is a great lp and should have been massive ... it wasn't

The first track I've posted is the closest to the first lp but shows the progression with the nursery rhyme quality still there but a mellower sound without the tribal tones. The second is part state of the nation and part another song about home and I'm always a sucker for home songs

When I first got broad band I would spend much too much time trawling the web for mentions of bands that seemed to have disappeared into the ether. I came across a fan site for red box ( at a time when such places still had a chance of being on google page 1) run by Lewis Slade and on an impulse joined his news group. Every month he would send out an e:mail which would prompt a little flurry of email chat mainly about the rare times the lps would pop up on ebay and thinking about how to get them rereleased (successfully achieved for the first lp via cherry red with rumours that they are about to do the same with motive in the new year)

Lewis was in contact with Simon and slowly news started to filter in about the possibility of new lp.

Well 17 years after Motive (a time span that would make the Blue Nile proud) the new lp Plenty has appeared. There were rumours that the lp would come out under a different name and I can see why. It is a different beast to the first 2 lps however what remains the same are the fantastic melodies and great use of harmony. This time though the songs are simple often built around piano and strings. There are still echoes there of the first 2 lps but overall it is a much mellower lp

Plenty - Red Box

It's True - Red Box

The band has a great website where you can here more of the latest lp Red Box website here

If you like melodic music, enjoyed Miracle Mile Monday, wished Prefab Sprout went back to Steve McQueen, then give these new songs a listen. I really hope Plenty sells enough to convince Simon Toulson Clarke not to wait another 17 years.... although with my record of people I like and big sales I don't hold out much hope

As a postscript to the power of the fansite. Members of the monthly group were invited to attend an early playing of the cd at a studio followed by a live performance. I couldn't go but it felt like a just reward for the effort Lewis Slade and a few other made in keeping the Red Box name more than just a couple of tracks on 80's compilations


Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - Voodoo Histories

If you have ever been in the pub or a dinner party and someone starts talking with complete conviction about how Diana was killed by Prince Phillip or the Moon landings took place in an abandoned stage set, the kind of truth you know in your hearts isn't right but they speak with such conviction that you just feel frustrated that you don't have the facts to hand to pin prick their balloon ... well this book is for you.

David Aaronovitch wondered what it was that made normally sane friends lose their sense of logic when faced with a supposed conspiracy and set about exploring this by looking at the biggest conspiracy theories of the 20th century whilst at the same time seeking to understand just what it was that made them so attractive and durable.

As an introduction he starts by outlining the 7 common themes and approaches that typifies every conspiracy. The next 2 chapters offer an historical context by looking 2 areas of history I knew little about, the Jewish protocols and the part they play in the 2 world wars (they are fake and play no part) as well as the communist traitor trials under Stalin's regime (there was no big plot just a lot of confessions given under torture). Whilst interesting in a historical context and illustrating how conspiracy's can take hold, it does feel like a bit of a false start to the book

The chapters that follow cover the Kennedy assassination , the deaths of Monroe, Diana and Dr Kelly as well as 9/11 and 7/7. Throw in all the stuff around Pearl Harbour, Holy Blood and Holy Grail and a forgotten bit of Uk history involving the death of an elderly anti nuclear campaigner and you have all the main theories covered. In exposing each and everyone Aaronovitch uses surgical precision as well as a good dose of disbelieving humour. In the version I have there is an extra chapter which looks at the issue of Obama's birth certificate which for a uk resident made slightly surreal reading

Some chapters are stronger than others, the one on 9/11 especially powerful. As well as just pointing out what it just plain factually wrong in the conspiracists arguments he uses their own quotes to calmly point out the lack of any kind of rigour or logic in their approach. For example the main argument of one of the 9/11 theorists is that the shear absurdity of some of the other 9/11 theories around are so ridiculous that they look like smoke and mirrors sent out by the govt to discredit any alternative view , therefore they must be hiding something. It would be funny if this same person is not trotted out regularly as a 9/11Truth Movement "expert".

I can't hope to do his arguments justice but one thing re the moon landings did strike me and that was in listing the scale of the deception required he then compares this to the same president / govt who couldn't even manage to break into a rival parties offices and destroy some tapes without being found out.

Now I don't want to offend anyone who is on Al Fayed's side and sees Diana's death as murder or Dr Kelly's death as a big Blair plot , but if you are a sceptic (and some polls worryingly suggest we are in the minority) or been stuck in one of those "no tower would collapse that way" arguments then this book is for you.

I'm afraid the internet doesn't come out of it that well, the fact that anyone can say anything no matter how incorrect and it suddenly become a truth because of the chain reaction it sets off is quite scary when you think about it

You can buy Voodoo Histories here and be prepared for some fiery pub arguments

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Life of Live - Hurrah

It wasn't until doing this blog and looking back at my lists of concerts seen (very male I know) that I realised I'd seen Hurrah quite as much as I had done. I liked them ,although being a bit of a music snob their early singles and b sides were best, and no more than a lot of bands that I didn't get to see play live once let alone the 4 times I've caught Hurrah.

I assume that this concert, which to be honest I can remember nothing about, was to promote the 2nd lp The Beautiful (one of those strange lps that I like better now than when it first came out)

Rather than post something from that lp, I thought I'd post something a bit different. Earlier this year Cherry Red released the "lost" Hurrah 3rd lp "The Rebirth of Cool".

It is a rougher sound , mainly due to the fact the songs are really only at demo stage, however because of that it keeps the energy of a live performance.

Produced (although that isn't really the right word) by the guitarist of the Angelic Upstarts this sounds like a band trying to rediscover why they started making music in the first place

You can buy the Rebirth of Cool here

Monday, 13 December 2010

Monday Moments - Demon Days

I've written before about how much I love the Gobetweens who were the ultimate should have been bigger than the Beatles band. The sudden death of Grant McLennan came as such a shock and had a much bigger impact on me than that of any other musician.

In Robert Forster first solo lp following Grant McLennan's death he recorded 3 partly written songs that Grant was working on for the next Gobetween's album.

One of these Demon Days was the last song he played Robert before he died. A fact that makes it difficult to judge the song purely on merit. Even so it is classic Mclennan, a simple melody drenched in a wistful melancholic longing.

My monday moment is tied up in his death and the understated way that Robert Forster delivers the vocal and the resigned "somethings not right , somethings gone wrong"

I imagine when he plays this live there isnt a dry eye in the house

Demon Days - Robert Forster

You can buy the Evangelist here

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Lazy Sunday - Thomas Dolby

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a demo version from a track on Thomas Dolby's debut lp the Golden age of Wireless. What I like about it is that it shows what a great sense of mood and melody Thomas Dolby has , often hidden by the effects and synths that are stripped out of this version

This comes from a re-released version of the lp with extra tracks that you can buy here
Thomas Dolby also writes a varied and interesting blog that can be found here.
He is in the process of releasing a new lp with some tracks available early as downloads. I bought the first download ep (if such a thing exists) and good stuff it is too

Friday, 10 December 2010

Former Lead Singer of ....Brett Anderson

Suede picked up one of those inspiration type prizes at this year's Q awards, releasing a greatest hits and embarking on a tour. When asked about new material Brett Anderson said something about giving fans what they want which is the hits and old tracks. I kind of hope this is just an interlude into his solo career as since the initial break up of the band he has released 3 lps of a subtlety that you didn't really find in his band's music.

The first lp "Brett Anderson" was released in 2007 and was met with pretty damning reviews. I think this was partly because it still had strong echoes of his former band and so came across in places as "Suede lite", that and the fact it was all a bit woe is me.
It is still a strong set of songs that can breathe a bit without the demands of a full band's input

He really hit his stride with the 2nd lp , The Wilderness". Often recorded in one take the songs tend to be Brett on acoustic guitar or piano accompanied by a cellist. It is a fantastic set and finally frees him from tales of cigarettes and gasoline.

The third lp in as many years "Slow Attack, saw a fuller sound but if anything more experimental, close in feeling to Talk Talk 's later tracks. With this lp he got some of the his best reviews since the early Suede days. Unfortunately this seemed to be in an inverse proportion to the amount of sales, with the lp reaching the dizzy heights of 174 in the lp charts ( thus I guess the Suede reform)

You can buy all 3 lps here
His website is here where you can heat more tracks from the 3rd lp

3 great lps all evolving in sound, I hope there will be a 4th when he grows tired of playing old Suede hits

Thursday, 9 December 2010

My Indie Past - Yeah Jazz

Yeah Jazz were one of those bands I first heard on John Peel. Formed in 1983, it was the 2nd single "This is Not Love" that John Peel played and I rushed out to get it the next day. They had a much more folky sound than the normal indie jangle and a tendency to kitchen sink drama lyrics. Strange as it sounds now, a folky violin was an unusual sound in 1986..honest
An lp Six Lane Ends followed a couple of years later which kept the template established with This is Not Love. Like a lot of indie bands at that time listening back it is a bit patchy but it has their other great single on it "Sharon".
Confusingly line ups changed and 2 further lps and various eps were released under different names
I've posted the first thing I heard by them , one of the best unwanted pregnancy songs going!!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - Ordinary Thunderstorms

I'm writing this when later tonight Channel 4 show part 1 of the 4 part adaptation of the epic William Boyd novel Any Human Heart. This book comes at the end of a run of novels that put William Boyd up there as one of my favourite novelists.

Ordinary Thunderstorms is a million miles away from the Any Human Heart, where one man's life came to represent the swirl of 20th century history, this novel is a relatively straight forward conspiracy thriller. As a result some of the reviews were a bit sniffy when it first came out.

The book starts with a chance encounter as Adam Kindred having just been for an interview stops in a restaurant and gets into a conversation with another lone diner. When left alone Adam notices that the other diner has left behind a briefcase which he decides to return in person. From this simple decision, Adam's life spirals out of control until he is on the run for suspected murder, being tracked by a hitman, sleeping rough and losing everything including his identity.

What follows is a compulsive page turner as it soon becomes apparent that Adam is caught up in big drug industry conspiracy and the book flits between the 3 main players wrapped up in that conspiracy, Adam , a naive company chairman and the vengeful hitman for whom finding Adam becomes an obsession. Along the way each of these 3 comes across the full social scale of the capital's misfits.

I don't read many thrillers so I've no idea how this stacks up, but it sprints along and has enough sharp left turns to keep things interesting. William Boyd is such a good writer that there is some great prose sprinkled through out. If anything it reminds me a bit of Iain Banks' The Business. It is great while you are reading it but unlike his best books doesn't linger long in the mind when you've finished. If you watch Any Human Heart and want to give William Boyd a go then start with that book or the True Confessions , if you want a faced paced thriller give this a go.

You can buy Ordinary Thunderstorms here

Monday, 6 December 2010

Monday Moments - Indian

Monday moments this week features another great lost single. Featuring a model and a former member of Brother Beyond the signs were not good. However, the lp 24 Years of Hunger somehow managed to on one level be the smoothest of dinner party background music, with a set of arresting songs that were full of interesting and unexpected little quirks that stopped the whole thing slipping into the land of the bland.

The lead off single "Indian" should have been massive and as usual disappeared. Eg has gone on to make 2 great solo lps (13 years apart) as well as being a very successful songwriter for hire (although the stuff he writes for other people tends to be run of the mill formulaic pop without the quirky lyrics). I'm not sure what Alice has been doing but she does pop up on Eg's latest solo lp with a co write and backing vocal credit on a couple of songs

Both the Eg and Alice lp and the first solo lp go for silly money

My monday moment comes right at the beginning with a good old bit of "whoo whoo whoo"

Indian - Eg and Alice

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Strange Covers - Laughing Len part 2

About the same time I bought I'm Your Man following a holiday in Spain where the lp seemed to be playing in every bar I went into , a double lp was released of Cohen cover versions called "I'm Your Fan". It featured these 2 covers, a great version of Chelsea Hotel by Lloyd Cole and for me the ultimate version of Hallelujah. Forget Jeff Buckley, this version by John Cale makes it feel as if the words were written for him alone. The only good thing about the awful x factor debacle was that it brought this version to a wider audience. The lyrics as ever are the perfect example of not wasting a phrase or a single word

Friday, 3 December 2010

Bigger than the Beatles - The Painted Word

It's been a a while since I did a Bigger Than the Beatles post. This time it is the turn of the Painted Word, the recording name of Alan McCusker - Thompson. In 1986 on mother records (u2's label) they released I Found Love Today a perfect bit of pop which along with Bourgie Bourgie's Breaking Point is one of the lost great singles of the 80s. I was going to include it as a monday moment with its repeated refrain of "up the ladder to the roof" but thought I'd post a couple more tracks as well.

Over a 3 year period they released a number of singles/eps and one lp Lovelife which was full of smooth sophisticated pop music with a real classic feel (streets ahead of coffee table dinner party music that people like Simply Red were churning out). I had a couple of the singles but the joys of the Internet meant that I eventually years later managed to track down the lp. Then there was nothing and I just assumed they had been another one lp act lost to whims of a major label.

Then out of the blue in 1995 I stumbled across a newly released 2nd lp, "Universal". It seemed to disappear as soon as it arrived and now goes for silly money on ebay. The songs are more melancholic and as a whole the lp reminds me a bit of Blue Nile cc Hats.

Since then silence again

I Found Love Today - The Painted Word

Worldwide - The Painted Word

Universal - The Painted Word

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Tidy Up

I'm having a bit of a tidy up again so just to let you know links for up to october back posts will be removed on monday

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Strange Covers - Thunder Road

I've never been a big fan of Brucie, for some reason I liked the mid 80's Scottish version of the American Dream rather than the real thing. However, two of his songs feature as my favourite ever covers, Tougher Than the Rest by Everything but the Girl and this one.

This was done for an Uncut Cd of Brucie covers with each artist talking about the track they had chosen. Apparently Damon Gough is a massive fan and you can almost feel the reverence in his version. It has a fragility and an understatement I really like.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Monday Moments - Woman's Realm

Belle and Sebastian are one of those marmite bands, a lot of my friends try and tell me they made a good lp and then basically went about re-recording it every couple of years. I love them and think Stuart Murdoch took on Morrissey's mantle after the demise of the Smiths in writing some of the cleverest and funniest lyrics around. The only time they go off the boil for me is when the band becomes a democracy and the songwriting gets shared around a bit. This was never more apparent in the greatly titled but disappointingly uneven "Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant".

However, it does contain one of favourite songs of theirs, "Women's Realm". It has everything , hand claps , twangy guitar solo, girl/boy vocals and it canters along as all the best Belle and Sebastian songs do

My monday moment is toward the end where in true London burning style there is a great bit of overlapping vocals

I don't care whether you hear this
I don't care if I'm alone here singing songs to myself
There's nobody else around, around
Meet you up at the Indian part of the town
The town's shut down, the people left with their bags
Their kids so there's not a sound a sound

But I must get from there to here
There's a small voice crying on the other side of the river from here
It's too late to phone her now
What went wrong, your grades were good
It would take a left wing Robin Hood to pay for school
Your dad's a boozer and you keep him alive

Just a minute close your eyes
If we settle for this compromise I'll stay with you
The river looks so good tonight
I don't know what's with your friend
She met a boy and at the summer's end
She said she'd had enough of playing games

I don't care cause I'm by myself
All the dancers left but I can't dance
So I will stay and clean the mess they left behind
But I dream as I set to scrub all the floors, the walls
I'm thinking of a song or two, a boy a girl a rendezvous

Are you coming or are you not?
There is nothing that would sort you out
There's nothing I could say or do
You're going to crash, I'll set the bails in front of you
Are you coming or are you not?
There is nothing that would sort you out
An interesting way of life
Deny yourself the benefits of being alive

You slept better in a sleeping train in a shed in a station
With a torch and a Woman's Realm to keep you warm
To keep you company
You slept better in a sleeping train in a shed in a station
With a torch and a Woman's Realm to keep you company tonight

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Lazy Sunday - Ian Mcnabb

Lazy Sunday and this week top of the shuffle pile is the opening track from Ian McNabb's Gentlemen Adventurer lp. The former Icicle Worker is a national treasure and just keeps quietly releasing greta lp after great lp to mainly indifference from th emusic press , the charts and generlly anyone apart from the core hard core fans
A simple short song with some sumptious west coast harmonies

Friday, 26 November 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - Freedom

It has been 9 years since the publication of Jonathan Franzen's last novel "The Corrections" the story of a family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner that was hailed as a sign of the times piece of writing.

"Freedom" has suffered the fate of many books that come with big expectations. At first it was hailed as the novel of the century and was published to reviews people dream of, as critics almost rushed to outdo each other with writing about how good this book was. Then as usual came the backlash, early review in the UK especially started rather sniffily in that slightly jingoistic tone we are so good at that the book arrives on the back of impossibly good reviews in the American press. Whilst not actually saying it there was a hint of emperor's new clothes.

Well as ever the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Freedom is a great read and at times says a lot about what freedom means to us and more importantly the price it brings when we have it. The writing as ever with Franzen is spot on with some passages up there with the best of anyone. However book of the century well it's not even best of the year.

The opening prologue, one of the best bits in the book paints a picture of suburban America and the seemingly too good to be true Berglund family (Walter , Patty and their two children). We meet them through the eyes of their neighbours who faced with such perfect domestic bliss can't help sniping, but this just reinforces the all round goodness of Patty and Walter.

However the prologue ends with the neighbours shock as the wheels start to come off the Berglund family.
The rest of the book tells the family story at times focusing on different members , the son Paul and the lust for his friends sister, his swim with the corrupt politicians in the building of a new Iraq, Walter and his mission to save the earth starting by saving an American species of bird, but it always comes back to Patty, the mother and the key relationships in her life.
The only one who feels a bit short changed is the daughter, who is only really used to hold up a mirror to the actions and decisions of the rest of the family.

A number of different techniques are used with Patty's story mainly told through a two part "autobiography" written on the suggestion of her psychiatrist. It is these 2 sections that work best and ring truest. We see her character grow whilst always keeping a complexity of emotions and motivations.

Walter and Patty are so well drawn it is with the supporting cast that Franzen slightly misses. Two key characters. Walter's long term friend and cult rock star Richard and his young female assistant in his fight to save the endangered warbler just don't fully ring true. Although at least we hear Richard's voice enough to get an idea of what is going on his head.

I have seen Freedom reviewed as a laugh out loud comic novel. ( book reviewers seem to have an entirely different set of humour rules to the rest of us). There is humour but it is in the smile at the cleverness of a turn of phrase rather than a good old chuckle. In fact the one section that has a big this is funny sign hanging over it, involving a swallowed wedding ring, tries too hard and seems extremely forced and sits out of sync with the rest of the book

As for a message , well I'm not sure maybe simply Freedom is messy and it is how we deal with its consequences that ultimately define us

Just reading this back I may have been a tad harsh , Freedom is a great read with different levels and although some elements work a lot better than others , overall it is good read and the kind of big family saga that we just don't seem to be able to produce in this country

You can buy Freedom here where you can also download a preview.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Life of Live - Bob

I've only ever seen a support act blow the main act away once (not counting when I went to see hurrah when they were bizarrely supporting pop will eat itself) .

For some reason I went to see 1000 violins at the now deceased Duchess of York in Leeds, I must have got dragged along by a friend as I owned nothing by them. They were awful and to give them the benefit of the doubt in the age of the internet I've tracked down some of their stuff and it still sounds not for me.

However the support band were brilliant - so good it even prompted me to buy an enamel badge with their name on , and what a name ...Bob , genius.

Right from the off their total energy married with infectious tunes just got the whole place dancing. They came out of the same school as 100 other jangly guitar bands. However they weren't a one trick pony, they had a variety and a sense of fun that were missing from these other bands as well as hooks to spare. The measure for me was when 100 violins came on the energy seeped out of the room.

I've posted 3 tracks , to show the variety and invention, if you listen to just one make it the stand out single Convenience and wonder why they never got beyond indiedom

Convenience - Bob

Daybreaker - Bob

What a Performance - Bob

They released a number of eps but if you manage to track it down "leave the straight life behind" is their main lp and a great place to start

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Former Lead Singer of ... Dr Robert

Dr Robert was the lead singer of the Blow Monkeys who made a number of polished pop singles with smooth soulful,funk sound that often disguised lyrics with a real bite. When the Blow Monkey's eventually fizzled away he started to release a steady stream of solo lps with a much earthier folky sound. He did start hanging around a lot with Paul Weller which did worry me that his debut would be a bit dad rock. However Realms of Gold contained some beautiful songs, mainly driven by acoustic guitar and built around simple melodies and Dr Robert's distinctive vocal style

For some reason I didn't go for the next couple of lps but the4th lp "Flatlands" I couldn't resist simply as I grew up in the heart of the flatlands ..the fens and again the lp has a folky feel maybe slightly rootsier

I've posted one track from each of these lps

Sanctuary from Realms of Gold
Sky is Falling from Flatlands

Best place to start if you like these 2 tracks is this compilation

It seems like the solo stuff is on hold for now as the Blow Monkeys have reformed and about to release their 2nd lp since getting back together

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday Moments - Crocodile Cryer

Monday moments this week is form what is still one of my all time favourite songs. The first thing I heard by Martin Stephenson and the start of seeing play live countless times and buying up pretty much everything he has released.
Inspired by a young Martin feeling angry at the mourners at his grandma's funeral, this tells the tale of a gold digging funeral visitor as he hovers about hoping for a mention in the will

In a house full of fair day fakes
The next door neighbour made the cakes
With Elton John records playing loud upstairs
It could be just the time to strike
I'll be casual and ask about
A will that could be mine throughout
An opportunist you might think
But I have to earn my brass

My monday moment comes in the wonderful instrumental break where a game of tag goes on as the baton is passed from the organ to the acoustic guitar to be picked up by the strings before the chorus come sin again all weaving around the gorgeous melody
I still can't understand how Elvis Costello is a national treasure and Martin remains something of a cult
If you haven't got it please buy Boat to Bolivia here you won't regret it (especially as this version has an extra cd of tracks from the band's other 3 lps)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Lazy Sunday - The Associates

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from The Associates's Sulk lp. What do I like about it , well as with all their stuff it walks the tightrope of genius and madness

Friday, 19 November 2010

New Music - Unkle Bob

Four years ago Glaswegian 4 piece made for me both the single of the year in "the Hit Parade" and the lp of the year in "Sugar and Spite". With their perfect harmonies, acoustic driven songs and simply gorgeous melodies they reminded me of the kind of Scottish bands from the late 80s whose sound looked to across the Atlantic.

Well they are back with a new lp "Shockwaves" which again is partly produced by James guitarist Saul Davies. The sound this time is a little rougher round the edges has a rockier feel and is more electric than acoustic.

However what remains the same are the heart breakingly good harmonies , the knack of producing great pop songs with melodies that suck you in and don't let go. In touring with James they've picked up the trick of using a repeated phrase as a hook that almost becomes an instrument in itself.

The lead off single Satellite and it's follow up In My Head show case all that is good about the lp but for me the best track is Proud a ballad of sorrow and confusion.
"Stop Crying Stop Lying"

At first I was worried with reviews I read that talked about the more electric sound but having had the lp for a week now am glad they didn't try and do a Sugar and Spite part two. If you bought the first lp or just like your music with a bit of west coast feel (Clydebank or California) then give Shockwaves a go

You can buy the lp here
You can visit the band's website here where you can see a great video for the new single
Their myspace site is here where you can hear the tracks I've mentioned plus others

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Former Lead Singer of - Neil Arthur

Blancmange were the 80s electro duo that lasted 3 lps and had about half a dozen chart hits. Neil Arthur the lead singer tended to have two approaches either the slightly deranged David Byrnesque of Living on the Ceiling and Blind Vision or the measured croon of tracks like Waves.

For some reason it took 8 years following the band's split for a solo lp to appear. Suitcase doesn't see a radical departure just an updating of the synth sounds, but it still contains a fair few great pop tunes and I always liked his voice even at its most manic

Breaking My Heart - Neil Arthur

I Know about You - Neil Arthur

Apparently the band have reformed and are touring, although Phil who often leaves comments on the blog has said that they are the worst band he has seen live so maybe just look out for any new material

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Junk Mail

Since starting this blog the cathedrals of sound e:mail address has been swamped with junk mail. I am now a multi millionaire due to luckily winning loads of lottery draws that I hadn't entered, I've helped many a dying woman find a good cause for her millions away from the clutches of her family and any concerns in the bedroom have long since left me due to endless offers of penis enhancements and viagra I've taken up. However the one I received in june is pretty unique. I'll quote it in full

This is the only way i can get in touch with you for now, this may sound surprissing to you it's nothing but fact. I have been assigned so terminate you by someone I beleive you call a friend with some reason listed to me but i have been watching over you for a while and i see that you are innocent of the accusations level against you. Do not inform police or try to send a copy of this to them because if you do I will know and I might be pushed to do what I have been paid to do.
Besides, I pity you to betrayed my job and i want you to help yourself. Now listen, you will pay the sum of five thounsand dollars ($5,000) so that i can cancel the mission and I will arrange a meeting with you to see face to face. I repeat, do not arrange for the cops and if you play hard to get, it will be extended to your family member and i will also warn you not set any camera to cover us or set up any tape to record our conversation, my client is in my control now. Payment details will be provided for you to make a part payment of $3,000 first, which will serve as gurantee that you are ready to co-orperate,after this i will post a copy of the video tape that contains his request for me to terminate you which will be enough evidence for you to take any legal action against the person before he employs another person for the job. You will pay the balance of $2,000 once you receive the tape.

Warning: do not contact the police and make sure you keep this to yourself until you finally get the recorded video tape from me,if you neglect any of these warnimgs, you will have yourself to blame. You do not have much time, so get back to me immediately.

Note: I will advise you to keep this within yourself alone, not even a friend or a family member should know about it, because he could be one of them,You are warned.

Glad to know this friendly assassin has my best interests at heart!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday Moments part 33/52- Being Boring

When Behaviour came out reviews described it as when the Pet Shop Boys got serious, a bit over simplistic as So hard is still a classic hi tempo tune and the first 2 lps were hardly shallow pop fluff.

This week's Monday moment comes from still my favourite single of theirs. A series of snap shots as Neil Tennant looks back on his youth "I came across a cache of old photos and invitations to teenage parties dress in white one said with quotations"

I love the way Neil Tennant's voice gets across that sense of longing , wistfulness and regret all tied up in thinking of the past and a disappearing youth. Not the world's best singer but my monday moment this week is 2 fold , firstly the confidence in the song that means that almost 2 mins is given to set the mood before the vocals start. Secondly as Simon Cowell would say "Neil you nailed that lyric and made the song all your own"

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Lazy Sunday - Beth Orton

Lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile this week is a track from Beth Orton's Central Reservation lp. What do i like about it , well she has the perfect sunday morning voice

Friday, 12 November 2010

Strange Covers - Laughing Len

When I was in the 6th form at school we had an English teacher who swore that Leonard Cohen was a genius and that his lyrics should be on the a level english lit syllabus. At the time it all sounded a bit folk and a bit 70s - all of which seemed a million miles away from the music I was in to (the ignorance of youth)

It was only when I went on hols to Spain and everywhere I went the I'm Your Man lp seemed to be playing coupled by the fact that they very people he seemed a million miles away from started to go on about how good he was, that I started to listen more closely.

I bought I'm Your Man, along with the lp of his songs Jennifer Warnes recorded as well as a greatest hits all in close proximity and started to listen to his stuff more and more. There is a part of me though that still prefers covers of his songs than the originals.

Here are two great examples

The first was the lead off single from Ian McCulloch's second solo lp and the second is a version by Lloyd Cole of my favourite Laughing Len song which also is one of my favourite sets of lyrics and the one where I finally agree with my English teacher

It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening.

I hear that you're building your little house deep in the desert
You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record.

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

Ah, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn at the shoulder
You'd been to the station to meet every train
And you came home without Lili Marlene

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody's wife.

Well I see you there with the rose in your teeth
One more thin gypsy thief
Well I see Jane's awake --

She sends her regards.
And what can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I'm glad you stood in my way.

If you ever come by here, for Jane or for me
Your enemy is sleeping, and his woman is free.

Yes, and thanks, for the trouble you took from her eyes
I thought it was there for good so I never tried.

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

-- Sincerely, L. Cohen

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Life of Live - Frazier Chorus

Support for yesterday's life of live came form Frazier Chorus a trio who specialised in dreamy pop with whispered vocals. They had already had a minor hit with Dream Kitchen. They released their second lp Ray (the first one was called Sue) at the time when the record company's answer to everything was let's get a remix and preferably a Paul Oakenfield one.

This is one of those times when they were right. I've posted the first 2 singles in remix form. Cloud Eight is the catchier of the two but it is with Nothing, a sugary tune , breezy beat , but despairing lyric that really works

Nothing (has been proved mix) - Frazier Chorus

Cloud Eight (future mix) - Frazier Chorus

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Life of Live - Black

Black was the recording name for Colin Vearncombe, they'd had an indie hit with Hey Presto but a couple of slow sad songs , "the Sweetest Smile" and "Wonderful Life" had given him the breakthough.

The new lp Comedy was set to cement his position in the upper reaches of the chart, however, first single "The Big one" disappointed and the lp never really recovered. This was a real shame as the sound was a lot richer and varied, although I can imagine the record company saying .."yes but we want another Wonderful Life"

I remember going to see Black live and not really sure what to expect. It seems that free of the restraints of the record he could let flow the different styles and influences, so everything had a bit more energy power and expression. One song a good tune on the lp is suddenly live built around a mad bit of flamenco guitar. The other thing I remember is just how powerful his voice was and again a much wider range than came across on the lps.

The song I've posted is not his best by a long chalk but it was one of the ones that live blew everyone away

Colin Vearncombe is still recording and like others such as Lloyd Cole has embraced the web and operates outside the usual record company arena. He knows who his fans are and what they want. There is a wealth of info on his website here which is worth checking out and where you can also buy his backlist

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday Moment - Breaking Point

If you read any of the music blogs that I do then I guess you already have this. Probably the biggest lost single of the 80s this should have been massive and kick started Paul Quinn to a glittering career, instead of a number of false starts and cult hero worship.

One of the best voices going, it is in full glorious flow on this adrenalin rush of a single. I don't think it has dated at all and still send s the same shiver down my spine as when I first heard it. The follow up Careless was good as well but as a band I suspect they would have never hit these heights again if they had kept going. Paul Quinn eventually trumped even this with the first Independent Group lp, but that is for another day.

My monday moment comes with the first urgent stab of the strings and then after 27 secs the first line "I stake my claim" in a voice that sweeps you away

Breaking Point - Bourgie Bourgie