Monday, 30 August 2010

Monday Moments - Graceland

Last week I wrote about seeing The Bible live in Leeds and this week's Monday moment is from the single that got me into them. It is one of the best bits of intelligent pop going and should have propelled them to instant stardom.

The opening of some songs send a shiver down my spine no matter how many times I hear them. This week's moment is simply the first line of the song sung , a beat before the instrumentation starts. It doesn't stop there with the rest of the verse being one of my favourite lyrics, with the slightly awkward phrasing somehow adding to the impact it has on me every time

One of the few songs I can never become tired of

"Would I give you money
I don't know
The free est things in life are best and so
Put me to the test now
And When I die
Will you build a Taj Mahal
Wear black everyday of your life
I doubt it
You will never see Graceland"

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Lazy Sunday - The Painted Word

Another lazy sunday and top of the shuffle pile is Scotland's own Bryan Ferry. The Painted Word is the recording name for Alan McCusker-Thompson. They released a clutch of classic singles and a couple of gorgeous lps of what can best be described as polished pop. What I like about it is that it is a great example of that mid atlantic sound that a lot of Scottish bands went in for in the mid 80s

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Former Lead Singer..... Roddy Frame

With the demise of singular sounds, it is time for a new theme. I've suddenly come to realise that a lot of the records I buy and concerts I go and see are by people who have brackets after their name. The brackets all say the same thing, "former lead singer of.....". When I first got into music I could never understand how bands could break up. Firstly who wouldn't want to be in a band so why on earth leave on and secondly I fell hook line a sinker for the belief that bands were made up of the bestest of friends who had grown up together. Big fall outs were for awful American giants and they weren't my 13 year olds idea of a proper band. If only life were that simple!

So anyway former lead singer begins with a bit of a cheat as it is Roddy Frame who was basically Aztec Camera anyway. Another quirk I have is loving singers who use band names rather than their own , I'm still a little sad that he abandoned the Aztec Camera name. The stuff he has done under his own name has all been good but the last 2 lps 2002's "Surf" and 2006's "Western Skies" are among the best things he has recorded. There is a sense of contentment and relaxation that feels like it comes from a sense of knowing that the days of Top of the Pops are over and he can just make the music he wants to.

I've posted 1 song from each of these lps - the beautiful breakdown song "Over You" (this is in my top 5 of the best songs he has ever written) and the chilled "Marble Arch". Roddy Frame seems to now spend his time as part of Edwyn Collin's backing band, supporting him on he road back to recovery. I just hope he finds time soon to record a new lp

"I heard you were round SW3 talking about how you were over me"

You can buy both lps here

Thursday, 26 August 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - Invisible

Authors can be a bit like favourite bands, you keep buying each new release even though secretly you wish that they would just rediscover the magic formula of an earlier lp. Paul Auster is one of my favourite authors but his last few books have been good but looking back with each one there has been a little voice that I've tried to ignore. A voice of disappointment that the new book isnt as good as my earlier favourites and a suspicion that they are more sketches than fully formed novels . The last one I really enjoyed without reservation was Mr Vertigo.

Well like a good band hitting a second wind, his latest is a reminder of what I love about his writing and his most fully formed novel in some time. His publishers are always trying to sell him to the mainstream, which is apparent from the blurb on the jackets. For Invisible it says "..... finds himself caught in a love triangle that leads to a sudden, shocking act of violence that will alter the course of his life". If you bought the book based on this synopsis you'd be a tad disappointed to realise that this basically doesn't even cover the first third. What the jacket doesn't mention is that it is told in Auster's usual sparse . quite cold style, with often meanders down side alleys, changes in narrative structure and an ending that as usual is almost willfully vague.

Paul Auster's best books are like windows on a story with a real sense that the story doesn't begin with the start of the book or finish with the last sentence and Invisible is a great example of this. This doesn't mean that it isn't satisfying , but the satisfaction comes less from the actions of the main characters but the often conflicting motives behind these actions. This fact, the twists in style and the prose that leaves as much unsaid as said leaves you to put together your own picture and to fill in the gaps. Part of the fun is meeting someone who has also read his books and find that you have come to 2 completely different interpretations based on how you both have filled in these gaps

It is not perfect by a long way or approaching his best, there is a big confession / revelation concerning one of the remaining taboos that I'm not really sure what the point of was. Was it is only to throw more confusion on what is truth and what is interpretation or how we feel about the main character. Also, reflecting there are times when the ending frustrates and I wish for a sense of finality / conclusion , but you rarely get that with an Auster novel.

Desperate as they are for him to move to the league of Amis and McEwan , I don't think Invisible will win him any new fans (in fact a lot of the blog reviews I've read have been negative) , but despite or because of its flaws, if you loved his early work and have lost touch recently, this is the book to renew your acquaintance

I realise I've said even less about the plot than the jacket blurb I criticise, but I as with his best books the plot isn't really the point

You can buy Invisible by Paul Auster - here

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Life of Live - The Bible

Before I went to poly I did 6 months voluntary work in Worcester. My first try at living away from home was in a flat above someone who thought we were spying on her for the government ans searching her flat every time she went out, next to a night shelter and opposite the Worcester sauce factory - I still can't stand the smell of the stuff

I bought lots of lps one of which was "Walking the Ghost Back Home" by the Bible - bought purely on the basis of a review that did a comparison of sounds like Prefab Sprout and Aztec Camera ,which guarantees my spending money on it. In those pre internet days tracking down lps on small local indie labels wasn't easy but luckily I stumbled across it in a great record shop in Worcester that also used to do mystery singles bags for £1. (it was the rush of gambling combined with music!)

This time the review inspired buy was a winner and I'm pretty certain I've got everything Boo Hewerdine has released ever since.

That September I started poly in Leeds and was really excited when I found out the Bible were playing live especially after I'd bored everyone by playing "Graceland" continuously for a couple of terms. (I think my friends hoped seeing them live would get the lp out of my system)

At this point I had a bit of reputation for liking stuff no-one else had really heard of and did play on the old music guru probably a tad too much.

The Bible were playing the dear departed Duchess of York , basically a pub with a low stage and bands playing most nights.

I remember the concert as being fantastic and feeling this was the kind of band I wanted to be in (although with a tad more sales and recognition!) However I do squirm whenever I think of it.

Before the band came on me and my friends sat at a table drinking and talking , with me boring everyone again on how the Bible were going to be massive and Graceland was a number 1 waiting to happen ( the record company when they were eventually picked up by a major obviously though the same as it felt like they re released it about 6 times). We all noticed an odd looking bloke in a long coat supping a pint of lager sat at the table next to us and did think long coat indoors? , drinking on his own? ?

Eventually the band came on , we stood up and shuffled to the front of the stage (it wasn't packed. ) my credibility took a bit of bashing when the bloke in the long coat said excuse me as he moved between us , jumped on the stage and promptly started singing. It was probably a good job I hadn't recognised him as Iwould have probably come across as some kind of deranged super fan stalker, much to the embarrassment of everyone involved. Maybe it also showed that Boo Hewerdine was never going to be a Bono (thank God)

I've posted an early b side from one of the many Graceland releases

You can read Boo Hewerdine's very entertaining blog here and buy Walking the Ghost Back Home here

Monday, 23 August 2010

Monday Moments - Oblivious

This weeks Monday Moment shares with "This Charming Man " my favourite ever guitar intro. Written when he was 7 or something ridiculous (it used to depress me somewhat that by the time I went to Poly Roddy Frame at the same age had already bashed out High Land Hard Rain and I'd managed a tune called Martin's Lurid Jumper with a trio called The Insistent Porpoises on a school cassette called Fenland Funland) the whole thing just shows what a God Like Genius Roddy Frame is.

I love the whole thing about it , guitars jangled, the lyrics ideal for pouring over searching for something that says something about my life, a chorus that you had to be pretty hard hearted not to sing along to and you could dance to it .. well kind of

My monday moment is that intro , which even now gives me a shiver of recognition when I hear it.

Oblivious - Aztec Camera

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Lazy Sunday - Hobotalk

Lazy Sunday and another shuffle and this time a beautiful bit of melancholy from Hobotalk. Hobotalk were one of the bands that kicked off the move away from indie brit pop bands to those that had a folkier sound but seemed to miss the boat a bit in terms of profile. What I like about it is the combination of the guitar line and the backing harmonies of the chorus

When you re waiting , half your life away

Half Your Life Away - Hobotalk

I've just relasied that this is my 300th post - so happy birthday to me! Considering I thought I'd last a month at best , I'm pretty happy to still be going . Thanks to al lof you who read the rubbish I come out with , especially those who leave a comment , it is really appreciated

Saturday, 21 August 2010

New Music - Villagers

Before I went away on holiday I had a rush of buying some new music all of which is now on heavy rotation on my cd player. Over the next week or so I'll write about each of the lps (the most exciting of which for me was an advanced copy of Trevor Jones's - singer of the Miracle Mile follow up to his first solo lp)

The first lp is "Becoming a Jackal" by Irish singer songwriter Conor O'Brien who records under the name of the The Villagers. Not only that but he also produces the lp , plays all the instruments (apart from the french horn and strings) and designs the art work. he probably has a lie in on sundays.

This is not your average singer songwriter stuff , if anything he remnds me a bit of Sufjan Stevens in that the songs manage to be both memorably catchy and interestingly complex at the same time, the instrumentation is always imaginative and the lyrics worth a sit down and read in their own right (the lyric book is a beautiful bit of design). It all hasn't gone unnoticed as the lp has been nominated for the Mercury prize.

There are echoes of Prefab Sprout's Swoon but like that lp comparisons don't do justice to it's uniqueness and also like that lp you seem to hear something fresh either in the word heavy lyrics or the subtle changes in tempo and tone everytime it comes on

The Villagers website is here and you can buy the lp here

Thursday, 19 August 2010

More of the Future?

Nick Kelly used to be lead singer of one of my favourite bands the Fat Lady Sings as well as releasing two fantastic solo lps. I wrote about The Fat Lady Sings here as part of the occasional Bigger than the Beatles theme. I mentioned that he was doing something different with his new lp , a series of concerts to get feedback on different arrangements of potential songs for the new lp.

Well it turned out to be a bit more ambitious than that, a 9 month period called "gestation" and has resulted in the lp "9 Lives". I'll quote from Nick's website to give you the picture

"Its nine songs were recorded during the course of GESTATION, my 9 month live concert series, during which I worked with an array of different guest musical collaborators on different arrangements of my new songs, posting the results online for the public to listen to and give feedback on.

It's a live album of new songs (as opposed to live versions of previously released material). "

It is not due for release until the autumn but you can get a copy at his website here

Rather confusingly as the recording method has been so different he has released the lp under his alter ego Alien Envoy.

It remains to see if how it works out, if it suffers a bit of music by committee but if it is a good as this track also under the Alien Envoy monika then it should be a special release

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - I Lucifer

"I Lucifer" is a 2002 novel by Glen Duncan often featured in the press on those "Best Young Novelist" list (I think the world of literature operates on a different age scale to the rest of the world, you seem to need to be 45 before you stop being referred to as a young novelist).

The book sees Lucifer tell his own story, from his time as an angel, his fall from grace and the part he played in Eden , at the crucifixtion, the Inquisition, the rise of nazism etc.

The reason we get to hear his story is that the end is nigh and God is giving him one last chance of redemption. He gets to inhabit the body of failed author and recent suicide and if he can lead a reasonably blameless life then he will be welcomed back into heaven with open arms. Lucifer is using this opportunity to have some fun and get a film made telling his side of the story. What he didn't bank on is the rush on his senses that being human gives him and that a sense of doubt and humanity would begin to worm it's way in.

The whole book is told in Lucifer's voice and it is a playful, reasonable , charming , funny voice , exactly the kind of voice that would get into trouble and could get you thinking about doing a deal for your soul. The novel's biggest strength is this but it also means that there is no let up and there are times where you want a break, another perspective to sift through the smoke and mirrors that Lucifer throws up. Only at the end do we hear other voices, firstly an exasperated angel Raphael and then finally the returned screenwriter.

What Glen Duncan does so well are 2 things , beneath the likable Lucifer's voice there is alaways a slight tone of menace, the occaisional throw away line lets slip a true heart of darkness. The other thing is how he combines history , angel lore, biblical references and touch points but filters them through a modern voice.

It is slight and it is fun but I Lucifer has a deeper under current , the question of what it means to be human

You can buy I Lucifer here

Monday, 16 August 2010

Monday Moment - Southend on sea

This Monday's moment comes form Mark Eitzel's solo lp "60 Watt Silver Lining". Eitzel is the lead singer of vastly underrated band American Music Club and on a songwriter who doesn't get half the recognition his writing deserves. He is kind of an American cross between Elvis Costello and Neil Finn and is owed a bit of a debt by The National

Today's monday moment is not the warm brass sound , the great lyrics but the realisation that someone who has released lps called "San Francisco" and "California" is indeed singing about being stuck in Southend on Sea!

"You said to me

You're from California

And you smile too easily"

You can buy 60 Watt Silver Lining here - but be warned this is about as chipper as he gets

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Lazy Sunday - The Finn Brothers

Another Lazy Sunday and another shuffle and Finn the elder pops up for the second week running. This time with brother Neil on a track featured on the lp Everyone is Here. What I like about it, well 2 1/2 minutes of melody and harmony that you imagine would have others sweating over for weeks but suspect that these 2 can knock over a family sunday lunch. The fact they make it feel so effortless sums up what makes it so good

You can buy Everyone is Here here

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Singular Sounds XYZ - Yazoo

Another theme comes to an end , giving me sleepless nights trying to think of another one. To remind you this is a trawl through the alphabet with each letter represented by a band where i only have one thing by them.

The last 3 letters of the alphabet is the final single by Yazoo. Looking back I'm not quite sure why i haven't got copies of at least the other singles as I like them.

It has got a glorious eighties synth sound (did anyone write better plinky plonk melodies better than Vince Clark?) and a vocal that is tinged with regret , the fact that they announced they were splitting up when it was released only added to the poignancy.

There is still something about the way Alison Moyet sings " and anyway" that gets me

A couple of good Erasure singles aside I don't think anything either of them did again matches this

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Life of Live - Marc Almond

I'd been a big fan of both Soft Cell and Marc Almond's first solo lp. By the time the lp "Stories of Johnny" came out it seemed that his chart days were behind him (except for hitching a ride of the strange I Feel Love duet with Bronski Beat). It was strange that a strange stop start song with a backing more akin to Burt Bacharach saw him back in the charts and has ended up (Gene Pitney duets excluded) his highest charting solo single.

I saw him live promoting the lp. I can't remember much about the concert, except that the place was packed with goths (seemed odd considering the music he was playing at the time) and a bit like Morrissey he seemed to feed off the adulation and energy from the crowd. The more intense the front frows got the more he thre into it

Stories of Johnny - Marc Almond

On a related note , for an entertaining scarily honest read you could give his autobiography "Tainted Life" a read

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - the Strain

Up until recently I've only ecer read 2 novels with vampires in them , I am Legend and Dracula.

In the last month I've read the Passage (part of a trilogy) and now the Strain (also part of a trilogy) and I've got Let the Right One In on the to read shelf!

The Passage was a good old end of days book dressed up with some literary ambitions. The Strain on the other hand from the cover to the ordinary Joe mulitple characters and the short chapters all ending on a mini cliff hanger is a good old airport/holiday read and doesnt pretend to be anything else.

What made me get it was that one of the authors (how does that co -author thing work, do they do alternate chapters, sentences, words?) is Guillermo Del Toro. I loved Pan's Labrynh so thought I'd give it a go.

The start is the highest of concepts - a plane lands at New York airport, suddenly all systems and communications fail and when the head of a rapid response team investigating biological threats boards the plane, he finds everyone dead, except for 4 survivors, close to death but still survivors. Soon we are talking orantely carved box fullof earth in the cargo, the survivors showing an adversity to sunlight and a thirst that can't seem to be quenched.

What makes the book a bit different is firstly that the vampire thing is playe dout as the ultimate virus and secondly teh vampires themselves. Gone are the pointy teeth to be replaced by an appendage that shoots form the back of the throat , more a kin to Alien than to Boris Karloff.

AS each night descends New York gradually desends into chaos and it soon falls down to the usual motley crew to save the day.

The books greatest strength is also its biggest weakness. It hurtles along at a fair pace form set peice to set piece with the knife edge chapter endings keeping the pages turning. However because of this it does feel like a film treatment (apparently it was originally planned to be a TV mini series which noone wanted to make due to the projected cost) although apparently Del Toro has discounted a film adaptation.

Towards the end things begin to widen out a bit and with hints at the origins of the vampire virus it sets things up nicely for book two.

If you don't mind putting your brain on hold and want a book that rattles along or even are curious on how the imagination behind Pan's Labrynth translates onto page then give this a go

You can buy The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan here

Monday, 9 August 2010

Monday Moments - Once in a Lifetime

Another of my all time favourite singles. Every now and then something would be played on the radio that makes you stop whatever you are doing and think ..."what was that!" Forever linked in my mind to the video and David Byrne's southern preacher man pose crossed with John Cleese's silly walks. Watching it again , any effects that exist are a bit dated , what stands out though is that for a band effort, it truly is a one man performance.

The song itself is close to perfection , from the bubbly bass and synths that set it off to the slightly unhinged lead vocal , a chorus that lodges straight into your head and backing vocals that Eno has reproduced in every band he has produced.

My monday moment comes when it all finally gets too much and a breakdown ramble is preceded with a shout of anguish

"My God What Have I Done"

Ever since then every time I've cocked up I have had David Byrne shout those words in my ear

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Lazy Sunday - Tim Finn

Back for Good , well at least back from hols and it's another lazy sunday. This time from Tim Finn. This was a single form his "Before and After" lp. I like it becasue the meloday is as good as anythign brother Neil has done in Crowded House and it features a great bit of "nah na nah na nah"

Persuasion - Tim Finn

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A week off

No posts for the next week as I'm off for a holiday on the sunny Isle of Wight. I normally have my act together and write some posts that are published while I'm away. Apologies but life has been hectic and I havent got my act together.

In the meantime lazy sunday this week is a bit of diabetes inducing sugar pop from Scritti Politti

Absolute - Scritti Politti
See you in a week for the next lazy sunday