Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Cave Singers - Invitation Songs

A day late and a dollar short doesn't really cover it. This record is six months old over here, nearly a year old in America, and I said I'd post the day before yesterday. But I've been giving it a thorough listen, and have written down some thoughts on it anyway.

To use an under-used term, this album is an earworm. It doesn't have an immediate impact that a rock record would have. But it does grow on you. It's very much in the vein of the New Folk Explosion that seems to have hit these shores in the last year or so. It's in the same category that Fleet Foxes and Dodos fall under, but doesn't sound terribly like either of those bands. It's bass driven, earthy folk music.

If I was going to try and pidegeonhole this trio, I'd say they remind me of Lyndsey Buckingham* orchestrating an acoustic Yo La Tengo jam session (especially on the album standout 'Helen'). Some people already have their mouth watering with that idea, and rightly so. This is music for grown ups. The band themselves appeared to have mellowed with age. Derek Fudesco was once in the visceral Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls make Graves, drummer Marty Lund formerly played with the excellently named Cobra High, and singer Pete Quirk was once fronting a post-punk outfit. To say this was a step away from their previous work would be a bit of an understatement.

You can download the excellent opening track, Seeds of Night from Matador. Give it a spin, see what you think.


*I've just noticed they've listed Fleetwod Mac as an influence in their bio. Can you imagine how 'uncool' that would have been considered ten years ago?

Monday, 28 July 2008

Tom Waits review up on DiS

I can't believe I forgot the eyeball bit. Or used the word ebullient. What was I thinking?

Cave Singers CD review up on here later today. Keep em peeled.

*update* *Did I say yesterday? I meant tomorrow. OK. ok.*

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Sonic Youth in the 90's - Part Two

Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star was considered one of Sonic Youth's weaker efforts when it came out in 1994, and tends to get short shrift with critics even now. The band themselves admitted they'd released it as a rock album so they could compete live with the newer, heavier grunge acts that were around at the time. That said, it is a consistent piece of work, has aged very well, and deserves to be reconsidered as one of their better albums.
A deluxe re-issue is pending.
Sonic Youth - Androgynous Mind
Sonic Youth - Tokyo Eye

Dirty was Sonic Youth's 1992 UK breakthrough album. It made #6 in the album charts (compared with Goo's meagre #32), and was PACKED with singles. Definitely a step towards the mainstream, to my mind at least, this was their best 90's effort. Included here are the non-single highlights, the furious guitar attack of Drunken Butterfly*, and the majestic indie rock masterclass that is Wish Fulfilment. Check out the drumming on these tracks. Steve Shelley is a gifted drummer, and was at his peak here.
Sonic Youth - Drunken Butterfly
Sonic Youth - Wish Fulfilment

*(OK, Drunken Butterfly was a single in Germany. You get nothing for pedantry in this game, y'know)

Live shots from Lounge on the farm

From the top.... New York Dolls, two of Reggie Youngblood from Black Kids, Lightspeed Champion, Art Brut, Smoke Fairies. My 5MP handy, virtually indestructible camera is starting to show its age. I need an optical zoom, too; digital zoom pixelates like a bastard. Upgrade time!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Micah P Hinson

played the Borderline last night, supporting White Denim at a Club Uncut show. And although the headliners pounded away, and threw shapes all night long, he blew them away with just an acoustic and a little personality.

I've had one of his songs running around my head all day. It's a deceptively simple love song called 'I keep having these dreams'. Will upload it when I get a chance.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Marion Discography (Part One)

Part one of an ongoing fanboy project to get rare Marion tracks out of my record collection and into the wild. They were one of the best bands of the Nineties, and I still have high hopes for their long, long awaited third album. Jaime Harding is playing the Metro on Oxford street this Thursday, and speaks of new Marion songs ready to go. Sadly I'm going to miss this show, but I can hardly wait to hear the new songs.

Let's all go together (Slide version)
An alternate take on a classic. Huge slide guitar all over this mix, and it doesn't fade out like the original version. A b-side to Time.

What are we waiting for?
A forgotten gem from their second album, The Program.

Another Time b-side, that also made the Japanese version of 'This World and Body'.

Violent Men
Not the original Rough Trade version, but a more balanced recording of their debut, drawn from their hit single Sleep.

My Children (Evening session version)
A blistering run through the pounding closing track.

The Powder Room Plan
Apparently the subject of meddling by the label, this song is still one of my favourites and deserved to be the second single from their last album.

The Late Gate Show
The b-side of Let's all go together, this live favourite also was fit for inclusion to the Japanese version of TWAB.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Fresh Picks: Part One
Scouring the internet so you don't have to

Two acts who deserve a bit more love and attention below.

Carrying on the tradition of good indie rock bands that start with 'My First', My First Radio are releasing a single, Progress via the God is in the TV singles club. They're getting a fair bit of press. They're from Kettering and Corby. Is that where the trouser press comes from? Does it matter? When you think about it for long enough, does anything really matter? Regardless of these questions, it's quite a good single, and the A side is strong. It reminds me a bit of Remote Part era Idlewild, and it's a rich, layered indie piano ballad with a Six by Seven wailing guitar kick halfway through. The B-side channels Bloc Party/Redjetson. Drowned in Sound should love it.

Next up, from Northern Ireland, Tiny Echoes
He doesn't have a bio up on the Myspace there, but he's recorded a decent new album you can download entirely for free here. He's described it as straight folk rock music, and it reminds me of the mellower moments from the Postal Service, a little of Elliott Smith. It's good stuff, with the pick for me being a song called Their Voices. Have a listen first, see if you like it. Then download it anyway. It's a dirty little grower.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Stay Positive - The Hold Steady

I'd like to go back in time, to the 18th of February 2007. The Hold Steady have just played one of the best shows I've ever seen at The Borderline. I'm awestruck, and have sung along the whole show. My clothes are damp with sweat, and my throat is raw, but I wait around to get some record sleeves signed. I brought them with me, with a very nice marker pen. Yes, I'm that kind of person, and I'm mildly drunk. It was a Hold Steady show. It seemed appropriate.

A couple of band members are moving around stage to pick up their equipment. I collar Franz, Buddy and Ted, and they sign my albums. There's a mini queue of people waiting for Craig to sign their tickets. That's something I'll never understand. As a memento, what point is there in a signed ticket? Getting a record signed is different. Every time you get the record out to play it, there's a reminder you met the artist, told them how good you thought the show was, that their record meant something to you personally. That signed album is a remembrance of an event that'll give you some satisfaction every time you play it.

But I digress. I get to the head of the queue and have a chat with Craig. He's very amenable. I tell him how much I liked the show (I believe I may have used the phrase "It was very entertaining"), and whip out the record sleeves. He signs the record sleeves for the last two records, but is taken aback by the appearance of the first album, which was yet to be re-issued and quite hard to get hold of over here. 'This is old school!", he says, and my fanboy heart skips a beat. He points out a man on the sleeve, tells me who they are, and that they helped them record the first album. He kept saying something that stuck in his head, says Craig; it's been buzzing around in his head recently. He hands me back my prizes. I tell him how much I liked the show. It was very entertaining, I said. You've said that already, he says. A young couple ask to get their tickets signed. Cheerio, I say. Keep the pen. As I'm walking up the stairs, I inspect the sleeves more closely. He's signed them all with his initials, and two words.

Stay Positive


And a mere 18 months after Boys and girls in America was released, The Hold Steady deliver their fourth album. Having listened to it a number of times, there's good news and bad news. The good: The album is very much in the vein of Boys and Girls in America, and there are some killer tracks on here. None of it is phoned in. The Bad: It isn't as good as the first album, or the album that preceded it. It sits alongside Separation Sunday as a decent, respectable and workmanlike Hold Steady album.

The first two tracks promise great things. 'Constructive Summer' and 'Sequestered in Memphis' are both excellent, rip roaring singalongs. The stuff of old. 'One for the cutters' is good, but over-long and epic, and shows the change in structure that is at the heart of Stay Positive. Although we're given characters in songs, and Craig is as reliable a storyteller as ever, the characters that feature are unnamed. This is a big jump for the listeners, who have previously associated with Holly, Charlemagne and Gideon. Even way back with Lifter Puller, Finn was telling stories with a set of heroes and villains. Here the stories become anecdotes without the context of characterisation, and while sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Perhaps it isn't a fair criticism, but old fans may well be disappointed, and new listeners may find some of the songs a bit vague and undernourished.

The second half picks up from the title track, which is as good as anything they've done, again a true Hold Steady singalong that references all their previous albums. It's followed by the one duffer on the album 'Magazines', but the closing one-two of 'Joke about Jamaica' and 'Slapped Actress' more than make up for the error. The former shows the stylistic choice Finn made paying off, the latter a huge closing track that evokes the best of Boys and Girls... So sometimes they still swing and hit big. Which means Stay Positive is still worth having as an album. Just don't expect the rewards to be as immediate or as numerous as their earlier work.

(Sadly my review copy misses the three bonus tracks available on the full CD version of the album. I'd wager that 'Ask her for Adderall' is the best of the three, as it shows up as a bonus on the vinyl too. But that's only a guess...)