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Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Life Comes In Phases Take The Good With The Bad

Back in the mid- 90s when the Beastie Boys were the best band in the world they release a run of albums- Check Your Head, Ill Communication, Hello Nasty- that were effortlessly brilliant. Mixing rap, funk, punk, dub, scratching and sampling with live instruments, adding Money Mark on keys and their own particular, cockeyed worldview- anything from science fiction films, late 60s/ early 70s fashions, golf visors, ramen, the mullet hairstyle, Lee Perry- they had a golden streak where it seemed like everything they did was a brilliant idea and that you were in on the joke even if you only got 25% of the references. Anyone else from the same period that could be considered for the 'best band in the world' title had nothing on the Beastie Boys.

Their golden phase was heralded in 1989 by the album they made when they took themselves away from Def Jam and off to Los Angeles and re- thought everything they did. Hooking up with the Dust Brothers (the real Dust Brothers) they rented a villa with a pool and the owners wardrobes, stuffed full of 70s clothing, and made Paul's Boutique. This album showed they were not the one- joke frat boys of Licensed To Ill and that they were not going to be one hit wonders. Paul's Boutique is a rich, complex- but- simple, layered record, samples from one hundred and five different records sprinkled over backing tracks The Dust Brothers had already created. On top of this multi- coloured, vibrant album where songs are constructed with split second timing, the three Beasties placed their three way rhymes, adding another layer to an already dense record. Not that it sounds too dense, it's all done with amazing beats, a sense of humour, innovation and a lightness of touch that draw you in from the moment the needle finds the groove (and this is very much an album that should be listened to on vinyl).

Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun is one of the most straight ahead songs on  Paul's Boutique, a dusty rock drum beat (borrowed from Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band and their song Last Bongo In Belgium) rumbles away for a couple bars before the heavy guitar riff comes in, sounding like it's on a turntable that is slowing down, and then the Beasties and their whining NYC rapping and smothered in echo describing the stupidity of violence...

'Rolling down the hill snowball getting bigger
An explosion in the chamber the hammer from the trigger...'

There's a Pink Floyd sample in there, the piano chord from Time, clanging away. The super heavy Black Sabbath rock vibes continue through til the tension snaps at one minute fifty...

'Looking down the barrel of a gun
Son of a gun son of a bitch
Getting paid getting rich'

A pause, then the drums beat doubles and a guitar chord crashes in- both stolen from Mississippi Queen by Mountain- and the second half gets underway. Rambo, Bruce Willis, Son Of Sam and Clockwork Orange get name checked and the crunching riff and rolling drums carry us through...

'You’re a headless chicken chasin’ a sucker freebasing
Looking for a fist to put your face in
Get hip don’t slip knuckle heads
Racism is schism on the serious tip'

The vocals finish at that point but there's still a seriously deranged guitar riff to deal with, circling down the plughole, before the drum beat comes to dead stop.

Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Ennio Morricone

I've posted music by Ennio Morricone recently, back in May as part of a tribute to his Spaghetti Western soundtracks and the sampling of them by various bands (which you can find here) and also as part of at least two of my Isolation mixes. His death was announced yesterday. Ennio died aged 91 in hospital following a fall a few days earlier. It's fair to say that his soundtrack scores for Sergio Leone's Man With No Name trilogy redefined what a composer could do in cinema and Morricone went on to score over 500 films. In a lot of ways, for people around my age, his work was one of the sounds of our youth- the whip cracks, the whistling, the twangy guitars, the sweeping strings and the chanting. The songs stand alone too, as pieces of music to listen to away from the brilliance of Leone's films. A pioneer. RIP Ennio.

Watch Chimes  (From For A Few Dollars More)

Monday, 6 July 2020

Monday Long Song

This is Albert Bridge House in Manchester, an eighteen storey office building with lower level ones around it- check out the wave roof on the building at the fore in my photo, overlooking the River Irwell. It's housed various government departments over the years and has been described as 'the best modern building in Manchester' and 'an outstanding example of what good proportions and straightforward design'. Obviously it is currently under threat of demolition. Manchester City Council bend over backwards for anyone with money who want to demolish anything that is 'outdated' or 'ugly' and replace them with enormous glass towers that offer 'mixed use' development (this is usually un- affordable housing plus restaurants and/or a huge hotel). Recent reports have detailed how the planning committee has been meeting behind closed doors, as a response to Covid, and has been waving through developments that would have been held up to greater scrutiny otherwise. I've said before, I don't think that cities can or should be preserved in aspic and that cities are organic and change, buildings are put up, taken down, replaced and demolished, but the rate of change, kowtowing to private enterprise and lack of coherence in Manchester is out of control.

Here's some totally unconnected music for the Monday long song slot. In 1993 a single was released by the Peace Together project, a charity aimed at raising funds for cross- community activities for young people in Northern Ireland. The Peace Together single, Be Still, involved a huge cast of musicians and characters including Sinead O'Connor, Jah Wobble, Clive Langer, Nanci Griffiths, Feargal Sharkey, Peter Gabriel and Therapy? The CD single had remixes of Be Still by Robin Guthire with Liz Fraser on vocals and this epic Sabres Of Paradise remix.

Be Still (Sabres Of Paradise Remix)

This is one of the lost/overlooked Weatherall remixes from the 1990s, a twelve minute tour de force of Gaelic dub, tin whistles, echoing rimshots, bodhran, descending bass from Wobble, waves of synth and long, sustained keyboard chords and some of those trademark Sabres production touches from Gary Burns and Jagz Kooner. This remix often gets missed out of the round ups and retrospectives and it's a mystery to me why it does because it's Sabres Of Paradise at their extended dubby best.

Sunday, 5 July 2020


This recent release from Apiento and Tepper is a three track triumph despite it's functional title 17:44:58. The opener 3030 Dog is a beauty, all warm electronic bass, precision hi- hats tsking away and waves of synthesised sound, a merging of Balearica and deep house. It's followed by the abstract bleepy Bash and completed by House Bells, which opens with whoosshing sounds and distorted vocals and heads into repetitive, ghostly slow techno territory. Sunday sounds that both comfort and increase the weirdness.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Isolation Mix Thirteen

Lockdown ends today- at least, that's how the government and the media have been portraying it with occasional reminders that social distancing and a 2 metre gap might be important. The government have largely dropped the daily infection figures and death toll from their bulletins. You don't want to be depressing people at this stage of proceedings with doom and gloom, not when there are pints to be drunk! The media have been splashing stories about Super Saturday, Independence Day and the End Of Hibernation. It does look like they deliberately chose July 4th so they could call it an Independence Day. Meanwhile, Leicester is in lockdown, the R rate in London is apparently creeping above 1, there are Covid hotspots around the country, the deaths are still well over one hundred every day, and lots of people are talking about a second wave and a second spike without the people in charge actually wanting to do anything about it. We are still shielding, the medical advice we received this week is that due to our son Isaac being in the extremely vulnerable category we should stay in isolation until August 1st. Despite a few minor changes to our lockdown lives, we are still very much in isolation.

This mix is an hour and eight minutes of music with a folky, ambient, pastoral tinge with some Balearica and guitars thrown in, some old stuff and some brand new- some birdsong and synth ambience to start and finish, blissed out tracks from Seahawks, Apiento and Ultramarine, Green Gartside solo and as Scritti Politti, acoustic guitars courtesy of Nancy Noise, Michael Head and Barry Woolnough, some understated brilliance from The Clash and Sandinista!, Julian Cope covering Roky Erickson, Thurston Moore covering New Order and Jane Weaver's cosmic/folky weirdness.

Stubbleman: 4am Conversation
Seahawks: Islands
Nancy Noise: Kaia
Green Gartside: Tangled Man
Barry Woolnough: Great Spirit Father In The Sky
The Clash: Rebel Waltz
Thurston Moore: Leave Me Alone
Julian Cope: I Have Always Been Here Before
Jane Weaver: Slow Motion (Loops Variation)
Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band: Picasso
Scritti Pollitti: The Boom Boom Bap
Apiento: Things You Do For Love
Ultramarine: Stella (Stella Connects)
Stubbleman: 6am Chorus

Friday, 3 July 2020

Day Or Night No One Knows

It's a funny thing- over the years since Daydream Nation came out I've fluctuated in my appreciation of Sonic Youth. Working backwards from Daydream Nation threw up lots to enjoy (Bad Moon Rising, EVOL, Sister) and then forwards as well but with more mixed results. I loved Goo but there are swathes of their albums from the 1990s and 2000s I missed and was fine about missing. I bought and enjoyed NYC Ghosts And Flowers and Murray Street but completely missed and still haven't heard Washing Machine and A Thousand Leaves (both highly rated I think). I sometimes think they seem like style over substance but when they hit the target they hit it good and proper.

Thurston Moore doesn't come out of Kim Gordon's 2015 autobiography Girl In A Band too well and he can come across as bit worthy on punk documentaries. I saw him play with his group in Manchester last year. I'd gone along on a whim in a way and was glad I did. It looked interesting, the venue is a former garage across the road from Strangeways prison, MBV's Debbie Googe plays bass in the band and his Spirit Counsel album last year was a good if infrequent listen.  His cover version of New Order's Leave Me Alone had pricked my attention too, a really good take on the song. Sometimes maybe you're just more in tune with things than at other times. Three weeks ago I posted his lockdown release, a nine minute instrumental for three guitars called Strawberry Moon. Last week Thurston announced the release of an album recorded back in March, just before lockdown hit. By The Fire has Debbie on bass and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on the drums on some songs plus Jon from Negativland. In advance he put out this single, Hashish. According to Thurston the song is 'an ode to the narcotic of love in our shared responsibility to each other during isolation'. The opening guitar drones and atonal picked notes followed by the thumping drums and wasted vocals are exactly what you'd expect from Thurston Moore and if this had been a few years ago I could easily have shrugged and moved on but right now they are hitting the spot completely.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

New Levels

Last Thursday the incredible twenty one hours of mixes put together by Andrew Weatherall's former colleagues and friends, pulled together by Andrew Curley for the Glade Area at the virtual Glastonbury, went live at Mixcloud. There's is so much to enjoy in them- Timothy J Fairplay's mix, a heady, sticky ninety minutes of electronic dance music, Richard Sen's barnstorming ride through dance music littered with samples Andrew used and songs he played and Justin Robertson's masterclass in bumpity bumpity house music have been getting plays round here this week. 

In the early 1990s Andrew worked with David Harrow in various guises- as the Planet 4 Folk Quartet, as Deanne Day and as Blood Sugar. The pair released a superb double pack of 12" singles as Blood Sugar, Levels, scratchy deep house meets dub techno. The Blood Sugar night is represented in the Glade mixes with ninety minutes of outstanding digital dub techno, Basic Channel sounds, from the hands of Rick Hopkins (here). The Blood Sugar mixes were the type of thing that got passed around on cassette, nth generation copies with tape hiss as an indelible part of the experience. David Harrow, now resident in LA, has put together his own mix, half an hour of tracks he and Andrew made together. See it as an encore, digital dub techno, intense, minimal, glide by grooves, including the sweet deep house majesty of Deanne Day's Hardly Breathe. 

David is still very productive and his Bandcamp page regularly sees new and old music posted. You can find music he made with the late Bim Sherman there and this release, Machine Dubs. Headspinning, experimental, ambient techno with dubby basslines.