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Saturday, 31 July 2021

Whippersnapper

The sheer quantity of new material coming from The Orb stable could be a bit overwhelming; alongside the Royal Familia album and the remixes version, the recent further adventures of The Orb remixes of other artists, the outstanding Sebidus album from Alex Paterson and Andy Falconer, not to mention the Chocolate Hills album from 2019, there's now another new album in the pipeline- Enter The Kettle from OSS. OSS is Orb Sound System (or On Sum Shit), a collaboration between Alex and Fil, friends from both being Killing Joke roadies way back and with Orb history dating back through various albums and gigs. The first taster for Enter The Kettle is Whippersnapper, a track that sounds like it started out in the same space as the Sebidus album, space travel and widescreen ambience, but on OSS Fil brings a tougher edge to the sound, a metallic, industrial ambient groove. 

The album isn't out until November and it seems a bit depressing to be looking and pre- ordering an album that far ahead, when summer will be long gone and winter in front of us, but I'm guessing that this is in large part due to the problems in getting vinyl pressed by the limited number of pressing plants available and the major labels block booking plants for their own releases.

The quantity of releases Alex has been putting out across the Orb board, to go back to the start of this post, would be too much of the quality wasn't high but the entire Orb operation is at the top of its game at the moment and OSS looks like being another genuine contender. 

Friday, 30 July 2021

All The People Gather

On 28th July i.e. two days ago, it was the thirty- fifth anniversary of the release of R.E.M.'s fourth album Lifes Rich Pageant (no apostrophe, Stipe's punctuation). I've been meaning to write a post about that album for some time and if I'd been better prepared it would have gone up on Wednesday but I didn't realise it was the anniversary until yesterday so, we are where we are, as people like to say. 

R.E.M. recorded Lifes Rich Pageant in Belmont, Indiana with Don Gehman at the producer's desk. The recording of the previous album Fables Of The Reconstruction (another album I've been meaning to write about but not got around to yet) was fraught with problems- recorded during a cold, damp winter in London with Joe Boyd producing and the band homesick, an album that took a while to grow on people. Some of the band were unhappy with it but its reputation has grown over the decades since its release. Lifes Rich pageant was well received from the start and a definite attempt to push on, gain more listeners, release an album which would drive the songs further into college rock radio and beyond. Gehman was best known for his work with John Cougar Mellencamp and his production and the directness of the songs are in stark contrast to the mystery and obliqueness of Murmur and Reckoning and the Southern storytelling lyrics of Fables. Stipe is to the point, writing lyrics that mean something and stand for something, six years into Reagan's America and everything that went with that. Buck, Mills and Berry meanwhile play harder and with a rockier edge, stripping back and away from the denser jangle of their early songs. The environment is a key theme along with the state of the nation and US foreign policy. Beginning with Begin The Begin, a song kicking off with heavy guitar notes and Stipe's lower register, an urgency that jumps out of the speakers, and words that point a finger- 'silence means security/ silence means approval'. The song finishes with 'let's begin again', a lyrical motif he comes back to on Coyahoga ('let's put our heads together/ And start a new country up'). The second song blasts straight out of the blocks and leaves no doubt where the band's politics are at... 'We are young despite the years/ We are concern/ We are hope despite the times'.

These Days

There's still some fairly obscure lines about rearranging scales, marching to the sea, slapping your hat on your head, but These Days, with Berry whacking the drums and Buck hitting the guitar strings hard, sounds like a group nailing their political colours to the mast. Stipe has said that he had some kind of breakdown in 1985 and when he began writing again he knew he had come out of his darkest, most depressive time- hence the songs for Pageant were inspired and forward looking. These Days is one of my favourite R.E.M. songs, a stark contrast to the songs of their first two albums but showing a band growing and changing while keeping their instincts and integrity intact. 

The third song is in many ways the quintessential IRS years R.E.M. song, Fall On Me, a yearning, melodic, accessible song with lines about either acid rain or oppression (depending on when and who was asked). Mike Mills and Stipe sing it almost as a duet, Mills voice to the fore. After that Coyahoga, a beautiful, rousing song about the Coyahoga river, once so polluted that the river actually burned, contrasting the then current state of the river with the theft of the land from the American Indians. Stipe manages to write a positive lament, if that's possible, an optimistic call to arms- take the land back. Four songs in and possibly the strongest opening four songs of any R.E.M. album, the band then show their range- Hyena, a pacey rocker first recorded for Fables but not used- listen to the demo and its difficult to disagree with Buck who said that leaving it off Fables showed that the group 'obviously didn't know what we were doing'. It fits the rockier sound of Pageant better though so maybe the decision was right in the end. 

Hyena (Demo)

Side two always seems slightly weaker to me. That's not to say the songs aren't good, they almost all are, but it just feels like the tempo drops a tad and the sequencing feels a bit random. The Flowers Of Guatemala is a wonderful, lilting folk rock tribute to the dead of that country, the genocide of the indigenous peoples and the USA's dirty wars in Latin America. What If We Give It Away (wistful jangle folk) and Just A Touch (fast, jumbled, feedback) are both fine but sound a bit jammed together. Swan Swan H is a civil war ballad. Lifes Rich Pageant closes with a cover of a daft 60s garage band song, Superman (by The Clique), sung by Mike Mills as Stipe wouldn't do it. It works really well, underlines what has gone before with a bit of bubblegum, a goofy contrast with the album's themes of change, politics, the environment, destruction of native peoples and their lands.

In the middle of all this on side two is I Believe, a song that sounds like it was written and recorded in the same instant as Begin The Begin and These Days, starting out with banjo and then suddenly Buck chiming in, Mills and Berry right on cue and fired up. Stipe, often asked by journalists what the songs were about and what he believed in, gives them what they want, a manifesto (of sorts)- 'when I was young and full of grace/ I spirited a rattlesnake' he lets fly, a startling opening couplet, before setting his beliefs out in full- 'I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract', 'the difference between what you want and what you need', 'trust in your calling... practice makes perfect... I believe in example/ I believe my throat hurts'. 

That's what you get for asking. 

I Believe

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Three Card Trick

At the tail end of 1985 a band calling themselves The Clash released their sixth and final album, Cut The Crap. This version of the band, Clash Mk. II to some, was a post- Topper, post- Mick Jones version- Mick snarked that it took two guitarists to replace him following his unceremonious sacking by Joe and Paul. The two guitarists were Vince White and Nick Sheppard (Vince was actually Greg but re- christened by Paul Simonon who said Greg wasn't a rock 'n' roll enough name and threatened to quit). Drummer Pete Howard was the third unknown (replacing Terry Chimes who'd stepped in to replace Topper when they toured the States supporting Combat Rock and had chart hits, exposure and stadium gigs with The Who). The new version of The Clash had toured the west coast of the USA and were well received. Members of California punk bands have said the five man Clash were as good live as the original line up- but we can possibly take that with a small pinch of salt. If Paul had quit the group would have been over and maybe that would have been a neater ending, leaving Joe to lick his wounds and pour the songs he was writing into a solo album which is what Cut The Crap should have been. Defensive and angry Joe insisted the Clash Mk. II were going back to punk rock basics, cutting out the reggae and experimentation of Sandinista! and Combat Rock. Joe insisted anyone could write punk songs- despite the fact that almost all the music previously had been written by Mick. Joe, proving  a point to Mick who had frozen the band's assets legally,  wrote a song called We Are The Clash. 

In early 1985 the new Clah went into the recoding studio with abut twenty songs written, ready to record. Bernie Rhodes was back in the manager's chair and had been instrumental in Mick Jones' sacking for 'rock star posturing'. With little money to play with Bernie booked a studio in West Germany and an engineer (Michael Fayne) with affordability in mind and also because he had experience using drum machines. Either Joe or Bernie (or both) had decided they'd employ drum machines in response to and compete with Mick's experimental drum machines and sampling in the early stages of Big Audio Dynamite. Strummer's new songs and the demos of them (This Is England, Three Card Trick, Sex Mad Roar) were promising and Joe wanted them recorded quickly and with the new group, guitars to the fore. Rhodes became convinced he was no the band's producer and was on the cusp of a new genre combining cut ups and samples, drum machines, electro and Joe's voice on top. Paul rapidly lost interest. Bernie bullied drummer Pete Howard in the studio. Bernie wanted football crowds and massed chants on backing vocals, a nod to the busking tour the five men did the year before. Joe and Bernie clashed and apart from This Is England, which everyone agreed was a keeper, and the only song in the studio that all five members really contributed to. Bernie took over and Joe let him. Bernie filled all twenty four tracks on each song, cluttering the album and muddying the sound, the two guitarists contributing twin Les Paul guitar parts, drum machines clattering away and chanting choruses competing with samples and dialogue from the TV. Paul doesn't appear on it at all except in the inner sleeve photo. The cover is awful, a picture postcard punk/ collage. The press pulled it to pieces, the fans agreed on the whole, the band didn't like it- in 1986 Joe said he hated it. 

This Is England survived Cut The Crap, eventually re- admitted into a recent Clash compilation and Strummer himself claiming it as 'the last great Clash song'. But mainly what The Clash Mk. II proved was that Bernie had been a disaster and that Mick Jones was a/ the significant musical and song writing talent- Mick demonstrated this fully a month before the release of Cut The Crap with the debut B.A.D. album, a superb and easy sounding album full of drum machines, samples from films and catchy, relevant songs. 

Earlier this year Gerald Manns took Cut The Crap to pieces and rebooted it. Many of the songs from the album were available on bootlegs in a form more as Joe intended, from gigs and demos and Gerald and other fans claimed a decent Clash album existed inside Cut The Crap. Gerald has taken whatever versions he can get hold of as inspiration painstakingly, ripped Joe's vocals from Cut The Crap, cleaned them up and then reconstructed the songs. De- Berniated them, as he puts it. The reconstruction involved recreating Pete Howard's drum tracks using a drum machine/ programme that sounds like a real drummer and then rebuilding the guitars himself, playing along to what he can glean from the album. Gerald has since put his versions of the songs from Cut The Crap on Youtube, a reimagined version of the album along the lines of what could have been released if the Strummer/ Simonon, White/ Shepperd/ Howard group had recorded them as a band. They're worth a listen if nothing else and show what could have been if Joe had held his nerve and kept Bernie out of the studio (or if Paul had left as he threatened to and surely wanted to given his lack of involvement in the album, his loyalty to Joe the only thing keeping him in the band. If that had happened Joe and The Clash had ended there and then, Joe might have recorded these as his solo debut. The whole album is on Youtube but I'll offer a few highlights. 

Three Card Trick (Rebooted) rumbles nicely, Joe in good voice and the guitars slashing and burning, the sound of the 1985 five man Clash recreated at home. 

The Dictator (Rebooted) is another winner retrieved from the original album, Joe's voice audibly from an inferior source but sunk into a two guitar, straight ahead, heads down, retro punk sound. 


Ironically, This Is England (Rebooted) is the one that for me sounds least good, maybe because the version released in 1985 actually works and works well. This sounds smaller somehow and shows that drum machines and samples weren't necessarily the problem with Cut The Crap. I'll happily keep the original.  


The rest of the album is out there, you can find it all on Youtube if you're interested and I accept this is a very niche subject matter. You could argue that this entire enterprise is against the spirit of The Clash, who were always pressing forward and progressing in different directions, often many at the same time. But in the spirit of what things could have been like, it's worth giving the songs a go.

Joe and Paul went on to patch things up with Mick quickly and Joe produced and co- wrote the second B.A.D. album, No. 10 Upping Street, with Mick having tracked him down and apologising for sacking him. That album contained this, a song as good as anything either man wrote or recorded in the 1980s. 


Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Here We Go Forever

Mogwai's album As The Love Continues has been nominated for the Mercury Prize. I'm not sure I'd even clocked that the Mercury Prize was still going and apart from the publicity the nominees and winner get it's always seemed a very arbitrary thing, announcing one album a year as 'the winner' from a field that tries to include everything from avant- rock to folk to modern jazz to 21st century smart pop. But the announcement did encourage me to go back to the Mogwai album, one I played a lot when it came out back in February but not much since. If anything it sounded better, stronger, than it did first time around and for a band that have been around and releasing records since 1997 it's encouraging that their latest release stands alongside their earlier work. 

In some ways As The Love Continues doesn't break any new ground but it does bring together what they do very well, on the back of two previous albums that did the same (the soundtrack to Kin and 2017's Every Country's Sun were both first rate albums). Mainly instrumental, monumental, slowly building songs, with freak out climaxes and sections of beauty, the odd sung song (and I love the Mogwai songs with Stuart Braithwaite singing), the synths and vocoders becoming as integral as the guitars, and obtuse, laugh out loud song titles. This song, although admittedly not blessed with a funny title, is as good as any. 

Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Go!!!

Back in 2010 Andrew Weatherall remixed Danish producer Trentemoller's track Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, Go!!! At that point Timothy J. Fairplay was Andrew's studio right hand man, a partnership which would result in their album as The Asphodells (the superb Ruled By Passion, Destroyed By Lust, named after a shlocky gladiator porn movie). One of the key influences at the time, all over the Trentemoller remix, was the glam rock stomp, a wonderfully retro sound derived from twin sources- Big New Prinz by The Fall and Let's Get Together Again by The Glitter Band, 'the men in satin trousers it's ok to like' Andrew quipped after playing the song on one of his radio shows at the time (that's The Glitter Band not The Fall obviously). 

Big New Prinz is a remarkable piece of Brix- era Fall, built around Glitter Band drumming, some really grimy bass and vicious guitar lead lines, a song that developed from a 1982 song (Hip Priest) and was reworked for their 1988 I Am Kurious Oranj album, a record that combined some kind of tribute to William of Orange's ascension to the English throne in 1688 and the soundtrack to a Michael Clark ballet along with a version of Jerusalem. Meanwhile Mark riffs about rock records, drinking the long draft, big priests and the self referential refrain, 'He/ Is/ Not/... Appreciated'. 

Big New Prinz

Let's Get Together Again is 70s social club manna, a football chant and double drumkit stomp, sax and Les Paul. No mp3 I'm afraid but I've found it on Youtube- there's another clip on Youtube where they perform the song on Top Of The Pops and are introduced by a well known sex offender/ DJ but we don't need to see his face here.

Andrew and Tim channelled these sounds into the Trentemoller remix, one of those tracks you wish could loop endlessly whilst you go about you daily business. 

Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, Go!!! (Andrew Weatherall Prinz Remix)

There is a second Weatherall/ Fairplay remix, the Sky 81 remix, which is less Glitter stomp and more echo- laden, submerged, Wobble era- PiL take on the original. Both remixes, the original and two other mixes can be bought here. And for completion's sake here are the twin heroes of the Trentmoller song, from the golden age of Marvel and the pens of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. 

Monday, 26 July 2021

Monday's Long Song

Martin Jenkins has been a regular postee at this blog over the last couple of years in his guise as Pye Corner Audio, his battery of synths responsible for some beautiful work on his own and as a remixer (not least the six Pye Corner remixes of the songs from Andy Bell's solo album of last year, a technicoloured, cosmische re-imagining of the songs). Now Martin has another alias, The House In The Woods, and a new album, The Spectral Corridor. The eight tracks contained within are all long songs, the shortest just under eight minutes and the longest coming in at ten minutes seventeen seconds. On The House In The Woods Bandcamp page The Spectral Corridor is described as 'a doom infused set of stygian sludge drone that calls to mind the faded hinterlands of early electronic music infused with modern menace' and if that doesn't set your pulse racing I don't know what will. The tracks on The Spectral Corridor are built around repetition and throbbing, sinister synth tones, and are not for the faint hearted, the opposite of chilled out ambient. It is like the soundtrack to a dystopian 70s sci fi/ horror programme shown late at night on BBC2 or those public information films where children die on pylons or in slurry pits on farmyards. It's beautifully done and has a refusal to go anywhere quickly, but lets the listener sink into the sounds and wallow in the murk. 

Spectral Corridor Part 3 is a menacing, slowly building nightmare which keeps on building, the humming noises increasing as a ghostly topline wavers in and out. It is quite possible it will freak your shit out. 

Quadratic is slightly less threatening, content to merely unsettle the listener, the sound of Tangerine Dream having a bad trip. You can listen to the whole album and buy it at Bandcamp



Sunday, 25 July 2021

All Aboard

I woke up yesterday morning with the line from The KLF's Last Train To Trancentral running through my head, 'All aboard, all aboard, woah- oh'. In 1991 they performed it on Top Of The Pops, a peak KLF 'live' performance in many ways.

This remixed version from the Last Train To Trancentral Remix 12" is a beauty, the halfway point between the Chill Out album and The KLF's magnificent run of stadium house singles, six minutes of train sounds (horns sounding, level crossing bells ringing, engines and rolling stock rumbling over the tracks) and some of the samples that make up the proper version. Ambient stadium house. 

Last Train To Trancentral (Remix 1)