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Friday, 28 January 2022

Indicate Then

All being well, tonight I will attend an indoor gig for the first time since seeing Julian Cope at Gorilla in February 2020. One of my Christmas presents was tickets for Half Man Half Biscuit at the Ritz, bought as a surprise by my daughter. I'm a little uneasy about being at an indoor venue crammed with so many people but I'm sure HMHB fans are a considerate bunch. 

There's a new album out in February- The Voltarol Years- with the usual range of promising song titles including Tess Of The Dormobiles, Oblong Of Dreams and Token Covid Song. 

A pair of songs to celebrate. The first is from a Peel Session back in 2000, a song about traffic jams and caravan holidays in North Wales taking in Sleater- Kinney and Neil Morrissey. 

Bottleneck At Capel Curig

This one's about losing your temper with the driver in front for not alerting you to their intention to turn left before dissecting the postman's life and habits, and then closing with the desire to see the Gouranga graffiti artist/s imminent arrest. 

Twydale's Lament

National treasures is a phrase sometimes overused but it definitely applies to Nigel Blackwell and co. 


Thursday, 27 January 2022

A Time Is Nigh

I've been listening to Nick Cave a lot since the end of December. At some point after Christmas while in town, stumbling around in a post-Christmas/ grief fog, I went into a record shop and bought Carnage, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's lockdown album. It rapidly took up residence on my turntable. Recorded without The Bad Seeds it's an impressionistic, image- drenched record, eight intense, gripping, emotional and sometimes incredibly heavy songs. At times it takes my breath away. I can feel anxiety building in my chest as some of the songs unfold but then Warren's synths, the string section or (especially) the choir burst in and the tension explodes. The opener, Hand Of God, begins with paino and Nick's voice, 'There are some people trying to find out who/ There are some people trying to find out why/ There are some people who aren't trying to find anything/ But that kingdom in the sky...'. As the last syllable dies away the song lurches with a huge descending synth sound and the thump of bass drum comes in, strings sweep and Nick starts singing about going to the river. The chanting backing vocals- 'Hand of God/ Hand of God...'- fade in suddenly and unexpectedly. It's tense, dramatic and transporting, utterly convincing. Three songs later we have White Elephant, riding in on a broken drum loop and cellos, and Nick's narrator speaking/ singing about George Floyd, statues being tossed into the sea and a 'Botticelli Venus with a penis riding an enormous scalloped fan'. The violence in the lyrics increases, the elephant hunter/ white supremacist declaring he'll 'shoot you in the fucking face/ If you think of coming round here again'. Cave has often dealt with murder but this is something else, rooted in the US, Trump and race- and then again out of nowhere the song shifts completely as the choir launch in, 'A time is coming/ A time is nigh/ For the kingdom/ In the sky'. It's incredible. 

White Elephant

On Lavender Fields and Shattered Ground Nick is back where previous albums have been, songs that seem to be in some way a father trying to deal with the death of his son (this is partly why I've been drawn to Nick Cave's albums recently). Shattered Ground has a verse which seems to be about Arthur Cave- 'Everywhere you are I am/ And everywhere you are, well I will hold your hand again/ Only you are beautiful, only you are true'- and as the song finishes with Nick singing 'goodbye, goodbye, goodbye/ Oh baby, goodbye', I turn it in towards myself and it actually helps. 

I've also been playing Push The Sky Away a lot, the 2013 album with The Bad Seeds that contains at least three 21st century Cave classics- the ghostly synths and hushed vocals of the title track, the epic Higgs- Bosun Blues and Jubilee Street. From there I went into Skeleton Tree. The truth is that I've previously avoided both Skeleton Tree (largely written and recorded before Arthur Cave's death but then reworked somewhat as Nick tried to work through his grief) and Ghosteen ( released in 2019). Subconsciously and maybe consciously I swerved both. But since Isaac's death I've felt a need to deal with both albums. I downloaded Skeleton Tree years ago and it's sat on my hard drive ever since, unplayed and unburned to CD. It's a beautiful and broken album, restrained musically and raw emotionally. The music has moved away from traditional songs with verses and chorus and is much more experimental. It doesn't have the drama of Carnage or the full band performances of Push The Sky Away, Warren Ellis becoming Nick's right hand man and dealing more in ambient sounds and washes of synth. 

At times, as an album, it is almost too much. This song is about as hopeless and as real as he's ever sounded, a giant whirlpool of a song, built over hissing drums and a descending synth chord sequence, Nick and the listener being sucked down into the song's heart. 

I Need You 

'Nothing really matters anymore/ I saw you there in the supermarket/ With your red dress falling and your eyes are to the ground/ Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone'. This gaping loss is countered somewhat with the lines 'You're still in me/ I need you/ In my heart...', a glimmer of light among the horror, but it's a fucking long, slow, trawl through a man's grief and despair and it resonates with me a great deal. 'Just breathe/ Just breathe' he sings at the end. It is almost more than I can take but I am drawn back to it. I can see why for some fans this is an album that might be filed away after a few plays, admired but difficult to get through. 

That leaves me with Ghosteen which I don't own yet and feel more and more like I need to. The only song from Ghosteen I do own is Leviathan (which came via a Best Of 2019 magazine freebie CD) and which is yet another intensely emotional, visceral and cathartic song. . 

Leviathan

I'm not sure I can fully articulate the impact these songs are having on me at the moment but I have no doubt that a) they wouldn't have meant the same a few months ago and b) they are doing me some good. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Love Is All That's Left In the End

Last week Lauren Laverne did a theme for her 6 Mix show called Desert Island Disco All Dayer, inviting various people to submit a mix of songs they'd like played endlessly on their fantasy desert island. David Holmes contributed a half hour of uplifting and emotional songs perfectly sequenced to lift the spirits. He starts out with Suicide's Dream Baby Dream, 9 by Sault, a seemingly unreleased Skylab track sampling that Joe Strummer interview where he says 'people can change anything they want to... and that means everything in the world', Chris Carter's remix of Daniel Avery's Lone Swordsman, Francesco Lupica's Heal Thyself, a scorching David Holmes and Keith Tenniswood song called I Am Somebody (also unreleased) with Andrew Weatherall's sampled voice, a French cover version of Stayin' Alive by Freedom Fry, an as yet unreleased song from David's Unloved band called Turn Of The Screw ('screw you' the chorus spits) and finishes with a short section of Poly High School Choir doing John Barry's Midnight Cowboy. It's wall- to- wall brilliance, drawing from the past to produce a dancing, life affirming, vibrant, day glo, slightly tripped out present. I just hope all the unreleased ones are going to appear soon. 

If you're in the UK you can find it at the BBC website, split over two parts. The first is here and the second here (the first five minutes run into Alison Goldfrapp's own Desert Island Disco All Dayer mix, also worth staying on for). You'll have to click through the news at the start to get to the music. If you're outside the UK (or inside and want to have the shows to keep) you can get part one here and part two here

Or you could download the one below- I edited the two files above into one thirty minute piece, chopping off the news at the start and the Alison Goldfrapp mix at the other end. Trying to get the two files to overlap exactly took some doing and I haven't quite managed it- the section of the David Holmes and Keith Tenniswood track with Andrew Weatherall's voice in it is a millisecond out but the very slight delay effect it creates on the vocal sample is quite pleasant so I've left it as it is. You could think of it as an exclusive Bagging Area remix of the track. 

David Holmes Desert Island Disco

And here is Poly High School's choral version of Midnight Cowboy in full- rather beautiful, probably wasted on a Wednesday morning in late January, but as the choir fade out singing 'love is all that's left in the end' you might just feel like the winter and January can't last forever.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Life's What You Make It

This is one of those songs that is always there for me, a pleasure to hear whenever it comes up and a song I'd put in a lifetime top 50 if I had to ever compile such a list- most recently it came up with this clip on Dutch TV from 1985, Talk Talk on TopPop, playing/ miming Life's What You Make It. 


The guitar is a little over the top for our 21st century ears perhaps butt he proto- Balearic drums and piano and Mark Hollis' passionate vocal are perfect in every way. This is from the 12", an extended version released in January 1986. 

Life's What You Make It (Extended)

There's nothing I can say about the song that can add to it, you just have to listen to it. The words can mean as much or as little as you want them to in a way- 'Baby life's what you make it/ Celebrate it/ Anticipate it/ Yesterday's faded/ Nothing can change it/  Life's what you make it'. 

In 2009 Rowland S. Howard, guitarist in The Birthday Party and The Boy's Next Door (his and Nick Cave's first band), recorded a solo album called Pop Crimes. Rowland was unwell at the time, Hepatitis C having brought on liver cancer and he died at the end of December 2009. His cover of Life's What You Make It is heard very differently under those circumstances. 

Life's What You Make It

Monday, 24 January 2022

Monday's Long Song

Back in the 90s some of the most out there and best produced ambient house came from Global Communications, a duo formed by Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard. Strangely, in twelve years and (to date) 4, 898 posts I've never written about Global Communications. Today I'm only doing so in passing but I will come back to them soon I think. Last year Tom Middleton continued his explorations of the future and music as GCOM, an update of Global Communications for the 21st century (GCOM becoming Galactic Communications). The album E2- XO is about a journey from Earth to Mars and beyond, a response in musical form to climate change and what humans have done to the planet in the recent past. As a four sided, incredibly realised album it takes in all the electronic musical forms- ambient, soundtrack, dance music, house, the full gamut. The album closes with a celestial fourteen minute trip into the synth heavens. 

Beyond The Milky Way 

Sunday, 23 January 2022

How High

'Can I kiss the sun?/ Run a minute mile/ While you hitch hike/ Love shines a light/ I'll be a winner's cup/ And I'm looking for the one who cut you up/ You're not having me/ You know the skies are mean/ And I'm hoping for a way to free you...'

I saw this graffiti in the tunnel beneath the M60 while walking from Sale Water Park last week and there was only one song that I could post with it. 

How High

A high octane torrent of guitar chords, rhythms and words from the Charlatans in 1997. I remember an interview with Tim Burgess where he said that the words were inspired by listening to Dylan's beat/ speed lyrics from '66 and the multi- rapper flow of Wu Tang Clan, the way the words tumble on top of each other, piling up lines of imagery, in a rush to get onto tape. Something like that. I liked the idea, that at the height of Britpop they were getting their inspiration from quite non- Britpop sources. Tim sings a line 'borrowed' liberally from Dylan, 'I'm gonna pledge my time til the day I die', one of the moments where the song slows slightly and the words surface before tumbling down all over again. 

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Things Inside

Will Sergeant has spent over four decades as Echo And The Bunnymen's guitarist and has at times found space/ refuge outside the group to record more experimental solo material. I've written about his Poltergeist group before, swirling instrumental, psychedelic rock. I only recently discovered his Bandcamp page which is a treasure trove of material from his 1982 album Themes For GRIND album to more recent solo work. 

In 2012 Will released an album called Things Inside, ten instrumental tracks that find him playing a variety of musical instruments- a lot of acoustic guitar parts with circling finger picking riffs and lines but also toy piano, bells, autoharp and chimes- and producing some lovely hypnotic, contemplative pieces of music, some distance from his Bunnymen guitar sounds and riffs. This one is Eastern Bells complete with some hazy, out of focus landscapes and beaches in the video. Former Bunnyman bandmate Les Pattinson is in there somewhere too. You can find and buy it at Bandcamp

From his posts on Twitter it seems Will lives somewhere north of Liverpool where rural Lancashire meets the Fylde coast. In 2013 he released a new album as Glide, two very long pieces of music that seem to capture that part of the country very well, the slightly bleak, windswept coastline and flatlands. Assemblage One and Two are both around twenty minutes long, synths and drones with some lovely bubbling sounds and melody lines coming in and out. ideal music for headphones while out walking. Find it here

Will's first album as GRIND came out in 1982, a very experimental electronic album, eleven tracks, all untitled in 1982 but later renamed as numbers and now titled Scene I through to Scene XI (adding to the sense this album is the soundtrack to a film that never got made). Themes For GRIND is very much the product of time spent listening to the West German groups of the 1970s, Cluster and Faust, as well as Brian Eno. Atmospheric ambient and very good indeed. It had a limited edition vinyl re- issue last year which I missed out on but you can get the digital at Bandcamp

In 2000 a GRIND 12" was released with track No. 2 and No. 5 from the 1982 album coupled with two new remixes. One was by The Mindwinder (Joe McKechnie). The other was courtesy of Two Lone Swordsmen. Weatherall and Tenniswood remix Will's ambient soundscape in a style which would have easily found a home on their Tiny Reminders album from the same year, minimal abstract machine funk/ techno- static, an insistent drumbeat some whirling, spooked out synths, a juddering bass and a snatch of a ghostly choir. 

Theme For GRIND No. 2 (Reground by The Two Lone Swordsmen)