Some more of that warm, enveloping ambient haze that has been sound tracking much of this year for me, today in the shape of a Richard Norris remix, very much in his Group Mind/ Music For Healing/ Abstractions mode. The original version of Hopfen is by Kams, from an EP full of found sounds, electronic weirdness, synths and field recordings. Richard paints yet more layers, adding drizzle, piano, drones, crackles and fug. Buy the whole release at Bandcamp. It's a perfect companion piece to Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns' new Stray Harmonix track, Mountain Of One, posted on Saturday.
Monday 30 November 2020
Sunday 29 November 2020
If you're after a dystopic album to soundtrack your life-and given the state of the world why wouldn't you?- then you could do a lot worse than the new release from Sheffield's post- punk pioneers Cabaret Voltaire and the new one, Shadow Of Fear. The Cabs are now the vehicle of one man, founder and multi- instrumentalist Richard H. Kirk, who recorded the nine songs at the famous Western Works studio in his hometown. Whether it is really Cabaret Voltaire without long standing but now departed partner Stephen Mallinder is open to question I suppose but we'll let that pass. At first having read a couple of reviews and an interview I thought Shadow Of Fear might be a bleak and oppressive listen, impressive but not an album to return to very often but that isn't the case and while it's definitely ominous and industrial it's got dance rhythms and textures and some glints of light among the shade. Mechanised drums, sampled disembodied voices, dashes of acid, some fuzzy, distorted guitars and basslines and layers of noise. It's urgent and has an energy and shows the sixty- four year old Kirk still has something to say and still has the tools to say it with.
Back in 1983 Cabaret Voltaire released Yashar, a12" single on Factory. Yashar and the John Robie remix on the B side is one of the peaks of Factory's early 80s (and that's a crowded field). A record very of its time and ahead of it too.
'There's 70 billion people on earth'
'Where are they hiding?'
Saturday 28 November 2020
Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns were the two members of Sabres Of Paradise who weren't Andrew Weatherall. Re- united in tragic circumstances at Lord Sabre's funeral this year they agreed to work together again. The first fruits of this were released yesterday, a cinematic, stately, ambient track with softly played piano dedicated to the man himself. Mountain Of One by Stray Harmonix is available at Bandcamp.
Back in the early 90s DJ mix tapes did a roaring trade in record shops, clubby boutiques, Afflecks Palace type places and outlets that sold poppers. Andrew was in the habit of running off limited quantities of mixes he'd done himself and handing them out to the first 50 punters through the door, a habit he kept up through Sabresonic, Blood Sugar, The Double Gone Chapel (moving to CDs) and A Love From Outer Space. This one, two sides of a C90 tape was given away in 1993 titled Sabresonic Slow Electric Vol. 1. At some point it became re- christened as Massive Mellow Mix, a most un- Weatherall name, but actually quite fitting given the music contained within. Twenty- seven years after Lord Sabre put it together it still sounds superb, the art of the DJ perfectly demonstrated.
- Anaconda "Ideas for Virtual Reality" (aka Hole In One "Spiritual Ideas for Virtual Reality")
- The Primitive Painter "Levitation"
- Dubtribe Sound System "Sunshine's Theme"
- State of Flux "Mercury"
- The Primitive Painter "Cathedral"
- Ebi "Chuu"
- Some Other People "Astralise" (Dark Globe Remix)
- The Primitive Painter "Invisible Landscapes"
- Sqvid "Emprisoning Sounds on a Piece of Wax"
- The Keyprocessor "Feary Tales"
- State of Flux "The News"
- Alec Empire & Ian Pooley "Untitled"
- Ebi "Sou"
Friday 27 November 2020
In 1984 Rick Cuevas released an album called Symbolism, a self- released private pressing. There's a copy on Discogs priced at £133.23 if you're interested. Rick's background was in AOR/ soft rock, and he had past history in Zru Vogue (early 80s post- punk, avant- pop from Palo Alto California) and Science Patrol (no idea). He self released another album in 1994 and a couple of singles and that's about as much as I know. This song came my way in the summer- trippy guitar, a drum machine and a laid back vocal, more lovely ringing guitar parts and then halfway through a synth solo where the song soars even higher. There's something incredibly unaffected about the song, even with all the FX and the synth, a song capable of lifting you for a few minutes out of your surroundings.
Thursday 26 November 2020
Diego Maradona died yesterday aged 60. I feared for him a few weeks ago when he was hospitalised with a blood clot on the brain but the surgery seemed to go well. A heart attack did for him in the end. In a way it's a marvel he lived as long as he did. His drug abuse and weight gain is well documented and anyone who watched the short documentary series about his time managing Mexican club Dorados will have seen the damage done to his body, some self- inflicted, some punishment meted out by defenders in Spain and Italy in the 1980s, punishment for being the most gifted footballer in the world, a man who on his day was unstoppable. He was a single handed force of nature. In 1986 he captained his national team to the world cup. In 1986- 7 he led Napoli to their first ever Serie A title at a time when the Italian league was the best and toughest in world football. He did it again and then took them to a UEFA cup win as well. In Napoli he found an underdog, a city and team who were the target of abuse from the northern giants of Juventus, Milan and Inter, emblematic of Italy's north- south divide. Naples and the south are sometimes referred to as Africa by the rest of Italy, which tells you a lot in lots of ways. In Napoli he is revered as a God, the man who gave the city a middle finger, plenty of tears, a week long party following their 1987 scudetto and some incredible football to wave in the faces of their rivals in the more sophisticated north. He also became so deeply entwined with the Naples mafia that his life began to spiral out of control.
At some point in 1982 I found an Argentina shirt in the bargain bin of our local sports shop. I suspect it was in there due to the sheer unlikeliness of selling it at full price due to the Falklands War and getting £3 for it was better than nothing- but there it was, pale blue and white stripes, embroidered badge and Le Coq Sportif logo, the same as the one Diego is wearing above. I bought it. I was the only person I knew who had an Argentina shirt and to be honest it did wind people up a bit. In a PE lesson a teenage peer stood behind me, gave me a shove in the back and said 'I'll mark Galtieri'. On holiday once some kids threw stones at me. It didn't stop me wearing it until I outgrew it. Diego Maradona's rise and the shirt were somehow tied together for me. In 1984 I was at Old Trafford aged fourteen when United played Barcelona and Maradona. Barca were two- nil up from the first leg and we weren't given much of a chance of winning the tie. Old Trafford was filled that night, fifty- five thousand and the place was bouncing from long before kick off. European football was a rarity in those days for Manchester United fans and I think it was my first night game too, the floodlights giving everything extra drama. United won three- nil, incredibly, and Diego barely got a kick. But I saw him play and I've loved him since around then.
Englishmen aren't supposed to love Diego Maradona. They're supposed to hate him for the crime of handball in 1986, a goal which played its part in knocking England out of the world cup. Diego said that in South America the art of getting away with it, of fooling the referee and the opposition is part of the game. To northern Europeans, it is cheating and that's that. The second goal he scored that day where Diego spins on a spot and then slaloms his way through the England team beating one man after another before slipping the ball into the net is worthy of winning any game. What the handball clips rarely show is the series of fouls he suffered from a largely prosaic, lumbering England defence and the full elbow in the face he receives. Somehow that was never seen as cheating.
I loved him in 1986 and the scenes when he lifted the world cup. I loved his return in 1994, the goal against Greece, the run towards the camera and then the disgrace as he failed a drugs test and was sent home. I love the grainy footage of him in Italy scoring goal after goal, outrageous chips and unnatural balance while Italian centre backs try to kick lumps out of him. I love his chaotic life after retirement, the holidays in Cuba at Fidel Castro's house, the carnage of the day out at the 2018 world cup when Argentina played Nigeria, the footage of him dancing in Naples nightclubs in the 80s and training on mudbath pitches. A flawed genius for sure, a life lived at the edge of reason also, but a life lived by a man who rose from poverty in the slums of Buenos Aries to attain genuine greatness, often almost single- handedly. He lit up the lives of millions and football and the world was richer with him in it.
RIP Diego Armando Maradona.
When Julian Cope published his existential, football hooligan, Neolithic, time travel/ road novel One Three One he created a slew of bands to go with it. The most full realised was the brilliantly named Dayglo Maradona.
Wednesday 25 November 2020
Daniel Avery has released a new song, the one that is B- side to his Lone Swordsman track (first out digitally in September, out on 12" in January). Petrol Blue is a beauty, definitely not just an offcut or makeweight slipped onto the B- side to make up numbers. In the press release to accompany it Daniel describes the view from his studio, a metal shipping container overlooking the Thames-
'The views across the water without a single sight on the horizon always create a certain atmosphere in my mind, some kind of unknowing warmth. Real life seems pretty distant in those moments.'
There's something in those words that he has nailed completely in the music- the slow motion drum intro and tambourine/ shaker, the twinkling synth part and then the bassline. The washes of sound and keyboard melody on the top bring the 'unknowing warmth'. Lovely stuff. I think one of the things I've missed most this year has been the sea. In the summer, just before we went into Tier 3, we had a day out in Liverpool and walked down by the Mersey along Otterspool promenade. Hearing the waves hitting the seawall was much needed. We had two days in south west Scotland and walked on the beach at Southerness, despite the wind and occasional rain.
Just in case you needed a reminder this is Lone Swordsman, Daniel's tribute to to Andrew Weatherall, recorded the morning he heard the news Andrew had died. There are moments where it suggests Smokebelch by Sabres Of Paradise without ever quite going there and stands out as one of the most emotive and beautiful pieces of music released this year. There are still a few vinyl copies available for order if that's your bag.
Tuesday 24 November 2020
One half of Two Lone Swordsmen and a solo artist in his own right Keith Tenniswood records as Radioactive Man, the name borrowed from Springfield's most famous family. His debut self titled album came out on Rotters Golf Club back in 2001- I'm amazed that this record is nearly two decades old, I bought it close to when it was released, and I can't fathom how it was nineteen years ago. Radioactive Man, the album, takes it's cues from Detroit and from Dusseldorf. Tough kick drums and snares, subsonic bass, Kraftwerkian melodies on top, long synth notes and the energy of Britain's underground club scene. It's an album that sounds huge on a booming club system but that also works well in a car driving round in the night. Opener The Mezz is unsettling, a Geiger counter and a drum machine and some ominous synths. Closing track Uranium is a voice talking about elements, some metallic noise and a feeling of surfacing after being underwater. In the middle of the album is four minutes of beauty- some looped, rippling melodies ending with a burst of skronky noise. Goodnight Morton is a tribute to Keith's beloved dog, named after the infamous Castlemorton free festival rave of 1992 that sent panic tearing through the UK government and Middle England, panic that resulted in legislation being passed to make it illegal to play music outdoors that is "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats".
Monday 23 November 2020
Duncan Gray has been responsible for many Andrew Weatherall and ALFOS approved pieces of music in the recent past, plenty of slo- mo, trippy chuggers with lovely grinding basslines and a dark heart. The latest is a tribute to Gong/ System 7/ solo artist Steve Hillage, nine and a half minutes of slow paced psychedelic magick. Bandcamp have Danucan's Steve Killage to listen to and to buy here. A much better way to spend Monday morning than getting in your car in the dark and going to work.
Even longer, twice the length in fact, is this Plastikman remix of System 7's Alpha Wave from 1995, Richie Hawtin sending everyone and everything into a state of hyper- realised acid techno mania. The build up for the first ten minutes is just absurd, endlessly building higher and higher, relentless stroboscopic action. There's a breakdown in the eleventh minute that makes you wait and wait, anticipating the inevitable, exhilarating rush of re- entry, which eventually starts to happen sometime around fourteen minutes before the dam bursts.
Today is our eldest Isaac's birthday, he turns twenty two. He'll be spending it in lockdown and still being shielded, as he has been since March. Some presents and cards, some neihgbours passing by the front of the house, a couple of Zoom parties, a drive through for lunch and a takeaway for tea. Happy birthday Isaac.
Sunday 22 November 2020
I got the bug for putting a mix together again recently and this is the result, an hour of largely ambient and Balearic with some 80s Manchester and 90s Liverpool dropped in. Despite the promise of the vaccine the situation still seems pretty desperate. Everyone seems determined to celebrate Christmas despite the fact that if it goes ahead 'as normal', people will surely die within weeks and a further lockdown in January will be inevitable. Taking refuge in music often seems to be the answer. I still can't get Mixcloud to embed but you can find my Lockdown Mix here.
- A Man Called Adam: Book Of The Dead (The British Museum Mix)
- Two Lone Swordsmen: Ink Cloud
- Steve Roach: Spiral Of Strength
- Richard Norris: Music For Healing 12
- Moon Duo: In A Cloud
- The Charlatans: Trouble Understanding (Norman Cook Remix)
- Andy Bell: Cherry Cola (Pye Corner Audio Remix)
- Future Beat Alliance: Tell Me About These Dreams
- Big Hard Excellent Fish: Imperfect List (Uncensored Original Mix)
- Nuel: Vibration
- Durutti Column: Take Some Time Out
- Tabula Rasa: Sunset At The Café del Mar
Saturday 21 November 2020
The Wolfgang Press were a post- punk band with industrial tendencies on 4AD who turned to face acid house in the late 80s and early 90s and made some avant- dance records up to 1995 when they abruptly stopped. They were labelled goth by the music press at times, a charge they always denied but there's no doubt that there's a gloomy element to their music. Unsurprisingly they benefitted from being remixed in the 90s, their sound lending itself to be being chopped up and rejigged by the likes of Adrian Sherwood, Barry Adamson, Jah Wobble, Apollo 440 and Sabres Of Paradise. I posted a song by them back in 2013, Ecstacy (released in 1985), but nothing since and bizarrely for this blog I've never posted either of the Sabres remixes.
The Sabres remixes are both from 1994, that stage were Weatherall, Kooner and Burns were making really stoned sounding music, remixes that reek of clouds of marijuana smoke, hip hop drum loops, lots of echo and a guitar line or synth/ organ part winding it's way over the top. Head nodding stuff.
The Jah Wobble remix of Chains is a different kind of fish completely, a very bright and spacey affair, BJ Cole's pedal steel guitar locating it way out west with the long whale sound noises and shimmering sound effects sounding like they're being beamed coming in from 50s science fiction film. A 90s breakbeat and sections of Michael Allen's growly vocals being dropped in, and Wobble's bass occasionally surfacing, make for a something very enjoyable, not unlike listening to several radio stations all playing at the same time but weirdly in sync.
Friday 20 November 2020
Andy Bell's solo album The View From Halfway Down came out out last month and has taken up residence on my stereo ever since, a delicious and blissful blend of shoegaze, electronics and psychedelia, taking it's cues from both his band Ride and his solo synth/ cosmische output as GLOK. The opening song and single Love Comes In Waves came out in the summer and I played it death, a slice of the eternal spring of 1989, the spirit of The Stone Roses from that specific period bottled. It's followed by Indica, seven minutes of backwards vocals, synths sounds and Spacemen 3 circa Recurring, layers of sounds over a pattering drumbeat and the tripped out delay of the voice. Side One closes with Skywalker (and this is best enjoyed as a proper vinyl album, four songs each side and flipped over halfway through). Skywalker is the sound of classic late 80s indie- rock crossed with blissed out psyche, guitar chords taking flight and Andy's voice surfacing from the dream, 'and then you tell me there are no more songs in the world left to be sung', before the second half of the song's looped bass part and ringing guitar line carry it home.
Side Two is equally fine- Cherry Cola has finger picking, folky guitar, a Beta Band bassline and a thin 60s vocal and distant harmonies. Closing song Heat Haze On Weyland Road ends the record with some shoegaze, a descending bassline and synth sounds, plenty of texture and the effect of waking up on a sunny day. It all sounds both intimate and expansive, as psychedelia should. Thoroughly recommended. As if all that weren't enough Cherry Cola has been remixed by Pye Corner Audio, an even more sun- dappled haze of colour and light, waves of sound, Andy's words floating over the top as the heartbeat drum pattern pumps on.
Thursday 19 November 2020
Another overlooked gem unearthed from the recent past, this time a Richard Norris remix of a song by Ibibio Sound Machine from 2017. Ibibio Sound Machine are a London based afro- funk/ electronic outfit, a clash of African music and style, post- punk and electro with the vocal talents of front woman Eno Williams, born in London but brought up in Nigeria. Richard puts the West African funk bassline, some funky highlife guitars and Eno's vocal over a bouncing drum machine rhythm and some acid house sounds and creates something to bring some much needed joy to a grim Wednesday in November 2020 and I think we could all do with some midweek joy. You can buy it at Bandcamp.
Wednesday 18 November 2020
This record was made in 1986. Life in 1986, it goes without saying was very different, to life in 2020. A lot can change in thirty four years. Technology is the most obvious change. To a sixteen year old in 1986 the ability to carry around in your pocket a computer that doubles up as a camera, video recorder, telephone, music player and music/ photo library was the stuff of science fiction. In 1986 Mr Fingers (Larry Heard) was twenty six, a drummer who in 1984 had begun to make his own music when he bought a drum machine and a synthesiser. A few days later the story goes, he had recorded a trio of tracks that would form three of the foundation stones of house music- Mystery Of Love, Can You Feel It? and Washing Machine. Larry made this music using nothing but a Roland Juno 60 synth, a Roland TR 909 and two cassette recorders, playing the track live in one take and recording it on one tape, then bouncing it back and layering another element on top. Firstly, there's no way to my ears this track sounds like it's thirty four years old. Secondly, music in 1986 with the same time distance would have been made in 1952 and there's no way that anything recorded in 1952 sounded like the future in 1986, never mind then still sounding contemporary or even futuristic in 2020. Thirdly, this music was recorded onto cassette decks, a technology now virtually obsolete for home recording. He wasn't even using a multi- track recorder, something you can load onto even the simplest laptop or tablet.
Washing Machine is an acidic squiggle bassline, a clattering, jacking machine drum beat, hi- hats hissing away and stop- start dynamics. The Detroit producers, the Bellville Three, were doing something similar in Detroit and made a big deal out of their music being both techno and soul, that the machines might be doing the work but it was humans controlling them. This was music for the real, sweaty, flesh and blood, human business of dancing combined with the mechanical sounds that came from Europe (Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Yello, New Order) and the noises from the industries that were already dying out in, the crashing sounds of the car plants and the factories.
Tuesday 17 November 2020
As well as the unreleased Andrew Weatherall remix they put out at the end of October, London/ Scotland art- rockers Django Django released some remixes back in 2016 for Record Shop Day including ones by Tim Burgess, Peaking Lights and Richard Fearless. I only discovered this e.p. recently having gone looking for the Weatherall one and it seems that this is the first time these have been available digitally, the RSD release being a 500 copies only vinyl release. The Richard Fearless remix is a peach, a repetitive, piano- house, post- acid house banger, built around two repeated parts- the first an ascending keyboard riff over thumping machine drums and the second a piano part pinched from the glory days that sends you to that happy/ sad place on the edge of the dancefloor, hedonism and a vague sense of regret in equal measure. Fearless switches between the two perfectly.
Monday 16 November 2020
Back to work today, back into the building.
I found this recently on an ambient music group on social media, an album by Steve Roach called Tomorrow, and it's turned out to be a bit of a mid- November treat. The five tracks are minimal, electronic pieces, recurring and repetitive melodies and loops, floating and hypnotising sounds that draw you in and don't let go. Ambient transcendence, recorded in a burst when his gig in New York in March was cancelled due to Covid and lockdown. The opener and title track is twenty minutes long and it's followed by this one, a full twenty five minutes of sound...
The three tracks that follow are comparatively short, clocking in at nineteen, seven and twelve minutes respectively. Steve describes the sound on Tomorrow as 'elegant futurism'. The lockdown and spread of Covid and subsequent cancellation of his show led to a 'tomorrow state of mind' and this album was the result. Highly recommended if you like this kind of thing. Buy it at Bandcamp at a 'name your own price' rate which is very generous and really you should throw Steve a few pounds/ dollars/ Euros for this
Sunday 15 November 2020
How I missed this song off my Durutti Column mix in September I don't know. In November 1983 Vini recorded an album in Brussels called Short Stories For Pauline, which should have been Durutti Column's fourth album. It was shelved when manger/ friend/ label boss Tony Wilson suggested the song Duet should be expanded into an entire album in its own right, which became Without Mercy. Short Stories For Pauline then laid unreleased until 2012 when Factory Benelux put it out for the first time, a lovely edition that calls Wilson's judgement into question (not for the first time either). Some of the songs had appeared in other places including this one, which turned up on a 1990 archive compilation called Lips That Would Kiss.
Take Some Time Out has Vini singing, something Wilson also was very much against, but Vini's vocal here is wonderfully understated and perfectly matches the beautifully restrained, chiming/ echoing guitar and Alan Lefebvre's drums- a little piece of magic conjured up in Belgium at the tail end of 1983.
Saturday 14 November 2020
We reach day 14 of our two week self- isolation period today. In some ways it's been a long fortnight and in some ways it has actually gone fairly quickly. That's true of 2020 as a whole isn't? The year despite everything that has happened has seemed stuck on pause since mid- March. At the time of writing our daughter has mostly recovered from having Covid (and they may tell you that teenagers will sail through it but she has had a range of symptoms and was pretty unwell for a few days) and the rest of us are Covid free (touch wood etc), including our son who is clinically extremely vulnerable. We have had to have some strict isolation within the household to keep it contained. On Sunday we can leave the house for the first time in two weeks. I've really been feeling the lack of exercise this week. On Wednesday night I ran up and down our garden. Our garden is about twenty five long, in 1902 when the house was built it was probably just a yard. By the time I'd taken a few strides I had to stop and turn around. To anyone watching from upstairs on either side I must have looked like I'd finally lost it.
Here, in an unrelated way, is some dark, punchy, industrial acid from Manchester's Shunt Voltage, the sort of track that hits the spot in the early hours and has bodies moving and dancefloors heaving.
Buy it from Bandcamp with a Quantal remix, price two pounds.
Friday 13 November 2020
For the last four Fridays I've written about the unstoppable force of Echo And The Bunnymen and the albums they released in 1980 (Crocodiles), 1982 (Heaven Up Here), 1983 (Porcupine) and 1984 (Ocean Rain), four records charting the Bunnymen as they headed out from post- punk Liverpool into the world. By 1985 they'd reached a dead end of kinds. Bill Drummond had resigned as manager at the end of '84 and they were never quite the same after. There was a state of tension between some members- Will thought Mac wanted to be a rock star and Mac would probably agree that a solo career as a rock star was in his mind. Les compared huge tours of the USA to national service and hated being away from home for lengthy periods. There was a year off planned and then cut short half way through with a tour of Scandinavia where they performed as their own support act, covering the songs of their heroes, Bowie, The Modern Lovers, The Doors, The Stones, The Velvets and Television. They played Glastonbury, a filthy, muddy year with Mac wearing binbags on his legs while walking to the stage to prevent his trousers getting dirty. There were money problems. 1985 finished with a Best Of album (the brilliant compilation Songs To Learn And Sing but a cash in nonetheless), and a standalone single (Bring On the Dancing Horses) that some felt wasn't up to scratch. Then Pete de Freitas went AWOL.
Pete had spent part of the six months off travelling across Europe on his motorbike. In December 1985 Pete and some of the road crew took the pay cheques from Songs To Learn And Sing and set off for New Orleans on a drug- fuelled road trip and extended drinking binge. He would phone the BUnnymen up in the middle of the night asking for more money. He talked about forming a new group, The Sex Gods, and how they'd change the world. He was, many people thought, losing his mind. He resigned from the Bunnymen in a transatlantic phone call. Eventually Drummond would stage an intervention and bring him home. Pete was never the same again and the three Bunnymen were unsure about whether he was in the right frame of mind to re- join the band. When he did it was on a weekly wage rather than as a full member, another sign that things were most definitely not right in Bunnyworld. In the time Pete was away Mac, Will and Les had started again, touring and recording, trying Blair Cunningham (ex- Haircut One Hundred) out on the drums and Dave Palmer (ex- ABC) and there were some sessions with Now Order's Stephen Morris moonlighting. On top of all of this, all unpromising background for recording an album, the group had been summoned to Rob Dickins office at WEA and told to listen to Peter Gabriel's latest album and to emulate it. According to Will, Dickins was lucky to escape with his life.
The grey album as it has become known eventually appeared in 1987, cut adrift from the trajectory that took them from Crocodiles to Ocean Rain. The album, self titled (they couldn't even be bothered to give it a name) has a murky, monochrome front cover shot, the group in black against a grey sky. On the back the four Bunnymen are merged in silhouette, eight arms coming out of one long coat. Compared to the drama, deep colours and natural beauty of the earlier sleeves this album is already saying that what's contained within doesn't compare with what came before. McCulloch was lording it, drinking heavily, lackeys running around after him. He alienated himself from the rest of the group and was happy to do so, an act of self sabotage. They had done some sessions with producer Gil Norton but ditched the recordings once Pete was back and instead hitched themselves to Laurie Latham, who drained the life out of the songs. Will and Les wanted simplicity. Latham would spend a month getting a song 'right', brought keyboards further up into the sound, pushed the drums down and gave everything a sheen. They recorded in Conny Plank's studio in Cologne, in Belgium, in London and back at Amazon in Liverpool, a lot of effort for an album that all appeared to dislike when it was released. It is a Bunnymen record with the jagged edges smoothed off, the hot and cold dynamics rendered flat, the magic and mystery covered with a layer of soil, the songs smothered with the hopes of an FM hit. Will said it was overcooked. Les liked the songs but hated the mixes. Mac said it was crap. Who knows what Pete thought of it, or if he even cared- his mental state was a concern to everyone around him. McCulloch quit in 1988 and the rest of the group raged about him and his solo career and attempted to keep the band going without the singer. The next time they would be together was at Pete's funeral. He came off his motorbike on 14th June 1989 at a crossroads in Staffordshire aged twenty seven.
That's a lot of words without even getting to the songs and Les is right, the songs, or some of them, are good. This is partly because they picked the wrong producer. If Gil Norton had stayed on board they could have made a much more energetic record out of the same material, simple structures, stripped down to the four instruments, with a bit of dash and menace. Album opener The Game has always sounded good to me, a four square song with Mac in charge, a song with a flow and irresistible rhythm and Ian singing of the seasons and the planets. Bedbugs And Ballyhoo is another sweet spot. The version on the grey album isn't as good as the earlier take, the Bring On The Dancing Horses B-side, it doesn't move as much, but it still works well. Lips Like Sugar, side two's opener, is another highlight, led by a nagging guitar riff and Mac's croon. It was designed for US radio and arenas and Will said that if judged by that alone it worked- when they played the USA in 1987 a younger generation of fans wanted to hear Lips Like Sugar. An Anton Corbijn video helped sell it to MTV. I like the song, it reminds me of being seventeen and it doesn't need saying that that's a powerful age for a song to hit you, and it stands up alongside the band's earlier songs. New Direction is a minor joy too, a ringing Will riff with some urgency and pace, and Mac sounds engaged as he sings 'Out on a limb/ look what the cat dragged in... I'm looking for a new direction/ where in the world am I?', before the drums double up and the 80s keyboards swell and he is 'higher and higher and higher and higher/ kissing the spires'. Later on he goes all confessional- 'I have changed/ but still my heart remains intact/ and true love stays'. It's almost a letter to the rest of the band, a Dear John written but not sent yet. Will's guitar solo over the final minute soars like he's found a connection with the spirit that made them great, if only for a minute or two.
There are a couple of others that should be good in the right hands, recorded more quickly with a different producer or by a group who didn't hate themselves and each other. Lost And Found is heartfelt with a lovely melody but sounds a bit drained. Bombers Bay wants to reach the heights but again sounds overcooked. Once again though they knew what they were doing when the sequenced the album and when they chose what had to go last. Just as with the songs that end Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and Ocean Rain, the closer here is a sweeping, majestic piece of Bunny magic with Mac crooning, ringing guitars, military drumming and some stabbing strings, a ballad with an eye on the way out and everyone worn out by the experiences that led them there. 'God's own miracles/ lost in circles' Ian sings before the chorus, 'all my life/ revolves around/ laughter and crying/ as my life turns/ round and round' and then the string quartet re- appears, and the guitars build. Fade and out.
What does this album sound like? It sounds better now than it did then. It sounds like a Bunnymen album that has echoes of what made them great but the gap between this and Ocean Rain- the actual gap of three years, the relationship gaps between the members of the group and what they wanted- is a gap they couldn't get over. It also sounds like a record that the grapples with the old struggle of art v commerce and the group's specific struggle of rock stardom v being able to show your face in Liverpool and never quite resolves them.
RIP Pete de Freitas.
Thursday 12 November 2020
I've got a lot of time for for dance music veterans A Man Called Adam and it's not just due to us sharing a name. In the summer of 1990 their laid back Balearic house song Barefoot In The Head stuck a chord with me as did their album a year later, The Apple (rhyming slang I think, the apple corps = the score, as in 'do you know the score?'). In the last few years they've had a bit of renaissance with last year's Farmarama album and a slew of remixes. Sally and Steve have now followed this with a twenty track release, fresh out now on Bandcamp, a round up of rarities and oddities from the duo's whole career taking in demo versions, mixes, edits, a commission for the British Museum and collaborations with people such as the recently departed Jose Padilla, The Idjut Boys and Sensory Productions. There's so much going on across the twenty songs that it's difficult to take in in one sitting but there's a freshness and a flow in the music, ambient sounds, early 90s Ibizan rhythms and a very Balearic state of mind. Right now, this one with Jose Padilla is hitting the spot...
The album, Love Forgotten, is here. Their calling card, the endlessly giving Barefoot In The Head is present on it in a remixed form. There's a sample on Barefoot In The Head, some lines from a 1967 poem by Rod McKuen, where he 'puts a seashell to my ear and it all comes back'. Rod and Anita Kerr recorded the album The Sea with the San Sebastian Strings, a dreamlike slice of 1967, hippy spoken word and easy listening strings. This is where the sample comes from...
It's the sort of album you always expect to turn up in a charity shop or at a car boot sale. I'm sure the thrift stores and flea markets of the USA are full of copies of The Sea, dumped in the 1990s. As it is, over here, I'm still looking.
Wednesday 11 November 2020
Something to take the edge off November and add some warmth to your week via Denmark and South London. Babylonian Beaches is a track by Michael son Of Michael, a Dane, and is remixed here by Rude Audio, based somewhere in the Crystal Palace area. Very nice gently throbbing, cosmic Scandi- disco. Find it at Soundcloud here.
Michael son Of Michael's album Going Coastal, just out and including the original mix of Babylonian Beaches, is here. Behind the cool, laid back, downtempo, Scandi- ambient electronica is a commentary on 'the improbability of alien lifeforms being technologically inferior to us, dreams of travelling to the Red Planet, the handling of Brexit by the Tories and the Labour Party, life by the beach, the imposter syndrome and the virtues of humans dancing robotically / robots doing their best to dance like humans.' So plenty there to counter the view that electronic music isn't about anything.
This dub of Rumble On Arab Street by Valtow is also top notch, light and shade with little vocal snatches coming out of mix.
Tuesday 10 November 2020
The sheer quantity and at times the torrent of new music this year have been one of the things that have helped to deal with all the shit that has been thrown our way. Regardless of your political persuasion or your thoughts on how the pandemic has been handled, it's been almost unremittingly grim. Music helps. Richard Norris' Music For Healing series in the spring was a guaranteed aural balm, longform pieces of ambient/ deep listening designed to help and bring some form of ease. In September Richard followed these with an album called Elements, five lengthy instrumentals, using analogue synthesisers to make hypnotic and uplifting music.
Now Richard has added a four track EP to his 2020 catalogue, Golden Waves, four chilled, ambient works, all rippling synth lines, pulses and soothing drones. Lead track Golden Waves has some beautiful little melodies dripping over it. Cloud Surfing is lighter than air, padding drum sounds and warmth. Blue Star Gold harks back to the Music For Healing tracks, patterns of single notes and reverb. Signal To Power sets out with long chords and synth sounds, washes of tone and a celestial choir, a distinct lack of hurry to go anywhere, just a lovely, long drift. Buy it at Bandcamp.
Back in the 90s Richard was one half of The Grid along with Dave Ball (formerly of Soft Cell). Their 1993 single Crystal Clear was remixed by The Orb in majestic fashion, Clear Like An Unmuddied Lake, an absolute highpoint of 20th century ambient acid house, a track still revealing its pleasures twenty- seven years after its release (which unfortunately I can't find on mp3 and I'm sure I had it digitally at some point. Probably on an old hard drive).
Monday 9 November 2020
Sunday 8 November 2020
What a relief it was when the call was made yesterday and the news channels started to show the line reached and then the crowds dancing in the streets of America's cities. Even over here, thousands of miles away in another country, there was a profound sense of elation that for once, the first time in the past decade pretty much, a political result has gone the right way, that a push back against the reactionary right wing has been made. These things matter.
Saturday 7 November 2020
A Bunnymen bonus for Saturday, a cover of The Killing Moon by Australian band Something For Kate, remixed by fellow Melbourne man T- Rek. Something For Kate released it as the third song on a 2006 CD single and T- Rek added the dub disco groove having already mixed the band's cover. Nine minutes of slinky, slow motion Bunnygroove, pushed ever onwards by a post- punk bassline, lovely synth stabs, plenty of echo, all deliciously full of icy gloom. One for spinning round the kitchen to as lockdown kicks in.
Friday 6 November 2020
There's a lot of back story to Echo And The Bunnymen's 1984 album Ocean Rain, famously declared by the adverts in the music press and by Mac as 'the greatest album ever made'. We'll come back to that opinion.
After the difficulties they encountered writing and recording Porcupine- internal strife, record company rejection and press reviews- the Bunnymen retreated a bit and then came out fighting with the standalone single Never Stop, a majestic, anti- Thatcher post punk/ dance record with a superb 12" mix. Significantly it featured an expanded sound with violins, cellos and marimbas. Strings had been a feature of Porcupine and its pair of hit singles and on Ocean Rain sweeping orchestral strings would come to dominate the sound. They'd also been using acoustic guitars more and more, as seen in the Channel 4 documentary Play At Home (Life At Brian's) performances. For some Bunnymen fans these steps further away from the urgent guitar led sound of their earlier albums was a misstep. For others, it was anything but. The group once again used a Peel Session at Maida Vale to test out some new songs- all four songs played for John Peel would end up on Ocean Rain (Nocturnal Me, the eventual title track, My Kingdom and Watch Out Below, which became The Yo Yo Man). They played four of Ocean Rain's songs on a live edition of The Tube, the title track now an acoustic ballad. All this road-testing of the songs, working versions up, developing them, changing lyrics and arrangements, meant that the songs were fully realised by the time they came to record them, in Montmartre, Paris, with a 35 piece orchestra in tow. Ocean Rain is supposed to be big, lush and grand, four men standing in the face of the storm. The gloom of Porcupines and the night terrors of Heaven Up Here have been replaced by something lighter. On the sleeve Brian Griffin shot them in a boat, on a lake, in a cavern, the crystalline blues and silvers forming a dramatic but lit up backdrop. Les and Pete stand with the oars, Will sits in the middle and Ian stares into the blue, his hand dipping into the water. They decamped to Paris to record it but most of the vocals were re- done back in Liverpool, Ian unhappy with his voice (although The Killing Moon was recorded in Bath but again Mac did his vocals in Liverpool, this time because of a cold).
I love Ocean Rain, I love its scope and flow and the playing is superb. Compare it to the scratchy post- punk of Crocodiles and then the fluid, powerful songs on Heaven Up Here and it is a band moving on. They didn't want to repeat themselves and the experience of Porcupines sounds banished. The optimism of the songs on Ocean Rain contrasts with the earlier songs and now Ian is decorating his lyrics with the natural world- the weather, storms, rain, the moon, tidal waves, day and night and vegetables. Sometimes he crosses the line, singing portentous nonsense or stuttering his way through the names of salad ingredients, but he also sings songs that define him and the group- The Killing Moon's time shifting romance and theme of fate and destiny- 'under blue moon I saw you/ so soon you'll take me' and 'he will wait until/ you give yourself to him' coupled with something approaching poetry, 'your lips a magic world/ you sky all hung with jewels'. The 12" contained a longer mix, the All Night Version, maxed out effortlessly (just as Silver was with its 12" Tidal Wave mix).
This version, from the Life At Brian's session, was filmed for The Tube, part of Bill Drummond's madcap plan to have a day of Bunnymen activities in Liverpool- a bike ride on a route that traced a pair of giant rabbit ears, a trip on that ferry across the Mersey, a visit to the city's Anglican cathedral and a celebratory gig at St George's Hall in the evening. The Life At Brian's sessions were filmed for the Channel 4 documentary a year earlier, the band playing in the cathedral and a film based a greasy spoon café owned by Brian, a former boxer.
Whether it is 'the greatest album ever made' is open to question- MacCulloch claims he said this jokingly to the head of Warner Bros Rob Dickin, who then went and used it on the posters, but MacCulloch is capable of saying it seriously too. The songs are almost all single material, strong verses and rousing chorus, Indian scales, sea shanties and pirate songs, built on Sergeant's Washburn acoustic guitars and Pete playing his drums with brushes, the orchestra sweeping in and around on top. Opening song Nocturnal Me sets the tone, blasting out of the speakers, loud and quiet dynamics with Mac singing of ice capped fire and burning wood. Crystal Days swoons and rushes by, a song that wines you and dines you and then leaves you wanting more. The Yo Yo Man channels some weird central European vibe, the words telling you of Igloos and Ian's own headstone. The Killing Moon is a peak, the chords of Space Oddity played backwards and Will's balalaika- inspired guitar solo, a song any group in 1984 would have killed to have written and one that is shot through pop culture, turning up in Donnie Darko, Grosse Point Blank and numerous cover versions. Seven Seas is a glorious romp, the third single from the album, a singalong enigma. MacCulloch has since debunked some of the mystery of his lyrics, the tortoiseshell in Seven Seas apparently the head of an erect penis after an session on cocaine. Not for nothing by this point were some people close to the band calling them Echo And The Buglemen.
Maybe the drug use accounts for the album's one serious stumble, the over- the- top nonsense of Thorn Of Crowns. It's not terrible but it is silly, Ian's stuttering delivery chucking in cucumbers, cauliflowers and cabbages along with crucifixion imagery. Incredibly, the two chord, Velvets inspired genius of Angels And Devils was left off Ocean Rain, turning up as a B-side when it really should have been on the record instead of Thorn Of Crowns.
The two songs that close the album are stunning. My Kingdom is an organ led delight, 1960s garage rock crossed with mid- 80s scouse mysticism, Ian stuttering deliberately on the words for effect- 'b-b-burn the skin off and climb the rooftop'- while switching in the verses to stories of the heart, soldiers at war, dancing and whatever else he dreamt up. Will plays twin guitar solos on his acoustic through an old Vox valve amp, soaring, elevating guitar lines from a man who definitely didn't see himself as a guitar hero but playing as if on one of Love's classic albums. As My Kingdom finishes Ocean Rain's title track fades in, a song that is both the calm and the storm. 'All at sea again', Ian croons before his love ends up 'screaming from beneath the waves'. Like on Heaven Up Here and Porcupine they finish with a song to sail away to. 'All hands on deck at dawn/ sailing to sadder shores/ your port in my heavy storms/ harbours my blackest thoughts'. This alternative take, stripped back and acoustic, is a beauty too, showing how the songs easily stand up in different versions.
Ocean Rain may not be the greatest album ever made (and what album is?) but it is a masterpiece of kinds, a fully drawn set of strong, powerful, beautiful songs by a band who at that point had made four albums in four years, plus numerous singles, sessions, versions and B- sides. It left them in a quandary though, of where to go next. In some ways Ocean Rain sounds like a final statement, an encore, a last flurry of magnificence. Ian was already dipping his toes into a solo career. Pete was about to go travelling, with serious consequences for him and the Bunnymen. They would make one more album together as a foursome before a split and tragedy intervened. But that's all ahead of them. As it is, in 1984, Ocean Rain is where it's at.
Thursday 5 November 2020
It's funny how things can get missed and then turn up years later. I had no idea this existed and only became aware of it via a social media group where no one else had any idea it existed either. Back in 2008 one song on an album by a psychedelic indie band from Los Angeles called The Little Ones was mixed by Andrew Weatherall. They were on Heavenly at the time. Weatherall had a long running relationship with the label built upon his friendship with label boss Jeff Barratt dating back to the late 80s, a link which led to Loaded and then everything else. The very first record Heavenly ever released was a Weatherall remix (Sly And Lovechild's The World According To... Weatherall, posted previously several times). Farm Song is slow paced, day glo, 60s inspired psychedelic pop, all harmonies and tambourines, guitar solos and swirling sound. It's available at Bandcamp on the album Morning Tide.
From the same time frame, 2009 in fact, and also on Heavenly but sounding very different, Wilmslow's kings of widescreen melancholia Doves were remixed by Andrew, a chunky, loud affair, heavy bass line in the foreground, plenty of dub space and FX and an early sighting of the chuggy ALFOS sound.
Wednesday 4 November 2020
It never rains eh? We had a positive test for Covid within our household yesterday so are all now isolating for fourteen days- it's made all the more difficult by the fact our eldest is clinically extremely vulnerable so we're having to be extra- isolated within the house as far as possible (with only one bathroom) and extra- careful with the risks of cross infection. It's all it of a nightmare.
As a distraction, here's some music- in 1990 Love Corporation released an acid house infused album called Tones. Love Corporation were Ed Ball's one man band, an side project from his music made as The Times. Tones is a six track record with Palatial as the stand out, a song later remixed by Danny Rampling, but the rest of the album is worth spending some time with too- a lesser known but rather good slice of 1990.
Tuesday 3 November 2020
In many ways the Trump presidency should have stopped before it even began, it should have been halted dead in its tracks when he mimicked and mocked a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, back in November 2015. Any sane world would have demanded his withdrawal from the process right there, a man clearly unfit to run for public office, and it's to the eternal shame of his backers, his family, the Republican Party and anyone who voted for him that he sailed past this point.
Since then he has dragged the office of the President of the USA to ever lower lows. His lies are ever present, over 22, 000 falsehoods and lies uttered as President identified by fact checkers. His racist dog- whistles and outright refusal to condemn white supremacist groups. His public praise for violent right wing militias and encouragement of them overthrow Democratic state governors. His appointment of family members to top jobs, the shameless nepotism of a mob boss. His determination to rip up democratic norms and conventions, the checks and balances upon which the entire system rests. His long running campaign to discredit people like Anthony Fauci, actual experts within their field. The laying the groundwork throughout this year for challenging a defeat at the ballot box by telling his supporters that postal voting is fraudulent, that Democrats will rig the election and that he may refuse to handover the reins of power even if he is soundly defeated. His approach to Coronavirus which has led directly to the deaths of over 200, 000 Americans to date. His posturing outside the Church of the Presidents holding an upside down bible, during the worst civil unrest for decades. His refusal to take questions from female reporters. His racist approach to Central American politics. It goes on and on and on...
And it matters to us in the UK because like it or not the US is the central player in global politics and how things work. What happens in the USA affects us over here- and the general, widespread debasement of public life affects us all too. I read an article recently that described discussions among commentators and historians about whether Trump is a fascist. He shares many of the characteristics of fascist dictators (the fact that he hasn't invaded anywhere or committed acts of genocide don't necessarily rule him out). One of the descriptions of him was a 'post- fascist populist'. The funny thing about all populist leaders, and Trump especially, is that they actually despise the people they claim to speak for. Trump would rather admit the true size of the small crowds at his inauguration in January 2017 than spend any time with the poor saps in MAGA caps at his rallies. He left thousands of them standing in the freezing cold after a rally recently. He encourages them to refuse to wear face masks, a policy that has led to tens of thousands of infections among his supporters, people who are collateral damage in the Trump re- election campaign, a man with so fragile an ego that killing his own people is preferable to losing.
I've no idea what will happen today and tonight. There have been all sorts of forecasts, a narrow Biden win, a big Biden win, a Trump resurgence. It looks like a Trump tactic may be to declare victory at some point during the night, regardless of the count and see if the media go with it, an actual anti- democratic power grab. Are we still squeamish about using the word fascist? He has said that he will contest any result in the courts, and has rushed through an appointment to the Supreme Court to enable this. It looks like any kind of Biden win will lead to Trump having to be prised out of the White House, the US political system and Constitution creaking at the sides as legal crowbars are applied to jemmy the bastard out.
He has to go. He has to be defeated. For fuck's sake America, please, get it done.
Back in June Public Enemy returned with a new single, the righteous fury of non- Trump America diffused into one three minute song, a song that opens with Chuck D declaring 'whatever it takes, rid this dictator...' and builds to the chorus, 'State of the Union/ Shut the fuck up/ Sorry ass motherfucker/ Stay away from me'
Monday 2 November 2020
One of the peaks of Andrew Weatherall's productions and his work with Hugo Nicolson is this version of One Dove's White Love. In its Radio Mix state White Love is perfect, breathless, left field piano pop. In its ten minute sixteen seconds long Guitar Paradise version it's a boundless, endless work of imagination, with Phil Mossman's guitar part in the forefront and it showcases Andrew's ability to stretch a song out and find new places for it to go and new directions to send the listener in. From the opening guitar chord, all feedback, pedals and amplifier, and the sliced up pieces of Dot's vocal to the arrival of the drums a minute and a half in this is a trip. The crunchy, vivid guitar continues to weave its magic and Dot's full vocal is layered on top.
Mirrors in thought, these fortunes we can share
And where there is dark, there are ghosts
Who give me hope'
The bassline is an enormous dub inspired thing, bubbling away underneath. The trademark early 90s/ Sabres Of Paradise/ Screamadelica timbales make an appearance too. I remember buying the 12" single on release, in Oxford of all places, having come back from a summer spent catching trains and camping in France. We arrived back in England and were making our way back to Manchester by train. I can't remember all the details, maybe there was work on the railways, maybe we had to change trains, but I went into HMV in Oxford and there was White Love on the rack at the front of the singles department. I have no idea how having spent several weeks in France living on cheese, bread, cheap wine and even cheaper cigarettes, I had any money to buy a record but I bought it on the spot and cradled it all the way back home. The feeling I get from the sound of those guitars coming in and Dot's voice hasn't faded at all in the twenty seven years in between then and now.
Sunday 1 November 2020
It's now November and it all looks pretty grim doesn't it? The tiered approach hasn't worked, we're in a new lockdown starting on Thursday. SAGE advised the government to do this weeks ago but they didn't. I guess Michael Gove was articulating government policy when he said during the Brexit campaign 'the British public has had quite enough of experts'. What he meant was government would ignore the advice of experts.
We go back to school tomorrow, 1300 people crammed into a building together, 30 people in classrooms together breathing the same air, with an age group who can be highly contagious but asymptomatic, and therefore can be passing it on without realising they even have the virus. If you think about it too much, it's really scary. If you don't think about it, you become complacent. Something like a third of all transmissions are being traced from education, a figure that rises with the older teenage groups. A lockdown while keeping schools and colleges open will not be enough as far as I can see. We are being led by the worst people at the worst time.
Mogwai have a new song out ahead of an album next year, an instrumental called Dry Fantasy, which suggests they've tapped into what's going on while also listening to 80s cosmische music, such as Michael Rother.
This song was the last one on their soundtrack to the film Kin from 2018, a blistering but optimistic piece of modern guitar music, walls of sound and FX and some distant, sunken vocals that start off with the line 'holding back the fear again'.