It turns out that Luke Schneider and the 'weird Nashville' scene of Nashville Ambient Ensemble I posted on Monday is not confined to Tennessee but is part of something wider. A friend on social media pointed me in the direction of SUSS, a New York fourpiece who use a similar set of instruments- pedal steel guitar, ebow, baritone guitar, synths and a harmonium- to make ambient Americana or ambient country, inspired by the wide open spaces of the north American continent and 70s psychedelia. SUSS call it 'pastoral psychedelicism'. Their album Promise was made in lockdown and doesn't put a foot wrong, a perfect state of blissed out, cosmic drift with some loss hinted at in the grooves. Buy it at Bandcamp. Promise, their third album, came out in December last year. Mission is as good an introduction to their music as any of the eight tracks on the album and with titles like Midnight, Drift, Winter Light and Echo Lake you can see exactly where they're coming from.
Thursday, 29 April 2021
One of my regular evening walks takes me past the park not far from us and the view across it to the line of trees on the far side with a row of houses behind it. The sun setting and the fade of the blue in the sky differs from one night to the next. I probably wouldn't have noticed this pre- Covid, I certainly wouldn't have walked past it frequently enough to see it and photograph it.
Here is some political punk/ soul from The Redskins. Punchy agit- prop from the skinhead three piece who wanted to marry Motown and The Clash... and largely succeeded. Unionize was the B-side to their 1983 single Lean On Me, a plea to the workers to organise themselves set to an irresistible, fast as fuck rhythms and scratchy guitars.
The Power Is Yours was the first song on their 1986 album Neither Washington Nor Moscow and while the tempo is slower, the message is just as powerful.
And that leads me to The Style Council and their 1985 single Walls Come Tumbling Down. 'You don't have to take this crap/ you don't have to sit back and relax/ you can actually try changing things... governments crack and systems fall/ 'cos unity is powerful/ lights go out/ walls come tumbling down'
Wednesday, 28 April 2021
How does it feel? is one of music's great questions- yesterday's postee Bob Dylan famously asked it in 1966, 'to be on your own/ like a complete unknown/ like a rolling stone?' Mod art- rockers The Creation asked how it feels to feel. In 1983 New Order wanted to know how it feels to treat me like you do. In 1989 Spacemen 3 asked it too, in typical style asking it over and over, part of a dark and trippy hymn to feeling- 'we could make love and live as one/ and burn our fingers on the sun/ so tell me, how does it feel?' Pete Kember in 1989 asking a question which sounds like it's about love but is just as likely about drugs.
This re- edit from the good people at Paisley Dark appeared a few days ago, an eight minute re- edit by Jesse Fahnestock, available at Bandcamp for free/ pay what you like. How Does It Feel? (1040's Terrace Moonshine Dub) stretches the original out and strips it down, a slow down and wait reworking.
Tuesday, 27 April 2021
I don't know if it was yesterday's Nashville Ambient Ensemble post that implanted the word Nashville in my mind or complete coincidence but out of nowhere I found myself humming a song from Bob Dylan's 1969 album Nashville Skyline. This one...
Recorded in Nashville with Dylan deep into country music, a clear higher register voice (due to a temporary giving up of ciggies) and with some of Nashville's top musicians on board- pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake and drummer Kenny Buttrey are all over the album (as well as Johnny Cash). It's a new Dylan, not the thin wild mercury man of 1966, not the voice of a generation any more, but calmer, more reflective family man. At the time many felt he'd abdicated his responsibilities, given up his crown at a time when he was needed most- 1969 was a tumultuous year in the USA- but he couldn't keep going at the rate he was and had to slow down and stop.
The previous year Dylan had released John Wesley Harding, a stripped back, low key, almost lo- fi album, short songs recorded in Nashville (almost on a whim) full of historical and biblical imagery (the outlaw of the title, St Augustine, Tom Paine, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, landlords, drifters and hobos). John Wesley Harding was the opposite of what everyone else was recording in 1967 and this makes it all the more a standout album of both the decade and Dylan, Bob doing something else entirely as everyone else was chasing the psychedelic dollar. This song, recorded in Nashville has Pete Drake's pedal steel all over it, Bob's laid back, folky acoustic guitar and country backing from Kenny Buttrey and bassist Charlie McCoy. Meanwhile Dylan croons.
Monday, 26 April 2021
Nashville Ambient Ensemble are exactly as their name suggests and have not long since released an album called Cerulean (already sold out almost everywhere, you might be lucky if you hunt around- there's hints of a repress). Led by composer Michael Hix and including the pedal steel of Luke Schneider (whose Altar Of Harmony from last year is a revelation and a joy), the album takes in six tracks of improvisation, meditative bliss and not a little transportation, just what the musical doctor ordered. The centrepiece of Cerulean is the ten minute drift of Conversion, a soundscape built in the capital of Tennessee by a like minded group of musicians, a weird Nashville, with layers of synth, a meandering piano part, that achingly beautiful pedal steel guitar and a vocal coming in and out gently like waves lapping on a beach. It really is something else. The digital release is here.
Sunday, 25 April 2021
Red Snapper have a new single out, a lithe piece of space- jazz- danceable rhythms and dubby echoes, a retro- futuristic surf across the spacewaves. Having been living with this on and off for the last month it's come into its own as the world has unlocked a little, as the sun's come out and we're seeing the outdoors as somewhere to live. Put B Planet on a playlist or burn it onto a CD compilation and let it groove away between some appropriate surrounding tracks, some cosmic disco and 90s Detroit techno say.
Saturday, 24 April 2021
A double post of ambient weirdness from post- industrial lockdown England. Craven Faults are a Yorkshire based outfit who make industrial ambient pitching up somewhere between 1970s West Germany and 2020s West Yorkshire. Walks across the countryside to see decaying mills and workshops turned into music using an array of modular synths, keyboards, organs, pianos and drum machines. A three track EP called Enclosures is out in physical formats now, available at Bandcamp and led by the ten minute trip of Doubler Stones.
Further south to the East Midlands and a city which was under lockdown and tiered restrictions longer than anywhere else in the UK. Leicester duo Smoke Test send out dark, ambient transmissions built using a similar sonic arsenal- synths, found sounds, noises. This isn't ambient as a calming, music for healing experience but uneasy ambient, a wordless shout into the void. They've just released their second album, cunningly titled Volume II. Opener Tender bubbles around for four and a half minutes, loops building and folding in on themselves with a touch of acid in there. The Owl Sanctuary is a disquieting walk at dusk, birds chirruping. Wasted Time, echoes bouncing around the inside of a container, is anything but. Buy it here.
Friday, 23 April 2021
A new compilation from On U Sound rounds up some oddities, rarities and unreleased versions from the New Age Steppers tape vaults. On U Sound's re- issues of African Head Charge's albums and the similar unreleased extras compilation from last year, Churchical Chant Of The Iyabinghi, were essential purchases and this covers similar ground although Ari's presence and the post- punk anxiety and dissonance give many of the tracks on Avant Gardening an edge that makes this sometimes uneasy listening.
World Wide Version is a dubbed out version of My Whole World from 1981's Action Battlefield, bass and FX providing the foundation for some Eastern tinged clavinet courtesy of Kishi Yamamoto. Previously only available on the 2004 Japanese re- issue of the album
Thursday, 22 April 2021
Mike Mitchell, the last surviving member of The Kingsmen, has died aged 77. He was a mainstay in the band from 1959. The Kingsmen, from Portland, Oregon, released their version of Richard Berry's Louie Louie in 1963 and in the process laid down one of the cornerstones of garage rock- three chord riff, primitive beat, the whole group crowded round one single microphone, muffled vocals about a sailor trying to get home to his girl and Mitchell's guitar solo. I'm sure Mike Mitchell achieved many, many things in his life other than just being the man who played the guitar solo on Louie Louie but if it were the only one, it's not too bad a thing to have as an epitaph.
If you've been in a band you've probably done a cover of Louie Louie or a song very similar to it. The Beach Boys, The Troggs, Jan and Dean, Motorhead, Toots and The Maytals, The Flamin' Groovies and The Sonics all covered it.
Paul Revere And The Raiders did too, also in 1963, intro riff played on sax.
In 1981 US hardcore band Black Flag, with new vocalist Dez Cadena making his debut at the mic improvising the lyrics while the rest of the group, guitars like a wall of sludge, pummel the song into submission in one minute twenty seconds.
Iggy covered it for his 1993 album American Caesar adding the clanging piano from I Wanna Be Your Dog.
Coincidentally, yesterday was Iggy's birthday, 74 years young. Happy birthday Mr Pop and RIP Mike Mitchell.
Wednesday, 21 April 2021
The second Bicep album, Isles, came out at the start of the year. The singles that led up to it were real favourites of mine- Atlas especially but Apricots too- but the album felt a bit flat to me, a bit samey. Maybe listening to it in the dark days of January with everything that was going in lockdown wasn't right, and the highs and lows of Isles, the euphoric synths, neon waves and clubby rhythms might be better heard now the days are getting brighter. I need to go back to it and give it another go. Bicep have since added another three tracks to the album to expand it into a deluxe edition. Siena, with vocals from Clara La San, is a bit of a turnup, a breakbeat and slow moving moody synths drone and then Clara's breathy vocal building for the first minute before the bassline takes over. It could easily spill over but the Bicep pair show some restraint here, holding back the temptation to go big instead keeping it a bit darker and more interesting.
Tuesday, 20 April 2021
Dinosaur Jr have come back to do what they always do- J Mascis' sleepy drawled vocal, a guitar sound patented in 1987 and largely unchanged since, lacerated with gnarly solo thrown in partway through to rip a hole in the song, this time a song called I Ran Away. The album Sweep It Into Space comes out on Friday and promises more of the same as they've always done and in a world where things change under your feet on a daily basis maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Lou Barlow gets a song as a single too, the gorgeous indie- ache of Garden. Lou going back to basics and back to the land.
Monday, 19 April 2021
More krautrock for Montag this time with Faust. West German bands in the early 70s were fired up on the zeitgeist- revolutionary politics, communal living, music as an anti- establishment activity- and those aspects of it peculiar to life in West Germany- the shadow of the Nazis and their parents' generation, a country divided by the Cold War and a city literally divided in two, the FRG's position as the frontline in any war that might break out in Europe between east and west. Faust were experimental, improvisational and challenging, making music out of cut ups and collage as well as more conventional band based, progressive rock music. This song, from their 1973 album Faust IV, is a pretty chilled out affair, a drifting lullaby built on top of some distorted bass and a slow drum pattern, over which Rudolf Sosna sings gently 'Jennifer you red hair's burning/ yellow jokes come out of your mind'.
Sunday, 18 April 2021
My internet friend/ Balearic overlord Dr Rob tipped me off to this, a new album from Chris Coco. Jamu is six tracks long and inspired by the island of Bali. The music was made in lockdown, the tracks passed around a group of friends, each playing their parts based on the original grooves and soundscapes, building on what the person before had added. At the end Chris edited it all together. It's been the soundtrack to my evening walks this week, the light lasting a little later, the crescent moon very bright and low in the sky and a welcome distraction from all the nonsense life and work sends your way. The album is here. Album opener Rainy Season is an immersive experience (especially through headphones), voices scattered in the mix with traditional instruments and ambient sounds.
Saturday, 17 April 2021
A new Daniel Avery was announced this week, following 2020's pair- Illusion Of Time made with Alessandro Cortini and the lockdown produced Love + Light (not to mention the Lone Swordsman single and they all came on the back of 2018's Song For Alpha). The album, Together In Static, is tied in to a performance (socially distanced of course) at Hackney Church in May, a matinee and evening sitting. Once he started preparing for the shows and making new music ahead of them the album grew a life of its own- eleven tracks led by this one, Endless Hours. Austere, intense, emotive ambient techno, subtly shifting synths and rattling drums. The album in various formats and bundles can be bought here.
Friday, 16 April 2021
Back in 2007, longer ago than it seems, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie released two albums on the same day- After The Night Falls and Before The Day Breaks. The former opened with this piece of music, four minutes of ambient electronica, sound to lose yourself in as it drifts over you- piano notes drenched in reverb, some plucked, treated guitar strings, washes of synth, a gentle drone.
Thursday, 15 April 2021
Hawkwind's vocalist Robert Calvert suffered from some terrible episodes of poor mental health and was eventually diagnosed with bipolar. As a child he dreamed of being a fighter pilot and when this didn't happen began to dip into bohemian London of the 1960s. His combined interests in psychedelia, poetry and science fiction led him to Hawkwind. He left in 1973 after being hospitalised under the Mental Health Act, rejoined in 1975 and then left again in 1979. Along the way he recorded several solo albums including in 1981 an album called Hype. Hype was tied in to a novel of the same name, telling the fictional story of the rise and fall of a rock 'n' roll star.
Lord Of The Hornets is the last song on Hype and was also released as a 7" single. It is a buzzing, pounding, overloaded song full of striking lines and memorable imagery, about the man who is the Lord of the Hornets. Norbury is in south London, sandwiched between Streatham and Croydon. It would not surprise me at all if the living God of stinging insects lived in a suburb of south London.
Behind a shed in a garden in Norbury
And when he whispers commands in his megaphone
They swarm to his call and he knows that he's not alone
Each has a place and will be what it must be
Queen's a machine on a larva production line
Laying antenna-ed troops on the stings in a paper mine'
Michael Moorcock, science fiction and fantasy author and a key figure in the New Wave of British sci fi plays guitar on Hype. Moorcock also played with Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult and had his own band, The Deep Fix. Additionally he is one of the stars of Half Man Half Biscuit's legendary 1989 single Dickie Davies Eyes. A bit of a one off in the HMHB back catalogue musically, it fades in slowly led by organ rather than the Wirral group's usual three chord indie guitar rumble. Nigel Blackwell pulls together more great lines and British cultural references than any other contemporary songwriter could manage- funnier than Mark E Smith, more relevant than Nick Cave, not racist like Morrissey, Nigel Blackwell is the true voice of British post- punk lyricists (I am aware obviously that Nick Cave is not British).
As the organ comes in, ascending and descending chords and a rattling drum picks up the beat Nigel kicks us off with Tolkein and Moorcock
'Mention The Lord Of The Rings just once more
And I’ll more than likely kill you
Moorcock, Moorcock, Michael Moorcock you fervently moan'
He then brings us Brian Moore (1) and the London Planetarium, Roger Dean (2), Cadbury's Flake adverts (3), oral sex (3), romanticised dreams about the living and the dead and 'a Romany bint in a field with her paints/ suggesting we faint at her beauty... But she's got Dickie Davies Eyes'. (4)
(1) Brian Moore- a football commentator and TV presenter. Covered nine world cups.
(2) Roger Dean- artist and designer. Famous of his album covers for 1970s prog bands
(3) Cadbury's Flake- the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate... tastes like chocolate never tasted before'
(4) Dickie Davies- TV presenter most famous for being the anchorman of World Of Sport from 1968 to 1985. Darts, rugby, snooker, horse racing, wrestling- he covered it all with a streak of white in his quiff and a twinkle in his eye.
Wednesday, 14 April 2021
If you want a short, sharp blast of early 70s space rock to lift the spirits and provide a shot of energy and adrenaline you can't go far wrong with Hawkwind's Silver Machine. It opens with a wobble of synth, some oscillations to draw you into the space age, and then the three note bassline and rackety drums drive in, before guitars and vocals provide lift off.
'It flies/ sideways through time/ It's an electric line/ To your zodiac sign'
When the group recorded the song in 1972 Robert Calvert's original vocal wasn't cutting it, it sounded said new bass recruit Lemmy, 'like Captain Kirk reading Blowing In The Wind', so he sang it instead, the only one present who could hit all the notes. Calvert was hospitalised not long after. As the song increases in intensity, everyone bashing away at their chosen instrument, the fur flying and the backing vocals screaming, it sounds like the most exhilarating, most exciting ride through space and time imaginable. Guitarist Dave Brock wrote the song about his new silver racing bike, inspired by a short story about cosmic time travel machine. Brock's joke was that the song was about a bicycle and not a sci fi epic. Sax player Nik Turner has said the song could be about a bike but it could be about 'a spaceship or a hypodermic needle, anything that gives you freedom'. I think I like it being about a bike best.
'It flies/ out of a dream/ it' antiseptically clean/ you're gonna know where I've been'
Silver Machine reached number three in the UK (back when these things mattered), a hit single played by a group of mad, long haired, drug using, counter- culture, anti- authoritarian outsiders who played every free festival they could and who had no interest at all in being pop stars or superstars.
Tuesday, 13 April 2021
This fine piece of political discourse is painted on the railway bridge behind my place of work (a school in a former mill town in the north west of England that has seen its fair share of post- industrial decline and the problems associated with it and yet inexplicably is represented by a Tory MP). I like to think a student or former student is responsible.
Back in February 1985 Verve records released a ten song compilation of rescued Velvet Underground recordings. Back in 1969 the band had recorded an album's worth of songs for what was intended to be their fourth album. A new broom came in at Verve/ MGM, an executive called Mike Curb and he took the decision to drop all the unprofitable groups from their roster. The Velvets were among those and were released from their contract. On the shelf they left behind the tapes containing five songs from the John Cale- era Velvets and fourteen for the unreleased album. These recordings were re- discovered in the 80s and the 'best' were released as VU. Most of the songs were in the master tape, multi- track format so some of Verve's top engineers were able to 'clean up' and remix the songs. VU is a treasure trove, a record that was partly responsible for the indie boom in the UK in the mid- 80s. As an album it hangs together and sounds coherent despite two of the songs being Cale period songs and the rest Doug Yule period songs. Some of the songs were re- recorded for Loaded and some were already known to Lou Reeds' audience due to him recycling them on various 1970s solo albums but these were the source material, the songs as recorded by Lou, John or Doug, Sterling and Mo (with some typically 80s gated reverb on the drums added by Verve to make the recordings more contemporary). In many ways VU is as vital a Velvet Underground release as any of their four official studio albums and when exploring the group as we all were in the mid- to- late 80s, VU was an essential purchase. In 1986 the rest of the songs were released as Another VU, a marginally less essential nine song album that rounded the set off.
In 2014 when the Velvet's record company were celebrating the forty- fifth anniversary of their self- titled third album with a super deluxe box set they went back to the songs that made up VU/ the unreleased 1969 album and remixed them again, this time much more sympathetically. The 2014 version of I Can't Stand It especially was a revelation- the drums especially- and the restored Lou Reed vocal countdown, backwards from eight to one starting at two minutes twelve seconds, just after the vicious guitar solo and before the choppy rhythm guitar parts come back in, is ridiculously good. This is as good a song as any they recorded.
I Can't Stand It (2014 Mix)
There are many things I cannot stand at the moment, things that easily top living with thirteen dead cats and the purple dog that wears spats in Lou's lyrics, but listing them will only irritate me more. As it is I'll just echo what the Manic Street Preachers said in their 1992 song Repeat, 'Useless generations/ dumb flag scum/ repeat after me/ fuck Queen and country'. Scum is admittedly a strong word but the rest I can't find any fault with.
Monday, 12 April 2021
Back to work today after two weeks off so something calming is needed to ease my way back into the maelstrom. This is some gentle, analogue ambient/ cosmische music from Cluster in 1976, the duo formed by Roedelius and Moebius, with Conny Plank in the producer's chair and after some time with Brian Eno the previous year when they all recorded together with Michael Rother as Harmonia. Eno's influence can be heard all over the eight minutes of this track as can their decision to leave Berlin and head for the West German countryside, where they built a studio in a village in Forst, Lower Saxony.
Sowiesoso, the album from which this song is the opener as well as the title track, is a kind of pastoral krautrock, ambient sounds, washes and soft pulses, a step away from the motorik drumbeat into a calmer world. Sowiesoso translates as 'anyway' and that's kind of how this sounds.
Sunday, 11 April 2021
This is new and out on Manchester based label Blindside Records but the music and artist come from a long way from anywhere with an M postcode. Tima Christina is from Los Angeles and this song, Home Is Where The Heart Is, is from that landscape- wide open spaces, dusty roads, truckstops and palm trees. The rippling guitar riff, string stabs, hushed vocal and the echo that sits around it all sound like the sort of song that should be playing as you sink into your seat on a Greyhound bus, leaving the city behind.
Saturday, 10 April 2021
Brother Joseph's Sonic Treasure Show broadcasts out of Glasgow via Radio Magnetic, weaving a mix of cosmic, psyche, ambient, downtempo and dub. This one, Sonic Treasures Part Six, went out two weeks ago. At the start of the year there was a superb two part adventure through the world of Woodleigh Research Facility. Tonight Joseph presents a three part show featuring himself, the talents of Stephen Haldane and a one hour forty minute mix courtesy of Sonic Boom. Now based in Portugal, Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) has pursued analogue synths, space rock and electronic drone with a single minded devotion from Spacemen 3 to Spectrum to E.A.R. to his 1990 and 2020 albums under his Sonic Boom name and through productions and remixes of a bunch of like minded artists, including Dean and Britta, Cheval Sombre, Moon Duo, Yo La Tengo, Panda Bear and Beach House. Having had a taster in advance Sonic's mix for tonight's show is a blast, a trippy glide by through his back pages with productions for Beach House, Deakin, Dean and Britta (a very blissed out cover of I'm So Bored With the USA), Moon Duo and Cheval Sombre, remixes of Ghost Wave, Vola Tila and some of his own songs from last year's All Things Being Equal album and much more, ebbing and flowing, waves of spaced out, forward thinking, psychedelic sounds. Well worth tuning into if you've had any interest in Mr Boom's work from Spacemen 3 and beyond. You can find the show at Radio Magnetic from 9.00pm tonight.
Sonic Boom's album Almost Nothing Is Nearly Enough is out later this month, with remixed and reworked versions of songs from last year's album plus two songs previously not released outside Japan. This song, Tick Tock, one of the songs released in the Japanese market only, is a masterclass of repetition and warm drones and tones.
Friday, 9 April 2021
Warpaint's bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg released a solo album in 2015, an album steeped in post- punk and gothic influences. Stella, Warpaint's drummer, played on it and as a result the album is very bass and drums led with Jenny's voice layered on top. The single Never was the best moment, a clattering, splintered Cure- indebted song for 2015, the guitars sending little shards of light into the monochrome rhythms. One to dance to in the Batcave.
In 2017 Jenny Lee wrote a song with Danish producer Trentemoller. This version, the so called Blissed Out Mix, is sparse and spectral, the synths adding texture rather than tunes, the goth psychedelia of Siouxsie recast for the 21st century. Less overtly pop than the main mix and rather good.
Thursday, 8 April 2021
Record Shop/ Store (delete according to taste) Day for 2021 is in June by which point the people behind it hope that record shops will still be open and people will be able to queue up from the early hours to bag limited edition, coloured vinyl re- issues of records their parents dumped in charity shops two decades ago. One announcement which did prick my interest is the release of Warpaint's 2010 album The Fool in the form of the mix Andrew Weatherall did of the songs- only two of his mixes made the final album but this release promises to be the whole record as he mixed it. At the time someone (the band apparently) took the view that Weatherall's mixes of the songs weren't right for release and most of them were shelved. The Fool is a good album and hearing Andrew's mixes is definitely of interest- not that I intend to queue up outside Piccadilly Records at some stupidly early hour to get one so I suppose I'll take my chances later in the day.
I've a lot of time for Warpaint. Their first mini- album Exquisite Corpse from 2007 was a blast with the brilliant song Elephants at its centre. 2010's The Fool was led by the single Undertow, a swooning, submerged, moody song that sounds like dusk in California (to someone who's never been there), with all that sea one way and all that land the other (to borrow an image from Kerouac).
The 2014 follow up, a self titled album, was by far their best for me, the slightly stoned vocal harmonies, rolling grooves, PiL basslines and psychedelic/ post punk guitar lines all coming together perfectly on songs like Love Is To Die, Disco// Very and Biggy. Love Is To Die has an urgency and darkness to go with the dreaminess, Jenny Lee's basslines and Stella's drums locked in tight, and the vocals floating on top, slightly behind the beat.
Wednesday, 7 April 2021
Future Beat Alliance released an album last year called Beginner's Mind, an album that over the course of nine tracks pulled together a lot of sounds (ambient, Detroit techno, house, European techno, acid) into a cohesive and immersive whole. Modern and futuristic, sleek and emotive, it pushed a lot of buttons. In October FBA released a remix of one of the tracks, Birth, by Detroit legend Claude Young. Rebirth is a complete reworking of the original track, a beautiful synths and strings odyssey, slow, haunting and elegiac, but as the piano notes fade in (and as the title hints) it's ultimately heading into the sunlight. It's about to be released on vinyl alongside three new Future Beat Alliance tracks on a 12" called Primordial Sky which you can order here.
Tuesday, 6 April 2021
Today would have been Andrew Weatherall's 58th birthday. During lockdown a crack team of urban art guerrillas have been painting blue plaques on the walls of significant venues he played or worked at- above is Happy Jacks on Crucifix Lane near London Bridge, a club in the railway arches that hosted Andrew's Sabresonic club night in 1993- 94. The club was lost to the market forces of gentrification a few years ago. Below is the entrance to Andrew's studio at Scrutton Street, East London, a space he shared with several other artist, people such as Daniel Avery, Richard Fearless, Scott Fraser and Timothy J. Fairplay ('We are the Axis', he sang on The Asphodells album, celebrating the basement studios and it's occupants), another place swallowed up by property developers. More power to the shadowy team behind these spray paint tributes (although their names must remain a secret).
To celebrate Andrew Weatherall's birthday and life here are two remixes separated by two decades, both part of what he definitely didn't see as a career, more a series of happy accidents and moments where when offered a shot at the limelight and the big money, he backed away into the shadows. These two remixes, from 1991 and 2013 respectively, share a sonic palette and show how the influences he was bringing to his early works were still informing his music years later even though he'd mined several deep musical furrows in between.
First this one where he remixed Airstream, a 1991 progressive house chugger built around a rhythmic vocal sample and chunky drums. The entry of the bass after one minute is a supercharged moment, followed by the arrival of more drums, percussion, snatches of guitar, a didgeridoo and whatever else happened to be lying around the studio/ on the mastertapes. Even in the halcyon days of 1991 no one else was turning out records like this, more ideas per square inch than some groups mange in an entire album. Airstream contained Cymon Eckel (a longstanding friend of Andrew's and original member of the Boy's Own team) and Johnny Male (once of 80s Manchester band Metro Trinity who I keep meaning to write about, a band who released one record in 1987 and also contained future members of Sub Sub/ Doves. Johnny went on to Soul Family Sensation and Republica). The Nine O' Clock Drop of the title refers to Andrew and Cymon's trips nightclubbing in the 80s and optimum ingestion time.
This one came out in 2013 but is a remix of a song originally released in 1982 by Blue Rondo a la Turk, again built around some rhythmic vocals, some looped humming and chanting by the latin/ jazz/ pop ensemble and underpinned by a huge, fuzz bassline and punchy drums. The remix was released as part of a Blue Rondo retrospective called Chewing The Fat, and is the sort of thing that got Andrew and friends fired up by music, dancing and clubbing in the first place.
Blue Rondo a la Turk are also known for being the act The Smiths supported at their first ever gig at The Ritz in Manchester, a changing of the guard moment in Smiths mythology. Two members of Blue Rondo went on to form Matt Bianco who were memorably called 'a bunch of wankers' on a live phone on Saturday Superstore. Such are the moments pop culture is built on.
Monday, 5 April 2021
Richard Norris' series of long form ambient/ deep listening tracks, Music For Healing, has continued this year. The latest one- no title, just April's release- is the best yet, from the deep drone that opens it to the single piano notes played sparingly on top, the waves of synth and layers of choral voices. The constant hum that underpins it sound like a nod to the deep listening recordings of Pauline Oliveros. At fifteen minutes there's a shift in tone, the meditative drift gently looking upwards to the light. It's here.
Also released recently is a compilation of tracks called Music For Soundtracks Vol 1. High On Hope is a beauty, based around a piano motif, some pitter- patter drums and the push of a bassline to steer the music towards a dancefloor. The album, ten tracks long, is here, ambient sounds and experimental electronics plus some smart dance music that have appeared in a documentary about Cold War Steve and Marc Isaac's latest film.
Sunday, 4 April 2021
It's Easter Sunday, the blossom's blossoming, the sun has been out, we can have another family or up to six people from different households in our gardens- the world is our oyster (and the cynic in me could easily follow that with Paul Weller's line from When You're Young about how 'your future's a clam' but let's stick with being optimistic for the duration of this post at least). This track is a Kenneth Bager remix of Mancunian Ruf Dug's Dominica from his 2014 album, an album written on the island of Guadeloupe drawing musical lines between Manchester and Ibiza. Bager's remix with found sounds (seagulls, waves lapping, boats gently tugging at ropes) and warm synth stabs, a lazy bass part and some woodwind is very chilled and also very abstract, barely even a song any more, more a moment turned into sound.
Saturday, 3 April 2021
I've been feeling a bit out of inspiration this week. In Pennie Smith's book of photos of her time touring with The Clash in 1979 the band members provided captions- in one Joe Strummer wrote 'to have output, you gotta have input' and maybe that's the problem, not enough input recently. Tying that and some of this week's posts together (Unkle, David Axelrod, DJ Shadow) brings me to Futura 2000, the New York graffiti artist who provided words and artwork for The Clash. On their 1981 European tour he would paint the band's stage backdrop live behind them. Coincidentally I found this magical clip recently, Mick Jones playing guitar while Futura raps with Fab Five Freddie at the Bataclan in Paris, Mick looking every inch the hip hop/ punk rock star.
Futura did the lyric sheet on Combat Rock and the sleeve for This Is Radio Clash and was instrumental in kicking off the French graffiti and urban art scene. In the 1990s he hooked up with James Lavelle and alongside Ben Drury worked on the sleeve art for Mo' Wax and Unkle- his distinctive graffiti aliens adorned the front cover of Psyence Fiction and established a strong visual identity for the label. Mick has largely retired from music. Ten years ago he resurrected Big Audio Dynamite for a tour of the UK. I missed it due to being on holiday, something I still regret. Last year Mick came out of his retirement and appeared on The Avalanches multi- guest star album We Will Always Love You. The song We Go On was one of the highlights, a bouncy, optimistic piece of cosmic pop built around a Karen Carpenter sample and a rap from Cola Boyy- 'we go on/ hurting each other' Mick and Karen sing.
Mick's friend and Clash bandmate Joe Strummer died nearly two decades ago but previously unreleased recordings still surface. A solo best of called Assembly has just been released, remastered versions of the pick of his post- Clash work and featuring a 'new' solo acoustic recording of Joe singing Junco Partner, a song he sung throughout his adult life from The 101ers to The Clash, from Latino Rockabilly War to The Mescaleros. Junco Partner, a 50s New Orleans blues written by James Waynes for and about users and dealers, appears on Sandinista! in both reggae and dub versions and it's one of the handful of Clash songs that I'm a bit ambivalent about, I can take it or leave it.
This version though, just Joe, a guitar and some echo, shows the man in fine voice.
Friday, 2 April 2021
Posts this week featuring Unkle and David Axelrod have pointed me in the direction of DJ Shadow. Shadow was a big part of Unkle in the late 90s, the Psyence Fiction album especially, and his album Endtroducing... is one of the 1990s defining records, a four sided tribute to crate digging, sampling and instrumental hip hop created uisng nothing but an Akai sampler and drum machine, a pair of turntables and an early version of Pro Tools.
Shadow followed Endtroducing... with a 12" single called High Noon, a twangy guitar and drums from Curtis Knight (who played drums for Hendrix). At the time there was a sense of anti- climax about this release, after the ground breaking sounds of Endtroducing... in '96 but listening to it now it sounds spot on.
This one from 2003, GDMFSOB, is a breakbeat powered monster with words from Roots Manuva and Unkle on remix duties.
Thursday, 1 April 2021
In 1967 The Electric Prunes recorded a concept album with composer David Axelrod, splicing psychedelic rock with Gregorian chant on an album called Mass In F Minor and although it became an underground hit the band broke up due to difficulties in recreating it live. Producer Dave Hassinger hung onto the name and put together a completely new line up of The Electric Prunes and got Axelrod back in to write and arrange more new songs, this time based around a Jewish prayer. The result was Release Of A Oath, a lavish, string laden rock album made mainly with session musicians (including several members of the legendary Los Angeles Wrecking Crew).
In 1968 David Axelrod made his own solo album Song Of Innocence, bringing together William Blake, the members of the Wrecking Crew that made the Prunes album and a jazz/ soundtrack/ easy listening/ orchestral/ sumptuous psychedelia vibe.
Both records provided producers and DJs in the 90s with a rich sample library, the strings and drums particularly, including DJ Shadow and Unkle (see Tuesday's post). So it all comes together quite nicely for today, a Thursday, the first day of April, approaching Easter, in the middle of Holy Week (not that I'm religious) and makes it look like I planned this when in reality it came together last night while drumming my fingers and thinking about what to post.