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Friday 31 May 2024

Five Fathoms Full

Out today, Five Fathoms Full, a full length, twelve track album from Duncan Gray. It has soundtracked much of my weekly commute to work recently, a sleek, cosmische, dub disco album that chews up the miles and eases the low level pains of travelling on our roads. Everything is extended, all the tracks allowed to play out over six or seven minutes minimum, analogue synths, drum machines, basslines of both the dubby, Hooky and propulsive variety, guitars sent via FX pedals, the constant chugging ALFOS- esque disco groove that sends shards of flickering lights flashing round the space you're in, everything mastered by Rich Lane at Cotton Bud. There's loads to enjoy in Five Fathoms Full, as individual tracks and as a full album that unfolding over something close to one hundred minutes. The track titles alone promise a trip- Full Trip, Astronomy, Greenville, Medicinal, Shark Bumps, Hot Jupe, Two Cold Volts....

Duncan has put together a 57 minute DJ mix of the songs from the album as a taster and a musical experience in its own right. You can find that at Soundcloud. Full Fathom Five is available digitally at Bandcamp

If you missed it Duncan's back catalogue is full of moments of chuggy joy. In March 2022 he put out a collection titled Emergency Transmissions, eight slices of dub disco as played on Sean Johnston's lockdown Friday night EBS system. You can get that here

In 2015 Duncan was one of a handful of artists who saw their music released on Andrew Weatherall's vinyl only Bird Scarer label. Duncan's EP, No Safe Word, had four tracks including the acid joy of Kick Intrusion

Thursday 30 May 2024

Imaginary Albums

Over at The Vinyl Villain you can find a long running series of Imaginary Compilation Albums where JC and various readers have put together compilations for a range of artists and musicians from The Smiths (ICA 001) to Steve Albini (the most recent, ICA 366). This is not a post or series to tread on those toes- this is imaginary albums that should have happened but didn't or that only exist in the mind, music that should have/ could have been made but which remains unwritten, unrecorded and inexistent. 

I've spoken to Mark from Rude Audio/ The Flightpath Estate previously about the imaginary album we wanted to happen. In 1991 Jah Wobble and The Invaders Of The Heart recorded Rising Over Bedlam, an album taking Wobble's huge love for dub and fusing it with what was then called World Music. Sinead O'Connor and Natacha Atlas both appeared on vocals and on Bomba and Visions Of You Wobble produced some of his best solo songs. In 1992 a 12" of Visions Of You appeared. The A Side was the version from the album. The flipside, The AW Side, had three remixes by Andrew Weatherall, remixes that ran into each other, adding up to nearly thirty minutes of music- Andrew took the song and looped it, twisted it, dubbed it, reshaped it, the bass and FX bubbling on forever, Sinead's voice dropping in and out. The AW remixes,  Pick 'n' Mix 1, Pick 'n Mix 2 and The Secret Love Child Of Hank And Johnny Mix, are a brilliant piece of work in their own right, the remix as an artform. 

Weatherall's remixes of Visions Of You were also the first time that what would become The Sabres Of Paradise would work together. Andrew had met Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns in a club and said they should work together. Jagz and Gary nodded and smiled and said, 'of course, of course', not expecting it to happen. Andrew phoned them shortly after and the three of them went to work on Visions Of You. 

Visions of You (The Secret Love Child Of Hank And Johnny Mix)

In the imaginary album of my mind the remixes led to talks about an album, and in the aftermath of the albums Andrew produced for Primal Scream and One Dove, he, Jagz and Gary went into a studio somewhere in London (Orinoco was popular at the time) with Jah Wobble and Sinead O'Connor and they went onto write, record and produce a full length album- Andrew Weatherall's production, Jah Wobble's bass and Sinead O'Connor's voice all fleshed out over four sides of vinyl, a widescreen, post- acid house, 1992/ 1993 dub and electronics masterpiece to go with Morning Dove White. 

I have a second imaginary Andrew Weatherall album that coulda/ shoulda happened. In December 1993, in the bumper end of year Christmas edition of the NME, Mark E Smith was one person given a series of questions, including being asked to nominate their Jerk Of The Year. MES gave the response 'Andy Weatherall' (he also replied to Woman of the Year with 'lead singer from James' and said what he wanted from 1994 was 'death to all French people' so curmudgeonly Mark was definitely having one of those days). But to nominate Andrew Weatherall, out of everyone who could have annoyed MES, as Jerk Of The Year seemed odd. 

It turns out Andrew had been lined up to produce a Fall album. Like all right minded folk, Andrew was a huge fan of Prestwich's finest post- punk group and in 1993 had accepted the challenge. Mark and the then line up had been playing with dance music rhythms and the album that ended up being '93's The Infotainment Scam included The Fall covering Lost In Music among the customary swaggering Fall brilliance and mayhem. If Andrew had stayed on the job, he would have been the producer of The Infotainment Scam. The thought of a 1993 Andrew Weatherall produced Fall album is mind boggling- by '93 Sabres were off the ground and the techno sound of Andrew's Sabres Of Paradise club and label had shifted him away from the Balearic remixes of the previous years and the genre bending sounds of Screamadelica.  

In reality Andrew arrived at the studio, took a look at the amount of boozing that was going on (as Brix Smith has said in an interview) and walked away. Other Weatherall insiders have said similar. We can only imagine what a Weatherall produced Fall album would have sounded like but the thought of some of the Sabresonic- era sounds and rhythms with Mark E. Smith's voice plus those ramshackle, distorted Craig Scanlon guitars cut up and looped is mouthwatering. 

A Past Gone Mad

The experience may have led Mark to call Andrew Jerk Of The Year. It clearly didn't put Andrew off The Fall- they appeared in mixes and sets thereafter, not least on Sci- Fi- Lo- Fi, a 2007 compilation Andrew put together for Soma which had Big New Prinz on it (From 1988's I Am Kurious Oranj). In 1988 The Fall played the song on Tony Wilson's The Other Side Of Midnight- a proper glam racket. 

There may be more imaginary albums to follow, some may even be non- Andrew Weatherall related. Although there is the story of the Sabres Of Paradise album with guest vocalists that never happened that I'll probably come back to. 

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Weekend Machines

Jezebell have been pushing their way into the Balearic/ acid house world over the last two years, especially so in the last 12 months. Their album Jezebelearic Beats Vol 1. caused a fuss when it came out digitally last summer and again with the vinyl release this spring. The vinyl release has slightly fewer tracks than the digital and runs in a different order, the sequencing of four sides of vinyl an artform in itself. Since my copy of the album arrived it's been semi- resident on my turntable, an opportunity to enjoy the album all over again. From the languid, Ibizan beats of Jezebellaeric (with a voice over from the legendary DJ Alfredo) to the ten minute blissed out feel of Jezeblue, the album is filled with a laid back, coastal feel. It also has plenty of moments where the tempos rise, the beats get thumpier and the feel is more intense, more dance floor oriented- Swamp Shuffle finds Jezebell leading Byrne, Frantz, Harrison and Weymouth for a dizzying spin under the mirror ball. 

Man 2.0's Red Shift, remixed by Darren and Jesse as the Jezebell Inner Child Mix, is an electronic maelstrom. Jezebell's Trading Places (3 PM) is a mid- paced, mid- afternoon warm up, the sound of a few liveners sunk and the head spinning a little. If you're quick there are a handful of copies of the album left at Bandcamp

Jezebell have been at it in real life too- Jesse and Darren played a Jezebell DJ set at The Evil Acid Baron's Weekender in Devon last weekend and in June Darren and guests host a Jezebell takeover at The Golden Lion in Todmorden. 

Jezebell have a new track out today, a seven minute banger with the self explanatory title Weekend Machines. Described in their own words as a 'late- night, strobe- lit, smoke- machine, low- ceiling, eyes- closed, spring- loaded, acid house avalanche' Weekend Machines is a hairpin turn away from the beach and poolside sounds in favour of something darker, thumpier, and more direct, an injection of electricity and intensity- four four drums, definitely machine made, wobbling synth sounds, chugging bass that pushes, acid house mayhem, and a distorted voice that wriggles into the ears and the brain, a voice that ends up repeating one word- 'machines'. It's the next step. You can listen to or buy this room- shaker here

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Bagging Area Book Club Chapter Two

Since last summer I've read four novels by Benjamin Myers, the four pictured above. Myers is a writer, author and journalist who has published fiction, non- fiction and poetry as well as writing for various magazines- NME, Melody Maker, Mojo, The Guardian, The Quietus, Time Out and more (he's also contributed to the excellent Weird Walk zine which I'll come back to another time in this series). He's from Durham and currently lives in the Calder Valley. Music forms a backdrop to or an intersection with a lot of his work and it was via music that I first encountered his writing. 

The first of his books I read was The Perfect Golden Circle, a book I consumed from the sun lounger by the pool in Greece last July. It's a magical book, one of those completely self contained novels that you don't want to finish but can't stop reading. It's set in the hot summer of 1989, a summer where a series of crop circles appeared in fields across the south of England. Those crop circles are the work of two men, the classic odd couple, Redbone and Calvert (one a free party, peace convoy hippie- punk who lives in a van, the other an SAS veteran left reeling and scarred by the Falklands War). The two men plan and carry out the creation of crop circles through the summer, their work becoming more ambitious with every circle completed, building towards their moment of perfection- although according to Redbone the truly perfect circle does not exist, 'it can only exist as an idea'. The book feels like the summer of '89, but it goes wider and deeper, the novel a poetic reckoning with the English countryside, the history contained within it, English folk traditions, and the natural world. The Latin phrase Dum spiro spero (While I breathe, I hope) appears near the start of the story, tattooed on the arm of one of the two crop circle creators- both men in the novel are looking for something to keep them going, both living on the fringes of society, and finding something in an unexpected friendship and the crop circles that they've devoted themselves to. 

In my mind crop circles are connected to The KLF- I'm pretty sure that Drummond and Cauty created one with their ghetto blaster and pyramid design at the centre. 

What Time Is Love (Techno Scam Mix)

After The Perfect Golden Circle I read The Offing and enjoyed it just as much, another completely absorbing book with fully realised characters. The Offing is set in a summer not long after the end of the Second World War. Robert Appleyard, 16 years old, sets off on foot to find work, walking away from a Durham colliery village and coal mining, trying to find something, anything, that doesn't involve going underground. His journey takes him by chance to Dulcie Piper, a middle aged woman living alone in a ramshackle cottage, who takes him in, offering food and a bed in exchange for gardening toil. She also provides him with conversation, swear words and poetry, and encourages him to go to university. Dulcie's ex- lover, a German poet Romy Landau, becomes a presence and the story hinges around the circumstances of Romy's death and a manuscript of Romy's Robert discovers. The offing is the point where sea and sky merge on the horizon- the book is the story of a transition, of a place where two things meet (the two people of the tale and Robert's transition from childhood to the adult world), a summer where things change. 

Last autumn I tackled The Gallows Pole. The characters from the novel (and history) were televised by Shane Meadows (who bought many of the cast of his This Is England series with him for The Gallows Pole). The Gallows Pole is historical fiction, based around the real life 'King' David Hartley of Cragg Vale (buried in Heptonstall churchyard, not far from Sylvia Plath's grave). In the late 18th century the Cragg Vale Coiners began counterfeiting coins, clipping the edges from the currency, melting the clippings and then producing their own counterfeit coins. They were so successful that they almost crashed the British economy. The coiners operated in an isolated world, West Yorkshire, where unemployment and threat of starvation were ever present. In Shane Meadows' dramatisation for TV there are meetings on the moor with men with stag's heads and a swirling psyche rock soundtrack from the likes of 70s rockers The Groundhogs and Swedish psyche band Goat. Hartley is portrayed as a hero, a man who has returned to save his community and be re- united with the woman he left behind. In Myers' novel Hartley is a much more dangerous character, violent and oppressive. The book switches between styles- narrative sections, chapters in the first person from Hartley's point of view (in prison awaiting trial) and from the view of Deighton, an official charged with bringing the group to justice, and from the viewpoint of James Broadbent, a coiner turned informant. It's a dense and epic tale, Myers bringing the late 1700s to life, a world where petty theft carried the death penalty, where the weather and the Yorkshire hills are a glowering presence, and where crime and community come together. 

The Shining Levels, an alt- folk group from the north east of England, were so inspired by The Gallows Pole, that they wrote and recorded a soundtrack for the novel. The album marries folk and electronics,  loops and synths and drones. This track, ghostly and slightly unnerving, opens the album...

Stag Dance

Goat's album that soundtracked Shane Meadows' BBC series came out on vinyl for Record Shop Day earlier this year. The digital version can be found here

The fourth of Ben Myers' novels that I've read is Cuddy, a visionary telling of the story of St. Cuthbert, patron saint of the north of England, told over a thousand years. The story is as much about the north of England and the area around Durham, where Cuddy's remains are interred in a grave behind the altar in the cathedral. Cuddy's life in 7th century England took him from shepherd boy to monk, and life as a hermit on Lindisfarne. Attacks by Vikings led the monks at the monastery to move his remains, ending up in what would become Durham cathedral. Myers' book is split into four stories- it starts with the monks on the road with Cuddy's coffin, told by a devotee called Ediva, the text often breaking into chants and prayers. The second story moves to 1346 (the year before the Black Death arrived in England, something that struck Myers as relevant when writing in the summer of 2020 during Covid). Fletcher Bullard is home from war, an archer and domestic abuser. In Medieval Durham Bullard's wife meets Francis Rolfe, a stone mason working on the cathedral and things unravel. The third story jumps to the 19th century and an Oxford professor who has been invited to Durham to witness and record the opening of Cuthbert's tomb, a ghost story that brings the spectres of chanting monks into the 19th century. The fourth part of Cuddy is set in 2019, a young man caring for a dying mother and working in the 21st century, cash in hand, zero hours economy. He lands a job at Durham cathedral where he finds people and a place that he was excluded from previously, his eyes opened by the resting place of St. Cuthbert. As in The Perfect Golden Circle and The Offing, Cuddy is about land and nature, the elements, the north's history and the past impinging on the present as well as the characters Myers' creates. Cuddy is epic in scope and range, impressionistic in parts, poetic but also earthy and gritty, about real people and their lives.  

Monday 27 May 2024

Bank Holiday Monday Long Song

Nine minutes of wide eyed joy and wonder from the combined talents of The Flaming Lips and Scott Hardkiss should be more than enough of a way to celebrate not just a bank holiday but a week off work for me too. The Flaming Lips cemented their status as one of the early 21st century's best bands with the release of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots in summer 2002, an album which if described to someone who'd never heard it (or of the band) would sound ridiculous...

It's an eleven song album, psychedelic, space pop which starts out with a world where a young girl Yoshimi is engaged in a life or death battle with some evil machines, giant pink robots. The story of Yoshimi and her fight is dealt with on the first four songs and then the album turns into a metaphysical/ philosophical record with the band taking electronics, hip hop drums and acoustic guitars to create some achingly beautiful, lush, experimental and incredibly memorable songs that deal with life and death, ruminations on beauty and mortality, physics, science fiction, emotion and suffering, ending with a soaring neo- classical piece called Approaching Pavonis Mons By Balloon (Pavonis Mons is a volcano on Mars). It is an album that can make you laugh and make you cry. 

See? That doesn't do it justice at all does it? Or capture what Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots actually sounds like or what it feels like. 

The Flaming Lips followed the album with several singles and EPs. In 2003 they released Fight Test, a seven track EP led by the title track and covers of Kylie's Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Beck's The Golden Age and Radiohead's Knives Out, a song for Jack White, another Lips song and this remix of Do You Realize?? by Scott Hardkiss.

Do You Realize?? (Scott Hardkiss Floating In Space Mix)

Scott Hardkiss stretches Do You Realize?? out for over nine minutes, the song's cosmic wonder underpinned by throbbing bass and rackety machine drums, piano, bells, heavenly choirs and Wayne Coyne's vocal front and centre. 

The lyrics are something else aren't they? Again, written down they could look trite or like the kind of positivity affirmations one sees on social media but Wayne's voice gives so much emotional heft and conviction that they feel like the truth being given courtesy of a kooky 21st century Moses.

'Do you realize? That you have the most beautiful face? 

Do you realize? We're floating in space

Do you realize? That happiness makes you cry

Do you realize? That everyone you know some day will die'

All these things are true. Happiness can make you cry, it happens all the time. Everyone you know some day will die, time is short, we're here for an instant. Whenever I look at photos of people from a century ago, those people and their lives, the stories you can see in their eyes, the battles they faced and the things they felt- I feel this and think of Wayne's line, all those people, they're all gone. 

Wayne doesn't just hit us with these four lines though, revealing the vastness of space and time, the bigger than us nature of the universe. He follows them with something to do about feeling infinitesimally tiny.

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes

Let them know you realize that time goes fast

It's hard to make the good things last

You realize the sun don't go down

It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

These would be just more Instagram positivity quotes in the wrong hands but Wayne Coyne is the right pair of hands. Scott Hardkiss is too, allowing the remix to serve the song and ending with Wayne, as the song should, his isolated voice gasping and singing 'Do you realize?'.

I read an article last week that made me think of this song, an article with this headline- 'Euclid telescope spies rogue planets floating free in the Milky Way'. Apparently astronomers have discovered dozens of planets that have broken free from the gravitational hold of their suns and are floating freely, inside the Orion nebula, a giant cloud of dust and gas, 1500 light years away. The article says they are 'destined to drift through the galaxy unless they encounter a star that pulls them into orbit'. 

Do you realize? We're floating in space. 

Sunday 26 May 2024

Forty Five Minutes Of The Beloved

The Beloved were a massive part of the sound of 1989- 1990, their album Happiness released in February 1990, a summation of the sound of the times. They started out as an indie guitar four piece but lost two members in 1987, with Jon Marsh and Steve Waddington now spending their nights soaking up the new music of acid house and rave and then writing songs in the day influenced by those sounds. Steve left in '91 and Jon came back in 1993 with his wife Helena as co- writer and the song Sweet Harmony and an album Conscience. The sound had been smoothed out and something of the spirit of 1990 had been lost- lots of things had changed by 1993. This mix focusses solely on those records Jon and Steve made in the period between 1988 and 1990, songs alive with the possibility and excitement of those years.

Forty Five Minutes Of The Beloved

  • Found
  • Hello 
  • Pablo
  • Your Love Takes Me Higher (Piano/ 303 Demo)
  • Acid Love (Acid Dream)
  • The Sun Rising (Evening Session Remix)
  • The Sun Rising
  • Scarlet Beautiful
  • It's Alright Now
Found is the song that ended Happiness, as close to a New Order Technique outtake as anything Bernard, Hooky, Gillian and Stephen could have recorded, the end of an album that is all ups with a love song, bringing a blissed out, chilled out ending. So I thought I'd start with it. 

Hello was a single, released in early 1990 and taking The Beloved to Top of The Pops, Jon Marsh fully embracing the new decade, growing his hair out, in a poncho and doing the dance. The song is a list of saints and sinners, from Jeffrey Archer to John Paul Sartre. 

Pablo was the B-side to the 1990 single Time After Time single, a fantastic slice of wonky acid house, some dubby melodica, a house rhythm and piano with Jon's vocal spun inside out and round about. 

Your Love Takes Me Higher was a song originally released in '89 and re- released as a single in '90. The 303/ Piano Demo speaks for itself, a (presumably) earlier version of the track led by a very Detroit synth bassline, rattling hi hats and then that whooosh the song has as the piano riff hits. 'Baby, let tell you something about love...' Jon  sings, simmering, one of those songs that could be about a woman, could be about a drug. This version is thumpy and chopped up, not as obviously radio friendly as the final one that made Happiness. 

Acid Love was the new look Beloved's debut, a 1988 B-side to the song Loving Feeling. The A-side didn't do much but the B-side got them into some DJ's record boxes. Dark and insistent, heavily house influenced. 

The Sun Rising was The Beloved's breakthrough, an ambient house classic, a crossover hit (in November 1989). It sampled Emily Van Evera's vocal from an album called Gothic Voices, one of several hooks in the song. Jon wrote the song after a night at a club night put on by Danny Rampling, Joy. Jon and Steve then put it together on Steve's four track before recording it more fully. The Evening Session Version was recorded for Mark Goodier's, faster, less ambient and more made for the hours before the sun rises. The appearance of the chant from Walking On Sunshine by  Rocker's Revenge is a genuine flash of brilliance, 'everybody to the sun/ that's right/ you're there'.

Scarlet Beautiful is from Happiness, one of the songs that wasn't released as a single, a fantastic slice of dance music crossed with pop. Lyrically, it's about positivity. Or love. Or E. Or about feeling massive positivity while in love on E.

It's Alright Now was a follow up to Happiness, October 1990, a single to promote the remix album Blissed Out- four minutes of moody dance pop that should have been massive. The album Blissed Out had different tracklists across the three formats, vinyl, cassette and CD, a total of sixteen different mixes and versions. The Beloved appeared on BBC 2's early evening dance music programme Dance Energy, a Normski presented attempt to catch the zeitgeist. As ever for the period, the crowd are the stars as much as the band. 'It's alright now/ Don't you worry 'bout a thing/ 'Cos when the morning comes around/ I'm gonna make your heart sing'. 

Saturday 25 May 2024

V.A. Saturday

In 1991 U.S. label 4th And Broadway, a subsidiary of Island Records with a focus on American dance music, pulled together a various artists compilation that tried to capitalise on the then recent upsurge in rap artists inspired by and sampling jazz. There was something in the air in the USA and the UK in the late 80s/ early 90s, jazz being mined for sounds, for styles and for substance- Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing may have been part of this, the DAISY Age hip hop groups (De la Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers), the London based Acid Jazz label with acts like Galliano and Young Disciples. 

The album was released as The Rebirth Of Cool, the title a play on Miles Davis' 1957 album Birth Of The Cool, and featured fourteen jazz inspired, jazz sampling or jazz adjacent songs. I loved it, bought it in the summer of '91 and played it endlessly, sometimes going into the north west's boutique shops and wondering if I could get away with something a little jazz flavoured- a button up Gabicci style cardigan maybe. The graphics of jazz were beginning to find their way into flyers and the acid jazz sound would feed into what would become trip hop. The album was a mix of U.S. and U.K. acts, opening with Gang Starr's Jazz Thing, the foundation stone of the album really. Gang Starr were a great hip hop duo, GURU and DJ Premier's stripped down sound, two turntables and a microphone, GURU's easy lyrical flow and the short songs, a sound I loved for several of their albums. Jazz Thing (first released in 1990) works as a primer, sampled jazz drums and basslines, and rhymes that celebrate the jazz music of the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s- Bessie Smith, Theolonius Monk, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Betty Carter- before concluding, 'the 90s will be the decade of a jazz thing'. 

Jazz Thing

Side 1 then unfolds with tracks from X- Clan, MC Mell'O', Soho, Dream Warriors, Izit and Galliano. Side 2 starts with Young Disciples, doyens of the London Acid Jazz label and scene- their song Apparently Nothin' was a hit in '91 and launched Carleen Anderson as a solo artist. On The Rebirth Of Cool they were represented by Step Right On, dusty early 90s funk with a jazzy feel and some Jimmy Smith style organ, James Brown and Roy Ayres samples and rap courtesy of London group Outlaw Posse. 

Step Right On

Side 2 has further jazz/ hip hop grooves from A Tribe Called Quest, Skatemaster Tate, Laquan, Caveman and Young MC and one from Stetsasonic, Talkin' All That Jazz, a track dating back to 1988. All That Jazz was a response to critics of hip hop who claimed that sampling was lazy, an act that showed those who did it lacked true musical talent. Stetsasonic bite back, led by producer Prince Paul, and over a sax and looped jazz drums and bass, fire off rhymes in all directions, placing hip hop and rap in the tradition of jazz, funk and soul.

Talkin' All That Jazz

The Rebirth Of Cool came back with further volumes The Rebirth Of Cool Too and then on, up to at least Volume 7. I bailed after the first, the law of diminishing returns setting in fairly quickly- and there were so many other things were going on in 1991 and into 1992. 

Friday 24 May 2024

Hidden Thoughts

Florecer are a Californian duo, Allie Schulz and Alex Pasternak, who both surf and have a small homemade studio overlooking the Pacific where they make music to go with their lifestyle of surfing, trips down the coast to Mexico, yoga and meditation. It sounds idyllic- I've never done yoga but I know people who swear by it. They've just released a 12" single on Is It Balearic?, the Notts label run by the Coyote pair of Timm and Ampo. The single is led by the track Hidden Thoughts which wafts in gently, lightly coloured washes of synth, a pitter patter drum machine and then an ethereal vocal courtesy of Allie. A surf guitar line appears, a woodblock taps away at the back of the mix, a one note topline comes and goes, there is acres of space and echo and the shimmering feeling of warm drift...

There are three remixes, one each from Hitchhiker, Das Komplex and Ken Fan. The Hitchhiker remix is a little more uptempo, more pushy and with more bounce but still pretty laid back. Ken Fan strips it down, changes the feel and adds a totally new drum track, giving it a live/ jazz club feel. The Das Komplex remix is the one that has me at the moment, nine minutes and nine seconds of deconstructed electronic sound, a cinematic sound with an acidic undertow and a sun- soaked, cosmische vibe, Allie's vocal reduced to the line, 'lay your hands on me', the last syllable reverbed and looped into infinity. Hidden Thoughts is available digitally and on vinyl. Find it here

Thursday 23 May 2024


In April last year M- Paths released an album on Mighty Force, one of a string of first rate releases on the Exeter label in recent years, label boss Mark Darby clearly knowing his musical onions. Mighty Force's Bandcamp is a treasure trove of electronic albums and EPs and this year celebrates it's 33rd anniversary with a series of MF33 compilation albums, one already out and another to follow shortly. 

M- Paths 2023 album Hope was born in the early 90s influences of chill out rooms and the ambient/ indie of the 4AD bands but went beyond both of those, an ambient/ electronic masterclass, music bathed in the warm glow of analogue synths and made with the intention of connecting the listener to nature, each other and optimism. The new album, out a few weeks ago, is titled Submerge and is definitely an album to get lost in, to listen to with headphones on and sink into. There are thirteen tracks with Submerge and Emerge bookending the album, the feel of drifting below the surface and falling deeper into the ocean as the strange undersea world engulfs you, is present from the opening moments of the title track, sub bass, synths and then a clattering drum beat... 

Many of the tracks have single word titles- Panoramic, Reflect, Celestial, Beach, Contemplate- that reflect the album's theme and signpost the wonderous ambient techno that Marcus Farley and Nick Murray have crafted. Celestial is as good an example as any, six minutes of soaring electronic music, washes of synth bleeps, rippling toplines with the steadying, pushing thump of the drums.

Other tracks give strong suggestions about the nature of the music in their titles too, In No Hurry, On The Up and In The Warmth, all speaking for themselves. After over an hour of this ambient techno submersion things come to the surface with Emerge, a track that comes in gently with some piano notes picked out, Erik Satie all at sea, gradually joined by an industrial clanking for a rhythm track, as if great iron chains are lifting the submarine out of the water. Warm bass and a heavenly choir drift in and the clanking becomes electronic drums, panning between the speakers- it's a wholly beautiful and blissed out way to finish the album and the experience of listening to it, the sense of a journey completed and the hit of the sun on your face as you finally break through the waves and breathe the air again. Buy or listen at Bandcamp

Wednesday 22 May 2024


A Certain Ratio finished their tour with a hometown gig at Manchester's New Century Hall last Friday night, a set of two halves- first the new album, It All Comes Down To This, played in full and then a second set of career spanning ACR classic. In truth, it's all one set, there's no gap between the two halves, the stripped back ACR never sounding better. I first saw them play live in 1991, have seen them periodically ever since and in recent years have seen them regulalrly at various Manchester venues (the Main Debating Hall at the university, Gorilla, The Ritz, New Century Hall a year ago, Band On The Wall and most recently Soup- a few years ago a group of us had a jaunt to see them in Blackburn too. Sometimes it feels a bit like this blog is just a constantly updating ACR live review service and I make no apology for that, they are in many ways Manchester's finest band with a rich back catalogue, a quintessential Factory act in the 80s, a dalliance with a major label, some turn of the 80s/ 90s acid house adventures, a re- appraisal in the early 2000s, and since signing to Mute have had a run of records that are as good as any of their previous ones). 

ACR have stripped back to the core trio of Martin Moscrop (guitar, trumpet, weird Brazilian percussion instrument, sometimes drums), Jez Kerr (vocals, samples and keys) and Donald Johnson (drums and bass) with new bass player Viv covering for Jez. This pared back version suits them, they sound as good as ever if not better. They play It All Comes Down To This in order, from the opening title track, all clanging guitar and urgent vocals to the chiming closer Dorothy Says, Jez quoting Dorothy Parker in the lyrics. It's already one of 2024's best albums, made by a group over four decades in, who are renewed and energised. As well as the two mentioned the penultimate Where You Coming From is a highlight, driving bass, scratchy guitar and a vocal that rolls the years away. 

The second half is jaw dropping, the band powering through their back pages, cherry picking a dozen highlights and playing them with a freshness and energy that cut through the room. Long time instrumental set opener Winter Hill buzzes with electricity and dark drones, then they dive into the stepped staccato punk- funk of Du The Do and The Fox from 1981's To Each... album, arty New York inspired scratchy funk originally recorded in NY with Martin Hannett. They stay in New York for their sublime cover of Talking Heads' Houses In Motion, the song with Grace Jones that never was, resurrected live for their 40th celebrations, a bendy, shape shifting cover version. 

ACR's recent albums have been so strong that songs from them are part of tonight's set and they stand alongside the ones that would make up any Best Of ACR album. Berlin (from 2020's Loco) is sleek, Mancunian guitar melancholia. Samo (from 2023's 1982) is early 80s inspired funk/ rap. 

The Big E is dedicated to Denise Johnson who Jez tells us they still miss terribly, and is the cue for a mass audience singalong, the build up to the chorus and the line, 'I won't stop loving you', as much one of this city's mainstays as any by bigger and better known bands. Good Together, a 1989 acid house banger with squiggly acid bassline, throbbing synths, purloined Beach Boys lyrics and massive dance music energy, is a highlight and is followed by Shack Up, their calling card in many ways, a song they borrowed from funk band Banberra and never gave back. Martin gives an impassioned between song speech about supporting smaller venues, something of an issue in Manchester at the moment with the farrago at the much vaunted brand new Co- op arena and the farcical delayed opening, its boss (who resigned a few weeks ago) having previously made comments about how the problem with smaller venues is that they're sometimes very badly run- lol, as the kids say. 

For the final two songs they invite support act and singer Ellen Beth Abdi back on stage to join them, powering through the 1982 song Knife Slits Water, a song with a weird tension and stuttering drum pattern, echo and minor chords, demob haircuts and army jumpers, greyed out funk for the early 80s. Tonight it's a powerhouse, Don slapping the bass and Martin playing trumpet and guitar simultaneously. They finish with Get A Grip (from Loco), Ellen skipping and singing her way through a song that as much as any demonstrates ACR still have so much to give. 

Tonight's gig is being filmed. Hopefully in the near future it'll be released so that those who weren't there can see what all the fuss is about- and those who were can relive it. I have friends who went to the Bristol and Aberdeen gigs who were equally blown away by ACR and their live show. Genuinely life affirming stuff from a group who just don't seem to want to stop. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Bagging Area Book Club

The first rule of Bagging Area Book Club is, uh, you can talk about it. It's an irregular series of music and literature crossovers starting today and heading into the next few weeks, maybe beyond. Last Monday night I attended Richard Norris in conversation with Dave Haslam at Blackwell's bookshop at Manchester University. Richard recently published his memoir, Strange Things Are Happening, an account of his life and musical journey written as he explained to us in the first person present, a technique that gives the entire book a real immediacy and presents every scene as happening in front of you (Richard says he learned this from Viv Albertine's autobiography Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. He also notes that that book opened the door for many others to write their memoirs and autobiographies, the generation who grew up with punk and its aftermath, including himself). 

Dave opens proceedings by noting that him and Richard have a number of parallels in their pasts- both ran club nights called The Hangout, Richard in Liverpool and Dave in Manchester, both lost parents at a young age, there were one or two others as well but they escape me now. Both also came to music with at least half an eye on writing about it as well as participating as musicians/ DJs, Dave writing his fanzine Debris and Richard writing one titled Strange Things Are Happening- there's a literate side to both of them that informs everything they've done. Dave dives into the Q&A starting in the middle with The Grid on Top of The Pops firstly in 1993 with Crystal Clear and Mancunian door face Elton on vocals. 

Richard talks eloquently about their experiences on the show, later appearing four times to promote Swamp Thing, a song they wrote as a joke which ended up becoming a smash hit, one which took them all over the world playing to huge crowds, something they eventually became tired of especially when the record company stated to put the pressure on for a follow up. Dave and Richard then go backwards, to St Albans in the late 70s and the nascent punk scene Richard becomes a mover in and the older folk crowd in the town who not only tolerate a group of fifteen year olds but encourage them. Dave says Richard's evocation of the St Albans scene is endearing and inspiring, something that struck me when reading the book- people crating scenes in small towns, across generations, finding places to play and making music. Not long after Richard's band, The Innocent Vicars, make a 7" single and Richard's dad drives him to London where they sell the entire run of singles to Rough Trade and then turn up at Radio 1, ask to speak to John Peel, meet him on the doorstep of the BBC and give him a copy of the record which he plays the following night. From that point Richard is off on a lifelong journey in the music world. 

I won't give to much away- you should read the book if you haven't already. Richard Norris music runs through my record collection like the writing in a stick of rock- from the psych compilations on Bam Caruso to his adventures with Genesis P. Orridge and the acid house album they made in 1987despite not having heard any acid house records at that point- Jack The Tab- to his writing in the NME which switched me onto stuff and his records with Dave Ball as The Grid. In the mid- 90s he wrote and recorded several songs with Joe Strummer, songs which were instrumental in Joe getting a band back together again. Richard is asked from the audience how it ended with Joe- 'badly' is Richard's short explanation, the circles around former members of The Clash not always easy places to navigate. Yalla Yalla is one of the results of that partnership, for my money one of Joe's greatest solo songs. After that episode Richard spirals on making music with Erol Alkan as Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve, makes psychedelic acid house as The Time And Space Machine, forms The Long Now and The Order Of The 12 releasing albums both both and then from c2019 and into lockdown and beyond, his long running series of Music For Healing/ deep listening and ambient pieces, a project still arriving on a monthly basis at Bandcamp- Richard says that he sees Bandcamp as a new Rough Trade, the conduit between artist and listener.

Richard reads from his book for us, the chapter on meeting Strummer, the arrival of Joe and his entourage at Peter Gabriel's Real World studio and the ensuing fun and madness which followed. As he reads he causally flings each completed page aside, a piece of stage craft he points out in a tongue in cheek way he learned from someone else doing a reading. 

Richard's book is full of other stories- the time he spent with Sky Saxon, his adventures in New York at the NME's expense in 1986 and his encounters with ecstasy, making a record in Amsterdam with Timothy Leary, a road trip to Mexico in Joe Strummer's Cadillac with Shaun Ryder and Bez, and more, a life well lived with music at the centre of it. At the Q&A Richard does pause at one point to question what it's all about, what the meaning of it all is. He recounts a trip fairly recently to Spain, hiking with Penny Rimbaud of Crass. Penny, Richard says, is a wise man, someone who surely knows what the meaning of life is. He asked him and was told sagely, 'to serve'. 

Dave Haslam is a great host, asking the right questions, clearly interested and alert and who has also lived a life with music at the middle of it. Dave has just finished writing and publishing a series of mini- books through Manchester publishers Confingo. These are short, essay length books on very niche topics, each book small enough to fit in your pocket and short enough to read in one sitting. He had a list of topics to cover and felt a series of small books was the best way to do it, not for making a pot of money but for the joy of the writing them and then publishing them. The series tackles a variety of topics starting with Dave's decision to sell his entire record collection (something Richard has done in recent years too), then exploring specific periods of people's lives: Keith Haring and 80s New York; the semi- mythical months Courtney Love spent in Liverpool in 1982; Sylvia Plath's sojourn in Paris; the Angry Brigade cell that existed in Moss Side in  the late 60s; the life and times of Cresser, Manc face, and Stone Roses dancer; Picasso's time in early 20th century Paris; and the night Grace Jones almost recorded Houses In Motion with A Certain Ratio and Martin Hannett at Strawberry Studios in Stockport in 1980. All of these are tales worth telling and tales well told (ACR will almost certainly appear at this blog again later this week). You can get all eight here or buy them individually here.  

Back to Norro, as Joe Strummer christened him- in 2016 Beyond the Wizard's Sleeve released this song,a gloriously melancholic piece of electronic pop, drums that patter away like Spacemen 3's Big City, synths like mid- 80s New Order and Hannah Peel's wistful vocals. For the full effect, go to the 12" version. 

Monday 20 May 2024

Monday's Long Song

Last weekend's aurora borealis lit up a lot of people's Friday nights. I was asleep, unaware this multicoloured, massive global electrical storm triggered lightshow was taking place. I woke up to it the next morning via a phone full of images taken by people near and far. The following night they said we'd see them again but Manchester's skies were cloudy last Saturday night- quelle surprise. But the afterglow of the northern lights has led to this track recorded by San Francisco's Marshall Watson, an eight minute synth journey titled Beautiful Light. Marshall says it's got more than a hint of Rick Smith and Underworld in it- which it has- but it's more than good enough to stand on its own two feet. The synths kick in immediately, in rippling waves and long euphoric chords with a kick drum providing propulsion. More synths enter at two minutes, dancing melody lines like those flashes of purple and green and blue in the sky. The ghost of a voice appears a little late, hinting at the track's title. Beautiful skies indeed. Get it here

In 1979 Neil Young and Crazy Horse released Rust Never Sleeps, an album that was in some ways a response to punk and in some ways, int typical Neil Young fashion, a reworked version of Chrome Dreams (which didn't come out in the mid- 70s but finally appeared last year). Pocahontas starts with the line 'Aurora borealis/ The icy sky at night', Neil setting the scene for a massacre of Native Americans, Neil describing the people being killed in their teepees, babies left crying on the ground, and then the buffalo being slaughtered too. 

Pocahontas, known to her people as Matoaka, then becomes the subject of the song as it jumps about jumps about in time, taking in the Houston Astrodome and TV, and then a line about wanting to sleep with Pocahontas 'to find out how she felt', a line which felt a little uncomfortable to listen to whenever you first heard it, never mind now in 2024. It ends with Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Neil. Marlon Brando refused to accept an Oscar for his role as Don Corleone in The Godfather in 1973 in protest at the treatment and portrayal of the Native Americans, sending Sacheen Littlefeather to attend in his place. It's a beautiful song, one of the centrepieces of Rust Never Sleeps, and one that I always hear playing in my head at any mention of the aurora borealis. 


Sunday 19 May 2024

Fifty Four

I am 54 today- and all of a sudden the mid- fifties have arrived. I have tried to put together a number 54 based Sunday mix. It turns out 54 isn't a particularly popular musical number. As so often happens Mr Weatherall came to my rescue along with The Clash and a very famous and debauched New York nightclub and a blinding reggae song. This mix is as a result somewhat varied stylistically and gets even more random towards the end- maybe that's a metaphor for one's 50s.

Forty Five Minutes Of Fifty Four

  • Grace Jones: Nightclubbing
  • Tom Tom Club: Genius Of Love
  • The Clash: Ivan Meets G.I. Joe
  • Two Lone Swordsmen: Shack 54 (Joe Mckechnie Remix)
  • Patrick Cowley and Sylvester: Menergy (Rich Lane 'Too Hard' Cotton Dub)
  • Big Audio Dynamite II: The Globe (Studio 54 Remix)
  • The Velvet Underground: I Can't Stand It (2014 version)
  • The Rolling Stones: All Down The Line
  • Toots And The Maytals: 54- 46 That's My Number
Studio 54 was a New York nightclub located at 254 West 54th Street, midtown Manhattan. It was converted from a theatre to a club in 1977 and for a while was the world's premier disco nightclub, a place with a famously loose approach to sex, drugs and extravagance. It had apparently the world's most difficult entry policy but once in 'the dancefloor was a democracy'. A list of Studio 54's celebrity clientele includes Grace Jones, Woody Allen, Bianca Jagger, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Bowie, Cher, John Lennon, Diana Ross, Lou Reed, John Travolta, Margaret Trudeau, Divine, Farrah Fawcett, Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicolson, Liza Minelli, Rick James and many more. Some of those people were thusly shoehorned into my mix above. Chic famously were turned away at the door and went home and wrote Freak Out, a disco track which started with the phrase 'Fuck You!' chanted as the chorus instead of the eventual title. 

Grace Jones, a Studio 54 devotee, released her album Nightclubbing in 1981, an early 80sunk/ reggae/ post- punk/ new wave/ disco masterpiece, recorded at Compass Point in the Bahamas. The title track is a cover of Iggy Pop's 1977 song, an ode to numbed out nighttime adventures on the floor. It's Grace's birthday today as well- happy 76th birthday Grace.

Tom Tom Club's Genius Of Love is also from 1981, a brilliant slice of New York post- disco/ synth- pop/ art rap that nods its head to a cast of black musicians- James Brown, Sly and Robbie, Hamilton Bohannon, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Bob Marley- and was a big tune at Studio 54. Its creators, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz only went a couple of times, they claim, preferring the Mudd Club or Danceteria. 

The Clash went to Studio 54 once and Joe Strummer said they were observed by the Warhol crowd like animals in a cage. Joe wrote The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too about the experience. Ivan Meets G.I. Joe is from Sandinista!, and includes the line 'so you're on the floor at 54', imagining the Cold War as a competition on the nightclub's dancefloor, a Soviet- America disco face off, sung by Topper Headon. It's not my favourite Clash song but it fits this mix. 

Shack 54 was on Two Lone Swordsmen's Wrong Meeting Part 2, a 2007 album with Weatherall and Tenniswood by this pint deep into live rock 'n' roll/ garage rockabilly territory. It was great fun, Andrew once again turning on a sixpence and wrong footing people who expected him to keep doing the same thing. This remix of Shack 54 by Joe Mckechnie is I think unreleased. 

Patrick Cowley and Sylvester were both Studio 54 attendees. For his Cotton Dub edit Rich Lane ramps up the campness and Hi NRG to the max on a song that wasn't exactly lacking in either. 

Big Audio Dynamite II's The Globe was the best single the second incarnation of the band released, a  1991 single that samples Mick's most well known Clash riff. It was a Mick Jones and Gary Stonnage co- write and produced by Mick and Andre Shapps (making both of them related to current Tory Minister Grant Shapps, a man I sincerely hope loses his seat and his deposit come election day).  The Studio 54 remix adds some disco strings and keys and has never been officially released but is on the bootleg series The B.A.D. Files. 

The Velvet Underground have Studio 54 connections via Lou Reed and Andy Warhol but there's a big disconnect between the sound of the Velvets and Studio 54 so really this was just an excuse to shoehorn in this 2014 version of a Lou reed song that should be played daily by everyone, Lou and Sterling taking the Bo Diddey beat and rhythm guitar to its logical limit. The part where Lou counts down from 8 is among my favourite moments on any song. 

Bianca Jagger once rode into Studio 54 on the back of a white horse, an eye- opening way to celebrate one's birthday (a party for Bianca thrown by fashion designer Halston). Bianca later said she didn't ride the horse to or in the club, she just sat on its back once it was already inside. I was going to say, with a knowing smirk, hey, we've all been there- but then I remembered that at the Golden Lion last November at the end of a night David Holmes played at the pub there was a horse at the bar having a pint with its owner, so actually, maybe we have all been there. Bianca was married to Mick from 1970 to 1978, a period The Stones made their final absolute classic album, 1973's Exile On Main Street from which All Down The Line is one of four superb songs that make up the album's fourth side. 

Toots And The Maytals released reggae classic 54- 46 Was My Number in 1968. 54- 46 was Toots' prison number when he was jailed for possession of marijuana and for the next 365 day trip around the sun, 54 is my number. 

Saturday 18 May 2024

V.A. Saturday

Boy's Own began in 1987, four friends inspired by records, clubbing and clothes (and football)- they started a fanzine inspired by Peter Hooton's Liverpool based fanzine The End. Andrew Weatherall, Cymon Eckel, Terry Farley and Steven Hall had come together through connections in the Windsor/ Slough area and via Paul Oakenfold began hitting the early acid house clubs. Boy's Own ran for several years as a very funny, sharp and hipper- than- you fanzine, the 'acid house parish magazine'. I never saw a copy at the time but did pick up a few issues of The End. Eventually Boy's Own became a record label too and a band, Bocca Juniors, grew out of it releasing two singles, the first the superb Raise and a second, Substance. Boy's Own Recordings put out a series of the period's defining 12" singles, records by Less Stress, Jah Wobble, One Dove and LSK as well as their own Bocca Juniors singles. Eventually Andrew Weatherall moved on and did something different, as he was wont to do any times over the subsequent decades- he had a knack for knowing when to switch course or change lanes. 

In 1992 Farley and Hall created a spin off label, Junior Boy's Own which stated by putting out a run of essential 12" singles, some of the key dance music/ house/ techno releases of the mid- 1990s and then moving into the brave new world of dance acts making albums. The Chemical Brothers started on Junior Boy's Own and Underworld released their three 90s albums on the label, dubnobasswithmyheadman, Second Toughest In the Infants and Beaucoup Fish. In 1994 they compiled a various artists compilation that pulled together some of the records from those first few years, tracks that in some ways are the sound of the period- if you went clubbing in 1993/ 1994 you would have been dancing at some point in those long nights to some or all of Fire Island, X- Press 2, Underworld, Outrage, Roach Motel and The Dust Brothers. The influence of New York house, gay club culture and UK techno is here. The emerging sound of what would become Big Beat and the Heavenly Sunday Social scene can be found here too, not least in the massive sirens and crashing hip hop drums of Song To The Siren, The Dust Brothers' calling card. 

X- Press 2 released London X- Press in 1993, a percussive, relentless house groove and some funky guitar, synth sabs, thumping bass and that 'raise your hands' sample accompanied by sirens. 

Roach Motel were Pete Heller and Terry Farley, funky, early 90s house, deep, soulful, influenced by New York's club sound. Would still rock a dancefloor today. 

Underworld appeared on Junior Boys Own Collection twice, once as themselves (with Rez) and once as Lemon Interrupt. It originally appeared as 1992 12" with Eclipse but Bigmouth eclipsed Eclipse, a huge ten minute long Underworld drum track with head spinning lead harmonica on top, a swampy, chuggy, uplifting, funky, shot of 1992, Darren Emerson pushing Rick Smith and Karl Hyde into new places. 

The Junior Boy's Own Collection sleeve was a very knowing mid- 90s thing too, portraits of various faces done as 1940s cigarette cards- Michael Caine, Tommy Cooper, Pete Townsend, Phil Daniels in Quadrophenia, Captain Scarlet, Al Pacino, Norman Wisdom, Sid James, Marlon Brando, Travis Bickle, Mick Jagger, Patrick McNee, Sean Connery, Terry Thomas, W.C. Fields and Zachary Smith. 

Friday 17 May 2024

Friday TV Noise

Two blasts of noise from the late 80s/ early 90s indie/ punk/ alt- rock underground on the verge of going overground on Tv to celebrate reaching the end of the working week and getting to Friday. First is Sonic Youth at their peak, Daydream Nation era, playing the epic rush of Silver Rocket live on MTV in 1988. I remember being quite anti- MTV in 1988, it was one of the frontlines in the indie wars. This performance holds nothing back, Thurston, Kim Lee and Steve bringing the noise, the tempo, the melodies and the energy. 

This live version of Silver Rocket was released as part of disc 2 of the Deluxe CD edition of Daydream Nation that came out in 2007. Thurston dedicates it to Andy Warhol. Daydream Nation is the perfect summary of Sonic Youth's abilities, ambition and expression. An essential album.

Silver Rocket (Live in NYC, June 1988)

The second blast of noise is from My Bloody Valentine, miming on Spanish TV on a programme called Plastic in 1991. This is around the time Loveless was recorded, the second giant leap they made in terms of sound and songs. On Plastic they mime to You Made Me Realise, released in 1988. There is an contrast between the energy and flailing that Debbie and Colm put into miming on bass and drums respectively and the complete lack of physical action from Kevin and Belinda which really does make this clip. 

That song, it's wooziness, the slurred vocals, the rattling drums, and the life affirming noise kicked up the guitars, is a late 80s pearl. Live it's middle section would become a test of how much an audience could take, pushing the freak out to its extreme in terms of noise, volume and length. This is the studio version, as released on Isn't Anything. 

You Made Me Realise

Thursday 16 May 2024

Feels Like Love

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to an album celebrating it's tenth anniversary, one that has been re- released on limited pink vinyl with a fetching t- shirt to match- Psychic 9 - 5 Club by HTRK. The group are from Melbourne, Australia, a city someone described to me recently as 'one of the nicest places to live anywhere on earth'. HTRK (Hate Rock) go back to 2003, a three piece made up of vocalist Jonnine Standish, bassist Sean Stewart and guitarist Nigel Yang. They have traversed various minimal and experimental styles, with a restless energy to their music, sometimes sounding alternately bored to tears and post- coital, sometimes at the same time. Their debut album was produced by The Birthday Party's Rowland S. Howard, with punk and industrial influences, a slow mo drum machine and bass, textures and atmosphere. They moved into and through post- punk, cold wave and electronic, moving to London, playing gigs with Alan Vega, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Horrors and Fuck Buttons. 

In 2010 the band was struck by horror- bassist Sean Stewart was found dead at his London flat, having killed himself. They were partway through recording an album that eventually came out as Work (Work Work), an album of heavy, synth led songs that sound like they have an ominous calling. After that, now working as a duo, Jonnine and Nigel recorded Psychic 9- 5 Club, an album that pushes their sound further again into new territories- the beats and bass are nod to modern r'n'b, to some strange downbeat, dubbed up version of trip hop, by the huge, echo- laden dub spaces of Basic Channel. There are skeletal, pared back beats, minimal instrumentation, loops and a few brooding lines of vocal, the odd line delivered in a smoky bedroom voice. It's a world of its own- intense, languid, mysterious, not giving much away but sometimes saying too much- 'I got mood swings I got no control of', Jonnine coos at one point.  It's an album that works well as an entire piece, the flow through the nine tracks as important part of its appeal, from the r'n'b sounds of Give It Up and the stuttering drums and Portishead vibes of Sunshine to the ghostly, dubby Wet Dream and the more clamorous sounds of Love Is Distraction. 

This song is as good a taster as any, sequenced midway through side one- Feels Like Love. Hissing drum machine percussion inside a ball of dub space, synths and minimal descending bass, what could be someone exhaling breath, a looped snatch of backing vocal, FX phasing from the back to front of the mix and towards the end a short burst of laughter, suddenly undercutting the tension. 

Feels Like Love

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Er... Hello?

A friend sent me this recently, an album from January this year which deserves to be heard more widely- OBOST's Er... Hello? OBOST is multi- instrumentalist Bobby Langfield, just 17 years old and currently studying for his A Levels. Bobby has grown up in a household where the music of Andrew Weatherall, Kraftwerk, Paranoid London and Red Axes was a constant backdrop. Bobby, as OBOST, sings, writes, records and mixes. That this is a debut album, thirteen songs across a slew of electronic styles, is one thing- that it's been made by someone so young is something else. 

Er... Hello? album opens with You Messed With Fire, acoustic guitar chords and the thud of a kick drum and then a wash of guitars, synths and a very distorted voice, everything swimming and swirling around as the kick keeps things moving forward. The sound of fingers on guitar strings appears, handclaps and wobbling synth parts and that voice, never clear enough to hear what it's saying. It's a nicely disorientating start followed by some slowed down electronic pop, I Don't Want To Be Alone, Bobby's voice and machines pulling off that trick of electronic euphoric melancholy- synths that suggest good times with minor chords and lyrics that hint at something else. Over the course of the ensuing eleven songs there is FX and sample driven electronic music, drum machine driven cosmische, experimental instrumentals, glitchy pop that calls to mind The Xx, rippling synthlines and on Another Type Of World, alienated synth pop with double time drum machine and eventually walls of noise.

The second half of the album spins even further and more wildly, a range of styles and sounds on offer, all the while the fizz and clatter of keys and drums set against the doleful vocals. Penultimate song Hurry Up has a wall of Daniel Avery style drone and static and then the judder of synths and hiss of hi hats, a techno workout. The album finishes with Lips Fade to Blue- it starts with the crackle of vinyl and an acoustic guitar part circling as Bobby sings a lament, and then shifts somewhere else, 80s synth pop colliding with 21st century electro, that dissolves into a mess of repeating loops and FX. You can get it at Bandcamp

Since Er.. Hello? came out OBOST has followed up with Apollo, a track in two versions, DanceApollo and DubApollo. Both here and free/ name your own price. The Dub version is eight minutes of clashing sounds and samples, thudding drums and eventually some very gnarly slo- mo sounds. I Don't Care For You came out at the end of 2023, an EP that included this song, Look Inside Your Mind. All of this is highly recommended. 

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Fruits Of The Deep

The Woodentops released their latest album in late April, a fourteen track opus called Fruits Of The Deep. Rolo has been working towards this for some time- the first inklings of it came out as the single Ride A Cloud back in 2022 and more recently the slowed down Balearic shuffle of Dream On. The opening five songs of the album, the two already mentioned along with Liquid Thinking, Too Good To Stay and Lately, make as good a run of songs as the band have ever released, matching their late 80s classics from Giant and Wooden Foot Cops On The Highway. The trademark Woodentops acoustic guitars are there, the rattling hubcap percussion and rhythms. Lately rides in on a piano riff and a ringing Simon Mawby lead guitar line, Rolo in fine voice front and centre.  

The album takes a sharp left turn after Lately, the three minutes detour into Hotel a disorienting scrambled piece of music, Prince fed through a load of FX dissolving into an ambient soundscape. After that there's a bluesy shuffle (Don't Stop), some turbo- charged Woodentops Balearic pop that could have come straight from Hypno Beat Live in 1987 (Saturday Soundcheck), an instrumental that sounds like Lalo Schiffrin's Bullitt had it been recorded underwater while a train went past (City Wakes) and then three more ultra- Woodentops songs- Can't Stand Still, I Can Take It and the gorgeous lament Traversing Heartbreak

Fruits Of The Deep could have finished there- acoustic guitars, Frank de Freitas' bass, Simon Mawby's guitars, Rolo's vocals, loads of layered backing vox, found sounds, the sound of a band building on their glory days of several decades ago but moving on confidently and with as et of fully realised and fleshed out songs that the world needs to hear. But Rolo has two more cards up his sleeve, a sixteen minute finale, a pair of long songs inspired by the sea. The first is The Fishermen Leave At Dusk, eight minutes of impressionistic seascapes, FX and acoustic guitars submerged into the aqua, diving deep while bubbles surface. The second and the track that closes the album is  Bathyscaphe, an even more distorted dive into the subaqua world, effects, found sounds, and eventually a slo- mo jam, guitars and drums dredging the seabed, dropping out, returning and building to an echo laden ending. 

Buy Fruits From The Deep here. Once enough orders are in Rolo's going to go ahead with CD and vinyl versions. 

Monday 13 May 2024

Monday's Long Songs

This came via a tip off from Dan of The Flightpath Estate, an imminent release on Jason Boardman's Before I Die label- Dub Tapes Volume 1 by Klangkollektor. There are three tracks to listen to at their Bandcamp page and a further four due when the album releases in full later this week. Sumptuous, deep, richly textured dub with a smattering of ambient techno and a splash of the Balearic feel. 

Klangkollektor is Lars Fischer, drummer from Nuremberg's psychedelic Cumbia band Trak Trak. All three tracks released so far are long- Lake Lounge comes in at just under ten minutes, a dub experiment, all space, echo, rattles and rhythm and some tinkling piano. The six minutes forty seconds of Midnight Express is laid back and bubbly, a trip into an absorbing dreamworld. Globulus is seven minutes plus of spacious, atmospheric dub with a piano line picked out on the top. You can listen and buy here. There must be something going on in Nuremberg- Before I Die released another Nuremberg act's album last year, Konformer's self titled debut, an album that opened with the superb Noris Noir.

There was a remix EP with this remix from Sean Johnston. There's no point trying to describe it, it does exactly what it says on the tin and should be felt rather than read about. 

Konformer (Hardway Bros Techno Remix)

Sunday 12 May 2024

Forty Five Minutes Of David Holmes Remixes

Summer has finally gatecrashed its way into northern England and we've had the sudden appearance of the aurora borealis all over the country (I missed this on Friday night, having gone to bed. I woke up on Saturday morning to everyone else's photos of the northern lights on display in the skies all over the nation). It's been too nice to spend too long sitting indoors in front of a computer screen so this mix was a little thrown together in a rush but it's turned out quite well- a selection of remixes of other artists by David Holmes from the last few years.

Forty Five Minutes Of David Holmes Remixes

  • Andy Bell: The Sky Without You (David Holmes Radical Mycology Remix)
  • The Vendetta Suite: Purple Haze, Yellow Sunrise (David Holmes Remix)
  • Jo Sims: Bass- The Final Frontier (David Holmes Remix)
  • Orbital: Belfast (David Holmes Remix)
  • Lisa Moorish: Sylvia (David Holmes Remix)
  • X- Press 2 ft. Kele Okereke: Phasing You Out (David Holmes Remix)

The Sky Without You was the opener on Andy Bell's solo album Flicker, released in 2022, a blur of backwards guitars and reversed vocals inspired by the backwards songs The Stone Roses recorded in 1989- Don't Stop, Guernica, Full Fathom Five, Simone (in fact, there's the germ of an idea for another mix...). David's remix came out on 10" vinyl and digital in October 2022, a remix inspired by microdosing during lockdown in Belfast. The I Am A Strange Loop EP also came with remixes by Richard Norris, bdrmm, A Place To Bury Strangers and Claude Cooper- even among that company Holmes' remix stands out.

The Vendetta Suite is Gary Irwin, a stalwart of the Belfast club and music world. The album The Kempe Stone Portal came out in 2021, with some remixes following a year later including David's remix of Purple Haze, Yellow Sunrise which is a psychedelic/ acid house monster, a huge sounding record that fills any space it's played in, a genuinely transportative piece of music.

Jo Sims' Bass- The Final Frontier came out on Pamela Records last year, Holmes' remix one of '23's highlights. Space house. 

David's remix of Belfast was done for Orbital's 30soemthing album, a celebration of three decades of Orbital. The original was recorded after the Hartnoll brothers played at David's club in Belfast in May 1990. The even more recent version with Mike Garry, Tonight In Belfast, is one of 2024's highlights. 

Lisa Moorish's Sylvia came out in spring 2024, a song recorded as a tribute to writer Sylvia Plath. In April we stayed in Heptonstall while attending the AW61 celebrations in Todmorden. Sylvia is buried in the graveyard at Heptonstall, that's her grave in the picture above (with Ted Hughes' name scrubbed off by Sylvia's fans). Her grave has hundreds of pens sticking out of the soil, left by visitors. Holmes' remix is crunchy acid house, and was played at AW61 by Mark and then not long after by me (duh!).

X- Press 2's Phasing You Out is from their 2023 album Thee, a return to form by Rocky and Diesel, with former Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke on guest vocals. Holmes' remix is a full on, city scape sounding record, ending in a sea of sirens and traffic after several minutes of busy, high tempo drums. Makes it quite difficult to sequence/ mix but it had to go on this mix as I really like it.