Monday, 22 December 2008

Happy Winter Solstice

I'm not much of a one for Christmas records. Much of the nonsense we get thrown at us is utter shite in my opinion. There aree of course notable exceptions. The mighty collection from Sufjan Stevens (six albums worth) is excellent, Springsteen's 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' is brilliant too.

My favourite though is the Christmas album by Duluth Minnesota's finest (no not Bob Dylan). Low have been producing superb material for about 13 years now and in 1999 they released an album of Christmas songs. It included several of their own songs and several cover versions including this fabulous version of 'Little Drummer Boy' which was used by GAP in a Christmas advertising campaign. I think it is wonderful.

Have a great Christmas and New Year.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Beware Of Safety ~ Dogs

For all its faults sometimes Myspace is pretty bloody wonderful. I have been introduced to some wonderful music via its pages. Stephanie Casey, who plays under the moniker of Fall of Snow is one (I'll return to her at some point in the future) that blew me away with her beautifully fragile and sparse sound. My favourite though is a band who wrote to me asking me to have a listen to their stuff (presumably because I had listed such acts as Mogwai, God Is An Astronaut and Mono as favourites).

I was hooked from the start and that very evening sent away for their debut ep 'It Is Curtains'. I've said before that I don't really like the phrase 'Post Rock' it is meaningless to me and doesn't express what the music is about, but if there has to be such a genré then Beware of Safety are right at the top of the tree along with Mono for me. Their music is exhilarating, vibrant, loud and passionate and their second release 'Dogs' ticks all the boxes and although it was only released this month is my favourite album of the year.

The album kicks off with 'Nu Metal' which floats along with layered guitars and fabulous drumming and then explodes, in fine 'Post Rock' tradition, into a whirling dervish finish. It is quite breathtaking and is one of the best 10 minutes you could hope to spend.

'The Supposed Common' kicks off with a lovely pizzicato refrain. Too many bands in the genré use strings these days in a lazy way and in is refreshing to see them used in a different way. Here is an early version of the track from Youtube.

There is plenty of good old fashioned wig outs on the album which is great but Beware Of Safety are far more than that. They are thoughtful and melodic and carry you away with the beauty of their music.

Although they haven't toured the UK yet I know the band are keen to do so and I for one will be first in the queue for tickets.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Guilty Pleasures # 1

Those that know me are aware that I am an embittered Indie Kid who despises the polished pop bollocks that we are fed by MTV/Radio One etc. True I do seek music out from other genres and love Jazz and Nothern Soul, Funk, Hippy stuff from the Sixties and Seventies and so on and so on.

In fact my music tastes are somewhat eclectic. However like most music snobs (and I am definitely one of those) I do have guilty pleasures. My girlfriend, for example, shook her head in disbelief when I admitted a love for The Carpenters and of course there is no denying that Abba knocked out some top tunes as well. Here though is a a record that although it ticks all the polished pop boxes is just so bloody good that I don't even think it a guilty pleasure.

After all, you can't get better than a bit of Kylie if the mood requires a bit of perfect pop.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Great Record # 1

Formed in Esex in 1975 Eddie and the Hotrods were at the fore front of the pre=punk Pub Rock movement along with fellow Essex boys Dr Feelgood and bands like Brinsley Schwartz and Graham Parker and the Rumour. To some at least the are sighted as having a major influence over the sound of British punk and who am I to argue. Indeed at a 1976 gig at the Marquee in London the Sex Pistols supported them.

They made some great r 'n' b tracks in their time (that'd be the good/proper r 'n'b not the shite put out by a myriad of bland soul singers) and wrote some amazing power pop tunes too. Their biggest hit was 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' which was co-written by Ed Hollis (brother of Talk Talk's Mark Hollis) and Graeme Douglas (who was originally a Kursaal Flyer). To me it is their finest moment.

I don't have many claims to fame but I did work with Graeme Douglas's Mum Doris when I was in my teens anmd early twenties.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Taxing Times.

I'm current studying for tax exams, which, as you can imagine is a tad dull. There are some who undoubtedly get excited at the thought of Capital Gains Tax Rollover Relief but I can assure you that I am not one of them.

I have therefore been listening to a lot of music to lighten my drab day pouring over income tax calculations and here are just some of the tunes that have helped me get through the day.

Pocahaunted are from California and are a band I have only recently found out about. Bethany and Amanda produce a lovely floaty psychedelic ambient droney noise. Marvellous music to study to because there are no lyrics that interrupt the concentration. This track is called 'Ashes Is White'

I have also been playing the new album by the marvellous Swedish band Sad Day For Puppets to death. They are another in the long tradition of excellent Scandinavian indie pop bands. They hail from Stockholm and produce a lovely upbeat sound with vocals from Anna Ekhund that remind this listener of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star fame.

This track is called 'Little Light'.

Both bands have Myspace pages and are well worth checking out.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Live - The Telescopes, Aspen Woods, One Unique Signal - The Millers 12 November 2008

This gig took place in an upstairs room in a pub around the back of Guys Hospital in South London. The venue is tiny but the sound quality in the room was excellent; far better in fact than venues such as The Hammersmith Apollo where a recent Mogwai gig was spoilt because the sound balance was dreadful.

My mate Jim and I booked up for this gig several weeks ago as we are both Telescopes fans of old, I last saw them in about 1992 in Notre Dame Hall just off of Leicester Square headlining a evening that included The Golden Section (fronted by Paul Tunkin of Weekends and Blow Up Records fame) and the wonderful Slowdive. I remember them being very loud and raucous. They have changed personnel a lot since then and I went to this gig more for reasons of nostalgia than anything else as I know that there recent stuff is now minimalist and droney rather than being anything structured. In any case a nightmare with the band timings meant that The Telescopes didn't go on until 10:50 so we ended up seeing about 10 minutes before having to leave.However it was still one of the best nights at a gig all year though because I heard the music of two incredibly good bands for the first time.

First up were Brentford's One Unique Signal. They are just what I like in a band, rhythmic, noisy guitars and repetitive loops. All very shoegazey and marvellous. They remind me of Spacemen Three, Joy Division (vocally at least) and the much missed and might Loop. We were given a free copy of their excellent 2007 album "Tribe Castle and Nation" which seeing as it was only a fiver to get in was extremely generous. They filled the room with a fantastic aural onslaught and I for one can't wait to see them again.

This is a track from their latest EP Dismemberment. It is called Bishops (thanks to Nick from OUS for the link to the download).

One Unique signal were followed by the equally fantastic Aspen Woods. The Woods mix psychedelia, shoegaze and a marvellous brand of Byrds like jangly rock into their sound.They are a band who obviously enjoy playing live and have honed their performance very carefully so it is tight, musical and memorable, as well as containing some damn good wig outs. There is nothing like a good dose of loud guitars with loads of fuzz box, reverb, and flange to satisfy the mind and soul in my book and both Aspen Woods and One Unique Signal provide them by the bucket load.

Aspen Woods also have an excellent album out. Called "New World Disorder" it has featured pretty heavily on my iPod this week and has become one of my favourites of 2008.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A Bit Of Class.

There have been some truely great singers in popular music. Frank Sinatra could hold a tune like nobody else. Even when he was in his mid-seventies (when I was priviliged enough to see him live) he knew exactly how to sing a song to suit his range. I've always been a fan of Tony Bennett too. He is the singers singer, people like Sinatra often cited Bennett as the master. He certainly has found a whole new legion of fans after appearing at Glastonbury and performing an MTV Unplugged set in 1994.

However much a fan I am of this two gentlemen my favourite 'voice' belongs to Jack Jones. Both Sinatra and Bennett and the great Mel Tormé (a man with perfect pitch) rated US singer Jones very highly and with fans like that he must be something pretty special. He is someone who oozes cool and who found a sudden resurgence when the Easy Listening clubs of the mid-nineties started playing his version of Bacharach and David's 'Wives and Lovers', gorgeous slice of sixties crooning (with very dodgy lyrics about the little lady being there for her man).

This though is my favourite. Girl Talk.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Great Cover Versions # 1

I am a big fan of the cover versions. There is a great art to reinterpreting a classic (or in some cases not so classic) song in an interesting way. Unfortunately today's pop industry is intent on churning out insipid karaoke versions of shite songs. There is no hint of any thought behind these 'covers' as they seem to be little more than a direct copy. However there are artists out there who take a song an really shake it up.

In an occasional series I want to post some of the best and most unusual. To start with is one of my very favourites. In 1988 N.W.A. released their seminal album "Straight Outta Compton". It is arguably one of the first 'Gangsta Rap' records with it's stories of guns, drive-bys and dodgy attitudes to woman. It is a fine album though and its title track is one of the true classics of hip-hop.

Nina Gordon is the lead singer of Veruca Salt an American grunge band whose most well known song is probably "Seether" which came from their debut album "American Thighs" in 1994. Gordon left Veruca Salt in 1998 and later recorded "Straight Outta Compton" in a style so far removed from the original that it completely reinvents the song.
Every person I have ever played this song to has been blown away. I reckon you will be too.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The End Of The World As We Know It

Tomorrow could turn out to be one of the most important days in recent history. If the US votes in Barak Obama as President he will be the first black person to hold office. He looks and acts like a statesman to me and I'm hoping that the polls are correct and that Obama's healthy lead turns into enough electoral college votes to secure victory.

The alternative is John McCain and Sarah Palin who if they win?.....well that great musical satirist Tom Lehrer sums it up very nicely.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Life In Mono.

I have been travelling around on trains a bit of late and it is a perfect time to plug in the headphones, turn up the iPod and get lost in music. My current mood has seen me playing a lot of what is rather awkwardly called 'Post Rock'. What ever it is called it is a style of music that inspires, amazes and just plain makes me smile in wonder.

My first real awareness of the genre (see I'm really trying not to use the phrase), was the day I first saw Mogwai in 1997. They blew my socks clean off and I have been hooked ever since. I've seen the Mogs 9 times now and they still can amaze me. Their recent gig at Hammersmith Apollo was a disappointment because the sound mix was dreadful but even then they exploded into general fabulousness when they played 'Like Herod'.

I went on to discover the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion, Fly Pan Am and Do Make Say Think from Canada, Beware of Safety from Portland Oregon and God Is An Astronaut from Ireland. However there is a band that for me are top of the list. They are quite mesmerically beautiful. They describe their music as more classic than 'pop' and I understand exactly what they mean. Here are the amazing Mono from Japan.

Friday, 31 October 2008

In A Previous Life.

Once a upon a long time ago the Scottish band Simple Minds were actually quite good. There was a small window in time when they were definitely not an overblown stadium band striving (unsuccessfully) to become another U2.
In the early eighties they made some great records such as 'I-Travel' and 'The American' and live they were superb. I saw them in the much missed music venue The Lyceum in the Strand 'up that London'. Unfortunately they released 'New Gold Dream' and went a bit off the rails and once they started doing stadium gigs it was all over for me.
If you go back in time though, well before Simple Minds, there were a group of lands called Johnny and the Self Abusers. They were from Glasgow and released just the one single on Chiswick records called 'Saints and Sinners'. They went on to discover Stadium Rock and the rest is, as they say, history.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Damn Fine Record Monday #2

I Only Have Eyes For You ~ The Flamingos

I remember this song being sung by Art Garfunkel in the late 70's. His version was typically over produced and polished but couldn't hide what a damn fine song it was. This version by The Flamingos would warm the cockles of even the coldest heart.

The song was originally recorded by Dick Powell in 1934 (a version I have not heard). The Flamingos a doo-wop group who hailed from Chicago, put this track down in 1959. It's rather gorgeous I reckon.

Some 40 years later The Flamingos received $250 000 after the song was used in a Coke commercial withoiut the bands permission.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

For John.

It seems almost impossible to believe but John Peel died four years ago today. It hasn't and never will be the same without him. So for you John here's the mighty Melt Banana for Tokyo Japan.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Neal Hefti 1922-2008

I learnt yesterday of the death of trumpeter, composer and arranger Neal Hefti. Hefti is probably best know for composing one for composing the theme tune to the seminal 1960's TV show 'Batman'. You know the one:

It wasn't just theme tunes to camp American TV shows Hefti was known for. He was a fantastic arranger writing charts for such artists as Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich and Harry James. His greatest achievement though was writing and arranging Count Basie's 1957 album 'Atomic Basie'. Including this fabulous track:

My dad first played me this album about 30 years ago and it made a jazz fan of me. As a trumpeter Hefti's arrangements were brass heavy as as such are punchy and sassy in equal measure and his arrangements Basie's band in particular were very sympathetic to his sound. 'The Kid From Red Bank' for example allowed Basie's sparse piano style shine through and on my personal favourite 'Fantail' he lets Frank Wess let rip with a soaring alto sax solo. Here is an old recording of another classic Hefti arrangement 'Whirly Bird'


Hefti died at his home in California on 11 October aged 85. He had not been actively involved with music for some time but he left a marvellous legacy. As Miles Davis once famously said if it wasn't for Neal Hefti the Basie band wouldn't have its trademark sound. If ever there was an epitaph that is as good as it gets.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Damn Fine Old Record Monday # 1

Delilah Jones ~ The McGuire Sisters.

I must admit that I know nothing at all about this group. A quick trip over to Wikipedia, which to be fair isn't always the most accurate mine of information tells me that The McGuire Sisters were a trio of sisters, Christine, Dorothy and Phyllis, from Ohio who made records in the 1950's. In 2001 they were inducted into the National Broadcasting Hall of Fame in the USA.

Until recently I had never heard of them until I heard this great track.

I just love the orchestration on this record, the brass gives it such a sassy feel. Apparently this is a b-side (to a song called Picnic) and it was released in 1956. So now you know.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Bit Of Blues For A Sunday .

There is not a lot better than a bit of rocking Blues to brighten a Sunday evening. So here without further ado is Seasick Steve:

Not much else to say other than I'm so glad that the world now knows about this guy. He is somewhat of a throwback to the blues how it is supposed to be. His style is definitely down and dirty and you can hear that he really means it.

Seasick Steve's website

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The Truely Great Julia Nunes.

I find it a bit surprising that the first proper post I do on this site is to champion someone who I only discovered today. I am a regular on The Word magazine blog and someone posted a video of a young woman from New York State who posts her own take on her favourite songs using a ukelele or a guitar.

What she does in bring loads of emthusiasm and a whole heap of talent. She doesn't take herself at all seriously despite having almost 50 000 subcribers to her You Tube site and her videos being watched well over a million times. (She coukld be the most famous person you have never heard of.

Here is her bloody marvellous version of Build Me Up Buttercup.

And here is her take on Destiny's Child.

Julia Nunes Official Site

Nothing Ventured.

My other blog is getting a bit stale and I have been having trouble deciding on exactly what to write. Therefore I am starting a new music blog here. The name is taken from the seminal Sprirtualised album 'Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space'. The phrase is also etched into the back of my iPod so I thought it apt that it should be reflected here too.

I hope, once I get my act together to write stuff on gigs I have attended, albums I have listened to and anything else that tickles my fancy. I'm also hoping, if I can work out how to do it, to steam some music and post the odd video too.