Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Round-up

We all know that those end of year lists are so predictable. But nevertheless...

The 2007 "I so would" award--Joss Stone

I know she's had a less than stellar year, with her mid-Atlantic accent and those pesky ex-managers (and you know it's bad when they're prepared to go on the record to slag you off), but even though I've possibly only heard ten minutes of Joss Stone in my life (and wasn't especially bowled over), she walked it. I mean, just look at her! Two words, as Howard Stern used to say. Hoo. Fah.
(Runners-up in the over-40s category--Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall)

The 2007 "Not Even With Yours" award
--Amy Winehouse

Christ, those teeth...

2007's "Surprisingly good" album award--Section 25 Part-Primitiv

Let's face it, these albums by reformed post-punk icons tend not to be very good, right? Well, the Cassidy brothers buck the trend by delivering something that's never less than credible, and at times damn near essential. The songs nod towards their "dirge-rock" beginnings, as well as their later electro phase. The late Jenny Cassidy makes a posthumous appearance too. Which is no bad thing. Buy it at LTM.

The 2007 Single Of The Year

A toss up between "Someone Great" (hey, it's good enough for Pitchfork) and "That's That" by Cass McCombs.

2007 "Sticking It To The Man" award--Radiohead for their on-line release of In Rainbows.

Also joint winner of the "most unperceptive media coverage" award. Much has been made of the fact that the album's average online selling price was less than three quid, as if the "set your own price" release had somehow backfired on the band (see here for example). I haven't seen mention anywhere of the fact that, even after overheads are taken into account, this is still way more per album than they would have seen out of releasing the album by the traditional route (say 13% of 90% of the retail price, according to Steve Albini). Of course, in a belts-and-braces style, the band are also releasing In Rainbows on CD this week.

2007 Album of the year

Again a toss-up. Possibly LCD's "Sound of Silver". Possibly Roisin Murphy's "Overpowered". What the hell, let's go with Roisin Murphy over James Murphy, if only 'cos she (probably) looks better in red latex gloves (see right). And here's track no. 5 from the aforementioned album. You lucky people!

Download Roisin Murphy Movie Star MP3
(deleted May 2008)

That's all folks. See you next year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Deck the Hawleys

Oh, go on then. I can't resist. Because it's Christmas.

From his Myspace page, Richard Hawley sings Silent Night (MP3) (deleted May 2008)

Write now

In the final days of 2007, as the MP3 blogosphere descends into a maudlin orgy of Christmas records (and I really couldn't top last year's collection at Irk The Purists, so I'm not going to try), I thought I'd provide some respite from the festivities by focussing on that perennial favourite among sonic aficionados, literary/musical crossovers.

First up, the grande dame of American letters, Miss Maya Angelou. Yes, that Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou. Heart Of A Woman, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, that episode of Moesha, you know... Long before her gilded writing career, Angelou plied her trade as a calypso chanteuse, and cut an LP for the Scamp label in 1957. While she plays it down today, the LP contains her stabs at Caribbean standards such as Run Joe and Peas and Rice, and is certainly worth a listen (the cover is also worth a look. Hoo-fah!). Here for your edification is her take on Scandal In The Family, which I always thought was another standard, but here the writing credit is to one Maya Angelou. The song has been covered many times by the likes of Odetta, Bob Marley and Madness. Hmmm. Does that mean that Angelou is getting royalties each time?

Bringing things slightly more up-to-date is Irvine Welsh, who teamed up with Primal Scream in 1996 to create the unofficial Scots Euro '96 anthem. What's that? We've just had Primal Scream? So sue me. Though actually, I think I'd win on a technicality, because this is Primal Scream in name only (in fact, the single delights in the soubriquet Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh and On-U-Sound presents..the Big Man and the Scream Team meet the Barmy Army Uptown. Really rolls off the tongue doesn't it?). Gillespie, Innes, Young and co. don't play much of a part in the single, at least to my ears, though they clearly provide the spiritual vibe (and possibly the Augustus Pablo-esque melodica heard partway through the track). Instead, the donkey work is shouldered by Adrian Sherwood's production, Doug Wimbish's bass and the leather lungs of Denise Johnson. And Welsh's Scots burr, of course. The three-track single includes Welsh's vocal take presented a capella. The latter is really worth a listen if you can track it down, as it shows that, while he clearly knows how to write, he's not a great speaker, nor does he have much of an idea of metre (so kudos to Sherwood for managing to keep him roughly on the beat in the final edit). Anyone who saw his lamentable cameo in Trainspotting may have have twigged this already.

In a similar vein (no pun intended)*, part-time author and full-time talking head Will Self lent his stentorian tones to a track on Bomb The Bass's peerless 1995 long player Clear. Entitled 5mm Barrel, it may be of particular interest to U.S. readers, as it failed to make the cut for the American edition of Clear. I've already included one track from this album (Bug Powder Dust, last year) on this blog, but I'm not making any apologies for linking to a second. Every track is dynamite, and there's a particularly literary bent to many of the tracks too; Benjamin Zephaniah provides vocals for one song, as does legendary stoner, model and writer Leslie Winer (one of my resolutions for 2008 is to track down a copy of her sole album from the mid-90s). Check it. In case you need further reasons to download and listen to this track, which deals with the cheery subject matter of a calcyfying venous system, the bass guitar is provided by Mr. Jah Wobble.

Finally, while he was probably better known for the last twenty years of his life simply for being himself, Quentin Crisp's initial notoriety came about as a result of his memoir The Naked Civil Servant**, and much of his written output still bears scrutiny today (How to Become A Virgin and How To Go To The Movies are particularly recommended). While one of his many aphorisms is that "music is a mistake", this didn't deter Morgan Fisher from including Crisp's Stop The Music For A Minute on his 1980 album, Miniatures, a collection of 51 short recordings by the likes of Andy Partridge, Fred Frith, Neil Innes and Ralph Steadman. It's included here, though I've taken it from the recently-reissued (in a deluxe version, no less) Cherry Red compilation Pillows and Prayers.

Enjoy. And have a good Christmas, y'all.

Download Shame and Scandal by Maya Angelou (deleted May 2008)

Download Primal Scream, On-U, Barmy Army, Irvine Welsh etc.. (deleted May 2008)

Download 5ml Barrel by Bomb The Bass and Will Self (deleted May 2008)

Download Stop The Music by Quentin Crisp (deleted May 2008)

* Didn't Self and Welsh have a little spat at one point with the former accusing the latter of never having injected heroin? Or did I dream this?

** Strictly speaking, I think his acclaim came some years later with the Thames TV production of the book. By all accounts its initial publication didn't cause much of a stir.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


While cleaning the oven this morning, I inadvertently left the radio on as 6 Music breakfast presenter Shaun Keveaney segued into the despicable George Lamb (see blog posts passim). I continued to listen, and an hour in, he hadn't made too many cock-ups, apart from lauding this idiot in Glasgow who continually parks on double yellow lines as a "Don". But then he played The Electric Prunes' I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, and back-announced it with the following: "That was I Had Too Much To Drink Last Night, very appropriate for this time of year..." and in one fell swoop turned the Prunes' psychedelic musings into a Zoo-readers anthem. Good work fella!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Noise annoys

I will determine whether I've been naughty or nice this year by whether or not Santa brings me New York Noise, a fabulous new book by the nice people at Soul Jazz. A visual companion piece to their three-volume New York Noise CDs, it documents that especially fertile period in downtown New York where, as they say, "everyone in a band was also an artist, every artist was also a film-maker and every film-maker in a band." Featuring mostly unpublished photos of the likes of Keith Haring, Arto Lindsay, Debbie Harry and Fab Five Freddy, it looks like a great souvenir of the era.

To accompany this plug, I've uploaded a toon from the second volume of New York Noise. The first volume rounded up all the usual suspects (Liquid Liquid, Dinosaur L, ESG, Mars, James Chance), but the second and third go into more detail, looking at the second string players on the scene, such as Y Pants, Rhys Chatham, and The Static, who were Glenn Branca's second band (he also was one quarter of The Theoretical Girls, along with Wharton Tiers who also plays a big part in the no wave scene of the era). All this was before his guitar symphonies with future members of Sonic Youth. Anyhoo, the sleeve notes of the series are pretty comprehensive, and along with the photo book, are required reading for the Optimo crowd. Here's a taster, then, of The Static.

Download My relationship by Glenn Branca and The Static (deleted May 2008)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vision on

I know that conspicuous consumption is non-U (or is it? I can never quite keep up), but I think this looks seriously excellent...

More info here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen
August 22 1928 to 5 December 2007

Tears for Spears

I like to think I'm a man of the world. I've been around a bit. But I'm still baffled as to what exactly "tractor style" is. Can anyone fill me in? (Insert your own joke here)

Or, better still, point me to a pic?

Valentine's day

Until recently, the prospect of a new album by Irish sonic terrorists My Bloody Valentine was about as likely as Christian Slater and Robert Downey Jnr. opting for "a quiet night in". But, no, according to Kevin Shields, prime mover in MBV, a new album (already some 11 years in the works) is nearly finished and may be in the shops later this year. Well, I'll believe it when I see it. But what is incontrovertibly true is that they plan to play live in 2008, and have already sold out dates in Glasgow, Manchester and London. More dates have been added, according to this website.

Presumably they're still signed to Island, to whom they defected after nearly bankrupting Creation Records in 1992 with their magnus opus Loveless, but for whom their output thus far (15 years into their contract) has amounted to one song, a by-the-numbers cover of Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time in the World". Presumably the group have taken this as their motto for the duration of their hiatus, the length of which made Kraftwerk and Kate Bush seem like workaholics by comparison.

Despite the jibes, Shields has not been totally inactive for 15 years. During much of the late 90s and early 2000s, he was a fairly pivotal part of Primal Scream, contributing to all of the best parts of their high-water mark Xtrmntr, and much of their follow-up Evil Heat. In case you haven't heard these, they're both recommended, but Xtrmntr is absolutely essential, and backs up the widely-held view that the quality of Primal Scream's albums is generally inversely proportionate to the length of Bobby Gillespie's hair. For Xtrmntr, Gillespie and co. had buzz cuts and sported military fatigues. The music was commensurately radical, and Shields' trademark tinnitus-inducing input was evident on tracks like Accelerator and Shoot Speed/Kill Light.

More astonishing still was his total reworking of the Scream track If They Move Kill 'Em. Originally appearing on the previous Primal Scream album Vanishing Point (also recommended), ITMKE was a funky little instrumental, the sort of thing the James Taylor Quartet might come up with if asked to score a Hollywood remake of some British 70s TV policier, like, say, Randall and Hopkirk Deceased. In Shields' hands, the song, which was remixed and re-presented on Xtrmntr, turned into a six-minute demented, Bollywood-inflected raga, that finishes with waves of headache-causing feedback throb. Naturally, and with a nod to Sun Ra, Shields christened himself The MBV Arkestra for the purposes of this recording. I, for one, would pay handsomely to hear the MBV Arkestra remixing the whole of Xtrmntr, in the same way that Adrian Sherwood turned out Echo Dek, a dub version of Primal Scream's Vanishing Point.

As an aside, I will mention that I was lucky enough to see Shields playing with Primal Scream in 2000, promoting Xtrmntr. Though I didn't think he'd turn up (the gig was outside the UK), dang me if he wasn't stooped stage right over an array of effects pedals while Gillespie gurned and Mani (who was looking increasingly like Derek Smalls by this point) riffed. Shields was hardly the most statesman-like presence (his appearance went unannounced and unremarked, and I'd doubt that more than 5% of the audience knew he was even there), and I'd be hard pushed to say exactly what he did in his hour and a half onstage, but I can tell you that it was an entirely memorable event. And that the most recent Primal Scream album, with Shields absent, was a godawful, forgettable mess.

Shields went on to contribute to Sofia Coppola's last two soundtracks, and found time to engineer and remix bands like Curve, EAR, The Go! Team and Dinosaur Jr. His former band-mates' activities, however, have been more sporadic. Debbie Googe, for example, was reduced to driving a cab, while Colm O'Ciosoig managed one collaboration with Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star.

Exactly who will accompany him on stage next year is unclear. Of the Loveless MBV line-up, only Bilinda Butcher seems to have confirmed. Given that it could all fall apart before next summer, I'm not going to worry about it too much. In the meantime, while we wait for more material, enjoy the following:

Download I Only Said from Loveless (deleted May 2008)

Download Sueisfine from Isn't Anything (deleted May 2008)

Download If They Move Kill 'Em by Primal Scream remixed by MBV Arkestra (from Xtrmntr) (deleted May 2008)

Download If They Move Kill 'Em (original version) by Primal Scream (from Vanishing Point) (deleted May 2008)

Loveless- from Perfect Sound Forever