Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Round Up

It's the end of the year, and along with the James Bond film, the advocaat and the arguments, there's one festive tradition that has become de rigeur across the UK. Or at least for the fourteen people reading this blog. Yes, it's the Irk The Purists' annual roundup.

Best single:
As albums die out as a format, and every track ever made is available to own or listen to at all times, rather than for finite periods, individual songs really have to punch above their weight to get noticed. Is there even such a thing as a single anymore? Possibly not, when songs can reach the top of the charts without a physical release (don't even think about it- innuend0 ed.). That said, there have been a number of truly fantastic tunes this year, largely by R&B poppets like Beyonce, whose Single Ladies was particularly exciting (especially the parts that sounded like the aliens exploding on the old Galaxian arcade game). However, the one tune of 2009 guaranteed to get the party started at Irk The Purists Towers was Boys And Girls by Pixie Lott.

Best book:
A few nominations in this category: I greatly enjoyed Simon Reynolds’ Totally Wired, especially the chapter that, rightly, gave due credit to the B-52’s (a B-52’s post is overdue, I feel). Also, Paul O’Grady’s autobiog (didn’t get round to this till recently). However, the most thoroughly-researched and enlightening book I read this year (even though, like O’Grady’s, it was released last year) was Michael Bracewell’s Roxy, originally published in hardback as ReMake/ReModel. An in-depth investigation of the pre-history of Roxy Music, Alex Clark in The Observer called it “a stunning look at the band’s cultural impact”. Clark (unbelievably, a former editor of Granta and ex-deputy literary editor at the Observer) clearly wasn’t paying attention to what she read (if, indeed, she read it all. I doubt the people at Faber had properly read it either, as they chose to put this quote on the back cover of the paperback release). Actually, it’s no such thing. In fact, it’s precisely the opposite. It’s a look at culture’s impact on the band: the book concludes just prior to the release of Virginia Plain, so how Bracewell’s book could touch on the band’s impact on wider culture is beyond me.

OK, rant over. If you’ve ever wanted to find out more about the characters in Ferry’s, Eno’s, Manzanera’s and Mackay’s milieu from the 1960s to 1972 (particularly Victor Pasmore, Richard Hamilton, Antony Price, Mark Lancaster and Simon Huxley) then this is a must-read. While it’s enlightening about early Roxy, it’s in no way a biography of the band, and it’s all the better for it. Instead, it’s about art, fashion, education and design in the 1960s and beyond, and while conventional histories of the period tend to ignore many of the protagonists of Bracewell’s book, Roxy redresses the balance.

Most annoying phrasing:
It’s a bloody awful song in every possible way, but the bit in Cheryl Cole’s Fight For This Love when she sings “Now every day ain't gon' be no picnic”, and contrives to pronounce pic-nic with a stressed second syllable really makes me want to throw the radio at the wall. The video is heinous, too.

Most promising newcomers 2009:
The Drums- everybody (including themselves) says they sound like a Factory Records band. See here for example. I can't hear it myself (unless they were referring to The Distractions). Despite this, they're worth your attention in 2010.
Runners up: The XX (my tip for the 2010 Mercury if you feel like a flutter)

Best inadvertent offensive TV moment:
Jamie Cullum, on The One Show, had promised to dedicate a song to the most deserving applicant that contacted the show during the first twenty-five minutes of its transmission. The son of a cancer patient got in touch to ask that a song be dedicated to his mum, then undergoing chemotherapy. Jamie, who clearly was going to be playing the song that he'd prepared, no matter who contacted the show, then, as promised, played his selection to the dedicatee. And what was the song he'd chosen? Go here to find out. It's about 1:35 in. Gulp.

Best album:

Notwithstanding my comments about the demise of the album (above), my fave albums this year were by Bibio's Ambivalence Avenue , Major Lazer's Guns Don't Kill People, and The Warm Heart of Africa by The Very Best. Can't decide between 'em.

2009 “better than I expected” award:
I’d more or less given up on Primal Scream after the debacle of Riot City Blues, and only picked up 2008’s Beautiful Future as it was in a bargain bin in Dundee. And whaddayaknow, it’s actually alright. Not quite up there with Xtrmntr, but certainly far better than we have a right to expect from jaded, wealthy rock stars with a collective age approaching 250. If you see it in a bargain bin, pick it up. Hell, let's push the boat out. If you see it for less than £7, pick it up.

Rowland S. Howard, Derek B, John Updike, Patrick McGoohan, Julius Shulman, John Hughes, Ron Silver, Dominick Dunne, Frank McCourt, Marilyn Chambers, Michael Jackson, Mollie Sugden, Vic Chesnutt, Patrick Swayze, Les Paul, Merce Cunningham, Charles Gwathmey, John Mortimer

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Oh! Brother

Today's papers are flagging up the forthcoming, final Celebrity Big Brother. According to the Grauniad, Channel 4 commissioning editor David Williams said the theme of the final celebrity series was "Dante's inferno - hell lies in others".

How on earth do you get to be a commissioning editor without being able to discriminate between Dante and Sartre (who said "L'enfer, c'est les autres" some 750 years after Dante)? Actually, scrub that. I know it's precisely such knowledge that disqualifies you from a job at Channel 4.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lake Superior

The greatest Christmas song ever is, of course, The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping. And there's a lot of others, besides, as you can read in a post of 3 years ago.

However, I retain a soft spot for Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas. And we don't feature much prog here, so let's break the habit of a lifetime. If it happens to be snowing outside (and it has been in much of the UK over the last few days), I defy you to look out of the window while you listen to this and not feel your eyes prickle a bit.

Have a good one, y'all.

Download Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas (mp3) (deleted Feb 2010- too late!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Machine tool

There's not a lot to say about the new Christmas No.1. And there's really no need to re-hash all the arguments, mention the moneys raised for Youth Music and Shelter, acknowledge that it's a Pyrrhic victory, or make silly statements about how we're all going to smash capitalism using Twitter. Everybody knows what the campaign was all about, and understands its meaning (or lack thereof). Everyone, that is, except Barbara "Will This Do?" Ellen. Christ, didn't she used to work for the NME? Read this for an object lesson in how to write about something on which you have no knowledge and can't be bothered to research. Scroll down to the comments to see 550 angry Guardianistas in full cry. Try not to think of Private Eye's Polly Filler.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ugly Rumours

I'm not convinced this (below) is Kesha, as the record company insists. I think, instead, it's the debut single by Amanda, the snarky receptionist from Ugly Betty (left). C'mon, that voice sounds exactly the same, no?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stay Gold

I've just spent a very pleasurable 25 minutes watching this piece of documentary reportage from The Tube (I'm guessing c. 1983/84?). Called A Night in NYC, it's a brilliant evocation of the downtown New York scene that was documented in print form in New York Noise, with a little bit of pre-Madchester Manchester thrown in for good measure. Featuring some of the leading and lesser-known lights of the era (Arthur Baker, Nona Hendryx, Roger Trilling, The Peech Boys, the late Ruth Polsky, the equally late Klaus Nomi), it's particularly notable for capturing some of the eclecticism of New York, prior to its Disneyfication under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. Look out too for DJ Mark Kamins disingenuously claiming that Manchester's Quando Quango were the then-current darlings of clubland, while neglecting to mention his interest in the group as their producer.

The clattering, juddering juggernaut of DMX and bass at the start of the film comes courtesy of The Golden Palominos (see last post but one), who operated between c. 1982 and c. 1997 and produced eight brilliant LPs as well as a number of EPs. Less a band than a freeform collective of ever-changing membership, the Palominos were the brainchild of ex-Feelies drummer Anton Fier, who was the sole constant in the evolving line up (though Irk The Purists regular Bill Laswell was also in attendance at pretty much all their recording sessions). As the membership of the group changed, so their style evolved. Their self-titled debut (from which Cookout, the track featured on The Tube special, above, was taken) saw them exploring the same post-punk, neo-hip hop spaces as contemporaries like Liquid Liquid and Konk. Featuring an all-star line up of the then-toast of downtown (Arto Lindsay, John Zorn, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, David Moss, Fred Frith, Nicky Skopelitis), the album was midwifed by the aforementioned Roger Trilling and released by Celluloid, which was just beginning its three year run as the hippest record label on the planet.

Their second album, Visions of Excess, again released by Celluloid, was a stylistic about-face, embracing more conventional guitar textures and country themes, but topped off once again by Anton Fier's thunderous drum programming. The line-up for the album changed in large part too, Fier looking slightly further than 53rd Street for his personnel on this occasion. It was an equally eclectic and diverse range of players, however. Ex-Pistol John Lydon, ECM's Carla Bley, Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson, P-Funk's Bernie Worrell and Mike Hampton, Michael Stipe of REM, Chris Stamey of The dBs, Cream's Jack Bruce, Jody Harris of James Chance's Contortions... By rights, this should have produced an unholy mess. In fact, as so often with Bill Laswell-related projects, the sum was even greater than its parts. Silver Bullet, below, is absolutely magnificent, Jack Bruce and Syd Straw's voices blending perfectly.

Their third, Blast of Silence, brought back many of the players from Visions of Excess, but added T-Bone Burnett, Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Matthew Sweet, whose celestial Something Becomes Nothing is available below. A quick cameo appearance by Dennis Hopper rounds out another terrific LP. The title of the fourth and final outing by the group for Celluloid, A Dead Horse, suggested that Fier was tiring of ever-changing line-ups, and the same group of musicians played on all the album's 7 tracks, rather than a different ensemble convening for each separate track, as on the previous three albums. This stable core consisted of Laswell, Skopelitis, Fier and Worrell, augmented by keyboard wiz Jeff Bova and percussionist Aiyb Diyeng, with the vocals shouldered by Amanda Kramer (of Information Society) and the mysterious Robert Kidney. Again, the music had affinities with conventional rock and country, but rendered strange by the inclusion of eastern percussion and keyboard textures. Darklands, available below, is a case in point, a beautiful song that occupies a state somewhere between Nashville and Mumbai.

The fifth long player, and their first after splitting with Celluloid, Drunk With Passion, appeared on the Virgin Venture label, again featured an ever-changing line up, and again many of the usual suspects (Amanda Kramer, Michael Stipe) were present and correct, though Husker Du's Bob Mould also contributed a vocal turn. The Haunting, below, gives you a good idea of the album's tone; it's essentially more of the same, but none the worse for that.

Having refined his country/rock chops over three or four albums, and moved further and further away from the electronic and rhythmic style that characterised the Palominos' first LP, it was surely time for the usually restless Fier to change tack once again. He did this over the last three Palominos albums. This Is How It Feels (1993) and Pure (1994) embraced ambient textures and then-fashionable trip-hop, eschewing the sprawling line-ups of the Palominos' earlier albums, settling instead on a core of Fier, Laswell, Skopelitis, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and Lori Carson. After a break of three years, Fier released the groups final LP (thus far) and revealed one last ace up his sleeve, changing direction again and exploring darker, spoken-word territory with stark, minimal electronic backing. The LP, Dead Inside, can safely be filed under un-easy listening, its harrowing tales of abduction, victimhood and oppression spoken by performance poet Nicole Blackman to backing by, again, Laswell, Fier, Skopelitis and Knox Chandler. You're advised not to listen to Victim, below from the LP, with the lights off.

And, apart from a download-only EP of remixes from Dead Inside, the Golden Palominos have maintained radio silence ever since. A shame really, as, despite their disparate line-ups and wildly diverse output, all their music is linked by the common thread of excellence. Few groups can sustain interest over the course of three albums, let alone eight, but all of the albums mentioned above are worth your attention. They're actually quite hard to find in certain cases, but much of the material contained therein has been compiled on myriad cheapie compilations. Most of these have utterly abysmal artwork and non-existent track notes (which makes it difficult to discern exactly why the individual tracks, sourced from wildly different albums, sound so dissimilar-- the worst offender in this regard is Surrealistic Surfer, which contains precisely no information about the group whatsoever), so caveat emptor.

Anton Fier himself reportedly sold his drums and opted for early retirement in the early 21st century. However, he did appear in one of John Zorn's 50th birthday concerts, recording a set with original Palominos Zorn and Arto Lindsay, as well as performing as recently as 2008 with Elliott Sharp and Tony Scherr. More bizarrely, he's been providing music for Nickleodeon's kids show The Backyardigans, alongside Lounge Lizard Evan Lurie and Marc Ribot. All of which means that, for those of us who've kept the faith over the years, hope springs eternal that there may still be another run out of the paddock for the Golden Palominos.

Download Cookout by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (deleted Feb 2010- too late, kids!)

Download Silver Bullet by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download Something Becomes Nothing by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download Darklands by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download The Haunting by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (ditto)

Download Victim by The Golden Palominos (mp3) (Beth (ditto))

Buy Golden Palominos material

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Watts Going On

Just in case you thought I'd forgotten this blog's raison d'etre, here's some more music. The Watts Prophets. Born from the same political milieu as their contemporaries The Last Poets (though they're from the opposite coast of the US), these three guys make Public Enemy sound like The Nolan Sisters. The groups is still active, though they only cut two albums in their heyday. This is from their second, Rappin' Black In a White World. It's one of the less abrasive cuts on the album. According to the "genre" column of iTunes, this music is "Unclassifiable". Which makes it a must-listen in my book. You can see if you agree below.

Download Watch Out Black Folks by the Watts Prophets (mp3) (deleted Dec 2009- too late, folks!)

Buy Watts Prophets music

Golden Years

This was a nice chance discovery. This dude seems to have a collection of performances filmed at Toronto's El Mocambo club, and he's put some up on YouTube, including the above footage of John Metcalfe and Vini Reilly. It's new to me, and, I suspect, most of you too. He's said he may put more Durutti Column clips up, so subscribe if you get the chance. Even more exciting (to me at least), he has five or six vids of The Golden Palominos (of whom more shortly). The one below features the aforementioned Syd Straw on vocals, and what looks like Bernie Worrell on keyboards, with Matthew Sweet (I think) on bass.

Drawing A Blanc

If I've not been uploading mp3s at the rate to which you've become accustomed, it's because I'm glued to the latest series of The Restaurant. The series, in case you hadn't seen/can't see it, features Harry H. Corbett (see blog posts passim) presiding over a competition in which various couples compete for the opportunity to open a restaurant of their own, bankrolled by Blanc/Corbett, who presumably is using the extra funds he'll gain as a result of the free publicity this show gives his existing restaurants. Ain't life grand? Highlight of the series so far has been a couple of clueless Jemimas in the opening episode attempting to open a tin of coconut milk with a hammer and a carving knife (they were summarily barred from the competition in the interests of their own safety). And is it just me, or is Blanc's fellow judge Sarah Willingham the filthiest looking woman on TV?

I'm not convinced, either, that Barney, of ex-Army duo Barney & Badger, isn't actually A Certain Ratio's Jeremy Kerr moonlighting. Are they by any chance related? I think we should be told (etc., etc.)


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hoop Dreams

I don't know much about Jesca Hoop, save that she was once Tom Waits' babysitter, but I like what I'm hearing, especially Four Dreams, which you can hear at her MySpace page. It brings to mind a bluegrass Lene Lovich, with a dash of Syd Straw. She's apparently on her second album, which means I'm a little late to the table. One to watch.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Top Deco

Just managed to listen to the new Section 25 long player, and very good it is, too. However, I was a little underwhelmed by the sleeve, which doesn't really fit with the music, and would, IMHO, be better suited to something by, say, Peter Skellern. Since the group's erstwhile designer Peter Saville has mined the catalogues of the Bauhaus designers, theImpressionists, the Futurists and various Dutch typographers for inspiration in the past, did someone from S25 say "Ah, I know which artistic movement hasn't been totally reamed yet: Art Deco! Yeah, let's go with that!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

League Division One

While it didn't hold any great surprises (save for the truly shocking revelation that Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti don't live in a rubber-lined dungeon as I fondly imagined-- instead their kitchen looked rather like one I was admiring in B&Q a few weeks back), the BBC's Synth Britannia of last week was great entertainment, even if it fudged a few dates for the sake of the narrative. Andy McCluskey of OMD was particularly good value, though Richard H Kirk was dead wrong when he asserted that some people think that Cabaret Voltaire's Red Mecca, rather than Ghost Town, was the soundtrack to the Brixton and Toxteth riots. I've never met a single person that thinks this. Actually, one minor revelation, for me at least, was seeing Alison Moyet of Yazoo at the height of her (and their) success. At my school, and, I'll venture, thousands of others up and down the land, any woman slightly heavier or less attractive than, say, Clare Grogan was considered unworthy of our attentions (ah, if only they knew what they were missing, eh?). By this measure, Alison Moyet was regarded as slightly less attractive than Giant Haystacks. Yes, we really were that shallow. And sexist. And sizeist. The revelation, after twenty-five years, that she wasn't the swamp beast of popular memory, but was actually a fairly normal-looking, even attractive, woman was chastening.

The Human League, quite rightly, played a major part in the story, from Reproduction to Dare, and accordingly Phil Oakey, Martyn Ware, Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley were wheeled on to give their ten-penn'orth. I saw Ware a couple of times this summer, first sitting on a symposium as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival (where he shared a stage with Stelarc), and second acting as MC at a Future of Sound event at the Gateshead Sage Centre. The latter was great fun and terrific value: about £8 to see The Modified Toy Orchestra, Sarah Nicolls, Threep and the Sancho Plan. As well as hosting the event, Martyn treated the audience to a gratuitous and entirely unnecessary rendition of Being Boiled, performed to a souped-up and funky backing track. He was wearing a shiny-looking double-breasted suit, a shirt and a tie, and, having recently returned from sunnier climes, had a tan that made him look as if he'd been basted in tandoori paste. My companions found the sight of him singing faintly ridiculous, and later giggled conspiritorially. "What is he like?", "What a twonk", "He can't even sing!"

Now, hang on a sec, I said. Now you've gone too far. He might look like Bob Monkhouse's son. He might be pissing all over the legacy of his former group. But to accuse him of not being able to sing? No. I'm not 'avin it (as Liam Gallagher reportedly said when he learned that Spinal Tap were a comedy turn rather than, as he'd thought, an earnest metal band). Martyn Ware wasn't just in Heaven 17 and the Human League to push buttons and play keyboards. He's also an extremely good singer, especially as a backing vocalist and harmoniser. Just ask Tina Turner, for whom Ware performed backing vocal duties on many occasions. Or the many soul artists with whom he's worked, such as Tashan, Chaka Khan and Terence Trent D'Arby. I knew this; my companions at the Sage that night were blinded (or deafened) by the suit and the tan and the general cheesiness of the version of Being Boiled that we witnessed. And yes, it was cheesy. But, dammit, the guy can sing.

If you need convincing, just listen to the League Mark One's version of You've Lost That Loving Feeling, below. Those heavenly backing harmonies are courtesy of one M. Ware. I love this take on the song, as it eschews the misplaced triumphalism of the Righteous Brothers' original, replacing the swelling strings in the chorus with a diminuendo, plaintive synth which is entirely in keeping with the song's sentiment. There's a real sense of quiet longing here, one that's entirely missing from the original. One of the commenters on YouTube says "Best cover ever?" I'd be inclined to remove the question mark.

Wild Boys

Occupying a space somewhere between Sparks and The Smiths, this is The Wild Beasts. I love their new single All The King's Men, and its video, which to my mind is more Stornoway than Ibiza. That's no bad thing. You can judge for yourselves below.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eng-er-land's Dreaming

I recently finished reading Keith Allen's autobiog of a few years back. As I expected, there was much to admire about the way he's conducted his life, and much that reflected badly on him, too, in particular his cavalier attitude towards partners and children. Despite this, one story in particular stood out, and its seems appropriate to re-tell it today, the day that the late Sir Bobby Robson is being remembered at a memorial service at Durham Cathedral. It concerns the antics of England's players after the 1990 World Cup, and it changed Allen's view of them from the cheeky chappies of World In Motion to the abysmally-behaved, inconsiderate gits that most footballers (probably) are.

And one more thing I have to bring up, given all the hype from the England players about how much they respected Bobby Robson and what a great manager he was. It was bullshit. I was there and saw first hand how they treated him. I was invited to their hotel with friends I was travelling with when they had a team meal after England had exited the World Cup. Bobby got up to make a speech and Gary Lineker pretended to yawn.

After his speech the players drifted away, leaving Robson sitting alone at the end of the table while Gazza, I remember very clearly, threw bread at him. This wasn't the end of it. Afterwards all the players picked him up, carried him out to the pool and threw him in. We all watched, expecting the players to help him out again. They didn't. They just threw him in, turned and walked away, leaving Sir Bob dazed and spluttering, struggling to get out of the water.

Keith Allen, Grow Up, p. 302/303

Currie Favour

A really nice piece on Momus (his ace ClickOpera blog is in my links on the left of this page), from Saturday's Guardian, here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Gordon Is A Moron

...and I bet Trudi Styler was right next to him, taking all the credit.


The other Malcolm (McLaren) who was appearing at the Festival was on excellent form in his sole one-man show, for one afternoon only. I won't bore you with all the details, but I feel I must share one story I hadn't heard before, and which was almost worth the admission price alone.

The late newsreader Reginald Bosanquet, sometimes referred to as Reginald Beaujolais on account of his legendary thirst, developed something of a crush on Jordan, the original dominatrix-styled assistant at Sex, McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's Kings Road shop of the mid-70s. A regular visitor to Sex, Bosanquet felt the need to cover up his affections for Jordan by making frequent purchases, or so McLaren claimed in Edinburgh.

After one such purchase, a pair of rubber knickers, Bosanquet accosted McLaren in the shop and said "Watch me tonight, I'll be wearing these."

Perplexed, McLaren asked Bosanquet to elaborate.

"Tonight, on the telly! When I'm reading the news, I'll be wearing these under my suit!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Malcolm in the Middle. Ton.

I saw the lovely Malcolm Middleton at the Edinburgh Festival the other day (sharing a stage with six comedians, though not simultaneously, sadly). And I couldn't help but wonder...

Simon Pegg

Malcolm Middleton

Bandwidth issues again. Apologies to anyone that's tried to download stuff recently, but I've exceeded my allowance (popularity, eh?). Normal downloading service will resume shortly. I've deleted some older stuff, so that should ease the situation. I might also try uploading files to a few different hosts rather than putting all my digital eggs in the Fileden basket.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First among equals

I was equally surprised to see that Alan Vega is 70 years old. I know this isn't news: I first heard it last year, but dismissed it as a typo, reasoning that he couldn't possibly be over 60 (plus, most biogs, like this one, claim his birth year as 1948). However, I looked at the Blast First (Petite) (i.e his own record company) website recently, and that's proclaiming that this is Alan's 70th year on the planet, so I guess if they're saying it, then it must be true. And, now I delve further, it seems that more and more biogs, such as the one on Wikipedia, are listing his birth year as 1938. In fact, I suppose that makes him 71.

Whatever his age (and God, I hope I'm as sprightly at 71), we should be thankful that Blast First (Petite) have seen fit to release some fantastic covers of Suicide tracks by the great and (occasionally) good of the music biz, including Klaxons, Primal Scream and, unbelievably, Bruce Springsteen. It's not a secret that Bruce was always a big Suicide fan (he'd said as much in the past), but it's incredible that he'd deign to release a limited edition single on the label that originally brought us Big Stick, Labradford and Pan(a)sonic. If, like me, you're a bit cash-strapped, all the singles in the series (including Bruce's cover of Dream Baby Dream) are available on Spotify.

I mentioned Big Stick and Labradford there, though technically these were released by Blast First, rather than Blast First (Petite). Confused? Well, the two labels are related. Both are overseen by one Paul Smith (no not that one); the former was and is an offshoot of the venerable Mute, though since EMI took a controlling share of Mute, Blast First's output has slowed to a trickle (its last release through Mute was two years ago, seemingly). The latter (BF(P)) is a more recent, truly independent variant which as well as releasing the aforementioned Suicide covers has, in recent years, given us Return of The Giant Slits, and promises within the next year to release a live DVD by the Au Pairs, another by John Fahey, and, most audaciously, a series of rare albums by sculptor and furniture designer Harry Bertoia (right). As well as re-releases,Blast First (Petite) showcase going concerns such as Klang and Pansonic. And, as such, they should be celebrated. Hooray!

MP3s? Ok, if you insist. Below are some examples of the label's diverse output, though they all come from the Blast First stable (i.e. through its association with Mute rather than released independently--do keep up). The first, by Head of David, is from circa 1991, when the label was primarily concerned with bring us the likes of Sonic Youth, Band of Susans and Stretchheads. If you like these, there's a good chance you'll like Head of David. The second, by the Williams Fairey Brass Band is a cover of 808 State's Pacific 202, and one of a series of brass band acid house covers co-ordinated by the future Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller in 1998. More info here. Finally, from the compilation Hot Shit by Sean McLusky's Sonic Mook Experiment, a bit of Erase Errata. And why not?

Download Vulture Culture by Head of David (mp3) (deleted Nov 2009)

Download Pacific 202 by Williams Fairey Brass Band (mp3) (deleted Nov 2009)

Download Other Animals Are No. 1 by Erase Errata (mp3) (deleted Nov 2009)

Brownian motion

I was pleasantly surprised (and gratified) to see VV Brown (she of the ozone-layer defying quiff-- am I the only one that thinks it should be even higher?) waxing lyrical about John Cage, LaMonte Young and Ryuichi Sakamoto in the Grauniad yesterday. Crikey.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And our parents fought the punk wars for this?

A sign of the times. Or something like that. Kids today, etc. I was in a mid-range clothing store in Edinburgh yesterday (Reiss, if you must know), one of those stores that the pundits tell us will fail in the current recession while the providers of merchandise at either end of the price spectrum (Primark, Prada) will thrive. Anyhoo, the men's section was empty so I fell into small talk with the sales assistant. He was young, extremely good looking, and, naturally, well-dressed. That staff discount comes in handy, I imagine.

"So," says he, "have ye caught anything at the Festival yet?" I mumble something about Eva Hesse and Ben Dover. "Oh, and I'm going to see Malcolm McLaren next week," I offer.

"Ah, who's he, likesay?" comes the reply. "A comeedjun?"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Engineering Werks

And especially this. Is it too obvious to call it Kraftwerk meets Ride? Yes? So sue me.

Weather Report

Also greatly enjoying this.

Media playa

In tribute to Walter Cronkite, recently deceased U.S. newsman, and one of the chroniclers of 20th century America, here's Steinski and the Mass Media's The Motorcade Sped On, featuring the voice of the aforementioned Mr. Cronkite and, thanks to this first-rate fan video, his image too. The song has nothing to do with Coldcut, incidentally, despite its title.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Swells part two

Some nice tributes here from David Stubbs, Terry Staunton and others.

Barlow Can You Go?

Am I missing something here? Couldn't disgruntled purchasers simply, er, use the volume dial on their equipment to (to use the technical parlance) "turn it down a tad"? Story below.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Alls Swells That Ends Swells

MJ (see below) will be remembered in part for knocking the unfortunate Farrah Fawcett off the front pages (which makes Farrah the Mother Teresa to Jacko's Lady Di). Steven Wells' death on Tuesday, meanwhile, barely rated a paragraph in most newspapers. However, his will be the loss I'll feel most keenly. Wells, who wrote for the NME in its (read: my) glory days, alongside the likes of Dele Fadele, Stuart Maconie, David Quantick and Barabara Ellen, was the sort of critic who, like Julie Burchill, often said things you disagreed with. But you had to admire the way he said them.

At almost exactly the time that Wells passed away, the NME's most recent editor, Conor McNicholas decided to jump ship and edit Top Gear magazine. Which tells you alot about the state of the music industry in general and the NME in particular. But there was a time that the NME cared about music and Wells, whether writing under his own name or in the guise of alter-ego Susan Williams, epitomised this (despite James Brown's assertions to the contrary). Read some of his greatest moments (though sadly not his Shed Seven interview) at the bottom of this tribute. RIP Swells.

Blog standard

If you've a penchant for left-field and, in many cases, ultra-obscure post-punk, with an occasional foray into early hip-hop (and if you don't, why not?) then head over to a fantastic blog Everything Starts With an A, where the likes of Sudden Sway, Frank Chickens, Chakk, 400 Blows, Sophie and Peter Johnston, Set The Tone and Vice Versa await your perusal.

Taking The Michael

There's not a whole lot more to be said about Michael Jackson's death at this juncture, given that there are acres of newsprint and billions of bytes all devoted to the subject. But it always struck me that whatever there was of the real Michael Jackson died about 25 years ago. I'm not just talking simplistically about corporeal concerns, though, of course, his physical persona began to metamorphose into the freakish waxwork that he became at roughly that time (and how many tributes featured his more recent pale, ghastly visage as an accompaniment to their obituaries, as opposed to the cherubic twenty-something of Off The Wall and Thriller? Answer: not many).

To remind us that before the hubris and the madness, there was once a talented, discerning and (no pun intended) thrilling individual at work, here's Rock With You from 1979, written by Cleethorpes' own Rod Temperton.

Download Rock With You by Michael Jackson (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Jah Head

Despite the continuing presence of George Lamb, the digital airwaves of BBC 6Music continue to throw up interesting and informative shows, at least when its presenters are freed from the tyranny of the playlist. In the past week we've had Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone's post-punk special, which, endearingly, eschewed the usual suspects (for the most part) and instead showcased the lesser lights of the genre, such as Kleenex, Family Fodder, the Flying Lizards and Swell Maps. It also found house room for the earliest incarnation of the Human League, of whom more in a future post. You can catch the show for a few more days here.

On Friday night, too, there was more excitement (for me, at least) as Jah Wobble joined Gary Crowley in the studio, standing in for Tom Robinson. Catch the show here for one more week. Wobble revealed that his autobiography, winningly-entitled Memoirs of a Geezer, will be in the shops in time for Xmas, so you can all put it on your list right now. Wobble also played some tracks from his Chinese Dub Orchestra project, which sounded fantastic.

I shouldn't need an excuse, but this gives me a great reason to shoehorn in a couple of Wobble tracks . Om Namah Shiva, from Heaven and Earth, his last album for Island, features the stellar vocals of Najma Akhtar, while Unusual Balance, from Wobble's 1995 Eno collaboration Spinner, features his regular sidemen Mark Ferda and Justin Adams alongisde vocalist Sussan Deyhim and ex-Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit.

Download Om Namah Shivah by Jah Wobble (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Download Unusual Balance by Wobble/Eno (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Visit 30Hertz Records

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pulp fictions

Jarvis Cocker's new album hit the shops last week, and more than one reviewer has referred to it as "lo-fi" (see here for example). Well, it may feature more fuzz guitars than the average Pulp album, but it's certainly not lo-fi. Can we please get this straight? Of all the people on the planet, Steve Albini, who was in charge of recording Further Complications, is one of the most concerned with absolute sonic fidelity. Don't believe me? Take a look at his Chicago studio, Electrical, where the album was recorded. Take a look at the Alcatraz room or the Studio A control room. Then tell me again that Steve Albini deals in lo-fi.

In fact, Jarvis has a higher than usual disposition towards sonics, too. I know that for most people, Pulp were all about the lyrics, and that the music was a secondary consideration. I think, though, especially on Pulp's last albums, that the quality of the music, and a willingness to experiment with sound, really sets their work apart from straight-ahead Britpop chancers like Supergrass. Check out The Night That Minnie Timperley Died from We Love Life (below). I love the contrasts in the song between, for example, the rawness of the guitars and the spectral backing vocals. In fact, turn it up to 11 for the first 15 seconds and be prepared for a shock. Pushed, no doubt, by producer Scott Walker, Pulp really stretched themselves on We Love Life, roping in the Swingle Singers (with whom Pulp had previously collaborated on the soundtrack to Randall and Hopkirk Deceased) and Alasdair Malloy, among others. The results, especially on songs like Trees and and the astonishing Sunrise, show the extent to which Pulp were prepared to forego popular acclaim in favour of sonic experimentation. Predictably, the British public, who preferred the Jarvis who waggled his bum at The Brits and sang about supermarkets and canal towpaths, stayed away from the album in droves.

Alasdair Malloy reappeared on Jarvis's first, self-titled solo venture, and while Scott Walker was no longer involved, the commitment to sonic adventure remained. Check out the album's (apparent) closer Quantum Theory, or Black Magic (below). The combination of Jason Buckle's decaying Wasp synth, Ross Orton (of Fat Truckers)'s monolithic drumming, Alasdair Malloy's hand bells, Richard Hawley's guitar and Steve Mackey's bass, along with a deftly-placed Tommy James and the Shondells sample, is a total winner. The lyrics, notably, are more elliptical, more impressionistic, less concerned with people and place. The music is centre stage.

Even when not being pushed by name producers or heavyweight musicians, Jarvis can still come up with the goods, sonically speaking. His pseudonymous side project of 2003, Relaxed Muscle, again eschewed the lyrical precision for which Pulp had been feted in the mid-nineties, instead opting for sparse and fairly banal imagery backed up by beefed-up cheap synthesised throb. The effect, as Dave Simpson said in the Guardian at the time, was like Cabaret Voltaire at Batley Variety Club (though he was wrong to claim that Hawley was Cocker's partner in Relaxed Muscle- in fact most of the musical side of things was shouldered by the aforementioned Jason Buckle). You can hear The Heavy, the first track on A Heavy Nite With... below.

Download The Night That Minnie Timperley Died by Pulp (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Download Black Magic by Jarvis Cocker (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Download The Heavy by Relaxed Muscle (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sesame's Treat

These things (below) live or die by the accuracy of their editing. Luckily, this is a superlative example of the genre, and the lip-synching is totally on point. Enjoy. I did.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Oval Office

I haven't posted any mp3s for a while, so let's rectify that right now. How about some glitch-tastic sounds by Oval, those wacky Germans with a penchant for electronic noodling? From their 1998 album Dok on the peerless Thrill Jockey, this is Vitra Desk. For the full holistic experience you can stare at this pic of a Vitra desk, designed by the equally peerless Jasper Morrison.

Download Vitra Desk by Oval (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Brought to book

This is just so brilliant. As are the rest of this photostream on Flickr. Old album covers re-imagined as Pelican books. See more here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Rebellious jukebox

I'm late to the digital table, I know, but I've finally gotten around to using Spotify this week. And I'm amazed. My jaw is still on the floor. The digital dream that all those Wired journalists have been touting for a decade, where all music ever made is available on-demand at no cost at all times, is 75% here.

I say 75%, and that's my entirely unscientific estimate based on a few days searching of Spotify, but most of what I've looked for has been available to stream instantly, on demand. Some of what's available is exactly what you'd expect from an online music service. Lily Allen. Amy Winehouse. Sam Sparro. Some of it has been a surprise. Alan Vega's Just A Million Dreams for example. Max Richter's oeuvre. ESG's output. Especially surprising (and welcome) is that an artist's singles are often included alongside albums, so you can listen to B-sides, remixes etc.

Of course, there are some obvious refuseniks, for the time being at least: Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are conspicuous by their absence. And while all the major labels are on board, and a fair few indies (Ninja Tune, 4AD, Mute and Rough Trade, for example), you may be unsurprised to learn that there's no Nurse With Wound, for example. Or any Jandek. And the database anomalies that bedevil any online music service are present and correct, so that anyone wanting to listen to (NY noise merchants) Swans may instead end up with a charming doo-wop group of the same name. Finally, users of the free service have to endure compulsory ads.

But these are minor gripes. Of more pressing concern is the likelihood of artist being adequately recompensed for their work through the service. I can't say whether this will happen. But with the record industry currently looking down the barrel of a gun, services like Spotify offer a model that at least allows users to access music digitally and gives artists an outside chance of payment for their work. In the meantime, Spotify is a bonanza for music lovers and you need to download it now.

Space Doubt

Strange news on Tuesday this week, announced on 6Music at 7.30pm, just as I was doing the washing-up. Marc Riley announced that Tommy Scott of late 90s scallies Space had popped his clogs at the tender age of 37. A great shame, as, while they were never going to change pop history, they were a competent observational pop combo, a little bit like a Liverpudlian Madness.

Searching the internet a few hours later revealed little about Scott's death. I only found one news story (at Gigwise), and the link was broken. Hmmmm.

All was revealed the next day (April 1st, though I think this was merely a coincidence); the whole thing was a hoax, perpetrated by an anonymous prankster. Tommy, very much live and well, expresses his displeasure here, though quite why how he connects the hoax with Hillsborough isn't really clear to this correspondent. One other thing eludes me; why was he reported to be 37, when according to Space's official site he's actually 40?

Anyhoo, to celebrate Tommy's Lazarus-like resurrection, here's a little clip of Space in their pomp.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pop Will Eat Itself 2

And, as if to prove the point, in crash Keane.  Their new single sounds exactly like Ashes to Ashes in a blender at 56 rpm.  It's as if they'd taken the David Bowie original, chopped it into pieces, thrown the pieces in the air and then reassembled them.  I can almost imagine Tim Rice-Oxley (the guy with the none-more-rock 'n' roll name) grabbing Andre Previn by the lapels and grunting "I am playing the right notes....just not necessarily in the right order."

Pop Will Eat Itself

The return of Bat for Lashes has been greeted with hurrahs throughout the music and popular press, as well as on the radio- her new single Daniel has evoked Kate Bush, Kim Carnes, Stevie Nicks and a host of lesser talents.  However, no one (AFAIK) has mentioned the debt she owes to Donna Summer.  In a sure sign that we really have run out of tunes (there's only a finite number of notes, after all), the intro to Daniel (or at least the first six notes) is a direct steal from the intro to Donna's Hot Stuff. Compare and contrast above and below.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Zero de Conduite

Really loving the new single by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs .  Of note, though, is the fact that the fans are now making their own videos for singles (like the one above), while the groups themselves (or, rather, their labels) seemingly don't bother.  I can't decide whether this is a good thing (internet democracy and all that, innit...) or not (music industry in such a parlous state that even basic marketing is beyond them).  Discuss.

Concrete evidence

An early contender for headline of the year, and possibly the decade, from (bear with me) Concrete Quarterly, a freebie supplement that came with this week's Building Design magazine (it's a long story...).  It accompanies an article about the use of concrete in the work of Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza.  The headline?



Saturday, February 28, 2009

Skeletal Family

God, this is good too. Even heavy rotation on Radios One and Six hasn't diminished its considerable charms.

You Don't Know Jack

Where on earth did this come from? I'd placed Jack Penate squarely in the category of "charmless indie try-hard". Now with this fantastic, African-inflected slice of uptempo summery pop, I'm going to have to revise my opinion. Damn.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spatial Awareness

Mrs. Irk The Purists got a bit cross recently when she prevaricated for too long getting tickets for The Specials reunion shows, only to find they'd quickly sold out. I tried to cheer her up by pointing out that Jerry Dammers had declined to join them/been barred from appearing (depending upon who you believe). With their major song-writer and prime mover not joining them on stage, this purported reunion was a hollow sham, I ventured. Strangely enough, this didn't make her any happier.

It seems that for most people, The Specials were Terry Hall and A.N. Others. That's certainly the case in the comments in the YouTube vid below, some of which ask "who's singing here?" (answer: "only the person who put the group together and wrote most of their songs, you ignoramus"). But as long as Dammers isn't joining them then I, for one, won't be going to see The Specials gigs this year.

In any case, Jerry's going to be busy this year with the Spatial AKA Orchestra. But if he did want to get back out on the road and re-create the 2Tone days, as well as getting one over on his erstwhile colleagues, then the answer is staring him in the face (and I don't think anyone else has picked up on this yet). Surely, 2009 is the time for him to call up Stan Campbell, Rhoda Dakar, Dick Cuthell et al, and reform the Special AKA in direct competition with The Specials reunion. They could play Racist Friend, War Crimes, The Boiler and Free Nelson Mandela. They'd be playing in smaller venues, probably. But for my money, they'd be more authentic, simply by virtue of having Jerry Dammers. And I know which version of the group I'd rather see.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Touch of Crass

A small case of writer's block and a number of work deadlines have prevented me from putting finger to keyboard for...ooooh..six weeks now, but we'll brush over that. So then, Guns 'n' Roses and Crass, you ask? What's the connection? Very little, actually. But at the end of last year I read two autobiographies in quick succession, Slash's self-titled effort and Shibboleth: My Revolting Life by Crass drummer and mainstay Penny Rimbaud.

Actually, I say I read them in quick succession: in truth, I had to give up on Slash before I even got to the much-publicised excesses of his former group. It wasn't that it was turgid. Because it wasn't; it was efficiently-written, and even managed to convince me I was listening to Slash's authentic voice. It's just that it was a little... predictable. Even when consuming shed-loads of drugs or wrecking hotel rooms, Slash never offers any surprises, or tries any introspection or exposed any frailties or lapses in judgement. They say history is written by the victors. Well, it's certainly the case that Slash is auto-hagiography, a self-justification for his career.

That's not to say it was bad; I've certainly read worse. It's just that I had the misfortune to read it after Penny Rimbaud's biog, which was far more confessional, insightful and contemplative. It offered a few genuine shocks, too. Slash, for example, doesn't ever let on about consensual homosexual encounters in the showers at his school, unlike Rimbaud (this is territory yer average rock bio doesn't cover, though I'll bet Robbie Williams is just itching to get it off his chest...). Nor did Slash fess up to soiling himself while trying to chat up a groupie in his band's early days, though, again, Rimbaud delivers such a story, regardless of the light in which this places him. It's also an exercise in extending the form of the genre, incorporating essays, digressions on politics and, at one point, a disturbing and (presumably) fictional account of the stabbing of a john in a back alley.

They've been written out of much of rock history, though books like George Berger's Story of Crass are redressing the balance. While preaching anarchy, the Sex Pistols and others turned very conventional very quickly. Crass, on the other hand, walked it like they talked it. The group's ethos could have been summarised as "keeping it real", distributing pamphlets and vegetarian recipes along with their songs and remaining legendarily accessible and hospitable to their legion of fans. Unlike most of today's rappers, who profess this credo but surround themselves with sycophants and bling at the earliest opportunity, Crass refused at all turns to toe any sort of corporate line, and this philosophy has also found its way into Penny Rimbaud's writing. They've never reformed, and the likelihood of them doing so is about the same as that of Germaine Greer choosing The Monks' Nice Legs, Shame About The Face * as one of her Desert Island Discs. Rimbaud's autobiography is incredibly honest, entirely self-aware, and questioning in a way that most rock biogs never are. Perhaps this is why it's published by the anarchist AK Press rather than, say, Simon and Schuster or Omnibus. Perhaps, too, that's why I've never seen it pushed by Waterstones in the manner of Dawn French's or Alex James's biogs.

Of course, all of this ethical lifestyle and political posturing would count for little if the music wasn't up to snuff. In truth, some of the group's output is, as it was once memorably damned by Steve Sutherland of Melody Maker, "a series of shock slogans and mindless token tantrums". But when they were good they were very good. And the best stuff was where they ditched the bog-standard, conventional speed-punk (e.g. Do They Owe Us A Living, Gotcha) and used cut-ups, tape loops, samples etc. Rimbaud's work on Annie Anxiety's Soul Possession springs to mind (and it's supposedly being re-released this year, too). As does their astonishing early single Reality Asylum. 30 years on its visceral impact is undiminished, and if I ever compile a CD entitled Uneasy Listening, then Reality Asylum is a definite contender for the lead track. You can get it below.

Download Reality Asylum by Crass (mp3) (deleted Aug 2009)

See There Is No Authority But Yourself (documentary, 58 minutes) below

Buy Crass

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Metallic KO

Crass coming up soon, I promise. However, I couldn't let the week pass without acknowledging the death of Stooges' guitarist Ron Asheton on January 6th. His demise came too soon at the age of 60 (though he outlived bandmate Mike Alexander by some 33 years). You're possibly expecting a download of I Wanna Be Your Dog or something from Raw Power. Well, you're out of luck. Here, instead, is something from their 2003 Steve Albini-produced album The Wierdness.

Download I'm Fried by The Stooges (mp3)

Of course, it could have been worse for Ron. He could have ended up selling car insurance.