Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 - In Review (Part 2 - Reissues and More)

Part 1 of my 2014 Review covering LPs of the year can be found here.

Reissues of the year:

Morrissey - Your Arsenal (Parophone)

Vauxhall & I also got the reissue treatment but for me this was always the more exciting LP of the two. Moz with Boz and Alain Whyte and Mick Ronson behind the console and a batch of amazing tunes - the Remastering sounded fantastic. Unlike the other albums in Moz's reissue campaign Your Arsenal has been left alone from a tracklisting and song ordering point of view except for a different mix of the album's last track, Tomorrow.

 The The - Soul Mining (Sony Music)

I balked initially but eventually went for the LP boxset. I'm glad I did - this is how reissues should be done. There was even room in the box for the Record Store Day 12'' of DJ Food's reworking of Giant. Soul Mining is one of altime favourites and this pressing sounded unreal.

C86 - 3CD Boxset (Cherry Red Records)

This was a blast from start to finish and fantastic companion piece to Cherry Red's Scared to Be Happy Boxset. Worth it for the extensive booklet alone - basically an history of indiepop.

The Field - From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt)

Axel Willner's 2007 debut was finally released on vinyl by Kompakt. An amazing record remastered and pressed on double vinyl housed in a gatefold sleeve.

Live Album of the year:

The House of Love - Live at the Lexington 13.11.13 (Cherry Red Records)

Chadwick and Bickers blasting through a set culled mainly from the first two records but also highlighting some of the gems from last year's She Paints Words in Red. Jesus, I love this band! This came with a DVD - watching the camera zoom in on Bickers' guitar playing was one of my highlights of the year!!! Wow that sounds sad, I know!

Now would someone please get around to doing a boxset of the Fontana years. It's always the Creation years that people go on about. I would love a box of the three Fontana LPs + the B-Sides Comp. The last album of the band's original run, 1993's Audience With the Mind has to be without doubt one of the most under-rated albums of the 90s - tt is absolutely sublime but because of the band's backstory it always gets ignored and also because Bickers was gone by then they don't play any of it live.

Gigs of the year:

Sleaford Mods at Whelans
Clint Mansell at NCH
Peter Gabriel at The Point
The Jesus & Mary Chain - Vicar Street
Moderat - Vicar Street

Of the secondhand finds these were the highlights: 

 The Triffids - Wide Open Road 7''
DAF - Gold Und Liebe LP
David Ackles - American Gothic LP
Moby Grape '69 LP
XTC - Black Sea LP
Fiction Factory - Feels Like Heaven 7''

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 - In Review (Part 1 - Albums)

My round up of the year. Nothing out of ordinary here, in fact it's probably a little bit predictable really, but I kept it to LPs that I purchased rather than things I downloaded and therefore some of my favourite artists inevitably show up. I tried to keep it to 10 but failed - I just couldn't leave out the Röyksopp & Robyn mini-LP.

Röyksopp & Robyn - Do It Again (Dog Triumph)

A white vinyl mini LP but a sublime piece of work. This was better then the Röyksopp album and just made me want a new Robyn full length. This spent a lot of time on the turntable.

Allo Darlin' - We Come From the Same Place (Fortuna Pop!)

The third full length from Elizabeth Morris' indie popsters arrived on blue and white splattered vinyl. History Lessons was probably one of my most played tunes all year. I thought 2012's Europe was a really strong indiepop record but this album really, really impressed me - it's a huge leap forward in songwriting. The liner notes from Darren Hayman were also beautifully written.

Shellac - Dude Incredible (Touch & Go)

Shellac of North America - Albini, Trainer, Weston. Packaged in a chipboard album jacket with two high gloss, full-color monkeys on the front cover. The LP is an 180-gram audiophile quality pressing and includes a CD of the full album. LP comes in a printed inner sleeve. Yes!

Morrissey - World Peace is None of Your Business (Harvest)

Five years on from Years of Refusal, Moz was back with one of his strongest sets in years. The gatefold double vinyl was a beautiful package. His voice sounds better then ever and the album was packed with beautiful moments - Gustazo Manzur's Spanish guitar for one.

Walls/Oram - Sound Houses (Ecsatic)

Alessio Natalizia and Sam Willis got the chance to play around with Daphne Oram's tape archive, Sonic Boom mastered the end result which was pressed on clear vinyl. This is a great, great record.

Adrian Crowley - Some Blue Morning (Chemikal Underground)

He did it again. A beautiful gatefold pressing on heavy vinyl on Chemikal Underground - this just sounds amazing. A beautiful collection of songs.

Goat - Commune (Rocket Recordings)

The second LP from the masked Swedish experimental fusion group didn't disappoint. This was every bit as good as their World Music debut. The live album (Live Ballroom Ritual) they released this year was also brilliant. This edition of Commune came on beautiful red and black splattered vinyl and also included a free 7''.

Dum Dum Girls - Too True (Sub Pop)

Initially I wasn't too sure but by the time the needle hit Trouble Is My Name, I was hooked. This first edition on blue vinyl came with a signed poster of the album artwork signed by Dee Dee.

Future Islands - Singles (4AD)

Like the Dum Dum Girls LP, I was a little disappointed upon my initial listen. It really did reveal itself after repeated listens. A big step up for them.  Their gig in Dublin's Vicar Street was also a momentous event.

Marisa Nadler - July (Bella Union)

Bella Union picked up this Sacred Bones release for Europe and I'm so glad they did - this has probably spent more time on the turntable then any other LP all year. It might be called July but it's a dark, Wintery album. She has a huge back catalogue that I've yet to start exploring.

Eat Lights Become Lights - Into Forever (The Great Pop Supplement)

The fourth full length Kraut/electronic/synth mash-up from Neil Rudd, but definitely his most diverse and enjoyable release to date. This was pressed on a beautiful grey vinyl. 

That's it for albums, Part 2 will cover reissues and Part 3 will cover books.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Songs to Learn and Sing - Episode 521

Songs to Learn and Sing
Thursdays @ Midnight
103.2 Dublin City FM

Last night's show featured new music from Gruff Rhys, Owen Pallet, The Antlers and The Asteroid No. 4. We also featured a number of retrospectives Flying Saucer Attack, Neon Neon, Pizzacato Five and three tracks from the great Puressence.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Dora Suarez - Derek Raymond / James Johnston / Terry Edwards

 Dora Suarez (Clawfist 1993)

I came to this cassette in 1993 via my love of Londoners Gallon Drunk - I'm sure I'm not alone in being introduced to the writing of English crime novelist Derek Raymond via this treasure. Dora Suarez was released by Clawfist Records in 1993, the same year as Gallon Drunk's opus In the Heart of Town. Dora Suarez is a recording of Raymond reading extracts from his 1990 novel I Was Dora Suarez soundtracked by Gallon Drunk's James Johnston and Terry Edwards. Its possibly the most unsettling record I've ever heard.

Robin Cook was better known by his pen name, Derek Raymond and I Was Dora Suarez (1990) is the fourth novel in his Factory series. The Factory series are police procedurals narrated by an unnamed detective in London's Metropolitan Police who works in the most despised branch of "the Factory": the Department of Unexplained Deaths. 

I Was Dora Suarez is an extremely shocking read, as the novel opens a serial killer brutally murders a prostitute, Dora Suarez. We then follow the detective as he obsesses over the young woman whose murder he investigates. Raymond has been described as the father of British Noir but according to A. L. Kennedy, "he's far beyond noir. There probably isn't even a word for his kind of darkness." 

 Dora Saurez (Sartorial Records, 2008)

The soundtrack produced by Johnston (guitar, organ, piano, percussion) and Edwards (saxophone, organ, piano percussion) is full of "Haunting melodies, sound effects and menacing soundscapes which underpin Raymond’s unlikely Etonian accent."

Their industrial drones are dense, dark and incredibly eerie. The album clocks in at over an hour and is a really intense, claustrophobic listen - which is certainly not for the faint-hearted. The idea for the Dora Suarez project came from Geoff Cox. Cox was a collaborator of Nurse With Wound and Current '93 and brought Raymond and Gallon Drunk together. He also acted as editor with Raymond to pick which texts from the novel should be included in the recording. Raymond recorded his reading and Johnston and Edwards recorded their soundtrack to his voice. When the album was released in 1993 Raymond performed a sell out live reading with Johnston and Edwards in London's South Bank. Raymond died in 1994, he was 63.

Sartorial Records reissued Dora Saurez in 2008. I picked up the reissue simply because I didn't have a cassette player to play my original tape at the time. I'm glad I did though because it's a beautuful package with liner notes from Johnston, Edwards and English novelist Cathi Unsworth. Unsworth has previously written about how Raymond had influenced her writing. The reissue is still available from Sartorial here. An extract from the album can be heard below.

Gallon Drunk released their latest new album in March 2014 on Cloud Hills Records entitled The Soul of the Hour and the band have a free download of an amazing 25 minute live version of that album's closer The Speed of Fear available here. The album follows 2012's The Road gets Darker From Here and its business as usual from the band with another epic release. In 2012 James Johnston also released a solo album entitled Hassan Falls to His Death available on Trestle Records. The album can be purchased on Trestle's bandcamp page.

 Gallon Drunk - The Soul of the Hour (Cloud Hills, 2014)

  James Johnston - Hassan Falls to His Death (Trestle Records, 2012)

Monday, September 01, 2014

Songs to Learn and Sing - Episode 520

Songs To Learn And Sing
103.2 Dublin City FM
Thursdays @ Midnight

Last Thursday night's show featured a few new tracks: music from Laurie Shaw, James Yorkston, Polar Bear and next Stop Horizon as well as the usual retrospectives on some older albums.

This episode features a couple of tracks from Zoo Uncaged 1978-1990, a 1990 compilation of tracks released on Liverpool's iconic Zoo Records. I've written about Zoo Records before here. We also played a few tracks from Hope Sandoval & the Warm inventions debut album, 2001's Bavarian Fruit Bread.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

American Spring - American Spring (1972)

Episode 519 of the radio show featured three tracks from American Spring's 1972 self-titled album.

 American Spring - American Spring (United Artists, 1972, UK)

The band were known as Spring in the US but were American Spring in Europe (presumably due to the existence of English prog rock band Spring). American Spring were sisters Diane Rovell and Marilyn Wilson. Both women had earlier been members of girl group The Honeys along with their cousin Ginger Blake. Brian Wilson (Marilyn's then-husband) produced most of the band's songs as indeed he had with The Honeys.

American Spring is a must have for anyone with even a passing interest in The Beach Boys or Brian Wilson. The album features a number of Brian compositions and a fantastic version of Dennis Wilson's Forever.

My own copy of American Spring is the 1972 UK United Artists textured sleeve LP, but the album had different cover art in Germany and The Netherlands. The US release of the Sping album used gothic toned plaster casts of Diane and Marilyn's heads. All versions of this album command stupid money on the second hand market these days. See For Miles Records did release a compilation of Spring recordings in 1989 entitled Spring...Plus and a few tracks also appeared on Ace Records 2003 compilation Pet Projects - The Brian Wilson Productions.

 American Spring - American Spring (United Artists, 1972, Germany)

 American Spring - American Spring (United Artists, 1972, Netherlands)

Spring - Spring (United Artists, 1972, US) - Front Cover

Spring - Spring (United Artists, 1972, US) - Back Cover

 American Spring - Sping...Plus (See For Miles, 1989)

Pet Projects (Ace Records, 2003)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Songs to Learn and Sing - Episode 519

Songs To Learn And Sing
103.2 Dublin City FM
Thursdays @ Midnight

Last night's show features a few new tracks: music from Caribou, Actress and Goat as well the usual retrospectives on some older albums.  I also managed to get in the full 20 minute plus version of Tortoise's DJed and a couple of tracks from Martin Stephenson.

This episode features a couple of tracks from ABBC's 2001 album Tête À Tête. ABBC was a one-off collaboration between Calexico and the Amor Belhom Duo. The band's name is taken from the first letters of the four members' surnames: Amor, Belhom, Burns and Convertino. The French duo's Gallic flavour works brilliantly with the Calexico's Tuscon sound.

The show also features three tracks from American Spring's 1972 self-titled debut, but more on that great record can be read here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Songs to Learn and Sing - Episode 518

Songs To Learn And Sing
103.2 Dublin City FM
Thursdays @ Midnight

Last night's show features a few new tracks: music from Wildbirds & Peacedrums; The Icypoles and Boy & Bear, as well as retrospectives on some older albums that I've blogged about recently: Denim On Ice by Denim, The Prawn Lawn by The Shanks and Science of the Sea by Jürgen Müller

This episode also features a couple of tracks from Marianne Faithfull's 2008 album Easy Come Easy Go. The album was subtitled, 18 Songs For Music Lovers and was produced by Hal Willner and features contributuions from among others: Keith Richards, Antony Hegarty, Jarvis Cocker, Chan Marshall, Sean Lennon, Nick Cave and Rufus Wainwright. I played Marianne's versions of tracks by Neko Case, Espers, Morrissey and The Decemberists. Her interpretation of these songs is inspiring and it's a great record well worth ckecking out.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Shanks - Artwork and Flyers

Following on from the recent Fatima Mansions post about old ticket stubs, I've found some flyers for three different gigs by The Shanks. 

The Shanks were originally from Newmarket but based in Cork from the early 90s. After Tim Murphy - the original lead singer - left the band, singing duties were shared by guitarist Stan O'Sullivan and bassist Mick Hayes, the line up was completed by Niall Lynch on drums. Most of the band lived for years at "Idaville" a house around the corner from the Art College on Sharman Crawford Street and many a great night was spent there with the lads.

The band's first official release was a 7'' flexi released on their own Shanksalot label in 1994. This was followed in 1995 by the band's debut album - The Prawn Lawn.

The Shanks - 7'' Flexi feat. No T-Bag & Trickle Away (Shanksalot, 1994)

The Prawn Lawn was recorded in Connollys of Leap in West Cork with Paddy McNicholl of Connollys producing along with the band.  The album was released on Rescue Records and has the catalogue number RCD002. Rescue Records was an imprint of Connollys of Leap that Paddy ran and as far as I can remember the label's first release was a mini album by Galway-based band Big Bag of Sticks.

The Shanks - The Prawn Lawn (Rescue Records, 1995)

The Shanks were always an incredible live act and easily one of the best bands in Ireland in the early to mid 90s. I had the pleasure of travelling with the band on an Irish tour supporting The Sultans of Ping in December 1994. On our journey from Cork to Belfast for a gig at the Limelight, we  collected The Prawn Lawn CDs from the pressing plant in West Dublin - I can clearly remeber all of us being incredibly excited to see the finished product. On that tour every gig they played was fantastic, they were just totally at the top of their game.

 Niall, Mick and Stan of The Shanks

Two cassette EPs followed The Prawn Lawn and then after adding keyboards to the mix they released their second album Brang in 1999. Brang received great reviews including this memorable line from the NME: "Like their predecessors on the Cork pop scene, Microdisney and even The Frank And Walters, The Shanks somehow sound far removed from the prevailing winds of their pop contemporaries. At its most peculiar... The Shanks are like Gastr Del Sol with a Chieftains fixation, but even in their more lucid moments...they're still fairly deranged." 

The Shanks played their last gig upstairs in Fred Zepplins in Cork in late '99 or early 2000. They went out on a high playing to a packed room of fans and friends - it was a great night. The flyers below are from a few Cork gigs in the mid 90s. Both venues: DeBurcas and The Lobby are long gone also.

The great Fanning Sessions blog has a session by the band here. Below you'll find, In the Morning Thing, the standout track from The Prawn Lawn and Trickle, below it again, is taken from Brang.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Denim - Denim On Ice

Denim's second and final album Denim On Ice was released by Echo Records in 1996. The band's first album, 1992's Back In Denim gets amazing praise, Denim On Ice doesn't seem to get the same plaudits. This is a pity because for me, Denim On ice is the better album. 

For those who don't know or have long forgotten, Denim was the band formed by Lawrence after he had completed Felt's "ten albums, ten singles in ten years" mission. Denim mixed glam rock, synth and guitar with Lawrence's cutting satirical lyrics. Back In Denim was both rivival and critique of the 1970s music scene. Denim On Ice ploughed the same furrow as its predecessor but the sound also referenced early synth-pop acts such as Devo, Gary Numan and Ultravox - needless to say Jarvis Cocker was a huge fan and Denim supported Pulp on their 1996 UK tour. 

Denim - Denim On Ice (Echo Records, 1996)

Opening track The Great Pub Rock Revival took splendid aim at the Britpop era:

"And there's a headband over the ocean
A beermat over the sea
Everybody believes what they're told to
Everybody believes what they read in the NME"

The album's filled with classic Lawrence songs: Glue and Smack, The Supermodels, Job Centre and Council Houses are all fantastic vignettes offering an alternative history of late 20th Century Britain - at some other time these could all have been huge hits - but not in the summer of 1996 while the UK hosted the Euro '96 football tournament and the media was obsessing over 'Cool Britannia'.

Novelty Rock, a compilation, came next in 1997. Summer Smash was to be the next single. Luck was never on Lawrence's side and when Princess Diana died in August 1997, EMIDISC pulled Summer Smash from its release schedule. EMIDISC was a short-lived label set up in 1996 by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne with EMI UK as a sub-label for new talent. EMI felt the song title was in bad taste given the circumstances of Diana's death and withdrew the single. Some copies of Summer Smash did get distributed to Ireland, including my ltd. Yellow 7'' pictured below. It's a fantastic song that duly died a quick death. The third album Denim Take Over was shelved indefinitely and Lawrence moved on to his Go Kart Mozart project.   

A trailer for the Paul Kelly directed 2012 documentary about Lawrence, titled Lawrence of Belgravia is below and also do yourself a favour and listen to the Denim tracks further down.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jürgen Müller - Science of the Sea

 Jürgen Müller - Science of the Sea (Digitalis Recordings, 2011)

The backstory is almost unbelievable. According to Digitalis Recordings, "Jürgen Müller was a self-taught amateur musician who, while studying oceanic science at the University of Kiel, purchased some electronic instruments and set up a mobile studio on his house boat, docked along the town of Heikendorf, on the North Sea. Utilizing only a handful of barely-remembered childhood piano lessons, Jürgen set about creating his marine-influenced vignettes with some electronic instruments he had gathered through friends, as well as borrowing some new equipment from a local school’s music department. As a general music lover, earlier in the '70s he had taken note of several avant garde electronic composers who he felt simultaneously captured a purity of sound and sense of wonder that was lacking in other music. He dreamt of fusing this ideal with the synthetic recreations of nature. In a sense, one could say he stumbled onto an early “new age” aesthetic through pure ignorance and coincidence. As a result, it took several years for him to actually realize his sole full-length recording, Science of the Sea, the sessions for which began in late 1981, before finishing a year later. Less than 100 copies were pressed, and few of them were even sent out to potential clients. Most copies were eventually given to friends and family."  

30 years later Digitalis Recordings reissued Science of the Sea. Its experimental sounds, rooted in electronic krautrock or kosmische records from the 1970s, were lauded universally. I was totally intrigued by the reviews and dutifully picked up a copy - one of the Second Edition, limited to 500 copies on beautiful semi-opaque turquoise vinyl. I wasn't disappointed, Science of the Sea has been on regular rotation round my way since. It's a beautiful record and brings to mind the work of Roedelius or Philip Glass or Raymond Scott.

Indeed it turned out that the story was too good to be true and Jürgen Müller was actually Norm Chambers who records under the Panabrite moniker. Chambers told Robert Ham in a November 2013 article for Consequenes of Sound that, "The backstory kind of wrote itself. The idea of dragging synthesizers onto a houseboat is pretty hilarious, but also makes for a great concept." Chambers went on to explain to COS that he was initially going to release the recordings under the Panabrite name but, "noticed there was a particularly different sound than my usual work. There was something a little more refined, yet decidedly lo-fi about it." So he made up the story about Jürgen Müller a German composer who had pressed 100 copies of an album in a Private Press. 

It was a brilliant little hoax and brings to mind XTC's The Dukes of Stratosphear project from the mid 80s. Irregardless of the backstory though, Science of the Sea is a really stunningly beautiful record well worth checking out.