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March 2013

Kraut-faux: A Post Krautrock Playlist

Wednesday, 27 March 2013 Category : , , 0


While it may have been largely ignored at the time outside of West Germany itself - blame a mixture of conservatism, both musicial and political, and a dash of good old-fashioned xenophobia - during the 1970s, the loose movement of exciting, innovative and experimental rock and early electronic acts that would eventually be christened 'Krautrock' has now become enshrined as one of the most creatively fertile and inspiration musical scenes in pop and rock history. From the precision of Neu!, the jams and studio edits of Can and Faust, the sprawl of Amon Duul II and Werner Hezrog faves Popol Vuh to the pristine electronic ambiance of Tangerine Dream (oh yeah, and some band called Kraftwerk or something...), the future of music was mapped out in myriad different, exciting ways.

As such, it's unsurprising that the sounds first conjured during this era remain touchstones to this day, both for music fans and critics and for musicians themselves, who find with the records of the era a road map to whole new dimensions. In honour of the continuing influence of Krautrock and the many remarkable acts it has inspired, Endless Window presents a brief introductory mix into the sounds that came from future generations who, in their way, saught to carry the Krautrock flame. Be it the reverence of Stereolab, the propulsive beats of Factory Floor, the Kraut-pop of The Horrors, the otherworldly chaos of Boredoms or the unexpected tributes by Wilco and Charlotte Gainsbourg, this mix aims to shine a light onto the enormous wealth of music that honours and furthers the Krautrock spirit.

Tracklisting:

1) The Horrors - Mirror's Image
2) Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM
3) Mordant Music - Navigation Error
4) Boredoms - (two circles)
5) Zun Zun Egui - Cowboy
6) Mouse On Mars - Kowboy
7) Seefeel - Plainsong
8) Disco Inferno - Technicolour
9) Julian Cope - If You Loved Me At All
10) Warm Digits - Trans-Pennine Express
11) Tortoise - Five Too Many
12) Primal Scream - Autobahn 66
13) Factory Floor - Two Different Ways
14) Spectrum - (I Love You) To The Moon & Back
15) Suuns - Organ Blues
16) Moonshake - Tar Baby
17) The Fall - I Am Damo Suzuki
18) Broadcast - Small Song IV
19) Wilco - Spiders (Kidsmoke)
20) Stereolab - Harmonium

Playlist - Coffee Mornings #1

Category : , , 0

As the title of this article and the naff clip art above might inform you, here's an Endless Window playlist designed for the first cup of the day. It's relaxed, cool, urbane...and that's just the guy who made it. It's a diverse, entertaining playlist designed to wake you up and get you ready for another day that, at the very least, is at least slightly less irritating than Radio 1.

The Spotify link is  just below, as is the full tracklisting. If you like it, there may be more of these to follow...


Tracklisting:

1) Issac Hayes - Good Love
2) Gil Scott-Heron - I Think We'll Call It Morning
3) Rose Elinor Dougall - Come Away With Me
4) Amor De Dias - Late Mornings
5) Mulatu Astatke - Green Africa
6) Rufus Wainwright - The One You Love
7) Laura Nyro - Captain for Dark Mornings
8) Dizzy Gillespie - Mas Que Nada (Pow, Pow, Pow)
9) Tortoise - Six Pack
10) Frank Ocean - Sweet Life
11) British Sea Power - Observe The Skies
12) Tindersticks - Harmony Around My Table
13) Cannonball Adderley - Work Song
14) Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Honey Child What Can I Do?
15) Field Music - Measure
16) Yo La Tengo - Today Is The Day
17) Four Tet - Reversing
18) Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup

Where Are We Now? Album Roundup, January-March '13

Thursday, 21 March 2013 Category : , , , , , , , , , , , 0

In fitting with Endless Window's cutthroat capitalist program of expanded acquisition, external-faced capital thrusts and drive-by qualitative takeovers, please find enclosed our first list of recommended albums from the first quarter of Our Year of Hopelessness 2013. (Or, here's some albums you should check out, in no order other than alphabetical.)

Atoms For Peace - AMOK

 Even if it may have fallen slightly short of Thom Yorke's usual impossible standards, by any other measurement AMOK was a delight - an intelligent, expertly crafted slice of alternative dance that draws inspiration from across the board but assimilates it into a sound that could only have come from this man. At its finest, we had the first Radiohead related product one could actually throw on at a party and expect people to enjoy, an exuberant corrective to the hermetically sealed The King of Limbs.


Broadcast - Berberian Sound Studio OST

The loss of Trish Keenan is still one that hurts, three years after: one of British music's greatest voices and minds, taken from us far too soon. Whilst Broadcast are now effectively defunct, us fans got something new to savour in the form of their soundtrack to the brilliant horror movie tribute/examination Berberian Sound Studio, recorded before her death. Mixing themes from giallo cinema into their woozy electronica and furthering the cut-up collages of their collaboration with The Focus Group, Witch Cults of the Radio Age, it's an ideal match of sound and vision, and a very different addition to their canon.


David Bowie - The Next Day

2013 has already acquired something of a reputation as the year of the comeback: every old popper and rocker cashing in their chips in these end days of the music industry. No other comeback though can have been more surprising or more welcome than that of David Bowie: thankfully then, for his first album in a decade, David Bowie made sure it was worth the wait. The days of sonic innovation might be behind him, but as previously reported, it's a formidably strong set of material whose full-blooded lyrics and guitars and sense of urgency make it the closest he's come since to the pure art-rock vision of Scary Monsters. A total bloody delight.


Iceage - You're Nothing 

Iceage were already a thrilling proposition on New Brigade: on You're Nothing, they've just tightened up their sound even further. Their fast and furious take on punk tradition acts as an undeniable adrenaline rush, but beneath the manic buzz of each short song lies a sophisticated craft and knack for hooks that belies the band's youth. The sound itself might not be so pioneering, but the passion and the quality of what they produce vaultsa them far over today's punk morass. Genuinely one of the most exciting bands out there right now.

Key Track: Ecstasy

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

Having a normally acoustic act decide to upgrade things a bit with some synth work is hardly a new idea these days. Going from lush soft-rock singer-songwriter arrangements to hiring a respected house producer and pouring buzzing dance rhythms all over your new material is, however, a slightly less common route. Not just for pulling off this move, but for pulling it off with such style and ease, John Grant deserves a real round of appause - and as detailed before on here, Pale Green Ghosts is every bit as confessional, haunting and powerful as his previous work. A formidable achivement.

My Bloody Valentine - m b v

Well, any reader of this blog must have already known how overjoyed Endless Window was with this record. It's a delight to say though that even divorced of the record's tortured backstory, or the surprise and joy of its eventual release, m b v stands up as a truly remarkable album. No matter how many people have tried over the years, only My Bloody Valentine have ever really mastered these waters, and finally Kevin Shields and his band are back in action. There's subdued melodicism, quiet experimentation and crazed electronic noise: twenty-two years on, and My Bloody Valentine remain the sound of tomorrow.

Key Track: In Another Way

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away 

What do you do when you're a middle aged rock god, and you've already played the 'mid life crisis' card to full effect? Coming off the back of the raucous Grinderman project and the Bad Seeds' full throttle previous effort Dig! Lazarus Dig!, Nick Cave returned to the slower, more sombre sound last heard on Nocturama, but with studio constructions and arrangements that subverted the notion of the classic Nick Cave piano ballad. Reviewed previously on Endless Window, Push The Sky Away saw Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, fifteen albums in, still manage to cover new territory.

Key Track: Push The Sky Away
Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory - Elements Of Light

As far as unexpected collaborations, minimal house producer plus loads of loads of bells has got to be fairly high up on the list. But for his follow-up to 2010's breakout Black Noise, Hendrik Weber enlisted the assistance of The Bell Laboratory to lend his airy, fragile sound a new sonic depth. The resulting album Elements Of Light is a sublime combination of the organic and the digital, a forty-five minute work that draws on dancefloor moves and classic composition equally to powerful effect. A wonderfully idiosyncratic work.

Key Track: Particle

Suede - Bloodsports


When we last saw them on 2002's A New Morning, Suede were a beaten up wreck: the path of Dionysian excess that had fuelled their remarkable purple patchbetween 1992 and 1996 (three stunning studio albums, an astonishing weight of brilliant singles and B-sides, and a live act renowned for its force) had led them first into crack-driven insanity on 1999's seriously patchy Head Music, and then into utter tedium when they finally sobered up. On their comeback album Bloodsports however, the new older and wiser band manage to recover their previous decadent spirit without actually having to do the decadence itself: from arena-ready opener Barriers, fierce rockers like Snowblind and Hit Me through to glorious, bleak ballads like Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away and Always, it's a delightful distillation of their unique (now non-chemical) chemistry.

Key Track: Snowblind
Yo La Tengo - Fade

When you've been going as long as Yo La Tengo out, and been as consistently rewarding as they have been, it's easy to get overlooked in the hype and frenzy that surrounds newer acts, even when you're releasing material at the very least bit their equal in quality. Fade, however, has received far more attention than any of their records have since 2001's subdued classic And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out - this perhaps being for the simple reason it's the best album they've put out since then. Recruiting post-rock icon John McEntire on production duties and keeping things to an unusually trim ten songs, Fade's sweeping melodicism and subtly expansive scope prove why we can't let a band this great be taken for granted. 

Key Track: Stupid Things

Interview - Agerskow

Tuesday, 19 March 2013 Category : , , , , , , , , 0

I recently interviewed Agerskow - or, to those who know her, Kate Edwards - for NARC Magazine to promote the release of her debut single This Train Terminates/Fast Hands (available over on Bandcamp) and her launch night at Morden Tower on 16th March. The gig's been and gone but the single is still out, so why not have the full transcript to peruse, eh?


The debut Agerskow single, This Train Terminates/Fast Hands, is out in March. Can you tell us a bit about the songs, how they came to be, and why you chose these two for the first release?

The song This Train Terminates was actually written in Hull train station a few years ago. My parents live near Hull and I was heading home from Newcastle one night on the train, but it was delayed due to snow and then my connection to Beverley was also delayed. Hull just seems to be a pain to get to – it’s stuck in a backwater and people only really tend to go there if they live there or if they’re getting the ferry to Europe! I love the city though, it’s full of nice people and has a great music scene, it just gets a lot of bad press. The song is trying to express that feeling of being stuck somewhere, even though you love the place, you can’t help but feel the need to get out. I guess in this way it could be about anywhere, not just Hull.

I’ve had Fast Hands kicking around for a while now but never played it live when Agerskow were a five-piece band. To be honest, I wrote the song over a period of about seven months, completely different to This Train Terminates which only took a few hours! I just kept changing the lyrics and melody each time I sat down to work on it, and the guitar part gradually morphed into what it is at the moment. The song is about the awkwardness that can sometimes arise at the physical start of a new relationship, when there’s that elephant in the room of a sexual past, and neither person wants to disclose much (maybe due to a lack of one).

I chose these songs for the release because This Train Terminates is upbeat and poppy and I’ve known for ages that I’d like to release it as a single, but at the same time, I realised that Fast Hands is one of my favourite songs that I’ve written so far, and although it’s stylistically different I wanted to showcase that – I find myself writing all sorts of types of songs, and on different instruments too, so they’re not all going to be the same style or genre, although hopefully they have features that are unifying enough to tell that it’s an Agerskow song.

At what point did Cottage Industries become involved with the release?

Shaun Goldsworthy sent me an email a while back saying he’d listened to the demo EP Songs, and would like to work on something. It came out of the blue, but I’d been thinking of releasing a single for a while so it seemed like good timing! 


 You've played with several line-ups, but at the moment Agerskow is a trio with Narbi Price & John Egdell as the backing section. How did this line-up come about, and is there anything else you want to bring to the live sound?

I was playing with Miriam Bennett as cellist for a while, and that was really fun. The current lineup came about partly because Miriam is a medical student and felt that she didn’t have enough time for the band, and partly because I felt that some sort of rhythmic backing to my acoustic guitar would be beneficial to the songs. I met Narbi at John’s housewarming party, and I remembered that I’d seen him play drums for Nev Clay at the Newcastle Arts Centre, and thought I’d ask him if he was interested. He agreed, and it seemed only natural that John should be the first choice for bass after that. I’m really happy with what they bring to the sound of the band – your own description of ‘alt-folk power trio’ is pretty much spot on in terms of our aim actually! The aim was for it to be a midpoint between me on solo acoustic and having that full band sound – it doesn’t detract from how I perform the songs on my own, but it gives them a bit more of a backbone.

The single launch is planned for Morden Tower - what have you got lined up for the night?

Hopefully it will be a lovely, relaxed evening! I have four or five new songs that will be getting their debut on the night – this is the longest set I’ll ever have played. It’ll be a mix of full band songs and me perfoming individually. I’m really happy with the supports I’ve chosen too (can’t announce just yet as I need one person to get back to me), one is Morris Ford, I’m a great admirer of his songs and his attitude and I’m really happy he’s agreed to play.

One thing I've noticed is the quietness and softness of your sound compared to many other local singer-songwriters in the region (thinking of you busking at Split here...). Was this ever a concious decision?

I just tend to write songs that I’m happy with, volume isn’t particularly important. It’s nice to have a powerful and loud voice as it might come over better in a packed venue, but I’ve never really wanted to push my voice into territories it’s not comfortable with. Also, the more I play and get better at the guitar, the more I want to fingerpick and create interesting, fully developed guitar parts rather than strumming chords. Hopefully the band kicks some of the quieter songs into action a bit more though!

You've played with some great line-ups already: a show in Hull backed by the Hull Philiharmonic Orchestera, supporting Richard Dawson recently. What have been your best experiences to date, and what aims have you got for the future?

Playing the concert with the orchestra was incredible. I just got an email one day from the organiser, a guy called Richard (check out his band Lymes – they're mint!) saying that he liked the songs, and him and our mutual friend Rory were putting this gig on with an orchestra. I didn’t think it would happen at first, but then I got asked to score out my music for strings and the next thing I knew the conductor of the orchestra was on the phone saying that he thought there should be flutes and piccolos and brass on there and could he write the parts in? I just said yes, get everything on there, make it sound huge! It was an amazing evening, it completely sold out, there were over three hundred poeple there. I’d love to play again with an orchestra, in fact my ultimate aim would probably be to do an orchestral album and write all the parts myself – that would be incredible.

What other plans are in the pipeline for Agerskow following the single and Morden Tower?

The single release was delayed a bit, it should have been out last year. Since then I’ve just kept writing songs, and now I want to just record and release music as regularly as I can. I’ve already booked a producer to start work on an EP in July, and (fingers crossed) that will be out in September. There are a few cool gigs coming up too - I just want to play as many shows as possible, work hard, and hopefully more people will start listening to the songs and liking them, and that’s all I can ask for really!

Live Report - My Bloody Valentine

Tuesday, 12 March 2013 Category : , , , , , 0

 
There's not many bands where people might walk out after the gig's ended, compaining that they can still hear, right? 

Well, this is where My Bloody Valentine stand in 2013. With their lengthy absence having meant that their still overdriven but more dreamy studio output was the only side of the story any new listeners past 1992 had been given, the band's comeback tour in 2008/9 became infamous for its sonic barrage. Stories abounded of the health-and-safety mandated earplugs given out at each concert, of people leaving their concerts of the health-and-safety mandated earplugs given out awith bleeding ears and noses, of the titanic wall of noise in You Made Me Realise that closed their sets, an exercise in sensory overload that sometimes lasted up to half an hour: it wasn't dubbed 'the holocaust' by the fans for nothing. From the arms of bedsit lovers, My Bloody Valentine became a byword for mind-crushing volume and aural excess.

But this is now 2013. The Loveless era which started in 1991 is finally over, with (really, really) long-awaited third album m b v arriving earlier this year (which, it turned out, was actually worth the wait). Instead of a Pixies-style endless cash-in, they now return to the live arena to further their legacy rather than exhume it. So how has this new lease of life affected the band?

In all honesty, the live set remains largely familiar to anyone who caught their reunion tour. Material from Loveless and the You Made Me Realise EP dominates (alongside three tracks from Isn't Anything and the superb Honey Power from the Tremelo EP, a welcome addition to the set), and while the visuals running throughout the show might have changed to a more overtly psychedelic aesthetic, the overall style of presentation remains identical. The shock of the new may be lacking, but then again, the astonishing sonic roar of Soon's seemingly endless glide, the genuine how-the-hell-does-he-get-his-guitar-to-do-that showcase To Here Knows When or the demented rock of You Never Should remains utterly transcendent, and the muscle of the full four-piece band adds significant force and muscle compared to the more layered, intricate puzzles of the My Bloody Valentine studio sound.


What changes there were though were still mightly impressive. Perhaps aware of their reputation for unforgiving volume, the sound this time round was largely slightly quieter - still loud enough to get that physicial force unique to their concerts, but certainly less intimidating and punishing. You Made Me Realise, always the most intense part of the show, has undergone a pruning too, slimmed down to a still formidable ten minutes. It still makes for a gig experience unlike any other, its visceral presence riding a knife-edge balance between pleasure and terror that makes for an almightly endorphin rush, but instead of the peaks and throughs of ecstasy and agony of 2008's extended run-throughs, this time the band compress the experience down. After the onslaught of their previous tour, maybe the band considered that the point had already been made.

More signifiantly, there is - finally! - new material in the My Bloody Valentine songbook. Both dispatched fairly early on, two of the most upbeat tracks from m b v get an airing: New You's pop bounce showcases the band's jackhammer rhythm section of Debbie Goodge and Colm O'Ciosoig, while Only Tomorrow is a definite set-highlight, the combination of Billinda Butcher's sweet vocals and some of Kevin Shields's greatest guitar work to date making for an intoxicating high. 

The stand-out though is their new set closer (and surprise inclusion) Wonder 2. Appearing after previous set-closer You Made Me Realise has stunned the audience, Wonder 2 live carries on the tidal wave of noise, as a crazed drum'n'bass beat cascades around the room and all four members pick up six strings to weave the intricate web of Fripp guitars that leads the piece into the light. For one of the most pioneering guitar bands of all time, it's a fitting and downright beautfiul sight to have all four of them ending the show in a line, continuing to pilot the instrument to new lands. It's a brave but astonishing move, one that ends the show on a note of forward momentum and experimentation fit for a band that, for the first time in two decades, is fully active once more. From holocaust to post-holocaust, it gives their set a new momentum and optimism that leaves all in a state of stunned, almost zen awe.

There were a few minor quibbles on the night, such as a few sound issues at the start of night which, bizzarely, left Kevin Shields's guitar as the quietest thing in the mix (which is missing the whole point of the band, surely?) and a slight dissapointment that some of the new record's strongest moments - Who Sees You and In Another Way in particular - had been passed over for yet another run-through twenty-five year old material like Thorn. But there were enough moments of genuine sonic bliss, enough times when the barrage of sound lifted the room into another mental state, to render these only very minor complaints. If you have any chance to see My Bloody Valentine live this year, make sure you take it - they're alive, they're moving forward and they shame absolutely every other guitar act out there. And you might be able to hear the next day this time round.

Live Report - Acrobatic Society, 'Kick Me, I'm Down' launch party

Saturday, 9 March 2013 Category : , , , , , , , , 0

  Having already told you all about how fantastic their new EP is, Acrobatic Society's launch party for their just-released Kick Me, I'm Down was always set to be a big night on the Newcastle music calendar. With a great support roster as well - new band Yellow Creatures, scene stalwarts O'Messy Life and Fawn Spots from York - and an inspired choice of venue in rarely used (for music anyway) art space The NewBridge Project though, it was downright unmissable. So what went down? Well, that's what this piece is here to tell you folks...

Opening up the night, Yellow Creatures put on an impressive set by any standards, let alone for a band only on their second gig (and with a substitute bassist as well). Full of Chairs Missing textures and jerky twists and turns, their tense and cinematic sound finds its own spin on post-punk revivalism by injecting a slice of pre-punk pub rock guitar action into the formula. As such, their songs ride twisted blues riffs that get bent out of shape by odd time signatures and sudden shifts, like the way Numb suddenly explodes from its menacing riff into a technicolour synth coda. It's early days yet, but there's plenty to enjoy and plenty to admire in a commanding performance like this.

Next up are the ever-reliable, every-bloody-brilliant O'Messy Life. Having honed their pop-prog-punk chops over several years, they're now a constantly energetic and delightful live act that's one of the finest in the region. With their penchant for giddy Weezer riffs and bleak lyricism (how many other bands manage two singles on the trot concerning group suicide, let alone make them sound as fists-in-the-air joyful as Escape Velocity and Little Vehicles?), they're always a treat and needless to say they don't let the side down. As the last gig with current guitar/keys player Tom Bagnall, there's a slightly bittersweet feel as they roll into the concluding ballad, but the rock thrills keep coming regardless.

Injecting some straight up punk into the proceedings are York's Fawn Spots, a trio who know how to keep it fast and loose in just the right way. Singles like Spansish Glass and Gravelines boast a subtle line in scruffy but tuneful songwriting beneath all the fuzz and noise, and there's definetely moments in their set where the collision of sandblasted power chords and classic melody nods towards Husker Du and the other SST greats. At times though, the speed and the thrasing lets the songs blur into one and end up too similar to each other. There's some great fun going on with them, but they could do with knowing when to thrown a curveball into the mix.

At last, the inevitably over-running gig lurches towards its climax when headliners Acrobatic Society make the stage. While here to celebrate their latest release, they kick off the night with two stand-outs from their previous Meat Meets Meat EP, both of them sounding considerably more ferocious and powerful than their under-produced recorded form: Rot especially is a brilliant howl of protest against the age of austerity in live form. It's when they launch into the Kick Me, I'm Down material that they really take flight though: Deek It is a storming roll of sniping violins and insistent, pulsating rhythm, and Surgical sounds downright unstoppable. Hell, the whole band sound like they're down-right unstoppable...until some over-zealous council regulations force them to leave the stage only part-way through concluding track Death Industry. It's an anti-climactic end to a superb display of intelligent, brute force, but Acrobatic Society still deserve to be proud of putting out a great EP, arranging a brilliantly put-together night and pulling off yet another devestating gig.

John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

Thursday, 7 March 2013 Category : , , , , , , 0

 
If nothing else, John Grant must be an absolute piece of piss to write a press release though. One critically acclaimed but commerically shunned band in the nineties? Check. Struggles with his sexuality? Check. Addictions to alcohol and heroin? Check. Depression? Check. Christ, you barely even have to listen to the thing and you've got your story.

Thing is, while biography/press-release driven churnalism might be one of the great plagues of current music writing, John Grant is one of those artists whose work is impossible to seperate from the man behind it. After several great but ignored albums as the leader of The Czars, John Grant quit music in defeat, attempting to sort out his spectacularly messy private life, only lured back into the fol when Midlake offered their studio and their services as a backing band to help him record what would become his first solo album, 2010's masterful Queen of Denmark.

Combining beautiful, 70s inspired singer-songwriter melody, some cathartic, blood-letting lyricism sweetened with a dark, masochistic wit and John Grant's warm, wisened vocals, Queen of Denmark became a deserved word-of-mouth success which saw John Grant finally gaining the acclaim he richly deserved. So if your whole career is based on misery, what do you do when things start going your way?

Fortunately for his songwriting (if not his personal life), there's been plenty of tumult alongside the success. Not to get too bogged down in recent developments - besides, this recent interview with The Guardian lays it all out just fine - but if nothing else, there wasn't much risk of a lack of inspiration going into the second album. This isn't to say that Pale Green Ghosts is just Queen of Denmark II though: musically and lyrically, it builds on the former whilst also edging out new ground and taking his songwriting to further extremes of black comedy and heartbreak.


From the tense, nervous title track onwards, one thing is clear: this time round, synths are in. While there had been one or two dips into this water on the previous record like the scathing, anti-homophobe anthem JC Hates Faggots, the presence of Birgir Þórarinsson on the record pushes Grant's grandiose ballads far further into synth-pop territory than might have ever been expected. It might be an adjustment for anyone who delighted in the soft-rock sheen that was previously John Grant's stock in trade, it's a development that allows Grant to find new spaces to explore in his songwriting. 

Black Belt makes the most of Grant's gift for the perfect sarcastic turn of phrase with its four to the floor beat and house bass line, the astonishingly honest Ernest Borgenine uses vocoder as just one of its tools of self-examination, and Sensitive New Age Guy ends up borderline LCD Soundsystem in its dancefloor ready pulse and scathing hipster strip-down. It's not all hi-NRG though: album centerpiece Why Don't You Love Me crafts a soundscape that's equal parts Yazoo and Cluster to bring out the torment and coldness in Grant's tale of heartbreak, while backing vocalist Sinead O'Connor (who, with her defiant public image and own struggles with mental health, makes for a suitable guardian angel over this broken but unbowed album) pushes her voice into a ferocious, goosebump inducing higher register. It's a superb and brave track that brings together what we already love about John Grant but placing it in a whole new context.

There's still traces of his more typical piano-driven beauty littered across the record though. GMF's lightly strummed guitars and soft-focus organ sound would slip into Queen of Denmark's mid section just nicely (even if the snark factor is dialled way up to ten here), and It Doesn't Matter To Him rides on pretty guitar arpeggios until a Pink Floyd-esque synth line turns up to ride the song into a dramatic coda. Even then though, the ghostly presence of O'Connor and the more scathing lyrical tone that runs across the record keep up the musical progression of Pale Green Ghosts.

The album's finest flourish proves to be its final one however. Glacier is a powerful anthem for gay teenagers who, as Grant had, found themselves abused and unallowed to express themselves. Over dramatic strings, Grant delivers the album's most straight-forward lyrics, sympathising with the mistreated while promising them a better future to come - "Don't become paralysed by fear", he pleads, a direct emotional address new to Grant's songwriting. As the music winds itself into a soaring cresendo, Glacier emerges as a strident new note for this artist, a perfectly measured and delivered song of survival.

As a whole, Pale Green Ghosts is (impressively, almost) a darker, angrier album than its predecessor, Grant's inner demons and self-loathing expressed with greater lyrical ferocity and a new electronic sound palette. While it may not be as immediate as Queen of Denmark, repeated listens reveal an album every bit as immaculately crafted and powerful - and, almost in spite of itself, one that still offers a candle of hope to the troubled and the lost.

Live Report - Clinic

Tuesday, 5 March 2013 Category : , , , , , 2

 Always the different, always the same was the late John Peel's much-parroted description of The Fall, but it's a nice way to approach the career of cult heroes Clinic as well. Now onto their seventh album, they've managed to embrace noisy psychedelia (Visitations), chilly modernism (Walking With Thee), acoustic delights (Bubblegum) and krautrock drone (their recent Free Reign) whilst still keep true to their short, sharp, surrealist garage rock agenda. 

Back at The Cluny for the first time in thirteen years to promote Free Reign and its just-released alternate mix sibling album Free Reign II, the fourpiece emerge resplendant as ever in surgical masks and scrubs - a costume that's both a handy trademark and a way of presenting a tidy, egalitarian front - to conjure up the drones and and rumbling menace of set opener I Ching, a non-album track that provides a suitably off-beat introduction to the night.

Free Reign material, unsurprisingly, takes up a fair portion of the set-list, but thankfully the retro drum machines and beaten-up keyboard refrains of the album translate superbly to the stage. Lead single Miss You is thrown out early on, and gains an energy live that far exceeds the comparatively sluggish studio take. King Kong rocks out far harder than any bongo-propelled piece really has any right to, Seesaw's glorious repetition makes for one of the evening's most thrillingly intense moments and Seamless Boogie Woogies BBC2 10pm (rpt) manages the remarkable task of actually living up to that brilliant title.

Elsewhere though, the setlist tilts towards their more abrasive, chaotic side. Frantic punk track Tusk is blitzed through with dazed abandon (and gets one of the best crowd receptions of the night), while even their more sedate previous album Bubblegum is represented only by its two most guitar-driven tracks, Lion Tamer and Orangutan. Although on paper this could have resulted in a slightly one-paced feel - this is a band after all that usually manages to get through a whole variety of moods and styles during their short and sweet records - the power of their rhythm section, never flashy but always forceful, and the remarkable quality control they've maintained over their career just makes it a case of one thriller after another. That said though: would it really have killed them to have at least played something from Winchester Cathedral or Do It?


As the set hurtles towards its conclusion with a blitz of earlier crowd-favourites - Internal Wrangler stunner The Return of Evil Bill, early single Cement Mixer and a manic, sped-up run through of the organ driven 2/4 - it's hard not to lament slightly how a band as singular and as constantly on-form as Clinic never made the big-time earmarked for them earlier in their career. Yet as they shun requests for almost-hits Distortions and The Second Line before delivering Walking With Thee's career-best title track, it's also equally evident that the life of the underground heroes suits Clinic just fine. Smashing together early rock 'n' roll at its most primitive, psychedelia at its darkest and a whole other suite of sounds with instrument-swapping panache, this is a band so steeped in countercultural lore (it's no surprise that they count The Residents as their spiritual icons) that you wonder if the thought of going over the trench ever even occured to them. 

Instead, here they are, a decade and a half later, with an accomplished, still-growing discography and a live show whose energy could put any new hype act to utter shame, walking in the footsteps of their forefathers whilst carving out their own unique sonic footprints. They're a band made for venues like The Cluny, made for the record collectors, the geeks and the freaks. Hell, they're just four of us - only for seventy minutes at a time, they dress up, get up on stage and blow some watching minds.

Setlist:

I Ching
Children of Kellogg
Miss You
Tusk
King Kong
I.P.C. Sub-Editors Dictate Our Youth
Lion Tamer
Porno
Seamless Boogie Woogie BBC 10pm (rpt)
Orangutan
Seesaw
You
The Return of Evil Bill
2/4

Encore:
Walking With Thee
T.K.
Cement Mixer

Interview - John 'Drumbo' French of The Magic Band

Monday, 4 March 2013 Category : , , , , , , 0

For NARC #82, available this March across the north-east of England, I got the chance to e-mail some questions over to a genuine musical innovator, John 'Drumbo' French of The Magic Band. As the drummer and arranger on the 1969 classic Trout Mask Replica, he helped to bring Captain Beefheart's remarkable, vivid musical vision to life - a form of modernist blues that rendered anything else in the idiom irrelevant overnight. Due to the issues of magazine space, this piece had to be edited down, but as a treat for you all I've got the full Q&A for your reading pleasure below. Make sure to catch The Magic Band on their current UK tour (which hits Cluny 2 in Newcastle on Monday 11th March) as well!




You must have been asked this question before, but for our readers, how did you first come to meet Captain Beefheart and join The Magic Band?

Oh, yes, many times, but it is an important question. My father worked with Doug Moon, one of the original guitarists. He heard that I was a drummer and tried to get me to go to jam sessions when I was fifteen and didn’t have a decent set. I wouldn’t go because my drums were so old and beat up.  Later, after I was given a new set by my father, Doug called me out of the blue and said that the drummer in his new group, “Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band” needed to borrow a foot pedal, and if he could borrow mine, I could go to the rehearsal. That’s how I got my foot in the door, pardon the pun.

As both drummer and transcriber on 'Trout Mask Replica', you had a large responsibility in pushing the band towards that record’s sound.  How did you manage to fulfill this?

I had my twentieth birthday during the birth of Trout Mask Replica. Though I was young, the only way I could see in getting this done was to be very consistent – something I had never really been up to this point with the exception of practicing drums religiously. However, I was fascinated with written music, which helped, and Frank Zappa was involved, who was also mastering music notation, so I was very inspired and motivated. The most important key aspect of this album for me was that I decided on a system of processing Don’s creative bursts and stuck with it all the way through. It took nearly nine months – the gestation period for TMR was nine months!

There’s many stories and legends of Don Van Vliet’s obsessive hold over the music and the band, and of his temperament. Does the public perception of the Captain seem fair to you?

The public’s perception of Don was based of reading, for years, his exaggerated claims.  Actually, I consider the whole thing a great lesson in PR. There’s no doubt that Van Vliet was very gifted, but the credit he took for things that he had little or no involvement in was completely accepted by a large majority of his fan base. It taught me to take everything I read with a grain of salt, to test the waters, and to remain a bit skeptical. Politicians are masters of deceiving the public. How else could they give themselves pay raises and simultaneously ruin the economy while somehow leading the flocks into re-electing them?

With the distance of time, what is your relationship with 'Trout Mask Replica' now?

Pretty much the same as it was then. It is a very unique piece of work, but it was much more of a team effort than the public was ever led to believe.  I think the thing that stands out in my memory the most is how hard everyone in the band worked to bring this work to fruition and what an extreme hardship it was on us all. I’ve been told more than once by medical professionals that we probably all suffered PTSD as a cause of this experience. Of course, Viet Nam vets had it much worse, so I count myself lucky. 

The one thing that time allowed me was the opportunity, in the late seventies, to actually hear the album with fresh ears.  I couldn’t actually hear it before that, as the music (a very strong associative medium) always recalled the misery and trauma.  Ignoring the demons didn’t make them go away.  Viewing them from a different perspective helped me to face them.  I was very dysfunctional for years, and now I’m better. It’s always better to face the enemy head-on than retreat. 

You also returned to the band to play guitar on 'Doc at the Radar Station'. What was that experience like?

At this point, I was no longer intimidated by Don, and he appreciated the fact that I was blunt and honest with him.  The younger players were all, in varying degrees, “yes men.”  I saw my younger self in them.  Don used to say to me, “Man, I am SO GLAD you are here.”  I think he needed people who were “their own man” to help him keep his perspective.  Still, he loved the power and abused it regularly with all these younger guys, and eventually tried to do that with me once again, but I refused to fall into the lock step and left.  My mission there was mostly to tell Don what I had learned about my former relationship with him.  The album was secondary, in my mind, to my real purpose in being around him.  



What was the initial spark for the revival of The Magic Band?

Elaine Shepherd, the BBC producer of 'The Artist Formerly Known as Captain Beefheart' (a documentary narrated by John Peel) encouraged me to re-visit the music and consider playing it.  I was a stay-at-home Dad at the time, and my esteem was bottomed-out.  She made me see that what I had accomplished was no small feat and ignited within me the desire to claim my legacy.  I will be eternally grateful to her for that.  Her role was quite philanthropic, as she never gained anything for her work.   Through her, word spread and we found our first investor, who eventually lost interest, but the flame had ignited and soon there was interest from All Tomorrow’s Parties founder Barry Hogan.  He was the key player in figuring out the logistics of us getting together to rehearse, and generously funded the rehearsal album Back to the Front – bringing the players together from Georgia, New York, South Carolina, and Los Angeles in a studio in the high desert where the band had originated.

When the Magic Band was first revived, how did you all decide on the membership of the band and what tracks to play – were there certain pieces certain players were especially keen to bring back?

My original vision was to bring the Trout Mask lineup together, sans Don, playing instrumental versions. These were my chums, the guys I grew up with.  I knew the later players (mainly Tepper and Feldman) would not be interested, as they were still in close communication with Don, and this would upset him. Jeff (Antennae Jimmy Semens) Cotton was the first to say no. He actually told me that he “didn’t care for the music” – which I found odd -- as during the time we were rehearsing TMR, he was the most enthusiastic and supportive of us all. Was he pretending? Denny Walley was my choice to replace Jeff, as he is a great slide player and we had kept in touch through the years. 

Bill (Zoot Horn Rollo) Harkleroad was in at first, but when the original promoter/investor couldn’t hold to the bargain, Bill immediately left and when Bill makes up his mind, NO ONE can change it.   I replaced him with Gary Lucas - reluctantly, I might add - as I didn’t know Gary personally, but felt from his public image that he was more supportive perpetuating the myth that Don had fabricated, while I was more interested in being myself and honest in my public views.  Gary’s relationship with Don had been long-distance for the most part, and I felt like a large part of him still was a fan-boy. 

The very reason I wanted the Trout Mask lineup was because we had bonded and reached an understanding through our experience that Lucas was completely clueless about, because he had not had that intense experience of the TMR era.  Although I do consider Lucas an outstanding player, I also think that he has exaggerated his role in the Beefheart experience publicly in much the same way Don made wild claims.  I wish him the best, however, and I think he’s done a great job of promoting himself.  He’s got a LOT of business savvy.

Is there any particular piece that you look forward to playing the most?

Steal Softly Through Snow, without a doubt. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and the lyrics are incredibly sensitive and reveal the very thing I loved about Don. It kept me keen to help him with his art in spite of his abuse. I only wish I could play it twice in the performances, as I love playing drums on it equally with singing it.   

You’ve continued to release new material carrying on the Magic Band sound, such as the City of Refuge album. How challenging was it to try and compose new material faithful to The Magic Band’s legacy?

City of Refuge was kindly funded by Malcolm Mills of Proper Records, and I was given a comfortable budget to record it. The material was not really so much designed to be what it was, as strongly inspired by my recent Magic Band activity.  It was trashed by Steve Froy in his review on beefheart.com as not being up to par with Beefheart’s albums, and I think that played a large role in its lack of success. My hope that it would help us find a decent agent/manager who would be able to promote us as having our own new material, therefore taking us out of the category of Tribute Band. John Peel, actually, did more to help us out of that by inviting us to do a live radio broadcast on his show in July of 2004. That was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I wept bitterly a few months later when I received word of his death. I had thought we would have time to catch up.  Little did I know…

Are there any plans for more Drumbo material?


Yes, I found a private investor, Charles Platt, a British writer who lives in Arizona. I’ve been slowly plugging away at finishing this. Eight tracks are done and the others are written. It will definitely be my last attempt at such a project, however, unless it actually opens some doors. I poured my soul into City of Refuge and it did quite well in almost all reviews save the most important one. It really broke my heart that it did so poorly in sales. If the fan base doesn’t support it, then there is no use in pursuing future endeavors. I did have a lot of fun writing this material, and Eric Klerks (now in the Magic Band) is also involved in the project. Eric is also a bassist, and does fantastic Rockette Morton-style bass style – finger picks and all. 
  

When the current Magic Band tour reaches Newcastle in March, what can the audience expect? 

The Best Batch Yet.

'The Next Day' - the day after

Saturday, 2 March 2013 Category : , , , 0

 Hang on, that doesn't seem right, let's try again...
 ...ahh, that's better!

Of all the albums people were hoping to see in 2013, new material from David Bowie was pretty low down the list. After a heart attack in 2004 while touring his pretty-good Reality album, Bowie seemed to have gone into unofficial retirement, with very few public appearances and no new recordings in sight. Yet here we are: recorded in secrecy over the last two years, The Next Day is here to remind us that when it comes to Bowie, you can never really predict his next move.

Although slated for release on on 11th March over here, he used (but of course) St. David's Day to stream the full album and give us all yet another welcome surprise - and, presumably, manage to head off any leaks as well. And so here we are, the day after The Next Day, in a world where Bowie is once again back at work. 

Heathen and Reality, his two records in the prior decade, were both strong if slighty unadventerous efforts that won back many a fan and critic who had been left bemused by his sporadically brilliant but sometimes just plain baffling spree of genre experiments and identity crisies in the nineties. What would a Bowie album for the new decade bring? On initial impressions, it's one that often hews to the classicism of Heathen and Reality, but one that also brings a far fiercer energy to proceedings and isn't afraid to throw a few curveballs into the mix.

Initial single Where Are We Now? was a graceful elegy to the Berlin days, a track that (along with the brilliantly self-referential and daft cover art) suggested that this might be the album where the mask slipped and we finally saw the 'real' Bowie - whatever on earth that might be. Guess what? No such luck - The Next Day is packed full of character-piece songs, a carefully sculpted art-rock album that probes the psyche of the powerful and the adored, be they dictators, warmongers or celebrities. While the approach might be slightly more mannered than earlier work (and the lifestyle, thankfully, far healthier than his mid/late 70's heyday), there's no danger of a Rick Rubin makeover or serious, 'worthy' covers of songs about dying to win over the Q crowd. Bowie does as Bowie does, and thank fuck for that.

"Here I am, not quite dying..." he roars on the opening title track - a roar of fractured guitars and soaring synths that sounds like early Talking Heads beaten to submission, smart but with plenty of muscle to spare. Hollered from the perspective of a disposed despot, it proves that the lay-off certainly hasn't affected Bowie's vocals one iota. Indeed, the album finds him having more fun with his vocals than he's had in decades, from the greasy snarl of the brilliant, sax-driven prowl of Dirty Boys (a song far, far better than the title would let on) to the pitch-shifted, lavicious delirium of mid-album highpoint If You Can See Me. Whether Bowie ever plays live or not is still very much up in the air, but the album is performed with the steel and charisma needed to shake the masses: it's the brawn of his crack band of musicians (a tip of the hat to bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, guitarists Gerry Leonard and Earl Slick and producer Toni Visconti for finding the sweet spot between the shiny and the raw throughout) and the passion that Bowie throws into each of these sketches that makes the album such a consistent listen throughout its fourteen songs.


As the album progresses, it reaches out from the power plays of Morrissey-esque rocker The Stars (Are Out Tonight), which recently received a delightful, Tilda Swinton-featuring video and the dramatic Love Is Lost through to earthier ground like the "small town girl" dominating the narrator of Boss of Me - a track that suggests, some twenty-plus years too late, Bowie has belatedly figured out how to write a good Tin Machine song - and the Apache-referencing How Does The Grass Grow? Any concerns that the album might be coming to a slightly homogeneous end are, thankfully, blown away by the dramatic, surprising duo that rounds out the record.

Much has been made perviously of the Scott Walker/David Bowie love-in, an infatuation that's let to Bowie covering Walker's beloved Jacques Brel and sometimes cribbing a fair few production ideas from him (just compare the multi-tracked vocals on Walker's Nite Flight tracks like Shut Out to Lodger's Look Back in Anger) and which, pleasingly, isn't just one way. But here, the influence is the most prevalent it's ever been. Not just in the admirable restraint when it comes to release schedules, the time spent on honing lyrics and arrangements into pristine gems (seriously, these are some of the best lyrics of Bowie's entire career on this thing), but in the final duo that represent Scott old and new. 

You Feel So Lonely You Could Die is a dramatic, lush ballad, stuffed full of soaring strings, marching drums and archly desparing vocals that sounds like a 21st century update of theclassic series of the Scott 1-4 LPs. As both a break from the constant guitar chug of the album's second half, and as a perfect climax to the record it's a delight, with a reference to Ziggy Stardust classic Five Years at the end that brings Bowie's career perfectly full circle. If he wanted to sign off here, well, it'd be a nice neat package. But this is Bowie we're talking here - don't expect it to be so easy. And so, the album instead ends with Heat, a remarkably bold final step whose oblique poetry, spacious arrangement and tormented croon bears the scars of Scott's Tilt-era work. It's a stunning track, and suggests that if he is to side-step the touring circuit from now on, the mantle of studio-bound auteur that Scott's late career has worked within might prove to be the final great re-invention for the Great Dame. If nothing else, it's certainly a far better look on him than his recent NME cover

So what is The Next Day then? For the most part, it sees Bowie in full-on rock mode, suggestive perhaps of the more full-on moments of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). The energy and delivery here shames artists a half or even a third of his age, and the content beneath the veneer delights as well. The sprinkling of surprises - Where Are We Now?, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, Heat - prove that's plenty more oddball late Bowie moments from where Bring Me the Disco King sprung. Most of all, it's a record that should by rights have been an epitath, a final bow from one of British music's greatest icons that, remarkably, might just be a rebirth. This isn't just a strong album - this is strong by Bowie album standards. It'd be foolhardy to go in expecting another Low, but it's hard to imagine how any Bowie fan could honestly be anything other than delighted with this. 

And really, that controversial, much-parodied (by myself and many others) cover art sums it up perfectly. There's no resting on laurels or playing on past glories on The Next Day, which only looks back to make way for the new. That great big white square covering up the "Heroes" cover? That's the space he's now carved out for whatever this next act in his long, winding career might bring.

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