30.12.11

2011 : A Baker's Dozen

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Barked
In alphabetical order:
Crystal Stilts - In Love With Oblivion (Sumberland)
Death In Vegas - Trans Love Energies (Portobello)
Discodeine - Discodeine (Pschent)
Factory Star - Enter Castle Perilous (Occultation)
Roman Flügel - Fatty Folders (Dial)
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (Island)
Isolée - Well Spent Youth (Pampa)
Legowelt - The TEAC Life (Legowelt)
Seekae - +Dome (Rice Is Nice)
Sexy Leper - Portobello Ghosts (Can't Kiss)
Shimmering Stars - Violent Hearts (Almost Musique)
John Tejada - Parabolas (Kompakt)
Wire - Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

26.12.11

WIRE : XOYO, London - 23rd November 2011 (Live recording)

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I've been fortunate enough to see the mighty Wire twice this year - initially, back in February, at Nottingham's revitalised Rescue Rooms &, more recently, at Sheffield's so-so Plug earlier this month. They were were terrific on both occasions - they're back on undeniably great form at the moment - & both shows were encouragingly well attended too (on the back of their latest, marvelous Red Barked Tree LP, no doubt). Though, in every Wire crowd, there are always one or two elderly lags in Stiff Little Fingers shirts who persist in knocking back an excess of gassy lager & bellowing for "12XU" like it's still 1979, Wire reject such antediluvian requests outright these days, concentrating instead on current material & surprising selections from far flung corners of their prodigious back catalogue - & they're sounding all the better for it.

February's Nottingham set list focussed on their most recent brace of albums, Red Barked Tree (their finest full length work since 154 - fact), Object 47 & Send, with a handful of older numbers dotted throughout (i.e. "Kidney Bingos" & the perennial "Boiling Boy"). The current tour CD, Black Sessions (recorded last May for Bernard Lenoir's celebrated French Inter radio show, & released generally on 7th February), features a very similar song sequence. The Sheffield show, however, was quite staggering. Drawing extensively on their "difficult" 1980, post-Harvest era, Wire found room for half a dozen rarely aired tracks from Document & Eyewitness, & a further handful from subsequent archival collections like Behind The Curtain / Turns & Strokes. Conjecture suggests that, as the majority of those songs have never been attempted properly before (by Wire, at least - Colin Newman utilised a few of them on his early solo LPs, albeit in radically rearranged versions) the current line-up might be about to finally record them. Quizzed as to what the band would be up to in the coming year, Graham Lewis has confided that an "unusual" new project is already underway - leading to speculation that Wire might finally be in the process of provisionally assembling their aborted 4th Harvest LP. The possibility of both complete live sets from Document & Eyewitness being released has also been discussed - the controversial Electric Ballroom performance only ever having been available in severely truncated form until now, of course. All in all, 2012 sounds like a very exciting 12 months for the rabid Wire aficionado.

To whet your appetite, here's a decent recording of Wire's recent London show (23rd November at XOYO), featuring exactly the same set I saw them play in Sheffield. I discovered it during one of my occasional expeditions "off-road" into the murkier recesses of the 'net so I've no idea who's responsible, but many thanks to he/she/they anyway...

● 23112011

n.b. Photographs by Steve Worral, from Wire's performance at Ray Davies' Meltdown, June 2011.

18.12.11

A Christmas card from FACTORY STAR.

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So then, 7 shopping days left until Christmas... I guess it's high time I mentioned this little charmer? A house move, & an intermittent 'net connection (cheers, Virgin), have reluctantly forced me off line recently, otherwise I'd have written about it much earlier...

Factory Star's "Lucybel" has been hanging around for a while now, I believe? I'm pretty sure I heard a tentative version of it this time last year - possibly recorded by an earlier incarnation of the band? Sounding less obviously disheveled than anything on their excellent (still!) Enter Castle Perilous LP, it's an unusually straightforward seasonal love song that breezes along beatifically in the style of post-Cale Velvets (rather aptly... it's a Yule-tide release after all). Redolent, musically, of The Sexual Objects' & Subway Sect's recent efforts, Factory Star are lyrically much darker than either, their rheumy, red-rimmed eyes & the cobwebs on their dilapidated overcoats suggesting that, despite the tender sentiments, they might've been surreptitiously bedding down in the local graveyard when they penned it (is the protagonist a fugitive murderer lamenting a dead lover, perhaps?). Melodically, it's one of those rare singles that you casually pop onto the turntable & find yourself still whistling along to 45 minutes later, ambushed, no doubt, by the rowdy Rowlsey Street chorus. Nevertheless, it's not too difficult to see why the band chose to omit "Lucybel" from the album proper - it's inclusion would have provided an uncomfortable dash of intrusive light relief amongst the lurid netherworld of overcast back alleys & shabby, skulking hopeless cases it's 10 bleak songs depict (making it an ideal standalone release, of course). As an observer & annotator of besmirched Northern Paperback Noir™, songwriter Martin Bramah remains virtually unrivaled - he & his fine band have released 2 0f my favourite (& certainly most listened to) records this year. Meanwhile, The Fall complacently stumble along like a 4th rate Nuggets act in search of inspiration & a half decent tune, while Steven Patrick - who, by his own admission, would rather throw her arms around Paris than Ancoats these days - has long since crumpled into defeated middle age. Oh, Manchester...

The b-side of the 7" is a stately cover of Enter Castle Perilous' "When Sleep Won't Come" by fellow Occultation artists, The Granite Shore. Though I know next to nothing about them, their gentle, twilit interpretation of Bramah's funereal lullaby suggests that a forthcoming LP (due next year apparently) will be well worth a listen. The CDEP features both songs & adds a couple more from the Factory Star LP - "Away Dull Care" (a personal favourite) & "Arise Europa" (whose hurtling organ driven ruckus invokes the caustic battle cries of The Greatest Hit). You can listen to both sides of the single on the Occultation website. You'll find more of Jim Donnelly's evocative photography there too. Happy Grimbo.

EDIT: Crystal Stilts' sublime In Love With Oblivion LP was another of my most played albums this year. Interestingly, it's follow-up, the 5-song Radiant Door EP, features this rather prescient cover version.

9.10.11

BOARDS OF CANADA : John Peel Session - 16th June 1998 (Broadcast version)

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Boards Of Canada recorded their first, & only, John Peel session at BBC Maida Vale studio 4, with producer Mike Robinson, on 16th June 1998. Peel sessions classically consisted of 4 songs, recorded & produced at the BBC & broadcast on Peel's show a fortnight or so later, long after the artist(s) had gone home. In a typical (for BOC) inversion of established protocol, Boards Of Canada were coincidentally recording their session in adjacent studio while Peel was on air, enabling them to be patched into the show live, & to chat briefly with the great man at the beginning of "XYZ" (pronounced "XYZee"). That track, however, was the only one transmitted on the 16th June. Listeners had to wait until 21st July to hear the completed session in it's entirety, at which juncture "XYZ" was rebroadcast, but without the opening interview.

To confuse matters further, when BoC's set was licensed by Warp & released as part of the label's Peel Sessions series in 1999 (alongside appearances by Autechre, The Black Dog, Plaid &, later, Mira Calix), the previously aired track "Bad Day" - in actuality a formative version of BoC favourite "Happy Cycling" - was replaced by a noticeably more polished take (the same one that appears as an add-on to the Music Has A Right To Children reissue, in fact). Meanwhile, though it appeared on initial pressings of the CD, "XYZ" was quickly dropped due to unresolved sampling issues, making original copies a highly prized BoC rarity. As a result, Warp's BoC Peel Sessions e.p. barely relates to the broadcast Peel session at all. What a palaver.

Here then, is that original 21st July broadcast in it's entirety, complete with Peel's intros but not, sadly, the chat with BoC that prefaced the 16th June version of "XYZ". All tracks are sourced from the a tape recording of the show itself & not the subsequent Warp issue, hence the occasional snap, crackle & pop of "authentic" FM static.

8.10.11

RAY CATHODE : Time Beat 7" (1962)

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Established in the late 1950s to create extraordinary musique concréte-inspired sounds & atmospheres for the BBC's progressive programming, most notably the surrealistic Goon Show & eerie Quatermass series, the Radiophonic Workshop, as it entered the 1960s, had also begun creating bespoke themes & jingles for television.

In 1962, "Time Beat", a popular ident originally composed by Italian producer Maddalena Fagandini, was reworked with technical assistance from in-house EMI engineer (& future Beatles' mentor) George Martin. A typical early 60s "light" pop piece, albeit subtly processed using the Workshop's unrivaled battery of pioneering electronic sound equipment, it was the ensemble's first commercial release, & was distributed by EMI's "novelty" label Parlophone under the facetious Ray Cathode nom de plume. Though not as astonishing as Ron Grainer's landmark Doctor Who theme - constructed by Radiophonic virtuoso Delia Derbyshire the following year - "Time Beat"'s recourse to cutting edge technology still sets it apart from the standard popular fare of the era, particularly on the demented B-side, "Waltz In Orbit". Though lacking the lunatic brilliance of Joe Meek's concurrent productions, Ray Cathode's sophisticated sound is, on reflection, rather more pleasing to the 21st century ear.

29.8.11

THE CLEAN : Odditties (1982)

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Blimey, I've just noticed that some opportunistic scoundrel is flogging Odditties on Amazon for £140! Though it's definitely not the best place for The Clean novice to tune in, it's obviously a lot harder to find than I thought, so here it is...

Brothers Hamish & David Kilgour formed The Clean, with close friend Robert Scott, in Dunedun, NZ in 1978, but waited until 1981 to release their debut 45, the irrepressible "Tally Ho!", on New Zealand's rightly renown Flying Nun. Only the 2nd record the label put out, it unexpectedly made #19 on the New Zealand charts, turning a healthy profit & helping cement their position at the forefront of international independent music. Odditties was recorded throughout "1980-82 on a Revox B77 2 track (supplied by The Dead C)", & was "originally released as (a) super lo-fi cassette" on the band's own Cleano label in 1983. Anybody expecting a further dose of The Clean's breezily infectious pop-chug might be in for a bit of a shock, as Odditties frequently relinquishes the band's trademark chirpy jangle for shambling discord. The titular opening song is a veritable Clean classic, however, & there are several other threadbare gems buried amongst the detritus, so keep listening. As the images reproduced above imply, Odditties was a genuinely hands-on/ad hoc affair, to the extent that nobody appears to know how many copies of the original tape were circulated, or how many different sleeve designs were produced (!). Flying Nun briefly reissued it on CD in 1994 with a handful of extra tracks, & that's the version I've sourced here.

A second volume of Oddities, comprised largely of live recordings & covering the years 1979-84, was issued in 1988. I've never seen a copy, have you?

Band That Never Was - LINK REMOVED (Flying Nun reissue now available)

21.8.11

QUIET ROOM : She Sits Alone (WiN 7", 1981) / HALF CHURCH : Turmoil EP (WiN 12", 1981).

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Hailing from San Francisco, & affiliated with both the late '70s Mabuhay Gardens scene & precipitant Californian post-punks The Sleepers, Quiet Room only managed to put out one 7" single in their brief lifetime. Released in 1981 in a puny edition of a few hundred copies, this WiN Records release is already listed at £60+ on Discogs & the like. Whilst the A-side, "She Sits Alone", is an adequate serving of proto-Gothic synthcore, it's companion piece, the dystopian clatterbeat™ of "Pictures In The Attic" is exceptional - a West Coast response, perhaps, to the misanthropic British electronic vanguard championed by Mute & Rough Trade. The result is a ennui-soaked hybrid of Chrome & Our Daughter's Wedding, an unusual assimilation of atmospheric processed guitars & sparse D.I.Y. technologia that, though fundamentally melodic, sports a malevolent leer. I'm surprised it's not been more widely recognised or, indeed, compiled - it has far more "crossover potential" than L.A.'s scathing Nervous Gender or Screamers, 2 other neglected protagonists of seminal U.S. synth-punk. A slightly unhelpful Myspace page aside, there's virtually no information about Quiet Room online , so drop me a line if you can shed any further light on the band or their label (thanks). Incidentally, I couldn't help noticing that they look suspiciously similar to the scourge of Southend On Sea on the band portrait below...
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The only other WiN label release I've come across is Half Church's interesting Turmoil 12". Once again, information is scant, though I've established that it was recorded at London's Street Level studio (as frequented by the Fuck Off Records crew) in March '81, & was produced by the legendary Kif Kif Le Batteur (aka Keith Dobson of World Domination Enterprises / Here & Now). For a Californian band (&, yes, they definitely were a Californian band), Half Church sound absurdly British - like The Middle Class but better - their e.p. referencing Metal Box, Entertainment &, less predictably, UK Decay & The Mob. So who were they & what else, if anything, did they release? Intrigue!

13.8.11

ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS : John Peel Sessions 1977-80

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I don't remember Peel playing many Elvis Costello songs while I was listening to him as a kid, in fact I don't remember him playing any, but he was evidently a staunch supporter of The Attractions' from the off, commissioning 4 sessions between mid-'77 & early '80. A mere strip of a lad, I didn't start tuning until the following year, so I missed them all first time 'round.

Documenting what was arguably E.C.'s most ferociously fertile period, these early BBC appearances cover my favourite Attractions' era - from My Aim Is True to Get Happy - & include a couple of curious anomalies alongside the inevitable singles & album tracks. Without a doubt, the finest of these is the Nashville-influenced "Stranger In The House", originally recorded in late 1976 for My Aim Is True (& given away as a limited edition 7" with initial copies of This Year's Model) but pre-empting 1981's polarising country "experiment", Almost Blue. Elvis would subsequently record another version (for single release) with country giant George Jones in 1980, though the BBC take is superior to either. Additionally, there's a valiant attempt at Bacharach & David's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" (a concert favourite from the Live Stiffs tour) &, surprisingly, "Really Mystified", a song which wouldn't appear on an official Costello release until Imperial Bedroom was remastered/rebooted for CD in 1994 . Also worth noting: as far as I'm aware, the debut '77 session remains the only extant instance of The Attractions recorded in a studio performing My Aim Is True-era songs (it's Clover - Huey Lewis' backing band! - on the LP) - citation required, etc. Already established as a fearsome live act, there's an unhinged "end of the tether"/"tired & emotional" intensity to the better known songs here that is actually a bit disturbing - E.C. & co sound like they're clinging on by their fingernails, on the cusp of an ugly crash & burn. In retrospect, Almost Blue's reserved country stylings could perhaps be seen as Elvis' lowkey equivalent to Dylan's alleged motorcycle accident - providing, at the height of his fame, an opportunity to step back, stall a disorientating, dangerous momentum, & take stock.

Taped off the radio &, thereby, unavoidably mastered from cassette, sound quality is occasionally less than pristine, but you're unlikely to hear better copies of these recordings until the BBC issue them formally. Quite why these excellent Peel sessions, plus Elvis' later Kid Jensen appearances, remain unreleased baffles me, frankly...

n.b. The pink & ink illustration of Elvis reproduced above was, reputedly, comic strip impresario Alan Moore's first ever professional sale (to the New Musical Express). And if you have any idea who the guy with the glasses & 'tash is, posing between Elvis, Nick Lowe & Suicide (circa 23 Minutes Over Brussels), could you let me know?

26.7.11

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND : Squeeze (1973)

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Once, back in the early 90s, I saw a copy of Squeeze in a record shop window here, in fine condition & priced at a measly couple of quid. Typically, in the time it took me to sprint to the cashpoint & back - 15 minutes max - it'd gone. Needless to say, I've never seen another one.

Essentially a Doug Yule solo LP, Squeeze was recorded in London in Autumn 1972, following The Velvet Underground's first visit to Europe - Lou Reed & Sterling Morrison both already having departed - to promote Loaded. Moe Tucker, though still playing drums on tour, was replaced on the studio sessions by Deep Purple's Ian Paice, reputedly as a "cost-cutting measure" (she'd been touring with her baby daughter Kerry in tow), though it's well known that she & manager Steve Sesnick didn't see eye-to-eye about much by that point. When Sesnick packed the rest of the then-current line-up, Willie Alexander (keyboards) & Walter Powers (bass), off home too it was left to Doug to play everything else (a little saxophone aside). Though undoubtedly a final, opportunistic attempt by Sesnick to (ahem) squeeze a little more cash out of the Velvets' ailing reputation, the LP itself wasn't the out-&-out travesty it's often been painted as - certainly by the prevailing bearded/flared/stoned standards of the era anyway. With hindsight, it's whimsical street vignettes sound much closer to Nils Lofgren or Stealers Wheel than anything from the 3rd V.U. album or the Yule-dominated Loaded. It's strange to consider, however, that the widely reported (& now legendary) Reed/Cale/Nico show at Paris Bataclan had already taken place by the time recording commenced.

Squeeze was released in February 1973 via Polydor Record's European wing & was never officially issued in the States. Yule, to his credit, evidently realised the game was up & dissolved the "band" after a final British tour, since when Squeeze has remained categorically out of print. Despite it's unavailability, it's significantly never quite achieved "mythic" status, & though it compares favourably to Lou Reed's slightly underwhelming eponymous solo debut (Velvets-heavy, also recorded in London, & released a year earlier), Cale's resplendent Paris 1919 (which appeared only a month after Squeeze) still towers head & shoulders above either. Mind you, all 3 of those LPs were largely ignored upon release, our forward looking music press generally being far more interested in the dismal travails of Wishbone Ash & Jethro Tull back then (check out an old copy of ZigZag or NME if you don't believe me).

17.6.11

THE BODINES : God Bless 7" (1985)

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Yet another band to emerge from the bustling British C86 scene, The Bodines formed in Glossop, near Manchester, & their high energy pop sound drew upon the breakneck jangle typified by Josef K, Echo & The Bunnymen & (early) Orange Juice a half decade prior. You can see why Creation's Alan McGee was immediately enamoured by them- though they may possibly seem like a diaphanous Postcard throwback in retrospect, their combination of killer melodies, decent haircuts & well-honed live performances must've been positively invigorating in 1985, at the height of the self-defeatist "shambling" movement, & with the inspid Rattlesnakes edging towards the top 10.

Their divine debut, the frenetic Joe Foster-produced "God Bless"/"Paradise" 45 (CRE 016), appeared in mid 1985, housed in Creation's trademark folded paper/polythene sleeve combo. Though it's been reissued on various incarnations of the Creation Soup series, it's yet to be included on an all-encompassing Bodines compilation (because there's never been one, hint-hint) & still isn't available c/o iTunes & the like. A tragic oversight that, it's undoubtedly one of the finer debuts of it's era. Sort it out, Alan!

On the back of their 2nd Creation 45, the magnificent "Therese" (also a highlight of the original C86 cassette), the band were poached from Creation by the perennially uncool Magnet Records, home to Darts, Alvin Stardust & (choke) Bad Manners. Magnet must've been overjoyed, The Bodines seeming like a far safer commercial bet than either Primal Scream or The Weather Prophets, 2 Creation big hitters who had already attempted to cross over into the mainstream via McGee's flawed Elevation project . Groomed for "inevitable" chart success, The Bodines' debut album - 1987's Ian Broudie (over)produced Played - underperformed spectacularly & it's lead-off single, a glossier mix of "Therese", missed the charts entirely. Skint & demoralised, the band split prematurely, though they've regrouped on several occasions since. However, even if they'd only ever released this cracking 45 they'd still have earned themselves a place in my affections - 25 cynical years on, it still sounds like a breath of fresh air...