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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody

Posted on 31 January 2017 by John Haylock

What a long strange trip it’s been for Oklomaha’s The Flaming Lips.

At the start of their journey there were primitive anarchic splodges of shambolic, psychedelic cacophony and disintegrating shards of brain scan feedback. This was most notable on their fabulously riotous early nineties albums such as Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and Oh My Gawd.

They now find themselves part of the mainstream, well sort of.

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In a world that is quite obviously insane and totally preposterous I suppose it should only be right and proper that Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is regarded as our bonkers saviour.

Let’s face it, rather him than Chris Martin or Ed Sheeran. Madness over sanitised sanity any day.

Anyway he’s not mad he’s just got an imagination that is bigger than a massively big tree with a six lane highway that’s been carved through it.

Think Brian Wilson meets Paul McCartney in a drugs factory. Think outside the box of frogs. He’s merely emancipated himself from mental slavery and got lost in the Strawberry Fields of the Nephilim, as you do.

Let’s not forget the band’s unsung heroes Steven Drozd, a name that sounds spookily a bit like an android, and Michael Ivins. These quietly loyal men at the back, whose melodic sensibilities have repeatedly come to the fore, have formed with Coyne a formidable song writing partnership.

So here we have another collection of loony tunes to devour, digest and discuss.

Oczy Mlody comes luke warm on the heels of the mildy entertaining Terror, and the awful Embryonic.

Over the last few years Wayne has spread his love too thinly, collaborations with Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Tame Impala and basically anybody he meets in a studio with a joint. This has been much to the detriment of the band he fronts.

There have been far too many side projects to distract from his primary directive- to blow peoples minds with the Flaming Lips.

I am happy to report that we’re on course again. This is the best Flaming Lips release since Yoshimi and those evil bastard robots grrr grrr.

It’s a relatively subdued album but absolutely littered with hooks, innocent magic, solemnity and gorgeousness. In the distance Death stands silently with a big scythe in one hand and a copy of Pet Sounds in the other.

Opening with glacial perfection the instrumental title track meanders gently into How?? an absolute Lips classic. Wayne’s vocals here are beauty personified. This will take the place of Do You Realise in their canon of crowd pleasing, heart string tuggers.

There Should Be Unicorns is a darkly hypnotic piece of electronica, with a haunting tracked vocal. Toward the end a scary Darth Vader voice speaks about swans and shit and I hastily conclude this is the best Lips track I have ever heard.

Sunrise and Nigdy Nie continue the lovely ethereal vibe. One Night While Hunting For Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill, is as mad as its title suggests. Imagine a skeletal folk song from an alternative Cornish universe, where a confused semi naked Poldark meets Dr Timothy Leary.

Listening to the Frogs with Demon’s Eyes similarly morphs into a hallucinatory experience. Epic in scope and heaven on headphones, whilst on a train heading into St Pancras railway station at four in the morning.

The Castle is catchy-catchy pop. It sleepwalks on candyfloss, it’s a sexy rumination featuring mushrooms, bumble bees and dragons and should come with a free Arthur Rackham print.

We a Family closes on a high. It’s an anthemic little excursion; walking boots not required.

Back on track then. Where on Earth (or any other planet ) they go next is anybody’s guess. But be assured the trip is definitely not over yet. Tickets please.

These are some of The Flaming Lips best songs of their long career, don’t take my word for it, those evil robots are coming to get you. Yeah.

Words by John Haylock

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Introducing… Eyelids OR

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Introducing… Eyelids OR

Posted on 25 January 2017 by Dorian

We’re not really introducing Eyelids OR (or just Eyelids in their homeland) as we have been going on about the band for some time.

We reviewed their debut album 854 back in 2014, and we’ve been raving about their subsequent single releases ever since.

However the band have just announced their first ever UK dates, supporting Drive-By Truckers, so it seemed to be the perfect time to catch up with the band’s songwriters, Chris Slusarenko and John Moen, to find out a bit more about the band.

You have been playing together for years. How did you meet?

JOHN: Chris and I met as young guys playing music in Portland. I moved to town in 1986 just after graduating from high school. Our bands played together here and there, but I especially remember being introduced by the cartoonist, Joe Sacco at a cafe. We were both skinnier then. I was bleaching my hair to stand out, and Chris wore a beret. I think we were both carrying satchels full of poetry.

Why Eyelids? (and how do you come up with band names? How do you top Death Midget?)

CHRIS: Well Death Midget was born out of innocence and teenage years. Plus it was the era of Butthole Surfers, Killdozer… So it fit our mess. To tell you the truth I’ve rarely got to name a band I’ve been in and I always thought Guided By Voices was one of the greatest band names of all time so it was special to be part of that. But names are tough… Eyelids (with an Or attached for our home state of Oregon—blessed on us via Tim Burgess of The Charlatans UK) just seemed to sound like our music a bit. A bit hazy, a bit eye-opening… It so weird when I stop to think about the word “eyelids” it just starts to fold in on itself… Once you’re the name you rarely stop to think of what it means anymore… it just becomes you.

Eyelids

You’ve both been in the background in some great bands, How do you feel about being the front-men?

JOHN: I think it’s terrifying, but it’s also kind of hard to resist. It seems there’s a fine line between “rocking-out” and looking like you’re about to die. Chris does most of the talking, thank goodness.

CHRIS: I can’t help the banter!!! Singing with Jonathan and John is easy–they come up with great ideas and I’m always surprised to hear harmonies. All my earlier bands never had them!!! Argh…so nice to have finally! And since John and myself both sing and write the songs it’s a nice back and forth between us live as well. I do like to rock out and look like I’m going to die so I’ll take that position for the band…everyone else can look cool. I’ll sweat it out…!

I first came across you from your work with Robert Pollard in Boston Spaceships. He’s a ten album a year kind of guy. How do you keep up? (Both in the recording and the drinking)

CHRIS: Well you just gladly jump in. Part of Bob’s work ethic definitely had an effect on John and myself and was the reason that we both realized we worked really well together. Since Bob would send us a cassette of him singing and playing guitar John and myself had to quickly help create the album he wanted (knowing full well there was another EP or LP or double LP breathing down your neck right behind it). I really wanted to go back to way early GBV worked. Not letting the “band” know the song very well and just get inspired takes before over thinking it. That has kind of flowed over into Eyelids where often the first ideas we play over someone else’s song tend to be the ones we use. Just letting your mind and fingers drift… none of us are what you’d call smoking guitar players but we do love our riffs and hooks. As many as we can pile on we will. And in terms of releases with the upcoming RSD 7” we’re doing with Gary of the Cribs singing lead and the full length in May that will be 5 7”s, a 12” Ep, and 2 full lengths in under 3 years… not too shabby. And we have 4 songs already finished for our next EP as well.

854 was one of our favourite albums of 2015 (and 2016 when it came out in the UK). How do you follow that on your second album?

CHRIS: This is actually the only second album I’ve ever made that I’ve been a principal songwriter in besides The Takeovers albums I did with Bob (Chris performed and wrote all the music, Robert Pollard sang and wrote lyrics). So it’s kind of abstract to think about what a 2nd album means for us. The first album was made with John, Jonathan and myself as a recording project/dare. But after we put a full band together to play the songs live a different character came into it as well. The EP we did after 854 reflects that pretty well. It rocks a little more but still has that weepy quality that I like. The new album was the first one where all 5 of us were there from the beginning and it was pretty exciting to hear that. For example I was playing a new song to everyone called “Moony”. It’s kind of a pretty looping type feel. But then John and Jonathan started adding this cool Television type interplay and Paulie and Jim were playing this XTC Black Sea area drumbeat and I was so happy. My simple little phrase all the sudden had an unexpected life pumped into it.

Peter Buck is producing for you, how did you come to work with him?

JOHN: Peter moved to Portland several years ago, and he is very generous with his time and talents. We are connected through Scott McCaughey who played in REM, and was instrumental in helping my first recording/touring band, Dharma Bums. Scott produced that bands first record and encouraged us in many ways. Peter has played guitar on a Decemberists record, as well, and he would come into Chris’s video store fairly often, where they got to know one another. Also, Chris was pretty heavy into the REM fan club in the old days. I believe he and Peter corresponded. All that to say, we are huge fans and we had to ask him to produce!

CHRIS: Yeah I wrote to R.E.M. right before Murmur was released and Peter was kind enough to write back. We wrote back and forth about 3 years after that. They’d send me reject photos, weird old posters, chronic town t-shirts that were bootlegs. Very generous. He told me they always wrote to anyone where the hadn’t played yet figuring someone in NY or Chicago would find their way. But at the time they were thinking “what the hell is Portland?” Then we re-connected as adults and it’s been a great friendship. And in terms of producing you really want to do well when he’s in the room! No waste ya know!!! He’s got great ideas and he’s been great to work with.

You also have a Record Store Day release with Gary Jarman of The Cribs on vocals, how did you come to pick him for the track?

CHRIS: I’d written some music for Robert Pollard to sing over called The Carbon Whales. It was a fake UK Post-Punk band—like a lost EP that he released. Gary heard it and said it was so convincing and true to the spirit of the original era—he loved it. So when we wanted to do another Record Store Day 7” I wanted to do something that would stand alone. So many RSD releases these days are live tracks or reissues. I wanted something that was made specifically for this event. So we thought it would be cool to have a Gary and his intense Wakefield accent sing lead on both tracks. He’s got such an amazing voice and delivery. It was perfect. I wrote the songs as I would have when I was 17. Kind of innocent but full of confidence. The lyrics I banged out really quick too. Then we all just played on it and had Gary come in and it became a real thing. The 7” is called Eyelids Meet Gary Jarman.

Eyelids Live

Your dates with Drive-By Truckers are your first gigs in the UK. What should we expect from an Eyelids live show?

JOHN: Jet lagged American imperialists, of course! Ha. We are a rock band trying to play pretty… Sounds terrible, right? I really don’t know… I’m sure we will be a bit giddy to be playing with the Truckers(amazing!) in such killer venues. As a band, I think we are good at enjoying the moment together, and that energy( along with the songs that we are quite proud of) translates as a good time to those watching and listening.

CHRIS: I never get tired of playing out and to finally get to play these songs overseas will be incredible. Live I think we’re pretty kick ass so hopefully people will be ready for the songs to be amped up a bit. Pretty and loud. Also I’m a total anglophile in terms of music, film, books… For instance we’re doing an in-store at Rough Trade Records and to me as someone all the way over here on the West Coast of the U.S. it still makes me flutter my eyelids… can’t help it…

If you had to sell Eyelids to someone who had never heard you play before, how would you describe the band?

JOHN: I often dream of not being a salesperson… but, if cornered, I would say that we are a melodic rock band that wouldn’t mind being thought of as an (inclusive) art project. We are strong enough that your weird uncle won’t think we suck, but are soft enough to remind you of that rare house cat that will allow you to stroke its belly. There you go.

CHRIS: What he said.

Chris and John were interviewed by Dorian Rogers

Tickets for the band’s shows with Drive-By Truckers are available here.

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Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door

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Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door

Posted on 03 August 2016 by Joe

Not Your Door is a deeply personal album for Robert Rotifer, taking in his present life living in Canterbury, Kent, as well as his past, growing up in Vienna. But with its themes of family and the very notion of home it aims to resonate with many.

As with other Rotifer releases it also has a political edge and the timing of its release, coming after the European political landscape changed when Britain voted to leave the EU, gives its tale of an Austrian who has made his home in England added resonance.

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The first five tracks focus on his English life, as an artist, journalist and parent. Opener If We Hadn’t Had You is a deliberately non-mawkish look at parenthood that takes in his own sense of wonder and worries of having children while referencing the ongoing aftermath of the war in Iraq, where parents continue to live in fear that each day with their child may be their last.

Meanwhile in my Machine takes in our obsession with technology and its affect on real living. This is a theme that was also touched on in his John Howard and the Night Mail track last year, London’s After Work Drinking Culture.

Elsewhere on the album’s first half, Passing a Van looks at Shrodingers immigrant, who are perceived by Brexiters as a drain on the economy, while at the same time working hard and paying taxes in jobs such as working in care homes. With his fellow Kent residents voting to leave the EU by a whopping 59% you can see why he felt the need to write this track.

On side two Rotifer travels back to Vienna, visiting old haunts and key childhood memories. Falling off a bike in front of laughing workers on The Piano Factory and encounters with skinheads on Top of the Escalator are two such memories that many will have experienced in similar ways.

His incredibly interesting late grandmother Irma Schwager also features on two songs, Irma La Douce and the title track. As a Jewish communist she was forced to flee Austria during the Second World War, fought as a member of the French resistance and then returned home.

Across the album there’s a deliberate focus on lyrical content with instrumentation often taking a back seat. This gives it a folk feel in places, with hints of John Martyn at times in Rotifer’s acoustic guitar work. The sparse production has also meant he has had to be ruthless at times, in particular axing a version of If We Hadn’t Had You, featuring a saxello solo by Canterbury based jazz veteran Tony Coe. This version has been released separately as a single though, to ensure it is not lost.

Also, while Rotifer band members, bassist Mike Stein and drummer Ian Button, appear here, they are used sparingly, hence the album being released under the name Robert Rotifer rather than Rotifer.

While it lacks the energy of Rotifer’s last release The Cavalry Never Showed Up its low key feel works well, especially in capturing how lives are affected by events such as war and most recently the EU referendum.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

Robert Rotifer – Not Your Door is released by Gare Du Nord.

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Rapid Results College – In City Light

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Rapid Results College – In City Light

Posted on 12 May 2016 by Joe

Rapid Results College is such a great name for a band, cemented in modern urban life with tongue firmly in cheek about its pressures, pace and pitfalls.

Their debut album In City Light keeps this ethos going, offering the band’s particular take on modern life from the horrors, quite literally, of dating (The Cautionary Tale of Alphonse Du Gard) to its frantic pace, on the track Rapid Results.

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The delivery too is clean and precise, like a freshly swept city pavement early in the morning. This draws out the best in the simple sound of former The Hillfields frontman Rob Boyd’s guitar and vocals, Mike Stone’s (Television Personalities and Rotifer) bass and the drums of Owain Evans.

Knowing that Stone is a fan of XTC it was no surprise to hear the influence of the legendary Swindon act here. This is particularly on Rapid Results, which offers up glimpses of XTC tracks King for a Day on the guitar intro and Towers of London in the middle eight. Another Wiltshire act, Co-Pilgrim, is another point of reference as an act that uses a clean sound to draw out melody.

Rapid Results is just one of many hightlights, which also include the album’s best pop track Any Other Way and the aforementioned The Cautionary Tale of Alphonse Du Gard, where a date, possibly arranged through something Tinder, goes horrifically array.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

Rapid Results College – In City Light is released by Gare Du Nord. For more information click here.

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Richard Thompson – Still

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Richard Thompson – Still

Posted on 19 June 2015 by Joe

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy freely admits that his role as a producer is made easier by working with some of the music industry’s best talents. Those he has produced or collaborated in recent years, from Bill Fay to Low to Mavis Staples probably don’t need much producing. They just need to turn up, play their stuff, Tweedy presses some buttons and everyone goes home. Of course there’s more to it than that, but you get the sense with his latest production credit, working with one of his guitar heroes Richard Thompson, that as with Low and others he was happy to let the talent play their stuff and not really interfere.

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That is probably the smartest move a producer can make when dealing with someone like Thompson. Hand holding and nurturing is more for newbies who are lost in the studio (see John Leckie’s work with The Stone Roses).

The result here is that thanks in part to Tweedy Thompson has delivered another high point in an enormously long career that is now in its sixth decade.

The key to this album’s success is some quality songs. In fact some of Thompson’s best of his career, in particular Patty Don’t You Put Me Down, which is sure to be a live favourite for years to come.

This is firmly an electric guitar album. It’s an important distinction as Thompson excels at both acoustic and electric guitar driven tracks. It’s not rock but its up their with Front Parlour Ballads in terms of great recent Thompson albums.

The recording in Tweedy’s Chicago based Loft Studio and familiar personnel including Thompson and John Cale’s tour drummer Michael Jerome, also give the album a warmth and intimacy. This is further shown through Thompson’s low key playing. To say he’s a good electric guitarist is one of the biggest understatements it is possible to make. But here he is far from over the top, he keeps the guitar as one ingredient to the songs, rather than overshadow them.

This allows She Never Could Resist A Winding Road to build up momentum nicely. On the almost prog rock-like Pony in the Stable some of the guitar playing is eye wateringly good, but still the song remains king.

So while Tweedy may have underplayed his input its clear that his less is more approach is still key to this album’s strengths, as he successfully brings out the best of one of modern music’s most enduring figures.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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The Great Escape 2015

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The Great Escape 2015

Posted on 23 May 2015 by Dorian

Any festival is only as good as your viewing choices, and this is especially true of a multi-venue festival such as The Great Escape. If you choose to watch some of the not-so-great acts, missing out on better acts elsewhere, then you have nobody to blame but yourself. However, if you take random(ish) choices as an overall guide then I think it is unlikely that this 10th anniversary Great Escape will go down as one of the vintage years.

Very little stood out as being particularly new or different this year, and a lot of acts were so middle of the road that the whole thing was in danger of becoming a traffic accident. Nothing I saw hit the highs of Parquet Courts or Phosphorescent from previous years and although one of the best live acts I’d previously seen at the festival, Django Django, were playing it was their third appearance here and nothing to get excited about.

My underlying sense of ‘meh’ with the weekend was probably caused by a combination of jet lag and a reaction to a band as bad as The Vaccines being the festivals secret special announcement. I have no desire to be a killjoy, and everyone else I’ve spoken to loved the weekend, so in the spirit of positivity here are some of my personal highlights.

Happyness

Happyness

Happyness released one of the best albums of last year and are one if the most likeable live acts I’ve seen in a long time. Their catchy homage to the best bits of 90s indie rock sounds as good as ever in a cramped Sticky Mike’s and the non-album tracks they play have me itching for their next release.

Saycet

Saycet

Slightly sombre European electronica is something that you are always guaranteed at the Great Escape, and this year was no exception. The Unitarian Church is one of the more reserved venues on the circuit, but it was a good match for French duo Saycet. This wasn’t a hugely upbeat affair, but it sounded pretty good to an attentive audience.

Son of Bill

Sons of Bill

A listing error meant that a trip to check out Popstrangers, in the recently branded Hub, actually meant a set by Sons of Bill. This was the cause of some confusion to those expecting antipodean pop and getting some guitar heavy US country rock. For those that were there by mistake it turned out to be a happy accident as quality playing and appealing tunes made this a very satisfying way to spend the afternoon.

C Duncan

C Duncan

C Duncan may sport some unwise facial hair, but his likeable tunes and genial performance more than make up for it. His performance is a little low-key, and it is hard to tell exactly where his career will go from this show, but he is definitely somebody to put on the “ones to watch” list. Brighton’s own Fatcat records saw enough in the classically trained Scot to sign him up and I’ll personally be keeping an eye on his progress.

Get Inuit

Get Inuit

I’m not somebody who cares hugely about originality, borrowing is an essential part of pop music, but I do wonder why you’d wear the Weezer glasses if you sound this much like Weezer. And when Get Innuit don’t sound like Weezer they sound like Cloud Nothings, another band with a singer that sports Buddy Holly specs. Eyewear decisions aside they sound pretty good and it is a really fun set of songs, and if you are going to have obvious influences I can think or worse places to start.

SLUG

SLUG

SLUG are the work of Field Music bass player Ian Black and their debut album was good enough to lift them above the side-project category and establish them on the festival list for 2015. The songs are great and Ian Black is a surprisingly gifted front-man with a great voice and some proper axe-an skills. The backing band are uniformly great, featuring both Brewis brothers, and the whole set sounds wonderful. I’m already looking forward to seeing them play again at the Green Man festival in August.

Ralegh Long

Ralegh Long

The Independent Label Market held in the Open Market was not as huge success, and footfall for the labels who set up stalls was disappointing. I hope that this feature of the festival is repeated next year, but some thought from festival organisers on how to get crowds down this end of town is needed if it is repeated. It was also disappointing for the acts that played on the market stage throughout the afternoon, with only a handful of passers-by stopping to watch some quality sets. However, for me it was great to see the guys from Gare Du Nord on their stand and Ralegh Long’s songs (accompanied by Jack Hayter) sound great even if there isn’t the biggest audience to hear them.

Low Pines

Low Pines

One great feature of the festival is getting to hear live music in a wide range of venues, some that I don’t visit at any other time of year. Something new for me in 2015 was getting to see the Brighton Museum used as a setting for a range of acoustic acts. I was largely bemused by the popularity of openers, the Dunwells, who got the biggest applause of the evening. They clearly had some talent, but they looked and sounded just like a group you’d see getting voted out in the later rounds of the X-Factor and they left me pretty cold. Much better was the soft folk of Low Pines and the endearingly cute Japanese pop duo Moumoon who provided one of the most charming sets of the weekend.

The risk of a multi-venue event like this, with so many acts and so many styles, is that you’ll not always see the best it has to offer. This year I don’t think I saw the best of the festival, but I still saw enough great music to make the time worthwhile. The Great Escape is still one of the best value musical events in the country and I’ll be back again next year searching the venues for something extra special.

By Dorian Rogers

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The War on Drugs – Rock City, Nottingham (Mar 1, 2015)

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The War on Drugs – Rock City, Nottingham (Mar 1, 2015)

Posted on 03 March 2015 by John Haylock

After ten years of hard slog the surprise success of last year’s Lost in the Dream album must have been a huge vindication for The War on Drugs’s main man Adam Granduciel.

For this listener it’s a great album, only let down by some crude cardboard box drumming and a lazy production, but live, oh my Lord, it’s a different experience entirely. Those demo sounding tunes spring into life and hit you right between the eyes, both euphoric and propulsive they come awake and shine like a cocaine supernova.

The War on Drugs's Adam Granduciel

The War on Drugs’s Adam Granduciel

Since 2005 they’ve plied their sonic trade, looking for a niche and searching for a style. The last time I saw them they reminded me of the jingle-jangle of Californian legends The Byrds. On record they’ve veered from gently undulating dream pop to pseudo krautrock as evidenced on their previous album 2011’s Slave Ambient.

The success of Lost in the Dream stems from the fact it has big tunes, something that was not a noticable facet of their earlier albums, which were more focused on atmosphere and experiment. The sold out show tonight proves that people like nothing better than a band from Philadelphia with joyous tunes and a frontman in Adam who is charm personified. ‘You’re a genius’ shouted one enthusiastic punter, Adam just shrugged it off, picked up another guitar, of which there were many and launched into another song.

With only five tickets remaining Nottingham’s Rock City is all but sold out, the band come on at eight thirty and give us a two hour show, with the music fleshed out by five band members, including a wonderful sax player and a drummer with a minimalist Ludwig kit who was precision personified.

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs

As Adam took centre stage we were treated to their defining tracks of 2014, such as Under The Pressure’ with its life affirming, makes you go crazy swirling sound it really hit the spot tonight, interspersed with some jaw dropping guitar playing from Adam it really was a treat. What follows is some of the most fluid, expressive guitar soloing I’ve witnessed for ages, on a variety of guitars he pulls off solo after solo that pitch somewhere between Dinosaur Jr man J Mascis and Tom Verlaine of Television.

Another album highlight, the title track ‘Lost in the Dream’ comes five numbers in. I don’t know what it is about this number and Under The Pressure in particular, perhaps it’s because of the inherent joy embedded in their hearts ,but you can’t help but be carried along on a tidal wave of rock lurve.

Baby Missiles and Come to the City, from Slave Ambient make a welcome addition to the set, as does Arms Like Boulders from the debut album Wagonwheel Blues. But most of the set comprises of the swathes of twisting morphing sounds of Lost in the Dream. There were three numbers for the encore, Suffering, Coming Through and finally the most incredible version of Your Love is Calling my Name that was a psychedelic trip that just grew and grew with guitar FX to die for and a head crunching band in full on mindmelt mode. Just amazingly cool.

*Support came from Amen Dunes, the solo project of Damon McMahon, a guy with a very distinctive voice and a recommended album called ‘Through Donkey Jaw’ on the Sacred Bones label. He was pretty ok and he and his band played semi acoustic trance like songs; repetitive but quite effective and his unusual voice is one I think we’ll be hearing more of in 2015.

Words By John Haylock, pictures by John Haylock and Arthur Hughes

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The Sound – The Edsel Box Sets

The Sound – The Edsel Box Sets

Posted on 22 January 2015 by John Haylock

Some bands are destined to be sidelined out of musical history. It’s not fair and it’s not based on logic as regrettably too many others are remembered and lauded despite being hopelessly untalented and vacuous. Go figure.

The Sound were one of those talented, sidelined bands that had everything but the breaks, those little pieces of luck than can snowball into good fortune. Theirs instead is a story of tragedy and frustration despite leaving behind them a body of work that still stands the test of time and should be mainlined into the collective consciousness of music lovers everywhere.

The Sound (Adrian Borland second from left)

The Sound (Adrian Borland second from left)

Formed in the late 1970s from the ashes of the late Adrian Borland’s former band The Outsiders, they soon came to the attention of John Peel, who played them regularly and for whom they recorded various sessions (included in this box set) In addition, they also rubbed musical shoulders with more successful contemporaries such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Gang of Four and Joy Division, which helped gain the attention of major label giant Warners, who signed them up and put them on their new offshoot label Korova records for an initial three album deal.

But unfortunately their celebrations were shortlived and they spent most of the next decade struggling for recognition and eventually called it a day in 1988. Borland continued to make music but suffered years of depression and in April 1999 he committed suicide.

In an effort to rectify their wonderful legacy Edsel are releasing the second of two box sets of their work. Released last April the first box set contains their first three albums, Jeopardy, From The Lion’s Mouth and All Fall Down, as well as a live CD of a Radio One in Concert gig.

The second box set, to be released next month, contains their remaining studio albums, a double live set and everything else they released up until their end. Both of these sets are also crammed full of b-sides, demos and radio sessions.

the-sound-jeopardy-front

Jeopardy came out in 1979 and was recorded in just ten days. It’s an intense, urgent and brash statement of intent as angular and brutal rhythms collide with Borland’s emotionally charged vocals. The opening track ‘I can’t escape myself’ sets the lyrical landscape, as the second verse typifies the angst and searching nature inherent in Borland’s subject matter when he sings “seems like my shadow, mocks every stride, can I learn to live, with what’s inside.”

This debut album’s standout track is ‘Missiles’, recorded in a climate of cold war hostility, with Thatcher and Reagan sabre rattling and amid cruise missile controversy, it expressed an anger and fear felt by many with its passionate delivery still having the power to chill. The music press responded kindly and the album garnered much praise, and the band undertook an eighteen date UK tour supporting label mates Echo and the Bunnymen. Things were looking good.

October 1981 saw the release of their follow up From the Lion’s Mouth, which was a much more nuanced effort. Atmospherics and subtlety were abundant, making this a much more satisfying listen especially with the added light and shade due in no small measure to the addition of Colvin Max Myers who provided extra keyboards and vocals.

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The songs veer from optimistic anthems like ‘Winning’ to beautifully restrained love songs such as ‘Silent Air’, the centrepiece is the aptly titled ‘New Dark Age’ and a constant live favourite proved to be ‘Skeletons’.

Despite critical acclaim From the Lion’s Mouth only reached 164 in the UK  charts. Warners wanted a more commercial sound and were getting frustrated. The band responded by ignoring them completely and put out album number three All Fall Down in 1982. It contains much to admire, a more experimental feel, a drifting away from their roots into more sombre territory. Its memorable tunes are more scarce but that’s not to say it’s not without it’s highlights, for example ‘Monument’ is a slowly simmering song of epic proportions, by anybody else’s reckoning this would be a good album, yet Warners heard it and gave up on the band. The feeling was mutual, so in 1984 the band signed to the independent label Statik.

As mentioned Box one contains an additional disc comprising of two entire recordings from BBC Radio one in concert programme from the time and are incendiary.

Drummer Mike Dudley says of the time: “We certainly didn’t feel defeated when Warner’s dropped us. We were a self-contained unit, we always believed in the underlying strengths we had and believed in the songs.” As evidenced on their first recordings for Statik in 1984  the mini album Shock of Daylight proved they still had much more to offer. It’s a fiery resurgence, a middle finger to all those who expected the band to crash and burn after the Warners debacle with beautiful melodies, great vocals and showing a band totally comfortable in their art.

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In 1985 came Heads and Hearts and despite protestations from some of the band who were unhappy with the result, hindsight arguably proves them wrong as this is among their best work. In some ways it sounds like the bastard son of Joy Divisions Closer, the production is big, it’s classy but still retains all the emotional impact of their earlier work.

When anyone suggests to you that the eighties were a wasteland for UK music (apart from Boney M, obviously !), give them a copy of Heads and Hearts. From the get go it proves a remarkably coherent and dare I say it ‘catchy’ piece of work. The opener ‘Whirlpool’ is a swirling dervish of a tune, as its title suggest it sucks you in, ‘Total recall’ is yet another classic track and would have made a brilliant single, driven along by a moody bass line and suddenly erupting into a triumphant chorus of ‘there must be a hole in your memory, but I can see, a distant victory.’ It would have been a brilliant single, fitting in nicely with the likes of a nascent New Order, Blancmange or The The. Of the eleven tracks, not one is wasted, every tune hits the spot, ‘One Thousand Reasons’, ‘Wildest dreams’  and ‘Temperature Drop’ are like foreplay for the ears.

A year later Borland’s bouts of depression became more marked. A live document In the Hothouse came out in 1986 but the Statik label folded and the end was in sight for the band.

One further album Thunder Up came out in 1987 on the Belgian label Play it Again Sam. On tour in Spain later that year Adrian sadly succumbed to a breakdown, dates were cancelled, it signalled the end for the band and they called it a day in 1988.

Adrian continued to make music on and off throughout the nineties, cruelly his demons finally caught up with him in April 1999 when he threw himself into the path of an oncoming train at Wimbledon station. Last word goes to bassist Graham Bailey. “The personal nature of Adrian’s lyrics always hooks you in, he had this unique ability to make it sound like he’s addressing you personally. He was an immensely talented lyricist and it’s not an exaggeration to say he was a genius.”

By John Haylock

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Morrissey – 02 Arena, London (November 3, 2014)

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Morrissey – 02 Arena, London (November 3, 2014)

Posted on 02 December 2014 by John Haylock

The ego has landed…..to be precise he’s landed south of the River Thames, in the Blade Runner-esque environs of the 02 Arena.

Of all the self obsessed vegetarian Penguin classic authors who used to be in a dead famous band called The Smiths , Morrissey is the greatest (in his own mind at least ). We are here to pay homage, and it being ‘that there London’ the homage is a bit on the expensive side, but the disciples don’t care, God is in the house.

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First though, Domino records big white crossover hope, Anna Calvi is not at first glance the ideal person who would come  to mind as a suitable support act for Morrissey. She’s overtly ‘rock chick’ and her guitar playing, of which there is a LOT does not take prisoners. Her lyrics unfortunately drown and scream for air under the combined weight of frenetic and relentless guitar solos, whatever deep meaningful shit she’s singing about it is unfortunately lost in the histrionics. But despite the bombast she did go down well with a devout fanbase in attendance who lapped up tracks from her current album One Breath.

Before the appearance of the man himself we are treated to a brilliant Moz curated montage of images and footage of variously, The Ramones, Brian Eno, Charles Aznavour, Nico, live archive footage of much loved punkers Penetration from 1978 doing ‘Don’t Dictate’, The New York Dolls ripping up German TV  with ‘Lookin for a kiss’, plus some poetry,  snippets of black and white interview clips  and an ecstatically received ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ accompanied by footage of Thatcher’s funeral. The presumably ex miner on acid two rows in front started clapping and singing along like he was at a Lady Gaga gig. Fantastic.

Lights down, no messing, enter stage left one band plus Moz, dressed all in white like a middle aged angel looking a bit like Stan Laurel. The band do an incongruous group hug, he then walks to the front of the stage and says so honestly it would make grown men cry  ‘I am so privileged.’ In the light of recent guarded hints and ambiguous statements about his health this tearful honesty runs like a river through this gig, lyrics take on new found significance and the gig is one of those rare occasions where a musical event is lifted into a realm that is so much more than mere pop music. Elements of mortality and love and a deeper connection to each other and to our planet spin around your brain. You’ll dance but you’ll probably be thinking about death. He is the king of hilarity and venom, which to those here is a truly great thing.

The music starts with an enormous image of a photoshopped Queen Elizabeth II projected onto the backscreen, she’s giving you the middle finger, then there’s some photos of the vile  Kate and Wills, and out comes a familiar scream  of feedback as the band tear into an absolute scorchio! version of ‘The Queen is Dead’. There’s a collective gasp of recognition and elation sweeping around the venue as madness ensues. This breathtaking opener set the bar high and was only bettered by a delerious version of ‘Suedehead’.

He disses the label who put out the current album World Peace is None of Your Business, who, according to Mozzer, fucked him over. Three of the band also sport ‘fuck Harvest Records’ T-shirts, to hammer home the point. Despite this he’s clearly proud of the album and tonight plays virtually its entirety, veering from delightful jaunty pop fluff of ‘Kiss me Alot’ to the intensity of ‘Smiler with a knife’ and especially ‘I’m Not a Man’, which really comes alive with its repeated denouncements of stereotypical male bravado bullshite.

His version of ‘Meat is Murder’ is just staggering, starting with an angry tirade over the current contaminated supermarket chicken fiasco, he goes on to state that ‘people might die ha ha ha!’ There follows some very harrowing footage of the wholesale slaughter of animals for the food trade, whilst the music builds to a climax amidst a vivid red strobe lightshow and a rockingly intense coda. I’m going veggie after that!

That previously mentioned thread of mortality and loss is never more evident than on the penultimate number ‘Asleep’ the B side of ‘The Boy With the Thorn in his Side’ from 1987. The huge venue falls silent and we try decipher the clues (at this point, go listen) it’s not difficult.

By the end a stunned crowd is floored, shredded and torn asunder, this is ART baby and don’t you forget it. Finally, he brings the evening to a close with a flourish, he reprises one of his greatest singles Everyday is like Sunday, a most fitting ending to a stupendous gig.

by John Haylock

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John Howard – Hello My Name Is

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John Howard – Hello My Name Is

Posted on 24 November 2014 by Joe

Since stepping onto the comeback trail around a decade ago singer songwriter John Howard has proved himself to be a prolific recording artist. From his home studio in Spain he is regularly producing at least a release a year. It’s a far cry from his desperate attempts to release albums in the 1970s as his label CBS gradually lost interest in him.

This year has been particularly busy, with this latest full album following on from one of his regular cover EPs and a live album recorded from his 2013 gig at the Servant Jazz Quarters, a venue he is returning to in November this year.

There’s more to come as well. He is teaming up later this year with Gare Du Nord Records artists Robert Rotifer (Rotifer) and Ian Button (Papernut Cambridge) as well as Paul Weller’s bassist Andy Lewis to form a band, the name of which is currently under wraps. In his interview with us earlier this month Howard also revealed plans for a further covers EP.

But back to this current release and here we find Howard in reflective mood again, looking back on his 70s career and London’s gay culture, his 1990s career as a record company executive and current feelings of identity.

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There is also story telling as well, a format he excelled in during 2013’s album Storeys about characters in an imagined apartment block. It is his story telling ability that creates the best track on Hello My Name Is, Bob/Bobbi, which focuses on the double life of a drag queen who sadly says goodbye to his glamorous female alter ego. Howard discusses the real life Bob that the song is based on further in our interview with him earlier this month.

Bloomsbury Chapter is another standout, inspired by an email exchange with Rotifer and taking the listener back to Howard’s time in London in the 1970s and “the memories of various romantic break-ups at that time.”

Another reflective track is Same Mistakes, a song about the passing of heroes and loved ones. Howard explains that part of the song is about the detached yet personal loss of heroes like John Lennon and Janis Joplin he and his friends felt when they died. He adds that the middle eight section is recounting more personal loss. This “is really to do with how I wish I’d said so much more to my mum who died forty years ago at the age of just 50,” says Howard. “I wish I’d told her how much she meant to me, I don’t think I ever did, but I guess she knew anyway,” he adds.

The album comes to a close with Secrets, inspired by his time in the 1990s as a record executive, a role that never really sat well with a man who two decades before was hoping to embark on a successful career as a recording artist. Howard explains: “They were great days in many ways, for the first time in my life earning a fabulous salary and travelling First Class round the world for conferences and meetings, but I was constantly waiting for someone to ‘suss me’, to discover I hadn’t a clue what  the marketing guys were rabbiting on about in their bizarre company jargon.”

This crisis of identity is a fitting end to an album that offers a fascinating insight into how we perceive ourselves. The album also provides another interesting chapter in the Howard narrative, of an artist reawakened from the past to become a fiercely independent artist of the present.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about John Howard and details of how to order Hello My Name Is visit here.

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