Nearly Perfect Albums #26

Drukqs – Aphex Twin

I know I have probably said this before but of all the bands and artists that appear on this list, it was the Aphex Twin that caused me the most selection problems.  Because, any of his releases could have made this list, well apart from ‘Selected Ambient Works Vol 1’ because that is actually perfect and therefore barred from this list.  For a long time I was going with ‘I Care You Because You Do’ and then I was going with ‘Richard D James’ but in the end I went with the 30 track, 100 minute epic that is ‘Drukqs’ with its impenetrable songs titles and its classical piano interludes.

Kladfvgbubg Micshk – Aphex Twin (2001, Warp Records)

The first time I ever listened to ‘Drukqs’ I was driving to Bristol for a meeting.  I remember constantly fiddling with the volume knob, turning up the ambient hums and then frantically turning down the splintered breakbeats and scary squelchy noises. 

It’s a wonderful listen, the music on it ranges from drum n bass that frankly pounds you in the face repeatedly and then runs off laughing in true Aphex style.  It has techno that people with well-manicured beards would say is ‘intellectual’.  It has techno that is so mad it would make a horse dribble with excitement.  It has early 90s rave flashbacks, it has 80s style electro workouts, it even has Richard D James’ parents singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him and on one occasion, it has what sounds like a backward version of ‘Silent Night’ performed by a team of amateur belllringers.  Naturally its all total genius, well apart from the track ‘Bit 4’ which appears to be nothing more than an electronic groan, but even that doesn’t seem out of place.

Btoum- rounada – Aphex Twin (2001, Warp Records)

Lornaderek – Aphex Twin (2001, Warp Records)

As I’ve kind of hinted above, it’s a proper mismash of an album, with no tracks across the 100 minutes sounding anywhere near similar to each one. It’s never dull and is always original.  You get regular dancefloor bangers mingling with ambient abstract piano interludes. Piano interludes like this

Avril 14th – Aphex Twin (2001, Warp Records)

Which on its own has have over 134 million plays on various streaming sites, thanks to its use by Kanye West, John Legend, and various films.  Effectively ‘Avril 14th’ is the biggest hit that Aphex never had.

The best track comes near the end, the eight minute monolith that is ‘Ziggomatic 17’ which flits between being a straight down the line jungle banger to a four to floor rave anthem, it can’t make up it mind and its all the better for it. 

Ziggomatic 17 – Aphex Twin (2001, Warp Records)

New Band Friday – #10 – VEPS

Ballerina (Norah) – VEPS (2022, Kanine Records)

I think word must be getting out about bands who insist that we spell their name in capitals, because here come another one this week.  Four supremely talented teenagers from Oslo called VEPS, who are possibly the finest thing to come out of Oslo since Ivar Skippervold.

VEPS are another one of those prodigiously young bands who are making music that goes well beyond their tender years.  They formed in 2018 when they were all just 14 years old.  Three of the band could already play musical instruments, and encouraged their friend Maja to play the drums, despite the fact that she had never sat behind or even touched the drums before.  By the age of fifteen they were already writing their own songs.  

In 2020, they signed to the New York based label, Kanine Records and in April 2021, they released their debut EP, ‘Open the Door’ of which the lead track was the excellently spiky ‘Ecstasy’.

Ecstasy – VEPS (2021, Kanine Records)

In the spring of 2022 they released their follow up single, the wonderful ‘Ballerina (Norah)’ which evokes memories of early 90s indie guitar pop.  Its full of brilliant guitar hooks and has a nifty little chorus that hangs around.  It might be an obvious comparison but VEPS sound a lot like Veruca Salt or if you want a more European similarity – Bettie Serveert (more of them soon). 

File under Excellent folks.

Major League Music – #7 – New York Yankees

New York, New York – Frank Sinatra

Until about ten minutes ago, I was convinced that the ‘Baseball Furies’ the make up wearing, bat wielding gang that chase The Warriors from 96th Street Station to Riverside Park wore Yankees shirts.  For that reason alone, I dismissed all the trash talking from friends about the Yankees being the spoilt rich kids of the baseball world.  As far as I was concerned the Yankees were great simply because the Baseball Furies were easily the coolest gang in The Warriors.  But it turns out that they were not wearing Yankees shirts at all, and I read in despair that their make up was based on the band Kiss.  You can really go off things, I’m all about the Turnball AC’s now and I’m glad that the Furies got their arses kicked by The Warriors despite heavily outnumbering them.

Putting all that to one side, the Yankees are, the most successful baseball team of all time, they have won twice as many World Series Titles than any other team and have more players in the Hall of Fame than any other team in history so their influence o the game can’t be denied.  Even if they do insist of playing “Are You Ready For This?” by 2 Unlimited before every sodding home game.

Saying that the Yankees are in something of a downward blip at the moment, its been thirteen years since they won the World Series, one of their longest barren periods yet.  

Musically, New York has long been seen as one of the most influential cities in the world.  It is (in some places at least) considered to be the birthplace of hip hop, garage, house, punk rock, and new wave music.  But away from all that, salsa was born in New Yorks Latino neighbourhoods, bebop, doowop and boogaloo all have their origins in one of New York’s suburbs.  I could do an entire series on bands and acts that have come of New York (and other better blogs already sort of have done that), another one on just the hip hop groups from Brooklyn and then another one on songs that are about New York. 

Like these four for instance

New York City Cops – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)

New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down – LCD Soundsystem (2007, DFA Records)

NYC – Interpol (2002, Matador Records)

Empire State of Mind – Jaz-Z and Alicia Keys (2009, Roc-Nation Records)

And here is this weeks local band tip, and there were literally hundreds to choose from – but I’ve plumped for Geese, in whose music you can apparently hear the sounds of Television, Parquet Courts, The Strokes, The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem, we’ll be the judge of that.

Low Era – Geese (2021, Partisan Records)

Of course, we shall revisit New York later in the year when the Mets come rolling into town

Next Week – another city with two baseball teams – Chicago, first up the White Sox

The Never Ending Playlist – #43/Scenes Invented by the NME #2

Honey – Swim Deep (2012, Chess Club Records)

One day I will stop randomly mentioning genres that the NME invented and actually do a proper series about them all.  Until then, here’s another one.  B-Town.  So called because all the bands who were lumped in this B-Town bracket were young indie guitar bands (and all of them white with floppy fringes, stripey long sleeved t-shirts and ball crushingly tight jeans of various colours) from Englands second city Birmingham (although I’m willing to bet that some of them were from Coventry, Wolverhampton and even god forbid, Walsall). 

‘Honey’ by Swim Deep, was pretty much B-Town’s finest hour.  A tremendous slice of indie pop whose chorus is the dictionary definition of ‘earworm’.  The sort of song that I know would have been glued to my stereo had it been around when I was 15.  It has that sort of mid nineties jangly Britpop feel to it.  I quite like it, although its not aging that well.

Anyway, by and large B-Town wasn’t very good, and it didn’t last that long, possibly the NME simply forgot about it after one of the bands associated with it called B-Town “the worst nickname for this great city I have ever heard and it makes me cringe every time I hear it”.  Well I’ve mentioned it five times already chap, so I hope you are not reading.

B-Town (sorry!) first started being mentioned in late 2011, which coincided with the emergence of a band called Peace, who the NME adored and shoved on the cover of their paper.  Peace were B-Town’s greatest prospect, despite not actually coming from Birmingham but Worcester, and if the NME had thought it about for more than five minutes they could have come with ‘Worc Rock’.  Which works in so many ways.

This is considered to be Peace’s finest moment.

Wraith – Peace (2013, Columbia Records)

Here are some other bands associated with B-Town (and I promise that is the last time I will ever mention it).

Friend Like You – JAWS (2013, Side One Records) – who might just be the exception to the capital letter rule.

Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out! – Poppy and the Jezebels (2012, Gumball Machine Records)

Lost Indie Classics -#7/Scenes Invented by the NME #1

Better Than Before – Midway Still (1991, Roughneck Records)

There was in the early nineties a gaggle of bands who did more touring than they did actual recording.   The bands schlepped their way around the UK in knackered out old vans, adding weight to the rumour that they would play pretty much anywhere for 50p and a few sandwiches.  The one band who for about six weeks who looked like they might break out of that group were Kent’s Midway Still. 

The reason why Midway Still almost broke out is because they knew how to make a pop song.  Albeit a pop song that sounded like it has been recorded in your dads garage with instruments found in a skip.  Oh and the NME, loved them and made their debut record ‘I Won’t Try’ Single of the Week.  Which is by the way, excellent.

I Won’t Try – Midway Still (1991, Roughneck Records)

Then, because this is what the NME did, a scene was invented to lump them and their mates in.  Welcome then to Transitcore.  Yup.  A scene comprising of indie rock bands who tour the UK in transit vans.  Other bands in the Transitcore scene were unsurprisingly Leatherface, Snuff, Mega City Four (more of them later), and the Senseless Things, who actually did break out of the transit and enjoy some minor success before re finding the keys to the transit and getting back in it as their success dried up slightly.

Too Much Kissing – Senseless Things (1990, Decoy Records)

John Peel was also a big fan of Midway Stil and after the release of ‘I Won’t Try’ he invited the band into the studio for a Peel Session.  During that show Peel famously played ‘You Made Me Realise’ by My Bloody Valentine at the wrong speed.  Midway Still inspired by such mavericky brilliance, covered the song as part of the session and stuck the track on the B Side to their next single.

You Made Me Realise – Midway Still (1991, Roughneck Records)

It’s Monday, Let’s Swear #13

We the People – A Tribe Called Quest (2016, Epic Records)

After a break of nearly 20 years, A Tribe Called Quest returned in 2016 with a single called ‘We the People’.   It was a ferocious blast that took aim at misogyny, racism, xenophobia, intolerance and fear.  It’s main anger was directed  at then would be President Donald Trump and gave the orange buffoon both barrels, without actually mentioning him.  They didn’t need to, the lyrics alone, said enough.

All you black folks, you must go/ All you Mexicans, you must go/ And all you poor folks, you must goMuslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways/ So all you bad folks, you must go.”

The track opens brilliantly with a drum sampled from a Black Sabbath song, an air raid siren and an incredible riff before the lyrics all kick in.  As the group charge headlong into one of the most politically charged tracks of recent years, fierce uncompromising brilliance from start to end and another example where swearing in a song, when done with anger, frustration and from a political or social standing is absolutely necessary.

In three and a half breathless minutes, A Tribe Called Quest spoke to an entire nation, mostly through gritted teeth and almost sounded as sad as they did angry, regardless of whichever it was, they weren’t standing for it.

They weren’t the only ones taking aim at Donald Trump either.  A year later, as if inspired by the Tribe, Joey Bada$$ went one step further and actually called Trump in magnificently angry style.

Rockabye Baby – Joey Bada$$ (2017, Pro Era Records)

The Sunday Shuffle #27

Polymers are Forever – Future of the Left (2012, Remote Control Records)

Today’s randomly shuffled track comes courtesy of the old iPod Classic, which I have now decided to use every day in protest at Apple’s ridiculous decision to stop manufacturing iPods from here on in.  I will aimly wander about with it on display in the hope that Apple head honcho Tim Cook just happens to be on holiday in South Devon and just happens to walk past me, sees the iPod and stops dead in his tracks….

“Oh what I fool, I have been!” he will say, clutching his forehead in despair.  “There I was thinking that only poorly dressed 00’s throwbacks with bad haircuts and awful taste in music still use the iPods.”  He will then recommission them and make me ‘Head of Cool’ at Apple.  Obviously.

As protests go, it’s not very likely to get very far I admit.  Apart from the bit about being ‘Head of Cool’, that much is pretty much a given.  However, I don’t want to think about the day when my iPod Classic gives up the ghost and I won’t be able to replace it, and I will be forced to buy an iPhone, which I don’t want or need. 

If you ask me the iPod is probably one of the most important technological inventions ever.  A device roughly the size of bar of chocolate that is able to hold more than 20,000 different pieces of music and allow you to play them whenever and wherever you want.   That is an incredible thing when you consider that when most of us started listening to music on the go, it generally meant carrying a pencil around with you in case the cassette got chewed up.  The iPod will be sadly missed.

Here’ some more Future of the Left tracks from their excellent album ‘the plot against common sense’.

Sheena Is a T-Shirt Salesman – Future of the Left (2012, Remote Control Records)

Sorry Dad I was Late for the Riots – Future of the Left (2012, Remote Control Records)

Nearly Perfect Albums #25

Since I Left You – The Avalanches

You know what I love the most about this record?  It’s the fact that it contains more than 900 individual samples.  Knowing the problem some acts have with the clearing of samples, it is a modern day miracle that ‘Since I Left You’ was ever released at all.   Take second single, ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ which itself contains elements from 37 different spoken word recordings, including one of a talking parrot and another one which makes up the bulk of the chorus and chimes “He’s a Nut!, He’s crazy in the coconut”

Back in 2000 when it landed in our ears, it sounded like nothing that had come before it, and that includes your so called ‘car boot techno’ Bentley Rhythm Ace.

Frontier Psychiatrist – The Avalanches (2000, Modular Recordings)

But, it’s not the volume of samples that is impressive, it’s the way that the samples are used, the way that they are twisted, manipulated, and turned upside that makes ‘Since I Left You’ so uniquely refreshing.  It’s the way that tiny snippets of songs suddenly appear, sped up or chopped up – like where ‘Holiday’ by Madonna is used briefly but devastatingly in the album title track.

Since I Left You – The Avalanches (2000, Modular Recordings)

Much of the wonder is how the songs gel together, in any five-minute section you may hear a collection of sounds that shouldn’t ever be considered to mashed together let alone actually done, horse noises, golf instruction videos, school rooms, flutes, horns, anything really.  Its incredible, every second of it because you never know what you are going to get.  Even now twenty years after release I’ll listen to a track and hear something that I didn’t recognise or remember.  Like ‘A Different Feeling’ for instance which takes seventies horn sounds from an old soul record and mixes them seamlessly with video game sounds from the early nineties.

A Different Feeling – The Avalanches (2000, Modular Recordings)

I suppose you could say that there is an over reliance on the formula, drop a beat add a sample, speed or mix that sample up, add a voice sample and away we all go.  You would think that people would get sick of it pretty quickly.  But, like I said it’s the thrill of the unexpected that of suddenly hearing something unexpected pop up and having that one sample rattle away in your head for the rest of the day. 

The album ends with what I think is a high point, with the track “Extra Kings” which is a brilliant flute inspired psychedelic number that sounds a lot like some of the work of Animal Collective or perhaps even the Flaming Lips.  It ends with (I think) the same voice that warbles the chorus of “Since I Left You” telling us that “I’ve tried but I just can’t get you/Ever since the day I left you” as the songs swells around it.  Bloody marvellous

Extra Kings – The Avalanches (2000, Modular Recordings)

‘Since I Left You’ is an album overflowing with ideas, creativity all of which have been transformed into brilliant songs that are a lot of fun, made with humour, joy and thriving on the thrill of the unexpected.  Such dedication to music and the recorded art is hard to ignore and even harder not to love.

……ing Bands #2

1979 – Smashing Pumpkins (1995, Virgin Records)

I nearly interviewed Billy Corgan once, but he was in a grump and decided he wanted to play video games instead.  It was in 1996, when the band were on a three night residency at Wembley Arena as part of the world tour to promote ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ Album.  I’d managed to convince the bands record label to give me twenty minutes with him.  I didn’t really know what I was going to say to him but I at least thought it would be fun to ask him his favourite flavour of ice cream following the ‘Today’ video.

Today – Smashing Pumpkins (1993, Hut Records)

Anyway, I arrived at the backdoor of Wembley Arena, nice and early, a good two hours before the band were due on stage.  My plan was easy, interview Billy, get him to sign my copy of ‘Siamese Dream’ and retreat to the pub opposite the tube where I’d left my mate Chris.  I’ll be an hour, tops I told him.

There are about a hundred people waiting in the backstage area outside the venue.  Some of them are would-be journalists like me, you can tell by the fact that their notebook is not folded in half and they have more than one pen (I have three pens, one black, one blue, one green and I bought my notebook in the Waterloo branch of WHSmiths about an hour ago).  One guy claims to be the Reviews Editor for Kerrang!, another claims to be from The Times.  Everyone else is a Japanese female and nearly all of them are carrying gifts.  The Japanese girls keep trying to get backstage, which is why the security isn’t letting anyone else in.  I do try telling the security guard that I am not hiding a small Japanese lady under my jacket.  Its no good.

It takes for ever.  I write a page of questions and wait further instructions.  Eventually we get let in.  I am plonked in a room with three others, and they tell us that one of the band will be with us in a minute.  Its not Billy Corgan, its not D’arcy, its not even James Iha but it’s a guy called Matt Walker, who is the stand in drummer.  I mean Matt no offence, but literally no one wanted to talk to him.  

I opened my book, and waited as my colleagues asked Matt intricate questions about the band, their sound and a host of other questions that meant nothing.  Questions which Matt, clearly bored, knackered or both answered as best he could.  When it was my turn, I said that most of the good questions had been asked.  I checked my book, cleared my throat and asked “What’s your favourite flavour of ice cream?”.  He looked at me, “Great Question” he said smiling “Definitely strawberry”. 

I closed my book and left with a grin.

Hummer – Smashing Pumpkins (1993, Hut Records)

Major League Music = #6 – Seattle Mariners

Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle – Nirvana (1993,DGC Records)

On occasion in this series, I am lucky enough to be able to call upon the services of a couple of people who I happen to know live in the cities (or near at least) that I am featuring.  Today I am featuring Seattle, and that means I get to introduce you all to Joe. 

I’ve never met Joe, physically at least.  I’ve met him on Zoom a bunch of times, and in meetings that are supposed to be about quite important stuff, we spend about 45 minutes of the allowed hour talking about music and baseball.  He is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and an ardant supporter of the local music scene.  So today’s bit about the baseball team, at least two of the tracks and the new local band recommendation all come from him.  Here he is…

The last time I saw the Mariners play in a post season match I was 18 years old.  They lost to the New York Yankees (more of them next week – SWC).  That was in 2001.  Since 2001, I’ve got married (twice), had two kids, three dogs, nine cars, a mortgage, travelled the world, been in four bands, punched Macauley Culkin (long slightly libellous story, probably for another time – SWC) and got a full time job.  You might think that clearly I’ve been too busy to watch the Mariners in the World Series.  Nope, they’ve never been past the divisional section since 2001.  Heck, they’ve never been to the world series.  Ever.  I love the Mariners, but they suck.  Actually, at times I love the Mariners because they suck. 

Music in Seattle doesn’t suck though.  Jimi Hendrix for example was born in Seattle, and we gave the world Nirvana, Sub Pop Records, The Sonics, Tiny Vipers, Mudhoney, Band of Horses, The Posies and a host of others. On the downside we also gave the world and I hope I get the phrase right ‘sax wanker’ Kenny G (Pretty much spot on Joe – SWC), no matter how many times this city apologises, it never seems quite enough.

Thanks Joe, here’s some music from three of the bands in that list

The Witch – The Sonics (1965, Etiquette Records)

Development – Tiny Vipers (2009, Sub Pop Records) – I’d never heard of Tiny Vipers before meeting Joe, but I totally recommend them if you like bands like Waxahatchee or Bright Eyes perhaps.

March to Fuzz – Mudhoney (1991, Sub Pop Records)

And, this weeks new band is Antonioni, which comes personally recommended by Joe, and you know what, they are very good indeed.

Mary Bell – Antonioni (2021, Lauren Records)

Next Week we meet the Yankees of New York