The Best Stuff I Have Heard This Year #1

The current Lord of Indie

Most of the new music that I have heard this year has come from the Steve Lamacq Recommends show on Six Music. So I’m afraid that this week will be terribly unoriginal.

I’m also not doing countdowns on this blog. It doesn’t matter which is best or not quite as good as the other thing. So this is a run through, in no order at all, of some of the music that I have heard this year that I have loved or just liked quite a lot. I am not promising that it all came out this year either.

When I hear a track that I like I tend to write it down in the back of an exercise book that I was given on a work training course about two years ago. So all the tracks you read about from here having been lovingly scrawled in that book. Let’s start here….

1. Feels So Real – The Clockworks (single, 2021, It’s Creation Baby Records)

A rattlingly great single all about the nightlife of an unknown bit of London. Its wonderfully poetic as it talks about shopping trolleys being thrown in the river and the general urban decay that surrounds the band.

2. Runner Up – TV Priest (single, 2020, Hand In Hive Records)

Another rattlingly good single, this one sort of play homage to the line that Jim Bowen used to say at the end of weirdly popular darts based quiz show ‘Bullseye’. According to the band ‘Runner Up is about protestant work ethic, catholic guilt, games shows and not dancing at Christmas parties. I mean, what’s not to like about that.

3. What The Kids Want – Chay Snowdon (single, 2020)

Chay Snowdon are being likened to Muse, largely because they are from Devon (they are from Plymouth) and used the same producer as them for this riotous blast of high tempo excellence. That folks is where the similarities stop as this is pure garage rock, with added samples and a chorus so catchy that they are giving out vaccines at the local leisure centre to remove it from playing over and over in your head.

4. Let’s Dance to the Real Thing – Stone (single, 2021)

Stone are one of a wave of Liverpool bands that emerged just before Lockdown 1 ready to conquer the world. Only for that inevitable world domination to be delayed by you know what. ‘Lets Dance to the Real Thing’ is a massive bundle of fun, and sounds like the musical equivalent of four 8 year olds who have eaten too many flying saucers.

and today’s Christmas track is (shuffles random Christmas list…..)

Oooh tasty.

Christmas Will Break Your Heart – LCD Soundsystem

The Sunday Shuffle #5

yup that’s shit

Grim Receiver – Shit Robot (2010, DFA Records, Taken from ‘From the Cradle to the Rave’)

Shit Robot are the work of a DJ called Marcus Lambkin and not the name of latest house robot in Robot Wars, sadly. BBC writers if you are reading, that could be brilliant, make a super strong robot that is indestructible and after it immobilises the rubbish robots made by teenagers with no friends and dads who have waaay to much time on their hands, it climbs on to the still sparking corpse of a robot and does a shit on it. Make it happen BBC.

Anyway, Shit Robot, the band, are signed to DFA Records, and therefore must be excellent. They (he?) make a tremendous mixture of old school house music beefed up with heavy old beats – and on this occasion some nifty vocals- provide Juan MacLean (who are also signed to DFA Records and therefore you must also check out for being excellent).

Now next week as its Christmas (sort of) we are going to have a week of The Best Stuff I’ve Heard This Year. That might of course mean old records that I have only just discovered this year – or you know – some new music. Oh and the odd Christmas song.

Nearly Perfect Albums #4

Good kid, m.A.A.d city – Kendrick Lamar

Swimming Pools (Drank) – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

When I started compiling this list I decided that I would only allow one album from any artist to be included and then I got to Kendrick Lamar, because you see, right now, any album by Kendrick Lamar could have featured on this list.

‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’ was my first exposure to Kendrick Lamar, I was inspired to purchase the album on the basis of a review from Pitchfork, which called it ‘fearless, brilliant and unvarnished…’.  I kind of winced at the term ‘unvarnished’ but after one listen of this album I realised that the author was 100% correct –  it is exactly that and I’ll explain why.

It starts with a teenage Lamar chasing after a girl and ends with him watching his friend get murdered.  In between all that it twists and turns through world of different things, love, loyalty, fear, anger, masculinity (and some of the way that women in particular are described is what stops this being a ten out of ten record), gangs, gun violence, racial abuse, police brutality, remorse, hope and survival.    At times you are with him in that car driving through Compton living those gangland clashes, or you are in the club with him as he chases the girls.  This is what makes it unvarnished.  Its honest, its reflective and there is very little to gloss over.

The Art of Peer Pressure – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, mA.A.d city’)

Its honesty also makes it fearless, as Kendrick admits his struggles to avoid the gang culture, a culture that threatens to engulf him.  He grew up in an area where, seemingly young men get shot for wearing a hat with the wrong colour on it, or for having the audacity to walk into a neighbourhood which is not wear they live. Kendrick Lamar wants you to understand that this isn’t some glorified account of growing up, this stuff happened to him.  He was young, scared and way out of his depth.  You can hear the fear and the paranoia as Lamar looks for a way out of all the nonsense

 This is particularly highlighted on ‘m.A.A.d city’ where strings and an ominous drumming beat compete against Lamar’s voice which is noticeably higher, noticeably fractured and noticeably cautious.

m.A.A.d City -Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

No matter how good, all this is (and it is very very good), the albums standout moment flicks everything that comes before it and after it into a top hat.   Folks, if you haven’t heard it before, the sheer majesty of it ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ will leave you breathless.  A twelve minute epic, split into two sections, the ‘Sing About Me’ section has strings, and acoustic guitars and is slightly more laidback.  The second section ‘Dying of Thirst’ is more frantic, the beats are more charged, the rapping quicker and more urgent, and it all comes to a head and finally Kendrick realises he needs some form of awakening. 

Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst – Kendrick Lamar (2012, Interscope Records, Taken from ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d city’)

It’s an astonishing record, again one that is bold and ambitious, and very nearly perfect.

Nearly Perfect Albums will be back after Christmas.

The Never Ending Playlist Week #2

Example of the wrong way to put a CD into a case

10. How You Satisfy Me – Spectrum (1991, Sivertone Records, Taken from ‘Soul Kiss (Glide Divine)

OK – I’ve not discussed this on here, so for uninitiated, a quick music history lesson. Spacemen 3 in the late eighties and early nineties were one of most musically creative and influential acts around. Then around 1990 it all started to go wrong. The bands final album ‘Recurring’ (and if you hang around you might read about how great that record is at some point) saw the record split into two halves, one of half written and recorded by Jason Pierce, the other by Pete Kember also known as Sonic Boom. Then the band split, war was declared and those guys don’t talk anymore. There is as far as I can tell zero chance of there ever being a reunion, in fact zero might be slightly too high a percentage.

Jason Pierce went away and formed Spiritualized and generally its got to be said, won the war. Sonic Boom on the other hand formed Spectrum and frankly should have won the war. Certainly if Spectrum’s debut single ‘How You Satisfy Me’ was anything to go by.

‘How You Satisfy Me’ is a pretty simple track. One catchy psychedelically fuzzy organ riff looped over a catchy chorus and a perfect guitar hook and repeated to the end, but it works so well. It is just as brilliant and just as instantly memorable as anything recorded by Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized for that matter.

Sonic Boom instead of churning out more garage rock brilliance went off and made some very experimental noise records, under the E.A.R moniker (Experimental Audio Research) but he does occasionally return with some proper tunes.

Angels (extended Mix) – Sonic Boom (2004, Space Age Recordings, Taken from ‘Refractions’)

The Never Ending Playlist Week #2

9. Golden – My Morning Jacket (2003, ATO Records, Taken from ‘It Still Moves’)

In 2003, My Morning Jacket were pretty well known on the US scene alt-country/Americana scene. They had built a reputation for brilliant live songs but struggled to reproduce that on record. So they did what all good bands do, sold their souls to the man and signed to a major label and recorded an album that sounded almost as good as those live shows. That album was ‘It Still Moves’ and for many of their fans, its the bands finest album. It’s certainly the first record of the bands that I encountered and for about six months I played this record constantly. In fact, I went through a phase of naming my fantasy football team (not that I do that any more, it was an office thing) after the band that I was listening too at the time of the pick and for two seasons running my team was called My Morning Jacket. Anyway…I digress embarrassingly.

‘Golden’ was the third single off of ‘It Still Moves’ and it is a wonderfully evocative piece of Americana. It opens with a beautifully poetic line “Watchin’ a stretch of road, miles of light explodes…’ and then trots away through a haze of reverb, and country-esque guitars all of which compete with Jim James’ voice for dominance. It does kind of make you yearn for the open road a little bit .

I don’t own the single and I can’t find the tracklisting to post anything from it – but fear not, here is Mahgeetah which Rolling Stone Magazine proudly claim to be one the greatest guitar records of all time. Well duh, the clues in the title.

Mahgeetah – My Morning Jacket (2003, ATO Records, Taken from ‘It Still Moves’)

The Never Ending Playlist Week #2

8. Be My Light, Be My Guide – Gene ( 1994, Costermonger Records, Taken from the Single)

Before we talk about Gene and their very good second single ‘Be My Light, Be My Guide’ lets chat briefly about Costermonger Records because I know a little bit about it – or some of the rumours at least. The rumour is that two NME journalists, Keith Cameron and Roy Wilkinson (who later went on to become friends with Sea Power) were out and about and saw an unsigned act called Gene. The two journos were so impressed that they went home and formed Costermonger Records, and then signed Gene. So the rumour goes.

Anyway, Costermonger put out the first Gene single ‘For The Dead‘ and amazingly the NME made it single of the week. The name of the reviewing journalist is not recorded but I’m willing to bet that his or her desk drawer was filled with a sherberty bribe the night before. The second single ‘Be My Light, Be My Guide’ (although it was actually a triple A side – something that was all the rage twenty years ago) followed shortly again on Costermonger and this time it was made single of the week by the Melody Maker (who worked on the floor below the NME).

Gene I think at first, at least, divided opinion. For some, they were very good indeed. They had been won over with the bands mixture of towering torch songs and indie rock anthems with soaring choruses that highlighted singer Martin Rossiter’s voice to devastating effect. To others, they were just another band that were too heavily influenced by that band from Manchester that must not be named. It’s fair to say that the latter is right, but also the influence of acts like the Jam and Echo and the Bunnymen can also be heard in their early singles. Me – I’m somewhere in the middle as usual.

Here’s the third of the triple A side tracks

I Can’t Help Myself – Gene (1994, Costermonger Records, Taken from ‘Be My Light, Be My Guide Single’)

The Never Ending Playlist Week #2

7. Pyramids – Frank Ocean (2012, Def Jam Recordings, Taken from ‘Channel Orange’)

For a song that is basically about a pimp falling in love with one of his clients, this is kind of epic. ‘Pyramids’ is a 10 minute event rather than just a song. By event I mean you sort of get three songs in one, although they are joined together by hazy interludes. Part One is the best bit, all synths and heavy old beats which revolve around Ocean’s voice, which tells a tale of the pimp chasing his girl ‘Cleopatra’ who works at a club called ‘The Pyramid’. Its pretty cool.

After about five minutes the music and the beats drop off a bit and we are ushered into Part Two, which altogether calmer and the music more hypnotic, as Ocean continues to tell us the story of Cleopatra and the pimp, who surprisingly isn’t a very nice chap at all. Musically, its still tremendous fun though.

By the end, the twist is revealed, the pimp is forced to turn into a customer in order to be with Cleopatra. Its an odd tale to be fair, but one that highlights Oceans voice and set the scene for his second album, the highly acclaimed ‘Channel Orange’

The Never Ending Playlist Week #2

6. Standing In The Way of Control (Soulwax Mix) – The Gossip

Kicking off Week 2 of this never ending series….

Welcome to week two of the Never Ending Playlist. I’ll let you into a secret, this playlist probably will end at some point, but there are thousands of songs on the list and I suspect that by the time we get to the end of that list, we might have all lost our hearing, marbles or both and therefore it really won’t matter.

The Gossip were, as you probably all know fronted by a lady called Beth Ditto. I imagine that’s not her real name. She was once famously described as a combination of Brenda Lee, Dolly Parton and Siouxsie Sioux. A description that is so wrong on so many parts that I don’t really know where to begin. It’s like saying that Jack White is a mixture of David Beckham, Burt Bacharach and the bloke from the Cillit Bang adverts (actually that’s not a bad description).

The most famous version of the song is the Soulwax Nite Version which cranks up the beats, extends the opening yelp of Ditto and turns it into a full of dancefloor monster. However, the Le Tigre Mix is also worthy of your attention – as is the Tronik Youth Version, mainly because I like the name Tronik Youth.

The Sunday Shuffle

The Price I Pay – Billy Bragg (1988, Go! Discs Records, Taken from ‘Workers Playtime’)

Today’s shuffle comes courtesy of my iPod Classic which is now roughly 11 years old and constantly needs charging just to keep it going. If it was a dog it would have ‘wandered off in the woods’ about two years. I am however, very fond of it and I like to think that somewhere in its inanimate soul it is really pleased that I still ask it to shuffle the 18,000 or so songs that sit inside it, even if it does mean the iPod equivalent of a coughing fit straight afterwards.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and Mark Steel, a very funny comedian was talking about his love of Billy Bragg – now I know what you are thinking, left wing comedian heavily influenced by left wing singer, how very obvious. However, Steel was saying actually Billy Bragg wrote very few overtly political songs, and what often gets ignored is the simple fact that Billy Bragg writes wonderful lyrics about life, love and what matters to him. Yes he stands up for the down trodden but deep down he is a big old softy.

Steel used ‘Workers Playtime’ as his prime example (he also used the song ‘A New England‘ as well), it is an album he claims that dispenses with the tubthumping and the rabble rousing and concentrates more on romance. He also said that maybe Billy didn’t want to alienate his political fans, so at the last minute, stuck a picture of a communist march on the sleeve – just to keep the comrades happy.

‘The Price I Pay’ is perhaps one of the most obvious ballads on this album, its a sorrowful piano led affair about love and rejection and contains lyrics such as “There’s something inside that hurts my foolish pride/ To visit the places we used to go together/ Not a day goes by that I don’t sit and wonder why/ Your feelings for me didn’t last forever“ – which is just lovely.

Nearly Perfect Albums #3

Disintegration – The Cure

Pictures of You – The Cure (1989, Fiction Records, Taken from ‘Disintegration’)

In 1989, after (I think) six albums of trying (and failing) to conquer the world with a brand of quirky leftfield oddball Goth pop which was both happy and sad in equal measures, The Cure released ‘Disintegration’.   An album that was nearly all gloom and doom, full of songs that were epic in their structure and their statement.  It looked at first, like an album that would lead to career suicide. 

However, it turned out that people wanted epic, and they wanted doom and relentless gloom and it sold by the bucketload and finally propelled the band to the global success that was long overdue.  It also meant for a little bit at least, The Cure could put down the trumpets.

You might say that the publics acceptance was down to the singles.  There was ‘Lullaby’, with its spiky strings and earworm-y chorus about spiders, surely one of the weirdest songs to have ever cracked the Top Five.  Then there was ‘Pictures of You’ a song so massive and epic that businesspeople went out and built stadiums just so The Cure had a venue big enough to do it justice.  There was even Lovesong, a soppy, erm, love song written by Smith as a wedding present for his new bride (well its beats earrings I suppose) which exploited the public’s need for a catchy chorus and a well placed string section perfectly (particular in the USA where it peaked at Number 2).  

But you would be wrong to say it’s the singles.  They are, if you like, just the lipstick at the top of the make up box.  The real brilliance of ‘Disintegration’ lays in huge sweeping chunks of synth obsessed, and I’ll use the word again, gloom inspired, mastery at the bottom of the box.

From the monumental opener ‘Plainsong’, which is ushered in by chimes that sound like they are warning of you of a storm approaching.  Through the menacing, rumbling bass of ‘Fascination Street’ and the shuddering misery of ‘Prayers for Rain’, right up to the accordion that closes ‘Untitled’.  ‘Disintegration’ is a bleak, stormy masterpiece.

Fascination Street – The Cure (1989, Fiction Records, Taken from ‘Disintegration’)

Plainsong – The Cure (1989, Fiction Records, Taken from ‘Disintegration’)

I don’t suppose its any real surprise that this album has a reputation about being depressing, it kind of is, but it’s a beautiful sort of depressing, one covered in dry ice and played out in a stadium and handing out decaying roses to anyone who wants one.  Its embracing that doom and it invites you to share in it.  I personally think it’s an album full of beauty (a dark sort of beauty perhaps), and its album I find myself enjoying the more I listen to it. 

As predicted last week – the one thing that is wrong with this album is that is too long, there are too many songs (which despite being very good) that clock in at eight or nine minutes but saying that its easily The Cure’s best record, it’s ambitious, inspiring and creative, but best of all, it’s nearly perfect.