Nearly Perfect Albums #22

Cherry Came Too – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

I can I think almost picture the conversation.  Its late in the year 1986, The Jesus and Mary Chain are sitting in a dark room, its light outside but they’ve drawn the curtains obviously.  William looks at Jim and shrugs his shoulders and says “Where do we go now?”.

It would have been a good question.  How do you follow ‘Psychocandy’ a record so utterly perfect?  The answer was something of a surprise (possibly even to the band themselves I would wager), but ultimately in something almost as perfect.  As you might have guessed, ‘Darklands’ is the second best record that the Jesus and Mary Chain ever released, and they join a pretty select group who could have had more than one record in this list. 

‘Darklands’ is of course an entirely different beast to its predecessor, for a start it uses a drum machine instead of Bobby Gillespie’s tribal drumming.  They also turned down the noise, lost most of the gnarky attitude, stripped back the sound, embraced melody and made a bunch of pop songs.  They were, and remain an absolute joy.  Tracks like ‘Happy When It Rains’ and ‘April Skies’ are full of big jangly hooks and at the time were so cool, they were literally wearing a vintage leather jackets and some very dark shades.   They were moody but romantic but not in a sickly treacly way that perhaps other guitar bands from the 80s were guilty of.

Happy When It Rains – Jesus and Mary Chain (19987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

April Skies – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

‘April Skies’ of course blasted the band into the top 10 and the front cover of both the NME and Smash Hits (note to self – do a series on bands who have appeared on the cover of both Smash Hits and NME) – the latter of course called them “Noisy, spotty and weird”.   There is nothing weird, noisy and spotty about ‘April Skies’ or for that matter the gorgeous title track.  Both are pretty damn essential

Darklands – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

(And here just for interest is Fontaines D.C’s version, which is intriguingly wonderful)

The embracing of melody was to some extent a curveball from the Reid Brothers, because ‘Darklands’ is cluttered with it.  Even the songs that probably owe more to ‘Psychocandy’ than ‘Darklands’ are soaked in a pop mentality.  ‘Down on Me’ for instance, the echo-y vocals, the pained growls, all seen aplenty in the debut are all there, but underneath all of that, there is a killer riff that you expect to be drowned out in feedback but it isn’t and it positively glows because of it.  It would have sounded awful on ‘Psychocandy’ but here on ‘Darklands’ it sounds magnificent.

Down on Me – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

New Band Friday – #9 – ME REX

Skin, It Itches – ME REX (2022, Big Scary Monsters Records)

As bold statements go, releasing a 52 track musical project with no tracklisting, no fixed start or end point and that is designed to be listened to on shuffle mode so that it never sounds the same however many times you listen to it, is up there with the boldest. 

You could also say that naming all your releases after a type of dinosaur or a prehistoric beast is another bold statement.  I mean doing one of these things would be impressive, but no band would be daft enough to try both would they…?

Welcome to the world of dinosaur obsessed South London electro indie pop band ME REX.  Where bold statements appear to be two a penny.  They also insist on having their name typed in capitals.  Which as we know by now, automatically makes them geniuses and elevates them immediately to the very good indeed section. 

In April the band released a new EP – called, naturally, ‘Pterodactyl’ which is a more conventional type of release, in that it actually has a tracklisting.  ‘Skin It Itches’ is the pick of the bunch as it sees the band employ not only synths but a drum machine and throws in a chorus that you will be humming for days on end.  It’s excellent.  As is the lead track, ‘Never Graduate’ which has an almost emo sound to it

Never Graduate – ME REX (2022, Big Scary Monsters)

You can check out the 52 track choose your own adventure style album ‘Megabear’ on the bands website.

Prior to ‘Pterodactyl’ was a double EP called wait for it ‘Triceratops/Stegosaurus’ – the lead track from that was called ‘Rites’ and that is a huge thumping erm, beast, of a track.

Rites – ME REX (2020, Big Scary Monsters Records)

Major League Music #3 -St Louis Cardinals

The Spirit of St Louis – Sea Power (2004, Toys Factory Records)

I’ve never been to St Louis, so I can’t personally vouch for this but, apparently the first thing that you do when you arrive there is look up and say, “that is a bloody big arch”.  A reference of course, to the Gateway Arch, the largest arch anywhere in the world and as it happens the largest man-made structure in the Northern Hemisphere.  It has fast become the number one reason to visit St Louis.    Saying that you would need a very good reason to go there as St Louis also has the highest murder rate in all of the USA.  Which is saying something.

One reason to go there would be to see the St Louis Cardinals, the city’s baseball team.  Which is the second most successful team in the history of Major League Baseball with 11 World Series Titles.   They are also one of the fiercest rivals of my beloved Kansas City Royals and each year they play each other six times split across the two cities in what is called the ‘Show Me Series’.  The rivalry stems from the 1985 World Series (which Kansas won in the seventh and final match).  So obviously The Cardinals are rubbish.

Last week the first of the six games took place and St Louis won 6-5.  Meaning that, as I type, the Royals have now lost four in a row.  Like I said, its going to be a long season. 

Musically speaking there is only really one place to start and that would be with St Louis’ most famous son, Chuck Berry.  If only because it makes me think of his cousin, Marvin, in the film Back to the Future, shouting down the telephone about a new sound as Marty McFly rips it up on the stage in front of his future parents.  Face facts Bill and Ted fans, that is cinemas greatest ever guitar solo.

Johnny B Goode – Chuck Berry (1958, Chess Records)

For me the best artist to have come out of St Louis in recent years is Angel Olsen.  Her third album ‘No Woman’ is a thing of absolute beauty and is something that you should all listen to at least once a week.

Shut Up Kiss Me – Angel Olsen (2016, Jagjaguwar Records)

But easily, one of the most success acts to have come out of St Louis, in, well ever really, is Akon.  His 2006 track ‘Smack That’ reached number one in ten countries including the UK where it went platinum.

Smack That – Akon featuring Eminem (2006, Konvict Records)

And here is this weeks randomly picked local band.  I’ve gone for Beau Diamond, who for the second week in a row, are a band that claim to make a kind of indie garage rock sound.   Let’s be the judge of that shall we….

Masquerade – Beau Diamond (2021, Self Released)

Next week: Detroit…

The Never Ending Playlist – #39

Thou Shalt Always Kill – Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip (2007, Lex Records)

I can I think count the number of decent songs that use lists on three fingers.  You have your ‘Losing My Edge’ by LCD Soundsystem with its hipster baiting role call of bands that James Murphy saw first.  You also have your ‘Endless Art’ by A House which celebrates dead artists, poets and authors across history (although that courted controversy by only have dead male artists, poets and authors on the list, to the point where the band recorded a second version just featuring dead female artists, poets and authors – and included bizarrely Mickey Mouse in that list).

Losing My Edge – LCD Soundsystem (2002, DFA Records)

Endless Art – A House (1992, Setanta Records)

And of course, you have ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip which is probably the best of them all.  Which considering how much I love ‘Losing My Edge’ is really saying something. 

 About halfway through this song, he tells us with some conviction that The Clash are ‘just a band’.  What should happen next is that tumbleweed should turn over and Pip and Sac should marched away and tried for crimes against humanity – as everyone looks away in embarrassment.  However, Scroobius doesn’t stop there, over the next minute or so, accompanied by a barely there video game noise beat, he proceeds to ritually slaughter several of our indie schmindie sacred cows, Radiohead ‘just a band’, Oasis ‘just a band’ by the time he gets to Bloc Party we are hooked, agreeing without even considering the consequences that they are ‘just a band’. 

Of course, its just part of a bigger list of things that we all shouldn’t be doing which includes “thou shalt not watch Hollyoaks”, “thou shalt not scream to go faster” and most importantly “thou shalt not question Stephen Fry”.  The orders come at you thick and fast some delivered with menacing venom, some are humourous, some simple common sense.  All of them brilliantly observed sections of social commentary. 

Lost Indie Classics #5

Saffron – Eastern Lane (2005, Rough Trade Records)

Eastern Lane originated from Berwick Upon Tweed, a town previously famous for being in England despite playing football in Scotland, shortbread and I think being officially at war with Russia since 1856.    In 2005, they released ‘Saffron’ which was their second single and it’s a snotty indie rock classic that has all the musical hallmarks of the early works of Ash (think ‘Kung Fu’).  However, it’s lyrically where this really stands out, it’s a passionate old yomp about yearning hearts and infatuation.  However, for a second or two it was worrying awkward.

Because ‘Saffron’ does not start well.  The opening chord, the very first bit, sounds close to the start of the theme to ‘Friends’.  Thankfully within ten seconds, all that nonsense is hurled out of a speeding car as indie rock perfection arrives and batters you senseless with riffs so huge that you could lose a herd of cows in there and a chorus so damn catchy that it should be checked out by a doctor.

‘Saffron’ has but one purpose, well technically two, but we will deal the main purpose first.   That is to make you jump up and down like toddler who has been let loose in a sherbert dib dab factory.  It is relentlessly buoyant, relentlessly joyous and it will make your roar and it will make you grin in a way that only a record so perfect can.  What I find most refreshing about this is the simple barefaced cheek of it, the confidence, the swaggering strutting rock and roll brilliance of it.   It strutted itself all the way to Number 55 in the charts, which is criminally low.

The second purpose , by the way, was to make Eastern Lane household names, that one didn’t quite work out.  Their next single ‘I Said Pig on Friday’ was despite its ridiculous name, just as swaggeringly brilliant and again reached the lower reaches of the charts.  By the way if you can think of a better song with the word ‘Pig’ in the title, then I’d like to hear it.

I Said Pig on Friday – Eastern Lane (2005, Rough Trade Records)

An album ‘The Article’ followed but in 2006, they called it day, blaming record labels and money for their demise.  

It’s Monday – Let’s Swear – #9

You Might As Well Try to Fuck Me – The Music (2001, Hut Records)

Back at the start of the century, there was a band called The Music who after about three gigs had the public and the press frothing at the mouth with fervent anticipation.  The press of course, loved them, the NME famously at the time called them “the best unsigned band in Britain” on the basis of hearing one song.  That being a demo version of this

Take The Long Road and Walk It – The Music (2000, Hut Records)

And you can sort of see what all the fuss was about, all rumbling bass, swirling guitars, the like of which hadn’t really been seen since ‘Fool’s Gold’.  The band also drew comparisons to Led Zeppelin, which was partly aided by the voice of flared trouser wearing, tousled haired singer Rob Harvey.  Harvey possessed the sort of voice that bellowed, a voice that was more a vibrant, shrieking celebration of singing rather than just some bloke standing in front of a microphone.  That he looked a bit like Robert Plant helped as well.  I say ‘looked like’ if you stand in a dark room, wearing dark glasses and squint then Robert Harvey looks a bit like Robert Plant is what I meant.

The usual record company scrummage occurred, and the band finally signed to Hut Records, who at the time were very quickly becoming as important to music as Creation had been four or five years earlier.   Superstardom beckoned surely.  The record company plan was simple, re-release ‘Take The Long Road’ do a tour, take over the keys to master bedroom at the UK Rock Mansion and become the biggest band in the world. 

Only The Music saw it slightly differently.  Instead of doing that, they decide that the best record to release as a debut single was the radio unfriendly ‘You Might As Well Try To Fuck Me EP’.  Which is what they did and Hut Records duly released it along with three other tracks, of which ‘Treat Me Right On’ is probably the best one.   Obviously, the radio stations all refused to play it and the debut EP by the future of rock music sank without a trace, despite it being a belter of a track.

Treat Me Right On – The Music (2001, Hut Records)

The Music did have some success, they did eventually re-release ‘Take the Long Road’ and it did very well (going Top 15 in the Uk).  Around album three Rob Harvey struck up a friendship with Mike Skinner from the Streets and offered guest vocals for his ‘Going Through Hell’ single.  Last year Harvey announced that he was joining Kasabian as their new singer for their next tour.

Going Through Hell – The Streets (2011, Atlantic Records)

The Sunday Shuffle #23

Bootcut Jimmy the G – Hooton Tennis Club (2016, Heavenly Records)

Ah…the Windows update…My computer greeted me this morning with that cheery ‘running updates’ message followed by one that said “this may take some time” so I decided that whichever song was playing on Alexa at the exact moment the computer restarted would be todays randomly shuffled track.   One hour and 14 minutes later I found out…

It was ‘Bootcut Jimmy the G’ the second single from the second album, by Hooton Tennis Club.  Hooton Tennis Club were a four piece from, you’ve guessed it, Hooton, a small suburb of the Wirral.  Musically, they sound in some way like Parquet Courts and Pavement, all slacker indie pop songs about love and loss which are told in a bittersweet reflective manner.  They make record full of characters and references to the area where they grew up and the people they encountered there, if you need further evidence, the first single from the second album was ‘Katy Ann Bellis’.  A song all about the guitarists former flatmate who moved out and never returned to visit him.  A third song is dedicated to Lauren Laverne, or rather her radio show.

Katy Ann Bellis – Hooton Tennis Club (2016, Heavenly Records)

Lauren, I’m In Love – Hooton Tennis Club (2016, Heavenly Records)

All of which are rather excellent as it happens.  The band currently describe their status as being on an indefinite hiatus, which seems a bit of a shame.

Hooton Tennis Club are not the only band to feature Hooton in their name.  In the early nineties there was an excellent punk band, called Hooton 3 Car of which this nifty little 7” has been nestling in my small red box of records since the mid-nineties. 

Drone – Hooton 3 Car (1995, Out of Step Records)

Nearly Perfect Albums – #21

The Holy Bible – Manic Street Preachers

For a band that once stated that they wanted to become the Welsh Guns ‘N’ Roses, ‘The Holy Bible’ is a world away from that.  In fact its two worlds away.  Its an album that is absolutely shaking with fury and rage at just about everything.  It’s also a record that the band could only make once, and in fact very little that the band recorded after this went anywhere close to it, both musically and lyrically.   It is a work of genius, albeit, a bleak and claustrophobic work of genius. 

Musically, ‘The Holy Bible’ is an incredible listen, it took the stadium dynamics of ‘Gold Against The Soul’ and hissy fit mock punk histrionics of ‘Generation Terrorists’ and ceremoniously chucked them in the nearest dustbin.   After doing that the band embraced, new wave, avantgarde art rock, industrial soundscapes, and most surprisingly, goth.  What they created bristled with energy, anger, and ferocity.

Faster – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)

Yes – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)

Of course, the dark heart that runs through this record is that of Richey Edwards.  Edwards was at the time, alongside Kurt Cobain, probably the most brilliant lyricist of his generation.  In 1994, whilst this record was being written and recorded Edwards was ravaged by depression, alcoholism, anorexia and self harm and ‘The Holy Bible’ is in some way his method of documenting his final breakdown. 

A key example of this is ‘Archives of Pain’, a song that is intended as a tribute to the victims of murder, which appears to request the return of the death penalty, lyrics are choked out about “redemption” and “regret”.  Elsewhere in the aforementioned ‘Faster’ James Dean Bradfield venomously spits out “I am an architect; they call me a butcher” as self harm is tackled amazingly.

Archives of Pain – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)

Knowing what happened after this record was released, it seems almost ghoulish to revel in its brilliance, effectively we are applauding the misery of a breakdown.  It also feels weird to heap praise on a record that seems so intent to wallow it such bleakness, but its impossible to not do so. 

I sometimes find it difficult to talk about something that comes from genuine anguish, its easier, perhaps, to just leave it.  But, on occasion that anguish is so vividly described that portraying it as anything other than beautiful feels just wrong, but conversely saying its beautiful also feels wrong.  ‘4st 7lbs’, Richey Edwards’ own personal struggle with anorexic is exactly this. A song that is so harrowing and complex that it almost feels superior in its stark beauty, particularly when James Dean Bradfield sings “I want to walk in the snow and leave no footprint”.  I mean its such a beautiful line, but just so tragically sad at the time.

4st 7lbs – Manic Street Preachers (1994, Epic Records)

Major League Music #2 – Cleveland Guardians

About five years ago I found myself in an airport bar in Charlotte with a four hour wait for a flight to London, my iPod had just given me the apple logo of doom and I was very bored.

I ordered a huge plate of Nachos, and turned my attention to the ball game that was on the screen behind me. Cleveland vs Kansas. Cleveland won and in doing so, set a new divisional record of 21 straight wins. Which, apparently is the second longest winning run in the history of baseball.

Last week, my team, Kansas, lost 17 – 3 to the Cleveland Guardians, which if you want a comparison in football, is likely losing 8 -1 or something. It’s a mauling, a trouncing, a thrashing. We are three games into an 162 game season, its going to be a long season.

Probably the biggest musical act to have come out of Cleveland in recent years are Nine Inch Nails, a band who somehow, incredibly have just announced a two night residency at Cornwall’s Eden Session. I’m not sure the tumeric latte drinkers of St Austell are going to be quite ready for that, there were significant questions asked in the newspaper when Asian Dub Foundation played there ten years ago.

Nine Inch Nails – Head Like A Hole (1989, TVT Records)

In 1994, Richard Patrick left Nine Inch Nails to form his own band, who were called Filter. In 1995, they had some relative success with their single ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’

Filter – hey Man, Nice Shot (1995, Reprise Records)

But its not all shouty angry industrial post grunge rock in Cleveland. Hell, no indie rock is alive and kicking there. One of the finest acts to emerge from Cleveland in recent years are Cloud Nothing, who in 2017 released an excellent album called ‘Life Without Sound’ which followed another excellent record ‘Attack On Memory’ I recommend them.

Cloud Nothings – Modern Act (2017, Wichita Records)

Finally, each week as part of this series I’m also going to post something by a band from the featured city that I have never heard before….this week is the Venus Flytraps, who are apparently an unapologetic garage rock band who sound like The Cramps. I think we’ll be the judge of that….

Their SoundCloud page is here

Next week…St Louis…..

Thanks Chris

Totally Wired – The Fall (1980, Rough Trade Records)

A year ago today, Chris, a friend of mine who I grew up with died suddenly. He was a friend that shared my passion for music, a decent record shop, Lincoln biscuits and cheap wine from Kwik Save. Today’s post is dedicated to him

Every song on this page today was a song that appeared at some point on one of the many mixtapes he made for me, which I played until the tape wore out.

Dreams Burn Down – Ride (1990, Creation Records) – This appeared on a tape, called “Grungy MuffShag Vol. 2 and in brackets after the song title he’d written (Bloody great song) and for a while until I physically held a copy of ‘Nowhere’ in my hands, I thought the actual title of this song was ‘Dreams Burn Down (Bloody great song)’.

X, Y and Zee – Pop Will Eat Itself (1990, RCA Records) – Which was crammed in the middle of Side 2 of a cassette called “Giving a Dog a Rubber Bone (Fnar!)’

Touch Me I’m Sick – Mudhoney (1988, Sub Pop Records) – Track 1, Side 1, Grungy MuffShag Vol. 1.

I’ll be raising a bottle of dog in Chris’ honour tonight.