Cold As Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

From the PR: “Estranged sisters Áróra and Ísafold live in different countries, and are not on speaking terms. When their mother loses contact with Ísafold, Áróra reluctantly returns to Iceland to look for her. But she soon realizes that her sister isn’t avoiding her …she has disappeared, without a trace.

As she confronts Ísafold’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Björn, and begins to probe her sister ’s reclusive neighbours – who have their own reasons for staying out of sight – Áróra is drawn into an ever-darker web of intrigue and manipulation.

Baffled by the conflicting details of her sister’s life, and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Áróra enlists the help of police officer Daníel, to help her track her sister ’s movements, and tail Björn. But she isn’t the only one watching…”

There’s a quote toward the end of Cold As Hell explaining why so many missing people in Iceland are never found, as the country is “so wide and so sparsely populated, much of it not easily accessible, with its cracks in the lava, fissures and river valleys, mountain lakes so cold they never gave up bodies, and the restless sea all around.” It’s small wonder, then, that this chilling, remote country sat atop the world has given us a genre as rich as Icelandic Noir, a genre to which Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Cold As Hell is a magnificent addition.

Cold As Hell is the first in a five-book series and it’s a mighty fine way to kick it off and get the reader hooked in. Taut, addictive and superbly plotted, Liilja Sigurðardóttir has written a real cracker of a novel here.

There’s a surprising amount going on in Cold As Hell. I say surprising because the narrative tears along at a superb pace with short, punchy chapters across multiple subplots and characters, each carrying just the right amount of hook to keep you charging ahead without ever feeling rushed.

Whether it’s Áróra’s search for her sister, financial crimes or the plight of an asylum seeker, Lilja Sigurðardóttir details every element of her novel with a wonderful prose style and populates it with characters that are vital and compelling.

While it’s clear that a lot of ground is being laid here for a longer story arc than one novel can contain, Cold As Hell is thoroughly satisfying in its own right whilst ensuring there’s plenty for the next instalment to sink its teeth into. I’ll also say that Grimur’s ‘twist’ is beautiful in it’s execution and was a hugely satisfying “oh!” moment that really shifted the plot in a manner that’s rarely so well done.

Cold As Hell is a great read. An intelligent and edgy thriller that makes for a fantastic start to the series – I’m already looking forward to book two. My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and to Anne Cater for offering me a review spot on the blog tour.

Monday spins

Here we are with the weekend behind us and staring down the barrel of another week. So, on the day that always feels like a kick in the pills, here’s a quick wander down the path of tunes I’ve been giving a lot of ear time this last week.

Eddie Vedder – Long Way

An Eddie Vedder solo song without a hint of a ukulele? Yup – what’s more there’s an album on the way (I think he plays all instruments but that might be a malicious rumour from the fan forums) following quickly on the heels of the ‘Flag Day’ soundtrack he’d put out earlier. This is a real Tom Petty vibing track, rather than a Pearl Jam song that didn’t pass muster, and that’s no bad thing.

Regina Spektor – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

I’ve been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films recently with my son and ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (which isn’t a Studio Ghibli but from Laika, another studio with a very strong set of films under its belt) came up. It’s got a great soundtrack as you’d expect from a film about a boy with a magical instrument, and while it’s mostly originals there’s this really cool cover of a – frankly – stone cold classic that runs with the credits. I don’t think Regina Spektor has put out a lot of late but she put out a couple of belters back in the day.

Sting – Rushing Water

I can’t say I’ve paid much attention to Sting’s solo output for a long time. I don’t think he’s put out much in the way of ‘straight ahead’ solo music for a bit. If I recall there’s been a musical about a ship, a winter solstice themed album, some tosh with Shaggy, duets…. if anything I’ve listened to his daughter’s work more than his. That being said, turns out he’s got a new album called The Bridge on the way. Not a cover of Billy Joel’s album, more one primed with ‘pop-rock’ tunes that he put together over the last year when nobody could really do anything outside for more than five minutes. Maybe I’m getting older but this seems like a pretty good upbeat and cheerful place to be.

Aerosmith – Boogie Man

We’re all victims of algorithms aren’t we…. I guess because I’d talked about Joe Perry’s book out load in the presence of my phone Prime recommended I watch Aerosmith’s ‘Rock for the Rising Sun’ concert doc. It’s an alright live doc but the most interesting thing was hearing them dust off ‘Boogie Man’ – the almost-instrumental closing track from their gargantuan selling Get A Grip. It’s been in my head ever since and has got me pondering an Aerosmith Least to Most series…

Pixies – Here Comes Your Man (’87 version)

When picking up my copy of the Trompe Le Monde anniversary press from my local record shop I decided to add the Pixies EP aka The Purple Tape to my collection which is a collection of those songs recorded during the band’s first studio session in 1987 that didn’t make it to Come On Pilgrim and it’s a great blast of ‘pure’ Pixies magic.

Pink Floyd – One Slip (2019 Remix)

As part of The Later Years box set Pink Floyd decided to remix their oft-derided 1987 A Momentary Lapse of Reason, their first without that cockwomble Roger Waters shouting at them about how shit they were. Because of Waters’ shouting neither Nick Mason or Richard Wright had enough confidence in their playing to contribute much to the album and it was mostly Gilmour and session musician – hence the remix that’s about to be released as a stand-alone outside of the box set. It features new drum parts from Nick Mason as well as the restoration for Richard Wright’s keyboard contributions to “restore the creative balance between the three Pink Floyd members”. It also sheers off some of the overwrought 80’s production that hampered the original too. Having loved it on The Later Years I’m glad it’s getting a wider reissue.

Let the music do the talking… Five from Joe ‘fucking’ Perry

Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’ was the first band ‘auto-biography’ book I’d read back when it dropped in back 1997 and the well-thumbed hardback on my shelves is testament to how many times I’ve either re-read or consulted it since. I also picked up Steven Tyler’s ‘Does The Nose in My Head Bother You’ at, I think, an airport or similar some years back so I was keen to read to read Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks’ when it was published yet, somehow, hadn’t.

Until, that is, while hitting up the local library with my son to stock up on books for him to read (it gives me a massive sense of pride that he takes joy in sitting down and reading to himself already) I saw Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith’ waiting for me to pluck from the shelves – it’s probably worth pointing out that the music and biog sections sit close by the children’s section, this tale of excess wasn’t nestling alongside the Hilda or Roald Dahl books.

An expectedly calmer read than that of Mr Tyler’s prose – though Perry too was assisted in his auto-bio – while ‘Rocks’ offers a counterpoint to some of his singer’s arguments as well as picking up on the tumult within the band since 1997 (numerous fallings out, injuries, Led Zeppelin auditions and finding out about X-Factor gigs via the internet) as well as just how excessively manipulated by the toxic approach of their manager Tim Collins. Perry gives an insight into his personal life, how event recent addictions to pain pills nearly derailed his marriage and, of course, his relationship with Tyler.

One of the biggest take-homes though is the Perry’s dissatisfaction with his working relationship with Steven Tyler and his singer’s seeming reluctance to write with him alone anymore despite supposedly seeing them as a Jagger / Richards songwriting team. While Tyler – even as recently as Aerosmith’s last studio album Music From Another Dimension – seems inclined to keep trying to write a ‘hit’ single, Perry would rather stick to what the band is good at. If ‘Rocks’ is truth then he and the rest of the band were so appalled at ‘Girls of Summer’ as a song so non-Aerosmith they refused to be in the video.

While Tyler may think that a band into its fourth decade has another chance at a massive hit (likely the reason the last album was so dampened by the cheesiest of ballads), one thing’s clear – Joe Perry has a love for and a real knack for the dirty blues (as opposed to ‘pure blues) rock riffs that make up the band’s finest work.

In fact whenever he hasn’t had an outlet for them in Aerosmith, or when he’s not been in the band, he’s put out a good body of solo work that’s stuffed with great tunes. While there’s something missing in the lyrics or vocals that only Mr Tyler can provide, so many of these could well have been more of a massive Aerosmith song than the schmaltz the group-writing sessions stuffed their later album with.

Here are five of which:

Let The Music Do The Talking

Perry walked away from Aerosmith in 1979. There’s plenty of reasons as to why but it was a glass of thrown milk that proved the final straw. While Perry would later discover that his / Aerosmith’s management team were working to hinder his solo career, the Joe Perry Project’s first album Let The Music Do The Talking shifted well enough, went down nicely with the critics and made it clear that Perry had the riffs that could’ve kept Aerosmith going for a lot longer (by 1980, Aerosmith were playing increasingly smaller venues and Tyler was collapsing on stage more frequently). So clearly an Aerosmith song that when the group reformed it was their first single, albeit with altered lyrics.

South Station Blues

Perry may have had the riffs but he still had an active addiction, a wife that was spending his money as though he were still drawing down Aerosmith payola and as the years went by the Project’s output decreased in quality though, with a new album a year after his first, Perry was already outpacing his former-band’s output. This, from the group’s second, is a pure belter.

Shakin’ My Cage

Years…. decades in fact after his last solo output, Joe Perry decided to ditch the Project element for his first proper ‘solo’ album in 2005. With Aerosmith on another rest period, Perry seemed determined to keep on the bluesier side that had leant itself to their last album Honkin’ On Bobo and put out an album on which he played everything but the drums. It’s not a very varied album but Perry showed he’d still got a fuckload of those classic heavy riffs in his bag even if Tyler didn’t want ’em and if you happen to dig those crunchy guitar workouts then it’s a pretty strong album.

Mercy

Also from Joe Perry and one that was up for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance – fittingly Perry lost out here to Les Paul.

We’ve Got A Long Way To Go

With Aerosmith’s plans in the toilet after illness, injuries and strife called their tour with ZZ Top to be cancelled, Perry pulled together Have Guitar Will Travel – billed as a solo but much more of a band album and a lot less ‘produced’ than his previous album, feeling more like a warm, home-studio rave-up than polished, it feels like a relief in that respect but doesn’t hold together too well. Still, he also had songs like this which were clearly written with his usual singer’s pipes in mind and would’ve gone down well as an Aerosmith tune.

Midweek spins

Here we are on the downhill stretch to the weekend once again and I thought it an opportune time to pull up a chair, pour a mug of the caffeinated stuff and take a butchers at those tunes that have been on repeat this week.

Elliott Smith – Let’s Get Lost

My wife recently added Air’s instalment of Late Night Tales to the record collection and that – as if I needed one – was a prompt to dust off From a Basement on the Hill this week and enjoy the gorgeousness of Elliott’s last (albeit posthumously released) studio collection.

Tad – Trash Truck

Tad loomed loud and large at the heavier end of the Seattle scene spectrum. Flicking through the racks in a charity shop a few weeks back I found an original copy of 8-Way Santa (before the couple on the cover found it and threatened to sue) still with its shrink wrap for a measly £8 (considerably lower than current market rate). Had to be done.

Metallica – Sad But True

Sticking with the heavy for a moment – with the album’s 30th Anniversary pushing a lot of attention toward it, I’ve had Metallica’s ‘Black’ album hammering away in the car for a few days this week, it’s one of those landmark albums from a period in 1991 that was just dripping in classic albums.

Placebo – Beautiful James

A couple of years ago I thought it was curtains for Placebo – their newer stuff was approaching the bottom of the barrel. On the evidence of ‘Beautiful James’ which harkens back to their Meds sound I’d say the layoff – seven years since their last album – has done them some good.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

More proof, if needed, that the next War On Drugs album is gonna be a good ‘un.

My Morning Jacket – Regularly Scheduled Programming

Apparently, in summer 2019, MMJ played a set of shows that were to be their last for some time and were going to be calling it quits for a bit with whispers of retiring the band. Instead those shows reinvigorated them and they decided to get back to cutting great music together. Somewhat sidelined by the pandemic, that new music is finally here and I’ve had ‘Regularly Scheduled Programming’ on repeat this week.

Getting the band back together…

During the final planning stages of our wedding a hair over ten years ago now, aside from the song for our first dance and a few specific requests and genre preferences, our DJ was given only one hard and fast rule: “no fucking ABBA”.

Now, I know I’m in a minority here and I’ve read plenty of posts within my ‘blogging circle’ to cement that knowledge, but I can’t stand them.

So imagine my chagrin when I had the misfortune to hear the tail-end (enough to leave a bitter aftertaste) of the ‘new’ ABBA song on the radio recently, or the twitching of my eye when the approach of their new album release means I’m hit by sponsored ads on the one social media site I still use, or posts from record stores I frequent promoting the opportunity to pre-order said pile of festering shite in a multitude of colours.

However, rather than turn this into a rant about the evils of septuagenarian Swedes phoning it in (I mean, they’re not even gonna bother going on their own tour, they’re asking people to pay to watch fucking holograms!) to grab cash to feather their retirement beds one last time… I got to thinking of those bands which would make me cry hallelujah should they decide to get the band together, even for just one more ride round the block.

So, without wanting to overstay my welcome I’ll keep it at five though I’m sure I’ve missed a good few

REM

They went out on a high with Collapse Into Now which seemed like the perfect way to end it but didn’t tour that album, instead leaving us with a reminder of just how great they were. They needed to do it after Around The Sun saw them floundering. but their last album and the recent re-releases of their seminal albums (including the soon-to-hit New Adventures In Hi-Fi) are proof positive that the Athens, Georgia band had bags of the good stuff and with all members still around and involved in music (save for Bill Berry who has stuck with his retirement from the music industry since 1997) it feels like this is one that really could still happen and live albums such as Live at the Olympia demonstrate their concert draw.

Led Zeppelin

It’s a no-brainer, right? News of a Led Zeppelin reunion, even without the whisper of new material, would be lapped up like nothing else. They, too, would be minus their original drummer but it’s been done since: 2007’s show at the O2 Arena as part of The Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert saw John Bonham’s son Jason fill the stool for a roof-devastating sixteen-song blast that’s easily stated as the best final concert they could have given…. except of course it’s left everyone clamouring for more. Even the band wanted more. Except, that is, Robert Plant. Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham were rumoured to be working on new material together and with Plant not having it, auditioned singers including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler (which, according to Joe Perry’s ‘Rocks’ was not only a shambolic performance but caused further havoc one strained relations in his own band) but nothing came of it.

While it used to be a case that rumours would fly up regularly, Plant’s decisive and inarguable statements that it won’t happen (“I’ve gone so far somewhere else that I almost can’t relate to it. It’s a bit of a pain in the pisser to be honest. Who cares? I know people care, but think about it from my angle – soon, I’m going to need help crossing the street.”) and his desire to keep working on new material has meant they’re less frequent now. Still, as new documentaries and re-releases of their back catalogue prove, the public desire is as strong as ever… it’s a slim one but we can dream.

Sonic Youth

I know… this isn’t gonna happen. They had a brilliant run but with Kim and Thurston’s divorce it was curtains. Thurston has kept schtum on it but Kim’s ‘Girl in a Band’ seemed just as much as a way of airing their dirty laundry in public as it did her emphasising everything in her life non Sonic Youth as though and draw as clear a line under it all as possible and comments over the years but it as a done deal.

But.. hey; this is a ‘we can dream’ list after all and there are bands out there with divorced members (probably best not to mention the on-going drama that is Fleetwood Mac but the list still includes the White Stripes) and all members are not only still putting out some great music but often working together to do so… hell, Thurston Moore’s latest By The Fire shows he’s got Sonic Youth style tunes for days.

Screaming Trees

Of all those albums I forgot back in my post about great last albums, Screaming Trees’ Dust has got to be one of the biggest ‘d’oh’s. It’s such a strong album it’s pretty much perfect, easily their best effort. And yet… The album was already four years on from their previous – Sweet Oblivion – and Dust stalled on the album charts. Following another hiatus for Lanegan to work on his third solo album, the band went back into the studio in 1999 but couldn’t find a label with interest in the demos the sessions yielded. A few shows in 2000 still failed to garner label interest in the group and they called it day.

Always seemingly the undercard of the scene, Screaming Trees have a back catalog that’s stuffed with great tunes and even the recent-ish Last Words – The Final Recordings had plenty of solid contenders and it a reunion would be welcome, except that like so many bands Screaming Trees too seem pretty dysfunctional and relationships have only strained since.

Mark Lanegan recently sent an angry retort to a tweet suggesting he was up for just such a reunion: “I don’t know how many different ways I can say it but any Screaming Trees reunion, show, rehearsal, lunch or fistfight will not include me” which has lead Gary Lee Connor to ponder: “I really question what his motives were the whole time, though. Did he just use us to get famous? I thought it was about making great music.”

Still, if bigger hatchets can be buried I’m sure there’s still a chance…. right?

Dire Straits

Yep, I’d love to see this one but chances are it ain’t gonna happen. Mainly because I’m quite specific here: I’m talking the ‘classic’ Dire Straits lineup so chances are even slimmer.

Mark Knopfler couldn’t take the grief that came with touring on the scale that the last Dire Straits go-around had reached- after a break of five years, the On Every Street tour seemed determined to play on every street with 229 shows across a year and a half into 1992 and an era where the radio landscape was very different to that in which Dire Straits had their peak. For all its strengths both the album and the live document On The Night felt like it was time to stop and so you can’t fault Knopfler for doing so – it was too big to live.

But that was almost 30 years ago and I can’t help but think that a new Dire Straits tour done on a scale akin to Knopfler’s solo outings, where he’s not exactly playing garden sheds, might not seem so objectionable anymore and would be a much better way of saying ‘thanks and goodnight’ – especially if it were to feature Pick Withers who drummed for the band from formation through to Lover Over Gold (their finest) on a few tracks. It’d be unlikely that Mark’s brother David would be involved, though, but I kinda hope those two can at least get back on speaking terms… just take a listen to the difference in quality between their two live albums On The Night and Alchemy and the case for a better send-off is clear.

No Honour by Awais Khan

From the PR: “In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves.

When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore – only to disappear.

Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.”

Let’s get to it: No Honour is an astoundingly good novel. An important and brilliantly written story, Awais Khan’s book is a real stunner that had me riveted from the off.

Commencing with a painfully tragic and moving portrayal of an ‘honour’ killing in a Pakistan village, No Honour tackles a heavy subject matter and Khan, a very talented writer, details a world that is a terrifying reality in parts of Pakistani society and elsewhere in the world. Not for the faint of heart but a powerful, important and compelling read.

The subjects of honour killing, the subjugation of and violence against women and young girls don’t make for an easy read or subject matter for a novel but Awais Khan has an ace up his sleeve in the story of Abida and her father, Jamil. In these wonderful and warm characters and their journey, Khan tells a story that takes the reader through some genuinely shocking scenes that are very real, yet keeps us gripped because we care about them. It also makes it all the harder hitting.

Khan doesn’t flinch in his portrayals of some of the novels darker moments and it’s clear that so much of this is rooted in reality. There’s real skill here – there’s never a suggestion of shock for the sake of it, instead events unfold as though being genuinely observed with Khan’s narrative style deftly guiding us through. It’s a masterfully written story that manages to walk that very fine line in delivering a hard-hitting portrayal of a dark subject matter while still making for compelling fiction.

However, for all the brutality and shock, this is also a story of the power of love and compassion. The love that Jamil has for his daughter and his determination to see her safe, the memory of his mother’s love that guides him, the power of love to win through and show the way beyond the dark and it’s how this compassion shines in contrast to the ways of the jirga that makes the novel so compelling.

Khan has a great style and can paint a brilliant canvas with it – his descriptions of both village and city place you right there and his characters, even the most repugnant, are glorious in their detail.

My thanks as always to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of No Honour and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of this blog tour.

Out of Europe: Five from Germany

It’s been a while since I visited this series and it’s been a while since I was able to visit Europe. And while the aftermath of that clusterfuck of Brexit continues to rumble like a storm of twattery kept going by the deliberate ineptitude of those pocket-lining cuntish cockweasels, continued progress in vaccinations and such means at least visiting Europe is now back on the horizon. So it seemed a fitting time to revisit this series and the ‘wheel of Europe’ has landed upon Deutschland.

I’ve spent no time in Germany but, if progress continues and plans hold, it’ll be a stop on my drive cross-continent next year. We’re all pretty familiar with certain aspects of Germany – the history, a few car brands, the sausages and the beer, Oktoberfest… But what about music?

I know, it’s gonna be a tricky one, what has Germany given the world of music after all? Alright, apart from Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Schumann, Mozart, Wagner and half of Milli Vanilli?

What fits in this blog’s particular wheelhouse from the country of Rammstein and Krautrock?

Kokomo – Kaputt Finker

Kicking off with some post-rock because I really dig Kokomo. Hailing from Duisburg, a city which sits at the junction of the rivers Rhine and Ruhr, Kokomo were one of the first post-rock bands I found when I started getting into the genre’s newer offerings from Europe via Aloud Music. As much as I gravitated toward the Spanish post-rock scene, Kokomo (not sure if they took the name from the Beach Boys song) Kokomo have the good stuff and ad a harder edge to their sound that hits the spot.

Hans Zimmer – Leaving Wallbrook / On The Road

Born in Frankfurt in 1957, Zimmer grew up in West Germany and has credited his mother’s survival in WW2 (the family is Jewish) to her escape to England in 1939. Zimmer’s career took off in 1988 when Barry Levinson asked him to compose some original music for his film Rain Main. I love that film – I don’t often take this blog to the movies but it’s a real quiet gem where much attention was deservedly given to Hoffman but the Cruisester turns in a career best with real character work and a genuine arc – and it’s one where the soundtrack fits perfectly and Zimmer’s original work is highlight amongst era-specific cuts from Bananarama and Etta James’ timeless ‘At Last’. From there he’d go on to score and elevate some cracking films, a few duds of course and Pearl Harbour (where’s that turd emoji?) but it’s always his contribution to Rain Man that comes to mind for me.

Sportfreunde Stiller – Ein Kompliment

Hailing from a town not far from Munich, these apparently football-obsessed (won’t hold it against em) fellas have been at it since the mid-nineties.

Unheilig – Hinunter bis auf Eins

They sure seem to love a bit of the industrial and harder-hitting stuff in Germany. While that sort of thing isn’t usually my cup of coffee (you’re not gonna see ‘Du hast’ on this list) Unheilig weren’t too shabby at all, they combined a bit more of the electronic and lighter elements into their particular blend.

Scorpions – Wind of Change

Yes, I know; it’s cheesier than a snack at 62 West Wallaby Street but could we talk about German music without mentioning Hanover’s Scorpions? Responsible for some of the most offensively awful album covers out there, holders of numerous mullet-championship trophies… sure. But this song resonates with me…. I’ve got a real interest in the fall of the Berlin Wall (to which I’m indebted to for all that’s good in my life) and the era of Perestroika.

My early years were spent knowing two Germanies (not to mention Yugoslavia) and precious little about what was happening on the other side of the Wall. I know now that my childhood on one side was very different to that of my wife’s on the other side under the rule of Ceaușescu and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about those movements which bought about such a monumental change in countries throughout Eastern Europe and the stories of those who made the ultimate sacrifices in trying to break free, those who lost their lives trying to cross the Berlin Wall or swim the Danube and those who stayed in hope. This song – which was written after Klaus Meine had visited Moscow at that movement’s height – and its message has long been associated with that moment in time and continues to set me off to reflecting on history whenever that whistle arrives.

It was either this or ’99 Luftballoons’. In fact, fuck it: let’s have both and end on an upbeat note…

Any way you sing it, it’s the same old song – Five from Talk Talk

At some point between lockdowns last year when non-essential shops were allowed to open up for a little while, we wandered into my ‘local’ record shop. I’m pretty sure I was there to collect something.. anyway, my wife picked up Talk Talk’s It’s My Life (by chance the purple ‘Love Record Stores’ version). I’d heard of the song and I’d heard them mentioned a lot especially in relation to kicking off post-rock with their later work but for some reason had never ventured into their work, like a muppet.

Anywho, cut to a few months later and by the end of 2020 there are four of their five albums (the first one doesn’t really do it for me, too synth-pop) on my shelves and I’ve had that wonderful feeling of discovering an artist and absorbing as much of their material as I can. There’s a massive leap between that second album and their later work and even across their last three albums there’s little by way of connective thread in terms of sound.

I won’t go into a breakdown of their albums or a ranking of them – Aphoristic Album Reviews has already done an outstanding job of that and it’s well worth a read.

I had the pleasure of hearing ‘Life’s What You Make It’ on the radio on the way back from the office this lunch and it felt as good a time as any to sit down with a mug of coffee and explore five songs I really dig from Talk Talk.

It’s My Life

Everyone knows ‘It’s My Life’ how “This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted, no silent prayer for faith-departed”… NO not that one. Nor “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want It’s my mind and I’ll think what I want”. It’s My Life was their breakthrough and while still very much a synth-pop album it’s a fairly decent one (I will be *that* person and say it sounds a lot better on physical vs digital but hey ho) and manages to stand out thanks to Hollis’ vocals and the arrival of Tim Friese-Greene as producer / additional member.

Life’s What You Make It

The Colour of Spring is pretty much a solid 45 minutes of perfection. Just listening to it is an utterly immersive and satisfying experience. Not just a bridge between their previous two albums and their later experiment-embracing final albums, it’s a massive giant’s leap on in a way that only a few bands have ever made. So, yeah, I’m going for two from their third. The lead single, ‘Life’s What You Make It’ is just balls-out brilliant – from that bass riff that’s actually a piano riff (I’d love to have seen Hollis’ face when he came up with such a delicious hook) and that dirty guitar… I could eat this song.

I Don’t Believe in You

I love the angry, moody as a teenager finding out there’s no Wi-Fi guitar that punctuates this one and then that gorgeous little lift immediately afterwards at approx 3:38 like a sudden gush of gorgeousness. What I mean is, if it’s not clear, is that if I was asked to choose a favourite Talk Talk song it would be this.

I Believe in You

Actually, maybe I DO believe in you… It’s almost like a different band behind each album they all sound so different. Spirit of Eden is the one I’d heard about for so long before getting it because it’s so often credited with being one of the touch-points in the birth of post-rock though, as others before me have pointed out, closer to jazz in its textures and ambience. To me the album is one that should be enjoyed as one piece – one gorgeous, mediative intricate piece.

After the Flood

I really have a thing for Talk Talk’s last three albums… Hollis’ voice and that piano sound aside – the real unifying element is just how fucking good they are. With the last one – Laughing Stock – I really feel like Hollis just let go, there’s something gorgeously cathartic in just how free-form the music is.

Some current spins

It’s been a while since one of these but here’s a quick look at some of those things that have been repeatedly inserted into my ears by one process or another lately.

Courtney Marie Andrews – If I Told

I think I’ve mentioned Courtney Marie Andrews on here somewhere before… I remember hearing ‘May Your Kindness Remain’ and saying ‘this is almost perfect, all it needs is for that lurking guitar tone to break’ and it did. ‘If I Told’ is of a similar model – great bruised tones pinned down by Courtney Marie Andrews’ voice. Her latest, Old Flowers, is well worth investigation if you’re that way inclined.

Gang of Youths – The Angel of 8th Ave

Some groups – especially a certain massively ‘meh’ group from Las Vegas – try waaaay too hard to shove some form of Springsteen element into their sound. For others there’s just something there that makes you hear it and Australia’s Gang of Youths falls into that category for me. It took a while for their 2017 Go Farther Into Lightness to break on these shores (perhaps it took the boat from Down Under) but I really dug that one over 2020 and this one – from their new ep – is another good slab of the good stuff; cool rhythms, jangly guitars and a great beat.

The War On Drugs – Living Proof

FINALLY: there’s a new War On Drugs album on the horizon, arriving conveniently the day after my birthday. For me this band just gets better with each new album, A Deeper Understanding was pretty much perfection, I’m digging the title track from the new one so eagerly looking forward to more.

The Staves – Satisfied

The Staves are one of those discoveries you get from hitting a different radio station once in a while. BBC 6Music has gotta be one of the most eclectic stations out of there so while not everything is gonna be my cup of coffee it’s usually solid stuff regardless of genre – driving home one Friday afternoon I caught three great tracks in a row, this was one of them and sent me off to discover more. Cracking group – an indie / folk trio of sisters – who played as part of the live Bon Iver lineup and have four albums of their own behind them now.

Lucy Dacus – Thumbs

Lucy Dacus’ Historian and, particularly, the song ‘Night Shift’ were massive mainstays on my stereo 2017-18. I was pretty stoked to check out her new album and I really need to get round to picking it up, ‘Thumbs’ is such a bare song but so massively affecting.

Björn Olsson – Tjörn

You know there are some weird ways to discover music out there… my son has been watching (and re-watching) ‘Hilda’ on Netflix, it’s a really quirky and pretty wholesome thing with a nice little Nordic feel to it and a surprisingly great selection of songs used across its two seasons. A couple of Björn Olsson songs were featured in it – including this one – and while this dude has one fucking weird discography I’ve been hooked on slipping the headphones in and chilling out with his The Crayfish album lately

Billy Joel – The Downeaster ‘Alexa’

I can’t remember how it started but I found myself going down one of those artist rabbit holes lately with Billy Joel and listening to an array of what are, frankly, great tunes from the piano man and spending a good bit of time with Storm Front which, along with the annoyingly catchy ‘I Go To Extremes’ also has ‘Leningrad’ and ‘The Downeaster ‘Alexa” which has always been a favourite.

The Beresford by Will Carver

From the PR: “Just outside the city – any city, every city – is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford.

There’s a routine at The Beresford.

For Mrs May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.

Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate Smythe no longer does. Because Abe just killed him.

In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers. And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.

Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…”

How to review a novel as devilishly brilliant as The Beresford… that’s the question. I’m still not sure that I have the answer.

Four books in now and I’m never sure what to expect from a new Will Carver novel. Hang on, that’s not entirely true as Carver has well established prior in creating ridiculously well-crafted novels that are wickedly sharp in both style and dark humour, hugely addictive and filled with his own incisive takes on human nature and perceived reality.

What I mean is that I open a new Will Carver novel with anticipation to discover what new twist awaits and it’s always something unexpected and brilliant. The Beresford doesn’t disappoint on that level – or any level in fact.

Will Carver has a very distinctive style and narrative that’s a real joy to read. It’s deceptive; with seemingly little effort he’s able to slip in a huge amount, a wealth of details being slipped in little by little until you’re deep into it and haven’t realised you’ve been holding your breath for the last few chapters.

The Beresford absolutely rocks along at a great pace and every page manages to deliver something fiendishly clever and another hook that propels you on to the next.

Yes, you could say The Beresford is a dark, and at times very dark, thriller / horror and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong but it’s done in way that almost takes delight in the absurdity – Abe searching for ways to dispose of a dead body only to kick himself for forgetting to use private mode – of the situations rather than the gore or shock. It’s a very intelligent dark thriller, then, told with a knowing wink and grin that makes for a wickedly good read that I didn’t want to end.

My thanks as always to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of The Beresford and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blog tour.