Currently Listening

Righty ho.

There’s a lot going in my ears at present so I thought I’d drop a few on here while working on a couple of longer pieces and ahead of the inevitable ‘Holy Shitballs OKNOTOK Is Amazing’ post* and share what’s been cropping up regularly in the mix as it were.

Pearl Jam – Of the Girl (Instrumental)

I’m putting together a post about Pearl Jam, specifically their fallow period from 2000-2005 and I think Binaural often gets a bad rap. There’s a lot going on in the songs as this instrumental take of ‘Of The Girl’ from the PJ20 soundtrack shows.

The War On Drugs – Holding On

Because there is a new War On Drugs album dropping this year and this is the first single from it. Shame that the wax looks to be what I’d consider over-priced.

The Appleseed Cast – The Waking of Pertelotte/On Reflection

I don’t think I’ve touched on this band here so far. I can’t get enough of the Low Level Owl albums these days (even if they passed me by first time) and I love, LOVE Josh “Cobra” Baruth’s drumming. These are two seperate tracks that open Volume 1 but are best experienced flowing together as intended .

The Kinks – I’m Not Like Everybody Else

So many great Kinks songs to chose from…. this is a Ray song sung by Dave. It was a b-side to ‘Sunny Afternoon’ but the version I keep listening to was from their final release To The Bone and I first heard it and got hooked via ‘The Sopranos’. **

Fleetwood Mac – Albatross

Because a) this is a great tune to listen to when the sun is shining and b) early / Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac   > Rumours Fleetwood Mac.

*I dropped needle on it once and confirmed I need a new stylus. Until that arrives….

** See also: ‘Living On A Thin Line‘.

A (strange) Twist of Fate…

You know it’s strange how if two people visit the exact same place at the exact same time they won’t have the same experience or see the same things.

Case in point: earlier in the year we took a drive a little further along the coast than usual to Margate. Now, I knew there was a fairly fabled record shop in the town and I was curious to check it out. I remember the vibe, the range and the purchases I made and having to run down the street with the little guy in my arms hoping the food place on the corner would have a toilet he could use.

My wife remembers the music that was playing, I don’t. She shazamed it and it keeps appearing on our Spotify as she listens to it while working at home. So I start listening to it…

Now here we are at the twist of fate element because as much as I’m enjoying the album – Space Echo: the Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde* – the story behind it, the ‘mystery’ is one of my favourite ever.

It’s 1968; a ship leaves Baltimore harbour headed for Rio de Janeiro. It’s a calm, steady sea, the containers it carries are safely secure and this March sailing should not be noteworthy. Except, later that same day, the ship vanishes. Disappearing from radar without a trace.

São Nicolau

Skip forward to a few months later and the villagers of Cachaço on the island of Sao Nicolau, Cabo Verde -an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands 350 miles off the coast of Western Africa – are appropriately gobsmacked and confused when they find… a ship. Somehow marooned, the crew nowhere to be seen. Oh, I should probably point out that they were gobsmacked and confused because Cachaço is 8km inland from the coast.

After much back and forth between the village elders and local authorities it’s decided that the containers should be opened and a team of welders arrive on the scene, getting to work while the locals await with baited breath – presumably still scratching their heads and wondering where the hell this fucking great big ship came from. Well, the only certainty is that it came from Baltimore, having set sail in March of that year. We know that because of it’s cargo. Turns out it’s containers are full of gear from Korg, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond and Rhodes which had been en route to an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro (the first such of its kind) before it mysteriously vanished.

We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of the very latest and best  keyboards and synths available at the time. Seemingly fallen from the sky, into a village with no electricity. In fact, this is what was believed to be the origin of the ship; “fell from the sky”. Aside from the bloody great big crater that had appeared underneath the field it was in, those physicists and scientists drafted in to explain it came up with the same theory! Then, perhaps less scientifically, I don’t know – you have to remember that this was 1968 – someone claimed there were ‘cosmic’ particles on the ship’s hull. Apparently the bow also showed evidence of extreme heat. You know; like a meteor that had fallen to earth.

Amílcar Cabral

Origins aside – the cargo was commandeered by the local police and stored in a church. I imagine at the time the locals were more than a bit disappointed – a bounty of seemingly amazing treasure falls in their lap and a) the lack of electricity makes it useless and b) the fuzz decide to lock it all up.

Now, in 1968 Cabo Verde was still, along with Portuguese Guinea, a colony of Portugal. A chap called Amílcar Cabral and a group of fellow Cape Verdeans and Guineans were fucking furious about this to say the least. Some years prior they’d formed the  African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Acts of sabotage eventually erupted into full scale conflict and the  Guinea-Bissau War of Independence in 1963. This would eventually lead to Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau achieving independence.

So, back to Cabo Verde and that shit load of synths. At this point large tracts of Guinea-Bissau are, despite the presence of Portuguese troops and authority figures, under PAIGC control. Not so much Cabo Verde but the writing is starting to show on the wall. Amílcar Cabral** decides ‘arseholes’ to the police commandeering the haul. He announces that they should be distributed equally amongst those schools on the islands that had electricity.

Overnight a generation of young children got their hands on the very latest musical equipment. According to the legend any of those children that came into contact with the equipment inherited amazing musical abilities. I’ll take that with a pinch of salt but then I’m something of a cynical bastard. I’d say it’s more likely down to kids having a much stronger and untarnished sense of rhythm. Either way the effects of this sudden take up – according to the label behind the release, at least – had a massive role in inspiring the explosion of electrified sounds that emerged from Cabo Verde following its independence in 1975.

All these instruments helped bring to life and modernise traditional, indigenous fold music – some of which had been forbidden under Portuguese governance – and enthusing them with salsa-beats, trippy, futuristic sounds and rhythms that made for a truly unique and compelling sound that’s brilliantly compiled on Space Echo: the Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde. As a bonus it makes for a great listen while the summer sun and heat is burning away too.

Now that is one hell of an origin story, isn’t it?! A whole musical scene and shift and generations turned on to and absorbed by music by one of the strangest twists of fate.

I’ll drop a few below along with the Spotify link for the album, should you be so inclined. Well worth an explore.

 

 

*Perhaps a little out of the usual Alternative / Rock stuff you may be used to expecting on this blog but variety and life’s spices and all of that…

**Amílcar Cabral, born in 1924, was a well-educated agricultural engineer. A poet, theoretician who turned revolutionary and became one of Africa’s leading anti-colonial leaders whose legacy would reach far and wide long after his assassination in 1973.

Tracks: Most of the Time

I can smile in the face of mankind
Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.

How on earth do you begin to chose one track to talk about by an artist like Bob Dylan? A man with thirty-eight studio albums, twelve instalments into the  Bootleg Series.. probably close to three hundred original compositions to chose from. Given that I can go on jags of listening to very little but Bob it’s a near impossible task to think of even a Top Five as that could change on a day-to-day.

Thankfully, that’s not the purpose of these infrequent Tracks posts. It’s more a case of highlighting particular favourites, those ‘always on the play’ songs and, in this instance, from the 1989 Oh Mercy album that’s ‘Most of the Time’. *

My first introduction to this shimmering, atmospheric beauty came via the film ‘High Fidelity’. We’re talking the year 2000. My Dylan awareness and collection is growing but there were – and still are – gaps. One of which was his work in the 80’s. You can’t blame me, I’m far from alone in not really digging his religious albums and while I now think Infidels is a pretty solid album, the three that followed it weren’t and that period didn’t exactly sit on the same priority-purchase list as Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited or Desire did at the time (I’ve still not added those missing 80’s discs to my collection).

So when John Cussack sat soaked on a bench in the pissing rain in a moment of cod-psychology realisation** and a slow-burner song with what sounded very much like Dylan singing over it came through the speakers I had to find out what it was. I mean, shit, they only used a minute of it at most in the film. I scoured the track-listing on the soundtrack when it came out and found ‘Most of the Time’ sandwiched between songs by Love and Sheila Nicholls. But… for reasons unknown didn’t buy it. Perhaps my student loan hadn’t arrived yet or perhaps I’d actually used it for tuition and course books. Either way, it was a few more years before I added Oh Mercy to my collection and fell in love with it all over again.

Oh Mercy is one hell of a fine album by anyone’s standards. For Bob Dylan it represented something of a comeback both commercially and critically. The songs one here are as good as his earlier high standards and Daniel Lanois does a bang up job with the production. Oddly enough, close to a decade later with Dylan’s appeal on the wane again after two albums of covers it would be Lanois who he turned to to produce Time Out of Mind to further acclaim.

Kicking off the second half of the album, ‘Most of the Time’ is perhaps the lushest track on it in terms of production  but the lyrics are what get me. That caveat… “I don’t even notice  she’s gone… most of the time” and it’s implications…. Direct, relatable, to the gut. Dylan (as he indicated in Chronicles Volume One***) was really on a streak, suddenly, with the writing on Oh Mercy – as  The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 would show; even the outtakes were strong – but for me ‘Most of the Time’ is the best thing on it.

 

*In another it could easily be ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ or ‘Love Sick’ but never ‘Wiggle, Wiggle’.

**I liked the film, though as I get older less so, soundtrack aside. The book on the other hand… the character is a complete and utter twat and I had zero interest or compassion for the prize prick.

***Though it’s been suggested that the Oh Mercy section of the book is pure fiction.

…a discovery and not judging records by their covers

I’m someone who’ll happily admit to being wrong*…. though I’m not sure this falls into that category. More an instance of learning to give something a try before passing judgement.

Throughout the tail-end of last year (and some month’s prior when  it came out) I kept seeing mention of an album in those best-of lists. I didn’t read the reviews I didn’t want to know. Why? Well the cover was a big WTF. You can see it here. See, told ya. Nope, not joking; that really is the cover. The band, The Hotelier, decided that’s the best way to package their album Goodness.

So why would I listen to something that’s wrapped like that? Turns out because it’s fucking good is why.

I was reading a feature on Spin’s website on Wednesday – 30 Best Emo Revival Albums Ranked. Now, please, don’t think I’m about to start putting on eyeliner and listening to (shudder) bands like My Chemical Romance or other such atrocities. For me that genre refers to the music of bands like Sunny Day Real Estate or Cap’n Jazz. As such I’d recommend giving the feature a read.

Anywho. It lead to a lot of Spotify listening and discoveries – I’m still wrapped up in The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s Harmlessness too – so many great songs and discoveries that it’s genuinely exciting me. It’s also meant that my Your Daily Mix on said streaming platform has rapidly changed.

One of the albums in the upper echelon of that list – number 4- is just that bizarrely covered album. And I thought ‘ok let’s see what the hubbubs all about, bub.” I mean, afterall, the reviews were pretty ecstatic –  “Goodness feels like that very rare sophomore achievement where a fresh, already pretty great band becomes somehow cosmically greater” or “Goodness does more than remind of existence, it makes the promise of a new day, and even the everyday, feel more alluring.”

So… are they right?

Fuck, yeah.

There’s a rush, urgency to the guitars and vocals. A real pain apparent and never a let up from the percussion. There’s so much in the mix here that I’m discovering more with every listen – and I’ve had a good three of those since yesterday, like being keen to know every moment of these songs as soon as possible. There’s no way to refer to this band as ’emo’ – that would be wrong. They’ve very quickly (I’ve checked out previous albums by now too) evolved beyond that and can very much be considered a shit-hot alternative** band.

I’m still discovering this band and album so may well write more so will leave just a couple of tunes here but, lesson learned; as with books, never judge a record by it’s cover.

 

 

 

 

*Not really because I never am.

**Whatever that means now.

Blog Tour: Wolves In The Dark by Gunnar Staalesen

From the PR: “Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material … and who is seeking the ultimate revenge.

When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet. Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.”

Right now I don’t think there is a writer whose new novels I look forward to as much as Gunnar Staalesen. And I’ll probably say this every year with every new novel; Wolves In The Dark is the best Varg yet! It’s just so fucking good I never wanted it to end.

I cannot recommend the Varg Veum series enough, Staalesen is the sitting King of Nordic Noir and this, the 21st (!) in the series puts Bergen’s finest into his most challenging and dangerous case to date.

Woken up by the police knocking on his door, Veum is shocked to find himself arrested and lead out to a waiting police car for the worst crime imaginable; possessing, sharing and even creating child pornography “of the must repugnant kind.” Having spent a number of the almost-four years previous lost in grief and his alcoholic coping method following the events of We Shall Inherit The Wind, Varg begins slowly pulling together threads of memory and seemingly random cases he’d worked on in the ‘fog’ of those years to try and work out just who might have sufficient a grudge (and ability) to put him in the frame – turns out it’s a pretty long list. When a chance presents itself Veum escapes from the police and sets about investigating for himself.

I read a news story not so long ago about a man whose life was completely ruined after a mistake (an error in one police force’s writing down an IP address) led to him being arrested under child pornography charges and placed on the sex offender’s list. A devastating account of a life turned upside down – his job was lost, he was traumatised, his relationships and family suffered – all because of an error. Turns out there’s a few of these. It seemed stranger than fiction and fascinating – where would you even begin, how could you hope to fight such a case?

I’d like to believe I’d be incensed and able to fight enough to clear my name. But then what about the impact on your life, on your person? To know that so many people – including, in some cases, those near and dear believe you capable of such horrors? Will people ever look at you the same? And these are innocent people. Rendered criminal and untrustworthy, monstrous even, by a mistake.

In Varg’s case it’s not a mistake – the material is on his computer but who put it there? Who has deliberately thrown him to the wolves to be shredded in public? The more he investigates the more he uncovers, the more he shakes the tree the more potential enemies fall out each baring him ill and each with the ability to implicated him via his computer.

The chase, as Varg tears through Bergen as both hunter and prey (to his increasing list of enemies as well as the police) is the most thrilling and gripping in pace as I’ve read from Staalesen; Veum is very much against the clock and working within strict confines of both geography and tool set as he has to evade detection. In previous Staaleson novels I’ve loved the almost leisurely, calm and confident manner in which Veum slowly and methodically pieces together his cases – like a Zen master who knows his craft. Here, though, as much as he knows his craft the shattered state of his memory almost leaves him clutching at straws with thoughts and fragments coming back out of the ether and it’s an absolute joy to read as Veum is forced to work as frantically as possible against the odds.

But what about the human element? The effect of being accused of such horrendous and unspeakable crimes? Well, I’ve said this before and I’ll save it again: Staalesen is the master. He paints an intelligent, detailed and thoroughly convincing portrait of a man on the edge, plagued and sickened (physically) by both the accusation and the crimes themselves (let’s not forget Varg was a Social Services man before a PI) and torn at the prospect people believe him capable of such inhuman crimes.

The underworld of Norway never fails to prove a complex and riveting backdrop in Nordic Noir and Staalesen spins a delightfully well plotted story that delivers a hugely satisfying read as all the strands come together toward a denouement that left this reader gobsmacked.

Again: I cannot recommend Staalesen enough and even though it’s only June, Wolves In The Dark may well be the best book I read this year.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy, do check out the other stops on the blogtour and get your hands on a copy of Wolves In The Dark.

 

Page Turning – Quick Reviews

So I set myself the target of reading forty books this year. I’m still on track with seventeen cleared already and another three or four en route for completion by the end of this month.

I’m getting through some great books,  and while the population of my bookshelves has continued to grow as my to-read list builds I haven’t yet dropped full whack on a book -some I’ve been lucky enough to be sent in exchange for a review, others were gifts and many the result of second-hand book shop hauls. I’m very keen to expand my collection of works by several authors like James Ellroy and my Discworld collection is growing but I don’t like, and this is purely an aesthetic comment, so seek out their older versions.

Anywho. A few of those read so far include…

Iron Gustav by Hans Fallada

I, like many others, discovered and fell in love with the writing of Hans Fallada when  Alone In Berlin was published in English, so many decades after his death. Since then I’ve been devouring whatever Fallada book I can get my hands on, if only the publisher – aware of the demand for this particular German writer – wouldn’t price them so highly for a standard paperback.

Reading Iron Gustav is like reading a master-class in fiction. Fallada was not only an astoundingly talented writer – creating hugely intricate and tightly woven portraits of everyday people and their struggles – but also witness to some of history’s most fascinating and shocking events. Written in 1938 Iron Gustav portrays the hardships bought upon a Berlin family – as a microcosm of Germany itself – following World War One. Forced by the Nazi regime to extend its timeline to include that party’s rise and rewrite chapter, Fallada was left with little choice but to acquiesce and also rewrote the ending. This version gets as close as possible – 70 years after the author’s death –  to Fallada’s original story and is an absolute joy to read. A hugely powerful and important novel restored from the dark past. I simply cannot get enough of Fallada’s writing.

 Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut 

Another writer of whom I simply can’t get enough is Kurt Vonnegut. It was a while before I picked up Slaughterhouse 5 but once I’d had my first sip of this master’s work I wanted the whole bloody goblet. Galapgos, another very apt satirical take on mankind’s failings, is the story of a handful of people who, stranded on the island of Santa Rosalita, become mankind’s last hope after a superbly funny series of events lead to the collapse of the World’s economy, a mass conflict and all of the planet’s women becoming infertile.  

While it’s not my favourite of Vonnegut’s work on my shelves – at this point I’d give that to Mother Night – it’s another fine addition and a real blast to read.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

Last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed Joseph Kannon’s Leaving Berlin. The combination of spy thrill and the Cold War fascinated me and I wanted more so I thought – after constantly seeing references to his work – it was time to give John le Carré a go. I read the first few paragraphs of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold a read online, was hooked so ordered the whole thing and… well…. meh.

I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. I did. The opening is a real hook and the plot itself is certainly a classic in terms of its intricacy and espionage but… I don’t know. This took me far too long to get through and at times it felt like a slog. Maybe it’s down to the main character simply not being all that much of a draw, maybe it’s the writing style feeling a little too dated or just the fact that (spoiler alert) I so dislike an ending that renders having spent the previous 300 pages becoming invested in the characters so bloody pointless that it actually made me angry. The same could be said for Dominion and that bastard was 700+ pages of drudgery.

Still, I’m not completely turned off the idea of John le Carré so may try another in time to come. Plus the Cold War still proves a fascinating era and a very potent backdrop for fiction….

Stasi Child by David Young

I was seeing this book all over the place last year – social media, book shops etc and finally got around to picking a copy up this year. And, given the statement above, and the premise how could I not; “East Berlin, 1975. When Oberleutnant Karin Müller is called to investigate a teenage girl’s body at the foot of the Wall, she imagines she’s seen it all before. But when she arrives she realises this is a death like no other. It seems the girl was trying to escape – but from the West.

Stasi Child is a very well plotted and gripping thriller. It bounds along and it’s sense of place and time is very carefully and skilfully woven in without being heavy handed with the contrast between life in the East and West very convincingly portrayed without resorting to tired cliché and tropes. Almost perfect and I’m very much looking to more from David Young – I see Stasi Wolf was published this year – and the series.

….it was a very good year

… to quote Mr Sinatra.

So, after a period of hint dropping, it was confirmed that, in a rare move, Radiohead would be revisiting their past and would mark the 20th anniversary of the game-changing OK Computer.

My copy of OKNotOK 1997 2017 as it’s called (3 LPs featuring three unreleased tracks and eight B-sides, all newly remastered) has been secured in its indies-only blue variant with my new-favourite shop and I’m sure that I’ll be talking more about OK Computer when I’ve dropped needle upon it.

However, the fact that it’s now 20 years since 1997 has seen a few of those nostalgic lists appear on various sites (Spin published a pretty solid 79 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1997 list) and it got me to thinking that, from an alt-rock point of view at least, 1997 was a very strong year for releases. Let’s take a butchers…

Yes, kicking off with the fact that if ’97 saw Britpop killed by Oasis’ abhorrently indulgent and tuneless Be Here Now, then Radiohead’s OK Computer nailed down the coffin. I remember catching the video for ‘Paranoid Android’ on MTV2 and being blown away.

Foo Fighters would release their second (first as a band) album The Colour And The Shape, an album which is still held up as their best by so many* and contains some of their biggest tunes like ‘My Hero’, ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘Walking After You,’ and, of course that barely-known song ‘Everlong’.

The ‘Everlong’ video was directed by Michel Gondry who also directed the video for Björk’s ‘Joga‘, which features on her album Homogenic which also came out in 1997. Built To Spill used their major label debut to mark a massive stylistic shift and dropped the sublime Perfect From Now On, Portishead released their self-titled album and, while Hand It Over isn’t the best Dinosaur Jr album (it would be the last issued under that name for some time), it features some belters in ‘Nothing’s Goin’ On‘ and ‘I’m Insane’ guaranteeing it gets pretty regular plays from me.

A chap called Elliott Smith released his third album, the beautiful and much-loved Either/Or containing some of the best songs he’d ever produce in his all too-short life.

The post-rock cannon got two very important débuts in 1997. Godspeed You! Black Emperor released their F♯ A♯ ∞ and would go on to become, to me at least, the most important band in the genre. Meanwhile, five blokes from Glasgow in a band called Mogwai released Mogwai Young Team on their way to also becoming a hugely important band in the genre.

Ben Fold Five’s Whatever & Ever, Amen, home to ‘Brick’, ‘Song For The Dumped’ and ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less’ was also released in ’97 and Pavement released Brighten The Corners.

Back into the less ‘alt’ side of things, that fella born Robert Zimmerman made a quick recovery from a life-threatening heart infection despite thinking he’d “be seeing Elvis soon” and dropped, seven years after his previous studio album, the hugely impressive return to form that was Time Out of Mind.

1997 was also the year that I started to get into Aerosmith  released a stonker of an album, even if it would turn out to be their last strong effort to date, in Nine Lives. Look at the evidence: Get A Grip in 1993 was a monster in sales terms but not that much critically speaking and not one I listen to too often. Nine Lives, however, is a powerhouse record of raw sounding rock with some real earthy tones and – for the genre – some pretty eclectic sound and instrumentation. There’s still not one song I’d skip, though I wouldn’t necessarily hold up ‘Hole In My Soul’ as exemplary the rest of the album – ‘Taste of India’, ‘Full Circle’, ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’, the Joe Perry showcase ‘Falling Off’, ‘Somethings Gotta Give…’ ‘Fallen Angels’ – is a classic. Even before they changed the artwork and it shifted like hotcakes thanks to the addition of that asteroid movie song.

There’s also… Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call and, I’m sure, plenty I’m omitting that a look through over such lists will make me go “oh, of course…” but with a lot of strong albums released and the fact that I was earning a regular pay cheque  (weekend work at a supermarket) at this point to fund my growing habit, there’s an awful lot of music in my collection from 1997 that still gets a lot of play.

*I could do a Foo Fighters Least to Most…. The Colour and the Shape battles it out with Wasting Light in my mind for their best to date. Both represent their most consistent and one will have the edge over the other depending on the day.