Man without ties don’t dress for dinner… Five from Paul Westerberg

As the decade of poodle-rock moved into the decade of flannel and corduroy, the ‘last, best band of the eighties’* The Replacements dropped their final album – All Shook Down.

The Replacements had risen from basements and punk-rock roots to major label status on the back of Westerberg’s ever-evolving songwriting and diversity. While they never made good on their promise (a whole ‘nother story), the rising alt-rock scene that took its cues from the punk-rock scene of the eighties (read Husker Du, Black Flag and The Replacements) and the new dawn ushered in by the success of Nevermind and artists that held his band’s work up as influence, the expectation was there for Paul Westerberg’s solo career to deliver on the ground laid by his band.

You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, though. In a way you wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Westerberg’s solo career route provided the near exact mirror to that of his band’s: going from major label hopeful to prolific indie label darling to basement recordings.

Seemingly torn between consistently playing to his strengths and trying to cover as many bases as possible and remaining true to his punk rock mindset led to oft-patchy albums. Then again, I don’t think he gave or gives a shit, his cynical approach to the music industry alway apparent. There’s a throwaway “is that good enough?” in the mix on Let It Be‘s ‘Answering Machine’ that’s telling of the approach – capture it and move on to the next rather than labour on it. However, for all that, his work is always worth tuning in for as he remains an excellent songwriter who seems to be able to pull of a catchy riff or aching melody at whim while throwing out lyrics with plenty a clever wordplay and knowing wink and I’ve tried to collect five such examples that cover the range.

Whether we’ll hear more from him at this point is anybody’s guess but I sure hope we do.

Waiting For Somebody

Westerberg’s first new solo music didn’t grace an album of his own name but instead featured heavily in Cameron Crowe’s ‘Singles’. Along with scoring the movie, Paul donated two songs for the soundtrack; ‘Dyslexic Heart (a then-unfinished country song he’d written for someone else) and ‘Waiting For Somebody’.

Love Untold

14 Songs, Westerberg’s first solo album arrived in 1993, a year later than the ‘Singles’ soundtrack. I’ve already covered that album here so let’s skip ahead some to 1996’s suitably titled Eventually. His second album suffers from born from two distinct sessions and producers. Sessions with Brendan O’Brien ended when time and songs ran out and the rest of the album was picked up later with Lou Giordano. I think it was for the best – O’ Brien has a style that layers Westerberg’s work to the point of it sounding tired and lacking the spark that comes when he’s playing looser and more off-the-cuff. That being said, ‘Love Untold’ is a pretty decent song.

Lookin’ Out Forever

Kicked out in just that loose, off-the-cuff style – apparently this one had different lyrics for some time before Josh Freese** walked into the session, counted it off and a new take and chorus made its way onto Westerberg’s third album, and last major label release, Suicaine Gratification.

High Time

Having kicked the major label circuit to the kerb (or did it kick him?), Westerberg hit something of a writing streak with three solo albums in his own name along with two credited to his alter-ego Grandpaboy released on Vagrant between 2002 and 2004.

Perhaps to escape the expectation associated with his name, Westerberg used the Grandpaboy albums to drop the stuff that felt more obviously ‘rock & roll’ and Richards indebted stuff that 14 Songs had delivered with ‘Knockin’ On Mine’ and ‘World Class Fad’. It meant that the two albums – Mono and Dead Man Shake – are some of his strongest and most consistent efforts to date.

5:05

Seemingly disinterested in releasing an album in a conventional sense, Westerberg retreated to his basement studio. In 2008 the self-recorded 49:00…. of your Time Life was uploaded to digital outlets that were willing to accept the 49 cents price point he insisted on though promptly disappeared as a likely result of the legal issues surrounding the samples of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf and The Kinks (to name a few) that featured in the single-track album. “Ten publishers came after us immediately ’cause I used all these snippets of songs that I recorded. It was either pay up or pull the thing.”

So he uploaded 5:05 – more of the free-wheeling, deliberately ragged and quickly recorded song that feels like part of his on-going kiss-off to the ‘music making machine’ – which, at 5 minutes and 5 seconds in length, fits in with the 43:55 of the longer piece to total 49 minutes of music on the nose.

I’ll leave you with an interview with the man himself that sums it all up really – the interviewer has no idea who she’s caught in the carpark, Westerberg is perfectly happy for this to be the case. He’s taking the piss a touch with the contents of his bag and yet there’s a certain bittersweet, knowing charm to the ‘yeah, that would be me.’

*per Musician magazine

**drummer extraordinaire who ‘s played with everyone from Sting to Guns ‘n’ Roses as well as The Replacements

Earthling – Eddie Vedder takes it ‘solo’

I’m still here. I’m not quite finding my blogging mojo for reasons various but, hey, if there was anything that was gonna stir the juices a bit it was gonna be Pearl Jam related, right? And a solo album from Eddie Vedder that’s neither a soundtrack or sixteen ukulele tunes was always gonna be worth investigating.

First things first – it’s a manage expectations job. It’s not 1994 anymore and those expecting a Vedder solo album to be something that would represent the singer of ‘Not For You’, say, are living in the past with Walter Sobchack, man. I’ll admit I kind held a smidge of a hope for it though. See, while there are three decades of beautiful tradition, 2022’s Eddie Vedder is a different man. Let’s face it: it’s unlikely that he would have made an album of ukulele songs or caught the same wave that inspired Into The Wild straight after writing ‘Leash’. But, as Pearl Jam’s albums in the decades that followed that last great gasp for music have shown, Vedder remains a crafter of fine lyrics and tunes – as exemplified on 2020’s unexpectedly* strong Gigaton – as he matures.

Hearing the manner he’s been able to bring that sense of inner peace while still screaming at external torments – be they political or global – has made for many of Pearl Jam’s finer moments of the last couple of decades. For a band that’s often demonstrated that the sum is greater than the value of its parts, the real question was whether this would work outside of Pearl Jam on a more traditional (read: with full band backing not just four strings) solo album?

First impressions via lead-off single ‘The Long Way’ were promising – nice melody, lot of Tom Petty vibes while sounding like Eddie having fun without trying to sound like Pearl Jam. It even features Benmont Tench on the hammond organ, the first time the Heartbreaker had taken his equipment out of storage for use since the last Heartbreakers’ tour.

Then my anticipation stalled upon hearing ‘The Haves.’ In fact, it fell asleep. It’s a song with a good lyric but it’s straight-forward tack and lack of hook make the five minute run time feel four times as long. It’s not until the last minute or so that Vedder really seems to get into it from a vocal point. ‘Brother the Cloud’ however sent me to the ‘pre-order’ button**: it’s a fine tune that leans into the Pearl Jam sound without feeling like it’s trying to imitate and an inspired lyric from Vedder that’s seemingly about the passing of two people both called Chris:

Oddly for a solo album, there’s not a single Vedder / Vedder credit – all songs apparently born out of jam sessions with a band made up of Josh Klinghoffer, Chad Smith and Andrew Watt (who also produced) with Vedder smashing lyrics out at a clip that he hadn’t for some time. It means that these songs feel airier and have a spring in their step that speak of the speed at which the project came together and reached our ears. It also feels like Vedder had a real blast making this album. There’s no real head-on tackling of weighty issues and Vedder paints with the brighter, more vibrant rock colours that Pearl Jam typically avoids.

Sometimes this works really well – the previously mentioned ‘Long Way’ and ‘Brother the Cloud’ along with ‘Fallout Today’ and opener ‘Invincible’ shine as initial highlights: there’s a looseness and willingness to play about the music, ‘Fallout Today’ adds another entry into Vedder’s strong-women narratives and the multi-tracking of Vedder’s voice in ‘Invincible’ makes a great entry point for the album. According to a recent chat between Vedder and Springsteen it was the first music written and the last lyric completed:

This looser spontaneity gives Earthing a feel of an Eddie Vedder & Friends Rave Up. Despite the co-write credits, it’s clearly Eddie’s show throughout, though. While the ‘Earthlings’ are made up of big-name players they never contribute anything musically that would make you say, for example, ‘man, Chad’s such an awesome drummer, that fill made me need new undies’. It’s a feeling that’s borne out by the choice of guests on the album’s last volley of tunes too. Vedder has said that he approached the tracklist as he would a concert; toward the end you get a little more relaxed and bring out the guests. Much in in the same way as nobody has walked away from a Pearl Jam show saying “fuck, that dude from The Buzzcocks really added to ‘Rockin’ In the Free World’ tonight” nobody could say that the worst Beatle brings anything other than his name to ‘Mrs Mills’. If we’re keeping the same metaphor you’d guess Elton John was hanging around side stage and dragged on to trade vocals with Eddie on ‘Picture’ but managed to sound more like a South Park parody of himself with a song that feels like it should be accompanying some animated film about two animal friends. The real highlight in terms of guests is the fittingly all-too-brief moment in which Vedder accompanies his father on the closing ‘On My Way’:

For those familiar with the history of Vedder’s discovery that the guy he’d thought was his father ‘was nothing but a…’ that fuelled a large part of his and Pearl Jam’s initial angst, it feels like a fittingly emotional way for Vedder to end this album. Putting to bed some of his troubles on an album where he seems to be having more fun than he’s had on record in a long time.

Much like you’d expect from an ‘Eddie Vedder & Friends’ show, Earthling is a lot of fun and at times a damn fine listen. Those moments when Vedder is on form and giving it his all are great. Even when he’s leaning back and his forays into different styles don’t always land – his inherent abilities and unmistakable voice (though the effects of smoking on his voice prevent him breathing as much into a lyric as he once did) mean that even the lesser of these songs still offer a reason to tune in.

But – Elton John aside – what stops Earthling being brilliant is the sound and production, which fails on at least three tracks. It’s flat, sonically, where it could be really interesting – it’s all volume and no nuance or texture and feels out of place. It all sits on the shoulders of ‘super-producer’ Andrew Watt who, despite his fan status, is better known for his work with the likes of, ahem, Justin Bieber, Post Malone, 5 Seconds of Summer and Miley Cyrus. I’m all for experimenting with new producers; Brendan O’ Brien was hardly an established name when Pearl Jam started working with him and the sonic experiments of Binaural, Riot Act and Gigaton yielded glorious results. However, Watt’s approach of pushing everything up loud drowns songs like ‘Rose of Jericho’ and ‘Good and Evil’ when a little nuance and texture could’ve bought them to life, meanwhile the over-processed sound of ‘The Dark’ would be more at home on a song from some X-Factor pop-puppets or John Shanks produced Bon Jovi record (THE HORROR!). It made me want to go back and listen to Gigaton (no bad thing) and hope that the mutterings that Watt will produce the next Pearl Jam album amount to so much promo-cycle air.

How-fucking-ever: the diversity and full-bodied nature of its highlights make Earthling the better of his solo albums. While it’s not the Eddie Vedder solo album we may have expected, in many ways it does a more than admirable job of straddling both the range of his musical lexicon and tastes past and present in a way that his single-theme solo efforts to date failed to do. It captures a once angry young man comfortable in middle-age and having a great time some thirty years down the line from his grimace appearing on the cover of Time magazine. Given how many of his contemporaries are listed as casualties of the ‘scene’ we should be happy that Vedder is both here and that the easy, Eddie-having-fun vibe that fact brings still makes for a blast on repeated – albeit five songs lighter than intended – listens.

*Backspacer and Lightning Bolt had their moments but Gigaton found Pearl Jam embracing a new producer and sounding tighter than a duck’s arse.

**On cd this time as vinyl production is still feeling the impact of supply chain issues coupled with the the unholy revival of a Swedish crap heap and an equally awful album of ‘heartbreak’ karaoke fodder.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

Despite another morning of waiting for the ice to dissolve from its windscreen before blasting the Ferrari’s mighty engine off of my drive and into the school-run and commute, the steady bead of afternoon sunlight in my eyes and the calling of the blogging urge has pulled me from my hibernation.

Where have I been? Fucking nowhere there’s a pandemic on and the rules change as much as that cockwomble-in-charge’s excuses do, triple-jabbed or not.

What have I been doing? The break wasn’t intended it just happened, maybe I’d lost my mojo, maybe I just needed to switch off a little. I’ve been reading a lot (potentially to be detailed later but Franzen’s latest was as excellent as expected, The Passenger is an amazing ‘lost’ novel rediscovered and Anna Karenina is proving the Russian beauty I wish I’d read sooner), using the festive break to watch films old (unlikely to be detailed later so Bad Boys 2 was as awful as I thought it would be, Face-Off has not aged well at all while Beverly Hills Cop is still a time-capsule joy) and new (Don’t Look Up suffers from split-personality only one half of which is very good, the other shite) of an evening instead of falling asleep in a cattle-truked daze. Oh, and watching Get Back*.

Of course, I’ve also been consuming music across as many formats and mediums as I can including catching up with some 2021’s finest. As Aphoristic Album Reviews points out in his fine summary of the year: putting together a list of a best albums during the year in question always feels a bit weird. What if your favourite artist surprise released a new album on Christmas Day? There’s also the fact that I don’t always get to absorb ‘new’ albums until that end of year break. Anywho, with that in mind and keeping it short and sweet, here are my five favourites of 2021.

Mogwai – As The Love Continues

Mogwai came out swinging in February with As The Love Continues. After the restrictions of 2020 (especially tougher in Scotland than here) gave them an opportunity to work distraction-free on their album, they produced one of their finest ever some 24 years after their debut and a very early and easy contender for AOTY. It bristles with great tunes, a warmth and thrust that they’ve not exhibited in a decade. A big hit with critics and fans alike it actually hit the top of the album charts here (surely that’s the first post-rock album to do so?),it felt too good to be true at the start of 2021 and, tens of plays later, still feels too good to be true at the start of 2022.

Snail Mail – Valentine

I was already hooked on this album on Spotify but after finding the vinyl under the tree this year I’ve fallen ever deeper under its spell (more reason to leave those lists until the year has passed). ‘Sold’ to me as a midway point between Hole and Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail’s second album is a glorious slab of 90’s inspired, emotionally fuelled alt-rock with real range and power.

Dinosaur Jr – Sweep It Into Space

The reunited Dinosaur Jr ‘classic’ lineup have now put out more albums than the three of their original run and one more than the various iterations of the band put out during its major label run. What’s surprising is that they’re still bitingly keen and putting out solid and inspired albums that always have plenty of great tunes on them and a lot of J Mascis’ always dazzling guitar solos. The addition of Kurt Vile as co-producer and occasional rhythm and acoustic guitar player has yielded one of their most sonically interesting and just plain-fucking-great-to-listen-to albums thus far and has been a regular spinner since it dropped in April.

Lucy Dacus – Home Video

I loved Lucy Dacus’ 2018 Historian. Why, then, it took so long for me to pick up Home Video is beyond me.. perhaps it was too much to listen to and too little time but, when my local announced a re-stock I made sure one of them had my name on and I’m glad I did: Home Video is just brilliant: Dacus goes from strength to strength here with an album richer in sound and more personal in lyrics – a compelling mix of alt-rockers and gut-wrench ballads.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – God’s Pee AT STATE’S END

Two post-rock giants releasing great albums in the same year? Yup. Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and Luciferian Towers were ok but didn’t move me in the way that ‘old’ GY!BE and even ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend did… yet AT STATE’S END is a powerful return to that earlier form. Reintroducing found recordings and, like Don’t Bend… delivers two monumental slabs of post-rock with the band’s glorious build-ups from scratchy, static transmissions to crescendos that make your soul go ‘oh fuck YES! interspersed with a couple of drone tracks as if to cleanse the palate.

If this were a Top 10 it would also have included The War On Drugs’ I Don’t Live Here Anymore (a brilliant album that’s way too over-priced on vinyl to have been added to my collection and made the Top 5), Explosions In The Sky’s Big Bend (three post-rock albums in the Top 5 would be pushing it though), The Weather Station’s Ignorance and My Morning Jacket’s self-titled album while Ben Howard would’ve taken an honourable mention for his Collections From The Whiteout.

My favourite ‘Old Stuff Revisited’ release of 2021 is a tie between Tom Petty’s Finding Wildflowers and the re-cast Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture ‘She’s the One’) – that Rick Rubin helmed era of tunes from ’94 thru to 99’s Echo was a rich seam for Petty and these archival releases and new versions are like visiting a golden era and finding it even better than you remembered.

That was 2021… 2022 already has some promising releases on the horizon. I’m eagerly anticipating new albums from The Mysterines, Big Thief, Eddie Vedder (of course), Placebo (for the first time in a while) as well as ‘it could still happens’ like Springsteen’s Tracks 2 to name a few.

*Finding a way to summarise my thoughts on Get Back is likely to take a while

Father’s always smokin’ and your mom’s at church… for Tuesday spins

Yesterday was too much of a growler punch for anything and as my brain returns from being fried I thought it time to look back at those tunes that have been making me either shake my money maker or offer a knowing nod of approval toward the radio in the car this last week and some.

October Drift – Airborne Panic Attack

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to be that guy of a certain age surrounded by post-rock albums and denouncing the music of today or maybe it’s desperation to break out of Spotify’s ever decreasing circles of recommended ‘new’ music… but I love hearing genuinely new music on the radio that ticks all my boxes and try very hard not to think of how the performer is probably half my age.

This has lots of things I like and nothing I don’t.

The Black Crowes Thorn In My Side

That little yellow dude over at 1357 gave me all the nudge I need to slip The Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion into the cd slot in the car last week and it hasn’t left. The guitar tone on this keeps making me go back for more. Whether I need an intermittently correct calendar for the next 50 years remains to be confirmed.

Yasmin Williams – Swift Breeze

We’re into that time of year that means avoiding Mariah Carey and Chris Rea by listening to those Best of 2021 picks (mine will undoubtedly find me sitting surrounded by and picking out post-rock albums as it’s been a good year for the genre) and I keep seeing Yasmin Williams’ Urban Driftwood pop up, phenomenal player and a great album.

Sonny Landreth – Native of the Motherland

Speaking of great players… this one popped as a recommendation and while I prefer his instrumentals like this one, I was glad to discover Sonny’s work.

Coach Party – FLAG (Feel Like A Girl)

Another one from a promising new talent that falls into the ‘making me move my head in a way that rivals Elaine’s little kicks on the drive home’ category that’s been getting a whole lotta spins.

Bruce Springsteen – Prove It All Night (The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts)

Jim over at Music Enthusiast gave me the heads up this one was coming as I was asleep at the switch on this Springsteen drop. It’s every bit as good as the idea of a power-drive run through Springsteen and the E Street Band’s set circa ’79 should be.

The Quiet People by Paul Cleave

From the PR: “Cameron and Lisa Murdoch are successful New Zealand crime writers, happily married and topping bestseller lists worldwide. They have been on the promotional circuit for years, joking that no one knows how to get away with crime like they do. After all, they write about it for a living.

So when their challenging seven-year-old son Zach disappears, the police and the public naturally wonder if they have finally decided to prove what they have been saying all this time… Are they trying
to show how they can commit the perfect crime?

Multi-award winning bestseller Paul Cleave returns with an electrifying and chilling thriller about family, public outrage and what a person might be capable of under pressure, that will keep you guessing until the final page”

Okay, so we all know the adage that you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover – a thoroughly bogus claim anyway – but it would be remiss of me to even think of reviewing Paul Cleave’s The Quiet People without mentioning how bloody awesome its cover art is. It’s also a pretty cracking proposition; many is the time I’ve mentioned that I wouldn’t like to play chess with a few crime writers given how many moves ahead they seem to think. Of course there are also some where you have to wonder if they need to lie back on a couch and talk to someone at a large hourly rate. Obviously reality and a controlled, fictional world over which a writer reigns omnipotent are two different things, but could someone who spends their time coming up with tricky, hard to solve murders, actually get away with murder?

Which leads us to another question, the gist of this review; does Paul Cleave’s The Quiet People deliver on that premise? Does a cracking cover design grace a cracking novel? Oh hell yes.

Paul Cleave has delivered a novel that ‘gripping’ doesn’t do justice to. He kicks it off strong: getting the tension going with a chill-inducing prologue then darts into an equally nerve-wracking scenario as Cameron loses track of his son Zach at a fair. He doesn’t let off that hammer throughout – there’s no way of saying ‘just one more chapter’ with this bad boy, it’s intense in a delicious way.

As a parent of a seven year old son, I found this to have a whole lot of edge-of-the-seat moments and tore through with baited breath just hoping…. but then I can’t talk too much about plot because I don’t want to give this away – I’ve made enough ‘Bruce Willis was dead the whole time’ comments in these reviews. Without trotting out that chess metaphor for the second time in one review, I will say that Paul Cleave has crafted a brilliantly plotted and paced story here with some real vivid scenes. It has the expected twists and turns of a great thriller and a conclusion that might just floor you and it’s told with a masterful narrative and style and, yes, you may wonder if Paul Cleave might be capable of pulling of an unsolvable crime himself it’s so fiendishly clever in its storyline.

The characters push the tension along and Cleave paints them both fully and complex. There’s a real joy to be had seeing how they interact – particularly Cameron and Lisa – as the plot unfolds and the nuances in their behaviour sneak out and cracks appear, the same of which can be applied when the narrative switches to DI Rebecca Kent and her relationship with DI Ben Thompson. The narrative switch, and getting an alternative view of Cameron and his wife to that presented by his narrative is another brilliant element of Cleave’s craft.

Cleave’s prose is precise and wielded like only an expert can. He keeps it taught, powerful and it packs a sharp punch. Ridiculously compelling, tightly plotted and massively rewarding; The Quiet People is another shot of the bloody good stuff from Orenda Books.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blogtour.

Feel the warm wind touch me, hear the waters crashing… Five from Crowded House

Over the last year or so I’ve been delving into Crowded House. Prior to this I’d really only had a familiarity with some of those hits that seemed to be regular radio plays and couldn’t say I’d ever listened to a Crowded House album, let alone own any. That’s since changed and they’ve become one of those bands I’ll often turn to on long drives or just fancy something, frankly, gorgeously charming to listen to.

I’ve yet to really take in the now three albums they’ve made since they decided to regroup in 2006, instead I’ve been thoroughly enjoying their first four album run. I won’t try and give a review of their albums or career as Aphoristic Album Reviews has already done an outstanding job of that – and it was just those round ups that prompted me to delve deeper at last so will merely politely suggest those looking for more can find a perfect round up there.

Instead these are five of my favourite Crowded House songs which, I’ve noticed, neatly represent one from each of their original albums, in order of date rather than preference, along with one of my absolute favourite songs of late which comes from Afterglow – a collection of outtakes and b-sides – and was left off their first album.

Hope you enjoy as much as I have been.

Don’t Dream It’s Over

When You Come

Fall At Your Feet

Private Universe

Recurring Dream

World record players on a tour of Japan, Charlie fixing his van with the left arm tan… Monday spins are here again

It’s the start of another week, another Monday rising to meet us like the tip of the working-week iceberg that looms beneath the chilly waters.

So let’s grab a mug of the good stuff* and take a look back at the week that was in terms of listening delights that penetrated my lugholes.

Courtney Barnett – Write A List of Things to Look Forward To

I have really missed out here – Courtney Barnett being one of those names I’d heard and read of numerous times but never checking out. I guess we’re too spoilt for music these days and it’s hard to get to grips with anything, it’s like my son when we visit the Lego store; there’s so much he didn’t know he wanted and can’t make his mind up as to what to walk away with.

My wife got me back into monthly music mags recently and one of Ms Barnett’s tunes appeared on one of the cds they come with and proved to be the trigger I needed to check out and enjoy her new album Things Take Time, Take Time this last week. It’s pretty damn good.

Foo Fighters – Generator

I’m reading Dave Grohl’s ‘The Storyteller’ at the moment and it’s a cracker of a book. There’s a lot he leaves out for obvious reasons but it turns out that’s he’s quite the memoirist. In it he states his belief that There Is Nothing Left To Lose remains the best album they’ve made to date. I can see why he likes it, personal reasons aside. It’s certainly their first to sound like a real ‘band’ album and it’s stripped-back sound – thanks to Adam Kasper and the bare-bones nature of Grohl’s home studio where it was made – makes for a great listen to this day. I think I ranked it quite highly in my Least to Most a couple of years back but not a top three, good as it is.

John Fahey – Requiem for John Hurt

Because there’s always time for something so great

Cold Water Flat – King of the Undergound

In a weird jog of memory I found myself thinking of Cold Water Flat – a college / alt-rock band that never took off but, as they were formed by Paul Janovitz, brother of Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, came across my radar many years ago. Pretty sure that if I have the cd it’s one of those boxed up in the garage and they’re not on the streaming service beginning with S so had to resort to YouTube to hear the album again. They managed just two of them, one for a major (which borrowed BT’s producer Sean Slade), before going their own separate ways. The drummer would actually go on to pick up the Pullitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel ‘Tinkers’.

Snail Mail – Valentine

Another of those new artists I’d read about / heard about but never checked out. This time it was the weekly emailer from my local / favourite record store Vinylstore Jr that got me tuning in when he pitched it as a ‘midway point between Lucy Dacus and Hole’. Now: I like a bit of Hole and I like Lucy Dacus, but which is best? There’s only one way to find out

Jimmy Eat World – Just Tonight (Phoenix Sessions)

I hadn’t listened to Jimmy Eat World in blood years until I saw this crop up last week. Apparently the band did some of those full-album performances as streamed concerts when the world of touring was shut down last year and are now releasing the audio. Futures was one of their albums I thought was hampered by production so I’ve been enjoying the rawer / live takes on this.

*a rather fruity Kenyan blend today should you be interested

Psychopaths Anonymous by Will Carver

From the PR: “When AA meetings make her want to drink more, alcoholic murderess Maeve sets up a group for psychopaths.

Maeve has everything. A high-powered job, a beautiful home, a string of uncomplicated one-night encounters. She’s also an addict: a functioning alcoholic with a dependence on sex and an insatiable appetite for killing men. When she can’t find a support group to share her obsession, she creates her own. And Psychopaths Anonymous is born. Friends of Maeve.

Now in a serious relationship, Maeve wants to keep the group a secret. But not everyone in the group adheres to the rules, and when a reckless member raises suspicions with the police, Maeve’s drinking spirals out of control. She needs to stop killing. She needs to close the group. But Maeve can’t seem to quit the things that are bad for her, including her new man…”

“I mean there’s obviously no God, and if there was, He’s not sitting around thinking ‘I need to make Jill quit the booze because the red wine turns her into such a cunt.’ That can’t be right. Even if you are everywhere and see everyone and know everything and know everything, you don’t give a fuck about Jill, she’s so annoying.”

This is not your standard thriller, but then Will Carver’s novels are anything but standard, he continues to carve a unique space in the genre with novels that sharply tongued and plotted, deliciously dark in humour and bite and meticulously crafted. Psychopaths Anonymous is another slice of the very good stuff from an exceedingly talented writer – reading a Will Carver you know that not only is this the work of a skilled wordsmith but one who clearly bloody loves it too, it means there’s really no way to read his work and not revel in the joy of doing so.

Yes; Psychopaths Anonymous paints with the darker colours on the palette – there’s murder, very bloody murder in fact, a lot of sex, murdered gangsters with genitalia stuffed into their mouth and plenty of scathing takes on humanity – but it does so with a decidedly insightful voice and a wicked sense of glee and wit that is, if you’ll pardon the pun, addictive. There is a theory that if you’re only exposed to one narrative voice – be it in literature, film, television etc – for a certain amount of time you will inevitably find elements of it in which you identify similarities to yourself. It’s why novels where the protagonist is far from a match for the reader still work, even if they’re capable of the most horrific acts.

How many people watched ‘Dexter’ and still enjoyed watching the character’s breakfast routine with each new episode’s credits as if they were watching an old friend, even if he’d spent the previous episode cutting people into small pieces and dumping them in the ocean? Will Carver’s novels are often populated and narrated by some of the most unpleasant characters guilty of the most heinous acts – one of his former novels was narrated by evil ‘itself’ – and yet his skill lies in a superb ability to find a way in which we can not only find an element to relate to but even agree with some of their most scathing of commentary.

Take Maeve for example. Maeve, as a character and narrative voice is massively compelling – a woman who, on the face of it, has it all and has it all nailed down. Yet it’s a facade – beneath that surface, not particularly too far beneath, is a dangerous whirlwind of a psychopath with a very well managed alcohol addiction and an itch to kill.

And yet… for a supposed ‘psychopath’ – someone lacking in empathy – her actions seem fuelled by a sense of injustice or righting wrongs, whether to her or not, and there are more than a few signs of compassion that peek through the cracks – enough, at least, to ensure you’re ‘with’ this narrative voice rather than feeling your reading the rantings of a Jeffrey Dahmer, say. Is she acting out of a sense of righting wrongs inflicted on those who have penetrated her facade and actually connected to her in some off-kilter way or are is it merely an excuse to indulge in another addiction, like that ‘well nothing important happened today but it is Friday’ excuse for an extra drink? It’ll all depend on your take on Maeve really, how much you’ve already found yourself identifying with in her or her reliability as a narrator.

She’s got no time for dickhead clients – I failed to supress my laughter at her comments during a meeting – or phonies and those that would force either themselves or their beliefs on others and Carver get’s these across in a darkly humours and spot on commentary that you can’t help but agree with. Of course, the difference is that Maeve tackles it in a more ‘hands-on’ way and ends up with a head in her fridge and the reader doesn’t.

It all makes for fucking brilliant fiction and a book that’s hard to put down as you tear from page to page like every other Will Carver novel to date, in fact. A wicked, not-at-all guilty pleasure that’s a joy to read and another great book from an outstanding talent.

My thanks as always to Karen at Orenda for feeding my particular addiction and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blogtour.

These are the days when you wish your bed was already made…. another Monday spins

The purple fella wrote some absolute belters didn’t he?

Well, we’ve slipped out of autumn and into the arse-crack of the year that is November.

Today feels like an especially steel-toe-capped kick in the pills of a Monday thanks to four days of broken sleep so rather than stare bleary-eyed down the barrel of a week I’m too cattle-trucked to deal with, I’ve armed myself with a mug of Ethiopia’s finest and an egg banjo* to take a moment to once again provide a pithy summary of what I’ve been enjoying in the week past and let future-me deal with the next few days.

Sinead O’Brien – GIRLKIND

Getting started with something new again and another ‘holy crap I’m digging this’ moment from a radio-accompanied commute (thank fuck for DAB) – Sinead O’Brien is a multi-disciplined artist and her music, to quote the bio, is a “unique fusion of of lyric-focused spoken and sung words set against the ‘unholy orchestra’ of her band.” I’ve been digging it all week.

Aereogramme – Indiscretion No.243

Oh man I loved Aereogramme. They had a gorgeous way of creating epic, sweeping songs that could then punch into a charge and thrash but just… never made it and the toll of having to constantly self-finance and all the ‘almosts’ took the inevitable toll. I recently found out that Chvrches (who hate being called ch-vurches but what do you expect if you try something gimmicky like that) are made up of two former Aereogramme members which got me joyfully revisiting their discography.

Steve Winwood – Higher Love

If you wanna talk about an amazing CV then Mr Winwood has gotta have one of the most impressive out there. I’ve been dipping in and out of his solo work for a few months now and keep coming back to this most obvious of tunes, there’s something about it I love… I can’t get enough of that intro to this one, the tight, glorious restraint before the song breaks… the percussion, the groove… all great stuff and perfectly of its time.

Courtney Marie Andrews – To Ramona

A frequent name on this blog now.. this comes from a ‘Dylan… Revisited’ comp from Uncut magazine earlier in the year but popped up on my Spotify last week and has had a good few spins since.

Explosions in the Sky – Climbing Bear

Much like Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky have a knack for creating some gorgeous soundtrack work. I picked up their soundtrack to a PBS documentary on Big Bend and, even without seeing said doc, this is typically beautiful stuff from EITS and has often been in my ears since picking it up a week or so back.

Philip Sayce – Burning Out

Kicking into a different gear this week meant dipping back into Philip Sayce’s 2020 album Spirit Rising – plenty of revved-up guitar workouts to dig.

*Translation: fried-egg sandwich

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn

From the PR: “J.D. Salinger, mysterious author of The Catcher in the Rye, is remembered today as a reclusive misanthrope.

Jerome Charyn’s Salinger is a young American WWII draftee assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, a band of secret soldiers who trained with the British. A rifleman and an interrogator, he witnessed all the horrors of the war – from the landing on D-Day to the relentless hand-to-hand combat in the hedgerows of Normandy, to the Battle of the Bulge, and finally to the first Allied entry into a Bavarian death camp, where corpses were piled like cordwood.

After the war, interned in a Nuremberg psychiatric clinic, Salinger became enchanted with a suspected Nazi informant. They married, but not long after he brought her home to New York, the marriage collapsed. Maladjusted to civilian life, he lived like a ‘spook,’ with invisible stripes on his shoulder, the ghosts of the murdered inside his head, and stories to tell.”

There’s a massive difference between the “Sonny” Salinger of this novel’s prologue – an aspiring short story writer chasing his romantic infatuation with Oona O’Neill in the Stork Club and meeting Hemmingway for the first time – and that of the Sergeant Salinger of the coda – drifting through his memories as he tumbles down an escalator at Bloomingdales in 1947 (a point at which part of his famous novel had already appeared in a serialised form) struggling to come to terms with his experiences in the years in between.

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn explores Salinger’s war years, how the horrors and tumult of emotions witnessed and experienced shifted and formed the young writer’s mind and outlook to the point where the naive romantic of 1942 could, less than a decade later, deliver a defining novel oozing in edginess and scathing critique of modern society.

Salinger’s war years are richly imagined, blurring lines between fiction and reality – there was a lot here that sent me to check ‘did that actually happen’ and with so much of it genuinely having taken place (Exercise Tiger really was the horrific cock up it’s described as here and more).

We view the horrors and brutality through Salinger’s experiences whether it’s coming ashore with the second wave on Utah beech and spending hours wading through water, the green hell of Hürtgen Forest or the liberation of Kaufering IV in a way that’s at times reminiscent of Catch-22 with its mix of the absurdity and tragedy of war and the increasingly detached state “Sonny” begins to inhabit – Salinger was hospitalised for ‘combat stress reaction’ after the defeat of Germany. We see a writer being shaped by both events and a growing disillusionment with those around him – be it the Hemingway he again encounters in Paris or his own superiors.

Taking a known figure and carving a fictional version of them with a bit of artistic licensing can often go awry in the wrong hands. But with more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction to his name, Jerome Charyn’s hands are safe ones to be in – here Salinger’s biological facts mix with another talented writer’s imagination to bring the young “Sonny” to life in a way that more straight ahead biographies wouldn’t.

Most importantly, though, even if you’re not familiar with or interested in J.D and his “Holden Caulfield novel” and short stories, Sergeant Salinger works bloody well as a novel in its own right and one very much worth reading.

My thanks to No Exit Press for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blog tour.