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.

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.

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.

The 20 Guitarists List

Lists can be such a pain in the arse sometimes… and yet I’m seemingly addicted to making them. Take the whittling down – this one has taken an AGE to get together since seeing Jim over at Music Enthusiast’s some time ago now along with that of Aphoristic Album Reviews‘ slightly shorter list, especially when combined with my procrastination.

Then there’s the ordering – how do you get around that? Simple – this list isn’t in any order what so ever.

What about the title – well this isn’t a ‘Greatest’ list, there’s no way I’d ever attempt to claim that, so the less snappy title for this is actually ’20 Guitarists That I’ve Dug for Years and Will Always Tune In For’. Which is what it is, it’s 20 of my favourite players – not always the most technically proficient or even considered as a virtuoso types but those that nonetheless make the music I enjoy consistently great through their playing. That would make an even less snappy title though.

As is always the way there are plenty that don’t make the list but continually skirt the outside like non-ticket holders hanging around an outdoor show’s fence trying to grab a sonic snatch of their favourite song. Players like Mike Campbell inject a gorgeous sound into some of my favourite songs while the fluidity and wash of sound from the likes of The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel and his pal Kurt Vile are happy mainstays in my ears lately and if I could make this longer they’d be on the long list for sure as would Wilco’s Nels Cline or even Joe Perry or John McLaughlin… you get the point. But I needed to pick an arbitrary number and stick to it or this would never leave the notebook where I make these lists let alone spend the wrist power typing this thing up….

So, with that in mind, let’s get going so that I can think about that ‘Drummers list thing’:

Nils Lofgren

A list has to start somewhere even one that’s not in any particular order. So I’ll start off with sideman extraordinaire, a warm and extremely talented dude: Nils Lofgren.

Nils came to attention as a teenage prodigy having played on Neil Young’s After the Goldrush at just 17 and while the emergence of punk and the shift in musical tastes may have put pay to his burgeoning solo stab at stardom, he continued to put out high quality albums before joining Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band for the ‘Born In The USA’ tour. He’s worked with the Boss solidly since the E Street Band’s reunion (as well as the Greatest Hits reunion of sorts) as well as regular stints in Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse and continuing to record and tour as a solo player.

He’s a ridiculously gifted player – capable of pulling out searing leads and picking out tender acoustic work, whether he’s setting fire to other people’s songs (see his reading Springsteen’s ‘Youngstown’) or his own.

He caught my attention as a solo artist when I heard the acoustic take on ‘Black Books’ on the Sopranos way back in 2000, I could hear his solo on that (from about two and a half minutes thru to the end) daily and still love it.

Mike McCready

Mike McCready may not be on a lot of lists but the dude should get more credit for sure… he toned down his theatrics and finger-tapping to bring a blues-influenced tone and ability to the Seattle scene in a subtle but important way that no other ‘grunge’ band did.

Often referred to as Pearl Jam’s ‘secret weapon’, McCready had just begun moving away from the 80’s metal sound having gotten into Stevie Ray Vaughan just as the band got going and it’s his beautiful tone and leads that set Pearl Jam apart for me and got my ear immediately.

His songwriting contributions to the group are always worth tuning in for as his ability to take another member’s song ‘Nothing As It Seems’ and take it to a whole new level with his guitar work while live he absolutely let’s rip whether it’s absolutely rinsing the arse off ‘Even Flow’ or tearing through a perfect take on ‘Eruption’ into ‘Yellow Ledbetter’.

David Gilmour

So I have this memory… must be before my teens, before I got a CD player even so I’d put that to when I was 11… it gets foggy in the timeline.. anyway this much is concrete: I’d got one of those old midi-systems of the 80’s, you know a black plastic Aiwa thing with a twin tape deck and radio and turntable up top all in one block as opposed to the hi-fi separates of old (which, fittingly, I’m now back to). At some point I decided to get the turntable working – even buying a new cartridge for £1.50 – that’s how vividly I remember it, if only they were that cheap now.

Once I’d got it working – fuck knows why I’d done so or what I tested it on – my Dad used the opportunity to blow the dust off a couple of LPs to get me to listen to – Led Zeppelin’s IV (don’t worry, we’ll get to Jimmy) and The Dark Side of the Moon. Hearing that and David Gilmour’s guitar work was pretty mind blowing. Then, a few years later, I heard ‘Comfortably Numb’ and that second solo… fuck, I still have to stop what I’m doing and listen to it intently – what Gilmour can do with just a subtle bend. Floyd a heavy mainstay in my ears ever since.

Gilmour’s playing elevated Pink Floyd and drove their direction after the departure of Syd Barrett as much as Waters’ songwriting – without Gilmour’s playing the Pink Floyd sound we now all know wouldn’t exist. His own songs may veer toward the floatier stuff (see ‘If’ or ‘Fat old Sun’) but his playing is transportive – hugely melodic and often sprawling solos with perfect tone that I can never can get enough off.

Mark Knopfler

Imagine the brass balls on Mark Knopfler; laying down your band’s first album full of guitar-hero moves at a time that punk was ascendant and adored by the music press, and then laying down its last at a time when alt-rock and grunge was taking over. A foolish move that would’ve failed spectacularly but for one thing: Knopfler’s unassuming and quiet confidence in his guitar playing prowess.

Surely everyone by now knows ‘Sultans of Swing’ – that solo and that tone are unmistakeable and no matter how good that street performer you’ve seen doing it on YouTube is, nobody can play it in the same way and with the same feel. I read that Knopfler arrived at the famous tone by mistake – his pickup getting stuck between settings -but there’s no getting away from his sheer skill as both a songwriter and player. That tone changed in later Dire Straits records – probably as he switched to using PRS and Les Pauls as much as his red Strat – and evolved into a much warmer, enveloping tone that I could just bathe in.

I grew up with those first four Dire Straits records on heavy rotation and I’ll still pick em up and play em regularly now (Love Over Gold is easily their finest) but then I’ll also just as happily put on one of his solo records because while – some nine studio albums in – they’re no-longer as ‘all gold’ as they used to be, through those Dire Straits albums, the soundtracks, the side bands, guest spots on Bob Dylan albums and solo records the common thread is a guitar tone and fluidity that’s always worth tuning in for.

Eddie Van Halen

Oh man… Eddie Van Halen is surely on so many of these lists it’s insane. I’m not a Van Halen fan by any stretch (I’d stick my flag in the Van Hagar camp, mind, as I can’t stand ‘Diamond’ Dave) but Eddie’s playing is something else… as I’ve said before, a real ‘light the touch paper and stand back’ player who could dazzle like no other.

VH’s brand of riff-heavy stuff isn’t my cup of coffee but EVH’s playing… what he could do in terms of harmonics, building textures and then pulling out a solo with so many ‘how the fuck?’ moments stood both his band and him apart and always worth listening to especially later when it became more song-oriented than blowing open a bag of tricks and would never fail to through in a staggering solo even if the song was less than stellar (see ‘Humans Being’ below). That I’m writing about the dude in past-tense now still seems shit.

Bruce Springsteen

Given how Springsteen seems permanently associated with his butterscotch telecaster, his first album didn’t hint at a solid guitar player at the helm. But while he may well have been signed as a thesaurus-swallowing ‘new Dylan’ acoustic singer / songwriter, but before Clive Davis signed him to Columbia, Bruce Springsteen had been honing his guitar chops for years with hours upon hours of daily practice and playing “loud guitars and a Southern-influenced rock sound” in Steel Mill. Since the emergence of those chops on record – ‘Kitty’s Back’ kicking in on The Wild The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle – Springsteen’s guitar playing has been at the centre of some of his best songs. Which seems like an idea for another Springsteen post…

He might not be the most technically proficient of players but he’s all about soul and feel and his guitar lines on songs like ‘Born To Run’ are as iconic as the guitar on that album’s cover. Whether he’s picking out an acoustic melody line on ‘Blood Brothers’, chiming teak-like tone on his later ‘other band work’ or those gorgeous twangy lines of ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ or pretty much all of the guitar work’s bite and crunch throughout Darkness of the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s guitar work always gives his songs – and live performances – the edge.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

You know how sometimes you can hear something and, for reasons unknown, it’s just the wrong time, wrong place for you to get into it? Like your receptors are tuned in to the wrong frequency or something? Happened to me with Stevie Ray Vaughan: I’d heard about the dude being a guitar player of excellence, bought The Essential and just… it didn’t click there and then. BUT a few years later, holy fuck did it click. Can’t remember when but I was sitting chowing down a burger and I heard ‘Empty Arms’ and I just saw there not chewing for four minutes, how had I not paid that cd any attention… I picked that Essential album up as soon as I got home and I’ve been getting as much SRV as possible since. That monster tone and skill; sit up, shut up, pay attention and pick your mouth up off the floor.

Jimmy Page

I mean, fuck: Jimmy Page… do you even need to explain? I remember hearing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in that same sitting as Dark Side of the Moon as being revelatory… John Bonham sitting around for the best part o five minutes and as soon as he begins to get going Jimmy switches to solo mode and unleashes and absolute fucking beast. He’s gotta be the master of dynamics – ‘Ramble On’ is a benchmark – and can swing from great acoustic rhythms to monstrous riffs and scorching solos, not just on the same album but often on the same song.

Jeff Beck

And it’s hi-ho silver lining, and away you go now baby…

How Jeff Beck ever released that is beyond me but I’m sure he gets plenty fed up with it now… as Jim over at Music Enthusiast pointed out – it’s impossible to think of a rock player ‘that’s dabbled in so many genres’. Whatever genre he goes for though, one thing that’s constant is that Jeff Beck is an astoundingly great guitar player.

Prince

Back when I was starting to pay attention more to music the radio was doing a massive disservice to Prince – wasn’t helped by the whole T-A-F-K-A-P / Squiggle thing, sure – and my only real exposure was to songs like ‘Kiss’, ‘Gold’ or ‘1999’ ‘Little Red Corvette’. I mean good songs all (except for ‘Kiss’) but nothing that made me go ‘holy fuck that guy can play’ and not just because using language like that would get my mouth washed out with soap. BUT, man when I heard Purple Rain…. sure it’s his most guitar-heavy album but holy fuck that guy can play! Rock balladry can be a mixed bag but the solo on ‘Purple Rain’ is easily the benchmark by which all others are judged and can’t hit.

I’m not a huge Prince fan – not all his music blows my mind but when he strapped on his guitar it was because he knew not only could he break out in the middle of a song and play the arse off of it, but he could integrate it into a song like few others even when it’s not the strongest thing in the mix. His playing was not only versatile and inventive in style but he could go from from 0-100 in seconds flat – take how he turned the usual circle-jerk Rock n Roll Hall of Fame jam of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and blew it into the stratosphere with no rehearsal!

Johnny Greenwood

Imagine trying to wreck a song and having your guitar’s ‘eh-eh. eh-eh’ stuttering sabotage attempt sounding so good it not only makes the mix but makes the song? That’d be Johnny Greenwood and ‘Creep’. A hugely talented player – equally adept at picking up the bass, piano, viola or drums – it’s Greenwood’s versatility and skill that’s helped push Radiohead from their early days skirting the very edges of Britpop to pushing the definition of alt.rock with OK Computer and then pushing further still with each subsequent album with Greenwood always weaving something brilliant around a song’s parts.

Peter Green

No discredit to Lindsey Buckingham, he’s a fine player for sure, but for me Fleetwood Mac and their ultimate guitar sound is the glorious Peter Green and Danny Kirwan era. Green, specifically (or ‘The Green God’ as he was briefly referred to having replaced Clapton in John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers) had something special, from creating and tearing through blues-based tunes like ‘Oh Well (Part One)’ to those gorgeous instrumentals like ‘Albatross’, I can listen to *that* Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green’s playing until the cows come home.

J Mascis

There are some artists and bands that I’ll be jumping on that ‘pre-order’ link the second a new album is announced and Dinosaur Jr and Mascis’ own solo work is top of that pile and it’s all down to J Mascis’ guitar playing. Having burst onto that noise-rock scene with Dinosaur Jr’s take on ‘ear-bleeding country music’ with melodies buried in fuzz-tone up to their arse, Dinosaur Jr’s sound shifted slightly as they signed to a major in time to capitalise (well, to a limited extent) on the praise being heaped on them by the era’s alt-rock champions.

Mascis’ playing has continued to evolve and swing from epic riffs to soft melodic tunes but all with one thing in common: it’s only ever a matter of time before Mascis detonates them with a scorcher of a solo, and I’ll never get tired of that.

Chuck Berry

I can’t lay any claim to being schooled on rock and blues history from a young age, I was born in 1980 – most music on the radio while my hearing was developing was tosh. My first exposure to a Chuck Berry riff was probably the same as so many others of my generation – “Chuck, Chuck! It’s MarvinYour cousinMarvin Berry! You know that new sound you were looking for? Well, listen to THIS!”

But then you go back and hear the original and find out what Chuck was doing with Chess… man, it was like finding the skeleton of the missing link. I’ll put on a comp his first ten years and hear the blueprints for everything I dig now right there: he took the soul and tone of blues licks, sped em up and strapped em to the burgeoning rock n roll sound and seemingly invented rock guitar. More than being able to come up with a wicked lick, Chuck’s songs and lyrics can be fucking spot on too and the fact that live he’d play with pick-up bands and still bring the heat… there’s a reason he’s the legend he is.

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore rubbing shoulders with Chuck Berry… such is the joy of these lists. What Thurston (in combination with Lee Ranaldo) bought to the front with their playing is a pretty unique sound that I dig on so many levels – experimentation with tunings, prepared and altered guitars, jams that cascade into feedback before pulling back the threads into the melody and thrash-like strumming to build hypnotic rhythms. This isn’t guitar playing of the ‘guitar hero’ style but it never pretends to be either. Standing up front with Thurston’s stack next to me probably cost me a percentage of hearing in my right ear but I’d give it again.

George Harrison

Yes, I know, George didn’t play the solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, but he did write the damned thing and write and play on those gorgeous tunes like ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. Not to mention his multitude of contributions to the Fab Four’s songs and a plethora of amazing solo tunes too. Deceptively uncluttered in it’s beauty and always hitting the sweet spot in tone.

Stuart Braithwaite / Barry Burns (Mogwai)

It wouldn’t be my list if there wasn’t a nod to post-rock in here somewhere and the guitar work of Stuart Braithwaite and Barry Burns has always been what sets Mogwai apart for me in a genre that’s stuffed with great players.

Perhaps down to their influences in early genre pioneers like Slint or Kevin Shields’ My Bloody Valentine, developed a sound of their own built on towering, repeating riffs that were deceptively simple while weaving intricate melodies to build this massive sonic space that they could either explode and pick up again or find a hidden gear somewhere and blow your speakers out.

As the band have evolved to incorporate an increasing away of sounds and influences over their 25 years the guitar work has remained the powerful heart.

Doug Martsch (Built to Spill)

Bringing guitar-hero moves and freakouts into alt. rock style with Built to Spill, Doug Martsch creates these brilliantly arranged guitar-centric songs that I just fucking lap up – there’s always something new I discover on repeating listens from those odd timing signature changes, odd structures and mid-song breakdowns that dissolve into unashamed guitar heroics before bouncing back in. And he does it all with the same guitar he’s used for the last couple of decades (a Fender Super Strat with wiring modded to a single pick-up for those that are curious) and without any theatrics – Built To Spill went from being indie-rock down the middle with their first couple of albums to Martsch’s inspired move to bring jam-band style workouts into the genre and made it seem an effortless combination, becoming one of indie-rock’s essential guitarists in the process.

Jack Rose

I came to Jack Rose’s music by pure chance and too late. Hearing Rose’s guitar pieces was like being hypnotised and I’m still gobbling up as much of it as I can.

He took the experiments and sound of players like John Fahey as his base and created these brilliant acoustic pieces on 6 and 12 strings that took that finger-picking style, blended it with dissonance and Eastern elements that just blew my mind and opened me up to a whole new genre and way of playing that I’ll often get lost in.

Thurston Moore was a big fan – when Rose died of a heart attack in 2009 at 38 years old, Moore recorded and released an album 12 String Mediations for Jack Rose as a tribute.

Jimi Hendrix

I mean, come on, it’s a no-brainer, right? If Chuck Berry invented modern rock guitar then Jimi, literally, set fire to it and kicked it into a whole new game.

And, should those videos not load and the list is preferred in digestible Spotify-flavoured chunks:

Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

From the PR: “When single mother Maríanna disappears from her home, leaving an apologetic note on the kitchen table, it is assumed that she’s taken her own life – until her body is found on the Grábrók lava fields seven months later, clearly the victim of murder.

Her neglected fifteen-year-old daughter Hekla has been placed in foster care, but is her perfect new life hiding something sinister?

Fifteen years earlier, a desperate new mother lies in a maternity ward, unable to look at her own child, the start of an odd and broken relationship that leads to tragedy.

Police officer Elma and her colleagues take on the case, which becomes increasingly complex, as the list of suspects grows ever longer and new light is shed on Maríanna’s past – and the childhood of a girl who never was like the others…”

Girls Who Lie is the second book in the ‘Forbidden Iceland’ series but having not read the first I can tell you not only that it works brilliantly as a stand alone but that this right here is an ice-cold slab of the good stuff; a brilliant helping of Nordic Noir that hits the spot from the word go!

Eva Björg Ægisdóttir is a seriously talented author to keep an eye on. Her prose is succinct yet evocative, superbly portraying both those glorious Icelandic locations and the subtlety of human emotion in her characters.

Girls Who Lie is fantastically well plotted and is one of those practically delicious mysteries where picking at a thread reveals a massively complex story that spans years and generates plenty of twists and turns that keep you rooted to the spot.

The split narrative serves as a great device for both ratcheting up the tension and painting the story with a much broader stroke. Eva Björg Ægisdóttir creates compelling and genuine characters and has a real skill when it comes to portraying their interactions that’s a real joy to read.

At times dark and harrowing while managing to keep the balance with humour and humanity, Girls Who Lie is a massively rewarding, rich and detailed thriller that I enjoyed every page of.

My thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy Girls Who Lie and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blog tour.