Current Spins

Oops, been a while, again.

There’s been a few slabs of wax that have slipped into the racks of late and have been in fairly regular rotation so, along with those, here’s a little gander at what’s going in the old earbuds of late…

Pearl Jam – Let’s Play Two

This one I’d forgotten pre-ordering so was quite surprised when it arrived.Let’s Play Two is the ‘soundtrack’ to the upcoming concert film / basebell love-in of the same name. I’m not one for sports in general and baseball is a uniquely American currency I think so I’m not too excited about the film. While neither the best soundtrack to a PJ film (that’d be Pearl Jam Twenty) or a great Pearl Jam live album, Let’s Play Two is still a worthy listen given that Pearl Jam are one of the best live acts still giving it their all and while the song selection is slight – the band played over thirty songs each night – and not in true concert order, you can’t argue with a great rendering of ‘Given To Fly’, ‘Release’ and one of my own favourites, ‘Inside Job’.

Various – Twin Peaks (Music from the Limited Event Series)

While I still don’t really know what to make of either the majority of the series or the finale to the revival of Twin Peaks – aside from it being Lynch’s take on not wanting things to get old / pass – the soundtrack is a great thing. This one – as opposed to the score – is made up from songs played at the Big Bang Bar at the end of the episode along with a couple of those that featured elsewhere including the stellar Live From Monterey Pop recording I’ve Been Loving You Too Long by Otis Redding. Of course, there’s a couple – particularly the ridiculous inclusion of ‘Just You’ – that aren’t what I’d call top drawer but with tracks like Eddie Vedder’s exclusive ‘Out of Sand’, Rebekah Del Rio’s outstanding ‘No Stars’ there’s a lot of strong songs on here that have ensured this has received a few rotations.

The Replacements – For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986

“THE REPLACEMENTS TO RELEASE FIRST OFFICIAL LIVE ALBUM (RECORDED IN FRONT OF MORE THAN 30 PEOPLE)” said the sticker on the front of this one. This live recording – forgotten about / lost until earlier this year captured the band at a turning point; their first major label album just out, just ahead of the firing of original guitarist Bob Stinson. A 29 song setlist that captures, as one review puts is succinctly, the “moment when the tug-of-war between the Replacements’ split personalities—the perma-blotto garage band vs. the refined rock craftsmen—had escalated into a bloody battle.”

Tom Petty – You Wreck Me

For reasons sadly obvious

First Impressions: Concrete and Gold – Foo Fighters

This bloke from the Foo Fighters looks a bit like the drummer from that band Nirvana, doesn’t he?

Despite the PR, expecting the Foo Fighters to break new ground in 2017, some two decades plus into a career that has seen the band grow from a one-man project to stadium-filling rock heavyweights, would be optimistic to say the least. Since In Your Honour Dave Grohl, however, seems determined to try so we fans have been offered our Foo in separate acoustic and electric discs, a ‘serious musicians’ flavour, with ‘raw analogue’ toppings* and with added documentary options on the side. It’s still been Foo, though, no matter how much Mr Grohl has tried to spice it up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind, but, after There Is Nothing Left To Lose, there’s nothing that really sets aside, say, ‘The Pretender’, ‘All My Life’ or even ‘Rope’ as having been on different albums no matter the supposed narrative rules that rock’s smiliest ambassador has sought to apply to them.

Take Sonic Highways as an example – despite the concept and execution, there was nothing, really, to show in terms of sound or execution that differentiated its nine songs from any of the bands other mediocre cuts**. It’s as though there’s no concept or production technique that could change the established loud-quiet-loud-louder and colossal thump of the Foo Fighters at this stage of their career.

I found the concept behind Sonic Highways increasingly odd given how much time and effort the band had put into building their own studio (Studio 606 West) and HQ less than a decade before and seemingly abandoned after two albums – Wasting Light was recorded in Grohl’s garage. In fact, when Grohl declared that he already knew how the next Foo Fighters album would be recorded and that it was something so exciting that no band had ever done before…. I groaned a little inside. Why couldn’t they just get in their studio – or any studio – and apply themselves to the songs not to achieving some wacky concept?

Thanks to PJ Harvey, it seems, I’ve got my wish. Turns out that Dave Grohl’s ‘big idea’ for Foo Fighters Album 9 was to set up a studio on stage at the Hollywood Bowl and record it live in front of a 20,000 strong crowd. Shame, then, that discovering that PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project had been recorded in the same manner (albeit a far more English approach via an art installation in Somerset House) took the shine off the idea for him.

Instead Dave did what he describes as the most unexpected thing for his band to do and took the Foo Fighters into a big studio – EastWest Studios – and hired a producer to oversee their next album, gimmick-free. Well, I say that… this wouldn’t be a Foo Fighters album in the 21st Century if there wasn’t some form of ‘gimmick’ involved, would it? This time it’s the involvement of producer Greg Kurstin. Picked by Grohl for his work with his own band The Bird and the Bee, Kurstin is perhaps better known for his work with acts like Kelly Clarkson, Sia, Lily Allen, Ellie Goulding, Pink and that moaning banshee’s god-awful radio-melter ‘Hello’. Given the combination of a pop and rock heavyweight’s, the ‘gimmick’ of Concrete and Gold is that it’s being pitched as sounding like “Motörhead’s version of Sgt. Pepper.”

So…. does it? Of course it fucking doesn’t. Don’t be daft. But….. it takes a very very good stab at doing so and feels pretty much unlike anything else Dave and his merry men have done before. Yes, the sound is unmistakeably Foo but this time around the band are stretching out in ways they haven’t before and deliver plenty of unexpected and, frankly, great twists to deliver an album that offers  psychedelic, prog-metal, abstract, heavy and, yes, Beatles-esque shades against a Foo Fighters sound that is, for the first time in a long time, suitably balanced and mixed by a producer.

Kicking off with a short throwaway ripped apart by a heavy rocker will inevitably draw comparisons to The Colour and the Shape but ‘T-Shirt’, for all it’s brevity, is a superior song to ‘Doll’ and pushes Concrete and Gold‘s confidence and palette front and centre and – even after maybe a hundred listens at my son’s request – ‘Run’ is an out and out fucking BEAST that ranks as one of the Foos’ best:

‘Make It Right’ offers more than the straight-ahead rocker it initially suggests itself to be, there’s a funk of a groove behind it, unexpected chord changes and a surprising slab of background harmonies that when combined bring, to my mind that is, Aerosmith’s Draw The Line*** album. Initially I’d been slightly less impressed by ‘The Sky Is A Neighbourhood’ when catching the videos of its live reveals but the album version, along with many of the tracks here, shows that – despite their straight ahead live mode – on Concrete and Gold the Foos have actually become a studio band with plenty of unusual-for-Foo song structures and production choices that blend so well. Take the strings that slip so unobtrusively into ‘The Sky…’ as to change a song type they’ve churned out many a time before into something that genuinely lifts skywards.

‘La Dee Da’ falls into the same category for me – I wasn’t impressed by it’s live rendering but, away from the bludgeoning and sonic flattening of radio too, on Concrete and Gold I ‘get it’. If it’s Fab Four you’re after, there’s one of em on ‘Sunday Rain’ – as Taylor Hawkins is too busy singing this spacey (seriously, check out his ‘Range Rover Bitch‘) rocker, Sir Paul McCartney plonked down the drums. Sequentially it’s a good fit because, to my ears, the preceding ‘Happy Ever After’ makes me think of ‘Blackbird’ or one of Macca’s early solo melodies.

‘Dirty Water’ is an early favourite for me; it brings forth sounds of both early Foo Fighters, a playful lightness and airy feel (and, again, some real Beatles tinges) but is bolstered by something sharper and more focused that comes from both a more practised song craft and production that, despite its length, it remains on track and charm. In that respect it serves as a strong summary of the album as a whole.

Concrete and Gold doesn’t quite achieve the premise of its PR but show me an album that does. It does, however, stand apart in the Foo Fighters cannon and is the sound of the band playing to those highs and strengths its achieved during its ascent to stadium rock act while also stretching out enough sonically to both refresh its sound and offer a welcome hand to those fans like me that had begun to wonder if Dave Grohl had anything interesting left up his sleeves. Turns out he does.

I hadn’t pre-ordered this one but I’m already on my third listen of Concrete and Gold and haven’t skipped a track left. For all his efforts to make a ‘concept’ of an album, Dave Grohl has, when he wasn’t even trying to, created a fucking belter of a Foo Fighters album that works not just track-by-track but as an album in itself. Well worth a listen or three.

 

*I’ll put this out there: Wasting Light is the best Foo Fighters album to date.

**Concept over substance unfortunately applies to the album and I wouldn’t slip any of its tracks onto a ‘Best of’ comp.

***Underrated.

Currently Listening

Tuesdays after a Bank Holiday Weekend are the new Monday. Nobody likes them.

Outside of Pimsleur’s Basic Romanian, here’s the skinny on what’s going into my ears lately:

The War on Drugs – Up All Night

The new album A Deeper Understanding is the thing of beauty that expectations had it as. Adam Granduciel’s nasal voice is akin to a softer, more tuneful Dylan with tasteful restrain over bleating, the guitars shimmer and shred and the whole thing is polished off with a sun-kissed production right out the Tunnel of Love playbook. As one review states, it’s not just that it’s “one of the best rock albums in years, but that the music itself is so expansive and enveloping that it feels like it should be everywhere.” It’s bliss.

Rebekah Del Rio- No Stars

I can’t tell you anything about Rebekah Del Rio as I know nothing about her. All I know is that this song, well her voice and delivery more to the point, has held me hypnotised since I heard / saw it on an episode of the current revival of Twin Peaks.

Biffy Clyro- Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies

Since they popped up in that Shuffle The Music thing I’ve been listening to this one a lot, partly also because my wife listens to it a fair bit too.

Death Cab For Cutie- We Looked Like Giants

Following another “Top Five” text convo I’ve been listening to Transatlicism in the car recently in between my Romanian lessons.

Hold Steady- The Swish

The Hold Steady are a new discovery for me having read about them everywhere else I took a while to tune in. I’m starting at the first album Almost Killed Me and like what I’m hearing thus far. I was finally swayed by the review for it that said “The Hold Steady are one of the most convincing rock bands to emerge in recent years, a can-crushing throwdown of unadulterated aggression and ear-splitting amps.”

Currently Listening

Mondays are nobody’s friend. Here’s a few more of those current and (mostly) new spins that are going through my ears of late and today.

alt

The War On Drugs – Strangest Thing

Another song released ahead of the incoming A Deeper Understanding album and another beautific slice of guitar driven wonder from The War on Drugs. I’m starting to think that the new album might be more addictive than Lost In The Dream‘s vibe was.  Adam Granduciel’s voice has more than a hint of Dylan’s nasality and the sound and that guitar work…. gorgeous.

Broken Social Scene – Halfway Home

Broken Social Scene’s new album Hug of Thunder is not only an excellently titled slab of alt-rock but is real testament as to what a large musical collective (between six and nineteen members at times) can do when coming back off a break without disappearing up their own rectums like a certain other large musical collective beginning with A and ending with rcade Fire seem to have done.

Waxahatchee – Never Been Wrong

I got 2013’s Cerulean Salt using my itunes voucher haul but kinda forgot about Kate Crutchfield’s music since in the tide of more new music and discoveries but am now enjoying her new album Out In The Storm.

Radiohead – I Promise

OKNOTOK the OK Computer revisit is just sublime. In amongst the remastered original album and wealth of b-sides there’s three unreleased tunes all dating to the period between The Bends and OK Computer.

‘I Promise’ is the stand out of those for me. First showcased while they were opening for Alanis Morissette (yup, you read that right), the band didn’t think ‘I Promise’ was strong enough or that it didn’t fit vibe for OK Computer, left it and didn’t play it again for a couple of decades when, they played it again last month and Thom York said “What a bunch of nutters we were, and probably still are. One of the things — one of the crazy things we did — was not release this song, because we didn’t think it was good enough.” At the time it probably would have taken over the radio but it’s so atypical of where they were and were heading and was too pure pop and sunlight in comparison. It didn’t fit then but now, as one review puts it, it’s like “an exquisitely faded Polaroid.”

Currently Listening

Righty ho.

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

Pearl Jam – Of the Girl (Instrumental)

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

The War On Drugs – Holding On

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

The Appleseed Cast – The Waking of Pertelotte/On Reflection

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

The Kinks – I’m Not Like Everybody Else

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

Fleetwood Mac – Albatross

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

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

** See also: ‘Living On A Thin Line‘.

A (strange) Twist of Fate…

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

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

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

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

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

São Nicolau

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

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

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

Amílcar Cabral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

…a discovery and not judging records by their covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… are they right?

Fuck, yeah.

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

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

 

 

 

 

*Not really because I never am.

**Whatever that means now.