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.

Currently Listening

It’s been a real pressure cooker of a week so time to blog has not been permitting – no opportunity to kick into the final three on the Bruce Least to Most series or any of the other posts sitting in ‘drafts’.

Here, though, is a quick surmise of those tunes that I’ve been listening to of late.

Ryan Adams – Shiver and Shake

Holy shit is Prisoner good. More than being a divorce album this is one of Ryan Adams’ finest. Gorgeous layers and echoes of Tunnel of Love Springsteen and drenched in dollops of that sun-kissed, late-80’s AOR vibe that so many have embraced of late (see Haim, War on Drugs etc) as to sound delicious and lyrics (“I miss your loving touch, I miss your embrace, but if I wait here any longer I’m gonna fade away”) that are more open and deft than he’s sung for some time. I don’t think I’ve played a new record as much as I have this one in a long time.

Tool – Ænema

I’ve really gotten back into this album over the last couple of weeks – I was determined to introduce my wife to the band but their unwillingness to stream and the fact that their albums still sell at ‘standard’ price means it’s not so easy but I picked this one up at a decent price and it hasn’t left the car since.  Any album so unabashed in its Bill Hicks reverence is gonna be ok; “Learn to swim, see you down in Arizona Bay”

think my wife dug it. I know my three-year-old son loves it though I’m now having to be more cautious as to the lyrical content of songs he hears. I don’t want him saying “Fuck L Ron Hubbard” after all. Although…

잠비나이 (Jambinai) – Connection

A couple of weeks ago I found (well, my wife pointed it out and encouraged me to go in) a really cool little independent vinyl-only record store in Canterbury with a great name – Vinylstore Jr. The guy had just dropped Jambinai’s album on the turntable. They’re a South Korean (obviously not North) post-rock band, their label describes them as “less like a band than a force of nature, fusing the full dramatic range of post-rock dynamics to Korean folk roots to create an exhilarating, vivid and unique fusion. ”

 

Current Plays

I’m still on a bit of a Bruce break before delving into the Top 5* next week so here’s a little of what I’m playing at the moment.

Jets To Brazil – Wishlist

After the demise of the punk-leaning Jawbreaker, Blake Schwarzenbach went indie-rock with the more melodic Jets To Brazil. I love the line “If ever I should seem to take for granted, this lovely life that I have been handed, darling don’t just stand there, come knock me around.”

JJ Grey & Mofro – King Hummingbird

A band I found via House of Cards and have explored a little more since. A real earthy, blues/rock jam band feel with plenty to enjoy. This is from their fifth album Georgia Warhouse and is the kind of ballad that Chris Robinson would have given his right arm to write / sing.

Chamberlain – Lovely and Alone

On the subject of bluesier sounds…. I got into Chamberlain thanks to one of those long-since departed record shops that had notes / guides from the staff: “for fans of…” “..latest project from…” sort of thing. Formed by members of hardcore band Split Lip, Chamberlain saw them move into a more mature sound and focused on the vocals, never really cut through despite getting a pretty solid fan following. I got hold of Exit 263 while they were still around and later found out that it’s actually a collection of demos they compiled for release after it was rejected by their label. Shame…

Talking Heads – And She Was

Because nothing beats a classic.

One more?

Prince – Sometimes It Snows In April

Because his music is now up on Spotify I’ve been building my own Purple play list. Sat at the piano saying goodbye to his alter-ego from the Under The Cherry Moon film…

 

 

*Tricky as, definitely for the Top 4, the order from this point could change daily.

**They’re like buses: you wait years and then two Black Crowes references in as many posts. Maybe I’ll dust off The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion

Currently Listening

In any shooting gallery where promises are made….

I’ve been finding comfort in familiar sound recently so those newer releases by the Pixies etc haven’t really been given a listen. But, here’s an idea of the current playlist:

Jack Rose and his mastery and innovation of the acoustic is actually a new discovery for me. I think the lack of vocals made it easier for me to get into over the last couple of weeks. A huge body of work still to hear for the first time as Mr Rose made a lot of music before his untimely passing but this, from the brilliant album I Do Play Rock and Roll is hypnotisingly awesome.

Because I’m still gobbling up House of Cards

I don’t think I’ve even mentioned Mr Petty on here… odd. Anthology; Through The Years is one of those rare compilations that’s absolutely perfect and, after starting to watch Runnin’ Down A Dream on Netflix, is now back in rotation in my car. Eddie Vedder says, at the start of the documentary, “The first time you hear a new Tom Petty song is sounds like, you know, a classic song.” – he’s not wrong. If you only have the aforementioned compilation you’ll know just how many sheer belters the man has written.

Going back to an earlier discussion on Dire Straits… I’ve been listening to Making Movies the last couple of days, in particular this opening track (and Skateaway). It’s made me wonder something though; in 1980 Mark Knopfler borrowed both a producer (Jimmy Iovine – having loved the production sound of Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’) and band member (Roy Bittan) from Bruce Springsteen to make what was the band’s breakthrough third album (Iovine had a thing for making third albums). A few (seven to be precise) years later Bruce dropped his own (and arguable one of his finest) album and song called Tunnel of Love. Where Knopfler’s track featured lines like “Come on and take a low ride with me girl, on the tunnel of love”, Bruce used “Cuddle up angel cuddle up my little dove, we’ll ride down baby into this tunnel of love”… Now, while both album’s dealt fairly prominently with love’s broken promises, Bruce’s album and lyrics were significantly different, more nuanced and the sound very much of his own but… I have to wonder; surely Bruce must’ve heard what his piano player and produce had been moonlighting on and did that plant a seed that, over a few years, grew into one of his most brooding and significant albums?

Drifting Back

The odd thing about blogging is that when you leave a gap and slip out of the habit it’s not immediately obvious how to get back in. It’s not like reading a book, say, where there’s a bookmark holding your place or Netflix to remind you which episode of House of Cards you’re on (I’ve just finished Season 2 and am hooked).

Once you lose the rhythm, it can be tricky to find the point / manner in which to re-engage. Or at least  it is for me.

It’s not that I lost interest, I’ve just been away on holiday and disconnecting from it all.

So I’ll pop back in with a Currently Spinning job while wishing I was still enjoying the Spanish sun rather than the murk and drizzle of Kent.

I’m trying – and, I hope, achieving to some extent – to get a bit mellower / less uptight with certain things as I get older. I’m pretty sure that’s happening with music, at least. Otherwise I doubt I’d be currently listening to Ryan Adams’ 1989.  I cannot say that I have ever knowingly listened to a Taylor Swift song nor that I would. As much as I do try to be less of a musical snob the manufactured, substance-less fluff of that world can still not find my ears open. I can say, though, that I love a lot of Ryan Adams’ work. Accordingly it’s been some time between release and – this week – my listening to his song-for-song remake/recasting of her most recent album.

Given my unfamiliarity with the source material I cannot compare. It’s a strange concept of an album; by all accounts Adams listened to the original during the breakdown of his own marriage and decided to recast it in a way that sheds new light on the song-writing (perhaps to appeal to grumpy old sods like me) and while he’s always had a way with a cover it’s odd to enjoy his genuinely emotive and distinctive take on these songs despite their having been written by writers-for-hire that have also penned tracks for Britney Spears, Lopez et al. Oddly, Adams himself has said that “the goal was to find a middle ground between the sound on Springsteen’s 1978 album “Darkness at the Edge of Town” and the Smiths’ 1985 album “Meat is Murder.””

On the one hand you could say it’s what happens when a prolific artist has his own studio and a lot of time on his hands. On the other it’s also what happens when one artist finds the work of another so compelling that they have to pay a tribute. It seems to have been quite polarizing in terms of reviews – from 5 star in The Telegraph to a 4/10 from Pitchfork – and thanks to Swift’s own following it’s odd that this will likely be his most exposed release.

Still, his voice and playing are continuing along the same quality evolution that was present on his last album and I can’t help but enjoy a lot of this album. Probably why the vinyl has just arrived on my desk as it graduates from a Spotify-only listen.

Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not

In 1989 after touring behind Bug, escalating tensions and frustrations lead to Lou Barlow being booted out of Dinosaur Jr. He should have seen it coming; when the group first played together they were called Mogo and the seemingly shy and reticent guitar-shredder Mascis wasn’t upfront, the frontman was Charlie Nakajima who lasted precisely one show after using that stage as a platform for a lengthy anti-police tirade. Appalled by Nakajima’s actions but “too wimpy to kick him out” (J’s words not mine), Mascis instead asked drummer Murph and bassist Barlow to form a new band without Nakajima.

dinosaur-jr-new-song-goin-down-give-a-glimpse-of-what-yer-not-jools-holland-640x640Despite his slacker vocals and aforementioned demeanour, Mascis was something of a control-freak with whom communication was a continual burr. By the time of Barlow’s dismissal they’d created a trilogy of legend-forming and hugely influential albums and had begun to scratch at commercial success with songs like Freak Scene and their cover of the Cure’s Just Like Heaven. What followed for Dinosaur Jr was a major-label deal, the subsequent change in mix/production dynamics with lyrics and vocals being pushed higher in the sound, getting caught up and buoyed forward by the changed landscape formed by Nirvana’s Nevermind, the departure of drummer Murph, their most commercially successful album and song in Without A Sound and Feel The Pain before the seemingly inevitable drop-off in sales, major-label disinterest and J’s retiring of the band name in 1997.

After a few solo Mascis records (under the name J Mascis and The Fog) and Barlow taking swipes at J in numerous Sebadoh songs, the unexpected happened; the “classic” line-up reformed in 2005 for a tour promoting the reissue of their first three albums. Even more unexpectedly; the reunion held all the way to the studio for release of the first album of Dinosaur Jr’s Third Act; Beyond. Whether it be down to the mellowing out that time, age and even parenthood bring, better communications or just the ease in pressure that comes from realising they’re not expected to make a “Smash Hit Album” but they’ve now outlived both their first ‘classic’ run of ’84-’89 and the band’s major label period of ’90-’97 and are still going strong.

Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not – as with the three albums that have preceded it – makes a formidable mix of the band’s early heaviness and the tighter, song-oriented structure that came with the major label sound to create a perfect balance off fuzz-heavy riffs and deft melodies all underpinned by J’s trademark soloing and softly-spoken, stoner-like vocals.

Stripping back a touch on the spread of sound featured on 2012’s I Bet On Sky, Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is a much taughter and fiercer sounding affair. Opener Goin’ Down tears through at break-neck pace and the following Tiny rips along at a cracking pace and clocks in at just 3:12 of precise intent – cramming in heavy riffs, rolling bass lines, thundering drums and J’s solo without an inch to spare.

Those Mascis solos do take the spotlight throughout but with due cause and never sounding too heavy-handed in their placing. When I mumbled about I Bet On Sky I mentioned that albums of Dinosaur Jr Act 3 are of a formula, with anticipation for the inevitable guitar break but that “his guitar tone is beatific. His phrasing and fluidity mean that when each song breaks it’s more like being wrapped up in a warm blanket.” This still holds; Mascis’ guitar is still the star attraction on Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not, especially on I Walk For Miles and I Told Everyone.

In the interests of democracy or as proof as to how far they’ve come in terms of dissipating tensions – Barlow gets a couple of his tracks on each of the band’s latest albums. Here Love Is… stands out as the strongest, it’s structure calling to mind Led Zep’s III era folkiness before giving way to Mascis’ guitar while it and the album closer Left/Right are both stronger, more comfortable-sounding tunes than any of his which have graced albums since Beyond. Whereas on previous albums they’ve been something of a sore thumb and almost halted the flow, here they slip in gel more cohesively than every before.

The band are clearly getting on well and working together better than ever before and while the ‘if it ain’t broke’ adage can certainly apply to many of the tracks here, songs such as Lost All Day and, particularly, the changing dynamics of Knocked Around show that Dinosaur Jr remains a band willing to stretch its sound and try new ground rather than generate a few more tracks to drop in between Forget The Swan and Lung during the payolah tours.

I’ve yet to catch them live – I wondered recently how they tackle the subject of playing those songs recorded during Barlow and Murph’s absence from the band. Do they include them or do they go the Van Halen route of pretending a huge part of the band’s history and it’s most commercially successful and wider-known tracks don’t exist (in my mind and a little off-topic I’d call this route as stupid a decision as getting Roth back in the fold in the first place was but then the idea of Diamond Dave trying Right Now is as farcical as any part of his hammy vaudeville act) or do they let bygones be bygones and go for the crowd-pleasers? I was very glad then, to see, thanks to SetListFM, that their set lists from recent tours include a good mix of old, mid and new era tracks. I suppose it’s further testament to just how well they’re getting on.

I digress…

I’ve had this album for just a couple of days now but it hasn’t left my CD player since then (I’ll have to wait a little longer for the vinyl) and cannot see a way this doesn’t make the Best Of 2016 list.