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.

Just for Laughs

I saw this recently and still can’t help but chuckle.

Whether I tolerate an Oasis song all the way through tends to depend on the day etc. I’d take em over Blur any day. Not so long ago I was driving with my son (3) in the car when Liam’s new song came on and he asked what it’s called. When I told him I didn’t know he said, matter of factly, “It’s called bollocks, that’s what it’s called.” He was spot on but this still makes me laugh, I don’t think anybody gives an interview as good as Liam.

 

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.”

Out of Europe: An Irish Top Five

Of all the stupidity and upheaval that the colossal butt-fuck of an idea called ‘Brexit’ that so many fools were goaded and misled into voting for is likely to cause, one of the biggest potential quagmires is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, thrown into even greater murk by that soulless banshee May’s desperate tactic of clinging to power by giving a massive bung to the D.U.P in utter disregard to the issues it throws up with the Good Friday Agreement.

As such I thought it fitting for this Out of Europe series to draw up a quick Top Five from Ireland who, while we continue to be lead blindfolded into a dead end, will remain in the blissful embrace of Europe. And, as we’ll be tearing Northern Ireland down with us, acts from that island’s north east tip don’t qualify.

My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow

Formed in Dublin in 1983(!), My Bloody Valentine’s opus Loveless took two years to record (that’s nothing, it would be 27 years before they followed it up) and its extensive production costs got them dropped from their label but, fuck me, it’s amazing.

God Is An Astronaut – Forever Lost

A post-rock band who’s sound, according to that fabled source Wikipedia, “employs elements of electronic music, krautrock, and space rock.” I cannot for the life of me remember how I found them but I’d often listen to their second album – which this is from – at the gym.

Damien Rice – Rootless Tree

Success is often a real fucker. Look at what it did to Kurt Cobain. Damien Rice seems similarly unimpressed by it. When songs like ‘Canonball’ and ‘Blower’s Daughter’ pushed his solo debut O into so many peoples’ cd collections he withdrew and pushed against the tide. He’d only wanted to make the one album but his label pressed him into releasing 9 (from which this is taken) which leaned a little darker and met massively mixed reviews. It would be another 8 years before he dropped anything else. I like the line “fuck you, fuck you, love you and all we’ve been through.”

The Frames – Revelate

Dublin’s Glen Hansard is a busy chap. Aside from a solid solo career and frequent touring supporting and playing with Eddie Vedder he’s part of the folk-rock duo The Swell Season and continues to front the Irish rock band The Frames which he started in 1990. Oh, and he acts too – he starred in the film ‘Once’ and some other film called ‘The Commitments‘.

U2 – Until The End of the World

This band is certainly more of a cult act, probably little-known outside of Ireland. Despite what I can only assume are poor-to-middling sales they’ve been around a while now occasionally flirting with some good write-ups in the local press, bad haircuts and have even played a few venues outside of their native Dublin despite their singer’s clearly shy and introverted demeanour.

Honourable mentions to the blues of Rory Gallager and The Cranberries’ Dreams

The Shuffle the Music Thing

So I’ve seen this one floating about on a couple of blogs in my feed and thought it would prove an easy way to get back into posting after a couple of weeks out. Thought…

THE RULES
• Mention the creator of the tag and link to their blog (created by https://stuffonablogblog.wordpress.com/about/)
• Thank the person that nominated you for this tag and link to their blog as well – I saw this over on Aphoristic Album Reviews and he left it open to all so I’ll do the same
• Shuffle your entire music library (no matter how old songs the songs are) and talk about the FIRST FIFTEEN songs that come up (anything like why they are there, if they signify something, any story, why you like them etc.)
• Mention the songs as well as the artists.
• You’re supposed to tag people – but if you’re following this blog, and want to make your own list, go for it!

It’s worth pointing out that it’s impossible to “shuffle your entire music library”. This is the result of hitting shuffle on my iPod instead, an iPod which – following a recent purge – doesn’t contain anything I’ll have on cd so is fairly far from ‘entire’. However…

Man of War  – Radiohead: Kind of obvious why this one is on here – it’s from the OKNOTOK OK Computer re-release. It’s one of the three ‘new’ tracks and it’s really fucking good.

There She Goes – The La’s: Oddly I hadn’t listened to this in age. It’s one of those things you learn to play when you first pick up a guitar, was in risk of being over-played on radio but is an undeniable classic.

 

Alive (Salt Lake City, 1995) – Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam is easily the most featured artist in my iTunes if only for all the concert (official and otherwise) bootlegs on there. This one is distinctly non-official so no chance of a vid or a spotify link. Pretty good quality and features a good setlist and the début of one of my favourite PJ songs, ‘Red Mosquito’.

The Captain – Biffy Clyro: I’m quite partial to a bit of Biff, good straight-ahead rock with plenty of twists and the occasional change-up thrown in. I’m fairly sure I saw them live early into their career but that may be a false memory…. this one is from their fifth album. Need to listen to their newer stuff more I think.

Hung My Head – Johnny Cash:  What can I possibly say about Johnny Cash that hasn’t been said? Fuck all. This one is from American IV, which is where I stopped with the series – the whole posthumous scaps thing not really doing it for me. I couldn’t believe this is actually a Sting song, Johnny and his dark gravelly voice pisses all over Mr Sumner’s muzak version.

Where Do You Think You’re Going  – Dire Straits: It’s on here because Dire Straits are one of those bands that I slip on for a bit of comfort listening and always evoke memories. I also love the build up to Knopfler’s solo on this cut from their second album.

Not You Again – Dinosaur Jr: A quick little blast of a tune from 1991’s EP Whatever’s Cool With Me

Peer Gynt Suite #1, Op. 46 – Morning Mood – Edvard Grieg: There’s a fair bit of classical music on my iPod and I’m surprised that this is the only one that came up (I’m also surprised I didn’t get an ‘encore break’ or a marketing podcast). Thanks to the nature of classical music and different recordings of the same peice it’s an impossible mission searching for the same album – swiped from my Dad’s collection  – as the one on my iTunes but this is easily Grieg’s most well known piece.

Oats In The Water – Ben Howard: This is the song that got me listening to Ben Howard. I’d heard and not paid attention to the stuff from this first album but this dark, broody one with it’s rumbling finger picking and moodiness got my attention and served as a good bridge to the stuff on his, superior, second album which gets many a listen.

Gagarin – Public Service Broadcasting: Public Service Broadcasting seem to have a Marmite effect on listeners and reviewers. I heard ‘The Other Side’ on the radio and was hooked. I’ve got a thing for the space race and so enjoy the album. That being said, this one is probably one of my least favourite tracks but that’s the nature of shuffle.

Mineral – Buffalo Tom: I’ve expressed my love for Buffalo Tom plenty of times on this blog. This great tune is from their brilliant third album Let Me Come Over which has just received a 25th Anniversary style re-release which I’ve been enjoying of late.

Teenage Angst – Placebo: I was, just the other day, voicing aloud the question of ‘what happened to Placebo?’. They went from producing awesome songs like this to fetid dumps with lyrics like ‘my computer thinks I’m gay’. A real shame because with their first two albums they made a shitload of good music.

At A Glance – Message to Bears: I can’t recall how I got into Message To Bears. It’s the work of one chap from Sheffield, Jerome Alexander, who describes his music as “interweaving acoustic guitar, piano, electronics, ethereal samples, strings and hushed vocals.” It’s perfect, blissful stuff for slipping on and chilling out to.

Head First – Junip: So… Junip is the band of José González that he got back together after achieving solo success on the back of that Sony Brava TV ad (you know the one with all the bouncing balls). Junip I found via the Walter Mitty film and I think I prefer the band stuff to his solo work.

That’s All Right – Arthur Crudup: While my wife was still living in Paris she went to see an exhibition called “Rock’n’Roll 39-59” which was ‘an exhibition on the genesis and launch of rock’n’roll in the United States’. I wish I’d seen it but I do have the CD she got from it on our iTunes library which includes this, Arthur Crudup’s original song that some kid from Tupelo, Mississippi would record a few years later and make a few quid from.

 

Great Compilations: Anthology: Through The Years, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

In keeping with the general sense of procrastination that pervades my attempts at a series of posts, it’s been a while since I first chewed over kicking off this one, looking at those great compilations in my collection. Those that are as close to perfect and essential as you can get. That do that rare thing of providing as solid, all-encompassing an overview as is possible in a dozen or so tracks in a manner that will provide a great entry-point for the uninitiated and give the already-converted a good career-spanner to listen to when they don’t feel like going through whole-albums.

These are inevitably some of the most well played volumes on my shelves and have served as starting points that have introduced me to many a loved band.  That’s certainly the case with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Anthology: Through The Years.

Back in 2000 I didn’t really know much of Mr Petty’s back catalogue and was looking for a suitable entry point. It’s worth pointing out that while the chaps from Gainesville, Florida have certainly enjoyed some success in Europe and the UK specifically, they’re a much more American proposition than, say, Springsteen, so it’s understandable that at the tail-end of my teens I was unaware of the bulk of their songs. Fortunately I was still in the habit of reading a monthly music magazine* and just as Uncut had turned me on to other bands, it was the stuffed-with-praise review for the upcoming Anthology: Through The Years compilation that meant I parted with cash.

It’s also worth pointing out that there was already a pretty serviceable Greatest Hits album available but, for some reason, that 1993 release never appealed. Perhaps it was the cover, perhaps it was the inclusion of ‘Something In The Air’** .. who knows but Anthology: Through The Years was my introduction to the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers beyond the ubiquitous ‘Free Fallin’.

Now, here’s the thing with the songs on here; I didn’t know the vast majority of them and yet after one listen they felt like old friends. Like songs I’d known for years. Petty has a way of crafting instantly memorable and catchy-as-a-cold tunes that’s very rare and highly addictive. Yeah, everyone and his dog knows ‘Free Fallin’ but to hear ‘The Waiting‘ or ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ for the first time is to know them as the classics they are; once they’re in your system they stay there.

The track listing is as perfect as you can get without a nitpicking committee. Despite it’s being released in 2000, there’s nothing here really newer than ’95 so the discs are divided up to cover the two ten-year periods from their ’76 début, the format better serving the band’s impressive catalogue than a single disc ever could.

The first disc, spanning ‘Breakdown’ to ‘Change of Heart’ pulled my attention first and probably still gets more plays. This one was the discovery for me, classics like ‘American Girl’ (I’d not watched ‘Silence of the Lambs’), ‘Even the Losers‘, ‘Refugee’ all tearing into my ears and the beautiful ache of ‘The Wild One, Forever’.

The second disc is stuffed to burst with FM classics – five from Full Moon Fever and a handful from Into The Great Wide Open that are always going to sound good whether they’re being played to a stadium or via a car stereo in traffic. For me, though, the real draw are songs like ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, ‘Waitin’ For Tonight‘, ‘It’ll All Work Out’ or ‘The Best of Everything’ from the sublime Southern Accents.

Looking at the track listing for this is almost like picking out an ideal set list and there’s not much more you could look for in a compilation.

It was an odd time for release, one year on from the under-appreciated Echo*** and not featuring a single track from that release. I’m sure ‘Room At The Top‘ could’ve fitted nicely on here.  They even dusted off a previously unrecorded tune from 1977 to add something for the completests with ‘Surrender’ but couldn’t find room for anything from that one. In hindsight the eight year gap between the lacklustre The Last DJ and return-to-form Mojo would’ve been the ideal place for such a retrospective. In fact they did release a four-disc live compilation that served just that purpose.

I’ve gone on to stock my shelves with a fair amount from Tom Petty both solo and with the Heartbreakers. If I’m being picky I’d wonder – as Cameron Crowe’s linear notes do – whether there could be space for a track from Wildflowers or even from She’s The One but then it’s hard to imagine a better summary of the Heartbreakers’ then 25-year career than this one.

Instead of copying and pasting the tracklisting, I’ll drop the whole thing via Spotify.

I’ll end this one with the tune I think is the real glaring omission, the perfect title track from Southern Accents:

*A habit long-since abandoned.

**Overplayed and I’m still not that much of a fan of it. Though the remastered version in 2008 swapped it out for ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’ so I can’t be alone in that.

***Petty’s divorce album.