In another perfect life….

Holy crap balls.

As the caption says “SURPRISE! Run. Our new song. Video directed by Dave Grohl. Turn it up”

Foo Fighters dropped a new song (their first new music since 2015) this lunch time – whether it’s from an upcoming album hasn’t been confirmed but after another new song was played live recently and given that the band have a very heavy touring itinerary lined up with a few festival dates in the mix it would be a very safe bet.

I’m a few repeated listens down the line already and I’m really enjoying this one. Better than anything on Sonic Highways. It’s ambitious, catchy as the flu and bloody good. The video is a blast too.

 

New Songs from Old Friends

Crikey; I thought 2017 would be a slower one for new releases than last year but here we are while the year is still fairly young and the pre-orders for new albums are starting to tempt…

Leaving aside Radiohead revisiting OK Computer (because we’ll come to that soon enough) there’s shiny new albums (or white or indies-only clear) confirmed from a few old favourites  with new tracks already buzzing in the ears.

The National – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

It’s been four years since Trouble Will Find Me. Four. ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’ is, aside from a title like  Philip K Dick novel, more direct and immediate than anything on that album – no slowburn, just aggressive and urgent – and is the first release from Sleep Well Beast due in September.

Mogwai – Coolverine

Also dropping in September is Mogwai’s just-announced Every Country’s Sun. The untouchable Glaswegian post-rock legends are on a real flyer at the moment with a good five years of solid releases following 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will – soundtrack Les Revenants (2013), Rave Tapes (2014), compilation Central Belters (2015) and soundtrack, again, Atomic (2016) proving essential additions to my collection. Always good for track name’s Every Country’s Sun – along with the already shared ‘Coolverine’ features tracks called ‘Brain Sweeties’, ‘1000 Foot Face’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Fife’. Cannot wait.

The War On Drugs – Thinking of a Place

While there’s no album confirmed or named, it can only be a matter of time before the follow up to 2014’s hypnotising Lost In The Dream is announced. If this teaser is anything to go by it’s going to be great.

Pearl Jam – Again Today

So I’m not even familiar with Brandi Carlile but her 2007 album The Story has been covered by a variety of artists fora sort of 10 year celebration called Cover Stories with all proceeds going to War Child UK. Pearl Jam have contribute their take on ‘Again Today’. The original is a much quieter thing whereas Seattle’s finest hit it at full speed.  While it’s a cover it’s good to hear something new from Pearl Jam as the ticking clock continues to put distance between now and their last album and they’re definitely one of those bands with a knack for a good cover (almost a post in itself).

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. ”

 

2016 On The Spin

So as I slip what is likely the last 2016 addition (the tortoiseshell edition of Chapter & Verse I received for Christmas) into place in my collection it’s time to chew over those other new albums that crossed my turntable over last year.

This isn’t a Top Ten such list nor does it include those I’ve streamed as I tend not to do whole-album listens in such a way, just a look at those I’ve purchased and spun.

I think this is the first year in which I’ve not bought any new album on CD. If I’ve parted with cash for it it’s been on vinyl. I’m clearly not alone in this habit as 2016 saw sales on this format reach a 25 year high at 3.2 million units in the UK. But then I also read that at least half of vinyl purchases never have a needle dropped on them…. people are just buying them for decoration and using the digital download code instead. I find this somewhat discouraging. For me, digital purchase alone has never been as satisfying as I like the feel of actually owning something and if I buy a record it gets played before I download and burn to CD for car use and played again (and again). Even the most attractive and (apparently) valuable item in my collection gets a regular play. Why own it otherwise?

Anyway, I’ve digressed. The new music buying started in earnest in January with some pre-orders and the discovery of Milk Teeth who’s début Vile Child got a lot of plays, was something my wife got into too and felt like a real blast from the past with a vital, punky, 90’s feel. A lot of fun to listen to and they’re only bloody kids (in comparison, that is).

Two of those pre-orders dropped through my post box on the same day – albums from two of post-rock’s finest. The Atomic soundtrack / album from Mogwai comprises material reworked from their contributions to a BBC4 documentary “Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise” about the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and its legacy. More textures and soundscapes than ‘rock’ it’s a wonderful album. Explosions In The Sky spent the four years since Take Care, Take Care, Take Care working on soundtracks (all well worth a listen) and this year’s The Wilderness was a triumphant return for EITS. Understated and beautiful, the album’s tracks are their most concise and direct to date, there are no ten or fifteen minute epics here – the longest track just tips over the seven minute mark – instead they’ve found a way to distil down to the purest, most urgent elements and create a great album. The artwork / packaging was stunning too.

Atomic recording and touring duties not enough, Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite joined up with members of Slowdive and Editors to form the brilliant (don’t say supergroup) Minor Victories and their self-titled album is a fantastic one that crackles with a taut electricity and energy and I hope there’s more to come from the group.

“‘Alt-rock’ legends with new album” was probably slapped on reviews for at least a handful of bands this year, begging the question as to how many legends there are. Of the two I got my hands on that I’d apply such an honorific to I’d say Dinosaur Jr fared better than the PixiesHead Carrier – their first with Paz Lenchantin as a legit replacement for Kim Deal – is a strong effort, don’t get me wrong and certainly recalls more of the earlier quirkiness of their heyday. It’s always a mistake to try and judge a band by their work of twenty years earlier and if you leave your expectations and baggage at the door it’s a good effort. However, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, the band’s eleventh album, found Dinosaur Jr offering up a tight, focused slab of what makes them great.

In a similar vein Weezer‘s self-titled ‘White’ album is easily the best thing they’ve done in at least a decade. Without the self-conscious apologetic hues of 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright in the End,  this one represents a genuine return-to-form that had been long hoped for and given up on at least a few times, I’m still finding new things to enjoy some eight months after it first dropped.

Oh, on the subject of legends offering up new albums there was a new offering from that little outfit from Oxford… A Moon Shaped Pool was everything you could have hoped for from a new Radiohead album and more. Atmospheric, beautiful and compelling. At once their most direct and least-angular, this album certainly deserves the plaudits and places atop year-end polls its received.

Available digitally in 2015 but unheard by me until the physical EP arrived in February,  Foo Fighters‘ Saint Cecilia was a lot more enjoyable and blast-of-fun than their previous studio album and seemed like  – without Butch Vig at the helm – a more varied and energetic collection of songs than they’ve made with any producer thus far with the title track being one of the best things they’ve dropped for a while.

It’s always a pleasure to listen to the Twin Peaks OST and I was lucky enough to be given this year’s re-release of Angelo Badalamenti‘s score on vinyl which is just gorgeous to behold. Not always the case with coloured vinyl, it’s a great pressing and the sound is crisp – it’s done by Death Waltz / Mondo who are also responsible for the Jurassic Park OST in my collection that’s equally beautiful and high in quality. Shame they’re so sodding expensive really.

Perhaps the new album most played in 2016 was Heaven Adores You by Elliott Smith. I was still listening to it this morning. I’d held out for the vinyl of this one, the accompanying music to 2014’s film of the same name about Elliott’s life and music (I’ve still yet to watch) and resisted urges to stream until I could give it the proper attention. Not necessarily an entry point for those new to Mr Smith’s music, for those already converted it’s an essential – there’s tracks you love, twists on existing tracks and tracks previously unknown. I’m very much looking forward to 2017’s release of an expanded and remastered Either/Or.

2016 releases I missed and still plan on getting round to:

Regina Spektor – Remember Us To Life

Band of Horses – Why Are You OK?

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Swans – The Glowing Man

 

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.

Current Spins

While my head’s been spinning over recent political events, it doesn’t mean my turntable hasn’t been.

So as part of my continued effort to break the habit of being lured into depressing and nerve ruining news stories I’m gonna drop down a few thoughts on those albums that have been getting the most of my ears lately.

Mogwai – Atomic

I’ve said this a few times and I’ll keep saying it; I fucking love Mogwai. Their soundtrack work often has a habit of being some of their best (see Zidane and Les Revenants). Atomic is technically but not totally a soundtrack as it comprises material reworked from their contributions to a BBC4 documentary “Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise” about the Hiroshima nuclear bomb and its legacy. As with their previous soundtracks I’ve not seen that which this music scores – nor do I feel up to it right now to be honest – but, again in common with those, it’s not a requirement as Atomic functions as a wonderful, often ethereal and continually beautiful and surprising Mogwai album in its own right. There’s less ‘rock’ on here, instead it’s an album of poignant textures and a blend of hope and fear, death and life.

Here’s Ether from it:

Minor Victories – Minor Victories

Keeping with the Mogwai love as Stuart Braithwaite here steps away from those Glaswegian post-rock legends to join Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, The Editors’ Justin Lockey and his brother James in a new project, Minor Victories. I’d had this on pre-order since the album and lead track were revealed and was not disappointed by the album. The oddest thing about this album is that at no point did all members record together yet they sound like a new band, not “a bit like Slowdive, a bit like Mogwai” but a new, brilliant sound that crackles with a taut electricity and energy that belies the distance between members during its construction. It’s alive with brooding drama and cinematic sweeps with Goswell’s vocals floating above in the mix with the only odd step coming with “For You Always” which features Goswell duetting with Mark Kozelek. How you feel about it will depend on how whether you like his current “steam of consciousness, verbal diarrhoea” approach to lyrics. Or his continued examples of douchebaggery. That aside, this album is one of the year’s best for me and has barely left the car cd player.

Here’s Folk Arp:

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

The grammatically questionable title aside, I love this album. I didn’t like King of Limbs; maybe listened to it in full just the once. Yet this…. from the opening rococo strings and paranoid urgency of ‘Burn The Witch’ to the echo-dripping reverb combo of piano and voice on closer ‘True Love Waits’ (a much stronger and far more powerful take than that which appeared years before) with Thom Yorke’s evocative “Just don’t leave, don’t leave” plea, this album is their best for some time. It’s more personal (Yorke having recently separated from his partner of 23 years and mother to his children), delicate piece which gives the sense of the band rediscovering beauty over the angles that have been dominant in more recent work.

Gary Clark Jr – Live

Still, given recent events, I had to make a change up and give the likes of Radiohead and Mogwai a little rest and find something more upbeat to try and get moving that way.

As such I returned to this. I’ve already spoken as to how I came to find Gary Clark Jr’s music so won’t repeat myself. This album though is still a go-to. On record I don’t think Gary has yet to find either the right producer or set-up to do his intensity and playing justice. Blak and Blu was a strong start and last year’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim had some genuine highlight’s but wandered a little too all-over and lacked the potency he can get across with his guitar on a stage. Obviously that’s not an issue with this 2014 double wallop of great playing. The first time I heard it I was unable to sit still. I’m still not able to sit still when hearing it and nor can my two-year-old son, it’s a guaranteed way to get some bad dad-dancing going. There’s not many that can touch him when it comes to blues guitar and tracks like ‘Numb‘ and ‘Don’t Owe You A Thang’ show he’s got a shed load more in him than standards and Hendrix covers.

Currently Listening

I’m trying not to return to the old days a post every five months – it’s just been a busy week or two and life comes first.

A quick week’s break has recharged me somewhat so I’ll be getting back into the swing soon but in the interim here’s a few of what’s been spinning on my turntable / car / iPod of late….

Weezer – Weezer (White Album)

Remember Weezer? They made a great trio of albums, a good fourth a so-so fifth album and then went on a very strange and disappointing journey that included songs with titles like “Where’s My Sex?” and “I’m Your Daddy”, collaborations with Lil’ Wayne (I still don’t really know who he is nor do I want to, thanks), album art featuring the large guy from Lost (and Becker) and something called Death To False Metal which featured a cover of “Unbreak My Heart” (again; no thanks). Just when the nosedive seemed irreversible there was a perfect, in-studio cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” as if to suggest they’d just been fucking with us all along. Then they decided to go back-to-basics again with the apologetic Everything Will Be Alright In The End. Weezer (White) continues that streak – and their colour sequence – and is the most consistently strong album they’ve done in well over a decade. It’s not quite enough to erase the memory of “The Girl Got Hot” just yet but it gets stronger with each listen.

Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space

This is an oddly divisive one but I’m really into this right now. I caught a bit of a session these guys were doing on the radio and was instantly hooked (song below). With a heavy but well-selected use of samples this album sets the  story of the American and Soviet space race from 1957-1972 to music. I’m still fascinated by the scope and engineering complexities involved in the space race, the fact that so many people worked together with such a common goal and though it’s not immediate, the blending of music to sample really kicks in and lends an at-times majestic and stirring soundtrack to a story that gripped so many.

 

Radiohead – Burn The Witch

I’ve not heard A Moon Shaped Pool yet. By all accounts it’s great. I’ve pre-ordered and am anxiously awaiting needle-drop time but still loving this. It’s all about those strings.

Purple Rain – Prince

Because it’s still too hard to grasp that he’s gone.