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

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.

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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.”

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