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.”

Out of Europe: A Romanian Top Five

Here we are, over a year from that colossal outpouring of Stupid that was the Leave vote and with all the idiocy that has fallen out of the government in its tailspin and while all the polls and surveys now indicate that the general consensus amongst us Brits is “holy shit that was a big fucking mistake, STOP STOP STOP” the stupidity continues.

So as we look to be the first country since Greenland to shoot itself in the face in the name of political turpitude, I thought it was as good a time as any to shift the focus of this series to one of the EU’s most recent members, a country to whom I owe so much and have a huge amount of love for despite its contradictions, my second-home in Europe as it were; Romania.

I can’t include one of the precious few songs sung in Romanian I know for even though Zdob și Zdub sing in the language, they’re from the neighbouring Moldova. So ‘Everybody in the Casa Mare‘ will have to remain a ‘linked-to’. I’m also anxious to use this one to show that the Romanian scene is far more than the ‘traditional folk‘ music associated with the country.

This post has been a little longer in gestation than many. My wife, having left the country a fair old amount of time ago, hasn’t kept up with its music and so we reached out to a friend who runs a concert promotion company out of Bucharest and a couple on here are her recommendations. OneDay is a self-financed, independent effort aimed at promoting Romanian new music and introducing emerging international bands to the local concert scene. Pretty cool, right? She’s been involved in getting some pretty big names to the country and is always championing new Romanian music.

As such this post has been something of a voyage of discovery for me, opening my ears to a huge and varied music scene in the country – I’m next heading over in September and am hoping to hit up a few record shops as well as getting back into the mountains.

But I’ll start this list with the first bit of ‘alt/rock’ in Romanian I heard, via my wife….

Omul Cu Şobolani – Depresia toamna-iarna ’06-’07

So, I have no idea whether Omul Cu Şobolani  (I believe they were formed in București) are ‘cool’ back in Romania anymore of it’d get me ‘ugh’ looks in a record shop but this group keep it simple – one guitar, bass, drums and vocals. It was the first bit of rock I heard from the country and I still enjoy it.

Greetings Sugar – Drunken revelations (with Bogdan Serban)

This one came via the recommendations list. These guys also hail from and describe themselves as a “dark hearted band from Eastern Europe”. There’s something of The National / Interpol to the vocals on this, their second single. ‘Drunken Revelations’ is the follow up / over half to their début single – Greener – also worth checking out.

Fine, It’s Pink – Waiting for You

Fine, It’s Pink (another from the list) hail from  Iași and categorise themselves with phrases like “electronic bluesy dream pop” and  “electronica post indie”…  I love the mix of different elements in this one topped off by those vocals.

Fluturi Pe Asfalt – Nu crezi că pot?

Now we come to the discoveries… That ‘Related Videos’ feature on YouTube can also be a blessing for it’s where I found Fluturi Pe Asfalt. This four-piece from Cluj-Napoca (Romania’s second biggest city) tick off so many things I love in music: soaring guitars, mood, thumping drums, post-rock elements, a BIG sound… I’ve been rinsing their bandcamp page for listens (not everything is on YouTube and Spotify isn’t as international as it would like to think) and once I’ve finally worked out how to shift my iTunes over to the new Mac at home I’ll be hitting the purchase button.

We’ve also switched back to Romanian too. The language (I hang my head at my limitations with it) suits the genre, I think and, for those who’s Romanian is as bad as mine – “Nu crezi că pot?”means “Don’t You Think I Can?”

Pinholes – Poza

These guys describe themselves as “alternative rock band with influences that vary from post/art-rock to shoegaze and post-punk.” Again – I’m really getting into this and there’s something about the dark, brooding tone to this, the thumping drums  that I love and, again, tick so many boxes for me. Oh, Poza = Picture.

 

…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.

Tracks: Taillights Fade

scan0151October 2000 and I’m a relatively regular reader of Uncut Magazine, scouring their Unconditionally Guaranteed CD each month for the one or two tracks that will make me sit up and pay attention as is usually the way with such free, on-the-cover comps. There’s only one track on this one, though but I fell in love with it and promptly ordered the album it was pulled from. It was Taillights Fade by Buffalo Tom.

A three-piece from Boston, Buffalo Tom got going in the mid-eighties. Their first two albums were produced by (and featured the odd guitar line from)Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis. It’s safe to say they got a second-go-around following the surge in interest in ‘alt-rock’ in the early nineties and their third album Let Me Come Over not only marked an increase in popularity but a change in sound; less fuzz, sharper lyrics, a clearer sound and melodies you could hang your hat on. In the nineties they crafted hugely powerful, deftly-written songs, each subsequent album containing a strong blend of crunching rockers and delicate acoustics with soulful and intelligent lyrics sewn into songs that make you wonder how the hell they weren’t huge singles.

Taillights Fade is taken from that big-leap-forward third album.

From the sound of the hand slipping up the neck I was hooked. From a gentle strum behind the lead figure to a fuller throttle thump, this song builds and builds, adding more with every listen.  It’s a lovelorn song with one hell of a tune. In fact everything about this song – from the music to the lyrics to the mix is spot-fucking-on.

$_57

Sister, can you hear me now
The ringing in your ears
I’m down on the ground
My luck’s been dry for years

I’m lost in the dark
And I feel like a dinosaur
Broken face and broken hands
I’m a broken man

I’ve hit the wall, I’m about to fall
But I’m closing in on it
I feel so weak on a losing streak
Watch my taillights fade to black

Sadly – at least for seven years until returning with Three Easy Pieces – by the time I got my ears wrapped around this,  they were done as a band. Typical timing on my behalf but it meant I was able to go on and complete the back catalogue. While this song opened doors into their cannon for me, Asides From is almost certainly the most played album within my collection and one I whole heartedly recommend getting hold of as a starting point.

Enjoy, again:

There’s The Moon Asking Me To Stay. Reasons to love Grace

When I started amping up my vinyl collection I had to make a sort of promise in an effort to not let it get out of hand: not buying an album I already owned just to have it on vinyl too.

Of course there are some exceptions to this if you look at my fledgling collection but none of these are of the type that cost more than a few pounds.

That being said….

There is one new addition which I have on CD. Twice, in fact, if you count the expanded legacy addition.

BxgfZZyCcAEt7WBBut this is Jeff Buckley’s Grace.  And we’re talking about a limited (to 2000), lilac swirl vinyl here. The album is a work of art. Had my Essential Albums list made it to the Top 5 it would most difinately have featured. There’s so much to love on that album including but not limited to:

1) Mojo Pin

I’m not going to say every track is a reason to love this album. Though that could easily happen.

Mojo Pin is the best kind of opener. An absolute belter of a song that manages to contain every element you’ll find on the album itself: psychedlic leanings giving way to Zeplin-esque blues and hard rock propelled by a surging guitar; lyrics that hint at the spiritual, a love lost; rising and crashing melody and, of course – that voice.

2) The Sound

If you have The Legacy Edition of this album you’ll have seen the Making Of.. DVD that comes with it.
You’ll know that Jeff was hard to reign down musically and compulsive, over-flowing with ideas as he was. When making Grace they had to have three different band set-ups available at any time in order to accomadate his ideas.

By all accounts it wasn’t the smoothest of productions and yet the final sound is amazing.

I don’t know enough to say it’s down to the recording equipment, the sound engineer or the production – all I know is that the richness of sound is beautiful and is probably down to Andy Wallace who produced, engineered and mixed the album (adding to a CV that included mixing duty for Sonic Youth’s Dirty,  Nirvana’s Nivermind, Rage Against the Machine, L7…).You can hear every element, perfectly balanced. The plectrum on the strings, the slip of a hand on a neck, you get the sound of real music being played – nothing artificial about it. A warm, enveloping sound.

3) Track 6, 02:18- 03:08

These points are all interlinked it seems for the element that adds to the richness of that sound is the band that Jeff built around himself.
Signed as a solo artist – if you listen to the Live At Sin-e album you’ll learn several points that inform Grace.

Firstly – Jeff didn’t always manage to reign it all in to a concise, well-formed song. Early versions of tracks that would make Grace meander more and he plays with his voice a little too much.

It’s also clear that Jeff needed a full band to truly capture and develop his ideas. One of those musicians bought in, toward the end, was guitarist Michael Tighe. Tighe bought something else to the mix – the song So Real. Buckley would add a chorus and a few lyrical changes and the song was so strong it pushed off Buckley’s own Forget Her from the final album. From that, between 02:18 and 03:08 is pure chainsaw-guitar magic wrapped up with a near-whispered “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you.”

4) Covers

Not the head shot that graced the cover, but the choice of covers here – that Buckley felt sufficiently strong about to include over his own originals.

The now-famous/infamous take on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is easily the definitve version of a much-covered song. A perfect tune to showcase Buckley’s vocal prowess, it’s flawless. Enough has been written about it that I can’t / shouldn’t go into it too much here – but I will say that just when I think I’m bored of it, I’ll here it again and hear something new in his reading of it and suddenly it’s perfect again.

Lilac Wine is transformed from a cocktail-lounge song into a near mystical experience that just-about manages to keep a lid on Jeff’s voice.
Then there’s a take on Britten’s hymn Corpus Christi Carol, which, in Buckley’s hands, is more of a lullaby.

Jeff’s takes on each of these songs does what any good cover should – transform it into something new.

That’s not what I love about them though – what gets me is the choice of these songs. This was 1994. The post-Nevermind alternative music scene still on the rise and yet here are tunes plucked from Nina Simone’s repetoire and a hymn first heard in 1504.

Of course, the over, more practical reason for the inclusion of three covers is that Buckley didn’t yet have enough material of his own that was up to inclusion. Though his song writing was moving forward (those tunes written by Buckley alone include Last Goodbye) it wasn’t there yet and, sadly, we’d never get the chance to discover why because….

5) A One-Off

One of those elements that makes Grace so special is frustrating and tragic in equal measure; it’s all we really have of this talent.

On the evening of May 29th, 1997, Jeff Buckley went for a swim in the Mississippi. Fully clothed, wearing his boots and singing the chorus to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. He’d been swimming in the channel before. The roadie who was with had stayed on shore, moved a guitar out of the way from a passing tugboat’s wake, looked back out to the water to find Buckley had vanished. It would be five days before his body was found.

Jeff Buckley’s death at the age of 30 was ruled as an accidental drowning.

The album he was working on at the time would never reach fruition. A compilation of those songs he was working on for it would be released a few days shy of a year after his death. Critically well-recieved, Sketches for My Sweetheart the drunk showcased a new leaning for Jeff, tighter, harder and at times darker, the songs gathered across the two discs showed a marked evolution in his song writing. It’s a tantalising glimpse, a painful “what if?” that no amount of reissues or vault-digging can ever answer.

As such Grace remains the only final, definitive recording by Jeff Buckley. A true one-off.