Jeffrey Lewis’s last album “12 Crass Songs” was the first album I bought after being cleared of the debts that had led me to rely on submitted music for about four years. It was an intriguing prospect to have Crass songs delivered by a New York quirky folkie and it was a revelation, particularly to someone like me who had all the early Crass records, to finally hear the lyrics away from the original stodgy Punk delivery. I didn’t get on as well with his back catalogue however so I regarded it as a one-off show of brilliance.
His latest album “‘Em Are I” contains all of the same things I have struggled with in Jeffrey Lewis – the nasal voice, the conversational style of singing that uses schoolyard cadences instead of melody. But behind everything is the feeling that someone is baring their soul (admittedly with a lot of musical and lyrical whimsy). This is certainly an album that deals with a break-up and behind the humour is real disappointment, and that I can relate to.
In a world where bands plunder the 50 years of rock music available and mix different elements of the past, it is rare to hear an original voice and Jeffrey Lewis is one. Sometimes he seems just too knowing and aware of the musical deconstruction he is performing but it is always intriguing. One song on the album hits me like a sledgehammer (in the lyrics he says it is written by Jack who I assume is his brother who plays in the band) The Upside-Down Cross. It’s a full band piece with drums, electric guitar, piano and horns and is less playful melodically than much of the album but that just makes it work beautifully as a ‘let’s freak out a bit’ kind of song.
The Upside-down Cross
The Upside-down Cross by Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard (Clip)
Florence & The Machine, St. Philips Church, Salford, Monday 1st June 2009.
It is sometimes interesting to go and see a band of which you know very little, as, without carrying any preconceptions or media baggage, it gives a blank canvas on which to overlay ones prejudices. Within five minutes of Florence & The Machine taking the stage, I had them tagged as media-friendly goth-lite, with a wilfully eccentric edge. Mid-period Banshee wannabees. Florence has a cracking pair of lungs, but strip away the harp, and the androgynous numanoid keyboard/violin, and it’s a pretty drab standard rock backing, and I was reminded of other famous-for-15-minutes bands featuring “charismatic” female vocalists (Curve, All About Eve, etc…). Also, the church venue doesn’t lend itself to amplified rock music. Whereas the natural echo enhances the sparse acoustics of (for example) Laura Marling, here it creates an aural sludge where the only winners are the drums and Florence’s voice. In-between song twee chat referencing coffins, death and other goth leitmotifs, as well as casual nods to the Hacienda and the Mondays don’t help. And yet…following an instantly forgettable final number, they returned for an encore, and played ‘Blinding’. Maybe it was the setting sun, maybe it was the atmosphere, but suddenly it all worked, and for 5 spellbinding (Oo-err, lazy journo Banshee’s reference) minutes I was transfixed. Only for the mood to be dispelled by a turgid version of The Source’s none-too-originally inspiring ‘You got the love’.
I await their appearance on a Banshee’s tribute compilation. I’d like to hear their take on ‘Overground’…
I thought I’d share this video of The Resonance Association’s None More Evil with you. This is my favourite track from the 2008 album “We Still Have The Stars” and possibly even extends the intensity that they achieved with their previous release “Failure OF The Grand Design”. The addition of the extremely distorted vocals makes it a menacing affront to the senses when added to their adeptness at creating atmospheric instrumental music. Every time I hear this, I keep on thinking of Satisfaction by The Residents and what if that band had developed their destructive tendencies rather than playing the (rather attractive) joke card. This is proof that Progressive music is alive and well and not an historical anomaly.
The whole album is available for download for free (optional donation) on the link below
I was listening to BBC Hereford and Worcester’s Friday Session Introducing with added interest since I am investigating moving back to that area in the next few months. The programme has been extended to three hours on a Friday night, a just reward for such an excellent and entertaining take on the local music scene. The extra hour is being devoted to established bands with links to the area so those of you who don’t understand my relentless obsession with new music can listen to something more familiar such as a Dodgy session and talking about U2 at Kidderminster Town Hall back in 1980 (I saw them twice that year in Coventry, the first time in a half-full back room of The General Wolfe pub).
Obviously my main focus was on the two hours of Introducing. The track that really caught my attention was Century Smile by a band called Derailed. What surprised me was that they are a straight Blues band. Hardly a new concept, and not something I would go out of my way to hear. What attracted me to Derailed was that they sound like their starting point is Crawling King Snake by The Doors (although the “Huuh” at the beginning of the track reminds me of Stooges Fun House period). The vocalist Kirk Hammond has a low, growly voice that is perfect for this type of music. Blues is not a musical style that is going to lead to fame and fortune but Derailed sound like they will be really good live and the lucky people around Hereford should be able to have a good night when Derailed play.
All of this new found enthusiasm for electric Blues led me back in time to reacquaint myself with Johnny Winter, the Texan Bluesman who began in the late Sixties. I first heard him when I was about 12 years old (I think it was my cousin Keith who played him to me). My trip down Nostalgia Lane has rewarded me with some of the best Blues Rock ever played. I’ve spent this week listening to the early albums and in particular to the amazing “Progressive Blues Experiment”. I just can’t get enough of that guitar playing. Here is a little sample to whet your appetite:
It must be many years since I last heard a musical saw, perhaps on a TV programme like Opportunity Knocks in the 70s. It seemed like a purely novelty instrument and just made a funny noise.
So, I was a little surprised to hear that warbly sound on the album “The Earth and All That Is In It” by The Roe Family Singers. You would imagine a band with that name, and a predeliction for banjo music and musical saw to be just a cutesy bunch of hicks from the sticks. But, have no fear, once again I have gone to visit Gothic Country. It’s the sort of place where the dead bodies rise from the ground if you don’t bury them deep enough. Many of the tracks wouldn’t sound out of place on a “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack album but the extra lyrical twists (and an entrancing female voice) make it very special.
The musical saw is used on some of the strongest stracks. On Shallow Grave it becomes the spooky backdrop that evokes the dark creepiness of back yards where zombies might roam. White Horse is a grim tale of Heroin addiction and some of its affects (killing an unborn child for example) and the musical saw adorns it like a wasp that won’t go away. The closest equivalent I can think of to the way the musical saw is used here is Eno in Roxy Music or Allen Ravenstine in Pere Ubu and the way they used un-musical sysnthesiser noise to unsettle the listener.
White Horse by The Roe Family Singers
White Horse by The Roe Family Singers (Clip)
After dipping my feet into that particular well, I decided to catch up with The Scaramange Six’s latest epic – the album “Songs Of Prey”. You can bet the down-to-earth Northeners aren’t going to messsing about with Woodworking tools. No chance….
I remember The Peter Parkers. I did a short review of their album This Is Sity Music years ago. I liked it a lot. I listened to it a couple of times last year as well as I was digitising my CD collection and I had one reservation: I never managed to get a handle on who the band were, on what to expect when listening to them. I admired all the diversity of sound and rhythm but after all these years I didn’t love it.
So here’s The Peter Parker’s new album five years later. It opens with Make Out Party and it is as I remember the band – possibly brilliant but infuriating in the way it avoids giving you any melodic hooks. The second track Nod If You Can Hear changes everything. It starts just with drums and bass and when the guitar comes in it is distorted but just fits neatly in with the other instruments. This is almost chilled. Even though you could sway along to this, there is distortion and tension in the words and music so it isn’t ever easy listening. Then, at around 2 minutes, in kicks the middle section as the guitar gets strummed hard and this beautiful organ sound (anyone remember The Blue Orchids?) rings out. Glorious.
Nod If You Can Hear Me by The Peter Parkers
Nod If You Can Hear Me by The Peter Parkers (Clip)
From this point on my doubts disappear.There’s time to relax and get into a groove on tracks like Sleazy Soft but there’s still the challenge of the sonic attack. Like modern Mogwai they understand that the traditional ‘start quiet and end in crescendo’ is too cliched now. Quiet and loud is mixed up to allow the listener to experience disquiet and resolution in a single track. This is a wonderful album that will intrigue you for years to come if you can just get a hold of a copy (contact the band through MySpace).
To Thomas (3rd Bounce Pounce) by The Peter Parkers
To Thomas (3rd Bounce Pounce) by The Peter Parkers (Clip)
I suspect that the need to classify everything is the sign of an obsessive personality and I speak as someone who ordered his record collection for 25 years by the relationship of the band/artist’s music with the Velvet Underground (you know, Stockhausen and experimental to the left, Bowie and other acolytes to the right). But I am happy because I can now pigeon-hole The Peter Parkers into my musical Pantheon. It hadn’t occurred to me to compare them with Sonic Youth because they are not ultra cool and arty. But I now realise that musically there is a real similarity. Sonic Youth in the early 90s, playing live, after the singing finishes they begin to go off into an extended instrumental jam – that is what The Peter Parkers sound like to me. It’s at that point where you begin to hear new harmonies as the distortion of the instruments combine with the echoes of the hall. It’s a psychedelic feeling without chemical inducements.
iLiKETRAiNS, Night & Day, Manchester, Sunday 3rd May 2009.
A fortuitous glance at the ILT website led me to find that they were playing the Night & Day as part of Manchester’s Northern Quarter MAPS Festival. Having seen them back in December, I was intrigued as to how the set would differ. We arrived in time to see Sycamore bludgeon the world into submission armed only with minor chords and copious effects pedals, and to see Spokes, who promised much with intricate twin guitar/violin largely instrumental interplay, but were sadly let down by a sound that robbed them of much of their musical subtlety. ILT took the stage in yet another change of corporate image (now looking like pilots crossed with Cunard waiters) and played a set that travelled nicely through old and new. Opening with ‘A Rook House for Bobby’ they then more or less alternated new and old. Standing out of the new stuff was ‘Forget to Breathe’ (at least, that was its working title last time out) and ‘Divorce before Marriage’ which held their own alongside old favourites like ‘Voice of Reason’ and ‘Victress’. There was a rare outing of ‘Terra Nova’, which provided the traditional frenzied sonic highlight before leading into the closing, somewhat anti-climactic ‘Sea of Regrets’, which we were informed will be the next single. So, what a difference a few months makes, and I for one look forward to the forthcoming new album.
I had to laugh when I saw they are playing Belgium’s Dour Festival in July. How apt…