Alternative music reviews

June 24, 2008

Sonic Youth

Filed under: nostalgia,vinyl — @ 9:20 pm Comments (0)

I’ve been catching up on what Sonic Youth have been doing since 2000. Listening to their 2004 album Sonic Nurse, I enjoyed the familiarity of the same electric guitar sounds and those oh-so-familiar vocals – a thoroughly pleasant experience guaranteed to relax you. The only strange part was the review that I read that causzed me to listen to the album began: “Picking up where Murray Street’s languid experimentalism left off…” I interpreted that as Sonic Nurse would also be languidly experimental but I ended up wondering what on earth “experimental” meant to the reviewer. It seems the word has nothing to do with trying something new but repeating some intersting guitar sounds that you first tried 12 years ago.

Anyway, as I mentioned, it is very nice album in its own terms (familiar, relaxing) but its lack of challenge became more apparent when the next track on my MP3 player was the track The Burning Spear from their first EP in 1982. The build up of driving bass, churchbell-like percussion sounds, then an extended white noise scream from the synth. Now, that still feels “experimental” and can set my head shaking.

Sonic Youth

The Burning Spear (clip) by Sonic Youth

June 20, 2008

Little Fish In Custard

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Little Fish have signed to Custard Records/Universal (the label that has James Blunt on their books). It has been almost exactly a year since a thirty second blast of Devil’s Eyes was played on the Radio Oxford Demo review – their first exposure to the wider world. I have become familiar with a number of brilliant bands/artists over the past 5 or so years but, out of all of the unsigned bands, Little Fish were the most likely to make that leap. The voice, the music, the songs, the live perforamnce? Yes, but others had that too. I like to think it is not because they broke the rules of what a band should be – but they didn’t even accept that there were any rules. No bassist, no distance between the singer and audience, no guitar solos, no restrictions on mixing in any genre/decade/style of music – so what, that’s Little Fish.

The Simple Carnival

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Me and my arrowI was watching My Name Is Earl on the TV last night and suddenly there was a song I recognised used as backing to a scene where Earl shoots an arrow into the air (and it then skewers him on its way down). The song was Me and My Arrow by Harry Nilsson which is covered by The Simple Carnival on the EP of the same name that I have been listening to for a few weeks.

Me And My Arrow

Me And My Arrow (clip) by The Simple Carnival

This is an EP of Pop so, well, Poppy that it almost defies belief. But this isn’t the cheesy attempt at humour of Mike Flowers, but seems to be a serious love of the sweet melody and gentle dance rhythm. It is the product of one man: Jeff Boller, who clearly has an ear for a good tune and a wry sense of humour as well.

When I was growing up there was a clear conflict between Pop music and Rock music. Pop meant shallow while Rock was ‘heavy’ and ‘deep’. And even now melodic beat combos still stick to their Indie credentials and try to fool people that they are a pretty smile and a sweet rhyming couplet. That leads me to a problem – I still feel that way. I say ‘feel’ because I get a physical reaction to too much saccharine tunefulness. I understand that to openly present pure Pop is really the more radical option but I am old and reactionary now.

The video to Really Really Weird

So, I am not saying I like this record. But there are enough melodic hooks here in amongst what my ears hear as ‘cheese’ to convince me that Jeff has considerable talent. If you like a bit of Beach Boys harmonies then you really should get acquainted with The Simple Carnival.

June 14, 2008

Laura Marling – St Philips Church, Salford, June 10 2008

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St Philips Church SalfordNo doubt about it – the venue’s the star tonight. St Philips with St Stevens is situated in what remains of old Salford, and is a gorgeous 1820’s building that is still in good condition. Contemporary Salford intrudes, however, in the form of warnings to keep Satnavs hidden (and the inevitable post-gig smashed windows). Still, good luck to the forward-thinking vicar, and the little bar serving local real ale was another nice touch.

I’ll try to avoid “waif-like” and “vulnerable” clichés, but she’s a slight, short-haired young lass, and her introductory ‘Rebecca’ was performed solo, unmiked and unamped, with the audience giving total respect. Her clear vibrato-tinged tones were enhanced by the church acoustics, and she continued with just her and an acoustic guitar, until the rest of the band gradually joined her on the altar. Sparse, sensitive backing gives a stripped-down feel, allowing the underlying melancholy (if not morbidity) of her lyrics to come through, with ‘Night Terror’ sending a shiver down my particular spine, before the evening ends with a jaunty ‘Alas I cannot swim’, done as an advance encore.

Any female folk(-ish) singer-songwriter gets the usual comparisons; Beth Orton, even Sandy Denny. My own points of reference were the Decemberist’s quieter moments, and maybe a nod to Throwing Muses’ Kristin Hersh. It’s pleasing (to me, at any rate) to see the decreasing influence of the alt.country/Americana scene (although she cites Will Oldham as a major influence) in favour of yet another native folk-based revival. She’s only 18 – watch this space….

See a video of the song Night Terror

Review by Big Dave

June 13, 2008

A Night With Paul Hawkins

Filed under: nostalgia,paul hawkins — @ 11:58 am Comments (2)

It’s been a very musical night. I signed up to Napster (the subscription service) and listened again to some Sonic Youth, Birthday Party, and Lydia Lunch. But I soon got bored with listening to lost classics of my favourite bands of yesteryear. I then set out to find Win A Night Out With A Well Known Paranoiac by Barry Andrews (once of XTC). This was a brilliant song I heard on the John Peel show but never managed to get hold of. Obviously Napster didn’t have it but I did find a second-hand record shop on the web that had a copy so hopefully they will reply to my email about it. I feel I can’t live much longer without the tale of the man who is persecuted but suddenly realises it is all a dream…but then

I’m really in a hospital bed. There is a smell of formaldehyde in the air, and a couple of doctors with swastikas on their arm are doing something to the brain of a sheep and in the corner is a huge zinc bath containing some sort of reptile and the nurse is saying “be a brave boy and drink it all up”. And I realise I can’t feel me legs and the shape in the bed isn’t my shape at all and I wanna cry out but I can only bleat

Barry Andrews

Win A Night Out With A Well-Known Paranoic by Barry Andrews

That lead me to further investigate Paul Hawkins – a man whose strange stories can evoke that same sort of paranoia. What I found was a bunch of YouTube videos that entertained me for the night. I saw a story of infidelity and dogs (A Bigger Bone), a desperate cry for love (Evil Thoughts), and why am I alone since I am so nice (I Believe In Karma).

The highlight for me was a live performance of one of the tracks from the single released this week: Gentleman on Crutches. There is nobody, I repeat, nobody who suits a hospital gown so much as this man. I can’t think of anything else to say that will more compliment him.

June 12, 2008

Boys Next Door

Filed under: nick cave,nostalgia,vinyl — @ 9:24 pm Comments (0)

Dig, Lazarus, DigHaving just reviewed the latest Nick Cave I thought I’d dive into my vinyl for some of his earlier work. Back in 1979 the future members of The Birthday Party were called the Boys Next Door and they were emerging from Punk and just beginning to create elements of the tension that would soon characterise their latter incarnation. But mostly they were a young punky guitar band with a ‘different’ singer.

How things would develop…

The Nightwatchman by Boys Next Door

The Nightwatchman by Boys Next Door

Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Filed under: nick cave,reviews — @ 8:59 pm Comments (0)

Dig, Lazarus, DigIt would be very easy to dismiss this album as “just another Nick Cave album”. He has returned from the astonishing Grinderman to his normal method of music making. Most of the songs fit the pattern of a relaxed bass/drum groove while Nick intones his tales of America over the top using Blues vocal phrasing.

The thing is a half-decent Nick Cave album is probably as good as anything that will be released this year. If this was an album by a new singer/band then it would be lauded as brilliant but expectations are always high for Old Nick. So the critic in me wants to tell you that there are very few tracks that would make it onto a best of Nick Cave retrospective while the music fan in me just enjoys listening to more new Nick Cave songs. I really like the relaxed sensuality of Hold On To Yourself with it’s twangy guitar and Nick’s voice seems to be touched with sadness like he’d been crying earlier. Today’s Lesson is like the old stager’s reply to Iggy’s Real Good Time – not from the first person point of view but a lecherous observer.

Midnight Man by Nick Cave

Midnight Man(clip) by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

There’s nothing to change the world here (that has already been done) but there’s a haunting voice, brilliant musicians, and tales of debauchery to keep you warm at night.

Nick Cave on Myspace

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