Alternative music reviews

September 12, 2008

More Tom Leach

Filed under: tom leach — @ 11:40 pm Comments (0)

I’ve been catching up on my interests in Country music over the past few months and listening to a lot of new releases like The Felice Brothers, O’Death and the best of last year’s albums with Octoberman. I’ve also investigated David Eugene Edward’s career since Sixteen Horsepower with his Woven Hand project and managed to hear his band before 16HP, the Denver Gentlemen. So, a lot of good stuff has passed through my ears recently. However, none of these commercially available albums can compare to the impact that has been made on me by 15 tracks I downloaded from Tom Leach’s webpage (since I already have the Seven Songs EP I missed out 4 of the possible downloads). They just get better every time I listen to them.

So my self-created album “More Tom Leach” is 51 minutes long and covers unreleased oldies, some tracks from Homemade/Handmade which isn’t available, and some new rough mixes of songs destined for “Macon” (Macon, Georgia is mentioned by Tom as his next project). Obviously these are recordings with a few rough edges but that adds to their charm.

It covers the period from the Tom Leach album (was that around 1997?) to the present day. The earlier songs are just as fine as those on that first album and each tells a story. Call Waiting sounds just like the sort of song Johnny Cash would have have sung when he first went on the Sun Records tours. I’m Not A Cowboy, No I Ain’t is a gem where Tom points out that cowboys don’t cry and don’t need anyone.

The next album is obviously going to be great. judging by the preview songs on here. There was something about one of these songs that made me go to the Internet for a good search. I was looking for references to Ida Mae but apart from a reference to a Lightnin’ Hopkins I found nothing. I had assumed it was one of the classic Country songs being covered and re-interpreted. I promised myself that I won’t underestimate Mr Leach again.

Ida Mae by Tom Leach

Ida Mae by Tom Leach

The final track of the album (in alphabetical filename order) is an unreleased song from around 2001. Called I Know Time, it is one of the most perfect miserable songs about the inevitable loss of love. It is almost malevolently sad with its slow, relentless pace. While listening, I found that the vibrato in Tom Leach’s voice led to me thinking of Michael Stipe (also from Georgia). I’m not going to hold my breath, but I do think that if Michael and REM work really hard for the next ten years then they may come up with a song as good as this. At least it gives them something to aim at.

I Know Time by Tom Leach

I Know Time by Tom Leach

Tom Leach’s MP3 page


Filed under: ramblings — @ 1:00 pm Comments (0)

It was only last year that I finally disposed of my 1970’s ARP Odessy monophonic synthesiser. Not that I had played it for years. But I have fond memories of improvising on a Sunday morning back in the 80s and making strange noises for hours and hours. As part of my recent purchase of some recording equipment I have begun to investigate software to help me record music. I now have a few free programs that make synthesiser noises even though I will be concentrating on guitars. One of these bits of software is rather wonderful at generating noises. So here is the result of 10 minutes of play as I wave goodbye to Rock and Roll and enter the Ambient Zone. Can you spot the fact that I am answering the phone for at least two minutes during this performance?

Work 1 by Ambient Sex Plunge

Work 1 by Ambient Sex Plunge

September 5, 2008

The Beat Maras

Filed under: beat maras — @ 9:40 pm Comments (0)

Bat and the Astral PhoenixI mentioned the Beat Maras before and praised Getaway Car on their Huarez EP. I wasn’t sure about the other tracks so I just pointed out the fast, loud one. They have brought out their debut album Bat And The Astral Phoenix and it has allowed me to once again hear the track Beauty And The Horror that was on that EP. Strangely enough, this time I felt really pleased to hear it and revel in the imperious vocal.

Beauty And The Horror by The Beat Maras

Beauty And The Horror by The Beat Maras (clip)

But, even though I know that they are from Hertfordshire, I just can’t help thinking they are Scottish. On the track above, it does sound like a Scots Jim Morrison doesn’t it? Then I again listen to the excellent opening track which is the instrumental Blue Rock and what do I hear – what sounds to me like a definitively Caledonian guitar piece. Maybe it’s just me but I do hear a bit of Alex Harvey/Skids/Big Country in the rhythm and overall sound.

Blue Rock by The Beat Maras

Blue Rock by The Beat Maras (clip)

The Beat Maras

September 3, 2008

Ferndorf by Hauschka

Filed under: hauschka — @ 9:23 pm Comments (2)

Ferndorf by HauschkaI’m pretty familiar with John Cage’s prepared piano. He would take a handful of screws, nuts, bolts and throw them onto the piano strings. When the pianist played his compositions, the notes would sound very different depending on wherethe detiritus ended up. All sorts of plinks and plonks got introduced. This introduced chance (the fancy word is ‘Stochastic’) into a composition. Every time it was played then it would sound very different.

I always suspected John Cage of being a bit of a trickster – he would take a radical approach to composition but often maintained recognisable melody. The end result was was actually rather pleasant – the opposite result of much contemporary ‘classical’ music.

Hauschka is modern composer who, on his latest album Ferndorf, uses the prepared piano as his main instrument. The piano also underlies the music rhythmically and allows extensive use of the cello and even a bit of brass to allow the music to soar off into the distance. And it does soar, it takes you off on a daydream-like journey like only the best instrumental music can.

Freibad by Hauschka

Freibad by Hauschka (clip)

Certainly this isn’t an experimental work. Cage did the experimenting and Hauschka profits from that and uses the beauty and surprise of Cage’s work as part of his creation. He adds a touch of the Phillip Glass/Michael Nyman use of motifs and what you end up with is interesting, entrancing, and rather beautiful.

Schiones Madchen by Hauschka

Schoenes Madchen by Hauschka (clip)

Hauschka on MySpace

August 28, 2008

Electic Eels

Filed under: electric eels,vinyl — @ 10:24 pm Comments (0)

How different things were before the Internet. Back in 1977 I bought a single called Agitated by Die Electric Eels. A few months later I found another copy in a record shop and was so surprised that I bought it again, just in case my first copy ever wore out – it was that good. Apart from the fact I liked it, I knew nothing more about Electric Eels and had found no information about them in the music press apart from a very short review- NME didn’t talk about them until twenty years later in a short article.

Now, all I have to do is type their name into a search engine and I can find out plenty. I get confirmation that despite the pseudo-German on the cover they were from the States – Cleveland in fact. Although it came out in 1977, it was actually recorded in 75 and so pre-figured Punk significantly so it is really a violent aberation of Glam-Rock. It sounds like a hell of a band. I particularly like this story from the Scat records Electric Eels pages.

Their first gig was in August of 1974 at the Moonshine Co-op in Columbus. McManus adorned himself in rat-traps for the occasion and Morton was wearing a jacket held together with safety pins, earning them the tag “Ratman and Bobbin” from the police they encountered when leaving the bar at the end of the night. Morton took offense and kicked the nearest policeman in the balls as hard as he could, despite being handcuffed at the time. As a result of the inevitable beating that ensued, Morton performed their next show three weeks later with a slide and wrench taped to his broken left hand in order to play his guitar.

Despite only playing five gigs they had significant influnce on Peter Laughner of Pere Ubu and Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys but this astonishing piece of catatonic guitar and vocal was never equalled by those better known bands.

Agitated by Die Electric Eels

Agitated by Die Electric Eels

August 26, 2008

I See A Darkness

Filed under: johnny cash — @ 11:03 pm Comments (0)

I’ve just finished reading “Things The Grandchildren Should Know” an autobiography by the bloke from Eels. I enjoyed it a lot but I was struck by one passage:

things are so fucked up in the music business that in order for a truly great artist like Johnny Cash to seem relevant, he has to record cover versions of young hipster songs to appeal to young hipsters. Here’s one of the greatest natural talents of his time, awkwardly singing songs that don’t come naturally to him at all.
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What struck me as wrong was that one of my favourite songs of all time is his version of I See A Darkness by Will Oldham. I’d owned the Darkness album for years and liked it but I had never really HEARD the title track. Johnny Cash opened my ears to what the song was about because the way he sings it I really believed that he knew about those dark thoughts, Guaranteed loan approval with us visit our link to learn more

Well, you know I have a love, a love for everyone I know.
And you know I have a drive to live, I won’t let go.
Can you see its opposition comes rising up sometimes.
That its dreadful imposition, comes blacking in my mind.
And that I see a darkness.

When Johnny Cash sings the song I hear a man who has lived through this and a good few other experiences besides.

I See a Darkness is the sixth studio album by American musician Will Oldham, released on January 19, 1999 on Palace Records as the first album under his moniker Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Johnny Cash recorded the titular track on his 2000 album American III: Solitary Man, with Oldham providing background vocals.

I See a Darkness received generally positive reviews from music critics. Samir Khan of Pitchfork awarded the album a rare perfect score and described it as Oldham’s “consummate offering” and the “type of record that demands solitary reverence”. Gregg Rounds of AllMusic wrote that it showcased “a more melodic style than the veteran Palace listener might be used to”, while at the same time noting that Oldham “hasn’t abandoned his foundation of mordant lyrics and minimalist arrangements, but he has built a variety of different layers that make this album an emotional and pleasurable listening experience. The A.V. Club’s Stephen Thompson remarked that I See a Darkness was the “most appropriate synthesis yet of Oldham’s vocals and backing band”. Matt LeMay of Stylus Magazine wrote that “by addressing concepts so grand with such sincerity and skill, the album is incredibly powerful under even the most mundane of circumstances”.

I See A Darkness

I See A Darkness (clip) by Johnny Cash

August 7, 2008

Broken Hymns, Limbs And Skin by O’Death

Filed under: o'death,reviews — @ 10:36 pm Comments (1)

Broken Hymns, Limbs & SkinsI think my first introduction to Gothic Country (if that is the right description – you know, the twisted take on the Southern Bible Belt hoe-down) was with the Violent Femmes. Their Country Death Song was a sick little tale of murder and madness, emphasised by the music that brought up associations from that long history of films that paint the Deep South as a Banjo-playing, incest-ridden, and Bible-inspired den of Rednecks.

Country Death Song

Country Death Song (clip) by Violent Femmes

To come straight up to date there is a new album by O’Death. This is a band from the East coast rather than the Deep South (so that may mean Appalachian Folk influence?) but what they do is play Country/Bluegrass with lots of fiddle and banjo. They like to ramp things up a bit but the hoe-down atmosphere is not of a local dance and having fun but an exploration of sin and retribution. It’s like the music from the O Brother Where Art Thou but with added darkness.

Fire On Peshtigo

Fire On Peshtigo (clip) by O’Death

I imagine that the vocals could get on a few people’s nerves but the music is never less than inspiring. The songs are mostly at breakneck speed and intensity so there is little respite except for some moments that remind me of The Handsome Family.

Grey Sun

Grey Sun (clip) by O’Death

I was just beginning to get a little bored with current Americana when along comes a record like this that just reminds me of why I love it so much. Banjo, violin, and a little bit of Punk spirit – the perfect cocktail.

O’Death on MySpace

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