Round 99 – Steve’s Selections – Year End Tracks

8b4e795c17070424342e2b923362abf90ad54b9dBlood Orange – ‘Freetown Sound’: “Augustine”
This is my first selection. This is from what is probably my favourite album of the year. Most of the other tracks I have picked have some sadness associated with them, but this tune just picks you up in its arms and loves you. It pulls all those 1980’s tricks I love. The album – which I will leave for another night – is a seductive mix of soul, funk and jazz, mixed up with guitar riffs and subtle piano interludes that will melt your heart. Dev Hynes may have failed to impress previously (although Cupid Deluxe has its moments) but here he has played a masterstroke. Augustine flows to the heavens and back. I recommend watching the video on Youtube for the full dance-off.

Whyte H27696orses – ‘Pop or Not’: “Promise I Do” Probably only known within a small(ish) radius around Manchester, Whyte Horses are described as a psychedelic band. On this number they manage to blend 60s psyche, with French super-pop. Notwithstanding the excellent production, you could mistake this track for somehing from another time. It’s a racy tune. The album takes you on a journey around the world, taking in different sounds from many different countries. It came in as the number one album for Piccadilly Records (my Mecca on Oldham Street). They can be a bit biaised but this year they have got it right.

replacmenetsReplacements – ‘Let it Be’: “Unsatisfied”
This was a controversial choice  – can we have a reissued album? This was reissued in 2016 and is the standout track on this classic album. It was quite bold of The Replacements to use the title ‘Let it Be’, given its associations with the Beatles. The song itself was released at the time of Reagan. The lyrics are all tongue in cheek irony

Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Was you satisfied?
Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Hey, are you satisfied?

and later

Everything goes
Well, anything goes all of the time
Everything you dream of
Is right in front of you
And everything is a lie (or) And liberty is a lie

The disenfranchisement with the way things are going in the US at the time, now re-released with new venom and relevance for the Trump generation seemed appropriate for a new listen.

rememberustolifeRegina Spektor – ‘Remember Us to Life’: “Obselete”
This track feels quite Christmassy (is there such an adjective?). The subject – depression and self-loathing – is far from the happiness, sparkle and tinsel of the festive season though. The song is just stripped down to her voice, which lays bare Regina’s incredible range. Despite the subject matter I find this song strangely uplifting. Facing how you feel about yourself during depression is the first step towards recovery. In that sense this song is very honest and open. Highly cathartic.

 

amber-light-siteJane Weaver – ‘The Amber Light’: “Argent”  This is all Stereolab, and reminds me of another album I brought along to DRC some weeks ago Stereolab -Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Being almost a direct copy is not a bad thing. Jane Weaver hails from Manchester, and is the wife of Andy Votel of Twisted Nerve Records fame. I know I know, some bias here for the Manc music but this is really rather good and well-worth checking out. The track I selected appears to follow Stereolab almost to the end when at the end, as a muscial deviation, horns are added. Beautiful.

 

a1895762218_10Anhoni – ‘Hoplessness’: “Obama” Given the unwelcome alternative and successor to Obama in the US one might be forgiven to take out the paintbrush and whitewash the past, forgiving the incumbent for terrible atrocities (drone-bombing, the continued use of state-sponsored proxy torture etc etc). This album pulls no punches on Obama’s legacy, particularly on this track. The sound is almost Native American Indian in style. A chant, summoning up the spirits of the dead themselves? Haunting.

 

packshot1-768x768Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Skeleton Tree’: “Magneto”

In love, in love, in love you laugh
In love you move, I move and one more time with feeling
For love, you love, I laugh, you love
Saw you in heart and the stars are splashed across the ceiling

The imagery in this song is incredible. There’s no tune to speak of. Just a deep buzz-saw drone and the wonderful voice and mind of Mr Cave. At one point there is even some dark humour

Oh, the urge to kill somebody was basically overwhelming
I had such hard blues down there in the supermarket queues

This was Rob’s Joker track. We sat silently and marvelled.

10_700_700_580_bobmould_patchthesky_900pxBob Mould – ‘Patch the Sky’: “Losing Sleep”

Bob back here at his best. It’s all hard guitars, tight drumming and a great tune. Sugar and Husker Dü. Apparently he just holed himself up in a wood shack recording studio and played music till he liked it. Great to see him back on form. It’s probably one of the standout tracks for me though as there are some duds on here.

 

 

 

e8074a26Wild Nothing – ‘Life of Pause’: “Love Underneath My Thumb”

Basically I will go for anything that sounds vaguely 80s. This track pulls all those tricks. A little bit of Japan, a bit Talking Heads (ok that’s 70s too but they were ahead of the game). The spash of choppy guitar chords over a synth and I am your’s. Delightful.

 

 

160682North Sea Radio Orchestra – ‘Dronne’: “Guitar Miniature No.4”

Just great guitar on this one. We were reminded of Robbie Basho from a previous round and the similarity is not lost. There’s some incredibly difficult fingerpicking here from the incredible NSRO. They are well-worth checking out for anyone into a bit of traditional UK home grown folk.

 

a3953211025_10Kool Keith – ‘Feature Magnetic’: “Tired”

Some basic old-school rap here. Kool Keith is an old-timer having been on the circuit now for more than 20 years. His lyrics are less confrontational here in this album but he blends some nice humour here with slagging off other rappers

I can’t believe I’m so good, I’m in the studio with carrot cake
Other rappers bake

 

DavidBowie★David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’: “Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away”

What to say? I listen. I cry. I’m amazed at how good it really is, and his last recording  although I’m sure plenty more is tucked away. But this was his conscious last message to the world and it’s glorious.

I’m dying too

Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to

 He does it as well. Fools us all again. Takes us by surprise. The song segueways beatifully into the jazz-infused ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ which again fills the mind with questions. Is he singing about his own death? Yes, probably, but it’s just a great song on its own merits without digging too deep into the lyrics. Bowie bows out and stuns us all. Mesmerizing. RIP David…..

Gwenno – Y Dydd Olaf: Round 98 – Steve’s choice

cover_lp_gwennoBack from the land of prog I felt confident given the subject of ‘something new’ I could bring that something….that something being the Welsh/Cornish language synth-pop of one Gwenno of course. The album was released in 2015. Gwenno was the former front of the 60s revivalist girl pop band The Pipettes.

I was drawn some months after seeing her support Gruff Rhys (of Super Furry Animals) to buy this album, although it was not an immediate purchase. I have an in-built defence mechanism against buying albums based on live performances. Too many times I’ve been left wondering why I parted with my money, or why caught up in the occasion I thought the band would be able to translate my drunken euphoria onto hard media. In my experience buying from the stand at the gig itself is a terrible mistake. So rarely does the artist live up to the occasion. In general I prefer to hear the record before the live performance. Even seeing Pulp support St Etienne live some years ago didn’t immediately convince me to part with money for any of their records. Slowly I was enticed in to ‘His ‘n Her’s’, and the rest is history. So, here I stood, entranced by the lights and sounds of Gwenno. Only her and a computer to make the most bewitching, subtle ethereal sounds I have heard in a long time….12 months later I’ve overcome my own defence mechanism….

Y Dyadd Olaf is supposedly about “importance of preserving cultural identity in order to resist corporate death” (thankyou Pitchfork). To be honest this is one of those albums where I don’t really need to know what the songs mean. Much like the Cocteau Twins, the sounds are able release feelings within me that speak louder than words. They go deeper than any so-called meaningful message or sentiment. The title of the album is named after Owain Owain’s Welsh sci-fi novel about robots turning humans into clones. Again, this information is not necessary for me to enjoy this album. Maybe it is important for others. But surely with so few Welsh speakers, and even fewer purveyors of the Cornish tongue (the last track ‘Amser’ is in Cornish), you have to ask whether access to Gwenno’s recording requires that understanding anyway.

Much of it has an 80s synth-pop feel to it, which is readily accessible and recognisable. ‘Y Dydd Olaf’, the title track, has this in spades around the middle half to the end of the song. But the tone is hushed throughout, reminscent in places of Stereolab. The vocals are flat and indifferent. Almost heavenly tones sound like music beamed between the stars themselves, particularly effective on the panting and space like ‘Golau Arail’. ‘Patriarchaeth’ has a sound that recalls Broadcast. There’s almost the feel of Japrock (perhaps Shonen Knife?) on ‘Stwff’ where the Welsh could well be just about any exotic language. It seems perfectly in place with the rhythm and timing of the slightly off-kilter keyboards, adding to the ethereal feel. At the end of ‘Stwff’ there are sounds reminiscent of Karlheinz Stockhausen, who famously borrowed his music from the far-east. But all of it is very subtle. You have to listen hard here, and the joy only comes after closer inspection. Definitely a grower.

So, I would say that this album has in fact exceeded my initial impressions of Gwenno at that gig down in the Pheonix last year. The live experience was more immediate. The recording however is subtle, requiring patience. If you don’t have that virtue it will pass you by, having turned your back, like a shooting star in the night….

Tom listened: As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m a sucker for Welsh women. However, the one I married differs from Gwenno in that she wouldn’t have a clue about the meaning of any of the songs on Y Dyadd Olaf. Musically I find myself pulled in the direction of our celtic neighbours, especially when they decide to sing in their native tongue; there’s something romantic and beguiling and vaguely exotic about all those throaty, rasped consonants…and long words completely devoid of vowels. I hate vowels. They are definitely my five least favourite letters, and therefore, Welsh is about the best language there is! So Y Dyadd Olaf hit my sweet spot and sounded to me like a more polished and considered bedfellow of Cate Le Bon’s recent output. A good choice Steve…and definitely not prog enough to cause any problems.

Nick listened: Nice synths.

Genesis – ‘Trespass’: Round 97 – Steve’s choice

220px-trespass70

Oh help…what have I done but unleash the prog-monster? Having been drawn the year 1970 I was on dan gerous ground as far as my collection is concerned. My immediate thoughts were to this album, and not Nick Drake (‘Bryter Later’) which would have been a safer bet.

Without sounding like Patrick Bateman (‘American Psycho’) I have a little penchant for Phil Collins. I think he gets too much bad press. In fact I would say that his mid-70s stint in Genesis is by far my favourite period of this band – releasing ‘Wind and Wuthering’ and ‘Trick of the Tail’, which for me are majestic. This album however does not feature Mr Collins since he joined shortly after this recording, which was their second album. Having released their first long-player – ‘From Genesis to Revelations’ – when the band was really an experiment under the spell of the svengali Jonathan King, they were sent off with creative freedom to the studio, and came up with this. So, here we have the band finding their sound.

Ok, so there’s a theme to the album (prog strike one). There’s lyrics about mystical lands (prog strike two). There’s only 6 songs on it (prog strike three). It’s prog….3 strikes…. but of a gentler kind, and it’s certainly not ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’or ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by the Wake-off. It’s Gabriel, coming out of his shell, finding his voice, and even some loud shouting on ‘The Knife’ which was a live favourite at the time. I won’t dwell on the aesthetics of this album, suffice to say I still quite like ‘Visions of Angels’. When I bought it (when I was 15 or 16) I was heavily into them. I also have ‘Foxtrot’ and ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’. The latter I still quite like, but unfortunately ‘Foxtrot’ grates a little with pompous keyboard from Tony Banks. On Trespass the sound is a little more creative, and feels its way into the light. Less in your face prog, more in the English folk tradition. Even Rob said he liked bits of it (praise indeed). The guitar is subtle and the fingerpicking is quite accomplished….and no Collins on drums….

But, in defence of Phil Collins….

When I watched a recent documentary ‘Together and Apart’ the only two people who came across as reasonable people were Gabriel and Collins. When the ‘Lamb’ tour went into their last gig with Gabriel, Collins said he just rolled a big joint and played what was the best gig of his life, lost in a trance, knowing but resigned to the fact that Pete was off. The creative forces at the centre of the band did not claw for attention in the documentary, more the other peripheral members. Gabriel had no animosity for the other band members. Collins neither, although you could argue that’s easy with his bank balance! But let us not forget Collins was once cool (ok that’s a bit Bateman-esque). He played on Eno’s ‘Here Come the Warm Jets’. He played on John Martyn’s ‘Grace and Danger’. So, attack him if you want, but remember he took risks on seminal albums. He took on a fractured and bitter set of band members, galvanised them and provided the creative force that took them to global superstardom. For that he should be credited. For Buster, You Can’t Hurry Love and Sussudio he should be damned forever….

Tom listened: Half way through Trespass, it dawned on me that the ghost of Mr Pollock was in the room, smiling down malevolently on our prog rock sufferings, whilst Genesis flitted at will from one key change to another, throwing in half a dozen shifts in time signature and some bizarrely grandiose lyrics for good measure.

It is strangely fascinating how isolated in time and place prog rock is – two bars of Trespass was enough to place it within two weeks and thirty miles of its source. What was it about the ears and minds of young people (men?) at the time that made them so predisposed to this type of music? I can think of no other genre that has led down such a well defined cul-de-sac as prog rock – modern day succedents (Dungen?, Midlake?, The Besnard Lakes?) only giving the slightest whiff of the prog of old.

As a teenage owner of Invisible Touch (although I am slightly embarrased to admit it – it was the Spitting Image videos that sold me on the idea…honest), and an adult owner and great admirer of Grace and Danger and Here Come The Warm Jets, I didn’t go into Trespass with my mind already made up…and there were little sections that sounded alright…but, as with most prog I have listened to over the years (mainly as a result of Graham being in record club), the whole sounded to me like much less than the sum of its parts!

Rob listened: It felt like we’d been waiting a lifetime for this band to make an appearance, and yet it still seemed too soon. To be fair, which is not a requirement, we spent a lot of the album’s running time talking about how much we disliked the idea of Genesis when none of us, apart from Steve, clearly an eloquent defender, knew the first thing about them. I disdain them based on the dismal reflections I picked up from the generations of musicians who followed on, attempting and failing to wipe the slate clean of this stuff. This evening was a chance to correct that and at lea

Nick listened: Proggy.

Teardrop Explodes – Kilimanjaro: Round 95 – Steve’s Selection

220px-teardrop_explodes_-_kilimanjaro_cd_album_cover

Why on earth haven’t we played this album yet? This could be a question asked by the arch Drude himself, so full of ego (or ergot) he is, was, that the man seeks attention. Perhaps it is the cocky swagger of this debut of Mr Cope that sets a precedent of many more pretenders to come. All leather trousered and snake hips, snapping the minds of the youth. Yet, few have sounded quite like this album. Few sounded like it at the time. A post-punk psychedelic revival? XTC would later develop their own psychedelia through the Dukes of the Stratosphear, but nobody else had the gall surely? Here was a man astride a white piano on Top of the Pops LSD’d up to the eyeballs, appearing on the front cover of Smash Hits and sharing a house with a pre-Nirvana Courtney Love. Please God this is rock and roll! But enough of the image and the what for the music?

The opener ‘Ha Ha I’m Drowning’ has a horn section on it, which immediately jarred with me when I first heard it against a backdrop of punk. This combined however with the ghostly mellotron (I think it is a mellotron) and the crashing guitars, incredibly tight rhythmic drumming sends you immediately into an off-kilter bonkers go crazy dance across the floor. The horns and repeating lyrics (“You can watch rafferty turn into a serial”….”I just wander around”….”It’s just like Sleeping Gas. Oh so ethereal”) on ‘Sleeping Gas’ also lead you into what seems to be describing a drug induced nightmare. Is it a bad trip? He’s babbling, but trying to make sense of it all at the same time. Cope’s dalliances with hallucinogenic substances are well documented, and yet it is documented here so vividly and yet in a jolly distinctly English style. Perhaps the analogies with Syd Barrett are fair here, although there’s a distinctly post-punk feeling to this. It’s not the psychedelia of the 60s, nor the 80s. Cope interprets his descent himself, wobbling out of control. ‘Treason’ was the first single I think. I knew Cope’s nephew at University in Leeds and he told me the whole family had to buy a copy of the 45 when it came out. They viewed young Julian with some despair apparently. Later on in the album, on my favourite track (‘Bouncing Babies’) he sees his poisoned status in the family unit

“I was a poisoned child
I was fighting for my life
Clinging to something
Fighting for anything”

On ‘Brave Boys Keep Their Promises’ he notes

“Fighting with your relatives
You’ve got your mother and your father and your brothers to Your aunts and your uncles are all against you”

‘Poppies in the Field’ is perhaps one of the weaker tracks on the first side, but there’s an accomplished range of instrumentation, with sounds that can only be fitted into a psyche of the late 70s/early 80s. The album’s production, by Bill Drummond (later of KLF of course, who we have covered and talked about a lot) and Dave Balfe future-proofs the sound like Martin Hannett did with Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (what we haven’t covered that album either…with arguably the best opener of any post-punk album?). Cope growls on the first track on the second side (‘Went Crazy’), more overtly talking about his evolving and declining mental state (“Je suis suicide, je suis pain. Jabber indecision here we go again, I’m going (insane?)”). Perhaps this fame thing is too much for him? Drummond is alleged to have pushed him a little too far in his creative approach (there were legends about sliding acid tabs down a ruler into his mouth). He’s also alleged to have manipulated the Teardops and Echo and the Bunneymen to play simultaneous gigs in Rekjayvik and New Zealand along an ancient ley-line (you couldn’t make this up?). The chronicling of chronic depression and loss of mind through drug induced mania is no celebration of youthful abandon on this album. Far from it, more a warning to the intrepid journeyman. Cope exiled himself in Barrett-like seclusion in Tamworth (where he lived as a pre-Teardrop), an image he has tried to shake off. He re-emerged later with odd solo excursions (‘World Shut Your Mouth’ and ‘Fried’ being two examples) and we are of course indebted to him for chronicling Krautrock, Japrock and standing stones (‘Krautrocksampler’, ‘Japrocksampler’ and ‘The Modern Antiquarian’). Cope the scholar, or literary agent of the mind is brought to the fore on the last 3 tracks on this album, pointing to more eclectic musical styles, and less reliance on verse-chorus-verse structure that would sell singles at the time. ‘Thief of Baghdad’ is story-like, prosaic, with eastern influences milking through the patchwork of a wandering and fractured mind. The last track opens like early Depeche Mode (maybe they got their influence from here?) but quickly descends from the tight pop structure to the more open and surreal. And there it is. The end. For two glorious years Julian Cope was pinup number 1, on Top of the Pops and yet helter skeltering uncontrollably into a drug psychosis. Hardly what the established Radio 1 vanguards of the youth in the 1980s would call an example to teenage children, drowning drowning, and so the track fades and we hear no more like it then, or will hear it like it since……down the rabbit hole we go. Utterly brilliant.

Tom listened: Now, The Teardrop Explodes I knew of…Reward I had actually heard…but I’m not sure I had even heard of Kilimanjaro the album before Steve pulled it out of his bag on the evening.

More fool me because it’s a great record. A tad homogenous perhaps (most of the songs sounded like a bit of a rehash of the aforementioned single to be honest) but when the single is THAT good what does it matter. Loved this from start to finish…in another, better, world, perhaps this would have fitted the theme even more closely!

Moulettes – Preternatural: Round 94 – Steve’s Selection

Moulettes-Preternatural

I’m well aware that the DRC have issues with progressive rock, but musical allergic rashes aside I feel that this album offers a fresh take on the so-called genre. It would however also be wrong to merely categorise Moulettes as even folk-rock, let along progressive rock, since there is much more depth to this album. The sounds are complex, and yes although there is a theme running through of a celebration of the mysterious creatures that inhabit our earth (some mythical?) it is not, I promise you, a prog rock record. This is not Yes’ ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, although I am sure that there’s some influence in there somewhere (….). It is not Jethro Tull either, but again, there is probably some influence there too. The opening track ‘Behemoth’ is an aural cavalcade. Although not on horseback, the sound may be riding through the sea astride the mythical Behemoth itself. Gasping delightful vocal harmonies are interspersed with a riff that sounds like an electric guitar, but I believe is actually a cello (played by the talented Hannah Miller). As an opener it leaves no room for doubt, this is a rock record and it packs punch from start to finish. But as I say, not just rock though…

World music and the far-east simmer underneath under ‘Patterns’ and I hear Kate Bush in ‘Medusa’, breakbeats on ‘Parasite’ interspersed with power riffs that could be out of any folk-rock crossover of the 1970s, but given new life here on fully mature arrangements covering new ground for a modern audience of any persuasion. It’s that broader appeal that the Moulettes have managed to achieve on this album, perhaps more so than their other outings (this is their 4th studio album), without sacrificing their soon and deep folk/psychedleic/progressive rock roots.

Their craft and musicianship is undoubted here. Many have made reference to their live performances, but I have issue with bands that rely solely on the adage  ‘they sound much better live’. Performance has stand on its own two feet and maybe draw you to the live experience. The production and sound on Preternatural is outstanding, and stands alone without the need to rely on a live rendition – although I am sure they the live shows are very much something to behold. Given this though there is what I interpret to be a lament to the loss of talented singers (on ‘Bird of Paradise Pt 2’) – is this about the loss of craft through the X-factor generation (?) and the loss of wildlife through climate change (?). There’s plenty of depth lyrically to this album, within each of the songs, and credits would suggest some deep political motivations behind them.

The final track on the album (‘Silk’) is one of the standout tracks. Opening with ethereal vocals with drop liquid-like beats, and later samples of sci-fi films, and on the topic of the material itself. Being a scientist who works on natural fibres I can’t help but love the subject matter itself, but what I like most is the ending (on the vinyl version), with the run out groove endlessly repeating…..daring, and a nice touch.

So, if you don’t like prog (I do) don’t be put off. This album has more to give, and influences well beyond easy pigeonholing. Oh, and one day, I will see them live too….

Rob listened: This seemed to be our designated talker-overer for the evening (there’s always one) but even so, there was plenty to dig into in this sprawling, careening affair. For a start, we struggled to decide what it was. That’s helpful for Moulettes, I guess. As Steve has noted, we struggle sometimes to divest ourselves of certain genre prejudices. This thing was like quicksilver, flowing through the gaps between styles. And whilst I’m allergic to the more knowing, self-indulgent end of prog, I can’t deny an affection for a certain type of pastoral psyche-tinged folk, and ‘Preternatural’ seemed to sail more on that bearing. Still, there were sounds chucked in there that hit like nails down an eighties synthesized blackboard. I can’t claim to have fallen completely for Moulettes, but ‘Preternatural’ certainly made me want to listen more, rather than less.

Steve’s further comment: Stop talking over my records…..

Tom listened: I almost really liked this….but a couple of things put me off. I liked the singer’s voice and most of the instrumentation but, as Rob has said in his response, every so often Moulettes would throw in a jarring prog rock trope (is there any other kind?) and my teeth would be set on edge, a cold sweat would break out and a little piece of me would die…mainly because it all felt so unnecessary; a perfectly good tune (Silk being a case in point) spoilt, as far as I was concerned, by the band seemingly feeling the need get the prog rock box ticked on their Allmusic profile. A shame as victory was so nearly theirs!

Oh, and then there’s the album cover!

Johnny Dangerously – ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’: Round 93 – Steve’s choice

You,_Me_and_the_Alarm_Clock

Johnny Dangerously, not to be confused with the Michael Keaton film of the same name, was the once alter-ego of Johnny Bramwell of I Am Kloot fame. This record was released in 1989 at the peak of the ‘Madchester’ baggy era but bears no resemblance to the sounds of that time (Stone Roses for one). It’s straight singer-songwriter, troubadour guitarist eking out a living on the dirty streets of Manchester – which is where Mr Bramwell was probably at during this period. He still plays impromptu gigs in Oldham Street, one of the former epicentres of the Manchester music scene. It bares the skeleton structure of I Am Kloot’s later work, but stripped back it still sounds crisp and fresh today. Its a remarkably accomplished debut, signalling much promise to come.

This mini album (defined as such in various sources although it’s just 6 songs, plays at 45 rpm and only lasts a little over 16 minutes – our shortest album yet Rob?) featured in an article in the Guardian titled “The Greatest Albums You’ve Never Heard“. Although some of the entries in this article (Neutral Milk Hotel for goodness sakes…) should not be there, this absolutely deserves its place. It is a musical gem, a lost one for me as well, falling between the cracks in my life. I used to “own” this album. My ex-wife had it in her collection so I can thank her for introducing me to it. When we split the album went with her. Poignant enough then that the last track on here (‘Tearing it Down’) sings about the loss of possessions and someone.

“She left me a reminder, of a world she left behind her. An overcoat, a coffee cup, an old…(something indecipherable) book binder. I could catch her right away but I would never find her”

So I sadly lost the album. Years later I read the Guardian article and tried to find it again, to no avail. I went to see Johnny Bramwell at a gig in Bristol a few years ago, and he started taking requests. I shouted out ‘Pierfront Arcade’ (track two on the album) to which he replied that he’d forgotten how to play it. So, there we go, lost to the artist himself……

‘Junk Culture’, the opening track, starts haplessly amongst the trash and rubbish of life, evoking images of the back streets of England, the US, trying to make sense of it all

“Stumbling through small life Nowhere, England. Shaking hands with the big time life idiots. I was trying to pick up some ordinariness. From the shopping bag inspirational choir”

UK artists have often tried to make sense of the US on their albums. Prefab Sprout do it on Steve McQueen. As an artist just coming into the world, Johnny Dangerously seems more vulnerable than most to the enormity of gaining success over the pond

“Sweeping through middle town America. Stepping into fact-or-fiction trash TV world. I caught a glimpse of myself scraping and laughing. Shuffling about amongst the newspaper”

Lyrically this album has recurring themes of love, loss, regret, fear, hope and valediction to memories. The imagery of the opening track is simple yet efffective, getting you to view things in a way you know to be true, and yet perhaps you missed them. ‘Junk Culture’ evokes images of the old cathode ray tube TVs and how they used to shut down to a small spot on the screen…”And a million TV screens close their weary eyes”.

The theme of nostalgia is very strong here too. ‘Pierfront Arcade’ highlights the true fragility of memories, and our inability to leave places without never returning, perhaps only in our minds

“Love is built in pieces, made right here in Fragile Town. You said once you were weaving, oh, but who is fragile now?….I said once I was leaving but I came back before too long”

‘Black and Blue’ is a tragic love song, recognising what ultimately you will lose in order to gain the heart of one you desire (“Lights are shining all round this world. You want them all but what you want is this girl….So give up the chance to be true. And all wind up like we knew we’d do. Bruised black and blue”). ‘This Town and Mary’ remembers a girl who came into his life, and to a ‘town’ unknown. Perhaps this town and Mary do not exist at all but I have sneaking suspicion that this references the same ‘Mary’ that featured in a short film I once saw. The subject matter of the film was a bright eccentric girl that was ‘on the scene’ in Manchester in the early 80s, but left suddenly for no reason, right before the ‘Madchester-Hacienda’ music explosion. The film featured one Vinni Reilly (of Durrutti Column, who we haven’t covered yet) remembering her as being quite fragile and full of contradictions. People said she wouldn’t have coped with the scene as it evolved, so perhaps she was best to go. I couldn’t find a link to the film, but would love to make the connection. The song however suggests ‘Mary’ is all of us (“Mary came from our town and was kicking at the ground. She was lost, she was found, she was me, she was you. And all the lies you tell sound true. You say you don’t til you do”). Mythologising people in your life, placing your own personna over them….

There’s not much to say about the musical ability on the record, because it is just him and the guitar. Anyone who has been to see him live will know that he can fill a room with that simple formula. The vocal is very rich, regional and distinctive. The guitar itself accomplished and not readily accessible in terms of chord sequences and tunings. In some ways he bears resemblance to John Martyn (again we haven’t covered him…), some would say Go-Betweens are in there (I think that was you Tom?). Nobody bought the album when it came out, and Johnny Bramwell never released another under this name. So, there it is, gone but not forgotten. It deserves a higher place in the past, and perhaps even in the present, but then again it seems all that more beautiful as a hidden lost gem amongst the newspapers and dirty alleyways of Oldham Street in Manchester….find it if you can.

Rob listened: I listened indeed, but ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’ was gone before I’d managed to get a grip of it, like the old newspapers it invokes, it was swept away by the buffeting breezy conversation and, at the point where we might start to settle down and listen properly, it finished. Thanks the Steve for an impassioned write-up that leads us back into the record and reminds us that sometimes when we talk about the things we’re hearing, we do so at the expense of listening.

Fortunately ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’ is not quite as unfindable as Steve might have implied. Youtube seems to have most of it, revealing grounded, heartfelt, melancholy melodies and swirling words. Bramwell’s distinctive voice binds the two together.

I never really got fully on board with I Am Kloot. I bought their first album when it came out, I think just because I’d seen their name knocking about. I liked it a lot and can still get carried away on the beautifully woozy opening track ‘To You’ despite not having heard it for more than 10 years. Although the gap from this Johnny Dangerously record and ‘Natural History’ is even longer, the connection is direct and immediate, and sufficiently energising to send me back there properly.

Tom listened: Blocking out the Exeter University chit chat is something I have become increasingly adept at over the years (surprisingly, much of it is not all that relevant to me!) and, as a result, I was rewarded with a little gem of a listen. The fact that I was reminded, time and again, of The Go-Betweens at their most acoustic certainly helped to entice me as they are one of my all time faves but, to be honest, this album would easily have held up on its own merits without the help of its Antipodean counterparts. Just a shame it didn’t stick around a bit longer!

Nick listened: Sounded like he owned a bobble hat.

Stereolab -Emperor Tomato Ketchup: Round 92 – Steve’s Selection

StereolabEmperorTomatoKetchup

I was especially p*ssed off on 24th June when the EU referendum result was announced. There, I’ve said it. So the result for Brexit has influenced my choice this week. I wanted an antidote to this result. To celebrate all that is European. For me Europe represents a big melting pot of culture that crosses borders, breaks down barriers and this album does this in spades. Lætitia Sadier, Stereolab’s French born (UK living) lead singer mostly sings in her native tongue, in a style that sounds indifferent (yeah, f*ck you Farage), hypnotic and although my language skills are a little rustique these days – je comprends en peu. I originally wrote ‘je comprends en petit peux’ which roughly translates ‘I understand in small can’, which was odd because the first track of this album is an out-and-out tribute to Can! Shifting in tempo and all soggily and beautifully ‘beepy’, with a Hammond organ overlaid, the opening track ‘Metronomic Underground’ sets the tone for this album’s wonderful blend of europop, electronica and Krautrock. Most of the tracks on this album sound like they could carry on improvising into the night, just like Can were fond of doing during their legendary sessions.

Sadier’s vocal throughout this album is flat, but intentionally so, as it adds metronomy in itself. Repeating phrases, for example “Les pierres, les abres, les murs racontent…” (‘the stones, the tress, the walls tell’) on ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ evokes Sartre (pseud’s corner for me) and his hopelessness in amongst inanimate objects in his existential nightmare ‘Nausea’. There are nods in the direction of the punk band X-ray Spex (‘Germ Free Adolescents’ is lined up for DRC) and the saxophone on ‘Percolator’. The lyrics to ‘Les Yper-Sound’ seems especially prescient given Brexit in all its narrative for pitching camps against each other

“You go in that team
I go on this team
Divide everything
A flag or a number

Make ’em opposites
So there’s a reason
Stigmatization
Okay, now we can fight”

‘Spark Plug’ explores the ills of society and its ability to heal (‘There is no sense in being interested in an ill person. Or unwell a society if one cannot believe their readiness and the capacity for proper recovery’). I’m feeling better already about societé! The album is, despite the flat vocals, very uplifting. It makes you feel like part of a happening, an underground avant garde show, like you are in the experience, pushing the boundaries.

The title track ‘Emporer Tomato Ketchup’ resumes the metronomic, and Can-like beats of the opener. Here the tempo is quicker though, and the interchanging vocal melodies of Sadier are accompanied by Mary Hansen (who sadly died in London in 2002 in a bike accident), making a delightful and blistering Krautrock belter of a tune. All forlorn and introspective, a weep for ‘the sought after union bought us together’ on ‘Monstre Sacre’ takes an altogether different tone. These are the highs and lows of life in full, born out in glorious euro-technicolour.

I can’t help but feel that this “proud to be British” bullsh*t would not have come to the fore if we were more honest about our influences, perhaps more open to other European cultures and the way they have shaped us as a nation. On ‘Motoroller Scalatron’ Sadier sings “What’s society built on? It’s built on, built on bluff. Built on bluff, built on trust”. Come on people. Feeling British means nothing. Feeling part of society has far more to tie us together. Or does it? Is it more simple and perhaps therefore fragile than that? Sadier appears to question this.

Looking back, Sadier reflects “Discovery of fire, America. The invention of the wheel, steel work and democracy. Philosophy, the Soviets and other events in history of humanity. Happened at a certain given moment in time” over strings and a variety of retro electronic jiggery-pokery. There’s no going back on history, only forwards. Again, flatly sung, matter of fact, but backed with glorious electronica. The final track ‘Anonymous Collective’ focusses on the unseen things that hold us together….”You and me are molded by things. Well beyond our acknowledgment”. Maybe that’s it. Don’t focus on the differences (f*ck you again Farage), let’s hold together and to the things that bind us, the things unseen. To Europe! Vive les similarities.

Tom listened: A while ago now Rob mentioned that he was keen to do a podcast/radio type thing and one of the features he was hoping to instigate (Rob is an ideas man!) would be a slot where we would listen to an album by an artist we had previously overlooked, generally the bigger the artist, the better (big in terms of influence as opposed to sales, I suppose). When he mooted this to me I drew a blank. Which, in retrospect, was ludicrous! There were hundreds of missing pieces in my musical jigsaw puzzle but I just couldn’t come up with any when put on the spot.

Well, Record Club has been the equivalent of a rummage down the back of the sofa and, as a result, many gaps have been plugged. The Stereolab piece now being in place, my listening life feels a little more complete. Of course, I have heard them many times on the radio over the years and Emperor Tomato Ketchup sounded more-or-less as I expected it would…but better; the grooves particularly towards the end of the record really locking me in. The closest thing to them in my record collection is Pram, another mid nineties indie outfit, but listening to this made me realise that it was the right band that won the accolades – on the basis of this album Stereolab simply had the better tunes and grooves!