Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka: Round 110, Steve’s choice

kiwanukaIt was almost a year since we last met, although I was not present that night, back then in 2019. So much has happened recently; Nick’s son’s cancer diagnosis (see last post) and now also the threat of COVID-19. Given the timings of the meeting, mid pandemic and lockdown in the UK, we met electronically. Having grappled the tech, we agreed that a possible theme may be music that spoke of the ‘sign of the times’. I picked this album simply because one of the tracks, ‘I’m Getting Ready’, had made me cry while leaving the pharmacy on the night that Boris Johnson had announced that we were closing pubs, restaurants, and curbing a large number of freedoms that we take for granted. Not that I am advocating that we don’t adhere to these new restrictions. I was more driven to tears because  we had now reached a point in history, within my lifetime, within the early lifetime of my children, where we can’t say with certainty what is going to happen in the world. Nor can we say what the world will look like in the future, certainly not the same as it was before this crisis, and certainly never the same again. What I can say, and what I did say to one of my kids was that I’ve never had to live through anything like this before. I didn’t have to face this as a child. With all these fears, mainly for them, running round my head and revolving into a maelstrom of doubt these words came through the loudspeakers in my car:

“Oh my
I didn’t know how hard it would be
Oh my
I didn’t know how hard it would be

But if I hold on tight, is it true?
Would You take care of all that I do?

Oh Lord, I’m getting ready to believe”

At that moment, coming out of the pharmacy, getting in my car, and hearing a song of hope “Then we’ll be waving hands singing freely. Singing standing tall it’s now coming easy” juxtaposed with the lines “I didn’t know how hard it would be” just broke me. Can we really get ready now to believe? It’s the hope that kills you after all isn’t it?

Michael Kiwanuka, was born and raised in Muswell Hill in London, and is the son of Ugandan parents. He appears, on his debut (released in 2012), to have drawn in influences from the British folk scene (Nick Drake, John Martyn) as well as the often cited Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack, Marvin Gaye etc. While his most recent release – last year’s Kiwanuka – draws on themes of Pan-Africanism, there is a distinctly, almost pastoral ‘folksy’ feeling to this album. It is not lyrically sophisticated, but in these times of trouble I feel platitudes and simple sentiments have a strong role to play. Musically, combined with incredible guitar playing, this album is definitely more sophisticated than one might initially think – at least that’s what I think reviewers failed to see when this album was first released (tepid reviews to say the least). But albums can grow in stature, and become more apposite as time goes by.

The album begins with “Tell Me a Tale”. It’s all too easy to reference songs against something horrific happening in your life. I can only remember all too vividly how every song spoke to my heartache when I was going through separation and divorce nearly 20 years ago. Now, with COVID-19, everything, even this review, is referenced against the unfolding crisis. It’s hard to turn a corner and not be faced with it. Although tragedy has not yet hit my nearest and dearest I feel like I’m awaking under a sword of Damocles. Only in my dreams am I released….

“Show me some strength that I can use
Give me a sound that I won’t refuse
Tell me a story that I can read
Tell me a story that I can believe.”

Need I (or he) say more? What to believe in the present post-truth times? Has Coronavirus forced truth, or does it just expose the lies of the world we live in? I am beginning to reach my limit, physically and mentally, to the volume of information and statistics that we are being constantly bombarded with. I long for stories that take me away from all of this, for something I can truly believe in to give me strength to cope with what is happening. So, Michael sings well within my experience right now. Perhaps it is that simplicity of the lyrics that manages to form a panacea of experience around my heart. Comforting me in times of trouble.

We only played half the album, but the stand-out track is the title track “Home Again”. Here Kiwanuka is stripped back, mainly just him and a guitar. If we have to deal with the present, we have to look to the past

“So I close my eyes
Look behind
Moving on, moving on”

Coping with life is never easy, especially if you’ve had to deal with major difficulties. I never really write about my son’s autism, mainly because I find it too hard to do that. Even to talk about it is sometimes difficult, but suffice to say that it has knocked our family for six. It’s part of our lives right now, but you can’t help wanting to look behind, turn back the clock on his life – to give him a better chance. Yet my wife and I know that all we can do is affect the future in the present time by helping him deal with the world and how it presents itself to him. In other words to move on. What is so unsettling about the coronavirus is that we seem so powerless, even for those in power, to stop its spread, to prevent the suffering in the present time. Even in the moment of our lives all we can do is sit and wait for it all to unfold….

The last track we played on the album was “Bones”, which has all the hallmarks of a 1950s/60s black spiritual. When I first heard it conjured images of New Orleans for me. As a frequent professional visitor to the ‘Big Easy’ I am deeply saddened to hear that the very highest rates of infection are now being reported from there. That city has had its fair share of suffering. The massacre of 1866 of black republicans by white democrats, the depression, Hurricane Katrina… yet, out of all of that suffering comes great hope. If you go there you sense it, hear it in the music and the lived in faces of its residents. Funerals begin solemnly marching down the street, but end with joyful processions being led by the chorus “Oh when the Saints, go marching in”. Often from the point of most oppression, from the place of most suffering, can come the songs of greatest hope. We need spirituals, Gospels, folk, common musical languages of love and hope right now in this crisis. What doesn’t divide us joins us together in harmony. This album goes some way to do that with a simple warmth expressed in deep humanity.

Robert Wyatt – Nothing Can Stop Us: Round 108 – Steve’s Choice

My choice this week is in a compilation album. Whether that break the rules of Record Club or not I don’t know. Rules are not something that Mr Wyatt would pay much attention to. I see Robert as as the alternative to the alternative, having no frame of reference nor yardstick against which he can be measured. From his very first solo outing ‘ The End of An Ear’ he has sought to define his own train of thought. Even here, as he interprets a range of different covers of well-known artists, he does it in a way that is uncharacteristic even of himself, and yet with deference to the originals.

Until recently I only owned two Wyatt albums – ‘Ruth is Stranger Than Richard’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ – both of which I love dearly. I also have a connection to the artist (standing joke in DRC) in that I’m a good friend and former work colleague of his nephew. Recently his nephew posted some pictures of a family wedding on social media, and sure enough there was a picture of Uncle Robert. He had a flowing white beard, looking wizard-like with eyes glowing bright as one with far too much creativity and light to be human. Statuesque. Still. It is perhaps this stillness and unique style that has, down the years, made Robert Wyatt stand out as a lighthouse of British talent. Home grown eclecticism at its best. At least that’s how I see it. Other’s in our group may beg to differ.

‘Nothing Can Stop Us’ compiles covers and reworkings of recordings made (B-sides and others) from the 1970s and early 80s. The only original and new recording is the first track ‘Born Again Cretin’ which, with it’s characteristic Wyatt vocal warbles and baby-like ‘goo-goo’ sounds announces he’s back after almost a 10 year hiatus (released in 1982 this was the first recording since 1975) into a new world. Punk has almost dispatched itself. Disco done and Wyatt is here to sing to the world at a time when the UK was once again sadly aiming to recreate its imperialist past. This album spawned the single ‘Shipbuilding’, an anti-Falklands war song, lamenting the decline of the shipbuilding industry and the boys instead fighting an unjust war. This song does not feature on the album, but another Ivor Cutler number ‘Grass’ (originally ‘Go Sit Upon the Grass’ and recorded in 1975). It’s a slightly disturbing song, and Wyatt manages to capture the sublime violence beautifully

“Go and sit upon the grass
And I shall come and sit beside you
Go and sit upon the grass
And I shall come and sit beside you

And do not mind if I thump you when I’m talking to you
Do not mind if I thump you when I’m talking to you
I’ve something important to say

Other more mainstream covers are well-executed. Chic’s ‘At Last I am Free’ reveals the pathos of Nile Rogers’ original, giving it an almost reinvigorated political edge. The line “I can hardly see in front of me” evokes blinding tears of joy. Maybe because this track follows ‘Born Again Cretin’, which echoes the heartless views of apartheid South Africa, and the Thatcherite UK government’s stance on Mandela

“So let Mandela rot in prison
Someone should tell him how lucky he is

that we may even imagine the leader himself being released from chains, blinking through his tears into the light? In 1982 this was a bold and brave album indeed. On ‘Strange Fruit’ his tender vocal and gentle piano pay homage to the Billie Holliday original, but in a way that still capture the haunting images of black people hanging in the summer trees. Unnerving and yet altogether a reminder of terrible times and continued racial prejudice.

Other fights for freedom are raised to the podium. ‘Caimanera/Guantanamera’ is a Cuban song of independence – with Caimanera’s proximity to Guantanamo Bay we can all sing along to this one. My kids do! ‘Stalin wasn’t Stallin’ is a great Horrible Histories-esque folk compaction of 20th Century conflict

“Stalin wasn’t stallin’
When he told the beast of Berlin
That they’d never rest contented
Till they had driven him from the land
So he called the Yanks and English
And proceeded to extinguish
The Führer and its vermin
This is how it all began

Wyatt, so generous that he is, even allows the use of his vinyl space to give a song over to another other artists, without his contribution. At the end of the album we are treated to a rendition of ‘Trade Union’ originally penned by Abdus Salique, and sung here in traditional Bangladeshi style. The song is a call to arms for Bangladeshi workers who were suffering appalling treatment in East London factories in the late 1970s. Wyatt is not averse to the causes of his day, and his rendition of ‘ Red Flag’ is not, as some have assumed, an allegiance to the Labour Party, but true to the original a socialist call for unity that has been sung by Irish workers, South African miners and oppressed radical working classes since the 19th century.

So, in these febrile times, when the ruling classes seek to divide and conquer, raise your first, stand firm and still. This album is a true iron fist in a velvet glove, true in its word today as it was then. Aye comrade.

Maisha– There is a Place: Round 107 – Steve’s Choice

It’s a hard task to choose an album of the year when, if like me, you tend to associate certain albums with different seasons. Playing something that reminds me of zipping along country lanes in the long hot summer we had (such as Rolling Blackouts, Snail Mail…) hardly seems congruous with a damp cold foggy night in the weeks running up to Christmas. So, I chose some jazz. But not any old jazz. This is the debut outing by Maisha, a six piece jazz collective helped initially by the very influential organisation Tomorrow’s Warrior’s and their founders Janine Irons and Gary Crosby. Now only a few weeks before I came to DRC on that cold foggy night I was with both these good people at the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the University of the West Indies in London. Talking to them I learned about their incredible influence on an emerging new jazz scene from London, including other new talents that have blossomed this year, such as Ezra Collective (I will bring their new LP along soon).

It’s hard to write a review of a jazz record without sounding pretentious or inviting sneers of derision aimed at comparing you to the character in the Fast Show (‘nice’). I’ve liked jazz most of my adult life, but it’s always been more attuned to the traditional sounds of Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Just recently I ventured out to more experimental lands via The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s ‘Les Stances a Sophie’ and some of Robert Wyatt’s more eclectic recordings (such as his debut solo ‘End of an Ear’). After Maisha I’ll not look back, or more probably I will, to seek out its roots and influences. For theirs is a tradition of its own, but splitting into many roads and narrow lanes of various genres.

The album itself is beautiful. As the cover photo suggests a paradise, so the music journeys into a rich orchestral landscape (see I can do pretentious….). The incredible depth of sound that emanates from just six players is astonishing, drawing in hip-hop, afrobeat and funk. Members of the DRC, with more musical knowledge than I, found it hard to place in time. The frenetic lead single ‘Osiris’ opens the album. More symphonic saxophony of ‘Eaglehurst/The Place’ and ethereal piano-musings of closer ‘There Is A Place’ suggest a more contemplative mood. Overall the album has a richness of jazz folk (those of you who know Stewart Lee well can snigger now). Reworked jazz standards played with a distinctively urban and current sound. See it is possible to combine the two, and Maisha pay homage to their roots, but not too much deference to overshadow their craft.

Rob lent me Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey in Satchidananda’ as a consequence of my choice for the night. Her album combined jazz with her interest in Hinduism – she became a disciple of the guru Satchidananda Saraswati. This intersection was apposite since my other track for the night was Poly Styrene’s ‘Code Pink Dub’ from her final album Generation Indigo – she became a Hare Krishna devotee for much of her later adult life. In a time when the idea of cultural appropriation is questioned we do well to remember that with respect (and respect is critical) this is how new forms of music develop. Styrene moved to dub reggae roots on her album, but on her earlier solo album she incorporated folk influences. Maisha continue this approach, drawing in influences that surely reflect the multiculturalism of London. So a jazz-folk genre is born.

Tomorrow’s Warrior’s vision is

We believe in a world where opportunities for participation, ownership and leadership in music and the arts are available to all.

Now, who could argue with that as a positive call for respectful appropriation and mixing of styles. Long may they be supported in this venture.

Julian Cope – Fried: Round 105, Steve’s choice

Julian CopR-372058-1380454394-9742.jpege turns 60 on 21st October 2017. The reaching of a milestone, you might say, along the leyline of life for the Archdrude, Krautrock, Japrock psychedelic traveller, rock-pop star and general mad dude. Mr Cope has been many things to many different people. I covered his time in the Teardrop Explodes at previous meeting, chronicling his descent into madness and general chaos. All the pre-solo shenanigans are detailed in his autobiography – Head On. Post-Tears breakup was hard on Julian. Dumped by most of whom he thought were friends, and exiled to his childhood home of Tamworth having been resident both in Liverpool and London, he finds himself in an artistic moment of enforced freedom. ‘Fried’ was his second solo album, having been preceded by ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ (which doesn’t contain the song of that name itself – that appears on St Julian). On ‘World…’ he retains much of the febrile high-tempo sounds found on Kilimanjaro. When that failed to stick, he went into the studio and recorded ‘Fried’. Much under the influence and striking a chord with his visions of himself within a mythological England the tracks on this album have a folksy quality about them, not a million miles from Syd Barrett’s solo ventures. You can draw a line from Barrett, through ‘Fried’ to Blur. On ‘Reynard the Fox’ he embodies himself (perhaps a reference to his shamanic spirit animal) in the folk character of a wise anthropomorphic animal who is outwitting his enemies. Being caught eventually he cuts his stomach open and “spills his guts out onto the stage”, again referring to an actual event in JC’s live performance where he did just that. The music itself is frenzied and despite its gory lyrics it’s a favourite of my children’s! ‘Bill Drummond Said’ is also a list of things that, well Mr Drummond is alleged to have said e.g. “If I pray enough my Christmas tree will die”. So outlandish are these sayings that it’s quite possible that they’re made up. But then it’s not clear that he couldn’t have said them, and so the legend goes. It’s a jolly little ditty, and Bill followed it up a few years later with a folk song riposte entitled “Julian Cope is Dead”.

On ‘Fried’ Julian is not scared of being completely experimental. Later on he would carve out his rock star persona, and have hits with “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Try Try Try”. So, this album is odd in that it diverts from both the successful pop of Teardrops, and his later more accessible work, and hints at an altogether artistically adventurous JC. Tracks from this album still survive as live favourites, such as ” Sunspots” and “Reynard the Fox”. His march into full on shamanic Druidry is attempted here in a less mature way on “O King of Chaos”. Religious ramblings abound on “Holy Love”

“Who’s that rolling in the hay
The baby Jesus or the cavalry?”

He deals with betrayal by his friends and the dropping of him by the record label (he was dropped again after this album) on ‘Laughing Boy’

“Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out of here
Oh no, don’t cast me out, I said “No”
I’ve got no place to go.”

and with the very fact that having success has changed him from the person he was, so much that he can’t go back (on ‘Me Singing’)

“I try my hand at work
Oh, work seems to be for an earlier person”

Musically the album is truly solo, with Cope often playing his own instruments. So, it is quite simplistic in composition, but nevertheless there’s plenty nice tunes here. Lyrically there’s a heavy dosage of pathos, emotion and introspection to take you into the inner workings of his mind. I find its autobiographical and yet legend-spinning approach to be quite refreshing and honest. It was certainly not well-received at the time, hardly selling any copies. Polydor dropped him after this, and perhaps the necessity of having to work to make ends meet he diverts from this style to something much more accessible. People focus too much on the front cover of this album, and are perhaps put-off from listening to it, thinking this is perhaps just the ramblings of a mad-man who got under a turtle shell on a rubbish mound. Much like Mr Cope and his very varied 60-year old CV, it’s much much more than that….He’s a legend, and dare I say it an English treasure. At 60 he ought to be honoured with more than just a free bus pass. Happy Birthday Mr Cope!

Rob listened: I have great affection for Julian Cope. Back in the mid to late 80s when I was exploring the idea of being an ‘alternative’, Saint Julian was one of the first dozen or so albums I really got to grips with. I had it on cassette. I really liked it, but never quite felt as if I connected properly with it. I used to see ‘Fried’ and ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ kicking about on vinyl, but although I did go heavily for ‘Peggy Suicide’ and ‘Jehovakill’ (via ‘My Nation Underground’ which was easily ignored), I never went backwards. Hearing ‘Fried’ now for the first time I found it a little difficult to get to grips with. I felt it needed a close listen and, ideally, as deep an immersion in Cope lore as Steve has. Still, lots of surprising sounds and words, all quite a marked contrast with the album that would follow it, and clearly the work of a national treasure in the making.

Poly Styrene – Translucence: Round 103 – Steve’s Selection

R-871344-1167646732.jpegSometimes albums surprise you in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily describe as good or bad, but make you want to know more about the artist. So it was with this selection of mine. I was drawn to it through a short interview in the Guardian by Neneh Cherry. She of course has some links to the post-punk scene of her own through her former group Rip, Rig and Panic. This band also featured one Andrea Oliver – the mother of Miquita Oliver, the former host of  Pop World…ok, too far down that branch of the family tree now. But, somehow Poly Styrene was intertwined with her life enough to make her also want to know more about her. A crowd-funded film is being produced about Poly, which is due out next year. But just how this strangely iconic woman burst onto the punk scene, and beyond into critically acclaimed obscurity via a Buddhist community is enough to intrigue. Neneh mentioned this album in her interview, which at the time confounded and confused the post-punk scene, preferring instead to draw more heavily on jazz- infused folk. It really is not what you would expect had you only listened to the shouty in your face X-ray Spex (whom I also love). What you have to understand though is before Poly Styrene emerged onto the punk scene, she spent some time floating around the mid-1970s hippy festival scene (from about the age of 15 till her 17th birthday I believe). This album takes her back there and it is as delightful and beguiling as the front cover – with only the eyes present behind the headdress.

The first track, ‘Dreaming’ is immediately softer than its predecessors, with reggae-style drum rolls, and a drifting flute floating across the chorus (“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming of you’). Her voice is lighter, less in your face, and she manages to reach vocal levels not achieved on the punkier songs on Germ Free Adolescents (X-Ray Spex’s only album). Straight away, a surprise, and in a nice way…’Toytown’ is in a similar vein. Trading raging guitars and roaring sax for light keyboard and reggae beats. The similarities with early Blondie are there. Later tracks with jazzier tones pre-date Everything But The Girl. The change in tempo displayed on ‘Bicycle Song’ is subtle and sophisticated, and the overlaid sound effects have a touch of the playful Barrett-esque psychedelia. ‘Translucence’ has a beautiful flute backing that make you feel like your gliding through a 1970s hippy folk festival waiting to catch the end of Pentangle’s set.

Poly Styrene went into hiding after this album. Her next ‘Generation Indigo’ was released when she knew she was dying from cancer. I can’t wait to hear her again in the crowd funded documentary film out next year. I bought a very fine mug (polystyrene cup?) designed by her daughter to help fund the project to pay tribute to this fascinating, perhaps underrated and secretive figure in UK music.

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.