Saturday 29 August 2015

It Came From Japan #3: Boris

Where does one start when it comes to Boris? Here's a band whose discography is, erm, complex to say the least. Since 1996, they have released 22 studio albums, a dozen or so collaboration albums, numerous compilations of non-album tracks and five live albums. Prolific isn't the word. This year alone they have put out three very experimental records of their own, plus a collaboration with Japanese acoustic outfit Endon. Many of their records come in different versions. There are Japanese and English language versions, with vinyl and CD releases often having different tracklists and/or mixes. They are, quite frankly, a nightmare for completists.

Boris cannot really be pigeonholed, though they came through the Japanese noise and punk scene and retain a large amount of loud, noisy and heavy elements in their music. However, their experimental nature has taken them down various paths over the years: drone, sludge, heavy rock, shoegaze, electronic, punk, prog. Whatever they do though, critical praise usually accompanies it.

For me, one of their best periods has been the first half of this decade. 'New Album' was one of three albums the band released in May 2011, and is probably one of their most eclectic. It definitely has a shoegaze element to it. Some of its songs also appeared on the other two records 'Attention Please' and 'Heavy Rocks' in different forms. 'New Album' though is the one I turn to most. The track Hope makes me think of what the Pale Saints might have sounded like if they made a record with Loop or Swervedriver. Hope also featured on 'Attention Please', that version being released as a single, but I prefer this one.

In 2013, 'Präparat' came out. Its sleeve looked like it belonged in the drone metal section of a record shop, but while there are elements of that, 'Präparat' actually runs far deeper. There's a host of styles criss-crossing with each other, though overall it's a lot heavier and rawer than 'New Album'. I absolutely love the track Aika from this album. I also absolutely love Quicksilver from last year's aptly-titled 'Noise'. It's just crazy nuts. Fast, loud, heavy and mental, it ends with a long section of droning guitars, taking us back to their roots.

I admit this will be far from everyone's taste, but I like to think there's something in Boris' extensive catalogue to appeal to many - as long as they're open minded. If you're still not sure, I've included a track they did with regular collaborator Merzbow back in 2007. It's a cover of the Beatles' I Am The Walrus. At the very least, the accent should make you smile...


Wednesday 26 August 2015

The Genius Of... Tim Smith #13

#13: A Thousand Strokes And A Rolling Suck by The Sea Nymphs

Between Cardiacs' fifth and sixth albums (1989's 'On Land And In The Sea' and 'Heaven Born And Ever Bright' in 1991), the band underwent a tremendous upheaval when four of the seven members quit. Among them, keyboard player William D. Drake, and saxophonist (and wife of Tim) Sarah Smith. Tim, Bill and Sarah had made a record together as a folk trio in 1984 under the name of Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr Drake. Before the final split, they reconvened for a follow-up.

In a similar vein to their first effort, this album stripped things right back. The songs were a collaborative effort, composed by each member separately and together. Vocals were shared. While lighter in feel than the full-blown Cardiacs sound, they still contained enough oddness and obtuse meanderings to keep the listener in little doubt who was behind this little bundle of delights.

A single - credited to The Sea Nymphs - featuring two tracks from the album was bundled with the first single from the new trimmed down Cardiacs in 1991. The self-titled album was initially only available through the fan club and at Cardiacs shows, but saw a CD release a year later. Since then it has been in and out of print, like most of the Cardiacs catalogue.

The tune I've chosen could be classed as 'Cardiacs-lite' I suppose. It's based around Bill's piano and he shares lead vocals with Tim. Sarah contributes sax and recorder. It shows how, even when restricted by personnel and instrumentation, Tim and his mates could still make curious, intriguing sounds that are far from unpleasant yet leaves the untrained ear a bit miffed.

Friday 21 August 2015

TheMadster comes of age

Today marks a significant milestone in the Robster household. Our firstborn turns 18 and is therefore officially no longer a child. Hooray! That's my job done! Oh wait, there's another one who's got a couple years left yet...

Anyway, TheMadster will be off to Uni next month to study Sports Fitness and Personal Training. She'll no doubt be taking with her a hatful of tunes pilfered from her ever-loving father. I'll probably do her a uni playlist, something to impress her new friends. Maybe. Well, OK then, nothing tooooo embarrassing, at least. I'm open to suggestions from my readers, of course (comment below).

Something else happened exactly 18 years ago today as well - Oasis released their long-awaited third album. Now, history will tell us that while it was at the time the fastest-selling album ever, it was also a bit of a dud. And true, it wasn't as good as the first two; it was overlong, overblown and overdone. But, there were a few good tunes on there if you scratched beneath the surface. Don't Go Away was definitely one of the record's best songs, probably because it clocked in at less than five minutes and didn't go on and on and on for the hell of it. Oh, and the date of the record's release is in the artwork, which means TheMadster's birth will forever be marked on an album cover!

Number one in the album charts 18 years ago was 'White On Blonde' by Texas. I never really got Texas. That album in particular was just annoying; way over-produced and polished to within an inch of its life. I bought it for TheMadster as it was her birthday no.1, but I've never played it and she's never shown much interest in it. Mind you, if I had to choose between that and the number 1 single that week, I'd take Texas everytime. Top of the singles charts? Brace yourselves - Men In Black by Will Fucking Smith!

So today's songs of celebration? I'm going to post a version of Don't Go Away as an ironic statement, what with TheMadster buggering off to uni and all. I'm not posting owt by Texas or Smith though, so instead - Foals always go down well around here, and their last album 'Holy Fire' certainly did its time on the MP3players of TheMadster and MrsRobster. So with their new album hitting stores in a week's time, I thought I'd post a couple of their tracks. First, a surprsingly good Tom Vek remix of the enormous Inhaler, originally from 'Holy Fire', and then a live version of the awesome title track of the forthcoming new album. Hopefully this meets with TheMadster's approval.

The first 18 years have passed in a flash, and like every teenager of course, she reckons she's had it hard and no one understands. Let's see what she says in 18 years time, eh? Enjoy it while you can Madster - you're only 18 for a year!


Wednesday 19 August 2015

Welsh Wednesday #50

#50: That's All Folks! by Catatonia

So the series hits 50, but despite the title of today's track, that's far from all folks. Like it or not, there's at least another 50 instalments to come. But to mark the half century, here's probably my very favourite Catatonia song. I can't help but be moved whenever it plays, though it's somewhat ominous in its tone and delivery. Cerys sounds fragile throughout, the trappings of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle beginning to take hold, perhaps?

  "I feel winter's breath in my bones
  But I'm a loose cannon whore, knows the score
  Shown the door before the night's out
  At least you wear your bruises well
  At least you have some tales, something about you"

It could be taken as a sign that all wasn't well in the ranks, the first rumblings of troubles that often accompanies fame. It could be some sort of resignation that the fame the band had achieved marked the end of an era when they were probably at their happiest. Yet there's an air of defiance as the song rises into the final three minutes and Cerys yells "That's all folks, fuck all folks / 275 pounds of nothing!" One of the saddest, and most mystifying things of all though, is how the hell did this song just end up as a b-side? It was immeasurably better than anything on the last two albums. It should have been held over for the third album in my opinion. Instead it languished on the flip of the fifth single from 'International Velvet'. A criminal decision.

I really love this track, and on that basis it is a fitting one to celebrate the first landmark of the Welsh Wednesday series. More delights to come; watch this space.

(For some strange reason, the only online clip of this song I can find has been set to a compilation of death scenes in some anime series. I'm sparing you that - just click anywhere other than the title below and you can hear the song without the awful visuals...)

Saturday 15 August 2015

From Inside The Pod Revisited #11

I think I may have been getting a little bored by the time I reached Pod 26; I was trying a few different things to keep it interesting. The idea of an instrumental post had floated around for a lttle while, if I recall. In fact, I've even thought about a weekly instrumental series on this blog. That may still happen.

As always, everything that follows replicates the original post word-for-word. Pun not intended...

Pod 26: Not A Word
(first published February 2012)

Another experiment.  Over the 18 months I've been doing this, I have featured an array of great instrumental tracks. Regardless of whether vocals or lyrics are good or bad, some amazing musicianship has been oft overlooked owing to the prominence of a vocal.  That's why I like  instrumental versions of songs.  They can sometimes reveal elements of a track you never knew were there, hidden as they are behind voices.

I've scoured my hard drives and come up with a small, yet interesting selection of instrumental tunes.  These are all 'proper' instrumentals rather than instrumental versions and, despite the absence of words, there are some top-notch tracks here including one or two you may be familiar with (if not the versions featured).

1. Plank! La Luna [2010, Plank! EP]
What I know about Plank! you could write on a postage stamp.  I think they're from Manchester and they've released just one single and an EP.  The only other thing I can tell you is that La Luna is a brilliant track.  That rolling bass line in particular gets me every time.

2. Stereolab Get Carter [1998, Aluminium Tunes]
Stereolab were never averse to a good instrumental tune.  Here, they take on the theme to the classic (though oddly much maligned at the time) British gangster movie 'Get Carter'.  'Tis one that has been tackled numerous times with the likes of the Horrors, the Human League and Primal Scream all having a go, though Roy Budd's original is hard to beat.

3. Rico Rodriguez Gunga Din [1976, Man From Wareika]
The word 'legend' just doesn't do trombonist Rico Rodriguez justice - he's so much more than that.  He was there at the birth of ska in the late 50s and has been a part of the evolving Jamaican music scene ever since, desipte moving to London in the 1960s. Prominent in the UK ska revival in the early 80s (as a part-time member of the Specials), Rico still performs at the age of 77.

4. Senseless Things Apache [1992, Ruby Trax (NME charity album)]
London's Senseless Things released some dead-good singles in the early 90s, in particular Got It At The Delmar and Homophobic Asshole.  This contribution to NME's charity covers album 'Ruby Trax' demonstrated the heavier sound of their third album.  The Shadows never did it this way. Take it away Hank...

5. Julianna Barwick Prizewinning [2011, The Magic Place]
A dubious inclusion some might think. Why? Because Julianna Barwick's instrument of choice is... her voice. The majority of sounds on her debut record 'The Magic Place' were made vocally, though she doesn't necessarily 'sing'.  It's an intriguing twist to the instrumental which is why I've included one of her tracks here.

6. BB King Just Like A Woman [(c.1961/2) 1991, Spotlight On Lucille)
In the early 60s, BB King recorded a number of instrumental songs over various studio sessions.  Many of them lay unreleased for many years until compiled in 1991 on Spotlight On Lucille (Lucille being his guitar). It's a record that really does highlight the skills of the great man, illustrating why he is revered as one of the most important R&B and blues musicians of all time.

7. The Ventures Nutty/Rock Nuts [1966, Where The Action Is]
Officially the most successful instrumental band ever.  The Ventures have sold in excess of 100 million records and are cited as one of the most influential acts on modern rock music with everyone from George Harrison, Ray Davies and Jimmy Page to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Brian May and the Ramones citing them as inspiration.  This is  a song that bore two titles depending on the version and is a take on Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.

8. Amiina Mambó [2010, Puzzle]
Originally an all-female string quartet who performed with Sigur Rós, Amiina have since become a 'proper' band utilising a multitude of instruments and, more recently, their voices.  Amiina were the very last act to collaborate with the late, great Lee Hazlewood (on the track 'Hilli') prior to his passing in 2007.  This track is taken from their second album.

9. Y Niwl Wyth [2010, Y Niwl]
Yes, a Welsh surf-guitar band.  You may not believe it but Wales has a thriving surf scene.  It's not Hawaii or Bondai Beach - it's a darn-sight chillier for starters - but true surfers don't let that worry them.  With Y Niwl (translation: The Fog), a band who recently both supported and backed Gruff Rhys, they now have a band to provide their soundtrack.

10. Bob Crewe & Charles Fox The Sex Machine [1968, Barbarella!!! Soundtrack]
Sophia Loren turned down the part of Barbarella, while Jane Fonda wished she had.  Or so the story goes.  A critical and commercial failure at the time, 'Barbarella!!!' has since found cult status among those of us who like camp, tongue-in-cheek psychedelic nonsense.  Its soundtrack tickles too, a cross between lounge music and psychedelia, but it's entirely fitting.  This track soundtracks the Excessive Machine scene which acts as a splendid example of what this daft movie was about. (You may need to sign into YouTube as for some reason it's deemed a little 'saucy'...)

'Nuff said - now listen!

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Welsh Wednesday #49

#49: Scooter by Race Horses

This is one of the most upbeat, fun and downright silly tracks I've posted on this blog to date. Hailing from Aberystwyth (and originally known as Radio Luxembourg), Race Horses produced some splendid songs in their all-too-brief tenure on the Welsh music scene. Early material was sung largely in Welsh, but most of their recorded material was in English.

Their debut album 'Goodbye Falkenberg' emerged in 2010 and is a fine example of a band who knew and appreciated the art of clever uplifting music. Scooter perhaps illustrates this better than any other track, right down to its barbershop-style vocals. Sadly its follow-up - 2012's 'Furniture' - just didn't have the same impact, even though you might argue that musically it's more accomplished. It's also more generic and less intriguing than its predecessor.

Race Horses split around about the time of that second album's release, but the band's members continue to be active. Gwion Llewellyn is a member of Yr Ods and Gulp, and also plays live with Villagers. Alun Gaffey is one half of Iwcs & Gaff, while Meilyr Jones has collaborated with Gryff Rhys' Neon Neon project, Euros Childs (the pair recorded an album as Cousins), and Scouse psych-folk outfit Stealing Sheep.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

MrsRobster's birthday post

Today the love of my life celebrates another birthday, so here's a special post just for her. First, her favourite track from the debut (and to date only) album by Filthy Boy. It's a record about the dirtier and darker side of life, though Jimmie Jammies bucks the trend somewhat. It's about an old couple who are about to enjoy their last night of passion together. It's funny and cute, but sad at the same time. Probably why MrsRobster likes it so much.


And here's one of her favourite bands, the amazing Public Service Broadcasting. We saw them twice in 2013 and we're going to see them again in the autumn. MrsRobster has really taken to their new album 'The Race For Space', and one of her fave tracks - The Other Side - marks the occasion of the first manned orbit of the moon. It's their new single, but here's a live version:

Happy birthday babe! x

Saturday 8 August 2015

Memories of 2015 gigs 7 & 8

#7: Kizzy Crawford
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff - 25th July 2015
Support: Ellie Makes Music, Natalie Holmes

This should have been one of our year's highlights. Instead - utter disappointment. This turned out to be the shortest gig I've ever been to. That's in 27 years of gig-going! OK, so tickets were a mere £8, and we didn't get to the venue until just before 9, which meant we missed the opening act. However, I had hoped to catch Ellie Makes Music, a teenage singer-songwriter from Cardiff with stacks of talent. But as we walked in, she was just starting her last song.

Fortunately, we didn't have to wait too long for Kizzy Crawford, and she'd brought a full band with her - electric guitar, bass/double-bass, keyboards and drums. She started with her most recent single Shout Out Loud, which you may know from the Wales tourism TV ads. Then she played a new song about being a pond skater. Kizzy's blend of folk, soul and jazz could tempt comparisons to someone like Amy Winehouse, but that would be totally unfair to one so young. Nonetheless, the girl has something very special, that's for certain. She spoke to the small audience in English and Welsh, played her new single Pili Pala (trans. Butterfly) and seemed to be on a roll. But then... it was all over. At 9:35! On a Saturday night! The crowd called for an encore. "We'd love to play an encore for you but we don't have time," Kizzy informed us. Six songs, less than half an hour and that was it?

MrsRobster said: "That could have been one of the best gigs we've ever been to, but I actually feel ripped off." Once again, she's spot on!


#8: Young Marble Giants
The Globe, Cardiff - 6th August 2015 (Grassroots Fundraiser)
Support: Headfall, The Irascibles, Guto Pryce (DJ set)

Grassroots is a project operating in Cardiff that for more than three decades has been helping young people develop their skills in the arts, be they musicians, budding record producers, sound technicians, film-makers, animators, etc. But above all, it's about supporting troubled and vulnerable youngsters and helping them to do something creative. Typically, Grassroots, like many projects  that actually do something useful in society, is under threat thanks to council budget cuts. The thing with Grassroots is it has many friends and supporters.

Thirty-odd years ago, a young band just starting out was helped by Grassroots providing them with rehearsal space. On Thursday night, that band played its first show in their home city for seven years at a benefit show for the charity. Young Marble Giants don't play much, but when they do, they're guaranteed a full venue. It was already filling up nicely by the time the first band arrived on stage, featuring a couple of familiar faces. The Irascibles feature Phil and Drew Moxham of YMG and play a brand of country-tinged garage rock that I imagine would have gone down well at somewhere like the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA. sometime during the mid-80s.

I can't imagine anything by the second band of the evening going down well anywhere. Headfall were just awful. I suppose they would say they were an experimental art new wave kind of thing, like the Velvet Underground meets Wire, perhaps. The thing is, both those bands had a point. They sounded like they knew what they were doing and the music they made inspired generations of musicians after them. Headfall only inspired me to want to find the venue's electrical master switch and turn everything off. I've heard bands playing their first rehearsal that sounded more convincing. Avoid at all costs!

Young Marble Giants treated the audience to a nearly hour-long set of faves from their sadly small back catalogue interspersed with some anecdotes about Grassroots and the venue. Alison relayed how she saw her first ever film at the Globe back in the days it was a cinema, and the last ever film it hosted (An Officer And A Gentleman, apparently). She also owns one of the mirrors that graced the cinema's halls. Their beautifully sparse and eerie music resonated around this great little venue. Most of the set consisted of tracks from their only studio album 'Colossal Youth' (released 35 years ago, if you please!), with highlights (for me) being Credit In The Straight World, Choci Loni, Wurlitzer Jukebox and that wonderful album title track.

It was a delight to catch one of the most revered and influential Welsh bands of all time still able to spellbind their audience as if it were still 1980. The fact they only play once in a blue moon these days makes it even more of a privilege. Actually, wasn't there an actual blue moon this week? Point made.


Wednesday 5 August 2015

Welsh Wednesday #48

#48: My Dreams by H. Hawkline

Huw Evans (aka H. Hawkline) was known to Welsh audiences as a TV presenter before making music of his own. He since became a staple of the Cardiff music scene, both solo and as a member of other people's bands (Sweet Baboo and Cate Le Bon).

His brand of experimental psych-folk has that inimitable Welsh feel to it. To date he's put out three albums - the largely instrumental debut 'A Cup Of Salt', 'The Strange Uses of Ox Gall', from which today's track is taken, and his newest offering 'In The Pink Of Condition' which came out in February. Now living in the States with his partner (the aforementioned Cate Le Bon), he remains very much a fixture of his home city's scene, recently playing a residency at Clwb Ifor Bach in support of his new record.

My Dreams is a curious little number which sounds like it was recorded in a cave in the hills of the Brecon Beacons on a dark, dank morning into a malfunctioning dictaphone. But don't let that put you off - it's all part of the charm. True, it's not everyone's cup of Earl Grey; you either get this kind of thing or you don't. I like it though, and that's all that matters.

Saturday 1 August 2015

The Genius of Tim Smith #12

#12: As Cold As Can Be In An English Sea by Cardiacs

This tune dates back to the band's very early days. It first appeared on their second cassette 'Toy World' in 1981, later revived on the 'Archive Cardiacs' compilation. Its title appeared in the lyrics of Baby Heart Dirt from 1989's 'On Land And In The Sea' before the full song emerged one final time on the 'Special Garage Concerts' live album in 2005.

It's one of those that displays everything that should be so, so wrong with Cardiacs, yet succeeds in being so, so right. It's magnificent and shambolic, utterly mental too. While that early recording suffers from pretty appalling sound quality, the later manifestations show off the ridiculous genius of the whole thing. I mean, really? How do they do it? What the feckity heck was Tim thinking when he wrote this? Probably best not to ask I reckon.

You really need to see the video below. It's the band rehearsing the tune just prior to those Special Garage Concerts. Tim coughs. Kavus falls over. Jim plays wearing only his underpants. Superb.