Saturday 30 January 2016

The Devil's Music

#4: Sympathy For The Devil by Motörhead

Lemmy's been dead for a month and it already feels like forever. Fortunately he will be eternal in his music. The very last thing we got from him - the closing track on Motörhead's final album - was this awesome version of probably the finest song ever written about old Lucifer, told from the protagonist's own viewpoint. To be honest, if this really were the Devil singing, I'm sure his/her voice would sound more like Lemmy's than Jagger's. D'you reckon Lemmy was buttering up our friend down there in preparation? I mean, this is a storming, full-blooded version that (s)he would be proud of. Talk about going out on  high.


Wednesday 27 January 2016

Welsh Wednesday #71

#71: Ysbrydoli by Estrons

My list of top 2015 releases was really taking shape when suddenly I was thrown a curve-ball. A four-track EP came out in early December that grabbed me by the throat, kicked me up the jacksie and hollered: "Wait one moment, old man. We're Estrons and you're gonna love us!" And love them I did.

Estrons hail from the North Wales town of Mold. Their singer is a Welsh-speaking Canadian-Swede with the wonderful name Taliesyn Kallström. The band's name means 'aliens', and back in the spring they released a sort-of self-titled single entitled Aliens. It appears on the new EP 'Whoever She Was...' which could very well be one of the best EPs of the year. It also includes the single Make A Man which might be the one you'll hear on the radio. Their debut single C-C-Cariad (trans: L-L-Love) came out in 2014 via the Welsh music magazine Y Selar's singles club. It's not on the EP but worth checking out regardless.

I've picked the Welsh-language track Ysbrydoli for you today. However, as this is still a new release, I've decided not to post the whole thing, but a quick-and-dirty edit. If you want the full version (and why the hell wouldn't you?), I suggest you nip over to iTunes or Amazon and buy it. In fact, get the whole EP. Deffo worth a few quid I reckon.

(This track is no longer available)

Monday 25 January 2016

It Came From Japan #7

A shoegaze special! Yep, we Brits invented shoegaze in the late 80s, but in the last decade or so the sound of loud, feedback-fuelled guitars with whimsical vocals has swept across the world. And none more so than in Japan where a swathe of really decent shoegaze bands are making some marvellous noises.

At the heavier end of the spectrum is the wonderfully named Cruyff In The Bedroom. Yes, that's Cruyff after Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff. They're from the trendy Shimokitazawa area of Tokyo and run their own label Only Feedback. To date they have released a half-dozen EPs (most of which have football-themed sleeves) and five full-length albums. Ukiyogunjou is the title track of their fourth LP released in 2010.

Another band with a great name is Plastic Girl In Closet. A hugely prolific trio, they have more of the ethereal Lush/Slowdive/Pale Saints shoegaze sound. They are signed to Only Feedback and have released an impressive six albums, a six-track EP and a live DVD since 2010. I've chosen the glorious Rabbit House from their second album, 2011's 'Cocoro'. Bliss.

Compared to their aforementioned compatriots, Civic are relative newcomers to the scene. They have just the one album so far and their chief dynamic seems to be the call and response vocals of Yasuhiro Hachisuka and Mari Miyata. They could barely play a note when they formed in 2004, but have patiently carved a niche for themselves, filling the void between the heaviness of Cryff and the lighter sounds of Plastic Girl. They also have a standing drummer, which is always a good thing. I love their song Tensai, but I've gone for Toilet Paper as it has a better title and rather entertaining video.

Yes, shoegaze is on the rise once more. Ride are back together, Lush have announced some live shows and an EP, Swervedriver released a very decent album last year - what next? A Chapterhouse comeback? A new Curve album? God forbid a Moose reunion??? Nah - let's leave it to the Japanese for the time being; they seem to have got it nailed.

(For the record, I know very little about the bands I've featured today, but I'm sure there's plenty of info about them all out there if you care to search around t'internet for it. You may have to brush up on your Japanese though...)


Saturday 23 January 2016

The Devil's Music

#3: Devil Woman by All About Eve

Possibly the only time a Cliff Richard song will ever appear on this blog, and only gets in because the divine Julianne Regan sings it. To be honest, I've often suspected the Devil to be a woman. Not sure if she looks like the one above, mind. Anyway, if you've never heard Cliff done in the style of 80s folky goths, well here's your chance. They say the Devil was a fallen angel. Well Julianne has the voice of an angel, and I fell for her big time in my teens.


Friday 22 January 2016

Just because...

For some reason, I turned to Dusty Springfield during my mourning for David Bowie. She had a voice that could light up the darkest night and soothe the deepest hurt. It's good therapy, and I'm slowly beginning to get back to writing some stuff.

Here's a version of her fourth Top 10 single, In The Middle Of Nowhere from 1965. It was recorded live for a BBC session that summer.

For no other reason than JUST BECAUSE it's fecking astounding; there's no need to justify any inclusion of Dusty anywhere ever.


Wednesday 20 January 2016

Welsh Wednesday #70

#70: Bug Blood by Tender Prey

Hearing Tender Prey for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking: "Hmm, sounds a bit like early PJ Harvey. Or Anna Calvi." Yep, I'll give you that on the strength of this track. But there's more to Cardiff's Laura Byron to that. Sure, she makes "sleaze blues" a-plenty, but her 2015 debut album 'Organ Calzone' offers much more; "pocket melodies to dance, drink and wrestle to" as she puts it.

Her sound is very basic, often little more than electric guitar and voice. Some drums and keyboards pop by to help out every now and then, but this naked approach is what makes Tender Prey sound so different to everything else around at the moment. She's worked with Jane Weaver, who she recently toured with and shares a label with, and Sweet Baboo with whom she duets on his latest album.

My problem here was which track to give you. I like all of them even more with each play. It was nearly Velvetine, but I thought that was a little too dark an introduction. So instead, here's the gnarly album opener Bug Blood.

Monday 18 January 2016

Bowie - some thoughts

Now that the shock has passed, the hoo-ha of the aftermath has died down and I've had time to reflect, I thought it was time to share a few thoughts I have on the great man that was David Bowie. I've had numerous discussions with people about him and read some wonderful, moving articles including those written by my blogging chums who we all know and love. It's made me reflect on what Bowie meant to me and what he left for us.

It was about 07:15, and though I was ready to leave the house, I wasn't feeling particularly well having unceremoniously just brought my breakfast back up. I'd not felt right all weekend so thought I'd pay the GP a quick visit before work. Working in a large NHS hospital, it's a serious matter if you have a bug; you have to stay home. I was convinced I hadn't got anything contagious but wanted to get it confirmed regardless. While I was waiting for the surgery to open, my phone rang. It was my buddy Colin.

"Have you seen the news?" he asked in an exasperated tone.

"No, what's happened?"

"Bowie's dead!"

If I hadn't already been sick that morning, I'm sure those words would have made me heave. Something changed at that moment. I can't explain it, but I felt it. Something really important, something that charged and energised my passions, had just left me. Over the coming hours, as I periodically checked the news as it came through, it still never really sunk in. I couldn't bear to hear his music or voice that day. I played Swervedriver in the car during my journey to and from work. No particular reason - I suppose it was noisy enough to drown out the solemnity of the day's events.

But it wasn't just me. The whole week just seemed different. The blogs I regularly visit - you know who you are - just didn't fizz or glisten in the way they normally do.There was a very sombre mood across the blogosphere. It took the best part of a week for things to start feeling normal on that front again. The day after David died, I played 'Blackstar' for the umpteenth time since it came out just four days before. What a way to leave us. We know it has been widely speculated that he knew this was his death record, his glowing epitaph, his final words. For what it's worth, I have to agree. Bowie staged his death as a work of art as much as any part of his career. This record now seems even more remarkable in this context. On the previous Friday, it was simply a very odd yet interesting Bowie record that grew on me with every listen as more little nuances began to present themselves. Just a few days later, it became perhaps one of the most remarkable records ever released, and arguably the most significant of his life.

The rest of the week was filled with Bowie. I had 'Outside', 'Earthling', 'Heathen' and 'The Next Day' in the car, while at home I wallowed in 'Stationtostation', 'Ziggy' and 'Scary Monsters'. Gradually, I came to terms with it. It had been, however, a very strange week. I don't think I've ever felt as much sadness and grief for anyone I had never met. John Peel's death hit me hard, but not nearly as hard as Bowie's.

David Bowie was unique, an absolute one-off. There was no one like him before, and there will probably never be another like him again. I was having a conversation with a colleague in which we wondered how well Bowie would have done if we snatched him from 1972 and dropped him into 2016. My colleague reckoned he would never have achieved the fame, the notoriety nor the adoration he acquired during that time. He reckoned society, cultures and the musical landscape has changed too much for him to have had much of an impact today. I disagreed. I contest that Bowie had the mind and the artistry to turn anything around. Exactly what 1972 Bowie would have done in 2016 to become the sensation we know, I can't say, but I'm pretty sure he would have done something. Let's face it - had 1972 Bowie not been around when he did, would we have gay marriage, transgender acceptance, sexual liberation to the extent we have it today? Would he have played a part in releasing us further? Maybe.

Yes, the world has changed. On Monday, 11 January it changed even more. The Grand Chameleon of Planet Pop has departed. But we should not continue to mourn. Look at what he gave us. Listen to what he gave us. Be grateful that we existed at the same time as David Bowie. What an amazing thing to have in your life.


Saturday 16 January 2016

The Devil's Music

#2: Mean As Hell by Johnny Cash

The story of a Hell on Earth created by Satan as told by the great man Johnny Cash. More spoken than sung, 'tis a tale that in spite of its horrific setting, genuinely warms my old cockles being that it's narrated by Cash's wonderful rich baritone voice. It appears on his gunslinging concept double-album 'Sings The Ballads Of The True West' from 1965 (although the material contained was recorded over a six year period).


Wednesday 13 January 2016

Welsh Wednesday #69

Despite the overwhelming sense of loss a great many of us are still feeling, life goes on and so do we. Normal service must resume.

#69: Accept What You Feel by Zefur Wolves

Zefur Wolves' self-titled debut wasn't just one of my favourite Welsh albums of 2015, it was one of my fave albums by anyone anywhere of 2015. Fronted by Estelle Los, guitarist of Cardiff all-girl R&B outfit Baby Queens, and also featuring her significant other Cian Ciaran, keyboard wizard of Super Furry Animals, Zefur Wolves more than make up the sum of their parts.

Accept What You Feel is one of about half a dozen highlights from the album. It's probably one of the rockiest tracks included, but it still has a rather lazy summery feel to it. Hooks-a-plenty and melodies so infectious, antibiotics can't even touch them, 'Zefur Wolves' is probably one of my most played albums in the car in the past 12 months. The band recently told a poster on Facebook that a second album is "deffo on the cards." Can't wait.

Monday 11 January 2016


No words can do justice to how I feel right now. So heres the great man's last single, a hell of a way to remember him. Eerily poignant too.

Saturday 9 January 2016

The Devil's Music

Here's a new series which should be fun. Each Saturday I will post one track which references rock & roll's favourite character, however (s)he be known: the Devil, the Beast, Beelzebub, Satan, the Antichrist, Lucifer... you know who I mean. The Devil has provided some artists with massive hits - Sympathy For The Devil, The Number Of The Beast - (s)he is even mentioned in Bohemian Rhapsody, and there aren't many better-known rock songs than that!

Accompanying each track will be a very short (I promise) piece. I want to keep it short to increase the chances of me being inspired enough to actually write something and thus not get bored of the series halfway through.  Where to start though... how about an early classic?

#1: Devil Got My Woman by Skip James

Recorded in 1931, Devil Got My Woman is one of the earliest references to old BLZ Bub on disc. Skip James has been cited as a major influence on rock and blues musicians since the 1960s. Unfortunately, shortly after his recording career got under way, the Great Depression took hold and sales dried up. He became an ordained minister, retiring from music until rediscovered some 30 years later. Devil Got My Woman (also known as Wish I Was The Devil as per John Martyn's famous cover) is one of his most well known tracks.

More beastly sounds next weekend.


Wednesday 6 January 2016

Welsh Wednesday #68

Throughout January, I present some of my favourite Welsh albums of 2015.

#68: Halen Daear a Swn y Môr by Yucatan

I suppose you could consider Yucatan to be a Welsh version of Sigur Rós. Their songs build slowly and atmospherically, many of them later bursting into life with strings and brass. While the Icelanders make music that could soundtrack a journey across their nation's flat, barren terrain, Yucatan's could be played to accompany you on a hike across the mountains and hills of Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons.

Yucatan hail from North Wales and in 2015 released one of the best debut albums to come out of the country to date. It will be interesting to hear where they go next. Halen Daear a Swn y Môr[1] appears on that debut, and you can get another track on a 'name your price' basis from their Bandcamp page.

[1]Something about the sound of earth, sea and salt - not sure of an exact translation.

Monday 4 January 2016

This Monday Reggae Feeling

Cairo by Joyella Blade

There's very little info on Joyella Blade out there. The picture above, from the cover of her debut single, is the only one I can find. In fact, it appears she only released one single. But... WHAT. A. SINGLE. Cairo came out in 1978 on Virgin's reggae imprint Front Line. It didn't trouble the charts in any way, shape or form and copies of the original 7" are now very rare.

The thing is, if justice prevailed, this would be as much of a classic as Night Nurse, No Woman No Cry and Uptown Top Rankin'. It's a terrific record, Joyella's voice is as unique as any on tape and that deep baritone backing vocal just seals the deal for me.

Cairo occasionally pops up on the odd reggae collection - for quality purposes I've used the one I have on 2014's awesome Front Line compilation 'Sounds Of Reality'. It's well worthy of inclusion on any mixtape/playlist.


Saturday 2 January 2016

2015 >> 2016

Here we go again then - another year in our musical paradise. But before I launch myself into full 2016 mode, here's a quick look back at what tickled my fancy in 2015.

Five albums

A lot of people - including many of my esteemed blogging compadres - have featured the likes of Wolf Alice and Courtney Barnett in their year-end lists, while some of my other big faves of the year (The Charlatans, Foals, Public Service Broadcasting, Laura Marling, Gaz Coombes and Django Django) are well-known enough for you to either already have them or at least be familiar with them. So here's five albums I rate really highly that you may have missed:

CLOWwNS - 'The Artful Execution Of Macho Bimbo'

Think Franz Ferdinand with more bite, more wit and more ideas. A quite frankly brilliant debut. Really need to see them live now.

Evans The Death - 'Expect Delays'
Loads of youthful energy and fun wrapped up in a loud fuzzy swathe of guitars and occasional shouting. The singer has a really good voice, too.

Myrkur - 'M'
Recommended to me by my mate Dave. Norwegian indie-pop star Amalie Bruun's black metal project heavily infused with Nordic folk music. Brutal yet beautiful at the same time.

Du Blonde - 'Welcome Back To Milk'
As recently mentioned in my Beth Jeans Houghton post. A radical reinvention by Ms Houghton but a most enjoyable one it has to be said, despite the awful sleeve art.

Cattle - 'Somehow Hear Songs'
My next It Came From Japan post will be a shoegaze special. It won't feature Cattle as this, their debut EP, has only just come out, but it's one of the strongest records I've heard all year.

If you're wondering why there are no Welsh albums here, it's because January's Welsh Wednesdays will feature some of my fave releases of 2015 from the Land of Song.

Five gigs
As you know, MrsRobster and I have been out and about quite a bit this year, taking in some of the very finest live entertainment acts. Well, a few decent bands, anyway. Raising kids brought our gig-going habits to an almost complete standstill for a good number of years, but now the sprogsters are of a responsible age, we have been venturing out a fair bit more over the last few years. This year my aim was to reach double figures for the first time in, ooh, some 18 years or more. We did 13! Here's my Top 5.

The Charlatans (Cardiff, December)
I said: "The best band I’ve seen this year. Probably. After 25 at times challenging years, they’ve still got it, without a doubt." [full review here]

Slaves / Wonk Unit / Spring King (Cardiff, November)
I said: "If we're talking about the consistency in quality of the whole bill, then this was probably right up there with our best gigs of the decade so far."

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Bristol, October)
I said: "Two hours of enormous, slow-building epics that not only filled the Colston Hall, but pretty likely the whole of the city." [full reviews of these shows here]

Wolf Alice (Cardiff, April)

I said: "They are good. Like, really bloody good. Good songs, good sound, good singer."

Super Furry Animals (Cardiff, May)
I said: "A mammoth 2¼ hour set which covered all bases - the hits, album tracks, obscurities, pop songs, psychedelic wig-outs, electronic wizardry, English, Welsh - you name it, it was in there."

Laura Marling (Bristol, May)
I said: " Laura's set was masterfully arranged and executed... She seems to have eschewed much of her earlier material as if to make a statement that she has been somehow reborn... The new songs made the set even more compelling." [full reviews of these shows here]

Yes, I'm fully aware that's six gigs, not five. But heck, I couldn't decide which one to drop so I broke my own rule. That's the kind of guy I am - still a rebel after all these years!

Some other things

  • My Kitchens Of  Distinction post racking up a silly number of views after being posted on the band's Facebook page and tweeted by Patrick Fitzgerald himself.
  • TheMadster getting to university, the first in my and MrsRobster's immediate families to do so. And she survived freshers! Just how proud are we?!
  • Wales qualifying for the 2016 Euros, a massive achievement for such a tiny nation. Arguably even better than the injury-ravaged Welsh rugby team beating England in the World Cup back in the autumn.
Looking forward to:
  • The new Bowie album... goes without saying, doesn't it?
  • The new PJ Harvey album... ditto.
  • The new Savages album... expecting a monster.
  • The Lush comeback... yaay! Gigs, new songs, Miki. Yaay!
  • Bob Mould and Snuff in Cardiff within two days of each other. My ears will be bleeding.
I expect to make fewer posts in 2016. It has been hard work preparing four posts a week and I'm not sure I can keep it interesting enough at that rate. Hopefully the quality will compensate for the lesser quantity. We'll see. For now though, here's one more of my favourite songs of 2015 for you. A completely new sound for Emmy The Great, but an extraordinary track and a spooky, rather upsetting video.