Wednesday, 30 December 2020

20 for 2020 #4

I'm not going mention any of the records that disappointed me this year - there were a few. God knows we've had anough negatives over the past 12 months. I'd rather focus on the positive side of things, so here's the final selection of my favourite albums of 2020.

PUBLIC ENEMY 'What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?'
What makes me happy is that Public Enemy are still making music in 2020. What makes me sad is that the messages they were preaching in 1987 remain just as relevant in 2020. For their 17th album, Chuck, Flav and Lord roped in friends from the hip-hop community including the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Ice-T, Nas and Cypress Hill to name a few. A couple of old tracks were given a makeover too including 1990's anthem Fight The Power, one of the most powerful protest songs of all time. In the current landscape, it's never sounded so necessary.

CULTS 'Host'
There were two distinctive firsts on Cults' fourth 'proper' album: they used mainly live instruments instead of synths and electronics; and it contained songs written by vocalist Madeline Follin, who had been hording them for some time. The result is possibly their best album to date.

SORRY '952'
Another duo - Sorry hail from London and released an intriguing debut album which kind of defies categorisation (though if you like Beetlebum-era Blur, you might well enjoy it). There's a lot going on here, and they certainly wear their influences proudly on their sleeves. I play this album when I'm not sure what I'm in the mood for, and it always does the trick.

LAURA MARLING 'Song For Our Daughter'
I mentioned earlier in the year how Laura Marling's latest effort is an absolute joy. An album of intimate and sparsely-arranged songs for an imaginary daughter, it was inspired by an eclectic bunch of writers and musicians including Maya Angelou, Graeme Green, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen and Robert Icke. Laura Marling is fast becoming a national treasure, and she's still only 30!

And to finish off, how about the comeback record of the year? Despite reforming in 2000, the Psychedelic Furs toured for the best part of the next two decades without releasing any new material. And then this little beauty hit the shelves, a full 29 years after their last record 'World Outside'. Got to say, it was worth the wait. Some brilliant, brilliant songs on this one.

Shout outs must also go to:
Sparks - 'A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip' (one of Mrs Robster's faves)
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - 'Viscerals' (definitely not one of Mrs Robster's faves...)
Ian Skelly - 'Drifters Skyline'
Mourn - 'Self Worth'
The Strokes - 'The New Abnormal'

OK, I'm done. I could make this list twice as long but that would be boring. Hopefully this time next year I'll have just as much to write about, maybe I could even get a few gig reviews in as well!

Back to the burrow I go. Wake me up when something good happens...

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

20 for 2020 #3

Another five of my faves of the year, all of these have been played a lot. This is probably the most stylistically diverse selection of this run of articles.

YOUNG KNIVES 'Barbarians'
Young Knives' fifth album was their first in seven years, and if you were expecting anything along the lines of classics like Weekdays And Bleak Days, Here Comes The Rumour Mill and Turn Tail, you were in for a shock. For 'Barbarians' is completely bonkers, a turbulent masterclass in off-the-wall experimentation rooted in chaos and nihilism. They ask the question: "What if cruelty to others is just part of who we are? How do we live with that?” 'Barbarians' is the rather disconcerting answer.

WILL BUTLER 'Generations'
If you want to know who the real brains behind Arcade Fire's best moments is, just listen to 'Generations', the second solo record by the Canadian band's keyboard player Will Butler. In complete contrast to the Young Knives, Butler offers hope and optimism wrapped in terrific melodies and exhuberant delivery. The closing track does sound like that song from Toy Story (it really does!), but the rest is good enough to let that slide.

WIRE 'Mind Hive'
Once again, Wire hit the mark. 43 years after making one of the greatest, most influential debut albums of all time, they delivered their 17th album and they somehow still sound fresh. It met with some of the highest critical acclaim of their recent career too.

THE KILLERS 'Imploding The Mirage'
Now, this one was a bit of a surprise. Ever since their brilliant debut, The Killers have got worse and worse. I personally lost them when they released the dire Human and hadn't gone back since, until I heard some of the tracks from 'Imploding The Mirage'. I know I risk losing whatever crdibility I have left, and it doesn't reach the heights of 'Hot Fuss' - not a lot does - but it reminded me that, on their day, The Killers can be such a good band.

TORRES 'Silver Tongue'
Another one I featured back in my Lockdown posts, and I still haven't lost any of my love for what is by far Torres' best record to date. After an acrimonious split from her record label 4AD, she refocused her energy into writing an album of songs about love and relationships. But, as you'd expect, these aren't typical soppy ballads, and it's difficult to pin a genre on it. It's just beautiful.

Next Wednesday, the final five.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

20 for 2020 #2

Last week I gave you my Top 5 albums of the year. The thing is, it wasn't quite that simple, as when it came down to it, only the top 3 were unarguable. For positions 4 and 5, I had three to choose from. In the end I plumped for Nadine Shah and Katy J Pearson to take the slots.

So while the rest of the albums in this series are not listed in any particular order, the first of today's choices is 'the one that got away', the record that just missed the top 5 by an absolute whisker.

Phoebe only became known to me in the latter part of the year. I can't really believe how she'd escaped me before. 'Punisher' is an album of personal, confessional, sometimes confrontational songs that no one her age should be able to write. But she's channelled her experiences into making some of the most beautiful songs of the year. The apocalyptic I Know The End also has one of the most stunning videos of 2020.

I was a big fan of Polly's debut album way back in 2009. It took her four years to follow it up and sadly that one didn't do much for me. Her new album, arriving a further seven years later, is a real return to form. Plenty of quirky songs that veer from dark masterpieces like Red, to gentle piano ballads, to strange electronic spoken word pieces. She's not one to rush things, but on this evidence that's no bad thing. Another exceptional video here.

What a record this is! Mali's finest Songhoy Blues have been building to this, their third album, which knocked me for six. As wll as the sociological lyrics that depict struggle and adversity, the power of the music is ramped up a notch, giving us their hardest hitting set of songs to date. "Ir Badala in Songhai means "I gon't give a fuck", and is inspired by the youth in Mali, especially young women, who are pushing back against patriarchy & societal controls. This song celebrates that courage, fearlessness & agency through the story of a woman ending her relationship, and choosing her own destiny."

BOB MOULD 'Blue Hearts'
After last year's album of sunny, happy songs, Bob made a quick turnaround with a record of extra-loud angry noise. In many ways, it sums up the times we live in, especially this past 12 bizarre months. My fave track on the album is also its most melodic, but its message is as powerful as Bob's usual barrage of sound!

IDLES 'Ultra Mono'
Having reached mainstream-level status, Idles are showing no signs of letting up. Some may write them off as punk for the woke generation, but you know what? They make great music. That's all I care about. 'Ultra Mono' saw the band reach out to friends and acquaintances, and as a result you'll hear David Yow of The Jesus Lizard shouting on this, as well as a piano intro from, erm, Jamie Cullum...

More to come next week.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

20 for 2020 #1

Well. Fuck me! That was one completely messed up year, wasn't it? The things we'll tell our grandchildren about 2020. The pessimist in me wonders if they'll say: "We know what a pandemic is granddad, we've had six of them in our liftetime!"

And on that jolly old prediction of the future, let's look back at the sounds that got me through the weirdest 12 months I've ever known. I've already told you about some of my fave records of the first half of 2020 in my Lockdown posts, but it's time to round up the whole damn year. There have been quite a lot of really good records, despite many getting delayed and delayed again, now not due until 2021. But, of those that did make it out into the big bad world, I've chosen what is probably my top 20. These are the albums that kept me going, the ones that made me smile, that made me sing, that made me feel some sense of normality when the rest of the world was bulk-buying bog roll, hand sanitiser and alcohol.

I'm going to give you five records a week for four Wednesdays - today you get my Top 5, the rest will be in no particular order. All five of these are nestled snugly in my vinyl collection.

I mentioned this album back in April and said it would be right up there on my best of the year list come December. And what do you know - it is. not only that, it holds the honour of being my album of the year. A wonderful record I haven't remotely tired of.

IST IST 'Architecture'
Another one I featured a while back - it's perhaps to easy to write off Manchester's Ist Ist as mere Joy Division revivalists, but while their debut album evokes the spirits of Ian Curtis et al, it also has some exceptional songs. So good they are in fact, that 'Architecture' is also one of MrsRobster's fave albums of 2020. High praise indeed.

THE BETHS 'Jump Rope Gazers'
New Zealand's best new band continue to show their worth. Their second album feels a little darker than its predecessor, yet after a few listens it truly sparkles. The title track could well be my song of the year. In Elizabeth Stokes, The Beths have one of the most promising songwriters in pop music right now. The video is, I think, some metaphor on falling in love. Personally, I think you should listen to the song without the visuals. It's perfect that way...

NADINE SHAH 'Kitchen Sink'
It's bound to happen one day that Nadine Shah will let us down, but she is showing no signs of that at the moment. 'Kitchen Sink' is another collection of songs tinged with biting social comment and sharp wit, delivered in Nadine's inimitable style.

And wrestling with Ist Ist for the title of debut album of the year is this little beauty. Katy J. Pearson has been teasing her album all year. When it finally arrived, we weren't disappointed. I absolutely love her voice, which certainly evokes Stevie Nicks in places - a very good thing in my book.

There'll be another selection next Wednesday.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

John Peel Day

My good blogging chum Webbie posted a tribute to the late great John Peel today, the anniversary of the legendary DJ's untimely passing over on JC's The (New) Vinyl Villain. I posted a comment which included links to the Peel podcasts I posted (and subsequently reposted) for Webbie's own Keeping It Peel project back in the day.

For some reason my comments haven't appeared on t(n)vv, so I thought I'd post them here instead. I've re-upped the files but they will only be available for a limited time. Enjoy them.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

The final lockdown

Yep, this really is it. Is This The Life? is going back to sleep. You may have noticed (or not) I've been doing some R.E.M. stuff for JC over at The (New) Vinyl Villain and will continue to do so. That's been fun up to now, far more fun than writing stuff for this place. Plus people actually read Jim's blog!

I'm signing off with something very loud, very heavy and very, very good. Japanese experimentalists Boris must be one of the most prolific bands in existence. Their discography is vast and complex so I'm not even going to hazard a guess at how many albums they've put out, but it's not unusual for them to release more than one album a year, with or without collaborators. No two albums sound the same, different styles are interwoven throughout their output over the years. Last year's 'LφVE & EVφL' sat proudly on my top 50 albums of 2019.

Boris' latest record was released a few weeks ago. Entitled 'NO', it harks back in places to their roots as a doom metal band, but it mainly has lots of of hardcore, thrash and black metal coursing through its veins. The songs are short - only three breach the five minute mark, with most clocking in at less than 3 - out of step with much of their other recent material. But these bursts of angry disgust provide the perfect soundtrack to our world right now. The band describes the album as "extreme healing music", a frantic catharsis in which the anger and frustrations many of us feel right now can be released in the form of a primal scream therapy with very, very loud guitars.

No, it's not for everybody, probably hardly anyone who's still reading, in fact. But for me, right now, this is aural heaven and is where this blog ends for the foreseeable future. I'm gone. Here's Anti-Gone. Stay safe.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #10

Rabbit Hole by SERA

(This originally appeared last Wednesday for a few hours until I learned of Tim Smith's sad passing. So I replaced it with a piece about Tim and held it over to this week to avoid it getting lost.)

SERA has been making music for a number of years now, both under her current moniker and as Sarah Louise. A North Walian with Polish heritage, she composes songs in Welsh and English and has released a series of singles since her debut album in 2016.

Rabbit Hole came out last summer and is a little gem, a mischievous folk song with a slightly ominous vibe. SERA releases most of her stuff on her Soundcloud page, and I highly recommend a visit.

This is the final post of the series. It's a good way to bow out, I reckon.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Singing to God: Tim Smith RIP

What a shit day. The genius that is Tim Smith, beloved frontman of Cardiacs, passed away in his sleep through the night. He is already sadly missed, despite his chronic illnesses meaning he hasn't made music for more than 10 years. At least we knew he was still here.

I'd like to point you towards my Tim Smith series from a few years back, even if you already know and love his work as much as I do. I'll be adding YouTube clips to the posts over the next day or so you can hear the great man's voice again. In the meantime though, here's a couple of songs to tide you over.

Rest easy Tim. Sing to God, and make sure she grants you your every wish.

(Today's Welsh Wednesday post has been replaced and will appear next week instead...)

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #9

Full Moon Vulture by Alffa

Alffa hail from Llanrug, a village near Caernarfon in North Wales. They're a duo very much in the Royal Blood mould, and somewhat predictably cite the likes of the White Stripes, Black Keys and Jimi Hendrix as influences. They've only been together five years, but there's something of a buzz about them already - in 2019, despite only having two singles out at the time, Spotify named them the most streamed Welsh language act of all time, garnering three million streams.

Since then, a full-length album has been released, the bi-lingual (and dual-titled) 'Rhyddid o’r Cysgodion Gwenwynig / Freedom from the Poisonous Shadows', featuring their first English language single Full Moon Vulture. 'Tis a bit of a beast of a song in truth, certainly bigger than a two-piece line-up suggests.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #8

Love Forever by Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard

It's the height of summer so time for a summer anthem. Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard hail from our capital, Cardiff, and have the second-silliest band name in this series. They make what can best be thought of as psychedelic glam rock, or what they themselves describe as “70s sheep in badly-made wolves clothing.”

Led by brothers Tom and Ed Rees (whose dad once drummed for the Bay City Rollers, no less), they've become huge favourites in their hometown and have released a string of the most catchy singles you're likely to come across on You Tube. They also provided last year's Homeless World Cup, held in Cardiff, with its official theme song. Their latest release, the 'Non-Stop' EP features 10 songs, which makes it the EP with the most songs ever released probably. I'm guessing ('cause I haven't heard it at the time of writing) some of the tracks are really short, but still, EP? It's out this week anyway.

The so-called EP doesn't contain today's track Love Forever, sadly. It was released last August and, to me at least, sums up all the best bits of Welsh psych-pop in the tradition of Sibrydion, Yr Ods and, of course, Super Furry Animals. Try listening to it without grinning your face off. It really is an antidote to the shit happening right now.

In a parallel universe where everything is better than the really fucked up one we're in, Love Forever would be being belted out at every festival on the planet.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #7

Paper Cups by Bryde

If Welsh Wednesday was still running when Bryde released her first album, she would undoubtedly have featured. Which is why I'm now taking the opportunity to introduce her to the uninitiated. Bryde is Sarah Howells from the west Wales port of Milford Haven. She formed her first band JYLT with her best friend Nia aged just 10. Tragically, Nia died of leukaemia at just 21.

Undeterred, Sarah continued playing, both as touring guitarist for Danish singer-songwriter Tina Dico, and as half of Paper Aeroplanes, who actually had a Welsh Wednesday post way back here, releasing two albums and receiving much acclaim. Sarah has also made a number of vocal contributions to trance records by the likes of Lange, First State and Paul van Dyk.

She launched her solo project Bryde in 2016 and released her debut album in 2018. There were some cracking tunes on there, as there are on her brand new record 'The Volume Of Things' which came out in May. Paper Cups has a 360° video, which means you can drag your mouse around the screen to reveal different elements. Don't get too excited, it's only got a dinosaur in it.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #6

Throw It Up by Seazoo

Seazoo featured in the original Welsh Wednesday series. Since then, they've released two full-length albums, including this year's 'Joy'. An apt album title because it's given me quite a bit of that these past few months. If you've not encountered Seazoo before, they're from North Wales and play lo-fi indie pop with a typically quirky Welsh feel to it.

Here's Throw It Up, one of the tracks from said new album.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: The WYCRA 200 articles #2

A few weeks after I wrote the Manics article, SWC and Badger asked me for another contribution and I was tasked with writing about someone who I'd followed since my first year in college aged just 16. I duly obliged with this piece.

THE WYCRA 200 #75
Human Behaviour - Björk

You couldn't make it up really. When I got involved in the boys' shenanigans involving their fave songs ever, the planets just sort of aligned. They sent me a song by the Manic Street Preachers, not only one of my fave bands, but practically local to my current place of residence. My long-running Welsh Wednesday series over at my place was still going, and Wales were taking Euro 2016 by storm. So I offered to do another one for them, and what happens? Badger only goes and send me a Björk track. I love Björk. No, I don't actually. I fucking ADORE her. I was also planning to do a series on the Icelandic music scene, and Iceland had also taken Euro 2016 by storm. Coincidence?

I remember when Human Behaviour came out (June 1993). I had been a massive fan of the Sugarcubes and Björk was, for me, the quirkiest pop star on the planet. I was gutted when they split as I had never managed to see them live, and let's face it, three albums was simply not enough. You can imagine my excitement when I heard Björk was going solo and that within a year of the 'Cubes break-up, her first single would be out.

I don't know why, but I was expecting something very different to Human Behaviour, something - I dunno - more indie? The final Sugarcubes release was a brilliant album of remixes featuring some of the top producers of the time (Justin Robertson, Todd Terry, Marius deVries, etc) so I should have been prepared for something a little more electronic I suppose. But no, I heard Human Behaviour and my heart sunk.

There was a girl who worked in the indie record shop I spent far too much time and money in who, for some reason, had a massive crush on me. I found her a little scary, mainly because she was a few years older than me, and I'd never had anyone take such an interest in me like that before. One afternoon, she dropped by my work and gave me a bag that clearly had a record in it. "I got you a present," she said. "I thought of you when it came in." It was the 12" of Human Behaviour.

I've come to like Human Behaviour quite a bit in the intervening years. Those timpani drums that echo throughout in time (and tune) with the bass make it sound all brooding and ominous. There's a lot of cool stuff going on in it, and it's not all that electronic-sounding really. Some nice growling guitars, an understated rustling snare drum and, of course, Björk's voice at the centre of it all. It's masterfully put together, a great production by Nellee Hooper. In fact, it's not unlike Massive Attack in places, probably for that reason.

The album - craftily-titled 'Debut', even though it was actually Björk's second solo effort, following some 16 years after this - sounds rather dated to these ears nowadays. Human Behaviour still stands up, probably because it is the least electronic track on it. I also still love Crying. But the trouble with electronic music is that it rarely stands the test of time, the sounds get left behind as the technology changes. A lot of 'Debut' suffers from that, I reckon.

I have grown into Björk's solo career over the years. 'Biophilia' is one of my favourite records of the decade - Crystalline floors me every time - and she remains one of pop's most interesting characters at a time when people making pop records have become so incredibly dull and boring. Maybe one day she'll run out of ideas and call it a day, but I doubt it'll be any time soon.

Oh, in case you were wondering about the girl from the record shop and I - it didn't really develop. She was a nice girl and all, but really not my type. I suppose I could have strung her along in the hope of getting more free records, but I'm not that kind of guy. Not exactly SWC and Our Price Girl, I'm afraid...

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #5

Army Of Two by Jack Perrett

Some homegrown talent on display today. Jack Perrett is from Newport. Hurray! He's been performing since 2014 and has received plaudits from all and sundry across Wales and beyond. There are no frills with Jack - he's a straightforward indie singer-songwriter who has been compared to the likes of Jake Bugg, Stone Roses, and other such luminaries.

He's a big Newport County fan, performing at matches on a number of occasions. In fact, his paen to his hometown Portlife (a pastiche of a little known song from some 25 years ago...) is often played over the PA at home games. He also supports other Newport sports teams including St Julians Rugby Club and the Riot City Ravens roller derby league, which is based approximately 100 paces from my house!

Army Of Two was a single he released last year, and in the video there's two of him - a Liam and a Noel. you'll see what I mean. Good tune.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: The WYCRA 200 articles #1

Most, if not all of my readers will remember a wonderful blog that once existed called When You Can't Remember Anything (WYCRA), hosted by the dynamic duo of South West Correspondent (SWC) and the late Tim Badger. How these two were so consistently funny and brilliant never ceased to amaze me. After WYCRA came to an unexpected end, they reformed a while later with the equally brilliant The Sound Of Being OK (TSOBO), this time joined by the wonderful Kay (KC/KT).

Devastatingly, as we know, Tim passed away suddenly last year and it knocked everyone for six. As such, TSOBO closed for good. However, I did have the enormous honour of writing a couple of pieces for the boys under the WYCRA banner as part of their series entitled The WYCRA 200, in which they listed their top 200 tracks and asked friends and contributors to write about some of them too. The list never reached its conclusion, but I did do a couple of articles for them which, for posterity's sake, I've decided to reproduce here. As they didn't pay me for my work (and I'm certainly not cheap), I've assumed the Copyright on the articles so publish and be damned, I figure!

I don't recall when they were originally published, but the date stamp on the Word documents I wrote them in show they were written in the summer of 2016. Here's the first one.

THE WYCRA 200 - #101
Spectators Of Suicide [Heavenly version] - Manic Street Preachers

Funny how things turn out, isn't it? When asked for a number by SWC and Badger, I plumped, totally randomly, for 101. And so it is that the writer of a 100-part series on Welsh music and a fan of the Manic Street Preachers ends up with a Manics tune to write about. Who'd've thunk it, eh?

SWC insists that the version of Spectators of Suicide to be critiqued here is the one that appeared on the b-side of the original release of You Love Us on the Heavenly label in 1991. Most people will be more familiar with the re-recorded take that turned up on the debut album 'Generation Terrorists' the following year. Both versions are radically different to each other, both in terms of the music, the vocals and the overall mood. Opinion is generally split amongst fans over which is the superior version.

There are several reasons why Spectators Of Suicide is such a notable moment in the Manics' history. It is, apparently, the track where label bosses at Heavenly decided the Manics were a proper band and should be taken seriously. It was also the first clear indication of the band's manifesto, a distillation of their core ideals and themes that would shape their future output. Spectators... is essentially an anti-capitalist song, though it reflects the tiredness and resignation of those who have tried, and failed, to fight the system. James' vocals on this version are weary and subdued, singing Richey's words with a sigh:

The only free choice is the refusal to pay / Life reduced to suicidal comforting

While held in high regard by many fans, there are various conflicting elements in this original that may lie behind the reasons for the song being redone for the album. For starters, the opening sample of Black Panthers founder Bobby Seale urging his audience to rise up against the government is at odds with the song's passivity. And while James' vocal does live up to the feelings expressed in the lyrics, it perhaps underplays the power of the words within. They kind of get lost among the guitars which at times just seem a little too edgy and bright.

The subsequent album version changed the dynamic. The acoustic guitars present in the original were much more prominent with the electrics tamed somewhat, not only set further back in the mix, but also predominantly swathed in effects. Sean's drums were more restrained and complimented with other percussion, while James employed his trademark higher-register voice to belt out the despair and anguish of the lyrics.

I could make the case for the album version being the better one, but this is SWC and Badger's list, not mine. Besides, the original should be judged on its own merits and it has long been heralded as one of the first signs of the Manics' true qualities as a band. It hinted that there might just be some substance behind the eyeliner.

Here's that original version, which later appeared on the b-sides compilation 'Lipstick Traces':

And here's the re-recorded version from the debut album:

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #4

The Spaceships Of Ezekiel by Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard

Today's band once declared that "all band names are stupid". To this end, they dubbed themselves Massive Weed Wizard Bastard, possibly the stupidest band name ever. But don't let that put you off. No, don't. Because Wrexham's MWWB (as I shall be calling them) make one almighty racket that has been whomping my dark soul for a few years now.

As they put it: "[We are] three ape descendants and an astral seraphim combining their powers to generate colossal interstellar arias of plutonium weight." Indeed they are. Essentially, if you want a description of their sound, it's kind of psychedelic, sci-fi doom metal. Yep, I thought I'd lose pretty much all my readers with that. Regardless, here's a track from MWWB's third album 'Yn Ol I Annwn' (trans: 'Return To The Underworld'), released last year. And ROCK like the proverbial bastard it most certainly does.

The video is a homage to John Carpenter's 80s sci-fi horror movies, and it's littered with references to his films.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: The birds in our garden

MrsRobster has been hard at work in our garden during the lockdown (that is when she hasn't been working stupid shifts and having to sleep during the day). She's always wanted to attract more birds, and finally, this year, her efforts have paid off. Thanks to the beautiful plants and trees she's bought and planted, and the birdbaths she made, we've been inundated with finches, wrens and tits over the past couple of weeks.

She loves to sit and watch them, camera in hand, waiting to capture the moments when they take a dip or have a drink. It's not as if we don't have wildlife round our way - we're just a stone's throw from a stretch of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, numerous parts of which we've walked over recent years. We often see ducks, swans, moorhens, coots and even the occasional heron on the canal. We've had toads and hedgehogs in the garden before (and, unfortunately, some rather large rats), but the birds have often bypassed our place in favour of our neighbours. But not this year - Ha!

Earlier in the week, I had a close encounter at a garden centre we visited. There I was, happily pushing our trolley towards the checkout, when a rather stern mummy chaffinch landed on the floor in front of me. She told me, at great length and in no uncertain terms, to stay well clear of her babies or else (not that I actually speak chaffinch or anything, but that was the gist of it). She then flew up to the nesting box on the wall to my immediate right where her chicks were waiting for dinner. MrsRobster found it most amusing, but as I told her, I'm used to being scolded by a stroppy female, so...

Of course, this song springs to mind immediately. It's my favourite track from Pulp's best - and final - album 'We Love Life'. I told MrsRobster I had this song in my head thanks to her birdwatching. "Isn't it about sex?" she asked. "Of course it is," I replied. "That's pretty much all Jarvis Cocker ever wrote about!" An absolutely wonderful track.

It may not have escaped your notice that Mr Cocker has a new musical project called Jarv Is... and an album is imminent. Should be a good one if the singles are anything to go on. Here's an extended remix of the recent single House Music All night Long.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #3

Face Down Strut by Gwenifer Raymond

Here's something the likes of which I've never posted on the blog before. I'm lifting straight from the artist's bio as it says everything you need to know:

Gwenifer Raymond is a Welsh multi-instrumentalist, originally from Cardiff but now residing in Brighton, England. Gwenifer began playing guitar at the age of eight shortly after having been first exposed to punk and grunge. After years of playing around the Welsh valleys in various punk outfits she began listening more to pre-war blues musicians as well as Appalachian folk players, eventually leading into the guitar players of the American Primitive genre. She has since been playing her own moody and often-times manic original American Primitive styled compositions on guitar and banjo around the UK and the US.

Gwenifer's debut album ‘You Never Were Much Of A Dancer’(great title) has found much critical favour, and here's a track from it played live in the outdoors.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #2

It's All About The Dolphins by Das Koolies

Super Furry Animals have been in hibernation for some time now. Sure, they peeked out of their burrow briefly during Euro 2016 to sing for the Welsh team, and individually they've been busy with various forays overground. Back in the day though, they often mentioned a mysterious outfit called Das Koolies, a kind of Super Furry Animals from a parallel universe. Well, the thing is, while they are still officially sleeping, four Furries have revealed themselves to be Das Koolies and made some wonderful music together.

Bunf, Cian, Daf and Guto released a bloody superb debut single back in January. It's a throbbing, bass-heavy slab of psychedelic electro-pop about a super not-so-furry species. It's All About The Dolphins melted my brain without additional substances back in the winter, so lord only knows what it could have done this summer if there was a party season. If Ibiza was Welsh, this is what it would be sounding like in 2020, coronavirus or no coronavirus.

No idea if an album is on the way, I really hope so if this is anything to go by. But you know what these guys are like. Maybe if Wales do well again at the rescheduled Euros next year, we might get another few minutes out of them.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

The Lockdown posts: Miss World

This might evolve into a mini-series of sorts, it might be just a one off. But, here's a few tunes from around the world by female artists. It's nowhere near the grand scale of my World Tour a few years back, but you know, there's a pandemic and everything...

We start in South America - Argentina to be precise - and the latest album by post-punk duo Las Kellies. 'Suck This Tangerine' is their seventh album, the fifth on legendary British indie label Fire Records.

I first featured Tricot in my It Came From Japan series, and now they're back with their sixth album,'真っ黒' or 'Makkuro' if you prefer. It translates as 'Pitch Black' and continues their trend of complex math-rock, although there's a darker air to this record which I suppose is hinted at by the title.

I've posted about Agnes Obel before too, as part of the World Tour's visit to Denmark. She's just released her fourth album 'Myopia' and it sounds much more like a return to her early sound of piano-led songs as opposed to the gentle electronic moods of her last record. Some gorgeous tracks on this. Here's a live version of one of them recorded pre-lockdown.

More travels soon? We'll see...

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Lockdown posts: Welsh Wednesday 2020 #1

Madryn by Georgia Ruth
Remember Welsh Wednesday? Of course you don't, it was such a long time ago. To recap, each Wednesday featured a track by a Welsh artist. That was it. Clever, yet simple. There were 100 chapters, all of which you can read here, though most of the songs will have disappeared by now. Still, you can easily find them online if you can be arsed.

Anyway, today I'm bringing it back for as long as I can stay interested in it. I'm going to prepare a few in advance so expect some more in coming weeks.

I'm starting off with someone who I could have sworn I'd featured in the original series, but it turns out she didn't. Instead, she got a fleeting mention in an early post I made about Welsh music which actually inspired the series. I speak, of course, of Aberwystwyth's own Georgia Ruth, harpist, bi-lingual singer-singwriter and winner of the 2013 Welsh Music Prize with her debut album. She recently released her third album 'Mai', which marks a real return to form following her disappointing dalliance with electronic beats on her second record.

Welsh and English take turns on 'Mai' and it's rather lovely. The album was largely inspired by the birth of her first child, and the song Madryn is dedicated to him. Madryn was the name of the estate owned by Liberal polititian Sir Love Jones-Parry, who in 1865 sailed with 150 men and women to Patagonia. They founded Porth Madryn at the port where they landed. Now known as Puerto Madryn, it was the earliest Welsh settlement in South America, and along with other towns in the Chubut province, still celebrates St. David's Day every 1st of March.

History lesson over - here's the music. 

Monday, 18 May 2020

The Lockdown posts: Well, actually.... (or Alternative Kitchen Disco #6)

One more. Just the one. Thing is, I genuinely did dry up, I was bored, I ran out of things to say, I just couldn't be arsed. But MrsRobster keeps coming up with these brilliant kitchen/music puns, and I keep hearing equally brill music I want to share.

You'll recognise the song which gave MrsRobster the inspiration for the above grafitti on our cooker splash plate. She'd just made two exquisite and delicious cheesecakes - chocolate with Mint Aero pieces, and white chocolate (made with Milky Bars) which is particularly good with a handful of fresh raspberries and a small drizzle of coulis! Yum!

During our kitchen exploits this week, we've both been really taken by the debut album from Manchester's Ist Ist. I've missed these guys up to now and have rightly kicked myself quite hard for that. I reckon some of you might already be aware of them, not least because they are exactly the sort of band that Swiss Adam and Walter would feature, so apologies if they already have. But if Ist Ist have eluded you as well, then within the first few seconds of this track you'll know immediately who they model themselves on, what with their Ian Curtis-style vocals and the Hooky-esque bass sound. Flippin' good though.

Ron and Russel Mael have been in the industry for 52 years. 52! As Sparks they've created some of the wittiest, catchiest and most intelligent pop music you'll have heard in those five decades. They've just released their 24th studio album - they've clearly still got it and totally deserve the resurgence of commercial success they're currently enjoying. The guitars have been brought a bit more to the fore on this one, and even if the record is perhaps a couple of tracks too long, there's plenty of gems to enjoy. And they still sound quintessentially Sparks!

The homemade playlist of the week comes from Ride. No need to write about them, the dilemma is what track to post. I puzzled over it for a while - an old classic? One of the really good new ones? An obscure lost gem? But in the end, there's only one track that really rises to the occasion every time, one of my 50 songs to take to my grave, the gargantuan beast that is Leave Them All Behind. I found this superb live performance at the KEXP studios a couple of years back. Andy Bell's guitar sounds enormous, even though he never looks like he can be arsed.

I shan't promise there'll be more as I honestly don't know if there will. But I'm not saying there won't be either...

Friday, 8 May 2020

The Lockdown posts: ¡Hasta mañana!

I knew this would happen. The lockdown continues but my interest in the blog doesn't. Another indefinite hiatus beckons. It's been pretty quiet around here to be fair. So as a parting gift to the small handful of you who bothered to drop by, I'm going to leave you with a few new songs to enjoy.

There's a new album by The Beths on the way. Hurrah! I already have my coloured vinyl on order. The New Zealand combo released one of the best debut albums of the past few years in 2018 so I'm really looking forward to this one. A good, fun video accomanying the new single too.

Woodkid was the first act featured in my epic World Tour series a few years back, when we crossed the channel into France. He's been doing all sorts of work since his debut album in 2013, including (but not limited to) composing movie scores, making music for Louis Vuitton and directing videos for the likes of Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Lana Del Rey! There's some names I never expected to write on these pages. Anyway, he's finally got around to recording a new album and here's the first single from it.

You may already know how much I adore Nadine Shah, one of the most intense and riveting live performers I've ever seen. She's about to unleash her fourth album 'Kitchen Sink' (another one I have on pre-order), and there are already three tracks released from it. I think the title track is my favourite of them.

Arguably the most eagerly-anticipated record of 2020 so far is the new one from Fontaines D.C. The follow-up to last year's extraordinary debut, 'A Hero's Death' was recorded in California as they felt the songs are more influenced by the Beach Boys! The thick Dublin accents are still intact, but there are a couple of "ooooohhh"s in there. The title track was released to much fanfare on Tuesday, and here is the rather odd video.

And finally, something new from something old. I can't say I was ever a big fan of the Psychedelic Furs, although obviously they made a few classic singles in the 80s I'm always more than happy to hear. But they've now released three excellent songs to prelude their new album 'Made Of Rain' their first album of new material for - get this - 29 years! It would have been out last Friday, but it's been delayed until the end of July. I reckon it could be a very decent comeback.

Farewell once more dear friends. I hope we meet under better circumstances next time.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Lockdown posts: Alternative Kitchen Disco #5

I think MrsRobster may have just peaked, because I don't think even she can top this one! Mind, I'm not sure if it translates as well overseas. Do you get Cadbury's Heroes outside the UK? Whatever, a day free of cooking and just eating chocolate is not a bad idea, particularly in the current climate. Anyway, it provoked a proper bellylaugh from me which made her happy.

On Sunday night, MrsRobster made one of her famous vegetable casseroles, so I was tasked with cooking up the accompaniments. This was done to the latest album by ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. Their tenth album 'X: The Godless Void and Other Stories' was one of the earliest releases of 2020 and is one of my most-played records of the year. If you know Trail Of Dead's music, you kind of know what to expect, suffice to say they have really picked up their form again with the last couple of albums. This one is pretty intense in places, and repeated listens are rewarding. My favourite song on it is Blaze Of Wind, but that doesn't have a video, so here's the excellent title track instead.

Torres (aka MacKenzie Scott) has been a little hit and miss for me over the years. Her last album in particular left me cold, though I think I was swayed by her insistence on making videos that strayed into soft porn territory. I'm not into anyone who has to try and shock people to that extent and I kind of switch off. This time around though, she's nailed it. 'Silver Tongue' is a fantastic album. Often understated but heartfelt - and some really good songs as well. Dressing America is one of my favourites of 2020.

My homemade playlist today comes from our beloved Lush. On 30th May 1994, Lush took the then unusual step of releasing two singles on the same day to precede their third album 'Split'. Desire Lines and Hypocrite couldn't have been more different to each other - the former is slow, brooding and lasting in excess of seven minutes, the latter an acerbic three-minute blast of pop punk which hinted at the band's future direction. For me, 'Split' is Lush at their pinnacle, a soaring ride of emotion. I couldn't decide which of the two videos to post as I love them both, so what the hell, I'm feeling generous. And a double dose of Miki Berenyi at her finest is as good as it gets. *sigh*

(The "thwack" noise you may have just heard is from MrsRobster's open hand making contact with my head...)

Lush broke through, finally, to the mainstream with their next album before tragedy struck and it all came screeching to a halt. Imagine how big they might have been.

More kitchen capers at the weekend.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

The Lockdown posts: Alternative Kitchen Disco #4

...and the puns just keep on coming. MrsRobster's latest attempt at humour surprised me to say the least. The words, as you may know, come from Hello, Goodbye by The Beatles. Now MrsRobster is one of those strange people who doesn't get the Beatles. I put it down to being too young to appreciate them. So a Beatles lyric was unexpected, even moreso when you consider it's one of Paul's. Macca is MrsRobster's nemesis. She has this irrational hatred of the man. Yes, he's irritating; yes, he was only the third-best Beatle. But he did write Hey Jude and Band On The Run, so not all bad. Mind, he also gave us the Frog Chorus, so maybe she has a point...

Anyway, here's the latest instalment in my kitchen soundtrack this week. First up is 'Walking Like We Do', the new album by The Big Moon who we saw supporting Pixies last autumn. Now, it's not as good as their debut as they've gone all pop with lots of keyboards 'n' all. It's a bit hit and miss, often lacking the energy of their earlier work. But there is enough about it to make me play it a few times. A couple of tracks are actually very good, like this one which would be one of my singles of the year so far if it wasn't actually released last September. They missed the boat I reckon, this is a summer tune if ever I've heard one.

'Viscerals', the new album by the band with my most favourite name ever - Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - sees them expand their sonic range to new levels. The songs may be getting shorter (five of its eight songs come in at less than five minutes) but the ideas are bigger than ever. The ominous drones and slow, heavy riffs are still in abundance, but there's some thrash, punk, psych - think Sabbath meets Rollins and then some. Throw in lyrics containing social comment with a heavy dose of wit and you get this beast of a motherfucker! And I bought it on 'blood & guts' coloured vinyl too.

Another of my homemade playlists to finish off with. I have an evolving Best Of The Wedding Present, which initially contained 40 songs, and currently stands at 70. It has all the singles, plus various album tracks, b-sides, covers, radio sessions... all sorts of things. One of the most recent updates I made was to add this wonderful version of Bewitched to it. It follows the release of the Marc Riley Sessions Volume 4, featuring two performances they did on Riley's 6 Music show in 2017. On this occasion, they brought a full string section with them - and it sounds amazing!

At least another week or two of lockdown to go, so I suppose I'll be back next week. Maybe.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The Lockdown posts: Alternative Ditchen Disco #3

I'm getting bored of this already. The most interesting and entertaining bit of it is MrsRobster's missives. The other day she scrawled "Don't go bacon my heart", before replacing it with the equally witty(?) one above. The arrow is a nice touch as our wok is indeed kept in a cupboard to the left.

Anyway, a few more records that have accompanied my culinary efforts this past week or so, starting with a couple of new ones from two of my favourite female artists. Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, is getting better and better. Her fifth album 'Saint Cloud' has some of her best songs to date. To be honest, it took a bit of time to grow on me. It doesn't have any of the energetic rockers her last couple of records had, this one is much more laid back, almost a country album, definitely Americana (so one for CC I reckon). But what I love best about it is the songwriting and production. There are some wonderful touches on it that really bring the songs to life, displaying what a great songwriter she's become. It's a bit early to be talking about albums of the year, but I reckon this one will be right up there for me come December.

Laura Marling is amazing, isn't she? I mean, she only turned 30 in February and yet she's just released her seventh (SEVENTH) solo album, and there's not a duff one among them. Although I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed by her last one 'Semper Femina' - it all sounded a bit too Joni Mitchell to my ears. 'Song For Our Daughter' was originally due in August, but because of the lockdown, she decided to let us have it now instead. How lovely of her. There are some excellent songs on it, and this one is probably the most achingly beautiful yet heartbreaking songs you'll hear this year. Try not to shed a tear as you listen.

And now some not-so-new stuff... I have a compilation I made of my favourite R.E.M. tracks. Each album is represented (except, obviously, 'Around The Sun') and the hits are noticeable by their absence. I was thinking what track from it to post here and almost opted for the video of Driver 8. But I typed in Harbocoat to see what came up. These did. Two fascinating live performances at very different stages of their career. First up, from a German TV show in 1985, four skinny lads and some questionable dancing, summing up what I think you'll agree was a band getting very close to their performance peak (four years later they did the 'Green Tour' and nothing was the same again)...

And then there's this, coming in 2007. A fan filmed this from the crowd in Dublin and synched it to the officially-released track from the live album recorded at the same show. Stipe could never remember the words to the early songs, mainly because he never actually wrote them down. So whenever they did a run through of an early classic, he trawled the internet for the lyrics which he claims were nearly always wrong! Older Stipe and Buck don't throw themselves around like they used to, although Buck does at least move about! Watch out for the harmonica anti-solo from Scott McCaughey, and of course, the late Bill Rieflin on drums who succumbed to cancer only last month. Rest easy Bill.

Sorry, I rambled on a bit there. Hey, it's R.E.M. - what did you expect?

Saturday, 25 April 2020

The Lockdown posts: Alternative Kitchen Disco #2

What the effin' heck does that mean? Drop what like it's hot? Well, apparently it's the act of a lady with an ample behind crouching and shaking it provocatively as seen in pretty much every hip-hop video in the last 10 years. It became popular through a Snoop Dogg song of the same name. Quite how MrsRobster came across this term is a mystery, but she thought it provided a link between the kitchen and music so daubed it across the splashboard in place of her previous work.

For the record, I have not been playing any hip-hop or r&b of late, and certainly nothing that one can "drop it like it's hot" to. But I have soundtracked my kitchen exploits with the following in the last few days:

I initially tried the new Anna Burch album but turned it off after a few tracks. Its unchanging mid-tempo plod was not exactly a cure for boredom. So I put the debut album by London duo Sorry on instead. That was much better. I know very little about his pair, only recently becoming acquainted with them, but they seem to throw various influences in the same pot and manage to make it work. I can detect all sorts of things in their sound, but I'll let you try and spot some of them. Liking this a lot.

The new album by Milk Teeth is also giving me pleasure. Yes, it does sound rather 90s, but you know - good 90s. Like, Veruca Salt 90s. What the hell, anything's better than the neverending 80s obsession that's lasting longer than the 80s ever did! Milk Teeth's parents clearly had some good records!

And on Thursday night, I also played the new Le Butcherettes EP again. Short, yeah, but better than nothing. As you'd expect, there's all sorts going on in such a short amount of time. This video sees Teri and Marfred do Misery. If I'm being honest, I think I'd be far more afraid of Teri than Kathy Bates, however awesome I think she is!

Not sure you can 'drop it' to any of these tunes, but they're pretty 'hot'. Whatever that means.