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.