Sunday, April 24, 2005

they are the champions

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the best band in the world today, The Bad Plus. In their own words they are a "power piano trio" and I couldn't put it better myself. The picture above was taken by me (yes, I really was that close to the front) at their Birmingham date last year which was the greatest live performance I've ever seen - FACT.

Reid Anderson plays bass, Ethan Iverson plays piano and Dave King plays drums and live at least, it's Dave King's show. Pulling out all sorts of mad percussion instruments, kids toys, pots and pans, you name it. He also rules the school on this track, which is the first song I heard by them.

The Bad Plus - And Here We Test Our Powers Of Observation

The thing about The Bad Plus live experience is how much of a blast they seem to be having while they're dismantling their music right in front of your eyes - like a herd of bulls let loose in a jazz record shop, if you'll forgive the tortuous metaphor.

Which is not to say it's anarchy for it's own sake - they know their "chops" and are working in the grand tradition of other traditionalist-anarchists as Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman - jazz musicians who knew their history and had respect for the music's source in the blues but just needed to fit it to what they heard in their own heads.

They have built up a reputation for some great deconstructions of pop hits - Aphex Twin, Nirvana, Blondie. They even ended up supporting Pixies after they heard their version of "Velouria" - a version that, dare I say it, kicks ten tonnes more arse than Mr Francis' original. Here's their version of a Black Country/Black Metal classic. My favourite moment in music from 2004 occurs at 4:29

The Bad Plus - Iron Man

They've just released a live album called "Blunt Object" which you can only buy online, and it's one of the most ferocious recordings I've ever heard - it's worth the price of admission just for their version of "We Are the Champions".

Buy "Give" by The Bad Plus 
visit and buy "Blunt Object - Live in Tokyo"

the grunge hollies

The Posies - I May Hate You Sometimes

The Posies are as musically orthodox as Throwing Muses were musically unorthodox. In the grand tradition of The Byrds, Big Star and Teenage Fanclub they write big shiny pop songs on big shiny guitars and I love them for that.

'I may hate you sometimes' is from their first album, Failure, made as a couple of teenagers in Jon Auer's Dad's basement (how cutely American!) I love the harmonies and that thrumming McCartney- esque bass.

The Posies - Solar Sister 

By the time 'Frosting on the Beater' was released in 1993 Grunge was making its presence felt and being a Seattle band The Posies had absorbed the influence while staying true to the big pop.

The Posies seem to be a going concern today, I saw them play an acoustic set a few years ago with a brilliant version of Thirteen by Big Star, they back Alex Chilton whenever he breaks cover and Ken Stringfellow plays in REM's touring band. The Posies are a great band whenever you want the musical equivalent of comfort food!

Buy 'Frosting on the Beater' here
Buy 'Failure' here

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

burning down the house

Throwing Muses have to be one of the great forgotten bands of our time. The slashing twin guitars of Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly; Leslie Langston's intricately melodic bass playing; the military drumming of Dave Narcizo; all used to depict the "streams-of-consciousness" of a 19 year old housewife, in songs that would just as soon as stroke your face as bite it off.

At times they could seem incredibly claustrophobic and intense, but I've always found them exhilarating to listen to - as the cliché goes, anything can happen and it usually does. The earlier recordings, like "Snail Head" from the "Chains Changed EP" (1987 -re-released on "In A Doghouse" in 1998), mix the art-punk-funk of bands like The Slits with the acid-fried visions of Americana from "Meat Puppets II".

Throwing Muses - Snail Head

When I was in my last year of school I always had to have a C-90 cassette in my possession that had Pixies' "Surfer Rosa" on one side and Throwing Muses' "House Tornado" on the other. Couldn't leave home without it! "House Tornado" from 1988 is still one of my "Top 10" albums and the title really sums it up; as Kristin Hersh said herself, "The idea of the savage housewife is intensely appealing."

Throwing Muses - Mexican Women

Throwing Muses always suffered from the idea that, whereas (for example) Captain Beefheart can be described as a MAD GENIUS, Kristin Hersh got tarred, like so many other challenging female artists, with the KOOKY brush. Even worse, when it was revealed that Kristin Hersh had suffered with "bipolarity" or manic depression from an early age, many critics said, "oh well, that's why her songs are so WEIRD - she wasn't in control", something that Hersh refuted:
It has been suggested that I was insane during the Muses early days, something I have vehemently denied in my effort to prove that this stuff could come out of our girlfriends, our sisters, our mothers. Listening now, I wonder if I was all there, but maybe that was the point. Our girlfriends, sisters and mothers have been known to go elsewhere at times, too.
(from the sleeve notes to "In A Doghouse")

Throwing Muses released their final album in 2003. Kristin Hersh continues to make the good stuff both on her own and with her new band 50 Foot Wave. It took me ages to pick the songs for this post so I'll probably return to Throwing Muses again!
Buy In A Doghouse
Buy House Tornado

Sunday, April 17, 2005

i'm so green

Al Green - L-O-V-E (love)

The first line gets me every time:

“I started to write this song about you, and then I decided, that I would write it all about love... “
In 1975 Al Green was a troubled man. Not yet 'the reverend’ and with a head full of spiritual turmoil he recorded ‘Is Love’, a flawed and difficult album that did nothing to bring his career out of decline.

But since buying it on a whim years ago, this album has seen me through. From directionless late twenties to respectable(?) family man, it still holds a mysterious appeal to me.

How could it not?

It’s ‘make out music’ with a side order if existential angst. It’s the sound of an internal wrestling match between with the sacred and the secular sides of love. It’s life affirming stuff...
...and when Al sings you can actually hear his SOUL.

Buy Al Green Is Love

Saturday, April 16, 2005

the guitar face

The Isley Brothers- Who loves you better

In Johnny Domino we often use the 'guitar face', the wide variety of gurns, grimaces and pouts employed by guitarists as they are sent into orbit by their axe-manship. Steve Domino is a particularly fine exponent of the 'guitar face'.

This track by the Isley Brothers provides huge scope for guitar gurning. By the mid-70's the Isleys were a soul/funk show band who dressed in high pimp fashion. Ernie Isley is rockin' his axe through some kind of filter, probably a Q-tron, it sounds well dirty.

We all eventually turn into our Dads, I accept this but I never expected my CD collection to start resembling my Dads so closely. He would play The Isley Brothers on Sunday mornings through his 'hi-fi' and funk his thang.

Buy 'Greatest Hits' by The Isley Brothers

Monday, April 11, 2005

i'm charging you vis murder

Propaganda- The Murder Of Love

In the Eighties it was okay to be a pretentious pop star ....not just normal 'Damon Albarn' pretentious but really, really pretentious. Even Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran had a book of his Polaroids published... which weren't as good as David Sylvian's!

The most pretentious label of the mid-eighties had to be Paul Morley's ZTT. They even managed to peddle Frankie Goes To Hollywood as an art-rock happening rather than a bunch of scallies and their gay chums.

'A Secret Wish' by Propaganda summed up the ZTT thing. A neurotic, slightly pervy art-Abba, Propaganda were classically trained, po-faced and intoned heavy stuff in German. I loved their album 'A Secret Wish' as I thought it made me seem ever so tasteful and black-polo-necked rather than bleached and mulleted like my Paul Calf-ish classmates....and the wonder is that my head remained resolutely un-kicked in!

'Murder of Love' sums up the Propaganda experience, all Germ- Lish, sweeping synths and a production that probably cost millions.

Buy 'A Secret Wish'