Saturday, July 30, 2005

how sweet

Matthew Sweet- You Don't Love Me
Matthew Sweet has made consistently listenable power-poppy albums but 'Girlfriend' from 1991 is the essential purchase. Released at a time when increasingly mardy grunge was the dominant force, this was a breath of fresh air. The pop songs were nice and fuzzy round the edges which meant it avoided the dreaded 'twee' label and the presence of glitterati from the CBGB's scene like Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine gave the album instant cred.

It is the songwriting, though, that makes 'Girlfriend' a classic. Made in the wake of a divorce (I think) the ballads are touching and bittersweet. 'You don't love me' should be up there with Nilsson's 'Without You' and Eric Carmen's 'All by Myself' as a big standard break-up song. Matthew Sweet knows how to put chords together and when the solo should come...this is, in this case, a GOOD thing.

Matthew Sweet - Superdeformed
'Superdeformed' is a B-side from the 'Girlfriend' EP. 'Warm and punchy' is a banned phrase in Johnny Domino recording sessions but I think this sounds 'warm and punchy'. Like Teenage Fanclub's 'Grand Prix' this is not complicated or demanding music, it just feels good... and that's often a GOOD thing.

Buy 'Girlfriend' by Matthew Sweet
Visit Matthew Sweet

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

music for chameleons

Japan - Swing
There is a scene in one of the Alan Partridge series where Alan mimes fretless bass in his static caravan to Gary Numan's 'Music for Chameleons'. I think the writers missed a trick here, it should have been Japan. Mick Karn's gelatinous bass playing was one of Japan's USP's along with David Sylvian's foggy crooning. Sure, they were derivative, stylised and pretentious but they were a surefire way of getting to talk to the artiest and usually prettiest girls in school.

In terms of heaviest turntable rotation my favourite album of all time must be 1980's 'Gentlemen take Polaroids'. For about 3 years it held off all other challenges. It's an odd one, 8 tracks of long synth and bass dominated songs with little in the way of the trad songwriting values that I hold dear but it sounds great and drips with atmosphere. The synth sounds are a million miles from the lo-fi bleeps of the OMD post. It's a multi-layered and sophisticated record and an acquired taste.

Japan - All Tomorrows Parties
I know this version of 'All Tomorrows Parties' will irritate some Velvets purists. Tough, I think it captures the sleazy, trash glam aspect of the early Velvet Underground better than most cover versions.

I'm off to play a bit of air bass....

Buy Gentlemen take Polaroids - Japan
Visit Nightporter

Sunday, July 24, 2005

he used to go stag, now he's got a hag

I'm a massive fan of Tom Waits, right up to and including last year's "Real Gone" album.

I love all the mad "Kurt-Weil-meets- Captain-Beefheart" stuff, the mad music-hall tunes, the storytelling, the human beatbox, the shouting and the bonerattling.

But I also love this stuff. Recorded in 1971, this at first sounds like a totally different person - where did the later crazed barking voice come from?? But if you listen carefully. it's still him - the beautifully written portraits of damaged people, the wry sense of humour and the real sense of songwriting craft.

This guy really knows what he's doing; the lyrics are fantastic (if you can listen to "Poncho's Lament" without feeling a little bit teary, then I don't think there's much hope for you) and even though the settings are a bit more low-key and maybe a bit more trad, you can see links to what he did later. Including an obsession with people called Frank.

Tom Waits - Poncho's Lament 
Tom Waits - I'm Your Late Night Evening Prostitute 
Tom Waits - Frank's Song

[songs not available online]

I think I read somewhere that Tom Waits hates this stuff himself - with the greatest of respect, I think he's missing a trick.

Visit Tom Waits 
Buy The Early Years Vol. 1

Monday, July 18, 2005

happy! happy! joy! joy!

... or "sometimes it snows on April".

April March is a cool lady.

She used to be one of the main animators on "Ren & Stimpy" (she also co-wrote and recorded "Don't Whizz On The Electric Fence" for the show and the theme tune for "I am Weasel"). She has recorded with Brian Wilson, Thee Headcoatees and Jonathan Richman, amongst others.

She has a bit of a thing for Yé Yé, a type of French pop music from the 60's...

April March - Cet Air La

She sometimes does English language versions of Serge Gainsbourg tunes...

April March - Chick Habit 

She has also recorded with genius eccentric songwriter/arranger Tim Hensley, about whom more in a future Domino Rally posting. This is where I first heard her doing very eccentric 50's pop tunes like...

April March - Stay Away From Robert Mitchum

Visit April March and buy her CDs.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

rankin' come forward!

The Beat - Too nice to talk to 

The Beat are my favourite Two-tone/Ska band. The Specials were ace, their music throbs with controlled aggression but is there something a little misogynistic going on? Little Bitch, Niteklub and Too Much Too Young all express real bitterness about women.

Madness had great singles which went far beyond the Ska template but there is something a bit 'blokey' about them. The Beat had the urgency of punk and the itchiness of Ska but their sound was a little more deft and elegant. They were the Ska band in touch with their feminine side...they even had a dancing girl as their logo.

Like a lot of the 1979 Ska bands they came from the Midlands, Birmingham in their case and like Madness and The Specials they pushed their music outside the skankin' box. I hear 60's beat, calypso, soul and pure New wave pop when I listen to them. In Dave Wakeling they had a great singer and in Rankin' Roger an energetic force of nature, toasting and MC'ing. Remember this was at a time when Reggae dancehall culture was alien to most people. It's no wonder the Ska-kids were usually the coolest in school.

The Beat- Twist and Crawl

'Too nice to talk to' surges with energy and brilliant guitar hooks, 'Twist and Crawl' shows what a fantastic rhythm section they had. This is music to dance to but the lyrics are full of urban observation.

The Beat tend to be the forgotten band of the '79 Ska explosion, it's time they were re-discovered.

The Beat!
Buy The Beat- The Best of The Beat

Sunday, July 10, 2005 supergroup, anybody?

Pull up a chair, this could take some time...

Golden Smog started out as a studio min-joke goof-off for members of Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, Wilco, Run Westy Run, Big Star and GeraldineFibbers.

The first EP "On Golden Smog" and LP "Down By The OldMainstream" were punctuated by hoary barroom covers (Thin Lizzy, Faces) and songs that sounded like The Jayhawks. They even gave themselves pseudonyms and fabricated sleeve artwork for previous releases - "America's Newest Shitmakers", "Temple of the Smog". So far, so average.

Which makes 1998s "Weird Tales" all the more remarkable - this is a great album, possibly one of the best "" albums ever.

Golden Smog - Until You Came Along 

Golden Smog - Please Tell My Brother 

Whereas on "Mainstream..." the bulk of the tunes sound like in-studio post-closing-time jams, on "Weird Tales" the band members (now going by their own names) served up some of their best material.

"Until You Came Along" sung by The Jayhawks' Gary Louris is simply one of the best American songs of the past 20 years, a glorious singalong to the redemptive powers of true love. I never really got the Jayhawks but then, they never recorded a song as good as this.

"Please Tell My Brother" is one of Jeff Tweedy's (Uncle Tupelo/Wilco) best songs, a gorgeously simple folksy amble.

Between "Mainstream..."and "Weird Tales", Wilco had released the incredible, horizon-expanding double album "Being There", which must surely have had some effect on the Smog musical landscape. There's a variety of tone and attack on the second album that is totally absent on their earlier recordings.

But whither Jeff Tweedy's erstwhile chum, grumpy Jay Farrar?

When Uncle Tupelo split, the sensible money was on him to rake in the glory. In Tupelo, he'd been responsible for many of their signature tunes, with Tweedy coming up with the frothier numbers.

When they split, Wilco (Tweedy's band made up of all the non-Jay Tupeloband members) served up "AM", a mostly uninspiring retread of past glories, whereas Farrar's Son Volt released "Trace", a truly great album, bookended by "Windfall", one of my favourite songs ever, and a great cover of Ron Wood's "Mystifies Me", featuring on bass... MarcPerlman of Jayhawks/Golden Smog fame. See how it all ties in together??

Son Volt – Windfall

Son Volt - Mystifies Me

Son Volt followed "Trace" with "Straightaways", which was... well, an uninspiring retread of past glories, and I stopped paying attention, really (if you have any suggestions of what I've missed out on, leave a comment).

Wilco released the amazing "Being There" and became one of the most exciting and interesting bands in the world today. Whod've thunk it?

Buy Weird Tales by Golden Smog
Buy Trace by Son Volt 
Buy Being There by Wico 
Visit Golden Smog 
Visit Wilco
Visit Wilko (arf!)
Visit Jay Farrar

Monday, July 04, 2005

talk about mud flaps...

Velvet Underground - Lisa Says (live 1969) 
Velvet Underground - Sweet Jane (live 1969) 
Velvet Underground - Rock And Roll (live 1969)

This post has been prompted by the excellent Kill All Artists mp3 blog, which recently featured a post a day based on each disc in the VU's Peel Slowly And See boxset. It made me realise that I haven't listened to them for AGES and sent me back to my favourite VU albums, the double "Live 1969" set.

One of the great things about the Velvets is that they're that rarity, a band whose stuff is worth hearing over and over again in different permutations and performances.The legendary "lost album" and numerous bootlegs add to the mystique(and marketing opportunities to saps like you and me), along with Lou Reed's seeming inability to sing a song the same way twice - he's a bit like Dylan in that way.

I always preferred the VU after they got rid of Cale and Nico - not the most popular opinion ever, but there you go. Don't get me wrong, I love the viola and the sturm und drang of the first two albums, but there is something (there's no other word for it) LOVELY about what they did in their final years, especially in these low key live recordings. You can hear what great songs they are and you can hear how fantastic Moe Tucker and Sterling Morrison (in particular) were.

This version of Lisa Says is particularly interesting - in it's "lost album" incarnation it's quite a slight but pretty song, but here it goes all over the place, slipping into bits of what sounds liken early version of "Satellite of Love" and stretched out to nearly six minutes.

In a classic bit of Reed revisionism, Lou claimed that the version of Sweet Jane was recorded on the day he wrote it, which Sterling Morrison refuted in Bockris and Malanga's "UpTight". But it sounds so fragile and simple - without the killer extra chord in the lick but with "heavenly wine and roses..." - that I almost believe the old bugger.

Rock And Roll is probably my favourite VU song and this version is great, gentle and yearning but driving at the same time. In the notes to the "Peel Slowly..." set, Sterling complained that these recordings didn't capture the live force of the band at the time. But the VU weren't just about what Lou Reed called "power- cubed",these were beautiful songs about the lost and the losing and they don'tcome across any better than on 1969.

Buy 1969: Live with Lou Reed, Volume 1
Buy 1969: Live with Lou Reed, Volume 2

Friday, July 01, 2005

hoopla! oink! oink!

So, it seems every time I turn on my TV it’s The Doves or Kaiser Chiefs or Coldplay or some bloke with an accoustic guitar singing “you’re so beautiful...”, doing their thing in front of an appreciative audience of Leisure and Tourism Students. Everything is wonderful with the world and it seems ‘real music ‘ is here to stay. There are a plethora of ’ nice guys with hearts as big as the sky, playing ‘real’ tunes with oh so real musical instruments. How wonderful for everyone. This surely is a era of massive cultural significance.

But why god why do they have to be all so damn repetitive with their repertoire? It seems like these guys have about half an album worth of songs between them. How can they bear to limit themselves to that rhythm and those chords and that pleading/ arch/ enigmatic (delete where applicable) sentiment, over and over again? The answer is of course that they are giving people what they want, deviation from the recognised brand sound is wrong and will alienate the mass entertainment audience.

Good luck to them I say, stick with it fellas! If you have one ounce of artistic spirit you should just smash the instruments into tiny pieces and move away from the mic.

Here’s some Frank Zappa and the Mothers live in concert in 1971...

Little House I Used To Live In - Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention

Mud Shark - Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention

I am currently stumbling blindly through the enchanted forest of Zappa’s recorded work. Don’t look to me for any guides as where to start. This album is by no means one of his best (too much talking) - but is still great.

Here the Mothers swerve from a lush and restless musical composition into an unnerving monologue over Funkadelic showband.

It seems to me that there are limitless possibilities to what your average line-up of a rock and roll band could sound like. Why do so many groups feel the need to define their sound so narrowly?

Buy The Mothers Live at Filmore East 1971