Office Politics

By my reckoning we now have  the fifth Monkeys In Love full length after “Death Jeans”, “Will Pet and Cuddle You”, “Take The Biscuit”, and “Live in Stoke Newington”. It’s called “Monkeys In Love Are Ready For The Mountain”.  First thing to say is that, as usual, it’s excellent, and, as usual, it’s markedly different from what went before, a hallmark of the “Monkeys” approach.

The difference this time around is that the melodic hooks are not so overt. They are constructed to work seamlessly within the whole of a song rather than being a defined part that implies a change within the construct of a piece. There are trademark Monkey earworms in play but they take their time to sink in and lodge in your mind on the second or third listen. Musically there is some continuity across the ten songs giving an overall conceptual mood to the album as Steve narrates the story. The groups love of library and advertisement music is perhaps more palpable in these songs. In considering this release in the body of work as a whole, and specifically the preceding album, a comparison would be the difference between “Selling England by the Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, or, “The Who Sell Out” and “Tommy”, in that there is a more theatrical feel to this album than its predecessors.

The band introduce the album as follows:

The album features ten new songs that trace the nervous breakdown and eventual quasi-spiritual rebirth of a beleaguered office worker. Musically speaking, there’s a kind of mid-80s college rock thing going on in our sound this time round and although we’d love to say it was a deliberate artistic choice owing to the alarmingly mid-80s political climate of late, we can’t honestly remember if it was a conscious choice or not.

The band admit that production/recording is  “ever so slightly slicker on this album. It’s still pretty lo-fi, but a lot less lo-fi than previous releases“. The lyrics also follow up on a couple of songs from the previous album ‘Monkeys In Love Live In New Stoke Newington’, but the listener is left to work out which those songs are and how they relate to this album.

The line up for this release is

Danielle McCullough: guitar, flute, recorder and melodica
Eamonn Murphy: guitar, bass and FX
Laura Simms-Luddington: singing
Steve Simms-Luddington: singing, keys, programming and FX

The plan is to re-release the whole back catalogue so comparisons can be made with previous material for those jumping on at this stage. Steve promised me an out-takes/rarities album for German Shepherd a couple of years back – still looking forward to that!

Any how – quality stuff, wrap your ears around it.

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Robert was indeed, legendary

I’m a grumpy old cynic these days. It takes a lot to get me excited music wise. Put it down to listening to music submissions all day. But it has been a good week for excitement, both music and in a sporting context with three days at Lancashire watching my local club play my town  of birth club (county = Northamptonshire)  in fine sunshine, capped off by an evening of wonderful music from Robert Forster and band on Thursday May 16th. When Robert played Deaf Institute last time around I missed the gig through some sort of ailment, this time he is at the Band on the Wall, which feels like a more intimate and  appropriate venue for his timeless songs.

Bob Auster South is up from the aforementioned Northamptonshire for two days of the cricket and the gig. Thursday proves a slow but entertaining days play at Old Trafford with Lancs moving towards victory. Missing the last session of play we hop on the tram at 5pm to ensure some food can be consumed before the gig, and, after a quick pizza in Croma, we enjoy pre-gig libation at the Lower Turks Head and then the Smithfield (which is much improved and has an impressive array of beers on offer).

The Band on the Wall is filling up nicely by the time we get there and we park ourselves next to a suitable leaning spot in front of the stage. Robert is onstage at 8:05pm and a foot numbing 1 hour 45 minutes later he and his fine band have delivered 22 songs including two encores of three songs each. Bob had seen Robert and band at the Union Chapel in London on the Monday and advises this is the same set.

The material is split between Robert’s solo work, the bulk of which is from the new album Inferno, and a fantastic array of classic Go-Betweens tunes, all the way from “Don’t Let Him Come Back” to tracks from Oceans Apart. Liberty Belle is the most mined album with glorious versions of “Spring Rain”, “Twin Layers of Lightning”, and “In The Core of the Flame”. A highlight of the evening is a stunning version of “The Clarke Sisters” from Tallulah, with Karin Bäumler’s violin creating a wonderful atmosphere. Guitarist Scott Bromiley has amp and pedal issues at one point during the show but this does not detract from what is a remarkable performance from a well drilled band who clearly enjoy their craft. The material from the new album sounds excellent live and a great version of “Born To A Family” from Oceans Apart is dedicated to Robert’s brother who is in the audience.

The Go-Betweens have been a big part of my life for many years, unfortunately I never got to see them. Robert both reminds me of what I missed but reconfirms my belief than both that band and his solo work is some of the best music ever created.

“Surfin’ Magazines” closes the a fantastic set with a bit of a sing-along and we shuffle out into the night for a quick pint in The Castle before getting the tram home. After that I’m a lot less cynical and grumpy. I could with more days like this. Probably the best gig i’ve ever seen at the Band on the Wall (with the possible exception of May 3rd 1982).

(photo by Vicki Egan)

Full set list courtesy of Robert Stow

The Morning – Inferno
Crazy Jane And The Day of Judgement – Inferno
Born To A Family – Oceans Apart
I Love Myself (And I Always Have) – Songs To Play
In The Core of the Flame – Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
A Poet Walks – Songs To Play
Dive For Your Memory – 16 Lovers Lane
Life Has Turned A Page – Inferno
Remain – Inferno
Inferno (Summer in Brisbane) – Inferno
Man O`Sand To Girl O`Sea – Spring Hill Fair
Demon Days – The Evangelist
One Bird In The Sky – Inferno
Twin Layers of Lightning – Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
Spring Rain – Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express
Here Comes A City – Oceans Apart

ENCORE ONE
Love Is A Sign – 16 Lovers Lane
Finding You – Oceans Apart
Learn To Burn – Songs To Play

ENCORE TOW
The Clarke Sisters – Tallulah
Don`t Let Him Come Back – People Say B side
Surfing Magazines – The Friends of Rachel Worth

LIVE at L’Ubu

In 2015, The Apartments released the album No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal in Europe and influential French Music magazine Magic made it the Number 1 Album of The Year, a feat never before been achieved by an Australian artist. This was not surprising given the huge popularity of the band in France, and also the excellent quality of said release.

To support the release of No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal, The Apartments toured France in September 2015 with a full band. Their show at Rennes’ legendary L’Ubu Club was recorded, resulting in this double album, LIVE at L’Ubu.

The live recording captures the dynamic line-up of a combination of Australian, French and English players in a seven-piece band. This format allows Peter Milton Walsh to, for the first time, drop the guitar and masterfully sing and perform a set of songs from the extant album along with others from The Apartments impressive back catalogue.

In the parallel universe that exists somewhere at the back of my subconscious Walsh is huge and Ed Sheeran doesn’t exist. His bitter sweet songs are the stuff of magic and he is someone that gets the “Grant McLennan” moment every time he constructs a tune. This collection of songs transcends criticism, it’s everything that popular music should be. Legitimate, honest and full of emotion. He has the tone and content of David McComb at his best. He is a master craftsman.

If you have not come across The Apartments before then start with this album and you’ll soon be reaching for the back catalogue. If you don’t like this music then I fear for your eternal soul. Personally I’d play this music to children at nursery school so they can get an early education on what good music is.

Available digitally and as a very limited double vinyl. Hopefully a CD version will emerge at some point for those of us who still like these things.

Full Upon Her Burning Lips

2019 seems to be a year where rock rears it’s head again and gains some ascendancy in a busy musical landscape.

The masters of sensuous guitar led music are back, and, with their latest album “Full Upon Her Burning Lips”, Earth forego the additional instrumentation that embellished some of their previous records and reduce the team to the core duo of Dylan Carlson on guitar and bass and Adrienne Davies on drums and percussion.

Matters commence with  “Datura’s Crimson Veils”, a twelve-minute opus that reflects Earth’s new approach with Carlson’s sepia-toned Bakersfield Sound guitars lurching across a barren landscape while Davies punctuates the melodies with intent and a particularly effective cymbal roll adds an alien sound to the mix. Indeed her cymbal work throughout the album is exemplary.

The approach on this release in some part looks back to the riff-constructed approach of their “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light” albums, but stripped of their ornateness….

“It was definitely a very organically developed record,” Carlson says of the process. “I limited the number of effects I used. I always like the limiting of materials to force oneself to employ them more creatively. Previous Earth records were quite lush sounding, and I wanted a more upfront and drier sound, using very few studio effects.”

The stripped down approach had another advantage. “I really wanted the drums to be present,” Carlson says. “I felt with previous Earth records that other instrumentation took up so much of the sonic space that the drums were kind of pushed to the side.”

This methodology highlights Davies’ ability to elevate the drum kit beyond its rhythmic functions and allows it to serve as an expressive, nuanced, and tonally rich component to Earth’s sound without reverting to bombast.

Less is more.

 “In the past I’ve usually had a strong framework for an album,” Carlson says. “This one developed over the course of writing and recording. It just felt like ‘Earth’—like just the two players doing their best work at playing, serving the music.”

The absence of a pre-existing narrative guiding the compositions results in songs were more open and intuitive, often resulting in musical vignettes like “Exaltation of Larks” or  “Maidens Catafalque”.

“I wanted this to be a ‘sexy’ record, a record acknowledging the ‘witchy’ and ‘sensual’ aspects in the music… sort of a ‘witch’s garden’ kind of theme, with references to mind altering plants and animals that people have always held superstitious beliefs towards. A conjuror or root doctor’s herbarium of songs, as it were.”

The ten tracks on Full Upon Her Burning Lips came together in bits and pieces. Songs like “Cats on the Briar” and “Mandrake’s Hymn” emerged from a handful of musical phrases and repeating patterns concocted in moments of downtime during their 2017 tour schedule. The delightful “Descending Belladonna” came from a live soundtrack project. Other songs came from rehearsals in the months leading up to recording or in moments of inspiration in the studio.

The record was engineered, mixed, and mastered by longtime associate Mell Dettmer at Studio Soli. Knowing their process and their sound, Dettmer helped harness, shape, and document the songs in a manner that highlights the depth of Earth’s sparse components. For the patient listener, the cyclical nature of the songs “She Rides an Air of Malevolence” or “An Unnatural Carousel” reveal new elements with repeated listens, with the subtle variations between passes creating a kaleidoscope of sounds.

“I feel like this is the fullest expression and purest distillation of what Earth does since I re-started the band,” Carlson says in reflection of Full Upon Her Burning Lips.

As a long time Earth fan I found the new approach refreshing, there is a tendency in some rock circles to “over-egg the mix” in the search of something memorable, whereas this band manage to achieve that goal by simplifying their approach. Both restrained and adventurous in equal measure, this is instrumental music of the highest quality and a primer for how to use the guitar without fret worrying shredding, and the drums as more than mere percussion. I have to agree with Carlson, this is their best work to date and it immediately goes on the albums of the year list for 2019.

Sargent House releases the album to the world on May 24th, 2019 on 2xLP / CD / digital formats.

Life Metal

It has been four years since the last Sunn O))) album, their eighth studio full length “Life Metal” emerged in April (the discography is incredibly complex – see below).  Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have brought on board Steve Albini for this release and whilst the core style of the duo is not lost there are some additions to the sound.

There are four lengthy tracks which are characterised by the usual deep and sonorous chord/riff/drone sequences, chamber metal if you will, that typify the Sunn O))) experience. However there are subtle changes to the soundscape through a combination of Albini’s engineering/mixing and the addition of several “guests” into the party.

Hildur Guðnadóttir renowned film music composer, and former member of the bands Múm, Pan Sonic and Angel, brings a unique contribution through vocals and electric cello, and the “new” instrument, the cello like haldorophone, to the proceedings. The main contribution comes via the albums mammoth closing composition/concerto “Novæ”.

Tim Midyett, a close friend of Greg and Stephen since the Seattle days of the early 90s, (and member of Silkworm, Bottomless Pit and Mint Mile) plays aluminium neck bass and baritone guitars.

New music composer Anthony Pateras arranged and recorded  pipe organ for track two “Troubled Air” (titled after an essay by author Aliza Shvarts, who also penned the liner notes for last release Kannon).

Impossibly long slow notes, sustain, feedback, and intensity are the key elements and you shouldn’t expect anything radically new.  However the analogue direct to tape/vinyl techniques appear to have added a more dense and visceral feel to the recording. The middle two tracks add to the canon without too much refinement. However the opening and closing tracks, the latter reaching a mind numbing 25 minutes, take on a sort of imperious in your face attitude that compels listening. Both break from the tradition of just riffs and chords with some “lighter” moments.

This is not music for people who like the conventions of a nice melody, a beginning, a middle and an end. It is brutal for the most part, and strips back the genre to it’s basics, you could argue they are the L.S. Lowry of heavy metal, reducing forms and processes to fundamentals of riff and noise. There is no percussion, just layers of guitars at maximum gain with other instruments occasionally fighting their way to the forefront. I find it fascinating, I don’t know why I like it, but it gets to me. I find the simplicity quite cathartic.

A second album recorded at the same sessions is due later in the year. A tour is underway also

The discography is something like this…..in reverse order

  • Life Metal (CD 2xLP 2019)
  • Downtown LA Rehearsal / Rifftape March 1998 (LP, 2018)
  • Нежить (Live in Moscow 3xLP, 2016)
  • ⻘青⽊木ヶ原 // 樹海海 (packaged with initial copies of Kannon album, flexi 7″, 2015)
  • Kannon (CD & LP 2015)
  • LA Reh 012 (LP, 2014)
  • Soused (collaboration with Scott Walker, CD & 2xLP 2014)
  • Terrestrials (collaboration with Ulver, CD & LP 2014)
  • Rehearsal Demo Nov 11 2011 (LP, 2012)
  • The Iron Soul of Nothing (collaboration with Nurse With Wound, 2xLP 2011)
  • Agharthi Live 09-10 (Live in Europe LP + 7″ 2011)
  • Monoliths & Dimensions (CD & 2xLP 2009)
  • GrimmRobes Live 101008 (Cassette 2009)
  • Che (with Pan Sonic) (10″ 2009)
  • O))) Presents… Pentemple (LP & CD 2008)
  • Dømkirke (live in Bergen 2xLP 2008)
  • Oracle (12″ 2007)
  • Altar (collaboration with Boris, 3xLP & CD 2006)
  • WHITEbox (4xLP Box 2006)
  • La Mort Noir dans Esch/Alzette (CD 2006)
  • AngelComa (split with Earth, LP 2006)
  • Black One (CD 2005, 2xLP 2006)
  • Solstitium Fulminate (packaged with initial copies of Back One album, CD 2005)
  • Cro-Monolithic Remixes for an Iron Age (12″ 2004)
  • Candlewolf of the Golden Chalice (12″ 2005)
  • White2 (CD & 2xLP 2004, remaster 2xLP 2018)
  • Live White (live 2xCD 2004)
  • Live Action Sampler (promotional mix 2xCD 2004)
  • The Libations of Samhain (live CD 2003)
  • Veils It White (12″ 2003)
  • White1 (CD & 2xLP 2003, remaster 2xLP 2018)
  • Flight of the Behemoth (CD & 2xLP 2002)
  • The Grimmrobe Demos (demo 1998, CD 2000, 2xPLP 2003, 2xLP 2004, 3xPLP 2008)
  • ØØ Void (CD 2000, 2xLP 2003, CD & 2LP 2011)

 

 

 

Payola

Attempts to finally get to see the reformed Vee VV this year have failed miserably. A combination of factors including guitarists with poorly hands and other matters have left me wondering what they could be like live after all this time. Never mind  I can console myself with the remastered CD collection/compilation of their work called “Payola” released by Edils Recording in a marvellously eco friendly digipac (cork and paper). 19 tracks from across their career involves four different line-ups.

The bulk of their recordings are included and the collection provides a rich history of post punk North West UK in the 1980s. Bass and riff driven in the most part with a combination of that early 80s guitar tremor/flange/phase/jangle and incisive vocals with politically astute words. The music provides an impressive bridge between what bands like The Fall and The Moodists were doing at this time, and the emerging pre-goth epic sound that would start with The Birthday Party, get captured by Bauhaus and Killing Joke, and then get lost in it’s own eyeliner. Comparisons with Gang of Four have been made elsewhere, I guess there’s some read over but Vee VV feel less mannered and more organic. There’s a relentless hypnotic feel to the music.  It wipes the floor with most of the current insipid indie crap that gets forced into my in-box on a daily basis.

You get 67 minutes of marvellous music – if you want to know what was happening on the Fylde coast in the 80s this is a good place to go, if you want a primer in exciting music creation then this is the one to check. With contemporaries The Membranes about to release a remarkable album this feels like a good time for the Blackpool sound to be back and challenging the music scene to up its game.

I’ll be featuring tracks on the Aural Delights show during May and June. I hope I get to see them soon.

The return of The Parish Church Fire

The Parish Church Fire are an Alternative Rock band from Manchester, UK fronted by Sam Smith. As loud as they are soft, the band have carved a unique dynamic with elements of heavy metal, trip hop, punk, jazz and blues. Comparable to Afghan Whigs, Radiohead & Pearl Jam. They have a new single out on May 10th called “Hunger” followed by two high profile gigs at Strummercamp and The Eagle, Salford in May and June.

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Here is a recent interview with band front man Sam Smith……..  

Hi Sam, can you give us a brief history of The Parish Church Fire?

I put together the band in July 2014 after the disbanding my previous outfit ‘Sam Smith & Company’. Although The Parish Church Fire has solely been a studio project for the last 5 years an original live band was assembled upon formation but were only together for just 21 days. The line-up was myself, Chris Gilman & Rick Jarvis (and also Dave Wooley, Jack Farnworth and Peter Toner briefly). In that time Chris, Rick and I rehearsed relentlessly almost every day to get the wealth of material I had written up to standard for a busy gig schedule which had been booked for autumn of 2014. We had even managed to complete a studio session, recording 5 songs. Unfortunately, shortly after the sessions, the band split very abruptly due to the sudden departure of Rick Jarvis and my own ongoing health problems.

What have you been up to since 2014?

In 2015, I signed to German Shepherd Records and adopted the moniker ‘Franco Bandini’ as a result of increasing discomfort using my birth name due to the global rise of Universal Music Group artist Sam Smith. I released a solo EP as Bandini, entitled  ‘2014 Was a Bad Year’ and supported Australian rock legend Dave Graney at The Eagle Inn, Salford. I also did a radio session with Stephen Doyle at Salford City Radio and that was also released by German Shepherd. The ‘The Parish Church Fire EP’ which contained 3 of the 5 songs recorded with the original Parish Church Fire line up was self released at around the same time.

You pursued your vision of the Parish Church Fire band though?

The idea of assembling a band of musicians to represent the vision of The Parish Church Fire and also the desire to perform the songs written specifically for that band never went away. Whilst continuing to work as Franco Bandini, I met drummer Joe Roberts when we both rehearsed with a metal band which sadly never quite got off the ground. We stayed in touch after that band disbanded and we would occasionally meet to discuss the downfall of Manchester United, brewing methods and music production whilst sometimes exchanging demos via email. In 2016, we released the first Parish Church Fire single ‘Locamente’ on German Shepherd Records which was largely well received and we discussed putting together a live band, however as a result of personal circumstances for both of us getting in the way, this would not happen for another 2 and a half years.


Things picked up a little in 2017 though?

Yes! I returned to using my birth name in early 2017, releasing two singles and a live album along the way whilst performing live as a solo artist across the UK with just a guitar and piano. However I always felt that the Parish Church Fire band would come together as a live entity when the time was right. I was booked to appear at Strummercamp Festival in 2019 on the strength of my solo material and the time seemed right to assemble a band.  I contacted former Sam Smith & Company bassist John Bardsley, who is currently one of the key forces behind The Ombudsmen, and asked him if he would be interested in joining the band in its early stages of rebirth. Joe contacted friend and former Confucius Saint guitarist Timothy Hughes to see if he was interested and an initial rehearsal was soon set up.

So where are we up to now?

From the get go, due to various difficulties each of the four of us was dealing with in our personal lives, the rehearsals took place on the provision that they would always remain light hearted, humour would be at the forefront, and ,that a large amount of beer would be drank during each session!  Building on this foundation, a bond was carved between the four of us and despite the alcohol, professionalism ensued and a set of new material I had written was soon ready to perform, leading to a second gig being added for summer 2019 at The Eagle Inn in Salford.

On Initial listening to the new release I found a newly reborn Sam Smith, an artist with the potential I always knew was there, bursting through  With this new band drawing on the strengths of each individual member whilst always respecting the composition of Sam’s songs, there is a unique dynamic sound, emerging through this rebirth, which can be as heavy as it can be soft.  I took the view that there was a perfect marriage of the rock and punk ethos, exciting! A video of the lead song is due soon and will be incorporated in this review.

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