Another rush of blood to the head

There’s one thing I suppose can agree with the older Gallagher sibling on, and that’s an increasing dismay in my soul that the Guardian has someone become the place to go to get some sort of barometric reading on the state of the music industry.

The one e-mail I get weekly that is guaranteed to depress me is their Friday uttering called “Sleeve Notes”.  I don’t trust where they stand on politics these days, and generally the only things worth reading in the “newspaper”  are Owen Jones regular trenchant analyses on the state of the UK (although to be honest I do prefer his video blogs), and Steve Bell’s always important cartoon, so why should I trust them on music?

Skimming through this weeks offerings, aside from the rest of Noel’s increasingly bizarre comments I wonder who is taking in the recommendations made by the so called “tastemakers” that write for the paper. What the hell is “tastemaker” anyway? Surely you listen to music and don’t lick it?

I’ve got a fairly wide window on the state of music generally, both at grass roots level and infinitely wider due to the vast amount of stuff that I get sent, but also through regular scouring of the internet. It is a tad lazy to suggest, as Noel G does, that there is nothing good out there. There is, listen to my podcasts!

However Noel is right to assert that some bands, and it’s usually the ones that the established industry promotes, tend to fit a Guardian formula. The tired old regurgitations of established monied bands that the Grauniad seems to rely upon set a very poor benchmark. The establishment music industry is fundamentally a lazy construct, it promotes a handful of artistes and pumps the life out of them. The Guardian “news” that Beyoncé and Noel Gallagher feature on new Coldplay album, the return of Phil Collins, and the mention of  Wynton Marsalis, never my favourite jazz musician, only serves to reinforce my increasing concern that the sanitised view of the biz promulgated by this and other “established” organs of news is yet another example of the fourth estate failing in its responsibility to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no music journo has gone before. I hanker after early Sounds and Wire where the likes of Mick Middles would travel to Bolton on a cold and foggy night to see Hear and Now and The Fall.

The perfect Gallagheresque  irony, of course, is that the whole Sleeve Notes thing starts off this week with the beatle (sic) browed son of Burnage’s music manifesto this week. Kanye West? I don’t think so Noel.

Anyway I’ll stick with the Fifth Estate, it’s more honest, I don’t agree with everything it says, but at least it’s not focused on a finite group of increasingly boring so called industry leaders, and yes, Noel is one of them now.

And whilst I am having a moan I might make ask the question is there anything strictly “new” these days? Perhaps it’s my age but I sometimes feel that “pop” music is on its third or fourth generational cycle of re-inventing itself.

There are exceptions, for example, Courtney Barnett remains the most refreshing thing to cross my ears this year with her unique vocal style, mesmeric word play and basic approach to rock, but she is a jewel in a haystack (to mix my metaphors) of revisited trends,

Take for example the Dead Ghosts album “Love and Death and all the rest” , the Vancouver-based garage rockers have recently reissued their 2010 self-titled debut through Burger Records, and this new one will be their third. Don’t get me wrong, it’s reached my “yes I’m going to feature it on a podcast” list, but aside from the spidery slacker blues of opener “Another Love”, it does to tend to sound like a lot of other bands of this ilk, The Dead Boys come to mind as the progenitors of this sound, which in turn I guess is derived from early Zimmerman. Not bad overall though if you like lo-fi bluesy stuff.

What is “synth-punk” I hear you ask? Well, it’s a rather noisy concoction dreamed up by Dublin band Cyborg and Droids, Their eponymous bandcamp release was brought into the world in January of this year. Further research reveals, of course, that there is a burgeoning “synth-punk” scene and I have only just scratched the surface of yet another miasma of bands pursuing a particular musical line. This one tends, on the most part, to be badly recorded, the vocals are so lost in deep reverb as to render any understanding of what is being espoused as meaningless. Mostly it’s a dense wall of unforgiving feed-backing guitars, and what appears to be a basic organ sound fed through distortion fx. Mike Ratledge was doing the latter forty plus years ago so there’s nothing new in the approach. Where the synth bit comes in is beyond me, It’s OK but it doesn’t quite make the playllst.

Olafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm‘s double CD of “Collaborative Works” gets tagged as “classical” when quite clearly it is not. The 100 minutes of music on the two discs is best described as “ambient synth explorations”, and yet again, there’s a lot of this sort of thing about and deciding what is good, mediocre, or bad is difficult. There’s nothing particularly offensive about it, it rumbles along in its’ only way, developing organically, but you will have heard, if you were old enough or a student of electronica, Tangerine Dream doing this in 1973-ish with their releases on Virgin, “Fluff” Freeman was always featuring them on his excellent Saturday afternoon show. It’s a tad more glitchy than Froese & Co., giving it that modern edge, but generally i’ve heard others do it better, and with a few more surprises thrown in.

Ty Segall is a busy chap isn’t he? It does feel like he has something out every other week. The second, and double album, from his power trio with Chad Ubovich and Charile Moothart, Fuzz, feels familiar to me. Being brought up on a diet of Taste, Sabbath, Stone the Crows listening to this takes me back to my mid to late teens listening to music round friends houses. It’s clearly influenced by early 70s progressive blues rock. I’m not sure Segall’s voice works in this context. You really need to have the psychotic edge of a John Osbourne to be able to do the upper register voice in with such bass driven riffing and Ty doesn’t quite have the menace that the comes from being brought up in the heart of the Black Country. There’s nothing new or different here to warrant giving it air space. I suppose if you haven’t heard this sort of stuff before it would be quite a revelation to you but i’ve seen enough Phil Mogg in my time to file this under “i’ve heard it all before” pile.

The fifth Wavves album, I assume given it’s called “V”, is packed with that annoying american power pop punk, all constipated guitar chording, over busy drums, and big choruses. “Is it the 1980s again?” I thought when listening to it. It’s got some very good reviews in the usual places so what the hell would i know? Well, I guess I know I have heard it all before and I’m wondering why the record industry is so conservative that it continues to pump out stuff like this?

Joan Shelley‘s new one “Over and Even” bridges the atlantic with an easy mix of english folk idioms and americana. A good comparison would be Bert Jansch’s “LA Turnaround”. All of her back catalogue is available on Bandcamp, including the Maiden Radio recordings and collaborations with others. It’s a pleasant listen and lovers of that folky country sound will lap it up. The title track is particularly good.

The Bedroom Legends (Ubertino from Flies on You and his mate Richard) have done an excellent remix of Factory Acts Animal Spirits track. Matt and Sue are using it to promote the Ladyfest gig at Islington Mill, Salford next Saturday (which is now sold out).  I’ll be podcasting it in a couple of weeks and it will be on an Analogue Trash sampler in due course.

Telekinisis are from Seattle, they have a new album out called “Ad Infinitum” which caught my ear on first listening. There’s a sort of Jonsi from Sigur Ros feel to the vocals in places, and the music is uncluttered and unfussy electronic pop with a touch of OMD dynamics and LCD Soundsystem bravado, the sort of tunes they use on glossy US TV shows to cover some of the visual exposition. There are one or two clever little touches and although there is a slight feeling of deja vu with some of the songs it is a good listen with a suitably epic “set the arpeggiators” to stun pop feel.

I’ve got mixed feelings about crowd-funding, I can see the sense of it in the context of a conservative industry which does not facilitate the release of left-field music. I recently contributed to the release of two Magic Band DVDs so i’ve not got a complete distaste for it, and the release of Fenster‘s “Emocean” album/film was released through the process. The wacky electronic madness of the album feels like it ought have been brewed up by The Residents. The band is self titled “psychedelic pop band” based in Berlin who to some degree look and feel like a playful version of The Flaming Lips. The album feels like mutant elevator music.

Five volumes of “Psychedelia” released by Northern Star Records gives you more than you would ever need as a sampler of the genre. Starting in 2006 and running to 2013 the label collects rarities, borrows heavily from their own catalogue of other releases, As a direct descendent of Nuggets and Pebbles the first volume alone includes tracks from Electric Prunes, Silver Apples, The Hiss, The High Dials, Floorian, Lovetones, Pioneer 4, The Telescopes, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Fuzztones, Snowdonnas, Stevenson Ranch Davidians, The Electric Mainline, Snowdonnas, The Black Angels and many, many more. Their website is well worth checking out. Even the ever busy Periscope makes an appearance on Volume 5. As a potted history of the so-called “Third Wave” of Psychedelia it’s a must have set of releases.

Finally this time I feel I must draw your attention to a new album from Moff Skellington called “Scribnalls”. It is released on German Shepherd Records on 20th November. If you have not heard of Moff before you clearly haven’t been paying attention to my perorations on music over the last six years. I am a fan and I want to share my joy on hearing this music. Scribnalls was a live audio-visual Eddodi lantern extravaganza which was first performed on 22nd August 2014 as part of The Queerwolf’s Closet held at The Kings Arms, Bloom Street, Salford. As Moff explains “Scribnalls, in terms of art, was an attempt to evoke the vitality and atmosphere of doodles, casual graffiti or simple drawings whose creators never considered them anything more than an aid to some explanation or other. Often just simple line drawings on a plain background or perhaps penknife marks etched into a burnished desktop, these images for me have always had such power that in studying them air starts to move around them and colours suggest themselves. The situations described in the drawings were intended to be elemental”. The album is unique as usual, words, grammar and syllables are twisted around in a surreal melange as layers of unique instrumentation act as fractured and sometimes dissonant accompaniment. It is another vital part of the man’s excellent body of work and gives warning of a further two albums which will follow soon.

Scribnalls Cover

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