Michael, known for the purposes of this exercise, as m.t.scott, has been sending me the developing elements of this release for many months. Therefore I am well versed in the process that has led to a simply marvellous 22 minutes of thought-provoking and enjoyable music. Those who know and love Staggs will recognise the voice, the acerbic tone, the sardonic wit, the world weary observations of the minutiae of day to day existence. “13 Queer Street” moves inexorably on from “The Broken EP” taking hints and directions from that also excellent piece of work, and building to a modern masterpiece.
There are six songs, all different, but conversely all couched in an overarching atmospheric patina which suggests a post-war living room with a bakelite wireless, or black & white TV, and the smell of steak & kidney pie and jam sponge & custard a mere breath away. Things are constrained, almost claustrophobic at times, and at the same time stretch to places only promised in the previous release. Whether it be gangsters, a girl in gabardine mac and a head-scarf, distorted crooners, snippets of found sound, a distant saxophone, guitars with lengthy sustain, or brittle string parts, there are so many different and interesting things to listen to here that you find yourself playing the EP on a constant loop.
Scott builds layers of sound to create cinematic experiences, each song a vignette, a short story, but suggesting a much wider, deeper and more complex tale. The tour de force is the impressive “Touched By A Leper” which comes close to previous subject matter, and is blessed by restrained saxophone, and understated guitar, together with a memorable set of words. Equally as good is the plaintive “Six Feet Deep” a closing track that begs a follow up release as soon as possible.
Some of the themes and concepts hinted at in Staggs releases come to the fore here, demonstrating Scott’s genius at creating musical constructs. They are more than songs, they are stories, a glimpse of an alternative world, a treasured paperback book which brings back childhood memories, a look through a fractured piece of glass into a different place.
Comparisons are impossible, this is unique. But there is a sense of the shock of the new when hearing Tuxedomoon’s early albums, a taste of Brechtian opera, the word play of Robert Ashley, sunday afternoon kitchen sink dramas on BBC Radio in the early 60s, and post-punk experimentation.
It’s the second gig in a week, a bit of a rarity for me.
It’s Saturday night. There’s three choices, The Speed of Sound album launch in Levenshulme, The Things EP launch in Manchester centre, or The Madding Crowd EP launch in Moston. We opt for the latter.
A Siberian chill has settled on Eccles, whenever I go out to gigs these days the weather conspires against me. A quick pint in the Albert Edward and then a long cab ride up to Moston. A place I haven’t ventured to in a good while. In a former life I spent hours wandering these streets, it seems a dim and distant memory. Things have changed with a new football stadium opposite the Miners Estate. The Estate looks the same as it did thirty five years ago and the Arts and Social Club is also something out of the last century, the faded decadence of a W.M.C. with punk posters on the wall, very old Manchester. There’s a good mixture of people here, old and young. They have Joseph Holts bitter at £2.50 a pint, a good price, but double the price of the pint in the Albert Edward. Not sure how that works.
The Sam Smith story has been told elsewhere on these pages. It’s been a convoluted last 12 months or so with the Franco Bandini persona being put away for a while. There was mention of The Parish Church Fire coming back but that didn’t quite emerge for this gig, so it’s Sam with piano, and acoustic guitar, playing stripped back and emotional songs. There’s a couple of Bandini songs, a few “& Company” numbers, and some new material. He reflects on Fidel’s passing by suggesting possible Clash cover before the gig but demurs, instead he plays a brain flipping version of Islands in the Stream. He pours his heart and soul into the music, as he always does. This music deserves a wider audience, I’ve said that before, but it does. There’s a new found maturity and confidence about Sam tonight, but he needs to get more gigs, more exposure, perhaps he needs a band to really get the message across, but tonight he does it all on his own and he does it well. He ends with Born to Run. All in all most satisfying.
I’m not normally a big fan of live poetry but Genevieve L Walsh captures my attention with rapid delivery, a tumble of interesting words, maybe too many ideas and concepts for my beer addled brain to take in. But there are sections which really grab the attention, you smile and nod in encouragement with the message that is delivered. She’s funny, intelligent, biting and sometimes angry. It’s great stuff and provides the right sort of balance between Sam’s set and what is to follow.
I’ve not seen The Madding Crowd before. I am told before they start that they are great live. They are. Ben Corry is an electric front man, he is a hyperactive mix of Iggy Stooge, Bowie and John Lydon. But I can’t hear the vocals. It’s either my dodgy ears or the sound engineer can’t cope with the dynamics of the band. It does eventually settle down but the first fifteen minutes or so is lost to me. Dominic Corry is as hyperactive as Ben, leaping on and off the stage, whirling like a dervish and ripping all sorts of sounds from his guitar. Claud Corry is a motionless figure for most of the night, sat on the floor, laying down a solid bass to the set. The revelation is Sav Patel who is one of the best drummers i’ve seen in a while with a whole selection of interesting tricks up his sleeve, one to watch out for in future I would suggest. The new EP forms the key parts of the set with the excellent “Sinking Low” being the stand out on the evening, Patel’s impressive stick work, muscular guitar and Ben’s football chant vocal acrobatics morphing the basic blues of the song into something special. With a lengthy set of nigh on two hours the band give the crowd a comprehensive show including some of the more memorable moments from their back catalogue. A band to watch out for in the future.
I get a copy of the EP which will be featured on this weeks Aural Delights podcast.
It’s even colder outside but the heat generated by the gig keeps me warm until I get home.
A new album from the utterly fabulous Monkeys in Love.
It’s called “Live In New Stoke Newington” and to quote the band “It’s a non-linear concept LP about gentrification and that sort of thing”. It comprises nine tracks in total, all of them corkers. It’s not a live album, to make things clear.
The twin vocal line up of Laura and Steve, as usual, are the focus of matters. It’s relentless, enjoyable “alternative pop”, crammed with hooks and ear-worms, no doubt influenced, in part, by the bands’ love of library music. The easy narrative style is backed by rolling and tumbling rhythms and jangling guitars topped off by cheeky little synths. It feels like all those great tunes that came with pre-millennial TV adverts mixed with superior song craft.
This is the Monkeys in Love sound growing into something new and reaching a maturity that was promised by their previous releases. The attention to detail and the honing of their music into quality product makes this their best work to date.
We kick off with the excellent “Infantalised Man” which puts a strong marker down for what is to follow, Laura pulls you in a with lovely melody, and Steve grabs you by the ears and shakes you around with his trademark biting rap/rant vocalising. “In Stoke Newington” is all 70s rhythms, think Norman Greenbaum backing Adam the Ants, fronted by The Carpenters, but fed through a blender to take it to a different time continuum
“Validate Me” is pure Monkeys, with Laura cracking up over the lyrics half way through, and sexy little synth arpeggiating in the background, with some beautifully placed drum drops. Pure pop heaven. “At New Vortex” is a tale of experiences in music/art venues which should be recognisable to those who have experienced the worst excesses of some performance spaces, a close neighbour, sonically, to Curved Airs seminal”Back Street Luv” the track is rich with lots of little musical tricks. Indifference and lack of wages is the bane of some of the best bands out there, this tune captures that sense of despair admirably.
The exceptional “Cocaine Radius” is the high point for me and feels like something from the 60s, dreamed up by Bert Bacharach, that would fit in with a hip road movie. Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, or someone of that ilk, driving around L.A. in fancy car, with the Mamas and Papas singing in the back seat, in a glorious sunset, came to mind as I was listening. The perfect placement of Danielle’s flute and Steve and Laura’s vocals is simply glorious. At their best Monkeys in Love make me smile, and their very best they bring tears of joy to my eyes. This is one of the latter. Steely Dan were nearly as good as this once.
“Bar Furniture Solutions” allows Eamonn’s full guitar sound to take the lead, lyrically clearly the influence of listening to hours of corporate advertising music have had some influence, with the rolling narrative taking you on a journey around eponymous subject matter, and yes you can make a tale about bar furniture interesting. They don’t sell lampshades in this particular emporium apparently. Only this band can do this and make it something special.
Things get more serious with the heavier sound of “How The Scene Was Blown” which is insistent and the one track on the album which takes a little longer to get into, but once you are there it works. The sumptuous “Stasi Broke The Hive Mind” is back to Bacharach country, easy on the ear, and gentle on the mind.
Matters conclude with “New Stoke Newington Has Been Transformed” clocking in at just under six minutes it’s a memorable epic piece which requires a lot of attention to absorb the detailed narrative. The thing that captivates me about this album is the use of the vocals as instrumentation. Yes the lyrics, and there are plenty of them, are important, but just as vital is the placement of the vocals as part of the overall musical palette. With no overall discernible lead instrument they take on a unique, non-traditional role in a rock ‘n’ roll context, which could be compared with the use of voices in classical operatic works as both vehicles of the narrative but also part of the complex interplay of instruments.
2016 has proved to be a year of excellent music and this is one of the high points. There was one front runner for album of the year before this arrived. There are now two.
If you get it before the release date on 25th November you can get it at a reduced price with some goodies thrown in – go here
Previous writing on this band can be found here and here and here
Looking out of the window on Monday afternoon revealed torrential rain and gusts of wind. Probably not the best weather to be venturing out into the darkening night. The headline band contact me and advise they are stuck in terrible traffic between Levenshulme and Salford and will be late. Fortunately the journey from Eccles to Blackfriars is not so disadvantaged. The 67 bus arrives early and I get to the Eagle much sooner than I anticipated. By the time I get to the pub the band, Harry Howard and the NDE have arrived and are loading in. That’s the peculiar nature of the Greater Manchester traffic system – west-east is easy, south -north not so much. What took them two hours took me twenty minutes.
But first, the back story.
Some months back Dave Graney had contacted me, after his visit to Salford earlier in the year, to suggest that we might host Harry Howard and the NDE in a similar way, a gig and a Marc Riley session. We are getting quite good at this promotion thing now, but we can’t make a habit of it mind you, so please don’t you bands out there think we can wave a magic wand and make these things happen all the time. With the assistance of Vicky Egan, who runs the excellent Roland S. Howard tribute page, Ian and I were able to get it all to come together. We had put on three bands for the Graney evening in the spring, but we decided to slim it down for Harry & co, a good move in hindsight, given the weather, as time was tight once everyone had settled in . We stayed with Poppycock as the support act, always reliable, always excellent.
Given the weather a huge turn out was not anticipated, especially for a Monday night, however fortunately there are enough hearty souls/Harry Howard fans to bring in a good sized audience.
Those who could not make it missed a stunning evening.
Poppycock have a slight pre-gig set back when Una’s keyboard starts emitting smoke, so a substitute is sourced. There’s always a gremlin hanging around in the ether to make life more stressful. Notwithstanding that the bands start only 30 minutes late. Poppycock get better each time I see them. Their well established repertoire mixes garage rock, folk, Dylan, and post punk into a package which brings new fans with every gig. The twin vocal line-up of Rose Niland and Anne-Marie Crowley is exceptional. I’m familiar with the tunes and I recognise a marked improvement. Heather, Nicki, Stuart, Lucy and Una weave a musical tapestry which marks them out as the best live band in Manchester at the moment. At times the sound they produce is incandescent.
The only minor niggle about the excellent Eagle as a venue is that there is not a plethora of places nearby to get food so the NDE ring out for pizza which arrives just in time for the band to have something to eat before playing.
The NDE are excellent. They play the first half of the new album “Sleepless Girls” for the opening section of the set. Dave Graney and Clare Moore couldn’t make this tour so These Immortal Souls alumni Craig Williamson and Chris Hughes have been drafted in. The new line-up has only had a couple of lengthy rehearsals at Seed Studios in south Manchester and the lack of time to practice means there are a few minor mis-steps during the set which are treated with friendly self-deprecation and do not spoil the overall enjoyment. A couple of excellent tracks from the debut album “Sick Sick Sick” and “The Old Man Blues” demonstrate the depth of the NDE song book. The other half of the current album forms the bulk of the rest of the set, a notable exception being a fitting tribute to Vicky Egan with a reading of The Birthday Party’s The Red Clock. Harry’s guitar work is fantastic, Edwina’s having great fun with her new Microkorg and producing an amazing range of keyboard sounds, which has Una Baines making a mental note to purchase one of her own. Craig and Chris are excellent and are more than able substitutes for the absent Dave and Clare.
This is live music at it’s best. Powerful, hypnotic, driven and played with enthusiasm. The four gig highlights of the year for me have been from Australians, two Dave Graney gigs in the spring, The Necks a couple of weeks back, and this gig from Harry Howard and the NDE.
Harry’s melding of garage rock and post-punk merges the best of both into a fresh and modern sound. Add to that great songs and you have a very special live experience.
The band play the Marc Riley session tonight and The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell, London on Thursday before embarking on a full European Tour (details below). I recommend you catch them live, they are fantastic.
In this modern world where the bland and the safe seem to be more commercially acceptable than the cutting edge, and thought provoking work gets little traction, it’s hard to maintain a positive perspective on the music industry. Operating outside of the norms of that industry is one action which gives blessed relief from the mundane. Self releasing and self promoting is hard work, it will cost you money, and time, and it may not reap the financial results that might be deserved, but you will at least get your music out there. When we set up German Shepherd records nearly three years ago now we had no real plan, we had some ground rules, and some small objectives, but we didn’t have an end game. Perhaps that was a good thing. Expectations might have been too high. There is frustration in this. A sense of disappointment that music we genuinely feel deserves to be heard and enjoyed isn’t getting the sort of exposure that others are. But we carry on. By Christmas we will have released 53 albums, EPs and singles this year. Some will say that is too much, they might be right, but it came in, we liked it and so we sent it out into the world.
The 49th of those releases is from Moss Skellington. Those who know what we do will realise that this is a partnership between Ian “Moet” Moss (aka House Mouse) and Moff Skellington. The two have collaborated on two previous singles, and two live events, in the last 18 months. The time was right for an album.
The methodology is fairly simple. Ian writes some words, and sometimes narrates them into a sound file. Moff builds a musical world around them with his battery of unique instruments. The component parts are then sent over to me for a degree of cutting, pasting, and fettling, and then Ian and Moff may add more vocals. The resulting whole is then mixed and mastered for sending out into the world. This eschews the need for expensive recording studios and other such trammels of the music industry. Most of it is done on a home studio, a phone, and a lap-top. These things are possible nowadays.
The album is called “The Lump” and comprises seven tracks. It represents two artists at their creative peak who are both cutting edge and thought provoking. The music is grounded in traditional folk forms but don’t be put off by that genre description. This is the folk of Comus and that ilk, not some chap in a woolly jumper with a finger in his ear. it is folk with bits added, a hint of Tom Waits, a smattering of Pere Ubu, a dusting of Fripp and Eno, an echo of Faust, a whimsy of Kevin Ayers, and nod towards modern urban forms like grime. Moss’s well renowned vocals and lyrics are of course the centre piece, but the added value is Moff’s particular use of music to create new and vivid backdrops for the words.
The subject matter is intriguing, the title track appears to be medical in it’s nature but on closer examination is revealed to have much deeper meaning. The combination of dark urban synth sounds, blues harmonica and squeeze box is utterly unique. “Chalk and Cheese”, which has a great call and response between the two protagonists, describes relationships in a honest way. “Look at the Fool”, with african rhythms from Moff, is a piece of Moss biting wit which requires close hearing. “Posh Nosh” derides the current obsession with food in the “Masterchef” era. “Serial Killing” is a dark tale of murder and mayhem on the underground. The 17 minute “The Mouse Engine” is a magnum opus which takes you through a word-scape which Lewis Carroll would have been proud off, rich with imagery, and utterly marvellous. The album closes with the plaintive waltz “The Other Side of the Looking Glass” which offers a glimmer of hope for the future.
Exceptional , unique and stunning. It should be listened to and is a primer for outsider music. it is released via German Shepherd Records on 25th November 2016.
“This is social commentary in rock at it’s very best. You can dance to it and it makes you think.”
The ascension bow out with a posthumous album called “Hierarchy” on 28th November via German Shepherd Records. The duo have crowned an eight year career with an excellent final statement of their work.
As one of the first bands I interviewed on Salford City Radio the pair have always had a special place in my music collection both for the quality of their musical output but for their political/polemical approach to the lyrical content of their releases. I described them as “brutally frank, angry, and politically astute” some years back and things have not changed with this final set of songs.
Mining their back catalogue to some degree with reworkings of earlier songs the album is an apposite articulation of the Cameron/May era with commentary about Zero Hours contracts, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and an acerbic look at modern urban planning via New Town Utopias.
The album kicks off with Neil’s pungent bass riff grabbing the ears on the excellent “Last Fall”, originally on the debut single of the same name from 2009. The circular piano riff and the call and response vocals mark this out as one of the band’s signature tunes. Venomous, driven, and wholly enjoyable, and yes, you can dance to it.
“Precipice” from the 2nd EP Blood Upon The Rose is up next and demonstrates the more measured side of their work, well I say measured, it’s still pretty in your face with layers of synths and guitars carrying the tune to an epic conclusion. There’s post punk, electronica, dance music, industrial music and post-rock all working together in a heady mix.
The excellent “Modern Life Crisis” melds a Jamaican beat with excellent descending picking and chorus which catches the ear. Back to the post punk world for “New Town Utopia” which describes accurately the despair of forgotten communities in modern Britain. Doug’s plaintive piano figures and organic synth sounds are excellent.
“Illusory Nights” is simply beautiful, a testament to their writing ability, with surging synths and a moreish piano riff which is almost Barryesque. The reverb is turned up to ten for a classic tune. “Positivity”, from the bands last release, is all arpeggiators and dance beats, and begs the listener to get up and throw some serious shapes, with a cheeky acid house synth squelch breakdown in the middle for good measure. It’s back to the Jamaican beats for the rather wonderful “Zero Hours” – the stand out line on the album “people who spend more on a bottle of wine than the money I get to live off for one month” sticks in my head given, as I was listening the album I saw the news that Buck House is going to get a £370m make over, at a time when people are sleeping rough on the streets of Salford. People need to listen to these lyrics and start thinking about mobilising to get some changes in this country. Probably the stand out track on the album for me with the boys coalescing what they are about into a perfect piece of agit-pop.
“PTSD” is something different with a fractured counterpoint between vocals/drums and guitar morphing into a wall of sound with a hypnotic industrial feel, perhaps Bauhaus would have sounded like this if they had come from Macclesfield. An exciting music development perhaps indicating where Doug and Neil are going next with tumbling bass and drums anchoring shards of guitar.
“Tomorrow’s A Conspiracy” feels like a mutant waltz but soon jumps Zappa-like into a different structure and then goes back again to the waltz. Like “PTSD” this is developing new angles and elements to the bands’ work. It gets quite proggy in places and the highest compliment I can give is that I was reminded of Van Der Graaf Generator at their best. The differentiated structure doesn’t cause the momentum to be lost. A triumph.
The lengthy “Captives” concludes this chapter of Doug and Neil’s career. They always say you should close the album on a high and they certainly achieve that with an epic piece which contains all of the best elements of their work.
The album will be available from 28th November at German Shepherd Records Bandcamp page. All proceeds from the sale of the release will go towards supporting coffee4craig homelessness charity.
I asked Doug a few questions about this final release and the way ahead
Why did you decide to end the band?
The time was right to end on a high after the success of our European tour with Mr Heart. The ascension had existed for 8 years and creatively me and Neil felt the need to move on from this format and these songs, the history attached to it, baggage etc. As most people out there making any kind of art will know you live with your endeavours every day and they are a part of your being, your existence, or whatever. We’d changed as people and our music is changing so here ‘The ascension’ ends…….next chapter now!
Will you be working together in the future?
Yes work is in progress as we speak!
Are you planning any other projects in the future individually?
Yes Neil has an acoustic track out under the name ‘The Sombre Watcher’ which I have recorded and mixed. It’s up on Soundcloud . I personally have a lot of heavily electronic experimental dance material I did before The ascension which may be remixed and put out at a later date.
The album is a mixture of older and newer tracks – what was the thinking behind that?
We thought it should reflect our entire catalogue as it’s a posthumous release. Also as the line-up changed from trio to duo the songs and our approach to them changed. The new recordings reflect this. For anyone who’s interested the original versions of songs like ‘Last Fall and ‘Precipice’ are available to download via our bandcamp page. Physical copies (CDs with artwork, lyrics etc) still exist but stocks are running low and we have no intention of pressing anymore.
I heartily recommend you check out this excellent album and contribute to a worthwhile cause at the same time. For my part i’m anticipating what Doug and Neil will come up with next.
Well chums there’s been an extremely eclectic mix of things in this week so without further ado lets look at some of the exciting new music coming your way….
Los Angeles-based Cleopatra Records and artist-run cassette label Practical Records present Rachel Mason‘s new album ‘Das Ram’ LP on November 18th…
Avec Le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche release their second studio album “Pas pire pop, I Love You So Much on January 20, 2017″…
Keeping up my Antipodean musical obsession I was recently contacted about Fraudband. They are a duo from Melbourne with their own, rhythm based take on psychedelic-rock. They steer clear of the typical sounds within this genre by leaning on influences such as Sonic Youth, Dirty Three and The Birthday Party and they sound like this…
Berlin-based trio The History of Colour TV is back with new music, presenting ‘Wreck’, the first single from their forthcoming third album ‘Something Like Eternity’. You can stream the single here.
Hiphop pioneers Dälek will be touring this month for a week of live shows, following on from the release of their 2016 comeback LP, Asphalt For Eden (Profound Lore), the first new record from the NYC trio since 2009. Ahead of these shows, they have released a brand new track, ‘Molten’, and the wind-tunnel production and furious wordsmith delivery that have become the group’s calling card have been amped up to reflect the song’s theme… dates are
22/11 – The Louisiana, Bristol
23/11 – Saint Lukes, Glasgow
24/11 – Chunk, Leeds
25/11 – Thomas House, Dublin
26/11 – Corsica Studios, London
27/11 – Islington Mill, Sunny Salford
The Comet is Coming have released a new single, “Final Eclipse”, which you can stream and purchase now via Bandcamp. It is the first new music from the three-piece since the release of their critically acclaimed, Mercury Prize-nominated LP Channel The Spirits, though the band had also shared some remixes since it’s release. They are playing Band on the Wall on December 11th.
Lawrence English, composer, artist and Room40 curator returns with a brand new record “Cruel Optimism” on 17th February 2017, here’s a taster….
Camilla George is set to release “Isang” on Ubuntu Music early next year. This will be her debut album – the MOBO nominated saxophonist, composer and teacher is already an established musician on the jazz circuit ….not sure if this track is on the album but I’m having to use this rather than the ones I’ve been sent as they are can’t be shared at this stage. What i’ve heard sounds excellent so watch out for this artist…
Dallas shoegazers Bloodhounds On My Trail have released a single ‘Places Like This’ and announced their ‘Haunted Isles’ EP….
Southern Lord are reviving the music of Philadelphia’s lost punk heroes, Ruin. Long considered a treasured local delicacy of the city’s earlier hardcore scene, Ruin released two albums during their original run, 1984’s He-Ho and 1986’s Fiat Lux, both of which will be combined for a vinyl release this December. The LP will see release on December 9th and pre orders are now live via the Southern Lord store.
Canada’s budding Label Obscura has announced that it will release a limited run vinyl reissue of ‘The Coastaline Fire’ LP – the final album by Ontario indie rockers Chore before they disbanded in the early 2000s. All tracks have been remastered for vinyl. It’s a damn fine album and is well worth checking out…
And finally, Friday 18th sees the release of the latest collaboration from Ian Moss and Andy Quayle as Moss Skellington. Following on from two well received singles the duo have now completed their first album “The Lump”. Characterised by Moff’s unique musical vision and Ian’s sharp polemic and biting wit with words, the album brings together two iconoclasts to create a unique musical vision. With subjects as diverse as posh food, murderers and sibling relationships the album provides a heady mix and includes the magnum opus the 17 minute “The Mouse Engine” which was premiered in Leeds earlier this year. The album was mixed by Space Museum who also contributed to the title track.
You’ll be able to download the album from midnight 18th November via Bandcamp…