parasitic insects teach us humility

1987/8 …. the murky years between post-punk and the emerging Madchester.  The Manchester Music Scene was in some sort of flux. The nationwide scene was dull, with Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Stock, Aitken and Waterman dominating. On a wider stage the Sonic Youth influence was palpable, “Daydream Nation” was the album on everyone’s lips, the since self-disenfranchised “Moody Chops” had his first solo album out, “Surfer Rosa” was making the Pixies a thing. Michael Jackson dominated the charts. The Fall hit a pre “Brix-exit” creative high with “The Frenz Experiment” and “I Am Kurious Oranj”.  Similarly Wire returned with the incredible “A Bell Is A Cup”. “16 Lovers Lane” both celebrated and destroyed The Go-Betweens as Grant and Amanda’s romance ended. Dave Graney and Clare Moore were moving between The Moodists and Coral Snakes/White Buffaloes and London & Melbourne. In Manchester clubs went in another direction, availability of ecstasy started to change the musical landscape. Towards the end of the year “Bummed” presaged what was to come.

Out of this context Boz Vile and Art Carbuncle, plus a drum machine called Sissy, conceived and delivered Flea.

The Boardwalk was a venue and rehearsal rooms at the bottom of Little Peter Street, now long gone and replaced by the “Great Northern Square” – it was the venue of choice for aspiring rock acts and a central part of an ongoing music scene. Many of the bands that would dominate the emerging scene started there. Flea were part of that collection of artists. They were active between 1988 and 1993 playing at many of the key gigs in the city around that time period.

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Flea dissolved in 1993 when there particular brand “micro chip axe murdering” failed to connect to the psychedelic haze of Madchester in full flow.  Another example of genuinely talented musicians with cutting edge music being lost in a morass of the mundane. Their edgy, anarchic, sound was more in tune with what was happening in America and I have no doubt that if they had relocated to America’s West Coast they would have received a warmer welcome and achieved some longevity.

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“parasitic insects teach us humility” collects recordings from 1990/1 in Bedford and Manchester and the release on German Shepherd Records emerges from that labels’ relationship with Boz Hayward, and also an appearance at the Star and Garter in September 2017 supporting The Cravats when the duo (and Sissy) re-emerged after a 25 year gap. Rat’s other band Dead Objectives also played the gig. A follow up gig at this summers Manchester Meltdown lead to a continuing conversation about releasing the album. Several months later it gets general release on November 16th.

I don’t need to say any more – have a listen…..

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Immediate

I’m late to the party as usual on this one. They are a Manchester band but a friend from Northampton brought them to my attention. They are a six piece (yes I know the photo only has five but it’s the only one I could be bothered to grab) called D.U.D.S. (or possibly d.u.d.s. depending on what part of the internet you are looking at). There appears to be quite a bit of internet chat and 6Music action so I suppose I ought to file them away in the “not obscure enough” pile but I was quite taken with the Trout Mask guitar of the opening track so I persevered.

As I continued it became clear I was back in 1982 again.

In summary it’s Beefheart plus Gang of Four plus James Chance/White plus Talking Heads plus early DEVO, maybe a bit of early Tuxedomoon,  plus any number of noisy guitar oiks who were hanging around Oldham Street/Swan Street at the time of Hex Enduction Hour. If you are as old as me you will have heard it all before and be mildly bemused about the rotational nature of music (time wise that is…if you hang around long enough all types of genres come back round again). If you are under 40 and haven’t mined the back catalogue of Manchester post punk (i.e. 1980 to 1985) then you are in for a pleasant surprise as their angular atonal brashness is quite arresting.

Of course Ian Moss invented this type of music with the Dodos (not the american ones) and The Stepbrothers so it once again proves he was way ahead of his time.

Anyhow I’ll be playing track a week on Thursday but here it is if you want to check it out…….

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Motus Octo

Bouquet of Dead Crows return with their second full length and a fuller, more aggressive sound emerges, consolidating the tension between the hard rock of the music and Toni Cooper’s melodic vocals. The music takes on a much broader more orchestral sound, the riffs are heavier, the structures are more complex. The band have demonstrated a clear development of their sound in this release.

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The title (referring to the fact that there are eight tracks on the album), essentially means ‘eight movements’, or eight emotions.

Limited Edition Colour Vinyl Versions of the album plus T-Shirts and gig tickets are available at Music Glue . CD copies have completely sold out.

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Bouquet of Dead Crows are:

Antoinette Cooper : Vocals
Neil Bruce : Guitars
Graeme Clarke : Bass
Andrew Coxall : Drums, Percussion, Trumpet, Synths & Keys, & Backing vocals

The album was recorded and produced By Neil Haynes at the Parlour and artwork was by Stewart Harris

It releases November 23, 2018.

Tour dates to support this release….

NOVEMBER

15th – Esquires, Bedford
24th – Motus Octo launch at The Blue Moon, Cambridge
29th – Gringos, Norwich

DECEMBER

1st – Smokehouse, Ipswich
6th – Mama Liz’s Voodoo Lounge, Stamford

Synth Driven Funeral Doom

American Black Metal Band Wolves in the Throne Room are releasing a cinematic/epic debut album by synth-driven funeral doom band Vouna via their Artemisia Records label on November 9th.

The record evokes a devastating and beautiful journey of becoming the last person on earth. Razor sharp tremolo picked guitars cut through the heart like a knife. Mournfully sung vocals and cinematic melodies are combined with crushing doom drums, while layers of primitive 90s digital synths conjure a lush and rugged soundscape.

All of the music on the album was composed and all instruments performed by Vouna frontperson Yianna Bekris (previously of Vradiazei, Eigenlicht, and Sadhaka). The music was inspired and influenced by Finnish funeral doom, English masters My Dying Bride, Eastern European black metal, and Greek folk music.

Vouna was recorded at the Wolves In The Throne Room studio, Owl Lodge, which is located at the edge of an ancient forest in Olympia, Washington State. Nathan Weaver collaborated with Yianna to create the artwork, which mixes archaic Hellenic mythic images with Cascadian atmospheres.

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At 31 minutes the five track album does not overstay its welcome. The sounds are indeed grand in scale varying between simple strummed acoustic guitars and full on orchestral workouts. Yianna’s plaintive and mournful voice dominates and her multi-instrument dexterity is impressive . The sound varies between arcadian folk and cinematic doom metal via post-rock. Music of this kind can tend to be overlong and overblown but in this instance brevity and impressive structure result in a highly entertaining listening experience. At times I was taken back to the epic grandeur of the first King Crimson album.

I will feature the epic “Drowning City” on Aural Delights 310 on 8th November.

Preorders for CDs, LPs and other Vouna Merchandise are available at the Artemisia USA Store  

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Dunce Confederacy

There’s a point towards the end of the Lords of Zubos album “The trouble with Paté”, i.e. the release that precedes this one I am going to talk about here,  where John Rowley berates John Senior and his brother Mike plus Paul Hogg for spending two years messing around, getting stoned and creating a muddled mess. There’s some validity in that tongue in cheek badinage as,  whilst the Zubos album is a sometimes confused, sometimes suspect, melange  of Firesign Theatre like surreal theatrical snippets, its successor “Road Trip (Fall of the Rebel Angels)” takes the bones of that experimentation and transforms their work method into a collection that transcends comparison with any other contemporary releases in 2018, and stands as a unique piece of art and music regardless of the year. The Zubos album ought to be heard in advance of the Aliens album as it, despite its sometimes worryingly laddish humour, creates a framework with which to listen to the latest release.

Hull has a fine track record of producing good music. Last year I was taken on a between pub trip around the City Centre by some locals who introduced me to the rich history of the cities musical heritage which is not all about Mick Ronson despite rumours you may have heard to the contrary. Of late Warren Street Records, and Lou Duffy Howard and her various projects, and the annual Humber Street sessions have continued to cement the Hull reputation with a rich vein of material. Bands like Life, Loudhailer Electric Company, El Whaeko, La Bête Blooms, EMBRS, and  The Evil Litter are all fine examples of what Hull is delivering at the moment. Add to that list Ten Million Aliens.

Ten Million Aliens are the latest incarnation of the partnership of  John Senior with producer John Rowley, ex-guitarist from John Peel favourite’s Red Guitars (of which the aforementioned Lou was the bass player). The duo remains largely unknown outside of their local music scene and has worked together for years on some fascinating studio projects including the aforementioned Lords of Zubos and more recently a similarly fascinating and fantastic album “On The Beach” which features the late Eddie Smith. Senior has recently remixed one of the bands on the German Shepherd record label – The Mind Sweepers.

With the addition of Rich Banks on bass and guitar, they have taken matters to another level from Lords of Zubos with this new album.

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There must have been some degree of pre-cognition in play when the album was started two years ago as some of the subject matter covered eerily mirrors and reflects Trump’s current Republican base with chilling accuracy. It also echoes, to some degree, John Kennedy Toole’s picaresque novel “A Confederacy of Dunces”, in that it lays bare some of the more absurd and obsessive elements of American culture. I was pondering a while back as to why there was not a current protest movement in the music biz which reflected the state of things in both this country and the States. To some degree, this album covers that gap. It also strikes me that this album is a musical counterpart to the visual art of Garth Ennis’ Preacher series, an America which is both familiar and alien.

The opening “A Confederacy of Fools” mirrors the Toole novel in both title and content by exposing the partisan simplicity of the dialogue of the right, and indeed the far right. The music reflects the place and is wonderful, the words reflect some rather worrying thought processes that have been given a wider stage by the orange man-baby of late.  The puerile arguments against countries that play “soccer” instead of “proper” football (i.e. American) is both chilling and hilarious.

It’s not all about politics mind you, there is a heartfelt tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis via “The Killer” which collates some remarkable comments from the great man. Americas tortured history with regard to race discrimination is forensically examined with “Long Time Coming”  which is brutal but captured beautifully in a remarkable piece of music which is reminiscent of John Zorn’s cut-up technique used on “The Big GunDown.  The remarkable “Soul Food” is a hilarious take-down of American Food Culture which would turn any dedicated meat eater into a vegan overnight.

“Cuban Nights” cheekily borrows an Afro-Cuban jazz motif to contain the story of The Bay of Pigs crisis and the chilling time of the Cold War in the early 60s. “Rocket Clank Clank” starts off with Jeff Tracy and then embarks on a trip around 50s sci-fi movies with a Nuggets-style vibe. Any track which includes my favourite movie “Forbidden Planet” and Star Trek TOS is always going to get my vote, that they launch into a post-punk hook in parts of the song is both baffling and fascinating. “From A Buick 8” centres on both American car culture and the advertising industry of that country with a bluesy piano work-out. “Cops and Robbers” adopts a Bill Burroughs/Brion Gysin cut-up technique by marrying cop-show funk with a seemingly random series of excerpts from tv and film, Senior’s piano on this track is particularly fine. “Dust to Dust” provides a jazzy interlude with spacey guitar and reflects elements of American history. Like a lot of the music on the album seemingly incongruous found sounds float around to create a feel which reminds me of the work of Hal Willner (particularly his Charles Mingus hommage “Weird Nightmare”). The brilliant “Don’s Guns” takes a George Clinton/Bootsy Collins/James Brown riff and morphs into a guitar/organ Jimmy Smith style freakout while tuning into various sounds from Nixon, Reagan through to Quinn Martin via various other destinations before commenting on the current Second Amendment debate which bedevils the USA.  “Bound for Glory” reflects the Trump presidency before embarking on a fractured journey from Bill Black/Scotty Moore to Mary Halvorson via techno and hi-life. The musical hooks here are intelligently constructed. Obama’s hopeful message is left hanging as the train whistle blows. The plaintive closer “Mr Tangerine Man” which quotes John F’.. Kennedy, and 9/11 disaster, and other key moments,  before getting into the utterances of the latest incumbent of the Presidency is sanguine food for thought and the perfect closer to an album full to the brim with outstanding creativity.

I unreservedly recommend this album to you as one of the most outstanding pieces of work I have heard. The irony is, I guess, that it took a couple of guys from Hull to make one of the boldest statements about America in a long long time.

Parts of the Lords of Zubos album can be streamed here but I suggest you acquire the whole thing as there is a narrative which runs through the complete set.

More info and shop here – http://ten-million-aliens.co.uk/

Many thanks to John Rowley and John Senior for their generosity and special thanks to Brad Cain for bringing the album to my attention in the first place.

I Had A New York Girlfriend

When music historians look back on the latter half of the 2010s two key things will become clear from their research. Firstly how the hell was Ed Sheeran/Mumford and Sons/Coldplay (delete as applicable) so successful when other bands and artists, clearly more talented, remained largely unnoticed?

Secondly, why didn’t my DJ chums (with the notable exception of Dave Hammond) pick up on the first The Seven Twenty album when I made it my album of the year in 2015.

Three years on from that first album The Seven Twenty are back with a collection of songs that were written around the time of the first release and have been languishing waiting for a record label with any degree of common sense to pick up on them. Such are the vagaries of the music biz these days the band have set up their own label to release it.

In a pub in Prestwich about a year ago I was berating Stephen Doyle about the need to find “The Grant McLennan Moment” in the outpourings of singer we were watching, who was trying hard but I was not connecting with. The “Grant” moment is that bit in a song where you get a shiver up your spine and you smile from the inside out. Very few musicians can do it. Capturing a moment in time through songwriting and making it last is an art. James Burling can do it, and he has a group of musicians around him that can deliver his vision. Their new album does the “Grant” thing on every track.

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The Seven Twenty (credit: Stag Lites Photography)

“Joy” is the second album from The Seven Twenty. It was written on a plastic guitar in New York in four days and brought back to the UK where it was polished and developed, before being finished in New York in the Summer of 2016. They have created a collection which is every bit of a triumph as the debut. I’d go as far as to say it’s better than the eponymous first release in that it is better produced and has a complete suite of songs feel about it. The thematic thread of the album is love, but a love separated by distance, lack of resources, cultural divides, and other distractions. New York, as a place, runs through the album with Paul Auster like psychogeographical abandon. Musically it is rich and memorable, with lush string arrangements, epic sweeping moments and also a  great deal of fun.

Burling can be firmly placed in the list of great songwriters like Forster & McLennan, Ray Davies et al. He captures the essence of pop/rock music and modernises it, you will recognise some of the themes, arrangements and melodies in that he has taken the ingredients that make a great song and distilled them into perfect little parcels. On one occasion the similarities to a track by a group from Birmingham are a little less tangential than they ought to be but manage to avoid being a copy/pastiche, in any event, anyone under the age of 55 wouldn’t probably get the allusion/illusion/connection that I got.

Comparisons can and should be made, in part, with The Go-Betweens. A female drummer and great songs are the pedantically obvious points.  What I mean is that this is a quality album in the adventurous spirit of Spring Hill Fair with the sentiment and accessibility of 16 Lovers Lane. And of course, Robert Forster had a solo album called “I Had A New York Girlfriend”.

 ‘Joyʼ is released on 22nd June 2018 on limited run vinyl and digital formats.

The Seven Twenty are James Burling (guitar, lead vocals), Stewart Harris (bass, backing vocals), Geoff Hinkins (keys, backing vocals) and Helen Robertson (drums, backing vocals). Stewart also plays in The Scissors and Helen & Geoff play in Goddamit Jeremiah (whose album I must get around to reviewing as well).

 “Joy “is the first release on the bandʼs Whiskey Ward Records label.  Order it here.

The promo says the album is already being described as a “cult” classic. It transcends cult status in my mind, it ought to be huge. Whether they will be able to break through the 6Music glass ceiling is in the hands of the gods, and luck, I’d guess but I already know that at least three community radio DJs will be featuring the band, I challenge my other DJ chums to ignore it at their peril.

Will it be album of the year 2018? Possibly but there are already six other contenders which are as good, and it is only June, so you’ll have to wait until December to find out.

As for Ed Sheeran and the others? Well, I don’t really care about them.

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Landscapes of Insanity

Good music can always capture and reflect on moments in history.

It can deal with politically important issues without resorting to polemic. It can anthologise without being trite.

Mr Moss has been poorly over the last few years. He has battled two major health scares. His indomitable spirit has fought through these catabatic barriers and he has emerged phoenix-like with his mojo renewed and wholly intact.

I may have said elsewhere that Four Candles is the best band that Mr Moss has ever had, this is confirmed and exemplified by “Spiritual Rapture” their new release. Said band is Phil Peak – drums, Jon Rowlinson – bass and Mark Taylor – guitar.

Back in January, at the Peer Hat in Manchester, the six songs on this album were premiered and worked through. At the time I was struck by the huge change in the band from the sturm and drang of “Killing the Image” to a more measured and, dare I say it, progressive approach to the music.

Mr Moss writes internally for his solo stuff with various collaborators. For band projects he writes externally, he observes and comments, he anthologises, he is political, and also is a biographer.

The music here is mature and considered.  Mr Moss provides a balanced attack, both bucolic and bellicose. There is saxophone from David Wilkinson to add fire and fervour to the sound, especially on “Chastity Belt” the 657th song in the canon about the dissolution of a band which we don’t talk about anymore. The rhythmic interplay on said song between Taylor, Rowlinson and Peak is breathtaking.

“Dipping A Toe In The Water” is a song about a Muddy Waters’ tour in the UK and yet another swipe at the conservative idiots who are so-called music fans. Taylor plays one of many earworm guitar figures that appear across the album. Rowlinson and Peak swing effortlessly as Taylor arpeggiates and Moss testifies. Hypnotic music with a strong message.

“C33” has appeared, lyrically at least, elsewhere as a Moss Bros concoction. Here it most resembles the music that was on “Killing The Image”. Live it is a monster, big riffs and call and response vocals. Moss emotes his huge regard for Oscar Wilde, the rhythm section attacks with motorik menace, and the guitar assaults your senses.

The absolute triumph is “You Can’t Be What You Pretend” – rhythmically starting somewhere in Psycho Killer territory, all backbeat and attitude, but carried forward with one of the best guitar figures I have heard in a long while. If you are not moving sinuously in a slinky fashion across the dance floor on hearing this then you have no soul. Moss berates and bellows moving from declamatory to intense, this is head-shakingly, hip-movingly hypnotic stuff. It’s damn sexy. It transcends to a huge climax relentlessly drawing you in.

What to do after that?  Well, the answer is to dive into a delta blues with abandonment. A mutant blues which takes no prisoners. Moss tears his vocal chords apart as the band charge headlong into the heart of darkness that is Basket Weaving.

And back to the start…..the opening track is “Strange Things Are Happening” a masterpiece of restraint musically, with delightful guitar, Wilkinson’s sax, and the interesting interjection of a guiro as a rhythmic colour. Moss evokes the current political climate perfectly, he reflects the fear and concern that government is driving us to strange places where retaining a grip on reality is increasingly impossible. It is the other triumph in the set and a brilliant way to start an album.

The album was recorded at 6dB in Salford by Simon “Ding” Archer who has captured the band at their best.

There are around five albums vying for the best of the year at this point – this is one of them.

“Spiritual Rapture” will be available from Friday 22nd at the German Shepherd bandcamp page in CD format and will be released digitally as three double-A side singles in June, July and August

You can see Four Candles at Manchester Meltdown on June 23rd at The Peer Hat, Manchester.

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