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.

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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.

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.

A Gaze Among Them

The two year gap between the last three BIG | BRAVE albums is profoundly frustrating. Their music is compelling and there needs to be more of it, and more often. The latest, “A Gaze Among Them”, is released on Southern Lord on May 10th.

Since their formation in 2012, BIG|BRAVE have explored varying aspects of experimental rock with a focus on repetition, an epic sound, and an unrelenting delivery. Those elements are in full effect on this new album, released on Southern Lord.

The band includes Robin Wattie (vocals, electric guitar, guitar amp, bass amp), Mathieu Ball (electric guitar, guitar amps) and Loel Campbell (drums) with guest album appearances from Thierry Amar (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt Zion) on Contrabass and Seth Manchester’s synth overdubs. The album was recorded with Seth Manchester at Machine with Magnets in Pawtucket Rhode Island.

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With the exception of the relatively short “The Deafening Verity” the remaining four tracks vary between 7 and 10 minutes in length allowing enough space to develop a sound palette in which Wattie’s feral/anguished vocals persist over intense riffing and churning atmospherics. There is little modulation as the band pursue one note or one chord to create a hypnotic drone of noise rock.  An almost ecstatic and cathartic wall of sound emerges as guitars are brutalised and percussion creates a supporting bed  . Elements of religious and middle eastern music hover at the edge of the sound evoking a range of emotional responses not usually associated with this genre.

This is their fourth full length and their best work to date.

The album will be featured on Aural Delights Show 336 on May 9th.

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Trialogues

TRIALOGUES are three musicians who all have years of international experience in improvised music and who met in Berlin to launch this project.

The debut eponymous release contains 23 tracks and nearly 90 minutes of music.

On the first part of the album (CD1 , digital tracks 1-14 ) trumpeter Paul Schwingenschlögl and guitarist Jan Weber extend, process and distort the natural sounds of their instruments by using prepared objects and electronic effects. The band explain “This massive sound concoction – occasionally interrupted by lyrical cantilenas – encounters the pure double bass sound of Udo Betz. His sonorous ostinati are the linking element between largely laid out tonal layers and piercing sound explosions”.

The early ECM albums of Nils Petter Molvær, and the work of Eivind Aarset, as well as the music of Supersilent, are comparators and reference points for the overall sound of the more “electric” parts of the album. With a typical European sound the trio create memorable ambient explorations with delicate passages counterbalanced by Weber’s guitar which explores progressive rock, and beyond into heavier areas. Moments of pure beauty contrast with layers of intense interplay with the guitar in ascendance. Schwingenschlögl offers a wide variety of sounds from his horn occasionally dallying with free jazz elements, not unlike Lester Bowie in places.

The lack of percussion is not an issue. The trio can create a storm of noise which has its’ own inherent rhythm with Betz offering an anchor for the other two participants to work with. Across this first selection the trio engage in a variety of differing styles and approaches creating a fascinating sound.

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The second part of the album (CD2, starting with track 15 in the digital version) is mostly recorded acoustically. Weber plays a concert guitar and Schwingenschlögl works with the acoustic sound of his trumpet and flugelhorn without any effects. The pure double bass sound from Betz accentuates the serenity of the second CD. The guitar used and its sound reflects, to some degree, a spanish influence, which is echoed in some of the titles. The trumpet takes more of a lead melody role in this context and the overall sound is a little more abstract in places, but also very playful in others. The overall feel moves from the north to the south of Europe.

This remarkable debut demonstrates a wide range of technique, reflects a broad knowledge of the history of jazz, and an impressive approach with two distinct sets of music.

The album will featured on World of Jazz Show 330 on 21st April 2019

ZIPPA DEEDOO WHAT IS/WAS THAT/THIS?

Time for a new album from Dave Graney and Clare Moore

The opening slinky blues pop of “Baby I Wish I’d Been A Pop Star” marks another leap forward in the Dave Graney and Clare Moore canon. This time with the two Stu’s – Perera and Thomas – collectively as The MistLy – they have produced a classic album for the end of the second decade of the 21st century. An album of eight songs in thirteen versions takes elements of the previous album and run of digital singles and develops them into something recognisable, but also uniquely modern, and, of course “Graney”.

The autobiographical “Near Death Experience” (in joke) of “Song Of Life” gives you the typically gnomic album title as you drift into Graney lounge jazz territory, an effortless “velvet fog” performance, with intricate guitar patterns. The omnipresent cowbell of “Ultrakeef” with more “fucks” than Malcolm Tucker on a bad day (beating “Death by A Thousand Sucks” by a long way) is a mini-biography of Mr Richards in typical Dave story-telling mode, picking key elements from a complex life history, over a Stones-like blues romp which wouldn’t have been out of place on “Eat A Peach”, and which makes Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” feel a little anodyne in comparison.

The remake of last years “Gloria Grahame” single is a triumph. Morphed into a loping languorous blues it becomes even more sexy/sultry/sweaty than the original version, little additional sound forms skitter across the cinematic landscape, slide guitar in full effect, sprinkles of keyboards from Robin Casinader, a little like the subject matter it is both alluring and dangerous. The track is built up from a live track recorded at Smiths in Canberra in October 2018.

The remake of “Your Masters” (originally on The Dave Graney Show album) is a necessary action in the context of the political world we find ourselves in 2019. As relevant lyrically now as it was twenty one years ago – which probably indicates that either nothing changes or we are in some sort of Groundhog Day/Matrix loop. Perera provides a searing guitar line as a bridge and the song is refreshed and refreshing.

As trailed on various You Tube/Facebook live recordings last year the dreamy psychedelia of “Is That What You Did” is all about interlocking guitars as Clare and Stu hold the rhythm whilst Dave and t’other Stu trade licks, many pushed through various digital delays and other such things, to create a rich tapestry of sound which echoes Micky Jones and Tweke Lewis trading licks on “Back to the Future”. The sound is taken down to a simple rhythm pattern as bottle necks scrape lower strings and then builds into louder passages as chittering bridge noises echo into the night. Exceptional.

“Where’s My Buzz” – another lengthy track, has that effortless dreamy vibe of  parts of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” – those chord changes! Probably the most “Dave” track on the album but incorporating many of the elements present in other parts of the set, the delicate filigrees of guitars dancing around in the background.

The slight revision of “You’re All Wrong” – a single from 2018 – extends the song slightly and gives it more body/space….another lounge blues  – ends the formal part of the album after that there are five alternate versions of some of the preceding.

“Pop Star” is delivered as a slow blues, Graney a laconic narrator, some tasteful guitar tones underlying a dreamy, almost sad, reflection. The melody line from “Is That What You Did” subliminally making it’s way into the closing section makes for some sort of conceptual continuity.  The revised “Song Of Life” is a remix and longer with occasional little synth motifs and slightly busier percussion which is more to the fore. The alternative of Gloria Grahame is the “original electro glitch” which is essentially a metronomic snare and cymbal rhythm from a drum machine underpinned by various synth sounds and was a released as a single in 2018.

The album concludes with alternate versions of “Is That What You Did” and “Where’s My Buzz” which will require further examination from this listener to compare and contrast, suffice to say after a couple of listens they add to the overall enjoyment of the album.

This is described as a “rock and roll” album and in that it reflects music from the late 60s/early 70s (pre-punk if you will) that is a reasonable description but i’d say it goes beyond that basic description as there are modern elements, nods to jazz, the use of current technique, and of course the unique Graney/Moore stylings all present. It adds to and enhances a formidable body of work.

I commend it to you without reservation.

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Welcome to Jackson Heights

The Seventy Twenty return with a brand new album “Welcome To Jackson Heights” in which James Burling coalesces the best of his first and second albums into a magnificent third.

Since last years “Joy” Burling has relocated permanently to the United States so the old Seven Twenty has gone and will have to be built up again from scratch. For this album James says “…..(it’s) all me except for an excellent New York based drummer called Josh Schusterman throughout, my Nashville country-hit-writer friend James Tristan Redding on bass on “Gods” and longtime Seven Twenty member and Scissor Stewart Harris on bass on ‘Untilted’.”

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The album has ten tracks making up thirty two minutes so there’s no padding or lengthy outings, indeed two tracks, called “Interludes”, little musical sketches, are very short indeed. The album length and track timings are no great issue as the quality of the songs is timeless. There is an effortless, yet epic, grandeur to these tunes, imagine the distillation of urban tropes that you will get from an early Tom Waits album, the brash Jersey Shore blue collar pop of early Springsteen, the melancholic beauty of a Ray Davies classic, and McCartney at his most melodic, and you are close to what Burling has created here.

Classic albums shouldn’t take up to too much listening time, and they should leave a nagging message in the corner of your mind, begging you to listen again. “Jackson Heights” does this, as it conjures and delivers the story of a transatlantic love affair which has reached a point of resolution. If the first two albums were the courtship period of that love affair then this album finds it reaching something more permanent. There’s a maturity to the tunes, there’s not the ongoing search for a pop melody as there was on the first two releases. The New York meta-fiction thing here is whether the protagonist is in love with the girl, or the city, or both. The psychogeography of the Big Apple, and Queens in particular, is a key component.

There are a variety of new musical avenues explored, the rich psychedelia of “Untilted” for example echoes and builds on The Beatles “Within You, Without You” by taking it into a drone rock nirvana with searing guitars buried deep in the mix.  Indeed the latter half of the album takes us into a range of areas moving seamlessly from pop to rock.  The hypnotic “Waves As Tall As Towers” is a tour de force, layers of instruments build in a hypnotic maelstrom of sound, Burling’s vocals are sensational here, as keyboards surge around a repetitive rhythm which breaks down into a funky bass interlude. The closing “Jackson Heights” however takes us back to the stripped down acoustic guitar journeys of the first album, a narrative in the spirit of Arlo Guthrie or Paul Simon. A poignant closer to a wonderful album delivers the message that love has won the day. Surely a message we need to be sending out on both sides of the Atlantic in the days of the Donald and Maybot.

Album one was my album of the year, album two was Dave Hammond’s album of the year in 2018, I wonder if we will synchronise on this one? It’s probably too early in the year to tell……

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