Dark side of the tune

It’s not exactly profound to suggest that there is a link between the quality of art produced and the state of the world. Yes, art requires funding and support and education and people to have enough time and money to both enjoy it and pay for enjoying it. And, yes, there is a point at which art becomes basically impossible for people because they have neither the time or resources to make or enjoy it. However, it’s also true that some of the greatest art comes from some of the most difficult times. That for many artists struggle is an important part of their process. That it’s how they find their voice. Every protest needs an anthem.

In music, you can look at the folk and blues that came out of dustbowl, depression era America, or the rise of punk and new wave from the industrial meltdown of late 70’s and early 80’s England. To me, it feels like the last year has resonated in a similar way to those times.

The rise of far right, nationalistic, xenophobic politics magnified through the prism of Brexit and Trump. The never-ending crises of war, poverty and famine leading to an explosion of  refugees who are seemingly to blame for having nowhere safe to call home. The continual failings of modern capitalism to balance individual freedom with societal responsibility leaving meritocracy as a fading dream. And all this punctuated by moments of terror about which we must show no fear, because to do so would be to give the criminals that enact these horrors exactly what they want.

Meanwhile the music has got better and harder and more honest. In the States, alternate hip-hop – led by a vanguard of YG and the returning A Tribe Called Quest – has found it’s voice again. Musically, the spectrum is as broad as it’s ever been and the beats as strong. Lyrically, there is a new-found vigour. No one is going quietly into the night.

KXNG Crooked’s Alternative Facts seems almost whimsical at first. Over a lackadaisical beat you’re encouraged to lie to your girlfriend, your boss, the police and your family. And why the hell not? After all, if the President can do it, why shouldn’t you?

The message here is really important. It’s not just about what Trump does, it’s also about what he represents. What does it teach us when the ‘leader of the free world’  thinks it’s not only okay to lie, but also that it’s not a lie if enough people believe it to be true.

Mr Wise’s The Man of Orange is a menacing first person encounter with the mind of Donald Trump. The President’s own words are swallowed whole and spat out again in angry roar. As I learnt to my cost, you shouldn’t listen to this at full volume in your car,  unless you want to give people the wrong impression.

And we haven’t even touched the excellent new tracks by Joey Bada$$ and J. Cole. Maybe, another day, because I can’t get through this blog without mentioning the fantastic ‘Our First 100 Days’. 100 artists, 100 songs, one for each of the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. This compilation has been providing fuel to my musical fire for months now and if you haven’t got on board with it, then you should. For a minimum donation of $30 you too can have all these tracks. Not only is this a complete bargain but all the profits go to charities fighting for LGBTQ rights, sensible climate change and immigration policies, and access to safe, objective family planning options. If you haven’t got the point yet, this project  gives me a warm, tingly feeling and that’s before we’ve talked about the music.

Adam Torres is relatively new to me but has been quietly stretching the Americana envelope for a decade now (his 2008 record Nostra Nova, in particular, is really great). Dreamers in America is melancholy and gorgeous:

Nathan Bowles is a fantastic banjo player from Virginia. His track the I In The Silence gently quakes my heart, reminding me a little of Dirty Three in their quieter moments:

I cried when I first heard the Piano Version of Julien Baker’s Good News. Her album from last year, Sprained Ankle, was pretty great but this is a wonderful, if brutal 4 minutes:

Most of these songs appear on  May’s Skewed Quiff. You should listen to it and then go and buy some music.

1 Arabesque by Pronto Mama
2 Different Now by Chastity Belt
3 Mockingbird (w/ Mimikyu) by Luupy
4 Two Of The Lucky Ones by The Droge & Summer Blend
5 Luxury Vintage Rap by Nick Grant
6 Keston Cobblers Club by Almost Home
7 Filthy Boy by Mental Conditions
8 The I In Silence by Nathan Bowles
9 Imagining My Man by Aldous Harding
10 Good News (Piano Version) by Julien Baker
11 Moonfire by Boy & Bear
12 Let The Drums Speak (Dj XS Right Thing Edit) by Bah Samba
13 Walk Don’t Run by Chimney
14 Animals by Laura Gibson
15 High For Hours by J. Cole
16 Hot Thoughts by Spoon
17 Hey Can You Come Out And Play by Megan Sue Hicks
18 Bird by Kelly Lee Owens
19 Permanent by Carla Sagan
20 Vintage Red by Jay Jay Pistolet

1 Do The Whirlwind by Architecture in Helsinki
2 Sparkle (Teck-Zilla Remix) by Camp Lo
3 The Lives Of Elevators (Findspire live session) by Orouni
4 Chance The Dog (The Song) by The Kraken Quartet
5 Predator by Will Johnson
6 The Sea by Eliza Carthy
7 Turncoat by Pickwick
8 Alternative Facts by KXNG Crooked
9 Smoke Of Dreams by Thurston Moore
10 Laminated Cat by Jeff Tweedy
11 Can’t Hold On by Black Lips
12 One More Love song by Mac Demarco
13 The Man of Orange (prod. by Team Demo) by Mister Wise
14 Modern Highway by Luke Abbott
15 Hellhound in The House by Hip Hatchet
16 Halfway Home by Broken Social Scene
17 Caramel Dreams by Blue Movies
18 Just A Dream (Alternate Take) by Bert Jansch
19 Lil Dead Eye-d by Richard Edwards
20 End Of The World by Sharon Van Etten

Dark side of the tune

Those Sudden Nights

It had been a week of sleepless nights, and now in the brief respite of day, the glorious early spring sun has left the world saturated and overexposed. Colours shudder and linger, the passing landscape a haze of lines behind a cloudy, childhood cordial of sky. My thoughts crackle and pop like dry wood on an open fire, splintering in a thousand directions before collapsing in an ashy mess.

Somewhere down the road a cherry picker has died and I’m stuck in snaking, growling backlog of impatience. A trickle of sweat rolls inexorably and itchily down my spine and my hand shakes as it raises the cigarette, warm and tarry and harsh, to my mouth. My fingers flicker over the buttons of the car stereo, incessantly seeking distraction.

Middle Kid are the latest in a fine stream of Australian bands finding global recognition. Never Start is the quiet roar of repressed anger, of not knowing why, of knowing that you’re gonna pick a fight because you need to pick a fight. It’s wild and messy and an utter joy. I scream along to it, much to the amusement of the surrounding pack.

Sacred Paws are a two piece London/Glasgow reggae/riot grrl hybrid who have just released their debut album on Mogwai’s Rock Action label. They are jittering pulse, all poise on the surface, wayward and wild underneath. I sway like a broken stalk in the breeze.

We stutter forward and Hamburg’s Sick Hyenas fill the void with a wall of surf that crashes over my body shaking loose the fillings in my teeth, bending muscle and bone to it’s will. I’m home again, my home away from home: Saturday night’s pressed up to the edge of a stage the world washed away by the flood of noise.

All of these songs (and lots of marvellous other ones appear) on this month’s Skewed Quiff:

 

 

 

 

 

Those Sudden Nights

Treading carefully

The problem with life – because there’s only one problem with life, obviously – is that you constantly want to embrace new things, to be mesmerised by the wonder of something new and vibrant and beautiful but that you often don’t notice what you’ve lost along the way.

Taking music as an example (and Quiff is as bad as most for this) new music is too available to us now. We can get it when we want it and can organise and arrange it as we want it. Artists no longer need traditional means to get their work to you and this means there is a profundity of music out there. There is a bygone era where you had to go a shop and buy a record if you wanted to listen to it, now it’s a few clicks away and – if you’ll excuse the extended metaphor – the shelves are infinitely long and wide and fully stocked with every type of music you could imagine.

This is a wonderous thing, I truly fucking love it, but along the way the ease of access and sheer volume of choice has meant that we have stopped listening to albums anywhere near as much as we used to. Albums should be the high point of a musicians output. Months, years even, put aside to the creation of a singular object. All that heart poured into a perfectly formed hour. Getting an album right is hard, much harder than writing one great song, but the reward for both performer and listener is so much greater.

At this point some of you’re thinking either a) fuck, this is a long and fairly inane introduction or b) fuck, this is hypocritical for a blog that puts out a compilation of 40 odd tracks a month all by different artists, sourced almost wholly from the Internet. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were thinking both.

So, by way of explanation, this blog came about because earlier this week someone asked me what albums I’d been listening to and I didn’t have much to say. As a result, I decided to list some of my favourite LPs of the year so far so that you can indulge yourself in something special:

Laura Marling – Semper Femina

Marling’s six album may be my favourite yet. This is an artist at the height of her powers, musically and lyrically.

 

Jay Som – Everybody Works

A record of endearingly anxious and frazzled bedroom rock that twists and twirls through different styles. It’s frankly lovely.

Tinariwen – Elhan

Masterful, driving desert blues crossed with American folk. I struggle to see how anyone couldn’t love this.

Patch & The Giant – All that We Had We Stole

London based folk excellence from Patch. Recorded with care and love this is the album that captures their live sound and should catapult them towards stardom. Instead, they’ll probably just end up with a Radio 2 folk award nomination.

Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s gone

I’ve banged on enough about Loyle in the past but this is a great record. Refusing to bow to the huge pressure to make a bunch of ‘bangers’ and hit the radio 1 playlist hard, Loyle has done what he does and made an intimate, funny and warm album. More like this please.

Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness

I’ve saved room for a little bit of bleak in here. There is heartbreak and wisdom writ large across this record.

Priests – Nothing Feels Natural

Priests debut album is so cool and considered it hurts. Sometimes a band just knows what it’s doing.

 

From Here: English Folk Recordings (Compilation)

A while back a few people decided it would be wise to wander around the UK getting a bunch of folk artists to record a song from their local area. It was wise.

 

Michael Chapman – Fully Qualified Survivor (reissue)

Imagine that it’s 1970 and Bowie and Jansch decide to make a record together. Imagine that it’s actually great. This has just had a vinyl reissue and is a necessity for your collection.

 

Many of these tracks either appear on this month’s new Quiff or last the two months. All of those can be checked out here:

Give them  a listen and then get down to your local record shop and buy some lovely, lovely albums.

Treading carefully

Something From The Weekend

Friday night is fuelled by release. Release from work, release from pressure, release from the everyday irritations that add up to being responsible. We are in the pub for a truly English end of week, an intoxicating blend of overpriced drinks, empty stomachs and sexual tension descending on us like an invisible mist, whispering through our skin, driving us to frenzy like a plot device in some mid-budget horror movie.

Conversations happen in brief, random bursts, individuals and groups colliding with each other before spinning away, a shower of flames and debris left in their wake. The carefully preserved mask of social niceties cracks and frays. There is emotion here, love and joy and anger and fear, too much emotion. So, we pack away what we see and hear and do tonight, an unwritten pact that let’s us embrace the wild nothing. Only God Knows what happened.

Saturday is bathed in glorious sunshine and we nestle under trees, the sunlight dappling across our skin, the breeze crisp and sharp through our hair. We form a chain, a factory line of alcoholic intent, each person with their designated ingredient, lime, mint, sugar, soda water or rum. We consume slowly but methodically and as the light descends we rise and play.

Under the glow of paper lanterns, half a dozen people serenade a dashing hero, the rhythmic pulse of guitar battling with a tinny speaker lost somewhere on the ground. Some gather in the corners, plotting and planning and promising a series of events that will most probably never happen. Others sit cynically aloof, both actor and audience in this little play. Philosophy, culture and politics flirt with inanity and a quiet joy settles across the fallen paper cups and picnic blankets.  There is chaos here, as before, but it’s benign, gentle almost.  We whirl and cartwheel and cavort only standing still long enough for a photograph.

Sunday feels like a mistake, as if someone else has commandeered our bodies and then left us to pick up the pieces. The world smells of fresh vomit and stale bodies and tiredness kicks like an angry mule. I spend an unnecessary amount of time wondering whether I’m empty or worthless, as if there should be a winner, as if a decisive vote one way or the other would at least give me a path to follow.

Fortunately, I’m rescued by a call to arms, an overly ambitious walk and the warmth of dear friends. We continue as we left off, cocktails in hand, quietly, happily watching the weekend collapse. The sky drifts from blue to grey, the sea mist rolling across the streets, the heat dissipating within minutes. We sit and shiver and smile, cigarettes glowing in the darkness, a comfortable silence embracing us. It could be the apocalypse. To my addled mind it feels like the apocalypse. We should be miserable, but no one is.

All of these tracks will be appearing on the new Skewed Quiff, which should be with you this week. In the interim there’s loads of fantastic music here.

Something From The Weekend

Tues Gaze

The new Skewed Quiff is almost upon us. All it requires at this point is for me to actually get my shit together and do something, which may have to wait a few more days as I’ve been enjoying one of my more maudlin periods of late. Okay, so enjoying may be a little strong but there’s definitely something in my personality that revels in an occasional mope.

As such, I’m as excited (or coolly disinterested) about the new records about to drop from indie stalwarts Slowdive and The Jesus & Mary Chain. The rejuvenation of the shoegaze scene has been truly serendipitous – given my recent mood. It would, however, be remiss, and out of character, if I focused on these fairly well-known artists. There are a bunch of bands out there who have listened to these great bands and then done it their own way.

Luxury Death are a Manchester based duo who’ve just launched the Glue EP – as a follow-up to two singles from last year. Listerine is a wall of chilling organ broken by a sweet duet of vocals and warm washes of furry, fuzzy guitar. It’s as if life could be washed away by something as simple as a 3 minute song, as simple as mouthwash:

You can buy the ep from Luxury Death’s bandcamp page.

Rebel Kind released their 3rd full length album in December and amazingly it got lost in the pile of stuff I was listening while compiling my end of year lists. Since then Just for Fools’ brutal simplicity has been burrowing into my consciousness like an angry realisation. This is just one of those songs that refuses to be overlooked:

You can grab the new record here.

Teen Daze is a Canadian producer who, despite being five albums deep, has previously escaped my attention. His newest record Themes for Dying Earth came out last month with the track First Rain catching my attention because it featured S. Carey (an artist who featured on a Quiff some time back in the dark ages). This is a beautiful slice of ambient wonder that hangs in that moment just before dawn, the icy chill of a winter’s night ebbing away in the rising heat of a spring morning:

You’ll be shocked to discover that this too can be found on Bandcamp.

All of these tracks will, eventually, feature on March’s Skewed Quiff. I’ll pop a link up when that actually happens..

Tues Gaze

Saving private Ryan

Many a moon ago, I had a friend who, within the social group, was surreptitiously known as Private Ryan. The mention of this nickname was usually accompanied by raised eyebrows and quiet chuckles. Ironic nicknames are of course a staple of an Englishman’s diet – see Little John for a good example of this exceedingly high-brow humour – and this was no different. Ryan’s love life was a ever-revolving shit-show of infatuation, impetuousness, irritation and implosion played out in front of our increasingly agitated gaze.

Being young, I had this conceit that I would solve this problem. Not only that, but that I would solve it by writing a song entitled Saving Private Ryan (I’ve mentioned before that I like a pun, right?). I even, at one point, wrote some lyrics about how the reasons we get together with a person are always greater than the petty recriminations of late night conversations. The lyrics were about as good as that sentence so you’ll be amazed to hear that the idea never came to fruition – and not just because I couldn’t get the rights for the song title.

Time slid by in that haphazard, jolting way that it does and I’d long since forgotten about Private Ryan until I heard the opening track from this month’s Quiff. Jon Parks is an American artist who seems to have decided that Canada is much more his thing. He writes pensive, florescent pop songs with a stylistic nod towards Neil Hannon or John Grant though without the biting satire that marks their work. If they are a main meal, Parks is the indulgent dessert.

I Don’t Wanna Fight Anymore is a rare breed. It seemingly only has one idea but it’s an idea so good that if your ears had arms they’d cuddle you:

If you like this then you should check out all of the Mercy EP, Park’s first new material for a decade.

Even if you don’t like this then you should still listen to the first half of this month’s Quiff which is jam-packed with awesome:

Saving private Ryan

Tuesday’s Twitch

The rain is pouring and I’m still shaky from the drive home ploughing through newly formed rivers of muck behind an articulated lorry which has turned my car into an extra from the Warrior Run.

My ability to write this blog has only been saved by asymmetric beats and gentle waves of musical calm so a few choice cuts await your listening.

Papertoy is a Sydney-based producer who likes to mess with hip-hop, r ‘n’ b and your mind. Like his music he seems an whispery, ephemeral concept. Someone who may or may not exist, given his limited real world presence, but who has a Soundcloud page filled with nuggets of joy.

He recently (well, back in August) contributed TexasHigh to Paper Garden’s latest volley of electronic music which is definitely worth checking out on Bandcamp. You can, of course, name your price and support an independent record label, should such things give you a sense of enormous well-being. In the meantime, allow yourself to be rolled over by this quietly euphoric ruckus:

While we’re in Sydney (gosh, there’s some great music coming out of Australia, right now) we should stop by Floating Pyramids to check their Avalanches’ infused madness. Out Of This World is a cornucopia of surprise, twisting and turning through 3 and half mesmeric minutes of playfulness:

You should absolutely grab this while it remains a free download.

Stoop Kids swayed my way last year with the gloriously funky Motions and have barely caught breath since. Hey Banana is a fuzzy hybrid of funk and hip-hop, as filthy as it is wonderful. Just when you think you’ve got it, it finds a new way to shock you:

We’re only days away from the new Quiff, which will feature all of the above, as well as last week’s treats, plus a whole load of other brilliance that I’ll be sharing over the next few days. If you really can’t wait then trot over to my Mixcloud page and check out my favourite tunes of 2016.

Tuesday’s Twitch