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:

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.

Sunday’s Soul

I spend most of my Sundays alone. I like to let the day drift by, to lazily count the minutes and seconds, to appreciate the passing of time in a way that often feels impossible. The music that I listen to – there’s always music somewhere in the background – is melancholy and soulful. It breaks you down and builds you back up again.

In the past year South London’s Sampha has made quite a name for himself guesting on both the Kanye West and Solange records, as well as putting out a couple of pretty fine singles. His debut album is slated for release next month and in the interim he has given us this rather beautiful piece:

The song reminds me of being at my best friend’s house as a teenager, standing swaying in his dining room as his fingers danced across the keys of the old piano pushed up against the wall. Of how in those moments, the usually constant confusion of inexperience and hormones would die away, leaving me serene.

Laura Marling’s muse shows no signs of abating and she is back in March with a new record, Semper Femina.  Wildfire, one of the first few tracks to surface, has me, almost literally, purring:

This is soft and soulful, yet tinged with a folk edge. At one point there is a feathering of a drum that sounds like the braying of a horse. I’m in a little in love.

St. Paul and The Broken Bones‘ second record Sea of Noise almost snuck past me last year, released as was to a considerable lack of fanfare but they continue to plow their own furrow of beautiful soul. The new record is gentler than their first and there are times here that Paul conjures the ghost of Otis Redding as if it were as easy as tossing a die:

Old Man Saxon is a new voice to me. The Colorado rapper seems to have been around for a few years, cutting his teeth on the circuit, trying to break through to the kind of sustainable existence that seems, unfortunately,  to evade many a gifted musician. His latest EP, the Perils, came out last August and the lead track has a beat that makes me gloriously weak:

This is a song about the struggle, about the pretense, about trying to appear as the industry expects you to appear. It’s about continuing to fight even though all you want to do is go home. It takes something difficult and makes it wonderful. It breaks you down and builds you up again.

You can catch more Quiff over at my mixcloud page. All of these tracks will appear on my February mix which should be out in a couple of weeks.

50 ODD REASONS TO LOVE 2016 (again)

It’s Inauguration Day and I couldn’t drag myself away from the car crash unfolding in front of my unblinking eyes. This blog is the very  definition of displacement activity. Some more great musical moments from 2016:

Where else to start but here, with the articulate rage of A Tribe..

Loyle Carner is my one to watch for 2017. I’ve raved about him before and I’ll be back in the next week or so to rave about his debut album:

Trehouston made a record so fun it’s impossible that barely anyone noticed:

Okkervil River remain both wise and beautiful. In an alternate reality, Will Sheff just became the new president of the last century’s greatest superpower:

Faith Eliott finds beauty in the forgotten corners of our lives:

The Invisible remain far too cool to be famous:

You can check out the 3 odd hours of my favourite tunes of 2016 over here. Trust me, it’s better than what’s on telly.

50 Odd Reasons To Love 2016

Shit things happen. 2016 was no different to the rest of human history. Good things also happen and I’m going to focus on a few of those. Music means a lot to me and the last year consistently fed me spoonfuls of lovely.

Filtering through it, I’ve picked out 50 odd songs which made me happy because they were happy, or happy because they were sad, or happy just because. I’ve split it into 3 (CD length) sides and I can’t resist sharing a few of them here. You can grab the motherlode somewhere over here.

London’s soulful, country-fried Internet shirkers Forty Elephant Gang gave us Joan of Arc:

YG gave us the song that everybody sane needed:

Clair Rosengren decided she could make a Frank Ocean song better so did:

Austin’s Star Parks wooed and befuddled me with this:

Dan Mangan stole this year’s ‘Why is everyone staring at me again? Oh yeah it’s because I’m singing along to the music in my headphones’ trophy:

And, Peaness proved that music and politics do mix, even when the songs about George Osbourne. You just need an insanely great hook:

https://soundcloud.com/peaness-band/oh-george

More tunes tomorrow, when the urge hits.

12 Plays of Christmas – David Thomas Broughton

As we draw to a close we leave behind the buzz of the city and drift into the dark and dreamy landscape of Yorkshire’s finest folk eccentric. The Crippling Lack EPs are 90 minutes of sparse, crackling beauty. A collection of epic folk reflections on humanity spun on a web of organic samples, bass loops, fidgety acoustic guitar and meandering vocal. Veins of darkness and humour and love run through these tracks like seams of gold hidden beneath the earth, occasional  glimpses rising and falling with the undulations of the land.

Silent Arrow, with rickety guitar and mournful harmonica, recalls Neil Young during his 70’s hey day. It shares his slow, deliberate reflection and feels like a long walk in the countryside. The beauty is in being there, in feeling the cool air fill your lungs, in the sense of space between the moments:

The beginning of Dots is almost broken, a foal taking it’s first hesitant, wayward steps before finding it’s balance. A marching drum beat begins to underpin this new found freedom, an understated resilience rising up to eat away the doubt:

Concrete Statement ponders how we can ever trust that which we or others say. It is the search for grains of truth amongst the dirt and rubble of everyday conversation. It is a night where you drink too much and cannot sleep, the alcohol chafing against your dreams, refusing to let  go until a resolution is found:

Spend a long time waiting for some hard-boiled words
Some concrete statement
Such jellied, opaque promises will be nothing come the sun
Your tatty cloth remarks are never sewn into anything that I can wear

Gulf is a song about regret, of how easy it is to open gaps with people, gaps into which trust, previously so sturdy and sure, collapses. How on both sides a moment can change everything. It is filled with sadness and is one of the most beautiful songs of the last year:

Plunge of the Dagger, featuring London-based artist Luke Drozd, is a series of daily vignettes describing someone seemingly contemplating suicide, though never quite getting there. It is a series of daydreams that are filled with tragedy and pathos and dark humour. That understands that comedy is never far from tragedy. Turn the page and one becomes the other. They spin across the ballroom floor, elegant and inseparable. It hates and loves life:

 

I have decided to drink myself death

I’ve calculated how much alcohol is needed in order for my organs to pickle

And my frame to collapse into a pool of its own detritus

However, I do not drink so I have chosen to use the equivalent in lemonade, homemade and cloudy

My god, it’s delicious

Crippling Lack is an album to wallow in ,to cast aside the world to. A gentle and dark lullaby that takes you away to somewhere sad and and beautiful and funny and human. It is a deep and satisfying record, like supping hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day or crawling into your bed after a seeming eternity, the freshly washed linen crisp against your naked skin. It is the brief, accidental brushing of skin against skin sending sparks rushing up your arms and across your chest, your heart-rate rising with the sheer, seductive simplicity of it all.

You can buy The Crippling Lack EP here.

12 Plays of Christmas – Kate Tempest

For those of you who’ve been following this blog closely over the last few weeks you’ll have noticed that many of the albums that I’ve chosen from last year share a common pattern. There’s a dash of politics, a certain darkness to the music and lyrics that lend themselves more to poetry and storytelling than is regularly  found in pop music. This record is the obvious culmination of my current tastes.

Let Them Eat Chaos is the darker more grown-up sibling of A Grand Don’t Come for Free by The Streets. It shares many of it’s musical themes but is lyrically more ambitious – as you might expect from a spoken word poet. Usually, I like to present my highlights of an album, to give you a taste of its medicine, but this is not how you should listen to Let Them Eat Chaos. Each track is tightly bound with the others. This is a family of songs that come together to tell a thrilling and important story and deserves to be listened to in that way. To not do so is the equivalent of just turning up just for the second act of a play or only reading alternate pages of a novel. No doubt there would be good bits but you lose its overall sense and the experience is devalued:

We begin in glorious nothing, spinning in a vacuum before plummeting towards a beautifully ugly planet, our velocity ever-increasing until we crash into the surface only to rise unbroken and unflustered in the pinnacle of modern, liberal, western capitalism that is London. Time freezes and we step out to look at the world. It’s 4:18 am.

The story spins out into 7 separate lives: Gemma, pondering the constant cycle of temporary that is her life with bitter self-recrimination; Esther, a late night carer just getting home sharing her worries and fears; Alisha, who hears the ghost of her dead partner lost in a war in a far away land; Pete, stumbling home after another reckless and wrecked night, who is saving for a future that never comes because there’s too much distraction, too many drugs and parties in the present; Bradley, who’s career is going great, who has all the trapping of modern live, but who only feels lost and empty and purposeless but doesn’t know why;  Zoe, as she waits to be evicted from her flat, who looks at the place where she grew up and doesn’t recognise it any more, who is displaced by gentrification; and Pius, the girl with the broken heart trying to heal it with a sticking plaster of casual sex and cheap thrills.

If there is one story which sums up this sadness, confusion and anger, it is Europe is Lost a fomenting, boiling, raging torrent of consciousness. A scream you never hear but already know, because it lives inside you:

I am quiet, feeling the onset of riot
Riots are tiny though, systems are huge
Traffic keeps moving, proving there’s nothing to do
‘Cause it’s big business, baby, and its smile is hideous
Top down violence, a structural viciousness
Your kids are dosed up on medical sedatives
But don’t worry bout that, man, worry ’bout terrorists
The water level’s rising! The water level’s rising!
The animals, the elephants, the polar bears are dying!

Stop crying, start buying, but what about the oil spill?
Shh, no one likes a party pooping spoil sport
Massacres, massacres, massacres/new shoes
Ghettoised children murdered in broad daylight
By those employed to protect them
Live porn streamed to your pre-teen’s bedrooms
Glass ceiling, no headroom
Half a generation live beneath the breadline
Oh, but it’s happy hour on the high street
Friday night at last lads, my treat!
All went fine till that kid got glassed in the last bar
Place went nuts, you can ask our Lou
It was madness, road ran red, pure claret
And about them immigrants? I can’t stand them
Mostly, I mind my own business
They’re only coming over here to get rich, it’s a sickness
England! England! Patriotism!
And you wonder why kids want to die for religion?

It goes, work all your life for a pittance
Maybe you’ll make it to manager, pray for a raise
Cross the beige days off on your beach babe calendar
The anarchists are desperate for something to smash
Scandalous pictures of fashionable rappers
In glamorous magazines, who’s dating who?
Politico cash in an envelope
Caught sniffing lines off a prostitutes prosthetic tits
Now it’s back to the house of lords with slapped wrists
They abduct kids and fuck the heads of dead pigs

But him in a hoodie with a couple of spliffs
Jail him, he’s the criminal

What joins these 7 together is their sadness, their isolation, and that none of them know where they are going. What joins them together is a violent storm, an apocalypse, that calls them all from their houses, and finally just as it is too late, brings them together.

At heart, Let Them Eat Chaos is an album about our selfishness, about how we distance ourselves from others, watching the world disappear on a TV screen, convincing ourselves that ‘we’re engaged when we’re pacified‘. That individualism is a myth. That any other person’s pain is also our pain, however or wherever it happens and that until we face this we guarantee our own extinction. It is angry because anger is the only logical response to the predicament we face. It is also hopeful because it believes we have the power within us to remedy this, to save our brothers and sisters, to save our children, though we may have to eat chaos to realise that.

You can but Let Them Eat Chaos here.

12 Plays of Christmas – Laura Gibson

 

A friend of mine described Empire Builder, Gibson’s 4th record as having restored her faith in albums. Unlike me, she is not given to hyperbole.

Trying to do this record justice seems like a fools errand. It’s rare,even with my listening schedule, to come across an album of such enchanting. immediate poise. One which even in it’s musical variation retains a sense of continuity and completeness. Pace is one of the hardest things to measure across a set of songs yet this is a record that never seems rushed or overbearing. Every moment follows naturally from the next. Credit is due here to producer John Askew and it came as little surprise to discover that he’d done excellent work with Neko Case, Richmond Fontaine and The Dodos previously.

Damn Sure is a beautifully folksy ballad with a sting in the tail that’s carried by the quiet intensity of Gibson’s voice. It’s an almost impossibly hard thing to talk about love without sounding trite yet just as you’re convinced by her sincerity you find she’s lost it:

The title track of this album is its ceaseless beating heart, faint and almost forgettable yet necessary and vital. It is a song about leaving, but not about running away . It is dark but never loses hope:

This is not an escape
But I don’t know how to hold somebody without losing my grip
You’ll say I was bound to leave
Since I first stepped across your borders
Since I crawled into your skin

Thought I heard you whisper in the dark
That you knew where the light would be
Thought I saw your shape against the black
Thought I felt you moving beside me

We are not alone and we are more alone than we’ve ever been
So hurry up and lose me
Hurry up and find me, again

Then, out of the darkness, wanders a woozy string quartet flickering in and out of vision, swirling overhead befuddling and beguiling us. We are happily lost:

Two Kids is a song that lives for the moment, both musically and lyrically.  It is light, whimsical almost, in comparison to the tracks that surround it. It doesn’t think of the future, it is restless but happy. It says love may not last so take what you have:

The Last One is a song about the end of relationship (I seem to fall for a fair few of those) but it may be the best one I’ve ever heard. Listen to this at full volume and drown in its wonder:

This is one of the truly great forgotten albums of 2016, a bonafide classic that will no doubt be discovered with time. For now, though, don’t let it pass you by.

12 Plays of Christmas – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen has always been bleak, this is known, but it is only in the latter part of his career that his voice truly became the vehicle to deliver his own peculiarly excellent brand of poignancy. On his final album, You Want It Darker, it is the rumble of a train as it approaches the end of the line, reverberating through the ground and creeping up your spine. It has a visceral effect on the body akin to looking into the eyes of a loved one for the first time, your insides melting in the fire of it’s certainty.

The title track is one final, bitter glance at humanity, both his and yours. Cohen seems at piece with mortality if not with himself or others. The song is ripe with religious language though it remains unclear whether he believes  faith can rescue us:

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Cohen started as a poet before turning to music as way of conveying his message and his words are, as always, beguiling. He understands the power of simplicity and never hides from himself. Leaving The Table is an ode to love lost, to his failure to maintain, yet it avoids laying the blame too firmly at anyone’s door:

Musically this an album seeped in gospel, country and blues, it’s arrangements simple and sparse leaving room for that gravelly, gargantuan voice. Travelling Light is a bleakly poetic call to fraternity, to all of those who can never stop moving, the ‘dreamers who forgot to dream’. It may be tinged with regret but it isn’t angry. There’s an acceptance that some people won’t change, that this is the only path for them:

I’ve fallen in love with a bunch of Cohen’s records at different points over the last 20 years but for me this is his most consistent and complete album. I can recall listening to it and being thankful that he was still exploring avenues that other artists had neither the guts or wit to walk down. I mourn his passing but I’m grateful for everything he gave me. You can buy You Want It Darker here.

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