Friday, August 31, 2007

Liz Green

Here’s someone new and very good. Liz Green may be best known this year as the winner of the Emerging Talent competition to play at Glastonbury, and getting to open the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday. That’s a big gig for someone who didn’t even have a record out! I hadn’t paid that much attention to her until the other day when she did a live studio session for Marc Riley on BBC 6Music, and wow! she was good.

She hails from West Kirby on Merseyside, and has spent a bit of time gigging around the North West, but surely her time has come to go national or beyond. Hers is a simple type of music making – mainly just acoustic guitar and vocals, but she transcends so much of that kind of stuff. The guitar style is simple and lovely folky-bluesy finger picking, but where she stands out is her incredible voice. Various names have been bandied about in describing Green, including Nina Simone, Madeleine Peyroux, Gillian Welch and Edith Piaf. But for my money, the artist she most reminds me of, considering both her voice and music, is the late, great Karen Dalton.

In fact, listening to Liz led to me going back to Dalton's It’s so hard to tell who’s going to love you the best today, and just marvelling at the genius of it all. Maybe Green is not quite in that league yet, but you know what? Give her a bit of time and she could be. I’m sure she’s got the talent, and today, I’m quite smitten.

So I’m posting the three songs from that radio session for your discovery and delight. They include her debut single a-side Bad Medicine, her own song Hey Joe (no, not the Hendrix one) and The Wall, which has a sweet little mistake bit near the start, to prove that Liz is charming as well as fallible. Plus a bonus of a track from the ace free End of the Road Festival CD that comes with the current issue of Plan B magazine. Speaking of which, I hope to see her at that festival, after hot-footing it from Danielson’s set.

Download: Liz Green – Bad Medicine (live on BBC 6Music)
Download: Liz Green – Hey Joe (live on BBC 6Music)
Download: Liz Green – The Wall (live on BBC 6Music)
Download: Liz Green – Midnight Blues

Buy Liz’s new single from her label, Humble Soul

Bits 'n' bobs

EOTR goodness

The big news of the day (or yesterday) is that the full line-up and stage times have been announced for the End of the Road Festival! They’re on the website, but I’ve had a bit of a slack day at work, so over lunch I’ve compiled them into a nice table for easy reference. No real major clashes that I can see so far, at least none that I’ll have much difficulty with. But there is the James Yorkston – Jens Lekman – Nancy Elizabeth clash. Wonder what I should do there? I'm very excited - only two weeks now!

Play as you read

Regular readers, have you noticed a new feature on The Daily Growl? It’s there at the end of every mp3 link. A little symbol shaped like a loud-hailer. What it is, is a nifty little device called 1-bit audio player, which was developed by Mark Wheeler. Just click on it and you can listen to the track without having to download first. Good – eh?

More radio fun

Radio sessions – I’ve got loads! They’ve been accumulating over the past few days, so over the next week, I’m going to bring you these plus some old ones I’ve had stashed away for a while. So we’ll have live sessions from:

Liz Green!
Super Furry Animals!
Eugene McGuinness!
Nancy Elizabeth!
Two Gallants!
The Young Republic!
Peggy Sue and the Pirates!

And maybe some others, including a couple of amusing cover versions from so-hot-right-now bands Cajun Dance Party and Foals.

Onwards and upwards…

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Singles going steady 10: Gone, but not (entirely) forgotten

We’re still in the Bs, as I slowly make my way through my big CD singles rack, and will be for a while longer. Today I have a couple of bands who are no longer around and were little-known to the extent that I can’t find much information about them anywhere (and I have tried).

The first is Barefoot Contessa, a British band who were, in the mid 90s, making the sort of music which would a few years later be called alt-country or Americana. Maybe they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, what with the nation being in the throes of Britpop and all that. Maybe if they had arrived on the scene a little later, they’d have been more lauded. Who knows?

The EP I have of theirs is one that came to me due to the marital merging of Mrs Growl’s and my music collections. I admit to never having heard it until the other day, whilst thinking about this post. It’s all agreeable stuff, in a sort of Mazzy Star way, before wandering off and becoming a bit more bluesy by track 4. According to a current eBay sale, it looks like Barefoot Contessa had an album out in 2005. This EP was from 2007.

They must really have been operating under the radar (mine at least) for quite a while because it turns out that the band released four albums in total, the last in 2001. This fact I’ve gleaned from the website of former lead singer Helene Dineen, who now records under her first name, and has a band which features ex-Barefoot Contessa bandmate Graham Gargiulo, which makes it a re-convening of sorts.

While I’m here I may as well mention that her new material is also pretty good – continuing in a similar Americana-ish vein, but also incorporating elements of 60s pop and her love for chanson and Francoise Hardy. She’s released two albums – Postcard in 2003 and Routines last year. I’ve only spent a short while listening to the tracks on her myspace but I’m impressed already. Look! I’ve even downloaded a track from her latest record from emusic to share with you! I’ll probably even go back later to get more.

Download: Barefoot Contessa – Happy Together
Download: Barefoot Contessa – Ice
Download: Helene – This is All We Need to Know

The second, even more hard-to find band, are Blind Jackson. I think I picked up this two-track CD single from Flashback Records on Essex Road when I used to work in that area. At the time it tapped into that jaunty 60s groove thing that had already been established by The Coral and a whole heap of other bands coming out of Liverpool. In fact, on first listen it was hard to believe that this was a London band and not one from Merseyside. It’s all pretty enjoyable, and even ventures beyond the retro sea shanties in employing a cheesy synth on the b-side. But good though it is, it was obviously not enough to establish them as a band. Again, I see from eBay that a mini-album was released in 2005, but that seems to be about it. No more info is forthcoming, and the website mentioned on the CD cover is no longer there. In the absence of any more info, I can only assume they’ve gone. Shame, really.

Download: Blind Jackson – Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
Download: Blind Jackson – If Trouble Were Money

No click to buy links obviously, as you can’t. But do check out Helene

Jake Flowers and the Carol-Anne Showband

I first came across Jake Flowers and the Carol-Anne Showband on Song, By Toad the other week. Just my sort of thing, I thought as I listened to the tracks. I was about to email Matthew to ask where he got these from, when an email pinged into my inbox from Jake Flowers himself, announcing Troy McClure style “Hi, I’m Jake Flowers. You may know me from such blogs as Song, By Toad…” Well, not really, but cheap gag aside, they did announce themselves and offered me one of their promos, which I was happy to receive.

It turns out that this is a collaboration between two sets of artists. Jake Flowers normally plies his trade with his The Jake Flowers Scandal project, and The Carol-Anne Showband are er, a showband in their own right. On this new amalgamation of forces, Jake writes the tunes, and the Carol-Anne boys ably back him up. Both artists bring their own folky charms to the table, and end up with more decent folk-based music, which though quite English in sound has a certain American bluesy swagger to it. So well spotted Mr Flowers – you’ve obviously understood the kind of thing that I like. Though you’ve puzzled me by saying that you’re getting played on Kerrang! Radio – exactly what is it that passes for metal these days? I’m obviously out of touch.

Download: Jake Flowers & the Carol-Anne Showband – Rosalie
Download: Jake Flowers & the Carol-Anne Showband – Stalker

Don’t’ forget to check out the original projects too – links above.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Eugene McGuinness

When is an album not an album? Or rather, how many tracks does it take to push a mini-album up to a full album? The Early Learnings of Eugene McGuinness, the debut release from Eugene McGuinness (naturally) has 8 tracks, and it’s being classed as a mini-album. But all the Stooges classics had 8 or less songs, didn’t they? Oh well, never mind.

I was keen to check out the young Liverpudlian’s recorded output since catching him supporting Emmy the Great the other week. I was impressed by his flair and way with a pop tune, even though I was committing the cardinal gig-going sin and talking to my friend for a chunk of Eugene’s short set. So last week I went and bought the (mini) album (on Domino offshoot Double Six) and a fine piece of work it is too.

This is another record which rises above the overwhelming mass of singer-songwriter fayre out there at the moment. As I said, McGuinness does have a way with a tune, and in addition to the usual acoustic strummings, there is a bit of a Vaudevillian swagger. Maybe it’s the Wurlitzer accompanying him on a couple of tracks. He does the jaunty pop thing very well, with a wink in his eye as he races through the likes of High Score and Monsters Under the Bed, cramming as many eloquent words as he can into each line. But he can also turn his hand to the more downbeat, such as the acoustic Bold Street and reverb-heavy piano ballad Madeleine. He comes on a bit like a more lo-fi, less camp Rufus Wainwright, or a less bookish, more impish Jeremy Warmsley. It’s all good stuff, and maybe is best described using a line from Monsters Under the Bed – “how fan-fucking-tabulous it is”.

One more thing – if you buy the album from Rough Trade, there’s an extra four track bonus CD, which includes Myrtle Parade, a previous b-side and a demo version of High Scores, which just proves that when the extra instrumentation is stripped away, there really is a great tune at the heart of it. And of course, when added to the album, the extra CD gives us a total of 12 tracks, which in my book really does constitute a full album. That’s that settled then.

Download: Eugene McGuinness – High Scores
Download: Eugene McGuinness – Myrtle Parade

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dirty Projectors do Black Flag like you’ve never heard before

This is surely one of the most interesting releases of the year. Now we’re all familiar with tribute albums, where artists respectfully cover songs by someone they like. There’s even the rarer cases of bands covering entire albums (Camper Van Beethoven going Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk is one that springs to mind). But Rise Above, the new album by Brooklyn-based band Dirty Projectors is more than these. It’s a “re-imagining” of Black Flag’s classic hardcore album Damaged.

What this means exactly is that head Projector David Longstreth, tries to recreate one of his favourite teenage albums, without having heard it since middle school. He relied on memory and “intuition” to re-create ten tracks from Damaged, and ended up with one of the most unique things I’ve heard in a long time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t sound anything like Black Flag. Not even close. But that’s part of the appeal surely. That doesn’t matter much to me either, since I’ve never heard the legendary punk original. I’m judging Rise Above merely on its own terms. It’s very much a Dirty Projectors record, as anyone familiar with their other material will attest. So Black Flag is redone with guitars which are one moment high-pitched and trebly, another moment crashing and drenched in feedback, added to by Longstreth’s sweeping and soaring vocals which could easily find home in R ’n’ B songs, and just a general lack of respect for traditional song structures. The rhythms are sometimes almost African-sounding, and rather than having backing vocals as a neat augmentation to his own, they create a sort of textured backdrop upon which David lays the rest of his schemes.

I’m finding this album pretty hard to describe, as it’s so singular and unlike anything else I’ve been listening to lately. It’s still something that I greatly admire more than love at present, but it’s slowly working its magic with me. When I get to the title track, perhaps contrarily placed at the end of the album (Rise Above was the lead track on Damaged), I’m continually struck by how brilliant it is, which then drives me back to the start again. This will no doubt continue till I’m totally hooked.

Download: Dirty Projectors – Rise Above
Download: Dirty Projectors – Gimme Gimme Gimme

Rise Above is out on 11 September on Rough Trade . Get ahead of the game and order a copy.

Want more Dirty Projectors? Head right over to Daytrotter for four free tracks from a recent awesome session.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Richard Hawley: pop star?

So, Richard Hawley has got a new album out, and for the first time, there’s been a real sense of anticipation. Though it was his last record Coles Corner that properly introduced him to a wider audience (being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize and all that) it sold over a long period of time, without ever really breaking into the top 40. This time however, he’d heading to the top. When he came into BBC 6Music this week to play a session and talk to Marc Riley, it transpired in the conversation that the position of Lady’s Bridge in the midweek charts was number five!

It all seems a bit of a long way away from when I first saw Richard, back in 2001 in Borders on Oxford Street. Me, Mrs Growl and about 10 other people saw him play songs from his debut self-titled mini-album which had just been released. Even back then it stood out from the rest of the musical pack. Britain had just begun to fall in love with spiky guitars courtesy of The Strokes et al, and Hawley's music seemed so out of place, with its overt romanticism, and sound which was something like Lee Hazelwood and Roy Orbison crooning in Northern working mens’ clubs. It was like something from another era altogether. So much so, that despite critical acclaim, that album and its successors Late Night Final (2002) and Lowedges (2003) failed to sell very much, despite critical praise.

I remember a moment at the Summer Sundae festival back in 2003 on a rainy Sunday afternoon when Richard Hawley was playing the indoor De Montford Hall stage. A large crowd had come in during his set, but he was nonplussed. “I bet you’ve just come in here because it’s raining and you’re wondering ‘who the fuck is that guy on stage?’”. He was probably right as well. Even around the time when he was playing his newly-released Coles Corner at the Scala in September 2005, there was hardly a sell-out crowd. But two years on, after a highly successful 2006, he’s booked to play The Roundhouse in a couple of weeks, and no doubt that will sell out.

So what of Lady’s Bridge? In short it’s a brilliant album, way better than I expected. Maybe my expectations weren’t that high, especially as the former Pulp man had made it clear that he wasn’t trying to break new ground with his new record. Although Coles Corner got people buying Richard Hawley, it never really found a place into my heart like the previous albums did. I soon got tired of the title track, and Born Under a Bad Sign was simply a retread of the much superior Baby, You’re My Light. So I was expecting much of the same I guess.

But how much he’s upped his game! The first four tracks on Lady’s Bridge as good an intro to an album as any will be this year. You can tell he’s got a bigger budget this time – listen to these swelling strings for one. Look at the lavishly produced CD booklet with pictures from legendary British photographer Martin Parr for another. There’s a real emotional pull here, and songwriting which is as good as anything he’s done before. It just sounds bigger, more confident, and seems like the work of a man who’s totally happy and sure about what he’s doing. Sure, it has all the hallmarks of the ‘Hawley sound’, but it’s just been taken to the next level. There's hardly a duff track. If this is him Hawley coasting, who knows how good it’s going to be when he pulls out the stops?

Instead of the usual two tracks from the album, I’m posting a couple of tracks from the aforementioned BBC 6Music session. Enjoy!

Download: Richard Hawley – Roll River Roll (live on BBC 6 Music)
Download: Richard Hawley – Lady's Bridge (live on BBC 6 Music)

Buy Lady’s Bridge.

The DIY Growl

I’m having a bit of a refurb round here. Getting the builders in and giving The Daily Growl a bit of a much-needed lick of paint. It’s started with the new banner up top there (kindly provided for my by my colleague Paul). Let me know what you think...

I’ve also been updating my blogroll, and I just thought it was worth mentioning a few new(ish) British blogs I’ve come across lately. I might not share all of their taste in music exactly, but they’re just people (some of them just kids) writing about music they love. And that’s what music blogging should be all about.

Pop Register
The Deku Tree
This Isn’t Some Kind of Metaphor
Suburban Ghetto Musick

And speaking of such things, don’t forget to vote for me in the UK Digital Music Awards! Song, By Toad has really taken up the baton laid down by me on an earlier post. Remember to vote for him too – and all the other UK music blogs you like.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What The Concretes did next...

Here’s a tale of former bandmates. In 2004, The Concretes released their self-titled debut long-player, which is an album I return to again and again, and it never fails to charm me three years on. In early 2006 they released their second record In Colour, which was another likeable collection of songs. Then last summer, disaster! Hot off the heels of her vocal contribution to Peter, Bjorn and John’s underground smash Young Folks, lead singer Victoria Bergsman left the band after what seemed to be a fairly acrimonious split. So no more Concretes then?

Ah, no. After a cooling-off period, the remaining band members got together again and decided to keep making music. Then Bergsman announced that she’d be doing a new solo project, going with the name Taken By Trees, rather than her own. So does two sets of former Concretes = double the goodness?

Alas, no. It seems that neither set of artists have benefited hugely from the split. The post-Bergsman Concretes' (with drummer Lisa Millberg taking up vocal duties) latest offering Hey Trouble! is a decent enough effort, but on the whole fairly underwhelming. That’s not to say that there aren’t some choice tracks – Oh Boy and Keep Yours in particular are fine tunes – but overall it’s just not exciting me too much.

And the Taken by Trees debut Open Field is similarly failing to get my pulses racing as much as I hoped it would. In fact my comments for Hey Trouble! could equally apply to Open Field, save for the song names. There’s noting particularly bad here, in fact it’s all quite nice, and Victoria's languid vocals are always a delight. But faint praise is about all I’m offering. However there is one standout track on the album, the new single Lost and Found, which is just wonderful. But look! On closer inspection it turns out to be written by Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell.

I think that this little fact helps to crystallise my slight disappointment with these two albums. In last year’s Let’s Get Out of This Country, Traceyanne and co. raised the bar for this particular brand of dreamy indie-pop, so that not just these Swedish artists, but so many other similar bands fall short by comparison. It’s not really their fault then, just that some others are doing it that little bit better.

Download: The Concretes – Oh Boy
Download: The Concretes – Keep Yours
Download: Taken By Trees – Lost and Found
Download: Taken By Trees – Julia

Buy Open Field and Hey Trouble!

Marry Me, St Vincent

I thought I had an idea of what to expect from the debut album by St Vincent. Maybe it’s the Sufjan connection. Both Annie Clark (for she is St Vincent) and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond have served good quality time as part of Stevens’ touring band, and both now have solo projects not under their own names. So maybe I was expecting something of the epic sweep of MBD’s Bring Me the Workhorse. But although there are some similar reference points, Annie (who has also been part of The Polyphonic Spree) is an artist to confound expectations.

Clark doesn’t have Worden’s soaring voice (though she’s no slouch in the vocal stakes either) and the orchestrated intensity of Workhorse is only there in places on Marry Me. But where Annie differs is in the various directions she heads over the course of the album. She’s obviously a woman who’s spent a long time listening to rich sources of influences, which can be clearly heard, resulting in a diverse and wonderful album.

So we have skewed guitar riffs interspersed though tracks like Now Now which will do well to scare off the Corrine Bailey Rae crowd. We have do-wop start to Jesus Saves, I Spend as well as more ace riffing and synth noises which sound like babies’ chatter. Lips Are Red first comes on like a brooding storm, which then smoothes out into something rich and silky as Annie croons “your skin so fair it’s not fair”. Then there’s the simple beauty of title track, which in employing strings and restrained soul horns is exactly the sort of song that Chan Marshall would give her right arm to have written. Elsewhere we have the lush cabaret-pop of Paris is Burning, light jazzy touches to Landmines and What Me Worry (with the latter more than referencing Billie Holliday), folksy harp in Human Racing (which will no doubt see critics lazily reaching for Newsom comparisons) and All My Stars even approaches the Nashville Sound.

Phew, have I mentioned every track on the album there? Maybe not, but you get the picture. It’s a brilliant record and easily one of the strongest debuts of the year. Maybe even good enough for a few smitten fans to want to take Annie up on the proposition in her album title. Me? well I’m spoken for already.

Download: St Vincent – Paris is Burning
Download: St Vincent – What Me Worry

Marry Me is out in early September, but Rough Trade have got some advance copies in already. Go buy.

St Vincent is also onto this blogging thing, though these days it's mostly been video clips. Check out The Love Letters of St Vincent.

Top photo from Three Pink Monkeys' Flickr.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Still travelling at the Speed of Light

Here’s some more Lightspeed Champion for ye. I don’t need to write anything more about him, ‘cos he explains it all in this little film that’s been put together by the folks at Dazed for your watching pleasure. Hear about the connection between Lightspeed and maths! Find out more about his new album Falling off Lavender Bridge! Learn why he doesn’t have a TV! All interspersed with live tracks and the vid for Galaxy of the Lost.


All the remains for me to do is post some more tracks. We have Waiting Game, the b-side of Galaxy and a cover of Green Day’s Scattered, done with Florence, of the Machine fame. I fear that Dev may turn into a Green Day covers act, or maybe even a Weezer covers act. Who knows?

Download: Lightspeed Champion – Waiting Game
Download: Lightspeed Champion & Florence – Scattered (Green Day cover)

The latest Dev news is that he hit a spot of musical fecundity yesterday when he wrote and recorded an album in under 5 hours. Called the I Wrote and Recorded This Album in Less Than Five Hours LP, it comprises a whole 10 tracks. As you might expect from something done as quickly, the recording is pretty rough and most of the songs aren’t that great, but there are at least three decent enough ones, which I’ve bothered to post below. The rest? Well, you can download the whole thing here and hear for yourself. Don’t be surprised if some of it crops up in ‘official’ Lightspeed releases. Mind you, given that Lavender Bridge isn’t due out until Janauary, the next official album could be a long time in coming. By then, who knows how many more LPs Dev will randomly chuck out.

Download: Lightspeed Champion – One Day Record 1
Download: Lightspeed Champion – One Day Record 2
Download: Lightspeed Champion – One Day Record 8

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Liverpool artists in retro music shocker

The Coral are one of these bands that I’m pretty familiar with, without having really spent that much time with their music. Maybe it’s because of the ubiquity of the first two albums – their eponymous debut and Magic and Medicine – coming hot on each other’s heels in 2002 and 2003. They seemed to find a way right into the hearts of the British record-buying public, a position that seemed under threat by the subsequent releases of an album of outtakes and a by-all-accounts underwhelming third ‘proper’ album, The Invisible Invasion.

Which is probably why on their fifth long player, The Coral are sticking with what they do best – retro guitar pop. They’re a band so obviously a product of their city, with its history of Merseybeat and other classic rock ‘n’ roll, and the very title of Roots and Echoes gives an indication of what lies inside. 'Roots' could mean their hometown heritage, or even the West Cost twang which is also evident on this record. 'Echoes', well, could be, er, the echoey production, which contributes even further to the retro sound. But it’s all pretty good, solid stuff. There’s something I admire about James Skelly, Nick Power and co, being as they are so seemingly oblivious to music trends. When the rest of the nation’s youth is chasing spiker guitar and synth sounds, they’re happy in their 60s furrow. And that doesn’t mean they’re stuck in a rut either – there’s something of a breeze about this album. A band who’re comfortable with themselves and aren’t looking to change to suit fashion. I hate the use the word ‘maturity’, because it’s so often a pejorative term, but here it’s both appropriate and no bad thing.

Download: The Coral – Jacqueline
Download: The Coral – Put the Sun Back

The other Liverpool artist under scrutiny today is Candie Payne. She hasn’t come from out of nowhere either. Her brother Howie was in the now defunct band The Stands, and other bro Sean still hits skins for The Zutons. I’m not sure if that gives her more of a leg up in the music biz or not, but there you go. In any case, she’s pursued her own line in retro-tinged pop, but slightly differently to her siblings and The Coral. Hers is more of an orchestrated sound. Think Scott Walker, John Barry or maybe even Dusty and you’re getting there. Not that Candie is in the same league though, but it’s her first album, so I’m not going to be too harsh on her.

There’s a clue in the album title too. Calling your album after the lead track suggests that maybe that song's the best thing you’ve got. And in Candie’s case this is definitely right. I Wish I Could Have Loved You More is a brilliant pop tune referencing classic Northern Soul as it sweeps through with its strings, ace piano break, propulsive rhythm and Candie’s voice soaring above. There’s nothing else quite as good as this on the rest of the album, though there are plenty other pleasures to be had, some of them more melancholy ones. In the end, like Roots and Echoes, it’s not an album to change your life, but both are decent albums that should certainly bring a certain little happiness your way, and further confirm Liverpool’s reputation as a home for quality retro pop.

Download: Candie Payne – I Wish I Could Have Loved You More
Download: Candie Payne – By Tomorrow

Candie’s new single One More Chance has been given a remix by homme du jour Mark Ronson. Check out the video here. She’s also about to be introduced to the wider public supporting Ronson on his upcoming tour. Dates on her myspace. The Coral are also touring this autumn. Their myspace too has the gen.

Buy Roots and Echoes and I Wish…

Monday, August 20, 2007

Arthur Russell: Legend

The second good new release out today is a nice liitle four-track EP on Rough Trade featuring four different artists doing covers of Arthur Russell songs. It’s the brainchild of Jens Lekman, who fell in love with Russell’s music, via the Another Thought compilation, whilst wandering round Germany when he was 19. He suggested a covers EP first to his friend Victoria Bergsman, then the ball got rolling and not only her but Electrelane’s Verity Susman and The Hidden Camera’s Joel Gibb were both on board.

Lekman called time there, not wanting to make a full tribute album which are “boring in my opinion and tend to lose focus halfway through” as he says. So we have four Arthur Russell songs by these four artists, and very fine it is too. Susman, under her Vera November alias tackles the obscure World of Echo demo Our Last Night Together as a lovely piano-led number. The lo-fi version of Take 1,2 was the first recording of Bergsman’s post Concretes project Taken by Trees. Jens himself uses the kalimba to replace Russell’s trademark cello on a very faithful rendition of A Little Lost. And Gibb had to be brought over to Sweden so he could finally record his take on That's Us / Wild Combination, but it was definitely worth the air fare.

Download: Jens Lekman – A Little Lost

All of which served to send me back to Another Thought, the same album that first inspired Jens. It’s a truly lovely thing. Arthur Russell is an interesting character. A classically trained cellist, he made his way from Iowa to New York via a San Fransiscan Buddhist colony and Allen Ginsberg in the early 70s. In NYC he became involved in the arts scene and produced disco music under names like Dinosaur (L) and Loose Joints, as well as more stripped down cello-based music under his own name. His prolific music career was sadly cut short when he died from AIDS in 1992, at which time he wasn’t really recognised for the genius he was. But the passage of time has smiled in his favour, and there have been a few posthumous compilations, including Another Thought. However, that tends to focus on his more downbeat recordings, so I’m off in search of Soul Jazz’s 2004 World of Arthur Russell compilation, which I’m reliably informed is excellent, for more AR goodies.

Here are a couple of tracks from Another Thought:

Download: Arthur Russell – A Little Lost
Download: Arthur Russell – Keeping Up

And the mighty Francois Kevorkian remix of Dinosaur L’s Go Bang! (one of the finest disco records ever?)

Download: Dinosaur L – Go Bang! #5

Buy Arthur Russell stuff and the Four Songs EP

MIA coming back with power!

I’ve got a burgeoning ‘intray’ of new albums to bring to ya, so let’s kick off with one that’s out today…

On the opening track on Kala, MIA declares that “MIA is coming back with power”. Unlike so many of R ‘n’ B contemporaries where increasing self-aggrandisement is equally matched by terminal lack of ideas and absence of artistic ability, this is not an idle boast. This is an album that both follows on stylistically from her debut Arular, but still refuses to tread old ground.

It’s a great record and a thrilling ride from start to finish. There’s just so much going on here, as you might expect from an album that was recorded in five different countries. Playground chants, pulsing basslines, Bollywood-style strings, Brazilian beats and hip-hop grooves. And that’s just the start. She co-opts both British grime MCs (Afrikan Boy) and an Aboriginal rap outfit (The Wilcannia Mob) to add to her exciting stew-pot of musical goings-on. It’s not just ‘dance’ music either – on $20 she recites from The Pixies’ Where is My Mind? and Jimmy is supercharged pop, so much that I can imagine it being covered by Girls Aloud. On Paper Planes she reduces the tempo, samples The Clash’s Straight to Hell, adds sounds of cash registers and gunshots and simple melody and ends up with one of the best things she’s ever done. And the stabbing synths on XR2 prove once again, the old rave is better than new rave. At the end of Kala, it’s a real testament to MIA’s talent when the Timbaland guest slot, so often the R ‘n’ B holy grail paydirt, results in Come Around being the weakest track on the album.

So it’s synths without skinny jeans, R ‘n’ B without the empty bling and world music without the worthiness. The cynic may suggest that MIA just checks too many 'multicultural boxes' to be really genuine. But I say nah. In any case, I don’t care. Kala too good to worry about what demographic it’s targeted at. It’s just one of the albums of the year so far.

Download: MIA – XR2
Download: MIA – Paper Planes

Buy Kala

Friday, August 17, 2007

Emmy the Great - live radio session

The second radio session of the day is by none other than Emmy the Great, making it a double Emmy whammy over the past couple of days on The Daily Growl.

She came into the very same Xfm studios to play another live Xfm session for John Kennedy. This time it was all about plugging her new My Bad EP of course, so she played City Song, MIA and The Woods, not this time featuring Lightspeed Champion, but instead ably backed up by mysterious friends who went by the names of The Stars of Sunday League and Young Husband (presumably not this one). I think they’re just the folks from her new band (it’s not Noah and the Whale backing her any more, as I found out on Tuesday night).

Anyway, it was all good stuff, and the songs plus an interview of sorts made for a very pleasing half hour or so of radio. So, download the three songs below and then go and buy the EP (there's also a cheeky extra track for download that's not on the vinyl). You know it’s the right thing to do.

Download: Emmy the Great – City Song (live on Xfm)
Download: Emmy the Great – MIA (live on Xfm)
Download: Emmy the Great – The Woods (live on Xfm)

New Iron & Wine

I’ve got a couple of good radio sessions for y’all today First up is Iron & Wine. Straight after his solo acoustic gig at The Spitz last week, Sam Beam hot-footed it over from the East End to Xfm to play a couple of tracks live in the studio for John Kennedy. He did the new single Boy with a Coin, and another song called Resurrection Fern which was even better. Both of which bode very well for the new album The Shepherd’s Dog, out in the UK on his new label Transgressive on 24 September. Enjoy.

Download: Iron & Wine – Boy with a Coin (live on Xfm)
Download: Iron & Wine – Resurrection Fern (live on Xfm)

Pre-order The Shepherd’s Dog.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tuesday night, a hug and a pint (and two gigs)

It’s been 10 weeks. 1 June was the last time I was at a gig. That’s what having a baby does to your gig-going habit. But that’s OK – I haven’t exactly been bursting to get out. There are just too much other things to do, and tiredness is also a big factor. However, I have been getting itchy feet lately, so I nipped out on Tuesday night to head down to Rough Trade East for the Trouble Records party featuring Crystal Castles and HEALTH.

It was a shitty night, and I joined the gaggle of scenesters huddled under umbrellas round the door, waiting to get in. The show was obviously in big demand, and RTE were operating a strict one-in-one-out policy. I can see this being an ongoing problem. The shop has already assembled a pretty impressive line-up of gigs, and if you’re going to put on a load of hot bands, you’re going to get a big demand. I’m not exactly advocating a system of security guards and strict ticketing, but they need to sort something out, even if it’s just for the poor staff member who has to stand holding the door and saying ‘sorry’ to people.

Anyway, I got in to catch about 15 minutes of HEALTH doing their sonic noise terrorism thing. It’s even more ferocious live than it is on record. I couldn’t actually see that much apart from the hairy drummer hitting his skins really hard – the band seemed to be abusing instruments and equipment on the floor somewhere. But it was all pretty enjoyable stuff. So much that I’d like to see them doing their noisy groove thing tonight at Barden’s, but once out this week is quite enough.

After that I pondered staying for Crystal Castles, but I couldn’t be bothered. I was alone, the place was full of cooler-than-thou hipsters sporting bright, tight jeans and moustaches, and I got a text from my friends who were at the Macbeth up the road in Hoxton at Emmy the Great’s EP launch gig. So I went there, but not before buying the new Crystal Castles 7 inch – the remix of HEALTH’s Crimewave.

Download: Health – Zoothorns

The Macbeth was much more agreeable affair. The crowd was much more to my liking, it was strange but pleasant to be in a smoke-free pub (my first time in a bar since the start of the smoking ban), I had my first proper pint in 10 weeks, and there was some good music to be heard.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Eugene McGuiness, and he did a nice little turn in support, knocking out a few songs with his band. I was quite impressed with his jaunty indie-pop and I’ve resolved to check out his debut album The Early Learnings of Eugene McGuinness as soon as I can.

Then, of course, there was Emmy. As I said, it was her EP launch show, which means that she has a new EP out! Yes, at last we have the second ever official release from Ms the Great, which is a genuine cause for rejoicing. I don’t think it’s in the shops till next week, but I got my order from Pure Groove the other day. It’s a nicely lo-fi job – all tracks recorded at home. At times it’s a bit too lo-fi, but I’d rather have that than something nastily over-produced. The EP contains a lovely new recording of Easter Parade, unmixed, straight from tape, new song MIA, a new version of The Woods, featuring Lightspeed Champion (returning the backing vocals compliment following Emmy’s BVs on his own album), and a differently arranged rendition of City Song, which is a bit slower than the other demo version doing the rounds, and not quite as good.

But I’m not complaining. It’s great to have a new slab of Emmy on vinyl. I can’t say too much about her performance at the Macbeth, as I had to leave two songs in. After openers Easter Parade and City Song, which were lovely of course, I had to dash back home just as she struck up City Song. According to my friends, it was a good set, which finished with an acoustic cover of Frank Mills. Shame I had to miss it, but as my friend said when I left “Emmy’s good, but your daughter is even better”. Too right – there’s not even a contest there. Sometimes these little sacrifices aren’t really much of a hardship.

Download: Emmy the Great - The Woods (feat. Lightspeed Champion)

Buy the My Bad EP

Buy the new HEALTH album

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Straight outta my inbox

Like most music bloggers, I get a whole load of emails from bands, labels and artists keen to get their stuff featured on blogs. I guess they want to up their Hype Machine count at least, or at best become the next big ‘blog band’, like Beirut or Tapes ‘n’ Tapes. I often don’t bother with these, but I’ve become a little more conscientious of late. I’ve given some recent correspondents a listen and reckon they’re worth posting. See what you think.

First up we have Douglas Hall, a London-based singer songwriter. He describes his music as “a blend of aggressive acoustic folk, soul & blues”, which about sums it up really. Not really that aggressive though, though he does seem to have some passion in what he’s doing. He almost put me off by having Paolo Nutini in his top friends list, but he made up for it by having Jamie Lidell too.

He’s playing a gig tonight at Leonard’s Bar if you’re in London town and looking for something to do. He’s also at the Good Ship in Kilburn on 16 September. More details on his myspace.

Download: Douglas Hall – Man of the Century

Saint Paul, Minnesota band Amasser seem to think that they’re a bit more avant-garde than they actually are. Their myspace description reads indie/ experimental but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. So is their slightly pretentious description of the inspiration behind their new album Legal Wall – they’re trying just too hard to make themselves seem artier than they are. Instead, they trade in melodic indie-electronica, more along the lines of Stars and The Postal Service instead of anything more leftfield. But what’s wrong with that? Sure they have burbling synths and slightly distorted beats, but doesn’t everyone these days? Still, it’s decent enough stuff, and worth a listen. They should just be less afraid to play it straight.

Download: Amasser – Kilo Binge
Download: Amasser – Green Like the Sky

I got an email from Rumraket records, the label run by Danish band Efterklang, telling me about their latest signing, an American bloke from Nashville called Daniel James who goes by the name Canon Blue. Not a great name then, but the music is intriguing, and certainly nothing like his hometown might suggest. On this track Pilguin Pop, he’s got a fine ear for a melancholy melody married to decent electronics, beats and a bit of distortion. He’s one of these guys who records absolutely everything himself, but has roped in some impressive and better-known names to mix the album (Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear) and master it (Christian Vogel). The album’s called Colonies and is out in September.

Download: Canon Blue – Pilgun Pop

The Whiskers aren’t really what I expected. I almost never bothered to listen to them, as a committed feline-o-phobe, the name was more than off-putting. Even getting beyond that, I was thinking twee indie-pop (you would, wouldn’t you?). But no. Instead, listening to the first track on their self-titled debut and most importantly free download album, I heard vocals that reminded me of The Killers. But thankfully the vocals were over the top of pleasing electronic beats and droning organ sounds instead of rock bombast. They’re an interesting lot, this band who hail from all over America (as per the graphic above - they have no real pics of themselves). The email I received simply said “You’ll dig this”. And I do. There are more oddball beats, wry lyrics and even guitars to be heard across the nine tracks on this album, which brings to mind a lo-fi Animal Collective. I think I can really get into this, and I can’t say any better than one of the comments on their myspace:

Where did The Whiskers come from, fully formed, making this scary hairy music? You're precocious all over. Like a baby with a moustache. Super.”

Now they just need to sort out their rubbish name.

Download: The Whiskers – Roses
Download: The Whiskers – I Know

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Laura Groves

Here's something very nice that came my way the other day. The new single from lovely northern chanteuse Laura Groves. She's recently been signed to XL imprint Salvia Records, and it's the debut release for both the label and Laura. Of course, I've been on about her a few times before, and even posted the a-side track I am Leaving, but I was also pleased to hear the b-side - a slightly extended version of Bridges, which first appeared on the 50 minutes compilation of one-minute songs last autumn. It's all lovely stuff, and I'm glad to see that Laura's got signed. I await great new things...

Download: Laura Groves - Bridges

Vote for me!

It’s voting time again. Last year I came 17 in the UK Digital Music Awards. This time I’m aiming higher! So get clicking on that right hand button and give me your vote!

Mind you, I’m not really expecting to win. There are better blogs out there and blogs with far more readers (the two don’t necessarily go together), but I would like to get higher up the pecking order. But even more importantly, I want to see proper British music blogs occupying that top 10. Not like last year where the top 5 was taken up by ‘blogs’ by top-selling artists which I cynically see as just another promotional racket (yes, I’m looking at you Mike Skinner and Dave Gilmour) and others that weren’t really music blogs at all.

No, what I want to see this year is something reflecting the list of British blogs on my links over right there. So vote early and vote often. For me and for other good blogs. And let’s see a proper music blogger – i.e. a non-professional, just writing for sheer love of music – on the podium come 2 October.

Download: The Flaming Lips – Race for the Prize

Photo from jamie3529gq’s Flickr photostream.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Singles going steady 9: The mighty Beta Band

Next up on my journey though my CD singles is one of my favourite bands of all time – The Beta Band. Despite their all-too-short existence, they burned bright, and given time will no doubt prove to be one of the more influential bands of recent years. You can see this already in reviews which compare new bands to The Beta Band, in some attempt to covey a sense of leftfield, oddball-ness.

Steve Mason, Richard Greentree, Robin Jones and John MacLean burst onto the music scene back in 1997 with the now legendary Champion Sounds EP, a vinyl only release which soon became a sold-our rarity, fetching high prices in second hand record shops (in these pre-eBay days). Here was something unique in these times – a band with a broad musical palate, which combined indie, folk and a clear love for black music – mainly reggae and hip-hop.

So it was with some anticipation that the next two EPs were released – The Patty Patty Sound EP in March 1998 and Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos a few months later. These too sold out quickly, and prompted the release of a compilation, naturally called The 3 EPs in September that year. It’s still the greatest collection of Beta Band songs ever.

Their first album proper, The Beta Band, received a bit of a critical cold shoulder when it came out in June 1999. Maybe because after the 3 EPs, expectations were so high. Maybe because the band themselves disowned the album, citing record company pressure not allowing them the time they’d have liked to record it. It’s not a terrible album, but there are better Betas records. One of these is the follow-up, 2001’s Hot Shots II. This was great, and even generated some top 40 ‘hits’ for them. But it wasn’t quite enough. The band seemed to be plagued by financial problems, and never quite made the money that their label was probably expecting them to. Not even John Cusack in High Fidelity could help them sell enough records. It was not long after the release of final album Heroes to Zeroes in 2004 that the band announced they were splitting up. The word was not that there were inter-band problems (though there may have been), but that they just owed the record company too much money. Perhaps a salutary reminder that an idiosyncratic band and major label politics are always uncomfortable bedfellows.

Whereas on record they were sometimes patchy, but often brilliant, it was live where they really excelled. To put it simply, they are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them a good few times (around 10 I think). My first encounter with them was back in May 1998. I still remember it well. A sticky hot night in some venue near Great Portland Street tube called the International Students House. Basically a gym hall in student accommodation taken over by the Beta Band for the evening, and decorated with plants and their big collection of gear on a stage that seemed too small. It was the first time that I had experienced the whole visuals-as-part-of-a-gig thing, with the low-budget home-made videos for each song. But that aside, it was on stage where the real action was. Samples, scratching and mad drumming were all added to the standard guitar-bass-drums mix, and I hadn’t seen anything like it before. I was blown away and it still counts as one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.

They always put on good shows, even when they were touring The Beta Band, which they made sound much better than it was on record. That tour they even left their greatest live favourite Dry the Rain out the set, but it was thankfully restored by the time the Hot Shots II gigs came around, when they were accompanied by rapper Exodus 77. The last time I saw them was at Summer Sundae in 2004. I thought that this was going to be their last ever gig, but they announced a farewell tour shortly afterwards. They sold out two nights at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a fitting final testament to the esteem they were held in by music fans. I’m still wondering why I didn’t go. Maybe I felt I achieved closure in Leicester a few months earlier.

Since the split, Steve Mason has continued with his King Biscuit Time project, though he has suffered from mental health problems of late. Richard Greentree has a new band called The General and Duchess Collins, and Robin and John have teamed up with Beta Band founder member Gordon Anderson, aka Lone Pigeon (Anderson left the Beta Band at the very beginning because of health problems), to form The Aliens. I saw The Aliens last summer, and though I like their debut album Astronomy for Dogs (I’m well overdue a post on that one) my main problem with them is that they’re not The Beta Band. Maybe I’m being unrealistic in my expectations, but that’s just how it is. I just love the Betas a bit too much. Probably more than if they had still been around. But that’s how mythology is made, innit?

I’ve no problems giving you downloads for this, because I have everything they’ve ever released. Here are some tracks that I have on CD singles.

Download: The Beta Band – Inner Meet Me
Download: The Beta Band – Needles in My Eyes
Download: The Beta Band – To You Alone
Download: The Beta Band – Won
Download: The Beta Band – Human Being
Download: The Beta Band – Squares (Bloah Mix)
Download: The Beta Band – The House Song

Buy Beta Band stuff – I recommend starting with The 3 EPs, though for a handy catch-all, you could do worse than get the best of comp.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Rejoicing in the prospect of new Devendra Banhart material

OK, so it isn't the hot news anymore, but I am getting very excited about it. I'm talking of course about the new Devendra Banhart album, due out next month. To start the ball rolling, the first couple of tracks are getting aired, with more to come, on Devendra's myspace.

Download: Devendra Banhart - Seahorse

What can I say? Seahorse is an epic 8-minute piece of folk-morphing-into-70s-rock, and is quite magnificent. With that as a starter, I've got high hopes for when Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon drops. It's totally mad. Almost, in fact, as mad as the promo video which has also surfaced. There's some fine beard action going on there! One question though - what is Gael Garcia Bernal doing there? Wonderfully inexplicable.

Discovering Broken Social Scene through Kevin Drew

Somehow, I’ve never really gotten into Broken Social Scene. It’s just one of these things. Not that I think they’re bad or anything, it’s just that I’ve never spent any time with them. You know how it is. There’s just too much music out there. Perhaps perversely, I’m more familiar with their associates, like Metric/Emily Haines, Feist and Stars, than I am with the mothership.

But I’ve had an opportunity to acquaint myself with the Canadian supergroup, in the form of Spirit If… the new solo album by one of the main men, Kevin Drew. I say solo album, though it comes very much with the BSS stamp on it. It’s there on the cover – Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew – and on the record itself, there are a good few of the ‘Scene’s sprawling membership helping Kevin out on various instrument duties.

And I’m pleased to say it’s a good introduction. It’s an album that rewards repeated listens, as that’s really the only way you’re going to appreciate it fully. It’s a dense, meaty affair, with plenty to get the teeth round, and clocking in at an hour, it’s also pretty long – too long maybe to digest properly in one go. There’s a lot to enjoy here – from the up-tempo rockers like the Boss-referencing Lucky Ones and the noisy opener Farewell to the Pressure Kids, to the more stripped down and downbeat likes of Where it Begins and Gang Bang Suicide. There’s nothing to complain about either, but there’s just something holding me back from proclaiming the true greatness of Spirit If… Maybe I need to just spend more time digesting it properly. I mean, it’s a good album, maybe even a very good album. But can you have too much of a good thing? Yeah, I think so.

Download: Kevin Drew – TBTF

Order your copy of Spirit If…

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nancy Elizabeth

I’ve been vaguely aware of Nancy Elizabeth for a while, but never got round to properly listening to her until very recently, when I received a copy of her current single Hey Son. The name rang a bell. Then I realised that I’d first heard of her as Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe, a singer-songwriter from up north somewhere. It seems that for the release of her new singles and album this year, she’s dropped her surname, on the grounds that it’s too much of a mouthful and no-one outside of Wigan (her home town) can pronounce her name properly (so it’s not pronounced ‘cun-lif’ then?).

Whatever she’s called, then or now, she makes some pretty damn fine music. Her debut was a mini-album called The Wheel Turning King, which came out on Timbreland records last year. It’s six tracks of beautiful stripped down acoustic folk, apparently recorded in an old church in just two late night sessions, which sees Nancy accompanied by Celtic harp, Thai kim, violin and minimal percussion as well as acoustic guitar. Her voice reminds me a bit of Beth Orton, but I reckon her songs are better. Marissa Nadler might be a closer comparison musically.

If this mini-album is good, the new single takes it to another level. Lead track Hey Son is just fantastic, with its dense acoustic build-up through which Nancy’s lovely voice shines through. The b-side Live by the Sea is almost as good – nicely haunting with droning harmonium to set the mood. If this is a taster for her new album Battle and Victory (this time recorded in a stone cottage in Wales), it will be a magnificent thing indeed.

Download: Nancy Elizabeth – Hey Son
Download: Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe – Place to Shelter

Battle and Victory is out on The Leaf Label in September. Pre-order here.

Good magazine, great festival. Bonus!

I don’t really read much music magazines these days, because I get pretty much all I need from the internet. But yesterday I bought Plan B magazine for the first time. I’ve seen it around, but never actually parted with hard cash for it until now. And I’m happy to say it’s very good. With big features on MIA, Super Furry Animals, Marnie Stern and Dirty Projectors, plus heaps of other decent features and reviews (including one of Strawberry Jam), it’s a winning combination.

The other reason to buy it is the ace covermount CD, done in partnership with the End of the Road Festival. Unsurprisingly it has songs (16 in all) from artists who are going to be appearing at the festival (including Micah P Hinson who has unfortunately since cancelled). Here are a couple of them to whet your appetite, before you buy.

Download: Jens Lekman – Friday Night at the Drive-in Bingo
Download: Malcolm Middleton – Stay Close at Night