Friday, August 29, 2008


Legendary record label Too Pure may be no more, subsumed into the growing 4AD empire, but it still lives on for the time being in the form of the Too Pure Singles Club. They've been putting out limited edition 7 inches since last November, and the latest installment in the series is by Paperplain.

Paperplain is the analogue-loving 18-year old Helen Page, knocking out bedroom songs on an old eight-track recorder. Two of these are on the single, and provide proof that even in a crowded market for sensitive female acoustic types, Page can more than hold her own.

mp3: Paperplain - Spin Wheel

11:30/Spin Wheel is released on 8 September. Buy it (and other sevens) from Too Pure.

Xrabit & DMG$

Here's something else good and new from my inbox. I'm usually favourably disposed towards fellow Eastenders, so here's Dalston-dwelling (though German-born) producer Xrabit, recently signed to Big Dada (so recently that he hasn't even been added to their artists list yet), who brings some tough beats and lets the Texan MC duo Damaged Goods (DMG$) loose all over them. The press blurb says that these two are "Andre 3000 worshipping Texan MCs", though from the evidence of the photo, the influence doesn't seem to be sartorial. Anyway, I don't really go out dancing anymore but if I did, this is the sort of thing that I'd want to hear this weekend.

mp3: Xrabit & DMG$ - Killin' 'Em (Xrabit remix)

Little Boots

These days, just releasing records isn't enough. All the cool kids are doing mixtapes as well, and not just the hip-hop ones. Here white-hot electropopstrel Little Boots (aka Victoria, formerly of Dead Disco) presents her latest mixtape as part of her ongoing quest for world domination.

mp3: Little Boots - Computer Fairyland Mixtape

You can buy Little Boots' new 7 inch single Meddle from Pure Groove. Debut 12 inch out in America in November.

"I'm really not a man, you see. I'm an angel"

" an angel I can do a lot of things"

The other day, I was pointed to this interview with the mighty Sun Ra, which is brilliant. The interviewer is clearly out of his depth, but still does a decent job keeping a lid on things, because let's face it, interviewing Sun Ra is never going to be an easy task.

On a similar note, I'd also highly recommend tracking down a copy of the 1974 film Space is the Place, for some more wigged-out Sun Ra Egyptological and space-related craziness.

mp3: Sun Ra - Message to Earthman

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stereolab - Chemical Chords

Some bands have such a recognisable sound that they always manage to sound like themselves no matter how much they experiment and play around with their core components. A good example is Low, who followed up the big, expansive, almost mainstream sound of The Great Destroyer with the stripped back minimalism of Drums and Guns. Yet all the time they remained quintessentially Low, sounding like no-one else. Stereolab are another good example of a band who are always instantly recognisable, mainly through the combination of their particular synth sound and Laetitia Sadier's vocals.

Like Low, the difference between Stereolab's two most recent albums is marked. The collection of 7 inch singles that made up 2006 compilation Fab Four Suture was Stereolab at their abstract best, making no attempt at commercialism, whereas new album Chemical Chords takes a very different approach. Where the previous record was low-key, the new one, on new label 4AD seems to have a much higher profile. It seems like I can hardly turn on BBC 6Music these days without hearing the title track. So they've definitely gone for radio-friendly. And it's all quite pop.

The songs are as carefully and expertly crafted as always, but this time there's much more focus on the tunes. Then comes along Sean O'Hagan with his strings and brass, and the whole thing ends up sounding, well pretty lush really. It's not like these are components that Gane, Sadier and co. haven't used before, but they've been embraced with fresh enthusiasm. It's a polished album, but in a very good way. The songs have catchy hooks, they swoop and soar and even when, as with all Stereolab records, the songs start to feel like they're replicating themselves, the band hit us with another curveball, like the deliciously bouncy Daisy Click Clack. It's all top-notch stuff and Chemical Chords is easily their best album since Dots and Loops, perhaps even better. Stereolab may always remain comfortingly familiar, but that doesn't mean that they can't thrill us afresh.

mp3: Stereolab - Daisy Click Clack
mp3: Stereolab - Chemical Chords

Buy Chemical Chords from Rough Trade.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Singles going steady 27: The Flaming Lips

Time I got back again to raking through my old CD singles. It's been a while.

Next CD I come across is The Flaming Lips. And this is value for money. Now kids, please don't ever buy music on the primary basis that it offers value for money - that really isn't a good criterion. But it's sometimes a nice bonus. In this case, it's because back in 2003 Oklahoma's finest released an EP that not only boasted seven tracks, it seemed to be genuinely trying to offer something new. The title track Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell isn't even present in its original form, instead appearing as two different, both rather good remixes. Then there's a reworking of their classic Do You Realize?? and four brand new (at the time) tracks.

Musically, these newbies offer a stylistic as well as chronological bridge between Yoshimi and At War with the Mystics, though to be honest the latter wasn't exactly a huge departure from the former. Maybe just lacking in as many obvious big pop tunes. Anyway, I love the Flaming Lips - they're good value, even though they've been peddling the same live show for almost a decade now - and these are top-notch tunes.

mp3: The Flaming Lips - Assassination of the Sun
mp3: The Flaming Lips - Ego Tripping (Self-Admiration With Blow-Up Mix)

Buy the Ego Tripping EP from Amazon.

Singles going steady 1-26.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Minotaur Shock does a Radiohead

...except he doesn't. Since last October, how many bands have been described as 'doing a Radiohead'? Artists from Cliff Richard to Nine Inch Nails have been said to have followed Thom & Co's footsteps into this brave new digital world. Yet, although some albums have been given away free online, as far as I'm aware, no-one has done the whole pay-what-you-want thing. Bloc Party releasing their album online first is hardly something that's not been done way before even In Rainbows came along.

As it turns out, what Minotaur Shock, aka David Edwards is doing is exactly the opposite of what Radiohead did last year. Yes, his new album Amateur Dramatics is available online, but he's dictating exactly what you should pay for it. It's not like he's only just stipulated a price for the whole album (£6.41 by the way) - he's actually specified what each track is worth, and they're all different - ranging from 33p to 77p. How'd you do that, then? The answer is quite complex - head over the the Minotaur Shock website for a track-by-track breakdown of the component worth of each, and through a detailed scoring system taking into consideration things like 'technical difficulty rating', extra musicians rating' and 'fun/replay rating', the price is arrived at. That may explain why Beekeeper is more than double the price of Two Magpies, if you're really interested. And if you think this is all a gimmick to increase sales, you might be right, but David needs it - reading between the lines it seems clear that there was no way 4AD was going to give Amateur Dramatics a proper release, so he's opted for an online one instead, but with an added quirk.

But what about the music? Well, it pains me to glibly refer to it as pleasant electronica, especially since Edwards has not only spent a long time crafting each tune, he's also put so much effort into classifying and describing each one. But that's sort of what it is. Nothing too frantic, the beats never really intend to whip the listener up into a dance frenzy. Instead they burble and glide past smoothly and carefully, electronics merged with real instruments, and even the occasional real human voice. Apart from a couple of more abrasive numbers, the whole virtual record makes a pleasant, if unchallenging listen. But then again, on my tube journey home tonight, I don't want to be challenged. I just want to listen to something soothing while I read and try not to get too crushed and sweaty on the Central Line.

Finally, I'm probably doing David a big disservice here by posting a couple of his carefully-priced songs for free, but they won't be up there for long, and if you care for this sort of thing, I'd strongly encourage you to show your love by buying Amateur Dramatics for the required price.

mp3: Minotaur Shock - Jason Forrest
mp3: Minotaur Shock - Snapdragon

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lykke Li - Youth Novels

It can be hard to follow up a killer single with an album - expectations are usually very high, and if the album doesn't contain more stuff like said killer single, it will likely disappoint. Lykke Li was always going to have a tough task following up the brilliant Little Bit, and I'm not sure she's been talking to the right people about it either. According to the press release, her mentor is Bjorn 'Peter, Bjorn and John' Yttling, who has also produced her debut album Youth Novels. Although I'm not going to fault his production skills, is he really the best person to be advising on the whole following-up-the-big-tune issue? After all, Yttling's Young Folks, deservedly acclaimed and loved everywhere hardly led to an amazing album in the shape of (the appropriately titled?) Writers' Block, did it?

And there's a very similar picture emerging with Youth Novels. There's Little Bit, and previous single I'm Good, I'm Gone which is er, good. I'm also very fond of the lovely sunny vibe and surfing harmonies on My Love, but a lot of the rest of the album is, well, just alright. It's not a bad album by a long way (otherwise I wouldn't be writing about it here), but most of it just glides effortlessly by without really engaging. It's probably perfect for a balmy summer's evening outdoors, Lykke Li's cooing vocal soothing away in the background as you relax with your drink of choice. But it doesn't quite stand up to more rigorous scrutiny. However, it's still summer, so enjoy it while you can.

mp3: Lykke Li - My Love
mp3: Lykke Li - Little Bit (Loving Hand Remix)

Buy Youth Novels from Rough Trade. You can download the Little Bit single from emusic.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Two Thousand and ACE

Contrary to the song, the best things in life usually aren't free. Though often the best things come in the smallest packages - whether's it's your local independent cafe or bookshop, magazine or record label. Speaking of which, they don't come much smaller and more perfectly formed than Brainlove Records. They've already released one of the singles of the year in the shape of the Friends of the Bride / Modernaire split seven, and now they've come up with a low-key monster in the recent compilation Two Thousand and Ace. It might not be free, but it's certainly cheap - at a fiver it's a total bargain for the 27 tracks of genre-hopping indie goodness including the aforementioned 7 inch partners, plus Cats in Paris, Capitol K, Bearsuit and Brainlove stalwarts Napoleon IIIrd, Pagan Wanderer Lu and The Keyboard Choir. In fact, instead of trying to pursuade you to buy albums that I've got free, like I usually do, I'm going to dig deep into my dusty pockets for that old crumpled fiver and send it virtually to the Brainlove people in return for one of their 1000 Two Thousand and Ace CDs. Not just because Brainlove is a great little label that could do with your financial support, but also because the clue's in the title, folks!

mp3: The Keyboard Choir - In This Situtation, Thinking Won't Help
mp3: Junkplanet 2 - The Half Life

I do have these two tracks to share with you. Enjoy, then buy from the Brainlove myspace (or the proper website, if you don't like these annoying myspace link guard thingys).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Left With Pictures

End of the Road Festival is only three years old in September, but already it seems to be the place for me to discover great new artists, even if I didn't actually see them there. The first two years have seen performances by artists that I have gone on to love, then regret I had failed to see them the previous September, mainly because I had never heard (of) them at the time. So the inaugural 2006 festival saw me missing sets by the then-unknown-to-me Barbarossa, Frightened Rabbit and Pink Mountaintops. Last year's bash saw me missing Zombie Zombie, Dawn Landes and Woodpigeon.

The good folks from Organ Grinder Records were a bit more on the ball than me when they first saw Left With Pictures at the 2007 EOTR. Here was a band, new to them, who blew them away. As they explain, they "couldn't believe [Left With Pictures] weren't signed" and knew that they "had to work with them". And so, almost on the eve of this year's festival, the band's new EP, their first on Organ Grinder, is released.

Left With Pictures are three blokes, Stuart Barter, Toby Knowles and Robert Wilkes from London who play elegantly crafted songs that echo English folk, but are shot through with a large dose of pop. 'Chamber pop' proclaims their myspace and that about nails it. The EP in question - titled Secretly after its lead track - is a delicately played thing (you get the impression that these lads are pretty decent musicians), with lovely arrangments - all swooping oohs and aahs and carefully stroked violins. My current favourite track Super-8 reminds me a little of the recent output of Euros Childs, but with more strings. All in, it's a cracking little EP, six songs well worth 17 minutes of your time - then a few more once you realise how good they are.

So here's the tune. I'm now preparing for next month's EOTR by listening to as many of the bands and artists as I can in advance. I don't want to miss out on anything else great this year.

mp3: Left With Pictures - Super-8

Buy the Secretly EP from the Organ Grinder website once it's out on 29 August. In the meantime, you can buy previous LWP releases from their myspace, including their current collaboration with Peggy Sue and the Pirates, called Peggy Sue and The Pictures, natch.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Working overtime

Here's a rag-bag collection of various remixes and stuff that's been rattling around in my inbox lately. I don't normally go for the whole remix thing, but there are a few I've been listening to which are worth sticking up here because I think they're good. Note: this is not just some vain attempt at getting myself top hits on The Hype Machine, but kids, if you really do want to get your blog into HM's top 50, you have to post a remix.

Anyway, first up we have Brit hip-hop veteran Roots Manuva. His new album, the dodgily-titled Slime and Reason is set to drop on 1 September. Before that comes the single Again and Again and from that, a couple of remixes have been doing the rounds. One's from Matt Helders, one of the guys from the Arctic Monkeys who isn't Alex Turner. If you're thinking that the Monkeys connection might be getting exploited for more exposure, you may be justified. But Helders acquits himself adequately on the mix, and there's not a choppy guitar to be heard. Better though is the Moody Boyz reworking who bring both the dub and the dancehall party. It's all shaping up nicely for the album.

mp3: Roots Manuva - Again and Again (Matt Helders Remix)
mp3: Roots Manuva - Again and Again (Moody Boyz Remix)

Keeping things in the Ninja Tune camp, here's on from one of their recent signings, The Qemists. I know little of them apart from this bangin' (oh, listen to me) remix featuring Mike Patton. How did that happen? Whatever the case, it's good and is cause alone to investigate this Brighton outfit further.

mp3: The Qemists - Lost Weekend feat. Mike Patton (Hot Pink Delorean Remix)

A little bit removed from all this is foot-stompin', harmonica-totin' blues nutter Son of Dave. You may not think that an electro reworking (by Michel Boombass of Cassius, no less) of this sort of thing would work, but have a listen to this and let me know what you think. I reckon it does. In other related news, the crazy dude has tackled Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Check it out at the SOD myspace.

mp3: Son of Dave - Hellhound (Boombass "Jack on the Rocks" remix)

I think that'll do for now. Back to pleasantly-strummed guitars soon.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hollowbody - Inside the Wolves

Just when you thought that there were too many young men with beards playing folky music, another one comes along and claims his place in the room labelled 'high quality folky music played by young men with beards'. This one goes by the name of Hollowbody, and I first came across him when his alias, Dan Weltman leapt from his Bristol home and into my inbox. A quick visit to his myspace confirmed that Dan's tunes were worth more than a cursory listen, and the arrival of his new album Inside the Wolves only confirms that he's a lot better than many of the other chaps playing a similar game.

Weltman recorded the album at his home in Bristol, and apparently he's "fascinated by the transition of musical tastes over the last century" and wants to explore the "middle ground" between the worlds of the "great old songwriters [and] the care they put into their work" and the "more expressionist things everyone listens to today". Whatever that means, the result is a pleasingly trim album - eight tracks with not an ounce of body fat. Mostly just Dan and his acoustic guitar. The highlights for me are the first two tracks. Opener Juliet, I'm Running is lovely little thing, with its banjo, sweet backing vocals, harmonica and subtle trumpet blending perfectly. It isn't so much running as sauntering happily over a hill on a sunny day. Possibly even better is Chains, with its infectious plucked guitar riff. That it reminds me a lot of James Yorkston probably enhances its appeal no end.

I'm not sure if Hollowbody has reached his goal of "walking a line from this imagined tradition towards a new sound", but his sound certainly is an appealing one. The beauty of the opening tracks is followed by six more consistently good ones. It's a solid album of delicate melodies, if that doesn't sound like a contradiction in terms. All very highly recommended.

mp3: Hollowbody - Juliet, I'm Running
mp3: Hollowbody - Chains

Buy Inside the Wolves from the Hollowbody myspace.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No Age / HEALTH @ The Scala, 11 August 2008

A Q&A about Monday's Upset! The Rhythm gig.

Q: What's so great about HEALTH?

A: Unsure. I could use the well-known 'music to be admired but not loved' cliche, but I'm not sure I even admire HEALTH's much feted debut album that much. It sounds to me like a collection of good ideas not very well put together. I consistently fail to understand the adulation heaped upon them. The remix album HEALTH//DISCO was so much more up my street and made the disparate parts hang together much more nicely.

Q: HEALTH are amazing live, yeah?

A: Still Unsure. I was expecting quite a lot from this set, but came away a little unsatisfied. I'd seen the LA noiseniks once before, last summer and quite enjoyed the madness, but maybe the fact that this was the first time I had been a gig since the birth of The Baby Growl coloured my judgement somewhat. Sure, there were a couple of really great moments at the Scala, most notably the point where everyone seemed to be drumming (don't ask me for track names silly), but most of the rest of it was just like the album - lots of sonic blasts and random screaming - with added on-stage energy. Two points in their favour though: 1) The drummer is an amazing powerhouse. Not subtle or complex, but boy can he hit 'em! 2) There was more on-stage camp than I was expecting, mainly in the tall figure of John Famiglietti. If you've seen them live, you'll know what I mean.

Q: How do you stage-dive from a low stage?

A: Climb onto the back of chair and fall backwards into the arms of your fans. Whilst playing guitar of course.

Q: How do you excite your fans without getting your gear trashed?

A: Can be tricky. The kids can get excited and storm the stage. This is the sort of thing that you're known for and would encourage. But it has its risks, like messing about with your guitar leads. It can cause problems, like stopping songs. But hey, it's punk rock.

Q: Do No Age live up to their fearsome live reputation?

A: Sort of. There were qualifying factors. First, I have a feeling that the gig might have been more thrilling had it been in a smaller venue, like Cargo or Bardens. But No Age have spent a lot of time playing London venues of that size and now their time has come to step up to the next level, which means places like The Scala. It's fine enough really, but the energy is obviously going to get dissipated more in a bigger space. Second, the sound was a bit rough to begin with. Now, with bands like No Age, that shouldn't really matter, but not hearing vocals is a bit of a problem. Still, the sound improved as the show progressed.

Q: So what's the No Age magic formula?

A: Punk pop energy. That's about it. On record, there's plenty of effects-drenched guitar bliss-outs, but live these are largely neglected in favour of straightforward fuzzed up two-minute power pop punk. Randy Randall's buzzing guitar, Dean Spunt's crashing drumming and shouted vocals and little messing about. Over the course of an hour in which they must have played most of their material from Weirdo Rippers and Nouns, the songs begin to sound a bit similar, but hey, it's a good song and when there's so much fun to be had, who's complaining?

Q: What next?

A: Bigger venues probably, which is not necessarily a good thing. Mind you, No Age do seem to have a bit of a bond with Upset! The Rhythm, so I don't see them running off in the direction of Live Nation any time soon. Despite the major label deal, Spunt and Randall's LA DIY roots still count for something.

mp3: HEALTH - Triceratops
mp3: HEALTH - Triceratops (Acid Girls RMX A)
mp3: No Age - Every Artist Has a Tragedy
mp3: No Age - Neck Escaper

Buy HEALTH and No Age albums from Rough Trade.

Video of No Age performing at the gig. More live action from HEALTH and (third band on the bill) Lovvers over at UTR's Youtube page.

pacific! - Reveries

I'm not down with the whole Guilty Pleasures thing. Why should you feel guilty about liking music you love? Is there a need to hide stuff in case you're exposed as not cool enough? I like The Final Countdown by Europe and Careless Whisper by George Michael (there - said it!) and I can't see what there is to be embarrassed about there.

I mention this, because the new album by Swedish duo pacific! mines a rich seem of what might be called guilty pleasures. It's a proper Balearic record, but not in the sense of TOP IBIZA CHILL OUT CLASSIX compilations, but in the old-fashioned sense of anything goes as long as it's good and makes sense, an attitude that saw the likes of Chris Rea's On the Beach and other soft rock classics being blared from Ibizan terraces whilst addled clubbers went wild with joy. Danny Hogberg and Bjorn Synneby have amassed a lifetime's musical loves and influences on Reveries, and they're not ashamed of any of them, so they're as happy displaying affection for cheesy 80s synth pop as they are for more classic, 'credible' reference points. So we have the ghosts of terminally unfashionable groups like A-ha and ELO, sitting happily alongside The Beach Boys and other summery West Coast American idols. The song Disappear manges even to recall both Ticket to Ride and Maggie May within the space of a few seconds. Elsewhere, there are flavours of more contemporary lounge acts, like Air and Lemon Jelly.

So guilty pleasure it certainly ain't. It's a near-perfect summer album, full of shimmery electropop to cheer the spirits even in the dampest of London Augusts. I doubt that many readers of this blog have the opportunity to cruise down a palm-lined freeway in an open-topped car, but if you do, you know what to stick on the hi-fi.

mp3: pacific! - Disappear
mp3: pacific! - Silent Running
mp3: pacific! - Sunset Blvd (Popular Computer Remix)

The album Reveries is out in the UK next week on the excellent Half Machine Records. You can currently buy the import vinyl at Rough Trade. It's preceded this week by a single - a 12" release of Sunset Blvd, with a few remixes (buy from Rough Trade too). None of these can touch the glory of the original, but the Popular Computer one does a decent job of keeping the best bits without messing it up too much.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Voluntary Butler Scheme

Some more good new stuff now. Despite the oddly grand name, The Voluntary Butler Scheme is really just only bloke - Rob Jones - from the unfashionable part of the West Midlands known as Stourbridge, which back in the early 90s was famous for Pop Will Eat Itself, The Wonder Stuff and Neds Atomic Dustbin. But don't worry if you've lost your old German army jacket and DMs with purple laces, because Jones ain't no grebo. VBS trade in an altogether sunnier pop music, made all the more impressive from the fact that Rob does it all himself. It's perhaps not astounding that he can play various parts into a recording device, but what happens when you have to do it live? It's one man band time.

He's got a single out. It's called Trading Things In and it's a fine thing. The title track sports a riff that sounds like all these songs that take a cue from Brimful of Asha, but we're not talking lame copyists here. It's a sprightly little thing, with a huge singalong chorus and more than a little crossover appeal. Even better is is the b-side The Eiffel Tower and the BT Tower, with its cheeky horn parping and ever cheekier lyrics and it's one of the best straight-up pop tunes I've heard in ages. By the time he takes the pace down a bit for third track Hot Air Balloon Heart, and adds some country-style twanging, we already know that he's a major new talent - someone with a sharp ear for a great pop tune, a silly and irreverent way with a lyric, some good ideas about how to make things a bit more interesting and a sense of fun in what he's doing. How many new artists can we genuinely say that about right now?

mp3: The Voluntary Butler Scheme - The Eiffel Tower and the BT Tower
mp3: The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Turn Country Lanes Into Motorways (live on Xfm)
mp3: The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Trading Things In (live on Xfm)

The first track is from the single and the other two are for a session Rob did for John Kennedy on Xfm last month, including a brand new track. All good. I would recommend that you can buy his (download only) Trading Things In EP but it's not available from emusic, and I'm not sure where else people do the legal download thing these days. iTunes I suppose.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Isaac Hayes RIP

I almost burnt my leg with the iron when I heard this news on the radio this morning. Tributes have poured in. Obituaries have been published. I'm not sure what I can add to the weight of these apart from to say RIP and point you to some footage of the legend that was, and still is, Isaac Hayes.

mp3: Isaac Hayes - Soulsville

Friday, August 08, 2008

Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra

The problem with creating an amazing debut album is that your subsequent work is always going to be held up against that first masterwork. Many artists have been in this position, and Micah P. Hinson is one of them. Mind you, his 'debut' album wasn't technically his first, though it was the first to get released. Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress was a gutsy, rocking soulful triumph, which set a very high standard for all its successors.

Though his next album The Opera Circuit was good, it may have been unfavourably compared with its predecessor. But the arrival of Micah's new album The Red Empire Orchestra heralds an exciting new chapter in his canon. He's in a different place now to the one which led to the anguished screams on The Opera Circuit. His lyrics and music may still be loaded with melancholy, but there's a lighter touch. There are positive, almost lovelorn lyrics which perhaps reflect his current happier and recently-married state, and there are plenty of strings. Sure, he's had strings on his records before, but they're so much more noticeable here - at times you could even describe the album as lush.

There's also a certain swagger and at least a couple of songs sound like a gruffer, American Richard Hawley. Other songs just ache with beauty. Then, just to show us that he doesn't need any embellishment to write a great tune, we have just Micah's glorious lived-in voice and quiet accompanying acoustic guitar on The Fire Came Up to My Knees. I'm not sure yet that Red Empire is up to the heights of his debut, but each listen reveals more brilliance and it's already clear that we have a classic in the making. And two albums of the year contenders this week already is pretty good going.

Here's my current favourite track off the album, plus three songs Micah did for a recent Marc Riley BBC 6 Music live session, with added banjo action and including a new, unreleased tune.

mp3: Micah P. Hinson - Sunrise Over the Olympus Mons
mp3: Micah P. Hinson - When We Embraced (live on BBC 6Music)
mp3: Micah P. Hinson - There's Only One Name (live on BBC 6Music)
mp3: Micah P. Hinson - Tell Me It Ain't So (live on BBC 6Music)

Buy The Red Empire Orchestra from Rough Trade (they have a special book-bound CD edition with two bonus tracks at the moment).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Eli "Paperboy" Reed and the True Loves

In this crazy internet age, brand new music coming to me from a source other than the screen in front of me is a strange thing indeed. So last week, when I heard a guy playing a Merle Haggard cover with plenty of reverence on John Kennedy's Xfm radio show, I was actually being introduced to an artist that I had never heard of before. On the radio! How old school is that?

It was a good cover. Even better were his own songs, all soulful twang and gutsy yearning vocals. On a show which is usually dominated by spiky young things, he stood out like a sore thumb. So I go and find out a bit more about Eli "Paperboy" Reed and I like what I hear. His recent album Roll With You, made with his band The True Loves, seems to have been praised and panned in equal measure. It's hard to argue with the quality of Eli's voice, but some naysayers have sniped that it's just a pastiche of old soul and that if you want this sort of thing, there's plenty better, older music to be found. But this sort of comment is both totally right, and completely misses the point.

Sure enough, Reed's sound is a complete facsimile of classic Southern Soul, and lyrically he mines every cliche in the genre's book (you only need to hear lines like "I'm down on your knees / begging you please" once to know exactly where he's going), but what's wrong with that? Who says that soul is a sort of museum piece, only to be performed by someone 'authentic'? What we have is a young bloke wowing a new audience with some superb songs, and the fact that on his recent trip to London he was playing trendy venues like the Proud Galleries shows that The Kids are onto him. Surely this is a good thing. A whole new generation of people who wouldn't pick up Otis or Eddie Floyd albums are getting turned onto Memphis sounds by the chap from Boston and his all-singing, all-horn toting band.

The 11 songs on Roll With You certainly don't bring anything musically new, but they do display an ear from a sharp tune, a feel for a proper soul groove and perhaps best of all they showcase a brilliant voice that sounds very much at home in its retro surroundings. It's an album that won't change your life, but for 38 minutes, it's a total blast. That'll do me.

mp3: Eli "Paperboy" Reed and the True Loves - Stake Your Claim
mp3: Eli "Paperboy" Reed and the True Loves - Take My Love With You

Buy Roll With You from Q Division or download from emusic.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Benjamin Wetherill - Laura

Here's another cracker from Manchester's excellent Red Deer Club Records. I've already written on these pages about the label's other artists Sara Lowes and Sophie's Pigeons, whose records have been good, but this album is surely Red Deer's best yet.

The artist in question in Benjamin Wetherill, who hails from Leeds and has created in his debut album Laura a thing of delicate and exquisite beauty. The term 'folk' is liberally applied these days and can used to describe anything from acoustic pop to proper old beardy man's finger picking. Wetherill certainly leans towards the latter despite being a youngster. His music has plenty nods towards old pastoral English folk, but there's a more cosmopolitan twist which comes courtesy of Jeremy Barnes of A Hawk and Hacksaw fame. Barnes spotted Benjamin whilst on tour and offered to produce his album, which in turned led to them hooking up with Jeremy's Hungarian mates The Hun Hangar Ensemble and recording Laura in a disused 19th century palace on the outskirts of Budapest. Their magic touch, all haunting trumpets and strings, give it a Eastern European flavour which combined with the inherent Englishness and Wetherill's quavering vocals, elevates the album from being merely good to something a lot more special. Already a contender for my albums of the year, I reckon.

Check out a couple of tunes.

mp3: Benjamin Wetherill - Kissing Under Poplars
mp3: Benjamin Wetherill - Oh Sorrow

The album is out now in the UK on Red Deer Club, and in the US on Ba Da Bing (the home of Beirut, natch). Buy from the labels via the links or download from emusic.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Wave Pictures / A Classic Education @ The Borderline, 30 July 2008

It was about time. My love for The Wave Pictures has been well-documented on the pages of this blog, but somehow I've never quite got round to seeing them live. It's not like Wave Pictures gigs are a rare thing either - they've always got a packed live calendar, and have probably played every small venue in London. But I've been absent from all of these until last week. And in a way, it was worth the wait.

Before I got to see Bethnal Green's finest, there was another band in the way - one that I was also fairly keen to check out.

A Classic Eduction, to my uneducated, Anglo-centric ears are a rare thing. A band based in Bologna, Italy, with songs in English sung by a Canadian frontman. This slight exoticism may give them an advantage over the scores of other new-band related emails I sift through every day, but happily they're a lot more than just an unusual set-up. By the time I saw their support slot, I had already warmed to some of the songs on their debut EP, without them really lodging in my mind. But that's fine because live, they were given bit of extra muscle and depth.

There are plenty of references to spot within ACE's songs. Stylistically, there's a healthy dose of Arcade Fire, with their outfits, the collective singing round mics and perhaps rather bravely, the band's a capella procession round the venue before going onstage. Musically, there are touches of Montreal's finest, but there's also some classic British indie as well, with nods to Wedding Present style urgent guitar playing, new wavey Interpol-like stylings and some classic shoegazey guitar effects. My friend Dan thought that there was a bit of dEUS in there too, but knowing next to nothing about that Belgian band, I can't say for sure. But they're more than a sum of their influences. There was a lot going on up on stage, and most importantly they write good songs - set closer Stay, Son in particular stood out as a tune that sounds comfortingly familiar, even if you've never heard it before. They must be doing something right.

mp3: A Classic Education - Stay, Son

So to The Wave Pictures. One of the things that struck me after only a couple of songs, is that their resolutely lo-fi sound on record masks the fact that they're actually great musicians. Franic Rozycki plays a mean bass, Jonny Helm hits the drums in fine style and David Tatersall has the makings of a bit of a guitar hero. He's perhaps necessarily reined in on the band's recorded output, but live he likes to cut loose a little, without ever crossing the line into cheesy guitar solo territory. Now virtuosity does not always good music make, but in the sweaty confines of the Borderline, it worked perfectly well. Unsurprisingly the songs come across even better live than on record with a beefed-up sound and guitar workouts only enhancing Tatersall's wry lyrics.

The other thing that struck me early on is that The Wave Pictures are not a cool band. Nor are they ever likely to be. They have the wrong clothes, haircuts and sound. They're not part of a media-friendly scene and they're unlikely ever to date Heat-friendly babes. They've not got any 'tastemakers' queuing up to proclaim them the next big thing, though maybe that's just as well because Tatersall and Rozycki have been playing together for ten years now. However, they do seem destined to be a cult outfit in the same way that their mates Darren Hayman and the Herman Dune boys have. Whatever the case, the quality of their music demands some sort of wider audience, and in a fair world, far more people would take them to heart.

The set list was short (only 10 songs) but they crammed in some recognisable favourites and a few new ones, which is relevant since they've got a new EP out today. A great gig then, and I'm going to get my act together to see them a lot sooner next time.

mp3: The Wave Pictures - Just Like a Drummer
mp3: The Wave Pictures - Cassius Clay

Buy the new EP Just Like a Drummer (appropriately featuring the "good looking" Jonny Helm on the cover) AND the ace album Instant Coffee Baby from Rough Trade. Or download from emusic. A Classic Education's First EP is available from their website or Rough Trade.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Waits for the weekend

Just because I've been mainlining Tom Waits lately, here's some for the weekend. This one goes out to all those who have been scarred with what Rod Stewart did to Downtown Train. Here's the original and its video.

mp3: Tom Waits - Downtown Train

And in related news, there's a decent 'intro to Tom Waits' article at ace new site The Quietus. As a recent convert, I pretty much agree with all the recommendations there.