Sunday, 4 December 2016

2016 - bangers and modern classics

This isn't a 'best of' because this blog isn't an awards ceremony or a magazine. This is 20 of the best songs, an overview and an introduction for friends. A reminder that new music is still the most exciting art form.

Most years there are one or two strong themes that run through the annual compilation. Maybe one scene has dominated, like last year's UK DIY. Not this year. It's coming from all angles and it's great.

Each year I concentrate on new acts. But Lee Fields (b. 1951), after a relatively fallow few years, has in Special Night made what might be his best album.

And yes, that is a new Jonathan Richman song. Honestly, I think there are only 3 albums he's made in the last 20 years that could go toe to toe with his very best (Surrender To Jonathan, I'm So Confused, Her Mystery Not Of High Heels And Eye Shadow). But there are brilliant songs on every album. He's a treasure and so is this song.

I've got no idea what 2017 holds, but I'll listen to everything Big Crown Records puts out. And if there are debut albums by Spinning Coin, Charlene, Sheer Mag and Oslo House, it'll be another great year.

Oh, metadata fans - my itunes has been screwed up for 18 months, so I made the CD using Windows. No complaining now. Yes, I should probably just do a stream rather than make a CD. Next year, perhaps.

Albany - Spinning Coin
Such A Star - Unity Floors
Can't Stop Fighting - Sheer Mag
Sometimes - Chook Race
Strange Boy - El Michels Affair feat The Shacks
Hoodlove - Charlene
Dry Salt In Our Hair - Le Super Homard
Song About Me (feat Maddie Acid) - TV Girl
(Don't Wanna Be) One Of The Boys - Heavy Pockets
Outside O'Duffy's - Jonathan Richman
Plateau - Oslo House
Ultra Vivid - Ulrika Spacek
The Sweetest Feeling - The Perfect English Weather
Ode To Islands - The Tyde
A Man Of My Age - Arborist
Closed Eyes - Society
Best View Of Dean St - Backyard
Smiling - Lady Wray
The Inconsolable Jean-Claude - Lake Ruth
I'm Coming Home - Lee Fields & the Expressions

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Dunedin Sound: Some Disenchanted Evening

"How the hell did this happen in a city of 120,000 people sitting at the bottom of the world?" Graeme Downes of The Verlaines asks in this book's foreword.

The essays and reflections on 17 Dunedin bands attempt in part to address this. Of course, no consensus is reached on what the Dunedin sound is but there's plenty of lively discussion on what it might be and how it came to be.

There are fascinating insights - producer Stephen Kilroy explains that any sonic similarity was partly down to shared equipment. Thanks to the "trade-substitution economy" most of the amplifiers were copies of well-known brands, made in New Zealand.

Like any artistic explosion, cheap rents and practice rooms helped fuel the initial boom. And at the bottom of the world there wasn't anything else to do.

This book is mainly a celebration of the Dunedin sound, telling "the bands' much by photographs, artwork and ephemera as by the written word". It's more than a New Zealand take on A Scene In Between, though. The visuals alone would make a great gallery exhibition.

However, The Dunedin Sound is no hagiography. It finds space for a tirade against Flying Nun and Dunedin bands, even if that essay exposes the author's mean spirit, personal grudges and dislike of jangling guitars more than it offers a coherently persuasive alternative view.

That critic, Gary Steel (the type of 'character', one imagines, who enjoys being talked about, but who really wouldn't worry what people thought about him if he knew how little they did), makes a fabulous misstep when he claims the Dunedin scene was "free of the usual competitiveness".

Wait just a minute. You've got The Clean's debut single Tally Ho!, a rallying cry to a scene as powerful as the Ramones' Blitzkreig Bop (hey ho let's go!). Then there's The Verlaines' debut single, Death and the Maiden, an intense punk symphony. Then there's the first 3 Chills singles, Rolling Moon, Pink Frost and Doledrums. I've tried to think of a stronger run of 3 first singles by any band and I just can't.

Now imagine being a band in that scene with that fusillade of records. How high the bar was set for newcomers. How much competitiveness there must have been just between those 3 bands.

The Dunedin sound is still going strong. The recent Fishrider compilation Temporary is testament to Dunedin's domestic jewels. The Dunedin sound itself may be at least as much in Christchurch in recent years. But equally it's in Brooklyn, Seattle, Vancouver and Melbourne.

This book is a fittingly well-crafted tribute to the Dunedin sound's foundations.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Hangover Lounge by Hacia Dos Veranos

The only surprise is that it took so long for one of contemporary music's finest exponents to pen a pagan tribute to the sexy monkeyness of the Hangover Lounge's stewards.

After 8.5 years of selflessly dedicating our lives to providing a vital public service - soothing musical Sundays, free gigs - our efforts are immortalised in song.

True, the only English words are "Hangover Lounge, the  heroes of our lives", but I'm assured that the Spanish lyric effectively conveys the virility, generosity and towering intellectualism of Tim, Steve, John and yours truly.

Spanish speakers, don't feel free to disabuse me of this interpretation.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Hangover Lounge highlights

The last Hangover Lounge is on Sunday November 20 at the Betsey Trotwood. Six bands are playing that gig - full details announced on Monday. Time to revisit some of the last 8 years' highlights.

Some because there are so many. Some because I know what your attention span is like. Some because not everything is available.

All of these are wonderful

Robert Forster
Mark this one down as 'ambition fulfilled'. Robert was as urbane, gracious and charming as I'd expected. Our Tim pointed out afterwards that there was Robert, Pete Astor and David Westlake sat on a sofa chatting. I was sat there, too, but only when I wasn't getting them drinks.

Edwyn Collins
Many people - burly, grizzled, world-weary, grown men - were blubbing during this performance. After the gig I tried to give Edwyn money for the gig. He refused until he eventually realised I wasn't going until he took the money. He took it and immediately gave it to the support band to spend on beer for themselves.

Withered Hand
Dan Willson opened our Lost Weekend at the Lexington with this song, which starts "Me and you could maybe use a lost weekend". Nice touch.

Standard Fare
Emma Kupa's played for us a number of times, every one of them brilliantly, none more so than this time.

Darren Hayman
A Lounge regular and favourite.

Allo Darlin
Elizabeth played our very first gig 8 years ago as a solo artist. No footage of that exists. She was an eye-opener. Then she formed a band, who we were lucky enough to put on a few times.

The Papas and the Mamas
I've been on a personal yet futile crusade over the last 20 years to get East Village to reform. In 1996 Paul and Martin Kelly came to a club I ran then because I'd been badgering them to reform. They didn't reform. In 2015 they played an East Village song, which is as close as that reformation will get.

The Clientele
I know you're not meant to have favourites, but I think this is the best song we released.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Buildermash - Measly Love

Bill Direen is an enigma. He once thought it would be interesting to put a monkey at the control of the mixing desk to see what happens. It was. It "led to some fairly spontaneous mixing gestures".

His band The Builders released the first album on Flying Nun. He's made many records under different names in the last 35 years, many of them a variant of 'Builders'. Some of them I admire more for their spirit of adventure than I do for their music.

The records are mostly collaborations. The latest is a 4-track 7" ep under the name Buildermash. Of course it's experimental, careering from Hawkwind space rock to Moldy Peaches anti-folk. And that's just the title track. I don't know how much I like it. I do know how much I need it.

Yes, it does cost £15 unless you live in the US. There's no stream. You buy Builders records just because or just in case. Listen to Russian Rug instead. No monkeys were hurt in the making of this records, but they were involved in the mixing:

Friday, 28 October 2016

Freschard - Sunday Night

Freschard writes songs with a longing and profound disquiet that ache. They're songs that worry about being stood up (Go Out), friendship (Me & The Boys) and, of course, drinking wine on Sunday Night.

You know that line in Fran├žoise Hardy's Tous les gar├žons et les filles? "All the guys and girls my age know how it feels to be happy, but I am lonely, when will I know how it feels to have someone?" That line. Freschard's mixture of being in the thick of things yet somehow outside reminds me of it.

More than anyone, she reminds me of Jonathan Richman, particularly the Having A Party With Jonathan Richman album. Not quite having a party but observing it and writing smart, gauche, wistful songs about it.

As part of the Hangover Lounge club, I put Freschard on at the Union Chapel almost 2 years ago. She was great. She got far more money than she was expecting. In the pub that afternoon, she was on a mission to spend it all.

She bought lots of rounds. With each round of drinks she also bought plates of cheesy chips. Maybe that's a French thing. It was a very welcome thing. We were drinking a lot.

A couple of weeks ago, Freschard played a bookshop in East London. She was great (there's a theme to her gigs - you must see her if you get the chance). In the pub afterwards I reminded her of this. After the pub shut, we went back to the bookshop.

Some time later - don't ask me when, a lot of beer was involved - Freschard sauntered up to our table with plates of cheesy chips. I've no idea where she got them from or how she managed it at that time in the morning.

Everyone has their price - mine is very low - and I can be bought for some chips when I'm drunk. But Sunday Night is a great record, chips arriving unbidden to me or not.

Lesser musical acts (that's most of you): I'll review your record positively for something more than cheesy chips. Apply for bribe levels by email.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Small World Experience

One of this year's crucial vinyl reissues is Small World Experience's Shelf-Life, originally a CD from 1994. Jangling discord and ragged garage rock as miniature masterpieces. Its closest contemporary was possibly Neil Young's Sleeps With Angels.

There was a much smarter album, Side Projects, on Chapter in the late 90s - stoned melodic charm, controlled chaos, roughhouse bass riffs and frazzled noise. And then fuck all.

Small World Experience are back and unsurprisingly they're on Tenth Court, Australia's most exciting and interesting label of the past few years. There's one song now and an album in 2017. It sounds like they've picked up where Side Projects left off. So it sounds great.