Friday, 31 December 2010
Like an old fashioned political rally in the upstairs of a backstreet pub, the atmosphere tonight is electric, tense... and very sweaty. The upstairs of The Hop, Wakefield is a nicely proportioned room for seeing small scale bands, but how about a character such as Marks? The anticipation (and perspiration) increases as more and more people are squashed into the room. I’d wondered beforehand if this would be a seated affair, the audience politely enjoying tales of drug smuggling / taking / history whilst chuckling and occasionally applauding. Nah. We were squashed in like cattle, awaiting the hero, the great leader, the saviour.
Which resulted in a lovely opening moment when Mr Howard Marks entered the room, not from the side of the stage, but through the same door we had all come through. Flanked by two bouncers he worked his way to the stage through the almost immovable object of the battery farm swamp of punters, some folk reaching out hoping to touch the great man. Admittedly, this whole spectacle was due to the architecture of The Hop rather than a pre-planned self aggrandising gesture, but it was pretty cool.
He settled in on stage, a couple of pints and a projector for company. The swarm of the audience added a real edge, the expectancy of what he would say, what he would do – an element of danger. Prior to his arrival, a video had run on the projector of an American news report from the 80’s of Marks’ arrest for drug smuggling, eliciting cheers and boos form the audience. It was slightly strange to now see that character before us, a gentle grey haired man, slightly startled under the spotlights.
So it was appropriate he began his talk with examining the bizarreness of how his career path led him to this point. Out of the Welsh homeland to Oxford University studying Natural Science and Physics to being the worlds biggest dope smuggler, then Ex-Con to best selling author. And finally, as he realised at his first book signing, effectively a stand up comedian.
He certainly has a way with words, a wonderful turn of phrase and a sly, knowing look that betrays the supremely intelligent man behind the bedraggled mop of grey hair and the slight stoned demeanour (actually, completely stoned “I’m so stoned I cant see” he proclaims – not his most enlightened remark!) And he is a great story teller too. The first part of his ‘lecture’ concerns his 7 year incarceration. He referred to it as being like a Sine Wave, with dips and crests. On the high points he imagined, on his release, organising the biggest shipment of the best weed Europe had ever seen. At low points he would consider going straight. But the low points didn’t last too long…
It was during these sections the audience hung on his every word, almost as if he’d JUST been released. This was the press conference where he returns to the outside world, unrepentant, with crowds of supporters cheering the fact he simply exists. Such is the warmth this man has that these feelings are still strong all these years later. I keep thinking ‘Hitler’ as I type – obviously the most inappropriate comparison - but there is something of the magnetism of the dictator about Howard Marks – the benevolent autocrat. I’m sure plenty here would vote for him (well, wave his placards, you don’t generally vote for a dictator, but they did for Hitler, so I’ll let it stand) In fact, with the Pope’s visit to England prevalent in the news, he was compared to that all powerful head of state – “You should be our pope” someone said. With only a half second of pause he replied “But the Pope’s the only one who doesn’t have to confess”. Brilliant.
Interestingly, he then moved the discussion onto the history of Tobacco. Utilising the projector he traced the story of the discovery of tobacco by the European nations. Basically, we got it wrong. There are two types of Tobacco; Nikotina Rustica and Nikotina Tobaco. The Shamens in South America got high off the Rustica. It helped improve their ‘powers’ and those guys never got cancer… or even coughed; Shamen’s that were so old ‘they don’t even know there age’ But we took the Nikotina, about 20 times less potent. And of course, nowadays the companies pump so much shit into cigarettes, it’s barely even the same substance. We got the addictive qualities without the ‘getting high’ part. Bugger!
For me, this diversion into history and politics says a lot about Marks. And it says a lot for his audience that many started talking between themselves during these sections. I think for many, the fact that Marks openly advocates smoking spliff defines him; the parts about him going to Oxford or writing a book are secondary. But for me, those are the things that elevate him above being ‘some guy that gets stoned on stage’. He’s a smart, clever, guy who, in an incredibly bizarre way, has done something with his life. Whilst by his own admission a lot of things have just fallen into his lap (“you get out of prison after 7 years with no money, nothing to your name. And some publisher offers you £50,000 to write a book… what else are you gonna do?”), it’s his attitude and intelligence that have made him who he is. I don’t see that in the people who spent most the night shouting out ‘Spliff!’ or ‘Where’s the weed?’ whilst he’s attempting to educate them with a bit of cultural history.
In fact it became a little oppressive in there. There was a large contingent of fat, angry, middle aged ‘rockers’, getting progressively agitated within the compactness of the venue. They should try being a 5ft 2 girl with a sweaty back in their face (that’s my girlfriend, not me). This strata of his followers really got to me over the course of the night. It reminded me of ‘The Holy Bible’ by the Manic Street Preachers. It’s one of my favourite ever albums and I feel I share some kind of insight with other fans of that record. But there are other certain types of people who ‘love’ that album who, in my opinion, completely miss the point – like Richey Edwards was some kind of Pete Doherty esqe fuck up who was a miserable anorexic alcoholic who happened to write lyrics in a band. No! He was a brilliant lyricist who pushed himself to the brink for his art. He didn’t sit around in a sulk and wait for something to happen. Yet the perception of the audience can actually affect how the work itself is perceived. Equally, Howard Marks wasn’t just some guy in Wales getting stoned. He achieved things. He dreamt. Drugs are a central theme in his life, tying everything together, but I don’t think that defines him. A proportion of the audience are only interested in him as some kind of counter culture figure, a voice for their anger at the governments smoking ban and Nanny state politics, just as the BNP may well be a voice for their anger at all these different coloured people walking round the streets. A ‘no one can tell us what to do, fuck everyone’ approach. The house of commons style jeering from the people around me really did resemble that kind of aggression and I found it pretty unsettling.
But as soon as he moved to more ‘right on’ topics, some of it incredibly ‘spliffy’ (like “it actually says in the Bible that God smokes a reefer” Really?) he had them back on side. It’s straw grabbing, but the audience lap it up. Preaching to the converted see. Which makes it all sound a little negative at the end, which it totally wasn’t. I tried desperately not to let the audience dictate the show for me, but since I was literally rubbing shoulders with some pretty unpleasant people, it was difficult. But Marks’ ability as a story teller is beyond doubt and in different circumstances would be a national treasure. But if that were the case would I be seeing him in such an… intimate venue?
Although I wasn’t swayed by all his arguments, I was very inspired by his passion and attitude and in different circumstances would have happily listened to him all night. The man is a legend, but I’m sure you already knew that.
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
IMP - Just Destroyer
There are a lot of bands in Wakefield. There are a lot of good bands in Wakefield. For some reason a good amount of these bands are on Philophobia; coincidence? I think not. IMP are one of those bands and they’ve gone and recorded a new EP with Rob Slater (Spills/Tiny Planets), and it’s not half good.
One of the first things to strike me about this EP is that there aren’t a lot of vocals. In this sense it could be compared to some of the more experimental type Sonic Youth songs, which is obviously a good thing. IMP create a totally captivating atmosphere, yet somewhere along the line they also manage to turn it into happy little indie pop songs. In all honesty that’s what I’d been expecting from this EP perfect , catchy indie pop songs, which IMP arguably make better than most, just listen to ‘Party’ or ‘Least favourite Brunette’. But somehow with this EP they’ve managed to combine that awesome pop song making ability with a new, more experimental approach, and it’s a welcomed progression.
The first song ‘O’ begins with atmospheric guitars and then tension, then about a minute in the tempo is lifted and you’ve got a beautiful sounding indie pop. ’16 years’ begins in popier manner, with the classic IMP keyboard sounds and then follow the distinct vocal qualities. ‘Don’t Go Wild’ sounds like Pavement to start with, that tempo that makes you want to kick back, and nod your head at the same time. With lyrics like ‘As soon as drugs went so did the romance’, the vast vocal qualities of this band are showcased, and they do that thing where instead of singing a line they speak it. For some reason this just adds a clarity to the song, and I like it.
‘Birdfeud’ again another top class indie pop song. This song begins with some ‘ohs’ and ‘la’s’ , kind of like The Cribs signature ‘woah’, and it’s little things like that which just add to the catchiness of a song. As if IMPs songs weren’t catchy enough, or The Crib’s for that matter. The last song ‘Into Japan’ is another atmospheric one, with chantings of ‘I saw your face walking down the street and I thought, what is going on.”
What a perfect EP, IMP seem to go from strength to strength, and ‘Just Destroyer’ is certain to give them the attention they deserve.
By By – By By
Poppier, but still beyond definition, this release may surprise those who have come across By By in its one man form; 'creator' Liam’s Frank Sidebottom-esqe performances have shocked and delighted in equal measures (for an idea of this see secret track ‘Chicken or Egg’). Here we have something closer to a full band sound - drums especially adding much needed energy and direction. The organ and guitar work walk the line between 'pop' and 'bonkers' in excellent fashion; whenever it feels it may be going a little to 'well' they always manage to find the mad note that brings it tumbling back down - and that is a good thing by the way. And the vocals too, opener 'Clutter' introducing the Timmy from South park meets a Pontefract Captain Beefheart groan which convey a certain madness in a great way. That is a good thing too.
In fact quite often listening to By By you can think, I like this, but is it good? Or, I don’t really like this, but is it good? By By does a strange thing by placing far more importance on the purpose and meaning and feeling than the medium itself, making rational comprehension difficult. These songs could be presented in many ways, and surely will be in many bizarre connotations in the future, yet they have a heart, albeit battered, bruised and blackened. But still beating. Its just pleasing that on this occasion they are presented in a friendly, engaged package that will appeal to fans of odd, impassioned Indie, as opposed to followers of utter mind fuck illness, as previously. This, needless to say, is also a good thing
Love Music Hate Racism – Compilation
Love Music Hate Racism and Repeat Records have teamed up bring out this ‘split single’, courtesy of ten bands from across the UK.
Most of the bands on the album could broadly be described as punk, but with so many bands on the record it can’t strictly be defined by genre. All the bands have contributed two songs each except for Norwich’s Fever Fever who only have one song on here. However ‘Who Asked You?’ is one of the standout tracks on the album with its scuzzy riffs and the repetitive but infectious vocal challenge of “Who asked you? Anyway…”
Ten City Nation have the opening and closing track on the album, but fail to produce much excitement in what turns out to be quite predictable garage rock. Although their second song ‘The Air Is On Fire’ would be a lot more enjoyable if it didn’t last for what seems like six minutes.
Both The Shills and Popular Workshop provide some catchy Indie, The Shills also offering a welcome change of pace with an acoustic version of ‘Inertia’. Popular Workshop’s ‘Her Birthday’ is the pick of their songs; with its shouty vocals and stuttering guitars they’ve produced a real gem.
Some lo-fi punk is brought to us from Kunk and Micropenis, who actually turn out to be quite good despite the name. Both of these bands bring plenty of enthusiasm and in ‘Attack! Attack!’ Kunk have produced a great sing along chorus.
Hyman Roth brings the heaviest edge to the record and has a similar feel to the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. In contrast to Hyman Roth, Greg McDonald’s tracks are the most radio friendly on the album and it is this that makes them sound slightly out of place on here. Although both of his songs are perfectly palatable they end up sounding far too pedestrian next to the rest of the album.
Glory Glory’s male/female vocals works well for them and also gives them a sound that could be accessible to the masses. Both of their songs are great, following the Los Campesinos sound that seems to be in at the moment, they are undoubtedly one of the highlights of the record. Finally Feedback, who are made up of fourteen year olds, provide some gleaming pop-punk also showing they have bags of potential.
Overall this is a great compilation and with so many different bands it would be difficult to not like something on here. And with particular highlights coming from Fever Fever and Glory Glory, in addition to being for a good cause I would recommend it to anyone.
People in Jars – For The Love Of Mia
People In Jars hopefully have better things to do with their time than watch Hollyoaks. I, on the other hand clearly do not, as I recently witnessed an episode where one-time Liverpudlian doom-merchants Anathema’s classic ‘Pressure’ sound-tracked boffin Elliot’s supposed descent into a dissertation induced mini-breakdown. I suspect that this was the first, and for many last, time viewers of Channel Four’s flagship soap (Certainly since Brookside’s demise) will hear said band, their loss.
People In Jars single, ‘For The Love Of Mia’, certainly bears similarities to ‘Pressure’. The latter induced a certain anxiety that to this day I still find strangely addictive. The sensation here is similar, but dulled slightly by the simple fact that I’ve not shared much of my life growing with this band, as a result of which I can’t say there is the same emotional attachment. But as this is only their debut there’s no doubt that such a bond could easily be formed between band and fans.
Further investigation into their MySpace (www.myspace.com/thepeopleinjars) led to ‘Time’, which draws heavily on Portishead’s ‘Roads’ and there are hints of that other notable British ‘head’, Radiohead, at work on early in ‘The Mover’. It’s certainly music for the head, with the majority of songs sailing past the five minute mark. Much like Anathema then, the band would be wasted as background fodder on Hollyoaks, this is music designed to engage the brain.
Soul Circus – Artists and Artisans
Of course it’s the kind of mistake you shouldn’t make. With a name like Soul Circus, you might expect something that directs your mind towards the era of ‘The Twisted Wheel’ and ‘Wigan Casino’. But then you see the cover of the CD. You are faced with the torso of a gentleman wearing a morning suit complete with waistcoat and cravat. And he is holding a monocle. But the dude has no head. This looks interesting. The music similarly keeps your attention. No, this is not sweet soul music. There are plenty of the crashing, jangly guitars that appeal to the palate of indie kids up and down the land. I’m picking up bits of The Wedding Present in there, particularly on the opening bars of ‘I Still Believe’, but I can’t quite pin it down. Which is no bad thing, I suppose.
There are five tracks on the CD. A most pleasant twenty minutes or so. Difficult to say which is the stand-out. There isn’t one, really. They all stand shoulder to shoulder with each other. ‘Artisans’ opens up at a high standard which the band maintains through to ‘Sarcastic Smile’. This is not music that will change the course of your life, and it won’t have you angrily marching down the high street, but it’s a good listen. The five of them have been keeping themselves busy through the year with gigs, gigs and more gigs. They are headlining at The Cockpit at the end of January. Could be worth a ride through, methinks. In the meantime, you might want to have a look at www.soulcircus.co.uk.
Glyn Bailey and The Many Splendid Things – The Disturbance
Introducing Glyn Bailey into your life is a strange experience. Hearing the opening few seconds of the first track on this album, ‘The Old Illawalla’ made me think I was in for the theme to “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”. The rest of the CD takes you here, there and everywhere. And then it drops you off feeling rather puzzled. All the songs have a certain something - the frustration waiting to explode behind ‘Traffic Light Man’ and ‘Waiting Game’, or the plain oddity of ‘BBC Bunker’ and ‘The Bolan Tree’.
Glyn Bailey has experienced the rich tapestry of life, which comes across in the variety available here. It isn’t rock, it isn’t indie, country, folk. Whatever. Make your own mind up. But when the guy gets an endorsement from footballer Andy Ritchie then you know that you are dealing with serious business here. As for an overview of ‘The Disturbance’, I spent a lot of time scratching my head. I decided I couldn’t possibly put it better than this line, taken from the band’s website... “The ten songs narrate one strange tale after another, varying the viewpoint between protagonist, victim or observer, prying into life’s complexities and contradictions.” Yes, that just about sums it up.
The listener is invited to explore the various levels of depth in this album. Maybe if I had more time to listen to it over and over again then it might all become clear to me. I find it difficult to enthuse about ‘The Disturbance’. Not the greatest album I’ll ever hear, but nor is it the worst. Just somewhere in the middle. But I’m happy to say that the varied styles contained here help to provide an interesting listen. Strange. But interesting.
Ryder – Smokers Paradise EP
When you check up on a band and see that their influences includes AC/DC, The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Who, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when they turn out to be such a noisy lot. They are, perhaps proudly, unsigned. No matter. That perhaps explains why they are straight up and in your face. Opening up with “Smokers Paradise” they start as they mean to go on. It does strike me as long-haired rock rather than short-haired punk. Maybe all bands from yesteryear blend into one with time, but I’m hearing Thin Lizzy on ‘Turn To Page Three’. ‘Union’ has me singing along, not a good thing for the neighbours to hear - “No, you were the one!” And the last of the five tracks is ‘Queen And Country’. Maybe this is where the Pistols’ influence shows through. This is real Up And At ‘Em stuff.
The Grand - The Grand EP
Louder Than Bombs Records
The Grand, featuring members of Shakeshudder, make their debut release on Louder Than Bombs Records. The Grand have produced a good record here which keeps the listener engaged throughout. There are similarities with British Sea Power, especially on the slower, more melodic songs. The Grand also serve up some more high-octane indie-pop on tracks such as ‘Flowers to the Cross’, which along with the more melancholic ‘Hometime’, is a particular highlight of the record. This EP is definitely for any indie fans and comes highly recommended.
Shrag - Life!Death!Prizes!
For many a Shrag fan across the land, this album has been long awaited. Shrag are one of those bands you hear once and then never forget. With a lot of bands it’s pretty easy to say “well they sound a bit like this, or like that”, that’s just impossible with Shrag; they’re a bit punky, a bit psychedelic, a bit experimental and best of all they’re totally addictive.
Life! Death! Prizes! begins with the trademark tumbling bassline, then an attack of upbeat punky sounds; another brilliant thing about Shrag is they can drag the instrumental parts out as long as they like, and it just doesn’t get boring. Just like the track ‘Intro’ off their last record, which I strongly advice to treat your ears to. The vocals come in; the distinctive sound of Helen King. Lyrically they’re honest, and the boy girl vocals are a perfect combination, chanting “I want the kiss, not the chase”. ‘Stubborn or Bust’ follows suit, with another impressive yet simple bass line to begin with, and another dose of sweet boy girl vocals.
‘Their stats’, though one of the slower tracks on the album, certainly stands out as one the best. The slower tempo and a blatant clarity in Helen kings voice create a menacingly beautiful song. ‘Tights in August’ is three and half minutes of perfection. It’s a love song, but from a slightly different perspective. Contrasting the lyrics “I wanna see the end with you, can’t you see my love is true, make me yours baby” and “I wanna get away from you .....I thought I just said maybe, not forever more”. Here Shrag proving they can master any type of song; angry punk songs, good, honest love songs, you name it.
And yet another stand out song (I think you’re catching on by now, it’s a stand up album) ‘Ghosts Before Breakfast’ - this is Shrag at their very, very best! It’s punky, it’s shouty and it’s got more than its fair share of Shrag brilliance. ‘Habbit Creep’ is a spoken word piece; it’s got a gloomy Joy Division feel about it, and Helens eloquent words give it an angry edge. They follow this up with another bunch of upbeat pop songs, oh and there catchy too. Shrag have a perfect way of creating a mystic atmosphere, adding catchy punky guitar riffs and awesome chant along lyrics. On ‘Faux-Coda’ we hear a bit more of Bob on the vocals, as if they needed another brilliantly unique sounding voice in there band, pretty greedy if you ask me. ‘More Than Mornings’ is probably the most punky song off the album, the initial riff sets up the awesome combination of flailing drums and sinister keyboards. This album is basically track after track of pure, honest pop songs.
With Life! Death! Prizes! it’s pretty unlikely that this band with maintain their ‘best kept secret’ status; I liked them first anyway...
Piskie Sits - The Way I’d Like To Go
“Sweet Little Weasel” was probably my song of the summer, after hearing it on the Philophobia compilation ‘Under The Bus Station Clock’, I found very little reason to listen to anything else.
Piskie Sits formed in 2004 at a time when the whole chart friendly ‘New-Yorkshire’ indie thing was going on, however not game to follow suit they created their unique alternative-American-rock sound, taking influence from likes of Pavement, The National and The Strokes. Though their pretty well known around Wakefield and West Yorkshire, I find it truly puzzling why they’re not as successful as they deserve to be. You only need to listen to this EP to understand that this band deserve to be massive.
Here we have four songs, lacking in nothing. Craig Hale is a massively talented lyricist, and his vocal capabilities are seriously out of this world. That’s probably what makes this band so distinctive, it just sounds effortless and natural and I haven’t heard anything like it. But it’s not just the voice, as spellbinding as it, it’s the way that each and every aspect of the bands comes together so naturally to make such a unique sound. Needless to say I’m a fan.
Cloud Nothings – Hey Cool Kids
The guitar sound is very nice on this single, it is clean and chiming, and the singer’s voice has a captivating, ethereal quality, like a young Mark Linkous. I dislike the sentiment of the lyrics though, the sneering ‘oh you’re such a cool kid’ sounds quite snobbish and condescending, and the three chord guitar tune becomes a bit repetitive after a while and fails to excite. The B side to this single however is an absolute joy. Ramshackle guitar riffs wrestle with each other before giving way to a pulsing chorus with a sugar coated vocal hook. It’s all very lo fi and sounds like Lemonheads with less weight on their shoulders, a glistening anthem recorded in a shoe box
Mi Mye – Senc To The Shaking
Mi Mye’s live shows have been famous in Wakefield and its vicinity for several years now. Watching this band of merry souls play together is truly magical. Complete with raucous violin and double bass spins, they quite literally bring the house down and everyone leaves with a smile on their face.
On record, though, what truly shines through for me is the honesty and pure emotion that ring through in the lyrics. Singer and main man Jamie pops the lid off his heart and bears his soul for all to see.
He sings lines such as ‘and I was always thinking about you in everybody that I meet and maybe that’s why I’m always unsuccessful’ (Your last love song). This leaves you with a solid lump in your throat and almost brings a tear to the eye. All of which is wrapped up in a beautifully weaved cloth of bitter sweet violin and understated rhythms.
Mi Mye constantly tread the line between melancholy and joy with great precision. For me this has always been the key to truly great music. ‘2 sunrises’, for example, is effortlessly uplifting, with a slice of sadness. ‘It where slevery’ is a poignant tale of unrequited love, that we can all relate to. Then songs like ‘In the morning’ and ‘Itchyear eachyear’ are good old knees ups.
At times we all feel sad, or a bit lonely and we all have that thought ‘is it only me that feels like that’. I think this is captured sublimely by Jamie in a way I have only seen equalled by comedian Daniel Kitson in recent years (check him out by the way if you get a chance).
I currently live on the other side of the world, miles away from Wakefield and home. Listening to ‘Senc to the shaking’ is like having a nice cup of tea in front of the fire while the smell of roast beef fills the house.
‘All we have are moments’, ‘relationships and friendships’ that’s all that really matters, right.
Napoleon IIIrd - Christiania
The album comes rattling to life with samba beats and throbbing noise, with the first song culminating with a proud, distorted riff that rolls along to a climax by intertwining with the samba rhythm (Unknown Unknown) and song two featuring a beat that increases in it’s ferociousness (Leaving Copenhagen). It is an exhilarating beginning that in turn gives way to spooky, swirling, high pitched keyboard repetition (The hardline Optimist). More of an elegiac fuzzy drone is present throughout the rest of the album, a drone that conveys at times melancholia and at times euphoria, and is punctuated by samba, blips and clicks. The album also flirts with the giddy thrill of Motown and early rock and roll, though in an utterly modern way (That Town).
This album puts Napoleon IIIrd on a par with bands like Animal Collective and Fuck Buttons in creating a sound that is epic whilst also sounding brashly immediate, rather than the more introspective feel that is commonly evoked by music of this kind.
What differentiates Napoleon IIIrd from these bands is the way in which he employs a wide variety of vocal styles. The vocals can growl and swoon with soul, or shimmer with fragility. The music is also interweaved with bird song and a variety of uh’s, oh’s and ah’s which reveal the pleasure that primitive sound can conjure. If not lyrically, then certainly with the range of emotions his voice conveys, Napoleon IIIrd is comparable to great British pop eccentrics such as David Byrne or David Bowie. In fact the plaintive nature of the lyrics adds to the overriding tension of the album, striving to create something transcendental, but ultimately realising the struggle and inevitable failure of this. The lyrics to stand out track ‘Rough Music’ encapsulate this sentiment when it is sung that ‘heaven is just for creeps and weirdo’s, find yourself a partner and settle down.’
It is a stunning album that reveals more hidden depths and pleasures with each listen, and elevates Napoleon IIIrd’s status as one of British pop’s most beguiling artists.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
In which the Bomb examines the work of someone who we believe embodies the Indie spirit; someone who inspires us to do what we do and is an example to all Indie lovers out there. Chances are they’ve stayed under the mainstream radar. Perhaps they’re a bit odd. Or too awkward. Or just not willing to play the game. But through their work they continue to set an example of what independently minded people can achieve. They’re Legends basically. If you’ve got someone you’d like to nominate or write about, please get in touch. This issue Dean Freeman looks at ARAB STRAP
Malcolm Middleton: ‘We left Go Beat! because we thought it would kill us, as a band. And unbelievably, Chemikal Underground said they wanted to do another album with us. Held out a lifeline, which was unexpected. So it just felt good. There wasn’t any pressure, just a keenness to do another Arab Strap record…‘
So begins the 2nd phase of Arab Strap as they return to Chemikal Underground where they would live out the rest of their career. The Red Thread (2001) also sees the beginning of much greater experimentation in styles. Whilst the production values are higher than their earlier work, there is perhaps a more complex and peculiar mood created, a sign of their growing musical skills. ‘It was recorded in winter time so… dark and gloomy and reverb-y. I think it’s our darkest album, not lyrically but definitely musically.' Certainly the echo chamber tense build of ‘The Long Sea’ owed something to former label mates Mogwai and the groaning organ of ‘Last Orders’ grinds away under Malcolm’s chiming reverb-heavy guitar to unsettling effect. But in the slightly cleaner beats of ‘Turbulence’ and the beautiful strings of ‘Haunt Me’ we can see a slightly more grown up and, possibly mature version of the band. Whereas once Aidan would dispose of former conquests with direct vitriol “The words that you used to think turned me on just made me laugh - "Do you want to suck my cunt?" in real life just sounds naff.”(Piglet, from Philophobia) Here we see a more sombre reflection, a more aged and disengaged look at failing relationships “It wasn't long ago, we went on guided tours / But I forgot what it meant, to pretend my hand is you” (Amor Veneris). And even the violence seems somehow more elegant in couplets like: “She hardly said a word again tonight, I threw a book and grabbed my keys. And on the way here I swore to myself, I'd fuck whoever I please.”(Scenery). In fact that song contains possibly the first bona fide chorus of their career thus far with the swooping harp and optimistic thrust of its refrain: “Everywhere I go, there's so much on show / Everyone is beautiful, and I stay dutiful.” The Strap of old are still clear throughout, thrillingly so on ‘The Love Detective’ as Aidan reverts to spoken word mode of old to describe snooping around whilst his girlfriend was at work and finding “some kind of sex diary”, all delivered over a bouncy new wave film noir soundtrack.
‘The Red Thread’ was, and still is, Arab Strap’s biggest selling album. It was generally well received in the press, but to some it was perceived as the ‘same old thing’, a criticism also fired at some of their Chemikal Underground peers around the same time. Which is odd, considering those albums - Mogwai – Rock Action (2001) BIS – Return to Central (2001) & The Delgados – Hate (2002) – were radical departures from their early work. Basically, the spotlight had moved and media darlings they no longer were.
Red Thread follow up ‘Monday at the Hug and Pint’ (2003) is an expansive album, opening with 3 utterly disparate tracks; ‘The Shy Retirer’ ‘one of the best things we ever did, it was like a continuation of ‘first big weekend’ with its pounding, excitable descriptions of a night on the town, or as Aiden spits, ‘The Cunted Circus’ (initially offered up as the album title, perhaps the only time Chemikal held them back…) which is followed by the delicate and aching ‘Meanwhile at the bar, a drunkard muses’, which may sound like a parody of a Arab Strap title, but once again, Aiden’s growing maturity wraps the event in the real wistful sadness found at the bar stool of many local pubs. The booming floor toms of ‘Fucking Little Bastards’ break the gentle spell launching into a progressive structure of angered noisy making, Malcolm really piling the noise on. He explains: ‘I think we were trying to be eclectic but every time we did it just sounded like Arab Strap again. If we tried to do a reggae album it’d still sound like Arab Strap. I think by that point we knew we couldn’t change anyone’s perceptions.’
But perhaps accepting this actually allowed the band more freedom. ‘Hug & Pint’ is their most diverse album that builds on their previous work, displaying real flair and confidence. And for the first time, many tracks here sound like the work of a ‘full band’, the band augmented by Jenny Reeve and Allan Wylie on cello and violin, revealing a full, colourful sound of real depth. And warmth too, for this album sees the first appearance of what I like to call ‘Romantic Aiden’ – that is, songs celebrating love, albeit despite of the hurt and anguish it has caused. Though in his solo career this version of Aidan is now his default setting, at the time it was a significant departure. And rather than describe the minute details of his own incompetence, Aiden begins to dish out wisdom and advice: “sex without love, is a good ride worth trying. But love without sex, is second only to dying” - a certain sense of rising optimism where harsh putdowns and stinging, regret once lay. Most telling of all is the second to last track ‘The Week Never Starts Round Here’, during which Malcolm sings “Easy come, easy gone, kiss a girl then write a song / Enjoy it while you can, cause it wont last long / The week never starts round here, you raise your cider, I’ll raise my beer”. An ode to their younger days? Arab Strap were growing up, but growing stronger too, this being the work a million miles from the first album that song references’. But, unknown to their audience, this is perhaps where the rot set in. ‘I think that album was when we started to do more ‘song’ based songs, with a verse, chorus etc. Beginning of the end.’
The Last Romance (2006) was their last studio album
RB:Did you know it was your last when you started?
Malcolm: No, it’s called last romance because Aiden was basically saying to his new girlfriend this was the last time he was going to romance anyone coz he would be with her forever. The thing about it which I don’t like is that usually a lot of the stuff we made up in the studio, but for this we did demos for every song. It was the first time we’d done that. And so we went to the studio and basically just re-recorded, so there was no enjoyment whatsoever.
M:Yeah, and that was the first time we felt money restraints from Chemikal, so I didn’t enjoy it.
RB: It sounds like a full circle / back to drum, guitar basic, but actually it was the opposite end of the spectrum emotionally?
M: Yeah, I mean we didn’t know it was the end, I loved touring that record and playing the songs live, we got another guitar player in for the first time, and songs like, ‘if there’s no hope‘… ‘stink‘, I love that one, ‘dream sequence’ was the best song there for the sound of it, so I do like some individual songs but I just think as an album, I think it lost a lot of the things I thought were important to AS. The build up. the atmosphere, the mood.
Their last album was their shortest, their poppiest and their most accessible. In fact, a very strong argument could be made that the best way to approach Arab Strap would be to listen to their albums in reverse order. First single ‘Dream Sequence’ is one of their best; a simple, melodic and energetic bounce based around a classic piano riff with Aiden darkly musing “and when I wake up stiff, please just feel free to use me / then go to work and let me wonder, what it was that made you choose me”. Despite opening, as usual, with an affronting lyric (“burn these sheets that we just fucked in / my weekend beacon, I’ve been sucked in”) the album is genuinely uplifting and forward looking. Funny too.
But it was to be their swansong. The band split shortly afterwards, on apparently amicable terms. It’s just another thing I love and admire about them; it didn’t drag on to long and they quit whilst they were still ahead. Both have gone on to have wonderful solo careers – Malcolm perfecting his forever defeated, angered introspection into brilliant pop songs and Aidan experimenting with spoken word albums and Valentines day odes. My pick of the bunch is Malcolms ‘Into The Woods’ and Aidans ‘How To Get To Heaven From Scotland’.
Arab Strap are many things, and certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but they are certainly unique. At the time, when I first heard them, I was astounded and intrigued by the detail and despair of Aiden’s lyrics. At a time when I was growing out of traditional ‘rock’ and embracing new, more cerebral forms, the two most important bands were Mogwai, whose mostly instrumental music says, literally, nothing, whilst Arab Strap seemed to say everything. Jarvis Cocker has said that he was disillusioned in his youth to find out that ‘love’ bore no relation to what the people in the pop charts sung about, and instead tried to communicate something closer to the truth. Well, if that was truth, Aidens lyrics dealt with a hyper truth, a pure bare bones honesty that revelled in the darkest themes – not a poetic or a literary account, but in the language we use every day. That is such a difficult thing to achieve; to keep it interesting and engaging (especially over 6 albums) whilst also fitting it into the increasingly ‘pop’ structures the band came up with. For many, music is an escapism. For a listener to Arab Strap, it’s a journey into a world we can partly recognise, but, for the majority at least, choose to shy away from.
For the first timer, go see ‘The First Big Weekend’, their one and only ‘hit’, but a perfect example of where they are coming from. For an album, get ‘Philophobia’, but be prepared to put a bit of time in. Alternatively, get ’10 years of Tears’, their career retrospective. You could have all 6 studio albums, but you’ll still only own 3 of 21 the tracks on it; yet through its alternative versions, B-sides, Peel sessions, and non album singles, it tells the full story of their development, whilst highlighting a sense of fun that you may have otherwise not suspected.
Another reason Arab Strap were fantastic were that they catered to their fans. Unlike many of their mid 90’s peers, they did not embrace the new form of releasing 2 or 3 versions of the same single, encouraging hardcore fans to buy them all for the b-sides and often rubbish remixes to get it higher in the chart. In fact they very rarely released tracks from their albums, meaning that beyond the albums themselves are some absolute gems. ‘Cherubs’ EP is devastating and utterly beautiful, ‘The Shy Retirer EP’ contains some fantastic covers and a brilliant remix. ‘Here We Go’ single is worth it for it’s B-side alone - ‘Trippy’ - the bonkers 12 minute plus ‘missing chapter’ to ‘Trainspotting’. Whether people will bother to collect these records now, when so easily available on iTunes et al is debatable, but personally I will always treasure them, in their beautiful sleeves, so full of memories and feelings. I recommend you start your collection today
Monday, 13 December 2010
MARK LANEGAN – KINGDOMS OF RAIN
We start Side B as we ended Side A, with a cut from 1993’s “Whiskey For The Holy Ghost”, namely “Kingdoms Of Rain”. On the original Lanegan is backed on the chorus by the female vocals of Sloan Johnson. At this point in the article I’m sure many of you are thinking that Lanegan is a man with a woman in every port. So it may come as some surprise to hear the version of “Kingdoms Of Rain” that appears on Soul Savers 2007’s “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land”, where the backing vocals are male and the acoustic guitar parts are played on a piano. More on the Soul Savers later though, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
MARK LANEGAN – ONE WAY STREET
2001’s “Field Songs” opens with “One Way Street”, and as with many of Lanegan’s songs, the lyrics find him confessional mood as he sings “I drink so much sour whiskey I can hardly see.” Vocally there are once again nods to Chris Rea, as the bluesy qualities in Lanegan’s voice become more prevalent.
MARK LANEGAN - DON’T FORGET ME
I find that “Don’t Forget Me” is one of the few tracks on from Lanegan’s solo career that could easily have come from the Grunge-era which he is often associated with. Admittedly I’m thinking more of the Unplugged concerts of Alice In Chains or Nirvana, but the roots are definitely there for me
SOUL SAVERS – DEATH BELLS
Having tried to keep tabs on any releases bearing Lanegan’s name on the credits since “Ballad Of The Broken Seas” I snapped up Soul Savers third album, “Broken”, as soon as I practically could, following its release in 2009. With a list of guest vocalists including Mike Patton and Richard Hawley “Broken” could easily have found its way into my record collection sometime in the future had it not featured Lanegan. As it is he appears on ten of the album’s fourteen compositions, from which I have selected “Death Bells” and “Rolling Sky”.
“Death Bells” is an upbeat rocker, with an underbelly of electronica, despite its downbeat title. The menacing mimicry of Lanegan’s delivery of the chorus is provided by Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes, a man whose guest appearance on Ministry’s “Jesus Built My Hotrod” is surely one of the highlights of 90’s rock nights.
SOUL SAVERS – ROLLING SKY
After that, a change of pace and a lengthy running time is what the doctor ordered. “Rolling Sky” is one of four tracks on the album to feature the sublime vocals of Rosa Agostino. Here she duets with Lanegan over layers of screaming, brass infused, jazz, which conjures up a nightmarish feeling of being trapped in a claustrophobic, smoky room. Or is that just me?
In August of 2009 I found myself once again watching Lanegan in Bramham Park on a Sunday night at Leeds Festival, where he took to the Festival Republic Stage (Essentially The Carling Stage rebadged) with Soul Savers. Sadly, despite Faith No More playing straight after them less than 100m away, Mike Patton didn’t take to the stage to recreate his vocals on “Unbalanced Pieces”. Nonetheless their set was one of my personal highlights of the festival.
MARK LANEGAN – I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU
At the same time as I purchased Broken I managed to get Lanegan’s 1999 covers album “I’ll Take Care Of You” for next to nothing from the now defunct Head. The title track and “Creeping Coastline Of Lights” both appear here. I like to think that Isobel Campbell heard said title track prior to deciding to collaborate with Lanegan, echoes of his version of Brook Benton’s song can certainly be heard in my earlier selection, “Come On Over Turn Me On”.
MARK LANEGAN – CREEPING COASTLINE OF LIGHTS
“Creeping Coastline Of Lights”, meanwhile, with its ‘vibes’ (I’m guessing that it’s a glockenspiel or xylophone) courtesy of former Screaming Tree Barrett Martin, harks back to a different age. The lyrics tell of ‘Leaving Hollywood, sunset to the sea, where the waves ride in horses’ and seem highly appropriate given Lanegan’s frequent references to the sea. As he sings the words ‘Creeping coastline of lights’, his voice transports you to such a place in a time of glamour, the 1950’s perhaps. But it’s glamour that he seeks solace from.
Many covers albums have the feel of being a mere punctuation in an artists career, “I’ll Take Care Of You”, for me, sees Lanegan performing at his peak and, as with much of his work, introduces you to new names and sounds. Would I have had the joy of discovering The Afghan Whigs if I had not first heard The Gutter Twins for example? The next album that would find its way into my collection featuring his vocals would see one of Lanegan’s own songs being covered.
SOUL SAVERS – REVIVAL
In a roundabout way my passion for cycling saw me making my first trip to Wakefield’s Drury Lane Library for several years. In there to borrow a book on bicycle maintenance I decided to browse the audio and visual section as well. It was all a long way from the last time I’d been in there, with the music section scaled down to make way for DVDs and PCs, but there were still some excellent albums to select from, Soul Savers 2007 release “It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land” being one of them.
The album saw Lanegan collaborating with Soul Savers for the first time and included the version of “Kingdoms Of Rain” I mentioned earlier. However, as that song appears on the mix tape in its original format I don’t wish to take up space with two versions. Besides there are even greater pleasures to be found on this album.
“Revival” is a glorious piece, with Lanegan being joined by a gospel choir. Musically it never strays too far from its core, why would you though with something so effective?
SOUL SAVERS – SPIRITUAL
“Spiritual” also finds Soul Savers exploring religious territory. In sharp contrast to “Revival” this is a million miles away from the huge sounds of celebratory choirs. Instead Lanegan sings alone, appealing directly to Jesus when he expresses ‘I don’t wanna die alone’. It’s achingly beautiful, and despite me not being a religious man, I can’t fail to be moved by Josh Haden’s composition and Lanegan’s delivery.
ISOBEL CAMPBELL & MARK LANEGAN – TIME OF THE SEASON
My next choice is purely based upon the fact that it is a Christmas song, as I write the recent snowfall shows no sign of retreating, so there really is no better time to listen to “Time Of The Season”. Taken from this year’s “Hawk”, it sees Isobel Campbell and Lanegan renewing their vows as it were.
When I first started listening to Lanegan I never thought for one minute I’d be able to associate him with Boney M, but one listen to him and Campbell singing ‘That Christmas song by Boney M, The deejay at the local station played it’ plants a mental image that’s impossible to erase. It certainly raised a smile on my face.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – THIS LULLABY
So, the year is nearly over and so is this mix tape. As is so often the case with these exercises you try and plan your choices wisely, but there is almost inevitably an awkward gap at the end of the tape that usually requires an extremely short song or nothing at all. Well, here at the Bomb we aim to please. I wasn’t going to include a song by either Screaming Trees or Queens Of The Stone Age, simply because they are the bands that Lanegan is associated with that enjoy the highest profiles and this mix tape was designed to draw attention to his solo career and subsequent collaborations. Still, at one minute and twenty-three seconds “Lullaby”, the opening track from QOTSA’s “Lullabies To Paralyze”, was almost custom built for such a space. Besides, with only an acoustic guitar and some whispers from Josh Homme as backing, this is a track that frames Lanegan’s voice perfectly, enjoy.
My final selection also brings things full circle; it was through Queens Of The Stone Age that I discovered Mark Lanegan. However, my journey continues. I’m still to purchase “Scraps At Midnight” and to this day I kick myself for failing to get a ticket for his solo show at Brudenell Social Club this year (That’s what happens when you leave it to the week of the gig!). But the show was recorded and subsequently sold later on in the tour, if anybody reading this has a copy I’d love to hear it.
I sincerely hope this mix tape goes on a journey of its own; I’m simply going to pass it on to a friend and hope that they do the same. Who knows - it could find its way into your hands one day…
In the new Issue (1.4) we interviews Tim of St Gregory Orange and mentioned you could hear his exclusive live rendition of one of the new songs off the forthcoming album on our new podcast - a special where Tim and myself play our favourite B-Sides. Well, its coming along, but there has been a bit of a delay... massive technical problems. It will be along soon enough though, do not worry. We will announce it on here, and on the facebook too, so keep yr eyes peeled.
A boy waking up and getting ready for school, a man waking up at 6am thinking “Christ I could do with an extra couple of hours”. To me, these days are the ones that you don't remember, the ones that you're generally annoyed about. For the past week I haven't been able to concentrate on anything else other than what Constellations had in store for me.
I wake up, a grin sweeps over my face, I leap out of bed, shit, I'm having a 'fat day'. Where the hell are my clean clothes?! I knew I shouldn't have stayed up so late watching Sean Bean movies and eating dry sugar puffs. I'm on the bus, I sit next to a middle aged man who seems to have a vendetta against life. He squirms, my headphones blast out some Sky Larkin, Broken Social Scene and, for good measure, a bit of Biggie Smalls. Dear reader, you must know before reading the rest of this review that Broken Social Scene are my favourite band. I get off the bus and stroll towards a fellow constellationite's car.
I arrive - I'm so early, I must fill my gutty wuts with chips, chicken and garlic mayo; today is going to be long. Where else can you drink lager comfortably before 1pm other than a festival? Now you must know, given it is a festival review, there are bands I can and cannot see. This is my Constellations festival.
Firstly, 'Runaround Kids' who are getting a lot of positive feedback, hit the stage with lead singer George suffering from an “intensely warm fever”; nevertheless the performance was as consistent as when they wooed over Leeds/Reading festival goers early this year. It was lovely and shambolic, grungy and a perfect way to start my day. Next 'Dog is Dead' who seem to have brought another 50 people to the room; they rock out some sweet harmonies, horns and the like. A really enjoyable listen. Next are 'Superhumanoids' which was literally like walking into a party at it's peak. I really like this band, they are electronic, fuzzy, harmonic and give you the chance to close your eyes and imagine you're somewhere else. Next on the list is lager, cigarette, quick toilet break, and the inevitable question, what shall I have to eat at lunch time, “ohh look its buy one get one free on fish and chips” done.
Next band, 'Sky Larkin' who have been busy busy busy this year bringing out their new album 'Kaleide'. They have just finished their UK tour and have announced a North American tour with 'Blood Red Shoes' and not to mention before the end of this year they will be releasing a new E.P and touring with 'Les Savy Fav' and 'Frightenned Rabbit'. This is the point of the festival where you realise the bigger bands are coming. Now I'm always one for small bands, I thrive off searching for the new 'thing' but you honestly can't beat a bigger band at a small festival especially as captivating as Sky Larkin. 'Local Natives' burst out onto the stage, I'd previously listened to them and was very excited to see them live. They didn't disappoint. Thudding drums, harmonies, poppy, folky and brilliant. At this point of the night, everyone is racking their brains thinking “what on earth, shall I see to cap off my day”. I opted for the nostalgic 'Los Campesinos' who reminded me that my musical taste has overlooked them and outgrown my younger self. They were good, don't get me wrong but they are becoming so pretentious it's cringe worthy. They have a longer set which dreads me to think it has cut short Broken.
I think this calls for a new paragraph, I run for a cigarette, I enter and receive lots of free beer as a band didn't drink their rider, I'm on a balcony for heavens sake and about to watch my favourite band 'Broken Social Scene', things couldn't get any better. I'm like that school kid that everybody hated, that one who brought mini jaffa cakes and jam sandwiches and monster munch for his lunch, with a capri sun and some cola. Some kids have it lucky and this was my 'being a twat but loving it' moment. I think when they hit the stage it was like a blur. Their new album 'Forgiveness Rock Record' has been stuck in my mind for a good while. Their previous albums have shaped their sound and structure of song writing. You will never see something more enjoyable live. Fact. They are tight, memorising, enticing, wonderfully brilliant, not to mention a guest performance from Jonny Marr which leaves everyone thinking “what the fuck just happened”. They top off my month let alone my day. It's winding down and now all that there is left to do is find your chosen drinking spot and talk about the days events. All in all a very enjoyable festival. I’m off next year.
Issue 1.4 of Rhubarb Bomb has now arrived. First up, i want to reiterate what i say in the editorial; it's been a great year for us, we feel we've really taken the Bomb somehwere different and interesting, and will continue to do so in the new year. So thank you to you all for your continuing support.
In this issue we have features / articles / interviews with the usual mis match of interesting characters including Pulled Apart By Horses, Allo Darlin' at their last gig of the year, Mark Lanegan, Wakefield Legends Pylon, Being 747, St Gregoryt Orange, Arab Strap & Malcolm Middleton alongside the usual bits and pieces.
As of tonight it will be available in WAKEFIELD: The Hop, Henry Boons, Inns of Court, Trad Music, The Art House, Balne Lane Library LEEDS: Jumbo Records, Crash Records, Nation of Shopkeepers, Adelphi, Carpe Diem, Brudenell Social Club, The Hop, The Packhorse, Dry Dock, Paper Scissor Stone, North Bar, Birds Yard HUDDERSFIELD: Wall of Sound GLASGOW: Avalanche Records LONDON: The Windmill (Brixton). More will follow in due course!
Hope you enjoy the issue
Dean Freeman x