Ding Dong

‘Nuff said.

George Square Thatcher Death Party by Mogwai

Buy “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” by Mogwai

Through The Static And Distance

Music does many things. It can make you dance, it can make you cry, it can make you sing along through joy or loneliness or redemption. Jason Molina’s music was often more complex than a simple dance or expression of sadness. His music was strung through layers of grief and pain and sunlight and understanding; rarely an easy ride, but with a depth and richness than few others can reach, sung by a voice that spoke to you with a bare humanity, with beauty and gorgeous closeness.

My own involvement with Molina’s music was through a sole record; 2003’s Magnolia Electric Company (by Songs: Ohia). I loved big chunks of that record, but something scared me away from delving deeper into his work. Quite why, I don’t know – sometimes, with bands, I get the fear that I’ve already heard their best work and anything else from them will be a crushing disappointment1. So, on seeing a headline yesterday in Drowned In Sound titled “Jason Molina: Farewell Transmission”, my first thought was “Excellent, he’s got a new record out, about time I tried some of his other music”.

Sadly, the article was about how he had finally succumbed to the alcoholism that had dogged him for many years, and he had died at the age of 39. Many musicians struggle with demons; with most of them, the music helps to pull them through and find some way to come to terms with what’s inside. With Jason, the music simply wasn’t enough. Sometimes there are places in the soul that music cannot touch, cannot heal. The standard rock stories of redemption and old age, or glamourous fast living followed by a less glamourous fast death, don’t apply here. The drink took him over years, through numerous interventions and clinics, through friends and family giving their all to save a man they loved. That wasn’t enough either.

The kids are put to bed, the chicken is roasting in the oven. I’m going to go downstairs and listen again to the whole of Magnolia Electric Company, for the third time in as many days. For all of you out there with demons like Jason’s, I hope that the music can reach them, and calm them, even for a little while.

Farewell, Jason.

MP3: I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost by Songs: Ohia

1 If, from this statement, you get a strong whiff of neuroticism with underlying tones of ASD, you’re not the only one, chum.

Buy “The Magnolia Electric Co” Here

Serendipity

Well, wouldn’t you know. After a couple of days having Grandaddy songs playing in my head, kitchen, and in front of my six year old son (who tried dancing to “Now It’s On”, bless his little cotton socks), I saunter onto the Drowned In Sound board and find that Grandaddy are reuniting for some gigs. Grandaddy! Gigs! They are a band I only managed to see live once, in a club in Basel, of all places, playing to about 20 vaguely interested Swiss folk and a smattering of ex-pats who were far more interested. And they were great; despite there being some obvious tensions in the band, they sounded good, looked like a bunch of skaters, truck drivers and odd-job men who’d decided to form a band singing about robots, and generally made it more than worth the train ride from Zurich.

For they are one of the Great Lost Bands of the 90’s/00’s. I’ll never understand why they didn’t make it big (or at least bigger); they made music quite unlike any of their peers, mixing weird old analogue synths with fuzzed guitars, with the sweetest tunes you can imagine, sung by a man with the resigned air of a fellow who’s just seen his girlfriend run off with a snowboard instructor, singing tales of broken robots, miners on a distant planet viewing their loved ones but unable to talk to them, the perils of doing science, paeans to the outdoor life and how cities slowly kill you, and that’s just off one album. The songs were wistful, funny, achingly sad, thoughtful, whimsical, wry and pointed. They felt utterly human, even when singing about how their robot had died.

Unlike 99.999% of their contemporaries, they were about modern life, about suburbia, about dull jobs, about sci-fi, about skating, about cats, about anything that Jason Lytle was curious about. I’ve missed them, and seeing him play solo back in 2010 was a highlight of my gigging career.

I can only hope they play some shows in London.

AM180:

Crystal Lake:

Hewlett’s Daughter:

El Caminos In The West:

Buy stuff from Grandaddy’s Amazon Store.

It’s Not Just Me That Takes A Break

So here we go again. A month without a post and all those half-written articles are staring back at the screen at me, reproachfully, asking me why I don’t love them more. Saying “Look, I’ve been busy” just gets them to stare at me even more. Amazing how some blazing pixels can induce such feelings of guilt in a lapsed Catholic1 that I’m seriously considering going to confession.

The other site that’s taken a rather more serious hiatus is the fantastic Scarlet Mist. Why fantastic? Because the site was an easy, quick and painless way to sell tickets at face value to other music fans, rather than dealing with horrendous corporate rip-off merchants like Viagogo, TicketShyster and the like, or worse, dealing with touts outside the venue (“Nah mate, a fiver all it’s worth”). Back in September last year, they had to close their doors due to being targeted by criminals and have since reopened their doors with a new security model and a whizzy new messaging interface, and a new concept of finding likeminded people to go to gigs with.

Now I’m not too sure about that last one, but then I am a miserable old curmudgeon who finds being alone with 2000 other people once every few months a joyful experience (and weirdly I’ve met some nice folk at gigs when on my own, like the lot at Mastodon who were arguing whether they were Prog or not). Still, I’m sure some people will enjoy this kind of thing and who am I to complain?

In any case, it’s marvellous having Scarlet Mist back. I love it. Please, please use it when you’ve got a spare or when you just can’t face buying from a tout. There’s tickets for sale for all sorts of gigs now, all at face value, and every single person I have met whilst buying and selling has been an absolute delight. This is the truth.

1 I’m safely Atheist now, don’t you worry.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

You may note that I’ve updated the look. Thought the site needed a bit of a wash and brush up (with Liberation Theology). Let me know if you like it, or don’t like it. Ta.

Up To The Stars

Sad news came today of the death of Bert Jansch. One of the finest guitarists of all time – and I’m not being hyperbolic here – he rose to prominence in the 60’s along with John Martyn and Davey Graham. Like them, he was astonishingly talented, and like them, he liked a drink or two. Or twenty. Saying that, unlike the somewhat difficult Martyn or the tragically lost Graham, he reined in his drinking and continued to record and perform, as well as being a gentleman who graciously accepted the plaudits rained upon him whilst giving the distinct impression he thought everyone was making a bit of a fuss about nothing.

I first heard his music thanks to the massively enthusiastic exhortations of Johnny Marr, who knows a thing or two about this most precious of arts. Marr speaks of first seeing Jansch play with Pentangle in the early ’70’s, and understanding that “all the other bands were regarded as utter lightweights, musically, physically, philosophically and lyrically”. He has a point. Whilst Jansch is ostensibly a folk guitarist, there’s all sorts thrown into the mix, R’n’B, Middle-Eastern music, you name it; with a roving, restless intelligence married to a feel for the guitar that was unparalleled. As Jansch himself explained to Will Hodgkinson in the excellent Guitar Man, most guitar playing is about getting the right feel and atmosphere rather than hitting the right notes. Though, of course, Jansch got that bit right too.

Along with Marr, he influenced the likes of Nick Drake, Jimmy Page, Bernard Butler, Devendra Banhart; oh, just anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar and wanted to make it sound more than wood and metal. Anyone who wants to make it sing and tremble. When you yourself finally shuffle from this painful earth, who is to say that you won’t be greeted at the gates of heaven by this trio of fingerpicking Gods, with Bert at their head?

MP3: Angie by Bert Jansch

Buy stuff from Amazon’s Bert Jansch Store. You’re probably best off starting with The Essential (2CD).

It’s The Predictable Blog Post Title (And I Feel Fine)

So, R.E.M. That’s it, is it? We’ve finally reached the end of our road together? Yes, I know the magic has been gone a long, long time. I know we’ve gone our separate ways. Yes, you were so special, back in our younger days when you could throw out albums like Out Of Time and Automatic For The People as easy as breathing. Those days when just hearing a single note could make my heart rush and beat like crazy. But we both know those days are far behind us. And you know, I love others now. It’s been a long time.

But let’s just remember the good times, eh? All those wondrous, majestic songs. All those memories, those cadences, those heartstrings pulled with the simplest touch of your voice or a gracefully plucked guitar string. Those words.

May the Lord in his heaven shine down on you, my friends, my saviours.

MP3: It\'s The End Of The World As We Know It (Acoustic) by R.E.M.

You Don’t Need Me To Tell You To Buy Their Stuff, Do You?

The Songs That Win Awards

Congratulations to PJ Harvey, who tonight won the 2011 Something Something Mercury Award, the most important music award in the UK. It’s the second time she’s been the winner; first time round, in 2001, announced on that fateful day, for an album that was a love letter to New York. This time, she’s won for an album that distills the last ten years of war, putting them in historical context of England’s role in previous wars (mostly The Great War).

And you have to say, she’s probably the most worthy winner (along with Elbow) ever seen. Once I finally got round to listening to it, I realised that this was something special. Sounding unlike anything she’d made before, yet distinctly her own sound, this was a record that dragged you into her world, with all resistance rendered useless. Sometimes making you laugh out loud (“What if I take my problem to the United Nations?”), sometimes wince in sympathetic pain (“I’ve seen and done things I want to forget”), you were left in no doubt that this was a very special record from a very special artist.

Whilst the other records were about love and losing it, being young, getting old, all that usual stuff, there was nothing that could touch this record, lyrically or musically. Whilst I rather like the King Creosote/John Hopkins and Elbow records (James Blake? You’re having a laugh), Let England Shake was so far out in front that any other winner would have had to go up to the podium and just go “You’ve made a mistake” (much like Arctic Monkeys charmingly did – “Someone call the police, Richard Hawley’s just been robbed”).

If you don’t have it already, buy it. Buy it now. GO!

MP3: The Words That Maketh Murder by PJ Harvey

Go And Buy “Let England Shake” NOW

Do You Remember The Good Old Days?

Living in a city currently wracked by rioting driven more by wanting a nice new telly than any overriding political motive is something of an odd experience. The fires and looting haven’t touched my part of the city (yet), but the police sirens and helicopters were going well into the early hours. Stories coming out this morning include the destruction of family businesses that have traded for over 150 years and two Michelin starred restaurant (and L&L fave) The Ledbury being attacked by masked looters (thankfully the author of the piece was only robbed of her rings, rather than being physically hurt, but it’s still an horrendous experience).

The overriding sensation isn’t one of sympathy for the anger of communities struggling under deprivation and police aggravation, as was the case in the 1981 riots in Brixton and elsewhere, but of anger at the selfishness and criminality of the looters. If there is any genuine grievance on the part of the rioters, it’s certainly not coming across in the media.

One more pleasing sign is how communities are pulling together to fight off the rioters, and helping shops and other businesses clean up. For whatever you feel about human nature following the last few nights events, you can’t help but have your heart warmed by how many people are choosing to help their neighbours, friends, and total strangers. Good on you.

I was only a kid in 1981, but I remember the feeling of dread that had enveloped the nation. This seems to be something different (aside from in Tottenham, where there had been a peaceful protest before things went wrong). I just hope people see sense before someone gets killed.

MP3: Ghost Town by The Specials

Buy “The Best Of The Specials” (CD/MP3)

I’m Baaack

For once, I’ve had a decent reason to not post anything. Thanks to a dislocated ring finger, on top of hideous amounts of work, and root canal treatment (boy, has turning 40 been fun!), I’ve been unable to write much. Evenings have been spent lying on the sofa going “ow”, softly and gently. But now, the finger is starting to heal, my left hand has started to work properly again and so, for the first time in weeks, I can post something. Hurrah!

First off, here’s Wilco’s new single, called “I Might”, from their new record The Whole Love, out in September. As ever, it sounds much like Wilco but with new little details that keep you coming back for more. But aren’t you just a little bit disappointed they didn’t call the song “Wilco (The First Single From The New Album)”? And the album “Wilco (The New Album)”?

Just me then.

Loads more to come, hopefully.

Buy Wilco Stuff Here

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 244 other followers