New and Old Music – Warp and Bill Callahan

Warp Records have a special place in my life. When I was getting into dance music, they released a bunch of LP’s under the banner “Artificial Intelligence”. Featuring the likes of Black Dog Productions, Autechre, Aphex Twin (as Polygon Window), B12 and others, they made odd electronic tunes with little or no relevance to any dancefloor you might wander onto. Ranging from strange clanky noise (Mr Twin), melodic tunefulness (B12), ominous rumblings (Autechre), to frankly deranged alien-jazz glitchiness (Black Dog)1, it was an explosion of invention when most people were panting over the dreadful retro-ness of Stone Roses and bloody Primal Scream.

So, taking their oddness fully to my heart, I listened to those albums again and again and again. Great driving music (I used to regularly drive 300 miles in a Morris Minor so you need something to distract you from the fact that the wheels are going to come off if you go above 90), great comedown music, and quite good fun to scare friends, family and neighbours with. After the label’s electronic start, they diversified into everything from Grizzly Bear to Jamie Liddell. As important a label to music as Rough Trade, or 4AD, or Factory, or SST, they are the work of pure genius.

Amazingly, it’s their 20th anniversary this year, and they’ve done gone and set up a little vote for us to go and choose our favourite tracks. The top 20 will be released on a compilation later this year. So go on, register, and vote. I’m loftandlost by the way.

Any excuse to post this:

Rather different to Intelligent Techno is the work of Bill Callahan (Smog). A longtime favourite of mine, he’s made some truly jaw-dropping music over the last fifteen years or so. Listening to “Teenage Spaceship” whilst driving through the Taunus mountains near Frankfurt one summers evening as dusk drew in, is one of my happiest moments on this sweet earth. Strange what makes some people happy, isn’t it?

Look, a horsie!

Look, a horsie!

Ol’ Bill has moved to Austin, Texas (lovely place) and has recorded a new album which is out on April 14th. “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle” is his thirteenth album, and he’s brought back the horns and violins for this one. Whilst not quite as unexpected as on “Red Apple Falls”, they add some welcome colour to the songs. Of which I have one here, the oddly titled “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”. In it, he tells a tale of dreaming the “perfect song”, only when he wakes, and scribbles down the words, they read “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”. All the keystone Callahan-isms are there, from his sardonic baritone, to the dry, black humour in his lyrics. Bodes well for the album. Let’s hope it’s better than M Ward’s or Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s latest, eh?

1 I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Timbaland totally nicked Black Dog’s ideas, toned them down a bit, then chucked some rappers over the top. Not to belittle him one bit – he’s fantastic – but it would be great for the originators of that clicky, glitchy sound to get some recognition.

MP3: Caz by Black Dog Productions

MP3: Eid Ma Clack Shaw by Bill Callahan

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Live Review – Stereophonics At The Royal Albert Hall

I don’t get out to see many bands at the moment. Partly it’s due to sheer incompetence in getting tickets – especially because, in London, up-and-coming acts have a tendency to sell out before you’ve bought tickets unless you’re really on the ball. Partly it’s that there aren’t many bands I’d like to see that I haven’t already seen yet. And partly there’s the financials. When you’re unemployed, you think , “Right, it’s £30-40 for two tickets, plus some food, and the babysitter, which in total ends up near £100 to watch a band surrounded by people who don’t seem to understand the concept that being out in public, watching a band, is very different to listening to the band at home. In that you CAN’T TALK LOUDLY ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE SET LIKE YOU DO AT HOME.” I once shouted at some people at a Mogwai show to “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”, to cheers from the people around me. And some baffled looks from the band. Sorry, rant over.

Anyway, when a friend told us she’d got tickets to see Stereophonics doing the Teenage Cancer Trust show at the Royal Albert Hall, it would be rude to decline. Whilst I can’t say they are my favourite band ever, I was sure it’d be a good night out. And so, here are some things I learnt tonight.

First of all, aren’t some of the songs off “Word Gets Around” just fantastic? They started off with “More Life In A Tramps Vest” and “A Thousand Trees”, which along with kicking the show off in top style, and confusing the people who were only there for “Handbags and Gladrags”, also reminded me what a great songwriter ‘lil Kelly Jones is when he puts his mind to it. “More Life In A Tramps Vest” in particular is one of the best songs about life in a small town I think I’ve ever heard. The line “Lose my rag and tell them take your bag and shop down there” is just beautiful, the way he fits it into the rhythm of the guitar, before having a quick rant about the one-way system. The sadness of some of the songs, such as “Local Boy In The Photograph” (touchingly introduced as “The song that started it all”), and “Billy Davies’ Daughter”, bring home the desperate lives of some of the inhabitants of Aberdare. Two songs about suicide on your debut album – what are you, the Tindersticks?

The second thing I learnt is that “Dakota” is extraordinary. If one is being honest, Stereophonics at their best have made some great tunes about small-town life, and to me at least, have never quite followed them up. *Cough* Mr Writer *cough*. But I still remember hearing “Dakota” come on the radio and saying to myself “What the fuck?”. It’s like Bob Dylan teaming up with Girls Aloud. It’s so different from the norm that you wonder what on earth was going on in Kelly’s head when he wrote it. All I can say is, please, please make some more songs like this. You’re a talented guy, with a great voice. You’ve done it once, now do it again. Go on, go on, go on, go on. Oh, and playing it as the last song was a nice touch. Starting with my favourite song of yours, and ending it with my second favourite is a good way of getting in my good books, you know.

And thirdly, the Royal Albert Hall is a fantastic building, which I love going to, but it’s just not right for rock music. Once you turn the gain up above, oooh, 2, the sound just gets all mushy. “The Bartender And The Thief” just disappeared into a morass of noise, and not in a good way. Thankfully, most of their best songs don’t rely too much on volume. “Have A Nice Day” worked pretty well, as did “Last Of The Big Time Drinkers”; even if it’s quite raucous, it doesn’t have that Les Paul/SG guitar assault thang going on. Muse suffered the same thing last year at the TCT. Richard Hawley, the man whose guitar amp blew up there, plays with a pretty clean sound, so it worked quite well. Joanna Newsom? Well, she’s got a harp, so she was golden. But if you like a nice dirty sound, then if you ever get to play there, tone it down a bit, eh? It just sounds rubbish.

And lastly. What a voice. It’s like Rod Stewart, at his finest, but better. On the way out you could hear people talking about it. He really does have a cracking set of gravelly tonsils on him. What is it with the Welsh and belting it out? From Tom Jones to James Dean Bradfield, top belters. Must be something in the water in the Valleys.

So, a good night out was had by all. In response to our friends generosity, we’re taking them to see TV On The Radio. I don’t think they are going to know what hit them.

Oh, and just to point out – it was a charity show, so please visit the Teenage Cancer Trust website and make a donation. As the excellent films before the show demonstrate, teenagers often get the rough end of the stick in cancer care, and this charity have done an amazing job in easing suffering of thousands of cancer victims.

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