Do You Remember The Sadly Predictable Blog Post Title?

For many people, especially outside the UK, Pulp = Common People. No real shock there; “Common People” is a truly magnificent song, with absolute forensic clarity in stripping down its rich-kid-playing-with-the-poor target to a few pithy lines. But Pulp had a long history before this song; even their breakthrough LP His’N’Hers came after about 15 years of pootling about on the sidelines of the UK Indie scene. When they finally did hit the big time, it was with a sense of “Bloody hell, they’ve finally made a bloody good record”; and Jarvis Cocker was old enough and ugly enough to deal with the whole fame thing with a certain panache lacking in his younger peers.

Still, didn’t come as much of a shock when they decided to call it a day in 2002, and in fairness, hasn’t come as much of a shock that they’ve decided to reunite for some gigs next year. Unlike some of their contemporaries, this is a far more welcome reunion, partly due to the fact that they were smarter than the average band, and partly because there was always a sense of unfinished business about them.

A few dates have been announced already, with the promise of a bunch more. I foresee one night at the Brixton Academy swelling to three or four by popular demand. It will, you know.

So anyway, the music before “Common People”. Oh, just buy “His ‘N’ Hers” and be enthralled by Jarvis’s peerless tales of the British Northern Working Class.

MP3: Do You Remember The First Time? by Pulp

Amazon’s Pulp Page

A Quick Repost

Last month I posted a lovely track by a lady named Lucy Jane. Very good it is too, but due to a Soundcloud posting cock-up (my fault entirely) it didn’t appear in Hype Machine. So I’m taking this opportunity to post it again, partly because I want to get it on Hype Machine, and partly because I’m in a bit of a blue funk about the match today and really don’t want to write. Oh, Fabianski! How could you?

The original post is here, and her MySpace page is here.

Mermaid by Lucy Jane by astrogarage

Obsessions (Two)

The other song that’s really been swirling round my head recently is by James Blackshaw. He’s the kind of artist best experienced live, so you can get the full WTF!-edness of his music. Listening on record, part of your brain is saying to you “He’s not really doing this, you know. He’s got pedals and a laptop and other gubbins, I bet”. But he doesn’t. It’s just him, some very long fingernails, and about 16 hours a day in a room practising.

Incredible. There’s plenty more on YouTube like that, and I strongly recommend you give him a try. And see him live. Trust me on this one. All week I’ve had “Cross” from his 2009 CD Glass Bead Game floating round my head, like a particularly persistent earworm. Hopefully he’ll do the same to you too.

MP3: Cross by James Blackshaw

There’s also some of his stuff floating round on SoundCloud, such as this beauty:

Synonym For Vestige by shoryobuni

Buy “Glass Bead Game” (CD/MP3)

Obsessions (One)

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who love music, and those that don’t. Those for whom music is a massive part of their lives, making them complete, and those for whom music is simply a background noise to their lives. And if you love music1 you’ll get obsessed with songs. Sometimes new songs, sometimes old. Last couple of days I’ve had two songs going round my head. The first is Elliott Smith’s “Clementine”. The other I’ll tell you about tomorrow.

Elliott Smith’s music, like Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake and many others, has become overshadowed by his untimely and tragic death. But I’m not going to dwell on that, or his manifest personal problems that led to his death here2. I just want to say quickly how great an artist he was, and how the release of a new “Best Of” (or rather, “An Introduction To“) has made me dive back into his back catalogue.

Elliott’s earlier records were often just him singing with his acoustic. His skills as a guitarist are often overlooked as people concentrate on his introspective, sometimes painful lyrics, but the simplicity of “Clementine” allows his huge talent to shine through. Opening with the telling line “They’re waking you up to close the bar”, the song tells of a man who’s well on his way to losing his love. Whether he’s lost his girl through his drinking, or he’s drinking because he’s losing his girl, it’s not clear, but anyone who’s ever had their heart broken can lose themselves in this song. At the climax, Elliott, not unexpectedly, starts singing “Oh My Darling Clementine”, a bitter twist of humour.

The guitar gently mirrors the vocal line like a good dance partner, occasionally breaking off to do its own thing before returning to his gentle embrace. And his singing is as good as you’ll get from him; warm, quiet, soft, the depth of emotion sucking you in, makes you lean into the speakers or turn up your headphones, dragging you into Elliott’s oh-so-personal world.

“Clementine” is one of the songs not on the new CD, but then again, with an artist like Elliott Smith, you’re never going to make everyone happy. As far as I go, I’m just happy it’s out there and getting good marks; like the excellent Drowned In Sound review said: “I’m both surprised when people are familiar with him and incredulous when they’re not.” This CD is as good as you could expect; if you like just a couple of the songs off it you’d still be mad not to buy everything he did from “Elliott Smith” through to “XO“, at least; because you’ll find gems like this here track.

Seven years ago the world lost one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation. I’ve known this particular song for well over ten years, and the fact that I can still get obsessed by it tells you how good he was.

MP3: Clementine by Elliott Smith

Buy Loads Of Elliott Smith From Here

1 If you don’t, what the hell are you doing here?

2 Probably once I reach him on the Pitchfork trip. And yep, it’ll be about 1000 words.

Special Benny

Special Benny.

What a name. What. A. Name. I’m only posting this because of their name.

Ok, maybe if it was rubbish, I wouldn’t post it, but you know what? “Air Filter”, the track available for download from their website (here) is a pleasant, jittery affair, with all sorts of stuff going on. Lovely lilting acoustic intro! A saxomophone solo! A great bit about three and a half minutes in where it all goes a bit funny! Jazzy and indie-poppy and well worth a good listen.

See, Yuck? That’s how you name your band.

MP3: Air Filter by Special Benny (snigger)

The album “Toys” is availble from their Bandcamp site here, in CD and lots of digital formats, for the bargain price of £6 for the digital.

Swans Live – Koko, London

Nothing, but nothing can prepare you for standing at the front at a Swans gig. Being locked inside a blast furnace might help, or standing on the rim of an exploding volcano could do it, to some extent, but there is nothing to compare with the experience of the thundering, rampaging NOISE that this band of malevolent geniuses produce.

What’s more, it’s not just that noise that dumb kids produce with a big amp and some pedals. No, sir, this is carefully calibrated, thumping, driving noise, created by a bassist and drummer in perfect, horrendous harmony, ably built upon by two guitars, Thor the Percussionist, and a man whose craggy visage would have made the late Johnny Cash look like a L’Oreal model. In those dark, grim Westerns of Sam Peckinpah, Swans would be perfectly cast as the bunch of miscreants riding ominously into a small, vulnerable town, and you would know that what would come next would be bloodshed, and who the perpetrators would be.

And of course, there is Michael Gira himself. A man of absolute and utter belief in his mission to tell us, each of us, individually if need be, that we are the cursed and damned children of an unforgiving and intemperate God. There is precious little redemption, or even much hope, in his music; instead, he uses the words of a firebrand preacher, and the close to “Sex God Sex” spells this out in no uncertain terms. As the squall abates, he yells, in a booming rancorous baritone, “JESUS CHRIST! SAY HIS NAME! JESUS! COME DOWN! COME DOWN NOW!”.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of things here a little. For, as a live experience, Swans make sure you know you are about to face something unique. First off, the set times posted showed the band coming on at 10; a good hour later than any band I’ve seen in London for many years. Second off, the choice of James Blackshaw was possibly a demonstration that Gira’s not merely interested in pummelling us with big fucking boulders of noise; he’s also a record label boss with some uncommonly good bands on the roster (such as Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family).

Seeing James Blackshaw live, up close, can be described in one, simple word: incredible. If you have not seen him yet, do. Do it soon, before he decides to pack it in, as playing such gorgeous songs in front of an audience who seem more interested in gabbling away. Look, you fuckers, this guys is one of the most talented musicians doing the rounds in London, enjoy seeing him, and shut the fuck up for a moment.

A Very, Very Talented Man

Support out of the way, it was a short wait before Thor came ambling on the stage and starting doing something. That something was to kick off some kind of drone machine, part airraid siren, part foghorn, at near-deafening volume. He then buggered off, only for the winner of Mr Craggy Face 2010 to wander on about five minutes later, muck about with his lap steel, adding a whole new layer of deafening noise, then bugger off as well. Thor buggers back on again and starts bashing his tubular bells.

Do. Not. Mess.

So there we are, standing there, trying to resist the temptation to put our fingers in our ears. A few long minutes later and the band saunter back on, and start a thumping, driving one-chord riff that mutated into “No Words/No Thoughts”. The man Gira acts as a kind of conductor to the band, guiding them forward to higher levels of torture. At the end, we try and clap and cheer, but these cheers seemed strangely quiet. Maybe because we were all deaf by this point.

A couple of older tracks followed, notably “Sex God Sex” (the most Swans title ever), featuring the aforementioned Screaming About Jesus bit. Then came the song that, to me, demonstrates exactly why the return of Swans is something to be celebrated.

Stop Doing That

“Jim”, on the album, is a slow-burning, dreadful (in the old sense of the word) waltz. Live, it builds from being loud, and ominous, to hugely loud and deeply disturbing. Watching the band slowly add more and more – in particular Norman Westberg, who taps out time between chords on his guitar – is thrilling, and quite worrying. Every few bars it seems as though another layer of sound is built on top of an already dangerously overloaded behemoth. The effect is stunning. At the song’s climax, the band suddenly strip away much of the sound, leaving a ruined husk of a song remaining. Utterly electrifying.

Other highlights included oldie “I Crawled” – like the other old tracks, slightly prettier than their original incarnations, and a version of “Eden Prison” which, although quieter for the first half than on record, more than made up for it during its destructive second half.

Cheer Up Mate, It May Never Happen

By the end, the volume was such that most of the people who’d been crowding to the front during the first few songs had sought out the relative safety of the rear. They were missing out. Swans are best experienced up front; that was you can truly experience the band’s dynamic – bassist Chris Pravdica and drummer Phil Puleo in their own private world, driving each other on; Thor manically bashing the life out of assorted tubular bells, drums, cymbals, a dulcimer and some kind of home made thing; Norman Westberg and lap steel player Christoph Hahn staring out at the crowd with utter contempt and no small portion of malevolence, indifferent to the squall; and centre-stage, Gira himself, driving the whole affair like a damned preacher at the fiery gates of Hell. Some songs even featured a pair of startled trombonists who, frankly, struggled to make themselves heard over the din.

Run Run Run

One encore, and they were gone. Much of the band departed with no wave at all, but Gira and Thor stayed for a moment; Thor grinning, Gira looking as though he knew a job had been well done. A job of making us feel as uncomfortable as possible. They were majestic. To have taken the core of their sound from the eighties and update it so successfully, to make Swans vital and urgent and damn well unmissable, is a remarkable achievement.

See them now, see them from the front, and have a story to tell the grandchildren when they play you something unlistenable in years to come. Then you can tell them: “You find this noisy? That’s nothing. I saw Swans live”.

Did I say they were loud?

Swans – ‘Eden Prison’ by theQuietus

Buy “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” (CD/MP3)

Are Eggs Funny? No.

Regular readers will know I am a huge fan of Danish prog-pop-rockers Mew. Why? Well, because they are great, that’s why.

If you’re not so sure about their brand of hugely tuneful and equally hugely complex Scandi-psych-pop then they’ve made your life easy by releasing a compilation, cunningly entitled “Eggs Are Funny”. Look, at least it isn’t called “No more stories Are told today I’m sorry They washed away No more stories The world is grey I’m tired Let’s wash away”.

At Last, A Mew Record Cover That Doesn't Make You Want To Claw Your Eyes Out

You can’t argue much1 with the track listing either, nor the fact that there’s a DVD thrown in for good measure. If you want an introduction to the marvellous world of Mew, you can’t get much better than this:

1. Am I Wry? No
2. Snow Brigade
3. Beach
4. Introducing Palace Players
5. Silas The Magic Car
6. Wheels Over Me
7. Saliva
8. She Came Home For Christmas
9. Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy
10. Do You Love It
11. Eight Flew Over, One Was Destroyed
12. 156
13. Special
14. The Zookeepers Boy
15. Comforting Sounds

Go. Go buy. Now. Don’t make me come and beat you.

1 What, no “Hawaii”?

MP3: Do You Love It by Mew

Foolish Thoughts

Do you ever get an idea at the dead of night and think “Ooh, maybe that’s a bit stupid, I’ll think about it again in the morning”? And then on waking, you think to yourself that maybe it’s not such a bad idea and that you should go ahead.

Because something that’s been bothering me for months now is that I am, frankly, rubbish at keeping this blog updated. Truly, biblically rubbish. I know a bunch of people do read it, and sometimes even enjoy it a bit, but there’s nothing more frustrating than following a blog only to find the writer (bloggee?) can’t, for whatever reason, keep posting. To build up a nice reader base and keep it entertained on a regular basis takes hard work.

So, for the month of November, I’m going to do one post per day, every day. Sure, it’s going to help that I’ve got five gigs to go to plus a bunch of stored up stuff I really need to post, but some days all I’ll do is write some thoughts about a song I’d listened to that day, or recently. And I promise they won’t be 1,000 word behemoths.

First off, here’s some Orange Juice. Not sure why, other than it popped into my head as I was writing this. Top tune, though, eh? And there’s a box set out next week, you say? Ah ha! Topicality!

MP3: Rip It Up by Orange Juice

Buy the “Coals to Newcastle: Boxset and DVD”