The Peely John Peel Show

So, some bright chap decided it would be a ripper wheeze to post 458 of John Peel’s shows on Soundcloud. For those of us of a certain age, this is manna from heaven. You pretty much have to resort to cliche when describing John Peel’s influence. He was the kindly uncle who took us under his wing and played us strange, wonderful, charming, ugly, quirky, alien, familiar, and most of all different music. And The Fall. I have no idea what my musical tastes would be without him. Sure, we grew apart in later years, after he got shoved around the schedules, my adult life taking me to places and situations where it was hard to catch up with him (and I am a lazy sod), but when he died, he left a hole in million’s of people’s lives.

And with the wondrous modern world of interconnectedness and sharing and whathaveyou, he’s back.

And with the less wondrous modern world of lawyers, Cease And Desist orders, the Web Sherriff, DMRA and DMCA and all those lovely acronyms hiding sharpsuited record label execs who have watched their easy money go sailing off into the distance on a sea of fibre-optic cable (note to self: this bit needs work), he’s gone again. In one day.

Which is all pretty sad. Wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, the people with the lawyers disappeared for a while and just let us normal folk listen to music, reminisce, then go out and buy some of the marvellous records he played?

Cheerio, Peelie, it was fun having you around again, even if for just a day.

MP3: Teenage Kicks by The Undertones

Buy “Teenage Kicks – The Very Best Of The Undertones” (CD/MP3)

A Mite Caledonian

It all got a bit Scottish there for a bit. Driving back from some random pigeon shelter in Sarf Lahndan I thought I’d give Twilight Sad’s last album a bit more of a try; being something of an unsuitable record to listen to on earbuds due to the noise! the noise! and the ringing of the ears and all that. And then on my Certified Mobile Communication Device Named After A Fruit appeared a note from those charming fellas at Frightened Rabbit saying they had a new record out:

And what a gloriously sobby thing it is too. Nice to see both bands have taken their success and used it to be even more sodding miserable. Can’t you all try go-karting or something? Life’s not that bad you know. Mind you, both the new FR track “State Hospital” and much of “No-One Will Ever Know” are quite elegaic in their being cobbed off, so maybe we shouldn’t complain.

Anyway, Frightened Rabbit. I love them. Buy their records. And the new one too, out September 24th.

Again?

By jove, do I love Grizzly Bear. Their first proper album as a band, Yellow House, was one of my favourite albums of the Naughties1. I’ve probably posted about them more than anyone else I can think of. And as I’ve posted before, they’ve a new album, named “Shields”, out on September 17th. And are going on tour.

And as is the way with these things, they’ve released a second track, named “Yet Again”, and as is the way with these things, I’m about a week late. It’s very good. The track, that is, rather than being late.

I particularly like the production makes your brain all confused – why do the vocals sound all pristine but the drums and guitars sound like they are in a dirty cave? How did they get those guitars sound so spiky and crunchy? What the hell are they singing about? What’s given them this huge burst of energy?

For once, I’m not even going to listen to this too much, lest I spoil the enjoyment of unwrapping the new album.

1 Will someone ever come up with a better name for that decade?

Pre-order Shields here.

Chained To The Past

As is patently clear to anyone who has half a brain and quarter of an ear to the ground, Putney’s finest heartbroken Chris Isaac/Burial mash-up tribute act The Xx are back, back, back with a new record, called “Coexist”. ‘Tis out on September the 10th, and already the Internet Hordes are out in force proclaiming that it sounds JUST LIKE THEIR LAST RECORD.

Well, of course it does, you pillocks. When you release a debut album, out of pretty much nowhere, which sounds pretty much unlike anything else out there, you’re going to have a problem when you release a second album, thanks to it, not unreasonably, sounding like your first record, because IT’S BY THE SAME BAND. I mean, no-one had a go at Oasis because “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory” sounded rather a lot like “Definitely Maybe”, did they? Well, ok, I did, but I didn’t have a blog then so just moaned to friends, family, colleagues, and the poor sods I was being employed by to do the music for, rather than the poor sods (eg you) reading this now.

Look, both Portished and Tindersticks – two bands whose sound was immediately striking and unique – went on to refine and deepen their sound pretty successfully for a couple more records before it all went wrong. Let’s give The Xx time to do the same.

Anyway, a new track, Chained. It sounds like something from their debut. What were you expecting, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep? A salsa/Boredoms mashup? A selection of show tunes from 1920’s Belgrade?

MP3: Chained by The Xx
(Removed because The Xx – or their management – don’t seem to want to let people share music that they are already sharing themselves. Sheesh. It’s 2012. If you don’t want people to hear your music don’t post it on your website. Anyway, it’s Soundcloud from here on in, folks. Hope you enjoyed being able to hear a couple of taster tracks whilst you were on the Tube. Then again, maybe The Xx don’t understand that, being from….er….London. Arseholes.)

(Purchase link removed)

Elizabeth Fraser at Royal Festival Hall

So be honest now. When you first heard that Liz Fraser was coming out of retirement and doing a one-off (ok, two-off) show at Anthony Hegarty’s Meltdown series, did you think:

a. OMG! It’s going to be amazing! She’ll do all old Cocteaus stuff and sound just like the records and everything!

Or

b. Oh Christ. I hope it’s not a godawful mess.

?

Reading the comments about last night’s show on Drowned In Sound, The Grauniad and elsewhere, the consensus appeared to be mostly a. with a smattering of b’s. Which worried me a tad; after all, Cocteau Twins are a band that I’ve held close to my heart since my pre-teenage years and unlike almost everything else from then, I still hold very close to my heart now. Seeing Liz Fraser live again after so many years was an honour I simply couldn’t pass by, jetlag notwithstanding1, but seeing her live and not sound good would be heartbreaking enough for me – let alone how a bad show would make her undoubtably retreat back into her shell.

Plus there’s the fact that as a live band, Cocteau Twins were erratic at best. Early in their career, with the three of them and a reel-to-reel tape player providing the backing band, they weren’t bad, but as they expanded they could veer from sublime to hideously overblown, often within the space of a couple of songs (see bottom of this article for examples). One friend, who has played in bands for many years, recently said to me “I absolutely love the Cocteaus, but they were fucking awful when I saw them”. Given that they needed three guitarists onstage to replicate their songs, how would Liz get the sound right?

Happily enough, the answer to that is “quite well, really”. Old songs, of which there were more than a few, were performed deftly and respectfully by a band consisting of her current drummer partner (Liz, surely you know that’ll end in tears?), a bloke out of Coil2 with astonishing shoulderpads playing seven keyboards, and a guitarist (was that really Steve Hackett all the way through?) and bassist who tried to do the impossible and mimic two of the most distinctive players, well, ever. Neither managed it perfectly, both being low down in the mix and sounding somewhat muted. After all, one of the unusual aspects of the Cocteau Twins was that, despite their hippy-dippy sonic cathedrals of sound reputation, they could be quite a bruising affair, using the quiet-loud dynamic many years before Frank “Black” Black “Francis” picked up a Tele and started screaming for fun.

See? Loud. Got some balls there. So hearing “Donimo” live was stunning in many ways, but they didn’t quite capture that “Bloody hell, I wasn’t expecting that loud bit” dynamic. Likewise with “Blue Bell Knoll”; the climax was lacking the sheer power of Robin Guthrie’s playing. For a man who professed that he only used so many effects because he couldn’t play guitar properly, he certainly knew how to end a song with a whacking great big solo.

Then again, maybe Liz Fraser spent her many years in the Cocteaus inwardly screaming “WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP ROBIN, I’M TRYING TO SING HERE”. Maybe she was sick and tired of him playing his beautiful, if somewhat intrusive guitar lines so high up the mix and this is her way of redressing the balance. Who can blame her? This is her gig now. Which brings me onto the other potential stumbling block for her return: Liz’s singing.

Now, in her day, Liz Fraser divided opinion into those who thought she was the voice of a choir of angels, and those who though she was a wibbly wibbly woo cobblers merchant who sang songs called Oomingmak because she wanted to be a happy little fairy prancing around Happyland3. With all this distance and the likes of Bjork and Joanna Newsom becoming far more successful with far more challenging voices, everyone looks back and realises that, you know what, she really could sing.

And she still can sing. Really, really sing. Like, proper voice of an angel stuff. I’m not being hyperbolic here, but the moment when, three songs in, during “Suckling The Mender”, she sang the “Rosa” bit (at 1:15 below), she hit the note absolutely perfectly, and sounded fucking astonishing.

For the first time in the best part of a year’s gig going, I had that amazing hairs-on-end feeling. Wasn’t the only time during the show either; “Athol-Brose” got me welling up, and “Cherry Coloured Funk”‘s chorus simply stunned. She is a far more controlled singer now; gone are the often distracting improvisations and warbles, and what is left is far more powerful as a result. It helped that the two backing singers were superb, dovetailing delicately without ever vanishing or dominating. They were less prevalent in the newer songs, with Liz clearly writing music purely for herself and her much older voice.

Yes, there were indeed new songs. Writing this review with the help of this marvellous set list (thank you, @adrianmasters84), I can at least hopefully name some, but Lord only knows if I’ve got them right:

Some of the songs were a little touched by the hand of later oh-doomy-bollocks Massive Attack, which was a tiny disappointment, but others – Underworker and possibly Make Lovely – were beautiful things. It’s nigh-on impossible to make a judgement on new material that you’ve never heard before, so I won’t, but let’s wait and see what the album is like when it finally makes its way to us, some time in 2022.

And anyway, if we’re being honest to ourselves, tonight was always going to be about Cocteau Twins. If my hunch is right, she wants the songs to sound this way now, and after the rubbish time she had for the last, ooh, seven years of the band’s existence, who’s to blame her? She’s publicly stated a number of times that she still doesn’t talk to Robin, and the wounds caused during their traumatic breakup remain unhealed.

One wonders if Simon and Robin were ensconsed in a box tonight, looking a little bit peeved that she’d reworked the songs to lessen the impact of their instruments4. Maybe it’ll lead to a reunion; it would be wonderful to hear them back in action, older and wiser and less prone to cocaine-influenced hissy fits. But I suspect she’ll be delighted with how these shows have gone, and surrounded by a band that whilst may not reach the heady heights the Cocteaus could reach, she’ll want to continue with a band that supports and nurtures her, as well as bringing out her confidence. Ironically, the shows could potentially make the prospects of a reunion even more distant; the mooted Coachella reunion of 2005 may remain unmooted.

So, mostly “a” then, the OMG option. Which pleases me intensely, and clearly pleased the mostly 40-plus crowd, who were so respectful and quiet during the songs, and so raucous with applause between the songs, that it nearly brought Liz to tears. We like having you back, Liz, and you know what? If it doesn’t ever work out with you and Robin and Simon then that’s just fine. Just don’t go away for 15 years again, ok?

MP3: Donimo by Cocteau Twins

MP3: Moses by Elizabeth Fraser

But the entire Cocteau Twins catalogue here. You are truly a fool if you do not.

1 Not an excuse, I know, but please excuse the rambling and non-sequitor laden nature of this post, but I’m knackered, and I’m writing this straight after the gig with a one-year old baby having a bit of a yell next door.

2 Of whom listen to this:

Ooh, takes me right back, that does.

3 Obviously I fall into the former camp, or I wouldn’t be writing this now. Sadly some influential people in the media and the music industry at large thought the latter, and they never seemed to get the kudos they so readily deserved. Cocteau Twins should have been huge.

4 It’s never been entirely clear who did the majority of the songwriting in the Cocteau Twins. All the tracks were credited to “Cocteau Twins”, and as far as I know, whilst Robin appeared to be the main writer of the music, Liz wrote all the vocal lines and the lyrics, and Simon had a major hand in the writing process too (it’s no shock that Victorialand, written without him, is the only weak point in their stunning 1984-1990 run of albums, EPs and singles). They are most likely as much Liz’s songs as the other two’s. If anyone knows anything more about this aspect of the Cocteaus, please comment!

A quick aside about live shows. See these examples:

1a. Orange Appled, recorded version:

1b. Orange Appled, live version (band, the bloke from Dif Juz & reel to reel):

See, bloody good isn’t it? The live version is fantastic.

2a. Summerhead, recorded version:

2b. Summerhead, live on Later (full band):

The live version, with three guitarists, a drummer and a percussionist, kicks ass. Properly. So much better than the recorded version that you realise that the studio was a deeply unhappy place for the band in 1993. Which leads me onto:

3a. Carolyn’s Fingers, record:

3b. Carolyn’s Fingers, live on Later (same session as 2b):

What a bloody mess. Just sounds awful; when they went wrong live, they really went wrong. Remember this is the same session in which they sounded so good doing “Summerhead”.

I Just Never Could Quite Tell You No

So there I am, driving around in the Florida heat in a rental car listening to some country music station (I don’t know which, K-ROQ or Q-UIM or somesuch), when on comes a familiar song. Well, familiar in one sense; it was a version of a Bonnie “Prince” Billy cover1. I’d never hear the original version of “Just To See You Smile” off somewhat obscure EP “More Revery”, but I’d loved the cover and chucked it on mix CD’s left, right and center, back in those heady pre-blogging days.

Bonnie Billy’s version is all broken, tentative, full of heartache, his voice cracking under the memory of telling the sad tale:

The original, by wholly-unknown-in-the-UK-star Tim McGraw2, is on the surface a more chirpy affair, all banjos and pedal/lap steels bouncing away with that marvellous Nashville sheen, but that old familiar tale still gets rammed home with a tear in ol’ Tim’s eye.

You can’t beat lyrics, or a tune like this, can you? Either way the song is performed, the sheer quality just shines through. I love both versions, though the cover is always going to have a special place in my heart that the original won’t ever displace.

MP3: Just To See You Smile by Bonnie Billy

1 Ok, fact fans, really it’s by Bonnie Billy. No idea why the “More Revery” covers EP misses out the “Prince” bit. Any ideas?

2 Fact Fans No. 2; “Just To See You Smile” was written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin. So there.

Buy Bonnie Billy’s “More Revery” EP here (note: not cheap) and Tim McGraw’s Greatest Hits (CD) here

I Can’t Hear Myself

Woke up this morning, got an email from Songkick, that email tell me that Grizzly Bear are comin’ to town
Oh yeah, Grizzly Bear comin’ to town
That great big bear must have some new tunes, I’m a guessing
So I hightail it off to their website, that big bear website
And sho’ nuff there’s an album, a brand new album, hailin’ in the month of September
And there’s a song, a brand new song

Woke up this morning to a brand new song
An’ it has guitars, big guitars, and that high-voiced singing, and those guitars
Man those guitars, they sing like an angry choir, and that man Rossen
Boy oh boy, does that man Rossen play the guitar
And the song, the brand new bear song
The brand new bear song with the guitars and the singing
The song’s a-called Sleeping Ute

An’ I been playin’ it so loud
That I can’t hear myself sing my praises to the Lord
I can’t hear myself

Amazon’s Grizzly Bear Store

You Should Hear Me Play Piano

So today I finally cracked. Three days of this Jubilee malarkey is all well and good, but the whole thing started to get on my nerves after a while. By this afternoon I was starting to wonder if the French had had the right idea. Still, if the alternative was President Thatcher then I suppose I can take a Queen for a bit longer, especially with one who has spent much of the weekend looking like she’d rather be sat in front of a roaring fire with a nice cup of tea. And the extra day off has been nice too.

Not that our old chum Morrissey would see things the same way. I’ve been reminded this weekend of the old Smiths classic “The Queen Is Dead”, which inadvertantly ended up being played in the kitchen the other day. The kids seemed to like it. If you don’t know it, listen below:

If you do know it, then, well, it’s nice to be reminded of such a cracking song, eh? All the usual Smiths tropes are there, the maundlin mention of rain, the shared intimacy of talking of precious things, the sly humour (“I’m the eighteenth pale descendant\Of some old queen or other”), the left-wing politics, all finished with the none-more-Smiths “Life is very long when you’re lonely”. And by jove, did I wonder that today when I saw Prince Charles gazing from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Tied to his mother’s apron, indeed.

MP3: The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths

Buy “The Queen Is Dead” Here

Squeaky Ears, Squeaky Voice

This whole tinnitus thing is having a strange effect on my brain. Because I’m not spending the best part of two hours a day on public transport listening to music, my brain is filling in the gaps by dredging its memory banks for most unexpected items. Last week I had “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by REM, this week it’s been, rather less welcomely, “Pure Morning” by Placebo.

Now Placebo aren’t a band I have much cause to listen to, and “Pure Morning” was the song at which I thought “Are this lot taking the piss, or are they actually serious?”. The answer being, a bit of both, but as time went on it became far more of the latter than the former. Squeaky-voiced annoyance-bot Brian Molko was amusing in small doses (the whole thing about getting London journalists thinking he might be a laydee, and being successful in some cases, was definitely quite a ripping yarn), but after a while it all got a bit tedious. “A friend with breasts and all the rest” indeed. Plus, I had the misfortune of seeing them live in Zurich some years back, and this counts as the second worst gig I can remember.

But I started this blog to be nice about bands, not to slag them off. Lots of people like Placebo, and who am I to criticise their tastes? On that note I decided to listen to a couple of tunes from their debut, which I’d loved when it came out, in those heady heady mid-’90’s days of Britpop and Camden and spending my days driving round the country to visit pubs to tell them what music to play (seriously). Guess what, dear reader? Yep, some of their early stuff is good. Not superb, not marvellous, but still, pretty good.

“36 Degrees” sounds like The Undertones gone crazy with PCP and Motorhead, though the chorus of “Someone tried to do me ache” is the most clumsy thing I’ve heard for many a year:

“Nancy Boy” takes their Therapy? and Smashing Pumpkins love to new heights, and both “Bruise Pristine” and “Come Home” thunder around like a Velociraptor that’s been told that no, it can’t wear that ripped shirt to Granny’s birthday party, and what have you done to your hair, tidy yourself up, lad, before running back upstairs to its bedroom to sulk a bit more.

Yep, the whole I’ve-done-drugs-and-felt-a-girls-naughty-bits-and-now-I’m-sad schtick does wear somewhat thin over the course of an album, but this is a band that got it completely right the first time round and then it was all downhill (apart from “Brick Shithouse”, of course). The energy, the superb drumming, the sheer velocity of these songs keeps them from sounding that dated. They definitely sound better than most other songs of their era, I’ll say that for nothing. Go on, go and listen to some Verve songs. Quelle drear.

So let’s raise a glass filled with absinthe to little Brian Molko and his chums, for making a record which sounds suprisingly good many years later, then let’s go and do some drugs, pick up some questionable ladies-who-may-be-men, have our hearts broken, get all moany, sing loudly about being moany, then do some speed. Bonzer! Isn’t being a teenager great?

(Note: I would happily post one of these songs, but I noticed on Hype Machine that anyone who has posted them before hasn’t got them up any more. This is normally a sign of a very heavy-handed record label or publisher, and frankly, I’ve had enough of that shit before. So here’s “Pure Morning”, even though it’s not the song I like. C’est la new world of the Internet. If only Placebo would use Soundcloud, eh, lads?)

MP3: Pure Morning by Placebo

Placebo by Placebo (It’s The One To Get)

Cascadia

You can’t beat a bit of dreamy folk-tinged oddness. Mount Eerie hail from Anacortes, Washington, that green and rainy and woody land hugging the Puget Sound, somewhere betwixt Seattle and Vancouver. The kind of place I can imagine makes you hole up in a freezing garage for months on end making slightly ominous fuzzed out space-pop. The kind of music in which you can hear the damp cold air swishing past the microphone, chilling everything around it. Music for long, cold, dark, soggy nights; music for a landscape of forests and mountains and a sea that will suck you down and crush you under a continental plate. That’s what “House Shape” is.

Sounding like The Besnard Lakes after a night on Mogadon listening to Spaceman 3, this is a marvellously odd piece of acid-tinged narcotic wooziness, featuring a two minute krautrock intro followed by some undecipherable lyrics, before coming to a rather unexpected halt. Over this all is the a buzzy hum that feels like the kind of sound that valves make to keep themselves warm. All in all, I’ve become inordinately fond of it.

Plus, the band, which pretty much consists of Phil Elverum and a couple of folks helping out here and there, has possibly the best band website I have seen in years. Go on, go and have a look now. Brilliant design, a marvellous photoshopped image of a P.W. Elverum & Sun store, and all the lovely photos you can shake a stick at. This kind of site, with lots of things to buy, nice photos, lovely posters to buy, and even a $60 photo book, make me think that there’s life in the record industry yet, that there’s a way to be a proper Indie when you’ve got talent.

The album from which this stems is “Clear Moon”, and it’s released on May 22nd. I’d pre-order it if I were you. Going by this, it’s going to be marvellous.

Note: At time of writing this song has 48 “Likes” on Hype Machine. What the hell is wrong with everyone? Come on, this deserves more than that.