Friday, December 01, 2006

Plague Songs

The concept LP seems to have had a shot in the arm in recent years. From Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs via Sufjan Stevens recent projects and the prog metal of Mars Volta the left field seems to have embraced the concept LP to its heart.Plague Songs is slightly different. A concept LP ? Sure, but from an arty and obscure genesis this collection was birthed. Ten songs, ten plagues and one of the most original and arresting anthology of music you will hear this year. The soundtrack to a live art installation of the ten plagues of Egypt set in the rainy English seaside town of Margate. Part Wickerman, part Blair Witch part mixtape for the end of the world.The beauty of the collection, its strength lies in the wide variety of contributors and their differing takes on the source material. Plagues Songs glides effortlessly from the sodastream pop of Imogen Heap into the charcoal black nightmare of Scott Walker onto the bluesy piano based lament of Rufus Wainwright. Each artist has taken the subject matter and buckled the narrative, corroded the source. The approaches differ across a broad spectrum of musical tone and voice. The opening track by Klashnekoff mixes biblical quotes, stuttering grime beats and dense vocals flows to evoke dread and tension. King Creosote's Relate the Tale take the plague of frogs and tells it from the perspective of a frog, his dulcet tones riding atop a jaunty acoustic backing. It’s surprisingly effective and touching. Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt tackle the plague of files with a maze of ambient noise and fly buzzing. Scott Walker pares back the mesh of the nightmarish Drift into a murmur of percussion and vocals. His voice hushed and mumbled is thrown against a choir of pitch shifted shrill cries. The result is a cacophony of disquiet and fear. As clammy and claustrophobic as the plague of darkness it describes.Yet for all its dark subject matter there is light and humor on show. Stephen Merrit takes the plague of Lice and sets it against a New Order style backing and laces it with his dark wit. Cody Chesnutt soaks the plague of boils in New Orleans horns and a funky shuffle. The stand out track is The Tiger Lillies Hailstones. A broken boned tale of taking class A drugs in a tin shack. .Marytn Jacques vocals blend perfectly with the bowed saw and piano melody of pure grief. Startling and wonderful. This is an engaging and arresting listen. Get yourself a little bit of the plague

Written for

Original Review post

Billy Bragg - Vol 1

The first time I heard Billy Bragg sing was on breakfast TV. He ripped through a rousing version of It's Say Here and I dropped my school bag in shock: I had never witnessed anything like it. Punk rock folk music if you please.

The sound of a cheap untreated electric guitar, a pin sharp eye for details and the spirit of The Clash without the rock 'n' roll posing. The self confessed big nosed bard of Barking shredding the idea of press freedom, the royal family and tabloid double standards in under three minutes. I had never realised that music could jab like that, carry real meaning and be delivered with such white knuckle conviction. I was hooked.

Listening to Billy Bragg's work in a block like this I am struck by how consistent, strong and passionate his song writing is. Vol 1 contains seven CDs: the first three studio LPs plus the International mini LP and various EPs, live tracks and B-sides. There are also two DVDs of live material. It's a testament to Billy Bragg's ability that there is no filler on here at all.

I have always felt that to define or stereotype him simply as jukebox for the likes of Arthur Scargill is to miss the point. There's no denying that he is a political songwriter, and a brilliant one at that, but there is so much more to this Karl Marx set to music. Much later in his career he sung of having "a socialism of the heart", and from the opening bars of his debut LP you are in little doubt that this is true. On the songs on these CDs - be they protest songs, love songs or a genre breaking mix of both - it is the humanity, warmth and empathy that shines through.
The songs on Life's A Riot With Spy vs Spy and Brewing Up With Billy Bragg still sound raw, vital and basic. You get Billy, his gruff vocals and the sound of a budget guitar plugged into a practice amp. The music here makes the The White Stripes sound like ELO. In an age when someone like Tears For Fears would spend two months on a drum sound the rawness of these recording was startling and revolutionary. It was a conscious attempt to distil music back to its very core.

If you compare Man In The Iron Mask from the first LP and Myth of Trust from the second you get a clear example of his skill as a wordsmith and writer. Both are tales of affairs, the first told from the point of view of the injured party, the second from someone who is cheating on their partner. Man In The Iron Mask is pure pain loneliness and defeat. It's a love song of sorts that subverts the macho swagger of rock music with something more human and truthful. On Myth Of Trust Bragg peels away the bravado of the love affair and exposes the rotten, self-serving disgust at the centre. This ability to cut through to the core is something that places him above the vast majority of his peers.

The songs come thick and fast, the love songs Saturday Boy, St Swithin's Day, A Lover Sings; the politics, Island of No Return, Ideology, To Have And Have Not. When the political meets the personal on tracks like Levi Stubbs' Tears, Between The Wars and Home Front, Bragg was forging a new type of soulful folk music, a blend of left wing politics and warm heartfelt observation. In a post Blair world where socialism has become a four-letter word, we need the likes of Billy Bragg more than ever. It's shameful that in days like these no-one has taken up the torch.

The rare tracks are a treat for any long term fan: A13 Trunk Road To The Sea spins Route 66 through Essex to Southend. Back To The Old House is a glorious cover of The Smiths track, the live version of A Lover Sings has Johnny Marr throwing in the riff from This Charming Man.
It always made me chuckle that Bragg managed to fuse, soul, Woody Guthrie-styled politics and killer tunes to a degree that Paul Weller never managed after The Jam. Soul music doesn't live in stylised backing tracks or the clothes that you wear but in the heart and soul of the performer. This is soul music and Billy Bragg is a soul singer. You need to hear these songs: they will make you life better.

Original Review for Music OHM

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tom Waits

The wonderful Tom Waits is back in the news with the release of Orphans.
Have a listen to this great interview around the time of Blood Money and Alice.

He discusses his musical development, Johnny Cash covering his songs. He quest to grow old quickly, he voice is like gravel and whiskey cocktail. A wonderful half hour.

Tom Waits Interview

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sugarcubes reunite !!

The mighty beautiful and wonderful weird Sugarcubes are set to reunite for the first time since 1992.

This is the offical press release from Bjork site.

"Nearly 20 years ago The Sugarcubes put out on their own label Smekkleysa SM, their first single Birthday. This release was the start to the splendid career of The Sugarcubes, and impressive releases of Icelandic artists in Iceland and abroad alike. These first steps made by The Sugarcubes have made and everlasting impact and influence on the Icelandic export of music.

It is therefor with unbound joy we announce the 20th anniversary concert of Birthday and The Sugarcubes in Reykjavik on the 17th of November. The Sugarcubes will take to the stage for the first time in 14 years.

All profit from the concert goes back into Smekkleysa SM who will continue to work on a non-profit basis for the future betterment of Icelandic music and artists.

World domination or death! yes thank you

Here is a little bit of Bjork and the band to remind you of why they are so special:

Monday, September 18, 2006

Joy Division Live

This is some amazing footage of Joy Division live and on fire.

Its starts against a dirty looking back drop, all muddy browns and greys, flock wallpaper and shadows. The music starts with a crack of a snare, a motor beat, Can relocated to the dark back rooms of Manchester. The bass rumbles with melody, the guitar rips out sheets of noise and barbwire riffs. The singer voice a low, heavy in tone, short hair a purple shirt. He holds the stage recites his words, grip the mike stand like a crutch. After 40 seconds he releases his grip on the mike, a look to the left and then the right, his head jerking and then comes the release. Like a boxer on strong speed, a fly trapped in a neon light, his arms flaying around, his eyes closed lost in the moment, free in the noise and fire. It’s brief and the camera cuts away, the shadows falling onto Peter Hook the bass player. Ian Curtis is driven by his demons or is he trying to drive them away. The power in this brief performance is mesmerising, terrorizing and immensely powerful. If you have ever wondered why Joy Division are held in such high esteem than sit back and watch this.

This video is taken from The Factory Flick (Factory FAC 9 1979)
This is an 8mm film premiered at the Scala Cinema, London, on September 13 1979, comprising:
1. No City Fun - Joy Division (12 min)
2. All Night Party - A Certain Ratio (3 min)
3. Red Dress - Ludus (3 min)
4. Joy Division (17 min)
No City Fun, filmed by Charles Salem, was based on Liz Naylor's article in Manchester City's City Fun fanzine and features music from Unknown Pleasures.
Joy Division is a film by Malcolm Whitehead that includes Unknown Pleasures rehearsals at T J Davidson's studio, an interview with Joy Division's manager Rob Gretton recorded March 23 1979, and three songs performed at Bowdon Vale Youth Club on March 14 1979.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy Review

The sound that The Jesus and Mary created was famously described as like hearing a chainsaw in a hurricane. It¹s a barbwire kiss. It¹s a nightmare of static and honey. Based around the core duo of brothers William and Jim Reid their debut LP still sounds as raw, electrifying and chaotic as it did in 1985. This is pop music eviscerated. Beautiful melodies debased by screaming feedback. Classic chord progression burnt and buried beneath sheets of shrill white noise. Pop toyed with and tarnished.Psychocandy is the perfect title for this collection of dazzling melodies haunted by the ghost of the Velvet Underground. The band exploded onto the indie scene in the UK in 1984-85.Their harsh black leather take on the outside stance offering stark relief to the fey strumming that dominated at the time. Bathed in a dissolute wasp nest of feedback these where howls of romantic nihilism. Simple, short, brutal exercises in the art of the classic pop single. This is Phil Spector¹s wall of sound bashed out by John Cale and Iggy Pop.From the opening scream of Just Like Honey the Reid brothers drop nothing but classic track after classic track. The basic reverb drenched drumming is provided by Bobby Gillespie. His lack of technical ability amplifies the beautiful naivety of the songs. It¹s the battle between the sonic battering and the sweetness of the music that gives the material it¹s power. These are dark places, dank with desperation but brisling with aggression and strident song writing. Anyone with a faint interest in the glory of guitar music should own this record already. If you don¹t have a copy and you love your music loud, difficult and loaded with attitude then buy this album. Revel in its beautiful chaos

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Venus Bogardus

The Venus Bogardus are a something special. When a bands bio is not constructed out of lame cliché after leather trousered cliché but reads like a university critical studies reading list then you know this is different. The bio starts..riot grrl, dada, modernism, absurdism, surrealism, secession, romanticism, that something to make you take notice. Add treated guitars, noise and poise a riot grrl drummer and lashing of artful arrogance and you have something akin to sweet perfection.

Is it me or are the terms of glamorous indie rock n roll seemly becoming more restricted by the hour? Didn’t indie once mean independent of sprit, independent of thought, independent of sound? Well it now means skinny boys in Pete Dochery hats singing bad poetry over punk skiffle. What a relief to find sprit, noise, thought and rigour applied to the form.

This the no-wave jamming with classic pop harmonies. The Jesus and Mary Chain if they owed a book shop instead of living on the dole. Art, noise, heavens above something to write home about.

17 Seconds A Music Blog

Have been trawling through the blog sphere and found this wonderful music blog.
Written with passion, style and elan its a great place to go a read someone writting well about music that moves them.

A Scotmans living in Edinburgh, Ed has a fine way with words and great taste in music. There are reviews of new releases, video links and other gems awaiting you.

Whats keeping you go see:

Mark Eitzel and All The Lost Anchors of the Pacific

Eitzel new band, play music with spooky harmonies and new twist on his old sound. The band features Dan and Jan Carr and Kristin Sobditch. The wonder indiefolkforever have stuck up a couple of tracks from last weeks live debut.

The tracks are All The Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco and Spinning.
Both tracks see Mark in fine form cracking jokes with the crowd.
To hear them go here:

Friday, September 08, 2006

Arab Strap Split

Arab Strap Split

It looks as if those Scottish masters of the miserable and mundane, the mighty Arab Strap have called last orders on their career. I will miss their ability to turn the prosaic into poetic. The stark, often brutal and always honest lyrical approach was something highly original and groundbreaking. Moffat’s revelations on the darker side of desire and the language used where a break from the standard indie issue song writing of the day. The glimpses beneath the filthy bed sheets, the cum stains and come downs broke new ground. If the likes of Pulp alluded to the world of readers wives and affairs Arab Strap documented it without irony or glamour. I for one will miss them.

Ten years on from the release of “The First Big Weekend of The Summer” they have drowned the dregs of their pint glasses for the last time.

A statement on the bands website states:

“There’s no animosity, no drama, we simply feel we’ve run our course and The Last Romance seems to us the most obvious and logical final act of the Arab Strap studio adventure.”

The duo of Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton are now set to focus on their solo careers.

Arab Strap Split

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Mercury Music Prize

My Thoughts on The Mercury’s:

So the Artic Monkeys drunkenly stumbled off with the Mercury Music prize 2006.
Well this is my take on it

(1) The Artic Monkeys where worthy winners (that makes two years in a row for me)
(2) Again I didn’t get to the bookies so lost out on circa £50
(3) Scritti Polliti where great and I have now gone out and bought the record
(4) Richard Hawley seems a lovely bloke but I am glad it didn’t win as Coles Corner could have been written in 1956. ( I am huge fan of it by the way)
(5) The Guillemots looked like a cross between the Grateful Dead and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.
(6) Thom Yorke (YAWN)
(7) Why didn’t Lou Rhodes perform live?
(8) My those Artic Monkeys are young
(9) Why was Jo Whiley pressuring them to give the money away- had seen given her fee to charity one wonders
Since they gave the award to M People they seem to just ignore pop music? Why?
(10) Mark Lanegan is a very scary man.

Friday, August 25, 2006

William Basinski and Richard Chartier’s Untitled

William Basinski and Richard Chartier’s Untitled collaboration is a thing of rare and precious beauty. In a world of chaos and disorder, of audio overload and noise, this is a slowly developing oasis of calm. Analogue, disintegrating, near silence. It’s a post minimalism, post ambient masterpiece. Carved and polished soundscapes that intertwine like river tributaries in spring rain. The sounds slowly unwind and recoil, flicker and ring. The two pieces last nearly an hour but the level of listening, the shifting tone and timbre seems to stretch and fray the very fabric of time. This is music unbound by time scales, rhythm or order. Slight chromic colour changes, repeated musical lines that drift in static bliss but never rest. How such low bass rumbles, drones and loops conjure such abject beauty, such deep melancholy is a mystery. There is a depth here that encourages the listener to switch off from the outside world and float away in its trails of vapour. The flickers of melody, the dark reverberations carry an emotional power a real sense of loss. The friction and atmosphere is holistic and complementary. Allow yourself the time to delve into the sound world on offer here.

Tape Findings

This is a wonderful site I have just discovered that places up found sound, voice recordings and band demos that have been disguarded by their owners. There is hours of amazing found sound here. It will take me weeks to go through it all.
Favorites so far:

1 - Kids Radio DJ 1973 (A young kid putting together is own radio show)
2 - Law Terms (A women hunting for a legal secretary job practicing her legal terms)
3- Astrology 1957 - (A low quality tape with a spooky atomsphere of a guy giving an astrological reading from 1957)

The possibilites are endless with these tapes. Remixing and electronic treatments would warp and bend this source material into different fractured shapes. A real treasure trove.

Welcome to Tape Findings. This site is an archive of one of a kind cassette tape recordings and other odd sounds that I have discovered throughout my years searching thrift stores and garage sales. I hope you find them as fascinating as I do. Enjoy!

Tape Findings

Thursday, August 24, 2006

American Music Club on KCRW

This is a wonderful video of American Music Club on 22 November 2004. The band perform a set of songs from Love Songs for Patriots. On KCRW: Morning Becomes Eclectic.

The tracks are:
1-Another Morning
2- Patriots Heart
3-Myopic Books
4- Only Love Can Set You Free
5- Home
6- Horse Show Wreath in Bloom.

American Music Club on KCRW

Mark Eitzel Podcast

From the same people who filmed the link below is a great 40 minute interview with Mark Eitzel and a few American Music Club and solo songs thrown in.

http://Mark Eitzel PODCAST

I've Been A Mess live in New York

Have just found this link for a wonderful version of American Music Club's I've Been A Mess. Its a live take from the Warsaw in Williamsburg New York. Its American Music Club as a three piece. Mark Eitzel,Danny Pearson on bass and Tim Mooney on drums. Its a storming version and showcases Mark's Eitzels level of emotion comittment to the material....

I've Been A Mess

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New Reviews for Highway Five

More reviews for Highway Five blog.

Some more reviews I have written in the last couple of weeks for The Epoch Times.

First up the Manics James Dean Bradfield and his first solo effort.
  • James Dean Bradfield – The Great Western

  • Next the wonderful power pop of Chancellor Pink.
  • Chancellor Pink – Chancellor Pink
  • Friday, August 18, 2006

    Everclear for Free

    If you have never heard any American Music Club then visit the link below and you can download their classic 1991 LP Everclear.

  • American Music Club - Everclear
  • Classic Mark Eitzel Live in Ireland

    As this blog is named after a song Mark Eiztel wrote. The sublime Highway Five I thought I should add some more Mark Eiztel to the blog.

    The link below takes you to a clip of him performing Sleeping Beauty live on Irish TV. Once you have clicked through on the link you will need to scroll down to the bottom of the page for the clip.

  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Free Wheat

    The band Wheat have posted their first two LP's plus a host of live gigs etc up on this site here.
    This have been posted by the band and are free to download!!


  • Wheat
  • World Association for Ruined Piano Studies

    World Association for Ruined Piano Studies

    Formed in 1991 by Stephen Scott (of Bowed Piano celebrity, and professor of music at Colorado Collage) and Ross Bolleter. The organisation has world-wide membership, has never held an AGM, and tends to move into action only from whim or from a rush of blood. WARPS has devoted energy to giving old pianos a good home, which can certainly mean adequate sunshine and rain, as in.......
    Inactive, neglected, abandoned, weathered, decaying, ruined, devastated, dismembered, decomposed .......

    Visit the website and click on the sounds tab to access loads of free MP3's.
  • World Association for Ruined Piano Studies
  • Monday, August 14, 2006

    New Reviews Lambchop, Espers, Union of Knives

    A Clutch of New Music reviews.

    His a selection of new reviews that I have written lately. They include a review of Lambchop – Damaged, Union of Knives - Violence And Birdsong, The Espers, Transmissionary Six, Junior Boys and The Dears.

    Lambchop – Damaged
    Kurt and Co’s 9th LP, a wonderful heartbreaking collection of Damaged songs.
  • Lambchop - Damaged

  • Union of Knives – Violence and Birdsong
    Scottish bands misfiring attempt to blend rock and dance.
  • Union of Knives – Violence and Birdsong

  • Espers – Espers II
    New weird folk bands second full length LP, that’s frankly not weird enough for me.
  • Espers – Espers II

  • Transmissionary Six – Radar
    Great gloomy masterpiece.
  • Transmissionary Six - Radar

  • The Dears - Ticket To Immortality
    Messy and disappointing new single from the Canadian Smiths
  • The Dears –Ticket To Immortality

  • Junior Boys - In The Morning
    A great return from the masters of mournful disco
  • Junior Boys - In The Morning
  • Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Mono/Noise - wonderful electronics on myspace

    I came across this beautiful music while searching around myspace this week.

    This is the little bit of blurb in his bio:

    mono/noise is the alter ego of Hilmar Már Gunnarsson. Born in Reykjavik but currently living in Copenhagen where he studies multimedia. In-between playing video games and his general lazyness he finds time to write the odd bit of music. He is also a member of the electronic duo Sveimar and three piece Canor wich is currently inactive

    The tracks are stunning, slowing unfolding like a slow dawn.

    Hausfrn which is Icelandic for autumn is perfect. Its opens with a low murmur of electronics that hangs in the air, the rhythm is click a clipped beat. Hilmar slowly adds sounds, textures and sparkling shards of melody. It has the warmth, the haunting feeling if nostalgia that seeps through the work of Boards of Canada. It is seven minutes of bliss.

    Godar Stundir
    is built around a static glitch and a bass sound that bubbles like a stream. Again the melody is sharp but wistful. A bucolic, pastoral electronica. This is electronics painting sunsets and ice covered wastelands not urban sprawl.

    Skynjandi is so minmal its almost absent. From a sample cymbol the track evolves to emcompass a synth part that sounds like an old analogue video game. The notes tapped out in a binary morse code. Its strength lies in the gentle arrangement and hidden textures.

    This is shimmering. Please go listen.


    Short Sharp and too the point

    I am a lover of the vebose and over long music review but I am also a fan of the short one.

    This is a great little site that provides:

    album reviews in 75 words or less
    (but words with 2 letters or fewer do not count)

    Go have a look.

    Monday, July 24, 2006

    Mazen Kerbaj and The Israeli Air Force

    A minimalistic improvisation by Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj 'duetting' with the Israeli Air Force as it bombards Mazen's home city of Beirut. Recorded by Kerbaj on the balcony of his flat in Beirut on the night of 15/16 July 2006.

    Mazen Kerbj is the lynchpin of the nasant Lebanonese impro scene. This piece of sound art was recorded from the balcony of his flat in Beirut. This duet is between Kerbj extreme trumpet playing and the sound of the Israeli Air Force as it bombards his home city on the night of 15/16th July 2006.

    Kerbj use of the trumpet stretches the sound palate of the instrument. This is not playing in the sense of melody or rhythm. The trumpet is used as a source of sounds without recourse to traditional methods. Scraps, clunks, blown air, pops and whacks are the order of the night. The timbres that the trumpet produces sound as if they have been passed through a series of electronic filters but Kerbaj is infamous for the range of sounds he can draw from his instrument. On Rouba3i his playing covers similar non treated realms. The friction of the metal itself, the possibilities of tonal and texture nature of the sounds are explored.

    For all the sound mining and avant garde nature of the Kerbj’s performance it’s the backing track that catches your attention. The sound of aircraft, exploding bombs (some distant, some terrorifly close), post dentionaon sirens, dog barks, car alarms an eerie silences. It’s a six minute trip into the hellish heart of a war zone. The sound of violence. Ultra Red’s attempts to explore acoustic space as enunciative of social relations ripped open by warfare. The Fire This Time unfolding in a live environment.

    After listening to the track on a loop for over an hour I found sleep difficult to achieve but that must be nothing compared to the nightmare of those living in Beirut. I do not have the power or the language skills to describe the power of this piece. Download it and let the impact flow through you.

  • Starry Night (excerpt)

  • Starry Night (excerpt)


  • Mazenkerblog
  • Nick Heywood - Kite 7"

    Nick Heyward – Kite (Epic 1993)

    So here’s the first of my reviews of records that I found abandoned in charity shops, dime stores or car boot sales. Its something I spend to much time doing but its great fun.

    I wasn’t buying this blind or rather deaf. I owed this snapshot of perfect pop on cassette single when it first came out. Somewhere along the line it went missing and when I unearthed it in a pile of 7inch singles it brought a smile to my face.

    The song is constructed around a gloriously infectious acoustic hook. This is a cooling summer breeze of hidden brass and dolorous strings. Nick Heyward always had the knack of penning watertight tunes and on this track he was on top form. Nick Heyward’s story is an interesting one. He split his band Haircut 100 at the peak of their popularity. This was the usual lead singer bigger than the band ego fit. No Nick wanted to escape the clean cut image and commercial straight jacket that success had unwittingly fostered. After some initial success with a more introspective sound Heyward disappeared into the musical hinterland. Kite was a surprise return to the charts as his most successful record in America. It stood out like a shining diamond amongst the grudge sludge in the US in 1993. This was cystal clear, sweet and charming the polar opposite of the dark heavy macho posturing of much of grunge scene. This was lemonade to their methadone, poptastic Beatles to their stained Black Sabbath.

    After a single play on a Saturday afternoon I was still humming it on the following Wednesday evening. Now that what I call a memorable melody. Three minutes and five seconds of top notch pop.

    To watch the video go here

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Yellow Swans

    Yellow Swans – Drift

    Oakland based Yellow Swans have garnered a reputation for their extreme electronic assaults. Their music viewed as a bitter fusion of spastic drum machine rhythms, lashing spilt wire firestorms and shuddering feral pulses. This study in the quieter aspects of the noise genre comes as something of a surprise.

    The Drift is spilt into three long tracks that swell and recede like a computer virus eating away at an aging hard drive. The sound stripped of drums and percussion is a static wave. Swirls of reverb drenched interference, sound modulation and high pitched electronic whine. The extreme nature of the treatment given to the sounds makes it impossible to pinpoint their source. Swells of arching desolated distortion crash against brief clipped bassnotes, strange undulations melt into granular question marks.

    Yellow Swans show remarkable skill for creating space and progression out of shards of electronic detritus. Each movement evolves and decomposes. A dense matted web of sound will build and thicken before shattering into blissful hiss and a slow burning buzz and drone. The fleeting moments of aural overload are buttressed by long periods of drifting beautiful noise. Drift’s swarming electronics, lonely disintegrations flicking sonic spittle and open end vista are a liberation. I have been lost in this for days, dive in and disappear.

    Tony Heywood (c) 2006

    Monday, May 08, 2006

    Million Pound Donut

    They had been rumours circulating in publishing circles that the book publisher
    Bloomsbury’s had forked out a cool million pounds for a pop stars autobiographical
    musings. Even in this age of huge lottery wins and million pound game show prizes in
    struck me as a huge amount to pay. I amidatley started to think who’s story would be
    worth that kind of outlay. It would have to be someone world famous. The story would have to be laced with scandal and controversy. I could only think of Michael Jackson.
    Surely the inside story of his life might command that kind of outlay. He could do with the money as well if rumours are too believed. I thought that was sorted then but no it’s not him. I then started to think of a list of people who might bring some sort of return on that kind of investment. If not Michael Jackson then maybe, Madonna, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, no none of them. Morrissey has been talking about writing his in recent interviews but that would be stupid money to pay for his. Elvis Costello could undoubtly pen a decent one again though he is hardly worth that kind of money. Chris Martin’s (heaven forbid) might demand that kind of cash as it mixes music and ‘A’ list Hollywood. God, it would be as dull as spending a bank holiday in Homebase choosing paint with a group of Nuns. Yet it is none of these. It is and I shit you not, Gary Barlow. Who? Gary Barlow, the rotund, boring song smith from Take That. A million pounds for his autobiography? Bloomsbury’s must be suffering from the kind of lost critical judgement that effected Creation post Oasis. Flushed with the Harry Potter millions they seem to have lost any sense of perspective. Alan McGee’s taste disappeared in a cocaine haze fulled by the cash pouring into Creations accounts. Creation had signed the Jesus and Mary Chain, House of Love, My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream when all where at the top of their game. Post Oasis is was Heavy Stereo for Christ sake. How on earth do Bloomsbury’s think they are going to recoup their million pound payment?

    Rock biographies, like those of famous sports personalities tend to be fairly liner and blander than a low fat ready meal. Few artists really want to wash their dirty linen in public. They white wash, twist the truth and grandstand. Shallow exercises in vain glorious self promotion and that’s the interesting ones. With the stupid exception of the puke stained and outrageous Dirt by motley Crue few are worth reading. They tend to be a greater waste of paper than even bloody sudoki. It’s the unofficial biographies that really dig the dirt. The Albert Goldman exposes of Elvis being the both the greatest and most unsavory of the lot.

    Autobiographies of bands or artist are interesting enough to begin with. The details of the formation of a band, the first time they knew they could write songs, the heady rush of fame. Unfortunately they then play out with the regularity of an English penalty shoot out. You don’t need to read as you know what happens next. Album, tour, album, tour,
    breakdown, divorce, album, tour, album repeat till end of book.

    I can’t see that Gary Barlow’s will be even that interesting. The band where never a
    bunch of school mates battling against the odds to succeed, you are not going to be
    routing for them to escape from their dead end lives. I am certainly not holding my
    breath regarding his song writing secrets. Those lighting flashes of inspiration that fired the likes John Lennon or Marvin Gaye will be entirely absent. Close your eyes and try and sing a Take That song from memory. See what I mean.

    Barlow from what I can remember is a child of showbiz and even won some awful Saturday morning kids TV compertion to pen a Christmas song. That’s how unrock and roll he is. Can you imagine Noel Gallagher or for that matter Shayne Ward bothering with that aged eleven. They would have been out shop lifting or getting drunk on cheap cider.

    When Barlow’s career began to stall, which was after his second solo single, he resorted to a kind of Take That kiss and tell. He admitted to taking ecstasy coke and sleeping with groupies. Shit, shock, horror really Gary. You where in the biggest boy band of your generation and that’s all you indulged in. The band on the bottom of the bill at The Bull and Gate behave worse than that. Odd that those revelations appeared in the sun just in time for the release of your second LP wasn’t it. To make it an even mildly diverting read its going to have to contain levels of debauchery that would make Caligula blush.

    I guess he will surprise us by saying that Robbie Williams has a few issues! That Robbie just needs to be loved and that Gary holds no grudges. For someone who seems so driven by the idea of music as business as opposed to art I can’t buy that. The bloke used to buy the top forty to listen to the songs in an attempt to mathically dissect what made them work, why they had become hits, what was the magic formula. He doesn’t have the music in his soul but in his wallet and in his brain. I am sure he sits at home sticking pins in one of those freaky Robbie Take That dolls. I don’t know anything about the book trade but surely Bloomsbury’s money would have been better spent giving 100 new authors a £10,000 development cheques.

    Good luck then Bloomsbury you are going to need it. Next time you want to snap up an
    autobiography of a pop star then trying thinking of someone who has had a hit record this century. I am sure there are interesting stories out there. Why they didn’t think of Pete Docherty is beyond me.

    Tony Heywood (c) 2006

    Love Music Hate Racism

    Love Music Hate Racism is the snappily titled campaign that is aiming to use music as a tool to combat racism and the rise of the BNP and far right in the UK. In these increasingly fraught and heavy days I am continually astonished by the lack of any kind of political discourse in the world of music. The NME in the late 70’s and early 80’s was aflame with political passion. Every band and artist featured in its pages seemed to stand in opposition to the right wing agenda of the time. Manifestos seemed more common than bass players. Compare that to the present day where being famous and rich enough to develop a serious drug habit seems to be the limit of most bands ambition.

    The talk of the current crop of big name ‘indie’ bands picking up the baton from the post punk artists always seems to neglect one fact. The artists in the first wave of post punk were mixing complex cultural criticism, Marxism and melody. The love song was deconstructed, the economic system questioned, the fabric of consumerism torn to shreds. Now we get songs about pulling at a party, taking drugs, how much we hate our old band mates…. all fairly shallow and self-centred. Where are all the protest songs? Where are those standing up for the disenfranchised?

    Red Wedge seemed to give this sort of thing a bad name. Mixing pop and politics seemed to be regarded as the realm of the arcane and old. Bless Billy Bragg for still composing impassioned songs about the issues of the age. I worried that the Bard of Barking was a throw back to a bygone era. Just a single man and his cheap guitar battering back the forces of fascism. Thank heavens he kept the faith.

    See Billy Bragg has always been a huge fan of soul music and has learnt from it’s power. Music can unite, heal, and win hearts and minds. It is a powerful tool for progress and I am glad that people seem to have remembered that at last. Love Music Hate Racism is staging a number of gigs in the coming week to spread the anti-racism message before the local elections.

    Stars of the Grime scene, Lethal Bizzle, Roll Deep and DJ Statik along with the likes of Mylo, David Gray, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat are lending their support to the cause. In a week that has seen yet another racially motivated murder, this one in Sheerness in Kent, then the gigs can’t come soon enough. I can only hope that this flowering of political consciousness will result in a volatile mix of music and politics coming back into vogue. From the moment Richie Edwards disappeared any kind of wider debate about culture or politics begin to disappear from music. Even leftfield music. The Manics began an all too understandable retreat into self doubt. Post-Riche the politics were still there but they became less biting and more reflective.

    You can fully understand why the Manics pulled back, but the retreat of Primal Scream seems less understandable. Bobby Gillespie has always talked a good fight and they have been very supportive of left wing issues. Yet somehow Gillespie’s politics have always felt more like a gesture than a real commitment. I can’t see it any other way after they renamed the track previously titled Bomb the Pentagon. If the sentiments of the track were true before 9/11 then surely they were true after it. If they hated American Imperialism before 9/11 and they still hate it now then why suddenly keep quiet? Or was it just teenage rebellion dressed up as politics? When the reality hit home the band had a change of heart? Maybe or maybe they just shat their clichéd leather kecks thinking it could end their career. Then they would have to stop taking drugs, hanging out with supermodels or going to Elton John’s wedding. Nothing more than the musical equivalent of wearing a Che Guevara t-shirts down the student union bar.

    But not everyone bottles it. The hostile reactions that have followed acts as diverse as the Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen in The States are testament to that. Some artists seem to be willing to risk their livelihoods in the name of an ideal. To stand up and be counted whatever the cost. Who would have dreamed that the Dixie Chicks are more rock n roll than Primal Scream?

    So if you live near one the gigs in the coming weeks then get down there and show your support. On there is a wealth of information about helping out, staging your own gig, etc…Agitate, educate, organise…….

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    The Rebirth of the Single ?

    Gnarls Barkley's ‘Crazy’ topped the single charts on the strength of download only sales. The physical formats of the single only hit the shelves once the track has hit the top spot. It has been argued in some quarters that this signals the end of the single. This is plainly idiot speak. The reality is surely the other way round; this is the start of a new golden era for the single.
    The growing success of downloads makes access to the charts much easier for unsigned bands. Who needs a record company to package and market your product when you can do it all yourself. It strips away the costs of mastering and pressing up CD's, the hassle of finding a distributor.
    The means of production are now firmly in the hands of those making the music. It’s the punk ideal in reality. For all its DIY rhetoric the two standard bearers of punk, The Sex Pistols and The Clash both signed to major labels. They were co-opted into the machine and became marketed rebellion. Now bands can really control the whole process. Karl Marx inside Windows XP. Bands subverting the capitalist system, using technological progress to seize control.
    We could be harking back to a period of time pre-Beatles when the single was king. The art of the perfect single reborn; no longer relegated to a subservient role of an advert to promote the money spinning LP. Now the single can become a beautifully executed piece of work in its own right again. The new DIY ascetic could shatter the stifling Dad Rock/Cheesy Pop orthodoxy that currently seems to dominate both the charts and mainstream media. Six Music with its tag line of 'Closer to the music that matters.' Is a prime example of why Gnarls Barkley's success is so welcome.
    The 'that matters' bit that pisses me off. Matters to whom? The sanctified tastemakers of 6 Music? Their listeners? It confers certain smugness, an elitist musical snobbery that’s sad. Oh get your head out of your arse please. We’re not still in school are we? Where the ‘cool’ kids listen to music that the chavs don't get. Now that attitude can be excused in the heady flush of youth. When you are still groping around in the dark for your sense of identity, music can be a powerful tool to define your self-image. Surely that mentality, like drinking snake bite and religious buying of the NME its something you grow out of.
    Don’t get me wrong, I do listen to 6 Music and even enjoy it sometimes. It’s a guilty pleasure though and leaves the same sort of awkward feeling you get from laughing at fat people or seeing someone fall over in the street. Why? Well because it peddles soft focus indie nostalgia. I love the Pixies and hearing them blare out of the radio as I have my morning coffee can be a thrill but the reality is that this is 2006 and maybe something new wouldn’t go a miss.
    The daytime play list at 6 Music conforms to a very straight and uniform idea of kind of music ‘matters’. This is just a random section copied and pasted from Vic McGlynn’s daytime show last week:

    Richard Ashcroft - Music Is Power (14:44)
    The Auteurs - Lenny Valentino (14:48)
    Ron Sexsmith - Former Glory (14:52)
    Belle & Sebastian - The Blues Are Still Blue (14:59)
    Jonathan Richman / Modern Lovers - Roadrunner (Once) (15:05)
    Coldcut / Roots Manuva - True Skool (15:09)
    The Icicle Works - Evangeline. (15:12)
    The Cure - Catch (15:17)
    The Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatrist (15:33)
    Jose Gonzalez - Crosses (15:37)
    The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health (15:42)
    Franz Ferdinand - The Fallen (15:48)
    The Manic Street Preachers - Slash And Burn (15:50)

    In over an hours worth of music only the harsh blue electronics of Knife and the cut and copy magpie instincts of Coldcut deviate from what is basically a guitar led, indie circa 80-90 view of music. There is nothing there to jolt or inspire, nothing to incite or annoy. It plays safer than Chelsea with a 1-0 lead.
    Those selections imply that for music to ‘matter’ it needs to have guitars, a male vocalist and ‘mean it man’. Guitars = depth. Oh really.
    So The Cure's ‘Catch’ has a deeper message than Eminem’s ‘Mosh’? Richard Ashcroft's hollow blustering music has more worth than American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson? I don’t hear it. It’s such a reductive and luddite way to program a music station. I’ve always been amazed by old school Goth’s disdain of heavy metal. Goth is just metal with pretensions as art. Christ, it’s the same music, Goth is metal for posh kids in the A stream. All you need to do is Swap metal themes of goblins, girls and denim for Goethe, Dracula and eyeliner. The problem is these kids have grown up to run radio stations, work in A&R and edit the monthly music magazines. It's a shame then that their attitude to music hasn’t evolved beyond the school gates.
    The preaching to the converted allows everyone to coast, it stifles progress. The mythical £50 man can spend his dosh on re-issues of CD’s that he already owns and on new artists that sit comfortable within the boundaries of what he already knows and likes. Franz Ferdinand are simply a Showaddywaddy or Shakin Steven’s for the post punk generation. They are peddling a facsimile of the past as some kind of modernism. For pink zoot suits and brothel creepers read stripy t-shirts and skinny fit jackets. The same cocktail just mixed in new way.
    The new Massive Attack collection is a tragic example of believing that guitars bestow gravitas. They once produced music full of soul, blended reggae with hip-hop and a blistering sense of time and place. As the core of the group fragmented and 3D gained creative control the guitars arrived and magic departed along with the beats. They became a below average guitar band when they had once been forging a whole new future for British music.
    With the rise of Myspace and digital downloads the revolution could be just the beginning. The smug elitist tastemakers in radio stations, A&R departments and those glossy monthly magazines should wake up. This really could be the start of something.

    Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    Decline of Record Shops in The UK

    I was saddened to see that Replay Records in Bath has finally succumbed to the inevitable and is set to close its door's for the last time. It will leave Bath without a decent independent record shop. Reply just seems to be the latest in a long line of indie record shops that are disappearing up and down the country faster than Posh's career options. I will miss Reply for a myriad of reasons. I swear when the shop staff left of a night the 12"vinyl got down and dirty with the hip-hop imports. The racks of vinyl seemed to create new sub-genres of dance music all the time. Cross breeding and birthing, glitchhouse, dark-core, slow core, dark hard step gabba….

    Reply was more than a record shop. It was an informal space for all things musical in the local area. All the available space in the shop seemed to be splattered in Day-Glo posters, flyers, hand stapled fanzines, appeals for bass players into 'Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul & Mary' and in recent years a set of DJ decks for sale.

    The staff where always willing to pop upstairs and then like a cross between Harry Potter and Shaggy from Scooby Do produce a copy of the new LP from Warp or Matador a week in advance of its official release. That's not the type of service you receive in the hollow acres of Fopp where emphasis is on price slashing and shifting units. Fopp strike me as an soundclash of Tesco and Starbucks. A ruthless business dressed up in bondage trousers and a Coldplay t-shirt.

    For all my wistful nostalgia about Reply's decline I am as complicit in it's downfall as hubris has been in Tony Blair's. Why? Well, I am in love with the downloaded MP3 and FLAC file. The ease in which you can gain access to the music you have just heard or read about, the portability of the tracks, the ease of the whole process. When you need to buy a Wedding Present b-side from 1988 at 10.00pm for that mix cd you’re compiling for your mate, not a problem. Log on, punch in the details, sit back and in a matter of seconds it's all done.

    Gaining access to tracks is never going to be an issue in the age of iTunes and Napster. The information about gigs, up and coming bands, DJ sets has been streamlined and delivered into your inbox via mailing lists. Myspace is a wonderful tool for searching out new bands. I just wish you could build in some kind of influence filter. For god’s sake, if you can't play in time at least be honest in your stumbling and shambolic performance. If you sound like you have just met please don't claim to sound like Beatles.

    The one thing I will really miss about Reply is the way that the staff were so well informed and loved their job. They could guide you towards something they knew you'd love because they remembered what you bought and were able to recommend stuff to you. It something I thought I'd lost forever until someone pointed towards

    Pandora is an online radio station with a clever twist. You control the play list. The simple interface prompts you to enter an artist or song you like and then attempts to build up a roster of other tracks it thinks you will admire. I must admit before I tried the site out I was stuck by the kind of weary cynicism that must flow through Nancy Dell'Olio on a Sunday morning. Surely it's just a thinly disguised marketing tool. That bit on Amazon where they suggest CD you might like with if not knobs then buttons on.
    Niche marketing dressed up as innovation.

    So it was with a sense of detachment that I typed my first entry into Pandora. I was tempted to play the indie snob and type in some obscure 80's band that only ever issue one 7" single on Sarah Records. I decided this was pointless so went for a big fish and started with REM.

    Impressed? Me. Pandora starts by selecting a track by the artist you entered. Amazingly it didn't pull up Everyone Hurts or heaven forbid Shinny Happy People, no the REM track it started with was Beat A Drum (Dalkey Demo). It's the b-side of Imitation of Life. (I had to look it up, I am not that sad). REM were followed by some Morrissey and Golden Smog.

    Okay a fair reflection of an REM fans taste but not rocket science and it hasn't help me find any new music. All straight lines, no interesting detours. Then Pandora pulled up two bands I've never heard of Honey Dogs and Cardinal Trait both jangled and emoted in way that would win the hearts of those in thrall of Mr Stipe and co.

    Time then I thought for something a little more extreme. I tried Big Black, uber producer Steve Albini’s first hardcore band. After the pluming Big Black track ‘Jordan, Minnesota’ Pandora treated us to some Fugazi, Bloodstains and Germs. All suitably post punk trashy and dense. It seemed as if Pandora really worked, acting as a well-informed conduit for music knowledge. I then noticed the guide us tab on the screen.

    The 'Guide Us' function allows you to add in a variety of other bands or tracks to your selection in an attempt to really gauge your musical taste. Lovely, the chance to recreate the John Peel shows from the mid 1980's. I quickly added in The Swans, The Fall, The Smiths, Lee Perry, New Order and The Wedding Present. A pretty fair selection of Peel's favourites from the time I thought.

    Now Pandora did seem to struggle, it was fine with Lee Perry and played a great selection of some dub, no issue with The Fall or even The Wedding Present. It pulled Hefner, Fairweather, Pavement, British Sea Power and Chikinki from its record box (well database) but it then started to go rather giddy. It seemed to be New Order and A Certain Ratio that confused it. New Orders disco melancholy was followed by Wang Chung, Steven 'Tin Tin' Duffy and Ric Ocasek. It had the makings of a soundtrack to some brat pack film starting Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. A Certain Ratio detoured down to Southend sea front for an 80's soul weekender. All funk-lite in the form of The Tubes and Modern English, it was hellish. I am sure Satan plays slap bass. I then discovered that you can only fast forward through so many tracks an hour due to licensing restrictions. The trick was to add in another band so I chucked The Field Mice into the mix. This seemed to bring things back onto an even Peel (sorry I couldn't resist that.)

    So I went looking for something to replace the bespoke service I used to receive in Reply and found the cyber ghost of John Peel. Now if only it would play tracks at the wrong speed and talk with compassion and humour about Liverpool FC and then we may really be onto something.

    The radio station I 'created' is here:

    Tony Heywood (C)2006

    (In order to unlock Pandora you will need an American zip code. These are not difficult to find on goggle.)

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    Belong - October Music

    Belong - October Music

    My father once had a job whacking rust off the inside of a ship’s hull with a large metal hammer. The rust matted his hair, stuck to his skin and coated his tongue. Each swing of the hammer was followed by huge dank reverberations and further showers of rust. The sound was amplified in the cavernous darkness of the ship’s depths. It seemed to feed on itself. Each return was heavier and more saturated. The ungodly sound freaked him out so much that he didn’t go back after lunch. It haunted his nightmares for weeks. If I played him October Music I am sure it would unearth the memories of that morning and return him to his misspent youth in London.

    The soundtrack of my father’s nightmare is bliss to me. October Music is full of static despair, vapour trails of twilight, ghosts of some forgotten form of sleep. This is music as fractured drift; melting icecaps, frost bitten gold. The music is a slow revel, creeping like ivy over an abandoned house. Snatches of iridescent harmony collide with disintegrating chords. The music swirls, repeats and dissolves in a luminous blanket of fuzz and distortion. Imagine William Basinski remixed by My Bloody Valentine or Pluramon scored by Morton Feldman.

    New Orleans duo Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones recorded October Music in Dietrich's bedroom studio. The lush textures and sly chromatic shifts belie such humble origins. Sounds are processed and warped, morphed into new tones and timbres. The tracks swim in gentle waves of noise. This is Post Rock atom splitting. The tried and tiresome tension and release, anti-climax and crescendo of much of the genre has been fractured and dispersed here. Melodies are disrupted, classical progressions rupture and split open, spilling out shards of retracted noise.

    Dividing the LP into tracks seems perverse, as it should be heard as a single movement. There is drama here but it’s found in the Pinter like pauses, the sudden volume losses, the U-turns and disintegration.

    The gentle sound of organ washes ushers in the Never Lost Never Really, the organ tones hang suspended before being slowly and beautifully engulfed in swarms of guitar. The processed signals die away before resurfacing in a series of complex reverberations. It’s the sound of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room rewired through a guitar and a series of broken effects pedals.

    The beauty of the title track resides in the repeating of a buried and blurred motif that could be a guitar, a string section or the sigh of an angel. The track uncoils from skeletal electric hum, through the echoing of single notes to silence and back again. It’s the sounds of the slow insatiable decay of metal by time. Rust never sleeps, time never ceases, corrosion is endemic.

    October Music unfurls like a winter morning, the details hidden beneath fog. The tiny sonic details appear only on closer listening. When you lose yourself inside it you can hear the sine waves that shimmer through All Equal Now, the strung out bass notes that sound like a burnt out star on I’m Too Sleepy, Shall We Swim. The epic The Door Opens Another Way is like heartbreak dropped into a Dichroic prism. Refracted melancholy and white noise heaven.

    It is a while since I have been so bewitched by a piece of music. This cleanses the soul. Allow yourself to bathe in its liberating phosphorescent light. Disappear for forty minutes inside Belong’s shattered world. This is perfect.

    Tony Heywood (C) March 2006

    Wednesday, March 15, 2006

    Chart Hype - The Modern Way!

    Crushed by the wheels of industry. The Modern and chart hype.

    UK retro glamsters The Modern have been unceremoniously thrown out of the singles chart. They have been found guilty of attempting to fix their chart position by bulk buying both CD’s and downloads. The band crash landed in the chart last week at number 13. I don’t think it would have been the sales patterns that alerted the OCC to the fix but the simple fact that a record so shockingly awful could have entered the chart that high.

    Chart rigging is an art form that has been perfected by record companies over the years. As an ex record shop employee I have been known to not scan certain records through the reader in a vain hope of lowering chart positions and scan a few sly ones for my favourite artists. Working for what was one of the big chains at the time I never got offered bribes but friends who worked in local independent shops did. Free t-shirts, cd’s or gig tickets where offered in exchange for a few extra swipes of the light pen. This was in the age before electronic tills, yes I am that old.

    Payola Scandals (paying for airplay) are as old as rock n’ roll itself. In 1959 the first major investigation in payola began and it quickly gathered evidence that resulted in 25 DJ’s being charged. The highest profile casualties of the scandal where Dick Clark and Alan Freed. Freed the John the Baptist of rock n roll refused to accept or deny the claims had it ruined his career.

    Payola is not consigned to history. In 2000 a Texas Radio station was fined $2,000 for being paid to play Bryan Adams records. Its likely that the fine would not have even been the cost of a single play that the station charged. In July 2005 Song/BMG settled with the New York attorney general Elliott Spitzer to the tune of $10 million. According to some unnamed sources, the pay-for-play was quite overt with one Sony executive saying that "Please be advised that in this week's Jennifer Lopez Top 40 Spin Increase of 236 we bought 63 spins at a cost of $3,600.

    The UK market in the 80’s used the mass marketing of singles in order to promote/force records further up the charts. Singles released in a varity of format, single, picture disc, coloured vinyl, poster pack, double 7” single the list was almost endless.

    The result was that the chart company now restricts formats to only three styles of release. One of these must still be a physical format such as CD, vinyl or cassette. The Gorllias reportedly released just 300 copies of the single "Feel Good Inc." in a 7" vinyl format only in order to get the single into the lower reaches of the chart three before the download became available. It was a kind of promo release with chart in its sights.

    The Official Chart Company issued the following statement regarding the modern;

    During the course of last week OCC's market research agency identified unusual sales patterns related to the physical formats of this release. Further security checks revealed that significant bulk purchases had been made on this single through one online retailer.

    Many of the bulk sales identified were traced to persons and/or organisations seemingly connected to the band. For this reason OCC took the decision to disqualify the record from the chart published on Sunday (March 12) as the vast majority of sales could not be verified as genuine purchases by music buyers.

    The OCC added that while they make small allowances for keen fans trying to improve their favourite band's chart placings, in this instance "standard data checks revealed hundreds of copies being purchased by a handful of individuals. Under these circumstances to preserve the integrity of the Official Top 40 the action was taken to remove the single from the chart

    So the Modern’s problem seems to be the stupidity of the method that they used and not the fact that they where cheating the system.

    Mind the records are so poor that they where bound to get caught.

    For reviews of the last two Modern singles go here:

  • Industry

  • Jane Falls Down

  • Tony Heywood 2006 ©

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    Smash Hits RIP

    In 1978 former NME writer Nick Logan birthed Smash Hits on his kitchen table. The first issues cover star was Plastic Bertrand, and Logan so unsure of the magazine he edited it under the pseudonym Chris Hall. He shouldn’t have worried as the Magazine went on to both mirror and shape the pop music of the 1980’s. Its colour posters became wallpaper for teenagers bedrooms. The real revolution was securing the rights to print the lyrics to ‘Smash Hit’of the day. These lyrical crib sheets rested between the pages of school textbooks. Scanning the words to Nik Kershaws ‘The Riddle’ held a greater appeal to me than studying my French verbs.

    Smash Hits was my first introduction to the wonderful world of the music press. Interviews and record reviews showed a wonderfully naïve and witty take on the world of pop. What they may have lacked in terms of critical analysis they more than made up for with humour, pathos and the ability to show no respect for reputation. My distrust of Paul Weller stems from the amount of abuse he suffered at the hands of Smash Hits. He was ridiculed for his angst-ridden approach to music. He came across as Rik from the Young Ones, the people poet with a guitar. Although I admire Jam I don’t love them as I feel maybe I should and Weller’s post Jam music leaves me cold.

    Posh, Ginger, Scary, Sporty and Baby owe a great deal of their brand image to Smash Hits. The nicknames came from the pen of a writer at Smash Hits, plain Mel, Mel, Emma, Victoria and Geri doesn’t have the same ring to it does it.

    So why has it died on its feet? Well the landscape of pop has been rapidly changing. The rise of the Internet has provided a free source of lyrics. Britpop crossed over into the mainstream media and much of what was special about the music press started to wither. Oasis and Blur where everywhere so there was no need to seek out something like Smash Hits for coverage.

    The irreverent style that had won Smash Hits so many fans. Typical question; what colour is Thursday? Is sadly misplaced in this media trained era. Stars can’t stray from the script that the PR people had given them, they parrot out the same answers across a wide range of publications. Why did you need Smash Hits if the same points are made in Heat or The Daily Mail. In stripping bands of any semblance of personality record companies have not only diluted the colour in the charts but murdered the cut and thrust of the pop music press.

    In the past Morrissey would drop quotes about Oscar Wilde or colour of his underwear. It was via Smash Hits that I first came across, Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, The Cure, The Mission and a cast of 1000’s. The publication did have bite. On an assignment to interview New Order, the bands surly reaction and unfriendly nature resulted in a piece that allegedly cost Barney Sumner his marriage. Bizarre Love Triangle made flesh.

    It seems odd with Arctic Monkeys defining a tipping point where organic pop seems to be replacing the manufactured variety that Smash Hits has gone now. I guess the NME has stolen the ground that Smash Hits once owned. If they printed song lyrics then the NME would be Smash Hits in indie clothing.

    I doubt Smash Hits will be missed as music has been replaced by a general idea of celebrity at the centre of youth culture. The shifting of Top of The Pops to a Sunday is another sign of this. Heat covers this new ground well and should be praised for its stance on weight issues. Not a week goes by without them attacking celeb’s for being too skinny or praising women who are not afraid to be curvy.

    It always sad when any form of printed media folds. It means less voices, less opinion and less choice. I hope someone sat at a desk at the NME is dream of a new pop magazine……..

    Tony Heywood

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    California - American Music Club

    American Music Club rank alongside Big Star as one of the great-lost treasures of American music. The glowing press that they received was the kind that the likes of U2 can only pray for. Despite all the accolades, bandleader Mark Eitzel once won the Rolling Stone songwriter of the year, they never managed to convert their critical acclaim into sales.
    Formed in San Francisco in 1983, from the remnants of Eitzel’s art rock band The Naked Skinnies and various local musicians that the new guitarist Vudi handpicked for Eitzel. The bands debut "The Restless Stranger", a turgid new wave mess, offered no hints of the wonders to come. By their sophomore effort, The Engine, the band had started to find their sound. The songs were becoming stronger and the lyrics had added bite. American Music Club, at this time sounded like an above average US indie rock band cast from the same mould as Thin White Rope and Husker Du.
    When the time came to record California, Eitzel’s personal circumstances had changed. He had moved to one of San Francisco’s less salubrious areas. A down at heal neighbourhood of bedsits, bars and strip joints populated by the lost, broken, drunk and lonely. Perfect grist to the mill for a songwriter with Eitzel eye for the dispossessed.
    Eitzel had also changed his listening habits in a conscious attempt to strip the traces of "rock" from the songs he was writing. Overdosing on Nick Drake records, the demo’s that he brought to the band where radically different from anything he had preciously attempted. Many where not "songs" at all, in the conventional sense, just tiny fragments of despair, lacking choruses or even chord progressions.
    The recording of the album was an arduous and fraught affair. When composing the demo’s Eitzel had used a series of strange open tunings on his guitar and he struggled to convey the sound that he heard in his head to the band. The producer Tom Mallon pushed the band to breaking point, recording and re-recording everything from the simplest guitar break to the smallest drum beat until he felt that he had perfectly captured the essence of the songs. Often Eitzel’s throat would bleed after repeated attempts to find the vocal performance that Mallon was seeking. Mallon even resorted to cutting up hundreds of strips of the master tapes and piecing them together in an attempt to bring one of the tracks into time. As the recording wore on the tension between the band and their producer increased. The problems stemmed from the fact that Mallon owned both the studio they recorded in and the record label. As Mallon allowed the band to record for free and they all had day jobs, the arrangement placed all the power in his hands. Mallon felt that because he was investing so much of his own time, money and energy into the project he should have total control. The band increasingly believed that he was abusing his position and was pushing them to hard.

    Despite the tension of the recording sessions the finished LP was astounding. From the moment that Bruce Kaplan’s mournful, elegiac, pedal steel guitar ushers in the opening bars of Firefly its obvious that the hard work had paid handsome dividends. California fused Eitzel’s stories of loss, regret and loneliness to a sound that echoed his obsessions. The album reverberates to the haunting sounds of empty spaces, brooding silences, quite eddies of feedback and washes of pedal steel guitar.
    Mark Eitzel was a born in Walnut Creak California but spent the majority of his life in transit. His father was in the US Navy. As a result the young Eitzel spent time living in a variety of locations, including a period of his youth in Southampton just as punk was exploding in the UK. Eitzel’s vision of California is far removed from the picture postcard ideals of Baywatch, The Beach Boys and Disneyland. Having moved back west, to California from Ohio, Eitzel found it as barren, sallow and unforgiving as the Joad family in John Steinbecks Grapes of Wrath.
    In the opening "Firefly" Eitzel uses the insect, of the title, as a metaphor for his view on the flitting nature of love. Built around a sonorous pedal steel riff he sings "Just a flash and then its gone/…here an gone/Firefly..". Kaplans wonderful playing is all the more remarkable as he turned up at the sessions only as a favor to Vudi. When he arrived he hadn’t ever heard the song and improvised the haunting melody on the spot.
    Following "Firefly" the songs start to unfold in a myriad of images with drinking as a central theme. Not drinking as celebration but as desperation, as the only way to deaden the pain, the only way to make life barable. The protagonists of "Lonely" and "Somewhere" seek salvation in cocktail bars and anywhere that there is alcohol and "people living".
    Between the relatively conventional sounding country rock of "Lonely" and "Somewhere" is "Laughing Stock". The songs wide-open spaces and oppressive pauses are the first indications of the oblique sonic palate that the band where now employing. When Eitzel’s burnished golden voice sings mid way through that your "just a couple of strangers in a bar giving me the chance to explain myself away…" you can hear the sound of loneliness echo out through time. The track comes to a false end and hangs in silence for seconds before a ghostly coda of muted feedback and strummed guitars finally close it out.
    The first side of the LP concludes with "Pale Skinny Girl", the tale of a loner who takes her "first walk out into the wasteland" and "never sees daylight". On "Blue and Grey Shirt"; a weary Eitzel is seeking an explanation of a failed affair before moving on, because "there’s nothing to keep me hanging around here / from now on…"
    The raging, drunken "Bad Liquor" is the sound of closing time made flesh. A weazy mouth organ and huge Dwaine Eddie riff blasting out 1:57 of ugly, demon drink vented bad spleen. The pathos in the lyrics tempers the misanthropic feeling of the track. Eitzel’s self-depreciating wit is evident in lyrics throughout the LP, raising the songs above self-indulgent misery.
    The drunken barrage of "Bad Liquor", is followed by the hungover "Now Your Defeated". The song starts at a gently pace, an acoustic guitar ushering in Eitzel voice as he sings" Well I thought there’s more to life than finishing a drink", but you know he doesn’t think there is. The song gradually builds, Dan Persons bass provides a melancholy undertow until Tom Mallon’s cymbals’ crash in like sharp sunlight invading a hangover and Eitzel mumbles the payoff line "now your defeated baby / your worth more to me than gold…"
    California closes with a quartet of songs as spell binding, beautiful and bleak as anything ever recorded. Over a gentle finger picked guitar refrain "Jenny" is the sound of Nick Drake relocated to Edward Hoppers lonely American hinterland. Eitzel stuck at "another stupid party again/ celebration of nothing ". Sick of the party, afraid to go home, afraid of his own company he pleads in weary whisper "Jenny don’t go home now, please don’t go home now…" Vudi’s accordion then shades the track with the briefest of murmurs it sounds like Eitzel’s heart breaking.
    The majestic minor key grace of "Western Sky" follows. The song opens with the lines "Time for me to go away/ I’ll get a new name/ I’ll get a new face/time for me to go away/no I don’t belong in this place…" Like Bruce Springsteen’s "Dancing In The Dark" refracted through a shattered empty whiskey glass. Once again Bruce Kaplans pedal steel, shadowed by Dan Pearson’s base, provides a shimmering vibrant refrain to Eitzel’s longing for escape. Eitzel knows that the prosaic nature of day to day living can wring all the pleasure out of life that treading water saps your inner strength. This is reflected when he sings "All the beauty’s has left your face/That’s such an easy thing to give away/ That’s impossible to replace." With life passing them by, hope is the only thing left to cling onto but hope is always just over the horizon, "Shining forever in the western sky…"
    California’s bleakest track is the remarkable Highway Five. So distilled are the sentiments of despair and anomie that the song could slot onto Joy Divisions "Closer" or The Manic Street Preachers "Holy Bible". "Highway Five" is the main road that runs through California like a spine. Eitzel had traveled down it on his return to the sunshine state. Instead of finding the utopia that he was seeking in California, Eitzel found his personal Sodom and Gormora. After the whispered intro, Vudi’s guitar starts to menace the song like a growing storm, whipping up vapor trails of melody that are drenched in feedback. The track rises on the burgeoning cacophony. Then abruptly the guitar disappears from the mix and claustrophobic silence rushes in. Over the void Eitzel cries, " To the left the beautiful California landscape dead ends in the sky/ To the right the beautiful mountains rise high and dry/ Another futile expression of bitterness/ Another overwhelming sensation of uselessness…" Vudi’s guitar starts to build again from stratch, the songs rising as Eitzel sings "Make pretend that the lover ain’t so barren/but in Los Angeles things like that don’t matter..", the track then begins to dissolve amongst Vudi’s giant distorted riff like a plane heading for a crash landing.
    The closing track on the LP, "Last Harbor", was inspired by a rain lashed Christmas Day, that Eitzel spent wandering the streets of San Francisco, alone.
    The specter of Nick Drake is audible in the songs fragile guitar motif. The track offers a brief glimpse of hope. Eitzel, optimist, that despite his loneliness he may have finally found some consolation and a final resting place. "A Last Harbor" at the very edge of the world. The intimate vocal draws you slowly in. Eitzel sense of relief is tempered by his restless nature as he wonders " Failing I can’t see the bottom/Are you gonna be/My last harbor/Harbor…". The solace that he has found maybe temporary, as he is only too aware of closing time desperation. A night with anyone is better than another night alone and he knows "She’ll make it real easy for you/ all you have to do is remember her name/ she’s almost your passport to the world/she’s almost your ticket back out again.." The sensitively picked guitar melody slowly disappears into silence and Eitzel voice drifts away to a faint whisper.
    The American Music Club LP’s that followed California all contained killer material. The bleak "United Kingdom" (1989) housed "Kathleen", Eitzel paean to his long-term muse, Kathleen Burns. Somehow the LP lacked he bruised humanity of California but it is still classic American Music Club. The band then spilt from Tom Mallon and the subsequent records would never sound the same. The post Mallon LP’s contained some of the bands strongest songs but they where lost in a mire of overproduction; a series of misguided attempts to turn them into a straight rock band. Eitzel thought that "Everclear" (1991) made them sound like Bon Jovi.
    The band split after the half-hearted compromise of "San Francisco ", in 1996, when the lack of success and dearth of money finally killed them off. Mark Eitzel has pursued a varied solo career, his jazz flavored debut "60 Watt Silver Lining"(1996) the highlight. Some of the remaining members of American Music Club formed Clodhopper who released their debut LP, "Red’s Recovery Room" in 1999. The record proved the American Music Club dynamics where still there but they lacked killer songs. Eitzel has a record ready for release but cannot find a label. Someone do they world a favor and let as hear a little more of his genius.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Black Russian?
    Vodka (preferably Russian)
    Coffee Liqueur
    1. Pour 1 ½ oz. Vodka into a tumbler filled with Ice.
    2. Add ¾ oz. Coffee Liqueur
    3. Stir.
    4. This drink looks jaunty with a swizzle stick in it, but don't worry if you don't have any.