Things are going a bit slow here at the moment, largely because things are far too full-on elsewhere. There’s a definite disparity in the work-life balance here, and that can never be seen to be right. So while I try to address that, this week shall be mostly comprised of EPs and quiet things as that’s all my attention span can cope with while all else goes mad around me. This whatever also reflects the lunacy of the past couple of weeks, but I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about and nothing that a bit of a sleep can’t remedy.
Elliott Smith – Waltz #2-XO
As there seems to be for so many musicians now, a documentary is on the way about Elliott Smith. This of course is a good thing as if it brings more people to the fold then great, but it’d also be nice if someone chose to make a music documentary that isn’t tragic. We are drawn to the sad and unfortunate, but that’s not to say that we can’t also be drawn to the triumphant and celebrated. I may well get told off for liking this song because it sounds like Jellyfish at their best, but it does and so be it.
Undeclinable – About Me
Not so much a song as a an open letter to anyone wishing to hear it, this track from the truncated Undeclinable Ambuscade fits heartfelt subtlety and imploring prose into a noisy backing and melodic vocals. And good on them for that. Quite possibly the only punk band who aim for so many oddly emotional subjects at any given time and hit their targets with humour and humanity. There’s something about the best bits of the early 1980s about them (as their quality Joe Jackson cover on this same album shows), and their music is well-worth tracking down for those open-windowed car journeys.
The Gutter Twins – Bête Noir
A favourite from Saturnalia, its loose groove driven by a particularly baleful Mark Lanegan vocal and laid-back Greg Dulli backing, and helped along by funky Rhodes accompaniment and suitably Richardsesque odd guitar solo. Part paranoia and part threat, it’s an eminently soulful piece of horror that comes to a close in strange fashion, with a couple of keyboard stabs that sound as if someone’s put the thing in reverse by accident. Also included here as a goodbye to band photographer Sam Holden, who passed away recently.
Nick Drake – Black Eyed Dog
Speaking of soulful horror, this is unbeatable. A song that puts a face and a voice to depression. Winston Churchill referred to his own dark spells as “The Black Dog” in an attempt to both identify with his condition and to bring it under his command. Here, it appears to Drake like the Rottweilers from The Omen and there’s no doubt who is in charge when it appears. It’s simply one the strangest things I’ve ever listened to – there’s something about the slightly boomy guitar sound that reminds me of the Trumptonshire trilogy, but Nick’s gentle howling and frankly terrified lyrics suggest the sort of thing that can keep us all awake without having to be “traditionally” horrible about it.
The Wonder Stuff – On The Ropes
Another one continuing the canine theme, this one from the Stuffies’ rather odd and very troubled 4th album. The title and lyrics suggest that these are the words of a defeated man, but the music triumphantly suggests otherwise. The repeated line “I’m alike in a lot of ways” has always rung a bit strange to me (as it never say what to), but the general sentiment of suddenly feeling unable to cope or control rings true throughout and was only won over when the band ceased to be shortly afterwards. And “Idiot” is a word I enjoy rolling around rather a lot.
Lost In The Woods – The Afghan Whigs
Performing live on Jools Holland’s “Later With…” this Tuesday seems like a good enough reason to really get under the skin of the Whigs’ new one, and whether you think this is an Afghan Whigs record or a Twilight Singers one probably isn’t helped by the fact that this sounds like both at the same time – the jaunty funereal tones of half of the song is perfectly balanced by the bright chorus, and could quite happily sit in either compartment of Greg Dulli’s id. One of those rare songs that is both morose and joyful, one accentuating the other rather well.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Happy
More bouncy shenanigans for the crimped Stourbridge indie-popsters, and the one that really shows off their dual-bassed approach to their craft. Featuring words that remind me of the many verbal spars between my Dad and my Sister, it’s an uncomfortable listen but one made easier thanks to the gleeful practicality and strangely sad basslines that pushes the whole thing along. Kinda makes you wonder why music doesn’t even bother with domesticity anymore, no wonder it’s all so unrelatable nowadays.
Echoboy – Frances Says The Knife Is Alive
Posted apropos of absolutely nothing, other than it being one of those songs where the beat seems to change according to your concentration at any given time. Or maybe it’s just me that does that. Richard Warren’s Echoboy persona was rather good at knocking out experimental krautrock tunes, perhaps sadly (or perhaps brilliantly) at a time between eras when it was hip to be doing so. Sometimes the experiments didn’t always succeed (they wouldn’t be experiments otherwise), sometimes it was best to listen to pieces in isolation rather than across a whole album, and indeed sometimes it’s best to run out of the room to preserve your sanity rather than try to work out why the downbeat keeps moving about, but it’s rarely not fun to listen to.
Beastie Boys – Bodhisattva Vow
Two years ago today, we lost MCA. Not just good at what he did, but as fine a paradigm of growing up more than most while remaining as young at heart as you’re ever likely to embrace and a wonderful role model for being true to yourself while never being afraid to take on new ideas, exemplified here by his very public reading of his Buddhist vows, in his own inimitable style. He should never have been taken from us, but Cancer doesn’t really care.
Alan Hawkshaw – A Mad Moment
And to wrap all of this weirdness up, a reminder to those who thankfully don’t suffer from depression that we are more than capable of seeing the silliness to it all – I don’t take it very seriously, so there’s no reason why you have to. Probably recorded in a Soho room above a “bookstore”, strewn with Sköl cans and fag dimps, Hawkshaw (and all who sailed with him) created the soundtrack to many a TV show, regional sports reportage, Testcard and bongo film and the world salutes him for it.