23 December 2009

Class of 2009 - Musical highs and lows. Part 6 - Album of the Year

If you were to make a list of things that shouldn't be good in cutting edge music, a podgy , white middle aged man behind a laptop and a suited, bearded East London poet should be pretty near the top.

And you'd be wrong. My album of the year is Dan Le Sac and Scroubius Pip - Angles.
As this is two people making one album - one the music and one the lyrics let us take it all apart a bit.

The music is perfect for the Rap / Hip Hop genre; strong beats, great loops a variety of styles referenced. Some very original 'noises' in there whether it be rhythm or melody. But it's not just beats on a loop, it's tunes making up a song. Pretty rare in this genre. But music is only half of a song - what about Mr Pip?

Well, he doesn't look like a rapper. He is skinny, white from East London and has a huge beard. Moses huge. The rapping is rhythmic and intelligent, with enough force and bitterness to back it up. It is not all "Shouty shouty" and anger and the only time he mentions guns is to say "Guns, bitches and bling were never part of the 4 elements (of hip hop) and never will be".

He certainly isn't a traditional run of the mill rapper, but more along the lines of Gil Scott Heron, a true, passionate poet.

But there is something more. That often misused phrase the "X-factor". You can't quite work into words what it is, but it's there. There is an "Englishness" to the whole production, it is not mainstream, although it should be.

The album kicks off with "The beat that my heart skipped" - an acoustic guitar, processed and cut up in a way that the Gorrilaz can only hope for opens up before slipping drums and synth bass move in, with triple tracked backing vocals and Scroobius Pip starts his tale of love. It is this simple multi-layered approach to the musical manufacture which gives it more depth than the "Painting by numbers" method of pop songs that we are slammed with day after day.

Track 3 - "Look for the Woman" is a song that is difficult to shove into a genre. It is a beautiful tale of love growing old, it stands out on the album by having Mr Le Sac singing the chorus, whilst the music slowly builds over the four minutes, matching the intensity and sadness of the lyrics.

An oddity is the track "Tommy C", which explains how Tommy Cooper was truly beautiful - not something you hear everyday. Each track is a tale, a story in miniature which is not only rare, but refreshing.

If you after something which you have heard before, the track "Letter from God to Man" samples Radiohead, Dan Le Sac cutting it into pieces that even Squarepusher would find odd.

But the real winning track in these 57 minutes is "Thou Shalt Always Kill", the best track I have heard all year. Thank you once again Old Jock Radio. Five minutes twenty of violent, heartfelt, poetic joy. I wont say any more, just click on the link and watch the video.

Then go and buy it. How good to I think this album is? I have already pre-ordered the follow-up - unheard.

19 December 2009

Class of 2009 - Musical highs and lows. Part 5 - Where the hell was I when these came out?

Right, now for 4 of the last 5 to pimp out - the final instalment of the best of 2009 tomorrow.

Sabres of Paradise - Wilmot.
It is over 10 years old, and I only heard it for the first time this year after downloading John Peels Festive 50 from god knows when. It was his track of the year then, and it should still be pretty high up there if he would ever make a "Top 100 of all time" wherever he is now.
It's on the Warp label before they got ideas above their station.
It's by Andy Weatherall.
The remix on the CD single is excellent.
It's got big horns on it.
It kicks and pumps and swings all at the same time, yet is so simple you can play it on a Kazoo. Brilliant.

Bumblefoot - T. Jonez.
An example of why you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. Here is the bad news - Bumblefoot (or Ron Thal to his mother) is the present guitarist of Guns and Roses. Poor sod. However, if you are a jobbing guitarist, without much commercial success you can't really turn down that type of job, can you?
Before that he was doing is own thing and the album "Uncool" is just that, uncool and his own thing.
If you can imagine a singer with the broad vocal stylings of Tom Jones (yes, that T. Jones) singing to musty lounge music played by a thrash metal band, you are somewhere in the right ball park. This shouldn't be so good, but the man knows his chops and is probably the best singer in Guns and Roses today.

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport.

I had given up on bands being able to make decent dance music years ago and then these guys turn up, with their awful (yet brilliant) name. This album is probably the only 2009 album I like. Their orchestration and sampling is intelligent and methodical and tunesmithery is reminiscent of Orbital and Fourtet in their heyday. It does get a bit 'samey' later on in the album, but it's certainly a grower.

If you missed what dance music should have developed into after the highs of the mid 90's buy this album, you'll know where you stand.

Nightmares on Wax - Car Boot Soul

Where the hell was I when this was released in 93? I was listening to all sorts of music directly related to this. I was listening to the Orb, Ambient Dub and the more acceptable stylings of Ambient pop. I should have come accross this, but somehow I didn't. I have no idea how, but when I find out I am going to kick some arses.
Nighmares on Wax are on the Warp Label (in a good vintage as well) and can be found on the Spaced soundtrack album. Both good pointers - and I picked up this treat in a 2 discs for £9 at HMV - so it's a good price too.
The negative points are all there to see as bright as day. The album covers - they are horrid. Bold ink drawings and showing associated add ons of the style they wish to be associated with - big cars and dope smoking. IF they had kept with light pastels and more middle class imagery this would be as well known and well owned as Tricky, Portishead, Aphex Twin and the other trendy tunesmiths of the day.
But they kept to their own ideas and missed out. I like them for that.
The tracks are long, mellow and fit in swimmingly with slow mornings or late nights. Instant calming dub, with twists of soul implanted like slices of lime in an expensive bar of soap. I know if I had come across this in 93 I would have got even less done. And that's saying something.


17 December 2009

Class of 2009 - Musical highs and lows. Part 4 - The 'real' music

I hate putting music into genres. More than anything it just confuses me. I spent time trying to organise my iTunes collection that way and when I got to Frank Zappa I gave up. Why? Well he produced Rock, Jazz, folk, Classical and Orchestral pieces. I tried placing each of his albums in a genre. I eventually stopped when I got to the 'Lather' album. It had bits of everything in it, and I wasn't going to spend time subdividing each track.

That said, if you are a member of the Musicians Union in the mid 80's this is what you may call 'real music'.
They both have people playing guitars.

I came across both of these listening to Old Jock Radio. Tune in on Thursday nights between 9 and 11 and prepare for 3 things.
Swearing, chaos and good music. Les Bell knows good music.

The first of these is "Hammell on Trial". I know very little about him, just an American gentleman with a guitar singing fast folk-ish songs with bitter, amusing, peotic lyrics. The stand out song is "I hate your kid" from the album "Eds not Dead". If you take Billy Connolly, but place him in 60's / 70's America growing up you may get somewhere close.
It is unrepentant, bitter and passionate. Great fun and who cares if it isn't Bob Dylan, but is 'comedy' songs? It's still good - and that's all that counts.

The second of these is a runner for my album of the year, if for nothing else the consistent high quality of all the songs on the album. Keith Douglas is a 'Rockabilly' singer songwriter from Edinburgh.
Do you see how you immediately have stopped reading now? Is it because of the word 'Rockabilly'? Is it because he is from Edinburgh? This is why I hate genres.
You are missing out, I can tell you.
This man can play the guitar like no other I have heard, pure clean, yet complex lines weaving around his lyrics which fit so well. Not only that - you can't even buy his CD! That's right, I had to go out and PAY for a download. I feel quite dirty saying that, as part of me is so old fashioned I still want a physical piece of plastic in my hands for my £9. It is the only album I have bought as a download and if I could guarantee all music was like his, it wouldn't be the last.
Like 'Hammel on Trial' Keith writes songs that are wonderful in their lyrical storytelling, from the heartfelt "Mexican Hotel" to the standout track "Scrapheap Rag" - on finding yourself 'on the market, once more'.

If you download one track from any of my recomendations, let it be something of his album.

14 December 2009

Class of 2009 - Musical highs and lows. Part 3 - The biggest surprise of the year

Simply put - I did not expect this band to make another good release.
Yes, they had completed two excellent albums, and a third pretty darn good one, but their forth....
Well, I am sure nobody would say it's their favourite. Written on a laptop from the bed of Liam Howlett's mansion, it was clearly not going to be a groundbreaker.
With 'Rock star lethargy' as the source of the problem, it was all too simple to write The Prodigy off as a band that were once great.
Back in the day.

However, I am often happy to be proved wrong, and this is the case with 'Invaders Must Die'.

The Prodigy were introduced to me as "You'll like this Geej, it's got lots of noises on it". That word noises interested me.
It evokes images of people scraping around sample libraries trying to find just the right sound to fill a gap.
Invaders Must Die has noises on it. It, more importantly has what is known as "kicking beats".

Yes, I, a man known for owning a pipe, and an occasional moustache, used the phrase "kicking beats". It's what The Prodigy are known for - and other bands have been known to sample Prodigy songs in order to try and tap into this strange alchemical textbook to achieve such success.
Usually without much merit.

Mr Howlett has also produced a few songs with a more majestical air to them - along the lines of "Weather Report" and "The Chemical Suite". Nothing wrong with that.
Is there stuff to dislike, well, of course. Vocals for example. Ok, your wife was the singer in a 90's pop group and wants to sing. If you know what's good for you, you say "Yes, dear". Of course you do.

Your mildly insane bandmate (whose original job title in the band was "Dancer") wants to sing. You say yes. He is your friend and probably prone to fits of violence.

Go out and buy it if you like dance music. I particularly say go and find the 3 disc special edition (already released? Shouldn't you wait 10 years first?) with a remix disc and a DVD.

Don't buy it if you think it would be something to play in the background at Christmas. Go and find the Motown Christmas album instead. That's great too.


10 December 2009

Class of 2009 - Musical highs and lows. Part 2 - The best re-issue

Well, for someone who seemingly lives in the past, this year has been great for me.
Apart from the depression that arrived when the Stone Roses first album was re-released as a 20th Anniversary edition.....
Holy moly 20 years? Seriously?
It's only 40 years since we landed on the moon.
We haven't come a hell of a long way in the last 20 have we? Darn.

Anyhow, the best re-release I heard this year was Brian Eno and Robert Fripps rather weird "No Pussyfooting".

Yes, it was 1973.
Yes, it is the same age as me.
Yes, Brian Eno didn't look like the elder statesman of intelligent music production like he does now (in fact he looked like Richard O'Brien in the Rocky Horror Picture show) but good heavens, what a slab of music.

It's not for the feint-hearted either. What you get is 2 CDs with the sum total of two tracks.

Two minute long catchy pop songs you do not get. Oh no.
There is nothing here you will ever be able to (or want to) hum to.

However, you do get music that appears to have been recorded from inside your head during that brief moment before you fall asleep, when you sometimes get the feeling of falling backwards. (For those who wish to know, this is the hypnagogic myoclonic twitch. Nice)
On the original album these two tracks seem to go on forever, with no discernible pattern in the swirling miasma of low attack synth and ambient guitar fed through a huge set of tape machines which give it an enormous delay.

On this re-release you can read how it all came about and why they sound like they do - unsurprisingly John Peel playing the originals on air at the wrong speed and backwards by mistake has a lot to do with it.
Disc 2 gives us slightly raw-er takes of the two tracks - with the original 'tunes' played at half speed and round the right way.
Let's face it, it's not every day you get an album of music that may need that doing to it.

Should you go out and buy it? Only if you like ambient music and you feel you can put up with over an hour of Robert Fripp's noodling. So probably not.

Me? If it wasn't for a couple of other artists I heard this year, it would be album of the year.

09 December 2009

Class of 2009 - Musical highs and lows. Part 1 - The lowest of the low.

Coming to the end of another year, so time for another top 10 tunes.
Unlike others, I don't really care if it was released with a copyright label that says 2009.
They are on this list if I listened to them this year.

So. Lets start with the worst, shall we?

Quite simple - The Beatles Remasters.
"What? That's the most long awaited thing ever!!!"
No. Wrong. I have The Beatles on CD. I will not buy this. Yes I bought Abbey Road for my father - he asked for it for a present (Good god, why Abbey Road? Why not Revolver, Rubber Soul, The White Album or Sergeant Pepper for crying out loud?)


Why won't I shell out for this ultimate box set? I own them already. I am not willing to cough up £200 again for a box set of music I already own in at least 2 formats.
What's worse is that Paul and Ringo have the cheek to ask me to buy the Mono box set as well.

Well, sod you McCartney.
Was your divorce a little more expensive than you would have wished for?
Tough. We all saw that coming a mile off.
And guess what? That's right.
I am not going to pay for your mistake.