2013 – Seven (alright, Ten) Great Records

131030-bill-callahan-small-plane-dream-river-videoI’m not going to do a lot on this, mainly because I’ve kind of covered it in the Secret Santa post of last week.

But…  when asked for my top ten of the year by the kind-hearted folk of @lpgrp, I gave them this list:

  • Dream River – Bill Callahan
  • Mug Museum – Cate le Bon
  • Light Up Gold – Parquet Courts
  • Re-Mit – The Fall
  • Wed 21 – Juana Molina
  • Images du Futur – Suuns
  • Stitches – Califone
  • Corsicana Lemonade – White Denim
  • What the Brothers Sang – Dawn McCarthy & Bonny Prince Billy
  • Who is William Onyeabor? – William Onyeabor

They’re kind of in order, although if you pressed me, I’d probably change it all round again, and put a couple of extra ones in there (the Califone record deserves to go up a couple of places, I reckon…).

I am pretty sure, though, that my favourite record was Bill Callahan’s, and I wrote a few lines about it for the @lpgrp blog, which will no doubt appear there in time for Sunday’s Dream River session.

Dream River – Bill Callahan

One of the bottomless joys of Christmas time is the privilege of having time to just piss away, heedless of all other normal considerations. And, really, what better way to do this than with some warmed-up Christmas pudding and another leisurely listen to Bill Callahan’s Dream River.

To my surprise, Dream River has won the prestigious @lpgrp album of the year award to be ruminated and cogitated over on Jan 5th. And perhaps even more surprising, given my previously poor record in these matters, is that I actually voted it my favourite of the year.

I’m not going to try to do a serious review of what is at times a pretty formless and hard-to-pin-down record – it’s beyond my ken, to be honest, and would largely spoil the point of the actual evening, even if I could. There are a couple of pretty good reviews at the Pitchfork and Quietus sites, though, which will get you started. Instead I thought I’d mention a couple of pointers and suggest some ways in for folk who are just getting to know this lovely record.

When I am out walking my eyes are still forming the door I walk through

  • The word “unhurried” doesn’t really do justice to Callahan’s deep, laconic delivery or quite prepare you for his gentle, sometimes puzzling images or slowly unfolding songs. Many of the pictures and metaphors he uses develop in your mind, taking substance as they recede and the song moves on. His songs are for stopping and listening to with a slow drink and perhaps a free afternoon, rather than playing on the car stereo or while you’re doing some job or other. Callahan’s style doesn’t force itself upon you, he just doesn’t compete well with the other “stuff” of your life

First thing that I will do, I will wake you too

  • I really like Bill Callahan’s careful, deliberate delivery. He’s hardly a brash, over confident character – he’s bound to be a quiet chap, surely – but he sings with measured confidence. There’s no self-conscious masking of his voice behind multiple layers of sound – for all the sense that life baffles and confuses at time, he’s clear about having something to say and wanting to be heard.

I really am a lucky man

  • I think I read that Callahan is 47 years old now, and there’s something very refreshing about hearing a man of “advancing years” reaching something approaching contentment. This is particularly true when you apply it to such a famously sombre individual as Callahan has been. To be fair, there’s still time spent “looking out of a window that isn’t there”, but there’s a little more light mixed in with the shade these days…

The only words I’ve said today are “beer” and “thank you”

  • Actually, as with many of his best records, there’s also a fair amount of gentle humour in this record: a couple of lines of “beer… … … thank you” here, a Donald Sutherland reference there – enough to make you smile to yourself as you saunter through each song. As with many things, though, the pleasure is all in Callahan’s trademark wry delivery, one which regular fans will recognise. Other familiar features of the old Smog persona also appear: the occasional nod towards an unimagined sensuality; the haunted characters whose life stories take odd twists; the restlessness and bewildering variety of travel metaphors that go hand in hand with it. All of them are reasons in themselves to know and love Bill Callahan, but bundled together in one mature, gorgeous record they make a worthy, worthy winner of this month’s vote.

Dream River is Bill Callahan’s fourth solo record in his own name, but there are a mouth-watering 13 other albums released under the name of Smog, for you to work through, which are effectively Bill Callahan records too. My own favourites are Supper and Knock, Knock, but you can’t really go wrong wherever you start. Dig in (slowly)!

2013 – Seven Gigs (plus one)

calexico-bellyup-590x390 (1)2013 has hardly been a vintage year for seeing live acts – a combination of low funds, apathy and a series of wet festivals in previous years has somewhat taken the fizz from the live experience for me. And so to be honest, I’m scraping around for seven top quality gigs; I went to some pretty good evenings, a few fairly good’uns and a couple of real stinkers. Looking back, I’ve also been a bit negligent in maintaining my recordings – there’s a few tapes which I just never got around to processing, in some cases inexplicably (they’re good!). So anyway, roughly in order of greatness:

Calexico, Bristol Academy, Feb ‘13

I’ve seen Calexico before and I remember being pleasantly surprised at what a good live act they were; and so it was this February. I’d been slightly underwhelmed by the Algiers record but went back to it in the following weeks on the strength of a bustling, classy set from Burns, Convertino and team, which I think comes out as my favourite evening of the year.

Puerto

Kurt Vile, The Fleece, December ‘13

I know I’ve only just got back from this gig, and it may well be a combination of this and the fact that I’d not seen any live music for, oh, ages, but I really, really enjoyed this evening. A good combination really, an artist I was new to, on top of his game and at one of my favourite venues. Win, win and win again.

Girl Called Alex

Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, St Bonaventura’s, March ‘13

This one definitely comes under the heading of “inexplicably missed” from previous pages of this Blog. I don’t think I can have written about it at all, and the recordings were left sitting on my hard drive, untouched. I’m guessing the reason for this was that this March gig was in fact the third time I’d seen Anais Mitchell in a year and maybe I thought there was nothing more to add. Actually listening to it now, I wish I’d written more about it at the time, because some of the versions of songs from the Child Ballads record she released with Jefferson Hamer are just exquisite. Beautiful songs, beautifully sung.

Riddles Wisely Expounded

Suuns, Bristol Exchange, May ‘13

Actually, I think this was the third time I’d seen Suuns recently too, but that took nothing from the lustre of another spectacular evening in the company of Montreal’s sinister young gentlemen. Still unable to catch any of the words (although I think we’ve established that the first lines of Pie IX having nothing to do with a certain West Country town), no communication with the audience, loads of smoke and distortion. Fine, mean stuff.

2020

Richard Hawley, Colston Hall, February ‘13

Another early-in-the-year gig, in fact I think if I remember rightly this evening was in the same week as Calexico, phew! A sold out Colston Hall was treated to a long, heartfelt evening of Hawley favourites, each one enhanced by a top notch backing band and a real warmth between artist and audience. If not as exhilarating as Suuns and Calexico, every bit as enjoyable.

Leave Your Body Behind You

Sweet Baboo, Prince Albert, Stroud, April ‘13

Classic live band-in-a-pub, sort of an evening, although you’d hardly call Sweet Baboo a classic pub band. The Prince Albert is a terrific pub on the edge of Stroud, with top beers and food and a tiny stage, all a bit reminiscent of the old Slak Bar in Cheltenham. Sweet Baboo who I’m sure, I know (I’ve seen), has played much larger stages but he entered into the spirit of the evening, bouncing around enthusiastically on stage giving his Ships album a fair old (stripped down) thrashing. Oh, and Keith Allen turned up..

My Heart is Ready to Bounce Again

British Sea Power, The Guildhall, August ‘13

Maybe not quite as good as the other gigs here, (or even the unlucky eighth gig – Pere Ubu, since you’re asking), but for sheer excitement and as a peek into the BSP er “phenomena” (?), I really enjoyed this evening. I have a group of friends who are complete nuts for BSP and had travelled a fair old distance to be in Gloucester for this, (one of whom cheerfully told me he’d seen them seven times this year already, another of whom was on first name terms with the guys on the merch stall), so it was kind of a given that I’d need to get along to this a rare decent gig on my doorstep. In the end it was a rousing evening from a band who genuinely do have a bond with their audience. In-jokes abounded and I didn’t really understand the bears, but it all made for something of an experience which made their Green Man performances look a little pale.

Apologies to Insect Life

Of course, if we’re talking about exhilarating, one-off experiences, nothing will top this, my real “live music” highlight of 2013…

Secret Santa

RedlightssmallPart of the @lpgrp Christmas festivities for this year was to organise a Secret Santa mixcd for each other, using new or new-to-you tracks for 2013 only.

It was fun and I got all sorts of new music from the mixcd that I got. I enjoyed the whole thing so much that I started burning copies of my own offering for other non-twitter buddies and members of my own family. And you know, I’ve come to look upon you, dear old Partly Porpoise reader, as part of the family too.

So here’s your copy, complete with brief liner notes (originally written for the less clued up members of my circle – you’ll have heard me rabbiting on about most of these records already…)

Merry Christmas!

Secret Santa CD

 

Secret Santa ’13 – Liner Notes

New Records of 2013

The Sing – Bill Callahan

The only words I’ve said today are “Beer” and “Thank you”

Bill Callahan’s been recording for years as Smog (loads of great albums to discover, I like Supper and Dongs of Sevotion best, but they’re all great). This track comes from Dream River, which is a lovely, thoughtful, quiet record, released this year.

Frosted Tips – Califone

In the old, watching the new world die

Califone have also been around for a good while, but “Stitches”, which came out this year, is their first record for ages. I really like their slightly glitch, junkyard countrified sound. Lyrics are pretty much in comprehensible, I’m afraid.

Master of My Craft – Parquet Courts

Forget about it!

I love this! No idea who Parquet Courts are (Google it yourself…) but they certainly don’t hang around. At 3:10 it’s pretty much the longest track on the album! Top tune, no fuss, in and out quickly…

Loadstones – The Fall

Shoes for the dead! Shoes for Loadstones!

Saw the Fall this year – they were poor, to be honest. Smith was even more whiny and incoherent than ever (and “sung” his encore from the dressing room), but it’s good to know he’s still out there. And on top of that, “Re-Mit” is a really good album.

Sunspot – Suuns

Kill whatever is to be

Saw this bunch this year too, but they were excellent – noisy, sulky and didn’t speak to the audience once. This track is from their second album – the first was one of my favourite records of last year. Sneery, horrid stuff (lyrics again pretty much unintelligible)

Iron Acton – Beak>

(Sorry about the “>”, it’s probably vital…) Not actually new, a couple of years old, I think. Him from Portishead, doing a bit of electronica / Krautrock type stuff, tracks rather disarmingly named after particular beauty spots of the Bristolian landscape…

 

Black Cat – Soft Walls

Come in from outside, and close the door behind

Soft Walls are some sort of side-project of a bloke called Dan Reeves whose day job is to play with a band called Cold Pumas (who aren’t nearly as good as this…). Moody, hypnotic stuff, with all sorts of “found” sounds cavorting around out back.

Eras – Juan Molina

Come, come quickly!

Juana Molina is from Argentina, and sings in English, Spanish and maybe Portuguese (there’s some stuff on the record I can’t place) – I read somewhere that she’s doing all sorts of clever stuff with language. This is a lovely record that is mostly enjoyable for its haunting rhythms and her charming voice. An Argentinian Bjork, if you like (without all the silliness, obviously…)

Sisters – Cate le Bon

I know well this space I fill, I’ve seen both sides, I know the drill

I make this Cate le Bon’s third album, and although I liked the first two, there’s a definite upgrade each time. She’s part of what you’d call a “burgeoning Welsh scene”, and often appears with Gruff Rhys, but I’m guessing less so as she gets more and more good press of her own. Choppy, garage-y rhythms, swirling organs and a guitar solo that sounds like it’s been played on an elastic band. If Juana Molina is an Argentinian Bjork, Cate le Bon is a Celtic Nico (I won’t do any more of these…)

New Blue Feeling – White Denim

Try to hide our fears until we go away into a place we never know until we know it.

If I’m honest, the album this came from, Corsicana Lemonade, isn’t as good as last year’s effort, but this is a beautiful song. Saw them last year, and they’re real muso types, occasionally showy masters of their craft and all that, but it’s the words that make this song…

Shelter Song – Temples

Now I know the lonely days are gone

I don’t think Temples have released an album yet, and I only heard this because it turned up on one of those Mojo giveaway CDs. The opening notes sound a lot like a new (old) Pretty Things song, (and that can only be a Good Thing…) and from there it goes on to drift further and further into past times. Lovely, new psychedelia…

 

New-To-Me Records of 2013

At this point, the CD veers crazily away from modern records and focuses on records that are old but I’d never heard until this year.

I’m Rowed Out – The Eyes

You got a grey suede coat and a soul like fire

If the first notes of Shelter Song made me think of the Pretty Things, your first thoughts on hearing the choppy opening chords of “I’m Rowed Out” will be of the Who. I’ve no idea who the Eyes were and why they didn’t become really huge, but they surely should’ve been. Great clunking Moon-ish drums; harsh, jerky guitar chords and what sounds to me like classic mod lingo – they had it all…

Gotta Get Enough Time – The Fleurs de Lys and Sharon Tandy

I look in the mirror and I get a surprise, I got 14 people looking out of my eyes

I’ve spent a lot of time this year listening to mid-Sixties mod / psychedelic records, and again, as with the Eyes, I’m stumped to know why the Fleur de Lys didn’t get bigger. The records they did with Sharon Tandy are just incredible – the combination of their furious freakbeat backdrop and her furious smoky delivery are as good as anything else of the time.

I Wonder If I Care As Much As I Did Before – The Everly Brothers

It’s your mistakes I’m thinking of..

Also spent a good amount of time around Easter listening to a great box set of Sixties albums by the Everlys. I’m told the Sixties saw a few of the old Fifties legends trying to go Serious (with varying results), but this is a lovely song of weariness and regret; I can really recommend the Roots album that it came off.

Colours – Kaleidoscope

Oh, please, acid colours burn my brain, I’m just insane

Not the American Kaleidoscope, Silly! Nor the British Kaleidoscope either – these are the Mexican Kaleidoscope… (oh yes!) Turns out there’s a whole world of Latin Nuggets-style garage punk / psychedelia out there, just like this. And actually, loads of it’s pretty damn good. The lyrics above pretty much tell you what you need to know about this record, it’s all rather 1967…

 Ya Se – Los Ovnis

¡Así lo se que me has probado!

Another belter from South America 1967, taken from the Los Nuggetz collection (as was the Kaleidoscope track) which has been one of the finds of the year for me. Rasping punky guitars, farfisa organs and distraught vocals – a winning combination!

Vacilando con Ayahuasca – Juaneca y su Combo

¡Así, así, más Juaneco, qué rico!

I love this! Juaneco and his Combo recorded in the Sixities in Peru, playing traditional Peruvian songs with wah-wah guitars and more “happening” arrangements. Apparently, the young folk went wild for it and a Chicha legend was born (which was unfortunately further amplified by a classic Rock’n’Roll air crash which accounted for three-quarters of the band in the mid-seventies…).

Sonido Amazonico – Los Mirlos

Here’s another Peruvian Chicha classic of the times by another Peruvian band, Los Mirlos, which came off another great Peruvian compilation called The Roots of Chicha. If you’re interested, there’s actually an American band around now, Chicha Libre, doing their own Chicha songs and covering the odd classic, including (the very odd) Sonido Amazonico

Judith – Lucho Perez

¡Bailate cumbia, muchacha hermosa! ¡Bailate cumbia, que guapallosa!

Dance the Cumbia, my beauty! Josie and I spent a thoroughly entertaining weekend driving around Abergavenny in the summer, sound-tracked irresistibly by the goofy rhythms of Colombian Cumbia like this. Recorded sometime in the Fifties by the ever-exuberant Lucho Perez, this is probably my favourite track off a brilliant Soundways compilation, called The Original Sound of Cumbia, It’s great!

Maria Lando – Susanna Baca

Pero para Maria, no hay mediodía…

And to close, a more thought-provoking song from one of the David Byrne compilations, Afro-Peruvian Classics: The Soul of Black Peru, from the beautiful voice (and pen) of Susanna Baca. I’m pretty sure this is a bit of a tear-jerker about poverty and slavery in Peru, but even if I’ve totally missed the point, it’s still a gorgeous, soulful melody, which sticks in my head every time I hear it. (Interesting-ish fact: in a later life Susanna Baca went on to become a Cabinet Minister in the Peruvian government.)

We’re all banged up, but who’s keeping score?

BbpKhfHIQAA7eXzMy friend Adam reminded me last week that a trip to the Fleece was in the offing and that he had a ticket for Kurt Vile with my name on it. As a tonic for the Winter Blues and the ongoing trauma around the Christmas run in, news like this is right up there with World Peace and Free Beer, as far as I can see.

Kurt Vile, The Fleece

Kurt Vile is another singer who’s somehow escaped my notice over the years, but I knew this day was going to happen sometime, and a quick couple of days’ YouTube and Emusic prep convinced me this was going to be a good evening.

I’ll have said before how much I like the Fleece, but I swear they’ve somehow managed to increase the number of pillars between punters and stage. Sound is still noticeably better than many other more illustrious venue’s, and the bar’s a few feet away from the stage area. Proper rock’n’roll.

Support band, True Widow, were truly awful, trudging through 30 minutes of relentless post White Stripes grunge, signing off with a comically perky number that presumably is penned as their “single”. Rubbish.

Kurt Vile and chums ambled, on at about 10, a shaggy gathering of hair and guitars (honestly the word “laconic” just doesn’t do it…) but were immediately stirring. The set lasted a good hour and a half, reminding me at times of the Long Ryders or Green On Red, and at others like a better, less disappointing War On Drugs. Although loud and at times pretty discordant, the band never got in the way of those strong, tight-but-loose songs, and there’s no doubting the man’s a pretty charismatic character, which allows him to treat some great material with an almost sloppy indifference.

For my money, the stand-out part of the set was about half way through, when he performed Peeping Tom and Feel My Pain on his own. I read somewhere the phrase “self-inflicted bruises to the song’s tender frame”, applied to Feel My Pain, which is really appropriate, I think. I love the spectacle of one man keeping a crowd silent, captivated, particularly when done with such casual grace. Remarkable.

Those ninety minutes took in a good selection from the new record and enough old stuff to make it clear it’s worth doing a bit more digging into his back-catalogue. I can honestly say there wasn’t a moment when my (butterfly) mind wandered…

I’ve got a couple of recordings, and may well add a few others in the next few days…

Feel My Pain

Jesus Fever

And for your pleasure, Knappsterino has captured Wakin’ On A Pretty Day:

 

Many thanks to Alister Betts for the photo…

I can make you hold on…

Sharon+Tandy+Sharon+TAs a supposedly reputable blogger of a number of years’ standing, I should probably be agonising over my Records of the Year list and frantically hoovering up all the crucial records that other bloggers are pumping up.

I’m not, as you’ll have guessed.

Actually, if I’m honest 2013 has been a year in which I’ve been crate-digging (virtually) more than usual, and quite apart from all the Cumbia and Chicha I’ve ingested over the year, I’ve also done a load of Freakbeat.

Lucky Seven – Sharon Tandy & the Fleur de Lys

Previously, the only Fleur de Lys track I really knew was the rather silly Gong with the Luminous Nose, which is kind of OK, but you’d have to say probably sounded a lot better back in the day. Got hold of the fabulous “Reflections” compilation a while back though, which is a complete game-changer, packed full as it is with loud mod-ish pop and punctuated enthusiastically by rasping guitar breaks and punchy drums.

Apparently they had no hits at the time, and were not helped by an almost constantly fluid line up, members coming and going with disorienting speed; nor were they helped by the fact that they released records under a number of different pseudonyms, including Rupert’s People, Shyster and Chocolate Frog (!)

The added breadth to the Fleur de Lys story, though is the dazzling string of records they released with South African singer Sharon Tandy. If it’s a surprise that the Lys (can I do that?) never made it “big”, the fact that Sharon Tandy is pretty much unknown today is an absolute mystery to me. With her smoky voice, cautious charm in front of the camera and ability to tackle the really ballsy material that singer Tony Head handed over to her, what could go wrong?

Disturbingly, nothing – apparently, nobody was that fussed. Utterly baffling…

Watch this and marvel at the calm, and the storm… (Warning, the first five seconds contain images of Dave Lee Travis…)

(I’m particularly fond of the footage behind the Psychedelic FX of Sharon counting herself in after the guitar break…)

Also, there’s this clip of Take Another Little Piece of my Heart followed by Uptight filmed at the Speakeasy Club in 1968. Again, massive, surely…

So anyway, here, a brief tribute to Sharon Tandy and her epic backing band:

Lucky Seven – Sharon Tandy & the Fleur de Lys