Many strangers have arrived, wearing immense black boots, selling buttons at my door, I don’t feel well

f23ee6be4059db716502c71ea3433326Once again the earnest souls of @lpgrp have organised a Secret Santa exchange of Best of ’14 tracks to share with each other. I enjoy this and it’s always interesting to hear new endorsements but I have to admit that this year I threw mine together in a bit of a hurry, having not got myself organised earlier and for a number of reasons I’m not entirely happy with it.

Probably the biggest gripe I have with myself is that although the brief was to compile it from “new to you” tracks rather than bona fide released-in-the-last-12-months stuff, there really isn’t much new stuff here. I can’t decide whether this is because 2014’s not been a great year for new releases or whether this year I’ve been more easily distracted than usual. I suspect it’s a large slice of both.

This is one of the reasons I’ve not clambered into the whole seasonal gongs business this year – I haven’t really bought a lot of new stuff (neither have I seen a lot of live music, for that matter…) – and so I feel a little out of touch. All in all, I reckon the tracks by Mogran Delt, Doug Tuttle, the Delines, Siesta! and Tigres Leones are about the only brand new stuff on the collection. The tracks by White Fence, Courtney Barnett and Speedy Ortiz are new-ish but the rest is, I’m afraid, all old. Some of it really old (the Trio Matamoros song is from the forties, I think).

But anyway, here, in all its glory:

Secret Santa ’14 – @Sweeny99

  1. Pink Gorilla – White Fence
  2. Make My Grey Brain Green – Morgan Delt
  3. Save My Soul – Wimple Winch
  4. 1906 – The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
  5. Millionspiel – Can
  6. Bat Macumba – Os Mutantes
  7. Muevéla – Abelardo Carbonó
  8. Jam 5 Kai Thiet – Ros Serey Sothea
  9. Lam Tung Wai – Chaweewan Dumnem
  10. Buenos Hermanos – Trio Matamoros
  11. Avant Gardener – Courtney Barnett
  12. Colfax Avenue – the Delines
  13. Erusu Nganga – The Sweet Talks
  14. Ya Mom Samaray – Guelewar
  15. Bocata de Sangre – Siesta!
  16. Pájaros – Tigres Leones
  17. With Us Soon – Doug Tuttle
  18. No below – Speedy Ortiz

Having said all this, you’ll love it – some psych, some afrobeat, some garage punk, some Spanish new wave – but particularly worth noting are tracks 8 and 9 which I’ve taken from a couple of fabulous Cambodian and Siamese compilations by Parallel World and by the consistently brilliant Soundway Records.

If you don’t fancy any of it, I understand, it’s OK – we can still be friends. Although, I would urge you to listen at least to the Trio Matamoros track which features Cuba’s greatest singer Beny Moré and is just magnificent. It also includes a really wild piano break which sounds like it finishes in some sort of plane crash (around the 2:30 mark).


I was going to leave it there, but I think it’s worth mentioning that while I may not have spent much time on new releases, 2014 has not been a waste of time entirely. It is after all the year when I finally discovered the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, surely the weirdest of a weird crop.

“1906” is certainly as odd a song as anything I heard this year and I can’t help thinking 2015 will have to be a very strange one indeed to throw up anything like this…


Here’s to more strangeness!

And I was hooked by a “come-hither” look and a gaze that was, well, beyond correction.

the_Wreckless_Eric_400x400An early Christmas present from eMusic.

Occasionally, I forget what a sterling service the good folk at eMusic provide. Despite the regular infuriating crashes on their site, I’ve been a subscriber for more years than I care to remember but, as with so many things in life, your eye does get turned every now again, grass is greener, younger model who really understands you, it’s not you, it’s me… You can imagine, I’m sure.

But then, if you’re lucky, your one true love reveals that something really special, something that reminds you why you hooked up in the first place. And if you’re really, really lucky that special something involves Wreckless Eric.

So, I’m idly clicking through the myriad, scattered pages of eMusic, and I come across an album I’ve been looking for periodically for a good fifteen or twenty years.

The Hitsville Houseband

Back in the nineties, before music was widely available online, you were, of course, limited to whatever offerings your local store was adventurous enough / could be arsed to stock. Clearly if that local store was HMV, you were well and truly buggered (but I won’t start on that particular rant… No, really, I’ll never get to the end of it…) The Dark Ages indeed.

As an avid Mark and Lard listener at the time, I remember really treasuring a number of their sessions of the time. I particularly loved a session that I recorded with Wreckless Eric and his Hitsville Houseband, who were at the time plugging their 12 O’clock Stereo album. A terrific session that I listened to for ages, I eventually lost the cassette (and/or a cassette player) and with no prospect of ever finding the record (which, it turns out, was deleted pretty quickly anyway) the songs eventually faded from my memory. I’ve always liked the man and continued buying his records as they were available (the record with his partner Amy Rigby is particularly good) but never seen sight nor sound of 12 O’clock Stereo.

And here it is again, re-released and, Lord bless them, available on eMusic. Turns out the new release date was only a fortnight again, so for once if not actually “ahead of the curve”, I’m pretty damn close to it. Whoop!

Here’s my favourite track off the record – “The Girl with the Wandering Eye” – not a proper video, I’m afraid, but the song makes me smile every time…

The re-released version has actually been beefed up with some ‘bonus’ tracks and even some of the original radio session versions (a second whoop!). I’ve always loved Wreckless Eric’s reedy, nerdy voice and his beat up, defeated personality – if he’d been around in the sixties he would’ve been a member of the Standells or more likely fronting his own obscure band managing one single, later to turn up on Pebbles vol 15 or some such… To be fair, though, he can be pretty clever with his lyrics and will occasionally produce some real gems. “Ugly & Old”, a ‘bonus’ track that apparently never made the cut for the original record, is one such nugget.

It’s a kind of country ballad dedicated to the disappointments and insecurities of going to seed and has some great couplets:

“When time takes its toll and we’re ugly and old, will you still be happy with me? Faithful to the end, much more than just best friends? Tell me when we’re ugly and old”

Merry Christmas all…

Neon dreams on neon streets

imagesJust noticing something rather strange happening to…

Dirty Beaches

Dirty Beaches is the stage name of a Taiwanese/Canadian multi-instrumentalist called Alex Zhang Hungtai whose first widely-available LP, Badlands, was released in 2011 and was generally lauded by the people who know. I’m not sure I actually, er, lauded it, as such, on these pages but I did certainly buy it. A pretty enjoyable reverb-heavy, Suicide-obsessed record it was too.

The follow up, last year’s Drifters/Love Is The Devil, was a double album and a genuine one at that, the Drifters “side” being recorded in Montreal, and (after a relationship breakdown) the Love Is The Devil section in Berlin, with Hungtai having dismissed the rest of the musicians and recorded it during evenings alone. Two quite different projects.

The second of the two sets is almost completely instrumental, stripped back and beatless, and rather over-shadows the first, being very different to the Dirty Beaches “sound”. All in all I remember being left a little cold about the whole affair. Well, the “something strange” I alluded to is that Hungtai has recently announced the retirement of the Dirty Beaches name altogether, through Twitter and on his Blog:

“I know its not the smartest move…and a painful one as well.  But sometimes, you need to let go in order to grow and move on.  I wanna thank my family, my friends, all past DB contributors for their help and friendship.  It’s been a fun and crazy ride…RIP DIRTY BEACHES 2005-2014. Can’t wait for what the unknown holds ahead.”

To go with this announcement there’s a final 4-track EP which is again all instrumental, largely ambient and seems even more devoid of musical clutter than the (hardly muddled) Love Is The Devil record. The titles of the four tracks are disturbingly informative – “Displaced”, “Stateless”, “Pacific Ocean” and “Time Washes Away Everything” – and indicate something of a personal crisis going on. In the blurb for the new EP, Emusic suggest the image of a man gradually shedding himself of everything and wading out to sea, which I think is quite appropriate (although to anyone of a certain age, it’s hard to shake off the image of Leonard Rossiter on Chesil Beach…)

All this seems a shame, really, as I’ve recently started listening to Drifters/Love Is The Devil again and rather enjoying its dark, satanic twists and turns. It’s funny (although perhaps not surprising) how a different perspective allows you to enjoy a record in an entirely different way. If you’re looking for another rockabilly, Vega-style Badlands record, as I was, you’ll find some pretty exhilarating passages still, such as the confident strut of “I Dream in Neon” and the relentless Bo Diddley beat of Casino Lisboa, but in the end you might be disappointed…


But if, say, you’ve just spent the last couple of months reading about Krautrock, it’s easy to put on your Rother / Eno goggles, and suddenly it’s an entirely different affair…

(This, by the way, worries me. What about the other records I have dismissed in high-handed fashion, confidently predicting their demise? What about the records I’ve slagged off, completely out of hand? Worse, does these mean I need to go and give Boards of Canada another try?)

The more satisfying tracks of D/LITD (I don’t care, I’m doing it…) are, now I’m tuning in better, definitely on the second half of the record. Harsh and inarticulate they may be, but the more you listen to them the more compelling they become. Tracks like “Belgrade” with its jarring sheets of metallic sound encircling you; “Woman”, its automated squeaks and squawks overpowering a series of tentative piano pieces; and “Mirage Hall”, its thunderous tensions and stresses eventually erupting into a stream of unintelligible Spanish expletives (even after it had seemingly come to a halt once – “… and another thing!”). And there are many more moments of arcane trickery to keep a normally limited attention span intrigued and fascinated.

Here’s a rather fine 15 minute clip of Dirty Beaches in Paris last December which gives you a pretty good flavour of the record, in which he appears to be playing a piece of sheet metal. It eventually leads into Nightwalk from Drifters.


In all of this troubling abstractness, there are tantalising shreds of meaning and clues that cry out to be solved but, as with much of the Krautrock stuff, you can quickly start to look pretty silly assuming one thing implies another. It’s best to sit back, try not to grip the arms of the chair and let it all come on…

What is certainly undeniable, though, is that from the relative breathless (and breathy) calm of Drifters, many, many wheels are definitely starting to come off as the listener moves into Love Is The Devil. By the time you reach my favourite track, “Alone at the Danube River”, there is an unambiguous sorrow within the music. By now, the Hungtai yard sale has got rid of pretty much the lot – a plaintive guitar, drenched in clumsy feedback, is all that is left. There are no rhythms, no effects, and no warmth at all until around the 5:00 mark when an unexpected burst of Eno-esque sunshine floods over the guitar all but washing it away for good.

A lonely, chilling, attractive record… What is to become of Alex Zhang Hungtai?