So much thinking… What do you think?

Oh thank the sweet Lord for some sun and the thought of a Summer that seems to have taken forever to roll up. It’s been a long shitty winter, and I am absolutely gagging for a bit of the warm stuff. Bring it on…

All this has fortuitously coincided with half term and it’s been beyond lovely. Popped out a couple of times this week for a spot of continental breakfast (yes, the metropolitan elite lifestyle has even found its way to this old city) and it’s been very nice. It’s also seen the debut of a rather wonderful (if optimistic) purchase I made back at Easter – a hammock. Swinging gently from the branches is a charming, heady experience, but has the side-effect of putting me to sleep almost instantaneously.

This is by way of saying that I meant to get round to this quite a while ago, but was powerless to resist the soporific charms of my hammock.

Melenas

Melenas are an all-girl group of sixties mods from Pamplona in northern Spain, whose name I think translates as “moptops”. If I’d set down one afternoon and sketched a series of boxes I’d have liked ticked for my latest New Thing, this lot would have scored pretty highly – farfisa organ sound, garage punk pretensions, jangly guitars, singing in Spanish. (Clearly… I would never actually do this – that would be tragic.)

This is the first track from their (I think) third album, Días Raros which came out this year on Trouble in Mind:

I really like the way the buzzing electronica makes way for a textbook motorik rhythm which in turn is overtaken by a swirling, truly garage guitar and organ sound. There’s also something hypnotic about the harmonies presented in the chorus, and (not so evident in this video) a thunderous, looping bassline. It all feels very easy. Why don’t other bands do more of this?

There’s a little feature in Tom Tom Mag with Melenas picking a playlist, which is also rather fun and gives you a flavour of where it all comes from. Definitely more B52s than Otoboke Beaver. It’s all good I can swing both ways…

Go on, here’s the second track (possibly even more catchy…):

[Singing drummers, always a good thing…]

There are official videos of both these songs, but in both cases these live versions sound better and as ever are more interesting. Bands that jig along to their songs – also a good thing.

“Días Raros” translates as “Strange Days” which these are of course, but is apparently nothing to do with pandemics or government snouts in the trough, the album having been written pre-covid. It’s more about “…those days where you spend more time inside than outside. Inside your own self, inside your bedroom and your own universe thinking about your wishes, dreams, memories, obsessions or fears.”

So, completely different, really…

But then the best stuff is often improbably prophetic, no?

Selfish one, why keep your love to yourself?

There’s something uniquely dispiriting about seeing your home team dicked again by a team of journeymen in a cavernously empty ‘Holm of rugby.

No one there to see it, except a TV audience of millions. I’m really fed up of all this…

Stick some music on.

Boddie Recordings

The Boy somehow magiked up this quite wonderful boxset for me as a Christmas present (“It was easy – I just Googled ‘weird shit’”), which is a gorgeously garage-y soul collection from sixties and seventies Cleveland, full of rough, earnest classics that no one ever heard. Listen…

(I love the line about each record taking a full four minutes to create…)

There’s something quite heroic about Thomas Boddie’s exploits – by day repairing organs and by night recording over 10,000 hours of music and running a label with his wife for over 20 years, “his prices the lowest in town”.

BODDIE RECORDING COMPANY: Amazon.co.uk: Music

From listening to this, it’ll not be a surprise that the collection is something of a mixed bag of ragged and earnest recordings by bands that never made it or never really were it in the first place. But, believe me, there are some beauties and some belters here. The track that plays beneath the opening to the video is “The Pusher” by a group of hopefuls known (by transcription error) as the Inter Circle. The liner notes refer to Boyce Walker Jr’s guitar as “porn-whisked” which I rather like, but the cluttered, overexcited drumming is also something to behold. Created as a dark “tribute” to a local anti-hero, its B-side is similarly themed and titled “The Players”. It’s just as grimy but dominated by a rich, florid organ sound and swings like a pimp’s bellbottoms.

But really the whole collection is full of this sort of thing – an impressive 3-cd or 5-LP stash, packaged beautifully and blessed with more coverage of the obscure hopefuls behind each record than they ever will have received in their day.

In stark contrast to their white punk counterparts of the day, I can find absolutely no video content of any of the bands in the collection, which is a rotten shame. There are the studio recordings but no actual footage, so you might as well go to the Bandcamp page to stream the whole boxset (I’d recommend both the blistering Creations Unlimited tracks there, at the very least).

When you do, you might notice that although the CD set is currently sold out, there’s an intriguing six-track acetate collection, of three completely unknown artists who wandered in, cut a pair of tracks each and disappeared (in every sense – the Boddie record-keeping seems to have been a little … haphazard).

Love this track, all the more tragic for its impenetrable obscurity…

It’s like a souvenir that just sits on the shelf…

The day that I was born – what planet guided me?

One of the downsides of this whole global pandemic spectacle (apart from the tens of thousands of deaths, obvs) is that the next leg of our tour of Spain has had to be deferred until next year. We’d been planning to do some loafing about and travelling around Asturias, Castilla & Leon and the Basque Country and had been looking forward to it enormously. All very first-world-problems and of barely any consequence in the grand, horrible scheme of things, I know, but…

Still, we’ve been lucky, everyone’s been very decent, all the places we’d been planning to stay have been more than accommodating and we should be able to do it all next year, without losing much money. Small mercies…

One of the upsides of this whole mess has been that with music venues, rugby grounds and the city’s pubs all closed, I’ve had a bit more time to practice my Spanish and get myself extra-ready. I’m still pretty poor for all the Skype inter-cambios and heavily-subtitled episodes of Money Heist I’ve watched. But, I find myself increasingly drawn into this whole language malarkey.

I think I’ve written about Radio Gladys Palmeira before, and it continues to be one of the radio stations I’m tuning into. And here’s a recent discovery that I’m currently …er… grooving to.

Rodrigo Cuevas

Rodrigo’s a pretty distinctive-looking feller, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from the photo. The hat and clogs are apparently traditional native garb of his native Asturias. The stockings and suspenders, less so, I suspect.

I was particularly looking forward to visiting Asturias – it’s supposed to be wild and lovely, good for food, drink and music and they do that pouring -cider-from-a-great-height thing – but I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting anything quite as exotic as this:

All a bit rich and buttery for my taste – I don’t think I could eat a whole one, thank you – but kinda fun, nevertheless. Cuevas’ thing, as far as I can tell, is that as a proud son of Asturian soil he tries to take a genuinely rich local musical culture (all pipes and Celtic roots) and put a modern, nutty twist to it. We’ve heard all this before, I know, but with the release of Manual de Cortejo last year, I think he’s done something with a little more reach. Produced by Raul Refree (himself another interesting character who’s worked with Lee Ranaldo and Mala Rodrigues), Cuevas has taken a range of traditional songs and, with the help of Refree’s battered portmanteau of gizmos, dipped them in all manner of cavernous bass beats and deep, foreboding ambience. Cuevas’ voice is at times heavily tweaked and auto-tuned (the Spanish seem to love all that stuff) but remains this side of artifice.

Listen to this:

This is gorgeous, no?

It’s a rare, pre-war gem, originally performed by Argentinian diva Imperio Argentina of which you can find a few versions on YouTube. Should you feel the urge, you’ll be rewarded with a strange but beautiful melody, stirring defiance, haunting sadness and you’ll be able to appreciate the extent to which Cuevas and Refree love and respect Doña Imperio and all their sources.

Cuevas likes to refer to himself as an “agitador folklórico” and I rather like this – it conjures up an image of a band of be-stockinged, moustachioed vaqueros coming down from the mountains to comprehensively (but always respectfully) mess with the locals’ pipe and clog festivals.

The whole record is this mixture of lovingly fucked-up originals, muddied and eddied by dark trickery and driven by spaghetti western theme tunes. All wonderfully rich stuff.

Over an ocean away…

My pal, Coleser, has recently hatched a plan for myself and a couple of other like-minded souls to go to the Sea Change festival in Totnes. He’s chosen well as he knows that of recent I’ve come to the conclusion that my days accompanying him to Green Man and End of the Road may well be over. Much too old and too soft these days. The lure of the damp sod, the open air stage and the beer tent no longer sufficient recompense for the dubious pleasures of uncomfortable nights, listening to the rain lashing the canvas and the sound of drunken oafs stumbling over guy ropes. Sea Change is a town festival, however, and as such provides simple luxuries like beds, roofs and comfy pubs. This pleases me immensely and I’m beginning to look forward to the weekend.

Headliners for Sea Change include Jane Weaver, Hookworms and the mythical Damo Suzuki. I’m also becoming quite keen to see this pair:

Group Listening

Paul Jones I do not know but he is apparently a long term, college friend of Stephen Black, whom as Sweet Baboo, I’ve followed for a while and indeed written about him, (here in fact). Over the course of a few years, I’ve seen Black playing bass behind Gruff Rhys, Euros Childs, Cate le Bon and H Hawkline more times than I care to remember (including a good few at Green Man) and also doing his own Sweet Baboo set at the Prince Albert in Stroud.

This Group Listening record that came out earlier this year is different again, though. Clarinet and Piano: Selected Works, Vol 1 sounds like the discouraging title of a John Cage or Brian Eno record, doesn’t it? Not that far off, to be honest. It is indeed a collection of ambient pieces, mostly covers, played in bewitchingly straight fashion on said clarinet and piano.

Something about this title and description made every fibre of my body scream Can’t Be Arsed when I came across it, but a little common sense and open-mindedness has yielded to me a light and beautiful treat that I could easily have missed. I am not clear how many of the tracks are originals and how many are covers, but a brief scan yields songs by Eno, Euros Childs, Dieter Roedelius and a gorgeous cover of Maryan which I really think you should hear

 

I’ve spoken before (at length) about my love of Robert Wyatt and I’m not generally keen on people piggy-backing on the great man’s genius, but here I’m willing to give them a pass. The pair manage to take a meandering, joy-filled, free-spirited original and give me something new. They constrain it a little, painting it in bluer, more directionless tones. Black talks in this interview about “a deep yearning… a positive sadness” about the interpretations and you can hear it here. Childs’ “The Dog” is another uneven triumph.

There’s also something very refreshing about dense, industrial, abstract krautrock compositions transcribed into lighter, more human tones by Jones and Black. You hear this very clearly in the Eno track, “Julie With”, not a song I knew previously. There’s a beautiful video released to go with it too, all bridges and channels, mundane blues and greys:

 

The richness of a slow summer…

They Gots Beef

Emusic’s been down for a couple of days (cue furious ranting from folk on the message board and a general fear that this Blog’s music provider of choice has finally gone under – it’s going to happen one day…) but this has meant that I’ve not recently bought anything much new. In fact, I’ve been forced to fall back on the sparse resources I’ve built up over a mere 40 years of obsessive music procurement.

This has actually been fun – I’ve been dousing myself liberally in Pere Ubu, the TV Personalities and the splendid brilliance of the Soft Boys (Underwater Moonlight, is definitively in my Top Five) – and has synched neatly with my reading Peter Hook’s book about his time in Joy Division. I’ve therefore had a perversely miserable time this week re-acquainting myself with Unknown Pleasures.

I couldn’t help but be struck by how much the record fitted in perfectly with so many of today’s indie-releases but at the same time felt like opening a musty, monochrome time-capsule from my teen years – even as a middle-class lad growing up in the West, it still evokes the smell of municipal gloom and crumbling warehouses which it’s easy to forget existed in the seventies and eighties (Gloucester Docks anyone?). What times…

Impossible to conceive of this group of dayglo ninnies in times like those.

The Evil Usses

I think I mentioned the Evil Usses before, in my Here Lies Man post, with rash undertakings to return to them Very Soon. If you were hanging on, eagerly awaiting the promised lines, well, I commend you for your youthful optimism and maybe this post will afford you a few more days of wide-eyed hopefulness…

Yes, so Bristol’s Evil Usses supported Here Lies Man on a cold Sunday afternoon in March, the original Friday evening date having been suspended because of heavy snowfalls. Very odd to be walking into a pub of a Sunday afternoon with all the familiar anticipation that a dose of live music still gives this old chap, and as myself and Coleser did so, the slightly surreal feeling was hardly alleviated by the absolute racket coming from the stage area.

Evil Usses had already started and were lumbering and honking through a truly bizarre set of “rocky notjazz, jazzy notrock” that confused and amused by turns. The Evil Usses are a sax/synth-guitar-bass-drums four-piece with clear Beefheart / Zappa love and an ear for squelchy disruption.

Watch this…

 

 

(As was pointed out, you know it’s left-field when even Big Jeff loses the thread)

There were no vocals and nothing lyrical about them at all, just a dollop of saucy smart-aleckery played at enthusiastic volume and a determination to play at at least one step’s divorce from anything else you’re going to hear this week. I should qualify the Beefheart thing, though – they’re a swinging version, more like a post-funk Magic Band (and I’m not talking about the Captain’s own rather creepy, insecure attempts to make a seventies “pop” record). It was enormous fun and left me grinning foolishly to myself until Here Lies Man came on and did their thing.

Despite Coleser’s prudent counsel (I have “form” in this area…), I snuck off to the merch stall and bought what turns out to be the second Evil Usses record, Amateur Pro Wrestling, and I’m glad I did – it’s not quite as exhilaratingly daft as that afternoon’s set, but certainly a fun listen. Turns out their eponymous debut and their just-released third, Muck, are both available on the newly restored Emusic (the latter characteristically mislabelled) and I’ve just spent a blissful Sunday afternoon immersed in their goofy genius…

I also have a couple of recordings from the set, which I’d like to think capture some of anarchic enthusiasm of the afternoon.

Buzz Gots Beef

Grouse

Wellard J Fowler

You’d also be well advised to pay a visit to the band’s Soundcloud page which is full to bursting with tracks and outtakes.

Ridiculous…

I was there in the room…

the-hecks-mirror-by-dan-paz-smallerMeant to follow up the last Trouble in Mind a little quicker than this, but hey-ho…

If the Beef Jerk offering somehow wasn’t lo-fi or strident enough for you, may I suggest the shriller, twangier and even more brilliantly-named the Hecks, also on Trouble in Mind, also young ‘n’ feisty and also hogging my car stereo.

Oh, and they’re really, bloody noisy.

The Hecks

The Hecks are a three-piece from Chicago, who are obsessed with strange guitar tunings, “intentionality” and Faust. The “intentionality” thing is an idea I’ve lifted from an interview they did with Chicago magazine LocalLoop, which I think translates as everything that comes out of the studio being done with and for a purpose. Do read the interview, their idea of guitar tuned in a particular way having to stay as they are, due to financial or technical limitations, is quite a fun one.

What’s particularly odd about all this is that one of the first impressions September’s debut album gives you is of raggedness and above all chance. Very little sounds as if it has been planned, polished or preserved.

You can stream a load of Hecks songs from the TiM SoundCloud page, and I’d recommend a good listen. Particularly fond of this:

 

 

From the first taut chords of “Sugar” to the awkward zeal of closer “Airport Run”, it’s a pretty uneven affair – whirling, clanking, twanging chords rub tattooed shoulders with drone and feedback-decked noise. It’s rough, Faustian stuff and, as I say, really noisy. I reckon, there’s always a place for dissonance, ugliness and a right bloody racquet.

And for those times, I give you…

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