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?

We will not allow any dancing… running up and down the aisles… Is that clear to everybody?

One of the great things about a Bank Holiday Monday is that you can have a lot of fun on a Sunday and then piss away the Monday freestyle. And when it’s as rainy and hoary a Bank Holiday as this, what else can you do but gently recover from what passes for a Big Night these days…

And why not do this to a grey-skyed soundtrack of Post Punk industrial grimness?

Cabaret Voltaire

In a retrospectively heroic but actually quite ridiculous gesture of independence, as a green seventeen-year old I once spaffed away an astronomical £4.99 on Cabaret Voltaire’s harsh “first album proper”, Voice of America. Quite the gesture, as in those days (yes, kids…) this was a not inconsiderable amount of money, certainly for a youngster still at school, with only a Saturday job to provide for him. What’s more, I’ve a feeling I may have done this on the lightest of proofs – a review in Sounds, possibly catching “Nag, Nag, Nag” on Peel, or quite possibly nothing at all, other than the idea gleamed from a mate that this was something I should probably like.

I kind of did. But to be fair, it was (still is) an obdurate old bugger, unwilling to grant you any concessions, least of all their “hit single”, “Nag, Nag, Nag”:

Clearly “Nag, Nag, Nag” is a great record – ugly, distorted, irresponsible and strange – everything you wanted back then. It’s a fuzzed up, ambient tonic to the already-tired Punk and “New Wave” sounds that were increasingly pumped out on evening radio shows. I was then, and still am now, very keen on the dizzying blend of reckless pace and garish dissonance they managed to achieve (whilst at the same time propelled relentlessly by the prettiest of pop-pop drum machine sounds…)

I’ve only recently found out that the unlikely template for the record was The Seeds’ “No Escape”, which is something of a revelation to me. (Now I bother to look into it, there’s an actual cover of it on Mix Up). Of course, if someone had sat me down, put an arm around my shoulder and told me that at the time, I would’ve been none the wiser, but a similar disclosure a couple of years later, might well have led to me blowing the dust off my, by then, discarded copy of Voice of America.

There’s quite a good clip from the BBC’s Synth Britannia program, with Richard H Kirk talking about the start of the band and their influences, which I think captures a lot of the context of the Cabs:

The immediate impression on hearing the record, then and now, is a general cooling off from the white-hot pace of the single – the tempo is at times unapologetically leaden, only occasionally moving the dial up to a moderate, fidgety “funk” (more of which later). To be fair, if I’d only had ears to listen, a lot of the breathless traits of “Nag, Nag, Nag” are in evidence all over Voice of America – from the swirling sheets of white-noise slithering from one ear to the other, through the dubby reverb overlays to the persistent inclusion of “Grown-Up World” voices pasted incongruously on top of the music.

I remember the introduction to the record impressing me very much at the time – a wary, middle-aged voice exhorting unsuspecting American youth to avail themselves of the earplugs provided and alerting them to the vague threat of a detention room. I don’t remember hearing this sort of thing on a record before (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts wasn’t released until the following year) and the sense of menace and inarticulate tension was pervasive. I think this is pretty impressive still now and the vision it presents of an abrasive and foreboding future must have been more than a little disturbing for a more discerning listener than I. Words like “dystopian”, “industrial” and “post-apocalyptic” were bandied around pretty much routinely whenever Cabaret Voltaire were written about, and to be fair it’s all pretty much there.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to see them perform around Sheffield at the time, but there is a tantalising snippet of them playing out the Granada TV program “Celebration” with Kirk and Stephen Mallinder looking immature and world-weary at the same time, with (I think) Chris Watson drawing unnerving sounds from his Open University-style synth:

Last summer, I picked up the Electropunk to Technopop compilation when I was in Brighton, which is a strange mixture of pre- and post- Voice of America tracks, of which about half of the tracks are… well… unlistenable.

Regrettably, along with almost all of their Post Punk cohort, as the eighties progressed, the Cabs seemed to think that making strange records was no longer where it was at and started to think of themselves as a dance band, turning their backs on electronic music and preferring to make garish “dance floor fillers”. In my humble opinion, they really weren’t a dance band and records like “Just Fascination” and “Yashar” which had proper videos and led to TV appearances, were just horrible…

The stuff that’s aged best has been tracks like, “Nag, Nag, Nag”, the title track of Voice of America and the mighty “Obsession” – they strike a balance between jerky, catchy intrigue and stark dissonance.

It’s an ugly, sweet spot.

But God damn it Amanda, God damn it all…

Can it really be ten years ago since I saw Phosphorescent at Thekla?

In truth, it’s drifted from my memory with indecent haste. I remember being absolutely smitten with Here’s To Taking It Easy for a few months and then being vaguely disappointed with the follow-up.

And, well, that’s it.

Faded memories.

It seems a terrible shame, although possibly it doesn’t matter – I’ll wager Mathew Houk will never write a song as good as this again…

There’s another live version of this, filmed at Bonnaroo, in all its finger-wagging pomp, and a couple of solo versions which are also great, but I chose this one for its messy inarticulacy and its full goose-flesh delivery of my favourite line.

Imagine being able to write a song like this…

A ball floating in a bowl of water

Lockdown has finally broken me.

I know this, and not only because someone whose opinion I respect told me that I’ve become a glass half empty feller of recent (an idiom universally recognised in the middle class lexicon as meaning “miserable Old Git”). I know this chiefly because I’ve started making my own bread – an outward symptom of a greater malaise that doctors up and down the country have scratched their heads and put down to miserable old gits not being able to get out to the pub / gym / multiplex (I’ll leave you to guess which to delete as applicable…)

Actually, despite the “Quite Pleased with my First Effort” pictures every other hipster-ninny in the country has posted on his Instagram or Twitter account, it’s quite hard. Much harder than I imagined, and my first four efforts were… unsuccessful (shall we say).

Anyway, pummelling, kneading and stretching this morning’s latest instalment in the ongoing wholemeal melodrama, I have been propelled by beautiful insistent rhythms.

Les Filles de Illighadad

This was, I think, my first purchase from Bandcamp, and it’s refused to be denied, gradually worming its way into my whey-faced psyche…

I know.

It’s a ball floating in a bowl of water…

Les Filles de Illighadad are Tuareg musicians coming from the village of Illigharad in the Saharan region of Niger, and that’s one of only two facts I know about them (I’ll save the other). This is the same area that Tinariwen the only other similar musicians that I (and I imagine most people) had heard of. I’ve not really investigated Tinariwen very much, I’m sure they’re great, but by now Les Filles have won my heart.

It’s something about the sonorous tone of that ball in water, those harsh, proud vocals and the winding, insinuating tone of those guitars. I remember when Andy Kershaw started to include a lot of World Music in his show, he introduced a John Lee Hooker track as being “by that bloke that sounds like Ali Farka Touré”. These are country blues with a hypnotic, almost motoric repetitiveness.

Fatou Seidi Ghali, Les Filles’ guitarist and founder, claims to be the first female Tuareg guitarist in the world, picking up her brother’s guitar (the only male member of Les Filles) as a young girl (ladies and gentlemen, my other fact). Her finger-picking is gossamer-thin, the most delicate I can imagine and suggests a deftness of spirit that accompanied by that subterranean, marine rhythm draws you into moments of fidgety star-gazing.

The performance itself is a glamorous, graceful one, heavy in “you wouldn’t understand” tones that I’m happy to tip my hat to and enjoy, foolishly – complex music from proud hearts.

It’s like it was there in the garage waiting for us…

A glance at my bank balance at the end of a month reveals an unexpected bonus from these dull, monochrome times. There’s such a lack of anything we’re still allowed to do (apart from work – and I keep telling myself I should be grateful for this as least). From what I can tell there seem to be different numbers in different columns, and my accountant tells me this is a Good Thing. Who am I to argue about such things?

I’m thinking of splashing out on this:

Writhing Squares

Fans of Beak or those gripping Here Lies Man records will love the work of Philadelphia duo Kevin Nickles and Daniel Provenzano, who list a number of other bands and credits, the only one of which I’d heard of was Provenzano playing with Purling Hiss. I have a record by The Hiss and although it’s … kind of OK, it doesn’t really hint at the exhilaratingly rough spaciness of this, their third album.

Well?

The samples sound great to me – mesmerising, five-dimensional synths that cough and fizz from one ear to the next; horns that bay and honk blindly; pedals that split, distort and provide all manner of come-to-bed ear-fucking diversions. Saxes, harmonicas, and even flutes combine to make this a crackling, noisy old listen, and it’ll sound absolutely fine in the car tomorrow morning.

And if I hadn’t already been completely sold on it, their self-penned description as “inner-city Kosmische skronk” pretty much charmed the knickers off my credit card.

There’s quite a nice little interview with the pair, here, if you like this sort of thing (I can see the Hawkwind comparisons, but I’m profoundly uncomfortable about the mention of Yes – fortunately, I can’t see many Yes fans sticking with it for long…), (There’s also a better but older interview here which contains the cracking quote I’ve used above…) but to be honest, watch them “live” in proper 2021 style – it’ll speak volumes – there are quite a bunch of whole shows on YouTube.

Pull up a tea chest… (“A Whole New Jupiter” comes in at around 14:00):

Been around for a long, long year

I was going to do a few lines about garage punk, but somehow this forced itself upon me…

(I should probably point out I’m more than aware of what a ridiculous figure Jagger strikes here, but c’mon it’s another Lockdown Sunday, what else have got to do? Drink the kool-aid…)

I’m disappointed to learn that the Stones themselves were regarded to be below par here, and upstaged by a number of other performers over the 24 hours. I care not. I love this performance, particularly.

Things I’m fascinated by in the video:

  • Charlie Watts. Characteristically rock steady, despite the nincompoopery around him. I love the repeated rimshot. Never overwhelmed by Kwazi Dzidzornu’s powerful congas, a rye dynamo behind the band. Possibly the greatest ever…
  • An impotent and humiliated Brian Jones, once leader of the band, long-since over taken by Jagger and Richards, reduced to a non-singing Davey Jones role on maracas. His final appearance on stage with the band; he was gone seven months later.
  • An enthusiastically be-caped audience, John & Yoko, Pete Townsend visible here amongst them, kicking back the rugs, gurning like idiots and having a bit of a time.
  • Nicky Hopkins’ piano work. Rarely in shot (and when he is, studious, vaguely uncomfortable and incongruously free of the air of debauchery the Stones liked to court – it’s little wonder he never got a full members pass). And yet, as funky and down as any Memphis player – it’s tribute to his playing, I think, that I barely missed the woo-woo choruses…
  • Jagger. A wondrous, uncomfortable mixture of foolishness, foppishness and, well, fornication. He manages to look ridiculous, dangerous and sensuous all at the same time. The whole Miltonian premise of the song somehow gets a whole new cartoonish life in that sinewy, clownishly tattooed body and those child-bearing lips (© Joan Rivers). His is also The Rock Voice.

Lie back, take it easy, surrender to these days.

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