I mean, what else? You can’t eat music.

Amongst the empty absinthe bottles, Pringles tubes and pistachio shells, strewn about the house, something’s wrong. Having dutifully watched hours upon hours of Talking Pictures TV, and absolutely, categorically had enough of Oliver Reed’s camp thuggery, I still have a niggling feeling… Gone to enough school and office parties to take me safely through until next year, but I’ve definitely forgotten something.

True, there’s still half a chocolate orange (saved. Obviously you need something to see the New Year in with); having checked and double-checked the Radio Times, I can find no screening of Escape to Victory (and if Die Hard can be a Christmas movie…), so that’s not it. But there’s something else…

Ah! Bugger.

End of Year lists.

I knew there was something.

Seven Tinsel-decked Tings from 2018

Truth be told, 2018 has been a desperately grim year, with all sorts of indefensible shithousery going on from the people we’ve recklessly entrusted our futures to. I don’t remember a year when I’ve watched the news more obsessively, and sworn more rancorously at the TV (unless you count 2017, of course. Also 2016…). 2019 isn’t looking like it’s going to get much better either.

I don’t think the two things are linked but 2018 is a year when I’ve bought less brand new music and been to less gigs than for a long a time. No new records spring to my lacklustre mind for this year, and a glance at the more established End of Year lists hasn’t really altered my thoughts on this. I’ve seen a couple of really good live sets (Here Lies Man and Damo are the ones I’m thinking of), but not a great haul.

Having said this, my jammy grandfather clause with eMusic has meant that there’s still been a whole bunch of “new” music floating in and around the estate this year. So I’ve decided to go for seven treats from the PP music year, trying particularly to think about things I don’t think I’ve written about previously (so no Here Lies Man, Sweet Baboo or Damo Suzuki, I’m afraid) but which have been tiny candles amongst the gloom…

Spanish Warbling: Josephine Foster – “Dame Esa Flora”

I’ve managed to step up my efforts to improve my Spanish this year and am hoping to go again with this in the New Year. And one of the things that I’ve done is listen to more Spanish music. Now I’ve written before about warbly-voiced female singers in less than complimentary terms, and Josephine Foster is certainly ones of these. But hey, if she’s warbling in Spanish, it’s different, right? She has a few records out but two in particular stand out which were recorded with the Herrero Brothers. The first was a collection of songs by Lorca and a second album, Perlas, was made up of other traditional songs from various regions of Spain, including this one about Cadiz. We went to Cadiz this year and were again taken by it, so this feels right; and once you’ve warmed to Foster’s voice and are settling into the beautiful mandolin (?) breaks you realise that this is, after all, damn fine:

 

Somali Dance: Dur Dur Band

A quick look through my music of this year confirmed a couple of things: firstly, that, yes, I got very few records from this year; and secondly that I acquired an alarming amount of African music from the seventies – Zamrock, the Ethiopiques series, a lot of Somali music, and pretty much all of it from the seventies and eighties. I did already post about some of this and plugged the Likembe website back in the Summer. But one of the bands covered there, Dur Dur Band from Mogadishu, was also the subject of a new collection from Analog Africa which is just excellent.

This track which doesn’t seem to be on the new compilation or the other LP I have, rollocks along like a train (a funk train), powered by hand drums and an impossibly tight rhythm guitar. The brass is cut-throat and there’s some great twisted lead guitar work. Ah, the days when bands still wrote their name on the bass drum…

 

Japanese Clatter: Bo Ningen – “Koroshitai Kimochi”

I did also write about this bunch of androgynous oddballs after I saw them supporting Damo Suzuki at Sea Change, so I won’t go on. But every time I see clips of this, it gets more and more white-knuckle. It’s utterly out to lunch – deafening, nutty, double-jointed – all of these in a good way. What a racket.

I need a snakeskin-effect poncho…

 

The Cosmos: Terry Riley – “Shri Camel” album

OK, so this is an hour long video, so get a drink or something, but do commit yourself. The first part is an interview with the man which is complex but disarmingly low on bullshit and generally really interesting. I believe everything he says.

There was a really excellent series of shows on BBC4 earlier this year covering experimental music which introduced me to the idea of Terry Riley. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything about what he does, but the one idea that stuck me from the programs was the idea of single pairs of notes moving in and out of sync with each other and then returning to their relative positions like planets in a solar system.

This is grown up music…

 

English Folk Music: Lal Waterson – “Fine Horseman” / Sandy Denny – “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

I seemed to spend a lot of time this year reading about folk music – Nick Drake and Sandy Denny biogs, Rob Young’s Electric Eden, the Incredible String Band book I posted about in the summer – all of it fascinating (I’ve also got a Peggy Seeger biog in the pile by my bed…). And on that theme, these two songs are remarkable:

I bought the reissue of the Waterson’s Bright Phoebus this year, which is a great record but the stand out moments all involved the monochrome tones of Lal Waterson, a singer I am ashamed to know I knew nothing about before this. It’s an eerie song that feels like it’s been passed from lip to ear for generations – misunderstood, reinterpreted, weirdly distorted – but is actually a genuinely strange original.

 

The Sandy Denny song is another thing of splendour, crafted carefully and possessing of the most achingly poignant single line choruses. Denny’s life is sad enough and beautifully captured in Mick Houghton’s book, but really you only have to hear this song…

 

Italian Horror: Goblin – “theme from Profondo Rosso”

This was the year I finally got around to watching The Exorcist and a whole bunch of Hammer and folk horror stuff. And there’s some cracking music to accompany some of these films. I’m yet to see Profondo Rosso but I like the Goblin sound track.

 

Oh go on, while we’re at it, Goblin’s theme tune to another horror movie – Suspiria.

And a new album! The Surfing Magazines “New Day”

I didn’t actually see the Surfing Magazines at Sea Change but I heard them from the warmth and safety of the beer tent. I did pop out for a couple of songs and they struck me as having a similar live act as Woods – a basic understanding of the sixties rule book and a willingness to wig out at any given moment. They were fun.

Made up of members of the Wave Pictures and Slow Club, I’m very much hoping this isn’t just a cheery side-project and that there’s more to come.

 

So there we have it, 2018. Some highlights and not too many grumbles. Here’s to the next one, God help us all…

This is as close to worth it as we’ve been hoping for

field-music_creditandymartinActually, I do feel better for that.

Got a few comments about last night’s post and the, erm, tone of it. So I thought I’d probably better get in and talk about some of the records I actually liked from this year.

Like this one…

Commontime – Field Music

When I started to go through the aforementioned end-of-year lists I was struck by the fact that Field Music’s latest gift only came out this year – it seems like it came out ages ago. I’m tempted to think that Time really is a relative concept when it comes to Field Music records. They pack such a lot into every moment of every tune that the Old Feller does some sort of double-take, holds up for a moment and rewinds the tape. (You’ll notice that in my stuffed, overdone metaphor, for some reason Time still uses a shonky old cassette player…)

Talking about Field Music making one of the best records of the year is a bit like suggesting Barcelona could win the Champions League this season – not exactly sticking your neck out, are you? But there you are, if it’s quality, you might as well call it.

So another Field Music record, another ambitious record choc-full of twitching time signatures, bold but sparingly-used guitars, taut drumming and all manner of muted jiggery-pokery dancing around the edges. Such is the regularity and consistency of the Brewis’ output that at first I was tempted to add this to my “treading water” list of yesterday. Thankfully for my shot-to-pieces credibility, I gave it another listen and all manner of technicolour fantasia figures reintroduced themselves through my headphones. What beautiful, clever chappies they are.

One of the things that struck me at the time and even more so yesterday is the immediacy and warmth of the lyrics. Snatches of conversation fresh from the Brewis kitchen (I like to think) waft in and out of the songs, some of them alarmingly candid, almost ill-advisedly frank. Kind-hearted counsel, which in other less-skilled hands would sound arch or cheesy, is instead dispensed with tenderness and sympathy, and such is the legendary niceness of the brothers that I take it at the fullest of face values.

Some of the songs are damn funky (in spite of what they say), some are tricky listens (not going to lie to you…) and some pass you by completely until you take a moment, but all of them are intelligent and reward you for a careful listen (not always my speciality), new white horses rising to the surface with every listen.

Here’s a belting video of one of those KEXP sessions (God bless those folk) with a great interview with the brothers in the middle (where they talk about the “F” word) and the best version of Disappointed with its clever vocal interplay and heroic bassline.

The comments on any Field Music video are quite illuminating, siting all sorts of bands as influences almost all of whom I’ve either never bothered with or have high-handedly dismissed as beneath me.

Well, thank God for the Brewises!

I look around, nothing’s what it seems

angrykidDecember’s regular trawl through the various end-of-year lists leads me inevitably to a couple of thoughts:

”I should probably do one of these.” (Oh God…)

and, when the penny dropped,

“It’s been a pretty thin year, hasn’t it?”

I’m guessing at this point, there’ll be a few outraged hipsters jumping from their seats, tipping over metaphorical tables and storming out of the room, muttering dark words about the Cavern of Anti-Matter record or Amber Arcades’ Green Man set. But… I think I’m standing by it.

I say “I think” but I’m actually pretty sure – I know this because I wrote a list, although not an end-of-year list, ooh no:

2016 – Six Records I Hated:

 

MY WOMAN – Angel Olsen

OK, that’s a bit strong, it’s not at all bad, just not nearly as good Burn Your Fire For No Witness, which I really only discovered this year and to my ears sounds way better. Nothing on the new one is half as clever or witty as “Hi Five”. And while we’re on it, I disproportionately hate those bloody capitals.

FLOTUS – Lambchop

Again capitals? Really? And who had the bright idea to “correct” Kurt Wagner’s soulful, conversational vocals? This is the only record on the list I couldn’t bring myself to buy – couldn’t get past the wretched samples…

Void Beats/Invocation Trex – Cavern of Anti-Matter

Tried pretty hard to like this record (including another listen this morning), but I just don’t (no matter how many times Neu! are referenced in reviews)

IV – Black Mountain

Really, really liked their first album and remember playing the bejeezus out of it at the time, but this is awful – none of the cool fun, none of the loopy graceful style. Hard to believe this is the same band to be honest.

Modern Country – William Tyler

Read the reviews of this and was charmed by the “modern country” idea, but really, there’s just nothing there. One of those records that is good because people say it is. If you heard this playing in a lift, or at an airport, you’d probably wonder how on earth Pitchfork gave it an 8…

Fading Lines – Amber Arcades

Another record I tried and tried with, but tossed it away when I realised what I was doing. If only the rest of the album was as good as the title track…

2016 – Seven Quite Good Records by Bands I Cherish, that’ll *do*…

… but

 

Stiff – White Denim (highlights “Holda You (I’m Coming)” and “Big, Big Fun” but it’s no D)

Schmilco – Wilco (highlights: the line “Cry, like a window pane”, actually the whole song, but a few tracks that are pretty forgettable)

Here – Teenage Fanclub (hardly fair, I know. They’re Teenage Fanclub – if I wanted progression, I’m in the wrong relationship)

Singing Saw – Kevin Morby (Can’t understand this one’s appearance in all the lists – did no one hear the previous two records? Or his stuff with the Babies? Pretty thin stuff compared to these…)

City Sun Eater In The River Of Light – Woods (love this bunch, but, meh…)

Calico Review – the Allah-Lahs (memories of seeing them at Psychfest one year, possibly the coolest band I’ve ever seen. Where are they now?)

Hold/Still – Suuns (actually, Suuns may well be the coolest band I’ve ever seen, but I’ve gotta say, they’re losing me…)

 

2016 – Four Records I’ll Not Be Buying

(This is my Blog, and these are my prejudices)

 

22, A Million – Bon Iver (Sorry, but no.)

Blackstar – David Bowie (nope)

Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave (nope)

The bloody Radiohead record (I’m an old man, not going to change now)

 

D’you know? I feel a little better for that…

Lucky Seven – Some Gigs of 2015

empty-stageI think I mentioned last time that with the end of Euros Childs at Thekla last week, 2015 is now complete as far as live music is concerned. 2014 was a pretty thin year for me, due to a combination of factors, but this year has definitely upped the ante for coming seasons. I’m slightly self-conscious about talking numbers because I know so many serious liggers who might smile indulgently into their Eindhoven Psychlab lanyards, but I think twenty (plus a music festival) is a decent haul for a middle-aged part-timer.

So having scratched about a bit last year, coming up with seven notable live sets of 2015 is a different sort of challenge to wrestle with. Here, then, in roughly chronological order, with an extra recording or two from each set:

The PP Lucky Seven – Live

 

“Worlds that crash each other…”

  1.   White Fence @ The Fleece, January

An electrifying start to the year, which I’d been looking forward to all over Christmas. Augmented by a slightly self-conscious Cate le Bon (not at that time fully bedded in, I felt) I remember being thrilled by Presley’s light, slashing guitar work (a rapier, if you will) and by his habit of wearing his guitar high, like the Beatles or the Hollies. Class. Also saw them in the summer and to be honest they were pretty average, which is ok, leaving as it does a glittering January evening to loiter a while in the mind’s eye.

All of this, and Ultimate Painting doing support.

Anger! Who keeps you under?

 

“Put me on a pedestal I’ll only disappoint you”

2.   Courtney Barnett @ The Fleece, March

This evening seems a very long time ago indeed, but once I listen back to the recordings, it all comes skittering back. Looking back at the lines I wrote at the time, I overuse words like languid and effortless, but the point was definitely worth making, (and repeating even) – Courtney Barnett has wit and intelligence in spades. And this was ably demonstrated over the course of a relaxed, easy-going March evening at the Fleece. Skilfully supported by a sympathetic band of work colleagues, her clever songs stood proudly in front of an enthusiastic clutch of Brizzle punters (with the addition of cool a couple of hipsterish Gloucester gents…)

Pedestrian at Best

 

“Spent some times in stormy weather…”

3.   Super Furry Animals @ The Guildhall, April

Unfortunately, this clip’s not from our show – I used the best one on YouTube in the original post – but it’s how many of this year’s comeback shows started, including SFA’s first gig for six years, in my very own Gloucester. Playing for just over two hours, and showing few signs of rust or arthritis, Super Furry Animals were excellent – powerful, imaginative and above all self-assured. Having seen Gruff play many times, but never with SFA, personally there was something of a sense of relief that I’d been able to do this. That, of course, and the fact that they were so damn good…

The Man Don’t Give a Fuck

“Can’t say I never warn you, can’t say I never tell you…”

4.   Misty in Roots @ The Tunnels, May

Perhaps predictably, I’m afraid there’s no video footage of this intimate little evening at the Tunnels club, underneath Bristol Temple Meads station. And not anything similar, so you’ll have to take my word for it, when I tell you that this too was a magical evening, although in an entirely different way.

Warm, earnest and loose, MiR made light of skanking their way through an hour and a half’s set, to an enthusiastic middle-aged, group of similarly warm, loose, if not quite so earnest souls. I remember being struck at the time that sore fingers and aching limbs permitting, these fellers could have gone on all night, doing what comes naturally. I might have had to sit down, but apart from that, you’d not have heard a murmur of discontent from me or anyone else there. Bewitching stuff…

True Rasta

“It’s not a game of monopoly”

5.   Jah Wobble, The Fleece, July

Again, not much in the way of video evidence, only some very ropey footage (in which I regret to say my bald patch features heavily), but this clip from Manchester shows Wobble in his pomp – wild fingers, toneless, reedy vocals and marvellously iffy dress sense. Another great evening at the Fleece (and the third in this list) which included more than a few PiL numbers, some jazzy tendencies, loads of booming, spaghetti-western-style reggae and dub, and a 15-minute version of the Liquidator. Engaging and captivating throughout, an enormously entertaining evening.

New Mexico Dub

 

“Light as a feather, bright as the Oregon breeze…”

6.   Sufjan Stevens, Colston Hall, September

Carrie and Lowell is a beautiful, sad, profound record and if I’m honest, having got hold of a precious ticket for this gig, I was a little concerned that any live performance would be unable to match the intensity of the record, maybe even spoil it a little (I can think of quite a few records that I’ve never listened to again after seeing the artist live). I needn’t have worried, of course.

A spellbound Colston Hall audience sat back, slack-jawed, as Sufjan put on an incredible show, each song performed with a depth and thoughtfulness that enhanced them further. Don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience as mesmerised by a concert…

Should Have Known Better

(And in the very starkest of contrasts…)

 

“Lauren Lavern keeps playing Tumbling Dice”

7.   Sleaford Mods, Bierkeller, October

Actually, I’ve said the Bierkeller but the May gig was just as good, and although the footage here is actually from that date at the Exchange, I could’ve done either. Both were just brilliant, loud, bleak, profane and above all witty. Still not got much clue what he’s singing about most of the time, but, really, it’s your gut Williamson speaks to mostly…

White hot…

Bronx in a Six (Exchange)

Bronx in a Six (Bierkeller)

Fall off the avalanche…

Never got round to writing about my favourite records of 2014 – partly because of the reasons I mentioned in the last post (not really being “out there” at the moment, not feeling the year was a particularly good one for new music) and partly for the age old PP reasons of getting distracted by other things, not being arsed. You know how it is…

But for what it’s worth, my favourite record of the year was this one…

 

I’ll confess I’ve drifted away from Beck over the years, losing track of his myriad releases and Bowie-esque shapeshifting, to the extent that although I own copies of most of his records, I’m not really sure I could put them in order or track some sort of progress or evolution to them. I bought Morning Phase pretty much when it came out, though, and since then I’ve been through a number of distinct phases of listening which I feel may not yet be complete.

First listens were dominated by the lush double-tracked vocals and the “new” CSN sound that featured very little in the way of beats. Really enjoyed the humid, stifling feel of songs like “Morning” and the beautiful “Turn Away”, loved the rich strings and the soft focus arrangements, sang along gently and foolishly. All very listenable.

But then, songs like “Blackbird Chain” and “Unforgiven” seemed to rise to the fore, and a narrative (there’s a 2014 word for you) emerged – aided by a few choice interviews and reviews – the man’s been through an emotional trauma of some sort. These are songs whose lyrics have managed to penetrate my feckless consciousness, wretched words of regret and a dogged unwillingness to let go, songs that suggest a vulnerability I hadn’t noticed before. I really liked the words that come in and out of the gorgeous mists of “Wave”, chillingly depersonalised as they are. (I also really like the long fade out…)
Beck PortraitsAnd later still, after a while I found myself becoming not a little disturbed by those lush arrangements and in particular the same double-tracked vocals that first grasped my attention as I got to know the record. I’m actually quite bothered by the tension between what we are led to believe is a new emotional candidness and the painstakingly crafted productions. On the one hand, we’re encouraged to believe we’re being allowed a rare peek behind the mask, a once impenetrable soul laid bare for those who care to see. But then, there are those (beautiful) country-tinged arrangements that are anything but naked or unguarded – they’re carefully, elegantly fashioned. Again, my thoughts return to Bowie – I’m not really a fan – and the “artifice” of it all. (I know, by the way, how quaint and old fashioned I sound, and the self-conscious speech marks are an attempt to make it seem less so).

Yeah, I know, if I demand some sort of faux realism from everything I listen to, I’ll become a very dull boy indeed. But at this stage in my Morning Phase listening, it’s something I’ve not quite been able to straighten out.

Yet.

But… fact remains that having been left a little unsettled by the thing a couple of weeks ago, I get it out again for the purposes of this post, and begin to find myself drawn back in by those saccharine strings and queasy arrangements. What can I say? I think I may be going down again…

It’s my favourite record of the year.

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!

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)!

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