The title of this post is something a very good friend of mine said to me a good few years ago now, when I was talking to him about what I do and don’t write about on this blog.
Most of the music I hear a buzz building about on the internet I tend to have a listen to, and end up shrugging and thinking, ‘well, s’alright, innit’. However, on this blog I am trying, in a sense, to document the actual process of listening to and enjoying music – to write out the inner monologue of a music fan, I guess.
Finding some of that music to be no better than alright is a part of the process I’ve never really know how to discuss properly, so I am going to give it a go here, with three mini-reviews of albums which I was extremely interested to hear, but which all kind of disappointed me in the end – you, on the other hand, might disagree and end up loving them.
This album, to be entirely fair, is not just ‘alright’, it is pretty good if you ask me, but I still haven’t really, properly clicked with it yet, despite constantly feeling like I am on the cusp of doing so. It’s got a really nice, ramshackle, Phil & the Osophers feel to it, those lo-fi production values I tend to fall all over myself for, and a really loose feel to the playing.
I keep waiting for something to happen, though. For them to get loud, for them to turn a phrase which makes me double take, for them to write a killer riff I can’t stop humming… anything, really. It just doesn’t though. This album feels a bit like one with all the right ingredients, but something kind of missing in the recipe.
All the right elements are here again – a rough and ready version of rock ‘n’ roll, with plenty of fire and Shilpa Ray’s amazingly brilliant voice to drive it all home. So what’s not doing it for me? As per usual, you can rarely be entirely sure about these things.
Put simply, though, this could do with a dose of Grinderman, if you ask me. It needs to be more extreme – louder, rougher, dirtier both in recording and in bed, more threatening, more unhinged. Listen to it and you’d be well within your rights to wonder what the fuck I’m talking about. This has passion, right, just listen to Shilpa belting it out! It does have passion, I guess, but for some reason as far as I am concerned it fails to generate any.
Alright, I’ll be honest, never mind not quite clicking, this one I just plain don’t get at all. Fat Possum are one of the great independent record labels, but with this one I have to confess, I am just kind of baffled. It’s rubbish. Or, more to the point, boring.
It’s got a nice old-fashioned pop sense to it – like Elk City in a sense – but no discernible character, and no memorable melodies whatsoever. I don’t get it at all.
No, I am not, but Avalanche Records is. I pinched this video from the Guardian’s Edinburgh blogger, a position I applied for but was rather hilariously deemed to have insufficient blogging experience. Still, I’ve had a ton of link love from them since they kicked off with someone more respectable, and I don’t have to cover local council meetings, so it all worked out for the best I’d say.
Anyhow, in the most 21st Century way possible, I am writing this from my iPhone on the train from York to Edinburgh on my way back from In The City in Manchester. This is because, in the most 20th Century way possible, this train doesn’t have fucking WiFi for some unfathomable reason, so I can’t write nice and comfortably on my fucking laptop. Come on, people, get your shit together, if the fucking bus has WiFi now, surely a £70 train journey should have equivalent facilities.
Anyway, an iPhone is far from the easiest device to type out a whole post upon, so I had better cut this short and get straight to my ritual invitation to take this opportunity to de-lurk and leave your first comment because, well, no-one else will be talking any sense anyway, so the pressure’s off really, isn’t it.
1. What was the first poster you ever put on your wall?
2. Describe a print or poster or something like that which reminds you strongly of your folks’ house.
3. What did your Grandma always cook when you were home to visit?
4. Are you the Good Son (or daughter of course), the Bad one or an only one?
5. Odd nostalgic bit about going back to visit your family.
36.Wild Beasts – All The King’s Men
The vocals are weird, but there’s something about a large chunk of this record which I find absolutely compelling. I love Ben’s voice, for starters, and this song probably highlights it better than any other.
38.Meursault – William Henry Miller Pt.2 (EP Version)
Meursault releasing their singles so late in the year has really fucked with my lists. I love Nothing Broke, and both of the Williams Henry Miller on it, but the single version just blows this clean out of the water and the poor little acoustic version has ended up exiled to No.38. It’s non-lyrical vocal bits which make this – the sort of deflated sigh of dismal unhappiness in between verses – just brilliant.
39.Withered Hand – Providence
Erm, nothing to say about this actually. It’s just ace. Dan’s slightly peculiar lyrics, the borderline-Hawley guitar strums, the vocal harmonies… who knows what makes this song so good. Like all his music though, it just makes you like the guy.
40.Timber Timbre – Magic Arrow
Spooky and weird. That kind of describes the whole album, but the repeating bassline and the insistent rhythm give this one a sort of sinister purpose of its own. One of the discoveries of the year, as far as my ears are concerned.
41.Jeffrey Lewis & the Junkyard – To be Ojectified
There are a lot of songs about ageing and mortality on Em Are I, but this is one of the saddest and most resigned. It’s like a cross between a stream of consciousness and the gradual deflation of an airbed, and ends up being both maudlin and comforting. Which is to say that the lyrics are a bit on the horrible side, but the delivery is sympathetic and warm.
42.Broken Records – Wolves
Broken Records (and many of my other friends, like Sparrow & the Workshop and Withered Hand) suffer a bit in this year’s Festive Fifty because many of my favourite songs on their album, like A Good Reason, were actually featured in demo version on previous year’s lists. This song, however, did not, and is one of the highlights of their album for me. By the time everything gets going it’s just a fury of a song, and cannot fail to remind of how brilliant these guys are on stage.
43.Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Tom Justice, The Choir Boy Robber
It’s an odd subject, and the story is almost as compelling as the music itself. There was a bit more full band stuff on vs. Children, and I’ve heard older fans complain about this, but the drum beat and the repeated, yet unintrusive chime of the piano in the background of this song are both lovely.
44.Alela Diane – White as Diamonds
This is fucking stunning and would have been in the top five had it not been for those goddamned bastard cymbals, which time has done nothing to soften. The acoustic Daytrotter version of this song is one of the loveliest things I’ve ever heard.
45.Broken Records – Out On the Water
Hmm.. am I allowed to include this, given it was out last year? Fuck it, I love it when a band whose live set is mental and reckless suddenly slow it down and play something surprisingly gentle. Here this is performed live at the Bedlam Theatre early last year – bloody great:
46.Wild Beasts – Hooting And Howling
A bit like other songs of theirs on this list, I don’t know whether I love the vocals, the laid back but nevertheless quite danceable beat or that really nice guitar sound they have. Cracking album.
47.The Leisure Society – The Last of the Melting Snow
The Leisure Society made a bit of a rod for their own backs with this song. By virtue of its Ivor Novello Award nomination it shot a tiny band on a tiny label right into the limelight, and infortunately the rest of their material just didn’t cut the mustard. The album was just plain weak, and I found myself forgetting about this song because of it, which is criminal because it is absolutely brilliant. There is a reason it got them so much attention.
48.Jesus H. Foxx – I’m Half the Man You Were
For a band with two drummers and four guitarists to make such nuanced and subtle music is downright weird. This is probably ‘the pop song’ from their fantastic Matter EP, and that head-nodding rhythm and the gorgeous vocal lead out make this one of my favourite songs of the year.
49.Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers – Beating St Louis
Shilpa Ray’s voice plus accordian. Job done. Honestly, for someone with pipes like these to be accompanied by the macabre accordian moaning which dominates this song is simply a cast-iron recipe for Toad-pleasing.
50.The Smiles and Frowns – Mechanical Songs
Another song which sound like it would be drifting around the abandoned site of a funfair which had gone horribly wrong, this song is from the band’s excellent debut, and also available on eminently desirable white vinyl 7″. Buy one, and make your friends slightly nervous by playing it all the time.
I discovered Beat the Devil, Shilpa Ray’s previous band, through the brilliant Cable & Tweed, which sadly no longer covers an awful lot of music these days but used to be pretty much my number one source for new music on the internet.
I was a bit gutted when Beat the Devil packed it in a couple of years ago, but it was made clear pretty much immediately that this was just a tactical shift for Shilpa Ray herself, rather than a retirement, so it basically became a case of waiting and seeing. I covered all this on this week’s podcast actually, but I did manage to do just a little too much waiting. Basically, I took my eye of the ball quite a bit with this release, which actually came out back in July, although that’s just inevitable from time to time I guess.
This feels significantly different to Beat the Devil, certainly. It’s really fucking rock ‘n’ roll in many places, for example. I’m Not Frigid is a fearsome little ditty, and one with lyrics which prompt that brilliant ‘hang on, she didn’t just sing what I thought she sang did she?’ double take. Coward Cracked the Dawn is another ballsy one, and fucking great with it, but there are times when the more upbeat moments (Woman Sets Boyfriend on Fire for example) don’t really capture my imagination quite as well – too much shouting, and not enough of that brilliant combination of menacing accordion and Shilpa Ray’s stunning voice.
Nevertheless they keep the pace varying nicely, which is crucial for any record, and works very nicely here. The sequencing is restrained though. This is a band who always give you the impression that they could go completely mental, but they generally don’t which makes it all the more of a release when they do, and gives a distinct smoulder to the rest of the songs.
This stuff reminds me of all the female-fronted garage blues bands which were simmering away in Detroit around the time the White Stripes emerged – bands like the Detroit Cobras who played really old-fashioned music with the roughness and vitality of modern garage punk. Although this is a little more rock ‘n’ roll influenced, I supposed, than the blues and soul which drove those bands, but there’s not much in it.
Ultimately, influences aside, I think it’s probably a combination of the power of Shilpa Ray’s voice and the pace of the music, which switches from tense to raging in the blink of an eye, which gives this record its emotional charisma. Really good.
The Excast is so named because I am playing a lot of people’s former bands. There’s Shane MacGowan’s Nipple Erectors, Phil Chevron’s Radiators, Shilpa Ray’s Beat the Devil and Billy Bragg’s Riff Raff.
I concentrate so much on new music these days that I often decide whether or not I like a band on the basis of a handful of demos, maybe a single, sometimes a debut EP, stuff like that. And of course, bands don’t stumble into the world fully-formed, it takes some of them ages to become brilliant, and a lot of the time the initial forms of a band can be really strange, presumably because the people in question were still casting around a bit for their sound.
So there’s a bit of that here, but it’s not all that rigid a theme, and the playlist is a bit messy but, erm, well never mind. There are some great songs, so enjoy!
01. Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers – Beating St. Louis (04.07)
02. Beat the Devil – Plea Bargain (11.09)
03. Bright Eyes – Neely O’Hara (19.56)
04. Richard Hawley – Naked in Pitsmoor (26.16)
05. The Young Republic – The Alchemist (33.20)
06. Construction & Destruction – The Signal (41.24)
07. The Nipple Erectors – Nervous Wreck (48.34)
08. The Radiators – Walking Home Alone Again (50.39)
09. The Pogues – Lorca’s Novena (56.37)
10. Riff Raff – You Shaped House (63.33)