Speakers Push Air

Hell Yeh, I’m The Motherfuckin’ Princess
December 30, 2009, 10:58 pm
Filed under: Cussing, Miscellaneous

An unlikely but totally worthy additional to the “great cussing in pop” hall of fame. You go for it, weird Canadian girl

The 2009 Top 20 Albums Of The Year: #1
December 30, 2009, 3:18 pm
Filed under: 2009 Top 20

Morton Valence, Cargo, 2008

To be honest, this was never in any doubt.

Number One: Morton Valence – Bob & Veronica Ride Again

Although it’s probably already well-known, for the sake of fairness, I’d best declare an interest regarding Morton Valence:

Hacker (Morton Valence Jr) and Anne (Annie Milagro) are friends, and former flatmates, and I’ve known them and bassist Leo for a long time. Some of these songs were written in the little studio next to my old bedroom in Stockwell. I’ve been listening to, and watching, the band since they were Florida, a synth-based trio, years and years ago (and there’s a lot of Florida stuff that really deserves a broader audience). I’ve DJed with them, drunk with them, cursed them as they tried turning the drums up just a bit louder while I nursed a hangover just  few feet away.

But fuck it, this is an absolutely brilliant album, one that totally exceeded my already high expectations. I’ve no way of working out if I’d have the same strength of feeling if I didn’t know them but I’m pretty damn sure I’d have seen the worth of Bob & Veronica regardless…

The songs have always been the point with Morton Valence (there are any number of MV classics not on this album) but I didn’t expect the album to sound quite so fucking marvellous – a whole range of styles perhaps only hinted at in the past have become more prominent here, and it really is full of surprises. I’ve found myself obsessing over the warmth of the bass sound on Hang It On The Wall, for god’s sake. Even the short linking tracks are worth inclusion (and how often can you say that?), and like a lot of others on this list, it’s a proper ALBUM, for taking in as a whole piece, ideally on headphones.

I have no hesitation admitting that Chandelier, which has to be the best thing they’ve recorded (so far – my hopes are high for next year’s country album), has made me cry more than once this year.

“We’ll let the ugly disappear
We’ll go waltzing home tonight
We’ll swing from the chandeliers
Kids – don’t say goodnight”.

Listening to those lines coming back tired and happy from a fantastic festival with some fantastic mates set me right off. Those lines, my friend, are a  fucking manifesto (and, some time in 2010, something else as well – watch this space).

Do yourself a favour: get this album (it comes in a brilliant package with a book and everything) and support a proper “indie” band, doing it themselves and finally getting some attention after years of plugging away but not compromising. You can’t ask for more than that, not with songs as good as this. I’m a sentimental old twat at the best of times, but me – I’m genuinely proud to know them.

Morton Valence – Chandelier

Morton Valence – Funny Peculiar

(Bob & Veronica Ride Again, Autonomy)

PS: this is a day early because I’ll be on my way to Edinburgh first thing tomorrow. Happy New Year, all y’all.

The 2009 Top 20 Albums Of The Year: #2
December 30, 2009, 2:36 pm
Filed under: 2009 Top 20

I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again

Number 2: Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

The last Callahan album, Woke On A Whaleheart, was a rare disappointment from Mr Smog, and I’ve scarcely played it since I first got it (maybe I should revisit…).

Luckily, Joanna Newsom dumped poor Bill and he’s “got dark again”, which is great news for us, if not him. Like Hawley at #3, Sometimes.. sees Callahan expanding his palette in a big way (if you haven’t followed his progress, it would be hard to connect this album with his early, none-more- lo-fi albums). There have been so many brilliant Smog / Callahan albums so I wouldn’t stick my neck out and make any claims for this being the best (is that Red Apple Falls? Dongs Of Sevotion? Knock Knock?) but it’s a brilliant and endlessly involving set, with a pair of openers that are true classics – I’d love to hear Leonard Cohen tackle Jim Cain, and the Cloudbusting-esque momentum of Eid Ma Clack Shaw, in which Callahan thinks he might have written the greatest love song, could be the best track I’ve heard all year. I guess its closest companion in this chart is the Hawley album, although I suspect Callahan’s world is an even bleaker place.

Still, Joanna Newsom, eh?

Entirely Gratuitous Joanna Newsom Photo

Bill Callahan – Jim Cain

Bill Callahan – Eid Ma Clack Shaw

(Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, Drag City

RIP Rowland S Howard
December 30, 2009, 12:13 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Another sad addition to the rollcall of the lost of 2009 is Rowland S Howard, who died today (30th) while waiting for a liver transplant.

Like a lot of other people who passed through the Birthday Party / Bad Seeds fold, Howard had one hell of a CV, and it’s another sad loss. The guitar he played for the Birthday Party still sounds amazing.

A Satisfied Mind
December 30, 2009, 12:45 am
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Was amazed how many versions I had of A Satisfied Mind (the 50s country classic first a hit for Porter Wagoner). Has to be one of the most covered songs in country (and beyond) and only a few duds (Daniel O’Donell, I’m looking at you, you smug twat).

Jonathan Richman
Gram Parsons
The Walkabouts
Johnny Cash
Pete Molinari
Bob Dylan
Blind Boys Of Alabama

now THAT’S a pedigree

Selling It Short…
December 29, 2009, 11:50 pm
Filed under: 2009 Top 20

I think I’ve had some kind of failure of nerve when it comes to writing about music. It’s more factual, more drily descriptive rather than expressive. Having worked this out, I haven’t yet got to grips with why. I often think it’s because the standard of writing on most of the blogs I follow is so much higher.

Take the Hawley post below. That album has really really touched me this year, but you wouldn’t know it to read the entry. There’s lot of guff about instrumentation and the like, but nothing about how it makes me wish I drank whisky (Truelove’s Gutter is the most “whisky” album I’ve heard in a long time). There’s a vague reference to some unspecified mood, whereas in reality I know exactly what the mood of most of the album is, or rather how it feels to me: an after-midnight weariness, a sense of chemically depleted nostalgia, the moment just before you give up the ghost and finally go to bed and try and try and stop the doubts and regrets circling. (The rest of the album is about love, but not in an explosive, “fallen in love” way – this love is battered and bruised but all the more powerful for it).

It’s a beautiful, beautiful album and it’s experimental, in its own small way. It bears the same relation to some kind of easy listening 5os category as Earth does to metal: the base materials are the same, but it’s extended to an almost absurd degree (without ever trying to be “epic” in the cheesiest sense of the word). Look at Remorse Code, which is posted below: it’s nearly 10 minutes long, 1o minutes of very little happening that manages to get right under my skin.

So, yeh.. erm. I might not be as up to the task of selling these albums to you as perhaps I used to be, but that’s my fault, not the music. The Hawley album is a remarkable thing and it deserves your time.

I will give up these cigarettes
Stay at home and watch you mend the tears in your dress
Have your name in a rose tattooed across my chest
And be your lover for all time

What’s Your Stance? You Know, I Like To Dance… And Smash Things Up, When I Get The Chance…
December 29, 2009, 8:38 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

of all the albums I left out of the chart because I discovered them too late, the Chain & The Gang album Down With Liberty.. Up With Chains is probably the gravest omission.

About Chain & The Gang:

«««EVERYWHERE that liberty goes, it leaves a path of destruction. Fast food, bad architecture, materialism, rampant greed, environmental destruction, imperial conquest, class struggle; these phenomena, when combined, seem to be synonymous with “Liberty.”–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– So just as it’s called “liberty” when war and greed stalk the land, they call the band Chain and the Gang. And like a true chain gang, they’re on the road to confront and defy any freedom-lovers that come across their path. They shuffle, manacled, across railway yards, and through graveyards; they’re on the side of the road, picking up the garbage as they walk, as people drive by, yelling at them. All they can do is become a chorus of metal meeting metal, hands hitting hands and a collective voice louder than one.––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– It started with one lifer (Svenonius) and grew to include a gang of small time bandits. How do they describe their sound? Something they just found. They dug it up from the ground. Essential to that soil: guitar, drums, organ, saxophone and chants; paying off our collective debt to the universe. There are songs with a driving locomotive engine (“Reparations,” “Interview with the Chain Gang”), a full-on choir of the disenfranchised (“Cemetery Map,” “Deathbed Confession,” Trash Talk”) and disentangled, soul-influenced invitations to a celebration (“Room 19” and “Unpronounceable Name”).–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– “Down With Liberty … Up With Chains” is simple and profound, the way a pebble on the beach is. There are no song cycles, sample beats, sequencers or baby pictures of the artist as a tot. The Gang is set to shuffle across the Land of Liberty in February of 2010. Join them as they hope against hope, fan the flames, shake their fist and say “Yeh! Yeh! Down with Liberty! Up with Chains … Put those handcuffs on my hands.”««««««««««

I think a big part of it is the lack of records. So few bands are putting out LP’s. Portentous isn’t the word, but I think it’s big, vinyl feels big and important and there’s much less importance about music now, and I think that’s kind of exciting. I think really good music is kind of like toss offs, it’s garbage in a way, you know what I mean?

Like the old junk 45s of the Nuggets compilations…

Yeah, that’s really more exciting than the importance of the new 50 Cent record, or Radiohead record, those things that are supposed to be so important. Who wants to hear importance? That’s not what music’s about, it’s about fun, and about feeling, and about affirming some kind of feeling you have and maybe giving a voice to your own perversity that you feel isolated by.

You don’t get that with The Fratellis.

Definitely Svenonius’ best outfit since The Make Up.

The 2009 Top 20 Albums Of The Year: #3
December 29, 2009, 6:04 pm
Filed under: 2009 Top 20

Being ill the last couple of days means I can cover my tracks re: totally getting the maths wrong to ensure this chart finishes on NYE. Phew…

Number 3: Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter

The last album from Hawley was great, and although it only made my #13 in 2007, it would definitely finish a lot higher with hindsight. No such problem with Truelove’s Gutter, which I suspect will be remembered as Hawley’s classic. It doesn’t seem like a massive departure at first – that incredibly rich voice, the lush arrangements, the pervading air of melancholy – but there’s a lot more going on here. In addition to the much-trumpeted esoteric instrumentation (glass harmonicas and the like), the songs here are extended and yet simultaneously simplified (see Remorse Code in particular, which tackles Hawley’s years of chemical “issues”); mood takes precedence, and what a mood.

Hawley gets written off (by people who aren’t really listening) as some kind of MOR kitsch troubadour type, but that really misses the point. He takes those styles and comes up with something totally his own. Another year, this might actually have made the top spot, but the competition is tough.

Richard Hawley – For Your Lover Take Some Time

Richard Hawley – Remorse Code

(Truelove’s Gutter, Mute Records)

NB: By a strange set of circumstances, this year I got the same quiff advice from Mark Kermode that he once gave Hawley. I paid heed, but Hawley has stuck with the Black & White pomade, which must really fuck off whoever washes the towels in his house.

So It Goes
December 27, 2009, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Miscellaneous

Lux Interior

JG Ballard

Vic Chesnutt

Steven Wells

Koko Taylor

Oliver Postgate

Willy Deville

The 2009 Top 20 Albums Of The Year: #4
December 27, 2009, 1:50 pm
Filed under: 2009 Top 20

A bit of skullduggery with this one: the album that’s actually earning a #4 slot, The Orion Songbook, came out in the States in 2008, but I’d have been gutted not to include it. Luckily, it got a 2009 reissue as part of a double album set as Way Upstate & The Crippled Summer. I haven’t actually heard the new stuff but I’m sure it’s excellent…

Number 4: Frontier Ruckus – The Orion Songbook / Way Upstate & The Crippled Summer

Another band brought to my attention by Tim Perry at the Windmill (see also: The Weakerthans, Broken Family Band, Garlic, etc etc etc), Frontier Ruckus have been on near constant repeat all year, and still haven’t got old. The best comparison I can offer – and it’s a flattering one – is a more hillbilly / mountain music take on Neutral Milk Hotel, with more banjos and hopefully less of the mental anguish which has so troubled Jeff from NMH. There’s an intensity and an inventiveness this Michigan band share with NMH, and a strong sense of a unique guiding vision, something borne out by the band’s website. They’re certainly much better than a lot of the people they get compared to – The Low Anthem, The Acorn.

So – excellent album, brilliant saw solo, one of my favourite band names ever.

Frontier Ruckus – The Blood

Frontier Ruckus – Adirondack Amish Holler

(Lower Peninsula Records