All posts by J.

I love music. I love coffee. I love shooting the breeze. I love my wife. We love those things together. I have a first in Seagalogy. I like Houdini. We don't have pets. We have a son.

“Does it worry you to be alone?”: The Flaming Lips – With A Little Help From My Fwends (2014)

I love The Flaming Lips.  I really do.  Folks may not know that about me… but they likely will, cause I tend to chat about how they are, quite literally, one of the finest bands on the planet.  I don’t care who disagrees, cause I know I’m right.  Sure, they’ve had some missteps along the way, but who hasn’t?  Some of their bonkersness and Wayne Coyne’s, eh, eccentricities can be a bit too much for people, but when you sit and listen to the music they create, there’s really no avoiding that they’re one of the best and most important acts that have ever existed.  It’s fact, man.  No use fighting it.

Today I have gathered you here to talk about the misunderstood Coyne & Co. led reconstruction of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, With A Little Help From My Fwends.  It’s not really an album by The Flaming Lips, but more a collaborative effort that features the likes of J Mascis, Maynard James Keenan, and My Morning Jacket, as well as Moby and Miley Cyrus.  What starts off as a very interesting and sonically challenging album, soon runs out of steam.

The first 5 tracks are perfect.  It starts with a big bad fuzz machine reconstruction of the title track.  It’s abrasive.  Distorted.  My Morning Jacket and J Mascis coming together to create a racket.  There’s tape effects and distortion (and more distortion) and that guitar.  Yikes!

The first appearance from The Flaming Lips is in With A Little Help From My Friends and, well, it’s just wonderful.  Complete with auto-tune, off key shouting, and a hushed backing.  There’s a pulse throughout… some real Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde shenanigans going on here and, well, it’s a moment of genuine wonder.  They pop up again with Miley Cyrus and Moby on Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.  It’s dreamy and grand when the ‘chorus’ kicks in.  It’s like a cosmic dream.  The shuttle launching… Lucy admiring the diamonds like Dorothy admiring the colours and the Emerald Fields.  It’s brilliant.  And do you know what?  Miley Cyrus’ vocal is beautiful.

It’s followed by a brilliant and fuzzily bouncy take of Getting Better, (featuring Dr. Dog, Chuck Inglish, and Morgan Delt).  But it’s Drozd’s and Coyne’s Electric Würms that grab the senses with Fixing A Hole.  Again, it’s dreamy… like I’m hallucinating.  There’s a chap and he’s singing by a fire in a ruined old house.  I can barely make him out, as I stand on the ground floor, but I can feel the warmth and the crackling of the flames… bending and echoing with his voice.

It goes off the boil for a bit.  Both She’s Leaving Home (one of my favourites from the original album) and Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! quite underwhelming – the beauty of the former is replaced with a lot of boom bip bop, and despite the return of Coyne & Co. on the latter, the influence of Maynard James Keenan is perhaps too great (it sounds a helluva lot like Puscifier to my ears).

Side B doesn’t get off to a great start.  Within You Without You retains much of the vibe of the original and, while it comes alive a little around the halfway point when the electronic shenanigans kick in, it’s unremarkable as a result (why not listen to the original?).  Likewise, When I’m Sixty Four and Lovely Rita fall a bit flat.  When I’m Sixty Four left me thinking “I’d have loved to have heard this one in the hands of Coyne & Co”… and then I realised that it’s not a track they’re absent from.  Which is a damn shame, cause I really would have loved to have heard what they’d have done with that one on their own.

The Zorch, Grace Potter, and Treasure Mammal take of Good Morning Good Morning is bombastic and there’s even a nice Beach Boys Roll Plymouth Rock vibe in there around 1:45.  Like I say, it’s bombastic and glorious.  It’s followed by the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise), which seems to go on a tad too long.  There’s some faux electric Miles stuff going on and I guess it pays off around the 2:30 mark for, eh, 30 seconds or so… but then there’s another three minutes to get through… and getting through that today is tough.

But you know what?  A Day In The Life is just what we’re looking for.  A deviation from the original that also owes a whole lot to the original.  That break… and again Miley Cyrus’ turn is spot on.  Lazy… but not a case of ‘can’t be fucked’… she’s in that dream.  It’s effortless.  There’s a simplicity to the arrangement, too.   Allowing the song to just be the song, y’know?  It’s brilliant… and it proves that we needed more of the Lips.  Amazing.

So, The Flaming Lips 2014 is pretty good with plenty of flavour, even if it is a bit overcooked.  It’s a pass, for sure, but it could have been so much better had Wayne & Co. tackled this one without a little help from their fwends.

Much like the other releases in the Flaming Lips & Fwends series (you would call them a series, right?), the album was pressed in limited numbers and available only via indie stores. It’s a lovely translucent orange, housed within a glossy gatefold sleeve. No lyric sheet, but a   fairly whacky and heavy card inner sleeve.

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We need to talk about Earthless

Before I delve back into the Flaming Lips led misunderstood reconstruction of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I’m gonna tell you that I have been obsessed by Earthless.  There have been a few times where I’m been consumed by music to a point where genuinely obsessive behaviour comes into play, but I can honestly say it’s been a few years since there was any of those sorts of shenanigans.

You know the shenanigans I’m talking about.  The looking in record stores in the hope that there’s a nice copy of that album you’re after sitting there.  Fitting in as many stores as you can.  Looking through the racks and crates a few times just to be sure you didn’t miss it.  If you live in Glasgow and the chances of finding a specific title are slim, you end up looking at retailers online.  Indie stores with an online presence.   Or discogs.   Flicking through every listing of the desired album.  Calculating costs.  Weighing up VG+ against NM and how much that means in monetary terms.  A sense of urgency around the buying, too.  That’s where I’m at with Earthless.

Y’see, Earthless take me somewhere else.  I connect with the flowing rhythms… the explosions and the shifts.  The guitar scorching and lighting up the skies like a solar flare – aurora borealis (or aurora australis), in more reflective moments.  I know that some have already said it, but it’s true that it’s like Hendrix jamming with Sabbath and Cream at times.

And the Hendrix here is Isaiah Mitchell.  He’s now one of my favourite guitar men.  His playing is intricate and full of controlled power.  Like Ryu’s fists.  Or even that Scarlet Witch, lass.  Man, it genuinely blows my mind.

I was chatting with a pal recently who is a big Rocket From The Crypt fan and I asked if he was into Earthless, cause, if he was, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t tell me about them.  Nope.  He wasn’t.

D: “Who are they? Why’d you ask?”
J: “Well, cause yir drummer guy is there”.
D: “Mario?  Is he?  I’ll need to check that out…  What are they like?”
J: “Holy scorched Earth, buddy!  They are incredible!!”

And he agreed and also mentioned how bloody awesome they guitaring is.  And, y’know, the musicianship from all the players is on a whole other level.  Lifting… powerful… intense… dynamic.  They play with confidence and a sun bleached swagger.  This, my friends, is psychedelic pyro-dynamic splendour.

The first album released in the time I’d call myself a fan was Black Heaven and I had that sucker pre-ordered.  It got it’s hooks into me quickly and is easily up there as my favourite of the year so far.  Mitchell’s vocals, which I heard on their take of the Groundhog’s Cherry Red, are fitting and not out of place.  They only add to that classic vibe.  However, as much as I like the album, I can’t stop listening to From The Ages and Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky.  I’d listened to them digitally (streaming) after reviews by two of my favourite pushers (yeah, you know who I’m looking at), but, after two years and then some months, I hadn’t gotten to buying anything yet.  Not until Black Heaven.  Then the floodgates opened.  New release enthusiasm.  Genuine obsessive behaviour took hold.  I got obsessive about every note on the albums I’d been listening to on and off and decided I was buying them.  Right now.  Or at least tried to.

From The Ages was easy to get a hold of.  The vinyl colour isn’t the easiest on the eye and there’s something about the contrast with the label that bugs me.  The colours just don’t work together.  But that’s not important… right?  Look at it, though?  It’s just a bit odd, eh?  Is it just me?  I’ll not say any more about it, but I do wish it was black vinyl.  The music, though?  Holy scorched Earth, peoples!!  Don’t just take my word for it, one of my favourite pushers gave it all the praise.

Rhythms of a Cosmic Sky, which I became familiar with after lego guy threw it on my radar thanks to his write up, has been a bit of a sucker to get my hands on.  Mostly cause I tried to find a copy at a reasonable price and, well, the streaming meant that I was managing to get a fix when I needed it.  Besides, I always found a way to pick up something else.  As the Earthless obsessed chap, I could have laughed with hysteria.

Anyhoo, I only just added it to the collection.  First of all, back in March when I ordered From The Ages, Amazon didn’t have it in stock, but I found it cheap on eBay.  4 weeks later and no LP, I contacted the seller and they said it’s likely been lost.  Money back.  Use that and add a few quid and order another via Discogs.  Only UK shop on there with it listed.  Again, a good price, so I was quite chuffed.  Later that day I get a message of apology, but the LP is no longer available and they hadn’t updated the inventory.  Gah.  Another listing on eBay.  Cheap.  Details suggest it’s the LP, but it has the CD track listing.  I enquire whether it’s CD or vinyl… the answer… we don’t know.  Huh?  But what’s this?  Another reasonably priced copy on Discogs… near mint… from Germany.  Why not?  I do all this in a matter of days.

The LP arrived today and, well, it’s not near mint as stated.  I can live with the few dinks on the sleeve, but the vinyl itself isn’t in the best shape.  The only thing missing is cobwebs.  Worry and internal dialogue.  “Lots of dust and suchlike and it looks like it’s groove deep, too.  Gah”.  I worry about that.  “I guess I clean it up, though”.  I worry.  “What if I don’t find one?” A search online and copies are more expensive.  Some beads of worry persperation trickle from my forehead.  Worry becomes frustration.  “Hopefully it plays fine, cause I can’t be fucked finding another copy.”

When I got home I took a nice clean cloth to it.  Looks like it cleaned up well… even got the shine back.

And yeah, there’s some of that comforting surface noise… but the cosmic noise is much preferred.

And I drift away.

“When your love of life is an empty beach, don’t cry”: Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (2016)

“Wild animals they do
Never wonder why
Just do what they goddamn do”

In some respects that’s The Stooges.  They never attached themselves to the goings on of the time, did they?  Which I guess is what makes them timeless.  Or at least it’s one of the reasons.  Iggy Pop could be considered, by some, to be one of the wildpeople.  Clearly a smart and articulate chap, he has, for years, projected this image of him being wild-eyed.  Appearing topless pretty much all of the time and even, occasionally, writhing around on live TV with some crazy see-through plastic trousers.  Commando.  Was he reckless?  Or just carefree?  Positively bonkers, though.

I can’t really remember the first time I heard Iggy Pop or The Stooges.  I remember the first time he really appeared on my radar, though.  The Crow: City of Angels (terrible movie) and the live version of I Wanna Be Your Dog that appeared on the soundtrack.  Yeah, not quite the plastic trouser caper, but it was substantial enough for a 17 year old who was into Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Radiohead to take notice.  I listened to that soundtrack a fair bit and may even have had a wee look around the internet for Iggy Poppery.

The game changer, though, was Trainspotting.  The door was opened.  Iggy Pop had just stepped through in time for tea.

The opening scene.  Lust For Life playing while Renton makes a dash through the backstreets of Edinburgh in an attempt to make a getaway after a spot of shoplifting.  Both the scene and track inhabit each other… the spirit of Iggy Pop.  A good natured rogue.  Laughing in the face of the law shop security.  Or maybe it’s all just about being a right wild-eyed crazy bastard, right enough.

A year or so later, his turn on Aisha from Death In Vegas’ Contino Sessions convinced me Iggy was a genius.  I duly delved in to his music and that of The Stooges.  What struck me about Iggy is that his music was fierce.  Even when it appears he’s captured in a moment of reflection or the stylistic detours.

Experiencing Iggy live was really special, though.  If I wasn’t already sure, it convinced me Iggy Pop was, and is, something else.  A force of nature.  Even looking at live footage now.  At the ripe old age of 102, Iggy Pop has the youthful energy of, say, someone who is, eh, dripping with youthful energy.  The man is an icon.  A musical action man.  A legend in a world where few legends are left… and there he is waving his “go fuck yourself” flag.

[[for complete transparency and the likes, I should disclose now that I quite like Iggy Pop and his co-conspirator here, Josh Homme]]

It would be easy to throw about statements that suggest that Post Pop Depression is a career highlight.  And it is easy, cause Post Pop Depression is really that good.  So good, in fact, that it’s, well, a career highlight.  Trust me, this is amazing stuff.  It’s inspired, chock-full hooky kooky hooks and Iggy is witty, fun, strutting and spewing vitriol.  Is it really his last album, though?

Conceived as something of a goodbye letter, Iggy Pop hunkered down at the Rancho de la Luna with Josh Homme with a bunch of ideas that they’d been corresponding over for a while.  The correspondence revolved around chats about things like mountains and working with David Bowie.  A complete collaboration, each had ideas, but the aim was not to bring in complete songs.  Homme invited Queens of the Stone Age colleague, Dean Fratita, and Arctic Monkey, Matt Helders, and they got to making an album that sounds like a Desert Session disco.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Iggy Pop and that guy from Queens of the Stone Age? Making albums together!? Whatever next, Margaret!?” … and I can understand the misgivings, but this is not the postured ‘trying-too-hard’ shenanigans of The Weirdness here; this is fierce.  And Homme is a great co-conspirator.  He really is.  His attention to detail really ensures that he and Pop create a piece of uncluttered majestic angled rockery that has plenty in common with Pop’s 1977 albums without trying to replicate them.  Even if I wasn’t a fan of Iggy and that Homme guy, I’d take my hat off to them and say “jolly good work, gentlemen”.

Y’see, there’s a swagger and groove that is infectious from the first few seconds.  Pretty much as soon as Fertita and Helders burst through the paper ‘welcome to Post Pop Depression’ banner on Break Into Your Heart.  The creative spirit, sinister grooves, winding guitar, and post popaclypse philosophising never fades.  Iggy (almost) never sounds wild-eyed, but rather like a ragged topless disenchanted Sinatra while Homme & Co. sound like a bunch of scruffy nerf herders all dressed up and playing some bright disco.

So, without further jibber jabber, let me tell you what I love about Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression.

  • Gardenia

Man, this kicks in and it throbs and pulsates like a bright migraine glow.  The hand claps… the sharp guitar chops and the bouncing bass… like a boat on choppy waters.  This is ragged disco, man… this is what The Killers would sound like if they had a mean bone.  This is dark.   The story of a prostitute with a dangerous habit.  What is her dangerous habit?  Was that the catch?  That’s why she’s there laying in the darkness with Iggy?

Now, Gardenia happens to be the first Post Pop Depression track that left a mark on me… his performance on that yon American chat show is truly majestic… his vocals are incredible… he’s definitely a ragged Sinatra… and here, on record, the raw awesomeness of Pop, his words, and performance are intact.  Homme has captured that thing about Pop… and that’s truly special.  Listen to him wonder what happened to Gardenia… and the delivery on the final verse.

“Alone in the cheapo motel
By the highway to hell
America’s greatest living poet
was ogling you all night
You should be wearing the finest gown
But here you are now
Gas, food, lodging, poverty, misery
And Gardenia
You could be burned at the stake
For all your mistakes, mistakes, mistakes”
  • American Valhalla

The distorted bass kicks dust and the guitar chimes.  Looking around an arid wasteland for signs of something.  A sign that says this way.  Who is James Osterberg?  What will become of him when Iggy Pop is gone? “I’m not the man with everything.  I’ve nothing but my name”.  Will it be like Clark Kent?  A pair of glasses and a suit and suddenly he just blends into the crowd?

There’s definite air of Queens of the Stone Age about it (d’uh).  Especially the “I don’t know” refrain (echoes of I’m Designer).  Loads of great lyrics in this one that speak of identity and mortality even if James Osterberg isn’t particularly feeling weary… Iggy is… “Death is the pill that’s hard to swallow.  Is there anybody in there and can I bring a friend?”  is a great line.

  • In The Lobby

That Queens of the Stone Age vibe continues on the wicked corkscrew shenanigans of The Lobby.  There’s something quite ferocious about this one.  The playing… the zinging guitar, the stomp and Iggy delivering angry lines like “And it’s all about the kicks.  And it’s all about the dancing pricks.  And it’s all about the clowns.  And it’s all about the guns”.  Modern life is rubbish, it seems… and I love the yelp at the end of “I hope I’m not losing my life tonight”.

  • And then there’s Sunday.

Without a doubt my favourite here… it really is quite something.  The groove is insatiable, my friends.  Iggy’s vocal is brilliant (again) as he sneers and spits out lines about politicians and corporate pricks like that disenchanted Sinatra (yeah, I know, I tend to compare to Sinatra a bit, but I like him and, well, he’s the benchmark for vocal delivery).  Again, it’s about shedding his identity… getting to rest… reaching Sunday.

Honestly, there’s so much about this song to love… the rhythm section really are incredible… Fertitia’s bass really keeps you grooving… Helders playing is exceptional… the shrug in Iggy’s voice when he says “I’m a wreck… what’d you expect?”… and the slicing of the guitar.  It’s all great… and then there’s the big orchestral section, which is just lovely.

  • Vulture

The bare bones of this one are adorned by some of Homme’s trademark screeching and some rattling snare.  Absolutely brilliant… it’s like a Morricone piece, I guess… and like Morricone’s work, the atmosphere shakes you.  Again, Iggy’s vocal is vibrant and raggedly ferocious.

In fact, it’s hard to fault anything here and while I’ve tried to avoid a blow-by-blow, I can’t not mention opener Break Into Your Heart with its sinister synth punching and that piercing guitar line?  It’s a bit creepy and there’s even some lines straight out of Billy Gibbon’s Guide To Double Entendres™ (“your heart is buried underneath mountains capped with snow”) before the creep wins.

Elsewhere, German Days eases off on the swagger and Chocolate Drops has a bit of a sway to it.  And what is Iggy talking about? “When you get to the bottom, you’re near the top.  The shit turns into chocolate drops”.  Huh?

Like I say, the arrangements aren’t cluttered.  They lock onto a groove and let Iggy do his thing.  They don’t try too hard to replicate anything Iggy’s done before, but they provide a backdrop for an old wanderer who is maybe a tad cynical and a bit weary.

If Iggy Pop does decide to call it a day, then Post Pop Depression is a perfect final statement and the closing track, Paraguay, is a fitting goodbye.  A 7 minute ‘electric, volatile and free’ groove where Iggy croons about getting out of Dodge before the song breaks down and Iggy rants like a more balanced John McAfee while Homme & Co. chant that wild animals “just do what they goddamn do”.

“… You take mother-fucking laptop
Just shove it into your goddamn foul mouth
Down your shit-eating gizzard
You fuckin’ phony two-faced, three-timing piece of turd
And I hope you shit it out with all the words in it
and I hope the security services read those words
and pick you up and flay you
For all your evil and poisonous intentions
Cause I’m sick and it’s your fault
And I’m gonna go heal myself now”

And just like that, he was gone.

As you’ve probably guessed, I love this album… unreservedly so.  I honestly reckon the album is more consistent than you would, or could, hope for from an album this deep into a career.  When you consider Iggy’s discography, it’s quite possible that this is his most consistent album since the The Idiot and Lust For Life, which came just about 40 years earlier! (though during a chat with a pal a few days ago, we agreed that Kill City with James Williamson should be considered as another – again, released in 1977 (though the bones recorded in 1975)).  Sure, there are great moments on a lot of the stuff in-between, but nothing quite captures the spirit of Iggy Pop like this one does.  There’s no doubt that Homme created an environment that inspired Iggy’s creativity and his performances aren’t all bravado, but or a guy who has experienced it all and just wants to put his feet up.  I’d say there’s a good chance that both weren’t daunted by the prospect of working with the other, which meant that there was respect, but not too much respect that they were afraid kick uninspired ideas into touch.

… and, y’know, the sessions appear to have heavily influenced the latest Queens of the Stone Age album, too.  So that’s no bad thing.

Most importantly, it joins his awesome radio show in making up for those fucking Swift insurance ads.

*I’ve owned two copies of this, the standard release and the deluxe (according to Discogs, it’s limited to 2000 copies).  The standard edition was, naturally, a fair bit cheaper and therefore the safe “I’ve never bought an Iggy Pop album on vinyl” purchase.  I regretted not opting for the deluxe version quite quickly and eventually ‘upgraded’ last year when I saw a cheap sealed copy.

Unlike the standard edition, this one comes with a nice full size booklet with images and credits and notes, etc. and a thick gatefold sleeve.  The LP sounds great.  Really great.

Don’t we all?

with a head full of nonsense I ran from the kitchen holding a mug and a sugar ring donut, which was falling to pieces all over the carpet, while I’m spilling coffee all over the floor.

I could have laughed when I realised.  Instead I cursed and threw words from my mouth.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to finish a post about Post Pop Depression.  On Thursday I figured it just needed a couple of pictures, which I took on Friday night.  Then, just before I hit publish, I did that proof reading thing… something I rarely do… and immediately I wanted to edit it.  Add and remove bits and pieces.  “what if that doesn’t make sense?  what if someone wants to know more…?”  None of it required, of course.  But the amendments were made.  Or at least started.  Now it’s unrecognisable and, largely, incoherent.

So it joins another sixteen draft posts.

Jeez.

And it’s got me thinking.  I have little or no direction here.  I never have done and while that’s not a bad thing, I’m not entirely happy with what I’m doing.  There are posts I’m happy with and posts that I’m not happy with.

Y’see, I write… I get distracted… I follow a thread and lose the other end.  It gets tangled.  I get frustrated untangling and it gets more tangled.  A big tangled mess of words.  So I bin it.  Or at least leave it with the intention to go back to it.  But I know I wont… and I never do.

Clean slate.  Start again.  I love this album… but I struggle to find the motivation to write and I struggle to write when I find the motivation.  Why can’t I articulate why I like Iggy Pop (or for anyone for that matter)?

I write too much… to a point that I delete stuff.  Or edit.  Again.

Delete.  Edit.  Start again.

Edit.  Delete.  Repeat.

To a point that it’s no longer cohesive.  Again.

It’s not passion.  It’s rambling.

I just can’t make sense of it.

Focus, Jim… focus.

I usually have about ten posts at any one time sitting in the drafts.  I currently have seventeen.  Seventeen.  Unfinishedly unfinished.  Not a phrase, but I’m the writer here and I’ll take it.

And that got me thinking about stuff.

I’m a husband and a father.  Also a friend.  I’ve been working in the same job for nearly 10 years and it has its moments.  I’m vinyl daft.  Music daft.  I also happen to, occasionally, write and sing songs (though I don’t really identify with that any more).  I sometimes feel anxious about stuff.  Daft stuff.  Stuff that really isn’t important: Like forgetting keys.  Or a phone charger.  Or dropping a fork.

Or writing the wrong thing.  The wrong date.  Or not posting the right video in the right place.

I have an anxiety disorder.

But that’s fine.

I worry about my kids.  My wife.  My friends.  Don’t we all?

I have friends I haven’t seen in months… or years.  I wish I had more time and that I made more effort to see people I give a damn about.  Again, don’t we all?  I also wish I got to the post office and posted that book or CD that I keep meaning to.

I wish I made different choices at times.  I wish I wasn’t so impulsive.  Saying things when I should perhaps just smile and nod.  Or not smile and nod and say something.  I try not to be impulsive or compulsive.  I’m not organised.  I can’t organise.  I need direction.  A nudge.  A rudder.

Though… sometimes I can organise.  So there.

I’m easily distracted.  Or a distraction.  Is it possible to be both?  I guess so.

I can obsess over things.  I discover something new and I need to know all about it / she / he / them right now.  Like nowNOW.  Even when it’s lights out.

I guess I’m a sucker for detail.  For sorting things.  Making sense of things.  But that takes up time, huh?  I could be doing other things when something’s really not all that important… so why do I need to do that now??

I pack information into zip files and store them in my head.

I can do the dishes in 20 minutes.

Or I can do the same amount of dishes but take over an hour.

I am slow.

I struggle to focus.  Always doing more than one thing at any time.  “I’ll just do this here while I wait for that there”… distracted… “oh, I forgot about that”.  Unless I’m given a nudge.  A steer.  Direction.

Not all the time, though.

I have four books that I want to read and I started all of them before I put them down cause that just wasn’t working out.  Focus, Jim.  Focus.

I perhaps expect too much of myself at times and, as a result, it disables rational thinking and I feel overwhelmed.

Perhaps I expect too much of others, too.

What am I saying?  I don’t really know.

But what I do know:

  • I love my family
  • I like music and I dig my modest record collection.  I listen to each of those records and I get to know them, too.  The sleeves and the grooves.  I like the listening ritual.  It takes time.  Care.  Attention.
  • My writing hasn’t gotten any better despite doing this for a while
  • I enjoy engaging with you folks
  • Sleep’s The Sciences is my album of the year so far
  • I also have less friends than social media suggests
  • I am currently obsessed with Earthless
  • I genuinely love Pacific Rim
  • David Lee Roth era Van Halen is amazing

Thanks for following, reading, and engaging here.  It’s appreciated.

And remember, an album, song, or artist doesn’t have to set the bar or be a game changer… but if they make you feel for a bit… feel anything… then we have a winner.  I mean, sometimes music isn’t just well crafted with lovely chords and words, but it takes me someplace else… it transcends being a sequence of notes of chords.  I love that.

Don’t we all?

 

“Shooting ’em up, drinking ’em up, taking them pills. Fooling around all my life”: Harry Nilsson – Pussy Cats (1974)

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for about 4 years now and I can’t believe I haven’t written about a Harry Nilsson album in all that time.  So, I figured I’d rectify that.  I thought I’d avoid writing about Schmillsson for now and instead share my thoughts on Pussy Cats.  Like Duit On Mon Dei, it’s a curious listen; there are treasures and some of my favourite Harry Nilsson moments despite the awful production and his voice being shot to shit.

Now, the official site suggests he lost his voice and kept it from Lennon to avoid the project being abandoned, but Lennon’s ears must have been more fucked than the production suggests if he didn’t notice, so, while there is evidence that his voice wasn’t what it once was on previous releases, I tend to believe the version suggested in the documentary, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? (a pretty exceptional documentary, which claims that the two of them were engaged in vocal hijinx that got out of hand).  Regardless of what happened, it’s a shame, cause while the brittle rasp suits something like Don’t Forget Me or All My Life, it doesn’t really work the same with the likes of Subterranean Homesick Blues and Save The Last Dance and it certainly doesn’t really do anything to help with the assorted uninspired covers.

While I’m all for creativity and artistic statements over sales and pleasing the record execs, I could imagine, and appreciate, their bewilderment.  Here’s two artists that have a great deal of respect and adulation… so, the potential to create something truly wonderful and shoot Harry back into the stratosphere.  Sadly, the energy and creativity was spent getting drunk and thinking up new ways to fuck around in and out of the studio.  Naturally, the label objected to the original title (Strange Pussies), but the less than subtle drugs reference on the cover highlights how smart these two jokers thought they were.

Anyhoo, let’s get to it… Pussy Cats starts off promisingly enough.  Many Rivers To Cross is pretty good despite, or rather because of, Harry’s vocal.  It’s affecting and the delivery of that “loneliness won’t leave you alone” line after the solo is exceptional.  The music is very much John Lennon…. the guitar tone very much a ringer for that on his Jealous Guy.  The wail at the outro is brilliant, too “looooooooooooaaaaaaaaasssssssssst”.  But, and here’s the but, the production is claustrophobic.  It may be inspired by Spector’s Wall of Sound, but it’s often suffocating and no more so than on Subterranean Homesick Blues.  That one is a racket… sounding like layers of white noise and Harry is almost unrecognisable (regardless of the shape his voice was in, the vocal just doesn’t sit comfortably).

But, you know what?  The next two tracks are the album’s highlights.  The sparseness of Don’t Forget Me means that it’s not suffocated in any way and that’s a great thing, cause it’s stellar.  Harry’s voice is broken and fragile, but the rawness and the tenderness really fits, and he knows how to use that voice… even when it’s limited.  It’s clear that this song means something (top 5 Nilsson songs, this one – beautiful stuff).  Likewise, All My Life deals with regret and his lifestyle, I guess.  When Harry sings “I’m so tired of bad times I’ll have to change my way” it suggests that he’s very aware of his troubles.  In fact, both these songs give a glipse at Harry’s vulnerability and both are poignant ruminations on the pain he’s endured and caused; though he isn’t above or beyond making light of it on the latter (“I’m so sore from laughing I  haven’t got the will to fight”).  The guitars of Danny Kootch and Jesse Ed Davis are brilliant and the strings are dizzying.  It’s classic Nilsson.  Side closer, Forgotten Soldier is stripped to its bones.  Piano, guitar and some birds in there…

… and so too is Harry’s voice.

It’s a rasp…

he’s almost wheezing.

Straining for words and a breath.

Good grief, it’s affecting.

It makes me sad, as there’s not so much as a glimpse of the old Harry.

Side 2 kicks off with Save The Last Dance For Me.  It evokes Schmillsson’s Without You during the intro.  The piano… listen.  You hear it?  Anyhoo, the take is pedestrian… a deceiving drum shuffle suggests a change in pace that just doesn’t arrive.  The vocal doesn’t quite land and it’s the first major ‘what if’ moment.  It’s not dreadful, but it’s unremarkable and it feels stilted.  Black Sails, on the other hand, is pretty wonderful and it’s as good as Harry sounds on the album.  I’d hazard a guess that this was one of the first vocal takes put down.  The strings are mournful and allow Harry’s vocal the opportunity to breathe and lead.  It’s funny, but mournful… and I love the delivery of “so raise the anchor up! Hoist the canvas… sail me to my heart”.

I’ll not spend too much time on how Mucho Mungo/Mt. Elga needs Harry or how Loop De Loop is pretty awful and Rock Around The Clock is a layer of white noise (it’s a bit like listening to music while wearing a grater as someone grates frozen carrots).

I realise that I’ve maybe been more negative about this one than positive… but, seriously, aside from the production and the album being shorn of Harry’s voice, it’s the dip in quality on side 2 that really lets the album down.  Lennon was no Richard Perry, but you can understand why RCA would have felt positive about him doing this album.  I dare say they thought “this is John Fucking Lennon! A bloody Beatle!!  A guy who will harness Harry’s creative energy and inspire him!”.  And just look at the supporting cast…

Instead, they got an album that could have been great and a Harry with a broken voice.  Damn.

Still, I actually do (mostly) like this one.  Or at least side one.

I found out that the album got a reissue there for Record Store Day, but copies of the original pressing can be found really cheap (I found mine for £3), so I can’t see the motivation for anyone looking to spend some good cash for a shiney RSD 2018 sticker.  My advice: grab the original.  Unless, of course, they’re somehow managed to make it sound less like shit.

“I worn my body for so long”: T-Model Ford & GravelRoad – Taledragger (2011)

Wanna talk blues? Wanna talk blues that isn’t cheesy 12 bar stuff with big blues licks and generic blues scale solos? Wanna talk bluesmen with hats with a layer of dirt and dust? Worn guitars and too old dirty strings? Wanna talk genuine life experience? Crazy shit and tall tales? Heartbreak, poison, and hardship? Wanna talk danger and staying in Mississipi way too long? Wanna talk about being down so long that it looks like up? Well, if you have, you’ve come to the right place, cause it rarely gets better (or worse) than T-Model Ford.

It was an old pal of mine that introduced me to the music of T-Model Ford back in 2006 or 2007.  He introduced me to a few of the electric blues artists that were signed to Fat Possum, actually. What they gave us were real people with real troubles who were never likely to walk away from their troubled lives, or stop playing their songs on porches or juke joints.

I guess it was similar to the discovery of Skip James and Son House, etc. in the 60’s, but Fat Possum were bringing the Mississippi blues to a new audience.  The label would discover, sign and record bluesmen with rich character and history; guys who just weren’t designed for the mainstream, I guess.  As well as T-Model Ford, we got R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Asie Payton, Johnny Farmer and Charles Caldwell.  Each of them with stories to tell.

Ford’s story, though, is quite a striking one; a real tale of woe.  As well as some strife, there’s violence and murder (apparently spending time on a chain gang for killing a man in a bar-room altercation).  As a kid, he was beaten so badly with a piece of firewood by his father that he lost a testicle.  He’s been beaten unconscious, stabbed, shot, and trapped under a fallen tree.  And the heartache?  Well, his first wife ran away with his father and he watched another die after drinking poison, while the only woman he ever truly loved poisoned him at breakfast.  Still, he loved the womans and they appeared to love him.  In addition, Fat Possum gave him a platform to tell his tales to the listening world.

… But the woe didn’t stop there.  As a recording musician for Fat Possum records he would be robbed, the victim of vandalism, and learn that the elderly woman teaching him to read and write has been the victim of a heinous crime that has resulted in her death. But still, he didn’t want to move despite the efforts of his label to get him out of town.  In fact, Fat Possum’s Matthew Johnson considered him to be a “happy-go-lucky psychopath”; whether he was or not depends on how you interpret his songs and performances.

Anyhoo, Taledragger is T-Model Ford’s last album and, while not as vibrant and raw as the releases on Fat Possum, it’s still a brilliant document of the man’s particular blend of the electrified Mississippi blues.  He’s backed by GravelRoad, who initially hooked up with him for a run of dates in 2008 and they provide suitable, eh, gravely backing for old T-Model.  His unique playing style and wicked slurred growl are intact and he sounds great for a guy rumoured to be about 90 at the time (and he didn’t start playing until he was near enough 60 when his 5th wife said cheerio, apparently).

His blues is as repetative and hypnotic as his old label mate Kimbrough’s and opener Same Old Train really sets the tone.  There’s some Hammond on here that really adds a wee something special and I’m fairly certain this song is a reworking of Mystery Train with T-Model singing what words he can remember with some of his own.  I should add that part of the wonder of T-Model is deciphering what he’s singing.  There’s no lyrics with the LP and his slurred growl doesn’t make it easy.  I am confident, however, that he mentions train and a “long legged woma” (who makes more than one appearance).

The early highlights are Comin’ Back Home and Someone’s Knocking On My Door, with the former churning like the Mississippi and at times it reminds me of Morphine.  The sax flourishes and Ford’s howl when he says “bae-ee” (babe / baby, I assume) are awesome and Brian Olive’s sax outro is particularly special (make it worth the admission price alone).  Someone Knocking… on the other hand is lit up with Stefan Zillioux’s sizzling guitar.  Seriously, it’s a BBQ pit death waltz… Ford chanting about death and the gentle rapping on his chamber door.

Side 2 is pretty special, with How Many More Years transcending electric blues.  It’s dark, hypnotic, and the drum often does this wee quick step thing that leaves you feeling a bit woozy.  There’s some heavy reverb on T-Model Ford’s vocal and Zillioux’s wah-wah’d guitar finds us veering off into a psychedelic dirge.  It’s followed by 7 rolling and tumbling minutes of Big Legged Woman.  Again, the lead playing of Zillioux lights this up, with his slide playing like a switchblade.  I guarantee you if this was recorded in the 60’s Led Zeppelin would have released a similar tune within months without having ever heard this.

Ford is clearly a fan of reverb and although it’s not uncommon for bluesment to delve into some tremelo or reverb ocassionally, one of the most interesting things here is the use of the reverb on the vocal and the occasional veer into psychedelic vibes.  Given how difficult it is to grab the words that Ford throws out, it’s very effective.  Those psychedelic dirge vibes come back with I Worn My Body For So Long (what a title, eh?).  This time it’s driven by some kick ass bass and the lead noodlings appear to be from an acoustic or dobro (or resonator of some sort).

Lyrically, when you can make out what he’s saying, it sounds at times like he’s making things up as he goes along, singing what he remembers of existing songs, while throwng in his own experiences (Same Old Train, Big Legged Woman, Red Dress and Little Red Rooster).  There’s a whole lot about mortality on here (natural given his age).  Of suffering and journeying.  Trains, betrayal, and a big legged woman.  Y’know, the typical blues themes, I guess.

And while this is T-Model Ford’s boogie board, the band are damn good.  From what I gather, they are rooted in the blues, while having a hard rocking edge… and they do provide a helluva backing to T-Model Ford’s unique playing.  Lots of fuzz, too.  You gotta love fuzz.  In fact, if you like R.L. Burnside’s elctrified stuff, it’s safe to say that this will be right up your street.

New Additions: Where’s the Danzig?

It was my Birthday at the end of March there and, naturally, some new records have somehow found their way into my collection (nestling snugly into the ‘need to listen’ pile).

I also decided to pick up an album that’s been on my list a wee while.

What are they?  It’s funny you should ask.

Rainer – Worried Spirits

Fire Records has been releasing Rainer’s albums at a bit of a snail’s pace, though they made some serious progress last year.  I had picked up Barefoot Rock a while back, but I’ve been waiting (im)patietly for my very favourite Rainer album to receive the vinyl release it deserves for a couple of years.  I had contacted Fire Records last summer to query whether it was on the cards and they didn’t let on that there were any imminent plans.  It was only via a vinyl group earlier in March that I learned it had been released… in December!!

Anyhoo, my wife picked it up for me and it was surprising to see that it’s on really lovely sun yellow vinyl.  This replaces an old Demon Records CD copy I had which was somehow misplaced or lost.  I love everything about this one and unreservedly so… from the front cover, the text, the album title, the song cycle.

My only gripe with the Fire reissue is that the track-listing on the back includes tracks that are available only via the download.  The release really could have benefited from a second slice of vinyl for the bonus cuts they’ve included.

Still, I’m not gonna complain, cause I have one of my absolute favourite albums and it sounds pretty brilliant.

These next two were purchased using a wee voucher I had got and they just arrived yesterday.

Earthless – From The Ages

Black Heaven has been on heavy rotation here and I’m on an Earthless kick (no bad thing).  I was looking for a copy of Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky on vinyl, but it was sold out and I thought I’d have a look for their last one instead, cause I wasn’t all that familiar with it cause I never really found the time to sit down and consume all 60+ minutes (30 minutes of that are the title track!).  I’ve yet to drop the needle on it, but I have been consuming all its enlightening glory via the instant download I’d received at the time of purchase and I’m looking forward to hearing how they split that title track!

Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last

This was a bit of a no-brainer, really (though I did ask JH if he’d heard it and if he’d recommend it).  It’s not often you see a record for less than a tenner, let alone one that was a) just released last year, b) by an artist you like a whole lot, and c) features a half dozen of your favourite tunes by that artist’s band.  Together At Last ticks all those boxes (or at least it did when I purchased it).  It’s basically Tweedy and his acoustic guitar performing tracks from his career (Golden Smog and Loose Fur, as well as Wilco).

Admittedly, I had been on the fence about this one, cause, well, I have the songs I really like and didn’t know what benefit having them again would be.  But this is pretty exceptional.  Intimate and fragile… and the versions of Via Chicago, Ashes Of American Flags, Muzzle of Bees, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart and I’m Always In Love are really pretty special.

Lastly, that album I finally decided it was time to pick up?

Screaming Trees – Last Words: The Final Recordings

Like a lot of records, this has been on my list for a long time.  That Mr. Yellowface guy kinda got me looking at copies online.  I spotted one for a tenner on eBay and thought “yeah, it’s time”.  There’s not much to look at – no liner notes or detailed credits, etc – but it’s a lovely slice of red vinyl (and the songs sound amazing).

And that’s it.

I reckon there’ll be something of a record buying break for a while as we weigh up life stuffs.

But I’ll definitely be writing stuff more often, though.

“All my dearest companions have always been villains and thieves”: Lionel Bart’s Oliver (1968)

Musicals.  An interesting genre, huh?  At one point they were rife.  However, these days it appears that Disney are the biggest champions of the musical.  Mostly animated characters expressing themselves with their dead eyes and dramatic hand gestures, with only the odd foray into the live action motion picture world.  Back in the day, it seems that every second picture was a musical.  Or at least that’s how it appeared during Bank Holidays.  As a youngster, enjoying those Bank Holidays, I was awfy fond of three musicals; Tom Thumb, Wizard Of Oz, and Oliver!  Truth be told, I’m still awfy fond of them.

The memories attached to those three are particularly strong.  Popular Festive Calendar flicks for the television companies, you could pretty much guarantee that we’d be sitting down to watch all of them over the school holidays.  Every year.  I never tired of them – mimicking characters and repeating lines while sharing the box of Roses or Quality Street that sat on the coffee table.  “That’s one for you… and two for me…” (that scene between Terry Thomas and Peter Sellars in Tom Thumb).

Anyhoo, when I spotted the Oliver!soundtrack among a bunch of undesirable records at the Record Fayre for £1 way back in October 2013 (I think), I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  Y’see, as well as being a movie that I have a lot of attachment to, Lionel Bart’s songs here are really pretty incredible.  Hardly surprising, I guess (given Bart’s pedigree and the performances of some of the cast).

I’ve tried and it’s too difficult to pick out a favourite in an album of highlights.  My wife, however, still shakes her head when I reach for this LP.  Think again, I can hear her thinking as she scrolls through the spines of the LPs on the shelf and focuses her stare on something like The Fabulous Johnny Cash or even Neil Young’s Harvest (I still don’t think she’s warming to this one).  Anyhoo, me?  I reckon this is one of the very best musicals.

The late Ron Moody is stellar as Fagin and his performances here are rich, colourful, and full of character.  His tone and delivery on, say, You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, immediately bring images of him on screen.  In fact, scrap that statement about hard to pick favourites, cause it’s easy – it’s Moody’s moments (this and Reviewing The Situation).  They’re just so enjoyable.

The ‘medley’ of Food, Glorious Food and Oliver! is memorable – I dare say most have whistled or sang the former while hurrying excitedly to the dining table, while Harry Secombe’s bellowed Boy For Sale is a dramatic shift in mood.  The strings convey dread and resignation… perhaps cause old Mr. Bumble hates roaming the street selling young kids.  Or he just doesn’t like bartering.  I actually really like Harry’s tune, though thinking about the scene is pretty grim.  As much as trekking the streets selling a kid probably isn’t a great deal of fun, there’s some really funny lines in there (“He’s going cheap… only seven guineas.  That or thereabouts”).

While Where Is Love? isn’t a bad song or anything, Lester’s vocal chops aren’t strong and I know that Moody’s Fagin is up next and we’re in for a treat!  See, it’s the introduction of Fagin and his gang that really lift proceedings and it’s at that point that the soundtrack (like the movie) comes to life.

There’s humour in the darkness of the themes throughout and, as I mentioned already, Moody’s performance as Fagin is really pretty brilliant.  He’s a shifty chap for sure, but he clearly likes the kids that he mentors.  While they’re obviously out stealing for him to earn a keep and what have you, they’re his family and you can see that with how he looks out for the new kid and his attachment to Dodger.  And this is all part and parcel of what makes Pick A Pocket Or Two so wonderful.  It’s jovial, the arrangements light and Moody’s delivery is magnificent.  Full of energy and hijinx.  Truly wonderful.

Mark Lester and Jack Wild’s Consider Yourself is another favourite.  Right now, it’s quite relevant too – welcoming strangers and such (“there isn’t a lot to spare.  Who cares!?  Whatever we’ve got we share!”).

Side 2 has the big hitters.  Moody’s back with Be Back Soon, which is relentless, really.  Fagin telling his proteges to fill their pockets, stay out of bother, and get back up the road for some kip.  Shani Wallis’ As Long As He Needs Me is a show stopper.  The kind that comes along like Bill Sykes and smacks you right in the gut and leaves you breathless.  I’m not talking Celine Dion (thanks, Canadialand) type emotion here, but the real heartbreak kind.  Dread.  Heart in mouth.  I’m going to be sick or cry kind.  The performance conveys the sheer devotion Nancy has to that (violent) bad bastard Bill Sykes.

I always liked Who Will Buy?  It’s the uptempo cheery number.  Probably the cheeriest, really.  Oliver awake in his new surroundings and looking out to a brand new day.  On yirself, Oli.

Anyhoo, moving on, it doesn’t get any better than Reviewing the Situation.  In fact (spoiler alert) the sub-plot here is as captivating as the age old tale of orphaned-lad-finds-happiness-with-rich-family.  It’s Fagin who really shines, with his insecurities and uneasiness comes to the surface a little more as he watches what’s happening around the young Oliver chap.  He longs to get out and, truth be told, he’d have given up this game years ago.  But the man has no family and these kids and the scoundrels (like the violent Bill Sykes) are all he has.  They keep him going.  They give him drive and purpose.  To feel important… wanted… loved… respected.  Anyhoo, Reviewing the Situation is all about that desire to get out and the insecurities that stop him.

I just realised that I don’t care too much for our lead character’s numbers.  Fancy that.  I don’t think they’re bad songs or anything like that, but they lack the vibrancy and the character of the others.  Mark Lester (a young lad, mind) doesn’t have the vocal chops or character to compete with the likes of Wallis, Secombe, or Moody.

And you know what, all that stuff I was saying about Fagin?  Well, Wallis’ wonderful Oom-Pah-Pah! is Nancy’s stand.  Creating a commotion that will allow them to do the right thing.  It all ends in heartache, though, but it’s rousing and joyous and it yet it’s tense.

Anyhoo, the Oliver soundtrack is a real joy.

Thanks for reading.

So, I guess I got to make some space…

I realised that I haven’t posted anything in a while.  I’ve just been a bit busy with some other stuff and I just can’t seem to find the time, or motivation, to get around to writing something here.  Truth be told, I’ve wondered whether or not just to quit posting, as I’d still feel part of the community; what with all the conversation off the back of interesting posts elsewhere.  But, y’know, here I am.

I recently bought some more of those nice ‘dust sleeves’ to put the vinyl in and I thought “maybe I’ll post a wee ‘here’s some new records’ type of post”.  I also spent a bit of time going through the collection.  I realised that I have a few of albums I don’t really bother with, cause I really kinda forgot that I had them.  There’s also a ton of stuff that I haven’t really gotten to yet… and there’s some stuff that I really should get to.

Anyhoo, what are the new additions?

Mythic Sunship – Upheaval

Yup, it’s that El Paraiso lot again.  Some incredible stuff on this one (naturally) and seriously, this is the soundtrack to Kaiju and Jaeger’s flattening cities.  I suggested this one to a pal of mine and he said it reminded him of yon Godspeed You! Black Emperor lot.  I don’t get that myself, right enough, but that should please some of you Canadialanders.

Walking Papers – WP2

As much as I loved the first Walking Papers album, this took me by surprise.  It’s really pretty brilliant… the sound of that first album replaced with all sorts of one-two punches.  And they roll with them.  It’s great hearing Duff McKagen’s playing on this kind of album and it highlights just how good that guy is.  Not just cause he’s Duff McKagen, but cause he’s one of the best bass players out there.  Fact.  As well as having some excellent lyrics (again) Angell’s playing is focussed and intense and Barrett Martin, as always, lays down some incredible percussion.  I’m really hoping the GN’R reunion doesn’t spell the end for these guys, cause it sounds like they’re just getting started.

Sacri Cuori – Douglas & Dawn / Rosario

Two Sacri Cuori releases that I didn’t previously own on vinyl.  Only cause I wasn’t vinyl daft at the time and instead opted for the smaller, compact disc variety.  Anyhoo, I found these cheap and I figured now was the time to buy them, as Sacri Cuori are brilliant and, regardless of how much I like them, I just keep liking them even more.  Although both albums are different sonically and texturally, they’re unmistakably the work of Antonio Gramentieri.  Plus, the Rosario cover was always one of the most beautiful looking in my CD collection.

Patterson Hood – Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance

I don’t think I’ve ever really spoke much about the Drive-By Truckers.  They’re a ridiculously talented bunch of songwriters and we’ve obvioulsy been seeing that over the last few years with Jason Isbell’s solo stuff.  Well, Patterson Hood has a couple, too.  The last of which was this one.  And it’s brilliant.  I dare say I love it more than Isbell’s stuff… but they’re different in subtle ways.  Anyhoo, the Isbell praise got me thinking how I’d love to own this one on vinyl.  I happened to find a copy cheap.  So here it is.

Blind Melon – Soup

Quite possibly my favourite purchase this year so far.  I was delighted to see this was reissued fairly recently, as I’ve been waiting for it since the reissue of the debut a few years back.  Turns out that it was reissued by not one, but two labels within months of each other.  I opted for the slightly more expensive remastered Analog Spark release over the Music On Vinyl one, cause I had read such good things about it.  I ordered from a US based seller on Discogs (with very, very reasonable postage costs) so it took a few weeks for it to arrive.  As you can imagine, I was pretty excited when it did, but I was a bit disappointed by some tearing on the front cover.  I hummed and hawed about sending it back (helluva wait, copies now more expensive), but the offer of a part refund, meant that all in all it cost me £14 and change.  How does it sound?  Great.  Genuinely pretty brilliant.

Damien Jurado – Where Shall You Take Me?

This is the 10th Anniversary Edition of my favourite Jurado album.  This 2 LP set includes some bonus material (a handful of reel to reel demos and the Just In Time For Something EP that was never made available on vinyl) and, while I’m not sure how often the second slice of vinyl will be played, I can tell you that the main album has already received a couple of spins.  This also happens to be an album that my wife is fond of, too… so it was extra special adding this one to the collection.

Blind Melon – Tones of Home EP

This was a surprising gift from my pal.  The second side includes very different tracks than advertised, and as much as I was looking forward to hearing the live version of Drive, I’m happy with the alternatives (a live version of Time – likely recorded at The Ritz in 1992 – and the unreleased Wooh D.O.G).

Earthless – Black Heaven

The (very early) contender for album of the year.  It’s like Black Sabbath meets The Black Crowes.  Can you imagine that?  It’s one that really gets its hooks in you and I dare say it will win them some new fans.  As I said elsewhere, there are plenty vocals, but the guitars still scorch the Earth.

As always, I’ll have plenty more to say about these when I get the chance.  Feel free to let me know whether you have any of them, dig them / don’t dig them, and tell me what the Hell you’ve been buying and gotten excited about recently.

“a shambolic teenage riot”

Sleepyhouse was my first proper band.  We were, as one of our friends put it, “a shambolic teenage riot”.  We were barely proficient with our instruments, with three of us playing ‘seriously’ (I use that term loosely) for a matter of months, while our drummer, Adam, was a very talented guitarist.  As shambolic as we were, though, we had some good tunes and an energy, camaraderie, and swagger that you’d attribute to the best bands.  For us, though, those qualities came with being in our late teens.  We were great, though; a mess of a band, but for about 2 years – 1998 to 2000 – we were on a wave of enthusiasm that made us the best band out there.

How did it start?  Well, Kev, Alan, and myself were school pals who listened to the same music.  The odd kids in our year.  Kev and I had been making a bit of a racket for a few months much to the chagrin of our parents.  Tuneless strumming and abstract words strung together.  We even performed two songs as an interval side attraction at a school show thing as Sulk (named after the Radiohead tune and we thought it was clever cause we were teenagers, innit).  My girlfriend at the time was our drummer cause she could actually play a little bit (she could also read music… though that wasn’t something that she could teach me, cause, well, who needs to read music?) and, well, we really couldn’t play (undisputed fact) and we didn’t perform in public again.

Alan picked up guitar pretty easily and joined us a bit later.  Bringing his Slash inspired licks.  We left school and attended different colleges.  But we wrote some songs.  The Robster, who I met at college, completed the line-up and we set about polishing our songs.  The problem was that, despite saying he was, The Robster wasn’t a drummer.  We established this quickly.  His departure was memorable thanks to a crash symbol near enough scalping him.  Our next attempt at securing a drummer was simultaneously more and less successful.  A drummer more talented than each of us at our chosen instruments who helped us through a gig as the entertainment during a fashion show.  Kinda like playing the Superbowl, I guess.  But on a much smaller scale… and with fewer people… and with people playing dress up rather than American Football.  Fun times.

Anyhoo, it was a chance meeting one night with a busker and his pal Adam that changed things.  Y’see, Adam was a guitarist, but he said he played drums a bit and he was interested.  I don’t remember the exact details, but I assume we sold him on our band being pretty brilliant and complete with a songwriting team to rival that of Jagger and Richards, Bacharach and David, Leiber and Stoller, King and Goffin, or, dare I say, Holland, Dozier and Holland!  Truth be told we had none of that.  We three had hijinx and ideas a plenty, though.  So we jammed.   We got along.  We wrote songs.  Well, we jammed ideas that would eventually become songs and we all contributed.  We had a laugh and Adam fitted in.  Within a short space of time we were a gang.  I can’t quite remember when we named ourselves Sleepyhouse, but we did.  Sleepyhouse, y’see, was one of our (Alan and I) favourite Blind Melon songs.  I don’t remember there being any big discussions or objections around it.  It just seemed to fit us.

Heady times with The Hoose. At The Arena in 1998, I reckon. L to R: Kev, Jim, Adam, Alan.

Our songs were an interesting mix of ramshackle rock riffery and shuffle.  We had the usual influences for guys our age – Nirvana, GNR, Reef and a sprinkling of Blind Melon.  Lyrically, it was improvised and dealing with the kinda things teenagers dealt with – y’know, the emotional cycle of change, relationships, angst, indifference, drinking, and other more abstract stuffs.  Rehearsals were great, too; productive and with just the right amount of hijinx.  We left the studio as a group with some walk and talk and stop and chat about the night’s work.

My way of ‘writing’ was established in those early days… improvising and repeating until a line, phrase, or melody stuck.  Ranting… jamming… whatever you want to call it.  I just sang and caught words that stuck with me.  Alan had a style that was heavy influenced by Slash and Joe Perry.  He had that swagger, too… Les Paul slung low and dressed like he was straight out of a forgotten 70’s outfit.  His playing had a distinctive jagged edge… like a carpenter working on wood.  Kev’s playing was also distinctive (still is) with him pulling notes and, whether following the guitar or not, punched his way through the song’s landscape.  Adam was a guitarist first, but his drumming style was integral to the Sleepyhouse sound… the cymbol crashing and its incessant whispering adding a layer to the songs that complimented the jagged edge of the guitar and much needed treble to the punch and distortion of the bass.  It was like the sound of water running while the toms rumbled and all that jazz.  Man, it was busy.  In a Bonham way, I guess.  It was a marriage of styles that worked.

We played pretty much every other weekend.  Often at Glasgow’s The Arena (seriously, bands that play a venue as often and as regularly as we played there, would be considered a resident band), Strawberry Fields, the odd appearance at Fury Murry’s or Strathclyde Union, not to mention our very own SleepyFest at The 13th Note and a memorable night at the Cathouse.

Y’see, Sleepyhouse was at its best when we were a gang and the gigs could be the best thing ever, but also the worst.  But, y’know, no matter how bad we were on stage, we enjoyed being there and playing the songs.  We had set staples and threw in the odd cover.  We had a bunch of folks who would come out to see us play.  It was like one massive party (and there often was one later at Alan’s gaff after gigs).  We recorded a couple of our tunes (Bob Dylan’s Grandmother, Spend The Night and The Bridge) and we were riding a wave.  Then things changed.  The dynamic between us changed.  Alan had become a focal point and his view of what Sleepyhouse was and should be was absolute…

Sleepyhouse Mk III rocking yon Strawberry Fields (L to R: Alan, Jim, Danny, Kev)

Like any band, there were line-up changes.  Not the likes of Deep Purple or anything, but a few.  Kev’s mate Pete joined in early 2000 or so and though he was a smashin’ guy and a proper good guitar player to boot (a considerable upgrade on my rhythm guitar chops), it didn’t really bring balance to the Force.  Adam left, cause, well, cause he had another band and other commitments.  Truth be told, that was really the shift from Sleepyhouse to something new.  We just didn’t know it at the time.

Alan’s pal Danny joined and things were actually moving along okay.  Pete left, but by this time our sound was established and we were proficient players.  We recorded a couple of songs (Jack D., Heavy-Eyed and Tee Ah Millahtoona) and considered it to be an EP.  We did nothing with it, right enough*.  Stuart joined soon after, cause despite hearing loads of guitar things, I just wasn’t a guitar player and Pete’s stint really highlighted that the extra guitar could lift the band and fill out the sound.  Stuart’s arrival was a difficult one for Alan, I think.  Two of them being lead players, but our relationship, certainly musically, with Stuart was better as his influences were more in line with those of Kev and I.  I’m not sure they really hit it off and, quite honestly, I don’t know that they ever really spoke, or got a chance to, cause their time in a band together was actually incredible short.

As much as we all liked Danny, I don’t think he ever felt part of things when Alan moved on.  By that time Sleepyhouse was done and we were guys who played music together without engaging with each other much away from it.  We transitioned from Sleepyhouse to something different sometime around 2001 and I dare say there was a bit of a power struggle in there.  In the end I walked away.  The others jammed with Danny’s brother, but for one reason or another that didn’t work out.

Sleepyhouse Mk IV (L to R: Alan, Danny, Jim, Kev, Stuart). This one is from The Cathouse. Note the jumper…

I haven’t really given much thought to Sleepyhouse for a long time.  I can’t even really remember the last time I mentioned or discussed it.  So why am I thinking about my first real band and those early days of a rich musical journey?  Well, Adam dropped me and Kev a line in December asking about an old video and being keen to see it.  I hadn’t thought about the Sleepy Tape for a long, long time.  This is a tape made up of hours of footage captured by my Sharp camcorder with the help of my brother (mostly) and a tripod.  Among the rehearsal and gig footage are snippets of chat and hijinx.  I haven’t seen that video cassette since the last days of the band.  It transpires that Kev had it.  Now it’s in Adam’s possession and he’s digitising that thing.

I’ve been engaged in a series of messages with Adam and Kev over the last few weeks and it’s been good to reminisce about it all.  Adam relayed a quote from a clip of his pal:

“Sleepyhouse is an absolutely fucking silly band that shouldn’t work… at all.  And yet I find myself having more fun at their gigs than Dinosaur Jr or any of the other truly great bands I’ve seen”.

I think that summed us up.  We were the best worst band on the scene.  Which made us the best band ever.  Revisiting the songs, I don’t know that they’d win folks over now, but then… then was different.  It probably wasn’t ever really about the songs.  As much as we were teenagers with a bit of arrogance and whatever, we were a welcoming bunch.  If you came to see us you were one of us.  Heck, we even invited other bands on stage to sing or whatever… we gigged with pals or bands we formed friendships with through gigs.  Jings, our drummer, Adam, was a stranger who became family overnight.  I think that sums up Sleepyhouse.  It wasn’t just a house, but a home.

Anyhoo, I’m glad we thought to document the journey of Sleepyhouse.  Or at least the early years before it started to fall apart.  I can honestly say that as messy as it was at times, it was pretty great.  Most importantly, I’m glad that we’re planning on meeting up to give the Sleepy Tape a watch.  I haven’t seen either of those guys in a while and, well, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them.

*the Voodoo Dolls & Diamond Rings EP did eventually see the light of day.  The timeline is all a bit skewed, but this was recorded in 2001, as the band transitioned from Sleepyhouse to Glitterball Vegas (we think).