30 Apr 2012

Active Listener Radio # 3

This week's show includes music from Camper Van Beethoven, Mouse & The Traps, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Fleet Foxes, Deerhunter, Sixto Rodriguez, Colours, Lawrence Arabia, Kurt Vile, John Grant , Susan Christie, Scott Walker, The Rowan Amber Mill, Al Stewart, Witchcraft, Calexico & The Felice Brothers.

Click on the artist name to find out more about the album that the track is sourced from. If you wish to support this show you can buy through these links.

 Stream it here:

Listen to previous shows here.

Artists : If you'd like to send me anything to play on the show contact me at nford150@gmail.com

29 Apr 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected by The Active Listener

Having published a few of these by guests now, I thought it was about time I weighed in with my own list of Desert Island Discs.
I didn't realize when I set this task for others quite what I was expecting of them. Culling down a lifetime's worth of listening into one bitesize package is tremendously difficult, and truth be told if I was to be asked to do the same thing in a month's time my list may well have changed dramatically.
There are artists ( Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Neil Young, The Kinks, The Fleet Foxes, David Bowie to name a few ), who really should be on here but I'm frankly unable to choose only one album to adequately represent them. With the following ten albums however, I think I'd be prepared for any eventuality.

Iron Maiden - Killers 
When this impressionable six year old Michael Jackson fan first heard Iron Maiden's Phantom of the Opera on a Lucozade commercial in the mid eighties, pop music was fickly swept aside in favor of all things guitar based. I shudder to think what this blog would be like without this timely intervention. While I've mellowed somewhat since, I've still got plenty of time for Iron Maiden.
While the Bruce Dickinson / Nicko McBrain line-up seems to be most people's Maiden of choice, I prefer the rougher edges of the Paul Di'anno / Clive Burr years.  Liberally mixing the precision of Thin Lizzy's dual guitar attack, with the speed and aggression of punk rock and Motorhead, Maiden more or less set the template for the future of heavy metal with these albums. The debut is great, but Killers trumps it with tighter arrangements, a brighter mix and more consistent material. Di'anno's vocals are at their most confident here too, and Dave Murray's wonderfully twiddly guitar solos are at their very best.

The Beatles - Abbey Road
I can't think of any other band who recorded as much as the Beatles in such a short space of time and can  claim their last album as being one of their best. It's a miraculous album really. The disharmony among the group at this point should have made it impossible for them to create such a cohesive record. While Revolver and Sgt. Peppers are probably better albums technically, Abbey Road to me is their most enjoyable from start to finish. it's got everything that made them great too. Amazing harmonies ( Because ), guitar rock ( I Want You's exceptional, hypnotic riff that seems to last forever, but still leaves you wanting more ), peerless ballads ( Something, which has one of the most tasteful guitar solos ever recorded ) and complex mini suites ( all of Side Two basically ). And I haven't even mentioned the greatness that is You Never Give Me Your Money.  Masterful.

Love - Forever Changes
Forever Changes is an album that's almost impossible to explain. Perhaps that's why it's always in critics top ten lists, but still remains largely unknown to the general public. Another reason perhaps is that it's such an amazingly good album that it completely dwarves the rest of Arthur Lee's actually rather impressive output, making someone who had a pretty consistent and often adventurous catalogue look like a bit of a one hit wonder. Though generally considered psychedelic, musically it's much less about studio trickery and a whole lot more about clever and groundbreaking arrangements. Mostly played on acoustic instruments, with some surprisingly complex string and brass arrangements, the thing that really stands up here is the astonishingly good songs. Lee was a pioneering songwriter and one of the first to recognize that things weren't all good during the Summer of Love. Paranoia-fueled anthems like the Red Telephone and A House Is Not A Motel set the standard but there's also plenty of room for the likes of the much covered mariachi tinged Alone Again Or and Bryan McLean's quite lovely Old Man. I've quite possibly played this album a thousand times, and it retains it's freshness and ability to surprise every one of those times.

Ennio Morricone - Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion
I'm a total soundtrack fiend so I'm very pleased that there seems to be a growing awareness that many soundtracks have a lot more to offer on their own merits rather than just being tools to signpost moods in films . Selecting a single soundtrack to accompany my desert island time was one of the hardest choices to be made here. It could have so easily been Goblin's Profondo Rosso, Les Baxter's Dunwich Horror, James Bernard's Dracula Prince of Darkness, Air's Virgin Suicides, Lalo Schifrin's The Fox, Halloween, Rosemary's Baby or any number of others, but I've settled for this excellent Morricone score, which I was introduced to via Fantomas' wonderful Director's Cut album. It's more melodic and straightforward than Morricone's other contemperous thriller scores, but a lot more adventurous than his more well known spaghetti westerns - a happy medium between the two, without really sounding like anything else in his catalogue ( anything that I've heard anyway, I'd be very pleased to hear if there's anything else like this out there ). Quirky, suspenseful, playful and very cleverly arranged, with themes you'll be humming for days.

Maggie Bjorklund - Coming Home
A well played steel guitar is pretty much unbeatable in my book, and no one plays it better than Sweden's Maggie Bjorklund. Having done session work for years, she finally released an album of her own in 2010, and it's one of the most startling things I've ever heard. It's fairly equally divided between vocal tracks ( with help from Mark Lanegan and Jon Auer ) and evocative, windswept instrumentals.
Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino play bass and drums, giving this a beautifully desolate sound partway between the more atmospheric moments on Calexico's Black Light and oddly, Earth's The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Head. This is one you have to hear on vinyl to get the full effect of - without a doubt one of the warmest vinyl mastering jobs I've ever heard.

Mellow Candle - Swaddling Songs
Swaddling Songs hands down beats anything by Fairport Convention, The Trees, Pentangle and all the other 60's/70's UK folk rockers in this writers humble opinion. There were a lot of obscure bands peddling this sort of stuff at the time, but none with the imagination and sense of self that Mellow Candle display here on sadly, their only album.With two powerful female vocalists who can harmonize like angels, and a band that rocks and swings far more than you'd expect, this is a total gem. Better singers than Sandy Denny? Obviously no. Better guitar work than Richard Thompson? Again no. But put them all together and they're definitely, as cliched as it sounds, more than the sum of their parts. They play like they're inside each other's heads and there are more classic songs on here than most bands manage in a whole career. This is one rarity that is well and truly worth the effort to find.

Van Morrison - Common One
A misunderstood and totally underappreciated masterpiece here from Van, that deserves to be spoken about in the same hushed tones as Coltrane's A Love Supreme with which it shares a certain sense of ambition. Satisfied is a punchy gem which should have been a hit, but it's the longer cuts that are where Van and an absolutely immaculate band shine. When Heart Is Open cribs liberally from Miles Davis' In a Silent Way without overstepping while Summertime in England is the ultimate Van track, a fifteen minute epic that manages to sound both completely spontaneous and painstakingly structured at the same time. Amazing horns, and Van's most impassioned vocal ever with inspired scatting, and inspired ( some say pretentious ) stream of consciousness lyrics.

The Electric Prunes - Mass In F Minor
David Axelrod's work from the sixties was truly innovative and at it's best on the two LPs he produced for Reprise under the name of the Electric Prunes ( when the original Prunes broke up, the label were left with the rights for the name ).
Basically a catholic mass accompanied by a full psychedelic band plus orchestra, this is an acquired taste perhaps, but one that suits me to a tee. The super funky drums and layers of searing acid guitars courtesy of the Collector's Dave Hassinger make surprisingly comfortable bedfellows with the more traditional elements - moody choral vocals and church organ. Kyrie Eleison found it's way onto the Easy Rider soundtrack, but the concept of mixing psychedelia with religion was too esoteric for the masses, and as a result Mass In F Minor is generally viewed as a minor curio of the times - but the tide is turning thanks to an ever-growing number of discerning crate-diggers. As I've neglected to pack any Nick Drake for my enforced, I guess this will have to be my go-to Sunday morning disc

Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
One of Midlake's most admirable quality's is their ability to completely reinvent themselves with each album, making them as close as we've got to a beardy equivalent to trailblazing seventies Bowie. While their first album's quirky lo-fi didn't do much for me, they've released two absolute gems since. Fortunately Stephen from the Rowan Amber Mill chose The Courage of Others in his Desert Island list, saving me from having to make a difficult choice ( I'm planning on getting shipwrecked on the same island as him, so I can visit his cave to listen to Courage. )
Where Courage sounds like Pentangle scoring the Wicker Man soundtrack, it's predecessor The Trials of Van Occupanther is seemingly inspired more by the sunny canyon sounds of Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac, albeit shrouded in a melancholy that the Mac generally avoided. If there's a more perfect opening than Roscoe's choogling guitar riff, accompanied by those heavenly close harmonies, I'd request that you introduce us as soon as possible.

The Music of John Barry
I listened to a heck of a lot of Portishead during my teenage years, and was obsessive enough to hunt down the original sources for as many of their samples as I could. John Barry's theme from the I.P.C.R.E.S.S File ( contained here ) was the gold at the end of this particular rainbow. Up until this point my exposure to Barry was limited to the odd Bond theme, and an unhealthy childhood obsession with Disney's Black Hole, the soundtrack to which was almost as depressing as the ending of the film itself. Once I'd heard his good stuff though there was no stopping me. The early beat stuff had it's moments, but it was Barry's material from the sixties that really grabbed me. Of the many compilations out there, this is one of the easiest to pick up ( on vinyl anyway ), and fortuitously also the best in my eyes. The grandiose arrangements contained within would certainly make the reality of spearing fish and palm leaf toilet paper during my Island captivity appear a lot more glamorous than it really would be.
The Bond themes, Goldfinger especially are given the chance to show their otherwise unsuspected subtleties in these instrumental arrangements, while Seance on a Wet Afternoon is a masterclass in mood and suspense, only topped by the fabulously dramatic organ and choral rerecording of The Lion In Winter. Not to mention his two finest Bond pieces, Space March and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. All class this man.

Are you interested in submitting an entry to our Desert Island Discs? E-mail me at nford150@gmail.com
You don't have to be an expert on anything - you've just got to know what you like.

28 Apr 2012

Stream Active Listener's Dark Psychedelic Mix

I put this mix together during the very early days of the blog and have resurrected it for streaming. Lots of my favorites on this one.

Active Listener Radio's Wicker-Folk Special

Today I've got a treat for all of you moody folkers - the first Active Listener Radio Special, focusing on dark pagan folk - the creepier, the better.
The show features The Rowan Amber Mill, Martyn Bates, The Horses Of The Gods, Candidate, Tunng, Quickthorn, The Hare & The Moon, Wyrdstone, Mary Jane, The Owl Service, Sproatly Smith, Mr. Fox, Damh The Bard, The Straw Bear Band, Comus and Magnet.

The majority of artists featured on here are active today and all are well worth investigating - most have Facebook and Myspace pages, so please check them out and support them by buying their music.

Special thanks to the Hare & The Moon for supplying me with " The Cruel Mother" which will hopefully appear on the next H&TM release.

Stream The Show Here:

26 Apr 2012

Stream The Active Listener's Journey Into The Unknown

Here's another previously downloadable only mix, now available to stream.
This one is my selection of the best neo-psychedelic bands on the planet.

Stream The Active Listener's Twisted Nerve Mix

I put this comp together a while ago and offered it in the downloads section, and have now made it available for streaming via Mixcloud.

The other downloadable compilations will follow soon.....

Mecki Mark Men - Running In The Summer Night - Obscure Classics (Review)

Driven By The Fury Of Demons... the cover states, and there's certainly something about the way that Mecki Bodemark is looming out of the shadows on the cover that suggests something diabolical may be afoot.
The Mecki Mark Men released their self titled debut album in their native Sweden in 1967 which led to support for local shows by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Keyboardist / vocalist Bodemark built on this promising start by putting together an entirely new lineup for the followup, and first to receive an American release, Running In The Summer Night.
Hendrix was apparently a huge fan, which I find amusing as Hendrix apparently hated his own vocals, and Bodemark's voice is a dead ringer for Hendrix's at times, right down to the phrasing. Hendrix seemed to think his vocal abilities were rather limited, where I've always found them to be effortlessly soulful, so Bodemark's ability to tap into this is very welcome.
Also welcome is Bodemark's wild keyboard work, which incorporated tricks similar to those Hendrix himself used on the guitar. New guitarist Kenny H.Karlssonn also impresses with his dexterous and often innovative guitar work.
Another of the band's greatest strengths is their already well cemented sense of identity - many albums of this era from unproven bands suffer from being overly schizophrenic,  trying a number of different styles, record labels putting pressure on for hits and a general  feeling that the artists are unsure of where they're heading, or being prodded in more commercial directions that they're not comfortable with. None of these problems are apparent here however, MMM were obviously very sure of themselves and Hendrix comparisons aside, these guys don't really sound a whole lot like anyone else I've heard.
Which makes them hard to classify. Like the Experience, they're basically a rock band informed by a whole lot of other genres. There's plenty of blues and psychedelia in there, a dash of spacey, proto-progressive rock on some of the quieter moments, with traces of r&b, folk, jazz and beat also appearing sporadically. Where a lot of their contemporaries tended to struggle to mix these diverse strands, resulting in albums with a few psych tracks, a few blues tracks, the token country number etc, MMM wrote material which managed to evoke their different influences, without betraying their own sound.
Every track is worthy of mention, but to focus on a couple;  Sweet Swede Girls rides a sweaty proto-stoner rock riff and features some fine harmonised guitar and vocal parts. Future On The Road is a superior stab at the sort of hard blues Graham Bond was churning out before he decided he was a witch. The Life Cycle is a Floydian song cycle with moody keyboards and waves of lighter guitars that wouldn't sound out of place on Relics.
It's the sort of filler free album where any track could be pulled and isolated as a key track. Certainly an album that should have a better following than it has, investigate immediately.

Buy Running in the Summer Night On CD Here

You can sample several tracks below:

25 Apr 2012

Scott Tabner From The Pillbugs Releases First Solo Album - Stream / Buy It Here

Scott Tabner from the Pillbugs has just released his first solo album, "Last Summer On Earth" via Bandcamp.
Tabner was the Pillbugs lead guitarist from 1998-2008 and wrote or co-wrote a number of their tunes.
You can stream it or buy it digitally through the widget below:

24 Apr 2012

Active Listener Radio # 2

This week's show includes music from John Cale, Goblin, The Coral, Bon Iver, The Trees, The Pentangle, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Novos Baianos, Dr. John, Bill Withers, Radiohead's Daily Mail, Band of Horses, Danny & The Champions of the World, Deer Tick Featuring Liz Isenberg, Plants & Animals, The Tallest Man On Earth & Chris Bell

 Click on the artist name to find out more about the album that the track is sourced from. If you wish to support this show you can buy through these links and we'll receive a little commission.

Stream it here:

If you'd like to send me anything to play on the show contact me at nford150@gmail.com

23 Apr 2012

Listen to Kvistur - The Non- album B-Side of Sigur Ros' Ekki Mukk Record Store Day Release.

Sigur Ros released a 10" single of Ekki Mukk for Record Store Day on the 21st of April.
Ekki Mukk will feature on the upcoming Valtari album, but it's B-Side Kvistur is exclusive to the single.
Listen to it here:

Listen To More Tracks From The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends

The Flaming Lips released their new collaborative LP "The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends" on April 21 for Record Store Day. For those that missed it they've started sharing tracks online.
Check out the Youtube clips below:

The Flaming Lips with Erykah Badu - "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
The Flaming Lips with Nick Cave - "You, Man? Human???"
The Flaming Lips with Chris Martin- "I Don't Want You To Die"
The Flaming Lips with Jim James - "That Ain't My Trip "
The Flaming Lips with Kesha - "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)"

Stream "Drokk" The New Album From Portishead's Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury

Portishead's Geoff Barrow has collaborated with soundtrack composer Ben Salisbury on "Drokk: Music Inspired By Mega City One", a concept album about the area featured in 2000A.D's popular Judge Dredd comics.
You can stream it, or buy the digital version below.
Hard copies will be released on May 7, and will include a deluxe version with two LPs featuring bonus tracks, the deluxe edition CD, a t-shirt, and a print, all packaged inside a metal film canister.
Stream it here :

21 Apr 2012

Field Music Covers Album On The Way

Excellent UK band Field Music, who are no strangers to imaginative cover versions, have announced that they'll be releasing a covers album. They've contributed clever rearrangements to several of Mojo's cover CDs - and have invariably been the highlight of each disc they've appeared on. You can hear their version of the Beatles Don't Pass Me By below from one of these. More recently they've covered the Pet Shop Boys Heart and Rent for a Record Store Day single. The tracklisting is forthcoming, but will apparently include a mixture of previously released and new covers. David Brewis explains in a press release: "Over the years we've been handed excuses to try all sorts of covers. Sometimes we've been quite faithful and other times we've completely deconstructed them. Even though I don't think it's something which comes naturally to us, we always seem to find some element which can turn a song into Field Music."

19 Apr 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected By Chris Drayton

This edition of Desert Island Discs has been selected by one of our readers, Chris Drayton. Thanks Chris!

"I found I only need four DID's. The rest ....fail...for one reason or another, even though I have dozens of regularly played and long term favourite albums I'm pleased to put on when the mood strikes. Just not all of the time, right? Stuck on an island with Black Francis? or Thom Yorke? No thanks.  Bringing their likes would eventually undo me."

1. Psychedelic Furs - Psychedelic Furs (1980)

I play this every few, well years now, just to make sure it's as good as I think it is. Eventually I get astounded that no one else seems to talk or even know about it much. So I go back to check. It always is. Good. Great. It has never palled, and I'm betting one of my four DID's it never will. Has that most honourable trait whereby every song eventually becomes your favorite and once you've got to that space, you begin to rediscover them all again, but this time on a higher plane. I'm on my.... fourth or fifth life with this album and I reckon at this rate it has maybe...nine.  So I'm a green belt or something.  What's it like? Well it's dank, close, washed out, compressed, deflated, mostly grey and sometimes serene but streaked with great brown shards of dirty noise and the odd beautifully timed and nuanced glimpse of simple beauty. But still hard to it's dark mineral core. Yeah it has Raw Power, Never Mind the Bollocks, Roxy Music and art-scene Bowie shot all through it, but it just feels like the Furs got there first.

2. New Order - Brotherhood (1986)

I hate every single review I've ever read about this album. And I've realised that no one else gets it. I don't know why I get it, but like all good zealots, I know I do. This album snuck up on me like a long term neighbour who you suspect and then realise one day is actually, like, hot, really hot. I think I had 10 years and 100 odd plays under my belt before it dawned on me that I hadn't really stopped playing it and started wondering why. Yeah, like all types of true beauty, it's not pefect - it's kind of uneven, and has the odd unmemorable song on it - but you could spend a lifetime trying to unpick the barrage crescendo to As it Was, When it Was (hey, I've devoted a third of mine already) and the ever-spooling Pink Floyd clock-break dynamics of the coda to All Day Long. And then there's Bizarre Love Triangle and the Head on the Door-bettering goth ballads strewn all through side one. And then there's the other ones that just don't ever outstay their welcome. Good company I'd say.

3. Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)

No album has more musical ideas going on than this. The bass, the drums, the chinky chink guitar and the writer are all having a new and risky idea roughly every 12 to 15 seconds.  Apart from the Grand Guignol version of Take Me to the River, where they only manage to add a few.  And they're all good.  The songs chop and change and turn and dive like a kind of a musical speed chess session over an entire 12 or whatever track album. This album astounds and because of it's restless, shifting, mercurial nature is virtually unfathomable and unplummable and I reckon will require a good part of my natural life's worth to uncover. And it's so beautiful and the singer so...strangely and comfortingly like you or me or anyone who finds odd bits of our life and culture a bit arresting. Really smart people at work here.

4. The Smiths - Meat is Murder (1985)

I take this for a different reason than the other three. I know this album like the back of my hand. It no longer surprises. I've reached the end of it. But like grabbing an old photograph, I couldn't bear to live a life where I could never hear the Headmaster Ritual, I Want the One I can't Have or What She Said again.

Are you interested in submitting an entry to our Desert Island Discs? E-mail me at nford150@gmail.com
You don't have to be an expert on anything - you've just got to know what you like.

18 Apr 2012

Active Listener Radio #1

I've been toying with the idea of an Active Listener streaming radio show for a while, and here's the first fruits of it.
Country Joe & The Fish
No commercials.
No talking over the music.
No swanky crossfades.
Just seventy minutes of Active Listener endorsed music available for you to stream at your convenience, whenever, and as often as you like.
Please let me know if you enjoy it - I'll put together an episode regularly if people want it.

Stream It Here :

This first show features music by:
Midlake, Blackburn & Snow, Real Estate, First Aid Kit, Fleetwood Mac, Conspiracy of Owls, The Phoenix Foundation, The Pillbugs, Country Joe & The Fish, Tyler RamseyJohn Prine, The Jayhawks, Other Lives,  Cassette, Blitzen Trapper, The Hare And The Moon & Airbag
Click on the artists name to view the album that the track originates from.

Support the artists and buy their albums if you hear anything you like. Thanks.

Contact me at nford150@gmail.com if you want to submit anything to appear on the show.

16 Apr 2012

The Pillbugs - Everybody Wants A Way Out - Obscure Classics (Review)

The Pillbugs started out in 1991, boldly proclaiming themselves "the world's most psychedelic band."
While this may be overstepping the mark a little, they can certainly lay claim to being the world's best unknown psychedelic band.
Their early albums ( which are all worth picking up if you are lucky enough to come across them ) are all long out of print, but thanks to the folks at the Rainbow Quartz label, we're still able to treasure some of the Pillbugs music.
The label released Monclovia in 2007, essentially a best of culled from their earlier albums with a couple of new tracks added on, followed by this, their last in 2008.
The album was recorded under difficult conditions, with bass player Mark Kelley going through the last stages of a rare form of lung cancer that he'd been diagnosed with in 1999 which prevented him from playing on this album, and unfortunately from seeing it completed. Kelley was instrumental in forming the band so as a tribute his bandmates faded in several seconds from his original demo of album closer North of Reality so that he could be there at the end. They also made the noble decision to call it a day after the recording of this album, rather than replace the frankly irreplaceable Kelley.
With all of this in mind one might expect Everybody Wants A Way Out to be a somewhat subdued, or even maudlin affair, but this couldn't be further from the truth. The Pillbugs make joyous, melodic music, and on their last they've created a fitting epitaph and a fine last stand which ranks up there with Abbey Road as one of the great last albums.
Along the way you'll discover crunchy Cheap Trick style power-pop with chiming twelve string guitars ( Soundman ),Ticket to Ride style pentatonic guitar riffery ( Life as it Happens ), the hyper melodic Greeting Committee, which could happily pass muster on Side Two of Abbey Road, the moodier, minor key Hard Line, the sunny, almost calypso style rhythms of Can't Get It Right which sounds like Tom Petty during an uncharacteristically whimsical moment, spacious psychedelic balladry ( Do You Really Want To Go To The Centre of the Sun? ) and even proto-stoner rock which wouldn't sound out of place on a May Blitz album, or even at a stretch the first Sabbath LP ( Play The Hear Back ).
Highlights though are Emily Loves, a harmony pop gem written and almost fully performed by the band's drummer, which is one of those deceptively simple harmony pop numbers that the late sixties charts were so full of, Tragedy Anne which evokes memories of the moustachioed Beatles, all backwards drums and jagged cellos, and finally North of Reality, a quite spectacular, and massive psych ballad with lazily floating harmonies lifted straight from the Pretty Things peerless S.F Sorrow.
Make no mistake about it - this is the sort of album which someone could rediscover and make huge at any moment with the right endorsement, so do yourself a favor and get in first.
And don't be too sad about them breaking up - group leader Mark Mikel's new outfit Dark Ocean Colors have already released their first album ( also on Rainbow Quartz ), and I can happily confirm that it lives up to the expectations laid by Everybody Wants a Way Out.

Listen To Tragedy Anne Here:

And Greeting Committee Here:

You can buy Everybody Wants A Way Out on CD here. Get in quick before it's out of print too.

There's also a newly released 47 track digital best of available for download here at bandcamp.

Watch Real Estate's Full Coachella Set

Real Estate played at Coachella yesterday afternoon.

The track listing consisted of everything from their latest album "Days", except for Three Blocks, as well as Fake Blues from their debut.

15 Apr 2012

Watch Radiohead's Full Coachella Performance

Radiohead's headlining set at Coachella from Saturday is now available to watch online.


01 Bloom
02 15 Step
03 Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
04 Morning Mr Magpie
05 Staircase
06 The Gloaming
07 Pyramid Song
08 The Daily Mail
09 Myxomatosis
10 Karma Police
11 Identikit
12 Lotus Flower
13 There There
14 Bodysnatchers
15 Idioteque
16 Lucky
17 Reckoner
18 After The Gold Rush/Everything In Its Right Place
19 Give Up The Ghost
20 Paranoid Android

12 Apr 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected By Stephen From The Rowan Amber Mill

This week's Desert Island Disc selections have been made by the Rowan Amber Mill's Stephen Stannard, and good taste that man : there are at least 3 albums on here that almost made it onto my own list ( which is coming soon, should anyone be interested... )

 Don't know the Rowan Amber Mill? Then listen to this :
and then run ( or the cyber equivalent thereof ) to their website (here) to buy their two ridiculously under-priced, not to mention great CDs ( the first of which I reviewed here )

Over to you Stephen:

"If I were marooned on a desert island, these are the albums I could happily listen to for the rest of my days..."

Looking For A Day In The Night by The Lilac Time (1999):
Stephen Duffy is still, after half a lifetime of crafting some of the most splendidly beautiful songs to have come out of these shores in the past 25 years, the most under-rated songwriter around. I can only assume this is because we have not yet properly forgiven him for inventing new romanticism and, worst of all, convincing Duran Duran band mate John Taylor that he was cool. Duffy’s post Duran, post “Tin Tin” canon is, pretty much to a song, flawless. I’ve followed his career from Indie folkster, to urbane americana song-slinger, sunflower-field pop-pyschedelicist, post-ironic classical folkist, power popper and, via the odd diversion, back to resident underground singer-songwriter genius. Throughout this time, his output has maintained such a terrifically high quality that it is difficult for me to choose one from half a dozen of his best albums. But Looking For A Day… I believe is his most complete album. Every single one of these wonderfully crafted songs on the album are delivered with such (seemingly) effortless beauty, such truth and honesty, all strung together with genuine emotion and wistful flickers of melancholy and regret. I think both lyrically the poetry, added to the craftsmanship within the music, combines in the songs in such a way up that they are the equal of the output of the 60/70’s singer-songwriter royalty at the height of their respective powers. The man is a genius.

Nuada by Candidate (2002):
I first heard Candidate sometime after their debut album had been released and by the time I’d heard Tiger Flies (their 2nd album) I was entirely smitten. In my naivetĂ© I thought they were going to be huge, perplexingly and, absolutely undeservedly, they managed to remain just below the radar. Nuada was an album of music inspired by the film The Wicker Man’, with the film’s own formidable soundtrack itself an underground classic, Candidate wisely never strayed too close to the formula of the original songs from the film. The spirit of the film however channels itself into Nuada, and hints to the listener of older forces at work beyond their ken, within its grooves. Not only are the songs majestically written, the arrangements are also a joy to behold. The album includes a whole lotta acoustic guitar, gorgeously delivered vocals, a splash of banjo, a cool side slice of Mellotron and a basket full of assorted lo-fi instrumentation. There is not one single thing not to love about the album – and there aren’t too many albums I could say that of. It also has a guest appearance by Bert Jansch, and features the majestic ‘Song Of The Oss’ (latterly made famous as the theme tune to the stoner sitcom ‘Ideal’).

Comments Of The Inner Chorus by Tunng (2006):
With the nu-folk revival underground gaining momentum, Tunng’s 2005 debut ‘mother's daughter and other songs’ was deservedly one of the touchstone albums of that movement. An intoxicating mix that was pretty much unputdownable and remained constantly atop my stereo until it was replaced by this follow up. Its mix of un-fussed, ultra-catchy, folk-pop songs, swimming on an unmade bed of lo-fi electronica with added sampled clips, blips, beats, beets ‘n bleats was both innovative, deftly crafted, and infectiously captivating. What Tunng also had over their compadres, were that they were also not only a superb singles band - ‘Woodcat’ and ‘Jenny Again’ gracing many an iPod playlist of the time, but also they were a magnificent live band. I was lucky enough to have been swept away witnessing the band playing some extraordinarily well received gigs at all manner of venues (arts centres, festivals and parks) during those summers of folk.

The Lick On The Tip Of An Envelope Yet To Be Sent by Circulus (2005):
Circulus had been knocking around for some time quite unbeknownst to me. When I saw a review of their debut album The Lick On The ….. and an accompanying photo of these cosmic, proto-prog, medievalist minstrels all, I ordered the album and hoped that the music could, in some small way at least, live up to the image. Within the first minute of hearing the opening track I was absolutely hooked and with its mix of the olde (medieval instruments Saz, Cittern, Crumhorn et al) and the newly olde (the faithful Moog synth). The album delivers the listener a delightful mix of the medieval with a fizzy synth, raspy-horned, bongo-infused confection, underscored with a layer of, only very slightly, tongue in cheek nods to the nu-age. After listening to the album a number of times one after the other, I checked out their website and found that they were playing a gig over the other side of the county (in a small village hall in rural North Devon) that very weekend. After a whirlwind romance with the music of Circulus I thought I was ready to get to know their music more intimately, but nothing could have quite prepared me for that evening. With Wicker Man-esque costumes, masks, scythes, a green man wreath, assorted greenery, an eclectic audience, a minstrel wielding an Epiphone Sheraton, a stage not big enough to accommodate the band, and a whirling dervish sound man that couldn’t stop spinning long enough to tweak a single fader, I knew the night was going to be some journey. The gig was like a tornado that picks you up in its vortex from the very first bar, and sometime later drops you back down to dry land, dazed and confused, but glad of the ride, as the feedback gently fades and your senses begin to return. Then we floated back home. The album is very much like that too.

Espers II by Espers (2006):
I stumbled upon Espers through the cyber equivalent of a Psych-folk paper chase through various folkster bands on, the now sadly all but demised, Myspace. Their first album was like nothing I’d heard before and I played the hell out of it, and it relegated my Devendra albums et al into hitherto unfamiliar places at the back of the shelves. Then the highly anticipated Espers II came out and in its seven tracks it cross-wired some fuzzy electrics direct in to my overworked acoustic neurons. Every song on the album is a mini masterpiece, at turns spooky, dreamy, dark, foreboding, magical, moonlit, and truly progressive (in the very best sense of the word). The individual members of the band (Baird, Weeks, Espvall et al) have all made some wonderful albums on their own since, but the music they made under the Espers moniker, I consider to be the crowning achievement thus far of the psych-folk movement.

Don’t Stand Me Down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners (1985 original release / 2002 re-release):
After two such brilliant, and such stylistically diverse offerings as Dexys’ first two albums ‘Searching for The Young Soul Rebels’ (Geno etc) and ‘Too Rye Aye’ (Come On Eileen, Celtic Soul Brothers, Jackie Wilson Said etc) and a flawed Kevin Rowland solo album, I picked up this re-released album and absolutely fell in love with it right from the first listen. On paper this album really doesn’t look like a good bet. Most of the eight tracks contain scripted conversations between either, Kevin Rowland and guitarist Billy Archer, or between Kevin Rowland and his inner psyche. These narrations are integral to the songs and surprisingly do not detract in any way from the music, and, more surprisingly, do not become irritating after x number of listens (I would hate to think how many times I have listed to this album over the last 10 years). The songs themselves are of the very highest quality and have a power, a delicacy, a masterful sense of dynamic and above all an absolute truthful passion contained within them (just like the first two Dexys’ albums in fact).

The Courage Of Others by Midlake (2010):
I’d really liked the mix of sounds that greeted me on Midlake’s debut album ‘Bamnan And Silvercock’, but the follow up album, the enigmatically titled ‘Trials Of Van Occupanther’ , was something else again, an amazingly good album of even more fantastic songs and much less reliance on the quirky sound palettes of the debut. It was a very long wait for the third album, but ‘The Courage Of Others’ pulled off the feat of topping its superb predecessor. The relative simplicity of the pared down, yet atmospheric arrangements, allowed the brilliance of the basic songs themselves to come to the fore. Simplicity is genius, and this album is a perfect realisation of that sentiment.

All Alone In An Empty House by Lost In The Trees (2010):
This album was recommended to me by a musician friend who’d warned me about it being a ‘worryingly good’ album and definitely my kind of thing. It is indeed a completely stunning album. I loved the part folk, part pop, part classical leanings that were pretty much exactly what I’d wanted to hear in an album. The lyrics (sung in an unfashionably straight-forward way but fitting the songs perfectly) are not always a comfortable listen, with a dark, and at times claustrophobic quality to them, coming off like a soundtrack to a genuinely un-nerving arty indie thriller flick. The album has genius written right through it and their 2012 follow up album ‘Church That Fits Our Needs’, is similarly superb.

Bait by Bait (1989):
This one’s a bit obscure but it is the one album that opened my eyes to just how wonderfully broad music could (and should) be. Nick Duffy was in (the aforementioned) The Lilac Time, and wrote and played on the instrumental tracks that were such a part of my love of The Lilac Time’s music. He was also involved in a concurrent side project named Bait. Bait’s almost entirely instrumental output was an exotic blend of, amongst other things, oboe, trumpet, banjo, accordion, old time piano, finely strummed guitar, whistles and various vocal and hand percussions. It was the sound of pastoral country folk song imbibed with subtle piquant accents and fragrant exotic flavours. I’d never heard anything quite like it. It would be hard to imagine anything further removed from the zeitgeist of the late 1980s music scene than Bait, but to these teenage ears still in their delicate formative years, these songs, with their impenetrably enigmatic titles, spoke of a recently bygone world of dusty orange and green penguin paperbacks, of poetry corners in quiet pubs and of sleepy rural church gates swinging rhythmically and gracefully in the late summer breeze. The album Bait was initially only available on lo-fi cassette format direct from the band's PO Box address, but as time passed the Bait tracks appeared as the Lilacs’ b-side tracks, and eventually the album was made available in its entirety as extra tracks on the 2006 re-release of The Lilac Times’ Paradise Circus (by that time I’d gone through two cassettes that had collapsed into warbling heaps through overplaying). Utter perfection.

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Are you interested in submitting an entry to our Desert Island Discs? E-mail me at nford150@gmail.com
You don't have to be an expert on anything - you've just got to know what you like.

The Life - Alone Deluxe Edition (Review)

The Life should have been contenders. They won the award for best new band of 1987 from the Northwest Area Music Association, recorded a debut album that was excellent by anyone's standards and were a powerful, if only sporadically supported live act.
Which makes it all the more unusual that no-one I've talked to has ever heard of them. Their entry on the rateyourmusic database currently lists their debut album with absolutely no ratings, which is unheard of.
This new package put together by Green Monkey Records contains the first album "Alone" lovingly remastered and a second disc of unreleased recordings intended for a follow up "Witness The Will", which was shelved when the band dissolved.
There is an elephant in the room however, so let's acknowledge it. The Life do sound one hell of a lot like 80's U2, especially on "Alone".  It's implied in the band's press release that the band consider this comparison to be lazy. Sorry guys and I mean no disrespect, whether there's an actual influence or it's just a coincidence I don't know, but the likeness at times is uncanny.
If you'll allow me to wander for a moment; I don't often write about music I don't like on here, but I need to be true to myself and point out that U2 are one band whose continued existence pains me. I'm sorry if this offends you, but we each have our cross to bear. There are no doubt bands I champion here that you can't stand. And Nickelback sell millions of records. What I'm saying is that taste is subjective and U2 rile me. Which makes the fact that I really enjoyed this album nothing short of miraculous.
And listening to the Life has reminded me that I didn't always harbor this loathing for the Edge and his cohorts. There was in fact a time in the eighties when I rather liked them. I've obviously since conditioned myself to believe that my loathing had been there from day one, but it seems that up until Achtung Baby I had a soft spot for them.
Which almost brings me back to the Life. We must remember that at the time these recordings were made, wearing the influence of U2 on one's sleeve was not the social and artistic stigma that it has since become. U2's post punk influenced album-rock was evolving, but was yet to become the turgid and generic arena rock that it later became, and Bono's rampant egomania was either dormant or received less media attention than it now does.
So comparisons with that band aside, what do the Life have to offer?
Where to start? They've got the hooks of a powerpop band, but delivered with the authority of a band that know they're really a rock band. Massive choruses, any number of which could have come from massive underground radio hits at the time had they found themselves in the right hands, and if said hands had been receptive. A rock solid rhythm section. An innovative and flamboyant guitarist in the late Tony Bortko, who could switch from angular effects laden single line riffs to mind boggling stunt guitar at the drop of a hat. And in Jimm McIver, a passionate and resonant vocalist who channeled the likes of Ian Astbury, Jim Morrison, David McCombs ( probably inadvertently ) and well, Bono.
First album "Alone" was recorded relatively quickly and simply but easily matches the quality of anything else recorded in 1987, big, brash and confident tunes, searing guitars, tight musicianship and hooks everywhere.
The second disc is where things get particularly interesting though. "Witness the Will" shows a tremendous amount of growth. With six months in the studio and a 24 track at their disposal their newer material was much more psychedelic in construction, if not in overall sound. The band added layers of subtlety only hinted at on "Alone" and many of the songs branch out in unexpected directions. I'm often left thinking of what the Doors may have sounded like without Ray Manzarek. By the end of the recording process however, band tensions had reached a high and the decision was made to go their separate ways.
The verdict then?
There's certainly far too much impressive music on here to allow this to remain languishing in obscurity. Kudos to Tom Dyer from Green Monkey for giving the fickle public a second chance on "Alone", and a first chance with the frankly fabulous "Witness The Will".

Listen Here.

You can buy directly from Green Monkey Records here.

11 Apr 2012

Early Silver Jews Works To Be Rereleased

Drag City will release Early Times on June 19, a collection of Silver Jews recordings originally made in 1990 and 1991.
The tracks originally appeared on the long out of print  The Arizona Record 12" (1993) and Dime Map of the Reef 7" (1992).
The band at this point was a three piece of David Berman, Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, and Bob Nastanovich.

Early Times:
01 Canada
02 The Walnut Falcon
03 September 1999
05 THE Unchained Melody
06 Secret Knowledge of Back Roads
07 I Love the Rights
08 Jackson Nightz
09 The War in Apartment 1812
10 West S
11 You Can't Trust It to Remain
12 The Wild Palms
13 Welcome to the House of the Bats
14 Bar Scene From Stars Wars