Nostalgia is what it used to be. The magic is here.
Norway’s Nina Mortvedt and Nikolai Hængsle (who also moonlights as a gun for hire for Todd Terje and Susanne Sundfør; his ace bass permeates this whole album) are Band Of Gold who, in 2015 with their eponymous debut, claimed the Nordic Music Prize beating heavyweights such as Bjork and Jenny Hval. No pressure for the follow-up then …
Themes of obsession and possession dominate kicking off with ‘Bring Back’, a slinky Aaaah ‘n’ Be hip-happening processed percussion aided and abetted by Mortvedt’s plaintive cries of activated memory muscle. A tri-part trip-hop down Wistful Way.
‘I wanna dance with you again’ is the best Summer sound ever released in Spring. Imagine Fleetwood Mac-era Tango in the Night with Mike Oldfield’s 1980s pop excursions and ponder the wander. Throw in fellow Scandipoppers ABBA’s nous and you have this confection perfection. The epitome of happy>sad>sappy this plea for one more dancefloor slowie and ‘to come back into my life’ is the soundtrack to sepia recollections and unfinished business. The song starts and departs as quickly (and emotionally) as the late Roger Bannister’s milestone achievements many sunsets ago.
Karen Carpenter’s harmonic hymning is all over ‘Away with you’; this is more than a Rumer covering Rumours. A departure with no turning back is evoked on the sparse folk of ‘Into the void’, those whispered words left hanging in the ether. A pause for rejection.
The ivories ominously build on ‘I can spot you in a hundred miles’: is it a tale of unrequited attraction or a trawl through the relationship remnants that linger longer? What begins as an inoffensive aria slowly goes on the harm offensive replete with menace and venom at the epicentre of the art-ache.
Echoes of Amanda Lear’s robo-disco reverberate on ‘Well who am I?’, grooving gyrations lavishly adorned with guitar-asphyxiation a la Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera.
In these hyper-sexualised anything goes (online … and stays for all eternity) snatched despatches of time, these pieces of 8 are a treasured reminder of when pop mirrored the innocence of life, refracting the follies of youth, the learning of codes and rites of passage required to negotiate adolescence, the mistakes and laboured lessons in love (c.f. ‘I lost my guiding star’ on the titular track). With dreampop that pops dreams this duo have delivered a superior work of amour fou.
From Freda Payne to freed of pain, all that’s left is Band of Gold.
This book, Going For A Song by Garth Cartwright, is a comprehensive dérive through the rapidly vanishing terrain that is the British record shop. Once a staple of communities that acted as hubs, beacons, locales and sanctuaries for keen ears, budding musicians or those seeking like-minded wannabes and radical thinkers (London’s Collet’s acted as a recruitment centre for the Spanish civil war, Liverpool’s NEMS providing a ‘gay-friendly workplace’). They also acted as diaspora meeting points: many emigres used a record shop as a portal to ‘home’ e.g Levy’s Yiddish ‘sonic salon’ and UK-wide reggae shops’ took a defiant stance in the face of prejudice and hostility.
Featuring a typically quixotic introduction from melomaniac Stewart Lee this historical excavation encapsulates the feelings that buying physical music entails: from the thrill of finding ‘that’ record to the terror of going into the shops, the surliness and aggression of autocratic staff is a recurring feature of the book and familiar to anyone who undertook these necessary pilgrimages. We’ve all encountered one (for the ‘record’ I present Probe Records, Liverpool’s ‘Mood Boy’ a.k.a. Neil Foo Young carrying on from the scabrous Pete Burns’s ‘getting shaded’).
Beginning in 1894 (the year that Cardiff’s Spillers opened, the ‘world’s oldest record shop’) Cartwright passionately details the evolution of the form (wax cylinders and their ‘dead voices’, shellac, 78s, through to vinyl’s reign of pleasure-giving to CD’s metallic death-knell. What Paul McCartney terms ‘those exciting little black moments’ played such an integral part in worldwide cultural-identity as Cartwright superbly outlines.
These sites of cultural exchange predominantly transcended social categorising such as class (apart from HMV’s ‘toffs with the classical upstairs, the plebs in the basement’), race (although during the riots in the 1980s a siege mentality overtook some shops) and gender (several outlets were ‘manned’ by women), the dictum is that everyone’s equal in the pursuit of music.
The cast of thousands number such sellers as Andy’s Records (where a young Chris Morris worked), Belfast’s Good Vibrations whose Terri Hooley provided a unifying space during the Troubles, Transat (‘like Howard Carter in Tutankhamen’s tomb’), Rock Onand musical luminaries and renowned recordphiles as Bowie, Elton John, Bob Dylan (who performed as ‘Blind Boy Grunt’ in London’s Dobell’s in 1963), The Moody Blues and Morrissey who typically articulates the educative power shops and records possess: ‘Manchester’s Paul Marsh was my Eton’. Cartwright captures these times and memories that remind of the cultural importance and symbolic capital that the consumption of music once provided.
The architect Richard Sennett writes of a dialectical tension between ‘ville’ and ‘cité’. ‘Ville’ is the physical actuality of the place, ‘cité’ the life that is led in that place’ this tension embodies the psychic realm of the record shop none more so than in the case of Ladbroke Grove’s Plastic Passion whose two proprietors (‘the Two Bills’) bitterly fell out and in a move worthy of Steptoe & Son split the premises down the middle. The lure of the prize and the behaviours shaped by the pursuit is wondrously captured by Cartwright with the disappearance of these ‘democratic spaces’ symbolic of other facets of cultural decay such as the music venue, weekly music press, local pub and the weekly television talking point.
An over-arching theme that punctures the romanticism is that for most of the entrepreneurs it was strictly business: product = money. Vulture capitalists (Richard Branson’s initial catering to the cognoscenti eventually becoming the epitome of ‘never trust a hippy’) exploiting the cultural capitalists’ needs and wants as identikit high street emporiums with their corporate mentality (HMV/Our Price/Tower Records) systematically squeeze the passion out. London’s Soho a pale shadow of its former self as music hub a case in point.
However, for the most part, these are tales populated by like-minded music-seeking obsessives, this is more than a way of life, music and its rituals providing kinship, identity formation and reasons for living, an altruistic desire to discover and provide these artefacts essential to personal development.
The book is not only a history of the shops but also the myriad characters that owned, frequented them (‘N.M.E. writers flogging promos for beer’), the production and distribution, the mechanics behind the magic. This progression from selling to producing is also examined as shops became labels: Beggar’s Banquet, Geoff ‘Rough Trade’ Travis’s Marxist ethos drove his desire to ‘control the means of production’, punk’s Small Wonder and their seminal Crass releases, ‘disco Granny’ Jean Palmer’s Groove Records that championed acid house, techno to the emergence of dubstep in Croydon in the early 2000s.
His delight at unearthing these histories and characters is only soured by the sad demise of these once relevant foci, as sites of transaction and exchange become replaced by online vendors dealing in demystified commodities, negating the pain of pursuit/the rewards of ownership which were/is part of the pleasure. Instant gratification is no substitute for unquenchable desire, no one ever learned a thing from having it all. As empires rise and fall in parallel with musical trends (jazz to skiffle to psychedelic to Northern Soul to Dub to punk …) ultimately music has depressingly ended up as a drip-fed backdrop to sell ‘accessories’ such as detergent and condiments.
Cartwright manages to locate the survivors, those die-hards resolute in the face of technology’s over-provision attention indigestion services. This thoroughly researched psychogeographical labour of love is an antidote to these hyper-consumptive times of streaming, downloading, quick fix digital droids whose ‘music-to-go-on-the-go’ technonanism embody Marshall McLuhan’s dictum ‘the medium is the message’. The book is also a rejoinder to the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ shenanigans of Record Store Day when scarcity equals value equals exploitation. Plus, we call it ‘shop’ in Blighty, yeah?
As dub-king Dennis Bovell laments Clapham’s Third World both dryly and saddeningly ‘… it still exists, but, it’s been downsized while Costa Coffee has been upsized … people today will pay for coffee, but not for music. The internet killed the reggae shop. If people can download tune to their phone they won’t ever buy a record’.
Third album Face the Brutality is the Norwegian duo’s (Fredrik Saroea and Ketil Mosnes) first LP since 2009’s Red and first output since their musical (featuring 87 live musicians), helpfully called The Musical in 2015. What have they been doing?
Trumped *cough* as ‘an album for the bored and bitter survivors of 2017’ this sonic-tonic arrives at the right time, Summer’s coming and a soundtrack is required. Any posing pasticheur can steal from the past and mimic the moods (yeah, you, Mark ‘trans-Atlant-dick’ Ronson), however, sincerity cannot be bought, it takes true talent to relocate and update.
Kicking off with the Linn drum-sound of Prince’s ‘Let’s pretend we’re married’ ‘BMX’ is a synthetique sojourn through the circuitry of the (mis)remembered 80s. The titular bicycle symbolising the bunny-hopping of the bouncing backbeat.
‘Ruffle Shuffle’ appropriates 70s multimillion-seller/90s charity shop filler Peter Frampton’s wah-wah guitar coming wah-alive, Saroea laconically delivering his observations a la Modern Lover Jonathan Richman. Hypnotically hip-swinging writhing that references The Goonies’ Chunk’s desperate dance.
‘Sense of Reason’ mines the punky-funky antics of !!! with a call and response duet replete with a breezy coda. The outstanding ‘Laugh in the Face of Darkness’ recalls Noir Désir as fronted by INXS’s Michael Hutchence (admittedly two fateful examples). Lyrically littered with a litany of English idioms, proverbs and expressions (‘bad news travels fast … a nod is as good a wink to blind horse … keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’), an idea that sounds like folly, but, works a treat as a solemn glamour permeates the moody hues. A bittersweet synthony.
‘Everything’ has the millennial studio sheen of posh-popsters Phoenix, minus the desperate acclamation their music craves. This has a soaring chorus that offers reassurances through communication as ‘tomorrow’s the day we stop lying’. A fitting mantra in an era of ‘fake’ news/fake ‘news’.
Plato’s tragi-tale of Icarus’s flight of fancy is addressed on ‘Feathers and Wax’: if you’re going to broach solar’s power then you’d better have the right gear. Ergo: study the classics, avoid the death basket.
The spirit of Perry Farrell courses through ‘Beautiful Monster’, a grandiloquent rocking riff articulating the ‘shedding of skin’ as layers reveal truth and truth betrays perception.
‘Invitation to Love’ is Movement-era New Order, a plea to put off to tomorrow what you think you want to do today. Patience is a virtue with the rewards in wait … a Vangelis finale of blade running.
Heads are talking again (Red’s ‘True Stories was comprised solely of Talking Heads song titles) on ‘Outta Here’ which reclaims the heart-land from The War on Drugs and other one-track phoneys retreading the same old boreds. Byrne, baby, Byrne, this disco’s eternal.
Climaxer ‘Darkness at the edge of the pit’ channels Ohio rock-deconstructionists Devo in a thrashing evocation of the perils/temptations of the mosh-pit, enticing and off-putting. Just don’t tell Health & Safety, but, do tell Lawyers 4 U.
Originally conceived by Simon Jeffes (when delirious with illness from a dodgy fish dish) in 1972 as a utopian locale for dystopian chaparral, over five albums Penguin Café Orchestra proffered sunlit serenades and optimistic orations (of the mime kind) designed to enliven and illuminate in a uniquely pastoral British (to the) manner (born).
Combining avant garde tropes with ambient notes (originally signed to Brian Eno’s Obscure Records) the band’s first live performance was supporting Kraftwerk at London’s Roundhouse in 1976. The versatile Jeffes also helped with the string arrangement on Sid Vicious’s ‘My Way’ in 1979 and introduced the Burundi drumbeat to Adam and the Ants with the arterati ultimately anointing them with a South Bank Show special in 1987. The group’s evergreen music continues to proliferate from advertising to film soundtracks, sampled sources to theme tunes.
Union Cafe was the fifth and last studio album by Penguin Cafe Orchestra in 1993 and the Erased Tapes label are releasing it on vinyl for the first time. In these bleak times these intricate and intimate chimes resonate ever so greatly.
The jaunty jiggery of ‘Scherzo and Trio’ (also the theme tune to Radio 4’s Round Britain Quiz) evokes Dexys Midnight Runners and Glenn Miller, the result a heady concoction of mood swinging and too rye aying: a frank sonata.
There’s oboe-showboating at its most mournful on ‘Lifeboat (Lovers Rock)’ before it cascades into finger-pickin’ happy-sadness redolent of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western work.
‘Another One from Porlock’ is purloined from Samuel Coleridge’s unwelcome visitor when trying to write Kubla Khan, said intruder’s presence delaying its completion by 19 years. Inspiration comes in mysterious ways … eventually. ‘Discover America’ is an arch commentary on the Land of the Free (© Madison Avenue) interspersing traditional melodies with Johnny and The Hurricanes’ ‘Red River Rock’ in a prime example of sonic snarkytechture.
The experimental ‘Passing Through’ is the found sounds of water dripping from a tap; mesmerising in its repetition the experience is a metaphorical realisation of the fleetingness of existence. The plughole awaits us all.
Erased Tapes’ Robert Raths has said of this album ‘this release is righting an old wrong. The slow development of the pieces means that you can really get lost’. In these hypnoreal and hyper-accelerated times this album is an aural antidote, a calm betwixt the storm. Sixteen meditative ruminations/ruminative meditations for the bucolic-melancholic in your life. That’s YOU.
Since Jeffes’ passing in 1997 his son, Arthur, has carried the mantle, converting to Penguin Café but no less orchestral.
P-p-p-pick up this Penguin.
Newport, South Wales’s premier hip-hop raponteurs GLC return with a sweet sixteen (and 1/2 ) track long-player chock full of missives concerning subscription TV, fowl broth (metaphorically), past-rave anthems, Liverpool F.C.s continuing inability to win the league, high-way codes and yes, the peaches of herb. Brace yourself for Fear of a Welsh Planet.
Inspired by a mind-meeting match-up with Daisy Power players De La Soul in 2015 (incidental details subsequently forgotten) this tribute to the principality’s aim for global dominance can be read as a manifesto for mankind, a guidebook to betterment and the kickstarter of creativity.
The title track reels off a litany of Welsh cultural totems (Joe Calzaghe, Glengetty tea, Windsor Davies, Caerphilly cheese) reminding the rest of the UK and beyond that when it comes to icons, the Welsh can (and do).
The sleek and Chic influenced disco-funkin’ ‘I got a van’ is a celebration to the freedom a transit offers, from parking up to driving in, a lay-by is simply that.
‘Bonk Eye’ is a defence of the optic realm, as a lazy eye gives off the wrong perception, misunderstandings running amok. The song has a smoove-segue in the vein of Oran ‘Juice’ Jones’s seminal turned-tableism revenge classic of a dish best served cuckold ‘The Rain’.
‘It’s the law of the streets’ pays homage to Prince’s funky guitar with the crew dispensing hardy advice concerning the rules of the road, the dos and the don’t’ s when you’re at the wheel (no booze, no smoke, no calls, no joke). To wit: No green when you’re crossing the road, man.
Phat ace of bass pervades ‘Netflix in bed’ which highlights the modern pastime of binge-watching boxsets where a night in the sack has a new meaning, darling. It’s not me, it’s ‘you got the remote?’
‘Six feet tall’ is a eulogy to self-exiled colleague and Big Brother bemusee Maggot, the band declaring it as poignant as Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett opus ‘Wish you were here’. Ball’s in your court, ya lazy diamond.
Ignoring the haters and critics who sniff and sneer, this West Coast posse deliver another knock-out collection. As mission statements go this is a foreboding sign of the times.
Notions of nationhood have long been wrapped up in emotions of neighbourhood. Samuel ‘Call me Doctor’ Johnson immortally uttered the line ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’ in response to ‘false’ patriotism. Has ever a line ever seemed more topical?
Pledging allegiance has incorporated Dimbulb Dubya’s ‘You’re either with us or you’re against us’ to surreality star Trump’s persistent calls to arms, his Machiavellian hectoring causing the division he and his handlers crave. They are no more than puppets of the Brotherhood acting out their roles, reading their lines, picking up their rewards. All part of the charade, the curtain’s up and it’s perma-panto season in D.C.
Like a folky Crass teaming up with They Might be Giants, anything but ‘average Joes’ American Anymen are the thorn in the side, one in the eye of PsyClops Inc. that stops at nothing in carving up the globe, rapacious racketeers running the world that affect difference when on the screen, their symbolically positioned hands betray their performances. These power brokers choke us with their land grabbing, war mongering and resource pillaging all in the name of ‘freedom’.
‘Flag Burner’ is an articulated diatribe against the boneheads that subscribe to the ‘constitution’, the ‘amended’ dos and don’ts designed to enslave and disempower within the absurd electoral system that purports to be a democracy in the Land of the Free (‘the electoral college, itself put in place to protect the slave states’). This, remember, movie-buffs is a place where ‘anyone’ can get to the top of the tree, honest, it’s all matter of hard work. Not if you’re in the network, on the web, from the nest, if you’re not part of it, you’re apart from it. The greatest trick the devil …
The song reels off the embedded socio-cultural signifiers that comprise the American Dream ©: baseball, football, oatmeal, quiz shows; textbook sleight of hand distractions.
The heretic who sees through these fallacies is the true hero, the citizen who sees beyond the inconsistencies of the loyalty to a contentious piece of cloth, that reminder of oppression, colonialism, genocide and bloodshed. This song smashes the myth in more than 147 characters.
‘President 2’ is an urge for the selected ‘pussy-grabber-in-chief’ to go surfing on watery waves as opposed to fanning online waves of discontent.
The gangster-folk ‘Late to the party’ outlines the myriad ways the bullies exploit the runts, scrambled attendees to the litany of clubby cabals: G8, NATO, E.U., WTO, Davos, WHO wreak havoc, genetically modifying food and folk, no joke.
This E.P. and this band in general are powerfully effective in their simplicity, their words of erudite protest cutting deep, delivering a disaffected dissatisfaction drawl with their sharp observations there to keep. This anti-Jock rock illustrates that it’s not a crime to think … yet.
Always look back in hunger
Britpop’s Gollem is back from Fantasy Island with more plunderphonics designed to hook those ears who think the lil’ Manc maestro invented music way back yore. Like fellow pasticheur Mark ‘Ronno’ Ronson, this radio friendly shit unit is jam-packed with references, reminders, cut, shut ‘n’ paste rock, an assemblage of the archives all dressed up as ‘return to form and ‘experimental avenue-trekking’ by the rags that need his repartee to sustain their existence. A mountain of wholly pilfered sounds that continue his quest of unrelenting unoriginality.
What with Brother Dim peddling his Double Fantasy piano-led bowel-blocked drivel it’s like the 90s never happened. Or something. Make them go away. What’s Mark Chapman up to nowadays?
Here’s a snippet of the patchwork profiteering that Jimmy Krankie’s passing off as ‘new’ now (to my ears, anyway).
Everything eith a blue toffee flavour
Research and reflections by Ben Green
Author, Freelance Journalist, Sub-Editor and Lecturer
Feminist music-making in the UK and Ireland in the 1970s and 80s
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