Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Live music review: Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit, Newcastle Cluny 28/01/08 (plus Jay Jay Pistolet and Dot To Dots)

On Monday I went to see current homme du jour and 2008’s ‘next big thing’ Johnny Flynn. I am (obviously) not as up on the latest trends as some, so had only really heard the songs on his MySpace and read quite a bit of hype, but didn’t have much personal knowledge of the band. In true ‘ones to watch’ form, the audience was a trendy, indie kid kind of crowd…not the usual folk who frequent the kind of gigs I attend, in fact about half the average age! This was all hairbands and hoodies, designer labels and designer hair-dos.

First up were local (Newcastle) band Dot To Dots, who I had not heard of before…it seems that they have only been performing together for around six months to date. Dot To Dots are a five piece band, with the whole male/female singer combo going on, a cellist, and drums which were, initially, far too loud in comparison to the voices (although this is not their fault). They were certainly tuneful, but this really wasn’t anything exciting…lyrics were generally amateurish (e.g. “love is strong, our love is true”) and the harmonies came off sounding like The Beautiful South on a bad day.
Female vocalist Mags looked entirely miserable throughout, as did the cellist, Sarah (who tried her hand at xylophone, unsuccessfully, on one song…amazing that she can master the cello, yet it is too taxing to play the xylophone in time!). Co-lead vocalist Chris, on the other hand, seemed much more in the spirit, sounding a bit like Jake Shillingford from 90s band My Life Story (anyone remember them?) and was, to my mind, responsible for holding it all together. It’s early days for this band and I’m not sure that they have what it takes to shine through the masses of hopeful local indie groups but, as far as warm-up acts go, they really weren’t half bad.

On next was Jay Jay Pistolet. I was, at the outset, quite bemused by him turning up on stage, just one man and a guitar, as I had misread the flyer and was expecting Jay Jay and The Pistolets. Pistolet was much more chipper than our previous ‘entertainers’, and even got a laugh out of taking to the stage and announcing that he had only ever seen Newcastle on ‘Booze Britain’! This was pleasant, strumming, singer-songwriter stuff…again inoffensive, but nothing very special…each song sounding fairly similar to the last. And yet again some of the lyrics were spectacularly awful, e.g. “I promise you that I will make amends if you promise me you’ll always be my friend” and rhyming “Hollywood” with “Holly could”. In places he sounded a little bit Devendra Banhart (a sub-standard version, admittedly), and I wouldn’t complain if he appeared on a future billing, but wouldn’t rush out to catch him again either.

Last up it was, of course, Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit, who opened with their current single The Box (which you can download a live version of here). This was a great start, and things only got better as Flynn then picked up a banjo for the second song (Eyeless In Holloway). Bedecked in a checked flannel shirt, with floppy blonde hair and good looks (bordering on ‘foppish’), Flynn looked something like an 80s Neighbours bit-part. In fact, the South Africa-born, London-based Flynn is a trained Shakespearean actor (aged only 24!), and this really shows through in the lyrical content of his songs. The words here are witty and thoughtful (e.g. “a heart…the one I’ve got is shoddy, I need a brand new body” – seriously, this really worked), without being too ‘clever clever’ and somehow always keeping on the right side of silly or articulate-for-the-sake-of-articulate.

The sound is sometimes anti-folk ish (Flynn has spent some time on the New York anti-folk scene with the likes of Adam Green, Jeffrey Lewis and Regina Spektor), sometimes country-blues, with Flynn turning his hand to not only guitar and banjo, but mandolin and even trumpet! At times this band really reminded me of The Pogues (only less ravaged…and less Irish), and the Nick Drake references that have been bandied about are clear to see. But in other places ‘The Wits’ sounded more like a Carter Family-esque family band, with sister Lillie Flynn on chief harmonies, and with some Simon and Garfunkel style songwriting thrown into the mix.

The third song they played was upcoming single Leftovers (due to be released 25th February), which is a cracking good tune. Everything was ridiculously catchy, sounding like something you might hear at a barn dance or hoe-down…I never dance and was tapping my foot pretty much constantly throughout; even on the slower fourth song, to which we invited to “sway”. The tempo changed again for the fifth song of the set, for which Flynn picked up a fiddle (is there an instrument this fella hasn’t mastered? Perhaps the Dot To Dots should have thought about roping him in to accompany them on xylophone!) for a song about furrows, burrows, foxes and frocks that made me want to link arms with a stranger and dos-e-dos.

This was definite head-bobbing, toe-tapping music, and by last song Tickle Me Pink, which has a great beat (kudos to the drummer throughout, in fact) there really didn’t seem to be anyone who had not been completely won over. And, despite the earnestly style-conscious audience, there seemed to be no over-considered, purposeful trendiness on Flynn’s part.

Neither was there an encore, but I think that this was a wise call, as the band had already treated us enough, and it left us wanting more. A band that I would definitely recommend catching live if you can (this current tour continues into March, so if you live in the UK there may well be a gig near you...check MySpace for dates)…I am certainly a new convert!

Oh, and just in case you felt you needed to know, I can tell you that Johnny Flynn’s favourite type of biscuit is the custard cream…a good and humble choice, and one which you should bear in mind should he ever show up at your house for tea!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jeffrey Lewis: The Complete History of Punk Rock

Back with more later, but for now you've just got to watch this! More from my man of the moment, Jeffrey Lewis. This time it's a (not quite) complete history of punk rock in 8 minutes, 23 seconds!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jeffrey Lewis - I insist that you listen to this!

Video for Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror

How I only heard about New York's Jeffrey Lewis for the first time about a month ago I really don't know, but this is the kind of new music I want to be listening to. 32 year old Lewis is both a comic book artist and a prolific musician...both in terms of recorded output and general wordsmithery. His highly literate lyrics are witty, sweet, cutting, insightful, surreal...the whole shebang. At times it feels like he's an impish child who has devilishly pulled at the end of the ribbon holding a bulging Santa's sack closed; and that sack is chock full to the brim with words, ready to spill out all over the pavement, bouncing all over the place like marbles and running amok.

Part of New York's current 'anti-folk' scene, in which the emphasis is placed on lyrical creativity and sonic innovation, as opposed to technical musicianship, this is a young man with a ludicrous amount of words, and who isn't afraid to use them! Those of you currently getting into the Juno soundtrack (which I have been meaning to write about for a while...I just never seem to get around to it) will like this; although Lewis' tunes are very varied, they remind of The Moldy Peaches in places.

And this is not just some strange coincidence. Lewis has previously collaborated with Kimya Dawson, has appeared on stage supporting Adam Green, and has provided the artwork for several of their album covers.

As for the comic books - he produces his own series, Fuff (formerly Guff) and, elsewhere, is responsible for characters such as Baby Shoes, who "has legs growing out of his head and he's addicted to shooting truth serum". He site his illustratory heroes as Dan Clowes and Alan Moore...and even based his senior year thesis on the latter's Watchmen.

Making music since 1997 and signed to Rough Trade in 2001 he has, to date, released four albums (official albums that is...there are plenty more mix-tapes and self-releases knocking about) - 2001's The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane, 2003's It's The Ones Who've Cracked That The Light Shines Through, 2005's (2006 in the US) City and Eastern Songs and, most recently, 2007's 12 Crass Songs (due to be released in the US on 28th January).

As the title would suggest, this most recent album features twelve Lewis reworkings of songs originally by the British, pacifist, anti-capitalist anarcho-punksters Crass. What once were high energy, vitriolic and aggressive-sounding (don't get me wrong, brilliant sounding) diatribes have been transformed into subdued psychedelic folk music. Before you tune out completely, let me tell you that somehow this really works. What the songs have lost in urgency, they have gained in buckets in terms of being able to appreciate their excellent, thoughtful lyrics. I'm not quite sure how, but none of the message seems to be lost, and a lot of Lewis' covers come off sounding almost pretty.

Rock Louder put it pretty darn well in their review. And you should also head across to Wikipedia to read about Crass if you need to.

I can't get enough of Jeffrey Lightning Lewis (I read somewhere that he was named that by his beatnik parents!) at the moment and I'd love you to join me for the ride.

Have a look at an example of his comic book work here (more examples at his own website; link below). The cover to 12 Crass Songs is itself a 16 page fold-out comic book strip, and is just gorgeous!

Visit Jeffrey Lewis at MySpace.

Visit his website for info. on Lewis' discography, tour dates, comic books, general news...or to play Space Invaders!

Buy his albums! Or, if you prefer, you can download 12 Crass Songs on a by song basis from, the very aptly named, Juno download.

From 12 Crass Songs:

Jeffrey Lewis - Where Next, Colombus? (sic)
Jeffrey Lewis - Big A, Little A

And the Crass originals:

Crass - Where Next, Columbus?
Crass - Big A, Little A

Also check out The Gasman Cometh, Systematic Death and I Ain't Thick, It's Just A Trick.

From It's The Ones Who've Cracked That The Light Shines Through:

Jeffrey Lewis - Back When I Was 4
Jeffrey Lewis - Gold
Jeffrey Lewis - If You Shoot The Head You Kill The Ghoul

From Gas Money Tour EP:

The Jeff Lewis Band - Swamp Thing
(A cover of Schwervon!...on this EP, each band covered 3 of the other's songs)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Speck Mountain...I think I like them!

Whilst my music reviews are on a Stockholm bent, now seems a good time to mention Speck Mountain. Nope, they're not more Swedish indie-pop, they're actually from Chicago (or are at least based there...the individual members come from Portland, Detroit and Los Angeles), but they do have a song by the name of Stockholm.
This is about as different to Those Dancing Days as you could get, save for having a female vocalist. Nevertheless, it is rather lovely...and may even be suitable for the comedown you feel after spending an evening bopping away to Those Dancing Days.
Vocals here are courtesy of Marie-Claire Balabanian, who would definitely be in the running for a trophy if there was ever a Hope Sandoval soundalike competition. Then we have some organ drones courtesy of Kate Walsh (not the Kate Walsh of Tim's House fame, a different one), and some nice lazy guitar from Karl Briedrick. The songs are as much about what is not there as what is...hang on, I'm not making myself very clear there, am I? What I mean is that space (as in room to move, not Giddy Stratospheres) within the songs provides as much of their atmosphere as does the instrumentation. To summarise them in one sentence I would say something like: Laid-back lullabies for the disenchanted.
Oh, screw it, just have a listen for yourselves!
Listen if you like: Downtempo sounds in the vein of Mazzy Star.

mp3: Speck Mountain - Blood Is Clean (in which the intro. sounds like The Doors)

mp3: Speck Mountain - Hey Moon

mp3: Speck Mountain - Stockholm

N.B. In my opinion, their song Backslide is best avoided, as it is a relatively dirgy attempt at electronica that can be somewhat painful on the ear. And whilst their song Summer Above is just lovely when the vocal kicks in, you do have to sit through almost two instrumental minutes before getting to that. In other words, I like Speck Mountain, but my endorsement does come with a slight disclaimer of 'good when they get it right'.

Visit Speck Mountain at MySpace.

Buy their album, Summer Above, here.

Those Dancing Days...I can't stop listening to bubblegum pop!

It is not very often that I write about pop music, but this is one bandwagon that I am definitely going to be leaping on. This is Those Dancing Days.

A teenage, all girl, five piece from Nacka in Stockholm, Sweden, these lasses make the most infectious girl group sounds that these ears have heard in a long long time. This is the music that all girl groups should be making...sod your Simon Fullers.

Those Dancing Days sound like Crash by The Primitives, or a modern Shangri Las, i.e. 60s girly pop for today. But there is more to them than just that...we hear some Northern Soul, some indie, and some sunshine! We have Hammond organ, synths, drums, great vocals courtesy of Linnea Jonsson, and a lot of catchy upbeat songs. This is as sweet as a cake with pink icing...but not toothache sweet.

Expect big things from these girls. Their single, Hitten (video below), will be released by Wichita Recordings as a single on January 28th. If you can't wait that long, you could do a lot worse than getting your hands on their domestically-released five track EP...every one's a corker. And there are two of them for you to sample for yourselves below.

Roll on summer! (Which, incidentally, is also when their debut album is likely to land).

Video for upcoming single, Hitten

mp3: Those Dancing Days - Hitten

mp3: Those Dancing Days - Dischoe

For good measure, included below are the song that the band were named after and an aptly named one from Carla Bruni...the latter just because it is lovely.

mp3: Led Zeppelin - Dancing Days

mp3: Carla Bruni - Those Dancing Days Are Gone

Show them some love on MySpace.

Buy their five track EP (it's pricey because it's a Swedish import, but it's SO good!)

Monday, January 21, 2008

These are not the greatest songs in the world, these are just a tribute: Musicians remember musicians

I posted a music video of The Mamas and The Papas recently and doing so got me to thinking about how much I love Mama Cass. And so I thought that I would share with you a great song written as a tribute to her. But I didn't want to stop there, so decided that I would compile a set of tribute that give the nod to musicians that have sadly left us to attend that big ole Woodstock in the sky. There are some great tunes here...eulogies for those who are always worth remembering for their contribution to the world of music. All songs can be downloaded as mp3s - just right click on the song title and choose 'save target as'.

Mama, I Remember You Now - Marit Bergman (no online lyrics available for this one)

We start, predictably, with the song mentioned above. A lovely song in honour of the great Mama Cass from the Swedish singer Marit Bergman. The song is gorgeous and sunshiney...very much in keeping with the sound of Mama Cass herself.

Cass, we remember you not just now, but always.

Bonus factoid: Did you know that Keith Moon, some four years later, died in the same London flat as did Cass Elliot?

Read more about her here.

Or learn about The Mamas and The Papas.

Pearl - The Mamas and The Papas (lyrics)

The Mamas and The Papas paid their own tribute with their song Pearl, from the album People Like Us. This was in remembrance of Janis Joplin who, despite leaving us at the age of only 27, left behind some incredible and truly groundbreaking music...a white girl with a belting bluesy wail that, whilst powerful, showed every inch of her vulnerability and (some might say self-imposed) struggles.

"Here's a prayer for honky-tonk Pearl -
Hope she finds someplace outta this world
Where she feels at home"
Musical contemporaries Jerry Garcia and Joan Baez have also paid their respects to Janis:

Bird Song - Jerry Garcia (lyrics)

In The Quiet Morning - Joan Baez (lyrics)
But my very favourite ode to Ms Joplin has to be that of American folk singer Dory Previn. This tells the touching story of Joplin, in August 1970, buying a headstone for the unmarked grave of, perhaps her greatest musical influence, Bessie Smith.

"she got it for her grave-site on a temporary loan
but she forgot she had not paid for her own"

Bessie Smith - Bob Dylan and The Band (lyrics)

Next up a song that really is about Bessie Smith, courtesy of Bob Dylan and The Band, from The Basement Tapes. The profound influence of Bessie's music can not be understated and you all should crank this up in tribute.

Read about her here.

A Tribute To A King - William Bell (lyrics)

Whilst all the above songs followed neatly on from one to the next, I really was unable to think how to follow Bessie Smith. I decided to plump for A Tribute To A King, for little other reason than it is very good indeed; in my opinion one of the best songs on this list, and another very worthy honouree in the shape of Otis Redding.

Read about Otis and his wonderful soulful voice here.

From a king to The King...none other than Mr Elvis Presley. First up we have Gillian Welch and her testimonial in the form of Elvis Presley Blues, from which the very best line has to be:

"He shook it like a chorus girl"

And he certainly did. It's amazing to think now about exactly how racy Elvis' dancing was considered - this was the age of rock n roll and rebellion...a time when teenagers really came into their own.

Elvis Presley Blues - Gillian Welch (lyrics)

It's obvious from the title that Welch's song is about Elvis Presley, but here's another one that you may not have realised was a tribute to The King:

Black Velvet - Alannah Myles (lyrics)

It was "a new religion that'll bring ya to your knees" was a (beautiful) young man mixing up elements of black and white music, country and rhythm and blues, and really causing a bit of a stir in the process! Again, his risque dancing is given a mention, "The way he moved, it was a sin, so sweet and true".

And why not check out the tribute album from Wanda Jackson (whom I bloomin' love!) I Remember Elvis.

I can't imagine that you need to read up on Elvis Presley, but if you do, you can do so here.

Another song that you may not know to be a tribute is Don McLean's American Pie. Yessiree, this one's about Buddy Holly, who also made massive contributions to what it meant to be a teenager in the 1950s.

American Pie - Don McLean (lyrics)

Another one (obviously) about Buddy Holly is:

Tribute To Buddy Holly - Mike Berry (lyrics)

But how about Three Stars, which memorialises not only Holly, but also Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, who died along with him in the same plane crash. Again this is a tribute from a musical peer, who lost three friends to that plane crash, as the world lost three of its singers.

Three Stars - Eddie Cochran (lyrics)

In 1989, on their album 11, The Smithereens remembered those left behind, with a song for the widow of Buddy Holly, itself a 60s-influenced piece of jangly guitar pop.

Maria Elena - The Smithereens (lyrics)

Read about Buddy Holly here.

Lady Stardust - David Bowie (lyrics)

Moving on, we have another gender-swapping tribute, although this one makes more sense.

In 1972, David Bowie paid his respects to a compeer loved and lost on his infamous album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

This song is about Marc stage, "The boy in the bright blue jeans", on stage the titular "Lady Stardust". Bolan was another artist who was controversial in his time, for his feminine appearance, glamming it up with feather boas and sparkly make-up on stage:

"People stared at the makeup on his face
Laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace".

Read about Marc Bolan here.

And go here to read about Tyrannosaurus Rex/T-Rex.

Next up is a song for Gram Parsons, courtesy of The Eagles (the nearest thing to a link between this and the last track that I could think of was that Bolan and Parsons died in the same week...although as this was four years apart, I think we'll just do without a link!).

My Man - The Eagles (lyrics)

Read about the not-talked-about-nearly-enough Parsons here.

Giving up on linking between songs altogether, we have Sonic Youth singing about Karen Carpenter, and her sad death at the hands of anorexia-related heart failure.

Tunic (Song For Karen) - Sonic Youth (lyrics)

Sonic Youth also did a fabulous cover of The Carpenters' song Superstar, which is worthy of inclusion here despite being a cover and not a tribute simply because it is so good. Apparently even good enough to be used by trendy indie film makers (it's on the Juno soundtrack).

Superstar - Sonic Youth (lyrics)

Go here to read about Karen Carpenter.

Or read about The Carpenters.

Last up we have a song for a much more recently deceased, although still massively influential, musician. That musician is Kurt Cobain, remembered here by Neil Young.

Sleeps With Angels - Neil Young (lyrics)

To read more about Kurt Cobain, go here.

Or read about his band, Nirvana.

Well, that's our nice round top ten done, but I feel it is my duty to crank it up to eleven and add a bonus track...we can't blow this joint without mentioning Johnny Cash right?

Nickajack Cave (Johnny Cash's Redemption) - Gary Allan (lyrics)

Tot them up, that's 19 songs...enough for another mix CD! Get downloading and burning folks!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Who? Ruth Notman, with her debut album 'Threads'

Nottingham's 18 year old Ruth Notman has, with her debut album, Threads (released on Mrs Casey Music on 19/11/07), achieved a very lovely thing. The album contains a mix of skillful covers and original material; the former have obviously been chosen carefully and work very well. Notman opens proceedings by greeting us with a consummate version of Nic Jones' Billy Don't You Weep For Me, before moving swiftly on to the definitive stand-out track of Caledonia by Dougie MacLean. Her piano playing is delightful and understated and she is joined by some very capable musicians, including being accompanied with some vocal harmonies by none other than Bella Hardy.

Notman reached the finals of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2006 and comes Kate Rusby approved - Rusby has been quoted as saying "Fantastic...really special" and "I was just totally blown away...absolutely brilliant" - which is high praise indeed for a girl who is still so wet behind the ears.

The praise is well deserved and this is a name that I have no doubt that you will be hearing, certainly in folky circles, with increasing frequency. On Threads she has achieved an accomplished and confident melding of the traditional and the modern. The only let down is the bonus track What's Going On? (nope, not a Marvin Gaye cover). This, according to the CD cover is "Ruth in a different style", i.e. pop in the vein of Kelly Clarkson or Avril Lavigne, where she comes off sounding entirely unremarkable.

This said, if Notman sticks to what she is (very) good at, and I have a feeling that she will (let's chalk this down to being a youthful experiment...we all make mistakes, don't we Kate Rusby? What were you thinking in agreeing to duet with Ronan Keating??), I am sure that she will become another superb example of the thriving young, British folk scene.

Listen if you like: Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy, Martha Tilston, Rachel Unthank.

mp3: Ruth Notman - Caledonia

mp3: Ruth Notman - Still I Love Him

Visit Ruth on MySpace.

Buy the album.

Friday, January 18, 2008

And the winner is...

Congratulations to Canuck Chick from Bamboo Blitz, for it is she who will be receiving the Stealing Beauty CD.

E-mail me your details at the address on the left and I shall get it to you post haste!

Well done...and thank you to those that entered.

Easy on the ear: This is Bear Country

I have been meaning to post about Bear Country since I was introduced to them by Matthew at the wonderful Song, by Toad.

I can't impart a great deal of information about them, as Google searches have proved pretty fruitless. I can tell you that they are based in Omaha, Nebraska. I also know that their first album, Our Roots Need Rain, was released on June 4th 2006. But all you really need to know is that those sumptuous pipes belong to Susan Sanchez. The sound? Shimmering, female-fronted Americana-pop. In terms of vocals, if you think Camera Obscura you'll be on the right track. This is happy music, replete with lush strings and handclaps (well, you know I am several senses of the word!).

I am in agreement with Matthew that Up Up Away and Coolie Trade are two very gorgeous songs...the best of the mere seven that I have heard to date, and so I am just going to post the same tracks.

mp3: Up Up Away (from Our Roots Need Rain)

mp3: Coolie Trade (from the upcoming album Coolie Trade...due out Spring 2008)
So now you can visit Bear Country without even having to worry about your comestibles!

Listen to Bear Country at MySpace (the song Red over there is also very comely).
For more great Americana, check out Dear August.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Who? Jomi Massage: "Jomi is for music lovers who have no need of control or needs [sic] to learn a lesson or two about it"

"in 1995 i bought a bag, it was blue and shaped in soft curves that made me think of a female body. inside it i found one of the first electric massagedevices, made in the early 60's and at that time it must have been considered very daring.

it was called jomi massage.

the manual showed me pictures of naked women, nipples and skin."

So goes the story, in her own words, of naming the alter ego of Danish singer Signe Hoirup Wille-Jorgenson. Assuming the moniker Jomi Massage because a "massagedevice" [sic] is intended to, ahem, relieve tension and this is what she hopes to do with her musical output, the name really is just the beginning of her often controversial and always thought-provoking 'stunts'.
A pretty persuasive example of this would be the time she opened at Danish festival Spot in 2005. Signe had placed microphones in her clothing and shocked the entire audience by ending up naked on stage in front of them. The reason for this? She wanted, as she undressed, the audience to hear the sounds of the textiles and fabrics (the piece is entitled Undressing Aloud). She ended the set by playing a few songs on her acoustic guitar...still naked.
Or how about her album Skandinaviske Klagesange (Scandinavian Elegies)? This was due for release in 2006, but Morningstar Records decided against it amidst the Danish political crisis resulting from the Jyllands Posten controversy. Why? Jomi Massage appears on the cover garbed in a burqa made of the Danish flag.
So what about the music? Can it live up to all these 'artsy' capers?
Well, in the main, yes. The music of Jomi Massage is fairly experimental; often minimalistic, sometimes electronic, sometimes verging on noise-pop, with definite punk influences, but imbued with trenchant melancholy (this is not as oxymoronic as it sounds when you actually have a listen!) and fragility. Definitely hard to pigeonhole, it works better in some places than others, but this music is certainly worth a listen...just don't get too hung up on its pretentious ideals. In her up-swings and down-swings, Wille-Jorgenson can sound like Beth Gibbons of Portishead (Like Weather), Amy Lee of Evanescence (I See Those Who Died) and even Adult (A Meeting). She says that she draws inspiration from the likes of Patti Smith and John Cage.
Starting out in a band called Murmur after hearing the Breeders' album Pod and being amazed by hearing such rock music being played by women, she has worked with various people and acts since then. Wille-Jorgenson is currently one quarter of Copenhagen band Speaker Bite Me (you can view some of their videos at the band's website) and also frequently plays with big bands (as in orchestras, not referring to levels of fame) and classically-trained musicians.
30-something Jomi Massage's first full-length album in English, From Where No One Belongs, I Will Sing, was first recorded in 2005. It was then re-recorded two years later and will be released on February 18th 2008. True, it is unlikely to cause major waves, but I do think that the ripples will be worth sticking around for.

Visit Jomi Massage at MySpace or at her own website.

Want to read about some more Danish music? Check out my previous post on Heidi Mortenson.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Music video: The Mamas and the Papas with 'Creeque Alley'

This post is essentially just an excuse to share with you this video of The Mamas and the Papas' Creeque Alley. I love this! The video has been on both my MySpace and Facebook profiles almost as long as I've had them, and I never tire of listening to The Mamas and the Papas' beautiful pop harmonies.

The song tells the story of the band's formation and time together; you can read more about it at this lovingly crafted site. Whilst you're at it, why not read more about the amazing Mama Cass over at Wikipedia.

And have you seen her in Pufnstuf The Movie?:

...I then got to thinking about another of The Mamas and Papas' hits, and probably the best known of their songs, California Dreaming, and how this is much more than just a lovely hum-along-able pop ditty. Have you ever stopped to think about what it means? Listen to it and you realise that this is a song of wistful longing for home...being on the road and missing what is familiar to you.

Have another listen:
The Mamas and the Papas - California Dreaming (mp3)

And so off I trotted on a tangent of thinking about other songs that fit this theme of being homesick, and there are plenty. But amongst the very best has to be:
Simon and Garfunkel - Homeward Bound (mp3)

The story goes that this was written at Widnes train station...not a place, I'm sure, where many have been so inspired...but definitely a place to get you wishing to be somewhere else instead!

An honourable mention, because it doesn't really have anything to do with missing home, it is just a great song, goes to:
Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues (mp3)

And how about, in the spirit of fairness, including the anthithesis...a song of longing for the road?:
Willie Nelson - On The Road Again (mp3)

Well, it would be unlike me just to have posted a video and left, wouldn't it?

Only 3 days left to enter my CD giveaway, so get your answer in before it ends!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

More free music!! Cassettes Won't Listen 'One Alternative' EP

I'm a month late in reporting this one, as it was released on December 11th 2007; but it really is worth a listen, so I thought I'd give it a quick mention anyhow.
Cassettes Won't Listen is Jason Drake from Brooklyn, New York. He makes indie-electronic boom-blip sounds and on this free EP, One Alternative, gives us covers of five 90s songs (the title being an homage to the 1993 compilation No Alternative). All of his releases to date have been digital (although not all free!) and he has remixed for some big names, including Midlake, Asobi Seksu and Morcheeba. His first CD release will be Small Time Machine, coming out on March 11th this year.
The track listing for One Alternative is as follows:
1. Cut Your Hair
2. Butter Of 69
3. Fuck and Run
4. The Freed Pig
5. Change
And just because I am nice, here are the originals for comparison:

mp3 download: Cut Your Hair - Pavement

Butter Of 69 - Butter 08: I didn't have, and couldn't find, this one, so how's about a video of it instead?

mp3 download: Fuck and Run - Liz Phair

mp3 download: The Freed Pig - Sebadoh

mp3 download: Change - Blind Melon

Just as an extra little FYI...Change was the first song written by Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, and lyrics from it adorn his grave stone,

"I know we can't all stay here forever
So I want to write my words on the face of today
And they'll paint it"

Betcha didn't know that! Another one of those sad 'what a silly young man...what a waste' stories. You can read about him here if you wish.

As for Cassettes Won't Listen and One it here. And here's a link to his MySpace just in case you need that too.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Who? Dear August, my dear friend...and a rant about mp3s

The available information about Dear August on t'interweb is scant, but this is a great shame, as their album Come In, Keep Dry is simply lovely. I really don't know why more people (read: any people) aren't blogging about these folks.

This is Americana/alt-country in the vein of Lucinda Williams, The Byrds, The Band or The Geraldine Fibbers (sounding particularly like the latter on Girl Up The Road, Lamplight and Dressed In Blue).

The band hail from Madison, Wisconsin and were formerly known as Box Elder, releasing one album (Come Visit Soon) under that name. Upon finding out that this name was already in use by someone else, they plumped instead for Dear August, which was taken from their song Born On Ice.
Lead vocals come from Adrienne Cole, who was also handed primary songwriting duties on Come In, Keep Dry. She has a straight-up, but very pretty, corner-of-the-bar type alto messing, and you can almost hear the beer stains. Fellow band member Dan O'Brien also contributes vocals and the two sound great together; but Dear August shine most brightly when it is Cole who takes centre stage.
I'm not sure exactly when this album was released, but I do know that it was recorded at DNA Studios in Madison and that they finished it on July 18th 2007.

This really is good, and has featured heavily on my playlist the past couple of days. The songs are catchy, but bittersweet, e.g. "I never liked your sweet smile anyhow" on Don't Go To Town. I would highly recommend this album, and all of its tracks are great, but initial standouts are Jasper, Butchers Grove, Slack Black Jacket, Girl Up The Road and No Pining. That's five initial standout tracks from a 13 track album! I defy you to hear Jasper and not be won over! You can try to prove me wrong by heading over for a listen at their MySpace.

And then you can buy their CD from Miles Of Music (which is where I heard about these guys), CD Baby (where you can listen to two minute long sections of each song) or download the album as mp3s from Great Indie.

Which is where my rant begins (you have my permission to stop reading now if you wish...the album review and band introduction are over!).

I opted for the download route, crossing my fingers that money from that would actually go to the artist. I am a very poor Divinyl at the moment, and it was simply much cheaper than getting a CD shipped across from the US of A (in fact, the entire CD was just $8.99...or £4.72!).

I love mp3s for checking stuff out (of course I do), but I much prefer to own an album. By this I mean physically be able to hold it...smell it if I wish! I like it to be tangible, pick-up-able, and not just swamped by all the other mp3 files I have, lost and forgotten. I like liner notes...I like having the real thing goddamnit!

Never mind, this was my only route to own this album immediately (i.e. without saving up...never mind having to wait for it to arrive), so in I jumped. And whilst it was cheap, it really was a proper arse on. No shit, it took me more than an hour (1 hour, 4 minutes, to be exact) of dedicated sit-by-computering between paying for and having downloaded the full album.

Each track had to be downloaded separately, and each took a jolly long time. On top of this, not one of the tracks was properly named in the download file; it was all 01, 02 etc. This annoyed me because, not only did I have to type out the name of each (flicking between two web pages so that I had the names of each song) when the download box came up (in order to have any chance of ever being able to find it on my computer again, should I need to), I then had to fiddle about renaming in iTunes as well upon opening it. Grrr!

Furthermore, the tracks do not display in iTunes in the correct playing order, therefore I had to make a playlist where I could put them in the correct order.

All of this irked me a great deal. Thank goodness, then, for the end result and the beautifully mollifying tones of Adrienne Cole. Well worth all the hassle!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Free album preview: Xiu Xiu 'Women as Lovers'

Just a very brief post, on this occasion, to let you know that Xiu Xiu are streaming, in full, their forthcoming album Women As Lovers on MySpace. The album will be released on January 29th and is available to pre-order from KRS/Buy Olympia. The reason that I am not hanging about to post a wordy music review is that the streaming only promises to be there for a couple of days, so you'll have to jump in quickly! Here's hoping it's a good'un!
Here's (part of) what Kill Rock Stars have to say:
"This will be a famous album. To hear it is to remember music's native purpose, a howl against the gloom.
With a heart too sensitive to accept humanity's darker side yet also unable to flinch from it, Xiu Xiu is a way of "owning your own shadow." Jamie Stewart has a novelist's eye for juicy details, and a poet's ability to wring impossible emotions out of the English language, finding black humor where there is usually horror, finding horror where there is usually apathy. And Stewart's history-spanning visions of birth and death have never come across more clearly.
Make no mistake. No other Xiu Xiu album has ever been more approachable or communicative on a basic human level. What people sometimes fail to recognize is that Stewart is writing about all of us, not a freak writing about freakish things. He voices what the rest of us have a hard time voicing and the feelings in the music are ones that we can all relate to."
That all sounds a bit wanky to me, but I do quite like Xiu Xiu, so am quite looking forward to listening to what promises to be a very varied collection of tunes...if you could ever really call a Xiu Xiu song a 'tune'!

mp3: I Do What I Want, When I Want

In appreciation of the fuller-figured lady...

Hey Fatty Bum Bum, you sweet sugar dumpling, hey Fatty Bum Bum, let me tell you we have 10 free music downloads of songs recognising the general wonderfulness of a woman with some curves! Free music? Fat women? Yes please!

BBWW - Big Beautiful Wonder Woman

As an admirer of the more rotund and zaftig kind of gal, I thought I would compile a list of 10 fat positive songs...those extolling the virtues of a nice rounded shape and some meat on the bone. And so, to the downloads:

1. Baby Got Back - Sir Mix-A-Lot

2. You're The One For Me, Fatty - Morrissey

3. Fat Bottomed Girls - Queen

4. Fat Mama - Tito Puente and His Orchestra

5. I Like 'Em Fat Like That - Louis Jordan

6. Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) - Mika

7. Spit - Kiss

8. Big Fat Mamas Are Back In Style - Dana Gillespie

9. Fatty Bum Bum - Carl Malcolm

10. Big Girls Are Best - U2

And as a special bonus treat...Spinal Tap with Big Bottom:

Check out my Christmas CD for two further tracks - Renegade Rail with Fat Girls And Weed and KD Lang's Big Boned Gal. Perhaps you can add to the list in the comments? There are plenty more out there. Remember, fat positive songs only please.

Only one week left until my competition to win a CD closes...have you entered yet?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Free music! Brooke Waggoner 'Fresh Pair Of Eyes' EP

Oh I do like free music! Whilst I am a big CD-buyer and find that there's something much more lovely about actually owning the piece of plastic (and don't get me started on vinyl...even better!), the internet and mp3s is such a great way to check out new stuff. I particularly love it when the artist themself has released free music for us all to enjoy.
In this case, the reason I am having my mini-rant (i.e. support the artists...BUY the music!) is that Louisianaian Brooke Waggoner has released her EP Fresh Pair Of Eyes online for absolutely nada! And it really is rather good, which puts it head and shoulders above most of the rest of the free EPs/albums being offered out there.
Ok, so it adds little new to the pool...more folk-lite female singer-songwriting...but the songs are well written and nice to listen to, and therefore worth acquainting yourself with and adding to your playlist seeing as you can explore it for free!
To download your own copy, go to Brooke Waggoner's website (you will need to enter your details...including a US zip code, so that may require some slight bending of the truth...I just typed my UK address with '90210' and it worked. Snigger). The songs download as a zip file...6 of 'em. Hush If You Must is a pleasing opener, which incorporates handclaps...which is a great start in my book...and the rest are good too. I will not go into bios and such, as I would only be rehashing it from the one on the page that I have just linked you can read it for yourselves!
If you would like to have a listen to her music before deciding to download, you could visit her MySpace page. Four of the songs there are from this EP, plus there is a track called Christmas Moon.
For more free music, you could check out Danish band Dynamoe. I must admit that I don't like their stuff as much as Brooke Waggoner, but it is still of a higher standard than the majority. It's kind of shoegaze-y electronica type stuff...which I know doesn't elucidate the matter a great deal! They are offering up their whole album In The Wake Of Time for free download here. And again you can check them out on MySpace first, before deciding whether to clutter your computer!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Free album preview: Sia 'Some People Have Real Problems'

Sia Furler's latest album Some People Have Real Problems is released today in the US (us UK peeps have to wait until the 14th...bah!). If you use MySpace, you will no doubt have seen the ads on their site, but just in case you don' are able to preview the entire album over at Sia's page (you don't need to have an account to listen). I'm currently, as I write, enjoying my first listen-through, so don't have a lot to say just yet, but may return when I have familiarised myself further to post something of an album review. Thus far it is as expected from Sia...high quality white soul. Although I like her music, I can't help but find her slightly annoying...not that I can put my finger on why! She's made up a little bit of ground, however, by covering one of my favourite Pretenders songs, I Go To Sleep.
Anyway, for now I shall leave you with a downloadable mp3 of her song Breathe Me (from the album Colour The Small One); a beautiful, sweeping song that I never tire of listening to.

mp3: Breathe Me

Monday, January 7, 2008

Ones to watch in 2008: Basia Bulat

In The Night

I am not someone who claims to be one of the cool kids, or who has my finger so firmly on the pulse that my knuckle is white, therefore I have only recently heard of Basia Bulat. This is something of a travesty, but is actually rather well timed, seeing as she will be releasing her album Oh My Darling globally on 5th February (it was released, by Rough Trade, in Europe in April 2007, but Bulat has finally got herself a Canadian label).

What is it with the Canadian music scene at the moment? There's SO much great music coming out of there. Ok, so it's a big country, but 2007 saw more 'breakthrough' artists than certainly I have ever known about long last proving that the country is not 'past' its Leonard Cohens, Joni Mitchells and Neil Youngs, and still has more to offer than Bryan Adams!

So, as you may have guessed by now, Basia Bulat (the name is Polish) is another one; she grew up in Toronto (Etobicoke to be precise) and is now based in London (Ontario, that is, not UK). She grew up listening to the local 'oldies' radio station, imbibing Stax and Motown, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. And in some ways her music does sound a little as if it's from another time. By another token, this sits merrily in amongst the recent swash of female singer-songwriters (think Laura Veirs gorged on happy pills)...but still manages to add something new to the field.

24 year old Bulat released her first, self-titled, EP in 2005 and when recording her most recent offering never intended for it to become a formal release. Whilst this is more throaty-voiced, vibrato, female folk-pop, lumping her in with 'the rest' may not be fair...Ms Bulat can play the piano, banjo, autoharp, double bass, guitar, ukelele, saxophone and flute...she is definitely not without talent, and I reckon that she is set to become a Feist-esque household name.

mp3: I Was A Daughter (anything with handclaps has got to be good, right?)
mp3: The Pilgriming Vine



Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Seven Ages Of Man

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

William Shakespeare - As You Like It
Jaques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)

B-A-B-Y - Carla Thomas

Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby - Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss

I Feel Just Like A Child - Devendra Banhart

Song Of Being A Child - Van Morrison

Puberty - Belly

Teenage Dirtbag - Wheatus

Young Blood - The Coasters

Get A Job - The Silhouettes

All Grown Up - Holly Golightly

Middle Age Crazy - Jerry Lee Lewis

Old Man Time - Kate Rusby

Hurt - Johnny Cash

In My Time Of Dying - The Be Good Tanyas

When I Die - The Waifs

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Albums that you have forgotten you love: Becoming X by Sneaker Pimps

N.B. If you are in the US, it looks like this instead.

Track listing:

1. Low Place Like Home
2. Tesko Suicide
3. 6 Underground
4. Becoming X
5. Spin Spin Sugar
6. Post-Modern Sleaze
7. Waterbaby
8. Roll On
9. Wasted Early Sunday Morning
10. Walking Zero
11. How Do

Becoming X is undoubtedly very 90s-sounding, but it really does still sound good that I wanted to include a download of almost every song, but I have limited myself! After this album, Sneaker Pimps (who took their name from an article in which The Beastie Boys were talking about hiring someone to find classic trainers for them) parted ways with singer Kelli Dayton (also known as Kelli Ali), which may have been their biggest mistake. The only track that I have found to my liking since her departure is Blacksheep.

The first half of the album is better than the second, but it is all good; and it brings back such memories for me when I listen. From the beaty, but aloof and phlegmatic, Tesko Suicide, to the sublime 6 Underground (which has to be a classic 90s was even featured on that most seminal, in various senses of the word, of 90s dramas This Life) and the clubby sleaze of Spin Spin Sugar, the styles on this album are varied, but generally sound quite spaced out and dispassionate...although that is not a criticism. This is electronica, trip-hop, guitar-based indie, it even flirts with rock (as Sneaker Pimps explicitly did on Long Hard Road Out Of Hell with Marilyn Manson, for which the video is below), but above all this is pop music, largely as a result of Dayton's bubblegum voice.

It all culminates with How Do. You know that scene in The Wicker Man where a naked Britt Ekland is pressed up against, and seductively pawing, a wall, distracting the virginal Edward Woodward from his thoughts of Christian chastity? Yep? Well, this is that song, covered here very nicely (but I still can't listen to it without visualising that scene).

N.B. Make sure you buy the original 1996 album if you can, and not the reissue; the latter features different (read: inferior) versions of several of the tracks.

Sneaker Pimps - Spin Spin Sugar
(This video totally reminds me of the film 'Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas')

Marilyn Manson and Sneaker Pimps - Long Hard Road Out Of Hell
(From the 'Spawn' soundtrack. It seems they didn't exactly 'click' - read about that here and here)

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Long and Winding Road

Hello all, and apologies for my prolonged was unintentionally extended (good intentions yadda yadda). I hope to get back to normal (well, at least more regular!) posting now, and even have lists upon lists of what to write other words, more jottings that I will likely never get around to turning into actual posts!

I hope that you had a lovely holiday season replete with love, laughter and libation (and not too much loose-lipped lock-horning). I had an unusually calm and convivial time...and was spoiled rotten! Without going into detail re: gift lists, suffice to say that I got eight CDs (actually nine, although I already had one of them, so that's to be returned), and that wasn't even the tip of the iceberg. Amongst them were the excellent Raising Sand (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss), Clare and The Reasons (The Movie), St Vincent, Bettye Lavette's most recent and some Aretha rareties. Jolly good!

I also used the opportunity to pillage my dad's CD collection (which is huge and varied) and smuggle some of it away on my iPod...mostly older country stuff that I've somehow never got around to owning, and indeed some with which I have been tardy in acquainting myself. So I have tonnes more music (yippee!), only I neglected to make a list of what I'd stolen, so finding it all again on my iPod will provide hours of fun...or frustration!

Speaking of my iPod, I placed my listening in the hands of the gods and opted for 'shuffle' for the drive home (which, sadly, was not as beautiful as the picture above, nor winding...just long!), and was extremely pleased that I did. I sometimes find that it gets itself into some kind of 'groove', not exemplifying fully the range of music that I have, playing oodles of songs that I somehow don't know, even though I obviously own them on an album somewhere, and over-representing certain artists. For example, my iTunes on my computer, in shuffle mode, seems to have a particular fondness for Ella Fitzgerald. Joni Mitchell was especially abundant on this occasion, so all was well with the world and my 96 track journey was a good'un.

The trip started on an incredibly promising note with Muddy Waters and Mannish Boy. I shall not bore you with a list of the entire 96 songs (nor could I, as I didn't write them all down and have 'shuffled' again since), but the best consecutive ten song run was:

I Wanna Be Where You Are - Michael Jackson
The Burrow - Throwing Muses
Wardrope - Hoover
Something Changed - Pulp (could've done without this one, but it's forgivable)
Jason's Basement - Gossip
When Heroes Go Down - Suzanne Vega
Sail Away - Kirsty MacColl
All I Could Do Is Cry - Etta James
Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchell
Overpower Thee - Auf der Maur

The next most promising run was:

Papa Was A Rollin' Stone - The Temptations
Jacky The Ripper - The Need
Let Me Kiss You - Morrissey
Hockey Skates - Kathleen Edwards
Down By The River - Neil Young and Crazy Horse
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda - The Pogues
Carry Me - The Levellers (perhaps a bit of a weak link here, but I have such a fondness for them because of my teenage years)
There's More To Life Than This - Bjork

...but then it was all spoilt by throwing up Tom Jones and What's New Pussycat!

My favourites that were played, that I haven't heard for some time were Jefferson Airplane and Volunteers, Miss Kittin Let Me Hear The DJ and L.J. Johnson with Your Magic Put A Spell On Me; however Paul Davidson's Midnight Rider had me searching anxiously in my mirrors for a wailing Police car (due to those pesky sirens in the intro!).

I can't finish this post without mentioning the three most satifying segues (generally because they were entirely incongruous and this appeals to me in an "Oh, how very wry" kind of way), the first of which was Birmingham Jail by Peggy Lee straight into Le Tigre with Let's Run. Even better was Samuel L. Jackson, from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and his Ezekiel 25:17 into Blur's Advert ("And you will know my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee...BANG BANG BANG" -> "Food processors are great!"). The third was just as I was arriving at my destination and featured Sam Cooke with I'll Come Running Back To You adjacent to Metallica and Blackened.

See, don't you feel like you've been on the six hour journey with me now??


Ruing the January anti-climax and general lack of presents? You still have time to enter my competition to win a CD...winner decided 17th January.