Better late than never. Jenny Hval’s third record under her own name, Apocalypse, Girl, was released a few weeks ago, so why the review now? The record is not an easy one to absorb, but it is essential - each listen unveils a new idea. Hval's progression from 2011’s Viscera through 2013’s Innocence is Kinky, has now taken her into stranger and more compelling lyrical and musical spaces.Read More
Wire’s last album, 2013’s Change Becomes Us, found them in a rather unusual position – with one foot in the future, and another in the past. Unlike most bands of their age, the latter position was considerably more unusual than the former. It found them dealing with unfinished business, by tackling material that was lost in their first split in 1980. Of course, most of it bore no resemblance whatsoever to those songs (if that’s the right word) that had emerged on 1981’s spectacularly perverse Document & Eyewitness (deservedly reissued last year). Even when Wire are looking back, they can’t help but move forward.Read More
It’s hard to avoid words like ‘oneiric’ when talking about Liz Harris (AKA Grouper)’s music but it’s undeniably a quality that it typically exhibits. Maybe that’s why it’s so consistently compelling. It hangs heavy with mystery; the vocals are always just within reach, but slippery, indistinct, blurred. In an age where information on almost everything is instantly available, it teases you with words you can never quite understand, and notes muddied in endless shimmering reverb. Ruins (recorded in Portugal in 2011) does not completely discard of these qualities, but it does skew them.Read More
The original line-up of Jazzateers met by coincidence seeing David Bowie give his legendary performance as The Elephant Man in New York, despite all coming from the (then slightly Wilder) West of the Central Belt of Scotland. Ah yes, this was a (nearly) Postcard band after all. Tall tales aside, the band had numerous singers through its existence from 1980 to 1986, Don’t Let Your Son Grow Up To Be A Cowboy documenting their time fronted by Alison Gourlay, and her replacements, the sisters Rutkowski (later of This Mortal Coil); Paul Quinn was also in the Rutkowski-modified line-up but does not appear here and songwriter and guitarist Ian Burgoyne steps in to sing a couple of numbers too. One would expect a lack of cohesiveness as a result (this is a compilation, after all) but it doesn’t quite work out that way – there’s a definite split between the two bands, but it’s no less enjoyable as a result.Read More
To Rococo Rot have been creating their subtle strand of post-rock inflected techno for nearly twenty years, but Instrument (their eighth album) is a landmark as their first to feature vocals. Three gently disorientating songs on Instrument feature none other than Arto Lindsay and it seems a perfectly natural fit for both artists – opening song Many Descriptions is a somewhat conventional starting point in an otherwise strange record, that undulates like a river, or a road.
There is a steady, subtle (there’s that word again) motorik pulse that runs through much of the record, particularly its first half; this is not to say that there is a trotting out of any of the clichéd NEU! And Kraftwerk references that have become so deathly dull over the last few years – To Rococo Rot are far too interested in delicate details to be so crass. Furthermore, one shouldn’t mistake the use of words like ‘subtle’, ‘gentle’ or ‘delicate’ for ‘bloodless’ – there are many surprising moments throughout – the geometrically staccato piano of Spreading the Strings Out, the dancefloor arpeggi of Pro Model, the scraps of noise (though not ‘Noise’) that make up the abstracted minute and a half of Sunrise, among many others.
Longest Escalator in the World closes Instrument, a collage of (one would presume Lindsay’s but perhaps not) abstracted, clanging guitar accompanied by washes of synth for well over three minutes before Lindsay’s vocal appears again; it’s particularly mysterious, a wandering reverie, a midnight drift… It’s tempting to wonder what a full-on collaboration between To Rococo Rot and Lindsay would have sounded like, but to do so sells short the seven tracks that the vocal songs dress rather than vice versa. Instrument paints its way into your imagination with deft brushstrokes and quietly gets under your skin.
‘Instrument’ is out now on City Slang.
Andrew R. Hill
BBC 6 Music DJ (and former member of The Fall) Marc Riley refers to Vic Godard as ‘The Greatest Living Englishman’ and after listening to 30 Odd Years quite a few times now, it’s hard to disagree (as far as songwriters go, anyway). His influence in the late-‘70s was significant and it resonates to this day. Godard (né Napper) took the emancipatory energy of punk and applied his inchoate yet sophisticated songwriting nous to it, filtering a variety of genres through both over the decades. From 1978’s Don’t Split It through to a 2012 rendition of 1992’s Johnny Thunders with Davey Henderson’s marvellous Sexual Objects, there’s no ‘Joey-punk’ knuckle-dragging and not a hint of flab.
The first disc is the more straightforward of the two, although it may raise the eyebrows of the hitherto uninitiated: it starts off punk (albeit with a smart, cutting, ‘60s garage edge), develops into Velvets-tinged pop, swings into full ‘Cole Porter’ mode in the middle, briefly turns off into the best Bond themes you’ve never heard (Spring is Grey and Stayin’ Outta View (Instrumental)) and ends with muscular Edwyn Collins-produced Northern Soul. All this could surprise even the seasoned fan with a full pre-existing familiarity with the individual songs.
The second disc initially follows naturally enough with We’ll Keep Our Chains from Godard’s second Collins-produced Long Term Side-Effect – melodic, tough, a bit off kilter and underpinned with that trademark Northern Soul swing. But then the generic twist-turns begin to emerge in ever more awe-inspiringly unexpected ways. First there are two infectious gospel songs from LTS-E and then we’re into turn-of-the-century urban with The Writer’s Slumped, which has more than a hint of Missy Elliott’s Get Yr Freak On about it (which came first, one wonders?). There’s even Godard classics such as Ambition with a distinct good-ole-fashioned-hoe-down bent, blackly funny music hall in the form of Blackpool (the theme to an ill-fated theatre collaboration with Irvine Welsh) and the jaunty, accordion-led, Brechtian number The Wedding Song. The most incredible thing about all of these diversions is how natural it all sounds – partly a testament to picking collaborators of the finest calibre but primarily due to being possessed of a songwriting talent, an authorial voice, so definite and distinct as to frequently leave one breathless.
The last song proper is the aforementioned live rendition of Johnny Thunders with The Sexual Objects. Recorded at Stereo in Glasgow in December 2012, it was a performance that was a part of a series of events dubbed VIC.ism, the weekend-long Glasgow leg of which celebrated Godard’s influences, influence and his special connection to the local music scene (his connection to Scotland is emphasised further by excerpts of the late Edinburgh poet Paul Reekie discussing Godard and Subway Sect on the short intro and outro tracks). 30 Odd Years reinforces the extent to which Godard’s back catalogue and fulsome talents deserve to be celebrated and emphatically so. Even the Godard/Sect aficionado is likely to uncover a fresh understanding, not least because of the wealth of alternative versions, radio sessions and live recordings on offer. The promise of a further Edwyn Collins-produced record, 1979 Now, later in the year is very exciting indeed, and if ever a 40 Odd Years appears, one could be confident it would be every bit as essential a listen as its predecessor.
'30 Odd Years' is available now on Gnu Inc Records on CD and download.
Andrew R. Hill
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks’ 2011 album Mirror Traffic was rightly hailed as one of the highlights of the former Pavement singer’s solo career so far. Much was also made of how much it sounded like Pavement, but Malkmus and his backing band have never really drifted all that far from the sound for which he is still best known. The new record, Wig Out At Jagbags, is slighter than Mirror Traffic even if does occasionally feature a broader palette of instrumentation than one was accustomed to hearing from Pavement. One such song is Smoov J, which features a muted horn solo, subtle Hammond and synth strings and trips into outer space on delayed lead lines, before floating gently back to Earth on an acoustic guitar.
Wig Out At Jagbags is sprightly, brief and occasionally throwaway, albeit in the best possible way. Although actually placed closer to the end of the record, Rumble at the Rainbo and Chartjunk feel centrally placed and are rather, well, fluffy - they’re great fun and not much else; the former is particularly amusing as a cutting observation of an ageing punk/’punk’ scene, and the latter features a buoyant horn section ‘70s-toned rolling electric piano.
There’s plenty of melody on this breezy album, but the more cryptic the lyric, the harder it is to connect with it. The wordplay is certainly entertaining (and this kind of lyric writing has been a frequent marker of Malkmus’ songwriting since it first emerged over two decades ago) and reflects an occasional stoned feeling that manifests itself in a kind of absent-minded psychedelia (as opposed to the almost hard rock feel of some earlier Jicks material). There’s no denying there’s a lot of skill in the way these songs have been written and there’s plenty to enjoy, however slippery the (sometimes hyperactive) abstractions get.
'Wig Out At Jagbags' is released today on Domino in the UK and tomorrow on Matador in the US.
Andrew R. Hill