Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Horror

I was at the Green Man Festival in Wales for the entire duration of The Oval test match, which was probably a good thing. There were enough cricket fans amid the ponchos and bubble swords to keep me informed of what was going on, what with their diabolical whooping and hollering.

I was distracted by a hangover and a quite unbelievable closing Sunday set from Wilco and by the time I got home I had reconciled myself to the horrors of losing the Ashes - so long as I didn't read the newspaper, turn on the television or go online. Then I discover Australia had lost by one point to a last ditch Dan Carter penalty in Sydney. That was a little too much. The only redeeming fact is that Melbourne's Warren Ellis was far, far cooler than anything at the Green Man Festival, and from the same city Pivot played a nice little half an hour too. I am content with this.

Three songs: 'You Never Know' by Wilco/Seven Worlds Collide, 'Blood Money' by Spiral Stairs and 'Closure' by Apse.

Monday, 17 August 2009

North Country Boys

When I was at Primavera Sound in Barcelona earlier this year I was most swept up with Neil Young, as pretty much everyone else was. I even made a friend amid the madness, a short hairy little Spanish gentleman who used my shoulder as a support for his ecstatic jumping up and down. Also spectacular were Wooden Shjips and Dead Meadow, but by far the most emotional set, for me and many others, was from The Jayhawks on the Saturday. That evening they played pretty much every song you would have wanted from 'Sister Cry' to 'Ain't No End'. Now comes the release of a best-of, which I was generously sent.

Now, while Olson and Louris will probably make more music and it may even be good, this album, entitled Music From The North Country, acts as a an opportunity to mark these beautiful songs and the two disparate characters who made them. One of the top three bands from the 90s, no doubt.

Those songs from their 1985 inception to when Olson left in 1995 are selected perfectly, even though if space allowed pretty much half of every album made in that period could have been included. Unfortunately, 'Sister Cry' doesn't make it, but 'I'd Run Away', 'Two Angels', 'Martin's Song' and 'Settled Down Like Rain' do, alongside the obvious stuff like 'Blue' and 'Waiting For The Sun'. The second half of this collection is all about The Jayhawks minus Olson, and while many (with good reason) reckon they weren't The Jayhawks without Olson, there are some gems from that latter period too. 'Trouble' is a succinct encapsulation of all of Louris's gifts, for example.

The Jayhawks are one of those songwriting partnerships where the indulgences of each member are reined in by the other to achieve an exact, amazing equilibrium between their talents. Louris was the more sentimental one, prone to writing songs with lines about having his "little baby boy". This was kept in check by the odder Dylan-esque lyrical tendencies of Olson, whose curious, biting irony was magnified by that nasal croon of his. Without Louris there to soften him up The Jayhawks might have gone to places too dark to achieve the (moderate) critical and commercial following they did.

Three songs that are good: 'Won't Change My Mind' by Liam Finn, 'Two' by Lisa O Piu and 'Rust' by Telekinesis.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Sun Shines On

Until the last couple of weeks, I have received a distinct dearth of interesting things to listen to through the letterbox. Lately, records by Wilco, Wild Beasts and The Cave Singers have arrived, making up for months of mediocrity. I also have the new Brendan Benson album, and I'm interviewing him tomorrow. I love Brendan Benson. To the extent that I would like to bring him a present, maybe ("fellatio?" suggests a friend... No, not fellatio...). I have only once taken CDs to an interview to be signed, although I know it goes against all journalistic integrity to do it... But all critics are essentially fans anyway. Did you know that Brendan Benson is apparently 39?!

Anyway, to counter this miserable lack of music, I took to the blogs on a voyage of discovery. Amid this tricky landscape I came across this, possibly the best and most terrifying thing I've heard this summer. This is such an easy sound to achieve - it is essentially effects-laden heavy blues with a very, very dirty bassline - but only a few select Americans seem to be able to pull it off with any sort of success. I was not surprised to learn that The Entrance Band's singer and guitarist Guy Blakeslee is a collaborator with David Vandervelde, though somewhat amused at the fact that their bassist Paz Lenchantin was in Billy Corgan's execrable Zwan. They release an album in the US in September called Prayer Of Death. I don't know anything about a UK release, as yet.

Last week an acquaintance of mine died. His name was Gary Nelmes. He secured my admiration when I first met him in 2006, but in the past couple of years I only had a passing affinity with this fine man who died coming down Mont Blanc on Friday 24 July. His blog is here, which shows pretty much exactly the beautifully weird sort of gentleman he was. I, for one, raise a glass to him.

Three songs that are good: "Sun Shines On" by Oliver Mann, "I Can't Take It Anymore" by Monotonix and "Bombs Bomb Away" by Elephant Stone.