Friday, 22 February 2013

RW/FF With Ben P Scott #6

This week, LOTS of stuff to talk about, hence a packed column. With the BBC broadcasting a series of programmes about classic albums, I talk about why there is nothing more glorious than the long-player. There's Django Django, Miles Kane and Palma Violets live, plus I attempt to sit through the Brit Awards. Also, albums from Atoms For Peace, Port Erin and Beaulieu Porch, as well as new music from Primal Scream, Charlie Clark and John Grant. In the second half I continue my journey through 1994.

So the BBC have been broadcasting a series of programmes that celebrate "the golden age of the album". They're talking about the LP as if it were a forgotten thing of the past. Everytime I hear a new track, I'm looking forward to hearing it as part of an album. And that's how it's always been. The LP is a representation of what an artist or band sounds like at a particular time, and also the ultimate way to prove consistent quality. A well sequenced collection of great songs can take you on a journey that no movie or book ever could. 

I now buy more albums each year than ever, although these also include old back catalogue stuff as well as new releases. And even though as part of the music press, I get sent a lot of CDs and digital downloads for free, this only means that I have more music to choose from when it comes to deciding what i'm going to buy for my vinyl collection. So ironically, despite being given lots of music for free, I'm still spending money on records just as much as I did before. Plus with a lot of bands streaming their records online, it's a lot easier for anyone to hear if a particular album is going to be worth the money or not. Before the internet all we had to go on was the strength of the singles that were played on the radio. Or sometimes you'd buy an LP on account of an artist or band's reputation. Now you can often preview the whole thing, listen to it a few times and then make your decision. 

You might decide that you only like a few songs, and just download them individually. There is something frustrating about that, in that it doesn't give the listener a chance to let less instant songs grow on them. When you play an album and can't be bothered to reach for the skip button, you're going to hear every track from that record. And every time you hear a song, it places itself a little bit deeper in your subconsciousness. Album tracks that you may initially think aren't as good as the hit singles may become some of your all-time favourites in future. The concept of downloading single tracks means casual music fans will lose out, but they do so because they choose to. It's their loss. The album is never going to die, for as long as there are creative minds busy at work.

The BBC were also marking the 50th anniversary of 'Please Please Me', the debut album from The Beatles. Famously recorded within a day at Abbey Road, the recording session was re-enacted by a cast of musicians exactly 50 years on, with mixed results. Best of all was I Am Kloot's brooding take on 'Chains', which the Manchester three piece truly made their own. Graham Coxon sang 'Baby It's You', and didn't even have a guitar in his hands (!!!). Although it sounded great, and it showed a different side to Graham, he didn't look very comfortable. Stereophonics turned in a typically meat-and-potatos rendition of 'I Saw Her Standing There', which was more tolerable than some of the other grating efforts. Mick Hucknall was bad enough but Beverley Knight doing her annoying vocal gymnastics all over a soulless limp through 'Twist And Shout' was just excruciating. I suggest digging out a copy of the original 1963 LP and enjoying it for what it is: a quickly recorded document that captures four gifted musicians taking their first step towards world domination and an eternal place in history.

What a great night I had on Tuesday as the NME Awards Tour 2013 rolled into Bristol to treat us West Country folk to two of the most hotly-tipped new bands on the face of the planet, a fast-rising rock n roll hero, and a band whose music is capable of blowing minds. Due to frustrating evening traffic in Bath, and the venue staff taking a while to sort out my press pass, I missed the opening act Peace, and only caught about half of the set from Palma Violets. Miles Kane was excellent and Django Django were just phenomenal. My gig review will be coming very soon, and I'll include a link to it in next week's column, but in the meantime HERE's a few pictures from the show, and HERE is a video playlist of a few bits I filmed. 

So Wednesday night was Brit Awards night, a joke of an awards ceremony that has surely hit its peak of irrelevance. It opened with Muse bashing out a bombastic, showstopping 'Supremacy' with the help of a colossal orchestra, and immediately I knew that this would be the only highlight of the entire ceremony. Never before has the phrase "downhill from there" rung so true. The 'Best British Group' nominations annoyed me. The people who decided the list were probably sat round a table saying "we haven't got a clue about music, so we don't know what bands to nominate", and then not doing any research. There was Mumford And Sons, who released a fine debut in 2010 and an average follow up last year where all but three songs seemed to sound exactly the same. There was Muse, whose latest LP was widely regarded as their weakest effort to date. There was Alt J, who none of the judges would have even heard of if they didn't win the Mercury Prize. The Xx's debut album won the Mercury the previous year, and even though the second LP wasn't any kind of a breakthrough, nor a big critical success, the Brits people nominated them anyway, because they couldn't think of anyone else. Lazy. 

I'm just glad that I had to go out for about an hour, so I missed a lot of truly horrible stuff, from acts who disgust me so much that mentioning their names here would make my column feel dirty. I arrived back home just as Mumford And Sons were beginning a limp rendition of 'I Will Wait' that lacked any sort of conviction whatsoever. There's something very wrong about the sight of a tired folk band standing on a huge soulless stage, performing to a crowd of champagne guzzling industry wankers in suits and dimwit celebrities. Was the 'International Success Award' invented especially for a completely talentless bunch of boyband puppets to add to their growing list of things that they didn't anything do to deserve?

"There's only one artist who can close the show" says host James Corden. Really? There are in fact many artists who could have closed the show, but none of them were invited to this sickening corporate farce. What they mean is "there's only one artist who's allowed to enjoy this unprecedented overexposure, so let's give her even more." Yes Emelie fucking Sande again. The Brit Awards died after 1996. 2013's felt like the final nail in the coffin. Truly embarrassing.

The Brits now represent nothing but the shallow, tacky and completely vacuous climate of "entertainment" in 2013. People are listening to rubbish because if they're not smart or fortunate enough to tune into 6Music (or certain internet stations), they're not going to be allowed to hear anything good. Why? Because telly and radio only want to feature "normal" family-friendly things that they think we all have to accept as adequate music. I wish someone would bring out an inspiringly confrontational and incredible song that openly addresses this sad state of affairs. A few days ago I realised that indeed someone had indeed just done exactly that. Welcome back the mighty Primal Scream. '2013' clocks in at nearly 8 minutes and rails against the mundane, sanitized dumbed-down popular culture of recent years with the aid of an angry, squealing saxophone hook. It perfectly sums up the way the powers-that-be have tried to put a cosh on "teenage revolution" and "the rock and roll nation". In Primal Scream's world, there is no room for complacency. You can listen to it HERE, where you can find out a little bit more about their new album 'More Light'. I'm looking forward to this record more than anything else this year.

This week I've been listening to 'Amok', the exemplary debut LP from Thom Yorke's new supergroup Atoms For Peace. Perhaps slightly less emotional than Radiohead, it's more reminiscent of 2003's 'Sit Down Stand Up' or 'The King Of Limbs', and I think I prefer it to the latter. In effect, it's more like a follow-up to Thom's 2006 solo album 'The Eraser'; it's still very much Yorke at the centre of things, and his distinctive qualities are everywhere. The cold electronic textures are given a human warmth by the instinctive songcraft and the unfolding melodies, as demonstrated on the slow-burning 'opener 'Before Your Very Eyes'. 'Default' gives us ominous, rumbling bass and glitchy, awkward beats, while 'Ingenue' delivers warped analogue synth and percussion that sounds like dripping water in a cave. 

'Dropped' thuds and knocks before veering into an almost jungle-like drum and bass rhythm, where the bottom end riff is brutal. The shuffling, rattling 'Stuck Together pieces' has a contagiously dense groove and becomes a true earworm that will soon capture you after a while; "you don't get away so easily" it tells you. You certainly don't. Meanwhile the superb 'Judge Jury And Executioner' adds a touch of acoustic guitar beneath the clapped beat, moaning bass and Yorke's eerie falsetto. It's clearly not the sort of thing you're going to hear the milkman cheerfully whistling in the morning. As you might expect, it's not an instantly accessible record and you will need to spend a bit of time with it. But records like this can be extremely rewarding when the songs creep into your headspace. Thom Yorke is without a doubt a genius, a fact that is once again underlined by this is enjoyably explorative collection of tracks. I'm marking this one a 4.5 out of 5. Listen to the album HERE.

Talking of geniuses, more unreleased demos from the godlike Noel Gallagher have appeared online. 'Come On (It's Alright)' is a song he wrote for Oasis back in 2008, and the gorgeously subtle 'Just Let It Come Down Over Me' dates from 2010. Listen to these HERE and HERE.

Port Erin are a three piece band from my home county of Wiltshire, and lately they've been releasing some rather fine music that's well worth checking out. Released late last year and recorded at Real World with producer Marco Migliari, 'Wheel Inside A Wheel' is their second full length. As well as bearing shades of early Elbow, Doves and Jeff Buckley, the carefully picked notes and flourishing melodies are boosted by the jazz-funk punch of the rhythm section.

With its irresistible guitar hook, plaintive vocal and elegant mystery, 'Hold On' is one of two standout tracks, along with the brooding, beautiful 'Let It Go (The Walls)'. Enhanced by smokey swirls of psychedelica, the addition of some calming violin and dub percussion in the middle add some of the flavours that make the group's sound unique. Listen to tracks from 'Wheel Inside A Wheel' and read more about the band HERE.

The self titled debut album from Beaulieu Porch has recently been given a re-release, and you can listen to it and purchase from HERE. The kaleidoscopic highlight 'The Number 55' is a great bit of psychedelic chamber pop, with washes of melody reminiscent of the Boo Radleys. It has to be said that the rest of the album doesn't quite hit the same wonderfully colourful heights, but although some of it is a bit underdeveloped songwise, there are some well-executed moments and the low budget arrangements have quite a charm. Look out for my review of this record, coming soon.

A few days ago I was looking on the AED Records Soundcloud page, where amongst some other fantastic tracks, I came across a song by a certain Charlie Clark. "Hmm" I thought to myself, "I wonder if that's the same Charles Clark who used to be in Astrid?". Astrid were one of my favourite groups of the late 90's, and released a number of brilliant singles that should have made them huge. Instead Muse and Coldplay got huge. Oh well, at least Astrid didn't end up duetting with Rihanna or turning into a Queen tribute band. Instead they released three albums and split in 2004.

I had a listen to this song that goes by the name of 'Sunken Ships', and immediately I knew that this was indeed the same Charlie Clark, formerly of Astrid. I always presumed that frontman Willie Campbell was responsible for the majority of the band's music, but this beautiful track suggests that Clark was in fact the brains behind their irresistible melodies. It's the first I've heard from him for years, and his gift for coming up with a good song seems to have grown in that space of time. A seductive piece of songwriting, 'Sunken Ships' is a haunting, introspective and heartwarming moment that sparkles with emotion and grows with each listen. It's taken from the upcoming 'Feel Something' EP, released via AED on April 25th. It will be available on CD, DL and beautiful 10" vinyl. The lovely folks at AED have also been kind enough to let us have the exclusive play of the video to 'Sunken Ships', which will be on GIITTV very soon. In the meantime listen to the track HERE. It may very well charm you just like it's charmed me.

John Grant's new album 'Pale Green Ghosts' is going to surprise a lot of people. Instead of returning to Texas with Midlake, instead he went to Iceland to collaborate with Biggi Veira (from Icelandic dance pioneers, Gus Gus) on some exciting synthpop-influenced material. The magnificent title track runs on a creepy electronic pulse that's soon joined by spectral strings, Grant's dark croon and bursts of dramatic Bond-like horns. Lyrically it documents the drives that he’d regularly take through the ‘80s, to the new wave dance clubs that have inspired the electronic elements of the new LP.

“I’d take the I-25, between Denver and Boulder, which was lined with all these Russian olive trees, which are the pale green ghosts of the title: they have this tiny leaves with silver on the back, which glow in the moonlight,” Grant explains in a new bio. “The song is about wanting to get out of a small town, to go out into the world and become someone and made my mark”. The album is out March 11th and I'll be reviewing it soon. In the meantime listen to the awesome 'Pale Green Ghosts' HERE.

It will soon be exactly 20 years since Dodgy released their debut LP 'The Dodgy Album'. In the two decades that followed it, the band made a breakthrough with 1994's underrated 'Homegrown', became one of the UK's most well-loved live acts, scored a handful of classic chart smashes, and then split up at the height of their success. They reformed ten years later and returned with a surprising career-best in the form of 2012's brilliant 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place', an album that was met with critical acclaim and changed people's perceptions of the group. So what better to celebrate the bookends of their first 20 years than with the newly announced Back To Back Tour, which will see them play both their debut and the most recent album in full.

A trio of gifted musicians with an admirable integrity, they seem to awaken some sort of magic whenever the three of them get together and play. And at the moment they are clearly on a roll, already working on new material for their next record. As well as this special tour, they have a number of other gigs lined up as well, including an acoustic show in Frome to raise funds for the local Westway cinema. Go to their website HERE for more info and live dates, and go HERE to listen to the hypnotically beautiful 'Tripped And Fell', one of many breathtaking tracks from the truly seductive 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place'. I watched them live last year and had a hugely enjoyable experience. I suggest you do the same.

Ex-Bluetones frontman Mark Morriss has finally completed his new solo album, but it hasn't enjoyed a proper release yet and the only people who have heard it are the fans who funded the LP through PledgeMusic. 'A Flash Of Darkness' is the first new material we've heard from Mark since the demise of his old and much-loved band, and from what I've heard it picks up where his former combo left off. One song that I have heard is the excellent 'Low Company', played during the two occasions that I saw him play live last year. You can watch some live videos I filmed at one of those shows HERE and listen to the demo version of 'Low Company' HERE. I've been told the album is going to get a proper release soon. I can't wait to hear it.

In last week's RW/FF I went back to 1994, the year where my love affair with Blur began. I didn;t know it at the time, but Britpop was just round the corner. Having (in most cases) distinguished good music from bad music, I had by this point developed a real disliking for boy bands and also a hatred of rap music. I'd be buying Smash Hits and defacing pictures of Take That and anyone else who looked "crap".

One thing I do have a vague memory of is the day Kurt Cobain shot himself. I'd heard 'In Bloom' and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' before, and thought they were great songs, but I didn't really know how important Nirvana were to a lot of people. But I have memories memories of my mum and dad talking about it while we were out at a local pub called the Three Magpies. My Dad said something like "it wasn't a surprise he killed himself, he was a miserable git and his music was depressing." Or something along those lines. It would take me about half a decade to discover grunge. Because that half a decade was THE time for British music, where once again our little island was producing the finest artists and bands in the world. 

But even the most golden years in musical history haven't been completely perfect: 1967 may have seen 'Sgt Pepper', but it also saw Engelbert Humperdinck's awful 'Release Me' spend 6 weeks at number one. As well as classic punk albums from The Clash and the Sex Pistols, 1977 also gave number one hits to ABBA, Leo Sayer and Brotherhood Of Man

1994 was no different: it may have brought us 'Parklife', 'Definitely Maybe', 'Dog Man Star' and 'His N Hers', but it also inflicted upon us the likes of Doop's irritating 'Doop', Whigfield's appalling 'Saturday Night', and Pato Banton's cover of 'Baby Come Back'. I wonder if he ever did get back his CD collection of Bob Marley...

But worse than all of these was another terrible cover version, one that spent a large portion of the year at the top of the charts. Wet Wet Wet's 'Love Is All Around' was Shit Shit Shit in many ways, and I'm ashamed to recall that I almost danced to it at a holiday camp disco. I'd just turned 10, and there was a girl sat on the other half of a table that my family were sharing with hers. I remember being too shy to talk to her, but we exchanged looks all night. So the big love song that finished off the disco would have been my opportunity to ask her for a dance. But I didn't have the courage. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't. Wet Wet Wet... More of 1994 to come next week. Bye for now.

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