Sometimes you enjoy a band, but you know they could be so much more. And you will them into becoming that thing, and so often, that just doesn’t happen. They plough the same furrow with decreasingly fruitful results, until, by album three, you feel something die inside you and you know your relationship with them is over.
I’m always keeping an eye on the local music scene in Leeds. It’s not a bad scene and it always has some bands worth listening to, but often they peter out before they get going. I first noticed there was a bit new psyche thing going a few years ago, and some of it actually seemed really good. At the forefront of that were Hookworms. They’ve made two really solid albums, the first building on the first and expanding its sound. But they were solidly PSYCH albums, sounding something like this:
I’d seen them live and I’m partial to a bit of Krautrock, so it was right in my wheelhouse, but they are REALLY good live, and a lot more punky that you might think, but they weren’t exactly inventing the wheel (to complete the wheel related references). I remember thinking, rather fancifully like a twat, that they were ‘Austerity Psych’ – psych rock channelling the anger of our era in a Northern city.
And then an absence of a couple of years. And then, a month or two ago, I hear THIS on 6Music:
And my mind is blown. THAT is Hookworms? Sweet Jesus, yes. It’s Hookworms having babies with New Order, LCD Soundsystem and every other slice of dance rock heaven you could ever imagine. Everything has gone widescreen. The lead singer, MJ, one of rock’s more unlikely looking lead singers, has no longer hidden his voice behind acres of reverb, and wow, he actually has an amazing voice. The ANGER and the punk attitude is still there (this is, after all, about depression and dealing with the death of a friend), but what a canvas to paint it on.
And then came the album, and the fear that this one truly amazing song would be sat amongst a load of psych songs of old, standing out like a sore thing. Not a bit of it. STATIC RESISTANCE is probably the closest thing to Hookworms of old, but even that has crispness and urgency to it that really stands out. It’s a GREAT Track 2:
It doesn’t let up from there. ULLSWATER is another banger, to rival NEGATIVE SPACE, as is OPENER, which feels almost joyful. And then there’s the other surprise – the soft, almost balladeering underbelly of a band that with hitherto all hard Krautrock beats. THE SOFT SEASON is sweet and moving, and EACH TIME WE PASS is, well, actually quite dreamy!
I think this a major piece of work. It works totally as an album and a vision, and it’s rewarded me every time I’ve played it.
Finally, can we talk about the sequencing? Brother Joey, I know it’s a bugbear of yours and mine when a good album is badly sequenced. Just how beautifully sequenced is this? ULLSWATER as a Track 3 basically says – yes, the whole album is as good as this. And then THE SOFT SEASON is that sudden blast of tenderness that opens out the whole album’s palette. And at the back end, SHORTCOMINGS has got to be the best closer to an album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s up there with my favourite songs on the whole thing – James Murphy would be proud of that one.
It’s only March but I can’t see this not being one of my albums of the year.
So yeah, sometimes those bands you invest in do reward you by turning into something much bigger than you’d ever imagined…
Ah, blue-eyed soul. A double-edged term that come across as much as insult as praise. It implies a lack of depth, a lack of the heritage of the music, not just racially but in terms of authenticity. Maybe this isn’t quite blue-eyed soul, but it’s certainly made by an artist who’s steeped deeply both in the history of the music and current trends. It’s also not quite accurate to say he’s a white guy singing a historically black genre. To be specific, he’s a Kiwi of Pacific Islander heritage who now lives in London and signed to Ninja Tune. How fantastically 21st Century.
So where did this come from? That was what I thought when I first heard ‘Goodbyes’. It was one of those times I immediately Googled the artist, found he’d made a whole album, and then just sat opened-mouthed when I sat down and listened to it. The opening number, ‘Eye to Eye’ starts like a soul ballad, and then when it kicks in, you know you’re going somewhere really interesting. That edgy, nervous arrangement, almost jazz-sounding at at times, is such a great counterpoint to his sweet voice.
This is such a tough genre to excel in. I mean, I think I’d call this a soul record, but it’s a post-dance era soul record, I suppose in the same way that Sampha is. There’s also a touch of those downbeat artists like James Blake in there too. But where some of this genre can be a little hit-and-miss – for example, I LOVE the highlights of the Sampha album, but there’s some filler on there, I really love the whole of this. It’s so fully-formed, it’s so rich, it’s so delicious to listen to. It’s beautifully produced too – those strings remind me of Craig Armstrong’s work on Massive Attack’s finest albums. In fact, Massive Attack are a real cornerstone, influence wise. Time for a trip hop revival, anyone? 😉
There are two stages to your relationship to an album, I find. The first is: do I keep playing it when I first get into it? This has been a huge yes – I’ve had to start rationing myself because I’ve listened so many times. The second stage is: Will I come back to this, year after year – has it become a permanent part of my musical landscape. Well, of course, I won’t know that yet. But if you’re asking me to guess right now, I’m pretty certain it will be. I like it that much.
Highlights: opener Eye to Eye, the straight-up soul of Nerve, funky, melancholic single Goodbyes, Massive Attack-esque Hiding Place. But honestly, I love the whole thing!
So first things first. Let’s celebrate we’ve been running this blog merrily for more than FIVE YEARS! Well done us. And what a constant source of great music and discussion it’s been.
And how apt that we turn to a band after whom the blog was (kind of) named. And a band that has glued us all together musically for many years. We’re talking, of course, about James Murphy and his merry band of LCD wizards.
Second things second. This is a really good album. He’s at the top his game. It’s LCD Soundsystem FFS, what else was it going to be? What I’d like to get into is this: is it a GREAT album? And can something be a GREAT album if it wears its inflences so strongly on its sleeve that it’s impossible to ignore them.
Let’s start with the simple positives. The songwriting is great, and all the lyrical content, with his obsession about getting older, loneliness, disaffection, it’s as as good as anything he’s done. AND, despite the LOOOOOONG running time, I think they pull it off. I was a bit daunted when I saw list of 6, 7, 8, 9 minute songs – but on the whole, they’re little works of art that build their own internal momentum.
So what about that influences thing? Murphy’s mentioned in a number of interviews being inspired by Bowie to make another album, and to do exactly what he wanted to do, regardless of what the audience wants. He’s sure done that. But my goodness, those influences are SO plain the mix. Here’s a list of ones that jumped out on me on pretty much a first listen:
Emotional Haircut – Jesus H Christ, this is pure Joy Division. Could it sound any more like it was produced by Martin Hannett? That drum mix is quintessential Joy Division.
How Do You Sleep? – Oh man, name your early 80s influences. Siouxise? Cure? New Order? Bauhaus? Hell, this could be a bloody band from Leeds in 1982.
Change Your Mind – That guitar part is STRAIGHT from Bowie’s Scary Monsters. You think I’m exaggerating?
I could go on. There’s heaps of New Order and Joy Division influences, but Bowie is the veil than hangs over it all.
And then there are even times when LCD feel like they’re doing a cover of themselves. Do you know what I mean?
Call The Police
Other Voices (again, man, that Robert Fripp-esque guitar that could be from any number of Bowie albums!)
– both of these could have appeared on any of the LCD albums since Day 1. And they feel both wonderfully familiar, but also it’s as I’ve actually heard them before.
So I guess what I’m asking is: does this matter? We talk a lot on this blog about influences and being derivative and being original. Will that, in the end, mean that this is an album I play for quite a bit, then shelve because, when it comes down to it, I might as well listen to Unknown Pleasures or Heroes? Or has Murphy pulled this off with such brio and force and passion, that he’s moulded all the sounds he’s pilfered from his heroes into something new?
Right now, I don’t know. I’m so enjoying listening to it. But I do have a nagging voice in the back of my head. And occassionally, I’ve laughed out loud at how obvious he’s been about stealing a sound.
Over to you, Brothers. And here’s to another 5 years!
So, I don’t think I need any disclosure here: this feels a little obvious as a ‘Guy Album Of The Month’. Yes, I love Hot Chip (and LCD, and Joe and Al and Felix and Owen and Alexis and New Build and 2 Bears and…) as much as any other band that’s been around in the last two decades, but this doesn’t make it a throwaway choice. In fact, it’s one of the most listenable albums of the year so far for me, but it’s also much more than ‘oh, that bloke from Hot Chip’s made a solo album of dancefloor bangers’. It’s actually pleasingly more subtle than that, and it’s an LP that you should give a chance, because in many ways, it talks about what music means to me and tries to grab bits of all those *moments* that you have, whether it’s in a club, on the way to work, at a festival, at a gig. It may be ‘dancey’, but it’s not just a dance album. Stick with it and hopefully you’ll end up as rewarded as I do.
Joe’s a proper, unashamed, music geek. He loves disco and Salsoul (more of that later), but also dancehall and dub (just look at The 2 Bears influences). He loves techno and rave, and he loves pop music. But until now, his songs have often been twinned with others – Alexis Taylor in Hot Chip, Raf Rundell in The 2 Bears, as well as his Greco-Roman collective (label and releases-wise) – but while the solo stuff he’s done goes back to 2009, and there’s been some memorable stuff, this feels like a long time coming, and a bit of a new chapter for Goddard. He’s spoken about having a load of new kit, and wanting to make a record that gets the most out of it, and to push himself in a way that perhaps he doesn’t get when operating within the strictures of a band. But even with the newer sounds he’s created, what his music always sounds is joyous, vibrant, and throbbingly alive. And it takes someone with a cold heart to feel there’s nothing in Electric Lines for them.
So, what’s it like? There’s a myriad of influences, but instead of wrapping them in knowing subtlety, they’re out there front and centre, whether it’s the famous Celeda sample in tribute-heavy and vibes-laden Music Is The Answer, or the Salsoul sample – Brainstorm’s We’re On Our Way Home – in the paen to late-night wobbly post-club treks Home (with its brilliant Pete Fowler cartoons), Joe’s celebrating the music that is important to him, framed in his own template. The album flits around, from Ordinary Madness’ restrained modern soul openings, to shimmering, wide-angle pain of Human Heart, via balls-out 6am sweatbox Lasers, but there is a traceable line, and changes in tempo and feel that works across the length. You don’t make half a dozen albums without knowing how to structure an LP. Above all though, sonically and stylistically, the album shouts ‘HAVE FUN’, and it’s hard not to just let it wash over you and bounce down the road. It’s definitely made for summer and shades.
And with Al’s away with LCD, and Alexis releases piano-based albums, it’s a deserved chance for Joe to get some more limelight. No, it’s not a huge departure from other work he’s done, but why need it be? Alexis joins on the title track to sublime and familiar effect, and there’s some shades of Hot Chip around a few turns, particularly the cascading synth lines of Truth Is Light. But it’s very much Joe’s own project, and an album that shows that solo work doesn’t have to be any more complicated than putting together a load of music that shows who you are, and if that’s about good times, then where’s the evil in that? Despite being the wrong side of 35, he’s not a man that appears to be growing respectable with age (his comments about simply tearing out into Shangri-La and hanging on for the next 4 days made me chuckle), and if you saw his Glastonbury set on the Sunday, it’s a pretty impressive knowing what he probably got up to before that point!
Sometimes albums that are instantly accessible fade quickly, and feel disposable, but this isn’t one. Also, it’s hard to say what you’ll connect with in music. Even something you think you’ll like, it just doesn’t happen. But I’ve listened to it a couple of dozen times, and all I’ve done is feel it speaks to me and those moments you have when you’re out (we’ve all been in that fuzzy cab ride home). And you feel the connection was there from the start. I can’t make you like it, but I can make you listen, and just hope you do.
Firstly, the hugest of apologies for the lateness of this month. It’s been a bit of month, so please forgive me.
So, onto PERFUME GENIUS. I had half-remembered that his previous album, Too Bright, had featured as an AOTM on these pages, but looking back through, perhaps that didn’t happen. Certainly, for a few of us, that album was a first real introduction to him (Joey, I know you’ve loved him for ages). And perhaps for some of us, he’s still a mystery.
If Too Bright was a progression from his interesting but sometimes noodly earlier work, No Shape is a giant leap forward into a whole new cosmos, a world of widescreen emotion, of huge songs, aching torch songs and whopping choruses. It is, whisper it, a pop album. And I say that with the hugest respect. Making interesting arthouse pop is one thing – constructing a whole album of cracking songs with amazing hooks and heartstring-tugging sequences is something else. Yes, I love this album. Yes, I REALLY love this album.
It’s not often I play an album 10 times in a row over a course of 3 days. It’s not often that I know straight away that I will playing this album for years to come. It’s not often that I rewind a few of the songs and play them again and again. I can’t think of the last album that had five songs in a row that were all so good, I was almost overwhelmed (Track 2: Slip Away to Track 6: Wreath).
So what is in this crazy alchemy that works so well. It’s not a radical departure from Too Bright in many ways – that bold camp vision of leftfield, celebratory gay pop music is still intact; it’s just bolder, brighter, sunnier. But what has really changed for me is the songwriting. The hooks, the melodies, the whole production – it’s next level shit.
I’ve been at a rather hippyish wedding of an old uni friend in Somerset. She suggested we all bring guitars and instruments down for a sing-song, which we duly did. Alex (Batesmith) brought a book of pop tunes, that had many a 90s classic in there. The biggest hit, singalong wise, of the rather bleary late night, was, surprisingly enough, Erasure’s A Little Respect. The next day, driving back on the long drive up to Leeds in sheet rain, we stuck on the Erasure song, and we were stunned by how good it was. We ended up listening to nearly the whole of their greatest hits. Fuck me, they knew how to write a pop song. If people rightly laud the Pet Shop Boys, why aren’t Erasure mentioned in the same breath? I wonder if they felt a bit too brash and less cool. But in songwriting terms, they wrote about 10 stone cold pop classics.
Why am I mentioning them? Well, there is something of their love of melody, of finding rich emotion in the camp candyfloss of pop tunes, that is right here in this album. Indeed, some of the chord changes are even reminiscent of ABBA. Again, I come to praise, not to bury. Of course, there is also some darker elements, some more oddbeat, slow burn peculiar songs of weird intensity, like Choir and quite a bit of the album’s second half. But I defy anyone not to play Wreath or Just Like Love, and not just smile at the sheer, indefatigable joy of pop music, in all its garish glory.
Perfume by name, Genius by nature.
So, we come to April’s Album of the Month. There aren’t many bands which start life as songs on a concept album but that’s what we have here. Sheffield’s Eccentronic Research Council released Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I’m Your Biggest Fan in 2015 which slipped in an introduction to a fictional outfit called The Moonlandingz. Fronted by Johnny Rocket (aka Lias Saoudi from Fat White Family), the story of the band’s rise and a fan’s obsession with the lead singer was narrated throughout by none other than Maxine Peake. From there, the The Moonlandingz project gathered pace as Sean Lennon got on board to take care of production duties (this was post-Lennon witnessing a Fat White Family show at South by South-West in 2014, from which he bestowed the six piece with the accolade of their being one of the best live bands he’d ever seen). Describing themselves as a semi-fictional outsider Ouija pop group, singles spawned: Sweet Saturn Mine which had already appeared on the Johnny Rocket album (promotional video starring the aforementioned Maxine Peake) and a precursor to the album collection at the back end of 2016 Black Hanz.
But it was to be the utterly gorgeous, swooping, majestic single, The Strangle of Anna, which piqued my interest. I’m a sucker for wall of sound era ballideering and there’s something magnetic and beguiling about this most sumptuous of serenades that just drew me in and made me pick this album for this month. I’m a fan of the criminally underrated Slow Club as well, and lead singer Rebecca Taylor contributes beautifully here. Elsewhere, the album itself is a peculiar beast and it’s never what you expect although there is a glam rock, dark and dirty core which The Strangle of Anna aside, it doesn’t tend to veer particularly from. There’s political commentary in the form of I.D.S. but I’ll be honest, the clever hook concerning forty-thousand years of Job Club could and should have been expanded on. It feels like a smart idea not taken any further which, given the times we’re in at the moment, is guilty of being an open goal missed.
It’s a consistent record which doesn’t have many down points for me. I love a bit of filth and up pops Randy Jones from the Village People to star in a twisted T-Rex tale which neatly summarises that pretty much every man from Stevie Wonder to the Sleaford Mods has a “Glory Hole”. It’s a lipstick smeared, grubby tribute to the back passage and is basically a celebratory four minutes of nasty camp brilliance which you need a shower after enjoying that little bit too much.
A a footnote, not even an appearance at the end by categorically the worst singer I have ever witnessed in real life could tarnish my enjoyment of this album. The warblings of Sean Lennon’s mum are unmistakable on This Cities Undone and she doesn’t manage to wreck proceedings (unlike the infamous live performance of Memphis Tennessee with Chuck Berry and husband John). I would love to be one of the people who didn’t slate Yoko Ono but she was horrific at The Park at Glastonbury in 2014. I thought I’d pop along to make my own mind up (because, y’know, there’s not much worse than an uninformed opinion) but she screamed and caterwauled through a 40 minute set, leaving with a mildly threatening “I love you…” as she wandered off at the end. So I wasn’t expecting much when I heard she would be making a contribution here and at least they left it to its conclusion where she couldn’t do much damage to this relatively short but interesting collection.
I first heard Sampha’s “who IS this?!” talents on this very blog, back in 2014, on “Wonder Where We Land?”. It wasn’t an album I really thought was my thing, and even on fifth listen, let alone first, it felt too odd, too patchwork, to take hold. But it did, and it was the incredible “Gon Stay” that pulled me in. But that, despite coming back to the album over the next two years, was all I encountered of the South Londoner until now. Having encountered “Process”, I feel a little foolish for this now.
But if it’s a debut album that’s taken a while to land, then it’s every bit the reward for being teased out. And while it’s a cliche, it’s more than just about the music here, as mesmerising as it is. These days we crave ‘story’, but the tale behind a work for an artist that’s worked with the likes of Drake, Solange, Frank Ocean and Kanye is one worth touching on, because it frames the album like an unseen assistant, a shadow over the lyrics and music that can’t be ignored. The Morden resident was a nascent musician as a child, but his adult life has been pockmarked by tragedy, his existence moving from single parent – his father Joe died of lung cancer in 1998 – to orphaned son, as his mother passed away from the same disease in 2015 in between his second EP and the album’s release.
It’s easy to talk of emotion and candour in music, such is the ubiquity of artists on social media, baring their souls (in 140 characters at a time) but Process feels exactly as that single word befits: a young man coming to terms with his place in the world as he comes to terms with love, life and loss in modern, isolating city life. His own health scares also sit behind the words of the record, and time and again the emotions are front and centre, with that incredible voice not slotting into others’ productions, but acting as another instrument in itself, and sounding the most powerful and piercing that it has yet. “Blood On Me” is a beautiful record, its staccato beats echoing modern hip-hop, but the piano’s chords carry punch, and the words speak of a man spinning close to the edge of control.
In fact, the feeling is one of boundary-free music, with Sampha’s soul pouring out unrestrained, even as the clever time signatures of “Kora Sings” or the simple arrangements of “Take Me Inside” cascade into multi-tracked synth and vox like a burst of of colour, despite the darkness of many of the lyrics. The pace may often be slow, but the energy and heft is always there, and even at first listen it’s a beguiling proposition. And for all the tales of suffering and anguish, the truth is that beneath all of it is a hugely talented musician.
The reviews are stellar, because the album has all the makings of a modern classic. A man whose career has been stop-start, halted by tragic episodes that may be the making of him. From all the heartache often comes the best music, and this is a stunning piece of work from a new British artist we should cherish.