The Parts – Luki (from lathe cut single. Bandcamp) Tulungusaq – Pefkin (from ‘Celestial Navigations’ LP. Bandcamp) Elvis And Me – My Bus (from ‘My Life In The Desert’ LP. Soundcloud) Breakdown (feat. Steven Lindsay) – Starless (from ‘Earthbound‘ LP) Change – Wesley Gonzalez (from ‘Appalling Human’ LP. Bandcamp) The Alphonse Mambo – Martha (Mountain Goats cover) Caught Lookin’ (Turbotito Remix) – Young Guv (digital single. Bandcamp) The Day the Politicians Died – The Magnetic Fields (from ‘Quickies‘ LP. YouTube) Strangers on a Train – Manuela Iwansson (from 7″ single. Bandcamp) One Uncareful Lady Owner – Cornershop (from ‘England Is A Garden‘ LP) Gaslighter – Dixie Chicks (YouTube) Despotic Sway – Spinning Coin (from ‘Hyacinth’ LP. Bandcamp) Johnnie – Close Lobsters (from ‘Post Neo Anti’ LP. Bandcamp) A Marvellous Death – Theatre Royal (digital single. Bandcamp) Love’s Got A Hold Of Me – Jim Riley’s Blues Foundation (from 7″ single. Bandcamp) Crystal Waves – Easy (digital single. Bandcamp) (Stuck In A) Fantasy – The Distractions (from ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ reissue. Bandcamp) Holes in Everything – The Stroppies (from ‘Look Alive!’ LP. Bandcamp) Videostores – Quivers (digital single. Bandcamp) I carry the Sun – Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus (digital single. Bandcamp) Things Are Gonna Change – Jeanines (from 7″ single. Bandcamp)
Hard-Wired – Snails (digital single. Bandcamp) Everything – Snowgoose (from ‘The Making Of You’ LP. Bandcamp) High Upon The Mountain – Pacific Range (from ‘High Upon The Mountain‘ LP) Baby It’s Still You – The Bye Bye Blackbirds (from ‘Boxer At Rest’ LP. Bandcamp) I Miss You – Marlaena Moore (from ‘Pay Attention, Be Amazed!’ LP. Bandcamp) Milk – Astro Children (digital single. Bandcamp) Pat The Killer Cat – Hotwax (YouTube) The Baader-Meinhof Always Look So Good In Photos – Slum of Legs (from ‘Slum of Legs’ LP. Bandcamp) Pop Song – Porridge Radio (from ‘Every Bad’ LP. Bandcamp) I Used To Love You – RVG (from ‘Feral’ LP. Bandcamp) The Day Lou Died – Mystery Guest (from ‘Octagon City’ LP. Bandcamp) (Song for) Fred Neil – The Hanging Stars (from ‘A New Kind Of Sky’ LP. Bandcamp) Cactus Flower – Mapache (from ‘From Liberty Street’ LP. Bandcamp) King Of The Ruined Castle – Keith Christmas (from ‘Weirdshire 3’ compilation. Bandcamp) Letters – The Relict (from ‘Tomorrow Is Again’ LP. Bandcamp) That’s the Way Love Is – Ben Watt (from ‘The Lagniappe Sessions‘) I Lost Something in the Hills – Sibylle Baier (from ‘Colour Green’ LP. YouTube) Arid travels – Trappist Afterland with Kathleen Yearwood (from lathe cut single. Bandcamp) Asphodel – Sulis Noctis (from lathe cut single. Bandcamp) Hold – Penelope Trappes (from ‘Withdrawn’ EP. Bandcamp) Take It From Me – Izzie Derry (from ‘Take It From Me‘ EP)
So what have you been reading as you hunker down in your isolation bunkers waiting for the end of the world? We’ve been guilty of tearing through all the choicest treats in the first few days, by which we pretty much mean we have devoured Pete Paphides’ ‘Broken Greek’ in a couple of sittings. For those of us Of A Certain Age and with a predilection for A Certain Kind Of Music, ‘Broken Greek’ is a delicious treat where Pete comes over as a marvellous kind of Adrian Mole narrator of Bob Stanley’s ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’. Funny in a gentle way. Soft yet strong. The usual lines you know by now. We are of course very much on board with many of Pete’s musical obsessions, and whilst there may be some who grew up in the eighventies for whom every single reference rings true, frankly we rather hope not, for it is as much in our differences that we find true connection and empathy. Thus, whilst we wholeheartedly applaud fascinations with Dexys, Teardrop Explodes and ABBA, we equally shake our heads in befuddlement at the esteem in which Pete seems to hold Queen and, to a lesser extent, Boomtown Rats. The specifics, however, whilst being entirely the point are simultaneously not the point at all because what is more important is the sense of underlying loyalty to the/a cause. Sticking by them through thick and thin. We’ve all had our Boomtown Rats and we’ve all had our Barron Knights, after all. We’ve all even had our Racey, and you’d be either lying or insufficiently invested in music/your chosen area of cultural interest to say otherwise.
It’s all rather the same with families, which is probably why ‘Broken Greek’ works so well as a memoir. Whilst it brims with love and warmth it is never (overtly) sentimental or eye-rollingly sensationalist. And thank goodness for that. More than anything it shows us that whilst there are assuredly beautiful tales to be told in every family it does take the gift of a great writer to make those stories connect. In other words, if we separate the memoir from the music or the music from the memoir, neither would be as splendid as the whole. It is the deceptively simple conceit of using personal history to drive a narrative of musical history (and, crucially, vice-versa) that makes ‘Broken Greek’ work so magnificently. It is an approach that allows the careful positioning of pauses, breaks from the action, tangential manoeuvres or whatever. Even the references to soccer are brief enough to have us giving them the benefit of the doubt. ‘Broken Greek is a marvellously heartening triumph.
Elsewhere we stumbled on Victor Canning’s 1934 classic ‘Mr Finchley Discovers his England’ and have been throughly charmed. A somewhat surreal romp through mostly the South West of England, it may be especially delightful for anyone familiar with places such as the Wellington monument, Dartmoor and St Ives (Somerset, Devon and Cornwall feature strongly) and for those intrigued by the social structures of pre-WW2 England, but it’s charm certainly goes deeper than that. It’s true greatness lies in the way Canning paints his portrait of the titular Mr Finchley as a middle class gentleman struggling to come to terms with a sense of personal freedom and identity within societal structures of class, work and leisure. Canning astutely challenges notions of leisure time, making us aware through Finchley’s actions and thoughts of how those notions are largely mediated and controlled by our cultures and society structures. Through a bizarre set of circumstances Finchley is initially forced (and subsequently chooses) to throw off the shackles of these expectations to become truly ‘free’, yet all the while remaining aware that even this freedom is illusory because of his underpinning job security and wealth. So Finchley is part Reginald Perrin, part George Grossmith’s ’Nobody’, part E.M. Delafield’s glorious ‘Provincial Lady’ and part Every Single Middle Class Professional Who Ever Felt The Ennui Of The Daily Grind. It’s all oddly prescient and slightly depressingly timeless.
If we are looking forward to reading more of Mr Finchley’s adventures then we are equally eager to continue our already well established diet of George Bellairs titles. Like many, our interest in Bellairs was piqued by the British Library Crime Classics reissues and since then we’ve been eagerly devouring the steady stream of Inspector Littlejohn books that are being re-published by the Bellairs estate. We mentioned previously how Bellairs is particularly effective in evoking a sense of place, and having since read a large number of Littlejohn’s investigations (formal and informal) on the Isle Of Man we have to admit that we have spent many hours poring over maps and sneaking into Streetview. When the world resumes some semblance of normality we have vowed to catch a ferry with our bicycles and explore some of the countryside that Bellairs fell in love with and subsequently wrote about with such warmth. Naturally we would be prepared for disappointment in so far as we realise much of the appeal of Bellairs’ books is in historical escapism as much as anything else, but equally we know that solitude and the closeness of landscape can transport us in much the same way that words can. Does Bellairs develop his characters much within a book or even across a sequence? Not particularly, no, but character development is seldom close to the top of the list of success criteria for detective stories. Instead Bellairs focuses his attention on strong narratives that eschew convoluted plots but choose instead to consider human relationships, and by drawing spare but effective pen portraits. If one were looking for a deep well from which to slake one’s thirst for detective stories in the coming months, then Bellairs’ is certainly one worth drinking from.
Morning Come, Maria’s Gone – Burd Ellen (from cassette. Bandcamp) The Bonny Raven – Kitchen Cynics (from ‘Sans Seraphim’ LP. Bandcamp) The Young People – Lankum (from ‘The Livelong Day’ LP. Bandcamp) Richmond – Shelagh Mcdonald (from ‘Shelagh McDonald’ LP reissue. YouTube) Touch Her If You Can – Matthews’ Southern Comfort (from ‘Scion’ LP. YouTube) Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course (Single Version) – Chad & Jeremy (from ‘Three In The Attic’ soundtrack. Available on ‘The Ark’ LP and the ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ soundtrack. YouTube) Spring Turns To Winter – The Claim (from 7″ single. Bandcamp) Thinking of You – Sister Sledge (from ‘Thinking Of You’ 6 CD boxset) If Pennies Came From Heaven Could Karl Marx Have Been Mistaken? – The Beloved (from ‘Where It Is’ reissue. Bandcamp) Down In Splendour – Straitjacket Fits (from ‘Melt’ LP. YouTube. R.I.P. Andrew Brough. Stardust Magical – Sneaky Feelings (from ‘The Mercury Moment’ LP. Bandcamp) Kiss My Lips – Jonathan Bree (from ‘After The Curtains Close’ LP. Bandcamp) In a Year – Izzie Derry (digital single. YouTube) FOMO – Tidal Rave (from ‘Heart Screams’ LP. Bandcamp) Give/Take – Porridge Radio (from ‘Every Bad’ LP. Bandcamp) Dream Grrrl (single vers.) – Grrrl Gang (from ‘Here To Stay’ LP. Bandcamp) Rip the Price Off – Store Front (from ‘Task’ EP. Bandcamp) Michael Is My Girlfriend – Massage (digital single. Bandcamp) Hold Me – Peter Hall (from ‘There’s Something Wrong With Everyone’ EP. Bandcamp) Say You Don’t Mind – Colin Blunstone (available on ‘Tea and Symphony’ compilation. YouTube)
It’s barely a few days since we told you how much we had been enjoying the recordings of Izzie Derry yet already there is a new four song EP for us to explore. It is perhaps inevitable that the record should be the sound of a young singer-songwriter exploring the possibilities offered by the bottomless well of influence, but whilst we may not be convinced by Derry’s dabbling in the realms of The Blues on opener ‘All For Something’ and ‘Fire’, there are glimmers of hope even here. The organ and bluesy guitar irritations ultimately spoil it for us, but ‘Fire’ is often darkly insistent in its proclamations of independence and structurally has moments of thrilling expectation that once again summon memories of the marvellous Hello Saferide. Perhaps one worth revisiting in the way in which Derry previously reworked her ‘Learn To Grow’ into something more spacious and intriguing from the blunt (but still terrific) indie-folk-rock interpretation on the ‘Lost At Sea’ EP. The flip side of this exploration of a blues direction are two songs which tread paths we feel much more comfortable on, with the country folk slow dance of ’Now I See’ and the introspective EP title track ‘Take It From Me’. ‘Now I See’ is a gorgeous ballad that recalls the delicate desolation angel qualities of Courtney Marie Andrews or Carson McHone. Title track ’Take It From Me’ continues in this vein but adds some additional body to the sound in appropriate places, setting off a sweet balance to the voids into which Derry lets her voice creak like leather in the desert heat. It all makes for an EP that comes over a bit like First Aid Kit given a few goings over with sandpaper to scuff the smooth edges, and there is nothing wrong with that. Those DM boots always look better with a couple of scratches and a patina of weariness after all, don’t they?
We made reference to Fairport Convention a few days ago, and whilst the right to change opinions about The Greatest Band Ever on a weekly (nay, daily) basis is at the very core of our Unpopular Philosophy of Musical Appreciation and Critical Understanding (we’ll be running a course in this when we eventually retire from the tedious grind of telling eleven year olds to stop eating glue-sticks) it would be fair to say that in recent years it has come to our attention that the Sandy Denny era Fairport Convention are indeed that Greatest Band Ever. Granted, it took us a few decades to eventually reach this conclusion; decades in which we slowly discarded the flimsy gaudy rags of Keeping Up With The Now in favour of the hallucinatory history lessons of Losing Ourselves In The Then. Perhaps this is what enlightenment feels like.
Now whilst it is tempting to share with you our thoughts on why the Sandy Denny era Fairport Convention are the Greatest Band Ever we are sure too that it would be somewhat superficial and essentially pointless. Others, notably Rob Young in his ‘Electric Eden’ have said it better than we could possibly manage. But still, it would be fair to say, would it not, that no-one has ever quite managed to blend mystical folk traditions with electric rock hallucinations with quite the exquisite balance as did Fairport Convention in 1969. We are very clear that our Younger Selves snubbed noses and suggested that this balance was too strongly rooted in the folk and that the rock strangeness was not Strange enough, but years have passed and we understand more clearly than ever those lines about not needing to be strange to be strange. Fairport Convention implicitly understood this before Mark E. explicitly suggested it, but that’s not saying one was more valuable that the other. For we like to think there are rivers of conceptual enlightenment running through time to infinity, tapped into in different moments and contexts by those open to their electric pulses. Oh lord. And now we sound like some of those damned Hippies we always swore we despised. The ones who Ruined Everything and who hilariously Get Their Just Rewards in that recent Tarantino movie fairytale about Hollywood and 1969. The one with the terrific soundtrack (and hey, did you catch that line from Chad And Jeremy’s terrific ‘Paxton Quigley’ coming from ’Three In The Attic’?) although what? No Fairport Convention? Perhaps if it had been ‘Once Upon A Time In South London’. Perhaps not.
Yet whilst in recent years we have certainly enjoyed the pleasures of Losing Ourselves In Then we admit that the intrigue of the Now retains a certain thrill. Not as in some desperate Need To Keep Up of course, but rather as in the delights of tripping over and falling into the rumbling surf of contemporary clamour to come up with a few precious stones to add to our collections. Izzie Derry is certainly one of those precious stones, as you will surely agree when you hear her gorgeous ‘In A Year’ on the forthcoming Unpopular mix for March. There is a sweet video clip on The YouTube of Derry performing the song with her acoustic guitar beside a tastefully decorated Christmas tree back in 2018, and whilst it is endearing and occasionally sets the hairs on the back of our necks quivering when her voice cracks just so in that Joni manner, it’s the ‘full band’ version released a year later that really stirs our souls. For with a troupe of carousing revellers alongside her, Derry shifts up a gear and allows the electric blankets of sound to bolster her voice into something tougher, whilst retaining the brittle tenderness essential to human connection. This, and the excellent five song ‘Lost At Sea’ EP put us in mind of Natalie Merchant and her 10,000 Maniacs or, to cross oceans and time frames, of the wonderful (and underrated/forgotten?) Annika Norlin whose English/Swedish IndieRockFolk songs as Hello Saferide and Säkert! are so precious to us. Or what about Frida Hyvonen? We would love it if Derry could cover ’The Lakes We Skate On’ or ‘London’. Wouldn’t that be something?
And as for that Sandy Denny era Fairport Convention reference? Well, turns out that Izzie Derry supported the 2019 incarnation of the group in a church last year, played a cover of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ and received the Denny stamp of approval for it. Imagine that! As we are wont to say, ‘it all fits’.
We have had a lot to thank Everett True for in recent weeks as he has directed our attention to a number of artists who may otherwise have slipped through nets. First there was the ravaged grit of RVG, whose glorious ‘Alexandra’ single became one of the highlights of our Unpopular mix for February and about whom we skipped off a few brief words at the start of the year, before the debilitating disease of work stole our tongues and suffocated our brains. Not that we’re bitter or nothin’. In more recent weeks ET has prodded us to check out Grrrl Gang and blimey, how glad are we that he did so? For whilst Grrrl Gang might not be an actual Grrrl Gang, we actually rather like the fact they are not. Indeed we are rather taken by the notion that Grrrl Gang simply redraw gender definitions and deny expectations and traditions whilst simultaneously drinking deeply from a musical tradition that roots itself firmly in the likes of (tossing off names in a sherbet rush of indiscretion) Talulah Gosh, Shonen Knife and Beat Happening. Or… or… McTells suffused in broken bokeh shivers of dream pop sheen. Pains Of Being Pure At Heart when they were 16, playing Tiger Trap covers on five and dime guitars. Helen Love flirting with Cub and tripping on a dancefloor sticky with spilt lager. Or… or… something else entirely. You’re going to catch their fabulous ‘Dream Grrrl’ track on the March Unpopular mix and you are going to fall in love. Plussing as which they have a song called ‘Guys Don’t Read Sylvia Plath’ so, you know, go figure.
And speaking of something else entirely, ET also recently hipped us to the sounds of Lankum, whose epic seven minute ‘Young People’ will be an early highlight of the March mix. Taken from their ‘The Livelong Day’ set from last year, ‘Young People’ has had us scurrying back to uncover the earlier ‘Between The Earth and Sky’ album and the ‘Cold Old Fire’ set recorded when they were called Lynched. All three records are fine pieces but there is a distinct narrative of a group becoming stranger and more unique as they have grown over the past six years or so. For where the first two sets are quite firmly in the realms of traditional folk played with an ever-increasing degree of tangential exploration, on ‘Livelong Day’ Lankum have seemingly found another level, beginning at their best to suggest the splendour of Fairport Convention, the group who re-wrote the, ahem, conventions of Folk Rock and pushed our minds into stratospheres we may otherwise have barely speculated existed. With a willingness to simultaneously strip sound down to simple refrains and to build those refrains into drones that circle each other on layers of spacious texture, Lankum tread the paths we enjoyed so much last year laid down by the likes of Alula Down, Burd Ellen and Big Thief.
It is clear from listening to those first two albums that Lankum have never been afraid to take on the challenge of extended song pieces, but it’s only on ‘Livelong Day’ that the group have mastered the difficulties in making those lengthy pieces texturally captivating rather than relying almost exclusively on the traditional narrative of lyrics. The nine minute dirge of Lankum’s take on ‘Katie Cruel’ is a key example of this, as drones turn smoke around our eyes and crackling strings scratch on opened wounds. Darkly, exquisitely, so. Album closer ‘Hunting The Wren’ is another magical dirge, spending seven minutes drawing us solemnly into practices ancient and strange whilst giving them a peculiarly contemporary sprinkling of faerie dust. It’s the haunting, sinister beauty of ‘Young People’ that we keep returning to, however. A relentless building of sound grows to an almost impenetrable barrier of texture as we loop around repeated lyrical refrains taking in feathers, sands, chapels, stone and soft winter apples. The song closes in on us, pressing from all sides so that the claustrophobia is almost tangibly expectant, whilst simultaneously offering glimpses of sunlight through dappled leaves, until we dance on dragonfly wings and fall onto dune drifts of summer dreamt delirium.
If we were looking for a visual accompaniment to the sound of Lankum’s ‘Young People’ we would do well to turn our attentions to Martin Bogren’s recently published ‘August Song’. A project that documents summer balls in the Swedish Countryside, Bogren’s photographs are often spectral, near-hallucinatory fragments of human connection in a liminal space and time between dark and light. There is little in Bogren’s photographs to give a contextual sense of time. The project may have spanned seven years, but in truth we could be looking at images made at any time in the past seventy or so years since the tradition grew from the Swedish branch of rock’n’roll called dansbandmusik. ‘August Song’ is rich in obscured, simple narrative and puts us in mind of Nancy Rexroth’s ‘Iowa’ or Raymond Meeks’ ‘Halfstory Halflife’ in the way that the photographic process seems to be an intrinsic part of the work, carrying as much of the ultimate meaning as the subject matter. More, perhaps, for it is the dissolution of form into ambient compositions of textural tone that allow Bogren’s photographs to break free from the confines of subject. These may be photographs of cars and trucks parked by the edge of the forest, illuminated by midnight sun, or of of dancing couples backlit by stagelights, but they are images that resonate with the wattery-eyed magic of chemically enhanced mysticism and this is what we take with us.
If we remember Grrrl Gang’s record again, however, we are reminded that technical proficiency can be be overrated, and certainly it would be true that whilst Bogren’s technical processes surely have immense importance to the quality of the work, this would be as nothing were it not for the acute sensitivity to human interaction that his images convey. The photographs in ‘August Song’ may be fuzzy monochrome impressions of transitory passions and but they contain more colour and genuine warmth than a million Instagrammed snaps of vacuous lust and glamour.
There was once a compilation of Felt songs called ‘Stains On A Decade’. I always thought it was a terrific title because it could be read in various ways. On some days it feels self-deprecatingly ironic. On others, a delicately profound observation on the nature of art. Thinking back on decades then, I’m drawn again to the notion of how I have documented, in some way, the decade just disappeared by compiling collections of songs into mixes that have dropped on a regular basis into the withering environment of the Interwebs. Fleeting sonic polaroids of moments, each exquisitely passed over in favour of the next. Favourites forever changing. And because I’ve been suffering from early fifties ennui and end of half term flu I decided to drag every song from every mix into one playlist called (and this will come as no surprise) ’Stains On A Decade’. There are 4017 discrete songs and altogether those songs take up 35GB of space on my computer. Rather marvellously it would take ten days to play. The playlist starts with ‘Monday’s Rain’ by The Clientele and ends with ‘The End’ by The Beatles. The former an accident, the latter a crude decision to put a punctuation mark in the timeline of Unpopularity. Not a full stop. Certainly not an exclamation mark. Perhaps a question mark. Or then again a semi-colon separating decades. A pause for breath. And we’re off again. Already with a third mix of the new decade pre-programmed and nearly ready to roll. It’s the best one yet. After the last one and until the next one. Now where’s the paracetamol?