Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Best of 2006

What we have here are the best CDs that I have bought this year. I have included all sorts of CD releases – new releases, compilations, reissues and box sets (if I had bought any best-of compilations that were worthy of this list, they would have been included also). I know that some lists only include new releases, but as a CD buyer, I don’t stop to think about whether it is a compilation or whatever. If I like it and want to listen to it, then I buy it – that is all there is to it. So here is the list.

You are undoubtedly aware that this blog is in conjunction with my radio show. I can heartily recommend downloading the show that it goes with – it makes a fine sampler for the year. Please feel free to comment on the list, and if you want, debate my choices. Some serious agonising has been done, and particularly those that fell between 41-50 are sorely missed. The runner-up post has preceded this one, which shows positions 80-41. Just for your information, I bought 112 CDs that were released this year.

Special mention must be made for TV on the Radio’s ‘Return from Cookie Mountain’ (4AD). It arrived too late for inclusion, but haven given it a couple of listens, I think it might have made it onto the list given a while longer to establish itself.

Let’s get on with the show…

40- Lily Allen - Alright, Still (EMI) LDN

Mouthy, annoying but catchy. I doubt that she will ever match this CD. It is hopelessly flawed – especially the second side – but worth a listen if only for the painful infectiousness of LDN, Smile and Knock ‘em Out (with it’s Professor Longhair sampling…)

39- Danielson - Ships (Secretly Canadian) Did I Just Step on Your Trumpet

Sufjan Stevens on meths. Another out-there Christian freak-folker. Brother Danielson gathered all his friends and relations to make one huge wig-out, and this is it. It doesn’t get better than the track chosen, but it is worth it just for that track alone.

38- Nina Nastasia - On Leaving (Fatcat) One Old Woman

A slow one. I was really disappointed when I bought it, but repeated listens have been rewarding. Perhaps, by the time I hit the best of 2007 I will love it as much as ‘Dogs’ or ‘Darkened Air’… I don’t know.

37- Pipettes, The - We Are the Pipettes (Memphis Industries)

Dirty Mind

Fun is so not dead. Not as much the air-heads as you might want to think, but perfect for those moments when you do need to empty your mind of pesky things. Stick it on. Sing along. Revel in it’s carelessness.

36- Various Artists - Gypsy Beats & Balkan Bangers (Atlantic Jaxx)

Fanfare Ciocarlia - James Bond Theme

The year that the Balkan’s struck back. You could not move this year without bumping into some tuba-playing dance band touted as something glorious. This was a neat sampler: not consistent, but a great place to start – and worth it for Bulgarian Chicks by the Balkan Beatbox (not chosen because of length).

35- Regina Spector - Begin to Hope (Sire) That Time

I mulled this for some time. I have not heard her other releases and I could not decide whether it was Tori Amos or Alanis or Kate Bush or what…. In the end, I put all of these things to one side and just let CD do it’s work. Eventually, it won a place on this list.

34- Sisters of Mercy, The First and Last and Always (Merciful Release)

Nine While Nine*

It has been a great year for goth reissues. This one was looked forward to excitedly, being unendingly satisfying for me. Almost certainly not a great LP for the ages, but some fantastic moments and a great reminder that Eldritch was a pretty good lyricist. Goth’s not undead… yet.

33- Comets on Fire - Avatar (Subpop) Jaybird

I just couldn’t grasp hold of their earlier CDs; they were just too wayward, with their endless sweeping solos and all. On Avatar, however, they have managed to reign themselves in somewhat, and write things that sound like songs – and the balance is just right.

32- Scritti Politti - White Bread Black Beer (Rough Trade)


I have to admit that I missed Gartside’s last offerings, and so jumped straight from ‘Cupid and Psyche ‘85’ to this. Nothing has changed – Gartside still has a voice so delicate, and the arrangement is so light, it could just blow away. Lovely.

31- BeyoncĂ© - B’Day (Sony) Freakum Dress

This LP has not been given the same amount of adoration as her solo debut ‘Dangerously in Love’, and admittedly, it lacks a song of such outrageous catchiness as ‘Crazy in Love’. However, it is a far leaner LP with far less filler. Each track is a stand-up example of why R’n’B should not be dismissed so easily.

30- Siouxsie & the Banshees Juju (Polydor) Sin in my Heart*

The cream of the goth reissues. Even though, Sioux denies ever having had anything to do with goth, this is the goth LP par excellance. It has everything from cascading guitars, tribal drums and the subject matter. If you call yourself a goth and do not have this record you have two choices: a) Call yourself an emo, and go wet a bet somewhere; or b) buy this record now.

29- Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino)

Fake Tales of San Francisco

The hype almost killed this for me. I was so incensed with NME’s declaration that this was the greatest record since Mozart (or something) that could barely bring myself to listen to it. Eventually, I succumbed and picked it up on e-bay (to hide my shame) and had to admit that it was, actually, quite good. To be honest, there is nothing devastatingly new or innovative here, but there doesn’t need to be – just 12 sharply-observed, well fuelled rock songs. All you need, really.

28- A Hawk and a Hacksaw The Way the Wind Blows (Leaf)

Salt Water

To my mind, the best of the LPs to make use of the East-European sound that is all the rage. Semi-instrumental and blends styles, instruments and sounds better than almost anything else I have heard this year.

27- All Saints - Studio 1 (Parlophone) Rock Steady

I am such a sucker for a good pop record – especially a good girl-group record – and to me, All Saints are the bomb. The Sugababes may have had better hits, but All Saints manage to carry it for an album. Welcome back, girls…. It’s been too long.

26- Howlin Rain - Howlin Rain (Birdman) Death Prayer in Heaven's Orchard

Comets on Fire and Sunburnt Hand of the Man people combine and come up with a record that sounds like it came from the West Coast circa ’72. Except that these guys took waaaaay too much acid, and when they wig-out, they do so with a fury. Great for when you want a crazy psychedelic sound, but need a decent tune or two to roll with.

25- Scott Walker - The Drift (4AD) Hand Me Ups

Heh heh heh… Scariest LP of the year? Damned straight. We all like a little fear from time to time, but the meat punching, braying donkeys and Donald duck impersonations, coupled with subject matter like 9/11 and Jesse Presley’s still-birth makes for a challenging listen. Listen with the lights on.

24- Various - The World is Gone (XL) Hater

Is it folk or is it grime or is it electronica? Who knows and who cares. This was an impulse buy for me, but one that was instantly rewarded by the glorious ‘Hater’.

23- Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther (Bella Union)


More Laurel Canyon inspired tunes. It comes across as easy-listening on first listen, but repeated exposure reveals muilti-layered and textured songs that have a similar level of sophistication to Steely Dan. Although it all gets a little Rufus Wainwright towards the end, it is not surprising that this disk featured highly in several end of year lists.

22- Clark - Body Riddle (Warp) Herzog

A fine slice of electronic psychedelia. It is one of the few pieces of electronica that has really sunk in with me this year. Wild cycles of sound that build up into something very interesting: an electronica LP that really rewards repeated listens.

21- Various Artists - Nuggets (1965-1968) (Elecktra)

The Leaves - Hey Joe*

Classic compilation remastered and reissued. Some of the finest garage tunes every committed to vinyl – back when garage meant garage and not R’n’B.

20- Tunng - Comments of the Inner Chorus (Full Time Hobby)

Band Stand

The alt.folk scene has given us many curious bands, and Tunng are certainly among them. Slightly clipped folk tunes, cut up a little and given occasional electronic treatments. Band Stand and Woodcut are the stand out tracks.

19- Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Tortoise - The Brave and the Bold (Overcoat)

It's Expected I'm Gone

Yet another Will Oldham release, and this time with post-rock band Tortoise. As a covers album, it is, at the least interesting. The radical reworking of Elton John’s ‘Daniel’ turned a few heads, but it was were the band stuck to the spirits of the originals that the best results were found, such as in ‘Calvary Cross’ and ‘Thunder Road’.

18- Beatles, The - Love (EMI) For the Benefit of Mr. Kite…

Is this a new album or a compilation? Hard to say, but the Beatles have been given a stand-up, if slightly underwhelming, mash-up treatment. When it works, it is tremendous and exciting; when it doesn’t, it simply reminds the listener why the originals were so good in the first place – which ain’t no bad thing.

17- Six Organs of Admittance The Sun Awakens (Drag City) Attar

Ben Chasny (also a member of Comets on Fire) and his solo project ‘Six Organs of Admittance’ have been pushing the envelope of finger-picking styles for best part of ten years now. While this LP is not quite the equal of the flawless ‘School of the Flower’, it is still a quality piece of work. If John Fahey had burnt out on acid, and then spent three weeks in his garden with a big bag of weed, it would sound something like this…

16- Various Artists - Rockin' Bones: 1950s Punk and Rockabilly (Rhino)

Elvis Presley - One Night of Sin

Rhino Handmade make great compilations, and a box set like this is meat and drink to a show like Tunes from the Missing Channel. It is rammed full of classics that you know and classics that you don’t. Where else might you hear some teenage girl have an orgasm to a rockabilly rhythm (Little Girl by John and Jackie) or some preacher tell his bobby-socked listeners they are going to hell (Sinners by Freddie and the Hitch-hikers). In the end I plumped for an unreleased version of ‘One Night’ by the King – the lyrics changed

to ‘One night with you is what I am now praying for’ from the original ‘One night of sin is what I am now paying for.’ Wow! Elvis in Prostitution shock!!!!

15- Bob Dylan - Modern Times (Sony) The Levee's Gonna Break

Album number six billion or something. It may be five years since his last new offering, but if anything Dylan is improving with age, picking up a little more bounce and swing. While it only makes number 15 on my list (there were simply LPs I enjoyed more), I can fully anticipate ‘Modern Times’ picking up the top spot in many lists – and yes, it is that good.

14- Brian Eno & David Byrne My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Virgin)

The Carrier*

This is a stand-up classic. Eno & Byrne have rarely done better work than this experiment that grew out of Eno’s production of Talking Heads LP ‘Fear of Music’. By matching ethnographic recordings to sharp rock and funk rhythms, the pair created something completely timeless and spaceless. This new release includes a video, seven new tracks and extended versions of some of the original inclusions, such as on this piece.

13- CSS - CSS (Subpop) Music is my Hot Hot Sex

From Brazil comes this shabby piece of work. It is messy and inconsistent, but at the same time full of energy and oozes sex – of the nasty, filthy and fun sort. It has some of the best titles of any CDs released this year ‘Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above’ and the current selection ‘Music is my Hot Hot Sex’

12- Lady Sovereign - Public Warning (Defjam) Gatheration

The marmite of grime and hip hop, but you can tell which side of the line I am on – I think that both of her releases to date have been great. Fun, stupid and full of fire. She is no MIA – she raps with the same insight of the Cookie Crew, but the inventive mixes and production that sound like they are more the product of cheap necessity than artistic sensibility propel the ‘biggest midget in the game’ to great things – well, onto the Defjam label, which is not necessarily the same thing. This LP has still not been released in the UK – I have it on import, so who knows, it might make next year’s list too.

11- Gossip - Standing in the Way of Control (Kill Rockstars)

Yr Mangled Heart

Cheap and trashy. This LP sounds to me like New York, which ironic since they are based in Washington. A great combination of disco and punk. The singer reminds me of a disco diva, but the music is all white stripes – guitar and drums, no bass. What the hell? It works…..

10- Steeleye Span - Please to See the King (Castle)

False Night on the Road*

Folkier than Fairport, this LP saw the first classic line-up of Steeleye. Folk-legend Martin Carthy and Peter Knight took the places of Terry and Gay Woods and added the precise amount of dirt to an already authentic sound. Carthy’s guitar work in particular revolutionised their sound. He was used to playing acoustic and played the electric the same way, which forged a harsher more jagged sound. This song, a live favourite, makes great use of both new musicians. Crank it up loud and you’ll see what I mean.

9- Sol Seppy - The Bells of 12 (Gronland) Wonderland

A right old mixed bag of wonder this one. Multi-instrumentalist Sophie Michalitsianos has been performing with Sparklehorse for some time, but this debut is simply gorgeous. It covers a range of styles from instrumental tunes, made up of – principally – bells, to slowcore, to lush indie pop. Has been kicking around for almost a year, but needs a little word of mouth push.

8- Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (Columbia)

Old Dan Tucker

The Boss does Seeger. Unlike his regular recordings, he invited a bunch of folk to a barn and knocked this CD up in a day or two. Fast, loose and true to the spirit of Pete Seeger.

7- Cat Power - The Greatest (Matador) Love and Communication

Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) has been making lo-fi indie tunes for best part of ten years and has gained herself considerable critical acclaim in doing so, but in going to Memphis and pulling together a team of crack session musicians, she has found the musical backing that her songs have been crying out for. At once muscular and yet vulnerable. Quality.

6- David Crosby - If Only I Could Remember My Name (Atlantic)

Music is Love*

Crosby’s 1971 debut is as cool as it comes. Messed up by the breakdown of CSN&Y and the death of his girlfriend, Crosby gathered all his friends around to the studio to knock out a few tunes. But what friends: a look through the credits and you see a who’s who of the San Francisco area – people from the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young all come along. But even with a list like this, it is hard to believe the beauty of some of these songs.

5- Espers - II (Wichita Recordings) Mansfield and Cyclops

Psychedelic folk favourites. The impossible melding of pastoral folk with freaked-out acid-tinged psychedelia. Greg Weeks and Meg Baird and co. have been pushing out the boundaries since their debut in 2004. This release cements their sound and their status.

4- Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-)

Star Witness

The voice. This is the first CD I have bought by Neko Case and it is beautiful. Country-tinged loveliness. She and her producer gathered a crack band of musicians (including Garth Hudson of The Band and Howie Gelb of Giant Sand) to give Case’s 12 songs as much musical clout as lyrical. A classic, no doubt.

3- James Blackshaw - O True Believers (Important) O True Believers

This guy was 23 when he recorded this, but you could never believe it. The quality of his guitar work is easily on a par with his mentors, John Fahey, Robbie Basho or Peter Walker. Listening to this CD is like walking through a waterfall – except less wet.

2- Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go (Domino) Strange Form of Life

The second Will Oldham release in the chart is as close to perfect as it comes in my mind. It is the first proper Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy release since Master and Everyone in 2001, but he has lost nothing. By enlisting Valgeir Sigurosson (the composer and arranger for Bjork’s releases), he has a backing that gives both warm and cool textures to his song, which follow the usual pattern of loss and solitude. However, Dawn McCarthy’s backing vocals add even greater depth to the lyrics, emphasising his separation. This LP is beautiful from start to finish.

1- My Latest Novel - Wolves (Bella Union) The Reputation of Ross Francis

Who? Why? Where? Why this band have not been catapulted into the stratosphere beats me, especially given the similarity to last years biggest release (Funeral by Arcade Fire). Where TAF crank up the energy and consequently the strangeness of their material, My Latest Novel emphasise the quiet and the familiar. The key to me came when I played the CD in anticipation for the show. I knew that it was going to be a big player, but on listening to it again, I realised that it had lost none of its charm, but had gained a depth and beauty. I cannot recommend this LP enough. Album of the Year.

* Denotes a reissue

Best of 2006 - The Runners Up

These are the runners up for the best of 2006 show. The places 41-50 are numbered, since these in particular were agonised over. Letting them slip out of the top 40 was painful, and each of them are fine LPs. Just not as satisfying (for whatever reason) as those that made it.

41 Susanna and the Magical Orchestra - Melody Mountain (Rune Grammofon)

42 James Yorkston - The Year of the Leopard (Domino)

43 Robbie Basho - Venus of Cancer (Tomkin's Square)

44 Jenny Lewis w/ The Watson Twins - Rabbit Fur Coat (Rough Trade)

45 TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (4AD)

46 Steeleye Span - Hark! The Village Wait (Castle)

47 Steve Reich - Phases [Boxset] (Nonesuch)

48 Karen Dalton - It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You The Best (Megaphone)

49 Clogs - Lantern (Brassland)

50 Vetiver - To Find Me Gone (Fatcat)

This next list are those in the 51-80 places. They are in no particular order, so you can - if you want - imagine that your favourite LP made it to 51. All of these LPs have something going for them - in my haphazard and casual rating system, they all received 7 out of 10 or more.

Steeleye Span - Ten Man Mop (Castle)

Siouxsie and the Banshees Kaleidoscope (Polydor)

Meg Baird, Helena Espevall, Sharron KrausU Leaves from Off the Tree (Bo'Weavil)

Current 93 - Black Ships Ate The Sky (Durtro Jnana)

Christine Harwood - Nice to Meet Christine (Finders Keepers)

The Memory Band - Apron Strings (Peacefrog)

Pink Mountaintops - Axis of Evol (JagJaguwar)

Juana Molina - Son (Domino)

Woven Hand - Mosaic (Glitterhouse)

Various Artists - Atlantic RnB 1947-1974 Volume 2 1952-1954 (Warners)

Willard Grant Conspiracy Let It Roll (Loose)

Various Artists - Sixties Soul Sensations (Music Club)

Tractor - John Peel Bought Us Studio Gear and a PA (Oz-It)

Tony Allen - Lagos No Shaking (Honest Jons)

Staples Singers - Stax Profiles (Stax)

Sisters of Mercy, The - Floodland (Merciful Release)

Siouxsie and the Banshees Join Hands (Polydor)

Scott Walker - Climate of Hunter (Virgin)

Jassi Sidhu - No Strings Attached (Moviebox)

Nancy Sinatra - The Essential Nancy Sinatra (EMI)

Mustafa Ozkent - Rhythm'n'Soul, Blues'n'Jazz, Rock'n'Pop (Finders Keepers)

Micah P. Hinson - And the Opera Circuit (Sketchbook)

Max Richter - Songs From Below (Fatcat)

Lubos Fiser - Valerie and her Week of Wonders (OST) (Finders Keepers)

Jolie Holland - Springtime Can Kill You (Anti-)

Flaming Lips, The - At War With the Mystics (Warners)

Family - Bandstand (Repertoire)

Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia (Roadrunner)

Delgados, The - The BBC Peel Sessions (Chemikal Underground)

David Axelrod - The Edge of Music (Stateside)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Best of 2006 Show!

BREAKING NEWS: BEST OF 2006 SHOW (In conjunction with Me and My CDs)

On the 30th December, my UK Nova show will be dedicated to playing a run-down of the best CDs of 2006 (both new releases and reissues). There have been some bloody good CDs released this year and it seems only right to celebrate them. So far there have been over one hundred CDs to choose from, and there are another 20 days of CD-buying to take in. I know that there will be some surprises on the night. There will also be a post here, cataloguing some of the rationale for these choices.... Come back soon and find out...

So, if you are wondering what Tunes from the Missing Channel has rated over the last year, I'd recommend that you tune in (or download).

In case you are wondering what I have bought this year so far, here is a very messy list...

My Latest Novel, Steeleye Span, Bob Dylan, Scott Walker, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, The, Six Organs of Admittance, Steeleye Span, Steve Reich, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, Various, Various Artists, Various Artists, Vetiver, Battles, Calexico, Tony Allen, Various Artists, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Woven Hand, Adem, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Diane Cluck, Handsome Family, The, Lily Allen, My Latest Novel, Peaches, Peter Walker, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Cat Power, James Blackshaw, Brian Eno & David Byrne ,CSS, Espers ,Lady Sovereign ,Neko Case, Sol Seppy, Steeleye Span, Tunng, Various Artists, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Arctic Monkeys, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Christine Harwood, Clark, Clogs, Comets on Fire, Current 93, Danielson, Howlin Rain ,James Yorkston, Karen Dalton, Lily Allen, Meg Baird, Helena Espevall, Sharron Kraus, Pipettes, The, Regina Spector, Robbie Basho, Scott Walker, Candi Staton, Carla Thomas, Czars, The, David Axelrod, Delgados, The, Dresden Dolls, Family, Flaming Lips, The, Jenny Lewis w/ The Watson Twins, Jolie Holland, Juana Molina, Lubos Fiser, Max Richter, Micah P. Hinson, Mustafa Ozkent, Nancy Sinatra, Nina Nastasia, Jassi Sidhu, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, The, Staples Singers, Various Artists, Walkmen, The, Blanche, Boxhead Ensemble, Gaye Bykers on Acid, Micah P. Hinson & John Mark Lapham (The Late Cord), Mission, The, Neal Casal, Robin Guthrie, Sebadoh, Shearwater, Sugababes, Various Artists, Various Artists, Voom:Voom, DJ H

And remember more is being added to it everyday...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy @ Glenuig Village Hall

This time last week, I was sitting in Birmingham International Airport not completely sure why I was there. I knew why I was there, but not quite whether the idea would live up to the reality. The idea was pretty big.

One of my more recent musical obsessions (the aforementioned Billy - Will Oldham) was doing a tour of Scotland (and Gateshead and Belfast), and the tour was to end in a village hall on the far western coast of the Scottish Highlands. Our plan was to fly to Glasgow, hire a car and drive to Lochaimort (or something like that) - a drive of approximately four hours. We had booked a guest house in Lochaimort, so we would get there and then figure out where Glenuig was. After finding a little food, we would then head down to Glenuig and see what the deal was. Caroline and Che were accompanying me - more for the ridiculousness of the journey than the performance itself. Che was simply excited about going to Scotland and her first gig - having been effectively excluded from most of the previous gigs we had gone to. Neither Che nor Caroline would consider themselves Bonnie 'Prince' Billy fans. I was aware that if Oldham was to turn in one of his more esoteric performances, I would almost certainly be on my own in terms of enjoying the show - and most will know the discomfort of forcing people to go somewhere when they are thoroughly not enjoying it. You almost feel guilty for enjoying it yourself, inevitably dampening your own experience.

Add to all this the simple difficulty of getting me out of the house, and my pre-disposition to feel sick or ill at the slightest glimmer of anxiety, and you can probably imagine me sitting in Birmingham airport pondering the stupidity of my bloody grand ideas - while typically feeling nauseous at the merest thought of the flight.

The flight passed off without hitch - another tragedy averted - and we hired our car. I had ensured that we had plenty of CDs to accompany us - including a bunch for Che. So our journey was well under way. It has to be added at this point that the Glaswegians had been really helpful. The airport was right at the very north of the city, and so we were out of it in no time.

The scenery was spectacular. Now this is not a travelogue, so I will not bore you with details, but the Highlands are nothing if not beautiful. Within minutes of leaving glasgow, you are surrounded by lakes and towering hills and mountains. The roads are quiet enough, and it is quiet easy to be overwhelmed by the drama of the landscape.

Meanwhile, Che listened to Sugababes and MIA and Tatu and Gwen Stefani (three quarters of which I quite like myself) really bloody loud. But this added to the drive - there was a nice family feeling. This is something I experience as being quite fleeting.

After a stop in Fort William for a meal, we arrived in Lochaimort at about 3. The guest house struck me as a strange affair. It was a house in the middle of nowhere - really - populated by worryingly friendly folk, who didn't seem to let having never met you get in the way of a good welcome. I should add that despite the fact that the house was not that big, there appeared to be millions of children and animals. If I had seen more beards and women with sagging breasts I would have taken it for a hippie commune.

We caught our bearings and then drove down to Glenuig. The weather was frightening at this point, the rain a visible thick mist surrounding the mountains and rising from the sea. The Glenuig village hall looked diminished in such surroundings. It looked like one of those miniature rural churches that held about 8 people and a cow. We drove off again, and I could feel my anxiety rising. People were camping around the village hall and they all looked sturdy and as they knew what they were doing - like travelling a 1,000 miles for a concert was something they did every other weekend. I felt like I had done something slightly stupid and I had brought my family along to watch.

We had been unsuccessful at locating food and Che was getting jumpy about this. I was secretly mildly happy about this, since nothing contributes to my discomfort levels like having to find somewhere to eat. We popped into the Glenuig Inn to see if they had any sandwiches - they didn't so we headed straight down to the Village Hall in the hope that the bar might have some crisps or nuts.

The Village Hall was laid out like a small evangelical church, all light wooden beams and fold out chairs. But we were first there, and chose the second row - the front row always worries me. A while later the show began. First up were a Bosnian Band who appeared to have just shown up out of nowhere, and established a coup on the stage. They were the Jimmy Joyce Rolls Royce Band. The name tells you plenty, but in addition to this, they were an OK lounge-jazz act, all lightweight sambas. There was a pretty singer, with the sort of haunted look one sees in pictures of people that have been through some hardship (so that's alright, then), who sang a couple of very sad songs. The only thing that made them memorable to me was that they had a violinist - this gave them a touch of the Calexicos. But only the lightweight samba bits of Calexico. They were easily forgotten when the real music started...

After a short interval, Harem Scarem took the stage. Harem Scarem are made up of four women - two violinists, a flautist and an accordianist, and a man, who played guitar. These guys were one home ground, since they immediately engendered a huge cheer as they broke into some foot-stomping ceilidh thing. The two fiddles glided off each other, as one held a beat with her clogs on the wooden floor. The flautist jumped to penny whistle and back again, and the accordian held the whole sound down. It was an uptempo gig, and the band were very much in their element - loving the adulation that the audience poured upon them. The pace only slowed down for a couple of songs written and sung by Inge, the accordianist. She had the thinnest, wispiest voice, high-pitched and fragile and sang a couple slight girly songs, while the others provided harmonies and light accompaniment on their instruments. It was over quick, they had had a great time and their enjoyment was infectious - and any reservations that one might have had musically were washed aside in the flighty-girlish enthusiasm they stuffed into the 25 minutes they were on stage.

They provided a vivid contrast to the eventual arrival of Will Oldham on stage. By this time, I had chatted with a few other people at the gig, and had heard mildly conflicting accounts of the tour. These were people who had seen Oldham many times before, but had also caught earlier dates. They had talked of the lightening effect that Harem Scarem had had on Oldham's songs, but also the joyfulness they brought and how that was a positive texture that can be discerned only with determination in some parts of his work. Oldham's songs are male songs. There is no question about it - his words evoke a masculinity, which while never macho or full of bravado, capture the pleasures and the desires and the anxieties of a male experience*. I myself, having seen Harem Scarem, was curious about the possible feminising effect they might have.

Will came on stage alone and opened with a song that stuck me - and evidently him - as entirely appropriate to the surroundings, 'The Mountain Low'. His beard was trimmed, but he was dressed unassumingly but with a single line of black drawn beneath his eyes. Perhaps it was just me, but there was some transfixing about him, something completely honest about his presence. Now, I know that is partially a result of immersion in his songs over the last year or so, and I also know that a significant element is an intention to present a persona, which does not necessarily reflect Will Oldham as he actually is - whomever than might be. But regardless of my subjective apprehending of him, nor his presentation of this character, it was utterly believable and it drew me in quickly. Using his face and movement, he enunciated his songs, making them clear and real.

He sang a couple more songs unaccompanied - I honestly cannot remember the setlisting - before being joined onstage by Nuala from Harem Scarem. Together, they performed a duet of 'Hard Life'. Initially, she seemed awed of Will, but it served a good introduction to Harem Scarem's arrival on stage, which followed the song. They came on quickly, accompanied by Alex Nielson on drums. His name was not immediately familiar to me, but he has played on recordings by Alasdair Roberts and apparently - so I'm told - is quite a renowned improvisational musician. The set was long - about one and half hours not counting encores - and consisted of many songs that have long been Bonnie 'Prince' Billy classics - 'New Partner', 'A Minor Place', My Home is the Sea', 'Beast For Thee', 'Master and Everyone', 'Wolf among Wolves', 'Arise Therefore', 'You Will Miss Me When I Burn'.

Harem Scarem provided a good counter-point to Oldham's songs, adding new textures to many songs I am used to hearing with a more traditional backing. Where the combination really worked - and worked brilliantly - were in a couple of traditional folk songs. They did a version of Molly Bawm (the version I am familiar with is on Alasdair Roberts' 'No Earthly Man', which was produced by by Oldham) that was hypnotic. This is a traditional tale about a young man who kills his beloved because he mistook her for a swan, and the take here was dark and malevolent. The fiddles creating a growing sense of foreboding, and heavy sweeps from the accordian providing a depth. Will's interpretation is violent and fearsome, and he delivers the story with a strong stomach for the horror within. However, the most impressive element was from Alex Nielson, the drummer. His use of rhythm and counter-rhythm, percussion and finding the right texture sound for each element of the song was spellbinding.

Will seemed in good humour throughout the concert. While he was not over-communicative with the audience, he was not distant either, and seemed indulgent of some of the eccentricities. There was the predictable howling during 'Wolf among Wolves'. Towards the end people began shouting out requests. During one song in the encore, a couple of women began a waltz along the aisle. Before the final song in the encore, one man - pissed - offered Oldham a pound to play the song of his choice. The joke - apparently - was on him, since it was the song which closed every encore during the tour.

The encore was perfect. Two songs perfectly chosen. The first was 'Madeline Mary', which allowed the entire company to throw themselves into it. It is a rowsing song under most conditions, but here it was given a fairly upbeat rhythm, which made the crowd come alive - despite the fact that it almost 12 and Will had been onstage for nearly two hours. After a confused pissed man's desparate payment for the song of his choice. Will closed with 'I See a Darkness'. If Will Oldham has a signature song, this must be it and the audience knew it. Even with several people singing along far too loud for appropriate anonymity, it was bewitching. It was sung with meaning, and somehow this song of solemn comradeship and brotherhood and hopes and fears and loves appeared to speak to everyone about something. After it, there was little more to be said, and nothing was said.

Once the truth was clear - many people held on to the hope of a second encore for a long time. There was a sense of elation and I think that many moments of personal history were noted. There was something jubilant about the mood, like people emerging from a trial of initiation. Maybe I am waxing too lyrical here, but that was simply my reading.

I See a Darkness had an additional poignancy when we stepped outside, since that exactly what we saw. Back in the hall it was easy to neglect the fact but it was the middle of nowhere - probably many miles from the nearest street lighting. We drove home quiet but satisfied.

The next day we drove a little further up the coast. I was so impressed by the scenery. I am a city kid by birth, and I have a certain antipathy to the countryside, but this was beyond countryside. I was not looking at nature beaten into submission by thousands of years of farming, but nature standing quietly secure and unviolated. The people that live in that area seem to recognise that. I wanted to move there and just let the spirits speak to me. Another fleeting dream perhaps...

The drive home was uneventful. We were all tired and a little subdued, and I know for myself that my thoughts were gradually re-adjusting themselves to returning to Birmingham and the new term at school. But the weekend had been a complete success. Not only in terms of seeing Will Oldham, but also as an adventure and as a joint experience for the family. We don't have too many of those.

* This is not to say that Will Oldham cannot write from other perspectives (see Oldham's 'His Hands' on Candi Staton's new CD by the same title)

Finally a note about the photos. For some reason two of the video clips I took of Will Oldham vanished from the camera. If I had known that they were going to do that I would have take more straight pictures. Please don't talk about it. It's a sore point.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Candi Staton and Cat Power

It is worth listening to the new Candi Staton CD, 'His Hands' and the new(ish) Cat Power CD, 'The Greatest' back-to-back. Cat Power (like contemporaries Neko Case and even Jenny Lewis), in an attempt to develop her sound, gathered herself a crack band, headed South, and sought to create a purer, more classic album.

Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) is probably the most successful of her peers in this endeavour. Her CD carries a sharpness, and also a depth, the others lack. She captures a restrained soulful feel without losing her own sound. The mood of the album, while draped in the trappings of 70s soul, is never anything other than that of Cat Power. She may have Booker T's drummer, and Al Green's partner on board; the sound may be polished and the rough edges removed, but there is an ongoing down-beatness, that is integral to the whole. It is a great album and it has resulted in my backtracking into her older material, but as an example of soul, it remains somewhat outside the territory.

Candi Staton, on the other hand, is a real soul singer. She has also gathered a crack band, and has returned (South?) to the studio. I am not sure how much Staton has sought to develop her sound, but we can suggest that by hiring Lambchop's producer, Mark Nevers, someone has sought to do the job. Nevers, who has contributed strongly the 'soul'fulness of Kurt Wagner's songs, clearly knows his way around, since this never sounds anything other than authentic.

Most of this can probably be put down to Candi Staton herself. Her voice continues to carry a broken determination, a certainty in her own will to survive and celebrate that is at the heart of all great soul singers. I have the feeling that she could sing the phone book, and it would suddenly take on a sense of drama and pathos.

Sonically, I am not sure that there is a million miles between Cat Power's and Candi Staton's. They both carry much of the same textures and sounds, and both have tales of sadness, woe and desparation. But the key difference is the difference between someone who wants to make a soul album and a soul singer. Cat Power's album is brilliant and cannot recommend it enough, but it is simply not a soul album. Candi Staton manages to take the same sounds and the same stories and bring hope to them. I probably prefer Cat Power's minor chords and melancholia - 'His Hands', while being excellent and a fine come-back, is still just a little too confined to the soul arena to win hands down.

But in the soul stakes... Candi has it everytime.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

O is for... On-U Sound

This is a post for another blog somewhere else, but I see no reason why it shouldn't be here too, marking, as it does, one of my first musical obsessions.

O is for…. On-U Sound

This is a fairly formal first posting, but this simply what I found myself writing when I wanted to convey why I thought Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound should be included – biographical information and all…

It might be true to say that Adrian Sherwood and the On-U Sound System label lost its way in the very late 80s, and has not released anything genuinely essential since then. However, for about ten years, from 1978-1988, the On-U Sound label and all it’s offshoots were amongst the hottest, most experimental and perhaps, most influential outfits working in the musical underground during that time. Not bad for a geezer that got started by flogging reprinted Jamaican records up and down the country from the boot of his car.

It was by doing so, however, that Adrian Sherwood began to meet reggae hero Prince Far I, and became acquainted with his backing band, Roots Radics. Being a bit of a young upstart, and it being 1978 and all that, Sherwood wanted to start his own record label, and so agreed to produce a side by members of the band, calling themselves ‘Creation Rebel’ after a Burning Spear song.

Two early releases ‘Dub from Creation’ and ‘Rebel Vibration’ were released on the Hitrun label, which soon went bust. These two LPs were well received by some critics, but dismissed by hardcore reggae fans as being too experimental. Now, they sound as fresh as anything Tubby, or Lee Perry produced from the 70s. The dubs were sharp and spacey, and made good use of all musicians. Despite Hitruns collapse, Sherwood persisted, however, establishing the On-U Sound label soon afterwards.

The well-documented punk connection with reggae saw Sherwood forging links with Dennis Bovell, ex-slits Ari-Up, ex-Pop Group members Steve Beresford and Mark Stewart, as well as some from the Corpus Christi label, Penny Rimbaud, and Little ‘Annie’ Anxiety – even John Lydon shows up one release. Perhaps a consequence of the input of these artists, or perhaps a natural leaning in Sherwood himself, it saw On-U sound becoming increasingly experimental as the roster of artists on the label grew.

Every release was given the future-proof tagline ‘Another 1992 On-U Sound Production’ and with Adrian Sherwood was at the helm, the production became deliberately futuristic. Creation Rebel’s third release ‘Starship Africa’ stretched the sparseness of dub reggae to breaking point. Ari-Up’s ‘New Age Steppers’ pulled the genre towards a post-punk (post-everything) sensibility – their cover of Junior Byles’ ‘Fade Away’ needs to be heard. The arrival of Bonjo Iyanbinghi Noah and his band, African Head Charge, took the Rasta vibrations to unheard-of possibilities of abstraction, with their debut ‘My Life in a Hole in the Ground’.

Various studio-based projects prefigured Bristol based Trip Hop. Mark Stewart’s abrasive assault is best seen in his debut ‘Learning to Cope With Cowardice’ (especially the single release – a cover of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’). The party reached its highpoint with the insanity of The Missing Brazilians’ ‘Warzone’. This LP pushed so many barriers down that even the open-minded distributor Cherry Red balked. Mixing trippy dub beats with heavy noise assaults pushed even Sherwood abilities to the extreme. There are points on the album where everything pours into the red. It is an album that really ought to be heard by everyone with an interest in avant-garde – even if only once.

A growing critical reaction and increasing studio technology (with perhaps a nod to the digital sound now coming from Jamaica) saw On-U Sound refine its sound away from raw experimentalism. Making use of Sherwood’s collaborators Skip McDonald, Doug Wimbush and Keith LeBlanc (the original Sugar Hill house band in NY), the sound became more electronic and more syncopated. This resulted in On-U Sound hitting both its high-water mark in terms of artistry and record sales, but also the slow slide away from what made the label so exciting in the first place.

Records of note from this period include Dub Syndicate’s ‘Echomania’, and African Head Charge’s truly magnificent ‘Songs of Praise’.

Perhaps reliance upon a formula, perhaps the move of key players to other labels, perhaps the increasing competition of other labels, producers, and genres all resulted in On-U Sound becoming something of a spent force by the very late 80s. Only very few truly great releases have emerged. New artists have joined the label, some of whom have made good releases (notably Ghetto Priest, Japan’s Audio Active, and Sherwood’s own 2Badcard), but nothing has gained the same level of impact as those early ‘1992’ releases.

Sherwood himself has kept busy at the helm of On-U Sound, but also as a jobbing producer, having worked with Depeche Mode, The Fall, Skinny Puppy, Simply Red, Michael Franti amongst many other. He has also established the reggae re-issue label ‘Pressure Sounds’. His influence on the path of music remains considerable, if only for those historic releases. The Bristol connection through Mark Stewart and Gary Clail has been credited by Massive Attack and others in that scene. The ambient field of The Orb and Orbital draws links to On-U Sound, and it is plausible to draw links to labels such as Mo’Wax and Warp, if only the range of their production.

Some final personal notes: I first recall properly listening to an On-U Sound release under the influence of magic mushrooms (circa 1989), listening to the suitably trippy (and undoubted classic) collaboration between Creation Rebel and the New Age Steppers. More than simply changing the shape of that evening (which remains exceptionally memorable), it changed the shape of my musical listening, opening my mind to reggae, dub and dancehall. I also managed to see African Head Charge at Glastonbury in 1990. The electrics kept cutting out, leaving only the heavy nyahbinghi drumming. Fireworks from another part of the festival were set off. I was in heaven.

Essential releases include:

Creation Rebel - Starship Africa (1980)

African Head Charge – Off the Beaten Track (1986) & Songs of Praise (1990)

New Age Steppers – New Age Steppers (1980)

Dub Syndicate – Pounding Systems (1981) & Echomania (1993)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Lies, My Latest Novel and Guns and Roses

OK. I lied. I couldn't help myself and I bought another couple of CDs. Here they are.

My Morning Jacket - Tennessee Fire - - 1999 - Wichita Recordings (£5)
Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice - A Casual Introduction - - 2002 - Setanta (£3)
David Axelrod - The Edge of Music - - 2006 - Stateside (£12)

Tuesday night, I caught My Latest Novel at the Glee Club in Birmingham (You have to love the Glee Club - so so intimate). The support was a band called the Semifinalists. This three-piece bewildered me at first with a shouty, amateurish burst before settling into something like a cross between Broadcast and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They were OK, but I had no desire to pursue them further.

My Latest Novel seemed nervous at first, just not quite comfortable. As they got into it, though, they began to relax and appeared to enjoy themselves. Their set matched their CD virtually song for song, which on the one hand was cool, because it is a great CD. On the other, it meant that there was not so much spontenaity. By the end, it was a really good gig - a lot of good energy. I enjoyed it - check 'em out...

Now, Guns and Roses. I am thoroughly made up that people have commented on these short pieces of nonsense. And I really hope people continue doing so, but I need to get this stuff off my chest...

Let us set the record straight on this band. For all the new, dirty energy that they poured into heavy rock (of the popular sort) - a grit that had been absent for best part of a decade if you include punk, since the Stones if you don't - they truly suck. I bought the LP in 1986 (ish) on import, before 'Welcome to the Jungle' had really cracked, and I have to admit that I loved it. I played the LP to death. Until, that is, the LP was officially released in this country and you could not walk into a rock club without hearing it. It was around that time that I really began to get tired. I always thought that 'Sweet Child o'Mine' and 'Paradise City' were among the least interesting, and yet these were the tunes that would be played three to four times a night. By the time my friends began to tire also, I was so grateful.

I was mostly out of that scene by the time 'Lies' was released and so I was not subjected to it, and by the time 'Use Your Illusion' was out, I was long gone. And besides, rock music had learnt its lesson and was long gone too - grit was back and some genuinely good rock bands had climbed into their place, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica (none of which bands I was really into, by the way).

Now, I have a bad compulsion. You may have noticed, I really like to buy CDs. One of the reasons I like to buy CDs is because I can re-buy my old vinyl collection from the 80s. That is why I bought 'Appetite for Destruction' last week. I listened through it once. Once was all I could handle - perhaps more. Even the one half-way decent track - the title track -
was, as I say, only half-way decent. The two tunes I recalled liking from the LP at the time, 'It's So Easy' and 'Mr. Brownstone' are so immature, it is embarrassing ('And besides I ain't got nothing better to do, and I'm bored...' I ask you... I mean, really...?). And the two aforementioned big singles... Well, it is probably fair to say that despite the 20 years that have since passed, the wounds have still not healed.

Occasionally, things I have learned to hate have been re-habilitated. Nirvana's Nevermind is a case in point (A housemate played it continually for a month), as is Doves's first CD (which was heard under mis-fortunate conditions, e.g. with Coldplay). But 'Appetite..' was not one of them. I genuinely cannot recall hearing a CD that made me judder so often while listening to it.

I understand that nostalgia can play sneaky tricks on the mind, but guys, I recommend that you go and try to listen to that CD afresh. You'll see what I mean...

Catching Up and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy gig

Bloody hell... exactly where did that week go? I almost feel ripped off, except that time blurring is kind of the norm around here, so really, I am the fool for being surprised.

Anyway, I have a pile of CDs to comment on, new purchases to report and a gig to mention. In the interests of post titles, I am going to post a number of entries.

New Purchase report:

My Latest Novel - The Reputation of Ross Francis EP - - 2006 - Bella Union (£3)
Brian Wilson - Smile - - 2004 - Nonesuch (£6 SH)
Various Artists - New Orleans Funk 1960-1975 - - 2000 - Soul Jazz Records (£8)

I also have a few en route via the post - all rare Bonnie 'Prince' Billy stuff.

On the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy tip... I am extremely happy to mention that I will see the great man in April. He is - as is his won't - doing a number of gigs in the far far North (the most southernly of which is Gateshead). But the final gig of the tour is at a very small village hall in the middle of nowhere (Glenuig Village Hall, to be precise). I have the suspicion that this is going to be one hell of an occasion. All the pieces fit:

1) end of a tour
2) a one off tour at that (it is funded by Scottish Arts and he is playing with a small Scottish folk band)
3) apparently the location of a boyhood holiday
4) middle of nowhere
5) the only people there are very likely to be the most determined and enthusiastic fans (this was confirmed to be by the management of the hall), so the atmosphere should be close to ecstatic.
6) From what I understand, an awful lot of those going will be camping nearby

Now, given the atmospheric, esoteric, and/or utterly unpredicatble nature of Will Oldham gigs (as I understand - this will be the first time I will see him), I think it is easy to see why this gig will be a monster. I think I would be a FOOL to miss it. Despite the million hour drive and perhaps even having to camp.

Thankfully, despite anything else I might say about my wife and daughter, they are both totally game when it comes to an adventure. Both of them are up for it. Che is excited because it is the first gig that she will be allowed to go to (children are allowed - it is a village hall) and it is in Scotland, and I think she has picked up my almost unbridlable excitement. Caroline is just tuned into the damned foolishness of the trip. She does like to try new things, much more so than me. So, my suspicion is that she has picked up on my determination and kind of figured that Bonnie 'Prince' Billy ain't that bad, and that I will not need any persuading on this one. You don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

So, April 22nd. I cannot wait.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

(The Godlike Genius of) Scott Walker

It barely needs noting that there is no-one - not even Satan - who can resist the glory of Scott Walker's self-titled albums from the late 60s. The Walker Brothers' releases beforehand are pretty nifty too. I was blown away by Scott's tunes from 'Nite Flights', which leapt out of the darkness like that thing in my bad dreams, and showed me a whole new Scott (a scary Walker - a Walker brother from another planet). Even when I finally bought 'Tilt', it towered over me, and despite being really hard to get, gave me thrills ('21, 21, 21'). But for some reason, I kept putting 'Climate of Hunter' off. Perhaps it was the rumours of poor '80s production. Perhaps it was caught between the twin-glories of 'Tilt' and 'The Electrician', and so simply could not compete. Perhaps I just knew that a sparkly new remasted edition was on the horizon, and that I should really just wait.

Well, wait I did. And sure enough, a sparkly remastered edition was released, which I bought as soon as I saw it. Even then, however, the mood wasn't right and it sat, unplayed on my shelf for a further three and a half weeks. I do not know what I was thinking, or why I was thinking it. It might be the same reason that 'Au Hasard Balthazar' still sits unwatched on my DVD shelf after about three and a half months, despite years of wishing for it.

Anyway, about a week ago, I finally did it. I played 'Climate of Hunter'. Bloody Hell, the guy is good. Yes, it probably is fair to say that the production is not perfect - and yes, it is also probably fair to say that it is not as great as 'Tilt' or 'The Electrician'. But bloody hell, the guy is good. It does sound very much like it sits between those releases. It is not as operatic as Tilt, nor as much like a fucked up disco as 'Nite Flights', and as such, it probably is not as good. But this is a bit like saying that The White Album is not as good as Revolver or Sgt. Pepper - it is probably true, but it is hardly condemnation either.

As for the sound: heavy slabs of synths play host to Scott's loosely shaped lyrics. The word play is not tight or playful, but every word, every phrase and every phrasing seems forced. I feel like I am being a little over-dramatic here, but it does feel like the Garden of Gethsemane - everything feels like it is being forced into existence. Here is a sample of the lyrics (I do not claim to know what he's on about):

'This is how you disappear
out between midnight

called up
under valleys
of torches
and stars.

Foot, knee,
shaggy belly, face,
famous hindlegs,

as one of their own
you graze with them.'


Various contributors come and go throughout the disc - from Billy Ocean (who performs a duet on the one single from the CD - the appropriately named 'Track Three') and Evan Parker to Mark Knopfler. Somehow, these oddly inappropriate artists are sucked into Scott's universe, and give performances that somehow make the CD a little more tense again. I have waited a long time for this - and for no terribly good reason - but hey, it was worth the wait.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

My Latest Novel, U2 and Michael Nyman

As I said yesterday, I did indeed go to purchase a number of CDs later that day. I had hoped to get back to you before then, but real life intervened and I didn't. Such is real life.

How real? Beats me.

I bought five CDs:

My Latest Novel - Wolves - - 2006 - - Bella Union (£12)
Pharoah Sanders - You've Got to Have Freedom: Anthology - - 2005 - - Universal (£9)
Leonard Cohen - The Future - - 1992 - - Columbia (£4 SH)
Michael Nyman - The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover - - 1989 - Venture (£5 SH)
Steely Dan - Can't Buy a Thrill - - 1998 (reissue) - - MCA (£6)

I am also going to mention two other recent releases:

U2 - Achtung Baby - - 1991 - - Island (£5 SH)
Scott Walker - Climate of Hunter - - 2006 Reissue - - EMI (£6)

First up - My Latest Novel. This IS going to be huge. I caught a track on the radio - DAB's The Arrow - 'Real Rock Radio'. (This is, incidentally, the best music station I have come across on DAB. Most of the time, it is more of the usual MOR rock standard. But there are floating around in the station a few DJs who know their music, and have played some very interesting bits and bobs. Anyway...) As soon as I heard this tune, I thought that it sounded interesting with a capital 'I' and instantly felt the need to hunt the sucker down. Discovering that it wasn't yet released as an LP, I pre-ordered with Steve (my dealer), and readied myself for possible vindication or disappointment. Thankfully, I am glad to announce that the former was in order. It's really fucking good.

To cut a long story short, its a folkier Arcade Fire. Whereas the Arcade Fire were more angular - especially in their Bowie/David Byrne/Pixies connections - these guys are a little more flowing, and less fixed in their textural palette. By that I mean that they let the percussion and strings do a lot more of the work than the Arcade Fire. (This is not to say that AF are stingy with these elements, but more that they use strings and percussion to augment what the 'traditional' rock instruments are doing, rather than let these instruments set their own terms - Does that make sense?). Where they are very similar, is in their energy and conveying a definite sense of urgency. On top of all that, the songs are pretty good too. 'Learning Lego', 'When We Were Wolves' and the single 'The Reputation of Ross Francis' make lovely use of chanting and shouting, while the opener 'Ghost in the Gutter' has a great Morricone feel. Go and buy it now!

I am going to deal with two more in the same chunk if that is OK. I used to have both U2's 'Achtung Baby' and Michael Nyman's 'The Cook, the theif...' on cassette (probably still do.... oh no, I don't - I binned all my cassettes) . Both of them had been somewhat sidelined in my attentions, and I felt almost lukewarm about re-buying them, despite the fact that they were both criminally missing from the collection.

Both of them were highly satisfying to actually play again and have reminded how damned great both artists are. Nyman's opener to this is such a headturner - 'Memorial' both recalls the film and is thoroughly evocative in its own terms. My instant thought is that I would love this track to a perpetual soundtrack to the whole of my life. Then, maybe, I would feel as important as I ought to feel. The whole world would be one grand procession. It's probably as well that this is not the case, since the sudden obligation to stand and walk at such a pace would surely piss every other living person alive off way too much. (Possibly even me). But the world would seem such a grand place. The last track was missable and probably accounts for my half-heartedness, being a vocal piece. I am not a great choral person.

'Achtung Baby' was placed in the deck with great misgivings. It has been heartily dissed by me on several occasions (despite kind of knowing that I was being unduly harsh). I am so so devoted to The Unforgettable Fire, that this seemed so so wrong on release. I bought it (on cassette - an indication of my purse-lipped attitude to it), listened to it and then set it to one side. I now know why: 'The Fly'. This was the first single and it sucks. It was all that was wrong with U2 post 1990 - over-brash and full of itself, but mostly shiny and luminescent. I liked the matt shades of greys from UF and even The Joshua Tree. But having listened to it through, with honest ears. I have to say that overall, it is pretty good. the other singles hold up very nicely. Even 'One', which is now Johnny Cash's, as far as I am concerned, was satisfying. It will never reflect that golden period of sullen growing up that I associate with UF, but still a damned good CD from a band that know how to rock (even if I wish they wouldn't).

Time prevents me from getting to the other stuff... I will be back.