on life, music etc beyond mainstream


2015 28 Aug

New Brighton, Merseyside

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Welcome to New Brighton, says the metal mammal that looks like something out of a Russell Hoban novel.

Welcome to New Brighton. It looks fuck-all like it did in the Michael Head documentary from 1992, that’s for sure.

Turn up the colour volume and it could be 1973.

Here’s not really that far – as the crow flies – from Prestatyn, Rhyl, Llandudno or even Dublin. Your Celt aerial picks up no static here. This is somewhere.


It’s Immaterial (New Brighton)

The Strands (Loaded Man)

The Beatles (only kidding)

2015 10 Aug


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Celadon by MAJA S.K. RATKJE, JON WESSELTOFT, CAMILLE NORMENT, PER GISLE GALÅEN will definitely be appearing on my 2015 list. Maja S.K. Ratkje’s vocal on this is nothing short of genius. Celadon is a recording of transcendental, mediumistic power.

According to the record label, Celadon was „Recorded in Norwegian sculptor and painter Emanuel Vigeland‘ s (1875 -1948) mausoleum in Oslo in 2013. A recording space that is famous for its acoustics and its long and full-sounding reverb. These three tracks utilize both the delicacy and the power of acoustic instruments and human voice in relation to the unique recording space“.

There’s a lot to like here – Celadon is beautifully recorded, the compositions wear their complexity lightly, sometimes the timbre seems ancient and Eastern, sometimes it seems like right now (or 2013 in a mausoleum in Oslo, at least). The vibe of invigorating displacement you get from listening to this isn’t unlike the one you get when you visit Neolithic burial mounds. About 21 minutes and 55 seconds into the final track Afterglow, something genuinely special starts to happen. Listen to it and see (hear, feel) for yourself.



2015 7 Aug


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„One day, it may be possible to predict the possibility of life anywhere in the universe from the chemical composition of the cosmos.” [Life: Stupendous, Churning, Steampunk]

Moo. Oink. Baa?

„The multifarious narrative flow develops inside a ‘black box’, which will open a time window of 55 minutes, suddenly transporting the spectator back to the Anthropocene era following a perfectly timed fractal logic of entirety and self-repetition.“ []


„I really liked this record on first listen. Maybe it’s an effect of concision, but I went straight back for a second listen immediately, and loved it. Let’s leave it to professional reviewers to contextualise, compare, value. To do these things I am unable. It had until today been a week/month where the preoccupation was breakfasts rather than music. Don’t underestimate breakfasts. Don’t underestimate music.“ [Me]









2015 6 Jul

Free from all the chaos

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Beside the poplar trees
Where I like to go

Away from busy rhythms of the city
To the languid river Mersey

Beneath the rain-filled clouds
The wind carries a song

Away from all the chaos
Into Fletcher Moss…


2015 3 Jul

Cheshire beer garden

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2015 2 Jul


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Title: Alice
Notes: This has long been my favourite Tom Waits record. Check out the layered word-magic of the opening track. There’s a lot ofwater: a pond, the sea, the ice in the drink, raindrops on the window, the ocean, the kiss, more ice. Contrast comes from the sepia-smokiness of the saxophone. Every track (especially the James Joyce-on-acid Modernism/Vorticism of Kommienezuspadt) is class. What is class? Oh, you’ll know it when you hear it.
Standouts: You could easily get lost in this one. It’s not so much an LP as cosmic psychic multiplex.
Title: Bad as Me
Notes: Three words in the middle of The Guardian’s review of this record sum it up: compassion, anger and sorrow.
Standouts: Too many to type out here. But New Year’s Eve demands a mention in particular for the way it incorporates the traditional composition Auld Lang Syne within the wider structure of the song. Robert Burns and Tom Waits under the same New Year’s sky. And no surname puns, either.
Title: The Black Rider
Notes: A distant cousin of Alice in that it was also (I believe) written for a stage play. The proscenium vibe just goes to concentrate attention on the lyrics and the playing. One minute there’s a saw being played, next minute there are faces in trees‘. The overall vibe is of a vividly-imagined Europe. But one that no European (at least, no 20th/21st century one) would be able to ideate. Difficult to apply terms – but for me it’s neo-classical opera but without any of the negative associations or shades of meaning that the term implies.
Standouts: November, Russian Dance, I’ll Shoot the Moon.
Title: Blood Money
Notes: I love this one but I can’t listen to it anymore – and haven’t in over 10 years. That’s not a pejorative statement: the record carved its spiral right into the inner ear. No need to go back. Another distant cousin of Alice (and The Black Rider) Blood Money was also written for a stage production, this time for Woyzeck. Never seen the other stage plays, but like you I’ve seen the Herzog film Woyzeck. And the hilarious documentary scene where Werner Herzog visits the (then) present occupants of a house he once lived in, someplace (Munich?) and the occupants are a well-heeled, conservative looking couple. And he goes on at length, and he is funny as fuck. As he was also in the BBC interview in Los Angeles when he gets shot at by someone with an air rifle, doesn’t flinch, says „we have to leave“ and an hour later reveals a wide, dark red wound to the BBC interviewer with the words „it was not a significant bullet“.
Standouts: [from memory] Coney Island Baby, Misery is the River of the World, God’s Away on Business, A Good Man is Hard to Find, Calliope, Knife Chase
Title: Blue Valentine
Notes: Some (few) records read like a novel, some (fewer) play like a movie. This is one of the latter. Obvz not a mega-millions linear narrative deal, but box office profit nonetheless. „I’ll take the spokes from your wheelchair and a magpie’s wings…“
Standouts: Whistlin‘ Past the Graveyard, Kentucky Avenue, title track
Title: Bone Machine
Notes: Demented, death-obsessed. Heartbroken: „How do your pistol and your Bible and your
Sleeping pills go? Are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes?“ The vocal personae are like acting roles or sculpture. This assuredly isn’t your run of the mill pop music. It’s got a holographic quality.
Standouts: The Earth Died Screaming, Dirt in the Ground, The Ocean, I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,
Title: Closing Time
Notes: Waits‘ debut is a thing of wonder. Infinitely listenable, it seems to be built from trad parts – a well-bashed piano, voice, strings, trumpet and so on. But it’s not trad at all – there’s a strong sense of psychoacoustics throughout – it’s like you’re in the same room as the singer, blue curls of cigarette smoke and the smell of hops. Some of the compositions here are fucking stunning. Lonely, for example, is Chicago house music avant la lettre. Despite being beatless. There’s a solidity to Closing Time, a charm, a weirdness. It’s unique.
Standouts: All of it.
Title: Foreign Affairs
Notes: Not one of my faves. Not really from a Waits period that I like much. But that’as not to say this is bad. Look at the way Waits can conjure up an entire universe in just a few seconds in Barber Shop. You can actually hear scissors on this, and if you concentrate you can smell stale cigar smoke and brilliantine. It’s kind of like a commentary on nothing. Fucking genius.
Standouts: Barber Shop.
Title: Franks Wild Years
Notes: Expansive, ambitious. A must-see sight for your itinerary is „I’ll Take New York“. Look at how the vocal is dwarfed by the instrumentation: especially the slightly threatening Coney Island organ. The whole thing is pure tragicomedy, the character drowning in false hope while traffic speeds past. For me, there is a touch of Varèse’s Amériques here – the vibe of the out of town guy arriving, and suddenly finding there’s as much to overwhelm and threaten as there is to aspire to.
Standouts: The above-mentioned, I’ll Be Gone, Innocent When You Dream, Train Song
Title: Heartattack and Vine
Notes: Some good songs, but the persona and the production don’t work for me. The arrangements are filmy when there could be field recordings instead of strings.
Standouts; On the Nickel, Jersey Girl.
Title: Heart of Saturday Night
Notes: Diamonds on my windshield is a wonder. Is it about Saturday night traffic or cosmology? You kind of get the feeling here that the diamonds are actually stars and the car is a warp-speed starfighter. Galaxies are merging.
Standouts: The above-mentioned.
Title: Mule Variations
Notes: There needs to be a word for stuff that is Gothic but without the vampire element. Cos this is it: creaky floorboards, cobwebs, cracked sky, broken moon. A beautiful work of art. A triumph. Genius. I love this record.
Standouts: Too many to type out.
Title: Rain Dogs
Notes: I like all of this. Except Downtown Train, for some reason.
Standouts: Cemetery Polka, Jockey Full of Bourbon, Rain Dogs, Anywhere I Lay My Head
Title: Real Gone
Notes: Is Hoist That Rag a protest song? I don’t think it is: it’s too good for that. Too universal. The album cover art does look like wet oil on dried blood though. Real Gone is a work of incredible beauty. It is full of intricacy and idiomatic glitch. Take song Top of the Hill for instance: kind of like if Micmacs had starred Benigni and been directed by Tony Scott in monochrome with occasional bursts of cartoon colour.
Title: Small change
Notes: Step Right Up still entertains. The shtick/persona/jazzteroid intrudes too much on the rest of it. Not really to my taste, this one.
Standouts: Step Right Up.
Title: Swordfishtrombones
Notes: I kind of view this as being the same record as Rain Dogs. There is a quantum leap between Heartattack and Vine and this. Suddenly, Waits is another artist with this. So much here that works brilliantly – the compulsively fascinating art house weirdness of Dave The Butcher, the car boot sale heartbreak of Soldier’s Things, and others.
Standouts: the above, plus Frank’s Wild Years, Swordfishtrombone, In the Neighborhood.

Title: „David Bowie“
Year: 1967
Notes: Fucking bonkers. Fucking hilarious. Fucking genius. A drawer filled with Schneekugeln. Miniature universes with their own weather systems. Pick them up and shake them. But watch out, some of these ornaments contain heavy water, and plutonium snowflakes.
Standout tracks: All of them, really. Sell Me A Coat in particular.
Title: „Space Oddity“
Year: 1969
Notes: Remarkable development from the previous record. Much more first-person p.o.v. Oddly folky but not in a Pentagle kind of way. Production is wonderful – it’s like a hymn to magnetic tape and expressively deficient microphonics.
Standout tracks: Letter to Hermione, God Knows I’m Good.
Title: „The Man Who Sold The World“
Year: 1970
Notes: Another big leap – but is it a leap forward? The vocal personae are largely adenoidal. The band sounds trendy. Led Zeppelin III wasn’t Led Zeppelin’s best moment (not even their second- or third-best moment). But to my ears, this is something that aims for the same approximate space as III, and doesn’t really get there, or anywhere, much.
Standout tracks: none. The first 15 to 18 seconds of Saviour Machine are quite good.
Title: „Hunky Dory“
Year: 1971
Notes: The cover art is total shit. Music: a bit plinky-plonky. Entire LP sounds like a demo from an alternate universe where you can just dream the music in your sleep into the A&R brain rather than hand a recording of it in to the A&R department (or get a motorcycle courier to do so on your behalf). Hunky Dory sounds to me like it was recorded, produced, released and consumed in an era well before Space Oddity. Maybe creative time isn’t linear. I don’t like this record.
Standout tracks: None, again. The stammered, repeated voiceless palato-alveolar affricate consonant in ch-ch-ch-changes is great though. Fuh-fuh-fuh-fucking genius! Do I hate this record? Of course not. That would involve having to listen to it more than like twice.
Title: Ziggy Stardust etc.
Year: 1972
Notes: Some of the better elements of the artist’s earlier work come back into play, like right back to the first LP, (albeit without the smell of Edwardian-era carpets and wallpaper). Whole thing still too honky-tonky and plinky-plonky for me.
Standout tracks: Still none. But the intro to Starman (ie the first 18.5 seconds of the track) is definitely an off-cut from Space Oddity (or time travel). It’s like a green screen blanket made out of pure cosmos. Total genius. Another chroma key world.
Title: Aladdin Sane
Year: 1973
Notes: That weird squeal that Robert Plant does at the start of Immigrant Song? Sonic puke. You can hear it on Block Buster! by The Sweet, you can hear it on Rubber Bullets by 10CC. And you can hear it here. To be fair to Bowie, though, there is some forward motion here. One of Bowie’s most genius attributes is that there are stylistic echoes going forward and back between works that are otherwise discrete. It’s not like X sounding a bit like Y. It’s like X and Y come from the same place, the same iration, but different simultaneous iterations of the iration.
Standout tracks: Black Dog, Rock and Roll, Misty Mountain Hop, Going to California. Oops, wrong fucking LP.
Title: Pin Ups
Year: Fuck knows
Notes: I’ve never listened to this one.
Standout tracks: silence
Title: Diamond Dogs
Year: 1974
Notes: The opening seconds sound like the Immigrant Song screech being pitch-shifted down and echoing, briefly, around the base of a garbage can. It’s a great 3 seconds. The rest of the record – when compared to the previous half-decade’s output by the artist – is like fresh air. At last. The title track even references an oxygen tent – as well as the Immigrant Song screech. It’s like meta-commentary stand-up comedy.
Standout tracks: Bowie’s cover version of the Generation X song „Rebel Rebel“ is prescient. How did he know they’d sound like that a half-decade later? It’s a mystery. „1984“ tries the same prescient trick, doing an Isaac Hayes except that hook was well in the past by then. The „Twilight Zone“ sample at the end ain’t fooling anyone.
Title: Young Americans
Year: 1975
Notes: More prescience. Young Dave foresaw Donald Trump’s hairstyle and nicked it for the cover art. Largely, the music is nicotinised soul. You imagine a lot of coughing and phlegm in the smoking zone. Although there may not have been a smoking ban in 1975? The smokers are all dead, so no-one can check. (Marlboro Red please. And a double espresso. Danke.)
Standout tracks: Young Americans, Fame, Right.
Title: Station to Station
Year: 1976
Notes: Lyrical genius. „It’s not the side effects of the cocaine. I’m thinking that it must be love. It’s too late to be grateful … I won’t let the day pass without her.“
Standout tracks: Station to Station, Wild is the Wind.
Title: Low
Year: 1977
Notes: If Station to Station was like plate tectonics – plate to plate, stationary-stationary – then Low is the place it hinted at trying to get to but never quite found the coordinates for. It may feel like there has been an eternity since the last truly great David Bowie record in this post, but a quick look at the above text, the calendar and some magical arithmetic on a Casio calculator puts the distance at ten years. 1967 is the debut LP year, 1977 is Low. I’ve checked twice with the Casio and it does compute. Only 10 years passed between 1967 and 1977. The weave of time and space must have a central fuck up, or crack up, or a whole book of crack ups. How did we get here? Via Sell Me A Coat and the Immigrant Song high-register honk? Maybe. By the way, I saw a Blood Transfusion Service van driving up the street on Friday. Ordinarily this would be unremarkable, of course, but then I saw a horde of vampires running after it. The blood van stopped at the red light, and the vampires sprinted close, within kicking distance of its number plate. Saliva dripping from their fangs. A blood frenzy. Then the lights changed to amber and the transfusion service van was off at 30 miles per hour into that generalised granular dark concrete greyness that is typical of your usual UK street. A literal disappearance, an unplayful camouflage. The vampires ran on in vain, in the drizzle.
Standout tracks: Art Decade, Warszawa, Sound and Vision
Title: Heroes
Notes: Lighter than low, less listlessness. Production almost dubby by comparison. Funny cover art.
Standout tracks: V-2 Schneider, Sense of Doubt
Title: Lodger
Year: 1979
Notes: Unbelievably influential – most of UK pop for the whole of the 80s intertextualised (copied) this record. Stylistically a masterpiece but emotionally it’s kind of empty. It’s like Hollywoodisation as a statement. Really, really fucking weird.
Standout track: Red Sails
Title: Scary Monsters etc.
Year: 1980
Notes: This has the absolute worst cover art. (Actually Pin Ups is equally bad.) Fucking Pierrot? Fuck off! Musically I like this one a lot. It’s Dave back in full-on pop music mode after a ling time in avant-garde mode. Some real classics here. Ashes to Ashes is a piece of art so successful that it actually enters the limbic system the first time you hear it, and never lets go.
Standout tracks, the above-mentioned, plus Up the Hill Backwards, Fashion, Teenage Wildlife
Title: Let’s Dance
Year: 1983
Notes: More shit cover art. C’mon Dave, wtf? But God, I love this record. So, so much. Modern Love is so great that I almost puke with joy when I hear it. China Girl reprises the ersatz orientalisms of Red Money. But I forgive it because it’s a great song, and brilliantly song. Great song follows great song. Then about halfway it begins to run out of steam. I love populist stuff and Let’s Dance does populism well . There’s no millionaire’s guilt here – no „I can see those fighter planes“. It works for me.
Standout tracks: the first 4 or 5
Title: Tonight
Year: 1984
Notes: The cover art is quite good. The music is all very pleasant. Should come with a health warning though for the awful cover version of God Only Knows. Jesus, the original is depressing enough. Listen tothis one and you may find yourself on the phone to fucking Dignitas.
Standout tracks: Don’t Look Down, Neighborhood Threat
Title: Never Let Me Down
Year: 1987
Notes: Some good songs (Time Will Crawl, Glass Spider, Shining Star). 80s production is at its high watermark here. But this record is remarkable for its sense of absence. It’s like Dave’s true self has moved on but a kind of Dave shell has stayed behind on microphone duties. Terrible, awful, crap cover art. None of the music is awful.
Standout tracks: the above-mentioned
Title: Tin Machine
Year: 1989
Notes: Tit machine, morelike.
Standout tracks: nil
Title: Tin Machine 2
Year: Fuck knows
Notes: never heard this LP. Any good?
Title: Black Tie etc.
Year: 1993
Notes: Crap title imho. Musically no real surprises. Plenty of good tunes. A very good recorded – but was it marketed well? Some of the songwriting here is worthy of a Légion d’honneur.
Standout tracks: Jump They Say, Looking for Lester
Title: Outside
Year: 1995
Notes: Mystifying. Occasionally truly great.
Standout track: Algeria Touchshriek, Strangers When We Meet
Title: Earthling, Hours, Heathen, Reality
Year: 1997 – 2003
Notes: Reality is the most comfortable of these – but all have their moments
Standout tracks: Days, Thursday’s Child, The Dreamers, Everyone Says ‚Hi‘
Title: The Next Day
Year: 2013
Notes: Where Are We Now? Is a classic, no question.
Standout tracks: the above-mentioned, plus If You Can See Me and The Stars Are Out Tonight

2015 27 Jun


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Robert Plant: „This is a thing called ‚Bron-Yr-Aur‘. This is a name of the little cottage in the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales, and ‚Bron-Yr-Aur‘ is the Welsh equivalent of the phrase ‚Golden Breast‘. This is so because of its position every morning as the sun rises and it’s a really remarkable place. And so after staying there for a while and deciding it was time to leave for various reasons, we couldn’t really just leave it and forget about it. You’ve probably all been to a place like that, only we can tell you about it and you can’t tell us.“

I guess I have, Robert. Summer Solstice 15 years ago. Here. It was magical. But I spilt cider on my mobile phone and knackered it.

2015 25 Jun

Codex by Ghost Harmonic: revisited

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It was probably a bit presumptuous to attempt a review of Codex prior to receiving a copy of it, but I think it was a worthwhile exercise. My idea of what it might be like based on verbal descriptions wasn’t all that far off, really. D’you remember The Overload by Talking Heads and how it was reportedly an exercise in the emulation of the sound of Joy Division (who they’d never heard)? Well it was a bit like that for me, in a way. Talking Heads got uncannily close in some respects, but the original JD and the Heads‘ inventive pseudosimulacrum have different axial tilts – so they throw out different thought-particles into the cosmos. I say „pseudosimulacrum“ because, well, it could hardly be a straight simulacrum if the Heads hadn’t heard the source material.

So Codex isn’t unlike what I’d imagined, but there’s more there than I’d expected. First plays were through in-ear JVC phones. Maybe it’s cos of bone conduction with in-ear phones (i.e. sound travelling through your actual skull) but it lacked nuance, and was oddly 2-D. Later plays through a mono Bose loudspeaker did the trick though – there are all kinds of subtle layers and dynamic shifts going on that I’d missed before. You do really have to pay attention to this one though – to the untrained ear this could sound lobotomised like lift music or a Hamlet cigar commercial at 16RPM. To a more tuned-in ear, though, Codex is the kind of journey into sound that you don’t get to buy a ticket for that often.

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