Friday, 1 February 2019

LINER NOTES: POSTCARDS FROM ITALY [2018]






1.    Come Again – Au Pairs
2.    Nice – Kleenex
3.    Lie Dream of Casino Soul – The Fall
4.    Cathedral – Felt
5.    Speaking Terms – Snail Mail
6.    If I Was an Animal – Chain & the Gang
7.    Drained – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
8.    Mountain - Stereolab
9.    Rated X – Miles Davis
10.  Inner City Blues – Reuben Wilson
11.  Maria Tambien – Khruangbin
12.  Out on the Tiles – Led Zeppelin
13.  Colorado – Manassas
14.  Wicked Gil – Band of Horses
15.  Total Football – Parquet Courts
16.  Secret for a Song – Mercury Rev
17.  When It Grows Darkest – Laura Veirs
18.  Heat Wave – Snail Mail
19.  If Not Tomorrow – Comet Gain
20.  Postcards from Italy – Beirut
21.  John's Theme (Children Play) – Pino Donaggio


The 1960s saw a large number of female artistes making a credible impact across a wide range of genres: selected randomly, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Etta James, Fontella Bass, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Bobbie Gentry, Patsy Kline, Emmylou Harris, Jacqui McShee, Sandy Denny, Nico, Carole King, Dolly Parton, Nancy Sinatra, Tammy Wynette, Dusty Springfield, Carol Kaye, Dorothy Ashby, Tina Turner, Tammy Terrell, The Supremes, The Shangri-Las, The Chiffons, The Ronettes.
The early 1970s weren’t nearly so inclusive. The nascent heavy metal scene, the glam-rock scene (ironically) and the southern rock scene were movements orientated towards the male. Patriarchy re-asserted itself by way of the sex, drugs and rock & roll myth, which encouraged women to prostrate themselves before the icons of the day: Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Steven Tyler, etc.
It’s no coincidence that punk and new wave carried a strong female presence. Despite its provocative stance and reputation as anti-social, punk was actually a fairly conservative movement, rebelling simultaneously against the perceived decadence of the establishment and the music industry. Its supposed nihilism was playful and masked a high moral stance. The previous generation, who had sloganeered and campaigned through the 1960s, had sold out for a life of material worth and part-time licentiousness, and punk existed to shine a light on uncomfortable truths. Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Tina Weymouth, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson from the B52’s, Siouxsie Sioux, bands like the Au Pairs and The Slits and Dolly Mixture, Poison Ivy of The Cramps, Gaye Advert of The Adverts… imagine what punk might have mutated into without them.  At the very least, it wouldn’t have been half as interesting. At worst, ‘Oi!’ may have triumphed as punk’s prevalent strain, and machismo would once again have held sway.
Having been made redundant at the end of 2017, which I was sanguine about, the first half of 2018 brought with it weekly walks into Twickenham, whereupon I discovered Eel Pie Records. Although not financially stretched, my predicament demanded that I exercise caution and avoid buying records impulsively. On one such visit they were playing the Au Pairs. It certainly sounded like my sort of thing, but to be sure I returned home and looked into it. A comparison with Gang of Four was enough to convince me, and by the end of the week Playing with a Different Sex was mine.
Whilst conducting my research, YouTube wondered if I might like to listen to Nice by Swiss all-girl post-punk band Kleenex, which I did. Kleenex changed their name to LiLiput after the Kimberly-Clark Corporation threatened to sue them for infringement of copyright. Eel Pie Records didn’t have a copy of Kleenex/LiLiPUT (The Complete Recordings), so I downloaded Nice to follow on from Come Again by the Au Pairs.

People who get upset over the death of someone famous like they would do a friend or relative are weird, or just pretending. I thought it sad when Arthur Lee died and when Prince died and when David Bowie died but I didn’t know them personally, and they were completely oblivious to my existence, so there was limit to how low I could go. And yet, when I was told that Mark E Smith had passed I did feel something approaching sorrow, albeit for a short time. I put this down to the unusually high regard in which I held him as a lyricist, the manner in which he delivered his verse and length of time I’ve been listening to The Fall (over 25 years at the time of writing). Such is wealth of material available to Fall fans that I’m still discovering favourite tunes to this day, but how the hell did Lie Dream of Casino Soul evade me for so long?
The record label Cherry Red are in the process of re-issuing Felt’s back catalogue on vinyl. I intended on buying Forever Breathers the Lonely Word, which includes A Wave Crashed on Rocks, a song that I included on the compilation I retrospectively put together to reflect my listening habits in 1997/98. However, I found footage of Felt performing on Spanish TV and was very affected by their performance of Cathedral, which comes from their first LP, Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty. I am presented with a dilemma, because although I’m working again I still can’t afford to spend 20-odd pounds willy-nilly, which is the going rate for vinyl these days.
This is why I purchased the album Lush by Lindsey Jordan – aka ‘Snail Mail’ – on CD. I first heard the record in Eel Pie Records but ended up buying it from HMV in Wimbledon on a whim. Had I been set on owning Lush on vinyl then I’d have returned to Eel Pie Records. Anyway, Speaking Terms is my favourite track on the album. The record as a whole brings to mind American indie-rock of the early 1990s, before Lindsey Jordan was even born.

Early in the year – late February, a few days before the ‘beast from the east’ announced itself – and Ian Svenonius’s group Chain & The Gang were back in town. I’d been trying to find a copy of the band’s sixth album, Experimental Music, since its release in September 2017, but to no avail; Rough Trade, Banquet Records, various independent records stores in Brighton – nowhere stocked it. As expected, copies were available at the Oslo in Hackney, where Ian and his band were scheduled to play. The only tune Chain & The Gang deigned not to play from their latest offering was If I Was an Animal, maybe because it doesn’t lend itself so readily to Ian’s high-energy live performance.
Anton Newcombe was throwing demos around on YouTube. Drained sounded like it was ready to go, but when the track-listing for The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s new album was announced it was found to be missing. I purchased Something Else regardless – from Eel Pie Records, although not until the end of the year – and downloaded Drained. (Drained will feature on The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s next eponymously titled record, due for release in March 2019, although in what form is as yet unknown).
Like Felt, Stereolab are in the process of re-releasing a large portion of their back catalogue on vinyl. They began in 2018 by reissuing their ‘Switched On’ series: three separate compilations that gather together singles, B-sides, rarities, oddities. I already own Aluminum (sic) Tunes (Switched On Volume 3) and used to have a copy of Refried Ectoplasm (Switched on Volume 2) taped off of the Former Cohabitant from Brighton back in 1995. I’ve been without a cassette player for many years now, and so I thought I may as well purchase Refried Ectoplasm (Switched on Volume 2). I wouldn’t normally include material like this on a contemporary compendium – tunes that date back to a completely different time and place – but it’s been so long since I’ve listened to this record that I’ve been able to enjoy it from a relatively fresh perspective. Mountain was originally one half of a split-single released in 1993 (Where Are All Those Puerto Rican Boys? by Unrest was the other).




In summer – after the FIFA World Cup had finished, I’m pleased to note – I began work at The National Archives. One day there, I caught my supervisor talking music with a colleague, specifically about this track called Rated X by Miles Davis. He was saying how he’d once heard it played at a club and that it cleared the dance floor almost at once. Since hearing Rated X for myself, I can appreciate why this might happen, although it is actually quite danceable. Rated X starts with a discordant keyboard, played by Davis, before Al Foster on drums, James Mtume on percussion and Badal Roy on tablas all jump in on about 14 seconds with a funky, but quite aggressive, rhythm. After another 15 seconds Reggie Lucas joins in with a repetitive wah-wah guitar riff, which he will play relentlessly for the duration of the record. Michael Henderson’s bass chugs along in the background and Cedric Lawson and Khalil Balakrishna make weird noises with an electric piano and an electric sitar. Every so often the rhythm section will pause abruptly, just for second or so, before carrying on as if nothing ever happened. It’s one of most wonderful things I’ve ever heard.
Perhaps galvanised by this strange groove, I entered into another one of my hip hop phases. These can typically last for a  number of weeks – sometimes even a month – but don’t usually involve listening to anything I haven’t already got. They can, however, prompt me to investigate particular samples, especially where they’ve been borrowed from jazz or funk. I derived Inner City Blues by Reuben Wilson from Youthful Expression by A Tribe Called Quest, a lesser known tune taken from their debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Reuben Wilson is a jazz organist in the tradition of Jimmy Smith, or even Lonnie Smith. Marvin Gaye fans may have guessed that Inner City Blues is a cover. Ramon Morris on tenor saxophone, Lloyd Davis on guitar, and so on.
I came by Khruangbin in Banquet Records, Kingston, where they were playing this group’s latest record, Con Todo El Mundo. I thought about buying it there and then but was on my way to meet someone and didn’t fancy carrying it around. Their music is hard to describe: soul-jazz, psychedelia, world? I detect a sort of Moorish, middle-eastern vibe emanating from this trio, although they’re actually from Huston, Texas, and I’m still pondering whether or not I should go back and buy the album.

Cover bands are a funny thing. In September I went to see Boot-Led-Zeppelin playing in Putney. I didn’t have a ticket and so arrived early in an attempt to get one. I needn’t have bothered because a friend of a friend sorted me out, and I just ended up drinking more than I ought. The gig itself was pretty good. Listening to actual Led Zeppelin after, at volume on a boat in the middle of the River Thames, was even better. Again, I shouldn’t really be including music on a current compilation that already has connotations. I justify it like so: Out on the Tiles lives in the shadows of Zeppelin’s better known songs, and it was Houses of the Holy that I listened to incessantly in 2001/02, not Led Zeppelin III.
Manassas is the name of the group Stephen Still put together in 1971 after he crossed paths with The Flying Burrito Brothers whilst they were all touring the States. The Burritos were on their last legs, Stills sensed an opportunity and invited former Byrds man Chris Hillman, pedal-steel guitarist Al Perkins and fiddle player Byron Berline to join him and his band in the studio to work on what would become Manassas. I’ve written before about how Chris Hillman seemed content to play a more supporting role, be it in The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, or Manassas. But that’s an impressive palmarès, as a song like Colorado aptly testifies.
When I returned to Eel Pie Records to buy Playing with a Different Sex by the Au Pairs, they had on Everything All the Time by Band of Horses, who are from Seattle. Not knowing what it was, I made enquiries and almost left the shop £40 lighter. Wicked Gil was the track that nearly persuaded me, since downloaded. I was quite surprised to find that this album was 15 years old, which just goes to show how little indie-rock changes nowadays.
If you’ve read my liner notes to 2014’s The Big Nod then you’ll know I’m partial to Parquet Courts. The first song I heard from their new album – Mardi Gras Beads – didn’t do it for me. The second – Total Football – did. Previous works by Parquet Courts (as well as Parkay Quarts) brought to mind the Velvet Underground. Total Football sounds like Harmony in My Head by Buzzcocks with Devo doing the chorus. I should probably buy the album Wide Awake!.

It’s about here that I start to build towards some sort of resolution. I had Secret for a Song by Mercury Rev knocking around on my laptop, completely neglected, so in it went. This inadvertently provided a convenient platform from which to launch When It Grows Darkest by Laura Veirs, yet another new release chanced upon in Eel Pie Records. Her music reminds me of Kristen Hirsh from Throwing Muses, although I don’t know how helpful it really is to say that. Nevertheless, When It Grows Darkest is one of my favourite contributions to this playlist.
Heat Wave was the song by Snail Mail that I could remember playing in Eel Pie Records. It has more vigour than Speaking Terms and serves as the compilation’s apex, because If Not Tomorrow by Comet Gain, which follows, has something rather doleful about it. (I’m hoping that an album and live performances will follow in 2019.) For those less familiar with my anthologies, they rarely pander to the year in which they’ve been compiled, but If Not Tomorrow is one of six tunes here actually released in the year 2018 – seven if you include the re-release of the Stereolab track, eight if you allow for the fact that the Chain & the Gang album wasn’t available to buy in the UK until the group brought it with them in 2018.


Campo Bandiera e Moro, Venice

Italy was the first foreign country I ever visited. My parents took me there in 1993 as a sort of last hurrah before I went away to university. We stayed in Pallanza overlooking Lake Maggiore but made excursions to Como, Milan, as well as Lugano across the border in Switzerland. Since then I’ve been to Volterra, Siena, Florence and Genoa, and in 2018 I made it to Venice. Later this year I’m off to Palermo. I also want to visit Turin and Bologna, maybe Naples and Bari.
I never got around to buying The Flying Club Cup by Beirut in 2017, but it’s on that ever expanding list of records to potentially purchase. In the meantime I’ve downloaded Postcards from Italy, which is joyous, celebratory. The fact that I have recently been in the habit of sending memos from the same place is mere coincidence. The addition of John's Theme from Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, set in Venice, is on the other hand contrived.


[This compilation can be heard here.]