Play list 2012
Lio and Marie Liminana from Perpignan, France, make a racket somewhere between Velvet Underground, Sir Douglas Quintett (the cheesily brilliant organ) and Catherine Ribeiro (to whom Stereolab owe more than a little of their inspiration). Minimalist and yet a wall of sound, this madly invigorating music straddles garage and art with ease. The presence of Pascal Comelade will rightly be read as a sign that The Liminanas embrace chance and "false" notes as part of their message. Just brilliant.
The Liminanas, "Crystal Anis" (Hozac Recods)
Mike Lindsay/Cheek Mountain Thief
When he played a festival in Iceland with Tunng, Mike Lindsay fell in love with country, people and a woman, and stayed. The first musical result of this twist of life is this wonderfully, atmospherically ramshackle and sometimes strangely exotic collection of (story-telling) songs. It was recorded with a vast array of local musicians, including violins, trumpets, xylophone, "school percussion", DX7, massed backing choirs and - especially apt - enthusiastically clattering drums. Huge fun!
Cheek Mountain Thief, "Cheek Mountain Thief" (Full Time Hobby)
I've always admired rather than enjoyed this Brooklyn quartet in the past. They were just a touch too cerebral for my taste, too wilfully un-groovy. This time around, however, I'm smitten. They're louder now, clearer in their melodic vision, and more direct in their sonic approach without having abandoned their quirks and flourishes. It's a bit like a fusion of Ziggy Stardust and Erik Satie, with a hint of New York neurosis. Highlight: the gorgeous "A Simple Answer".
Grizzly Bear, "Shields" (Warp)
The Lower Dens
Blimey, this lot is almost as exciting as Amon Düül 2! I missed this when it arrived as an advance CD a few weeks ago and put it in the car stereo more out of a sense of duty then expectation - and now I can't get it off. Fabulously intense and yet minimal computer grooves, metronomic Can-beats, shimmering between-the-lines notes, and a constant stream of subtle detail. And I've not even begun to listen to the apparently meaningful lyrics.
The Lower Dens, "Nootropics" (Ribbon)
In the past, this Brooklyn-spawned six-piece was a little too cerebrally odd in their angular ways to convince me there was genuine madness and soul to their method. This time round, the band's principal singer and songwriter David Longstreth has focused on what is essential to his songs without abandoning the unexpected turns and baffling (at first!) curve-balls. Calmer and quieter overall, Dirty Projectors are no longer irritating but beguiling.
"Swing Lo Magellan" (Domino)
Tom Paley's Old-Time Moonshine Revue
Fiddler and banjo player Paley was a strong influence, if not a pal, of the young Dylan in New York. He recorded his debut album in 1953, founded the New Lost City Ramblers and made countless albums where he made ancient gospel, blues and other folk tunes sound fresh as a daisy. Today, he still regularly performs in London's Cellar Upstairs Folk Club. A gorgeous slice of ageless, vital, fun roots music.
"Roll On , Roll On" (Hornbeam Recordings)
I hadn't really paid much attention to this singer/songwriter from Seattle before and bought this album purely on the recommendation of the infallible Nigel at Rough Trade. And what a remarkable work it is! Folkily psychedelic in roots, oddly biblical in its story-telling, served up with a beguilingly spooky mixture of guitars, effect pedals and studio noises.
"Maraqopa" (Secretly Canadian)
48year old songwriter Gordon became involved in the local music scene when attending the University of Iowa´s Writers´ Workshop. This meant playing guitar with Bo Ramsey, Greg Brown and Lucinda Williams. Now based in Nashville, he has made a handful of records, all good, but none a patch on this, a selection of detail-packed "short-stories" with riveting arrangements and plenty of loud/quiet contrast.
Volume eight in the Ex-Blur guitarist's idiosyncratic and admirable catalogue of solo albums is very different from the folky calm of the preceding "The Spinning Top". Here, Coxon is in exuberant and playful noise mode. Noise, tweaked, picked and scruntched from ancient synths, hedgehog-shaped guitars, pulverisingly resonant Krautrock-Grooves, vicious bass riffs, abstract saxophone howls as well as an old-skool music shop full of rickety effect pedals and great melodies.
"A & E" (EMI)
Patrick Watson is both the band and its singer and principal song writer. This is the Montreal outfit's fourth album. They enjoy throwing the kitchen sink as well as store room and garage at their songs. A song might start with a melancholy piano and Watson´s Nick Drake-voice, and build into a crescendo of Mariachi bands, timpanis, symphony orchestra and The Rolling Stones. Rhe effect is not one of bluster, but, thanks to a glorious sense of melody, of intense, intimate and subtle exuberance.
"Adventures in Your Own Backyard" (Domino)
Four years ago, Philly-born ex-Punk Santi White caused a sensation with her articulate take on a musical style somewhere between the LCD Sound System, Beyoncé and Lady Saw. Her second album may lack the element of surprise or, indeed, the killer punch that was "L.E.S. Artistes". It is nevertheless a fabulously fresh work, a proper album, not just an assemblage of choruses. Great fun, to boot.
"Master of My Make Believe" (Atlantic)
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Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny
Still only 21, BJH has already come a long way from her early acoustic warblings. She cites Frank Zappa as her one major influence of the moment - in terms of attitude rather than music, one suspects. The resulting music is a splendidly upbeat, witty and ever so slightly decadent blend of Rockabilly, Post-Folk, Oompah and Brecht/Weill. Would go well with that Max Beckmann painting on the wall.
Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny, "Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose" (Mute Records)
Mark Lanegan Band
The sorrow-drenched voice of Mark Lanegan has been a glorious wonder ever since it first roared amidst the psychedelic Grunge of Screaming Trees. After a number of collaborative efforts, this is the first proper Lanegan album since 2004's "Bubblegum". Produced by Alain Johannes (QOTSA), it is another fine and atmospheric exploration of the deep dark. The Rock is hard, yet the Blues runs deep - and there is an intriguing hint of Can-style "motorik" beats.
"Blues Funeral" (4AD)
Low-down dirty antique Acetone (or some such organ), stampeding percussion, cheap effect pedals galore, plus the church choir vocals of Emma Daman: the album debut of this conglomerate of "heads" from various Cardiff indie outfits is one huge intoxicating mess, and I mean this in an entirely affectionate way. Loud, chaotic, enthusiastic and utterly refreshing.
"Illuminated People" (Turnstile/Shape)
This Glasgow trio has quite possibly never sniffed a single whiff of proper incense-scented SF air. But my, have they imbibed the spirit! Theirs is a huge wall of sound, consisting of twanging tablas and rattling tambourines, the ethereal twin vocals of Jennifer Ashbury and Kirsty Heather Ashbury (possibly not their real names) and a serious addiction to Jesus & Mary Chain-type guitar textures. Huge fun.
"Haight-Ashbury 2: The Ashburys"
The Unthank sisters specialise in spooky re-workings of traditional songs from the North. Here, they treat themselves and us to a series of songs by Antony Hegarty, Robert Wyatt and Anja Garbarek, live, with extra strings and stuff. Great to hear Wyatt's songs sung by other voices - personally, I find his own "keening" style virtually unbearable these days. The reverential audience noises and the ghastly "Dondestan" are an irritation. Still, a gripping album.
"Diversions Vol. 1" (Rabble Rouser Music)
Last time out Londoner McGuinness was quite the indie kid with a floppy fringe and a neat line in witty lyrics. Three years after his last album, he is reborn as a pale spiv with sharply pressed trousers and slicked back post-rockabilly hair. He has added synth, loops and details galore to a guitar/drum mix that gloriously succeeds in reaching the other end of a tightrope walk between out-and-out pop catchiness and the joyously unexpected. Indie pop that fizzes with verve and wit.
Eugene McGuinness, "Invitation to the Voyage" (Domino)