Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Two word review: "pure class". Camera Obscura are dapper in appearance, accomplished in playing and blessed with songwriting skills by the (tartan) bag-load; tonight's performance which drew almost exclusively on material from the current and previous albums, managed to recreate the sumptious sounds of both records beautifully.

Singer Tracyanne delivers her country-soul-pop songs with an unchanging facial expression but a voice every bit as gorgeous as on record that conveys deep emotion and grand drama. The six piece band behind and around her are never showy or obtrusive (other than some occasional disconcerting staring) and live recreate the lush textures just as effectively as Tracyanne's singing. Last time I saw them I remember being disappointed by the thin sound and lack of atmosphere - I think both had more to do with the venue (Jabez Clegg). Tonight the keyboards at times sounded like a full string section. And what a joy it is to hear a trumpet live.

And the band are as stylish in dress as they are musically: three of the five men in waistcoats or ties and the women in classy vintage-style dresses - more Madmen than Oxfam. Accessories included a swan brooch from Traceyanne and a white clamshell belt for Carey (that's enough on the fashion review, thank you).

It was an audience of all ages, shapes and sizes - certainly on this showing there is not an obvious CO fan 'type'. There were a couple of (single white) males at the front who appeared to be a bit too obsessive in their attention on Tracyanne. Overall the crowd were quietly reverential during the new material and whooping with recognition at songs from Let's Get Out Of This Country. That is except for a couple of Red Stripe drinking irritants who persisted in having a conversation throughout several songs including during Country Mile. If Mr P had been there he would have tore a strip of the young whippersnappers. I only caught the last few minutes of Attic Lights but was pleasantly surprised. For some reason I was expecting blokish landfill indie but they sounded closer to Teenage Fanclub. Worth listening to more...

The Set List:
My Maudlin Career
Tears For Affairs
Honey in the Sun
French Navy
Let's Get Out Of This Country
Forests and Sands
Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken
If Looks Could Kill
Country Mile
You Told A Lie
Razzle Dazzle Rose
Eighties Fan
Come Back Margaret

Camera Obscura
My Maudlin Career [BUY]

Camera Obscura
Let's Get Out Of This Country [BUY]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"I could meet you at the foot of the mountain, dressed as a mountaineer": THE BROKEN FAMILY BAND and other Monday releases

Well yesterday was the release day for five much desired albums in these parts: The Broken Family Band's 'Please and Thank You'; Camera Obscura's 'My Maudlin Career'; Art Brut's 'Art Brut vs Satan'; Brakes's 'Touchdown' and Jeffrey Lewis's 'Em Are I'.

That's too much of a wallet-bashing for one week so I have adopted a spread-the-burden approach. Specifically: buying the first a week early from Rough Trade, planning to buy the second at tomorrow night's gig (therefore including this as 'gig spends' as opposed to 'record spends'), buying the third today (mission accomplished - importing to iTunes as I type), and relying on Mr P to buy the last two. Hmmm. Might be waiting a bit for this.

So whilst the last three are currently unheard, I can highly recommend both The Broken Family Band and Camera Obscura albums as being worthy of your hard-earned cash. The short review for both is: if you liked the album that preceded this (either 'Hello Love' or 'Let's Get Out Of This Country') you'll love this. But let's talk more about 'Please and Thank You'.

When BFB announced last year they were leaving Track and Field their home and label since 2003 with no immediate deal in place ("we are now officially the hottest unsigned band in Britain") I was deeply troubled by the apparent lack of a plan and what it might mean musically. But I needn't have worried. A new home (Cooking Vinyl) does not mean a radically altered sound even if the label blurb suggests otherwise:
Eight years in, The Broken Family Band have gradually shed the accordionists, the cute girl singers, the banjo players, even the American drawl, and reduced themselves to the unchanged core of Adams, bassist Gavin Johnson, guitarist Jay Williams and drummer Micky Roman. And they’ve made their best album so far.

Now I LIKED the accordian, the banjo, the female vocals and the American drawl but none of this disappeared overnight for this album. (Hence me saying if you liked 'Hello Love' etc etc.). So this album doesn't feel like a sudden departure, more a gradual development. But is it their best album so far?? Better than 'Balls' or 'Welcome Home Loser'??

Well it's just too early to say - I think you need to live with a record for a good couple of months before saying this with any confidence (cop out I know). But after the first few listens it definitely has plenty to recommend it. It combines Steven Adam's smart lyrics (by turns lascivious, sarcastic or humorous) with a strong, confident band sound that is closer to 'indie-rock' than 'indie-pop'. So over 12 songs there is only one that is close to a ballad (album closer 'Old Wounds') and the rest are more uptempo. So this means there is no equivalent to earlier, classic, songs like 'Give and Take', 'John Belushi' or 'It's All Over'. Well re-listening to the album there is love plea 'Mimi' ("I'm thinking you may be the one") and mid-tempo chugger 'You Did A Bad Thing' but these do not have as much presence on the album as the more 'rockin' tunes, most with great hooks, singalong choruses or both. And of these I could have posted any: indie survivors anthem 'Don't Bury Us', the sordid encounter tales of 'Please Yourself' or 'St Albans' (the latter a hoot) or first single 'Salivating' for instance. This is one of the strongest songs to my ears and easily stands up without the typically mocking approach to video promo below. Play this five times and you should be hooked. If not, this probably isn't for you...

So as ever with The Broken Family Band this new album just gets better with each listen. I'll be able to say in June whether it's one of their best. And in the meantime they are touring in April and May and there's some live footage of their March gig in Glasgow available courtesy of Jack Daniels.

The Broken Family Band
Please and Thank You [BUY]

Friday, April 17, 2009


So tomorrow is Record Store Day. And I will be 121.5 miles away from Piccadilly Records, Vinyl Exchange, Beatin' Rhythm etc. And probably at least 50 miles from the nearest independent record store. Here's what Piccadilly Records are laying on tomorrow.

Here at Piccadilly Records we have a fun filled day too, throughtout the day we'll have the cream of local labels and club nights DJing instore, the line-up is as follows:
12.00-12.30 - CLINT BOON
12.30-13.30 - AKOUSTIK ANARKHY
13.30-14.30 - THE UNABOMBERS
14.30-15.30 - UP THE RACKET
15.30-16.30 - EL DIABLO’S (NEIL SCOTT)
16.30-17.30 - BALEARIC MIKE
And as if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, the lovely folk from the Sweet Tooth Cupcakery will be selling rock'n'roll cup cakes, we'll be giving away free bottles of Glacéau Vitaminwater and there's a fortune cookie 'lucky dip' with loads of prizes to be won.

So to celebrate Record Store Day some random memories from me of music I have discovered in record shops plus a recommendation for those of you like me not in physical proximity to a record shop.

First up: Selectadisc in Berwick Street, Soho (now sadly defunct). I 'happened' to be in there one day in 1993 when the music they were playing over the PA stopped me dead. It turned out to be a 10 minute track that STARTED with a countdown to an ending with a flurry of flute, guitar and strangeness. And then got stranger. I stood and listened for 20 minutes to the whole of the first side of Mercury Rev's 'Boces' and then bought it. Never regretted this for an instance. And that first song 'Meth of a Rockette's Kick' still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

A few years ago I was in Vinyl Exchange in Manchester when the same thing happened. Something was playing that stopped me in my tracks. A few minutes later I was the proud owner of 'Milkman' by Deerhoof. And earlier this year I walked into Piccadilly Records with the intention of listening to and probably buying 'The Airing of Grievances' by Titus Andronicus - and what was playing as I walked in? Well it was an omen not be ignored.

Thinking about these three songs/bands, the music is all loud and unhinged. Maybe that's what stands out. But I wouldn't have come across them without being in record stores. And let's not forget all the times that record stores have stocked/listed/recommended music and I've come across it in other ways. In these times of recession and music industry paralysis, let's celebrate and support record shops every day and not just tomorrow.

And if you can't make it to your nearest shop, how about taking up this offer and supporting the online shop for Drift Records?

Between Saturday 18th April and Monday 18th May DRIFT RECORDS will offer '3-for-£10' on our entire back catalogue. Albums by: The R.G.Morrison, Thirty Pounds of Bone, Birdengine, Matt Eaton, Tandy Hard, Thomas White, Le Reno Amps and the critically acclaimed 'Drift Collective' sampler will be available at just £5 each or 3-for-£10. As if that weren’t enough, for the special price of £25 you can purchase the entire back catalogue, plus an exclusive Drift Record Shop 'bag for life' and badge set.

My thoughts are on the Matt Eaton are here. It's easily worth £10 of your money but with this deal you could buy it six times for that prices. An offer you can't refuse?

Mercury Rev
Boces [BUY]

Milkman [BUY]

Titus Andronicus
The Airing of Grievances [BUY]

Matt Eaton
Finish Your Chips [BUY]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I started out in search of ordinary things ... 'Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle' - Bill Callahan

My relationship with Bill Callahan/Smog albums goes through ups and downs. After the career highs of 'Red Apple Falls' (hushed magnificence) and 'Knock Knock' (art rock magnificence) came 'Dongs of Sevotion' and 'Supper' which to my ears were just so-so. Then in 2005 he released 'A River Ain't Too Much To Love' which knocked me over with it's stripped-down folk take on the Smog sound. But the follow-up 'Woke on a Whaleheart' (the first album where he dropped the 'Smog' moniker) I never really 'got' and stopped listening to fairly quickly. So what to make of the release this week of 'Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle'?

Well after a couple of listeners, it's definitely a keeper and may even be up there amongst his very best. And it's not a 'return to form' - it's a subtley different and new development. It takes the assured, philosophical songs of 'A River..' but places them in a beautiful, gossamer-light orchestral arrangements. Drums, bass and guitar play their part but hovering in the background are these delicate strings and horns that reflect the beauty and wonder the songs find in nature.

Bill never likes to make it easy - biographical details are scant, his lyrics can be highly ellipitical, he is taciturn when performing or in interview. But on this record whilst the lyrics are still quasi-philosophical ("how can a wave possibly be?") they are sung by a man who sounds at utter peace with the world. This sense of ease, the wonder at the natural world (birds, winds, trees inhabit every song) and the inventive musical flourishes that give each song a unique identity combine to a winning formula. Some of those flourishes: 'The Wind and The Dove' starts with arabic horns, 'Eid Ma Clack Shaw' is a graceful march, 'Rococco Zephyr' has piano suggesting water ripples and wavering strings suggesting the breeze. And the final eight minute song 'Faith/Void' is almost soulful in its repetition of the phrase 'It's Time To Put God Away' over sweeping strings; it's like Al Green turning atheist. Poetic, accessible and wholly beguiling, this is probably going to be one of my favourite records of the year. (I'm just not looking forward to the follow-up).


Bill Callahan
Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle [BUY]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Photo: Sara Axelsson

Emil Svanängen plays Night and Day tonight in support of the new Loney, Dear new album Dear John. It's another set of Scandinavian lovelorn orch-pop beauty that gets better with each listen. As I type I can't believe I'm going to miss this,but sadly too many over-lapping commitments. BUY TICKETS

Loney, Dear
Dear John [BUY]

And there is a Daytrotter session of songs here too.

Friday, April 10, 2009


When I asked Mr P if we were going to the see The Wave Pictures this Easter Bank holiday his response was "definitely definitely definitely". Given other commitments this month, this was good to hear. And it also turned out to be good news given how good - if short - this gig was.

Seeing The Wave Pictures were playing Manchester had the edge taken off slightly: firstly they were playing The Roadhouse with its occasionally iffy sound; and then secondly they were touring in advance of the new album ('If You Leave It Alone' coming out 4 May). However I'm glad to report the sound tonight was spot-on plus the set took in a range of songs old and new, including two I cannot place (any assistance gratefully appreciated), with the new album on sale early to boot.
Even if on record The Wave Pictures can at times be a bit too casual (if 'Instant Coffee Baby' was sequenced differently, lost two tracks and included the earlier single 'We Dress Up Like Snowmen'/'Now We Are Pregnant' it would have been the hands-down Album of the Year), I had forgotten just how good they are live. The make-up-the-set-list approach might be a bit casual, their playing certainly isn't. The drumming is phenomenally tight, the bass-playing over this fluid, almost jazz-like and David's guitar playing soulful and intense by turns. It all combines beautifully and even songs on the new album like 'Tiny Craters in the Sand' which on record are more whimisical are given extra muscle live. Potentially the best live band in the UK??

Sadly with a club night following, the gig was curfewed early and the band finished a ten song set without even an encore. Highlights for me included 'Friday Night in Loughborough' and new song 'Strawberry Cables' plus drummer Jonny singing 'Now You Are Pregnant'. Towards the end of the set the travelling Geordie contingent in the crowd joined in the singing on 'Our Perfect Lovers' with comic effect and rude words. Getting their revenge for their claim The Wave Pictures never play Newcastle? David's response "it's a long way from Loughborough".

The Set List:
Canary Wharf
("I was drunk and I was blind")
Friday Night In Loughborough
Tiny Craters In The Sand
I Swam Out To Greet You
Strawberry Cables
Now You Are Pregnant
("She had cinnamon on the tip of her tongue")
Our Perfect Lovers
Leave That Scene Behind

The UK tour continues until 15 April with some dates in Spain following. The band are back in June with a date at The Deaf Institute already on sale. Do not miss.

The Wave Pictures
Instant Coffee Baby [BUY]

The Wave Pictures
If You Leave It Alone [BUY]

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Benefits of Mailing List Subscription: Downloads For 'F' All

Making myself feel popular through the daily receipt of automatically generated emails is always a pleasing distraction from life's slings and arrows. And so I always go out of my way to sign up with band/record label/promoter lists whenever and wherever I can. And this week, said subscriptions lead not just to a full inbox but to some free music.
From the Merge Records newsletter:
With one critically acclaimed record under their belt and a highly-anticipated sophomore album Outer South on its way, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band are set to release the documentary One of My Kind on Wednesday, April 15th. One of My Kind will give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s journey over the past year and a half. Watch the trailer for One of My Kind. Download a free MP3 of "Nikorette" from Outer South. Pre-order Outer South on CD and LP in the Merge store.

From Art Brut and Cooking Vinyl:
Simply enter your email address below, and we'll send you a PIN code for a free download of: "Weird Science".
The song is a bonus track to accompany release of new album 'Art Brut' vs Satan on 20 April (pre-order here). The first single 'Alcholics Unanimous' was released yesterday.

And finally from the Chemikal Underground newsletter:
It's only fair that Chemikal Underground subscribers get their hands on a Lord Cut Glass track first, so we duly and proudly present 'Even Jesus Couldn't Love You' - in full and for free!
Just cast your eyes right-ward to the 'Downloads For 'F' All' section and do what comes naturally...

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Aidan Moffat has rendered us his interpretation of Katie Melua's (how should we put this...timeless classic, yes, timeless classic) 9,000,000 Bicycles. Not only that, but we're going to give you it for free. Why? Because it's you and that's how we roll, that's why. You can summon the track to your computer by visiting our new feature, 'Downloads For 'F' All' below...
Well you have to follow this link rather than 'below' but make sure you sign up for the newsletter whilst visiting for future news and music. Cuz otherwise that would be cheating ...

And the eagle-eyed of you kind readers may have noticed I have added an email subscription box to this blog for those (both of you) who are still struggling with RSS. You won't get anything other than notification of posts here. But that way you won't miss out and a slightly fuller inbox may be just what the doctor ordered (at least for the needy and less well-adjusted out there. Come and join me).

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Wonderful Dexterity of Hannu Mikkola

There are three things I know about Finland, namely:
1. It is the home of Nokia
2. They drink a lethally strong liquorice flavoured vodka
3. It is the home of rally driver Hannu Mikkola
The second fact I can thank Mr S of Salford for - but my knowledge of Hannu's wonderful dexterity (which makes me want to shake hands with the whole of that nation) comes from Half Man Half Biscuit and the opening line to 'Architecture, Morality, Ted & Alice'.

In my review of HMHB's Manchester gig I suggested (an unoriginal demand) that Nigel Blackwell should be made Poet Laurate. His powers of observation, satire and sarcasm are brilliant and equally matched by his genius use of language. And all this is celebrated in Chris Rand's exceptionally good HMHB Lyrics Project site. There may be others but as Chris says:

Trouble is, like darts in soap operas, most of them are so wrong. So with too much time on my hands, obviously, I’m trying to rectify the situation, and not only build a complete set of lyrics, but actually get them right (with a lot of help from your comments and corrections). It may take years. Should you have already transcribed any lyrics yourself, and want to contribute them, please email me and contribute to the cause.

So as well as "120 pop songs picked over by pedants" which you can search by song or album, you can leave comments, subscribe via RSS or email for updates, view news updates of HMHB lyrics in the media, info on gigs and bootlegs and even contribute your PBRs (“life is a Perpetual Biscuit Reference”). My favourite of these is from 'Jan' on 27 March this year:

"Sometime ago, Number One Daughter was invited to Avebury at Halloween. She came home full of tales about the folk she had met, and handed me a present, a little notebook made from handmade paper. “Oh, lovely,” I cried, “but why this? What is it?” “Mother,” she retorted, “I’m shocked. Don’t you know a quaint notepad for weekend pagans when you see one?”"
If you don't get this go here and listen below.

Now surely this is what the interweb was invented for? Andy (from Everything's Swirling) wrote a couple of months ago (OK nearly a year ago) about his favourite fan sites many now sadly neglected. He is also the creator and author of the pretty-much-definitive Galaxie 500 fan site A Head Full Of Wishes which, although with not as many laughs as the HMHB Lyrics Project, is still worthy of your attention and your bookmarking. In these days of corporate ownership of 99.9% of the internet, it's great to be reminded that there are people like Chris and Andy who are selflessly using the web and associated technologies to share and celebrate what they (and we) love.

And a final HMHB-related item from me. Ms N's upcoming birthday was celebrated recently with the presentation of some ornamental Joy Division Oven Gloves.

Let's leave the last words to Nigel via Chris's site:
I’ve been here and I’ve been there
In me Joy Division oven gloves
I’ve been to a post-punk postcard fair
In me Joy Division oven gloves
Ooh ooh Nagasaki towpath
Ooh ooh tickling the laird
Ooh ooh checking out the Quantocks
In me Joy Division oven gloves
In me Joy Division oven gloves

Joy Division Oven Gloves

Although the last word may actually go to Mrs A who has taken recently to leaving comments referencing HMHB lyrics. Not that she needed any more ammunition, but I think I may have just muzzle-loaded a large blunderbuss...

Half Man Half Biscuit
Back in the DHSS

Half Man Half Biscuit
Trouble Over Bridgewater [BUY]

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


A 42 minute music compilation of some highlights of live shows this coming month in Manchester: download link in post below this one.

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone Optimist Vs The Silent Alarm (20 April Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Jenny Lewis The Big Guns (24 April Academy 3 BUY TICKETS)
PJ Harvey & John Parish Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen (24 April The Ritz BUY TICKETS)
Dirty Projectors Knotty Pine (with David Byrne) (1 April Mint Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career (22 April Club Academy BUY TICKETS)
Loney, Dear I Was Only Going Out (15 April Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele 26 Miles (1 April Trof NQ BUY TICKETS)
The Wave Pictures We Dress Up Like Snowmen (10 April Roadhouse BUY TICKETS)
Brakes What's In It For Me? (13 April Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Art Brut Sound of Summer (27 April Academy 3 BUY TICKETS)
My Latest Novel The Reputation of Ross Francis (9 April Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
The Sons of Noel & Adrian Violent Violet (24 April Klondyke Bowls Club BUY TICKETS)
My First Tooth Typewriters (11 April Kro Bar BUY TICKETS)
The Zombies Maybe After He's Gone (24 April Bridgewater Hall BUY TICKETS)

And after compiling this it appears the Jenny Lewis gig is not happening. Shame.

And not forgetting:
2 April A Place To Bury Strangers Ruby Lounge / 3 April Marble Valley Chorlton Irish Club / 6 April Wildbirds & Peacedrums Dulcimer / 7 April Bat For Lashes The Ritz / 10 April The Leisure Society Ruby Lounge / 10 April The Loves, the Bobby McGees Black Lion / 10 April Fujiya & Miyagi Deaf Institute / 12 April Keith Ruby Lounge / 16 April Trembling Bells Deaf Institute / 17 April Sparkwood + 21 Carlton Club / 18 April Earth Islington Mill / 19 April The Whitest Boy Alive Ruby Lounge / 21 April The Veils Ruby Lounge / 22 April Health Deaf Institute / 23 April 65 Days of Static Deaf Institute / 24 April Bridge & Tunnel Kro Bar / 27 April The Von Bondies Ruby Lounge / 27 April The Nightingales Night & Day / 29 April The Juan Maclean Deaf Institute / 30 April Richard Swift Night & Day

And for something different this Friday - art or music? Or both?


Download here [47MB]