14 January 2019



Don’t you just love those times a seemingly random trail of decisions leads to your discovering a really good band?
I decided to head to Wikipedia, to see what became of Coalesce. I know they had a reunion about ten years ago, and assumed they vanished again, as quickly as they reemerged.
I was right.
However, while reading that, I clicked onto the page for their vocalist, Sean Ingram. And while there, I read that one of his biggest musical influences was none other than Phil Anselmo (drunken racist who also happens to be one of the greatest frontmen ever. The world isn’t black and white. Well, I guess it is to him…)
The source for that was an interview, from about 2001, with Verbicide Magazine, which may or may not exist these days. I doubt it, if the page was archived. I just can’t bring myself to actually find out. Effort.
And while there, I read that he was at the time listening to:
Radiohead, Higher Burning Fire, Lisa Loeb, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Jimmy Eat World. Also a lot of stuff Ed Rose gives me, but I never get band names on those tapes.
Okay, I’ve heard of most of them. But Higher Burning Fire? New to me. But Ingram is a man of fine taste. So I thought…
I’ll check them out.
And I am doing. They’re great! Pretty delicate American indie for the most part. Softer Weezer, harder American Football. Really nice arrangements. Maybe I wouldn’t have loved them when I was 20, mind, so perhaps finding them now is for the best.

But as I listen to them, seeing on Spotify that they average 40 listeners per month. I get to thinking. When they get their 5 cents a month or whatever, do they notice the royalties? Does it warm their collective heart a bit, thinking that people are still checking them out? Or are they bitter, thinking about how much they gave to their one album, that it should have made them stars, so those tiny cheques hurt, like microscopic daggers plunging into their everlasting souls?
For all I know, they’re all in Coldplay. Or they’re ghostwriting Maroon 5 and Sam Smith. But I don’t think so. I think they’re carpenters, baristi, data scientists and maybe there’s a dead one. And they smile inside when they see someone new has discovered their album, 18 years later. Apart from the dead one.

12 December 2018


Just a quick note to say I am enjoying - if "enjoy" is an appropriate word - the Altars of Grief album, Iris. Google, and the band itself, describes its music as blackened doom! I get the doom, but not the blackened aspect. There are fast drums, but not really monotonous blastbeats. The prevailing mood, I would say, is one of mournful doom.

Mournful doom! There's a category for the Grammies, hey. Your music in this subgenre would be slow, heavy, but most of all very sad. But mournful more than merely sad. It's like the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in "the Weeping Song":

Father, why are all the children weeping?
They are merely crying sonO, are they merely crying, father?Yes, true weeping is yet to come

I would imagine that such a style of music is not everyone's cup of tea. However, while walking in the Pennines yesterday in the gloaming, fingers freezing as a heavy fog descended, I found there are few more appropriate soundtracks to such a walk. 

The guitars are heavy and melodic, and the vocals a mix of deathy bellows and very heroic melodic fare. It's not the kind of thing you'd listen to every day, unless you were of a very robust constitution, but it's edifying once in a while. 

09 January 2018

Zeal and Ardor - Devil Is Fine




I don't even know what to make of this. But I stand corrected. In my last post, I suggested rock music (though still occasionally very good) didn't really have anything new to say. I was wrong. Take "Come on Down", a track by Zeal and Ardor, which seems to pretty much be a gentleman by the name of Manuel Gagneux: playtime music box melodies in battle against black metal riffs, before an amnesty is called, and the chimes and axes actually duet, matching melodies as we all hold hands and sing along.

Gagneux is Swiss. Given that the only other Swiss metal supremo I know of  - Tom G. Warrior - is equally forward thinking, it makes sense that this should be mind-bendingly good. Props to the excellent Kim Kelly, whose article in Noisey made me first aware of this band. But what a shame on me that I took so long to put that reading into action. I have been pondering what could be my album of the year for 2017. Many albums have struck me as good, but literally none stood out as a proper contender. 

On my first listen, admittedly, Devil Is Fine is striking me just so: right in and between the ears. "What Is a Killer Like You Gonna Do Here" is satisfyingly Nick Cave "Red Right Hand" or Tom Waits in its mock-menacing gruff shuffling. There are three brief numbered "Sacrilegium" tracks, respectively thick-synthy, music boxy (very reminiscent of "Frosti" from Björk's best album Vespertine), and a bit Plone. Remember Plone? No? Well they were good. Very melodic Warp Records chaps.

But listen to "Blood in the River": chain gang harmonising about how "a good lord is a dark one... the one that brings the fire", before the hyperspeed black metal guitar howl and blast beats rampage into the mix.

Remember a few years ago, when the music hipsters who aren't into metal got into Deafheaven as their token metal band because they sounded like an emo band playing black metal, and... didn't really do anything different with it? Zeal and Ardor is what happens when you do something different with black metal, to a degree I've not heard since the glory days of Ulver and Arcturus. It lacks the sense of utter evil that you get in a Deathspell Omega album, say, but that in itself is rather refreshing. Very pleased with this; let's see what multiple listens do for me.

P.S. I know this was technically 2016, but I'm counting it as 2017. Pretty sure that's what it says on my CD. I'm behind the times, but what's new?

08 January 2018

Algiers - The Underside of Power



Stay calm, throughsilver; just write. Write, without proclaiming your need to do so. Just write about the album you told Dunc to buy, without having heard it yourself. That was a good recommendation: you just knew it was exactly what he needed to get on this trip to the UK. You can name this article about it and remove any suspense from this opening paragraph. That's it; write some initial thoughts as you have your first listen to... Algiers! The Underside of Power.

Ahem. So yeah, because I am still planning to write up my Albums In The Years, uh... 2013 to 2016 before doing last years best rekkids, keeping it chronological, I will get around that by just doing posts about the goodies. And I decided to do this one before I had even heard it. That's just how confident I am in my choices. The title track is pretty much classic soul, but a bit garagey. But it works; it really cooks. The singer, Franklin James Fisher, is the main reason for this, as he has a great voice. It's good and thick, drips with attitude, and he's got tons of fire when the occasion demands. That's right: you can weigh fire by the ton.

The hacks call Algiers post-punk, but I don't understand why, beyond the simple fact they are making music now, and we exist in a time after punk. "A Murmur. A Sign." is moody, pleading, as Fisher emotes over Stranger Things synth stabs. Straight after that is what would be a gorgeous piano ballad even without the layers of atmospheric sound adding depth to the mix that simmers beneath more great vocals that in this case are actually a little reminiscent of Holly Johnson. And then the propulsive beats, looped choral snatches and panning gang vocals of "Cleveland". It's brilliant.

I'd be happy for "Plague Years" to go on forever, a cold, wordless atmosphere piece of megaphone vocal loops, synth stabs and one hell of a beat. One of the collection of genres Wikipedia attributes to Algiers is industrial, and that one is pretty accurate. But even then, only in places. "Hymn for an Average Man" is two bluesy piano chords at its heart, joined at various points by disorienting, snaking piano and bass lines, and once more that fantastic voice. No Nine Inch Nails or Throbbing Gristle in this one.

"Bury Me Standing" (the titles are great, too) is more atmosphere, going all Sin City as saxomophones alternately hoot ominously and belch feeedback before giving way to the relative epic (over five minutes!) "The Cycle/The Spiral: Time to Go Down Slowly", more fast paced - a last burst of energy before the end. Really simple but effective lead guitar on that one too. Rock may not be reinventing itself any more, but as long as there are bands like Algiers, it'll at least be interesting.

01 March 2017

Harold and Maude



Hal Ashby (1971)

I've been on this seventies movie kick of late. I don't know why: I just tend to obsess about certain things at certain times, and make them "projects". I see very few of these projects through to completion, and write about fewer still. But that's the context.

Even though it was feted by all the "best of" lists I perused, something about Harold and Maude put me off. It wasn't a paranoid, political thriller. It didn't have car chases. It just didn't really seem like one of those great seventies auteur films. Plus, the title kind of made me think of Terry and June - not especially glamorous.

However, perusing Netflix, I hit upon one of those scenarios in which you can't agree on what to watch, so just plump for a choice that is least likely to annoy both parties.

I was really impressed. A very dark comedy about a 22 year old rich boy who gets romantic with a 79 year old woman who lives in an adapted train carriage, H&M (wait...) surprised me with the modern tone of its humour. Harold's constant staged suicide attempts, and the blase reaction of his super-posh mum, who has seen it all (played excellently by Vivian Pickles) put me in mind of Tim Burton or Wes Anderson, with their respective fondness for soft-gothic ennui and dysfunctional family units. They are no doubt massively influenced by this.

Also influenced is Ricky Gervais, surely. The awkwardness (the poor girls he meets on the "computer dates" his mum sets him up on bear witness to the "suicides", without Pickles' conditioning) is exquisitely drafted, and the very odd couple dynamic influential (Maude loves the odd side of life that she overwhelms Harold's rejection of society; they meet as funeral interlopers). On top of that, Gervais used Cat Stevens' "Tea for the Tillerman" as the theme for Extras. That song is one of many excellent Stevens/Islam pieces soundtracking the film.

Though Maude embraces life with all its eccentricities, she makes it clear from the outset that 80 is a good age to die. Just as Harold falls in love with her, she overdoses on her birthday. Such events in a comedy can be handled badly, but director Hal Ashby and writer Colin Higgins deal with it excellently, both in terms of how it plays out, and in Harold's reaction. The audience is initially led to believe Harold  - stricken with grief - commits suicide. However, he is merely ditching his car (a Jag modded to look like a hearse) as a presumably symbolic sloughing off of his old life, as he embraces his future for the first time.

10 February 2017

Interval time



I may or may not have mentioned that I aim to catch up on my evidently not-missed albums of the year lists. Because compulsion dictates a tag-based view make chronological sense, I shan't cheat and start with the albums of 2016.

I'm going to cast my mind back to those halcyon days of 2011 and attempt to invoke in this decrepit 36 year old self the thoughts and feelings of me aged 31. Clearly, I can't avoid a level of hindsight (or nostalgia), but I'll try to make it as honest as possible.

Because I am catching up on writing, the blurbs for each record will probably be longer than for previous albums in a year countdowns: I hope you'll forgive that (and indeed this) indulgence. I just wanted to explain what I am doing before otherwise anachronistic writing started appearing.

While you wait, please do spend some time reading about Mark Fisher, aka k-punk.  He was a most excellent writer, on blog and otherwise, and I this morning found out that he passed away a few weeks ago.  Chalk that down to my being out of the loop. Here's his blog. I've not actually read his books, but I will do. It's upsettingly funny how motivating a factor death can be.


Just being reminded of him makes me want to improve my writing, certainly the intellectual level. As my mum would say: "'I want' never gets". Let's see if I can be an exception to that rule, hey. Just please come back to me after reading k-punk...
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