Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Mark Kozelek Live at Union Chapel London 27/10/2013

Mark Kozelek's music has always been somewhat emotionally raw. Melancholy is an intrinsic part of his style and has been ever since the early days of his band, Red House Painters. Tracks such as “Katy Song” and “24” are perfect examples of Kozelek's skill at making despair seem beautiful. In the same way that there is beauty in a crumbling Victorian mansion, Kozelek's songs have often contained a feeling of irreparable sadness balanced with an element of beauty to keep your attention, to make it all easier to bear. On Sunday night however, the sadness seemed to prevail.

The night started off in an upsetting yet undeniably impressive way. A visibly shaken Mark came out to the crowd to announce the news that Lou Reed had passed away. He told a few funny stories about the handful of times he had met the Velvet Underground founder then launched into a wonderful cover of “Caroline Says II”, a fitting tribute. He followed with what is possibly the best version of “You Missed My Heart” that I've ever heard. It was powerful, expressive and wonderfully played, raising expectations for the rest of the night.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Hypnotist (Song For Daniel H.) - Lullaby For The Working Class

 Alt. Country is one of those genres that has so loose a definition that it's hard to really pin-point what, if anything, makes a country band “alternative”. It's used to describe loud, punky bands with a country twang to them and quieter more introspective folk-rock bands simultaneously. I've often thought that the term, born about the same time as alternative rock, was just lazy band wagon jumping on behalf of record labels to re-market country rock and in some cases the less serious sounding genre of Cow-Punk. But despite my internal debate over genre definitions, over the years alternative country has produced some of my favourite music.

Lincoln Nebraska's Lullaby For The Working Class were one of the more interesting bands of this genre to appear in the mid 1990's. Whilst they released three strong, clever albums of rootsy, acoustic rock, it was their single “Hypnotist (Song For Daniel H.)” that has earned itself a place on my list of favourite tracks. “Hypnotist” is the rare song that is clever, emotionally honest, meaningful and devastatingly catchy all at the same time.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Dead Head - Residual Echoes

The art of evoking the past without losing your grip on the present is a tricky thing to do in music. There's always the danger that any band trying to emulate elements of their heroes music will end up going too far down the rabbit hole and sounding like a weak imitation. There's nothing wrong with being influenced by the past but a healthy dose of originality is never a bad idea.

Residual Echoes have managed to find the perfect balance. Theres something at once familiar and totally new about their psychedelic version of Punk Rock. On first listen, the similarities are obvious. The cascading guitar noise of Dinosaur Jr and the acid fried, spaced-out feel of the Meat Puppets are a main influence for Dead Head. But there is something refreshingly new about it too. In a world where the vast majority of the music you hear (including rock music) is polished to within an inch of its life, Dead Head offers a more visceral and raw experience.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Fumble - Scream

Compared to other cities across the USA and the rest of the world, the D.C Hardcore punk scene was remarkably diverse. As Hardcore evolved over the 1980's it became known for its strict do's and don'ts. Despite the early non-conformist attitude, by the mid 80's in order to gain acceptance from the audience, bands needed to look and act a certain way. Of course, telling this to musicians is like showing red to a bull. One of the most ferocious, and most influential DC hardcore bands, Bad Brains had begun to diversify their sound pretty early on. Incorporating their Rasterfarian beliefs as well as elements of heavy metal to their sound, they sounded like no-one else before or since. After Minor Threat, one of the bastions of Hardcore and a genre defining act, broke up, frontman Ian McKaye formed Fugazi. Gone was the punishing, rapid bombardment of his previous band, replaced with a far more considered, artful and just as effective attack. Even Black Flag in LA (featuring DC expat Henry Rollins) had stuck their fingers up at Hardcore's expectations, grown their hair long and slowed their music to a deadly, creepy, crawl.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Nashville - Josh Rouse

It's rare that you can pinpoint the exact moment that an artist went from being good to great in your eyes. The change is usually gradual, protracted and in a lot of cases, non-existent. It's quite a stunning thing to see the change happen instantly. For me, Josh Rouse's moment came with the release of his fourth album, 1972. I'd known and liked Josh Rouse's music for a while but it wasn't until my Dad played me an advanced copy of 1972 in the car one day that I realised how good he was. It wasn't just straightforward singer/songwriter stuff anymore. He'd taken on board new influences and sounds and made an album with a real groove to it. It was Shuggy Otis by way of Freedy Johnston, yet completely original sounding at the same time. 1972 was a huge leap forward for Josh Rouse. Then, two years later, Nashville came out.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Confession - The Last

To a lot of people the mere mention of music from 1980's LA conjures up images of huge excess. Drugs, booze and hairspray, all in huge, unmanageable quantities and bands like Mötley Crüe revelling in the mess of it all. However 1980's LA was a far more diverse than that and played host to far more than just hair metal. Hardcore was in full force on the tough streets of Los Angeles, with bands like Black Flag and The Germs tearing audiences apart with their faster, angrier breed of punk. Indie labels like SST and Bomp! were gaining a foothold and churning out records that would have far more cultural impact than was apparent at the time. On top of all of this, the often overlooked paisley underground scene, with bands like The Three O'clock and Rain Parade was taking 60's psychedelia and shaping it into a whole new beast.

The Last were one of the few bands to bridge the gap between the LA punk scene and the more pop orientated paisley underground. Hugely admired by both sides of the fence, they have been cited as an influence by the Bangles and in Andrew Earles' great Hüsker Dü biography, Bill Stevenson, drummer for the Descendents, Black Flag and producer/co-conspirator for numerous other punk bands said: “The biggest influence on The Descendents was a band called the Last who were from our hometown, Hermosa Beach.... Songs by the Last were the blueprints for the South Bay Pop Punk sound. The Descendents got the credit for it, but the Last did it.” The band recorded two influential albums between 1979 and 1980, the first of which was released on Bomp!. However apart from a collection of rarities that the band released on a small french label in 1985, the band all but disappeared from view for the next few years.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Rock Family Trees At The Barbican

Pete Frame's wonderful Rock Family Trees series is a treasure trove of information for music nerds and lovers of pop trivia. A collection of Frame's painstakingly hand drawn work is now being shown at the Barbican Library in London, with another lot to go on display next summer. 

I wrote a preview piece on it for, which you can read here.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Welcome The Problems - Colossal

It's often easy to label a band based on the company they keep. You assume that if they tour with certain bands or sign to a certain label, then of course they must be of a similar style. Whilst that's true of many bands, there are always going to be a few exceptions. Colossal fall into the latter category. To call them a punk band would be far too easy. Punk is too simple a definition for exactly what their music is. The truth is, there isn't really a easy definition for Colossal. The band described themselves as a “rock, post-punk, jazz, and pop, indie rock outfit” which is about as good a description as any. There is even a hint of Math Rock to their complex rhythms and stunning technical ability, though they forgo the rigid structures of that particular niche genre for a looser, jazzier feel. But their music is something more than the sum of all those different elements. There is a melancholy soul to their album “Welcome The Problems”. Perhaps its because the band come from Elgin, illinois and my preconceptions about the place have coloured my view, but to me this album is the perfect soundtrack for walking through suburban streets in the winter.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Weak - Seaweed

My first encounter with Seaweed came about during a period in my musical taste that is by no means individual to me. Since Nirvana's Nevermind became a touchstone of modern music in 1991, it seems almost every teenager with a passing interest in rock, goes through a phase of listening primarily to grunge. Nirvana's influence is so lasting that kids that never even shared a planet with Kurt Cobain are still wearing t-shirts with his face on. I for one made sure I had all their albums and singles and any bootlegs I could get my hands on. This, of course, failed to satisfy the record collector in me and as I looked further into Nirvana's history I decided to pick up any records I could find by other bands on the Sub Pop label (Nirvana's first home). Amongst 7 inches by Gas Huffer and B-sides collections by Mudhoney, I found Seaweed's single Bill.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Craps - Big Dipper

 Indie rock in America has always gone hand in hand with student life. Band's are often formed whilst their members are studying at university and college radio stations, often far more relaxed when it comes to playlists than their larger, commercial counterparts, were often the first places to hear new and exciting bands. Some of the most fertile indie rock scenes in the USA started out in college towns. It's of little surprise then that a city such as Boston, where there is over 100 universities, would play host one of the most diverse and fruitful scenes.
     In the 1980's Boston's hardcore punk bands gained a reputation as being particularly ferocious but it wasn't until the late 80's and early 90's that Boston's more melodic bands started gaining more widespread recognition. The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and The Lemonheads are just some of the bands that came out of Boston's historic streets, each of them with their own individual sound. Unlike other regional American scenes of the time (Seattle, Washington D.C etc), where there was a specific “sound” all the Boston bands sounded different from each other. Whether it was the feedback-drenched wall of noise produced by Dinosaur Jr or the sharp post punk of Mission of Burma, each band's style set them apart from the others. Whilst this lack of congruity between acts created some of the most individual and interesting bands of the era, it has also lead to the Boston scene being somewhat under-recognised as a whole. Dinosaur Jr and The Pixies went on to international fame and fortune, becoming huge in the wake of the Alt. Rock boom in the early 1990's, though by the mid 90's both bands had imploded. But whilst they were touring the world and selling thousands of records, bands like the Blake Babies and Big Dipper, were operating under the Radar.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Differents

First, I must admit to you that I don’t know that much about The Differents. A somewhat extensive web search of the band, the single and the catalogue number brought up absolutely nothing about them, other than a few sites where people were selling copies of the single. 

From what I can surmise from the copy on the back of the sleeve, there are just two members, Peter R (drums and vocals) and Stan Walter (guitar and vocals) and neither of them look like they get enough sunlight (though this could be due to the black and yellow photo on the cover or is that just how people looked in 1993?). They hail from this address in Southington, CT and the single was recorded by Kramer at Noise New Jersey and released on New York’s Shimmy Disc label. As the band appear to have only released one 7” single, this of course only leads to more questions. But that’s part of the joy of finding obscure records, the enduring mystery.