Monday, 21 October 2013

Dot Dash - Half Remembered Dream

'Pop band, some songs,' the message said and that's always a good sign.  I could choose this point to go off on a rant at promoters who assume I'm going to be swayed to play something because they sound like someone else or because someone on another radio station has already told them, but I won't because I'd rather talk about Dot Dash.

Dot Dash are a four piece from Washington DC.  All four of them have histories with other fine bands and I'll admit to being excited that Jim Spellman from Velocity Girl was a member, because I particularly loved them, but other than that by far the most important thing about them is not biography but, of course, the tunes.   And the tunes are fantastic: potent post-punk guitars, diverse rhythms, irresistible hooks - the works.

I've said before that, while I dread the day when a pile of guitar-shredding noise or pounding electronica doesn't excite the hell out of me, sometimes I'm most impressed of all by a band that has a load of great songs and can play them with style and imagination.  That's where Dot Dash come in, because their album Half-Remembered Dream is chock full of such things.  And, as a bonus, this is melody-fuelled guitar music with a real edge to it: 'Do Re Mi', one of its many highlights, wings along on frantic drums and a guitar line to die, while a big favourite already is the urgent 'A Light In The Distance', where clipped, choppy guitars are the frame for Banks' vocal dexterity.  Great to hear a singer who can clearly sing but doesn't come out like a soulless automaton.

I'm playing the excellent album opener '(Here's To) The Ghosts of the Past' in my October show on Dandelion Radio, which continues to stream at various times until the end of the month.  The album can be downloaded from the band's bandcamp site here or on CD from their Canadian label The Beautiful Music here

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sieur et Dame - Amour et Papouasie

When I begin my annual rundown of the best albums of the year next month, I'll have a tougher task than ever, so excellent a year 2013 has been.  This is partly, though not fully, because about half a dozen labels in particular have been prolific not so much in the number of releases they've put out but in the astonishing level of quality they've maintained.  Kythibong is one of those labels and, with Amour et Papouasie, they've done it again.

In fact, this is probably my favourite Kythibong release of all.  Sieur et Dame weave together the classical and the contemporary, the earnest and the playful in a bewitching manner that messes with listeners' minds just as much as it engages and fascinates.  Consider as an example 'Terrible', a tune that creeps around your brain, with the duo's dual vocals combining the sub-operatic and the near-spoken to leave an imprint on your mind that's far removed from what normally floats my boat, but easily as intoxicating for all that.  Or take the carnivalesque brilliance of 'Torride', which spirals to a frantic finale only to rest
finally on a few sparse piano notes, or the pummeling, upbeat 'Ours Molaire'.  There's plenty more besides: all ten tracks have a kind of unique and perversely enigmatic quality that allows them to inhabit roughly the same fascinating territory and yet stand out by themselves.

This is music for the soul and it transports me to places that few releases this year, for all the many good ones there have been, have taken me.   In my October Dandelion Radio show, I've chosen to play the album opener 'Chalheur Malheur', partly because it suffuses so majestically pretty much all of the album's many intoxicating elements and partly because its appropriation of 'Frere Jacques' is a piece of impudent brilliance that both moves and, yes, entertains me every time I hear it.

Get the album here

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Anata Wa Sukari Tsukarete Shimai - The Lost Charles Underscore

Inevitably, the most exciting ones are the ones you find it hard to trace the origins of, identify what the band have been listening to or even anticipate what the next track will sound like.  In the music of Anata Wa Sukari Tsukarete Shimai (often shortened, conveniently, to AWSTS) reference points fly by often enough, but they're fleeting and quickly replaced by something else that burrows through the headphones and into your ears, leaving you in a state that fluctuates between stunned bliss and numb wonder.

Headphones are optional, of course, but recommended, because this is music you need to fill your head with.  The band's album has been put out by the very fine Bearsuit Records and for me it's their best release yet.  Apparently the people responsible for AWSTS go by the names of Bunny and Gnomeform, which only makes me like them even more.

 But the names, great as they are, fade into irrelevance when the music starts up.  I love the strange elusiveness of the grooves, its warped fuzziness and the way so many parts of it hang together that probably shouldn't.  I love the teeth-on-edge melodic spasms of 'Drink It Up', the mellow yet troubled vibes of 'I Can Make Footprints With My Eyes' and the way 'Backyard' sludges around my brain and threatens never to end.  I love, perhaps more than anything else' the skewed beauty of 'Doll', which you can hear in my Dandelion Radio show this month.  And I love the rest of the twelve tracks too, but it's hard to find words for something as elusively brilliant as this.

Get the album from the Bearsuit Records bandcamp site here   And bookmark the site while you're there, because they're putting out some seriously interesting stuff and you'll almost certainly want to go back.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

20,000 & Counting

That recent JD Meatyard review took Unwashed Territories over the 20,000 mark for viewings.  Thanks!

To mark the occasion, here are the top ten most viewed band/artist reviews.  The list doesn't include general reviews of things like festivals and end of year lists, just individual acts.  Pleasantly surprised that Sugarbrute top the list, even though the band broke up (I think) some time ago:

1. Sugarbrute (below) in session (12 May 2011)

2. Zabraneta Planeta - Bernays Propaganda (3 May 2013)
3. View of the Outer Rim - Lee Negin (23 October 2012)
4. Alchemical Postcards - The Chasms (6 September 2011)
5. Icon Give Thank - Sun Araw & M Geddes Gengras meet The Congos (27   November 2012)
6. Lunar Collection - Lee Negin (below) (24 March 2013)

7. Let England Shake - PJ Harvey (24 December 2011)
8. Demoni - Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs (20 March 2013)
9. Relic - Matt Stevens (4 August 2011)
10. Doobie Wonderland - Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno (1 September 2013)

Interesting that Lee Negin's the only artist to feature twice.  Notable that the ten artists are also spread over six different countries.  Wonder how many changes to this list there'll be when we reach 30,000?  On current form, that should be around February 2014.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

JD Meatyard - Northern Songs

You could make a good case for claiming that John Donaldson's JD Meatyard project is yielding his best work to date, better even that what he produced with the remarkable Calvin Party and Levellers 5.  A remarkable, even contentious claim, but if his debut album hinted at its truth, Northern Songs states it boldly.

Donaldson has matured into a singer-songwriter of remarkable power and versatility.  Here, he moves with ease between the gently romantic 'Dance With You', for instance, to the bluntly acerbic 'A Political Song (Blow It Out Your Arse)', showing an artistic dexterity it's hard to imagine many even attempting.  Ditto, the courageous honesty of' 'Jesus Call' or the humility of 'Standing on the Shoulders of Better Men', where he runs through a roll-call of great artists and comes up with some of the most poetic comments ever written on the subject of Mark E. Smith, to name just one.  It's fitting that the title of the song adapts a quote from Bernard of Chartres that's more popularly attributed to Isaac Newton because a balancing of the spiritual and the material gives a metaphysical framework to JD Meatyard's work that few can approach.  It's this that raises him well above the run of the mill political observer, not that there are enough of them around at the moment anyway.

I've chosen to play the powerful 'Jesse James' in my October show on Dandelion Radio this month.  That's partly because I've already played a lot of the other songs here over the months building up to this release and partly because it's an irresistibly forceful retort to the crisis in modern capitalism that's always been there and which those with an interest in sustaining it are hell-bent on covering up.  The need for an outlaw figure to take back, literally in these times, money that's been taken from the poor and given to the rich becomes, in John Donaldson's hands, a political move so urgent it's disturbing there's a shortage of similar voices, a suggestion lent force by this sparse yet powerful guitar-driven clarion call.  Yet it's a sign of this artist's considerable scope that he can make a song like 'One Last Waltzing' sound just as imperative in its potential to rescue the human condition.

JD Meatyard lives in a world in which governments have witnessed the spectacular collapse of an economy driven by greed, plugged the gap using public money and then blamed public spending for the crisis in the first place.  And they look like they're getting away with it.  It's the same world you live in too.  His manifesto is Northern Songs, an album that calls up political outrage and human tenderness as two sides of the same coin and, as such, it's one of the most important artistic statements of the age.

Get it from the Probe Plus store here.
You can still hear the session JD Meatyard did for my September Dandelion Radio show here.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Katie Gately - Pipes

Blue Tapes have already released some of the most intoxicating music of the year, so it was with a sense of fevered anticipation that I approached their latest offering, a C30 cassette from Los Angeles sound artist Katie Gately.  To say I wasn't disappointed would be an understatement: on first hearing it was apparent that this was in contention for the best release yet from the label and on second I decided there was no question that it was.

Pipes is a fourteen-minute masterpiece of sonic exploration and, if that phrase conjures up thoughts of cold, atonal experimentation then dismiss them immediately but this is anything but.  Remarkably for a work made purely from tones of the human voice, it has a defiant and heady kick and a distinct and bewitching sense of harmony, albeit harmony of a kind you'll rarely find even hinted at in the mechanic industrial factory fodder of yer average pop song.  Gately strips all that away to leave something pure and brilliant and the fourteen minutes we're left with is sublime, sparse and entirely enthralling throughout.

Apparently it took Gately six months to put this together and, given its meticulously crafted power, that's entirely believable.  The tape's limited to a run of 200 and, given the praise that's already been lavished on the release and on Gately by the likes of The Wire, the 405 and my own Dandelion Radio colleagues, among others, you'd better get in there fast.  Get it here and hear the piece in its entirety in my October Dandelion Radio show.

Find out more about Gately's work at her soundcloud site here.  Here's a free sample of something else to get you started:

Thursday, 3 October 2013

In Session in my October show: Helena Dukic

There's something about the songs of Helena Dukic that sets them apart from everything else I'm listening to at the moment.  Perhaps it's because she's a classically trained artist coming at popular music from an entirely different angle and armed with a different artistic template than most of the performers I encounter.  Or perhaps she's just got that certain indefinable magic about her that all great artists have.

The history I refer to includes spells at Music Academy Zagreb and Cambridge University after a childhood spent playing the piano.  She might easily have ignored the world of what you and I listen to all together, but thankfully she hasn't and the refreshing affection she clearly brings to her work is comparable with, say, David Lynch's forays into music following a long upbringing in film.  Not that there's anything remotely similar about what they produce, but the unconstrained abandon and sheer job evident in the works of both make for a similarly fascinating listening experience.  Except, with due deference to Lynch's work, I like what Dukic does more.

I first encountered her on the Audio Antihero benefit compilation earlier this year.  Even in such exalted company as the great Jeffrey Lewis and Darren Hayman, Helena stood out and the song she contributed - 'Come Along' - is one of my favourites of the year.  I immediately approached her to do a session for the show, she agreed and the results can be heard on my Dandelion Radio show this month.

The three tracks she's recorded for us all have that sublime, magical quality I referred to earlier.   If I had to single one out, I'd probably go for 'Don't Know How to Hate You', which has a beguiling quality that has allowed it to settle in my head and make a little nest there, right next to 'Come Along'.  But thankfully I don't need to and can hear them all along with all the great stuff Helena has placed on her soundcloud site too.  Give it a visit: it's free, in more than one sense of the world.

Here's a (non-session) taster: Magic Toy Shop