Tuesday, 22 December 2015

JD Meatyard - Live on the Independents Tour 2015

I hadn't realised just how much we needed a JD Meatyard live album.  In John Donaldson's recorded work, he's capable of pinning down the world with all the precision of a knife-thrower skimming his blade just past his accomplice's ear,  And when he has someone other than an accomplice to throw at, he tends to make sure he hits.

Live, he doesn't lose any of that, but adds much.  Combining the spirit of a crazed preacher and Phil Ochs after someone lit him on fire, Donaldson reels off his retorts at the modern establishment with a combustible precision that leaves compromise floundering on the floor like a spend beast and the victims of his ire branded.   You don't forget a JD Meatyard live performance and you certainly don't leave it with any uncertainties about where he stands.

All of which makes this live album a more than welcome addition to a body of recorded work that, from his days in Levellers 5, now spans close to thirty years.   He certainly hasn't mellowed with age - if anything, the opposite.Donaldson fires off a classic from his Calvin Party days - 'Lies, Lies & Government' - with, it seems, greater ferocity than ever and the spirit is matched in a caustic rendition of 'Taking The Asylum'.
Yet that he can combine this with the deeply human tale of 'Anna Had a Kid' and the confessional 'Sorry Song' illustrates his extraordinary depth both as a songwriter and a performer.  There's no sense of a lull in proceedings or an opportunity to get the beers in while you wait for the next polemical outburst: he takes his audience and his listener with him.  Mistakes are part of the human condition, he's saying: those who use that exploit that condition for gain and subterfuge are those that deserve our ire.
The performance reaches a brilliant crescendo in the form of a seven minute version of 'Standing on the Shoulders of Better Men', JD's warm and self-deprecating paean to his musical heroes.  It's quite a list, as you'd expect, spanning Beefheart, Johns Cale and Coltrane, Prince Far-I and Mark E. Smith among others.  His honest placing of himself, Newton-like, on the beach as this musical tide washes up to his feet provides a telling punctuation mark to this performance.  Mine is but one of many tales, he seems to be saying; my answer yet one of many answers.  'If you don't think that you're a fucking idiot,' he announces as the song nears its end.
His may be one of many messages, but it's a deeply compelling one and  this is a deeply compelling collection. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Nac/Hut Report - Schism No Symmetry

I was, I admit, getting a bit fidgety regarding the lack of a follow-up to Nac/Hut Report's last album, the majestic Angel-Like Contraction Reverse, which saw the light of day more than two years ago.

Not that two years between albums is an especially long period of time, but that previous collection had offered so many musical ideas such a rich texture beneath its chaotic surface, that you knew there had to be loads more where it came from.  So, when nothing new arrived, I began to worry they'd called it a day.

I needn't have fretted.  Not only were this Polish/Italian duo still alive and kicking, this second collection, when it arrived recently, proved itself a worthy successor.  Frankly it's been well worth the wait, those unexplored possibilities of its predecessor having been mined so brilliantly the gap in between now seems, in retrospect, almost illusory.

I'm not going to get all Greil Marcus on you and talk about the collection stopping time or anything like that, largely because Marcus was always the only person who could get away with such observations without disappearing up his own arse.  I'll merely comment that there are times when you want a band to go somewhere different and times where you want more of what they've given you before. The latter is what I wanted from Nac/Hut report and they've delivered brilliantly.

You know that the moment opening track 'Ah Ah East' grinds into its stride.  I'm featuring it in my Dandelion Radio show this month, an easy choice because it's such a prime example of what makes Nac/Hut Report so great: Brigitte Roussel's sublime atmospheric vocals underpinned by a churning musical dissonance that so many attempt but fail to produce anything like as well.

If anything, there's an ever greater assurance evident in their work than the last time we heard from them.  Since then Roussel has released an excellent solo collection and sounds even more unfazed by the possibility of lazy Nico comparisons, as indeed she should be, striding confidently out into the open on tracks like 'Jewish Son' to confront whatever the hell anyone else wants to make of what she does, and win.  Musical partner Li/ese/Li effortlessly steps up to the same plate, the creaking, haunted soundscapes on tunes like 'Wolf the Saint' offering a vibrant and evocative accompaniment. 

 It's a musical triumph, again, and you can get it as download or CD from their bandcamp site here

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Unqualified Nurse - Bad Taste Reaction

The world wasn't crying out for another competent yet formulaic garage rock band of the kind whose material and links frequent my inbox week after week.  It was, however, screaming the place down for the kind of thing Unqualified Nurse do - caustic, feedback-drenched tunes with a whiff of the atonal and a structure that holds together defiantly despite, it seems, the entire band pulling away from it in different directions.

This Derby- based band had already served notice of their attempt to disrupt a scene that was getting far too cosy with their Let Snarl album, released back in January.  Now, this EP has appeared on their bandcamp site to emphasise even further the naked power married to experimental zeal of a band who certainly stand as one of the most interesting things 2015 has managed to unearth.

None of the five songs makes it past the 1:16 mark yet within each nugget of sound exists a beguiling, twisted noise that remains a part of your head long after the brief encounter has elapsed.  The EP's longest track, 'Welcome to Fear City/Erratic Van' is a sludgy, grinding gem of a tune, awash in a wind tunnel of circling noise and deviant guitars while 'Myth Generator', which I'm playing in my Dandelion Radio show this month, begins with a discordant guitar whirl and buzzes around your head like a wasp's nest you disturbed: the stings bite into your brain but you don't care.

And they've made it NYOP at bandcamp so there's no excuse for your life to remain undisturbed by this glorious racket for a moment longer.  Get it here

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Pulco - Innovation In The Trade

Even just seeing the notes on Pulco's bandcamp site hints that you're about to encounter something a bit special.  Trout Mask Replica rhythms,  he tells us, allied to a a musical approach inspired by The Fall and Pavement, with lyrics often purloined from the poetry of Adrian Henri. 
Of course, it's what you fashion from such inspirations that counts and Pulco takes from all the right places and adds exactly the right touches of his own.  What we get is a Dadaist cut-and-paste sonic collision allied to some gorgeously melodic touches to make what will, I'm sure, turn out to be one of the best albums of 2015.
As if the narratives and snatched poetic stretches weren't fascinating enough, there are songs here that have the potential to stay in your head to the grave.  Opener 'A Man Shouts' gives more than adequate notice of the melodic delights to come while 'A Cruel Heart Beats Like a Bird' is already on my shortlist for most remarkable tune of the year: you can hear it in my Dandelion Radio show, streaming throughout the rest of March.
Alongside them, the spoken word 'Stan & the Bike' contains a heart-rending, down to earth melancholy, while 'Sludge' is a head-on collision of words and sounds that brings so many of the album's finest touches together in one brilliant three-minute rush.  But I'm doing it again.  This is a collection that demands to be heard as a whole, so please ignore my inevitable quest for highlights and just dig in. It's available as NYOP at Pulco's bandcamp site here
I'll confess that Pulco is an artist I've failed to give sufficient attention to in the past.  I won't be making that mistake again.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Flies On You - Etcetera

It should, frankly, be news in much wider circles that one of the half dozen best bands in the world at the moment has a new album out.  That the album is a self-released collection from a Leeds duo with more ideas in a single track than anyone (and I mean anyone) who appeared at the recent BRITs is both a national scandal and a telling comment on what passes for the modern music industry.
Having astonished anyone in the world who cared enough about great music to listen with 2012's Nothing To Write Home About, we had no right to expect that the follow-up would offer any more than Flies On You had already given.  Long before it dropped, however, we knew that it would.  We knew it from the moment that the insightful and playful commentary on the paucity of modern mores 'Katie Hopkins in Human Form' appeared as a single late last year, that is, if we didn't know it already from when 'Can You Smell That Burning Noise?' announced itself last summer.
Both singles appear here as components in a panorama of musical delights that slices through contemporary Britain like a buzz-saw.  If the call-to-arms of 'Action Stations!' offers the album's most direct political assault, it does so with that arch playfulness that Flies On You have made their own: the demand to bring down the government sits alongside the mundane call to bring down your dirty clothes and discarded yoghurt pots.  Its direct stab at Thatcherism 'Thank You St Francis' is as short as it is penetrating, illustrative of the agenda of a band who've lived through all the shit of the last thirty-odd years and come out the other end as committed to opposing it as ever and with a defiant smile on their faces that no number of corrupt bankers, vicious media magnates or self-serving politicians have ever been able to wipe off. 
But there is far, far more breadth here than that. 'Hangdog' is a stormer of an album opener, a vibrant and aggressive statement of intent, while in contrast 'Roofspace' offers a sublime groove you can happily settle into in the bath, or anywhere else for that matter.  I'm playing 'Our Little Secret' in my March show on Dandelion Radio, a chilling tale of child abuse that, in the context of the album, is pertinently placed within a collection that has an underlying theme of abuse in all its forms, an anger at the inevitable results of living in a world where getting what you want and to hell with the consequences for anyone else has become the prevailing and disgusting norm.
There's a consensus in this country, but it isn't the one the gutter press or those in the Westminster bubble like to think it is: Flies On You are among its most fervent and cherished standard bearers. The album's worth far more than a fiver of anyone's money but you can get it for that now at http://fliesonyou.bandcamp.com/album/etcetera.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The End of New Weird Australia

For six years, they've been putting out some of the most challenging music in the world, and certainly from their part of it.  Now, New Weird Australia have called it a day.

It's not one of those 'we're fed up with no one taking any notice so we're quitting' kinds of ends.  Far from it - their twenty-three compilations have generated over 400,000 downloads, helping to raise awareness for much of the most interesting music to have come out of Australia in recent years.  In addition to that, they've been curating live shows and putting out a regular radio show from Sydney.

In short, they are an example to anyone in the world of how to promote and support innovative music, and they'll be sadly missed.  They've signed off in typical style, with the three volume compilation Passages, each volume featuring selections from a different NWA director, and each predictably stunning and mind-expanding in roughly equal measure.  My March show on Dandelion Radio will be featuring a track from each.

Thankfully, the New Weird Australia archive will remain online for anyone to download for free.  If you've not picked up on what they've been doing before, this is good news for you.  I'd get over there now and start making up for lost time.

For me, it's just a matter of saying goodbye and thanks for putting out some of the most absorbing music it's been my pleasure to encounter in recent years.  Even the bits that haven't been my cup of tea have been intriguing and asked all the right kinds of questions.  The other bits will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Ten great bands or artists NWA have brought to my attention.  Check them out.

Mark Barrage
Bum Creek
Crab Smasher
Danger Beach
Rites Wild
Simo Soo
Vorad Fils