Monday, 16 October 2017

Hayato Takeuchi - EP (Bearsuit)

The Bearsuit label continues to enhance its reputation as our foremost purveyors of quirky and innovative oddities with pretty much everything they put out.  This release from Tokyo's Hayato Takeuchi continues this fine run, blending delightful pop melodies with departures into the bizarre over five tracks of some of the most engaging music you'll hear this year.

Exactly what you'd expect from Bearsuit, in other words.  Takeuchi once recorded under the name Bubbly Folks and recorded a track for the label's excellent compilation Tomato Sauce Lasers, Sausage Lassos two years ago.  The track he contributed then offers a hint of what's on offer here but it's Takeuchi's fondness for repeatedly bemusing, surprising and delighting the listener that makes this such a great listening experience.

The word 'repeatedly' is used advisedly because that's essentially how it begins, with the repetitive, hypnotic 'Etude G-12', but lest you think this experimental masterpiece will lay its mighty footprints across whole the collection, be prepared to be danced around in a kind of Mr Kite-like daze to the big top extravaganza that is 'Mr Henderson No Ai To Replica', a wonderful piece of whimsy that features in my Dandelion Radio show this month.

From there, you're not so much dragged back to earth as propelled into space ready for the head-journey that is 'Anata To Watashi No Kyoukaisen', which ends the album with a cosmic embrace that leaves you somewhere between the mind thrill of a Stephen Baxter novel and an encounter with The Clangers.

It's great, in other words.  Get it here.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Green Man 2017

As usual, the end of my long enforced summer absence ends with this short celebration of what was, as usual, the best long weekend of the year.

Last year Green Man managed to raise its already very high bar even higher.  If there was a concern that 2017 would see an understandable fall in quality due to those impossibly high standards, the festival managed to defy any such worries to once again meet and even exceed expectations.

The latter was certainly true in the case of the Green Man Rising stage.  My minor concern that this stage was the one area of the Green Man that could be safely ignored by the discerning festival goer was, this year, brushed aside in some style.  The inclusion of excellent bands like Saps and Hotel Lux had already ensured this was the stage's best ever line-up even before the extraordinary Madonnatron (below) stepped up on Sunday evening to deliver one of the festival's most glorious sets.

Now that Einstein's Garden's Solar Stage seems sadly more preoccupied with the gimmicky and pseudo-educational, GMR might now be ready to replace it as the place to go for quirky and innovative offerings.  Let's hope so.

Madonnatron weren't the only all-female band to make an impact this year.  Serafina Steer brought her new trio to the Saturday afternoon Cinedrome and managed to mesmerise with songs about such worldly matters as changing your Facebook photo - it's something only Steer can probably get away with, along with the false starts and 'oops I went too fast' declarations.  She'd delighted us at the old courtyard stage years ago and it was great to see her back with a new project that clearly promises much.

By that point the always wonderful Hinds had dazzled the Far Out stage on Friday night with their idiosyncratic brand of indie pop.  The 'Sexy Thing' intro and elements of mock choreography emphasise, if it needs emphasising, that Hinds are very aware of what they're about when it comes to challenging preconceived ideas of the girl band aesthetic and they pulled it off magnificently.

Indeed, by the time PJ Harvey headlined on Sunday night, there had already been so many highlights if seemed difficult to see how even Polly Jean could trump them.  Moddi's return to the Walled Garden on Friday night had been as poignant and unsettling as it had magical; Alasdair Roberts had once again made the same stage his own the following night and Michael Chapman's return to the festival to make fifty years as a performer was ever bit as special as we'd anticipated. 

Bands like WH Lung and Doomsquad had delighted us at the Far Out Stage and the fact that this most vibrant of all GM stages now appears to have no problem attracting a few thousand to its afternoon sets is yet another thing to celebrate, giving bands like the excellent Kikagaku Moyo the audience they deserve.  By the time Julian Cope wandered onto it on Sunday evening to deliver a memorable set of oddball humour and solo renditions of old songs it had already done enough to cement again its status as the jewel in the Green Man's increasingly glittering crown.  And yes, I stayed to see much of the Sleaford Mods set there but have to report that I still see them as an interesting curiosity rather than the national treasures so many appear to regard them as.

Anyway, PJ Harvey still delivered magnificently.  She's become more adept than anyone at ignoring conventions and doing things her own way and the gradually evolving mood she created through careful selections from recent albums and her now considerable back catalogue left us - again - with the impression that this was something no other artist in the world could quite have pulled off.  She left out early classics like 'Sheela-Na-Gig' and 'Rid Of Me' and didn't play anything from the 'Stories of the City...' album that brought her to the attention of so many people, opting instead for the a rendition of the understated 'White Chalk' and the naked blast of energy that is '50 Foot Queenie' before finishing off, not with the easy choice of spectacular favourite but with the beautiful, understated 'River Anacostia'.

It was mesmerising.  And yet, when choosing the festival's highlight, I'm going to say it was beaten into second place by the raw, savage attack delivered by Thee Oh Sees in the Far Out tent on the Saturday night.  As has been the case in recent years, the buzz generated by the crowd in that place at that time was very much part of it, but the LA four-piece rode it magnificently, producing a set that managed even to rival the one produced by Battles in that slot last year.

High praise indeed.  But then this was a Green Man Festival that once again delivered something worthy of the very highest praise.

Green Man 2017 - A personal top ten

1. Thee Oh Sees (Far Out, Saturday)
2. PJ Harvey (Mountain Stage, Sunday)
3. Hinds (Far Out, Friday)
4. Kikagaku Moyo (Far out, Friday)
5. Moddi (Walled Garden, Friday)
6. Madonnatron (Rising, Sunday)
7. Serafina Steer (Cinedrome, Saturday)
8. Alasdair Roberts (Walled Garden, Saturday)
9. Michael Chapman (Walled Garden, Sunday)
10. Julian Cope (Far Out, Friday)


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Paul Rooney - Futile Exorcise (Owd Scrat)

I'm not terribly adept at unqualified outlandish statements of praise so forgive me if this sounds clumsy: this is the most extraordinary album I've heard in at least seven years, and probably for much longer than that.  It's hard, and perhaps impossible, to compare the face-set-to-stunned reaction to Gonajasufi's 'A Sufi and A Killer' back in 2010 with this, which provokes a similarly stunned response but, inevitably, for very different reasons. 

I've long been an admirer of Paul Rooney's work.  He can already make a very good claim to have released the best track of the current century with the magnificent 'Lucy Over Lancashire' and, ten years on, Lucy's enigmatic, bewitching presence lives again in this collection.

It's especially true of the album's centrepiece, 'Lost High Street', which you can hear in my Dandelion Radio show this month.  If anything comes close to matching it in 2017, then the year is going to be a memorable one indeed.  Taking its cue from Lucy's sprawling monologue, the track leaves behind the witch road and old Lancashire to relocate in an urban setting that, in Rooney's hands, becomes every bit as weirdly compelling

Yet it's only one of the elements that make 'Futile Exorcise' so special.  The track's template of spoken word, ear-pleasing deviations and quirky soundscapes crop up again and again across the rest of this collection, to brilliant effect.  Opener 'Sunday Best' sees the narrator's ghost returning to witness the troubling scene of his wife with her new husband who - horror of horrors - is wearing his best suit.  The kid that joins the clutter of voices that rips apart the maudlin possibilities of 'Father's Grave's is that of just one of the many characters whose perspectives add so many layers to the album you can find yourself following an entirely different narrative line each time you listen, to deeply intoxicating effect.

It's asking to be accused of talking bollocks when you describe somebody as an 'artist in sound' but that is precisely what Paul Rooney is.  That his work knocks everybody else to whom the words might be applied into a cocked hat goes without saying, at least for me and, I know, several of my Dandelion Radio colleagues.  It's a work to be absorbed, laughed at, unsettled by but, above all, enjoyed over and over again.

Get it here  on CD or beautifully transparent vinyl. If you're unfamiliar with Rooney's work, find out more here: you're in for a treat.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

La colonie de Vacances - s/t (Kythibong)

Sometimes the music doesn't match up to the concept but, when it does, it's just about the most wonderful thing in the world.  That's what makes this release from La colonie de Vacances not just a great listen but an essential purchase.

This 10" EP comes from our favourite label - the always excellent Kythibong - and the whole package sounds irresistible from the off.  LCDV consists of members of four bands who, when together, perform on four separate stages, with the audience central.  Four illustrators have joined them to produce a release whose accompanying 100-page book has to be spun while the vinyl , in its turn, can be read over and over.

You'll get the idea if you grab yourself a copy - and you should because, most importantly, the musical content still manages to be the most enticing thing about the whole release.  LCDV dish out four slaps of guitar-led brilliance that are by turns bewitching and crushingly forceful.  It's like having multiple ideas forced into your head via a lightning rod shoved in your ear.   That there are only four tracks here feels incredible given the range of ideas explored in such a short space of time (under 16 minutes).

I'm playing the second track from this enticing release in my Dandelion Radio show this month.   Meanwhile, you can get the EP and glory in its visual and sonic magnificence here

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pops & The Dumbloods (Bearsuit)

The latest split release from Edinburgh's Bearsuit label pairs Japan's Swamp Sounds with Uncle Pops, who hails from Dundee.  As we've come to expert from Bearsuit, the release is a triumph of experimentation paired with the kind of obtuse hooks that somehow lift the whole thing very much into the realm of the eminently listenable.

Uncle Pops, aka Douglas Wallace, is a little more low key about it, specialising in meandering soundscapes and fascinating temporal shifts that come out sounding like the soundtrack to some film whose sense you won't be able to make out but which you really wanna see.  He was involved with Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete Shimai's album The Lost Charles Underscore and if you loved that album as much as I did, you'll have some idea of the territory we're getting into.

Swamp Sounds are the work of Nagoya's Yuuya Kuno, an experimental musician who also records under the alias of House of Tapes.  His half of the release is less texturally complex, more perky and an absolute delight throughout its five tracks.  I'm opening my Dandelion Radio show this month with opening track 'Marionette', the mutant disco rush of which offers a snapshot of the warped, exhilarating journey Yuuya is about to take us on.

At times bewildering, at other times faintly unsettling, but always mad and always magnificent: get it here

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Threes And Will - Purge of Genden (Nothing Out There)

I first encountered Threes And Will via a split release they put out through the always wonderful Blue Tapes some time ago.  Ever since then I've been a huge admirer of the caustic, sub-krautrock din dished up by this Estonian band and their latest release, in partnership with French label Nothing Out There, has certainly not diminished my admiration.

If anything, the band crank up the noise levels still more on this offering.  Looping, repetitive guitars dominate, though often to subtly varied ends: the woozy, dissonant fuzz of opener 'Koniec Cywilizacji' opens up over the collection, via the epic spaciness of 'The Conquest Of Zhangzhung' until something more reminiscent of psychedelic rock is let loose on 'Bunkers'.

That in turn gives way to the magnificent 'Erebus', half stoner nightmare and half the sound of something that might well come out from the speedway pits if the mechanics got the pitch and balance just right.  You can hear it in my current Dandelion Radio show, streaming throughout April.

I'm aware I'm already descending to the level of the figurative to describe all this, which kind of gives away the difficulty I'm experiencing in doing so.  Perhaps I should just tell you that the six tracks here collectively bring about the kind of head-shredding thrill we've no right to expect to last over forty minutes but somehow, in the hands of Threes And Will, it does. 

Sadly, the limited edition cassette version is now sold out, but you can still download these six slices of magnificence here

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Audio Antihero Presents 'Unpresidented Jams' (Audio Antihero)

The wonderful Audio Antihero label has developed a reputation for producing one-off compilations that combine variety and quality while striking exactly the right note at the right time.  Few have been more timely than this: a nineteen track collection with all proceeds going to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Law Center to aid the fight against the odious Trump administration.

The usual Audio Antihero regulars distinguish themselves as usual.  Cloud offer an evocative piano version of 'Moonlit' while Chuck's 'Nothing Matters To Me Now' characteristically combines power and fragility in a way that  seemingly only he can manage.  'Hole' is another dollop of introspective brilliance from Benjamin Shaw, while 'The New Colossus' finds Jack Hayter in fascinatingly experimental mood.

You can hear three of the other tracks in my Dandelion Radio show this month.  'Still Pills' is a woozy indie masterpiece from Still Pills, originally found on their 2014 album Omstart Sessions (which you can get as NYP here) while the always stunning Deerful serve up the typically delightful 'Unlearn/Begin Again'

The third of the tracks comes from the legendary Jeffrey Lewis, whose 'Dictator Seeks Reichstag Fire' is the most blistering and scarily perceptive attack on Trump yet to arise here or anywhere else.

Audio Antihero are offering the compilation for a minimum £2.99 here.  It's a cracking opportunity to get involved while enjoying the perfect soundtrack to the resistance.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Kloba Kent - Naked in the Storm

Listeners to my Dandelion Radio show will be familiar with the work of Diane Marie Kloba, who I was pleased to see gracing the Festive Fifty for the second time in 2016 and whose marvellous recent session for my show can now  be purchased as NYP here
Now, Diane has teamed up with Brighton-based guitarist Paul Kent to release this EP, which you can get from his Exploding Galaxy bandcamp page.  It's a fascinating release. Diane is such a singular vocalist that it's intriguing to hear what the addition of a collaborator can add to her work.

If you heard my Dandelion show last month, when I played the track 'Fools Like Walls', you'll already be aware of the extra dimension Paul Kent's spacious guitar lines bring to her unique style.  This month I'll be featuring the title track, where the guitar work provides a fine backdrop to a vocal performance that, even for Diane, is pretty damn breath-taking.

Overall, the collaboration works like a dream.  Worth checking out too Paul's earlier work while you're at his bandcamp site and, if you still remain unacquainted with Diane's back catalogue, I'd advise you to address that with some urgency by visiting her website here.