Return to work

After 4 months working from home I returned to work for a day on Thursday for the first time. My office was empty and it was a peaceful and productive work day. While there I collected the four albums that had arrived from Rough Trade while I had been away. The album selections are unknown to me so I find out what they are as I open them. As things stand I’ve had a quick listen to all of them and I would say at this point that I really like one of them, the other three I’m not sure about at all, I know I wouldn’t have bought them if I was browsing at a store or online, but this is the music discovery aspect of the monthly subscription to Rough Trade.

Briefly, these are the 4 albums I received.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways To New Italy

Dream Wife – So When You Gonna…

Ben Lukas Boysen – Mirage

This was the one I liked, the others may well grow on me, we’ll see.

KOKOKO! ‎– Fongola (and BlueDot 2019)

I received a yellow vinyl version of Fongola by KoKoKo! a couple of weeks ago via my Rough Trade subscription and I didn’t get to play it more than once before I headed to Hong Kong and then the festival. It was coincidence, a useful one, that they were playing as to receive a new album and get to see the band shortly after is pretty cool.

A wind of change is blowing over the cultural landscape of Kinshasa.

An amazing alternative scene is thriving far for the occidental fantasies of “world music”…

It is explosive and vibrant. These sounds are emanating from the ghetto and downtown clubs of the Congolese capital in between the government-imposed power cuts. The artists actually bring something alive in the chaos of the 3rd biggest african city. They have strong new ideas with DIY constructed instruments and a powerful and unique drive. This movement is more expressive, lively, spontaneous and direct compared to most big cities’ scenes, like London, Berlin etc… It’s raw, free and open creatively more like NYC in the 70s and 80s or Berlin in the 90s if it has to be compared to artistic movements. It’s inventing everything from nothing and it’s happening now and you can experience it through the recordings, the videos and KOKOKO!‘s incredible live shows.

The above is from the BlueDot write up. So it was a lively and energetic performance and I really enjoyed it. I’m listening to the album again now and it does benefit from better production than the live show (which is to be expected) and I am recognising some of the tracks having heard them live.

It does actually take a lot for me to not like something, it has to be exceptionally bad in my view, but this isn’t. Though there is a little repetitivness, in the repetiton of the band name in many of the songs for example, it isn’t a problem at all and even though I have no idea what the subject matter of each song is, they all seem to have a sense of joy about them.

Bodega – Endless Scroll

The latest record to arrive via the Rough Trade Shops subscription service (I wrote this a while ago, but don’t worry about it) is Bodega with Endless Scroll. This version is limited to 1200 copies on clear vinyl with a bonus CD and download code, which is nice.The band are from New York and the album was recorded and produced by Austin Brown of Parquet Courts and if you like them, you might well like this, although there are a 100 different influences seemingly informing the music, some I can’t quite identify, while others are easier to spot, such as The Fall or Wire. It’s an amalgamation of post punk, contemporary pop, hip-hop, krautrock, and folk-derived narrative songwriting which congeal into a rather pleasant mess, of sorts.

Guitarist/Vocalist Ben Hozier gave a track by track run through of the albums 14 tracks to DIY Mag, so rather than trying to interpret the songs myself and erring on the side of total laziness, here is that dissection:

How Did This Happen?!

This one is about the guilt of the cultural consumer.Said connoisseur is taking a stroll w/ curated streaming playlist past a demonstration of Hillary Clinton supporters (the day after the 2016 election).Instead of wagging his finger at the bad guys, he looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what he sees. I wrote this one two weeks before the recording session —-> I felt the album was missing both a high-energy opener and a track directly relating the ENDLESS SCROLL thematics to the ‘politics’ of the now (in the capitol hill sense of the term).

Bodega Birth

The record’s theme song. The start of a new relationship and a new band. Conversely, the end of a band (Bodega Bay) and other friendships. Born into by what consumes: 1. Musical Influences(destroying the past by stealing from it)…hence the classic rock citations(London Calling / Dark Side of the Moon), 2. The purchasing of a lifestyle(cultural consuming) and 3. Personal destruction that sparks when you play with the flame of life.

Name Escape

Observations from a night at Palisades (the now defunct Bushwick venue). The Smiths blare out of the P.A. as I chat with people I’ve seen hundreds of times but will never really know. The hard drive of the brain malfunctions (or maybe just needs more memory). Nikki in particular wanted to express the alienation she was feeling at rock shows. We were aiming for something both mechanical and spontaneous, like hip hop.

Boxes For The Move

This is me telling my old best friend through song what I could not in person. This one started out as a country-strummer barroom ballad that was later sculpted to become the stoned rainy night meditation it is. I believe it was this song that made Austin Brown want to record us.

I Am Not A Cinephile

Musically written in the style of Parquet Courts——> it started with me making up my own lyrics to their ‘Sunbathing Animal.’A bit of sacrilege from someone who is deeply committed to the dream of the modern cinema (using the camera and microphone to express thought). I love the world of Alfred Hitchcock but not the systems that allowed that world to be filmed (imperialism, racism, misogyny, capitalism).

Can’t Knock The Hustle

A Socratic debate I had with a co-worker at Chloes (the soft serve shop) several years ago. Deductive logic without context (in this case, Jay-Z’s) lead to disastrous results. Musically I wanted to do an arena rock anthem like how Wire would have it on Pink Flag.

Gyrate

Nikki’s ode to female pleasure and self-sustainability. She wrote the lyrics and melody a-capella over a primal drum beat and the band added riffs later. Live it tends to be either jovial/playful or violent and fierce, depending on the room.

Jack in Titanic

Learned male behavior from the movies and LP’s. My childhood idols: James Bond, Jackie Chan, and Jack (in Titanic). I later realised that my conception of what it is to ‘be a man’ derives from many aspects of these ‘heroes.’ As Godard once said: ‘At the movies we don’t think,we are thought.’ The song is a bit of a shapeshifter —-> depending on my mood it can be performed as satire, critique, romance, nostalgia, or all of the above.

Margot

Erotic idealism and what it’s up against. In my opinion the first track of the LP B-side is the most important position. That’s why I wanted Nikki’s ‘Margot’ there – as it best articulates the minimalism(guitar harmonics plus tom and bass) of the ENDLESS SCROLL palette. When she asks ‘What do you believe in? I have no idea what you still believe in’ I always wrack my brain.

Bookmarks

I got a tiny tattoo on my wrist several years ago to wake me up whenever stuck in the muck of repetition. The tattoo lost some of its power over time so I wrote this song. This is the oldest melody on the record ——> I remember writing the first verse and the hook in the fall of 2013. The ‘Stare at Computer’ sections were copied and pasted (not literally)from another song that got cut from this record. For a while the working title for the LP was STARE AT COMPUTER.

Warhol

A diss track to the Philosophy of Andy Warhol. A syllogism following his logic to its natural conclusion. All you have to do is take a look at the cesspool of Web 2.0 to see that he is the most influential artist of the 20th century.

Charlie

On New Year’s Eve in 2007 my best friend Charlie drowned in the Charleston River. We had spent every day of that fall semester together; playing records and scheming plans for our great unformed rock and roll band at the University of South Carolina. I’ve been trying to write him a worthy song since then and only recently found the melody that felt like him.My favorite song to play.

Williamsburg Bridge

EXT. WBURG BRIDGE. SUNSET. Themes: vertigo, memory,lust, regret, longing, clarity.

Truth is Not Punishment

A protest song. A reminder to be open-wide. This one started as a Dylan-esque visual poem (with many more verses) but Madison and Montana urged me to make it more concrete. We were struggling to get the feel right during the recording until we ‘deleted’ our heady arrangement and played it as a speedy not-quite-hardcore train going off the rails. Live this one serves as a placeholder for spontaneous electric improvisation.

Tracklist

Endless Scroll

A1           ?!        

A2           Bodega Birth     

A3           Name Escape    

A4           Boxes For The Move     

A5           I Am Not a Cinephile      

A6           Can’t Knock The Hustle 

A7           Gyrate 

A8           Jack In Titanic    

B1           Margot

B2           Bookmarks        

B3           Warhol

B4           Charlie 

B5           Williamsburg Bridge       

B6           Truth Is Not Punishment             

Witness Scroll

1              Endlessly Scrolling           

2              Name Escape    

3              Bookmarks        

4              Can’t Knock The Hustle 

5              Mo Vanguard Revival    

6              Margot

7              Stain Glaze         

8              Gyrate 

9              Jack In Titanic    

10           Truth Is Not Punishment

My copy is a Rough Trade exclusive version limited to 1200 Copies on clear vinyl. Copies bought from Rough Trade come with a bonus live CDr packaged in a card sleeve. Includes a 28 page booklet and a download code for a digital copy of the LP. Track A1 printed on sleeve and label as ‘?!’ but also known as “How Did This Happen?!”

I read somewhere recently that Bodega are categorised as Art Rock, which is a category that doesn’t make much sense to me really. There are plenty of other categories available other than that one. Anyway, the album, I really rather like it. It’s one of those that has some quick hooks and some that build over time giving it some longevity. An example being ‘Jack in Titanic’ which I wasn’t keen on at first but it does get under the skin after a few listens and I found my self singing along during the commute home one evening. 

Where they will go from here I don’t know. There have been a lot of bands that have appeared from a cloud of industry acclaim and disappeared after one album, so there needs to be more of the same, but different, from Bodega or this may be all they do that’s of any listening worth. Hopefully they will succeed.

Rating: 8.6

Daniel Blumberg – Minus

db-minus-packshot

I can’t remember if I spoke about this already, I don’t think I did, anyway, it is the second album I received from the Rough Trade subscription and just like the last one, I’d never heard of it. It is an album of fingernails down the blackboard and tiny, fragile beauty, each perfectly placed. I saw the title track performed on Jools Holland, a wonderful performance, and it was rather nice knowing who the hell he was having already received and listened to the album. Here is the title track:

I really rather like the lyrics, sparse though they are, and can relate to them having found myself in a similar situation somewhere in my past:

Minus the words from my mouth, I’m here
Minus what I’m all about, I’m here
Minus the intent to feel, I’m here

Here is the other track from that Jools Holland show, The Bomb (I couldn’t find Minus):

A little bit of background, Blumberg is an English artist, musician, songwriter and composer who has released music under a variety of names, including Yuck, Hebronix, Oupa, Heb-Hex, and Guo, of which I have heard of exactly none. He has also collaborated with musicians including Low, Silver Jews, Lambchop, Neil Hagerty, Seymour Wright, Terry Day,  Jad Fair and Norman Blake, of whom I have heard of exactly some.

Tracklist

A1 Minus
A2 The Fuse
A3 Madder
B1 Stacked
B2 Permanent
B3 The Bomb
B4 Used To Be Older

My copy is a limited clear vinyl version in a gatefold sleeve, it’s a nice thing and, if I’m in the right mood it is a very good debut album. It’s doubtful it will be a big hit or trouble the charts much, if at all, but, as I have said repeatedly in the past, the charts are no longer a reflection of quality, if they ever even were.

A lot of the dissonance I mentioned earlier is in the very long Madder, which is somewhere around 12 minutes, 5 of which I could have probably never have missed had I never heard them and it came as a surprise to me that it was released as the second single from the album.  I don’t dislike it, but the noise does sometimes feel like noise for the sake of noise.

Overall I like this album and I would never have picked it up and bought it had it not been for the rough trade subscription, so that’s a good thing I think.

Rating: 7.9

The Shacks – Haze

A few weeks ago I signed up for another vinyl subscription service, you may recall the others:

That Special Record: Really liked it but they stopped
The Retro Store: Crap
Vinyl Moon: Good but too expensive for a non US customer.

This time I’ve gone with Rough Trade, a brand I know. The first record arrived from them on Friday and they sent me Haze by The Shacks, a Rough Trade Exclusive of 1000 Copies only on Coke Clear Vinyl with Download (featuring just the main album) and Rough Trade Bonus CD. I haven’t listened to the bonus CD yet, which is instrumentals, but I’ve played the record a dozen times and really like it.

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The Shacks are fronted by 19-year-old singer & bassist Shannon Wise and 21-year-old guitarist & producer Max Shrager, and you may have already heard them without realising it (or not, let’s find out):

So that is the Apple Iphone 8 advert featuring the The Shacks cover of This Strange Effect by The Kinks, but also featuring Shannon Wise. Seems a pretty good start for any band.

I think the number of plays I’ve given the album since receiving it is indicative of how much I like it, and this made me appear much more knowledgeable than I really am on Saturday when I was in  record shop and a tune came on, I was able to say, ‘Is this The Shacks?’ after just a few notes and a conversation ensued.

I happen to be rather pre-disposed to a whispered female vocal so that was a plus from the start, think Stina Nordenstam if she was shouting, so very whisperery is she, and that is close to Wise’s vocal throughout the album. To make comparisons, or perhaps more bits that made me think of other bands, I felt bits of The Sundays, The Cranes and the aforementioned Stina Nordenstam. I’m also reminded of Death & Vanilla at times, and I love Death & Vanilla so there are elements of several bands/artists that I really like popping up throughout the tracks on this album.

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That there above is the Coke bottle green mentioned above, it’s a nice colour, in fact I think I have another by somebody else in this colour but I can’t remember who it is right now. Here are some snippets of what other people are saying about this album:

“music that envisions comforting, classic sensations like cascading spirals of woodsy incense…sun-drenched and intoxicating”

— PITCHFORK

“dreamy…music tinged with 60’s pop and pyschedelia, as well as Charles Bradley-esque 70’s soul”

— WNYC SOUNDCHECK

“feels like floating in a delicious dream…a testament to the band’s timeless, multi-generational warmth.”

— NPR MUSIC

“a sweet singalong that simultaneously recalls Sesame Street and David Lynch’s nocturnal crooners”

— VICE I-D

“Psychedelic soul with a little Mazzy Star thrown in for good measure.”

— PASTE

 

This video is from BRIC TV— the first 24/7 television channel created by, for, and about Brooklyn. It is the borough’s source for local news, Brooklyn culture, civic affairs, music, arts, sports, and technology. BRIC TV features programming produced and curated by BRIC, an arts and media nonprofit located in Downtown Brooklyn, NYC.

Tracklist

Haze
A1 Haze
A2 Follow Me
A3 Birds
A4 Sand Song
A5 Texas
A6 Cryin’
B1 All Day Long
B2 My Name Is
B3 Blue & Grey
B4 Sleeping
B5 So Good
B6 Nobody, Nobody
B7 Let Your Love
Instrumentals
1 This Strange Effect (Instrumental)
2 Orchids (Instrumental)
3 Audrey Hepburn (Instrumental)
4 Tidal Waves (Instrumental)
5 Rain (Instrumental)
6 Hands In Your Pockets (Instrumental)
7 Strange Boy (Instrumental)
8 Audrey (Spending All My Time With You) (Instrumental)
9 No Surprise (Instrumental)

I like them and will be interested to see how they develop and what they do next.

Rating: 8.5