Sunday, 27 May 2007

Mark Pickerel - 'Snake In The Radio' album review

Straight out of the blocks, precisely twelve months after it came out with no buzz whatsoever, GMS directs you towards Seattle legend Mark Pickerel’s latest solo album, Snake In The Radio. GMS doesn’t get tremendously positive in most of its reviews (something to do with being one of them haters who will, one day, fall to the gat). So when we say this is mighty fine, we mean it, man.

Any reference to Pickerel automatically brings up the stellar acts he’s worked with (Screaming Trees, Nirvana, Neko Case) and the relative obscurity of his own work with Truly, the Dark Fantastic and as a solo artist. Maybe his lack of success comes from reluctance to play on his big-name connections, or from his readiness to play the supporting role. With Truly, you could also say the timing was off: their debut, Fast Stories … From Kid Coma, was on a par with anything the Trees or Nirvana put out, but it was also a demanding listen that only got a release as grunge was going off the boil.

Perhaps, also, his stylistic changes make him hard to pigeon-hole and market. Snake in the Radio is a fair distance from the gut-wrenching psychedelic epics of Kid Coma or the dark pop of Feeling You Up. Signed to indie-roots label Bloodshot, Pickerel has reinvented himself as a stateside version of Richard Hawley – another dues-paying session-player whose classic-pop compositions outdo many of his collaborators’ efforts.

There are plenty of points of reference here, but they all reinforce how good Pickerel is. ‘Graffiti Girl’ pulls off the sinister Lee Hazelwood pop that Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell struggled to appropriate on last year’s Ballad of the Broken Seas. ‘I’ll Wait’ revives the teary-eyed country soul that Lambchop have been too complacent or contrary to manage since Nixon. ‘You’ll Be Mine’, with its surf guitar and air of danger, should have been on the Death Proof soundtrack. ‘Ask the Wind’ does the ol’ blue collar Green on Red / Replacements schtick with more verve than a bevy of Stetson-wearing Pitchfork darlings. ‘Come Home Blues’ and ‘Sin Tax Dance’ deliver on the suave-pop formula that Hawley-progenitors Echo and the Bunnymen toyed with in the late 90s before becoming to curmudgeonly and irrelevant to make it play. The title track even recalls the unsettling Scott Walker-ish atmospherics of Hawley’s one-time paymasters, Pulp, circa Separations.

Whether any of this will make a bit of difference is hard to know. In all likelihood, Pickerel will continue to do very well out of his record store, his session gigs, and his occasional, quiet releases. But the lack of press for this record is something of a Galactic Mystery.

Mark Pickerel - 'Forest Fire'

Mark Pickerel - 'I'll Wait'

Mark Pickerel - 'Snake In The Radio'

More fun:

Mark Pickerel’s homepage

Bloodshot records

Buy Snake in the Radio

Thursday, 24 May 2007

the one-man r'n'b spinal tap

According to Spinoza, comedy is the best form of defence in a court of law. On the strength of this new track, R. Kelly is absolved of numerous (alleged) past sex crimes and countless putative future indiscretions:

R. Kelly – ‘Sex Planet’ (from Double Up)

Expect our man R. to be touring air force bases in the near future:
Spinal Tap – ‘Sex Farm’

In tribute:
Superwolf (Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney) – ‘Ignition’ (live)
Devendra Banhart/Jana Hunter - 'Little Monkey/Step in the name of Love'

More fun:
The Tap reunite. David St. Hubbins with an LL look.

Buy R. Kelly's Double Up
Buy Superwolf
Buy Devendra Banhart
Buy Spinal Tap

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

"got class like pink champ-ale"

two new beastie boys tracks, on some ol' beta band / super furry animals steez, plus the usual meters riffs. tiresome videos, mind. sure, you play your instruments. sure, you're also three wacky spies and their horse who will also be a spy.

plus an excellent performance of 'ch-ch-check it out'. ch-ch-check it out.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

"culture. sophistication. genius. a little bit more than an 'ot dog, know what i mean?"

GMS would like to register hearty approval of feted directorial wunderkid Paul W.S. Anderson's plan to remake The Long Good Friday with "contemporary overtones", and to set it in Miami, "the melting pot of crap", according to one imdb commentator.

This floats our large, gleaming-white party boat for five distinct reasons:

(i) after early career misfires like Shopping and Event Horizon, Anderson hit his stride with Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Alien vs Predator

(ii) Rick Ross was born to resurrect the Bob Hoskins role

(iii) "contemporary overtones"

(iv) the prospect of an ageing pierce brosnan resurrecting his role as a speedos-wearing IRA assassin

(iv) words from the Fresh Prince:
"Dont get me wrong Charlotte Town got it going on
and New York is the city that we know dont sleep.
And we all know the LA and Philly stay jiggy, but on the snake,

Miami bringing heat for real, ya'll dont understand."
On the snake, people. I repeat, on the snake.

in tribute:

the handsome family - 'so long' (live in amsterdam, 2001)
gillian welch - 'good till now' (from hell among the yearlings)
morrissey - 'friday mourning' (from you are the quarry [deluxe])

Pulp - 'Bad Cover Version'

more fun:

buy handsome family

buy gillian welch
buy morrissey
buy pulp

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

"was told in shoot-outs stay low and keep firing"

yesterday southampton went out of the championship play-offs on penalties. hence i maintain my perfect record of never having seen a team i support win a shoot-out.

in their honour:

the breeders - 'saints' (live in washington, 1994)

radiohead - 'exit music' (live at glastonbury, 1997)
[incidentally, 97>07]

beck - 'loser' (live at the union chapel, 2003)

roy orbison - 'it's over'

arsonists - 'shit ain't sweet' (from as the world burns) [incidentally, what the hell happened to the arsonists?]

d'angelo - 'shit, damn, motherfucker' (from brown sugar)

in other news:

damn these internets love they lists. passion of the weiss and straight bangin' published their top 25 rap albums round-up, collated from over 100 blogs, plus a spreadsheet of the voting, which can only be described as "wizard". GMS' long-considered votes are on there, so no need to put them here. i'm just relieved i like exactly what everyone else likes. phew. otherwise i'd look silly.

berkeley place got in on the act, with the best indie rock albums (the mystery of spoon continues) and "bigging up" the ladies of indie rock. watch out, though - some of them are only wearing bras.

Album Review – Rufus Wainwright ‘Release the Stars’

Pretentious man: pretentious review.

It’s commonplace amongst critics to point out that Rufus Wainwright divides audiences. His determination to be defined by his sexuality, his innuendo and bad puns, his insistence on holding his notes (keep it breve, Rufus), and his florid compositions mean that some will always be turned off, while others will unquestioningly love everything he puts out. But for the, err, discerning types in the middle, it’s Rufus’ albums that inspire love-hate relationships. Here at GMS, we can consider Rufus Wainwright and Want One as two of the best albums of the past fifteen years, and Poses and Want Two as turgid, dreary messes, while still recognising dull passages in the first two, and flashes of genius in the latter.

With Release the Stars, Rufus treads a path between the focused song-writing that characterises his best work, and the operatic flourishes for which he is more well-known. Backing singers and multifarious musical instruments (in your face, Bright Eyes) are marshalled in support of clear lead vocals and accessible tunes. The influence of executive producer Neil Tenant isn’t immediately apparent in the music (no techno, and secondly, the guy could never sing), but the approach bears several of his hallmarks: radio-friendly pop, undercut by kitchen-sink bile and caustic wit.

Musically, then, Release the Stars is Rufus’ most consistent album: listenable and indeed enjoyable from end to end, without the slow patches or wayward tendencies of his earlier work, though also without some of the surprises. Lyrically, however, this is all over the place: an uneven balance between the political (lead single ‘Going to a Town’) and the personal (‘Tulsa’’s grating, hardly-written come-on to Brandon Flowers of the Killers); and an awkward combination of the familiar New York boho melodrama (the knowingly needy ‘Slideshow’), the Pet Shop Boys’ distinctively-English drollery (opener ‘Do I Disappoint You’), and the ‘Town’ in question – Berlin – whither Rufus has headed, perhaps to dredge up the spirits of Bowie, Iggy, Lou, Nico and Nick Cave.

This leads to a number of frustrating contradictions: on ‘Going to a Town’, Rufus is worried he’s “going to hell for having loved”; on ‘Not Ready To Love’ he’s … you get the picture. Nor is it clear whether he’s addressing the current state of politics or running away from it – or addressing politics by running away from it. Rufus’ contrarian nature used to dominate his music, and provided material for his lyrical self-examination, as on ‘Imaginary Love’ on his debut. Now it’s been herded out of his compositions, and threatens to overbalance his lyrics. Release the Stars is an enjoyable, consistent listen, but there’s nothing as revealing as his most personal work (‘Foolish Love’ or ‘Dinner at Eight’, for example), or as startling as his most bravura compositions (‘Oh What A World’ or ‘Go or Go Ahead’).

Rufus Wainwright – ‘Dinner at Eight’ (Live in Wales, 2006)

Rufus at the Hype Machine

Buy Release the Stars

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

"it will be two days before he feeds again"

capital news...

Prince - 'Lovesexy' (After-show at the Warfield, 1988)

Live review: Willy Mason, Oxford Zodiac, 8 May

The live show used to be Willy Mason’s ideal environment, and his main redeeming feature. The fact that his world-weary tales of hardship and political disaffection didn’t quite accord with his youth, or his apparently affluent background, mattered little: cheerfully touring the world with an acoustic guitar, a disarming manner and a passion for discovering like-minded souls, he seemed to inhabit the Guthrie-esque fantasy his debut album created. Equally, his clumsy voice, clumsier-still undergrad musings on life, love and global capitalism, and the fact that he has only two or three great songs, could be ignored: enjoy the endearing sing-a-longs and the everyman persona, kids!

What happened? For starters, it sounds as if his new album, If The Ocean Gets Too Rough, is as dully earnest and self-important as the reviews say – less of the light wit, more of the bad similes. Every song seems to reference the ocean, rivers, sleep and death. Energy … sapping … Secondly, Willy’s got a band. This seemed promising: by the look of them, he and Conor Oberst are going head-to-head to assemble the best replica of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. But, while Bright Eyes’ version lacked subtlety, at least you know why they’re there: by contrast, I’ve never seen a band do less work, or have less effect, than Mason’s backing players. Is he not paying them? The only time they come to life, they concoct an aimless jam in the middle of the fourth of a five-song encore. A five-song set would’ve been tolerable (especially had he included ‘Oxygen’, his best song). But this was an ordeal.

In other news:

Head over to unhemmed for non-stop esoterica, lo-fi fun and the power of suggestion, Warczarwa-style. If you know who Louis Fournier is, and what he done, holler at my man over there.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Live Review: All Tomorrow’s Parties – Day 3

Cameraman assisted by scrumpy

The great thing about music is that everyone has a different opinion. The greater thing about Galactic Mystery Solvers is that it has two. Without further ado.

Papa M: Day Three begins with a solo set from Dave Pajo, who seems to turn up at every ATP and to do something completely different each time. This time he shows some judgement by treating the hung-over Sunday afternoon crowd to a hushed solo set.

(1) Pajo’s no Will Oldham or Bill Callahan, and is better as a team-player. His shy, folky tales of relationships gone awry are sometimes reductively simple.

(2) Through quiet humility and determination, plus a brilliant cover of ‘Mary of the Wild Moor’, he’s the only act this weekend to completely silence the festival crowd.

Dirty Three

(1) Warren Ellis banters, karate-kicks and reels around the stage. Between Ellis’ enthusiasm and Jim White’s commitment to playing jazz drums during every performance across the weekend, the Dirty Three encapsulate all that is inspiring about this festival.

(2) Three middle-aged men playing difficult post-rock in a glorified shopping mall.

A Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra

( (1) Band of the weekend by a stretch. The beefed up ASMtZO has ditched its watery Godspeed approach in favour of howled vocals and towering riffs. Not a million miles from Lift to Experience, Josh Pearson’s old band (I wish the festival guide had mentioned that…), but altogether more focused and impassioned. The only act of the weekend, apart from Nick Cave, to adequately fill the ridiculous Millennium Dome style tent. Also, perfect music for bungee jumping.

(2) I’m not wrong: A Silver Mt. Zion, Live in Lyon, April 2007-05-04 and in particular ‘One Million Died To Make This Sound’

Cat Power and the Dirty Delta Blues Band (who are: Judah Bauer (“Mister Judah Bauer!”) of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Jim White (durr), one of the Dalta 72 (looks ill) and a bass dude™).

(1) The last time Cat Power played ATP, she was drunk, giggling, tuned up for 15 minutes, played half of a song, stopped, giggled, turned on the house lights, tuned up, crowd left. Today she sashays around the stage, toying with the crowd, flirting with Bauer, singing the strongest songs off ‘The Greatest’, plus crowd-pleasing covers of ‘New York New York’, ‘The Dark End of the Street’, ‘Tracks of My Tears’ and mashing up Gnarls Barkley and Patsy Cline on ‘Crazy’, all of which suggests great things for her second covers record, continuing the country-soul-big-band theme.

(2) Joss Stone.

Bill Callahan:

(1) This guy used to step out with Chan Marshall. Now he has Joanna Newsom on his arm. He wears nipple-high white slacks and a button-down shirt, and sings about how he doesn’t like women all that much. What’s the big secret?

(2) Callahan is playing second fiddle in indie-gossip hell, sandwiched between his his current girlfriend, whose arrival means his set gets cut short, and his ex, who upstages him by playing the main stage with a supergroup.

None of this matters. Callahan’s set is brilliant.

Good posture goes a long way with indie sirens

Joanna Newsom

(1) Otherworldly genius and fetching indie pixie woman

(2) Isn’t all this adoration a bit creepy? Would this crowd be snaking around the venue for an ugly bloke who played fussy 15-minute harp songs about elves?

The fanboys win: Newsom’s set, half ‘Milk Eyed Mender’, half ‘Ys’, rearranged (yet again) for a four piece band, is, uh, “spellbinding”, and “charming”, and “bewitching”, and Newsom is “a delight”, and is wearing “a dress”.

"Rolling down the street, smoking indo..."

Time to get that out of the system. Time, indeed, for Grinderman. Strange things afoot: Grinderman are joined onstage by Bobby Gillespie. Bobby Gillespie used to play drums in the Jesus and Mary Chain. The Jesus and Mary Chain have just reunited and are, simultaneously (if you ignore the time difference), headlining Coachella. There, they are joined onstage by Scarlett Johanssen. I can’t quite fathom the cosmic significance of all this. Maybe, somewhere in Russia, Thora Birch just played guest keyboards for My Bloody Valentine? Anyway, Grinderman are a perfect closing act: Gillespie only adds to the dumb noise quotient, looking gormless and waving a tambourine while the band, erm, grind out nasty, deafening blues.

(1) excellent beards

(2) Nick, that moustache.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Live Review: All Tomorrow’s Parties – Day 2

First up today is Magnolia Electric Co., bringing breezy Americana onto the main stage. All the elements are in place – Neil Young-style vocals, blues motifs, gee-tar solos, a masterful impression of God’s favourite bar band. What’s lacking? Well, they aren’t Wilco, which is a hopelessly unfair criticism, but nonetheless, Jason Molina and (heh) ‘Co.’ seem constrained by the limits of their genre, and make little connection with the early-afternoon crowd.

Off upstairs for some slightly less predictable fare from Yugoslav-born zither virtuoso Felix Lajko (no, really). Lajko is accompanied by a Toby-from-the-West-Wing-style rhythm violinist, whose job it is to saw at great speed for 40 minutes. This alone makes the pair a festival highlight. Meanwhile, the main man alternates between shrill zither twanging and lightning-quick freestyle fiddling. After a while he slopes off, back to Hungary (where he’s been on telly, you know), having made several hundred converts. Whether they’ll ever buy and listen to this hectic freestyle folk-jazz is another question. But for a couple of hours, a small corner of England is down with, y’know, that Bulgarian chap with the stringbox.

Back on the main stage, Shannon Wright is, according to the official guide, “bringing people in the room to share the same emotions, revealing themselves to each other, and living completely without hindrance.” Not my cup of tea at all, really – I love hindrance. But Wright plays a winning set of plonky piano aggro, recalling Rufus and Martha Wainwright in equal measure, before swapping to guitar to indulge some Throwing Muses grunge fantasies – less tuneful, but redeemed by waggling her arse at the crowd, and playing the guitar on the ground with her legs in the air.

Move along, no hindrance here

Across to Mekons frontwoman Sally Timms, a planned highlight of the festival, on account of GMS pumping Cowboy Sally’s Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos since back in the day (heat for the streets, people). Unfortunately, Timms’ unbounded musical odyssey has taken her a long way from bittersweet country: her set mines the dirgy goth depths of Nico’s unlistenable solo work (albeit with a slightly nicer voice). Apparently the mix was sorted out towards the end, and the oppressive industrial splatter-beat computer accompaniment was turned down, to delightful effect, but GMS had headed off in search of a tasty omelette by that time.

Back in time for Low, whose latest album, Drums and Guns, I can’t manage to love – too much of the whinnying atonal vocals and unsympathetic drum machine accompaniments. A small victory, however, for a band I was considering putting in the ’97 mentality section: Low overcome the lack of atmosphere on the main stage, bantering with the crowd, and revealing new depths in their recent material – album closer ‘Violent Past’ is particularly good.

Low – ‘Violent Past’ (from Drums and Guns)

Unfortunate scheduling means that Low played at the same time as Suicide legend Alan Vega, whose set apparently featured “the Fall gone techno” and “verbal abuse of a Japanese child”. No Akon.

Next up: the closing twenty minutes of Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline, wherein Jason Pierce revisits his entire career with the help of a string section, gospel backing singers and some shades. The general consensus seems to be that the set lacked variation and lively crowd interaction, neither of which are generally to be expected at a Spiritualized gig. But the closing volley of ‘This Little Life of Mine’, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, ‘I Think I’m In Love’ and ‘Lord, Can You Hear Me?’ do what Spiritualized always did best – reducing the history of punk rock, gospel and the blues to a single idea, then expanding that idea into a sumptuous wall of noise. Release another album, Pierce.

Spiritualized – ‘Lord, Can You Hear Me?’ (from Let It Come Down)

Main stage headliner Nick Cave has an even bigger back-catalogue to re-interpret. Cave headlines days 2 and 3, each time playing a two-part set, starting with the greatest hits, ending with Grinderman-heavy material. He’s backed by the Grinderman line-up, which makes the greatest hits fall between a number of stools: we don’t get the intimacy of a solo show, the full-band extravaganza of the Bad Seeds, or the songs Grinderman was formed to play, so the overall effect is slightly unfocused. That said, any set featuring Nick Cave with his silly moustache shouting obscenities and hitting a piano is several steps above anything else on offer, so all’s good. Also noteworthy is the indie hipster who managed to time a bungee jump with ‘The Mercy Seat’. King of Anglia.

Nick Cave – ‘The Mercy Seat’ (from Live Seeds)

Having paid due homage to King Ink, GMS is off to catch the end of Amelie soundtracker Yann Tiersen, who is aiming his sights at scoring the next Sofia Coppola film by concocting a chugging cacophony of early-90s shoegazing indie and half-muffled vocals. Yann’s capable of greater things (earlier in the set he wielded an accordion, after all), but he seems to take humble, goofy pleasure in resurrecting Catherine Wheel and Swervedriver, so it’s hard to criticise.

Committed to quotas, Yann breaks out the strings

The day closes with an early-hours set by Nina Nastasia, whose captivating country-goth tunes are somewhat stifled and drowned out by the freestyle drumming of omnipresent Dirty Three sticksman-for-hire Jim White. On record, lower in the mix, White’s loose drum patterns are a good fit: not tonight, though, Jim.

On that grind, sun up to sun down

Nina Nastasia – ‘Beautiful Day’ (Peel Sessions)

Stick around for: Papa M, Dirty Three, Silver Mt. Zion, Cat Power, Bill Callahan, Joanna Newsom and Grinderman. I mean it, man.

Back to Day One

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Live Review: All Tomorrow’s Parties, curated by the Dirty Three – Day 1

This spring’s two ATP festivals are founded on competing evolutionary philosophies. Weekend Two – ‘ATP vs the Fans’ – embraces a competitive free market rockocracy, whereby paid-up punters nominate and vote for the line-up. The results look pretty spectacular. The first weekend follows an opposite social philosophy, based on patronage and selective breeding. Hence all bands on this weekend are created in the image of festival curator Warren Ellis out of the Dirty Three, and conform to at least one of the following inherited characteristics:

(1) having a beard

(2) playing the violin

(3) being Australian and a bit angry and mad

(4) having one or more of the Dirty Three in your band

The Ascent of Man

But how will Warren’s post-rock offspring adapt to the hostile environment of the new ATP venue – Butlin’s holiday camp in Minehead – a Valhalla of child-catching capitalist excess that makes the former site, Pontin’s in Rye, look like a gulag? With a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, AND a ‘Mega Funland’ adjoining the main stage, and with the luxuries of leather sofas, framed artwork and hand-picked movies back at the chalets, it’s survival of the fittest for the weekend’s line-up.

Hostile environment

Early man, in this scenario, is represented by priapic smack-punkers the Only Ones. Too bloody early, as it happens: as they play their exciting reunion gig, team GMS is still looking for its HQ, amidst the West-Baltimore low-rise style chalets at the other end of the site. One of our spies said they were “okay”.

First up, then, are The Art Of Fighting, who are Australian, but have no beards, violins or members of the Dirty Three. Their moody Howling Bells-style shoegazing, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a David Lynch soundtrack, is well-suited to the nightclub setting, but they fail to compete with the chatter of newly-arrived indie hipsters, many of whom also have beards. Some songs here.

Moving on, we catch Psarandonis, “one of Crete’s leading lyra players … master of dynamics and variation … [and] of simplicity and deconstruction”, the book says. He has a beard, lots of fancy instruments, is not Australian but probably mad, and has three sons working in the family business, like Pops from the League of Gentlemen. He’s also spectacularly brilliant in a John-Fahey-of-the-Med type of way. If you’re ever in Crete

Intelligent design?

GMS then finds non-indie refuge in Cocteau’s La Belle et le Bete, home cooking and sleep. Hardier sorts sampled the weekend’s first Dirty Three set: “pretty cool towards the end”, and crazy-eyed Texan one-man-band Josh Pearson: “quite good, I think”.

Keep watching for day two.