Posted by: Nick Walters | July 5, 2014

Boris Blank / Malia: Convergence

Yello’s last album was the smooth and sensual Touch Yello in 2009, and since then both Dieter Meier and Boris Blank have embarked on solo projects.  Meier’s album Out of Chaos is, shall we say, the more artistically adventurous. He adopts a startling singing style totally at odds with the deep bassy croon beloved by Yello fans. A brave choice and, to these ears anyway, an off-putting one.

Boris Blank’s solo album is less adventurous but will sound more familiar to Yello fans. Although a joint solo album with Malawian singer Malia, Convergence sounds like a continuation of Touch Yello, albeit with one vocalist and no instrumentals, which gives the project a coherence and identity of its own.

It may be less adventurous but it is no less artistically valid. Blank’s skills in the studio are renowned, and he creates a warm, cinematic, smooth palette of sound with what music geeks would probably call ‘a deep and intricately layered sonic floor’ or something. Malia’s voice is excellently suited to this style and she brings a playful, warm personality to the proceedings especially on the funky I Feel It Like You and the cover of Fever.

I have previously blogged about wacky Yello song titles and there is some of that here Celestial Echo, Magnetic Lies, Touching Ghosts and, most wonderfully, Embraceable Moon.

This is the coolest, smoothest, most sophisticated album since the invention of Babycham. When listened to it, I close my eyes, and am instantly transported to a bar on a beach on a warm summer night, dressed in a tux, propping up the bar and gazing into the eyes of a sexy lady. I am Swiss Toni and Don Turbulento and Random Tox. Nice.

Posted by: Nick Walters | June 17, 2014

James: La Petite Mort

The stunning cover of the new James album is a pretty accurate indication of its contents.

This, James’s second full album since their reunion, is among their very best. The days of Sit Down and Laid are long, long gone, but James’ fire certainly has not gone out. Indeed it burns brighter here than on any of their albums since, arguably, Whiplash. This is a joyous, life-affirming, uplifting album with dark undertones; its theme seems to be ‘in the midst of life we are in death, et cetera.’ Lead single Moving On was written in response to singer Tim Booth’s mother’s passing, and it is truly wonderful and affecting, as is the astonishing video. This bereavement underpins the whole album from its title to its macabre skull/carnival imagery. It  is, however, not a maudlin record – quite the opposite: second track Curse Curse is a bona fide rave anthem and Gone Baby Gone is a fine piece of pop gibberish, totally meaningless fun fluff which contrasts with the record’s weightier themes. Talking of which, Interrogation is the album’s stand-out, a stunning piece of music over which Tim Booth rails and wails against injustice. Now in his mid fifties, Booth sounds just exactly as he ever did, or perhaps even better – and the band are at the top of their game. Larry Gott’s keening, melodious guitar and Andy Diagram’s trumpet flourishes are instantly familiar and reassuring, but it is Mark Hunter’s keyboards that dominate the album and indeed is the first thing you hear on the seven-minute opening track Walk Like You.  However, three consecutive songs on ‘Side 2′ are dominated by Hunter’s piano melodies which does make them seem a little samey on first listen. The production doesn’t help here, not giving these three tracks space enough to breathe, but this is a minor criticism as overall the music has a warm, involving sound. The album ends with the extremely moving All I’m Saying which is one of the best closing tracks to any James album. At ten songs La Petite Mort doesn’t overstay its welcome and leaves you wanting more. James fans should love this, and it’s a fine starting point for the curious. Strange that an album about death and bereavement is proving to be the album of the summer, but there it is!

Posted by: Nick Walters | June 15, 2014

Tobias: A Series Of Shocks

No… not THAT Tobias…

The Quietus has written an excellent review of this album from the point of view of the dance music expert. I am not a dance music expert by any means – I love Underworld, Orbital, the Orb, Leftield, New Order and Yello, and have the odd album by Daft Punk, Air, Royskopp, Basement Jaxx, Burial etc. Only the most popular and high profile dance music ever comes my way. So what led me to this? Well to be honest it was the Quietus review. From that, I knew that this album would fit right in to my tastes in dance – mainstream, well-produced, leaning towards the weird. And, hey ho, so it did! So here is a review from a non-dance expert, a dilettante, an amateur. It begins with Entire, a gentle tinkling piano thing like Philip Glass meets underworld. This burbles on merrily for a while lulling the listener into a false sense of security as it is completely unrepresentative of the album (and indeed was not included on the vinyl version). Second track Heartbeat really kicks things off with a ‘four to the floor’ beat, as I believe they say, with an incredibly deep speaker-busting bass drum pulse. The rest of the tracks are variations on this theme. The strength, as with the best of this sort of stuff, lies in the layers of programmed loops and repetitions which build and build and circle and prowl around each other to exhilarating effect. This is best demonstrated on Instant which features a nagging little riff which sounds almost out of time with the rhythm, causing a delicious dizzying sensation. Ya Po is the biggest head-cruncher here, a relentless  juddering aural assault that sounds like a machine going wrong. If is the most sinister track – its descending, relentless bass riff is deeply unsettling, and it is circled by a swirling, hesitant synth melody and punctuated by a hoarse voice shouting ‘IF!’ To sum up: intelligent techno that will delight both the dance geek and the casual listener.

Posted by: Nick Walters | June 7, 2014

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become

Yes you should look pleased. It’s a fine album.

Since the Beautiful South split ‘due to musical similarities’, I have been meaning to catch up with the career of Paul Heaton, one of this country’s very best songwriters, but I never got round to his solo albums or even his opera on deadly sins ‘the 8th’. The Beautiful South’s last album, Superbi, is one of their best; and I always thought it was a shame they didn’t carry on, if not up the charts, at least hovering somewhere around its margins. Well, they sort of have, in the form of The South; but without principal songwriters Heaton and David Rotheray I’m not in that much of a hurry to check out their album Sweet Refrains.

And so we come to What Have We Become, which Heaton has recorded with former Beautiful South vocalist Jacqueline Abbott, who left the music industry to look after her son. The reunion of Heaton and Abbott has caused a frisson of nostalgic excitement, and to some What Have We Become is seen as a ‘new Beautiful South album’, which of course it is not as Heaton’s songwriting partner in TBS, David Rotheray, is not present. What this is is a new Paul Heaton solo album, though how it compares to his previous recordings I cannot yet say. It does, however, compare, and very favourably, to the best of The Beautiful South – but it is not a mere exercise in empty nostalgia; it is a work in its own right and should be judged as such.

That said, lead single D.I.Y. is when all is said and done prime mid-period South, very much in the style of Don’t Marry Her – fast and funny with ludicrously overcomplicated wordplay that somehow works (Heaton is a master at cramming as many words into a line as possible).

The excellent sleeve notes, a state of the nation address bemoaning our fragmented, commercialised society, show that Heaton remains as political as he ever was since the early days of The Housemartins and it is refreshing to know that some of the old guard are still writing this way whilst most are happy to trade off past glories (Weller, I’m looking at you). And, sleeve notes! Who does them these days? I wish more would if they’re of this quality:  ‘Women have cooked for thousands of years without saying a thing, men have cooked for ten years and they can’t shut up about it. Look at me, I’m a bloke and I actually know how to hold a frying pan without hitting it over the head of a woman.’ It’s worth buying this album for the sleeve notes alone.

As for the music, it’s at least as good as the best of the South, but with a harder, rockier edge. The title track and Some Dancing To Do are the immediate standouts, real belters as good as anything Heaton has ever written. Further listening reveals other gems like the Snowman, a wise and woozy ballad.  Lyrically, Heaton targets modern society on the title track and the extremely acid Advice To Daughters (one of four extra tracks on the special edition – well worth getting) and lays into the music industry, pulverising pretention, on the dry I Am Not A  Muse. It’s this quintessential handy Britishness and obstreperous, righteous outspokenness that makes Heaton so valuable as a songwriter.

At 50, Heaton’s voice is better than ever, more mature and growly but still able to belt out a tune. Jacqui Abbott’s warm tones are the perfect counterpart, their pairing makes this album a complete pleasure. Musical similarities may have brought The Beautiful South to a premature end, so let’s be thankful for the musical differences that brought these two together again.

Posted by: Nick Walters | May 24, 2014

The Not-So Dangerous Dangers of Evil Blizzard

Evil Blizzard, yesterday. I bet they’re all accountants.

On first glance, depending on your musical mental age (mine is 14), Evil Blizzard look like either the best, or the worst, band ever to exist:  Four bassists. Song titles like Whalebomb and Slimy Creatures. Band member names like Stomper and Prowler. Slipknot-style masks. Theremins inside baby dolls’ heads. They notoriously supported The Fall and this is how I came to hear of them, from other fans on The Fall Forum. Though I didn’t get to see them, reports of their live sets sounded hair-raising and hilarious.  Something about Evil Blizzard makes me think they would be the perfect festival band, like Ozric Tentacles, and they probably make more sense live than they do on record, because – considering all of the above – this album is a disappointment.

I was expecting something akin to the Butthole Surfers at their most demented. The baby imagery they use is highly ‘Buttholian’ and the high children’s voice on the intro track ‘Here come the clowns!’ recalls the opening to Independent Worm Saloon. However, this album goes nowhere near the genius and profane glory that was the Buttholes at their best. There are cosmetic similarities but the music is far too clean and wholesome to bear comparison. What it does sound like is a strange mix of Hawkwind, The Fall and PIL. The singer’s Lydon-like vocals give the whole thing a quaint, reassuring, cosy English pub lunch malarkey feel. The music, though indeed extremely bass-heavy, is rather pedestrian and lockstep, only momentarily taking flight, content most of the time to lurk around the lower end of riffs even Beavis and Butt-Head would find boring. This can be a strength – I myself love repetition, when done well (and particularly when done  by The Fall), but here, it’s just dull.

Opening track Feed The Flames could have been recorded at any point between 1973 and now. Clones is livelier, but the album stops dead with the dull Sleep. Open Up The Red Box is the most reductive track, a pummelling ‘duh-duh-duh-duh-duh’ riff  that beats you into submission – except it doesn’t. Live, it probably would kill, but on record, it feels safe and pedestrian.

Slimy Creatures is far better, with its chugalug bassline and the singer crooning ‘Slimy creatures, ugly features!’ It’s about as threatening as a fluffy kitten, but it is great fun. The closing track, the titanic Whalebomb, is 19 minutes long, 19 minutes of the same moronic, thunderous riff being banged out with all the subtlety of a rutting Skarasen. It is brilliant and the best track here. Overall, though enjoyable, this album is far too clean and polished to merit its title. Sorry, guys! I must try to catch you live at some point, then you can beat me properly to death with your bass-mungous riffs.

Posted by: Nick Walters | May 19, 2014

Addressing UKIP and Nigel Farage

Several times over the last couple of weeks, I’ve considered blogging about UKIP and Nigel Farage. So now, here I am, blogging about UKIP and Nigel Farage. Actually, I’m going to cheat, because I am going to let others speak for me.

Firstly, Nick Pegg says everything I ever wanted to say about the matter, and more so. Well worth reading, which is why I am re-blogging it.

Secondly, this says it all more eloquently than mere words:

Thirdly, well, there is no thirdly.

Vote UKIP by all means, but know what you are voting for.

The 2am knock on the door.

Posted by: Nick Walters | May 14, 2014

‘Keep Going!’

140511 10K

I ran the Bristol 10K on Sunday 11 May. It was my first ever organised race, and beforehand, I was dreading it. I was convinced that I would fail. I am 45 years old and just over 18 stone, and had until last autumn not done any running since school. I did, however, complete it – in a slow but steady time of 1 hour 21 minutes. Crossing the finish line was the one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.

How did I achieve this seemingly impossible (to me) feat? Two things: training and planning.

I started running last October as I needed to exercise over the winter and I naturally cycle less during that time. Fair weather cyclist? Guilty as charged, as, oddly, I prefer riding when the weather is nice. Mad, eh? I do keep up riding throughout the winter, but not as much as the summer. And I will not join a gym for very many reasons, so running it was. I started off very slowly, running for 30 seconds and walking for 2 minutes over an hour, gradually increasing the ratio until I could run for half an hour non-stop. Well, almost; walk breaks of 20-30 seconds every ten minutes or so. I developed a steady flowing running style keeping arms parallel and keeping the breathing regular and deep – I believe proper breathing is the key to good running. All my years of cycling had endowed me with stamina and a strong cardiovascular system that no doubt helped with my running project.

By April I could run 3 miles (roughly 5K) in about 35-40 minutes, inluding walk breaks, without (much) pain. My weight came down slightly but remained obstinately around the 18 stone mark. Against advice I did not consult a physio or buy specialist shoes, just a pair of £30 Adidas trainers, the ones I ran in on Sunday. I was warned about the dangers of this, ‘you’ll knacker your knees’ etc but after 7 months have yet to see any adverse effects.

I kept up this training plan, interspersed with cycling and worrying, and as the day of the 10k loomed I began to lose all confidence – but only began. Every time I doubted myself I told myself that I had trained, and I had a plan for the day. The plan was to aim for a 70 minute plus run (with walk breaks every ten minutes), keep it slow and steady, and just get round the course. Finishing was my goal – and never has the title of this blog seemed more appropriate.

I did a final training run the Friday before, 3 miles (roughly) 5K in 35 minutes. If you can run 5K, I have heard, you can run 10K – you just keep going; there will be a point of collapse, but it will be some way beyond 10K.

The day before, I did nothing – I sat in the garden (rain permitting), listened to music, and read. I prepared my kit – packing my bag, fixing my race number to my (also Adidas) shirt with safety pins (fiddly) and the race chip to my laces (very fiddly). In the evening, I ate a chicken balti with rice and a naan bread, a glass of orange juice and some yogurt, and went to bed at half ten, and lay awake until gone 1 am.  I knew this would happen. I didn’t let it bother me and rose at 7am after 6 hours sleep. With a sore throat.

You aren’t supposed to run if you’re ill. Was I ill? I think not, as I feel fine now and the sore throat went after breakfast (toast, cereal, tea). I think it was because I left my bedroom window all night, and the dry air affected my throat. Still it was a worry at the time. So was the weather – raining hard at 8am, the time I’d planned to set off.

I almost gave in. I almost gave up. There was no-one at home to voice words of encouragement, except the cat, and much use she was; so it was quite an effort of will to get my ass out of the door. But I remembered my training, remembered my plan – and of course remembered Jack, the reason I was doing the 10k in the first place, to raise funds for the Cardiac Risk in the Young charity. (My fundraising page is here).

So, psyching myself up, I donned my kagoule and set off. By chance, and before I’d got too far down the road, I happened to glance down and notice that my shorts were on inside-out. I legged it back to the house to rectify that, defeat and frustration welling up inside me again, and was soon back outside in the rain.

And then the first positive thing – the rain stopped! And then started again, but not quite so hard. The weather remained squally all day, with some moment of sunshine – it wasn’t bad for running, as the occasional shower of rain proved rather refreshing.

As I walked through Queen Square the scale of the event became clear: there were runners converging on the area from all directions, and tannoy announcements could be heard echoing off the Harbourside concrete. Millennium Square was packed out but I managed to locate Phil Cole for a pre-run pep-talk. After a visit to the toilets that I would rather forget, and some confusion (on my part) about the bag storage areas, I changed into my running gear and took my place in the pens on College Green with the hundreds of other runners in the second wave. At about 0935 we heard the first wave set off and excitement surged through the crowd. I was feeling apprehensive, excited, and humbled by the vast scale of the event. 0945 came and went – our set start time – and no movement. Eventually we began to move slowly down the hill to Anchor Road – in time to see the lead runners from the first wave on their way to the finish line already! (These were all pros and the fastest was Olympic athlete Scott Overall in 30 minutes 20 seconds. Blimey!). I spotted a work colleague in the cheering crowds and he shouted words of encouragement – this did much to lift my spirits. Cheers, Ryan!

As we moved down the slope of Anchor Road cheered on by the crowds, the starting banner came in to view and some started to run before they reached it. ‘Nuts to that! I’m waiting until the last possible moment,’ I commented to the person next to me. I’m always on, darling! By now I was ready and it was do or die, so at the start line I broke into my run – remembering my training and keeping it slow, smooth and steady. I am not a fast runner, ‘largely’ (ha) because of my weight but I have developed a running style which can sustain me. I’m all about stamina – not speed. The key elements are 1.  land on the mid-foot 2.  keep the arms parallel to the body (the number of runners I saw with their arms crossing in front of their bodies!), 3. keep the back straight and head up – do not slump and, most importantly 4. breathe, slow and deep, right down into the (massive) gut. I can sprint, for short periods, but I did not plan to do so on this run. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say – or rather, completes the race without major injury.

Onto Hotwell Road and past the Mardyke (memories)… A few people were passing me, but I was keeping pace with most and even overtaking some who were walking already so soon into the run. There were a few people with bright read ‘Love Running’ T-Shirts. I asked them if you could get ‘Hate Running’ ones. They laughed. Thank you, I’m here all week! Onto Merchants Road and past the Merchants Arms (more memories…) and then up Humprhy Davy Way, the only real hill on the route, and back down onto the Portway. It was on the down slope of this that I took my first walk break at 12 (not 10) minutes, walking for only 20 seconds or so, enough for a quick puff on the Ventolin (oh yes, I have asthma, as well as being overweight and old). And then it was down onto the Portway for the longest part of the run. The first ten or so minutes or so of any run is the worst, before I hit my stride and the endorphins kick in it can feel a bit of a slog. I just kept it slow and held it back, there was a long way to go.

I passed the 2K marker at 15 minutes, which set me roughly on target for 70 minutes for the whole 10K. Only a fifth of the way through! I quailed, but, unlike the snails, I prevailed, concentrating on my technique, keeping my back straight and head up, arms parallel, and breathing, always the breathing – it’s what got me through. By now the weather was lovely and sunny, and the Avon Gorge looked beautiful, as did the Clifton Suspension Bridge. As we passed under the tunnel a group started the ‘Oggie Oggie Oggie!’ chant – I wondered how they had the breath to do it!

I saw some colourful characters on the run: a chap dressed in full, accurate Star Wars Stormtrooper garb (I quoted appropriately the two times I passed him); a team from CLIC Sargent bearing a Chinese dragon, a chap with a rather forlorn-looking panda head, but most were just like me. People running, for fun and for charity. Though I am a lone wolf, it felt good to be part of something this big.

The sight of the line of runners snaking ahead along the Portway and back was daunting, and prompted wails from those around me – but, again, I concentrated on my technique and rose above it.  Someone coming back the other way called out to me, I later found out this was old schoolmate Neal Smith, and I spotted erstwhile workmate Zoe Garratt also.

Along the route Marshals were stationed, and members of the public had gathered, to shout encouragement; and the most oft-used phrase was: ‘Keep Going!’ The first time I heard this I shouted, ‘Thanks! You know, I never thought of that! Keep going! Wow!’ Sarcastic arsehole that I am, but I meant it in good spirits, and some other runners laughed. I heard it dozens of times on the run and it always made me smile – I suppose it’s one of those stock phrases, like ‘is this the queue for the toilets?’ and ‘are you all right?’ that people use without thinking.  It was great to have the encouragement and well done to the organisers for pulling off such a massive event.

I had a walk-break again at 24 minutes, after which I passed the 4K marker. Now I was on a runner’s high, the endorphins had kicked in and I was running without effort, coasting comfortably. I reached the U-turn point and skirting round a load of strewn jelly-babies headed back along the Portway, into the sun. I passed the 5K mark, grabbed some water, and could not stop myself from smiling. This was mint! This was what it was all about!

The 6K mark went and I felt myself, ever so slightly, begin to flag. I’d had a walk-break at 36 minutes and another at 48, and planned another at 60. Off the Portway and over the swing bridge past the Nova Scotia (yet more memories…) to begin the last leg along Cumberland Road to the finish. I missed the 7K marker and was therefore surprised to see the 8K marker. Wow! Only 2K to go! I therefore decided not to take another walk break and keep going to the end, but my bladder had other ideas and I had to take a quick detour into the bushes at the far end of the Chocolate Way (ooer) which must have added at least 2 minutes to my overall time.

By the time I turned into Wapping Road I had entered another plane of existence. I was still going at the same pace, but it was beginning to hurt a bit. Something kept me going – my training, my plan, the cheering crowds – and I was determined not to stop until the finish. There were a lot of people walking but at no point did I even want to join them.   As I entered the centre full of cheering crowds, I felt like a hero, and again it was very humbling.  Past the Hippodrome and 600 metres to go. I saw Ryan again and shouted, ‘Piece of cake! I’m gonna go round again!’ Back onto Anchor Road and I knew then that I had done it, that nothing could stop me now. Maybe a sudden heart attack or my shin splitting in two? Bring it on! As I neared the finish the familiar face of Matt Redmond hoved into view and he took the photo you see at the top of this page. ‘Help!’ I wailed as I ran past him – why, I don’t know. I didn’t need any help!

There it was. The finish line. I pulled myself up and kept my arms parallel and my gait steady, I even sped up a little. Always finish well. The second I passed the finish line I staggered to a stop and sat down on the kerb, my head seeming to spin, my whole body feeling aglow. I immediately got up again as I know you have to keep walking a while after a run. I waved off the offers of a foil blanket until the sweat began to cool on me and then gratefully accepted one. I wandered dazed into Millennium Square, utterly elated that I had actually done this thing.

There were no badges or T-shirts to hand out – they had run out, an unfortunate administrative glitch in an otherwise very well-run event. I therefore detached my runner’s tag, then met up with Matt Redmond and we got the bus to the Lazy Dog for a slap-up Sunday lunch which I had truly earned.

Back home I discovered my time on the website – 81 minutes, 11 minutes longer than planned, but 2 of those were spent answering the call of nature and perhaps 3 or 4 on walk breaks. I don’t think I let myself down, all things considered, and at least I beat the Chinese dragon and the friendly Stormtrooper.  And next year when I have lost more weight I will be faster.

The next day my legs ached a bit and I had a weird shoulder pain, but this has passed and I have recovered unharmed, and am even contemplating going for a run… some time next week. For now, though, I’m going to cut back on the running for a bit, and go back to my first love, cycling – but I won’t abandon it completely, and will certainly sign up for next year’s 10K, and maybe other such events. The prospect of a half-marathon makes me wince at the moment, but, who knows? It does seem possible now, and not scarcely.

And if I – 45, asthmatic, overweight – indeed, even obese, according to the BMI chart – can do it, so can you!

Posted by: Nick Walters | April 6, 2014

Laibach: Spectre

Laibach-SPECTRE-Vinyl-Edition

The first track on this album, The Whistleblowers, is so insanely catchy that once heard you WILL be whistling it for weeks after only one hearing. I had it as the alarm tone on my phone, but had to change it after a couple of days as it was driving me nuts. It is a brilliant opening to this astounding album by Slovenian agit-pop veterans Laibach. If anything, it sounds very like an industrial Yello; Milan Fras’s voice is very similar to Dieter Meier’s and the prominent use of a female vocalist recalls the same tactic by the Swiss electro gods. If you had told me that Americana was a new Yello song I would have believed you. There are also shades of Depeche Mode and doomy 80s electro-goth – the music is meaty and bombastic, very OTT in places and it makes for a highly entertaining, sometimes thrilling listen.

Laibach have always notoriously used the iconography of political propaganda and it reaches its ultimate form on this album. The title is almost certainly deliberately named after the opening line of the Communist Party Manifesto, but it also recalls James Bond uber-baddies Spectre, though this is a complete misnomer and I only mention it because reasons.  The CD comes with a booklet containing lyrics (‘Party Songs’), a Spectre Party manifesto and you can even register your Party membership (I have). ‘With the release of the album SPECTRE, we have decided to form an international Party in order to create a possibility for an organized and synchronized international movement, helping to change the world wherever necessary and possible.’ Okay!  ‘Tis only a glorified fan club, but it’s all in good fun.

And those lyrics! They would be worrying if Laibach actually were fascists. Take this, from Resistance Is Futile:

Do not fight against us -
Resistance is futile!
We are Laibach
And you will be assimilated -
Blitzkreig! Blitzkreig!

As with the Bond reference, any link to the Borg is almost certainly accidental, though mention of assimilation makes one wonder. Elsewhere there is a manic exhortation to Eat Liver! to aid the revolutionary effort and a piece entitled Koran in which Milan Fras croons ‘Words are nice / Words are memories of pain’. The fatwa’s in the post, comrade. And to cap it all, Laibach have assimilated the Beastie Boys’ call to arms as updated by Public Enemy: ‘Fight For Your Right To Party For Your Right To Fight!’ Cheeky sods.

Posted by: Nick Walters | March 28, 2014

St Vincent: St Vincent – An Apology

St Vincent glares

Your worthless opinions do not bother me in the slightest. In. The. Slightest. You abject, writhing worm.

Sorry, St Vincent, it’s not you, it’s me. I have given this every chance but it has failed to do anything for me except make me think a lot about music and why I like it. So that’s a good thing, I suppose. On the first few listens I found it annoying and irritating, and subsequent spins have not changed this view. This has given me pause for thought as St Vincent is obviously extremely talented and respected, and I can only conclude that it is down to personal taste. Which is odd, because St Vincent’s music is right up my street. I love electronic music composed by and sung by women as my music collection bears out (one of my current fave bands is Marsheaux).  Or rather, more correctly, I like female singer/songwriters, who have a bit of originality and intelligence about them – like that other artist with initials SV who released an album this year.  The comparison with Suzanne Vega is an apt one as this album, like Vega’s breakthrough 99 degrees F, has a bedrock of deep rumbling basslines pulsing through it and is informed by the electronic music of the day, and both artists integrate a broad musical pallete into their soundscapes. (End of pretentious muso journo shite). So this album should be ideal for me – but it leaves me cold. Individual tracks (e.g. Digital Witness) are great but as an album, it doesn’t grab me. When it is on, it’s just there, and I don’t remember a thing about it when it’s over. This initially happened with the ‘other’ SV album but that has grown and bloomed within me. In fact, this happens with almost all music; albums are almost never instant. They take time to reveal themselves. Of course, pop music should grab you and tunes should be likable straight away, or there is nothing to hook you in – but, once hooked, there must be more beneath the surface. For older acts, knowledge and experience of their back catalogue is enough. For example, the last Goldfrapp album, which I bought on the strength of a promise of return to form. It left no impression at all on first listen apart from a vague ‘hmm nice’ but over time it grew in stature until I considered it their best album. For newer acts, a single song, or an image, or word of mouth must grab the attention. This happened with Chvrches – their name intrigued me, I read an interview online somewhere, previewed The Mother We Share, saw the album artwork and made an educated guess that this was, in a very big way, up my street. So I bought it, and found that indeed it was. With St Vincent, I got a PM from my sister whose taste is pretty sound (except for her teenage Five Star phase – we all have these – with me it was Nik Kershaw). She urged me to listen to the album , so I previewed Digital Witness and thought ‘wow’ and so picked up the CD in a record shop (look it up, kids) and well, I’ve already told you the desultory results. It just does not work for me. A shame. So, once more, sorry, St V, it’s not you, it’s me. You can’t win em all.

 

Posted by: Nick Walters | February 27, 2014

Suzanne Vega: Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles

So it’s tunes you want, is it, asshole? FUCK YOU!

Since the triumph of 99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees waaaay back in 1992, Suzanne Vega has seemed to struggle to find a vernacular for her delicate, considered song-stories. Nine Objects of Desire was a watered-down version of 99.9, and 2000′s Songs In Red And Gray seemed lost under a sheen of production, with only a few songs (Penitent, Widow’s Walk and I’ll Never Be Your Maggie May) breaking through the bland. 2007′s slight, thoughtful Beauty and Crime almost seemed an admission of defeat; pleasant enough, but not essential. Now, seven years later, has SV managed to find her mojo again? Well, sort of. Tales From The Realm of the Queen of Pentacles is clearly her best album since 99.9, but it does seem to lack somewhat in the tune department. Now, tunes aren’t the be all and end all, but SV has penned some corkers in her time; do I need to remind anyone of Luka, Tom’s Diner, Marlene on the Wall etc etc. If you can get over that, there is much to enjoy here, and the more you listen the better it gets. SV sounds like she is enjoying herself, from the preposterous prog-tastic title (a shocking mash-up of Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans and the legendary prog nightmare of The Pentateuch of the Cosmonogony) to the clever wordplay and intricate tunes which she is renowned for. Lyrically, there seems to be a tarot thing going on, though I have yet to study the lyrics in any depth. This gives the album a strange, olde-worlde character, a trope SV has used before e.g The Queen and the Soldier from her first album. It’s a clever idea and suits SV well, giving the album an identity lacking her more recent works.  Stylistically it’s all over the place, from the familiar folky leanings of opener Crack In The Wall to the grunge rock of I Never Wear White to the impish 50 Cent sampling (so I’m told) of Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain. The production is solid, satisfying and extremely pleasing to the ear, though the cheesy trumpet (or whatever it is) on closing track Horizon (There Is  A Road) ruins what is otherwise an excellent song, making the plaintive mawkish. Vocally, SV is in fine voice, sounding much as she ever has, except that the edge evident on early songs such as Marlene On The Wall is perhaps understandably absent. This, like the relative lack of pop tunes, matters not one jot. Recommended.

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