Cath Aubergine introduces us to two albums by the prolific experimental folk artist Mount Eerie, both of which were released in 2012 & both of which evaded much press attention then. Here’s Cath’s review of “two that got away”, Clear Moon & Ocean Roar.
IÂ wasn’t going to do any end of year stuff this year. Well, last year, as it is now. 2012. The year even half the people who make the lists generally seemed to agree there were too many lists. There were a lot of albums I liked in those lists, plenty I’d bought in a year where I probably bought more new albums than I ever have previously. Few, however, mentioned the albums which together sat at the top of the list in my head. It’s not like they were musically impenetrable, nor the work of an unknown artist. They were kind of hard to get hold of, but in these days where you can generally own any tune you like electronically in a matter of seconds or physically by 9am tomorrow on the premium delivery option, there was something rather nostalgic about the long wait. Anticipation. And it did not go unrewarded…
They made their way across the sea, six months apart, packaged like gifts from afar. Each box addressed by hand and bound with patterned tape bearing the name of the organisation from which they had originated: P.W.ELVERUM & SUN, LTD. ANACORTES . I looked it up on a map, and things started to make sense. Up there at the western end of the border between Washington State and Canada the coastline dissolves into a scatter of islands and outcrops; the small city of Anacortes is bounded on three sides by water, at the head of a strait that separates the two countries as they reach out into the North Pacific Ocean. It covers the northern third or so of Fidalgo Island where the oceanic crust lifts above sea level; a couple of miles south lies a mountain whose unique geological composition tells stories of uplift and submersion and glacial erosion. Its name is Mount Erie.
This year more than any before I have found fascination in coastlines, the fractal forms and geology and history on the edges of continents; the rift at Ãingvellir in Iceland where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet blew my mind as much as any of the music I heard out there. Sometimes you can hear the landscape in the music; from sea-blasted folk laments to ambient echoes, dreampop atmospheres to the distant rolling thunder of black metal. And there, on the other side of the world, the other side of that continental plate, those same sounds permeate the work of Phil Elverum.
I’ll admit I’m a latecomer here; 2009’s “Wind’s Poem” was his fourth album under the Mount Eerie name (having previously recorded as Microphones, doing the sort of college radio lo-fi meets Beach Boys pop thatâs perenially popular with twentysomethings in shapeless jumpers) and even that was six months old by the time he brought its live performance to Manchester’s Ruby Lounge, and the cast-iron reliability of anything booked by local experimental music promoter Wotgodforgot took me there. It rushed from the speakers like the gathering storm, Elverum’s fragile voice sometimes lost in the sound, sometimes rising above. 2012’s twin albums (available, initially at least, only on vinyl and only from the old curiosity-shop built by Elverum’s imagination around his very real if rather less romantic mail-order business) appeared to continue the theme.
Wind, sky, water. The moon pulls those tides; the wind batters the coast; it’s all connected.
Loosely speaking, “Clear Moon” is the lighter of the two, though mortality is never far away and Allyson Foster’s guest vocals on “Through the Trees Pt. 2” seem to be coming from somewhere beyond that. This is not the easy listen it first pretends to be; the oft-cited black metal influence which permeated every noise on “Wind’s Poem” (in some senses an album equivalent of The Blair Witch Project, right down to the fact that you couldn’t really do it again) is here more of a threat than an overwhelming presence – though in some ways that’s more unsettling. Songs which could, in other hands, have been delicate and decent enough examples of backwoods folk with a psychedelic tinge are surrounded here by shadows and deep underlying menace. Lyrically there’s a fair amount of existentialism, though don’t be expecting lengthy wordy theses: often Elverum’s words feel more like a contents page, a list of general thoughts and themes as opposed to being overly specific It’s standard practice when writing about music with vocals to pull out a killer line or two, but it doesn’t feel right here: in a sense this is actually one long piece of largely blank verse.
In “Clear Moon” the theme centres around home and what that means: the twin titles of “The Place Lives” and its immediate successor “The Place I Live” say so much more than the few words that comprise them, whilst “Ocean Roar” is a walk outside in the dead of night. Elverum described his second album of 2012Â as “more challenging and weird and darker and heavier” – which it undoubtedly is – but again, if one considers them the remaining two thirds of a triptych then it’s a reminder that the weather may calm down for a while, but only ever for a while. There’s much more of a classic avant-psyche influence here; in the cover of Popol Vuh‘s “Engel Der Luft”; in the driving rhythms that surface from time to time; and in the untethered imagination which feels no need for easy genre labels. Fans of densely layered shoegaze may find something to love here, as might connoisseurs of the drawn-out doom of Earth (as support for whom Elverum played his only UK dates of the year) or anyone who thinks some of these sensitive girlfriend-left-me-so-I-retreated-to-a-cabin-in-the-woods types would benefit from listening to Sunn O))) at extreme volume.
Throughout, each layer of sound travels and echoes between the speakers, immersing you in something of the fog which crops up repeatedly in the words. Sometimes it’s like the very music itself is being buffeted around in the weather, Elverum’s voice half-heard against the wind that’s building up again. I wonder if my own affinity with these albums has been influenced not just by those experiences of travels but by the relentless rain that’s lashed our own little island this past year. I’m guessing Anacortes gets its fair share of that, too.
These are not albums to be shoved on repeat, and especially not on shuffle. They are not background. You can use them as backgrounds, sure, and in that context you’ll get a couple of decent ones, although Elverum’s wonderful disdain for the modern fashion of overcompression means you may have some rather quiet spells. Listening, however, is richly rewarded; close your eyes and take a night walk around a small city on the edge of a continent, bounded by water, fog, wind, a mountain, moonlight and the inky blackness beyond.
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Ian Astbury is the last of the true believers he is still searching and still entranced by rock n roll.
He first appeared as the frontman of Southern Death Cult in the early eighties. The band briefly carried the flame for a version punk rock- a flame passed from the Pistols/Clash to Adam And The Ants to Southern Death Cult- a flame that burned bright in the eyes of young idealists who would travel up and down the country to see the band.
Astbury defined that youthful idealism and soul searching and had the perfect platform with the band’s tribal beats and melancholic power. A lost soul who had been brought up in Canada and Birkenhead, Astbury had found a home in punk rock- following Crass on the road and ending up in Bradford joining the Southern Death Cult.
He gave the band their wide eyed soul power and he became the pin up boy for positive punk that was soon erroneously labelled Goth and airbrushed from the musical narrative.
The band, like fellow travellers Bauhaus, were ground breaking musicians who have been written out of history by post punk historians who prefer the grey faced to the beautiful- both bands pushed the boundaries as much as the Fall or the Gang Of Four but have been edited out of the story.
A band like this could never last and they fell apart and Astbury called up the services of arch Mancunian guitar gun slinger Billy Duffy- who had once spent an afternoon writing songs with Morrissey in the legendary Ed Banger And the Nosebleeds before absconding to Theatre of Hate.
Duffy, who also taught Johnny Marr how to play guitar and remains firm friends with the fellow Wythenshawe guitar hero, was the Man City supporting, meat and potatoes, six string riff monster whose fractious relationship with his idealistic singer has been the source of the Cult’s creativity ever since. When it works like on the classic She Sells Sanctuary sparks fly in the perfect balance between terrace lad anthem and questing, yearning, other worldliness.
The Cult in their pomp were a fantastic rock band incorporating the groin exchange groove of AC/DC with the no nonsense production of Rick Rubin and Astbury’s rock trip- the yin and the yan of rock possibility. For a few years in the late eighties the Cult were million sellers and filling stadiums. They currently occupy the rock hinterland of big tours, interesting album releases and a position just beyond the big time. But that hasn’t stopped Astbury, he could have steeled into comfy slippers of rock veteran but the quest continues., he controversially filled in for Jim Morrison of the 21st century Doors tour , worked with UNKLE, travels the world seeking knowledge and working on experimental rock side projects with frontier bands like Boris.
It’s January 2011 and the Cult are on the road in the UK. Like all the best bands they are a contradictory beast- a hard rocking band who quote AC/DC and esoteric philosophy, rock hard and are still enthralled by Crass.
They are on the UK leg of a world tour. It’s not the big venues any more but still sold out comfortably large halls. They will play mixture of rabble rousing anthems, some new material and some off the wall moments. They are a rock band nearly three decades down the line. They don’t sell millions of records these days and should have slipped comfortably into the working band syndrome like most of their contemporaries. This would be the case of the didn’t have Ian Astbury as a frontman. Astbury grew up out of punk and has bounced around the edges of rock n roll ever since then- one part trad rock frontman, one part Crass fanatic and one part flailing shaman, Astbury talks a million ideas in an interview and is a seeker surrounded by the stale belch of rock n roll.
Here is a rocker who can talk about magik, punk rock, the counter culture, Led Zep and the Himalayas in one quote with an emotive conviction and a glint of mad genius in his eye.
Astbury’s itinerant seventies childhood, where he moved from Birkenhead to Canada and back to the UK was immersed in pop culture was made sense of by punk rock.
Following Crass on the road he fell in with like minded souls in Bradford and joined what would become Southern Death Cult- a band whose first album stands up to the test of time with its intense passion and inventive tribal/punk songs.
”ËWe were kids. We were young. I was 19. I hadn’t developed. I was reaching for myself and I hadn’t found myself so it was really earnest. If there is a criticism of me for being young and earnest then yeah! I’m guilty! I was young! and I was earnest! and I was going for it. I was exploring everything and I wasn’t afraid to put it into my music. The way I dressed and the way I looked was different, everyone else was following the pack.’
The punk flux changed lives. It was a savage discourse and the young Astbury, arriving back into the UK after spending his early teens in the USA, was captivated by the strands of intense pop culture all around him.
”ËI was year younger than most of my peers and I didn’t see the Pistols. I saw the Clash in ”Ë78 so I was a year behind. I was in Canada in ’77 so I just missed out on that wave. Year zero for me was Crass and Joy Division. More so than the Pistols it was second album Clash, Public Image, Joy Division. But also coming from north America- because I’d spent five years there growing up- I also had this FM radio upbringing, listening to the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and also David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith because you would hear these albums on the radio played in beautiful stereophonic sound- so I would be very familiar with this music as well.’
It keeps coming back to Crass though. The anarchist band’s beyond the fringe gigs were powerful affairs and the young Astbury would bunk round the country to see them play.
”ËI saw those guys 36 times. I used to follow them. I was a devotee of Crass and it had a huge, huge influence on me. I remember being at Dial house- the squat where they lived just outside London- and being given a book on the sacred rights of the Oglala Sioux called Black Elk Speaks by John Neinhardt to read while they were having a band meeting. I sat there and flicked through it as an 19 year old kid with a Mohawk sitting in their house. Steve Ignorant was sitting in the tepee outside- how can that not have an effect on you? It’s only now people understand them with articles in the media.’
Crass were, for many, the true spirit of punk and certainly for Astbury’s generation who arrived on the scene after the initial punk burst they were everything.
”ËPeople always said that if you were not there for those initial three months of punk then you weren’t there atall. Like the second summer of love in 1988 the summer of 77- if you were not there then you were not experiencing the real thing but to me they are just a get in the door moment that leads to a movement. The energy is always there- we are made of atoms and if you split the atom the energy is always there- of course the energy is always there. Unfortunately the culture has been appropriated by college-educated people who put themselves up as the custodians of the culture. They set themselves up with their blogs- ”ËI am now a cultural critic, here’s my blog- I am an authority.’ It’s got some nice black and white graphics. What I mean is that the people who are out there are really doing it are not reporting it. They are just getting on with it.’
The UK in the late seventies was a shocking place to arrive back in.
”ËWhen I came back to England there was this horrible Thatcherite cynicism and dystopia. I was coming out of a very optimistic culture in North America at a time when music had been very rich- the Stones were at their height, bands like Queen were touring and they were suddenly considered to be dinosaurs but they were still doing really good work. It’s interesting now that we have gone away from punk rock and people can be really objective about that period, bands like the Killers can be influenced by Bruce Springsteen or Queen.’
For Astbury the long and eclectic trip had started.
”ËYou put all that into my music and my love affair with the Doors and Jim Morrison and the psychedelic period and what people were doing in that period with ingesting psychedelics and exploring inward, emotive space and trying to get to the meaning of it all. Then, of course Spinal Tap comes along, and they put up Stonehenge on the stage and everyone has a really good laugh. I was probably the only person, who, when Spinal Tap came along- looked at everyone and said, you know what- we are fucked (laughs) because that film was funny but at the same token everybody is just going to look at the superficial elements of rock n roll and that’s just going to be it. It’s just going to be a big joke and it’s not a safe place any more to talk about those things, those things that made rock music more interesting, textured, layered and deeper.’
It’s this earnest love for the true heart of rock n roll that has left Ian Astbury open to ridicule- especially in these ironic times. But it’s also this quest that makes him more fascinating.
When Southern Death Cult burst onto the scene in a flurry of Mohawks, native American imagery and dressed up splendour they swiftly became the house band for the disaffected Ants fans and punks looking for an escape route from the increasingly narrow confines of punk itself. The scene was called post punk at the time before post punk itself has been re-written to not include the likes of the Cult.
John Peel loved them though and their music was challenging- breath taking even- that debut album really stands up as a highly original piece of music forged in Bradford and youthful idealism.
They were an exotic flurry emerging from the grey satanic mills of post industrial Bradford.
”ËI think in many ways you are forced to create something far more of a polar opposite of your surroundings and there’s certainly no exotic quality to Merseyside and West Yorkshire (laughs). I remember before I went to Bradford and I was living in Birkenhead and the same happened there. The punks were really exotic. I think Pete Burns is from Birkenhead, or from Port Sunlight strangely enough and he looked amazing, The punk bands came from the suburbs and it took someone like Malcolm Maclaren, who was an art student, to make it happen. He was educated to have a cultivated eye so that when there was a shift in the culture he could be smart enough to define it in some way. He could then guide it or chorale it. These wild animals were running around and there was this shift in the energy and a shift in the culture and it was not like he tamed it but he harnessed it. He gave it an identity and he coalesced it and finessed it.’
He gave it a space.
”ËPrecisely and it’s that space and energy that I work in a lot and so does someone like James Lavelle. He is always looking for a sentiment or a feeling and try and give it some kind of framework for presentation. We are always trying to present it in a way that engages an audience. Those elements are very important. People are returning to a ritual space and people are returning to the organic environments- guys are growing their hair a little bit more and get away from ”Ëlet’s get down Carnaby Street and buy a pair of Beatle boots!”Â I feel the energy is moving towards the organic in many ways. If Lady Ga Ga is as far as you can go with the manufactured machine then obviously there is going to be a balance of nature. It’s always the way- look out for where the light takes us.’
A true believer, Astbury is dumbfounded by the snickering hipster ironics of the big city.
”ËI saw that ”ËAnvil’ film in the cinema in Manhattan and all these hipsters came in their skinny jeans and their little beards laughing all the way through the film. I was five rows behind them and they were totally missing the point. These kids were also talking about this other film about the death metal bands in Norway- about the bands being alienated from Norwegian culture of Christianity and the conservatism which all of a sudden is now McDonalds and American culture and this globalised culture being thrust upon them and they were like, ”Ëno we don’t accept this. We don’t feel this. We feel something else. Look at where we live. We live with fjords and mountains. This is who we are and we react against it this way with our dark metal. A load of city kids, who were talking about the film and who are not surrounded by this were not getting it. I was thinking how can they understand this? what reference do they have? They are actually really thick. They have a very blinkered perspective. We are all very organic. We depend on the sun, cut off the water and they would get it pretty quick!’
Rock culture has become an ironic T shirt slogan- Ian Astbury disagrees. Violently.
”ËIt’s like catch 22. It’s like the serpent catching its tail. It’s personified by people like Anna Wintour at Vogue magazine who observed that celebrity culture was going to happen and she put celebrity on the cover and everybody followed suit. Everybody from the bank manager to the editors, everybody follows suit to be part of it. There is this amazing book about New York called the Warhol Economy written by Elizabeth Currid who was an art professor. She talks about how New York became New York because of the abstract impressionists like Pollock, Rothko and then Warhol/CBGBs and then Basquiat and the Lower East Side crowd and that became modern New York and that’s why everyone went there. Everyone from the bank managers just wanted to put a Warhol on their wall and it’s turned into Zurich and all the real artists have basically left. Gone back to where they have come from- infact they are more likely to stay where they came from instead of going to New York. They are more likely to stay in Portland or Poughkeepsie because they know that it’s not happening in these urban environments- in fact it’s more likely to be pastiche. I just spent three years living in New York and explored it thoroughly and I know. I lived in Manhattan. I was always in galleries and art shows, it’s very similar to London in that way. You pay for your bohemian experience- like in Starbucks where there’s a sort of Norah Jones record on in the background and it’s kind of a bit Bohemian. You go up to the counter and you can have an exotic drink from South America- it’s all about surface- not depth. I’m more for revamping the Stonehenge festival than that- that would be amazing!’
But there are, according to Ian Astbury, pockets of resistance.
”ËThat’s what I love about groups like Sunn O))) and that’s what I love about Boris. That’s what I love about that new movement of drone and psyche and metal and hard rock. It’s not even hard rock- its avant garde. In many ways it’s a ritual space. It’s not one dimensional. It’s not a band standing up there playing three chords for an hour and half and there’s no release like if you go to see Metallica. It’s a performance and with respect to Metallica- they are very masculine and very one dimensional. There’s no real sexual release. It’s all about sexual tension. It’s very aggressive. It’s very angry but when you go and see Boris it’s like an opera- it’s operatic- it’s a complete spectrum of emotion. You go on a journey when you see Boris perform. When you walk out of their concert it feels like you’ve left the earth plane in some ways. For sure I like to be at the front at a three chord rock concert as well and have that kind of really urban, angst energy and we get plenty of that from rock and hip hop as well but I think it’s a real blessing that Greg Anderson is doing the Southern Lord label releasing bands like Boris and Sunn O))) . With the label there is a real place for them and it would be really nice if college educated journalists could get off their fucking asses and get out of their very small, myopic environments like Brooklyn or whatever small enclaves they live in and get out and experience more than some sort of hipster perspective which is very limited.’
Getting out of limited environments is something that Astbury himself does quite literally with his jaunts up the Himalayas.
”ËI’ve not been there recently. There’s been another crash at the airport at the gateway to the Khumbu Trek to Everest. It’s the second one in two years. It gets hairy up there (laughs). The Himalayas are unforgiving and the weather systems up there chop and change. You have to have your wits about you up there and I love that and I feel really grounded there. I need nature. I just moved back to California from New York because I was missing the mountains and the desert and the ocean. The desert is going to be a very important part of the next part of the story for myself and my music and creativity. I’m excited about that. I couldn’t access that in New York. I had a HD projector and I would project films against the wall by Jodorowky and Auosky, a lot of very kind of languid organic films, a lot of Kenneth Anger films as well and I thought why don’t you just go back the mountains because I’m not getting it in New York. In New York you are in man made canyons, the city is an amorphous thing and it has its own energy. Infact the city is part of everbody’s daily conversation. It’s a living, breathing entity but having said that- it’s also this machinery of culture and commerce. The people who made New York into New York came from elsewhere. You ask these artists who they are and where they come from and Warhol came from Pittsburg and before that he came from Poland and Jackson Pollock was from Wyoming. Patti Smith came from deep New Jersey, Jean-Michel Basquiet came from Haiti. They were refugees. New York was where the refuges came into. It was where people came in the first place but then the people like the Rothschild’s, the Vanderbilt’s, the Guggenheims and all the families would capture these immigrants and these visions of the future and then take it and stick it in a gallery and then sell it and the next thing the artist is dead and they are sitting on top of a lot of expensive art that they didn’t create themselves. New York is a machine. It just absorbs humans. It’s amazing- you see people just get spat out by the city. If you’re looking for spiritual awakening then New York is not the place to go. Well maybe it is- I had a spiritual awakening in New York and it made me want to go back to the mountains (laughs). I went to New York because I was looking for a more intellectually stimulating climate than California but it is really about what laces you have in your sneakers and how your hair is cut.’
Ever want to come back to the UK?
”ËI’ve actually spent more time in North America than in the UK and it breaks my heart to see so much cynicism and self loathing in the UK. I think the Brits are hard on ourselves and that really breaks my heart when I come back and see that and it’s difficult to come with a very open heart and a very earnest intention. The Cult have never been embraced by the British music industry. We have never been asked to an awards show and never been considered to be a part of any of that world. We have not been asked to the Queen tribute or the Mojo awards or the NME awards or any of that. We have never been embraced by the British music community ever, so in that way I feel like an exile. The only people I go back for is our fans and the barren places like Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.’
The Celtic fringes.
”ËYes! The Celtic fringes. Actually that is what I’m drawn towards and that quality in the island is still apparent and can be tapped into at any moment. That’s something that is really exciting and perhaps, if we can start a movement to get Stonehenge going again, it will make that difference. Billy was really funny. He said to me, you want to start doing these folk festivals now don’t you? and I’m like, ah uh! Of course! Reading and Leeds, T In The Park, I mean, really! come on! Please! No! enough”Â¦no more crap hamburgers, crap toilets, people pissing all over eachother in the rain, come on! (laughs). All coked up, no! ugh! There’s a lot more different festivals now. You can find a different culture there. For us the right place is not the conveyer belt- where people don’t even know what band are playing. They don’t even care.’
Why don’t you put on your own festival again.
”ËI attempted that once with the Gathering Of The Tribes. It was an altruistic, heartfelt vibe. I thought the musical community had to represent itself. It was getting very corporate at the time and labels were taking over. There were the super companies, the super signature- using the leverage of Michael Jackson’s contract which affected everybody. So my reaction was, because I was a big fan of hip hop at the time- my idea was to see Guns n Roses and then NWA on the same bill. The journalist response was, ”ËI don’t really understand this and we don’t get it’. And I was saying you don’t have to get it- just experience it. It could be a good experience or a bad experience- it depends on how you feel. The festival I put on became Lollapalooza and other people got the trophies of mine that end up in their trophy cabinets but again that’s just the way it rolls. I have to get beyond that or be a bitter old man (laughs).’
And the music scene itself? It’s changed massivly since the Southern Death Cult emerged in a time of confusion and idealistic hope.
”ËThere is a lot of getting caught up in facades. The sad thing is that a majority of people out there are not even watching anymore. There’s a massive video game industry, an 80 billion dollar a year industry. I read that in the Financial Times- that’s my latest banding about figure and my other one is when people asked what happened to the music industry- I say the bottom came up. Everybody and their dog is now an artist- it’s the people who really want to do it. If you can hang in there past three albums then you have made it. It’s not just a boy having a haircut and being cute or being the actual son and daughter of celebrity. That period from ”Ë68 to ”Ë73 there was so much music getting made, it was so eclectic from Pink Floyd, Can, Stooges, Doors to Bowie, Parliament, Sly Stone- so much going on, wow! I was lucky to go to Detroit for Rob Tyner’s benefit and a lot of these people came out. It was incredible evening. Things like that are few and far between. butI don’t want to sound like the old boy going on about the past. I’m interested in the future.’
And it’s this endless quest for whatever is at the heart of rock n roll and the future that keeps the Cult alive. On one level a great rock n roll band with the simplistic bump and grind of rock nailed down and on the other this idealistic twist and the thirst for more knowledge. In short, the quest.
Giant Sand’s seventh album, Ramp, gets the deluxe LP treatment courtesy of Fire Records, complete with bonus tracks from their Mad Dog session.
Over the last decade, Fire Records have embarked on a close love affair with Howe Gelb and his desert rock pioneers, Giant Sand. The last decade has seen reissues of some of his band’s seminal albums, as well as an expansive retrospective. Now comes the turn of the band’s seventh album, 1991’s Ramp, and, once again, the reissue does not disappoint.
From the moment that the opening guitar of Warm Storm sparks up, it’s clear that Gelb was melding in the crunch of the alternative scene of the time. With the underdogs taking over, grunge about to peak, the band melded the energy around them into one of their finest albums. As the prolific godfather of alt-country, his touch has influenced within and beyond the genre, and on Ramp it’s easy to see why. The anthemic Romance Of Falling sits somewhere between The Pixies and Kurt Vile, while Always Horses Coming growls with the intensity of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. But, although such songs stand out as ragged rockers, it’s in the stripped-back strums of the gentler songs where he showed his grace.
He flits with ease between the midnight country cowboy rhythm of Seldom Matter and the piano pop of Neon Filler. What ties the whole album together, as always, is Gelb’s parched Lou Reed-like drawl. His lyrical playfulness comes through in spades, raising wry smiles as they hit. Gelb even manages a studied country croon on the Jim Reeves classic, Welcome To My World. Even where the songs seem like they are about to fall apart, such as on the lolloping acoustic Resolver, they ride confidently on, this time running a lo-fi slacker style that would later be heard in the likes of Pavement.
As with the previous CD reissue of the album, the second disc contains the band’s Mad Dog session from the same year, opening with the screeching jazz-infused Back To The Black And Grey. The song shows that the band here were really relishing the spontaneity of the session. Of the album tracks, the only one repeated is Romance Of Falling which, stripped of the delicacy of the studio production, is a riotous crashing of alt-rock harnessing its then past, present, and the future it would go on to influence. Bible Black, Book II scurries around for more than eight minutes as a true dive bar piano-man tune. It never seems to know the destination but, as the saying goes, the journey sure as hell is fun.
On Ramp, Gelb and his Giant Sand cohorts really captured the light and dark of their songwriting, choosing perfectly the moments to skip with a drunken abandon and those to fall into the density of their sound. It’s plain and clear to see why the album became a firm favourite and is great to see it reissued once again.
And now – Medway legend Bruce Brand (cohort of Billy Childish in the Pop Rivets, Milkshakes, Headcoats, and Mickey Hampshire in the Masonics and currently the Voo-Dooms) and the enigmatic Mary T have uploaded a superb cover of Sparks biggest and best-known hit.
The sort of one-off lock-down madness which somehow is absolute genius.
Bruce’s subtle adoption of Ron Maels trademark ‘moves’ are a joy to behold. Well done that chap. And Mary T is a natural. What a chanteuse. Good work.
Vinyl reissue of political pop band McCarthy’s second album, with a second 12 inch disc given over to singles and rare tracks, plus bonus 7 inch Who Will Rid Me Of These Turbulent Proles?/You Had To Go And Open Your Big Mouth… Ian Canty hears sweet tunes wedded to angry words.
Though they emerged at around the time of C86 and even contributed to the album itself with their song Celestial City, McCarthy weren’t your regular indie pop hopefuls. They may have shared a certain amount musically with some of those bands, but their lyrics set them well apart, much more spicy than the lovelorn standard. Coming together in Barking a couple of years beforehand in 1984, the trio of Tim Gane, Malcolm Eden and John Williamson met at school and were joined later by newcomer Gary Baker on drums. The dynamic between Eden and Gane was crucial to the band, with Gane’s chiming pop guitar providing the foundation Eden’s finely structured songs, which twinned the political with the personal. This was innovative because virtually no-one else was providing this kind of detailed and nuanced political critique in a jangly pop context. McCarthy truly stood out.
They began their career on record with the EP In Purgatory in 1985, released on their own Wall Of Salmon imprint. After its success they then moved across to the Pink label (which was home to fellow Essex boys the Wolfhounds and also the June Brides) for the Red Sleeping Beauty and Francis Hals singles. Pink closed 1987, but almost straight after label founder Paul Sutton launched the September Records.
McCarthy moved onto this new label just in time for their well-received debut album I Am A Wallet. Critics were caught off-guard by a band who jangled ebulliently with the best of them, but also talked politics in an intelligent and passionate style. There was a tendency to invoke fellow Barking local Billy Bragg, but the McCarthy way was always less of a rant, more of a seductive proposition. The LP generally got good reviews though and was an Independent top ten chart hit. It also became a firm favourite of a bunch of Welsh youngsters who were in the process of forming a band called the Manic Street Preachers.
Even so September Records didn’t last long and after the This Nelson Rockefeller single in 1988, McCarthy left to find a more permanent home on Midnight Music. This set them up to produce their second album The Enraged Will Inherit The Earth and the vinyl reissue of that LP is presented here by Optic Nerve. Though some are keen to slot McCarthy into an indie pop box and treat their lyrics as just a novelty, something else emerges when you actually listen to them. Their music recalls the dreamlike headiness of PIL’s Poptones on occasion and they often evoke a woozy strangeness pleasingly out of step with their contemporaries that were more intent on aping the Byrds the Smiths and Buzzcocks. They shifted their sound noticeably on every record, reaching out for something only they could see, something only they could hope to attain…
The first disc of this set presents the album itself in the original running order on green vinyl. First track on the LP Boy Meets Girl So What? shapes up nicely into a withering and much-needed parody of the archetypal C86 band love song. The lyric takes an acidic and effective look at the refusal of indie pop to look beyond love and romance for subject matter and the way that devalues love as a result. It is also beautifully put together musically too, with the guitar weaving in and out.
Governing Takes Brains follows and it is striking how relevant that its story of government’s total contempt for the people is today. Nothing has changed and again Gane’s fluid guitar work pleases. In the next song An Address For The Better Off, Eden paints a vivid picture of a welfare system gone to pot through lack of investment and the band set this against a neat languid jangle beat. A brief and bright Hands Of Or Die details the desperate struggle for survival that can only fuel discontent and is supported by a incongruously pretty guitar pop landscape and more straightforward anti-war song What Our Boys Are Fighting For brings to an end the album’s first side.
Side two commences with Keep An Open Mind Or Else (also released as a single and covered by MSP), a jibe at narrow thinking embellished with a marching beat – I know I’ve mentioned the guitar often here, but the rhythm section is always spot on too. The lilting acoustic gleam of We Are All Born Creeps pits religion and power versus scientific findings on mankind’s propensity for evil, lively music making the topic all the more palatable. The Home Secretary Briefs The Forces Of Law And Order addresses the tools of oppression themselves head on, a nice buried organ part here shining. Keyboards are used sparingly on The Enraged Will Inherit The Earth, but always well.
A serene musical setting sees I’m Not A Patriot But… hark back to the anti-war message and the album itself ends with Throw Him Out He’s Breaking My Heart. This song closes the record on a low-key but suitably dramatic note, the message of the basic unfairness of capitalist life still relevant now. Ending with a sample that concludes “we’ve come for what’s ours”, this is a record that still has resonance today and sounds fresh and full of energy too, with no dated 80s production techniques to weigh things down.
Moving onto the second disc here, in an orange vinyl pressing, this one rounds up the single tracks from around this timeframe plus odds and sods. The headlong rush of the single Should The Bible Be Banned kicks things off in fine, raucous style and St. Francis Amongst the Mortals again uses religion as a jumping off point to consider the political background that feeds into the negative aspects of human nature, while sounding a little like the Cure’s In Between Days.
Endowed with a wisdom that is more salient today than at the time of release, We Are All Bourgeois Now looks at the “brave new world” that is just more of the same. The forceful guitar attack buzzes here and a real sense of urgency too. This Nelson Rockefeller, another single, sets off with nicely tense strings before a rougher guitar sound emerges. It’s always foxed me this song, but I considered that it was a spoof of the sort of paternal bigwig who tries to prove how compassionate they are by casting their loose change to “causes”. Though I could be wrong, this is an excellently thought out and realised single.
The New Left Review gets two versions, 1# from the flipside of the Keep an Open Mind or Else single shines with gentle strings. The McCarthy At War EP version aka 2# is a slightly longer and more of a “band” take, but both are pretty satisfying. In fact the EP itself is featured in its entirety, with the anti-apartheid song The Lion Will Lie Down With The Lamb focussing on the western business economy that propped up the South African regime. This is a very bouncy piece of pop music with a message, great stuff.
Lastly we arrive at the 7 inch single (red vinyl this time) that is included here as a further bonus. Who Will Rid Me Of These Turbulent Proles? is a really good fast number, with rickety and smooth guitar lines combining well. You Had To Go And Open Your Big Mouth brings the final curtain down, funk guitar and irrepressible rhythms, much more a soul/r&b piece than anything that has gone before. A real change of pace to end with.
After this album Lætitia Sadier joined the band and they recorded their third and final collection Banking, Violence and the Inner Life Today, which was released in the spring of 1990. The record was again popular, but the band felt they had gone as far as they could and split soon afterwards. Sadier and Gane of course went onto form Stereolab to much success. Eden put together his own band Herzfeld, with Baker and Williamson opting out of performing.
Handsomely presented in a gatefold sleeve, The Enraged Will Inherit The Earth in this form rounds up McCarthy’s work at what arguably was their peak. Both the music and words have stood the test of time, not sounding trite or dated in any way. Though such a high-spec reissue seems a little at odds with McCarthy’s firmly anti-capitalist stance, this is a great collection that brings the band back into the public eye just as a great deal of the subject matter included is becoming all the more relevant and being keenly felt in 2020. That things haven’t improved over the space of over 30 years is perhaps something we should all hang our heads about. But take heart from McCarthy on this LP, shining through the years, still a beacon of hope wrapped in smart and tuneful pop. We need them now more than ever.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here
2020 is turning out to be perhaps the strangest year many of us have experienced, with the Coronavirus pandemic having turned everyone’s lives upside-down. The pandemic also arrived just in time to scupper the tour plans that Glasgow-based folk-rock outfit Snowgoose were putting together in support of this, their second album.
Guitarist and songwriter Jim McCulloch penned the material for the group’s stunning debut album Harmony Springs in 2012, but after an 8-year hiatus, The Making of You was written by McCulloch in collaboration with vocalist Anna Sheard, whose crystal-clear singing proved the perfect vehicle for McCulloch’s irresistible melodies on Harmony Springs.
Sheard’s emergence as a subtle yet vivid lyricist on The Making of You compliments McCulloch’s diamond-hard songcraft, resulting in an album that heralds the beginning of a sublime song-writing partnership.
Sheard and McCulloch are joined by an impressive array of musicians drawn from McCulloch’s friends in Glasgow’s music scene: Raymond McGinley of Teenage Fanclub on guitar, Dave McGowan (Belle and Sebastian) on bass, Stuart Kidd (The Wellgreen) on drums and Chris Geddes (Belle & Sebastian) on keys, with Davie Scott of The Pearlfishers providing string arrangements.
Opening track Everything showcases all the group’s strengths; Sheard’s exquisite singing, McCulloch’s beautifully constructed melodies, lyrics that are evocative yet firmly rooted in the everyday, and under-stated playing that never clutters the songs. McCulloch’s fat-free song-writing is anchored in the cool aesthetics of Tom Jobim and João Gilberto just as much as it nods to Fairport Convention and US 60s folk-rock.
Second track Who Will You Choose is a case in point, combining bossa nova rhythms with robust chord-work and English folk harmonies. It’s not a million miles from Stereolab/Tender Buttons territory, with a gorgeous, under-stated sophistication. Only two songs in and a pattern is emerging – each song is so toothsome that there’s a temptation to skip back and repeat a track as soon as it’s finished.
Lead single Hope once again showcases Heard’s astonishing vocals, counter-pointed by irresistible psych-pop guitar hooks. Next up is the album’s title track and centrepiece. The Making of You is full-on 60s progressive folk-rock, with a rousing lyrical call-to-arms. And yes, this is another song you’ll want to repeat as soon as it finishes.
There’s not a single weak track here, but Goldenwing is a particular highlight in the second half of the album, featuring poetic lyrics that are simultaneously breezy and unsettling, in the grand tradition of English folk music. “So just follow what you know”, Heard sings, immediately following the disquieting line “the truth is, your noose could be tighter”.
The following song Leonard features delightful harmonica playing by Ken McCluskey, providing the icing on the cake of a subtle folk song reminiscent of the Scottish folk icon Bert Jansch.
The album closes strongly with Gave Up Without A Sound, marrying UK folk-rock to the rousing Americana of The Band, the poignant lyrics capping a hugely impressive song-writing debut by Sheard. With the winning song-writing partnership of McCulloch and Sheard at its heart and simpatico instrumentation by all involved, The Making of You is perfect-listening for these strange times, calming and contemplative in equal measure. We can only hope we don’t have to wait another 8 years for this dazzling group’s next album.
Eminem and Kid Cudi Join Forces for the First Time Ever with New Single, The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady which was released yesterday on July 10th.
Despite both being rap legends of the same generation, Kid Cudi and Eminem have come together for their first ever collaboration called, The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady. This single is the third to follow Kid Cudi’s 2020 tracks, also including Leader of Delinquents and The Scotts with Travis Scott. The Adventures of Moon Man & Slim Shady dropped on Thursday at midnight after a lot of speculation. Kid Cudi’s daughter, Vada, announced the collaboration in a teaser video – which is the first time the rappers have ever joined forces.
The track entails the current events which we are living through, the obvious being Covid-19 and the excessive use of police brutality which is happening over in America. Kid Cudi raps about recovery, his brief stay in rehab for mental health, and how he’s much better now, assuring fans he’s got his head out of the rabbit hole. Meanwhile, Eminem emphasises more on the current events and the whole coronavirus pandemic, as well as showing his respects to a few (of many) people that were killed from police brutality.
When on the topic of coronavirus Eminem raps, “Half of us walking around like a zombie apocalypse, other half are just pissed off and don’t wanna wear a mask and they’re just scoffing. And that’s how you end up catching the shit off ’em, I just used the same basket as you shopping now I’m in a fuckin’ casket from you coughing.” Eminem closes off his section with tribute to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, “Prayers to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. How the fuck is it that so many cops are dirty? (Huh?) Stop, man, please, officer, I’m sorry, but I can’t breathe when I got you on top of me. Your goddamn knee’s on my carotid artery (Fuck).”
I sincerely hope the adventures of Moon Man and Slim Shady continue, the two rappers combined are a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Mogwai have been reshaping post rock or whatever you want to call that space for years now. In truth they operate brilliantly in the shadows of post punk, soundscape, soundtrack and even Goth to create stunning spectral pieces that are captivating and thrilling. They are also eloquent and outspoken as John Robb found out when he spoke to band member Stuart Braithwaite.