Thursday 27 February 2014

Morning Phase by Beck

Beck's back with an absolutely stunning new album to fall in love with. It is safe to say that 'Morning Phase' will be one of my album's of 2014 and I would bet money on it being included near the top of a lot of critics/media lists at the end of the year.

Why is it so good?

'Morning Phase' is one of those albums that comes along every so often; you sit up a little sharper on first listen, it draws you in, you know there is plenty of depth to come back for more.

'Cycle', a brief instrumental, opens the album before 'Morning' sets the tone. Lazy and mellow, but with urgency and passion. Many interviews and reviews have mentioned or asked whether 'Morning Phase' could be interpreted as 'Mourning Phase'. There is certainly a sense of loss and longing on this song.

'Morning' is beautifully written and captured, setting the tone for much of the album. Beck sounds fantastic.

Woke up this morning
From a long night in the storm
Looked up this morning
Saw the roses full of thorns

The outro is gorgeous, lazy and flowing, extremely enjoyable.

Beck creates some lovely melodies and harmonies throughout the album (with various people on backing vocals) and the wonderfully titled 'Heart Is A Drum' is a first class example of just how 'on form' Beck is.

Your heart is a drum, keeping time with everyone

'Say Goodbye' highlights that this is an album of songs from someone moving on.

'Blue Moon' was my immediate highlight on first listen. A delicate riff is picked out on ukelele, the melodies and harmonies are stunning and there are beautiful moments when the songs rises or falls, when beats kick in, or when Beck strips it bear.

You can't see the wounds you caught in battle
Oh don't leave me on my own

The playing throughout the album is just exemplary, the pace matches the mood and production (self produced by Beck). It all comes together on the heart tugging 'Unforgiven'.

Just let the engine run
Till there's nothing left
Except the damage done
Somewhere unforgiven
I will wait for you

The strings add to the emotion of the song. Stunning, this reminds me of Lennon, laying his emotions on the line.

'Wave' features more strings, tugging further on those heartstrings. This is cinematic music that should come with a box of tissues to mop of the tears.

If I surrender
And I don't fight this wave
I won't go under
I'll only be carried away

Wave, wave, isolation, isolation, isolation

Man, I am feeling for Beck!

'Don't Let It Go' reminded me a little of Steve Mason/Beta Band in the melody and vocal. 'Blackbird Chain' is mellow an dreamy, while 'Phase' is the instrumental companion to the opener, more heart tugging/breaking strings.

'Turn Away' has echoes of Simon and Garfunkel/Fleet Foxes. Acoustic and dreamy with beautiful harmonies.

Pedal Steel Guitar and harmonica are musical highlights in 'Country Down', combining with ease on the instrumental.

The section beginning 'You could wake up on a lifeboat 'neath the sun' is fantastic, Beck in full flow.

In many ways, album closer 'Waking Light' reflects the whole album. Beck is contemplative and poetic,  the music is emotional and soaring, yet gentle and delicate.

'Morning Phase' is an exceptional album that I've had on pretty much constant rotation since buying it on Monday. There is a lot to get lost in.

I hope Beck tours and comes to Scotland. To see and hear him play this album in full would be a joy.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Rave Tapes by Mogwai

Atmospheric, cinematic, gentle, lulling, powerful, melodic, music to get lost in….introducing Rave Tapes, the latest album by Mogwai.

The superbly titled 'Heard About You Last Night' sets us off on the journey, the band gelling in a manner that not many others can. Mogwai have the ability to keep things restrained, almost reigned in, yet leaving the listener with the knowledge that things could take off at any time.

'Simon Ferocious' is menacing, the band locked in a groove but allowing all kinds of things to develop over the top of it before bringing it all back together.

Mogwai's unique skills are showcased to full effect on 'Remurdered', all murky and sinister synths combining with guitars and beats. At 3-minutes in the band take things off in another direction, close your eyes and enjoy.

'Hexon Bogon' follows and in many ways it stands as the centrepiece of the album. Majestic in force and in flight. I marvel that this is only just over 2 and a half minutes long.

'Repelish' has a brilliant sample of someone talking about Led Zeppelin. The music is intricate and moody, there is always that sense that something is about to happen. Rave Tapes is beautifully produced, it sounds live.

The drumming and rhythm section in 'Deesh' is formidable. Allowing the band to experiment with synths on top.

'Blues Hour' is delicate and beautiful, and contains vocals! It does build, allowing Mogwai to combine the delicate piano riff with crashing drums, guitars and synths/strings.

'No Medicine For Regret' contains possibly my favourite moment on the album, when at 1 minute 50 seconds a beautiful little synth melody appears from nowhere.

Rave Tapes closes with 'The Lord is Out Of Control', vocoder set to stun, it is all kinds of dreamy bliss.

Mogwai continue to take fans and listeners on trips to far flung sonic places that others can only dream of reaching. Mogwai are not setting controls for the heart of the sun, they are looking for dark and unexplored corners with hidden stars. They tend to find them.

Friday 14 February 2014

10 great love songs

Happy Valentine's Day.

Here are 10 of my favourite love songs.

My Love Is Your Love (Forever) - The Isley Brothers

Flows superbly, gorgeous strings. 'Now girl, now that I found you, come closer girl, I wanna put my arms around you.

Only With You - The Beach Boys

Does it get any more beautiful than this?

'I wanna spend this life with you, only with you, yes it's true, all I wanna do, is spend my life with you.'

Don't Let Me Down - The Beatles

Lennon is so hopelessly in love that he says four words rather than three. Incredible middle-eight 'I'm in love for the first time, don't you know it's gonna last, it's a love that last forever, it's a love that has no past'.

I'm Thinking Of You - Sister Sledge

Disco heaven, this was sublime when Chic played it at Wickerman last summer.

'Without love, there's no reason to live, without you, what would I do with the love I give?'

'I'm thinking of you and the things you do to me, that make me love you, now I'm living in ecstasy'.

Mellow Doubt - Teenage Fanclub

I listened to this a lot before I proposed to Lynn.

'There is no choice, in what I must do, nothing is greater, than to be with you'

I Love Every Little Thing About You - Stevie Wonder

Stevie has written some inspirational love songs. Has he ever sounded so head over heels?

'I'm here to say, I love you every day, and I just wanna tell the world I love you so…'

Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In My Space - Spiritualized

From the truly exceptional album of the same name. J Spaceman is on a different level with this gorgeous lysergic lullaby.

I will love you till I die and I will love you all the time,
So please put your sweet hand in mine, 
We'll float in space and drift in time

I'm Sticking With You - Velvet Underground
Childlike vocals by Moe Tucker. The section when Lou Reed comes in is just stunning, flows superbly.

I'll do anything for you, anything you want me to, 
I'll do anything for you, woah-oh I'm sticking with you

Everywhere - Fleetwood Mac

Can you hear me calling, out your name,
You know I'm falling and I don't know what to say

Something's happening, happening to me
My friend's say I'm acting peculiarly 


Baby, I Love You - The Ronettes

Simple, heartfelt and soulful. This was our first wedding dance. Spector at his very best.

Have I ever told you
How good it feels to hold you
It isn't easy to explain

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Embrace at King Tut's

Jeez, I had a blog in mind, all practically written about a euphoric comeback show by Embrace, taking the roof off King Tut's and playing a blinder.

That blog has been well and truly ripped up. Sadly, I am a fan. I usually only write about things that i enjoy and I'm passionate about. Has to change tonight.

Embrace came on stage at 10pm shap and subjected us to some new and distinctly average songs. They've not played live (other than a few secret gigs) for 7-years, so a bit of rustiness can be excused. Tonight was a charity show at £20 a ticket - plus booking fees etc. So I expected a great show. It was average, flat and disappointing.

Don't get me wrong, there was the odd moment of brilliance. 'Ashes' and 'All You Good Good People' were excellent (other than flat vocals), but they were played in between new songs that were…..well poor.

New single 'Refugee' was an exception. I've blogged about it already and it really did whet my appetite for a triumphant return. There was only one other new song that remotely generated any interest.

Embrace did generate some hands in the air, sing from the bottom of your lungs moments, the Tut's crowd sang lustily to 'Gravity', 'Retread' and 'Come Back To What You Know'. However this wasn't the show it could have been and should have been. Even the beautiful 'Fireworks' fell flat, a drunk heckler shouting for Katie Perry caused much amusement though.

What's next? Embrace have just announced a show at the Academy in May. That is somewhat ambitious based on tonight and the new material aired. When Danny announced 'this is our last song and the last song on the new album' I braced myself for something soulful and euphoric. I didn't get it.

Embrace have written some belters - by in large they are from their debut album alongside material like 'Ashes', 'Some day' and the Chris Martin written 'Gravity'.

They are at a crossroads. Do they play the retro/nostalgia circuit and play on the strength of the beautiful ballads they have written, or try and keep pushing on with new material.

My brother, friends and i left disappointed. There were no fireworks tonight. It could have been so different.

I hope i'm proved wrong and Embrace return and blow the roof off the Academy in May. I can't see it though and I won't be buying a ticket on this evidence.

I just hope that it was rusty and they can shake it off, also improve the setlist. To start with two new mediocre songs was a bad decision, for all Danny's bravado, the audience didn't buy it. The classic old stuff was sadly wedged in between some new songs that just didn't do it - no point in beating around the bush. My friends were not the only ones that left before the end and it wasn't cause they were missing the last subway.

I'm not enjoying writing this but at £20 a pop and the chance to see a band i am fond of in an intimate venue that I first saw them in back in 1997 I expected more. Disappointing.

I think back to the 21 year old me that saw Embrace play Tut's back in the 90's and marvel when they played 'All You Good Good People'. I remember turning to my friend and saying 'that's as good as The Beatles' and i believed it. They have written some cracking tunes but tonight was flat and uninspiring.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Olive Grove Records interview

I got a nice little feeling inside when Lloyd from Olive Grove Records posted online about his label's showcase show at Oran Mor as part of Celtic Connections selling out. Sadly I couldn't make it along, however I know how much work Lloyd and his co-owner Halina have put into the label and the support, passion and encouragement that they offer to the artists on it. So I was mightily chuffed for them.

I hope the exposure and success from the showcase gig helps to establish the label a little more and that they continue to pour energy and enthusiasm into the Scottish music scene.

I thought it might be a good time to catch up with them to hear about the trials, tribulations, successes and joy that come from running a D.I.Y record label,

So read on to find out about sticking out an album by someone wishing to remain anonymous, label highlights, future plans, the one that got away, dodgy dad dancing, juggling life with dreams and lots more.

If you are new to the label why not check out these beauties for starters;

1. Closing Doors by The Moth and the Mirror

2. There Is No-one To Thank by The Son(s)

3. Counting Sheep by Randolph's Leap 


So how did Olive Grove come about?

Lloyd - Back in the summer of 2010, Halina called me one evening of out of the blue asking me if I wanted to start a label together. I thought about it for about a nanosecond, before blurting out “YES” in quite an over excited voice. We met up shortly after to come up with a plan, an ethos and talk about who we’d like to approach to work with us. About a month or so after we met up with Randolph’s Leap to see if they’d be interested in letting us release their debut EP, ‘Battleships and Kettle Chips’. Thankfully they said yes and we’ve pretty much been winging it from their ever since.

How did you arrive at the name? Can you tell us any of the rejects?

Halina – Lloyd and I used to have a big love of the band Snow Patrol (many will be surprised to find out) and one of the better songs of theirs, An Olive Grove Facing The Sea was a favourite for both of us. Lloyd suggested the name and it was a perfect fit as it was different, but captures the organic ethos behind the label. 

What's your basic philosophy?

Lloyd - That’s an easy one, release good music and don’t lose too much money! When we first agreed to start the label we both agreed that we weren’t doing this for the money and that any profits made would go back to the bands. When I tell most folk that they tend to look at me like I am insane, but that was the plan and to date we’ve pretty much stuck to that ideology.

What labels do you look to for inspiration?

Halina – I think there are loads. Johnny Pictish Trail has always been a source of constant inspiration as has Matthew Young and his label Song, By Toad Records. Others for me include FatCat Records and Smalltown America, both have produced some incredible bands. 

One of your first releases was by a mysterious outfit/artist going by the name of The Son(s). The music is incredible and it was a brave move to put something out by an act who remains anonymous and doesn't play live. Very frustrating for people who like his music - how frustrating for you as a label?!

Lloyd – The Son(s) was the very first album that we put out, so at that time I wasn’t too concerned about the whole live thing. I was just super excited that someone was willing to trust us with their hard work. Obviously we liked the music, but the air of mystery surrounding the band also sucked me in. I finally met Karl, aka The Son(s) about a year and a bit after we put their album out, which I thought would be really weird and awkward, but it was quite the opposite. We got on really well and he’s now someone I would consider to be a good friend.

As per usual I have waffled on and not actually answered the question. There have been times that I have found it slightly frustrating, but then I appreciate why it hasn’t happened yet. There have been plans afoot for a while now for them to play live, if it happens then great, if not, then such is life. There’s a new record on the way, which is enough to keep me happy.

One of my fave books is 'Rip It Up And Start Again' and I marvel at stories of bedroom labels (like Mute) suddenly selling hundreds of thousands of records. Things have changed dramatically but what are your ambitions for the label? Could you have a break through artist? Is that an aim? 

Halina – We have ambition don’t get me wrong, but for us it is more of a focus on the artists than anything else. It is always nice to think you would be able to quite your day job for the love of music, but I think people are more realistic these days. I am the romantic in the partnership in that I always think that something unworldly will happen one day and Lloyd is the grounded one. I suppose you have to have 2 opposites. The truth is that all the artists have the potential to be breakthroughs, the question is, how does one measure a breakthrough? 

What are your top 3 highlights of the label so far?

Lloyd - The Celtic Connections show on Sunday is up there as one the greatest things I’ve done in my life, never mind just the label. It’s something we’ve been working on since July last year and it took a lot of hard work and planning to pull it all together. Getting The Moth & The Mirror back playing live again was really exciting, then to sell Oran Mor out was pretty special for me –for those that had to witness my dodgy dancing on stage with Woodenbox, could probably tell by my cheesy grin just how happy I was.

Aside from Celtic Connections, there have been too many highs that I’d find it hard to single two more out. Highlights for me include our showcase at the Insider Festival, The Moth & The Mirror getting a five star review in the Skinny, seeing Randolph’s Leap headline the Queen’s Hall, the State Broadcasters album launch in the Wellington Church Hall, plus I am sure there’s loads more that I have forgotten!

What are your label plans for 2014 (that you can share)?

We are in talks with Woodenbox and Jo Mango again. The aim is to release a second album by one of our artists which we have yet to do. We have to nurture and develop what we have already.

Jo Mango

What are your top 3 favourite things about running a label?

Lloyd – 1) I have wanted to do this since I was 16, so I am kind of living the dream, 2) releasing records by some of my favourite bands, 3) introducing new music that I love to people

What are your 3 most challenging things about running a label?

 Halina – 1) Time – obviously Lloyd and I have full-time jobs and we also run our blogs so trying to fit things in is sometimes brutal. Lloyd also has a child which floors me sometimes.

2) Foresight – this a particularly honest response, but I think that because everyone is different and opinions are different then things will not always run smooth. It would be bullshit for me to sit here and say that things are always smooth. For the most part they are, but there is sometimes those moments whereby you will disagree, it is human nature. 

3) Money – if won the lottery I would put a massive investment and take on more artists. We had to turn down a band this week that broke my heart as I love them and it would have shown a completely different side to our roster and taste, but because we need to work that means no time.

Do you both need to agree on an artist for release?

Lloyd – that we do, as we’re doing this for the love of it, we both have to like the artist enough to want to invest our time in them. Recently we’ve had to pass on a few bands that we both really like, purely because we just don’t have the time and we wouldn’t want to do a half arsed job for them.

If you could release an album by anyone, who would it be and why?

 Halina – Well one that we really wished we had released was Song Of Return’s first album. I really believe that could have knocked a lot of things out of the park. The writing, production, performance and overall product was incredible. I still listen to  it.

Any advice for artists interested in approaching you?

Lloyd - Before approaching any label I would argue that you need to have built up some kind of a profile for yourself. If we haven’t already heard of you, then we’re unlikely to want to work with you. We get a lot of emails from generic lad rock bands, who you get the impression are just out there spamming any label they can find. Have a look at the bands that we’ve worked with before, that should give you a good indication as to the kind of music we like. 

Sunday 2 February 2014

Into the Lime by The New Mendicants

The New Mendicants are Norman Blake and Joe Pernice, two long term friends who suddenly found themselves neighbours after Blake moved to Canada with his family.

The story behind their album is that Nick Hornby asked them to record an album to soundtrack a film that was being made based on one of his books - A Long Way Down. The music the duo created never made it to the big screen (yet), however it has been released in the form of 'Into the Lime' on One Little Indian Records.

10-tracks come in at just over 30-minutes, during that time we are treated to some fine examples of songwriting, gorgeous harmonies and the sound of two friends enjoying making music together, clearly bouncing off and inspiring each other.

Blake has been pretty productive during the down time after the last Fanclub album, already gifting us an album with Euros Childs under the guise of Jonny that contained gems like 'Never Alone'; as good as anything he has produced throughout his career. So I couldn't wait to get stuck into 'Into the Lime' to see what was on offer.

'Sarasota' opens the album; Harrison/Beatles-esque guitar and handclaps greet the listener in a friendly and warm manner. The song flows with ease, the 'it's free, it's free' chant/chorus sinks in on first listen.

'A Very Sorry Christmas' ticks a lot of boxes for Fanclub fans like myself. Harmonies sent from heaven and some cracking warm electric guitar.

Pernice and Blake sound like they are having fun on 'Cruel Annette' that has a real McCartney vibe to it. Playful melodies and lyrics combine for a bit of a jaunt.

Having read Hornby's 'A Long Way Down' then 'Follow You Down' would be perfect for a film adaption. Gentle vocals, guitar and glockenspiel combine in lovely fashion.

The guitars are cranked up for 'Shouting Match' with glorious results. 'If You Only Knew Her' slows it back down a little with one of the best choruses on the album. McCartney-esque sprung to mind again on first listen.

If you only knew her
You would love her truly
Underneath her heavy spell she casts to make you love
You'll never get above

'High On The Skyline' is another song that would certainly have fitted in with the film. The chorus is repeated regularly to make you think that it would have been the real standout song in the film; maybe at the climax? Pernice and Blake gel effortlessly throughout the album

'By the Time It Gets Dark' is probably my favourite on the album. Starting with Pernice and acoustic guitar before Norman joins in with glorious harmonies and a sprinkling of piano. Gentle percussion takes the song on further, flowing superbly. This is beautiful.

Maybe, by the evening, we'll be laughing
Just wait and see, all the changes there'll be
By the time it gets dark

'Out of the Lime' rubber stamps how well Joe and Norman work together. Two kindred spirits indeed. I'm looking forward to the next Teenage Fanclub album, but I suspect that this won't be the last record by The New Mendicants. I get the impression that the two could knock out albums on a regular basis - coming together to write in each others house over a few beers - sounds good!

'Lifelike Hair' is….a little weird, certainly in comparison to the rest of the album. Garage-psych. It has been a while since I read the book so I have no idea if this is a specific reference to it or not.

'Into the Lime' contains plenty examples of all that is great about Norman Blake and Joe Pernice -harmonies, chiming guitars, top class songwriting, a dash of humour and some beautiful melodies. I hope they record together again.