The Slits (‘les fentes’ in French!), naked and full of mud on the cover of their first legendary album… Does it make sense in these MeToo times? Who were they and was this album actually worth anything? Verdict below.
The Slits – ‘Cut’ – 1979
‘Cut’ is the classic album from The Slits, a UK London band formed in the late 70’s. The line-up was made out of the very young singer Ari Up, guitarist Viv Albertine, bass player Tessa Pollitt and the excellent Budgie on drums (from Siouxsie and the Banshees), replacing original drummer Palmolive who went to play with the fantastic Raincoats (one of Kurt Cobain‘s main influences). They were all part of the London punk reggae scene, more precisely located in the Shepherd’s Bush area. For those who follow this blog on a regular basis, you may be familiar with the name of Viv Albertine, as I did a review of her awesome autobiography a few years ago.
So what does it sound like and is this record as good as it is supposed to be? The answer is a massive and enthusiastic YES. One will find in this record the typical punk reggae sound of these times, which John Lydon will keep on digging in the years to come with Public Image Ltd. Interesting fact when one knows that John Lydon subsequently married Nora Forster, Ari’s mother. There is a freshness in sounds and lyrics throughout this record which could almost be released nowadays. All twelve tracks are fantastic with a specific mention to originals such as ‘Shoplifting‘ and ‘Typical Girls‘ but also to their incredible cover of Marvin Gaye‘s ‘I Heard Through The Grapevine‘. A classic album to discover if not done yet.
Format: CD – Bought in: 2008 – To be noted: The band only did two studio albums before stopping due to the usual reasons (lack of success, drugs, family). However, they reunited in 2009 for a very solid 3rd album before the sad passing of lead singer Ari Up in 2010 . Rating: 9/10
As every year, July is not the most exciting month but I think I still succeeded in finding a bunch of interesting releases you may want to discover if not done yet, including a totally unexpected come-back from one of the best talented US songwriters.
Album of the month: Purple Mountains – “Purple Mountains” – American Rock. Purple Mountains is the new project of David Berman, formerly known under the Silver Jews avatar. I must say we are very lucky to hear any form of music from this great poet and singer because he literally disappeared from the music industry in the last ten years. He also stopped to play any guitar during this time and almost went away from any social life, focusing on reading as many books as he could. One of the main reason of such a thing was probably related to his father, the sinister lobbyist Dr. Evil… Anyway, he came back under a new name for different reasons and this is our gain, really, as so beautiful this album is. Discover a hidden gem of American music.
Runner-up: VariousArtists– “Sunny Side Up” – Groove Jazz – Compilation of a reknown artist are not allowed here (Spoon‘s Everything Hits At Once would have been album of the month otherwise) but compilation from different new artists are eligible, hence this amazingly groovy one, showing the diversity of the current Melbourne, Australia, music scene. If not too late, your compilation of the summer!
Jesca Hoop – “Stonechild” – Pop Rock – Not as brilliant as her former record, Jesca’s new release remains a very solid effort. A grower as one says…
Penelope Isles – “Until The Tide Creeps In” – Pop Rock – Everything we like in indie rock can be found in this record. To be noted this is a family effort as both leaders are brother and sister.
Florist – “Emily Alone” – Folk Rock – The quietest and most beautiful record you will find all summer, from NY singer Emily Sprague.
YBN Cordae – “The Lost Boy” – Hip Hop – First record from one third of the North Carolina YBN collective.My favourite hip hop album of the year so far.
Sarathy Korwar – “More Arriving” – Electronica Indian Jazz – Born in the US, from Indian origins and living in London, Sarathy Korwar delivers the goods in a very diverse and fascinating record.
Another month with millions of records to listen to, having in mind July is traditionally the lowest month of the year in terms of releases. I once again had to do a few tough choices, which I guess is a good thing… However, I think I heard one of the worst records ever with the new Madonna LP so run away from that record.
Album of the month: Thom Yorke – “Anima” – Melancholia music. I can hear bitter comments, like ”this is not surprising for a Radiohead fan”, ”are you sure you are objective”, etc… First, I would say that Thom Yorke sometimes lost me on a few records which I found too cold. And then, what the hell! You will not find a most moving record this year done with such an economy of sounds. And still, you feel in a different landscape in every song and all of them are different and beautiful. Very cinematic music I must say and this is not surprise that the great American director Paul Thomas Anderson made a 15-minute movie on Netflix, especially for the release of the album. Listen to it now and wait for the 19th of July to get it in physical formats.
Runner-up: black midi – “Schlagenheim” – Pop Rock – black midi (without capital letters) is a young London band who met at the prestigious Brit School, a music institution. In other words, they are all very young and gifted musicians and their main influence is…Public Image Ltd, probably the less traditional band of all times. Not an easy record but a real grower, making the top 2 selection of June of the greatest since I started this series. Discover them!
Bill Callahan – “Shepherd In A Sheepskin Jacket” – Pop Rock – First album since 2013 from the excellent Bill Callahan, in which he describes the joy of being married and a father… the Smog way of course.
Bruce Springsteen – “Western Stars” – Pop Rock – His best without any doubt since the incredible ”The Rising” LP in 2002. A very different sound, with strings on many songs. A few of the latter will probably become classic in the years to come.
Baroness – “Gold & Grey” – Metal – This a very long album with progressive tracks, ballads, interludes and a few amazing rockers. Like Mastodon, a metal record for non-metal fans.
Jane Weaver – “Loops In The Secret Society” – Repetitive Pop Rock – Jane Weaver is the best hidden secret of the UK and this is a pity as her music is beautiful and based on loops & moods. For this new one, she reworked her two previous records with new arrangements.
The Raconteurs – “Help Us Stranger” – Pop Rock – Jack White and his ‘other’ band are back and with a revenge. As traditional as Thom Yorke’s record is adventurous but (almost) as good!
…another month and another great musician leaving this Earth… The recent passing of Dr. John, né Malcolm John Rebennack, may not have been an utter surprise as the man had not been in good health for a long time. However, with his death, this is also a huge piece of American music which just went away. Let’s pay hommage to the great man from New Orleans with an album which I had not listened to for more than ten years…
Dr. John – ‘Anutha Zone’ – 1998
I guess the picture is a good match of what this album is about: a quite old man, alone, in a voodoo suit, with his cane, ready (once again) to give to the world his version of the New Orleans sound. As a reminder, this series is not necessarily to review a classic record but to (re)discover an album and try to write an honest review. Please refer to episode #1 for the rules of the game.
Dr. John’s two absolute classics are without a doubt ‘Gris-Gris’ released in 1968 and ‘In the Right Place’ in 1973. As for many musicians in the US, especially those in the South, his critical fame and contribution to the arts did not always mean he had enough money to have a decent life and his career has been constituted of greatness…and quite a few weak points. However, thanks in particular to Paul Weller who has regularly covered ‘I Walk on Gilded Splinters’ on stage, he was facing a sort of renaissance amongst young British musicians in the late 90’s. I must admit that this album was my actual first contact with Dr. John, being particularly excited to hear him play on this record with members of Spiritualized, Primal Scream, Supergrass or again Portishead.
I had very good memories about this record and indeed I felt it again during the first tracks: voodoo sound, excellent production, quality of the bass sounds in particular. The thing is that at one stage, things are probably too polished as if all these young UK musicians were a bit afraid to challenge the great legend. Dr. John is on superb form though and this is probably one of his records on which he sings the most beautifully. One would have hope more tracks like the fantastic final one, called ‘Sweet Home New Orleans‘. Still a very good record and maybe a good starter before going into further better albums.
Format: CD – Bought in: 1998 – To be noted: Mac Rebennack kept on touring and releasing records after that one, with sometimes mixed results. However, 2012’s ‘Locked Down’ is amazing, probably thanks to the excellent production work of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Rating: 7/10
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Jack Bruce was one of the most revered and exciting musicians in the music business from the early 60’s to his passing in 2014. The time he spent in Cream from 1966 to 1968 spontaneously pops up when one thinks about Jack Bruce but he was more than this, as evidenced in this fantastic solo record.
Jack Bruce – ‘Songs for a Tailor’ – 1969
Jack Bruce is the sort of musicians who have been present on the music scene forever and which excellence one used to take for granted. His passing in 2014 made music fans all over the world realize what they would miss. He was of course one of the three leaders of Cream with Eric Clapton on guitar and Ginger Baker on drums but his soulful voice and incredible bass sound would have made him one of the all times great even so.
Although the man was more interested in working on projects with other musicians in the jazz, folk rock or metal area, his solo career is quite fascinating and ‘Songs for a Tailor‘ probably a good starter for someone not familiar with his art. The sound may be considered as typical of the late 60’s, i.e. at a time when musicians were not scared to mix all kinds of ideas and music genres. His bass playing and voice are phenomenal on his record, on which one will find all sorts of styles from the jamming mood of ‘Never tell your Mother she’s out of tune‘ to the progressive hit of ‘Theme of an imaginary Western‘ or again the folk song ‘Boston Ball Game, 1967‘.
The musicianship is also extraordinary, thanks to the guests, with specific mentions to John Hiseman on drums and Chris Spedding on guitar. George Harrison is also here on the first track, under his L’Angelo Misterioso alias. Discover this record and your life will be brighter!
Format: Vinyl – Bought in: 2009 – To be noted: Jack Bruce and his two compadres made a reunion concert with Cream at the Royal Albert Hall in 2005; highly recommended concert to watch if you can. Rating: 8.5/10
May faced quite a massive selection of releases, including the poor covers’ album from the right-wing former singer of The Smiths. If you want fresh and/or moving music, go directly to the below bespoke selection, including our album of the month from one of the best bands ever.
Album of the month: The National – “I Am Easy To Find” – Pop Rock. I guess this is no major surprise for those who have been reading this blog for a bit of time as they will know my absolute passion and dedication for this band. Reviews have been a bit harsh (‘too long record‘, ‘too many guests‘, …) but this is pure laziness to me as this record is probably one of their best. The female guests are extraordinary, with a specific mention to Kate Stables from This Is The Kit and also to the legendary Gail Ann Dorsey, former bass player with David Bowie. I must confess lacking a bit of objectivity but nothing moves me more than Matt Berninger‘s voice. Here you go; I just confessed…
Runner-up: Cate Le Bon– “Reward” – Welsh Pop Rock – Cate Le Bon may not be the most popular artist of our times but she has been a driving force in the last 10 years, either through her solo work or throughout many collaborations (including fellow Welsh citizen John Cale). This new album is no exception and shows one more time a great balance between traditional pop songs and a certain weird ‘je ne sais quoi‘…
Big Thief – “U.F.O.F” – Pop Rock – A real improvement from the N.Y, Brooklin band vs. their gig at End of the Road. A real grower as well, to listen to again and again.
Vampire Weekend – “Father Of The Bride” – Pop Rock – I did not have any real expectations from this band but it looks like the new line-up gave more freedom to Ezra Koenig. Close to the Vampire Weekend formula…but not only, which makes this album all the more interesting.
Mac Demarco – “Here Comes The Cowboy” – Pop Rock – …and here comes our annual record from our favourite and coolest Canadian guy. Forget this ‘summer record’ bullshit given by the majors; this is your summer record!
Flying Lotus – “Flamagra” – Spacey Jazzey Hip Hop – There are thousands of tracks on this record and millions of prestigious guests so more time may be needed to get all its subtleties….so who knows where it will stand at the end of the year?
Richard Hawley – “Further” – Pop Rock – A few more rockers than usual in this new record from the Sheffield crooner. Do not worry though, his voice and the atmosphere are as gloomy and beautiful as in previous records.
Let’s review a record which has acquired a well-deserved cult follow-up over the years but which probably remains unknown by the majority of this blog’s readers.
Jellyfish – ‘Bellybutton’ – 1990
Does the above cover say it all? Can you feel influences from bands as different as Queen, Big Star, XTC or again Alice Cooper, mixed with an ‘Alice…in Wonderland’ vibe? Well, if so, do not worry, you are not too far from the truth and this album is for you!
Jellyfish were a band from San Francisco, California in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Lead by Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning and assisted by the incredibly talented Jason Falkner on guitars and other instruments, they tried to mix all their great influences and musical tastes. Their main issue was that they came at a time when people were following trends and their music could not match either the end of Brit Pop or the start of the grunge era. They probably would have been massive in the 70’s…or nowadays, thanks to the open access of the internet which did not exist yet. They did not last for long and disbanded in 1994, Jason Falkner being the main successful of them all through his excellent solo career or his association with Air‘s ‘The Virgins’ Suicides‘ soundtrack.
‘Bellybutton‘ is a complete joy from the start to the end, either thanks to the beautiful melodies of its songs or by its awesome production. Theirs was a record which deserved to be listened again and again to be really appreciated. All tracks are solid or beautiful, with a specific mention to ‘The King Is Half-Undressed‘ which would have deserved a massive global success and to be sung every morning!
Format: CD – Bought in: 2015 – To be noted: both first (and only) Jellyfish albums have been reissued in 2015 with live and demo tracks. A few cool tunes but I would suggest to stick to the original 10-track album for new comers. Rating: 8/10
A new caption in your favourite music blog ever…EX-CIT-MENT! What is it about by the way and even more important what are the rules?
The goal is to listen to one record in my collection and review it
To be eligible, these records should not be releases of the current or of the previous year. For example, it means all records until 2017 included can be part of it as for now
Neither streaming, nor mp3; records have to exist in a physical formats (vinyl, CD…or cassette) and listened to on a proper HI-FI equipment (not on a computer or on a phone)
This should occur only during the weekend, i.e. listening and reviewing done in a row
All records are eligible, like proper albums of course but also live recordings, compilations, singles, box sets, etc…
Last but not least, the choice has to be quite spontaneous; no such things like ‘I am going to review ‘Unknown Pleasures’ to show the world how cool I am…
All clear? Ready to roll? Without further ado, let’s start with Episode #1.
R.E.M. – ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ – 1986
I just listened and read the lyrics of the fantastic new LP by The National (more to read soon…) and I was intrigued by the following lyrics in the song ‘Not in Kansas‘: “I’m binging hard on Annette Bening, I’m listening to R.E.M. again, Begin the Begin, over and over, Begin the Begin, over and over”. So no choice I guess but to listen to this record again…
‘Lifes Rich Pageant‘ is the fourth R.E.M. album after the amazing trilogy of ‘Murmur-Reckoning-Fables of the Reconstruction“. I remember at the time being slightly surprised and disappointed at first listen from its sound and production as it really was a transitional album for the band. Not transitional in the meaning that the record is not so good but transitional in the sense that this is the record in which the band really showed their greatness to the world and not only to a small number of indie rock/ Byrds / punk rock aficionados. From this point onwards, the band would be more and more successful, with grace I must say, never losing sight of where they came from. The real changes in this record come from Michael Stipe’s voice (first time listeners could actually understood what he was singing) but also the incredible quality and power of Bill Berry’s drumming. Many people think that the band never really recovered when he decided to leave for health reasons at the end of the 90’s and I am not far from being one of those.
What is really astonishing when one listens again to this record are the songs opening Side One; the first four songs are absolute classics: ‘Begin the Begin‘, ‘These Days‘, ‘Fall On Me‘ and ‘Cuyahoga‘! The rest of the album is very good but quieter in terms of sounds and production. I would probably have changed the order of tracks for a better balance between rockers and slow numbers…but who I am really? A great record from one of the best American bands of all times.
Format: Vinyl – Bought in: 1986 (yes beloved readers, I used to buy R.E.M. 80’s records when they were released, that old…) – To be noted: all early R.E.M. records were reissued as part of the 25th anniversary series, including this one in 2011 in a 2-CD edition with a cool CD of bonus tracks and demos. But the vinyl is the real thing with its cover of drummer Bill Berry and two bulls. Rating: 9/10
A pretty eclectic selection this month as the seven chosen records are a bunch of different music styles, from experimental metal to quiet folk records. Without further ado, let’s celebrate our current favourite British bright young man.
Album of the month: Loyle Carner – “Not Waving, But Drowning” – London Hip Hop –Dear Benjamin Coyle-Larner (which is indeed your real name), I must say I have no words to describe how much I am moved by your new record. You were my runner-up for the 2017 record of the year and you are showing in your new LP a real sense of progress and authenticity. Your humility, your closeness to your family, your friends and your roots, the way you describe so well life of ordinary people in London nowadays, your passion about football and music,…well everything really which can be found in your music and this new record makes my/the world a better place. Keep up the good work mate.
Runner-up: Drugdealer– “Raw Honey” – 70’s influenced Pop Rock – With such a band name, this is not really a surprise to read that their leader Michael Collins is often in trouble when travelling and showing what he does for a living… An excellent easy-listening record with a few prestigious guests (The Lemon Twigs, Weyes Blood, etc) which gets better after each new play. Enjoy and be ready for the summer.
Weyes Blood – “Titanic Rising” – Pop Rock – Natalie Mering alias band’s name is as interesting as her previous efforts but much more affordable and sensual this time.
Aldous Harding – “Designer” – Folk Pop Rock – New Zealand is lucky to currently have so many talented songwriters. Beautiful new album from an artist we saw at End of the Road in 2017.
Kevin Morby – “Oh My God” – Pop Rock – Kevin Morby is close to the bone (or in the flesh according to the cover…) with this new LP, not that far from Bob Dylan’s early 70’s records in terms of lyrical themes and musical production.
Sunn O))) – “Life Metal” – Experimental metal – Four incredible very heavy, moody and long tracks from our favourite metal band. I do advice my beloved readers not to play this record if you invite your boss or colleagues at home for a corporate dinner…but if one is in the right mood, their music is really fantastic. Listen without prejudice as George Michael used to say.
Foxygen – “Seeing Other People” – Funky Town – A sort of funky record by Foxygen? I am not sure yet if it works but I want to listen to it again…
I recently attended two beautiful gigs by artists of different generations but so close in their love and understanding of what music should be, i.e. inventive, energetic and full of melodies. On my left, The Lemon Twigs aka Brian and Michael d’Addario, respectively 21 and 19-years old. On my right, the immense Todd Rundgren, who just turned 70. I just realised how close their respective music was while catching Todd live and then remembered he featured as a guest on a couple of tracks on their latest excellent “Go To School” album. I was also sent this hilarious link by one of my most faithful readers, which is basically The Lemon Twigs interviewed two years ago by… Todd Rundgren.
The Lemon Twigs, London Roundhouse, 27th February 2019
I was quite excited to catch The Lemon Twigs again after their phenomenal gig at the End of the Road festival 2017 edition. Held in the great Roundhouse theatre where the atmosphere is always special, the gig was as good as expected thanks to the tremendous energy the two brothers (and the rest of the band) showed throughout the show.
The brothers’ dynamics is always a fascinating one too. One can really feel that Brian is the more mature person of the band, which makes him to accept the talent but also sometimes uncontrollable behaviour of little brother Michael. They clearly love each other but will things stay as such forever after spending life on tour, in the studio or under constant pressure? Difficult to know… What makes this band different thought is that both brothers have their equal share of compositions and I must say all tracks are superb whoever the composer can be.
However, the set was pretty amazing and I hope the pictures I took can translate the experience we all lived that night. …and if anyone has any doubt about these guys’ talent, have a look at this past video:
Todd Rundgren, London Eventim Apollo, 6th April 2019
I really thought I would end my music lover’s career without ever catching Todd Rundgren live as I thought his main interests were more creating weird music and enjoying his nice simple Hawaiian house than touring. It looks the guy either needs the cash or remains excited to tour… Whatever the reasons, this was probably one the best idea he had in recent years. For the record, you will find a quick catch-up about his musical career by clicking on this All Music link but to make it short Todd Rundgren’s musicianship is extraordinary, either through his own music or his work as a producer. All his albums of the 70’s are recommended and in particular both “Something/Anything” from 1972 and “A Wizard, A True Star” from 1973.