[From The Cutting Room Floor]: Eels, The Rolling Stones & Tom Waits

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Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Your Mama Warned You’ – Eels
A funky slice of ska influenced rock n’ roll appearing on the deluxe edition of last year’s aptly titled Wonderful, Glorious. Vitriolic and spitting feathers, E delivers a gruff reprisal against a backdrop of snarling guitars and pounding drums.

‘No Expectations’ – The Rolling Stones
Hard to believe this was ever pitched as a B-side to ‘Street Fighting Man’, for me it is one of the most enduring and emotive Stones songs. Brian Jones’s slinky and resonant slidework here is one of the last contributions he made before quitting the band and his death which swiftly followed, giving added poignancy to the line “Our love is like our music, it’s here and then it’s gone”.

‘I Want You’ – Tom Waits
Appearing on the Early Years Vol. 2 collection, which compiles glimmers of Waits’s early Kerouacian balladry that didn’t make the grade, ‘I Want You’ is a short and sweet throwaway ditty. It’s beauty is in it’s simplicity, for Waits distills into just over a minute what centuries of artists have spilt gallons of ink, paint, sweat and tears over. Tender, sincere and utterly sublime.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

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[Single Review]: Christian Gregory – Count On You

Christian Gregory 3“Won’t be long until we make it through.”

When success and good fortune come your way there are generally two routes people go down: cash in, or give something back. After his debut record in 2012 broke the top ten in seven countries, went certified gold in two and garnered a Mercury Prize nomination, you might have expected Michael Kiwanuka to either have rested on his laurels or sped on with album No. 2. Instead, Kiwanuka has elected to build something lasting and set up a label called Movement Records. While Kiwanuka will act as the label’s A&R man, scouting and representing new artists, the day-to-day label running and recording sessions will operate out of North London where the Movement Records team have set up a studio kitted out with a treasure trove of vintage instruments and bespoke analogue recording equipment gathered over ten years. With an emphasis on a soul-rooted sound and traditional recording techniques, as well as capturing artists live on tape in one take, Kiwanuka explains the Movement Records philosophy: “Music from the heart goes straight to the heart. Music that can move you is good music and that’s what Movement Records are focused on doing”. Their recent flagship release Count On You comes from multi-instrumentalist songwriter (and Movement Records head of operations and co-founder), Christian Gregory.

Co-written with Michael Kiwanuka, Count On You is a good time record that rolls along on a bass and percussion groove that harks back to Bill Withers’s Still Bill era. This offers a solid platform for Christian Gregory’s slinky guitarwork and hollering expression of camaraderie. His voice lies somewhere between Al Green’s high tenderness and Teddy Pendergrass’s husky confidence, taking off into flights during the revelrous choruses and psyched-out bridge. He also has a few tricks up his sleeve with departures into fuzz and wah-wah laden guitar interludes and psychedelic tinges of brass during the outro. “I love when records have details that you only notice after you’ve heard it over and over again,” Gregory reveals. “On Count On You, we recorded the core parts of the track in one take to catch a live vibe. Then I got in the studio and experimented with unusual recording techniques to add different details and textures to the track”. If Movement Records’s remit is to produce soulful tunes with an old-school production ethic then Count On You starts things as they mean to go on. It doesn’t just rock, it rolls too.

With offices on both sides of the Atlantic and as-yet unannounced live showcases and releases scheduled throughout 2014, Movement Records look set to stake their claim during 2014. And while Michael Kiwanuka himself is still signed to Polydor/Communion, it will be interesting to see if he releases his material through Movement Records in the future and what collaborations this will lead to. More importantly, with creative artists playing essential roles in the running of the company, what talent will be attracted to the label in future and will it create a collaborative atmosphere conducive to creativity, like Communion who first picked up on Kiwanuka and released his first two EPs? I certainly think Movement Records has the potential to do so.

Originally published on Hercules Moments

[Cover Me]: Kwabs, Ayanna Witter-Johnson & The Low Anthem

Kwabs – ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ (Originally by James Blake)
James Blake’s music has always had that soulful, jazz singer strain running through it, teeming just under the washed out surface of echoing beats and thawed synthesisers. Here Kwabs and co. tug at that particular string on ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ with soft melodies and Kwabs’s resonant baritone, bringing to the surface the seductive jazz ballad the song always had the potential to be.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson – ‘Roxanne’ (Originally by The Police)
As a multi-award winning musician with degrees in Classical Composition from the Trinity College of Music and Manhattan School of Music, as well as winning local venue competitions and being invited to tour with accomplished sitarist Anoushka Shankar, you could say Ayanna Witter-Johnson is something of an over-achiever. Appearing on her debut EP Truthfully, her solo cello take on pop masterpiece (and impetus for an intensive drinking game) ‘Roxanne’ is something to behold. Her soaring voice is both yearning and mournful, while her poised arrangement brings brooding classical sensibilities to Andy Summers’s tense, jazzy chord voicings.

The Low Anthem – ‘Home I’ll Never Be’ (Originally by Jack Kerouac)
Based on a little ditty Jack Kerouac wrote one night (tentatively titled ‘On The Road’), this rollicking barnstormer comes from The Low Anthem’s third album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. While this version owes a lot to Tom Waits and Primus’s previous arrangement, it is the ramshackle energy generated by Jeff Prystowski’s clattering percussion and Ben Knox Miller’s reckless holler which makes this rendition rattle along with the same energy it’s author’s prose was famous for.

[Cheap and Cheerful]: Four Tet – Live in Tokyo

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What’s better than discovering great music? Discovering it’s free as well. Cheap and Cheerful intermittently throws free downloads your way for continued listening pleasure that doesn’t break the bank.

Recently I’ve found myself listening repeatedly to this live set from Kieran Hebden a.k.a. Four Tet, recorded at Tokyo’s Yebisu Garden Hall on 1st December. Maybe it’s the fluid alchemy of dance, jazz, R&B and house or the subtle confidence of Hebden’s DJing, feeling no need to petition the crowd and trusting in their patience while he steadily weaves his magic, but there is something compelling in this mid-afternoon set which rewards repeated listens. It fosters a zen-like state and possesses a striking simplicity that belies the complexity of layering and manipulation at work over the hour. Perhaps that is why Hebden elected to upload it to Soundcloud and enable free downloads, satisfied by a set where, seemingly, everything went off without a hitch.

[Live Review]: Poliça – The Troxy, London 12/02/14

stockimage“Better to sleep through the sunrise / Than to stumble sleeping through the night life”

With its Art Deco interior and a booth-fitted circle overlooking the crammed stalls, The Troxy marks an auspicious final venue for Poliça’s international tour in support of Shulamith. Tonight the former cinema (and bingo hall during the 80s) is sunken in violet light and an arsenal of synths, samplers and two drum kits sits on stage below the bloody backdrop of Shulamith’s album cover. An inconspicuous mirrorball hangs from the lighting rig as more people come in from the cool and damp of the February night.

 Just after eight all conversation is drowned out by cavernous feedback verging on the deafening bottom end of human hearing, signalling that support act Marijuana Deathsquads have taken to the stage. This rumbling continues until all attention is fixed on the figures on stage centred around a mission control desk of synths and samplers, before plummeting into a furore of crashing primeval riffs. Part punk snottiness, part drum and bass cacophony; the Minneapolis noisemakers make for a confrontational opening act, riding a continuous wave of twisted samples backed by the dual drum assault of Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson (also of Poliça). Tonight offers a rare live appearance from Ryan Olson, whose dizzying list of brain children (Poliça, Marijuana Deathsquads, Gayng et al) has made him a svengali-like figure of the Minneapolis music scene. Strait-laced and white shirted, he hovers hungrily over a sampler like a velociraptor, barking orders over headsets to the other members while vocalist Isaac Gale wanders the stage wailing in varying degrees of vocal distortion. As the members become lost in a miasma of violet/orange dry-ice focus is placed entirely on the noise, punctuated on two instances by the Troxy’s fire alarms going off (it isn’t clear if this is cause for alarm or just part of the orchestrated chaos). Marijuana Deathsquads provide a brutal counterpart to Poliça’s glacial melodies, emphasised when the skinny, high-heeled and hoodied form of Poliça vocalist Channy Leaneagh enters the stage to lend vocal duties (digitally manipulated by Olson) for the last few numbers. Things get more melodic from there on out, but only just.

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The stage is bathed in crimson light when Poliça take the stage and power into the dampened club beats of ‘Slipping Lines’. With a setlist honed and streamlined from four weeks on the road, Poliça hit every mark. While the focus is definitely on the new material (eleven of the seventeen songs performed are from their recent album), the dreamier crowd favourites on Give You The Ghost sit comfortably alongside the more confrontational songs of Shulamith. ‘Very Cruel’s sinister synth loop and fathom deep breaks of silence feeds seamlessly into GYTG anthem ‘Amongster’, which sees Leaneagh losing herself in the building groove laid down by Ivascu and Christoperson amongst wisps of red smoke. Meanwhile on ‘Smug’, which features Olson back on vocal manipulation duty, flashing blue lights and siren-like synths give the atmosphere of a slow night drive, powered by a cavernous 4/4 beat.

As a live entity the band display a tight chemistry, excelling in creating moments of tension and release and weaving the same magic as they do on record with an intense stage presence. Throughout the show bassist Chris Bierden exhibits ox-like calm dishing out his fluid bass lines while Ivascu and Christopherson seem to operate as a symbiotic percussive unit rather than separate musicians. Their parts either interweave each other or lock in sync perfectly, as is the case in the cascading drum climaxes on ‘Lay Your Cards Out’ and ‘Amongster’ which build into crashing supernovas in a live environment. The deep, grounding force of Bierden’s bass counterpoints Leaneagh’s cooing vocals and fluttering synth loops on ‘Warrior Lord’, before segueing into the hazy beat of ‘Vegas’. Leaneagh’s lost, childlike vocal delivery on the former take on an accusatory tone on the latter’s repeated assertion “You were mean to me” and the whispered demand “Don’t forget”.

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Despite her sleight frame Leaneagh cuts a powerful figure, commanding the stage with her voice and backed by a startling barrage of lights. She goads the crowd on ‘Chain My Name’ and stalks the stage on ‘Tiff’, making up for Justin Vernon’s absence with her arresting delivery among medicated beats and Bierden’s purring harmonies. Bubblegum pop song ‘I Need $’ and the funky ‘Dark Star’, which see Leaneagh kick off her boots to groove to Bierden’s moody bass lines, make an appearance before the main set closes with haunting duets on the ponderous, down tempo ‘So Leave’.

 On their return to the stage, Leaneagh explains that this is her eleventh time in London. “This a good place” she says grinning, although Ben Ivascu probably conveys the sentiment better with a simple “Cheers, m’dears”. Cue a paranoiac take on ‘Matty’ with an extended instrumental break that wouldn’t go amiss on the soundtrack of Aliens, featuring chittering hi-hat and unnerving synth loops that simmer away before crashing back to earth with drums and loping bass for the final verse. Possibly in anticipation of upcoming Valentine’s Day, the night closes with a spaced-out cover of Lesley Gore’s ballad ‘You Don’t Own Me’. The band are in playful spirit, yearning for the stars as Leaneagh in particularly dramatic flair retreats to her knees after giving it her all. If Elvis really was abducted by aliens, this is what he’d be performing now.

 Setlist:
Spilling Lines
Lay Your Cards Out
I See My Mother
So Very Cruel
Amongster
Smug
Tiff
Warrior Lord
Vegas
Chain My Name
Torre
Dark Star
I Need $
Wandering Star
So Leave

Matty
You Don’t Own Me

[Artist Spotlight]: Nathaniel Rateliff

 

Nathaniel-Rateliff-main“This wound is gonna cancel me out”

Here is an artist I’ve been meaning to feature for a long time, ever since hearing him perform ‘Early Spring Till‘ on a compilation. Bearing the stature of a gentle giant and a hollerin’ voice that belies great hurt, Nathaniel Rateliff grew up in a devout small town in rural Missouri where he played music from an early age and explored the countryside, sleeping outside during hot seasons. “I loved growing up there,” he says. “It’s beautiful. There’s something really nice about there not being much to do; it really helped me be a creative person”. The quiet, contemplative ambience of his hometown clearly stuck in his bones when it came to recording the soul-searching minimalism of In Memory Of Loss, which touched on the death of his father in his teens and severe illness in his 20’s. Having received critical acclaim and travelled the world performing since its release in 2010, his recent followup Falling Faster Than You Can Run comes from a different space. While the pain of loss always seems to linger not far behind the joy of the present in Rateliff’s songs, he seems to have a wider perspective now as can be heard on album opener ‘Still Trying’.

‘Still Trying’ sees Rateliff studying the loneliness experienced in indifferent hotel rooms that comes part and parcel of touring around the world. And while Rateliff seems momentarily stuck in that brooding moment of homesickness, it is the resilient timbre of his voice and insistent acoustic rhythms which propel him and the song forward with juggernaut momentum. The songs seem to carry him headlong through whatever comes his way and the instrumentation lifts him out of the particular circumstances. Rateliff’s backing band The Wheel have always complemented him well, but their deft accompaniment on In Memory Of Loss did occasionally seemed an intrusion on the hushed, intimate atmosphere. By comparison, on ‘Still Trying’ and Falling Faster Than You Can Run in general the man and band sound like a unified force. Swirls of organ and susurrating guitar seem like a breeze that buoy up Rateliff’s splenetic guitar and vocals, as if they spring from a single source. It is eerie, but exhilarating and the cohesive sound of Falling Faster Than You Can Run shows Rateliff maturing as an arranger and a songwriter. The band are currently in the middle of a European tour so if you get the chance, check them out. You will not be disappointed.

Falling Faster Than We Can Run is available now through Mod y Vi Records.

[Sound and Vision]: Inside Llewyn Davis

inside llewyn davis“I wouldn’t mind the hangin’, but the layin’ in the grave’s so long…”

In a New York state of mind.

The Coen brothers’ latest offering Inside Llewyn Davis is inspired by events in The Mayor of MacDougal Street, memoir of Dave Van Ronk, a lynchpin in the folk scene of 1960s Greenwich Village, NYC. On one level it is a week in the life of eponymous (anti-)hero Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer played by Oscar Isaac, and on another level it is a detailed, atmospheric snapshot of a collective phenomenon on the cusp of entering popular American consciousness.

The film starts with a song, a beating and a stray cat, and this really sets the formula for the next two hours. Llewyn goes from hardship to hardship (many of his own creation) in his endeavours to make it as a folk musician during what is only a week, but feels like a year. He is a compelling, if not completely likeable, protagonist who tackles loss, estrangement and lack of fulfilment with a rueful obstinacy, repeatedly making and burning bridges in the process. However, it is his unflinching honesty and flagging energies in the face of his youth slowly trickling away which endear us to him. Meanwhile, friends and basket-passing contemporaries wander in and out of the narrative, in some cases assisting him and in others berating him. Like Llewyn Davis who is not exactly Dave Van Ronk, many characters are amalgamations of performers of the time rather than specific counterparts. The folk-couple Jim and Jean, portrayed convincingly by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, equally evoke Jim Glover and Jean Ray as much as Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary. Meanwhile, background characters Troy Nelson, a green performer living out of Fort Dix but already tipped over Llewyn for glory, and Al Cody, a capable but struggling musician like Llewyn, bear resemblances to Tom Paxton and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott respectively.

Jim&Jean

Like the Coens’ previous pairing with soundtrack producer T-Bone Burnett on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which housed a compelling cross-section of Depression-era folk songs and spirituals, Inside Llewyn Davis serves up an insightful and well-executed crop of songs that were doing the rounds of the coffee shops at the time. Some will be familiar (a new arrangement of ‘Dink’s Song’, entitled ‘Fare Thee Well’ and Justin Timberlake and Carrie Mulligan’s wistful take on ‘500 Miles’) and some will be revelations such as Oscar Isaac’s stark rendition of ‘The Shoals of Herring’. Particularly entertaining is the Columbia recording session for absurd pop-protest song ‘Please, Mr. Kennedy’, which is written and performed by the amusingly naive Jim and captures the essence of a time when people still believed that a song could change the world. Throughout the film the songs are delivered with care and are weaved naturally into the story in a way that doesn’t feel conceited in the slightest. Ultimately, it is the songs that survive and which keep the characters going. As Llewyn Davis aptly states ‘If it was never new and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song’, the songs still live over centuries and it is the nature of folk music that it lives on through rediscovery and reinterpretation. Van Ronk’s own career arc can be summed up by Llewyn Davis’s audition with Chicago producer Bud Grossman (Dylan manager Albert Grossman’s surrogate), who listens patiently to Davis’s aching rendition of ‘The Death of Queen Jane’ before passing the succinct verdict: “I don’t see an awful lot of money here”. While Van Ronk garnered a considerable cult-legend status during his lifetime, with which he was content, his uncompromising brand of blues, folk and spirituals was generally considered too idiosyncratic and uncommercial for widespread release and so never gained the success of contemporaries Joan Baez or Bob Dylan. However, his influence on his cohorts cannot be understated and perhaps through the Coens’ reinterpretation as Llewyn Davis, Dave Van Ronk and his songs might live again in this generation.

The film ends almost exactly the way it starts, with aforementioned song, beating and stray cat observed with a new perspective, and suggests an endless cycle of struggle as Llewyn endeavours to find success (or even just a bed for the night) in joints which range from the respected (The Gaslight Café, Gerde’s Folk City) to the nameless and miserable. It accurately portrays the harsh insularity of the Greenwich Village folk scene during the early 60s, and Llewyn increasingly finds his purist views hard to reconcile with his desire for success. However, as Llewyn exits the Gaslight at the film’s end there is a teasing glimpse of the back of a stranger’s familiarly bequiffed head as he starts his own nasally version of ‘Dink’s Song’. Llewyn’s attention is momentarily captivated by the performer before exiting and seems to acknowledge the turning point when a generation of Americans would awaken to the quiet rumble coming from Greenwich Village.

Inside Llewyn Davis is in cinemas now.

[Album Review]: Augustines – Augustines

we_are_augustines“My heart feels like an empty pocket, Lord”

At the tail end of 2012, We Are Augustines’ soaring debut Rise Ye Sunken Ships took the top spot on my end of year list with its compelling blend of striking honesty and indomitable energy. Now gearing up for an extensive intercontinental tour and sporting their original single-word moniker, Augustines return with a new collection of rousing anthems on their eponymous sophomore effort, Augustines.

After a gentle introduction Augustines kicks off with both barrels blazing on back-to-back lead singles ‘Cruel City’ and ‘Nothing To Lose But Your Head’. Both surge along on tsunami-scale waves of energy, powered by drummer Rob Allen’s driving rhythms and invigorating choruses aimed straight at the rafters. ‘Weary Eyes’ then takes things down a notch, but still maintains the sense of wonder with militaristic drums and jubilant background vocals. While their heartland rock core of raging guitars and Billy McCarthy’s emotive holler remain intact, Augustines also explore new pastures with a focus on background choral vocals and textural synths which lift the songs and emphasise Eric Sanderson’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist. More control and restraint is on display here too, reflecting a self-assured band hitting their stride. ‘The Avenue’ is a gentle piano led ballad while mid-album high point ‘Walkabout’ builds steadily from McCarthy’s high and lonesome falsetto into an uplifting anthem full of urgency.

While their debut finished on Sanderson’s tasteful instrumental, Augustines opt for a celebratory curtain call on ‘Hold Onto Anything’ (which is sure to make encore setlists in future) after the poignant ‘Highway 1 Instrumental’, echoing that Augustines is a product of success rather than anguish. Indeed, after the critical acclaim afforded to Rise Ye Sunken Ships and notable support slots on Frightened Rabbits’ recent US tour and Counting Crows’s Outlaw Road Show, it would seem disingenuous for the band to try and recapture the atmosphere of personal loss and desperation that imbued that album with such fraught energy. Fortunately, Augustines steers clear of this danger with triumphant songs that build on the positive energy and while McCarthy’s lyrics are still informed by hardship and melancholy, his focus is on the coming dawn rather than the long night. There are a few moments of over-ornateness which briefly overstep the line between grandeur and pretensions-of-grandeur, but when the songs are as sincere and immediately engaging as this you forgive them. Augustines is an exhilarating followup which fulfils the promise of Rise Ye Sunken Ships.

Augustines is available now through Votiv/Caroline International.