Friday, 14 October 2011

Mixtape #2

Hello and welcome back to my blog.. It's been a busy few months, hence the lack of recent updates, but here comes another playlist for your aural delight (I hope). Apologies in advance if you don't like broadway bullshit and cheesy 70's pop music; this edition tends towards that direction. We kick things off with "It's Better With A Band", written for Barbara Cook's Carnegie Hall appearance in 1980. It's a bit of a novelty affair really, but lots of fun. The song is basically a run down of all the instruments in her band and the part they play.. One review of the album (of which this is the title track) on Amazon describes it simply as "my all-time favourite recording ever, by anyone!" I can see why. The video is from a PBS special, never released on dvd.

Next up "Are You Here" from Corinne Bailey Rae's second record 'The Sea.' Written after her husband died, the album is haunting and brutal, but also incredibly positive and just plain great! This, the opening track, sets the tone for the whole record; initially a little band in a room playing a riff, gradually turning into an epic, emotional outburst. I was initially a little reticent to hear it after dismissing her first stuff as nu-soul pop nonsense, but on this album she's closer to Laura Nyro than Joss Stone. The video is a live performance of the song, with the band that did the record, as CBR explains..

Moving on, we have "Orange Crate Art" next, a wonderful Van Dyke Parks composition. Electric Soft Parade covered this song as part of a recent EP we did with a little French label, and it's now a regular feature of our live set. I became aware of it on the album also called 'Orange Crate Art', an set of VDP tunes sung by Brian Wilson released in the mid 90s. The video shows a section from a documentary from around the same time, with Wilson and VDP round the piano running through the song. Just gorgeous.

Big Star is a band a lot of people reference, especially their seminal 70s output, but in 2005 they regrouped and made 'In Space.' While it's not quite up to the standard of Sister Lovers or the first two, it's a pleasure and a privilege just to have another set of Big Star songs to take in. And against the odds certain tracks on the album have become some of my favourite Big Star tunes ever! The opener "Dony" is priceless; mid-paced, sloppy guitar work, indistinct vocals, sax-solo, etc... what's not to like?! Interesting fact - the album was made by writing and recording a track a day, for 12 days. Ridiculous!

Fellow Brightonians The Go! Team have always been on my radar and had my respect, but "Buy Nothing Day" from their latest album just floored me. Soaring vocals, incredible chords, such a sense of fun about it. I could listen to this a hundred times in a row and still jump around air drumming like I'm selling chocolate. A massive tune. Beautiful vid too..

Like many people my musical landscape has been greatly improved by the soundtracks of Tarantino's films. Not to say I just sit and listen to the OST, but certain tunes he has featured have led me down rabbit warrens of other styles and I have found things I'd never have known of otherwise. One such gem is the song featured in the opening credits of Jackie Brown, Across 110th St, which is in turn from the soundtrack of the film Across 110th St, a blaxploitation picture from the early 70s. The soundtrack was written mainly by Bobby Womack and Peace, with an extended orchestra, and features tons of great tracks, my favourite being "Quicksand", a frenetic, Rhodes-led jazz-pop freak out, which barely lasts more than a minute. Wonderful stuff!

While touring with Brakes a few years back, Eamon our singer enquired if Tom and myself had seen The Last Waltz. Answer: no. His reaction: disbelief, followed immediately by a trip to the nearest dvd shop and back to the bus for some education! Needless to say, we were hooked, and I still listen to the band on an almost daily basis. Their deeper, social commentaries like The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down speak for themselves, but even on a fun-time knock-around tune like "The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show" they excel. The video is from when they reformed in the early 80s and toured Japan. Hardly their heyday, but they still got it..

A year or so ago, I came across "When The Sky Comes Falling Down" by The Pursuit Of Happiness, and basically got extremely obsessed with it. It's a simple enough little song, but there's something very very special about it that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe the initial simplicity of the verse chords leading to the odder voicings in the chorus, maybe the girl backing singer taking over the lead vocal in the third verse, maybe the fact that Todd produced it (a fact I only found out after I'd fallen in love with it!), I can't really say for sure. I just think it's a really special thing.

In my endless search for things that remind me of early 70s Chicago (ie the good shit), I often come across oddities like this. Contraction was a French-Canadian prog band in the early 70s that only did a couple of albums, and as far as I can make out just disappeared into obscurity. They're actually rather good. Some of it reminds me of Broadcast or Sterolab. Ultimately it's a beautiful sound, and "Ste Melanie Blues" is one of the most beautiful songs.

I came across Deaf School whilst on a search for 'best album you've never heard' or something to that effect. They were an art rock group from Liverpool in the late 70s/early 80s. "What A Way To End It All" is from their album '2nd Honeymoon' and it's just a banger! Every track feels like a different tone, yet it all has an amazing cohesion. In my view they are one of the most important bands to come out of Liverpool, and that's saying a lot. The video shows a live performance from their heyday; first they play "Taxi", and "What A Way To End It All" appears a few minutes in.

Pilot are one of my favourite 70s bands. Known mainly for their uber hits "Magic" and "January", it's their general high quality pop writing that shines through. Far from being one (or two) hit wonders, they had a bunch of hits at the time and were well respected session players, even ending up playing as part of the band on Kate Bush's debut album 'The Kick Inside.' "Just A Smile" is the opening track on their debut, and it's just a great pop tune, simple as that.

To me The High Llamas are one of the most underrated bands in history. They have consistently made beautiful, complicated pop records for over 15 years, and continue to do so. Lead singer and writer Sean O'Hagan has also been responsible for some truly inspired string arrangements for Stereolab and Super Furry Animals amongst many others, and was sounded out about producing a potential Beach Boys album before Brian Wilson decided to revisit 'Smile'. "Rotary Hop" from 2007's 'Can Cladders' remains one of my favourite songs of theirs.

Me You Us Them are a 3-piece noise-pop band from Brooklyn who make, er noisy pop music! Some of the album has a bit more of a hardcore edge to it, in the style of Fugazi, etc, but there are moments of blissed out Spiritualized beauty all across the record, and "Drugs" is definitely a personal highlight. The video shows them live in session performing this track, and surprisingly it sounds almost exactly like the record. Gorgeous.

Changing direction somewhat, Noel Coward has been on my radar for a while, via references by The Divine Comedy etc, but I never really fell in love with the guy until I heard "Loch Lomond" from a live album released recently, but recorded in Las Vegas in 1955. It's truly a magical thing. Just Noel and the piano for most of it, until suddenly an orchestra comes bounding in to round things off. I love every single millisecond of this; the introduction, the ebb and flow of the performance, the way he manages to make it emotional and frivolous all at the same time. It's a masterclass in reinventing a song and making it one's own. Rather than looking at a blank screen while the track plays, for the video I've found quite an odd thing... a guy called Gregory Moore has made a video 'salute' to Coward, dressing like him, playing him down to a tee, and even making it look like it was filmed on an old newsreel camera from the 40s! 'A' for effort, sir. Noel would be proud. Actually he'd probably say 'the hair is all wrong, darling' and order another Scotch.

Ambrosia are one of those weird bands I'm a bit obsessed with... the groups that make quite interesting twisted pop music through the 70s, then as soon as Jan 1st 1980 hits they turn into total cheeseballs (see Chicago, Genesis, etc etc). However back in t'day Ambrosia were actually quite good. Their first album was engineered by Alan Parsons and although they formed in 1970, it wasn't released until '75.. and it includes some of their most interesting stuff. Named not for the rice pudding manufacturers but "to represent a vision of their music: all shades, textures, colours and styles", they're still around today, albeit a bit more in-ears, slap-bass and session-player hell than Moogs, acid and long hair. Shame. Anyway "Make Us All Aware" is a gorgeous reminder of what they once were.

Next up, one of my favourite MCs, Buck 65. Refusing to be pigeon-holed as a rapper, poet, singer, whatever, Richard Terfry aka Buck has been making a variety of sounds for over 15 years. Brakes had the honour of supporting him on a UK tour around 2007 and this tune "Bandits" was always a favourite. He was an extremely nice chap and seemed to enjoy the incongruity of having a country/punk band opening at a 'hip-hop show', and how much it confused the audience who were wearing their underground rap hearts firmly on their sleeves. My favourite moment was in Glasgow where he allowed me to sit in on an interview with a 'proper hip hop' mag (on the promise I'd keep schtum), in which he talked at considerable length about how some current pop imbecile was the future of hip hop, and how much he respected them, absolutely deadpan. That night he appeared to me as the Chris Morris of rap! Frickin' legend.

London's The Clientele (although they don't get much love in London it seems) are a band we met while touring the States in 2007. They were headlining a show at the legendary Casbah in San Diego and were firstly great people, but they knocked us out with their songs. Just a perfect marriage of lush guitar sounds, melancholic lyrics and graceful style.. they ended up becoming one of my brother's favourite bands. In a world I frequently don't understand, one mystery remains unsolved; why are The Clientele not the size of bloody Snow Patrol by now?! Seriously, of all the recommendations on this page, if you don't know this band, do yourself a favour and buy every single one of their records and it will improve your life at least 17.8%. FACT! Anyway, check out "Bonfires On The Heath" from the album of the same name. Just sublime.

Ok, so after a couple of slightly heavy ones, let's have a bit of light relief eh? Apologies to those that harbour a grudge against Ben Folds Five and don't 'get it'. Let me clarify... I'm sorry that you're totally wrong! Hahaha, I've taken enough crap for liking this group over the years, and I'm sorry but if Kings Of Bloody Leon are allowed to walk the land and be massive, then I'm allowed to like whatever cheesy jazz-pop I like, especially if they do a weird Flaming Lips song. K? K. So back in the 90s, BF5 (there's only 3 of them, haha) did a series of rather amazing, original records which you'd be insane not to dig out. They truly are a band like no other, as they prove here by doing a sort of lounge-jazz take on a fuzzy guitar pop wigout tune, "She Don't Use Jelly". The video is rather low quality but you get the gist. Me and my friend Alan saw them at the Albert Hall in '99 and we instigated a moshpit.. hell yeah!

My brother first brought Clifford T. Ward to my attention, with this exact performance actually. There is something so genuine, so moving, so English about him that I was sold immediately. This song "Home Thoughts From Abroad" is a simple gesture to his wife while he was away touring America. The underplayed emotion of the piece is just exquisite; "how are things in Worcestershire?" and "by the way, how's your broken heart". I can't actually think of a more romantic songwriter, even though a lot of his lyrics are so matter of fact and unlike the conventions of songwriting. He is a legitimate genius in my opinion and is criminally underrated. The video shows him, awkward as ever, on some mid-70s tv show, belting out a version of Home Thoughts and, coupled with his pained expression and lack of any sort of 'singer' posturing, it packs a level of reality and actual underlying emotion that's hard to bear in places. What a man!

And so we reach the end once again.. thanks for bearing with my ramblings and random choices.. We are finally getting the Electric Soft Parade back on tour in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for a 'tour special' edition of the blog, featuring music from as many bands as I can remember that we have played with over the last ten years. In the meantime, I hope you've enjoyed this installment.. Any comments would be very welcome.. pos or neg. Anyway, to round things off, here's Nina (no surname required... there's only one Nina in my world!) with another song made famous by The Band, "I Shall Be Released". Written by Bob Dylan, The Band famously closed the 7 hour 'Last Waltz' final show with a massive choral version of the song. Here, Nina strips it down and just belts it out with a little band. As usual, one can guarantee a totally individual reading of any song by Nina, and every version is individual as well. She plays solely from the heart and in the moment, as this showstopping version shows. Thanks for tuning in humans.. til next time...



P.S. Here is the Spotify link for your listening pleasure.... #2

As usual, there are alternate versions of certain tracks, and in some cases totally different tracks altogether.

Sometimes Spotify does not list particular song or particular artists so I've had to do a couple of swaps. Hopefully this will make things more interesting rather than just plain confusing. Anyway, enjoy.... x

Monday, 6 June 2011

Mixtape #1

Hello there!

We kick off with "Buena" by Morphine. While touring the States with Brakes in 2009, we met a couple of fellow music nuts by the name of Bill and Chris, who drove several hundred miles to be at our Philly show, and also brought a bunch of old school tape equipment to record the show with. While chatting about various things, Morphine's 'Cure For Pain' album came up; being a total philistine on the matter, I listened and learned. So keen was Bill for me to hear the record that he went to his car and pulled out his own CD copy and gave it to me. Needless to say, I soon realised this was an intensely amazing record, and shamefully under-recognised. The singer and bass player of the group, Mark Sandman died on stage in Italy a few years after this album came out. This video shows them performing the track on some weird TV show and Mark explaining a bit about his two string bass at the end. Yes please!

Next up, The Chap's "We Work In Bars" - a typically harmonious/dissonant/beautiful/frightening/uplifting/depressing piece of pop brilliance. Who would expect any less from these gods of avant-pop wonderfulness? Not us, which is why we had them down to headline our charity benefit show at the Concorde in Brighton last year. I hardly need to point out that they wiped the floor clean with their Dadaist sensibilities and frankly sadistic application of stringed instruments! This is the official video, taken from their latest album 'Well Done Europe'.

Girls' 'Album' of last year is a real treasure for those who discover it. It's immediately accessible but yet stands up to hundreds of listens. The songs are often very simple, but have an emotional heart to them which is just undeniable and personally just melts me. This is one of their best.. "Laura".

Again, while touring the States in 2007, I heard "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys (a group manufactured in the mid-60's entirely for this one song) on a 'golden oldies' - type radio station on the very first night we arrived in LA. I then spent the next four weeks obsessing over what the tune was, who it was by, why it seemed so familiar, etc etc, as the announcer never mentioned what it was. Turns out it was a one-hit wonder type affair that then turned into several albums and many more hits, but this original tune was based upon Bach's Minuet in G (set in 3 time, but here turned into a more simple, head-nodding 4 beat pop song). An amazing example of the links in music through the ages and how really nothing much changes. A popular piece from several hundred years ago, rejigged into a modern, motown pop hit.

Based in Williamsburg, NYC, Chairlift are probably best known for their tune that was (over)used for some advert a while back, but dig a little and you'll find gems like "Planet Health", a weird, ethereal take on 80's synth pop that shimmers and shines like some rare stone. The album version is great, but this video really gives a sense of how they can nail the production side of things live. Enjoy...

I was working at an advertising agency putting music to adverts a couple of years back, and a colleague of mine was always playing new music and upcoming releases. One day, this frankly amazing track caught my attention and I've been hooked ever since. Francis and the Lights (just one guy called Francis actually) is a deeply brilliant band/artist (?) that one is never quite sure what to expect from. With "My Goals", at least on the E.P. version, we get some sort of Prince-esque workout track, with squeaky-clean production, falsetto vocals and demented guitar riffs. But the video shows the same song from a totally different angle; a very pure, honest, solo piano rendition which is simply beautiful.

Oregon's Lake are a similar discovery, a wonderful little indie band who manage to take the same old formula and make it into something unique. This song has become a bit of a mantra for me over the months; basically when you're feeling a bit crap.. "Don't Give Up". Simple sentiments, but wonderfully executed.

Slightly off-piste here perhaps, but who said this would be anything but random ramblings? Doris Day's 1964 recording of "More" is quite simply one of the most romantic pieces of music I've ever heard, along with Sinatra's "London By Night." It just gets me blubbing every time! Produced by her son Terry Melcher before his underrated solo career had, er taken off. It's a feast of orchestral subtlety, over-emphasised vocals and a heavenly key change.

I was doing an instore performance with the band Official Secrets Act in the Rough Trade East shop a couple of years ago and while we were setting up they were playing 'Le Monde Fabuleax Des Yamasuki', a mad Japanese prog/experimental album recorded in France in the early 70's... needless to say, I was immediately hooked and had to have it! All the tracks are pretty out there, but at the same time very accessible. This is "Aieaoa"..

While Brakes were signed to Rough Trade, we naturally checked out the other bands they had on the roster at that time. One that always stood out were Scotland's Aberfeldy, who manage to make sweet indie pop without it ever being annoying. Some may disagree, and they certainly have their twee moments, but for me the emotion of the songs ring true. This tune, "Love Is An Arrow" is from their first record which, unbelievably, was recorded on a single microphone, yet manages to sound more coherent as a balanced mix than most albums recorded in the traditional tracked way. Just beautiful..

Another Terry Melcher production here, also featuring his mum Doris Day on the harmony vocal. My brother played me Nico's version of this song, but for me this is the definitive version. It's that juxtaposition of the perfectly orchestrated 'Pet Sounds' production with Melcher's often scrappy, wayward singing voice. "These Days" is a man reflecting on what he has achieved and what he hasn't, full of regret, heartache and self-deprecation.

I'm not usually one for quirky, novelty cover versions, but seeing as it's The Divine Comedy I'll let it slide. "No One Knows" speaks for itself as a frantic, dynamic rock hit, as good as anything QOTSA have ever done, but here it's given the German cabaret makeover, as only Neil Hannon knows how..

'Transmaniacon' by RTX is one of those records that since it came out, my brother and I have been in love with. It never seems to get boring, no matter how many times I hear it. And "Speed To Roam" is one of the more accessible tracks. The video is from a live show at Razzmatazz in Barcelona, featuring a barely audible vocal and lots of standing-around-looking-perplexed from the audience. Fun times!

Surfer Blood are one of those new bands that I came across that seem to come fully formed, straight out the box. Perfectly crafted pop songs, massive sounding guitars, covered in an insane amount of reverb. What more do you need? This is the official video for "Swim"..

Whilst trying to broaden my musical input, I came across an incredible compilation of African music on some torrent site. The Gaylads' "Africa" is one track I keep coming back to. The groove of it is undeniable, and it's interesting hearing how the initial sounds and styles of Hip-Hop can be traced quite clearly back to records such as this.

Quite simply one of my favourite recordings of anything ever, Al Jarreau's 'Look To The Rainbow' LP was taped across his European tour in 1976. "Letter Perfect" is the opening track, and right from the first few bars you can hear it's something special. Some people get put off by the man's incessant scatting, but for me it's so natural and suits the groove perfectly. He can imitate almost any instrument with his amazing voice, and proceeds to from the very start. The video shows a different recording of the song, performed with the same band for German TV in 1976 and is equally good, if not even better because you get to see the way the band just deliver this amazingly complicated piece without even breaking a sweat. Genius.

While wondering around aimlessly at End Of The Road festival a couple of years ago, not finding anything that took my fancy, I came across Beth Jeans Houghton playing in the Big Top tent. I'd never heard of her, and was almost immediately in love with her music. Off kilter folk songs played by an impossibly tall Geordie lass in gold lame pants and a massive wig? Yes please. This is her latest offering; "Dodecahedron". (Irritatingly Spotify doesn't have this track up yet, so you will hear "Hot Toast" in the playlist instead. Just as lovely, mind..)

Whilst being obsessed with Chicago (we'll get to that at some point!) I was scouring the internet looking for similar sounding groups when I found this little known English band If. They were marketed as 'Britain's answer to Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, etc' back in the early 70s, but actually manage to sound unique, at least to my ears. This tune, "Dockland" is from their first album, and is a romantic description of the Docklands area of London. What I find interesting is that now, 40 years later, the area looks completely different, so the song becomes almost a historical record of what that part of London was like rather than simply a wistful homage. Also, JW Hodkinson has one of the most distinctive voices I think I've ever heard. It's a great album, but for me this is the standout track. Annoyingly, the marvellous youtube doesn't feature a version of it, so you'll just have to make do with the eight and a half minutes of "What Did I Say About The Box, Jack?" instead, from the same album. ("Dockland" is on the playlist at the end.)

A few years ago, I fell completely in love with Laura Nyro, a legitimate genius. She wrote hit songs for acts of the day during the 60s even though she was barely out of her teens, and then embarked on a wonderful solo career. 'Eli and the Thirteenth Confession' is about as perfect an album as one could hope to hear, recorded when she was just 22, in 1968. It's simply a masterpiece, and this song "Timer" is about as good as a song could get in my opinion. The way she uses recording techniques like double-tracking (often quad-tracking!), which were fairly new at the time, with such ease and dexterity is astounding. One has to listen maybe four or five times just to unpick what is actually going on. There always remains a magical sense about her music and a lack of explanation; her work demands the listener pay attention and delivers reward upon reward if they do. This is a live version, from the Fillmore East in 1970.

The Pointer Sisters are obviously best known for their cheesy pop disco tracks of the 80s, but back in the early 70s they were a group that knew no bounds musically. Their second album, 'That's A Plenty' features more styles across its 9 tracks than most record stores. On "Fairytale" they tackle country music with such conviction and success that it's easy to forget this is four black girls from Oakland nailing this tale of regret and heartbreak, not Tammy Wynette! The video is a live version of the song, recorded for a TV performance in the mid 70s. Another distinction this song achieved was being covered by Elvis in his last few years performing; quite an accolade.

Todd Rundgen's work is singular and mostly wonderful as far as I can make out, but this is one album that often gets overlooked. Most people are aware of Something/Anything or his other 70s output, but this ridiculously experimental record from the mid 80s is a masterpiece in its own right. 'A Capella' sees Todd in the studio with nothing more than his voice and a Roland Emulator (brand new at the time). For most of the record he uses the emulator to manufacture the sound of instruments using his voice as a starting point, with bizarre and amazing results. However, for "Honest Work" he simplifies it and is true to the album's title. This is three Todds singing together in his convincing take on a folk ballad. It speaks for itself.

Rounding off this first blog with of Montreal's "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal", a massive song, totalling over 11 minutes, which is too demented and complicated to even try to dissect. Just flip it on and sink in... The video shows a version of the song, which given its length and dark subject matter might be left to later on in a show.. no, no, they decide to open with it! Mega...

Well, thanks for paying attention. Hope you enjoyed the music and vids..
The link to the entire playlist on Spotify is :

(These are mostly the album versions of these tracks rather than the live versions in the videos..)

Until next time, byeeeee!! xx