Lost In The Supermarket

In layman's terms: A blog about music, by Luke Slater and James Welbourn.

6 December 2010

Review of the Year.....or is it?

Hello all

Sorry for the delay of approximately two years since the last blog post. Since then, I have relocated to London, gained several more grey hairs, and generally spent most of my time waiting for my next paycheck. Anyway, one day whilst I was crying into my cup of tea, I decided it would be a good idea to resurrect my music blog, as it is the one place that I can write down my somewhat laughable view on records, and the recording industry in general (such as my view that relatively few rock bands can be good if they have a female lead singer. I always try and think of some, but all I come up with are the Slits and Elastica).

Fortunately, I have decided to start writing again at the end of the year, when all the majors are coming up with their 'reviews of the year'. Sadly, I haven't listened to enough new music this year to compile a good enough list. For example, how much of a simpleton would I look if I wrote the following list:

"Er, yeah, here are my records of the year. The new Janelle Monae one, definitely the Gorillaz, that Funkadelic reissue I bought in HMV, and, erm......something by the Beatles?"

Exactly. I would have sounded more pointless than a Harry Redknapp press conference. However, its not as if I haven't bought any music this year - in fact its quite the opposite. I've been buying up whatever is cheap, filled in some of the gaps in my collection, and generally arrived at a conclusion that I came to a few years ago. One of the very few bands I couldn't live without, is from Prestwich, Greater Manchester, and has had one of the highest band turnovers in history. Still not got it yet? Ex members include DJ Marc Riley, and Brix Smith. Lead singer is....oh fuck it, its the Fall.

I revisited my Fall collection this year, as a result of reading both 'Renegade' by Mark E. Smith, and also Fallen, written by Guardian journalist Dave Simpson. Whilst reading the books, you realise that the Fall are a band that you really have to listen to in isolation. Plus, they are such a prolific band, there really is something for everyone. If the gritty northern diatribe of Live at the Witch Trials (1979), and Grotesque (1980) isn't for you, then try some of the later works such as the Real New Fall LP (2003), and Fall Heads Roll (2005), which retain the Fall's basic rock roots, whilst being more accessible. This year, they released Your Future Our Clutter, which sees a return to form after the more forgetful recent efforts, such as Reformation TLC.

So there you have it. Instead of giving you my playlist of the year, I've recommended a band that have been on the go for over 30 years instead of recommending a wide array of new and exciting bands. I may as well go the whole hog and recommend old Morecambe and Wise reruns, and Only Fools and Horses as Christmas TV that you should be watching. I will leave you with my weekly playlist though.....

TTC - Travailler (Orgasmic Remix)
Arcade Funk - Tilt
Janelle Monae - Wondaland
Bent - Beautiful Otherness
Beta Band - Simple
The Fall - Behind the Counter
Nick Cave - The Curse of Millhaven

James Welbourn

16 July 2008

Laymar: In Strange Lines And Distances

Laymar: In Strange Lines And Distances, released 14/06/2008 on TV Records

Manchester post-rock trio Laymar’s debut full-length, In Strange Lines and Distances, is not quite apocalyptic; it’s simply not raucous and chaotic enough to be labelled as a soundtrack to armageddon. Instead, it lies somewhere between the chaos of the planet’s destruction and the eternal nothingness that follows. A soundtrack to a journey down the River Styx is essentially what it is; a 46-minute hellish boat ride with an ending that simply has to be delayed, lest death become us before reaching Hades.

Seven tracks comprise In Strange Lines…, though it definitely has the feeling of an extended single track, so well does it melt together as each chapter of complex instrumental texture weaves its way elaborately and seamlessly into the next. It is difficult to isolate any tracks because of this; they must to be heard in context, and digested in one sitting to appreciate the nuances and subtleties. Each track renders a landscape of despair through near-perfectly placed electronic bleep-and-click beats which are reminiscent of a less-frenzied 65daysofstatic, combined with distant-sounding and ethereal guitars, and ambient, as well as lurching, basslines.

The album, at times, bears an atmospheric resemblance to iLiKETRAiNS, albeit minus the earnestly foreboding vocals, though perhaps that little bit more sinister for it. Enough variation in tone, texture, and disposition is offered by Laymar to keep ears pricked, and this is done without straying from the overarching themes of isolation and desolation which so permeate In Strange Lines…; from the nine-minute opus that is ‘Juvenile Whole Life’ in which the despair ratchets up slowly and incrementally, to the solemnly serene ‘Rec #3’, where the hushed bawls of an infant in are somehow both uncomforting yet eternally hopeful. The climax, ‘Swords’, is 19 minutes of piano-driven crescendo which morphs from a gentle, swaying passage into the unashamedly brutal, but sadly too brief, chunk of the record. Somehow, though, it’s not brutal enough, and its duration is decidedly too short.

Whilst In Strange Lines… triumphs in consistency, it fails in meandering a little too placidly for a little too long, failing to kick on from the initial promise of opener ‘Rec #4’, and with a texture which is, in parts, slightly watery. If there is any criticism aside from the death metal-like album art, it’s that the ferrymen through the Styx, Laymar, are guilty of almost perfectly creating tension through an array of reverb soaked guitars and an atmosphere so ripe for the fatal blow it’s unsettling, but just, narrowly failing to deliver it. That apart, In Strange Lines and Distances succeeds in leaving a feeling of loneliness, gloom and hopelessness for hours after and is a mightily promising debut.


[Taken from Drowned in Sound]

9 July 2008

The Dawn Chorus: The Big Adventure

The Dawn Chorus: The Big Adventure, released 14/04/2008 on Jelly Maid Music

It’s not that this album is boring. Well, actually, it is, but not massively. But kind of. Not completely, but in parts, and too many parts. Middling is a word which sums up the majority of Hampshire country-tinged outfit The Dawn ChorusThe Big Adventure; somewhat of a misnomer for an album which turns out to be more akin to a leisurely Sunday drive in the Mondeo estate to a rural craft fair on some country estate than any grandiose journey, as advertised.

The tracks are, thankfully, more interesting and fulfilling than their titles would suggest. ‘Come On Home’, ‘I Can Be Anything’ and ‘The Hope Will Kill Us’ all hint heavily towards a landscape of blandness and grey upon grey for miles around. The reality, however, shows only a little more of the spectrum than the myriad shades of grey which are daubed in The Dawn Chorus’ titling.

The Big Adventure Pt 1’ opens the album reminiscently of Billy Bragg on Mermaid Avenue, but lacking the eternally endearing estuary English enunciation. It’s amazing that words appearing to be uttered so earnestly can produce such a lack of feeling. ‘The Big Adventure Pt 2’ surprisingly follows straight after part the first, and continues where part the first left off in terms of banality and false advertising as it gets stuck in heavy traffic, somewhere nondescript, en route to The Big Adventure. Things finally do get moving though, on ‘The Hope Will Kill Us’: a more raucous jaunt which almost induces a foot tap, and features one of those anthemic sing-along choruses that would, possibly, beg audience participation if played live.

Thankfully, The Big Adventure is somewhat of a grower; both in terms of repeated listens and also the fact that it every track is an improvement on the previous, but it’s just not enough. ‘Summer of 99’ saunters steadily into something more substantial than anything it succeeds, whilst ‘Fractured City’ is a jolly-good jovial country-rock number with shades of Wilco present, but it’s all too little, too late, to create any optimism in what the rest of The Big Adventure has to offer.

The Big Adventure is not a bad album; in fact it’s perfectly listenable and has its bright points, though they are far too few and far between. It has some nice touches: sleekly multi-tracked vocals, a few delicate strings here and there, and a bit of brass which manages to liven up proceedings a tad. But these are all just too superficial. Regrettably, the vast majority of The Big Adventure is forgettable far too soon, akin to a rain-soaked bank holiday family day-trip to the coast and, despite some promise in certain cuts, it doesn’t actually garner any feeling that isn’t sheer ambivalence. This is an adventure certainly not worth booking holiday for, and a bit of a washout.


[Taken from Drowned in Sound]

5 July 2008

DiScover: An interview with Jacob Golden...

DiScover: Jacob Golden

Sacramento-born singer-songwriter Jacob Golden released his debut album Hallelujah World way back in 2002, but turned his back on music soon afterwards. It took a move to Portland, Oregon and the taking up of a full time job to convince him to return to music; the result is Revenge Songs, a record tinged with hope, sadness and Golden’s fragile words, released in October last year.

Since then he’s had his music feature on The O.C. and has appeared alongside Liza Minnelli and Sheryl Crow on Later…with Jools Holland. Not bad, really, for an artist whose ‘comeback’ album was recorded partly in a car park.

Revenge Songs is an obviously stark album title. Are the songs largely influenced by personal experience?

Yes. As a writer I'm of the school of writing about what you know. Music for me has always been about making sense of the world. There's been a lot of times in life where songs and music have been the thing that’s kept me going whether it was listening to Radiohead, early R.E.M., Daniel Johnston and the great thing about songwriting is it allows me to find a bit of personal catharsis. I don't sit down and say I'm going to write about this relationship per se; it's more like I live my life and these words and melodies bubble up from my unconscious like little snapshots of my experiences, and then I sort of string them together in a way that rings true to my ears.

Video: On A Saturday

After releasing Hallelujah World in 2002 you moved and started a full time job in Portland. When was the point where you realised you had to return to music?

I moved to Portland and was nursing a broken heart for quite a while. I had always felt a pretty full-on calling to make music, and to travel, and the things that I had dreamed about as a boy. At that point, after not really getting a reaction from my first album, I was very sad and I needed to completely clear my head of the whole thing. When I lived in Portland, no one knew me as a singer or knew anything of my past. I had a ‘normal’ job and I didn't sing or write songs for a year. At that point I started to really get into artists like Four Tet, Caribou, Aphex Twin, and Susumu Yokota and was excited about the idea of expressing emotions in music without words. I set up a studio in the basement where I lived, rented an old piano and slowly began to write again. After about a year I was ready to start travelling again and rather then spend months agonising over little details in the studio I did the opposite and started to take a much more documentary approach to recording and writing. I started to play little living room shows and moved around the States quite a bit. After a while I realised I had a collection of songs that I felt good about putting out there.

You’ve often eschewed recording in studios and opted for more ambient and unconventional settings, such as subterranean car parks and concrete art galleries. What do these places offer that a standard studio can’t?
I'm always on the hunt for interesting spaces. I like rooms that have a certain character, and when you put up a microphone there is an emotional resonance to the space. I’ve recorded in proper studios and sometimes that can be great because it's such a controlled environment – whatever you put into it is what you get back. It can be a real challenge recording outside, as the whole world around becomes part of the sound; having a roommate come home in the middle of a take or being chased off by a security guard while trying to record in a car park can be a tad frustrating, but sometimes you end up capturing something spontaneous and unpredictable.

Video: Out Come The Wolves

Are there any definite influences on the album? For me there’s a likeness, in parts, with Elliott Smith.
I have immense respect for Elliott Smith. I'm sure like a lot of songwriters he's weaved his way into my art. On this album I was really infatuated with ‘60s and ‘70s production; the warmth and the space in those records are very inspiring to me. I was listening to artists like Them, Big Star, America, The Zombies, and newer stuff like Songs of Green Pheasant and Joanna Newsom, albums that have an emotional tone to the record. I was also recording and producing The Battle of Land and Sea's record at that time, and that sort of timeless quality that's unconcerned with "will this work on the radio?" was a great mood to swim around in.

You played South By Southwest for the first time earlier this year, how was that? Did you manage to catch many shows when not performing?
To be honest I felt SXSW as whole to be quite overwhelming and overblown. There is a band playing in every little corner, most trying to be louder and cooler then the next, and there seems to be a very ugly quality to that whole "please sign me!" sort of thing. I did get out to The Black Keys and they were really great. Saw a bit of Kimya Dawson, but couldn't really hear her over the noise. My favourite experience was playing a show with M. Ward and Jim James at a church. It was pretty much the perfect environment for me. Allowing me to get very dynamic, and it really attracted a very ‘listening’ audience, which is best for me. I really enjoyed M. Ward’s set too. He really brings a great deal of integrity to his music and apparently couldn’t really give a fuck about the commercial side of things.

Was performing on Later… with artists like Liza Minnelli weird? Had you ever seen any Later… in the States at all?
Playing on Later… was a real honour and a completely surreal experience. I've watched Later… on my visits to the UK and have seen some fantastic performances on the show over the years. There really is nothing like it in the States. Our TV is so much more commercially minded that you would never have Radiohead and Mary J Blige on the same show. I think it's wonderful to mix it up like that. The show I was on was no exception. Playing next to Hot Chip, Liza Minnelli and Sheryl Crow... It was really like a cool and fucked-up dream. God bless the BBC!

You’ve played a few shows in the UK this year, and you sing “I want to sit and watch the girls in Soho Square, I fell in love so many times just sitting there” on ‘On A Saturday’. Is there a place in the UK which holds a place in your heart?
I still enjoy the rush of London, but as I've travelled more around the country I’ve learned to really appreciate the little out-of-the-way towns and country roads that still have that ‘Old English’ quality, before the shopping malls and chain restaurants that seem to be a nasty import from my country. The Lake District and anywhere you can get a pint of real local ale is good for me.

You sing “‘If I Had A Hammer’ was my mother’s favourite song” on ‘Pretend’. Did your parents influence your musical upbringing at all?
I remember my mum used to play The Mamas and The Papas records a lot at home. There was a lot of great old vinyl in the house and I distinctly remember the smell of pot smoke in the air and people strumming guitars. ‘If I Had A Hammer’ was one of the three songs she requested to be played at her funeral. She was a great woman and is a huge influence on why I make music and why I aim to do something a little bit less than typical with my life.

[Taken from Drowned In Sound]

Darren Hayman and Jack Hayter play Hefner songs @ The 100 Club, London

Darren Hayman/Jack Hayter @ 100 Club, London, June 14th

Darren Hayman playing a set comprised entirely of Hefner songs is a big deal, not just to myself, but to the few hundred others who descend upon a bustling 100 Club tonight. It presents a decidedly rare opportunity to see Hayman doing what he does best, the songs of Hefner; the self depreciating songs about masturbation, failed propositions to blind girls, and various ‘hymns’ dedicated to alcohol, and coffee, amongst other things. Okay, so there’s been various solo releases and other projects since Hefner’s de-facto split, such as the The French, and most recently the bluegrass quartet, Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee; but, Hefner are, well, Hefner… and to most fans, Hayman simply is Hefner; the heartbroken voice and lyrical lynchpin behind ‘Britain’s Largest Small Band 1996-2002’. Chuck in Jack Hayter for good measure and you’re halfway to the real thing.

The expectation and eagerness has been mounting to a level that is almost as unhealthy as some of Hayman’s lyrical content, so much so that even the mere sight of this indie geek god in relatively close proximity to the stage creates a pronounced rise in the gleeful anticipation. Unfortunately for those, like myself, who view Hayman as eternally bespectacled, the temperature inside means that this is a strictly ‘glasses off’ show. Illusions: not quite shattered.

Things open with a trio of Hefner’s more subdued tracks comprising just Hayman on guitar and vocals, with Hayter working the lap steel guitar; a combination which pulls upon many nostalgic heartstrings present tonight, as if Hayman’s voice on its own wasn’t enough. As soon as Hayman utters the lamentful opening lines “Don’t start me on the rum…” from ‘The Hymn For The Alcohol’, almost nobody -certainly nobody who actually knows the lyrics - can resist, at the very least understatedly, singing along. The on-stage banter is predictably jovial with Hayman and Hayter, who “love Hefner, love playing Hefner songs together, but are not Hefner”, understandably happy to be playing their most well-known material to such a favourable crowd.

The two former Hefner men are soon joined by two-thirds of The Wave Pictures, Franic and Jonny, who take up residence on the rhythm section as the tone turns buoyant. Hayman, as ever, awkwardly wields his guitar to the bouncy, bass-driven ‘The Hymn For The Cigarettes’ and the disgustingly frank ‘Hello Kitten’; seeing, and hearing, hordes of people, male and female, sing along to “I’m gonna make myself go blind tonight” is a surreal, but at all times delightful, experience. With The Fidelity Wars’ recent extended and expanded re-release, it is no surprise to hear so much of it on show, as over half of it is tonight.

To list many more highlights in any kind of detail would border on excess, as nearly every song is a gem, but ‘The Sad Witch’ sees Hayman’s voice pushed to its limit, and things are finally, after a slew of sing-alongs, rounded off with ‘A Hymn For The Postal Service’, where Hayman’s remorseful and painfully fragile voice carries as much weight as it ever has. The only negative of the whole performance: Hayman sporting a The French t-shirt. Bad form indeed, but it’s a minor offence which I’m sure most will overlook tonight.


[Taken from Drowned in Sound]