So what have I been listening to during the last week of February? In between working my way through a pile of promo CDs, and reviewing albums from Suede, John Grant and Steve Mason, I’ve managed to find some time to write about the James boxset ‘The Gathering Sound’. I’ve been meaning to talk about it for a while now.
It took quite a long time for this boxset to see the light of day, after a series of delays and postponed release dates caused by a technical problem. A technical problem with a ‘J’ shaped USB stick containing all ten studio albums, that was to be one of the main attractions of this package. Well here’s an idea… How about putting the albums on CD instead? A crazy concept I know, but surely better visually and physically as well as more reliable. Will people get their money back if the USB stick stops working in a few years time? I don’t think so.
Boxsets are likely to be purchased by collectors who treasure proper physical product, not the sort of people that like to reduce the music to a load of mp3s on a USB stick. For the collector, this boxset offers a not so generous three CDs, and a 7″ vinyl containing four demos. Fine if it was priced around 40-50 pounds or so, but over £100? Apart from record collectors, the only other people likely to splash out on ‘The Gathering Sound’ are devoted James fans, people that are already going to own all the albums plus the two mini-LPs. So what are they going to be paying over £100 for? Two CDs of rarities and live tracks, a 7″ single, a DVD of a show filmed 22 years ago, a “scrapbook”, photos, some badges and some useless replica backstage passes. Hardly value for money.
When Blur released their career spanning boxset ’21’, around £100 would get you all seven studio albums remastered on CD, each one with a companion disc of B sides and extra tracks. Along with those were no less than four CDs of rare demos and unreleased songs, an excellent book of photos and memories, three DVDs and a 7″ single. Money well spent, as well as a satisfyingly exhaustive trawl through the archives. A package like that puts this James boxset to shame in terms of value. The gathering sound? They certainly should have gathered more sound to make this worth its hefty price tag. As well as being a rip-off, the James boxset is also a failed opportunity to tell this band’s complete story. Especially since this is James, a band who were at their peak during the very height of multi-format singles, a time when a lot of b sides were released. Some of them were bad, some of them were brilliant accompaniments to the albums, but they all tell an alternative version of the James story that was crying out to be collected together for the first time.
They could easily have just released the two cds of rarities and live tracks as a double-disc collection on its own, but instead they chose to use it as a selling point for an overpriced box set. It’s a shame that people have to fork out so much dough to get these tracks, because some of them are brilliant, like the vibrant live rendition of ‘Hymn From A Village’ and ‘Hang On’, a song so awesome that any version of it is likely to sound good. Meanwhile ‘Sit Down’ is beautifully recast as an acoustic communal hymn, and the brilliance of ‘Sound’ is a prime example of why they are still so well loved after all these years. The rarities disc contains a few treasures such as the wonderful ‘Weather Change’, the distinguished oddness of ‘Jam 2’, and the resonating calm of ‘It’s A Fine Line’. Other highlights include the autobiographical reflection of ‘Line In The Sand’, the bright ‘Whiplash’ outtake ‘I Thought You Were’ and the powerful sigh of ‘Hedex’. Another curiosity is the frantic folk instrumentation and jazz rhythms of long-deleted EP track ‘Mosquito’. But some of these recordings are rarities for a reason: because they’re not good enough to stand alongside the top quality stuff. The ‘Come Home’ DVD is probably the best part of this package, a document of a classic 1990 homecoming gig in Manchester, which sees the band riding on a crest of newfound success. There’s no overdubs or tweaking, and the group’s performance is spirited and strong.
If you don’t own any James albums, I’d advise to you buy their complete studio LP collection on CD or vinyl instead. And if you don’t own their immaculate ‘Best Of’ album, then go and correct that problem immediately. But ‘The Gathering Sound’ is an overpriced release that makes me want to raise a point about boxsets in general. If you’re going to charge over £100 for a boxset that “celebrates the band’s career”, then make sure you celebrate that career properly. All of it.
I Am Kloot played an absolutely spellbinding gig in Bristol last week, on a candlelit stage situated inside an old church. Despite a sold-out crowd, it was an intimate affair for all concerned, and there seemed to be absolutely no barrier between band and audience. Frontman John Bramwell engaged the crowd with his relaxed banter in between songs, calmy delivered wit that no one could fail to be amused by. The lyrics and the way in which they’re delivered seemed to connect with everyone in a resounding way, from the boozy tales of ‘The Brink’ to the hope and contrasting introspect of a beautifully soulful ‘Some Better Day’. The two-song acoustic section was absolutely bewitching, capturing and completely hushing the audience. While everyone was watching and listening silently in wonder, it was so quiet in there, you could even hear the bar staff bottling up from the back of the venue.After the gig a lot of people stayed at the venue, and it wasn’t long before the group reappear to say hello to all the fans, meeting everyone personally and signing countless autographs. A refreshingly humble bunch of guys who are surely on their way to becoming national treasures. Go HERE to read my full review of the gig, and go HERE to see photos and videos.
It’s always good to hear new stuff from post-rock legends Mogwai, and their latest release is the soundtrack they recorded for the French TV series ‘Les Revenants’. Apparently its plot concerns the rise of the undead, yet it is not a blood and gore packed zombie show by the sounds of it.
Mogwai deliver a score that’s not supposed to evoke full on terror, more a well executed demonstration of suspense and restraint. Their bleak atmospherics have always had a filmic quality to them, and listening to these pieces prompt your imagination to attempt a mental picture of the scenes they accompany. But despite being created as a background score, it’s a strong enough collection of tracks that works on its own as an album. Perhaps it’s more low key than past efforts, and the fiercer moments are less explosive, but the moods have more space to build in the absence of brutal guitars. The opening ‘Hungry Face’ broods in desolation and the gentle glint of a music box melody, while ‘The Huts’ is a subtly doom-laden piano piece. The moody growl of ‘This Messiah Needs Watching’ enigmatically unfolds into another highlight, while the gorgeous ‘Relative Hysteria’ recalls 1999’s ‘Stanley Kubrick’.
And it’s not all doom and darkness either, ‘Special N’ glides along blissfully, while the warm gospel-tinged ballad ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven’ is almost too conventional to be a Mogwai song, in fact it sounds more like Spiritualized doing Neil Young. But the reason it doesn’t sound like Mogwai is because it’s a cover of an old 1920’s gospel song by Washington Phillips. It’s also heralds the first appearance of any vocals on the record, and comes at a point where such a change makes ‘Les Revenants’ an even more interesting piece of work. ‘Portugal’ and the grinding closer ‘Wizard Motor’ provide heavy atmosphere without relying on sheer volume, while ‘Modern’ replaces the guitars and drums with synth chords and electronic percussion, yet it doesn’t feel like anything’s missing. It takes a few listens to reveal its true brilliance, but ‘Les Revenants’ is another fascinating addition to the Mogwai catalogue. I’ll give it a 4 out of 5. Listen to it HERE.
Only a week or so to go until we can hear David Bowie‘s first new album in a decade. And over the last few days we’ve been treated to another track from it. ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ has a harder edge to it, yet it evokes a subtle elegance. It revisits the mysterious vibe of ‘China Girl’, but carries a more angsty vocal delivery, an inspired message and becomes blessed by some absolutely wonderful strings. Here, Bowie is aware of his mortality as well as his immortality, as he casts his view on the eternal nature of his fame: “The stars are never sleeping, the dead ones and the living…”, while the excellent short film that accompanies the single stars the great man himself, actress Tilda Swinton, a ‘Station To Station’-era Bowie doppelganger, and others. Watch it HERE.
Today (March 1st) marks the first day of Bowie Month on God Is In The TV, which will feature reviews, features, opinions, memories and a lot more. As a major Bowie fan, of course I will be doing my bit, so expect an article on his early days, a mixtape featuring my personal selection of essential tracks from over the years, and a piece about what Bowie means to me. As well as my contributions, our other writers are also busy paying tribute to this utter god, and so are a range of bands and artists who are supplying the tracks for ‘Ashes To Ashes’, an exclusive tribute album of Bowie covers. More news on that compilation will be coming soon, in the meantime go HERE to begin enjoying Bowie Month on GIITTV.
Palma Violets are a band that certain sections of the music press have championed as the next big thing. After catching some of their set at the NME Awards Tour last week, I was also given the task of reviewing their debut album ‘180’. Despite building their reputation on raucous live shows, it’s the emotional and introspective high points of ‘All The Garden Birds’ and ‘Three Stars’ that stand out the most. These, and two or three other tracks show real promise, but at times you can tell that this is a band who only formed in 2011. The highlights provide youthful rock and roll thrills but that sort of quality can only be maintained by developing their ideas a bit more, something they haven’t really been given time to do. Don’t believe the hype just yet, but do make sure you give the highlights a listen. Read my full rated album review HERE, where I mark the album 3 out of 5.
Johnny Marr is a man known for creating some amazing music, but in every case there was always at least one other collaborator involved, so his first solo album ‘The Messenger’ comes as something of a test for the six-string legend. Most of the time he manages very well, the bright excitement of northern soul flavoured opener ‘Right Thing Right’ hitting all the right notes with plenty of Marr’s fascinating guitar style stamped all over it. The addictive title track locks into a smart groove, ‘Upstarts’ rings with a rousing energy, and ‘Lockdown’ is a powerful Smiths-echoing earworm. Then there’s the beautifully introspective ‘New Town Velocity’, unmistakeably Marr and quite simply one of the best songs he’s ever been involved in.
But at times it feels the magic doesn’t always happen as often when he doesn’t have a partner to add that something else that makes it all fall into place easier. Having said that, at times it sounds like he’s been trying to form a writing partnership with himself, putting himself in the role of Morrissey, Bernard Sumner, or one of The Cribs. Maybe this explains why a good portion of this album sounds like it would have been perfectly suited to Sumner’s voice in particular. But lyrically judging him against Morrissey is always going to be an unfair comparison. There’s no huge surprises and it sounds exactly like you’d expect a Johnny Marr record to. It’s one of those albums where the highlights are so good that they make the not so strong material sound more pedestrian in contrast. I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5, half a star higher than the mark that Adrian Berry gave it in the review he wrote for GIITTV a few weeks ago. Read that HERE and listen to ‘The Messenger’ HERE.
I always try to keep up to date with what everyone else at GIITTV is listening to and recommending. ‘The Tickling My Fancy Revue’ is a monthly round-up of extraordinary and eclectic tracks picked by Dominic Valvona, a writer whose tastes range from African jazz to german avant-garde. Last month’s edition (which is HERE) featured an outfit by the name of Jupiter Lion. They’re a three piece from the Spanish city of Valencia, and have been around for little more than a year or so. Yet every sound clicks together wonderfully, and their music is quite fascinating indeed. After hearing the cosmic beauty of ‘The Death Of Dallas’, I investigated more of their music and have recently been getting my ears around their self titled debut mini album.
Apart from a few vocodered murmurs on the opening ‘Silver Constellations’, there are no vocals, just the pulse of rhythm, the subtle progression of arrangements and the development of atmosphere. It’s the sort of thing people would label ‘krautrock’, with elongated freak-outs, enticingly hypnotic driving rhythms and delicious helpings of analogue synth. It taps into the explorative brilliance of Neu! and Can, but it gazes in to the future as much as it reprises magic chapters of the past. I’ll be talking more about this group in the future, in the meantime check them out for yourselves and let them open up your minds. The mini-album can be heard in full HERE.
As well as lots of unreleased Noel Gallagher songs leaking onto the internet recently, some very old Oasis demos have also surfaced. If you’ve heard any of the pre-‘Definitely Maybe’ demos, then you can instantly tell that these date from around that time, the period where they spent their days locked away in The Boardwalk preparing to take the world by storm. So for the first time we can now hear an early version of ‘Setting Sun’, a track that became a number one single when Noel recorded it with The Chemical Brothers. But this version has a thin Stone Roses-esque backdrop that was typical of the early 90’s, and Liam sneering the lines, which would have been amazing a few years later when he had truly developed that voice of his. It’s not a patch on the familiar version, but certainly an interesting listen if you’re an Oasis fan. It can be heard HERE.
The Dirty Rivers are a four piece band from Liverpool signed to the Deltasonic label. I’ve been aware of them for some time after hearing some of their early demos, and now they release their debut single. ‘Black Heart Filth’ brings forward a tumbling yearning verse with a Smiths-esque jangle and the kind of hooks that Kasabian would be proud of, before launching into a heavy burst of ‘Second Coming’-like riff-a-rama. It is futuristic and groundbreaking? It’s not, and they don’t care. Is it “lad rock”? It probably is, and again, they don’t care. They’re giving it away as a free download HERE.
Go HERE to listen to The RW/FF Compilation Volume 2, a mixtape that features the music mentioned in editions 4 and 5 of this column, including Atoms for Peace, Black Reindeer, Cymbient, Depeche Mode, East India Youth, Eels, Foals, Karl Bartos, Local Natives, My Bloody Valentine, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Ocean Colour Scene, Pulp, Suede, The Staves, Sukh and more. Music from this week and last week’s column will be featured in the new RW/FF Compilation Volume 3, which will be coming soon. Join me next Friday for more incredible new sounds. Now it’s time for me to continue the epic journey through my musical past…
In previous editions of this column I’ve mentioned the influence that my Dad’s friend John Hanson had on my musical tastes in the mid 90’s. He had brought Blur to my attention, and I had grown fond of their first two albums. At the time they had started moving on to big things. They’d scored a hit with ‘Girls And Boys’ and at some point in 1994 I heard the songs from ‘Parklife’ for the first time. Was this the best thing I had ever heard? I recall thinking so back then.
The resigned, yet uplifting sigh of ‘Badhead’, the chaos of ‘Bank Holiday’ and the English bandstand instrumental oddity ‘The Debt Collector’. It all made perfect sense to me. ‘To The End’ was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard, and probably still is to this day. Then the catchy “ooh ooh ooooh ooh”‘s and “la la la la la”‘s of ‘Tracey Jacks’ and ‘Magic America’. The characters and observations just seemed so sharp, and this was well and truly like nothing I’d ever heard before. And what a fantastic variety of songs too, ranging from the catchy and fun to the sad and introspective. Quite simply one of the best albums ever made. John kindly recorded a taped copy of ‘Parklife’ for me, which quickly became my most prized addition to my collection, which was by this point entirely different from the one that I owned a year before it.
Another classic album I discovered that year was Pink Floyd‘s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, released 22 years earlier in 1972 and sounding way ahead of its time. I’m quite sure 1994 was also the year that I bought a cassette copy of ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’. It was the first time I’d heard a record and KNOWN that this really was as good as it gets. It awoke in me an even bigger enthusiasm for music, and from then on I can safely say that any other interests I had as a kid were completely neglected in favour of my new favourite thing, which would remain exactly that ever since.
Not only did I recognise Bowie as a genius, but I was convinced that he had some sort of magical superhuman ability to create magic through music. I became so fascinated with him that I even sat down to watch the whole series of ‘The Buddha Of Suburbia’ just to hear Bowie’s soundtrack. I didn’t have a clue what was going on, I just waited patiently to catch the occasional sound of my idol.
My Dad’s music was beginning to have an effect on me too. Well some of it anyway. I listened to his Gary Glitter tape a lot at one point, something which i’m not very proud to admit, for obvious reasons. Coincidentally, Glitter’s first ever gig took place at the Assembly Hall in my small hometown of Melksham, and even more bizarrely, my Dad once worked as a part of a team of builders who did some work on the glam rocking nonce’s roof.
But more importantly my Dad had Elvis records, and a copy of the ‘Presley’ double cassette compilation with the red cover. My Dad was the manager of the Bentleys club in Corsham, and decided to put on a 50’s rock n roll theme night. This led to me dressing as Elvis for the occasion, after studying his look for some time and deciding that if Elvis could attract screaming hordes of girls with that style, then maybe I should try and carve myself in his image. So after fashioning myself a greasy quiff for the night, I decided to keep it like that. And so it was for a while in fact. Even during the following Britpop years. For some reason I didn’t like the way I looked with a fringe.
During the summer of 1994, me and my brother would either stay at the flat my Dad occupied at the club and watch telly, occasionally walking up into the bar to pester him for drinks and crisps, or go to the Olympiad Kid’s Club. The Olympiad was a sports centre in Chippenham, the town where rock and roll legend Eddie Cochran was killed in a car crash. My Mum worked at the college just down the road from The Olympiad, where parents could drop their kids off to spend the day with other kids and a team of activity co-ordinators, who attempted to be as wacky and fun as possible.
As well as arts and crafts, films, and swimming in the afternoon, there’d be a roller disco too. I was appalling at skating, but spent all the time sat on the bench in front of the decks with a few others who couldn’t skate either. I would also spend a lot of time telling whoever was acting as DJ what music they should be playing, and protesting when they put on things that I didn’t like. Some things don’t change do they? But a lot of other things have, including the fact that I’m now closer to the age of 30 than I am to 10. I’d give anything to go back to the mid 90’s, those carefree days when exciting things were happening, but all I seemed to want to do is be a grown up so I was allowed to do all the things my Mum and Dad could do. In 2013 I AM now a grown up, but more than anything how I wish I could go back to 94 and relive it all again.
More next time.