The 52nd edition of the regular RW/FF round-up features the astonishing new album from ex-Babybird man Stephen Jones, Morrissey‘s inconsistent ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’, and the third LP from The Cambodian Space Project, plus fresh selections from Richard Fearless, Gang Of Youths, Night Sports, Interpol, Lee Coombs And Kostas G, Echaskech, and False-Heads. As well as all that, the Eels live, my thoughts on La Roux‘s misguided comments about “underground music”, a special Summer edition of The RW/FF Compilation and a load of recent RW/FF Radio shows for you to catch up with… There is also a chance to vote for the winner of RW/FF’s new Track Of The Month. Plus the Rewind part of the round-up features hit singles from 1996 by Lush, Baby D, Dubstar, The Chemical Brothers and more…
The first full-length album to bear ex Babybird cult hero Stephen Jones‘ own name since 2003’s ‘Almost Cured Of Sadness’ finds the Sheffield-based musical genius delivering a breathtaking set of strange, beautiful and transcendental pieces.
As well as recording under the familiar Babybird moniker, Jones has also made music as Death Of The Neighbourhood, The Great Sadness, Trucker and Black Reindeer, each project offering something a little different. As well as releasing at least 13 albums under the latter alias over the last couple of years, the bafflingly underrated songwriter and musician has long been promising a new project that “will replace” Babybird, but this is not it. It’s nothing like ‘Almost Cured Of Sadness‘ either. Instead, it’s something beautifully unique that Jones recorded at home and released via his BandCamp page. Don’t be fooled by the low key nature of the release, this record is a superb piece of work, and one of Jones’ finest. There is no press release accompanying ‘Ambition Expired’, just a doodle and some jotted words that describe this work as “an album with mind altering musical substance” that “involves no effort from the listener” since “ears will throw aside the mind for one simple hour”. On BandCamp, a short blurb lists it as “a trip, not an album”.
It’s not as moody and cinematic as Black Reindeer, nor is it anything like the twisted pop songs of Babybird, what ‘Ambition Expired’ offers is an hour of music to lose yourself in. Before listening, you must free yourself of all distractions. Relax. Put on a pair of headphones. Press play and don’t do anything else for the next 60 minutes.
The magnificent opener ‘Manchester I’m Sorry’ exudes a blissful radiance, close to an ambient shoegaze sound where captivating guitars reverberate around the glowing vocal as slowed lo-fi drums crash underneath the dawning euphoria. An invitation to “leave the church of Atheism and walk out into the light” is offered on the beautifully sparse ‘If You Think I Believe In Jesus’, a country-flavoured hymn where a piercing vocal soars to spine tingling effect, before the eerie ‘Days That Never End’ demonstrates tricks that Jones has perfected with his run of Black Reindeer albums. Crafted around unsettling hip hop beats, cinematic electronics and a heavy mood that builds with intensity throughout, it’s almost like Death In Vegas remixing Mogwai. Except it’s not of course, because Jones’ music really isn’t like anything else.
On an album where the vocals are used as more of an instrumental element, ‘A Beautiful War’ provides the closest thing to a traditional verse-chorus-verse song, a blindingly pretty moment where fluttering electronics combine with blossoming sounds of nature. It’s haunting, charming and uplifting all at the same time. It also highlights his ability to fashion odd, indistinguishable noises into strangely beautiful musical elements. The exquisitely hypnotic 16 minute soundscape ‘Thank You For Trying To Love Me’ is given plenty of room to breathe, taking its time to mesmerise and enchant as elements tesselate harmoniously, building into a dazzling glow of bittersweet euphoria. As well as its lilting serenity, it’s hard not to be moved by the sentiment behind the title, reprising a familiar character Jones has excelled at portraying in the past; the unloveable fuck-up well aware of his mistakes, failures and bad habits.
Even these tracks that clock in at around quarter of an hour each seem to take hold of the senses in such a way, that you’re always happy to stay wherever the music takes you. The time and room given to these freely flowing song structures allow the listener to soak up the growing, evolving atmospheres for maximum impact. The stunning ‘Endless Summer Day’ misleadingly begins with heavily-treated vocals, as well as some ominous and rather acidy synth bass. Within a few masterful chord movements, the shadowy mood makes way for soft electronic tones shifting into glitchy, spellbinding patterns. Carrying the listener peacefully into misty eyed tranquility, it’s a mesmeric treasure that flows with a twinkling poignancy and could quite happily go on for twice its already epic length. Grand in its power, but completely opposed to being overblown. On the climactic ‘London Underground’, sleepy guitars ring out to create a heavenly ambience amongst perfectly placed field recordings, ghostly drones and minimal vocals that drift to the surface like rising gasps of air.
Some of the moods and emotions are too strange to even put into words, and trying to pin a definitive label on these tracks isn’t easy either. It’s ambient music done the Stephen Jones way. After the hour is up, we’re given the ‘High Energy Crucifixtion’ remix of ‘…Jesus’, a bit of an ill-fitting cut and paste of dance beats and orchestra samples, which we’ll ignore since it’s clearly intended as a bonus track.
Despite selling over two million records worldwide, Jones has never compromised the intelligence of his music for the mainstream, and has a deep hatred of mass marketed insipidness. With his talent for the unusal, why would he want to conform to sounding like everyone else? We need people like this man, who make this world a more interesting place by challenging the norm and going against the grain. It’s not likely to sell truckloads of copies and you’re not going to be hearing any of it on the radio. It’s one of those well kept secrets tucked away in a weird little corner of the internet that you might be lucky enough to discover. Treat yourself to something different and let Stephen Jones take you on a journey that many others are unfortunate enough to be missing out on. ‘Ambition Expired‘ is immersive, euphoric and magical. 8.6/10
Last weekend (Sunday July 27) Mark Everett (aka E) and the Eels visited Salisbury for the last date of their recent tour. I’ve heard of bands taking a slight detour while on the road, but it seems that Eels played Bristol on Friday before jetting off to New York to play a song on ‘CBS This Morning’, and then flying back to England for a show in Gateshead on Saturday night, and journeying back down south for the Salisbury show. I’m surprised the band had any energy left. The show at the City Hall was wonderful, beginning with a selection of heartfelt and rather downbeat numbers, mostly from the recent album ‘The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett’.
Old classics were given new arrangements, the new songs sounded brilliant next to the fan favourites, and the strength of their set and the songs they DIDN’T play just shows how stellar the Eels back catalogue is. Big hits such as ‘Susan’s House’, ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ and ‘Souljacker’ were left out of the set, and yet nobody minded. After a beautifully uplifting ‘Fresh Feeling’ and an energised ‘I Like Birds’, E and his band went on to treat the audience to a stunning reworking of 1998’s ‘Last Stop: This Town’ that actually had me in tears. A mad moment near the end saw Everett shouting “give me a hug!” before running arms aloft into the seated crowd, many of who got up to embrace their hero. Finishing with a emotional ‘Daisies Of The Galaxy’ and a terrific cover of Harry Nilsson‘s ‘Turn On Your Radio’, this was a superb set that showcased the new and revitalised the old. Before last night, I hadn’t seen the Eels play live in nearly 14 years. The gap won’t be as long next time… Go HERE to see photos and a few videos from the show…
I do RW/FF Radio every Monday night at 7pm, before Jason B returns with Dance Class from 8pm until 9pm. More info about the station’s other shows can be found at the website HERE.
Regular and longterm RW/FF readers will know all about the daily Track Of The Day selections, featuring only the very finest new music. And from now on, each month, one chosen song will be crowned by RW/FF readers as the winner of the brand new Track Of The Month feature. Voting will be open until Aug 6, when the winning track will be unveiled. The top 10 most-voted-for songs will also be listed, making up The RW/FF Chart. Just choose one song (and one song only ) from the shortlist HERE to make your vote count…
The Alternative Top 40 is a monthly music chart shared across multiple music blogs, and a great way of discovering music you might not have heard elsewhere. You can contribute to the #AltTop40 by simply naming your favourite tracks of the moment – for full details of how to nominate music, see the latest post about the chart at Universal Horse.
The Alt Top 40 is not based on sales, or radio play – or, indeed, any form of objective measure. Instead, anyone who wants can simply tell us the tracks they want to see in the chart, and the more people we hear about a track from, the higher up it goes. July’s Top 40 is HERE.
Back next week, or (depending on workloads) the week after. Bye for now.http://rwffmusic.blogspot.com/