Category Archives: other

Slowdive at Cat’s Cradle

Rachel Goswell of Slowdive

As everybody around here knows, I’ve been a huge fan of Slowdive for 25 years. I really liked their 1991 debut album Just for a Day, but their 1993 sophomore album Souvlaki totally blew me away. That was way before the days of Amazon and before the days of being able to order things directly at the click of a button. I got very lucky, and I was able to pick up an import copy of the CD, which came out several months before the US release. It also featured a bonus disc of the Blue Day EP. As it turns out, there were only 1000 of those made, but I didn’t know that at the time. I assumed that they, like every other band of their ilk, would tour the US and hit the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and/or the old 1313 Club in Charlotte. They didn’t. In the summer of 93, they played Atlanta and DC, but I held out, assuming that they would be around some other time. The next summer, they didn’t come any closer than DC during a very short North American tour which ended with a now famous show in Toronto. Nobody knew it at the time, but that Toronto show would be their last for 20 years.

The band’s third album Pygmalion came out in 1995, and fans were somewhat confused. It wasn’t shoegaze. It wasn’t dream pop. It was a spacey, experimental piece that sounded very little like the Slowdive that I loved. That record has a lot of negative space and a lot of really really slow-burning stuff. I never really cottoned to that record, but I thought that it might just be a weird bump in their road. Again, nobody knew it at the time, but they were pretty much done at that point. They didn’t tour with that record, and it was soon announced that the band had been dropped by Creation Records. Britpop was king, and while some bands would adapt with the changing landscape, they didn’t. It would also later come out that Rachel had suffered some significant hearing loss and couldn’t really play loud music anymore.

The folky Mojave 3 rose from the ashes of Slowdive, and that band featured Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead, and Ian McCutcheon all out of Slowdive. I liked that band a lot, and I did get to see them twice, but I always lamented the fact that I never saw Slowdive.

A couple of years ago, the band announced that they were reforming for some festival shows. And then the huge news came out that they would put out a new album and go on a proper tour. When the first batch of US dates was announced, the closest gig was in DC. Later, to my complete delight, they announced a Cat’s Cradle show, which would be their first time playing in North Carolina as Slowdive.

The new eponymous album came out last Friday, and I finally got to see them last night. It was everything I was hoping for and then some.

Neil Halstead of Slowdive

They played a good mix of new songs and stuff from the other three albums. To be honest, I was expecting a set heavy with new songs and Souvlaki stuff. As it turns out, they only played three of the new songs. I was really anticipating my favorite songs from Souvlaki, though: “Alison”, “When the Sun Hits”, “Souvlaki Space Station”. I was pleased with all of those, although I thought “When the Sun Hits” sounded a bit muddy. They also played “40 Days” as the last song of the encore. After there were some difficulties with the PA system, they decided to play on, and pretty much did it through their monitors.

They also played a Slowdive show mainstay in their cover of the Syd Barrett song “Golden Hair” as the last song of the main set. I’ve seen videos of them performing that song, and I had high expectations. They were certainly met last night.

Nick Chaplin of Slowdive

All of that was great, but the highlight of the night was something that came as a complete surprise to me. Early in the set, they launched into very gently nudged off into “Crazy for You”, which I always thought was a perfect badge for what I didn’t love about Pygmalion. On the album, it’s very spacey, very sparse, very minimal. Almost too much. It’s got loads of delay and a cool piano bit, but it doesn’t do a ton for me. When performed live, however, it’s a completely different animal. The drums were heavy and fierce. The guitars were fiery and vibrant. It was in complete contrast to the album version, and I absolutely loved it. Later, they would do a similar thing with “Blue Skied an’ Clear”, giving it lots of life that I never knew it had.

There were, admittedly, a few hiccups during the show, and there was a problem with the PA going in and out towards the end of the show, but I thought it was a brilliant night.

I also must admit that I did not enjoy the opening set by The Casket Girls. Their 2014 album True Love Kills the Fairy Tale was my favourite album of that year. Number one. I’ve really liked all of their albums, but I had heard many times that they aren’t as good live as they are on record. That turned out to be true. There was a lot of disharmony in their voices and some of their choreography was goofy. They also played about two songs too many.

For other parts of this US tour, Slowdive had Japanese Breakfast as their special guest, and I would have loved to have seen them. But the reality is that we were all there for one reason and one reason only: Slowdive.

I loved the show, and I’m really glad that I finally got to check them off my list.


This is That Song Update

Things have been quiet on the blog lately, and I feel like I have some explaining to do.

I’ve been busy. Really busy.

My role at work has changed. With that change, I’m there earlier in the morning than I used to be. I’m there later in the afternoon than I used to be. For now, I’m working seven days a week. Some days are shorter than others, but I don’t have as much free time as I used to. I’m also taking a couple of programming classes at night. Between my clogged work schedule, the nights that I have to actually go to school, and the nights that I have to do reading and homework, I have very, very little free time.

I’ve fallen way behind on reading my emails, and I’ve fallen a little behind on my new music acquisitions, but I’m still listening to lots of new releases and I’m still falling in love with new stuff.

For at least a few more weeks, things will continue to be quiet around here, but I’m still hoping to write. It might be once or twice a week as opposed to six or seven times a week, and I might have to start doing some very early morning writing, and I might make my writing much more terse than it usually is, but I will do my best to keep this thing going and to make it healthier than it is right now.

As winter turns to spring, I’ll get a little of my free time back, and when spring turns to summer, I’ll get a lot more. I can promise that I’ll devote more time to the blog as those developments unfold. For now, I can’t make any other promises.


Eskimeaux reissues debut record

Gabby Smith (Eskimeaux)

One of my favorite new releases this year has been O.K. by NYC bedroom recording artist Eskimeaux. The band is currently a quartet, but it’s mostly the work of Gabrielle “Gabby” Smith. You may recall that I wrote about the song “I Admit I’m Scared” back in May, just before the release of O.K..

As I pointed out in that post, OK is the latest in a pretty long list of Eskimeaux releases, and she records with a slightly different style on every release. There’s no mistaking the DIY bedroom recording quality of the early records, and it’s safe to lump most of the releases in under the broad umbrella of “indie folk”, but there’s something different with each release.

Smith started using the name Eskimeaux in 2007, and recorded some experimental stuff for a few years. In 2011, she released her proper debut, called Two Mountains, which had some elements of electronics and remnants of her experimental stuff. It also had some elements of that dreamy indie-folk. Something between an extremely low-budget Bjõrk and Grouper. That album was originally released digitally, and the only physical copies were a very limited run of CD. Last week, Yellow K Records reissued the album, meaning that it’s available on vinyl (and cassette) for the first time.

I committed to covering the re-issue, but it sort of slipped my mind until I was writing about Frankie Cosmos yesterday. Gabby Smith is also in that band, which is fronted by the daughter of Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline.

Here, you can enjoy one of the songs from the album.
“For Power Animal” by Eskimeaux

I really like the tuned percussion. I also really like the loops and layers. This particular song also uses Julianna Barwick-like vocal riffs rather than proper vocals, and I kinda like that. And whatever that is that’s been manipulated and looped to sound like boots marching? I love it. That might be a record in the runoff groove, it might be something else.

This particular song doesn’t have it, but other songs feature a theremin. Or maybe a tannerin. I’m always a fan of that. Overall, it’s a very different record to the new one. It’s also very good.

The Yellow K reissue is not a remaster or a “deluxe” reissue. It’s merely a re-release. It was pressed on regular black vinyl and also on clear vinyl. The clear one sold out very quickly. The black vinyl is available, but it looks like it won’t ship out until the middle of November. I assume that the CD and cassette formats will also become available on November 13. For now, you can buy an instant download or pre-order the standard vinyl via bandcamp here.


10.11.2015 — “Flirted With You All My Life” as covered by Lotte Kestner

Lotte Kestner

If you only listen to one Vic Chesnutt cover song today, make it Lotte Kestner’s cover of “Flirted With You All My Life” (2011, from the album Stolen (Covers)).

Lotte Kestner is the stage name of Seattle-based folk-gaze singer/songwriter Anna-Lynne Williams. She was half of the folk-gaze duo Trespassers William, and she’s put out a bunch of recordings as Lotte Kestner. At least three albums of cover songs, a couple of albums of original songs, and an EP of just Depeche Mode covers. Last week, she released a new covers album composed entirely of songs that fans requested her to cover. In all, over the course of three years, she made 60 songs for that collection, and pared it down to 17. Included in the latest collection are “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake, “How To Disappear Completely” by Radiohead, “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star, “Alison” by Slowdive, “Enjoy The Silence” by Depeche Mode, and “Do You Realize” by The Flaming Lips. It’s a great collection, which you can buy here.

Although I knew all about Lotte Kestner, I didn’t know that the other covers albums existed until I got this one. They all have some cool and interesting covers, but this one totally stopped me in my tracks and made me burst into tears. The song was originally done by Vic Chesnutt on his 2009 album At The Cut. That album was released in late September of 2009. On Christmas Day that year, Chesnutt died after deliberately overdosing on muscle relaxants. He was a coma for two days and never came out. He was 45. His death was not technically ruled a suicide, but everyone close to him said that he knew what he was doing. For most of his life, he was in a lot of physical and emotional pain. At the age of 18, he was involved in a drunk driving accident that left him a partial quadriplegic. He had very limited use of his hands, but he could still play guitar and he found a way to have a very productive career, releasing more than a dozen proper albums. Most of them to unanimous critical acclaim. Unfortunately, for most of his life, he battled alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, intense physical pain, and an insurmountable heap of medical bills.

A lot of Chesnutt’s stuff was dark and dreary. Probably none darker than “Flirted With You All My Life”. It’s not about unrequited love or anything like that, no matter what these lyrics suggest:

I flirted with you all my life
Even kissed you once or twice
And to this day I swear it was nice but clearly
I was not ready

When you touched a friend of mine
I thought I would lose my mind
But I found out with time that
Really, I was not ready.

It’s very autobiographical and the “you” isn’t some girl. It’s death. The “kissed you once or twice” specifically references his multiple failed suicide attempts.

Most of Chesnutt’s later albums, including the one from which this comes, were done in collaboration with members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt Zion (or Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra, or whatever you want to call them). Those collaborations turned Chesnutt’s beautifully dark raw material into something that was beautifully dark, but cinematic at the same time.

On Lotte Kestner’s cover, it’s much more bare-boned, and I like that. Her lovely voice doesn’t quite project the pain that Chesnutt’s imperfect voice did, but there’s still something about this version that makes me sadder than the original version does.

“Flirted With You All My Life” as covered by Lotte Kestner

You can get Stolen (Covers) via bandcamp here. It’s also got covers of “Let’s Go To Bed” by The Cure, “True Faith” by New Order, and “Fake Empires” by The National.

Also get the new covers collection here.


Lush reunion perhaps in the works?

Lush in 1996

On Monday, exclaim.ca published an article suggesting that the legendary 1990s UK shoegaze band Lush might be planning a reunion.

The article points out that the band has launched a new Facebook page, complete with contact information for their booking, manager, and publicist. They also have a really, erm, “lush” looking brand new (sorry for the pun) website front page.

Also, guitarist Emma Anderson posted to her personal Twitter account the simple message: “7 Days”.

This, by the way, is exactly how Slowdive announced their reunion in January of last year. Set up social media, started a countdown, announce reunion, play festivals, tour US, etc. Unfortunately, we still haven’t seen a new album, but we’re still holding out hope for that.

I always love to point out that Meriel Barham (guitar/vocals) was a founding member of Lush. She, of course, left the band and went on to become the co-front of the magnificent Pale Saints. I’m on record as saying that I loved Lush’s 1990 compilation album Gala and their 1992 proper debut album Spooky with fanatical ardor. Like many bands from the 1990s UK shoegaze scene, their hands were forced by the surge of Britpop to either change their style or fall out of favor with the press. I still liked their 1994 album Split, but by the time their 1996 album Lovelife rolled out, they were practically a different band. They were still Miki Berenyi (vocals/guitar), Emma Anderson (guitar/vocals), Phil King (bass) and Chris Acland (drums), and I still liked those records, but I didn’t love them.

In late 1996, there had been some whispers about the band breaking up, and on October 17 of that year, the devastating news came that drummer Chris Acland had hanged himself. He was 30. 14 months later, after a bit of a hiatus, the band announced that they were dissolving. King is currently a member of The Jesus & Mary Chain. Anderson started another band which folded in 2008. To my knowledge, Berenyi hasn’t been in any other bands, but she has contributed guest vocals to a couple of projects.

There never really has been any serious talk of a Lush reunion, which would obviously necessitate the hiring of a new drummer. In the post-breakup years, whenever any of them has been asked about the possibility of a reunion, they’ve always said that it would be really difficult to even entertain the idea of bringing in a different drummer. Perhaps things have changed.

Whatever they have planned, I’m sure it’ll be magnificent. If they’re re-issuing the now out-of-print back catalog, that’ll be great. If they’re going to do a slate of shows, that’ll be great. If it’s a new record, that’ll be even better. My hope is that at the very least, they’ll tour the east coast of the United States. When they were in their heyday, I never got to see them. They played a tour one summer with Ride, splitting the bill, and it still sickens me that I could have seen them –but didn’t– on that tour. My consolation prize is that I did see a Pale Saints/Ride split bill the following summer. More than 20 years and hundreds of concert experiences later, it’s still one of my favorites.

At some point on Tuesday, we’ll hope to get not only a “6 days” tweet from Emma, but perhaps some other peek into exactly what’s going on.

In the meantime, enjoy this:


03.16.2015 — “Show of Strength” (live video) by Echo and The Bunnymen

Echo and The Bunnymen

If you only listen to one song from the 1980s tonight, make it “Show of Strength” by Echo and The Bunnymen (1981, from the album Heaven Up Here).

Echo and The Bunnymen are a post-punk band from Liverpool They formed in 1980 and have released twelve proper albums. Half of those came between 1980 and 1990, and their first two records —Crocodiles (1980) and Heaven up Here (1981)– are considered to be among the most influential albums of the post-punk and UK new wave genres. The band is still active, but nowhere near as awesome as they once were.

Throughout the 35 years, there have only ever been a total of seven band members. When people talk about The Bunnymen, what they’re usually talking about is the “classic”, original lineup of Ian McCulloch (vocals, guitar), Will Sergeant (guitar), Les Pattinson (bass) and Pete de Freitas (drums). Technically, de Freitas wasn’t a “founding member” because they used a drum machine in the very beginning, but by the time they recorded the first record, he was fully on board. McCulloch left the band in 1988 and de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Some dude replaced McCulloch, and Damon Reece replaced de Freitas. After the band took a three-year hiatus between 1993 and 1996, they reformed as the trio of McCulloch, Sergeant, and Pattinson. Eventually, Pattinson would also leave. Today, the band is just McCulloch and Sergeant. When they perform, they have a full band, but it is and will always be those two.

A bit of trivia about the de Freitas replacement. Damon Reece was also in Spiritualized. At least until some infighting forced him out of that band. After Spiritualized, he started another band or two and did some work with Massive Attack. None of this is his claim to fame though. His claim to fame is that he’s been Liz Fraser’s partner for a long time. They met when he was a member of Massive Attack, and she contributed to the outstanding Mezzanine album. They have a daughter together who will be 17 this year.

Anyway, since about 1988, I’ve been a big fan of The Bunnymen, and in particular the first three albums. I’ve always been partial to Crocodiles, but this morning I wanted to do something different. I listened to Heaven Up Here from start to finish for the first time in a very long time. I remembered how much I love it. This sparked a conversation with a friend who said that “Promise” was the best song the band ever recorded. I think it’s maybe the third or fourth best song on the album, and maybe the sixth or seventh best song in their catalog. I think that the best song on Heaven Up Here is the album-opening “Show of Strength”.

Here they are playing the song in 1983 during a 90 minute concert performance on the long-running German TV show “Rockpalast”.

It’s a good performance of a great song. It’s worth pointing out that de Freitas isn’t set up behind the band. He’s up front and way over to stage right. To my knowledge, that’s the way they always played during the de Freitas years. It’s a very unusual setup, and while there might be other bands who put the drummer up front, I can’t remember ever seeing it in person.

What I really love about this song is how chunky and front-of-mix the bass is. It gives it a really dark and grimy feel. It’s almost goth. Of course, there’s a lot of brightness to Sergeant’s guitar to balance that out, but the beginning of the song and the end are super-dark. I’ll say, as I always say, that de Freitas was a criminally underrated drummer, and he’s very much on point in this performance.

Go dust off your copy of Heaven Up Here, and play it really loud. If you don’t own it, you should remedy that now.


12.29.2014 — “Synchron” by Camera

Camera

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Synchron” by Camera (2014, from the album Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide).

Camera is a krautrock band from Berlin. They sort of eschew the “krautrock” label, but at the same time, they describe themselves as “Motorik-driven, energetic stretches laced with psychedelic overtones rise up from keyboards, drums and guitars”. Whatever. Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe. A friend of mine who lives in Amsterdam recently found out about these cats and correctly guessed that I would dig them very much. She sent me a YouTube video of the guys playing a late-night show in the Berlin subway. Unauthorized. They do this kind of thing pretty frequently and for this reason, they’ve apparently been labeled “krautrock guerilla”. I dig it.

As I was watching the video, it took me about three seconds to love whatever song it was they were playing. Also, I immediately thought of Freelance Whales. A couple of years ago, I had a brief obsession with that Brooklyn indie-folk/rock band who do the same kind of thing. They often set up shows in the NYC subway stations and play until the fuzz shuts them down. There are some very cool videos floating around of Freelance Whales playing the subway platforms. Like this one, for example. But this isn’t about them.

For the record, this is the video that my friend shared with me:

I immediately went searching for as much as I could find about this band. Although there’s three guys, it looks like the only official members are Timm Brockmann (synth) and Michael Drummer (drums), with a different guitar player all the time. They put out an album in 2012, and another —Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide— in September of this year. I don’t have it (yet), but I think I love it. Based on what I’ve heard, I love it. It would have made my year-end list if I had only known sooner.

I couldn’t track down a soundcloud or bandcamp file, but here’s a video for “Synchron”:

You can learn more about Camera by visiting their label’s site here, where you can also buy their records. At current exchange rates, that vinyl sells for just under $21 USD plus shipping. There may be other distribution in the US, but I haven’t investigated that deeply.


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