Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s I use to get the Hits and the Now That’s What I Call Music compilation tapes, I use to play these all the time, and dance and sing along to bands like Duran Duran, INXS and New Kids on the Block. Then something strange happened , on one of these tapes in between Tiffany and Debbie Gibson was a weird Jesus and Mary Chain song called Reverence which just felt strange, loud swirling guitars and someone screaming “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ, I wanna die just like JFK”. At 10 years old it didn’t make any sense and freaked me out, so I’d always press fast forward on my tape to find Pet Shop Boys “Always on my mind”, and sing “Little things I should have said and done I never took the time” wildly with a hairbrush in my hand to my bemused looking border collie. Anyway…
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I no longer sing to a dog. In fact I don’t even have a dog, but I do have the Jesus and Marychain, and I absolutely adore them. They’ve got a new album out called Damage and Joy which you can also get on cassette, but their back catalogue is just unbelievable. In a dorky way I need to admit that their 1987 album darklands is one of my favourite all time albums. For no other reason than to celebrate their brilliance here is a collection of some of their best songs. Enjoy.
Conor Oberst is a guy I’ve been fascinated with ever since I first picked up a Bright Eyes EP back in Norwich in my hazy but happy post uni days dating an art school girl, we drifted in and out of cd shops scribbling Dr. Frank lyrics on paper airplanes and throwing them into open windows….Anyway, that’s another story….Yeah, that first Conor EP “Every day and Every night” it was amazing, it pulled me into another world. Songs like “on my way to work” and “a perfect sonnet” capture your imagination and set your heart on fire in a way few others songs have done since. Then came “Fevers and Mirrors” which just breezed somehow making emotional despair, confusion and sadness feel not just arty, but universal and a gateway to golden eternity.. No wonder Mark Kozelek is such a fan.
So, he’s been around a long time. I saw him once in 2002, he was drunk it was crazy. He made some good albums, some bad ones, and then last year had a mental health breakdown which he captured so brilliantly and elegantly in Ruminations which was by far my album of year. He then went on tour and sang with my hero Mark Kozelek (musically only), and then he releases, quite by surprise, Salutations. This is the re-working of Ruminations, so ok it’s lost it’s rawness, but it sounds more complete – a whole band doing lots of things on it! There are also seven extra songs on. I’m still going through it all but you can listen to it over at NPR now. Meanwhile here are a few of my favourite Conor songs from yeas-gone-by
One of the most brilliant writers of the 20th Century was Stefan Zweig, I don’t think anybody could express emotion or instability as well as he did.He did some crazy things in life, and there’s a thrilling biography out about him you can check out here if you’re looking for a more obscure story, here’s a throwback to something I wrote in my old days of magazine journalism
He wrote a novel called, in English, “Beware of Pity”. This has now been made into an a super intense razor sharp play that was performed in London last week. Sadly I couldn’t get to go, but the live steam is still up for a few more days. If you want to watch the grandmaster of intensity you can do so here. I doubt there will be a better or more powerful play out all year.
Then there is my favourite modern British writer Gwendoline Riley who has a new book out called “First Love”. If you’ve not heard of her before, you need to go to your local library or book shop and ask for either “Sick Notes”, “Cold Water”, or “Joshua Spassky”. A trilogy of brilliant short but addictive novels. She writes like a lonely British version of Holden Caulfield fighting against a world you’ll never understand. You can listen to her here talk about her
Talking of Salinger…New biopic “Rebel in the Rye” is out at the Sundance film festival. People say it’s predictable and dull. Still, people say a lot these days.
Finally, by far the best new band I’ve heard over the past year is Wild Pink. They have a new album out, released last week. You can listen to their radness below playing a couple of
So, back in the 90’s I was listening to this tape by some girl called Kristin Hersh. This tape was lent to me by a cool indie girl, who was constantly eating jelly babies and wearing Raccoons t shirts. Anyway, this tape was full of sad songs about being haunted by a nasty break-up, quite sweet but a little too acoustic for me, like a first love falling apart, and at 15 I didn’t have time for sad songs, I’d swap over pretty quick to my jesus and marychain tapes.
Here we are almost 25 years later, and I’m listening to some girl called Kristin Hersh and her sad songs about being haunted by a nasty break-up, but this time somethings different. The nasty break-up is over a 25 year marriage ending, and it’s not so sweet anymore. It’s actually pretty angry. She screams “Tell me no secrets and tell me no lies, I’m so fucking tired of dissolution”, and its an emotional enthralling mess of an album, full of rapid thoughts turning into short songs, angry songs, bitter songs, and there’s no acceptance here. No silver lining. It’s raw. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s amazing, I absolutely adore it. Just take a listen :
Snow comes, snow goes, reading “the hardest winter of them all” in a bear cave, drinking hot chocolate with my little boy. I spend the day skating on frozen lakes and rivers. I stumble alone around the frosty paths and woods, dreaming of a better world, and the music in my headphones gives me hope. The world’s gone crazy it seems, this month we’ve seen a nutty new president in town, and we’re living in a world where lies are now called “alternative facts”. We must stand up and fight for truth, for equality and for justice and for the weak and the helpless who are in real danger in this beautiful planet we share.
Then sometimes it’s just good to escape for a little while. I saw La La Land today , and it’s nominated for a ridiculous amount of oscars. It’s fun, but kind of like going to a birthday party when you’re 5 and overdosing on ice cream, chocolate, cakes, crisps and pepsi.
A better way to escape is through a great indie pop album. I was lucky enough to be aimlessly walking around a record store yesterday, and I picked up the new(ish) Veruca Salt album “ghost notes” and I’ve been playing it relentlessly. It’s catchy, it’s fun, it’s got great little hooks, and their voices fit together perfectly. Here’s a couple of songs to cheer you up, first a slow one about breaking up with someone after one too many arguments, the second a fun grizzly frizzy pop song. So go for what you feel like, or play both. Enjoy!
It’s not the greatest album of all time, but neither is La LA Land the best film of all time. They serve a purpose though, and the world is a better place for it.
This album completely knocked me out. I remember reading late last year how Conor had to cancel a tour due to exhaustion and was sent back home to Omaha to recover. Turns out he was suffering a full on breakdown. Every single song on ruminations is amazing, and nothing else could touch it. Beautiful, heart felt songs about a guy losing everything and trying to find peace in a world he doesn’t recognise or understand…
I’m so happy it’s the julie ruin, and this was almost my album of the year. I’ve written so much about Kathleen Hanna there’s little more to say, so here is the single. She still has the coolest voice around. The album, hit reset, which strangely enough I bought on cassette, has so many amazing songs on, I think it’s one of her best albums to date.
Uber-hip and occasionally annoying Thurston Moore said something silly this year like “I only buy tapes these days”, and of course that’s a ridiculous way to live, but it’s true there are an awful lot of amazing bands that only release things initially or on cassette. A few years ago I’d be scoring tapes at little charity shops getting over excited by a copy a early 7o’s Elton John tape for 25p, whereas I get things now like the new julie ruin album and twin forks on cassette and hardly ever pick up old stuff on tape anymore.
So, it’s no surprise that the best EP of the year is out as a download and on cassette too. It came out in October and by it’s a little New York band called Wild Pink. The title may not be the most exciting (4 songs), but the songs are. Calming, instinctive and soft. It’s reflective beautiful music, and that’s where I am right now, and I think where a lot of people are after all the craziness. “Don’t let the fear of losing me keep you from moving on….I’m the one that goes away”. Poetic daydreaming songs for daydreamers. What more do you want? Not only EP of the year but a close contender for track of the year too, to find out who gets that title come back in a few days.
So turns out I needed a 6 month break. Everything fell apart, but then it started to grow again in a different way, full of light so strong it could blind me. So, I turn back to music and books, and it’s a good time to reflect on the past year. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be celebrating my favourite music video, song, album and EP of the year. Going to start with video.
It’s been a crazy dark year, and it certainly seems like every music video reflects that. A couple of years ago there were lots of fun bright, breezy videos of people going surfing, or falling in love in the summer. This year it’s all about the end of the world, darkness and people falling apart. Even Lily and Madeline have a horror film for their new video! I’m still trying to make sense of the world in 2016, but I know, like Fontane wrote, there’s no way back. We’re in a Brexit, Trump, broken world. Now need to find the happiness and hope, and joy of everyday life. I’m hoping the music videos next year help bring some of that.
Anyway, here’s the best video I’ve seen. Radiohead. For anyone, like me, who dreams of moving to Camberwick Green…or maybe not, if this is what it’s become in 2016.
next week >>>> EP of the year.
Last time I’m going to write until after the summer so here goes….Quiet night here in the countryside, apart from a hamster chewing on my socks, I’m thinking of a Mark Kozelek sad song about him staring at the ceiling and singing about all the people he has lost in his life. Thinking too of all my favorite writers – Kerouac, Richard Yates, Stefan Zweig and how they all suffered so much. I’m writing poems again, many disposable lines that I just throw on the fire at the end of the day. I’ve kept a few, but I don’t need a poetry collection, throw them all away 🙂 It’s much better to spend 10 minutes writing a poem about the day than scrolling down facebook feeling disconnected. I’ll read a couple of these poems out at poetry club, but that’s as far as it will go.
International Noise Conspiracy once had a song called “abolish work”. The title “what do you want from me” is from a scene in Reality Bites. Ethan Hawke (of course) trying to explain why he doesn’t want to get a job because he wants to be free. Winona Ryder is saying he’s wasting his life and is going to end up a loser like his dad and doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want to get a job like everyone else.
I use to make that same argument as Ethan 15 years ago. I use to read “days of war nights of love” and had this romantic idea about a better world. I still believe it, but the book has now long gone from my life. I guess things change, people change, life is a weird mix of happiness and sadness at the moment, but hope is eternal.
Enjoy the summer. Here’s a song from a few years ago. It’s a bit crazy, but that’s ok…The best things in life tend to be. Oh, and don’t forget to buy the brilliant new Kathleen Hanna “julie ruin” album.