Singles and downloads - December 2013
New Releases from The Sexual Objects, The Fall, Sandford and Michael Head reviewed
Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band – ‘Artorius Revisited’
'This Man is Our Greatest Songwriter, Recognise Him?' ran the front cover headline of the NME in 1999 alongside a picture of Scouse troubadour Michael Head, whose band Shack, formed from the ashes of 1980s shoulda-beens The Pale Fountains, appeared to be on the verge of a second coming. Or was it still their first?
Either way, and despite five shimmeringly wonderful albums that conjoined Head and his brother John's Arthur Lee-influenced West Coast wide-screen pop sensibilities with kitchen sink lyrical vignettes, Shack remain criminally ignored. Which is why this first studio release by Head since Shack's 2006 album, The Corner of Miles and Gil, is so special.
Lovingly-packaged on limited edition 12” vinyl, the four new songs top and tailed by a couple of instrumental sketches are the sounds and shades of a songwriter at his mid-life peak. The tinny techno of the opening 'PJ' gives no clue of what's about to follow with 'Cadiz,' a gorgeous trumpet-led paean to escaping to some sun-kissed promised land where true love and freedom reign.
The idyll continues on 'Lucinda Byre', a rose-tinted trip up Bold Street in Liverpool city centre, where a world of cafe society hang-outs, record shops and buskers becomes a beautiful romance fired by the legendary 1960s boutique that gives the song its title. It's Nick Drake and Bert Jansch if they'd grown up on a Liverpool 6 council estate.
This sense of place pervades throughout, with flipside opener, 'Newby Street', a jaunty strum-along which, like much of Head's back catalogue, owes much to Love's Forever Changes album, but which, through all its sudden key changes, is shot-through with Head's own redemptive worldview. The title track is a two-verse legend of outlaws on the run that gallops into the sunset before the closing piano patterns of 'Daytime Nighttime' suggest the most solitary of exits.
This, however, is the sole downbeat moment of a sublime suite of songs, the template for which can be heard way back, on the Pale Fountains' pre-major label 1982 John Peel recordings, as well as Head's yearningly strung-out 1998 'solo' album, The Magical World of The Strands.
Here Head is bolstered by jazz-trained Cast and Shack bassist Pete Wilkinson, drummer Sam Christie and producer Steve Powell's electric lead guitar flourishes. Head's acoustic guitar led inner-city street-corner coffee-bar baroque is gloriously fleshed out further by the two trumpets of Martin Smith and former Pale Fountain and current James sideman Andy Diagram.
Vicky Mutch's cello and Simon James' flute smatterings are also to the fore in a series of exquisite arrangements wrapped around songs forged in every generation of Merseybeat since the ferries started running, and which are peopled by a cast of characters who seem to have stepped out of a kitchen-sink Brit-flick. This is Michael Head reborn. You might not recognise him, but listen to him at all costs.
The Sexual Objects – ‘Feels With Me’
(Eyelids in the Rain)
For seekers who know, Davy Henderson is the greatest rock poet on the planet, and has been ever since he exploded into Edinburgh's post-punk art/pop scene with the short-lived but fast-burning Fire Engines. High-concept pop entryism followed with Win before the guitar shards of The Nectarine No. 9 got things back to basics.
Henderson's latest vehicle is an altogether warmer affair, and this first recorded sighting since 2011 debut vinyl long-player, Cucumber, retains its loose-knit appeal. A download-only parallel universe smash hit, it opens with Simon Smeeton's acoustic guitar intro before ooh-oohing its way into a gorgeous harmony-kissed instant classic that warns against false prophets before bursting into raptures of its own making.
There are shades here of '22 Blue', an early lament by The Nectarines, which Henderson, Smeeton, drummer Iain Holford and bass player Douglas McIntyre are all veterans of. Here, however, the melody is given a kick asswards and turned sunny side up by a three guitar line-up completed by Post's Graham Wann, and sprinkled with celestial keyboards that makes for a wondrous construction of Brill Building bubblegum with a postmodern sheen and low-slung pop for groovetastic hipsters to swoon to.
The Fall – ‘The Remainderer’
The last time The Fall released a six-track 10” vinyl EP was in 1981, with the still seminal 'Slates,' which remains one of Mark E Smith's most urgent states of address. Thirty-two years on and much mucky water pissed under several burnt-down bridges, Smith's nasal whine has matured into a ravaged gurgle, and, on this stop-gap between this year's Re-mit album and next year's forthcoming full-length opus, the words are by turns sparer and more abstract than the cut-up narratives of yore.
The template is set from the martial bounce and synth fizz of the opening title track, which has the group eke out a primal garage-band groove while Smith declaims over like a soothsayer at Speakers Corner. This continues on 'Amorator!', which finds an insistent electronic burble and off-kilter guitar and drum skitters form the backdrop to Smith's cracked whisper,which here possesses free-form shades of former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki, who Smith paid homage to many moons ago. 'Never forget,' Smith incants with epiphany-inducing intent, 'your brain is a bubble of water.'
'Mister Rode' scratches itself into life as a propulsively opaque no-fi dirge that careers around the room with an insistence that's like a dancing dog with a bone before giving way to the intense slow-burning melodrama of 'Rememberance "R"'. As Smith appears to wander off while another member of the band finishes the vocal, this is closer to spoken-word live art than rock and roll. The latter is saved for the following 'Say Mamba/Race With The Devil', a chugging rockabilly double bill captured live. The closing 'Touchy Pad' is a sentimentally inclined call and response two-hander which, for all it's brevity, is never throwaway, and resembles some imagined unheard out-take from Kevin Coyne and Dagmar Krause's 1970s underground musical, Babble.
Rather than 'Slates,' this sextet of dense gothic epics is more akin to the skewed bombast of what came later on 'Room To Live' and 'Perverted By Language,' but stripped back to a production-free rawness delivered without fuss and shot through with a sprightly joie de vivre that proves there's life in the old dog yet.
Sandford – ‘Indiscretion’
(We Can Still Picnic)
A collaboration between choirboy-voiced chanteuse Katy Lironi and studio boffin Marshall Craigmyle, this melancholy electropop ditty is, despite its title, a beguilingly discreet affair. Ushered in by a primitive 1970s drum machine, the synthesised melodies that follow seem to creep in from the shadows of some illicit Cold War alliance before Lironi makes her presence known with an ice-cool sing-song vocal that keeps the atmosphere low-lit.
Lironi has pedigree rewinding all the way back to C 86 combo, Fizzbombs, through The Secret Goldfish and her Fake Eyelashes project, while Craigmyle conjures up sonic alchemy in the Strathaven-based Old Mile studio. Teamed up for what sounds like a trailer for a full-length feature, this high-concept affair inspired by a disparate set of clues from a Broadcast gig to Luke Rhinehart's 1971 novel, The Dice Man is a propulsive slice of late night driving music to help keep the rain out.