NQGRD #10 – Pere Ubu (Turn of the Century)

“I’ll buy that cup; I recognise that cup.”



I haven’t been back to this thread of my blog writing for some time, the last time being last September when I was moved to comment in a rather nostalgic and obvious (although sincere and heartfelt) manner about Bruce turning 70. (I still can’t believe Bruce is 70.)

It was always intended to be a little side-project, generally inspired by acquaintances suggesting artists to whom I had paid insufficient attention in the past. It has taken in, for example, Wire, Throwing Muses and PiL. It even has even seen me – under challenge – evaluate the work of Ariana Grande (and I still think ‘Imagine‘ is a great tune).

But I’m self-nominating this time…

I should say in advance that this piece is purely a gut reaction to two albums. A few people have been kind enough to comment on the level of meticulous research involved in my Fall blog, You Must Get Them All; this has also, I hope, been a key feature of my current project They All Exist (which will of course eventually feature Pere Ubu). This is not what this piece is about, however.

Fried, 1984

As a teenage NME reader in the 80s, I was vaguely aware of Pere Ubu without having much notion of what they actually sounded like. My first actual exposure to a David Thomas song came via Julian Cope. Around the age of 15-16, I came across and became slightly obsessed by Cope’s first two solo albums, World Shut Your Mouth and Fried, which featured a remarkable array of deranged psych-folk-pop tunes such as ‘Kolly Kibber’s Birthday‘, ‘Metranil Vavin‘ and ‘Reynard The Fox‘. I rushed out to buy 1987’s Saint Julian, which I enjoyed, even if its mainstream rock sound was a slight disappointment in comparison to the sheer, frazzled weirdness of his first two albums. I also bought the 12″ of ‘World Shut Your Mouth‘ (a song that, perversely, had not featured on the album of the same name). One of the b-sides was a cover of Pere Ubu’s ‘Non-Alignment Pact’.

It was one of my favourite moments of all the Saint Julian material, a focused and aggressive piece of tuneful pop-punk that felt like Teardrop Explodes wrestling with The Stooges. Realising eventually (I never was very observant) that it was a cover, I eventually looked into the original.

Much more raw and ragged than Cope’s version, at the time I thought it was interesting, but found Thomas’ quavering vocal a bit difficult to get on with. (I know, I know; I was young…)

Thereafter, Pere Ubu became one of those ‘I think they’re interesting and I must get around to listening more’ kind of bands for me. And, for my sins, that’s where they resided for far too long.

Fast forward to 2018. Over on the Fall Online Forum, we regularly indulge in shared ‘blind’ reviews of anonymous mixes called ‘Mix It Up’. One I received from ‘Mr Marshall’ included a tune that I described as a ‘menacing, understated cacophony’. It turned out to be this:

I was still a bit slow on the uptake (although, to be fair, I was at the time immersed in the Fall in Fives blog and hadn’t even started on You Must Get Them All). I did, on a few occasions, stick Pere Ubu’s back catalogue on shuffle (via Spotify) and had started to cotton on to how good it was. It’s only recently, however, that I have honed in on Pennsylvania and St Arkansas and begun to appreciate how incredible they are.

Now, before any aficionados jump in, I appreciate that there are many other great Pere Ubu releases. However, at the moment, Pennsylvania and St Arkansas are my twin obsessions. Here’s why…

[As I alluded to above, I haven’t yet got my head around the context / history (which I will need to once I get to Pere Ubu on They All Exist. So this is based purely around the songs themselves.]

Pennsylvania (1998)

Woolie Bullie
Relentless, shredded guitar over loping, Bonham-esque drums; the remorseless march is occasionally interrupted by ugly keyboard stabs. Thomas sits in a diner out on Route 322 (‘I spent my life there one afternoon’) and reflects on the disintegration of society: ‘We are abandoned / Lies own the word / All the pictures and all the museums in the world are just a sham… Culture’s a weapon that’s used against us / Culture’s a swamp and a superstition; ignorance and abuse.’ Apocalyptic, remorseless and bleak; a vanishing world captured in the time it takes to finish your coffee.

Sparse, brittle blues undercut by delicate, oscillating noise. ‘Between here and somewhere far, there’s a person you know, floating face down at the bottom of a jar.’ Thomas somehow expresses resigned, keening desperation through an avuncular, slightly fractured croon.

Gently chugging blues-rock accented with acoustic and electric slide guitar and subtle sci-fi. Has a Beefheart-esque ‘about to fall apart’ tone. Bleakly romantic: ‘My, how my world slows to a stop each night without you / One day, will you unfreeze my life.’

Urban Lifestyle
Urgent guitar riff that flirts with full-blown psych workout; eventually it gives in to abstraction before dragging itself back into focus. ‘Somewhere out there’ people are laughing and the beer is flowing. But this is observed from a distance; from here, the viewpoint is bleak.

Silent Spring
The view isn’t so clear from here, as Thomas is enigmatic about this journey’s destination: ‘You don’t know where we’re going / that’s where we’re going.’ All we know is that we have to trust him; that we have to follow him is all we need to know. The haunting tone provided by the gently nagging guitar figure, subtly distorted lead, sparse percussion (nothing but a hand clap and a tambourine) and eerie synths is sufficiently hypnotic to persuade you to do so.

Mr Wheeler
The spookiness continues. The rickety tin-can percussion (which has a touch of Swordfishtrombones about it) is dislocated from the rest of the music, which is more a soundscape than an actual song. Fragments of guitar drift by at their own pace, punctuated by occasional forays into jerky Beefheart territory. Concerns an old light bulb that’s been in the family for 75 years, apparently.

Muddy Waters
A more traditionally structured, riff-driven song, although as it gains momentum the twitchy little guitar part in one channel feels like it’s trying to drag it off into a ska direction. Thomas’ voice is somehow simultaneously hesitant and frenetic, gibbering about Muddy Waters sacking a ‘recalcitrant guitar player’.

A minute of gently dark ambience…

Clattering drums, swirling synth and shredded guitar frame this desperate road trip: ‘We’ve trailed our dreams behind us for days, like paper shredded by the force of our passing’. There’s even a chorus of sorts, but it hardly distracts from the relentless, oppressive tone. As the momentum builds, layers of understated guitar distortion propel you even more rapidly along the empty highway; you can almost sense the glare of the sun and the heat of the wind ‘as yet another ghost town casino forms through the shimmering heat’.

A brief but sinister tale of crime, sin and broken promises set to a dark, woozy jazz-club swing. ‘Man, what man are you?’

Monday Morning
A crisp, snare-rim beat is underpinned by deep, throaty bass; twin guitars circle each other warily; wisps of synth noise drift in and out. The music is restrained, even gentle, but there’s an air of simmering tension to this tale of a ‘hard-edged town’ populated by ‘angry men’ where you ‘must swear an oath to leave’. It bristles with desolation and alienation: ‘something in the air tastes of strange enough.’

As the bleak road trip continues, Thomas stops off at another mysterious town. ‘Dust hangs in the air like it is perfume’; he ponders whether someone there knows him and he can’t shake off the feeling that he’d been expected all along. An ominous, gently throbbing blues fuels the disorientation. Although the ‘frozen quality of the hours we stayed there’ is etched in his memory, he can’t recall the town’s name or how he got there. As the shimmering music ebbs away, he drives off into the distance towards ‘a valley filled with frozen clouds’. Beautifully and disturbingly strange.

Fly’s Eye
We’re still on the road, this time in a car driven by the Man in the Moon with your brother Bill in the passenger seat. A lurching rhythm (another Beefheart nod) is punctuated by slurred slide guitar, hi-hat rattles, saloon-bar piano and stabs of atonal synth. You can almost smell the bourbon.

The Duke’s Saharan Ambitions
A bit of a left turn here which swaps the parched desert highway for the far East. A looping, almost raga-like piece, it has its nice touches – the ‘Fripp in a wind tunnel’ guitar in the middle adds a pleasingly ragged texture – but overall it feels a little aimless and out of place, and is the only misstep on the album. You can’t help feeling that in the pre-CD age this wouldn’t have made the cut…

…as is the case with this one, at least not in the form it appeared here – a 23-minute medley that includes three minutes of silence. (Remember when CDs first appeared and everyone felt the urge to have ‘hidden tracks’ and similar nonsense? I’m glad everyone eventually grew out of that.) The first section, ‘Wheelhouse’ itself, finds us back where the album belongs: in a one-horse town where ‘the light hangs in the dust’ and the big gears grind in the threshing room. The insistent metallic guitar riff captures the grind of the gears, and Thomas returns to his theme of desolation and mystery: ‘No one knows who you used to be / or where you’ve been / or what you’ve done / or the things that you’ve felt’.

After the three-minute silence, we’re treated to a delightfully brittle take of ‘Fly’s Eye’. The finale is the dreamy, glossy krautrock groove of ‘My Name Is…’ Stretching over twelve minutes, it features Thomas manipulating the vocalisation of title phrase through a computer over meandering organ and Tom Herman’s exemplary, fluid guitar work.


St Arkansas (2002)

The Fevered Dream Of Hernando DeSoto
Four years down the line, and we’re still in familiar territory: ‘in the midday sun’ on ‘the mighty road’. Driven by a rattling snare pattern, it’s an energetic slice of warped surf-rock, the keening guitar having a faint echo of the Pixies. The vibrant energy of the music contrasts effectively with Thomas’ weary resignation: ‘In the withered heart of the modern man, is there no hope to find that some things are worthy?’

Slow Walking Daddy
The road trip continues: out on Route 322 again, six miles south of Meadville, at Moose Lodge 2505.


One of the joys of Thomas’ lyrics (which I’m only just beginning to get my head around) is the contrast of mundane everyday details (‘there’s a sign that says, “Good Cod Dinner, Fridays, $5.95” / “Good Steakeye Dinner, Saturdays, $5.95″‘) with evocative, poetic lyricism (‘I saw stars in strange constellations / trapped inside the blackness of never-ending night / seen through the pearly luminescence of shatterproof glass / framed by the wrong side of green velour / and maybe it felt like home’).

A brisk but considered shuffle featuring a jazzy organ and dabs of oddly fractured percussion, it’s yet another song that captures the romance of the open highway: ‘I love that road, I love the way it yields to me / it sorta breathes and whispers out my name’.

The ominous introduction finds Thomas crooning menacingly over grainy, flickering noise; the remainder of the song mixes fragments of semi-industrial grind and tinkling keyboards. He casts himself as an ‘eraser’, a manipulator of his past: ‘ I will rewrite and recast / nothing can haunt the future of my fabulous past’.

An urgent but strangely murky piece of garage punk, filled with surreal imagery: ‘I’m shooting fish in a pearly bath / they think I’m keeping score / sky is up, the sea is glue’. The last minute is an incongruous passage of pastoral guitar.

A sparse, hesitant song, dominated by jazzy piano; it finds Thomas in reflective and resigned mood: ‘Water my earth with no tears / tell passersby just to kick the dust around / it’s in hell that I am bound’.

Verging on the abstract and formless, ‘Lisbon’ throws together coiled, reverberating bass, cymbal splashes, electronic effects and symphonic synth. The vocal is almost entirely dislocated from the surrounding sounds. Perhaps a tale of sexual rejection – ‘my baby done told me she does not feel frisky / I have been informed, she will not be warmed /
by dark liquid eyes / which do not appeal to her’ – it’s darkly unsettling.

Hard to imagine ‘a monstrous spittoon’ hanging in the air, but this a masterful mix of stalking menace and abandoned thrash.

Phone Home Jonah
After a sequence of dark and reflective songs, this pumps up the volume and the energy with a busy slice of post-punk melodrama. Hard to unravel precisely, but there’s some sort of biblical imagery going on: ‘I will phone home, Jonah, from the belly of the whale / saying, “Hang on, buddy, I shoulda knowed”.’

Where’s The Truth
Musically angular but delicate, Thomas’ vocal wanders around the stuttering rhythm, only occasionally touching base with the beat. Deliciously meandering and touching: ‘I cannot help it if I fall in love / some things are not meant to be’.

A gloriously intense, repetitive piece of whirling, hypnotic post-punk-psych. Not a second is wasted. We’re back on the road: driving ‘into the wilderness’; ‘and I drive because I do what I want / and I drive because I was born to drive / and I drive because every ghost town rising in the dust feels like a home to me.’ It’s insanely, deliriously captivating; no more so than when Thomas strikes a final, apocalyptic note: ‘And I drive because the angels fly / and I drive because I fear the coming of the night / the fearsome night / I agreed to pay the price’.


In conclusion:

I can’t remember the last time that an album (or, in this case, two of them) inhabited my world in this fashion. I know that I have much work to do to take in fully the broader scope of Pere Ubu’s work, but for now I am just revelling in being captivated by these two incredible pieces of music. I shall return, but for now I must get back to They All Exist

Oh, and to explain the title of this piece:









NQGRD #09 – Bruce at 70

I would imagine that most readers who have found their way here have arrived via a love of The Fall, given that most of the blogging that I’ve done over the past couple of years has involved reviews of random selections of the group’s work and a chronological account of all their albums.

Image result for bruce springsteen

The fan demographic of The Fall and Bruce Springsteen has, I imagine, a pretty slim intersection: but I sit right slap bang in the middle of it. Most of what I listen to is difficult, challenging, distorted, angular… Bruce’s music is generally none of things. But he has been, for many years, an important part of my life; something that I regularly turn to for comfort, inspiration and reassurance.

It was only recently that I realised that Bruce was about to turn 70. This seemed rather incredible to me. Unlike McCartney, Jagger, etc. (who do feel like ancient history), Bruce has a vitality and relevance about him that seems to place him in no particular era; it’s hard to accept that he really could be that old.

Image result for bruce springsteen 1975

I do totally understand why many people don’t like his music. John Peel (whose opinions are always worthy of consideration) thought his 1975 UK debut appearances ‘a trifle theatrical’, and said that he didn’t think that he was, ‘as Rolling Stone have claimed, the future of rock ‘n’ roll, but rather a summary of its past’. And this is fair comment. Springsteen’s work has always been firmly rooted in the traditions of the 50s and 60s – and even further back, given his debt to Woody Guthrie.

Image result for bruce springsteen newcastle 1985
St. James’ Park, Newcastle 1984

I first saw Springsteen live at St, James’ Park in Newcastle in the summer of 1985. Before the release of Born In The USA in June 1984, I had only been vaguely aware of him. I knew he was big in America; I had read about the release of The River in Smash Hits; I had heard Hungry Heart on the radio a few times. But then a friend taped Born In The USA for me and I was instantly hooked.

It’s hard to say why. At the time, I was listening to Billy Bragg, The Smiths, REM… nothing that should have connected me to Bruce. But there he sat: an outlier, something that I latched onto in some undefinable way.


Born In The USA doesn’t actually hold up that well. Even the best songs are marred by a overly glossy, 80s style production. But there was just something that touched a nerve. Maybe it was just that I was a teenager, frustrated with the banality of my life, and Bruce’s vision offered something dangerous and exciting: ‘We busted out of class / had to get away from those fools / We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school’.

A confession: I attended the gig at St James’ Park with my dad, as I didn’t know anyone else that would go with me, and I didn’t have the confidence to go on my own. Fair play to him (he’s not been with us since 2010), he stood stoically alongside me on the hallowed turf (he was a passionate Newcastle United fan) despite his evident discomfort.

Image result for springsteen bramall lane

I saw Bruce again in 1988 at Bramhall Lane, Sheffield – this time with a friend from university. It was utterly captivating. Tunnel Of Love was a darker, more intense album than its predecessor; in his performance Bruce captured this intensity, but the show was also full of rock ‘n’ roll theatricality.

On both occasions that I saw him, he played for something in the region of three and a half hours, something that he has done throughout his career. On both occasions, it was over in the blink of an eye. To put the sheer volume of his live work into context, he has performed Born To Run 1744 times.

I’m no historian of his work; I’m sure there are thousands out there who’ve forgotten more facts about Bruce than I’ve ever absorbed. But I do know that when I want to hear something rousing, or comforting, or stirring – especially, admittedly, when I’ve have a glass of wine or two – it’s often Bruce that I turn to. And he never fails me.

Image result for springsteen

So, here is a personal list of the ten Springsteen performances that move and touch me. I’ve gone for live videos, because – whilst there are many outstanding albums – playing on stage is what defines him. There’s nothing ‘clever’ here: no obscure b-sides or the like. Many of the predictable ones are present: Born To Run, Thunder Road, and so on. It’s just my little, if rather unashamedly obvious tribute to The Boss.

1. Thunder Road

Recorded at Hard Rock Calling Festival, London 2012.

‘Show a little faith / there’s magic in the night.’

It’s a terrible cliché, I know: a middle-aged, middle-class balding British man glorifying lyrics about rolling down the car window, letting the wind blow back your hair and heading off down a two-lane highway. Much of what Bruce writes about is completely divorced from my safe, suburban life experiences. But… who hasn’t experienced heartache, a sense of longing for adventure, a desire for redemption, and the feeling of wanting to break free and do something different with your life? This is the power of Springsteen’s words: his lyrics are set in a distinct context, but capture universal themes that anyone can tune in to.

I realise that some may find the audience interaction a little clichéd. But, to me, it’s masterfully done; never patronising but a celebration of the shared joy in the song. He’s played this song live an unimaginable 1425 times, but there’s not a trace of routine or cynicism. If you watch performances of Thunder Road from the 70s and beyond, there’s a constant level of passion and commitment.

The contribution of the E Street Band should never be underestimated: here, the ever-dependable ‘Professor’ Roy Bittan underpins Bruce’s melancholy, romantic vision with typically dramatic but understated accompaniment.

2. Racing In The Street

Recorded at The Paramount Theatre, Asbury Park, New Jersey 2009

‘Tonight my baby and me, we’re gonna ride to the sea / And wash these sins off our hands.’

Again, Bruce is singing about a world about which I know nothing. I drive a Ford Fiesta; I have no idea what ‘396 Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor’ even are. But we all know the feeling of broken dreams: ‘all her pretty dreams are torn / she stares off alone into the night / with the eyes of one who hates for just being born’.

The song is a masterpiece in maintained tension, building in a way that always threatens some sort of explosion but reins it in tantalisingly. Bittan is again outstanding, but the star here is Max Weinberg, who keeps a tight grip on the building tension with forceful restraint. It’s also a beautiful melody, something for which Bruce is not always given enough credit.

3. The River

Recorded at Los Angeles Coliseum, September 30 1985

‘Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?’

I bought the Live 1975-1985 box set the day it came out in November 1986. Incredibly, despite the huge part that live performances played in his reputation, this was his first official live release.

Story-telling is an integral component of Springsteen’s work, and here he takes up half of the track’s 11 minute length relating the tale of his difficult relationship with his father and how he was rejected for service in Vietnam. Again, even if you have no connection to the Vietnam war, it’s easy to relate to the themes of being misunderstood by and disappointing your parents and youthful relationships gone sour: ‘Now all them things that seemed so important / Well mister they vanished right into the air / Now I just act like I don’t remember / Mary acts like she don’t care.’

4. Growin’ Up

Recorded at Brisbane, 16 February 2017

‘I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car.’

A key feature of Springsteen’s live shows is his propensity for bringing fans up on stage to play along with him. There’s a great compilation of how he does this with Dancing In The Dark here; also a touching record of a ten year old girl performing Blinded By The Light.

What’s striking about these videos is Bruce’s generosity, spontaneity and genuine joy at these moments.

His interaction with the cocky but endearing Nathan (including guidance about the best guitar poses) on the old favourite Growin’ Up is a joy.

5. Jungleland

Recorded at Gothenburg 28 July 2012

‘Outside the street’s on fire
In a real death waltz
Between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy
And the poets down here
Don’t write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be.’

Actually, the best version of Bruce’s tour-de-force street drama is from New York in 2000, which simply verges on perfection. But while the Gothenburg version’s sound quality is rather hit and miss, it contains a remarkably raw, emotional moment. Clarence Clemons – a fundamental part of the E Street band, and a focal part of this song – had died the year before; this performance saw the first revival of the song and the first time that Jake Clemons (the Big Man’s nephew) had stepped forward to take on the iconic solo.

He looks terrified in advance of his big moment (see 4:45-5:14), but by God he nails it. Watch 8:09-8:19 and 11:44 onward to see what it means to both of them.

6. Highway Patrolman

I did say above that this would all consist of live performances, but to be honest you can’t better this sparse version from the 1982 album Nebraska.

‘I always done an honest job, as honest as I could / I got a brother named Franky and Franky ain’t no good.’

Bruce at his storytelling best, allied to a beautifully simple melody. A sad, bittersweet tale of family ties and divided loyalties. The story’s denouement (‘I chased him through them county roads ’til a sign said Canadian border 5 miles from here / I pulled over the side of the highway and watched his taillights disappear’) is incredibly moving.

7. Born To Run

Recorded in LA, 27 April 1988

The choice is as obvious and clichéd as Thunder Road. But clichés become clichés because they’re true, and despite how often it’s been played, covered, copied, referred to… it’s still one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs ever written.

‘The amusement park rises bold and stark, kids are huddled on the beach in a mist
I wanna die with you, Wendy, on the streets tonight, in an everlasting kiss.’

There are what seems to be a million live versions of this out there. But I’ve chosen an acoustic one because he did something similar when I saw him in Sheffield and it was genuinely one of the most moving and exciting things I’ve ever seen live.

Again: it doesn’t matter what your background, nationality, ethnicity, gender or anything else is. We’ve all felt the sharp, keening need to say, ‘I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul’.

8. Downbound Train

Recorded at Hard Rock Calling Festival, London 2013.

‘I rushed through the yard, I burst through the front door
My head pounding hard, up the stairs I climbed
The room was dark, our bed was empty
Then I heard that long whistle whine
And I dropped to my knees, hung my head and cried.’

As mentioned above, Born In The USA was my introduction to Bruce. From the outset, this was one that turned my head: another tale of regret and longing.

This version features an excellent solo by Steven Van Zandt, another integral member of the E Street Band.

9. Purple Rain

Recorded at Brooklyn, 25 April 2016.

Springsteen and the E Street Band frequently included covers in their set, often responding at short notice to wider events. One example is their tribute to David Bowie. On this occasion, Prince had died only four days earlier, but the band still managed to perform a moving cover of one of his most iconic songs.

The star of the show here is obviously Nils Lofgren, who wrings out a soaring, inspiring solo. Garry Tallent, Bruce’s long-serving bass player (since 1972), is also worth a mention – not just for this song but for the un-showy way he has anchored the band’s sound for decades.

10. The Ghost Of Tom Joad

Recorded at Madison Square Garden, New York, 29 October 2009

‘Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ ’round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the Southwest
No home no job no peace no rest.’

Springsteen is best known for his lyrics about romance, redemption, relationships and personal fulfilment. But, over his career, he has also had a lot to say about social justice. Tom Joad sees probably the best example of this aspect of his work. Based around Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, it’s a bitter, angry reflection on inequality.

He’s joined by Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, who contributes some spectacular showboating lead guitar; Bruce holds his own in the solo guitar stakes, however.

It’s amongst his most poetic, moving and angry lyrics:

Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.


And so, that’s my list. Lots of other things that just missed the cut:

You Never Can Tell

Atlantic City


Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

New York City Serenade

The Promised Land

…and there are dozens of others, obviously.

But that’s my little tribute to The Boss. Happy birthday to you.




NQGRD #007 – black midi

Image result for black midi

These days – especially if you read music websites, stream tracks, etc. – you are offered a thousand and one recommendations every day, and the sheer volume of the music on offer is often overwhelming. Who amongst us does not have a lengthy queue of ‘must get around to listening to’ albums in much the same way as you have that teetering pile of books that you aim to get through next summer?

So far, so stating the bleeding obvious. But: there are few finer experiences than when you have one of those ‘wow’ experiences with a new band. And this is as true now, under the multitudinous deluge of online material, as it was when we used to thumb through racks of vinyl in dusty second-hand record shops.

For me – and I’m sure this is also the case for many reading this – the delight of discovery is often an historical event. The expansive possibilities of the internet have largely led me to unearthing material from the past (mainly the late 60s/early 70s in recent years); there are seemingly endless avenues of discovery with that era’s psych/stoner/blues-rock that have led in me into several rabbit-holes of introspective immersion. However – and, on the cusp of my 50th birthday, I’m aware how old this makes me sound – it’s a rare occurrence when these discoveries actually evolve a new band. Too often, new artists fill me with a sense of resigned déjà vu. Idles are a prime example – to me, the undoubted energy can’t disguise the recycling of elderly clichés and obvious rock ‘n’ roll posturing.

Some days, it just feels like it’s all been done before.

I first came across black midi via The Quietus. (If you’ve never read tQ, you should; if you have, you should contribute.) I was web-browsing on my phone in bed before settling down for the night when I came across thisSpeedway was pretty striking: its awkward, almost hesitant stuttering rhythm and off-hand vocals put it on the ‘to listen’ list.

And then, I forget about it; and them.

But then, five months later, for reasons I don’t really recall, the band popped back into my mind. And Google took me to this:

I honestly can’t remember being as blown away by a live performance as I was by this.

Opener Near DT, MI brings together the angular dissonance of Slint and the delicacy of Explosions In The Sky and then overlays it with some demented shrieking distortion. 953 links monstrous off-kilter riffs with passages of almost pastoral lightness; the communication between the band between transitions is spookily telepathic. Ducter is jerky, frenetic, insistent and dissolves into a huge, thrashing breakdown (and guitarist Matt Kelvin inexplicably wearing a construction site helmet).

As it goes on, one of the most striking things is the taut, controlled aggression wedded to an instinctive sense of mood and pace; the communication between the four of them is remarkable, not least because to these elderly, jaded eyes, they all appear to be about 13 years old. Also – and I’m conscious that I don’t want to belittle the contributions of Geordie, Matt and Cameron – Morgan Simpson’s drumming is simply incredible throughout (it’s hard to take your eyes off him) – he seems to find layers underneath the rhythm where you feel momentarily that he’s lost the beat but he suddenly launches back into it like you’re the fool for ever doubting him.

The group’s set piece, that they finish with here, is bmbmbm. Rooted in a singular, throbbing bass note, it’s possibly the track that will decide whether you can cope with them or not. Geordie Greep’s vocal veers into challenging territory, high-pitched, desperate, keening and wailing. It’s the factor that puts some people off, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before; verging on ridiculous but moving, odd and challenging.

Overall, the sheer sense of adventure and invention is unlike anything I’ve heard in a long while. And I haven’t even got to the album, which I’ve listened to incessantly over the last few weeks, more so than… I’m struggling to remember. I’ll get to the album shortly.

In the meantime:





NQGRD #006: thank u, next

Why on earth, I hear you ask, are you reviewing an Ariana Grande album? A very good question, and one I shall attempt to answer as concisely as possible…

Over on The Fall Forum, one regular contributor often posts things regarding aspects of US popular culture (e.g. Molly McAleer – no, me neither) and is frequently a little exasperated and perplexed by my lack of interest in such celebrity news. Cleanville Tziabatz (which is his slightly unlikely moniker) and I have had several exchanges regarding my ambivalence regarding such things. However, when he posted a review of thank u, next and suggested that I would be too closed-minded to even listen, I had to take issue. I am not prepared to even dip my toe into the world of (what he insists on describing as) ‘slebs’; but I will always have a crack at music that someone else considers worthy of a listen.

Before I even start on this though, it’s probably worth pointing out that there will be very many points of reference on this album (both musically and lyrically) that will be lost on me. I am a nearly 50 year old man whose children have very little interest in any pop/chart music; I hardly watch any TV and remain blissfully ignorant of 99% of celebrity culture. I’m not one of those people who just listen to the same things that I did in my teens/20s, though; it’s just that new music I listen to generally tends to be of a difficult / angular / challenging / experimental bent. It certainly doesn’t usually involve artists whose most popular song on Spotify has had nearly 600m listens…

Thank U, Next album cover.png

Until she was involved in the Manchester terrorist incident, I’d never actually heard of Ariana, and her involvement in that incident was, before this, the sole fact I knew about her. Googling her, I found that she started out in some sort of teen sitcom called Victorious (I looked this up on YouTube, but was left none the wiser, really). I also learned that she has sold a shedload of music, has broken lots of records, has experimented with ‘trap’ (whatever that might be) and has dated several people that I’ve never heard of (I’m presuming that Pete Davidson is not he of Dr Who and All Creatures Great & Small fame).

As such, I had no particular preconceptions; however, the dismissive, disdainful tone of the album title suggests a certain level of sassiness and fuck-you attitude. So I guess I am expecting a sort of updated version of Pink…

Before I started listening, the use of lower case and “U” immediately put me in mind of Prince. Whilst I was by no measure a huge fan of the purple one, I do admire quite a few of his songs. One of the things I did like about his best material was its sparseness; where he was prepared to leave gaps and not necessarily fill every space with noise and production. There certainly seems to be a Prince influence here; or at least there’s a similar approach to leaving space for emphasis. The rhythm track is understated and delicate and there’s a lot of room for the track to breathe and circle.

Everything is very carefully placed. The cynical side of me imagines that this was decided by some form of record company committee, but even if that is the case, you can’t deny that, as an opener, it’s open-ended, intriguing and scene-setting. There’s a soul/R&B flavour undercutting everything, most notably in the clipped guitar arpeggios; the gradual build, denoted by the orchestral/string stabs, is effective without being overly grandiose (although it teeters on the brink).

The aspect that leaves me undecided at this point is the vocal. A large proportion of what I listen to generally is either instrumental, or is characterised by idiosyncratic (and not necessarily very tuneful) vocalists such as Mark E Smith, Billy Bragg, Nick Cave or Mark Kozelek. I have not a misogynist bone in my body, I swear (and my better half would back me up on this), but female vocalists in my music collection are far and few between. Mariah Carey’s All I Want… and Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You are my idea of auditory hell. There is trace of the overblown Carey/Houston approach in the ‘only-dogs-can-hear’ notes towards the end of the track; however, overall, I was impressed with the understated and measured tone. Plus, going back to the production, the selective layering of the vocal tracks is pretty clever.

I strongly suspect that I will struggle to empathise with many of the lyrical themes on the album, for reasons that I imagine are obvious. I will probably have to google most of them as well, as – at the risk of sounding like my father watching TOTP with me back in the 80s – I can’t always understand the words. imagine, though, is pretty straightforward lyrically, being about that first flush of excitement when you’re with someone new and everything seems suddenly intimate and wonderful; like you’d suddenly invented being a couple. Lines like ‘how my face fits so good in your neck’ capture that feeling simplistically but effectively, although I’m not sure about the rhyming of ‘secrets’ with ‘creep shit’.

It opens with a relatively lo-fi little keyboard loop, one that you could almost imagine being the basis of a Boards of Canada song, and continues in a pretty understated fashion throughout, with only scant intrusions by bass or percussion. There are some slightly spaced-out strings that have a slightly late Beatles air to them towards the end.

Not what I expected: after the sparse, crisp down-tempo opener, I thought there’d be a classic track two ‘banger’; this feels more like a penultimate track (the one that prefaces the epic closer). I quite admire her for sticking this here, although the melody is a little predictable, the lyrics are slightly inane (‘I’m a little messed up / but I can hide it when I’m all dressed up’) and the vocal verges on the twee.

Pleasant enough, but rather limp and insipid. Whereas imagine made me sit up and listen, NASA just drifted by apologetically.

Ramps up the tempo a little, with a more aggressive beat than the last two and has a slightly ska/reggae-inflected rhythm. Lyrics are a bit banal and awkward here: ‘You’re the one that I’m thinkin’ / Got me feelin’ so incredible / would you mind maybe linkin’?’ It’s a little dull and she’s losing my attention by this point, to be honest.

fake smile
Opens with an intriguing, scratchy R&B gospel sample before settling into a delicate if rather obvious groove. The lyrics seem to be about the pressure of leading a public life and have a heartfelt but somewhat banal quality: ‘I read the things they write about me
/ Hear what they’re saying on the TV, it’s crazy’. The use of profanity (‘Fuck a fake smile’) is jarring and gives it a bit of edge, especially in contrast to the pretty chorus melody, but otherwise this is also a bit bland.

bad idea
A bit of a diversion musically, as this opens with a clipped, chorus-heavy guitar line that verges on Cure/Police territory. But then it just lays a bog-standard R&B/soul melody over the top that once again is a little predictable. It’s not without its merits: the echoing, childlike backing vocals are quite arresting, and the orchestral interludes add a bit of colour; but overall it’s a little pedestrian.

make up
A paean to make-up sex (‘I like to f*ck with you / just to make up with you’), this has much more about it than the last few tracks. The jagged rhythm gives it an edgy feel and the stuttering vocals have a lascivious air.

The dissonant, ghostly chords have an almost shoegaze/MBV tone to them, which provides an intriguing contrast to the smooth R&B vocals. It ultimately dissolves into a wall of syrupy strings. There’s the germ of of an interesting idea here that isn’t quite resolved.

in my head
The understated rhythm track is nicely sparse and atmospheric, but this feels like the same vocal melody is being trotted out again. Not sure about rhyming ‘tennis shoes’ with ‘issues’ either.

7 rings
A slow and sultry groove based around ‘My Favourite Things’, this is an inevitable example of the lyrics being beyond my frame of reference: I have no idea what, for example, ‘My wrist, stop watchin’, my neck is flossin’ / Make big deposits, my gloss is poppin” might mean. There is something very engaging about her vocal here, though: sassy but vulnerable.

thank u, next
This is another one where my lack of knowledge of / interest in popular culture might be limiting my understanding, as I have no idea who the Sean, Ricky and Malcolm referred to might be (if they are indeed real people). It’s one of the stronger melodies on the album, and is comparatively jaunty, possibly verging on flimsy.

break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored
It’s a great title, to be sure. However, the track – a light, reggae-ish lilt – is pretty unremarkable.

I am glad I listened to this, if only for the opening imagine, which is a startlingly stark and beautiful piece of music. The rest of it has its ups and downs, although I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was nothing I actively disliked. Having said that, most of it is far too smooth and bland for my tastes. That said, it is carefully and cleverly put together, without feeling overly ‘designed by committee’. I’m unlikely to listen to any of it again, to be honest, but it was worthwhile enough giving her a few hours of my time.

NQGRD #005: 40 Minutes (February 2019)

Taking a very brief break from The Fall, having just published the latest YMGTA post on Slates, here’s a tour through the other things that have been making a splash at Fi5 Towers over the last month or so…

Contemporary Recorder Music – the three-way edge of fear (jackson pollock) (From keith and rick)
‘We’ve been making noise for roughly 10 years!’ proclaims their Bandcamp page, and there’s certainly quite a bit of discography to get through, with another dozen albums available (all ‘name your price’), including a whole-album cover of Tubeway Army’s Replicas (bonus tracks as well) and the intriguingly titled we’re on the moon, titsuckers! and i did a shit in this box (this one right here). (CRM seem not to do capital letters.)

Keith and Rick is full of short bursts of droney, lo-fi slacker tunes; all spaced-out, echoey wandering just-about-in-tune vocals, lazy acoustic strum and tinny drum machines; like The Residents meet Sebadoh. three-way is a lovely blast of warped, fuzzed-up psych melody.

The TeleVibes – Smiling Tide (From Major Drones)
Another one of those Bandcamp discoveries about which I can tell you little, other that they’re from Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire). They play pretty straight-down-the-line melodic garage-psych-rock, with a nice touch of organ floating around behind the driving guitars. But they do it very well.

Croatian Amor – La Hills Burn at the Peak of Winter (From The World)
There is a certain breed of artist whose relentless creativity boggles the mind of those of us who find it hard enough to pen a few sentences about the sounds they produce. Loke Rahbek seems to be one of them. The Dane has released music under the names 1989, Hvide Sejl, LR, Semi Detached Spankers (!) as well as Croatian Amor and his own name.

According to this article/interview, Croatian Amor represents the most ‘extreme version’ of his output. Apparently, he released an album in 2014 that ‘could only be obtained if a prospective listener emailed him a nude self-portrait, offering a meditation on the vulnerability of artistic exchange’.

LA Hills is a hypnotic piece; a soothing synth line and a gentle, delay-pedal guitar figure circle round and around each other, doing much less than ought to be able to be sustained over seven and a half minutes. However, the minute variations in tone and tempo produce seemingly endless variations that make it feel a lot shorter. Another one of those artists that make you feel as if life’s too short and you’re only scratching the surface…

Klara Lewis – Twist (From Too)
Klara Lewis, according to this article, is ‘a critically acclaimed sound sculptress who.. builds her work from heavily manipulated samples and field recordings, creating a unique combination of the organic and the digital’. Which sounds just like my sort of thing.

Again, I’ve only dipped into her intriguing back catalogue, but Too is an intoxicating mix of jagged, abstract soundscapes. Twist features deathly stabs of synth, pattering anxious percussion and has an atmosphere of cloying paranoia and claustrophobia.


Asha Mirr – Sun Dealer (From It’s A Big World)
The tags on this album’s Bandcamp page are: electronic / nu disco / chillwave / future funk / plunderphonics / vaporwave. Now, there’s at least one of those genres that mean nothing to me (several, if I’m honest), but this track is a glorious collision of all sorts multi-genre stuff (even if I’m not entirely clear on what those genres actually are). Deep, reverberating synths; nervous, twitchy glitch rhythms; ghostly, multi-tracked backing vocals a la Burial’s Untrue; spiralling, echoing classical guitar… and a shedload more besides. Ominous, strange and beautifully crafted.

Ditlev Buster – Welcome to the EC compilation / Frank – That’s How I Would Like to be Remembered / W.A.Davison – Broken Radio Loops (From Electronic Cottage Compilation 004)
Hal McGee seems to be an affable and eccentric kind of bloke. On his website, http://www.haltapes.com, you can find ‘more than 200 albums of homemade experimental electronic music, noise, tape collage, and improvisation’.

Some of it verges on overindulgent nonsense, but there are a few gems on Electronic Cottage Compilation 004. Ditlev Buster’s (what a great name) introduction contains some true words of wisdom (‘Don’t sit at your computer for too long or you’ll go blind… go outside… put on your shoes…’); Frank’s track consists of some sharp, jazzy hiphop beats accompanied by the voice of the sort of elderly, worldy-wise gent you might find in a New York diner before it descends into some sort of spluttering bluster; W.A.Davison’s Broken Radio Loops does pretty much what it says on the tin. Mad fun.

PAINT – Sour Patch Kid
I know very little about PAINT. It sounds like it might be just one man, as it has a very home-demo sort of vibe. There are three tracks on Bandcamp, and all you learn from there is that he (?) is from Brooklyn and is ‘weedless in Seattle’, whatever that might mean.

Sour Patch Kid (the cover of which features a teenage girl giving her younger brother a drag on her cigarette) is a heavy, drowsy and distorted piece of distorted bedroom lo-fi; off-hand and melancholy, with a rather moving and laconic fuzz solo.

Porch Sam – MGMT (From Porch Sam Cassette)
No idea who Porch Sam might actually be, but this album is a noisy, aggressive mess, full of dubstep thump and angular samples; it’s all elbows – nothing fits, everything jars and butts up against each other; squelchy , distorted and dissonant.

MGMT features a rolling, crenellated synth and blasts of corrugated noise that clear the passages a treat. One to turn up loud and annoy the neighbours.

The Valenteens – Painted World (From Fuzzed Out Tone For The Painfully Alone)
If ever there was an album title that summed up an album’s sound…

Fourteen two-minute blasts of scuzzy, angry, distorted garage punk, it’s reinventing the wheel to some extent, but it captures the howling, wounded feeling that many bands at this end of things strive for but miss. The staccato riff of Oh, Boy! is a heady whirlwind; the choppy, driving Hideaway merges The Ramones and The Dead Kennedys. But Painted World  is the pick of the bunch: a joyfully aggressive slab of guitar angst that teeters on the edge of hysteria.

Spaceslug – Galectelion (From Lemanis)
You should have a good idea of what you’re getting from an album whose opening tracks are Proton LanderHypermountain and Supermassive. Like The Valenteens above, Spaceslug are not exactly doing anything new, but if you like a spot of heavy / doom / stoner / sludge / pysch-rock then this will most likely tick all your boxes.

The nine-minute closing title track is a swirling monster of unbridled, deep and dirty heavy, bluesy chords. Galectelion has a more subtle opening, but soon opens up into a fierce but controlled bit of Sabbath-esque riffery.

NQGRD #004: 40 Minutes (January 2019)

Thus far, I have concentrated on the ‘never quite got’ part of this blog’s title, rather than the (re)discovered bit. I do have quite a queue of ‘never quite got’ artists that have been suggested to me (The Chameleons, XTC, LCD Soundsystem, etc.) and I will get to them at some point. But I love reading columns like Columnfortably Numb and Spool’s Out, so I thought I’d have a crack at something similar-ish; a sort of ‘stuff I’ve recently come across’ thing.

What I listen to may not appeal to all Fall fans (from which avenue most of my readers have come thus far). Or at least, I suspect so, based on the Fall-related recommendations that Spotify, for example, throws my way. My tastes generally run to the sort of thing covered in the two columns mentioned above, but not exclusively so. Psych, space/krautrock, electronica, experimental, dark ambient, instrumental hip-hop, garage (The Stooges rather than Craig David), drum & bass, techno (of minimal persuasion), prog and a spot of metal (generally of the black variety). And The Wedding Present.

I had hoped to come up with a snappy, clever bit of wordplay for the title (such as Spool’s or Columnfortably), but creativity is not my strong suit: the best I could come up with, sadly, was ‘Forty Towers’. The uninspiringly prosaic title simply comes from the fact that I have always been wedded (in my sad old man fashion) to the notion that the best albums have always been around 40 minutes long (Ziggy Stardust = 38:29; Grotesque = 41:21; Happy Songs for Happy People = 41:52; Ege Bamyasi = 39:57). An album should leave around 4-5 minutes spare at the end of one side of the C90 so that you can add that b-side that you like…

Enough blather: here are your 40 minutes of high-quality music for January.

Don Gero -Wind Cutter parts 1-3 (from ‘Wizarding’, 2017)

There are few finer pleasures in life than rooting through the ‘experimental’ section of Bandcamp. All human existence is there: if you can record yourself weeping and/or banging something against something else and/or torturing someone else’s vinyl) then you’re welcomed into the strange, dark and oddly moist world of “experimental”. This is how I discovered Mr Gero.

DG’s oeuvre is, according to a review quoted on his Bandcamp pagestellar rhythmic grooves, Krautrock precision, and manipulated drum pad triggered madness. Combining dense polyrhythms and modular synths, Don Gero creates experimental fusion, blurring world rhythms with hypnotic structures and mind-melting intensity. A little overwrought, perhaps, but it got me interested.

Googling him informs me that Don Gero is a character from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Whatever that is. Don doesn’t seem to have a particularly huge online presence, but I did find a few videos on YouTube. This one is the pick of the bunch: under a bridge in Richmond, Virginia, Don batters his kit frantically in competition with some sort of analogue sequencer (I’m not entirely au fait with the technical stuff – there’s a better description here) that churns out some seriously chunky, distorted rhythms.

The album is divided into 4 ‘sets’ of tracks, each with a part 1-3. Water Pillar opens with some early Genesis meets Tangerine Dream keyboards before letting loose with a frantic percussive barrage. Fire Ball is a slower but no less aggressive discordant stomp that dips into some mutant tribal funk before resolving into a piece of sleek, undulating krautrock. Rock veers into lithe industrial metal with evisceratingly distorted guitar. Wind Cutter clangs away vigorously, with synth squirts that in places sound alarmingly like they’re going to morph into Take On Me. The middle section is almost entirely percussive; intricate, knotted rhythms reminiscent of some of Oren Ambarchi’s work. The final section furnishes those rhythms with a layer of buzzsaw drone guitar.

It’s all fine stuff: hypnotic, intriguing and impressively bloody noisy and difficult in places. The album isn’t exactly ground-breaking – Holy Fuck, for example, visited these shores some years ago – but it’s inventive, rewarding and very good at high volume.


German Army – massawa (from ‘Kurgan Hearth’, 2017)

I first discovered German Army via Spool’s Out. Describing them as an ‘indefinable industrial ambient psychedelic dark pop project’ is pretty spot on. The good folk at SO are also indubitably correct in characterising them as ‘insatiably active’: somewhere in the region of 70 releases since 2011 makes for a daunting back catalogue; I’ve listened to them a lot over the last couple of months, and feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

massawa is a haunting, jagged dirge that gives you the sense of something ghastly and abhorrent slithering up the stairs while you tremble under your duvet. A complex but understated rhythm, redolent of broken glass and snapping bones, overlaid by foreboding air-raid siren synths. I’d leave the light on if I were you.


heroin party – summoning ritual (from ‘summer made me blue; summer gave me sky’, 2012)

Another random find in the experimental Bandcamp labyrinth. I’ve not been able to find out anything about them other than the fact that they’re based in Maryland (googling them tends to lead to ‘tragic drug death of teenager’ type stories). Whoever they are, the album is a beguiling little gem; a melancholic but playful mix of ambient drones, tape collages, delicate piano and a multitude of strange and random voices.


The Burning Hell – Everything Will Probably Be OK (from ‘Baby’, 2009)

I first came across Shane Quentin (aka Head Gardener) via The Fall Online Forum. HG is the producer/presenter of a long-running radio show The Garden Of Earthly Delights. He regularly posts his show on the forum via mixcloud (as well as seemingly endless purchases of rare and obscure vinyl from car-boot sales) and it’s always an entertaining and highly eclectic set of tunes. Everything… was the opener on his recent Dry January show, and, to be honest, I nearly skipped it: it sounded like the sort of self-regarding hipster twee-pop from which I normally run a mile. However, there’s something stupidly winning and joyful about it that, before too long, had me smiling and tapping a toe or two (not something to which I am generally disposed). The lyrics are corny but sweet, and actually made me chuckle a couple of times: I especially like the ‘non-sequitor’ line.

Unlike most of the other artists here, they actually have a website that tells you something about them. They’re Canadian, formed in 2007 and were named after a religious tract handed to bandleader and songwriter Mathias Kom by a wide-eyed zealot in Toronto. They seem to have undergone a variety of line-up changes over the years and the website suggests that their style has varied greatly from album to album. I must confess that I’ve only had a quick skim through Baby, but nothing other than Everything… appeals. It’s all a bit polite; Fiery Furnaces meet Los Campesinos! meet Low on Prozac. Perhaps it’s an example of what Garry Mulholland called ‘Theory One’: everybody has one good song in them. I might be being harsh here, especially not having investigated the rest of what seems to be a large back catalogue. But, whatever: Everything Will Probably Be OK is a gem; a quirky, effervescent bit of joy that – for seven and a half minutes – makes you feel at one with the world, well-disposed to your fellow man and inclined to pour yourself a large glass and toast the wonder of music.


Povalishin Division – Диван Даши Сусак (From ‘Mulatu Ostatki (Demos & Outtakes)’, 2015) 

Discovered via myself. When rooting around in the recesses of Bandcamp, I occasionally download albums that look interesting with the aim of giving them a proper listen at some later and then completely forget about them until they pop up on shuffle. This was very much the case here, Диван Даши Сусак provoking a wtf? moment a couple of weeks ago.

All I can tell you is that Povalishin Division appears to be one guy, who describes himself as an ‘outsider singer-songwriter from Moscow’. Further investigation was rather hampered by the fact that the song titles and other info on Bandcamp are not just in Russian but in Cyrillic script. Google Translate suggests that Mulatu Ostatki means ‘Mulatto Remnants’, which sounds rather dubious, although I’m loath to condemn the guy on the basis of online translation. This is him:

The album is a bewildering mix: 70 minutes/29 tracks of lounge-jazz, scratchy folk, bedroom lo-fi, sci-fi synth, 60s psychedelia, haunting goth wailing and twee bontempi pop. Mulatu Ostatki is labelled as a demos/outtakes compilation (a sort of Muscovite Hatful of Hollow) which goes some way towards explaining its disparate randomness. That said, he seems to have a pretty extensive back catalogue, and – having had a dip into it – the ‘official’ albums are a bit more polished and slightly less peculiar; but only a little.

Диван Даши Сусак is driven by a gentle, fluid double bass line, supported by a little bit of understated folksy guitar (or maybe a ukelele?) The vocals are strained, cracked, and somehow calm and desperate at the same time.


Planning For Burial – We Left Our Bodies With The Earth (From ‘Leaving’, 2010)

Another self-discovery. This track cropped up the other day whilst I was working at home, and I was instantly transfixed by the sheer weight of the overloaded guitars. I have no memory of how and when I acquired this album but it’s perfect for those who like a spot of epic, blackened sludge. The doom-laden waltz of Memories You’ll Never Feel Again, the feedback-drenched blues-rock/black metal hybrid of Seasons Change So Slowly and the spacious ambient calm of Leaving are all top drawer, although PfB are prone to portentous/pretentious post-rock style titles on occasion (Oh Pennsylvania, Your Black Clouds Hang Low).

We Left…, however, is the pick of the bunch: a smokey, sludgy morass of distortion does nothing complicated but does some simple things very well indeed. Requires high volume; even more so than Mr Gero above.


Land of Kush – Iceland Spar (From ‘Against the Day’, 2009)

Cropped up as a Spotify recommendation at the beginning of the month (it provided me with a ‘Tastebreakers’ (ugh) playlist – apparently a selection of ‘songs from genres and artists’ that I ‘don’t normally explore’. Hmm.

The playlist is variable, to say the least, but this is an epic piece: a slow, woozy, expansive raga-psych jam. A deep, lilting vocal melody alternates with deliciously meandering violin, sax and sitar-ish guitar solos, all underpinned by an exotic, hypnotic rhythm section. The fourteen minutes just fly by.

On investigation (after a slight detour to the makers of Baltimore’s best vegan crab cakes), I seem to have selected another Canadian act, a large orchestra led by one Sam Shalabi. (Another of his projects, Shalabi Effect, looks worthy of investigation.)












NQGRD #003: Public Image Ltd – First Issue

Image result for public image ltd first issue

XTC, The Chameleons and LCD Soundsystem wait patiently in the queue, having been suggested by various online acquaintances. However, I wanted to do this one next as it was suggested by Jamie (who is responsible for Oh! Blogger!). I recently met up with Jamie, as my work travels often take me to where he is a student, and we had an interesting and wide-ranging conversation regarding – obviously – music.

One of the most interesting things to emerge from the conversation was his commitment to the album as an art form. We touched on a few artists that I thought were worthy of his consideration, but he was resistant to the idea of ‘doing you a mix’, etc.  I think Jamie’s part of a dying breed; I know that my kids, for example, just like individual songs and don’t really have any interest in the idea of an album.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we got on to the subject of PiL. I had to press him regarding which album I should consider, and he umm-ed and ahhh-ed for some time before eventually (hesitantly) suggesting the debut album.

Public Image Ltd
Having been only nine when the single Public Image was released, I have a very vague memory of it being played on Top of the Pops, but it’s no more than that. I’ve been directed several times, via articles I’ve read, friends’ recommendations, etc. to, for example, Metal Box and Flowers of Romance. But it’s another example of a band where I’ve considered it to be ok without ever quite connecting with it.

Before giving this album some serious consideration, I have to say that I was only really very familiar with the obvious: Public Image, Rise, and This Is Not a Love Song. PiL, to me, were one of those ‘quite interesting, I must at some point listen to more’ bands.

First Issue
The album’s opener, Theme, is a simply astonishing piece of work. One of those ‘I can’t believe that I haven’t listened to this more often’ moments. Keith Levene’s guitar is remarkable: distorted and angry yet completely focused; intense and hypnotic; it slashes and swirls and creates a maelstrom of shrill, aggressive noise. Jim Walker’s drumming is solid; studied rather than flamboyant, but anchoring the song imperiously. I had this song on in the car a few days ago, and my nineteen-year-old commented that it sounded ‘like someone losing their mind’. Which is fair comment, as Lydon’s vocal is a perfect mixture of rabid hysteria and calm menace.

It’s an incredible song: nasty, angular, disturbing… I’ve listened to this dozens of times of the last couple of weeks and have yet to tire of it.

Public Image, if far more familiar, is equally effective. The ‘hello… hello’ introduction is one of those genuinely classic moments, and the cackle at 0:10 drips with sardonic glee. Levene’s guitar line is very different to that on Theme, but is equally effective: a driving, chorus-heavy assault that’s full of energy and aggression. I’ve never been entirely sure about “post-punk” as a genre, but if it really exists, then this – to my mind – is what it sounds like.

Annalisa has another urgent, driving riff that is complemented perfectly by Lydon’s shrill, keening vocal. Low Life is also a highlight: another great, trebly and acerbic guitar part that is matched wonderfully well by Lydon’s strained yet disdainful voice. It’s relatively accessible, dare I say even quite poppy – although this judgement may well be influenced by having listened to Theme several dozen times over the last couple of weeks.

The album is not without its missteps. Religion I, however much it might attune to my personal views, has a rather po-faced sixth-form poetry air to it. Attack is a rather undeveloped idea. Fodderstompf is rhythmically interesting, but the falsetto vocal becomes tiresome very quickly.

In Conclusion…
Theme is worth the price of admission alone; Public Image is undoubtedly among the most remarkable singles ever released. It’s an intriguing album that was well worth investigation; there’s an admirable f*ck you attitude that runs right through it. It’s impressively, resolutely uncommercial  (Warner Bros. baulked at even releasing it in the US) and must have confounded anyone who expected Lydon just to produce his own version of the Sex Pistols. And so early PiL releases join the pile of albums that I really must get around to listening to properly…

NQGRD #002: Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona

Image result for Throwing Muses - The Real Ramona

Firstly, apologies to @SkippyVinyls. I asked for suggestions to cover in this blog, and he got in early with Saint Etienne’s Sound Of Water. As he has been a regular supporter / liker / retweeter of the Fi5 blog, I thought it only fair to give his suggestion a go next. However, slight problem: I hated it. Really hated it.

I found it twee, limp and wet, and her voice is just like nails down a blackboard to my ears. I probably could have enjoyed writing a few hundred words ripping it to shreds (reading and writing bad reviews can often be even more fun than extolling virtues), but I thought that would be rather churlish in the circumstances. So, sorry SV – I did give it a listen, but it’s really not for me!

I decided instead to go for Mark’s suggestion of Throwing Muses’ The Real Ramona.

Throwing Muses
I first heard TM via a free 7″ that came with Sounds in 1988:

I don’t remember particularly liking or disliking Mania to any great extent. I was far more interested in Hey, which, at the time was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. (I haven’t really listened to Pixies in years, but just having listened to that link, the song still sounds exceptional now.) Subsequently, I’m pretty confident that I must have heard a fair few TM songs via friends’ compilations, playlists, etc. But none of them ever stuck in my mind. I have an overall impression of what the band generally sound like, but I think that this may largely be based on The Breeders’ Pod and Last Splash, both of which I owned in my student days or just afterwards. I thought that TM were a bit more angular and less straightforwardly pop-grunge than The Breeders; but I have to confess that I went into this album with only a vague idea of what to expect.

The Real Ramona
A little spot of research (well, Wikipedia) told me that the band formed in 1981 and started releasing records in 1987. Wikipedia summarises their sound as: ‘shifting tempos, creative chord progressions, unorthodox song structures, and surreal lyrics’ which largely fits in with my expectations.

TRR was their fourth album, released in 1991 (the year of Nevermind and grunge). NME named it the 35th best album of the year (but then they made the incomprehensibly overrated Screamadelica 3rd, so what do they know?) Kristin Hersh wrote most of it, with Tanya Donelly only chipping in with a couple of songs. It’s almost exactly 40 minutes long, of which I heartily approve.

My first couple of listens were as background music, while I was cooking. First impressions: not as difficult or angular as I expected; I think I was expecting more surprising tempo changes and sharp left turns. Not that it’s run of the mill 4/4 indie-rock at all, but it’s more quirky than challenging. Actually, ‘quirky’ isn’t really the right word, as it suggests a light-heartedness that isn’t really the flavour here. It’s more earnest than that; not in a po-faced kind of way, but it does feel like a serious piece of work. And again, that’s not a criticism: I like the way that it takes itself seriously, but not overly so. There’s no fluff here.

When I got down to more serious listening on the headphones, I found that the first two thirds or so of the album were solid: good, well-crafted music. The highlight up to this point was Graffiti. It has a pretty standard, chugging top-string riff (almost The Cars-ish) that’s offset very nicely by a slightly unpredictable tempo where things occasionally come in a beat ahead of where you expect them (Teenage Fanclub used to do this all the time, e.g. Start Again). I also enjoyed the Tom Waits-esque hammer-on-anvil percussion that appears halfway through, which cuts through the controlled, placid air of the song nicely.

Up to this point, I’d found the music well-crafted, competent and interesting – if not exactly intriguing. It hadn’t, at this juncture, really grabbed me. It was just a little too uniform. Not that there weren’t notable features in each song: Counting Backwards features a choppy, slightly atonal guitar (almost Fripp style); Red Shoes blends sweet and gentle with a bit of spirited stomping; Golden Thing throws a contemporary twist on the Bo Diddley shuffle; Ellen West does something similar with Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac harmonies; Dylan, although slight and ephemeral, provides a pleasantly dreamy mid-album interlude.

But then I got to Hook In Her Head. It starts with a hard-edged chorus-laden arpeggio before breaking out into a deep dry thumping beat with off-kilter double-tracked vocals and a delicious swooping fuzz guitar. It builds to an intense finale, featuring clattering drums and Sonic Youth fuzz-feedback. Tremendous.

The following track, Not Too Soon (one of Tanya Donelly’s two songwriting contributions) is completely different but is my second favourite. A sweet bit of wistful indie-pop: The Shangri-Las meet Hole meet The Darling Buds. A delightful palate-cleanser after the intensity of the previous track.

After that, Honeychain (Tanya Donelly’s other song-writing contribution) offers a loping, country style bass line that soon ramps up the distortion nicely, although it gets a little saccharine by the end. Two Step, the album finale, goes for a lighters-aloft effect but is just a touch dreary.

In Conclusion
Many thanks to Mark for directing me to this one. I liked every track to at least some degree, and there were two songs that blew me away. I’m a notoriously lazy listener sometimes, and this is the sort of album that can just drift by me. It was certainly worthwhile to give it proper consideration, and  – when I can find the time – I’ll definitely give some other TM albums a listen.

And sorry again @SkippyVinyls – I’ll happily listen to another suggestion of yours. Just better stay away from the old synth-pop…

NQGRD #001: Wire – Pink Flag

Image result for wire pink flag

Wire are a good place to start with this blog, being possibly my archetypal ‘never quite got’ band. I have listened to them – albeit not exactly intensely or at length – several times over the years, and have never heard anything by them that I actively disliked. However, whilst I was aware that they were terribly influential and I knew people who rated them very highly, nothing I ever heard quite ‘clicked’ with me.

I did make a bit of an effort a few months ago, as it happens. Eric (over at the Fall forum) and bzfgt (of The Annotated Fall fame) had both been waxing lyrical about the band and were rather astonished and perplexed by my ambivalence and ignorance about them. Endeavouring to enlighten me, they suggested a playlist (which was: Reuters/Fragile/Practice Makes Perfect/Mercy/The 15th /Touching Display/Drill/The Finest Drops/Boiling Boy/Agfers of Kodack/Art of Stopping/One of Us/Adapt/Bad Worn Thing/Doubles and Trebles/Adore Your Island/Blogging/Burning Bridges/Harpooned/Internal Exile/Diamonds and Cups/Brio). In typical lazy fashion (see the last post of Fi5) I stuck it on one day whilst I was working, but found that it just kind of drifted by me, and I remained unconvinced.

And so I thought no more of it. But then this post about Magazine (another band that I really have not paid sufficient attention to over the years) turned out to be very enlightening about that band’s excellent debut; and when that was followed by a post by the same blogger about Pink Flag, I was inspired to give Wire’s debut a proper listen.

I was too young for Wire’s debut, still having three years of primary school left when it was released in November 1977. My prior ‘knowledge’ of the album consisted of Strange (which I knew of via the REM cover), I Am The Fly (which a friend once put on a mix tape  – back in the days when they actually were tapes – for me) which I was erroneously convinced was on this album, and an overall understanding that it consisted of a lot of short, sharp (and, in my mind, one-dimensional and predictable) punky thrashes.

I’ve listened to this album a lot over the last week or so, and I have to admit that many of my preconceptions were pretty wide of the mark. ‘Short and sharp’ is apt, certainly: fifteen of the twenty-one (!) songs come in at under two minutes, and six of them don’t even make it to sixty seconds. But one-dimensional and predictable – in most cases – they certainly are not.

From the word go, this a very different beast from the albums that many would associate with 1977 punk. Whilst I can see the appeal of the exuberant, aggressive in-your-face-ness of, for example, New Rose, the opening track of Pink Flag sets a very different tone. Both the title and the foreboding opening lines (Our own correspondent is sorry to tell / Of an uneasy time that all is not well) of Reuters suggest something much more esoteric than ‘is she really going with him?’ Musically, this is also, for me, streets ahead and far more inventive and thoughtful than much of the other music that was lumped in with Wire at the time. A delicate but ominous pulse leads into some gentle guitar chimes which then lurches into a grinding, scuzzy riff which complements perfectly Colin Newman’s strained, anguished vocals. To add to the dark, intense atmosphere, there’s a layer of indistinct, vaguely disturbing background dialogue (especially around 1:25-1:39) that reinforces the ominous tone. Rounded off by the the final lines (‘This is your correspondent, running out of tape / Gunfire’s increasing, looting, burning, rape’) the song conjures up a dystopian nightmare that is utterly compelling. As good an album opener as you’ll ever get.

The title track features a similarly ominous opening, before launching into a thick, heavy riff that Newman sneers over acidly (‘How many dead or alive?’) before it descends into an oppressive, cacophonous thrash. Strange is also excellent: a loping, fuzzed-up riff with unearthly, detached vocals and ghostly echoes in the background. I’ve always liked REM’s up-tempo honky-tonk take on the song, but it rather pales in comparison to the original.

One thing that surprised me about the album was its musical diversity. As well as the heavy intensity of Reuters and Pink Flag, you have (to me, anyway) some quite surprising diversions into other approaches. Lowndown‘s two-chord riff brings Neil Young to mind; Fragile, Feeling Called Love and Mannequin have echoes of slacker/alt.country territory; Champs‘ hand-claps give it an almost poppy feel.

If you are (as I am) a lover of a good crunchy, fuzzy, distorted guitar sound then there many fine examples here too: the intros to Ex Lion Tamer, Surgeon’s Girl and Straight Line being prime examples.

Not everything quite hits the spot for me though. With many of the shorter songs – such as Mr Suit, Start To Move and Different To Me – although I admire their sharp abruptness, it all gets a bit generic punk-shouty for me.

You can hear this album’s influence in many places: Pavement, Sonic Youth and REM, for example. And whilst I remembered that there was a bit of fuss regarding Elastica’s ‘borrowing’ from the band, I’d forgotten how blatantly Connection ripped off Three Girl Rhumba.

So: an intriguing, influential (if not flawless) album, and one that I’ve seriously enjoyed immersing myself in over the last few days.

I’ve already had one suggestion as to what I should do next, but please feel free to share your ideas..


I spent much of 2018 writing a blog about The Fall – The Fall in Fives – and am moving on to a new blog looking at the albums called ‘You Must Get Them All‘. The album project is likely to feature longer, less frequent posts, as I intend to do a bit of proper research to support what I write (rather than the largely ‘spur of the moment’ opinions that were the main feature of Fi5). Whilst I am in no way tired of either listening to or writing about The Fall, I thought it might be interesting and stimulating for me (and, in an ideal world, readers) to have a little side project that looked at other artists.

Hence, Never Quite Got / (Re)discovered (and its snappy abbreviation NQGRD, which I’m sure everyone will be referring to as ‘nuh-qug-urd’ before too long).

I’ve always written a lot about music, although before Fi5 this was largely confined to music forums and communication with friends. One of the things that I really enjoying doing is reviewing mixes/playlists – something I’ve often done on both the Fall and Wedding Present forums. Reviewing a set of (mostly) unfamiliar songs is always an intriguing pleasure.

Also, I was at least partly inspired by Jamie’s Oh! Blogger site, in which he recently wrote (very well – I recommend the blog) about an artist that I’ve never really connected with (see my first ‘proper’ post, up before too long, hopefully). I’m sure many of us have artists that we just don’t “get” somehow: those that others rave about, appear on ‘best of…’ lists, etc. but make you feel like you don’t quite see what the fuss is about. So that’s partly what I want to write about, but I didn’t want to limit myself to that: hence the “(re)discovered” part, giving me the opportunity to also write about things that are new to me or that I’ve lost touch with and returned to.

Not exhaustive in any way at all, but here’s a completely off the top of my head and rather random selection of artists that fit into my ‘never quite got’ category. I don’t necessarily dislike their work, but I’ve either never had the inclination to investigate properly or haven’t been much taken with what I’ve heard:

  • Frank Zappa
  • Pere Ubu
  • Fairport Convention
  • Scott Walker
  • The Replacements
  • Gang of Four
  • Echo & the Bunnymen
  • Arctic Monkeys
  • British Sea Power
  • St Etienne
  • Blur
  • Throwing Muses
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Nick Drake
  • The Stranglers
  • Guided By Voices
  • LCD Soundsystem
  • Devo
  • The Cardiacs
  • Leonard Cohen

If anyone has a burning desire to point me in the direction of an album that they feel might help me ‘get’ said artist, then please do share it with me and I’d be delighted to have a crack at writing about it. But the first one is already earmarked…

As my followers on here and Twitter, etc. are all Fall fans (I presume!) at the moment, then any sharing with non-Fall-loving acquaintances would be much appreciated. Cheers!

Here’s a list of the posts so far:

NQGRD #001: Wire – Pink Flag
NQGRD #002: Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona
NQGRD #003: Public Image Ltd – First Issue
NQGRD #004: 40 Minutes (January 2019)
NQGRD #005: 40 Minutes (February 2019)
NQGRD #006: thank u, next
NQGRD #007 – black midi
NQGRD #008 – A Mix Tape From mutatedpony
NQGRD #09 – Bruce at 70
NQGRD #10 – Pere Ubu (Turn of the Century)
NQGRD #11 – Relationship Songs / Nostalgia Playlist