Saturday, February 01, 2014

Hypothetical mixtape: February 2013

Well, aside from starting with a song called "Sunrise" and ending with a song called "Ending", this playlist, in accordance with usual practice, comes to you with absolutely no rhyme or reason. And it is a year old. 

"Sunrise", by Cherubin. Now is probably the right time to mention that, for the whole of 2013, the dj/crate digger known as Turquoise Wisdom blogged one song each weekday, and given the excellence of many of his choices you will see an unhealthy number of those songs in these playlists until we get to 2014. (I'm feeling its loss already.) (He did it as a New Year's Eve resolution, which is silly enough; that he pulled it off without faltering is just insane. We are grateful for his efforts. And his good taste.) This is one of those songs. It's from 1974, the year that just keeps on sounding better and better.

"Houses", by Elyse. What do the words "guitar by Neil Young" mean to you? To me they mean "listen up". The song itself is otherwise perfectly fine but not shout-from-the-rooftops-great hippy-trippy folk rock, typical of its vintage (1968), but it is certainly livened up by the short blasts of "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" Youngian electric-guitar splendour.

"L'Espace D'Une Fille", by Jacques Dutronc. This is like listening to Serge Gainsbourg's slightly more burnished, slightly less nicotine-stained, cousin. The echoes of this song in Serge's own "Harley Davidson", recorded and released as a single by Brigitte Bardot only a year later, are either coincidental or not. And Serge isn't saying.

"Hesitation", by Honk. The way this song starts, you think you are in for another unwanted jazz-lite-fusion outing. And that sax line does reappear throughout the song, but elsewhere it's a kind of Doobie / Alessi Brothers vocal harmony extravaganza (from 1974, as if you hadn't guessed) and the world and its hard drives have always got room for one more of those.

"The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", by Llans Thelwell and His Celestials. True story: In olden times, when my associate and I spent unhealthy amounts of time digging through piles of other people's discarded vinyl in search of Arthur Lyman, Martin Denny and Manuel records (and the elusive V Balsara), we took home more than enough Klaus Wunderlich albums to last any normal person a lifetime. (We still have them all.) The back covers of some of these records gave, tantalisingly, the track listings on other of his records, and we were particularly intrigued that one of the "Hammond Pops" series that we didn't have (No. 3, to be precise) included Klaus's take on "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". (You can see how that would get us excited.) Thus, we were beside ourselves when, one day, "Hammond Pops 3", with its typically alluring cover photo, appeared, like a miracle, before our very eyes. It seemed too good to be true. And it was. Foolishly not checking the record itself before rushing it home, we discovered to our disappointment that someone had put a different "Hammond Pops" volume in the wrong sleeve. And so our search continues. In the meantime, it is nice to have this ska/bluebeat version to get us through the lean times.

"Love Can Run Faster", by Robert Palmer. I don't even like this. So what is it doing here? Because I have been searching for a long time for the reputed song that Robert Palmer recorded with Lee "Scratch" Perry at the Black Ark. And this is it. Musically, it is a typical Black Ark production. There is nothing wrong with that. But Palmer's white-boy soul shtick over the top of it isn't a good fit. I much prefer Perry in an all-Jamaican context and I much prefer Palmer on his album of the following year, "Clues". C'est la vie.

"Fool for a Valentine", by The Gist. Following the demise of Young Marble Giants after one (perfect) album, Stuart and Philip Moxham re-emerged as The Gist. They released one album, and it seems that Philip then went off on his own to do a number of different things, some surprising (David Thomas and the Passengers, in the company of one Richard Thompson) and some not so surprising (Weekend; a stint with Everything But the Girl), leaving Stuart as the gist of The Gist (ahem). This song, the A side of a Rough Trade single (of course), is, therefore, Stuart Moxham's baby. It is also the final Gist record. It is, too, an example of white-boy reggae done right, perhaps because its gentle lilt doesn't seek to draw too much attention to itself.

"Trees and Flowers", by Dum Dum Girls. Generally speaking, I ain't got time for cover versions of the songs that mean the most to me. "Trees and Flowers", by Strawberry Switchblade, is one of those songs. Hence, I listened to this cover through gritted teeth. I got to the end, listened again, and then again. The world didn't end. Maybe it began again. This is a very different take from the original: it is a bit like being submerged in an densely glooping sonic bath. (If that could be a good thing.) Following on from their take on The Smiths' "There is a Light That Never Goes Out", one can only conclude that Dum Dum Girls have a way with other people's songs.

"Blind Myself", by Rosemary. And so we find ourselves back in the wondrous days of do-it-yourself bands playing untameable analogue synths and rogue drum machines, a lone female vocalist shining a beam of light into the darkness. Except this song is from 2013. Incidentally, it reminds me of what I loved so much about the early Nite Jewel records.

"(Don't) Turn Me Away", by Rexy. And speaking, as we were, of Young Marble Giants, this might be what YMG would have sounded like had they used electronic instruments rather than, y'know, like, guitars and stuff. (Okay, they did use a drum machine.) This, like all of the best records, is from 1980. I wish I had known about it at the time, but better late than never I guess.

"Fingers", by Cyclopean. This is on the Spoon label, the home of your Can records. Which isn't so surprising, because, as well as Burnt Friedman, Cyclopean features Jaki Liebezeit and Irmin Schmidt, names you might know. "Fingers" is a lovely piece of music in its own right; but it also puts me in mind of a couple of things: (1) not surprisingly, the "Snake Charmer" EP, from 1983, which also featured Liebezeit along with Holger Czukay (another member of the Can axis); and (2) surprisingly, last year's album by Dawn of Midi (I am thinking in particular of the attenuated string sound -- superficially tagged as "Eastern" -- that is common to both records).

"Modern Driveway", by Luke Abbott. Come for the gorgeous chord sequences. Stay for the, um, gorgeous chord sequences. This knocks me over in a similar way to the way Caribou's "Swim" album knocks me over. I probably could have expressed that better.

"White Noise", by Disclosure. By the end of 2013 Disclosure had acquired ubiquity. But back in March, not so much. See how hip we are? (After the event ...)

"Magnifique", by Jersey Devil Social Club. AKA Morgan Geist, of whom we haven't seen so much lately. "Magnifique" was a disco burner from 1979. Is this a cover? An edit? Part of me has to know; the rest of me just wants to dance.

"Pearly Dew", by Lena Hughes. Queen of the flat top guitar, apparently. Reissued on the Tompkins Square label, so you know it's good.

"Wakin on a Pretty Day", by Kurt Vile. "Kurt Vile", it seems, is his real name. That may well be all you need to know. ("Wakin" does not have an apostrophe on the record cover. You probably don't need to know that.) This song, which stretches out over ten minutes on a laid-back yet industrious bed of electric guitars, seems to have no tickets on itself. It exists for its own sake. I don't know if I've heard a better song in a long while. 

"Ending", by Bruce Langhorne. Langhorne, I discovered when looking into who the hell he is, seems to have worked with Pete Seeger, so it's timely, if coincidental, that this list goes up in the same week that Seeger left us. This haunting piece is from the soundtrack to Peter Fonda's 1971 film "The Hired Hand", although the soundtrack seems not to have been released until the early oughts, courtesy of Blast First records (another label to which we owe so much). It would be perfect for a warm night around an open campfire, although it might scare the children.