Follow my new thing if you want.
Hi. I hardly ever post on this blog anymore because I can’t be bothered. You may have noticed that most of the stuff that gets posted is just me reblogging other projects that I do, and that feels pretty pointless to me now, so I might stop even doing that. All the other things I do are run through tumblr so if you wanted to follow them I’d appreciate it endlessly. They are:
IRREGULAR Zine - haphazard music criticism.
Fifty Two Weeks Of The Fall - subjecting myself to post-punk masochism.
Rob Evans Photography - getting in the way at shows.
Thanks for reading!
LIVE REVIEW: FUCKED UP IN LEEDS.
Fucked Up’s unique take on hardcore and the ridiculous ups and downs of their popularity (seriously still baffled why MTV would book a band they couldn’t say the name of and knew would trash everything, twice) doesn’t need to be gone over again by yet another shitty blog – much better writers than me have already, and will continue to, chart all of that shit so much better and in far greater detail. But I guess the most relevant thing to mention here is that Fucked Up are seriously just one of the most important goddamn bands going today. They are unrivalled, unparalleled. The only “FFO” comparison that I can come up with is Bad Brains crossed with The Fall – for their aggression, originality, prolific nature, disregard for anything anyone expects them to do, flirtations with being a mainstream band that have thankfully never quite been realised – but that still doesn’t come anywhere near close, not least because Fucked Up have been so much more consistently amazing than both of those bands. Fucked Up are just… a fucking force, man. There’s nothing else out there like them.
Listening to them constantly in preparation for seeing them live, and then actually seeing them live, makes all other music, hell, all artistic endeavours, feel inherently inferior, and I haven’t really listened to much else since. To say that Glass Boys might be their weakest album yet, for example, is essentially meaningless, because it’s still fucking amazing. It’s rare that I carry on listening to a band so much after burning myself out on them in the lead up to seeing them, but Fucked Up haven’t let me go yet. I’ve been a fan of them for a long time now, first hearing them a fair while after they started blowing up in the punk community and a little while before they were NME cover stars, and I have to admit that they’re not a band I’ve ever listened to, like, a LOT, over the years. But I have kept up with what they’ve been doing, checked out a fair few of their constant slew of non-album releases, and caught them at a festival a few years back. The last few days, though, have just pushed me over the edge, and now they just feel essential.
I hadn’t been to the Belgrave, one of Leeds’ newer venues, for a while, and the few shows I’d seen there thus far hadn’t really filled the space – the roof terrace is dead nice, but the too-hip-and-too-pricy bar mean it’s a real mixed bag of a venue. I don’t think Fucked Up was sold out, but it was the fullest I’ve seen it yet – even openers Lower played to a pretty good crowd. I couldn’t decide if they were amazing or fucking terrible, though. Shoegazey jangle pop guitar riffs and a punk rhythm section backing a singer doing a ridiculous Morrissey impression – I think, in retrospect, that they were terrible. But they fit the bill pretty well, I guess, echoing the more melodic indie rock side of Fucked Up’s personality, whilst Cerebral Ballzy, the tour support, kept them tied to their hardcore roots. I’d not checked Cerebral Ballzy out before, though I had heard that they were utter shite, so I was pleasantly surprised, actually (always feels weird saying things like ‘pleasantly surprised’ about hardcore – if heavy music can be ‘pleasant’, does that mean that it’s completely oversaturated? Another issue for another day I guess) with what we got. Solid hardcore in the early Black Flag vein, or maybe even Ceremony, but a lot trashier and more juvenile. Yeah, they were decent. Wouldn’t grumble about seeing them again, and might check their album out if I’m in the mood for some new hardcore stuff.
Fucked Up, though, oh man. I don’t envy any band that plays on the same bill as them. The room packed out and went off and, finally, the Belgrave’s worth as a venue is clear to me. For up-and-comers or obscure niche bands, it does no favours. But for bands big enough to pull an Academy 2 or 3 crowd but are totally unsuited to shows with barriers, it is fucking perfect. The sound’s great, the stage isn’t too high or too low, and the room’s big enough to get everyone in but still small enough to feel intimate and genuine when it’s full. Fucked Up suit it perfectly, especially thanks to the raised platforms down the sides of the room, which Pink Eyes can climb up on, and the pit breaks out, and the stagedivers and crowdsurfers start flying, and a few multi-tier pyramids get built, and everyone gets sweaty and comes away with lasting damage to their ears. It’s as perfect a hardcore show as you’re ever likely to go to – despite the slam dancing, it feels fairly free of the bullshit machismo and showing off that tends to come with the genre. There’s not one goddamn incident of floor punching, that’s for fucking sure.
Fucked Up’s three guitarists and bass player have been surprisingly motionless both times I’ve seen them – probably partly down to the fact that they’re playing more complicated parts than your average stage-thrashing hardcore band members – but it never really matters, because Damian Abraham absolutely fucking carries that band’s live performances. His presence both on-and-off stage is a huge part of why Fucked Up have managed to break out of the confines of hardcore and been allowed to dream a little bigger – he is just a step beyond anyone else in the game. He’s an imposing figure, but he’s not a tough guy – he loves every single person in that goddamn room with genuine honesty, hugging every stage diver, thrusting the mic to people with an eagerness that is all too rare, politely and quietly encouraging the security guards that don’t worry, it’s cool, let people get up on the stage. He wears the expression of a man who considers himself blessed to be doing what he is doing, and he commands every eye in the room, completely fearless, unstoppable. You will not see a better frontman, in hardcore or otherwise.
They play hard, fast, and loud, tight as hell, and they do. Not. Fucking. Stop – they go over the curfew by at least twenty minutes (prompting my best train-dash time ever), and I’m sure no one would have begrudged them an extra half an hour. Fucked Up are an absolutely flawless live band and I would watch them every fucking night if my body could take it. Perfect.
Another contender for show of the year. So good.
America reclaims Nick “Bleeker” Ball at the end of this week. He’s been a good dude to hang out with and make fun of for talking funny, and that time he got Juno pregnant. Ha ha ha.
IRREGULAR INTERVIEW - JAMIE BIRKETT (DOCTRINES).
Doctrines have gone pretty quickly from being that Replacements ripoff band that did the Replacements cover set at Manchfester 2 to being one of the most exciting and unique bands in the UK punk at the moment. Their weird and ambitious freak-punk is like nothing else out there, and they’ve been suitably plucked by Alcopop records for their last two releases, and hopefully many more. In many ways, this is kind of like a part two to the interview I did with Jack Pop recently, as I asked Jack about Doctrines and asked Jamie about Alcopop because I thought it would be interesting to hear both sides of the relationship between two of the scene’s most creative entities.
This interview actually started in the middle of April, and has been slow going due to the regular problem of real life getting in the way, and part of the inspiration behind it was due to the Doctrines album suddenly being available for free download despite having a label release. So we talked about that, and the band’s development, and so on and so forth. Jamie told me the NME once cut an interview they’d done with them in the past because they were too boring. Which is silly, because you only have to scratch the surface of Doctrines a tiny bit to discover endless hidden depths.
I: The first thing I wanted to ask was some boring business stuff. You recently put up ANX for free download because you’d ‘paid it off’ - could you explain what that means exactly? Is that just studio time, or pressing etc. as well? I was also wondering if you had any idea as to how much of that has come from downloads through Bandcamp and how much has come from physical sales.
J: It basically means we’d sold enough records to pay back Jack (from Alcopop!) all the money he’d put into pressing. The deal is that he puts up the money for pressing and we pay for recording, pretty straightforward. All sales up till that point, on his side and ours, go towards paying that off before we think about any profit, which is then split 50/50.
We hadn’t really spent anything because we’d recorded it ourselves at home. We had saved up enough money from shows and merch to pay for mastering and artwork. So we only had to worry about making sure Jack didn’t lose any money, and as soon as we knew he was all good I asked if he’d mind us putting it up for free on our bandcamp. He was well up for that and here we are now. I’m still pretty amazed how he’s willing to risk his own money on us without any promise of riches in return. He really is the greatest.
As for online vs. physical sales, I don’t know how it breaks down for Alcopop, but I’d say its about 70% physical for us. Quite a few people have been paying more for the download now that its free, which is pretty cool. But no one has ordered the vinyl option on there now they can get a free download, which I guess is interesting?
I: That arrangement is interesting to me because in all the classic tales of industry debt it’s the recording time that costs all the money. The kickstarters are always to record, never ‘cause someone’s made an album and needs to release it. Just goes to show that doing things the D.I.Y. way can be the sustainable option I guess?
Obviously though I’m sure it helped with you being a recording engineer/producer yourself, right? Can you share a bit about your background with that? Is there anyone who’s particularly influenced the way you record?
J: I should make clear that we were never ‘in debt’ to Alcopop! There’s no contract, no pressure to give money back. It’s all done on trust, and to me that means we are somewhat morally ‘in debt’ to make sure Jack, at the very least, isn’t losing any money on us before we start giving our album away. After all, he’s the one doing us a favour, and for that we’ll be eternally grateful.
But yeah, being a recording engineer definitely makes it much easier for us to release stuff. If you’re in a band without anyone who can do that kind of thing then it’s far better to get a few hundred quid together for some studio time rather than have a shitty sounding record. I love great sounding records and a shitty recording can often get in the way of me enjoying a new band. I’ve never been one for lo-fi.
Saying that, I can barely stand listening to the last two Doctrines records. We tried to do it so cheaply, with minimal gear in terrible sounding bedrooms that I just feel It could’ve sounded so much better if we’d spent more time and money on it.
So over the last year or two I’ve spent a lot on building up my own gear to a point where I felt comfortable taking on other bands recording projects. It’s a totally portable setup so I’ve recorded in churches, old mills, basements and a few bedrooms still. Just wherever we think will sound good and the band feels most comfortable. It also keeps it real cheap because you’re not paying for an actual studio, so it seems to work for a lot of DIY bands with smaller budgets. I just recently made the jump from working an awful job making sandwiches into being able to support myself from working in some university studios and recording other bands. So, to any bands reading, get at me.
As for influences, nothing too ‘out there,’ but I really like the old classics. Tony Visconti, Brian Eno, and Steve Albini have all made some of my favourite albums. James Murphy knows his stuff too.
I: Oh yeah absolutely, didn’t mean to imply that at all, it’s just that the cost of recording is usually put across as being the biggest. I think Alcopop are pretty well known and regarded for keeping it fairly D.I.Y. as they’ve become a bigger and bigger label and I’ve always loved Jack’s enthusiasm for everything he does. Which actually contributes to my feeling that you’re being pretty harsh on ZE there, cause I think it’s ace and he obviously liked it enough to want to put it out!
It’s interesting to see you lump the first two EPs together, separate from the album, in terms of recording quality, because in terms of sound it feels to me like ANX was a natural progression from ZE, which was actually a pretty big leap from that first EP in a lot of ways. I remember listening to ZE and it was pretty surprising, and it’s what really made me start to think of Doctrines as a band to seriously keep an eye on because you’re doing something really exciting and fresh. I mean, I’ve always thought you’ve gone from having a sound that’s really strongly rooted in some obvious influences to suddenly not sounding like a lot else that’s going on right now. What brought about the change?
J: Well actually, I was lumping ANX and ZE together in recording quality! The first EP was essentially my final project for half of my degree. It was done in a nice studio with some great gear without any limitations, whereas with the latter two I had to try get the best sound possible from a very limited situation. Working with limitations is really fun and creative, but I guess I’m just very emotionally invested in the Doctrines stuff and can’t quite remove myself from the recording process completely satisfied.
Musically though, you’re definitely right. I don’t think anything in particular brought around a change. It wasn’t calculated, thats for sure. We’d had more time to play together and figure out what we enjoyed playing as a band. With any band starting out, you’ve gotta have some songs to get going. So on that first EP a lot of the songs we had just learned from demos I’d made when I was 18/19. We just wanted a demo that we could try and get gigs with. I’m pretty sure Grey Home was the last song we wrote for that EP, and in hindsight I think it gave the biggest indication of where we’d go later. It’s the only song we still play live now.
We started working on ZE before we’d even put out the first EP. It started off as a ‘trilogy’ of songs that just fit together musically, then the fourth one came and it turned into a concept record. Rob was never really into ‘punk’ as such, he’s just a really good drummer who likes to play drums. So my thinking was that some stupid twenty minute song would keep him stimulated enough that he hopefully wouldn’t get bored. It’s really fun being a songwriter when you get to properly know the people in your band and what they like to play. Then you try to write songs with them in mind and get excited when you think, or hope, that a certain member is gonna love this part or they’re gonna bring something great to it. We’ve kind of had to learn a new dynamic with Olly and Joe joining the band, and I think the new 7” we’ve just started recording is gonna reflect that.
I: I think ANX sounds great which I guess is why I got mixed up – I think I read ‘last two’ as ‘first two’ - I think the important thing is to have a recording style that suits the band and it definitely suits Doctrines - it’s sort of simple and direct and a bit raw, but never in a way that’s to the record’s detriment. Cheap plug of my own work aside here, I’ve been working all year on an ongoing blog about The Fall, listening to their entire discography in chronological order, and when they started actually getting good and listenable, one of the first bands I thought to compare them to was you guys - weird as fuck post-punk that takes risks, does things a bit differently, and just sounds really fresh and raw. I guess being from Manchester helped as well - do you feel like Doctrines has the identity of a “Manchester band”, or do you think it’s not so relevant these days?
J: All this talk about ANX made me listen to it the other night and it sounds alright actually, I take it all back!
I think we have an identity as a Manchester band in as far as if someone asked me where we’re from, I’d say Manchester. People probably know us as a Manchester band but not in the same way that you’d say Oasis are, where ‘Manchester’ takes on some kind of genre signifier. We certainly don’t feel obliged to carry on any musical traditions. Although we all live here, and I’ve been here 6 years now, I still feel like an imposter when someone calls us a Manchester band because we’re all from different places. I’m from the Lake District which is as much a polar opposite to a big city as you can get.
It’s not so relevant now other than to give some kind of context, rather than define the band.
I do feel some kind of identity as a northern band. I feel like there is a difference. Whether that is based on some tangible difference, or just my own xenophobic fear of the south, I don’t know.
I: Haha, see, ANX is really good! Often you just need some distance from something before you can appreciate it again. Are you someone who’s generally very critical of their own work? Do Doctrines songs come together quickly or are they laboured over to make sure you get them right What’s your writing process like as a band and for you as an individual?
J: I dunno, I’m very proud of everything we’ve done but i’ll also quite happily admit when I think something is shit. With songwriting, it’s different for every song. But generally I’ll have some kind of riff or idea that wont go anywhere for ages until I get the urge to build a song around it. Then I’ll make a demo of it with midi drums and stuff before bringing it to the rest of the band. It all changes a bit when the other guys play it their own way and we have chance to arrange it together. Lyrics are usually the last thing to come because I like to know what the whole song sounds like before committing to anything. Up until that point I have incoherent placeholder lyrics for the melody.
Once we have an idea for what format the next release is gonna be it makes it easier to plan out what kind of shape the songs and lyrics will take. I like to think of each release as a whole rather than just a collection of songs. Like with the newest stuff, because it’s gonna be on 7”, which has a limited side length, we went for some shorter, straight up songs. I still need to write most of the lyrics for that though.
I: I think that’s really cool that you write with a format in mind and I definitely think you’re versatile enough as a band to do so, but I also like that you sort of mess around with formats a bit as well - you mentioned earlier that ZE is a concept EP, which is something pretty rare - I guess Bastions just did that, but they did two, so the concept was spread across the two (or maybe more to come?) releases rather than just being condensed in to that short space. Concept records tend to be big sprawling things rather than short EPs. Can you explain a bit about the concept behind it?
J: Oh god, I hate explaining this. It gets embarrassing and tedious, and also comes across very pretentious. But here we go…
So, it’s set in the year MMLXXXIV, or 2084 to sensible people, but roman numerals rhymes better. Jacob is a young adult human who lives in an unspecified English speaking country. This future society is still in a relatively early stage but has been mostly built upon principles of transhumanism and postgenderism. Everyone is born in an artificial womb. Family and gender roles as we know it today have disappeared, hence the use of ze as a gender pronoun. Love and companionship are gone too. Without the need for a family everyone lives alone, does their job and masturbates a lot.
Jacob works a shit job and is in a lot of debt (the government uses and encourages lending as a way to keep people under their control.) Ze is frustrated and fed up with the life ze has and, like many other people, is angry that the government hasn’t been able to keep their promise of eternal life for everyone by curing the ‘illness they call death’ yet.
With no religion, science is the new god and the transhuman ideals of transforming the human body into a hybrid of flesh and technology, once promised to everyone, is now a preserve of the rich and powerful. Jacob, sick of the limitations of zes own body, meets a character who explains a government military scheme that promises to rid you of any debt and transform your body into a mean lean mechanical fighting machine. So off ze goes to join the army.
The war Jacob has gone to fight in is a war between the current government and a group called the Luvvites (See: Luddites.) The Luvvites united in opposition to the current regime through their rejection of scientific and transhuman ideals and their hope to reinstate the ideals of family, love and community. It’s a pretty futile war as the Luvvites are practically fighting human tanks, but during this bloodshed Jacob sees a mother embrace a child trying to protect it from imminent death. Jacob, never having seen this kind of bond between family before, follows the urge to save them and defect to the Luvvite camp.
After learning the ways of the Luvvites, Jacob is amazed by the sense of community and family they have. Having been shown a photograph that shows four generations of one family together he longs for that kind of connection to history and feels like it’s what he’s been missing all along (Gender specific pronouns are intentional now. Its not just laziness.) Jacob falls in love with one of the boys and goes in for a kiss, but the boy is horrified and immediately pleads god for forgiveness. Jacob learns that the Luvvites are still bound to old religious ideals, meaning same sex relationships are considered sinful and so unholy that they would disqualify someone from entering paradise, etc.
The story pretty much ends with Jake feeling alienated by both sides, caught between two worlds with no place to call home. It doesn’t really have an ending, maybe because I intended to carry it on with the next release. Maybe I thought it was cool and like Kafka to end a story half way through, but it just comes across as lazy and stupid instead. Oh Well. Ta Da. The End. Read this along with the lyrics on bandcamp and hopefully it’ll all come together!
I: See that’s actually ace, and it reminds me a lot of Vonnegut-style science fiction like Harrison Bergeron. One thing I’m still curious about, though, is the recurring character of Ray Kay. Am I right in thinking he gets a mention on ANX as well?
J: I dunno? Does he? I can’t think of one right now, but maybe he does! He’s not really a character as such, it’s just a wicked cool nickname for Raymond Kurzweil. I tried reading his book, ‘The Singularity Is Near’, loads of times but couldn’t get more than a quarter way through because it scares the shit out of me. I got a bit obsessed with all that stuff at the time. So yeah, all of his ideas were the inspiration behind the techy stuff in ZE and the rest of the gender stuff came from The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.
I: Haha, maybe I’m wrong then, I dunno. But yeah, the concept is great and it’s a shame that more bands can’t pull it off with something worthwhile - I think the more I learn about it, the more ZE is becoming my favourite Doctrines release. I remember around the time it came out I saw you play the whole thing through live, would that be something you’d ever do again?
J: I’m not sure, probably not any time soon. With Oli and Joe joining the band it makes more sense to focus on new stuff. I don’t know for sure but I assume they prefer to play songs they’ve actively been a part of creating. Also, with us generally getting 30 minute slots, and ZE taking up almost 20 minutes of that, it’s a tricky one to fit in when there’s a load of other songs we wanna play! Maybe when the singularity arrives, we’ll do it. I’ve wanted to release it as a comic book too, so if that ever happens it’d be a good excuse.
I: Comic book? That’d be cool. I bet Alcopop would bloody love it too. Are you an illustrator yourself or would you have to find someone to draw it for you? Anyone you’d have in mind, or anything you’d want it to look like?
J: It’s not something I’ve seriously thought about to be honest. Just a ‘what if’ kinda thing. It would be pretty cool though! I cant draw so we’d have to find someone who’d want to do it, and I’m sure Jack would go crazy for the idea!
I: Feels to me like we’re coming to a close, so one last question - you mentioned a new 7”, how is that coming along? And have you been thinking ahead any further than that? What can we expect from Doctrines over the rest of the year?
J: The 7 is coming along nicely. Recorded pretty much everything but vocals so far. It’s 4 songs we’ve written since Oli and Joe joined the band and I really like um. My Dad texted me a review of the instrumental tracks I gave him, which simply said ‘Uplifting :-)’. I’ve never seen my Dad use an emoticon before so I consider that to be a smashing first review. Hopefully once the lyrics are there it will negate any uplifting qualities that might damage our cool cred.
As for the rest of the year, I really dunno! We should probably tour again. Maybe record some more music because why not eh? Joe’s moving to manchester which is pretty exciting and makes things easier. Hooray for Joe.
I: Jamie, thank you! I can’t wait for more from you guys. I need to stop being lazy and come out and see you again next time I get the chance.
You can get everything by Doctrines at http://doctrines.bandcamp.com/. I really recommend it.
Week Twenty Four: Shift-Work.
Shift-Work came out in 1991, the year punk broke, the year Nevermind dropped, the year riot grrrl got started. Devo, Talk Talk, Gorilla Biscuits, The Replacements, and Talking Heads all split. Pearl Jam, Cypress Hill, Nation Of Ulysses, Tupac, Richard D James, and the Smashing Pumpkins all put out their first records, whilst Fugazi were on full-length number three (or two, depending on if you count 13 Songs, y’know?) and Sonic Youth were riding on the high of Goo, their first major label record. 1991 is, oh god, the year Reel Big Fish formed. Emperor formed that year, too, kicking off the second wave of Black Metal. I never thought I’d get to reference Reel Big Fish and Emperor in the same paragraph. But I mention all of this fairly disparate stuff to highlight the fact that 1991 was a fucking BIG year for music. So much hugely influential and important stuff was going on, a lot of scenes finding their voice, a lot of bands hitting their stride, a lot of things unexpectedly hitting the mainstream. A lot was changing. But what were The Fall doing, I wonder, with bated breath.
The Fall have always been a constant throughout any cultural turbulence. Although always popular with John Peel and various other critics, their chart performances were never really anything to shout about, and they always just did their own thing, albeit within a channel that has its limits. Which is cool – you could never accuse The Fall of selling out. I was very much expecting them to keep plugging away in the same vein throughout the 90s, but this period of musical unrest captured them too – Extricate picked up on the electronic Madchester vibes of the very end of the 80s, and I think it was the first time when their music progression didn’t feel entirely natural. Like they were going for a certain sound, actively pursuing it, instead of just settling in to the sound that felt most comfortable at the time.
They lost two members during the Extricate tour, including their keyboard player, making this a largely four-piece-Fall effort. I was actually hoping for some stripped back returns to Fall-basics, but with a few of the more listenable tendencies they’d learned along the way – this was their highest charting effort at that point, after all. But, no, Shift-Work builds on Extricate’s Happy Mondays-leanings and, relatively speaking, obviously, is just poppy as hell. Edinburgh Man is their breakaway pop hit, and this is essentially the Fall’s summer record. It’s an odd experience and I’m not sure if it totally works. I mean, it fit in kind of nicely with this week’s amazing weather, but Great Cynics fit in so much better, so Shift-Work didn’t really get played a whole lot in the situations that would have suited it best.
Although I did say nothing really grabbed me on Extricate, the record was, as a whole, a fairly engaging listen. Shift-Work is… less so. This might be the first time I’ve just totally zoned out on a Fall album and completely forgotten what I was listening to as it sunk in to the background. There’s better moments, yeah, and worse moments too, but in general? It’s a bit of a haze. I guess that actually just means it’s one of their most listenable yet – it’s not that weird, at all, and it sorely lacks the edge of their best work. Obviously in some ways I’m happy that The Fall seem to be well past making records that are 20-70% fucking awful at this point because it means I’m angry less of the time, but at least that was a bit more interesting, you know? I guess The Fall just can’t win. Or I can’t win. Or neither of us.
So, yeah. To bring it full circle, The Fall’s contribution to the big, important year of 1991 feels like a fairly minimal one, and they may have ridden it more than contributed to it - their highest chart position yet may have had something to do with both the combination of the ever-increasing interest in underground alternative/indie/punk music, and borrowing from the current mainstream Madchester buzz. Sure, there’s stuff on Shift-Work that sounds like a blueprint for a lot of alt-pop music that would come out in the 90s (Rose in particular. Probably the best on the record, too), but unlike the Pixies and Pavement, they’d probably have got their without The Fall’s input, and it feels like they’re bowing to other influences rather than being the outlandish influence that the outsiders look to for inspiration.
It feels like The Fall are having a bit of an identity crisis through one of my favourite periods for music, like they’re just mucking around making tolerable music, and not really giving it their all anymore. With that in mind, Shift-Work is an apt title - The Fall, and the act of making Fall records, as I’ve mentioned in the past, has always seemed like more of a job to Mark E. Smith rather than a creative output. It feels, at this point, like he needs a holiday.
Still doing this. Still.
Week Twenty Three: Extricate.
So I made a mistake in my scheduling and got Dredger and Extricate the wrong way round – Extricate actually came out first, making it the first Fall release of the 90s, the first of three full-lengths with Phonogram/Fontana, and the first after Brix Smith divorced Mark E. Smith and left the band. Which is good, because Dredger is kind of nothing special, whereas Extricate is much more fitting and interesting for all of these things.
I don’t know why, but the idea of The Fall in the early 90s really interests me. I think it’s because they are such an essential part of post-punk history, and that genre’s heyday really was the 80s. By the 90s it’s getting usurped by indie rock and grunge in America, Britpop and Madchester in the UK. A lot of these sounds have some pretty clear influences from The Fall, especially indie rock – you can definitely hear The Fall in the chaotic sides of Pavement and the Pixies – and Madchester, which was directly influenced by The Fall and their local peers. By this point, fourteen years in to their career, The Fall have gone from being the dangerous and unpredictable youngsters to being, by the end of the 80s even, the last remnants of a scene that is sort of starting to die (The Smiths have split, New Order will in a few years…). The press still seemed to consider them as the challenging oddball outsiders, but looking back with hindsight they seem increasingly old hands who were being surpassed by a wave of bands taking the lead from their best bits and refining them to create some of the greatest records, like, ever. They may have been pioneering, and there may be some great records in their catalogue even by my own admission, but I don’t think any Fall album stands alongside Surfer Rosa, Slanted and Enchanted, Definitely Maybe, Nevermind, Daydream Nation, Bee Thousand, Souvlaki… not that these are all directly influenced by The Fall (although many are), but The Fall definitely laid some of the groundwork that they would build upon. The Fall led the charge in post-punk, but in the 90s I can imagine them struggling to keep up.
At first I was prepared to mourn the loss of Brix but, for the Fall in the 90s, it seems to be the best thing possible. Her contributions to the group’s sound were so determinedly 80s in her guitar sound (with Overture from Curious Orange being the pinnacle) that she just wouldn’t fit in the 90s. So I can’t get too down on it. Plus, this totally makes Extricate a break up album! I fucking love break up albums! Rumours! Blood On The Tracks! For Emma Forever Ago! Midnight Organ Fight! Cursive’s Domestica! All fucking amazing. Weirdly, though, the only album I don’t like by Los Campesinos!, the greatest band of all time ever (yes really), is Hello Sadness, which is their breakup album. So y’know.
But generally speaking breakup albums rule and hearing Mark E. Smith’s go at one is a pretty exciting concept - he already proved he had a knack for parting shots on Seminal Live. Though breakup albums tend to work so well because of their straightforward honesty and directness, something that Smith isn’t really renowned for as a lyricist, I don’t think. I read in a Vice interview that they split up because he cheated on her constantly (I do have to remind myself every now and then that he is basically a scumbag) and ‘Extricate’ feels like breakup-themed title to me in that context – getting away from the constraints of having to sneak around behind someone’s back. Bill Is Dead has the lyrics that seem to be the most explicitly concerned with their split – “I am renewed, I am aglow” Smith sings in a song about fucking someone being the greatest time in his life. Is it sarcastically about Brix, or honestly about someone who is not Brix? Either would work, I guess, and it’s as direct as the breakup lyrics get.
From what I can tell, Brix kicked off the divorce, but Mark is the one who walked out first – doing that, and then turning around and writing a song like Bill Is Dead feels like a proper dick move. Trust Mark E. Smith to write a harsh and totally self-centred breakup album, I guess? Also seems worth noting that the cover of The Monks song that morphed in to Black Monk Theme Part 1 was chosen for a good reason, with its opening lines of “do you know why I hate you baby?” Fuck!
The record oddly features the return of founding member Martin Bramah to replace Brix, who’s not been on a Fall album since Witch Trials and the album’s sound overall does have a sort of weird feel of both a raw return to the Fall’s roots of repetitive yet still actually catchy grooves, and of a desire to push the sound outwards and try even more new things. There’s an increasing electronic influence, both from working with Coldcut, and probably from the rising Madchester sound also – the idea of The Fall being influenced by bands who were influenced by The Fall seems very Fall-like to me in a way, sort of an ‘aye, let’s have a crack at the stuff these kids are doing, teach them a thing or too’ sort of feeling – and I’m interested to see where they take these influences. It could make for both some truly great and truly awful moments from a band who like fucking about as much as The Fall do. Extricate is pretty keyboard-heavy in places (with some seriously dodgy keyboard sounds in places - standard), and actually sounds pretty chilled, melodic, and poppy a lot of the time. Sometimes they come off like Echo and the Bunnymen, sometimes a bit like the Happy Mondays. It’s definitely very of its time, that transitional period between 80s post-punk, and everything that would come after. The Frenz Experiment seems to be considered by many to be the most commercial-sounding Fall album, but I think Extricate probably tops it in that regard. Didn’t do as well as Frenz in the charts, though, but it was their second highest placing at that point.
It probably drags a little bit, coming in at just under an hour, but there’s nothing that’s truly awful on the thing - it’s a very easy listen. Maybe even a bit too easy – although it’s generally pretty good, nothing really reaches out and grabs me, either from being brilliant or terrible. Consistency is a rare thing for The Fall on one full-length, as they’re usually all over the place in terms of sound and quality – they are only occasionally consistently good, only occasionally consistently bad, and this is one of the rare occasions when they are just consistently alright. Extricate could actually be a nice and gentle introduction for a new listener. Which isn’t what I was expecting, or at least hoping for, from Mark E. Smith’s breakup record – while there are hints, it’s nowhere near as aggressive, confessional, or confrontational as I’d have liked. But then, if they ever did what we expected them to do, would they still be The Fall?
This week’s Fall. It’s alright.
REVIEW: APOLOGIES, I HAVE NONE - BLACK EVERYTHING.
Apologies, man. I don’t think I’ve ever been in to a band who keep you guessing quite as much as these guys do. I remember the first time I listened to them was because Henry Applecore recommended them to me as a new folk punk band to check out and, back when they were an acoustic guitar and drums duo with simple songs packed with huge singalongs, they were basically the UK’s answer to Against Me! and they were beloved for it. When they fleshed out to a four piece band and started playing those same old songs but five times as loud, they were probably beloved even more, and for a while they completely ruled their corner of the scene. I’ll never forget the absolutely insane time they played at Tiger Lounge and it was so wild that someone kicked a hole in the goddamn roof.
Their debut album, 2012’s London, was probably one of the longest-awaited and hotly-anticipated albums that the UK scene’s seen for a while, and the songs were massively different – the first track they put out, 60 Miles, was so far away from the rattly acoustic punk of their previous recordings. At first I hated it, but heard in the context of the record’s basement-dwelling stadium punk, it made sense, and we all learned to love AIHN for totally different reasons. And for a while, they consolidated their reign as kings of UK punk.
But then they sort of disappeared for a while – they ended up in the limbo of a band that’s just starting to make it – constantly touring Europe as an opener for bigger bands, and rarely playing small or affordable shows anymore. At the time of writing, when I see them in a few days, it’ll be the first time in over a year and a half, which is a long time in punk show years. Bands have a tendency to break up in that sort of period. And I won’t lie, it was sort of disappointing – their absence just made it feel like their time had passed a little.
But Apologies stuck it out. Keeping true to their surprising form, they coupled the announcement of their new EP with the announcement that founding member Dan Bond, half of the songwriting and frontman partnership that made the band so great in the first place, was leaving. It was pretty gutting to be honest – would they even be the same band? - and the first track they dropped from the forthcoming EP was so baffling that it put a LOT of people off.
Raging Through The Thick And Heavy Darkness Of A Bloodlust is big, slow and sludgy, almost post-metal-leaning punk – you pretty much couldn’t get further away from where they started. But, like 60 Miles, it makes more sense when heard in the context of the EP, and as a whole Black Everything isn’t so far away from London after all. Their darker side is something that started to creep out on the album, and here it is fully realised. After the opener, things settle down in to more of the big anthemic punk they’re known for, but with much more of a downer on it. It’s all in the name, man – Black Everything is just darker, doomier, less hopeful than anything Apologies, I Have None have done before. Was Bond the posi one? He must have been.
I can’t help but feel a little cynical, and that Apologies are now probably past their prime and that their position as kings of UK punk must now be relinquished (probably to Caves, eh?). Black Everything is good - really good, actually, and if anyone else had released it I’d probably be raving about this heavy, fucked up sludgy melodic hardcore – but it’s just not quite the Apologies I once loved. Even if I do like it, I’ve got to admit that it lacks some of the songwriting chemistry and overwhelming energy that their previous releases did.
Still. I’m sure in time it will only grow on me – it feels like a grower – and we’ll all accept the fact that bands inevitably change and we just have to deal with it. I mean, we got used to them changing once, but I think the fact that London was so different just meant it was such a shock, and I found myself loving it before I knew what was going on. Black Everything is only, really, slightly different, and that coupled with the record’s slower pace means that those differences will just take longer to reconcile. And in truth, what Black Everything lacks in comparison to past releases, it makes up for with a new sense of… weight to the whole fuckin’ thing. This is an EP with some goddamn presence, you know. Fuck it, the damn thing’s grown on me even while I’ve been writing this paragraph.
When you get down to it, this is a good start for what is essentially Apologies mark three, and it is genuinely impressive to see a band progress and develop their sound as rapidly and dramatically as they have throughout their life as a band. The real test for them will be what comes next – they could literally go anywhere with it. They’ve got something to prove now, and I just hope it means they’ll come on stronger than ever.
You can listen or buy it for a few quid at http://apologiesihavenone.bandcamp.com/
Wrote some words on the new Apologies EP.
Pretty sure that’s my photo in the back there. But more importantly, Manchf3ster is gonna be absolutely fucking ridiculous. Can’t wait.
REVIEW: DAUDI MATSIKO - A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO FAILURE.
Have you ever seen a band or a musician or whatever play once, and then they sort of just disappeared? But they were so good, that that one performance sticks with you for years afterwards? Northampton’s only nu-rave band, The Weimar Republic, did that for me (I seriously still get parts of one of their songs stuck in my head like seven years later), and so did Daudi Matsiko.
I saw Matsiko play on some nondescript acoustic bill way back at the start of 2008 and he was incredible. I remember that a lot of his songs came in trilogies, and one of the trilogies was about pancake day, and it was absolutely stunning. A friend we have in common (I can’t even remember who) sent me his demo album or whatever it is and it’s been one of those things that swings in and out of rotation every couple of years and it’s pretty good, but never really lived up to that live performance that has just always stuck in my memory. I just, unfortunately, never heard anything from him again.
Anyway. Daudi Matsiko’s name started cropping up on my Facebook feed again recently, and this debut EP dropped only a few days ago. And it’s perfect. I’m suddenly right back at that show again, my attention captured in the exact same way - it’s been on loop pretty much constantly since I got it.
I guess this nostalgia doesn’t mean shit to you guys, I only really mention it to try and put across just how strongly Matsiko’s startlingly simple songs manage to resonate. Beautifully crafted indie folk that swells in all the right places and drops away to nothing again at the most effective moment, in a pretty similar way to how Daughter are doing it at the moment. But the emphasis on the acoustic guitar, the hushed whisper of his voice, and the strings that occasionally flare up here and there are totally reminiscent of Owen. Disclaimer: Owen is my favourite thing in the universe and I do not make this comparison lightly AT ALL. This isn’t just a ‘they’re both acoustic singer-songwriters’ comparison – Matsiko crafts his songs to be atmospheric, beautiful, and sad as hell, in way very similar to Kinsella.
Seriously. I absolutely love this, and it destroys most new acoustic stuff I’ve heard recently. The entire thing sounds like it’s been laboured over endlessly – it’s so carefully layered, so delicately constructed. It’s been just over six years between first seeing Daudi Matsiko live and having his first ‘official’ release to listen to, and it totally feels like it’s been worth the wait.
Listen/download for only £3 at http://hellodaudi.bandcamp.com/releases.
You seriously need to check this the fuck out.
Week Twenty Two: The Dredger EP.
The Dredger EP is alright, like. First release of the 90s, and the first since Brix Smith’s departure is all that feels notable about it. Fall EPs have rarely leapt out as anything really special – at best they’ve been solid short bursts of Fall that are easy to stomach but don’t really stand out when viewed in context of the whole catalogue, at worst I’ve hated them (for long-term readers, I’ve actually given Slates a quick re-listen and I was probably harsh on it – it’s a lot easier to stomach now I know how shit The Fall can REALLY be), and Dredger hasn’t bucked this trend – it’s alright, yeah.
White Lightning is an odd one – The Fall’s weird take on classic rock and roll, for whatever reason – but the other three are just… solid. Zagreb’s keyboard sound dates it horribly, but otherwise it’s decent, even if it is needlessly split up in to ‘movements’, Blood Outta Stone is nice and gothy and feels like a Cure song, whereas Life Just Bounces feels almost rousing at times. Smith’s voice is noticeably dialled back on all of them – it’s very un-annoying. It’s also the second time they rip off Spinal Tap, with that all black cover, so y’know, props.
Yeah, cool, whatever – not a lot to say about it. Standard Fall. I’m very glad that ‘standard Fall’ now just means ‘alright’ rather than ‘irritatingly messy and terrible’, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of weird shit to follow to keep things interesting. Dredger almost feels like a week off – nothing to really get excited about, but nothing to get annoyed about either. No shocks, no surprises. Not bad.
REVIEW: YOUNG ATTENBOROUGH - ISOLATIONS.
I’ll be straight, like – I’ve seriously never been in to Young Attenborough at all. I checked out their first demo when it came out a couple years ago, and I think I reviewed one of their splits not long after that, and I’ve just really never been in to what they were doing. They were okay, yeah, but that was about it. Just another okay indie-leaning pop punk band. Nothing special going on, really. You know how it is.
Why am I bringing all of this up? Is it just to be a dickhead? Well, yeah, partly, because I always relish that opportunity. But more importantly, I guess, I’m mentioning this to give some context to exactly what it is I’m saying when I say that their debut album absolutely fucking rules. It’s not quite a step up of The Hotel Year to The Hotelier, or Parks and Rec season one to Parks and Rec season two proportions, but it still took me completely by surprise and basically exceeded all expectations I could ever have had for it. Isolations is just a really, really good album.
In the past I guess I’ve dismissed Young Attenborough for being just another pop punk band with very little substance but, given the time to actually expand and craft something bigger than just a demo or half a split, they’ve actually created something really engaging. I hate to tag it as a ‘concept album’ just because it’s got some songs with sequential numbers in them and a bunch of repeated themes with the final song brining the thing full circle back round to the start again, but there’s definitely stories being told here, family histories being aired in song form, that all come back to that titular notion of isolation. There is substance here - the more you explore Isolations, the more it’ll give you. And it all flows perfectly – it’s not a long record, but it flies by faster than you’d expect and I’ve just had it on loop as a result.
It’s still a little bit rough around the edges, a little bit D.I.Y. style scrappy, but it all works in their favour – a slicker sheen would make things feel a little less honest in some ways, which is something these songs rely on. Musically it’s a little bit Martha, a little bit T-Shirt Weather, a little bit The Measure [SA], lyrically I’m being reminded of RVIVR and Bangers, and the best moments are either the slower, more melodic ones, or the more frantic parts where everyone sings at once. But generally speaking it’s not an album of big, standout moments - it’s the slow and steady subtle flow of the thing that’s important.
Seriously, this is brilliant. Give it the chance to surprise you, and it won’t disappoint.
Download it for free/donation at: http://youngattenborough.bandcamp.com/
Everyone needs to go check out the Young Attenborough album RIGHT NOW.
La Sera at The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, May 2014.
I once saw Katy Goodman play here as Kickball Katy with The Vivian Girls a few years back. Really glad to get the chance to see La Sera too. Just a shame it was only possible because The Julie Ruin had to cancel their tour.
Oh god I love La Sera.
Week Twenty One: Seminal Live.
The Fall at the end of the eighties are a pretty powerful bunch. Fifteen records and endless singles in the space of the decade, culminating in the much-loved Beggars Banquet period, which saw even less frequent missteps than usual. Even some occasional triumphs. The only one of their six full-length for Beggars that I’ve actually disliked managed to be their biggest chart success to that point, probably due to the very reasons I disliked it. It felt like The Fall were starting to get a little too safe, actively courting mainstream success. But then Kurious Oranj pulled things back to the odd side again, and ending things on the contractual obligation filler of Seminal Live is just classic fucking Weird Fall at it’s absolute finest. I feel like I should hate this record, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some Fall fans had a tendency to look upon it unfavourably, but I kind of totally love it.
Contractual obligation albums are an odd concept to exist, and if this blog was for something else entirely I’d spend a long time going on about how they just further show reasons why the multiple-album contracts of the traditional music industry were a fucking awful idea and that we should just keep it D.I.Y TIL WE DIE. Seriously, bands throwing something together just to get out of a stifling business arrangement? That’s not really how art should work. But then, my favourite R.E.M. album,
New Adventures In Hi-Fi was thrown together whilst on the road to finish out their contract agreement with Warner Bros (although they did just sign another one with them straight away), so it’s not always a bad thing. On the other hand, the question of whether Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music was just contract-fulfilment or an intended visionary work of musical genius is one we will probably, sadly, never know the real answer to now.
The only other contract filler that I can think of off the top of my head that I actually listen to regularly is Thursday’s Five Stories Falling EP. Released to get out of a fuckawful contract with Victory Records, the album cover of six mannequins dressed in Thursday clothes is ever-so telling. It’s actually got more than you might think in common with Seminal Live – it contains one of the best studio moments of their career, and stacks the rest of it with some pretty good live recordings of some recent hits, and the Fall do something similar, making it one of their five part studio/part live albums.
The idea of a contractual obligation album takes on a slightly different meaning for The Fall, who often feel like a band run like a business – Mark E. Smith’s only job for almost forty years, grinding away whilst hiring and firing band members like employees. I even remember reading a reference to Steve Hanley taking paternity leave from the band during the recording of This Nation’s Saving Grace. Seminal Live is a bizarre mixture of the great work that often comes out of Mark E. Smith treating everything the Fall does with the highest esteem, regardless of the reason for it, weird parting shots, and the best collection of Fall live tracks I’ve heard yet. Long-term readers will be aware of my disdain for Fall live collections, but this one is actually pretty great.
But yeah, despite being called ‘Seminal Live’, the best thing about the collection is probably the five studio recordings that kick it off (or make up the first half of the vinyl release). Dead Beat Descendent and Pinball Machine are probably amongst my favourite Fall songs now – they’d probably make a Fall mixtape - and sound like they could have just been Kurious Oranj outtakes that didn’t fit in with that album’s theme. Squid Law is great too, even if H.O.W. returns to a few less-pleasing Fall tropes. It is Mollusc In Tyrol that seems to be discussed most, and divides opinion – from a brief look around, people either love it for its concrète/kraut rock aspirations, or just hate it for being utterly shit. For me, it’s a lot like Papal Visit back on Perverted By Language – I think I love it because it’s so overwhelmingly, remarkably shit that you have to just admire that someone had the balls to release it. But then, when you consider the context, it becomes all the more important – this was the final piece of new recorded studio material that Beggars Banquet would receive from Mark E. Smith and The Fall. All of a sudden, a weird little song becomes a giant ‘fuck you’. Whereas Papal Visit seemed to be weird shit for the sake of weird shit, Mollusc is clearly weird shit created for a purpose. Is this recognition an indication of how far The Fall had come in a few short years, or an indication of how far I’ve come with them in a few short weeks? Who the fuck really knows.
And then we have the live tracks. Is that actually a fucking horn section on Kurious Oranj? If not then it’s some sick keyboard work. The weird monologue opening Cruiser’s Creek is kind of brilliant too – I’d assumed it was Smith but apparently it’s Bill Grundy, which is a very odd thing to happen – even if the song itself is a bit of a whimper of a closing. Fortunately, I’ve been listening to the CD version, so they pull things back with In These Times and the whole thing ends on a positive note. But for the most part, everything in between is great. There’s a good collection of songs that spans the entire decade, with some good’uns are new to me (I’m guessing they were singles that I’ve not checked out), and a welcome return of Pay Your Rates.
I’m assuming that the majority was recorded between Frenz and Oranj, with Kurious Oranj being a debut of a new song at the show it was recorded at, as it’s heavy on the then-recent Frenz stuff, which fortunately comes off a little better live than it did on the record, especially the Victoria cover that you can hear fans calling for earlier in the set. Saving Grace and Bend Sinister songs are totally absent, which is a shame as it would have been good to hear some of my favourites performed by a live Fall who are really on it, but maybe this has something to do with a growing desire to distance themselves from the Beggars Banquet period already?
So yeah, I like Seminal Live. It’s the first live collection that I feel like I’ve actively liked instead of just tolerated (I think the lengthy break from them has helped) and there’s some studio tracks here that I really like too. But having this strangely brilliant parting shot feels like an odd way to end out the eighties, which would certainly be considered by most to be their strongest and most defining decade. It also says goodbye to Brix Smith for the next few years, who’s guitar work was essential in helping the Fall find that definitive 80s-guitar-pop sound every now and then. How will they fare as they cast out in to the nineties? Will they be left behind dinosaurs of the post-punk era, or will they move with the times and produce some of their most innovative and creative work yet? Or will they just squat in a ditch and poke berries up their noses? I’m a little bit excited to find out.
My head hurts.