REVIEWS




Interesting releases from across the world and music spectrums; Tickling Our Fancy is the, Monolith Cocktail founder, Dominic Valvona’s most eclectic of reviews roundups. With no themes, demarcations of any kind, or reasoning other than providing a balanced platform for the intriguing, the great and at times, most odd releases, I bring you this month’s latest selection.

A packed installment this week with the Ennio Morricone suffused debut album from The Magic City Trio, Amerikana Arkana; Black Light White Light’s Martin Ejlertsen takes the band on a Lynchian’ inspired psychedelic journey to new horizons; Op Art meets free-rock, jazz and Krautrock in Geneva 1972 on the latest obscure reissue from the Mental Experience label, Mouvements; Andrew Spackman is back as the spasmodic ennui conjuring electronic music wiz Sad Man, with his latest collection of garden shed productions, Slow Bird; British-Nigerian producer Tony Njoku shares his distinct and stunning soulful avant-garde electronica on his new album, H.P.A.C.; and the Israeli maelstrom guitarist Yonatan Gat records his first album, an expansive entangle of shared history and sounds, for Glitterbeat Records imprint tak:til. There’s also the lush dreamy soulful psychedelic debut track from Evil Bone; the third album from the mysterious Edinburgh electronic and rock guitar welding maverick Bunny & The Invalid Singers; and the upcoming psychedelic pop nostalgic afterglow brilliance of The Lancashire Hustlers.


Tony Njoku  ‘H.P.A.C’  Silent Kid Records, 27th April 2018

 

Bringing a very different perspective and life experience to the London avant-garde art and electronic music scene, the British-Nigerian producer with the earthy falsetto, Tony Njoku, articulates a most unique form of magical soul music.

Though undulated with an ethereal to malady suffused backing of sophisticated synthesized travails, Njoku’s vocals always seem to bobble and float above the choppy breaks and ebbing tides.

Feeling an outsider, transferring at the age of fourteen to London from a life spent hiding his true personality in the toxic macho boarding schools of Lagos, the sensitive Njoku found at least one kind of solace; able to show a vulnerability and pursue the music career he really wanted having previously recorded a number of hip-hop albums (the first when he was only twelve) that proved entirely counterintuitive, but were completely in tune with Nigerian environment he grew up in. Yet in the arts community he joined in his new home of London, he found few Afrocentric voices or people he could identify with or relate to. The arts and, especially avant-garde, music scenes are dominated by what Njoku calls the ‘affluent bourgeoisie’. Though to be fair anything that falls outside the most commercial perimeters is patronized and subsidized in one form or another. And this is obviously reflected in what is a majority European culture: resulting in a lack of voices from Africa. It means that Njoku stands out, but in a positive sense; his music amorphously blending both cultures successfully to create something familiar yet somehow fresh and untethered.

Inspired by the ‘high art sonic’ forms of Arca and Anhoni, and by the metamorphosis nature of Bjork, Njoku’s own compositions feature a beautiful synthetic shuffle of Afrofuturism soul and more searing discordant synth waves that clash and distort on arrival but gradually sync and become part of the motion. From beauty to pain and release, and often back again, each track (and not in a bad way) seems open-ended; a constant flowing cycle of emotions, which can be healed during that moment, in that space and time, but will inevitably return: A calm followed by turbulence and hopefully the light.

Remain Calm, a song in two parts, starting with a romantically plaintive half of bobbing tablas floating on an increasingly choppy mental exerted ocean of troubles before being overpowered and capsized by more stressed and sharper sonic invasions, exemplifies Njoku’s shifting emotional turmoil. It’s also one of the album’s standout tracks; recently featured in our first choice songs of 2018 playlist last month.

The rest of H.P.A.C. is as equally diaphanous, despite the longing, hurt and frailty on display. Remaining buoyant in the face of an increasing voluminous distress on My Dear The Light Has Come; aching on the moonbeam blues All Its Glory; plunging from a cosmic enveloped precipice by the end of the sea of reverb consuming Surely This Is As Good As It Gets; and left “twisted out if shape” like an “origami swan” on the whistle R&B lilted As We Danced, Njoku shares his vulnerabilities like an open book. And doesn’t it sound just wonderful: eloquently in a hymn like fashion between pained malady and the venerable, heavenly but also melancholic and turbulent, a futuristic soul album of delicate intellect. Anguish has seldom sounded sweeter.







Yonatan Gat  ‘Universalists’  tak:til/Glitterbeat Records, 4th May 2018

Photo credit: Caio Ferreira.

 

Banned from performing in his native homeland of Israel for taking his former band Monotonix’s confrontational style of rock’n’roll live and, literally, direct to the audience, Yonatan Gat has channeled the buzz and maelstrom of his entangled guitar work into a productive and creatively eclectic solo career since relocating to New York a number of years ago.

Toning down the shock of Monotonix for something more expansive and ambitious, as the title and imagery of his latest album for Glitterbeat’s more experimentally traversing and meditational imprint tak:til suggests, the Universalists of Gat and his drum and bass wingmen, Gal Lazer and Sergio Sayeg, expand their tumultuous galloping desert transcendence style of echo-y tremolo and fuzz beyond the sand dunes towards the imaginary psychogeography of atavistic Europe, Southeast Asia and Northwest America.

Holding up his guitar like some sort of offering, or a transmitter to the sky, Gat stands as a vessel for a cerebral multilayering of musical influences. Nothing is quite what it seems; ghostly visages of Alan Lomax’s 1950s recording of the Trallalero monosyllabic derived polyphonic style of choral folk song, practiced in the mountain villages and port of Genoa, appear on the opening eloquently shambling (the drums majestically in time rolling down a hill) Cue The Machines, and excerpts from the traditional work songs of Mallorca culture romantically waft over drifting guitar and ambient mirages on Post World. Further on, Gat fuses the Algonquin Eastern Medicine Singers pow wow drum group with his trio’s sinewy trance and scratch work to stomp out a shamanistic post-punk ritual on the Native Indian inspired Medicine.

Gat counterbalances his own group’s mystical maelstroms of pummeling, unblinking rapid rambunctiousness and more dream world jazzy shuffling with passages, memories and textures from socially and geopolitically important traditions. Chronology for example, a peregrination of many segments, features not only a scuzzed-up throw down version of Middle Eastern guitar and a vocal sample (sounding a lot like it was pulled from the ether) of a Spanish harvest song, but also entwines a passage from the famous Czech composer Antonín Dvořak’s String Quartet in F Major: better known as the chamber piece standard, The American Quartet. Written during the composer’s time spent both teaching at the N.Y.C. National Conservatory and living amongst the Czech exiles in the desired haven state of Iowa, this New World Symphony as he called it, is included for its own embrace of Native Indian culture, the Irish immigrants folk songs and the music of the misfortunate African slaves.

Of course you don’t have to pick up on all these deeper references as the music speaks for itself; the ‘universalists’ message of borderless, timeless exploration and shared need for a release from these hostile dangerous times is clear.






Black Light White Light   ‘Horizons’   Forwards Backwards Recordings, 20th April 2018

 

Created out of a desire in 2015 to take stock of the band’s short but impressive back catalogue, the Danish and Swedish exchange Black Light White Light, or more importantly the group’s central focus, singer/songwriter and guitarist Martin Ejlertsen, plow forward with their third vaporwave psychedelic rock hadron collider LP, Horizons.

Obviously as the title would suggest, horizons new and expanding are key; the group in co-operation with new drummer Viktor Höber and producer/engineer and fellow musician Christian Ki, putting into practice, during there basement sessions deep underground in Copenhagen, a vaporous often Gothic pop rock vision of cinematic influenced charter duality and darkly lit escapism.

Though never quite as surreal and twisted, or as violently indifferent as Ejlertsen’s key inspirations, David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn, there’s still plenty of cryptic lyricism – usually sung under the smog of megaphone effects and resonating trembled fuzz – and sinister mystery. Take the progressive The Fool, which begins with hints of The Cult, Moody Blues and The Beatles but gradually creeps towards the choral and eastern esotericism of Wolf City period Amon Düül II.

Tailoring each track slightly to throb or hazily permeate with a myriad of musical styles and influences, the group attune themselves to The Painted Palms psychedelic pop on the opening King Kong; transduce the Madchester golden age on the halcyon Teenage Drum; evoke Yeti Lane on the more relaxed space rock pulse of Illusions/Emotions; and pass through the lobbies of both DFA Records, and Factory Records, and pick up melodies and inspiration from Jacco Gardner, Pink Floyd, The Stone Roses and Broadcast on the remainder of the album’s eleven tracks.

Floating between harder, barracking drums led psych rock and a shoegaze dreamy portal, Horizons is no matter how serious and mysterious the intentions (and I’m sure, after catching the odd line amongst the veiled effects, there is some dark and prescient themes being alluded to), filled with nuanced melodies and glimmers of pop. Billed as a very different kind of Black Light White Light album, Ejlersten going as far as strongly considering releasing it under an entirely separate project moniker, the horizons explored and discovered on this record prove very fruitful indeed.






The Magic City Trio  ‘Amerikana Arkana’  Kailua Recording, 20th April 2018

 

It’s as if Ennio Morricone had skulked into town himself, as they very first tremolo resonating notes strike and the lush orchestration sweeps in to announce the arrival of this cinematic Americana imbued suite. A Western adventure of melancholic beauty, the debut album from The Magic City Trio treads familiar ground as it pays homage to a century and more of the frontier spirit and tragedy.

Covering everything from pre-war country music to modern hillbilly noir, this gathering of musicians and artists, which includes The June Brides’ Frank Sweeney and Annie And The Aeroplanes’ Annie Holder serenading and out front, mosey, ponder and lamentably create their own visionary cinematic songbook. Liltingly duets in the manner of an imagined partnership between Lee Hazlewood and Emmylou Harris feature throughout, whilst hints are made to The Flying Burrito Brothers one minute and a lonesome pinning Richard Hawley on the ranch, the next. Sweeney and Holder certainly set the mood when embracing references as varied as Steinbeck’s depression era novels and the murder ballads of the old west borderlands.

Missing out on scoring the golden age of Westerns then, The Magic City Trio (which expands to accommodate a number of guests) walk the walk, talk the talk, but update the old tropes for a post-modernist take. The opening, beautifully crooned, Black Dog Following Me even tackles depression; a subject hardly congruous to the stoic ‘man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do’ machismo of cowboy yore. It sounds like an unforgiving vision as re-imagined by a 70s period Scott Walker, earmarked for a revisionist Tarantino Western.

You can’t fault the careful and lightly applied musicianship, nor the deliberately pronounced and richly swooned vocal partnership; whether it’s in the mode of a mariachi soundtrack quilted murder scene (22), or a lilting pedal steel, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, eulogy to a dear departed friend (Goodbye My Friend).

Far more than a pastiche or mere homage, Amerikana Arkana is a subtly attuned to modern sensibilities version of a lost classical Western soundtrack: a most diaphanous and sweetly lamentable one at that.






Mouvements  ‘Mouvements’   Mental Experience, March 22nd 2018

 

How they find them is not our concern, but those fine excavators of miscellaneous avant-garde and leftfield treasures, Mental Experience, don’t half unearth some obscure artifacts. One of their latest reissues is the amorphous experiment between extemporized music and op art Mouvements. This Geneva underground scene missive was originally released as a private box set, limited to only 150 copies and sold at art galleries.

Instigated by the guitar player (though free and easy across a whole instrument spectrum) Christian Oestreicher after meeting the artist and painter Richard Reimann at the Aurora art gallery in Geneva, the Mouvements project emulated what was an already flourishing scene of cross-pollinated arts.

Oestreicher on his part, attempted a process of reification through a mix of free-jazz, musique-concrete, psych rock, tape effects manipulation and Krautrock; Reimann would provide the reference point metallic and shimmered geometric artwork.

Sessions for the eventual album began in 1972; recorded at an ad hoc studio in an occupied mansion using a trio of Revox machines. Joining Oestreicher with his improvisations were friends Jean-Fançois Boillat (of Boillat-Thérace obscurity), Blaise Catalá and Jerry Chardonnens – names which probably mean more to the ‘head’ community, but we can take as granted were probably notable in their fields. Allowing his influences to permeate and flow through each gesture, riff and applied layering, Oestreicher’s troupe – gathered round in a circle to perform – sound like a hazy mixture, a primordial soup and veiled ramble of Zappa, early Can, Ornette Coleman, Chuck Berry, Soft Machine, Amon Düül II and the neo-classical.

Conceived as a concept album, there’s a constant, if interrupted, ebb and flow to proceedings; one that moves between minimal garblings and full-on psychedelic jazzy rock’n’roll. A number of recurring instruments, such as the violin and guitar, return us to some sort of thematic semblance, something to follow and recognize. Oestreicher’s guitar (as you might expect) has a prominent role to play; riffing and contorting rock’n’roll licks with snatches of Manuel Göttsching and jazz.

Often sounding as though they’d been recorded from outside or from the other side of a partitioning wall, these ‘mouvements’ vary in their intensity: the opening Largo Pour Piano Et Océan starts the album off on an isolated beach vista; the serialism piano plucking away therapeutically as the waves hit the shore and lonely breeze blows through. But the next track, Goutte De Sang En Feu takes off into a jamming freestyle of barnyard fiddle folk, Mothers Of Invention and Floh De Cologne. There’s even an attempt at a sort of Afro-funk on the vignette Ailleurs, and Le Voyage Sperber has a concoction of West Coast lounge and Lalo Schifrin soundtrack funky jazz running through it.

The main album’s eight tracks pretty much say it all, but included with this reissue bundle is a smattering of bonus tracks; all of which generally riff on or are cut from the same clothe: The Playwriter’s Drift for example, another variation on the Zappa transmogrified rock groove, and the eighteen minute opus, My Guitar Is Driving Me Mad (Take 2), is a strange attempt by Oestreicher to exorcise his instrument over a creepy psychedelic jam.

A spark of interest for those unfamiliar with the Swiss branch of the art-rock crossover in the early 70s, this most intriguing artifact from the period focuses on a hitherto forgotten, or at least passed over, development in the story of European avant-garde; a time when Op Art and free-music experimentation collided. Not to everyone’s tastes, and covering a lot of familiar ground – the sound quality on my CD was very quiet -, Mouvements is nonetheless a curious suite.




Sad Man  ‘Slow Bird’  16th April 2018

 

Featured regularly over the years, the contorted machinations and transmogrified electronic music experiments of artist/composer Andrew Spackman have kept us both entertained and dumbfounded. Building his own shortened, elongated and mashed-up versions of turntables and various plucked, rung or clanged instrumentation in his garden shed, his process methods would seem almost impossible to replicate let alone repeat. And so this often ennui shifting and dislocation of the avant-garde, techno, breakbeat and Kosmische sounds often unique.

Previously causing mayhem under the – Duchampian chess move favorite – Nimzo-Indian moniker, Spackman has now adopted a new nom de plume; a home for what he intends to be, like the name suggests, the most saddest music. Yet with a few releases already under his tool belt, the latest epic, Slow Bird, is more an exploration in confusion and ghostly visages of the cosmos than a melancholic display of plaintive moping. There are by all means some moody, even ominous, leviathans lurking and the odd daemonic vocal effect, but as with most of the tracks on this LP they constantly evolve from one idea into the next: anything from a panic attack to the kooky.

With a menagerie theme running throughout the many song titles, it’s difficult to tell if the source of any of them began with the bird in question or not. The title track itself certainly features flighty and rapid wing flapping motions, yet rubs against more coarse machinery, knife sharpening percussive elements and Forbidden Planet eeriness. Parrot by comparison, sounds like an inverted PiL, languidly reversed to the undulations of bongos, whilst Sparrow pairs Cecil Taylor piano serialism with, what sounds like, a wooden ball rolling across a tabletop. It’s not only the feathered variety being used as bait for spasmodic and galactic manipulation. There’s a Bear Reprise (another repeating theme; ‘reprises’ of one sort or another popping up a lot) of all things, which consists of 808 claps, broken electro and particle dispersing glassy sprinkles, and a very weird tuba like theme tune, dedicated to the Slug.

A cacophony of clever layering and ever-changing focus takes tubular metallics, UNCLE drum break barrages, Ippu Mitsui, Add N To (X), giddy oscillations, haywire computer and staccato phonetic languages, Vader mask style breathing, glints of light beams, the Aphex Twin on xylophone and produces his own, whatever that is, niche of electronic composition. It can feel a slog and overwhelming at times, but Slow Bird is one of his most progressive and well-produced releases yet; mayhem at its best.






Evil Bone  ‘In Vain’  13th April 2018

 

Battling to overcome the mentally and physical debilitations of anxiety disorder, the artist (who I only know as John) behind this new solo project, Evil Bone, seeks a reification of its enervated effects on the soporific, halcyon In Vain. The title, a quite resigned one, refers to his attempts to beat it: all to no effect. Though, as John candidly muses, it is now a part of his make up, and in many ways impacts on the music he creates.

Despite often stifling creativity, the first track from Evil Bone is a haze of languid shoegaze and soulful dream pop that recalls Slowdive and The Cocteau Twins cloud bursting in vaporous anguish. Influenced by more modern psychedelic vaporwave bands such as the Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Tame Impala (both can be detected here), John is also quite taken with hip-hop, R&B and soul music; especially Anderson Paak and Kendrick Lamar – music with a more colourful sound and soulful vibe. And this can be heard on In Vain’s lush soul-tinged wafted undulations; taking it away from simple lingering dreamwave production towards something with a little more depth and lilt.

Promising an extended release later in the year, In Vain sets the marker for beautifully layered anxious psychedelic pop.




Bunny & The Invalid Singers  ‘Fear Of The Horizon’  Bearsuit Records, 20th April 2018

 

Quite the enigma, the music of Edinburgh solo musician/artist Dave Hillary seems to be adrift of reference, familiarity and classification (an easy one anyway). Though his image is plastered (or is it!) indiscriminately amongst a collage of collected imagery, from holiday postcards to family moments and music paraphernalia, on the inlay of his latest album, his identity has been largely guarded.

Mysterious then, unsettled, the experimental electronic music with textured industrial and squalling rock guitar style of sonic noodling Hillary produces is more akin to an amorphous collection of soundtracks than identifiable song material. Evocations, moods, setting the scene for some futuristic heart of darkness, Hillary fashions a gunship waltz of tetchy synthesized percussion, fairground noises, whistling satellites and rocket attacks on the fantastical entitled Eamon The Destroyer, whilst on the title track, he plays around, almost plaintively, with folksy acoustic plucked notation, sighing strings, twinkly xylophone and arched electric guitar. Hints of the Orient (I’m imagining Hong Kong for some reason) linger on both the weird cut-up The Positive Approach To Talkative Ron and the marooned, twanged and bowed Cast Adrift. Yet, even with title prompts, you could be anywhere on these unique vistas and musings. The closest you’ll find to this meandering is the Leaf label, or the experimental Jezus Lizard sanctioned experiments of Craig Ward.

 Fear Of The Horizon is the third such album from the interchangeable Bunny & moniker – Hillary’s debut, Fall Apart In My Backyard, released under the Bunny & The Electric Horsemen title. However, the Bearsuit Records stalwart, constantly popping up on the label’s maverick compilations, and one-time member of Idiot Half Brother and Whizz Kid, is at his most mysterious and serious as Bunny & The Invalid Singers. Truly plowing his very own furrow, Hillary’s warped evolving, sometimes clandestine, electronic and steely guitar evocations once more wander into unusual territory.






The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Stuck In A Daydream’  Steep Hill, 11th May 2018

 

Following on from the warm afterglow of their last outbound journey, Adventure, the London-based (though originally hailing from Southport) duo of lilted psychedelic pop once more dip liberally into the 60s (and early 70s) songbook on their fourth album, Stuck In A Daydream. It’s never quite clear, nostalgia being their bag and signature, if The Lancashire Hustlers are seeking sanctuary in that halcyon age, or commenting wryly on those who seek to turn back the tide of change and return to a preconceived ideal that never quite existed. It is of course what every generation does; fondly celebrating a time they never lived through, and ‘Generation X’ is no different; though the evidence is pretty overwhelming and convincing, the ‘Baby Boomers’ possibly living through an extraordinary golden age, never to be repeated. The duo of Brent Thorley and Ian Pakes sing fondly of that era, relishing in nostalgia on the Celesta dappled and cabassa percussive pining Valley Of The Dinosaurs. Reaching a falsetto pitch at one point, Thorley pays homage to that, not so, lost world; a sort of quasi I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times sentiment.

Suffused with their hazy recondite influences throughout, they channel Jimmy Campbell, Badfinger, Bread and Let It Be era Beatles alone on the first yearning and rolling piano glorious pop song, Consider Me. With a troubadour glow of bouncing lovelorn abandon, the harmonious and ‘considered’ lightness of touch on this perfectly crafted opener is instantly cozy and familiar to the ear. It’s a brilliant breezy start to the album, and exemplifies the duo’s move towards more direct, simpler songwriting.

Later on we hear lullaby twinkled mobiles that hang over daydreamers in the style of Fairfield Parlour; the sea shanty whimsy lament of a lovesick merman as fashioned by The Kinks; troubled relationships as re-imagined by an art philistine metaphorical Rubber Soul era George Harrison; and a sad eulogy to an absent friend as plaintively sung by Gram Parsons.

Let loose in the music box, expanding their repertoire and softened harmonious bulletins, they not only add a wealth of interestingly plucked and dabbed instrumentation (kalimba, taishogoto, metallophone and mellotron) but bring in Rob Milne of the jazzy Afrobeat Nebula Son to play both lingering accentuate flute and bass clarinet and more intense saxophone on a number of the duo’s exotic adventures.

Finding solace in the never-ending 60s revival, The Lancashire Hustlers’ timeless songbook can feel like a nostalgia trip. However, its age old themes speak volumes about the here and now, offering shelter and an antidote to these tumultuous times; those gilded metaphors speaking volumes about the here and now.


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REVIEW: DOMINIC VALVONA




Josh T. Pearson   ‘The Straight Hits’    Mute,  13th April  2018

Changing his tune (literally) Josh T. Pearson, the lonesome blues Texan with a wagonload of baggage, heads out on to the range with a swag bag of more joyful, unencumbered ‘golden hits’ on his latest album for Mute Records.

Rather ironic for an artist who despite writing and recording for decades has only one previous solo album to his name (2011’s agonizing confessional Last Of The Country Gentlemen), The Straight Hits feels like a ‘best of’ songbook.

Leaving behind the more apocalyptic gospel concepts of his work with the short-lived but acclaimed Lift To Experience, whose 2001 masterpiece The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads left such an indelible mark on the dirty country and Americana blues scenes, Pearson sets himself new parameters; adhering to a five-point rules system for transforming a “batch of tunes” he’d been working on for a decade. Earmarked originally for the ‘unrecorded’ Bird Songs album, the nine original songs on The Straight Hits are a lighter and as the title suggests ‘straighter’ attempt to change the mood.

Though just as heavy reference wise to the faith, obsessions, cruelties and power of love, Pearson has overcome the all-too real addictions and the collapse of his marriage to fire-off a distilled, riff heavy version of cowboy romance. Motivated recently to share more (“before it’s too late”), an epiphany of a sort sparked by the divisions of the 2016 US elections moved him to question if it was better to spread joy then mope and spread more anger. But it was whilst reading (as you do) the 14th century epic poem The Conference Of The Birds by Attar of Nishapur that Pearson muses, finally turned on the creative tap and helped ease this songbook’s passage.





Far from set in stone – the unwritten rock’n’roll law that all rules are written to be broken is invoked on the tender yearning A Love Song (Set Me Straight) – each song must at least try to follow Pearson’s self-imposed requirements: Number one, all songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge; two, the lyrics must run sixteen lines or less; three, they must have the word ‘straight’ in the title; four, that title must be four words or less; and five, they must submit to song above all else i.e. “You do as she tells you, whatever the song tells you”, “You bend to her, and not her to you.”

This probably cuts the fat, indulgence certainly, and makes for a more dynamic sound; especially on the alternative sports anthem opener Straight To The Top! – A pumped-up straight chaser, straight out the gate explosion of country slurred rock and gospel that sounds like Jeff Buckley at the rodeo. Conceived as the sort of fired-up soundtrack Pearson would like to hear, though he says he’s no particular fan, at an American football game, as he prepares for a high-five celebration with his fellow fans. It’s a great start. A fucking great start actually; the faith amped up to match his evangelical bounce back from the precipice: “If you knock me down, I’m gonna rise again. Time after time, there’s no way you can win.”

Taking on a curled lip croon Pearson goes on to sing about interloping lovers on the kooky desert cosmic Straight At Me – playing with the analogies of the old west, and in particular the reservations, the protagonist of this song a native Indian – whilst he reimagines Richard Hell leading The Pretenders through the High Chaparral and bawdy salon piano sing-a-long on Give It To Me Straight. The travails of love are played out to a mix of these more rowdy new wave of Americana hits and more lonesome, serious laments; some of which have a touch of irony, such as the calmer acoustic resigned Damn Straight, the album’s sole cover – originally by the Austin singer/songwriter Jonathan Terrell -, the author of which pines over losing his girl to the seductive power of Nashville’s famous cowboy swooners and crooners. Namechecking a litany of country music legends (“Waylon, Willie and Merle”), the achy-breaky heart singer pines “How could you take her just like that?”, “How could she leave me for a man she don’t even know?”

The Straight Hits is a most rallying rodeo that gives the Americana soundtrack a much-needed kick-in-the-pants; the themes of love, whether it’s the analogical kind, ‘take me right now’ kind, or lamentable kind, enacted across a varied but blistering songbook. Rejecting the stimulants and his demons, Pearson choses the good ol’ fashioned power and redemptive spirit of gospel ye-ye and country rock’n’roll. And don’t it sound just mighty fine and swell!



Brian Bordello of the contrary and provocative lo fi rock’n’roll group The Bordellos infamy, takes us on a track by track tour through the band’s latest album Debt Sounds

Words: Dominic Valvona/ Brian Bordello





The Bordellos, the uncompromising bastions of lo fi rock’n’roll, have been chipping away at the peripherals of the music industry for years to no effect. Though this shouldn’t come as much of a suprise; provocative subjects including serial sex offenders Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris, and the languorous drip-fed accusations (whether through a wearing down of malaise or real attempts to shoehorn him out the door in the name of ‘blandifcation’) that the BBC ‘killed John Peel’ don’t exactly help their cause.

From their St Helens base the family band spew and regurgitate a continual flow of musings, lovesick plantive melancholy and cumdrudgry attacks on the state of modern culture. Knocking out releases at a weekly rate, the band could give the late Mark E Smith a run for his money in number of pontification packed rambles.

I’ve probably written more about this contrary group than any other in the last five years plus. Mostly because despite the basic, drone-y and cheap production The Bordellos bare their souls like all the most effectual and best rock’n’roll icons. In a nutshell: songs about broken hearts played on broken guitars. And yet despite this lo fi aesthetic, the band are ambitious; referencing a myriad of musical influences, and incorporating all manner of instruments and sounds into their music.

Their latest LP, Debt Sounds, is no different – a mix between Gene Vincent, The Jesus And Mary Chain and Rey Crayola – in this respect. Fueled once more by the acrimony of tattered relationships, family fall-outs, too many late nights and cynicism, The Bordellos indolently unburden themselves upon the audience.

As no review – and I’ve tried – can really do The Bordellos sound any justice, I’ve asked the band’s elder statesman and steersman Brian Bordello permission to share his inimitable penned notes. A sort of track by track narrative, these descriptions and articulations are worthy of sharing; a window in on the workings and mindset that produced them.

And so without further ado I hand you over to Brian…


The Cast

Brian Shea — vocals – guitar – bass – percussion.

Dan Shea  — vocals — keyboards – violin – percussion.

Gary Storey -bass – guitar.

Ant shea – vocals – percussion – harmonica – pitch pipe.

plus

Brendan Bannon – lead guitar on Rolf Harris, Merseybeat Memories and She in The Sun.

Jade — harmony vocals on seal head on Honeypie.

Leslie o’Brien –harmony vocals on Cloudsounds.

produced by Brian Shea


These are the rules and background:

The idea behind the LP was to get back to basics, so I set down these ground rules, all recorded on old tape 4 track, using microphones and recording equipment bought from pound shops and cash converters [under £5].

1. all tracks recorded on 4 tracks only: no overdubs
2 all vocal tracks would be first take only even if disaster struck whilst recording ,so a lot of these songs have only ever been sang once.
3 all songs recorded would have been written that week. So the rest of the band would never have heard them before recording.
4 every song started would be completed that night so no going back.
It was recorded over 10 consecutive Friday nights. During which there was two romantic break ups – the two ex girlfriends actually sang on some of the tracks to add to the spice. Just before the start a marriage had also just broken up…there was lots of alcohol consumed lots of madness, it is the sound of four people going out of their minds, looking back I wonder how Dan managed as he only turned 17 during the recording of this album, but his teenage angst mixed with our midlife crises made for a very dark work of art.

This was supposed to be our third Brutarian records release , but a label that boasted in its bumph of releasing uncommercial uncompromising music refused to release it as it was too… uncompromising!

I have very fond memories of this lp recording it was a experience that was only matched in madness when recording our Ronco revival sound LP.


The Tracks: 

 1/ Fading Honey written by B shea/G storey
     Brian – vocal. Gary – Bass. Dan – feedback. Ant- percussion

A song inspired by the frustration of being in a band that had released two fine albums that had sold bugger all and the problems that arise from dealing with the music industry and all its evil ways. This subject has reappeared many times over the years on Bordellos LPs . This was the first. “Each night I dream of rats of record contracts.”

2/ Spirograph written by Brian Shea
    Brian – vocals/guitar. Ant – Harmonica. Dan- inaudible harmony vocals.

When this song was being recorded there was a huge Summer thunderstorm and rain started to pour through the roof and down the walls of Ants living room. Due to the bad state of his brickwork. So as I was trying to get my best brokenhearted vocal performance, whilst Ant was running around the house with buckets. Muttering the immortal line “Life is too short for guttering”. This was another no show night from Gary so he is not on it ,and Dan recorded harmony vocals but because of the only one vocal take rule the mic did not pick them up very well ,if you have the hearing of a dog you may hear them. “I look in the mirror and my curse has been reversed.”

3/ You Better Run written by Brian Shea/Dan Shea
     Brian– vocals/guitar.  Dan– vocals/keyboards/percussion. Ant — vocals/percussion.

There was originally 4 verses written for this song as each verse was meant to be sung by a different band member but this was another Gary no show night so we just replaced his verse with Dans fine garage punk influenced keyboard solo. The Seeds where a huge influence on this track. “I felt so alive I feel dead now.”

 4/ Rolf Harris written by Brian Shea
    Brian -vocals/guitar. Brendan Bannon– lead guitar.  Gary- bass. Dan – percussion/violin.

This song was written many years before Rolf Harris became a known sex pest ,but I always thought there was something slightly sleazy about the man. My irish cousin who was over visiting Brendan plays the lead guitar on this track and it is he you can hear laughing in the background when I sing the line Rolf Harris is my sexual hero. This was a very drunken night; Gary turned up already pissed as a newt and proceeded to lay down the bass even though he had never heard the song and we were drunk enough to let him, so it was recorded in one take. Dan was the only sober member and told me the story of Gary insisting in cleaning up Ants house after I left and before Ant got home from a gig which consisted of him just extending all the mic stands fully pointing at the ceiling, after doing that he proceeded to record a 20 minute bass instrumental, which sadly has been lost in the mists of time. “I cum before two little boys comes on so I can sing a long.”

 

5/ Sealhead written by Brian Shea
Brian – vocals/ guitar. Gary – electric guitar. Ant- pitch pipe.  Dan percussion/harmony. Jade- harmony vocal.
This was a strange evening for Dan. He had spent the previous hour walking around a supermarket with british comedy actor Ted Robbins who was his then girlfriends uncle, Dan and Jde then turns up at the session to find us recording a psych folk song about a sexual predator who can only reach climax if his partner wears a seal mask. Dan and his girlfriend Jade then add there harmony vocals. Jade is the second cousin to Beatle Paul, so this is the first occasion a member of the Beatle bloodline appears on a Bordellos release. “Dry your eyes with a tissue of lies.”

 

 

6/ She’s An Artform written by Brian Shea
Brian -vocals/guitar. Gary- bass. Ant – percussion.
Written whilst walking up to Ants house to record. Influenced by Billy Childish I was listening to the twenty years of being childish CD a hell of a lot at the time. The slightly recorded underwater feel on this track was down to my total ineptitude at working the four track. This is the only LP I have ever produced for a reason. “Never too old to rock n roll.”

 

7/ Homeless Bound written by Brian Shea
 Brian – vocals/guitar. Gary- bass. Ant – percussion.

Another song written on the subject of being in a unsuccessful struggling band trying to make ends meet, at this time I was wrapped up with dealing with business with our then record label Brutarian and their distribution worries and the lack of success in getting reviews, radio play and such [nothing changes]. “I suffer for my art though they won’t stock it at Walmart.

 

8/ I May be Reborn written by Brian Shea
  Brian – vocals/guitar. Gary- guitar. Dan – keyboards.

Probably my fave Bordellos song and many other people’s. A song of tender reflection. I remember recording the vocals as Gary and his young son Tom came crashing through the front door. The look I gave them must of been daggers like as they stopped in their tracks – for obvious reasons it cannot be heard on the recording. This song is made by Dans excellent keyboards. We have tried this song many times and never recaptured the magic on this first version. There was magic in the room that night. “Every smoking chimney my statue of liberty.”

 

9/ Dead Friend Don’t Leave Me Hanging written by Brian Shea/ Gary Storey 
 Dan — vocals. Gary – lead guitar/bass. Brian – guitar.

Yet another song about the music business and predicting its decline and the sorry state it is in today. One of my favorite lyrics, I remember being astounded at Dans vocal, his first ever lead vocal and being so impressed with his delivery: he was only sixteen at this point. I remember Ant sulking because there was no room for a bongo track, us deciding a lead guitar track would be more effective, there only being 4 tracks. “The stroke of my quill just ain’t paying the bills.”

 

10/ Cloudsounds written by Brian Shea
Brian – vocals/guitar.  Dan – percussion. Ant – harmony vocals/ plastic whistle. Leslie- harmony vocals.
Another no show night from Gary, but Ants then girlfriend [only for a few more weeks] Leslie was in attendance and she added some lovely harmony vocals to this summery ode to my fave podcast at the time Cloudsounds. Ants plastic whistle attempt at sounding like a train is a joy to behold. If all trains could sound like this the world would be a better place. “Remember kissing in the long grass sound tracked by a passing train.”

 

11/ Merseybeat Memories written by Brian Shea
  Brian- vocals/bass. Dan– percussion. Brendan Bannon — guitar.

Yet another no show night from those part timers Gary and Ant. They where not a fan of the lo/fi recording method and the slapdash one vocal take rule, they much prefered recording in the 32 track barn studio we recorded our previous two albums. I think the tension actually added to the feel of Debt Sounds. I remember Gary saying we needed a new mic and me replying just gaffer tape the fucker it will do. So for this session it was just myself Dan and cousin Brendan; a song written after having a long conversation with former member of The Big Three and Faron’s Flamingos, the man Faron himself and how never making the big time still haunted him. “Oh how the memories linger just want to be Faron’s Flamingos to be free.”

 

12/ I Dream Of Jimmy Campbell And Rocking Horse written by Brian Shea
Brian – vocals/guitar.
My tribute to the great Jimmy Campbell one of my favorite songwriters, another man who deserved much more success than he received, he recorded with a number of mersey bands in the 60s and recorded three classic solo LPs in the late 60s early 70s and also made the wonderful power pop album Yes It Is with the band Rocking Horse. Sadly he is know longer with us. “He should have been a star just like me.”

 

13/ Captain Coma written by Brian Shea
 Brian- vocals/guitar. Gary– Bass. Dan- percussion. Ant – Percussion.

This track was recorded towards the end of the ten weeks if I remember correctly, and we were at the stage of equipment falling apart, and part of the percussion on this was Dan beating Ants settee with a broken mic stand whilst I was strutting around the room with the other part of it in a Freddie Mercury type way recording the vocals. “But I kept my shirt on.”

 

14/ New York Girl written by Brian Shea/ Gary Storey
   Dan- vocals/violin. Gary- guitar/bass. Ant -percussion.

I did not play on this as Gary was a much better guitarist than me. Another case of the vocal mic not working and it kept cutting out as we recorded it, but due to me insisting we stick with the only one vocal take allowed we have this strange slightly scary take. Dan was as mad as hell by the end of it as you can tell with the last line; probably the only line that is fully audible. This is one of my fave tracks on the LP.  “As my pathetic life unfurls.”

 

15/ She In The Sun written by Brian Shea
   Brian- vocals/guitar. Dan -percussion. Brendan Bannon – Lead Guitar.

Another song with cousin Brendan on lead guitar. Recorded the same night we did merseybeat memories  – not my fave song on the LP, my vocal really is quite poor. The percussion is Dan playing a Wok with a wooden spoon: just give me some of that wok n roll music. “She walks in the summer rain and confuses my religion.”

 

16/ Fine written by Brian Shea
Brian- vocals/guitar.  Dan – Keyboards/effects.  Ant/Leslie breaking up.

This was another no show night by Gary. Ant was there with his soon to be ex girlfriend. A song about the coming to the end of a relationship was ideal for this nights recording as the atmosphere was pretty hostile around Ants that night. I recorded the vocal whilst accompanied by Ant and Leslie giving each other death stares. They had an argument in the kitchen which myself and Dan recorded on one of the tracks unknown to them and we used it very quietly running throughout the finished song. A work of true darkness. “There’s no passion anymore just friction. When did this habit turn from a addiction.”

 

17/ Honeypie written by Brian Shea
Brian/vocals/guitar/percussion. Gary – bass. Dan- percussion/screams/violin. Jade- vocals.
A track you will either love or hate Dans then girlfriend Jade shared the mic with myself and I found it quite awkward singing such a suggestive song with my sons 17 year old girlfriend, but it again added to the tension. I wanted this song to sound like an outtake from the Velvet Underground white light white heat album; something quite hard to listen to. We recorded everything live on the vocal mic and then just played it back loudly and redid the instrumental parts recoding it all over again. It worked; it gave the feeling of chaos and also fed back like fuck. After we finished recording I remember Gary coming up to me and saying “now you have that out of your system can we go back to writing and recording properly like we used to?” He left a year later. 

This was my LP really: like Brian Wilson used the Beach Boys to make Pet Sounds, I used the Bordellos to make Debt Sounds.

 

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