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Lo-Fi Heartache Pop v Psychedelic Witch Prog: Best New Music of 2017

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Best Music 2017

This year, a bumper Christmas post featuring my top twenty tracks of the year. And just to crank up the excitement levels to 11, I’m going to sort them into a chart.

Was this a good year for music? If you mean by that, was there bucketloads of good music released, then yes. I heard John Robb on 6 Music a couple of weeks ago claiming there were more good bands around just now than ever before.

This is in all likelihood true. But are there more truly great bands than ever before?

And how does music in 2017 compare with, say, 1967 or 1977?

Oh, those excitement levels might just have dropped but here are twenty very fine tracks. Before I begin though, a quick mention for some of the artists hovering just outside: Catholic Action, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Moonlandingz, Wire, The Hare and Hoofe, Brix and The Extricated, The Eastern Swell, The Secret Goldfish and Peter Perrett.

Okay, time to break out the Christmas sherry, sit down, relax and enjoy!

20. Mogwai: Coolverine
Every Country’s Son is far from the best ever Mogwai release but the track that kicked it off is mightily impressive. Is Coolverine an amusing pun, though, or just a plain cack title? I’m still not sure.


19. Sister John: Thinner Air
The best new Scottish act to emerge in 2017 and seemingly loved by every blogger out there. Sister John’s album Returned From Sea is out on the Last Night From Glasgow label and well worth seeking out.

18. John Foxx and The Maths: Genetic Hymnal
If Heaven actually existed this might just be the soundtrack.

17. Jesus and Mary Chain: Mood Rider

16. Goldfrapp: Anymore

15. Alvvays: Dreams Tonite
Album #2 from Canadian indie pop classicists proves that album #2 doesn’t neccessarily have to disappoint. Coming to Glasgow early next year.

14. The Orielles: I Only Bought It For The Bottle
Featured on this blog back in August, where I declared them ‘The Best Thing to Come Out of Halifax since John Noakes’.

13. LCD Soundsystem: Call the Police
The least surprising reunion ever probably had hipsters taking to the streets of Hoxton and Williamsburg in celebration all the same. It also produced some rip-roaring tunes.

12. Sparks: Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

11. Alien Stadium: This One’s for the Humans
Steve Mason and Primal Scream’s Martin Duffy join together and make a four-track concept mini-album about pisshead aliens invading Earth. Or something like that.


10. Beck: Dear Life

9. The Breeders: Wait in the Car
One of the comebacks of the year although their Glasgow concert is unlikely to go down in Barrowlands folklore.

8. Young Fathers ft. Leith Congregational Choir: Only God Knows
God Only Knows why this band aren’t bigger. One of the best tracks on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack.

7. Slowdive: Don’t Know Why
Another successful reunion, this time from one of the great showgazing bands.

 
6. Arcade Fire: Everything Now
As featured previously here, where I compared some of the songs on their latest album to the sort of stuff David Brent sang on his Life On the Road tour.

5. The Sexual Objects: Sometimes (Boards of Canada remix)
Within the space of the first note of this remix you know Boards of Canada are involved. So you know you’re in good hands.

4. Morrissey: Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage
Well, I still like his music anyway.

3. PINS with Iggy Pop: Aggrophobe
I had high hopes when I heard the news that Eno was heading into the studio with the sonic genius that is Kevin Shields but it’s this single from some young Lancastrian lasses and a gnarled old American man that proved to be the collaboration of the year.

 
2. Girl Ray: Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) 
Just as theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote that he ‘could not love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger’, I couldn’t be friends with anybody that doesn’t think Earl Grey is a fabby album. My favourite of the year in fact. Just.

Girl Ray will play The Art School in Glasgow on 13 Apr 2018.

1. Madonnatron: Headless Children
Featured back here.

Earl Grey just edged out Madonnatrons’ self-titled album as my favourite album of the year but Madonnatron, in turn, just edged out Girl Ray’s Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) as my favourite track of the year. Girl Ray incidentally were described as ‘Lo-fi Heartache Pop’ in the Guardian while Madonnatron describe themselves on their Facebook page as ‘Psychedelic Witch Prog’.

Mesmerizing, angry and disturbing here is Headless Children:

 
For more on Madonnatron click here.

 

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The Return of Rocket to Russia, Action Painting & Some Swampland Jewels – Best Reissues & Compilations 2017

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Best Reissues and Compilations 2017

First up, The Ramones and a 40th anniversary deluxe treatment of Rocket To Russia.

You know the drill with The Ramones. A barrage of two-minute, rapid-fire fury with dumbass lyrics. Here with an added surf influence.

Rocket To Russia was maybe their last true masterpiece and their last album recorded with the band’s original lineup. This reissue does the album proud with two different mixes plus a shedload of previously unreleased material. Best of all, though, is the disc featuring the band’s concert at the Glasgow Apollo from December 19 1977. Exactly forty years ago.

Listen out for me. I was there down in the stalls bawling my head off.

There was usually a palpable undercurrent of violence and edginess whenever a punk act played the Apollo with a real us and them divide between fans and bouncers. The stage was far too high – it was never a good idea to book a seat in the two front rows. You would leave the hall at the end of the night with soot up your nose. There was no bar and only very basic toilet facilities.

Needless to say it’s my favourite ever venue though and The Ramones show from 1977 is one of the three best concerts I ever attended. My two other favourites, the first appearance of The Clash at the Apollo and Iggy Pop’s show there in 1979.

Here on what was their debut at the old hall, The Ramones are at their ferocious best. This isn’t from that show but instead from the Hogmanay show that The Ramones played at London’s Rainbow Theatre not long afterwards:

 
Brimming with freakbeat fireballs, The Creation compilation Action Painting is undoubtedly the definitive Creation artefact. Collected together for the first time are the band’s complete studio recordings which have been remastered from the original tapes by producer Shel Talmy. There’s even four tracks by an earlier incarnation of the band when they were known as The Mark Four. Plus an eighty page book.

As a teenager I first became aware of band via Boney M’s cover of Painter Man (so they served some purpose after all). That and the collage inside All Mod Cons. The Jams’ 5CD 1977 box set is recommended too incidentally as is Making Time – A Shel Talmy Production, which I have already reviewed here.

Originally released in the early days of 1968, this is How Does It Feel To Feel. Did Oasis ever manage this kind of swagger? Nope.

 
From the same era that gave us The Creation comes the Jon Savage compiled 1967 The Year Pop Divided. This collection includes psychedelia, garage nuggets, Tamla, southern soul, early funk, a little UK pop reggae in the shape of Ken Boothe and some Gallic space age Psyche Rock from Les Yper Sound.

I know very little about this latter act but imagine them living in a Pop Art apartment in Paris and hanging out with Yves Klein and the models he would drag over his canvases while smeared in blue paint. Insanely catchy, this should have been on the soundtrack of Barbarella or Modesty Blase. Stereolab, of course, love them.

Unfortunately there’s no video footage of Les Yper Sound that I can find online but here’s another Savage selected gem. From Spring 1967, this is I Can Hear The Grass Grow (Roy and the boys must have had acute hearing at this point in their careers or maybe there’s another explanation for this remarkable ability). The song also cropped up this year on the CD/DVD Digi-pack collection Magnetic Waves of Sound: The Best Of The Move which I might just treat myself to in the not too distant future.

 
Newly released on the ever excellent Soul Jazz label, Deutsche Elektronische Musik 3 is a 23 track compilation of experimental German music released between 1971 and 1981. There are Krautrock big hitters such as Neu!, Cluster and Popol Vuh and there are some lesser known acts like Klauss Weiss and Missus Beastly.

Highlights include Michael Bundt’s The Brain Of Oskar Panizza (from 1977, I can imagine the early Human League being influenced by this) and Neu!’s Neuschnee, one of the most influential tracks of the 1970s.

Here is a very much unofficial video for the latter:

 
Swampland Jewels (on Yep Roc Records) is another in a long line of fantastic compilations of Cajun music. A various artists collection of songs from the 1950s and ’60s, a version of this album originally appeared on the Goldband Records label in a 1979. Now expanded and accompanied with liner notes and photos courtesy of Steven Weiss – no relation to the Klauss Weiss mentioned earlier I presume – this is a hugely enjoyable listen.

Tracks include Herman Guilee’s Bon Ton Roula, a straight-ahead bouncy number that’ll have you mamboing within seconds and Al Ferrier’s Yard Dog, which blurs the line between traditional Cajun and Bayou rockabilly.

Finally on the reissue & compilation front, a wee mention for Serge Gainsbourg & Jean-Claude Vannier’s OST Les Chemins Des Katmandou (on Finders Keepers) and Keb Darge And Cut Chemist Present The Dark Side (on BBE). And here’s a link to my favourite reissue of 2017, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead.

Saint Jack & A Musselburgh Superstar

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Jock Scot Albums

During the week I watched Saint Jack, an under-rated Peter Bogdanovich movie from 1979 that starred Ben Gazzara as Jack Flowers, a fatalistic Italian-American washed up in Singapore. Here he makes a living taking care of the needs of English-speaking expats and visitors, mainly American GIs, touring and whoring while on leave from Vietnam.

Filmed on location, Saint Jack was produced by Roger Corman, who’d given Bogdanovich his first directorial break on the 1968 movie Targets.

Gazzara, Bogdanovich and Corman, that’s a combination of talents you’ve got to like the sound of.

The movie doesn’t offer that much in the way of a plot and it could be accused of lacking real tension until its final act when Jack’s offered a wad of money to take uncompromising photos of an anti-war American Senator. But I do like Saint Jack a lot, mainly due to Gazzara’s performance.

A Korean vet who’s handy with a quip, generous with a tip and fond of a Scotch, Gazzara’s role as Flowers shares many similarities with his turn as Cosmo Vittelli in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and in a fairer world, he might have found himself with a Best Actor Oscar nomination for at least one of these parts.

Saint Jack, incidentally, was banned in Singapore, due to the seedy portrayal of the country although this ridiculous piece of censorship was rescinded in 2006. Here’s the trailer:


Watching Saint Jack inevitably got me musing on the 1995 album of the same name by The Nectarine N°9. Released on the reactivated Postcard label, this was one of the best Scottish albums of the ’90s despite being routinely ignored by many on its release.

It could easily be argued that Postcard Mark II, like Gazzara, was underestimated. Back then Alan Horne was still at his irascible best, fuming about local bores like Deacon Blue; the media (which was the ‘most evil thing in the world) and indie groups – telling Tom Lappin in The List: ‘They all tend to come across as public schoolboys who want to be in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.’

Whether you agreed with him or not, it was a pity that albums like Saint Jack and Vic Godard’s The End of the Surrey People failed to garner the critical kudos experienced by Postcard in the early ’80s especially when you think of all those journeymen Britpoppers like Gene and Shed Seven who, as Saint Jack hit record stores, were being feted with two page spreads in the music press and singles and albums in the charts.

On Saint Jack, NN9 were joined in the studio by Jock Scot, who memorably contributed Just Another Fucked-Up Little Druggy On The Scene.

Jock’s poetry might have struck some as simplistic but therein lies a big daud of his talent, making the difficult look simple. Autobiographical, unflinching and literally laugh out loud funny (LLOL?), he only ever published a single poetry collection, 1993’s Where Is My Heroine? Jock, though, was always more of a performance poet and took as much inspiration from the everyday world as from traditional poets. Think a madcap mix of Chuck Bukowski and Matt McGinn.

I remember seeing him live at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Festival in the second half of the 1990s, a raucous night where most of the audience was every bit as drunk as Jock, myself included. A fun-filled evening as enjoyable as any standard concert I attended around this time.

A patter merchant par excellence, Jock immediately struck me as the sorta guy that you would have loved to spend a night in the pub with (or maybe an afternoon and night with). A close pal of The Clash, Libertines and Ian Dury, I bet he would have supplied many reasons to be cheerful.

My Personal Culloden from 1997 was the final album released by Postcard and like those two albums mentioned earlier, it failed to generate the interest it clearly deserved. Heavenly Recordings reissued it in 2015 with an option of vinyl for the first time and a recommendation from Irvine Welsh: ‘Jock Scot is, along with Iggy Pop and Paddy Stanton, one of my all-time heroes. A Musselburgh superstar.’

This time round the reaction was more favourable with Uncut praising it as ‘a minor masterpiece of Scottish independent rock’ and Mojo magazine declaring him ‘Alba’s Greatest Poet’.

Sadly Jock died from cancer last year. His funeral in April 2016 was attended by a large and varied cast of mourners including senior Pop artist Peter Blake, drinking buddy Shane MacGowan, author Will Self and designer Pam Hogg.

Jock’s Mod Poem is one of only two poems I could recite, the other being Burns’s My Heart’s in the Highlands, drummed into me as a child in the early seventies – one every twenty odd years, maybe it’s time to add a third to the memory banks. Maybe it’ll be another one of Jock’s.

Apparently written in less than 6 minutes while waiting on the Underground, here is Mod Poem from The Caledonian Blues, the album he collaborated on with Gareth Sager:

The Inbetweeners #1 (Fox)

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A new and likely short series where I’ll feature a number of acts that emerged or came to the fore as the sheen of glam rock began to fade although its influence on music and fashion lingered on.

A loose category that might be termed Post-Glam, these bands might display some bovver boy theatricality (The Heavy Metal Kids), a Roxy/Art School influence (Deaf School) or a glam rock meets music hall feel (Jet), through to acts that could be said to have anticipated punk to some extent such as The Doctors of Madness and early Ultravox!


First up, Fox. A somewhat forgotten band that met with considerable success in the British singles charts in the mid-1970s.

Main songwriter Kenny Young already possessed an enviable pop pedigree having co-written Under the Boardwalk for The Drifters and Captain of Your Ship, a hit for Reparata and the Delrons (later covered by Fox and also by Bette Bright following the demise of Deaf School). He additionally composed The Highway Song for Nancy Sinatra and tracks for Status Quo, The Shirelles and Ben E. King.

On his 1973 solo album Last Stage For Silver World, some very distinctive backing vocals were supplied by Susan Traynor, then singer of the folk rock outfit Wooden Horse, an act formed in Australia that moved to London at the dawn of the 1970s. They released a self-titled album in March 1972 and followed it up a year later before Susan joined the embryonic Fox and adopted the stage name Noosha Fox.

Always looking like she was on her way to a photoshoot for Nova or Vogue or, alternatively, time-travelling back for an audition for an early Marlene Dietrich movie, the fantastic Mrs Fox was a great example of what might be termed the Biba Look, what that shop’s owner Barbara Hulanicki once described as ‘fresh little foals with long legs, bright faces and round dolly eyes… A designer’s dream’.

Noosha Fox & Fox singles

Years later looking at her in her white cape and black hotpants combo as she performs S-S-S-Single Bed, brings to my mind at least one Alison Goldfrapp.

According to a press release from their label GTO, debut single Only You Can was recorded at LA’s Clover Studios with the band naked as they played. Apparently because it helped release any inhibitions that they might have had.

This bio, even by the standards of PR, is remarkably fanciful (or fulla bullshit if you prefer) with the unknown at this point band ‘playing to crowds at Palaces and Palladiums across Asia and Europe.’ They supposedly brought the house down at the Struda Palladium in Sidarta although I’m sceptical that this venue ever existed let alone ever played host to an early incarnation of Fox.

Only You Can came out in the late summer of 1974 and fell under the radar. With a slight shortening of the name, it was re-released in the early days of 1975 and lo and behold, it made the top ten in Britain aided by Noosha creating a big impression on her first Top of the Pops appearance. In my class, most of the boys fancied her and most of the girls thought she looked uber-cool.

Some critics though judged that the Sydney born singer’s coquettish vocal purr was just too idiosyncratic for anything other than one-hit wonder status. This idea proved misguided – and here I should mention that another female with a highly individual singing style, Kate Bush, has mentioned Fox as being a big influence on her early work. Somebody out there in Internetland has even mentioned a resemblance to Clare Grogan’s vocals on See Those Eyes. Listening to tracks like Minor Therapy from the second Fox album Tails of Illusion it’s easy to see why the comparison was made.

Here’s the follow-up to Only You, with the alluring Noosha irresistibly doo-dalang-a-langing her way to another another big British hit in the summer of 1975. Imagine Me, Imagine You joining a very eclectic chart that included Hamilton Bohannon’s Disco Stomp, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ The Night.


In that PR release mentioned earlier, Noosha claimed: ‘We want our music to be happy and free, that’s all.’

She and her band definitely succeeded on that score.

Trivia: Imagine Me, Imagine You was, like its predecessor, released on British label GTO Records. Issued with the catalogue number GT 21, a few weeks later GT 22 followed on, Stargirl by Tiger Tim, someone that just about everybody in the Glasgow area will know as a local legendary DJ but whose name will likely mean very little to those outside Radio Clyde’s transmission area.

GT 58, Silly Billy, released in April 1976, saw the first outing on vinyl for an artist called Mari Elliot, who later became Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex.

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The Fox Box, a full overview of all things Fox, was released by Cherry Red Records in January 2017. For more information, click here.