Author Archives: danolofohman

…2018 w 48 – Album of the week is “Time considered as a helix of semi-precious stones” by Comsat Angels.

Comsat Angels 1There are those groups that you listen to a lot during a certain period, and then largely file away as “good at the time, but not so interesting now”. For me Comsat Angels were one of those bands, and as much as I loved the early stuff, for a long time in my mind their career ended with 1982´s “Fiction”. While the first three albums were generally considered examples of fine post-punk indie there was also something else there. BBC film critic and great fan Mark Kermode has been quoted to have said “the Comsat Angels are what Joy Division would sound like if they could play and sing”. Not really sure that I agree with that comparison, but that´s another story.

The band formed as a four-piece in Sheffield in 1978, by original members Stephen Fellows (guitars/vocals), Andy Peake (keyboards), as well as the fabulous rhythm section of Kevin Bacon (bass) and Mik Glaisher (drums). Taking their name off a J.G. Ballard short story from the collection “Low-flying Aircraft” is to me a sign of impeccable taste, but at the time sometimes ridiculed since Ballard-references was not that uncommon (for example Joy Division´s “The atrocity exhibition”).

After debuting with the “Red planet” single, the band was quickly picked up by Polydor and from 1980 – 1982 released their three classic albums – “Waiting for a miracle”, “Sleep no more” and “Fiction”. While artistically hugely satisfying the relative lack of commercial success made Polydor drop the band, and they also disappeared from my view for a long, long time.

Comsat Angels first three

First album “Waiting for a miracle”, recorded in only ten days, combined pop and contemporary indie aesthetics and included one of their truly great numbers “Independence Day”, as well as many other accomplished songs. The defining aspect of this album is both a lightness of touch and profound musicality. There wasn´t that many bands around at the time that could actually write great and varied songs, as well as playing them flawlessly.

Next output “Sleep no more” was a much more planned product. Loads of thought and effort was put into the sound of the songs, with extra travail exerted on the drums. While according to legend Martin Hannett left Stephen Morris batting away on the roof of Strawberry Studios for the recordings of “Unknown Pleasures”, Comsat Angels used the lift shaft of the Polydor building to create the booming drum sounds of this record. In a pre-release interview Stephen Fellows said that you would be better off listening to this album with a crash-helmet. No degree of sophistication when it comes to the production techniques of this selection of songs can however detract from their brute quality. Without a doubt one of the true masterpieces of the era. Dark, intense and immensely beautiful. One of these records that anybody interested in real music needs to own.

Third album “Fiction” entered slightly less difficult territory, with the great and glistening opener “After the rain”. While a collection of good songs it estranged the band from the Polydor record company, resulting in the band being dropped. The following years adopted by Jive and Island records didn´t even register with me, although much high quality music was produced.

The sound of Comsat Angels on record was always very different from their live experience, and the best way to understand their special way of playing to an audience is in my opinion the compilation “Time considered as a helix of semi-precious stones”.     Borrowing the name from a Samuel R. Delany short story and released in 1992 by BBC music it contains unique versions of many of their best songs, recorded for different BBC radio shows. This is Comsat Angels at their peak, with songs enveloping their entire career so far. So good it will create an eternal impression.

Comsat Angels 5

 

Advertisements

…2018 w 47 – Album of the week is “Where have you been all my life?” by Villagers.

Villagers 1Irish folk/pop band formed in Dublin 2008, so far having released 5 albums, all of them passing way below my radar at the time. Yet another tip from my big brother, who has given me so much fantastic music through the years. My only recent claim to fame in the reverse direction is sending him the Dutch radio “Unravelled” sessions by The Comsat Angels. More about that later.

A band firmly anchored in pop history, with a series of albums of sophisticated folk-scented pop immersed in the visions of leading man Conor O´Brien, and with great songs and band performances. I find sounds all their own, while following a long trail of both cerebral and emotional pop songs. Think of a slower and more rhythmically subdued version of the melodic moments of “Guillemots”, blended with the intelligence and elegance of “Belle and Sebastian”, and then lots of other unique stuff comprising their very own voice.

Villagers 2.jpg

Debut “Becoming a Jackal” (2010) set the sound in a sort of big band accoustic vein, with great melodies and while still fresh having the feel of a group developed over many years, while still written and played almost exclusively by Conor O´Brien. Rightfully Mercury Prize nominated, this is a prime example of a first effort worthy of serious noticing,  which embarrassingly enough still went right by me without any trace.

Villagers 3

Follow-up “(Awayland)” (2013) goes places the previous record didn´t, with much more of a band feel and dedicated to Conor O´Brien´s sister Aoife who died shortly after the release of their debut. While keeping the extremely high quality of songwriting this album also adds the influences of  electronica, taking their sound forward in a different but yet recognizable direction . However, the emphasis is still on songwriting and performance, making this album a formidable example of how pop songs can be used to convey emotions and ruminations about life and the world.

Villagers 5

It could be argued that “Darling Arithmetic” (2015) was the breakthrough album of the Villagers, while yet again being a product solely of main man Conor O´Brien. Returning to a more accoustic sound while still delivering some of his best songs ever. Such a rare treat that you could listen to it again and again. There´s magic and beauty here not easily found elsewhere. In some ways this could be considered the album where Villagers finally  found the sonic landscape they´d been looking for. So many great songs in such great versions, with emotions etching the skin of the soul.

After such an artistically accomplished recording something altogether new could have been expected, taking the history of this band into account. I don´t think that many  would have guessed what would come next, the perfectly sublime record “Where have you been all my life” (2016). A full group re-recording of several of their best songs during a single day at RAK studios in London.

Villagers 4

Full of life, feeling and skill this is an album that takes already great songs further. The type of record where a songwriter decides to iron out all the tiny imperfections of the previous versions of his tunes, while still celebrating spontaneity. The simplicity with which the band reclaims these peerless compositions is nothing short of astounding.  The musicianship and honesty of this group is so worthy of admiration. In the era of sampling and DJ-culture it´s important to remember that true quality and originality is always superior to mash-ups of what´s done before by others. If you´re only going to own one single album by Villagers this is the one. Two songs from the debut album, two from “(Awayland)”, six from “Darling arithmetic”, as well as a single-track recorded with Charlotte Gainsbourg and a Jimmy Webb cover, this is an album of rare beauty and quality. Everybody with even a fleeting interest in pop music should own a copy of this CD. And please do the honourable thing and support the band by actually buying a physical record or pay for a download.

After this high-point of their career the band has also released a new album, “The art of pretending to swim” (2018) which I haven´t had the time to really delve into yet. Looking forward to it though.

Yet another opportunity to thank my awesome older brother for all the great music and other representations of popular culture that he´s sent my way. I suppose there´s a reason why some are Big Brothers and others little ones like me.

 

 

…Popular music is splitting down the middle.

There was a time when a pop music afficionado like myself could keep track of almost everything important happening. Nowaydays nobody can even keep track of all the different sub-genres. A lot of people won´t see this as a problem, as choosing your special brand of entertainment is a more pressing issue than actually experiencing something unique. After determining the direction of your own personal tastes, the rest of your cultural life will be spent eating very much the same dish with slight variations in the seasoning.

All well and good if that´s what you´re satisfied with,  but not so hot if you´re interested in actually expanding your experience of human culture. The reaches of expression of what it means to be a person, and what a life can or could contain are wider than what anybody could imagine. That´s why art can still be surprising and thrilling. Replace that with formulaic expressions of thoughtless exercises in the mundane, and you´ll have a popular culture without meaning or direction. As I´ve said before, the white noise is so much stronger than the true signal. It´s high time to amplify meaning and drown out insignificance.

…2018 w 44 – Album of the week is just a song, “Mot ett annat mål” from the “Irrfärder” album by Lolita Pop.

A vintage Swedish band written about before, this is a celebration of one of their songs. An autumnal walk in the woods with my wife on a sunny day reminded me about the initial lyrics, which kept spinning in my head for a long time afterwards. Written and recorded during their heydays this is a song of immaculate quality that´s managed to hold it´s own over the years.

Real drums and primitive drum-machines followed by the Swedish version of a John McGeoch guitar line is followed by a melancholy pop song about leaving your old memories behind and aiming forwards into something new. Beautiful, melancholy and so aptly sung by peerless leading lady Karin Wistrand.

Here´s my attempt at translating the originally very poetic Swedish lyrics into English. They don´t really make them like this anymore, do  they?

Towards a different goal

The smell of earth, as we are walking through the woods

Tastes like fall, autumn´s colours dyes the leaves

Immersed in light, like the skin upon your neck

Gazing out, view the harvest made by men

Whisper thanks, for all that we´ve been given

Light stings my eyes as I spin

 

Oooh, turn towards a different goal

Oooh, firing up a sodden pyre

Oooh, of everything I´ve saved

 

In a dale, hidden from all I that I´ve brought with me

Hiding out, I won´t dare to face the world

Adding mile, after mile, after mile to my pilgrimage

Journeying far, into what can liberate me

Hints of flight, resembling birds 

Above me, where I´m fighting nothing at all

 

Oooh, turn towards a different goal

Oooh, dreaming of a giant pyre

Oooh, of everything I´ve saved

Oooh, of everything I´ve saved

Oooh…….

…whiskey from New York? Hudson shows it´s possible – American whiskey tasting no 17.

New York distillery Tuthilltown (http://www.tuthilltown.com/), is an interesting distillery based in New York, as the first one operating in the state since prohibition. Artisanal production by enthusiasts sets the scene for belly-flop or excellence.    

Hudson Baby Bourbon, 92 proof (46%).

The HudsonHudson Baby Bourbon Baby Bourbon is made from the exact same mash bill as their New York Corn Whiskey, which I´ve unfortunately hasn´t been able to procure here in Sweden. A 100% blend of several types of locally grown corn are used for the corn whiskey. Double distilled and matured in small casks of American oak for an undisclosed time period (on the web claimed to be between 3 months and 2 years). Regardless of that, the 3 gallon casks (instead of the usual 53 gallon barells) ensure enough contact between wood and spirit.

Copper hue. A nose dominated by corn sweetness, caramel, vanilla and some oak. Neat in a tasting glass it´s very smooth. There´s initial sweetness as well as a lot of oak and some astringency in the middle, coupled with vanilla, sweet corn and a slightly fiery finish with a lingering sweetness. All in all very easily drunk leaving you wanting for more.

The bottle is a special chapter. Small, chubby ones containing only 35 cl, with my particular one coming from year 10, batch E1 and being bottle 92. It´s sealed by a plastic/cork stopper covered with wax that was actually quite difficult to remove. Maybe it´s just poor technique on my side but I managed to destroy the cork on two of three bottles.

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon, 92 proof (46%).

Hudson Four Grain Whiskey

As the name implies, this whiskey is made from corn, wheat, rye and barley, in undisclosed proportions. I would guess that apart from the obvious corn, rye dominates.

Medium to dark amber colour. A nose with sweet corn, spice, vanilla, caramel and closing floral notes. Quite more complex than the Baby Bourbon, as would be expected. Neat in a tasting glass sweet corn and spicey rye dominates, on a bottom of malt and hints of wheat. Finishing with  both some oak astringency as well as some sweetness. A more grown-up version of the Baby Bourbon.

Packed in their trademark small bottles, for some reason 35 cl here in Europe rather than the 37,5 ones sold in the US. My bottle was no 72 from batch E1 and year 08.

Hudson Manhattan Rye, 92 proof (46%).

hudson-manhattan-rye

Double distilled from a mash bill of 100% rye and matured in Tuthilltown ´s trademark small casks, this is a rye worth its name. My bottle was no 75, from year 13 and batch E2.

Dark amber colour. A nose strong with rye pepper spice giving it some bitterness, then followed by sweeter fruit notes and some closing vanilla. Neat in a tasting glass you get quite a ride. Initial spice, wood accompanied by some bitterness, followed by a mellowing finish of fruit, vanilla and sweetness. The juxtaposition of sweetness and bitterness makes this a most interesting whiskey, and definitely something to return to.

Instantly recognizable packaging with a style very much their own. I will have to learn to open their bottles in a better way though.

It´s going to be a treat to compare my favourite whiskey cocktail – the Sazerac – made by Hudson Manhattan Rye, Redemption Rye and Woodford Reserve Rye. Otherwise my go to rye for a Sazerac is Rittenhouse.

…it´s soon time to tackle “Twin Peaks – the return”

Twin Peaks the return

For an inordinate long time I kept putting off watching the new installment of the probably most iconic TV-series of them all, at least during my lifetime. The weight of extreme expectations and fear of the obvious pitfalls and risks of fiasco wore heavy. Now I´ve gone through it twice, and it´s been fermenting in my mind ever since.

I just need a little more time to allow things to coalesce into a comprehensive evaluation of the quite numerous episodes. I must confess to initial opinions wavering between genius and utter crap during the process. But then again, why wouldn´t the latest significant artistic work by maverick writer/director David Lynch polarize it´s audience, like it´s done so many times before?

For anybody remotely interested, I will soon return with a more comprehensive appraisal of this series, such as it has presented itself to my mind primed by decades of consumption of contemporary culture. Expect personal opinions without any trace of objective truth.

…2018 w 43 – Album of the week is “Wasted” by Alice in Wasteland.

There are a huge number of musical artists that never got the accolades they deserved, and Finnish power-pop group Alice in Wasteland certainly are one of them. Not that much information is to be found about this band, active between 1986 and 1992. With a classic rock set-up of bass, drums, two guitarists and a female singer this group managed to create a series of wonderful songs through two vinyl albums and a handful of singles.

For some reason that I can´t currently remember I picked up their vinyl debut album  “Between the Zoo and the Jungle” upon it´s release in 1987. Although the instrumentation and arrangements were pretty standard there´s no way to demean the quality of the songwriting. This album contains more fantastic songs than could be expected from any band. The sound is cohesive and still has a modern edge whetting the appetites of anyone interested in contemporary guitar dominated pop.

Their second and last album “Red Eye” was released in 1990 and while being very good can´t in my opinion eclipse their debut. That said, opening song “You´ll get yours” is a rare treat with an unbeatable chorus. “It´s time for a new romance, take a ride in an ambulance”. Wow, where did that come from?

The vinyl albums are long deleted and hard to get, but anyone interested in this greatly undervalued band can satisfy their curiosity by acquiring the Poko records compilation “Wasted”, which contains almost all of their greatest songs in CD-format. While not widely available http://www.discogs.com is a good starting point for getting hold of this hidden treasure.

This is music that I will never tire of listening to. Hugely original while still firmly anchored in tradition. We´re not seeing groups like this popping up these days. Talent and originality is very often replaced by the reorganisation of older music heralded by the current DJ as an artist concept.

So far I´ve been unable to find any information about the future careers of the members of this great band. Maybe yet an example of immensely talented people giving up on the music business.

I promise that everyone getting the “Wasted” compilation will get access to one of the finest bands in recent rock history, and will also get a primer on how to make good pop songs. Check this band out, it will be worth your while. Not that much available on Youtube, which is perhaps not that surprising considering the time period they were active. If you´re interested in pop music from a purely aesthetic viewpoint there´s an absolute obligation to somehow manage to listen to their song “A deadly tune”. Songcraft developed into perfection, with a band and a singer delivering their best. Relatively simple but absolutely unforgettable.

Do what you need to get access to this music. It might not be easy, but if it was everyone would be doing it.