To Die By Your Side

You’re so audio

January 22nd, 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates this week but work has been hectic and I’ve been so knackered each night that sitting in front of a computer and attempting to write anything of any coherent worth seemed like an ask too far. Not that I’m claiming there’s usually any great depths or insights in my writing. Coherence I can just about do. Worth, well I guess I’ll leave that for you to decide. The time not spent at my computer has however been pretty well spent. As well as finally getting round to watching the last episodes of Battlestar Gallactica, I’ve also managed to listen to a fair bit of music. A good mix of old and new.

On the current and upcoming releases side of things, I’ve given the new albums from PJ Harvey, Jonny and The Decemberists a fair few spins and have for the most part enjoyed what I’ve heard. If I’m honest, The Decemberists is my least favourite of the three. Not that I’m massively surprised by that. I can’t claim to be a big fan of theirs so I may not be in the best position to comment on it. In the past I’ve dipped my toe in their particular pond but never really found anything that’s made me want to fully dive in and ‘The King Is Dead‘  just seems to confirm that. It’s a record I’d probably describe as pleasant. It passes the time but never really does enough to justify spending that time listening to it. If that makes sense. Compared with what I’ve heard before it sounds as though they’ve reigned themselves in a bit and given their music a bit of a traditional, countryish American folk direction. It kind of reminds me of a band playing in a saloon in an old Western. Only a little bit duller than that actually sounds.

Jonny on the other hand is a far more interesting proposition. I should probably have included this record in my last post when I was talking about albums I was looking forward to. The reason I didn’t, is because I’d completely forgotten about it. Despite being a collaboration between Euros Childs and Norman Blake, there doesn’t seem to have been much press about it. Or if there has, it’s passed me by unnoticed. I can only hope however that it doesn’t pass you by because it’s a pretty damn good little record. What it isn’t however, is a surprising record because frankly it sounds exactly how you’d expect a combination of Teenage Fanclub and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci to sound. Wonderfully melodic and solid 60s inspired songwriting tinged with a kookily psychedelic edge. Groovy is a word that often springs to mind while listening to it. The good thing is that both of them appear to have brought out the strengths of the other, while helping them overcome their own weaknesses. Norman Blake is taken out of the Quo like safety zone that Teenage Fanclub seem to have found themselves in of late, while Euros Childs seems more focused and less likely to wander off into an unneccesarily wacky territory. The only real negative I can throw at it, is the 10 minute long ‘Cave Dance’ which never does enough to justify it’s length and sticks out like a sore thumb amongst a collection of otherwise short, sharp songwriting.

PJ Harvey on the other hand puts no feet wrong on her latest album, ‘Let England Shake‘. If ‘Stories…‘ was her American album, then this is very much her English record. Not that it’s a love letter to her homeland. More like a series of comments and questions about the politics, wars, culture and attitudes of England and what it is to be English in the modern world. The music itself sees Polly once again stretching her musical boundaries. Where her recent 2nd collaboration with John Parish felt like a re-tread of sounds she’d made before, this follow up solo album feels like she’s once again stepping into new territory. There’s an oppresive sombre atmosphere throughout the record but it’s never depressing or over bearing.  The tone is serious but never preachy. The guitar and auto harp which dominate the record are loose and open. Strummed simply with an almost demo-ish feel to them. Yet around them the songs are developed variously with deftly used samples, percussion, horns and backing vocals. PJ Harvey herself alternates between the falsetto of ‘White Chalk’ and a softer, more reserved and considered vocal style than she’s previously sung in. Put simply, ‘Let England Shake’ is another essential album in a career already filled with great records.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find any live or session track from these records and as I don’t post studio recordings that are commercially available, I’m afraid I can’t offer you any music from those records. However if you want to hear something from Jonny, you can head here and download a free EP. Whereas if you’re itching to hear something from new PJ Harvey, you can pre-order the album on i-Tunes now by going here and by doing that, you’ll get an instant download of the track “Written On the Forehead” and also the exclusive track “The Big Guns Called Me Back Again”. You can also watch the video for the first single here.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some old music that I’ve also been listening to this week. I can’t remember what set me off but I suddenly got an itching to listen to ‘American Thighs‘ by Veruca Salt. A record that I loved back in the day but which I hadn’t listened to in years. So much so, that I hadn’t actually ripped it to i-Tunes. So with that oversight now corrected, I’ve been reminding myself what a great rock record it is. I remember at the time that the band got a fair bit of criticism for being too similar to The Breeders. At the time I didn’t care but listening to it now, I can’t really hear the similarity other than the fact that they were led by two women who wanted to rock. Which is precisely what they do on that record and in this session. Recorded back in 1994 this session is made up of two songs from ‘American Thighs’, 1 which eventually opened the follow up ‘Eight Arms To Hold You‘ and one which I’m assuming is an old b-side or something. If anyone knows, feel free to correct me.

Veruca Salt – victrola (live session version) : original version available on ‘American Thighs

Veruca Salt – 25 (live session version) : original version available on ‘American Thighs

Veruca Salt – straight (live session version) : original version available on ‘Eight Arms To Hold You

Veruca Salt – she’s a brain (live session version)

Filed Under Album Reviews, Music

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