Saturday, 31 May 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander & Space Vinyl

Last week, those clever bods down at N.A.S.A managed to land a space probe on the surface of planet Mars. In celebration of this exciting and rather tricky feat, I have dug out some souvenir singles. The 'First Men On The Moon' was released by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C, which is the National Air and Space Museum. It's a tenth anniversary edition of the Apollo missions specifically the 1969 'Apollo 11' journey. It features the voices of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins bouncing about on the Moon or recorded in a top secret warehouse in the Ohio Desert next to 'Area 51' if you happen to believe the conspiracy theories. This particular seven inch cost someone $2 and makes a fine memento of their museum trip. Wouldn't it be nice if other such similar institutions pressed up slabs of vinyl to be sold in their respective shops instead of the usual cuddly toys and novelty diary sets of tat that currently clutter up these cash cow outlets. I would be much more eager to hand over my hard earned dosh for a lovingly crafted record commemorating the seventy millionth anniversary of the passing of the dinosaurs commissioned exclusively by the National History Museum for instance.

The second record has the the theme music from the masterful movie '2001: A Space Odyssey' from Stanley Kubrick of the book by Arthur C. Clarke R.I.P. As all you classical buffs out there will know it's an excerpt from 'The Blue Danube' by Johann Strauss II and 'Thus Spake Zarathustra' by Richard Strauss. I bring to your attention the cover artwork which looks remarkably similar to the Phoenix Lander and considering the picture was drawn half a century ago, based on guesswork, I think it's a very accurate impression.

To see if N.A.S.A have found any little green man lurking under the rocks and dust...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Monday, 26 May 2008

Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever are the hottest American-Cambodian psychedelic surf rock band going today! For all I know, they might be the only band qualified for this genre, which makes for a refreshing and unique vibe. They are coming to the U.K in the summer to promote their third album Venus On Earth, spreading their infectious blend of funky swamp guitar, searing jungle twangy rock beats fused with traditional Cambodian vocal melodies, throughout the festival going masses. Check out 'Sni Bong' which has a killer Canesque drumbeat set to an ethereal driven chorus hook and the catchy 'Seeing Hands' for starters then you'll soon be aching for more. I'm hot and sweaty for this groove at the moment so give your ears an aural holiday in Cambodia.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Tor Anglia-Valsen

The ferry companies have hit choppy waters in recent years, what with the abolition of duty free, cutting the numbers of British boozers braving the channel in search of cheap Stella, along with the interminable rise of the low cost airline. What goes around comes around though, so today the resurgence in popularity of taking to the seas, as opposed to battling through Hellthrow to be herded onto a climate busting tin tube, means that ferry companies are back on a crest of a wave. However, if they really want to press gang more punters onboard, I suggest that they release a fine piece of promotional vinyl just like Torline did, presumably for their route to England circa 1960/70's?. What could possibly get you more in the mood for a continental holiday than receiving a 45 with a picture of a lovely young maiden holding a model of the ship you're just about to board. Dinky toys are lined up to represent that frustrating wait as you watch all he other lines of vehicles get waved through first. You are left fuming in the knowledge that all the window seats in the ship's bar will be bagged by the time you embark.

Yes but what about the songs? I hear you cry: well there's a jaunty accordion led waltz written by a Henry Fox that sounds like it's escaped from a Bavarian drinking hall and on the flip side a jazzy piano ditty that breaks into a roll'n'roll boogie with perfunctory English lyrics as thus 'Shake it to your left, jump it to the right, round and round we go, then jump with all your might, Shake it now, everybody's jumping because the band's swinging tonight' perhaps these are alluding to the vomit inducing Force 8 gale you're likely to hit in the middle of the North Sea on Torline.

Speaking of hurling, that reminds me of the last time I stepped onto a ferry in Roscoff with the mother of all hangovers as a memento of my visit to France. The overwhelming stench of petrol fumes tipped me over the edge and I proceeded to heave all over the car deck to the lack of amusement of one of the French crew members who wasn't displaying much 'Entente Cordial' at that moment. The rest of the trip was spent lying forlorn, in a stifling hot cabin with the company of my friend's tired and hungry kids to make sure I couldn't sleep it off. However, if I had been given a souvenir record for my troubles it would've all been worth it it! take note Brittany Ferries, "Valkommen Ombord" indeed...

Monday, 12 May 2008

Marina & The Diamonds

Now this young lady knows how to make a song offbeat, yet still catchy, with 'We've Got Obsessions' She's tinkling around the Kate Bush/Bat For Lashes kooky territory, yet her haunting, quirky songs show a real promise especially the aforementioned track. Marina is unsigned at the moment with just one self released E.P to her credit, but I'm sure the music biz will soon be dazzled by her sparkle. Now I realise that the industry is scrabbling around for the next cash cow and the inevitable Kate Nash/Lily Allen comparisons will surface but I think she will develop her own unique path and become a compelling act in 2008 and beyond. Sure, there's a bit of slip streaming for some of the acts being touted, post the stellar rise of Mademoiselle Allen et co, but I happen to think there's simply plenty of fresh talent coming from the sisters out there at the moment and let's face it, they've got to be more interesting than the dodgy boy guitar bands that we've recently endured in the wake of Coldrazorkookyplaylight.

I have to give a nod towards goodweatherforairstrikes for bringing Marina to my attention and also to The Guardian's Guide this weekend for reminding me that I had, up to now, neglected to blogroll this excellent site: an oversight thankfully now corrected.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Le Mans 66 and Steve McQueen

This is the album that chronicles the greatest motor race in the world. Le Mans 66 is a vinyl memento of the '34th Grand Prix d'Endurance' which captures the essence of the spectacle. The record is presented amiably by James Tilling and is made up of narrative from Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill, Chris Amon and Carroll Shelby interspersed with sound clips of..well um .. cars going veerrrrry fast...obviously. It captures a flavour of all the immense background activities that goes into preparing and keeping a sports car on the track, continuously, at top whack, for a whole day. You can almost smell the fumes, burning rubber, adrenalin and sweat dripping off the grooves. I was particularly impressed by the Graham Hill segment, where he visits the other team pits to check on how his colleagues are holding up, after he has been forced to retire; no storming off the track and whisking off back to Monaco on his helicopter to sulk for him, what a gent! There is a dramatic finale for Bruce McLaren in the winning Ford as there is a dead heat but this result is overturned. The rules state that as he started further back on the grid, thus he must be declared the victor, because he has travelled the furthest distance. This record is a fine tribute to the bravery of all those legendary drivers who have thrilled millions of motor racing fans with their skills, sometimes losing their lives, in pursuit of the glory of taking the chequered flag.

The only logical accompaniment to listening to this, has to be putting Steve McQueen's 'Le Mans' movie in the DVD player and watching the greatest racing drama ever committed to the silver screen in film history, except possibly for 'The Cannonball Run' or 'Smokey and The Bandit' :-)

Steve McQueen on the starting blocks:

Ford GT40 winning Le Mans 1966:

Steve McQueen fansite reviews the film:

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Blonder Tongue Audio Baton

Shoegazing. Another one of Everett True's great ideas I imagine. Those few who slogged around the English scene in the late 80s with only the mainstream music press to navigate by, hugged it to their pigeon-breasts. It was this, or Grebo. One consequence was the majority of the yout' looked backwards, and fractured; in 1987 a different tribe could be found on every corner (Punk, Mod, Goth, Rockabilly, you name it really). Meanwhile, in America, boredom was coalescing into something initially termed Slacker culture, later Grunge.

The Swirlies were unusual for a stateside band in that clearly they couldn't ignore the washes of noise offered by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Slowdive. Add to this an American "rawk" inheritence, filtered through the hardcore scene that gave the world Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du and Sonic Youth and you get somewhere near Blonder Tongue Audio Baton.

For me the Swirlies debut album somehow bridged a gap, unfortunately one that few really needed to cross in 1992. Not Grunge enough in the States, certainly not baggy enough for Britain. Anyway, shoegazing appears to be making a resurgence in the U.S.A. and Pancake, in particular, still gives me shivers of excitement. Check it out.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Lemon Jelly and John Pearse

Mike, Is this you?

I can't play the guitar, in fact I can't play any musical instrument at all, but if I was to try to learn, it would be with the help of John Pearse and his marvelous gramophone record 'Teach Yourself Folk Guitar' released in 1963. It does what it says on the tin, with full examples of basic licks and picks, illustrated by fifteen folk songs standards, all narrated and sung by Mr Pearse, who has a comforting classic 'Noaksy' era 'Blue Peter' type of voice. There is a little pep talk written on the back as well as a chord bank diagram, so there is no excuse for not identifying your 'Mississippi lick' from your 'Memphis lick' from now on.

John Pearse is a remarkable man having recorded this and written the accompanying book at the age of 19. In 1965, the BBC offered him presenting duties on a T.V series called 'Hold Down A Chord' based on the book, which led to a certain kind of celebratory status for him. This was obviously done in the days before attending stage schools and looking squeaky clean was an absolute requirement to present anything on the box. He did another similar series for the American market called 'String Along' and developed a successful company selling guitar strings. There are three albums of his to track down from the late sixties/seventies and he has made a comeback from a career threatening medical accident, to begin performing again. Oh! I nearly forgot to mention, he wrote a book called 'Cooking with Wine' What a bloke!

Lemon Jelly was the nom de plume of a duo, Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin, who specialised in creating ambient electronica, which was notable for it's heavy reliance on quirky samples, set to a laid back beat. They released two albums 'Lost Horizons' in 2002 and '64-95' in 2005 to critical acclaim, with the former producing an unlikely hit with 'Nice Weather For Ducks' which reached number 16 in the U.K charts in 2003. A third album called '' released in 2000, which compiled three earlier E.P's of theirs, contains a track called 'The Staunton Lick' which liberally samples the voice of the aforementioned Mr Pearse on 'The Basic Plucking or The Ballard Lick' track. It's a beautiful melding of two talents that delivers a tune that's bound to put a smile on you face; lovely stuff. I can't leave without mentioning the sumptuous artwork of the Lemon Jelly albums which are a a joy to behold, like candy covered dreamscapes of mellowness, these are real achievements considering they are working within the confines of the devil's coasters - C.D's, with all the associated plastic problems that come with designing around that format.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Modern Eon - Fiction Tales

This one is excellent. A true find in the Scratchy tradition. Even I lost my nerve when first confronted with it's scary Orwellian post-punk cover. Such ugliness! But do not fear, my friends of broad and somewhat forgiving taste, for this is a minor gem.

An angular but spacious guitar sound and clear, prominent bass jell seamlessly. Breathy vocals, often multi-tracked, add an ethereality that is almost comforting, almost. The drums stand out as the band's signature; driving tom-toms with a touch of machine-gun snare and very little cymbal. And, hark! Is that a saxophone? Odd production touches and synth weirdness jump out now and again, just to keep you off-balance.

A friend of mine was a figure in the Liverpool scene of this period and I excitedly asked him if he knew of
Modern Eon. "Yeah, I auditioned to be their drummer once. But they wanted all sorts of breaks and fancy shamncy stuff so I thought bollux to it. They were nice lads, but moody; specially the bass player." Ah, bass players, isn't it always thus? This link is to a wonderful blog, dedicated to a wonderful city at a wonderful point in its history.