F**CKED UP PIGGY POP

NOVEMBER REWIND: RAUCOUS ROCKS AFORE FESTIVE NICETIES

Cramming a few blinders into a November Rewind before the end-of-year madness kicks off (like it hasn’t already) but we can’t get straight into it because of some very late very huge news.

Metallica.

They dropped a brand new single on us yesterday, which you’ve surely checked and got giddy with its old-school speed – very much a Garage Inc cover vibe – like the rest of the world. New album announced, too. Who knew??? This is way too much excitement for one day and yet, having fallen into yet another Metallica phase my very self last week, very timely.

Right then, back to the Rewind with some brand new beasters to see November OUT.

FUCKED UP – Strix

This is nasty. Like, demonic nasty. There’s something un-right at the ruptured heart of Strix and, not knowing much about Fucked Up beyond a few distant spins of The Chemistry of Modern Life, it’s a total head-turner. Metallic punk yes, but charred, blackened metallic punk. Hardcore diabolus. Check it right here.

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS – Mr Medicine

Did anyone else not quite feel it for 2020’s Viscerals as much as King of Cowards and Feed the Rats? Was it the concise tunes, shorn of sprawling damaged excess? If so then Mr Medicine won’t really change things as it’s at the bouncier end of All Things Pigs and has no length, but let’s see. It’s still a mighty slab and Pigsx7 always punch big. New album Land of Sleeper due out in February.

IGGY POP – Frenzy

More tales of the unexpected – new Iggy Pop tune, new album due in the new year. This one’s a filthy throwback to the Beat ‘Em Up/Skull Ring days, all pissed off attitude with music to match. Raging and unsophisticated, Frenzy hits like a cathartic vent from a guy who’s got the fidgets for a fight after a few years of respectability. Pop at full tilt.

CATHERINE GRAINDORGE – Iggy

More Iggy? YES. And no. At the same time. Composer and violinist Catherine Graindorge made a four-track EP The Dictator with Mr Osterberg and this is the closing track. But Iggy’s not on it. Iggy is instrumental – and it’s a beguiling, seductive mix of emergent drones, strings and ascendant swirls. Stunning.

CROSSES – Vivien

They’re called Crosses but how do you type the name out in symbols, as it’s meant to be? The best I can do is +++ , but that would be Pluses, which is shite. Anyway, in contrast to this month’s mostly grubby expulsions, we have Chino Moreno’s electro euphorics in Vivien. It’s all very catchy and clean and, if we’re honest, a bit too reminiscent of The Matrix BUT… it’s a slick mood shift, it climbs like a club anthem and Moreno’s yearning vocals fit some fulsome beats pretty well.

LEATHERETTE – Dead Well

Dead Well lurches like a jazz-punk sax-topped dirt-fuzz goblin, luring you towards carnivalesque madness where bad things happen … messy and low-budget hallucinogenic, this is Leatherette from Bologna. A wayward trip for sure.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind
amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

WALL: Wall / Vol 2

DESERT STORM BROTHERS BUILD INSTRUMENTAL RIFF ACTION

They like to be busy, those Desert Storm fellas. Not content with being the best metallic band in Oxford, Desert Storm are striving to be the best TWO metallic bands in Oxford.

How so?

Because drummer Ryan Cole and guitarist Eliot Cole have built a no-vocals home of riffs and called it Wall. Last year they added their second EP, the Sabbathly-named Vol 2, to their first EP Wall. Let’s stack ’em up and go check.

Wall Wall

WRATH OF THE SERPENT kicks off with a sludgy poundalong, which you’d probably expect given the Coles’ parent band. Give it two minutes though and we’re bullied off track by pacy thrash pickups, 5/4 riff interjections and headbanging slams, introducing us to the idea that Wall is perhaps the rougher, twitchier relative in the Storm clan. SONIC MASS plays the mid-tempo card, as does OBSIDIAN’s brutish Pelican-channelling-Godflesh beating, but LEGION is where Wall really cook, its ultra-weighty Karma to Burn-style riffage with added growl wiping a smile across your face. No disrespect to Karma to Burn RIP, who we love, but this is exactly the kind of energised attack that K2B’s later records lacked: a bit of spike or pace, something fresh. With Legion, Wall push the Karma legacy forwards.

Ending this EP is Black Sabbath’s ELECTRIC FUNERAL and, as a cover choice, it’s bang on – not too obvious, and Grand Mal voice Dave O is as Ozzy as it gets. No reworkings here, just a faithful tribute to one of Wall’s spiritual building blocks.

Wall – Vol 2

Another cover makes it onto Vol 2, this time by long-time Desert Storm touring buddies and mentors Karma to Burn. No doubt NINETEEN honours the late Will Mecum, who passed away in 2021, but before that we get AVALANCHE and THE TUSK. Avalanche continues the tone of Wall’s first EP, while THE TUSK veers more towards classic metal – faster rhythm picking, twin-axe style guitar licks – but the surging groove is never out of reach. Ditto SPEEDFREAK. Busy, tight.

Then we get our three minutes of Karma – no words needed, literally. It’s an instrumental band covering an instrumental band and it rocks mightily. Feels right.

Vol 2 ends with a Wall anomaly: FALLING FROM THE EDGE OF NOWHERE, a hazy acoustic skit teased from the dried bones of a supernatural Western. Problem? It’s too short. If Wall stretch out to an album one day, can we have a big acoustic psyche-doomer on there? Please?

Anyway, there you go. Two EPs packed with zero-indulgence riff-only rock, short and sweet-ish. Get both EPs and you’ve got a solid album’s worth of music, 42 minutes. And catch Wall live, too – they supported Boss Keloid the other week at Oxford’s Jericho Tavern and totally delivered. But if you’ve seen Desert Storm, you’d know they always do.

(for more background, check this Sleeping Shaman interview with Wall from last year)

TOOL: LIVE 2022

LONDON O2 ARENA: MAY 10TH, 2022. TOOOOOOOL….. CAN THEY LIVE UP TO THE EXCITEMENT IN YOUR TOOL-NERD MIND?

A shade after 8:30, they’re on. Fear Inoculum is up first, a gently building Toolscape to set the scene and IT’S HAPPENING, it’s actually bloody happening. Then it’s a three-decade rewind to Sober, which is huge but with this unexpected diversion:

“….happy birthday dear Danny … happy birthday to you.”

Woven seamlessly into Sober’s bleak spell is Maynard’s singalong for the big fella Carey on the drums.

“Old as fuck. It could be your last.”

A couple more waspy barbs and a quick crowd singalong later, we’re back into Sober’s dark underbelly where Adam Jones’s original video plays out on the colossal backdrop. This is followed by Undertow and Pushit. Is this a start or what? The playing’s as meticulous, forceful and exceptional as the records so there’s pretty much no point describing it. Every riff, break, drop, surge, polyrhythm, tempo shift or whatever it is that knocks you out when you play the albums is right there.

Which leads to this: if the music’s beyond question (and it is), what’s the point of a review?

It’s to somehow share the spectacle – because that’s what this turns out to be. It IS a spectacle. Lasers and lights and the huge backdrop’s never-ending liquid flow of visuals sucking you into a psychedelic odyssey of infinite godheads, third eyes, altered states and more make for a meticulously staged art show, though it’s very much Tool art. Like their album packaging, the attention to detail is exquisite. And a silhouetted, mohawked Keenan on the risers either side of the drums, crouching and swaying like a predatory sex gimp, adds to the illusion. Total integration, full immersion.

Tool play Invincible
Tool trip

Pneuma and Right in Two maintain the prolonged ecstatic hit but if there’s a lull (sorry, don’t shoot), it’s 7empest. Felt a bit of energy leak away in its second half. Having played it again several times since the show, I wonder why I thought that – still sounds every inch the Tool epic, still works as a Fear Inoculum finale. Maybe it’s more an album experience than a live thruster, but Fear Inoculum veers a little that way anyway. Refined and reflective.

But that’s just a minor plateau in 2.5 half hours. The highs are harder to pick because of the ridiculous levels sustained throughout. The Grudge – slightly faster than on record? – is one, as is Aenima’s venomous Hooker With A Penis. Tool still hit hard. And Keenan revelled in that one.

A 10-minute breather with an on-screen clock counting down the minutes leads to an encore: Chocolate Chip Trip, Culling Voices (Tool-on-stools acoustic intro) and a storming, poignant Invincible to finish.

It’s a sign of just how good a gig is that the absence of some of your mostest specialest tunes (Jambi Aenima Schism etc etc etc) doesn’t matter one fucking jot. With volume and visuals like these, Tool’s already exceptional music is ultra enhanced. It’s the full trip. We know the guys on stage are regular, if ridiculously gifted, mortals breathing air and blowing snot like the rest of us. But it’s more fun to pretend they’re not. Not tonight, not on that stage. Tonight, they’re aliens, riding a hallucinogenic vortex and brainwashing us with musical divinity.

And if that sounds over the top, so what? If you were there, you know. If you get Tool, you know. London, the O2: a gig for all time.

DELVING: TUNE OF THE MONTH

MAY REWIND: JOHN PAUL JONES ON A REBUILD OF LED ZEP’S LEVEE.

Been a while since we did a little Rewind (hello again! Anyone there? No? OK…. ) so a couple of these tracks are merely quite new instead of shiny sparkly new.

Like that matters. Let’s dig.

DELVING Delving

Much like Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and the daren’t-look-it-up Cock and Ball Torture (thanks to Dan or Danny’s list at rateyourmusic.com for that gem), Delving have done a song named after themselves. Nice. Delving’s the solo project of Nick DiSalvo from Elder. Haven’t heard Elder either till now, which is probably a chunky oversight, but if they’re half as awesome as the track Delving by the band Delving then they’re going on the Must Check list because this is everything you need from a guitar instrumental IF …heavy prog-tinged rock shakes your beans. You get a bit of taut, non-quirk Tortoise pushing hypnotic rhythms on repeat and some Porcupine Tree clean/heavy duality. But with fatter, groovier wheels.

That would probably be enough but Delving says no. How about a subtle but crushing post-metal drop near the end??? ‘kin ‘ell, YES. Shades of Isis, just for a sec. Monu-bloody-mental and highly addictive, check Delving here.

AQUARIAN – Death, Taxes and Hanger

Drum’ n’ bass backbone. Airy textures. High-speed motion. Fierce yet uplifting. Yep, I have no musical references to write about this stuff, but Death, Taxes and Hanger is a hell of a ride and if you’re of a certain vintage it’ll take you right back to 1997. Maybe. Aquarian himself, when he introduced the track to Mary Anne Hobbs, said: “Death, Taxes and Hanger is probably what you could consider atmospheric drum ‘n’ bass but with a bit of cheeky 90s tech step breakdown stuffed in for good measure … and classic progressive classic trance probably imprinted itself on there too.” There you go.

PLAYING FOR CHANGE – When The Levee Breaks

Change of pace now with a Zep-faithful rendition by a global cast of many for the Playing for Change Foundation, which aims ‘to connect the world through music’. Watch it and feel the optimism: music, beauty and good vibrations pour out of every performer on this clip. It transcends borders. And the bass being in the originator’s hands – a lean, lithe John Paul Jones – is the Levee cake’s icing as you can see.

Anything else? Downtuned nu-metal filth adds extra drag to the crawling beats of Tether by SCALPING. Dense subway darkness and pulsing momentum make strange euphoria in War Priests by The Allegorist.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind
amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

KILLING JOKE : LIVE 2022

LOVE. WAR. BECAUSE. VIRUS. Those are the first four tracks: Love Like Blood, Wardance, The Fall of Because, I Am The Virus. Funny how random words can sound timely.

Then again, Killing Joke track titles always do, and 2022 seems to be exactly the right time to see them. War, COVID, climate, hyper communication, they’re all fuel to the agitated perma-tension backdrop that is the KJ MO. Their time is now. Same as it ever was.

In Hammersmith for the last date of the current tour, it’s Love Like Blood that gets rolled out first, and even if we didn’t see The Big One being launched that fast, it’s a euphoric shot of unity to kick things off. Wardance cuts through next, then The Fall of Because. Which is, as ever, total psychosis. All rhythm and no groove, it tells you just how awkward and dissonant that early Killing Joke sound is.

Pylon beast I Am The Virus barks huge, and by this point you’ve got the hang of the gig. You remember what it is that defines KJ live: relentlessness. The volume, the swirling lunacy of Geordie’s guitar, the permanent static, drones and crackle (or is it tinnitus?), the bass and kick drum vibrating your sternum.

What you get live is a version of the band – the heaviest, least varied version. No spacious dub reworks, none of the recent dance-NRG uber anthems like European Super State or Big Buzz, nothing subtle like Primobile, no Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove ebb. It’s a one-dimensional bludgeon to the brink of the chaos.

Other tracks? Requiem, The Death and Resurrection Show, Mathematics of Chaos and Total Invasion are in there, as is The Wait whose tension-packed riff sounds more sinister and paranoid than ever. Best of all though is the apocalyptic This World Hell. Shit me. It’s heavy enough on Absolute Dissent, but here it’s a stop-start juggernaut in flames with a double kick that pummels from the inside out. And while we’re on that point, Big Paul Ferguson is end-to-end phenomenal.

A Bloodsport-Pandemonium encore wraps the night. Triumphant? Yeah, no question. It’s only in the dying seconds of stage time, just before everyone walks off, that Geordie’s face finally shows any expression – a huge smile as the band hug each other and thank the Hammersmith gathering. It belies the abrasion he’s concocted for the previous 90 minutes but this is nothing new. Effortless, expressionless force is his forte. Always has been.

How long can they keep doing their music live in this way? Don’t know, though the Lords of Chaos EP shows no sign of mellowing, not in the studio anyway. Bring on the next long player.

Want more Geordie? Check The Damage Manual

Killing Joke at Hammersmith 2022
Lords of chaos?

NAPALM DEATH LIVE: A FIRST-TIME REACTION

NEVER SEEN NAPALM DEATH LIVE? NEITHER HAD I. THIS IS WHAT YOU GET

Friday 11 March, 2022. Oxford’s O2 Academy. Upstairs, in the cosy bit – this is where Napalm Death 2022 are going to destroy. Ho-lee shit.

First, a disclaimer, just so you know where these words come from: I’m no Napalm pro. A handful of albums (Greed Killing EP, Enemy of the Music Business, Time Waits for No Slave, Smear Campaign, Fear Emptiness Despair) have spattered the past twenty-odd years and their obliterating Nazi Punks Fuck Off cover has been a pulverising favourite for even longer, but there are plenty of Napalm holes. Doesn’t matter. They’ve been a band for violent kicks more than regular listening and those albums, TWFNS especially, have more than done the job.

But what’s the reaction to the real thing right there, in your face?

SO. FCKN. HEAVY. It’s laughably obvious to say that but it’s all you can do when you’re in disbelief at what you’re witnessing. Napalm Death in the flesh at full pelt with even more density (how?) than the albums is unlike anything else. Precision, violence, intensity, a total revelation. A wall of noise. No tricks. Pure ferocity.

But that ferocity is shot through with friendship. No posturing, no machismo aggro and no barriers: Napalm Death are the people. Everyone’s welcome, which is all the more impressive given the musical hostility coming off the stage. Shane Embury, Mitch Harris and Danny Herrera are impeccably tight while Barney, aka the youngest-looking 52-year-old you’ll ever see, moves with an endearing, almost gentle eccentricity. But his vocal delivery is immense and full-on, song after song. Your only worry is that one night he’ll sweat away his entire body and be reduced to mist. A screaming, raging mist no doubt, but still: KEEP EATING, BARNEY.

Tracks played (identified here only because Barney announced them) include Contagion, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, Narcissus, Suffer the Children, Siege of Power, Scum and the epic You Suffer. Taste the Poison too (I did recognise that one, well done me). Nazi Punks Fuck Off, obvs. And a ton of other fast bastard cuts, none of them anything less than monstrous.

Odd as it seems, this Napalm Death experience has a lot in common with King Crimson. It’s all in the pre-gig giddiness and anticipation before the show, though it’s not just about seeing a band for the first time. It’s about seeing a certain kind of band for the first time – bands with next-level reputations, bands who are pioneers, bands that excel, bands whose live shows transcend but you don’t know how exactly because you haven’t seen them

yet.

King Crimson do it through a seven-man spectacle of orchestration, complexity and musicianship that sends you back to their albums with new ears. King Crimson on stage are entirely their own thing.

And so are Napalm Death. Bit less orchestration and slightly shorter songs, but no less a spectacle. INSANE. Time to add more mass to the ND back catalogue.

Resentment is always seismic

BARKMARKET: Lardroom

ARTFUL NOISE ROCK PACKS DOWN-TO-EARTH PUNCH

Brooklyn’s Barkmarket are now probably better known as a footnote in the production career of hollerer-guitarist Dave Sardy, but footnote is an F-word we’ll not allow. There’s no way this band should be reduced to footie status. So let’s rewind to 1994 when, after three albums, Barkmarket opened the door to their Lardroom.

Lardroom by Barkmarket
Lardroom: home comforts AWOL

Back then, bands like Rollins Band, Helmet, Quicksand and Cop Shoot Cop were probably as popular as they were ever going to get. They hit the festivals, got their videos aired and, in the Rollins Band’s case, tapped briefly on the mainstream’s outer window. These bands had a street-smart intelligence to match the physicality of their music.

Barkmarket grafted in the same neighbourhood, forging a blue collar slab-shifting pummel that’s experimental yet never pretentious … just honest. Creative. Rocking, always. Strange, often. Surreal round the edges, factory-line solid in the centre.

I DROWN kicks off this 15-minute EP with an Opiate-era Tool/non-staccato Helmet blend that runs a fluid groove, especially when it ramps up the body slam at the end. Time signatures shift around but we’ve only got 3 minutes, so you know there’s no indulgence. It’s too rooted in punk and post hardcore sensibilities, but that fluidity of movement within and around the 4/4 is what sets this stupendous track apart. The riffs almost moan but it’s a heavy, girder-like moan. And Sardy lays a voice to match, howling with opaque wordage.

The rest of the EP (except the PUSHIN’ AIR collage goof-off) has the same unwavering aesthetic: freewheeling riffs that take no shit, occasional detours that elevate and separate from brawn-heavy metal. DIG IN’s megathick bass pulls us down some dank Louder Than Love grunge hole, LITTLE WHITE DOVE packs on-off thrash charge and JOHNNY SHIV ends the show with chords that bend and warp, like something being built, hammered and sculpted into being. Got a real sweet groove, too – offbeat and tough – before breaking down to a failed-engine ending.

Where did Barkmarket go from here? Not far. The L Ron album followed in 1996 and then they called time. Dave Sardy went on to produce about a million other bands and score films. No idea what happened to the other band members. No idea about their first two albums either, though Gimmick and L Ron both get the vote. But this EP? A pure shot of golden-age noise rock with sideways smudges.

Released: 1994 on Def American

Length: 15 mins 11 secs

Tracklist: I Drown – Dig In – Pushin’ Air – Little White Dove – Johnny Shiv

For fans of: Helmet, Quicksand, Rollins Band, early Clutch, Kepone, Jesus Lizard, Cement

A WORD FOR MARK LANEGAN

MARK LANEGAN PASSED AWAY. SOME WORDS AND A GIG REVIEW REVISITED

It’s all out of proportion. Mark Lanegan’s presence, I mean. There aren’t that many Lanegan albums in my collection but it feels like there are, and he’s been top of mind since the rock world dimmed on word of his passing on Tuesday 22nd February, 2022. My thoughts have been drawn his way more than they’ve been drawn towards other departeds, even some whose music I play a lot more.

Why?

Probably because he came across as … a person. A being. And a serious one too, not to mention flawed. Seemed to have the whole human experience baked into his voice. Deep smoked and lived-in. Potent and intense. You don’t need too much, a small dose carries far. It connects, even when you don’t know its owner.

Presence.

He’s always been there too, certainly for anyone who came of age in the early 90s and sucked up the alt-rock scene. He’s been with the bands that mattered. We see him as a Seattle name but it was the desert-scene players he stepped in with more often, orbiting their many satellite projects. Low key but bigger than a bit player. It’s almost like he needed a collective of like-minded spirits loose enough to attach to and detach from at will.

Here’s a Mark Lanegan Band gig review I wrote in 2017. At that time, Lanegan wasn’t someone whose albums I bought devoutly. Bubblegum was the last but the chance to see him sing just down the road was a no-brainer.

Re-reading the review, it chimes a lot more strongly with today’s news and mood than expected. His physical frailty was a shock. But so was his generosity, and this is what’s coming up time and again in fans’ comments and memories of the guy: his latter-years openness, if you can call it that.

Now he’s gone and we’re revisiting the music. With Animals, his 2018 release with Duke Garwood, made a real impact when listening to it again yesterday. Seriously beautiful. The fact that it took Mark’s death for me to cue it up is a brutal reminder that we need to pay more attention to our artists and their music. Slow the fuck down, listen better. Because I don’t know when I’d have next dug it out and it deserves better than that.

Presence. Something Mark Lanegan didn’t lack. I haven’t read his memoirs and don’t think I want to – Sing Backwards and Weep too grim? Devil in a Coma, maybe. But there will be more albums to pick up, selectively, in good time. His musical flow has many tributaries and none of us have paddled the same route.

Blues Funeral just finished. Press play again.

COZY-UP WITH A WINTER SOUL-WARMER FROM CURTIS H.

After days of trying and failing this week, Cult of Luna‘s Somewhere Along the Highway finally got played in full yesterday. Glorious. But why the protracted arsing about just to play an album?

The conditions weren’t right. Nearly, but not quite. It is winter, which is a start. And we had the sub-zeros outside, finally. But it was also TOO BLOODY SUNNY every morning to do justice to Highway’s cold weight.

Winter music. Seasonal listening. Frosty bites. What gets you through?

Scratch that last question – it makes winter sound like the enemy, a battle to be endured and escaped from. It’s not. It’s Optimum Music Season. Short dark days and the great indoors are primed for music, books about music, and winter music selections.

This gives you every excuse to dig out some music specifically for the time of year and then agonise over exactly the right time to play it. You want to turn it into a 3-D experience: surround sound with seasonal mood and vision.

As we know, some albums just sound better at certain times. Not like there are any rules, rights or wrongs about it, it’s down to preferences. But, more than any other time of year, winter encourages this hibernatory Right Moment fixation.

For example, David Bowie‘s Blackstar and The Next Day (and a few other Bowie albums) are never bright-light listens, not for me at least. They’re autumn-winter affairs or soundworlds for the smallest hours. The dead of night? That’s when they’re most alive. Never the heat.

Henry Rollins touches on music’s relationship with time, season and place a lot in his books, and it’s one of the things that makes him a really good music writer. He writes as a fan, not a critic. You won’t get in depth reviews or high brow critical perspectives, he knows that’s not his space. But you do get words and fanaticism about buying music, playing music, what memories it stokes, when it got/gets played and what it soundtracks in life. And when you read this, you realise you’re not alone in your nerd-world musical indulgences. He’s out-nerding everyone, doing it for a living. It’s on a different scale. But it’s good to know because it validates your own quirks.

Back to the seasonal sounds, though. Which albums make for a winter-enhancing selection box?

It starts with the nice long seasonal build-up to Christmas. Childhood pop for the magic-of-Christmas mainline (Frankie Goes to Hollywood ALWAYS, some other pre-teen pop as well usually). Uncool 80s metal for another childhood link. Lyrical storytelling and sparse folk – Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, Michael Chapman – for long nights, low lights and late mornings. Accessible jazz or blues, ditto. Post/Scandi metal for the harsher realities once the Christmas vibe is retired.

Seasonal music
Winter selection box

On top of that there’s a pull towards music that’s warm. Not sunny warm but intimate warm. Close-up instrumentation warm. Analogue 60s/70s productions warm. Late-era Beatles, that kind of stuff.

Something new that really tuned in to the 70s analogue spirit this winter was a 2021 album:

If Words Were Flowers by Curtis Harding.

Ho-lee shit, go check it. Ultra warm soul with just enough backbone funk to swing a tail. Gospel sweep and widescreen strings. Bass clarinet rasps and tenor sax uppers. Soft psychedelic fuzz. Hip-hop stiffness on the beats. And I dare you not be melted by The One‘s gentle heavy groove.

File near Mayfield, Axelrod, Kiwanuka? This might be glib and obvious (what did you expect) as a batch of references, and maybe I’m riding high on the first-plays thrill of a new discovery that’s fitting the mood, but it’s all we can manage right now. Haven’t even checked the lyrics yet.

Tip? Crank it up on a walk out in the frost. Soul with a scarf on.

Veering off now to a different thought:

When will Nick Cave and Warren Ellis do a winter album? Even wilder, what about a Christmas one?

Surely it would leap to the top of the seasonal stack with Low’s Christmas and the Sufjan Stevens box set. Quiet moods, small-watt ambience, ghost tales, long shadows – Cave & Ellis are surely built for this? COME ON FELLAS! Let’s get the rumour started. They’re a fixture in my seasonal listening anyway, might as well go full hog with an official St Nick Christmas Album.

Right, that’s it for now. Nice talking with you. See below for a few words on three winter aces, lifted lazily with no edits from a previous post. The sentiment’s the same.

BJORK – Vespertine

Top of the winter pops is Vespertine, always. Somehow, it’s the essence of snow in musical form, yet it doesn’t sound like it’s contrived to be a winter album – it feels like it just turned out that way. Hidden Place pushes against wind and snow drifts before the chorus sweeps you up and out, flying over white patchworks. Frosti, Aurora and An Echo, A Stain make for an especially frost-twinkled run of three, but the whole of Vespertine has a softness of sound that is flakes falling, ice forming. Magical. It only ever gets played at this time of year. That’s the deal.

NICK CAVE AND WARREN ELLIS – White Lunar

Where Vespertine exposes your inner wonder to winter’s call, White Lunar tracks the harsh, bleak end of the same season – let your mind go with The Rider #2 or Zanstra and conjure a whiteout. Song for Jesse and Micro Sucker could have fallen from Vespertine’s branches, but really, it’s isolation and loneliness that dominate these heavy scores …. like Srey Leak, disc 2. Plug in for barren, wintry detachment from civilisation this Christmas.

CULT OF LUNA – Somewhere Along the Highway

Or Salvation. Or Vertikal and Vertikal II. But probably Somewhere Along the Highway. Less seasonal than the others here, but I always get more Cult of Luna in the diet in winter. Slow-moving, heavy and intense, the Swedish post-metal masters rarely waver far from their template and yet, like Mogwai, refine it pretty much every time they put a record out. This, their fourth album, may be their best. Dim soars to a higher mellow than they’d managed before, and Back to Chapel Town is a timeless snowbound pounder. Just get the whole album on, it’s a class act.

MUSIC 2021: GIFTS AND GIVING – PINNICK, PLANT

CHRISTMAS WISHES, all! What’s your album of the year? Robert Plant and Alison Krauss?

Correct.

Bye, then. See you next time

ah, but not quite. Let’s divert for a winter ramble for a few minutes as night outruns day and strings of lights blink into life. Let’s evade the best-of-the-year music rat race and run with the spirit of the season:

Gifts and giving.

Whether it’s a time-of-life thing or a COVID-rooted acceleration, I don’t know. But music seems to mean more and get more special with every year, as do those who make it. They’re the givers of true gifts.

One album which won’t be troubling any end-of-year lists (because he never does) but fits the theme is Joy Bomb by Dug Pinnick.

Why the big love?

BECAUSE IT’S DUG PINNICK.

Yep, the guy best known for being the singer and bass groover in the unfathomably magnificent King’s X put another album out.

Listening to both the Faith, Hope, Love and King’s X albums again today, 30 or so years after they came out, was an exercise in time travel and euphoria. Any King’s X fan knows this. The band inspires unconditional love and those records are exalted rock territory. It doesn’t need explaining, even if you could put it into words. And though they never quite hit the same creative peaks later on, they’ve always been consistently great.

So, it was a buzz to hear about a new record from the ever-prolific Dug (many other projects on the go, not least the harder edged KXM). The guy is 71 now. How does Joy Bomb fare?

Well, it’s pure Pinnick – voice fulla soul, snaking bass-led low end, melodies you can’t shake, varying degrees of rock-funk-soul depending on the track. Key Changer stomps an upbeat funk while rocking too hard to be funk, but it’s in there. As he says himself in interviews, everything comes out through a Dug filter and this is very purely a song about music. Equally Divided is a zombie singalong lurch, a bit gluey, a fraction slow. And if there’s a slight dip two thirds the way through the album, it picks up again with The Poison‘s beat-messing groove and the jerky, heavy, unsettled funk jabs in Making Sense of the Bones.

Some nicely unleashed solos throughout as well. Shades of KXM/George Lynch.

But however this album goes down, the point (today) is this: having Dug Pinnick in the world releasing music is, in itself, a great thing. That’s the gift. Especially when everything’s a little bit fucked.

Another record generating a bigger-than-music vibe is far higher profile and it’s no surprise, given the opening paragraph, that Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’s Raise the Roof is a record of the year.

I say this with all the confidence of a slacker who’s only played it twice

but yes, the quality is that obvious. The special something, the huge inner glow, is fired up as soon as the stylus hits touchdown, and how many records each year really do that?

Maybe it’ll be a lesser record in a few spins, who knows. Doubtful, but possible. Right now though, there’s no rush to Raise the Roof. No need to listen in haste and cram it. Better instead to create a moment and be open to the overlapping musical histories it spins.

So, there we go. A couple of non-reviews of special records from 2021 this Christmas. Maybe we’ll throw a few others out there in a more typical look-back in a few days, who knows.

But if not, HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Plant-Krauss and Dug Pinnick - gifts of 2021
Spreading the joy bomb