BLACKSTAR DAY

Two years and two days on from Blackstar and Bowie’s 69th. Two years on from Bowie’s departure. January 10th: Blackstar Day.

Bowie's Blackstar

Blackstar Day

How much more do we know about the album and its messages? Lots, if you’re forensically inclined and need to have the whys explained. I’m not and I don’t. To me, Blackstar is kinda frozen because when Bowie went, time slowed – for a little while – and when you go back to the album, time slows again. Maybe that’s down to how and when you listen to it.
But when do you listen to it?
Not too often is my answer. Not yet, anyway. Definitely not in daylight, and not without complete attention for the whole album – it’s that kind of record. And even though it’s not played often, it feels as close and personal as any lifelong favourite, as it no doubt does for every other Bowie fan out there. I did play Blackstar on Sunday though, for the anniversary of its release. Mary Anne Hobbs paid elegant tribute to Bowie in her morning radio programme, as you’d expect, and that night, out walking in the 2-degree dark with a feels-like -6 freeze, Blackstar focused the senses. No distractions. New things heard. Still as knocked out by it – and by him and his exit – as the first time.
Blackstar is such a full-on album that it feels like the best gigs you’ve been to. Moving yet introspective, possibly even transcendent, yet never to be taken for granted. Like a true live-music moment, Blackstar absorbs. It’s more than just an album of music: it’s a life and a death and an afterlife, all at the same time, and it’s this inseparability that surely makes Blackstar’s pull stronger. I don’t want to know too much about its making or its meaning, if there is a meaning – again, not yet. Just enough to revel in its jazzed creativity, but not so much that the mystery and the magnitude of that January 2016 weekend is lost. It’s the kind of album that makes you think UP, especially on the title track and Lazarus. We think space, we think in ideas, we think bigger when we listen to Bowie’s best. Don’t we? And I’d put The Next Day up there as one of his best too, another album which fits the blackout of night. They’re not for comparing, and Blackstar stands alone both for the music and what it came to represent, but The Next Day was a step toward. Countless times I’ve lost myself in it in the small hours when sleep has slipped away.
So yes, back to Blackstar. It deserves a quality of attention. You could say that, with that album and its layers and wrappings, Bowie is teaching us how to listen again – a last lesson from a pop-music-art creator-collaborator, a signal to get off the musical waltzer and slow things down a bit. Or, in the case of Dollar Days, slow down a lot … there’s a good reason for it not being the last track on his last record. Too fraught a finish. If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to … fuck, man. Those words, followed by the spirited sax that rises out of them, are almost unbearable. I Can’t Give Everything Away at least offers a momentary musical lift.
And with that, we have another year and another RIP to David Bowie. Still vivid and unreal, it’s all we can do to cue up the music and immerse ourselves in Bowie stories. There’s no such thing as indulgence this week, so take your radio pick from Marc Riley’s Bowie tracks, or Mary Anne Hobbs and her interviews with Donny McGaslin and Denis O’Regan, or a repeat listen of this “Heroes” 40th anniversary doc. Just do it all, and check this Guardian feature on writers’ top Bowie tracks too.

For what it’s worth, this post was made with No Plan, half of Stage, one whole Reality and a double dose of Disco King. Previous words on Bowie loss here and here, and an Earthling review here.

Just sharing the love.

SNOWY AUDIO

THIS TIME, IT’S SEASONAL: SIX CHRISTMAS-ISH LISTENS

Noddy, Lewie, Bowie. Elvis and Ella, crooners and swingers – we wheel them all out for Christmas, and rightly so. It’s CHRIIIISTMAAAS, innit? But outside of all that, which non-jinglers best fit the wintry build-up to Christmas? Who creates the mood for a warming dark rum and a soundtrack for snow, even if there isn’t any?

Here are some of my go-to festives. Warmers and coolers, all seasonal. What are yours?

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.

BOB DYLAN – Tempest

Gotta have some Dylan at Christmas. Not youthful early-peak Dylan, but something more weathered, cracked and fallible instead. Crackling Bob. Time Out of Mind always works when winter nights shorten the days, but this year it’s Tempest’s fireside feel that’s snuck its way in – must be the light jazzy blues swing that shuffles through. Not every track is essential, but you CAN imagine Duquesne Whistle soundtracking a snowy trudge home after a warming short in the pub. Scarlet Town and Tin Angel give you the storyteller view from a window seat. Dark roots. Yeah, Tempest goes down well – pour another rum.

ROBERT PLANT – Band of Joy

Does a similar job to Dylan’s Tempest, but given that Plant is The Man round these parts, it’s much more of a player. What makes it a  listen for this time of year? The camaraderie, the togetherness, the organic warmth in the production… Angel Dance might share some of Duquesne Whistle’s jaunt, but it’s the ethereal dark of the Silver Rider and Monkey covers – and Central Two-O-Nine‘s rustic free-wheel – that really put a wintry seal on things.

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 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.

MYRKUR – Mareridt

Far less metal than its predecessor, Myrkur’s second album haunts beautifully – check Crown and tell me there’s no snowscape coming to mind. Tracks like Bornehjem and Death of Days might not be Christmas family crackers, despite being free of metallic axe, but wait for the ice of the post-festive comedown. Surely Myrkur can score that?

To be continued? Probably. HAPPY ROCKIN’ CHRISTMAS!

 

WINTER ANIMALS

Hairy Halloween II

A pumpkin-grin welcome to anyone who’s there, imageand this year’s handful of Halloweeny hitters is a straight follow-up to last year: another blast of old-school rock tracks, videos and vibes that fit the ‘ween thing, and like all slasher sequels, it’s probably not as good as the one before…

…OR IS IT??? Wait for the dark.

 JOE SATRIANI: Big Bad Moon

What do you want from a Halloween vid? A dark, deserted street? Check. Full-moon menace? Yep. Amplifier being kicked down the stairs so a guitarist can solo the frig out of it? Errrrrrr no, but why the hell not??? Enter Big Bad Moon. Not only is the mood right, but you get an electro-shock Satch hair-ender that’s undead-worthy (low budget special effects version). Killer tune, killer solos. 

TOOL: Stinkfist

Less blitzy than Satriani, obvs, Stinkfist does anything but reek. Any number of Tool tunes could make a dark-side playlist, and this creepsome promo makes Tool a ‘ween shoe-in. Check the Stinkfist sand people, watch ’em peel.

MR BUNGLE: Quote Unquote

Odd weird. Sinister weird. Which is what you expect from Mr Bungle, right? Soundtrack to a death circus. With masks.

JUDAS PRIEST: Turbo Lover

Sure, A Touch of Evil makes more sense on the surface, but we’re not going as deep as surface here – we’re going for the vibe, specifically the Terminator-as-argonaut retro stink flying off this hilariously shit video. Rocking tune, though. 

DAVID BOWIE: Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)

A fair few Bowie tunes could land on a list like this, but if atmosphere and menace are on the menu instead of literal Scary Monsters, the predatory pre-Blackstar Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) jazz ensemble racks it up nice n’ noir.  

VOIVOD: Astronomy Domine

Did anyone else find the Tribal Convictions video a bit creepy as a kid? No? OK, that’s embarrassing. Let’s have a disembodied Voivodian vocal in a flicker-flicker-flicker-bam Floyd cover with a video of a band on a rotating wheel instead. Better?

ALICE COOPER: Killers

The creep factor in this version of Is It My Body has nothing to do with Alice stage props and effects – it’s pre-Nightmare, but Cooper was a theatrical master even when his props were nothing more than a shiny onesie, a shoe and a pink leotard. Classic. But this video for Killer (live) is a wee bit more showtime, shall we say. If the noose fits…

SMASHING PUMPKINS: Ava Adore

Graced with gothic electronica, alt-rock’s very own Uncle Fester goes full Nosferatu in the video – check the Corgan choreography for some pretty slick Nosfer moves you’ll wanna steal.

CHRIS MORRIS: Jam (intro to episode 2)

Not music, but there is dancing. Morris dancing. Subversive, woozy and warped at every twist, Jam fits right in with any horror sesh, and Morris’s taunt-and-haunt free-dance flail in the face of a failed suicide is wrong enough to be oh-so-very right.  

MELVINS/TOOL: Divorced

If ever there was a Halloween house band, Melvins would surely be it. Tool could do visuals, but there are no visuals here – get the headphones, kill the lights and sink deep into a 15-minute pit of top-grade Toolvins.

AC/DC: Night Prowler

A rat runs down the alley, and a chill runs down your spine…can there be a better lyric to end on? Pure slasher, a Bon ace over a deadly, bluesy groove.

But you can’t really have a halloween sequel without a farcical false ending, so … a heroic big-hair resurrection it is – check the big-budget cheapness in this Elm Street cornball. Who were those guys, Freddie? Eh? Lynch axe still cuts it, mind.

THE END! Off now, Salem’s Lot beckons.


Other radio stuff to check:


 

PSYCH HOUR

MUGSTAR MAN’S OUT-THERE RADIO HOUR

Should have done a quickie post about this sooner, because there aren’t many days until it expires, but if you’re seeking a 60-minute psych-out curated by an insider – and who isn’t? – check this Freak Zone Playlist on 6 Music.

Aired in connection with the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia last month, it features Jason Stoll – Mugstar bassist, God Unknown Records label dude – as your soft-spoken guide through the anything-goes.

Many high points here, especially Mesange’s ethereal low frequency – a Sunn O))) undercurrent to Zep’s In the Light spook – and Here Lies Man’s max fuzz Afrobeat, but the most audacious slab is Sly & the Family Drone/Dead Neanderthals. Destined not to be stuck on repeat in the car for the Aldi family shop, Sly/Dead hammer out a confrontational 10 minutes of doomed saxophony.

The psych playlist expires by October 28, go check it.

Stretching the Festival of Psychedelia theme a bit more, a link to Julie’s Haircut turned up in an email the other week – they also played the festival, and you can hear why. Whispered moto-shimmer with sax of a very different order to Sly/Dead, you might fancy picking them up for a psych expedition.

AND…Ritual Union music event this Saturday in Oxford. Bo Ningen, Ulrika Spacek and Flamingods are among the bands at this 4-stage Cowley Road special, let’s hope the whole thing rocks enough on the day/night. See you down there.

 

 

MILES OF ECHO: Chris Cornell

INTO THE VOID… NO SUCH THING

Face Pollution. Played on the radio this morning by Mary Anne Hobbs… emotional stuff, can’t explain why this one did it. Other Soundgarden tracks have been played in the two days since we heard the news, and Chris Cornell has been an ever-present thought. Not every track affects you, but the fact that one of them – any of them – pulls out a physical response tells you that yes, this band or artist is one of the ones that really matters. You knew that anyway. But a shock loss means you know it in a different way now.

Soundgarden. A truly rare band, a truly SPECIAL band, and if you got them…well, they got you, and this is why we’re all a little fucking knocked this week. Chris Cornell died?

The music that that band made was almost too good. By far the most inventive of the scene they sparked, their records are flawless, beguiling, hypnotic and untouchable. Loud Love was my first exposure, when the video was on Raw Power (legendary small-hours TV, aka Power Hour/Raw Power/Raw/Noisy Mothers) and its sticky, gluey, dank heaviness part-crawled/part-raged from the screen. It was a new sound. Louder Than Love became the initiation record, and that’s when the Soundgarden fandom started, some 27 years ago. No wonder Face Pollution did a bit of a number on me this morning.

But this week, it’s been the less familiar and the non-Soundgarden that’s crept into play as a tribute. Music that’s a little less long-standing as far as personal music history goes  Echo of Miles, Cornell’s Carry On, Audioslave’s Revelations  but, having said that, here are two exceptional tracks that DO go way back….one familiar, one maybe less so:

Nowhere But You: this B-side from the Can’t Change Me single says everything about Cornell the musician, songwriter, lyricist and arranger, playing with a painter’s vision. Stripped, haunting, intense – hear it here.

Seasons: from the Singles soundtrack (expanded 25th anniversary version out yesterday… timing?). Remind yourself, and while you’re at it, marvel again at both voice and band in Soundgarden’s Birth Ritual.

Check BBC 6 Music for Cornell specials at 1am and at 6pm (Tom Robinson Mow Playing) on Sunday 21st May, #Cornell6Music 

Not much more to say, still blindsided by the strangeness of it all but let’s hope, for the sake of Cornell’s family, that his departure was accidental. It seems hard to believe there was clear-minded intent. 

The last words go to Perry Farrell, who said it best:

“A shining voice in music has left us in the midnight. He was a complex and gentle soul #ChrisCornell has flown into the black hole sun”

A shining voice in music. Damn right.

Soundgarden: Hyde Park 2014

Superunknown in full: Hyde Park 2014

image from everyrecordtellsastory

At David & i

BOWIE PHOTOGRAPHER EXHIBITS IN NORTH OXFORD. MINI PROPS A BONUS

Managed to get a ticket to the Oxford showing of the David & i exhibition, which was on Wednesday night.

Which David?

Bowie, of course. Which i?

That’ll be Denis O’Regan, David Bowie’s official photographer for around ten years through the 80s and you WILL have seen some of his pics, no question. The blonde years, the megastar years, the critically revered… OK, but by capturing the Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider tours, O’Regan definitely got BOWIE: THE HEALTHY YEARS on film. And to see 40 such images – all approved by Bowie – is to Watch That Man and celebrate his life, regardless of era.

davidandi brochure 1

Catalogue and Melbourne Carousel, 1983

How has this happening come about? Promoted by Off Beat Lounge, the David & i exhibition has been out on tour visiting select Mini-supported locations, ie Mini showrooms. Funny that. Works well though, nice and light with all those showroom windows.

Bowie and green Mini

How did that happen? Bowie test drives Mini

In the Q&A session at the start of the night, O’Regan said that it was seeing Ziggy Stardust that made him want to be a photographer. A few years later, he was taking pics of the punk bands – easy access, no Rock Star Barriers – and got a job with the NME, and the first official photos he took of Bowie were up in Newcastle City Hall in 1978. He somehow wound up being official photographer on the Serious Moonlight tour a few years later.

Some gig, eh?

Other mini (sorry) nuggets from David & i:

  • O’Regan hates heights and categorically won’t do photography from up yonder scaffold, but is fine in a helicopter without doors (he can’t explain it either).
  • Bowie would try any food.
  • O’Regan would dispose of hundreds of images that Bowie never even saw. When asked one day – by Bowie – about what happened to them, Denis said he just put them in the bin. In his hotel room. Got a major tom-bollocking for that one.
  • The last photos he took of Bowie were in 1994 (I think), when Bowie had a tiny tiny beard. He didn’t say if it was the beard wot ended it, though.

So, even though the O’Regan prints are well out of reach – need a few hundred quid to make that leap, hallo spaceboy – it was a pretty cool thing for a Bowie fan to wander around and get immersed in for an evening. Go along next time there’s one going.

links:

 

 

 

ALT 90s RADIO HOUR

KYUSS, DARKTHRONE, SLINT AND MORE: 6 MUSIC SPECIAL

What’s this? Demon Cleaner by Kyuss is the opening track of a Freakier Zone 90s spesh?

GET. IN. Who’d have thought that Maconie would go anywhere near Gar-Homm Bjo-Ree’s desert rumble, unique though it is? Not as though he shuns the heavy and the extreme, far from it, it’s just that their downtuned wide open riffology lacks the fusion prog experimental thing that tends to make the FZ tracklist … Kyuss just rock, but in a way that no-one else ever did: a band that make you FEEL it every damn time. True behemoths of the pre-millennial decade.

So yeah, they start the hour, and in their dusty trail are benchmark 90s names like Darkthrone and Slint, plus other notables from the avant end of the alternative Souls at Zero-era Neurosis, Scott Walker on a Tilt, you get the gist. Do I hear…21? 21? 21? Sure do.

Check the show right here. Not as extreme as the Greg Anderson playlist from a few weeks back – no Mortician for starters (what???) or Asschapel (fair enough) – but it’s a solid hour for exploratory rock heads, and the following day’s Freak Zone looks at IDM with Warp Records and Artificial Intelligence (all part of the My Generation: the 1990s thing at the beeb/6 Music –  worth a dig, there are stacks of programmes that swerve well clear of unplugged Live Forever sheee-ITE from 1994. And plenty that really, really don’t).

THE NINETIES. Formative music years over here, and sure to inform future reviews… what about you?