Welcome to the weird, woozy, and wonderful world of Warik, where you are perpetually dizzy, and high, and everything is the color of rainbows. Quirky, and melodic, occasionally sounding as if they were recorded underwater, both of these tracks are culled from his new “In My Lens” EP, and are unquestionably a drug in, and of themselves. Thank you Warik.
It is June, which in the land of music blogs, means lists. Specifically “Best Albums So Far This Year Now That We’re Halfway Through” lists. Guessing you’ve seen a few of those these past weeks, but don’t worry, gonna sidestep attaching a list here, and just offer up some love for one particular thing, that should’ve appeared on a lot more of these aforementioned lists…actually it should’ve been on all of them : Blaenavon’s, “That’s Your Lot”. It’s a unicorn, it’s singularly special, it’s one of the best albums of 2017, and here’s why….
What is Blaenevon ? Well, it’s a lot of things at the same time, beautiful, preciously mannered vocals ( “wept” is pronounced whep-P-T around here), and epic, instrumentally unhinged coda’s, it’s prog, and britpop, it’s full of hooks, and angst, and admissions. It’s where dangerous schoolgirls, and Ziggy Stardusts share cigarettes, make regretful confessions, cry, and make out….seriously though, this is not hyperbole : all of that is really, really in there. Go see them live, and I swear it will all make sense.
There’s much to love on “That’s Your Lot”, from the ethereal swirling beauty of “Ode to Joe”, dedicated to eccentric sixties musical genius Joe Meek, and his futuristic vision, to the circular guitar refrains, lush “oohs”, and booming bass of “Swans”, to the exquisite falsetto pop in “Take Care”, to what is surely the #1 song in an alternate universe right now, “Orthodox Man”. Basically it’s a bunch of killer singles neatly disguised as a debut album.
There are a lot of gorgeous, fully realized songs living on “That’s Your Lot”, all worthy of attention, and full headphone submergence, so give it a listen below…hey, you might even fall in love, and what could be better than that ?
I kept waiting for this song to start, you know, in the same way you wait for a Cure song to start i.e. couple of minutes of instrumental intro build-up, and then boom, Robert Smith dramatically crashes in, and gives you a bear hug. Anyway, it never started. It just moved forward in a subdued, straight Krautrock line until nearly 4 minutes had gone by. Played it again to see if I’d missed anything. Then again. And now thinking there may be a subliminal message in there somewhere, because before I knew it, it had played 10x in a row, so something is unquestionably happening here, and it’s something good.
Yes, that guitar riff is a little “Song 2” by Blur, but make no mistake, this song is it’s own man, all nasal vocals, and swagger, and world weariness. The featured lyric says it all: “people always wanna know about the trips to the bathroom, people always said that you had a strange aura about you”. That’s this one in a nutshell, and it’s mighty fine.
Patricia is the brainchild of multi-media artist Jacolby Satterwhite, and this is not so much a song, as it is a meandering sketch, which I mean in the best possible way. It’s a beautiful one, truly evoking an air of lonely, nighttime streets in downtown NYC, in the eighties. Part of what creates that specific feeling, is the incorporation, of the hook line from Taana Gardner’s 1981 dance/club classic “Heartbeat”, in the most delicate, and desolate fashion. This is “Quiet Storm” for solitary space aliens.
It’s hard to know what to say about Valerie Carter, the singer-songwriter who died in March of this year, at the too young age of 64. Probably the best way to describe her career, is as one of those woulda/coulda/shouda situations. The nearest she got to having a hit record was when her cover of “Ooh Child” played over the closing credits of the bonafide cult classic of suburban teen ennui from 1979, “Over the Edge”. Her career focus was mainly singing back-up for people like James Taylor, and Jackson Browne, while occasionally contributing songs to other artists like Earth, Wind, & Fire. She recorded 2 promising solo albums in 1977, and 1979 respectively, the first of which was produced by her musical soulmate, the late Lowell George of Little Feat…but after those releases, it was literally crickets in terms of her solo output : she didn’t release another album until 1996. Her time in between was spent touring with the aforementioned James, and Jackson, and providing backing vocals on a myriad of albums, by other artists. The biggest of the latter, was soft rock flamingo Christopher Cross’s self-titled debut album, which sold 5 million copies and was the Grammy Album of the Year in 1980. And so while a lot of people were exposed to her beautiful, soaring, full of longing voice on the album’s duet “Spinning”…they didn’t necessarily register that it was her, Valerie Carter, sublimely lifting it off the ground ( and she totally does, listen above), they were just, you know, playing the Christopher Cross album, and basking in it’s west coast sunset glow ( by the way, it’s a pretty nice glow, and no one should be embarrassed for liking it, so go on then, bask).
It appears the last years of her life were challenging, as she battled substance abuse issues, got arrested twice as a result in 2009, and was ultimately sent to rehab. Yeah, it’s sad, but know what, she was an incredible singer, in possession of a truly transcendent, and soaring voice, and she should’ve been famous, and she died too young, and it’s not too late to discover, and give over to the loveliness she offered, because damn, she was just so great. Take a listen….
There are so many beautiful things about this loving nod to the Beach Boys, and Big Star, it’s hard to know where to begin, but we’ll keep it simple. Gorgeous tune. Swoon-worthy vocal hook. Beauteous guitar crescendo in the bridge. To summarize, it’s the living embodiment of a California sunset, and nearly impossible to take off repeat.
Like a pop-infused “Heaven or Las Vegas”, the first single from Swimming Girls, is one lush, and heavenly wall of sound, with a languorous, and handsome little chorus that is nearly impossible to evict from your head once you’ve heard it.
I wonder sometimes how it feels for Ian McCulloch, of Echo & the Bunnymen seeing Coldplay soar to global domination using the Echo sound blueprint so flagrantly. Chris Martin has always openly acknowledged his worship, and the two have worked together, struck up a friendship, and so on, but as Ian spoke so often back in the day of being the “greatest band in the world”, I’ve always wondered if it secretly irked him seeing Coldplay rise to such extreme heights, serving up their more palatable version of the Echo sound.
That scenario always brings to mind for me, the creative connection between 80’s weirdo pop maestros, the Associates and the the universal behemoth that is U2. Billy MacKenzie was the eccentric, outrageously gifted singer in the aforementioned Associates, and with the exception of the geekier music fans of a certain age, it’s pretty unlikely that the average U2 fan has heard of him, or his band…yet there is a pretty distinct, and clear influence of Billy onto Bono, which the latter has spoken about in the most reverential and loving terms, going so far as to provide the foreward to Billy’s posthumous biography, The Glamour Chase”, by Tom Doyle from 1999.
No one sounded like Billy. It’s generally acknowledged that “Sulk”, from 1982, the third Associates album, was the peak of their artistic achievement, and it is without a doubt their most consistently pleasing record. It’s plastic operatic pop, all over the top yearning, and crooning, and chorus’s.
Billy was a victim of his own gift. His voice was so otherworldly, and transcendent, that providing a suitable, and ideal background for it to shine, was a challenge. Fact is, once he began his solo career post-Associates, the quality of the songs on offer were not equal to the quality of the voice, making for some spotty releases ( which is a tribute to how great the Associates were of course). This is not to say there weren’t moments of true jaw-dropping beauty along the way ( check out “Baby” above), just that the standard established with the Associates , proved impossible to maintain as his career, post band, moved forward.
Check out the links above to hear Bono read his foreward to Billy’s book aloud, and listen to Billy do his thing with the Associates, and on his own ( his live rendition of “God Bless the Child from ’84 is ridiculous), and listen to them rubbing up against U2 ( just 1 quick example). There’s a lot of love in what Bono is saying, and no matter what you think of him ( Self righteous ? Pompous? Insufferable?), his reverence for this glorious boy is pretty beautiful…and you can still hear it to this day, every time he opens his mouth to sing to the enormous crowds at these U2 shows, which is the coolest thing of all.
Can’t remember how I stumbled upon Asha Lorenz a couple of years ago, but no matter, she’s been a pretty staggering discovery in these parts. For the past year, I’ve had her songs both solo, and with her band Fish (now known as Sorry, I believe), bookended in a playlist with Au Pairs, X-Ray Spex, Poly Styrene solo stuff, as well as some Shara Nelson, and Martina Topley-Bird …don’t know why, she just sounds so right surrounded by those straight to the heart, intense, moody, and sometimes screamy beauties. There’s a DIY quality, to both her solo work, and her band stuff, and a genuine timelessness: it’s all pretty exceptional. The tracks above are an overview of old, and more recent things, and there’s loads more to explore on her Soundcloud page, so definitely encourage you to check it all out.