‘It’s Monday’ Playlist (05/10/20)

Five more songs to absorb! Follow the Spotify playlist here for a weekly update of tunes direct to your account.

Sad Cowboy – Goat Girl (2020)

A real statement of intent from the South London quartet. Clottie Cream’s vocals descend in graceful haziness over a rough rock sound effortlessly integrated with an undercurrent of dreamy synth reminiscent of post-Currents Tame Impala. Leading the charge towards the release of their second studio album On All Fours in January, ‘Sad Cowboy’ showcases a huge progression in maturity and musicality in Goat Girl’s repertoire that strides beyond the three-minute-hit spirit of their eponymous debut without compromising their punk credentials.

Jumbo – Underworld (1999)

Combining dancefloor urgency and psychedelic romanticism, ‘Jumbo’ is an emotional yet understated number that seamlessly drifts between otherworldly abstraction and earthly existentialism. The listener is taken on a surreal journey starting with a conversation between two southern Americans about ‘“A little sale on a vest at Walmart”‘, before eventually finding a conclusion with a final reappearance of the anchoring beat drowned in swirling, elusively beautiful harmonies. While ‘Jumbo’ may not share the powerfully direct aura of some of its club-night contemporaries, it stands alone in its atmospheric offering.

Repetition – David Bowie (1978)

Bleak realism haunts every corner of ‘Repetition’, which details the oppressive domesticity of a psychologically abusive relationship with vacant sentimentalism. Underpinning the desolate being of the track is Bowie’s deadpan vocal delivery simutaenously supported by a persistently wobbly two-note bassline, providing a stark representation of the often unspoken and ignored consequences of reluctant romantic entanglements.

Sex Drive – Tricky (1996)

A track of glorious destruction and distortion, ‘Sex Drive’ is a reckless culmination of punk, industrial dance and dark electronica executed for maximum disorder. Harnessing the track with determined dedication lies a rampantly urgent bassline in wonderful disharmony with a combative snare-led groove. Tricky’s nearly whispered delivery also opens up another layer of textural intrigue and interest, culminating in a shamelessly ramshackle composition.

Whole New Mess – Angel Olsen (2020)

Hushed melancholia takes centre-stage in the gentleness of ‘Whole New Mess’. Though not a track of any particular power or imposition, its drifting and directionless nature is what personifies and promotes the track. Without enforcing itself onto the listener it is able to uphold its vitality and attraction through its irresistible calm and grace, never fading into the backdrop. Though a straightforward creation in arrangement and formula, Olsen has cultivated an independence in sound through a unique softness and tranquility rarely showcased elsewhere.

The Best of The Fall [1978-83]

The return of the blog has led to the inevitable return of me writing about The Fall in more extensive devotion and detail than any other artist could dream of. Of course, The Fall in Fives/YMGTA blogs have somewhat rendered attempting to write about The Fall in any comprehension a task now obsolete, but still! I have the excuse of being the youngest Fall fan I know by a couple of decades, so there’s my USP :-).

This series is simply going to be a list of my favourite songs for every five years of The Fall. There will be some omissions as I’ve written plenty in the past about particular songs, but luckily the discography is so huge there’s another (approximately) 480 songs for me to choose from.

Early-age Fall is extremely hit-and-miss for me, particularly the first two records. Witch Trials and Dragnet, while holding some standout tracks, are a couple of the more forgettable releases of the repertoire and I don’t find myself going back to listen to them at all. This re-visit may spark a renewed interest, but I think this is an unlikely occurrence.

More likely is a warm re-welcoming of Grotesque and Hex, the first two Fall albums I listened to around three years ago, and I have neglected for quite a while. Other than the obligatory introduction to The Fall via ‘Mr Pharmacist’ or ‘Totally Wired’, ‘Pay Your Rates’ was my real entry into the Fall-o-sphere, opening a new realm of post-punk wonder to me.

For my previous Fall related ramblings, you can find all I’ve written via the Artist Index, and you can also follow my ‘Fall for The Fall’ playlist on Spotify here. 181 songs, chronologically arranged, and all wonderful. Eagle-eyed readeras will see that seven of the eight tracks on Perverted By Language make it onto the playlist, making this whittling down of tracks an even more difficult task for this post.

The songs listed are not exhaustive, but having had a relisten of the albums and related singles, these are the tunes that have always stood out to me. Notable omissions can be found at the end of the post.

Psycho Mafia

Is Mark actually saying any words? It’s hard to tell. But the force behind each shouted drawl is brilliantly urgent above the simple riff. Even better is the production of the vocals themselves, the echo encapsulating the song providing an extra hit of demented-ness. Minimal effort is given to the backing of the song – simply a recipe of grab a catchy hook and stick with it – and ‘Pyscho Mafia’ executes the formula wonderfully. The ‘outro’ (high pitched guitar strums lasting around 10 seconds) is a little bit lacking in extravagance of any sort, but I’m sure that’s the point. An excellent two-minute punk hit.

Rebellious Jukebox

This is, for me, probably the most ‘complete’ song on Witch Trials. I think Witch Trials suffers from two main flaws – firstly, the overdoing of the drums, and secondly, Mark trying a little to hard to stamp his authority on the ‘-ah’ sound ending on every word. ‘Jukebox’ seems to avoid these shortcomings, and Mark’s tone seems more emotional and more fitting than others on the album (I know this might not go down well with some of LATWT’s more ardent fans; I can only apologise). The result is a song that offers a sort of darkness that doesn’t overbear the listener while also maintaining a solid pace and bounce.

Psykick Dancehall

A brilliant track all round. There’s a greater assuredness compared to Witch Trials on Dragnet, and ‘Psykick’ is a central exhibit of this. Smith sounds more confident and a lot less gimmicky with his vocal tone, while the developments of song are more thought-through and inventive.

Printhead

One comment to make about Dragnet is that the quality of recording is, at times, extremely shoddy. While The Fall are grafted and heralded for their artistic carelessness and wilingness to leave rough edges rough, I feel that the songs do suffer. ‘Printhead’ is an excellent track – fast, powerful and pacey punk. This was a track that really, really grabbed me in my early listenings. It didn’t try too hard to be something, it was just genuine and shameless. I just wish the recording and production was less muffly and the sound of each instrument was a little more pronounced. Still though, an absolute stormer.

English Scheme

Better quality recording, better quality lyrics, better quality Fall. ‘English Scheme’ was the first Fall song I loved for it’s ‘Fall-ness’. I loved the line “The clever ones tend to emigrate / Like your psychotic big brother who left home“, the cheap sounding keyboard that Marc Riley insisted on being included, and the new speak-sing tone of Smith. In all honesty, I just thought it was a really funny song. Yet it’s still got enough urgency to it to nod your head along to, and is a truly memorable track.

The Container Drivers

A bouncing rockabilly beauty. The start of it is abrupt, swiftly following on from the more conservatively paced ‘C ‘n’ C-S Mithering’ (also a great track) without any prior warning with a machine-gun drum roll before entering into a rough 12-bar-blues number. It’s simple but effective, and holds enough idiosyncracy to detach itself from any inkling of being a standard blues track.

Prole Art Threat

Talking about machine gun drum rolls, have this one for two minutes straight. It shouldn’t work as a track, it should be utterly unlistenable (well, The Fall are to most), but this is such a powerful track. The descent into the main section midway into the song which sees all instrumental sections join fully is a triumphant moment of early Fall. I wish it went on for a tad longer, but that is not to take away from the sheer authroity of this track at all. A stupendous composition.

Jawbone and The Air-Rifle

I had a huge phase in my early Fall ventures of just listening to ‘The Classical’ and ‘Jawbone’ over and over and over, leaving the rest of Hex utterly neglected. The speed of this song is relentless, yet I find the more restrained singing from Smith and co. an excellent contradiction in sound between themselves and the instrumentation. Furthering my appreciation for this song was that, when playing this around 3 years ago, my Mum informed me that she, though not a Fall fan to any degree, loved this song and remembered my uncle listening to it a lot growing up. I had every excuse to play it however many times I liked after that. Play it I did, and play it I still do.

Hip Priest

As if my Mum wasn’t cool enough, upon hearing this track around the same period as ‘Jawbone’ she told me about ‘Hip Priest’ featuring in The Silence of the Lambs, and also regarded this as one of her favourite Fall tracks growing up. It took me a long time to appreicate this track – I think I found it discomforting and a little dreary. Like any Fall track you have an issue with, however, you realise that the inaccessibility is the reason why you’re listening in the first place and the reason why you’ll inevitably fall in love with the track, no matter how long it takes.

It’s a creeping, lurking number, invading the space with a sinister disregard for any innocence. When you think it’s going to get you with a ‘Hip, hip, hip, hip’ it quickly hides again. Once it does get going, however, it’s inescapably brilliant. The guitars are gloriously ramshackle, and Hanley’s bass dances freely in the chaos. A quintessential number.

Neighbourhood of Infinity

An all-time favourite of mine, ‘Neighbourhood’ is made by the two-drummer line up, utilised with devastating effect for the duration of the track. On top of this lies Smith’s emotionless rambling, which moves in and out of the backing seamlessly. My one and only criticism of this song is that it doesn’t go on long enough at all, even with ‘Eat Y’self’ and ‘Garden’ on either side of the track listing.

I Feel Voxish

For me, this song is the most clear evidence of The Fall as a crusing, confident and careless band. Perverted By Language seems like a crystallisation of five years’ work in the studio to achieve the ‘Fall Sound’ (if you will) before Brix’s steering to new domains, and ‘I Feel Voxish’ is the centrepiece. The guitar riff is weird and ill-fitting for normal ears, but the way it works itself into place alongside the grooving bassline is magnificent, while the insistence of the drum track to not change *a bit* adds to the aforementioned carelessness of ’83 Fall. Solid.

Notable Omissions

This section will exist on every article of this series. Obviously, a selection of 12 songs over five years will not cater to everyone’s needs (including my own), but having written about many before and also liking too many to be able to mention properly, this section is the natural compromise.

Witch Trials: Frightened, Industrial Estate, Two Steps Back, Music Scene.

Dragnet: Your Heart Out, Spectre vs Rector

Grotesque: Pay Your Rates, New Face In Hell, C ‘n’ C-S, In The Park, NWRA.

Slates: Middle Mass, Fit and Working Again, Leave The Capitol.

Hex: Every other track.

Perverted By Language: Every other track. Best Fall album.

Non-album: Bingo Master, Repetition, Rowche Rumble, Fiery Jack, Elastic Man, Totally Wired, Fantastic Life, Wings, Ludd Gang, Kicker Conspiracy.

Pete Shelley Obituary / For The Record #3 – Buzzcocks Edition

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one left totally taken by the sudden news of Pete Shelley’s passing. After my first FTR article I was back listening to Buzzcocks on a regular occurrence, returning me to a time when I was around 13 years old, where all of Shelley’s lyrics seemed to describe every emotion of adolescence and teenage innocence so succinctly, humorously and, at times, in such brutal honesty.

I saw Buzzcocks in London during 2017 and they were on tremendous form. All the vitality and energy of the nearly forty-year-old songs was effortlessly maintained – Diggle interacted with the adoring audience for the entire show and Shelley sounded as if it were still 1978. I feel lucky to be able to say I have seen the Buzzcocks live, and lucky that I was able to indulge myself in classic after classic. It was a superb evening.

Any punk documentary, book or podcast will always mention the now legendary Lesser Free Trade Hall gig, where The Sex Pistols stamped their authority onto the punk arena and punk was finally given an audience, no matter what size. What is often overlooked, however, is the role played by The Buzzcocks’ then frontman Howard Devoto and lead guitarist Pete Shelley’s role in organising the gig (amongst many others in Manchester) while the Buzzcocks were still a young, fledgling act, fighting their way into the Manchester scene and beyond.

Without that gig, that mythical array of musical power and fight, who knows whether punk would have ever gained the notoriety and standing it achieved. As many will be aware, members of the then unformed bands The Fall, Joy Division and The Smiths were present that night. Deprived of visionaries and believers such as Shelley, the musical world may not have been so joyous, raucous and utterly compelling for those looking for a voice to speak to them.

Shelley and co. were also archetypal of the new DIY protocol that punk was soon to follow after them, forming the New Hormones label in 1977 and releasing the seminal Spiral Scratch EP, which led a young Morrissey to declare them ‘only the best kick ass rock band in the country’ to NME in 1977.

What’s more, where would pop, and all its various avenues in rock, be without the craft and ingenuity of Buzzcocks? Every single, album track, A-side, B-side, bonus track, everything they did had such edge; every lyric sang, shouted or screamed reminisced with those playing with the strings of lust, youth or immaturity in ways that not many other bands could dream of. Even Devoto’s following band Magazine borrowed a Shelley riff (used in the single ‘Lipstick’) for their debut single ‘Shot By Both Sides’, which saw them sit at #41 on the charts and appear on Top of The Pops.

So, here’s to Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks for making the best pop songs ever, for making every insecure teenager’s coping with life’s little problems more bearable, and for helping a generation of musicians set the country, and the world, to Manchester’s groove.

Due to the monumental loss, I’ll be writing about all my Buzzcocks vinyl that hasn’t been reviewed. Overall, I am left with an extra single to the usual serving. I’ll start with the Spiral Scratch EP, onto ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, ‘Harmony In My Head’ and conclude with their debut LP Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

Spiral Scratch EP

I came into awareness of this EP after discovering Magazine and watching a So It Goes Devoto and Shelley documentary from 1978, where the theme tune was track three ‘Boredom’, the ad-break commencing on Devoto’s “B’dum b’dum”. I had listened to Buzzcocks’ debut album and Magazine’s first three, so this was a new avenue to explore – proper independent punk at its most raw and true.

For me, the EP opener ‘Breakdown’ is a rank above the rest of the tracks. Devoto’s near-rantings come out in high-pitched jaunty half-words, backed by a ridiculously powerful Shelley guitar and the signature fast-paced power drumming of John Maher. It’s punk. The rough recording, the audible mini-mishaps and Devoto’s strained, aggressive vocals. It’s infectious. Completely.

The descending and ascending chords of ‘Time’s Up’ come in instantly – there’s no rest on these grooves, so sit, listen, and shut up. Lyrically superb, ‘Time’s Up’ is a tiny bit instrumentally more refined than its predecessor and follows the same boisterous programme. What’s brilliant is the awful backing vocals on the ‘Time’s up/Me too’ choruses; Devoto and Shelley seem to fight over who can be the least tuneful and the most painful for the ears – simply stupid and simply stunning.

Here’s your ten second break – flip over to side two and sit back down. In flies ‘Boredom’, one of the most highly-held punk riffs and choruses, supported by lyrics such as ‘every ring-a-ring-a-ring-a fucking thing’. Oh so good. The further we go, the angrier Devoto gets – ‘GET YOUR HANDS OUT MY TROUSERS’ is violently thrown up as it explodes out, it’s just crazy. ‘Ah!’ he concludes. You can’t ask for much better.

Or can you? ‘Friends of Mine’ begins with a grinding single chord introduction, followed by Devoto nearly rapping to the cacophony behind him. The guitar solo rings of Fall level neglect for musical delicacy and aural-ease, as does the whole EP to be fair, but it seems to be ramped up for a disturbing final goodbye from the new kids on the ugly, distorted block.

This was their meticulous mark on the world, and it was perfect.

Side One: 5/5   Side Two: 5/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) B/W Just Lust

The signature Buzzcocks ballad of decaying love and a dying relationship. Produced to create the perfect emotional backdrop to Shelley’s longing lyrics, ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ is, and always will be, frankly the perfect pop song. This will probably be one of the shortest reviews I’ll ever write, as I feel no one needs me to tell them how ingenious and powerful this song is.

The words are decorated with despair and grief, while the guitars remain loaded with guts and power yet orchestrate the collapse of this entanglement so fittingly. I’m sure that everyone has felt exactly the way the words describe the feelings experienced, which is probably why this song remains so adored. It speaks to all it touches on some level, whether spiritual or emotional. A masterpiece. Plain and simple.

‘Just Lust’ is arguably even more sombre. Shelley sort of mumbles each word like a man who has given up on hope of attachment to anyone or anything. I remember first hearing this after I bought the single at a record fair, and I was instantly hooked on its sharp jab of sorrow and the descending riffs in the verse. It’s a wonderful B-side that compliments the headline act aptly.

A-Side: 5/5   B-Side: 4/5   Sleeve: 5/5

Harmony In My Head B/W Something’s Gone Wrong Again

The same Buzzcocks protocol – a masterful pop riff, strong drumming and a punchy bassline. But no Shelley this time. Instead we’re welcomed by the rough and gristly barks of lead guitarist Steve Diggle. They really are quite cutting – he claims to have smoked twenty cigarettes before recording to attain the harsh sound, and I think it’s safe to say it paid off.

Even Diggle seems to hold his own emotional twang to his singing despite the gruff sound of his voice, and they’re brilliantly contrasted by the more controlled and soothing vocals sang by Shelley in the slightly more dreamy, less intense chorus. It’s an excellent tune, my Dad’s favourite Buzzcocks song, and a reminder that it wasn’t always a one man show in the song writing department.

The B-side makes me think that Diggle’s tobacco-induced yelps were perhaps more fitting for both songs. Instead, Shelley returns to business as usual. It’s a good song musically, but perhaps Diggle was more suitable for this tune. Still strong, however.

A-Side: 5/5   B-Side: 3/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Another Music In A Different Kitchen LP

A spectacular album, and one of the first albums I bought on vinyl. It catches The Buzzcocks on the cusp of commercial and critical adoration, a sign of things to come with the singles and albums that took the baton afterwards.

Kicking off with a nice excerpt of ‘Boredom’, ‘Fast Cars’ gradually grows and crashes into life so grabbingly. It’s such a raucous opener, a hit in the face of musical apathy and dreariness. It’s as lively an opener can get.

This theme is inevitably continued throughout the album. Though lacking the extra emotional edge of successor Love Bites, AMIADK is still a fantastically explosive journey on a band that appears to be, more than anything, having fun in their minimalist freedom, every strum of the guitar or hit of the drum a slamming reaffirmation of their status in the punk arena, epitomised by the fantastic ‘You Tear Me Up’, a step up in anger and toughness to the opening two tracks.

‘Get On Your Own’ has this brilliantly pitched line by Shelley that kicks off each verse, and is probably one of the main competitors for the best track of side one with ‘Sixteen’. ‘Get On Your Own’ is also probably the most pop of the first side too, but it certainly holds more than enough punk punch to keep the energy levels at their usual high.

Side two is an absolute treat. It opens with lead single ‘I Don’t Mind’, which is indisputably superb and beautifully crafted, re-affirming the energy of side one while also upping the romantic theme of the Buzzcocks sound. Two tracks later we’re met by, for me, the best song on the album. Though the B-side to ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Autonomy’ has this brash uncaring guitar line, extremely rough but a class above the simplistic three chord thrash of their youthful punk contemporaries.

What’s excels the song further is Shelley. Though usually the hopeful romantic, the shaman or sham, is now angry, accessing Devoto levels of strength and audacity. I’m not entirely sure what he lyrics are about or what Shelley was so angry at, but I’m not complaining. I remember first hearing this, the exuberance and enthusiasm of the song struck me. They drag out the guitar line at the end for as long as possible. It’s a killer riff, produced perfectly. Stunning.

The album closes with the seven-minute thriller ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’. When I saw them live, they fittingly closed with this too. I’d never been much of a fan of this song, but that night changed everything. Shelley is even angrier. All his vocals seem to be a bit off-pitch because of the emotional strain, but it works fantastically. The Diggle solos are high-pitched, jarring, but ultimately so rewarding. The backing of the low-hits of Shelley’s guitar overlook this piece authoritatively, while Maher’s drums are of course the star of the show.

A stunning way to depart from your first full-length LP. Brave, frantic, and undeniably magnificent.

What an album.

Side One: 4/5   Side Two: 5/5   Sleeve: 4/5

And there we have it. Shelley’s death will probably bring about the conclusion of Buzzcocks, unless Devoto would be willing to step in (unlikely, however). What we are left with is one of the most influential collections of artistry ever achieved within the punk movement, and we owe it all to a man with such insight, grace and class. Cheers, Pete.

 

Next: For The Record #4