Shuffleathon Review 2008

Swiss Toni has been doing his annual Shuffleathon, and I received my cd from  Mike@Troubled Diva  and very good it is too. The review is below. Given the fact that sometimes your favourite song on second listen becomes your least favourite song on fifteenth listen (and vice versa) I have listened to it a good few times before putting pen to paper.

 

If you already have a book to read then I suggest you go back to it – this could take a while. If on the other hand you have a couple of weeks to spare then read on.

 

Littlelostdavid – The Devil Don’t Mind

 

Annoying name alert. Surely he could have come up with something better than Littlelostdavid ? Fickle git that I am,  names or monikers do put me off music, just like rubbish record covers. Which is very frustrating in this case because this is a great great song – coming from some strange middle ground  between a Appalachian mountain song and a Brechtian torch song. Intimate and grand at the same time. So in this case the song wins out – but if I had had a choice of listening or not I probably wouldn’t have done so on the basis of the name. It’s a predictable comment but it really is something you could imagine Marc Almond singing. Starting accapella and then halfway through launching into this grand sweeping orchestral dramatic statement it is very impressive and completely attention grabbing. Its a great start to the cd.

 

Mary Hampton – Island

 

After the first listen my thoughts were of Mary Hampton sitting in flat somewhere in Hoxton.  “Pass me the new Fischerspooner album darling ?” “What ? Haven’t you heard ? Electro is so over, Acid Folk is where its at now – here – borrow my Karen Dalton and Shirley Collins albums.“ “Oh thanks. Shall I make a spooky folk album myself then ?” “Go on then”. All completely wrong  I am sure – her parents were probably in Dando Shaft and she probably spent her whole life at folk festivals and  has probably been playing this sort of music since she was 3. Not of course that that makes her any more or less valid as a musician or singer but I am wary of bandwagon jumpers outside of straightforward pop or dance music where it is fine. Strange double standards I know. I think it is the presentation of the music as something worthy and deep and meaningful rather than instant pop. I don’t know. How does my mind work ?

 

It’s music that is technically right up my street – winsome willowy acoustic singer songwriter stuff with lots of references to the natural world and dark sinister undertones. But somewhere along the line it felt unnaturally unnatural – almost manufactured. I can’t put my finger on why but probably the creaks and squeaks and whistles in the background throughout the song. Ghostly spookiness required ? Just add squeaks. I wonder how many times she has watched The Wicker Man ?

 

Since my original (and no doubt unwarranted) initial thoughts, I have established that she records for Navigator Records so she can’t be all that flaky, and the song really isn’t at all bad.

 

I just can’t help being cynical about any subscribers to the “Acid Folk” scene. It is in awe of some wonderful wonderful music but it also feels dead contrived and I can’t help but think that they will all be off to record Electro-Country and Western or whatever  the next big thing is when this scene becomes unfashionable. And I am not taking specifically about Mary Hampton here because as I say all this is my pre conception of how this record sounds  not based on any facts. (Apologies Mary). There are however certainly people who are guilty of this. My problem is the fact that I can’t help throwing the baby out with the bearded bathwater. I still think that the best spooky folk album of recent years was by someone who didn’t attach herself to that particular scene or play at those particular venues and did not even make a passing reference to the fashionable “Acid Folk” genre. And that was P J Harvey’s “White Chalk”.

 

 

Shearwater – Leviathan Bound

 

Cripes. Yet another great song. This sounds almost like early Peter Gabriel singing over a slightly wayward Michael Nyman track (stuff some cotton wool in your ears and you might get it). I really like it. All smooth strings and yearning voice. It is instantly likeable. I know nothing about them although recognise the name. A seabird I once knew perhaps. What I want to know is whether the rest of their music is as good as this or whether this is a standout track ? If it’s the latter I probably wouldn’t indulge, if the former, I might be off to buy an album.

 

Crikey, they are from Texas. I would never have guessed that from this track. It sounds very English to me. That has thrown me.

 

Oh and they have very nice covers to their last few releases. I think you could be proud to have a Shearwater recording out on the sideboard if you had visitors.

 

Grace Jones – Williams’ Blood

 

“Wendy ?”

 

“Yes Lisa”

 

“Is the water warm enough ?”

 

“Yes Lisa”

 

“Shall we begin by writing the best Grace Jones song for donkeys years then?”

 

“Yes Lisa”

 

Hold on to your hats – the original “Queen Bitch Jungle Mother of New York” (her words at a party after having downed a few too many bellinis and god knows what else apparently ) is here.

 

I love this woman. Read this and this and you might get an idea why. Hilarious. All credit to her for the recent Dazed and Confused photo session with Chris Cunningham  too – there can’t be many sixty year olds happy to remove all their clothing for the sake of art (and it was art – nothing gratuitous about those photos) nor many sixty year olds who look as amazing as that.

 

One of two tracks on here which I already own and one of my favourite songs from last year from one of my favourite albums of last year. I have been listening to the Aeroplane remix of this on repeat throughout the last couple of months. (Having loved the Aeroplane remix of Coyote’s Too Hard I thought I should indulge and am glad I did. Not quite as powerful as the original – more laidback and languid very beautiful.) I am afraid that no matter how many times I listen to it Williams Blood is likely to still be THE standout track in this compilation but that is because it is such a fantastic track.. The whole album “Hurricane” is pretty good too – certainly her best since Living My Life – only 27 years ago – arguably it does revisit the territory of that album and the two before it as well.

 

Entirely autobiographical and pretty moving as a result it tells the story of the two contrasting families of her parents, her preacher fathers devout religious Jones clan and the wilder wayward musical Williams family of her mother  (the track references the fact that her mother’s father played with Nat King Cole) and her growing up being pulled between the two but ending up the rebellious outcast headed for fame and New York  – because “I got the Williams blood in me”. Musically the backing in places does sound something like Slave To The Rhythm but veers between that songs slinking pulsing beat and a guitar feedback frenzy on the chorus. The reviewer who said that it was somewhat indebted to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine album got it right. That said it builds up to a frenzied gospel finale which is topped with an acapella recital of the first few lines of Amazing Grace.

 

Just extraordinary.

 

Her Jools Holland performance of this song was wonderful too.

 

Whilst already being slightly in awe of the woman for her Andy Warhol connections, I realised just how powerful her music was in 1983 when I bought a cassette copy of “Living My Life” from the local newsagents – at the same time as a cassette copy of Kate Bush’s The Dreaming as I recall. They each cost £2.99. I loved My Jamaican Guy and when I heard the rest of the album it was equally stunning. It is still my favourite album of hers, all Sly and Robbie yawning languidity, and its an album that conjures up the early ‘80s New York of my imagination in more clarity than anything else (Probably The Apple Stretching and Everybody Hold Still what did that). Not a duff track on it.

 

For anyone who hasn’t yet bought a Grace Jones album I highly recommend Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing, Living My Life and Hurricane itself. Or The Compass Point Sessions anthology is a good single purchase containing the cream of the three 1980s Sly and Robbie albums and a load of extended versions and rarities.

 

 

Amadou & Mariam – Sabali

 

The other track which I already own, Father Christmas kindly having dropped off the Sabali album at our house.

 

This is the odd one out on the album with different writing and production credits and whilst I like it, I do think Damon Albarn could have come up with something better. It is retro techno really, bringing to mind the electronic experimentation of Fela Kuti and his ilk but it just doesn’t sound as warm or natural as I expect A & M to sound – they voices sound a bit out of place.I am sure that the whole point was for them to do something different.  Just my preference mind.

 

Having said that the album as a whole is great and in terms of songs is just as good as the top selling Dimanche a Bamako which everyone has heard but which still gets listened to all the time in our house – particularly in the kitchen and if pizza is being made (listen to the first track). Sabali is less of a Manu Chao featuring  Amadou & Mariam record and lacks the bonkers everything including the kitchen sink production but no worse for that – just simpler and in many ways easier to focus on. Its obvious from the packaging that the budget was increased for this album as a result of their huge popularity.

 

Anyway, suffice to say – another excellent choice of track and whilst its not my favourite off their album it’s a great piece of music. I am very much looking forward to The Very Best album which should provide a similarly joyous collision of different worlds at some point in 2009. Dinosaur On The Ark was a favourite from 2008 (and is freely available on the internet at the bands bequest from numerous sources – go search it out).

 

Adriano Celentano – Prisencolinensinainciusol

 

The only track not from 2008 apparently. Its from 1973 and sounds like a shouty rock and roll stream of consciousness (which it turns out is actually total gibberish) over a very basic funk jam reminiscent of Prince and his gang. Plenty of James Brown horns anyway. Its quite entertaining and easy enough to listen to but repeated listens turn it into something quite annoying – not something I would listen to by choice but good to hear.

 

Vampire Weekend – Everywhere

 

Sounds like Vampire Weekend doing a cover of Fleetwood Mac. And it is in fact Vampire Weekend doing a  cover of Fleetwood Mac. Not my favourite Mac song but a perfectly enjoyable romp. And unmistakably VW.  I still love the VW album. It’s a classic. It will be interesting to see what comes next – a change of direction or more of the same. The “Ottoman” track seems to suggest more of the same but could have been an album leftover. They could have chosen something with an easier chorus to sing – there are noticeably moments where they are struggling. Perhaps they should have done Tusk.

 

Solange Knowles – Sandcastle Disco

 

Oh, it’s “Young Folks”. But its skipping. Oh, no it’s not, it’s Beyonce’s little sister having a disco moment.

 

Probably the most earwormy song on here. Can’t get it out of my head. And it’s great. On first listen it sounds fairly pedestrian r and b / disco but with repeated listens it just gets better and better.  Been in my head non stop for ages now. Great tune and highly recommended.

 

Daft album title mind (SoL-AngeL and the Hadley Street Dreams). I wonder what she will think of that title in a few years time.

 

Kelley Polar – Entropy Reigns (In the Celestial City)

 

This instantly reminds me of The Modern or whatever they are called this week which is not a good start. Retro 80s electropop brought up to date with modern production values. And a very silly songtitle. The backing is fine but I  do find the vocals somewhat trying. OK, I find them dull and clinical and uninteresting. A sound which comes across as so knowing and self consciously hip (although no different to much of the electroclash of three or four years ago in reality) and an instant turn off for me for that reason. Having said that if it was Gruff Rhys and Cate Le Bon singing it I would probably love it. I suppose it just feels that it is lacking soul, which the best 80s electropop had irrespective of how deadpan it sounded – Human League, Soft Cell, Pet Shops etc. Maybe if they took up smoking in a big way to make their voices more interesting or wrote songs about foreign travel or 80s businessmen it would help.

 

DJ MA1 ft Sophia – I’m Right Here (Perempay’N’ Dee mix)

 

It’s UK Funky House. A hot new happening genre apparently (and thanks Mike, I really wouldn’t have a clue if you hadn’t explained. I won’t say how long it is since I set foot in a nightclub – let alone a hip and happening one). According to Mike he fell out of love with dance music a few years ago and discovered this seam of music in recent months which has revitalised his interest. I too have a murky past which involved a love of certain elements of the dreaded “howth” music and so was interested to hear these tunes. The following five tracks are apparently representative of this genre .

 

This first one sounds a bit like Shapeshifters “Lola’s Theme” and is reminiscent of the  late nineties disco house sound of Spiller’s “Groovejet” and Stardust’s “Music sounds better with you”. It’s good – I like it and I can see that it would be totally frug-inducing were you to be in a club of the night. Not something I would rush out to buy even after a night out dancing to it but a dead good tune.

 

Donaeo – Devil In A Blue Dress

 

Mad obtuse percussive backing which sounds like drum and bass gone treble with 80s synth stabs and a modern soul voice over the top. Not my cup of tea really and I have never been able to get my head round modern male soul singers – I blame Craig David, and whilst his voice is by no means the same I keep getting Mr David’s smug features looming up in my vision whilst this song is playing. Slightly offputting to say the least.

 

Crazy Cousinz ft Calista – Bongo Jam

 

I like this one – it puts me in mind of the daft novelty percussive disco records of the late 70s.  Daft midless chanty bits and (as the title suggests) loads of percussion.

 

Wookie ft Ny – Falling Again

 

This sounds like a early to mid nineties US house track with featured lady vocalist and a repeated percussive piano riff from the era of Adeva, Crystal Waters De’Lacy and Kathy Brown. All of which were fine but never wowed me. This song is the same – great to dance to but not a record I would run out and buy.

 

 Geeneus ft Katy B – As I

I am tempted to say as above – although this would not be entirely correct. This has a real Inner City feel to it with an early Detroit house sounding backing track. Which is no bad thing in my book. I used to love Paris Grey and Kevin Saunderson both as Inner City and on their own projects. Again, a track I like but which doesn’t thrill me to the core  which is what I like dance music to do. My favourite dance music will get me either singing along at top volume in the car or dancing round the house one way or another. Where is Larry Heard these days anyway ?

So overall these “UK funky house” tracks are good but don’t sound to me like anything particularly new or unusual or inspirational – probably just not my bag – and probably better experienced in clubland. Thak you however Mike for sticking them on the cd – a cd without any risk taking would be boring – I certainly feel better informed.

 

Fan Death – Veronica’s Veil

 

I seem to recall loads of blog hype around this band towards the end of last year – this track sounds like Hercules and Love Affair meet The Knife. The retro 70s disco strings on the backing track are great but I could do without the deadpan not-sung vocals which seem to be the norm on every single disco indie record these days. Are there any disco indie ladies that actually sing these days ? Or is it just what’s fashionable ? 

 

The Dodos – Fools

Jangling drums and guitars and a poppy folky indie tune. Nothing new in terms of the style of music but clearly done very well. The guitars get a bit Smithsy in places and the drumming is ace. Another one which I would not rush out and buy but I certainly would not turn the radio off if it came on. I know nothing about them, but a bit of research shows they are from San Francisco, so no wonder they sound happy. Funny how I assumed they must be from Australia until I read this – how the mind works ….

Late Of the Pier – Broken

Punchy forthright indie rock. Decent tune. Perfectly listenable and a cut above most music from this genre but not something I would normally listen to. There isn’t much British indie rock that I make time for these days, the Arctic Monkeys being the sole exception in recent years. Sadly it probably means that I miss out on some good music but its a sound that I have grown bored with. I am sure I am just getting old.

 

Shelby Lynne – Breakfast In Bed

 

This is a lovely Dusty Springfield cover and comes pretty close to the original in quality. I can’t really add much to that. It’s a pretty faithful cover with modern production. It is a fantastic song. Normally I would steer clear of anyone attempting something like this but Ms Lynne pulls it off with aplomb.

 

Joan As Policewoman – Magpies

 

I first heard Joan As Policewoman supporting Rufus Wainwright and it was probably the least enjoyable concert performance I have ever been to. I hated it – it just came across as self indulgent look at me painful warbling of sixth form poetry and it seemed to lack any warmth or any acknowledgment of the existence of the audience (she seemed quite, err, distant).The songs seemed to go on forever in some meandering “if I make this as unpop and wayward as possible it means I am an artist” way and I really couldn’t find anything to like about it.

 

Its not that I can’t stomach anything that is not a three minute instant pop song –  Joanna Newsom playing live is totally and utterly compelling (even when performing songs that you have not heard before) and you can hardly say that her songs are anything but meandering.

 

Having seen numerous very positive reviews of Joan As Policewoman since then, and seeing her compared to other musicians I do rate , I have been tempted to ignore my original take and give her a chance but have not got round to doing so. So I was actually really pleased to see this on the cd. And you know what, after listening to it a few times I really like it. So maybe she just writes those songs which only reveal themselves after repeated listens. It reminds me of Prince somewhere along the line – maybe the chords or tunings, maybe the semi jazzy playing. I could see him singing it. Its an intimate piano tune with horns and her voice which really reminds me of someone else but I can’t place who – but I have to say that rightly or wrongly she does still sound like someone who takes themselves a bit too seriously as an “artiste”.

 

 

So overall a great compilation. It must be pretty darn good to have stood up to numerous repeat listens. There is nothing on here which is quite as good as the Mighty Miss Jones but plenty of great music, Sunlounge and Shearwater in particular. Thanks Mike and thanks again to Swiss Toni for organising the shuffleathon in the first place.

 

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3 Responses to “Shuffleathon Review 2008”

  1. Mike A Says:

    What a fantastically detailed and thoughtful review! It makes me feel that the whole exercise was worthwhile. Re. UK funky house: one aspect I like is the syncopated soca-like kick in the drum track, which you can hear on tracks like “Bongo Jam”. I’ve been disappointed by Joan as PW live as well, but “Magpies” has a warmth and – as you say – a jazziness to it that connects very well with me. I only wish there was more in that vein on her second album. Interesting perspective on Mary Hampton; I don’t get that Hoxton Hipster vibe from her at all, but then I knew she was on Navigator right from the start! And for such a seemingly straightforward retro-flavoured pop-soul tune, it’s remarkable how much “Sandcastle Disco” continues to grow. Oh, and Living My Life was always my favourite Grace album too, with “Apple”/”Nipple” my favourite of her singles…

  2. thegreatgrapeape Says:

    Thank you Mike. And thank you for the cd itself and your extensive covering letter – it was clearly compiled with much care and thoroughly enjoyable. The Mary Hampton perspective didn’t come from any experience other than listening to the song itself – and it’s interesting how your mind does work when listening to songs in the absence of any hard background facts. Although after many listens it still sounds like something which has been contrived to sound like a lost psych folk nugget from 1971 to me. Of course the real biographical facts – of which I know none – could completely change my view of the song.

  3. ST Says:

    hurray! I declare this a success.

    Marvellous.

    I was lucky enough to receive a CD from Mike in last year’s shuffleathon, so had some idea what you might be in for, at least in terms of a carefully thought out, well-compiled CD. For that CD to then get such a fulsome, well thought our review really is the icing on the cake.

    Thanks for playing both. It’s pairings like this that make me feel like it’s all been worthwhile.

    ST

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