30.12.11

2011 : A Baker's Dozen

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Barked
In alphabetical order:
Crystal Stilts - In Love With Oblivion (Sumberland)
Death In Vegas - Trans Love Energies (Portobello)
Discodeine - Discodeine (Pschent)
Factory Star - Enter Castle Perilous (Occultation)
Roman Flügel - Fatty Folders (Dial)
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake (Island)
Isolée - Well Spent Youth (Pampa)
Legowelt - The TEAC Life (Legowelt)
Seekae - +Dome (Rice Is Nice)
Sexy Leper - Portobello Ghosts (Can't Kiss)
Shimmering Stars - Violent Hearts (Almost Musique)
John Tejada - Parabolas (Kompakt)
Wire - Red Barked Tree (Pink Flag)

26.12.11

WIRE : XOYO, London - 23rd November 2011 (Live recording)

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I've been fortunate enough to see the mighty Wire twice this year - initially, back in February, at Nottingham's revitalised Rescue Rooms &, more recently, at Sheffield's so-so Plug earlier this month. They were were terrific on both occasions - they're back on undeniably great form at the moment - & both shows were encouragingly well attended too (on the back of their latest, marvelous Red Barked Tree LP, no doubt). Though, in every Wire crowd, there are always one or two elderly lags in Stiff Little Fingers shirts who persist in knocking back an excess of gassy lager & bellowing for "12XU" like it's still 1979, Wire reject such antediluvian requests outright these days, concentrating instead on current material & surprising selections from far flung corners of their prodigious back catalogue - & they're sounding all the better for it.

February's Nottingham set list focussed on their most recent brace of albums, Red Barked Tree (their finest full length work since 154 - fact), Object 47 & Send, with a handful of older numbers dotted throughout (i.e. "Kidney Bingos" & the perennial "Boiling Boy"). The current tour CD, Black Sessions (recorded last May for Bernard Lenoir's celebrated French Inter radio show, & released generally on 7th February), features a very similar song sequence. The Sheffield show, however, was quite staggering. Drawing extensively on their "difficult" 1980, post-Harvest era, Wire found room for half a dozen rarely aired tracks from Document & Eyewitness, & a further handful from subsequent archival collections like Behind The Curtain / Turns & Strokes. Conjecture suggests that, as the majority of those songs have never been attempted properly before (by Wire, at least - Colin Newman utilised a few of them on his early solo LPs, albeit in radically rearranged versions) the current line-up might be about to finally record them. Quizzed as to what the band would be up to in the coming year, Graham Lewis has confided that an "unusual" new project is already underway - leading to speculation that Wire might finally be in the process of provisionally assembling their aborted 4th Harvest LP. The possibility of both complete live sets from Document & Eyewitness being released has also been discussed - the controversial Electric Ballroom performance only ever having been available in severely truncated form until now, of course. All in all, 2012 sounds like a very exciting 12 months for the rabid Wire aficionado.

To whet your appetite, here's a decent recording of Wire's recent London show (23rd November at XOYO), featuring exactly the same set I saw them play in Sheffield. I discovered it during one of my occasional expeditions "off-road" into the murkier recesses of the 'net so I've no idea who's responsible, but many thanks to he/she/they anyway...

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n.b. Photographs by Steve Worral, from Wire's performance at Ray Davies' Meltdown, June 2011.

18.12.11

A Christmas card from FACTORY STAR.

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So then, 7 shopping days left until Christmas... I guess it's high time I mentioned this little charmer? A house move, & an intermittent 'net connection (cheers, Virgin), have reluctantly forced me off line recently, otherwise I'd have written about it much earlier...

Factory Star's "Lucybel" has been hanging around for a while now, I believe? I'm pretty sure I heard a tentative version of it this time last year - possibly recorded by an earlier incarnation of the band? Sounding less obviously disheveled than anything on their excellent (still!) Enter Castle Perilous LP, it's an unusually straightforward seasonal love song that breezes along beatifically in the style of post-Cale Velvets (rather aptly... it's a Yule-tide release after all). Redolent, musically, of The Sexual Objects' & Subway Sect's recent efforts, Factory Star are lyrically much darker than either, their rheumy, red-rimmed eyes & the cobwebs on their dilapidated overcoats suggesting that, despite the tender sentiments, they might've been surreptitiously bedding down in the local graveyard when they penned it (is the protagonist a fugitive murderer lamenting a dead lover, perhaps?). Melodically, it's one of those rare singles that you casually pop onto the turntable & find yourself still whistling along to 45 minutes later, ambushed, no doubt, by the rowdy Rowlsey Street chorus. Nevertheless, it's not too difficult to see why the band chose to omit "Lucybel" from the album proper - it's inclusion would have provided an uncomfortable dash of intrusive light relief amongst the lurid netherworld of overcast back alleys & shabby, skulking hopeless cases it's 10 bleak songs depict (making it an ideal standalone release, of course). As an observer & annotator of besmirched Northern Paperback Noir™, songwriter Martin Bramah remains virtually unrivaled - he & his fine band have released 2 0f my favourite (& certainly most listened to) records this year. Meanwhile, The Fall complacently stumble along like a 4th rate Nuggets act in search of inspiration & a half decent tune, while Steven Patrick - who, by his own admission, would rather throw her arms around Paris than Ancoats these days - has long since crumpled into defeated middle age. Oh, Manchester...

The b-side of the 7" is a stately cover of Enter Castle Perilous' "When Sleep Won't Come" by fellow Occultation artists, The Granite Shore. Though I know next to nothing about them, their gentle, twilit interpretation of Bramah's funereal lullaby suggests that a forthcoming LP (due next year apparently) will be well worth a listen. The CDEP features both songs & adds a couple more from the Factory Star LP - "Away Dull Care" (a personal favourite) & "Arise Europa" (whose hurtling organ driven ruckus invokes the caustic battle cries of The Greatest Hit). You can listen to both sides of the single on the Occultation website. You'll find more of Jim Donnelly's evocative photography there too. Happy Grimbo.

EDIT: Crystal Stilts' sublime In Love With Oblivion LP was another of my most played albums this year. Interestingly, it's follow-up, the 5-song Radiant Door EP, features this rather prescient cover version.