Something for the weekend? For lovers of guitar driven rock two of my favourite bands, which I got to connect with through Bandcamp have recently released some new material, Mouth Reader from Murfreesboro, Tennessee and The Sharp Medicine from Los Angeles, California. Enjoy the noise.
Great to see and hear new material from Sharp Medicine.
Released August 9, 2016. Written and arranged by Andrew Stein and The Sharp Medicine
Vocals & Guitar: Andrew Stein
Bass & Vocals: Anthony Vancture
Drums: Mike Krol
Guitar and drums recorded at Downtown Rehearsal Studios in Los Angeles. Lead vocals recorded at Formosa Studios in Santa Monica. Bass guitar, backing vocals and synth recorded in Anthony Vancture’s closet.
A sense of deja vu awaits as I leave the summer drizzle descending from the clouds hovering over Glasgow and the a 24 hour flight to reach Adelaide, Australia. Yet here I am in the capital city of South Australia, the country’s fifth-largest city with a resident population of 1.29 million and the next stop on my virtual Old Man Adventure in Bandcamp. Adelaide is city with many stories emerging from its humble history. Prior to 1836 Adelaide was inhabited by the indigenous Kaurna Aboriginal nation. Today it is another ‘modern’ industrialised city dealing with its aspirations and tensions, which provide the perfect conditions for creative forces. Adelaide is also home to the joyous No Action.
Patti Smith once said, “punk rock is just another word for freedom” which I can relate too and is reflected in the reinvigorating army of small, independent, lo-fi, do it yourself bands beavering away in towns and cities across the globe. I get jaundice with people, normally men my age, who have deluded themselves with romantic memories of the 1977 punk scene as some type of musical year zero. This was not the case. The DIY garage band ethic has always been a feature in modern music with artists swimming against the tide, challenging convention and giving the middle finger to the corporations. My enduring memory from this period is not the bands who swore and spat their way into the headlines, but the small regional bands. The bands consisting of the neighbourhood shy boy who had secretly been scribbling down lyrics and the kid who had managed to achieve a 3rd chord. A few weeks later they were to be found playing in a local pub, youth club or garage gig. The crap posters that seemed to look cool and the limited cassette run for your small group of fans. The results were often messy, but strangely beautiful given music ultimately is about people, having fun, celebration, connection and expression. No where is this reinvigoration more evident than through the band No Action a self titled soul punk rock group. I like the injection of soul given this creative tension sums up the band perfectly.
Bandcamp comes into its own when you stumble across bands like No Action, who are an absolute gem to discover. Unlike most bands of this genre you never quite know what you are going to get with No Action be it 3 minutes of punk, a reflective acoustic number or indeed a mixture of both in a single track. In an era of mass produced and corporately manufactured music No Action are a shining beacon of integrity. There blistering and brilliant 7″ vinyl Never Close/Riding in the Whirlwind is testament to this. Riding in the Whirlwind is a melancholic and bittersweet acoustic affair, “got a record no one wants to buy and a t shirt no one seems to fit. had a date with an empty bar” chronicling the struggles of a band and relationships. “Call me ungrateful, call me broke, call me when you’ve got the credit.”
Never Close is a different kettle of fish altogether, which opens up with pounding drums followed by a grinding bass. As Nick Godfrey (bassist with the band) explained to me, “The main influence on the Never Close song would be Silkworm and maybe Archers of Loaf but it sounds more like U2, the main influence on the Ride in the Whirlwind song was Comet Gain but it sounds more like You Am I or the Lucksmiths. The important lesson here is to BE YOURSELF and let your true creative voice shine through.” Personally, my observation would be the guitar work on Never Close is more aligned to Keith Levene (Public Image Limited) a quick search for PIL’s glorious Albatross track will confirm where U2’s The Edge stole his licks from.
A further No Action release I managed to obtain is the spilt cassette tape release (yes you heard me right a cassette tape), which paired No Action with UK band Plaids from Nottingham. Plaids provide a punchy angular punk/emo rock approach played out in frenetic pace against No Actions more subtle and gritty lo-fi tracks. So what where the influences behind the two tracks provided by No Action on the spilt release I asked Nick, “The tape is a funny story so I’ll start with that. The acoustic song was one we originally wrote when we found out we were going to do a split release with Roger King from Bakersfield California, home of Korn and Merle Haggard. Up until that point Roger King’s solo output had been acoustic stuff, so we wrote and recorded an acoustic song that would match that. Then he sent his track to us and he’d done a rockin’ plugged in track! So we ended up palming our acoustic song off to the Plaids split.”
The two No Action tracks, which appear on the cassette, Nick rates the second track Solar Steps, as his personal favourite by the band to date, “It’s the most fun to play on the bass. It was the second song we wrote and we probably haven’t got any better since then. The rockin’ plugged in version of the Solar Steps song which will appear on our one-day-to-be-relased debut album is good too” And the obligatory Old Man question, If the band had the opportunity to collaborate with any other artist or band who would it be Nick, “John, this is a really tough question that I’ve been puzzling over all weekend. I like the Mars to Stay band and what they’re all about, so I’m going to say them.”
No Action are a very coherent and exciting band who in many ways defy logic. Bands like this tend to take a single approach when facing their musical crossroads. It is refreshing to hear a mix of influences as a platform rather than a band simply trying to replicate something they’ve heard elsewhere. So we end up with creative tensions. Grinding punk, which is not simply trying to get as much noise and lyrics stuffed into the required 3 minutes as possible, alongside subtle acoustic offerings. The lo-fi recordings just add the imperfections that make these recordings stand out from the crowd. I can’t wait for the album when it does finally appear.
You can also enjoy further No Action tracks on their Soundcloud site and keep up with their journey via their Facebook page. Enjoy and respect.
The long journey up north past my native North East over Hadrian’s Wall and to Glasgow where the wonderful Electric Company Label is beckoning me on the next stop of my old man adventures. Unknown to myself, well until I wrote this blog, I have a deep appreciation of the Scottish rock scene beyond the parody that is Rod Stewart. I will blame Rod for my ignorance given he inflicted his phoney Scottish jiggery pokery on me from a young age, caused serious trauma and inflicted Scottish blindness. At a time when any self respecting youngster was exploring The Clash, Pistols, Damned, Ramones and Buzzcocks, Rod in 1977 released his Hot Legs single from the equally bombastic album Footloose and Fancy Free. Unlike now there was no fast forward on live TV, so we duly had to sit through Rod swinging his thing before 3 minutes of punk was allotted its given time on Top of the Pops. My trauma was recently reinvigorated when I discovered Bon Jovi apparently perform Hot Legs occasionally as part of their live set, but a quick google search for Rod Stewart 1970s and then Jon Bon Jovi 1980s and it all makes perfect sense.
Anyway enough of this nonsense. A quick dig through my music collection whilst preparing this blog reveals Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Teenage Fan Club, The Vaselines, The Rezillos, Belle and Sebastian, but to name a few all lurking there and all originate from Scottish shores. I hold my hand up in shame and accept my ignorance, which I take responsibility to tackle. As with any vibrant music scene an ecosystem is required, which is is independent, experimenting with the past and probing the future to produce a glorious wall of sound. This cultural ecosystems by its very nature is often known only to the locals until a buzz emerges, but the rise of the internet has created opportunities for the virtual traveler to be exposed to these gems. This is particularly rewarding when, if like me, you have a leaning towards lo-fi fussy guitar rock and sublime songwriting with twisted lyrics that often fail to penetrate the mainstream pop world. Yet it is these humble cultural ecosystems, which create the fertile ground for mighty musical oaks to grow and the catalogue of Glasgow’s Electric Company label sits there like a shiny emerald.
Launched in April 2013, Electric Company release and distribute music by some of the most exciting and forward-thinking artists, on a wide range of formats, including vinyl, cd, cassette and digital download. Boasting a passion for DIY ethics and armed with their own studio enables the label to support artists to be heard without the pull of corporate strings. This in turn creates a unique artistic hub where everything from recording, artwork and merchandise to live booking can be done in house and purely for the love of music. As with any small business running an independent music enterprise takes nerves, commitment and to a certain degree of passion bordering on obsession. So it is always an immense pleasure to stumble across a label like Electric Company. On my initial dip into the label’s catalogue I purchased 3 offerings.
The New Fabian Society: Cyclothymia/Homily 7″ vinyl and digital download £5 (digital download £2)
Released on a limited run of 250 copies Cyclothymia is a pulsating 3 minutes 27 seconds of glorious guitar infused post punk delivered at Ramones break neck speed whilst Homily is reminiscent of Joy Division (before the hype) at their desolate best. The band follow up release Barbarossa which is also available on Bancamp (name your price offer) demonstrates a band growing in skill attitude and craft Provided with the right opportunities and presented with the necessary good luck all artists require this band have all the credentials to develop into something rather special.
The Dirty Lies: Release EP cassette and digital download £5
The Release EP is a collection of 6 brilliantly twisted pop songs. Athough I feel it only right to give you a little warning before you take a listen. Beneath the pleasant beats and harmonies are some rather spine chilling lyrics, which make one feel the songwriter was abandoned on the steps of a church at birth and left to be reared by a couple of zealots. The sublime opening lyrics to Shallow Grave, “I hope you fail in love, I hope you break your heart, I will be your enemy, I’ll be your shallow grave” are just about the most soberingly and brilliant opening lyrics for a track I’ve heard for quite some time. Each track on the cassette comes in at about 3 minutes, which means there is little too no fat in production and delivery.
Various: DIY or Die Volume 1 cassette and digital download £4
Four bands, four songs for four quid no bad going and a cassette thrown as well. The cassette opens with Twin Mirror’s New Edition a good old fashioned punk rally. Secret Motorbikes – Is Dis 4 real a swaggering pop anthem. Deathcats – Saturday Night Golden Retriever a guitar riffed to the ceiling romp. Future Glue – Time to Kill a burning blend of punk surf meets 1950s trash rock. All together this is a mighty fine split tape, which is ready made for rolling down the car window on a warm summers evening and terrifying the neighbourhood.
My ignorance has been well and truly laid to rest and like Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and London, Glasgow is up there with the best and I thank Electric Company for the education.
Renowned and often credited with being the inventor of modern ambient music, which many try to emulate. A genius he maybe, but Brian Eno certainly as a lot to answer for in my view. Bandcamp is cluttered with lonely souls who are cramped up in desolate bedrooms with their laptops striving to create something interesting from overlaid, looped and distorted droned tones that are absent of traditional musical structures.
Personally I’ve always been a little susceptible to the odd Eno album and must admit to having a few in my collection, but it is the type of music I purchase very sparingly.
Advancement in technology has created access for most people regardless of capabilities to produce something that would have sounded groundbreaking back in the 70s and 80s. This is healthy and to be encouraged, but this is also one of my criticism of this music genre. We end up with a vast field of producers creating an abundance of medico material. I need to be brutally honest. Once you have heard one stretched out and droned note that has been processed to death on a computer, well it can be a down hill experience afterwards because the next offering is properly going to sound very much the same. Don’t get me wrong whilst I consider albums like Apex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume 2’ a certified classic. Many artists, including Radiohead, Lou Reed, U2 and Nick Cave have all dabbled in this genre with the results (in my view) being varied to say the least. 1995s Passengers (U2, Eno plus guests) Album ‘Original Soundtracks No 1’ was so pretentious that even U2’s Larry Mullen quite rightly observed, “There’s a thin line between interesting music and self-indulgence. We crossed it on the Passengers record.” The only saving grace for the album was the ‘Miss Sarajevo’ track , which featured the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti on vocals.
It is when ambient music is not solely dependent upon the one trick pony of synthesised drones that the genre starts to come alive and provoke something interesting for me. Eno himself defines ambient music as, “evoking an atmospheric, visual, unobtrusive quality” and personally for me only a handful of albums over the past 15 years have stood out by using Eno’s template. Here is a selection from my collection:
The soundtrack from the film ‘Monster’s Ball’. The scores by Asche and Spencer are just spine chilling and fragility personified. The Boards of Canada ‘Geogaddi’ is a mesmerising kaleidoscope of sounds. Mum, ‘Finally we are no one’ is a beautiful and fragile landscape. I saw Lampchop perform ‘Nixon’ live at the Royal Albert Hall, London. I have never seen so many people on one stage create so little noise. Sigur Ros, ‘Med Sud i Eyrum’ album was for me their coming of age. The Laurie Anderson album ‘Life of a String’ is just beautifully haunting.
I have recently added a further release to this list. The EP ‘Cloud Ensemble’ by Cloud Ensemble, which consists of 3 tracks and is the product of a file sharing project between:
Michel Banabila : ebow, guitar, logic pro, field recordings
Grzegorz Bojanek : field recordings
Oene van Geel : viola, stroh violin
Radboud Mens : glass sounds, dopplo, treatments
Yuko Parris : voice, squeaky sounds, electric piano
Rutger Zuydervelt : philicorda organ
Here and There is a 10 minute soundscape that captures a mixture of delicate voices flowing over almost orchestrated instruments and field recordings. Perfectly blended with the voice samples the track is an absolutely sublime Friday evening wind down track, especially with headphones. Hide and Seek takes a different direction with whispered vocals the track builds and encompasses disjointed beat structures. Silent World the final track on the EP returns to the soundscape mode, but minus vocals.
I recently caught up with Michel Banabila from Cloud Ensemble and asked him the three Old Man questions:
JK: What was the main influences behind the album?
MB: Simply to collaborate. Everybody immediatly said yes. We like each others music of course. So I think there is an influence from everybody of the ensemble in the end result.
JK: Which is your favourite track and why?
MB: That might be for different for each of us. I like all three tracks. These three tracks are all a bit different from each other.
JK: If you could have a guest artist to appear on your next venture who would it be (dead or alive) and why?
MB: We are now working on the next recordings. I really hope we will do another album. So my favourite guest in future projects would simply be everybody from the Cloud Ensemble 🙂
The EP ventures into wide-eyed fairy-tale qualities at times by delivering simple melodic bliss to the listener. It will certainly not be for everybody, especially if your ear requires conventional song and rhythm structures, or crushing guitar solos. It is the conglomerate of instruments on the EP that initially gain attention, but ultimately the tender vocals on track 1 & 2 that add breadth to this beautiful journey.
There is 150 limited edition 1o” vinyl/hand numbered copies of the EP up for grabs via Bandcamp @ £6.40 (€8) plus postage, which also comes with an immediate download. A digital copy of the EP comes in @ £4.05 (€5). Enjoy.