Updated: Jan 14, 2021
From the age of around six, every little boy (and for all I know, every little girl) lives their life according to a set of random but unbreakable rules. They might include never stepping on cracks in the pavement, always eating vegetables before meat and understanding that you have to know the personal stats of all First Division footballers and the name of their home ground before you can call yourself a football fan.
I have news. You don't grow out of that. It's time to explain how I choose the records I listen to each week.
I usually have 50 -60 records lined up to listen to. Each week I listen to between 8 and 10 albums, and usually add a similar number to the list from new reviews or recommendations. Now, if I chose the record I felt most like listening to at the time, there would be records that would linger on that list, unheard, for months. That would be the new to me stuff and the slightly off piste selections. My listening would resemble one of those road signs that has two lanes becoming one. So, I have developed my own random album selection protocol (RASP) that I use without fail every morning. It goes like this.
Ensure that your list of albums on Spotify is arranged in alphabetical order by artist.
Take a book, any book, and open it at random. (I say any book but, actually an atlas wouldn't work very well for this.)
For the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th record (Group A) you listen to in a week look at the left hand page.
For the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th record (Group B) look at the right hand page.
Note the initial letter of the first word on the page, and the page number.
For Group A, scan the Spotify list of albums from top to bottom. Listen to the first album you come to that begins with the initial letter you memorised at step 5.That's your album for the day.
If there is no album on the list that corresponds to the initial letter, add together the digits of the page number until the total falls within the number of albums on the list. So, for example, if the page number is 289, the total is 2+8+9 = 19. If you only have 12 albums lined up, do the calculation again so that 1+9 gives you the 10th album on the list to listen to that day.
Count down that number from the top, ignoring records you have already listened to but have not removed from the list. That's your album.
For Group B carry out the same exercise but scanning and counting from the bottom to the top.
Absolutely no cheating allowed, unless a record is released by a pre-determined group of artists (for example The Leisure Society, Trashcan Sinatras, Nick Lowe ) where to delay would be an act of self-inflicted cruelty.
Believe me, it works. It may also explain to you why it could be March or April before I review the new albums by Paul McCartney or AC/DC even though they released their albums last month!
Don't forget that each week I include the taster tracks in the Pop In the Real World Taster Tracks Spotify playlist. This includes all the taster tracks for the previous four weeks. I hope that by listening to this you can form a view if I'm reflecting your thoughts or if we have very different tastes.
The playlist can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. I'm still looking how to make the playlist more accessible to non Spotify users too. Watch this space.
I thought we'd go all Rolling Stones this week with the review headings. I'll think of a prize for any member who can list the albums that each of these songs first appeared on by 31st January 2021. The winner (if there is one) will be announced in the first Member's Newsletter in February. You'll be on your honour not to use Google or a similar search engine! You can sign up to be a member on the Home Page.
We Will Always Love You : The Avalanches
With this album, The Avalanches may be pioneering a new musical genre which I'm calling celestial soul (pun not intended!)
This is an other worldly experience. It soothes with its musical beauty, positivity and memorable tunes. It has an attitude to music that ensures the many samples used here grow into a whole that far exceeds the sum of its parts. It's a slightly strange listening experience. Songs float by and simply disappear as if you're passing through them in a spaceship traversing deep space. It's what you can imagine music in Heaven sounding like.
There are strokes of genius. Combining pop stars from different eras for example - Terence Trent D'Arby and Vashti Bunyan on 'Reflecting Light'. Or taking Mick Jones out of The Clash to join forces with someone from the disco world called Cola Boyy in one of the catchiest, addictive tunes for many years.
The sample based approach to creating their songs means that the Avalanches have millions of parts from millions of record to play with. Any track here breaking the two minute mark is a genuine song, not a collage of snippets and effects. The remaining tracks contribute to the ghostly feel that underpins the whole record.
I say to The Avalanches, if you keep this up we will always love YOU!
Taster Track : We Go On
Oh! Pardon Tu Dormais : Jane Birkin
There is something stylish, sophisticated and sexy about songs sung in French. So much so that when Jane Birkin sings in English the abrupt language change creates an effect not dissimilar to that which would be achieved in Mary Poppins broke into the studio, interrupted the recording and took over lead vocals.
I don't pretend to follow more than a fraction of the lyrics. It's enough to luxuriate in the cinematic sound of 'Ces Murs Epais' I gather that means 'These Thick Walls' bur in French it sounds so much better. Elsewhere there's a bouncy 60s It girl feel to the songs such as 'Cigarettes' (which I think can be translated as 'Coffin Sticks' reinforcing the point about language difference above.) Swooning strings, twangy guitar and backing vocals that are almost choral in places all point to this being an excellent pop album at heart. 'Pas D'Accord' shows that well.
In a word, this album is supercalifragilisticexpialidotious.
Taster Track : Max
Memory Lane : The Belmondos
If you wanted to sum this up in one word it would be 'chintz' - retro, slightly old fashioned, unthreatening and shiny. It's French but has a lot in common with polished pub rock drawing on music from the 60s and 70s. (I know. I seem to listen to a lot of this. I don't seek it out but it seems to be a 'thing' at the moment, particularly in the pages of Shindig magazine.)
To divert into a brief musical history lesson for the moment - I hope you're paying attention at the back - there are also 'ye ye' musical influences at play here. (You may be familiar enough with this to correct my explanation, but it was new to me and so I thought I'd share!) Ye Ye music started in warm, sunny Southern Europe and that's its sound. It's true that it tended to feature sexy, continental girls as singers rather than gnarled pub / bistro rockers but its origin was in the 'Yeah Yeah' backing vocals of the Beatles and so forth. Backing vocals are all over this record and imbue it with naive fun and sweetness that you don't often find. Was that the bell for break? History lesson over for today.
The highlights here are 'Get By', a punchier song compared to what follows, 'What For' which shows the whoo, whoos and soaring accompaniments and 'Until The Break of Day'.
In his entertaining and informative book 'Going Deaf For A Living' Steve LaMacq speculates that you need a mainstream to give music at the margins a chance to stay interesting. The Belmondos serve as the mainstream here, but they do so in and enjoyably entertaining way.
Taster Track : Get By
Generations : Will Butler
'Generations' wins you over by sheer force of its personality. I try not to compare acts to others that may not be familiar, but Will Butler is a member of Arcade Fire. This is Arcade Fire with the brakes off!
In a good way, this music is all over the place with unexpected left turns and sudden shifts in style. It's a busy record and quite exhausting, requiring repeat listens to absorb all that is going on. It works because the songs have been carefully constructed to prevent the wheels coming off.
'Bethlehem' is all frantic energy - the sound of a child or dog released from the car after a long drive to the beach. 'I Don't Know What I Don't Know' starts with a Dr Who bass synth before morphing into something rockier. There's dark humour in 'Not Gonna Die' where he reassures himself of all the ways he's not going to die before undoing all that good work by thinking of all the ways he might die. He's aided and abetted in this by a veritable choir of backing vocalists. And 'Surrender' is a great gospelly, call and response song.
Not one for calming the kids before bed, but one to kick the evening off with a bang after work.
Taster Track : Surrender
Everything Will Change : The Postal Service
The Postal Service are a curious band - an (ironically?) self-styled supergroup of performers no one has heard of. They released an album 'Give Up' in 2003. It was ahead of its time in melding sensitive indie rock to a gently electronic backing. They never received their due for this. With one thing and another they were never able to follow up the album and faded away - a nearly band that missed its moment, but maintaining a hard core of loyal fans.
'Everything Will Change is a late attempt to make amends for this. It's a live rendition of 'Give Up' performed in 2014. It's an opportunity to reflect on what might have been and to consider if they were actually as good as they appeared to be.
It makes a fair stab at preserving the legacy. The songs are pretty and they feel warmer and more tuneful that I remember. In a live setting a little more energy is welcome. 'Clark Gable' provides this. A couple of tracks, such as 'Nothing Better' and 'This Place Is A Prison' cause the momentum to dip causing the show to sag. The acid test is how their signature track ('Such Great Heights') stands up after nearly 20 years. The good news is that it stands up well. It's a great song
This is a live album though and should be assessed on those merits, not just as a testimony to their glory days. Does it succeed? I think so. There's enough variation from the original studio versions, some good interplay with the crowd and some wigging out against type on Natural Anthem.
'Everything Will Change' serves as a fitting tribute to the band and will satisfy fans . I think it will also attract some new fans so it's a job well done!
Taster Track : Some Great Heights
Football Money : Kiwi Jr
It's time to welcome a new favourite band - one that can sing about real life as most of us would recognise it, not the lovey dovey insular stuff of relationships. They're not turning their gaze on the dark corners of society. Their observations are directed at the worker gazing out of the office at 3 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon and away from their Excel spreadsheets. Their attitude is summed up on 'Salary Man' when they sing "My failures are put out to pasture. I gaze out the window. There is still poetry there."
Punk poetry maybe but poetry nonetheless.
There's a little manic desperation but that's more their attitude towards life, not their approach to music. It sounds a little raw and undeveloped in places but they have the tunes to more than compensate for that. Songs such as 'Salary Man', 'Gimme More' and 'Swimming Pool' will be lodged in my brain for days.
This is what indie music should sound like, unpolished gems. They're having a great time on this record and that comes across.
Kiwi Jr have another record out on 22nd January ' 'Cooler'.
Taster Track : Gimme More
Atlantis : Cats In Space
Sometimes a picture truly paints more than a thousand words! The band is pictured on the right. They sound exactly as you would expect a band that looks like that would sound. They're the band Spinal Tap could have been if they'd not imploded.
Some of you are going to hate this record. It's not retro, it unreconstituted '80s rawk!' It's Rainbow or The Darkness turned up to 11. 'Spaceship Superstar' merges the best of both bands with shrieking falsettos and frenzied guitar solos. Punk was supposed to have blown this kind of music away.
I've heard other records by Cats In Space and they've always had the all or nothing gung ho approach to rock. They're at their best when they soften this a little with shades of 10CC or ELO, as on 'Sunday Best' here. Those influences are less obvious here than previously.
All in all, this album is pure rock escapism. It doesn't always hold the attention, but it's enormous fun while it does.
Taster Track : Sunday Best
I'm Your Empress Of : Empress Of
On one level, you have to love Empress Of for incorporating her mother's spoken advice into her songs. It sounds as if they have a great relationship.
This is pop music for the clubs and there's a real 'go girl' attitude of empowerment throughout. It feels like a manifesto set to club music so, as you'd expect, these songs are quite beat heavy.
There's not much progression within songs here. They start as they mean to go on. Overall it did not work for me but there are still a couple of clear highlights. 'Maybe This Time' holds the attention with its spacier feel and 'Love Is A Drug' has a catchy refrain that stands out nicely from the rest of the song.
And oh yes. Listen to your Mum, Empress. She talks good sense!
Taster Track : Love Is A Drug
Gold Record : Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan signs off 'Pigeons', the opening track on this album with the words " Sincerely L. Cohen" And that, I think, is key to how you will feel about what awaits you here.
Before becoming a feted musician, Leonard Cohen was a poet. Bill Callahan has effectively set a number of story poems to a musical backing. It's more a poetry album than an album of songs. The semi-spoken lyrics add to this impression and the approach is conversational throughout.
This is not an album you can rush. It takes its time. It has music but no immediate hooks to snare your attention. 'Protest Song' relies on a repetitive theme based around a few notes. 'Mackenzies' may be a kind of ghost story embedded in kindness. It's deliberately not clear. The world view described throughout the album is summed up in the lines
" I'm the type of guy who sees a neighbour outside
And stays inside and hides."
The difficulty for me is that Bill Callahan (or his characters) are lost in their own worlds and are not engaged with ours. That disconnect feels strange. He seems to be playing for himself rather than for the listeners.
Bill Callahan signs off the opening track as Leonard Cohen, but he opens it with a declaration that he is Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was a master at storytelling through song. I just wish Bill Callahan had given more equal weight to his inner Cash rather than indulging his inner Cohen.
All that said, there is something compelling about the tone and storytelling. It's a powerful record on that basis.
Taster Track : The Mackenzies
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
20 Years of Trunk Funk : Various
It was -2 degrees outside but that wasn't why I had a problem when I listened to this six track EP. It was the music that left me cold, completely cold.
It was a Wax and Stamp vinyl subscription choice. Some times they get it right in unexpected ways. At other times, sadly, it just doesn't work for me.
This had beats, but no lyrics or melody to speak of. It felt as if it was aimed at DJs and Clubs at the expense of music fans.
The final straw was that the tracks for the whole EP are listed on one side only, but there's nothing to show which is Side A or Side B. That's not helpful for an instrumental collection. It means that I don't even know what I don't like, and I am unable to distinguish between the individual tracks.
Of course this may be your cup of tea so you will find something to enjoy. I'd be delighted to hear that. I have no wish to be completely down on any form of music and will offer a balancing view in a future review blog if anyone has a different view. And to be fair, Wax and Stamp's accompanying letter hailed it as an excellent collection of dance floor funk.
In the meantime, thank you to my wife for selecting the taster track by the expedient method of picking a number between 1 and 6. Enjoy.
Taster Track : Liberty - Vinny Villbass