Monday, January 25, 2016

James Yorkston and the Athletes - Moving Up Country

James Yorkston and the Athletes released their debut album in 2002.  What set Yorkston and co apart from their fellow Scottish sad b**t**ds at the time was the fact that the music is very much folk-inflected.  Opener In Your Hands is a prime example, relaxed rolling guitars, gentle percussion and Yorkston's gentle, soothing voice, joined by accordion and harmonica.  The violin on St Patrick and accordion on Sweet Jesus gives these songs a sort of "trad" feel.  But just when the album might start to seem a bit samey, one of the standouts, torch song Tender to the Blues arrives.  A rather doleful lament, the accordion featuring here feels a little more... continental, but the centrepiece is a fine vocal by Yorkston, singing "I'm no fool, my heart's just exposed".

The mood shifts again with the lazy, carefree Moving Up Country, Roaring The Gospel.  One of the really chilled out moments here, the guitar, piano, concertina and clarinet combine to great effect.  Cheating the Game features banjo, brushes and concertina, while pacy strum I Spy Dogs is the fastest thing here.  Later, 6:30 Is Just Way Too Early has a fine, languid guitar and organ before the album finishes with a decent version of the traditional I Know My Love.  So a fine, relaxed album for lazy days.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Songs: Ohia - Didn't It Rain

After the woozy delights of Ghost Tropic, Jason Molina released quite a different sounding album in 2002 in Didn't It Rain.  It feels for first time like a band album rather than solo.  And it sounds like he's taken a dose of Neil Young.  The title track is like Young's Old Man but slower and darker with Jennie Benford providing a moody wordless vocal accompaniment, over clean and clear guitar chords.  The tension is ratcheted up a notch on the following track Steve Albini's Blues, where a simple, insistent two chord guitar progression lasts throughout the song as Molina and co softly moan "on the bridge out of Hammond".

Ring the Bell introduces a fuller, more rounded sound as the repetitive, loping chords sway back and forth.  Later, the album shifts to prime Zuma-era Crazy Horse with the swaying Blue Factory Flame.  The track is strangely addictive, as over eight minutes Molina and Benford sing repeatedly about being "paralysed by the emptiness".  After the brief Two Blue Lights the album concludes with Blue Chicago Moon.  Those disillusioned with Neil Young's more recent material could do worse than check this out, though it's beyond imitation, the track is unhurried, taking its sweet time to unfurl.  Molina again makes use of repetition, singing about "endless, endless, endless depression".

It's another fine album from Jason Molina, showing progression from Ghost Tropic, really getting into his stride on this one.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Songs: Ohia - Ghost Tropic

Album number five by Jason Molina under the name Songs: Ohia was released in 2000.  It's an odd, unsettling album but to my mind it's Molina's first great album.  Rather than announcing itself, it oozes through your speakers with Lightning Risked It All.  Ramshackle percussion and guitar provide the backdrop for Molina to gently moan about "the broad luck of blood on the water".  It's kind of spooky and mysterious, a mood that lasts through the album.  With the most minimal information on the album cover, it's hard to get what is being played on tracks like the old-timey, shimmering The Body Burned Away there appears to be a banjo with the merest of piano and a plucked guitar.  The music is almost impressionistic, it's hard to explain or replicate what;s going on.  If anything approximates an 'old school' Songs: Ohia track, it's the sparse, snail-paced No Limits On The Words, where a guitar twangs gently and Molina mumbles morosely, though seldom at the same time.  

A feature of this album are two instrumental title tracks, both featuring tropical birds.  They differ musically, the first is pedal-steel based and drifts along with a sort of lonesome melody, while the second has a gloomy keyboard, but both add to the mood of the album.  The darkest yet possibly loveliest number is The Ocean's Nerves.  Introduced by a shuffling beat akin to a death march, a guitar picks out a gently descending melody on what is the most conventional sounding track here.  Molina doesn't sound bitter, merely resigned singing "I am a red flame hanging low to be close to it, hanging low to be close to you".  The remaining two tracks are the longest at 12 minutes each and not a lot happens throughout.  Not Just A Ghost's Heart drifts by till nine minutes in, the guitars erupt into noise.  Incantation is a fitting title for the final track, on the verge of drifting into nothing for the entire length of the track.  It's undeniably a strange album, but a highly addictive one.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Top 10 posts of 2015

Here's a rundown on the most popular posts of 2015:

10 Smashing Pumpkins - Machina/The Machines of God

9 Elliott Smith - New Moon

8 Midlake - The Courage of Others

7 Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther

5 Songs: Ohia

5 Midlake - Antiphon

4 Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie - Travels In Constant

3 Mark Eitzel - Caught In A Trap And I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much Baby

2 The Posies - Frosting On The Beater

1 Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell