Monday, October 9, 2017

The Stars of Heaven - Sacred Heart Hotel

Dublin band The Stars of Heaven released their debut album in 1986.  This was surely the era of the jangly guitar, even more so than the sixties.  It opens with the hushed clear, crisp guitars of the title track and Stephen Ryan's spooked-out vocals, with a very countrified feel which rocks a little towards the end.  Talk About It Now is a gently swaying country-rocker with a gorgeous guitar solo.  Admittedly there are echoes of what early REM were trying to do at the same time, (as does the faster You Only Say What Anyone Could Say) but it's still a great song.  A slow build up introduces the almost Meat Puppets-style country stomp of Moonstruck, a theme they revisit later on Man Without A Shadow which may be a little too much of a hoe-down for some.  The songs are brief, mainly 2 or 3 minutes long.  So You Know rocks harder than anything else here, while maintaining a little debt to the Byrds.  These songs (especially Folksong) are late night classics, downbeat jangly guitar songs.  

CD versions of this feature the Holyhead EP which is just as good.  Opening with the heavily acoustic country-rocker Never Saw You we get similar variations on the palette established by the album.  After the brief, guitar picking instrumental Before Holyhead, they get a bit more ricking on Widow's Walk and Someone's Getting Tired of You.  But such sharp, crisp guitars, this band definitely deserves more acclaim.  Beg, borrow or steal this one, it seems to be impossible to find.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Go-Betweens - Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express

The Go-Betweens released their fourth album in 1986.  At that time, arguably their finest album to date, it begins with Robert Forster's clarion call Spring Rain.  A perfect jangly guitar part introduces Forster's lyric of being "dressed in my white shirt with my hair combed straight", over a beat that can only be described as bouncy, until he gets to the chorus: "falling down like sheets... just like spring rain".  Accordion opens The Ghost and the Black Hat, leading nicely into the slow interlocking guitars of Grant McLennan's The Wrong Road with him lamenting over lyrics like "what was that phase, grace under pressure".  To Reach Me has a very mid-eighties chord progression, one that could almost feature in a John Hughes movie but for Forster's idiosyncratic voice.  Which is not meant in any way to denigrate the track, it has a fine melody and guitar work.

Forster is on fine form on this album and the centrepiece is probably the tense, late night Twin Layers of Lightning.  The song is almost like a reflection of Forster's doomed dramatic on stage persona in those days, with keyboards creating suspense and cool, understated but incredibly intricate guitars over Forster's detached singing.  It's an almost Smiths-like slowburner.  The mood dispelled by McLennan's dramatic In The Core of the Flame, all sweeping violins and swooping basslines and a cracking and yes, jangly guitar solo midway through.  It really is guitar heaven on this album with the likes of Head Full of Steam and Bow Down featuring not a note more than necessary, the latter featuring a particularly lovely violin part.

Final song is Apology Accepted.  Generally simpler and more direct than what precedes it, again the guitars here are just pristine with a simple plea from McLennan ("I gotta wait to see is my apology accepted").  Nobody really cared at the time.  Perhaps their tunes were 'too melodic'?  Anyway this is a great one for fans of intelligent guitar pop.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

DIIV - Oshin

The debut album from the band DIIV came out in 2012.  It's a kind of blend of shoegaze, The Cure and indie rock in general.  Everything is kind of indistinct, yet the album pulls you in, right from the instrumental opener (Druun).  Past Lives is the first song proper which continues in this vein, Zach Smith's vocals blending into the overall mix.  The liquid sounding guitars on here work really well across the album.  The appeal of the album is really odd, it challenges your set of values.  None of the admittedly fine songs are what you might call memorable, and they are all broadly similar.  Songs like Human, Air Conditioning and How Long Have You Known? all draw from the same palette.  Yet this collection of songs, though somewhat indescribable, is completely addictive.  And such shimmering guitars.

Wait is more keyboard dominated, while on the other hand Follow sounds like fast Slowdive.  Later, the title track is a bit more forceful and propulsive than the rest and Doused has a kind of frantic, post-punk pulse.  But really it's all about the sound here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Amazing - Gentle Stream

The Amazing released their third album in 2011.  It's a highly melodic, proggy mess of a thing, full of well played instruments and soft vocals.  The title track feels a little like Led Zeppelin's softer moments mixed with Neil Young.  Flashlight follows, at once folkier with rolling acoustic guitars and woodwind.  The very soft-rock International Hair is naggingly catchy without being especially memorable.  The somewhat overblown six and a half minute Dogs attempts a rockier feel but doesn't quite pull it off.  The band sound better on closing track When The Colours Change, a relatively uncomplicated song, with female backing vocals and electric guitar fills rounding out the sound.  Some versions contain the 'bonus' track Ghosts, a simpler acoustic track that harks back to the Red House Painters.

It's kind of a glorious failure of an album, full of ambition and complicated songs.  They would refine this formula after this.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic

Stephen Malkmus released his fourth album with the Jicks in 2011.  Produced by Beck, it's a fairly sprawling album encompassing 15 tracks of varying styles, opening with strummy pop song Tigers which is a fairly catchy tune bursting with ideas in two and a half minutes.  No One Is is more relaxed, featuring quiet guitar picking, occasional piano and brass.  It's one of the more enjoyable tracks here, with each instrument given room to breathe and occupy the space.

Those who miss Pavement are catered for here also with the trashy Senator, bashed guitars and dodgy lyrics ("what the senator wants is a blow job").  But mostly we get muso-Malkmus showing off his (considerable) talent on guitar on intricate, jammy songs like Brain Gallop, Spazz and the rocky Share The Red.  That's not to say they are without merit, the easy, melodic Asking Price and the pedal steel drenched Long Hard Book.  We also get poppier moments like the strummy Stick Figures In Love, the almost Ziggy-esque Tune Grief and the sixties-evoking Forever 28.  But at 15 tracks, admittedly for the most part, brief ones, there's a LOT to take in, making the album quite a dense listen.