Listen to this track by LA-based concern with a penchant for vivid narratives Eels, led by head songwriter E (neé Mark Oliver Everett). It’s “Susan’s House”, the second single off of the band’s debut record Beautiful Freak in 1996.
This song, and its fellow single “Novocaine For The Soul” made a splash particularly in Britain where both of singles gained top ten chart showings. The success of this song surpassed that first single in the UK, quoting a piano figure from Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “Love Finds It’s Own Way“, and generally being a langourous and restful-sounding record, released in May of 1997 just as summer approached.
But, of course, there is plenty of restlessness to be found here in the urban landscape as traversed by the narrator as he makes his way to the titular location. There is plenty of tragedy, too. It makes one wonder whether this song isn’t just about a specific journey, but alludes to a greater one, too. Continue reading →
Listen to this track by Leeds-born new new wave quintet Kaiser Chiefs. It’s “Falling Awake” the newest single as taken from their upcoming and currently untitled sixth record.
After four albums in their original incarnation, and with their 2005 debut in Employment that made a splash big enough to provoke Brit Awards and Mercury Prize nominations, Kaiser Chiefs underwent something of a personnel change. After twelve years in the drum seat, co-founding member Nick Hodgson departed in 2012. The band were able to bounce back with a new drummer in Vijay Mistry, and with a new record last year, Education, Education, Education & War. That year, they also played for crowds at the London Olympics, playing “Pinball Wizard” subbing in for none other than The Who.
This year, the band are on the road again, with this single to serve as something of a preview for the awaited sixth full-length record. I got a chance to chat with Nick “Peanut” Baines, resident keyboardist and guitarist for the Kaiser Chiefs about the new single, their current tour, and about how the band is evolving from their mid-2000s original incarnation. Continue reading →
Listen to this track by Atlanta-born singer-songwriter Chan Marshall going under the name for which she is better known, Cat Power. It’s “I Don’t Blame You”, a single as taken from her 2003 album You Are Free. That record was a return to the stage after a three-year hiatus, resulting in her first record of original material since 1998, and her first charting album on the Billboard 100.
This song was the opening song on the album. But, it was the last one recorded on the sessions and was laid down almost as an afterthought. It remains to be Marshall’s personal favourite from the record; a spare and contemplative tale of fame, alienation, and ultimate loneliness. For many years, she was evasive about the central figure in the song, possibly because sometimes it’s often better for an artist not to spell things out for an audience. After all, explanations can change the perception of the work, which can risk undermining its power. In interviews, she said that the song could be about anyone. And really, she’s right. The story to be found here is a common one among those who take the elevator of fame upwards into the stratosphere, only to find that the air up there is often too thin to sustain them.
Eventually, though, the hero of the story was revealed to be he whom many had suspected all along; Kurt Cobain. Continue reading →
Listen to this track by Bentonia, Mississippi guitarist, pianist, and all-around legendary bluesman Skip James. It’s “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues”, a sepia-toned treasure from the age of delta country blues that would be featured on James’ 1966 album Today!
The song would be sourced from his repertoire that appeared many years before in 1931 with his initial recordings on the Paramount label. During that era, Skip James’ career as a full-time musician and songwriter would be scuppered by the Great Depression. When most of your audience doesn’t have a job, it’s hard for them to buy records. So, after recording his Paramount sides, he slipped back into obscurity. This economic reality had impact on many, including Mississippi John Hurt and Son House, among others.
But, like those two other musicians, Skip James would enjoy a second wind in the 1960s, thanks to a bona fide hero’s quest to find the grail of true American culture. Continue reading →
Listen to this track by Woking Surrey all mod cons power trio The Jam. It’s “Town Called Malice”, a smash single taken from 1982’s The Gift, their last record together. The song would be their third number one in Britain, and their first charting single in the United States. It would go on to grace soundtracks of movies for many years, including Billy Elliot, a story that is partly about life in a British town beset by economic woes.
The song is indeed a slice of life story of a town. In this case, it’s the hometown of the band, which is about forty minutes on the train outside of London. This is the suburbs, the same place in which another song, 1980’s “That’s Entertainment”, is set. But, instead of the youthful restlessness we saw in that tune, “Town Called Malice” reveals something more sinister underneath its similar scenes of suburban life, with something more at stake than youthful boredom and the need to break away.
Listen to this track by British funk soul collective and acid jazz scenesters Jamiroquai. It’s “Too Young To Die”, the second single as taken from their 1993 debut Emergency On Planet Earth. This version is the album version. A shorter radio version was released, scoring a top ten showing on the British charts.
The song combines the feel for early to mid-seventies grooves, complete with brass and string arrangements, with some unique ingredients of their own (a full-time didgeridoo player!). To the forefront is singer and principle Jason “Jay” Kay, who’s vocal stylings evoke a classic Stevie Wonder sound for which he was sometimes unfavourably compared. Stevie is a tough act to match. Yet Jamiroquai hit at just the right time, as British acid-jazz was gaining steam in the early nineties, also including acts like The Brand New Heavies, The James Taylor Quartet, and Ronny Jordan. After that scene petered out, Jamiroquai were still enjoying healthy chart action.
This song remains a highlight in the string of chart hits Jamiroquai put out during the nineties. Its retro feel is certainly musical in nature, full of jazzy chord progressions, funky bass, soul brass, and disco strings. But, the subject matter and the way that it is presented is pretty retro, too. It’s a political song that you can dance to. And it represented a shift from the paradigm of eighties and into a new decade, too.
Listen to this track by singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and arranger and producer with an ear for detail Ben Wilkins. It’s “Day To Day”, a track as featured off of his newest record All From Hello, his follow up to 2011’s self-titled début.
Like that début, this song and the rest of the record is lushly arranged with a slight nod to eras gone by. With this song, we get a special treat; none other than Bonnie Pointer formerly of The Pointer Sisters and a solo artist in her own right singing with Ben on a decidedly R&B-influenced song that shimmers with positivity. Mixed into that are hints of the shades of grey which can characterize the course of a life, with certainty and doubt constantly in flux; the pleasure and the pain from the heavens, yet falling down the drain, too. Ben recorded the new songs in his one-time base city of Montreal, embracing new textures, and yet with no less of an emphasis on intricate arrangements that hold a balance of their own; for all of their intricacy, they still allow the songs to breathe, and to get stuck in the heads of listeners. That’s always been one of Wilkins’ strengths. Yet this new record isn’t a case of more of the same.
I got a chance to talk to Ben via email about the new record, the business of writing a follow-up, and about a shift in sonic vocabulary that involved analogue synthesizers and an archaeological expedition to the record store on the hunt for mythical 12-inch R&B singles.