Back in early March when Willis Earl Beal played a few low-key, low down the bill gigs you had to feel a little sorry for those headlining. Communion Music had a healthy line up at Notting Hill Arts Club but Willis’s appearance shortly after 7 will surely have left all those following with the sinking realisation that some are imbued with a natural charisma and stage presence that no amount of studio graft or studying your craft can ever hope to match.
Often belting out his songs accapella or with just a reel-to-reel tape machine as backing, its impossible to take your eyes off Willis Earl Beal. His voice has a power that for all its plaudits failed to come across on his lo-fi debut LP. In fact the live Earl Beal feels like an entirely different artist.
Take “Away My Silent Lover” (below), the version on “Acoustmatic Sorcery” was recorded when he was homeless and leaving demo cd’s around with his phone number inked on. It has a charm but his voice is thin and the audio quality sounds like someone unearthed a dust covered Robert Johnson 78 by the roadside.
Now listen to the Notting Hill performance of the same song (video below). The voice booms, recalling the early 80’s gospel schooled chicago house vocalists like Robert Owens . I understand the romance and back story of releasing the demo’s as a debut but you cant help but wonder how incredible it couldve sounded with full production and full voice. The hope has to be that a properly recorded LP follows, allowing Willis’s talent to properly shine.
Earl Beal tried his hand at screen writing and acting under the name Jack Fate (the name of Bob Dylan’s character in the film “Masked and Anonymous”). Under the same name he collaborated with the producer Sleepdeath on a version of the song “An Evening’s Kiss” which eventually became his debut single on XL (albeit in a demo that probably predates Sleepdeath’s take). Listen and download the two very different versions below.
Record Store Day was dreamt up five years ago to support the often beleaguered Independent record store in these days of iTunes, Amazon and illegal downloads (from dodgy music blogs). As ever there are a ton of exclusive releases and quirky one-offs available from your local music emporium. Here are just a few but check the Record Store Day website to see what countries they are available in:
One of the most eagerly awaited releases must be the results of Tim Burgess’s trip to Nashville to record with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner. The appropriately named “A Case For Vinyl” is absolutely gorgeous and is one of three Record Store Day releases on his own O Genesis label along with a remix of “A Case For Vinyl” and The Vaccines and R Stevie Moore covering each other (“Post Break Up Sex” here)
Field Music have covered 2 Pet Shop Boys classics for their Record Store Day release. To be honest they dont really do it for me but then its tough to mess with the Pets.
Lamont/Bailey/Wall make a better job of the Pet Shop Boys / Dusty collaboration, “What I Have I Done To Deserve This” on an Irish compilation that wins the award for the most amusing concept. “Record Store Gay“ is a compilation of Irish bands covering their favourite Gay anthems
Jonnie Common is a Glasgow-based sonic boom of majestic devilry forged in the pottery kiln fires of Highland Perthshire, or so says his website, and since being introduced to him via SongByToad I’ve not found any reason to dispute that description.
The latest reason to love Mr Common comes in the form of an unlikely poignant ballad about the love that exists between a boy and a T-800 Series Model cybernetic organism otherwise known as The Terminator.
“I’ll Be Back” is a tribute to the film that made Schwarzenegger’s name, and hopefully its just the kind of charming, slightly oddball gem that’ll spread the word about Jonnie Common. It’s surprising how lines “you came and you saved me from untimely death… by a razor spike through the head” get stuck in your head. So please forward the video below to friends, retweet it, facebook it…and all the that social media malarkey.
If that tickled your fancy then be sure to go directly to last years “Master Of None” album (BUY), its on Manchester’s Red Dear Club label who also put out Young British Artists “Everything In Front Of You“.
“Photosynth” (below) was No.28 in my end of year countdown, and provides the answer to the question no ones been asking “What would Kraftwerk sound like if they lived in Glasgow?”. The opening bars alone almost make up for the hours I spent fruitlessly trying to get tickets for their 8 night residency in MoMa, New York.
Like a 2011 Annual, pasted with price reduction stickers and sitting forlornly in the bargain bin, my end of year list may have slightly missed its moment.
However as it’s the 7th year Ive engaged in this ludicrous pastime it’d be a shame to let it sit in “draft” status forever, even if it is the equivelent of being given a creme egg on halloween.
Someone once said that in the obsessive effort to try and hear everything, they’d managed to lose the joy of listening to anything. As my original 1000 song shortlist expanded rather than contracted through January I almost began to feel the same.
But these are 200 songs I absolutely adored in 2011. The order is a little suspect, and listening last night to a few between 100 and 150 almost had me tearing up the whole thing and starting again.
But “Best Of’s” are supposed to be individual, arbitrary, and of course hugely self indulgent. As an ex once said of the whole concept of having a music blog “why dont you just put up a picture of you blowing yourself“.
1. Adele – “Someone like you” “Sometimes it lasts in love, But sometimes it hurts instead”
Why do I feel like I need to apologise for putting Adele at No.1? The girl didn’t so much own 2011 as have it blindfolded, tied to the bed, and begging her to do as she please. Aside from the trifling matter of almost career ending throat surgery, Adele spent the year breaking records and hoovering up awards like cat hair. She even found herself a new fella, or album number 3 as he’s otherwise known.
And yet with success comes sneering. The Guardian declared her the leader of the New Bland, sitting astride a wave of beige pop that the paper somehow failed to notice during the preceding 40 years.
In January ’11 I saw Adele perform the song at a launch gig for the 21 album at Notting Hill’s Tabernacle. I’d not heard it before but instantly felt the same as I had when hearing her perform “Daydreamer” to a handful of people back in 2006 (my favourite track of that year).
“Don’t forget me, I beg,” – You haven’t really given me the chance, have you?
Please read The Quietus’s hilariously accurate critique of the lyrics to “Someone Like You” but while the article makes me chuckle I still think theres a no nonsense raw honesty to the lyrics. Back in January, she sang it barely a few feet from me accompanied by piano, lost in the words and by the end struggling to hold back the tears. Everyone present gave a huge gulp as it finished, breath taken by the beauty of both voice and words just as the audience at The Brits were later in the year (and by extension the 100 million viewers of that performance on Youtube). HolyMoly who were also there summed it up better than i can, “Adele feels like an opened window on the sweaty bus of popular music. There’s no artifice, no bullshit“.
Not content with the ballad of the year Adele with a little help from Jamie XX, Heatwave and assorted MC’s also provided one of THE tunes of this years Notting Hill Carnival.
Adele – “Rolling In The Heat (The Heatwave Re-Fix)”[audio:http://cdn03.cdn.gorillavsbear.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Adele-Jamie-XX-vs-Cecile-Mr-Lexx-Timberlee-Rolling-In-The-Heat-The-Heatwave-Refix.mp3]
Without doubt I have my moments of musical snobbery but sometimes you just have to admit the most popular may also actually be the best.
You see that limited edition DJ Only dub plate remix you got from a friend on an amusingly shaped USB stick, well let me break it to you softly, the woman who buys 3 CD’s a year exclusively from ASDA with her groceries, well this year her tunes were better than yours.
2. Tom Waits – “Hell Broke Luce” “How is it that the only ones responsible for making this mess Got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk” Facebook / Twitter / Website
There were two or three tracks on Waits latest album that could easily have occupied this slot, particularly the joyous rockabilly stomp of “Get Lost”. In the end though the sheer ferocity, anger and inventiveness of “Hell Broke Luce” wins out.
Inspired in part by the story of Iraq vet Jeff Lucey who committed suicide on his return from the Gulf. To the sound of a military march Waits barks his fury as discordant percussion crashes around him, machine guns fire and The Stone’s Keith Richards draws thunderous riffs from his guitar.
3. Flash Bang Grenada – “In A Perfect World” “In a perfect world tomahawks blow up in a bouquet of penises” Facebook / Twitter (Busdriver / Nocando)
LA Hip-Hop stalwarts Busdriver & Nocando have guested on each others records – notably Busdriver’s brilliant “Least Favourite Rapper” but Flash Bang Grenada (pronounced like the explosive, not the Caribbean island paradise) is their first and hopefully not last full length collaboration.
“If it was upto me everyone in the tea-party would be able to speak Farsi”
Busdriver packs more lyrical punch in one line than some do in entire careers, and “Perfect World” doesn’t disappoint. Listen to it on repeat to appreciative every quip filled couplet. The fact that it has the fattest squelchiest beat underneath doesn’t do any harm either.
Busdriver’s also back with his own new album too:
4. Speech Debelle – “Blaze Up A Fire (feat. Roots Manuva & Realism”) “I am not a pop star I’m a mother fucking thug”
Speech Debelle wrote “Blaze Up A Fire” months before the English riots of 2011, but in the wake of them she felt compelled to release it as a free download in advance of her 2nd album.
Speech Debelle (read full statement):
“I feel it could give insight into the hearts and minds of some of the people that have taken part in, not only the peaceful marches for Mark Duggan in Tottenham and the Smiley Culture march for justice, but also I believe it speaks of the frustration of many young people who took part in the rioting and the consequent looting over London and areas of the UK. I am not attempting to condone, I’m attempting to be a voice of understanding.
It’s without doubt that what these young people have been doing is destructive and shameful….
These young people are not aliens dropped down from outer space on Friday night, they are our children….
Only people who cannot envision a positive future will take part in the destruction of their own community and if we acknowledge that, then we to ask the question why somebody so young feels they have so little to look forward to? I cannot allow myself to dehumanise these kids and see them as my enemy“.
5. Drake – Marvin’s Room (Shlohmo’s Thru Tha Floor Remix)” / Burial – “Shell Of Light (Shlohmo Remix)” “I’ve had sex four times this week, I’ll explain, Having a hard time adjusting to fame”
LA’s Shlohmo has been turning out remixes to die for all year. His take on R&B colossus Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” is so laid back and soporific that putting it on a loop this morning transformed the hideous sweaty tumult of a London commute into something akin to chilling out in a floatation tank. Every shove, every bead of sweat, every disgruntled rustle of newspaper was nowt when given the unlikely soundtrack of Drake’s tale of 4 times a week sex and ill-advised hook ups with ex’s.
Shlohmo himself had this to say:
“I forgot i had this drake remix lyin around. this is seriously one of my fav songs of the year, if not ever. if youre one of those people that hates on pop music because you wear a backpack or smthing then plz chill out. try and appreciate shit even if u have to forget the context sometimes. good music is good music and u don’t have to front and pretend it’s below ur intellectual level“.
His remix of Burial’s “Shell Of Light” is if anything even better. Simply gobsmacking.
“been workin on this for the past few days. i just really couldn’t stop listening to the ending of “shell of light.” shit is so beautiful. so i did this so i could listen to it more. hope u like it ::)”
6.The Soft Close-Ups – “Fireworks” / The Melting Ice Caps – “Strike In The Dark”
“I was in love for at least six hours. You didn’t seem to notice. I must be more subtle than I know.” Facebook / Website / Download back catalogue free
David Shah’s The Melting Ice Caps have taken up permanent residency in my yearly Best of list, and with a new album due in Spring 2012 I may as well announce there’s only room for 199 others next year too.
His side project with Aug Stone “The Soft Close-Ups” also put out a collection and set of videos of their previously released songs this year and so qualify according to the strict “Its my list and ill do what I want to” rules.
“Fireworks” is my favourite, with its beautifully sparse production leaving little but a burbling 80′s synth to accompany David’s plaintive voice. It’s even more special when coupled with a simple but very effective video.
Willie Evans Jr, Producer, Rapper and video cut-up artist, not to mention sounding the spit of MF Doom at times.
“Nerd English” features an absolutly stonking guitar sample (what is it??) and a snarled refrain of “You Dont Have To Lie”
In the video Evans mocks wannabe thugs or gansters while playing Dungeons and Dragons, X-boxes and Comic books. References to Ben 10, Ninja Scroll, Grand Theft Auto abound and when delivering his beat version of Aloe Blacc’s “Good Times” album Evans posted this message:
“The good people over at High Water Music asked me to stop playing Tekken 6 long enough to talk about Billy Lotion. Billy Lotion is essentially the product of Sucio Smash letting me hear Aloe Blacc’s most recent album and then saying “What if you made a beat cd out of this album?””
8. Jóhann Jóhannsson – “Freedom From Want And Fear”
9. Roots Manuva – “Wha’ Mek”
10. The Caretaker: “Camaraderie At Arms Length”
11. Akira The Don – “Nothing Lasts Forever (feat. Envy)” / Akira The Don – “Living In The Future 2 (feat Scroobius Pip, Big Nastie, Eddie Argos…)
“I used to have a soul, but it got suck out… Cheers” Facebook / Twitter / Website
2011 was a vintage year for Hackney’s one man multimedia empire, Akira The Don. His Stephen Hague produced pop opus of a 2nd LP “The Life Equation” burst into life, he got married (and shot a video dedicated to his wife on honeymoon), and to cap it all he headlined the Music Like Dirt Oxjam night in Walthamstow (actually that last one may have been one of my highlights, not his).
“Nothing Lasts Forever” joins the pantheon of classic duet breakup songs stretching from Fred & Ginger calling the whole thing off, Streisand admonishing Diamond for a total failure to visit Interflora right upto Dusty asking Neil Tennant what she’s done to deserve this?
Akira & Envy may break up with less 80’s pop gloss and syn drums than the similarly Hague produced Dusty & Pet Shop Boys but its none the less a straight out belter of a pop song.
“Living In The Future 2” on the other hand is an hillarious ode to the future and the past. Scroobius Pip plays the caveman with non internet enabled phone while Akira declares the revolution wont be televised itll be embedded (tshirts available) and Big Nastie’s RIP’s the floppy disk. The highlight though is Eddie Argos’s absolute need for Ghostbusters 3.
12. M83 – “Midnight City” / Lupe Fiasco – “The End Of The World” “This one dedicated to the soldiers Throw up peace signs in the face of bulldozers”
Despite my youthful love of Vandross & O’Neal, it was the kaleidoscopic burst of colour and energy of the “How Will I Know” video, rather than the balladry of “Saving All My Love For You” that first turned my 15 year old ear to Whitney.
It was originally written for Janet Jackson’s “Control” album but when Janet’s team passed on the song Arista records supremo Clive Davis snapped it up as the perfect pop foil for the ballads he had lined up for the debut of the artists he’d snapped up two years previously.
Co writer Rubicam Shannon recalls “It wasn’t right for that (Control), but then our publishing company played it for Gerry Griffith when he was in Los Angeles gathering material for the unknown Whitney Houston. He loved it, sent it to Clive (Davis), and Clive said, ‘We must have it.’ And we said, ‘”
From the vantage point over 25 years later, having watched her voice and health deteriorate though self-abuse it’s difficult to remember the sheer vibrancy and vocal power of Whitney, especially during the quick turnaround of her Whitney Houston and Whitney albums.
Just listen to that voice on this clean vocal track of “How Will I Know“… stunning.
Listen to Hint’s tribute remix of “How Will I know?”
“On ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ I brought in the handclaps and things that really make the song swing for everyone,” says producer Narada Michael Walden. “I brought out the 808 bass drums, which were brand new at that time to bring in some more flavor for the record. I had to think about how to make the sound unique and how it was going to work with a hit chorus. I also had to think about how it was going to hit on the dance floors in New York, Detroit and Europe. Good things usually happen when you get a good spirit of happiness and a dose of funk in the music.
It was a pop demo so I had to try to make it more ghetto. Ghetto meaning more Black, more rough and more ready for the club. I brought in Randy Jackson to play the mote bass on the record and the guitar part is being really funked out by Corrado Rustici. I recall when we got to the ending where she was singing, ‘Say you want to dance, don’t you want to dance, say you want to dance,’ I thought it was great for a B chorus idea and it turned into a chant. The chant took the song up another notch and it became a number one smash hit across the entire world.”
In 2001 “Wanna Dance” was introduced afresh to a new generation when Richard X brilliantly grafted it onto the top of Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” for his Girls On Top Mashup project.
She’ll also be remembered for the moment she met Serge Gainbourg, and the priceless look on her face when the grand master of seduction is slightly, shall we say direct.
What about her signature tune, the track for which shelll be most remembered? Well, yes her cover of Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You” is a vocal tour de force but for this heart at least it doesnt come close to Dolly Parton singing it to Burt Reynolds at the end of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas“.
A sampled snippet of Whitney’s version does however feature in Ital’s current “Doesn’t Matter If You Love Him“. It’s used with aplomb a minute or so in, amongst the Lady Gaga samples and the sound of Tackhead making a house tune.
Despite not exactly looking after her voice, Whitney
The two titans of the Tru-Thoughts record label, Alice Russell & Quantic have finally bowed to pressure and hooked up for a full collaborative album.
As appetisers go “Look Around The Corner” will have fans of both artists counting the days until the LP drops in April (Pre-Order: UK / US).
Just listen to that big string section, gorgeous production, and of course Alice’s soulful vocals. Recorded at Quantic’s Sonido del Valle studio in Cali, Colombia.
Tru-Thoughts report that Chicago’s Chess label was a big influence on the production aesthetic, and a mutual love of Minnie Riperton fed into the vocal melodies.
I’ve been to a few gigs over the years but I can’t think of many occasions where I’ve given much thought to whoever organised it, beyond perhaps.. which idiot chose this support band or the running order says stage time 9…Its 9.30 now!
After “organising” (in the loosest sense of the word) Oxjam Walthamstow I’ll forever have a respect for promoters and their secret language of backlines, di’s, breakables & get-ins.
In the months between committing to put an Oxfam gig and the night itself I’ve gone from angst to wild eyed panic. At any moment a banquet of worry on which to feast… will the bands you love agree to play… wow they agreed, now what order to play in, which venue, how do I find kit cheaply, create publicity on a zero budget…
By the day itself I was a whirling dervish, dashing to collect a microwave to raffle, stressing over whether the children’s “You’re a star (cute bunnyrabbit)” handstamp or office envelope date stamp is best suited to marking punters. Arriving at the venue slightly late with bits of drumkit squeezed into every nook of my Nissan Micra I was so distracted by a mental checklist of things to do that I bumped the car into the car park wall. On cue the passenger window gave way, slid down with a clunk and refused to countenance the prospect of shutting again.
Anyway you get the picture, less Bill Graham, more Frank Spencer… on roller skates… going under a bus.
Attending a really well organised Oxjam elsewhere in North London a couple of nights earlier hadn’t exactly quelled my fears. Listed in Time Out (unlike me despite numerous attempts) it spanned 3 rooms with inspired comedy, an eclectic mix of live music, and DJ’s (including Coldcut’s Matt Black!!) It was genuinely superb from the soul of Nike Jemiyo backed by south London’s answer to The Dapkings to the amusingly titled Yorkshire Rapper (Listen to “Up North” – up north up north up north).
The only problem… As the night went on it became clear that a high percentage of the not exactly numerous audience was made up of members of the bands performing. Even worse the far from “Sensible” headliner had pulled out that morning after demanding more cash and to be chaffered to the venue!!!
"If this doesn't work I could just stand like this all night"
It’s the little things, so many little things, that trip you up.
Take the picture (above) featuring my puzzled attempts to construct a desk for CDJ’s out of empty beer crates and a stray coffee table, while in the background the sound man knocks up a wire for the mixers non-standard output. Meanwhile it’s an hour and a half before doors, 4 acts to soundcheck and time seems to be the only thing rushing.
The soundguy’s so laid back he appears to move in as if filmed in timelapse. It stressed the hell out of me but was thankfully merely the calmness and consummate skill that comes with having seen it and done it all before… “it’ll be fine” he reassured. Sure enough only 20 minutes after the advertised time, the doors were flung open and fortified by a glass of dry white, the volunteer on the door began to take punters money. Punters! Actual real people have come… and there are some I dont know by name.
THE MELTING ICE CAPS (Above)
I’d love to be able to give you a band by band review but the entire night exists to me only as some vague blur so if anyone wants to tell me what it was like please do!
All I can say with any certainty is thank god for Akira The Don, not only for performing but for his wildly enthusiastic hosting. He set the tone introducing The Melting Ice Caps (or Melty Ice Caps as he took to calling them) as his new favourite band… “OH MYYY GODD they’re incredible!“.
Described by a friend as “Divine Comedy channelling Morrissey in Marc Almond’s boudoir while wearing a Pet Shop Boy’s scarf” I’ve seen David Shah’s Melting Ice Caps a few times. Most notably a hilariously fractious performance, accompanied only by a DVD player in a sunken pit in the corner of a boozer. At the end of a truncated set Shah quite rightly declared “Im never playing here again“.
Thankfully for Oxjam Shah took full advantage of The Standard’s unusually wide stage with the full band Ice Cap experience, now with added Sax. New tracks “Join The Dots” and “In Bloom” were given an airing ahead of an EP in the new year, along with many of their nine “mostly free to download” singles (Grab them here).
A stray set list at the end of the night revealed that even with a bumper 45 minute slot there was no room for the superb “Pavlovian Boy“, or singles “Being No One” and the melancholic magnificence of the breakup song “Hard To Get“. As ever it ended with “Selfish Bachelor“, the diamond in a jewel encrusted crown of bittersweet pop songs. “You’ve been the best audiences we’ve had all year” said Shah before adding “although this is only the third time we’ve played…“.
For some reason #oxjamwalthamstow wasn’t trending worldwide at this point but word of the mighty Ice Caps did spread into the twitterverse with the local MP tweeting from Westminster:
Mise En Scene, Through a prism, Join the dots
Strike in the dark [audio:http://www.musiclikedirt.com/wp-content/MP3/strikeinthedark.mp3]
our lovely afternoon
le cafe et les hommes, in bloom, ohio
between eros and agape
Barbarossa (Italian for “red beard”) has been around in various guises since 2006, and recorded the first and so far only MusicLikeDirt Live session earlier in the year during a brief sojourn under his real name James Mathe. Most recently “Stones” a track featuring Jon Hopkins from the 2006 LP “Sea Like Blood” LP featured on the hit US series “How I Met Your Mother“. Fans of the show filled chat rooms with plea’s like “Help! I need to know what that song at the end of the last episode was… I want to play it at my wedding!!“. Basically the man’s got a beautiful voice, what more is there to say? That voice was even more to the fore as this was a solo stripped down performance, just James with his instruments spread out across 3 low tables.
The gig took place days before he was due to head to the hills outside Manchester to record