Fergal’s Top Pop Picks 2018 (Part One)

Fergal Corscadden, guitarist with Derry noisy boys the Gatefolds, has, like one of his heroes Hunter S Thompson, little respect for deadlines. December’s request for 3 musical highlights of the year finally showed up this week, there were 4 & blimey it was long. I’m not complaining, it’s worth the wait & yer man’s unpredictability is one of the reasons we are friends. Here’s Part One of Fergal’s picks.

So much great music in 2018 and thankfully an album which came along and clobbered me over the head…in a good way. IDLES’ debut “Brutalism” was one of my favourites of 2017 & their sophomore effort , “Joy As An Act Of Resistance”, released  in August 2018, is like a free hug from the Bristol UK based quintet. It’s difficult to write about this album without getting a whole lot emotional. Embrace IDLES’ angry & positive responses to the modern malaise of toxic masculinity, death, self-hatred, tabloid bile, all that crap & passive approval is just not enough.

 

Image result for idles joy as an act of resistanceThe  motorik backline of my new favourite drummer Jon Beavis (sorry, Sean Feeney) and bassist Adam “Dev” Devonshire combine with the screeching guitars of Lee Kiernan and Mark “Bobo” Bowen, a fellow from Bangor NI, to provide a succinct, sharp, breakneck backing to match the lyrics of frontman Joe Talbot. IDLES’ direct, no bullshit approach has been labelled Punk though middle aged veterans of the Punk Wars, self-appointed keepers of the flame, have been quick to shout “Fake”.  “For the last time, we’re not a fucking Punk band” said Joe in 2018 & he should know.

 

“The mask of masculinity is a mask that’s wearing me” (“Samaritans”). From the opening track “Colossus” through “Never Fight a Man With a Perm”, “Samaritans” & the one about the coked-up bankers at a funeral (“Gram Rock”) IDLES approach the dilemma of the modern male with alacrity, confidence & GREAT songs. The cover “Cry To Me”, “Love Song” &”June” are concerned with personal trauma. “I’m Scum” & “Television” with the false imagery of UK mass media. “Danny Nedelko” is about the immigrant you work alongside, the one who brings Eastern European beer when he comes round your house to watch the football. The guy who isn’t here to steal your job but, just like you, is playing the hand that Life has dealt the best he can. It’s brilliant & it goes like this…

 

 

This album is passionate and positive. Its delivery is ferocious and the message is powerful; we need to stop being so hard on ourselves and, focus on how we can help those who suffer from mental health problems, especially where this can lead to suicide and/or other fatalities; fight against toxic masculinity. The openness of Joe Talbot’s songs, his promotion of the idea of vulnerability and how we should access this more in our lives really does ring true to many men in our currently fucked up society. This is a necessity!

 

Related imageUnity, against the odds, onstage & online, is promoted by the group. Live shows are wild testimonies of the connection between the audience & the group they have adopted. I’m a badge-wearing member of the All Is Love:AF Gang Facebook group, a space where fans are encouraged & able to relate their own vulnerability to like-minded people who will listen. The band acknowledge this community in interviews, just don’t ask what AF means! I have my ticket to see IDLES in Belfast in April with my band/soul mate Joe Brown. Joe lost his best mate, his Dad, in 2018 and I know he has connected with this album just as much as I. “I am my father’s son, his shadow weighs a tonne”.

 

“Rottweiler”, the closing track, is an attack dog fuck you to the trash-tabloid, sick, daily rags in the UK. This is the song they end their gigs with featuring an instrumental blitz,  letting rip in a sinking ship descent into fucked up effects. “Joy As An Act of Resistance” has been well received & the IDLES snowflake is becoming an avalanche. These are tough times for many people, someone has to resist & someone has to provide Joy. See you in Belfast. All Is Love. Don’t Go Gently !

 

 

In 2015 Brian Christinzio, who goes by the name of BC Camplight, was in a good place & that place was Manchester, England. BC had relocated from Philadelphia & was releasing his third LP. “How to Die in the North” addressed the mental health & substance abuse issues that had made living in the USA a problem. Things went well both personally & professionally until visa trouble brought more severe disruption. “Deportation Blues” chronicles the effect this had on his life.

 

Image result for bc camplight deportation bluesBack in his parents’ Philadelphia basement, separated from his girlfriend, his dog & his band & revisited by old demons provided Brian with the ammunition for “Deportation Blues”. So far so bad but help from his Italian grandparents got him a visa, a return to Manchester & a chance to make the record in more friendly surroundings. The material may be brooding & fractious but BC’s musical sensibilities has produced a collection of “catchy dark Pop tunes” that is a delight. “I’m Desperate”, with its busy Suicide-inspired keyboard & bass, had an instant impact & is one of my favourite singles of the year. Hattie Coombe’s haunting chorus,  “and, I want to know…when you gonna come home, when you gonna be here, when you gonna come back…”, provide a lovely counterpoint to the upbeat music.

 

 

This is an album of great variety of genres & textures, serious, personal subject matter & songs that linger. The opening title track, a jaunty number who’s high harmonies are interrupted by synth swirls & squelches sets the tone. “Welcome a stranger into your world” indeed. Next up “I’m In A Weird Place Now” stomps along over a pumping bass line, a different influence every 15 seconds maybe, even a touch of brass band, coming together into the Modern Pop of which BC Camplight & Tame Impala are masters.

 

Image result for bc camplight 2018The contrast between the melancholy lyrics & the surprising sounds, the bold tempo changes is what makes the album so intriguing & interesting. “When I Think of My Dog” (“I think of someone who loves me, and the rent is on time…”) & “Midnight Ease” are touching ballads. “Fire In England” a whopping big Pop song. “Am I Dead Yet?”, the most Psych song on the record, sounds like Mercury Rev, John Lennon, Flaming Lips and Talking Heads got together, smoked several joints and drank whiskey till the wee hours. This is a good thing, obviously. “Deportation Blues” has a wonderful breadth of imagination & emotion. The catharsis involved in its making rings true, the balancing of so many musical influences & moods so assured. The closing “Until You Kiss Me” is a little  bit of yearning beauty. “I’m not leaving until your breath and mine collide”. Give it a spin.

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Down With Joe Brown (2017)

Joe Brown, bass player of the Gatefolds, is a founding member of the Loosehandlebars karass & our original guest selector. This is the sixth time Joe has thrown his cat into the ring (?) & he has never steered us wrong. In 2017 I received great hospitality as a guest of the Brown family. It’s a house that buzzes with good humour & as all sound systems have the Bass turned up to 11, shakes with the fine, fine music.

 

This time last year too much time was spent listening to the music of those who had left us. For me 2017 sounds like a fresh new year with many contenders for a “best of” list. Before I get to my chosen 3 I must check for great albums by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard  (all 4 or 5) of them, Sleaford Mods, Moon Duo (2 more), Derry’s own Invaderband and a great and uplifting double act that is Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett.

 

 

 

Image result for flatworms bandThis year it’s been a quieter house as our 3 sons have gone off to see the world. The noisier bands have filled some of the silence & replaced some of the energy. The buzzsaw punk of Los Angeles based Flatworms absolutely fits the bill. The trio have top ranking credentials having played with enough bands to fill the bill at the September Liverpool Psych Fest. “Motorbike” (click above), from their debut album is as short & sharp as something from the late 1970’s while the feedback drenched closing track “Red Hot Sand” is a most agreeable racket, Turn up your headphones for this one, your ears are meant to be ringing after listening to Flatworms.

 

 

 

Image result for idles bandBack on the proper side of the Atlantic it’s another loud bunch that have caught my ears. Idles are from Bristol & their LP “Brutalism” opens with the instantly arresting “Heel” & the declaration “No Surrender”, a phrase hollered by many an imbecile in this part of the world. Idles have their tongue in their cheeks & rammed down your throat at the same time. Post-Brexit Britain, the celebration of puritanism & philistinism, the effect of austerity in the inner cities, are no laughing matter & these jokers are direct, serious & angry. I’ve seen Punk purists knock Idles as “mock rock” but I’m not buying that. It’s affirming to hear the Spirit of 77 applied in such a modern, effective way. “The best way to scare a Tory is to read & get rich”…Well Done !

 

 

Related imageFinally a band I have loved for a long time, who have musically morphed on occasions but only when necessary and each manoeuvre has been masterful. Queens of the Stone Age have been in everyone’s sin bin after the deplorable onstage antics  of front man Josh Homme (for which he has deeply apologised and I’ll leave that for now). “Villains” is the first LP for 4 years, it’s a diverse collection spread over 3 sides of a double album, yes they included some ornate artwork on the fourth just to show off. Produced by Mark Ronson the riffs  & Homme’s searing vocal range are familiar. The menacing swagger of the Queens is spritzed with, dare I say it, a little glitz & glam. Certainly the feelgood hit of the Summer.

 

This Xmas Joe’s original band, Bam Bam & the Calling, are coming together for the first time in 2 years as part of a 1980’s reunion gig in Derry. I would love to be there but…it’s Xmas. If you are in the area of the Nerve Centre on the 27th of December you will be in for a treat & will hear just why the group deserve their legendary status in the city.

Random Notes (March 2017)

Is it Spring yet ? Can I leave the house again ? The clocks have been changed, back or forward, I’m never sure, the nights are lighter, well a lighter shade of grey, so why am I so flipping cold ? Any road up, March has been a fine musical month so I have been happy to huddle up to my nice warm speakers. Here are 3 of the best.

 

 

The month got off to a flying start with the arrival, on the 3rd, of the new, much anticipated (well, by me) LP by Sleaford Mods. On “English Tapas” (half a scotch egg, a cup of chips, pickle and a mini pork pie…mate, if only I was joking) Jason Williamson continues to spit, snarl & swear at life in modern Britain. Anger & disdain are his default settings, “Moptop” begins with an attack on Boris Johnson, the Tory liar & fool, before getting in the face of modern music & internet attention spans. It may seem that this is more of the same, the Smods formula, but things have changed in the two years since “Key Markets” & these Brex-City Rollers have something to say about it, something that deserves to be heard & that I want to hear.

 

Image result for sleaford mods english tapasSome feel that a laptop, a beer, a fag & a cool T-shirt (“Still Hate Thatcher”…yes please) doesn’t make a “real” musician. Beatmaster Andrew Fearn obviously puts a lot of thought & talent into complementing Jason’s lyrics. On this record he has, I think, done his best work yet, ominous & urgent. He has every right to share the credit & if he kicks back on stage then so fucking what ! This time around Jason rails against gym culture, weekends of crap cocaine, “pint cans of imported shit” beer in places where the “music’s shit but the queue…is getting big”. A generation that has been abandoned & disdained (One of Jason’s tweets got him expelled from the opposition Labour Party) by the political class which make decisions that makes a life with nothing much even less. I’ve said before that I live around people like the Sleaford Mods & the people they write about. Jason Williamson is not the voice of the people but he is the voice of some of the people & I’m glad that he’s around to take snapshots of life in 2017.

 

 

It took a couple of weeks for “Freedom is Free” by Chicano Batman to come around. I thought that I was on to something new & into something good but it turns out that the Batmen have already featured on loosehandlebars when Gigi Mac, our rarely seen (lazy 🙂 ) American correspondent, put us on to them in January 2016. Gigi wrote…”nattily attired in tuxes, ruffled shirts & bowties [clearly break-away or infused with spandex, considering the stage athleticism]. Their sound?  think Prince with less ‘Revolution’ meets trippy, late 70s Mexican surfer. A  hint of jazz, but definitely able to seriously ROCK– blisteringly hot & focused bass, charming & flirty front man on keyboard and rhythm guitar with luxurious flowing curls & a killer falsetto”. I could not put it better myself so I’m not going to try.

 

Image result for chicano batman“Freedom…” is their 3rd LP. It is produced by Leon Michaels who has a pretty cool track record as an instrumentalist with various groups, an arranger & producer with his Truth & Soul Records. Leon has worked with Sharon Jones & “Friendship (is a Small Boat in a Storm)” is the most Daptonic track here. Other cuts reflect influences from early 70s Funk but this is no retro Soul record, CB get loose & a little out there as the album progresses, it’s always involving & interesting. I guess that because of the Spanish lyrics & Latin rhythms, the psychedelic touches, that the word Tropicalia, an artistic movement from late 1960’s Brazil, is dropped into reviews. Cumbia, a rhythm from Colombia & Panama gets a mention too. Chicano Batman are neither of those, what they are, Gigi Mac knows this, we know & now you all know too, is “trippy, late 70s Mexican surf music” & bloody good it is too.

 

 

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Idles released their first LP this month.It’s been 5 years since the 5 piece band, formed in Bristol, made an EP then retreated until they were lean & mean, at their best fighting weight, ready to take on all contenders. “Brutalism” is a collection of short, sharp shocks, a barrage of guitars (with the quieter “Slow Savage” at the end) & the angry snarl of  Joe Talbot’s vocals. Joe, bullish in a china shop in the video for “Mother”, is combative & aggressive with things to say about misogyny, the N.H.S, Tories, philistinism & a couple of TV chefs.

 

Image result for idles band“Anger is an energy” said someone (now a mad, old butter salesman) but Idles are about more than shouting & pointing. They charge around but they still hit their targets with accuracy & humour. The  video for “Stendhal System”, bassist Dev Devonshire hamming it up around the gallery, is laugh out loud funny while the song makes its point about the power of Art & willful ignorance of it. Is it Punk Rock or Post-Punk ? I don’t care, it’s a glorious noise. Take this record round to friends’ houses, play it loud & get asked, as I was, to turn it down. Idles are on to something & could be headed for bigger things. Remember “the best way to scare a Tory is to read & get rich”. “Well Done”.