Flipsides & Otherwise: FAO #4

faoIn the spirit of festive-giving, here follows a bumper-hamper edition of FAO. Again, the initial formula has been subject to a little recalculation; this time to allow a few non-regular album-sized releases through the net. With a bit of luck though, the spirit of forgiveness should be equally as strong, in this year’s yuletide season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amiina & Lee Hazlewood – Hilli (At The Top of The World) (Ever Records, download single/self-released vinyl)

2007 saw the not-unexpected but still tragic-passing of Lee Hazlewood. For once though, even the most cynical of us won’t begrudge the posthumous unearthing of almost anything from his unexploited vaults or his hard-to-buy previously-released recordings. Happily, 2008 should see the start of rare album reissues for CD and Swedish TV film restorations for DVD. In the interim though, there’s this sublime swansong single from the dear departed legend, cut in collaboration with both Icelandic Sigur Rós-alumni Amiina and his latter-day manager, Wyndham Wallace. Weaving a dew-speckled web of stringed instruments, brass and wordless harmonies around him, the four members of Amiina are perfectly-attuned to what appears very much to be Hazlewood’s knowing and sage wave-goodbye. His semi-spoken vocals may sound frail and raspy but the eerily-serene delivery of Wallace’s profound lyrical spin on a semi-mythical Finnish folk tale gives this listener goose bumps the size of golf balls every time it drifts into earshot. Let’s hope that Lee is resting comfortably in peace now or – at the very least – in a similar atmosphere of tranquillity he’s kindly left with us here.

Visit: www.everrecords.com

 

Vashti Bunyan – Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind: Singles And Demos 1964 to 1967 (Fat Cat/Spinney Records, 2CD compilation)

The rediscovered Vashti Bunyan has suggested that this archival compilation is largely designed to prove that that she was never really a folk-singer in her early-career, but more someone who “wanted to bring simple acoustic music into mainstream pop” (as she states in the accompanying press release). More pragmatically viewed, this collection may have more to do with quenching a desperate thirst for more recorded relics from devotees of her fairly-recently reissued 1970 LP, Just Another Diamond Day, to stop EBay and bootleg exploitation. The first disc (covering 1965-67) of rare/unreleased early singles, crackly acetates and demo tracks, partly recorded under the wing of Rolling Stones Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham, is certainly the most instantly appealing and illuminating half of the set. The trademark wispy-sweet components are indeed in place but the lush orchestrations behind the likes of the swooning Jaggers/Richard-penned title-track, the epic schmaltzy “Coldest Night of Year” and the wonderful “Winter Blue” single, go far beyond the confines of Bunyan’s contemporary acid-folk ghetto. Away from the big late-‘60s production numbers, we’re into more familiar Just Another Diamond Day-territory for the rest of the first CD, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for the previously-converted. The second disc goes even further back into the archives, to a forgotten 1964 home-demo tape; wherein a barely-there acoustic guitar underpins Bunyan’s delicately pretty pipes running through even-rarer songs that are either fully-formed (“How I Do Know”) or merely sketch-like (“I Know”). It’s nearly all lovely stuff, but as with Just Another Diamond Day and the latter-day Lookaftering from 2005, the floaty essence of the material does strain to leave hook-imbedding impressions to demand frequent plays. Minor quibbling aside though; this carefully-curated compendium fulfils a fan-friendly service that the contrary custodians of Nick Drake’s canon could really learn a lot from.

Visit: www.fat-cat.co.uk

 

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – The Assassination of Jesse James

(Mute, official soundtrack CD/download)

This is the total antithesis of the brutally grubby Grinderman debut LP, on which both gentlemen prominently featured earlier this year. Ditching the primeval racket-making of the said side-project, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis now find themselves wrapping-up a busy 2007 submerged in low-key atmospheric soundtrack duties for Brad Pitt’s new Wild West flick. Cave-followers expecting any song-based tracks will probably be disappointed by the vocal-less terrain that he and Ellis tread across for these 14 elegant instrumental pieces. But for Dirty Three fanatics this could be just the ticket to tide them over until Ellis reconvenes with Mick Turner and Jim White in a recording bunker. With Ellis’s violin to the fore throughout, Cave acts more as a supporting artist, adding flickering piano-lines around his partner’s more demonstrative parts and those of the hired-in string section. There are shades – perhaps predictably – of Yann Tiersen’s adorable Amélie soundtrack, echoes of the dour Tindersticks-authored score for the Claire Denis-directed Trouble Every Day and heavy dollops of Dirty Three-flavoured melancholia. It’s all suitably evocative stuff for arcane historical thrillers and it should certainly sound good set against open geographical vistas, but ultimately it does fall-down somewhat as a stand-alone affair, where more variety and pace is undoubtedly needed to maintain a healthy interest.

Visit: www.mute.com

 

Various Artists – Cinnamon Girl – Women Artists Cover Neil Young For Charity (American Laundromat Records, 2CD/download)

Belatedly following-on from the Tanya Donelly/Luff split-single featured in FAO#3, this double-disc ‘all-girl’ charity tribute album to old Neil, certainly holds a strong allure just from the roll-call of its ‘star’ contributors and – unsurprisingly – less so from its cast list of unknowns. In respect to the former camp, Donelly’s aforementioned “Heart of Gold” still sounds reassuringly strong, Britta Phillips (ex-Luna/Dean & Britta) makes the whimsical “I Am Child” smoulder with deliciously spacey-eroticism, Jenny Lewis-collaborators The Watson Twins beautifully draw-out the deep yearning in “Powderfinger”, Veruca Salt give a so-so Breeders-lite twist to “Burned” and Kristin Hersh drives along “Like A Hurricane” with a churning desolation that only really catches alight in its closing string-bending wig-out. From the lesser-known artists there are also some respectable entries. Elk City’s haunting harmony-drenched “Helpless” is almost as good as Nick Cave’s version, Heidi Gluck’s gutsy grip on “Walk On” pays dividends, a bluesy chug through “Ohio” works well for Dala, and Jill Sobule’s banjo, organ ‘n’ vibes-heavy version of “Down By The River” possesses some imposing spooky gravitas. It has to be said, that the remainder of the collection does meander along a little too politely and the narrow-selection of familiar Young standards from his mid-‘60s-to-late-‘70s hey-day excludes more intriguing juxtapositions or excavations from his later work. But taken as a whole, this isn’t a bad little gathering of the female-wing Neil Young fan-club, especially given the inherent dangers of such earnest and philanthropic homage-making.

Visit: www.alr-music.com/shop.php

 

Various Artists – Plum (Thrill Jockey, 10 x 7” boxset)

By the Chicago-based company’s own admission, Thrill Jockey’s first fifteen years of curating independently-minded music, have strangely neglected to regularly utilise the services of the humble 7” single; preferring an album-centric philosophy to dominate the label’s output. Thus, this gargantuan split-single boxset – featuring TJ artists past/present/semi-retired covering tracks from all across the TJ discography over 20 sides of the crackly stuff – feels like a honourable attempt to redress that imbalance. The net effect is like receiving a full old-school singles-club subscription in one great big dollop. Nearly all the ‘core’ family outfits submit creditable contributions. Eleventh Dream Day’s red-raw but impressively intricate interpretation of Sue Garner’s “I Like The Name Alice” is utterly mesmerising; Archer Prewitt sprinkles unpretentious Steely Danisms all over the already-retro pastures of The National Trust’s “Mrs. Turner”; The Sea And Cake’s subtle brass-adorned conversion of Califone’s “Spider’s House” outshines much of the formulaic fare on the group’s current Everybody LP; Tortoise’s balmy rubbery-bass reconstruction of Nobukazu Takemura’s formerly icy “Fallslake” easily surpasses its former incarnation; Freakwater’s “Jewel” benefits from Uncle Tupelo-like earthiness courtesy of Califone; Pullman’s sparse ambient adaptation of the Chicago Underground Quartet’s “Three In The Morning” is a slow-burning post-jazz treasure; and The Zincs art-rock-shaped “Passengers” benefits from having an Emmylou Harris-patterned blanket draped around it by Freakwater.

Outside of the inner ‘closed-shop’ circle there are even more eclectic and ambitious wares to be heard. David Bryne’s elaborate yet giddily-melodic remoulding of The Fiery Furnaces’ edgy “Ex-Guru” will certainly make mid-period Talking Heads fans yelp with joy; Sue Garner and Rick Brown’s ramshackle remake of OOIOO’s “Umo” is brain-spinningly bizarre; Howe Gelb reworks John Parish’s murky “Boxers” into alluring Gastr Del Sol-style arty obliqueness; The Zincs’ Kraftwerk-meets-Suicide remodelling of Gelb’s “Blue Marble Girl” is gloomily captivating; Pit Er Pat’s playful tropical reheating of The Lonesome Organist’s “Flew Out My Window” oozes with a warmth only hinted at on the raggedly lo-fi original; and Thalia Zedek’s application of Desire-era Dylan gypsy-folk upon Freakwater’s “Flat Hand” is unapologetically grandiose and gritty. Inevitably, of course, with a project of such unwieldiness there are a few filler and flat moments. For example, Adult’s digital evisceration of Pit Er Pat’s “Underwater Wave Game” is relentlessly grating, Bobby Conn’s vaudeville molestation of “Washed In The Blood” (yet another Freakwater song) jars uncomfortably like Riverdance put through a grimed-up glam-rock filter, and Arboretum’s Songs: Ohia-aping bedraggling of Thalia Zedek’s “Bus Stop” is tedious and leaden.

All in all though, Plum is an overwhelmingly-positive and fruit-bearing celebration of all things Thrill Jockey. Hopefully, it will also help pave the way for a less-constrictive approach for the label’s methods of dissemination and back catalogue management, beyond this 15th birthday year. For starters, it would be nice to see more one-off single/EPs, rarities retrospectives for the likes of The Sea And Cake and Eleventh Dream Day, a collection of the label’s many licensed-out Japanese-only bonus tracks and – although it might annoy vinyl-junkies – an expanded CD version of Plum itself. In the meantime, dust-off the decks to flip ‘n’ spin your way through this generously proportioned grooved-plastic odyssey.

Visit: www.thrilljockey.com