Opeth – Heritage
Opeth could’ve done the prog/death metal thing forever and made a fortune but Mikael Åkerfeldt seems more content following his instinct and his record collection. This one’s back to the 70’s – analogue tones, weird flutes, long songs, plenty of mellotron and, crucially, no growling. I ordered the boxset version and I’ve played it to death. Their whole thing reminds me of Rush a bit – a huge back catalogue, constantly evolving, no radio play but with a growing and dedicated fanbase that’s ready to follow them wherever they go next. Pretty rare these days. ‘Feel the quality of that solo’, as a wise man once said.
Wire – Red Barked Tree
No nostalgia here at all. Wire are a bit like the Fall – they carry their history with them, and it gives them heft, but they only looks forward. (how much money could Wire make doing a “Wire plays Pink Flag” tour? And can we stop those tours, please?) I loved this record, and I thought Colin Newman spitting out “coffee is not a replacement for food or happiness” on “Two Minutes” was hilarious, and not much different from the younger man who spat out “Reuters” in 1977. Elsewhere, Graham Lewis pulls out one of his best songs ever with “Please Take”, and Newman channels some sort of weird urban blues with “Adapt” and “Down To This”. When I saw them live in April, Newman looked like a distracted professor and Robert Grey (on the drums) like a man doing a life stretch for murder. To the left of the stage, Graham Lewis wore a dress suit with a bowtie, bright orange trainers and a diced black balmoral. A class act.
Can – Tago Mago (Re-issue)
Not my favourite Can album (that would be ‘Future Days’) but it has my favourite Can song on it – ‘Oh Yeah’. Everyone freaks out over Jaki Liebezeit’s drumming and Holger Czukay’s light touch (and quite rightly too), but it’s Michael Karoli’s thick toned bluesy guitar breaks that kill me on this one. Two note arpeggios give way to a phenomenally loose stringed guitar break, which gives way to a multi-tracked mixture of funk and clipped blues, which give way to a crescendo of sunlit chords and spiraling notes. A fucking masterpiece in 7.24 minutes. God Bless Can.
Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestial Lineage
I read a review of this somewhere, thought the band name was fantastic, and remembered it when I saw it in the racks at the local record store (‘Disc-a-Brac’ in Lausanne). It’s symphonic death metal, I guess, and really majestic and moving in a weird way. It grows with every listen, and the singer sounds like an imp from hell going through a meat grinder. To be listened to loud, and alone, in the dark. Double red vinyl while stocks last.
Mastodon – The Hunter
They’ll never sell out, but they will sharpen the heavy melodic blade with every record. No weird conceptual story behind this one (like ‘Crack the Skye’): just 13 blasts of space rock, psychedelia and 70’s metal. Brent Hinds is the wizard, the true star, here. Definitely got a lot of abuse from hardcore Mastodon fans, but that’s their problem.
Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
Acoustic guitar, drums, sparse electric lead guitar, that baritone delivery, some flute – sounds simple but these seven songs burrow deep. I think he’s one of the most compelling songwriters out there – his lyrics make me laugh and scratch my head at the same time. At some point the world (and particularly the US) needs to sit up and realise what they’ve got here. To me he’s like Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson (both name-checked in the boot-stompingly awesome ‘America!’): the lone traveller, quietly plying his trade, year after year, a great American poet. Footnote: every woman I know wants to sleep with this guy.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (Re-issue)
I knew these reissues were coming but I didn’t give them much thought until I saw the albums and box-sets and so on in the record store. One interesting thing about listening to the alternate mixes of the songs on this particular lp is getting a glimpse of what decisions the Floyd had to make when they were mixing it. Even more interesting is realizing that every decision they made was the right one. An incredible record that still makes me stop dead in my tracks.
REM – Lifes Rich Pageant (Re-issue)
I grew up with REM so there’s a lot of memories tied up with their first five albums. Pageant is the fourth, and arguably the most cohesive and representative of all their records. It’s a very American record, I think: from the sleeve-art to the lyrical themes. Twenty-five years later, and the chorus of ‘Cuyahoga’ and the rousing bridge of ‘What If We Give It Away?’ still get to me. What a great, great band they were. Five albums of this quality in five years? No band will ever match that again, surely?
Mark Hollis – Mark Hollis (Re-issue)
I couldn’t stand this lp when it first came out but ex-bandmate Jason Lakis (now of Mist and Mast) kept pushing it on me, and he was right. I don’t know of another record that sound quite like this, but David Sylvian’s recent ‘difficult’ records are moving on the same plain. It’s a perfect recording that demands to be listened to in one sitting – you don’t just dip into this one. The brilliantly titled ‘A Life (1895-1915)’ consists of Hollis singing (to my ears) a sparse eulogy to a WW1 soldier, over the sounds of a chamber orchestra tuning up. Mark Hollis is a recluse of such high order, he makes Scott Walker look like Simon Cowell. I hope he’s enjoying those No Doubt royalties.
David Kilgour – Left by Soft
I love David Kilgour, I love the Clean, and I loved this record. It’s four guys in a room playing well written songs, so it’s very old fashioned in that respect. A bit Feelies, a bit REM, a lot of Clean. ‘Diamond Mine’ has a strange romance to it, and I wish I’d written it. It’s one of those records that clicked with me, and I can’t explain why yet. I think the ‘world tour’ was three pub dates in Dunedin and Christchurch. Hilarious. Available on vinyl from Arch Hill, his New Zealand label.