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James Johnston – The Starless Room

Clouds Hill

James Johnston - The Starless RoomJames Johnston often seems omnipresent, having lent his dark twang to the likes of Lydia Lunch, The Bad Seeds, Faust, PJ Harvey and of course his own baby, Gallon Drunk, over the past few decades. It comes as a bit of a surprise then that The Starless Room is actually his first ever solo release under his own name.

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Lustmord – Dark Matter

Touch

Lustmord - Dark MatterLustmord has long had an affinity with space, both the sonic space of his heavily dub-inspired soundscapes and the actual physical space of the cosmos. For people of Lustmord’s and my generation, space was our future — where we all expected to be hanging out by the start of this century.

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Hawkwind – The Charisma Years 1976-1979

Atomhenge

Hawkwind - The Charisma YearsHawkwind will inevitably be remembered for “Silver Machine” — an unlikely (even in 1972) top ten hit — and Space Ritual, possibly the greatest live album of all time. From 1970 to 1973, they were indeed the voice of the underground, the UK’s version of Grateful Dead, had that group been any good…

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Van der Graaf Generator – Do Not Disturb

Esoteric

Van der Graaf Generator - Do Not DisturbIt’s always a daunting prospect to spin a new Van der Graaf Generator album for the first time: will it live up to expectations? Can the group still be vital and challenging thirteen albums and forty-eight years into their “career”? The answers are inevitably a disappointing “no”; and a second and third spin do very little to change that perception.

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Chivalrous Amoekons – Fanatic Voyage

Drag City

Chivalrous Amoekons - Fanatic VoyageBack in 1978, The Mekons were riding high at the forefront of the emerging post-punk movement, only to seemingly miss their chance and disappear from view like so many others from the scene. Their resurrection with a new line-up in 1984 was as unexpected as the new direction they took. In the thirty odd years since, they have developed a music that sounds terrible in theory — a mix of Americana, world music, punk, trip-hop, reggae, morris dance — allied to surrealist imagery and left wing politics that bizarrely works against all odds.

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Black Sabbath (live at the Manchester Arena)

18 December 2013

Pantomime season is once more upon us, and the heaviest and most bludgeoning pantomime of all is rolling into town. My first ever concert was Black Sabbath – a scary 38 years ago, and so when a friend who couldn’t make this week’s reunion tour offered me his ticket at a Christmas party last weekend, I was sufficiently inebriated to be unable to refuse.

Arriving at the vast and horribly-named Phones 4U Arena (the largest venue in the EU apparently) in the sober twilight of early evening, I was having serious reservations. I generally avoid venues which are big enough to not be on first name terms with the audience. On top of that, Bill Ward won’t be present and Ozzy‘s lifestyle hasn’t been kind to his voice – oh dear. On the other hand, I felt similarly sceptical about this year’s 13 album, which turned out

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Steamboat Switzerland – Zeitschrei

Trost

Steamboat Switzerland & Michael Wertmüller - ZeitschreiAnyone who loves the sound of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, while understandably being put off by their repertoire should check out Steamboat Switzerland. I saw the group live a few years ago and was mightily impressed by the sheer power of their Hammond organ, bass and drums line-up. Possibly more like Egg than ELP to be fair, but also considerably more elemental than any of the UK progsters got close to.

Live, I had assumed that the music was improvised and was expecting something different with this album, in which the trio tackle the compositions of Michael Wertmüller, a drummer (though not this group’s drummer). In fact, it sounds much the same as their live set – it’s quite astonishing that these songs were actually composed. The only parallels that come to mind

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Ruts DC – Rhythm Collision Volume 2

Sosumi

Ruts DC - Rhythm Collision Volume 2The Ruts were sort of our local punk band, coming originally from Anglesey, but apart from the “In a Rut” single, my punk friends and I never really got them and considered them heavy metal… which as about the worst thing you could be back in 1979! Of course in retrospect they were not really much like heavy metal – it was probably just that they could actually play. When singer Malcolm Owen died and the remaining Ruts DC backed the late great Kevin Coyne on his Sanity Stomp album, there was further disappointment as the record turned out to be Coyne’s flattest sounding to date.

With this long held ambivalence to the group, I certainly expected very little of a 2013 reunion

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Goldblade – The Terror of Modern Life

Overground

Goldblade - The Terror of Modern LifeWho would have guessed all those years ago that there’d still be a strong UK punk scene in 2013? John Robb has been in the midst of it since the very beginning and The Terror of Modern Life shows that he’s not lost an ounce of his energy since then. All the more impressive that he has also recently revived his former gnarly noise combo The Membranes (some of whose members overlap), writes daily features for his Louder than War blog and regularly appears as cultural commentator on all manner of media. These old men could teach the youngsters a thing or two about getting things done.

This is the sixth Goldblade album since they formed

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The Woodentops – Before During After

One Little Indian

The Woodentops - Before During AfterThe press release (and CD booklet) draws our attention to Morrissey‘s endorsement of The Woodentops. What’s not mentioned is that although he raved about their debut single “Plenty,” he had already publicly withdrawn his endorsement by the second (or was it third?) single, dismissing the group as has-beens. This three CD set lets us decide for ourselves whether or not he was being a little unkind in his premature dismissal of the group.

The early pre-LP singles are all collected, together with some of the b-sides on disc 3, and they sound as fresh today as they did back in the early ’80s. The first four a-sides, “Plenty,” “Move Me,” “Well Well Well” and “It Will Come” provide

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Sweet Baboo – live, interview and album feature

The Third Golden Age of Welsh Pop™ shows little sign of abating any time soon. Following his contributions to Cate le Bon‘s two extraordinary Cyrk releases and Euros Childs‘ sunshine classic Summer Special last year, Stephen Black now unleashes his own long awaited fourth album as Sweet Baboo. Originally from Trefriw in north Wales’ Conwy valley, SB has long been an integral part of the Cardiff musical community that includes Cate, Euros, H Hawkline, Richard James and Gruff Rhys, who can often be heard helping out on each other’s records. Their individual records bear little relation to any musical fashions but neither do they sound like each other, although a common aesthetic can, I think, be detected.

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Lloyd Cole & Hans-Joachim Roedelius – Selected Studies Vol. 1

Bureau B

lloyd-cole-hans-joachim-roedeliusBureau B’s mission to ensure that one in every two CDs in the world feature Hans-Joachim Roedelius continues with the most unlikely collaboration of his career to date. Lloyd Cole is best known, in the UK at least, as the man who took a slickly polished dilution of ’80s indie-pop into the proper charts with hits like “Perfect Skin” and, err… I don’t seem to remember any of the others. It appears that he also released an electronic instrumental album in 2001, inspired by Cluster‘s Sowiesoso, which Roedelius heard and liked. It was another ten years before the two met in Vienna and decided to collaborate on an album by sending files back and forth to each other.

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Michael Rother presents the music of Neu! and Harmonia (live at Central Station, Wrexham)

27 April 2013

Out here on the periphery, the phrase ‘sole UK appearance’ instinctively elicits grumpy mutterings about ‘privileged Londoners’… after all, nobody ever does ‘sole UK appearances’ in north Wales!’ But what’s this?… Michael Rother presents the music of Neu! and Harmonia at Helsinki… Tilburg… Krems… St. Petersburg… Wrexham… Wrexham!?!… surely not THAT Wrexham?

It turns out to be true – the recently established Focus Wales festival have eccentrically booked Mr. Rother and Charlotte Church as joint headliners for this year’s festival – I’d wager a decent sum that it’s the first time the two have shared a bill.

Rother’s foray into revisiting his back catalogue a couple of years back as Hallogallo featured an all-star line-up that included Sonic Youth‘s Steve Shelley. I only experienced that via YouTube – it seemed very good stuff, but not exactly Neu! This time around, Rother is touring with a young Berlin

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Mick Harvey – Four (Acts of Love)

Mute

Mick Harvey - Four (Acts of Love)Mick Harvey‘s official biography says that he “has always thought of himself primarily as a collaborator” – understandable given the success of his collaborations with PJ Harvey, Rowland S Howard and Nick Cave, and in a way, Four (Acts of Love) can also be seen as a collaboration, although of a quite different nature.

The album comprises a suite in three acts, pieced together from songs and musical snippets of Harvey’s, interspersed with covers. The songs mostly alternate between the originals and the covers, forming a conversation between Harvey and his influences and contemporaries. The sound palette and arrangements will be familiar to anyone who has followed his past work with any interest; Harvey’s skill at judging just what

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Overhang Party – Complete Studio Recordings

Important

Overhang Party - Complete Studio RecordingsI first heard Overhang Party via their contributions to a couple of PSF’s Tokyo Flashback compilations back in the ’90s and a CD-R of their second album 2 that cultural commentator Jon Savage gave me around the same time. Since then I have almost completely failed to find any records by this most elusive of Japanese groups, the sole exception being a copy of their (I assumed) fourth album 4. Even the most basic information about the group was pretty hard to come by for years, but now the people at Important Records have brought us this handy box that brings together all the group’s studio recordings. My failure to get my hands on the group’s doubtless classic third album 3 becomes immediately evident

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