Farewell to Grant Hart, a Singing Drummer

In the week that I discovered another singing drummer, I lost one.

There’s a functional fixedness in the collective mind about drummers.  They’re supposed to be the meatheads that keep the beat.  They aren’t meant to be cerebral, or sweet.  You see a drummer singing and you think, “well you shouldn’t really be doing that, should you? Yeuch.”

I came across an effusive review of Mastodon’s Emperor of Sand recently, and decided to give it a spin on Monday.  I’d always associated them with the toilet bowl approach to vocal delivery – which I abhor –  and was stunned to hear a powerful three pronged approach from three very good singers!  The second track “Show Yourself” is insanely catchy  with Josh Homme-esque vocals from drummer, Brann Dailor.

Grant Hart, who died of cancer yesterday, was one of the originals.  He didn’t use a naff headset like Phil Collins.  He spat the vocals of his melodic but very edgy songs into the microphone while maintaining a nuclear beat for Husker Du band mates, Greg Norton and Bob Mould to follow.

Think about the following songs: I’m Never talking to You  Again, Pink Turns to Blue, Turn on the News, The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill, If I told You, Books About UFO’s, Every Everything, Green Eyes, I Don’t Want To Know if You’re Lonely…Yes the list goes on.  They are all incredibly catchy and excellent songs, and the Husker Du cannon would be diminished without them.  I’ve lost count of the number of people over the years who’ve said to me that their favourite song by Husker Du was written by Grant Hart.

His solo career wasn’t as prolific as Mould’s was but he could be proud of what he did release, and “Good News for Modern Man” (1999) was as a good a solo record as either of them produced.

I’ve fond memories of seeing him play Whelan’s in 2012, and had a pretty interesting conversation with him afterwards in the smoking area.  During the gig he asked for requests from the audience, and the guy in front of me shouted for A Letter From Anne Marie.  He played a stripped down version on acoustic guitar.  It was wonderful, and it’s a nice memory to have of him.

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Still Falls The Rain

I first picked up on the brilliance of Roxy Music on a school trip to France in 1989.  Once I heard Virginia Plain, Pyjamarama, and Street Life I was hooked.  Their first five records are very close to my heart and it’s only recently that I paid attention to their final three, Manifesto, Flesh and Blood, and Avalon.    Avalon gets the plaudits but Manifesto is far more rewarding.  Here’s a great live performance of Still Falls the Rain,  the strongest song on the album.

It Ain’t Over Yet

Rodney Crowell is the lower profile contemporary of Steve Earle and Guy Clark.  While Clark left us last year, and Earle hasn’t come near the heights of his astounding 90’s output Crowell has left it to the second half of his career to make his best music.  “It Ain’t Over Yet” a track from his upcoming LP Close Ties is a case in point.

What Would Jello Do?

Seeing Jello Biafra live in 2011 was a dream come true.  He is bona fide punk rock legend and there is absolutely nobody like him.  His performance on the night was all that I had hoped it would be.  Anyway check out his youtube series “What Would Jello Do” where he deals with everything from  selfie culture, and Trump to the death of his father and sister.

 

The idiabolo Year in Music, 2016

It’s hard for me to match all the year-end “best of” lists as I listen to very little new music…It’s not that I don’t listen to new music, I do, but I tend to give new arrivals the time they deserve as opposed to flitting through Spotify play lists… Streaming isn’t my thing, and I find that it’s a poor medium for listening to music critically with all the distraction and interruption.  Also, if I like a band and what they’ve produced, well I think they deserve to get paid for it, and most importantly I like to own an artefact.  Great art deserves a tangible presence in my life.

Similar to other years, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my favourite Americana bands like Son Volt, and The Jayhawks, as well as my go-to punk bands – The Misfits, The Ramones, and Rancid along with old staples such as the Beatles, Bowie, Danzig and Zeppelin.

Live highlights included seeing former Go Between Robert Forster in Whelan’s – what a very pleasant man he is, as well as Suede in the Big Top in Galway, Teenage Fanclub in the Academy, Slayer in The Olympia, Sleaford Mods in Vicar Street and Elvis Costello in Iveagh Gardens.  Anyway, here’s the new music that made an impression on me this year in no particular order.

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David Bowie – Blackstar

According to a friend who works in Tower Records on Dawson Street, Blackstar is their biggest seller on vinyl this year.  I didn’t get around to listening to it until August as I wanted to avoid all the hype and hoopla after the great man left us in January.  I reckon Bowie’s steady run of excellence in the 70s is matched only by Neil Young.  Both artists fell off a cliff in the eighties with Young returning to form much earlier than Bowie when he released Freedom in 1989.  I’m unfashionably fond of the first Tin Machine album (1989) and quite enjoy Black Tie/ White Noise (1993) and Outside (1995).  Blackstar is as good as the hype says it is and is probably Bowie’s best work since Station to Station (1976) – the album it resembles more than any other in structure and style.  The electro-jazz vibe throughout brings Scott Walker’s The Electrician to mind and the title track is stunning and up there with his finest work.  The man bowed out in the way that only he could.

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Gojira – Magma

This is undoubtedly the most interesting metal album I’ve heard in years.  In fact I thought I was beyond being able to like this kind of record.  Gojira hail from Bayonne in France.  They are regarded as being a very technical band with thrash and death metal influences.  To be honest what they’ve cooked up on Magma is far too good to sit easily in conventional classifications.  I’ve always struggled with the approach of certain metal bands to vocal delivery, and I abhor the guttural death metal toilet bowel delivery style that bands like Lamb of God have used.  Gojira frontman Joe Du Plantier’s vocals are a mix of clean and growl that I can live with.    When I listen to Magma I hear Voivod; I hear their compatriots Air; I hear Spiritualised; I even hear a bit of Skip Spence.  The arrangements are tight, technical and very atmospheric.  Metal mightn’t be your thing and it’s a genre that seems to be viewed through the prism of the work of a number of the heavyweights from the late 1970s and 1980s.  Gojira might be one of the few modern metal bands that have managed to build something outside of that figurative sarcophagus.

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Suede –Night Thoughts

I picked up a ticket to  see Suede play the Big Top at the Galway Arts Festival as I’d never seen them live and love their first three albums.   Bowie’s influence runs deep through Suede and if their first album riffs more than a little bit off Hunky Dory well who’s complaining.  It’s their second album Dog Man Star (1994) which is their deepest, most enduring and rewarding record and it’s no lie that the rest of their output has lived in its shadow.  This year’s Night Thoughts is their first album to stand on its own two feet without suffering from an inferiority complex.  It’s a proper long player without any obvious singles and that’s fine by me.   Highlights include No Tomorrow and Like Kids.  The album’s release was accompanied by a feature film which they played during the first half of their shows earlier this year before launching into the hits.  Night Thoughts was probably the big surprise of the year for me.

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Teenage Fanclub – Here

For a band that have produced so many fantastic songs – and they’ve produced heaps – it’s amusing how un-rock ‘n’ roll Teenage Fanclub actually are.  How can a band who have produced superb rock songs like The Concept and Alcoholiday just look and behave like a bunch of your mates from the pub who appear to be ageing as you are and have the same problems?  The band will always be remembered for Grand Prix (1995) and Songs from Northern Britain (1997) – their best records by far – but they’ve produced plenty of strong material in the meantime.  This year’s Here blends the mellow low-fi approach of Man Made and Shadows with the edgier pop songs from Songs from Northern Britain.  Songs such as the magnificent I’m in Love, Thin Air, Hold On, The Darkest Part of the Night, and With You continue with and develop the darker lyrical themes that began to appear on Man Made and Shadows but they don’t suffer for it and sit well alongside the band’s very strong back catalogue in a live setting.

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Calexico – Edge of the Sun

Ok, Edge of the Sun was released in 2015 but I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear it until half way through this year.  I was impressed – so impressed actually that I went on a binge and bought, borrowed or stole any of their stuff that I hadn’t already heard.  I enjoyed Hot Rail (2000) and Feast of Wire (2003) back in the day but as good as those records are they’re not as enduring as the album that was their template, 1998’s The Black Light. A sprawling mess of brilliance that mixes mariachi, Americana, and jazz, it’s possibly the most atmospheric album for driving through the countryside of any country in any climate at dusk.  They adopted a more conventional and focused approach to their song writing with 2008’s Carried to DustEdge of the Sun is possibly Joey Burn’s best and most cohesive set of conventional songs yet, but they are heavily embellished with the return of their earlier Latin and mariachi influences and it works a treat.

Happy Christmas and see you in 2017.

New Music on the way from Teenage Fanclub

Are Teenage Fanclub the laziest band of all time? Possibly, but they’re also the best thing that came out of the UK in the nineties. In Bandwagonesque, Grand Prix, and Songs For Northern Britain, they produced some of the catchiest and most uplifting music written by any group since the Beatles.  Their shows are always a treat – one of the good things in life – and it will be interesting to see how the new songs of the soon-to-be released “Here” stand alongside gems like Start Again, Ain’t that Enough, Don’t look Back and The Concept.  If  “I’m in Love” – the first single of that album is any indication, we won’t be disappointed.  It’s very nice indeed.

 

Rush: To Tour or Not to Tour

Rush for me have always been a guilty pleasure as my tastes lean more towards straight forward rock and americana.  Their brand of complex, intricate and intellectual progressive rock isn’t for everybody, but history will look very kindly on the remarkable achievements of a band who for me are one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands of them all.  The band were subject to a tribute on the excellent Sound Opinions podcast a few weeks back which you can replay here.

Last week in Rolling Stone, Alex Lifeson hung a big question mark over their recording and touring future.  Post their 2015 R40 tour Neil Peart has more or less declared that he’s done with touring and is now in a happy place spending time with his young family.  Given what the man’s been through personally, nobody would begrudge him this.  He’s 63 and it’s unrealistic to expect the legendary sticks-man to continue to put his body through gruelling 3 hour shows.   It’s not like Rush play straight ahead four on the floor rock ‘n’ roll, and Neil Peart is no ordinary drummer.  It’s a good thing that I finally got the finger out and went to see them in London in 2011, even if it was up with the Gods in the Millennium Dome.

Lifeson and band front-man Geddy Lee appear to be chomping at the bit creatively and have left the door open to the prospect of Peart continuing to record with the band even if he’s had enough of life on the road.

As he’s also the band’s lyricist a Rush album without him wouldn’t be the same, though I don’t think I’m the only one who would have preferred a bit more “liquor, women, drugs and killing” as themes over their 40 year existence.

Clockwork Angels, their last record, was a super piece of work and among their finest so why throw in the towel now if there’s still the potential for something great there?  Lee and Lifeson are treading carefully here and I reckon they are preparing their audience for the prospect of them recording with Peart but hitting the road again without him.  Unthinkable to some of the nerds that follow the band but time rolls by and if there’s a choice between a stand-in or no Rush at all I’ll take the stand-in any day of the week.  Keep going boys!