E13 | 13 April 2018

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Hop Along | Jack White | Ólafur Arnalds | Lulu Gainsbourg (pictured) | Handsome Ghost

Looking through the album artwork for my selections this week, there appears to be a lot of blue. Good thing Lulu Gainsbourg – son of Serge – is here to pose, lion-like for his front cover, giving us something a bit warmer to work with.

Fortunate, also, that the music choices are a little more varied and multi-coloured.

And so to the main business of the day…

1. The ‘Charm Offensive’ – Hop Along: ‘Prior Things’

What I Know:
The Philadelphia four-piece shot to recognition in 2015 with their second album, Painted Shut, which drew critical adulation across the board. Last Friday, they returned with a Bark Your Head Off, Dog – an album that has already been described by singer Frances Quinlan as a meditation on power and the men who mishandle it… I wonder to whom she could be referring?

What I Like:
The first thing to note for long-term fans of the band such as myself is that Quinlan’s vocal acrobatics are all still there. Her delivery is so quintessentially Hop Along; so unique and unshackled, so precise and yet so seemingly random, that I cannot help but do a sort-of audio equivalent of the person who gawks at the hidden camera prank show in anticipation of what will surprise and delight me next.

However, underneath, things have changed… and for the better. Where once the music was raw, now it is refined – witness the string quartet that opens the track and then surges back in so effortlessly later on. More than that, ‘grunge’ has given way to genuine ‘groove’ on the choruses… and is that some jazz keys being added around the 4 minute mark?

The track – which rounds out Bark Your Head Off, Dog – plays out with Quinlan shouting, off mic, one phrase over and over – a trick she used to great effect on Painted Shut’s Waitress and which is resurrected several times on this album. It would be a step too far to describe it as sloganeering but it certainly gives these new tracks a punch and a persuasiveness that would convince me to vote for her. Perhaps she should give politics a go…?

***

2. The ‘Military Coup’ – Jack White: ‘Ice Station Zebra’

What I Know:
Not to be confused with charming toff comedian Jack Whitehall, Jack White is, of course, formerly one half of the White Stripes and the irrepressible force of nature behind The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, not to mention his own solo work which has seen him win Grammy’s, go to No. 1 on the Billboard chart and earn the title of 70th best guitar player of all time according to Rolling Stone. His third album, Boarding House Reach was released in March, from which Ice Station Zebra is taken.

 

What I Like:
There is an app that’s been invented called ‘What3Words’ and the inventors of it claim to have mapped the whole world down to 3m x 3m squares simply by combining three random words in an order.

If we ignore the fact that Mr. White appears to have taken most of the titles for his latest album from said app, the music that he’s created is really bloody good.

Ice Station Zebra contains all the usual hallmarks of Jack White – the bluesy piano stomp and the fuzzed-up half-rapped vocals in particular – but on top of that there’s genuine playfulness with the machine-gun kick drums and the bongo drum interlude.

There’s even that kind of moog-style instrument that Ben Folds uses to such comic effect on the surprisingly similar Rockin’ the Suburbs.

It’s funky, it’s punchy and it kicks ass.

***

3. The ‘Peaceful Protest’ – Ólafur Arnalds: ‘re:member’

What I Know:
Icelandic ambient/electronic multi-instrumentalist and producer, Arnalds has been on my radar for a few years now. Initially, it was his work as one half of ambient-techno duo Kiasmos that attracted my attention, but then his solo 2016 album Island Songs – especially the beautiful Particles – cemented him as a fixture for me.

Now he returns with re:member – a track created using his own ‘Stratus’ software which basically works by him playing a note on one piano before his own software generates a pattern that’s played instantaneously on a separate piano (for more on this incredible process, watch this video (part 1) and this video (part 2)).

What I Like:
In the videos I link to above, there’s a lovely moment when Arnalds refers to the notes being generated on the second piano as sounding like rain falling. And that’s exactly what this track sounds like to me when it gets into its stride.

It takes a little while to get there but once it does it just builds and builds with the electronics layering on top before the strings join and, finally, the drums play a rhythm that Kiasmos, themselves, would be proud of.

At once both reflective and vital, Arnalds has managed to craft a track in re:member that absolutely fits into the cannon of modern Scandi-ambient music (see Sigur Ros, Bjork, Amiina, Efterklang et al) while also managing to instill it with a heartbeat rarely heard in that genre. And it’s absolutely glorious.

***

4. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ – Lulu Gainsbourg: ‘Salade Composée’

What I Know:
Read most reports about the Gainsbourg family and they are likely to imply to a greater or lesser extent that they are somewhat odd. We’re all familiar, of course, with Lulu’s father Serge, whose 1969 song, Je T’aime (Moi, Non Plus) was banned in several countries for its overly sexual content. And, of course, Lulu’s half-sister Charlotte has had both a music and acting career of her own that have been more than a little riddled with controversy.

So it should surprise no-one that Lucian ‘Lulu’ Gainsbourg fills the 45rpm Guerilla Warfare slot this week. Gainsbourg Jr. adorns his latest album cover T’es qui là with his mane of long, luscious hair fanned out around him like Aslan from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. And, in Salade Composèe he appears to be laying on quite the spread for himself and, perhaps, a lucky lady too? Or perhaps something’s being a little lost in translation.

 

What I Like:
Well, given that I’ve already hinted at a lack of understanding (and a certain hesitance to try) when it comes to the lyrics, it ain’t them that turned me on to Salade Composée (though I will admit to amusing myself with imagining this as France’s response to Tool’s Die Eier Von Satan – a track which both literally and in no-way-shape-or-form details a German recipe for something to do with eggs).

Rather, it is, of course, that swaggering, dirty, blues-rock riff, backed up by a phat funk drum beat.

But wait until the chorus to hear a thick garnish of Hookworms-style distorted wailing guitar and electronic highlights to freshen up the palate.

And, of course, topping it all off is the pièce de résistance; Gainsbourg himself, whose purred delivery now rivals Baxter Dury’s Miami for the most zero-fucks-given vocal performance of the year.

***

5. The ‘Quiet Riot’ – Handsome Ghost: ‘Better Off’

What I Know:
Tim Noyes used to be an indie folk singer-songwriter. That was, until, a vocoder and drum-machine-heavy 2014 single titled Blood Stutter earned him comparisons to Owl City (even if only in my own mind) and a contract with Photo Finish Records; and thus Handsome Ghost was born (or passed into purgatory, if you prefer). Three albums later and Mr. Ghost is still haunting us with his breezy synth-pop, most recently on the 2018 album Welcome Back and the even more recent Welcome Back: The Acoustic Recordings.

 

What I Like:
Thank god this acoustic version of Better Off has been released. When Welcome Back came out in January, I heard the track and, while I thought it was really pretty in its original form, it always felt like it lacked a certain amount of honesty, for me. With the acoustic guitar still present but barely audible in the mix, it felt as if the heart had been ‘produced out’ of the track. After all, here is a song that begs to be served up raw; the embodiment of the ‘tear at the edge of a dress’.

This acoustic version finally delivers on that promise and, here, in its stripped back form is the song’s soul (sorry – I promise the ghost puns aren’t intentional).

The lyric is able to take its rightful place at the forefront of the song and Noyes’ ear for a melody, clearly honed during his folk days, is able to carry the song through.

Sure it’s simple, but the most beautiful things often are.

***

The Outro:
And so we reach a cease-fire for this week. Click here to access the 45 RPM Spotify Playlist on Spotify or browse all of this year’s tracks on the Playlist below:

If you like what you hear (or even if you don’t), feel free to engage in dialogue with me @45rpmPodcasts on Twitter.

The silence is broken again next week when I’ll return with five more selections for your consideration. Until then, thank you and go in peace.

 

One Comment Add yours

  1. mike says:

    Well, I’m a sucker for strings and even in this rather formulaic form I can’t resist – so Prior Things gets week 13 off to a good start.
    Ice Station Zebra is sufficiently nuts & varied to maintain the pace – but it is the crazy melange that gets the vote rather than a specific love of the song.
    I’m not familiar with Olafur but am with all the other Icelandic artists you name. Your description is spot on & I’m there on that rainy day. I love the track. In addition to the wonderful Amiina Fantomas album I have been listening to recently, this track has a lot in common with the recent Poppy Ackroyd album.
    I think I like the guitar groove on the Lulu track – but somehow the indecipherable lyric becomes a distraction rather than a compliment.

    Like

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