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An aural overview of some of my favourite records of 2009 is now available on the Mixtapes page. Go forth safe in the knowledge that it is an Animal Collective/Fever Ray/the xx-free zone…

And in thinking back on another year that fizzed by, yet was again punctuated by many wonderful live music experiences, I couldn’t resist coming up with a list of those that seemed extra special. When I’m standing in a crowd, washed over by waves of sound, I often think that this is as close to religion as I’m ever gonna get. The shared experience with one’s fellow concert-goers (who in that moment don’t seem to to be the greedy, selfish, stupid creatures that many of us are), seeing, hearing, feeling what is arguably humankind’s greatest artistic expression (I’m talking about Music, not David Yow’s bodily fluids), well it makes me feel good to be alive. These are ten instances where that feeling came on particularly strong – if you were there, you know what I mean…

The Jesus Lizard, Dälek, Grails, Magnolia Electric Co, Sonic Youth

l-r: (top) David W Sims of The Jesus Lizard, Dälek (middle) Grails
Magnolia Electric Co (bottom) Sonic Youth

Dälek @ Sonic City festival, De Kreun, Kortrijk, Belgium (04 April 2009)
Over an early-April weekend, Dälek curated their own ATP-like mini festival in the Belgian city of Kortrijk, bringing together friends & heroes like 2nd Gen, Earth, Zu and Charles Hayward – but it was the curators themselves (assisted by buddies Oddateee and Destructo Swarmbots) that stole the show with their industrial-strength beats & dense rhymes smothered in an avalanche of noise.

Grails @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
Highlight (one of many) of an ATP that delivered so much. Extra percussionist Dave Abramson allowed Emil Amos to switch between guitar and drums, and Sunn O))) soundman Randall Dunn manned the analogue synths, creating the sample-filled dronescapes that linked the songs into a single thrilling journey through exotic otherlands.

The Jesus Lizard @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
The night before, the Lizard’s first show in some ten years, was something special for its sense of occasion and because the band delivered on all expectations. But this show seemed that bit better, like they rocked a little harder, a little tighter, a little shinier. But maybe only because I was able to properly focus on rawk-ing along, instead of standing transfixed like a mouth-breathing happy bunny caught fluff-fluffing in the headlights thinking “oh my god! It’s the Jesus Lizard!!!” …

Magnolia Electric Co. @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (29 May 2009)
Good times in the sweltering Spanish sunshine. The ever-affable Jason Molina and his Magnolia cohorts ‘classic country rock’-ed their way through much of “Josephine“, and although you’ll never hear Molina revisit Songs: Ohia material, at least they delved into the recent past for nuggets like “Leave The City”, “Hard To Love A Man” & “The Dark Don’t Hide It” – and were demanded back by the baying crowd for an encore of “Hammer Down”.

Sonic Youth @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (30 May 2009)
Wow! With Pavement bassist Mark Ibold in the line-up, Kim Gordon (one hot [gran]mama in ripped stockings) could switch between adding extra guitar attack-ack-ack or double bass thump to the Yoof’s swirling noiserock. The whole show thundered by as though a blissed-out daydream, the crowd seemingly surfing on an euphoric wave of energy. Songs from “The Eternal”  made up the majority of the set, but it was oldies like “‘Cross The Breeze”, “Tom Violence” and closer “Expressway To Yr Skull” that had my grin at its widest.

Neurosis @ Patronaat, Haarlem, the Netherlands (08 July 2009)
Launching with “At The End Of The Road”, Neurosis quickly constructed a towering wall of sound, but the intricate interplay of the instruments was never lost in the din. The set is “Given To The Rising”-HEAVY (prompting a positive re-evaluation of an album that sorta passed me by), the atmosphere dark and oppressive – not least because the band have it written into their agreement with the venue that all airco is turned off during their set, making for a sweaty & claustrophobic experience.

Oneida @ Paradiso, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (14 August 2009)
The Little “O” seemed to be having a particularly good time (pleased too that the Big “O” was playing the main hall downstairs at the same time), the positive energy emanating from the stage proving infectious. Oneida sure know how to work a rifftastic groove, and man can that Kid Millions play the drums.

Micah P Hinson @ Toutpartout 15 Years Birthday Night, Botanique, Brussels, Belgium (28 November 2009)
Micah P‘s self-confessional and intimate songs were perfectly suited to the amazing Rotunda room in the Botanique (situated in the botanical gardens of Brussels), surely one of the best live music venues around. He played plenty off covers album “All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers“, paying tribute to his musical heroes & influences, including “coked-up airplane pilot” John Denver with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “This Old Guitar”.

Six Organs Of Admittance @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (11 December 2009)
The joke round these parts goes: although I’m an appreciator of the axe-wielding babe-ness of Elisa Ambrogio, I’d much rather shack up with her beau Ben Chasny. Well there was no Elisa this time, but aided by Alex Nielsen’s expressive drumming and the baritone guitar of Andrew Mitchell, Chasny delivered the highlight of the festival – well, at least until Shellac came, saw & conquered two days later.

Shellac @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (13 December 2009)
About as perfect as a rock show can be. They’ve got the tunes, they play together as though they’ve discovered the ability to mind-meld, shit there’s even choreography (Albini’s impression of a slowed-down-then-sped-up-tape is spot on). And inbetween the ‘minimalist hard rock’ songs that make you wanna bang your head, they are just fuckin’ funny – Shellac stage-banter is second only to that of Warren Ellis in laugh-out-loud comedy gold.

Todd Trainer: “Do I look like I can fuck??!!”
Albini: “He’s being modest – he’s a genetically-engineered machine designed to only fuck and play drums. He’s the result of a gene-splicing experiment conducted on Gene Krupa and one of those earth-moving machines…”

Neurosis, Micah P Hinson, Oneida, Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

l-r: (top) Neurosis (middle) Micah P Hinson, Oneida
(bottom) Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

Of course, this list omits many other memorable experiences. Sheeee-it, I saw The Jesus Lizard in three different countries, the always-awesome Shellac the same. There was Sunn O)))’s Atilla Csihar creating an incredible piece of performance art with his cloak of mirrors, lasered-claws and mesmerising mix of hellish growls, throat singing & Gregorian-style chanting. Sleep (temporarily) reunited! Nick Cave playing stripped-down versions of Bad Seeds songs (backed only by Warren Ellis & Martyn P Casey), interspersed with readings from his latest novel. Two fantastic ATPs with a Primavera in balmy Barcelona sandwiched inbetween. Anti-Pop Consortium transposed from Nieuw Haarlem to the Old. And many more great nights out in the various ‘poppodia’ in an around Amsterdam. Huge gratitude to all those that made these happen.


This little patch of the interweb galaxy fell into disuse & disrepair for most of 2009. Not through a lack of will or best intentions, but due to a poisonous combination of block, perfectionist ambition (AKA fastidiousness), and an increasing paucity of ‘free’ time (time which I feel should be better spent listening / experiencing music, rather than writing about it afterwards). Nonetheless, I would like to keep this gnarled & weed-filled garden somewhat tended – one of the main motivations for planting it in the first place was so that I’d have some written record of my music-related experiences, something to (re)call on in years to come (when I’ve completely obliterated my memory).

So here’s to a bit more activity in 2010!

‘Tis of course the season for list-making, Best Of’s and the like. At this time it’s worth rehashing this old chestnut. Read with bated breath to see if it’s Animal Collective or Fever Ray that’ll make you a crazy fool for never having been interested in hearing them (yep, guilty as charged…).

Also worth checking out is the Village Voice’s review of the hyped alt. music genres of the past 10 years (thanks Plasmatron).
I readily admit to falling under the spell of (and still listening to) some of these, but thank fuck Crabcore hasn’t got its pincers into me. Take a look at these Emo berks.

Here’s Warren Ellis of Dirty Three explaining the dream he has for all Emo bands (from the D3 performance at ATP’s 10th birthday celebrations, 12 Dec 2009):

And staying true to this being an unashamed place of Albini worship, here is my favourite music-related photo of 2009: Steve discovering that he really likes fish, picture courtesy of his new bride.

Steve's With The Fishes

And the great man is not just the God of Guitar Skinng, Recorder-in-Chief and Nutter Butter cookie connoisseur – he’s a bloody philanthropist as well!

I’m by no means an experienced festival-goer. Despite having soiled with saliva the Reading & Glastonbury ad pages of my late 80s Melody Makers & NMEs, by the time I was in close enough proximity to attend one of those ‘holy grail’ festivals the line-ups didn’t hold enough interest to warrant spending three days in an increasing state of mud bespatterment. For me it has to be first & foremost about the music, maannn – I view as alien those who attend these events just for the ‘vibe’, wandering around dazed & confused, missing all the performances in lieu of some altered state of camaraderie. So when the deserving-of-huge-reward-in-the-afterlife Barry Hogan and Helen Cottage launched the inaugural All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2000, it was a dream come true – one of my favourite bands (Mogwai) choosing all of their favourite bands (amongst whom Shellac, Papa M, Wire, Sonic Youth, The For Carnation, Bardo Pond) to play in a seaside holiday camp where the punters had a proper roof over their heads, a plumbed-in toilet and self-catering facilities. That April weekend was one of the best of my life thus far, and subsequent ATP experiences (Shellac 2002, The Director’s Cut 2004, Slint 2005, Dirty Three 2007) similarly served up never-to-be-forgotten idyll on the English coast.

That the fine folks of ATP have over the years achieved the seemingly impossible by tempting out of retirement Slint, Television, My Bloody Valentine and now the Jesus Lizard, only adds to their legend, and to my mind you can’t have much better endorsement than that of the notoriously promoter-skeptical & festival-avoiding Steve Albini, who said “There are three things in the world that I endorse: Abbey Road Studios, Nutter Butter Sandwich Cookies and All Tomorrow’s Parties” (a somewhat healthier endorsement than that which appeared in the liner notes of Big Black’s “Songs About Fucking“: “Steve uses and endorses heroin”). Albini’s band Shellac are such regular ATP’ers that they’re now officially the “ATP house band”.

ATP flashback 01

from top, l-r: Mogwai (2005), Shellac (2004), Matmos (2005), Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (2002), carousel horses (2007), Joanna Newsom (2007), Envy (2004)

On the return journeys after those wonderful weekends there have always been daydream conversations about “if you were curating ATP…”.

In 2007 the organizers gave form to those daydreams, introducing the concept of “ATP vs the Fans“, where the ATP folk chose half the line-up and ticket holders collectively got to select the rest (via a voting system). That concept has been resurrected for one of the May weekends in 2009, this time with the stipulation that votes can only be cast for bands that have not previously played an ATP festival in the UK. After purchasing tickets, attendees each get to submit a wishlist of 10 acts – these votes are tallied into a master list and every two weeks the top 2 names on that list are approached to play the festival (should the top 2 prove unavailable then the next 2 are approached). Of course it is unreasonable to expect people to splash the cash without some initial enticement, and the organisers more than held up their end by announcing a (to me) mindblowing first few names for their portion of the bill: the reformation of the Jesus Lizard!!! the reformation of Sleep!!! Anti-Pop Consortium!!! Grails!!!

On the basis of those four alone this became a must-attend event for me, and tickets have duly been procured and votes cast. Excluding bands that have previously played these awesome festivals was a tough assignment, as so many of my favourites have already appeared, but in the end the difficulty was reducing the list down to just ten.

ATP flashback 02

from top, l-r: Ganger (2000), Slint (2005), Camber Sands (2002), Múm (2005), Zeni Geva (2002), Dirty Three (2007), Camber Sands (2005), Boredoms (2004), Low (2002)

So now the wait in hope that I’m not too far out of step with the other attendees, and that at least some of my choices end up playing.  So far no good, with only two of those choices – Future Of The Left and Jesu – scoring high enough to be proffered an invite (which FotL have duly accepted, still waiting on Mr JK Flesh). Of the current list of 100,  only a handful of my choices are languishing in the lower reaches of the chart, so it seems I’ll have to rely on a ‘wildcard pick’ to see any more of my wishlist tread the Butlins boards in early May, but there is still plenty of time to go so I remain hopeful. None-the-less, with recent confirmations from Electric Wizard, Alan Sparhawk’s Retribution Gospel Choir and Qui, offers out to Neurosis, Killing Joke, Wolves In The Throneroom, Harvey Milk and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, and faith in the further choices of the ATP curators, the line-up for “ATP: The Fans Strike Back” promises to be an awesome one and I’m already gleefully rubbing body parts in anticipation of my May trip to the wilds of Minehead!

On the Mixtapes page you’ll find a companion-compilation to the 2007 ATP which was curated by Dirty Three.


My votes went to :
Alasdair Roberts
Boduf Songs
Future Of The Left
Scout Niblett
These New Puritans
The Young Gods

The votes of my unmarried female companion :
Aesop Rock
Alasdair Roberts
Boduf Songs
Scout Niblett
Whip / Timesbold

Having earlier enjoyed one of Antonio Gaudi’s many awe-inspiring modernist structures – the dragon-toppedhouse of bones‘ that is Casa Batlló – my final day of Primavera began in another architectural gem: the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Edifici Fòrum concert hall, which serves as the Auditori stage. Its limited capacity had meant hour-long queues on previous days (and would later also stymie access to the Throbbing Gristle and Young Marble Giants performances), but Scout Niblett‘s early start and relative anonymity ensured easy-enough access.

The Auditori stage is imposingly widescreen for the two-piece of Scout and drummer Kristian Goddard, but they proved that they are not daunted by such environs when supporting The Stooges at London’s Royal Festival Hall last year (as part of the Jarvis Cocker-curated Meltdown festival). And as soon as Scout unleashes her expressive voice on the traditional couplets that make up the intro to “Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?”, it becomes apparent that this is a perfect venue for her – the excellent concert-hall acoustics giving wings to her already soaring voice. She never fails to surprise with her choice of covers and follows “Good To Me” (with its bizarre woodstockhenge hair metal intro) by making TLC’s “No Scrubs” her own. Scout is all about the highs and lows of being under love’s spell, and in “Hide And Seek” she references the sweetheart fever that seems to afflict her, going from sparse and melancholic love song to attaining Nirvana.

Scout Niblett, Auditori stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

“Kiss” gets the biggest cheer of the set so far, unsurprising as it’s the closest thing Scout has had to a ‘hit single’ (helped by the appearance of the Bonnie Prince William of Oldham on the recorded version).
The past few times I’ve seen Scout Niblett play I’ve been left unfulfilled when she fails to take a turn behind the drumkit, but tonight she delivers by temporarily ejecting Goddard and enthusiastically beating out “Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death”… We’re all gonna die! We don’t know when… We don’t know how…
The rest of the songs are all Niblett highlights – some more favourites from “This Fool Can Die Now” sandwiched between two diamonds from her first album. “Wet Road” yearns with love unfulfilled, while “Miss My Lion” is the perfect closer, Scout stomping and wailing to superbly crunching riffs.

Setlist: Scout Niblett @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?
Good To Me
No Scrubs
Kidnapped By Neptune
Hide And Seek
Hot To Death
Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death
Wet Road
Let Thine Heart Be Warmed
Miss My Lion

Leaving the Auditori I’m happy to see that the rain that had niggled throughout the day has pissed off (only to return with a vengeance at the very end of the festival). There’s only enough time to catch Devastations end their set with a menacing, noisy “Rosa”, played with that scuzzy louche cool that seems peculiar to Australians-in-Berlin (cf. Nick Cave “The Heroin Years”, Angus Andrew of Liars). Their most recent album “Yes, U” blows hot and cold for me but here I find the swamp monster that lurks within their bombastic baroque-goth.

Devastations, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

It’s then over to the Estrella Damm stage to see Okkervil River, who’d drawn one of the biggest crowds I’d yet experienced at Primavera. The opening salvo of “The President’s Dead / Black” sets the tone for the upbeat crowd-pleasing show that is to follow. My first hearing of Okkervil River was “Black Sheep Boy“, the melancholy of the Tim Hardin-inspired tracks appealing to me most (and I’m a sucker for the William Schaff artwork too) – so l found last year’s “The Stage Names” initially too ‘big band’ with Sheff’s sometimes tortured words incongruous to the upbeat backing, but here under a grey Barcelona sky those songs proved much more infectious. Halfway through, Sheff introduces “It Ends With A Fall” as a tribute to The Wrens guitarist Charles Bissell (playing his last show with the band) – then jokingly fires him on stage. The rest of the performance rocks energetically, hitting a peak with “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” flowing straight into “For Real”, which really gets the audience jumping. They end with early song “Westfall” sung in Spanish, a fitting finale which the local fans really take to heart.

Okkervil River, Estrella Damm stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

Setlist: Okkervil River @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
The President’s Dead
A Hand To Take A Hold Of The Scene
The Latest Toughs
A Girl In Port
It Ends With A Fall
John Allan Smith Sails
Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe
For Real
Unless It’s Kicks
Westfall (Spanish version)

Dirty Projectors have created a lot of buzz over the past year, Dave Longstreth built up as some sort of weird genius. It’s not for me – maybe it’s too wilfully obscure or just too pop – but they provide some minutes of distraction, if not just for bassist Angel Deradoorian crooning melodies wearing what looked to be denim jogging shorts

Back to the well-visited ATP stage for Kinski, who sometimes come across as Sonic Youth from an alternate dimension – Chris Martin the floppy-haired guitar virtuoso, Lucy Atkinson the hard rockin’ female bassist, guitarist/flautist Matthew Reid-Schwartz in the Lee Ranaldo role, and Barret Wilke providing the Shelley-esque pounding. And sure Kinski are heavily indebted to their East Coast brethren (song titles like “Daydream Intonation” all but give it away), but these Seattle Sub Pop-ers also mix in a healthy dose of psych-kraut-space rock that coalesces into a riff-heavy brew that somehow stands apart from most of the post/psych/kraut/space-rock that abounds in these times.

Kinski, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

Inbetween songs it’s announced that today is bassist Atkinson’s birthday which causes the audience to break into a Spanish-accented “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear… erm.. Kinski!!” The band clearly enjoys themselves, as do we all.

After catching a few songs by saxophone-fronted rock-‘n-sample band Menomena (who appeal on first hearing, despite giving such prominence to that feared symbol of all things j&!z), it’s a quickmarch back down to the ATP stage to secure a prime position for being showered in the minimalist-rock-greatness that is Shellac. I’m glad it’s not too hard to get a good vantage point upfront early on, because I later turn to see the crowd massed into all the available space, tailing up the path back to the main festival site. They come because Shellac is the best godamn live band I & many others here have ever had the pleasure of sharing a room with. Prior to their performance I’d been quite open to the idea that Shellac would not necessarily produce the highlight of my weekend – there’d certainly been other contenders – but who was I kidding? That perfect blend of mass, velocity and time knocks me over every time.
It’s the first time I’ve seen them rock under the stars (a rare opportunity as Shellac generally have a dislike of festivals, except when the fine folk at ATP are involved) and the experience is just as powerful (even if Steve Albini and Bob Weston are without their custom cabinets, making do instead with more prosaic Marshall and Ampeg stacks).

Shellac, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

For all their precision, each show is an improvised performance – no setlists, Albini’s vocal adlibbing & caustic wit (in “Prayer To God” he exhorts Baby Jesus to “do your fuckin’ job for once”), taking questions from the crowd (this time unsuccessfully handled by Scout Niblett). And we get to hear a new song, sung by Weston and sounding like classic early ’90s-vintage Shellac (another new song appears in Paris about a week later – could it be we’ll be seeing a new Shellac album before the end of the world?!). It’s an amazing set, surely making new acolytes in the crowd of thousands, and (like all Shellac performances I’ve witnessed) words won’t do it justice…

Shellac, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

Setlist: Shellac @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
My Black Ass
In A Minute
Squirrel Song
(new song with Bob on vocals)
Prayer To God
Steady As She Goes
End Of Radio
Watch Song

Les Savy Fav are talked up as a crazy live experience (some would go so far as to crown them best live band around – heretics!) and sure enough vocalist Tim Harrington gives the crowd their money’s worth – first appearing disguised as a plant before stripping down to a multicoloured leotard and jumping into the audience, running up and down the concrete steps to the right of the ATP stage. The rest of the band rock efficiently behind Harrington’s antics, but it seems to me that Les Savy Fav’s appeal must be more in their moon-howlin’ mad frontman than in their tunes – and in contrast to the masterclass of masa, velocidad & tiempo that went before this only entertains superficially. So it is halfway through their set that I decide to call time on Primavera Sound 2008, heading into the balmy Barcelona night, off to dream my sweet Albini dreams…

I’ve been barely able to contain my excitement as the 4 June release date of Shellac‘s “Excellent Italian Greyhound” approaches. While I still enjoy flipping through the racks of a ‘bricks-and-mortar’ record store, most of my music procurement these days is via online vendors or direct from record labels, and it’s very seldom that I feel a desperate urge to make sure I get my hands on a new release the moment it hits the streets. But here I was, as nervous and giggly as the proverbial schoolgirl (although schoolgirls are more likely to give me a “fuck off grandad” or “piss off pervert!” than be nervous & giggly), wondering what excuse I could make for being late for work Monday morning after having made a detour to a suitable record shop. Yep, that’s what a seven year wait for a new Shellac record will do to me. I then got wind that the good folk at Norman Records had received their precious Shellac cargo on Thursday, early enough for it to arrive on my doorstep on Saturday if I was lucky…
So thank you to Norman, and to Royal Mail (who are very seldom worthy of my thanks, the usually lazy, incompetent bastards!), for I have indeed now been able to get to grips with “Excellent Italian Greyhound” for the past two days…

As one would expect from Shellac, quality is paramount – not just in the recording of the music but in the presentation of it too, and that attention to quality is evident from the moment I delve into the packaging: the handscreened slipcase by the incomparable Jay Ryan revealing the gatefold sleeve adorned with photos of Todd Trainer’s handsome greyhound Uffizi, and inside more of Jay Ryan’s art. The vinyl itself is of course 180 gram audiophile quality, and as with previous album “1000 Hurts” the vinyl version comes with free CD version. So on to the music…

Shellac - Excellent Italian Greyhound

Shellac record #13 is touted as the band’s longest record, but at 42’22” it still ends all too quickly. But hey, it’s quality not quantity remember, and the quality is here in spades…

I mentioned in a previous post that Shellac’s natural state is in performance, and that their recordings (despite the prowess of two masters of their craft in Albini and Weston) can only serve as “best effort” attempts at capturing the live Shellac experience – so it doesn’t surprise me that album opener “The End Of Radio” doesn’t have quite the same impact as it does live, Steve’s radio announcer sounding more matter-of-fact when announcing the end of radio (and the world?) than the impassioned pleas of the last announcer on earth that he inhabits when this is played before an audience. However Albini’s cries of “Can you hear me now?!” do get more urgent as the song goes on, and the shuffling-yet-martial sound of Todd’s snare builds the tension so that ringing guitar chinng that announces that instrument’s introduction into the mix  is one of the most satisfying sounds there possibly is.

I’ve always been slightly disappointed in “Steady As She Goes” when experiencing it live – it has sounded messy, somehow lacking the lean muscularity of Shellac’s other songs – but, contrary to my assertion above, this does actually sound better in its studio state, Albini & Weston’s recording skills decluttering the sound so that the song is revealed as a great chugging rocker in the mould of classic AC/DC.

One of the many enjoyable aspects of a Shellac show is the ‘choreography’ (like the ‘stomp break’ in the middle of “Watch Song”), which serves to highlight just what a fantastically tight band they are. “Be Prepared” makes a joke of this with its botched intro and false starts. Once it ‘properly’ starts it still confounds with its switches in pace, but is anchored by (another of) Todd’s virtuoso drumming displays. “I was born already bald! I was born wearing spats and a dickie!”

“Elephant” is one of the few tracks I haven’t heard before (when it’s seven years between albums, the fans are likely to have heard most of the ‘new’ material before it’s actually released) and is satisfying in its Shellac-ness. It features Bob Weston on lead vocals, Albini muttering underneath (“covered in shit & hair, many hairs”) and like other Weston tracks (e.g. “Song Against Itself”) it has somewhat of a philosophical lyrical bent: “Here comes the argument… / Fact of the matter is: facts don’t matter / Anti-intellectual: the new virtue / Repeat a lie, that makes it true.”

Halfway through, the album switches gear with “Genuine Lulabelle” (“she knows her way around a cock”), which live serves as an emotional slow burner like “Mama Gina” but here seems more overtly ‘experimental’, with Steve crooning “you could say I’m the genuine article” interspersed with a Don LaFontaine soundalike (himself echoed by a Larry David-style silly voice) and finished off with some female-spoken Italian – recalling both “The Futurist” and the improvised break in performances of “Billiard Player Song”, as well as the promiscous protagonist of Rapeman‘s “Trouser Minnow.”

“Kittypants” is the other song I haven’t heard before, and its an instrumental delight – sounding more akin to Jay Ryan’s Dianogah than ‘traditional’ Shellac, it has a languid groove and an inexplicable ‘feel-good factor’ that so far hasn’t failed in making me feel all warm & fuzzy inside. At under two minutes long it’s all too brief.

“Boycott” is propelled along by Bob Weston’s bass and is the other song to feature his vocals, the ‘boycott’ in question seemingly of a particularly unpleasant-sounding person: “A broken moral compass, points straight to hell / You better pray from an empty hole, the empty hole that was your soul / Do you believe your own lies, when the cost is a friend’s life?”. Albini’s guitar adds beautiful chiming accents.

“Paco” is another instrumental, its loping rhythm conjuring up images of a spaghetti-Western, before it changes tack into a muscle-bound math rocker which very much recalls “Il Porno Star” from first album “Shellac at Action Park“.

“Excellent Italian Greyhound” closes with “Spoke”, a song which has been around for ages (it was first recorded for a Peel Session way back in 1994) and which brings to mind the punky shoutiness of mclusky (Albini once referred to mclusky as “the best band in Britain”). With its gibberish vocals and propulsive rhythm it’s pretty infectious, and when it ends after just more than two minutes it only heightens the sense of loss I feel that the album is over!

Well I don’t like to pre-suppose but I think I might already have my mind made up as to my June “Album of the Month”… “Excellent Italian Greyhound” is everything I hoped it would be, I just wish there was more…

Here is “Paco” from the live Peel Session broadcast 02 December 2004.

Shellac – Paco (live Peel Session)

For some great photos of Shellac’s recent performance at the Paradiso in Amsterdam check out dennisstempher’s Flickr set here.

all images used in this post copyright Shellac & Jay Ryan

Shellac - ATP 2004 

Just keeping things Albinified, here are a couple of things that Shellac fans may be interested in:

Touch & Go have recently posted the Shellac installment of their 25th Anniversary Video Diary, which features Steve Albini (with a boozed-up David Yow) and Bob Weston paying tribute to Corey Rusk and Touch & Go, interspersed with clips of “The End Of Radio” and followed by a full performance of “Watch Song”. Check it out here.

This has been around for ages, but for those that haven’t chanced upon it here is a good quality live recording of a Shellac performance, taken from the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in April 2002 (recording comes courtesy of the fine folk at Transmission3000).
This was the ATP that Shellac curated, and they programmed two full weekends of amazing music, themselves playing the first gig of each day in order to ensure that the punters would drag themselves out of bed early enough to then catch all the other quality acts on display. What swell guys! The recording is from the second day of the first weekend (20 April 2002). For some photos from the second weekend, go here.

And in keeping with my intention to include a song with as many posts as possible, here is Shellac with “Wingwalker” recorded live in Tokyo, 20 Nov 1993 (from the Japan-only “Live in Tokyo“). Look at me, I’m a plane!

Shellac – Wingwalker (live in Tokyo)

Shellac - live at ATP March 2004

I am an unashamed disciple of the great Steve Albini, so it is was with much excitement and associated thigh-rubbing that I anticipated last Thursday’s Shellac gig at Koko. Shellac is in my humble opinion the best godamn live band there is and just the thought of seeing them perform invokes a Pavlovian response that has me drooling like an Italian greyhound… A Shellac show has it all: velocity / mass / time, comedy, choreography, education, Q&A sessions, guitar skinng, and attempts at unassisted human flight. And they just plain rock, tighter and harder than anything you’re likely to see.

They start off with “Steady As She Goes” which I find the weakest of the ‘new’ songs (with 7 years since “1000 Hurts” ‘new’ is a relative term!), but ‘weak’ only as it applies to Shellac which means it kicks the ass of most other stuff out there – and it just gets better from there. “My Black Ass” and “Squirrel Song” are highlights, as is “The End Of Radio” which has Todd Trainer prowling the stage with a snare in hand, Boris Karloff as the “Little Drummer Boy”, while Steve Albini is the last radio announcer left on earth, invoking the spirit of John Peel.

The great thing about Shellac is just how relaxed and comfortable they are on stage. They’ve got nothing to prove, and they’re really only playing for themselves (it gets them out of the house and away from their jobs), but this in no way makes them disdainful of their audience. They’re funny and engaging, and use the occasional tuning breaks as opportunities to hold Question & Answer sessions with the crowd (Bob Weston’s favourite cheese is Manchego fact fans!). During one such break we’re treated to an hilarious monologue by Todd telling us how much harder he rocks than any of us (he’s been up since 6am rocking out to AC/DC on his iPod). And although the songs are so precisely arranged and impeccably played, this doesn’t mean that the Shellac live experience is about re-creating ‘how the album sounds’ – quite the opposite: Shellac exist in the real world, born to play in the here & now, the albums only serving as attempts to capture the experience of witnessing the band in its native habitat. There is a certain amount of choreography at work (they’re so damn tight that they choreograph a botched intro as a joke) but improvisation too – “Billiard Player Song” & “Wingwalker” in particular allowing for extended vocal adlibbing, the break in “Wingwalker” also the setting for Steve to try really hard to fly.

Shellac - Koko May 2007

Shellac don’t do encores so Steve announces that they’ll play three more songs and they then launch into the only song of the night that is brand new to these ears – I assume it’ll be on “Excellent Italian Greyhound” which means its either “Elephant”, “Boycott”, or “Kittypants”… anyway, it’s the one with Bob singing. “Prayer To God” is the Shellac song that hooked newer fans to the band, its impassioned plea for a bit of biblical justice (“just fucking kill them!”) like a gateway drug into the murky world of Albini fetishism… it pretty much has the whole venue lurching forward in time to it. Although Albini’s guitar sound is unique, to my mind its closest antecedent is that of Gang Of Four’s Andy Gill, and that genealogical link is further reinforced with the closing “Watch Song” which is the rightful heir to Gang Of Four’s ‘punk-funk’ legacy. Who’d have thought a rant against a defective digital watch could have such ‘groove’?! The song dissolves in a cacophony of cymbals – Bob crouched down at the front of the drumkit, Steve reaching around Todd from behind, all three playing extended cymbal rolls… and then its over, and we’re left wondering how many years it’ll be until our next euphoric Shellac fix.

Setlist: Shellac @ Koko, London (17 May 2007)
Steady As She Goes
My Black Ass
This Is A Picture
In A Minute
Squirrel Song
The End Of Radio
Be Prepared
Billiard Player Song
Prayer To God
Watch Song

In honour of Shellac‘s latest visit to these shores, here is “The End Of Radio” in all its John Peel-eulogising, air-ionizing, Martina Navratilova-sponsoring glory (taken from a live Peel Session, recorded & broadcast shortly after John Peel’s death).

Shellac – The End Of Radio (live Peel Session) Chart (weekly)

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