Monthly Archives: October 2009

Five of the Best: #1 Mark Sheerin

The first in this new series on the blog is with Mark Sheerin. Mark is a music and arts journalist for Culture 24 and Art & Music magazine. You can read more of his work here.

Sonic Youth – nyc ghosts & flowers (2000)

Why I love it

This took a lot of listens to get used to, but I love the way it just keeps growing on me. Some of the tracks are pretty lengthy, so they creep up on you. There’s a lot of spoken word lyrical content which sits comfortably with the musical sprawl. A slowburn classic.

When I first heard it

I had a boxy room with a cheap stereo in a shared house in Oval London. When Sonic Youth toured the album I went with a friend to see that too. Remember being glad at the time to see them play all their “hits”. They treated us.

Standout track

Probably the title track. Thurston attempts poetry and, I think, gets away with it.

Anything else?

This was kind of the gateway to all of the band’s later releases, for me. It’s probably cooler to like punkier stuff, but I love the more post-rock material of which ‘ghosts’ was the first.

The Television PersonalitiesMy Dark Places (2006)

Why I love it

This record is either so bad it’s good or so good it brings tears to your eyes. The TVPs had gone quiet for about a decade and various rumours were circulating about lead singer Dan Treacy. They all turned out to be true, which makes the album a triumph out of adversity.

When I first heard it

It reminds me of commuting and hating my job (2006). They also played it at the 100 Club, which was shambolic, but I did get to meet Ed Ball, whose other bands include The Times, who are also wonderful.

Standout t

No More I Hate Yous. I love everything about this track, from its illogical premise through to the closing sample from movie Brighton Rock, via lovely harmonies from Victoria Yeulet.
It’s a love song, probably, but as much as anything else it’s a sad tribute to the death of the 60s, as they died a second time round in the late 80s! At least that’s a theory.

Anything else?

It’s worth exploring the back catalogue if you don’t al
ready know this band. The Painted Word from 1983 is their masterpiece, I reckon. There are many dark places in Treacy’s ouevre.

Wooden Wand and The Sky High Band –
Second Attention (2006)

Why I love it

Drawling hypnotic songs full of dark Biblical imagery. How could anyone not like that? It’s got a timeless quality, this album. There’s not a lot of tonal variation, but the repetition is what makes it interesting.

When I first heard it

Wooden Wand were playing at a festival which I had tickets for so I picked this up in the interests of homework, shortly after it came out. We never made it to the festival, so the record reminds me of being a bit disappointed.

Standout track

Mother Midnight. It’s one of the more epic moments.

Anything else?

Check out the sleeve art. It’s an oddly faithful recreation of the cover to Stormbringer by John Martyn

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (2007)

Why I love it

Sky Blue Sky has this warm seventies feel, which I’m a sucker for. The songwriting and the musicianship are both classy, but it’s so MOR in places you can feel a bit guilty listening to it. But a few of the tracks are such classics you can’t help but do so.

When I first heard it

They pre-released the title track online, so Wilco fans such as myself were chomping at the bit when this came out. It was one of the highlights of an otherwise forgettable year.

Standout track

Hate It Here. It’s enough to make you wish for a failed relationship.

Anything else?

That is all.

Spoon Ga ga ga ga ga (2007)

Why I love it

Although it’s only 36 minutes long and I’ve played it to the point where most albums would have expired, I never tire of it. This is largely thanks to Britt Daniels’ amazing voice and his surreal but highly affecting lyrics. Call it short and bittersweet.

When I first heard it

The first time I connected with the songs on this record was when I saw Spoon live in 2007. There were all these kids in the audience and I was beginning to feel old. But the adolescent angst must have been infectious. The band’s performance took years off me.

Standout track

You Got Yr Cherry Bomb. I still don’t know what a cherry bomb is, but it makes for a really good listen.

Anything else?

Spoon take their name from a track by Can, which surprises a lot of people when they hear this album. It’s quite poppy, really.

Choice Cut Video: Spoon – You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb

Five of the Best – an Introduction

How do you succinctly summarise a decade in music in a few paragraphs? Well, you don’t, in my opinion. The last ten years have seen so many zeitgeists, so many trends and so many amazing moments in music, it would be futile to try. What’s been good and what’s been bad is of course completely subjective: everybody has their two cents to throw in. And whilst we’ll all read, dissect and argue over the lists that appear online and in print over the coming two months, they’re unlikely to represent any one person’s decade in music.

This is a series I’ll be running on the blog which will give individuals whose musical opinions I respect the chance to do exactly that: to tell us what music they’ll be taking forward from the noughties. What albums have resonated with them more than others? What records remind them of a particular time in their lives over the past ten years? They may not be the best albums of the past decade, but what albums were important to you?

Please feel free to leave comments after the posts. What albums would you have chosen?

This week, I have been mostly listening to…

The Decemberists always had this in them. Over the course of their last four albums, their dalliances with prog have been growing ever more apparent and dominant. With The Hazards of Love, they’ve taken this nuance and given it free reign, resulting in a riff heavy rock opera. Colin Meloy hasn’t let this tarnish his ear for a tune: on the contrary, his album contains some of the best Decemberists tracks I’ve heard. His penchant for verbose, Dark Age / Dickensian tales again returns. Meloy is one of the most ambitious songwriters about at the moment, and what may be perceived as flaws in others, conversely work in his favour. This album is pretentious, it’s garish, it’s smug (Meloy still occasionally sounds like he writes his songs whilst perusing the Oxford English), but it works fantastically well. The Decemberists have always had the potential to polarize opinion, and this is their most divisive release to date. But for me, it’s one of the albums of 2009.

Video: The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

Off The Cuff @ Three and Ten, Brighton Comedy Festival, 21 October

In the style of Channel 4’s hit Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Off The Cuff act solely on impulse, enacting sketches based on suggestions from the audience, which range from the mundane (gardening) to the ridiculous (terminal illness). For the most part, the show worked well. With little encouragement required, the performers threw themselves into things, and whilst some seemed more at home under the glare of the spotlight than others, none can be faulted for effort. A take off of Blind Date was the highlight of a slightly truncated night that’s funny and entertaining – if a little tame.


Written for Latest 7

Broken Records – Out On The Water EP Review

After all the column inches dedicated to them, it’s easy to forget that Broken Records are a relatively new band. A single album into their careers, and they’ve already been consecrated and desecrated a dozen times over. What this EP of demos and B-sides, recorded prior to their debut, serves to remind us is that there’s still a hell of a lot of potential to be mined within the talented Edinburgh outfit. Yes, they sometimes have a tendency to overdo things – a sense of melodrama creeps into Jamie Sutherland’s voice more than once – but here are five mostly excellent songs, peaking with Sutherland’s falsetto on Lessons Never Learnt and the superb instrumental outro of All So Tired. The question is: where to next?


Written for The Skinny

North Atlantic Oscillation – Callsigns EP Review

This space-rocking, be-bopping, genre-hopping Edinburgh trio’s debut EP is an ambitious affair. With two originals, a cover and a remix (courtesy of Kscope label mates Engineers), it may not sound substantial, but stylistically there’s a lot going on. Opening track, Cell Count is a joyously cosmic electronic cut – equal parts Flaming Lips and FOUND – which has just enough hook to prevent it from floating away on the breeze. It makes way for Ceiling Poem, which despite being a meatier, more frenzied effort, doesn’t quite match the heights of its predecessor. NAO’s cover version of choice speaks volumes about their promise; their take on ‘50s doo-wop number I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos is tuneful, experimental and a lush show-stopper.


Written for The Skinny

Daniel Johnston – Is and Always Was Album Review

On his latest album, Daniel Johnston forsakes the very sound that has come to define him; swapping his four-track and slapdash instrumentation for a studio, a fellow Beatles nut (Jason Falkner) and full band. It’s a bold move, likely to alienate some, but if anyone’s earned their day in the sun, it’s Johnston. The results are at times terrific. Somewhat surprisingly, Johnston thrives in his role of band leader, sounding dominant and more tuneful than ever. There’s a palpable Fab Four influence throughout, as well as thick psychedelic gauze (the Syd Barrett-esque title track is one of the highlights). Peel away the layers, though, and this is unmistakably his own work. Queenie the Dog sounds like one of the troubled troubadour’s cartoons brought to song; there are the familiar themes of love (Mind Movies), death (Freedom) and frustration (High Horse) and trademark candid lyricism. But with contemporary tools at his disposal, this is perhaps Johnston’s most singular and cohesive piece of music to date.


Written for The Skinny

Cazza Comedy Review @ The Caroline of Brunswick 14 October

When was the last time a night bookended by conversations on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer was greeted with such uproarious laughter? Compèred by the effervescent Jim Grant and featuring seven comedians, Cazza Comedy provided ample bang for your buck, so much so, that even the rare lulls in amusement can be forgiven. Opening comic Sean McLoughlin’s animated meanderings on sexual failings and Catholicism proved hilarious, as he rivalled Kevin Precious as the best of the early acts. But headliner Robin Ince’s (above) frenzied, fiercely intelligent and desperately funny assault on news, politics and Natasha Kaplinsky stole the plaudits, on a highly recommended night.


Written for Latest 7

Video: Robin Ince on Creationism

The Boggs standard: A word with Jason Friedman

Jason Friedman

This interview took place in April 2008, right about the time The Boggs’ excellent Forts had recently been subject to a glowing review courtesy of myself…

Jason Friedman is, to all intents and purposes, The Boggs. He writes the songs, he designs the artwork and he oversees the recruitment of whomever the hell he wants to work with on any given day. With the stonking post-punk of Friedman’s latest release Forts still ringing joyously in his ears, Finbarr Bermingham expected an impious Stalinist control freak on the other end of the ether when he caught up with the multi-talented Brooklyn based musician recently. Friedman’s gracious, informed response suggested such misgivings were slightly off the mark, but we were by no means disappointed…

Your new album, Forts, is extremely difficult to classify. Where do you place it and how did you progress to a point so far away from your debut (2002’s We Are The Boggs We Are, which was a reworking of Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music 1927-1932)?

Jason Friedman: “I think the thing that excites me the most about making art is looking for the connections in seemingly disparate things. When I started The Boggs, I wanted to discover for myself the ways in which all the music I listened to overlapped and I wanted to do so in a way that skipped past the automatic associations one might have for the specifics of genre.

“I have always thought the idea of there actually being something fundamentally ‘rock and roll’ or ‘punk’ or ‘blues’ or whatever was really kind of false. Fundamentally, it really just didn’t ring true that the differences were real. To me, the only differences seemed to be surface ones; ones more about fashion, technology or the way records are marketed.

“It’s all fundamentally the same thing to me; whether it was the disenfranchised in America thrashing away on brittle guitars in some late-night shebeen, skinny working class teenagers in postwar England finding their own fierce way through those same songs in a sweaty Cavern or a bunch of kids cutting up the records themselves in a local rec-center in the Bronx – wasn’t it all just DIY party music?

“It’s like a telephone-game of culture in which these party anthems have been passed around from generation to generation, mutating for over a hundred years.”

Is there any reason why you are the only constant member of The Boggs? Do you find it easier to collaborate rather than operate in a fixed unit?

“Well, I’d say it comes from necessity more than anything. I’ve always had a very specific sense of how I wanted things to develop and a lot of that development has occurred late at night when my OCD tendencies can sort of switch on and take over the process. In that way, it’s been a kind of insular route so it has at times been really rewarding to open it up and have the fresh ideas of someone new to play off of.

“In essence, The Boggs is really a recording project and most of the work is done over extended periods of time and the songs built up in an almost painterly manner.

“Where not having a fixed unit has been an issue, it’s in performing live. It’s hard to grow as a performer when, in reality, things are starting over again every several months.

“Sometimes I get very jealous when I look at friends of mine like The Rapture and I see the ways in which they continue to improve on stage. That comes from their ability to build on each performance and that is something I have never been able to really do in The Boggs.”

Is it important for you to be the controlling force when writing/recording, or are there any democratic aspects to the process?

“Yes, I’d say it’s important for me to think of myself as in control of the band. I don’t want that to sound arrogant. It’s not the only way I could ever work and in no way are my ideas in anyway superior to all the incredibly talented people who have at different times called themselves a part of the group. It’s just that the thoughts behind what has motivated me with The Boggs have been so specific that it’s been easier to assume the role of captain. It’s also a role that has intensified over the years. I think there is something very specific about what the Boggs are and even I would be a different sort of writer and performer if I were in another band.

“In the Boggs, I mostly work as musical director. I set up the parameters and the direction and then whomever I’m working with act in response to my initiative and we move the track along together.

“I think one of the ways in which I have improved over the years is knowing when to trust the people I’m working with. Trying to recognize when it’s appropriate to step back is important. Most of the time, the engineer or musician is more likely to go where you want them to if you leave them alone.”

The list of musicians who have contributed to The Boggs over the years makes for impressive reading (Friedman has counted Enon, Au Revoir Simone and Liars alumni as part of the band at one point or another). How do you get involved with these people and what artists would you like to collaborate with, in an ideal world?

“Oh I don’t know. I’m not sure I could really answer that. Maybe a filmmaker? I’d like to try scoring a film; that would be fun. And I could certainly learn a lot by watching a great director in action. I’ve definitely been extremely privileged to work with so many amazing people. In some cases they’ve sought me out, in some cases I’ve asked people to fill very specific rolls and sometimes it just kind of happened.”

Like some other notable New Yorkers (Lou Reed, Liars), you’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin. What is so attractive about the city; how does it differ from New York and influence your work?

“I went to Berlin at a time when I really needed to step a way from things. I went there and basically disappeared into the creative process for a year and a half. If you know what you want to work on, Berlin is great for that. There is a feeling of being very far away from the world there. It’s slow and it’s quiet: I think that was what I needed at the time.

“It also seems to be a somewhat lawless or apocalyptic place. Just about every major event in the 20th century happened in one way or another in Berlin. Those stains are still all over the city and in a lot of ways it still feels like a post-war environment. Creatively, all that darkness and space really had an impact on me. It helped guide a number of the themes. Not in a literally historical manner, but in its mood and temperament it had a tremendous effect.”

Thematically, what is Forts about?

“It’s about the kinds of figurative and literal things people make for themselves to both deal with and avoid ordinary life. It’s about routines and habits and the rooms, cities and imaginary spaces where these habits and routines take place. It’s about compulsion, restlessness, isolation and people who should know themselves and each other much better than they do.”

What are the main influences on your music, both musical and others?

“While I was making Forts I was listening to a lot of early hip-hop, Afro-Beat, funk, ska and soul.

“I watch a lot of movies. I end up spending all day watching things if I’m not careful. And I’ll watch all kinds of films really, from snooty seven-hours-plus Hungarian films to teen comedies. You can’t miss with a good rom-com. Nor can you with the Marx Brothers or something like It Happened One Night.

“I look at art. Paintings and drawings mostly but I also I borrow from a good many of the 70’s conceptual artists and people like Joseph Beuys.

I hope this doesn’t look ridiculous but, a lot of my notions about this kind of non-linear history of rock and the kind of de-compartmentalised anti-genreism I go on about were shaped by reading Gilles Deleuze.

The cover of We Are The Boggs We Are features a music magazine with The Strokes on the cover. What was the thinking behind that? Do you think The Boggs fitted in with the early 2000’s New York band scene?

“I think we fit in more than The Strokes did to be honest. By that I mean that those guys were never really a part of the scene. You’d see them bobbing up here and there, but really they weren’t really a part of things. To me the New York scene was something that really grew in the late 90’s. There were a few really great rock and soul dance parties around town and there was a gang of kids who all hung out together and ended up in all these bands in the 00’s.

“The Strokes sounded the part, but they didn’t have much to do with anything else. They might as well have been from L.A.

“I always like to fill album covers with details and inside-jokes. So much of the first album to me was about re-thinking assumptions and I new most people would automatically associate our sound with cliché images of sharecroppers and miners. None of that had any relevance to me since I discovered that music in record stores. That was my context for it and I wanted to display it that way as if to say, ‘This music is not what you think, it is not something from long ago, it is now.’

“The cover was based on the Faces’ First Step LP as kind of an answer to any criticism that we might just be a novelty 1920’s revivalist act. The Faces reworked folk and blues in their way, The Velvet Underground did it their way, Wire did it their way etc. I wanted to say we are no different and that this is what the process is: everyone stealing from each other and in the process, rediscovering it. The England scarf was another clue. This music doesn’t just come from America and Africa it comes from everywhere and its mutations are infinite. And all of this was done in the summer before the Strokes debut when every magazine had them on the cover when everyone was wondering if they were the next great leap forward. I was pointing the finger and saying they are nothing new.”

How do you like to spend your time away from music? Do you have any interesting pastimes?

“I draw a lot. That’s my stuff all over the new album. I also make films and videos; although I don’t do that so much anymore. And I write. I watch a lot of football which, because of the time difference between England and America, means getting up at the crack of dawn and getting my weary bones to a pub in the city. Ridiculous.”

What is your favourite music of the past year?

“The new Hot Chip LP.”

Interview written for The Skinny


Cabaret on a Sinking Ship @ The Nightingale Theatre, 29 September

Theatre Review for Latest 7

With standout characters like an amphibious reality TV champion, jilted by her manageress, a politician haunted by the demons of the past and Lily, the gypsy immigrant from Eastern Europe, begging for your vote; Cabaret On A Sinking Ship takes a well-aimed, if sometimes slapstick swipe at British society, opportunely timed to coincide with a certain visiting conference.

The results are unflinchingly intense and occasionally hilarious. There’s acerbity in the cast’s delivery that hammers home their disgruntlement, but there’s an unfortunate overriding sentiment that 30 minutes could easily have been sacrificed from the production, much to the comfort of the patrons.