Monthly Archives: April 2012

Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light

Sweet Heart Sweet Light opens with a sumptuous, succinct instrumental (Huh?), before diving balls first into a nine-minute glam rock opus (Hey Jane) that’s four minutes longer than it should be. Little Girl opens with the line: “Sometimes I wish that I was dead,” before leading into one of the simplest and best songs J. Spaceman has written in years. If you’re after an analogy for Spiritualized’s career, you could do worse than this opening trio, and the pattern continues throughout. There are moments – like the brilliant Freedom and gospel-tinged I Am What I Am – of sublime clarity, where he sounds like delivering on his promise of a perfect pop album, a la Brian Wilson. Elsewhere, though, he seems destined to spin forever through the stratosphere on the back of an intergalactic tangent (the protracted Headin’ For The Top Now and Get What You Deserve). Many of Jason Pierce’s talents are apparent on this album. Unfortunately, restraint isn’t one of them.

3/5

Written for the Skinny

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Fence Records’ Seamus Fogarty: An Irishman Walks Into A Bar

Image by Ross Trevail

A text comes through from Seamus Fogarty as we’re walking to meet him at a coffee shop on the Thames. “I’ll be the big hairy fella,” it reads. And sure enough, ten minutes later, there he is: hirsute and sizeable, sitting by the river with two dogs sniffing round his feet. “They’re not mine,” he laughs, by way of introduction. Despite the nip in the air, the February sunshine beams down with the suggestion of spring. “With weather like that, it’d be rude not to order a beer,” says Seamus. And with that, as he articulately explains to his girlfriend four pints later, “the interview went liquid.”

Fogarty is from Swinford, County Mayo (population: 1,500), is signed to Fence Records in Anstruther, Fife (population: 3,500) and lives in London, England (population: 8,278,251). He’s about to release his debut album, God Damn You Mountain, which is one of the most beautiful to have passed through these ears for some time. Theconnection with Fence was made via James Yorkston, a man who is no stranger to playing the bars and clubs of Ireland, and who advised him to “lose the Yank accent” he’d acquired from years playing Johnny Cash covers, before inviting him to open a gig in Kilkenny in 2009.

“I knew Homegame was coming up a couple of months after the gig,” says Seamus. “After the show, I asked him about my chances of getting involved in it and then kept emailing him about it. Eventually, he got me sorted out with a slot and we kept in contact and always said we would do some recording together.” A year later, Seamus was back teaching music technology at a Limerick college. “I was fed up. I’d had a horrible day and emailed James again. He spoke to Johnny Lynch and they got me a gig in Anstruther. Kenny Anderson was there and I gave him a CD. A couple of months later, he told me he’d listened to it five times in a row. He invited me back to play at Haarfest. I’ve been involved with them ever since.”

 Fogarty is clearly delighted to be on Fence (“they’re an amazing bunch to be involved with”) and you’d be hard pushed to find a label more suited to his music. The CD he handed Anderson contained the opening tracks from God Damn You Mountain, an album that, stylistically, isn’t a million miles from King Cresosote’s understated magnum opus of last year, Diamond Mine, in which his microcosmic folk songs were drawn out by the ambient wizardry of Jon Hopkins. Fogarty, though, plays both roles. “I was sick of writing songs with such a rigid structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus. So I started trying all sorts of different things. Jon has a load of field recordings from around Cellardyke, and I have a similar archive, I suppose. I’ve made it over the last five or ten years, so sometimes I’ll dip into them to add something to a track.”

And so, woven among the bluegrass, the blues and the folk is the baaing of sheep, the dropping of kitchen utensils and the memories of old, Irish women. Fogarty’s extensive mixing of the songs (over the course of the day’s chat the names Squarepusher and Aphex Twin crop up, helping to explain the prevalent electronic influence) give them an aura of nostalgia – a rose-tinted snapshot of old Ireland, much more appealing from a distance of 50 years. Fogarty, who was raised on a diet of traditional music – admits being surprised by how “Irish” the songs sounded when he first played them back. “I grew up playing trad,” he says. “I used to play the fiddle, tin whistle and like many people, I got fed up with it as I got a bit older. You kind of get it hammered into you when you’re growing up. I got into a lot of American music – Pavement, Johnny Cash, stuff like that, and got back into the Irish stuff in my twenties.”

He admits getting “eyes to the sky” when he plays his music to the folks back home, but undeterred, Seamus decided to go full time last year. As well as his music, he makes films (he has had installations in Germany, Argentina and soon China) and paints pictures (the cover art is his own). “I just do whatever,” he says, “even if it doesn’t pay the bills!” It all makes for interesting conversation, and over the course of a day, we stretch to “girls with dinosaur bodies” (one of his more oblique lyrics”), dead singers (Sparklehorse and Elliott Smith are a big influence) and of course, Ireland. Eight hours, two pubs, a few songs and a skinful of ale later, we part ways. As first dates go, we haven’t had many more successful than this.

 Written for The Skinny

Scrawls and Bawls Playlist: March 2012

Just a quick one today, as I’m about to to run out the door to catch a flight to a far off land. Here’s what’s been tickling my lugs this month. Some cracking stuff from the first quarter of the year – which has been mighty impressive. One thing I will say: listen out for the monstrous riff on the Islet track (What We Done Wrong), which comes a few minutes in. Enjoy, share, buy the albums.

1. Olafur Arnalds – Film Credits

2. RM Hubbert – V

3. Dirty Three – Moon On The Land

4. Blue Sky Black Death – Sky With Hand

5. Nalle – Iron’s Oath

6. Trouble Books – Abandoned Monorail Station

7. Willis Earl Beal – Evening’s Kiss

8. Marissa Nadler – Ghosts & Lovers

9. Daniel Rossen – Saint Nothing

10. The Shins – Simple Song

11. Lee Ranaldo – Shouts

12. Diagrams – Night All Night

13. Lower Dens – Brains

14. POLICA – Lay Your Cards Out

15. Gillian Welch – The Way It Goes

16. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

17. RM Hubbert, Alex Kapronas, Aidan Moffat – Car Song

18. Islet – What We Done Wrong

19. Orbital feat. Zola Jesus – New France

Listen to the playlist here

First Listen: Jack White’s Blunderbuss

Jack White with the Mayor of Lambeth

 

The debating chamber of London County Hall is a stately affair, tucked away amid the marble hallways and royal blue rope barriers, and decked out with hardwood pews, an imposing lectern and Georgian era watercolours. It’s a strange place for Jack White to launch his rambunctious, southern fried new album, Blunderbuss, which is played in its duration to the darkened theatre, with a big screen showing the record spinning in real time. The respectfully quiet gaggle of journalists, strategically subdued by the aqua blueBlunderbuss cocktails doled out beforehand (Jack Daniels, blue curacao, lemonade) listen attentively, squinting at their lyric books, impossible to decipher in the low light. Strange, and not very practical.

Things take a further turn for the curious once the record finishes playing. Up steps Christiana Valcarcel, the mayor of Lambeth, in full mayoral robes and regalia to “grill” White on Blunderbuss and life in general. “You are a talent. Don’t get big-headed – but you should be proud of yourself,” she shouts at a puzzled White. “I can’t do both!” comes the reply. The stage is set for one of the oddest interviews you’ll ever see. Jack White, for his part, looks healthy and slimline. He passes himself humbly and amicably and is clearly excited about the first album bearing his own name.

“I didn’t know I was really doing it until I was doing it about four or five songs in,” he says of the record’s inception. “Then it felt like it was turning into something. There was a session booked [to record] a 45 in my studio and it got cancelled. I had flown in some players from out of town to play that day and I had nothing for them to do, so I thought I guess we’ll do one of my songs. I got three songs on the first day out of that session and I just kind of kept going, but I didn’t know whether to put out a Dead Weather record or Raconteurs record and by the sixth or seventh song it just felt like a kind of complete record. I thought: ‘I guess I’ll just call it me…’”

Blunderbuss is an aggregation of White’s career to date: a mixture of classic rock, country, blues and straight up, old school rock and roll. He speaks of playing the conductor, moving from instrument to instrument and no longer being just the guitar player – a trend that began with the 45s he’s been churning out for three years in his Third Man record label. He explains: “If I didn’t move to Nashville I don’t think I would’ve made this record. Through all these 45s I’ve done, I’ve got a humongous family of pedal-steel players, violinists and harpists. Last year everything changed when I started production… there were ten or 12 people at times in the room playing live… it was the first time I’d really ever conducted an orchestra. I would say: “When the chorus comes in, I need the harps to do a D Minor chord and then the piano comes in for the break. There are so many session musicians, songwriters, people playing for tourists and stuff, where else would you have access to that much talent in the neighbourhood, you know?”

The conversation turns at various points to upholstery (White used to be an apprentice and last year opened an upholstery store), the word ‘love’ (“It’s hard to use the word “love” in a song, it’s been so used for so long thousands of times, plays, paintings, poems and if you’re going to say that word, I think you sort of have to put a twist on it.”) and White’s statistics (“6’1, 185 lbs”), before Valcarcel lets him off the hook and he makes an exit stage right. If there’s one thing you can glean from looking through his back catalogue, it’s that Jack White is rarely content to play by convention – and tonight in the County Hall is no different.

 Originally published here

Seamus Fogarty – God Damn You Mountain

Rita Jack’s Lament, the centrepiece of Seamus Fogarty’s startlingly good debut album, features a recording of a County Kerry native on her first trip to Ireland in 50 years. She’s standing in the house she grew up in, talking about her childhood, as a traditional Irish guitar track plays out, distorted and unwound. You can hear the birds singing in the background and, to coin a phrase, you can almost smell the cowshit off it. The ethereal mood permeates throughout God Damn You Mountain, a record that nestles beautifully at the point where the digital and analogue worlds collide. It’s a wonderful, woozy mix of folk, country and blues, in which Fogarty’s weary vocals and ghostly field recordings are fused fast with the plaintive banjo, plucked guitar, organ and violin. At times it’s heartbreaking, but, like a good daydream, you come out the other side wistful, smiling and longing to go back in for more.

5/5

First published here

Buy God Damn You Mountain here