Black Hay… man in stack

Neil Mason — Neil Mason @ 10:24

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So here’s a thing. In an unusual moment for us, we are posting about something just about on its actual release date. Yup. Unusual for two reasons. The first reason our regular reader will be more than familiar with. We are nothing if not bone idle. So we’re pretty pleased with today’s post for an album that’s out next Monday. The second reason is things don’t really have proper release dates any more as you’re more likely to stumble across something brilliant than make an appointment to buy on a set date. Over the coming months, we’d wager people will be stumbling across Black Hay, because, well, it is something rather brilliant.

They first came to our attention earlier in the year when they dropped us a great email. We’ve talking about this sort of stuff before. There is a way onto the pages of blogs like ours, but first you have to realise just how much music you’re up against out there. Tons. Our inbox pings away gently all day long with emails from people making music. In the grand scheme of things we’re a tiny blip of a site. You shudder to think how many emails bigger and better sites get.

Black Hay’s email was such a treat. Don’t want to spill the beans, because then our inbox will just be full of treat emails and we’ll have to find another way of sifting them. Needless to say, we felt it’d be rude not to give them a spin. Rude? We didn’t know the half it.

We don’t know a whole lot about Black Hay (yes, we know, what’s new?) and somehow that seems okay because heck does the music do the talking. What we do know is that it’s the work of Londoner Gideon K and it fair stopped us dead in our tracks. It’s dark, Jim. And it’s rude, dirty rude. And there’s an album of this stuff, it’s called ‘Romantic Music For Perverts’. Which is just about right. He’s clearly a man who knows his Johnny Cash. He has been described as “worse than Leonard Cohen”, which we’d take as some sort of compliment, and called a baby Nick Cave, which is about right too, it’s that sort of dirt dripping in romantic filth.

Favourites round here are the muck and lust of ‘I Feel Something’, have a listen, it’ll make you blush. And there’s the heartbreaking Lemonheads-y ‘Skinny Wings’ (“you’ll never make it with the angels with such a skinny pair of wings”), but where it really parks tanks is the duo of “Open Up” and “Lord Rest My Soul”.

In these two songs you can hear an artist going places. They sound like songs way beyond a debut from an unsigned artist. If the piano gospel of “Lord Rest My Soul” is in any way some indication of where Black Hay are headed, consider this a warning. We might have just written about a band who we can finally say told you so about.

The album is out on 16 March, don’t muck about eh? Get it from their bandcamp. Consider it an investment.

More hear…
– A websiteTwitterFacebookYouTube.
– The Soundcloud.

Belgian Fog… hit or mist?

Neil Mason — Neil Mason @ 16:24

So… the usual excuses for not posting since forever o’clock. We’ve been really busy just sitting on our hands. It’s hard work being this bone idle. So anyway, we decided to spend the morning plugged into our inbox. It’s stupidly full, so much music, just the one pair of ears. We’ve posted some of the highlights on our new-ish Facebook page. It’s like this site, only a faster musical fix for all concerned. Please tell your friends.

Right, so as we were working through months of emails, a new one pinged in from Belgian Fog, one Robert Dale who works at Seattle’s excellent KEXP radio station and happens to also make music as the aforementioned.

There’s two tracks to go on, ‘You Drive Me To Madness’ and ‘Wait For Help’. We duly fired up ‘You…’ and first thought was this sounds a bit not quite right, a bit, what’s the word? Broken. The vocal sounds as lazy as us… like actually singing words is a total luss, and then you get to the chorus. Boy, the chorus. It’s like lighting birthday candles with a flame thrower. ‘Wait…’ is much the same, the flipping chorus is stonking. And the more we listen, the better both tracks get. For some odd reason that lazy-ass vocal makes us think Walker Brothers. Or is that just us? Just us then.

And then we read the email again in which Robert, very casually, mentions the producer is John Goodmanson. Bikini Kill? Blonde Redhead? Death Cab For Cutie? Sleater Kinney? Los Campesinos!? Yup, that John Goodmanson. There’s something afoot here. Looks like a best-kept secret to us. Won’t be for long. We’re taking bets.

More hear…
– There is, as far as we can see, just the Soundcloud. We’d suggest you put it on repeat.

Starlings… one for the road?

Neil Mason — Neil Mason @ 14:18

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Post number 101 for MNFB then. Seems fitting somehow. In my Room 101 would go the stuff that stops you in your tracks, makes the blood drain from you face, the things in life that no matter how you look at them don’t seem fair. Top of my list is what’s happening to Chris Sheehan and his lovely wife Claire. Chris is a singer, songwriter, session musician of no mean ability. You may know him as Starlings (see below).

I discovered recently that Chris has Stage 4 metastatic nodular melanoma. Not only that, but Claire has pulmonary hypertension. Both conditions are terminal. For that to happen to one of them is devastating enough. Both? That’s plain cruel. They moved to Spain an age ago with their two boys and, from what I hear, they now have a small zoo worth of rescue animals. More about animals in a bit.

Thing is, Chris has recently set up a fundrazr page to fund one last album. In eight days he’s almost hit his €5,000 target. Tells you much about the man. I’ve no idea who reads this stuff, but if you can offer any help along the way, that would be great. Make a donation, spread the word, whatever… I can’t do much other than write things down, so that’s what I’m going to do until this album gets made.

I first met Chris through my friend James who was working as Starlings’ tour manager. I’d tag along to gigs and whatever, hang about at Dave Stewart’s Crouch End studio when he was recording. He wasn’t ever the slightest bit starry despite having every right to be so. He was also in demand for session work what with him being a stonkingly good guitarist, playing most notably with the likes of Curve, Sisters Of Mercy and best of all Babylon Zoo, who he might or might not have appeared on TOTP with when Number One singles meant something.

In a real stroke of luck, when me and James needed somewhere to live, Chris and Claire were relocating from Muswell Hill to LA to record a new Starlings album. Did we want to rent their gorgeous flat and look after the cat? We did.

It was a great place to live, I don’t think we fully appreciated at the time what a beautiful place it was. And it was made all the more lively by their tomcat called… Tom. He was the feistiest animal I have ever met. Sounds daft, but me and Tom really got on. James was away much of the time, touring, so it was often just me and the boy. In the house, he was lovable old Tom, outside it was a whole different kettle. He was a complete male and complete males have urges. You’d often hear him outside making that noise cats make when they need a shag. The downstairs neighbours complained repeatedly about catching him in their flat spraying everywhere and trying to knock up their little princess. I’d apologise. Regularly.

On one occasion Tom appeared through the third floor catflap from the fire escape looking like he was soaking wet. I grabbed a towel only to discover it was much worse. He was covered in cooking oil. No idea how it happened, but he needed a bath. You’ve heard the expression about herding cats? Try bathing one. I had to enlist the help of my friends from round the corner and it took all three of us several hours before he was clean. And then there was the time he returned one morning looking very sorry for himself with a swollen face. I rushed him to the vets, where an air gun pellet was removed from his head. Someone had shot him, right between the eyes. Nine lives? Tom had a hundred.

Although I’ve not seen Chris in a million years, he remains one of my favourite people. He’s the best company, a true gentle soul… despite appearances. Claire is doubly great, always warm and welcoming… except when she returned from LA to discover that boys in their early 20s don’t do cleaning very well, despite their best intentions. I learnt to clean a house properly after that Claire will be pleased to know. To this day I still feel guilty about that.

I clearly remember going to a show at The Water Rats in King’s Cross, must have been for a resurfacing of Starlings following the release of ‘Too Many Dogs’ in 1994 I guess. I hadn’t seen either of them for an age. Being the insecure wreck I was, for some reason I didn’t think they’d remember me. Fat chance, Claire was so pleased to see me, as was Chris.

Starlings were nothing if not critically acclaimed and so the music press were there en masse. I was working in a pub at the time, still a year or so away from my own lucky break that led to a job at NME working alongside the very same people who were there that night. Funny old world. Thing was, Chris and Claire always made me feel so welcome. No matter what or where or with who, I was part of their little world. They are the loveliest people. I can’t imagine what they must be going through. Please do what you can to help. It’ll be worth it.

You can read more about Chris and Starlings on Wikipedia … there’s a nice love letter on songomatic.com. there’s also recent pieces on louderthanwar.com, The Quietus and one particularly touching piece from Chris’ home turf of New Zealand on stuff.co.nz. I’m sure there’ll be more, if you find anything, or write something, please let me know.

Dubmood… chip hop don’t stop

Neil Mason — Neil Mason @ 12:16

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Quickly, because we’re quite busy today at MNFB Towers, but we have to share this. We have been listening to Dubmood on repeat all morning and it just gets better and better and better.

‘Ma Version’ is the first single from their upcoming album ‘Machine’, which is due in the autumn on the independent chipmusic label Data Airlines out of Marseille in French France. Made us wonder if there is any other kind of chipmusic label other than independent. Can’t imagine the Sony offshoot… thankfully.

Dubmood, aka Swedish ex-pat Kalle Jonsson, have been kicking around for a decade, passed us by obviously, but as their label say, and we can’t say it better so we’ll just repeat it, Dubmood are ‘breathing life into a genre hampered by cliché video game references and candy-coated melodies’. Aren’t they just.

We’ve never really paid much attention to the whole 8-bit thing, all a bit daft for us, but Dubmood seem different, there’s a real warmth here, a deliciously deep bassy rumble that really lifts it all above that stereotypically cold 8-bit thrum… then there’s the smoky female vocal, in French, natch, and a melody that is already stuck firmly in our heads… and then there’s the Bright White Lightning Remix – a proper treat. It’s like New Order doing 8-bit. No, really. We love that they replace the vocal with an English male version. And when the band kicks in towards the end. Heck.

More hear…
– Check out the Data Airlines site, there’s a ton of other stuff to get stuck into if you like this. Time well spent.
– The radio edit of ‘Ma Version’ is available from Dubmood’s Soundcloud page as a free download…

Chieftain… pow wow

Neil Mason — Neil Mason @ 19:14

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Last year, I interviewed the very wonderfully Steve Cobby. It was a for a very small piece into which I managed to shoehorn chat about two of his current projects, the very excellent Hey! Rube, a collaboration with Stephen Mallinder off of Cabaret Voltaire, and the even more excellent The Cutler, him and Porky, formerly big chief of Hull’s much missed Pork Recordings. Check any of The Cutler‘s three albums, particularly ‘The Best Things In Life Aren’t Things’ and ‘Everything Is Touching Everything Else’, money very well spent if you ask us… and the Hey! Rube album is worth it for the sleeve alone.

Anyway, Cobby’s fine work has been in my ears for a loooooong time. As well as being 100 per cent The Solid Doctor he also likes a collaboration. He was one half of Fila Brazilla, one third of Heights Of Abraham, one third of JJ Fuchs, half of J*S*T*A*R*S, half of The Cutler, half of Hey! Rube, half of Peacecorps… where to start telling you about that little lot? Cobby is a proper cottage industry these days and a poke around on the site of his Steel Tiger label will see you alright.

It’s actually pretty hard to keep up. This popped up today, I know nothing about Chieftain other than it’s Cobby and DJ and club owner Adam Regan. He claims he’s been sat on this track for too long and it needs some air. By crickey. Bit early for disco dancing, but you will be.

Cobby is stupidly good company. We chatted way beyond what I actually needed. Seems we’re both of an age where you kind of feel you’ve done it to death, but when you stand back and take a long, hard look, there really isn’t anything else you know how to do. Or love nearly as much.

“You never hear a plumber saying I’ve got plumber’s block,” he said. “So I thought as musicians we should just be able to go into the studio five days a week and produce a lot of material. With Fila we’d clock on at 10 and leave at 6, five days a week. I quite liked the idea of it being pragmatic like that. But the upshot was it became too mundane, it became like a proper job and I never wanted that.”

It’s a tough decision to make, that. I did much the same. There came a point at NME.COM where the job became more about advertorials and dealing with marketing and sponsorship than running the world’s best music website. So I quit, did the school run, hung out with the kids, did dull copywriting and editing jobs. Bored in months.

“With me, the wife had gone out to become the breadwinner, I sold the studio in town and I was quite happy wandering round doing the house husbandry thing,” he explains. “I was too busy bringing up the kids to make music. So when they got a bit older I thought I’ll get on me back legs like a Meer cat, have a look round and see if there’s anything else I can actually do… and there was literally nothing.

“And when you come to the realisation that the reason you’ve spent 20 years at it full tilt is because you love it, you also realise you can only keep tapping those reservoirs for so long before they ultimately need recharging. And there wasn’t any recharging going on. That’s all it was. So now it’s three days a week and I’ve time for the family, time for a life, but not at the expense of music.”

And listening, it certainly isn’t at the expense of the music. Happy all round then.

More hear…
– General Cobby-ness is to be found on the Steel Tiger site…
– More Chieftain stuff on SoundcloudFacebookBandcamp.

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