A few years ago I went to Glasgow to see Rafael Anton Irissari, Lawrence English and Grouper. Having watched Rafael Anton Irissari I didn’t feel the desire to stand through the pulsing throb of Lawrence English. Both Ali and I were tired, Fraser had fucked off for personal reasons after Irissari and Lawrence English had made me feel uneasy – hard to explain. So we went home. It is still one of my biggest regrets, not staying to see Grouper. Funnily enough, when I ran Trampoline, I had a conversation with another promoter about jointly putting on Grouper. That fell through though due to fears of other shows costing us a fortune. As such, I am still to see Liz Harris live. I need to rectify this fact.
‘Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill’ is one of my favourite records. I have liked everything she has done but that record remains the stand out dense with her under water vocals shimmering amongst the ethereal soundscapes. Siren songs for drunk sailors.
‘Ruins’ then feels raw. This is Harris at her most stripped back. It’s a skeletal structure of a Grouper record and it is all the more intensely beautiful for it. It seems like on this occasion Harris has chosen to expose herself from behind the effects using simply piano and voice to deliver a master class in simplistic beauty. The dreamlike vocals remain but are not immersed in the underwater love treatment. Up front and centre and just incredible. The delivery is still muffled, almost mumbled, but the treatment is less dense with the vocals forming a centre piece rather than being swallowed up as part of the overall soundscape. And yet, Harris still manages to make the vocal about more than words. As always, it’s a mesmerising instrument designed not simply to share thoughts but to transmit emotion. And connecting emotionally is something that Grouper has always managed to do, with me anyways. This record is beautiful. That’s the word that keeps jumping at me. Beautiful. And it feels effortlessly so. I don’t mean to sound flippant, as if to say she wasn’t trying when she made this record. On the contrary, it feels like she just sat down at the piano and this record poured out from within. It really is an incredible piece of music that I want to listen to over and over and over again. Hopefully I will get to see her perform this one live. Not something I intend to miss out on again.
‘Ruins’ will be released on the ever awesome Kranky on 31 October and I highly recommend that you enhance your life by buying it. On vinyl too I think. This will sound perfect late at night, on a record player and with a bottle of red wine to hand. If you don’t believe me, check out the stunning ‘Holding’ below.
Fuck me I love Grouper. Fuck me I love this song. Cannot wait for the album. Oh and I love that tattoo. Let’s just say I am excited about this record dropping. It’s called ‘Ruins’ and will be released on Kranky on 31 October. Vinyl baby. That is coming to me on vinyl.
We will have cds, vinyl, bags, deals, Now Wakes the Sea in person, possibly cakes. And we will be drinking beer and making sure we have money to spend as at last years event in Glasgow there was lots we wanted to buy and we had no money. By we, I mean me. And that sucked.
Anyways, come join us at the Pleasance, drink too much beer and spend too much money on awesome music from loads of awesome labels.
There was a time in my life when Ryan Adams could do no wrong. ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Gold’, ‘Demolition’, ‘Love Is Hell’ were all just phenomenal records and had a huge impact on me as a music fan and musician. I will never forget the first time I heard ‘New York, New York’, it was at Christmas time. As a result I seem to listen to his music much more in autumn and winter. Funny how the subconscious works. After Love is Hell though, and mostly due to his incredible output of material, I have struggled with his work. It really has been hit and miss for quite some time and not in any solid album form. Cold Roses, with the Cardinals, would be the highlight of the albums that followed but there was not enough quality on offer with albums more than likely to be generally patchy with some absolutely gems to be found in amongst the obvious and safe. Possibly this is inevitable when you are firing out albums left, right and centre. I read an interesting piece with Tom Petty recently – to highlight my point about volume of releases, Petty is 63 and has 16 studio albums to his name, Adams is 39 and has 14 – about how he was told at the outset that sometimes the album you create will be like hitting a home run in baseball and sometimes it won’t, and that this is the nature of creating music. Sometimes it just clicks and is brilliat and sometimes you cannot achieve that. I think Adams has suffered from these ups and downs in his career and whilst prolific in terms of song writing, perhaps there is an argument that sometimes it is best to take your time and release only the very best things. Of course, the flip side to this argument is that his fans love him and lap up the fact that he feeds them new music on a regular basis. So perhaps he is to be applauded for such an approach? There is no right and wrong answer here. Just an interesting ramble on quality versus quantity and in my opinion, the quality of his work has suffered for the quantity and speed of releases. Interestingly, it’s been 3 years since his last studio album ‘Ashes and Fire’ – an overall disappointing record with some lovely tunes, following the pattern of releases since Love is Hell. These 3 years represent the longest period between any of his records since Gold and Love is Hell – Rock n Roll was in between those but we know that this record was not the planned follow up to Gold – a long story for another day. My point is this – ‘Ryan Adams’ is a triumph and I would say probably all the better for the time it has taken to be produced and released.
As a starting point, I would suggest that the record sounds a bit like ‘Demolition’ but produced and influenced by The War on Drugs. From the opening bars of ‘Gimme Something Good’ it’s clear that this is going to be a rocking album with the grungey electric guitars, catchy vocal hooks and 80s sounding drums. It sets the tone perfectly in the same way that ‘Nuclear’ did back in 2002. And it’s funny, because, although an album of out takes and b-sides, I always had a soft spot for ‘Demolition’. It says everything about the mans song writing skills that ‘Demolition’ stood up on its own as an album and still, in my opinion, contains some of his finest songs.
There is a familiar 80s sound to much of ‘Ryan Adams’ highlighted to perfection on ‘Stay With Me’, where the lead up to the chorus could have been written by one Jon Bon Jovi (seriously). That’s not a criticism in any way, (we all love Bon Jovi really), because it’s one of the best tracks on the record. For me, stand outs would be ‘Am I Safe’, the wonderful ‘Wrecking Ball’ which sees Adams at his finest, the sublime ‘Shadows’ and ‘Tired of Giving Up’. If you want to rock out though then just turn on ‘Trouble’ and turn it up loud.
It’s a pretty brave record in many ways. It’s not really what fans of Ryan Adams would be expecting. In fact, for many people it will border too close to “stadium rock” for comfort. I guess for me this album highlights everything that I loved/love about Ryan Adams. His versatility as a musician is incredible. His ability to produce a record like Heartbreaker all those years ago, to morph and change record by record. To release an album like Rock N Roll and then do something like Jacksonville City Nights which could not be more different, is testament to his ability and longevity as a musician. Ryan Adams represents another change in direction and embraces the sound of today. It is different and yet familiar. But above all, it is just a fine record that showcases Adams talents as a songwriter and producer. And when he is at his best there are few out there that can live with him. This is not going to be many peoples album of the year, that’s for sure, but it’s a welcome return to form and a real contender to make my end of year list. And the best bit about this record is that it takes me back to 2001, listening to Gold over and over and over. Falling in love with an artist in my bedroom. In this new world of music, where there is so much to process, sometimes it’s nice to have that familiar voice from your late teens/early 20s return and remind you why music is so fucking important to you. I have been searching for that feeling of late and a few artists have managed to get me there this year. The War on Drugs, Sharon Van Etten and now Ryan Adams. If you are a fan. You will love this record. I guarantee it.
Today is a really exciting day. Graveyard Tapes, my project with the immensely gifted Matthew Collings, release our second album ‘White Rooms’ at the beginning of November and this is now available to pre-order from our lovely label Lost Tribe Sound. I am immensely proud of this record and if you order it you will also receive a download of the unreleased bonus EP ‘The Price of Ambition’ that we recorded in between the making of albums 1 and 2. Since our debut album ‘Our Sound is Our Wound’ we have been working hard on developing and progressing as artists and we both feel that ‘White Rooms’ represents significant steps forward as a duo. We were also lucky enough to have some wonderful collaborators on the record including a number of writing credits for Ben Chatwin aka Talvihorros and the incredible William Ryan Fritch. Please please check out our new album. It’s available on 12″ vinyl, CD or as a download. We hope you like it. Here are some images: