Fentek Audio

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Today I am really excited and happy.  This week kicked off in a really positive way with the Leith FM appearance on John Paul’s Sunday Service.  Then the Kays gig at Electric Circus went really well.  Well, perhaps not turn out wise, but musically I was so happy with how we sounded and how the songs are developing.  And then a couple of things happened yesterday that made my week.  One of the things is still not 100% confirmed so I won’t shout about it as yet but if it gets confirmed today then I’m going to be buzzing like a buzzy bee for the rest of the day!  The main thing that has happened this week to make me smile is that Alex Fenton, the wonderful sound engineer at the Wee Red Bar and the reason Trampoline is always so good, has given me a cd of 20 tracks by the artists that played Trampoline during the festival.  Let me tell you, Alex is special.  He has always been so good to me both in terms of the Kays and Trampoline and I do not honestly think that I have come across a better sound engineer in all my travels.  How he is not touring or working with more established bands is beyond me.  He runs a business called Fentek Audio.  Not only does he do live sound but he is a brilliant engineer and equally happy recording, mixing and mastering stuff.  The cds he has given me totalling 24 tracks from the Festival shows is absolutely brilliant and I now have the pleasure of sifting through and deciding on what tracks will go out on a trampoline sampler.  On it will be tracks by Adam Stafford, The Kays Lavelle, The Japanese War Effort, Conquering Animal Sound, Jonnie Common, Shenandoah Davis, Lovers Turn To Monsters and Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers.  It’s going to be great when we get it out there for public consumption.  You can hear some of the Kays tracks on our myspace page now.  And yes, I have had my fingers smacked by Alex for putting these up and I understand why, but I am so excited about them and also want top promote him and his work as much as possible as well as the Kays.  He deserves to be recognised for the brilliant engineer he is.  I know he should be touring or working with some major band and hopefully that will come soon.  If you are an artist and you want to record or you need a sound engineer I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.  He’s a lovely fella, very chilled out and great to work with .  Please go check out his website and get in touch with him because he will make a great job of whatever it is you want done.

What A Lovely Weekend

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Isn’t it great when you have a weekend that is so enjoyable that you actually don’t mind being stuck at your desk on a Monday morning?  I know that sounds a little sadistic, but the truth is, when I enjoy my Friday night, Saturday and Sunday so much I am less upset about having to come back to the real world of work on a Monday.  Top it off with a really good sleep last night and I feel almost spritely today.  That may seem odd, but I feel refreshed and positive after what I consider to be a really great weekend.  I mean, Friday night wasn’t anything special.  The wife was out at a friends house for the evening so I had the pleasure of chilling on my own with a few beers, some music, my book and some tv.  It was a pretty good night and totally relaxed.  I had been struggling with a sore throat during the week and at night it seemed to be worse when lying down, so it took me a while to get to sleep.  When I did eventually dose off Pamela decided to come home – about 3am – and when she failed to find the lock with her key decided to get her screw driver out and unhinge the door, when her eye hand co-ordination failed her once again, she just got her battering ram out until the door was open.  Or that’s how it sounded to me!!  😉 

Anyways, Saturday was a lovely day.  Went up and got my kilt fitted for David’s wedding at the end of the month. Being best man sounds scary.  I really need to write my speech.  Given that I made my speech up on the spot at my own wedding, I don’t think that I should try that this time round.  Something a little more planned is required I feel.  After that, we went for lunch in Stockbridge and then took the wee man for a walk in Inverleith Park.  Headed home, chilled, put the little man to bed and then headed out to see Jesus H Foxx at the Bowery.  I will speak about the gig in another post but lets just say I had mixed feelings about the music on offer.   Anyways, it was really nice to see people I haven’t seen in ages.  Good night, good people. 

Yesterday, well The Kays were practicing for the gig at Electric Circus on tuesday night and then we had an hour on JP’s show on Leith FM.  I think this went really well.  We played ‘the hours’ and chatted and picked the music that was played.  Nice mix of the phantom band, meursault, deus, mammoth (team turnip) and withered hand.  It was really good fun and I’m delighted to say that Glasgow podcart have asked us to do a Live session with them on their Radio Magnetic show, in the not too distant future.  More info on that as soon as I know more myself.  But it’s really exciting to be asked and I am feeling really positive about the Kays.  We sounded great in practice yesterday and I think finally everything I’ve been wanting is coming together.  It feels good.

So yeah, a really lovely weekend and another exciting week ahead.  Got Woodenbox shows at the Glasgow Art College and Oran Mor tonight and Friday, The Kays show at Electric Circus tomorrow night and lots of other nice things too including my mums birthday.   Will let you all know how the gigs go. 

Also – there’s now a mini50 records shop selling Kays and Trampoline stuff.  You can check it out here:  www.cafepress.co.uk/mini50records   Enjoy

Withered Hand – Good News

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There are not many albums that I listen to and know that when I listen to it in future I’m not going to skip a song.  Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’ springs to mind as one of these albums.  I distinctly remember lying down on my bed as a teenager and shutting my eyes and just listening and absorbing the whole album from start to finish.  ‘OK Computer’ as well.  Couple of Wilco album’s perhaps.  Neil Young’s ‘After the Goldrush’.  So they do exist.  I’m sure there are more, but I don’t want to bore you with lists.  I have to say though, it’s not happened much of late.  I really can’t think of an album by anyone in the last few years where there’s not at least 1 track I didn’t really like or wanted to skip past.  Even my favourite albums of late have moments that I don’t really care for.  I think it’s inevitable.  Not many people produce a perfect album.  They can’t always please you with everything they do.  Of course, it’s possible, it just doesn’t happen all that often.  Well I’m delighted to say that it’s happened to me for the first time in ages and it’s put a massive smile on my face.   It also slightly amazes me that the artist in question is Withered Hand.  And given how controversial that statement might sound to some I think that I should probably explain.

Let’s start at the beginning.  The very first time I saw Withered Hand was when he supported Woodpigeon and eagleowl upstairs at the Forest Café.  I can’t remember how long ago that was but it was a good while – perhaps 3 or 4 years ago.  My honest first impression was somebody with a poor voice, lack of any stage presence and songs I just didn’t engage with.  I really remember being unimpressed.  It was only because of eagleowl’s Bart constantly telling me I was wrong and Withered Hand was brilliant that I decided to give him another go.  And I’m glad I did because every single time I’ve seen him since I have been amazed by how he just gets better and better and better.  This progression culminated in 2 of the best live performances that I saw last year by any artist – at Gimme Shelter in November and then at Trampoline in December.  The Gimme Shelter performance in particular sticks in my mind because the 4 songs he played were within a ridiculously tight timescale.  The tension that had been building backstage as to whether he’d get to play at all was released full throttle into one of the most intense and brilliant live performances of the year without a doubt.  You could not ask for more.  And I hold my hands up.  I was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Not only does Dan have one of the most unique voices I’ve heard, he uses it brilliantly both when singing and when chatting between songs (brilliant stage presence too).  When I first heard the track ‘No Cigarettes’ it was the vocal delivery that completely floored me.  The emotion conveyed captured the mood and song perfectly and therein lies the skill of the man.  To tell his stories and make you believe in his every word.  To be caught up in the humour, the sadness, the irony of these tales.  He is without doubt a story teller whether the tales are fact or fiction.  As a songwriter and musician he truly is remarkable and this is a remarkable album.

 It’d be easy to criticise the album by saying that 4 of the tracks appear on his 2 previously released EPs and 2 of the tracks are covers, but this would be stupid in my opinion.  Each of the previously released tracks have been re-recorded, with Religious Songs taking on a more relaxed pace and all sorts of extra instrumentation added to the tunes.  But it’s here that I have my one and only slight criticism.  ‘No Cigarettes’ first grabbed me as a track with Dan and his guitar.  I don’t think it needed anything else.  It was the delivery and beauty of this tune itself that made it one of my favourite songs ever written.  And I genuinely mean that.  It’s stunning beauty and fragility left me amazed the first time I heard it.  The added instrumentation for me (I’m thinking banjo in particular) clouds some of what I loved about the original, but the song itself is SO good that I’m going to live with it.  So whilst it might be a criticism, this tune is still the stand out track of the album for me. (Well, along with ‘Love In The Time Of Ecstasy’)  Not sure if it’s really a criticism then is it? Oh well, hopefully there’s a point in there somewhere.  

Ultimately, Dan Wilson has created an album that I can guarantee you now will be in my top 10 of 2009.  From start to finish it’s brilliant.  I don’t want to skip tracks.  I don’t want to put on something else.  And if I’m honest, I don’t want it to end.  But that’s ok.  I can just hit repeat and listen to it all day long.  And I think I will.  It’s amazing to think this guy has gone from somebody I dismissed to possibly my favourite Edinburgh artist.  Buy this album.  It’s brilliant.

TSP Grade = A

What’s In A Lyric?

This question arose yesterday when a good friend and I got into a conversation about the importance of lyrics in music.  Specifically, how much do you value lyrics or, to put it another way, how much do the lyrics of a song impact on your overall enjoyment of the music you’re listening to.

 If I’m honest, I find this a very difficult question to answer because for me it varies from artist to artist. My initial reaction was that lyrics don’t really impact on my overall enjoyment of music and to a certain extent that is true. I certainly would say that I never really take a dislike to a song because of lyrical content.   I also don’t sit down and listen to music specifically to analyse an artists lyrics.  But having thought about it a great deal last night, I would say that lyrics can and regularly do leave me absolutely floored with their brilliance or beauty. 

I have always been a massive lover of English and writing, and indeed initially applied to do English at University.  I love the way words work together, sound and interact in language whether it be poetry or prose.  So the lyrics that I often fall in love with are lyrics which tend to have a deeper meaning, don’t really make sense at first perhaps, but work together beautifully and create wonderful images and ideas.  Words that need further exploration I guess.  For example, one of my favourite songs in the world is I Am Trying To Break Your Heart by Wilco.  The opening lyrics are “I am an American Aquarium drinker.  I assassin down the avenue.  I’m hiding out in the big city blinking.  What was I thinking when I let go of you”   There is no really obvious or immediate connection for me with these words.  It’s not possible.  But the words work so beautifully and create fantastic images in my mind.  And that whole album is full of magical lyrical moments; “tall buildings shake, voices escape singing sad, sad songs”; “I’ve got reservations, about so many things but not about you”; and “distance has no way of making love understandable”’ being some of the examples, which never fail to give me goosebumps.  I think that’s ultimately when I know a song’s lyrics have impacted on me, when the goosebumps kick in!  Small Town Boredom’s song ‘Void Lighting’ for example “I’ll trade my secret life with ghosts.  Just to hear you breathing.”  I know the story behind the song, which undoubtedly adds to the impact of those words, but with or without the story I can guarantee that those words would never fail to leave an impression.  I still get excited when I am listening to a song and know there’s a great lyric coming up.

Of course, there are storytelling musicians for whom lyrics are absolutely essential.  Lets consider an artist like Withered Hand, for example, who is essentially a wonderful story teller.  When I listen to his music, more often than not I am focusing on the lyrical content as much as the musical backing.  The song ‘No Cigarettes’ is just a wonderful little tale both musically and lyrically and most of his songs follow in a similar vein.  The same applies to artists like Fionn Regan, Bob Dylan, Aiden Moffat and the Arctic Monkeys, among others.  In fact, it was Regan himself who commented that music is just the background for his words.  So I guess to some artists it’s absolutely vital that the lyrical content matches the quality of the music.  But there are artists where the words seem to pale in significance in comparison to the music.  I’m thinking Radiohead, REM, Sigur Ros, and Bon Ivor  to name a few.  This is of course not a criticism of their lyrics, it’s just that I think there are other things that grab the attention more with these artists than the words themselves.  Thom Yorke’s voice is startling yet often the words are mumbled and hard to make out.  This does not spoil my enjoyment of the music.  Radiohead are without doubt one of my favourite artists.  REM’s Michael Stipe has said himself that often his lyrics are jibberish.  Sigur Ros combine a mixture of Icelandic and Jibberish to create their own language and Bon Ivor’s words often get lost in the beauty that is his voice.  My enjoyment of artists like this is not diminished in any way by the lack of connection with the lyrical content.  Take eagleowl for example.  By their own admission the vocals are kept low in the mix.  It’s the way they like it.  Does this make their lyrical content or songs worse than others?  No, of course not and the vocal is still an important element in the overall sound/texture.  However, it does have an impact live where the vocals are often inaudible (I should say this was more an issue on the early stuff than more recent stuff).  But it’s how they are and it’s how they work best.  I’m not always sure of what their lyrics are necessarily but it does not ever have a negative impact on what I’m listening to.

So, is there a conclusion to these ramblings?  Well I’m not sure.  I do think lyrics are important.  I certainly spend time on my words and try to create something I’m proud of.  But it’s not the be all and end all of a song.  Whilst they can leave an undeniable impact on me, I will not dismiss a song simply because I do not connect with the lyrics or the message wasn’t conveyed properly.  I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this to be honest.  But I’d be interested to hear others opinions on the matter for sure.

Brendan Benson – My Old Familar Friend

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I discovered Brendan Benson.  Well, lets just say about 10 years ago in Dundee.  But that doesn’t sound nearly as exciting!  Anyways, I bought his album Lapalco and to this day it remains one of the treasures of my music collection.  It is, quite simply, fabulous.  It gleams from start to finish with the perfect kind of summery pop music that so many bands try, and more often than not fail, to produce.  It’s been a trusty companion on my journey through uni, puberty and onwards into the big bad real world.  I’ve seen him live a couple of times too, the best one being back in Dundee at the Reading Rooms on his Lapalco tour.  It was a truly splendid gig that both Graeme and I were at and got drunk at. I still have my Brendan Benson and The Wellfed Boys t-shirt from that night – though for some reason it’s a little tight these days! 

Anyways, whilst Lapalco is undoubtedly one of my favourite records it has also been a major stumbling block when trying to appreciate everything he’s done since.  And by that, I mean solo wise, not with the Raconteurs.  Though, I shall digress and point out that I have always, always advocated Mr Benson as the hero of the Detroit music scene ahead of the White Stripes simply on account of Lapalco.  Anyways, as I was saying, Lapalco kind of stopped me appreciating The Alternative To Love which, whilst not a bad record, fell way short of its predecessor in overall song writing quality.  So it was not with a little trepidation that I turned on his brand new album, which for the record was criminally under promoted!  Come on people.  The Dead Weather are everywhere simply cause of Jack White.  Let me revert back to my comment that Mr Benson is a hero compared to Mr White.  Or he should be considered one. FUCKING LAPALCO PEOPLE!!!!!  Jeezo.  Ok, I’ll calm down and continue.

What a relief it is to hear Brendan Benson back to his poptastic best.  This album is packed full of Beatle-esque summery, glimmering pop tunes.  From opener ‘A Whole Lot Better’ right through to the sublime ‘Misery’ and onwards, this album is just what I needed.  I miss Brendan Benson when he’s off galavanting with The Raconteurs.  I mean, fair play to him and all, I’m sure project has helped significantly with his finances and career, but I’d love to sit him down and just tell him how the best things he does are always his solo albums.  As the first song states:  “I fell in love with you, and out of love with you, and back in love with you all in the same day”.   Anyways, it’s a delight to have him back in the world of music.  If you don’t know his stuff though, don’t start with this album.  Go and buy Lapalco.  Do it.  Do it now and then move on to this record.  Enjoy.

TSP Grade = B