Thursday, 15 March 2018

Oliver!: Polvo - The Drill (10 April 1992)

I’m delighted to be able to blog about the brilliant North Carolina band, Polvo.  Not least because it allows me to pay public tribute to YouTube uploader Vibracobra23, who has provided this blog with plenty of material from Peel sessions to write about.  I’d always been fascinated by that username - Vibracobra - a name that sounded simultaneously dangerous and poetic.  And yet imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was the title of a Polvo A-side.  However, on this show, Peel plumped for the B-side, The Drill and I think his instinct was absolutely spot on.  For while Vibracobra would have been a toss-up inclusion, The Drill drips with raw excitement all the way through.
Admittedly, it doesn’t sound at the start like it’s going to be any great shakes when it opens with what sounds like an off-key attempt to replicate the main riff of The Lemon Pipers 1968 hit, Green Tambourine.  But once it starts chocking its main riff out over the underlying running chainsaw-like background, it becomes a more thrilling proposition altogether.  I love the clash running throughout the track - it sounds like two completely different songs working in opposition to one another, but it works and Polvo would demonstrate their mastery of syncopation within noise over and over again in their subsequent releases.
Lyrically, the track is harder to pin down.  I find myself veering between attempts to try and revitalise  a dying relationship - “I’ll try to keep the conversation alive” etc and in this setting, the drill refers to something done regularly (monotously?) - or the song could be about hanging out with a disturbed individual - “Even though, I know you’re not sane” etc.  In this instance, the drill becomes something far more dangerous.  All suggestions and clarifications are welcome.

Video courtesy of montrealrec 1

Monday, 5 March 2018

Oliver!: Dave Angel - Bounce Back (10 April 1992)

So let’s get the elephant in the room dealt with first.  I wonder which member of The Fast Show liked techno music?  My guess would be Rhys Thomas and Dave Angel himself, aka Simon Day.  Especially given what they went on to create.
I’d like to think of them both workshopping ideas on the Eco Warrior character while listening to DJ Dave Angel’s 12” Stairway to Heaven.  Opening track, Bounce Back fuses together a classic metallic techno alarm call with dabs of Orb-like expressionism, before briefly dallying in its final minute with an excursion to club-land.  An intriguing aural mix throughout and a deserved runner-up in the race to find the best record released by R&S Records and played by Peel during the rehearsals and performance of Falmouth Community School’s production of Oliver!  Sorry, Dave, I had to side with the Cornishman ultimately.

Video courtesy of OLDSKOOLWAX.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Oliver!: Pavement - Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era (10 April 1992)

Pavement’s debut album, Slanted and Enchanted was providing plenty of meat for Peel’s playlists through the spring of 1992.  Such is the level of regard that the album is held in that I decided to listen to it before adding any thoughts about Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era, mainly because with that prog-like title and the sudden cut-off at the end of the track (which caught Peel out when he played it on this show), I wondered if it may be part of some larger, linked narrative within the album as a whole.  Alas no, but as with the previous track by The Boo Radleys, what you don’t get in terms of lyrical sophistication is offset by the shifting moods and tones in an exciting and involving piece of music.  From the spooky Halloween guitar wailing away behind the main riff, through to the warbling sound evoking a journey through altered states of being to the none more lo-fi, minimalist guitar solo, it packs a lot into its 3 and a bit minutes.  In guitar music terms, it feels like, at the time, Peel’s heart may have been with the rockers and noise merchants - but his head was with the likes of Pavement and The Boo Radleys; bands who sought to fuse energy and ideas so as to inspire others to look beyond three simple chords.

As for Slanted and Enchanted, it’s half a great record.  Or to be more precise, the second half of a great record.  I enjoyed immensely, to varying degrees everything from Chesley’s Little Wrists onwards with Here the real standout.  By contrast, I found most of the tracks in the first half rather forgettable, but in the context of a record that comes brilliantly into its stride from halfway onward, those opening tracks give the album its lustre by acting as the sound of a band audibly finding its way.  There are blind alleys run up and lo-grade, lo-fi follies to be gotten out of the system - like puberty set to music.  But then the chrysalis opens, and the beautiful butterfly that entranced and inspired groups all over the world makes itself visible.

Video courtesy of WeezerFan4Ever.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Oliver!: The Boo Radleys - I Feel Nothing (10 April 1992)

As I listen back to these Peel shows from the early 90s, I increasingly feel that the answer to that perennial 90s British pop riddle: “Blur or Oasis? Pulp.” should be amended to include, “...if raining, The Boo Radleys.”  As we’ve picked our way through the early months of 1992 approaching the Oliver! production week, more and more examples of music from their Everything’s Alright Forever album keep standing out.  And while the lyrics may be pointless and the vocals annoyingly weedy, the ideas tumble out and won’t leave the listener alone.
I Feel Nothing sees The Boos indulge their Krautrock tendencies to wonderful effect.  Sometime before this programme, Peel had played a track from their Adrenalin EP called Vegas which I passed on, but only just as its mix of acoustics, shimmering dulcimer-like feedback and modulated distortions made for an arresting listen, even though I couldn’t articulate why.  Needless to say, I regret the omission now.  But I Feel Nothing brooks no equivocation.  Plunging the listener into the opening hailstorm of angry, distorted guitar noise before pulling us out into the classical Euro-acoustica of the opening verse.  It feels like My Bloody Valentine duelling with John Williams.  Like The Misunderstood’s I Can Take You To The Sun, this is one of those tracks which shows the fascinating directions that 2 guitars/bass/drums can go in.  I’m impatient to get onto 1993 and see what they did on Giant Steps.

Video courtesy of Arne Nilsen.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Oliver!: Arrested Development - Fishin’ 4 Religion (10 April 1992)

There are few things more evocative of “1992” than Arrested Development’s debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of... Anytime I went in to Our Price throughout that year, and most of the next, I would see the open plain tableau of the album cover staring out at me.  It sold by the bucketload, won a number of critical awards and heralded the potential arrival of an act that promised great things for years to come.  In the event, they split by 1996 (subsequently to reform after the Millenium), but left behind 3 singles that still hold up well today in People EverydayMr. Wendal and their masterpiece, Tennessee.  For all that, I was never entirely persuaded by them at the time.  They felt to me like a Sesame Street idea of a hip-hop group - all co-operation and why can’t we get along vibes - which is eminently preferably to the “Eat lead, bitch!” antics of the N.W.A copyists that were springing up alongside them, and which Arrested Development were positively compared to.  But it didn’t convince me, and the fact that they split ostensibly over business differences showed that they were just as fallible as the bling/guns crowd. I should have been listening a little more closely though given that People Everyday sees vocalist, Speech, kicking another brother’s ass for insulting his African dress and touching up his girlfriend.  So, Sesame Street via Oscar the Grouch maybe.

The release of 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of... was one of those instances of Peel getting swept along with the crowd given that the album and Tennessee singles were their first releases, so he discovered them at the same time as everyone else.  Fishin’ 4 Religion appeared to be THE track for him as it got several plays over April/May 1992.  For me, it’s all about the groove in this one which is infectiously catchy and over which Speech lays down a thoughtful and witty flow about the wish to find some relevance in religion, but how difficult it is given how feeble most church groups are.  Baptist churches are happy to obfuscate rather than answer or explore the big questions, while Catholicism preaches blind faith, which isn’t going to satisfy a curious but sceptical member of the congregation.  In keeping with the positive feeling which endeared Arrested Development to so many at the time though, there’s no intent to give it up as a bad job, but to keep fishing for something pertinent until a bite of understanding can be found.  But as Speech recognises, it’s a big ocean out there.  One can only hope he found something worth taking home and not to be thrown back into the sea.

Video courtesy of Green Vein

Friday, 16 February 2018

Oliver!: Otis Redding - Stay in School (10 April 1992)

Peel played this 75 second curio while linking two other tunes.  It’s the title track of a public service Stax album called Stay in School - Don’t Be a Dropout (1967) which saw Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Booker T & the MGs and others encouraging people to stay in education.  You don’t see Spotify doing that kind of thing, do you. The track also featured on the Redding compilation, Remember Me, which Peel had been dipping into through the early part of the year.

In 1992, with my GCSEs imminent, I would almost certainly have recorded this on to  a mixtape in order to try and reassert the important goal I had, alongside doing Oliver!, which was to get 4 GCSEs at Grade C or above so I could go on to Sixth Form.  It’s odd, I was just beginning to like school at the very point I was on the brink of leaving it.  Maybe it was because I wanted to do drama as an A-Level having not selected it for GCSE - a mistake I really wanted to rectify - but after my disastrous mock exams, I had my work cut out....

Redding apparently wrote the song on the spot - just himself and an acoustic guitar, plus a little overdubbed saxophone.  I love the way he encourages the listener to ponder what would be the worst option for them at their age: school or the unemployment line, as well as the satisfaction of rising above the catcalls to make it to the top, so you can be there to greet the taunters, “when they get there, if they make it”.  If Otis Redding said it was the thing to do - and he tells us quite clearly that he thinks it is and we should say so to anyone who doubts it - then how could I let him down?  Trunkworthy considers this recording a very important one, both in terms of Stax Records’ sense of social responsibility and as a hint of where Redding may have gone musically had he lived on into 1968 and beyond.

Perhaps most impressive of all is the effortless way in which he pulls off the hardest thing any famous person has to say professionally, “Hi. I’m (insert name here)”.  As, you’ll see below, it can be a massive stumbling block.

Don’t panic, he doesn’t sing:

Videos courtesy of twet500 (Redding) and riccardo riande (Bolton).

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Oliver!: Spiritualized - Angel Sigh (10 April 1992)

I initially had a question mark next to this track, taken from Spiritualized’s first album Lazer Guided Melodies.  I suspect this was probably due to the extended noodling fadeout.  However, I’ve fallen more and more in love with it (even the fade out - which doesn’t seem that long when you consider it) while listening to it ahead of this post.

When considering the gorgeous opening 45 seconds - all gentle arpeggios, bass prods, lightly struck tabla and ambient shuffle between keyboards and guitar - I have to refer to a YouTube comment made by Cyrus Budd. They say simply, “Spacegaze.”  It’s a summation that is hard to beat.  Such is the beguiling sense of space and scale cooked up by this opening that I keep expecting the impassioned vocal of a Richard Ashcroft or similar to come in and dominate the space.  As a result, it always surprises me when the phased, husky whisper of Jason Pierce comes in instead.  Pierce always sounds like a man trying to convey the depth of his love/desire/emotion while simultaneously suffering with a hangover and a dose of flu.  Here, he’s admiring a woman from afar, his feelings either unrequited or contained inside him so far.  The beautiful ambient feel of the first minute catches all too well the sense of anticipation that comes from waiting for her to come around the corner and be seen in all her glory.  And then, in classic “quiet/loud/quiet/loud” style, she comes into view and suddenly the guitars are screaming out and the angels are playing their autoharps, as though the spirit of Brian Jones had been drafted into the Spiriualized line-up for this track.  One can almost feel the sun bursts behind her as she walks down the street.  After a repeat of this formula, we go into the long fade out - not that long actually, only about 2 and a half minutes - but it’s quiet all the way through to the end, leaving the indelible image of Pierce waiting patiently (fruitlessly?) for his angel to appear again.

Video courtesy of Rabbit1Lee.