Hello friends, welcome to The Listening Booth. Pull up a chair, get comfy and grab a beer if you want one. Just don’t expect me to pay for it. This is my weekly dive into the music I’ve been listening to and, as I’m hoping will be the norm, it’s an eclectic mix of the old and the new, the loud and the quiet, the grungey and the clean. The only connecting factor? That I find it interesting (although not necessarily good). Right, let’s see what I’ve been up to.
Quietly a wave of disquieting music made by, I’m going to say singer-songwriters for lack of a better term, has been infiltrating my music taste. The likes of Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle and Sylvaine. The common ground between them all? Well, beyond the obvious, it’s that these musicians have drawn on genres like black metal to create songs that might not be what we consider traditionally heavy, but, in reality, crushes any of the shite Slayer have released lately (yea, I said it). It’s cold, dark and haunting. Creeping over you and infiltrating the darkness in your soul.
It’s a group that Agnes Obel could easily slip into, but there is a difference. Because those black metal elements which I mentioned are nearly non-existent here. This is music that could, and has, featured on TV shows and adverts. They’re the kind of TV shows where Scandinavian people murder each other and look rather glum, but they’re TV shows all the same. She’s a musician who doesn’t have the potential to infiltrate the mainstream, she already has.
Yet, this music is still dark and brooding. It’s perfect for the long nights of January as the sun creeps below the horizon and the frost crusts over the ground. You can wrap up warm and get lost in the melancholic world of ‘Familiar’ or shiver at the haunting sound of ‘Citizen of Glass’. It draws from those musicians I already mentioned as much as it does Kate Bush.
Truthfully, I’m not sure if I’m qualified to talk about this album. The comparisons I can draw are the ones I have mentioned above, but I am sure there are many more which live in the same world as Agnes Obel. What I am qualified to do, though, is tell you that I think it’s extraordinary. So, if any of that appeals to you, give it your time.
My dive into the murky waters of the Seattle scene continues with Malfunkshun, another band who played a pivotal role in the early days of the sound. Sadly, the death of lead singer Andrew Wood in 1990 meant the only album they ever released (posthumously) was this one.
And it’s a fascinating insight into that time in Seattle. Nirvana were often credited with being the death of rock and roll excess and the guitar solo, but both of those things are alive and well in Return To Olympus. Christ, they cover Ted Nugent’s ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang’ while ‘Make Sweet Love’ includes lyrics like ‘praise me, baby’. Its tongue is firmly in its cheek, but you could take those words and slap them over a Poison song with little to no problem.
A whole lot of that is down to Andrew Wood. I mentioned last week that this dive into the music known as grunge came about after reading Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town and the picture of Wood painted in there is a man at the centre of things. He was a rockstar in a scene that didn’t always prize that, and he shines bright in Malfunkshun. It’s his voice that drives songs like ‘Mr. Liberty (With Morals)’ and his personality which bursts out of every second of the album. It makes you realise what we lost.
Much like The U-Men, it would be easy to dismiss Malfunkshun. Christ, I’ve been listening to this music for years, and I’d never heard either. However, you can learn from my mistakes. These aren’t just the bands who influenced the bands who are good. They’re fantastic in their own right.
Louise Distras is a name that has started to bounce around the musical world, and if you Google her you’ll find articles declaring her the ‘new face of British punk’. While those claims are likely to ruffle a few feathers, it was enough to make me want to have a listen to her new EP.
Titled Street Revolution, it is the follow up to her 2013 album Dreams of the Factory Floor (although it only got a worldwide release in 2015) and is so close to being something great.
And you know what? I’m not even sure why it’s not. There is a lot to love about these songs. For one thing, their politics sits firmly in my world, and the message they push is one I’m happy to shout from the rooftops. From ‘Street Revolution’ and its calls to stand-up through to the similarly themed ‘Solitary’, these are ideals I can get on board with.
They’re also packed with hooks. One listen is all it takes for ‘Street Revolution’ to have itself hooked onto your mind while ‘New World In Our Heart’ has a marching beat, ready to be belted out during a protest. So far, so good.
Yet, I can’t throw off the feeling that it’s all too safe. The words are right, even the songs are good, but the packaging is pushing me away when everything else is dragging me in. Where I want it to snarl it purrs. I like my punk to bite and, at least sonically, this doesn’t.
But you know what? That’s a personal thing. I like my music a certain way and quite frankly it ain’t the norm. This is an EP that’s designed not to only appeal to people like me, but to those that might not sit down and listen to The Dead Kennedys. It’s punk music that wants to have its voice heard. Judging by this, if she is to be the face of punk in Britain, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.