The New Cue #212 September 16: The Beths, Weyes Blood, Horace Andy, Ash, Bess Atwell, Cate Le Bon, Brian Eno Breanna Barbara, Blunt Chunks
16 September, 2022
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We won’t have an edition on Monday, so instead we’ve beefed up this one – as well as our weekly Recommender picks, we’ve got an Album To Blow Your Mind selection from The Beths’ Liz Stokes and an Ash Story Behind The Song as Tim Wheeler tells us all about the creation of the band’s 2002 hit Burn Baby Burn.
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An Album To Blow Your Mind
Liz Stokes, vocalist and guitarist with Kiwi indie-rockers The Beths, picks the third album from the Jenny Lewis-fronted quartet.
More Adventurous (2004)
“I bought this CD on an overnight school trip for Geography class in 2006. I was 15, and the class was driven down to do the Tongariro crossing. The bus stopped for lunch in Waihi and we were given leave to roam the small town centre for half an hour. I didn't have any good friends in the class, so I was wandering around on my own. I found a little CD shop, and picked up More Adventurous.
The guy at the counter asked if I had heard her new solo Rabbit Fur Coat, and I said “yes”, when what I meant was, “My best friend and I recorded ourselves covering that entire album using a headset microphone and Audacity”. I'd heard a few Rilo Kiley songs from their previous record that said friend (Chelsea Jade) had burned onto a mix CD for me, but I hadn't listened to a record in full until I got back on the bus and put the CD in my discman.
I was immediately hooked by Portions For Foxes and that song is still a reference for the kind of music I want to be making. It's upbeat, it's got this dense guitar arrangement, it's self deprecating, huge chorus. The title track More Adventurous is so heavy with memories of playing it with Chelsea busking at the local mall, at friends’ birthdays, at school assemblies, that it's hard not to cry when I hear it. Some of my earliest memories of feeling like a 'musician'.
The song that has really grown in my mind over the years is A Man / Me / Then Jim. I loved it then, but it really hurts now to hear “It's your gradual descent into a life you never meant,” sung so sweetly. All of these songs have a real darkness to them, a bleakness underneath the brightness of the arrangements.
Whenever I pick up the guitar, my fingers still move to play The Absence Of God. A lot of Jenny's writing really resonated as I was clumsily fumbling with the loss of my faith, and how scary it was to be left with a void. “Afraid of this life, that it just is,” is what the final track says. “Everybody dies.” That's the last line. I remember pressing play again on the discman.”
The Beths’ new album Expert In A Dying Field is out today. Here’s a very good song from it:
It’s probably still too early to describe It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody as the best song of the year, but Weyes Blood’s first new solo number since 2019 is currently on a shortlist of one. Six minutes and nineteen seconds of pitch-perfect philosophical musing about isolation and dislocation, rolling through a Milky Way of cascading melancholy and melody. Natalie Mering, the 34-year-old American singer, songwriter and musician who is now four albums deep into her career, is about to enter the stratosphere with her fifth album, And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, which is out in November. Her last album, Titanic Rising, brought her gently dramatic songwriting skills – all cosmic Laurel Canyon inner visions - and majestic vocals forcefully to everyone’s attention in ‘19. But this first cut from her next record takes the sound somewhere more silky, smooth, devastated. Check it. “Sitting at this party, wondering if anyone knows me,” she begins softly, as the song rolls out initially like Harry Nilsson’s Moonbeam Song performed by The Carpenters, “really sees who I am…”. Good to hear Mary Lattimore’s harp employed to such powerfully understated effect too.
Incidentally, Oh How We Drift Away, the song she contributed to comedian Tim Heidecker’s Fear of Death album released deep in 2020’s lockdown concerto, was one of the songs of that miserable year, too.
If we’re putting music into lists, the best reggae album of the year was until just this week Horace Andy’s Midnight Rocker, the Adrian Sherwood-produced set that proved the 71-year-old Jamaican legend’s honeyed-pipes were still in excellent working order. That was before Sherwood took Midnight Rocker apart for a radical new excursion called Midnight Scorchers, ripping up the original mixes, adding new MCs like Lone Ranger and Daddy Fresh to some tunes, turning other tracks into dubbed out instrumentals, even including new songs altogether, to create what Sherwood hopes is a classic soundsystem record. He’s right. It is. They should both win Grammys for it.
I was listening to the Horace Andy album on Soundcloud and after its final number, it just flipped into another record as Soundcloud is wont to do, the tinker. Cor, this does sound like radical, I thought, unaware of what had happened. I’ve never heard Sherwood produce such a dirty sounding mix before, really grittily psychedelic, filled with screeching organs and breakbeats. Had a strong antique African vibe to it, with some unknown vocalists emoting all over the place. I listened for about five minutes before I checked what Sherwood was playing at: the record’s by Idrissa Soumaoro and L’Eclipse De L’I.J.A, their 1978 album Le Tioko-Tioko. It was a highly sought-after slice of vintage Malian funk that was reissued by Mr Bongo in May this year. Very glad to have stumbled upon it.
A couple of the albums due out today that I’d earmarked to write about have had their releases booted into the long grass due to the strange period of enforced grieving we’re currently living through. Don’t worry though, when they do eventually see the light of day, we’ll be sure to recommend them to you here. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of new musical succor out there currently to see us all through. Coming out earlier this year, Cate Le Bon’s last album Pompeii was further evidence that the Welsh singer is one of the UK’s most singular and consistently interesting voices of the past decade. Released this week as a standalone single, Typical Love was recorded in the sessions for Pompeii, but its angular ghost-in-the machine clatter didn’t quite fit into the album’s sleeker, electro pop grooves. It’s great though, like Factory’s de-facto in-house producer Martin Hannett doing a dubby reconstruction job on Talking Heads…
It’s surely says something about the influence of a musician that entire genres of music can be described by simply stating their surname followed by the affix ‘esque’. To be fair, the latest track by legendary ambient-inventing egghead Brian Eno features vocals from Brian’s daughter Daria, so technically it could only be more ‘Eno-esque’ if Brian had roped in his brother Roger for some background plinky-plonky sounds. Family ties aside, We Let It In is exactly the sort of soul-soothing sonic balm that Eno is still the absolute master at providing. More than just the sort of pleasing background noise you might find being softly pumped out at an exhibition in The Science Museum though, it’s an actual song with Eno’s rich baritone moving underneath his daughter’s sampled voice in a simple but effective melodic cycle. It does also feature what sounds like a lion snoring, so maybe the Science Museum could use it after all...
The forthcoming album by Philadelphian bedroom pop enigma Alex G has him trying out a plethora of styles and production techniques at a rate of knots that, if I’m honest, I found a bit discombobulating at times. Released last week as a single, the album’s final track Miracles, however, is a gorgeously wistful dose of swooning alt-country that shows he needs little more than a couple of acoustics – and the odd bit of fiddle - for his songs to sparkle. Listening back to the mix though, it could probably do with more lion…
Sometimes I miss stuff in my Recommenders. It happens, that’s life. The more I’ve listened to the wistful folk of Bess Atwell’s excellent second record Already, Always, released last September, the more I realise I was an idiot not to write about it. Oh well. At least I get to partially make up for it as a new remix EP titled Already, Rearranged is out today. It colours Atwell’s sparse sonics in atmospheric new shades, with the guest remixers bringing in ambient beats, vocal samples and expansive synths. Atwell’s voice remains at the centre of everything, a drifting melancholic croon anchoring it all. My favourite rework is Billie Marten and Ellie Mason’s take on How Do You Leave, which turns a pulsing acoustic number into an uplifting, electronic sad banger.
There really are some terrible artist names that pass through this way. Maybe we need a weekly Terrible Name But This Is Really Good section, give them the tough love they deserve. This week’s entry is Canadian singer-songwriter Blunt Chunks, whose name just makes me think of being 14 and downing a two-litre bottle of Diamond White. “Is Niall OK?” “Yeah, he’s sicked it all up, it’s just blunt chunks now, he’ll be fine in a bit.” It’s a shame really because Caitlin Woelfle-O’Brien (much better name!) makes soothing Americana, all warm melodies and round-the-campfire instrumentation. Well mostly – on May’s Blunt Chunks EP, there was a quick diversion into thrashy fuzz-pop that was also very enjoyable. Her new single Wasted is very good at getting your heart-rate down and relieving Diamond White-related PTSD.
I’m all about the Bs this week. Maybe I could make this like a series of QI and work my way through the alphabet. Actually, I’ve already gone off that idea, rubbish. I wasn’t fully invested in it when I started the sentence but by the end I fully hated myself. Anyway, I also like the new single by Breanna Barbara. It’s called Landslide and it’s got a great 70s cop show funk swagger about it and a falsetto vocal that sounds like Chan Marshall in mischievous mode. I didn’t know much about her until I pressed play on this track, but I very much enjoyed it so looked up some more info. Here’s what I’ve found: Breanna Barbara is a US singer-songwriter and Landslide is taken from her forthcoming second album Nothin’ But Time, which was written whilst she was out on the road performing as a touring vocalist with Tricky. She also appeared on Tricky’s last project Lonely Ghost. See, sharing is caring.
Story Behind The Song
How we birthed a classic
Burn Baby Burn (2001)
As you read this, indie-rock heroes Ash are one stop down on a whistlestop UK tour playing their brilliant third album Free All Angels in its entirety. This week, frontman Tim Wheeler told Niall how the record’s 2001 hit Burn Baby Burn was rescued from the outtakes bin, why it was make-or-break period for the then-quartet and the time he got wiped out by a backflipping cheerleader.
“It started out on Nu-Clear Sounds as a whole different song with a different chorus. A lot of it musically was in place, except for the chorus. We started trying to record it for Nu-Clear Sounds but it was a bit of a second tier song at that point. It had a great intro and a great verse but the chorus let it down. We were working on it at Stambridge Farm – we’d locked ourselves there for a couple of months trying to get going again after the 1977 tour. We started recording it at Rockfield but we abandoned it, it wasn’t quite strong enough so I don’t think I ever recorded vocals on it but we recorded all the backing track for it. I suppose if the chorus is weak, it can really wreck a song. The chord changes on that original chorus were twice as fast, it wasn’t very good melodically or lyrically.
When we were starting to write Free All Angels, there was unfulfilled potential with that song so it was still in our minds, we had it on the backburner that there was something good there. One night I was at my parents and I was driving home and the rhyme that’s in the chorus started forming in my head and I was like, ‘that might just fit with the rest of that song’ and I tried it and it worked really well. It was resurrected!
At the time, we were determined that things weren’t going to be over for us, we felt we had a lot to prove. We were so young, we’d gone through the difficult second album and if we hadn’t come back with something strong then it probably would’ve been the end of our career. We just couldn’t face that happening to us at the age of 21, so we really dived in hard. We spent a long time writing just to make sure we had the songs to come back. We wanted an album full of great singles because we had such a strong string of singles leading up to 1977 coming out and we knew that was the kind of thing we needed again, not just one strong song. We needed three or four hits.
Recording the album, there was a really good vibe. We did some stuff at Van Morrison’s studio near Bath and then we did a lot of the rest of the record in El Cortijo, a studio in Spain near Malaga. The one thing about the song was that, because it had been kicking around for quite a long time and I’d been unsatisfied with it for such a long time, there was a bit of a lingering doubt with me over it. I thought it was decent but I didn’t think it was amazing. Now, I really love it – I was really surprised by how well it did!
Shining Light had come out and been a hit, it had gone Top Ten in January and we released Burn Baby Burn as the next main single before the album came out. It was a lot of fun making the video, we shot it in a gym in Croydon and it had this real American feel with the basketball team and the cheerleaders. It was a good laugh of a day. We’d also played it live on tour – we did this tour of small venues and got fans to vote on the internet, quite early in those days, and got them to vote for where we went to. We did Ullapool, way up north in Scotland, and some mad random places and we were opening the shows with Burn Baby Burn and straight away you could tell it was a killer opening track. We were buzzing, there was a lot of fun around it.
We played it at the Smash Hits Awards and we got the cheerleaders from the video to come and play with us and there was one bit where one of the girls was going to do a backflip right across the stage. I was told, ‘during the guitar solo, do not move backwards or she’ll go straight into you’, but unfortunately I did, I just completely blanked and she clattered into me at full pelt about four backflips into it. Luckily no-one was seriously hurt but I was pretty sore. I learned the hard way!
It was also the first ever song on 6Music, which is pretty cool. I think they had an online vote and I guess our fans came out strong so it was the first song played. Not too long after it came out, we tried it as a set closer and that’s the place it’s stayed ever since. It’s always been the best way to end a gig for us, it’s got such energy and ends on with such a big bang. This Free All Angels tour we’re doing is the one exception because we’re doing the album in order, we’re committing to that!
The lesson is don’t give up if you’ve got a half good song. Trust your instincts if you think there’s something worth working on. Crack at it because you never know!”
Muse’s Matt Bellamy on the importance of having a good time:
“The lowest point in the band was when I was drinking more than a should have, and I ate an entire chorizo sausage in Spain and woke up in the middle of the night in the bunk just covered in sick. I got up on the bus, it was like 2 or 3 in the morning, and you realise there’s no shower, there’s no real change of clothes, they’re all sweaty and dirty, I’ve gotta sit like this and smell like this for at least six hours and then try and do a gig. I came back from that tour and said, “If we don’t start having a good time, I don’t really wanna do it.” So when we did the second album, it was all about having a good time.”