The New Cue #39 July 16: Chvrches, Rejjie Snow, Vince Staples, Shannon Lay, Tyler, The Creator, Thom Yorke, Big Red Machine, Luke Steele, The Shadracks, The Parrots
16 July, 2021
It’s Friday, the weather in the UK is set fair for the weekend, let’s put all of that rain and doom and airborne disease behind us. Seize the moment with this newsletter packed full of musical treats.
Niall gets on the Zoom to Lauren Mayberry today to hear all about Chvrches’ new album in the last of our mid-year preview pieces. Below that, we have a sack-full of music we’d like to pour into your lugholes. Be prepared. Here’s a playlist if you’d like to listen along as you read:
We return on Monday – Freedom Day in England, apparently – with Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse blowing Chris’s mind with a bunch of crazy theorising. Unmissable. Tell your friends, share the news, spread the word. See you then.
Ted, Niall and Chris.
Preview Special: Chvrches
Scottish electro-pop trio Chvrches had already started work on their fourth album Screen Violence, out next month, when the world went into lockdown last March. But did having two members in Los Angeles (singer Lauren Mayberry and multi-instrumentalist/producer Martin Doherty) and one in Glasgow (the other multi-instrumentalist/producer – I did try to think of another way to say it but I couldn’t, sorry – Iain Cook) stop them in their tracks? Did it chuff. Instead, they got to work over Zoom and created their best record yet. And then to top it off they got Robert Smith to sing on a track! Niall spoke to Lauren over Zoom but they didn’t make any great albums, they just spoke about the new Chvrches one.
Hello Lauren, how are you?
Hi… Excuse me, what's going on with this beast… [Lauren gets up to remove her cat from the room]
I just did the same with our cat a second ago.
I know, right. They just sit and scream at the door if I don't let them in. [holds cat up] This is Cactus. She's the one that eats headphones and socks and jumpers and all kinds of things. So I'm just gonna shut her out. I should really just go to another building to do these things, just sit in my car and do them and then I won't be hassled.
Well done on the new record. I’ve interviewed a few bands about new records which have actually turned out to be not-so new, just delayed because of Covid. But this was all made during lockdown.
Yeah, people have been asking us, "Oh, so it's a pandemic album?'. It's an album that was created during the pandemic but it's not about that. I think maybe lyrically and creatively living through those things and being shut inside with your own thoughts makes you have to think about things in a way that you don't want to and I guess that I feel like the 2020s reflected in it in that way, but it's not like the themes of these songs are "the world as it stands in 2020". It's more just like it was an enforced lyric-writing camp I didn't want but that I'm grateful to have had. You always say "yes I'll go and sit on top of a mountain and I'll write lyrics on a mountain by myself for a week” and that never happens.
How would you sum up where Chvrches were at as you were making this record?
It felt like exploration in a way that was positive. I don't have any regrets about anything that we've done because I feel like a that's terrible way to live your life - I'll save that for my personal life. But also, it's all part of your story. It's all part of the learning. If you hadn't done this thing, this other thing wouldn't have happened. It's all part of it. But I feel like the things that we've done that I don't think landed as well were things that were exploration that wasn't coming from a positive place necessarily. I think exploration because you're excited about finding something new and wanting to try something different is great. And that felt really fun to be doing that. I think exploration because you're panicked and you don't know what you're doing or what you should be doing, after a while that's not necessarily positive. But I feel like this was the first time in a while that we felt like we were searching in a way that felt like good for once.
Can you give an example of what you feel like didn't land as well?
For me, lyrics-wise when I look at like certain things that there's just some stuff you could look back on it. I look at some lyrics where it’s like, ‘yes, we fuckin nailed that’. And then other ones are like, ‘personally, I wish I had done better there’. I'd rather be trying things that are slightly outside your comfort zone but you feel good about it. We were trying different things and seeking different things in a way that didn't feel fearful.
The album is titled Screen Violence, which you’d considered as a band name before settling on Chvrches. What brought you back to it?
We had a bunch of different options for a band name, some very good, some terrible, but that was one that we'd hovered over for a while and we just didn't end up choosing it. We always liked it as a phrase and it came up back into conversation in summer 2019, when we were doing a last round of touring on the third album. I think for me lyrically, it was very helpful because the songs are not about horror, they're not about screen violence – it’s more like the imagery and the allegory through which you can tell the personal stories. And I guess Screen Violence can be read in multiple ways, but I think it helped me focusing my imagery more. I feel like that was helpful for me to push me into a different space of thinking about writing.
Did the meaning of Screen Violence change in your head between then and now?
Yes, for me personally. I think at the time, all it meant was an era of filmmaking and the way that people spoke about that. What we've gone through as a band, we've had different experiences in the world, the title now has three meanings. It's violence on screens, which is what you see in film and TV and all the panic culture and all that crap, and violence by screens, like - this stuff's not good for us, man, I don't think technology is always that great for humans. And then violence through screens, that we do to each other through screens. Rather than us sitting being asked about those things again and again in interviews by people who oftentimes don't agree with us, and sometimes don't take it very seriously, we would rather make something artful out of it and have that be the comment rather than just another piece of clickbait by someone who doesn't really care. I feel like for us, the songs are always personal and not necessarily overtly political.
Do those two things sometimes get unavoidably interlinked, though?
Yeah, I guess. The personal is political, the political is personal. Like when people are like, 'you write songs about politics and feminism', I'm like, ‘no, not necessarily’, but if you are a woman in the world, then you will write about your experience as a woman in the world. I saw so many things with people last year, like every queer artist, every black artist or every Asian artist getting asked questions about that and being expected to address things, but you don't have any other experience that isn't that. So, of course, it's reflected in your work in some way, because that's your life experience. But it doesn't mean that that's all that you are.
Which song on the record means the most to you?
I think How Not To Drown has some of my favourite lyrics, but when it was just me singing on it, it was a song clearly about my disillusionment with experiences that we've had in the last several years. But the fact that Robert Smith is on it, who is one of the most inspirational people to us as writers and as to this band, I was like, ‘it's now great, it's now my favourite!’ I think all songs are like a snapshot of a moment in time and I look at those lyrics and what that those lyrics are about, I'm like, ‘well, that's a snapshot of a moment in time, it wasn't the whole story, it’s not the whole experience of your time in the band.’ But certain things, if they happen so many times, it does take an emotional toll on your spirit. There was a moment on the last campaign where it did feel like a lot of people really fucking hated me. We had to give my Instagram and Twitter and all that shit to a security company so they could monitor the death and rape threats that come in. If you're in any other job where you were having those things happen, you probably would want to get a new job after a point. But I don't feel like that generally about the band. Robert Smith was so cool to work with, it’s so rare to be that far into your career and really excited about making about making music and excited about new bands.
It’s a brilliant collaboration. You should work with Depeche Mode next.
I've got a really nice bottle of wine from Depeche Mode in my house.
Really? How did you get that?
Because we were supposed to introduce them at their induction to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but then that became virtual and didn't happen. I had to record a thing to be like, ‘we love Depeche Mode’ and then they sent me this really, really nice wine. I've had to hide it from myself in the house because we said that we all want to drink it together at some point.
Perhaps because I have been landlocked on sodden Plague Island for two years, I’ve been enjoying the music made by artists who live in the sunshine state of California this week. Lay that hot freedom and freshly squeezed chlorine on me.
Dubliner-who-raps-like-an-American Rejjie Snow says his second album Baw Baw Black Sheep is informed by Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but to these uneducated ears it sounds like psychedelic drugs played their part too. “I watch it all the time,” he says of Wonka in his album bio. “I put the movie on with my album, and they synched up perfectly. I tried to tap into all these feelings. The music is really colourful, and the lyrics are often happy, because that was my state of mind…” You picture Rejjie in his LA pad, late afternoon sun streaming in through the open windows, supping on a cup of tea and puffing perhaps on a legal high, watching Gene Wilder prance around in a purple overcoat with his Oompah-Loompas singing their creepy songs about children drowning in chocolate, while Rejjie’s colourful contemporary funk thumps through the room, heads nodding, minds exploding…
Sounds good, right?
I enjoyed his accompanying film ‘reaching up to heaven with a broken wrist’ a little bit less. It’s a much more maudlin vibe than the album that it’s promoting, but I still watched it all the way through and absolutely loved the shots of the Pyramids and his Dublin narration.
I’ve also been enjoying Vince Staple’s self-titled fourth album this week. Produced by sometime dance DJ Kenny Beats, it’s got a sharp contrast between Beats’ melancholic textures and Staple’s often grim lyrics about his youth in Long Beach at its core, all delivered in Staple’s barely-bothered tenor. It’s sticky, trippy, paranoid. You won’t get bored of it quickly.
My very favourite psychedelic rap album of the year is Tyler, The Creator’s masterpiece CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST. I already recommended that here a few weeks ago, but a side-effect of this pandemic (and the modern age more generally) is that without music magazines, gigs and all associated promo, great works of musical art just come and go in a puff of release-day smoke. Blink and you may miss them. So I just wanted to also point you in the direction of his video for Lemonhead as a prompt to go for a walk with Tyler’s album in your ears. Please watch the video with the sound up. It’s only a minute. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but show me another artist this good, this well dressed who can ride a penny farthing.
Oh, you like that? Did you see Lumberjack last month?
Another LA resident, Shannon Lay, announced her album this week. Though Geist’s not out until October, the folk singer has previewed the album with a video for two songs from it, the title track and the a cappella Awaken and Allow. Along with Rare To Wake, which we recommended to you last month, it’s a very good advert for the main event this autumn. Geist in particular has some lovely electric piano and a couple of killer lines. As Lay sings, you don’t need much.
I’ve always been a big fan of Luke Steele’s numerous musical projects. He was the OG cosmic adventurer from Western Australia before Tame Impala began their own, equally space-y ascent. Every time I feel annoyed at Steele for not doing another Sleepy Jackson album, he serves up another left-turn to remind me that going back to base isn’t in his nature. His new guise is in H3000, a duo he’s formed with producer Jarrad Rogers, and it continues the synth-pop grooves Steele has perfected over the past decade with Empire Of The Sun. It’s got proper cityscape from a distance at night vibes. If you’re into it, I also strongly recommend this track he did with PNAU, a team-up that brought about the formation of Empire Of The Sun. It’s a banger.
I did not have ‘Thom Yorke remixing Creep’ in my 2021 Radiohead predictions (what I did have: a Kid A/Amnesiac boxset, maybe a new EP, Colin Greenwood doing Mastermind) but this week he released the warped, nine-minute interpretation that he did for a fashion show by designer Jun Takahashi. It is pretty creepy, quite weird but also very special. So very special. Can’t wait to hear what he does with Pop Is Dead.
Much less freaky-deaky and easier to get a handle on is Rae Street, the excellent first cut from Courtney Barnett’s forthcoming new record Things Take Time, Take Time. It’s the kind of drowsy Americana you can imagine listening to on the open road, albeit travelling at five miles per hour.
On a similarly dusty, quiet-please-I’m-dozing here tip, I also really like this track by Big Red Machine, a coming together of superbeards including Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, The National’s Aaron Dessner, Fleet Foxe’s Robin Pecknold and more. US singer Anaïs Mitchell breaks up the “I gave up stockbroking to become a carpenter” vibe with a serene vocal over the folky sway.
Regular The New Cue readers will be aware that - dodgy internet connections dependent - The Horrors are currently concocting material for their next album. Bassist Rhys Webb, meanwhile, has been juggling a sideline playing in Medway garage rock outfit The Shadracks.
Frontman Huddie Hamper is the son of the undisputed godfather of Medway garage rock, Billy Childish, who has also produced the trio’s forthcoming album, From Human Like Forms. And boy does it show. Out now via Damaged Goods, latest single Barefoot On The Pavement is a prowling, lo-fi rattle and hum with a deliciously malevolent undertow reminiscent of The Cramps or theatrical rocker Screaming Jay Hawkins.
Rhys also knows his onions when it comes to digging out rare ’60s garage and psych tracks. If you want to take a quick dip into his record collection you can listen to Rhys discuss his passion on Eddie Piller’s podcast here.
Madrid’s The Parrots used to deal in similarly scuffed round the edges, take-it-as-it-comes thrills. The first taste from the duo’s second album, Dos (that’s Spanish for two, because it’s their second album, yeah) is a far more high- fidelity proposition. Out now via Heavenly, You Work All Day And Then You Die is a massive, propulsive juggernaut of a track with echoes of early Simple Minds and Spiritualized shining through its vapour trails. It’s much more uplifting than its title would suggest too…
The album is also produced by another member of The Horrors, keyboardist Tom Furse. Which is all well and good, but come on lads, you really should be knuckling down and finishing your own record now.
As far as I’m aware, no member of The Horrors was involved in the making of Suuns latest release, C-Thru, out now on Joyful Noise Recordings. It does kind of sound like they might be though, and the track’s acid-warped, electro- goth shudder should certainly tickle the fancy of fans of Horrors LPs Primary Colours and Skying. If you like this, the Montreal trio’s next album is out in September and is crammed full of plenty more excellent gear like it…
Are you the sort of person who rolls your eyes up at people saying “vinyls” instead of “vinyl” because you’re in the elite group of supercool audioboffins who know that the singular of vinyl is actually “vincent”? Well then, this week’s competition is perfect for you! In celebration of Record Store Day Drop 2 this weekend and thanks to our friends at Henley Audio, the exclusive UK and ROI distributor of Pro-Ject Audio and Spin Clean, we’ve got a special vinyl care package to give away.
Here’s a rundown of what’s inside, oh my God I feel like Roy Walker, this is so much fun:
Spin Clean Record Washer System MK2 (worth £90)
Sweep-IT E (worth £60)
Brush-IT (worth £10)
Clean-IT (worth £9)
I know what you’re thinking: ‘wowserama!’. But this competition is only available to The New Cue subscribers. You are a subscriber, you say? Well then, all you need to do is send your answer to the question below to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: Why is the Spin Clean’s basin bright yellow in colour?
Go here for a hint (it’s actually not even a hint, they’re just giving you the answer) and good luck! Here’s a picture of the prize, oooh look at that, that’s gotta be the best vinyl care package I’ve ever seen:
Eels’ leader Mark Oliver Everett on why you have to roll with the bad times…
“If you keep waiting for things to get calm, you’re just gonna run out of time. Life is always gonna be some shit, for everybody, you just have to roll with it, that’s what life is, it’s a collection of those experiences.”