On Repeat #2


On Repeat – five songs that will help you prepare for Christmas whilst also doing absolutely nothing to improve your festive cheer and have nothing to do with Yuletide in any way. 


Burning Down the House – Talking Heads (1983)

Being a child of the 90s/00s the version of this song that I have heard the most (OK, at all) was the Tom Jones/the Cardigans version from 2003 (no judgies). I maintain that it is a perfectly good cover version and I have a lot of love for the Jones (I’ve seen him live, so back off). But honestly, I now get what this song is about.

The whole song has an amazing sound that in 1983 must have been even more distinct, before a whole host of post-New Wave bands did their best to ruin the genre. It sounds a lot like a robot being pushed down a very long staircase whilst all the other machines chant over the top of it. The song was written off-the-cuff as part of a jam session and it has that improvised, joyous feel throughout. In it’s own time the single was something of a flop outside of the US and Canada, so I think that the time has definitely come to play it loud and play it proud.

Best lyric: ‘Dreams walking in broad daylight’. I don’t know why, but it is. 


Orange Sky – Alexi Murdoch (2002)

If Murdoch had sat down to write a song that was perfect for soundtracks, then he succeeded. Released as part of his debut, independent release EP ‘Four Songs’ it has appeared in Garden State, Ladder 49, the O.C. Dawson’s Creek, Prison Break, House, Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty, not to mention numerous adverts and probably other T.V. shows that people haven’t bothered to include in sites picked up by Google searches.

Gentle, understated, beautiful. The song is deliberately aiming its fingers right at your heartstrings whilst also doing something to uplift you just a little bit. It is one of those songs that is not difficult to write, but that is tricky to execute well and it makes the list simply because it contains roughly 4 minutes of loveliness.

Best lyric: ‘In your love, my salvation lies’. 


Have a Lucky Day – Morphine (1993)

Alt-rock, jazz fusion at its best. It has a real Lou Reed ‘Goodnight and Thank You’ vibe but played underwater and backwards. The song appears on the 1993 album ‘Good’ but to experience it’s full power I would recommend listening to the live 1994 broadcast which can be found on ‘B-Sides and Otherwise’. Where the album recording can feel a little too understated, particularly in the vocals, the live performance is hard and loud, like being punched in the ears by Miles Davis on crack.

The ‘have a lucky day’ refrain which starts as the hook that pulls you in gains power when placed in the context of the other lyrics, a man who is losing it all but is convincing himself that he’s still got it and it will all be OK, like a reverse of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘the Raven’.

Best lyric: ‘Now I’m down a little, in fact I’m down a lot, I’m on a roller coaster ride that I can’t stop’.


Autumn Sweater – Yo La Tengo (1997)

From the album ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One’, there is a strong heartbeat permeating the track. 90s Indie was all about the floating, almost speaking vocals and the high tone of Kaplan’s voice wonderfully compliments the durgy, murkiness of the music. ‘Autumn Sweater’ is the perfect litmus for the rest of the album, a mongrel mix of indie, electronic and trip-hop, krautrock undertones.

The lyrics are sometimes harrowing, beginning ‘When I heard a knock at the door, I couldn’t catch my breath. Is it too late to call this off?’ The mystery of what it is that that narrator is hiding from or regretting remains unsolved, but there is the slightest hint that this is the end of a relationship or soon after and the fuzzy, surreal moments in which you meet someone for the first time after ‘the end’.

Best lyric: ‘we could slip away, oh wouldn’t that be better?’ 


Priest – William Crighton (2016)

I. Love. This. Song. Folky, Americana vibes of the kind that make it on to the soundtrack of every edgy crime drama on American television. Gospel-style backing vocals, great lyrics. But most importantly from Crighton himself a haunting and harrowing vocal that places each of your hairs individually on end.

The song follows a fleeing murderer in the planning, execution and escape. The lyrics are defiant and obstinate, there are no regrets in the criminal we follow. Simply a desire that if he is caught he dies where he is, in the place that he loves. The composition of the chorus is a punch in the stomach, Crighton using the full range of his voice to create highs and lows through talk of salvation and holy blood. It’s a cracker.

Best lyric: ‘Let ’em come if they catch up to me, I will die in the place I love’

Delve Deep – Isis, Bob Dylan


So, here’s the thing – I’ve never really listened to much Bob Dylan. I am familiar with him largely through soundtracks, covers and Saturday Night Live impressions. It’s not that I didn’t think I would like his music so much as I thought that, given the hype, he wouldn’t live up to unreasonable expectations.

That was until I started watching ‘Rolling Thunder Revue, A Bob Dylan story by Martin Scorsese’ on Netflix. I had to give up after about 45 minutes because it had taken me around 2 hours, continually pausing to listen to the music.

Isis so far is my favourite of the discoveries and there is part of me that is glad that I waited to mature and develop before experiencing it. I know that there will be many hard-core Dylan fans rolling their eyes at my naivety, eager to point out the hundreds of B-sides and demo recordings that surpass it’s glory. And that’s OK. The magic of music is in those moments when you hear something unexpected and glorious, a harmonious catharsis. And this one will have me ingesting the rest of Dylan’s repertoire soon enough.

Isis was written in collaboration with Jacques Levy and appeared on ‘Desire’ one of seven songs written by the pair for that album. The song is a straight-up story, all verses and no chorus, an allegory for Dylan’s own marital struggles and future separation and planted firmly in an Egyptian, mythological narrative. The lyrics speak of a man who married a ‘mystical child’ Isis on the fifth day of May but, given that he could not ‘hold on to her long’, he sets about on his own adventure. He resolves to head for the ‘wild unknown country where [he] could not go wrong’.

Just from the opening stanza, for a poem to music is what this is, Dylan has you in the palm of his hand. Why could he not hold on to her long? He has given no details other than a name in the second line and already the marriage is over. And who of us after the end of a significant relationship have not sought total renewal, even if not to the extent of cutting off our hair and heading out into the wild?

Each verse is connected by a mournful yet hopeful violin riff, gliding over the ostinato of the piano, drudging on below it. Between later verses this is punctuated equally with a harmonica, instantly invoking the sandy wanderings of Western heroes. The setting may well be Egypt, but the music and the noble steed soon-to-be-mentioned make the song unmistakably American.

I digress; the narrator comes to a ‘high place of darkness and light’ and hitches up his steed (told you he was coming up). He completes his escape at a laundry, washing his clothes to complete his almost biblical renewal with snipped locks and newly baptised threads. It is here now that he meets a ‘man in the corner’ who needs a match. The two get to a-talkin’ and the narrator agrees to accompany the stranger as he heads northwards.

The most impressive aspect of Dylan’s storytelling is the sheer volume he achieves with so little material. Just consider the fourth verse:

‘We set out that night for the cold in the north,

I gave him my blanket, he gave me his word

I said ‘where are we goin’ he said we’d be back by the fourth

I said, ‘that’s the best news that I’ve ever heard’

The verse beautifully captures the early stages of grieving a relationship lost. The narrator doesn’t know who he is, defined as he was by his love for Isis, and is more than willing to escape to wherever the stranger is taking him. He hands over his warmth (on his way to the cold north) and his trust in exchange for the word of a man that he barely knows. Is this because he doesn’t truly care what happens to him now? Or that he is so desperate to experience something new that he is willing to risk it all? All of this is brought together beautifully, they’ll be back by the fourth (presumably a day before his anniversary) and of this, he is glad.

Neither narrator nor listener have any real idea yet of what the purpose of this quest is, and this does not bother our mutual friend on the back of his pony as he is instead thinking of the most elaborate and beautiful jewellery. He thinks of his Isis through the bitter cold that he is experiencing (but doesn’t think to ask for his blanket back, which one would have thought the most obvious solution). But he does give us a hint to the answer of our earlier questions, he is thinking of how Isis ‘thought I was so reckless’. So it could be that our heart-broken wanderer is simply waving two fingers at his bride and proving to her just how reckless he can be?

There is also an element of self-flagellation going on here, he tells us of how Isis promised him that things would be different the next time that they married, when they met again. Perhaps he feels unworthy of such a woman until he has thrown all of the recklessness out of his system, and that he is on a journey to better himself for the next time that they see each other. Whilst most people never quite go to the extreme of following complete strangers into the desert, almost everyone will have done some serious soul-searching after a break up to find what parts of themselves they could have fixed to have made the other person happy. Our friend here is torn between a quest to find his new identity in a post-Isis World and yet also clinging on to the hope that if he could just change a little, it will all work out alright.

It is at this moment of reflection that, quite suddenly as far as we can see, his companion dies of something that he hopes isn’t contagious (which seems a reasonable and rational concern). Whilst he recounts to us this death coldly and matter-of-fact…ly, dedicating just a few words to the telling of the whole tale, he does decide to carry on in the name of his guide. The death and the end of the adventure collide into a dizzying and sobering perspective for our narrator. Being faced with mortality, with the lack of treasure or satisfaction from the journey (the tomb at the end of the adventure is completely empty) he realises that there is just one thing that brings him the feeling that he is looking for. This is where the real heart of the song lies, the songwriter who presumably is living his fair share of adventures admitting that it is all a little empty without that person to share it with. Whilst he may well have been able to reconcile his creations, he was unable to fix his own marriage in the same way.

And so it is that the narrator rides on back to find his Isis, which he does. Isis comments that he ‘look[s] different’ to which he replies ‘well yes’. The two have found each other again and this time ‘fixed’, ready for each other in a way that they were not on that 5th May when they were married and their passion thinly veiled the cracks that would soon appear. She asks the narrator whether he will stay, to which he replies ‘if you want me to, yeah’.

The conclusion is nothing short of heart-breaking in the context of the writer’s relationship ending. Whilst that fact is not directly spoken of in the final verse, the line ‘what drives me to you is what drives me insane’ speaks to a pain still hidden within the love, a recognition that sometimes wanting to be with someone is not enough, the slow, tortuous agony that is the most common experience of love. With Isis, the lows are worth the highs, but in reality not all love-interests are mystical children named after Egyptian deities.

The lyrics are stunning. The folk melody with the bluesy tones in the violin; the accompaniment is pure perfection. Live performances, should you choose to seek them out, lose something in the intensity of feeling but gain much in the pure power of performance. This may well be the very first Dylan song that I have been touched by, but I am confident that it will not be the last. Many more happy adventures lay ahead for me.

Album Review – Gon’ Boogaloo – C. W. Stoneking

gon boogaloo

As soon as C. W.’s voice hits your ear drums, you are faced with what I like to call the ‘Iggy Azalea problem’. Here we have an Australian, a white man, producing a sound which whilst directly related to dawn-of-times, 20s/30s blues, is unmistakably an affectation.  This is forgivable for much of the album; yet whilst ‘the Zombie’ is the best track on the record there are moments where it feels a little as though Stoneking is auditioning for the role of Mama Oti in Disney’s ‘the Princess and the Frog’.

Stoneking has been nominated for, and won, many awards for ‘best independent’ or ‘best original blues’ albums and that is to be celebrated. It is not a particularly crowded field, classic back-porch blues is something of a dying genre, but on ‘Gon’ Boogaloo’ he is managing to achieve something special. Whilst ‘Americana’ and ‘Blues-roots’ have become more popular, not many are attempting to recreate the sound whole-sale, warts and all. The album is permeated with that scratchy quality that can be heard on early Robert Johnson records which is a result of the poor technology used but has something of the devil about it.

Songs like ‘Get on the Floor’ and ‘The Jungle Swing’ will have you partying like it’s 1929, but only if that shindig took place deep in a fantasy jungle. The stories Stoneking tells are rich in bizarre imagery and his performance more than matches his content; ‘The Zombie’, aptly named, resurrects Screamin’ Jay Hawkins with all his voodoo charms for one last dance in the theatre of the absurd. Taken as a whole, the album is a fun mini-adventure, even if it does get a little ‘samey’ and formulaic in places.

When it comes down to it, there are little nuggets of excellence; his technical ability to recreate old-timey numbers in an entertaining way which don’t expect you to take  them too seriously is delightful. There is just a little something missing on most tracks but it’s hard to put your finger on, like hearing a song in a bar and not quite being able to recall the band. It feels as though there is something much more powerful beneath the surface, some great ‘gater lurking in the shadows. With only three albums released since 2005, perhaps this is yet to come.


On Repeat #1



On Repeat – the five tracks you should listen to this week if you want your life to be just a little bit better. 


Look at the Fool – Tim Buckley (1974)

So, it’s not one of his best. Ok, if pushed, it probably wouldn’t make the top 10. It’s the opening track of an album of the same name, his 9th and last before his death. The composition is  somewhat ‘paint-by-numbers’ and, for a 28 year old, Buckley sounds tired and not at his best. Have I sold you on it yet?

Buckley did folk much better than he did soul. But; it is a catchy tune and it has plenty of ‘soul’ both musically and lyrically. He manages to capture the absolute shame of redundant love, mournfully poured out in the ‘look at the fool that love brings me’ lament. And there are flashes, brief moments, of that wonderful voice that makes Buckley unique and the phenomenal range that, to the benefit of us all, he bestowed upon his son Jeff.

Best lyric: ‘I love you more than I care about myself, I love you hate you for what you’re doing to my health’


Peach Fuzz – Caamp (2019)

You can be forgiven for being lifted out of the room and dropped smack, bang into the middle of the 90s as the guitar riff through most of the song sounds almost exactly like ‘Brimful of Asha’. The whole album is an essential listen if you are a fan of indie/folk, but ‘Peach Fuzz’ manages to sneak it’s way through as a stand out song.

It captures almost perfectly the mundane moments in which you can discover that you are in love, the pulsating excitement of the early memories shared and the little things that make a relationship special. It’s one of those songs you’ll be humming all day and dancing to all night.

Best lyric: ‘Hey little mumma when you talk back, I see your eyes light up and I love that’


Losst and Founnd – Harry Nilsson (2019)

I should declare a clear bias when it comes to believing that Nilsson is one of the greatest and most under-rated musicians of all time. Dead, Harry Nilsson makes a substantially better musician than most do alive. ‘Losst and Founnd’ is an upbeat little number and not one that delves into the deeper, self-loathing and painfully self-aware parts of his mind that made him such an exceptional lyricist. But there are still beautiful lines thrown in that have you ingesting something good for you without even realising. It’s the musical equivalent of a parent flying a plane full of broccoli into an unwilling child’s mouth.

Posthumous albums are always something to be a little wary of. ‘Losst and Founnd’ may be no exception for some, but the title track, and a few others, are vintage Nilsson and everyone needs that in their life.

Best lyric: ‘Did you come from market or the heavenly place? God must have loved your face’.


Cleveland County Blues – John Moreland (2015)

‘High on Tulsa Heat’ is a spectacular album. Moreland has one of those voices that has been soaked in agony and restored again, only to have it’s heart broken. There are so many songs on this album that make it the perfect soundtrack for the utter misery that is 90% of human existence.

‘Cleveland County Blues’ sounds like loss, it wraps its arms around your heart and tells you that it may never be OK again, but at least you might be able to write a kick-ass song about it one day. If you want something a little more upbeat but still ultimately very depressing, try ‘White Flag’ from the same album.

Best lyric: can’t pick one I’m afraid. It’s pure poetry.


Mr. Tillman – Father John Misty (2018)

The first time that I heard this song I was struck by how different it was to everything that I had been listening to at the time. ‘Don’t be alarmed, this is just my vibe’ Father John sings to us as the music slinks and slides around, not really quite hitting any one distinct sound in a way that is quite unsettling. The song has the kind of quality that suggests it’s best enjoyed the evening after downing one too many Malibu and cokes. Which I get is the point, but it is an impressive sensation to invoke.

The song follows a conversation between a receptionist and a dysfunctional hotel guest that stirs both amusement and sympathy in equal measure. The plodding beat is offset by the continuous flow of lyrics, accompanied by swirling backing vocals and the song places you in the role of antagonist just by submitting you to its composition.

Best lyric: ‘Ok dear, you and your guests have a pleasant stay, what a beautiful tattoo that young man had on his face’