Friday, March 31, 2017

Get It Out: Q&A with Joe Sherrin (a.k.a. SLONK)

Released earlier this month, Songs About Tanks is the new album from SLONK (real name Joe Sherrin) and it serves as an unflinching document of just how hard a break-up can be. Much of the record was written and recorded within just a week of the break-up, and though Sherrin's words are draped in all kinds of lovely, cosy-sounding instrumentation, you can hear that his wounds are still painfully fresh. Here, he answers some questions about Songs About Tanks and what was going on in his life during its creation.

The Album Wall: Please introduce yourself - who are you, what should we know about you, and where did the name 'SLONK' come from?

Joe Sherrin: My name's Joe Sherrin. I play in lots of Bristol-based bands, and SLONK is my solo project. 'SLONK' is just a nonsense word I used to use, e.g. "just slonk that over here please, Steve". I was pretty stuck trying to find a name for my solo stuff, so I just went with that - I like that it's silly and a bit weird. Turns out 'SLONK' has an Urban Dictionary definition though, so that pissed me off.

TAW: Your new album, Songs About Tanks, is a break-up album. What's the story behind that title? What do tanks have to do with breaking up?

JS: I put the song We're Both Going To Be Fine up online in its original demo form (just guitar and vocals) back in November, and I put in the comments to my friends who found the song upsetting, "don't worry guys - the next batch of songs will be about tanks and harlots, like usual". That was a lampoon, though; none of the songs are about tanks. They're wetties.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Unsteadied: A Craig Finn Playlist

Craig Finn's new LP We All Want the Same Things came out last week and you should definitely buy it because it's his best yet.

I'll probably write a proper review of We All Want the Same Things at some point in the very near future, but for the moment, I'd like to take a quick look back at Finn's last two solo outings: 2012's Clear Heart, Full Eyes and 2015's Faith in the Future. It's been really interesting watching the singer from The Hold Steady build up his very own body of work outside the band, and so for the benefit of any Hold Steady fans who haven't yet sampled Finn's own-name stuff, I've chosen five of my favourite tracks from each of those records and sequenced them into this nifty little playlist. I hope you enjoy it - maybe have a listen while you wait for your copy of the new album to arrive?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our Corpse: Songs About Tanks by SLONK

Countless artists have written songs about breaking up, but few break-up albums cannonball into the deep end of that experience like Songs About Tanks, the new LP from Bristol's SLONK (real name Joe Sherrin). This record isn't funereal and sombre like The Boatman's Call; nor is it as resigned a farewell as The Walker Brothers' classic break-up song Make it Easy on Yourself. Most end-of-relationship albums, even the really angsty and depressing ones, find some sort of closure by the end, but Songs About Tanks isn't so much about finding closure as it is about painting a devastatingly detailed picture of the immediate fallout. There's no real 'journey' here, no healing process that ends with our protagonist getting over it and moving on - this album simply seeks to capture exactly what it's like to have your heart ripped in half.

And it does that very well indeed. Sherrin has a great eye for detail, and his lyrics do a superb job of documenting the tiny little pains that follow the end of a relationship: changing your passwords so that they no longer include your ex's name; realising that the little songs the two of you used to sing to each other will never be sung again; going back to their flat, the one you used to share, and noticing that all the photos of you have been taken down. Rather remarkably, the lion's share of Songs About Tanks was written and recorded within a week of the break-up that spawned it, so as a listener you feel very close - almost uncomfortably close at times - to the centre of it all. You feel like you're standing right there at ground zero, looking over Sherrin's shoulder as he surveys the debris.

Friday, March 24, 2017

To Journey Freely: Q&A with Mo Kirby of The Nightjar

The Nightjar are a post-folk quartet from London whose debut LP, Objects, came out last week. Recorded in rural Portugal, the album is a bewitching listen indeed: The Nightjar's music is evocative of wide open spaces, of flickering candles, and of a vast sea lapping at the shore of a pebble beach on a moonless night.

Ahead of a gig in Camden next month and a number of other live appearances after that, The Nightjar's lead singer Mo Kirby very graciously took the time to answer some of my questions about Objects and its constituent songs and sounds.

Image credit: Paul Blakemore

The Album Wall: Why did you choose to call yourselves 'The Nightjar'?

Mo Kirby: A nightjar is a bird with silent flight. It hunts at night, has a strange call, and nests on the ground. They are unusual birds with lots of interesting folklore attached to them. The characteristics and behaviour of the birds attracted us to the name, but we also heard that - very unusually - nightjars had been found nesting in marshland next to where we lived in London. We were already considering using the name, but that sealed the deal.

TAW: You describe your music as 'lo-fi post-folk'. What is 'post-folk', and how is it different from regular folk music?

MK: Folk music as a genre is very hard to pin down. To me, it is music rooted in and referencing a tradition, and it is shared and passed on in a particular way. I would feel uncomfortable describing what we do purely as folk music. We reference folk traditions, but we have taken it somewhere else. What we do is inspired by traditional folk music and folk revival, but it's developed in response to these...hence the 'post'.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Post-Folk: Objects by The Nightjar

The word 'folk' used to refer to a type of music designed to be enjoyed by large groups of people. Old-fashioned folk songs aimed to create a feeling of community and togetherness, emphasising simple tunes and lyrics that everyone could join in with. Far more recently, 'folk' has come to denote a far lonelier sort of music: the word now gets thrown at acts like Bon Iver and Nick Drake and early-period Leonard Cohen. These days, 'folk' is one person with an acoustic guitar singing fragile, solitary-sounding songs to a room full of quiet, attentive listeners rather than to a choir of bawdy drunks in a crowded pub.

The Nightjar are a band from London who describe themselves as making "lo-fi post-folk" music. As the phrase 'post-folk' suggests, their sound is a step beyond that of the quivering, poetic mopes who commonly purport to be 'folk' musicians nowadays - not only is their particular twist on folk music not designed for consumption by large, loud groups of people, you almost get the sense that it's designed for a time when all other people have disappeared off the face of the Earth entirely.

Monday, March 20, 2017

All at Sea: We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank at 10

If you ignore the various EPs, mini-albums, and rarities compilations they've released over the years, Modest Mouse's discography can be roughly divided into two equal parts.

Their first three albums - This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About (1996), The Lonesome Crowded West (1997), and The Moon & Antarctica (2000) - were made by a tight-as-hell trio who knitted together weird, wonky riffs and strong, sinewy rhythms to create brilliant and bizarre indie rock that perfectly evoked the immense, sprawling, spread-out strangeness of North America. Having only ever driven on British roads, I can't really speak from experience - the longest journey I ever completed took me from Cardiff to York and covered roughly 250 miles, which is slightly less than the distance between Seattle, Washington and Spokane, Washington - but whenever I listen to those first few Modest Mouse albums in all their long-playing glory, the feeling I'm left with is similar to the feeling I imagine truck drivers get about eight hours into an eleven-hour shift. During longer tracks like Truckers Atlas from The Lonesome Crowded West, you begin to lose all sense of time and space, until eventually all you're aware of is Jeremiah Green's drumming stretching off into the distance like endless yellow lines on the tarmac.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fourteen Floors: Hurray for the Riff Raff & The Long Journey Upwards

Buried deep in the second half of Hurray for the Riff Raff's wonderful new album The Navigator is a track called Fourteen Floors.

Gentle and slight, Fourteen Floors is not The Navigator's most memorable song by any stretch of the imagination.  It doesn't have the purposeful drive of pre-release single Hungry Ghost; it certainly doesn't scale the same spine-tingling heights as Pa'lante, the album's stunning climax; it's not even on quite the same level as Halfway There, the lovely little acoustic song that mostly stands out because it provides a gentle moment of calm between The Navigator's two fieriest tracks (The Navigator and Rican Beach).

Nevertheless, I find Fourteen Floors strangely intriguing, and so I'd like to take a closer look at this song today. What is it about? What does it add to the album? And what are the 'fourteen floors' supposed to represent?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

EP Corner: List of Equipment by Lusterlit

Lusterlit are two people - Susan Hwang and Charlie Nieland - who write songs about books. This fun little collaborative project grew out of the Bushwick Book Club, a loose collective of NYC-based songwriters who come together once a month for what the Club's website describes as "an hour-long orgy of book-related songs and book-inspired food and drink". It's like a regular book club, but you have to write and perform a song about the book instead of just talking about it (which I imagine makes things far trickier for the people who just come for the wine and only pretend to have done the reading).

Both Hwang and Nieland have released collections of their own work in the past, but the List of Equipment EP (which came out a couple of weeks ago) is Lusterlit's first release as a duo. It features five different songs about four different books:
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
  • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  • The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
At this point, I should confess that I haven't read *any* of the above books - I did skim a brief summary of each one on Wikipedia before writing this blog post, but my knowledge of List of Equipment's source material sadly ends there. However, even I am aware that this is a pretty varied selection: you've got a gory Western, a French cookbook, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi classic, and a magical realist superhero novel.

Monday, March 13, 2017

To All Who Had to Hide: The Navigator by Hurray for the Riff Raff

In the wake of Donald Trump's election victory last November, there was much talk about 'identity politics' and the possibility that the left, by placing too much focus on the concerns of minority groups, drove a significant number of moderate white voters to the right.

I don't wish to debate the validity or otherwise of this theory right now (although I largely agree with Hadley Freeman's assertion that it's kind of shitty to suggest that gay rights, racial equality, and other issues that don't primarily affect straight white men are 'niche' concerns) - I only mention it because this line of thinking has spawned a toxic 'THIS IS WHY TRUMP WON!' atmosphere that effectively tells certain people to keep certain parts of their identities hidden so as not to piss anyone else off. Discussions about racial profiling, abortion rights, LGBTQ+ issues, et cetera are seen as counterproductive because they don't involve everyone, and some people have suggested that we on the left will only bring Trump voters back onside if we stop banging on about this stuff and focus on the issues that 'normal' people (i.e. straight white men) are worried about too.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Unpresidented Jams: Tunes for Trump's America

Truth be told, I'm not sure how many of the songs on Unpresidented Jams - the 'fuck Trump' charity compilation that Audio Antihero released the other week - are actually *about* Donald Trump and the current political climate in the USA. I know that at least a few of the tracks featured here were written and recorded back in the relatively halcyon days of the Obama administration, but...well, I don't know. Maybe it's because every single breaking news story these days seems to revolve around Trump and his cabinet of horrors, or maybe it's just because it's difficult to enjoy music at all right now without asking what it has to say about the present mess we're in, but either way, I didn't have to listen too closely to Unpresidented Jams to start hearing every line as a piece of political commentary.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Behold the Once & Future Me: Sick Scenes by Los Campesinos!

"Not right to call this old age...but it certainly ain't youth!"

The sixth Los Campesinos! album, Sick Scenes, finds the Cardiff-spawned septet trapped between two great galumphing horrors of equal awfulness. Behind them gapes the terrible maw of The Past, a big patchwork monster made of break-ups and missed penalties and old gig posters; before them looms the incomprehensible massiveness of The Future, a colossal giant who towers high above the clouds and promises naught but death. You've got a big ugly mess on one side, an unknowable multitude of potential devastations on the other, and Los Campesinos! in the middle, desperately trying to ignore these two abominations and concentrate on the football.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Getting it Wrong: A Chat with Jamie from Audio Antihero

Audio Antihero is a record label that specialises in all shades of off-kilter indie music. The label's very first release was the furiously fidgety We're Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On to Block Out the Noise by Nosferatu D2, and since then Audio Antihero's purview has expanded outwards to include everything from folk music to laptop pop, experimental soundscapes to route-one punk.

The man at the helm of the Audio Antihero frigate is Jamie Halliday. Jamie lived in London when the label first launched, but he has since moved to the USA, a country that - as you may be aware - recently elected TV business guy Donald Trump as its leader. In the wake of Trump's inauguration, Jamie (with the help of many cool bands and artists from the US and elsewhere) put together a compilation album called Unpresidented Jams to raise money for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).