In the scheme of things, some days are better than others. And this is a good day. Chan Marshall has announced a new album. It’s called Wanderer and it’s out in October. It’s been about 5 years since her last album. That’s a long time in any civilisation’s calendar. And there’s still some waiting to do, which is more than frustrating. But if the trailer is anything to go by, it’ll be well worth the wait. Personally, I can’t wait to hear that unique, amazing voice once again. Counting down the days.

The Rock*A*Teens – Sixth House

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There’s a comfort in the familiar, but the excitement is in the new. For sure, another Calexico album is always welcome. The variation is on the theme. Good as it might be, though, it can never match the tingle that comes with the first listen to a new artist. It’s the anticipation. The not knowing what’s coming next that’s so exciting. But it’s also something potentially momentary. There’s always the ‘difficult’ second album. And sometimes there’s the ‘difficult’ second track on the first album. In between those two extremes, though, lies the real sweet spot. The familiar that offers something new. It’s the radical reinventions of Dylan. The many bands of Neil Young. The shapeshifting sounds of Ryan Adams. With their new album, The Rock*A*Teens are pretty close to this sweet spot. Formed back in the mid-1990s, it’s comforting that they’re back. But this is their first new release since 2001. Plenty of time in which to reinvent themselves. The Rock*A*Teens were always an eclectic outfit. But gone is the thought of any psychedelic rockabilly. In its place, there’s a stream of wonderfully rolling even rollicking riffs. Like Cracker at their best, or The Drive By Truckers anytime. “Take a deep breath and blow the cobwebs away”, say The Rock*A*Teens. It’s the philosophy of a band that’s found the sweet spot between the familiar and the new. And it’s a wonderful place to be.

Snail Mail – Lush

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“Do you dream about the people that wrong you? Do you see those faces again and again?” Oh yes. Do you dream about the songs that speak to you. Do you hear those chords again and again. Sure do. Lindsay Jordan has released probably the best album of the year so far.

Soccer Mommy – Clean

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Soccer Mommy can sometimes sound a little like Snail Mail, but with a lot more swearing. “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog, That you drag around, A collar on my neck tied to a pole, Leave me in the freezing cold”. Sophie Allison has released pretty much the best album of the year so far.

Dream Wife

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Fresh out of art school, Dream Wife can sound even angrier than Soccer Mommy. And they know how to swear in both English and Icelandic. Doubleplusgood. Rakel Mjöll and friends have released maybe the best album of the year so far.

Jess Williamson – Cosmic Wink

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With a nod to a deeper consciousness that flows from the love of each other and humanity, Cosmic Wink is an antidote to some of the pervasive negativity of the age. So, no swearing. Jess Williamson has released arguably the best album of the year so far.

The Men – Drift

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To ensure some gender balance, it’s time for some token men. And who better than The Men. Drift is a gloriously eclectic album with far more hits than misses. In fairness, Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi may not have released the absolute best album of year so far, but it’s been on repeat for months. And that’s fine by me.

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Led Zeppelin are one of the world’s greatest bands. They wrote some of the best songs you’ll ever hear. They influenced thousands of musicians from heavy metal bands to hip-hop artists. They reconfigured the music industry, playing to giant stadiums and huge crowds. Their place in the history of rock and roll is forever guaranteed. But in 2018 should we stop listening to them?

2018 is #MeToo year. It’s the year when women are no longer afraid to speak out. The year when women are providing much of the political energy in the US. The year of the Irish abortion referendum. 2018 is the year of the woman.

Led Zeppelin are one of the world’s greatest bands, but many of their songs are also from a very different lyrical era. ‘The Lemon Song’, ‘Black Dog’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’. They’re hardly the songs of the year when woman are no longer afraid to speak out. So, in 2018 should we stop listening to them?

At what point do we decide to change our minds about a band? Matt Mondanile left Real Estate after allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Attitudes to Mark Kozelek changed after his comments about Laura Snapes. Kanye West has been ridiculed for his absurd claim that slavery was a choice.

To be absolutely clear, none of the members of Led Zeppelin has been accused of any such crimes, or even similar verbal transgressions! It’s wrong to compare some of their lyrics with anything that has happened in 2018. More than that. Those lyrics weren’t even out place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Why should we judge them by the standards of our times? Sure, even Robert Plant seems to have distanced himself from his previous incarnation as a rock god.

But if Robert Plant has perhaps changed his mind, then maybe we have too. Much of this year’s musical energy has come from all-women bands like Dream Wife and female artists like Snail Mail. And someone like Kacey Musgraves has shown that it’s possible for a woman to challenge the masculinity of a whole music machine. Things seem different now.

In this context, maybe Led Zeppelin will simply become less relevant. Less referenced. Less sampled. Less listened to. Without passing judgment, maybe we will just move on.

So, should we stop listening to Led Zeppelin? No. But will we end up by not listening to them as much as before? Maybe.

Oh, and their songs about elves and fairies are a pretty tough ask now as well.

 

 

Mark Kozelek

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There’s nothing more thrilling than taking a sly peek inside a diary that someone has left lying around. Just a few furtive glances before they come back into the room. It gives you a glimpse into their innermost thoughts, their mind, their soul. It’s thrilling. There’s scarcely anything less exciting, though, than someone offering you their diary to read. The entries seem banal, humdrum, everyday. How could it be otherwise? Why would anyone let you read their diary if the entries were anything other than that? When Mark Kozelek started his new musical style around the time of Perils From The Sea with Jimmy LaValle, it was as if he had distractedly left his personal journal on the bedside table. Suddenly, we got the chance to get a brief glimpse inside his head. It was thrilling. Over the course of a few albums, we came to know his deepest feelings about his father, his girlfriend, his cat. It was so thrilling that even the expressions of boredom became somehow compelling. The long flights. The drudgery of touring. But then the experience changed. As album followed album in quick succession, what were once intimate insights seemed more like meaningless meanderings. The subjects remained the same, but the entries became banal, humdrum, everyday. The solution is to put the journal down and go listen to something else for a while. If that’s the context in which you find yourself putting on Mark Kozelek’s new album, then it’s a delight. Prettier sounding than some of his recent outings, it’s a window into his innermost thoughts, his mind, his soul. His dad’s still there. His girlfriend. His pets. He tells us what DVDs he watches and when. So, if you’re discovering Mark Kozelek’s new style for the first time, or if you’ve taken some time off and are coming back, then enjoy his new album. It’s thrilling.

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

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The internet will tell you that The Dark Side of the Moon synchronises perfectly with The Wizard of Oz, which is puzzling given the former lasts 43 minutes and the latter 101. But whatever. Anyway, soon the internet will be alive to the fact that the Arctic Monkeys’ new album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, synchronises almost equally perfectly with Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, 2001. Apart from the bit at the beginning with the monkeys, of course. Because from the first notes of the first song, ‘Star Treatment’, you can nearly taste Alex Turner’s martini as he steps on board the highly futuristic yet somehow slightly retro spaceship on his way to the moon. Throughout, there’s also the unnerving presence of the sentinel. Or Alex Turner’s bandmates as they’re called here. Silent and misunderstood. They’re part of the bigger picture, but goodness knows what they’re up to, so rarely are they called upon. For this could be an Alex Turner solo album. One man’s journey into the mysteries of life. It all comes to a head on the song ‘Science Fiction’. There’s a clue in the title. Sucked into the void, Alex emerges a better person, apparently having watched a Batman film on the way. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a departure from the magnificent AM. It will divide audiences. Some just won’t get it. As HAL 9000 would say, “I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.” Yet it’s not a bad album. Just different. And one that’s best enjoyed when synced to Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic masterpiece. But just not the bit at the beginning with the monkeys.

 

Neil Young – Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live

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“I want to get into Neil Young. What album should I listen to?” To this – oh so jejune – question, there is only one answer. “Try Rust Never Sleeps and get back to me”. If they say they like only the first half, then pat them on the head and direct them to the Harvests and perhaps Silver and Gold if they’re the adventurous type. If they say they like only the second half, then shake their hand and tell them to check out Ragged Glory and hope that they discover Broken Arrow. However, if they say they like both My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) and Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black), then there’s a further response. “Now go check out Tonight’s The Night and tell me what you think”. If they find it unlistenable, but still vow to put on Rust Never Sleeps every now and again, then at least there’s that. It’s a classic after all. But if they totally get it, then you’ve got them. Forever. For Tonight’s The Night is the quintessential Neil Young album. Full of gorgeous tunes (one of them borrowed from The Rolling Stones and not included here) and featuring steel, acoustic, and electric guitar, it brings together many of the different eras of Neil Young’s long career. (Excepting Trans). But its the magnificent approximateness of the performance that’s the clincher. It’s the key to Neil Young’s career overall. He may be the most fastidious curator of his own archives, but as an artist he revels in the gaps between the notes, the sounds that jar, the voice that wavers, the beauty of the immediate. Tonight’s The Night embodies this ethos. And this live version of the album at the Roxy from September 1973 captures that spirit perfectly. There’s about the best ‘Speaking’ Out’ you could wish for. A relatively tight run through of ‘Albuquerque’. And a moving rendition of ‘Tired Eyes’. So, if the question is “I want to get into Neil Young. What album should I listen to?”, the trick is to answer it in a way that gets them to wind up at Tonight’s The Night. Studio or Live at the Roxy version is just fine.