PHRASE [verb-link PHRASE, PHRASE after verb] If you say that someone is in clover, you mean that they are living a luxurious and comfortable life.
The Watchmakers are in clover. They are the luxury psych band, here for your fun and joy. The Watchmakers are a crate of rum. Crack open and let the good times roll.
Their back catalogue features ‘Kiss The Sun’ and ‘Stairway To Your Mind’, two of the best Manchester singles of the 21st century. I’ve said it before but these songs would slot in right after ‘She’s Electric’ at 2 AM on a Friday night out.
Now The Watchmakers are back with ‘Clover’ and they still have it folks, they have the power to lay down a groove as relentless and powerful as a diamond tipped drill. They still have the power to throw out a chorus that makes you sweaty just thinking about it. “Speak as one”; The Watchmakers preach unity in the temple of dance, “Let your sun be your shrine”.
One day we will go to gigs again. The Watchmakers will play again. They will smash it again. They will be the party band of psych again.
As fuzzy and pink as an episode of Columbo filmed inside a birthday cake, the front cover of The Raft’s new album looks like colonoscopy footage from an unfortunate jelly baby.
Pink is the perfect colour for The Raft as Phil Wilson has spent the best part of two decades making pick n mix style music using the ingredients of shoegaze, The The’s, The La’s and Barney Summer & Johnny Marr’s vaguely monikered side project Electronic. His music is all sugar and gelatine. Grab a scoop and fill your bag!
The miasma reflects his shoegaze leanings and the pink shows Phil’s softer side, he’s not quite the full Edwyn Collins but his songs are full of love and emotion and sensitivity. I caught up with Phil to talk about the album and the art, but first, let’s have a listen to the new album, and if you like it, treat yourself!
“A guy I didn’t know put an ad up in one of the shoegaze groups on Facebook offering his artwork for free for album covers, I checked his page out, liked that particular image and the rest is history. At that point, I already had the album title, Summerheads And Winter Beds and it just seemed to fit. It felt summery but also a little dark and mysterious. I’m quite indecisive when it comes to album art so I usually go with my gut and this image definitely spoke to me. If you like it, you should check out his other stuff. His name is Andrew Latham and his design company is called Ghostheory Art & Photography.”
How does Summer Heads And Winter Beds compare to the previous album, Abloom?
“I’d say there’s more substance to this one and it’s a bit more grown up. I wanted to make a more expansive album that had more than just pop songs on. It’s still pop at its core but some of the tracks are a little bit more experimental and the arrangements more complicated. It sounds nothing like it, but I had Giant Steps by The Boo Radleys in mind a lot of the time while recording this one.”
Amazingly, the painting that forms the album artwork to ‘Painting In Carlisle’ by The Maitlands is in fact a real painting the band discovered. Even more surprisingly, the painting now hangs in Ingy’s house. Who’s Ingy? You’ve probably met him to be fair, he’s the singer and ringmaster of The Maitlands and the kind of guy who writes songs about odd looking blokes in paintings. I caught up with him to talk about the painting in Carlisle.
I saw the painting on the staircase going up to play at a shop called the Warwick Bazaar. Artist wasnt known so we dont know anything about the man really. It just stuck me how awkward he looked, and on the way back from Carlisle, I made up his story…how I imagined him to be. It now hangs in my spare room as Ste Ackley [Maitlands guitarist] bought it for me once we recorded the song.
Wait, so after the song was recorded he went back to Carlisle to buy it?
Yeah, well I think he got it posted out.
I bet p n p was high. And how do the lyrics in the song relate to this mysterious man?
“You dont know what to do with yourself”, is about the awkwardness in with he looks to be experiencing while being painted. “High blood pressure”, you can see it on his face. So I assume hes a drinker.
“Cram packed attic full of ex wives porcelain” “Bad luck Tonka Truck” “Even this old plastic starship, looks like its ran out of stream”
I’ve painted him as a hoarder in my imagination, hench the above references.
There is another line in it “it’s time to tell the truth about what the workforce are doing building building’s that weren’t made to last”
That actually doesnt have anything to do with that painting, that’s my commentary on Grenfell towers and the like. But we could pretend he’s a retired, divorced, alcoholic, engineer.
The last line in the song is “sick of hanging round the stairs at the Warwick Bazaar” which is self explanatory.
Here’s photo evidence of The Maitlands with the actual painting!
Licensed To Ill’s infamous plane not only serves as a metaphor for the Beasties but also an unintended Nostradamus style prophecy for the end of this phase of their life cycle.
In an image stinkingly redolent of the 1980’s; the plane is a symbol of status and power. But more than just greed is good, it also builds in rap’s obsession with self aggrandisement. The Beasties have their own branded liner, making them the biggest and the best. Like when Marty gets the new car at the end of Back To The Future, the Boys have the best wheels / wings and are off touring round the world so brace yourself.
Let’s not beat around the bush, the plane is a phallus. Again, power, but more importantly, getting one over the ‘cock rock’ bands. When we consider the band toured with an enormous pneumatic knob on stage, you get the impression they’re more obsessed with bell ends than a campanology group.
Of course, the wonderful sight gig is that, flip the album over and the plane’s gone face first into a cliff. Firstly this tells us that humour is behind everything the Beasties do. Secondly in revealing that their enormous phallic plane is in fact, fucked, the back cover satirises the front. More importantly it transmits a valuable life lesson that power is not only linked to stupidity, but fragility. Thirdly, and this is where Nostradamus comes in, we can see see the plane as the Beasties and how the ‘Fight For Your Right’ frat boy act would become hit a grim dead end and finally die, the cliff face being Daily Mail outrage, stolen VW badges and commotion in Liverpool. The Beasties, like the Sex Pistols before them, would see their destructive nature turned inwards. From the ashes of the plane crash the Beastie Boys flew again, with Paul’s Boutique…. but that’s another story…
And the number on the tail 3M TA3? EAT ME!
Meanwhile on Dragnet, The Fall’s sophomore album (to use Pitchfork terminology) shows a stark black and white image of spider and butterfly on a web.
It’s perhaps too easy to say but The Fall had already positioned themselves as the spider at the centre of the web. They were originally called The Outsiders and rejoiced in being distanced from the Factory set. They were keen to draw people in though and the butterfly is us, the listener. If you get caught in the web of The Fall you may escape, but if you get stuck, there’s no escape and before you know it you’re buying everything you can. With his usual pre-cog kills, Mark E Smith had already predicted the entire position and effect of his wonderful, contrary band.
The choice of a spider is interesting and reflects that Mark was leaving the twisted social realism of suicidal bingo callers behind him and starting on embracing his love of MR James and Lovecraft. There’s a spider on the front of the album and in the music contained within there’s killers and spectres and spooky chills. Given the trap depicted on the artwork, Mark’s opening line of “is there anybody there?” could be interpreted as asking for acolytes or victims.
Contrasting their artwork with the nature displayed by the Bunnymen, the austerity of Joy Division, the high art of Magazine and the politics of Gang Of Four; The Fall on Dragnet offer a less celebrated but arguably more personal representation of their nature in the album art.
From the Beastie Boys as a plane, to the spider of The Fall, both bands use objects as metaphors for themselves and the role they played in music.
Today we look at the album art of two essential artists who continue the North West post punk tradition. Today we look at the front covers of LoneLady’s Hinterland and Total Victory’s English Martyrs and what messages and themes they may convey. What’s in a cover?
LoneLady (Julie Campbell) makes post punk and dance music made from the very DNA of Manchester. Hinterland is her most recent full length album.
On Hinterland (close-by to an ‘Interzone’?), an image of factory decay and abandonment is used to represent Manchester’s industrial heritage; the damp spaces, resonant halls and sodium strips. More so than previous Manchester bands, LoneLady is an artist obsessed with concrete. She’s Ballard with a guitar. Puressence may have touched upon living in a post industrial landscape, but their heart was with people trying to find a way ahead (“take another pill to make me feel better”), Julie sides with the bricks and mortar.
The sky, bleached white to represent the creeping anodyne of gentrification. The chimneys disappear into that white, disappearing into the smog/ past.
The << rewind symbol, an emblem of the HiFi / VCR age reminds us that all technology, like industry, has a shelf life. Analogue passed to digital and at some stage digital too will fade away (“fade away, fade away”). For a city that revels in progress, rewinding/returning seems a strange choice. “Which brings us back to zero” sang The Chameleons, which is a key MCR lyric for life repeating, returning. Here the <<‘s represent “what went before”, the classic function of history to consider today as a product of yesterday. Each relic stands as a record.
The <<‘s give the album a large of slice of Peter Saville style, positioning Hinterland among the back catalogue of New Order, her pagan idols. Hinterland fits in between Low Life and Brotherhood as neatly as Tetris blocks.
Julie herself floats ghost-like amidst the cover / amidst the ruins. A physical part of the world she portrays though, not some idle spectre. Giving life to the harsh environment, just as her warm voice does to the music. She cuts a Romantic figure, the Bryon of brutalism.
Finally, between the chevrons of the rewind symbol, the leaves on the branches seem to form a pair of eyes, gazing at us, looking at Hinterland. See if you can spot them..,.
Julie Campbell is her city’s finest exponent of psycho-geography and effortlessly, the album art of Hinterland works to support her passions, world view and head space.
We’ve paired LoneLady’s Hinterland with Total Victory’s English Martyrs, partly due to if you love one, chances are you’ll love the other. In a bit of lazy shorthand the band will hate, with their blend of social commentary and humour, fans of The Fall and Half Man Half Biscuit should enjoy Total Victory. Their earlier keystone song ‘Conservative Girls’ features the chorus “so you bring your new girl home, you say you’ve fallen in love, with traffic islands and supermarkets and shopping centres, that go on forever” acts as a linking point between LoneLady and Total Victory.
Their most recent album, English Martyrs is a thrilling exploration of identity, patriotism and nationality. What makes a national identity? The central song is ‘Once In Every Century’ which has the key chorus:
“Every culture started from nothing / And develops until it’s full of the hubris / That comes from revering itself / And it’s sick from the myth / It breaks down in a ditch and it forms into silt.”
The front cover of English Martyrs shows King Penda, from the Alan Clarke movie Penda’s Fen. This ties English Martyrs with the folk horror tradition, especially when we consider nationality as something spawned from mud and silt. “This hilltop corresponds with every single last moment in time”, as geography and history become one, one reflects the other, one tells the story of the other. We live surrounded by history, Total Victory read it in hills and mud, LoneLady reads it in factories and waste land.
King Penda, surveys the land below him, just as Total Victory survey England. Identity and nationality, formed from the mud below, is viewed and dissected. Like The Fall’s Grotesque, a set of representative characters inhabit the songs. Both English Martyrs and Grotesque are Hogarth prints made with guitars.
So from Ballard with guitars to Hogarth with guitars, LoneLady and Total Victory offer the best in modern music, and the best insights into the world around them, and the world around us. All life contained here…
Casting aside her usual vistas of big mountains and bigger skies that provide the backdrop for her psych-folk compositions, Celestial North looks inward and goes minimal with her new single, ‘Distant Life’, which veers closer to The Fan And The Bellows era Chameleons than her beloved Bunnymen; the guitars are now sharp lines on the horizon, not broad sweeps.
Her plaintiff vox sit strangely among the propulsion, like a swan sunbathing on an autobahn, generating a creative tension about the purpose of the piece, and as all art should make the audience think, we become participants in the act.
This directness and boldness is represented by the cover art, a close up of Victoria’s face that illustrates her move towards a more direct musical style. And what’s fragmented, breaking behind her to reveal what’s underneath? Paint.
Transitioning styles from JMW Turner to Di Chirico; Celestial North again blurs the lines between art and music.
The new edition of What’s In A Cover? features two debut albums by artists that use the cover of those albums to show not only images of themselves but to focus on distorted, twisted images of their faces. What do these images mean? What messages could they convey? Today we look at front covers of John Cale’s Vintage Violence and Jennie Vee’s Spying…
With the silver colour and sharp lines of the futuristic outfit, the closeness of the subject and the nondescript background, Spying seems all set to have a glam pin up style cover. Things aren’t as they appear though as Jennie’s eyes are daubed and listless, her skin pallid and waxy. She’s been dehumanised at best, turned into a commodity at worst. Our expectations are twisted as the glamour setup is used to tell a different story. It’s like a cover to a Roxy Music album, but with the messages of image, style and marketing heightened with post-punk conceptions of seeing the truth behind the presented picture, like when considering the front and back of ABC’s Lexicon Of Love.
The album title, Spying, which comes from one of the tracks, is an odd one. Why Spying? Things take an eery turn when we realise that we are looking at Jennie, but Jennie is not looking at us. We are the ones doing the spying, and she knows. We are caught in an act of voyeurism. It’s an act of communication between artist and listener rendered strongest when Ian Curtis beckoned us into the ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ on the opener of Closer. We commit the new atrocities and the artist are the ones who tried hard to succeed. The result? The cover of Spying tells us. We can in turn compare Jennie in this image to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, a 21st century spin on the depiction of disconsolation for the instagram age.
The situation becomes even more startling when we compare this with the photo of Jennie from the cover of the EP Die Alone. There she’s like a Dickensian character; a waif in the big city. Die Alone and Spying act like before and after images. Between them they contain a narrative for us to digest before the music has even begun.
Meanwhile, on Cale’s Vintage Violence, the man himself covers his face under a creepy glass mask.
Let us not think of the function of the mask as to conceal, after all, we know it’s Cale, and his name’s on the album. So if the mask isn’t to hide, maybe it’s to lock / freeze. This is a more tempting idea as the result is closer to Dante’s death mask than the hockey mask which would come later. Cale’s face is embalmed for eternity, frozen in youth and ambivalence, but the result is a chilling one. The most prominent part, the eyes, as ever the window to the soul.
And what of the title, Vintage Violence? Lets see this as the young Cale reconciling the already paradoxical nature of his career. The “Vintage” reflecting his classical training and the “Violence” his avant garde work and input to the Velvet Underground. As his solo career grew wings, Cale was already broadcasting the creative tension that would dominate his work. The music of Vintage Violence would lean towards the “Vintage” with it’s folky melodies and lush arrangements that would pave the way for the orchestral manoeuvres of Paris 1919. But, as ever with Cale, uglinness hides below the beauty, and violence lurks behind the calm; China under fire and a menagerie of grotesqueries dominate the lyrical worldview.
Vintage Violence, and the rest of John Cale’s superlative back catalogue is available just about everywhere, buy it all!
“Let the Mait see the Lands” quips Paddy, surprisingly well attired. “Brand new song… reveal yourself!”
‘When It Rains, It Pours’ emerges like the cock of the walk, like a strutting sex machine. Like Iggy Pop with more monkey glands. The 30 single girls go crazy as it sprays pheromones and heavy guitars at them. All 30 lights remain resolutely lit.
It stands next to Paddy, who is immediately emasculated but endeavours to keep authority over his show. “Ladies, what do we think of ‘When It Rains, It Pours’, then? What about you Sally?”
“I love it heavy me” winks Sally, “ you can flatten me any day with your riff action”
Briony is next to offer comment: “the wordplay had me dazzled, you can make me laugh in Langley”
Pauline’s double entendre was cut as it was too risque for television.
The next round and ‘When It Rains, It Pours’ exposes it’s cheeky, dirty remixes and several of the ladies appear visibly shaken. “I love your remixes” smoulders Felicity, “you can rearrange my internal workings”. This causes some some shock and confusion.
“I love how the second guitar pops like ‘View To A Kill’ “ considers Amy, “and you can view me all night”
“Well” says Paddy, impressed “all 30 lights have remained on, the power is in your hands. Who are you going to take to the Isle of Fernando?”
To cut a long story short, ‘When It Rains, It Pours’ picked Felicity to go on a date to the Isle Of Fernando, the date went very well and it shagged her being a Turkish Restaurant.
Let’s start with “the loudest band in the world”, A Place To Bury Strangers. Don’t believe them? Turn up the volume, turn up your speakers, then later apologise to the neighbours…
‘Keep Slipping Away’ is on Exploding Head and available from Amazon, iTunes etc.
“Flat cap gobshite fucked up again Left his wife and kids in the rain He calls out ‘watch out slatterns!’ as he enters the room With a dried-up cornflake stuck to his chin The clatter of glass The rustle of paper “I’ve come to see a man about a dog” “
“I came across a dug hole- stump had turned to dirty coal Belly’s gone, belly’s gone- The place I wrote my name upon. I muddied off to see the worms, the coins, the dirt- all had turned skeletal. They chopped it down. They cut it’s throat.”
Doc Brown: Marty! You’ve got to come back with me! Marty: Where? Doc Brown: Back to the future. Marty: Whoa, wait a minute, what are you doing, Doc? Doc Brown: I need fuel. Go ahead, quick. Get in the car! Marty: No, no, no, no, no, no, Doc. I just got here, alright, Jennifer’s here, we’re gonna take the new truck for a spin. Doc Brown: Well, bring her along. This concerns her too. Marty: Whoa, wait a minute, Doc. What are you talking about? What happens to us in the future? What, do we become assholes or something? Doc Brown: No, no, no, no, no, Marty. Both you and Jennifer turn out fine. It’s Black Market, Marty. Something’s gotta be done about Black Market! Marty: Why, what’s wrong with Black Market? I love Black Market! Doc Brown: How can you say that, it’s dub remixes of everything from Bowie to The Clash to The Beach Boys and even Star Trek and Batman! It’s bringing the music of the past to life again, and finding new ways to enjoy our favourite music! Marty: How is that a bad thing, Doc? The dub of ‘Death Or Glory’ is really cool with the melodica added! And have you heard the ten minute ‘Let’s Dance’? It makes me wish I’d invented reverb as well as rock and roll. Bowie’s voice really suits dub, you know. Doc Brown: Er, well I suppose when you put it like that, it is some serious shit. Marty: Plus I gotta say, Doc, I ain’t going to 2020, that year sucks. It makes 2015 look good. Doc Brown: You’re absolutely right Marty, we’re not going there. Marty: Now that’s all cleared up, can I ask you a question? Doc Brown: Of course Marty, anything. Marty: You know that at the end of Back To The Future Part III one of your kids points at his junk, right? And when you see it, you can’t unsee it?” Doc Brown: What do you mean, “junk”? What do you mean “kids”? What do you mean “Back To The Future Part III”? Marty: Aw sorry Doc, I’m doing it again, revealing secrets about your future. Doc Brown: It was bad enough when you told me I was going to be in The Adams Family… what do you mean “he points at his junk?”