There is no better day than today, a Monday, to play this song for you. Below, Dave Smallen‘s “I Think It’s Getting Better”.
You know, I can count on one hand the songs this year that have made me feel just as damn happy as this song has. And I think that maybe… just maybe… Dave’s right: things really just might be getting better.
It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
The music blogging gig is a weird thing… you can go months without hearing anything that inspires you, and then all of a sudden a whole host of tunes reach out and smack you across the face in a course of a week. This has been one of those weeks.
Ben hails from Devon, in the United Kingdom, and considering his style of playing and musical influences (John Martyn, Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Ray Lamontagne, Damien Rice, Jose Gonsalez, Bon Iver), I was surprised I hadn’t stumbled across his stuff before… as really, that sounds like a typical afternoon on my iPod.
Ben has that percussive style of guitar playing that’s seen in some of my favourite guitarists mentioned on here before, such as Andy McKee, Guy Buttery, Xavier Rudd and Kaki King. After a bit of surfing, I came across a video – which I’ve embedded below – of Ben playing a live set featuring the song, “Empty Corridors”, that is simply amazing…
Quite frankly, I’m putting Ben Howard on my “Surely Going To Make It” list. And that brings me to the real reason for this post: I’m sending you towards his myspace page to listen to the opening track there, entitled “The Wolves”. If “The Wolves” isn’t enough to convince you of this kid’s future, then I’m not sure what will. From that opening “Ooooh”, it’s sheer perfection.
Have you ever had one of those bands that you didn’t realise exactly how much you missed them, until they reformed, and then you realised how happy that made you? No? Well, I’ve just had one of those moments, when @Lenier made me aware that my old favourites, Skunk Anansie, were back.
When Paranoid and Sunburnt came out in 1995, it was like it was the soundtrack of my youth. I was that perfect age, 13, when songs like “Weak” seemed like they were written just. for. me.
Skunk Anansie – Weak (from the Paranoid and Sunburnt album)
And then, when “Stoosh” (arguably my favourite record of theirs) came out in 1996, it was like I had found my musical saviour. Looking back on that album now, it is honestly one of the most complete albums I have ever come across. I can honestly say that each and every track on that album was freakin’ awesome. Seriously. I never had to skip a track on the old CD player (this was back in the days before MP3s, at least for me)
Skunk Anansie – Hedonism (from the Stoosh album)
Then, in 1999, Skunk Anansie released the criminally underrated “Post Orgasmic Chill”. Sure, it was no Stoosh, but Post Orgasmic Chill still offered some killer moments, most notably in the unforgettable “Tracy’s Flaw”.
Skunk Anansie – Tracey’s Flaw (live, originally from Post Orgasmic Chill album)
And then, it was all over. Skunk Anansie broke up, and vocalist Skin went on to forge a solo career, which had its ups and downs. But as much as I wanted to love it, Skin solo was no Skunk Anansie.
Fast forward a decade, and Skunk Anansie release the video for “Because of You”, which was a brilliant way for me to discover that – not only are they back together – but they’re releasing new material!
Skunk Anansie – Because of You Video
So of course I hopped right over to the Skunk Anansie site, and what do I see? This statement from Skin:
“REFORMATION REFORMATION REFORMATION!!
Christ do we hate it all.
Well, on our list of hated words it’s right up there with, recession, nigger, MP’s expenses, and George W. Bush.
The shit of it is, that’s exactly what we’ve done. There’s no denying it, lets not beat around the Gordon Brown, WE HAVE REFORMED, we split up, and now we have reformed our ways, fixed our shit, playing together for the first time in 9 years and to speak plain… loving it.
‘Reformed’ to us is a bastard of a word, it’s like reality TV, everyone copies it, disses it, then bleeds it dryer than a vulture chaff and it sells sells sells like a bag of old football whores, so what’s the difference with Skunk Anansie? Why the freckin’ Gallows should you take a flying Coldplay at us?
Well prick up those giant Obama ears cos we’ll tell you why! We have actually reformed in the true meaning of the word. We have broken down, been to evil places, eaten meat, watched Big Brother, bought Heat magazine, shagged a W.A.G., thought MJ was guilty but now have his CD’s on repeat, dulled bitter pain with Bitterer ale, reckoned Ms Katona’s husband ain’t so bad, voted Greenpeace, smoked coked-spiffs with Winehouse, hit the gutter, licked rock’s bottom, then rehabbed ourselves clean to shade brighter than a Katie Price veneer.
We then looked each other in the eye and been honest about what we did, what we didn’t do and what we want to do.
It made us closer, humble and thankful that our fans love us enough to let us move on to new challenges, cos let’s face it, the world we’ve come back to… it ain’t easy!
Why did we break up? Well… when we sat down together in a vain attempt to work it all out, we drank and talked, then drank and talked some more, then after that we drank, danced, shouted, drank, fell over, puked, drank, sobered up, only to realise after all that jaw ache and messiness, we broke up because we burnt out. Simples.
We are back together because we love each other and being in Skunk Anansie is what made us individually happy deep in our souls. When we are together we are complete and when we were apart we were floundering in the wilderness like a Catholic priest at a Girl Guide convention.
So get off your high horse and listen to the new tracks against the old.
Listen to the love, listen to the chemistry between us that makes it all worth it, listen to the heartfelt feeling, melody, lyrics and energy the new songs convey against the naivety, adrenaline and freedom of the old.
There’s a reason why they were Smashes, they were real, we meant it, we didn’t care about the outside world, we were just a bunch of kids in our dirty little Kings Cross hole with a pot full of passion, ignorantly doing our thing and the people connected and understood it.
So see this as a new beginning, this ain’t no rehash, we ain’t walking down memory lane in a Nirvana T-shirt, bloodshot eyes and heroin dribble whining about how uncool it is that the kids rip us off on this thing called the Internet.
There is no nostalgia in our cause for we have reclaimed our joy together, rediscovered our joint empathy, rekindled the kick arse music and re-lit the fire in our bellies for music that moves us.
We are once again complete, ready to trash the hell out of every song we play, ready to share the brutality of our tunes, why?… because we are Skunk Anansie, and that’s what we do.
“We are once again complete, ready to trash the hell out of every song we play, ready to share the brutality of our tunes, why?… because we are Skunk Anansie, and that’s what we do.”? F*ck yeah Skunk. Show me what it’s like to feel again.
I’ve mentioned the Playing for Change movement before on this blog. They’ve just released their latest episode, “Change Is Gonna Come”. And really, words aren’t needed to describe the power of this production. Instead, I’ll just quote directly from their site, and embed the video below. Past that, we’ll let the music speak for itself.
This performance demonstrates what happens when some of the musicians from “Stand By Me” meet and perform for the first time. This song was recorded live in New Orleans, and features Grandpa Elliot and Clarence Bekker on vocals. Thousands of people witness first hand the soul and conviction of two men who make us all believe a change is going to come.
Juzzie Smith – The One Man Band that will blow you away
Juzzie Smith is one of those happy coincidental discoveries. It just so happened that, while my mother was out in Australia visiting us on holiday, we took her up the Sunshine Coast for the weekend. While up there, we decided to take a trip to the Eumundi Markets, which always has some interesting stalls up.
Of course, it took me all of two minutes to grow tired of shopping, so I went off for a wander around the food stalls, as I am wont to do. (What, I was hungry and the German Kransky Sausages smell was calling to me, ok? Never mind that I’m still nursing a burn on my tongue from the hot, but oh-so-delicious cheese. Ahem… back on track)
So while I was wandering around, nursing an inflamed tongue, I heard the unmistakable sounds of a one-man-band playing. A lap slide guitar, some mean harp… I was instantly pulled towards the sounds. And what I found, when I reached the source, was one-man-band and one-man-smiling-machine, Juzzie Smith.
Juzzie is the quintessential busker. Talking to the crowd, he explained that this was his life: travelling the world with his wife and daughter, performing his music live for whoever will listen to it, and flogging his recordings when he can. Ultimately, Juzzie lives the romantic notion of the travelling musician that others of us only dream of. Not only did Juzzie rekindle that fire in my belly of what music can do with his tales, but his music itself was a sheer primal force.
Needless to say, I bought two of his CDs right there and then.
There is one, slight, downer here though. I have to say that Juzzie live simply does not come across in Juzzie recorded. I’m not sure what it is, maybe that grit that comes from hearing someone perform on the sidewalk is washed away in a steril studio… but while the recordings are great, they don’t quite stand up to Juzzie Smith live.
I’m not sure anything ever will.
That said, here’s a tune from Juzzie’s “happy Daze” release, called… you guessed it, “Travelling”.
My love for Joe Pug is no secret. If there is one artist who I have ever featured on this blog that I would like to see succeed, it’s Joe. Joe’s “Nation of Heat” EP was passed around my friends and family and random people I accosted on the street like no other, and it was one of the most promising debuts I have heard to date.
Recently, a live show of Joe Pug performing at Schuba’s Tavern on May 1st was posted to archive.org, and the set has pretty much been spinning non-stop through my headphones since then. A pleasant mixture of solo and full band stuff, the show hints at a great upcoming release. The full show can be downloaded here, but below, I’ve included the highlight of the set for me… that’s the opening tune, “How Good You Are”.
This song has hit me like a stake through the chest. I simply cannot wait for the upcoming full-length. Here’s to more of this from Joe Pug.
It’s a shame, because all indications point towards the album being – quite frankly – sodding brilliant. This track, “Carry Me“, is the perfect example of how Malcolm does… well, what Malcolm does so well. A song that exudes hopelessness… but one that is also tempered with a wry wit. Malcolm recently talked to Stereogum about the song:
I suppose “Carry Me” is really an adult’s reaction to the failed promises of youth, where we turn a point and realize we’ve lost our imagination and innocence. It’s an autobiographical expressive rant. Watching Roxy Music and Duran Duran videos, Cadbury’s Milk Tray adverts on TV … this is the way I thought life would be when I was seven years old! Musically it’s quite circular and descending and I think this creates the nostalgic and familiar mood. Recurring mistakes, leading to positive realizations. It does reek of death and remorse a little bit; our declining society and over-saturated culture. The chorus is the consoling hug thrown in to help things a little.