Mr Dawson's Christmas CD stocking

Mr Dawson, our Chief Reviewer, brings you a round up of what has been playing on his gramophone this past month. Hopefully you will gain as much pleasure from listening to these LPs as he did!


Mr Dawson, our Chief Reviewer, brings you a round up of what has been playing on his gramophone this past month. Hopefully you will gain as much pleasure from listening to these LPs as he did!


Fiery Furnaces – Widow City


The Fiery Furnaces continue their mission to pack as many riffs and tunes into an hour as is reasonably possible. Widow City continues their wilful disregard for traditional rock and pop structure. Here we find them adding heavy rock to their repertoire. Songs start nicely, with tunes and gentle keyboards, and then get all Led Zep on your ass. And then they chuck in some show tunes before returning to a rock wigout. As with their previous album, Bitter Tea, I have no idea what on earth they are going on about. The lyrics are, as ever, engagingly bonkers (there seems to be an Oriental theme but that's just a guess). This album will certainly do nothing to endear them to people who find their magpie like attitude to song writing annoying but at the end of the day it's their loss – Widow City is packed full of tunes and hooks and riffs and musical styles. Often all in one song.


Harmonia 74


There's really not much to say about this – a live album from one of Krautrock's greatest bands. There are traces of earlier tracks but this is basically an hour of new stuff. Closer in sound to their debut than Deluxe the five lengthy tracks are quite simply brilliant. Not that you'd know by the reaction of the crowd, mind you...


Laurie Anderson – Big Science


In 1982 the UK enjoyed one of its weirdest number one records – Laurie Anderson's O Superman. After all, Anderson was an avant-garde artist from New York, and the song was basically just Anderson, an organ, and a vocoder. It's probably no surprise to learn that the reason it got to number one was that John Peel championed it. 500 copies were pressed until Peel got his mits on it. Then the call came through to Anderson – we need 40,000 for this week and 40,000 for next week. The song itself is brilliant, though god knows how it got to number one. Insistent, simple, and haunting it truly sounds like nothing else. The album it was taken from has been given the re-issue treatment by Nonesuch and they've chucked in the O Superman video and a bonus track. With a couple of exceptions the album has aged very well. Whilst clearly ‘out there' in some ways there are many beautiful moments. Anderson talks her way through the album, telling stories, and is backed (in the main) by keyboards. An oddity, but a wonderful one.


David Byrne – Music for the Knee Plays


David Byrne's 1985 album is finally released on CD. Designed to allow for set changes during Robert Wilson's mammoth The Civil Wars project (hence the knees of the title – the songs were the joints that linked the main parts of the opera) Byrne is backed The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Byrne's gnomic style is given full range here – he recites lists, wonders if a person's personality would change if they took home someone else's shopping, and generally behaves in the weird way we know and love. Some of the best songs are actually instrumental versions of traditional songs but it's a fascinating album and well overdue for a CD outing.


Stars of the Lid – And the Refinement of their Decline 


Stars of the Lid treat their fans with a double CD, which means that there's two hours of ambient drones for them to stick their teeth into. If you can stick your teeth into a drone. Rather like abstract art, creating good ambient music is a damn sight trickier than it looks. Fortunately Stars of the Lid are very good at what they do. The songs unfurl slowly, ebb and flow, and never really go anywhere at all. The songs pulse in a stately way, and some are built up out of strings, and all of them are utterly beautiful. There's no one finer at doing this sort of thing at the moment.


Beirut – The Flying Club Cup  


Given a righteous kicking in this august journal for his impertinence in appropriating Eastern European music (and, rightly, for naming his debut album The Gulag Orkestar) Zach Condon returns, an older and wiser man. Well, he must be all of twenty by now. Whilst I could see what our editor was saying, it could not, I thought, be denied that the first album was chock full of good songs (nicked or not). The influences on The Flying Club Cup are rather less obvious although they are clearly European rather than American. The playing has improved but the tunes, sadly, have not. In fact the album rather passes one by this time around.


Buck 65 – Situation


Buck 65 has been seen as the thinking person's hip-hopster. Eschewing the usual obsessions previous Buck 65 albums have been influenced as much by Tom Waits as they have by anything else. Which makes Situation a bit of a disappointment. A concept album of sorts, it finds Buck 65 turning his attention to crime and drugs. Sadly the result is rather heavy-handed and the rhyming, at times, decidedly clichéd.


Henry Flynt and Nova Billy


Henry Flynt's latest release is a belter. Recorded during 1974 and 1975 if finds Flynt working with a full band. There are still aspects of his obsession with minimalist hillbilly music but here Flynt rocks out. Standout track, I Was A Creep, is a blistering piece of white funk, complete with skonking sax solo. A few tracks have cropped up in different versions elsewhere but much of this is released for the first time. Flynt even records his version of The Internationale (and I'll wager it's never been done like this before) and finishes with the appropriately titled Stoned Jam.


Strings of Consciousness – Our Moon is Full 


A decent line of musicians, and collaborators (including Barry Adamson and Jim Thirlwell) produce something distinctly less than the sum of its parts. Sadly more portentous than pretentious, it's modern and glitchy, jazzy and thrashy, discordant and beaty – and yet it all adds up to very little. Whereas it could have been moody and atmospheric it comes across as the sort of music you might hear when on a bad trip in a bad French bar.

Words: Chris Dawson