THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Post-Punk Pop Poetry Is Alive and Well on Hoopla!

 [This post was originally written for my library's blog, Pratt Chat.]

Dubliners Fontaines D.C.

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, it cemented his legacy not only as a celebrated rock & roll lyricist but as a legitimate poet, period. Lauded for having created “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” Dylan’s achievement no doubt inspired many other pop musicians who aspired to have their words taken just as seriously as their music. One of those bands is Fontaines D.C., who hail from across the pond in Ireland, “the land of poets and legends, of dreamers and rebels,” as author Nora Roberts famously described the Emerald Isle. “All of these have music woven through and around them. Tunes for dancing and for weeping, for battle or for love.”

Roberts’ description aptly describes Fontaines D.C., so if post-punk pop from the land of poetry and legend appeals to you, you’re in luck because you can use your library card to stream or download (mobile device only) both of Fontaines D.C.’s albums to-date, Dogrel (2019) and A Hero’s Death (2020), through Hoopla! (All of Fontaines D.C.’s recorded output, including singles and EPs, is also available on Spotify.)

Fontaines D.C. are a young post-punk band from Dublin (the D.C. is for Dublin City, a suffix the group added to their name when it turned out there was a band from Los Angeles also named The Fontaines) that formed in 2017 while the lads were attending music college at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMMI). Taking their name from a fictional character portrayed by Al Martino in the movie The Godfather (Vito Corleone’s godson, the Sinatra-styled singer “Johnny Fontaine”), the musicians - singer Grian Chatten, guitarists Carlos O'Connell and Conor Curley, bassist Conor Deegan III and drummer Tom Coll - first bonded over a shared love of poetry. In fact, they collectively released two collections of poetry - Vroom (inspired by American Beat poets) and Wingding (inspired by Irish poets) - before recording their critically acclaimed debut album, Dogrel in 2019. 

Poets who knows it: Fontaine D.C.’s “Vroom!"


“Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind." - Fontaines D.C., “Big”

The title of the band’s debut is a self-deprecating homage to “Doggerel,” the working-class “poetry of the people” popularized by so-called “bad” poets like William McGonagall and later by the playful light verse of Baltimore’s own Ogden Nash that made a virtue of the trivial. Dogrel was released to critical acclaim in April 2019: it was voted Album of the Year by record label Rough Trade and BBC Radio 6 Music, and was nominated for both the Mercury Prize and the Choice Music Prize. 

“Shouty post-punk bands are making a surprise comeback in 2019,” hailed The Irish Times, crediting “this brutal but articulate Irish bunch” with capturing “the feeling of living in Dublin as it balances historical weight with financial upheaval.” The opening rant “Big” sets the template for the band’s sound - equal parts Mark E. Smith and The Fall vitriol, pounding beats and driving Gang of Four guitars - with lyrics reflecting the group’s upbringing in Dublin’s historically working-class southwest neighborhood, “The Liberties”: “Dublin in the rain is mine, a pregnant city with a Catholic mind." “Chequeless Reckless” and “Liberty Belle” (their first single) continue the overcast mood, but sunny pop shines through to save the day on tunes like the Smiths-friendly “Television Screen” and the album’s best song, the breakthrough single “Boys In the Better Land,” a tour-de-force of melodic pop and verbal assault that even gives a shout-out to a famous Dubliner muse: “The radio is all about a runway model, with a face like sin and a heart like a James Joyce novel.” But be forewarned: singer Grian Chatte’s brogue is as thick and heavy as a bowl of split-pea soup and at times as hard to decipher as a James Joyce novel!

Intrigued? Then give a listen to “Boys in the Better Land” (Official Audio, YouTube). There are several more versions of this song, including the "Darklands Version" and two recorded live: Live on KEPX radio and Live at the Hyundai Mercury Prize Awards, as shown below:

A Hero’s Death (2020)

The band's second studio album, A Hero's Death, was written and recorded in the midst of extensive touring for their debut, and was only released last month - yet here it is on Hoopla already (hooray!). Despite titles such as “Sunny,” “Oh Such a Spring,” and “Love Is the Thing,” the mood is mostly brooding and reserved, as if the band didn’t want to be pigeon-holed by the blunt punk format of their initial offering. In fact, Grian Chatten went so far as to call the songs “a dismissal of expectations.” Thus, the quietly hypnotic “You Said” - sounding like a slow-tempo Smiths song, with Grian Chatten playing Morrissey to a beautiful, lilting guitar solo lifted from Johnny Marr’s playbook - gives way to “Living In America,” wherein Chatten channels the spirit of Ian Curtis in a Joy Division dirge. Clearly, this a sophomore effort that shows growth and maturity, trading the driving punk assault of their debut for what one critic called “a series of existential mantras set to broody post-punk anthems.” So feel free to dismiss your expectations but don’t dismiss Fontaines D.C. just yet; you may find yourself embracing some unpredictably exciting new sounds worth exploring.

The debut single from the album is the titular “A Hero’s Death.” To watch the official video, starring Aiden Gillen (“Littlefinger” on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Tommy Carcetti on The Wire) as a talk show host, click here.


Signposts: Listen to Fontaines D.C. if you like John Cooper Clarke, Morrissey, The Smiths, The Fall, The Pogues, Stiff Little Fingers or early Joy Division.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Facebook "An Album a Day" Challenge

God knows how many times these Facebook (or Fakebook, as I cynically call it)  "list" challenges have been issued over the years, with variations for movies, albums, TV shows, etc. This one was chain-lettered onto me by my music-loving wife, Amy Warner (who herself was tagged by another Fakebook friend). I find that each time I answer them, my choices tend to vary, if only slightly. Guess it shows how our tastes vary as we age and continue to experience new things. But my core favorite albums, the ones that have formed who I am or were important for me at critical times in my life remain pretty much the same. There will always be a Beatles album on any list, and a Buzzcocks, and a Sinatra, and a Kinks. We hold these truths to be self-evident. The original challenge was to post a picture of an album cover with no commentary, but I'm a slave to blather, so I could not resist some verbiage. And a representative video sampling of an outstanding song from each listed album. Here 'tis:


Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge #14:

My favorite Beatle, George Harrison, said that RUBBER SOUL was his favorite Beatles album, and that's good enough for me. Paul switched to a Rickenbacker and George to a Fender Strat as the group started to hear and produce new sounds (like George's sitar, Paul's fuzz bass, plus harmoniums, pianos mixed to sound like harpischords, etc.) on this record. Along with next year's REVOLVER, the Beatles entered their psychedelic phase, if only spiritually. Hard to choose which version - US or UK - is best. I tend towards EMI's UK version. We Yanks originally got the Capitol version which removed four songs from the EMI release - "Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man", "What Goes On" and "If I Needed Someone" (later issued on the Beatles' next North American album, YESTERDAY AND TODAY) and replaced them with the HARD DAY'S NIGHT leftovers "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love" - and had those two false starts at the beginning of "I'm Looking Through You" on the stereo mix that I love. The false starts are ingrained in me brain and the clean intro sounds false to me now! (For best value, the compromise is the 2014 CAPITOL ALBUMS VOLUME 2 box set version with both mono and stereo versions on one CD).

Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge # Triskaidekaphobia

I doubt it clocked in at more than a half-hour, like a Ramones record - maybe that's what they meant by calling it an "Instant Record" - but it said more in that blitzkreig bop-paced duration than any bloated double-LP set. Boasting Hell's surreal words and like-I-give-a-shit vocal style, Marky Ramone's rock-steady beat and a two-guitar attack straight outta The Yardbirds Playbook - highlighted by Robert Quine's screeching avant-jazz leads - this one never gets old. "Blank Generation," "Love Comes In Spurts," "The Plan," "New Pleasure," fly by in the blink of an eye, short and sweet, ending with the lone jam at the end, "Another World"," wherein Hell sounds like he's coughing up a lung as he declares "I could live with you in another world...not this one!" Listeners will live in this one for a long time.

Popsike.com sez it bestest:
"By the summer of 1976, Richard Hell had formed then quit arguably the two most exciting bands of the original CBGBs scene – Television and The Heartbreakers. If those bands personified first-wave punk’s extremes of brains and balls, Hell’s next unit neatly synthsised the two. The key was Robert Quine, a friend since they’d worked in a bookstore together, who “looked like a deranged insurance salesman”. Teaming Quine with Ivan Julian, a dread-locked kid recently arrived from touring Europe with The Foundations (of “Build Me Up Buttercup” fame), The Voidoids’ wired two-guitar attack was as sophisticated as Television’s, but more driving and angular."

Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge #12:

Arguably the most quintessentially British (tea, crumpet, steam trains, roast beef on Sunday, all right!) pop record by the most quintessentially British pop band in history. Ray Davies wanted to put out a record that would define "who we are and where we come from," and this loosely-conceptual album about the memories, ideals and allegiances symbolized by the village green - yes, the church, the clock, the steeple and "all the simple people" - is the result. God save Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards - and strawberry jam and all its different varieties!

"Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge #11:

Really the only Todd Rundgren album you'll ever need, this double Elpee'ss worth of tunes finds a wizard and a true star (and a megalomaniac, but that's irrelevant to the end product, right?) playing every instrument and handling all vocal duties on the first three sides while a band featuring Soupy's kids - Tony and Hunt Sales - accompanies him on the fourth. Filled with ballads, power-pop, blue-eyed soul, goofball humor ("Piss Aaron," "You Left me Sore"), studio knob-doodling and "everything in between" and obvious hits ("I Saw the Light," "Hello It's Me," "Couldn't You Just Tell Me") sharing the grooves with even better misses ("Marlene," "Cold Morning Light," "It Takes Two To Tango," "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference," "Sweeter Memories," "Slut" - the latter an Alex Chilton setlist fave). Plus "Torch Song," a heartbreak ballad that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

Amy Warner's "Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge #10:

It's hard to pick just one Sinatra album from his half century of recorded output and from all his stylistic incarnations - the croon 'n' swoon Frankie of the '40s, the apogee of artistry Capitol-ist of the '50s, the Rat Pack wannabe swinger of the Reprise Records '60s, but all agree his '50s period was his musical zenith. And the apotheosis of the Sinatra godhead: 1957's CLOSE TO ME.

It was almost 65 years ago, in the spring of 1956, that Sinatra started recording the tracks that would appear on his groundbreaking album CLOSE TO YOU, an LP of love songs arranged by Nelson Riddle working the Hollywood String Quarter (featuring Sinatra favorites Felix and Eleanor Slatkin on violin and cello) to reflect Frank's admiration for classical music. I had always thought Sinatra reached his peak with 1955's IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS, but when the 1998 CD of CLOSE TO ME came out (retitled CLOSE TO ME AND MORE, with the previously unreleased session tracks "If It's the Last Thing I Do," "There's a Flaw in My Flue" and the majestic "Wait till You See Her"), I realized it don't mean a thing without those strings. And the original album closer, "The End of a Love Affair," is one of the greatest songs ever in his discography.

Though one of the most obscure and overlooked in his career, it's easily his most intimate album ("real bedroom kind of stuff," in Frank's words) and he worked on it longer than any previous recording project (five sessions over eight months), carefully crafting each song as he followed his musical muse. As critic Richard Havers concluded, "While IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS has a personal intimacy, it is Frank’s voice and the delicacy of the quartet that imbues this album with qualities unique amongst the Sinatra canon." Like Elvis's sit-down set on his '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL, it offers fans a glimpse of the true artist beneath the public image. The man behind the myth. Sinatra truly gets close to...YOU.

Amy Warner's "Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge #9:

You can pick any Gram Parsons record and, like him, I'll love it to death, but this one - released posthumously just 4 months after his death, was on constant play on my turntable back in the day, and features him with his best duet partner, the lovely Emmylou Harris. (If ya wanna cheat, pick up the 1990 Reprise reissue twofer that added the GP album with it.) In college, I was obsessed with the Flying Burrito Brothers compilation CLOSE UP THE HONKY TONKS (1973) that came out in the wake of Gram Parson's untimely death, and it led me to "GP" (featuring Emmalou Harris and Elvis's smokin' TCB band) and "Live 1973" and his International Submarine Band recordings, but it was GRIEVOUS ANGEL where Gram best expressed his "Cosmic American Music" repertoire while hanging "out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels." Some say he didn't even write the title song, but who cares - he sang it, and Gram's voice, that bottomless pit of a Georgia Peach, always makes me feel better each time it begins, callin' me home like hickory wind. God damn, Gram, you are legend!

Amy Warner's "Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge #8:
10CC - SHEET MUSIC (1974)

Though I didn't get them at first, I think it's significant that the two women whose musical tastes I most respect and whose tastes have most influenced me, are fanatical devotees. Kathleen Glancy Milstein first turned me onto them in 1978 via a greatest hits package that had led off with the Dr. Demento-worthy "Rubber Bullets." At the time we were under the sway of punque and New Wave, so its overt, over-produced slickness didn't stick with me until much later. Then Amy Warner turned out to be their North American press agent, proselytizing to all who would listen that the Mancunian Fab Four's First Four (10cc, Sheet Music, The Original Soundtrack and How Dare You!) were sacred texts, sonic screeds handed down from Strawberry Studios in Stockport like the tablets of stone to Moses - but whereas Moses' tablets were smashed to bits, these were smashed with hits. And of this Gang of (Fab) Four, none was so sacrosanct as...SHEET MUSIC. 10 tracks, not a throwaway among them - Wall Street Shuffle, The Worst Band in the World, Hotel, Old Wild Men, Clockwork Creep, Silly Love, Somewhere In Hollywood, Baron Samedi, The Sacro-Iliac and Oh Effendi. Individually, the songs ranged from funny, rockin,' and poignant to offensive, sarcastic, and silly. And the Elpee in toto: perfect!

Amy Warner's "Album a Day" Challenge #7 (OK, I'm cheating and skipping ahead a day):

His first, his best, a platter that mattered most to me. The coolest "Tommy" since Tom Lehr (who turned me on to Mr Keene), a local hero who passed before his time, but represented everything I know and love about rock and roll - no hype, no ego, just tunes that spoke for themselves. A craftsman who loved his craft, a journeyman who logged the miles, a guitar maestro respected by his peers, an underrated lyricist of effortless (yet meaningful) rhymes, one whose legacy remains an enviable back catalog of memorable hooks and masterful songwriting...

Amy Warner's "Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge, #6:

The one, the only. Toe-tappers, mirth-makers and lyrical lunacy by our local heroes: Dave Cawley, Skizz Cyzyk and Brent Malkus. Pop-punk from Japan (Cawley-san's beloved land which "looks so pretty, land of Ultraman and Hello Kitty") by way of Charm City, with shout-outs to Kamen Rider, Giant Robots and Lucifer's Chin along the way. 

Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Challenge #5:

Ah, the Ice Cream Kid LP, aka Europe '72! I truly hate tie-dye, but before I discovered punque, I was totally into the Dreadful Grate during my high school & college daze and this was my go-to fave, a triple platter overview of their repetoire up to that time. For some reason "Jack Straw From Witchita" and "Brown-Eyed Women and Red Grenadine" stand out in my memory banks above all others. Someone pointed out that the squares on the Ice Cream Kid's shirt (cover art as usual by Mouse/Kelly) are exactly 1/4" x 1/4," which happens to be the size of a standard tab of acid. It wouldn't surprise me if this was intentional.

Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Challenge #4:

For Amy Warner's "Album a Day" Fakebook Challenge #4, I say, c'mon GET HAPPY! 20 hits crammed into its tight grooves. I remember when you could get this LP at Burger King as part of some promo they were running. The grooves on this platter and getting mighty crowded, resulting in the lo-fi sound Elvis was going for, a throwback to the old "real audio" heard on long-players like this. Amy the Elvis fanatic always says, "I wish Elvis would go back to making records like this." His best and a best value for fans alike.

Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Challenge  #3:

OK, it's a sneaky li'l cheat, because it's a reissue of two LPs on one CD, but I always say, the more the merrier. Essential melancholy-tinged rock and roll by Messrs Bell & Chilton that never gets old or dated.

Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Challenge #2:

Here's one I got when it came out as a double-LP in 1976 and that I played the grooves off of in college (back when I still smoked pot and thought psychedelically). Sonically, all my inspirations were records from College Daze, though I dug the Byrds from the minute I saw them lip-synching "Mr. Tambourine Man" on the old Kirby Scott Show. The Byrds would later foster an obsession with cosmic country-rock of The Flying Burrito Brothers thanks to erstwhile Byrd/Sweetheart of the Rodeo Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman...

Amy Warner's "An Album a Day" Challenge #1:

This album changed my life. Always dug Buzzcocks pop-punk music, but Steve Diggle upped his songwriting game on Side 1, while Pete Shelley's Abbey Road-style tour-de-force segues on side 2 made me fully appreciate the intellectual side of  the band.