Check it Out – January 2017

January is a strange old month, kinda slow and long, and come the end of the year it’s been pretty much forgotten. However, that doesn’t stop the music business getting off to a lively start, with 2017 already throwing up some banging releases. There is already a whole bunch of quality records flying around Spotify and filling the racks in record stores, so, with that in mind I figured it was time for something brand spanking new to fill these digital pages.

This new section of Hard Pressed, replacing the now defunct ‘What’s Hot in My House’, aims to introduce people to some of the hottest recommendations each month. It could feature anything from the obvious to the obscure, just depends what’s been grabbing my attention. So here we go with the first crop of big hitters to be jumping around my virtual stage or crooning in my own personal backroom bar.

The xx – ‘I See You’
‘I See You’, the third album from Mercury Prize winners, The xx, is the obvious big release from January and it does not disappoint. Their hushed indie pop sound has progressed into something more expansive and exploratory as they deliver an absolutely gorgeous record. They’ve retained that air of thoughtful vulnerability, while also showing greater confidence, resulting in a gratifyingly adventurous album exploring the textures of well constructed pop music. This is sure to be kicking around for a while and is well worth immersing yourself in – don’t be surprised to see it on many album of the year lists. Superb.

Loyle Carner – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
As hip-hop albums go, this is like the anti-thesis of all the brash American rappers bragging about riches and the glamorous gangsta lifestyle. This is not an album about how amazing Loyle Carner is, it’s about life, something we can all relate to, nostalgia, reminiscing, missing the simplicity of childhood, musing on the mundane – damn it, this boy can rhyme about anything. Loyle boasts an effortless almost low-key flow as he glides smoothly through these snapshots of urban life in distinctly chilled out fashion. This is the future of British rapping – sublime.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – ‘Modern Ruin’
On their sophomore album, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have evolved into a slick blend of hard driving rock and twisted punk, with a liberal spattering of Frank’s brand of uncompromising vitriol that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and the Sex Pistols. And what a great album it is. Sure there is a full on dose of power chords and radio friendly choruses, but this is a band moving forwards and progressing into a serious proposition. Besides which, Frank’s lyrics remain as unforgiving as ever with tracks like the incredible ‘Thunder’ putting post Brexit prejudices under the microscope. Great record.

Sepultura – ‘Machine Messiah’
Although balls to the wall, scream til your ears bleed thrash metal may not be everyone’s bag, the innovative new album from Brazilian giants Sepultura is still well worth a listen. The album is essentially a conceptual affair expounding on the robotisation of society and is simply excellent in every department, from the stunning cover art down to the faultless production. Andreas Kisser and Co. have reached an enviable level of technical excellence and they use it to great effect on this creatively diverse record. Doom laden epics? Got em. Superfly shredding? Yep. Cinematic orchestration? No problem. There’s even some adventure to the rhythms and vocals. To be frank this is one of the finest albums of Sepultura’s long career and as metal goes, it’s gonna be hard to beat. Full review: http://alreadyheard.com/post/155988183668/review-sepultura-machine-messiah

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David Bowie

“Don’t believe in yourself
Don’t deceive with belief
Knowledge comes
with death’s release”

January 10th 2016 will forever be remembered as the day the world lost David Bowie. He innovated and created to the very end, having just released his (now) final album, barring the retrospectives, re-issues and studio outtakes that are sure to appear in the future. Thankfully, his inimitable work will resound in the collective conscience for generations to come. Few artists have left such an indelible mark on the world of entertainment and even fewer have been as unique or half as influential.

Bowie was always innovative, constantly updating and renewing, never afraid to move on without looking back; though the temptation to resurrect Ziggy Stardust and other such heroes may have been great during more difficult times. Instead he continued to create, up to his dying days, not only influencing his peers but allowing himself to be influenced by the world around him.

“I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
And every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test.”

John Peel once said:
“Pop is a car-boot sale, a parade of trinkets, junk and handicrafts, most worthless, some capable of giving a few moments of pleasure with a few glorious items made more glorious by their unexpected appearance in this market. Then in an unpredictable double-bluff, the worthless can, within a few years, take on great worth and the glorious become merely laughable.”
Bowie’s appearance in said market was always unexpected and mostly glorious, with any apparently worthless work standing the test of time and taking on great worth.

“Written in pain, written in awe
By a puzzled man who questioned
What we were here for.”

It’s incredible that one man has had such a profound effect on the human race and left such a massive cultural footprint behind. To say that I am saddened by his passing is not really the best way to put it. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing him, we were not friends, like most people my relationship with David Bowie is one of fan – artist.

Nevertheless, for me, as I’m sure it is for many, it goes much deeper than that; he has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember, his work has always been there, his influence has spread to other artists whose music I also love. It’s kind of strange because that familiar figure, with all his guises, is not there anymore, they’ll be no more interviews with those mismatched eyes and that broad smile on his face and his self deprecating laughter, no more groundbreaking albums and no more parts being played.

His music will live forever though, and the memories we have all created that are intertwined with his incomparable body of work cannot be taken away from us. My earliest are of hearing ‘Ashes to Ashes’ on the radio, Major Tom already known to all. Then there’s my Mum’s copies of ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Pin Ups’ with their striking cover art. Then came all those hits from the 80s, ‘Lets Dance’, ‘Absolute Beginners’ and ‘China Girl’ – someone had a copy, I no longer remember who. And of course the collaborations on ‘Dancing in the Street’ with Mick Jagger for Band/Live Aid and the unforgettable ‘Under Pressure’ with Queen. Which also reminds me of the stunning performance of ‘Heroes’ at Live Aid.

But it was as a young adult that I really discovered Bowie, my best friend introducing me to ‘Hunky Dory’, which along with ‘Space Oddity’ (a.k.a ‘David Bowie’) got played to death in the first home I ever owned. I once tried to get tickets for a “secret” gig at a small London venue but it was such an exclusive (comeback) show that not even the touts could get hold of them; I had to resign myself to never seeing him play live and to being content with ‘Live from Santa Monica’ and ‘At the Beeb’.

With his passing it is this evoking of bittersweet memories of how and when his work touched us that forces us to reexamine our own lives and contemplate our own existences. And therein lies the sadness – I’m not sad that David Bowie has died; he led a full and rich life and was one of the most significant artists in the history of humanity, I’m sad for what his death means to me, to everyone he touched and to our society. It moves me deeply to think that where once there was a constant that could be relied upon to challenge and inspire in equal measure, whilst sound tracking our very existence, now there is an empty space.

“I’m stuck with a valuable friend
“I’m happy. Hope you’re happy, too.”
One flash of light
But no smoking pistol…”

Rest in Peace David Robert Jones, you will be sorely missed.

Lemmy

On February 18th, 1991, I had the privilege of seeing Motorhead live, at the Portsmouth Guildhall, on the ‘1916’ tour. Back then, at most rock gigs there was a crush against the barrier, a mosh pit, people jumping and then the static part where people just stood, tapped their feet or banged their heads.

But not at Motorhead.

At Motorhead, nobody stood still. There was no room for a mosh pit because the sea of people ebbed and flowed in great surges, moving as one. The crowd reflected Lemmy and his music; all or nothing, relentless, unforgiving – but together. It was an amazing and strangely moving night that I will never forget.

There was always something about Lemmy. From the position of his microphone to the way he wore his hat. Maybe it was the facial hair, or the gravelly voice, or maybe just the way he dressed – there was something cool, yet somehow unrelenting about the man. You could see it when he was on stage; you could see it from brooding looks in the pages of magazines and you could even see it on film with his cameo in ‘Hardware’.

Lemmy commanded respect, end of story.

R.I.P

Scott Weiland

Scott Weiland
I used to have a friend called ‘Ewok’, I no longer remember his real name, if I ever actually knew it, but I, and well, pretty much everyone, knew him as such – he really, and I mean really looked like an Ewok! Anyway, I’d dropped round his house one day and he would not shut the fuck up about the new Stone Temple Pilots album, ‘Purple`. I knew about STP but had never given them much love; I’d been into grunge since the ground floor – having seen Alice in Chains back when they supported Megadeth; Pearl Jam‘s first UK appearance; Nirvana at Reading? Yep. I was there. So for me STP were imposters riding the wave, a kinda commercial grunge lite.

Then I heard ‘Purple’.

Damn, what a fine album that was and still is – it stands the test of time, every track a killer. Then I got hold of a twelve inch single of ‘Plush’ one day when I was out hunting vinyl. When I flipped it over to play the b-side – unplugged versions of ‘Plush’ and ‘Sex Type Thing’ – I had one of those beautiful music moments when you uncover a real treasure.

I’d like to say I went on to become a mega Stone Temple Pilots fan and that Velvet Revolver were a dream come true, but I didn’t and they weren’t. I don’t really know why, I guess there was just too much else going on and maybe VR just didn’t have the songs, whatever, it doesn’t really matter.

A man has died. A talented man with rock star charisma and one of the most incredible voices in rock. I cannot and will not pass judgement on the man, just as I won’t put him up as a hero. What I will do is give thanks for the incredible pieces of music that affected me so profoundly all those years ago and that are still a part of my life until today. Now, I guess I’ll go find that MTV Unplugged set in full on YouTube.

R.I.P Scott Weiland