Category Archives: H

403. Hüsker Dü – “New Day Rising”

Where would the world of røck and röll müsic be without the trusty umlaut? Much heavy and death metal might never have happened.

Of course, the doubly umlauted lads of Hüsker Dü were not long-haired, lycraed up pose rockers, but they did reportedly add the umlauts in honour of the mark’s musical heritage.

Like many who arrived late on the scene, I fell for the Dü-esters because of that Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely track, which isn’t here. The vibe is, however, with buzz-heavy guitars, a cracking pace, and often-competing vocals.

I gave this album a couple of listens on a Friday afternoon, and it works perfectly as a energy-boosting, caffeine like jolt to the system.  This is such a chronicle of how powerful, and at the same time melodic, various indie bands of the mid-t0late 80s could be (think REM, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr).

Punk plus melody = these guys.  Check out the title track (plus a later career goodie) – this is a band I wish I’d seen live (Bob Mould didn’t cut it 15+ years later):

File under: Not a bad moon in sight

402. The Housemartins – “London 0 Hull 4″

While in Europe last week, I purchased a rather natty cardigan from a certain Swedish multinational retailer with an acronym name resembling the moniker of this here act.

I blame this band and this album cover for my occasional forays into cardie-wearing. Paul Heaton makes it look so cool and sensible.

This debut has that sort of effect. Listening to this record, one would think that Northern Soul was always the most natural and obvious choice for delivering biting critiques of late ’80s Thatcherite Britain and its rising individualism and materialism.

I love the perverted pop sensibilities of these guys. They slyly compose’ catchy basslines (something Norman Cook took to the extreme in later guises), and seemingly innocuous lyrics and choruses, that at closer listening are biting and subversive. Of course, sometimes they make the message pretty clear:

Not surprisingly, this album doesn’t quite have the firepower of the greatest hits package, but if you see a copy anywhere grab it and listen hard. And seek out the vinyl version with the five extra tracks that aren’t even on the remastered re-release – it’s more soul covers, and that Caravan of Love curiosity:

File under: A hull of a time

402. Hothouse Flowers – “People”

I’d forgotten about the vinyl Hs, so here come three old acquisitions of mine.

This debut release used to get loads of airtime in my teenage bedroom.  It taught me cool words like “sirocco”, while the look of lead singer may well have partially inspired my  undergraduate long hair.

This album has a sound that is quite rare in my collection.  I don’t own any U2 (since the cassette purge), nor any Van Morrison: i.e. this has a slightly overwrought, celtic-tinged rock sound, with gospel overtones.

Liam (aforementioned fashion icon and leadsinger), has an emotion-packed voice that carries even the more cliched tracks on here, while the mainly acoustic strumming, key-tinkling and bohdran tapping stays the right side of sea-shanty-land.

I sense that perhaps that this Don’t Go track, so evocative of that late ’80s neo-hippy vibe, might be what Jack Johnson sounds like to the young and impressionable of today, but it still gets me all misty eyed and vocalising:

My affection for this act was just a flash in the pan (I own no more of their catalogue), but I saw the band belt a few of the tracks out live in 2006 (appropriately in Byron Bay), and it all still worked for me… and I’m not sorry:

File under: Power to ya

401. Darren Hanlon – “I Will Love You at All”

I have been travelling around Italy for the past three weeks or so, and not listening to much music (it’s pretty antisocial to don headphones when travelling with a delectable spouse).

But when I have been a-listening, this new release has been the go to.  I’ve trying very hard to get into it, to embrace the morphing of an old favourite artist.

Unfortunately, the journeying of Mr.Hanlon is in a direction away from me.

He has lost much of his pop sensibility. Songs are now lengthy, wandering tales.  The wordplay is still excellent, but the pace ponderous.

This is an album of dealing with a breakup, of contemplating the aftermath and the heritage of a relationship that was substantial but is no more.  There is also that continuing theme of a wanderer, rejoicing in memories of place, but lured by the new and unknown.

In light of that summary, clearly this CD is evocative at some level, and has kept my attention, but not with the adoration and joy I’ve felt before.  But vision of Dazza still makes me smile…

File under: It’s (maybe) not you, but me

You won’t see another review from me for at least a week, as I’m out of albums on my iPod until I return to Australia.

400. Charlie Hunter Trio – “Bing! Bing! Bing!”

We hit an auspicious number with a jaunty set of numbers from a hep cat named Charlie.

Mr.Hunter came to my attention as a one-time, part-time Disposable Hero, where he delivered some cracking guitar lines that broke throw the industrial beats of said outfit.

A little research tells me often plays guitars with extra strings (but not quite banjos or harps), and can do tricky things where he plays lead and rhythm at the same time.  I suspect he can also pat his head while also rubbing his stomach.

Such feats could be seen as pure novelty, but he seems to also a lot of that talent stuff.

This album is a collection of instrumental tracks, and Mr.Hunter grants centre stage to his horn-player Dave Ellis on most tracks, with the guitar work often back there laying a damn fine understated groove.

When he does step into the spotlight, such as on the Hawaiian-influenced  Fistful of Haggis,  it is certainly awe-inspiring.Even the somewhat chessy Nirvana cover (Come as You Are) bears repeated listens.

This is jazz without too much of the self-indulgence or skivvy wearing.  But don’t take my word for it, check out this promo thingie:

File under: It’s great mate, woof.

399. The Housemartins – “Now That’s What I Call Quite Good”

Well, I’ve been ridculously tardy in getting to #399. It all started because, in the interests of temporal accuracy, I’d been holding out to listen to the Housemartin’s debut album on vinyl. But the opportunity didn’t arise, I got waylaid by other matters, and finally I’m back having lept forward to this “best of”.

The Housemartins were a bright shining light of the late-80s British music scene who faded too fast, but fueled some other acts already reviewed here.

Their schtick was one I found, and still find, irresistable.  It’s all sugar-sweet whiteman soul, but with slyly sarcastic and biting lyrics.

Paul Heaton’s voice is pure pop gold, and the basslines keep many of the tracks bopping along.  The band is also not afraid to get all a-capella on our asses, and to turn such barbershopping to soul standards.

The best tracks on here mock the British class system, the protestant work ethic, and everything you stand for… but in a way that your grandma would still might praise.

To make up for my slackness these past few weeks, and because these videos should be seen by all, here are three lesser known clips from the lads from Hull:

File under: An understatement

398. Hot Chip – “The Warning”

Lest you all think I haven’t engaged with new, youthful music in the past few years, here’s one the ‘kids’ might recognise.

I fell for this CD on the basis of the self-fulfilling Over and Over single. It was very hard to resist this tune, so reminiscent of mid-to-late 1980s keyboard pop.There is a New Order-ish mentality there that really appeals.

Indeed, this release shares the paradoxes of New Order’s work.  The music is all upbeat, somewhat relentless euro-pop, yet lyrically there is a cheeky bleakness and brutality.  A violence and cruelty pervades various songs here, but the band delivers this duality without the pompous melodrama of someone like Depeche Mode.

The title track is a case in point, with threats to break my legs and put me under the ground delivered over a ludicrously upbeat minimalist beat with breathy, summery vocals.  Actually, this track could also just as easily be Darren Hanlon in his most experimental form.

I love an album that surprises.  This delivers.  And it has this gem:

File under: Fair warning

397. John Lee Hooker – “This is Hip”

Ahhh, it feels like time for some blues.  It’s been too long.

And here we are with one of the true greats. Mr. Hooker is a giant of the boogie-woogie Delta blues.

This is music that sounds deceptively simple, with Hooker almost talking rather than singing over a stompy beat and a repeated riff.

But, surely it can’t be that simple.  The growl, the syncopation, the sound of that electric guitar is somehow distinctive and memorable.  It is infectious and uplifting.

Hooker’s tunes feel like the sneaky whispered aside of some cool guy sitting in the corner of some bar ready to prowl, or just back from some enviable sexual conquest.  The purr on Boom! Boom! is a benchmark for blues:

I get the sense that Hooker had a sense for the popular and the crowd pleaser that lifted him above so many of his contemporaries and forebears.

This album is full of fun and innuendo. He was clearly a legs man, as Dimples and Big Legs, Tight Skirt testify. I’m not going to think too hard about Crawlin’ Kingsnake.

I’ve loved spending a day with John Lee, and with over 100 albums to his credit, everyone should own at least one.

File under: Earbait

396. Hole – “Live through This”

This is an album that should probably take up its own shelf in my collection given the baggage associated.

Sure Courtney Love is a bit of a nutbag, and perhaps she is a Yoko responsible for the early demise of one of the most important bands of my lifetime.  Maybe her hubby wrote all the songs on here, maybe he didn’t.  Maybe this is a cynical facsimile of what the Seattle grunge sound was all about and a spit in the face to the hard-working womyn of the riot grrl movement.

Whatever!! In the end doesn’t deserve the hating.  It still has a pile of big, rage-filled, rocking tracks that bring back so many memories for me.  I use to throw this CD on regularly and turn Violet and Rockstar and up very, very loud:

I’m sure for a while I was convinced that I did indeed go to school in Olympia.

Given there’s also Miss World, Doll Parts and Jennifer’s Body on here, it is hard to dismiss this album.  For a brief moment in time this was a band who mattered, and this is the record thereof.

File under: Forget the whole, and enjoy this part

395. The Hold Steady – “Separation Sunday”

Our domestic odyssey through all fives series of The Wire came to an end on Saturday.

I was wondering where I’d get my fix of junky antics until I spied this album next on the CD rack.

This is one of those rare concept albums that: (a) holds attention; (b) doesn’t reek of self-indulgence; and (c) tells a gritty tale with humour.

We’re thrown into the world of Charlemagne, Holly and their drug-chasing, ass-pimping friends as they roam the bad streets of various cities (although I don’t think Baltimore is amongst the locales).

Over a fantastic bar-room rock soundtrack, we get mainly spoken word vocals that are biting in their vitriol, and absolutely captivating.  Our cast swing through highs (surprise, surprise) and lows, and fire off snappy dialogue worthy of Chandler or Kerouac.  The Catholic imagery flies thick, as Holly wrestles with her demons, while partying very, very hard.

This is a unique album in my collection.  It is not background listening, but more like picking up a grimy book of short stories. These guys have pushed music to an exciting, literary place. And before this I’d never heard the phrase “hoodrat”:

File under: A trial worth enduring