Here’s a peek at what we’ve played this week on the Uncut office stereo. A lot of records, sadly, I can’t divulge as yet – but here’s the best of what’s fit to print, certainly. Strong comebacks from Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, Janelle Monae and Belly, a teaser of Jon Hopkins’ new album as well as lovely flavours from Modern Studies, Mount Eerie and Hop Along.
Oh, and don’t forget – the current issue of Uncut is very much on sale. You can read all about it by clicking here.
A new week, a new magazine. This time, please allow me to cue up the latest issue of NME Gold – a new joint project from Uncut and our sister title, NME.
As you can probably tell by now, this new edition has been curated by Paul Weller.
NME Gold is in shops from Thursday, but you can also buy a copy from our online store. Here’s John Robinson, who’s overseen NME Gold, to explain what it’s all about.
“From the extensive archives of NME (and its sister title, Melody Maker), Paul has painstakingly put together a selection of legendary features about his heroes, his esteemed contemporaries, and the artists who have influenced him to become the icon that he is today. Never mind a day in the life – it’s a life in music, in 100 pages.
“It is, if you like, a printed mixtape. In it you’ll find Paul’s choices from historic pieces about longtime heroes like The Beatles, Curtis Mayfield and the Small Faces, but also bands whose influence on him has maybe been a little less frequently broadcast. Paul now also shares his thinking on the likes of the Nick Drake, Noel Gallagher, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Bob Marley and Dr Feelgood and many more, as he introduces his selections from the archive.
“Weller is also up for talking about his own place in the firmament, revealing his feelings about his journey in a wide-ranging – and characteristically frank – interview. From The Jam to the Style Council and the many magnificent reinventions of his solo career, this is Paul Weller’s life in music.
“’It was noticeable, seeing people around you, thinking this is really special, and that I’m really special,’ he tells Hamish MacBain. ‘And I just thought, ‘I’m just doing what I’ve always fucking done, don’t get excited.’”
I should also remind you that the current issue of Uncut is currently in shops. Joni Mitchell is our cover star and inside you’ll find an extensive tribute to Mark E Smith plus exclusive interviews with the Breeders, Josh T Pearson and many more.
Some goodies for you this week, via the Uncut office stereo. What can I tell you about these folks? Some strong new work from favourites like Eleanor Friedberger, Courtney Barnett and Beach House, plus a couple of Valentines-inspired one-offs from Frank Ocean and Ryan Adams. Among the new discoveries, I’ve enjoyed Wim Dehaen’s Pierre Boulez tribute and also Sons Of Kemet’s progressive jazz.
Before I go, I should dutifully remind you of our new issue, on sale now. Many riches, including Joni Mitchell, Mark E Smith, the Breeders, Josh T Pearson and lots, lots more. Read all about it by clicking here.
Stars Joni Mitchell, Mark E Smith, The Breeders, Josh T Pearson, Chris Robinson, The Decemberists plus much more
When Uncut interviewed Mark E Smith, in Manchester’s Crown & Kettle pub last summer, he was typically forthcoming on a range of subjects: the Vorticists, the BBC, Jane Austen. It was, of course, a typical Smith chat: often scurrilous and profane, but nevertheless driven by Smith’s wide-ranging interests in literature, politics, sport and other more esoteric subjects that all, somehow, collided in the extraordinary music he made with his band.
“He was a one-off,” Fall guitarist Pete Greenway tells David Cavanagh in our extensive tribute to Smith, which appears in the new issue of Uncut, on sale in the UK this Thursday. “Whatever subject you talked to Mark about, he’d always come at it from a completely different angle to you. An angle you’d never thought of and would never expect. And that would be all the time. He was like that in his life and he was like that in his songwriting.”
“He always wanted everything to be right,” his friend and producer Grant Showbiz tells David. “Forget all the stuff you’ve heard. Nobody loved The Fall more than Mark did.”
I hope it’s not too much of a leap, but I’d like to think that a common thread linking the musicians in this month’s issue is a visionary, questing spirit. It’s there, surely, in Joni Mitchell – whose debut album, Song To A Seagull was released 50 years ago on March 1. Graeme Thomson speaks to many of those involved in Joni’s early years – including David Crosby, Judy Collins, Tom Rush, assorted members of Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band – to discover a songwriter stretching out at the very beginning of her extraordinary career. Elsewhere in the issue, Tom Pinnock meets The Breeders, Jaan Uhelski travels to Austin, Texas to catch up with Josh T Pearson plus we speak to The Decemberists, Chris Robinson and Tracey Thorn – all of whom are pursuing their own, indefatigable sonic quests. Nick Cave salutes Shane MacGowan, Brett Anderson discusses his memoir, Roger McGuinn remembers The Beatles’ beloved confidant Derek Taylor and we bring you reviews of new records from Yo La Tengo, Jonathan Wilson, Joan Baez, David Byrne, Creep Show and more alongside archival treats from Jimi Hendrix, Phil Everly and Miles Davis & John Coltrane.
You’ll also find a piece by Stephen Deusner, who travelled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama following the death of FAME Studios founder, Rick Hall. There, Stephen spoke to a number of people who worked with Hall over the years– including, in an Uncut first, Donnie Osmond. The esteemed Swamper David Hood remembers his former boss as a driven, focused leader. “He made you tough. He made you good.” These are attributes, you imagine, that could also be applied to Mark E Smith himself.
The new issue of Uncut is on sale from Thursday, February 15
Slightly conscious that this week’s playlist is top heavy with returning US indie stalwarts – Stephen Malkmus, the Breeders, St Vincent, MGMT – but it’s hard to complain when the music is evidently this strong. There’s a lovely track, too, from an old friend, PJ Harvey. At the less storied end of the scale, please take the time to check out current Uncut office favourites Khruangbin – psych jams from Texas! – as well as the melancholic folk of Jim Ghedi and some classy electronic business from Richard Fearless, finding a happy place between William Basinski and Detroit techno.
Did I mention the Breeders? Expect some more exciting news from Kim and co next week…
Deluxe, expanded: the most up-to-date work on Bowie’s career
Last summer, Tony Visconti shared his earliest memories of David Bowie with Uncut. They met in 1967, when Bowie, as an ambitious 19 year old, had already experienced a number of false starts in his career. “He had some experience in the studio and he was definitely a budding songwriter,” recalled Visconti. “I was introduced to him via his very first album on Deram, the one where he was all over the shop – no two songs are in the same genre. But he was on the fence then. Later on I asked him, ‘What would you do if you weren’t a rock star?’ He said, ‘I would have worked in musical theatre.’”
Bowie would have to wait 50 years until he finally got his wish to mount a musical. As it transpires, it was also the final work he completed before his death on January 10, 2016: Lazarus. Watching Lazarus in London less than a year after Bowie’s passing was a strange experience. As with the ★ album, it was hard to come to it without looking round for clues about Bowie’s own condition. “I’m a dying man who can’t die,” claimed Bowie’s protagonist/alter ego, Thomas Jerome Newton, and lines like that now seem freighted with Bowie’s own views on both his physical state and his artistic legacy.
We celebrate the full-span of Bowie’s career – from his self-titled debut to ★ and Lazarus – in The Ultimate Music Guide: David Bowie. The latest in our long line of upgraded and expanded deluxe titles, its 148 pages include in-depth reviews of every album and revealing archive interviews making it the most up-to-date work on Bowie’s career. Among the additional features in this edition, you’ll find our survey of Bowie’s 30 greatest songs, as chosen by colleagues and contemporaries including Visconti, Jimmy Page, Woody Woodmansey, Siouxsie Sioux, Morrissey, Dave Gahan and James Murphy.
It’s in shops on Thursday – but available now in our online shop – and it showcases an artist whose incomparable vision, and a determination to pursue it at any cost, has been in place from the very beginning. Another of the Guide’s new features is a comprehensive look back at Bowie’s 1960s, where his old friend George Underwood observes: “David was planning his career in his head before it happened… He said to me once, ‘I’m in this up to my neck.’” As if to underscore this point more publicly, Bowie told Melody Maker in 1972, “I’m going to be huge, and it’s quite frightening.” He was right, of course. This, then, is the story of how it happened.
Following the recent news that Paul Simon is to give a “farewell performance” in Hyde Park later this summer, it seemed an appropriate moment to post my interview with Simon from the July 2016 issue of Uncut. Incidentally, you can find more about Simon’s Hyde Park concert by clicking here.
In 1964, Paul Simon visited the UK for the first time. “It was very exciting,” he says. “The Beatles, Carnaby Street. Mods and rockers. It was the centre of… well, you know exactly what it was. It was incredible.” Back then, he was an unknown folk singer, plying his trade in small, smoky pubs and clubs. 52 years later, however, and Simon’s circumstances have changed considerably. Today, aged 74, he has taken up temporary residence in a series of interconnected suites in Claridges.
“Don’t mind me, I’m just wandering,” he says as he pads softly along the corridors, peering into rooms whose furniture has been removed to accommodate visiting TV crews or to house a makeshift office for his management team. His clothes are unprepossessing – a navy jumper, jeans, black shoes – apart from a lilac baseball cap with “Timothy Dwight College Yale University” stitched across the top (a souvenir of a recent talk he gave to students there) and a green pendant that hangs round his neck on a leather cord. “I got it when we played in New Zealand,” he says. “It’s a Maori piece, it’s jade.”
Simon is about to release Stranger To Stranger, his 13th solo album, co-produced by Roy Halee, a collaborator since the Simon & Garfunkel days. A typically spry collection of songs, this new record incorporates African woodwind, Peruvian drums, electronic beats and Harry Partch’s fabulous menagerie of experimental instruments. One song details Simon’s meeting with a Brazilian healer, another addresses his experiences performing at the funeral of a teacher killed in the Sandy Hook school shootings, while a third is a tribute to Cool Papa Bell, a centre-fielder in the Negro League baseball from 1922 to 1950s. The album began, admits Simon, “in a season of emotional winter. Barren landscape, no ideas, anxiety about no ideas, lethargy spreading to increased caffeine consumption.”
As Simon explains, his talent is more the patient and painstaking kind. “One of my ways of writing is for me to sit with a guitar and find an interesting guitar chord or series of chords or something, anything, to just begin,” he explains solemnly. “The real game is, can you make something that’s interesting enough, entertaining enough, intriguing enough that the listener will listen again?” Simon has always written slowly, but after the failure of 1980’s One Trick Pony, he suffered from a prolonged bout of writer’s block. Even now, he acknowledges that “the urge to create is stirring, but nothing comes of it.”
Simon’s speech is careful and considered, characterised by brief pauses while he composes his thoughts. But he’s also capable of moments of great levity. At one point, he mugs shamelessly, recalling the kind of put-up schlub played by Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. He talks animatedly about the genesis of “The Sound Of Silence” (which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year), the end of Simon & Garfunkel and the Graceland controversy. He speaks fondly, too, about the British folk scene of the 1960s – a pivotal time, he claims, every bit as significant as its storied American counterpart. “I always feel good here in London,” he says. “Even though everything’s changed so much. When I drive through the streets, I think, ‘I used to walk round here…’”
Taking a seat, he twists the cap off a bottle of water and considers the enduring qualities of his craft. “The music keeps growing,” he says.
All the best of the week's new music from the Uncut office stereo
A busy day here at Uncut, so I won’t detain you with too much waffle. Lots of good new music here, I think, including Mouse On Mars, King Tuff, Mien and Thurston Moore – but that Cornelius remix of Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s “ZURE” is an absolute highlight. While I know the album came out last year, if you’ve not already heard Sakamoto’s latest album, async, I urge you to track down a copy. A thing of rare beauty.
I’ve just written about Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread score for the new issue of Uncut, which has allowed me to revisit the film in some detail. It transpires that this, Greenwood’s fourth collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson, is his most classically-minded, complimenting the film’s setting – 1950s high society – with its own opulent old world beauty. As with Anderson – and the film’s star, Daniel Day-Lewis – Greenwood is working to the very fullest capacity here: not for nothing has the film earned six nominations, including one for Greenwood’s score.
If – as we are to be believed – this is Day-Lewis’ final film, then Phantom Thread is as strong an exit as you could hope for. During a period in his teens, Day-Lewis was torn between a career in acting and one as a cabinetmaker and clearly craftsmanship has continued to be a significant concern for the actor. In My Left Foot, he learned how to put a record on a turntable with his foot, for The Crucible he built a house using 17th century tools and after his rigorous training for The Boxer, his coach Barry McGuigan reckoned he could turn professional. For Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis has essentially learned how to sew.
Working for the second time with Anderson, Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock, a celebrated couturier to the post-war aristocracy. Pitched somewhere between Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, he is witty and nimble, elegant and epigrammatic. But as with many creatives operating at the highest level, he is also fastidious and obsessive: one dress is described enigmatically as “worth everything we’ve been through.” In conjunction with his gimlet-eyed sister Cyril (Leslie Manville), Woodcock runs his operations from a splendid Georgian townhouse in London; but alas, his empire is faltering. First Woodcock finds himself under threat from the New Look, then he is unexpectedly beguiled by Alma (Vicky Krieps), a German waitress he meets at a quiet coastal hotel and who becomes his muse.
PHANTOM THREAD - Official Trailer [HD] - In Select Theaters Christmas - YouTube
Although there are a lot of clothes in Phantom Thread, it is not particularly a film about fashion. It is really a film about control and obsession and the disruption of a status quo by an upstart new arrival – in which case, it is possible to see this as a companion piece to Anderson’s 2012 film The Master, another film set in the post war period which focused on the leader of a Scientology-style religious movement known as ‘The Cause’. But superficially, Phantom Thread is a far more graceful film than The Master – although that is not to suggest this is an inferior work. Far from it: a lot of hard work has gone into making it all look this easy, this light.
In the acclaim traditionally dished out to both director and lead actor, it is possible to overlook the humour in their endeavours. Day-Lewis and Anderson’s first collaboration, There Will Be Blood, is often hilariously histrionic – and Phantom Thread, too, has flashes both of droll drawing room farce as well as a darker comic grain. In one scene, he complains testily that Alma butters her toast with “too much movement”. Later, Woodcock addresses the ghost of his dead mother: “Are you always here?” It’s an absurd moment – but also freighted with pathos when you consider Day-Lewis walked off stage during a production of Hamlet, claiming he’d seen his father’s ghost in the wings. It is indicative, too, of a late-arriving macabre gothic turn in the story that underscores Alma’s growing control over Woodcock.
Incidentally, everyone is splendid in Phantom Thread – Krieps and Manville particularly – and the film is sumptuous and beautifully shot. But this is a Day-Lewis joint – he is dazzling and exuberant, and not a little hammy. “Chic?” He retorts at one point, his face a picture of disgust as he is brought news of Dior’s pioneering work across the Channel. “Fucking chic.”
Tomorrow's hits today - from the Uncut office stereo!
Afternoon! Lots of good stuff here, I think. Please find new tracks from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Wooden Shjips and Julian Casablancas; blues from Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite; a longish diversion into electronica courtesy of Hirotaka Shirotsubaki + Sleepland, Eric Chenaux and Fever Ray. What else? Kali Uchis mighty hook-up with Bootsy Collins and Tyler The Creator, more Jack White and some fine post-rock from Oneida.