Play MistLY For Me

I was watching Stewart Lees’ Snowflake/Tornado on the I Player (a place I rarely venture to these days) a couple of days back and was pleased to see “Stew” quoting the classic Dream Syndicate song “John Coltrane Stereo Blues”. I mostly enjoyed “Stews'” new shows but at times it’s the equivalent of listening to a 30 minute version of The Fall’s “And This Day” in that the repetition is probably annoying the hell out of you but you are compelled to watch/listen until you submit to the inevitable.

There is an uncanny synchronicity between the music “Stew” likes and the music I tend to gravitate to. This begs the question has “Stew” influenced me, or by some strange miasmic pan-geographical methodology which is beyond comprehension have I somehow influenced “Stew”? It’s probably nothing of the sort and mere coincidence in that there is a relatively small proportion of the population that likes decent new music and then there is the rest that like Ed Sheeran, enjoy tribute bands, and spend oodles of money on vinyl when the planet is overheating. Do Climate Activists collect The Fall on vinyl I wonder? It doesn’t matter they’ll be too busy listening to “Ed” or preparing for their next Stone Roses tribute gig to read this nonsense. Ian Brown doing Karaoke? The world has gone mad.

All of this reminded me that “Stew” had booked Dave Graney and Clare Moore (which is the point of this peroration) for a gig in North Wales around the same time they were first over to play at the Eagle Inn in Sunny Salford and also do a Marc Riley Session. One of the two times I have been able to directly influence output on Radio 6, the other time being Harry and the NDE . Radio 6 is place I rarely venture to as well.

This is turn reminded me I had not yet properly reviewed their new album “In A MistLY”.

How about writing album reviews in the style of Stewart Lee? i.e. not the way “Stew” reviews albums in the Grauniad, but the way he does stand-up. Impossible tangents and call-backs? Can I mention Alan Bennett and get away with it? Probably best to opt for John Cowper Powys or maybe that’s pushing the envelope just a little too far. Maybe not, stream of consciousness stuff whilst listening is the usual methodology…best to stick with what you know. Anyway i’m too busy as I have new Harry Howard and Malcolm Hill albums to review as well.

Anyway, I digress, this is probably, ignoring The Moodists, the 24th studio album from Dave and Clare in their various guises. It’s a mixed confection including basic Dave and Clare only tunes, tracks with the two Stu’s (Perera and Thomas), and some with other musicians, including saxophone from Dave Wray on three tracks, and Will from Go Go Sapien doing backing vocals on one track.

It is described as a rock album. “Guitars, drums, bass and vocals. Some vibes and keys – oh and some saxophone” Dave says. “This is the album we meant to do before Everything Was Funny. Restrictions on movement around Melbourne delayed it, but we kept the songs back that we wanted to play with the mistLY. ”

But, Dave , I retort, you can’t put your albums in a simple Rock Genre! You are selling yourself short. It is far more complex and nuanced than that!

Opener “Silver Bullets” is all about jangling guitars and impossibly attractive chord changes “a song about feeling so good you know you’re bound to screw things up pretty soon”. It has a vague similarity to the aforementioned Dream Syndicate with its dynamic structure and call and response chorus. It’s also a grower, one of those Dave tunes you know you’ll keep coming back to over the years.

“The Old Swagger” is again all chord changes, and, on the face of it is rock and roll. But you dig deeper and you are in Graney country, complex chord changes and structures. I’m reminded of the classic Coral Snakes song “Warren Oates” with the outsider lyrics.

Single “Tang” follows and is simply sublime. A riot of riffs and lines. It’s cinematic in the way the exceptional “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” album was. There are more ideas in this tune than some people have in whole albums. Hipster jive talk lyrics remind me of Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice”. Sci-fi sounds. “Tang is a song about the virtual life and the virtual (lack of) sensory experience set to a tight new wave beat”.

“How Can I Be Old?” introduces sax into the mix and has a bluesy swagger, as opposed to an old one. Dave muses on the aging process, this song resonates with me as I am soon to reach another birthday. “What Used To Be There?” in a similar way reflects the passage of time and change. Where are the places you were familiar with, where have they gone? It feels like a Paul Auster novel, or more personally the street scene of Chapel Street in Salford every time I get the bus into Manchester, constant change through so-called regeneration, where did that old pub we used to go in disappear to? The song has a complex arrangement with a middle section which is packed with airy vocals from Clare, I hesitate to use the prog rock description but there’s a hint of the complexity that Gentle Giant used to use in the mid 70s (“I’ve Lost My Head” from the Interview album for example). There are many layers to this song and I feel I need to listen more to fully understand what is going on – whatever it is there is a hell of a lot of it.

“Velvets MC” is described as “swinging, blue and black leathery ” it’s all jazz chords and changes, a simple rhythm, cymbal washes and seemingly unrelated bites of sound. One of those Graney lyrics you spend ages trying to decipher. Edward Dorn’s “Gunslinger” perhaps an influence? Maybe not. Needs more listening.

There’s a point, about halfway through the album, that the realisation hits you that there are slices of Graney and Moore’s career here, re-evaluated and distilled into something new. A portion of Coral Snakes, the turn of the century introspection, the late 10’s avant garde troubadour, hiding in Rock and Roll. “We Get Life” has a “Fearful Wiggings” feel about it and is the opening song of “the musically rich (accidental) trilogy of We Get Life, Now You Must Die and Where Are You In The Underworld?”. Clare adds layers of Star Trek synths to Dave’s sensitive guitar. Poets, a Vorticist and a Blues Man are listed – is Dave being deliberately abstruse, or is it just the way his mind works? If that one is hard to decipher then “Now You Must Die” is fairly upfront in its messaging. The definitive Graney-Moore sound is here – vibes, marimba, unique chord progressions, tasty little guitar runs. No one else sounds like this. I’m reminded of what attracted me to the Moodists back in 1983. “Where Are You In The Underworld?” a mellow piece which feels like a comment on where an “underground” artist might feel in the music world these days. Dave adopts his lounge singer delivery and muses on where the protagonist might be in the great “media” scheme of things. Interlocking guitars, marimba, splashes of percussion.

“We Need Cash” a relatively straightforward message about finances which feels uncannily apposite in the middle of the Truss-Kwarteng meltdown. Lots of guitars in lots of layers on this one. A sneaky tune that creeps up on you and sticks in your head.

Described as “the almost rockabilly” “Thanks To the Women For Dancing” feels like a marriage of Tom Waits and the Inca Babies via Jeffery Lee Pierce. Sax and guitar join together on a circular blues riff. Sultry and sexy with reed splitting blowing from Dave Wray. Continuing the blues/jazz feel the album proper ends with “You Are The World” which is another of those slow burners, with double tracked Clare vocalising, and a 60s TV cop show soundtrack feel. My inner mischief tells me I should play this on my World of Jazz radio show to see how the cats at All About Jazz will react. Maybe I will. Subverting norms, different noises, aural delights, making people think outside the box. Dave describes it as “a Roxy Music like long tail with the R&B glam jazz groove”.

An alternative version of “You Get Life” has been added to my review copy. Perhaps a little warmer in feel?

So here we are again with another Graney and Moore offering and me being put in the usual impossible position of saying it’s probably the album of the year. There are some other strong contenders out there so we shall see how I feel once December comes around. Suffice to say there is enough going on here to keep me engaged and entertained for the next few months, if not longer. I remain of the view that to call it a rock album is selling it short. Rock is too narrow a description for what is in here. Roxy Music is a good comparator. I recall the shock of the new of Virginia Plain in 1972 and buying that and Derek and the Dominoes “Layla” on 7″ vinyl at the time and thinking there was something new coming. Brian and Eric at the opposite poles of a widening music world. Dave and Clare seem to be able to bridge those two worlds with consummate ease.

If you want to hear something new and different buy this album.

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