Circumstance determines that there’s strong linkage between this week’s records. Conor Oberst has a new record due out soon and has taken Phoebe Bridgers on tour with him. Bridgers has received high praise from Ryan Adams, whose PaxAm label she is now signed to and who is himself releasing a new album in a couple of weeks’ time. In support of that release, Adams has been in the UK and has performed a couple of pop-up shows – he unfortunately missed an opportunity to perform at the legendary Salford Lads’ Club, which itself was made iconic by The Smiths, who’s guitarist – Johnny Marr – I’m currently reading the autobiography of. Neatly completing the cycle, Bridgers references The Smiths in the song featured below, I was delighted to catch her supporting Oberst at Manchester’s Albert Hall on Thursday night.
Barbary Coast (Later) – Conor Oberst
This one came to me as something of a nice surprise a couple of Saturday morning’s back, whilst listening to The Huey Show on BBC 6 Music in my parents’ kitchen. Having listened to Conor Oberst’s band, Bright Eyes, and his solo work for many years, I’d somehow not been aware that he had released an album back in October and so Barbary Coast (Later) was a welcome introduction to it. Thanks to his appearance on (also BBC 6 Music) Lauren Laverne‘s show on Wednesday, I’ve since learned that the recordings that make up Ruminations were originally intended as demos for a full-band backed released – elsewhere, Oberst has spoken of the sparse vocal, guitar, and piano versions: “I recorded them quick to get them down but then it just felt right to leave them alone”. History may yet reflect upon Ruminations as a companion piece to the upcoming (and fully band-backed, as intended) Salutations, but the fragility of Barbary Coast reminds me of some of my favourite Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst moments – Something Vague, Lua, and Poison Oak in particular. He’s also done this unintended album’s release justice, touring accompanied only by piano, guitar, Miwi La Lupa and Phoebe Bridgers, and I was delighted to catch him live for the first time at Manchester’s Albert Hall on Thursday night.
How Soon is Now? (The Smiths cover, live) – Johnny Marr
Johnny Marr’s been a bit of a latent presence in the music that I’ve both listened to and collected for pretty much as long as a I can remember, but I’d somehow never really drawn him into focus. I’d say I’ve been aware of Electronic’s 1996 album – Raise the Pressure – for as long as any other record and, throughout my teenage obsession with Oasis, I was always aware that The Smiths were a band I was somehow supposed to like (but with whom I just never really clicked). Marr would later join another favourite band of mine – The Cribs – between 2008-11, coinciding with a maturing of the band’s sound and songcraft that was borne out on their fourth LP, Ignorant the Ignorant. The Mancunian guitarist released his debut solo album, The Messenger, in 2013 and played a storming version of The Smiths’ How Soon is Now? on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon towards the end of the accompanying US tour. Featuring the classic tremolo guitar sound and an eerily Morrissey-like vocal, this ‘cover’ is more than a worthy nod to the original.
Lua – Bright Eyes
I first came across Bright Eyes watching MTV2’s ‘Americana‘ in bed late one night twelve-or-so years ago. I was immediately struck by the fragile beauty of the song playing out before me. Lua is a stark composition, featuring just Oberst and his acoustic guitar as he narrates despairing dialogue between two people – the accompanying video reflects the subdued mood of the song, with Oberst alone with his guitar in the early morning bleakness of an apparently-freezing bus shelter. Shortly afterwards, Bright Eyes released a pair of albums – their fifth and sixth, in whichever order you like – on January 25th 2005. I picked up both I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn at a local record shop on my 17th birthday, with the former (featuring Lua) becoming an instant and enduring favourite and Bright Eyes rarely dropping too far down my ‘recently played’ list ever since.
“And I’m not sure what the trouble was that started all of this
The reasons all have run away but the feeling never did
It’s not something I would recommend, but it is one way to live
’cause what is simple in the moonlight by the morning never is
It was so simple in the moonlight, now it’s so complicated
It was so simple in the moonlight, so simple in the moonlight, so simple in the moonlight”
Smoke Signals – Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers came to my attention late one night earlier in the month, as I spotted a Ryan Adams Tweet referring to “a genius at work” and proclaiming “this is the future” just too intriguing to leave alone. Accompanying this high-praise was a link to Bridgers’ SoundCloud page and the song Smoke Signals. This was immediately the best new thing I’d heard in ages, and it got three or four plays before I gave in to the need for sleep. The song is a truly beautiful, delicate composition, which features muted rhythm guitar and gentle strings as well as a fantastic stepped progression in its chorus. The haunting song – accompanied by a suitably dream-like video – makes explicit lyrical reference to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and The Smiths, as well as recently-departed icons Lemmy and David Bowie. On first impressions – and even merely at the stage where I had some new songs to look up – Bridgers seemed like a best new-discovery in ages, so realisations that she was touring with Oberst this week was great news. She made supporting appearances during the sets of both the opening Miwi La Lupa and the headling Oberst (the trio collaborating for a wonderful Lua) and got a great reception from the all-seated audience during her entirely solo set.
Hand in Glove (7″ version) – The Smiths
Back on the Johnny Marr theme, it seems as though The Smiths’ penny is finally dropping for me. As mentioned previously, I’d just not previously clicked with the Manchester band – their records weren’t around the house as I was growing up, none of my friends ever spoke of them, and I suppose theirs was an influence upon many of the bands and artists that I have enjoyed for many years that I simply hadn’t much explored. I’ve found myself seeking their music increasingly often over recently years though, and, having recently received Marr’s 2016 autobiography – Set the Boy Free – as a gift, my interest and enjoyment is only on the up. Hand in Glove was the band’s debut single, its release heralding the beginning of their career-spanning relationship with the Rough Trade label, but would also be subject to later re-recordings and a Sandie Shaw cover (with backing provided by the band themselves). Marr would later describe the song, which is characterised by a sense of great urgency, and supported by a wonderful harmonica line and insistent drumbeat, as “a declaration and our manifesto”.
“And if the people stare then the people stare
Oh I really don’t know and I really don’t care”
Do You Still Love Me? – Ryan Adams
I’ve been eagerly anticipating the upcoming release of Ryan Adams sixteenth record ever since Prisoner was announced a couple of months back. The album opener – Do You Still Love Me? – has been available to listen to since back then but an accompanying video has now been released, featuring footage of Adams and his latest band in the studio and preparing for last summer’s performance at Colorado’s Red Rocks Ampitheatre. Adams, renowned for his prolific output, is probably the artist I’ve listened to the most over the last fifteen years and I’m looking forward to his UK tour (confirmed, though without detail, last week) later this year. Separated by his acclaimed full-album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989, Prisoner will be Adams’ first release of original material since his self-titled album in 2014 and the lead track has a similar feel to the overall sound of that record.