Play For Today – Current Playlist, 12th January 2017


Currently working on several more substantial articles, but in the meantime, here’s what I’ve been listening to in the last little while; which quite a lot of actually new music, as it turns out…

julia kent

  1. Julia Kent Asperities (The Leaf Label, 2015) – a beautiful album of experimental cello music I like so much that I was moved to actual pay money for the vinyl version.
  2. BathshebaServus (Svart Records, 2017) – the forthcoming album from Bathsheba impressed me a lot; ‘atmospheric occult doom’ is something I’m actually a bit weary of, but the songs are great and singer Michelle Nocon has a Patti Smith-like authority that makes it all very compelling.
  3. Code – Lost Signal (Agonia Records, 2017) – I thought this EP of re-recordings (plus one new song) would be a waste of time, but no; really good in fact.
  4. Nick Mazzarella Trio – Ultraviolet (International Anthem, 2015) – the apparent contradiction of free, expressive jazz welded into tightly controlled compositions turns out to be a recipe for vibrant, gripping music.
  5. Ashen Spire – Speak Not Of The Laudanum Quandary (code666, 2017) – I have to admit the thought of melodramatic, A Forest of Stars-like artifice welded to doomy and atmospheric extreme metal is not something that always fills me with joy – but Ashenspire are more peculiar and less pantomimic in their theatricality than I expected, and the title song is one of several hugely effective compositions here. An acquired taste, as I assume it’s supposed to be, but one worth acquiring.
  6. Bruno Sanfilippo – Piano Textures 4 (2016) – beautifully evocative, modern minimalist piano pieces cover
  7. David Bowie – Hunky Dory (RCA, 1971) – This was my favourite Bowie album (actually, my favourite album) for years, but I hadn’t listened to it for ages. Being impressionable, the fact that a bunch of music critics voted it his greatest work sent me back to it again. I don’t agree, but I see why they think so; Bowie at his most accessible and (relatively) least artificial.
  8. Julie’s Haircut – Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin (Rocket Recordings, 2017) – hypnotic, psychedelic-occult-krautrock that is mesmerising without being boring.
  9. Cryfemal – D6s6nti6rro (Osmose Productions, 2016) Even though I wrote about how much I like Cryfemal here aeons ago,  I actually didn’t notice when they/he (Cryfemal is still just ‘Ebola’) released this album. It’s great – in theory nothing-special, bog-standard black metal, in reality that, only made fantastic by Ebola’s way with a tune.
  10. Nicole Sabouné – Miman (Century Media, 2017) – not 100% made my mind up about this, but when in the mood for langorous, Dead Can Dance-influenced baroque gothic pop, it’s definitely pretty effective.
  11. Uriah Heep – Sonic Origami (Eagle Records, 1998) – what could be less promising than an album by 70s rock dinosaurs, struggling to find their place in the post-grunge landscape of the 90s? And yet the mighty Heep rose to whatever occasion there was with warmth, grace and some understated rock tunes that still sound very nice indeed.
  12. Juliana Hatfield – Hey Babe (Mammoth, 1992) – still in the 90s, this alternative rock gem is a bit overlooked these days, but it still sounds great to me.julianahatfieldtop4
  13. The Veldt – In A Quiet Room (Leonard Skully Records, 2017) – my dubiousness about the current shoegaze revival almost made me overlook this great band, but I’m glad I listened;on paper their music is such a peculiar mix (experimental shoegaze + soul etc) but in fact it just sounds natural and right.
  14. Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night (Asylum, 1974) – to me, this is the album where he first found his true voice and, if not quite as great as Nighthawks at the Diner, it’s still a collection of great songs.
  15. Claire Waldoff – Die Berliner Pflanze (Berliner Musikinder, 2001) – I’ve been fascinated by the art and culture of the Weimar Republic for years* (just as well; seems like that’s the kind of period we’re living in now) and Claire Waldoff’s music from that period (early 30s mostly) is incredibly evocative and moving, and a bit silly. Plus, I love her voice and I am one of the few people I have come across who thinks German is a beautiful-sounding language, so that’s a bonus.
  16. Tenebrae In Perpetuum – La Genesi: 2001-2002 (Ordo MCM, 2017) – I’m a sucker for Italian black metal (the most underrated black metal scene in the world, mostly) and this reissue of the early works of Tenebrae In Perpetuum captures the band at their most atmospheric and unhinged.
  17. Kathy McCarty – Dead Dog’s Eyeball Songs of Daniel Johnston (Bar/None Records, 1994) – Kathy McCarty did a lot to make Daniel Johnston’s songs palatable to people who don’t like the lo-fi home-recordedness of his early work (or his voice, for that matter) and this is still a great album in its own right.
  18. Queen – The Miracle (Capitol, 1989) – an oddity for me, I really don’t like Queen much after Hot Space but I bought this for 50p in a charity shop and so have listened to it a few times. It’s not great, but I like the title song and a few other bits & pieces; Freddie’s voice is always nice to hear.qveen

and that will do for now!

  • re. The Weimar Republic & its culture, there’s a great article about the photographer Marianne Breslauer here

Inevitably, the releases of the year, 2016 (Part One)

Last year, I ended up writing multiple ‘releases of the year’ lists because I kept forgetting great things and having to add more posts to include them. I feel like keeping it (relatively) concise this year but will probably end up doing the same again.


Anyway, I thought I’d group things differently this time, so here are a few (non-exhaustive) groups of things that all fall into my ‘releases of the year’. They aren’t in any order of preference aside from the ‘release of the year’ itself, which will come last of all. I use the term ‘releases’ because, although it sounds far less good than ‘albums of the year’, I am including all sorts of releases. There aren’t really any rules (aside from year of release, obviously) because why would I make any? And so…

Hellos of the Year (new artists/debut releases)

All years are probably good for new artists and 2016 was no exception

Kib Elektra – Blemishes (Bezirk Tapes)


I’ve written about Abi Bailey‘s Kib Elektra at length here as well as reviewing the EP for Echoes and Dust so will keep this brief. Kib Elektra’s debut is a brilliantly orchestrated collection of contrasting textures and sounds, organic, electronic,earthly and celestial; and the songs are great.



ThrOes – This Viper Womb (Aesthetic Death)


An impressive debut in every way, This Viper Womb is remarkable for the balance between precise detail and overall effect; it’s an emotionally involving, musically intense journey – brutal but subtle, extreme metal that doesn’t fit easily into any pigeonhole.



Naia Izumi – various releases


Guitarist/singer/composer/etc Naia Izumi has released a series of fantastic and wide ranging EPs throughout 2016. Her style is not easy to define, but it incorporates elements of math rock, R’n’B, blues, ambient music… Lots of things, but all done with feeling and amazing instrumental skill – listen here


Zeal & Ardor – Devil Is Fine


Sometimes classified as black metal but really a kind of blackened blues, Zeal & Ardor’s music has deep, but varied roots and a spooky atmosphere all of its own. Listen here



Debz – Extended Play (Choice Records)


Again, I’ve written about this elsewhere, but this EP is a refreshing and messy mix of grungy pop, punk and peculiarity.



Candelabrum – Necrotelepathy (Altare Productions)


Unhinged but hugely ambitious Portuguese black metal, Necrotelepathy is a true symphony (while not being remotely ‘symphonic’) of rusty, shrill, clanging and nasty black metal that lasts for a long time (two songs, 33 minutes) but has a strangely cleansing effect on the ears.



Dia – Tiny Ocean (Manimal Records)


A lovely EP of shoegaze-infused baroque pop, or something like that. I wrote about it here and you can check out Dia here. Hopefully lots more to come.




New-old Releases of the Year

Many, many great reissues this year, these were ones worthy of attention:

Uriah Heep – …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble (deluxe edition, BMG records)


I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, but in short – one of the great (and not as respected as it should be) heavy rock albums of the 1970s, remastered, repackaged and with another disc with a whole new, previously unreleased version of the album, great sleevenotes etc etc etc. The reissue of the almost-as-epic Salisbury is just as great. If the (presumably forthcoming) Look At Yourself and Demons and Wizards maintain the quality, 2017 already has something going for it.



Thus Defiled – An Unhallowed Legacy (Shadowflame Productions)


Not quite as lavish than the Uriah Heep reissues (Shadowflame’s budget presumably somewhat less than BMG’s), but just as iconic; two classic turn-of-the-millennium releases from UK black metal overlords Thus Defiled, packaged nicely, sounding fantastic: classic stuff.

David Bowie – Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) (Parlophone)


I can only dream of having the vinyl version, but whatever the packaging, this is Bowie’s best (i.e. my favourite) period, treated with respect and sounding perfect. I just wish the missinGouster songs were there.

Established artists, latest Releases of the Year

  In no order…

Iggy Pop/Tarwater/Alva Noto – Leaves of Grass (Morr Music)


A criminally overlooked record, perhaps because of Iggy’s great but more conventional Post-Pop DepressionLeaves of Grass is an EP of readings from Whitman’s book of the same name, with atmospheric electronic backing. Iggy proves himself an unexpectedly, but on reflection not surprisingly brilliant interpreter of Whitman’s poetry. I wrote more and better about it here


Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok (By Norse)


Not so much a recreation of the lost music of the viking age as an imagining of it through immersion in the culture, literature and instruments of the era, as well as in the natural landscapes of Scandinavia, Kvitrafn’s latest album is harder to define than it is to feel. The atmosphere is primal and traditional, while not really following any musical traditions; sonically Runaljod – Ragnarok is as much an archaic, organic version of an Eno or Vangelis record as it is ‘folk music’, but somehow the authenticity of Wardruna’s vision and passion makes it feel like a window into a living past.

Egor Grushin – Once


Once made a big impact on me partly because of the deeply worrying socio-political context in which it was released (my review of this album for Echoes and Dust goes on about it), but months later, its graceful, logical beauty is still deeply soothing.



SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle of Ages (Profound Lore)


Inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin’s classic 1921 dystopian novel We, SubRosa’s themes of freedom and control couldn’t be more prescient, and the album is suitably challenging, aggressive and epic. By far their greatest album to date.




end of part one…

next: more releases of the year, including the Goodbyes of the Year

For Whom The Cowbell Tolls…


Thanks for this article are owed to Jamie Cowey (for the title) and the anonymous person whose enlightening comments on my original version of this have been incorporated into the section on Honky Tonk Woman


The cowbell has presumably been part of the percussionist’s arsenal since early in the Jazz period, but it really came into its own in the 60s and 70s; but that’s not what this is really about.

‘Cowbell rock’ is, as well as being a hugely irritating electro classic by Pyramyth, almost a genre of its own, and this is a brief (mostly unresearched, therefore probably mostly wrong) glance through it.The obvious disclaimer here is that rock comes from blues  and R&B music and therefore the true history of the cowbell in popular music should feature many more black musicians than are included here. But this isn’t a true history of anything really.

There are notable uses of the cowbell in mid-late 60s pop and rock, notably The Beatles’ Drive My 1 beatlCar (1966), which perhaps surprisingly prefigures the genre with its funky soul influence.  The Spencer Davis Group’s equally soulful Gimme Some Lovin’ (1966) also features possible cowbell* although to my ears it sounds more like a tambourine. *see note on Honky Tonk Woman below

Iron Butterfly’s psychedelic rock monster In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida  is often cited too (including by me elsewhere), though a proper listen to the song reveals that although there may be cowbell there (and it is certainly implied by the beat etc) it mostly sounds like straightforward snare/toms.

So to me (and I am happy to be put right on this), the art of true cowbell rock begins…

The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women (1969) –  before anything else, the intro is purely cowbell 2 stoneand from then on the song establishes cowbell rock;  a rocking, yet laidback beat that holds everything else together. It was to prove hugely influential on the rock of the 70s and every revival thereof up until the present day. Interestingly (this is the part alluded to in the introductory note; thanks anonymous person), it is most likely erstwhile Spencer Davis Group producer Jimmy Miller, rather than the undoubtedly brilliant Charlie Watts, who plays the cowbell.


The 70s was the cowbell era and the classics are many and (to a degree) varied:

3 freeFree – All Right Now (1970) – picks up where Honky Tonk Women left off, with even bigger gaps in the riff; more room for cowbell.  Most of Free’s early work should really be in the ‘implied cowbell’ list below



Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane (1970) – an honorable mention really;  the cowbell (if there is 4VUany) is not very audible but this should be a cowbell classic based on the riff alone (more such nonsense below).





5sladeSlade – The Bangin’ Man (1974) – a tongue in cheek, slightly sad song, seemingly alluding to the memory problems the great Don Powell suffered when recovering from a  horrendous car crash; but his  drum/cowbell playing here is peerless.



David Bowie – Diamond Dogs (1974) – the sleazy death throes of Ziggy provide the

6bowieperfect backdrop for some classic cowbell courtesy (I presume) of the great Aynsley Dunbar. Interestingly, Bowie’s flirtation with cowbell rock outlasted his glam period; check out the Young Americans-era outtake I’m Divine for some classic cowbell with more of a funk flavour.


7 the nazNazareth – Hair of the Dog (1975) – basically a compendium of everything cheesy-but-good about mid-70s hard rock; and they came from Dunfermline!




Kiss – Calling Dr Love, Ladies Room, Take Me etc (1976) –  Presumably Peter Criss got a new 8 kisscowbell in 1975/6 because it’s all over the classic Rock & Roll Over album (released November 1976), giving it a looser, warmer feel than the also great but clinically orchestrated Destroyer (released March 1976, shockingly; When they were good, they were productive!)



BOCultBlue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear The Reaper (1976) – the tempo is slightly too frantic to be classic cowbell rock (though the cowbell is very audible!), but this has to be mentioned thanks to the excellent Saturday Night Live sketch with Will Ferrell.


Aerosmith – Last Child (1976) Many early Aerosmith classics have implied cowbell (see footnote),aerosmith but this slow & dirty-sounding masterpiece has the real thing.


warWar – Low Rider (1975) – somewhat out of genre being funk, but this song belongs in any discussion of the cowbell in popular music. I’m sure Funkadelic must have used it too, but nothing comes to mind so I’ll leave that for now…

Beyond the 70s there’s still plenty of cowbell action but on the whole not in the classic mould, but a few nice examples are:

Motley Crue – Wild Side (1987) Tommy Lee is not as good a drummer as he or his fans think he is but although he doesn’t use the cowbell properly here, he uses it well.


AC/DC – half of their songs (you would think, examples are rarer than one would hope), they kind of built a career on it.


Pixies – U-Mass (1991) Who’d have thought? But they do it well.


Nowadays there’s probably more cowbell rock than ever, but as far as I’ve heard it’s mostly a purely retro/pastiche/tribute thing so  worthy of consideration, but not here…



The list of songs that are, to all intents and purposes ‘cowbell rock’ but have little or no actual cowbell is distressingly long; someone should add some posthumous cowbell to these at the very least:

Edgar Winter’s White Trash – Give It Everything You Got  (1971) Dirty, nasty, gritty, funky rock, oddly the intro is kind of Stooges-like, but anyway; no cowbell.



Black Oak Arkansas – Hot And Nasty (1971) – The title says it all. Would have been hotter and nastier with cowbell though

Alice Cooper – Be My Lover (1971) – Great anyway, but how much greater would it have been a tiny bit slower and with


ZZ Top – Waitin’ For The Bus  (1973) It nearly has cowbell on it. Let’s just pretend it does.


Foghat – Slow Ride (1975)  – come on, this blues rock classic has everything except the icing on the cake; where’s the cowbell Roger?


Ted Nugent – Cat Scratch Fever  (1977) – same principle as above, maybe Ted is too much of a guitar guy to care about getting the percussion right? Ditto Stranglehold, but that said, I haven’t heard a huge amount of early Ted,  isn’t there bound to be at least one cowbell anthem in that oeuvre?

Whitesnake – Come An’ Get It  (1982) – Whitesnake’s work is a bridge between 70s rock and the harder, more modern 80s version; this would have been a tiny bit better with cowbell though, no?


Judas Priest –  You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ (1982) – The beat is right, Rob Halford gives the perfectly assured performance the song needs, but Dave Holland does everything right except play the cowbell; possibly they wanted to distance themselves from the 70s at this point

Manowar – Metal Daze and  Shell Shock (1984) Great, great testosterone fuelled nonsense/genius, the former song may have to be featured in a ‘best notes ever hit by a vocalist’ article at some point. But should have got out the cowbell guys; not metal enough I expect.

The Rolling Stones – Start Me Up (1981) and The Cult – Love Removal Machine (1987)  The same song, more or less. Both bands forgot the cowbell though.

In fact, The Cult’s transformation from moody goths to leather-clad rock gods was generally lacking in cowbell, despite the potential of songs like the awesome-anyway Wild Flower. That does however have some tambourine or something similar on the choruses to give that faux cowbell flavour.The-Cult-Electric-Press


Overall though, it is the 1970s that is the true era of the cowbell, and this is all just the tip of the iceberg. One of the great things about 70s rock is how much of it there is – and surely there must be many cowbell classics lurking out there, just waiting to be rediscovered by modern ears…