The Runout Grooves with John Earls: Glasvegas interview and previewing Dry Cleaning
Each fortnight, leading music journalist John Earls goes deep on new releases, examines the latest vinyl issues and talks to the makers of the best new albums.
STAR PLAYERS: Talking to the makers of the best new albums
This week: Glasvegas
It's been eight years since we heard from Glasvegas, on 2013's Later...When The TV Turns To Static. The trio haven't been silent - they toured their classic self-titled debut on its tenth anniversary in 2018.
Still, new album Godspeed shows good things come to those who wait. Their most varied set to date, its mix of Underworld-style trance, punk assaults and the Scots' more familiar dreaminess is drawn together by a narrative following a set of characters over one night.
Singer James Allan tells The Runout Grooves the reasons for the long delay and how he celebrated finishing an epic achievement.
Does it feel like a long time to you since Glasvegas last had a record out?
I can't lie, it does. I try not to measure the time, as it'd freak me out. It's felt like years of a crash course, but a crash course is good when it doesn't take too long. When it's a crash course that lasts for years? That's quite tense.
Did you ever doubt the songs when you were spending so long producing them?
That's where I need to question the mentality I've got, as any other normal person would have. The things that make me nervous are the stupid things, and the things that probably should make me nervous just don't. I don't know if that makes me some kind of psychopath.
When I'm working on a song, until it's complete, the door is wide open. Even in my everyday life, until it was finished, the the world looked out of balance, tilted to the side. It wasn't until I finished that I had that nice balance in my life. That's over-dramatic, but to me that's the importance of the thing I'm doing.
Cupid's Dark Disco is written from the perspective of a man addicted to visiting sex workers. Was it hard to get into that character's head?
I've never found it hard, as it doesn't feel there's a choice in what I'm writing about. Obviously, I must choose these things, but it's a feeling that comes over me. It started from the song My Body Is A Glasshouse, about a teenage sex worker I saw while walking home from the studio one night. Writing that made me think about the other person's point of view. Human beings' stories are usually complex.
The reality is, what I write about is something I can't really avoid. It's like, if you had the choice, what kind of band would you be in? I'd probably be in The Bee Gees but, whatever my character is, that's not me.
How does it feel to have Shake The Cage (Fur Theo) used as the end credits song in the Alan McGee biopic, Creation Stories?
I cherish the memory of writing that song. When my nephew Theo was born, I said to my sister Denise - who manages the band - that I was going to write a song for him. She loved the idea and asked "What's the song called?" "Shake The Cage." "Oh... Great!" I can only clearly remember writing a handful of songs on Godspeed, and Shake The Cage is one. I wrote the list of advice in the song in maybe an hour.
Having it used in Alan's film is lovely, because just being part of my friend's story is really nice. Alan is so kind, with a real warmth to him. People might not think that from his image, but that's the truth of Alan.
Having taken a while to finish Godspeed, how did you celebrate once the album was done?
I honestly haven't had chance yet! My fiancee got a bottle of champagne when the first single, Dying To Live, was out. I had a couple of glasses with her. But, with lockdown, we haven't had chance to get everybody together properly. We will soon.
Godspeed is out on April 2.
Release The Tracks - the best of the new albums released in the next fortnight
One of the new bands most cruelly affected by not being able to play live, The Snuts' concerts were one of the most talked about nights out pre-lockdown. Helped by Beck producer Tony Hoffer, they've caught the magic of those gigs on their debut album, W.L. The Scots can do indie-dance better than most when they want, but this is an album delivering old-school thrills at nearly every turn. Pre-order W.L here
"Joy" isn't a word usually associated with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but lockdown seems to have done funny things to the veteran doomsters. Now that a global pandemic really has arrived, GY!BE have perked up, if the uplifting Government Came is any judge. One of two 20-minute pieces on their seventh album, it's joined by the more typically oppressive A Military Alphabet. Pre-order G_d's Pee At State's End! here
For a band who began as a side-project from their members' other various projects, Dry Cleaning have suddenly been talked about as likely to follow Idles and Shame into post-punk stardom. Although heavily indebted to Peter Hook's bass, their music has more variety than most in the genre, shimmering, jangling and dreaming. But Florence Shaw's deadpan vocals remain a constant, whether on self-deprecating tales of failed romance or more serious songs on the realities of motherhood. It's an intoxicating mixture. Pre-order New Long Leg here
April 9 is a quiet week, with record companies seemingly scared of going up against the digital release of the first batch of Taylor Swift's re-recorded music. No such qualms for Jean Michel Jarre, whose Amazonia finds the synth pioneer in vintage form. Composed to soundtrack Sebastiao Salgado's photos of the Amazon rain forest, the ambient pieces work even without Salgado's beautiful pictures. Pre-order Amazonia here
The week's other big record is another concept album from a veteran composer, as Max Richter goes deeper into exploring The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights on Voices 2. It's among his more abstract works, but you can still sense the message of hope and redemption within. Pre-order Voices 2 here
Let The Records Show: Going behind the myths about vinyl
This week: Can a case be made for the suitcase turntable?
Two things adverts always get wrong with vinyl: 1) People stopping a party by scratching a needle across the record. Nobody does that in real life, unless they're looking for trouble. 2) At least half those parties feature the vinyl being played on a suitcase record player.
There is undeniably a boom in the suitcase turntable: not only do they look cute, they're usually dirt cheap. And that's the problem. If your turntable costs £30 and your LP £25, it shouldn't be hard to figure out that record player won't be that great at actually playing records.
That's not to say you have to buy a fancy Rega. But anyone complaining their new LP is a bit skippy after playing it on a turntable that's been lugged around several rooms of the home and features a 10p-sized amp should stop and think.
Not ALL turntable suitcases are terrible: Crosley are, in general, an honourable exception. Otherwise, it might be time to forget about the cute aesthetic and wonder if you're actually going to play those records.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: Unearthing hidden treasures on the shelves This week: Natalie Prass - The Future And The Past Order The Future And The Past here
One of the most acclaimed albums of 2018 on its release, Natalie Prass' second album featured in Best Of The Year lists in The Guardian, NME and Consequence Of Sound, among others. That it didn't send the Virginia singer into the stratosphere is a mystery for the ages.
A world away from regular singer-songwriter introspection, Prass is instead closer to Roisin Murphy's dancefloor vision and Haim's way with a melody as she conjures up a world of disco intoxication and shimmering choruses. Produced by Matthew E White, The Future And The Past sounds like a glorious present. Order The Future And The Past here