It was supposed to be released today but a slip of my finger means that it actually came out last Tuesday... Music To Shake'n'Shuffle To was the second album by my Anarcho-Folk-Pop collective Johnny5thWheel&thecowards. It has now been added to the back catalogue releases available to my wonderful Bandcamp Subscribers!
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The album was originally released by Sotones Records (Band of Skulls, Moulettes) in 2012 as the follow up to debut album TalesOf...
It's especially timely to look back at now, as I've recently begun working again with some of the musicians I collaborated with on J5W (chiefly polymathmatical drummer-videographer-puppeteer, Andy Lyth, and those incredible souls who were in Murmurs Of Tension). They got in touch to work on the Positive Songs Project and we've stayed working together in Granfalloon since. It's all been very moving.
Johnny5thWheel was an experiment with the form a band could take, and in part, a reaction to my experience as an engineer and producer dealing with the lip-curling, 'tude-filled boys in skinny jeans I was seeing on stage at The Mad Ferret night after night.*
I wanted something more colourful, and more fun, and less obsessed with 'cool', and what music shouldn't be. Maybe I was aiming to remove myself from the process more. The initial idea was for any one of our 42 card carrying members to turn up and gig wearing the mask and that THEY would be Johnny5thWheel for the night.
Ultimately the experiment was never really that successful.** It settled into something a touch more conventional but still maintained the disdain for 'cool' and the distillation of some of our favourite influences (Bowie, Nilsson, Walker, Newley, Bonzos, the Bees, Beta Band, etc). We had some very kind words and support from God Is In The TV Zine, Tom Robinson at BBC 6 Music, Rocksucker, BBC Manchester Introducing and a small, discerning host of others who appreciated our brand of quirk but ultimately, people were baffled by that fine line that absurdism walks... The "Am I supposed to laugh?" reaction. I have to defer to Milan Kundera's words about kitsch in that regard. After all, it's incredible to me that people can watch Ed Sheeran with a straight face. And in the end... yes, you ARE supposed to laugh. But probably not for the reason that you think.
In My Laboratory - video by Danny Helme & Andy Lyth
There will be some more Johnny5thWheel additions to the Bandcamp this year but for now I'll leave you with the words of Jonny Abrams at Rocksucker magazine. This is review of the album should give you a feel of what to expect (and then be disappointed by). And we made some wonderful videos with Pete Gallagher and Tom Wolfenden (Peter & The Wolf), as well as Danny Helme (Puzzle Piece) for the singles from this albums. All of which, I'll include in this blog post.
ROCKSUCKER REVIEW of Music To Shake'n'Shuffle To...
“Love, Scott Walker, Super Furry Animals, Pavement, The Flaming Lips, The Beatles, Brian Wilson… – this northwestern group’s stated influences run remarkably close to constituting Rocksucker’s fantasy festival line-up, and yet we sense one glaring omission.
“In My Laboratory”, the opening track of this utterly splendid collection of psych-baroque-folk-pop-whateverness (and their second LP, since you ask), is so spiritually aligned with early Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci that we almost wouldn’t be surprised upon our next listen of 20 or Bwyd Time to find it there, on the track list, suddenly and mysteriously, like a face in a painting in a particularly creepy Edgar Allan Poe tale.
Basically, if Professor Wheeto wrote songs, there’s a decent chance he’d have come up with “In My Laboratory” by now; it’s goofy, ever so slightly sinister, and ends with freaked-out ranting the likes of which makes it easy to overlook how fabulously well put together the whole thing is, not least those lush yet sinister breakdowns of harmony.
We used the word ‘sinister’ twice there, didn’t we? Well, that’s just as well, because now we don’t have to use it again to describe the ensuing “Yes That’s Right We’re Stealing Your Soul” (lyrical caveat: “…but you were pissing it down the drain”). Instead we can point out how it sounds a bit like The Coral and/or The Zutons soundtracking a 1960s B movie, one in which the starring role is played by Timeless and features only a brief walk-on part from Derivative.
Quite aside from making a bold play for Song Title of the Year, “Happy Clappy Doom Jazz” sums up with “I learned to drive in the hope that cars would stop me walking back to you” the kind of twisted logic that makes Johnny5thWheel&thecowards so gosh darn brilliant, the kind of brilliant that can declare “I’m no shiny shiny, happy clappy, ippy dippy, namby pamby child of love”, throw in an ace brass section and generally come across like some music hall-ish Kinks cut from the late ’60s. Rocksucker loves this kind of brilliant, and so should you.
Nancy - video by Peter & The Wolf
The delights keep on coming: we get the sweet, plinky duet “Conversations With You When You’re Not There”, the sly, jazzy shuffle of “Where Did I Sleep Last Night?”, the beautiful singing saw of “Blame in Campodia” (anything to do with Ivan Campo?), and the aptly titled “My Finest Hour”, which features inquisitively swaying accordion (courtesy of Sotones label mate Anja McCloskey?) and such wonderful lines, all wrapped up in Richard Lomax’s gentle croon, as “The line betwixt beast and man has never been more blurrily defined / As when stout and red wine are mixed”…and “It’s not my finest hour / It’s pretty far from my finest hour / And it’ll still be not my finest hour ’til my next not my finest hour”…
…and “I appear to have made a gentleman’s mess / That sounds like bad sex / And who wants to hear bad sex? / Not even them that’s having it”…and there’s even a reference to 5th June, which just so happens to be this writer’s birthday…oh, and a magnificently campy sustained note on “tell me, when that will beeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” at the end…and…and…
We could go on about the similar levels of total aceness permeating the Pulp-ishly paranoid ambience of “Nancy” (albeit Jarvis Cocker never spoke of a talking hairy eyeball, at least to our recollection), the gorgeously harmonic pop march of “Daemon” (“If I could have one birthday wish, it’s that your daemon and mine could get it together”), the “aunty’s cat” with “its fair share of problems” of “I’m Not West”…and then it’s all brought to a close by the berserk a capella chanting of “Following the Wheel [part IV]”.
And not a single track runs over 4.16 minutes! More pop albums like this please, 2013, and less like…you know, the stuff that actually shifts units in this messed up universe of ours. Fortunately for the offenders, Music To Shake’n’Shuffle To leaves Rocksucker sufficiently good-willed not to name names.”
Jonny Abrams, Rocksucker 2012
Spike - video by Pete Gallagher
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So it goes...
*Lucky for me, I moved to Manchester not long after, where the myth of the 'rock star as attitude filled toddler' remains strangely in vogue to this day.
**Pussy Riot ended up experimenting with anonymity much more effectively, eh?