The Red Plastic Buddha – Songs for Mara

Songs for Mara cover art

Get it here:

There was this man on our beach. He had a pointy head and ridiculously long ears and his skin shone red in the moonlight. Like it wasn’t actually skin. Like he was made of plastic. His body emitted a strange throbbing sound. ‘Hello,’ I said. ‘What’s that noise?’

‘That is “She’s an Alien” by The Red Plastic Buddha,’ he told me. ‘From their new third album “Songs for Mara”.’

‘It sounds awfully muffled,’ I said.

‘One moment,’ he said, lifting a finger and then he parted his robes. I was relieved to see a loudspeaker mounted in his chest. The full force of the song hit me in the face like a euphonic tornado, knocking me over onto the sand. ‘Holy crapola,’ I said, ‘I really like that. I mean, it’s kinda what I expect from The Red Plastic Buddha. Psychedelic rock & roll infused with soul-nourishing pop hooks. A genuine musical force of nature. Ooooooh and there’s an amazing guitar solo there. Not that I believe in soul of course.’

‘Of course,’ said the pointy headed man, stifling a laugh.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked him. I felt a little paranoid. Perhaps it was the music. It was doing funny things to me. A window had appeared on the top floor of my brain. Until that moment I wasn’t even aware that my brain had floors.

‘Help me get this open,’ said the man.

I handed him a coat hanger and he jimmied open the window while “Little White Pills” played. ‘I like this one too,’ I told him, nervously looking back over my shoulder. ‘Great drums and guitar riff there, a bit darker than the last one.’

The window broke and we fell through.

We were back on the beach. ‘Tada!’ I said, trying to be funny.

‘That wasn’t supposed to happen,’ he said. He wasn’t impressed.

“Being Human” started in his chest. An acoustic guitar. I screwed up my eyes. “Some people are good at making money” sang The Red Plastic Buddha. ‘I’m not,’ I told the man. ‘But seriously this song is fucking great. I think it’s one of my favourite RPB songs ever. The production on it is brilliant too.’ We stopped and listened. It was the sort of song that did that to you. Commanded your attention. “I’m not good at being human” sang the magnificent refrain. It was a remarkably poignant moment, a single line that almost all of us can relate to. I had a funny feeling I was going to cry. ‘F-’ I began.

‘Please don’t swear,’ he said.

“Go” began.

‘This one’s probably going to mess with your mind,’ he said with a wry smile.

‘Oh that’s just great,’ I said, wiping my face on my sleeve.

‘Here, have a sandwich,’ he said suddenly. ‘It’ll help with the turbulence.’ So he handed me a sandwich.

The sandwich immediately ate me alive. It was terrifying. Suddenly everything looked like Peter Max had drawn it with felt tip pens and I stared at the sandwich which was back in my hands, apparently having not eaten me at all. I was totally confused. ‘Have you heard of the Super Furry Animals?’ I asked the man with the pointy head.

He shrugged his shoulders and scratched one of his long ears.

‘This one reminds me of them,’ I told him. ‘It’s fu- I mean, I love it. This album is relentlessly good by the way. I imagine those guys poured everything into it. At least twice. If that’s even possible.’

‘Anything is possible,’ said the man as “Staring into the Void” began to play. ‘Actually, this is the one that’s going to mess with your mind,’ he said, ‘that last one was the one you were going to love. Personally I blame the internet. In the old days we had vinyl. I prefer vinyl. It smells like music.’

I looked at him funny. My eyes had sprouted on stalks and my tongue was made of marmalade. “Staring into the Void” was that sort of song. “Things” were emerging from the sea behind me and because they were “things” and my tongue was made of marmalade, I wasn’t best pleased, although it had become impossible to explain this to anyone, even to myself. But then, just when the “things” came crawling up the beach and looked like they were about to consume me, the song whispered in my ear “It’s not over yet”, and thankfully The Red Plastic Buddha launched into Love’s “A House Is Not A Motel”.

‘Phew,’ I said, grabbing at my tongue which had returned to a vague state of tongue. ‘They sound like The Doors here,’ I said to the pointy headed man. Only he was no longer there. ‘Pointy headed man?’ I asked.

“Trip Inside This House” exploded into life. ‘Is this the next logical step for this band?’ I asked the pointy headed man (even though he wasn’t there). ‘It sounds like a product of the early 70′s. “Sunflower Sessions” is 1967. “All Out Revolution” is 1969. Are these guys evolving? Are they going to go disco next, or will they bypass that and go straight to punk?’

‘I’m sorry,’ said the man, ‘did you say something? I had to pop down to the shops, you see.’

‘What for?’ I asked him as “Girlfriend” played. It was Red Plastic Buddha by numbers, dark verses, catchy chorus, and an epic psychedelic crescendo.

‘I wanted to buy you a sandwich,’ he said and he gave me another sandwich. Or maybe it was the same sandwich.

‘Oh fu-’ I said and stopped. We danced for a little while. Suddenly there were a lot more people there. A hammond organ was doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things in the pointy man’s chest. We danced until “Jupiter Gas” came on and then everyone collapsed like their strings had been cut.

The moon plunged behind a cloud.

We weren’t on the beach anymore. We were stepping from a rocket ship across a strange new planet. It was white and crusty, bouncy beneath our space shoes. ‘Who are all these people?’ I asked the pointy headed man.

But he couldn’t reply. His eyes were on stalks and his tongue was made of marmalade. ‘I know that feeling,’ I said. Secretly I couldn’t help but feel like I was beginning to love the more experimental side of this band. Lots of people make sound collages, but framed within the context of a psychedelic rock record, here, segments like “Jupiter Gas” were acted like fillings between slices of

‘Bread,’ I said. ‘This planet is made of bread.’

And as “Cosmonaut” chased and hurtled and wailed and freaked forth and did everything a song of that name should rightly do, I realised, we were standing on the sandwich I was holding on the beach.

‘I should get going,’ I said to everyone, ‘this record is nearly done and I don’t want to be stuck on this sandwich forever.’

Then “Girl Like You” started. ‘Or maybe I’ll hang around for another couple of minutes,’ I said within a matter of moments. Suddenly everyone was dancing again. We were infected by the melody. Only now we were no longer on a sandwich, we were in a club in England back in 1965. I wanted to make a joke about club sandwiches, but I was too busy dancing. ‘I know we’re time travelling, but I think I like this song best of all,’ I said. The sweat was pouring down my face as I pogo’d around the dancefloor, knocking over people like skittles. “Girl Like You” is 60′s psychedelic pop sublimity, lost in time, and conjured up by some songwriting 21st century wizard.

Next thing I knew, I’d caused so much devastation that two burly bouncers had grabbed me under the armpits and were hurling me out onto the street. I landed in the gutter and lay there with the cigarette ends, empty bottles and bits of salad people drop from late night kebabs. I could hear The Red Plastic Buddha back inside the club, stepping out from behind a red velvet curtain to play album closer “Stuck On Zero”. A rock anthem to complete the masterpiece. The last nail to hold the whole thing together. An exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.

I couldn’t believe I was missing it.

‘Well?’ asked the man with the pointy head. He was sitting on the kerb above me with a great big grin stretched across his face. ‘What do you think?’

The sun was coming up. A milk float trundled by. I sat up. I think I had a slice of onion stuck to my cheek and my purple Red Plastic Buddha t-shirt was torn in several places. I must have fallen asleep. ‘I expected it to be great,’ I said finally, with some effort. ‘But I didn’t expect it to be this great. I know how much passion and diligence these guys put into making all these records, but this is somehow streets ahead of what they were doing in 2007… or was it 1967… I forget which. Don’t get me wrong, I love the “Sunflowers Sessions” dearly, but “Songs for Mara” is mature, it takes you on a journey, to the most peculiar places, and I suspect the journey will be different, trippy, and an absolute adventure every time I hear it. But truly, sincerely, I adore it. So thank you.’

‘My pleasure,’ he said, pulling down his shirt and producing a broom. And then he swept me down the road.

* Thanks to Blood Meridian for the video!


And so it begins…

I write a lot but recently I realised that I don’t write about music enough.

And so, from today, I shall endeavour to write 1 record review a week for the next year. That’s 52.14 record reviews. I’ll be looking for nuggets of magic that you otherwise wouldn’t find, songs covered in dust and once warm cookie crumbs, self-recorded musical dreams from little heads scattered across the globe like pixie dust.

So without further ado, let’s start with this great big rock of musical goodness.

I first heard Paul’s Grandfather via One Headed Boy’s Facebook page, a charming video full of harmonies and pot pans and knowing looks and a simply lovely acoustic take of a song called “The Vapors”. I could ramble on about how mind-blowingly good that version is, but instead I will direct you to watch the video here:

This inevitably led me to go look for a full-length record, which in turn led me to “The Sorry Lovers and The Living Lake”, an album that exceeded my already high expectations and then some. Not in the least bit dust-covered or crumb-stained, this record was brimming with beautifully written folk/pop masterpieces, deservedly well recorded and imaginatively arranged, the whole thing sparkling like faraway stars on a night where everything makes temporary sense in your life.

That’s how listening to Paul’s Grandfather makes me feel. Transported, somewhere else, no longer typing at this crummy desk in a stuffy office, but elsewhere, awake, strung along in the wake of three female harmonies that compliment each other like they were made to be heard like this. “Oh Great River” is an outstanding opening, flowing and frothing, full of soul and hand claps, musically intricate and melodically majestic at the same time.

Elsewhere “The Wonder Years” is an incredible multi-layered ballad with lush strings and a marching drum beat, Neutral Milk Hotel meets three genetically engineered upgrades of Joan Baez, injected with the same strange other-worldly superpowers of Woodstock and campfires and wonder.

“I’m With You In Kilgore” is one of my personal favourites, everything working so, so wonderfully in tandem, the sudden upchange in tempo, rattling tin cans, and gleeful accordion. The sort of song you promise to go back to and delve into the words, not a sunflower seed, but a ready-to-take-home towering flower that you can place on the window sill of your brain and watch on a sunny afternoon when you’ve nothing to do but appreciate those things around you worth appreciating.

For those of you missing the Hall of Mirrors (Lenn9o9n) check out the beautiful shimmering “Bobby’s On A Riverboat” and tell me you don’t fall head over heels for it.

Finally “Eighteen Aught Five” is the perfect closing song to the as-perfect-as-you-can-get pop album, timeless voices entwined over a simple acoustic guitar, where “my heart has been broken since 1805″. And I realise I keep dropping in that word “perfect”, but that’s truly what this 8-song collection is, something truly memorable for all the right reasons, not a single song too long or short, everything fitting into place like pieces of an already long completed puzzle you just happened to find on a table, in a field, under the moon, when you opened your eyes and didn’t quite know where you were.

I don’t know much about Paul’s Grandfather, and since “The Sorry Lovers…” is three years old and there doesn’t seem to have been much activity since, it’s impossible to say whether this was that once-in-a-lifetime perfect starry night of a record or just the beginning. And although I really wonder how it could ever be possible to surpass it, I’d love to hear them try.


(51.14 to go)


J James & The Resonance “At Swim Two Bards”

At Swim Two Bards cover art

Free download:

(or throw that man a bone if you’re feeling generous)

Looking for something new to put in your ears? Something acoustic and intimate, intellectually stimulating and emotionally charged with a pinch of rock&roll and a 13-minute twist of experimental guitar sounds? That right there is the recipe for one J James and The Resonance’s debut album “At Swim Two Bards”. It’s a carefully baked lo-fi cake, complete with a side order of folky pomes and a half pint of pop. A couple of tracks from last year’s demo album “I Was Never A Loner. I Am Merely Aloof” reappear, reworked and rerecorded, and in particular “Belong” sounds f’ing great, proving that sometimes just an acoustic guitar and a catchy melody and a soulful voice is all you need to make the perfect song. “Pilgrim” is a Kris Kristofferson cover and another stand out track, wonderfully droll with a glint in its eye. “Gliss” is the aforementioned 13-minute anthem for zoner-outers all across the universe, (though they may be too zoned-out to discover it). “Friendship”, the penultimate acoustic track is worth a mention, showcasing Jer’s lyrical genius concerning matters of the heavy heart and combining it with a melancholic tune that somehow makes it even heavier and all the more special. Again the arrangements on closing track “Devotion” are seriously good, my favourite of all the songs, with Ahley Bray’s wonderful acoustic picking and V.U.-esque electric noodling, it’s a fitting end to a brilliant first album. Sure it may be a little raw around the edges and at times you might think that some of the songs are missing a couple of instruments (drums) to give it that extra kick it deserves, but all in all, pound for pound, “At Swim Two Bards” is just the thing to fill your belly, and your head, and your aching heart.


Sonoriferous Simon Piler

“Sonoriferous Simon Piler” by Simon Piler and The Atom Band

Free download: sonoriferous-simon-piler

Pining for some Simon Piler? Well pine no more. After two years radio silence, everybody’s favourite noumenologist is back with a shiny new album full of experimental scratchy heart-warming folk songs that sound like they were recorded in a log cabin at the top of a snowy mountain. Possibly because they were. There is much to love, including the wonderful “truth” (co-written with Brendon Hertz) and the excellent instrumental “savor/thoth”, and like all good Simon Piler downloads, there’s a nifty future tea-stained lyric and picture booklet for you to print and rest your steaming mugs upon.