Sunday, April 30, 2006

In shops tomorrow: 1/5 (bank holiday permitting)


Despite recently learning that a couple of people we usually trust really don't like them, we're on ¡Forward, Russia!'s side more and more as time passes. Of course they've worn out their copies of Goo, Entertainment!, Relationship Of Command and whatever Les Savy Fav album they favour, but the way they cut and shut it together really does make them stand out in this increasing morass of British bands attempting to find a pummelling niche. Apart from the fact they always pick great support bands, how they ended up supporting We Are Scientists recently is beyond us. Nine is the closest they get to radio acceptability, and that's still some way away, unlike their touring partners' Nobody Move Nobody Gets Hurt. Slim pickings all round this week, so let us just take the yellow highlighter pen to Jim Noir's Beach Boys-meets-British Invasion-meets Beta Band psych-indie of My Patch - oddly, not the track of his currently gracing an Adidas advert.


As all their press is required to state, Brewis P, Brewis D and Moore A of Field Music have been in bands with pretty much everyone who's ever considered a musical career in Sunderland in their ten years together. Much of that work, plus assorted New Tellers and Electronic Eye Machine offcuts, all unsurprisingly influenced by ELO, the Beach Boys and XTC, have been compiled onto Write Your Own History, which even survives a stab at Dave Eggers-esque knowing pretentiousness that sees the sleevenotes start on the actual cover. Thea Gilmore rocketed out of the female folkie bracket in 2003 with a sharp lyrical ear and musical blind turns and interested enough people to lead her to the very edge of media interest if no further, and just because that's abated doesn't mean Harpo's Ghost isn't worthwhile. Centro-Matic reached pretty much the same point in the late 90s, leader Will Johnson having alternated them with underwhelming trad country storytellers South San Gabriel in recent years, but his primary band are back with Americana licks and eye for detail that shits Conor Oberst in place - think some unholy amalgam of Neil Young, the Replacements and the Flaming Lips' most decodable moments - on Fort Recovery. About as far from Texas' lonely highways is the rainy Soho neon nights that the Flaming Stars have revelled in, as collected on London After Midnight: Singles, Rarities and Bar Room Floor-Fillers 1995-2005. They know a vintage organ sound when they hear one. Mining a source simultaneously completely different from and not a great distance from the core of are Glasgow's The Nectarine No.9, former Fire Engine Davey Henderson's noirnoisepop Velvets/Television/Beefheart sonic travellers who reissue 1999 retrospective It's Just The Way Things Are Joe, It's Just The Way Things Are, which is a fabulously evocative title if nothing else.

The Weekly Sweep

Anathallo - Hanasakajijii
Denim - The Osmonds
Tapes'N Tapes - Insistor
1990s - You Made Me Like It
Pipettes - ABC
Kinks - Autumn Almanac
Aberdeen City - Another Seven Years
Shut Your Eyes And You'll Burst Into Flames - Signal Noise
Burningpilot - You Stay Cool
¡Forward, Russia! - Nine

And what we should have been listening to, according to the first ten tracks that turned up on our personal radio player:

Wolf Parade - Shine A Light
Antony & the Johnsons - Fistful Of Love
Stump - Buffalo
Patrick Wolf - The Shadowsea
Pavement - Unseen Power Of The Picket Fence
Rakes - Binary Love
McLusky - Undress For Success
Cat Power - Empty Shell
Chalets - No Style
Dears - We Can Have It

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Self-indulgence ahoy

Sweeping The Nation is one year old today. Please, no flowers. The odd card, but nothing more if you can help it. Odd to think that we've managed to not only maintain our half-formed idea for so long but improve and strengthen it as we've gone along, from our unfocused first steps to our semi-focused modern approach. A sincere thank you to all our readers, linkers and fans - we could do with a few more of the latter, come to think of it, pop over to our Myspace and its shadow blog and declare an interest in virtual friendship. You've seemed to like what we've been doing. Or are humouring us, one or the other. We could stop and milk this venture's anniversary, but there is still so much new music and new experience that we cannot afford to look back even now, only look forwards.

With that in mind, here's what we've been posting about over these last twelve months.

APRIL 2005: Sweeping The Nation is launched with but one mission statement - "mission statements don't work". Aiming to fill a gap that nobody previously knew existed, the first post boldly states "We know our place. This isn't one of those blogs that pretends it likes Uniting Nations. However, The Paddingtons can equally bugger off." It's something we've stuck to all along, unlike the album reviews we dropped in early on - MIA's Arular was the subject of the first proper posting - and dropped completely shortly afterwards. We did manage to find our theme song on a Russian website, though, which is something. Coo, it's still there.

Spearmint - Sweeping The Nation

MAY 2005: One of the ideas we've wanted to expand upon all along is a caustic look at the charts, begun under the title Singles File until we stopped being bothered about going so in-depth when Tony Christie was still number one week after week. His label never did realise people didn't buy it for Christie's input. Sales Pitch, a cheap way of exploiting the fact we have a Virgin and HMV within walking distance, also began early on. Still trying to find out reportage feet with a succession of three-sentence bites we reported Bob Geldof dismissing the idea of a new Live Aid with the phrase "why would I possibly repeat something I did twenty years ago?", months after Band Aid 20, paid tribute to the early, as in good, days of Poptones and in our first Google search engine hit-tempter wondered who the hell were The Gaff, who were getting quite a bit of music TV airtime for their clean Libertines-esque sound and nothing anywhere else. Their website reveals they split in October. What did happen to Freefaller? In the month Belle And Sebastian collected their EPs together we also wondered why they've never sounded the same band since they stopped being our own little pop band and became an actual pop band, something we stick to no matter how many bubble machines Stuart takes onto TOTP with him.

JUNE 2005: Many of the features you've come to know and know in modern STN came into fruition during this month, mostly as a way of utilising our long standing fascination with charts - odd, foreign, alternative, surveyed, awarded and retro alike. We haven't mellowed towards Christian O'Connell of late, we should mention. We also started referring to ourselves as 'we', as a method of attaining a position as less a personal venture and more a brand name to be trusted with informed comment. Or just because we thought sticking an 'I' in looked slightly foolish, one or the other. Other than obviously Debra Stephenson's album, reviewed on Amazon as "probably the best album by a female soloist since 'Like a prayer'", the highlight was Glastonbury, starting with all the BBC sets being washed away and Colin Murray being sat on some steel scaffolding in the middle of a lightning storm. Chris Martin chose the biggest stage of his career to make a joke about Gay Dad, Lauren Laverne lost her composure by back-announcing "Like Eating Glass! That was Bloc Party with Helicopter..." (it was the former) and we accidentally confused a nation of search engine users with our assertions as to Miquita Oliver's family. For the record Andrea is her mother, and slightly scarily they have exactly the same voice, and the late Sean was Andrea's sister, not husband as we accidentally stated at the time. If that gets into any of Miquita's official biographies, we're very sorry.

JULY 2005: This was the month of Live 8, Geldof having been browbeaten into doing what he did twenty years previously. We made the usual unhelpful comments as they went along and are still surprised to find Fearne Cotton continues to find television work, having thought her performance as interviewer on the biggest stage of her career had ended that chance thoroughly. Indeed, our obsession with they way music is presented on TV flowered round about here as TOTP got shoved about and CD:UK embarked on its wilderness years. Some comments about Alex Jones-Donnelly leaving his Radio 1 post led to banter and repartee with the representative(s) of Popjustice on this very subject, and now from a position where everything is being axed we see what they mean. We assure you that our pondering as to whether Rachel Stevens is being sold to the right market was our personal feelings rather than an attempt to curry favour. Meanwhile as the 80s sample plus bpm plus girls gyrating in video trend continued unabated our main suggestion for the source of a possible hit, Red Box's Lean On Me, remains unfollowed up.

AUGUST 2005: We're almost ashamed to say it, but we do think 'It's a picture of Paul Smith out of Maximo Park when he looked slightly different!' is the best headline we've ever written. In a month that included the tenth anniversary of Britpop, from which we learnt nothing, E4's uneven V Festival coverage which included Dave Berry introducing ten minutes of Sonic Youth album tracks, a reminiscence about the original Help album and an inaccurate preview of BBC7's John Peel special which ended up copied onto the description of a torrent on UKNova, and we do apologise for anyone who downloaded it on the basis of that, our puppyish enthusiasm about festivals in general and Summer Sundae in particular was sated by our day by day blogging of the event. Ah, the memories - watching the guitarist from Alfie attempt to exit De Montfort Hall through a locked door, getting the autograph of British Sea Power's mate who'd been in their celebrated bear suit and later joined them in the signing tent, nearly knocking a pint out of the hand of one of the girls from The Chalets, slipping over in the mud right in front of the bar, Luke Haines' David Crosby-esque walrus moustache...

SEPTEMBER 2005: We started this month by watching open-mouthed from a south coast flatlet bedroom as Baddiel and Skinner took on How I Wrote Elastic Man on prime time, which kind of set the scene. Help: A Day In The Life almost literally came and went - the Zutons' track is shamelessly on their new album, we note - we expressed confusion at the Evening Standard download chart that was topped by Echo And The Bunnymen and featured two Republic Of Ireland World Cup songs in the top ten and inaugurated 'In shops tomorrow'. Should it have been the Americanised but better sounding 'in stores tomorrow'? Who knows.

OCTOBER 2005: As the country recovered from Ashes frenzy we remarked at length upon perhaps these past twelve months' most shameless release, Howzat! The Unofficial England Cricket Album, which never quite realised that there just aren't 42 songs connected in some way with cricket that could be construed as feel-good and motivational. Howzat by Sherbert is not "a Barmy Army sing-a-long anthem" but an unsubtle crowing over a cheating partner that to make matters worse is a set text with the Guilty Pleasures mob. And in what way does the Specials' Friday Night Saturday Morning fit in? Chartwise we attempted to hang on to the coattails of the Arctic Monkeys' rise, finding blog postings from a good year before in an attempt to make sense of a backstory that seems to include Amy Winehouse being spotted at a gig eight months previously to ...Dancefloor's success. Whatever did happen to Amy Winehouse? The endlessly fascinating VH1 US buy-in 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders, hosted by William Shatner (but of course!) and featuring Starsailor as talking heads, confused and delighted us in equal measure and we read the runes of the Christmas number one odds all wrong, but then so did the bookies, installing as third favourite a G4 track that never came out as a single, fifth favourite Tony Christie covering Merry Christmas Everyone which didn't even make the top forty and down at 33-1 a "cult acoustic duo who... um...probably have a mate who works in William Hill's PR department." Well, after a fashion.

NOVEMBER 2005: Perhaps the weakest headline we ever wrote, conversely, was our expressing the poorness of MTV's European Music Awards under 'EMA Leaden'. We suspect we are the only people who remember ex-Live & Kicking presenter Emma Ledden after all. In a quieter period, album of the month was Foster & Allen Sing The Number Ones - not all of them, sadly, as we want to hear how they'd approach Don't Stop (Wiggle Wiggle) with an acoustic guitar and accordion. It wouldn't have been any more unlikely than a Ray-baiting Mark E Smith reading the classified results on the BBC, after all.

DECEMBER 2005: This was the month when we really went mad, with 285kb of pure text over the thirty-one days, starting with the 24 day countdown of great singles Advent Calendar Of Music, inserting the odd retrospective Christmas chart for balance, then running down the top twenty albums of the year and topping it all off with a review of the year that attempted to encompass everything and ended up with a decent deal more than 4,000 words. We don't have to put this effort in, not for the numbers of people who read this. We do it just for those of you who trust us, much as we've sourced these alternate live versions of tracks from the top two albums of 2005...

Arcade Fire & David Bowie - Wake Up
Colin Meloy of the Decemberists - We Both Go Down Together

JANUARY 2006: As with everyone else, we started the year with our predictions for the months ahead, most of which are certainly taking their time to come fully to fruition, but then so are most of everyone else's that we meticulously listed. Those who should know about such things were polled for their favourite albums of 2005, and again Funeral won, a result that didn't receive as much wider publicity as we'd have liked, hint hint (yeah, Largehearted Boy linked to it but didn't so much as include the blog title) We found a way to corral odd links, mp3s and chart chat into one long posting in Weekender, while specific interest was this month granted to The Story Of Common People, the Brits and NME Awards nominations, the reigniting of our festival frenzies, the NME writers' 100 greatest UK albums ever and the Arctic Monkeys, inspired by someone being called 'brave' in a comments box for writing that they liked Whatever People Say I Am... Reverse indie snobbishness ahoy!

FEBRUARY 2006: We're not really fascinated with Fearne Cotton, honest. Obviously we had to bring her Myspace to a wider audience, admiring the way it's quite clearly not compiled by an anonymous PA, but we weren't to know that every day since, pretty much, we'd get a load of search engine hits for 'fearne cotton tattoo'. What's the fascination? If, by the way, you are Fearne Cotton, a) hello, b) that bit earlier about you at Live 8 was knowing humour, you probably know yourself that you were a bit under-par on the day and you can probably do without being reminded of Robbie Williams, and c) don't do any more glamour shoots, you look rubbish in them. For everyone else, here she is being covered in green facepaint. In a month where we didn't get to blog the Brits and didn't so much as see the last Smash Hits we like to think it provided levity.

MARCH 2006: We told you we were obsessed with lists, and March provided plentiful evidence in which the 100 female DJs poll was easily confused with a Suicide Girls gallery, Q's Worst Albums Ever might have been the worst poll ever, South By Southwest gave us the perfect reason for a great big long list of band names given nobody's surely that interested if they're not going out to Texas for themselves and The Feeling's emergence sparked a well-meant rant against Guilty Pleasures. Like what you want! Ivor Cutler, who died this month, would have approved, even if what he would have liked is silence. Right at the end there we had our own little coup of sorts, launching interview series A Friendly Chat With... with coveish singer-songwriter Jeremy Warmsley.

APRIL 2006: Which brings us about up to date. An Illustrated Guide To..., our highly informative and bound to be up soon enough on the BPI hitlist guide to cult artists, began with Wire, we celebrated April Fool's Day with comedy songs and hilarious japes, Frank's intentions confused us, the Streets made little sense all in all and just last weekend or so we hit paydirt with our VH1 poll tie-in of the 40 greatest opening lyrics ever - go and have a look, we sweated over that - followed immediately by An Illustrated Guide To Billy Bragg and then A Friendly Chat With Fyfe Dangerfield off the Guillemots, whose correspondence, we hope he won't mind us dropping into polite conversation, included a typo on the word 'typo'. And that's about the size of our first year. Onwards!

Friday, April 28, 2006

A big day for STN tomorrow, but in the meantime, via Take Your Medicine, news that an engineer at BBC Online plugged into 6 Music's feed, or at least the properly automated bits of its playlist, in August 2004 and to date has came up with some interesting conclusions. (Dave Davani's The Jupe is Jupitus' occasionally registered theme music) All done by hackdiary, who it turns out is partly responsible for that spectacular BBC programme catalogue that went live this week and you may lose hours on.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


While we recover from the end of last week's posting frenzy - more of that to come, we assure you - amuse yourselves with the top 200 downloads. How come Train's Drops Of Jupiter, not that feted a record at the time, is in the top half?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Weekender : it's the music they're dancing to

CHART OF DARKNESS: Gnarls Barkley's still going strong, unperturbed by that groove-killing version they did on Top Of The Pops which perhaps goes to show why according to today's Pitchfork interview Cee-Lo and DM say they haven't got any ideas yet as to how to present the album live. Rihanna up to two, Infernal (and yes, maybe we were harsh on them last week but, y'know, Murray) are up to four and Kooks are stealthily climbing. When were they allowed to get so big? Congratulations to Soundbwoy Ent (18) for having the silliest name of all. Chico, having climbed 13 last week, falls 13 this - maybe it's a special kind of record company chart hyping. Snow Patrol's stab at AOR is the week's highest download entry at 30, which allows us to mention the excellent observation we heard last week that they are now the embodiment of the Half Man Half Biscuit lyric "I could have been like Lou Barlow/but I'm more like Ken Barlow". Juanes, who we were confused mildly by while going through some foreign chart the other week, inevitably stiffs at 32, while right at the bottom of the 40 Kelly Clarkson is replaced by Kelly Clarkson. It's just getting silly now, and most of the fun of next week's chart is already expunged as four download entries appear between 42 and 47. Are they going to be classed as new entries or not, then? Interesting to see Damien Jr Gong Marley's big crossover potential single hit 55. Russell Watson covering Can't Help Falling in Love at 69? Shouldn't there be public warnings ahead of that kind of release?
Over in the album list charisma no fly zone Shayne Ward was busy putting the Arctic Monkeys figures into perspective by clearing 200,000 sales. The Zutons are at 2, having somehow picked up a load of fans from somewhere. Any correlation between this and Abi being pushed to the front of all the promo pictures is we're sure purely coincidence. The perfect commercial sense punt on Peter Grant, an 18 year old northerner who sings supper club swing but girls, just look at him!, gets him to number eight. He cites Fiona Apple and Nick Drake as musical heroes. Someone have a quiet word. The Charlatans have a sudden upswing as Simpatico crawls into the top ten, the rest being pretty much driven by advertising (Richard Ashcroft) and yet another excuse for a round of sales, of which more shortly.

FREE MUSIC: What is it with American indie buzz bands and piss-poor names? Oh No! Oh My! are a Nashville collective who sound like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's Alec Ounsworth fronting The Boy Least Likely To's older brothers, particularly so on The Party Punch.

HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: We've got a feeling that with time us and Proton Proton are going to get on just fine. Of course the singer is at times hailing from the modern American school of bare comprehensibility (and more than a tiny bit like McLusky's Andy Falkous), but musically they hit with that same kind of hard angularity that marked Bloc Party out when they arrived on the scene, akin to Steve Albini's Shellac and cult heroes Les Savy Fav. What this actually translates as: hard-edged guitars you can dance to. If you're a contortionist.

VISUAL REPRESENTATION: Johnny Cash is so revered now as the authentic country rebel that it's easy to overlook how much extraneous activity he was involved in to keep his name in public. Being on Sesame Street singing a reworked version of Don't Take Your Guns To Town with Big Bird, for instance.

FALLING OFF A BLOG: Real Cool Time does the real amount of work around the YouTube nation that we can only scratch the surface of. At the moment: the Cocteau Twins, the Sugarcubes, MC5, the Seeds, Patti Smith and plenty of goodness besides.

EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: The Boy Least Likely To's single is out this week and as previously advertised we'll be reviewing them over at Myspace this week. Ample opportunity, then, to mention the appropriately kids' party games on their website, Furball Pong and Little Donkey, interactive tail-pinning for all the family.

IN OTHER NEWS: Christ, have you seen the Virgin clearance sale? We don't think it's got long left but the bigger stores have stuck a load of unsold or unsellable stock aside and priced it all at £3.99. As well as some very odd stuff - did you know Frankee, of Eamon response fame, had an album out? - we saw Blur's eponymous album, REM's actually not all that bad Monster, two Spearmint albums, terrific Murry The Hump splinter group The Keys (ooh, they're still going) and plenty of good stuff we've forgotten. Go and see for yourselves.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

In shops tomorrow: 24/4


At the end of last year we mentioned that The Boy Least Likely To's oddly effective Sarah Records-country-dance world had been absorbed into 19 Management's Fullerific world and they'd soon be all over the place. So what's happened around their first 19 single Be Gentle With Me? A Smash Hits Party Best New Band nomination, or whatever it was, a feature on Popworld at the end of January and that's it. Clearly this is a more softly softly approach then we'd anticipated. We saw them live last night, which we'll expand upon over at the Myspace blog on Wednesday - look, it has to be there for a reason - but suffice to say a good hoedown time was had by all. Elsewhere we find Giant Drag fulfilling their controlled noisy potential on This Isn't It, psych-pop that's definitely more Benson than White on the Raconteurs' Steady As She Goes and, oh yeah, Who The Fuck Are the Arctic Monkeys?, which apparently Alex Turner has had to defend from allegations they're ripping off their fans. Ripping them off? A five track EP with four new songs? If the Beatles had been releasing non-album singles only these days there'd be riots!


Firstly, we now understand Transgressive Singles Compilation Vol.1 is out this week. If you spent the last week fruitlessly searching for it in shops and online, join the club. Plenty of other stuff out this week, led by Gnarls Barkley's St Elsewhere, as eclectic as most of Danger Mouse's other production work ranging from sunshine pop to psychedelic soul to an electro Violent Femmes cover. Tom Verlaine, last seen sitting about at the back of the stage while Patti Smith was up front, releases his first new material in fourteen years and doubly so, as Songs And Other Things is a jangly, near-AOR effort that perhaps deliberately doesn't sound a lot like Marquee Moon while Around is purely instrumental. Richard James follows Gorky's bandmate Euros Childs into the lo-fi acoustic solo arena on The Seven Sleepers Den, an arena presided over for long periods by Jonathan Richman, who quietly releases an album we know nothing about called Fly Into The Mysterious. There's a new series of Stax Profiles out wherein an expert on each of the great soul label's main acts has curated a compilation of their work, chiefly Otis Redding compiled by the label's house guitarist Steve Cropper and his own Booker T. And The MGs overseen by Elvis Costello, whose Brodsky Quartet collaboration The Juliet Letters is back out in a remastered form. Less artistic, possibly, but welcome back to the shelves Denim's Back In Denim, a glam rock revival record that gave the glam rock decade and just about everything else in pop culture a good shoeing. Lawrence is apparently in a very bad way these days so could do with the royalties.

The Weekly Sweep

Young Knives - She's Attracted To
The Boy Least Likely To - Be Gentle With Me
Proton Proton - Plates
Midlake - Young Bride
Futureheads - Skip To The End
Mew - The Zookeeper's Boy
Eiffel Tower - Smallish Things
Shooting At Unarmed Men - Girls Music
1990s - You Made Me Like It
Maccabees - Latchmere

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Friendly Chat With... Fyfe Dangerfield

After an apprenticeship that encompassed jazz improv, modern classical and a place on a Fierce Panda compilation, Dangerfield formed Guillemots, who have taken off with a succession of brilliantly inventive, oddly attuned art-pop singles, a fifth place in the BBC's Sound Of 2006 industry poll and a major label contract. Luckily we've caught him just before it all skyrockets.

STN: Given nobody else has quite managed it yet, how would you describe the Guillemots' sound, or at least what it reaches towards?
Fyfe: Um, we're worse at describing ourselves than anyone, really. In a way the point of it is that we want to make something a bit indescribable but that of course sounds very pretentious if you go around saying it to everyone. Ruffled soul music maybe? I want to hi-jack the term "soul music" and make it a good thing again instead of it conjuring up images of coffee table bland R'n'B.

STN: How easy was it to find common ground with all the members coming from different musical backgrounds?
Fyfe: Surprisingly easy really - that's the strange thing. It shouldn't really work, the four of us playing together, but it did right from the first time we played together. We don't really know why! Just luck I think. There's pretty much no "style" of music that at least one of us doesn't like aspects of, so it just means that whenever we come to play or write things together there's a massive casserole pot waiting for us.

STN: How do you write songs - working to something pre-planned or organic development?
Fyfe: At the moment, most of the songs in our set and on our records are ones that I've already written; some of those I pretty much know how they're going to sound before we start recording them, some of them change completely. A song like Made-Up Lovesong changed completely when Greig and Arista added the whole drum'n'bass rhythm. But we also come up with loads and loads of things as a band, some of which we're going to - when we get a chance - release in their original rehearsal room minidisc form (but that's another story...), but some of them come out as songs right from the start. Sao Paulo and Go Away, which are both songs we've recorded and play live, were both improvised out by us in rehearsals and then just sort of edited and refined...

STN: Is there a place for Guillemots in the 2006 mainstream?
Fyfe: I hope so. In our heads we're a pop band.

STN: Do you see it as important to make the live approach distinct from the records?
Fyfe: Yes, very. There's nothing more boring than going to see a band live who replicate every aspect of their record with click tracks, backing tracks etc. It's lame really. If there's no risk of it falling apart live, how can it every be truly exciting? I think that's the way we look at it. We always try to slip little improvised bits into the gigs too, though its hard when you only have a 45 minute set or something.

STN: What's South By Southwest actually like?
Fyfe: Meat/music/madness.

STN: Out of pure curiosity, this one - what happened to We're Here's chart position? In the top 200 on downloads alone and then disappeared...
Fyfe: Yes, a bit of a weird one. It would have got in the charts, in the top 30s/late 20s i think, but we decided to run a competition with it, where we go and play at someone's house, and that made it non chart-eligible. Made-up Lovesong, in a slightly revamped way, is going to be our next single, and that will be the first one of ours that will hopefully chart.

STN: Name three albums crucial in your musical development.
Fyfe: I can't speak for the others, but for me I'd say everything by the Beatles, Homogenic by Bjork and Grace by Jeff Buckley.

STN: What's coming up in the near future?
Fyfe: Lots. Lots. Just lots. I can't remember any more than this...

Many thanks to Fyfe. Visit their official site and/or their Myspace. Made-Up Lovesong #43 is, as he says, currently scheduled for a re-release in late May, with album Through The Window Pane following on 12th June. If that's too far away, mini-album From The Cliffs is available on import. Guillemots tour in May and have confirmed so far for Wireless, Summer Sundae, The Great Escape and Wychwood festivals.

An Illustrated Guide To... Billy Bragg

The Bard Of Barking is on a UK tour from Sunday, accompanied by former Small Faces organist Ian McLagan. This being a Billy Bragg tour it's the Hope Not Hate Tour, supported by the Amicus, GMB, RMT and Unison unions as well as The Left Field, Love Music Hate Racism, Searchlight and Unite Against Fascism. Thus is the image of Billy Bragg shouting the left wing rights reinforced. Is it really justified, though? Well, yes, if he's gone to this much effort, but what about the stuff he made his living with?

There are two things everyone knows about the early life of Stephen William Bragg, DOB 20/12/57: he joined the Royal Irish Hussars of the Royal Armoured Corps in 1981 after his pub rock outfit Riff Raff split (his father had been in the Royal Tank Regiment and helped keep the peace in immediately post-WWII India) but left after three months having bought himself out with "the best £175 I ever spent", and he got his first Peel play after hearing him mention on air that he fancied a mushroom biriyani, bought one and handed it over at Radio 1 reception. The album also handed over was Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy - Bragg initially gigged under the Spy Vs Spy nom de plume, taken from a Mad magazine cartoon strip - one of the last releases on Charisma records, which had released prog prime Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator, Lindisfarne, Vivian Stanshall and most of the Monty Python records but had fallen on hard times, so much so that they couldn't afford a promotion budget for it (Bragg was its last signing before Virgin swallowed the label whole) Luckily Bragg was willing to travel with guitar and portable amp to hand, picking up many a music press writer almost stumbling across him and instantly becoming a fan. After a reissue on Go! Discs, a slot on The Tube and a third place in the NME writers' end of year poll the album made it as high as number 32 at the start of 1984. His back to basics approach (Back To Basics, coincidentally, being the title of the 1987 compilation that stuck his first two albums together) was different to the all-pervading robotic pop and plastic soul of the day, we'll say that for it.

The Milkman Of Human Kindness (the first song from the album Peel played, except here it's at the right speed. A story we've never quite believed, for what it's worth - we appreciate how he might have put on oddball prog/noise/techno at the wrong speed, but a solo singer-songwriter?)
A New England on The Tube

Being on the cover of the second NME of 1984 helped, mind. Support dates with Echo & The Bunnymen in America followed, and to fill the gaps in between he and manager (and Charisma A&R man) Peter Jenner developed the Portastack, a PA stack only slightly taller than Bragg himself that he would wear on his back while playing in the street during New York's New Music Seminar. Although his work had mostly been concerned with strip-mining affairs of the heart and soul, it was his occasional socio-political edge that was magnified after the 1983 election and when he started playing GLC-sponsored gigs and miners' benefits around London that year. September 1984's Brewing Up With Billy Bragg delved into this side more but still revolved on varied emotional states - The Saturday Boy, based on his actual schoolboy romance, was widely praised, and it wasn't alone.

The album entered at a barely credible number 16 - the Redskins never did that - while in the first month of 1985 Kirsty Maccoll was taking A New England to number seven in the singles chart. In the same month as the miner's strike officially ended Billy, spurred into action partly by the politicised folk revival, brought out the Between The Wars EP, featuring the titular live favourite, an adaptation of 1930s US miner anthem Which Side Are You On?, veteran political folkie Leon Rosselson's The World Turned Upside Down and Brewing Up's It Says Here. It reached number 15 and got Billy onto Top Of The Pops, joining Nik Kershaw and Loose Ends in the studio.

It Says Here

He and the Labour party were now inseperable in the public conscious, going as far as appearing in a party political broadcast, and it was he who came up with the name Red Wedge after a Russian constructivist painting, kicking off a tour at the start of 1986 that came to include the Smiths, Madness, Lloyd Cole, Prefab Sprout, the Style Council and the Communards among many others, and playing at the GLC's farewell free concert at the end of that March. In between there was an album to record, and what emerged was Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, its title taken from a poem by Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, featuring extra instruments for the first time properly as well as Johnny Marr and Kirsty Maccoll on Greetings To The New Brunette. There was politics, but not in a hammer-home style, Bragg still just as concerned with political manoevurings of the heart.

The Marriage
Greetings To The New Brunette video

Having warmed up for 1987 by getting arrested on a CND demonstration in Norfolk, Bragg found himself distracted for much of it, not by Red Wedge's fading, the concurrent election defeat, a trip to Honduras or a deputising stint for long time mate Andy Kershaw but by a deep love affair gone wrong. Much of this played into 1988's Worker's Playtime, produced by Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd, REM, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Fairport Convention, 10,000 Maniacs), preceded by a fluke number one when his cover of She's Leaving Home crept in on the Childline-aiding double-A undercard of Wet Wet Wet's With A Little Help From My Friends. One reviewer called it "broken heart surgery" and the idea of love lost and attempting to understand women generally runs right through the album, which was the first on which Bragg was backed by a full band and on closer Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards, a chorus of just about everyone he knew. Listen carefully as the slow fade kicks in for a particularly raucous effort from Go! Discs employee Phill Jupitus.

Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Bragg left Go! Discs upon their takeover by Polygram in 1989, briefly setting up Utility, UK home to Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando's Blake Babies. 1990 saw him self-issue The Internationale, a stopgap mini-album reworking political protest anthems ranging from a return to solo work to a full brass band popping by, promoted in part with a gig at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. Drawn out negotiations saw him back at Go! for 1991's Don't Try This At Home, among his most consistent lyrical work and only top ten album, covering Gulf War paranoia, football hooliganism, capitalist ills, Wolves star turned Jehovah's Witness Peter Knowles and his own father's death on this.

Tank Park Salute

Former tour support friends Michael Stipe and Peter Buck turned up on You Woke Up My Neighbourhood while Marr and Maccoll returned for anthemic first single Sexuality, Jupitus directing the video and later helping Billy rework into occasional encore favourite, um, Bestiality. We thought we had a version of this on our hard drive but it seems not, but we've got this if it's any use...

Billy Bragg & Bill Bailey - Unisex Chip Shop (live at Glastonbury 2004)
Much the same, but more visual

An endless, unenjoyed tour with band The Red Stars ended abruptly when Billy's appendix burst, which gave him the opportunity to pay his advance back to Go! Discs, marry their boss' ex-wife, expand his writing portfolio and become a father, pretty much in that order. It was 1996 until the release of William Bloke, a grown up album in many ways, attempting to get a handle on the fact he wasn't the one man and a guitar ranter of yore. It sent him back into the album top 20, single Upfield somehow making Radio 1's playlist, and an 1997 election night gig in the heart of Red Wedge land was its own political rally without overtly being one.

Another side road opened up the following year, although it had actually begun when Bragg played at Central Park to celebrate what would have been Woody Guthrie's 80th birthday. There he met his daughter Nora, already a fan, and the idea was hatched shortly afterwards for him to put new interpretations to a stockpile of unused original lyrics, choosing Billy as "he didn't come with a lot of baggage" with regard to knowledge of the source. Bragg handpicked Wilco as support on Mermaid Avenue, getting on so well that they recorded a second album's worth of material that came out two years later, although they later fell out over mixing and a mooted tour fell victim to schedules. Bragg's arrangements aren't always immediately obvious, as indeed his voice isn't at times. Mermaid Avenue went on to sell as many records in America as the rest of his back catalogue put together. Here it ended a run of top thirty full studio albums dating back to Brewing Up With...

Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key

A hastily conceived backing band, The Blokes, was instead formed for touring duties, including McLagan. Back home with time to kill Bragg appeared on Question Time, Radio 2 drivetime and in Nicky Wire's ever growing hate list after he took a photo of their Glastonbury backstage private portaloos. Wire never got a road near Dagenham named after him, though. He moved to Dorset, had a near-shouting match with Boris Johnson on Radio 4 which ended with Bragg inviting Johnson to Glastonbury for a BBC documentary, wrote songs for a Royal Shakespeare Theatre production of Henry V and was given an honorary degree by the University of East London. In 2001 he campaigned for Lords reform and advocated tactical voting after realising his local MP was Oliver Letwin and the Lib Dems were closing in on him, leading to an only mildly dignified appearance on Letwin's hustings on Newsnight clad in Roman centurion gear. (Letwin's share of the vote actually increased, but Bragg's actual Tory tactical target next door lost his seat) Somewhere in the middle he made time to write England Half English, released on the twentieth anniversary of his first gig. This was his first proper band collaborative work, in which he attempted to make sense of the many sides of nationalism through a multitude of styles. It wasn't his most even work - The NPWA's attempt to make 'No Power Without Accountability' a rousing slogan curiously failed - but it's a grower and Take Down The Union Jack got him back onto TOTP the same month as he appeared on the Weakest Link and the week before the Golden Jubilee, standing on a box lamenting "Gilbert and George are taking the piss" to kids surely there for Atomic Kitten, Liberty X and Ms Dynamite, whose family it turned out Bragg knew well. In terms of studio work that was it, excepting last November's We Laughed, a benefit for the Rosetta Life charity written by terminally ill patient Maxine Edgington, until this month's free mp3 release The Lonesome Death Of Rachel Corrie, an opinion splitting (admittedly we're mostly going on the usual roundel of idiot blog commenters - not you lot here, you're lovely, we mean on the politicised blogs), Dylan-cribbing song about the peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer. But before you go any further, note wryly titled best of Must I Paint You A Picture?, which came out towards the end of 2003, reviews almost as one wondering why they hadn't noticed how he'd written love songs just as well if not better than political ones. Twas ever thus.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Open up

So U2 are deemed to have written the greatest single lyric of all time, even if the line chosen as representation by VH-1 isn't even the best lyric in the song. Beyond watercooler debate all this is highly subjective, of course - people are moved by different things within the words and there are as many ways to write as there are to skin a cat, whether the former poet using the rock fraternity to get their message across or the workaday hack aiming straight for square one. Similarly many would move it to the pub for worst lyrics bartering but that'd just boil down to the whole Des'Ree/ghost/toast business and it'd get us nowhere.

The great opening line, though, is another discipline entirely. It catapults the listener into the song's core just as well as a well placed riff can, if not better in most cases. A lot of people can write great lyrics, but those that can write a cracking opening line to set the scene, the mood or the worldview straight off are a whole other subsection. Here, in a list that spiralled rapidly out of control, are 40 magnificent opening shots, in no order but alphabetical, all of which set out to do a job and do that job with elan. We're guaranteed to have missed some, what with all the half-lines and unexplored pop crevices, so all comment suggestions are welcome.

Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
"Oh, I just don't know where to begin"
Not an un-bold way to begin a song, you'd have to say. The first line as double bluff, a tactic that actually applied to most of Elvis' lyrics around 1979.

Another Girl Another Planet (The Only Ones)
"I always flirt with death, I could kill, but I don't care about it"
Peter Perrett's various substances intake was legendary and this always turns up just after There She Goes in lists of Songs You Thought Were About Girls But Are Actually About Heroin Innit. It does pretty well in the stakes of expressing how little you care about the rest of the world whatever the intention.

Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos (Public Enemy)
"I got a letter from the government the other day/I opened and read it, it said they were suckers"
What sort of form letter was that, then? They should have run that one past the team leader, or whatever the US government equivalent is, before sending out a letter with something like that included. We're certain there should be more rap in this list then there is, but here's everything you need to know about Public Enemy's single handed private army in one go.

Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen)
"In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream"
Almost stereotypical Boss, the working man toiling while the imagery of glamour disappears, but Springsteen's always been a great poet for the people who can't speak up coherently for themselves.

Cactus (Pixies)
"Sitting here wishing on a cement floor/Just wishing that I had just something you wore"
The intenations make you shiver, don't they? Black Francis usually at least waited until the second verse before dropping this kind of thing in.

Child Psychology (Black Box Recorder)
"I stopped talking when I was six years old/I didn't want anything more to do with the outside world"
There seems to be a pattern relating to childhood, and specifically childhood going wrong, in many of the words Luke Haines and John Moore wrote for Sarah Nixey. This is the one with the refrain "life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it", but it's all gone pitch black well before then.

Come Dancing (the Kinks)
"They put a parking lot on a piece of land/Where the supermarket used to stand"
Years after Ray Davies' Village Green Preservation Society was closed down he could still be found raising the rose-tinted glasses to progress overtaking old England.

Delia's Gone (Johnny Cash)
"Delia, oh Delia, Delia all my life/If I hadn't-a shot poor Delia, I'd have had her for my wife"
It wouldn't have worked in many people's mouths. The first Cash song worked on with Rick Rubin, it proved his spiritual alignment with the wrong side of the law was as strong as it had been at San Quentin.

Experiment IV (Kate Bush)
"We were working secretly for the military/Our experiment in sound was nearly ready to begin/We only know in theory what we are doing"
But you're intrigued and not a little scared, aren't you? In fact it turns out to be sonic devices that kill people, turning the joy of music back on itself. She doesn't half sweat the small stuff, does she?

First We Take Manhattan (Leonard Cohen)
"They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom/For trying to change the system from within"
Again, for best results apply to as deep a deadpan voice as you can find. He'll never be able to kick back at materialism, but he'll give it a damn good try. Pop fact: this song helped Shakira learn English. That explains a lot.

Gareth Brown Says (McLusky)
"All of your friends are cunts, your mother is a ballpoint pen thief"
What? What? Simultaneously making no sense and all sense, and it's hardly as if it's a one-off by their standards.

Gloria (Patti Smith)
"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine"
The pause before the 'but' makes it completely. It's a hell of a way to mark out your territory and blasts the anti- attitude of most of her CBGB scene contemporaries right out of the water at the off.

God Only Knows (Beach Boys)
"I may not always love you/But as long as there are stars above you/You never need to doubt it"
An incredibly brave line to start what already sounds like a love song off with turns out to be the McGuffin in a sentiment giddy with its own possibilities.

History Lesson Part II (Minutemen)
"Our band could be your life"
Surely the statement that lies at the heart of everyone who ever formed a band.

I Am The Party (Million Dead)
"Well you can tell by the way I move my feet that I'm a genuine insurrectionary"
Great for three reasons: it set out the cult defunct Anglo-Aussie hardcore outfit's manifesto in one go, it can only be sung with complete conviction, and it partly goes towards showing how their often unwieldly lyrics looked horrible on paper but perfectly reasonable on vocal take (cf the same album's Charlie And The Propaganda Myth Machine. You heard.)

I Found That Essence Rare (Gang Of Four)
"Aim for the body rare, you'll see it on TV/The worst thing in 1954 was the bikini"
Finding middle ground where leftie ideology and fashion critique can go hand in hand. Actually, the worst thing in 1954 here were the nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll, which actually started in 1946 (as did the leisurewear) but presumably that didn't scan as well.

Into My Arms (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds)
"I don't believe in an interventionist God"
Only Nick Cave could have written this line. It needs stating, though, that while everyone was recovering their breath from that one Cave slips in the rejoiner "but I know darling that you do/but if I did I would kneel down and ask Him/Not to intervene when it came to you".

Jumping Jack Flash (Rolling Stones)
"I was born in a crossfire hurricane"
There's a theory this is a reference to Keith Richards being born during a Doodlebug attack on Dartford. Whatever, you wouldn't want to get in the way of Jagger if he's in this kind of mood.

Kinky Afro (Happy Mondays)
"Son, I'm thirty/I only went with your mother cos she's dirty"
And so we welcome Shaun Ryder into the pantheon of lyricists people just don't get for reasons other than their songwriting.

Levi Stubbs' Tears (Billy Bragg)
"With the money from her accident she bought herself a mobile home"
It's either genius or careless that Bragg doesn't remember at any point to explain any of this in the rest of the song, but it sets it up beautifully.

No Thugs In Our House (XTC)
"The insect-headed worker-wife will hang her waspies on the line/The husband burns his paper, sucks his pipe while studying their cushion-floor"
You just know that something's about to go horribly wrong in this bit of suburbia. And, through a policeman turning up to question the son about a racial assault, so it does.

Packs Of Three (Arab Strap)
"It was the biggest cock you'd ever seen/But you've no idea where that cock has been"
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Aidan Moffat.

Plaistow Patricia (Ian Dury and the Blockheads)
"Arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks"
And all ideas of an easy ride are cancelled. Even the punks who hung around Stiff Records' offices expressed shock when they first heard the tale of teenage heroin addiction's opening rail against everything.

Random Rules (Silver Jews)
"In 1984 I was hospitalised for approaching perfection"
Where do you go from there? David Berman's approach to Pavement-aided alt-country remains skewed, but he might well never get over this.

Razzmatazz (Pulp)
"The trouble with your brother, he's always sleeping with your mother"
Again, put the mental pause in before 'with' for best results. Jarvis Cocker is good at setting his wry stall out from the start - see also Dishes' "I am not Jesus though I have the same initials"

Rebel Rebel (David Bowie)
"Got your mother in a whirl/She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl"
You really couldn't tell the boys from the girls, as the cliched Top Of The Pops-watching father would have it, and having opened the door to the murky world of direct pop sexuality Bowie wasn't about to pretend it had nothing to do with him.

Reel Around The Fountain (the Smiths)
"It's time the tale were told/Of how you took a child and you made him old"
From these deeply unapologetic beginnings it actually becomes a love song inspired by feminist tracts, but really about 40% of the Smiths catalogue could have qualified. Because nobody else does, a word must be put in for I Want The One I Can't Have's far too tempting "On the day that your mentality/decides to try to catch up with your biology".

Reward (Teardrop Explodes)
"Bless my cotton socks, I'm in the news"
Some lyrics defy analysis at the end of the day. What on earth does this mean? Who cares, it sounds triumphant and that's all that matters.

Saturday's Kids (The Jam)
"Saturday's boys live life with insults/Drink lots of beer and wait for half time results"
Weller tightrope walks the line between condemning and emphathising with what he knows are his own type. 25 years later another provincial songwriter wise beyond his soundbite quality would muse about much the same people in "knackered Converse or tracky bottoms tucked in socks", proving that it takes one to know one.

Serve The Servants (Nirvana)
"Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I'm bored and old"
Plenty quoted this lyric when Kurt died as proof of his hatred of the 'jocks' Nevermind picked up, but really it works as the apotheosis of what to do when you get everything you didn't know you wanted nevertheless.

Sign O' The Times (Prince)
"In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name"
In among everything else Prince's lyrical abilities in his prime have often been overlooked, but for someone often portrayed as sex mad it proved that he wasn't going to treat his difficult subject with kid gloves.

Song From Under The Floorboards (Magazine)
"I am angry, I am ill and I'm as ugly as sin"
Howard Devoto's projected self-loathing expressed as self-mocking. When his lyrics, both here and with the Buzzcocks, weren't being dark they were actually amusing.

Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)
"Southern trees bear strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root"
A candidate for the single most haunting song of all time (we've got an excellent version on the Weekender Visual list) and still the greatest anti-racism tract ever. To quote Holiday, "The first time I sang it, I thought it was a mistake. There wasn't even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everyone was clapping."

The State I Am In (Belle and Sebastian)
"I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975"
This was the first time anyone outside their music college course had heard anything of Stuart Murdoch, and his intentions were nailed to the floor straight off - wry, quietly nostalgic, loudly forlorn. Murdoch is another who can pull off a first line - "he had a stroke at the age of 21/it could have been a brilliant career" for another example.

Time For Heroes (Libertines)
"Did you see the stylish kids in the riot?"
Yes, Pete, and now they all try to look like you. It turned round and gave him a healthy boot up the arse eventually, but while Albion has always been better in thought than execution this line alone captures the essence of poetry from the soul against the odds.

Tomorrow Never Knows (Beatles)
"Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream"
Yet earlier on the same album John had suggested relaxing (in bed, on I'm Only Sleeping) and floating upstream. What's going on? Well, everything, as even before he comes in it sounds remarkable and strange, only adding the obvious in relation to the soundscape. What it must have sounded like to the 1966 pop conisseur hardly bears thinking about.

Thousands Are Sailing (the Pogues)
"The island it is silent now/But the ghosts still haunt the waves"
Not that he's done himself much in the way of favours down the years, but Shane MacGowan's love of romantic Irish poetry shines through should it be given half a chance what with everything else going on in Pogues records. This is his tribute to the native Irish diaspora.

Up The Hill And Down The Slope (The Loft)
"Oh, my magpie eyes are hungry for the prize/Give me the money and I'll shoot it right between the eyes"
The second line in the selection to lend its title to an excellent history of a time and genre, we find a wide eyed Pete Astor standing just outside the big music world hoping for his chance to experience the glitz and glamour. He never got it, which probably turned out for the best.

War Pigs (Black Sabbath)
"Generals gathered in their masses/Just like witches at black masses"
For sale: rhyming dictionary, barely used. Does its job in spades, though, hinting at there being none more black as those in charge plot against their own people, desiring to destroy. It's an anti-Vietnam song, actually. Original second line: "Bodies burning in red ashes". That's just rubbish.

Werewolves Of London (Warren Zevon)
"I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand/Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain"
It doesn't actually mean anything, apparently, but what an image, not least because the apparent lack of side means you can mould it in whatever shape you want, should you be so inclined.

No heavy metal, rock'n'roll, music from the past, I'd rather jack then... any Morrissey records, apparently.

So Radio 1 policy is, it says here, not to play anyone born before 1971. It must come as a great shock, therefore, when the station's head of music George Ergatoudis looks at the playlist he helped put together and finds there LL Cool J (born 1968), Red Hot Chili Peppers (John Frusciante 1970, the others 1961/62), Feeder (Grant Nicholas 1967), Goldfrapp (Alison 1970), the Flaming Lips (Wayne Coyne 1961) and Primal Scream (Bobby Gillespie 1964), plus Stevie Nicks and Tom Jones on dance records.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Penny royalty

The BPI (and Cliff Richard) demand a shakeup in the way royalties are paid. Louis Barfe, whose Where Have All The Good Times Gone? is an absorbing, ridiculously detailed journey through the minutiae of how the recording industry became this monolith and how it's trying not to be bought low by the little people, responds not in kind.

That seems inconsiderate

Insound are giving away the new Futureheads single for free.

Their mates Field Music, meanwhile, are part of Memphis Industries' free download sampler, also including the Pipettes, Absentee, J Xaverre and Blue States.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Weekender : potting the red and screwing back

CHART OF DARKNESS: Although starring with Woolworths' puppet dogs may yet give him his comeuppance - who buys new records at Woolies nowadays? - Shayne Ward can't stop the Gnarls Barkley juggernaut, and frankly it can only be downhill from here. An actual contender to take over next week is Rihanna's SOS, which we can't help feeling might have shocked the producer when they found out from where they had to clear the sample, which accidentally cashes in on a trend of the day just on downloads at 5. There's also new top 20 entries for Hard-Fi's barrel splinters, the clearly not as cared about as everyone thought it'd be Jamie Foxx, the inevitable Jacko and, from somewhere or other, Trina, but all of this pales against the curious news that, despite no extra promo effort this week that we can make out, It's Chico Time has climbed 13 to 13. Has it just dawned on people who he is? Fall Out Boy's distressing chart career looks set to continue as they have a download entry at 26, just ahead of Gorillaz, not even helped by news of their 'split', Studio B and Lorraine, another of those bands feted by all the pop media except the bits that actually matter to pop-buying kids. Another top 40 download entry comes at 34 from Infernal, a lame dance anthem attempt subject to post-ironic selling from Colin Fucking Murray. At least it keeps Mark Morrison down at 46, and while he still believes he's an Innocent Man nobody else is being quite so quick to trust him. Maybe he should get a lookalike to record his next single. The Crimea's Next Big Thing status has been well and truly made defunct as White Russian Galaxy enters at 51 and the Flaming Lips are at a pleasing 56 on downloads.
Another inevitable fan-driven number one sees The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living debut at the top of the album chart - what will the next album be about, that's what we want to know. Learning to cope with the aftershock of fame? A horde of climbers, led by Kooks at an unlikely number three, colour the top end with Hayley Westenra being the latest off-radar popera high entry. We couldn't name anything on The Definitive Don Williams: His Greatest Hits but it's at 27 nevertheless. Sort it out, Official Charts Company.

FREE MUSIC: This has been going round the blogs in the last couple of weeks, but sod it, it's great, largely because Eiffel Tower come from the American off-kilter harmonic tradition that previously brought us Grandaddy, Pavement and Apples In Stereo, all of whom are reflected in the title track from their debut album, Smallish Things. They might just be about to take off, and those of us who felt slightly disappointed by a lot of the more recent hyped American indie albums (evening, Wolf Parade) have a lot to look forward to if they do.

HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: Again, this band show many signs of being about to colonise their given sector, so even though the name's been bandied about you can help us pretend we were really there first and everyone else is wrong. The 1990s are signed to Rough Trade, supported Franz Ferdinand on their last tour and comprise ex-members of the Yummy Fur and V-Twin. You can see why Franz would want to co-opt the local competition beyond Alex and Paul's associations with the former, being a less jerkified version of their artglampop stamp.

VISUAL REPRESENTATION: It's not just the English speaking world that stick everything they have on old VHS tapes of interest onto YouTube - from Holland's famed Pinkpop festival in 1987, Husker Du's heavily scuffed up cover of the Byrds' Eight Miles High

FALLING OFF A BLOG: More podcast interview business this week with Audiovant, who have already bagged CYHSY!, Tapes'N Tapes and Jens Lekman.

EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: We're fans, as you'll know, of the wonderful folly that is Yo La Tengo's annual WMFU improvised covers evening, and now they've stuck a "Best-of, or Best-of-the-Worst, or Worst-of-the-Best, or... oh, what's the use, it's dreadful" out called Yo La Tengo Is Murdering The Classics - syntax, gentlemen and lady, syntax! - seemingly on website mail order only.

IN OTHER NEWS: Let's share the joy of something we chanced across in the week - ages and ages ago we bemoaned the decline of Poptones, who in their fairly early days chanced their arm with Beachbuggy, occasionally dual-drummer matching boiler suited Doncaster surf-punks - a small section in your local record shop - who released a corking Steve Albini recorded album called Sport Fury in 2001 and a remarkably adept single called Kickin' Back from it. And here it is! For free!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Weekly Sweep

Goodbooks - Walk With Me
Camera Obscura - Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken
Tapes'N Tapes - Insistor
Shooting At Unarmed Men - Girls Music
Field Music - You're Not Supposed To
1990s - You Made Me Like It
¡Forward, Russia! - Nine
The Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Ban The Gin
Mum & Dad - Kiss Of Death
Jeremy Warmsley - Dirty Blue Jeans

In shops tomorrow: 17/4 (unless it's closed for the Bank Holiday)


A quiet week for releases, chiefly two from members of our top ten albums of 2005 list. There doesn't seem any great reason for Brakes to bring All Night Disco Party out again, mind, as they're hardly more famous than they were when it came out last June and bar a short tour it's not tying in with anything we can see. They could have brought the cover of Jackson out to cash in on all things Cashular. Pleasing as it is to see it singled out, Mew aren't tying in The Zookeeper's Boy with anything either, Sony presumably having given up long ago on trying to pin them down to one way of selling them to the public at large. Plus the bass player's just left to become a dad. So much for curious single selections long after the album, what about first and obvious singles after the album? Two of those too - the Flaming Lips' The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song - and while we're about it, the album's been granted a clever TV advert - and Coldcut's True Skool, which with Roots Manuva in tow has been threatening to take on daytime Radio 1 without ever quite fully making the leap. Ah well. Falling somewhere in the middle are literate Aussies the Lucksmiths' A Hiccup In Your Happiness, inspired by and featuring liner notes from Daniel Kitson, who we hear is soon starting a radio show on Australia's Triple R.


While we were being set reeling from the news that the Parkinsons have a new album out - did we fall back four years overnight? - we take comfort in two of our favourite labels releasing samplers of their work. Now, we've gone on enough about Transgressive in recent months to the point where there must be some readers drawing up plans to burn Toby L and Tim Dellow's homes down for ever conceiving the thing, but their hitrate is so high that Transgressive Singles Collection Vol.1 is something we've been eagerly anticipating. It's a compilation of the tracks from their first five releases - Subways, Ladyfuzz, Burningpilot, Mystery Jets, Pipettes - plus Bloc Party and the Rakes from Dellow's time running Trash Aesthetic and an extra DVD featuring videos and live footage from the above plus the Young Knives, Larrikin Love, Jeremy Warmsley and Battle. If all you've got is a fiver, however, you could, well, put it aside and save up, or you could splash out on They'll Have To Catch Us First, Domino Recordings' first compilation since the seminal Worlds Of Possibility double set of 2003 and thus since the first of their two worldwide big hitters came to prominence. Franz Ferdinand are here with either L Wells or an acoustic version of The Fallen depending on which tracklisting you read, alongside Sons & Daughters, Adem, the Kills, Archie Bronson Outfit, Clearlake, Quasi, Tortoise & Bonnie Prince Billy, Four Tet, the Television Personalities, Juana Molina, Junior Boys and... oh, Test Icicles. Ah well. Boringly sticking to one band on an album, the Charlatans recover their mojo on Simpatico, the Dresden Dolls Brechtpunk their way into many a black bedroom with style on Yes Virginia, former voice of the Young Marble Giants Alison Statton and collaborator Spike see their acoustic 1994 album and EP Tidal Blues/Weekend in Wales stuck together, and just to ruin the artist album link To Elliott From Portland sees many of Elliott Smith's Oregonian contemporaries, chiefly the Decemberists, cover his back catalogue with care.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Streets of shame

We're not really fans of The Streets here, largely because we're automatically turned off by strong London accents in singing and that bit at the start of Has It Come To This?, which was after all the first we'd ever heard of Mike Skinner, put us right off. In fact so did the rest of that track, which made us appreciate all the more Neil Tennant's idea that he in fact was inventing English rap on West End Girls. It's fair to say, though, that The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living is splitting opinion - is it pulling open the seedy underbelly of celebrity or reinforcing it? Who cares, really. We have been fascinated in many odd ways, however, by When You Wasn't Famous, not in the 'but who is it?' sense of everybody else, although the fact that nobody, not even the usual self-appointed committee of celebrity all-seers don't have a clue. Oddly, despite Skinner's appeals that it's based on truths, nobody seems to have made the connection between his statement that it's actually "all a bit of a piss-take" and the fact his last album was based on an extended fictional narrative. Hmm. But what is he actually trying to tell us beyond the fact that he's taken some drugs, possibly with famous girls? All lyrics copyright Mike Skinner and his publishers, probably. Oh, and we don't give a shit who it really is, so don't tell us.

See, the thing that’s got it all fucked up now is camera-phones. How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers when I know they've all got cameras?

Diddums. Isn't this the reason why toilet seats came into Class A vogue? Are people popping their Nokias under the cubicle door? Of course this is the Skinner standard opening line scene-setter, here emblazoning in neon the words "YES, I AM THE FAMOUS THE STREETS, AND I HAVE TAKEN DRUGS. MMMMM."

When you're a famous boy it gets really easy to get girls
It's all so easy you get a bit spoilt
So when you try to pull a girl who is also famous too
It feels just like when you wasn't famous

So for those of you who've ever wondered why no celebrity goes out with anyone who isn't onscreen talent any more, it's because they desire the thrill of the chase, as evidently that's worked so well for Mike over his non-famous years. This is the whole thorny issue of groupies being brought out into the open possibly for the first time in a non-hair metal context. Hang on, is he telling us girls never tried to chat him up?

The celebrity pages in papers don't tell tales that are always to the line of the truth

Scansion is the enemy, evidently. 'Telling the truth' would have served equally well.

It’s 'til a line at which most likely you'll have the time or enough finance to sue
Which is why it's so frightening buying papers in the morning fearing the next Mike Skinner scoop
Cos I used to believe what I read, so now I know that others will believe that it's true

Mike Skinner Fearlessly Reveals The Truth About His Rise To Stardom II: not all celebrity gossip in the tabloids is true. Well, when Ian Hislop leaves Private Eye the job is surely his for the taking with insight like that. Also, what does that first line mean? Presumably the suggestion is nobody can be arsed to follow up each and every last word of a lie printed about them, which is fair enough, but half the message seems to have gone missing in the lyric editing process. Rhymers who namecheck themselves with their own real names - are there any beyond Skinner and Marshall Mathers?

But i realised with you the truth could be a whole lot worse than the flack
My whole life i never thought I'd see a pop star smoke crack

Score one for the 3am Girls! (not literally, that'd be a whole different celebrity drugs story) Skinner claims he hadn't anticipated that writing a single about a doomed celebrity fling which includes heavy drug references might have attracted any attention, which proves or disproves many things often thought about him. Does he mean this boastfully or regretfully? Was it actually him that planted that camera in Babyshambles' rehearsal studios? Well, that seems unlikely, but trust Skinner to write it into a song where most would go off-handed off the record in an interview.

And i must admit I was quite shocked with that thing you did with me on my back

With you on your back or onto your back? There's a distinction that needs making here.

But outside in the lobby I shouldn't have laughed when you slapped that man

What? Just randomly? Is this a man she knew or just some bloke? Hang on, is it Bjork? Yes, we know the reporter she attacked was a woman and it was in an airport, but run with the gag, would you.

When you're a famous boy...

You were so much fun I really got to like you more than you liked me, I really hoped that you'd stay

There's a clue in the first sentence as to why she didn't, we'd guess. Maybe there'll be an answer song in the style of Frankee, although that might just blow the gaff a little. Wait for Chris Moyles to have a brainwave.

Considering the amount of prang you'd done you looked amazing on CD:UK

The person who found STN in the week via a Google search for 'when you wasn't famous cat deeley' was clearly taking this line too laterally. Holly 'Goodbooks' Willoughby, who did present CD:UK for a bit before the revamp that saw it die its quiet death, cameos in the video at this point, but we'll assume she vaguely knows the director or something. What is prang in this context, by the way? The opening track on the album is called Pranging Out but 'prang' is an underused synonym for a crash, thus 'crashing out'. The drug allusions form themselves with that knowledge but it's probable he's merely trying to get a new colloquialism for some sort of hard drug usage going, like an illegality 'bouncebackability'.

You learn dances, do promo, cameras flashing, get in the van, zoom away
I wake up high, feel hung over and sorry for my doomed day

We'd guess most high class pop stars are ferried from class to TV studio by record company chartered people carriers, but no matter.

But I know I got a bit close to you and that you found it fucking boring

Whereas most potential candidates for the mystery girl are known for their outward going nature and ability to laugh at themselves. 'Boring' is perhaps another way of saying 'scary' here.

You taught me so much about how to deal with the fire I'd fallen in

Actually nobody seems entirely sure about how this line ends. We've gone with what a couple of sources agree on, but the way it's worded suggests more that she's tried to get him out of his depression/drug habit which as we know very much isn't the case. We initally heard it as '...with the far right fawning', which is an odd concept to throw into the middle of a leery love confessional (fair enough guess though, right? We can see polo shirted skinheads thinking they can emphasise with a crop-haired 'chav poet', and as the NF tried hard to align themselves with the Jamaican origined mixed race 2-Tone movement it's not impossible they could have pretended not to notice garage's origins in his case)

And what version of a rumour would be next day everyone's story of me
You taught me all the realities and to turn the page and ignore 'em

Suddenly we're being told that, despite having written a song boasting about their crack habit perhaps in subtle revenge for dumping him, Mike actually owes her one for dragging him into the realities of showbiz life. These two lines don't make a great deal of sense written down to us - we'd guess it's his coming to terms with not getting down about everything written about him (and yes, this is the same Streets who the Sun launched an active campaign about to get Dry Your Eyes to number one), but he seems more paranoid about this story getting out when it never did. Although the singer we shall call Primary Candidate A - you know who she is - has turned up in the margins of Skinner stories before, albeit not in a direct sense. But anyway.

When you're a famous boy...

Anyway, I had to rest my beer hat, delete my dealer's number and unroll my bank notes

Beer hat? Is that right? Is it a wide brimmed affair with a funnel attached to a straw?

And we were on borrowed time anyway what with the daily toilet papers not knowin’

Well, yeah, you're just taunting them now. Given the line before suggests Skinner was taking extreme actions to get off his various addictions, maybe the split should have been because she was, well, pranging in front of him.

And I knew that when the people who thought they knew you, when they found out I would've been mocked

Because it was Miss Clean and Mr Not Clean, yeah?

Which is ironic 'cos in reality standing next to you i look fucking soft

...ha ha, but that's what we all think of their relative status, eh? Eh? Eh? Booking home viit counsellers would be cheaper for her, Mike.

Whenever i see you on MTV I can’t stop my big wide smile
And past the 'children’s appeal' I see the darkness behind

Got it! It's Bonnie Prince Billy!

We both know the scratches on my back much better than the alludes and lies

That last bit doesn't sound right. It certainly doesn't figure with the idea that Mike knows the subject is listening and knowing as well as he does, as what are these 'alludes'?

I miss the bitchin' and shoutin' but I'm glad I got out in time

Aren't we all.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Emergence of British rap's latest big thing may undermine Good Friday Agreement

Weekender: the way that we talk, the way that we walk

CHART OF DARKNESS: As if to spite our wondering last week, and indeed all the hype about downloads taking over, Gnarls Barkley's Crazy not only stays atop the singles chart but does so by selling 120,000 physical copies out of a remarkable 193,000, beating number two, the anaemic U2/Mary J collaboration that now beats the original One by five places, by well over 160,000. An oddly static week sees top ten climbers spurred on by Morrissey's usual second week sales collapse and a lot of records going back up at the lower end, the Zutons having the highest new entry at 9, their top ten debut. Franz Ferdinand latch onto the occasional album track/new song double A-side ploy and take The Fallen/L Wells to 14, the weather turned against Mish Mash at 16, Belle & Sebastian are at 25 - we were woken up on Saturday by Stuart Murdoch being given a jovial interview by Eamonn Holmes and his idiot sidekick, which surely must finally convince him to go back to the enigmatic days of old - the Charlatans make a re-emergence on a new label of some description at 28, D4L fail to go the MVP route with the stupidly titled Laffy Taffy - look, just learn that nobody likes a rap song title not in proper English - at 29, Keyshia Cole comprehensively fails to follow up the hype at 48, Sigur Ros' climb continues at 57 and Wigwam disappoint the cognescenti (hello!) at 60. There's some new ruling involving downloads in the album chart but we don't understand it and nothing would have stopped Ringleader Of The Tormentors becoming Morrissey's third number one. Pink is at 3 and the Flaming Lips do very well at 6 (a top ten debut, in fact), with the Stereophonics' overdue by common knowledge of their type live album at 13. Neil Sedaka's latest best of makes an odd climb into the top 20 - that'll be the iTunes types, then - while the Vines' winning days really have gone, Vision Valley entering at 71.

FREE MUSIC: One of a massive set of tracks from Sweden's Labrador Records brought to wider attention by a guest post over at Take Your Medicine, all suffused with the timely spirit of C86 and its adherents, we know nothing about this other than we admire its spirit, like a less easily irked Young Soul Rebels Dexys - Corduroy United - Daddy's Boy

HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: We thought Oxford instrumental behemoth The Rock Of Travolta, who supposed Radiohead at their massive South Park gig, had split up. There was a good reason for this. They had. They have now got back together with two new members, including an intriguing cellist, and still sound like Mogwai, Tortoise and Shellac in an industrial crusher.

VISUAL REPRESENTATION: Yesterday we pledged never to shoehorn in cheap references to the Kaiser Chiefs having once been a workaday New Rock Revolution outfit called Parva. Well, it's not shoehorning to directly mention them, so here's the video to 2002 single Hessles. Ricky does still have a nose piercing - study the Every Day I Love You Less And Less video carefully - and oddly it's drummer Nick that comes off worst 'I look slightly different!'-wise.

FALLING OFF A BLOG: We've never been tempted to follow everyone else into the world of podcasts - no mike, put off voice projection after listening to a guest radio spot we did a couple of years ago - but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate others. Indie Interviews, for instance, with a back catalogue of chats with the likes of the Decemberists, LCD Soundsystem, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, the Polyphonic Spree (Tim, luckily), Vashti Bunyan, Tapes 'N Tapes, Voxtrot and Explosions in the Sky.

EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: In the week that Pete Gofton turned up in the NME as A&R representative of Brille records (The Knife, Good Shoes, Envelopes, Whirlwind Heat), which is fair enough as a way of making a living but doesn't make the wait for the second J Xaverre album any more standable, Kenickie06 has been set up on Myspace as a campaign to get his former band to reunite. We can't see it happening, given Lauren's media interests, Emmy-Kate's magazine editing and Marie' she still at Hall Or Nothing? Anyway, it's the thought that counts, and that Ainslie off the first series of Fame Academy has left a message makes it so much the stronger.

IN OTHER NEWS: Given their blog links to us, it's the least we can do to mention Vanity Project fanzine.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Do our work for us

This probably won't lead anywhere but it's worth a shot as our readership expands - if you're off to a mid-ranking UK festival this summer and don't have a blog, online fanzine or anywhere else to tell people about it, why not let us inform the nation? Let us know if you're planning such and fancy writing about it in what could laughably be called our house style.


It's ironic that on the day news is revealed of a girl band whose sole role will be to advertise goods and services - seriously, major labels, if you're not interested in music as a whole any more than wind up and go and work in PR - the reason why we're inured to this kind of thing re-emerges, as despite nobody taking much interest in the first series T4's Totally Frank returns. This is the girl band created for a comedy drama, not that we've seen much element of either yet, and while, as with Girls Aloud *, the unsubtleties of the setup can in some ways be diluted by the work put into them by Xenomania for their summer musical launch, it's worth witnessing the very essence of spur of the moment that makes pop music what it is in action by looking at their PR company's official biography ("drawn from their individual influences" - right). Check the quote from Judy Finnegan, wonder whether Phil Redmond shouldn't have his house set alight for creating Hollyoaks and leading to this kind of 'emotional' teen-focused stuff, and drummer Hayley Angel Wardle - so when Frank go legit are they going to use their real or character names? This could all get very confusing - bigs up her acting craeer, love of Joy Division and contains the line "she's more akin to being one of hell's angels!" but misses out the most intriguing personal detail of all. She's Jah Wobble's daughter! Suddenly John Lydon's property development sideline (and by the way, he's been helping launch Nordoff-Robins in New York, a tale including a chance meeting with Steve Jones and a summit with, of all people, Keith Emerson) looks like a natural progression.

* Could someone not have a word with ver Aloud about how, whenever they want to prove they're non-media trained free spirits, they do so by slagging off Simon Amstell? Not only is it very unendearing of them, but it's hardly giving them a connection to much of their fanbase.

In shops tomorrow: 10/4


If you read this in time you'll be able to catch The Crimea on - and who'd have thought this when Davey McManus was culminating barely controlled gigs by swallow-diving into audiences in the Crocketts - Top Of The Pops. Although before now there's not been a lot of attention for White Russian Galaxy this was the second single first time round, Lottery Winners On Acid having been the first, that convinced us that there was something quietly special afoot. The inevitable major label reissue remix isn't as good, but we'll be glad to see him up there. Also veterans of their field are Peter and David Brewis, whose Field Music is the first of their many projects to gain national attention largely as a consequence of most of their ex-bandmates going off to form successful bands of their own. The corking You're Not Supposed To, from a forthcoming album that rounds up much of their life's work starts with some close harmony Gregorian, well, humming before launching into equal parts pop-psych Beatles and XTC about seven years on from everyone else's idea of XTC influence. Top handclaps too. Whirlwind Heat are a trio less likely to employ a string section, although they've developed from being Jack White's garage-Devo mates four years ago to the Reagan EP's not unwholly unwelcome diversion into Cake territory. Passing quickly over possibly the final Gorillaz single, the double A of Kids With Guns and El Manana, we come to this week's output from Transgressive Records. We have tended to go big on them a lot over recent months, but they will keep putting out excellent records, damn them. Get to their online shop and attempt to quickly snap up two new limited edition singles, our showbiz mate Jeremy Warmsley's second EP Other People's Secrets and the debut from ultrapromising Hot Chip-meets-The Rapture-meets-British Sea Power coves (and current STN Myspace soundtrack) Goodbooks, Walk With Me.


It's always difficult to second guess what any Fiery Furnaces album will sound like, but Matthew Freidburger's own description of Bitter Tea as "sissy psychedelic Satanism" will do for us. Not dissimilar, in fact, to how we'd describe the self-titled debut by Semifinalists, who took their time to grow on us but eventually open out their gorgeous, lo-fi Flaming Lips-esque soundscapes, mixing odd synth washes and direct riffage to winning effect. Solo singers all the way otherwise, whether BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Karine Polwart's powerful folk roots voice on Scribbled In Chalk, Ronnie Spector remaining in full voice with the aid of Patti Smith and Keith Richards amongst others on the wryly titled The Last Of The Rock Stars, her first album of new material in nineteen years, or Robyn Hitchcock's pecularily English oddball worldview in 1990s radio session form on This Is The BBC. Hitchcock and occasional backing band Minus 3 (Scott McCaughey, Bill Rieflin and Peter Buck) is playing a day of the Hyde Park version of the Wireless Festival in June, bottom of a bill that's headed by David Gray, KT Tunstall and the Fun Lovin' Criminals. The world is destined never to 'get' him, are they? Oh, reissue of the week - Lambchop have an out-takes compilation out which by all accounts is barely worth the effort but much of their back catalogue is coming back out to coincide, most notably How I Quit Smoking.


One each of these last two - despite the Morrissey ill business the first Madness Finsbury Park reunion Madstock in 1992 provided a party atmosphere all round, famously measuring 4.5 on the Richter scale. They kind of spoiled it by doing several more over the next few years, but never mind. Madness: At Madstock is out on mid-price DVD, and of course Lee Thompson gets flown on a wire during Baggy Trousers.


You'd be surprised at how many bands, whatever their outward opinion to publicity, seem to have a photographer in quasi-residence - it seems any band worth its iconic salt has an exhibition ready to go whenever they're ready. The Kaiser Chiefs aren't up to that stage quite yet, but A Record Of Employment seems a good way of rounding off a year of madness, being a fully annotated scrapbook of photos and memorabilia compiled by the band, their associates and fans but not a straight biography. Were we Q, we'd pointlessly mention Parva at this stage. But we aren't.