Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sweeping The Nation Covermount 3.5: A Very Sweeping Christmas 2

What's this all about? Well, last year, just ahead of party season, we posted more than forty songs you don't find on typical Christmas compilations. Taken in alphabetical order, those whose festive songs we used were: Arcade Fire, Beck, Belle & Sebastian, Ben Folds, Big Star, Bright Eyes, the Cocteau Twins, Coldplay, Darlene Love, De La Soul, Eels, The Fall, The Flaming Lips, Fountains of Wayne, Grandaddy, Half Man Half Biscuit, James Brown, Jose Feliciano, Joseph Spence, Joy Zipper, Kate Bush, Lauren Laverne, The Long Blondes, Low, Mew, No Doubt, Okkervil River, Pet Shop Boys, Peter Broggs, The Ramones, Randy Newman, The Raveonettes, Rilo Kiley, The Ronettes, Rufus Wainwright, Saint Etienne, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Snow Patrol, Sufjan Stevens, The Walkmen, The Wedding Present, The White Stripes and XTC. That's enough for two.

Anyway, it seemed to go down well, so as it's that most special time of the year again, we thought we'd upload both sets of songs again. So...

A Very Sweeping Christmas 1
A Very Sweeping Christmas 2
(don't forget, click 'free' at the bottom of the first page)
More details

But that's not all, because after finishing with that, we found we had a few left over, and that for us can only mean one thing...

A Very Sweeping Christmas 3

TBC Poundsystem - Losing My Sledge (Perhaps better if you're acquainted with the original Losing My Edge for this one)
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Cold White Christmas
Arab Strap - Xmas (Baby, Please Come Home)
Galaxie 500 - Listen, The Snow Is Falling
Hefner - The Little Baby Hefner's Xmas Song For Holland
Emmy The Great & Lightspeed Champion - Christmas In Prison
Hot Uncles - The Joy Of Giving (A one-off between Absentee's Dan Michaelson and the Broken Family Band's Steven Adams. First line NSFW)
The Bellrays - Merry Christmas Baby
Eels - Christmas Is Going To The Dogs
Noah And The Whale - To Cyril At Crunkmas
Sufjan Stevens - Get Behind Me, Santa!
John Cale - Child's Christmas In Wales
Harvey Danger - Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas (Sometimes)
Chris T-T - 100,000 Turkeys
The Joseph And Mary Chain - The Twelve Days of Christmas (A bringing together of much of the Sunderland scene - the Futureheads, Field Music, the Golden Virgins, Kathryn Williams, This Ain't Vegas, George Washington Brown and Marie Nixon (nee Du Santiago of Kenickie) among others)
Kurtis Blow - Christmas Rappin
Lucky Soul - Lonely This Christmas

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas comes but once a year

So the year in which we passed 1000 posts and didn't notice (it was this one, for the sake of completion) is almost up, and from now until the early days of 2008 is where we go into blogging overdrive as is now traditional. The Weekly Sweep and Weekender are being put away for the rest of the year, the latter to re-emerge anew as detailed in the last one, and instead there's a barrage of words, ideas, charts and flights of fancy coming your way.

Here's how we're rolling: tomorrow we're reposting links to A Very Sweeping Christmas Volumes 1 and 2, and in a Christmas reissue spirit, albeit without the sense of being ripped so hard off you'll require a catheter as it's all free, we're adding a third volume. Yeah, another CDR's worth of Christmas songs for your office party, should you wish to take particularly unpleasant aural revenge on your workmates.

Then from the 1st to 30th inclusive is our usual rundown of the Sweeping The Nation Top 30 Albums Of The Year, basically everything we've been saying all along about our well established favourite artists expanded to fill a few hundred words a shot while putting them all into some sort of almost conclusive order. Alongside these this year we've actually decided to ask some of those we've spent the last eleven months and more talking up what their own favoured listening of 2007 was, and we'll be running their replies alongside our own prevarications throughout December. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to respond.

Alongside these we'll be presenting our final Top 100 singles of the year, harking back to Christmas charts of yore and calculating the detritus of the year. Our usual mighty review of the year's moving and shaking comes on New Year's Eve. We'll also be running a sideline polling the bloggers of the nation to produce the third annual UK Blogger Albums Of The Year Poll. Who will the cognescenti elect to follow Funeral and Return To Cookie Mountain into the almost hallowed hall of fame? You'll see on January 1st. Two days later comes a Class Of '08 Covermount, and then the year begins in earnest yet again.

And so this isn't quite so self-absorbed, some things we noticed from watching music this week: British Sea Power are inviting votes on what is Rock Music and what is Non-Rock Music; and the ever reliable fine rock sons of Aldershot Reuben have come up with a Christmas single and the year's first festive video:

EDIT: And a second! The ambitiously named Christmas Number One by The Black Arts, which is important as it's the work of Eddie Argos (Art Brut) and Keith TOTP (Art Brut hanger-on and general man about town) guesting with the reconstituted Black Box Recorder, about whom it's rumoured there is proper new material on the horizon:

And... The Young Ones has just been issued in full on DVD for the first time, and this sequence, often cut from VHS versions for copyright reasons, has been reinstated - Ken Bishop's Nice Twelve, a conglomerate of Jools Holland, Chris Difford, Stewart Copeland, Rowland Rivron, Derek Griffiths apparently, Peter 'the one who writes loads of TV themes, including The Young Ones' own, not the one out of Field Music' Brewis and others) cover Subterranean Homesick Blues:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

They said it couldn't be done

...but ahead of tomorrow's official launch of our festive/end of year activity, three more mp3s acquired through perfectly legal means that we want to drop off with you...

First up, a band we namechecked just two days ago, Love Ends Disaster! The Nottingham fivesome, who've drawn comparisons to Talking Heads, British Sea Power and the Only Ones, had the Colin Murray/Huw Stephens/John Kennedy trinity behind them for their last single and they've supported Yo La Tengo, Babyshambles, Foals, Maps and, erm, INXS. Wisely not on their press release, that one, but we have eyes and ears everywhere. Moving on, LED! released a double A side yesterday; they describe this half of it as "an expression of the reverence and respect that they, as young musicians, naturally feel towards Elton John. God bless you Elton and a very Merry Christmas."

Love Ends Disaster! - Dinosaur

Bring Back The Guns are a lively Houston, Texas band who have just released debut album Dry Futures. This press release reckons they're "an experiment in messing around with music at its molecular level: ignoring rules whenever possible and coming up with songs that obey their own whims". What this means is your usual Les Savy Fav/Q And Not U touchstones for any American band who are a bit jittery and loose with time signatures and basslines, plus a heap of Minutemen and Fugazi.

Bring Back The Guns - The Art of Malnutrition

This update's Band Who Sent Us A CDR is Tim Goalen And The Tremors, a London outfit who are equally at home with Brand New Cadillac-flavoured rockabilly and Americana country influences

Tim Goalen And The Tremors - Let's Make It Alright All Night

Monday, November 26, 2007

You know they're no good

One of our favourite ways of passing the time is dissecting newspaper reporting styles, but even by our contemptuously cynical standards the Brighton Evening Argus on Friday printed a piece so completely mad it must have only made it in because the layout team realised they were running a page short. It starts promisingly with the headline:

Winehouse says 'no no no' to Rehab with The Argus

So what could that be? Do they have an exclusive on Troubled Star Amy Winehouse seeking to come to terms with her issues?

What do you think?

We tried to make her go to Rehab, but she said: "No, no, no".

Beehived crooner Amy Winehouse has astonishingly rejected an offer of a champagne and canape laden interview with The Argus at Brighton Marina's Rehab bar.

We invited the hellraising Amy to the popular venue with the promise she could unburden her soul to one of our top reporters over a leisurely lunch.

The rejection, as the troubled star perpares for a rare gig in the city, has left us and a legion of fans gutted.

"Astonishing". Local newspaper fails to arrange interview with celebrity. Of course it's in a bar called Rehab, because if the story didn't come off, there's your angle even if they don't get to serve bottles of champagne to a woman commonly thought to have a major drink problem. It's almost like dealing with General Musharraf. Note also that this is "a rare gig", like she's Madonna.

Talented Winehouse is due to perform in front of a sell-out crowd at the Brighton Centre on Monday and many of those who bought tickets hoped she would open her heart during a rare visit to the city.

Instead of snapping up our offer, the 24-year-old instead went back to black, donning a short sleeved mini dress at the court appearance of caged hubby Blake Fielder-Civil.

Eh? The gig is tonight and yet they wanted to take her to Brighton a week in advance? Yeah, how dare she go to court to see her husband's bail proceedings rather than give another rambling, answer-free interview nobody reads.

Time her "gutted" "legion of fans" spoke.

Kelly James, 23, from Brighton, said: "I thought she might say a few words before the gig. I was hoping. I guess she is too busy trying to sort out Blake at the moment."

Rehab owner John Lardner said: "It is disappointing, I know a lot of the guys here were looking forward to meeting her."

That's one person who's not really that disappointed and the bar owner. It's virtually a march on Island records.

However Winehouse's record label, Island, said they were unable to fix up the interview.

A spokeswoman said: "There's no way she can do it."

Argh, still half a page to fill. Quick, think hard, team...

It comes as the city braces itself for the arrival of drug addict Babyshambles rocker Pete Doherty.

The former squeeze of leggy model Kate Moss is set to play the Brighton Centre on Sunday, just a day before Winehouse.

Security around the Brighton Centre during both gigs is expected to be beefed up with burly staff being provided by the pair's record labels.

However Brighton Centre staff said they would not be laying on any extra staff.

A spokeswoman said: "I don't think there will be anything out of the ordinary for either of them. It's just business as usual."

Again, so much journalese to admire. "Leggy model Kate Moss", and never mind that at 5ft 6 she is commonly thought to be far less leggy than the modelling industry standard. "Burly staff provided by the pair's record labels", as if Island and Rough Trade have bouncers on their payroll rather than it being Showsec's business.

Still, at least those going have things in perspective.

Thousands of fans have already snapped up tickets to see both singers.

Karen Hoy, 40, of Brighton, said: "I can't wait to see Amy Winehouse on Monday as she is currently the number one reality show.

"I am going along in the hope she will sing, however, there is an element of voyeurism about going to see her, as her on-off stage performance is a good old fashioned rock and roll lifestyle which is not manufactured by some PR company.

"It's just real life tragedy unfolding like Kurt Cobain and Elvis. You want to be able to tell your friends that you saw Winehouse before she died."

No, Evening Argus, nothing worthy of comment there. Obviously nobody really calls anyone "currently the number one reality show" or talks in terms of "good old fashioned rock and roll lifestyle which is not manufactured by some PR company", but as we say, space to fill. Good that she's hoping Winehouse will be singing, though. It sounds like no more than Ms Hoy deserves to see, although Amy ODing live on stage might just edge it out for her.

Sussex Police also confirmed it had no plans for extra officers to patrol the Brighton Centre.

A spokeswoman said: "We trust them to behave themselves."

Tch. Redlands, the Viper Room and the Brighton Centre - it's the internationally recognised trinity of music business debauchery. Don't the police even know that? Who's paying their wages?

Still, every cloud has a silver lining:

While the champagne may have been put on ice for Amy, Rehab is offering a lucky reader a meal for two at its Seasons restaurant to mark the singer's appearance in Brighton.

Email us at and tell us why you think Amy would make a great date. Answers should be no more than 100 words and entrants must be over 18. The usual Newsquest competition terms and conditions apply.

Yeah. That Amy Winehouse, the one who you know is an unreliable drunken heroin-head who won't even talk to the press? You'd love to go on a date with her, you would. We'd like to see how many entries that gets.

Weekender : pretending to be a circus clown

FREE MUSIC: As well as having a right bugger of a Myspace code-wise, New York's The Vandelles would quite like you never to have heard the Raveonettes in your life. Past that, and this is your ever welcome sounding low-down distorted fuzzy beat group rock'n'roll for the youth of today. Oh yeah, and never to have heard the Jesus & Mary Chain. Lovely Weather is their key song.

HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: Winnipeg's Blue Sky Addicts claim to combine "the upbeat joy of Electric Light Orchestra, the enchanting dominance of Sigur Ros, the simple but unpredictable beauty of Hawksley Workman, and the vulnerable sentiments of Stars". There's more Torquil Campbell than Jeff Lynne here, but not by much, and quite a bit of Ben Gibbard and one of that plague of nu-MOR British bands were they not so middly and actually listened to those they portend to take after. There's plenty to enchant, essentially.

VISUAL REPRESENTATION: As it's that special time of year, which we'll come back to, some random clips from our big list. A rare video for the Pop Group's She Is Beyond Good And Evil, for instance. Spizzenergi's Where's Captain Kirk? ramshackle live. The Violent Femmes live in 1984. C30 C60 C90 Go! The Shadows in front of an appreciative Belgian TV crowd in 1964. Prime Dusty Springfield. Erm, prime Captain Sensible. All that sort of thing.

VIRAL MARKETING: British Sea Power release third album Do You Like Rock Music?, a title we can't make up our minds as to whether it's good or bad, on January 14th. Recorded in Hotel2Tango, Montreal, it gives their 1983-as-now sound a good lick of A Silver! Black Fire paint, as previewed on a recent tour of unlikely places. Lights Out For Darker Skies has been played since at least Brighton in May, while single Waving Flags and whatever this one is called were captured at All Saints Church, Newcastle.

FALLING OFF A BLOG: Occasionally we remember we've forgotten to do one of the big hitters in blogworld, such as Hate Something Beautiful, and oddly when we check its latest posts we more often than not find that blog is far more Anglocentric (in this case Kate Nash, Does It Offend You Yeah?, the Ting Tings and someone called The Broken Hearts - London DJs with burlesque fashion, apparently, which has put us right off them before we've heard any of their music) then the top UK bloggers. Odd, that.

EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: One more blog? Oh, go on then, it is Pampelmoose, maintained by Dave Allen, four-string maestro from the Gang Of Four. Given their stance on capitalism it's interesting to see him querying whether Band Of Horses were right to sever advertising links with Wal-Mart, but even more interesting are fragments of two of his band's new demos (one's on the sidebar) as free mp3s, with two more promised this week.

IN OTHER NEWS: And indeed this is the final Weekender of 2007, just as that was the last Weekly Sweep of this year. It'll be all change once we get the tinsel and turkey out of our system - the Sweep moves to Saturdays, while Weekender goes back to Sundays with a rejigged format incorporating a much shorter but no less thorough version of In Shops Tomorrow. From next weekend, you see, it's time for the STN end of year brouhaha, but that's an entirely different matter and one we'd best get cracking with if you don't mind...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In shops tomorrow: 26/11


Friends Of The Bride are from Raynes Park, SW20, which according to Wikipedia is also home to Richard Briers, ex-Charlton midfielder Graham Stuart and Dave Benson-Phillips off the kids' telly. The Times called them "nu-croon", a title Google also ascribes to Josh Groban and Cherry Ghost. Friends Of The Bride sound like neither. What So You Think You Can Dance, their second far too cool for school single for and generally another ripe picking from Young & Lost Club, does sound like is Brit-beat meets swing meets post-ironic attitude, a sound we've previous labelled "rat pack fuzzpop". As we generally say about bands who sound simultaneously retro and modern, were radio not so much in the pocket of the self-appointed NME zeitgeist this sort of thing should be all over the daytime schedules and picking up more than the small but ever growing cult passing following they currently have. Judging by the turnout and audience participation for their End Of The Road Festival set the Wave Pictures already have a passionate enough live crowd, and of course we're going to love them - two of them are from Leicestershire, they were based for a while in Cardiff, they take their lead from Darren Hayman, they've been on tour with Emmy The Great, they've played with Jeffrey Lewis and have issued records on 4AD and, in the case of the splendid Richmanish double A side We Dress Up Like Snowmen/Now You Are Pregnant, Moshi Moshi's singles club. A very big 2008 album awaits. As if to remind us that we should never have doubted her, Emma Pollock's album Watch The Fireworks is turning into quite the slow burner. That it sounds not that far from the latter days of the Delgados helps, of course, but it's definitely a record bearing a very personal stamp. Paper And Glue has a gorgeous melodic glaze covering an awkward structural feeling and is rightly making Radio 2 sit up and take note. Speaking of ethereal songwriters, presumably Island picked The Piano from PJ Harvey's White Chalk because, featuring drums and a crescendo, it's as close as they'll find to something remotely commercial. Like the rest of the album, it's otherwise totally out of line. This Is Fake DIY have followed Drowned In Sound and PlayLouder into the online magazine-becoming-label market, and their latest signings are Love Ends Disaster!, the Nottingham outfit who've been 'promising' for far too long now without getting their deserved breakthrough's Suzanne/Dinosaur double-A 7" doing the Maximo Park-channelling-Sonic Youth 'thing'. It stays well on the right side of the clean/dirty equation of post-punkishness, which Editors' The Racing Rats is busy leaping Fonz-style. The Electric Soft Parade just had to finish off their comfortably reputation re-establishing No Need To Be Downhearted album campaign with Appropriate Ending, a digital release also bearing covers of Elliott Smith and the Aislers Set. Deerhoof are occasionally called pop by mad people, but Matchbook Seeks Maniac is as sunshine pop as the American underground will ever make, even starting with the Be My Baby beat (see Covermount passim), while Electrelane bid not farewell but adieu, or whichever form they intend the word 'hiatus' to take, with the ethereal shards of In Berlin. Also that Mules single documented last week got moved back.


One of the most interesting things in the last couple of years has been the rise of the mini-album, whether giving an up and coming act time to put their older material out while writing for the proper full-length debut or to give an explosive new talent a helping hand. It's very much the latter in the case of Birmingham trio Johnny Foreigner, who've had a couple of ground level 7"s out before but on Arcs Across The City explode into glorious Sony Bravia-style technicolour of taut leftfield heavy riffage and Sonic Youth-cribbing knives through the heart of dull old linearity. Imagine Seafood's American-flavoured melodic hyperactivity colliding at full pelt with Los Campesinos!' million ideas in three minutes or less, but Los Campesinos! (who they've supported on several occasions, as they have Sky Larkin, so it's a foregone conclusion we're going to follow them whatever) if Gareth's love of Xiu Xiu was all-pervading, in one airtight package. By God, this is an exciting 21 minutes 20 seconds to give hope at these end of the year blues. Once upon a time Johnny Foreigner would have had little problem with the blanket genre description 'indie'. Probably. Man, 'indie' used to be such an unbesmirched term, indeed one which told you nothing other than its circumstances of release, often therein acting as its own badge of quality. Of course, twelve or so years ago the majors barged their way into the private party like drunk latecomers possibly tipped off by a Myspace bulletin and now everyone hates it as a subjective we're seeing indie without its rug. How different to 1982-83, when indie was something Peel and perhaps Long played and the rest of broadcast media bought bargepoles specifically for the purpose of not touching that row with, and Cherry Red records brought out its celebrated label sampler Pillows And Prayers, complete with sleeve instruction "pay no more than 99p". Skinflints got to hear the Monochrome Set, Felt, the Nightingales, Attila the Stockbroker, far too many Tracy Thorn and/or Ben Watt projects and a splendidly out of place Quentin Crisp among other luminaries of the student bedsit, and now it's back out with an extra disc of label obscurities (ver Set's Jetset Junta? We'd have thought so!) and a bloody DVD. Someone should mount a sculpture dedicated to this stuff for Trafalgar Square's spare plinth. Pixies were never so downtrodden so they just settled for being the greatest rock band ever (our perspective only). Dig For Fire: A Tribute To Pixies sounds like one of those tribute albums featuring obscure Norwegian light metallers that get flung out into bargain bins every so often, but in fact features British Sea Power (Caribou), Mogwai (Gouge Away), They Might Be Giants, Joy Zipper, the Rosebuds, OK Go and assorted US underground flyweights. They've done all their reforming, but Squeeze head around the country from Monday and take with them self-released document of their summer US tour 5 Live and the second in Glenn Tilbrook's mining of his demos cupboard, In The Sky Above: Demo Tapes 1993-1998.


There's quite a bit of Roxy Music revivalism going on at the moment, now that the coast is clear from the half-arsed half reunion tour, and it continues with The Thrill of It All: A Visual History 1972-1982, featuring the art school dandies doing what they did on video, telly and stage, much commercially unreleased before now. One thing it unfortunately doesn't feature, which we might as well give you as we're in a good mood, is their MusikLaden set of 1973, featuring this version of Re-make/Re-model chiefly notable because a) it's mad and b) the audience are only roused by the drum solo. Sparks, who did a similarly coolly received set for the same show around this time, have fans who would only cheer a drum solo were it fed in by the backdrop projection. Dee Vee Dee - Sparks At The London Forum is a document of their high concept show from last September.

The Weekly Sweep

  • The Chiara L's - Kate's Kid [Myspace]
  • Emma Pollock - Paper And Glue [YouTube]
  • Emmy The Great - Gabriel [Myspace]
  • Foals - Balloons [YouTube]
  • Friends Of The Bride - So, You Think You Can Dance? [YouTube]
  • Future Of The Left - Manchasm [mp3 from The Merry Swankster]
  • The Futureheads - Broke Up The Time [Myspace]
  • Holy Fuck - Milkshake [mp3 from nialler9]
  • Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit - The Box [YouTube]
  • Johnny Foreigner - The End And Everything Else [Myspace]
  • The Kills - URA Fever [Myspace]
  • Laura Groves - I Am Leaving [Myspace] (This lovely thing, oddly reminiscent to us of Lightspeed Champion in a way, was allowed to slip by virtually unnoticed last month, while Adele's cheap homilies over rejected Melanie C synth string arrangements get the uber-hard sell. What gives?)
  • Lucky Soul - Lips Are Unhappy [YouTube] (So yeah, they won that Last.FM Christmas chart challenge thing and got to play a rooftop gig in 'fresh' mid-November for their promotional troubles. We, however, can only recommend taking part so far, to be exact to the point where the promo blurb references "real music". Are we really not past such linguistic high-minded stupidity?)
  • The Mules - This Is Your Life [Myspace]
  • Pulp - Sunrise [live YouTube]
  • Restlesslist - Dirty Pint [YouTube]
  • This Ain't Vegas - Short Term Long Term [YouTube]
  • Wake The President - Remember Fun? [Myspace]
  • The Wave Pictures - We Dress Up Like Snowmen [Myspace]
  • Wire - Our Time
  • Friday, November 23, 2007

    Fancy a Brewis?

    Exciting news: School Of Language, the cut and paste project of Field Musician David Brewis, releases debut album Ship To Shore on February 4th, Memphis Industries in Britain, Thrill Jockey in America. It features guest slots for Barry and Jaff from the Futureheads plus one Marie Nixon. That's Marie du Santiago to you.

    It also looks like he's already got Frank Sidebottom onside.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Rip groove

    Back in the last post we made reference to how the circle of musical life and regeneration is getting ever smaller. In the couple of days since, something has occurred to us that throws it into even sharper relief - UK garage is back. And not just because Craig David is giving interviews to whoever wants him to speak.

    You remember UK garage. 2-step, as it became known - first there was speed garage, which was essentially speeded up house with time-stretched vocals, then sub-bass and the removal of two beats per bar made it 2-step, which became in its vocal R&B-mixed form the crossover hit of 1999-2000, which in turn went darker and deeper underground and re-emerged as grime.

    And now? It's back from the northern clubs where it's been stewing these past few years. At number three in this week's midweeks is T2 feat Jodie's Heartbroken (and fans of absolute disgraces may like to note Micah Richards in the car at the start of the video), which sounds like Artful Dodger, and this is going to be far from the only hit with the broken beats and sped up house over the next year or so. It's apparently being called 'bassline' or 'niche' in the clubs, but we had these genre title debates years ago and frankly it's all the same thing at its core. And after that's been digested, go and listen to the boundary-crossing critical success of Burial's album Untrue, hailed as both the apotheosis and the transcendence of dubstep, but that drumbeat, that bassline, those varispeeded rave diva vocals... we know where that's actually come from.

    While we're here, on a no less production-minded note but otherwise completely different, Song, By Toad has posted a fine piece about mixing levels that follows the similar piece the late Stylus magazine did a few years ago and makes what's happening clearer.

    (* Can we point out Wiley's rhyming of 'garage' with 'garage' with 'garage' with 'garage'?)

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    The scene that celebrates itself

    Next year, people not born when England played West Germany in the World Cup semi-final will be taking their A-levels. For someone becoming ever more aware of the onward passage of time, that's more than slightly scary. It also goes to show how fast music moves on in this country - a full generation has already moved on since the heyday of acid house, probably the last youth movement connected with music that did actually cause socio-political ructions, the idea that these gatherings were happening without your permission.

    There's a lot of talk about the tightening coils that make up a timeline of revivalism in the UK music scene, what with nu-rave and baggy influences around at the moment and the enveloping fog of Britpop influences already coming to the fore (why that should be the big issue given the tag 'post-Libertines' is already passe we don't know, but let's move on), which is why it's timely that this week sees compilation box set virtuosos Rhino Records release The Brit Box, a four CD box set shaped like a red telephone box, inevitably, complete with a large booklet featuring contributions from Alan McGee, Stephen Street, Alan Moulder and so forth. It's being sold not only as the first retrospective of what happened in this wave of UK music in the vein of previous Rhino releases Nuggets, Left Of The Dial and One Kiss Can Lead To Another, which will only really impress the US audience it was originally aimed at, but more specifically as a Britpop/Cool Britannia retrospective, which now water actually has passed under respective bridges and the documentarians have had their say might work in itself, but it's far from that, taking a fifteen year sweep of what was going on, cutting off in 1999 when the British music scene finally got over itself. For a bit. While nobody accused Nuggets of being too hasty even though it came out six years after its most contemporary inclusion, fifteen years is a wide angle to take if compressing British guitar music down to a flowchart of cultural studies.

    But that's theory. What about music? Well, that's soon enough rendered - what we did was ripped, downloaded and variously acquired as many of the 78 tracks as we could in advance, falling just eight short in the end, listened to them and tried to make sense of what actually happened here.

    Disc 1

    It starts with How Soon Is Now? Well, of course it starts with How Soon Is Now?, perhaps even more than the Beatles the single great influence on what follows to this day, through that guitar and that lyrical concern, a strong stylistic link that takes in both Blur and Oasis. These early stages are really more of a cherrypick of what was dispritely going on rather than trying to make a linear narrative, with the Cocteau Twins' Lorelei existing in its own world and three tracks nodding at the continued underlying influence of C86. Interestingly there's an attempt to make them flow in the choices of tracks - Primitive Painters was a standout at the time but other Lawrence songs with less hazy production have aged better, while there's better examples of the Shop Assistants' sharpness than the shimmering attempt Somewhere In China. The Mighty Lemon Drops' charged Byrdsian jangles presage much of what came, but by that token the Wedding Present shouldn't have had pride of place here. We're on firmer ground with the Cure's Just Like Heaven, a song that gets irregular attempts at not so disguised remakes, not least by the Cure themselves for about the next five years, Echo and the Bunnymen's Lips Like Sugar also going towards mining a seam that really didn't have the advantage taken from it until after the nineties, although for our money Back Of Love or Seven Seas would have been better. In retrospect the Jesus and Mary Chain's April Skies, while as dark as reputation suggests, doesn't have anything like the impact of Psychocandy, and after the previous two tracks seems somewhat leaden. And what was it with proper drums being mixed to sound like electronic kits at the time?

    Although they would become more influential with other songs, Spacemen 3's Walkin' With Jesus also stands alone, as much by its lush minimalism as being between J&MC and the Primitives' endlessly likeable Crash, both of which are on a level with the now sounding underpowered Unbearable by the Wonder Stuff, which sounds like the Mighty Lemon Drops grown up and discovering the joy of record sales when they actually made you money. This is where we turn into the 1990s, and thanks to Oakenfold and those million DJs who claim to have discovered house music are running their clubs and creating a word of mouth that's getting all manner of losers, boozers and jacuzzi users to invest in sequencers. And so it is here, the moment when bands became structurally and crossover-wise ambitious. She Bangs The Drums, The Only One I Know, Step On, Loaded, This Is How It Feels - all as familiar to men aged between 26 and 48 as the national anthem and a lot less dirgelike too. But, certainly in the first two and last cases, also the first strains of successful British music rooted in the 1960s beyond the Beatles, the sounds of Merseybeat, garage and the British Invasion, a connection even more explicit when followed by the Trash Can Sinatras' Obscurity Knocks - a choice which suggests trying to make connections between this era and what came later, as some Pop Will Eat Itself to cement the dance-rock lineage wouldn't have killed - and, with a creeping sense of inevitability, There She Goes. Disc 1 closes with the Sundays' Here's Where The Story Ends, which is its own little microcosm of homegrown UK music of the 90s - 1990's Reading, Writing And Arithmetic was for a few years talked about in hushed tones, at least for as long until they followed it up in 1997, but nowadays is lucky to receive a mention in dispatches. Although, again, there are better songs of theirs - Can't Be Sure, a piece of opaque greatness from two years earlier - you'd now struggle to call this 'indie', bearing more in relation to KT Tunstall than the Long Blondes.

    Disc 2

    Precious little such acoustic-led shilly-shallying on this disc, as we spend most of its eighteen tracks with hair lank, pedals maxed and eyes downwards. The progression is gradual, Ride's Vapour Trail having more than a hint of jangle and strings among its blurred tremelos, and while the Pale Saints more than match up in the hovering guitars and wan vocals, more latter Spacemen 3 than anything, it's not until track three when Loveless, represented by the still extraordinary Only Shallow, arrives to blow the joint apart, and we're off into the realm of the effects. Some found a way through - the tremendously underrated at all stages Lush's For Love makes a link between the Popguns and those around them here - but the Telescopes are fairly evidently taking after Ride while Chapterhouse are Shoegazing 101 makeweights and the Catherine Wheel - quite successful on American college radio, lest we forget - appear to be trying to become the introspective swirling complement to Soundgarden. Inevitably it's this disc which is hit hardest by a lack of download presence, though we doubt Bleach, Five Thirty, the Dylans, Thousand Yard Stare and Moose, whose singer became famous for never looking straight ahead on stage, are bearing up well, although the Family Cat might have offered something. Curve were important on the route to Garbageesque female fronted electro-rock but their dense production and (machined?) drum patterns suggest they were more one of a piece with many of those around. This means we join the story on its way out of shoegazing and realising we're missing some vital component parts. Where, for example, are the clustered guitars and superior darkscaping of the House Of Love at the start, the square pegs and much hinted at of late Kitchens Of Distinction or indeed one of the genre's most important and well remembered bands, Slowdive?

    Instead we rejoin well on the way to what came with the ragtag Ned's Atomic Dustbin - nice of them to remember, but surely Jesus Jones deserved a mention, although with none of the Britpop-affiliated ends of electro and big beat referred to in the rest of the compilation the dance pastures hinted at with the Mondays and so forth have been abandoned by the compilers. Before Select could get Brett Anderson in front of a blue screen it briefly looked like British guitar music would literally be dragged back kicking and screaming into hard pastures, firstly with Birdland's Shoot You Down, not half as malevolent as it wants to be, and then the Manics, smartly choosing early 'sixteen million and then we'll split' rather than successful, although if the point's being made there are better songs to make it with, as James and Nicky would now attest, than Stay Beautiful. (Note for timeline tracers: it was Birdland disappointment Steve Lamacq invoked in his interview with Richey about commitment that caused the '4 REAL' business). After such sonic pounding the final track is the one that ends up pointing the way best, Teenage Fanclub's still peerless Star Sign, which takes the wall of guitars and does something straightforwardly melodic with them. This, however, was clearly not a vintage period, and the fact we were about to type "where's Carter USM?" confirms it.

    Disc 3

    Now we're into it. 'YANKS GO HOME!' said the famous Select cover, not long after Suede had burst out of nowhere, all makeup, androgyny and suggestions of 'other', The Drowners for many the starting pistol for what was to follow. So here we have... Metal Mickey. Less glam, less lyrically suggestive, less all round. Only then, for some reason, do we get Swervedriver, who have become co-opted into shoegazing retrospectively - pedals, Home Counties - but on Duel resemble a louder Teenage Fanclub. Eugenius are an intriguing addition, a Kurt Cobain favourite whose jangly Breakfast almost predicts the next Fannies album, but if this part, which includes the similar but more attempted ethereal Superstar, is showing the way towards 1995's apogee then it's odd not to see Cud or the Auteurs included. Instead there's an almost token nod to New Order's last great song Regret and James' Laid and, bizarrely, Nick Heyward, who was signed to Creation for a short while for some facile acoustic stuff. Was there an issue with picking something from weller's Wild Wood? It's interesting that at this point we get three bands who didn't really fit in at the time, the Boo Radleys' glorious psychedelic epic Lazarus (an inventive reappropriation of Merseybeat retro, and at least it wasn't the get-out clause of anything from Wake Up!), Saint Etienne's retro-futurism - how the Americans will take to You're In A Bad Way's reference to "watching Bruce on the old Generation Game" is anyone's guess - and Stereolab's reuse of influences most clued-up people still know little about. What this all goes to show, we suppose, is that in 1993-94 there was a lot of music about of quality but it needed to coalesce for wider appreciation.

    You'll never guess who made the next three tracks, given that build-up. Last first, Common People will remain unimpeachable, doffing its cap to many a direct influence while sounding completely of the time and yet in a way that will never age its quietly shifting sound. Frankly, it's a song about not getting on with middle class art students that resonated for everyone. Oasis come before it with Live Forever, the perfect match of their early fire and Noel's classicist aspirations. (Interesting to note that despite being the ultimate rockist band Noel often namechecked trip-hop and dance music among his listening at the time, only much later thinning it out to just Cotton Mather and Kings Of Leon.) Blur? Intriguingly, their choice is from Parklife but it's Tracy Jacks, not even the most celebrated or well sketched out of the non-single album tracks. Girls And Boys would have fitted the sequencing better, This Is A Low or Badhead would have shown the depths Damon was capable of, Parklife and End Of A Century would be better for the theme. We can only assume they wanted to represent his character study period, which only really came into play on the albums either side of Parklife to wildly varying results. And then the issue really gets clouded with The New Wave Of New Wave, more precisely These Animal Men, who shot for the glam stars but ended up lumpen and somehow just unlikeable. Maybe this and the resolutely second division Mega City Four is the warning from history, the way it might have turned out in a parallel world. Echobelly's Insomniac has aged just as badly, but this is by no means their most representative moment. By now we're well into the Cool Britannia longeurs and assorted hypes, Gene hampered by sledgehammer production, the infamous Menswear's Sleeping In - why not their calling card Daydreamer? - like a modern pisstake of chirpy Cockernee schmindie. Even Supergrass' celebrated Alright doesn't survive all that well, the joi de vivre pulling through a lightweight arrangement, but it's less of a hostage to fortune alongside Cast's own Alright, which now sounds desperately short of ideas. Although that concept is in the eye of the beholder - Elastica didn't have too many different ideas in 1994, yet Stutter still sounds like an invigorating come-on of pure Buzzcockian stock. That's kind of the impression a large part of this CD gives off - those that have commitment and audible personality were few on the ground, and those are the ones you remember. Which means that when we get to the dregs as the music makes the leap from weeklies to daily showbiz columns, some people are in trouble.

    Disc 4

    Are Dodgy one such band? They swept the scene at one point, with Math Priest's Never Mind The Buzzcocks residency and Andy Miller dating Denise van Outen, but minus the quotability presence In A Room suggests they weren't exactly cut out to be frontrunners. Ash might well have been, Girl From Mars one of few of their early songs that have aged well, but they kept taking their eye off the ball. Sleeper fare less well, but again Sale Of The Century shows off Louise Wener's style less well than Inbetweener, and Marion's glam racket is better served by Time than Sleep. Nothing will ever serve better for Kula Shaker. Did we really all go head over heels for Tattva's third hand Small Faces plus mysticism? Actually Ocean Colour Scene do better than expected out of being picked up from the populism reject bin, although the famous riff from The Riverboat Song, now divorced from memories of Chris Evans at his height, sounds horribly underpowered. Babybird's You're Gorgeous is still a textbook lesson in how to wrest a radio friendly anthem from unfriendly sources, although its omnipresence that year did stop Stephen Jones from receiving his songwriting due. The Bluetones' Slight Return? Ooh, this is painful - we don't mind admitting we loved them at the time of Expecting To Fly, but in isolaton twelve years later it's clearly musicians working at the limits of their jangling abilities. The singles from the derided second album have weathered much better. There's also those pushed out through the circumstances of the storytelling - no place for the Longpigs' maximalism, or Space's cheek, or any mention of the bands the fanzine kids followed as a contrasting story to the now mainstream rock hegemony - no Bis, no Kenickie, no early Idlewild, not even Belle & Sebastian.

    And so the talking stopped. Country House v Roll With It happened, then Morning Glory broke big, then over 1996 and 1997 it all began to ebb away, in contravention of basic physics because it got too big. The smart ones realised that to survive you needed a few out of the way ideas because nobody was standing for straight pub singalong choruses any more. Pub lads wouldn't get Gruff Rhys or Neil Hannon, whose Something 4 The Weekend and Something For The Weekend remain moments of individual flair compromised by Rhino's tracklister acting too smart. We don't know which version of Brimful Of Asha they're using, but no prizes for guessing which of Cornershop's Richman-hinting original and Fatboy Slim's big beateria has weathered best. Has anybody thought about Silver Sun in the last ten years? Album track Service is an odd choice, but its glam beat, power chords and Californian harmonies just about carry through. Jason Pierce's second appearance completely at odds with his surroundings comes with the title track from Spiritualized's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, still on the subjects of life's etherness and allusions to "taking away the pain" from perhaps the great lost classic of the '90s, routinely described as a masterpiece at the time but overlooked ever since. Plenty of people are still fond of Mansun too, and they don't sound like a lot of their disc compadres either in a very different way, especially when placed next to the post-Oasis bludgeon longeurs masquerading as gradiosity of Hurricane #1's Step Into My World and The Verve's Lucky Man. You can't help thinking it's this sort of radiant self-perpetuating reaching for the showbiz stars that's being replicated to smaller and smaller artistic merit - what is divisible by zero again? - as time passes. Rialto now sound exactly like the recent New Order albums, which probably wasn't their intention at the time. Britpop was conclusively over by this point, but it left a legacy of people who wanted to be in the tabloids at any cost. Exhibit A: there's nothing to Catatonia's Mulder And Scully, even the then sainted Cerys coming off second in an internal likeable vocal style contest with Wener. You Don't Care About Us is a fairly anaemic choice to represent Placebo but is Ace Of Spades next to Gay Dad, the final track and presumably chosen for their own story, hugely hyped in advance followed by instant backlash and mocking ever since. Oh Jim, rather than that much trailed debut single From Earth With Love, doesn't help that cause much. Evidently, UK music didn't learn anything as it went along from its mistakes. Or rather it did, and can repeat them when required.

    Monday, November 19, 2007

    Weekender : our face is a foreign food

    FREE MUSIC: Chris Walla likes to keep irons in the fire - guitarist in Death Cab For Cutie, he's also made his name behind the production console with credits including the last two Decemberists albums, Nada Surf, Hot Hot Heat, The Thermals and Tegan & Sara. Now he's breaking solo, Field Manual set for a US January release despite a recent setback when his hard drive was briefly confiscated by Homeland Security while crossing the Canadian border. Sing Again will not pose a threat to your livelihood, but it is Shins-esque sunshine pop with a serrated edge just lurking beneath.

    HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: We get a lot of emails, but that's what comes of badly organised spam filters. Occasionally we do get emails alerting us to decent new bands, one such being New York's Your 33 Black Angels. Doubtless this has been around the mid-ranking mp3 blogs at least four times by now, and we're fully aware of this sort of thing in the wake of that Idolator piece, but even before that their self-released album Lonely Street had earned special commendation from Rolling Stone editor David Fricke in September. They follow in the Brooklyn area recent years garage trend, not garage in the scrappy fall-down way but in the indiepop kids in a garage getting their smarter ideas into fruition sense, with echoes of the work of Stephen Malkmus and his compadre the Silver Jews' David Berman filtered through the likes of Hot Hot Heat and on through to Lou Reed.

    VISUAL REPRESENTATION: This was only ever going to be given over to one band this week, with My Bloody Valentine reformation ticket demand briefly crashing both the Roundhouse online box office and Seetickets. Why is this important? Soon, Feed Me With Your Kiss and You Made Me Realise are three examples of why it's important. Kevin Shields could never quite fully explain why himself at the time, as when interviewed in 1990 by Edward Ball and featured on Rapido two years later, although he'd got better at it by 2000 and this past month, looking back and confirming the reunion to The Make-Up/weird War/Nation Of Ulysses' Ian Svenonius. Perhaps it's best expressed live, despite the 1990-91 mic-distorting levels as with I Only Said, When You Sleep, Only Shallow and even Sunny Sundae Smile. At least, we assume it is under all the feedback.

    FALLING OFF A BLOG: Who Killed The Mixtape? likes Curb Your Enthusiasm. Score one point there. They also have a wide range of mp3s and embeds. Score many more.

    EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: One of the most common 'whatever happened to...?' queries, mid-90s UK subsection, has been answered by Under The Radar magazine, who have tracked down Lush's Miki Berenyi, who is very forthcoming on the band's history and reveals that bar the odd guest vocal she has no plans to take up music again. And yes, we're aware that everyone knew she worked for TV Times for a bit, but that's hardly where the smitten wanted to see her.

    IN OTHER NEWS: In a quite notable set of charts (the Spice Girls Children In Need single falling? We blame Fearne Cotton), Amy Winehouse's Back To Black shot up, pun only half-intended, to number 30. Winehouse's parents, you may recall, once appealed to the public to stop buying her album and were 'rewarded' by it climbing back up to number two. All publicity really is good publicity.

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    In shops tomorrow: 19/11


    This is more like it, plenty of 7"s, CDs and downloads to go round this week. Even for those who go down the Harvey/Marshall route of the emotionally charged while not overbearing female singer-songwriter, Scout Niblett can take some getting used to, even if there's fewer drum-powered songs than before on her current album This Fool Can Die Now. The single taken from it is the closest it ever remotely comes to commercial, Kiss being a duet with Will Oldham that resembles Cat Power in an iron maiden (no, not Iron Maiden, an actual iron maiden). Brighton duo/trio/loads Restlesslist, who form quite a solid piece of the interconnected Whitecentric web of Brighton music, seem to be appealing to a wider audience then they might have expected, their last single appearing in Mixmag's top fifty tracks of 2006. Your pilled up clubber would literally shit themselves at Dirty Pint, the imaginary soundtrack to an fairground ghost train based on Hammer Horror soundtracks. Just down the road literally and musically metaphorically, the Go! Team's Proof Of Youth received some criticism for its snail-like progression from the Thunder Lightning Strike sound, but in reality their style is so singular and so indubtedly theirs that it'd be difficult to see how much further it could be stretched. Third single The Wrath Of Marcie is therefore bracing funk brass, hip hop drums, half-buried Ninja rhymes and cartoon theme interludes, this one seemingly quoting J Geils Band's Centerfold. Baby-faced quasi-rustic folk storyteller and occasional National Theatre Shakespearian actor Johnny Flynn has somehow ended up on Vertigo Records (The Killers, Razorlight, Dirty Pretty Things, Amy Macdonald, One Kooks Night Only), and it'll be a nightmare for whoever's charged with trying to feed his sound through the A&R/publicity machine. The Box sees him continue to make his own corner of the London nu-'folk' scene. He's also subject of Rubbish ContactMusic Review Of The Week, wherein it is confidently stated "no matter how hard he may try, he will always be compared to Newton Faulkner". By that token the Raveonettes will forever be in the shadow of Amy Winehouse, being as both have betrayed Wall Of Sound influences in the past. The Danish ice duo again have their handstamped sound no matter where they take it, Dead Sound coming on with spooky distorted J&MC with Velvets to taste. Opinionated storyteller Chris T-T got distracted from his London trilogy of albums by his 9 Red Songs political repositioning for a good two or three years, but Capital is due out in February and advance notice is given on the This Gun Is Not A Gun EP. The album manages both the ying and yang of STN's musical worldview, featuring as it does both Emmy The Great and one of Razorlight (the drummer). The Rumble Strips do what they do, again, on Time, the Mules step out from the shadow of all their famous and talented friends with their very British take on Talking Heads '77, This Is Your Life; Australian youths Operator Please leave behind their meta-table tennis contextualising for the more streamlined Leave It Alone; Make Model, now on EMI, turn tail on their Canadian-influenced post-postrock for a more Heavenly-esque poppier/dark lyrical side on The Was; and the indefatigable Helen Love preview February's new album with the usual Ramones/J-Pop bubblegum of It’s My Club. Just as excitingly, someone's finally uploaded the video for Long Live The UK Music Scene, even if we suspect Ocean Colour Scene have now indeed sold more singles than Gina G.


    Not much new to speak of, evidently. We're a UK music blog, so we're forced by law to namecheck Girls Aloud's Tangled Up, even if the new single sounds for the first time in their careers (bar the covers) like A N Other Girl Group. That's what happens when you recontextualise pop, everyone works out eventually what you were doing. Meanwhile Bonnie Prince Billy, or if you're Amazon Bonnie Prince Charlie, delves into the covers stopgap drawer on Ask Forgiveness and comes out with Bjork, Danzig, R Kelly, Merle Haggard and Phil Ochs. GoodBooks are probably as well renowned for their remixes as their originals, so it's no wonder that they've commissioned download-only Control Freaks, tracks from their underrated Control album reworked by the likes of the Teenagers (inevitably, being one guitar band with remix chops reworking another), Crystal Castles, Kissy Sell Out, Minotaur Shock and Lo-Fi-Fnk. Also going the repackaging route are Gorillaz, with second odds and sods compilation D-Sides, and Bloc Party, whose A Weekend In The City has grown Flux (after I Still Remember) and a DVD of Reading set and videos. Nowhere near as frenetic but just as heartfelt, The Drift Collective documents the highly promising Devon-based with Brighton offshoot folk label's best acts, including Thirty Pounds Of Bone, Mary Hampton, The R G Morrison and Actress Hands' Matt Eaton. New Boots And Panties is about to hit thirty, and reissued best of Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll demonstrates why no home should be without some Dury. 5CD set The Brit Box catalogues most of the notables that took guitar music through the 1990s - we'll be covering this in greater detail later in the week. Sufjan Stevens' Songs For Christmas is one of many festive issues this week. For no tie-in reason that we can make out, Neko Case's country-noir second and third full-lengths, Furnace Room Lullaby and Blacklisted, also return.


    "Am I going to have to do this by myself?" It had never occurred to us before that for all the words written about the TV broadcast and CD and everything read into its significance, Nirvana Unplugged In New York, recorded fourteen years ago today, has never previously been released in visual form. This has the whole thing for the first time, plus rehearsal footage and a documentary.


    You've probably heard the 13th Floor Elevators' disciples more than you've heard their own garage psychedelia, and it's probable you know even more about leader Roky Erickson's subsequent RP McMurphy-esque mental breakdown and three years in a mental hospital for the criminally insane. Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators by Paul Drummond, with Julian Cope on foreword, tries to unpick legend from fact with everybody involved as interviewees.

    The Weekly Sweep

  • Burial - Archangel [mp3 from Analog Giant] (Yeah, look at us being all hip. Truth be told, being whitey we have no idea what dubstep actually is except that this transcends its ideas and limitations, and while, like much of Massive Attack's work, we get enveloped in its unique sonic envelope - Untrue is a great late night journey album, even just walking through town - it's not something we make a great emotional connection with. Still, this is as remarkable a piece of bass booster-breaking and subjugation of something long though passe, UK garage/two-step, as can be)
  • David Bowie - Be My Wife [YouTube]
  • Emmy The Great - Gabriel [Myspace]
  • Foals - Balloons [YouTube]
  • Friends Of The Bride - So, You Think You Can Dance? [YouTube]
  • Future Of The Left - Manchasm [mp3 from The Merry Swankster]
  • The Futureheads - Broke Up The Time [mp3 from I Shook The Royal Throne]
  • Glasvegas - Daddy's Gone [Myspace]
  • The Go! Team - The Wrath Of Marcie [YouTube]
  • Holy Fuck - Milkshake [mp3 from nialler9]
  • Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit - The Box [YouTube]
  • Katy Rose - Rosemary [Myspace] (And here lies a story. Californian life survivor Rose emerged into the post-Avril field in 2004, had a small amount of MTV success, got dropped, disappeared for the best part of three years and has re-emerged sounding like Fiona Apple fronting Garbage produced by Xenomania for 4AD)
  • Love Ends Disaster! - Suzanne [Myspace]
  • Luke Leighfield - If I Try [Myspace]
  • My Bloody Valentine - You Made Me Realise [YouTube]
  • The Mules - This Is Your Life [Myspace]
  • Restlesslist - Dirty Pint [YouTube]
  • The School - All I Wanna Do Is [Myspace]
  • Wake The President - Remember Fun? [Myspace]
  • The Wave Pictures - We Dress Up Like Snowmen [Myspace]
  • Friday, November 16, 2007

    Forward Rhydian

    If we can be said to have many traditions this early on, one is that about this time every year we take a look at the advance betting on the Christmas number one. Of course, as commercialisation of the number one spot takes over, it's all been ruined - you won't be able to find a bookie taking bets on whoever wins the X Factor being the festive leader.

    What can be done? Well, have had an idea - they've corralled three young bands into a competition, Christmas Chart Attack, where subscribers can vote for one and the winner will, it says here, "take their track and go head-to-head with the X Factor winner, to decide who tops the charts this December", apparently by offering it as a 40p download. The reason we mention it is that one of the bands involved is Lucky Soul, and in this situation, who cares about the other two candidates. Not that in a just world they should need a viral gimmick to become stars, given the quality of their album, but as it is what you need to do before Monday is go to its auto-play page and click on the heart symbol in the embedded player to register a vote. Together we can send Lips Are Unhappy into the Christmas top 130.

    Back in the non-virtual world they've not got a clue, Ladbrokes having dropped their usual online book, not even offering Excluding X-Factor. Luckily there are no depths to which Paddy Power will sink, especially given their What Will Happen Next To Amy Winehouse? book (Win a Grammy 13-8 favourite, file for divorce 20-1, be snapped fighting with Lily Allen 25-1, start dating Pete Doherty 40-1, receive an ASBO 50-1, become the face of Ragu 100-1 - don't quite understand that last one), so here's what they reckon we'll be pointedly shunning the Cowelltopia for:

    7-4 Spice Girls - Headlines
    It's likely not to make number one this week, when it's the official Children In Need record! A five week slow burn is really pushing it

    3-1 Sugbabes - Change

    3-1 Leona Lewis - Bleeding Love

    8-1 Mutya Buena feat. Amy Winehouse - B-Boy Baby
    Now, Winehouse, if you could just put the pipe aside for a moment and answer this - if you love the Shangri-Las as much as you say you do, why are you doing backing vocals on a R&B 'update' of Be My Baby?

    10-1 Shaun The Sheep - Life's A Treat
    And to think we credited Aardman with some imagination. It's the opening theme to Shaun's CBBC series, as sung by Vic Reeves. And if that doesn't demonstrate something about Vic Reeves' current career trajectory, nothing will.

    18-1 Kylie Minogue - 2 Hearts

    20-1 Connie Talbot - Somewhere Over The Rainbow
    Not the Sound Of Music stage Maria, that's Connie Fisher. This is a six year old from Britain's Got Talent and possibly the latest in a long line of precocious pre-teens pushed into million pound record deals and a Christmastime single who are never heard of again (cf All Angels, Declan Galbraith)

    It gets really dull from then on, with all sorts of guesswork - yeah, Snow Patrol could suddenly rear back up the charts, but don't expect much change on your 50-1 - and a dark horse back at 100-1 if it gets publicity, Annie Lennox's charity single Sing featuring guest vocals from a whole host of female singers, wherein Madonna, Dido, Celine Dion, Pink, Shakira, Joss Stone, the Sugababes and KT Tunstall rub mastertape shoulders with Beth Gibbons, kd lang, Beth Orton, Martha Wainwright and, most intriguingly, Shingai Shoniwa from the Noisettes. Which is all very well, but... this Christmas race list. It's not very wide-ranging, is it? We all get peeved by chancers and noveltists, but nobody seems to be bothering trying to score populist approval any more. Not even a new Nizlopi.

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    GRRR Books

    Gambaccini, Read, Rice and Rice, of course, originators of the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles. The reason why we bring this up: why is last year's volume being repromoted with massive piles in bookstores this year without its usual update? Is someone going out of business?

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    An Illustrated Guide To... Squeeze

    On 26th November the reformed Squeeze, or reformed in the sense it ever was for a good half of its lifespan in being Chris Difford, Glenn Tilbrook and others (returning bassist John Bentley and Stephen Large and Simon Hanson from Tilbrook's band The Fluffers, to be exact), begin a UK tour they thought might never happen. The figureheads, having been tarred at their peak with Rolling Stone's 'new Lennon & McCartney' tag, never made it to How Do You Sleep? levels of antipathy - the split was too civil for that - but there was a barely disguised depth of feeling between the pair well before the parting of band ways. Although the impasse long thawed completely, Difford has intimated that the tour is only happening because Universal wanted to promote this year's Essential Squeeze compilation, their tenth Best Of, and although Tilbrook has made encouraging noises about an eventual album and Difford has spoken of getting his own long gestated Squeeze musical going both are releasing solo albums next year. Whatever, it brings back into the spotlight one of the most literate and effective bands Britain has produced in the last thirty years or so.

    In 1973, 18 year old Chris Difford placed a guitarist wanted advert in a shop in Blackheath, to which one of few respondents was 15 year old hippy Glenn Tilbrook. As their friendship and musical partnership blossomed the more musically able Tilbrook took up the melodic side while the longer standing songwriting half concentrated on lyrics, and the pair played at the bottom of bills for a couple of years, mostly under the name Skyco. On the side Tilbrook continued to sketch out songs with talented pianist schoolfriend Julian Holland, Jools to one and all, who Difford has described as resembling a Hell's Angel hanger-on at the time, if you can imagine such a thing. Mutual acquaintance Harry Kakoulli, who'd been in a band with future Only One and briefly Tilbrook flatmate Peter Perrett, joined the nascent outfit on bass, and with shortlived drummer Paul Gunn the band built up a south London following throughout 1975 under a name taken from a late Velvet Underground album. Perrett's friend's friend Miles Copeland was a managerial mover and shaker who would later turn his brother Stewart's band The Police into worldwide superstars, and he convinced the teenagers to sign a managerial contract that year on the promise of better paid gigs, handing over an unrecoupable fifty percent of all publishing rights in the process. A couple of aborted sessions followed before sessioner Gilson Lavis joined as drummer and a set of demos was finally recorded. Watching some of the session was John Cale, who produced debut release Packet Of Three EP, which sold 25,000 copies on the tiny Deptford Fun City label.

    Cale was entrusted the self-titled debut album, but, heavily reliant on drink and drugs at this point, insisted first off that the band ditch all their road-tested songs and come up with a whole new set in the studio which abandoned their harmonic post-Beatles melodies for aggressiveness and subjects he suggested. Both main parties disown the album, released in March 1978, the two singles being the sole album tracks produced by the band themselves when ill health forced Cale out early. The first, Take Me I'm Yours, went top twenty, while Copeland hired a cramping van and drove them round America's byways for two months.

    Take Me, I'm Yours

    With a stockpile of their own earlier unreleased songs, second album syndrome was quelled until A&M recommended they scrap the sessions with Pink Floyd engineer Brian Humphries, the band ending up co-producing it themselves with first album engineer John Wood to what everyone refers to as superior results. Writing Cool For Cats, for a start, which ended up as the title track of the album released in March 1979. Difford took influence from Ian Dury, Nick Drake and the crew of local ne'er do wells who were hanging around the band at the time, while Tilbrook's musical experimentation was encouraged, early synths dotted about the record. The album is full of band classics - Slap And Tickle, Goodbye Girl, Cool For Cats - inspired by the musical segments of The Benny Hill Show - and Up The Junction, written in New Orleans in the Dylan reportage style. The last two sold a combined million records and the latter two tracks both reached number two as singles, so on with ever lengthening tours they went.

    Slap And Tickle

    At the end of 1979 Kakoulli was sacked, replaced by John Bentley, and after a single Christmas Day was curiously banned by the BBC and flopped as a result, Squeeze went back into the studio with three albums' worth of Difford songs, the best of which became Argybargy, a less successful but no less succinctly captured collection. Just after its February 1980 release Holland, who was seen as the band's calming internal force but had been sidelined during much of the previous two albums' recording sessions, left to pursue his own musical and soon enough televisual projects. Copeland was also summarily excommunicated as manager, Chris and Glenn feeling he'd taken his eye off the Squeeze ball as the Police rose steadily. Instead they hooked up with Stiff Records founder Jake Riviera, now operating his own management company, and his associate Elvis Costello agreed to produce the May 1981 fourth album East Side Story alongside Undertones producer Roger Bechirian. Operating to strict working hours and pub banning orders so work could be completed before Elvis' other commitments, the decision was also made to bring in Paul Carrack on vocals and keyboard. It was his soul background that encouraged the band to come up with Tempted, a song Difford admits is partly autobiographical, and at Costello's suggestion to put Carrack on lead. Widely regarded as their pinnacle, it's almost a theme album of love either going wrong or setting about things the wrong way, shaded by soul and country and moving away from earlier blanket accusations of a sexist nature. Labelled With Love went to number four, aided by B-side joke Squabs On Forty Fab, a Stars On 45-style disco medley of previous singles.

    In Quintessence
    Squabs On Forty Fab

    By then Riviera and A&M had already come to loggerheads, and when having promised a contractless agreement Riviera presented a lengthy and detailed document for signing the die was cast against the manager. Five years' pauseless work behind them Squeeze needed rest; instead what they got was studio time for another album and a new keyboard player after the pivotal Carrack left, Don Snow his replacement. Sweets From A Stranger, released in May 1982 and produced, as much has he could with Tilbrook in particular dominating proceedings, by Phil MacDonald, was a major step backwards, exacerbating existing tensions and not selling half as well in Britain, although America proved less elusive. Standalone single Annie Get Your Gun also failed to make the top 40, the band surprised to find its producer had recorded all but lead vocals in their absence, and with members wracked in heavy drinking and success falling apart it was decided to end the band from late 1982, a hits compilation Singles 45s And Under being issued.

    Difford and Tilbrook were reconciled by playwright John Turner, who wrote a script around their songs called Labelled With Love and with their musical arrangements ran it for three months at the Albany Theatre, Deptford. This led to Difford & Tilbrook, using mostly leftover songs from the previous two albums, a more grandiose and not nearly achieved take on the Squeeze sound. It didn't help that both had got into hard drugs and still didn't trust the other anyway, and that the album didn't sell. The Argybargy line-up reformed for a charity show in January 1985 which was so successful the proper name was resuscitated without Bentley, Keith Wilkinson taking up the bass, and the band also got back together with Miles Copeland despite an outstanding legal action over royalties. August's Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti was recorded in Belgium with Paul Young producer Laurie Latham but sounds like a band re-entering the studio before they're ready, inconsistency squared with 80s production values. The Soft Boys' Andy Metcalfe came on tour as a second keyboard player and stayed for September 1987's Babylon And On, recorded in six different studios at great expense but their most consistent album since East Side Story. Their biggest selling too, going gold in America on the back of an Ade Edmondson-directed video for Hourglass and a proper hit in 853-5937, Tilbrook's old phone number allied to a song they thought was so throwaway they refused to play it live even after it had broken big. Tilbrook took a co-producer's credit, leading to further internal fallouts and what he now calls the lowest point in his partnership with Difford, although in public things were going better than ever with a successful Bowie support slot and a Madison Square Garden sellout.

    Metcalfe replaced by Matt Irving, the task again of following up a hugely successful album fell to September 1989's Frank, which was even more artistically successful, Difford back to lyrical sharpness, Tilbrook ever improving as an arranger, Holland and Lavis on form. Of course, it sank without trace commercially.

    Love Circles

    Holland's televisual CV was increasing and he jumped ship afterwards, and when A&M was taken over the band were dumped. Warners Bros picked them up and the two's personal lives changed - Glenn divorcing his much-unloved by bandmates wife, Chris getting married for the second time - but a soul-destroying Fleetwood Mac support tour and Difford's deteriorating mental state, as well as disputes with producer Tony Berg, meant August 1991's Play went similarly unrewarded. Both men remain proud of the album despite a much less happy-go-lucky lyrical content and overly smooth production. Lavis left again, Warners dropped them (although they were picked up by...A&M) and Difford walked out literally on the eve of an American tour to get to grips with his drinking. Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas from Costello's Attractions filled in for the tour, but Tilbrook was left alone up front. Difford meanwhile went through rehabilitation and rejoined the outside world in autumn 1992.

    Carrack returned and Thomas continued for September 1993's revitalising Some Fantastic Place, the title track a tribute to Glenn's ex-girlfriend Maxine, who had acted as a middleman when the pair had fallen out and had recently died of leukaemia. Upbeat in tone if not lyrically, Difford's words often musing on man's relationships with women, men and drink, everyone pushing the same way for once led to a favourite recording for everyone, if again more successful in reviews than sales. Aimee Mann, who Difford had worked with, played several shows on the album's tour as a band member.

    Some Fantastic Place

    Carrack and Thomas disappeared again, Kevin Wilkinson the new drummer, and Copeland finally severed band ties before Ridiculous, which, released in November 1995, saw the band positioned as godfathers of Britpop and managed a couple of top 40 placings, but by now that was the limit of Squeeze's commercial ability. In 1997 they found themselves £30,000 in the hole on unpaid tax and were dropped by A&M again. Tilbrook's Quixotic label released Down In The Valley, a single to mark Charlton Athletic's 1998 Division 1 play-off final appearance featuring squad members, before changing the rest of the band completely, including Jools' younger brother Chris Holland on keys. An entirely new band and a rushed recording, Tilbrook producing, led to November 1998's Domino, a last album as regretted by the frontmen as the first.

    Although both were out of ideas and patience with the band, neither admitted it at the time until in January 1999 Difford, depressed and feeling his demons return, walked out on an American tour again at the last moment. Personal clashes followed until Difford decided to finally call the partnership off, the band's last gig to date being in Aberdeen on November 27th 1999. Difford went on to write for and manage others and has released two solo albums, 2003's I Didn't Get Where I Am, co-written with It Bites' Francis Dunnery, and last year's live retrospective South East Side Story. Tilbrook has also released two albums, 2001's The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook and 2005's Transatlantic Ping Pong, which featured a Difford co-write, and was the subject of the 2006 documentary film One For The Road, which followed him round America in a hired RV. Tilbrook released an album of early Squeeze demos, The Past Has Been Bottled, joined Difford onstage for a couple of songs at Glastonbury 2003 and there was a one-off acoustic session to launch Squeeze Song By Song, an oral history both contributed to with Jim Drury, but Squeeze only properly resuscitated at the Return to the Summer of Love Party at Hawkhurst, Kent in July, followed by a headline slot at Guilfest and some US dates in August supported by Fountains Of Wayne. It may or may not go any further once the tour wraps up on December 11th, but there's been a long and bumpy but worthwhile road getting there.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    Probably the oddest thing we've ever posted

    Pagan Wanderer Lu, who you may be aware we quite like, has got in touch. For reasons that remain vague if decidedly excellent, he's putting together a compilation album, possibly for charity although it's up in the air at this early stage, of original songs about the giant isopod crustacean. All contributors are welcome - get in contact via its Myspace page before December 5th - and we hear there's more than one STN favourite interested.

    If you're as musically talented as us, pass this message on. If you can't do that, be aware that PWL, Napoleon IIIrd and Applicants are touring together from tomorrow, taking in London, Manchester, Oxford, Brighton, Cardiff and Warrington (Modernaire rather than Applicants there). And if you come across a giant isopod, remember their staple diet.

    Weekender : fresher than fresh

    FREE MUSIC: So there's quite a bit of hype building around Yeasayer, a band who've found the midpoint between Arcade Fire and Fleetwood Mac, Danielson and Midlake. It's proving far more popular than that sort of juxtaposition and unhip referencing would suggest. 2080 is the expansive single from album All Hour Cymbals.

    HEY YOU GET OFFA MYSPACE: We're slightly late to the punch, as these released an album in January and have had a couple of EPs out since, but it's high time we got fuzzy again, and that's a role The Manhattan Love Suicides fulfil splendidly. The Leeds outfit, who evolved from the great lost band of 1999 Pop Threat (we still have the Fierce Panda EP they featured on), know their way around Sonic Youth and the Jesus & Mary Chain, know their way around C86 and girl groups (doesn't everyone?) and follow the pure, well, pop threat lineage of the Shop Assistants, Primitives, Heavenly, Duke Spirit and A Sunny Day In Glasgow.

    VISUAL REPRESENTATION: This week Elvis Costello declared both that he's not interested in making any more albums and that, after a tetchy encounter with the 2005 Glastonbury crowd, he's not going to play live in Britain any more. On recent Costello form this can only mean he'll be announcing a full spring tour within the week, but in the meantime we can dine out on his TV debut performing Alison, Oliver's Army on Kenny Everett's show, his helping Fiona Apple cover I Want You helping Diana Krall and Willie Nelson do Crazy and the song he wrote for Dave Edmunds, Girls Talk.

    VIRAL MARKETING: And so to 2008, and first out of the preview blocks are the Mystery Jets, who've just been on a belated US tour and try out their new songs on a small tour starting on the 25th ahead of release (March, whispers say). In the meantime they've made us all a lovely illustrative clip including one of the new songs, very much bearing producer Erol Alkan's fingerprints. As well as sounding a bit like GoodBooks.

    FALLING OFF A BLOG: Everyone's Got Nothing To Say has, oh, the usual interesting stuff. (Not to denigrate their work in any way, but recommending blogs every week and having to write something about them too out of fairness... well, it gets a bit limiting eventually.)

    EVERYBODY GET RANDOM: Here's something that's come out of nowhere, and even the obsessives we passed it on to knew nothing about it - a new Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band album! The first for 35 years, all living original members are on plus Fry, Edmondson and Jupitus adding vocals to an immense number of new tracks, although we can't say our excitement on the news hasn't been compromised by the press release including the 'promise' of "a hilarious new take on the Kaiser Chiefs' I Predict A Riot".

    IN OTHER NEWS: As you may have read, Christmas is approaching, and Sufjan Stevens is overly full of the festive spirit. Not only are Asthmatic Kitty streaming all five discs' worth of his Christmas box set, but they've set up a competition for one lucky entrant to write a Xmas song to give to Sufjan. He will buy up the rights to said song... and give you the rights back to one of his new songs in return. That's all explained better on that same link.

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    In shops tomorrow: 12/11


    Not much again this week, as all the really decent upcoming releases seem to have been moved to the end of the month. As there's lots to get through elsewhere this week we'll keep this brief, so as not to mention the Bloc Party single that tries to show their electro side but instead shows their Eiffel 65 side. Maths Class are really part of this whole post-punk-funk/mathrock Battles/Foals movement that was still coalescing when they came to our attention, in one of those synergic tricks musical timelines like to play every so often. Emporio Laser has all the tricks - it's electronically inclined, it's made for spasmodic dancing and it sounds a little like Q And Not U. You'd think with Jack Penate rockabillying his way into the nation's hearts EMI might have actually done something more with Vincent Vincent & The Villains, but there you go - On My Own leaks out this week. Correcto are the latest product of the Glasgow scene love-in, containing one of The Royal We and Franz's Paul Thompson. Joni is their appropriately pop-angular opening shot.


    Our leadoff choice this week is a four track, 25 minute record, but we had all the farrago about whether these are EPs or mini-albums last week and it bored us already. It is, however, Wire, and for that respect is due, especially as we thought Colin Newman had finally conclusively left the band. Read & Burn 03 is the long-awaited third part in their "series of 'research and development' vehicles", the first two of which were put together in 2003 to form the band's last album Send, although apparently this will be a standalone release. Who knows what sort of post-post-post-punk drone will be involved here. In terms of proper full lengths, slim pickings - the Raveonettes return with much the same fuzz-Spector sound on Lust Lust Lust but in reduced circumstances on Fierce Panda, Fugazi bassist Joe Lally calls on Ian MacKaye's production and the guitar of Guy Picciotto (producer, lest we forget, of Standing In The Way Of Control) for a subtler take on the band's hardcore dynamics on Nothing Is Underrated and if pedal steel-driven hushed country rockers Japancakes calling their new album Loveless seems odd, there's a reason for it - it's a pedal steel-driven hushed country rock reinterpretation of My Bloody Valentine's classic, top to bottom. It might even rival Jeffrey Lewis for single album covers record of the year. LCD Soundsystem's Nike advert composition 45:33 makes it to CD for the first time, so you can spot which bit James Murphy reappopriated for Someone Great. Entertainingly, it's not 45:33 long. As he's been promising for a while now since regaining the rights to all his work, Darren Hayman has remastered his Richman-for-the-British-indie-kids meisterwork Breaking God's Heart and extended it with early singles including the recently lauded here Pull Yourself Together, B-sides, rare EP tracks, outtakes and whatever else he found in his cupboard. Despite being far more realistically grounded lyrically, it's a fair bet Hayman has heard some Robyn Hitchcock in his life. I Wanna Go Backwards is a five CD box set that randomly picks out (and these are also being reissued seperately for those already planning Christmas spending) 1981 solo debut Black Snake Diamond Role, 1984's I Often Dream Of Trains and its unoffical follow-up, 1990's Eye, gives them the remastering brushdown and adds While Thatcher Mauled Britain Part 1 & 2, a newly compiled two-disc collection of b-sides, outtakes and home demo recordings, many of them previously unreleased in the manner of kindred spirit Andy Partridge's Fuzzy Warbles series. More box sets are promised. Les Savy Fav's long awaited emergence to take the artpunk crown that's been rightfully theirs all along, the Henry VII to so many others' Perkin Warbeck, means the reissues are on. The Cat And The Cobra is probably their weakest album, it still demonstrates how far ahead of populism's curve they were in 1999, and it's got We've Got Boxes and Who Rocks The Party? on it. Still on the sort of collegiate rock college radio wouldn't play, being the Neutral Milk Hotel album that isn't In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, On Avery Island has some trouble receiving its due, a lo-fi tinderbox of ideas and arrangements that wouldn't find their niche for a couple of years yet. Unless you're talking about the largely horrible American punk sub-movement, you can't claim to know about ska and not be aware of the Skatalites, the Jamaican studio collective who included pretty much anyone who was anyone in the instrument-playing ranks and backed the vast majority of the classic mid-60s vocal originators too. With a band active for so long bewaring of cheap imitations is always a worry, so tread carefully but skankingly so around mid-90s set Ska Splash, the excellently titled saxophonist tribute The Authentic Ska Sound Of Tommy McCook and studio reunion with the great Laurel Aitken Clash Of The Ska Titans. A very different country's alternative musical heritage comes from Os Mutantes, the leading lights, not that we in the west knew it at the time, of Brazil's Tropicalia movement. 1968 debut Os Mutantes sounds immense, blending psychedelia, Beach Boys song cycles, orchestral pop and found sound of all shapes. Finally, while we can never fully condone a mid-price compilation, Nervous Tension is subtitled 'The EMI Post Punk Collection' and so finds room for Wire, Gang Of Four, Public Image Ltd, Buzzcocks, XTC, Magazine, The Stranglers, The Monochrome Set, The Skids and Scars.


    Read this. "Girls Aloud - Style, offers an exclusive insight into what it takes to create the look of the hottest girl group in the UK. From award ceremonies to nights out on the town, Girls Aloud know how to rock a look and here they share their favourite tips and sought after industry advice on how to look great in front of the cameras. For the first time we see Cheryl revealing her beauty secrets, follow Nicola through the trials of finding that all important perfect pair of jeans, catch-up with Kimberley on the benefits of shopping online, and hit the stores with Sarah and Nadine while they hunt for accessories and shoes to get that Girls Aloud style. Packed full of practical tips and hints, Girls Aloud - Style, also contains the band's music videos with commentary from Cheryl and Sarah on all those outfits and hair styles be they great - or a retrospective nightmare!" So this is what marketing a band has come to. Last year when the best of came out it actually looked like their handlers were acknowledging their hipster cachet, but no, it was the Cosmo Kids readers they were after all along. Sigh. And the new single is basically one of those girl band knockoffs from around 1999. Someone who does have something of a history behind them is collected on the three disc The McCartney Years, two DVD of all his solo and Wings videos, including the frankly remarkable Coming Up, and one of a Wings 1976 gig, his MTV Unplugged and Glastonbury headliner.


    And still the Control tie-ins keep rolling, but Joy Division: Piece by Piece comes with a simultaneous stamp of quality and a fear of actual content, given it's written by Paul Morley. It's an anthology of everything he ever wrote about them, from Warsaw to now, indeed right up to a critique of Control, and also including the original work that inspired his novel Nothing. The 33 1/3 series continues moving with a heavyweight modern writer, Pitchfork managing editor Scott Plagenhoef, who gives Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister the once-over with contributions from band members, producers, management and fans. Garry Mulholland may be the patron saint of obsessing over music lists, and his second volume Fear of Music: The Greatest 261 Albums Since Punk and Disco arrives in no doubt wrist-breaking paperback size.