WHAT CD?: In Shops Tomorrow was all well and good, but in the end it became a pick'n'mix of wheat and chaff with little to distinguish the two, so from here it'll be shortened down so you know the following are of a particularly high quality:
- Agragarian individualists, twitcher lunatic fringe and appreciatories of the qualities of good fell walking gear, usually by wearing it on stage, British Sea Power remain one of our more cherishable bands. And not just for everything around the music, although all the Newsboosts and curious merchandising opportunities helps, even if the piercing stares, rigging climbing and crash gymnastics have been quietly phased out - the branches and Ursine Ultra will, you feel, always be around, now joined by massive flags on the drum riser. No, from the Bunnymen sweep and Cold War Pixies wiredness of The Decline Of British Sea Power to the streamlined open expanses of Open Season there's always been something there, and behind the unrepossessing Arthur Conley-appropriating title Do You Like Rock Music? lies perhaps their most affecting work to date. In short, they're still like nobody else. Alright, if it sounds like the ghosts of Canadian choral valhallas has swept in it's not surprising given parts were recorded at Hotel2Tango with Arcade Fire's Howard Bilerman and GY!BE/A Silver Mt Zion's Efrim Menuck as well as with Graham Sutton (Open Season, Jarvis, Delays) variously in a Czech forest, Cornish fort and Suffolk water tower. And yes, now you know that it sounds like it too, but Win and Regine had only just met when Fear Of Drowning introduced the world to BSP, and furthermore there was always a massive reverb element to them at their most anthemically huge. Now, they have the confidence to broaden their horizons and really go for the overwhelming burn while expanding their reach to welcome 'indie' waifs and strays into their world without moving their own worldview an inch. There's church mantras, Julian Cope psychouts, anthemics that pull the rug out from under themselves, uncomfortable serenity and references to Canvey Island's deadly floods of 1953 as a reference to climate change (incorporating all too topical opening line "H5N1 killed a wild swan"), western migration and its relationship to alcohol intake, the Great Skua seabird and Big Daddy. It's the first special album of 2008, and when it's forgotten about come the end of year polls as a result of being released too early by too offkilter a band you may if you wish paw at the ground in frustration. (One worrying detail - the inevitably longeur-friendly press release refers to this as where "British Sea Power’s long game comes to a compelling conclusion")
(Also - and this was quick of them - Club 8's The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Dreaming eventually gets a UK release)
- Mark Oliver Everett, E to you, has never really milked the survivalist angle from his famously death-laden life story - sure, it's got him down often, but it's grist to the songwriting mill in the long run. Autobiography Things The Grandchildren Should Know is thus not Dave Eggers material, Everett being too self-aware to go the Real Life Tragedy route, just direct, smart and still pathos-laden as befits Rolling Stone's label of "the Kurt Vonnegut of rock". And, lest we forget, during all this turmoil Eels, about whom more next month, were one place away from chalking up three UK top ten singles, something he also tries to make sense off. And there's an audio book out next week.
- Single of the week is a dead heat, and both quiet surprises in their own way. Sons & Daughters, for so long staking out the dark underbelly and getting Adele to malevolently shriek at it, go almost pop on Darling, while Dev Hynes finds room between gigging, diarising, shmoozing and all points in between to continue Lightspeed Champion's adventures in open hearted Americana on Tell Me What It's Worth.
COMING SOON: As it says - what we can find in preview of an album that's soon come.
Cat Power, for instance, Chan about to issue her second covers record Jukebox, out on the 21st and sounding pretty good. Live from the Hit Factory, Florida, we find Chan recording a vocal take on Dark End Of The Street and half-remembering a Christina Aguilera song.
MYSPACE INVADERS: You know, the thing before Facebook. It's a better title for this section, let's be fair. If you've added us on Myspace you probably have a better chance of getting into here this year now we've thoroughly fumigated our friends list, but we retain the right to pick up on the hype of the hour as it suits.
So, new year, but still the bands from Brighton come. This City have been compared to At The Drive-In, the Blood Brothers and Les Savy Fav, have supported Biffy Clyro, Future Of The Left and Sparta and had an drummer who now fronts touted hardcore metallers Architects. They also had a drummer who is now in the Pipettes, but we'll gloss over that MacGuffin. Anyway, you've kind of got the idea from the first list - rooted in US underground-influenced melodic hardcore and staccato jigsaw dance-post-punk with an especially British intensity. "A deranged live following", it says here, and we can well believe that.
VISUAL AID: Those watching the Pop Britannia series will appreciate that even after the rock'n'roll explosion and the impact on television entertainment of Oh Boy! and Six-Five Special bands were still as much corralled into the variety act model as the singers that had preceded them. Even the Beatles, while they were still the loveable mop-tops of now very costly merchandise fame, were just another bone for the bobbysoxers. This Granada report in 1963 had the right idea from the very first statement: "We have always thought that it might be a good question to put to Mr Kenneth Dodd and the members of the Beatles to what extent do they attribute their success to their hairstyles." Ken pretty much takes this one over, what with his 'yakky juice' and and "Segovia - she's no mug", the pun in which we're still struggling with. In the same year they met Morecambe & Wise finding their TV feet on ITV's Two Of A Kind (link changed to longer, better quality version - thanks, Chris!) John, frankly, is not going to win that one.
LINKS EFFECT: Basically anything and everything else of note.
* You'll note we've added a shitload of recommended blogs to the sidebar recently, of which the one we most want to highlight is the fantastically titled Because Midway Still Aren't Coming Back. With early to mid 90s indie-when-it-really-was-indie nostalgia prevalent among many a blogger who should know better, it's a wonder the gap in the market wasn't filled sooner of Proustian rush-facilitating mp3s of bands who achieved small levels of success during that period - the most recent post is a perfect example, being the Nilon Bombers' great lost list song (at least it was lost when we were compiling our list song Covermount) Superstar. Also, someone in a comments box mentions that Sleeper had an official fanzine. Those were the days, when even Sleeper could bring together enough people to justify an official fanzine.
* Still got your cassette-playing boomboxes? Alcopop! Records, who put out the 4 Or 5 Magicians single and are a child company of the highly impressive Big Scary Monsters, have put out Alcopopular Vol.2, an MC of fifteen tracks by the likes of Jeremy Warmsley, Sky Larkin, Johnny Foreigner, Dartz!, the Young Playthings, Sam Isaac and Kid Carpet. Order for four of your English from here.
* A while back - last July, to be precise - we brought up Twenty Questions, a ploy of sending the same, er, twenty questions for answering by different bands that we often wish we'd come up with when struggling for interview inspiration. Since then, among the many for whom the enquiries have been recycled are Kevin Drew, Jens Lekman, Band Of Horses, Johnny Foreigner, Emmy The Great, Scout Niblett, Noah And The Whale, El Perro Del Mar, Frank Turner, The Broken Family Band and Dan Deacon.
* In 1974 Vivian Stanshall, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band long gone and merely now an occasional Peel standin and larking about partner of Keith Moon, recorded Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead, featuring guest appearances by Neil Innes and Steve Winwood and largely based around Afro-beats long before Eno or world musicians started utilising them, otherwise soaked in blues, disenchantment, sexual suggestion and, being Viv Stanshall, vast amounts of alcohol. There is a petition to get Warners to reissue the long out of print album with coming up for 2,000 signatories; while we're waiting, a lo-fi version is freely downloadable.