- As we were saying last week, four live contenders for our end of year list, and actually probably the last contenders to be released in 2008 (assuming you count Intimacy as already out and follow that gumph about how We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is a record rather than an album - we're not kidding, wondering what the hell to do with that come countdown time has been taking up a significant amount of our STN-related thoughts recently), listed here in the order that we've covered the band in the past on here. So, to start with, the small matter of the follow-up to the STN album of 2007. Actually it's not even that simple, as The Stand Ins was initially intended to be the second disc of The Stage Names and now emerges as a kind of souped up equivalent of their previous Black Sheep Boy Appendix, a 11 track 40 minute effort even if three of those tracks are sub-60 second instrumental connecting pieces. Musically it's largely a call back to the ballad directness and Motown heartrenches of The Stage Names, only with a couple of notably poppier tracks and a couple of more country tinged songs that hark back as far as their first album Down The River Of Golden Dreams. Lyrically, if The Stage Names was about entertainment as opposed to reality, this is how reality is brought low by the self same entertainment, or perhaps vice versa. It's a shit business, either way, and Sheff knows it better than most. And yes, although it's slightly hidden by context Blue Tulip is related to the Mike Read stalker of yore.
- Going through the record industry wringer can of course wait for some people, as there's fun to be had first. None of Those Dancing Days have yet hit their twenties, and the energy and pop bounce of In Our Space Hero Suits could only come from ones so unexhausted and inexhaustible. Yet, and this is why in another place we've compared it to the sainted At The Club, there's a melancholy and foreboding in a lot of the lyrics that neatly underscores the youthful enthusiasm. They play to their strengths too, Lisa Pyk Wirstrom's organ, Cissi Efraimsson's runaway drums and Linnea Jonsson's sultrily soulful croon lifting as they go. Bit of a shame they couldn't have got this ready for the summer, but that's that industry for you. Why the eponymous track is track eleven is a different query altogether.
- We were convinced, especially after their two stunning performances at End Of The Road and our resultant picking up a promo from amid a massive rush/crush after the second, that Ottawa's The Acorn would have the jewels of the UK music press laid out in front of them by the time Glory Hope Mountain came around, but no dice. Surprising, as alongside its Polaris Prize nomination and release on Bella Union it's got its own backstory - it's a concept album of sorts based on the memories and origins of frontman Rolf Klausener's Honduran mother Gloria Esperanza Montoya (the title is a rough translation). No Rehearsing My Choir this, though, as the story takes in domestic abuse, poverty, natural disasters and general destruction of normality. What this translates to is a wide range from cracked low-key beauty to Broken Social Scene-esque group indie anthem theatrics, plus a Honduran folk influence and a dollop of that extra percussive thing that's so now in north America, all conveyed with story sensitivity and intelligence. What we must hope for is exceptional word of mouth.
- Stylistically, Eugene McGuinness's self titled debut, following last year's acclaimed Early Learnings Of... mini-album, is all over the place, from ragged indie to swooning balladry. Do you remember when Badly Drawn Boy was on the way up and the way he'd rapidly pick up and discard ideas but held onto the melodic ideals? McGuinness's approach is something like that, and the stuff that sticks to the wall is mightily impressive.
- There's always been something studied about Saint Etienne, not that that's really a bad thing, but you're always aware that Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs have this huge frame of reference that coalesces with their love of allegedly disposable pop. We like to imagine that if we were musically gifted we'd end up like them. London Conversations is at least their third best of compilation, this one apparently capital thematically linked despite not including London Belongs To Me, which seems a bit of an oversight. Still, that just leaves a decade and a half of dance culture/retro kitsch inspired greatness, all the hits sounding as essential and as somehow unique to Saint Etienne as they ever did (except possibly He's On The Phone, but piano house never did age well), and we're assured by those who know better that the inclusion of rarity Lover Plays The Bass is as much of a carrot as you want.
- Plenty of singles too. Paper Planes is already in the charts, Fleet Foxes' He Doesn’t Know Why and Wild Beasts' Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants just hints to go out and get the very fine albums, so let's drag you towards two 7"s: Copy Haho's twisted Pavementish melodies have been getting the right people hot under the right collars and You Are My Coal Mine is to us their standout moment to date, while the ever cussed Comet Gain, who have a ten year retrospective out in a couple of weeks, chase their mod-Dexys-Godard-Forster dreams down a rabbit hole again on Love Without Lies.
COMING SOON: And so, eventually, inexorably, we turn to We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. The reason why it was such a surprise was they'd never even hinted at any entirely new songs in their previous live sets. Obviously, now we know they have them they have to play them, so here's Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1 just about retaining its structure amid the murky mix of Berlin and being appended with My Year In Lists.
MYSPACE INVADERS: There's definitely something going on around Leeds at the moment as they're churning new bands at a decent rate. Following Sky Larkin, Grammatics, Dinosaur Pile-Up, from nearby Napoleon IIIrd and the recently relocated Her Name Is Calla as the latest to get people, by which we don't just mean us for once, excited are i concur (lower case obligatory). "We enjoy good music, especially the american indie stuff" it says on their Myspace, which pretty much does our job for us, but you'll need to know which bits, to which we suggest The National's sense of anxiousness/nervous tension, Interpol's brooding am-dram, Broken Social Scene's expansiveness and touches of Explosions In The Sky's glacial post-rock and Johnny Marr circling guitar lines. Never mind potential, they sound like they're almost there already.
VISUAL AID: Christmas starts earlier every year. Especially here, as this is a Top Of The Pops Christmas Special (part two, no less) from Boxing Day 1967, available in seven individually fascinating parts:
One: It's Jimmy Saville, Pete Murray and Alan Freeman, and we join them recording a trailer with none of the three really knowing what's going on except for Jim's odd palmistry riff. When we start properly there's some Bee Gees ("a song that's going to be a standard") and a beach-based clip we've never seen before for I'm A Believer, alongside some sort of Star Bar-presaging talking heads business with some people you'll recognise and some you won't (Spencer Davis, Dave Clark)
Two: Jimmy catches the light as one bloke completely misses a communal shout and someone else (we assume) boos the Rolling Stones' name. Let's Spend The Night Together, Mick in a game show jacket and Brian Jones on piano in a rakish hat, is their contribution, followed by Long John Baldry.
Three: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich! See, they did really exist, and in their world percussion took a time signature floating role. If you've never heard Zabadak, have a check of this as it's a remarkable piece. As is the following, Lulu with the curlers fresh out and performing the really rather great Love Loves To Love Love (a strange choice, given it reached number 32 in Britain), not least for its scorching guitar intro by popular sessioneer Jimmy Page.
Four: Pete Murray is very formal, isn't he? There's a discussion of what happened to flower power before Scott Mackenzie, after which Freeman suggests we "think about the American groups" and stumbles right over Tamla-Motown before introducing dancers the Go-Jos and "all the Top Of The Poppers ready to do the whole bit" to the Supremes.
Five: "The Go-Jos couldn't have any Christmas dinner yesterday as they had to dance like that today!" Cliff has "learnt to live with success", apparently. Murray seems obsessed with the idea of a "standard", although you can't say he's lying when he refers to Whiter Shade Of Pale as an example. Right at the end is an astoundingly nervous girl to the left of Freeman, although maybe if she hadn't worn that sparkly dress and beehive she wouldn't have stood out so much. Or stood just there, obviously.
Six: All You Need Is Love. Nothing really needs adding there.
Seven: And especially not by Saville. Note to Jim - next T-shirt size up. Engelbert Humperdinck finishes the live performances off with whatever the technical opposite of a bang is. There's just time for Alan Freeman to piss himself laughing at Jim's hair getting in a mess before a baffling section of footage of people standing around and messing about in clothing stores and then a full minute or more of the audience self-consciously shuffling before the world's least convincing can-can line breaks out.
* We're fairly certain we've covered Eardrums Music before, but they really have come good in the last couple of weeks with the second in their series of free download albums, A Good Crop coming in one... two... three... FOUR! parts. Therein you'll find the likes of The Rosie Taylor Project, Darren Hanlon, Fanfarlo, The Kabeedies, Colin Clary, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Sambassadeur, Je Suis Animal, Left With Pictures, Dark Captain Light Captain, The Lodger, Roses Kings Castles (the drummer from Babyshambles - oh, woo), Kotki Dwa and that.
* Say what you like about Foals, but they can choose a support act. Currently trailing them around the country are Wild Beasts, Dananananaykroyd - Calum and John in the crowd at an enormoroom? We'd like to see that - Maps & Atlases and Holy Fuck. The latter's label have pressed up some tour only 7"s of them and the headliners covering each other's songs, and then stuck them online for free, if in the format nobody understands, AIFF. Foals do a fine version of Super Inuit, Holy Fuck slow down Balloons with what seem to be sampled vocals from something else entirely.
* Because we feel the nature of the competition in what should be a sharing blogosphere, and not just because we did so badly last year and messed up the registration process this time around, we didn't enter the BT DMA Blog awards for 2008. It struggled by without our filling a space in the eighties, though, and the full top 100 has been published for us to comb when UK blogger album of the year polling time comes round again (and oh, it will) An Oasis news source won, Mike Skinner makes his traditional appearance at 3 (no David Gilmour this year, though) and Fish, as in Marillion, has his Myspace at 7. I don't think he's quite understood. Our other outlet The Line Of Best Fit comes in at 18, six short of Drowned In Sound, while old friends The Daily Growl, Keep Hope Inside, Fucking Dance and Music Like Dirt all appear among the misplaced Myspaces and blogs that probably aren't British anyway. How did a defunct YouTube account get in at 66?
* So what's the outcome of all this music blogging anyway? Canadian blogger Condemned to Rock 'N Roll wrote its MA paper on the subject, namely "Does NME even know what a music blog is?: The rhetoric and social meaning of MP3 blogs", including contributions from the likes of The Hype Machine, The Torture Garden, Song By Toad (and seeing a whole comments box reproduced takes us aback, not to mention to 'Ctrl+F' just in case - we're not), Chromewaves, Lost In Your Inbox, Culture Bully and Hits In The Car.
* Oh yeah, and if you get some spare minutes go and read Future Of The Left's US tour diary on their Myspace blog, because it's very much of the required Falkous high standard.