- Apart from Okkervil River's The Stand Ins, which we dealt with last week, not much leaps out this week, Peter, Bjorn & John's Seaside Rock curio worth little more than passing attention and the realisation that we didn't mention Fireworks Night's A Mirror A Ghost last week leavened by the equal reasoning that we've not actually heard any of it. So, one from deep in left field it is. Defunct, little heard and had their name swiped by a Norwegian group they may have been, but Alexandria Quartet have gone into STN folklore for being the first band to send us badges with their CD. To continue the largesse, their leader's current band Adam Donen and The Drought's As Our Parents Slowly Turn To Clay (not on Amazon, link to Myspace for preorder details) is being released inside a 32 page book of the album's lyrics set out as poetry, with iillustrations, acknowledgements and a seven page introduction written by Donen's friend and pianist which casually drops in towards the end the assertion that "history will come to judge them (the verse) as being at least as good as any poems produced by our generation". Well, even a journey of a million miles must begin with a single step and all that. As music it shapes up pretty well, mind. Donen clearly has a way with an elliptical allegories, equal parts cathartic howls and brooding mea culpas - mostly written, that preface says, in a trance-like state - and arranging it into a judiciously powered ragged folk-rock that variously recalls Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, the Waterboys, Whipping Boy and latter day British Sea Power. Oh, and there's a track called Ganesh Whose Trunk Wipes Away Trubba (Plays Dice In The Abyss Of Infinity). For something created with such exacting standards for what seems to be being painted as some sort of Coleridge of lit-rock setting, it's well worth investigating.
- Of course 'Couples' had to be followed by 'Singles'! It's been largely overlooked in the last couple of years how long the Long Blondes were plugging away on Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation and Angular Records before Rough Trade took the plunge. While the band are out of action (Dorian is by all accounts slowly but surely on the mend), this is a timely compilation of their 7"s on those labels, which means the rough around the edges charm of the likes of Appropriation (By Any Other Name), Lust In The Movies, Autonomy Boy, New Idols and the original Giddy Stratospheres get their due.
- You complete and utter shower of bastards. Alright, you weren't to know that we didn't receive our pre-order of How We Became until a week after release, but you could have at least dropped a hint that we're thanked in the acknowledgements. It's like when the press team working for a band whose early singles we went on about at length sent us their album and mentioned in passing that the press release previous to that one had quoted us. (Much obliged, sir.) Jeremy Warmsley, of course, and the war tango Dancing With The Enemy is out as a single tomorrow. Quite a few other singles of note, not least more old friends in the shape of Sky Larkin, who've joined the generous geniuses of Wichita (who also put out Bloc Party's Talons tomorrow) and make their bow for that label with Fossil, I. They've been out recording their album with John Goodmanson and for a full and fun night out are playing dates both this Tuesday in London and across various bits of the country in a month's time with Those Dancing Days. Again, if you haven't got the Fleet Foxes album from which He Doesn’t Know Why comes from then you're nobody, while just because we can see why Universal are putting Noah & The Whale's Shape Of My Heart out again doesn't mean we fully approve. Herman Dune, Silvery and Robert Wyatt & Bertrand Burgalat complete the 'in the Sweep in the past' collection.
- It was often overlooked in both life and obituaries, although you could understand why, how great a writer John Peel was, from his sprawling, freeform 1970s festival reports for the Observer through to his weekly Radio Times column, all in the same style and lightness he brought to his radio links. This year's contribution to the increasing fading John Peel Day commemoration is The Olivetti Chronicles - most of them were bashed out on an old Olivetti typewriter - an anthology of his copy selected by Sheila, Thomas, Danda, William and Flossie covering everything from Oz to Bike, Gandalf's Garden to the Observer.
MYSPACE INVADERS: No, no meek post-post-punk revival or gloomy folkies this week. Three Trapped Tigers are free jazz electronica to some, a British Battles to others, not strictly the case but certainly having a better claim to it than previous press contenders for that title Foals. Led by Tom Rogerson, electric piano maestro recently transferred from Jeremy Warmsley's band to hunch over the keys in Emmy The Great's (has that bit blown the gaff on our attempt to seem newly experimentally inclined?), and also featuring Adam Betts, drummer with now defunct and much admired/feared Optimist Club, and guitarist/synthist Matt Calvert, they take the drawn out precision of math-rock and compress it into tense, elaborate slabs of build and release-driven intensity, shuttling between full throttle electronica-influenced passages and ambient segments that allow time for the next wave to hit, intricate cross-threading of movements and time signatures forefront. Lesser similarly inclined bands have been lauded far greater.
VISUAL AID: You'd expect us to follow our long held admiration for curious TV bookings by pointing up Seasick Steve on the Paul O'Grady Show, wouldn't you? And indeed we have, but that's not what we're specifically here for. In fact, such was the gold buried in last week's 1967 Christmas Top Of The Pops that we investigated further to this week bring you the 1983 festive show. Actually, festive show number two - the first had been on Christmas Day itself with the possibly overstaffed numbers of Simon Bates, Janice Long, Andy Peebles and Mike Smith introducing the big names, which just left...
One: Peter Powell, Tommy Vance, 80s glasses sporting Adrian John, Woo Gary Davies and life of any pop party Richard Skinner. Now, that's just dangerous overmanning, not to mention too much polyester sportswear for one fully neon lit and electrified television studio. It's the JoBoxers! Then dull old Mike Oldfield, then the Thompson Twins and Alannah Currie's improbable hair and extravagant percussive work.
Two: Is it time Tracey Ullman had a critical renaissance? Even among Stiff's waifs and strays she gets played down, but what a great reading of Kirsty Maccoll's They Don't Know this is. That's followed by a well before self-aware of image Robert Smith doing away with the niceties of a microphone while fronting up the Cure's The Love Cats. Then it's Jonathan King in New York, and we know King has a habit of turning up on message boards where he's mentioned in whatever context so we'll gloss over all the other connections except the spectacularly characterless reading of the top ten sellers in America that year and let you join the mental dots.
Three: The three Phil Collinses do You Can't Hurry Love, then "you've heard of Men Without Hats? These are women with hats", although only three of the seven Belle Stars representatives on stage are betitfered if you don't count the drummer's tinsel crown. There is nothing to say about Paul Young.
Four: Here's Cap'n Bob Smith again during his short period returning to Siouxsie and the Banshees, a marked contrast to Spandau Ballet in full accountant garb.
Five: "One of the big names to emerge in '84 is going to be Howard Jones". How can he emerge the year after he started having hits, Peter? Especially as hindsight tells us that his two 1983 hits, New Song and What Is Love?, are the two he's now remembered most for. It's the latter here, Howard constantly forgetting to mime either keyboard or singing into the mike and Jed's literal mental chains covered in tinsel. Of course they are! "Absolute football fanatic" Rod Stewart can't compete, not even doing Baby Jane.
Six: "When chilblains and turkey were just a thing of the future" the Style Council were having a hit with Long Hot Summer, Weller recreating synth burbles on a big white grand piano. We finish in the studio with "the year of Culture Club", George quite restrained in the circumstances, while Ofcom would have something to say nowadays about the size of the Puma logo on Mikey Craig's top.
* Give a band an inch and they'll take a mile, and while we're aware that we're not the only fonts of knowledge on the Internet... well, all we'll state is the fact that, three months after we harvested a playlist from Sky Larkin, they've put together their own stream of their favourite listens of the last month, including Boards Of Canada, TV On The Radio, Les Savy Fav, Why?, Kelis, BARR and the Shop Assistans for the P4K generation, Vivian Girls.
* ballboy's Gordon McIntyre has always been one of our favourite ideas men and wordsmiths, so we welcome the news that he's co-written a play. Midsummer is co-scribed by David Greig ("the most consistently interesting, prolific and artistically ambitious writer of his generation" - The Scotsman) and includes original songs and score written for the show. It opens at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh this Friday and runs through to 15th November.
* Yesterday we woke up to the news that our longtime compadre Phonogram's Kieron Gillen has written a comic about Sweeping The Nation. We mean, we're flattered, but... ah, but no - a-ha-ha-ha! - it's about the song Sweeping The Nation by Spearmint, as part of This Is A Souvenir, a 200+ page multi-authored comic book anthology of stories based on Spearmint songs published on January 28th.
* So a few weeks ago we went down to London, and within ten minutes of leaving the tube knew we were there when we saw a midday fight outside that Walkabout on the Embankment. Our afternoon was spent at Smalltown America's This Ain't No Picnic, and we'll forgive STA for spelling the link to this blog wrongly in their list of thanks in their mailout this week and instead guide the curious to a two part film of the event, featuring performances by the Young Playthings and Alan MX. We're not in it, but we know our programme is, which is fine by us.
* We get a lot of emails in the STN inbox, and once we've sorted the spam out we're left with a healthily productive number. A lot tell us about gigs we can't get to or include links for songs that we forget about (ha ha, not really, we listen to everything we get sent, even if we immediately delete it and hope nobody's looking at our last.fm account at that moment). Occasionally someone even asks nicely for a mention, and so it is with mel.opho.be, as it actually appears to be called, featuring North American gig reviews, interviews (The Acorn, Le Loup, Daedelus), fifty word album reviews and proper articles.