- So now Chinese Democracy is ready for release we must realign which bands are taking longer than average to get new songs out. MBV, obviously, and the Avalanches... but not the Flaming Lips, who first talked about Christmas On Mars in 2001 and finally have it ready for deluxe DVD issue, as well as a series of "unconventional" cinema screenings including three nights at the Barbican with Wayne Coyne giving talks around each, December 12th-14th. Coyne describes it as "maybe Eraserhead or Dead Man crossed with some kind of fantasy and space aspects, like The Wizard of Oz and maybe A Space Odyssey, except done without real actors or money, and set at Christmas-time". We've read Coyne's various precises (precii?) several times and still can't begin to condense the plot into shorter form so it might make sense, and bear in mind here that while we are sober, seperated onlookers, Steven Drozd takes the lead role, filming a lot of scenes while either on or in withdrawl from heroin addiction. You have to take your hat off to Warner Bros for financing this sort of thing in the current industry climate if nothing else.
- "Reissue, repackage, repackage/Re-evaluate the songs/Double-pack with a photograph/Extra track and a tacky badge". No, Paint A Vulgar Picture isn't on The Sound Of The Smiths, unsurprisingly. There seems to be a new Smiths compilation every year, and indeed there may well be, but the hook for this 2CD set is a CD of straight up singles and classics and one of a seemingly random assortment of album tracks, some presented in live or alternate version formats. It also claims Morrissey and Johnny Marr oversaw its development, although on further investigation this turns out to mean Morrissey chose the title and Marr ("it wasn’t going to be done right unless I got involved") supervised the remastering. Well, it gets the marketing department off their backs. The music? Well, it's the Smiths. There's some sort of limited edition 7" promotion happening too, but we'll get back to that when they're all presented in a nice box in a month's time.
- The singles are still holding up - Gossamer Albatross' glorious The Ground Will Take Us Down/Elizabeth Queen Of The Sea 7" is out after a delay. Here's what we put a line through for no apparent reason two Weekenders ago: "About a month ago we confidently stated to a friend that if Hereford's teenage chamber English folkists Gossamer Albatross's debut 7" The Ground Will Take Us Down, produced by Jonquil's Hugo Manuel, got airplay and attention from the right people the classical ambition on show could properly help them take off, such is the evident ambition and ability in these days when much lighter folk is given a far easier ride. We sit here on the eve of said 7"'s release with it being given bugger all coverage. It's us, isn't it? It's always us. Anyway, it's wonderful, and so are they." And so is Emmy The Great, who like the above has worked with Jeremy Warmsley and like the above has been supported by STN since long before signing. Except that she co-owns her label, but you know what we mean. We Almost Had A Baby is the first single from the album now expected in February. Thomas Tantrum also run their own affairs release wise, and they've probably heard of Warmsley. Rage Against The Tantrum is the tremendous 7" from their really worth your while self-titled debut album.
- The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs From Punk To The Present is the hipster's site of divisive choice's rundown of the five hundred greatest songs in their opinion since the cultural Year Zero. In no way is this to be confused with This Is Uncool by Garry Mulholland, subtitled "The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco". Just saying. As a preview, someone has diligently typed out the full list (Johnny Boy!) Our copy, curiously, arrived from Amazon on Friday, and even odder, if solving one Christmas present issue in the process, came with a copy of Allan Ahlberg's Burglar Bill inside. Maybe it was satirical comment on the standard of the contents' insight.
- Talking Heads: Live In Rome is billed as capturing the band "at the height of their creative powers". Which is arguably true, recorded as it is in 1980 after Fear Of Music and Remain In Light. Only thing is, we already have a documentation of the extended band at their live peak, albeit from three years later, and Stop Making Sense is going to be hard for anyone to beat, let alone a rival Talking Heads live video director to Jonathan Demme. Worth a look, anyway.
COMING SOON: Although they seem to have spent the whole of 2008 either in the studio or playing just one last gig before completing the mix for good, Camera Obscura are finally approaching resolution on album four. News of a release date is expected soon, but videos have emerged from a recent Singapore gig of the two new songs they've been showcasing live this year, French Navy, which sounds like vintage Postcard Records, and Swans, which sounds like classic Camera Obscura.
MYSPACE INVADERS: Continuing our theme here of clearly uncommercial but clearly exciting bands, Songs From The Shows are one of that select group with more than their fair share of bassists - Tortoise, Billy Mahonie, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Girls Against Boys, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Showaddywaddy. Like the first four, and sadly retaining no elements of the latter (come on, would a set of brothel creepers and floor-length colour coded drape coats kill you?), they concoct walls of undulating guitar noise, almost entirely wordless backed by shifting rhythms and a whole heap of undertow. Slightly mathy, noisecore without the loudness - this does make sense - and post-rock and current rock simultaneously, they fit not so comfortably between The Rock Of Travolta, if they're still going, and Maybeshewill in the realms of instrumental attack mode.
VISUAL AID: So looking for an angle relating to this Smiths set we went back through all our old favourite Morrissey and sometimes Marr clips - Charlie's Bus, yes, Datarun, yes, and of course Morrissey looking uncomfortable in the presence of Coia. Pebble Mill, then. It was a magazine of its day, a time that will surely never come again in this heavy major label promotion roundel where nobody would book a band like Aztec Camera, who got to play both Oblivious and Walk Out To Winter to the housewives of the land. Home of Owen Paul's questionable playback, and while there's plenty of family entertainers and variety circuit crooners archived (and Hank Marvin Sings!) there
was always room for Terry Hall's The Colourfield or Westworld and their shovel shaped guitar, although Sonic Boom Boy fans please note with a heavy heart that this was the slower one off the album. Best of all, though, was last of all, or the last Pebble Mill At One at any rate, which opened (3:14) with Five Star showing us round the building to the tune of Can't Wait Another Minute. And by round the building, we include corridors, offices, canteen, scene dock, switchboard and gallery. The glamour of BBC Birmingham.
* First up, a good old fashioned indie label compilation full of good old fashioned indie always does the trick, so hello to Be True To Your School, a 25 tracker pulled together by the estimable and comparatively veteran (thirteen years, and all sorted by one man) Fortuna Pop label which has been out for about a month but we've only just found out about it. Stand by for a list: The Lucksmiths, Comet Gain, MJ Hibbett, Fanfarlo, Bearsuit, Sodastream, The Butterflies Of Love, Spraydog, Tender Trap, others.
* Running a respected indie takes time and patience, so much so that coupled with the day job and bank meetings about credit card abuse that finance the 7" lifestyle you'd think you wouldn't get time for much else. Clearly John Brainlove believes in the Thatcher approach of two hours' sleep a night, as he's opened up Amusia - with a forum! - chiefly as an archive for the stuff he writes for assorted online magazines.
* Don't think, of course, that just because Lesley Douglas has left that 6 Music will suddenly lose all its recent, depressing incumbents behind the sofa and get some decent people with good taste in. Not with the figures still going up. Yes, including his. Still, we've always got Phill and Phil's Perfect Ten, a half hour weekly podcast in which Jupitus and Wilding extemporise wildly much as they used to do on the breakfast show, only with more swearing and gay sex references.